Tanya Hayles tells us everything she does is rooted in telling stories.
Tanya is the founder of Black Moms Connection, a nonprofit providing both financial support and resources to empower and educate Black mothers around the world. The community of more than 20,000 started as a Facebook group in 2015 and continues to be a safe space that positively impacts the livelihood of many Black families.
Tanya is also a writer, speaker and entrepreneur, as well as a mother. She was one of Canada’s Top 25 Women of Influence last year, and she also runs Color in White Spaces — an anti-Black racism consulting business that facilitates real and relatable DEI conversations.
It seems like there is no shortage of stories for Tanya to share with the world. Last week, she shared some in her talk at the TedxToronto event. Based on the theme “RENEW,” Tanya describes her talk as a rollercoaster, with both highs and lows, lighter anecdotes and hard truths.
We asked Tanya about her journey with Black Moms Connection, TedxToronto, her guiding life principles, and what brings her the most joy.
Why did you start Black Moms Connection, and how has it grown?
I started Black Moms Connection in 2015 as a Facebook group because most of the spaces online for mothers were very white and very lacking in diversity. When you’re a first-time mom, you have questions every day about something. Oh my gosh, what does this rash mean? Oh my gosh, why is the poop this color? There are always questions. Certain things are universal, but there’s certain things that have a nuance to them that will only be understood by other Black women. That’s why I started the space. I didn’t know what I was doing. Once we grew in 2016 from 400 to 4000, I really got a snapshot of the impact, and the importance, and the demand, and the need, and just went with it.
My biggest thing is, is it a safe space for Black women to be in? And how can we make sure that they are centered at all times? When we started to grow, when we hit 5K, everyone was like how are you going to monetize it? That’s not why I started it, and that can never be one of my priorities. As soon as you start entering money into an equation then your priorities change. Then you start focusing on the money and not people. How does it benefit moms is my first question always. It’s always been and will always continue to be.
What about your work brings you the greatest sense of fulfillment? What about joy?
The tangible aspect. When a mom can say they bought a house, their children have started saving their first paychecks. I know the impact of that is huge. It’s not just about her, it’s about her family, her community, and the economy. That is definitely it. It’s a hard road running a nonprofit because it’s not for the weak, for sure. When we get that feedback from moms, “hey I was able to use the emergency grant to get to work”, or “I bought a new outfit to to for a job interview and I landed the job.” That’s huge, and we wouldn’t be able to do these things if we were just a Facebook group.
What are the biggest discoveries you’ve made since launching ‘Color in White Spaces’?
People are actually willing to try and have DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) conversations in a different way. I’m not the corporate HR policy, anti-Black racism consultant, DEI consultant. That’s not my style. I like a little bit of sass and making things real and relatable for people. We’re not going to be pointing fingers, not putting you on the defensive. Let’s just have a conversation. For me everything I do is rooted in telling stories, because that is the oldest way to connect and to share information and to learn things. When big entities like the Ontario Government or banks say, “We want to learn from you” — there’s a ton of DEI consultants they could have reached out to. Knowing that they’re OK with it not being so corporatized and structured and formalized. But instead, hey, let’s talk about Netflix, let’s talk about Rihanna and Fenty Beauty, and let’s talk about H&M, let’s talk about sunscreen. Those are things that everybody knows equally, and it’s not going to scare them.
You also spoke at the TedxToronto series last week! The theme of these Tedx talks was RENEW — what does RENEW mean for you?
I think in the context of these Ted talks, in this theme, that’s what the last three years have been for everybody. Universally, everyone had to renew something, whether it was their sense of purpose, their career path, their perspectives on parenting, on being a person in the workforce, on what is essential and what isn’t. I think that’s been the one silver lining in the past few years. Having a day devoted to renewing how we see things, renewing how we think about things, changing our perspectives. Renew your thinking.
I think the TLDR of my talk is the importance of seeing motherhood through a diverse lens. Specifically, a Black lens. Hopefully people came out of it feeling motivated to move and think a little bit harder about what motherhood means and looks like.
What philosophy is currently helping to guide your journey?
Not having a scarcity mentality, about money or opportunities. I try not to take on clients just to pay bills. Everyone has bills to pay, obviously, but if I’m leading with money first it ends up being the client and the work that I hate most. Opportunities–I am so blessed on so many fronts to have people who want to put me in spaces and in rooms and on platforms. Looking at other people, when they’re hosting an event or they’re speaking at a conference and I’m like, how come I wasn’t asked? I think it’s okay to have a pang of envy or moment of envy, but you can’t live in it. Because people are looking at me thinking she just had a Tedx talk, how did she get there? I got one by being myself, by putting in the work, by being a good person who puts out good energy to the universe so that people will give it back.
The opportunities that I get, people are envious of and think that there’s a way to kind of hustle their way, or finesse their way, or finance their way into. Most of the things that I got are a result of the seeds that I planted a long time ago. The years of toiling away and watering it, waiting for plants and fruits to bloom, knowing that not every opportunity is going to be for me, not every opportunity is going to be for me in the time in which I want it. I have to believe the timing of the universe is perfect. In the meantime, while I’m waiting for that perfect timing to get the thing that I want, continue to work and the universe keeps me busy.