Raqiyah Mays is a woman with many talents. Her byline has appeared everywhere from the Associate Press to Billboard, Essence, Vibe, Black Pride and Ebony, thanks to her knack for meshing social issues and entertainment. As a New York radio personality on 107.5 WBLS, she discusses love, relationships, and the importance of personal empowerment. As an activist, she works with Amnesty International to address human rights issues ranging from police brutality to the Syrian Refugee crisis. In November 2015, Raqiyah added novelist to her resume with the release of her debut novel The Man Curse, which tells the story of a young woman's quest for lasting love and her journey toward self-acceptance.
I recently spoke with Raqiyah about her inspiration for The Man Curse, the struggles she's faced as an African American woman in the entertainment industry, and why #BlackLivesMatter is close to her heart.
FK: What inspired you to write The Man Curse?
RM: The Man Curse is loosely based on my world, a family of women joking about being cursed and never marrying. As I began promoting the book, women would quietly come up to me and say, "This curse runs in my family."
I definitely wanted it to be 'self help fiction' because it's not about a man, but the journey it takes toward self love and healing, and how to attract healthy love.
FK: What struggles have you faced in your own love life, and what advice do you have for women who want to balance a career and a family?
RM: The struggle I've faced is being able to believe that you can have it all. Women are told that they can't have it all. I've heard that more than once from powerful women, and I've always wanted to not believe that. I believe words are power. If you believe, if you think it, which is a big part of what That Man Curse is about, then it will manifest.
But in the past it was a very difficult thing to change my outlook. I was doing morning radio in New York while I was married, and I remember forgoing work events to be with my ex. To this day I feel like I sacrificed some things professionally for marriage life. And I loved married life, but you have to be with the right person.
There is a choice you have to make. I think women have to make it more than men, which is your personal life or your work life.
FK: You're a journalist, a radio personality, and now a novelist. How have you balanced all these careers?
RM: One thing at a time. It's tough. But I don't believe in living within boundaries, and I've always believed in pursing your dreams. I also realized that when I really focused on writing my book, which took me 10 years, I finished my book.
I thought what could happen if instead of putting all my energy into helping another company achieve their dreams, I actually helped myself achieve my own dreams?
FK: The entertainment industry has a reputation for being sexist. What challenges have you faced as a woman in the industry?
RM: As an African American woman I've seen it from different facets. I began my career in the hip hop industry. In those days, and even today, you always had to worry about you wore. How you dressed, how you carried yourself. It's important to walk into the room with confidence and demand respect. You don't want to dress 'too sexy' and attract unwanted sexual attention. It's unfortunate that we as women have to do that.
When I moved to Los Angeles to pursued acting, I noticed the box Hollywood tends to put women in, and I've always been about having power over my own art and creativity.
There are also difficulties being of color in the publishing industry. The powers that be typically don't look like me, therefore they don't know how to promote books for the Black audience. I've struggled to break the stereotype that Black people don't read, and that just because my book's protagonist is a woman of color that doesn't mean it's only for readers of color. The Man Curse is about a woman working through the issues she's had in love and relationships. Difficulties in love and finding ourselves is not a Black thing. It's not a White thing or a Latin thing. It's a people thing!
Unfortunately, when the main character is a person of color in a work of art they think 'oh, that's just for Black people'. I'm happy there are shows like Empire and Marvel's Black Panther, but people just want a good story. The color of the people doesn't matter. It resonates across all demographics.
FK: What advice do you have for young women who want to break into publishing?
RM: Keep writing. Don't take no for an answer. Just because one publisher or editor said no does not mean there's anything wrong with your work. It just means it's not the right one. You have to keep pushing, and you can't take no for an answer.
FK: And for women who want to break into radio?
RM: It's important to get your experience early on in college or at a community radio station. If you're looking to go the traditional radio route, you have to get experience in smaller markets. You should be okay with building up your presence and brand, and who you want to be on the radio. You should always be out there networking.
The beauty of radio now is that you don't need terrestrial radio stations—you have internet radio. You could start your own radio show now, and increase your own following from social media. The sky is the limit.
FK: In addition to your work in the entertainment industry, you're also an activist. Which human rights issue is closest to your heart, and why?
RM: Definitely police brutality. I have an 11-year-old, and he's in the 6th grade. Although he's a straight-A student, I've realized that regardless of how he looks he could walk out the house, fit the description, and he could be shot. It could happen to me as well—I could be arrested, and end up dead in a jail cell mysteriously. I could fit the description of 'driving while Black'. The issue resonates with me because it overwhelmingly happens to people of color, especially Black people.
Since I've been working with Amnesty International, I've run into police officers who quietly confide their unhappiness about being an officer. They're not making the changes they want. Or they want to speak about police brutality. It reminds me that all officers are not created equally–there are some good guys and some bad guys.
Whatever I do, it never feels like it's enough. But we're all responsible for the change we want to see. So I do whatever I can—be it working with Amnesty International, going to a march, or talking to my son about #BlackLivesMatter and instilling him with pride.
The Man Curse is available for Kindle at Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com.