BLOOM readers, I would like to introduce LaToya Thomas.  Realtor, Motivational Speaker, and Empowerment Coach, LaToya has BLOOMED in the Birmingham, Alabama community.

With her newly trademarked platform, Breakfast With Toy™, she imparts empowerment to those around her; making the bridge between women in entrepreneurship and female power!


  • When you think of the word “successful,” who’s the first person who comes to mind and why?

When I think of a successful person, or the first person that comes to mind, it’s my Mother Sharon Kelley. I’ve always had a very good role model to look up to. She’s what I call pretty powerful. Ambitious. Always goal oriented and succeeding. She’s a wife of 35 years, a mother of two girls and Grandmother of two girls. She’s conquered so much in life and forever looking to grow in her purpose.

  • What is the number one way we can make a difference in our community?

I don’t know if there’s a number one way but I know change begins in the mind and at home first. As children our parents teach us about “self esteem”, confidence, gratitude, thankfulness, and most importantly God.

  • What has helped you get to where you are and what advice would you give to others on the same path?

My personal relationship with God. My parents set the foundation, the standard and my heart for God grew from there. As far as business I worked hard at my 9 to 5 and did the best I could, most of the time. Knowing life isn’t perfect and when I don’t get it right or I fail, give it another try. Continuing to grow in my Faith. And really when the time was right, God saw fit for me to get into the real estate business with my husband.

  • Do you have a specific experience where you wish you had done things differently?

I wish I had been brave enough to attend college out of state. Like Atlanta. I’m a homebody and I love it. But there’s so much more out there to witness. I know God knows my heart and knows I’m telling that young girl who had the opportunity to go anywhere, that my family would be right there when I returned home. So that’s one reason for God making me an entrepreneur. He’s giving me another shot at exploring more.  (smile) Being an entrepreneur allows me to grow in so many ways. I lost quite a bit during the pandemic, as far as business goes, but I gained an even amazing woman in myself.

  • Do you have a quote you live your life by or think of often?

I try to remember as much as I can about what the word of God says. Not verbatim but just what I need.

Follow LaToya Thomas and learn more about her platform on social media:  FacebookInstagram, and Keller Williams website.



BLOOM readers, I would like to introduce Arlene Henderson.  Motivational Speaker, Author, Empowerment Coach, and Blogger, Arlene has blazed the Birmingham, Alabama community.

With her warm personality, she imparts wisdom to those around her; striving to be a light in a world filled with darkness!

BLOOM SPOTLIGHT:  Arlene Henderson

  • When you think of the word “successful,” who’s the first person who comes to mind and why?

When it comes to a “successful” relationship I think first about Barak & Michelle Obama. Together they managed to lead with strength, grace, and dignity during their eight years in the White House as the first African American First Family. This is something that I will treasure forever. The Obamas were real friends. They enjoyed life. They expressed love while encouraging all of us to take the high road when faced with adversity. The couple was often criticized for being President and First Lady which is what I believe they were always destined to be.

  • What is the number one way we can make a difference in our community?

We can make a difference in our community by communicating with each other. The bible tells us to seek wisdom and get an understanding of all that we do. We cannot do that unless we have an open and honest conversation. We will never conquer hard topics until we address them head-on. It is time to talk about the big elephant in the room. We all love our country but we must do the hard work for the love to shine through. This also requires us to listen to each other even when it is a topic we don’t really want to discuss. Its time to do some deep cleaning/communicating of our hearts and minds to make a difference.

  • What has helped you get to where you are and what advice would you give to others on the same path?

My path has been very rocky, so my first piece of advice would be to get a clear understanding of who you are through God’s word. Establishing a personal relationship with God and staying connected to him will help when life comes at you from all directions. If you do not know who you are, you will end up trying to be something that was not purposed for your life.

My advice to others on the same path would be to get connected with like-minded people who are willing to help and encourage you along the way. You will need someone to journey with you in life if you are going to ever accomplish something great. I do not mean great in the monetary sense, but great in the sense of what did you to do help or inspire others. Think about what legacy are you leaving?

  • Do you have a specific experience where you wish you had done things differently?

