The Gem Within: Lauren Johnson

Lauren Johnson is the proud owner of The Gem Within and founder of the Ft. Lauderdale-based The Gem Collective. After having attended countless Miami parties Lauren realized people weren’t connecting in an authentic way, so she set out to change it! She began hosting a series of purpose led brunch parties and now SoFlo can’t get enough of them! Lauren the Gem considers her collective to “consist of a group of vivacious, creative, and entrepreneurial minded young adults, women and men, from various backgrounds, residing in South Florida and beyond”.

I had the pleasure of meeting Lauren at her installment of A Seat at the Table and instantly fell in love with her calm and reassuring demeanor. In our interview, we chat about what it means to be a creative entrepreneur, being candid about mental health as means of empowering others, and projects she has in the works! I’m so proud to know Lauren as an advocate for my own personal growth and feel blessed that I can show you all how much she intends to change the world.

Photo taken by Javier Edwards of El Roi Photo

What does is it mean to be a creative entrepreneur?

A lot of times I feel like creative people view themselves as only being “an artist” not realizing that they’re also entrepreneurs because they’re creating a product. They’re putting their heart and soul into something and they ultimately want to make money from it. So they’re creatives first and foremost, but they’re also engaging in business.

What is The Gem Collective?

It’s a collective of people coming together in a meaningful way. The mission is to highlight others and make them see that they’re special and that whatever they’re doing is important.

What inspired you to start it?

It started with my blog at first, but along the way the way I realized I enjoyed bringing people together. I was going to different events and felt like people weren’t “getting it”, they just weren’t connecting; that’s when I came up with the idea of connecting gems! Bringing together ambitious people in one space and having them collaborate and share their experiences with others is always the goal.

What was the process like to create the experience you saw was lacking in Miami?

I first had the thought in January of 2016 and I sat for 4 hours just writing down all of my ideas, I think I stayed up until 6 am working on it. After that, I waited a few months to do anything with it because I was going through some personal transitions and trying to figure out my next moves. May rolled around and I was like “okay, I need to do this”.  I just thought “how long am I going to sit on something and not just do it?”. Looking back, I think I procrastinated out of fear of failure, but eventually, I just pushed myself. I began scoping out women on Instagram who seemed like people I’d really like to know and invited them to the first Gem Within Brunch. Everyone felt comfortable, and there was an instant connection between the 15 of us. After the first brunch, I realized that creating an experience like this was a big deal.

Photo taken by Javier Edwards of El Roi Photo

 

 

 

What exactly is the experience you aim to cultivate at your events?

I’m trying to create a safe space where people can connect and collaborate. I want to make sure that the right type people meet each other.

Which you do! I’ve seen you introduce specific people to each other.

Yeah because I just feel like those two people will connect! I never looked at that like a gift, but I am beginning to see it as one now. I don’t want to hoard the people I know that’s not my purpose. Sometimes an idea that may come to mind isn’t meant for us, it’s for someone else, so sharing and connecting the people that will make it happen is not a bad thing.

You make it a point to incorporate your family into your events. How has coming together in this way impacted the relationship you have with your parents and brothers?

We’ve always been a family of creating things together and I’ve never seen it as being a big deal. My dad has an ice cream business so when I was younger I used to help out at the store and my mom had a catering/furniture restoration business so I’d like to say we’re a family full of gifts. We really help to push our individual talents forward. We’re each other’s cheerleaders! I don’t have a lot of friends, but I look at my family as being my friends. They are the first people I share my thoughts with!

Since I’ve already hosted a few events I’ve learned what to do and how to make things better, so I’m weaning off of their help a little bit but yeah, there’s no The Gem Within without them. They’re the gems!

Does your Caribbean background influence your events?

Yes in the sense that my Jamaican culture is based on community, so people are always helping each other. We run on a system of bartering, so we may not have a lot of money but we’ll share our resources and that’s what I’m trying to do. I may not have a lot of money to do things but I know how to bring quality people together, so that’s my bartering tool.

 

Sometimes it takes seasons of what may seem to be droughts for us to figure things out because God (or whoever you worship) has more than you could’ve ever imagined in store for you.

 

You like to show support to local events by promoting them on your social media. What’s the common thread in the parties you show love to?

I look for events that offer a unique experience and never share anything I wouldn’t go to myself.

Do you have any mentors that helped you on your path?

Yes! My parents and Maine Buchanan from Everyday People have helped me a lot. I also get inspired by people I follow on social media. They may not realize it, but their messages and opinions give me ideas!

What goals do you have for the Gem Collective? Where do you see this heading within the next 5 years?

I’d like to begin sharing more of where I am now, not so much where I was before. I’m always reinventing myself so I’d like to bring people along the journey. I’d like to begin talking about “mental wealth” on my blog -I don’t call it mental health because it scares people- and business topics that I learned when I was pursuing my MBA. I would really like to find a way to fuse connecting people, openly discussing what we’re feeling, and lifestyle related topics our generation is going through.

That’s super important because we don’t have enough people speaking about topics that affect us all, the things that we all go through behind closed doors. I believe it only takes a few people to open the door to making sensitive issues we keep hidden part of something bigger. The moment a person begins to speak openly about their stigmatized experience(s) then people will realize they’re not alone and they’ll be more likely to discuss it too. That one person turns into more and then all of a sudden you find yourself healing because you’re not in it alone.

Yeah girl, please do that. I would love to see you develop this.

I will, but I’m kinda scared to go there! There’s an array of issues people our age are dealing with. Depression and anxiety coupled with low salaries and high rent plus figuring out what we even want to do with our lives. It’s a lot! I’ve noticed more people speaking openly talk about depression and anxiety but there’s still a stigma around it. It’s difficult to cope with. I know what it is to want to do something and then wake up and physically can not because…you just can’t. It’s part of the cycle of living with depression. I know I’m not the only one going through this, we all go through similar feelings but I guess it’s just all about how we move forward with it.

I want to use what I’m going through as a way to help other people but I’m just not sure on how. Should I write about it? Should I have an event about it? What I do know is that I don’t want to do is go into a space of “pretending” to be this “fine person” when I’m not. I know we have to pretend sometimes but I think giving people perspective on the fact that how we appear isn’t how we always feel is valuable.

We need you! I think that women of color especially need to feel comfortable discussing certain topics because there are experiences only we have to go through. When we don’t have that we begin to think “am I victimizing myself? “is this something that I think is happening but really isn’t?”. 

Yeah, I agree! I never want to be the person that talks about it all of the time because other people are already starting the conversation, but then I sit back and realize their truth isn’t necessarily my truth. The more people that actually share it the more common the topic becomes.

Exactly! Plus, everyone vibes differently. The way one person writes about their experience may not connect the way you would be able to. We need different people speaking openly because each unique experience can trigger something in someone else. In your case, it may be enough for them to say “okay, I want to follow this person and go to her events because she makes me feel better”.

Yeah, that’s true. I’m going to do it!

If there was one message you could get out to the world, what would it be?

There’s no time limit for reinvention! We get stuck on comparing our lives and we judge ourselves too hard. Sometimes it takes seasons of what may seem to be droughts for us to figure things out because God (or whoever you worship) has more than you could’ve ever imagined in store for you.

Follow Lauren Instagram @thegemwithin

Learn more about the Gem Collective here!

Portraits were taken by Javier Edwards from El Roi Photo 


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