Michelle Drayton-Martin, President and Publisher, Today’s Child Communications, Inc.
Ms. Drayton-Martin holds a Master's Degree in public health from Hunter College and a Bachelor's of Science in nursing (pediatric concentration) from the City University of New York. She also holds certificates in executive management and public policy from Columbia University's School of Business and the Center for Women in Government, respectively, and has studied publishing at New York University. A well-respected, high profile expert in the maternal/child health field, she has been featured in numerous media outlets, including Good Day New York, Reader's Digest, WLIB and The Medical Herald, and has been published in the book "Helping the Hard-Core Smoker." Michelle is a member of the Auxiliary to the National Medical Association and serves on the boards of the Child Care Institute; Brooklyn Perinatal Network; African-American Well Being Project; and the National Communications Advisory Council of March of Dimes. She is a member of the Coalition for 100 Black Women; and is a member of the First Day Coalition headed by the United Way of NYC. Ms. Drayton-Martin was recently named a "Phenomenal Women," by Emmis Communications' Kiss FM program.
Michelle is excited about Today's Child Communication's focus on enhancing the lives of black and other families of color across America. The company's products help to strengthen families, through media related products and services.
What lingers for me as I contemplate my conversation with Michelle is that she is smart, creative, resourceful, quietly powerful and -
She packs a lot of power and serves it up warmly with a gentle dose of wisdom, making it easy to understand how she has been able to do so much in such a short period of time.
DR: Tell me about your life?
MD: Well, certainly there are always several elements to one's life.
I am a very spiritual person. I am a very, very socially conscious person and I think that that, in many ways, has driven my tenacity and perseverance to create Today's Child Communications.
I am driven with the desire to enhance the quality of life for families and that has been a driver for my entire life. I won't tell you what my nickname was when I was four years old, but it certainly implied motherhood and maternalism (laughs), which I reflect on now, actually. But, I am not letting that cat out of the bag yet. I am not ready for that.
I started out as a Pediatric RN, and I worked with babies and children for, I would say, ten years. I worked with some of the first HIV and AIDS babies; babies that only lived for six or seven months.
I just have a really strong desire to work with children.
I did a Masters degree in Public Health and I did public health nursing and then I ran a national project to reduce infant mortality, which brought about 40 million dollars into New York City. So again, a maternal and child health focus.
I knew in my work that, in all of the exposure that I had on a national level, there was nothing really for families -- Black families, African-American families, Afro-Latino families or Afro-Caribbean families -- that really celebrated them but at the same time, addressed all of their pertinent issues and all of their challenges. Being in public health I was well aware of the disparities issues, and it didn't take much to be aware of the educational gap...
I always wanted to start a publication.
According to family members who have a far better memory than I do, at eleven I was talking about doing my own magazine. I decided that I needed to be able to use the expertise that I had; the maternal and child health expertise in order to create this. I had the network of other experts on a national level. I knew that, regarding parenting magazines, the only thing that really existed did not address "us" and "our families" and that this could be something that would be really saleable and so ...
I did the research and we did focus groups and I started the company in 1998. We decided that while Today's Child would be the flagship, I really wanted to diversify. I really wanted to create, truly, a communications company that, would not only serve families, but would also serve organizations on some level and then of course, would serve advertisers and corporations that were committed to reaching this particular target.
DR: Do you have a personal definition of success?
MD: Yes. It's called "balance".
Founded in 1998, Today's Child Communications is a multi-media communications firm that provides products and services to families and the organizations and companies that seek to serve them. Today's Child Communications' products and services enhance family life, and help organizations and companies to market, strengthen and promote their services. The company offers the following:
TODAY'S CHILD COMMUNICATIONS
TODAY'S CHILD MAGAZINE - This preeminent national parenting magazine is dedicated to black and other parents of color raising children from infancy through their teen years. Backed by the experts and inspired by parents and caregivers - Today's Child Magazine delivers accurate and up-to-date information on parenting, child health and development, education, lifestyle and relationship
TODAY'S CHILD ANNUAL NATIONAL PARENT AND PROVIDER ENRICHMENT CONFERENCE - Brings parents, community leaders, providers, the public and private sectors together to address access to quality health care, improving the quality of education, wealth building, and using technology.
