Born and raised in Houston, Texas in the historic Fifth Ward, JaCola Caldwell, who goes by the name Difernt, has overcome many challenges in her life. She had a “pretty good” childhood and life was good for Difernt until she was 11 years old when she and her family became homeless. “We stayed that way for about three years, literally living two pillows to post, sleeping everywhere from cars, parks, bus stops, and shelters. At one point, we even slept at a crack house. It wasn’t until I was 14, I was secretly placed in foster care by a relative of mine.”
For the first six months of foster care, none of her family knew where she was, and she tried her hardest to get back home. She mentioned that when you’re in the system you don’t have an identify, just a number.
Difernt was placed in good foster homes, but because she wasn’t used to being in that environment it caused her to spiral out of control and sabotage anything good that came her way. This behavior would spill from her childhood years to her teenage, college, and even young adult years. “It got to the point where it just pushed me or forced me to look into the mirror and face the ugly truth about myself,” she reflected. One of the good things that came from her being in the system was the fact that her college tuition would be paid for if she aged out of the system, and that’s what she did.
She learned that whatever mental anguish and traumatic experiences she went through as a child, it wasn’t her fault due to it being out of her control. With this in mind, she knew she had to change things around. She ended up graduating from Sam Houston State University (SHSU) with her Bachelor’s in International Business. She also obtained two minors in business communication and economics. While she was at SHSU, she was able to start her own student organization called Pay It Forward. The organization was tailored to volunteering, mentoring, and educating kids that were in foster care as well as high school kids. This is where her love for motivational speaking began as she would go speak at various high schools about the importance of education. She would help many kids who were in similar situations like she was as a child.
At SHSU, during her junior year, she had the opportunity to travel to a university in South Korea and was able to see eight other countries during her time there. A few years later after graduating from SHSU, she received her Master’s in Entrepreneurship. Her travels also continued as Difernt has traveled to almost 50 countries, but her travels were put on hold due to the pandemic. When the pandemic hit, she couldn’t go anywhere or do anything, which hit her hard.
During the pandemic, she was in therapy “dismissing the notion that Black people don’t do therapy,” to help her with the trauma she experienced as a child. Her therapist recommended that she get back into one of her hobbies from high school, which was writing, and she did. Then May 25, 2020, happened, which was the day George Floyd died. “I was from Fifth Ward, and he was from Third Ward, which are right next to each other. I wanted to go and get involved in the protests and have my voice heard and even go to his funeral. However, when the time came to do so, I couldn’t. Not because I got cold feet but because I felt I wanted my voice to be heard long after this was over with.”
She started talking to God and praying for the spirit of discernment. She asked, “What is it that I can do? What talents have you blessed me with that I can use to share my opinion with the world, and something that’s going to make them think and create a possible systematic change?” Difernt also prayed to God for her to be the one in her family to break the generational curses and create generational wealth. She already broke one curse by being the first in her family to go to college and graduate.
Over time, Difernt began asking herself the question, “What if George Floyd was a White man who was killed by a Black police officer?” Those type of questions started to form little by little and she put those thoughts to work and started writing in June 2020. Her draft was finished by December 2020 and her book, What If? A Controversial Paradigm Shift was released September 2021.
With her new book released, she now needed a business to sell her new product and in December 2021, TH3RD EYE Entertainment was born. TH3RD EYE came to be the name because she’s a spiritual tune and is also big on meditation. “When your heart and your mind are in tune, you’re allowed to see things more clearly and achieve your goals better.” TH3RD EYE Entertainment is “a business that strives to bring social awareness to society through our products and services in which we educate, inspire, and entertain.” They talk about social issues that are swept under the rug such as systematic racism and injustice. They also talk and advocate for mental health awareness especially in the Black community. They also discuss harder topics like domestic violence, women’s rights, sex trafficking, gun violence, and suicidal prevention.”
The book is told through graphic and provocative illustrations and is categorized in four main paradigm shifts, which include historical, political, precedent and hypothetical. The main point of the book is to get the ball rolling on the conversations that need to be discussed.
When speaking with Difernt on what she wants others to take away from her story is, “If I can do it, you can do it.” She wants people to take her life as an example of how God can take you from the back and put you up front. “I come from nothing…and I haven’t made it to where I want to be, but I’m nowhere where I used to be.”
She also wanted to stress that people should take care of their mental health and wellness. “It’s okay to not be okay, but just don’t sit there and not be okay. Go get help, go talk with someone.”
During the interview, Difernt said rest in peace to her mother Elle. She dedicates every interview to her mom. “Everything I do is for her. She died in my arms last year, the day after Christmas. And so, with me, that’s why I also try to advocate for mental health. I’m struggling and going through depression myself, but I’m dealing with it in a healthy manner and talking with my therapist and I have things to keep me going,” she concluded.
For more information about Difernt and her book, you can visit her website at https://diferntsworld.net/.