Whitney R. McGuire is a creative entrepreneur with no intention of slowing down. She is creating her own narrative for herself, POC, her family, and other underrepresented folx worldwide. She has been featured on BRIC TV, LinkedIn, etc.
Where are you from? Where do your roots lie?
This is always a hard question for me! I’m from many places, but my roots lie in DC and Dayton, Ohio.
How did you get started in the sustainability entrepreneurial world?
Both were out of necessity, which, looking back, was really just my intuition and spirit guiding me to what actually fulfills me, regardless of how difficult it may seem sometimes. Sustainability showed up in my life as a result of the inability to afford certain conveniences/ looks. We didn’t call conserving, saving, and taking care of ourselves, family & community sustainability. We called it survival. Joy, even. I used to feel like I was born during the wrong decade, so 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s fashion fascinated me when I was younger. I would wear looks inspired by those decades, often piecing together items I found at thrift stores/ my mom’s closet. I became rooted in the idea of expressing myself in what I wear so much that I started making clothes for other people in middle school, then later started my own styling/interior decor business in law school because I needed extra cash. These were my first two businesses. Once I graduated law school, I did not have a law firm job or money, so I leaned into my confidence and the confusing state of my life at the time and started my own consulting/law firm.
What kind of work do you do as a lawyer?
Lol I’m still trying to figure that out! I don’t fit squarely into any box, neither do my clients. Their issues range from standard cease and desists, to intellectual property consulting/ management to brand identity formation. I love a good brainstorm session and often provide really good advice for entrepreneurs looking to make a big impact with their work. Often, my clients come to me with big ideas and I help them make sense of them and protect these ideas from a legal standpoint. I negotiate a lot on behalf of artists, especially with major institutions. I’m 100% that bitch when it comes to getting my clients paid what their work is worth and on time. I also provide a sense of calm for the clients I work with regardless of the issues they come to me with, not by giving them false hope, but by encouraging them beyond the reality of their circumstances — helping them tap into their fundamental (spiritual) power to surmount any obstacles that could inhibit their full expression in their work.
How does that tie into what you do with SustainableBK?
I think at the root of my being is the concept of sustainability: having empathy for myself and others so much so that I adjust/eliminate any habits that would possibly disrupt the survival and happiness of future generations of life on this planet and beyond. So I bring that philosophy to anything I do. Both my law firm and Sustainable Brooklyn are my babies and I do my best to make sure that my clients and our community leave any interaction with these entities feeling better than they did when they arrived. I charge my clients on a sliding scale, when necessary. I am sympathetic to artists because I was raised by one and am married to one. I try to educate them beyond what might be expected of an attorney so if they are running low on income at any given point and still need legal help, they will be able to figure out some things on their own. I try to point them in the direction of less expensive services as well. The other side of this is sustaining myself, so I try to take my own advice which is to “believe in your hourly rate,” or however you value your work. And I only accept work that affirms and enhances this value. You have to teach people how to treat you, and I find that being a black woman attorney (black attorneys make up only 5% of the nation’s total attorney population btw), my value is doubted a lot, even by black people themselves. So I strive to earn what my work is worth while also providing space to support artists who don’t have much, monetarily. I also love a good barter arrangement. So many of my clients are multi-talented and so am I. There are many other ways I can be compensated outside of money and I love learning how sustainability flourishes when I get creative about this.
In episode 5 of HBO’s Random Acts of Flyness, you experienced what many black women face when they are in labor. Can you elaborate on what that experience felt like to you, and how it felt once you gave birth?
I’m still processing this 15 months later. I will probably write a book about it. I’m contemplating a short film or some art piece. It needs to be expressed. The short answer is that the experience just felt like something I had to get through. I felt so much shame and guilt after giving birth because I didn’t want anything that happened to me (besides the baby) to happen to me. But it did. I became a statistic. And in the moment, I was just focused on both my baby and me staying alive. After the birth, I experienced very high blood pressure and felt like a prisoner in my new, weird body. At the whim of doctors with long faces when they learned I was so young to have such high blood pressure. I wanted to scream all the time: “AMERICA DID THIS TO ME!” but I had to stay calm because of the blood pressure. Forced calm. This is essentially what motherhood is teaching me. That whole experience really was a meditation.
I was on blood pressure meds. I had post-partum depression, but also felt lonely, like there were no other mothers who really opened up about the real shit that you experience after having a whole human come out of you. And whenever I thought about ending my self-imposed maternity leave (mind you, entrepreneur moms make no money on their maternity leave), I was like “HOW HAVE WE NOT BURNED DOWN CAPITALISM YET?!” Also, women, our bodies, everything…we are so so so so so so so so amazing.
