Meet Tejal Parkh Girard from New York. After working at a variety of non-profits with a focus on social work, Tajal graduated with her Masters in Social Work from Rutgers University. On the side, Tajal is the founder of Brightdollface Merch, a clothing company focused on body positivity. Being powerful to Tejal means knowing her worth, my strength, my advocacy for what is right to make this world better. This story was submitted in collaboration with ENVSN.

Where are you from?

I am half Indian (from India), Jewish American and African American, but I always say that I am Latina heart and soul as well because I grew up in that culture for much of my life. I carry many cultural traditions including Latino traditions. I was born in New York City and my parents moved across the river to Jersey City where I grew up. My father was from India and he passed away eight years ago.  My mother is Jewish and African American.

What did you study in school and why?

I attended high school in Jersey City, New Jersey.  I always knew I wanted to be an immigration attorney or therapist/counselor. I started college at Hudson County Community College with a major in psychology. I graduated with an associate’s degree in arts, magna cum laude, in 2011. I transferred to New Jersey City University in 2011 to attain my bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in sociology. I received my degree in 2013, as a first-generation student on both sides of my family.

I immediately entered the field of social services thanks to a Queen I met at another interview. I worked in foster care in New York City as a case planner and was then promoted to home finder.  From 2013 to 2016 I worked with the Administration of Children Services (ACS) and the first prior non-profit agency working to reunify biological parents with their children. I traveled throughout the boroughs of New York City and family courts in each boroughs and foster homes where I would interview parents and children, and certify them as well. I made the decision in 2015 to study for my master’s degree in social work.  I knew my passion was for therapy and I wanted to move into immigration services by providing clinical therapy. I graduated from Rutgers University Intensive Weekend School of Social Work program in May 2018, almost two years ago!

I was accepted into two universities: Fordham University and Rutgers University. I chose Rutgers. I knew I wanted to open my own practice and continue to help women by providing workshops and therapy, as well as working with undocumented families especially women who were domestic violence survivors like myself. The intensive weekend program at Rutgers enabled me to work and study full-time.  I was also able to complete my clinical internship hours as well, which was amazing because as an independent woman without support from my family and in abusive relationship at the time, I had to support myself while trying to complete my education.

Where do you live today?

I currently live in Union City, New Jersey, close to Jersey City and New York City. I moved here about almost five years ago. It was the BEST and most BLESSED decision I chose. At the same time, I fell love with California and I now travel among all three states at times.

What is your job/career?

In my prior position in 2018 I worked in another non-profit organization with unaccompanied minors under the Office of Refugees and Resettlement in Harlem. I worked as a home finder continuing my Graduate School program and clinical internship while working with the minors in short-term and long-term foster care with minors who were undocumented. I then was promoted to a clinician later in 2018 upon graduating from Rutgers. I worked until early of 2019 providing trauma-based psychotherapy in a program which supported reunification of unaccompanied minors with their families here in the United States.  Many remained in foster homes and would study at our program until reunification.

In mid-2019, I made the decision to transition to a different setting as social worker. I currently work at my alma mater college, Hudson County Community College (HCCC), as a college counselor in the Educational Opportunity Fund Program, a state -funded program that is based in New Jersey, New York City, Pennsylvania, and California. This program is known as EOP or EOF, and meets the academic, social and personal needs of our College Scholars to support them as low-income and or DACA/Undocumented Scholars in a community college setting until they prepare to graduate and transfer and or transfer without graduating. I also run a women’s empowerment group at Hudson County Community College for our college women and EOF Scholars, which is open to all women College Scholars.  Finally, I am the advisor of the Feminism for All Club at HCCC.

My second career is the creation of my brand @brightdollface, where I serve as the founder, hype coach, curvy blogger, writer, self-taught makeup artist, plus-size model, and activist-advocate for body positivity, domestic violence survivors and DACA/undocumented individuals. I use my platform to empower Goddesses and Kings out here as I discuss self-love, self-care and HYPING THE WORLD UP! I started my own clothing line business as Brightdollface Merch to empower more women and all the Goddesses out there! Not many of us have a role model or someone to teach us how to love ourselves.  This is why I began this platform and is the motivation for running my women’s empowerment group “Goddesses Unite” in the New Jersey/New York City region. I launched Goddesses Unite in July 2019 as I saw the need for a group in the community to help lead our Queens on to their journeys of healing, self-love and self-empowerment. We have had so many successful groups and our most recent women “Vision 20/20” Board Fiesta at Gregory’s Coffee which was so supportive in allowing us to use the public space so I can run the group. I am planning for our next workshop to be open to all the women in Goddesses Unite and all brightdoll souls who follow @brightdollface for our “Self-Love” x ”Body Positivity” Brunch in February 2020 around Valentine’s Day.  I speak to women about self-love and loving our bodies which can be challenging with society’s and social media’s standards. BUT AT LAST HERE WE ARE BREAKING THIS TOGETHER!

