Black Stories/09: Antoinette Houston

Multi-disciplinary Creator, Antoinette Houston, Joins Sr. Media Producer, Justin James Lopez to discuss finding balance and building bridges for the next generation. Let's hear her story!

About the Guest:


Chicago native & internationally known recording artist, Toiné (pronounced “TowNay”), is a perfect example of a woman standing in and for her purpose. Influencing across/within Entertainment and Technology, Antoinette “Toiné” Houston has helped blaze the STEM trail as a business & podcast founder (podcast titled: The Experience (W)rap-Up), animation storyteller, and leader in User Experience Engineering. This is all while continuing to make her mark as a professional Rapper, Lyricist, Spoken Word Artist, Actress, Author, Host and Model. Her work across both spectrums have afforded her opportunities to work, live and mentor in/out of the U.S. and she and her work have been featured/highlighted on Network TV shows such as PBS’s, “Economic Outlook”, NBC’s “The Steve Harvey Show” and UPN’s “The Jam.”

 

Specifically within the Music/Entertainment Arena, Toiné is an award-winner Hip-Hop Soul & Spoken Word Artist, who lends her art and storytelling to not only a variety of radio stations across the world, but also as a motivational speaker/facilitator across youth and women organizations. Her music spans across hip-hip, house, jazz and neo-soul. Ms. Toiné has even been nicknamed, “the Jay-Z of poetry” by TVOne. She’s featured on TVOne’s Verses & Flow (live), co-headlined her first UK tour and shared the screen with seasoned television and film actors, such as Lawrence Fishburne, Jennifer Beals and Terrence Howard. Her hip-hop albums (“Love States” and “I Be.”) are streaming everywhere (Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music, etc.), and you can also hear her music featured on Spike Lee’s “She’s Gotta Have It” season 2 soundtrack (available now on Netflix).


Working on her third album AND continuing to be an influencer, disruptor & leader in the world of STEM and UX, Toiné continues to lend her gifts and give herself authentically and unapologetically to whatever lane she journeys down. From providing listeners with quality music, to bringing candor to board rooms and podcast airwaves, Toiné provides poignant messaging targeting the beauty of truth, vulnerability and power in being/staying confident and unwavering in who you are and what you stand for. Toiné’s path towards success within tech, music and art/entertainment make her unique in her own right.

  • Full Episode Transcript
  • Justin James Lopez:
  • Hey, y'all. Welcome to another episode of Amazon's Black Stories, where we highlight the stories of Black designers, creatives, and researchers from all around the world. I'm your host, Justin James Lopez. And today, I'm joined by Antoinette Toine Houston, where we talk about the importance of resilience and making sure you find balance in all of the spaces in your life. Let's hear her story.

  • So Toine, thank you for joining me. Honestly, I'm really excited about this episode and that's not a dig at any other episode that I've done. But honestly, this is one of the episodes I've been really looking forward to because you're one of the most creative people that I've met, in the sense that you wear so many hats. Outside of your professional experience as a principal user experience architect, which is not something that a lot of people can say to begin with, aside from that, you work as a lyricist, a spoken word artist, model, actress. What is it, author?

  • Antoinette Houston:
  • Yeah.

  • Justin James Lopez:
  • As well as what? More recently, animator.

  • Antoinette Houston:
  • Animator.

  • Justin James Lopez:
  • It's almost like anything that you want to do, you just say, "You know what? I'm just going to go ahead and do that." And then, you are really good at it, is another thing.

  • Antoinette Houston:
  • Thank you.

  • Justin James Lopez:
  • Because there's tons of people that just say, "These are all titles that I hold. I'm also CEO, because I started an LLC that I don't do anything about."

  • Antoinette Houston:
  • Right.

  • Justin James Lopez:
  • That's not the case here, so that's why I've been really excited for this one. But for the audience members that haven't ran into any of your work, talk to me a little bit about how you would define yourself, because you have so many hats that you wear.

