LaWanda Lewis Burrell was born and raised in Greenville, Alabama. She was a shy, small town girl with big city dreams that learned to speak her truth in the time of adversity. LaWanda is grateful for her good upbringing, love and support from her parents and older sister. At a very young age she discovered what absolutely fulfilled her purpose was being compassionate and helping others. Her love for people and working in the community helped her to gain numerous job and volunteer opportunities. LaWanda stepped out on faith and moved to Houston, Texas in 1998, two months after graduating from Stillman College, receiving her Bachelor’s degree in Sociology. She is a former educator and HR professional believing that success has no limits, if you can dream it, then you can do it! LaWanda is a proud member of the Order of Eastern Star and her beloved Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., as she served as the undergraduate chapter President for many years. She is a leader in the community volunteering as a historical researcher and board member for the African American Library at the Gregory School Friends Group, Harris County Remembrance Project as a historical researcher, and volunteer in the greeter’s ministry at Lakewood Church. She has been a guest speaker at sorority events, churches, book clubs and Houston Baptist University Board of Directors as she plans to further her education. LaWanda was overjoyed when her book Stand Up, Speak Up, Because Your Time’s Up was selected to be on the summer reading list for the Houston Texas Book Club.
Patrice: What makes LaWanda a pretty woman that hustles?
LaWanda: What makes me a pretty woman that hustles is having a character full of faith, compassion, respect, integrity, kindness, and love. I believe that there is no limit to success, if you can dream it, then you can do it! “To whom much is given, much will be required”. (Luke 12:48) I believe in myself and that my life has purpose. I know that nothing worth having comes easy; it takes hard work and sacrifices. I believe in the successes of others and understand that what God has for me is for me. I am open to receive God’s favor and blessings to help others along the way. Like many BLACK QUEENS, we are powerful, beautiful, talented, unique, the strongest, most educated and creative beings to ever grace this earth. We are everything to everybody, always imitated but never duplicated. No matter what knocks us down, we always find a way to get back up again stronger, better, and wiser.
We rise up and continue to stay in faith because our problems have a purpose. We teach and esteem our little black boys and little black girls about who they are and whose they are. We pray, praise, and read our bibles daily to keep our spirits lifted. I believe when prayer becomes our habit, miracles will become our lifestyle. It takes courage not to be discouraged. We are children of God; we deserve life’s greatest blessings. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11) I believe in staying positive, loving one another, supporting and encouraging each other. We have a heart to hustle so that we can leave a legacy for our families. Always keep your head up and celebrate you. Dream BIG and Work HARDER!!
Patrice: Tell the readers a little bit about your career as an author.
LaWanda: I’ve always enjoyed journaling, it is a fun way for me to fertilize my spirit with positive self-thoughts, decrease stress, clear my mind, and give me reassurance of who I am in Christ. As a child, I was often told that I was a great storyteller with an active imagination. I love using my writing to inspire, uplift, engage, and encourage. There is no greater rush than a storyteller having the ability to share inspirational stories and discover that you have helped someone through their struggles.
My vision of writing a book happened after I accepted a position as a HR Director, but later noticed it was in a toxic work environment. Everyone will not be on board with doing things the right way, especially when it has worked the wrong way for so long. A year later, I got the courage to stand up and speak up for the unethical behaviors, but was continuously harassed and later terminated. As I prayed in the closet, I asked God to direct my path. I reached for a box on the top shelf and out fell a journal that I had written 5 years prior. I immediately started to type my first draft of my book. I was so engulfed in my thoughts that I had typed my book of over 250 pages within two weeks. I was persuaded by my husband to submit my book to a publisher, but was fearful of rejection because I had gotten rejected from job interviews a lot during that year. The harassment I endured played constantly in my head and created hatred in my heart.
Months later, I went back in the closet and asked God to forgive the ones that caused me harm. Finally, after 9 months of persuasion from my family, I submitted my manuscript, and the next week I was blessed with a book contract from Christian Faith Publishing after I forgave the ones that mistreated me in the workplace. My pain turned into my passion and God revealed my purpose!
Patrice: This year has been crazy with the whole pandemic, the BLM movement and violence. Have these events affected your writing at all?
LaWanda: Thankfully the pandemic and horrific events that has occurred to our black men and black women hasn’t affected my writing but has changed the way I market. Due to the pandemic, I haven’t been able to attend in person festivals and book signings like before, but I have been able to attend virtual book festivals, podcasts, and market my book on social media. It is exhausting and very frustrating to witness the injustices among our culture. Writing helps me release stress and anger, and is truly therapy for me. Our black lives do matter. This is why we should vote; it is our voice. The malicious behavior and systematic racism that our black culture have endured for over 400 years is why I write and continue to be a catalyst for change. The injustices that black women are facing is the story of my life as I experienced discrimination and racism as a teenager, in college and in corporate America.
Women sometimes don’t speak up because they don’t feel their voice is strong enough to be heard and accepted. There are so many like Breonna Taylor, Korryn Gaines, Pamela Turner, Sandra Bland, Atatiana Jefferson, and Shantel Davis, whom story was never told and didn’t make it to the media. “Stand Up, Speak Up, Because Your Time’s Up” is a book that will encourage you to stand up and speak up for your beliefs, whether it is time’s up for un-forgiveness, domestic violence, depression, discrimination, infidelity, police brutality, fear, toxic relationships, bullying, poverty, low self-esteem, or workplace politics. No matter what trials I endure I continue to trust God because faith and worry cannot function in the same space. Worrying kills while worshipping heals, take your concerns to God in prayer.
