Ladies, when you think about networking and building with other women in the workplace, it’s ideal to picture a relationship that transcends the ups and downs of corporate life. As both friends and business partners, Monique Jackson and Kita Williams, better known to millions of people as Mo and Kita of VH1’s The T.O. Show, have a relationship that has matured over the years like fine wine.
A country girl at heart, super-focused Kita was raised in rural Kentucky, and despite financial setbacks in her youth, went on to attain a Masters Degree from the University of Phoenix. She’s fierce in her work alongside practical-minded Monique, who came from a background in film PR, eventually landing in music. The two met while working at Def Jam in 2000, and eventually formed their own PR and brand marketing firm Team Image PR in 2002.
In addition to balancing their roster of clients, Mo simultaneously holds it down at home for her children and husband. Of course fans of The T.O. Show know that both Kita and Mo are almost always taking care of their good friend Terrell Owens, and are actually co-creators and producers of the popular reality show.
The ladies took some time out of their ever-hectic schedule recently to share their thoughts with UrbLife.com on career growth and overcoming challenges. Read on as this fab duo brings you some of their notorious Tough Love!
How do you feel that you are presenting yourself on The T.O. Show as businesswomen? And is it awkward letting people into your personal life so much?
Mo: It’s not a big deal for Kita and me, because we kind of live our lives as an open book anyway – what you see is what you get. A lot of times when people watch the show and then they run into us and encounter us, they often laugh because they’re like, “Ok this is the show right here.” Kita and I don’t have a lot of drama going on in our world, because we’re not people that live in that space of negativity. There’s nothing to be shameful about, nothing to really hide.
The issues that Kita and I deal with as women, and even as Black women, are the same issues that any other woman in America would deal with. I’m married; I have three small kids all under the age of five. I’m trying to balance and juggle to try to keep everything in check with my personal life with me being a mommy and a wife.
Kita, on the other hand, doesn’t have that worry, but she has the worry of the other walk of life. She’s a woman that’s over 25, she has her career on lock and naturally she’s looking at who will be the man that she marries, who will be the father of her children, what her next chapter in her personal space is, all while still kind of enjoying the single life. It is ok. We openly welcome sharing those types of experiences with women, because we always say that we want to be the example of women of what our younger Black women look at.
There’s a lot of other things out there that other shows don’t necessarily show… or to be that side of what a woman is or how to define yourself as a positive Black woman, or woman just in general.
There are definitely a lot of examples on TV of bad ways to deal with conflict in business and friendship. How do you go about resolving conflict?
Kita: You can resolve conflict by not throwing water and wine in people’s faces. I think as professional women, people are misconstruing what people are seeing on reality TV. A lot of the drama that you see on reality TV with certain women of color is confrontation about personal issues, who you slept with and ‘I don’t like you’. But these women are on television because of who they slept with, whether they married them or was the fiancée to or divorced by.
Monique and I are on this platform because we created, executive produced, and star in a reality show about our client. We got to this point because we’re about dedication and education. We went to college, we worked at PR firms and we met at Island Def Jam and started out own company. So you resolve conflict as businesswomen because you know you are a businesswoman.
These women that you speak of are not businesswomen. They are resolving conflict in a way that someone would resolve it that [is]unladylike in public. That’s just the bottom line, so we want to give a different image that young girls can see. Real businesswomen handling their business, but if we have conflict we resolve it. Mo might be mad at Terrell, Terrell might be mad at us, we might be mad at each other, we might say some things but because the camera is there or if the cameras are not there, we’re going to resolve it because that’s what we’ve been doing for years.
At the end of the day, we believe that you resolve it by coming to a truce of understanding, even if you can agree to disagree. Don’t [ignore]something that happened, let’s find a solution to it so we can get over being mad.
I see on the blogs that people say, “Why Kita and T.O. don’t just date?” Do you ever have issues with people trying to debase your professionalism?
Kita: No I don’t. I think that the crazy part is that they see him running amok, trying to find something that they assume is right in front of their face. The crazy part is, is it a compliment that they feel that I’m a perfect fit for him by being the right kind of women he needs? I take that as a compliment in a personal form. But it’s not a compliment because I’m not interested in Terrell like that. Although we did have our own sleeping scene, and things of that nature where we are too close for comfort this year. You’ll see us talk about relationships, and you’ll see us talk to each other about things.
It is funny to me, because people always put two Black people together. They can’t put him and Mo together because she’s married. I have dated an athlete before; I do know what comes with that package. It’s a lot of extra baggage that I don’t want to check in at that airport.
Can you both give us the best piece of advice that you have ever gotten that helped you shape your future?
Kita: I’ve gotten a lot of advice, but the best advice for me… I’ll say this. I’m a girl from Kentucky that didn’t grow up with a lot. Knows what free cheese is, knows that a food stamp looks like. I know what it’s like to be in a household where my four brothers and sisters, the five of us are sharing a room, and I’m sharing a bed with my sister who pees in the bed. I understand that, but the one thing I realize is that the advice I got was to “learn how to make your disadvantages your advantage.”
In doing so, my disadvantage allowed me to go to college, because I received financial aid and I received a scholarship so I didn’t have to worry about those things. Outside of that, as my career got bigger, my disadvantage was that I knew what it was like to be at the bottom, so I wasn’t fearless of anything because the only place that I could go was up.
