Posted November 19, 2013
By Nicole Clark Consulting
“… I believe that women of color in particular have been conditioned to mask the truths of their lives, even to their closest friends, because for some reason we feel we’re in competition with one another. We don’t want to reveal our problems because that somehow correlates to us being weak and vulnerable. Whine & Cheese is for women who are strong enough to say, ‘Things may not be perfect, but I still have reasons to be happy and fulfilled.’ “ ~ Natalie Dean
Women Making Moves highlights how women and girls of color are raising their voices to improve the health and lives of many in the areas of sexual/reproductive health, holistic wellness, activism, education, business, entrepreneurship, the arts and sciences, and more.
Meet Natalie Dean, public relations manager and entrepreneur. Natalie is the founder of Whine & Cheese. What began as a girls-day-in gathering of empathy and encouragement at her home has branched out into 8 Whine & Cheese locations nationwide at the time of this interview (Read posts from the branch members and the branch leaders (affectionately known as “Vines”) here). Whine & Cheese is a great example of collective self care as well as the perfect example of how to create an affirming space for women and girls. You can follow Whine & Cheese on Twitter, read about Natalie’s first Whine & Cheese gathering, and contact Natalie to discuss how to start a Whine & Cheese branch in your area.
I first met Natalie when she and I were college student volunteers for a organization in Atlanta called The Cool Girls. Throughout the years, Natalie’s sophistication, pleasant demeanor and encouraging attitude has always provided me with comfort. She’s been a shoulder to cry on and a sounding board for ideas, and I’m so happy to have the opportunity to share Whine & Cheese with you all to expand Natalie’s vision of what encouragement and support can look like for women and girls of color.
Read more about Natalie, her experiences as a woman of color and entrepreneur, how she encourages women and of color to raise their voices, and how she takes care of herself.
What was a defining moment that propelled you onto the journey you’re on now, personally or professionally?
For about three years, I was somewhat obsessed with discovering my purpose. Having felt unfulfilled in my PR corporate job, I knew there was something more that I was meant to do with my life, but couldn’t identify what that was exactly. One day, I stumbled upon a sermon series online by Pastor Keith Battle titled “Journey to Your Dreams” and things started to click almost instantly. From that moment on, I made a list of things that I was not only good at doing, but was passionate about and then began drafting a plan.
You’re a woman who wears many hats, and most are tied into your professional and educational background in public relations. Can you share more about your how you chose public relations as a career, as well as any resources (websites, books, networks) that you’ve found useful as you were starting out?
I always knew I wanted to work in communications. In high school, I was the co-editor of the school’s broadcasting network. But, what I learned was that I enjoyed crafting the story more than I did reporting on it. As a sophomore in college, I excelled in a very challenging News Writing course, but didn’t have as many opportunities to write creatively. It was my mother who helped me recognize how a career in public relations could be the solution. The book that helped confirmed that was The Personal Touch: What You Really Need to Succeed in Today’s Fast Paced Business World by public relations expert and activist Terrie Williams. I learned that an important facet of public relations was about building and maintaining positive and mutually beneficial relationships with various audiences and Terrie’s book laid out a perfect strategy for how to do so successfully. I then chose to join networking and social organizations to begin practicing what I learned and found it came quite naturally for me.
Along with your career commitments, you’re also the founder of Whine & Cheese. Can you share the concept behind Whine & Cheese, your vision for Whine & Cheese prior to starting, and where you see Whine & Cheese in the next 5 years?
In February of 2011, I was in the midst of some life-altering events. I was still trying to define my role in a new position at work, in the thick of my Masters courses and in the process of purchasing my first home. I was stressed out to say the least! I wanted to vent, cry and pull my hair out all at the same time and I confided in my closest girlfriends to reel me back in. I had several different circles of friends I could talk to, yet most of them were scattered in different cities and time zones. I needed a local group of like-minded women that could not only empathize with me, but encourage me through the process; a group that could hug me and hold my hand. During my individual conversations, I learned I wasn’t alone and while the situations may not have been identical, the emotions were. That’s how I developed the concept for “Whine & Cheese.” It was meant to just be a spin on girls’ night in for me and 12 other women, but two years later, my friend in New York asked to start a Whine & Cheese in Harlem and to date we’ve branched out to eight cities across the country!