  • Antoinette Houston:
  • I would call myself a creative. I think that is probably the best umbrella sort of term that I can think of. Because even within UX engineering, there's a creative element to that, that I've always been drawn to. And then when you add in the music and the entertainment and animation and I'm a podcaster as well, I think that all-

  • Justin James Lopez:
  • Oh, I missed that one.

  • Antoinette Houston:
  • No, it's okay. Sometimes you never know. But I know that I definitely define myself as a creator and a creative in whatever space.

  • Justin James Lopez:
  • No, for sure. And I think that's something I agree with from a you perspective, because it really is like everything you touch, you touch from this creative lens. And I'm trying to figure out what the origin point for that is.

  • One of the things that really touches me personally is experiencing your work with poetry, because it's something that in my life was one of the earliest components that allowed me to feel like I can kind of break out of this shell. Here I am, I was always a person that was semi-popular. I knew a lot of people, a lot of people knew... I would say this, a lot of people knew who I was, but not a lot of people knew me, because I didn't really know how to express that. And I think that poetry really helped with that for me. And that's something that's been really big in your space as well. I want to draw these parallels, but-

  • Antoinette Houston:
  • Let's draw them. Let's draw these parallels, come on.

  • Justin James Lopez:
  • No, I want to draw these parallels, but I wanted to learn more about your story in that space too, because it is something that is such a vulnerability component, for allowing people to really open up in that way. But it takes a lot of knowing yourself and knowing how to say that thing. So where did that start for you?

  • Antoinette Houston:
  • I started as early as seven. And at the time, I would just write my feelings down in my diary. I didn't know what I was creating. I didn't know that those were poems. I didn't even know the word poem or poetry. But I knew that I had all these feelings about just things that were going on in my household and my environment and me growing as a young woman and a young lady. And it's certain things that I wanted to verbally say that I couldn't say, because I don't think that would've been respectful, even if it was just certain questions that I had about why are things happening the way they're happening.

  • And I found that writing was just an outlet for me to find my voice and to hone my voice as well, not even knowing that's what I was doing. I just wanted to get it out. And so, it was really like a release for me. And then, I didn't share it. I just wrote it and put it away. And it wasn't until probably a few years later that I ended up... My mom encouraged me to... Where we were living at the time, they would have these like summer talent shows. And so, she was like, "You should go. You should perform." And I'm like, "I don't perform. What? I don't do anything." And I guess she had been reading my diary or whatever, and she was like-

  • Justin James Lopez:
  • Trust issues.

  • Antoinette Houston:
  • See, this is where it stems from. Anyway, she said, "No, you have great raps." I was like, "What? I don't. What are you talking about?" And she was like, "Do this one." And either way, it was a rap. I don't know the whole thing, but I remember it started, "My name is Toine. I live on Stony." Because I used to live on Stony Island, here in Chicago. Anyway, I'm going up against these 15, 16 year olds, that at the time I'm thinking they're grown, because I'm nine. I come in second place in that competition.

  • Justin James Lopez:
  • Nice.

  • Antoinette Houston:
  • And I remember the feeling of hearing the claps and seeing the smiles in the audience faces and cheering my name. And I was like, "I don't know what this is, but I like it. I like this feeling. And if my writing and if my voice keeps giving me this, I want more of whatever this is."

  • And then, as I got older, I started to learn more about poetry and literature, and the difference between literary poetry, and spoken word, and slam poetry, and all these different facets. And I just became more fascinated with that and more confident in the stories that I was telling, whether they were more personal stories or just stories from just the environments that I was seeing, and wanted to speak about, and share a light to certain things. And then, it just became relatable to people, where I started growing a fan base around that and it was like, "Oh." So it just happened organically, from a little girl just trying to release herself.

  • Justin James Lopez:
  • Yeah. I can't ignore that slam poetry actually was born in Chicago. I want to say in the '70s or '80s.

  • Antoinette Houston:
  • Was it? I thought it was New York. Was it?

  • Justin James Lopez:
  • No, no, no.

  • Antoinette Houston:
  • Okay.

