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Meet Tiyanna Washington of Tspeaksnyc

Today we’d like to introduce you to Tiyanna Washington.

Tiyanna, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
This question really forced me to pause and think about how I got to be where I am today. I’d have to say my story starts with a shy girl, born in Brooklyn, NY & raised in Queens who despite having loving and supportive parents, still struggled with finding herself and her self-esteem.

Outwardly, folks knew me to be the smart, quiet, sometimes serious girl whose head was always in the books but on the inside, I struggled with my self-esteem, finding my voice and knowing where I “fit in” & belonged in this world. I threw myself into my studies and my work because that’s where I felt most comfortable. That coupled with “rite of passage” childhood bullying experiences, many of which stemmed from my darker skin tone and colorism within my community, my journey of purpose, self-love and discovering who I was, really began post high school.

I’ve always had a love of working with and helping others, in particularly young people. Apart of me felt like if I had a mentor that looked like me and understood my experiences growing up as a young girl of color, that it would have helped me during my younger years with a lot of the internal self-esteem issues I had been battling-and so I started to cultivate my educational and professional experiences to mirror that of what I wanted to give back, to the younger version of myself.

I obtained my undergraduate degree in psychology and later transitioned to social work for graduate school. I knew I wanted to help young people in some capacity, I just wasn’t sure how I wanted to do that. So I literally started to surround myself with & cultivate all of my work and volunteer experiences with giving back and working with young people. Working with teens gives you such a fresh perspective on life and an appreciation for being able to help mold their experiences and mindsets as it pertains to life and how they overall feel about themselves. Not to mention having to keep up with their energy!

Through my work and volunteer experiences, I started to see the impact of the lack of mental health awareness, support and resources on young people and how that directly impacted the way they felt about themselves. It became painstakingly clear that the lack of mental health support and awareness had a direct impact on their ability or inability to process the many challenges and pressures we know teens face today-and so Tspeaksnyc was born.

I started my company as a way to help bridge that gap of necessary and needed mental health and wellness support, resources and programming for young people in my community and other underserved parts of the city. I recognized that there was a need for our young people to have safe spaces curated for them to talk about anything and everything mental health and wellness related i.e., How do I cope with my parents having a divorce? How do I manage thoughts of not being good enough? How do I recognize signs and symptoms of anxiety? These are the type of questions that I realized teens were having but had no outlets or safe spaces to ask these questions and express themselves. That is why my community & my company is so important to me because it’s helping to break generational traumas, generational curses and creating communities of generational healing and resiliency.

Has it been a smooth road?
If I said this journey has been a smooth road, I’d be telling a bald-faced lie. One of the things about starting anything new is that folks will doubt you, you will hear a lot of no’s, you have to prove yourself and your work to the community you are trying to reach AND also push past whatever self-defeating thoughts you may impose on yourself-I grappled with all of this. Now add on top of that, simultaneously dealing with a global health crisis and civil rights movement that our country has never seen before.

Fall of 2019, right before COVID changed our lives forever, I had just launched Tspeaksnyc and was literally just starting to get the business off the ground. I was booking speaking engagements and securing contracts with youth organizations that wanted me to facilitate workshops and speak with their youth groups. Then COVID hit and completely changed our lives and the way we did business. Living in the state that had now become the epicenter of the Coronavirus and going into quarantine, was such a novel and scary experience for a lot of business owners because we had never experienced anything like this before. Also, if you know anything about New York, you know, we are the city that never sleeps-we just don’t stop but COVID forced us to do just that, pause. Being at home meant I also was not able to see the students I was used to seeing in schools, contracts were put on hold and I had no idea what this meant for my business going forward.

Within those months, we also witnessed our country enter a civil rights movement catapulted by the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. My city had erupted into a sea of protests and riots-there were moments I literally felt stuck. But then something interesting started to happen-I started receiving emails and phone calls from parents and youth groups I had previously worked that shared how much anxiety they were witnessing with their children/students, concerns about their mental health, feeling as though they had nowhere to turn and with that, I knew, my business and my purpose was needed now more than ever.

There was a great need for students all throughout my city and throughout this country to have safe spaces to talk about and process everything that had been going on and I intended on meeting those needs head-on. Thankfully I was able to pivot and create online safe spaces and workshops to best meet the needs of young people, giving them a safe space to express themselves and have a shared community online, with other teens that were going through similar experiences that they were having. I started to provide individual 1:1 wellness sessions for teens that needed more support outside of my workshops. I think this year has been a true testament of learning what it means to truly pivot, having flexibility as it pertains to your business but also being able to give yourself grace for still making an impact and simply making it through the next day.

Please tell us about Tspeaksnyc.
A lot of times when organizations reach out to inquire about my services or my workshops they often ask the question, what can we expect and to that I tell them an experience. Tspeaksnyc provides affordable and relatable mental health & wellness programming to teens via: workshop series, public speaking and private 1:1 wellness coaching services.

My programming and workshops literally give young people something to look forward to because it is my firm belief that every young person deserves to have something to look forward to in their life and that’s what Tspeaksnyc provides. It’s high energy, holistic in nature, its compassion, its laughter, sometimes tears but all in all, it’s an opportunity for young people to learn, grow and understand the importance of mental health and wellness in their lives.

My programming covers such a wide of array of content, a majority of them being centered around things like understanding how stress manifests in the body, ways to improve their confidence and self-esteem, learning new coping skills and how those skills can help them mediate, process and manage challenges that they may be experiencing and the importance of taking care of yourself and being intentional and consistent with those practices, just to name a few.

Teens that experience Tspeaksnyc programming leaves feeling empowered, happy and motivated took create positive change in their lives. I think if I had to say what I’m most proud of, is having a vision and seeing it come to fruition-knowing that I am impacting the lives of young people in my community and now thanks to virtual spaces, throughout the world. Having a young person tell me that my workshop or coaching session made them feel good about themselves, lets me know that the long hours, late nights and early mornings are all worth it.

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
In the next 5 to 10 years, I think we’re going to see a continuation, if not an increase of what we are currently seeing, which is an increased need for mental health and wellness support services for young people. The current climate of our country is one that we’ve never experienced before and with that comes a lot of emotional, mental, physical and spiritual needs. Our young people are literally witnessing their worlds and lives change before their eyes and with that comes questions, thoughts and emotions that are often times bottled up inside because young people sometimes feel that they don’t have safe spaces to express themselves and ask the very things that they are thinking about. With bottled up thoughts and emotions, can come a lot of internalized and externalized manifestations of anxiety based symptoms and mental illnesses. My hope is that the renewed spotlight on the importance of mental health awareness, helps to bring increased resources and funding for the mental health community.

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