Topeka K. Sam is a force that’s changing the criminal legal system. As Founder and Executive Director of The Ladies of Hope Ministries, she helps disenfranchised and marginalized women transition back into society through education, entrepreneurship, spiritual empowerment, and advocacy. From TEDx to the pages of Vogue and all the way to The White House, Sam’s work has brought awareness and change to women’s incarceration and post-incarceration issues. Now that’s a Bossbabe.
You created The Ladies of Hope Ministries in response to a broken system – what’s been your biggest challenge?
My biggest challenge is fundraising. We all know the numbers. Let me map it out for you: Women-Led companies receive less than 3 percent of all raised capital. Women of Color founders receive less than 0.3 percent. How much do you then think FORMERLY INCARCERATED WOMEN OF COLOR Founders receive? I'll tell you… LESS. We are thought to structure our businesses through depending on volunteers or providing non-competitive salaries and/or benefit packages to people who are already marginalized and oppressed. How can we change the world and its negative impacts on women and girls without the proper resources to do so?
How has being a boss impacted your life?
Being a boss has impacted my life in the best of ways. Especially now that I am using my boss babe powers for good and not evil. What I DO know is this - "To Whom MUCH is given - MUCH is required" - Luke 12:48. It is NOT easy. But it is an honor to be chosen to fulfill the purpose that God has on my life!! That… in and of itself is BOSS!
Your voice is called upon time and again to lead, share, and represent – what conversation are you tired of having?
I am tired of having to explain why I am so fabulous!! Because I was in prison (which, BTW anyone who was in prison with me KNOWS I wore lipstick every day and had a full on glam squad (shout out to Riccia Goody, Tawana Logan and Alexis Travis that got me ready for my weekend visits) and that I have created a non-profit that I should show up less attractive or less than so that people don't think I am using all the funds I have raised to maintain my lifestyle. Would that be a question or a thought for a white woman? I think I will use this platform to say for the LAST TIME - I work HARD. If I want to buy Chanel, Alice + Olivia, Rainbow Fashions or anything else my heart desires, I will. The idea that non-profit = broke = WRONG. I encourage everyone to Read 2 Corinthians 9. Here is an excerpt: "Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each one should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not out of regret or compulsion. “For God loves a cheerful giver.” And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things, at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. - 2 Corinthians 9:6-8 NIV
What conversation would you have over and over again?
The conversation I would have over and over again is that WOMEN and GIRLS do NOT belong in Prison or Jail. PERIODT. There are alternatives to incarceration, diversion alternatives, trauma informed care that women and girls need in order to become healed and whole from the trauma, violence and abuse that we have endured. In order to end incarceration, we MUST end poverty and we can only do this by reinvesting into communities that are overpopulated and underfunded, invest in people and not prisons, provide affordable, safe and beautiful housing and healthy food. These are BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS and when this is NOT happening it is a violation of those rights! We are the ONLY country that approaches the criminal legal system from a civil rights lens and not a human rights lens!
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Don't take ANYTHING personal
Who inspires you?
My mom & dad. They have been together & married for 58 years. They both come from humble beginnings and wanted more for themselves and their children. When they wanted to buy a house in Dix Hills NY and the white woman came to the window, pulled the blinds and saw they were black she never answered the door. So, my parents went further out in Suffolk County and built their home furnished with a beautiful pool and basketball court from the ground up. They worked together and opened a Carvel Franchise in Brooklyn in the 70's and taught us about entrepreneurship at a very young age. They went on to open a restaurant in Harlem where they were the first out-door cafe and brought soft-serve yogurt and fresh fruit shakes to Harlem. Most importantly, every recital, every game, every graduation, every court date, every sentencing, every monthly visit, every dream, every desire they have BEEN THERE in support. I love them with everything I am and am grateful to GOD that they sacrificed so much for myself and my siblings to understand that being black is a badge of honor, strength, courage, resilience and LOVE!!
7. How do you practice self-care?
This is somewhere I struggle and have committed myself to doing better in 2020. As a boss babe it is difficult to find balance. A daily practice I have now been doing for the last 7 years is 10 min meditation, prayer, reading my bible. I also LOVE to cook (when I have time which is never) and a fine libation. I would like to incorporate weekly spa treatments and travel where I can turn my phone off quarterly.
What’s one thing you never leave the house without?
That's easy … my LIPSTICK
Describe your style in three words.
Colorfully Elegant, Fashion Forward, Harlem.
10. Finish this sentence. In the new year I’d like to...
What are you leaving behind in the last decade?
Philippians 3:13-14 says it best "Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."
Name one thing most people don’t know about you.
I am a classically trained pianist & flautist yet I do have range, I love Mozart to Mary J Blige and everything in between!