  • Justin James Lopez:
  • So the Beat movement, which is... And I'll tell you why I know this. So like, "How do you know this stuff?" Because I'm from the East Coast. I'm from the Jersey tri-state area. So Jersey, Philly, New York. The Beat movement for sure started as far as just using words to express themselves. But it was more of what we would call literary traditional poetry. And some people maybe would say it out loud. But the slam poetry, of the way we see it now, even when you think of the point system, they completely broke down that idea of you can't judge art. Because it was like, "Well, we got this slam poetry event and we judging the hell out of this art."

  • Antoinette Houston:
  • Right. That part was-

  • Justin James Lopez:
  • Yeah, that was in Chicago, I think a little bit later. That was around the 1970s and '80s, where that whole thing... So I was just like, "Man, how did this impact?" And it sounds like it just naturally, just being in that space-

  • Antoinette Houston:
  • Yeah. Born and raised in Chicago. And for any Chicago ones that hear this, I'm sorry for not knowing that point, but it just naturally... Because no one else in my family does anything creative. They're all in the medical field. So they're heroes in that regard, but I was the only one that was just like, "There's something here." And I just wanted to keep pursuing that.

  • And luckily I was "good enough", where it just kept resonating with people, which kept motivating me. And eventually, poetry turned into rap and rap has turned into working on my third album. And so, it's like yada, yada, yada. It just keeps building. And it's a blessing. I thank God for the favor for sure.

  • Justin James Lopez:
  • If you're starting at seven and if I'm an outsider reading your autobiography, if I'm reading this, I'm like, "Okay, chapter one, chapter two." How did you get then to moving into UX as a profession?

  • Antoinette Houston:
  • That's like chapter 10. It's just like, "Uh, what happened?"

  • Justin James Lopez:
  • Yeah. I'm like, "How did I get here?"

  • Antoinette Houston:
  • Yeah, it's crazy.

  • Justin James Lopez:
  • Spoiler alert.

  • Antoinette Houston:
  • I think what happened was, so all through grammar school, I'm still into writing. I'm dedicating myself to all of these different speech arts competitions. And I'm learning about Maya Angelou and Langston Hughes and Nikki Giovanni. And I'm building this base up of like, "I'm going to be a writer." And then my family is like, "Well, there's no money in writing." I'm like, "What? What do you mean?" They're just like, "Yeah, not so much." And so, I know I didn't want to do medical or healthcare because I'm very, very sensitive. I think there is an empathy that obviously has to come with that field, but there's also some thick skin that has to come with that as well. And just hearing their stories, I was like, "I don't think I'm going to do well in that field."

  • So then I said, "Well, maybe I'll be a lawyer. Because I obviously like to talk and I like to talk about the truth and what is what. And so, maybe this will be a part of conviction." And then, I said it, but I didn't really have any roots underneath that to really go with that. And so I said, "Well, I do like computers." My mom got me my first computer when I was seven as well. And I said, "I like figuring things out," and kind of this whole analytical side of why things work the way that they work. So not only just the world and personal interactions, but also within systems and process, I found myself loving that too. And so, when I researched that at nine or 10, I was like, "There's money in computers. There's money in technology." And I just knew from a very young age, that technology was not going anywhere, ever. I didn't obviously know it was going to be as big as it continues to be, but I just figured it was going to be a path. And so, I started on that path.

  • And in that path, it led me to the development, because I felt like, "Well, you have to build stuff. So I'll just be a developer." And you couldn't have told me different. I got my first job at Motorola. I stayed with them for a number of years. I liked what I was doing there, until I didn't. And then once I didn't, I knew I wanted to stay within tech, but my question to myself was, "What can I do that's still within tech, that's not development? That's a little bit more social, but still allows me to really still investigate human behavior, and why do people do what they do? Why do they use systems that they use? Why are these systems working how they're working?" And that's when I learned about, at the time it was called human computer interaction, here at DePaul University. And I fell in love with it. I took one class and was like, "Oh, my God. This is common sense. Why am I not doing this? Why are not more people doing this?" I just kind of fell in love with it.

