Brittani West is a World Class Risk Taker
Brittani is a 34-year-old creator, perfectionist, and avid gamer. She lives in Oakland, California, and wants to find a way to ensure that everyone is given the same opportunities to succeed, no matter who they are or where they are from.
Prologue: I believe the stories we tell one another have the power to change the world. Especially the stories we tell one another about ourselves.
As a society, we focus so much of our attention on the bold-faced “success stories” of CEOs and best-selling authors, the famous and infamous. We get accustomed to glossy, polished anecdotes that are fun to read but hard to relate to. Too often — especially during these times of isolation and separation — we miss the remarkable stories that live all around us.
The neighbor across the street.
The woman behind the cash register.
The co-worker we see every day.
Captivating, inspiring, powerful stories live inside each of us. This series celebrates those stories with 15 interviews of women whose voices you likely haven’t heard before. (Since March is Women’s History Month, it seems like the perfect time for it.) I asked each of these women to share some of their personal story, and talk about how they have found — or are still finding — their own voice.
Today, we hear from Brittani.
In her own words:
Being Black and growing up with a very diverse group of friends made me care very deeply about seeing proper representation in the creative industry, and making sure everyone was given an equal chance to succeed.
I grew up appreciating my friendships, and loving any opportunity to meet someone who had a different background than I did. That was the core reason I chose to study at Drexel University — I knew I’d be able to meet so many diverse students.
I do think I was blind in some areas when it came to recognizing discrimination and lack of inclusion, simply because I never thought being a minority should put me at a disadvantage in any way. I was very unwilling to consider that was limiting my opportunities.
But as I became more aware of it, I was more determined to break those barriers as much as I could.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up just outside of West Philadelphia with my mom and two sisters, but was born in New York and spent time in between Philly and Jersey, where my dad lived.
What was your family like?
My parents separated when I was young, so a lot of time was spent traveling between households. My parents both encouraged my sisters and me to develop hobbies, most of those being creative.
What did it mean to be a woman in the culture you grew up in?
I had parents who strongly encouraged independent thinking, but at the same time demanded respect and equal treatment of each other. I was taught that all people are equal in value, but it’s okay to have different strengths.
How did the culture you were raised in inform your ideas about what a woman was supposed to be — how she should look, act, and speak?
I never really bought into the idea that a woman had to act or behave in a way that was different to men, and I always rejected the notion that women needed to behave differently or were somehow inferior.
It was encouraging seeing my mom raise three girls as a single parent, then return to college to finish her bachelor’s degree before obtaining a master’s Degree.
I was also influenced by books, movies and games that featured any women at all, such as: The Chronicles of Narnia, Star Wars, Disney classics, Carmen Sandiego, and Power Rangers.
What are 3 things about yourself that you did not choose?
Height (I’m 5’ 11”!), hair (so thick), personality (Enneagram Type 5)
What are 3 things about yourself that you DID choose?
Industry: I chose to work in entertainment since that’s where my passion has always been.
Living locations: I spent most of my career in NYC before moving to the Bay area. New York has always been my favorite city, and I never had any desire to work in entertainment anywhere else.
Schools/university: I chose my universities based on their entertainment/arts programs, as well as the number of students from diverse backgrounds.
What aspect of your personal history most shaped who you are?
I grew up in a very creative family. My dad worked in New York and took my sisters and me to see Broadway musicals and movies regularly. My mother loved music and encouraged us to get involved in performing arts, dancing lessons, singing, reading (lots of fantasy!), and learning instruments.
This was a big part of why I ended up pursuing a career in entertainment. Though I’m no longer working in that industry, it is still very much a part of my life.
What aspect of your identity is most precious to you?
I’ve always been very introverted, and it took a while for me to see this as a strength instead of a weakness.
What gets you out of bed in the morning on the worst of days?
Has the pandemic and the lockdown changed the way you do things?
I’ve always been a big gamer and have finished more games this year than I have in some time. I’ve been trying not to spend too much time gaming, but I’ve started streaming my gaming so friends can watch.
I also started drawing again, which is something I did in college. I took a few workshops here and there over the years, but nothing really serious. Recently, I decided to do a charcoal drawing workshop. I was pretty proud of the result, since most of my previous experience was with still life and objects — I hadn’t done any figure drawing or animals before.
What or who in your life history most shaped your values?
My sisters and I had a difficult childhood growing up with divorced parents, and my mom went through a lot of financial struggles trying to raise us alone.
We were able to get through it because we had a strong support system of people in our church — family and friends who always had our backs and were looking out for my mom and us. This support helped me understand the importance of family, friendships, and community.
How do your values shape your community?
I tend to spend time with people who value the same things I do, so it feels natural that we gravitate towards each other. From school, to my career, to my personal life, I have generally been drawn to people who value spirituality, creativity, ambition, and diversity — even if they had different hobbies or interests than I do.
What values have helped you survive the emotional experience of the last year or so?
I have come to value mental health, wellness, community, and friendships more than I did before 2020.
Creativity has always been something I valued, but it became more important as I realized how fulfilling it is to have projects I’m working on just for fun. I’ve learned that not everything I do needs to be directly related to a career goal.
