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Meet Latoya ‘Toya From Harlem’ Coleman of That Wasn’t In My Textbook Podcast in Koreatown

Today we’d like to introduce you to Latoya ‘Toya From Harlem’ Coleman.

Latoya, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I’m known as Toya From Harlem, aka your #HistorianHomie, aka the Anthony Bourdain of history.⁣ I’m a writer, social media manager, plant mom, tattoo enthusiast, trap griot, podcaster, and blogger. I’m the founder of ToyaFromHarlem.com and host of That Wasn’t In My Textbook podcast.

I was born and raised in Harlem, where I went to elementary and middle schools founded by Black people that create predominately Black spaces for Black children, with Black teachers, (RARE I know.) They were each founded by people who wanted to give back to their community and who were not satisfied with how students of colors’ history were left out of traditional curriculums. So those formative years is when I began to fall in love with history because I learned so much about my history all year round at a young age. Fast forward, I graduated from Wesleyan University with a BA in African-American Studies and five years later, I went to get a Masters in Public Administration, where I took a US history class that reignited my love for history.

It was after these two experiences that I decided to take ownership of the historian title, but I wanted to put my own fun, raw, non-snooze fest spin on history. It was then that I started a blog, toyafromharlem.com, back in 2014 after coming back from graduate school and noticing the rapid rate that my favorite Black-owned stores, restaurants, and most importantly, historical places disappeared. My blog transformed into a place to uncover historical places you pass by every day, books to read, dope art by people of color, safe POC places to check out and cultural things to do- oh, my life is sprinkled in here as well. Since that time, and since I moved to Los Angeles, my platform covers the history of cities and places all over the world because – history is everywhere.

I am most proud of my ‘Recreated photos of Black icon men in history’ (https://www.bet.com/style/2017/02/28/toya-from-harlem-recreates-iconic-imagery-for-black-history-mont.html) article that was published on BET.com because it gave people insight into the fun, creative and nontraditional ways to learn history.

This summer, I expanded my blog by launching My That Wasn’t In My Textbook a biweekly podcast that helps us uncover the things we always wished we learned from that boring bulky textbook. It’s an opportunity to talk about the lies our teachers taught us. Basically, if MTV Decoded, the History Channel, and Anthony Bourdain spent their time debunking history and had a love child, it would be this podcast – That Wasn’t In My Textbook.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
I know my story sounds like it was smoothing sailing, but for a while, I was all over the place, experimenting with different ideas for a career-which helped lead me to my podcast. But for a long time, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do, what I was good at, and what was my gift to share with the world. It took 30 plus years of trial and error to get me here. At times, I felt like I was just collecting a list of things I didn’t want to do but I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do. So, that was definitely one of my biggest struggles, being patient with myself about the time and the number of trials and errors it took to get me to where I’m today.

My most recent challenge is trying to figure out various revenue streams for my podcast and website. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in the past two years of freelancing is just because you’re passionate about or good at something doesn’t mean you can live off of it financially. You have to have the right sales funnels, teams, and structures in place to live the life you want to live off of your entrepreneurial passions. So that’s the most recent bump in the road I’m excited to tackle right now.

Please tell us about That Wasn’t In My Textbook Podcast.
This summer, I launched That Wasn’t In My Textbook, a biweekly podcast that helps us uncover the things we always wished we learned from that boring bulky textbook. Once the pandemic hit and many folks started to realize that we’re not only fighting coronavirus but racism- which has been around for a much longer time- it sparked me to finally start that podcast idea I was talking about for years.

It only felt right to start my first episode on a holiday celebrating the emancipation of those who had been enslaved in the United States called Juneteeth. So on June 19th, 2020, I released my first episode called on The History of Juneteenth: 6 Facts You Should Know About Juneteenth (https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/that-wasnt-in-my-textbook/id1518499087?i=1000477949425). Each episode feels as if you’re sitting in one of those free-spirited classrooms where you sit at a circle table, talk freely, and don’t get grades. We learn together, have dope guests schooling us on a few things, discuss out-of-the-textbook topics, talk about lies our teachers taught us, and provide unfiltered history and opinions – you know, the ones you might get in trouble for in class. Episodes span between 2-minutes to an hour depending on the subject. In this first season, we’ve already covered topics like the history of Police, Tea, Libraries.

I’m most proud of the podcast having over 800 downloads for the first episode and getting the attention of a lot of people such as Cindy Crawford, who listened and shared that first episode on her Instagram.

A lot of times people of colors’ history get left out of textbooks or we only get to learn and celebrate our history when our month rolls around — like, February for Black History Month or September for Hispanic Heritage Month. Essentially, That Wasn’t in My Textbook Podcast is the opposite of all that. It’s raw, non-snoozefest, and whitewashed. I curse. We learn. Sometimes, we laugh. Now, it is more important than ever to talk about Black history and other people of colors’ history. All of us need to know about other cultures, understand the BIPOCS impact on the culture, and for BIPOCS, to understand and celebrate who we are, where we come from, and where we are going — because history is not just what happened in the past, it’s the things happening this very second.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
There are so many people who deserve credit, I’m NOT self- made, I’m more like community-made if that’s a term. The first people who inspired me were all my teachers, coaches, and principles from my middle and elementary schools, who created programs because they weren’t satisfied with kids of color being left out of traditional curriculums. Of course, my mom gets the credit as well because she made a lot of sacrifices and worked her ass off as a single parent to put me in those spaces to have these experiences at an early age. All my friends get credit for simply just being in my corner, letting me talk their ears off about ideas, celebrating my wins, and in some cases, listening to me bitch about the stress of being an entrepreneur. Then, of course, my life partner is one of my greatest supporters. He is a creative who I admire. He wears many hats outside of being a great partner, like creating all my music for my YouTube content and being the audio engineering for my podcast. He also takes a lot of my Instagram photos and proofreads my work from captions to interviews. He believes in me before I even believe in myself, sometimes.

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Image Credit:

Latoya – Redondo Beach-19- Photos by Sharod Duncan; EarthaKittFinal – Marshall Roach; 2 animated graphics – Emily M. Garcés0 Tolentino

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