  • So I love the fact that I had the development background and I love the fact that I didn't have to stop doing poetry and writing and all of that stuff, and I could still have all of these different things. But I really was working with both of my brains. I could go to a slam poetry set after class and college, but then I could also be in the computer lab for the first half of the day. And I felt the same love within myself, the same satisfaction. And that's how I knew I was on the right path.

  • Justin James Lopez:
  • I'm not going to lie, I was about to say that. I'm like, man, when you talk about using your left brain, right brain, you mastered that, because a lot of people don't. They lean in one way, and either they burn out or whatever. But talking about that topic, how do you find balance in all of these things? Even what you describe of having this mutual love on both sides, this analytical, rational, logical side, and this more creative, free side, and being able to jump in between those worlds and almost like a cognitive code switch way, how do you do that without feeling like you're overwhelming yourself? Or maybe you do feel that sometimes, but.

  • Antoinette Houston:
  • I think what I found was balance within both. So when you talk about the cognitive code switch, I think initially, I kind of had that, and I think that's when I would burn myself out, of like, "No, I have to do this. No, I have to do this." And people that knew me over there, on the creative side, knew nothing about the fact that I worked in STEM. My friends in STEM knew nothing about this other creative side. I was literally living my life that way, of not bridging the two. And when I finally said, "Wait a minute, there is a very creative element to the engineering work that I do here. There's a very empathetic sort of approach that at least I take to UX, where I'm, really looking for those very intangible elements of why and how, and what users are doing with this technology." And so to me, you have to have a sort of creative palette for that, because knowing that no user is like me, I'm not like any other person. And so, we need to kind of come into that design thinking with that sort of thinking.

  • Now, let's switch that. There's also a logical, in my opinion, a logical sort of rational element to writing. If I'm writing a poem or if I'm writing a song or if I'm writing a rap, to me, I'm not just going to throw words together all willy-nilly. There's a certain logic that kind of comes to me when I'm trying to create this story in a way that I hope is relatable or at least true to me. So I found balance in both those worlds and that's what even now currently allows me not to burn out because I'm like, "Okay, let's not make one greater than the other. Let's continue to find balance as we, as in I, as in Antoinette, continue on in both of these spaces, until if I choose, I choose."

  • I had to take some therapy for that one, to be honest, because I didn't just wake up... It really took some meditation and just talking to other people in the space, other women that looked like me, and it wasn't a lot of them, unfortunately. But when I found them, I would cling to them because I was just like, "I want to make sure that I'm not overthinking or under thinking my own path, my own journey, my own truth."

  • Justin James Lopez:
  • That's powerful. And I think that it's real because a lot of folks, even Black men can't really relate to that specific aspect of it. Because one Black is not a monolith. And it comes in so many different shades, shapes, forms, and spaces based on a lot of things that we don't talk about openly in corporate America.

  • But the reality is, one, thank you for your vulnerability there. I do think what you're saying though makes a lot of sense with being able to find that balance and understanding one of the core bridges between those two worlds is really just that empathy gap. And even stretching back to the roots in poetry and writing your raps, as your mom would say, when you think about... I think I personally think great poetry... And from going to slams and from being a part of slams in Philly, and really leaning into which poem was better, how do we decide who wins, a lot of it comes down to perspective taking. How can you say a thing in a way that allows the people in the audience... Because you know it's dope, but you are not judging.

  • Antoinette Houston:
  • Fingers crossed. Hoping.

  • Justin James Lopez:
  • Yeah, exactly. Sometimes we do, sometimes we're just completely naive. But in another world, you got to think there are other people existing in this space. And to one of your earlier points, the key component there is helping to be relatable. How can I say this thing that everyone understands in a way that's unique? And that's where that creativity comes in. But that also bleeds into the work you do in understanding that user experience.

  • Antoinette Houston:
  • Absolutely.

  • Justin James Lopez:
  • Because if I was creating it for me, then I don't need user research. I don't need user studies, usability studies, or anything like that. Because I know how I'm using it, but that's where many of these companies... And that's the gap that you feel almost, people in your space, that gap that you feel is helping companies not make that fatal mistake. But those parallels matter. And it takes a long time for a lot of people. Some people never figure that out. They spend all of their time in a job that they hate, dreaming about a thing that they love doing over here. And it's brutal to see that happen and to see the impacts of that.

