During Women's History Month, we'll be spotlighting empowering women who are making moves in their industries and communities. This week, we're giving all the light to jill of all trades, Stephanie James.
LOS ANGELES — Born on a military base in Germany and raised in Colorado Springs, Stephanie James has journeyed life as an athlete, poet, world traveler, singer and academic scholar (to name a few). During her time as a high school student with a 4.1 GPA, she grabbed the attention of Doug Williams, NFL’s first black quarterback to win a superbowl, during a AAU Championship game that paved her way to Hampton University on a full-ride scholarship, where she received a Bachelor’s in Public Relations.
Although James’ accomplishments stretch far and wide from being inducted into her high school’s Hall of Fame and traveling to 38 countries, the beauty lives rather in her journey than the destination, so without further ado…
What happened at the AAU game that led you to receive a scholarship to Hampton University?
So for context, my high school basketball team wasn't top-performing. As a good player, it made it hard to get noticed by scouts so I started playing with the AAU, The Amateur Athletic Union. My team and I traveled to Texas and were around a group of excited kids who asked one of my taller teammates if she could dunk to which she replied “no” – so then I said “...let me see that ball” which stirred laughs because I was way shorter than her, what made me think I could do it?!
Instead of dunking, I did one of my trick shots where I throw the ball behind my back and make a layup and the kids went crazy! We went on to win that championship and NFL’s Doug Williams saw the game. The timing of this was great because he then approached me by sharing that his friend coaches at Hampton University - at the time, I hadn’t heard of this school or knew it existed, but he said he’d tell his coach-friend about me. I didn’t think much of it since I heard that gesture pretty often, but he kept his word and I got a basketball scholarship to Hampton University, a HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) in Southern Virginia.
You have accomplished so much in such a short amount of time. From academic achievements to life achievements, how have you maintained your mental health?
I read often. I just finished Atomic Habits by James Clear and in there it reads, “if you improve your life by 1% every day for a year, you'll end up 37 times better by the time you're done.” This is why the little things matter. I also listen to the Bible app everyday, workout 6x a week, and attend therapy with Ginger. I think therapy has a negative connotation, but sometimes you just need a safe space to share your dreams and be told that your dreams are attainable – so I have sessions even when things are going well.
Also, I bought a bullet journal recently to help track my habits, my poetry features, my upcoming travels, my medical records, and other notations that will help me prioritize the important things and people in life.
Why do you think International Women's Day (IWD) matters in today's world?
Ooo that’s a loaded question. I think for a really long time, women have been – I don’t want to say forgotten because that’s not what it is – but have been in the background in a lot of ways. For instance, let’s take Brittney Griner, a seven-time WNBA All-Star and two-time WNBA Defensive Player of the Year, and what’s going on between the NBA, Russia and Ukraine. The only reason why she is in Russia is because the WNBA doesn’t pay players as much as the NBA players, so in the off season, WNBA players go overseas to earn money internationally. With Russia as one of the highest paying countries, and Brittney being one of the better players, she’s naturally going to play in Russia. So to go back, women are not forgotten, but are in the background and are still fighting for the same liberties and privileges as men.
Even today, there are still “good ole boy” groups that live within corporations so it’s having to fight for that same respect. There are still spaces where women don't have a seat at the table unless they create it. I think it’s important to have IWD to 1) remind the world how powerful, strong, and amazing we [women] are in our capabilities and 2) to recognize and show appreciation for the women who’ve paved the way for the younger generation of girls to know “this can exist for us.” Even if the industry is different, we can still gain inspiration from the Amelia Earhart’s and Sheryl Swoopes out there.
As a consistent digital creator and someone who intertwines spirituality in their works, do you face any criticism on your concepts or productions?
Of course. As an inspirational poet, some of my works mention God and people have their stance on religion or like to hyper-pinpoint on something that was said that potentially rubbed them the wrong way. On one hand, some are sincere in wanting to understand my interpretations to which I do take the time to explain it to them. On the opposite end, I just let people be. In your calling, if anybody has an issue with that, that problem belongs to them, not you. Comparison is the thief of joy.
What’s next for you?
I released my first album of poetry in 2014 and my second in 2016. I do have some new pieces that will be going into the next album, but am focused on building Changing Tourism right now - a documentary that will highlight the black indigenous people of color (BIPOC) communities in different countries around the world. Given my travels, I want to provide a platform for people to tell their stories that would otherwise remain untold. That’s my newest venture… and becoming fluent in Spanish.
🔥Rapid fire questions🔥
What is a personal quality that you are currently cultivating or would like to cultivate that stems from a woman that you admire?
Kellee Edwards, the first black woman to have a TV show on the travel channel, is in a realm I want to be in.
Also, Maya Angelou for poetry inspiration. Not because she’s the only poet that everybody always mentions, but because she’s the poet that everybody knows. She is synonymous with the word “poet”. People who have made themselves synonymous with the industry they’ve dedicated their lives to, who made it to the peak of their craft, are my inspiration.
What track pumps you up?
This is going to date me, but Lose Yourself by Eminem. I used to play this song before every basketball game in high school. Like, the superbowl this year was a moment for me for real.
If you could tell your younger self a piece of advice, what would it be?
In one of my poems called “Her,” there’s a line that says “sometimes the best lesson is how to stand still.” I would tell my younger self to enjoy the present more because the good ole days are now. There’s beauty in every moment if we’re willing to stop and see it.
When you learn how to enjoy the journey, you are a master of your fate.
For more about Stephanie, follow Instagram account @justavessel22 and her travel page @changingtourism. Subscribe on the website: justavesselpoetry.com for all updates.
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