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It’s a hard fall from the top. Just ask Stacii Jae Johnson. The former Hollywood actress (she played Peaches in A Thin Line Between Love and Hate) turned political fundraiser, influencer and tastemaker in Atlanta was living the good life. After moving to Atlanta from L.A. to help care for her sick mother, Johnson made some major connections. She ended up becoming a major campaign fundraiser for not only President Obama, but also Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. As she put it, Johnson leapt to success, as there isn’t always a straight line to it.

But at the height of all that, driving in Porsches, rubbing elbows with the stars and taking home a six-figure salary, Johnson was stopped for suspicion of DUI. Just like that, everything changed. While the case against her was allegedly thrown out, the high-level staff member had to resign from Mayor Kasim Reed’s office and found herself on a downward spiral. Thankfully, Johnson was able to pick herself back up, become an author, and share her story in the hopes of encouraging other women via the Centric show, From the Bottom UpAs the series prepares for Season 2, airing on BET and Centric on October 29, we talked with Johnson about how to move forward when your professional life takes a major hit, and why it was important for her to share her story.

On Life After Having to Resign From Her Post

“It was very hard. I can tell you, after that situation, it almost caused me to kill myself. I was so far down on the ground because success had always been a friend of mine. Who goes to Spelman, to Hollywood and has success, gets into politics and has even more success, and then has something like that happen? None of those thing meant anything at that point. There was really nobody around to help me out but God. Because who ends up on a television show, with the reason they were chosen being because they were arrested? [Laughs]. If I would have been the perfect success story that I was initially, then I never would have been interesting enough for TV. So you can find a way to pick yourself back up, you just have to open your mind. I never thought I would do a reality show, but the opportunity came around with the right players: Queen Latifah, the dynamic woman that she is and the executive producer of our show; and Nicci Gilbert, who is the creator of our show.”

Advice for Women Who Face Professional Setbacks

“What I said to myself was, ‘There’s a big fire in front of me. I can either stand in the fire and let it burn me, or I can stand in the fire and dare it to burn me.’ So I dared it to burn me. I was able to get up and do what I needed to do and not victimize myself. A lot of times we play the victim and we stay in it too long. We don’t command a change. So I chose after a period of time, and I have to be honest, it was a period of time, to get up. You have to learn from your mistakes and you have to keep moving. For all the women on this show, including myself, we all just made a mistake. But at the end of the day, we are still women who were extremely successful in what we aspired to, despite our fall from grace. All of us, I believe, will be extremely successful after.”

How Things Have Changed for Her Since Being on From the Bottom Up

“Season 1 was difficult for me because I was in the midst of still trying to hold onto it all. I was still trying to maintain the lifestyle that I had before I had to resign from my six-figure job. In Season 2, I have let it all go. I’m reestablishing myself and I’m okay with all of that. I’m literally traveling the world meeting really great women, touring my book, speaking at expos, and I’m really just enjoying my life. I’m focusing on rebuilding my life and I’ve also found that I respect money more than I did before. Last season, I was still popping and shopping. But I respect the dollar more. I ask, ‘How much is this?’ I’m not just spending money frivolously like I did during the first season. I think the first season I was still trying to keep up with the Joneses.”

Why She Chose to Share Her Story

“For me, I believe that my test is my testimony. August 23, 2012 was my test. It was the biggest test, and it’s now become my testimony. I think that when we go through things, a lot of Black women, we like to go in the corner and keep it all to ourselves and then we just come out. I think that it’s important to share our journey. I felt like, at the end of the day, I could huddle in a corner and victimize myself. But instead, I said, ‘You know what? There has to be something good out of this that I can share with women to encourage and motivate them. To say that if something happens to them, to not be embarrassed about it.’ You have to own it and you have to say ‘It happened.’ But you also have to keep moving.”

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