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  • Writer's pictureYvonne Camille

Updated: Feb 21, 2019

Culture "change agent" and a growing leader in the Birmingham community, Brandon Cleveland is making his mark while inspiring others to do the same. With the City of Birmingham rapidly progressing, it's great to see young, talented and ambitious individuals encouraging all to live a purposeful life - whatever that means to them. Excited to share some of Brandon's meaningful life-tips for all!

Welcome Brandon as this week's feature:

Name: Brandon M. Cleveland

Title: Founder of The Upstream Group; Business & Community Advocate; Culture Curator

Location: Birmingham, AL

Background: BA in Business Administration from the University of Montevallo; Banker; Small Business Advisor; and Public Speaker

YC: What is Upstream and how did you get it started?

Brandon: Upstream is a culture content company built to serve: Believers, Creators, Innovators and Future Holders worldwide. 

We serve them by creating verbal, written, and digital content that can be used to support them in all their endeavors. Upstream was something I mentally conceived in the spring of 2017 after being involved in the social scene of Birmingham, AL for several years from the business aspect and being in contact with a variety of people from different walks of life who were all pursuing the same thing which was a PURPOSEFUL FUTURE for themselves.

On January 20, 2018, the same weekend as MLK day (to share in the sentiment of bringing a dream to fruition) we launched UPSTREAM to the public and began that specific task. Our name represents a universal truth I hold in my heart which is "To reach what you believe in there comes a time when you must go against the current and travel UPSTREAM to obtain your goals." 

YC: Why do you love what you do?

Brandon: I love what I do because I personally made a decision to do it and in making that choice I've been given a front row view in seeing people's lives change for the better which is a unquantifiable feeling to me. There wasn't anyone who asked me get into business, community and culture work nor was it anyone standing over my shoulder telling me I had to do this type of work in order to be successful in society.

It felt like a calling and I believe it's a privilege to have the opportunity to do the type of work I've been called to do. Another way to explain it is; Imagine deciding one day you will be a gardener because you want to produce your own fruits and vegetables, you like interacting with soil, seeing different types of seeds, being outdoors, working in the rain etc. and that activity caused something to grow out of the ground not only for you but for everyone around you allowing the reaper and sower to benefit at the same time. That's why I love what I do because all parties benefit from the experience. 

YC: What does the first hour of your day look like?

Brandon: That really depends on what the day holds for me but more times than not I spend the first hour  "charging up" for the day. What I mean by charging up is I pour into myself first because an empty glass can't quench anyone's thirst. The FIRST thing I do when I open my eyes is say "Thank You." It's a habit I've had for years that I don't really talk about, it immediately puts me in a posture of gratefulness and reminds me the opportunity to see another day didn't have to be given to me.

Secondly, I quickly decide if I will read or listen to something to educate, enrich or inspire me. I'm definitely a breakfast/brunch type of guy plus I like to cook that type of food so a morning meal is a must. As I make my meal I read or listen to whatever I opted for during that time which if its a book currently that consists of the late and inspiring ESPN broadcaster Stuart Scott "Every Day I Fight" book and me re-reading Adam Grants "The Originals: How Non-Conformist Move the World" book. If its audio it will be a message by the late and Spirit filled international evangelist Myles Munroe or a current or past episode of Tom Bilyeu "Impact Theory" where Tom interviews a person who is making or has made a impact in the world.

I shower and the LAST action I make as my "departure act" is I take time with my Lord, after that I exit the house. I don't care if its to taking the trash out, going for a walk or run, going to a morning appointment or getting to the office. After that solemn time with Him I exit the space as a sign of completion. 

YC: Do you believe that the people you surround yourself with make a difference in your overall success?  Brandon: When I was around 14 years old I asked my mom to buy for me Tupac Shakur's poem book "The Rose That Grew from Concrete." She did without any real reservation and to say I was excited is a understatement. I mention this because after reading his poem collection I made up in my mind as a teenager that no matter my situation or who I'm situated around I could and would be successful with the right mindset.

I held this thought for a good portion of my life, until life maturation taught me that yes a rose definitely can grow from a crack in the concrete but imagine how strong and beautiful it can be if it was tended to in a rose garden. So yes, who and what you surround yourself with makes a difference in your overall success.

YC: Who inspires you the most, and why?

Brandon: That's a tough question to answer, I look for inspiration in life on a daily basis. From the mother who is with her child waiting at the bus stop, the athlete who is determined not to lose or be beaten in a game I'm watching to the elderly person on a walker holding on tightly as they walk across the street alone. What I do know is my early inspiration is rooted in the will of my mother. Being a woman who came to Birmingham, AL from Bronx, NY at the age of 19 years old, unfamiliar with the culture of the South and making a life for herself is a feat within itself in my opinion.

Her being a woman working in a warehouse for 20 plus years in a work culture or climate some would refuse to enter into; reminds me that our will can take us to heights our minds can never reach or withstand. Frankly, through the years it has been my mom who has challenged me to do more (but not liking it when I do more because then I'm too busy for her is truly a comical thing to witness at times) with the life I've been given and to be "mindful" in all my ways. Without her I'm not sure if my resilience level would be where it currently stands in life.

