Brandi Riley is a role model in so many ways, with her positive attitude and less-is-more lifestyle serving as inspiration to her six-year-old daughter Ayva and her legion of followers. The former educator and teaching artist is the Oakland-based blogger behind Mama Knows It All, a space for moms to connect and share stories, and the founder of Courage to Earn, a support group for female digital entrepreneurs. Her career path has taken many twists and turns but one thing remains constant: her focus on community and female empowerment, encouraging women and girls to recognize their value, take risks, and follow their dreams. You can do it! We’re believers.
Tell us a bit about your upbringing and how it shaped who you are today?
Growing up, I was a military brat so we moved around a lot. I had to learn to fit in and adjust to new situations pretty quickly. That skill was a blessing and a curse, as I really learned to blend into the background because being the “new kid” isn’t always fun. It wasn’t until I became a mom that I realized how important it was for me to stand out and let people really know who I was.
What led you to start your blog Mama Knows It All?
I actually started it on the eve of my daughter’s first birthday in 2010. I was the first one of my friends to have a baby, so I really didn’t have anybody to talk to. It opened up this huge community of women who were just like me, who were sharing stories, who were
dealing with the ups and downs of motherhood and being a woman. My whole world just completely changed.
I become a single mom really early on. My daughter wasn’t even born yet, and I just decided to go at it by myself. On my blog, I share being a single mom all the way up until the day that I met my husband.
What’s your favorite part about it?
The community. I get a lot of emails from women who are saying,“Thank you so much for sharing this. I feel the same way. I don’t necessarily have the space to voice it, but I’m glad that you are saying this and representing for the single moms who fell in love or the moms and wives who aren’t perfect.”
Tell us a bit about your support group Courage to Earn.
Courage to Earn is a group of women who are digital entrepreneurs, so bloggers
and other online people. It is my most favorite place on the internet.
These women are supportive, positive, and upbeat. I started it because I wanted
to help other women to recognize their value.
In what ways do you see yourself as a role model
for women and girls?
I see myself as a role model because I encourage them to be authentic. I share my stories. I share my voice in a way that is real, and I think I’m showing them that it’s okay to be who you are. You can be successful even if you’re not perfect. Even if you share the real truths about your life. You don’t have to have a cookie cutter perfect life in order to have successes.
What advice would you give to women starting out on their own entrepreneurial journey?
Find a group or a tribe that can support you, that can encourage you, and to understand that it may not be your friends that you have now. It may not be your partner. It may not be family members, but that it might actually be strangers who are going through the same type of things that you are. Find somebody who can support you and who can be there when you are feeling like giving up.
What effect does the work you do have on how you choose to raise Ayva?
One of the biggest things I see is that women are tentative and timid when it comes to promoting themselves or advocating for themselves, and I know that I don’t want Ayva to grow up being like that. For me, it was a matter of my parents just not knowing, so it took me probably 30+ years to really learn how to be that person for myself. To be a champion for the work that I do and for the work that I create. I don’t want Ayva to have to wait 30+ years to have that big discovery, so I mother her in a way that allows her to be confident and courageous and know that it’s okay to take risks and know that she’ll be supported if she falls.
One of the hardest things about being a new mom is the identity shift. How do you balance self and motherhood?
Give yourself time and understand that there are ebbs and flows to motherhood. When my daughter was a baby, my biggest identity label that I held close to me was being a mom because she needed me, and that was the most important job that I had at the time.
Who or what inspires you?
We hear you have an incredible love journey. Tell us a bit about how you met your husband and his journey to becoming Ayva’s dad.
I met my husband at an education conference in Indianapolis. I lived in Philly at the time and he was here in California. Right away he included Ayva as he was woo’ing me. When he sent me flowers, he sent her candy. He was very engaged immediately. When we moved to California, he was the person who found her preschool, he joined the school’s board, and he initiated the adoption process. He’s her FATHER, DADDY, FOREVER DAD, and I couldn’t have picked a better guy for the job!
What motto or words do you live by?
Be authentic, be real, be genuine. It is the most important thing. One thing that I’ve owned is that I’m not good with time. I’m late because the energy in the universe has to align with my personal energy, and if that doesn’t happen, then I might be 10 minutes late. My family and friends, they just accept that now.
What’s your philosophy on style and fashion?
I wear whatever I feel good in. It doesn’t matter if the patterns
don’t match or the colors are clashing. If the fit is good and I feel comfortable in it, I will rock it! Ayva has the same mentality.
Read more about Brandi’s style on the blog.
We hear you love Marie Kondo (so do we!). How have you incorporated her philosophies into your life?
Because I moved around so much as a child, there are a lot of ‘artifacts’ and memorabilia from my youth that got misplaced or is missing. I used to pine for those things, and as a result, gave the things that I had much more value than they were worth. Now, I ask myself if this old sweater really gives me joy, or if I’m holding on to it because of the memories I made wearing it that I’m afraid to lose. I’ve thrown away so many things that were just old and not at all joyful, and immediately I felt new energy in my life.
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Photos By Natalie Chitwood