During a Dark Time, A Little Light with Bevy Smith

Please note: This transcript has been automatically generated.

Brittany: Hey, y’all it’s Brittany. I’ve been enjoying the absolute bliss of motherhood. Don’t get me wrong, it’s plenty exhausting. I’ve never worked this hard in my whole life. And yet it is the most abundant place I could ever be blessed to find myself. Baby M is currently learning how to smile. And I personally feel so accomplished because for the first time last week I actually made him smile.

It wasn’t just a random cricket grin on his face. I actually tickled his cheek in just the right spot, at just the right moment and he gave me the widest, most toothless grin I’ve ever seen. I just felt like I could do anything, except apparently protect him the way that I imagine every parent wants to.

I don’t know how to feel raising him in a country where someone can take a gun into an elementary school.

I don’t know how to keep him safe from feckless politicians and a lack of political will. I don’t know how to keep him safe from the failure of this country to have any kind of moral compass when it comes to protecting children. Because let’s be frank, this formula shortage has everything to do with profit margins, monopolies, and deregulation.

In one of the most developed countries in the world, the descendants of the people who built this place cannot seem to make it through childbirth at the rates we should. And somehow some way in a day in time, when the bodies of 10 Black people murdered by a white supremacist in Buffalo have not even been buried yet.

Once again, another mash shooting. People are going to regurgitate the same lines. Somebody is going to say thoughts and prayers. And then somebody is going to say thoughts and prayers are not enough. Somebody is going to say elect pro gun reform candidates. And somebody else is going to say, well, you’re going to take this gun out of my cold dead hands.

And this argument is going to go back and forth until the national attention span once again closes and we’ve moved on to the next. Somebody’s gonna say, this cannot be who we are and somebody’s going to retort, all of the evidence says it’s exactly who we are. And I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to say to my child who one day will be tying up his shoes and getting ready to come home after a great day at school with his friends, learning and playing and exploring.

And he’ll tell me: We had a drill today, Mommy. We had a drill for what happens if somebody comes in with a gun. Because chances are by the time he is a school age, the reality won’t be any different. I don’t know what to say to you. I don’t know what I’ll say to him. 

To be the supposed greatest country in the world, we should be absolutely ashamed of ourselves. I don’t know how we’re not embarrassed. I don’t know how we can look the nations of the world in the face and actually pretend as though we’ve got it all together. Pretend as though we value human dignity. When every single day children in this country face the violence of poverty and hunger and gun violence.

Whether it’s at a school or it’s in their community, whether it’s at the hands of a white supremacist or at the hands of somebody who never should have gotten their hands on a firearm in the first place, they keep looking at us for answers. We can’t keep shrugging our shoulders in return. We owe them so much more and I don’t know what it’s going to take.

But I can’t live like this. My son can’t live like this. None of us should have to live like this. The parents who will bury their children should never have had to live like this. I don’t know how, I don’t know when, but a change is gonna have to come.


In today’s episode, we have something very necessary to lift you up because I know we all need it. The fabulous and fashionable Bevy Smith is here to tell us why life, as she puts, gets greater later. We love that auntie Bevy and my UNDISTRACTED colleagues, Treasure Brooks and Cindy Leive had that interview coming up right after this short break.

Cindi: Hey folks, this is Cindy Leive. I’m an executive producer here on UNDISTRACTED. A few weeks back, I had the pleasure of traveling to Vancouver with our correspondent Treasure Brooks for the TED 2022 conference. You know, TED, like TED Talks. Thanks for coming to my Ted Talk. Our guest today brought the house down. 

Bevy Smith is a legend in the fashion world. She made her way to the top of the fashion advertising and publishing universe in the cutthroat nineties, working with iconic brands like Bill Blass. She worked at Vibe and she then went on to run luxury advertising at Rolling Stone.

I worked in magazines at the time and Bevy was a legend, but she realized that she wanted something different. So in her forties, she left everything that she had built to do something new. It was touch and go for a few years before she found her footing, but now she is everywhere. You might’ve seen her on Bravo.

You might’ve heard her on Sirius FM or you might’ve caught her book Bevelations: Lessons From a Mutha, Auntie, Bestie on bookshelves last year. Treasure and I talked to Bevy about why, as she says in her TED Talk, it gets greater later. 

Treasure: Bevy, thank you for being here with us today. 

Bevy: Thank you. 

Treasure: So you’ve lived a whole lot of life and you’ve had many careers in a lot of different phases. I want to start by asking you to introduce yourself with a little bit of a twist. How would you have introduced yourself at 25? And how would you introduce yourself today at 55?

