Oftentimes, we may find that our hobbies and professions can serve much more than simple pastimes and careers. They can be tools of comfort, learning, and most importantly, resilience. Faced with a mountain of challenges, author and writer Toya Raylonn Vickers has used her writing skills not only to empower herself, but women going through the same struggles she once did.
In times of distress and uncertainty, having a relief in the form of an expressive outlet can be an incredible tool to help block out the world around you, allowing in only your thoughts and feelings. The exact kind of creative medium utilized doesn’t have to be specific, but it just needs to fulfill the role of presenting you the opportunity to release any and all emotions into it. By doing that instead of letting those emotions continue to swell up inside, you take the necessary steps towards empowerment, giving you the resistance in order to find your true stride.
One such tool that does wonders for the human mind is writing. Regardless of the intent — storytelling, journaling, poetry — there are no boundaries to hold in any kind of imagination or voice. Thanks to the unlimited potential, writing has been heavily utilized by thousands looking for inspiration or a light in the darkness, such as writing consultant Toya Raylonn Vickers, founder and chief executive officer of ToyShelf Services™ Writing Firm.
As someone who has had to overcome numerous struggles and abuses, mentally and physically, Vickers relayed the importance that both writing and a strong will can have when you find yourself lost and afraid. “Resilience is something that, for me, is built in.” Vickers’ attitude was prevalent to others throughout her life, recalling her dad telling her that despite everything thrown at her, she still rises to the occasion.
Journaling has been a part of Vickers long before she even had the idea and passion of going into writing. It originally began as a way to help her simply keep track of going-ons at the young age of seven. “That helped me to become who I am as a person, to be able to go back and look at things, and just keep records of everything that happened in my life.”
Eventually, it would turn into something so much more, helping her release her stress or joy, giving her the capability to let nothing go unsaid. “It’s like therapy for me, it helps me express myself, it helps me give details about a lot of things. Sometimes if I can’t say things out verbally, I’ll write it down and then do it verbally. And I’ve been like that a major part of my life,” Vickers laughed. It helped her to discover that she was creative and expressive not just in writing, but in other areas as well.
“I understood the dream that I had, it was his spirit leaving the yard at that time.”
Inspired by a number of prolific African American women authors — from Maya Angelou to Toni Morrison — Vickers was particularly captivated by Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple.” Narrated through letters, it focuses on an abused African American teenager who seeks to overcome the abuse and concepts forced upon her by others. “It was just so fascinating to me.”
ToyShelf Services™ has given Vickers plenty of opportunities to build upon the idea that women can be prominent in literature and technical writing. As a consultant, she offers a number of services to individuals, companies, and small businesses that include content creation, strategy sessions, grant proposal writing, and ghost writing.
Vickers also performs coaching, helping others to reach the level she’s worked to be at while bringing their own creations to a completion. “[Clients] come to me because they don’t know how to start, so I help them start their books. Some people may be in the middle, and they don’t know how to finish their book.”
That versatility in writing has come a long way, as has Vickers, who graduated from Howard University with a master’s degree in social work. At a young age, she was the survivor of sexual abuse, which wasn’t fully realized until her teens. Though it would have tragic psychological impacts, she was able to prevail by coming to terms with the trauma that had occurred, keeping her “no quit” mentality by rolling with the punches.
Thus, the ability to overcome began its journey as a staple in Vickers’ life, a triumph she would realize can be used to inspire others. Following her undergraduate studies at the Ohio State University, she joined an organization that helps troubled youth in 1999. It was there where Vickers had an experience, just a few days into a promoted role, which would show the power her long-held Christian faith had in shaping who she would become.
“I was on the yard, working late, just doing laundry. I had this daydream where I saw this young boy. He’s surrounded by light, and then all of a sudden there’s this quiet darkness just came upon him. For the first time, I had never seen something like that before, and I kind of dropped to my knees and prayed about it,” Vickers said. She would later learn that a young man there had committed suicide, realizing the connection between the daydream she witnessed.
“I was in pain, I didn’t know what to do, I was really in despair. I heard the Holy Spirit say, ‘You need to write it down. I need you to write.’ So, I started writing.”
