How Sister Souljah’s Brilliance Changed My Life Forever

Sister Souljah and I during her book signing event at Underground Books in 2015.

“I never said I was an angel. Nor am I innocent or holy like the Virgin Mary. What I am is natural and serious and as sensitive as an open nerve on an ice cube.” —from Sister Souljah’s No Disrespect

We have entered February, so that means it’s officially time to celebrate Black History Month!

Although, it is a short month, it’s a great time to highlight our culture. Besides our whole year gives us a chance to celebrate Black life, culture, music, history, businesses, and so much more. Also, without Black people America would have no history, sorry not sorry.

I would be remiss if I did not kick Black History Month off with someone that is not only influential to me, but influential to the culture in more ways than one. Sister Souljah is more than just the writer who changed my life, but she is an activist, public speaker, musician (one and only lady of Public Enemy), and film producer. I also want to add actress because of her one-time appearance on A Different World. If one thing is for certain Sister Souljah is for the elevation of the Black community and has continued to put in work over the course of her life to see to it.

Sister Souljah in 1993. Credit: Anthony Barboza/Getty Images (Obtained it from The New York Times)

Sister Souljah was born Lisa Williamson, January 28, 1964, in Bronx, New York. She is an alum of Rutgers University with her degree in American History and African Studies. She was first recognized for her powerful speaking ability in high school when she won the American Legion’s Constitutional Oratory Contest. One of her very first movements for the people included the African Youth Survival six-week sleep away camp for children from homeless families.

Sister Souljah would continue organizing many events throught her early years earning her a position as Executive Director of the non-profit organization Daddy’s House Social Programs (part of Bad Boy Entertainment). During this time, she would work with Sean Combs (Puff Daddy, P.Diddy, and Love) to create social reform programs and events for those in need. Sister Souljah is dedicated to uplifting Black people all over the world, as evidence by her travels to around the states and abroad to Africa. Sister Souljah is very outspoken when it comes to politics, activism, community outreach, and literature just to name a few.

Souljah’s efforts have become even more visible to mainstream America from the notorious 1992 “Sister Souljah Moment.” The Sister Souljah moment can best be described as a heated debate between Souljah and then Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton on her supposed inciting hatred based on her revolutionary conduct. She is said to have spoken about black-on-black crime and purposed an unlikely solution of a week for killing white people. Clinton tried to start a smear campaign by comparing her to David Duke, an incarcerated former politician and KKK Grand Wizard, to tarnish her character among the American public.

Sister Souljah of course blatantly refused to be rattled. She instead maintained her position stating, “If you ask me my view […] you have to handle that.” She speaks. “Don’t tell me I hurt your feelings.” Even in the face of clear character assassination, Souljah remains unscathed and continues to fight for true justice for Black and impoverished communities.

The controversial album cover for Sister Souljah’s 360 Degrees of Power.

Sister Souljah’s musical career occurred when she joined Public Enemy in 1992. She went on to release her album 360 Degrees of Power in March of 1992. The album featured what people considered controversial themes from political, racial, consciousness, and slavery. The album has mixed reviews due to its subject matter, but this is because it was largely misunderstood and ahead of its time.

If the album was released today, it would have rave reviews. Conscious rap and spoken word have now become more mainstream or palatable for a larger audience. This genre has become quite trendy in the last few years, and I would argue that she has paved the way for conscious artists baring the weight of constant critique for her artistic debut. No one can argue against Sister Souljah’s many talents and strategic avenues for reaching the African Youth or African American community.

No Disrespect was Sister Souljah’s official writing debut in 1994.

Finally, we cannot forget her literature success. This writing debut started out with No Disrespect in 1994. Sister Souljah’s No Disrespect tells the story of her life from birth to her efforts to help others as an adult. The book is broken down into chapters of important people in her life who made a major impact on who Souljah is today.

No Disrespect captures the essence of Sister Souljah’s intelligent character. She states, “The names as well as certain details have been changed to protect the innocent and the guilty and to avoid embarrassing anyone other than myself.” She exposes a softer side, being vulnerable with the reader without regret. Souljah’s memoir showcases life altering experiences that formed her motivation to contribute to the elevation of the Black community.

Sister Souljah’s fictional debut The Coldest Winter Ever in 1999.

Her second book was the critically acclaimed classic 1999’s The Coldest Winter Ever. The novel chronicles the rise and downfall of the Santiaga family through the eyes of the oldest daughter Winter. Winter upholds the family name thorough and thorough and enjoys the luxuries the fast life has to offer her.

