Author, speaker, advocate, entrepreneur, and mother of 5, Jodie Patterson is a constant inspiration and one of our most-loved icons. We are so thrilled she took a moment with us to share about her work, her family, her motivation, and what exciting things she has in the pipeline.
Can you start by telling us a little about yourself? Your background, what you do and what has led you to what you are doing now?
I’m an author, speaker, advocate, and entrepreneur. I’m a mother of 5. I'm also a native New Yorker. When my son announced at the age of three, “Mama I'm not a girl. I am a boy.” I set out to inform myself, shift my bias and change the way my community understood gender. My unapologetic advocacy for families has been visible for over a decade and documented on countless daytime talk shows, evening news programs, national print publications podcasts and radio programs - including a short documentary produced by Cosmopolitan magazine that reached more than 11 million views and is currently used by the State of New York for diversity training of its employees. In 2015, Family Circle Magazine named me the #1 Most Influential Mom.
In 2019, I became the first Black person elected to the role of Chair of The Human Rights Campaign Foundation Board, America’s largest LGBT organization. My first book, The Bold World: A Memoir of Family and Transformation, was hailed by Alice Walker as “Marvelous,” and since 2017, I’ve spoken weekly on topics of identity, gender, race, beauty and how they play out in family dynamics. In 2021, I published a children’s book, Born Ready: The True Story of a Boy Named Penelope which has won numerous awards including the KNEA Reading Circle Recommended List Award and is gifted to every public school in the state of Kansas.
I'm also a longtime entrepreneur. I currently co-own Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater, the acclaimed venue I helped co-found in the late 90s with my ex-husband. And launched 2 beauty companies focused on people of color. I continue to create, most recently writing, producing, and hosting an original Audible story on beauty in collaboration with Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop, entitled Finding Beauty. I live in Brooklyn, New York, where I co-parent my children with love, education, and family solidarity.
With such an impressive multi-directional career and life, what motivates you to keep going?
I stay motivated by faith, I believe in goodness. I’m motivated by my children - I try to stay close to them as a remind to myself that it is my responsibility to lead with principled grace, and determination. I also stay motivated by beauty…I try, every day, to surround myself with nature, trees, mountains, ocean, animals so that I don't ever forget the essence of my life. Humans are not above nature. We have to be one with it.
Is there a moment in your life that has changed and shaped you into the person that you are today?
When my child revealed to me, Mama I'm not a girl. I am a boy” it rocked my world. I didn't have the language to understand who he was. It was only 10 years ago but back then our country was even more unaware of gender diversity than it is now. I took a Malcolm Gladwell approach and dove deep into LGBTQAI history, rights and facts. I now understand the human experience to be much broader and deeper than I was taught to believe. I now realize that the dominant culture has blind spots, and often white, cisgender and straight people refuse to see others. I now understand the necessity of Trans Lives Matter. I now am clear that if I don't shift my way of thinking, behaving, and voting, to include trans identified people, I will be part of the problem. I now spend much of my time shifting mainstream cultural thought, actions and politics.
What does “icon” mean to you?
Someone who is bigger than the “it”, bigger than the problem, no matter what “it” may be. Someone who can execute and problem-solve like nobody’s business. Someone who can make things pop!
You are an icon to many, as a writer, as a mother, as a woman, and as a human. Who are your icons?
I have a Wall of Women in my house. It is a collage of about 50 images - pictures of all the dynamic women who inspire me - tacked to my wall. Some of the women I know like my grandmother Gloria Blackwell who was dubbed by Martin Luther King Jr. as Mrs Revolution for her work desegregating the South. Other women I don't know personally like Billie Holiday who spoke to injustices in America. And some friends like Raquel Willis who fights for trans rights globally. Each of my women has a determined spirit that I ingest every day and eventually become. I like to think of myself not as a single woman, but more as a collective of women. My icons are women who are opinionated, experienced and relentless - and with a gorgeous spirit!
When was the last time you were in awe, or in wonder of your own abilities—as a woman, mother or professional (activist, author, entrepreneur)?
I don't know. I'm really used to seeing accomplished women so that doesn't surprise me. When I see dynamic women doing her thing, I just do a mental fist pump and say “Go on, show them how it's done!” What stops me in my tracks is the duplicitous nature of racism and bigotry. I should know better than to be surprised by it…but sometimes it smacks me in the face and brings me to my knees.
What are you working on at the moment?
Several years ago I wrote a book, The Bold World, and then was given a grant from HBO to develop it into a television show. That little bit of dream money was a blessing because it has allowed me to work closely with a team of dynamic women, to create a story of about a Black mother who changes the freakin paradigm. Think 70’s colt classic Claudine starring Diahann Carroll, meets Euphoria.
When you're not working, how do you like to spend your time?
I am a natural athlete. At one point, many years ago, I was a state gymnastics champion, I've also been a competitive tennis player, and track runner. I was even in the Big Apple Circus as an acrobat. Today at 53 it looks a bit different… I like to walk for an hour each day, stretch and do yoga. Physical movement for me is essential. But, if I'm not moving, I'm snuggled up someplace reading a book. Currently, im reading 2 great books—Confessions of a video Vixen and Ramtha The White Book. And if I’m not reading, I’m trying some new vegan recipe with my kids that we found on Instagram. And on some random days you can find me in the mirror clumsily practicing a TikTok dance for a few minutes. Lol I’m all over the place.
What’s your mantra?
“I love myself, I love myself, I love myself. Period.”