28 Days of Black Excellence: Jocelyn Reaves

28 Days of Black Excellence
28 Days of Black Excellence
28 Days of Black Excellence: Jocelyn Reaves

“I think a lot of times we get in these boardrooms, classrooms, and really shrink ourselves. And then you remember that day that you were back in the classroom, and you were affirmed by a professor that looked like you and told you to speak up, so I think that was probably the most valuable experience that I’ve had at UIC.”

Jocelyn Reaves


Jocelyn Reaves is a health care executive turned serial entrepreneur who has a passion for helping people actualize their potential. Before earning a bachelor’s degree in cellular molecular biology from Connecticut College and a master’s of public health from Boston University, Reaves attended UIC’s Early Outreach Program, which provides a health-focused, supplemental learning and research experience for K–12 students and prepares them for college and careers in health care. As an entrepreneur, she helps business owners reach their goals through her company Fireside Insights, and equips life and business coaches with the tools they need through CoachedIt. She has real and raw conversations about self-actualization and breaking internal barriers via her Cultivating Confidence Daily website and “Confidence Conversations” podcast. She also founded The Cause Mall to bring economic opportunity and empowerment to traditionally marginalized business owners through brand visibility and business education.

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Tariq El-Amin  00:01
Welcome to Black Excellence at UIC Office of Diversity, Equity and Engagement with Dr. Aisha El-Amin

Recording of Dr. Martin Luther King  00:09
[Applause] Believe in yourself and believe that you’re somebody.

Clips from 1995 movie “Panther”  00:17
That we study and master a bunch of different things.
Why are you here? 
Study and master a bunch of different things.
I’m proud to introduce our new Minister of Information

Aisha El-Amin  00:26
I’m Dr. Aisha El-Amin

Tariq El-Amin  00:29
Welcome to Black Excellence.

Aisha El-Amin 0:34
Greetings, UIC family and friends. Welcome to UIC’s “28 Days of Black Excellence.” I am Dr. Aisha El-Amin, UIC’s associate vice chancellor for equity and belonging. And it is my great honor to celebrate the history of Black excellence at UIC with some powerful, inspiring and informative conversations with some of UIC’s past students and faculty and staff who’ve paved the way and left a legacy. And so each day we have a new guest and I am excited to welcome and learn more about our guest, Jocelyn Reaves, who was part of the Early Outreach Program and started at UIC in sixth grade and continued all the way through. Joycelyn, tell us a little bit about who you are, where you’re from, what you’ve been up to.

Jocelyn Reaves 1:27
Well, first of all, thank you so much for having me. I am a proud Chicago native, born and bred on the South Side of the city, and I am just so proud to represent UIC. I think that a lot of the opportunities that I’ve had in my career even just starting with college and going from there were a product of my engagement in the Early Outreach Program with you guys. So I’ve been very busy since I graduated in 2011, but I owe a lot of that success to the UIC programs.

Aisha El-Amin 2:02
Yes, so first of all let me give you props: South Side. Oh, yes. [Laughter] What have you been up to? What are you doing?

Jocelyn Reaves 2:13
Sure. So I graduated from Connecticut College with a degree in cell molecular biology, went on to do my master’s in public health from Boston University, and now, not directly engaged in healthcare. That’s kind of how the world works, right? You start one place, and you kind of discover yourself and learn and kind of see the path that you need to take. So I’ve since been able to found a couple of companies. The Cause Mall, which is the meaningful marketplace where people purchase with a purpose, which really was built to empower Black-, brown-, and women-owned businesses, and also businesses who take pride in being sustainable and doing good for the earth, so we offer that marketplace. And I’m also the host of Cultivating Confidence Daily and the “Confidence Conversations” podcast, really, just to uplift the spirits of women. I’m sure you’ve seen this as a doctor and the trailblazer that you are, we have this sort of nature to put on our best face all the time. And that’s good in some facets, but in other areas it becomes this very sort of surface level interaction. And we never, ever really get down into who we are and being able to break down problems. And so I wanted to tackle that barrier and get into emotional health and healing in full wellness, right? So it’s kind of related to health care, but it’s taking a step back and looking at who are we on the inside and sharing stories to empower one another.