Winter is the direct antithesis of who her creator Sister Souljah is, whom she carries a deep distaste for. She makes this clear on the very first page, “I never liked Sister Souljah, straight up.” Winter follows it up with, “She the type of female I’d like to cut in the face with my razor.” This is a bold opening, and for a writer to make the choice for her character to hate everything she stands for makes for quite the hook.

The Coldest Winter Ever has gone on to sell over a million copies and counting to date. The novel has gone on to spawn several sequels from Midnight, Midnight and The Meaning of Love, Midnight III: A Moment of Silence, A Deeper Love Inside: The Porsche Santiaga Story and the direct long anticipated sequel to the original Life After Death (The Coldest Winter Ever 2). The Midnight series follows Winter’s crush who has continuously rejected her affections. The reader gets a chance to see how he got tangled up in the dangerous web that is the Santiaga family.

The complete fictional The Coldest Winter Ever series in no order.

Overall, Sister Souljah’s books have had a major impact on the community. They have been passed down through generations like a family heirloom because of their relatability to everyday life. They have been so moving that their adaptations into movies are being teased and the rights are up for sell. Sister Souljah has single handedly contributed so much art and knowledge to the culture.

Most of all, she touched my twelve-year-old heart from the moment I stumbled upon her work resting on my family bookcase. I still remember it like it was any other day, because being a lover of books you never forget your first love. Gone were the days of No, David! My personal kid favorite besides the other childish series I read religiously The Princess Diaries, Dear Dumb Diaries, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

The Princess Diaries (Book one of the series circa 2000)

Yeah, I know I just really went totally nerdy and what is with all the Diaries? First, I had my own personal diary and I loved knowing that I was not alone even if it was just fictional kids feeding into my fantastic imagination. Now let me get back on track before anyone goes all Dr. Phil or Judge Judy one me. I was intrigued with Sister Souljah from the very first opening lines as I read this grown book away from the watchful eyes of my parents.

I got so emersed in the fabulous world of Winter Santiaga that one day I got caught. I hadn’t realized I became so far removed from the real world, that my bedroom door was opened. In walked my mom, and she asked me what I was reading. I looked up quickly, trying to close the cover with my hand covering that famous picture with the blood red lips.

It felt like the equivalent of a son getting caught red-handed and exposed while watching something naughty on Cinemax or Pornhub. My cover was indeed blown because my mom new that purple background anywhere, hell, it was her book after all. I hung my head down, as she pried it from my hands. She looked at the book and back to me, no emotion was spilled on her face.

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Photo by RODNAE Productions on

“This is not a book for kids,” she said flatly. It pained me to hear it because I was no ordinary kid. I had the early high school reading level results to prove it. Books were my best friends. I loved my friends, but if books could talk, my friends would probably never hear from me again.

“Mom,” I remember whining. She did not dare want to explain there were sex scenes in the book nor was she ready to have a serious talk about the birds and the bees to a curious preteen. My mom went to go place the book back on our family bookshelf. She just did not know what she had started.

I had already developed a strong taste for the book, that had nothing to do with sex and everything about being a fun, spoiled rotten, hood rich Black girl from Brooklyn. I had never read anything like it, and I knew then it would not be the last. I had not read any books that talked about the lives of Black people, from the streets or a two-parent home up until that point. I did not even have a library card to the local library.

I vowed it my mission to finish this book whether my mom knew or not. I had to, I owed it to myself I needed Black representation. So, when my mom was off my case, I would read it any chance I got remembering to put it back in place each day. I believe it took me a week took me a week of sneaking around to finish all five hundred and forty-four pages, which included its reader guide.

Sister Souljah’s words had awakened me to see the light. I had already known at eight that I wanted to be a writer, but I really did not have a “why” or purpose other than it was fun to build your own fantasy. Her book was a call to action for Black people worldwide, she wanted us to feel her and the passion she had. The deep love she has for our community fueled her to create a classic.

The Sister Souljah Effect had me smitten like a kitten with fresh milk. I wanted everyone to feel what I felt when I read her work. I felt complete that there was literature about our people out in the world. Literacy and representation are important for our community, it was then I realized that I wanted to add to that.

Of Mice and Men, an American classic. (via: Amazon)

How could our community enjoy reading if we did not have characters who looked like us that we could relate to? I mean Of Mice and Men, The Outsiders, and To Kill a Mockingbird are fine books, but they cannot replace that feeling of belonging. These characters would not be caught dead in my Oak Park community when I was a kid, but maybe now that some people refer to it as “Midtown” and there’s a gelato spot, I might see Atticus’ getting coffee after his morning jog. Sister Souljah writes in a way we the people can grasp it; some might call it “Code switching” or “Ebonics” maybe even “Ghetto” but it’s just regular to my community.

