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Committed to elevating women of color

By Laurie Davies

She’s weathered abuse, teen pregnancy, divorce and getting through college by rising at 4 a.m. to do homework before a full day of styling hair. Paula Johnson-Hutchinson knows firsthand how far away dreams can seem.

But she doesn’t want to hear excuses. In fact, Johnson-Hutchinson is a professional excuse-breaker, people-elevator and community-maker.

“If you’ve got a dream, you don’t have time to waste. Your dream might solve a problem. Things don’t just come to us, we’ve got to do the work,” says the entrepreneur, author and consultant. “That’s what we work on with women. You can’t just sit still and hope.”

Out of this spirit, The Stiletto Talks was born.

A lifestyle brand that helps women of color upskill, promote products or businesses, get continuing education, network and attend to their mental health, The Stiletto Talks is all about impacting communities. And through free and paid events, resources, grants and safe spaces to discuss the challenges of being women of color in business, Johnson-Hutchinson has seen women succeed.

“As weird as it sounds, it all started from behind the chair,” says the retired stylist. “You hear all kinds of things from women at different stages in life.” A constant thread began to emerge: Women of color needed a safe space to talk about their dreams — and the unique challenges that get in their way.

'We are our ancestors' wildest dreams'

The descendant of sharecroppers, Johnson-Hutchinson says her grandmother grew up in a Mississippi town that still does not have a stoplight. “She could never have imagined that I could have three college degrees,” she says.

She earned an associate and bachelor’s degree in business, and, more recently, a Master of Arts in Education/Adult Education and Training (MAEd) in January 2022.

She credits her University of Phoenix advisor with steering her toward an MAEd rather than an MBA. “I hoped to be able to create an entrepreneur academy for women. I wanted to create curriculum for women who needed to upskill so they could get another job,” she says. “That advisor changed my life. The MAEd was the perfect degree for me.”

She had just begun to gain traction with The Stiletto Talks in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, when her husband’s job necessitated a move to the Phoenix area. So, she started over. It was hard, but she has remained undeterred — and now also has reach into California and other states.

Why is she so steadfast to her community-minded mission, especially, since in her words, “Community doesn’t always love you back”?

“It’s important to raise others up. We need that support. We need people to hear us and provide value to us, especially as Black women. We pour into so many others, but who is pouring into us?”

Here, Johnson-Hutchinson shares ingredients to the recipe for her success, including what keeps her motivated and what helps her save time. 

Paula Johnson-Hutchinson strikes a powerful pose in a leopard-print dress

How do you keep so many plates spinning without dropping them?

Planning and faith! I am a faith-based person, and that has been key to my success. I also believe in planning. They work together. Even when there are doubters around me, faith helps me see what I can’t yet see. And planning helps me write it down and get started. You can’t complain about the results you got from the work you never did. But if you write it down, you’re obligated to do it.

Speaking of plates, when there's too much on yours, how do you save time?

This won’t be a very popular answer. Sometimes you have to get up early and stay up late. You have to get up early and stay at it. There are only 168 hours in a week, and I don’t want to waste one of them. Tunnel vision also helps. The discipline to work on something when it’s time to work on it — that’s key. Finally, limit social media time. That eats up your day.

What's the hardest thing you've done and what did that build in you?

In 2017, I gave up my comfort zone in Baton Rouge and moved to Arizona, where I had nothing established. I came out here and it was literally the desert. I didn’t realize how much I would need to pivot. The good news is, by the time the pandemic hit, I had already figured out how to pivot. I reestablished The Stiletto Talks where I didn’t know anyone.

What's your best advice for women who feel like their dreams ' and their lives ' are at a standstill.

Trust the process and respect the pause. By “trust the process,” I mean get in there and do the work without looking for outside applause. But also respect the fact that sometimes there will be a pause. I had to pause for three years and upskill. In those seasons, you don’t think you’re accomplishing much, but you’re actually preparing for your next level and developing a level of belief in yourself that you didn’t have.

If you've got a dream, how do you just get started?

First of all, know that your dream is valid. Have faith in it. Second, get ready to roll up your sleeves. Faith without works is dead. Without doing the work, your dream is just a dream. Third, seek help! I always say, “If you don’t need help, your dream isn’t big enough.” There is someone who is more skilled than you, so go find the support, education and accountability you need to help you and check you.

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