“You are already equipped with everything you need to turn around whatever challenge or negative situation is in front of you. You have it in you.”
In a world where lemons are often thrown our way, Brittney Oliver knows how to make sour moments a lot more sweet. A writer, speaker, and marketing maven, Brittney specializes in public relations, event management, and content marketing strategy. She is also the CEO and founder of Lemons 2 Lemonade, a series of in-person and virtual events aiming to help BIPOC millennials create opportunities for themselves when the job search gets tough.
While growing up as a “military brat” in Clarksville, Tennessee, Brittney developed an openness to change and a curiosity about her identity as a young, Black woman in the South. “It wasn't cool to be a person like me, and I was in search of community,” Brittney says. “I knew there were more layers to Blackness and I just needed to explore them.”
Brittney’s journey of self-discovery continued at Howard University, where she earned a degree in Public Relations. Like many college graduates, her career path had a rocky start. “In eight months, I went on over 100 interviews to try to get a PR job, and I already had six internships under my belt,” she says. “I would go to panels and conferences and see white men telling people — I will never forget one of them — ‘There are plenty of jobs out here. If you don't have one, there's something wrong with you.’”
It was Brittney’s late mother who helped her unload the burden of not feeling good enough. “That’s when my mom said, ‘I hate to tell you this, but you can't change your skin color…you're doing everything you can to be the best, and it's not you. They're just missing out.’”
Armed with frustration, determination, and encouragement from family and friends, Brittney began hosting events for job-seeking millennials across the country. Since its inception in 2016, Lemons 2 Lemonade has been a whirlwind success. Brittney held networking mixers in New York, Nashville, Atlanta, Chicago, and Los Angeles before pivoting to a virtual model during the pandemic. Her gatherings have attracted a staggering 5,000 attendees, all looking for that sprinkle of inspiration and a dash of motivation. She's also landed major partnerships with big-name brands like Verizon, Lyft, PayPal, Bumble, LinkedIn, and Jack Daniel's.
Brittney's brainchild, Lemons 2 Lemonade, has become nothing short of a millennial lifeline. Her expertise has been featured across publications and podcasts, and in 2019, Forbes recognized her as one of the Nine Black Women Leaders Dedicated to Empowering Others. It's a title she’s truly earned through her unwavering commitment to helping others squeeze the most out of their job search and sail smoothly into their dream careers.
Brittney is proof that when life hands you lemons, you can do more than just make lemonade; you can inspire and empower others to do the same. Here, the Hall of Femme honoree opens up about building community, treating herself, and honoring her mother’s memory.
Where did you grow up, and how has it shaped who you are today?
I grew up in Clarksville, Tennessee; it is a military town, so it sits on the border of Kentucky. My dad was in the Army, and we were stationed in that area twice and he retired. I call it home because it's what I know. It allowed me just being a military brat, to make adjustments, adapt, and be open to change.
Another thing I developed in Clarksville was a sense of curiosity about what it looks like to be young and Black. The town was diverse, but in my school setting, it's a story that it's familiar for a lot of young Black girls. I grew up with other young men and women questioning my Blackness — “Why do [you] talk like that? Are you even Black?” So, it wasn't cool to be a person like me, and I was in search of community. I found other young Black girls who were like me, but we were in our little bubble. I just knew there was more to this. I knew there were more layers to Blackness and I just needed to explore them. That's why I went to Howard University.
When you were a young girl, what were the narratives you were exposed to about women and women's rights?
My exposure to a lot of topics came from my love of reading. I loved reading books, but my parents were longtime subscribers of Ebony, Jet, and Essence, so I grew up with those magazines too. I would look through the pages and read some of the stories, then I would ask these questions of my mom about women that I saw and what was happening.
It was also the example my mom set. How I saw her with her friends; how I saw her in the community; her always telling me that I can do anything I put my mind to, that I have the right to choose; her encouraging me, never letting me have the doubt that I don't have what it takes to do something that I put my mind to, and that race and gender shouldn't be the thing that's in my way. Things that I didn't want to see, she pointed out. “Look, this is what this is.” She made me aware and helped guide me to navigate the situations that I would find myself in.
Tell us about a woman who inspires you.
It has to be my mom, who passed away in April. She is my inspiration and why I get up every day and keep going. Literally, she never complained. She never made excuses. She just got up and did what needed to be done. I love that about her, and that's why I keep going. She was a woman of her word. I try to live that way. There were a lot of things that we ended up having in common as I grew into womanhood.
