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fall 2021

A Passport To The Future

For Dr. Tara Jenkins, Education Is Key in Opening Doors of Opportunity, for Yourself and Others
Written by: Louis Carr

Were it not for Dr. Tara Jenkins, you wouldn’t be reading this magazine—at least, not as WayMaker Journal. She’s the one who unwittingly helped publisher Louis Carr give a name to his multipronged effort to help others live their best lives.

The President of Media Sales at BET Networks was already at work on plans to build a community of like-minded people offering advice and encouragement through diverse print, online, and other channels—from webinars to live events and a quarterly magazine—when he tuned in one Sunday as the former First Lady at Chicago’s famed Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church (FMBC) was preaching.

Her message presentation was based on the TV game show Jeopardy, and when one of the questions she posed, asked “who is a Waymaker?” (answer: Jesus), Carr knew immediately that the word captured all he was wanting to do—open up a way for others.

“I’m so honored to have been a part of the naming of this community,” Jenkins says when she learns of her catalytic message, recalling how watching Jeopardy herself, one day, she realized that “sometimes the question is the answer.” She calls these “aha” moments, “Godwinks.” But Jenkins hasn’t just helped name the WayMaker movement. She also epitomizes it, having overcome her own challenges and obstacles to achieve more than might have seemed possible or others expected.

Becoming a finisher
Growing up in a single-parent home in Jackson, Tennessee, Jenkins failed a senior year exam, a slip that kept her from walking at her high school graduation. The setback only fueled her determination—she went on to earn a communications degree (Clark-Atlanta University), a master’s in biblical studies (Moody Bible Institute), and a doctorate in leadership (Southern Baptist Theological Seminary).

“Even though my educational journey began with failure, that’s not how it ended,” she notes. “That was the beginning of me having to push for it.” God used the experience to show her that you can “fail forward.”

Not surprisingly, Jenkins is a big proponent of education. “I believe it is the passport that we need,” she explains. “There are some rooms, there are some settings, that we will not be allowed in without this specific credential. And regardless of what you feel like you need to know or not know, it’s not about exactly everything you learn during the process of matriculating through a degree program, but it’s about the message that ‘I can finish something that I start.’

“When people see that you have a specific credential, they see you as a finisher… There are so many people that will be dismissive of us because we look a different way or there’ll be people that don’t feel like you have the capacity. We’re always in a mode where we are proving that we deserve the seat that we’re in or the table that we’re building.

“And so we have got to do it. And why would you be alive during a time where it is perfectly legal and accessible for you to do all of these things online? You could have been born at a time where you had to sneak to learn to read. No, it’s legal right now, you have access to it. We have to take advantage of all of the access that we have.”

Passing the baton
For Jenkins, making the most of opportunities isn’t just so you can live your own best life, however. “The reason that I feel like each of us was created was not just for our own pleasure, but for purpose beyond our lifetimes and purpose beyond our lifespan,” she says. “And if we’re going to have purpose that lives beyond our years, if we’re going to have a legacy beyond our lifespan, the only way for that to happen is to make a way for somebody else. To continue what is going on and going forward in your life.

“It’s so important that whatever we do during our small time on earth, it doesn’t end with us, but we pass the baton. We send the elevator back down, we keep the community and the movement going forward by not only helping others, but by deputizing, dispatching, giving other people power and not just hoarding our power and our purpose.”

Sadly, she observes, some people act more like gatekeepers than waymakers. They are territorial, keeping folks out rather than welcoming them in. Why is that? Jenkins speaks of a poisoned blend of insecurity and power.

“There are people who have a fear of losing their importance, of losing their status,” she adds. “And when you operate from fear of losing something you actually have less power, because the most powerful people love to empower other people.”

Out of the box
Both the Jenkinses have drive aplenty—life after FMBC continues to be “a new adventure every day,” with Charles involved in new music, movie, and apparel projects. They aim to foster that same entrepreneurial spirit in their three children. “I want to see them lead, and I want to see them always have the mindset that they can be owners,” she says. “They can be employers. They can be the brands that they love.”

With that in mind, the Jenkinses want to see each of their three children established in a business before they leave home. Oldest daughter Princess who just graduated high school, already has her own cosmetics brand, Glamland.

While Jenkins’ you-can-do-it message is for everyone, she has a particular heart for women. So many have grown up being expected to fit into other people’s boxes, she says.

“The waymaking that I want to do is to make sure every woman, wife, or girl that I come in contact with, that I connect with, that they do what they’re created to do, not what they’re expected to do,” she says. “Because if we live according to others’ expectations, we will stay in that box of whatever ‘wife’ looked like when you were growing up, whatever ‘woman’ looked like in your context, whatever ‘girl’ was supposed to be in your world.

And so I want to make sure that people are doing everything that they’re created to do talented, to do gifted, and not just what they’re expected to do.

Pat Brown as my dance teacher from three to 17; my mom put me in every extracurricular activity possible to keep me out of trouble, so I’d be too busy or too tired to do anything else. Ms. Pat was one of the first people that saw me beyond where I was, outside of my family, and she said, “I see you teaching.” She put me in the classroom, not at the barre, but in front of the classroom, teaching. She also became one of my first employers; she had a boutique connected to the dance school.

There’s a story in the Bible of Esther: when there was an opening for the position of queen, it was her cousin that saw her beyond where she was and took her to the opportunity. I think waymakers in our lives are those people that see us beyond our present-tense position, they see us beyond where we are in the moment and they see us doing more than we are doing.

From an interview with Louis Carr