I used Instagram a lot during this time to connect to other new moms and found a small community of women who expressed realness and didn’t feign or force positivity. I was enraged a lot after giving birth with society mostly. I resented that I even had an inkling of fear for my child’s life outside of the womb, simply because he’s a black boy. But then I leaned into the miracle that he is a black boy…what a blessing. I also wasn’t trying to get pregnant, so I had to adjust to an abrupt end to my childless former life. The absurdity of having to meet and love a new person while mourning the person you used to be is something I am still adjusting to. Luckily my baby makes it easier and easier to understand that we have known each other for lifetimes. He’s also a really cool person.
How has motherhood been treating you? You look GREAT.
Thank you! Motherhood is cool now that my baby doesn’t just lay there and demand my boob every 2 hours. I feel very sexy and confident now. Especially in this new body (Mama has been in the gym Hunny! No snatch backs here, just snatch ups!). Last year, I felt like a freshman in highschool. Now I kinda don’t give a fuck what anyone thinks anymore. I welcome this new confidence with open arms and really credit my baby for helping me step into the best version of myself (note: this doesn’t mean that a woman needs to be the best version of herself).
What is something you’ve learned from motherhood, that you never knew before?
I’ve learned to be even more empathetic to all. I’ve learned that women really are treated like second class citizens out here functioning like heads of state. I’ve learned a new type of rage towards any threat to my child’s existence that I try to channel as a source of power and energy to change this world for the better. It’s delightfully dark and brooding, but provides a welcomed levity for my efforts. I imagine it’s what a (gunless) hunter needs to track its prey.
I learned that there are little to no support systems in this country for mothers. Not the real compassionate kind. We are treated really poorly in this country.
How do you heal and promote wellness for creatives of color? How does it feel to do this work?
I heal by learning. Although I embarked upon an intentional healing journey about 7 years ago, I still have SOOO much to learn. I think I’ve always been rooted in compassion, which to me, is the foundation of my healing. My mother raised me in a Buddhist household. In Buddhism there’s this idea that you choose your own suffering so you can teach others how to overcome their own. It’s called being a boddhisattva of the earth. I really resonated with this moniker for my existence. It made me feel connected to other people and to my own power at a very early age. So when I got older and faced really difficult situations, I leaned into my buddhist practice to get me through. This involves community too. It’s hard to heal by yourself, so I need others.
I need to express myself in order to feel liberated. So I take time to refine my creativity in many ways. I also enjoy the transformative power of exercising and moving my body. I speak up when things need to be said. I try not to give credit to false emotions like insecurity, fear, embarrassment, and self-doubt, although they are some of the most difficult inhibitors to my joy that I constantly have to work on. I think normalizing the fact that EACH AND EVERY HUMAN BEING IS WEIRD AS FUCK, including yours truly, is how I promote wellness for creatives of color. I want us to all understand that our power does not exist outside of ourselves. We don’t need the validation of institutions that have for generations regarded us as an afterthought. Whatever that means for each individual is up to them, but I try as much as I can, through one on one dialogue, to breathe life into the healthy empowerment of creatives of color, while remaining compassionate to their struggles.
Sometimes it gets exhausting to be a sounding board, boot-leg therapist, shaman, mother, intuit, etc. for myself and those in my life. So I have to protect my energy. This is a skill at which I am merely a novice. Sometimes it hurts to say no to people or to create much needed distance, but I have only one life, one me, I have to protect her at all costs.
What is the link, in your eyes, between art, social justice, and the environment?
You can’t have a healthy environment without social justice, equity and art. The link is very apparent to me. Our social climate is unstable and I think at the heart of this instability is the lack of understanding of and respect for art and the artist. The Creator(s) is the original artist and we disrespect them all the time when we disrespect ourselves and each other. Art has also become incredibly commodified to supplement capitalism, a detriment to the flow of art in general. Artists are gifts from the Creator(s) and we treat them like shit, quite frankly. And don’t get me started on this whole non-profit industrial complex in the art world. It’s really duplicitous.
Nature is the most bomb work of art, we also treat it like shit. Artists and the environment are not separate and each needs to be handled with more compassion. Period.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
I draw inspiration from people, especially those who are the most vulnerable in our society (especially trans children, women and men of color, immigrants of color) and those who show up for themselves, their families and their communities time and time again. I also draw my inspiration from life. The deep dark parts of life.
Nature inspires me by reminding me that I’m a part of something I can’t even begin to fathom. It’s a reminder to do my best to just be present and grateful.
When you’re not feeling generative or creative… how do you work through that?
I don’t. I rest. I communicate my needs, ask for help from my support system and take time to rest.
If you could tell one thing to your younger self, what would you let her know?
No one knows what the fuck they are doing, so just do you boo. Also, humility is overrated. Let these mfs know you’re great ok??? Also, stop comparing. Everyone is dealing with something.