Millennials Rising — Yaritza Thompson

woman-carrying-world-earthYou’ve likely heard the stereotypes about millennials: They’re a generation of entitled misfits. They lack a strong work ethic. They’re only interested in activities that offer immediate gratification.

You want the truth? This generation isn’t going to wreck the world. They’re going to save it.

If millennials feel entitled to anything, it’s the opportunity to be passionately engaged in a vision they can pour their entire heart and soul into. Show them what success looks like, then get out of the way and watch what awesome looks like.

I’d like to introduce you to Yaritza Thompson, one of nine millennials I interviewed who have faced and overcome significant obstacles that stood in the way of their goals and dreams. It’s a privilege to share their inspiring life stories with you here.

Click here to see all the Millennials Rising stories.


Yaritza Thompson

Yaritza Thompson, born in 1982, founded Cookies & Cream Couture, an online boutique and community for biracial families. Her flagship product is the T-shirts she co-designed to celebrate the beauty of being biracial. She and her husband are grade-school teachers in Florida.

When my daughter, J’adore, was born she was indescribably beautiful. I’m Puerto Rican and my husband, Ronnell, is black, and it didn’t take long for her to notice she was different. She wanted to look like Mommy, but I’m light-skinned with wavy hair and she’s darker and blessed with a head full of curls.

Almost as soon as she could talk, J’adore started asking me about her skin color and begging me to have straight hair. She was twenty-two months old when our son, Zion, was born. He came out very fair-skinned so that led to more questions: “Why is Zion a boy and he looks like you and I’m a girl and I look like Daddy?” I’d tell her, “You are not just a beautiful girl physically, God created you uniquely beautiful inside too. You are also biracial; you are an Afro-Latina. You come from two rich cultures.”

I wanted to make sure that J’adore took pride in her heritage because I knew she would be exposed to ignorant comments about mixing races and cultures as she grew older. I just never dreamed I’d hear them from my own extended family and friends. I heard things like, “Why would you marry a black guy? Your kids are going to have dark eyes and nappy hair, and they’ll have to deal with people making fun of them because you’re mixing races and cultures.” It was so hurtful to hear things like that, especially because we had African descent in our family as well. I told one relative, “You’re blacker than my husband is; your ancestors are straight out of Africa. Get over yourself. Nobody is better than the next person.”

When J’adore began questioning her looks at two, it broke my heart. She didn’t want to play with black dolls, she wanted to play with the white dolls because they were “prettier.” The black dolls were “ugly.” So I went on a search to find pretty black dolls. You had your one black Cabbage Patch and then one or two other dolls that were the ugliest things I’ve ever seen. Little kids need to see things they can relate to, and I could find very little that my daughter could relate to. Fortunately, I later came across Rahel, a doll from Hearts for Hearts, who looked like she was modeled off of my daughter’s picture. She loved her and named her J’adore!

When J’adore was four, I said to my husband, “What can I do to teach her how to celebrate herself? I don’t want her to just accept who she is, I want her to celebrate the beauty of being biracial.” I did a lot of thinking about that. I’m a creative, hands-on person and one day the answer came to me: design some T-shirts!

I came up with several names for a line of T-shirts and ran them by a friend who is a designer. She hated all of them. I thought, Oh, no! What am I going to call it? I have nothing now! Then one day I thought of “Cookies & Cream Couture.” Hmm, cookies and cream. Black and white. A mixture of things. It was perfect!

With the help of my sister-in-law and a friend, I came up with seven T-shirt designs and did photo shoots around town with my kids as my models. All during the process, I made a point to sit down with J’adore and Zion and tell them what the shirts represent and who they represent. I told them they needed to always accept people for who they are, just like the way they want to be accepted for who they are and what they look like.

J’adore rocking a Cookies & Cream Couture T-shirt

One of the shirts reads, “Blended to Perfection,” surrounded by words that represent being biracial like Identity, Culture, Love and Acceptance. Another says “Curlz Gone Wild.” One shirt, “Rock the Puffs,” features a photo of J’adore with a huge puff on each side of her head. There are two “My Curlz Rock” shirts, one with J’adore’s face and one with Zion’s. Two other shirts feature “Curly Hair Don’t Care” designs.

She’s six now and loves to wear the T-shirts as often as she can. When she wakes up and her hair is gigantic and all over the place, she doesn’t want me to touch it. She says, “Mommy, it looks beautiful like this. I love my curly hair. My curls rock!” I catch her looking at herself in the mirror and touching her hair and saying how pretty it is.