  • Antoinette Houston:
  • I ran across a young lady who currently works for the company that I work for. But it's funny because I was doing a version of TED Talk for them. And I was talking about this research framework that I had created called the AEIOU. And anyway, I'm talking about it, I'm taking questions, and all of this. And fast forward, I guess, she joins the company and she reaches out to me and I'm like, "Oh, great." And she tells me this story of how she was an attendee of this particular talk. And she'd asked some questions, obviously I didn't remember her name, because it was so many questions kind of coming in.

  • But she was like, "Hearing you and seeing you," and as a result of that, I guess, seeing that it is possible for me to be a Black woman in this space of UX, to work for that type of company and do this type of work. And be on a platform that they allow, not only a woman of color, but just a woman of color that's not necessarily came through this in a traditional way. And not necessarily talking about certain design principles or research principles in a traditional way. I've always kind of created my own lane. I kind of do my own thing. And fortunately, the companies that I have worked for appreciate that. If they didn't, I wouldn't be there. So for her to see that and cling to that, and then have that motivate her to say, "I'm just going to go ahead and apply." And take that chance again on herself, that was powerful for me to even know that I had impacted her directly or indirectly in that way. And so, as we're conversing, I just realized that's a way to be relatable as well.

  • So I'm relatable in my writing. I'm relatable hopefully in the work that I'm doing in UX design and research. And hopefully, what I'm providing is relatable to that end user and that stakeholder and that person using that technology. But I'm also relatable to a whole culture of women that are looking at me and saying, "I've never really seen someone with that background do that." Or, "I've never really heard it talked about," whatever that is, "talked about in that way." Or just someone having joy under the umbrella of UX when it is such a male dominated and White male dominated field.

  • So those sort of stories, even if it's just one a year, one every two years, they always come at a point in my life where it's like, "Okay, it's time for me to keep going with that." Right when I think, "Maybe..." Nope, okay. This is showing and having value in this space." That's why I do what I do. That's why I keep trying to look for balance across everything.

  • If we talk about the poetry and the music, you think I wouldn't do that if I could? If I could, if I could make the living that I make in engineering, if I could make that in entertainment, sure, I would do that. I don't do it for the money, I do it for the passion of it. And I love it. But right when I just say, "Well, I'm just going to go ahead and focus on UX," something comes up that says, "No, no, no. I want you to speak for this youth group." Or, "I want you to be on this record. I want you to perform here for this thing." Every time. Those are the things that at least I listen to in my life to say, "Okay, God is telling me to keep going. God is telling me to keep that faith in me." That still stems from balance. That still stems from having empathy of myself to say, "Have some patience with yourself. Everything is not going to be right on your time. And that's okay."

  • Justin James Lopez:
  • But the idea of giving yourself grace is so difficult for so many of us. We have this standard that no doubtedly has pushed on us through the younger ages of how the world teaches us to treat ourselves. And we never then go back to that lesson and go, "Well, I want to teach the world how to treat me instead." Which sounds like a transition that you made.

  • And on that topic of being in this space that is mainly White male dominated and being comfortable in the skin that you're in, in the way that you can be, because most people, they wouldn't even try to spread themselves thin in a space like this, because they're like, "Man, I don't want any excuse for people to think that I'm less than or think that I'm not serious about it." So how did you find that strength? Because I think that's something that I think would really help a lot of people, myself included, not even being a Black woman, myself included. Because that's something that I think about.

  • And I have conversations with plenty of people about that concept of existing in this space, where as you mentioned, there wasn't even that many people that looked like you, that had that representation that you felt like you can go to, so you had to cling onto them. And even to this day, where within the UX space, where it's still 3% Black total, that's not even Black women, that's just Black total.

  • Antoinette Houston:
  • That's tough.

  • Justin James Lopez:
  • Does any of the upbringing being in a family, because you mentioned being in a family that was from the medical field, that was empathetic, but also had that thick skin, did any of that rub into you, to help you in this space, moving through this?

