Justin and Alexis Black are founders of Redefining Normal and the company’s initiative, ROSE (Rising Over Societal Expectations) Empowerment Group. Both Alexis and Justin faced adversity early in life. Alexis, a Flint native, entered the foster care system at age 13 and Justin, who is from Detroit, at age nine. The couple is now using their life experiences to help others and have co-authored an award-winning book, Redefining Normal: How Two Foster Kids Beat the Odds and Discovered Healing. The couple recently took time to answer some questions about their companies, the book and the inspiration behind them.
Justin, tell us about your background and education.
After my experiences as a Black male in the foster care system, I was inspired to create the Rising Over Societal Expectations (ROSE) Empowerment Group with a vision to close the information gap for today’s generation of Black and Brown young adults, as well as other often marginalized groups. Working with the National Black Child Development Institute, I also developed policy recommendations resulting in a publication entitled The State of the Black Child Report Card: Washington State. I studied urban and community development, as well as political and economic philosophy in countries including Rwanda, Uganda, Senegal and South Korea.
Alexis, tell us about your background, education and ties to Flint.
I was born in Flint and started college at the University of Michigan-Flint before transferring to Western Michigan University. I received dual degrees in entrepreneurship and global & international studies with minors in nonprofit leadership and political science. Justin and I also completed 13 study abroad programs, which challenged our perspectives while pushing us outside of our comfort zones and our “normal.”
I currently operate three companies: Redefining Normal, ROSE (Rising Above Societal Expectations) Empowerment Group and The Scholarship Expert.
How and when did you meet?
We met in 2016 on the first day of joining Western Michigan University’s Seita Scholars Program for foster youth in higher education.
Tell us about Redefining Normal and ROSE Empowerment Group.
Redefining Normal was created to challenge families and individuals on ways to establish a healthy culture and environment for future generations and continue the conversations on topics introduced in the book. We are achieving this through speaking engagements including keynotes, training, book clubs, workshops and more.
The ROSE Empowerment Group’s mission is to establish sustainability in communities through group economics, building healthy relationships, and seeking value in local resources and networks. The three core pillars of the ROSE Model are: Myself, My Community, and My Impact.
When was your organization founded and why?
We officially launched Redefining Normal in July 2020. Our goal was to provide information, resources and a platform for people to express themselves and understand the importance of healing and creating a culture conducive for future generations emotionally, mentally and spiritually as it relates to family and community. We wanted to provide resources that will challenge the foundation of the family dynamic.
What is the mission?
Redefining Normal challenges individuals to question what is “normal” with regard to mental health, character and community development. We also challenge individuals to evaluate their assets and contributions to their community and family. During our presentations, we remind people of their strengths and how they can be utilized in their personal lives and careers.
What services does Redefining Normal provide and who is the audience?
We provide trauma-informed training for foster care advocates, parents and youth, as well as university or grade school faculty and students, youth-serving organizations, people seeking or involved in romantic relationships, and those in search of mental and emotional health resources.
Tell us about your autobiography.
Who could overcome the depths of the foster care system and find love on the other side? Redefining Normal is a story of beating the odds and creating a life worth living. Our faith takes a central role as we support each other on this journey to find the power to touch others’ lives to make them better. We take you along on our journey of discovering normalcy while describing our meaning of love based upon our experiences. We were faced with the barriers of abuse, neglect and addiction. Our environments shaped our identities and plagued our growth. This book will force you to question your idea of what is normal and who/what shaped your identity. It also touches upon other themes such as mental health, race, communication and generational curses.
Why did you write it and when was it published?
Your “normal” is the identity that has been shaped by your family, community and society. How many other people, foster care or not, have had to self-reflect and reevaluate whether the culture and identity of their family and community are conducive for their future, as well as their children’s?
Since we published in November 2020, we’ve sold over 5,500 copies. It was named No. 1 Amazon bestseller in three categories and received four book awards from Reader Views (Parenting/Family Relationships GOLD, Regional Awards – Great Lakes GOLD, Conversation Award for Best Regional Book of the Year, Religion/Spirituality BRONZE).
It is our hope to get our book into foster care training, social work curriculum and in the hands of all current/former foster youth, those with a history of trauma, those seeking healthy relationships, or those who want to read an inspiring story of hope and overcoming!
What does the book mean to you, personally?
We encourage individuals to reflect on the development of their identity while unraveling the barriers and insecurities that have plagued their families for generations.
As described in our book, it took a community of support to get us to where we are today. We believe that no one is self-made, because we all must rely on others to succeed – to “share the load” as my WMU Seita Scholars Program campus coach puts it. We both believe that sharing our stories encourages others to share/heal from theirs.
It is our hope that we can help to change the narrative of families and communities because we all have skills, abilities and talents to serve those around us and make a difference. We’ve found a way to navigate our trauma and pain as a way to encourage others to do the same, because we know the power of healing – not just for ourselves, but for generations to come.
You can purchase Redefining Normal: How Two Foster Kids Beat The Odds and Discovered Healing, Happiness and Love at re-definingnormal.com.
Photos by Marcus Allen