Brandi Forte is originally from Santa Monica, California. She came to the east coast in 1996 looking for Black girl magic and graduated from Howard with a degree in journalism. After graduation, her first job was in New York, and Forte worked as a reporter and editorial assistant at The Source Magazine. As she was starting her career, 9/11 happened, and the tragic national event directed her back to D.C. to continue her career as a journalist. However, there were no journalism jobs at the time. The only jobs available were in education to teach journalism, so she pivoted into teaching and started teaching journalism, English, and communications to at-risk-youth in D.C. In the early part of her career, Forte discovered she had a passion for people that she didn’t just want to report on crime, human interest, or education, but she desired to help people. For the next twelve years, Forte worked in education, nonprofits that focused on education, and in 2008 she became a campaign fellow for President Obama and then started her own nonprofit and businesses in 2010. In addition, she is a mother and the author of her newest novel Stronger.
Sheen Magazine: This book is based loosely on your life. What made you decide to write a book about your experience?
Brandi: Stronger is my fourth book; when I started my career as a journalist in New York, my first book was Drama Girl Diary of a Sister Poet, it was a poetry book and memoir when I decided I wanted to take a stab at being an author when I was 22. I had three books published before Stronger but what inspired the book was the tragic murder of my husband in D.C. in 2017. At the time, I was writing a love story, a Black love story, and it was cheeky, beautiful, and had nothing to do with my life, but once my husband got murdered, everything just stopped, and me writing ended up being therapeutic. It was like I had ‘an aha’ moment, ‘you know what, Brandi, write you guy’s love story,’ even though it’s imperfect, you got the bad and the ugly, so that’s how Stronger came about.
Sheen: Was his killer ever caught?
Brandi: No, nope, it’s still an open case.
Sheen: The character Dream embodies so many women’s thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. What do you want women to learn from Dream’s successes and mistakes?
Brandi: Let’s start with the mistakes. Dream is unapologetic; she’s vulnerable, she’s so real, and so tangible because she is a duality of a Black woman in America. The mistakes that I would like readers to learn from her is one, when people show you who they are, believe them. Often, when women get into relationships, especially Black women, we are so forgiving, but we don’t have the gift of goodbye. Stronger is a sequel to my previous book, Free; you’ll follow her throughout the books and see that she loves to love. She is so forgiving wants to see the best in her relationships, but her mistake is trying to save people instead of saving herself. I would encourage readers to pay attention to the red flags when it comes to relationships and love. When you have the opportunity to walk away, walk away. Dream was extremely hard on herself, and one of the main mistakes she made [would be the lack of] self-care. She would forsake herself for other people and [lacked] self-preservation. She neglected herself; she didn’t pay attention to her mental health and emotional health well-being.
Sheen: What do you want people to learn from Dream’s successes?
Brandi: Her success is that she is a Bad-Mama-Jama, she is truly into the self-manifesting, she’s self-made, literally started her businesses with a dollar and a dream. She never had more than a thousand in her pocket and started businesses. Whatever she said she would do, she did it; she is big on executing and activating her dreams, researched and focused on career and success, extremely maternal and attuned to her children. She’s very loving and extremely ambitious. All the characters have names that reflect who they are; Dream has the ability to dream; she’s a dreamer.
Sheen: Dream has a go-getter attitude and is very determined to make a life for herself and her son. You also weave into her story that she goes to therapy to deal with her emotions and traumas. The Black community held a stigma regarding mental health and treatment, which is slowly changing because many of us are now talking about therapy. Why was it essential to include the mental health aspect in your novel?
Brandi: Therapy saved me, child. What allowed me to write the book and complete it was my Black female therapist. She had to unpack me. There was so much to me, trauma, and pain over the years that had festered. Part of the therapy was encouraging me to write. She was like, ‘what chapter are you on? Where are you at with the book?’ It was accountability too. Having this Black female therapist, not that much younger than me, who was holding me accountable, who was listening, who was showing me how to cope, who was showing me how to push through, and that was what I needed. Therapy is something that I encourage everybody who’s ever gone through anything that you want to unpack some stuff in your life; it is so imperative because it helps you to heal and not carry all that stuff in your soul.
Sheen: In the book, Dream is juggling being a single mother, trying to maintain a relationship with Kenya, and pursuing her dreams of establishing her own nonprofit. Can you speak to the complexity of Black womanhood?
