Bozoma St. John | 2018 MAKERS Conference
Bozoma Saint John, Chief Brand Officer, Uber, on acceptance and healing.
- Ladies and gentlemen, Bozama Saint John.
BOZAMA SAINT JOHN: Oh, yeah. OK, I am really so honored to be here today in front of you. Those who know me will tell you that they've seen me on stages before and talking about things about women's empowerment, diversity in the workplace-- all kinds of topical conversations. But today I'm going to talk about something that is very personal to me, that is close to my heart. And I'm going to need your help because I am terrified. And I need you to send me love-- I hope you do that-- so that I can open up and be as free as I feel God is calling me to be.
So my story begins when I was about four years old. This picture was taken on my fourth birthday. You can see there that I thought was a bad ass then, too. But a year later, my father would be thrown into political detention. He was serving for a government in Ghana, which is where my parents are from. And the government was overthrown by the military in a coup d'etat.
Our faith journey began then. My mom escaped Ghana with myself, my two younger sisters. She was pregnant with my third sister. And my dad, while in prison, made a covenant with God because every day people were being executed, his colleagues were being tortured-- all kinds of inhumane things were happening, and he would sit and listen. And he made a covenant that said, if he got out alive and he was able to connect with his family again, that he would serve God for the rest of his life.
And so I became a PK after my dad was released. Does anybody know what a PK is? Preachers kid? OK, well, we got some PKs in here. PKs don't have great reputations, OK? The reason why is that we have the faith base, right? Which is what happened to me. I grew up going to church, going to Bible study, and the choir-- all those things. But I didn't have it in my spirit really.
It wasn't until much later on when I had gotten married-- I became pregnant about five years after we got married. And at 6 and 1/2 months, I became ill with severe pre-eclampsia and had to deliver our first daughter, who did not survive that day. And I was angry with God. I thought, I have done everything. I you've been faithful all this time. There is no reason why this should happen to me.
But what God showed me was that, if I made a covenant with him about what I needed in my life, that perhaps something new could happen. But I didn't really hear it. I got pregnant again about four months after Eve was born and delivered Lael in May of 2009. She's the delight of my life. Her name is Hebrew. It means belonging to God-- La el-- because I felt that, if God would allow me to have her, I would talk about her. I would talk about my covenant that day.
But I have to confess something. I was still angry. I was battling with depression. It destroyed my marriage. And it really wasn't until 2013 when, after being separated from my husband, we discovered that he had cancer. And in October of that year, we discovered that it was going to be terminal. For me, it changed how I looked at my connections with faith, with healing. What did it mean to be in a position in which I continuously ask God why me? Why did this happen to me?
I became fearful of life because my husband was 44 years old, almost 44. He died four days before his 44th birthday. My daughter was also four at the time. And it reconnected us because I saw his faith. He wasn't angry about what had been served to him. He was definitely disappointed. We talked a lot about what it meant, what it looked like on the other side. Because even though we'd both been raised in Christianity, we really didn't understand what it would mean.
Quite honestly, I was angry because I felt like perhaps he had it easier. I had to be here. I had to face this again. And as I held his hand on the last days and I laid my head on his chest, [CRYING] I made another covenant with God. And this time, it was in my spirit and I said, I do not want to be afraid. I do not want to be depressed. I want to walk in this life joyously. I want to be happy. I want to live every day that I am here on the earth as the most joyful and faithful person. And I need help to do that. I prayed it continuously. I prayed it in the dawn when I would wake up. I would pray in the middle of the afternoon at work. I would pray it in the evening.
There were many nights when I didn't sleep. And one night, I walked into the living room and I saw my daughter who was four. I don't know how she took her blankets into the living room, but she did. And she was bent over, and I was wondering what she was doing. I was about to interrupt when I realized that she was praying.
Now I don't know if my faithful journey and the prayers that I prayed every day are affecting her or not. But what I know is that I am looking at the world in a way that is so ethereal. It goes above and beyond the pain I have suffered. It makes me joyful and hopeful and confident. I find it funny when people ask me how did I get through it or how did I get over it. And the truth is that healing is an active word. It's happening all the time. It's happening right here. I can feel it happening as I receive the love from you, as I see some of you in empathy, that the healing is a constant.
And I hope that my daughter is looking at my faithful journey and understanding that this is a development, that this doesn't happen just at one time, or that anything that happens in your life, that I will not be able to stop for her does not need to stop her, that we all have the ability to stand in faith, regardless of religion and know that our purpose here is greater.
I turned 41 a few weeks ago. I celebrated it on the beach. My daughter took this photo. I was praying. And I was asking God yet again to help me look at this world and be faithful, to walk confidently, to not be afraid or encumbered by the tragedy, or by the fear of the unknown. In fact, one of my favorite psalms I saw that morning-- Psalm 45:6-- which says, God is in the midst of her. She will not be moved. God helps her in the dawn. I could not be prouder to stand here in front of you today, regardless of the things that I face or what has happened to me. And I don't know what's going to happen tomorrow. But I'm not afraid because I know God is in the midst of me, and I will not be moved. Thank you so much.