We had the good fortune of connecting with Ashley M. Ratcliff and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Ashley, what matters most to you?
Gratitude is something that has anchored me throughout my life. When I take inventory of all that I have to be grateful for, I’m immediately put in a positive state of mind. Problems that seem daunting become approachable, and situations that seem impossible suddenly feel tangible. I have a lot to be grateful for and I don’t take it for granted. I’m filled with immense gratitude for my faith, family, friends, career, body, mind, creativity, health and so much more. Since 2013, I’ve been maintaining a “Blessings Jar,” wherein I catalogue all the good things that come my way — from the small wins like finding a $20 bill in a coat pocket while purging my closet for clothes to donate, to the major victories like becoming a bestselling author on Amazon. It’s become my New Year’s Day tradition to literally count my blessings from the previous year. Approaching each day with a grateful heart is something that keeps me centered.

Image Credit: Brian Freeman Jr.

Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.

I’m a storyteller. It’s something that I’ve done professionally since my first career path in journalism. These days it’s my personal storytelling, in the form of my self-help memoir, “Jesus Year,” that is fueling my passion. The book is about the unexpected turn of events that left me with a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis at the age of 33 — my “Jesus Year” (Jesus died when he was 33, and, colloquially, a “Jesus Year” is a time when a person experiences an ego death of sorts and is supposedly walking in their purpose). This project has opened up many doors for me to speak about the chronic illness, how it affects the Black community, and the tools and tribe I’ve acquired along my journey that have helped me thrive, as well as advocate for myself and others living with MS. I’m most proud of writing the book in a month (July 2020) — during a pandemic, no less — and not listening to those self-limiting beliefs that told me my story wasn’t important because I’m not a celebrity and I didn’t have decades of experience with MS behind me. In fact, because I am fairly new to living life with MS (I was diagnosed in March 2018), it sets me apart from other authors on the subject of chronic illness and offers a different perspective from the other memoirs that have come before mine. I’m glad that I acted with urgency to get the book out relatively soon after my diagnosis, instead of feeling like I had to wait for 30 years to tell my story. This niche that I’ve carved out is helping people during the most critical phase of life with the autoimmune disorder.

Becoming a bestselling author was not without its challenges. The process of writing my self-help memoir alone, while working a full-time job, was taxing emotionally. Ultimately, reopening the wounds and putting myself back into those pivotal scenes was an integral part of achieving the authenticity that readers have commended me for. Having a support team definitely helped keep me accountable for reaching benchmarks and provided the encouragement that I needed to finish strong. I overcame the road (and writing) blocks that could have taken me off course by remembering my “why.” I kept thinking of me sitting in that office with my father when my neurologist broke the news to me, and how hopeless and fearful I felt. It was imperative that I completed this book to reach people who find themselves in the same predicament.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned with authorship is to write anyway, even if I have doubts about whether it will resonate with people or if it’s special enough to make an impact. To any writers out there who are prone to pondering the same self-subordinating thoughts, the very fact that you have a desire to share your story is proof that someone out there needs your perspective. I have had people tell me how reading “Jesus Year” helped them process their mother’s Alzheimers and cancer diagnoses. I’ve also had newly diagnosed MS patients tell me that my book made them less afraid of the future. That’s all I need to know that I understood the assignment placed on my life, and have completed it well. Another lesson I’ve learned is not to stop honing your craft. You may feel like you’ve reached the top, but there is always room for growth. The first book I authored was a collection of short stories in 2010 about various aspects of the woman’s experience, “Stories 4 Women,” written in collaboration with three friends. I am very proud of that work, but looking back and reading it now I’m grateful for — in awe of even — much I’ve developed as an author. See? Gratitude (see my first response) versus judgment.

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I’ve lived in Long Beach for the past 15 years, so that’s where our adventure would begin. We’d start with brunch at Berlin on Fourth Street (the Classic Breakfast — bacon, eggs, avocado, toast and hash browns — is my jam!) and then peek into Fingerprints record store in the East Village Arts District. My bestie, Yvette, is an animal lover, so we’d stop by the Aquarium of the Pacific to watch the exhibits, dilly dally around the shark and ray touch pool, and then embark on a whale watching and dolphin cruise. For old time’s sake and in true Long Beach tradition, we’d grab dinner at Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles (I always order E. The Oscar with cheese in my grits, and she’s partial to the Carol C. Special: one succulent breast, one delicious waffle). Yvette is a huge fan of wine, so we would definitely visit Waters Edge Winery of Long Beach, which is the city’s first winery. I haven’t had the chance to fully explore The Hangar at Long Beach Exchange (the catfish at Georgia’s is phenomenal, BTW), but I’ve been meaning to pop into Portola Coffee Roasters for my first latte with bee pollen, which has come highly recommended. For a little luxury, on separate days we’d do a one-night staycation at Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes (my old stomping grounds where I landed my first reporting job) and the Santa Monica Proper Hotel to see how it compares to the Proper in San Francisco. For the rest of the week, we’d drive up the coast to Santa Barbara and stay at the Hotel Indigo, and explore the Urban Wine Trail for a couple days. Of course, we’d make a detour for burritos at Freebirds in Isla Vista, and take a quick stroll through the campus of my alma mater, UC Santa Barbara, for a quick glance at the lagoon and some light birding. The rest of the week, we’d head inland to Palm Springs and live our influencer dreams in a mid-century modern Airbnb with a pool with ample floaties. My birthday’s coming up on July 7, so I may make parts of this hypothetical adventure happen IRL 🙂

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
There are so many people who have played an important role in my success. The list is long, but here’s the abridged version. Firstly, I’m nothing without God, my Heavenly Father and Creator. I want to dedicate this Shoutout to my partner, Daryl; our fur babies, Jacc and Ryley; my parents, Jean and Robert; my bonus parents, Karim and Tasha; my siblings, Kevin, Robert Jr., Karim-Ibn, Ayesha, and Jamaal; and my siblings-in-love, Karla, Stephanie, and Breana. Shout out to my closest friends, Yvette, Ronilo, Amber, Sierra, Andrea, Zita, and Linda. A big thank you to Pastors Wayne and Myesha Chaney and the congregation of Antioch Church of Long Beach who keep my lifted up. Also, many thanks to my book coach, Nikkie Pryce, as well as the many colleagues who have become friends and some of my fiercest supporters throughout the years.

Website: ashleytheauthor.com

Instagram: instagram.com/ashleyadores

Linkedin: linkedin.com/in/ashleyratcliff

Image Credits
Brian Freeman Jr. Kim Freeman Deborah Oshuntola

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