What is a challenge you have faced or currently face and how are you overcoming it?

The most serious challenge I have confronted in my life is domestic violence. Growing up in a family with domestic violence happens to many of us.  And we often think that we won’t enter a similar situation as our parents, but then it happens. In my case, this is exactly what occurred.  I know so many women-girls, including my mother who never left the abusive household in which we lived. I decided to break that generational cycle. I was in a toxic, abusive relationship from the age of 15 and left when I was 26 years old. I finally had the strength and courage to leave almost four years ago.  The last five years of the relationship were hell because he started to substance substances. Our relationship became toxic and he was unable to support me in a variety of ways.

The issue is that so many souls look at any domestic violence survivor’s story and say, “well why didn’t you leave”? What many people do not understand is how much that person tries to break you down and manipulate you. The illusion of leaving seems easier said than done.  In reality, it is not easy. The blessing is that I left and I am here today, alive and able to bring light to more women and girls to speak and empower themselves.  They do not need to remain in these situations.  They can recognize that it does get better and to love themselves FIRST. Upon leaving my ex-fiancé, I had to rebuild just who Tejal was and trusting men again. I never met Tejal prior; I was living for my partner and for the dreams I was achieving along the way I put for myself. I had no CLUE what it meant to love myself, nor did my mother because she was unable to even convey to me precisely what this meant. I am so proud of the woman I AM TODAY. I started my journey of self-love and self-care once I left him and began to work on Tejal, my body to live healthier, to release the stress and anger through fitness and boxing, and finally overcoming my fear flying after going places on my own without friends or partners.

Trauma is something all of us deal with, but we only heal in waves. “With pain comes purpose.”  This what I always say, as this idea and statement has become my testimony. My faith, optimism, therapy and spirituality, including my support system of friends and family, has helped me through. I am aware of my magic, and love myself so damn much.  I know my worth even more now, and confident that I won’t allow any less in my life. I am so blessed!

What does it mean for you to be powerful?

What it means to me to be powerful is knowing my worth, my strength, my advocacy for what is right to make this world better.  Many souls think it cannot become better.  I use my light to empower myself as I empower more individuals through my platform and my work as both a hype coach, creator and social worker. Powerful means that I empower women to love themselves despite society telling us EVERY SINGLE DAY that our bodies, hair, smile, acne, stretch marks, postpartum depression, mental health and stories are not valid or important simply because of how we look. I seek to empower women through my workshops, to remind them to take BACK THEIR POWER by radically loving themselves. Powerful means standing in your righteous self despite what others do or think and remaining who you are. Being powerful is also the way we dress in fashion. I find that as a curvy blogger and model I empower more souls so that THEY CAN WEAR items that fit.  Who says they can’t?! It’s about breaking standards and I FEEL SO POWERFUL WHEN I DO THIS! On December 7th, 2019 I walked in The Real Cat Walk on the Brooklyn Bridge and I was sponsored by Adore Me.  During the day in the freezing cold, for about three hours, all of us walked for our journeys of self-love, body positivity, and diversity.  I walked in honor of all the women who passed from domestic violence and the survivors like myself.

Do you have a favorite product or item you love that makes you feel great?

Some of my favorite items and or products that I love that make me feel great is Bath and Body Works Eucalyptus lotion, candle, and bath soaks! It has been great to help me feel calm. Another product that I love are my bras from Cacique Intimates and Adore Me! It is SO GREAT to see that we have quality lingerie and undergarments that make us feel sexy and support us for all sizes because — whew chile — I got a lot to sustain haha! I am currently a place in my life where I love to purchase from Latina-Latinx businesses and other enterprises owned by women and men of color. I find it so important as a consumer to redirect and support these businesses, to see them flourish, and to help our communities across the nation to grow and spread the wealth.  This being said, I love wearing AHUS (America Hates Us) brand shirt “Believe Women.”  It is a reminder that we should believe women when they report sexual assault and have to relive their trauma when they have to convince someone that they were assaulted. Proceeds go to charities as well, which I find so amazing and love! Two marketplaces I am so in love with as well is @ShopLatinx and @Relovv.  ShopLatinx is the first curated marketplace of all Latinx Products which is INCREDIBLE! Relovv is a sustainable fashion community where you can be a seller or purchase items which includes plus size clothing. We protect the earth this way by reselling instead of purchasing more clothes that may not be recyclable. I actually became a Relovv Influencer as they reached out to feature me and fell in love with the purpose of this organization.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

I started my own clothing line of Brightdollface Merch with empowering t-shirts and hoodies. It is so wonderful to see women and girls wearing my slogans that resonate with them on them. IT IS A BLESSING and I am excited for more! I also want to thank Envsn x The Power Thread for this opportunity to share my story for more women who need to hear it so we can all Boss Goddesses out here!