TCC (Today’s Child Communications) PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT AND CREATIVE MARKETING SERVICES Helps organizations and businesses raise funds, market their services and improve their programs. TCC has proven successes in helping agencies to develop services that support families and promote their programs.
Visit Today's Child website at: http://www.Todays-Child.com
Balance is essential; balance in my personal life and my family life. I am a dancer and I sometimes have to push myself to dance but I know that it is something that I must have in my life. ...I have a very close knit family and I have very close relationships with, in particular, my mother and my sisters. That is a constant in my life. I travel. I was married for 10 years and I know how running a business and being an entrepreneur can impact your relationships. While I had probably a really solid marriage, my marriage actually was sacrificed in running this business. But that's a choice that I made because the business was really important to me.
I say to people "Success is not materialism." Success is living your passion. Success is being able to say:
"You know what, I like the fact that I get to get up today and I am going into the office!" --
whatever that may be.
If you are a secretary and you have great administrative skills, if you're a journalist and you've gone to get that "hot" story, or if you are that entrepreneur who is saying "I am creating something that makes people happy!" To me that is what success is.
DR: And what are you the most happy about right now?
MD: I am really happy that I think that I was able to beat the stereotypes of what one can achieve.
I grew up in a single parent household. My mother worked two jobs and raised three girls. All my life people used to ask "Why do you think it is that you are successful?"
I had a very supportive family.
I think what makes me the most happy is really realizing that you can live your vision.
You can live your vision.
That doesn't mean that you are not going to have tremendous challenges and that you are not going to have tremendous barriers to making it happen but, if you are persistent and if you are creative, good things do happen. That makes me happy and it makes me very satisfied.
DR:Marlo Thomas has written a book called The Right Words at the Right Time. In it she talks with celebrities about a crucial turning point in their lives brought about by someone speaking the right words at the right time. Can you recall a moment where someone said something that had a profound impact on your life?
MD: I think there are a lot of those moments. I can certainly reflect on a lot of my heroes and "sheroes"...
Sojourner Truth is one of my "sheroes". Hearing her speech and knowing her capacity, even in the face of her so called incapacity...For me, having her as a representation of what you can achieve is really important.
But also, in a more contemporary context, in the now...
I have been doing a lot of reading. I don't know if you are familiar with this book Light on Life. It focuses on the practice of yoga. The author, his name is B.K.S. Iyengar. He is probably about 85 years old. He is a yogi who can contort his body into any position imaginable, but I think what is so powerful about that book is that he really speaks to how I feel, which is about ones connectedness -- spiritually and with nature.
There is something that I read last night which was very powerful to me. Iyengar says that:
"When you really live your passion and realize your true capacity, it is at that time that you are truly connected with the divine."
I think that is such a powerful statement. For me, so many women don't do that because they are afraid of the risk. They are afraid of the challenges or maybe they don't have the support systems in their life to support them to do that. All I can say is that for me, I feel like I am really trying to live my life in a way that I fulfill my true capacity, and also to do it in a way that is not just about me. That's not what drove me to start this publication. When we receive wealth in that sort of way, it's just so much more meaningful than if your intent was "I am going to get rich." That was not my intent.
I really want to do something that is going to have a national impact. I really want to do something that is going to celebrate the Black family. I really want to be able to impart information and resources that will enhance the life and quality of life for families. To do that and to see people smile and to have people write us letters about the power of the publication or the conferences is really meaningful. To hear you say "Yeah, I know Today's Child!", that says to me that I am living the life that I am meant to live!
DR: What would you say to people who are struggling with accessing their willingness or ability to live at their capacity; people that have perhaps given up or maybe they are scared.
MD: Well the first thing is -
Don't give up!
The fear is just that -- a fear with really no fact or facts that support that anxiety.
There was a person that I knew who was a black belt in karate...When I was in my 20's, for some reason I was fearful. I was in this apartment on the upper west side and I was afraid and I had never been afraid in my life. And I was thinking, "Why am I fearful?" Then I thought "Well it's because there have been recent robberies. There is substance abuse outside my door so maybe there are some other legitimate reasons." And he said
"Do you realize what FEAR is? It is False Evidence Appearing Real!"
