Octavia Yearwood is beautiful. But in January 2018, while speaking at a fundraiser for a group that helps at-risk teen girls, c, she said she used to hate looking in the mirror.
"I used to avoid taking photos with my friends, from junior high school all the way into my 20s," she says. "And whenever I did get halfway bold enough to let someone take a photo of me, I would instantly regret it. My face would be looking weird, or my hair would be taking flight. And I remember one day saying, 'You know what, Octavia? We're going to look in the mirror at our face and see what works for us.'"
That once-shy Yearwood is gone. She has rapidly evolved from professional dancer to performance artist to mentor, motivational speaker, and author. Yearwood was born in Queens, New York, and grew up in the city's foster-care system: Much of her art centers on the challenges and mental struggles she faced while trying to find confidence as a foster kid.
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After leaving New York and briefly bouncing around Atlanta, she finally settled in Miami in 2012. Since then, she's set up all sorts of motivational speaking events and mentorship opportunities for kids while putting together art installations and event spaces designed to bring people together in social settings. (One of her recent installations, Libations, mimicked the warm, social-drinking spaces she grew up around with her grandmother — except the piece was designed to unite strangers in those sorts of spaces.)
Yearwood's art often reflects the trauma she endured as a foster child growing up around "crack houses," she says. It makes sense, then, that her first book covers the topic as well: This year, she launched a crowdfunding campaign on GoFundMe and subsequently released what she describes as a "guidebook" for foster children, sexually abused youth, and any other kids who are similarly struggling. It's called How the Hell Did You Do That?!
"Most of us have to learn, on the fly, how to get through childhood traumas and actually function while trying to lead a purpose-driven life," she says of the tome. "There are many books that share philosophy and intellect on the subject, but a major issue is not feeling like you relate to the author and the author to you. This book is for [those] seeking a blueprint on how to break past it and find the legend in them."