Bevy: Hello, I’m big Bev from uptown. That’s 25. Fifty-five: Hello lovers, I’m Bevy Smith. I’m one of one. Mmm.

Cindi: One of one is pretty great at any age. You have talked about yourself being a late bloomer, and I think in fact that you said that Chris Rock had called you out on being a late bloomer.

Bevy: He once called me the most late blooming mofo he never met. Now, some people might consider that snide, but I revel in it. I’m 55 and I’m here in this curvy body as someone who has done the work. Walk the walk in these very high heels and therefore is qualified to testify in the church and in the court of law that it does in fact get greater later. 

Well, you know,  I’ve known Chris since I was in my twenties. For me, late blooming doesn’t, I believe that everything is as it should be.

And so I’m also very patient, which is probably why I don’t mind being a late bloomer. I’m not someone who really needs to like hit these markers. I’ve never been the type of person that wanted to be on the 30 Under 30 list. But one, because when I was under 30, I was having a lot of fun in my life. I had a career, but I was not focused.

And I knew early on that work was not the end all and be all to a happy life. 

Treasure: And one of the reasons we wanted to have you on the show is because you have that fantastic phrase you’re known for. It gets greater later, which is this idea that life gets better as you get older. And that’s the exact opposite of what specifically women are told.

What are the old ideas around age and getting older that you’re trying to push against? 

Bevy: Well, I think, you know, when I look at my 94-year-old mother and she has this exuberance for life, like, you know, we’re here in Vancouver, she had, we went out to dinner last night and she got home at midnight. You know what I mean?

And she had a Kir Royale. 

Cindi: That’s amazing. 

Bevy: Yeah 94, you know, 

Cindi: Okay, goals for age 94, be having a Kir Royale at midnight with Bevy Smith.

Bevy: In Vancouver. Like, you know, and she had on this really cute little sparkly, silver little outfit. And it means she just, so for me, I was very fortunate because I wasn’t raised in a household where age was a discussion, where complexion wasn’t a discussion, where handling wasn’t a discussion.

Where, you know, a lot of things that societally Black women and women overall have to face with people kind of like telling you why you’re not enough. And, and I think because that was my foundation, I was able to go into a space like the very lily white space of luxury fashion. Cause I was, my clients were, you know, the Milan and Paris designers and that’s a very, very, very white space.

Now it’s changing, thankfully. But when I was doing it, it was a very white space, but like coming from the community that I come from and coming from the mother that came from, I was able to navigate in that and not lose myself. So aging for me, it’s never really been a problem. 

Cindi: You said also that your mother never hid her age and that you never have either, and it’s strange that we should even need to comment on that, but I’m always struck by how common it still is for so many prominent women to be very sort of bashful about sharing their age. 

Bevy: It’s sad. Because especially as every day we hear about someone passing away far too young. Every year is a gift. Every day is a gift. 

You should be celebrating your age, you shouldn’t be hiding from it. And you know, one of the things that really, really struck me and why, and this is something I’m trying to communicate with the young women that are in my life, please don’t be so driven and ambitious that you don’t have fun and that you don’t live your life.

I would much rather them err on the side of having even almost too much fun than having too much work because you can bounce back from doing, you know, you can get serious later and catch up, but you can’t get that. I see so many women now that are in their fifties now just trying to like live life and not, I commend it and I love it and I’m happy for you. 

But I wish they had, like, put down the spreadsheet and picked up a cocktail when they were in their thirties and twenties, you know.

Cindi: That’s the life advice we’re going to leave people with: put down the spreadsheet and pick up a cocktail.  

Treasure: And you sound like you kind of always had it figured out. You came into these spaces, really seeming to have known who you were.

Um, but was it ever difficult? And how, how did you manage to retain those values from your childhood as you got further away from home and ascended in your career? 

Bevy: That’s a really good question because, boy, I was really very comfortable and it’s because I grew up in an all Black neighborhood. I grew up in such a big cultural, important neighborhood, you know. Harlem, you know, I’m walking down the same streets as Baldwin and Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston.

And that gives you a sense of pride now and kind of steadies you.  Also because when I was a child and adolescent, it was the Black power movement, so every day was Black history in my classrooms. We learned Swahili in school. You know what I mean? And you know, in the classroom was just papered with what you now see one month, February, but every day was like that.