The purpose of Whine & Cheese is not meant to be a pity party. I believe that when you are faced with moments of distress, you should immediately begin to count your blessings. So for every complaint (whine) that is shared, a reason to smile (cheese) should always follow. In this way, we can remind ourselves to look on the bright side and be grateful in any situation.
The mission is to bring together like-minded women in an intimate setting where we can whine about the stresses of life and cheese about our blessings. The vision is to expand the concept as a safe haven, sounding board and support system for circles of women across the country and from all walks of life. I hope to be represented in each metropolitan area in the next five years.
What are some important benefits of women and girls of color creating supportive spaces, and how does Whine & Cheese add to this need?
Whine & Cheese is open to all women. However, I believe that women of color in particular have been conditioned to mask the truths of their lives, even to their closest friends, because for some reason we feel we’re in competition with one another. We don’t want to reveal our problems because that somehow correlates to us being weak and vulnerable. Whine & Cheese is for women who are strong enough to say, “Things may not be perfect, but I still have reasons to be happy and fulfilled.”
Studies have shown that spending quality time among girlfriends is actually good for our health. It helps create serotonin, a neurotransmitter that contributes to combating depression and creates a sense of wellbeing.
To date, there are Whine & Cheese branches in Philadelphia (PA), Dallas (TX), New York City, Charlotte (NC), DC/Maryland/Virginia, Delaware Valley, and Coral Springs (FL). Have you found any similarities among the branches, in respect to geography? Also, can you share what you believe makes each branch stand out?
Every month I host a conference call with the hostesses, known as Vines, of all the branches to update one another, ask questions and share suggestions on how to best contribute to the mission and vision of Whine & Cheese. Each branch is customized by its members. The flow for each gathering across the network is always the same. For example, the Delaware Valley branch may serve a fancy spread of artisanal cheeses, while my DMV branch orders take out from our favorite wing spot. Each gathering starts with time to mingle over food and drinks before moving into the second phase when members go around the room and express their whines followed by their cheeses. It is imperative that we always end on a positive note; always looking on the bright side of negative situation.
It’s Career Day at a nearby school, and you’ve been invited to speak to a classroom of 13-year-old girls. How would you describe your career to them in a way that excites them and makes them want to learn more?
This is a funny question as I often times have to find creative ways to describe public relations to adults! In essence, I have Olivia Pope’s job, without the scandal.
How are you living your life on your own terms?
To be completely honest, I’m still defining my “own terms,” which is, in essence, probably the answer to your question. I no longer allow other people to dictate what decisions I make, what image I portray and what legacy I’ll leave when I’m gone. Granted, I may turn to those I trust for advice, but living on my own terms means that ultimately, what I do and don’t do is my decision. Therefore, the lessons I learn from my actions or inactions are even more impactful. There’s a lot of trial and error involved, but those lessons build character.
If you were not in the career path you’re currently in, what would you be doing? Would people be surprised?
I would be a travel writer so that could tour the hottest destinations, eat at five-star restaurants and get pampered at top-rated spas for free! I don’t think that would surprise anyone. Whenever I return from vacation, I’m convinced it is a preview for the life I’m supposed to live.
Given your busy schedule, how do you prioritize self-care (the practice of taking care of your physical/mental health to preventing burn-out) into your life?
This year, I did my research, saved my money and spent six days alone in Costa Rica. I learned to enjoy my own company. I had uninterrupted time with my thoughts. I challenged myself to venture without depending on someone else for security. I slept in, I ate well, I traveled up mountains via horseback and zip lined back to earth. I promised myself that I would take similar trips at least once a year.
Realistically, I can’t always afford to book a flight or have the time to take off, but getting lost in a good book on the train to and from work, leaving my desk to take a midday walk around the block and even watching a silly reality TV show can help me escape, if only for 30 minutes, from the chaos that everyday life can bring. I also make an effort to laugh out loud at least once a day. Laughter is good for the soul!
What advice would you give women and girls of color on using their passion and creativity to improve their lives and their communities?
Your passion for helping others must exceed your desire for money and/or fame. You should be motivated by the positive impact you can make and nothing else. If compensation and recognition come, consider it a bonus.