It makes me so happy to see her so happy about who she is, even though she’s still trying to figure things out. My husband recently made a short video clip when he took J’adore out on a “date.” He said something about her being black and she responded, “I’m not black!” He said, “Your color’s not black, but Daddy’s black and Mommy’s Puerto Rican. Remember how Mommy told you about being biracial.” And she said, “I’m black . . . not really black because if you see my skin I’m brown . . . but Daddy says I’m black. So I’m black and I’m Puerto Rican.”

Learning by Teaching
I am so intent on guiding my kids to be confident and secure in who they are and the gifts they have because I was incredibly self-conscious and insecure when I was growing up. For the sake of my kids, I knew I had to change the way I looked at myself and the way I showed up in the world.

I could tell J’adore until I’m blue in the face that she’s beautiful and talented, but if Mommy is not feeling that same way about herself and doesn’t model that behavior, she’s going to emulate the “real me” when she’s older. If I hadn’t seen her insecurity at such an early age I don‘t know that I would have been as conscious of how my behavior could affect her. At two years old, she was asking questions that I had no idea how to answer. I would think, She can barely talk. How is she asking me these questions?

I knew that if I wanted her to love and accept herself and all of the different things that make her special, I needed to learn how to love and accept myself. If I wanted her to love her super-big curls and Afro, I had to love my limp hair. Everything I was telling her, I had to tell myself. I had to be my own cheerleader as I was hers.

I did a lot of self-talk and a lot of praying. I asked God to take away my insecurities and teach me how to love myself and be more confident in who I am and the gifts that God has given me so that my children can see me confidently use those gifts and not shy away from opportunities that arise.

On this search to build my daughter up, whenever I would say something negative about myself, I would have to retract it and think, Oh, my God, I hope she didn’t hear me. But of course she’d hear me. Kids notice the subtlest things that you don’t think they’re paying attention to. I didn’t want her to hear, “Oh, I look so fat in this” or “Oh, my God, I look disgusting today.” My husband was onboard with my efforts. Whenever I’d say something negative about myself, he’d tap me on the shoulder and say, “Hello, she can hear you.”

I’m so grateful that I didn’t pass my fears and insecurities on to J’adore. She’s not afraid to try new things. She’s played volleyball, basketball, and soccer, and she just finished singing and dancing in a stage production of “Willy Wonka” that a fine arts school put on for the city. I was freaking out for her in the front row. If that was me as a little girl, I would have panicked and run off the stage. But her one line came up and she said it loud and confidently.

She loves acting and singing. When she gets on stage, she’s not at all self-conscious; it’s like a light turns on. She sang a song from Annie in her school talent show in front of hundreds of people. She wants to stand out and she tells me that God made her beautiful.

All the Best Intentions
When I was a little girl, I was an insecure mess because my mom was always cheering me on. I know, it sounds weird. But what I’ve come to realize is that if you don’t also check in with your kids and really listen to what they’re thinking and feeling, they may be internalizing your encouragement in completely unexpected ways. My mom always wanted the best for my older brother and me, but every time she tried to motivate me only reminded me of how shy I was and of how horrible it would be if I messed up.

My mom had a tough life. She and my dad separated when I was five and she was determined to make a life for herself and her kids. She refused to play the victim card; she worked two jobs and did whatever she had to do to pay the bills. She was totally devoted to us; she became a realtor so that she could have a flexible schedule and go on school field trips with us and drive us to and from school.

She was always on the run. I saw somebody who didn’t quit, who never lost her faith, and who pushed hard for what she wanted. We may not have had everything we wanted but we never lacked for anything. She was very frugal, always taking us to the mall for end-of-season sales. We always had plenty of gifts for birthdays and Christmas. She never wanted us to feel like we were in need.

When I was in third grade, she was in a bad car accident and we had to go on Welfare and food stamps because she was pretty much bedridden for a year. She had sustained a really bad back injury and a brain injury that impaired her short-term memory. She was eligible for complete disability but she said she couldn’t raise two children on that. Somehow she found a way. She willed herself to get up and go back to work.

A few years later, she was in another accident. A college student hit her and she spun out of control. It was another hit to the head but she just managed to survive and keep going. To this day I don’t know how she did it. She suffered for years from back pain and severe headaches. All the trauma my mom went through just made me more self-conscious. I told myself I had to do everything just right so she wouldn’t have one more thing to worry about.

My mom told me I could succeed at anything I tried but she’d always stress that I had to make the right decisions because “your cousins are watching you” and “people are looking up to you.” She was trying to inspire me but what I heard was, “If other people make a wrong decision, it’s because you made the wrong decision.”

In my mind, it fell to me to be the perfect child. I was so scared of failing and disappointing somebody or not meeting the expectations of whomever was watching. I put enormous pressure on myself because I couldn’t bear the thought of being a less-than-perfect role model.