And so that also let you know what you come from. What you’re attached to. So when I had to go into the fashion business, I was a receptionist at a really iconic agency called Peter Rogers Associates, and they had big accounts like Black Glama Mink, Vidal Sassoon, and they also had Brooke Shields’ jeans.

Peter Rogers did that account. So Brooke and I were the same age. So she would come in because it’s her business, but she was a kid and I was a kid. I was like 19, she was 19. And so she would ask her mom, can I like not go in? And can I just sit in the reception area? And so Brooke Shields and I would like chat. 

And I ran into her on a trip in the Bahamas a couple of years ago, and I was like, you remember Peter Rogers? She is like, oh my God, yes I remember that. I was like, I was the receptionist. She was like, oh my God! It was so great. 

But so I was around all these big supermodels and all these white standards of beauty, and that was great for them, but I never wanted to look like them in any way, shape, or form because where I was from those ladies couldn’t get arrested on the street. No one would even be looking at them. They’d be like, who is that bony girl with? You know, like it wouldn’t work. So I would have my own particular brand of beauty and where I was from it was appreciated. And they had their own particular brand of beauty, which obviously it was the kind of societal norm.

But I didn’t fall into that. So I always kind of went my own way as far as that went. So that was something that kept me kind of solid and rooted. And then also too, I really do believe staying in Harlem versus moving down to the West Village, which I was offered many times. Back then people were like, oh my God, you live in Harlem?

Are you safe? Are you okay? People always say that to me. I’d be like, it’s my community. They just couldn’t believe it. And people would offer, you know: Bevy, I own a brownstone and I could rent you half. And I was like, yeah, I don’t want, I want to stay in my community. And I think that that’s the reason why I survived it.

Cause I would have been turned around and twisted because I would have really had to have conformed. Cause when you go into, especially back then in the late eighties, early nineties, you going into these all white spaces like working and then living? I think I would have been code switching. I think I would have probably not really liked the way I looked.

Maybe I would have developed an eating disorder. I don’t know, but. I don’t think it would have been the best one. 

Cindi: Yeah. So you’ve always had this really firm sense of self, but you know, you’re also talking about how it gets greater later. So I want to dig a little more into what actually gets greater, especially for you.

And you know, and maybe for a lot of women, you talked about how your feelings of competitiveness with other women and maybe with other people overall have changed. And I think the line you used was that a little bit of grace is better than Botox. 

Bevy: Yes, yes, yes. 

Cindi: Okay, explain. 

Bevy: Everyone’s going through something and we just never know.

And I think that we can get out of our own heads and stop looking at people as competition or stop looking at what they have and coveting that. And we can begin to extend grace and to find a way to really be happy for people. Even if they’re having an experience that you think you deserve. Just like, take a note, and then you give a note. And by giving a note, that means like congratulating someone and really meaning it, knowing that what’s for you is for you.

They’re not taking anything from you, you know? And in the part of the talk that I was really talking about is, like, it was so weird to me that when I looked at it, I was like, why do I even care that someone got a job on some daytime talk show? I only want to do that anymore. 

Cindi: You mean ordinarily or when you were younger, you would have immediately felt your hackles going up, like that should have been me. 

Bevy: Well, I just experienced it last year. I was like, well, why didn’t I get the call? I knew I didn’t want the job, but I did want to get the call. You know what I mean? 

Cindi: So you got to a place where instead your impulse upon seeing something like that would be, hm, let me just send an email and congratulate them.

Bevy: Yeah, yeah. Good for you. And I think that’s going to make you very happy and I’m very happy for you. 

Cindi: So knowing yourself and being able to express grace with others, as opposed to being competitive, those are all parts of getting older. I read a book about two years ago that talked about the fact that killer whales and humans are the only species where females go through menopause and that in killer whales, the post-menopausal whales become the leaders of the pods. 

They become like the honchos, the leaders. And I really love that analogy that, you know, maybe we should be looking more often to older women to be leaders in our culture. And I’m curious what you think about that, whether that sort of ability to lead is something that you think we undressed.

Bevy: Oh, it definitely is. There’s so much wisdom to be gleaned from older women. I love, I call them the old dogs. I love ‘em. Give me, I keep the old dogs around me, you know. And, and I’m looking forward to becoming one of the old dogs. Right now, I’m just one of the dogs. I want to become one of the old dogs. I want to be, you know. I interviewed Cicely Tyson two days before she passed away.

Cindi: Wow. 

Bevy: Because I was one of the few people that got…It was Gail King, me. I think she did one other interview because they were having to pace them out. Cause she was like 94, 95 years old. So she couldn’t do a full, like, regular press run day. So she was doing a couple of interviews a day for her, for the biography, and I got her. And it was incredible to just sit and talk with her.

