Smiling Through the Storm: The Rise of Anita Hawkins

By Cher Tushiah

Anita Hawkins is one of those women whose mission in life is to make you feel good. It’s in everything she says and everything she does. She can’t help herself. It’s in her blood. On this particular morning, she sounds a bit tired, but you can still hear the smile in her voice. It’s not long before the vibrancy I knew was within her came out to greet me. She’s amazing to listen to. Her story is one of survival, not statistic. She’s the wife of Major League Baseball player, LaTroy Hawkins, pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays. Unlike many wives of athletes, however, she’s not content to let that alone be her legacy. She’s an author, a philanthropist, a general contractor, a mother, the head woman in charge of the “Find One Reason to Smile” campaign and most importantly, she’s a survivor. We could not have picked a better woman to include in our “Inspiration Issue” of POSE Magazine. Here, in this interview, we discover that inspiration comes while naked in the shower, it comes on rainy days with strangers and it comes in the form of gifts that you didn’t even realize were gifts. POSE Magazine proudly introduces you to the fascinating, whirlwind life of Anita Hawkins.

POSE Magazine: Early in life, you were faced with some tremendous burdens including a mother that was less than supportive and an unexpected teen pregnancy.   You were literally dropped off at a welfare office at 15 years old, pregnant and alone. This is a start in life that would have made most feel like a victim and they would lose direction in their life. You, however, seemed to use your painful start to fuel your fire and passion. Where did you garner that strength from to rise above your trials and become the successful woman you are today?

Anita Hawkins: I would say that having my grandmother establishing such a great foundation for me meant more than anything. I watched her do so much for so many different people.   She made us go to church and just established our roots. I know without a solid foundation, the walls would crumble. I literally felt like my walls were crumbling around me. As a young person, it was just about proving everybody wrong. I’m not going to be what they say I am. I was always compared with other girls and my Dad would ask me, “Why can’t you be like them, why are you having sex?” But really, nobody ever tried to find out. Nobody took the time to find out where that seed was actually planted. At that time, I just wanted to prove everybody wrong. I’m going to do better. I am going to keep up my grades. I am going to stay on the honor roll. I am going to graduate on time. I was supposed to go overseas as an exchange student but couldn’t, so my father said he was done with me. He said, “You’re just going to lie around and have babies for the rest of your life”. That’s what he thought of me. He didn’t think I was going to do anything better with my life. I was out to prove him wrong. I wanted to be more. Having my son gave me that. I tell my son now; you gave me that spark to do more and to know what it is to truly love another human being. My son pushed me to work because I had to do what I had to do to take care of him. If I didn’t, who else would?

 

PM: Growing up in Gary, Indiana, who were you inspired by as a child?

AH: It was my grandmother. She had the first black interracial beauty college in America. It was called Putnam Beauty School. She had an etiquette school, a salon, a barber college and was in the fashion industry as well. She had me involved in so many things. My grandmother’s sister, my great aunt who is eighty-nine years old, told me that I was just like my grandmother. I sat back and thought, wow, I am like her. I wear so many hats and like my grandmother, I am into everything. If there was a fashion show, she had me in it. She also crocheted and I wish I would have sat down and took the time to learn to knit and sew. She started me in modeling by the time I was four. If there was a fashion show, community service, something at the YMCA, she made sure I was involved. In philanthropy, you don’t see a lot of young black women. My grandmother was one of those people. That’s when I realized I was just like her. I love to give back. That’s a discussion I have with a lot of women; how to turn your passion into profit and be able to turn that profit back into your passion. I took over my grandmother’s salon because I love hair and I love beautifying men and women. I love making over their image into something they never dreamed they could achieve. At one point, I was being paid for my passion. It was something I loved to do. I don’t do it anymore to get paid. I do it now for free, so it became a passion again. Once a month, I go to a shelter and cut hair for the homeless because it is something I love to do.

PM: This had to be a very scary time for you as a young woman. How do you respond to the things you are most fearful of? What made you continue rise up in the face of adversity? What drives you forward daily?

