The Alcorn State University (ASU) chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) hosted a Lunch and Learn in the Biotechnology Auditorium on Thursday, March 2nd. The event featured reality television stars from the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) original show, Belle Collective. Latrice Rogers, Melanie Sanders, and Lateshia Pearson were present to answer questions, give advice, and share their stories with Alcorn’s students and faculty.
Their show, Belle Collective, launched in 2021 and centers around the lives of five businesswomen in Jackson, Mississippi. Along with the three women present at the panel discussion, Sophia “Sogucci” Williams, Marie Hamilton-Abston, Tambra Cherie, and Aikisha Holly-Colon are in the show’s main cast. The show’s premise is to redefine what it means to be a southern belle.
At 12:15 pm, NABJ President Mekiyla Brown introduced the three businesswomen and gave them the floor to speak about their backgrounds. Rogers is from Canton, Mississippi, and a graduate of Jackson State University. Her rise to stardom is mostly attributed to her lucrative hair business: Goddess Lengths Virgin Hair. She started her business by selling hair bundles in a Target parking lot from the back of her car. Her hustle led her to become a millionaire in her second year of business. Sanders calls Vicksburg, Mississippi home and is a graduate of Spelman College. She competed and was a semi-finalist on the debut season of American Idol in 2002 and she gave the panel audience a spur-of-the-moment performance of “Amazing Grace.” She has a history of pageantry and holds several titles. She currently is a public relations’ guru with a high-profile clientele, namely Real Housewives of Atlanta star Nene Leakes. Pearson hails from Pelahatchie, Mississippi, and graduated from Belhaven University. A woman of many talents, she was a paralegal for thirteen years. Now, she is the founder and CEO of National Women’s Brunch Organization, Inc., and Lateshia Pearson Enterprise.
NABJ Secretary Delesha Banks moderated the event. Answering pre-recorded questions, the panel started with conversations about how the women got involved with the show, how being on a reality show impacts their lives, and how do they deal with negativity from social media.
When the previews and promotional advertisements for Belle Collective first came out, the cast was advised to not read critiques or comments on social media. Natural human curiosity won over Pearson.
“You learn so much. You have to just find the good in the bad and just keep it moving. You can’t worry about what people say. If they talk about you, let them talk,” said Pearson.
Rogers went on to speak about the difficulties of giving an audience a front-row seat to your life.
“The first season, I almost tapped out. I was like, this can’t be real. I don’t know how people in reality TV go through things like this, but now I can balance it a little bit more. If I had to do it all over again, I still would,” said Rogers.
Sharing her perspective from being both in front of the camera and managing clients behind the camera, Sanders details the mixed feelings that she experienced after joining the show.
“You are under a microscope and everybody around you becomes a part of that,” said Sanders.
Having to deal with family not wanting to be on camera or fans who think they are friends with the cast is something that she initially dealt with.
Student Makayla Flewellen contributed to the open Question and Answer portion of the panel asking for financial budgeting advice for her upcoming podcast and online boutique. Rogers gave her pointers and encouraged her to not be afraid of taking out loans and building credit now.
“So, I had to go hard on myself. I had to believe in myself in order to get my business where I needed it to be. Nobody is going to do it for you,” said Rogers.
The panelists answered more student questions dealing with advice on how to enter the entertainment industry, how to maintain balance in their lives and even extended ways to communicate with them for other advice or opportunities.
What’s next for these ladies?
Belle Collective was renewed for a third season. Sanders teased a new earring line and a return to singing. Next up for Pearson is her Southeastern brunch tour: Boss&Belle Empowerment Brunch which kicks off on Memorial Day. Rogers recently closed on a commercial building and plans to move her hair brand and salon suites into it very soon.
The Lunch and Learn was closed out by NABJ Vice President, Dejah Burton, and the panel was followed by a catered lunch.
NABJ President Brown stated, “We had a great turnout. Students asked a lot of beneficial questions. The ladies were able to provide us with great information on starting our own businesses or just branching out on what we need to do as adults.”
(Photo credit: Jaylin Anderson)