I say to people that it truly is that -
Once you begin to take just the smallest step toward your vision that sense of satisfaction that you get is so much more powerful than any sense of fear and anxiety, that it makes it so much more worthwhile for you to pursue that dream.
And even if you don't realize the dream and the vision totally, it's a matter of just getting started no matter where you are! That is part of what our empowerment series will focus on - Making a Fresh Start: Empowerment for Life program. It's about writing it down because once you write things down, there is intent! There is intent behind what you write down and slowly but surely you will begin to move toward that intent.
DR: What gets you up in the morning?
MD: Knowing that I am making a difference.
Even if I become, perhaps pessimistic or maybe just apprehensive or tired of the scope of what needs to be achieved, I'll come in and we have a letter and someone says "You know what? This is the best publication! This is really helping me." I think that really knowing that Today's Child Communications - the magazine and the conferences - is not about me anymore. It really isn't! I really believe that I am a vessel for this and it's what I am supposed to be doing. I don't believe that we would have made it this far and the things that are now happening would not be happening if this were not meant to be. It's a bit of a responsibility.
DR: Is there anything that you struggle with?
MD: Oh, cash flow! (Laughs)
It's part of the reality of running a business. It's no small endeavor when you are attempting to do something of a certain scale and knowing that on a daily basis so much of it is about putting that right team together. So much of it is about convincing that advertiser...
Black publications that are also Black owned -- which at this point exist in very tiny numbers - being able to convince advertisers that they should invest in this, those are the challenges that are very real for me on a daily basis.
What I try to do is to be creative about how I run this business. I try to really call on certain abilities to really circumvent the challenges to say "You know what? I am going to use these certain skills." I think that anyone that is going to start a business should know that it always takes much longer to seal a deal, that it is going to involve money, that one of your biggest challenges is to get the team together; the right people that will bring the right energy. All those things take a long time. In my opinion it really takes almost 10 years for a business to reach...If you can sustain yourself for the first five years and make money -- that is a good sign that you can be sustainable. But in my opinion, to really have traction, it takes 10 years. That is my belief because I think that people are always testing you "Are they going to be around?" Particularly a publication -- "Let's see how many more issues they are going to produce? Is she going to meet that weekly deadline?" There are always those challenges and I think with a publication there are just so many. There are a lot of people that you need to appease, like your reader who is your most important. For us the grass roots approach has been the most important part of making this business successful.
DR: where do you find inspiration?
MD: Seeing another successful publication. Certainly Essence, certainly Ebony; knowing John Johnson's story...Ed Lewis has yet to write his book, which I am sure he will...but certainly John Johnson's story and being able to relate to that today.
Oprah is an inspiration to me. I think she is a genius. She has taught America - giving; what it means to give and to really share your wealth. Those people truly inspire me.
I don't think that you can really be satisfied with the ordinary because there is just so much stimulation in the world and there is so much to do! There is a feeling of "There is so much to do." And I need to question --
"How am I contributing to make this better? What am I contributing?" --
DR: So that, according to you, you can be successful...
MD: Right. Right. And it is a constant struggle.
DR: When you dream, Michelle, what do you dream about?
MD: Well I certainly dream about children.
I love and adore children. I certainly want to have a family. I want Today's Child to be a household name. I think that it has, not only national scalability, but it also has some international relevance. I see us going to a bi-monthly at minimum. I see circulation obviously, growing substantially. Right now we publish anywhere from 30,000 - 50,000 copies per issue. We have about 200,000 readers. We have a lot of collaborations. Our co-publisher is Dr. Winston Price. He is the former President of the National Medial Association. So we are getting a lot of traction now but one of the challenges that we have is really in structure. As I pointed out early - putting that right team together, that is going to help us move this company up the ladder to next levels. We are still only seven years old so we have a way to go. I mean look at Essence, they have been around for 30 years and Ebony has been around for 50 years...
To me it is very important for people who can do it, to really start your own company. Business in general is a solid way to build wealth in the community and it also enhances the community.
DR: A hundred years from now, what do you want to be remembered for?
MD: Oh wow! I gather I'll be dead?
That I was a change agent. That I cared about families and I cared enough to really create something. That I helped to enhance the community to make us, hopefully richer within the context of information and that --
I was about improving lives.