AH: I never had fear. I don’t know what it is to feel fear. A lot of us have trouble with asking for help. I don’t have that fear. If I don’t have something, I will ask. I will allow my pride to take a backseat. Everyone is so prideful and afraid to ask for help. Finishing school was so important to me. I knocked on a woman’s door, her name is Miss Roscoe. She’s still with us.   She’s one hundred-five years old and still alive! Anyway, I remember going and knocking on her door. I had my son in my arms, wrapped in a bed blanket. I remember telling her that Miss Barbara sent me to her for help. I said to Miss Roscoe, I have to finish school and I don’t have anyone to watch my son. I don’t have any money. I barely can afford diapers and milk, but I have to finish school. That woman grabbed my baby out of my arms and said, “Baby, go to school. Your son is going to be alright.” I ran out of her house, ran down her stairs and ran around the corner to my school. It wasn’t a perfect situation, but it was also nothing but God. I had no one to help me. My family told me they wouldn’t help me and that I had to figure it out for myself. So, I did. I was thinking, God, thank you! I was praising God. I was so excited that I would get to finish school! That was so important to me. I needed that diploma in my hand. I just wanted to be able to say I did it. My dad was done with me and signed me over to the state as an [emancipated] minor. He told me he wasn’t going to do anything for me and to figure it all out. I had to just make up my mind that I was going to do it. If I didn’t, I would have been a statistic. I would have been one of those girls who left school for good. Most girls when they have a baby leave school for months or for good. I was out of school for three weeks. That’s all I could afford and I went right back to school.

 

PM: You know, in some ways, your father gave you a gift. Would you agree with that?

AH: Yes, and that is something that I tell him now. I called him about four years ago and told him that I just wanted to thank him. He said, for what? I said, “For doing what you did for me. At the time, I was upset and I didn’t understand because of my anger, but I really do believe that you helped me. You didn’t enable me. You weren’t a crutch for me. You made me go out and do what I had to do as a mother. I was a child. I didn’t know what it took to be a mom. I had to figure it out. So, I have to thank you. I have to applaud you.” A lot of people can’t understand what he did. A lot of people ask how a father can do that to his daughter and grandchild. You were his baby, you were all he had. And I was! But at the same time, I had to take responsibility. I was now a parent of a son. I missed out on a lot in my junior and senior year, but I was a mom. I was engulfed in motherhood. Going to school and being in all those activities like the dance team and the volleyball team? I couldn’t be a part of them anymore.

PM: I read a quote from you on your Facebook page that said, “When you are challenged by adversity, or faced by an unforeseen obstacle, we are at times, fearful, maybe even expect failure. But the key is to remember that now since you are eye to eye with it, you can OVERCOME!” How do you overcome when you are feeling at your lowest?

AH: I remember that success and failure run hand in hand. People think success and failure are opposites, but they’re totally hand in hand. You can’t achieve success without failing. If you walk around thinking that all you are going to be is successful and that you will never fail, you’re kidding yourself. You’re going to have those days when you feel down and out. You are going to have those days that you feel nobody is supporting me and no one believes in me. Sometimes you just need to take a moment to sit back and breathe. Maybe even meditate a little bit and convince yourself that you are going to figure it out. That’s where so many people fall short. We think that everyone is against us. Sometimes you just need to chill out, relax, take a back seat and say I’m going to start over again. If you make a mistake, at least you know you have the opportunity in life to go back and fix it. If you don’t take that step forward to even make that mistake, you’ll never know the outcome. People fear mistakes, but you’ll never know what you can do if you fear the unknown. You have to take that chance. You have to take that leap of faith.

PM: Then what exactly defines success for you?

AH: The outcome. Everything I’ve done, I never imagined doing it. I never imagined being a builder. The man that I hired to build my home and took my money said he was going to do a great job for me. We had a contract. We had an agreement in writing. He wasn’t a good business man. I’m thinking, God, what am I going to do now? God said, finish it yourself. While we were in litigation for years, I acquired my license as a builder. I look at the outcome. I look at my home. My husband looks at our home and asks, how did you envision this? I really don’t know. I don’t have an answer. All I know is if God gives you something, if you can dream it and see it, it’s tangible. Everything I see, everything I dream, is tangible.

