Towanda Braxton, the younger sister of 90s songstress Toni Braxton, is fearless in every sense of the word.
The Braxton Family Values star, who is also a singer, entrepreneur, political activist and executive television producer, is certainly not afraid of putting herself out there. From dealing with a fresh divorce as a single parent to navigating the intricacies of a famous family on a reality television show, Towanda has used her celebrity to catapult business and philanthropic ventures that are as varied as they are directional.
“I love singing and always loved music," says Towanda. “Music always came easy to me but I always wanted to act. Instead, I went along the path of what my family wanted to do. Music was a family business but I didn't want to do it. I never really broke rules when it came to family."
Towanda, who began her career as a singer in the short-lived girl group The Braxtons with sisters Toni,Traci, Trina and Tamar Braxton, with Arista Records, is now focused on building an empire all herself, defined only by what is important to her.
“I got a theater scholarship at Howard University and I passed on it," says Towanda. “I am thankful for the path I took but i can't help but wonder what my life would be like if I followed my passion for acting."
“When I turned 40 I told myself 'self, you went all these years pleasing other people. You have more years behind you than in front' and I thought I have to create a legacy."
These days Towanda is very focused on following her own passions. From her show to her businesses, she says she is taking each day as it comes, letting her instincts guide her.
“Braxton Family Values is a blessing," says Towanda, who has filmed over 100 episodes to date. “The show is about healing and family and knowing you aren't alone. It was important for me for this season to be open about my marriage and how I'm feeling. I've always been private and never really worn these things on my sleeve. But I want women to know they aren't the only women out there in relationships they shouldn't be in and not putting themselves first."
Of course there are downsides to putting your life on the airways. For Braxton, this comes in the form of internet trolls.
“There are some negative people who watch the show and think they have you pegged," she says. “They tend to sit on the negative things and not the positive. For a while, people thought I was jealous of Tamar. But why would I be jealous of her and not Toni, who has acquired so much more in life? I just don't give them energy."
And what about that jealous for the platinum-selling r&b artist sister of hers? Although it has been widely reported that she felt left behind by her own sister, Towanda says it's not the case.
“I never look at it like I was left in the dust because when Toni first came onto the scene she made sure she did everything with all of us first; Jay Leno, Letterman, the Grammys, the AMAs, we were there. We looked at it like her success was our success and it opened opportunities for us."
Regarding her very public divorce, Towanda is not afraid to tell it like it is.
“I'm going through a divorce but I'm happy and thankful," says Towanda, who was married for 13 years to author, Andre Carter. “I know that he's hurting but it's not about him though. It's about me growing and being happy and working on me. Even before I got married I was broken because of what was going on with my family.
“It's wonderful for my kids to understand the Braxton family legacy but they need to understand their mom's."
Towanda also got involved in politics as of late, publicly promoting Hillary Clinton and getting involved in her election campaign.“I'm a politics nerd and I was a Hillary supporter," says Towanda. “I was very disappointed at the turnout at the election and even more now. The silver lining is that [Donald Trump's presidency] is making people aware about politics. Because they are unhappy they are getting more educated."
When asked about her most memorable moment in her life, Towanda says it was when she got to meet President Obama.
“I had the opportunity to meet him four times," says Towanda about our former commander in chief. “His skin is impeccable. He smells so amazing. He's got that swag. I can't even put it into words how good he smells. If only we can put that in a bottle and sell it. I didn't wash my hands for a couple of days and had to tell myself 'Towanda get it together.' He's so cool."
Towanda says that she believes her outspoken nature and affinity for drama, and for entrepreneurship, is related to the fact that she grew up in a home with so many big personalities.
“I love my sisters but there are moments where i don't feel like being bothered," says Towanda, who has just launched Braxton Beauty, a line of gel nail polishes and hair care. “There's no ill intent but sometimes I just need my own space because the personalities are so overpowering. It has gotten more challenging because we are adults who are creating boundaries and it doesn't always mesh."
Here, Towanda dishes on each of her sisters:
“Tamar's personality has always been hers. She's always been spoiled rotten and and now we have to create boundaries because we've allowed her to get away with it for so long."
