An Interview with Phyllis Bowie
by Dana Fitchett
Phyllis Bowie fits in the category of what I like to call space-givers: people who create the space for others around them to feel comfortable being themselves, simply by modeling what that looks like. While she primarily describes herself as an on-air host professional, Phyllis is also a lifestyle coach and ambassador, helping people find authentic ways to create their dream lifestyles while also saving time and money. After having heard a bit from Phyllis at the BlackFemaleProject Spring Conference, I was happy to dig a little deeper more recently in service of elevating Phyllis’ voice to share with our community before she returns to run the BlackFemaleProject: Live Your Dream workshop on January 21.
As someone who feels that she would have benefited greatly from her elders having given guidance on “how to navigate this thing called America,” as well as a supporter of BlackFemaleProject founder Precious Stroud, Phyllis didn’t have to think twice about getting involved with the Project. When I asked her what about the work resonates with her spirit, she said: “Culturally, I believe… we as Black women are different— how we communicate, our energy, our level of confidence. Just that difference alone causes problems.”
But the problems are not simply pitfalls to Phyllis; she knows that in order to be successful, we need to embrace the difference and allow it to inform our navigation.
Phyllis's experiences in the corporate world–and those she’s had through founding her own business–have insisted on her finding her voice and getting clear on the differences between letting one’s voice be heard and simply being outspoken. She spent years suppressing her voice when things went wrong rather than standing up for what was right. In her words: “I was sick and tired of swallowing when I wanted to spit, assuming that swallowing was the right thing to do to get ahead.” She knew that remaining in a culture that left so little room for her was not going to be her fate.
Over time, she developed strategies to let her voice be heard in the work world, but articulating her personal–rather than professional–voice was a separate task. Upon one of her returns from LA to her native San Francisco, Phyllis organized a dominantly Black group of SF tenants to protest gentrification. Through this work, she learned the power of fighting for others by speaking up against unjust treatment. As she says, “We can fight everybody. And we’ll fight till we die. Our ancestors did!” She draws on our powerful legacy as the builders of this country: “We believed in America’s tenets of equality for all… We believed in the foundation, and we still do.” As an example of her commitment to this country, Phyllis shares, “God bless the Oprahs of the world, but the United States of America is my fight; I plan on fighting every day of my life to acquire the promises of the constitution.” Toward this goal, she started the LWP (Living With Phyllis) Foundation, focused on philanthropic endeavors to eradicate hunger and homelessness. Like many of us, she is tired of the mythical narrative that Black people in this country don’t have economic power. We have money, and according to Phyllis, where we put that money is everything.
Phyllis also ascribes to the powerful Marianne Williamson quote popularized by Mandela:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?
When we chatted about her experience at the Spring Conference, this quote came to mind, as she was struck by the extreme power that existed among the group of Black women in the room that day. Despite this power and the even greater power held by all Black women, we are in crisis due to systemic racism. Phyllis believes it’s time for a change and knows that we can make that change.
One of the pearls of wisdom that Phyllis offers to those of us coming behind her is to be true to ourselves. As she says, “If you need to spit, spit! Do it strategically, though. If something comes up, and you have to swallow, then you make a plan to follow a path toward what you want and need for yourself.” I can certainly say this message resonates with my journey. On November 5, Phyllis will share with the BlackFemaleProject community her story on how she found and honed in on her voice, and will guide others on how to go about doing the same-GET TICKETS. In the meantime, you can learn more about Phyllis and her work at her website: Living With Phyllis.