Mama Tina or Ms. Tina feels like all of our mothers. Her public presence over the past 15 years has commanded the type of respect where she’s always addressed with Ms. or Mama before her name. But anyone who’s been paying attention knows that Tina Knowles Lawson is not just the woman who birthed Beyoncé and Solange. She’s the businesswoman who started her own beauty salon from her home in Houston, Texas. She’s the woman behind the head turning red carpet fashion designs of Destiny’s Child. She’s the philanthropist dedicated to empowering women and social justice causes. And although she only physically gave birth to two girls — now women — she is the mother to many.
Knowles Lawson has spoken open about the many adversities she’s overcome starting as young as the age of five. Early on she knew she’d have to develop a fighter spirit to make it through this thing called life. Knowles Lawson has taken lemons and made lemonade over and over and over again. In honor of her being honored with ESSENCE’s first ever Inspiring Leadership Awards on at the 2016 ESSENCE Festival on July 3, Knowles Lawson shared how she’s overcome adversity, and recipe for how to heal.
I started off with very, very humble beginnings. I had great parents, don’t get me wrong. They were wonderful, but they were not very worldly. They were just some Creole Louisiana country people. As good as my parents were, as nice as they were, as kind as they were, as nurturing as they were, they really didn’t give me a lot of ambition or a lot of hope about breaking out of that little small town. Their thing was, “You’re a cute girl. You’re creative and you could have a decent job. You could go work at the post office.” I’m not knocking that, but I’m just saying the aspirations weren’t high. My mom did the best she could do, but I wanted more.
My brother had a fiancé who he eventually married. She had a red Miata convertible and she was as fly as she wanted to be. She had an asymmetrical haircut. I idolized her. Of course I was 14 or 15. She was 21 to 22. She had come from a similar background as my parents, but Jess was the classiest, flyest person. Thank God she was in my life because she helped me with so many things. She would always say, “What do you want to do?” She was really, to be honest with you, the first person who would say to me, “What’s your plan?” And I’m like, ‘My plan is just to get out of Galveston.’ As far as what I wanted to do, I said, ‘I think I want to do something in fashion or makeup. I want to make women feel better.’ She was the person who asked me that question.
[Eventually I got married]. I had had Beyonce. Then when I got pregnant with Solange I started having a lot of problems in my marriage. I had been off with Beyoncé for almost five years. I hadn’t had a job. It’s funny when you spend all your time with a five-year-old you become a five-year-old. That was my life. I was with her every day. I had just kind of given up on all my interests and my contacts and I hadn’t worked in five years. It was devastating. Not that my ex-husband wasn’t always great about finances; he wasn’t the type of man that just controlled the money. It was our money, but I still realized that if I get a divorce this is going to change and I’m not going to have access to his money. What am I going to do?
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I had been in beauty school. I would go to beauty school and I would hate being away from Beyoncé. I would go for a few months and then I would stay home with her for a few months. It took me a long time to finish, but I was like, I’m going to finish school and I’m going to open my business and I won’t ever be in this position again. I dropped Solange off at her grandma’s in Alabama because she was a newborn. I wouldn’t trust her with a babysitter so my mother-in-law helped me. Beyoncé was in school by then so it worked out. That last five months of school I hustled. I had a whole clientele. I built a little archway. You know how you have a driveway that’s an archway? I glassed it in and made it into a little salon. I had built quite a clientele by the time I opened my business.
I’ve just been fighting all my life.
In the music business if you’re not a fighter you will get walked all over. Just coming into the business and being fairly responsible for protecting the girls I had to be a fighter. I had to fight with people not to curse around them or not to smoke weed in the studio. I’ve had to be aggressive. The interesting thing is that I really become a fighter when I’m fighting for my kids or for the underdog. I can be ferocious. I’m a nice southern lady, but I can turn into something else when I have to fight. The nuns [in Catholic school] did me a big favor by training me to not just go along with the flow and to say, “No. I’m not buying that.” Just to challenge people and to make them give you respect.
I’ve had many situations that I’ve had to heal from. The first step is really taking a minute to just stop everything and to focus on yourself and to ask yourself what you want and what do you need. I think women get so caught up in taking care of everybody else and trying to be successful. You just give, give, give and you just lose yourself. Younger women do what they like to do. As you have children it’s all about the kids. It’s all about your husband. It’s all about your job. You don’t even realize that your life kind of sucks because you’re not giving to yourself. Sit down and write out all the things you would love to do if you could do it. What makes you laugh? What makes you happy?
After my divorce Beyoncé said to me, “Mom, you’re going through the motions, but I still think you’re sad because I don’t hear you laughing.” They—Beyoncé, Solange, Kelly and Angie—became the parent because I was devastated. I needed to be able to be a little weak for a change because I’m always Superwoman. I could be vulnerable. Could I wallow in it? No. I couldn’t stay there very long because I am the parent and they are the children. I wouldn’t take advantage of it, but it felt good to be nurtured.
So what makes you laugh? I’ve talked about my crazy friend Monica who makes me laugh. Comedy clubs make me laugh, but I hadn’t been to one in probably seven years. Now I try to go to comedy clubs because that’s just unadulterated laughing. I know I’m saying a lot of things but just take baby steps in doing something just for yourself and eventually you will become important. You’re not important when you’re the last in line and you’re giving to your kids and you’re giving to everybody around you. You’re not really valuing yourself, and to tell you the truth, nobody else is going to value you if you don’t value yourself first.
I don’t think I ever allowed myself to be bitter. Now I get angry like everybody else. I can think of some hellacious thoughts, but they quickly pass. If you hold onto stuff it holds on to you. It just weighs you down and it’s a waste of energy. Why would I waste my energy on being bitter and hating when I could be using it to go out and do some really good stuff, you know?
I went over to someone’s house one time. We were having a girls conversation. It was after my divorce and one of them asked me, “Are you going to date again?” I was like, ‘Absolutely.’ I have claimed that I’m going to find a good man and I’m going to be happy. Not that that’s the only thing that makes me happy but that’s a part of my plan. A big part of my plan. So they said to me, “Well, don’t you worry about somebody wanting you because of who your daughters are?” I said, ‘No, I don’t.’ I have to be really honest about it. When I look at me, I think I’m a good catch.Why wouldn’t somebody like me for me? I’m a pleasant person. I’m an intelligent person. I’m a good person. I’m not bad looking. Why wouldn’t I be able to get somebody to like me? Why would they like me because of my daughters? It was funny because that was one holiday, it was on a Thanksgiving, and the next Thanksgiving Day, I showed up with my man by my side. She was like, “You said you were going to do it and you did it.”
I think when you value yourself and respect yourself everything else just falls into place.
Catch Tina Knowles Lawson delivering a keynote conversation live from the Empowerment Experience stage at ESSENCE Festival today, July 3, at 12:15pm CST on ESSENCE.com. Follow ESSENCE on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat for all things 2016 ESSENCE Festival this weekend.