Absolutely. I wish I would have taken time to be focused on what I wanted out of life for me. Instead of trying to be what the person I was with at the time wanted me to be. I feel like I lost my identity at such a young age in a relationship and it has taken over two decades for me to find my true self. Sharing all my challenging experiences helped me find my strength and my voice.

  • What advice would you give to your 20-, 25-, or 30-year-old self? And please place where you were at the time, and what you were doing.

I would not go back to my twenties even if I had the chance. I was so naive and gullible to life and people. I trusted everyone and was hurt by so many. I thought that if I were the best friend and girlfriend then that would make people love me. I was so wrong. I was looking for something in other people instead of finding it in myself first. It was a case of the blind leading the blind. But I was so blind and immature I thought everyone had it together but me. I would tell my 20-, 25-, or 30-year-old self, to learn to love yourself. Unconditional love will only be found in you through Jesus Christ. I would advise that it cannot be purchased or manipulated into being something it is not. Slow down and plan for your future. Be prepared for your future – mentally, physically, and financially.

  • How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Or, do you have a favorite failure of yours?

Failure has humbled me. Failure has made me grow up. Failure has taught me that I cannot leave anything to happen by chance. It has taught me that I am responsible for my own happiness and wellbeing. I must be connected to good and healthy people but I cannot require more from them than I require from myself.

All of this has taught me that I can do things that I once dreamed of. My failures taught me to believe in me and stop counting myself out. Why not me is the question I as now!

Do you have a quote you live your life by or think of often? I have scripture and quote.

One of my favorite scriptures is: Psalms 46:5 “God is within her, she will not fall, God will help her at the break of day.”

Break of day means everything is new each morning. So, if I can make it through the midnight, I know morning restores me to full capacity to start all over again.

And my quote is “Hear My Cry, We Are Better Together”. Every great movement begins with a sound. I want to be a sound that is everlasting, long after I am gone.

Follow Arlene Henderson and learn more about her platform on social media:  FacebookInstagramTwitter, and LinkedIn.



BLOOM readers, today I would like to introduce Rochelle Gaston Malone.  Rochelle is a teacher, author, mother, motivational speaker, and Birmingham native.  She utilizes her extensive education and wealth of personal experience to create renewed attitudes with her clients.

I interviewed Rochelle and learned more about this dynamic woman of empowerment and purpose.  She is also the granddaughter of prominent businessman A.G. Gaston.

BLOOM SPOTLIGHT:  Rochelle Gaston Malone

·       When you think of the word “successful,” who’s the first person who comes to mind and why? 

 When I think of the word successful, the first person that comes to my mind is Dr. A. G. Gaston. This civil rights icon accomplished the impossible during impossible circumstances. As an entrepreneur and philanthropist, he established relationships, not competitions, changed lives for the better and create wealth. I believe that he knew the key to success, and it was displayed through his accomplishments and his life which was founded on filling the needs of others. Dr. A. G. Gaston was my grandfather.

·       What topic would you speak about if you were asked to give a TED talk on something outside of your main area of expertise? 

 I would speak about legacy. The importance of understanding the process of how to leave a legacy when building one. It’s impacting how each of our lives is intentionally designed to empower others by providing the foundation for our future.

·       What is the best or most worthwhile investment you’ve made? It could be an investment of money, time, energy, or other resources. How did you decide to make the investment?

 The most worthwhile investment I’ve made is launching my Talk Show, Casual Conversations, a component of my ministry. I made the decision to make this investment when I stopped running from my calling to minister and change my perspective of what that would look like.

·       Do you have a quote you live your life by or think of often? 

 Oh, wow, quotes are what drive me. With that said, there are so many quotes that come to my mind. Each season of my life seems to be empowered by different ones, however, the one I would say that remains consistent is “You must be the change you want to see in the world” Mahatma Gundi. I believe this speaks to the purpose of my being, making the necessary personal change so that I have what it takes to empower others to do the same, an agent of change here on earth.

·       What advice would you give to your 20-, 25-, or 30-year-old self? And please place where you were at the time, and what you were doing. 