Last year, I started a weekly creative chat with a small group of friends. We all discuss our creative interests and give each other feedback, ideas, and support in a low-pressure environment. It has done so much to keep me inspired and motivated to work on my own creative projects.
What fears hold you back?
I’m a perfectionist. So while I have a lot of ideas, ambitions, and interests, it takes me a long time to pursue them, because I won’t start something until I know it can be perfect — and it never is.
How have you worked hard to overcome a fear?
I was shy when I was a child and grew up hating the idea of public speaking. It wasn’t until college when I had to take public speaking classes that I realized it’s not as scary as it seemed. I’m still not a fan, but it doesn’t terrify me the way it used to.
What fears did you overcome in 2020?
I’ve started a streaming channel for my video game hobby, which is something I’ve wanted to do for years, but never pursued for all the reasons above.
As I would mention the idea to friends, I realized there was a lot of interest — they all know I’m a huge gamer, but most of them don’t actually play, and would like to watch. I realize I put too much pressure on myself by overthinking something that isn’t really a big deal.
What games do you love to play?
> Mass Effect
> Horizon Zero Dawn
When was a time you were afraid to speak up for yourself, but you did it anyway?
I have faced a lot of situations at work where people assumed I didn’t know how to do things I was very familiar with. I would often let it slide, and sometimes even allow people to explain things to me that I was very familiar with, because I didn’t want to be labeled “aggressive.”
I eventually started pushing back. I talked to a career coach, who explained to me if I allow people to think I am less intelligent than I am, it actually holds me back in my career growth.
It turns out most people just assumed I did not have the knowledge; and once I showed them I did, they gave me more responsibilities.
How do you communicate or express yourself most effectively?
I prefer to express myself in writing rather than in person, since I have time to gather my thoughts.
Tell us about a time when you felt silenced.
I had a job that gave me the opportunity to work as a Project Manager on some really exciting creative projects. However, one of my managers during that time disempowered me, and micromanaged my responsibilities.
It was difficult to speak up. My manager’s behavior made me second-guess myself when it came to making key decisions on projects that were my responsibility.
What are the rooms/situations that are hardest for you to speak up in? I’m an introvert, and it can take me some time to come up with ideas or brainstorm on the spot. It can also be hard to speak up when there are a lot of really dominating people in the room — if I’m the only female or POC in the room, or if I feel like I don’t have much in common with the people I’m speaking to.
What are the rooms/situations that are easiest to speak up in?
When I’m talking about something I’m really interested in, or speaking in a room of people with whom I have something in common (eg. other women, people of color, nerds, or even other tall people!).
If I’m less familiar with the subject of discussion, I appreciate having some idea of what a meeting will be about. Then I can have time to process my thoughts and contribute constructively.
How do you support other people’s voices?
I try to read the room to understand — as best I can — what the needs of my team might be. Then I can come to my lead with ideas and suggestions of what we can do to support them.
I like to be a part of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) groups, and have conversations around diversity in the workplace as well as in creative spaces. And I always love highlighting minority voices and stories among my own group of friends.
Who is a woman whose voice you can’t get enough of right now?
Alana Mayo. She is my age, a woman of color, and a producer and executive in the entertainment industry. She works with top creatives, and is focused on inclusive stories and under-represented groups. Her career path is really inspiring. It’s nice to see someone my age making a big impact in the industry.
When have you been the most proud of using your voice?
I have a tendency to devalue my own experience, with the belief that if I haven’t reached certain milestones in my career or life, that my perspective won’t matter much.
When friends or acquaintances who may be in a difficult situation tell me that it’s helpful to hear about my experiences, I always find that encouraging and motivating.
How do you want to use your voice in the future?
I’ve always been interested in seeing books, games, films, and art that amplify marginalized communities. I’d love to be a part of any creative effort that supports women and other minority groups.
Read more VOICES…
Jamae Tasker is a Warrior of Love
Shayna Hodkin is a Spellbinding Poet
Sam McWilliams is an Intrepid Cliff Jumper
Hattie Anderson is a Confident Black Goddess
Elizabeth Schroeder is a Swashbuckling Peacemaker
Nikka Diaz is a Natural-Born Empath
Kelly Galeano Arce is a Dauntless Truth Seeker
Tiffany Miller is a Nurturer of Dreams
Emma Rekha Marty is a Guardian of Hope
Natalie Patrice Tucker is a Mother of Dragons
Ruth T. is a Queen of Hearts
Tetyana Borshch is a Radical Daydreamer
Tiffani Jones Brown is a Lionhearted Listener
Kathy Azada is a Bright Side Enthusiast
The titles for the VOICES Series come from Exercise #2 in the Permission to Speak Workbook. The exercise, “You have more power than you know,” encourages participants to choose a title from a list that is offered, or — if none of those titles feels right — to make up one of their own.
“Each of us is our own harshest critic, most of the time,” the workbook says. “We don’t always see ourselves as we are. We instinctively try to hide many things about ourselves — our failures, our mistakes, our weaknesses, our obsessions. …But the things that make you you also give you power.”
Each woman interviewed for the VOICES Series either chose a title for herself from this list, or gave herself a title of her own making.