“Trina has always been the sensitive sister. She believes in love and it's ok to believe in love. She is all about giving people a chance.'"
“Tracy is fun and crazy. You never know what's going to come out of her mouth. Sometimes things makes sense and sometimes they don't."
“Toni has always been the controlling older sister who's right about everything. She's a Libra so she knows everything. She's an attorney, a pediatrician, a pharmacist, a hairstylist, a pro at everything."
Part of the legacy Towanda wants to create is one of giving back. To wit, she works closely with Saving Our Daughters - a non-profit organization that focuses on creating the tools to get teen girls discussing key issues in their lives. In addition, Towanda has been named St. Jude Children's Hospitals "Partner In Hope, and continues to give back to the community through grassroots initiatives.
“There are single moms and dads who can't afford to buy diapers and baby clothes, so we give out diaper bags to the less fortunate," says Towanda, who plans to build out an organization that helps moms in need have the proper supplies to care for their babies. "It's a cause that is very important to me."
Towanda, who is currently co-executive producing a new reality show, has also launched The Secret Squirrels, to provide training, certification and placement for those looking to work as professional personal assistants, Looking to the future, Towanda said she will continue to grow her business and charity initiatives and support her children's (Braxton, 11, and Brooke, 10) careers, which seems like they may follow in their famous mom's footsteps. “They walked in Nike's Fashion Week show," says Towanda. “Watching them grow is the most important thing, and I will continue working to inspire them."
The Quick 10
1. What app do you most use?
2. What's the first thing you do in the morning?
Grab my phone.
3. Name a business mogul you admire.
4. What product do you wish you had invented?
5. What is your spirit animal?
6. What is your life motto?
I always tell people live the life your soul intended. You will never will be unhappy if you follow that.
7. Name your favorite work day snack.
Green olives with pimento in the middle.
8. Every entrepreneur must be what to be successful?
9. What's the most inspiring place you've traveled to?
Baden-Baden. It's the most beautiful place and most never even know it exists.
10. Desert Island. Three things, go.
Water, my bible, my iPad, and my nails would have to be done
Not too many years ago, my advice to political candidates would have been pretty simple: "Don't do or say anything stupid." But the last few elections have rendered that advice outdated.
When Barack Obama referred to his grandmother as a "typical white woman" during the 2008 campaign, for example, many people thought it would cost him the election -- and once upon a time, it probably would have. But his supporters were focused on the values and positions he professed, and they weren't going to let one unwise comment distract them. Candidate Obama didn't even get much pushback for saying, "We're five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." That statement should have given even his most ardent supporters pause, but it didn't. It was in line with everything Obama had previously said, and it was what his supporters wanted to hear.
2016: What rules?
Fast forward to 2016, and Donald Trump didn't just ignore traditional norms, he almost seemed to relish violating them. Who would have ever dreamed we'd elect a man who talked openly about grabbing women by the **** and who was constantly blasting out crazy-sounding Tweets? But Trump did get elected. Why? Some people believe it was because Americans finally felt like they had permission to show their bigotry. Others think Obama had pushed things so far to the left that right-wing voters were more interested in dragging public policy back toward the middle than in what Trump was Tweeting.
Another theory is that Trump's lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior was deliberately designed to make Democrats feel comfortable campaigning on policies that were far further to the left than they ever would have attempted before. Why? Because they were sure America would never elect someone who acted like Trump. If that theory is right, and Democrats took the bait, Trump's "digital policies" served him well.
And although Trump's brash style drew the most handlines, he wasn't the only one who seemed to have forgotten the, "Don't do or say anything stupid," rule. Hillary Clinton also made news when she made a "basket of deplorables" comment at a private fundraiser, but it leaked out, and it dogged her for the rest of the election cycle.
And that's where we need to start our discussion. Now that all the old rules about candidate behavior have been blown away, do presidential candidates even need digital policies?
Yes, they do. More than ever, in my opinion. Let me tell you why.
Digital policies for 2020 and beyond
While the 2016 election tossed traditional rules about political campaigns to the trash heap, that doesn't mean you can do anything you want. Even if it's just for the sake of consistency, candidates need digital policies for their own campaigns, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Here are some important things to consider.