Aisha El-Amin 3:44
Oh, absolutely love it. And what I’ll make sure that we that we have attached our links so folks can kind of dive into to your work and connect with you because I think, as you know, there’s a huge need. There’s a huge, huge need. And I love that they you’ve made such a connection with your work in in mental health, it’s so so important. As you look back at it your journey of getting here, can you talk about kind of some of your fondest memories of being at UIC and in your journey to where you are now.

Jocelyn Reaves 4:23
Of course. I think UIC is just a different breed, right? I was part of the Early Outreach Program, so I didn’t go to UIC for college, but I was there as a young child at 11 years old. And so to be on a college campus, and to have other Black and brown faces that were in the field I wanted to be in I wanted to be a doctor when I was younger. They made that a very real reality for me. And so being able to engage and have that just normalized was so huge to me and I can’t even say it was a favorite memory because it was something that, when I was younger I took it for granted because it was my norm, right? And you don’t realize that until you’re in these other spaces and you realize that, okay, this is what they were talking about, like lack of diversity. And this is what people were speaking to you in terms of being able to represent and show up for yourself. And I had the gift of being a part of UIC and having more. And so going into college, I was able to do well on my coursework, I was able to go on and do the ventures that I wanted to do, because I had that strong foundation and really instilled in myself a sense of self. Right? I think a lot of times we get in these boardrooms, classrooms, and really shrink ourselves. And then you remember that day that you were back in the classroom, and you were affirmed by a professor that looked like you and told you to speak up, so I think that was probably the most valuable experience that I’ve had at UIC.

Aisha El-Amin 5:54
Jocelyn, I appreciate that. Because for many reasons, but oftentimes, when we think of UIC, we think of it in these linear kind of spaces and not about the bridge that it creates, right? In that space before people get to UIC how that looks in representation and getting exposure. And so, you are UIC through and through. You always will be a part of our family. And you’ve had so many successes. And as our students and our Early Outreach Program folks look at this, can you talk about some of your challenges and how you overcame those challenges so that they can see themselves in the journey as well?

Jocelyn Reaves 6:43
Of course. So I told you about a couple businesses, but I also have a business consultancy. And I can speak a lot about failure from that lens. So I started Fireside Insights in 2016 as just a blog, right? We’re writing blogs, and I was doing really well eventually turned it into a consultancy and went full time with it, and was like, This is gonna be great, it’s gonna be easy, it’s not gonna be a problem I have, things are rolling full steam ahead. And I think that we have to remember, and what I didn’t know, and that I’m fortunate to realize now is that timing is everything, and that everything happens in it’s time. So just because things did not play out how I thought they look, save if you’re ever going to become an entrepreneur, I’ll say that. So I was okay. But had I not saved, I wouldn’t have been. But things did not happen in the timing that I thought that they would, and being okay with that, and understanding that and having to go back and say, “It’s not me that’s a failure. It’s the approach.” And so how do I not change my goal, but change the path, right? Sometimes GPS is going to take you down roads that are blocked off, and you have to find another way. And that’s how I see my journey in life as an entrepreneur. Everything has to be taken with that lens, sometimes your approach may be off, but that doesn’t mean your goal is often. So I would definitely say just know that everything happens in its own time. And just because your timing is not how things are playing out in real time, doesn’t mean that your work isn’t going to bear fruit.

Aisha El-Amin 8:29
That’s great. I appreciate that. And that resonates with me. What other pieces of advice, as we round out today, what are some pieces of advice that you would give yourself? [Laughter] 2020 2020 right.