In third grade I wanted so bad to have the lead role in our class musical. I loved to sing and perform but I hated being in the spotlight. I’d always think, Oh God, they’re all looking at me. What are they thinking? So when it came time to audition, my heart started racing and my legs started shaking. I convinced myself that someone else would be better than me and I wouldn’t be the one they picked so there was no point in even trying out.

All my life I struggled with being a people pleaser. I was always trying to make sure that everyone liked me and that nobody could say anything negative about me. Trying to please everyone is not only impossible, it’s a guaranteed way to make yourself miserable.

A Mother’s Legacy
What I learned from my mom is that life isn’t fair. Not everybody gets dealt a good hand. But playing the victim and dwelling on bad things that have happened to you isn’t going to get you anywhere. You can’t cry about something forever and use it as a crutch. If you want things to happen, you have to make them happen. You can’t wait for anyone to do them for you.

Now that I have kids, I feel that way even more strongly. I can’t sit around and mope that things aren’t happening the way I thought they would. I can’t quit. I have to keep fighting for what I want.

When I got married, I was a full-time, independent makeup artist. I loved it, but most of the work was on weekends and evenings. So when my husband was home, I was out. After having kids, I knew I had to give it up because it was taking away from my time with my family.

I don’t want to miss a thing with my kids. I want to have breakfast with them every morning and make it to all their practices and events. My husband feels the same way. So as much as I loved doing makeup, I had to find something else that would allow me to be with my kids.

J’adore and Zion Thompson

When I was pregnant with Zion, I went back to school full time to be a grade school teacher like my husband. It was an online program so I could be home full time as well. I finished in January 2015 with honors, with a 3.98 GPA. When I had started, I told my husband, “Don’t let me stress out, don’t let me get obsessed with having to have top grades, I just want to pass.” He rolled his eyes and said, “Yeah, right. I know the way you are.”

Doing homework from eleven o’clock at night until two or three in the morning every night for the last three and a half years was hard for me, but I felt I had to do it. I knew that when I finished, my son would be starting school and the four of us would be able to leave for school and come home at the same time. We were all going to have our holiday breaks and summers off together.

Yaritza Thompson and family

I’m proud of myself for making that happen. Believe me, there were times I wanted to quit. I wanted to go back to doing makeup; it was more fun and less stressful. But it was important to finish what I started. We had strict finances for a while. Some weeks we had cereal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We just had to make it work until I graduated. But it was all worth it. Nothing’s more important to me than my family.

Cookies & Cream 2.0
When I was going to school full time, I had to press pause on Cookies & Cream Couture. There just wasn’t enough time in the day. I shut the website down for now because I was getting orders in and didn’t have the shirts to fill them. The reasons for starting it—to help my kids be more confident and empathetic and to celebrate their heritage—have been accomplished, but it’s definitely something I want to reboot soon.

The feedback and photos that I got from other parents were phenomenal. It meant a lot to me to see how happy their kids were wearing their “Curly Hair Don’t Care” shirts. When I fist posted on Instagram, my very first sale was to the Netherlands. The mother wrote to tell me that her husband was black and their twelve-year-old daughter was mixed. She said, “I’ve been dealing with these same things with my daughter and trying to explain to her why Mommy’s different than she is. She loves your shirts.”

On a blog I started for Cookies & Cream, I also wrote about the hair products that I used for J’adore. Believe me, that’s a hugely important issue for some families. Wherever we’d go, other moms who had little girls who were mixed would stop me and say, “Oh, my God, what products are you putting in her hair?” When J’adore was born, I spent hours on Google and YouTube, trying to figure out how to do her hair. It was great being able to direct other mothers to my blog to see photos of the products I used and how I used them.

Cookies & Cream has been a fun and rewarding adventure. From the beginning, I didn’t measure my success by how much money I made, but rather by the number of lives I touched. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude that I was able to help other mothers and little girls and boys struggling with the same questions and insecurities as my daughter. So many mothers thanked me for celebrating their child and told me that their child wanted their hair big and curly while wearing their tee. At the same time I was able to encourage other mothers as well as share hair products and regimens. This journey has been a blessing and I thank God for choosing me to do this!

Yaritza Thompson and Family


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2 Responses to “Millennials Rising — Yaritza Thompson”

  1. Larry Says:

    Beautiful story! Beautiful family! Thanks for posting, Phil.

  2. Jyoti Shah Says:

    Lovely and heart-warming story of a person blessed with an indomitable spirit. God bless her family. J’adore and Zion are lovely as all kids are. Wishing them all the very best in life.

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