Brandi: When you look at the variation of Black women [we] are so colorful. First of all, motherhood, whether you are a single mother or not, being a good mom, you got to be attuned. In the book, I was raising a son, and of course, the book reflects my real life, so it’s 99.9 percent real. Dream is raising King, and she is insecure about raising a son. One complexity to being a Black woman raising a son, and I’ve done this check-in with my friends and colleagues, a lot of times the Black mothers overcompensate when the father is an absentee or not around. So they overlove their sons, and that is what Dream did; she was an over lover and balancing the career and being a mom and never succeeding at love. You’ll find that with a lot of Black women in the magazines and on podcasts, sisters every day, they are succeeding. We are propelled to excel in education, our careers, and business. But who is shaping us for relationships, curating marriage, and showing us the type of men we should deal with or marry? Who is showing us how we should be valued and treated in a relationship? Honestly, I’ve yet to see, and all of my friends are Howard, HCBUs, college graduates, we’re all successful, we’re all mothers, we’re all great in careers, we’re all bosses, and we are all failing in relationships with Black men, that’s the complexity because we haven’t seen anything healthy. Most of our mothers settled, our aunties settled.
Sheen: The discussion of healthy Black relationships is needed because Black women are not seen as delicate, vulnerable, and are not worthy of protection. How can we go about changing that perception?
Brandi: First, we can go about changing that narrative by starting to value ourselves and how do you value yourself if you are not being taught to value; let’s start at the beginning. Once you become an adult, even though you may have seen some toxic stuff growing up, you know the difference between right and wrong. There are so many resources with technology, with apps, even with the pandemic; they have everything on Zoom and WebEx. You can get healing, mediation, yoga; there are resources. You start researching what it means to be valued, to be loved, and to deal with practitioners, therapists, and people who specialize in meditation.
You have ministers like Pastor Sarah Jakes Roberts, who is inspiring, a lot of people who are self-proclaimed coaches that are inspiring; you see them on Instagram and Facebook. We can change that narrative is by healing ourselves professionally and finding authentic and objective brothers who can serve as an elder or a mentor. Back in the day, when you would court, you had an overseer; as new as everything is, I think it would be essential to bring back the elders in the community and people who ensure that things are going to be on point; you are going to be protected. People who push for healthy relationships, elders that you respect that you can go to and say, ‘Hey, I’m interested in so-and-so.’ Another thing is we need to create healthy dialogues between Black men and Black women where we can talk, cry, hug, and learn how to forgive. Those conversations have to happen, and [be] ongoing; it’s not just Black women who need to go therapy, but Black men need to go to therapy. We all need to go to therapy.
Sheen: Do you think emotionally stable Black love is achievable?
Brandi: (laughing) Yes, it’s achievable. I think for Black women; sometimes we need to chill out with our expectations. We need to have more realistic expectations. I’m not saying settle for less, but when you hang out with your friends, you got this prototype; you got a checklist for a man. If he’s not meeting those goals, then off with him, but then you end up with someone who is in the negative hundred versus the plus hundred. You got to have some balance. I would say whatever you expect from yourself and whatever you have, then they should have, if not more. Go ahead and write down his positives and negatives and see what cancels out. If you got more positives than negatives, maybe give him a shot. I think it’s achievable. I think men and women need to be more realistic about what they are looking for and study the love languages.
Sheen: You are in the beginning stages of developing your book into a film. Can you speak about its current status?
Brandi: I am currently working with a producer named Bryon Ezell. He’s a Howard alum. But right now, we are in the process of vetting screenwriters for this project. We have talked to a screenwriter that is very relative to my project, and I’ll tell you why; a lot of people don’t know this on Netflix; there is a film called Ms. Virginia, and it’s based on a true story in D.C. In Ms. Virginia, there is a character named Bones, and his character is [like] Dream’s husband; it’s almost an adaptation of Stronger. We are shooting a trailer in the early part of this summer, probably between May and June. One thing I do want to say is Stronger does not have [only] Dream’s voice; Stronger also has Kenya’s voice, and that was important for me being as though my late husband was murdered, it was very important for his voice to come out and to show his complexities. Black men battle a lot. They have so many generational challenges, factors, and demons. People need to see that and not necessarily feel sorry for the character but understand why certain things aren’t working out, historically why things aren’t working out. Everybody pretty much needs to heal.
Sheen: What can you say about the complexity of Black male pathology and how should Black women navigate that terrain?
Brandi: I am learning so much about Black men from a positive perspective. We have substance abuse issues or serial issues with cheating because of what we saw growing up. We have mental health issues because of what was suppressed when we were younger. We have all these issues because of what happened as a child, and with Stronger, I was able to communicate what took place with Kenya and all the different things he was dealing with and do it in an objective way. Stronger opened the door for other brothers to have those types of conversations with me, to be vulnerable, to open up, [they’ll say] ‘I read the book, and this is how I feel,’ ‘this is what I think’ [and] ‘you hit this on the nose.’ I have a lot of male readers and I love that.
To purchase the book Stronger and branded unisex apparel visit BrandiForte.com.