 

PM: You have a philosophy built on fashion, philanthropy and faith. Tell us about that.

AH: Fashion is all about my grandmother. Everything about fashion came from my grandmother. She’s a fashionista in the modeling industry. Faith. That’s my foundation. Philanthropy. God gives us two things that most of us, as adults, can’t live without. You have to have a job and you have to have your work. Most people get those two things confused. Your job is what you do every day to get a paycheck. Your work is your philanthropy. It is what you are doing for God. Most of us forget to do our work when we are busy doing our jobs. If you’re doing what you are supposed to be doing for people, if you are giving them a compliment, a word of encouragement, that’s something you should be doing every single day. That’s your work. When I am sitting at my job and someone needs a word of encouragement, I’m going to encourage them. That’s my work. We’re all too busy tearing people down. There are so many people who need that communication. There are so many people who lack communication skills. So when I see someone who needs conversation, a hug, someone to just hold their hand, let them know that they’re not walking their path alone, I’m going to do it. The philanthropy side is who I am. I love that. I have a passion for that.

PM: You started a campaign called “Find One Reason to Smile”. What is the philosophy behind that campaign? Who are you trying to inspire? Who is the intended recipient of this message?

AH: Find One Reason to Smile was birthed through a vision that God gave me while I was in the shower. I jumped out of the shower, naked, ran to my laptop and typed it in. Every domain was available for it. I knew God gave this to me. Within two weeks, it was launched and I was doing a launch party. I knew it had to have a purpose. I knew what I had gone through as a child. I never talked about it because I lost my voice. I was fearful and I was ashamed. When I say I never feel fear, I personally don’t, though I was afraid of what people thought of me. People weren’t receptive to my story. Even my mom said I made it all up and it wasn’t true, but I would tell her that I could recite blow by blow what happened. People ask me all the time, with all I’ve been through, why do I smile all the time? Simply, life could be so much worse. I should be cracked up or cracked out, for real. [laughs] I raised money for “Women Called Moses”, an organization that helps women and children who are victims of domestic violence. They also help men as well, which is something we don’t often talk about. There are men who are victims of domestic violence. They are quiet and very fearful about talking about themselves being abused as children. They also don’t talk about the fact that they are abused by their women, because they don’t want to look weak or like they can’t defend themselves against their women. It’s emasculating, but they don’t want to hit their women in return, nor should they, so they just stay quiet. I raised the funds I wanted to raise for them through an IndieGoGo campaign and I ended up raising $15,000 for them. I still want them to share their stories. Men, women, boys, girls, teenagers, I want them all to share their stories because we all have stories to tell. I want to hear stories about overcoming. I don’t care if you lost your dog, your cat, your favorite toy. I want to hear about how you overcame that loss. If someone hurt you, how did you overcome? We have all faced some type of adversity. But how did you overcome? If you were a track star who was injured and could no longer run, how did you overcome? What was your next step? What was your next move? I want to hear about how you recreated and reinvented yourself. We all have a reason to smile again. We’re not just going to stand still and be the victim. I hate when people play the victim. You have to let that scab heal over because that is how God made our bodies, with the ability to heal. At some point in life you have to say, I have to heal, I have to smile and I have to figure it out and move on. What’s your next step? That’s what Find One Reason to Smile is all about. Every day that you wake up, I know you can find something to smile about.

PM: You live your life based on the proverb of to whom much is given, much is required. You are involved in so many charity organizations.   Most people think philanthropy and charity involves the ability to give money. If you were to advise someone who has very little materially on how they can get involved with charitable organizations, where would you tell them to start?

