This interview was conducted with Michelle Collins, Founder of the Persona Program. Please check out the interview below. You will be inspired.
Interview: Michelle Collins, Founder of The Persona Program
Jasmine: Hi, Michelle. Thanks for taking time out to interview with Our Womanhood. We really appreciate it! As the founder of The Persona Program, can you tell us more about your background and what you do?
Michelle: Initially, I studied Fashion Merchandising and worked in the fashion and beauty industry in various roles. Tapping even more into my creative side, I became a certified Image Consultant, with my clientele being plus size women, which allowed me the opportunity to begin facilitating workshops on body image. This was also an encounter where I felt I had to prove my intentions the most, being that I was not plus size and I had to reach a demographic of women that saw me as the opposition (the skinny girl). My first time shopping for a client at Lane Bryant was hilarious in regards to how the sales associates treated me! During this time is when I also realized that it seemed most women dressed relative to their self esteem. At the same time, women also were not dressing appropriately for their specific body type but instead were dressing for the body they wished they had. So began my initiative to boost women from the inside out. Not from the outside in. I began to make them aware of the different body types and appropriate dress for each kind.
This was a time that finally my own layers of low self esteem and self consciousness were being dealt with. Looking at me externally and by face value, you would never guess that on the inside was someone who consistently doubted her self and her abilities.
I now understand that our life's work is to first address our own demons in order that we may free others from theirs. That is why it is very important that whatever work we do daily, let it be fulfilling and meaningful. Otherwise, we are slowly dying a death of 'what could've been', "what if..." or worse, "if only I had..."
Jasmine: To date, you’ve touched the lives of hundreds (if not thousands) of youth. What event(s) or circumstance(s) led you to create The Persona Program?
Michelle: When my first daughter was a toddler, as most toddlers are, she was very active. I thought it would be the perfect time to make a girly girl out of her by teaching her mannerisms of a little lady, like how to sit, stand, speak etc.
While those are all great attributes to instill in our girls, as she grew, I realized that not just women dealt with low self esteem, but our girls as well. Then it dawned on me that if I could support my daughter in this way, surely other girls could benefit. So The Persona Program was born and I was on a quest to teach girls about self esteem and body image, so that they would value themselves. In the beginning, I also taught other life skills, including proper etiquette and dining. Over the years, we've evolved to include the importance of entrepreneurship and even the responsibility of becoming social entrepreneurs.
It's funny because I first began The Persona Program being inspired by my first born daughter. Now, I have two daughters who automatically benefit, as well as the countless girls who cross my path. It's just like God to place an idea or an assignment in your lap and as you walk in your obedience, it becomes more clear where your purpose lies. The irony is, although I didn't come from an at risk background and I received love and support as a child, I still had issues and certain challenges that I had to face.
Through The Persona Program, it's like i'm given the opportunity to inspire girls and heal myself. Not just one time. But over and over and as many times as necessary.
Jasmine: As someone who is guiding youth through such a powerful program, there has to be a connection felt from both ends. A lot of youth endure adults in their lives saying one thing but doing another. What difficulties did you encounter with trust when you first began your program?
Michelle: I focus on the benefit of the program, what it will teach you, the fulfillment and confidence that comes from doing what you think you cannot or are not good enough for. Once the light bulb comes on, then I'm able to sink my teeth into the personality and hopefully try to meet them on their level. Mostly, what never fails is being the leader that I am.
If I got discouraged because I felt that I wasn't making an impact, then that would mean the other girl that really needs me and my consistency would lose out on what is being offered. So I continue and press on, knowing I may not reach all, but some is better than none.
The Persona Program does not exist to equate success to number of attendees at an event. We exist to penetrate a generation as our mission says, building confidence, developing character and promoting proper conduct.
Jasmine: What can you say you are most proud of at this point in your life and why?
Michelle: At this point in my life, I am most proud of being consistent. I am a firm believer that even though everyday will not always be a good day, I too have a responsibilities to those who are depending on me to fulfill the personal calling on my life. It will surprise you how much people are watching your every move, even without you realizing it. I focus in and I try not to let anything go too long that may derail or distract me. I have lives to change and empower!
I am also proud of my own self value, esteem and worth that has increased. Remember all the affirmation I received as a child? It was sometimes lost in transmission and I thought I would never feel good enough to live let alone make a difference.
We look at others who may seem successful, or like they have it all together. And maybe they do. But most of the time, there's a story that includes a pivot point, a very personal struggle. It's there for all of us.
I realized that it's meant to keep us humble and grounded, so that we go to the Source of all, the very first time and not as a last resort. So with building my program and establishing my message for youth and moms, Michelle has also been built and established. And there's still a long way to go and a plethora of improvements to take place. But I'm on the path, just like the lives I touch and I've been on this path for a long time. I'm pretty proud of my progress. This is a good space.
Of course I am proud of my super size family, as I call them. My wonderful husband and my three brilliant children! They are my reason, my why and my daily inspiration. I have learned so much from each of them. They are my ultimate blessings and my life is that much more enriched.
Jasmine: What advice would you give to other women interested in starting their own organization to service youth but fear failure or rejection?
Michelle: My first advice would be to let the reason you started be the reason you continue. If you lose that, you will have to build a new foundation.
Secondly, get inspired by what others are doing. Don't try to be a carbon copy.
The reason they inspire you, is the clue you will need as how you should define and concisely present your own vision. Third, Do. Not. Quit. No matter what. Someone is depending on you. Next, do your due diligence by researching and reading. Look within for answers and direction. Finally, get legal advice.
Jasmine: How can we keep up with you? Do you have any events are product releases coming up this year that we should be aware of?
Michelle: The best way to keep up with me is my website www.thepersonaprogram.org. I also have a site catering to moms [primarily who have daughters] www.momsuite and on Instagram @personaprogram & @momsuite.com There you will find information about our upcoming events, our blog and products.
Jasmine: Thank you, Michelle!
(Interview originally conducted in May 2015)