Align your digital policies with your campaign strategy
Aside from all the accompanying bells and whistles, why do you want to be president? What ideological beliefs are driving you? If you were to become president, what would you want your legacy to be? Once you've answered those questions honestly, you can develop your campaign strategy. Only then can you develop digital policies that are in alignment with the overall purpose -- the "Why?" -- of your campaign:
- If part of your campaign strategy, for example, is to position yourself as someone who's above the fray of the nastiness of modern politics, then one of your digital policies should be that your campaign will never post or share anything that attacks another candidate on a personal level. Attacks will be targeted only at the policy level.
- While it's not something I would recommend, if your campaign strategy is to depict the other side as "deplorables," then one of your digital policies should be to post and share every post, meme, image, etc. that supports your claim.
- If a central piece of your platform is that detaining would-be refugees at the border is inhumane, then your digital policies should state that you will never say, post, or share anything that contradicts that belief, even if Trump plans to relocate some of them to your own city. Complaining that such a move would put too big a strain on local resources -- even if true -- would be making an argument for the other side. Don't do it.
- Don't be too quick to share posts or Tweets from supporters. If it's a text post, read all of it to make sure there's not something in there that would reflect negatively on you. And examine images closely to make sure there's not a small detail that someone may notice.
- Decide what your campaign's voice and tone will be. When you send out emails asking for donations, will you address the recipient as "friend" and stress the urgency of donating so you can continue to fight for them? Or will you personalize each email and use a more low-key, collaborative approach?
Those are just a few examples. The takeaway is that your online behavior should always support your campaign strategy. While you could probably get away with posting or sharing something that seems mean or "unpresidential," posting something that contradicts who you say you are could be deadly to your campaign. Trust me on this -- if there are inconsistencies, Twitter will find them and broadcast them to the world. And you'll have to waste valuable time, resources, and public trust to explain those inconsistencies away.
Remember that the most common-sense digital policies still apply
The 2016 election didn't abolish all of the rules. Some still apply and should definitely be included in your digital policies:
- Claim every domain you can think of that a supporter might type into a search engine. Jeb Bush not claiming www.jebbush.com (the official campaign domain was www.jeb2016.com) was a rookie mistake, and he deserved to have his supporters redirected to Trump's site.
- Choose your campaign's Twitter handle wisely. It should be obvious, not clever or cutesy. In addition, consider creating accounts with possible variations of the Twitter handle you chose so that no one else can use them.
- Give the same care to selecting hashtags. When considering a hashtag, conduct a search to understand its current use -- it might not be what you think! When making up new hashtags, try to avoid anything that could be hijacked for a different purpose -- one that might end up embarrassing you.
- Make sure that anyone authorized to Tweet, post, etc., on your behalf has a copy of your digital policies and understands the reasons behind them. (People are more likely to follow a rule if they understand why it's important.)
- Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
- Consider sending an email to supporters who sign up on your website, thanking them for their support and suggesting ways (based on digital policies) they can help your messaging efforts. If you let them know how they can best help you, most should be happy to comply. It's a small ask that could prevent you from having to publicly disavow an ardent supporter.
- Make sure you're compliant with all applicable regulations: campaign finance, accessibility, privacy, etc. Adopt a double opt-in policy, so that users who sign up for your newsletter or email list through your website have to confirm by clicking on a link in an email. (And make sure your email template provides an easy way for people to unsubscribe.)
- Few people thought 2016 would end the way it did. And there's no way to predict quite yet what forces will shape the 2020 election. Careful tracking of your messaging (likes, shares, comments, etc.) will tell you if you're on track or if public opinion has shifted yet again. If so, your messaging needs to shift with it. Ideally, one person should be responsible for monitoring reaction to the campaign's messaging and for raising a red flag if reactions aren't what was expected.
Thankfully, the world hasn't completely lost its marbles
Whatever the outcome of the election may be, candidates now face a situation where long-standing rules of behavior no longer apply. You now have to make your own rules -- your own digital policies. You can't make assumptions about what the voting public will or won't accept. You can't assume that "They'll never vote for someone who acts like that"; neither can you assume, "Oh, I can get away with that, too." So do it right from the beginning. Because in this election, I predict that sound digital policies combined with authenticity will be your best friend.