AH: To give your time.   Think about most charity organizations. They have a lot of people who give money. There are huge banks and corporate organizations with millions, giving away their money to charities every day. I’m on the Dallas board for the Committee of St. Jude’s [Children’s Hopsital]. St. Jude’s doesn’t ask me for my money. More than anything, they want my time. Can I help out with the walkathon? Yes, and I covered areas I wasn’t even in. We lost a volunteer in this area, can you be there? Yes, give me the address and the time and I will be there. Can you pick up some coffee for the volunteers? Yes, I’ll run to Starbucks. We need chips and Gatorade for our guests. I’m off to Walmart. All they want is for you to come in and help. If it’s just talking to people, making calls, sending out emails, getting the word out, handing out brochures, I’m there. We’re drowning in knowledge. When are we going to take the time to share that knowledge? When are we going to take the time to read some things? Let’s show someone the way. Let’s bring awareness. Most people don’t know about available programs because they don’t have the ability to tap into that. If you teach people to take the time to read about the things you have learned, they’ll get it.

PM: With two children, a thriving career of your own as a philanthropist, general contractor and author, as well as a husband who is a famous MLB player, how do you find the time to unwind? What do you do to take care of yourself on the daily?

AH: At first, I didn’t. For years, I didn’t. I lost myself. I gained weight until I was nearly 230 pounds. I was depressed. I was miserable and I hated life. In about 2010, everything changed. Everything changed for me. That’s when I started my sports apparel line. I realized I needed to do some things for me. I was always so worried about everybody else. God told me it was time for me to find my joy. I started taking alone time. I started taking trips to New York. I love New York City. I think it’s the best city ever. I’m going to take that time to learn to enjoy me. I never knew what it was just to enjoy me and my own company. Even at home, I’m sitting on the back patio; I’m looking at the pool and listening to the water. I’m just enjoying life. I know the things I can purchase for myself. I can be a little high maintenance, but when I am outside, I am just enjoying being with God. In 2012, I was diagnosed with a rare blood disease and I nearly lost my life. So, literally, having air in my lungs and the ability to breathe, I am so grateful for. I can take a deep breath in. I can talk in complete sentences without gasping for air. I am no longer on three different machines and three different breathing treatments like I was. I used to pray only when I was in trouble, but now I have learned I have to pray every day for the simple things I am thankful for.

PM: What is the secret to keeping the spark in a marriage where you have two people who are so incredibly busy? How do you and LaTroy manage to make it work?

AH: [laughs] Now, that’s funny, Cher. With all the hell that we have gone through, I think I can honestly say, that we are still learning each other and that is something that we forgot. I tell people when I give classes or when I do mentorship programs, to men or to women, those men have to remember, when they have children, they have to remember the woman in their life first. Your children are going to grow and they are going to leave you and then, you are not going to know your spouse. I had to teach my husband that, because he couldn’t understand it. I remember the day he came to the realization. I was sitting down at one of his games. After the game, I asked him to sit with me for just a moment. I watched the players come out after the game, coming out to meet their wives, most of who had babies in strollers and car seats, lugging baby bags and all the other baby knick knacks. The players would come out and scoop up their kids, hugging them and kissing them, asking “How’s daddy’s baby” and they’d walk away. Mom is left standing there with the car seats, the strollers and all the other stuff, just standing there. I said to my husband, see? That would cause any woman to snap. This is why women go through postpartum depression, because everyone forgets about the mom. They get so overwhelmed with all the talk of the baby, the baby, the baby. But, mom is the one that is there. She’s going through something. You can’t forget about me. Someday, we’ll be empty nesters. We’ll have to go through all the small talk again like what’s my favorite color? What’s my favorite movie? What’s my signature perfume? You as my husband should know all of that. If you don’t, it means you’re not attentive to my needs. It wasn’t until we started going to counseling that he realized some of the things he was doing that made me feel small. He totally got it then and said, “Wow, I did some damage, huh?” I said, “Yes, you absolutely did”. That’s when we started readjusting ourselves. As women, we put so much energy into our children and our husbands that we tend to forget about ourselves. We just need to learn to say, I love you all, but right now, it’s about me and then, stick to it. I need everyone to bend and compromise, just as I have done for all of you. There has to be compromise and understanding.

