Last weekend my mother celebrated her 60th birthday. In honor of her milestone, a few of her friends decided to throw a surprise party in her honor and dozens of her friends, coworkers and our family came out to celebrate. During the dinner party, I was asked to give a speech about my mother, and both of my brothers stood and followed suit. As we reminisced over all of the things our mother taught us–to be respectful, love God, study hard, give back, fight for what we believe in—I began to think about all of the lessons I’ve learned from women throughout my life.

While my mother taught me the value of hard work, to always stand up for myself, what love really looks like, how to bounce back after a defeat, and just how dope Ms. Chaka Khan is, other women—both real and made-up—have taught me lessons I have carried with me to this day. And as I get ready to celebrate a birthday of my own later this month, I thought it fitting to shout out some of the women who have had a tremendous influence on my life.

Queen Latifah

As an ‘80s baby and avid hip-hop head, I couldn’t escape the juggernaut that was Queen Latifah even if I tried. When she burst on the scene with her Afrocentric head-wraps, demanding respect from every single body, you couldn’t help but sit up and take notice. As a lip gloss tomboy more interested in playing sports and trading rap lyrics with the boys than double dutching with the girls in my neighborhood, when Latifah dropped Ladies First I instantly felt a kinship with the woman who wasn’t afraid to hold court among men.

My shero worship of Latifah only intensified when I was in high school and she dropped Black Reign which included the classic “hear me roar” anthem, U.N.I.T.Y. and dared anybody, especially a man, to call her a bitch. U.N.I.T.Y. remains as one of my theme songs and its chorus was the inspiration for my blog by the same name, WhoYouCallinABitch. Latifah taught me that no matter what’s going on or who is around, a woman must demand her respect.

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