The advice that I’d give my younger self, would be to the 20-year-old me, who was a sophomore in college desperate to establish a relationship with her father because of her need for validation of her being enough. Rochelle, you are more than enough. It’s not the expectations, actions or rejection from others that validate you. Your validation was given to you before you formed in your mother’s womb. You were born with greatness in your DNA. The very essence of what makes you more than enough is already on the inside of you. Don’t allow anyone’s lack of identification of who you are and lack of awareness in your level of greatness direct your thoughts toward yourself to be anything but the truth of who and how God made you, fearfully and wonderfully in the likeness of Christ.

·       How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Or, do you have a favorite failure of yours? 

 The failure or shall I say failures that have set me up for later success are my failed marriages. It was from the growth during my recovery from these failures that I gained the strength and the motivation I needed to become empowered by life and empowered by faith. I believe, and I quote myself: “In order to know your greatness, you must first embrace your identity, know who you are, and then you will be able to choose who you become.” “A loss is not a failure but the door of opportunity to your next victory” because “It’s the response to former losses that create future victories” and “It’s the “I” in fight that makes it what it is and brings it all together, but It’s the strength behind the hand within the glove that creates the power of the punch.” “Your success and the success of those assigned to your life is all about choice.”

·       What do you believe is true, even though you can’t prove it? 

I actually don’t believe anything is true unless it can be proven. Even when we are faced with life-altering circumstances that change our realities as we’ve come to know them, the better days ahead may not be visible which can lead one to think it can’t be proven. In actuality, the evidence was provided as we were brought through the previous circumstances that had no relation to the present, but it was a part of the strengthening, shaping and molding process that proves this life-altering circumstance will also pass and better can be “Again”.

Follow Rochelle Gaston Malone and learn more about her talk show Casual Conversations on social media:  Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.



Birmingham, Alabama is blooming with influential women that are changing the community one day at a time!  Dr. Adrienne Starks is not only a mover and shaker in the social scene but the Founder and CEO of STREAM Innovations, Inc.  

I interviewed Dr. Starks and learned more about this dynamic woman in STEM.  Adrienne shared her best investment, favorite books, and advice on surviving failure.

BLOOM SPOTLIGHT:  Dr. Adrienne Starks 

  • When you think of the word “successful,” who’s the first person who comes to mind and why?

When I think of the word “successful” I think of having accomplishments and finding happiness in the midst of peaks and valleys. It’s hard to think of one person. I think of the tribe of women that I am connected with that are principals, professors, founders, executives, sisters, wives, and mothers. I am aware of their struggles and their accomplishments. I know about the long hours they spend working because we text about making being the last person in the office or working after putting the kids to bed. I know the sacrifices they make attempting to balance expectations of being the best wife and/or mom. They are successful because every day they choose to be better humans and try harder to reach personal and professional goals.

  • What is something you believe that other people think is insane?

I believe there is abundance in our world and there is enough of whatever you need around you to be…happy, successful, and fulfilled. However, more people allow the fear of scarcity to limit how they view and experience the world around them. This view of scarcity presents itself in withholding love, hoarding advice, and resources, or only supporting a single idea/cause/organization because there is a belief that there is only enough for one. I am continuously working on applying this principle to my life and how I interact with the world around me. This idea could be perceived as insane because it contradicts the notion that only one or a few people can be successful or that one person holds the key to your success. I prefer to believe there an abundance of whatever I need around me and I have to adjust how I view the world to see the numerous opportunities in front of me.

  • What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift?

I have given The Alchemist (1988) by Paulo Coelho to people on my team and highly recommended it to friends and family. When the book was recommended to me, I was skeptical that it was as good of a read as a friend claimed. After reading the book, I understood why it has been celebrated around the world for over 30 years. I always recommend the book to friends that are questioning their purpose and searching for answers to their heart’s desires.

  • What is your favorite documentary or movie?

My absolute favorite movie is Love Jones (1997). I rooted for Nina and Darius’s love and identified with how miscommunication can lead to mistrust in a relationship. The fusion of music and poetry was a major influence in the movie. The incomparable John Coltrane was introduced to me in this movie and his song “Love Supreme” became a personal favorite. I also appreciated the depiction of adult friendships between men and women and how the main characters close friends held them responsible when they made misguided decisions.

