Valeisha Butterfield Jones on why Black women should be taking ’moonshots’ in their careers
Somewhere between college and real adulthood, I had a habit of stargazing. Remember when we had blogs like “Concrete Loop” and “Necole Bitchie”? They were the OGs of centering Black culture and celeb gossip, and I happily indulged. Looking back now, I see how much time I wasted consuming other people’s business, but as a then 20-something with a big vision and no blueprint, I have to give my younger self some grace. I was looking for inspiration; I was trying to find myself in other people’s success — and every now and then, I would find it.
One of the women who occasionally popped up on the blogs for her dynamic business career was Valeisha Butterfield Jones. She made headlines for founding the Women in Entertainment Empowerment Network (WEEN), an organization focused on molding women of color into the next generation of impactful leaders and innovators within entertainment, business, and tech. You’d hear about her work as Executive Vice President/Executive Director of RUSH Communications or her time in the Obama administration, first as Deputy Director of Public Affairs for the International Trade Administration and again as National Youth Vote Director for the Obama’s 2012 campaign.
Around that same time, my stargazing dwindled. I had a real job as a news reporter in Mobile, Alabama. I lost track of what the rising star was up to. I was beginning to find my own footing.
Fast-forward to 2023: A whole TV news career under my belt, and into my next season of building my media empire, Butterfield Jones is in my view again—this time as Vice President of Partnership and Engagement at Google Inc. Instead of wondering how she consistently raises the bar for herself and lands huge roles in entertainment, politics, and tech, I get to ask her directly.
The topic? Moonshots — big, giant goals. It’s clear she makes them and pursues them. So, how does she do it? Why is she shooting so high? The answer, she says, is twofold.
“I remember when I was a little girl, probably like 7 or 8 years old, in a tiny country town in rural North Carolina, having dreams to work in the music industry. And that, to me, felt like a moonshot. That felt so bold, so outrageous because I had no examples of that in my family, no examples of that in the town that I was from. There was nowhere to turn for inspiration or representation,” recalled Butterfield Jones.
“I was also painfully shy, painfully insecure, and very, very timid with my dreams. It was like I had this feeling inside me that this was something I wanted to do. But how to actualize it was just a mystery for me,” she noted.
Like me, a young Butterfield Jones was looking for inspiration. She eventually set out to chart her own path — which wasn’t easy. In fact, during those early years, it was rough.
“I’ll say there is no blueprint (for a moonshot). There’s no strategic plan or business plan that will ever make sense because it hasn’t been done before — and so you just have to take the steps,” she said. “For me, the steps meant dropping out of law school after one year — which was a big disappointment to my family — and moving to New York City. And I struggled. Cell phone turned off because I couldn’t pay the bill; parents didn’t help because they were confused by my decision; and just grinding and trying to find my way.”
Now in her 40s and a top executive at one of the most influential companies in the world, Google, Butterfield Jones still sees herself as just scratching the surface. More importantly, she believes whatever’s next will be the boldest thing she’s ever done. That’s what a moonshot is: Aim at the highest point you can see and say, “I will do that.” Push yourself a little higher, dare to take up more space and move the sky under your feet. That momentum will have a voice, and it will likely sound a little bit like this.
“We have to move with urgency, we have to move with intention, and we have to get out of our heads. We have to,” said Butterfield Jones. “If you could see, sometimes, the meetings that I’m in and the conversations I’m a part of with some communities, and [their] audacity to dream; the audacity to have a vision; the audacity to pitch the ideas without the perfect deck, without the perfect pitch. I think we over-rehearse. We over-prepare because we’ve been trained that way.
“I know I’ve been taught my whole life to over-deliver, over-perform just to get a portion or a half,” she continued. “I know the environment is hard. I know the climate is hard right now — especially for us — but still, please don’t waste the moonshot that was placed on your heart.”
Whatever is next for Butterfield Jones, this time, instead of watching from afar, I’ll be in the lane next to her, waving hello from my side of the moon.
How to shoot your shot, according to Valeisha Butterfield Jones:
Dare to say it out loud. Speak it and give it a voice.
“That [voice] alone is scary and often will be misunderstood. Even from the smartest, most brilliant people in your life, most loving people in your life. Usually, a moonshot is placed on your spirit and on your heart because it is for you [alone] to understand initially.”
There may come a time when you’ll need to share the vision.
“Build a team that really gets the vision and understands the cycle of business.”
Move swiftly. If it doesn’t work out, protect your idea.
“If it doesn’t work out, you start to really find that those partners aren’t the right partners. I recommend strongly that you make swift, very decisive decisions because that’s when that moonshot is at greater risk.”
Remember what a moonshot is:
“Moonshots means shooting for the moon, hoping that you will [at least] land at the stars. And so, for me, a moonshot is not something aspirational but something bold and a 10-times idea from perhaps where you started or your baseline. And so, I tell every person that I speak to now: If you don’t have a moonshot, create one because I can probably guarantee you that the bar that you’ve set, even for your life, is probably a little too low.”
Letisha Bereola is a media expert, and a former award-winning news anchor, who specializes in writing, podcasting, speaking, and producing. As the CEO and Founder of Paradigm Media Group, Letisha launches media brands for changemakers and industry leaders who want to amplify their voices through podcasting and video content. Follow updates on Letisha through her podcast, “AUDACITY” or on Instagram: @letishabereola
– is FREE on your TV via Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku, and Android TV. -’s Black Podcast Network is free too. Download theGrio mobile apps today! Listen to ‘Writing Black‘ with Maiysha Kai.