Patrice: You recently attended the 2020 National Black Book Festival held in Houston, Texas. What was that experience like for you? Is there anything that you learned from attending?
LaWanda: It was a wonderful celebration of authors of all genres. This was my first time attending and although it was virtual, it was an amazing experience. The National Black Book Festival for 13 years has invited an array of authors from the New York Time’s Best Sellers to your first- time authors, enabling everyone to showcase their books from every perspective, and offer authors critical opportunities to promote their books to a circle of readers most likely to engage with them. It was an opportunity to listen to other author’s journeys and vision of writing their books. You get to share your struggles and strengths through group chats and podcast interviews. You are able to mingle with celebrity authors to gain knowledge of do’s and don’ts in the entertainment industry. Most were very transparent in explaining how their success didn’t happen overnight, they faced years of rejections.
They gave great tips on marketing your books, a variety of platforms to use for your specific type of genres, a lot of success stories, a lot of positive feedback to encourage the first time writer, and understanding the differences between publishing through a publishing company and self-publishing. I am very thankful for Founder Mrs. Gwen Richardson and The National Black Book Festival staff in blessing Houston, Texas and surrounding areas with this event year round.
Patrice: Are there any current projects you are working on?
LaWanda: My plans are to continue to market my book through radio and TV broadcasts, word of mouth, social media, podcast, magazine publications, book signings and festivals. This year of 2020 has been very challenging and unpredictable for everyone. However, God continues to bless us through the storm. Recently, I was approached by a production company in Atlanta, Georgia interested in turning my book Stand Up, Speak Up, Because Your Time’s Up into a film. I am super excited about this once in a lifetime opportunity!! Our mission for the film will be to inspire everyone through hope, faith, forgiveness, and love. Our film will have a number of provisions in the content to help individuals understand the power of prayer, live a happy and fulfilled life of purpose, and respect and love for all mankind. This movie will make you laugh, make you cry, but most of all make you love and forgive.
Our plans are to start production of the movie Stand Up, Speak Up, Because Your Time’s Up, in 2021.
Patrice: Congrats on that opportunity! Your book “Stand Up Speak Up Because Your Time’s Up” is based on a true story/facts correct?
LaWanda: That’s correct. Stand Up, Speak Up, Because Your Time’s Up is a 5.0 out of 5 stars gripping story about Ananda (main character) a shy, small town girl from Alabama with big city dreams who learns to speak her truth in the time of adversity. Her life is an emotional rollercoaster, as she deals with childhood bullying, relationship issues, happiness, death of loved ones, finding true love, health issues, loneliness, harassment, hardships, and cherishing marriage and family. I share inspirational true stories of my challenges and personal struggles where I had to lean to God for understanding and stand up and speak up for my beliefs. My book will motivate you live a life of purpose, understand your self-worth, and be kind to one another. My powerful testimony will fill you with hope and faith and encourage you to love and forgive.
Patrice: What messages do you want readers to take away from reading your book?
LaWanda: Everyone goes through struggles, it is not what you go through, but how you go through it. Understand that your trials and tribulations may be God redirecting your path in life. Be open to step out of your comfort zone and try something new. Forgiveness is power, always trust God’s timing. Be different and learn to stand up, and speak up for your beliefs, even if you are standing alone.
Fasting from people that are not for you is very important. Mend relationships with the ones that truly matter, and stop wasting your precious time with the ones that don’t. Procrastination is a DREAM KILLER! You are the creator of your own destiny! Stay positive, Work Hard, Make It Happen
Patrice: For aspiring authors, what advice would you give them?
LaWanda: If you are an aspiring author start by thinking about your purpose of writing and the message you want to relay to your readers. Create goals and a timeline of when you may want to start and have your project completed. I wrote my book within two weeks, however it may take you a lot longer. Try a paragraph a day and before you know it, you will have completed an entire book. Make sure it is realistic and attainable goals, because you want to eliminate any pressure. Writing should be fun and enjoyable, something that you truly like to do. If you make it a chore, you won’t be able to enjoy the journey. Occasionally I face writer’s block, I lose my train of thought, don’t know what to write, or just get tired of writing. This is normal and may require you to take a break, get a bite to eat, spend quality time with your family, or take a walk.
If you get discouraged take a breath, read positive affirmations, pray, take it word by word and day by day. Your story is your story that God has blessed you to write. You don’t have to discuss your ambitions with everyone, because they may not understand your journey, and negative influences will increase your stress, and before you know it, you will have feelings to give up. Work hard in silence and let success be your noise. Always surround yourself around positive and influential people. Remember, it is just a chapter you may be stuck on not the whole story.
Patrice: How can readers purchase your book?
LaWanda: Stand Up, Speak Up, Because Your Time’s Up is available in paperback, hardcover, audiobook (narrated by the author), and Kindle. It is available online at Walmart, Amazon, Barnes and Nobles, Books-A-Million, Apple iTunes, Audible and several independent bookstores in the US and UK. You can purchase signed copies of the paperback and hardcover on my website at www.sosweetauthor.com.