I also enjoy watching documentaries of individuals that are creatives (fashion, food, tech) and how they choose to push boundaries to make their vision a reality. It’s a personal reminder that everyone may not believe in your idea or see your vision, however, you have to continue to speak life into your vision and fight for your perspective to be great.

  • What purchase of $ 100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last 6 months?

I love all things used to organize my life. I could be categorized as a Type A personally. I jumped on the Bullet Journal bandwagon and attempted to stay true to a system of order with my business. Unfortunately, November and December 2019 did not want to cooperate with my system. I have also purchased containers/cases for home and office that will allow me to put my hands on any item I need within seconds. The feeling of satisfaction when I don’t have to waste time looking for something has positively impacted my life and my sanity.

  • What are your morning rituals? What do the first 60 minutes of your day look like?

I wish I had a good morning ritual.

My ideal way to spend the first 60 minutes of my morning would consist of stretching (yoga), meditation and prayer, drinking water to begin rehydrating for the day, check my phone for any pressing issues and heading out for a morning run before starting my day.

During the summer, I live by an hourly to-do list because we (STREAM Innovations) have multiple programs running for students across Jefferson County, AL. I always want to make sure our team is prepared, and I try to stay a few steps ahead of everything and everyone.

  • What obsessions do you explore in the evenings or on weekends?

I don’t believe I have any obsessions. I’ll meet up with my girlfriends after work or go for a hike on the weekend if the weather permits.

If you asked close friends and family, they might say I have an obsession with STREAM Innovations because I work evenings and weekends. They might be right, but don’t tell them that I agreed with them.

  • What topic would you speak about if you were asked to give a TED talk on something outside of your main area of expertise?

If I was asked to give a TED talk on an area outside of my expertise, I would speak about the influence of music on human emotions.

We all have personal soundtracks or playlists that promote a specific feeling or goes with our mood. We choose music that will usher us into God’s presence, motivate us in the gym, provide a sense of calm after a long day, spark a passionate desire with a significant other, or hype us up for a night out. We all have memories associated with certain songs and sometimes a song will remind you of a person, an experience, or a time in your life. As a scientist, I would discuss the psychological and physiological reactions that occur when we experience our favorite songs and provide evidence for the profound effect music has on our lives.

If I asked anyone to list their top 5 songs for any category, it would consist of songs they have attached to a memory. When people discuss their favorite songs, they may compare lyrics, melody, beats, or the range and ability of the artists, but it is all connected to how they experienced the song and the emotions evoked while listening to the song.

  • What is the best or most worthwhile investment you’ve made? It could be an investment of money, time, energy, or other resources. How did you decide to make the investment?

One of the most worthwhile investments I’ve made has been in me. I’ve traveled to a few spas in the US and abroad because I enjoy the calmness and sense of rejuvenation after investing in my well-being. During my last year in graduate school, I booked a few days to the Woodloch Resort in the Poconos, PA. I was stressed, tense, and physically and emotionally on edge from working 20-hr days for weeks and enduring the mental rigor of completing a dissertation that felt like it would never end. I had a membership at a local massage spot, but I needed something more extensive because I had lost focus, I was not resting when I slept, and I could not find the ability to disconnect from my daily routine to gain new perspectives. My all-inclusive get-away allowed me to change my environment. I signed up for yoga and T’ai Chi classes, change my routine with cooking demos and painting, and of course saunas, massages, and more. I could finally refocus, and I gained a new appreciation in taking care of myself. As I reflect on this trip, I realize I am overdue for another get-away.

  • Do you have a quote you live your life by or think of often?

My dad shared a quoted with me in graduate school that I have never forgotten. “Success is not final, and failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts” – Winston Churchill

  • What is the worst advice you see or hear being dispensed in your world?

I believe we miseducate students by asking them to pick a job or career they may want to pursue for the rest of their life without providing exposure or experiences to help them identify if they have a passion for a particular field. I believe technology will disrupt traditional jobs and careers in ways that no one can imagine. We cannot continue to give students advice based on the belief that a job will be waiting for you after college. We must advise to identifying their gift/ passion and connect it to a need. If students can identify a need and use technology to make addressing that need easier, faster or better, then they can change their community or the world.