YC: What's the main thing holding you back?

Brandon: Letting go of people, places and things. I once heard the phrase  "A person drowning will drown you too," there has been times I've wanted to play life guard and it wasn't my role to do so and that had a negative impact on my relationship with the person or people I attempted to save as well as other relationships that were connected to me at the time. Going to the same places our entire life and expecting growth to occur within ourselves is a hand that will never bear the amount of fruit in our hand that's favorable.

In previous years, I would enjoy a routine of going to a place, not consciously realizing that continuing in the same habitual routine of going to a place could possibly mean I myself have become stagnated with my life course. Needless to say I removed that behavioral loop from my habits and have seen growth in that area. As far as things, becoming a evolutionary person requires a constant inventory of "things" around you.

For me identifying the things that no longer serve me for the current leg of life I'm on is high priority on my observation list because prior to having a growing discernment I believed the things that once served me will always serve me, I currently view that as a hazardous mindset. Just like when you need a 4x4 to go off road and you have a compact sedan we all have to learn when its time to change whether that's changing people, places or things.

YC: What's your definition of success?

Brandon: Experiencing self-sovereignty is success to me. There isn't a house on the hill, expensive car, perfect spouse, high paying job nor anything else for that matter that can provide us with a uni-lateral definition for success. I believe having that thought sends us down the road to a vacuum thought meaning if we don't achieve our life check list then we in turn define our lives as unsuccessful hence people use the phrase "My life sucks" well that's because they've allowed a vacuum thought to suck them in.

Being sovereign means you have made it up in your mind that your personal possibilities are boundless, that you are the leader of your life, and you are the co-creator of your life in conjunction with the rest of the world. What is more successful than being able to lead yourself in the direction you decided to go on your own free will?

YC: What’s the biggest lesson you learned on your overall journey? Brandon: I've been learning life lessons since my birth so to choose one as the biggest would do so many of my other lessons an injustice. However, there is a word I would share with those close to me and those I have yet to meet that plays a big role in my life. That word is INTENTIONS.. know them so you can set them and once they are set, get to work on your journey.

YC: What's the best advice you would give to anyone striving to reach their goals? ? Brandon: Don't let what occurred before them determine their goals, don't let what is happening to them determine their goals, and don't let the unknown of tomorrow determine their goals. I would also tell them directly "YOU determine your goals not the past, not the present nor the future."

They are only things to YOU and things are given for us to use them accordingly. Use them as aid to your goals like oceans use streams to fill them and the streams use the oceans for destination points. Whether you have to start downstream and work your way up or you have to start upstream and work your way down always remember the Current Flow was made for YOU to reach your goals in life." 

Catch Me Upstream Future Holders!!

Thanks Brandon for being on Yvonne Camille's #FeatureThursday series. If you want to learn more about Brandon, make sure to check out his social platforms listed below:

Instagram: @lightwork02 / @upstream_culture

Facebook: Brandon Cleveland

Check back every Thursday for a new feature. If you know someone I should feature, email me via the Contact Page.

Sending love and positive vibes your way!

Yvonne Camille

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  • Writer's pictureYvonne Camille

Updated: Feb 20, 2019

When we think about our #Dirty30 birthday, we want to go all out and big – whether it be throwing a huge party or planning a destination trip to a Caribbean island with our girls. Well, one of my good college friends, Gabbrielle Steele, decided to do something different for her 30th birthday. She planned a Women’s Empowerment Brunch with all of her closest family members and girlfriends. How self-less is that? She not only hosted the brunch, but also gave away a $500 book scholarship to a graduating high school senior along with other goodie giveaways to the other high school student applicants.

I was thrilled to be a part of the festivities and was super inspired after attending. One thing that my family has always instilled in me was to uplift others around me. I’ve always supported and cheered my friends on no matter what I was personally going through in my life. I always want to see my family and friends excel and make a difference – that’s just who I am.

And this is why I find it highly irritating when I see other women belittling other women who are trying to make it as well. One thing that gets me going is a pretentious and condescending individual. Just by helping another will not dim your shine, but only make you shine brighter. What people have to realize is that we’re all out here doing our thing and trying to make it, and regardless of what some else has going on, your gift will make room for you no matter how many are striving to do the same thing. And at the end of the day, if it’s meant for that person to make it, they will whether you help them out or not!

This isn’t a feature Thursday, but I decided to ask Gabbrielle what was the thinking process behind her event:

YC: Why do you think it's important for women to empower one another?

Gabbi: Empower is defined as “making someone stronger and confident” and I feel like it is something that we all need. The first step in living an empowering life is to surround yourself with other empowered and motivated women. In life, we as women are faced with many life situations and at times, we may feel discouraged, overwhelmed, and uninspired and no one can truly relate to you and your situation better than another woman.

As little girls we are raised to be a strong woman and at times being strong is not always as easy as it may seem. As a result of us being raised to be strong we know how to maintain our image on the outside when inside we may feel broken or discouraged. Because we never know what the next woman is facing, we don’t rarely understand how much it really means to tell other women you are praying for them or you are proud of them would make them feel. My mottos is “Empowered Women, Empower Women” and with that being said look out world because we are a force to be reckoned with.