  • Antoinette Houston:
  • For sure. Because on top of that, at least on my mom's side of the family, it's 99.9% women. The men that we see are coming in as boyfriends or whatever, it's all women. And that could be a little intimidating, because we're not women that are stereotypically emotional per se. I'm probably one of the most emotional out of all of my family. We're talking about four or five generations. When growing up, I learned that you have to have tough skin. People make certain comments or whatever, got to toughen up, Toine. It's like, "Okay." And you don't think you take that with you into the workplace, but for me, I absolutely did.

  • So when I started, I didn't meet another woman of color, in terms of working with and/or management until my third full-time position. And let's be clear, my first college I attended was Illinois State University, ISU, for two years. But I graduated from DePaul. So I came from not a lot of us, but we kind of clung to one another at ISU, to DePaul, even less. And I was the only Black woman that graduated in the top 5% of that class the year that I graduated. "Where are we?" is what I was saying to myself. The dean of computer science knew my name, and that was crazy. And it might not have just been because I was so "smart", it likely was because I'm the only...

  • So fast forward. Okay, I'm in Motorola, not any women, all men, in terms of the area that I was working in. Okay, so that's three years. That's tough. That's real tough. So then, I'm working for another company. It's a few more women, not of color. So now, I get to my third job, which was Allstate, and I'm like, "This is like the land of milk and honey." I'm like, "Whoa. It's Black women galore." I was working for an area called Enterprise Applications. So till today, I still talk to one of my mentors, he is my ex manager from Allstate. But it was like 80% women, Black women running it, doing it, sharp, can communicate well on multiple degrees. I'm just like, "This is what I've been looking for. It just took me five years out of college to get it, but okay, great."

  • And so, I say all that to say, it's like the skin that I had to have early on allowed me to make it to just sustain and breathe. And again, stay hopeful that okay, at one point, even if I have to be that door that opens it up, somebody has to let more of us in. This is just getting ridiculous. And even at Allstate, I was still the only one that was doing UX, because they were all doing either programming, or QA testing, or something like that. So I was still the only one, but at least I wasn't the only one. You get the context, right?

  • Justin James Lopez:
  • Yeah, I get you.

  • Antoinette Houston:
  • So I'm like, "Okay, great." But even still, I've only had two Black women managers throughout the course of my career, and we're talking 20 years. So I don't know about you, but that saddens me, still. Which is why I keep the thick skin, because I just know that it's not easy for us for whatever reason. And I'm not saying woe is me, but I'm saying it won't be me. I'm going to do what I have to do. But I'm also going to be empathetic. Again, this is the theme of today. Where if I see another young lady, who's going to ask a question about UX, or going to ask a question about poetry, or ask a question about animation, or ask a question about writing, or ask a question about whatever I can provide her, I'm blessed enough to be able to do that. And hopefully, if not open the door, create one for her to understand that there is room for you, even if you have to make it yourself, because I did.

  • Justin James Lopez:
  • Man, that's a word right there. I think the beauty of your story is that your sheer existence is motivating and opens those doors. And I remember hearing one of my mentors, because I come from a mixed background. And so, for me, it's like, "What is seeing me represented look like?" I don't know. I can't define it. I don't know how to define that just yet. I'm kind of formulating that, but I remember kind of talking to one of my mentors years back about it and just trying to figure that out because I had... So I was the first person to go to college in my family and I went to Villanova University.

  • So I went from growing up in a city where the only White people I knew were two teachers and the police. That's it. And I go from there to... And we didn't have money to be traveling and stuff like that. So for me, my bubble got burst soon as I got to Villanova. And I realize, "Oh, the world doesn't look like me at all. And even the people that look like me, they don't act like me, they don't talk like me. They don't even accept me." So I was trying to figure out where is my place here? And when I finally started to break out, I graduated. And I went there for my undergrad and masters because I was like, "I'm just going to do the damn thing. I'm just going to keep going."