  • If you could have one gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it, what would it say?

Kasserian ingera ~ “How are the children?”

This is the traditional greeting between the African Masai warriors which acknowledges the great value they place on their children’s well-being. Even warriors with no children of their own would give the traditional answer, “all the children are well.”

I think we forget the importance of making sure all children from every walk of life are well.

  • What advice would you give to your 20-, 25-, or 30-year-old self? And please place where you were at the time, and what you were doing.

My advice for my 20-year-old self at AAMU would be to not panic about the future and live in the present. Travel like a college student and take a few backpacking trips across the states and out of the country.

My advice for my 25-year-old self at UMBC would be to learn to speak up for yourself in spaces that make you uncomfortable. Develop friends with more international colleagues because you always need a familiar face somewhere in around the world.

My advice for my 30-year-old self at NIH would be to not take failure personally. Sometimes closed doors are needed to give you perspective and it helps make you relatable when people ask if you’ve ever know failure.

  • How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Or, do you have a favorite failure of yours?

Failure has made me fearless and cynical. Being a scientist has meant a healthy relationship with failure because you’re testing assumptions and observing if it meets or fails to meet your hypothesis. Failure in business is oftentimes subjective, therefore a cynic was born.

  • What is something really weird or unsettling that happens to you on a regular basis?

A weird thing that happens but on a regular basis is when I dream, I can return to previous dreams or shift between dreams within the same night. I have recurring dreams as most people do but I can return to a dream from previous nights if I think of it. It may not be the weirdest thing ever, but it’s my thing.

  • What have you changed your mind about in the last few years? Why?

Over the past few years, I have changed my view of my mortality. I ascribed to the YOLO (You Only Live Once) motto when I was younger, but with age, I have focused more on how I live my life. I am more intentional with the decisions I make and how it impacts people around me. I would rather address a situation and resolve it then to allow years to pass without resolution. I no longer believe that I will get a second chance to do something I could have done the first time around. I value creating a legacy (family and business) and having my values live in my family and what I have created. I plan to spend more time with family and friends because at any moment the chance to show love, forgive, or create memories can be taken away forever.

  • What do you believe is true, even though you can’t prove it?

Love and power are two of the strongest intangible forces that people desire, whether yielding to it or using it for personal satisfaction. Often times, men and women have different expectations of how love and power can be shown or received in daily interactions. The pursuit of love and/or power has a major influence on our daily thoughts, actions, and plans. We have all made 5-or 10- year plans that have included timelines for relationships and marriage or career changes (going to school or starting new businesses). Our concept of happiness is often rooted in whether we have love in our life or our perception of power to control life choices. I believe we place significant value on how love is shown and received from our family, partners, and friends. I believe too often we measure success by the power and influence we have over others and not how we empower others for collective success. I can’t prove love and power are motivating factors for everyone, but I see the influence of these two forces in my life.

  • Any ask or request for my audience? Last parting words?

Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, President of UMBC, my alma mater for graduate school would often say,

“Watch your thoughts because they become your words. Watch your words because they become your actions. Watch your actions because they become your character. What your character because it becomes your destiny.”

In this new decade, I want to be more intentional with my thoughts, words, actions, and character because I want my destiny to reflect a life well-lived.

Follow Dr. Adrienne Starks and learn more about STREAM Innovations, Inc. on social media:  FacebookInstagramTwitter, and LinkedIn.


BLOOM: Faith, Fashion, and Business Empowerment Series Spotlight: Dr. JeFreda R. Brown

Style + Life + Fashion has launched a new empowerment series!  Titled, BLOOM focuses on faith, fashion, and business; spotlighting dynamic women that are movers and shakers in the community.

Today’s feature will spotlight Financial Literacy Educator, and Business Consultant, DrJeFreda R. Brown.

BLOOM SPOTLIGHT:  Dr.  JeFreda R. Brown

  • Explain why Financial Literacy is such an important topic for women of all ages.