Faith has been a rock for Vickers, one that has contributed to her resilience. “You have to have God on your side, [and] know that he does love you,” she explained when detailing the undying endurance she’s possessed. That instance wouldn’t be the only time Vickers recognized an unseen message sent to her by faith. The next would come during a car crash that would put her well-being in jeopardy, two months before she was set to graduate from Howard.
“I got into a life-threatening car accident where an 18-wheeler hit me from behind as I was trying to drive back home from the D.C.-Maryland area. It was around three o’clock in the morning,” recalled Vickers, explaining that responders had to use the jaws of life to retrieve her from the crashed vehicle and was flown from the scene to a nearby medical center.
While she was released the next day, issues would persist, and Vickers would eventually come to discover she had a blood clot thanks to an attentive doctor. “If [the doctor] had not stopped and looked me all the way over, I would’ve sat there and that blood clot could’ve went to my heart. They had to remove over half the tissue from my right thigh.”
During that time in the hospital following surgery, Vickers path in life would change forever, as she was given guidance by her faith that she needed to pursue a writing career, a possibility that had been building up for quite some time.
“All of a sudden, I just sat there and started writing down the story for my first book, ‘Dimes, Profiles and Wives.'” Based on Proverbs 31:10 from The Holy Bible, Vickers said that the story, which was written out over the course of three years starting in 2006, is about “three African-American women who want to be virtuous women of God and virtuous wives to good men, but they don’t know how to do it.”
Though Vickers struggled with the confidence to actually publish the piece, she would overcome that fear and publish it herself, showing the kind of toughness needed to get an edge up in the writing industry. The reward was a successful launch. “When it first came out, I actually had about 150 sales, which is really good for a self-published, first time author.” That novel would turn into a series of three, with “Love Without a Limit” and “To Say I Do” following next.
“Each of my books, I make sure — and this will be for the rest of the time that I write — will have at least one character confronting a mental health issue. To help people with mental illness, you have to face it. You have to face it.”
In today’s stressful world, many pained by mental health are vulnerable, especially those with prior conditions. Vickers had previously been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but thankfully, she does not let her diagnosis control who she is and how her work is accomplished. Instead, she has turned what is supposed to be a hindrance into motivation, explaining how countless people have changed human history dealing with similar mental disorders.
One particular time demonstrated this empowerment, even in the face of personal battles, was when Vickers was standing in a mental health institute’s hall, where a mural was painted on the wall of icons around the room. “They have the pictures of all of our geniuses of the world. Beethoven, Bach, Van Gogh, Fredrick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, even Shakespeare. Most of the geniuses of the world had some type of mental illness. I was just standing there seeing if I could point out who everyone was.”
In the middle of her awe, Vickers was reminded that she, along with anyone who has that desire, could be just like the masterminds of world by one of the nurses. “He walked up to me, because I had been standing there for a while. He said, ‘You know Toya, you’re a genius just like all those people.'” That idea of not shying away from discussing mental health issues continues to make an impact in Vickers’ life, particularly during her writing process.
Vickers goes far beyond writing in order to give women the confidence and strength to create a better world for themselves. She often works with Out of Darkness an organization in Ohio that works to provide transitional housing and support to women who have been the victims of human trafficking. The organization takes the time to go out onto the streets to help women by providing them with food, drinks, resources, and an emergency number if they want to find further help and begin transforming their life. Vickers is also creating a non-profit organization with her local church New Birth Christian Ministries called Rahab House™ to further help victims who need more permanent housing after they advance from programs like Out of Darkness.
While the challenges may have strained her, Vickers’ fortitude allowed her to continue her path of writing, showing that with the right mindset, help, and passion, nothing is unachievable. “One of my favorite verses from the Bible is, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’ It takes a lot of strength from within to [overcome obstacles]. It’s not something that a lot of people can do without looking within. Healing comes from within.”
Andrew Rhoades is a Contributing Reporter at The National Digest based in New York. A Saint Joseph’s University graduate, Rhoades’ reporting includes sports, U.S., and entertainment. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.