Brooklynite Cindy Similien Johnson ranks as one of the youngest motivational speakers in the nation. She’s the author of How to Stay Motivated: Inspiration and Advice for Everyday Living and more recently Living Expectantly: 30 Days to Living an Authentic Life. Prior to that, she had published Goal Chic!: Changing the World, One Goal At a Time, a self-development manual to help other young women navigate through emotional and professional uncertainty. Lately, she’s been digging into her heritage for inspiration. To that effect, she wrote Cook Like a Haitian: 7 Easy Appetizer Recipes earlier this year, and also published through her own publishing company CSJ Media Publishing.
Kreyolicious: You were born and raised in Brooklyn. What are your memories of growing up in a Haitian-American household?
I have great memories of growing up in a Haitian-American household in Brooklyn, New York. My childhood experiences shaped the woman I am now. I stood on the dash between Haitian-American, and it gave me the opportunity to have the best of both worlds. While listening to Haitian musical artists like Emeline Michel and I also had Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston playing on my CD Player. While eating Comparet, a denselike cake that my relatives always brought with them wrapped in thin foil paper from Jeremie, Haiti – the city of poets, I ate apple and pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving. There was the maskreti oil to the Vicks, and the mixture of the two worked wonders whenever I had a cold or a fever. Growing up in a Haitian-American household afforded me the ability to speak and understand two distinct languages – Haitian Creole, the language of my ancestors and English, my adopted language. English is actually my second language. Growing up as a Haitian-American in a city like Brooklyn gave me the opportunity to identify with dual identities—the American and Haitian to my dual identity.
Kreyolicious: You attended Barnard College and received your degree from there. What are some of the things you learned in college that helped you in life in general?
I actually attended Barnard because my favorite childhood author went there. I wanted to be just like Edwidge Danticat. Her books opened my eyes to the possibility that my story as a person of Haitian heritage could be both told and heard.
My time at Barnard was an eye-opening experience as well. I was the first person in my family to attend college let alone an Ivy League institution. As a student, I learned that as a woman I should not accept to be treated as a second class citizen, and that my dreams and goals can positively shape and influence my community, nation, and the world.
Kreyolicious: If you had to do it over, would college still be a part of your plan?
Growing up Haitian, college was always a part of the plan – if I liked it or not. There were no ifs, ands, or buts about it. A college education gave me the structure I needed to expand my horizons, meet burgeoning changemakers, and become more aware of the world around me through its plethora of resources available to students.
Kreyolicious: What led you to start your own publishing company CSJ Publishing?
Back in 2014, I was challenged to be the woman that God created me to be. I was also asked on a different occasion, “Cindy, if you had all of the money in the world, after you traveled the world, dined at the best restaurants, donated to charities, bought all of the nice clothes, shoes etc, what would you do with your time?” My friend went on to say, “The first thing that comes to mind is your purpose.” It was then I realized the importance and the value of my time. Ever since then, I stopped wasting time, and focused more on the talents and gifts God blessed me with and how I can use them to bring positive changes not only in my life but that of others. Thus, CSJ Media Publishing was born. CSJ stands for the first initials of my name. The purpose of my company is to inspire, encourage, and empower people through positive messages.
Kreyolicious: What’s it like running it?
In the beginning stages of the business, I was completely passionate about CSJ Media Publishing. In life, one learns quickly that passion is not enough fuel to stay the course. For anything to last, one needs commitment. Whenever I faced stumbling blocks or obstacles, I had to go back to my original vision – the reason why I started in the first place, and stay committed to that mission. Running a business is a journey. I learn as you go and seek help from others wherever I have gaps in knowledge about the business.
Kreyolicious: You have said that at one point you were severely depressed. What led to your recovery?
The road to recovery began with my faith in God, through Jesus Christ. I let go, and let God. He turned my mess into a message, my storm into a story, and my test into a testimony. Sometimes, we think God is silent when we are going through tests. But, we have to remember that a teacher never speaks while a student is taking a test. I am where I am now and doing what I am doing now because of my faith in God.
Kreyolicious: What would you like to say to those who are going through emotionally-hard times?
Back in 2013, I was depressed to the point I no longer felt I had a reason to live. I pretty much cried every night. Sometimes, during the day, I would hide in the bathroom at work to cry. The personal challenges I was facing at the time were overwhelming. However, during those times of despair, I always held onto a thread of hope. Going through that experience taught me that as long as anyone has hope, there is still life. Where there is life, there is a way out of any situation. Put your hope in Jesus, and He will restore everything you lost, and give you a renewed purpose. He has done it for me, and I am certain He could do it for anybody. I wrote two books for people who went through similar experiences, and need to know how to overcome their personal challenges. They are entitled, How to Stay Motivated: Inspiration and Advice for Everyday Living and Living Expectantly: 30 Days to Living an Authentic Life. The books are available on Amazon.
Kreyolicious: What’s next for you?
I love food. For the past four years, I’ve been working on a project where I capture Haitian cuisine, culture, and the stories of the Haitian Diaspora. I recently launched it as the “Cook Like A Haitian” e-cookbook series. I’m thinking of hosting more cooking classes in the NYC area. To learn more, you can visit Cook Like a Haitian. It’s my way of paying homage to Haiti. In the spirit of empowering others, particularly women, I launch[ed] my first women’s empowerment conference entitled “2016 Goal Chic Empowerment Conference,” in Brooklyn, New York in May. Women will [learned] how to be inspired, encouraged, and empowered in their finances, career and purpose, relationships, and health.