Storytellers: This Mom Channeled Devastating Grief Into Purpose

In October of 2015, Danielle LaVon McKinnon lived a mother’s worst nightmare. She got the news that her 17-year-old daughter, and only child, had passed away in a single car accident.

Danielle had been a teacher at the time but stepped away after Ariyanna’s death. She didn’t much like the idea of being around students who were mostly the same age as her daughter. She downsized from her house to an apartment no longer needing the space or the constant reminders. And she grieved. But not in the way that most wanted or expected from her. That’s the thing about Danielle though. Those who know her also know that she marches to the beat of her own drum. If you have preconceived notions or expectations of her, don’t. You’ll be disappointed.

So she grieved silently and away from the prying eyes of others. Then she went to work; this time as an entrepreneur. In 2016, Danielle launched the Priority Planner, which was both an ode to her daughter - who had been focused on prioritizing and reaching her goals – and a way for her to help others identify and reach their goals.

Since then she’s been on a roll with the planners, writing books, publishing books, and leaving folks crying with laughter on social media. Check out the Q&A below to learn more about how she kept moving through her grief and is now making a life for herself and her new baby boy.

Dwaynia Wilkerson: There were any number of products with which you could have launched your brand. How and why did you decide on planners?

Danielle McKinnon: I honestly LOVE planners. I try to plan out my life as much as possible even though God continues to throw me curve balls. When my daughter passed and I decided to quit my job, I felt like I needed something to help me with direction. I bought several planners and was disappointed. I had to use two different planners to get everything I felt I needed. So I decided to create my own. In the beginning I only planned to use it for myself then I said… Hmmmmm… There may be more people just like me. And that is how the Priority Planner was launched.


DW: So you came up with the Priority Planner. What's the story behind the name and concept?

DM: My daughter had written “Priorities! What Are You Working For? on her bedroom mirror. I was at a time in my life where I didn’t know what I was working for and didn’t feel I had anything to work for. I had to snap out of it and get my priorities in order.


DW: You recently ventured into book publishing with the launch of To Dee Moon Publishing. How’d that happen?

DM: Like I said. . . curve balls. I had a very good friend that came to me with a book idea and she wanted me to help her. She had been dancing with the idea of writing a book for years and finally got the nerve to do it. I actually did that in silence. I still had NO plans on making my company public. Then another friend approached me and wanted me to help her publish a book. So I gave in. Hashtag I see what you did there God.


DW: And how do most of your clients find you? Is it word of mouth, social media, or some other method?

DM: [It’s all] word of mouth and social media. I have been getting more submissions lately from people who found me on a social media platform. But word of mouth sustains me.


DW: One of your clients is on a really successful book run right now. How does that make you feel to not only see her book come to fruition but to also see her have such success?

DM: Like a proud mother! She is working that book! Ironically, she was who came to me with her book idea years ago and then when she decided to do it she came back. As much as she said I pushed her, I don’t think she knows that she pushed me out of my comfort zone as well. It was an amazing experience working with her. And if you haven’t bought it, go to Amazon and order Ruby Davis’s book Hearsay!


DW: Although you seem to openly share many parts of your life on social media, your audience actually only gets a glimpse. For example, most of your audience was shocked when you revealed your pregnancy at nine months. They’d been “seeing” you everyday on social media. How have you mastered only showing bits of yourself in a way that makes it appear you are sharing everything?

DL: It’s all about the angles girl! LOL I actually went into labor four days after that post! Social media is a tricky playing field. The same platform they praise you on will be used to tear you down. I make it a point to share my personality, whether I post a video on my story or repost memes that I find hilarious so you know who, Danielle LaVon, (or some just call me Dee) is. But my personal, PERSONAL business is reserved for those who I know have my back in life even when it is not IG picture perfect.


DW: You've got Aiden. You've gone back to teaching full time, and you are running the publishing business. HOW are you accomplishing all of this?

DM: I.DONT.KNOW! Truth is I’m TIDE! Lol Actually it is because of Aiden that I have revised my priorities and have become more focused. I think it was the evangelist Meek Mill who said, “Mama need that bill money, my son needs some milk!” Although the second stream of income helps a lot now that I have a new baby, I want to be able to do something I LOVE to do. I also want to teach my son to do the same. We can get caught up in the money (which we ALL need, I want to cry in the Porsche truck!) but when you can make money doing something you love and you feel you were purposed for, that makes it easy. It doesn’t seem like work. You learn how to balance. Since Aiden has me on a schedule now, it’s easier to manage.


DW: You have a way of blending straightforward life advice with humor. Your social media following is both educated and entertained by your posts. Was that intentional?

DM: Nope. Social media was entertainment to me. I’m surprised this many people follow and like me. Lol I’m not sitting at home planning social media strategies, I’m just being Dee.


DW: What advice do you give to others, particularly women, who are facing an unexpected, major life transition? How do they keep moving forward rather than being kept stagnant from fear or uncertainty?

DM: My Big Mama always says, “God don’t make no mistakes!” I think we put too much into our decisions and our plans, and then when things don’t go the way we planned it we panic. We fight. We refuse to let God do His thang and we try to hold onto what we want. This life is full of ups and downs, and change is inevitable, but you have to either lean with it or rock with it. It’s ok to be upset, mourn, be disappointed in unexpected life blows but you can’t sit in it. You have to cry, scream, cuss, be angry, drink a little Hen then sober up and keep moving. It’s going to be scary. You are going to be uncertain. It might not even work out how you think it should but do it anyway. You will be surprised what happens when you let go of your idea of perfect and let God give you the “perfect” He created for you when He created you!


DW: What's next for Danielle?

DM: Publish more books! And I am embarking on a 45-day challenge with a few other authors to finish MY novel. I can’t publish everyone else and not publish myself!

NOTE: Since the original publication of this interview, Danielle did finish and publish her novel, The DeeTales: Hindsight is 2020. You can learn more about it and make a purchase here. I've read it and trust me: it's the escapism you didn't know you needed!


About Dwaynia Wilkerson: Dwaynia is the owner of Prose & Pens a ghostwriting service that creates written content for professionals, businesses, and brands.