You may not know her name, but chances are you know her voice. Her thoughts, opinions and commentary reach across the airwaves going back to 1995 on stations including Power 105.1, Hot 97, 98.7 KISS FM, and now 107.5 WBLS, so if you grew up in New York City, chances are, you’ve heard Raqiyah Mays.
2015 marks the 20th year in the media business for journalist, actress, radio personality and activist Raqiyah Mays, and she’s still making new moves and striving to accomplish new goals. Her latest feat is the debut of her “self-help” fiction novel titled, “The Man Curse.”
You also should know, Mays was featured by VH1 as one of the “Future Leaders of Black History,” and is featured in The Limited’s latest campaign called “The New Look of Leadership.”
Although she’s multi-passionate — as evidenced by her impressive background that includes writing for publications including Ebony, Essence and Billboard, hosting gigs at top New York City radio stations, work as an activist and even a brief stint as an actress — Mays is a writer at heart. She had plans for this book back when she was in high school.
We hear often that a career is a marathon, and not a sprint. However, in an era where instant gratification and overnight success is the perception, it’s hard to recognize the true length of time it takes to build the foundation for something that matters and realize a dream.
Read our interview with Mays to learn more about how she’s overcome personal obstacles including a speech impediment and professional obstacles throughout her career to get to where she is today.
Her Agenda: After 20 years in the media business, what’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned when it comes to building a career that you’re passionate about?
Raqiyah Mays: I’m an artist and as artists we like to do a lot of different things. We tend to have our hands in numerous things and when you’re a business woman as well, it can make it a little bit more challenging. Handling the business side of [being a creative] in addition to administrative type things, and calls, and emails, and follow-ups — that’s a big part of the business — follow-up is everything. But then there’s the creative side and the writing, finding quiet time when you’re not on Facebook, when emails aren’t chiming in, when texts aren’t coming in. It can be challenging. It took me 10 years to write [“The Man Curse”]. When I finally focused and put all my energy and passion into it I was able to finish it. Find what you are really passionate about and put your energy into it. With the business, particularly as an artist, you have to have a lot of irons in the fire, that’s just what it is.
Her Agenda: How do you focus and tune out those constant distractions we all deal with?
Raqiyah Mays: With writing it’s turning everything off — no social media, turning off the TV and literally going away. I used to call it writer’s land, now I call it going down the hole. Literally going away and turning everything off and shutting everybody out. You have to go to a place where it’s just you and work on that paper. That’s really important and setting up a routine helps. Setting up that routine and sticking to that routine whether it’s the first thing in the morning before you get started or at night after you’ve done all the other things, the calls, the meetings, the social media. I usually write at night when everything slows down.
Her Agenda: What inspired you to pursue a career in media to begin with?
Raqiyah Mays: It’s funny how I got involved because I initially went to Penn State and I wanted to be a corporate lawyer. I was in this internship program called INROADS, they give you corporate internships and they really prepare you. My internship was in an editorial department of Merrill Lynch. I got the internship and I was in the proofreading department and I didn’t know I wanted to work in journalism. I remember being in the interview and they were like what do you want to do and I was like ‘I like to write, I like to talk and they’re like you can be a lawyer.’ I was going to do corporate law because I liked to stick to things and facts and I was an ex-econ major, english minor, but something else was calling me. I was really into hip hop and music was calling me. I wanted to be on the radio. I loved music and it was the 90s. I didn’t want to be on the radio in central Pennsylvania, I needed to be near hip hop. So I transferred to Hampton and that’s where I got into radio. But even at Hampton, my major was mass media and I remember taking a journalism class and I struggled in that journalism class. I reluctantly took this media internship and I found this part time job proofreading.
Her Agenda: Everyone has that opportunity that helped open doors so they could lay the foundation for their career. What would you say was yours and how did you come across it?
Raqiyah Mays: [People kept telling me, I] need an internship and I kept walking past the advertisement for Vibe magazine.
I remember when I was at Penn State freshman year when Vibe came out. I ordered it and I cancelled it because I hated it. I hated Vibe. It was this issue with En Vogue on the cover pregnant and I was like ‘what’s this?’ I just wanted hip hop, and I cancelled it. So I kept walking past this ad for Vibe and finally I was like you know what I’m just going to apply, just to say I did. I ended up getting the internship because the internship was with Kim Ford, and she graduated from Hampton. I got the internship in marketing, doing street promotions and I loved it it was fun. I did not want to get into journalism at all but God laughs at plans. I really thought I was going to be in marketing, events and promotions. [In the end, I ended up landing a gig as the executive assistant to] Danyel Smith [who was] the new editor-in-chief at the time.
Her Agenda: As a child, you had a speech impediment but today you’re a radio host, TV host and pretty much speak to people for a living. How did you overcome that personal barrier to get to where you are today?
Raqiyah Mays: I used to stutter. I still do sometimes when I’m not focused. My mother helped me. I was a voracious reader as a kid. I used to read anything but I remember specifically when I was wanted to talk to my mother about things and I would have all these ideas in my head and my mother would just be like ‘take your time, take your time.’ Then I would have to take a deep breath and I had to focus on my words and think about what I was going to say before I actually said it.
Her Agenda: What other personal obstacles did you have to overcome to achieve what you’ve been able to in your career?