YC: What is your take on women who hold back from lifting others up? Do you believe it's an insecure issue, wanting all attention for themselves, etc.?

Gabbi: In order for a woman to uplift another woman they themselves have to be at a good place in their own lives. In today’s society, social media plays a major role in how not just women but how the world perceives themselves. Social media makes us feel like we are “supposed” to be at a certain place in our lives because a person that may be your same age is at a certain place in theirs. As a result of that us women have a hard time congratulating the next woman because of it. I tell my friends all that time that nothing in life happens on our timing. God has a plan and timeline for each of us and it’s not all the same.

We have to know that it is okay to support and motivate one another, it is okay to check on your strong friend, it is okay to like her status on social media, it is okay to share her post on social media, it is okay to tell her congrats on her new job, her new business venture, her engagement, her new baby, her new house. We have to know that we don’t have to dim someone else’s light to make ours shine. We all can win!!!

YC: How do you feel when you help out your “sisters?”

Gabbi: I have many female friends that reach out to me for advice or words of encouragement about situations and life events that they are faced with and when they do it brings out a sense of compassion and concern out of me. I’m the “Honest” sister-friend, the sister-friend that tells you the truth with no sugar-coating. Being honest in my opinion about different life situations is the only way that I feel like I’m truly helping my sister out. I have never wanted to be that sister-friend that told you what you wanted to hear or uphold you in situations that I didn’t honestly feel were right.

Thanks, Gabbi for sharing your insights on the topic of Women Empowering Women!

This week reach out and encourage someone you know doing their thing. Provide some knowledge instead of holding back. Don’t block your blessings trying to keep it all for yourself.

Lend a helping hand, receive a helping hand.

Sending love and positive vibes your way! Yvonne Camille

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  • Writer's pictureYvonne Camille

Jeffery D. Ruffin, (I call him Jeff) was born and raised right here in Birmingham, Alabama. He is married to his lovely wife with two beautiful kids. Fun fact, 4.5 years ago, Jeff took a job as a bank teller with BBVA Compass where he worked his way up to becoming a licensed banker within 18 months, which led him to being featured last year in The Birmingham Business Journal's "Top 40 Under 40" for financial advisors and insurance agents.

Jeff is the definition of grit and determination. He's serious about his craft and can give you all a lesson or two in the financial realm. I've definitely received guidance on investing from Jeff so I'm excited to have him join the #FeatureThursdayCrew.

Welcome Jeff as this week's feature:

Name: Jeffery D. Ruffin

Title: Financial Advisor, Principal Financial Group

Location: Birmingham, AL

Background: High School graduate from Midfield High School; Graduate from the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa with a BA in Accounting and Computer Science Applications

YC: Why do you love what you do?

Jeff: I love being able to impact people's lives in a positive way. What better way to leave your imprint on someone's life other than to educate them on money and developing plans for them to be in the best financial situation possible?

I love when I’m speaking with clients and I explain something that they didn’t know; and to see their eyes light up with excitement or when I walk with them step-by-step in planning for retirement and just how captive, comfortable and confident they become about retiring and what that looks like.

It’s very motivating to know people put their livelihoods in my hands so I have to approach every client as if they were my own grandma, mother or brother. It’s the perfect career. It’s where numbers meet people. I get to create roadmaps to what clients want their financial future to look like. Even with dealing with Millennials; just the huge gap there is with financial literacy with the education process is huge and something I definitely want to implement more of and help younger generations to better understand.

YC: What does the first hour of your day look like?

Jeff: The first hour of my day (5am) definitely starts with my morning devotion and a workout. I then follow up by an agenda I create of tasks I want to accomplish for that day.

YC: Do you believe that the people you surround yourself with make a difference in your overall success?

Jeff: Yes definitely. I’ve been blessed to have some great people come into my life who have stretched my mind, changed my perspective and helped elevate me to another level.

“Show me your friends and I'll show you your future." Mark Ambrose

YC: Who inspires you the most, and why?

Jeff: Well let’s see, that one is pretty easy. FAMILY!!!  All of my life I saw family make sacrifices to try and put me in a better situation. I’ve always had a dream to be able to not only be successful, but be so successful that we all could enjoy the fruits of my labor because they labored with me. They instilled things in me. Family set the foundation of the man I am today. That's what inspires me to not fail at this thing we call life.

YC: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned so far on your journey?

Jeff: There are no mistakes, only lessons we need to master. Also, embrace the journey and enjoy the ride.

YC: What's the best advice you would give to anyone striving to reach their goals? Jeff: Find your passion, stay committed to your dreams, pray for guidance and outwork everyone else! With God, a plan and hard work, success is inevitable.

Thanks Jeffery for being on Yvonne Camille's #FeatureThursday series. If you want to learn more about Jeffery, make sure to check out his social platforms listed below:

Instagram: @J_d_ruffin

Facebook: Jeffery Ruffin

For all financial inquiries or how to start investing, email Jeffery at

Check back every Thursday for a new feature. If you know someone I should feature, email me via the Contact Page.

Sending love and positive vibes your way!

Yvonne Camille

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