And then of course, when she passed away, two days later, it made it even more poignant. And to know that she was like that just two days before she ascended a new realm. How powerful is that? 

Treasure: Wow. Bevy you’ve, you’ve talked about being exposed to all these different worlds as you were kind of creating your own for yourself.

You know, being the receptionist as Brooke Shields was there. Owning a company. I’m thinking of the other glass you probably came against was class, like financial difference, you know, in these worlds. How has your relationship to money changed throughout your life? You’re very transparent about the fact from 40 to 45, you really had to restrategize, you really had to re-examine your relationship to money?

What was that period about and where are you now? 

Bevy: Well, in my book, I call it broke, but blissful. So I was really very happy, I just didn’t have any money because I had, uh, you know, quit my job at 38 to pursue this career that I now have. Um, and I didn’t realize that I would probably have to go broke to do it.

Didn’t really plan that too well. I like had, like, I was like, I had a year’s worth of money saved, but the funny thing about that though. 

Treasure: That’s not nothing.

Bevy: Exactly. The crazy thing is, is that I probably could have lasted longer than even a year, but I took the first of my eat, pray, love sepia versions of eat, pray, love trips.

I went to Brazil, South Africa, Costa Rica. I took a lot of acting classes. I flew to LA. I was doing a lot of things. So I spent a lot of money in pursuit of this new life. And so when I went broke, it was like, oh, I was shocked because I had done well for so long. And my dad was a really good provider. We were not rich by any means.

We were certainly lower middle-class, but my dad. We never wanted for anything, not nothing. So I didn’t come from a struggle background, but all around me, I had friends who had struggles financially because I lived in you know Harlem and the median household income probably when I was growing up was in the twenty thousand or something.

Right? And so I knew a lot of  like cagey kinds of ways to get around being broke. I was broke, but I was really very happy because I was pursuing my dreams and I was actually making leeway. So I was on TV, I was writing for Glamour,  for Essence, for Paper magazine. So I was broke, but blissful. Now it’s a really wonderful thing I say in this talk, I would do all these things that I do for free. 

But I don’t fear being broke. And I also do not feel beholden to getting a job that I don’t want or taking on projects that I don’t want. If you ever see me doing anything, any kind of talk, anything that’s work, please know that I’m there because I want to be there. I’m not just there for the money. The money is a big part of it, but that’s the second tier of it.

First is, do I want to do this? Will it make me happy? Will it fulfill me? Am I interested? And then it’s the coin. Then we get into the negotiation, which I love to negotiate too. And that’s something I would say to women, we have to embrace the same way we need to embrace aging. We need to embrace negotiating and asking for money.

It’s a really great feeling knowing that you can go out hunt and forage and then you know, gut the fish and then fry it up in the pan. It’s a really good feeling.

Cindi:  Is that a metaphor?

Bevy: Yes, yes it is because I’m not doing any of those other things, but I do know how to go in negotiate my money, which is why it’s tough for me when I have agents and managers, because I automatically want to get in there and do the negotiating myself. I love it.

Cindi: Yeah

Bevy: I would imagine you love.

Cindi: Yeah, but it’s a hard skill to learn because it can be very scary, you know, and only by doing it over and over and realizing that the world doesn’t end when you say I actually can’t do it for that number. And then often there’s movement after that, that’s the only way it gets less scary.

And it still is sort of scary sometimes

Bevy: Yeah? For you? 

Cindi: Sometimes, yeah. Yeah, I think it’s okay to admit that. I think it is one thing to know that intellectually and, you know, most times in most negotiations, I fully own that and feel that, but I think it’s normal also to have that impulse that we were all taught way too early, that you should be lucky just to be in the room and you have to overcome that.

And take on that attitude of like, you know what, you’re lucky also to be here in the room with me. Um, that’s what allows you to negotiate? 

Bevy: Yeah. 

Cindi: You mentioned before that you thought the fashion industry was changing and I have to ask you because you’ve spent so many years in fashion and fashion has, I think, been often behind a lot of other industries in terms of confronting racism, confronting sexism and making meaningful systemic changes.

Do you feel that it is changing? And where, what kind of report card do you give fashion right now? 

Bevy: Well, I won’t give a high mark in the report card, but I see the changes. I am so elated every time when I am approached by some young Black person that is in a fashion house and has, uh, you know, a vice president plus title.

