Linette Marie Allen heard it first 20 years ago.
A freshman Business major in her first semester then at Howard University, she wasn’t aware yet of what she would later call her “inner scream.” The introduction came on the fall of 1990 in the basement of the university’s Blackburn Center.
That night, she was preoccupied with her thoughts in the “Punch Out,” a campus cafeteria that doubled as a lounge for open mic events.
That night, the place was packed. She’d memorized her own poem for the occasion. The lights were dimmed for effect. Halfway through her piece, Allen drew a blank, forgetting her lines.
That’s when she heard her inner scream. Whatever you do be a voice of encouragement to others, it told her. Use your gifts and talents to uplift others. She had no way of knowing then that her business ventures would make her a resource for the unemployed or those switching careers.
“I wanted to be a launching pad,” Allen, 38, recalled in a recent phone interview. “I really wanted to get behind and inspire people.” Those gifts and talents would have her coaching clients to develop action plans for starting a new business or making adjustments in their personal lives. Those gifts and talents would eventually lead her to write a book inspiring others to tap into their inner scream.
But that night in the “Punch Out,” Allen looked into the crowd, reassured to see her friend and fellow student Yao Hoke Glover. “It was a charged time,” said Glover, a Bowie State University professor. He met Allen through a comparative black literature course that same year.
Though he can barely recall the details of that night 20 years ago, he said of that time, “It was a different type of poetry environment [then]. It was a whole activism bent that was connected to poetry.” Knowing her poem by heart that night, Glover mouthed the words of the next line to Allen. She got back on track and finished her performance. The crowd cheered.
The inner scream hasn’t left her alone since. In fact, that night was just the start of a journey that would later whisk her away from a good-paying job she landed after graduation. It pulled the native-Washingtonian from her hometown to grad school in the United Kingdom, and eventually to briefly live with her husband and teaching in Italy.
Perhaps that inner scream was the product of her birth to teenage parents in 1972 at DC General Hospital, the city’s first and only public hospital that operated for 200 years until it closed in May 2001 (the hospital was recently converted to a homeless shelter).
With a 15-year-old mom and 17-year-old dad, Allen’s grandparents, who had four children, helped raise her in their home. “My mother, in many ways, was like my older sister, although I addressed her properly,” Allen said, adding that her mother — who had Allen reading by age three — has been a motivator from the beginning.
The neighborhood’s boundaries included Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue SE, Fendall Street SE, and Maple View Place SE. The boundaries also ran along the eastern and southern sides of the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site to High Street SE.
Located east of the Anacostia River, according to various sources, the neighborhood remains a famous one in the Southeast quadrant of the city. Anacostia’s history goes back as far as the Nacochtank Native Americans who settled along the Anacostia River before Captain John Smith explored the area in 1608.
The name, Anacostia, means “trading village,” according to sources. The Nacochtank villages at the river’s south side were busy trading sites for Native Americans in the region. War with and diseases from European explorers nearly wiped out the tribe, which ceased to exist as “a functional unit” during the last 25 years of the 17th century.
The first wave of European settlers came to the area in 1662. By 1791, the neighborhood became a part of DC. Allen’s grandparents bought their two-story brick home for $11,000 just after the Great Depression of 1929. Her grandparents were pioneers in a sense, moving into an area where Whites once comprised 87 percent of the population until the 1950s.
With public housing apartment complexes springing up throughout the neighborhood, and then the flight of middle class residents to suburbs, Anacostia’s demographics shifted to a predominantly Black neighborhood (the 2000 census showed African Americans made up 92 percent of residents).
With the impact of deteriorated infrastructures and the drug trade, Anacostia’s crime rate peaked, according to sources, in the 1990s. But Allen has a different take on growing up during that era.
She grew up in “a little row house” in the 1300 block of Talbert Terrace SE, where her grandmother still lives to this day. “Growing up in Anacostia was actually the opposite of what the stereotypes might imply,” said Allen, who now lives in Gaithersburg, Md.
All the neighbors knew one another. She went to Savoy Elementary School on Shannon Place SE and Jefferson Junior High School on 7th Street SW. “It was probably insular in the sense that the neighborhood had a one-way street,” said Allen, who won the DC Miss Teen Beauty Pageant while a student in the Humanities program at Ballou High School in 1987.
She took on bohemian ways, hanging with DC’s poets, artists and musicians during her time at Howard. “She seemed to march to the beat of her own drum,” said Brian Gilmore, a clinical associate professor and director of the Housing Clinic at Michigan State University College of Law. Also a poet and writer, he met Allen through Glover in the DC arts scene around 1992.
He recalled reading an article by Eleanor W. Traylor, who at the time was professor of English and chair of the department of English at Howard University. In the article, Dr. Traylor cited Allen as a new emerging poet to watch out for.
“When I saw Linette and mentioned it, she was just so very humble about it, like she felt honored to even be mentioned,” Gilmore recalled, adding that he was impressed by Allen’s humility. “A lot of that is missing today because poetry, and poets, are a bit self-indulgent, and self promotional to an extreme almost.”
He added that as a result, “The work, the tradition, gets lost, but Linette back then… understood the tradition.”
Everything in her life up to that point might have been orchestrated by her inner scream before Allen knew what it was, before it introduced itself to her that night in the “Punch Out.” That same year she met Gilmore, Allen transferred to the University of the District of Columbia (UDC), where she got free tuition since her mother was an employee there. She landed a job at the former Pricewaterhouse (now Pricewaterhouse Coopers), after graduating from UDC in 1996.