     Financial literacy is competence in personal financial skills and financial education to make effective decisions concerning family, goals, lifestyle, and desires. In many families, women handle the finances. It is important that women be good stewards of what God has entrusted to them. This is why it is vital that young girls receive a strong financial foundation at a young age. The first teachers of finance affect the future financial decisions that young girls will make.

  • How can women empower themselves (or bloom) in the areas of personal finance, budgeting, and credit?

        Women first need to ask themselves if they need to change their financial behavior. If you have trouble making money last for an entire month, that is a clear indication that you need to change your financial behavior. Also, it is so important for women to realize that everything we do revolves around finances. Therefore, a strong financial foundation needs to be in place. Getting financial literacy education is the first step to blooming in all areas of personal finance.

  • What is the biggest misconception about repairing your credit?

         The biggest misconception about repairing your credit is that you have to pay someone to do it for you. You can repair your own credit. I recommend doing it yourself because it helps you to gain a better understanding of how the credit system works. I also want to stress that repairing credit doesn’t help if you haven’t first changed your mindset about finances. Repairing your credit but continuing the same cycles doesn’t solve the problem. I am a featured contributor in a book called, “I Didn’t Learn That in High School: 199 Facts About Credit Scores“, which is available on Amazon. This book is full of details about credit, how it works, how to use it, how not to use it, how to repair your own credit, and much more. I recommend that women get this book to help learn more about credit.

  • What are some of the specific financial obstacles that women are facing?

            There was a sample conducted with 7,000 men and women. They were given a 5-question basic financial literacy test. Only 29% of the women were able to pass the test. That means 71% of the women were unable to answer 5 questions about finances. Also, there are a lot of single women raising children. These women have to take care of their households. Most of them only have one source of income, which still may not cover all the necessary expenses each month. These are critical financial obstacles for women. These are also more reasons why getting financial literacy education is so vital for women.

  • What financial advice would you tell your 20-year-old self?

            If I knew at 21 what I know now about compounding interest, whole life insurance, investing in real estate, etc., I would have really focused on making sure my credit was good. I would have started putting all these things in place then.  I would have start building wealth then. 22 years later at 43, I would definitely be set financially. Thinking about how much interest would have compounded over 22 years! Jesus!

  •  How does faith have an impact as it relates to your personal finances?

          I believe that trying to manage finances without faith will never work. There are over 2,000 scriptures in the Bible about finances. This tells us that God wants us to have the proper guidance in managing finances. Another reason that faith is important is that we must realize that it is not “our” money; it’s God’s. He owns it, and we are just stewards of what He entrusts us with. If someone puts something they own into your care, wouldn’t you take good care of it? Most importantly, we are required to pay tithes. It’s a command, not a choice. I’m a witness to how God has provided for me in tough times because I have been obedient to paying tithes. Tithes are paid on gross income, not net income. Tithes are paid on any money you receive from others, even if it’s $1.

  •  Tell us more about your platform and Provision Financial Education? 

          It is my mission to educate people about finances and help people develop financial health and wellness. My goal is for Xaris Financial Enterprises to be the preferred financial literacy education company in the world. I want to get financial literacy curriculum into schools for grades K-12 and colleges. It needs to be a required curriculum. I want to go into companies and organizations to provide financial education to their employees. It saddens me when I read statistics about how people are developing health problems because they are stressed about their finances. People have to work past age 70 because they haven’t properly prepared for retirement. If people would get rid of their pride and seek help, they can solve their financial problems. It first requires a mindset change. Realize there is a problem first and then make an effort to resolve the problem. Action is required for change. That action is getting financial literacy education. God, Himself said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge“. There is nothing to be ashamed of in getting help and letting someone know your situation. Many of us have had financial hardship; myself included. I’m not here to judge; I’m here to tear down the systems that have kept people in financial bondage. I have the compassion to help you because I have been through financial hardship.

  •  What’s the most important concept that we can take away from this interview?

           A problem is no longer a problem once you take care of it. Financial literacy is the key to having a better, stress-free life. Financial literacy is the key to having the lifestyle that you desire. Nothing happens until you first take action. Provision Financial Education is here and ready to help.

Follow Dr.  JeFreda R. Brown and join her Financial Literacy community on social media:  Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

“EMPOWERED WOMEN, empower women!”