Bold & Polished
Pistil of the Month
“I want to be able to cultivate purpose. Without purpose, I don’t think you’re really living”- LaThelma Armstrong
Somewhere between 8pm and time to touch up my eyeliner, I was greeted by this down-to-earth, beauty armed with a flawless complexion and a smile so enthralling that it would instantly improve any mood.
It only takes five minutes of speaking with her before you feel like, “I must have met this woman in a past life”.
LaThelma Armstrong, is a 23 year old Master of Divinity candidate at Princeton Theological Seminary, a preacher, a Senior Mentor to middle and high school female students in preparing for college, and the Founder and Director of Anointed Gospel Choir of Claremont Colleges.
If you’re like me, you discovered LaThelma through her bold rendition of Beyonce’s “Drunk in Love”.
What most of the 168,578 viewers have yet to see is the actual woman behind the remix. They have yet to hear her thoughts on creating the Drunk in Love – Gospel Remix.
“I didn’t create this because I had an issue with Beyonce. There is no dichotomy; I think sexuality is a really important piece of womanhood and [to] understanding femaleness. —-[However], you shouldn’t be drunk in anything, that’s just my personal opinion. And despite the fact [she’s] married, my observation of that is [many] young girls that listen to this song are not married. [Ultimately, the remake of this song exists because] during that time of my life, I needed to pray! –My sister plays [Drunk in Love] nonstop and I couldn’t tell her to turn it off; I am the baby sister, *laughs*.—All I wanted to do was get a prayer through! So I’m in the shower like ‘I need to remake this song.’ [Afterwards], I sat down and the words just flowed. —-[Before posting the video] I shared it with many of my friends and they told me ‘LaThelma you have to share this. It makes you look at that song completely different.’ I can’t divorce the exploitation of female bodies, but I thought since this song is so popular and is on 24/7, can we just have something else to say about love? First of all, this song is about love. —I don’t understand how you can think about love and NOT think Jesus”
In response to those that disagree with her taking Drunk in Love and making it “Christian”:
“The arts and music is a very effective way of reaching people who have been excluded.
In the church, we use very exclusive language; our worship life has become exclusive. My goal is to not only become a bridge or a light, but also to teach people how to [become that as well]. How do we become more accessible, how do we become more transparent and inclusive?
Just the controversy that sparked from just that video was like, “You cant take that song and make it Christian.” I was like “What?” laughs [Why do] you want to keep this exclusivity? Why not talk about these things?
So, my job is to be deliberate and afraid of nothing. My job is to transcend your self-designed barriers. These barriers that really don’t exist but you created and you want to hover over of me. These barriers don’t exist in my world. [My job is] just to teach women how to create this world for themselves. You don’t have to participate and be blocked or hindered by these social institutions and these social constructs that are created to perpetuate the status quo.”
“I was raised by my grandparents. When I was born [my mother] was in grad school and got addicted to drugs; my father was absent. So I grew up in a very sheltered [environment] with my grandparents, but I did go to public school. Eventually I developed low self esteem and felt rejected. —-It was a very traumatic experience not having my parents—-but one of the things my grandparents instilled in me was faith. That’s what really helped me to feel loved.—-I really felt like I had God’s arms embracing me. It wasn’t the church experience for me, it was that personal encounter with God at a low point of my adolescence.”
As LaThelma’s faith grew, so did her opportunities. A year or so later, her neighbor, who attended a private elementary school, was given a boarding school application. Because they did not want it, they gave it to LaThelma. This was an application that no one from her school was given access; an opportunity that no one from her neighborhood took advantage of. This opportunity would allow her to complete her high school education away from the south side of Chicago.
“It really was God’s divine plan to give me that access. I got a scholarship with the Daniel Murphy Scholarship Foundation to a boarding school in Culver, Indiana. —-It was at a private school with wealthy kids who came from extremely privileged backgrounds. That experience helped me to value my community [as] I did not realize how much of a disadvantage I was at until I got out. I was behind and I had to play catch-up. That place really showed me and molded me…and made me question “Why not?” There was an insight I had coming from [Englewood, Chicago] that [my classmates did not]. There was a humility [and] a work ethic that came from where I was from. I don’t think I would’ve had that if I weren’t cultivated in that experience of humble beginnings. I learned to value my community; the boarding school prepared me academically for college”
Now equipped with the proper tools for college, LaThelma began to send out college applications. Out of the 17 schools she applied to, she decided to go to Scripps College, a woman’s college in Claremont, California.
“When I visited [the school], I thought it was just such a genuine and loving community. I fell in love; being in California helped too! What I value most about [Scripps College] is, it gave me a microphone to amplify the voice that I had. It gave me the language and the confidence to aggressively and unapologetically talk about what concerned me.”