I don't have siblings. It's just me. She was there to guide me, to impart wisdom, and be by my side. My mother was inspiring because she didn't give up. She spoke her mind, she stood up for herself, and she got things done. That's what I'm trying to remember: I can get things done.
You empower women to follow their dreams and get to where they want to be. Where does that come from?
The community building came from seeing gaps, and seeing what was missing from my own experience — being the change you want to see, pretty much. I had a really difficult job search coming out of college. I didn't understand why I was hitting these bumps in the roads. In eight months, I went on over 100 interviews to try to get a PR job, and I already had six internships under my belt. I would interview, hear really great feedback, and then either I just didn't make it to the next round or I'd make it to the last round and someone else would be picked.
Sometimes they gave feedback; other times they didn't. But when they did, some people were honest and said [it was] nepotism, the boss's daughter's boyfriend or something. Other times I was hit with, “You're not a cultural fit.” I didn't know what that meant. That's when my mom said, “I hate to tell you this, but you can't change your skin color.” Like, “You're doing everything you can to be the best, and it's not you. They're just missing out.’
It took a while to shift my mindset. Job searches are a community effort. I saw the power of relationship building, but I hit walls. People wanted something that I didn't have, or I was in spaces where people weren't supportive, and being dismissed at networking events. I would go to panels and conferences and see white men telling people — I will never forget one of them — “There are plenty of jobs out here. If you don't have one, there's something wrong with you.” I remember raising my hand and asking, “Do you know what that experience is like for a Black woman to try to find a job? Can you explain what ‘cultural fit’ and all these things mean?” He was flabbergasted. There are so many layers that aren’t being addressed.
What inspired you to turn that passion into a business?
My friends encouraged me to put together a little mixer, but I was so scared. I had no money and I didn't know if I could bear that type of risk. One of my college colleagues offered to help and kind of ghosted me, but it was the boost that I needed. Within 24 hours, I was able to get two speakers on board, find a venue, recruit BuzzFeed to host, and secure cupcakes and beverages for free. I thought, This is what’s supposed to happen. I'll be okay. It's going to work out.
We had our first mixer in June 2016 and about 60 people showed up, which was fabulous. Everyone was like, “When's the next one?” and I realized I've got to do this again. People kept showing up and talking about it, and I started to get more corporate support. By the third or fourth mixer, people were giving me feedback: they got their first gig through the network, or their first paid speaking opportunity. People became friends and landed jobs.
At a mixer, a woman came to me and grabbed my hand. She told me, “I didn't want to get out of bed this morning, but God kept telling me to get up and go.” She started crying, and said, “I'm so glad that I listened because I feel so seen. I've been so upset and disappointed because I haven't felt supported with my business as a Black woman. Now I see that I'm not alone, and I’ve learned so many tools and techniques that I can use to help me move along, and I met some really great women.”
It brings me joy thinking about those moments, because that's why I do it: so people can feel seen, feel heard, and leave with opportunities. It reminds me that my gift is to connect, create space, and put others in positions to meet the right people. As long as I can keep doing that, the happier I am.
What’s next for Lemons 2 Lemonade?
I'd like to bring it back on the road, and have more intimate settings like dinners or brunches where there's really high-level networking and connections happening. For the virtual series, I'm looking forward to having fireside chats with some really amazing, impactful C-suite women. There's a lot in the works. I'm holding on to the promises I've made to my mom, in her spirit and her energy. I'm the change that I want to see.
What is your go-to advice for turning lemons into lemonade?
You are already equipped with everything you need to turn around whatever challenge or negative situation is in front of you. You have it in you. You've already been given all the tools. I think people forget that it is within. Before my mom passed, I told her I was frustrated about something, but I said, “I'm going to be alright because I'm the change I want to see in my life,” and she was like, amen to that. That’s the reminder I have for everyone: they have it.
What's a ritual in your life that you swear by?
I like to do mindless things that don't take so much out of me, and I try to make sure I have some of that every day. Right now I’m watching Sugar Rush: Extra Sweet on Netflix. Sometimes it's using my hands in a different way, like frosting cupcakes. It's just so mindless to me! You zone out somewhere else.
What's your favorite way to celebrate a win (big or small)?
I love that saying, “Treat yourself.” For me, it could be something sweet, like getting a cupcake. Or calling up a friend. Let's just go to happy hour, grab some drinks, and celebrate. I am not shy about celebrating my wins. It can be big or small. I'm like, “Let's go!” We're so quick to move on to the next thing that we don't look up and say, you know what, I did that.