“My mother always said there are people who have the talent but not the drive,” Donia Duchess says. “And there are people who have the drive but not the talent. But then there are people who are lucky enough to have both the talent and the drive.”
Such a person is Duchess herself. As a model, TV host and senior producer as well as an internet influencer over the past decade, the Stamford resident had done everything from celebrity interviews with actors Emily Blunt and Owen Wilson to segments on domestic abuse and makeup for transgender individuals.
“I love being compassionate enough to help people share their stories,” Duchess says.
At the moment, she’s sharing her own as a working mom of 10-month-old cutie Noah, her son, with husband Joey Mejia, who works in lighting and special effects. (In 2017, Duchess and Mejia appeared on the premier episode of TLC’s “I Want That Wedding,” in which engaged couples work with wedding planners to bring their dream day in on budget. They wed in 2019.)
Now, she says, “I’m juggling producing with being a stay-at-home mom and looking for more hosting opportunities.”
Fans of TikTok, the video-sharing platform, will recognize the trio from their four videos — “funny skits of us just being silly as a family and 1,000% real,” Duchess says. The vignettes have garnered hundreds of thousands — and in some cases, millions — of views and contracts with Real Her Makeup, which is all about female affirmation and empowerment; Kreyòl Essence, featuring beauty products from Haiti, which reflect her ancestry; and Always feminine pads. “Always has been a fun one for me,” Duchess says, because it hits her where her body lives. Hey, pregnant and post-pregnant women can have leaky bladders. And it’s not only OK to have one, she says with characteristic forthrightness, it’s OK to talk about it. She is equally candid about what she will and will not promote.
“As a content influencer, I don’t just do any business deals,” she says. They have to be meaningful to her.
Similarly, her TikTok videos aren’t about glamour but about her “perfectly imperfect family. I cook for my son. But sometimes I give him packaged food.”
Their time is now
Modeling jobs with Amazon, BET, Macy’s and, more recently, American Express. Hosting gigs with “Buzzfeed,” “Celebrity Page TV,” “People TV” and “Rolling Out.” An NAACP Award, two Emmy nominations and a Webby for hosting the game app “Song Pop Live”: Duchess’ career is in full swing at a moment when Black women are at the forefront of media. On her eponymous Showtime show, the comedian Ziwe challenges her guests and audiences on race relations and other political, cultural issues. In May, “PBS NewsHour” White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor was named moderator of the network’s “Washington Week,” a chair once occupied by her mentor, the late Gwen Ifill. Also in May, politician and voting rights activist Stacey Abrams released her eighth novel — her first thriller and first under her own name — “While Justice Sleeps.” Appropriately, her two nonfiction books are titled “Our Time is Now” and “Lead From the Outside.”
“It’s nice to see Black women getting this recognition,” Duchess says. “I feel it’s a long time coming. You don’t want to say it’s ‘a moment,’ because I feel a moment is forgotten. But times are changing for people of color. A lot of people are speaking up. A lot of white people are speaking up. Everyone is coming together to say, Hey, (racial injustice) isn’t OK. Corporations are being held accountable. People are holding those corporations accountable. People are making change by holding brands accountable. We the people can raise our voices for change.”
Telling stories, living her own
Duchess has been interested in TV ever since she learned to record programs on the VCR — remember those? She was, she says, one of those kids who walk around with a hairbrush pretending it’s a microphone. Born in Brooklyn and raised in Stamford, Duchess was the seventh of 11 children of Haitian immigrants, who stressed education and a strong work ethic. A gifted student, Duchess spent a year at Greenwich Academy in the REACH Prep program for high-achieving, underserved students in Fairfield and Westchester counties. It’s not as if anyone was racist or mean to her, she says. But she didn’t fit in. She remembers a classmate’s bedroom being as big as her family’s whole apartment.
Duchess credits her mother with putting her back in public school, where she thrived. At Westhill High School, she took part in community plays, made the cheerleading squad, won the title of Miss Haiti Connecticut and was named prom queen her senior year. The prom almost didn’t happen for her. But her guidance counselor bought her the ticket. Duchess has since paid that forward by working for two years pre-Covid with A Step Ahead, a 40-year-old, family-owned special occasions business in Stamford, to provide a prom-goer with a dress she couldn’t otherwise afford, also covering the cost of her hair, makeup and shoes.
“It was very sweet. It taught me to give back.” She has also given back by working with the Hope for Haiti Foundation and Hike for Haiti, helping to raise $300,000 for her parents’ home country, and aiding mothers who have difficult pregnancies. (Duchess suffered from gestational diabetes and high blood pressure during her own.)
But what she most wants to do is tell other people’s stories, something she got a taste of when she became a production assistant on “The Maury Povich Show” after graduating with a bachelor’s degree from Southern Connecticut State University and interning at Details and Glamour magazine. In 2015, she was asked to host a national segment on the Povich show. Her on-camera career had begun.
“Everyone is unique. Everyone has a story,” she says.
She’s looking to tell those stories while living her own.
“Everyone is so focused on what’s next. I want to take some time to enjoy myself.”