First day I saw this chick, she was walking around the sales floor at Radio One Baltimore with this HUGE afro and jingling bracelets and high heels. I’m like “who is this chick?”
It took a while for us to meet but when we did, it was an instant click!
Ericka Alston is one of the most positive, inspiring and intelligent women I know and I admire her drive so much that I wished to be like her one day.
Being that she’s a lot shorter than I am, I knew that couldn’t happen but I didn’t mind admiring her from afar.
She left Radio One Baltimore about two months ago and since then, Ericka has formed a non-profit, gained employment as a DIRECTOR OF PR for a health care firm, and is breaking barriers in Baltimore and beyond!
I knew this chick had something and I’m glad she took the time to be my feature on This Radio Chick Rocks.
Here’s her story:
(Erica Alston, Founder/CEO The BE Extraordinary Project)
What is your occupation?
I am currently the Director of PR, Marketing and Business Development for Maryland Community Health Initiatives, Inc and it’s Penn-North Community Resource Center.
I happen to also be the Founder and Executive Director for The Be Extraordinary Project, a self efficacy program for young adults 18-25, recovering from substance abuse, our mission is to help raise the self esteem of these young people, for we believe when we feel better, we do better!
What is that exactly?
In my role as Director of PR, Marketing and Business Development, I am charged with the public relations and communications strategy of the organization, while also developing and fostering relationships with stakeholders, key influencers and our local, state and government politicians. In laymen’s terms, I am responsible for how the community and funders view our organization and the great works that we do.
For The Be Extraordinary Project, I am responsible for our overall vision and making certain that I have the people in place to carry that out, while strategizing our growth. In both roles I am held accountable to the lives of people and not numbers.
Did you have to go to school for that? What was your major?
I hold a Bachelor’s degree in healthcare administration and a double master’s in Journalism and Corporate Communication.
What was it about this particular field that struck your interest?
I am a person in long term recovery from substance abuse, it was imperative that I give back to others what was given to me and that is HOPE.
When you left your last job, you immediately starting working on this one. Was this always “in” you and when the door opened, you ran for it? Why?
My last day on my previous job, I actually didn’t know what I was going to do, I have 15 years experience in public relations and marketing, my layover in my previous position was supposed to be a 90-day to 6-month stay to get me over the hit I had taken during the recession, I had previously owned my own PR Firm, Pyramid Public Relations. Got the new gig and it was easy, so 3-months turned into 3-years, during those 3-years I had been ignoring my call to help those like me. I got home and I happen to be in a relationship with the most supportive man on the planet, he looked at me and said, “you know what you have to do now?” and I didn’t. He said “you have to start your program and I support you 100%, Do whatever you have to and I’ve got your back. Don’t let anyone, including me tell you that you can’t succeed at this, because you can!” So I did.
Who were (or are) your mentors?
I don’t necessarily have mentors, however my life was forever changed after a few friends and I attended the Associated Black Charity’s Girls Night Out, featuring Iyanla Vansant – we walked away knowing that if we were not living in our purpose, we were merely wasting time. I realized I didn’t have much more time to waste.
Who are your biggest supporters?
My partner for life, Edward. My daughters Aundrea and Akcire and I have two of the most supportive and encouraging accountability partners any business woman could have, unquestionably both of them have been featured in your series, Rochelle Boykin of FabFitParty.com and Tabitha Rector of Premiere Homes Realty. My road dogs!
How do you stay encouraged?
I have an awesome intimate, personal relationship with God, I also believe in energy and make certain that I am always surrounded by and produce good, positive, productive energy.
What inspires you?
The smiles on the faces of those I help inspire me, there is no greater reward than the smile on the face of a young person that was once hopeless, full of life, faith and enthusiasm as a result of anything that you were able to give them to get them there.
Are there ever moments, even in the newness of this business, do you feel overwhelmed and want to give up? Can you share?
KiKi, it’s amazing, when you live in your purpose, when your life becomes your ministry, there are no hours, you don’t check the clock on the wall, you look up and it’s 2 am and you can keep going but know that you must rest, you are eager to get up in the morning and do more and more and more – I have not had the experience of being overwhelmed, I’m basking in that!
I would say your job is a pretty demanding one. What do you enjoy most from your job?
The satisfaction of letting our community and state know that people in our program recover! They battle their demons and learn to live life a new way, I get the luxury of shattering stereotypes everyday. I do not look like addiction or homelessness or despair but that is exactly what I’ve been rescued from and my work allows me to be a vessel to help rescue others. It is demanding but worth it and I wouldn’t trade it. When I began working in this capacity, I began sharing that I didn’t realize that I had a dream job until I started working here.