With skills as an analytical thinker and dubbing herself “spreadsheet queen,” Allen’s inner scream told her the skies were the limit. At the career coaching firm, she worked in the managing consultant division. “It was a good job,” she said. But not where she would stay long.
A special encounter on a metro bus during her Howard days had set off a series of events that eventually had her studying organizational and social psychology at the London School of Economics (LSE). To hear Allen tell it, it started with a pair of shoes. She noticed them while riding the 70 bus on her way to Silver Spring after her classes.
The unusual pair of heels were thick, high-stacked and with “European”-styled buckles. They were unlike anything Allen, who thought they were cool, had seen before. They were worn by Lara Oyedele, who Allen thought was an eclectic-looking African woman. Oyedele sat at the back of the bus, looking out the window.
Prior to their conversation, Allen couldn’t have known the woman was Nigerian, that she spoke with a British accent, and that she was an exchange student from Bradford England studying Radio-TV-Broadcast at Howard University. “I happened to glance over and look at her shoes,” Allen recalled. The two became “fast and hard” friends who went everywhere together.
While at Pricewaterhouse, Allen remembered Oyedele had invited her to fly out for a week in London. She made the trip in 1996, taking in the sights and meeting Oyedele’s grad school professors at LSE. Allen talked with one professor for an hour. “I talked about my background and my interests,” she said. “This one professor just poured into me.”
When she got back, she had a number of decisions to make. Initially, George Washington University was her first choice for grad school. But after an unpleasant encounter with a GW admissions counselor, Allen applied to LSE and the University of Edinburgh in Scotland—and got into both.
Then there was her job. “They had offered me another position,” she said. If she took the job, it meant she wouldn’t be able to do grad school the following year. Her inner scream told her to take a risk, and so she did by turning down the job and going to LSE.
That decision didn’t surprise Gilmore. “She is outgoing,” he recalled, “a bit of a chance taker in a lot of ways.” It’s a decision she doesn’t regret to this day. “When I arrived, I absolutely loved the city,” Allen said. “London was a good fit for me.” There, she found a similar bohemian scene she had back home.
Then there were the free lecture series, where she recalled catching a lecture at LSE by former South African President Nelson Mandela, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. “You had Pulitzer Prize winners and authors who had published work,” she recalled. “The culture was so rich.”
The diversity in the classrooms was just as rich. “I had students in my program who were from all over the world”—from places like Sweden, Italy, Scotland and South Africa, said Allen, who was one of three Black students. As the only African American there, she made an observation about the classroom dynamic.
“They [her fellow grad students] would speak open with me about what they thought about Americans and America, in general,” she said. “European men and women didn’t treat me like I was an African American. They actually treated me as if I was just an American.”
Glover noted the significance of Allen’s experiences. “She’s well traveled. That’s what I admire about her,” he said. “She’s my hero in the sense of getting out of the city and seeing how big the world is.”
Back in America, Allen was aware that race was thoroughly woven into the social fabric. Unlike Europe, she noted, America seemed to be hung up on labels. For instance, if a Black person won an award or did something spectacular, according to Allen, that person would be celebrated in America as an African American receiving an award.
But in Europe, it was different. “If I won an award, I was the American student,” she said.
Things were also different overseas on the dating tip. “I found that European men approached me just as boldly and as regularly as Black guys [back in the U.S.],” she said. “It was a little shocking to my fabric.” She met her husband, a native Italian, while studying in London.
They married in 1999 and divorced in 2007. During the marriage, she moved to Italy where her husband was finishing the doctoral program in Linguistics. They lived there for two years, when she learned the language at the University of Perugia in Perugia, Italy. She then landed a job at the University of Macerata in Macerata, Italy, teaching business communication to undergraduates.
Allen, a mother of three, described her marriage as “a desert period,” where her inner scream was dried to the point of her almost losing her passions. “I stopped writing for a period of eight years. I wasn’t driven really to fulfill the work that I was called to do,” she said. “By the time I finally climbed out of the pit I was in, I didn’t even recognize myself.”
She continued, “It was a process of coming back and being true to that original inner scream…[that] says to me, today, louder than ever, ‘you are a writer.’”
She got back her inner scream two years ago, when she started writing her book, Operating in the Dream Zone: How to Kick Your Dreams to the Sky and Thrive in Any Economy. It’s a book, according to the front flap, about dusting off the imagination and “counting yourself in and counting your excuses out.”
Glover saw Allen’s strength when she counted herself in and her excuses out. “She’s an interesting character,” he said. “She’s always got a lot on her plate.”
She got back her inner scream by starting two businesses. In 2006, a year before her divorce, she started The Resume Ring, a small business that specializes in transforming resumes into effective marketing tools.
“I wanted to do something that would allow me to express my gift of writing,” said Allen, recalling her inner scream advising her 20 years ago to uplift and inspire. “Because I have a business background, I wanted something where I could act as a coach.”
And when The Resume Ring became too small for her vision, she started DreamZu in 2010. With her personal development consultancy firm, Allen does a number of things that include her walking clients through a step by step process of discovering their strengths, weaknesses, talents, skills, interests, and personality type.
In addition to helping identify obstacles and determine ways to overcome them, she helps her clients as a resource to additional information and resources.
And for those still unsure about their inner scream?
“I would recommend they take inventory,” Allen said. “There are a couple of tools you can use.” They’re located in a section of her book called the “Dream Shop,” a map that will take readers through various stages of accessing what they see as limitations.
Don’t underestimate the mind, Allen will tell anyone. “Whatever it is, you can actually imagine your way out of a circle of impossibility.”
To keep up with Linette Marie Allen, visit her at DreamZu.