How Becoming a Mom At 16 Helped Nikki Osei-Barrett Inspire & Lead a Community

Nikki Osei-Barrett with her daughter

Nikki Osei-Barrett

Parents don’t work 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.—we work 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., from the moment our kids wake up until they go to sleep. This is an unfiltered look at a day in the life of Nikki Osei-Barrett, Co-founder at District Motherhued & The Momference.

“I've been a mother for 21 years and I literally still don't know sh*t,” laughs Nikki Osei-Barrett. “I don't know what I'm doing. I don't have a clue.”

The entrepreneur and mom of three kids is currently running three businesses. She also has a brand new children’s book about her weaning journey. “I never thought that this would be my life,” says Osei-Barrett. “I did not grow up around entrepreneurship.”

Born in Ghana, West Africa, Osei-Barrett immigrated to the U.S. in 1984 at just 10-months-old. Her father was a cab driver. Her mother worked at an airport, and later became a nurse. In her household and culture, she was expected to get an advanced degree. “A bachelor's degree just won’t suffice,” says Osei-Barrett. “Education was prioritized and encouraged so that you can graduate and get a good job and raise your family. Very, very traditional. That was my expectation.”

But things didn’t go according to plan. While at Bowie State University in Maryland, Osei-Barrett regretted choosing Information Systems as her major. “I quickly realized it was boring me to death,” Osei-Barrett says. “I hated it. I then transitioned to become a psych major and then I realized, oh wait, I need 10 years of school, at least. And no, I don't want to be in school for 10 years.”

She had always felt passionate about fashion, as well as writing and communications. “This was 2006—that era of The Hills, Running In Heels, and The Devil Wears Prada, so that lifestyle just seemed so aspirational to me,” she shares. She finally stumbled upon beauty and fashion public relations, and it was a fit.

After graduating college in 2009, she moved to New York City in January of 2010. She thought she had found her dream career in fashion public relations. "I thought, 'I'm going to have this fabulous life,'" she says.

She made this career happen for a while, but it wasn't without struggles. “I really did actually live that life," she shares. "It was amazing. It was grueling. I loved every minute of it.” Despite attending exclusive fashion shows and after-parties, she wasn't exactly living a glamorous life. “

At the time, my oldest son was 10," she recalls. "I was a 25-year-old intern. My son lived in Maryland with his father, who is now my husband. I would intern during the week in New York and come home to Maryland every weekend. And I did that for over a year.”

She was living this dream live until she came home to Maryland one weekend and got pregnant with her second son. With one pre-teen and another child on the way, she decided to put her career on hold. “I had to cut the dream short, relocate back to Maryland, and then figure out, what am I going to do?”

Osei-Barrett and her husband were high school sweethearts who met in Spanish class. “We met when we were 15," she notes. "We had our first son Jaylen when we were 16, and we did not get married until we were 32.” The couple now share three children together, Jaylen, 20, Nick, who will be 10 on Christmas Day, and Faye, 2.

“I've been a mother longer than I've been in adult, which is just so mind-boggling to me,” Osei-Barrett says. “But I realize that this is a part of my calling and my testimony, so I'm owning it.”

Osei-Barrett says motherhood is what inspires and motivates her. She recently had an epiphany that her life’s work all stems back from being becoming a mother at just 16 years old.

I've been a mother longer than I've been an adult, which is just so mind-boggling to me. But I realize that this is a part of my calling and my testimony, so I'm owning it.

After years of hard work interning and not getting hired to an agency full-time, her life truly changed five years ago. She had opened her own PR firm, Osei PR, in 2011, but truly started taking it seriously in 2016.

She also met her business partner Simona Noche Wright. The two connected on Instagram, and met in person for coffee to discuss an idea for a one-off event for Black moms.

“We were both boy moms, and I noticed that there wasn't an organization in the DMV area—that's what we call DC, Maryland, Virginia—that catered to Black moms,” Osei-Barrett says. “There are lots of mom groups in this area, and I'm not saying that they weren't welcoming, but you want to be around moms that look like you, that have similar cultural experiences. And we noticed that there wasn't a group locally that catered to our demographic.”

Within 24 hours, the one-off event had turned into a full-fledged organization called District Motherhued—"motherhood, but hued, because it’s for moms of color”—with a website, a logo, and an Instagram.

