By Mercedes Vizcaino
Although Latinas have been disproportionately affected the most by the economic fallout the pandemic has inflicted, accounting for 45% job loss in the U.S.; there is also good news: as of last October, new data reveals Latinas are more determined than ever to achieve entrepreneurial and financial success in the arts, entertainment, and cultural sectors. One such Latina making her mark in her community is Janessa Rose Perez. The first-time author, CEO and founder of the non-profit Motivational Monsters, Inc. is giving voice to the under-served neighborhood that has shaped and transformed her into a pillar of strength and positivity.
We sat down with Janessa Rose to learn more about her decision to self-publish during the throes of the pandemic lockdown, her interest in community activism, and her motivation to pursue entrepreneurship.
When did you launch your nonprofit Motivational Monsters Inc.? Can you walk us through your journey in launching this organization and why you thought it was necessary?
I started the nonprofit in 2018, after I had managed independent entertainers and artists. Working with them triggered something in me – songs about street-life, dealing with situations that I had experienced, growing up in Coney Island and confronting issues that caused me pain. I wanted to start a company and build programs around the community I’m from – addressing overcoming and healing trauma. Initially, I wanted to have a platform for motivational speaking.
I’d go to prisons and juvenile detention centers in New York City. I would speak to kids, young adults, and older folks and talk about healing the broken urban mentality that leads us to believe we need to have a certain lifestyle to be happy that ultimately yields undesirable results, and leads to self-loathing, absence of self-love, and in turn, makes us normalize trauma. The nonprofit was born out these thoughts I was grappling with, and motivated me to eventually write my book: HOW TO: STOP BEING A F*CKING B.U.M. (Broken Urban Mentality)
So while other people were learning to make bread and picking up other hobbies during the lockdown, you wrote a self-help manuscript. What prompted you to write the book?
It took time to heal my own trauma and do some real deep self-reflection. During the pandemic, I was home, and chose to write and think about my own behavior and how I could change it. I was born in bred in Coney Island, Brooklyn. Many refer to my neighborhood as the ghetto-by-the-sea. It’s a project environment. Watching my grandmother, the matriarch of the family, come from Puerto Rico, uneducated, and take care of 10 of us was incredible. She ran an illegal number-running business, to put food on the table and I’d see her get dragged off to jail. It was rough witnessing that.
She was so strong-willed, still is. And I think I inherited her strength; I had to protect myself from harmful circumstances. I became rebellious in my teens, started cutting school, hanging around dangerous men, drug dealers and realized that was the mentality of most people in my surroundings. The consensus was: you become cool and successful in this community making money and endangering your life. And most revered and normalized this fact. I’ve had many friends who’ve been murdered because they fell into this cycle of living this fast life and acquiring material things.
Being in this environment, I had to quickly learn how to provide for myself and become more business-oriented; establish myself as a boss to survive. I founded an escort agency, not where the women slept with anyone; more of a date-for-hire for an evening out or for an important event. I knew many girls and models in the entertainment industry at the time. But, the more involved I became with that scene the more lost I became in that world and a feeling of condemnation overcame me. The business no longer served me. I didn’t feel happy. And I realized I was meant to do something more meaningful with my life.
As I read your book, I found the chapter “The SEXY B.U.M.” interesting. In the sense that, it reminded me of many people I grew up with; turning to material things and the Internet to make themselves feel better. What made you decide to write about this topic? Do you think stars like Cardi B. are detrimental to young urban Latinas or young people in general?
Cardi B. doesn’t realize the people and systems that give her a platform are conditioning her, and she fits into this paradigm. It comes from this conditioned thinking we see with young urban women; they don’t see any women of value in their lives other than being sexy, subscribing to the ideology that your sexiness can make you millions or billions, and nothing else. Cardi B., and people that look up to her are going to jump at that chance!
When I became a rapper, the management company representing me liked my look and encouraged me to wear less clothing; to be more seductive, and that’s not the image I wanted to portray. I was writing deep lyrics that were truthful, things that needed to be said. They didn’t think the songs would sell. I had the street and tough factor – but they realized I was too smart for them to control, so I abandoned my rap persona: Gina Montana, temporarily though, she might resurface!
How about the chapter on “The DRUNK B.U.M.” Can you speak to what motivated you to write it —even though it’s not rooted in science?
I respect everyone’s belief system. Not everyone is going to agree with what I’ve written, but these chapters are based on my lived experiences. We are all energies – vessels housing and emitting energies. When you’re drinking alcohol your energy and spirit can be easily manipulated if you’re in a low point in your life, as I’ve been many times. When you’re a person with unhealed trauma, living in fear or anger, you’re susceptible to lower vibrational frequencies, and are easily manipulated.
When I used to succumb to liquor, I would get very violent. I’m very spiritual and believe there are entities out there (outside forces, if you will) that look for vulnerable individuals open to being manipulated. While those that have complete domain of their thinking, are in a good place in their lives, and can manage their alcohol without becoming reckless. Those that seek alcohol as a coping mechanism, don’t.
The takeaway I want readers to have from the book is for them to become more self-aware of their behaviors. Break the cultural generational cycle of internalized trauma and constantly searching for things and status that leave them feeling empty. And, finally to be honest about the work they have to do to heal.
What are your plans for the future with Motivational Monsters Inc. and your book?
I have so many plans. I want to make an audio version of the book and eventually go on a book tour. It’s been well received by my community. What I’m most excited about is developing an interactive creative center, where marginalized people in the community can get help with becoming entrepreneuers or having a creative outlet to build something of their own.
I’ve been doing lots of work with the community this year, like launching our summer wellness fair, and our first annual Urban Pumpkin Patch event. I recently held my first Motivational Monsters Inc. Gala to promote my community garden project and get support and funding from elected officials. It’s been neglected for so long and I’d like to turn it into an urban farming community and start a daily urban farmers markets. I was recently asked to join the board as vice president. But, it doesn’t stop there. Fidelis, a big healthcare organization, recently became a sponsor and they are looking to establish wellness programs in women’s shelters and LGBTQ organizations.
It’s clear multi-hyphenate, Janessa Rose Perez shows no signs of slowing down. The entrepreneur and community activist is committed to making the same environment that caused her anguish at times – yet taught her to be resilient – a place where everyone can flourish; an inspirational hub the community can feel happy and hopeful about. As Perez meets and organizes with political leaders to get her projects off the ground, we may see political aspirations of her own in the future. Could she be the next A.O.C.? Putting her community’s needs on the political map and claiming her own moniker: J.R.P. Only time will tell for this inspirational Latina.
Mercedes Vizcaino is a pop culture and social issues journalist. She has an MFA in creative writing and is an aspiring screenwriter.
[This article was originally published on Don’t Suck My Collagen and republished here with permission.]