You know what I mean? Or when I see all the young Black people that at magazines that are like, you know, not just an associate editor and they actually have real big positions. And when I go, when I see all the Instagram and all the young Black people are sitting from well or attending that gala. We were alone in those spaces, me, Emil Wilbekin, the late great André Leon Talley, Bethann Hardison. 

And those are the people that came before me. But like for my group, like Emil Wilbekin and I, we were alone in these rooms and now any young Black person that’s in fashion, there are so many resources and there’s so many people that you can look to now and be inspired by and know that you can do it. But we were just out there charting our own path and figuring it out, you know?

Cindi: Yeah. 

Treasure: The world right now is so crazy and young people like myself, I’m only 22. We’re feeling the anxiety that we have no time. So I really, really resonate with everything you’re talking about of wanting to hit the marks and wanting to be at the CEO level quickly. And so for people like me, for young people that are watching you.

You shared so much wisdom in so many ways for us to, to go through, but if you had to give us one little nugget to walk away with, what would it be? 

Bevy: Um, one little nugget for my babies. You’ve got to figure out what will really truly make you happy and then may not look like what your parents wanted for you.

It may not look like what you see other people doing on social media. You have to, like, really cleave to what you know to be true about yourself. And you have to also forget what the naysayers tell you. You know? People will tell you a lot of different things, but you know, I really do believe in keeping your own counsel when you’re a young person, it’s very important to keep your own counsel.

I also believe in, um, making sure that you have, and I don’t like the word mentor, um, because I feel like it’s not strong enough, but that’s the reason why my book is called, the subtitle is Mutha, Auntie, Bestie. You know, like, you and I have met and, I’ve enjoyed meeting you for these past few days. So I’m your auntie Bev now, but you can literally call me.

Cindi: I will literally call you.

Bevy: Yes. But there’s, there’s a gazillion auntie Bevies in the world that are waiting to embrace you and take you on their wing, so you don’t have to make the same mistakes and you don’t have to go it alone. And I’d say always try and seek out real authentic relationships.

That mentor thing is real tricky. Cause it doesn’t have to be about someone’s stature. Cause that’s why mentoring is like a little, because then it’s like, you’re making a beeline, oh my God, Oprah’s over there. I need to meet Oprah. That’s great. But you could also just meet a nice, lovely woman who has more experience than you, and is willing to share that and that you can actually call. Because, guess what, you ain’t going to be able to call Miss Oprah.

Treasure: To relationships. 

Cindi: Yes. Yes. 

Bevy: So that’s what I would say. And also, but really start trying to dig deep and figure out what you really want and taking those deep breaths and making sure that what you’re thinking what you want, it’s not just what society is telling you that you should. Forget that track. Forget that checklist for, if you make the 30 under 30 lists, that’s cute. 

Great. I’m here to tell you it don’t really mean that much. 

Treasure: You’re gonna upset some people, Bevy. 

Bevy: I know, but it doesn’t really. Because I think about it and I think about so many people that I came through the ranks with. All at the same place at this point. And I might even be doing better than some of them.

And I had a hell, a whole hell of a lot more fun than they did. So I didn’t make any 30 under 30, 40 under 40. They don’t even do 50 under 50, which is a shame, they should do 50 under 50. They should do 60 under 60. I don’t like lists, but.  

Cindi: Thank you so much, Bevy, for being with us. 

Bevy: Thank you my Cindi. Thank you my little Treasure.

Cindi: Bevy Smith is an author, a podcaster, and now Treasure’s auntie. We talked to her in Vancouver at TED 2022, you can hear her TED talk and this year’s other talks on the TED Talks daily podcast. Thanks for listening everybody, and take care of yourself in this tough week.

Brittany: That’s it for today, but never for tomorrow.


UNDISTRACTED is a production of The Meteor and Pineapple Street Studios. 

Treasure Brooks is our correspondent.

Our lead producer is Rachel Ward.

Our associate producers are Alexis Moore and Marialexa Kavenaugh.

Thanks also to Hannis Brown, Davy Sumner, and Raj Makhija.

Our executive producers at The Meteor are Cindi Leive and myself, and our executive producers at Pineapple are Jenna Weiss-Berman and Max Linsky. 

 You can follow me at @MsPackyetti on all social media and our incredible team @TheMeteor.

Subscribe to UNDISTRACTED and rate and review us on Apple podcasts or most places you find your favorite podcasts. 

Thanks for listening. Thanks for being. And thanks for doing.  I’m Brittany Packnett Cunningham.

 Let’s go get free.