From Social Girl To Social Good
As I write this I am bedridden and wrapped up in three blankets with tissue scattered everywhere taking sips of warm Echinacea tea in between typing battling what I call the Kindergarten Cooties. If three years ago you had told the girl chasing writing deadlines, attending press parties, and following the social elite entertainment circuit that she would find happiness in a classroom teaching small children, she would have laughed at you…maybe even choking a little bit. That girl was and is me.
I graduated from Rutgers University-Newark with a Bachelor’s in Journalism and Media Studies. I walked across that stage with an internship from Shape Magazine and W Magazine under my belt with some recommendations as well as a Lifestyle blog that I managed on Tumblr. I was ready for the lavish, the fun, the challenges of the deadlines, the bylines and headlines. I was ready to see my name in print and online, but reality had soon set in and there I was thrown into a career path I was not prepared for. The freelance gigs came more than often and I saw the silver lining of being able to build up a cool portfolio, but the solid, salary on-staff positions were far and wide and there I was making a full time job out of applying for every single journalism job I could find in New York City with Sallie Mae tapping at my door.
During that time I began freelancing for Madame Noire and Saint Heron and both came with awesome perks that included music release parties, press parties, networking events in the city, and tons more. I knew that I could name drop and gain access to several different events with my best friend tagging along as my plus one, I mean come on I freelanced for Solange Knowles and Armina Mussa. I even ended up freelancing for Upscale Magazine, Blavity and the Huff Post. I was in the thick of it and I was happy for a bit. Train rides between Jersey and New York City soon began to break my pockets as my FOMO syndrome heightened. I needed to be everywhere and in everything. I needed to find stories to submit so that I could make some money and keep money coming in, but as a freelance writer what they rarely tell you is there are times when you don’t get paid on time and that happens often. In networking and speaking with other freelancers I soon learned that in addition to freelancing they also had full-time jobs in completely different fields because like me, they too needed a stable and comfortable means of income. In 2012 I decided to go back to graduate school for education. I thought why not teach and write?
During my graduate studies, I picked up a part time job as a teen program coordinator for The Boys & Girls Club of Newark where I worked for two years. It was an afternoon to evening job that allowed me the time to write in the morning and do my class readings. It also allowed me the space to stay out late at night in the city and not have to worry about waking up early for work. Working at BGCN, I realized there was a serious issue that our education system was not addressing. I could not understand how students in high school still could not write simple paragraphs or even simple sentences. As a writer and someone who’s passionate about the written language I realized it was something I wanted to spend a great deal of my life doing. I wanted to take something that I am great at and use it to help others so I began to freelance less and less until I didn’t want to do it anymore.
The thing about purpose though is that it always tends to meet you at a crossroads. Here I was teetering between a career in media and one in education and trying hard to find a way to merge the two. I didn’t want to give up the NYC parties and social scene, but I also found myself feeling less fulfilled by it. I realized I didn’t care about entertainment or celeb news as much as I did the thrill of being on the scene. I thought that education was such a boring career choice and folks would sort of look at my funny for choosing a common career over one that came with status. I thought without media I wouldn’t mean anything anymore, but I was wrong. I’m going into my fourth year as an educator and I am proud to know that high school students I once taught or worked with are now in college, studying abroad and doing good in the world. As a high school English teacher, I taught 150 students a day. I had the pleasure of impacting 150 students a day!!! Now as a kindergarten teacher I value their innocence, I know that everyday when they step foot into my classroom, I am responsible for preparing them for the next thirteen years of their lives.
Throughout my career in education I’m always focused on ways I can provide enrichment that speaks to the needs of the whole person. So yes, in the grand scheme of things I want to make sure that I am teaching my students in a way that is growing their brains, but I also want to provide them with life tools that will prepare them for the world socially. I started Curate Your Life in January at the high school I was working at in the form of a one day summit chocked full of enriching workshops that spoke to the teen girl population because I noticed that there was a lack of life skills offerings at the school I was working for. I thought if my school was lacking it, what other schools are as well, so I branched off and started Sisterhood Sessions which are hour long small group life skills workshops that I’ve hosted at after-school programs, at Saturday schools and within school districts as part of their 21st Century Learning programs. I also branched off and started one that spoke to college age and working professional women called You Ok Sis: Newark as a way to offer a safe space for us to come together after work and bond and vent and celebrate one another as WOC.
My life has shifted so much when I found myself at that crossroads and deciding to take a risk on a road I was unfamiliar with. Goals have become less superficial. My life has become more purpose driven and selfless. I’ve transformed from the girl chasing social status, the social elite, the fast pace party scene to the woman grounded in herself and the social good that she’s doing in the world even if she have to fight them while dealing with the kindergarten cooties.
Brief Bio: Deja L. Jones is a New Jersey writer, kindergarten teacher and President/DIrector of Programs at Curate Your Life. Her work as been featured on Madame Noire, Saint Heron, The Huff Post, Upscale Magazine plus many more, but these days she finds pure joy in teaching the kiddos and making small changes in her city that will ultimately impact the world.