In the last five years, they have hosted countless events, and pivoted from a social organization to a 501c3 nonprofit. Some events focus on wellness and mental health, while others are for parents of children with special needs. “

District Motherhued’s premise is to engage, empower, and equip millennial moms of color in the DMV area, while also providing resources and unique opportunities for those that may be in need in the area as well,” explains Osei-Barrett.

In 2018, Osei-Barrett launched The Momference. The one-day conference for moms of color covers topics like work/life balance, entrepreneurship, children with special needs, and sex after baby, usually anchored by a celebrity keynote.

“Of course, there is always a pampering element and incredible gift bags,” Osei-Barrett says. “These tickets they sell faster than Beyonce tickets. Not my words, someone else's.”

Nikki Osei-Barrett and her children

Nikki Osei-Barret

Her most recent endeavor is a children’s book called “Boobies Go Bye-Bye.” It was inspired by her weaning journey after exclusively breastfeeding her daughter Faye for 22 months.

“I have never had the desire to write a book of any kind,” Osei-Barrett admits. “The goal was only to nurse Faye for 12 months, but then the pandemic came and we were all on lockdown and we couldn't go anywhere. And I also thought to myself, there is this nasty virus out there, and I know that breast milk has all kinds of antibodies and protection, so let me just continue to nurse her a little while longer.”

After 22 months, Osei-Barrett was ready to wean, but she knew the process was going to be difficult, physically and emotionally. “As your children get older, they just become more aggressive,” says Osei-Barrett. “[Breastfeeding is] just physically demanding and exhausting. And I was honestly tired of the abuse, and just so tired of being manhandled by a toddler.”

The goal was only to nurse Faye for 12 months, but then the pandemic came and we were all on lockdown...There is this nasty virus out there, and I know that breast milk has all kinds of antibodies and protection, so let me just continue to nurse her a little while longer.

Osei-Barrett, along with her family, prepped her daughter for weaning by explaining that “boobies are going bye-bye.” She documented her journey on Instagram, pouring her heart out for days through the process, revealing her fears surrounding weaning.

Support and love came streaming in from other mothers. “I was like, 'why don’t we talk about this?'" she says. "We talk about so many different things when it comes to motherhood, but there are just certain topics that seem to be taboo, especially amongst Black mothers.”

She wrote the book with author and fellow local DMV mom, Cyana Riley. “We submitted the manuscript on April 1, 2021,” Osei-Barrett says. “The book went on sale for pre-orders August 23. It’s another entrepreneurial endeavor that I never expected, but again, it's tied back to motherhood.”

Follow along with a day in the life of Osei-Barrett to see how she carves out time for herself and her three kids, and which podcasts inspire her the most.

Nikki Osei-Barrett

Nikki Osei-Barrett

Monday

7 a.m. I’ve already been awake for two hours. By this time, my husband is at work. He wakes up at 4:30 a.m. He has to be at work by 6 a.m., but he works in Virginia, so he leaves early to avoid the traffic.

I wake up between 5 a.m. and 5:30 a.m., and I exercise. Exercise is just so critical and important to my mental state. I realized that postpartum, recovering from my third cesarean. I wasn't able to exercise, and I really enjoy working out. I saw how mentally unstable I was. Exercise just keeps me sound—mind, body, and soul.

I used to wake up, read my devotional, have my coffee, then exercise. Then I read “The 5AM Club” by Robin Sharma, and he breaks down what a successful morning looks like for someone who is an entrepreneur. In the book, he suggests waking up at 5 a.m. and working out immediately to get the body moving, get the endorphins going, and really clear the mind. I work out for 30 to 45 minutes. I do a total body workout—HIIT and abs.

At 6:15 a.m., I take my shower and when I'm done, I focus on my devotional and my praying. I set my intentions for the day.

On a good day, the kids are still sleeping. They go to school pretty late where I live. Nick is in elementary school and he doesn't have to be at the bus until 9 a.m. It's actually awesome. I don't rush my kids—Mommy needs her quiet time in the morning.

On a good day, they'll sleep until 7:30 am. I'll wake them up and make breakfast. I get them ready for school and everyone is out the door, dropped off by 9 a.m. Nick is on the bus and I drop off Faye at daycare. So I have already done my workout, my schedule for the day, my praying—everything is done by 9 a.m.

9 a.m. Now I'm back home. I work remotely, and I dig into my work. I check in with our social media girl, who manages our District Motherhued Instagram account. She does a lot of our marketing.

I see what kinds of posts we have scheduled for District Motherhued, what our weekly social media calendar looks like, what our monthly newsletter looks like. We’ll do a quick 30-minute strategy session for District Motherhued.