While at Scripps College, LaThelma became a Facilitator, Fine Arts Teacher, Mentor, Founder and Director of the Anointed Gospel Choice of the Claremont colleges, and a Head Tutor. It was during LaThelma’s experience as a Head Tutor when she met one of her mentees. This mentee was a young woman in her senior year of high school, with average grades, who when asked about college, was slightly unenthused.
“I explained to her that, ‘College is huge opportunity to grow and learn.You should really take seriously where you plan to spend the next four years of your life.’ From that conversation she became really inspired. I sat down [with her] and helped her with her applications; she worked so diligently. This ‘mediocre’ student ended up getting accepted to Agnes Scott with a $30,000 scholarship. That was the highlight of my senior year. It was then that I realized my purpose. It wasn’t that I was the first of my siblings to graduate from college, my purpose did not come to me through my own success but through a young woman that almost slipped through the cracks. [This student ended up] getting into a school that was better, according to rankings, than the schools those prepped for college were accepted to”.
Because of this experience, LaThelma became even more passionate about serving women and leading them on their paths towards greatness.
“My whole life, honestly, is mind blowing. It’s kind of hard for me to even articulate it… but God has truly been so good to me. My whole life and what I’m striving to be is dedicated to serving other people, particularly young women. I struggled greatly with my self-esteem and that led me to make many bad decisions. I was in a [long-term] very abusive relationship and it was because I did not have validation as a young girl; I was seeking love and validation in all of the wrong places. The ministry that I believe God has given me is a heart for young people and particularly young women. Women is where its at. We are the breeders of life. Not cultivating, validating and honoring our women? Thats why we’re in the condition we are in now.”
When asked about the importance of women having their own voice, she replied:
“There is power in being able to name the injustices that you face. What we need to teach our young women is that, you need to be able to name what it is that you’re going through. Your silence will never protect you. You can be quiet and you think that is protecting you, but all you’re doing is swallowing and eating your pain.”
When asked about Christianity, spirituality and how she feels it relates to women, LaThelma responded:
“One of the things that I don’t like is when we make people feel bad about who they are. That’s not what God did, that’s not what Jesus did. That’s not why Jesus came, to make you feel bad. He just came to say, “I know you’re jacked up and you’re messed up but I love you anyway! I know you woke up out of Eden like what in the world happened to us? But I still love you! Spirituality is so important to womanhood. [Women] deal with their spirits all of the time; its what gives us life. We need to cultivate that and find that in every individual. [Spirituality] is whats going to sustain you. —-My duty is cultivating that, talking to and speaking to that. Because that’s where [our] passion comes from, thats where [our] creativity comes from, [our] drive comes from, and thats where [our] courage comes from. I think we all speak different languages, my language is Jesus, but that spiritual piece of us is so important.”
In speaking about her biggest influences, she references an African proverb: “I am because we are”.
“I have two nieces, [thats where my inspiration comes from.] Thats why you need to keep those you love around you, because really we’re not just living for ourselves, but for the people around us. What keeps me motivated is when I think about those little girls, my mentee, and I think, ‘I have to do this, because who else will? If I don’t live out my own purpose, I can’t expect that from others.’ To whom much is given, much is required…and it’s a lot of work. But it’s worth it.”
What advice does she have for women trying to break past the habit of just living day-to-day and avoid being discouraged?
“I would say you definitely need to write down your vision. Something that reminds you why you are here everyday. We get caught up in monotonous tasks. Also, don’t get caught up in surviving; surround yourself with support surround yourself with other women. I know that I thrive when I’m surrounded by people that support me. We are meant to be in community with one another..One thing thats beneficial about Beyonce’s album that people began to listen to is that we are not in competition with each other. We can only thrive when we’re in community with each other. Thirdly, we’ve been told for so long that fear is something thats natural and apart of us. Fear is a learned emotion. You don’t come out of the womb being afraid. Fear does not belong to me and therefore I can put it down. If God didn’t give it to me then it ain’t mine, why keep something that does not belong to me? We have to reteach ourselves, our daughters,and our sisters around us that we do not have to be afraid.”
“Love is the basis of everything” – LaThelma Armstrong
Today, you can find LaThelma in Princeton, New Jersey carving out her own place in ministry; not only for herself but for those that have yet to come.
LaThelma was chosen as Pistil of the Month because of her overwhelming and sincere passion for encouraging others to be great. She was chosen because of her unafraid attitude to pursue what she believes in and encourage other women to do the same. Because of her unafraid attitude to use her past and her personal experience to encourage those around her. She was chosen because of her refusal to conform to the ideals of others and her determination to take on topics that many would rather avoid. Her dedication to uniting women on every level is admirable; we love it.