I knew I had struck gold with her, she taught me authentic writing. Souljah was not flowery, she was real. I had to stop playing because my cookie cutter Gossip Girl approach might fool Becky, but it would not fool my Black community. I had to write for us, not just me, or exclusively for them.

My writing is F.U.B.U. also known as For Us by Us. My writing is my weapon, voice, activism, talent, and my whole being. Although, I graduated college after studying it. I will forever be a student.

There is always something to learn when it comes to writing. I know I learn something new every day. I am so intrigued by writing that I do not just want to write novels, but I want to do scripts for television or movies. I want to also do Journalism pieces as well or short stories. My poetry is still fermenting, but I want to be a literary great for certain.

I know now how important my voice is whether I am speaking or not. This is my true calling because story telling allows me to come alive like nothing else in this world. I do this with love, passion, blood, sweat, and tears. My writing is my life, my child, and my everything.

I know if I did not have anybody tomorrow, I would still have my ability to write. Writing is no easy path and support can be lackluster but believing in yourself will always pay off. I am the underdog, and I still stay betting on myself. Sister Souljah fanned the flames, but my hard work keeps the fire lit.

Sister Souljah changed my life before I ever even met her in 2015 as a junior in high school. I knew I always wanted to be in contact with her. I was always so scared to write her at the email listed in the book, but I knew we would cross paths one day. She was having a book talk and signing at my neighborhood bookstore Underground Books.

Underground Books in Sacramento’s Neighborhood of Oak Park. (via Sac Cultural Hub)

I was ecstatic I called the owner Mother Rose, who knew me since middle school to see what I had to do to attend. She told me it was twenty dollars and that is all I had to my name, but I knew it was worth it. I almost did it until she told me I could volunteer at the door. I had to be there so I went as quickly as I could.

The whole event was so surreal. I literally felt like I had been taken to a parallel universe with my worn and tattered copy of The Coldest Winter Ever. Kevin Johnson was interviewing her for the book talk, and it was refreshing to hear her New York accent chime in with answers you had to think about from then politics to classic American literature. She answered questions from the crowd about activism, her work, and love for the community.

The Guild Theater which is next to Underground Books. (via Cinema Treasures)

We then filed out from the Guild Theater, which was next to the bookstore, where she would be having the book signing. I was in the long line with my heart beating fast preparing myself to meet her. I knew it would be fast, but I was hoping she could feel that writer’s instinct we both had flowing through us. She was the only “celebrity” I had ever been pressed to meet, and if she did not live up to the hype or did not like me, I would not know how to take it.

It took like an hour and some change just to get to the front. I had been high fived and talked to by Kevin Johnson before I got to her. We each had been prepped by one of the staff not to try and hold a conversation. We were informed to do a brief greeting, get your book signed, and go before we could be getting in her presence.

Sister Souljah at a 2015 book signing event in Miami. (Via: Wikipedia)

When I got near her, I tried to be as normal as possible. She was Sister Souljah she could spot a fake from a mile away. I just prayed she would get great genuine energy underneath my nervousness. The first thing she asked me was my name.

I responded, “Journey.” She asked me if that was my real name, like many people do. I did not trip when she asked me though. She told me she liked it.

I was overjoyed inside, and quickly blurted out, “You inspired me to write.” She smiled, and I handed her my worn-out book. At first, I was embarrassed, but I quickly realized that it showed I read the book cover to cover. I was not a poser.

I watched as she wrote on the inside of the worn-out cover and beamed with pride. I had finally checked my meeting off the bucket list. She was everything I thought she would be. We took our picture and it provided me with a wonderful memory.

I walked out of there richer than I came in. The way she spoke and conducted herself let me know she was serious about life. Sister Souljah gave me a lot to think about. She was not the playing type, and neither was I.

I wanted to be in the same place she was someday at Underground Books signing some young lady’s copy of my book telling me how it changed her life. I now know it is possible and I cannot wait to connect with my readers. I want to put on for the city of Sacramento, Black artists, Black women, and the Black community.

I know I am well on my way to greatness. I am taking myself more serious now when it comes to my branding, writing, and life. I am honored to kick off Black History Month with such a powerful Black woman, who has changed my life forever. February 2022 has been rebranded Black Future Month and I for one want to contribute to our future while uplifting our history because Black people make American culture relevant.

Sister Souljah in a debate about race and politics in the 90s with Phil Donahue. (Courtesy of YouTube)


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