What is the most irritating thing about your job?
The stigma associated with recovery. The illusion of once an addict always an addict and that my people don’t change, we do. We do recover, I’m here to help prove it.
Some people would say your job is “boring”. You would say what about your job?
Ha! That is laughable, there is never a dull moment, never! Boring is not a word that can be used to describe my day to day work. I wear many hats in this long title and most often, none of them are associated with public relations or marketing, I am hugging and consoling, encouraging and motivating folks that many have given up on for most of my workday. I am the first stop for many of the 180 residents that live here – sometimes they just need someone to listen to them or a shoulder to cry on, they’ve been thru a lot and being here for them is nothing close to boring, it’s actually quite invigorating!
(Erica w/ TRCR alum Rochelle Boykin and Tabitha Richardson)
What do you want people to “take away” when patronizing your business?
That we are real people, that addiction touches the lives of all of us, that we are not numbers or statistics, we are sons and daughter, mothers and fathers, grandparents friends and neighbors that for whatever reason could no longer play the hand that was dealt to us and chose drugs and alcohol for refuge, figured out that drugs were just a symptom of our problem and made decisions to try again – all any of us ever wanted was another chance, people walk away from the Penn-North Center, knowing that we all deserve a second chance and my organization is helping those that come here go to the moon and beyond with this last chance.
Who are your main clients? Anyone suffering from substance abuse, with or without insurance. We even have a few of the Unger Project dudes, recently released from prison after doing 40 to 50 years in jail, we have a thriving, vibrant community of clients. Drug addiction does not discriminate.
The Be Extraordinary Project is for both male and female clients 18-25, also recovering from substance abuse; we actually operate in both the Penn-North Community Resource Center and within Mountain Manor Treatment Center for Adolescents and Young Adults.
How many hats do you wear and which hat makes you the most proud?
I am a mother, I am in the healthiest relationship I’ve ever been in, in my life –thus making me a partner to him. I have the hats that I wear professionally but I am most proud of the mother and partner that I am.
I decided to interview you because I believe you are truly inspiring to me through the conversations we have and the wisdom you share. Where do you get this from? Like, who would you credit is responsible for your personality?
Thank you so much. Ironically, I am a member of a 12-step program, I believe in the steps and traditions of that program. When I entered recovery I was taught that my most important relationship would be with the God of my understanding, not thru religion or anything taught but by how I come to KNOW him, personally. I have learned thru life’s experiences that material wealth and superficial things don’t fix our internal, spiritual problem, so I am inspired wisdom shared with me from other recovering people and their experiences. We are all recovering from something, I just happen to be surrounded by people living in the solution, knowing that I have always been my problem, I live a life working on me, when I rest at night knowing that I spent the day being the absolute best version of myself, I smile.
What song makes you LOSE YOUR MIND? This is embarrassing…. Taylor Swift’s Shake it Off!
What is your favorite line in a movie and why? “All my life, I had to fight.” – Color Purple, and sorry I don’t use if seriously, anytime I say it – I am most times being an absolute nut.
What makes you suck your teeth and roll your eyes? Women that don’t support or uplift other women! We have to do better. When we realize that we all have our stuff, that another women is not my competition or my problem, that I don’t want your shoes, your bag or your man – we’ll be in a better place <insert teeth sucking and an eye roll here>
If there was a Lifetime movie made about your life, who would play you? Tell me why you chose that person. Gabrielle Union, duh, don’t you see it? Lol. But seriously, the whole Being Mary Jane thing was what I thought I wanted my life to be, and then I got a real life.
What is ONE THING about you (you’d be willing to share) that NO ONE knows about you?
I just did, that for 2 years I was addicted to crack cocaine, homeless and hopeless and for the past 18 years I have been living a life beyond my wildest dreams!
What would you want your legacy to be? That every woman grow into a place that she knows her true self worth and lived in it, never willing to settle because she knows that what she dreams of when she drifts off into daydreams in the middle of the day is obtainable. We are worthy. We are worthy. We are worthy. We live in that and teach our daughters to live in it as well. Forever.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years? The Be Extraordinary Project being recognized nationally and a model used across the country to help our young people feel better and do better.
Through my work here at Penn-North and the business development efforts and strategies, I foresee me in a role of Vice President of Public Affairs in less than 5 years.
What are your biggest regrets? I have none. Every single decision I’ve made got me here and I wouldn’t rather be anywhere else but here.
How can you be reached? (email, social media, etc.)
I am virtually everyone’s Facebook friend
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