PM: Your husband has a huge fan base that you do not consider “fans” but rather, family.   Why are they so important to you and your husband?

AH: Well, because they started a fan club literally out of love. They started the club when I was pregnant with my daughter and he was coming out of the stadium. It was raining outside. No one else was stopping to sign autographs, but my husband stopped. The next day, they started this fan club. Every day, there was not a time that we didn’t stand outside and converse with them after a game. They would throw us parties. The group started out really small, just a group of people who were already friends. They were all really close with each other. Eventually, more people outside the group started signing up for the fan club. They celebrate LaTroy. We go to their events. We go to their homes. They celebrate his birthday. We all just do a lot together.

PM: I read a story how, when you were pregnant with your daughter, you had to undergo hernia surgery and was not able to lift your newborn. Members of the LaTroy Hawkins Fan Club stepped in to assist you with the baby. How did it feel to be surrounded by the love of virtual strangers at a time you were so low?

AH: It felt great. People always talk about family and how blood is thicker than water. I totally disagree. My family are the people I know who are genuine and don’t have an agenda. They are there because they really, really care about us. I can’t remember a time they were not there. I can’t remember a time we were without them. When I had my surgery, they were taking shifts, making sure someone was always there to help me. When one had to leave for work, another one took over. They had it all figured out!

PM: What makes you get out of bed on days where you are feeling less than inspired?

AH: You know what, it’s funny. I don’t really have those days. I get up and have my hot tea in the morning. I try to make the best of my day. This past weekend was strange because it was the first weekend I really had nothing to do and no place to be. I just chilled for the first time in a long time. It was for me and it felt right.

PM: From the outside, looking in, it would appear that your life is perfect. What are the not so perfect aspects of being Anita Hawkins that many women could relate to? What makes you a flawed human like the rest of us?

AH: I don’t like my body. I think I have so many imperfections, but I have learned to love them. I hate my arms. I can’t stand my arms. This year was the first year I did not wear a Juicy Couture jogging suit without the jacket on. Look at previous pictures of me. I rarely have my arms out. I think they are too big, but you know what? They’re my arms and I have learned to love them. It’s also 100 plus a degree in Texas and it’s HOT. I’m going to have to learn to love my arms because it is too hot out. I went to a fat camp in Tampa. I was there for a few weeks. It was the hardest thing. It was such a challenge. I went out there and the heat? I thought I was going to die.

PM: In your novel, The Storm After The Storm, how much of the title character is based on the life of Anita Hawkins? What do you have in common with the protagonist and what differences are there between you and Aere?

AH: Aere (pronounced Air-ay) is me. Totally. I am Aere. Everything about her is me. Her name, Aere, means storm. My name means storm. It’s all about who she is now after coming out a life storm. Every situation in the book is fact. My sister called me this morning in tears. My cousin called me yesterday. They both had just finished the book. They both said the exact same thing. They apologized to me for everything I had endured. They told me you are an overcomer. You are victorious. I was boo-hooing right along with them. They are my biggest supporters and they always tell me that if I want to talk to them, they’re there. The book has been so therapeutic for me. I released myself from the bondage I had myself in by writing it. Since telling my story, I feel that the shackles have been released.

PM: When you reach the end of your life, which hopefully is a long, long time from now, how would you want people to remember Anita Hawkins?

AH: I want them to look at me and say, “She lived”. I want to know that I touched them in some shape, form or fashion. I love people. When I do book signings, I get up from the table and hug them. I embrace them. I talk to them. I want to know their stories. I want them to know their story is important. My love for people knows no bounds. I simply love people.

Download Anita Hawkins book, The Storm After The Storm on Amazon.com for Kindle or purchase at her website, FindOneReasonToSmile.com.

 

Photo Credits:

Ray Williams Collection

Wardrobe Styling: J. Bolin

Makeup: Riska Crowder

Hair: Anita Hawkins