From there, I start to review my PR clients, each account, and then review my to-do list and see what needs to be worked on next.

10 a.m. I try to eat every two to three hours, and I try to keep it really cute and light. I learned early on, as an entrepreneur, you make your own schedule. I don’t report to a boss so there isn't as much accountability. I have to make better decisions and I know eating a big breakfast will probably put me back in bed. I don't have time for a morning nap even though I’ve been up since 5 a.m!

I could be tired, but I know that I need to eat something light—whether it's avocado toast, a bowl of oatmeal, or even be sautéed veggies for breakfast. I really do try and eat some greens in the morning. It really just depends on what I'm feeling, but I eat a quick, light breakfast and then dig back into work.

11 a.m. After I check everything on my phone, I try to shut it down so I can really just focus for the day. I am doing better about turning my phone off, because it's a distraction, whether you mean for it to be or not. We're all on Instagram. I have like 10 Slack channels, both for work and for the communities that we've built. While it is a part of my work, it can also be distracting.

When I'm working, I vary from listening to music that I love, my '90s playlist or listening to amazing podcasts that motivate and encourage me.

Some of my favorite podcasts are REAL AF with Andy Frisella—love, love, love that podcast. If you want someone to hold you accountable, and tell you how to be better, listen to REAL AF. Some of his views, I don't necessarily agree with, but I can listen beyond that and just digest what he's really saying as a successful entrepreneur.

I enjoy Side Hustle Pro. I enjoy Shades of Content. And I also enjoy the Achieve Your Goals podcast with Hal Elrod. While I'm working, I'm focused and I'm just listening to all of these positive affirmations and really successful, motivated people telling me to keep going.

Entrepreneurship is just tough. It is difficult, so listening to those who have done it, and [how] they are doing it successfully [is] so important. It's important to keep you grounded and let you know that there is light at the end of the tunnel and you can, in fact, do this.

12 p.m. It's lunchtime now and again, I try to eat every two to three hours just to keep my metabolism going. I’m on a weight-loss journey, so I may eat a salad and have a green juice. I might have a protein shake and then healthy snacks, like almonds and kale chips.

I try to be in bed by 10 p.m. I think that's the number one question that I get: how do you wake up at 5 a.m? Social media really affects our ability to sleep...I limit social media before bed—no scrolling late at night.

2 p.m. Depending on how I feel because I have been up since 5 a.m.—that 2 p.m. crash is a very real thing—if I need to take a nap, I will. But typically, I'll just go for a quick walk around the block. A quick 20-minute brisk walk to wake me up, and get some fresh air. I'm still listening to my podcasts.

Also at this time, I might FaceTime my son, who is in college, to see how he's doing. I check in with my husband and see how his day is going. I may scroll through Instagram to see what I may have missed. I come back home, and I’m back to work. I have another green juice.

4:20 p.m. Nick comes home from school, and I make him a snack. If I'm really, really kicking ass as a mom, I'm prepping dinner, or throwing dinner in the crockpot, or checking on it because I prepped it this morning,

5:30 p.m. I go pick up Faye from daycare. I bring her home, finish dinner, and then I try to get in a walk at night. It could be with Faye or without Faye, depending on if my husband is home or not. My husband gets home from work around 7 p.m., so if I really feel like I just need some alone time, then I'll go for my three-mile walk by myself. If my husband is running late or I just don't mind, I'll bring Faye with me—load her up in my Colugo Stroller and we will go for a good two-mile walk.

7 p.m. I’m back home. We bathe the kids. We play games for a little bit. Then it’s storytime and bed.

I try to be in bed by 10 p.m. I think that's the number one question that I get: how do you wake up at 5 a.m? Social media really affects our ability to sleep. It affects our mental state subconsciously. The images that you see linger in your mind and affect your mood and your self-esteem. I limit social media before bed—no scrolling late at night. I adopted that in February 2021, right about the same time I decided to write my book and when I read “The 5AM Club.”

I realized that yeah, I want to watch TV. Yeah, I want to watch Netflix. The kids are finally asleep. I have a few moments to myself. My schedule is kind of intense, but it's good for me. So I just go to sleep.

You're not missing anything—that's what I have to tell myself. If it's on Instagram, it'll still be there in the morning. Whatever I want to watch, there'll be another opportunity to watch it. I try to force myself to be in bed by 10 p.m. and then I get to do whatever I want the next day.

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