Tomayia Colvin, a portrait photographer and educator in Houston, is a well-known leader and activist in our community. She is a children's book author, a doctoral student in the field of educational leadership, and she works with conferences to connect them with talented and diverse speakers and educators.
Liz: Can you tell us a bit about your childhood? What was growing up like for you?
Tomayia: I grew up in Houston, Texas, in the home of my paternal grandparents. I would say that I had a pretty normal childhood. I remember playing outside with my friends growing up, and we live in a pretty close knit community.
Liz: Nice, and what was your transition into adulthood like?
Tomayia: It was a pretty smooth transition into adulthood. I must admit that I was a bit sheltered growing up so finding out that the world wasn't always a kind place was new for me.
Liz: Do you recall moments when you began to have this realization?
Tomayia: I think going to college was a very rude awakening for me. I really didn't know what to expect from professors or other students. I just grew up in a place where everyone was your friend and everyone helped out, so to find out that the world really doesn't operate like that all the time was a bit painful for me.
Liz: Yes, I imagine. So what was college like for you?
Tomayia: So college was a bit tricky for me. When I registered for college, I found out that I needed to take remedial classes, which was a huge awakening for me because I graduated high school with honors. During college I was also diagnosed with major depression, and truthfully, I was suspended from college for my academic performance. Having my daughter, Grace, gave me the motivation that I needed to be a phenomenal mom to her and be that role model in her life that she could count on. So with that, I started to take my grades and earning my degree seriously so that I could provide a life for her.
Liz: Thank you for sharing all of that with us. That does sound like a complicated and challenging time. Did you ultimately earn your degree?
Tomayia: I did. I earned my bachelors degree in 2005, my masters degree in 2008, and I just applied for a doctoral program starting this fall.
Liz: Wow. That's incredible. What are your degrees in, and what is the doctoral program that you applied to?
Tomayia: My bachelors degree is Interdisciplinary Studies, my masters degree is in Curriculum & Instruction, and my doctoral degree will be in educational leadership. I know you're probably thinking: how are you going to balance that with being a full-time photographer? One of the things that I have noticed in our industry is a lack of quality and affordable education for creatives.
Liz: And you are well known for doing a great amount of education in the photography and creative entrepreneur community. Can you first tell us how you came to start your own photography business?
Tomayia: When I first started out and 2009 taking pictures, I really wanted to focus on making sure that families had memories to pass down from generation to generation. And photography for me was the way to bridge that gap between the digital age and preserving our legacies.
Liz: And you grew that into a full-time photography business?
Tomayia: Yep, full-time portrait photography.
Liz: That's amazing. And so where does the education piece come in for you?
Tomayia: That's the part that I love the most. I was a teacher for eight years. And I want to offer the same enthusiasm and love for teaching that I shared with youth with adults.
Liz: So what is your vision for how your business will evolve as you continue with your studies?
Tomayia: Well, my number one priority is always being mom to these two little people. So I know that while I am studying, my business will definitely have to slow down a bit so that I can maintain a great work life balance. And not be stressed the hell out.
Liz: Yes definitely. What are your goals for your career, say ten years from now?
Tomayia: I envision having an online educational community that I oversee,
Liz: Regarding photography skills, or other subjects, too?
Tomayia: Photography, business, and marketing. Essentially being a great, well-rounded creative.
Liz: I love it. So it's Woke Wednesday. Do you identify as woke, feminist, or a social justice advocate?
Tomayia: That's interesting; I think that I identify myself as a person with a heart for other people regardless of their race, socioeconomic background, sexuality, or religious beliefs.
Liz: And how do you incorporate that value into your photography business and education efforts?
Tomayia: I think that it shows in my work—in my mission and value statements and the energy that I put out into the universe. I try to always make sure that I'm being fair and that I'm treating someone how I would want to be treated.
Liz: Well, it definitely shows. Do you have any advice for people just starting off in this industry?
Tomayia: To stay in your lane. And always invest in yourself.
Liz: Can you explain what you mean by "stay in your lane," and what are ways one can invest in oneself?
Tomayia: To remain steadfast in your beliefs and ideas even if you're the only one who believes in you. And find ways to grow and continue learning even if it's at a local community college, through an online course, or YouTube. There's always something to be learned to improve your craft.
Liz: Thank you so much, Tomayia!