The best advice I give people that I’ve gotten, is that if someone tells you no, you’re talking to the wrong person. Meaning, if you have a vision, a dream, a goal, it’s obtainable. You have to find the right person that can help you and willing to invest in you to at least help you get there, because you can’t get anywhere in life by yourself. It’s always someone behind you pushing you that are helping you clear the path.
As a trailblazer myself, I will say that there was someone before me that said, “Hey you know what? If you knock on that door and they don’t answer, there are other doors for you to find.” Never look at no as no, look at it as no you’re talking to the wrong person.
Mo: There’s been a lot. I’ve worked with real powerhouses. I’ve worked at Def Jam quite a few years and was able to learn lessons from the great Russell Simmons, Kevin Liles and Stan Lathan, all of those guys. One thing that I was taught, and it’s kind of business and personal at the same time, but it was taught to me by my grandmother. The one comment that she made that stuck with me throughout a lifetime is, “Don’t ever expect or wait around for a man to give you something that you can work hard and go out to get for yourself. You’ll appreciate it more understanding what you had to go through in order to get it.”
With that being said, I kind of use that approach in a business aspect too, and that’s how Kita and I decided to create opportunities for ourselves. We joined forces and started Team Image PR, and signed clients like Terrell Owens to our company. Then that wasn’t enough for us. We joined forces within the company and decided to pitch a show idea and create these opportunities for ourselves.
We don’t sit back and wait for Target and Kohl’s and those types of people to come to us. No, we are in the ditches digging up resources that we know in order to create opportunities to meet the right people at these companies do that we can talk about our next step and our next venture. We don’t wait for anyone to give us anything, we go after it and go after it hard because we do come from a place where ‘no’ is not accepted. We keep moving until we find the right people to collaborate with and where we end up in a [good]place.
What are a couple of key pieces of advice that you would give someone who wanted to go into your field?
Kita: I tell people all of the time, the priceless point of really getting your foot in the door is interning. If you get paid to do an internship, that means beware because no one wants to do that internship. When you do an internship and it’s at a place that you want to be, nine times out of ten it’s a lot of people that want to be in that same position. They don’t have to pay their interns and the interns learn so much. Usually you get hired if you’re a great intern and you go above. I got hired on my first internship.
Anybody that wants to be a publicist or a producer or a write, intern – work for someone; shadow them because they’re the gateway and the bridge that you need to meet other people in that same environment. If they aren’t going to hire you or they don’t need you after the internship, you would have met several people that you can still network with and keep relationships with.
Even if you’re making a career change, I tell people all of the time, don’t be afraid of starting over from scratch. It’s ok to pull the mixing bowl and crack an egg, add flour and sugar, even though you baked another cake. That’s ok because if you really want it, you’ll start at the bottom and work your way up like you have before.
Mo: I tell people to study their craft. Back when we were at Def Jam, the internet wasn’t as popular. Now people have unlimited resources on how to study the craft that they want or think that they want to get into. Go in with as much knowledge as possible, and understand someone that already set out the blueprint.
Get a mentor. A mentor doesn’t have to always be someone you know. A mentor is someone you can read about and someone that you can sit and watch their stories, use documentaries, and understand how they paved the way for themselves. Carve out something that is very similar.
They say that when you’re traveling on black ice the best way not to get into an accident is to go behind a car ahead of you and follow its path. There’s that path that’s already laid out. Just kind of follow someone else’s path. It’s ever-changing, but I do it myself. I find someone that has done what I said that I want to do, and I study what they did and how they did it, and how to tweak it to make it better for me.
Tell us a little about what we can expect from the show, and what surprises that we might find this third season.
Mo: Honestly, we’re always surprised. We surprise each other, the three of us. Even when you think you know what to expect, don’t expect. Always expect the unexpected with us. We saw a lot about Terrell’s personal life the last season and even a lot of my personal life. We dip into Kita’s personal space a lot more this season. She’s still single, still trying to figure out her love life. There are some dates, Kita shows a little skin. We’re in Miami so there’s a lot of sunshine and bikinis and stuff like that.
Kita: All of my parts are real, my booty and my boobies! [laughs]
Mo: Yeah, she didn’t buy any of her parts! It’s us having fun in the sun, but the focus is us in Miami for a cause. The reason why we’re in Miami is to help Terrell focus on what he does and what he needs to do after football. What is that? We still don’t know, but you’ll see us venture off in quite a few things. Just trying to test the waters with Terrell and see what works for him, and what’s actually going to stick and bring some type of financial resources to the table after football.
You’ll see us working and at play. There are some hills and valleys in that relationship. There’s a lot of stress for me. Personally because it’s the first time that I leave my kids. My kids are all very young, and it doesn’t sit well at home at all. Then I take some of that, the mood swings, when I get off of the phone with my husband or my kids and get back into Terrell’s or Kita’s space. It’s kind of hard for me to go from one to the other. Kita doesn’t take to it lightly, I’ll say that much. Terrell…. Yeah you’ll see all of that.
Kita: There’s still no wine or water thrown in faces! [laughs]We have a lot of words and back and forth, but we still keep it PG-13.