Jocelyn Reaves 8:54
I think one thing I would say is definitely trust your intuition and trust your gut. I host “Confidence Conversations” and a couple years ago, a friend asked me, “What is confident? Are you confident? Or when was the last time that you didn’t feel confident?” I was like, “I can’t even remember.” And then I had to sit and think about it to myself. And it came very clearly to me that there were a couple times where I didn’t trust my intuition. I didn’t trust my gut. And when you are trusting something, you’re placing confidence in that thing. So I had to check myself on that confidence box and say, there are areas that I have to work in. And I would say if you’re feeling off ever, investigate that, and validate yourself, validate your own feelings and experience. And then the other thing I would say is just to keep going. I’ve always kept going, but I think that there have been times where I just felt like, “Why am I doing this?” Right? And just knowing that there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel and that there is a reason why you’re doing things. But while you’re in the weeds – you have this dream of a garden – but while you’re in the weeds you don’t always see like the reason that you started. You have no view of a garden, you’re just sitting there plucking weeds, and there’s just dirt. And that’s how things can seem sometimes. So just to constantly remind myself that I remind myself that on a daily basis, and I would definitely tell young Jocelyn that.

Aisha El-Amin 10:24
I love, I love and appreciate that. There’s a lot of wisdom in your words, I’m trying to write down some some things. Who do you lean on for inspiration?

Jocelyn Reaves 10:38
I have really great family, friends. And I read a lot, right? I think that family and friends are great, but family you don’t choose. And friends you do choose, but they tend to resonate with you at the same frequency and energy, which is amazing. You will need that. But you also need to constantly be building and growing, and having new relationships. So whether that’s through a book or networking, I definitely lean on those things just to grow and make sure that I’m always progressing myself, even when it’s icky and hard.

Aisha El-Amin 11:14
You know, some folks have said that they are too nervous to do networking, or they’re not made for networking, or that just doesn’t feel right. What advice would you give yo people who have some hesitancy and anxiety around doing that networking?

Jocelyn Reaves 11:31
So I was that way too. And the best advice I can give because I don’t know, I think it was a movie or something. But you know, the fake it till you make it. And I was like, I’m just gonna fake it till I make it and let you do then you start feeling comfortable. And you’re like, okay, conversation is easier. It’s okay. And then you feel comfortable, and you feel yourself and you can sort of unfold in that way. But it’s something that’s necessary, and you have to do it. And I would say, as long as you are being yourself and being authentic. You may have to fake that confidence to walk into the room, but always be yourself, and be comfortable being yourself. And I think once you do that groundwork to affirm yourself, do your positive affirmations in the morning, do whatever you need to do to build yourself up as a human. But then when you’re able to walk into a room, just know that you’re enough in that space. And I think when you come into a space knowing that I’m enough, and I may not be for everyone, people may not understand whatever work I’m doing or whatever the networking space is, and that’s okay. But that you do have something to say and that you’re allowed to take up space in that networking environment, I think becomes a lot more comfortable.

Aisha El-Amin 12:43
I’m just absorbing all of this. As an avid reader, it’s sometimes hard to pluck out some recommendations, but I’m gonna see if I can have you pluck out some recommendations for what would you have folks read?

Jocelyn Reaves 13:01
Oh, my gosh, okay. There’s so many things. So I just finished rereading “The Secret,” which is one of my all time faves. If you’re not a reader, they also have it on Netflix. Check it out, it’s basically the same. “Becoming Supernatural” by Dr. Joe Dispenza is really great in terms of just being able to, and this is gonna sound a little woowoo, which if you’re into it, that’s okay, and if not, it doesn’t resonate. But it talks about the power of healing with your mind, both physical and emotional healing. And it’s been a very powerful experience, especially if you’re into meditation. Another book I’d recommend is “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” Shonda Rhimes’ “Year of Yes.” I could go on and on all day, I basically just pick up pretty much anything. I’m a nonfiction reader for the most part.

Aisha El-Amin 13:55
I appreciate those. I’ve got them written down. [Laughter] So thank you, thank you for being just a shining light of excellence in the world, and for attributing some of that to your beginnings at UIC, and leaving a legacy for folks that are walking in your path of excellence. And thank you for being part of this series and telling us a bit more about all of the things that you’ve been doing.

Jocelyn Reaves 14:28
Thank you for having me. A pleasure.

Tariq El-Amin 14:31
[Music] Thanks for joining us find more inspiring and informative conversations with UIC alumni, faculty and staff at blackresources.uic.edu. That’s blackresources.uic.edu.

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