Raqiyah Mays: The biggest one has been fear. Not believing in myself, not knowing my power. Being on the outside and people saying you’re this, you’re that, you’re so amazing but if you don’t believe it yourself, it doesn’t really matter. Sometimes we are our biggest hurdles and when I finally came into myself, which I would say was really within the last year I just had to do a lot of soul searching. The thing that kept coming up was fear, saying no to things. Shonda Rhimes has her book about saying yes and that was me, I told myself I would say yes to things. I had fear in my professional life, in my personal life, not speaking up, accepting less than I’m worth.
Her Agenda: Fear of what exactly?
Raqiyah Mays: Fear of failure, fear of succeeding there’s a fear of what if they don’t like my work, what if they don’t like me? What if it’s not good, what if it’s not right, what if I’m wrong? Not trusting myself or believing in myself and knowing that if this is interesting to me then there are other people that will be interested as well. I will say the one thing that really helped me come into myself and know my power was social media.
When I got off the radio in 2009 with D.L. Hugley, the first installment of KISS, I got laid off and that show didn’t work out, and I wasn’t on the radio. It affected my self esteem. No one was hearing me and it was right around the time of Facebook and I was getting a lot of show topics from Facebook. Then when I got off the radio and started to speaking to the audience through my only way of speaking to the public [at that point via Facebook] I realized people were talking and responding and I was like ‘wow, people actually want to hear what I have to say.’
Her Agenda: This past summer you were named a NY director of activist Shaun King’s new nonprofit, Justice Together, dedicated to fighting police brutality. Do you feel there’s potentially a conflict when it comes to identifying as both a journalist and activist?
Raqiyah Mays: I don’t think it can be seen as conflicting I do feel like journalism is activism. I feel like it’s activism of presenting the truth to the people. That is a journalist’s active duty– to wake up minds and the way you wake up minds is by telling the truth. Our job is to inform people, what it is, letting them know what’s happening. We live in a world with politics, all of these things happening there are a certain portion of the public that doesn’t want people to know the truth. That’s a form of control, ignorance. It’s a journalist’s responsibility to provide truth, investigate.
Her Agenda: “The Man Curse” is described as “self-help fiction,” it explores the phenomenon of generational curses and family cycles with the objective of leading and inspiring women to break the mentalities and outlooks that attract dysfunctional love into their lives.What inspired you to write this?
Raqiyah Mays: “The Man Curse” started as an idea when I was in high school actually. There were whispers in my family about a curse, it was sarcastic, it was funny, it was a joke. When I grew and I started to travel and meet other women there were other women that would say these things. Women would say I feel cursed when it comes to love. None of the women in my family are married. That’s really where it came from.
Her Agenda: You describe it as self help fiction …What do you mean by that?
Raqiyah Mays: “The Man Curse” is Meena’s journey to the self love. She needs to attract a healthy functional love into her life. It’s not about a man, but often times people make it about a man. I say it’s self help fiction because the way my lead character helps herself is through self help. She reads self help books, and she’s going to therapy. It literally is her journey and how she does it. “The Man Curse” has numerous self help tidbits pulled from books, things that the therapist in the book is saying, or even something her friend is saying. Her friend actually happens to be going to school to be a psychologist. So that’s why I’m saying it’s self help because I do believe that when women read it and the ones I have talked to relate to it because they relate to Meena’s journey to help herself to figure out if she’s cursed or if this thing is in her head and how to work it out, how to end the cycle.
Her Agenda: How does having dysfunctional love in your life affect women in your opinion?
Raqiyah Mays: When your love life isn’t right it affects everything else in your life. At the end of the day, it begins with the love of yourself. It can impact things like the amount of money you accept and are paid at work because you aren’t speaking up and asking for what you want. It affects the kind of men you attract to your life, and even the type of friends you attract.
The theme of “The Man Curse” is the law of attraction. I believe in the law of attraction, I like to say ‘name it and claim it.’ Words are power. You manifest what you speak. So if you think all men are dogs, if you think all men are liars or all this, if you generalize them, that is what you tend to attract into your life. If you think negative, you tend to attract those negatives that you speak of into your life. Even if you don’t say it, sometimes we subconsciously say things to ourselves and we don’t even realize it and that’s what you manifest in your outside life. It’s all connected and it all goes back to love of self. It’s so cliche but I believe that it’s true.
Her Agenda: What’s the biggest lesson you want twenty something women to take away from this book?
Raqiyah Mays: The main character in this book goes from her twenties to her early thirties. The main takeaway that I want young women to focus on is that we all have our own path in life. Your path is your path but you’re not alone on that path. We all make mistakes. I don’t even like to use the word mistake sometimes it’s just the path to teach us what we need to learn to get to the next level. Sometimes we have to go through that dark tunnel but the light is always on the other side. There’s no way to get around it, you can’t ignore it, you can’t ignore feeling like that. It’s okay to feel all those vulnerable emotions all that sad stuff, it’s good to actually go there. It’s good to talk to someone, talk to a therapist…our friends are not our therapists but we do need our friends. It’s okay to go and to talk to somebody objectively to work things out and really visit the truth about who we are. The way we feel about ourselves is what we bring out and manifest into our lives. So sometimes we have to go a little bit deeper, beyond the top layer and really see why we’re feeling the way we do. We are in control of our own destiny.