  • And I was talking to my mentor because the next level was getting to corporate America. When I got into corporate America, I realized, "Oh, this is a..." I thought that was hard, that culture shock was hard, this is another culture shock. And when I did that, I wanted to go home. I'm not going to lie. I was like, "I just want to go home. This ain't for me."

  • Antoinette Houston:
  • I get it.

  • Justin James Lopez:
  • And my mentor, I remember him saying, "Is this what breaks you?" It hurt, but that was exactly what I needed to hear, because I came back a couple days later and I talked to him. And I was like "You know what? what did you mean by that? Because I know what I heard, but I want to know what you were saying." And what he told me, he said, "Listen, you've been through so much. And there's so many other people that are going to come behind you."

  • And he reminded me of this poem called Bridge Builder. And it's a very long poem. So I'm just going to let people go look it up. But the core concept of it is there's this man, old man's who's building a bridge by himself over a raging river. And he spends his whole life building this bridge. And then, this young man, right when he's done, this young man comes behind him and goes, "Why are you building a bridge here? You're never going to be able to cross this way. You're basically going to die. You're old." And he said, "Well, this bridge wasn't for me, it was for you." And that's selfish, I know it can be selfish to ask that of people, but that's what he said.

  • He said, "Is this what breaks you? Because you've been through all of the hard parts, and every level has its own devil. But you can continue to grow and get stronger and build in that way. Because if you give up here, then all you're doing is making it so that the next person has a harder role to play to continue to move. And unfortunately, we don't get that luxury of being able to speak for ourselves, being able to represent ourselves. We're constantly representing every single person that looks like us, even though we don't get to see them in the room."

  • So that's just what I feel when I was learning about your story, even before this conversation. When I was learning about your story, that's what I felt, was you've been opening doors for people that have no idea that you've been opening doors for them.

  • Antoinette Houston:
  • That part. Wow.

  • Justin James Lopez:
  • I just went off there, but I wanted to say that.

  • Antoinette Houston:
  • No, that's a word. That's true. And I think early on I did it unconsciously. Just because it was a door. One of the first doors I think I opened was after Allstate, I was there almost three years and I loved it, like I said, because of the people I was working with, the environment. It was like, "Okay, I'm going to be here. This is it." And then I ended up getting a opportunity to work for the CIA. And-

  • Justin James Lopez:
  • Oh, can we talk about this? Are we going to have to edit this out?

  • Antoinette Houston:
  • No, we can.

  • Justin James Lopez:
  • No, we good. All right.

  • Antoinette Houston:
  • Yeah, we good. I'm not going to tell you what I did for them, but I got the opportunity to work for them, and it was amazing. That was the second time that I just walked away from a job, and a job that I liked, a job that welcomed me, a job that I saw people that looked like me every day, and they were encouraging and I learned so much. I walked away from that to one, work for an environment that I had never worked for before, which was government. All I knew was what I saw on TV, which definitely never saw any of us on the TV screens, working for the agency. But something told me I needed to open that door or create that door. I needed to do that. And I'm so glad that I did because when I did, it was a small community, but it was a community of us nonetheless.

  • And that just turned my whole trajectory around in terms of how I saw myself as a woman, a Black woman in this world. Coming from Chicago and moving down to D.C. That was just like, "Okay, this is my taste in East Coast. All right." Just a whole different energy, to use a slang word; swag. Just a whole different... And I learned my wealth in D.C., in Northern Virginia. I thought I was making some pretty good money here in Chicago, then you get down there and it's like, "You doing what with what? Where is your LLC?" It's like, "Wait. Huh? Wait a minute. How many certifications do I need now? Wait, hold on. Slow down." So by me creating and opening that door for myself, I met so many people that changed this directory of my life, in terms of how I saw myself in this world, which then allowed me to then be very intentional with the doors that I was opening up, and those meetings that I were attending, those conversations that I was electing to have.

  • So whether or not you were talking to me or not, I had something to say, I had a question, I had a thought. And I was definitely the only at the agency, definitely. And South Side, Chicago, in these meetings, suited and booted, probably looking much younger than I am. And they just thought I was going to kind of go with the flow. And I didn't because, again, coming from that Allstate experience, I'm like, "No, no. I can speak up, even if I don't necessarily know the... I can do that."

