This weeks feature, is kind of a big deal. She was in the middle of her midterms when I asked her to do this. Luckily, she saw my vision and happily agreed to participate. Aniska Tonge is a 26 year old, US Virgin Islander, (born in Houston, Texas) currently living in Atlanta GA. Aniska has a BS in Psychology with a concentration in Women and Gender Studies and she’s a few months way from graduating with her MA in Media Studies and Journalism (hence her having midterms).  She is currently a supervising producer with GSUTV and recently landed her first “big girl” broadcasting job at CNN. Aniska is a former (but not really) pageant queen, having competed at Miss America in 2013 and Miss World in 2014, both of which she had the honor of representing the USVI. She will be competing in her final pageant this coming summer, and will also be launching a few awesome projects that she has to keep on the hush hush.

Aniska began by giving credit to her support system (family, friends, and awesome guy friend). “I am inspired by the women in my life before anything” she says. “There really is nothing like being surrounded by women that are conquering the world, (whether it be in tech, fashion, law, or medicine) and I have ALL OF THAT. My friends are the best friends, my circle is solid.

They speak to me about facing my fears and being true to myself, they remind me of my dreams when I have forgotten or cop out because it “doesn’t seem probable to me.”

She give tons of credit to her sister who she describes as her rock. “After so many years of ups and downs in our relationship, she has become the woman I most admire, so smart and steady in her resolve, driven to be better than she was before but never forgetting what that is”. My motivation lies in the girls I hope to inspire. I want the women coming up behind me to be better and more capable than I am. I want more of the world to be theirs. I want them to know that they can be more than pretty and married, they can have the world, I want to show them that in everything I do.” Amen to that, I can totally relate. While there’s nothing wrong with being pretty and married, we can be so much more. We can be pretty, married AND run the world. Believe it or not, people (we) limit themselves everyday.

On top of limiting, many of us are not in tune with ourselves either. We go day to day, not realizing our strengths or weaknesses and not learning from past situations. I figured if Aniska was anything like me, (having a psychology background) she is very in tune with herself and of course I was right. So what makes her different from the rest of us in regards to “knowing self”? “I think I stand out because it’s easy for others to see themselves in me. I stand out because my life is relatable” she answers, “I am the girl that grew up with a single mom, that did her best to make sure I kept dreaming my wild dreams. I am the girl that moved to Cali with nothing but $400 and a suitcase, I am the girl that’s been in an abusive relationship and lived to tell about it.

I am the girl that didn’t think she’s worth fighting for, and the girl that discovered she’s the only one worth fighting for.

I am the girl that’s kissed a hundred frogs because I’ve never been afraid enough of heartbreak that it’d keep me from love. I am the girl that’s been battered and beaten and bruised, but never broken. So much of what we see today are these images of womanhood that are immaculate and perfect, my life has never been that. That’s why I think I stand out.” I don’t know about y’all, but this is obviously a woman who knows exactly who she is and what she has to offer.

Unfortunately, strong individuals are not immune to and (still) often experience hardships and obstacles. The only difference is the way a strong individual deals with these situations. According to Aniska, she’s had obstacles of her own, but they’ve always been personal, and not professional. “I’ve suffered with anxiety and depression since I was about 13, but it was never identifiable to me because growing up in the Caribbean those weren’t things we could identify with. We weren’t allowed to have anxiety, weren’t allowed to be depressed, so for almost a decade I was fighting a war and I didn’t know who my adversary was.” Sad to say, but she’s right. I can relate to this all too well because mental health in the Caribbean has been swept under the rug and ignored for decades. “That affected me and manifested in ways that have not only tested, but shaped me as a woman” she continues, “I could sit here and talk for hours about my abusive relationships or the lowest points of my depression, and how I avoided (although barely) self-harm or self-destruction, but I am so much more than that, and if nothing else, I’ve endured because I finally discovered a value in myself unparalleled with any obstacle or roadblock I have faced. It sounds so cliché, but it had to start with me.”

I first had to discover that I am deserving of a certain level of respect, adoration and appreciation that no one but myself can provide. I had to love on myself and tackle the things threatening to destroy me, the things I was told I wasn’t allowed to have as a young Caribbean, black woman.

“These things for me have not disappeared, anxiety is something I face every day, depression is something I know can arise if I don’t take time to continue learning and loving myself. So that’s what I do, I love on me first and foremost. And I would be remis not to mention the circle of support that I’ve been blessed with. My closest friends have always known of my battles and whenever I feel like I can’t hold myself up, I know I have amazing friends, family and a partner that I can lean on.” I love how Aniska keeps emphasizing the importance of a strong support system. How does the saying go, “no man is an island“? You get my point.

Out of pure curiosity I asked Aniska to recall a time when she felt like God was pushing her to pursue her current goals. “I remember this moment perfectly,” she said, “it was some day in January of 2015, I’d been planning my move to San Francisco to study at the American Conservatory Theater. That was the first time I’d decided on working in the field of entertainment and I had my heart set on acting.” She decided that if she was going to pursue this, she was going to have to study with the best. Even if that meant moving across the country by herself, to an unfamiliar place. “Nothing was falling into place,” she continued, “my tuition wasn’t paid, I couldn’t find an apartment and everything was leaning towards ‘this ain’t it.’ But I knew it was, my heart was racing at the chance to make my dream come true or at least to start. My mind was racing because I NEEDED TO MAKE THIS HAPPEN, but after a while of reeling something told me to ‘be still, this is yours to have, this is the path I need you to take. You’ve done all you can do, now be still and let me work.’ That’s when I knew the world and the life I was stepping into, was the life I was created for. I am meant to create. My mind just works like that, and whether it’s on stage, or on camera, whether I’m writing or producing, all I ever want to do is create, and there is nothing like knowing that you’ve discovered what you were created for.”

Despite facing various hurdles and things beyond her control, Aniska has remained strong. “I’ve never been the type of girl to run scared or back down from a fight or challenge, even if it takes me a while longer” she says,

“I deal with my fears by knowing that they are part of the journey that I chose, no one told me to choose this life or to have these dreams. I decided on this life, I decided that I wanted to make a change and leave something greater than myself behind. I’ll never stop fighting for that, no fear will ever get in the way of that.”

No fear, no anxiety, no depression, none of it! By becoming in tune with herself (paying attention to her mental health) and not succumbing to obstacles put in her way, Aniska has accomplished so many great things at such a young age. And between you and me, this is only the beginning. Until next time babies! 💕

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