Lessons On Being A Professional Black Woman: What I Wish I knew Then…

In September, I was invited to address the participants of a wonderful professional development event hosted by the Kriolas Professional Association (KPA). It was such a well-organized event, filled with great lessons about taking care of “self” and how to succeed in the working world that I wrote down and took home.

If these young women’s work is any indication of where we are headed, I can tell you that the future of the Cabo Verdean community in the United States is in excellent hands.

KPA asked me to share stories of my personal and professional journey that may resonate with participants. After the event, there was a social media buzz about how positive and inspiring the sessions and discussions were. Quite a few people asked me to share with them what I talked about so here is an abbreviated version of what I discussed. What is missing are the stories and quirky connections that spontaneously came to my mind as I connected with audience members. These moments are part of what made the “real life experience” extra special but could not be captured on paper.


An important piece of advice I received from my mentor during my undergraduate years in college was to consider the life I wanted to live and choose a career that allowed me to live that life. I never forget that lesson because it allows me to stay focused on my life and passion instead of the paycheck. I became a professor because I wanted to be in charge of my own schedule and my own time, the topics I chose to teach about, and to serve my homeland of Cabo Verde.

Along with this major lesson, here are 7 lessons that I wish were shared with me as a Black woman while I was going through the journey of graduate school and deciding which professional path to choose.

  1. Be yourself…authentically and unapologetically. How I show up is important. No code switching. (Code switching is when Black people/People of color have to “switch” the way they dress, wear their hair, or talk to fit in to predominantly white spaces particularly at work).

  2. Know your worth and don’t settle for less. No professional opportunity that is truly yours will pay you less than you deserve or will ask you to work for free.

  3. Be very mindful of who you allow in your mind, body and space. This includes family. Choose great mentors. Have diverse group of friends but have boundaries of how much of yourself is given to these folks and how you allow them in your space.

  4. Be mindful of projects, community activities, volunteer opportunities you engage in. No is a complete sentence. Make sure whatever you choose to do aligns with your broader life goals.

  5. Listen to your own inner voice. That’s your true voice. Live out that truth. The universe never conspires against you.

  6. “You can have it all” is a scam especially for us Black and brown women. You don’t have to do it all. (Note: During one of the breakout sessions, Licensed therapist, Vanessa of Holistically You, INC. discussed at length that we, as Black women don’t have to do it all to have it all. We don’t have to be at all places and overworking ourselves. Vanessa gave us strategies for self-care that are intentional and realistic. I suggest connecting with her and the services she provides specifically to women of color).

  7. Your personal and your professional life do not have to be mutually exclusive. They can be complimentary. For me, being a wife and a mom became part of my brand and professional journey.

I have one additionally lesson that I did not discuss at length or explicitly during my KPA presentation, although it was the overarching point of my talk and the entire event.

Here it is:

  1. Sisters: we are not in competition with each other in life, in the work place or in social settings. When one of us shines, we all shine. Supporting each other as KPA does, is the only way to secure our present and future successes, particularly for Black women and women of color.

I hope these help…thanks for reading!


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