  • And so, every experience in my life, I can say has groomed me for the next, even without me knowing that's what that was for. And so, when someone says, "Thank you for creating that space for me," or, "Thank you, because I saw you, I was able to do this," or, "Because I read this of yours, I was able to have whatever inspiration I needed for myself," I don't take those situations lightly. Because I didn't have that for so many years for myself.

  • Justin James Lopez:
  • Man, that's powerful. There's very few times where I lose the words. I'll say this, to hear the weight that you carry and to hear how you carry it with so much grace, with so much lack of resentment, because I think at every turn, when I hear all of the things, and all of these trials, which they're not old trials, because I still hear friends of mine that are still dealing with these spaces that change their lives completely. They make different decisions than decisions that you've made, they don't continue. They say, "This isn't for me," or all of these things. So for you to carry with so much grace and without building all of that resentment that weighs us down, it's really powerful.

  • But I wanted to, in closing here, just kind of give you some space to give whatever advice you can on that. How do you do that? And I know you talk about the whole finding balance and the therapy thing, which we need to talk about more. As a community, we need to talk about that more. But what advice do you have to the next generation that is finding themselves stuck with a lot of these trials and tribulations, of being the only, of not feeling represented, not feeling supported, and being able to carry that with grace and without building all of that resentment?

  • Antoinette Houston:
  • What I learned was, and I guess this came from college, started at DePaul, because again, their HCI program at the time, when I attended, it wasn't a lot of people of color, male or female. And what I found was, that could have been the point right there, where I just said, "Okay, forget it. I'm going back to ISU. I'm going to HBCU or something. This is just crazy." But I think I realized early on, and it couldn't have been nothing but just my faith and God that just told me not only to not give up, but "You're looking for this support, Antoinette. But what if you were meant to be the one to give the support?" And when I took that in, and not in a, "Yeah, I'm going to be the..." Not in that sort of way, but more so in a, "Yeah, if something is not there, are we going to starve? Are we just going to stand there? No, we're going to create it. We're going to make it happen."

  • I think just as a culture, history has shown that we are resilient. So why would I stop going to class? Or why would I have this resentment about... It's like, "Okay, this is my opportunity then. Let me wreck this space up in a good way. If I'm the only, then I'm going to set the bar, and I want to make sure I set this bar high. So that next young man, or young woman that comes in can say, 'Oh, Ms. Houston was here.' And then after they leave, hopefully, they can say Ms. or Mr. whoever was there." And that's how you build legacy. That's legacy.

  • I carry that same faith throughout everything. I carry it now in the workplace. I carry it now on the stage. I carry it now in my conversations with other youth that are just kind of questioning where they should be. The support may not always be there, but what that doesn't mean is that you stop. What that means is that you become what you want to see, and go from there.

  • Justin James Lopez:
  • I definitely feel that from your story, for sure. Well, thank you, everyone. Circling back, sometimes you might be the bridge builder.

  • Antoinette Houston:
  • That's it.

  • Justin James Lopez:
  • And sometimes you might be the person that needs to do that, even when you don't see it, and that's okay. It's difficult, you'll get through it.

  • Antoinette Houston:
  • Absolutely.

  • Justin James Lopez:
  • Well, Antoinette Toine Houston, thank you so much for joining me today. It's been absolutely amazing.

  • Antoinette Houston:
  • No, thank you. I appreciate your story. I appreciate you having me, and speaking to me, and having me on this platform. I think the main thing that I got from this was it's so key and critical to keep conversations going and growing. So thank you for being an advocate and an influencer in that way. We appreciate you.

  • Justin James Lopez:
  • Yeah, for sure.

  • All of Toine's information will be down below for everyone that wants to follow up on all of the things that she has going on as a Jane of all trades.

  • Antoinette Houston:
  • Please, yes.

  • Justin James Lopez:
  • For sure. Thanks again.
  •