Last year listening to Jessie J’s “Who You Are,” my heart was hit hard by Jessie’s vulnerability, her voice and lyrics, and it became my anthem:

I stare at my reflection in the mirror:
“Why am I doing this to myself?”
Losing my mind on a tiny error,
I nearly left the real me on the shelf.
No, no, no, no, no…

Don’t lose who you are in the blur of the stars!
Seeing is deceiving, dreaming is believing,
It’s okay not to be okay.
Sometimes it’s hard to follow your heart.
Tears don’t mean you’re losing, everybody’s bruising,
Just be true to who you are!

Brushing my hair, do I look perfect?
I forgot what to do to fit the mold, yeah!
The more I try the less it’s working, yeah
‘Cause everything inside me screams
No, no, no, no, no…

Don’t lose who you are in the blur of the stars!
Seeing is deceiving, dreaming is believing,
It’s okay not to be okay.
Sometimes it’s hard to follow your heart.
But tears don’t mean you’re losing, everybody’s bruising,
There’s nothing wrong with who you are!

For so long, I’ve hidden parts of who I am hoping to fit in… as a kid in high school, corporate America, and within the photography industry… but I’ve always known my brand stands for authenticity, and I had to live what I preached.

Petronella Lugemwa of By Petronella Photography

Photo credit: Stacy BE Photography 

I was born in Uganda and came to the United States when I was 10, but somewhere along the line, I traded in who I was for what I thought would make me successful.

As a poor kid attending a prestigious Alabama school on scholarship with classmates from very affluent families, it was hard not to give into the pressures of conforming amongst angry whispers about foreigners taking US jobs, ignorant comments about Africa… I started to hide myself and assimilate by shedding my Ugandan cultural identity.  Yup, I wore Birkenstocks, Tevas, said “ya’ll,” proclaimed my love for the Backstreet Boys and occasionally omitted my last name.

I now know that you are meant to shine, to be seen, all of you because for so long, I was hiding.

I had so many blessings: a good job, life, good health, friends, financial security to buy things I could only dream of owning as a teen: a promise I made to myself when I was young when I realized how poor our family was… but I was stuck in a rut of following the corporate mold, dressing a certain way, laughing at jokes that weren’t funny, being a soldier.


Petronella Lugemwa of Petronella Photography_PhotoCredit Kat Harris

Photo credit: Kat Harris


It wasn’t until I started following Lara Casey, Emily Ley and Gina Zeidler of Making Things Happen that something burst inside: I knew Iwas meant for more, to do more, be more and inspire others to do the same.  At the end of the MTH workshop, Emily came up to me and said, “you have to do something with your Ugandan cultural heritage.”  I prayed about it, but for a long time, nothing moved me.  I now know it was because I was thinking of a big platform idea like Jeremy Cowart‘s HELP Portrait, but the real issue was that I needed to first walk in my truth, openly share my cultural identity and inspire others to embrace all of who they are.

Then I met Jamie and Todd Reichman of Sexy Business Atlanta…  They saw past all my unconscious layers of conformity and after many hard days of work, with their firm but gentle coaxing, the walls came down HARD.  Jamie told me, “your power lies in that very thing you’re afraid to share with the world.”  The big secret I’d unknowingly hidden came out: my last name is Lugemwa and I’m proud to be Ugandan and embrace all of who I am.

Petronella Lugemwa of By Petronella Photography (3)


I’m an amalganation of being born in Uganda and growing up in America, which means I have a commonly mispelled last time, enjoy ethnic food that would make other people cringe and when a good African beat comes on, I get down… BUT I also love J. Crew and Southern fried chicken. I guess that’s why my accent sounds like it does.  It’s a mix of being born in Uganda, moving to Zimbabwe, being taught under the British school system, learning a new language every time we moved and then moving to the South (Alabama).

I pray that the next few years will be a celebration of who I am and a testimony to inspire others to do the same: share your truth and story, follow your dreams and live authentically.


Petronella Lugemwa of Petronella Photography Photo Credit Scott Hopkins Photography_010

Photo credit: Scott Hopkins Photography

Society projects this image of what successful, beautiful looks like and what’s acceptable.  When you look at mainstream media and corporate America and you don’t see brown, black, Indian, Asian, intercultural role models, that doesn’t mean that you or your story aren’t beautiful.  I know for sure that success can never truly be achieved if you’re hiding and if people can’t see all of who you are: good and bad.  People want to see all those parts of you.

I believe your power lies in embracing and sharing your truth with the world, and as a photographer, my mission is to celebrate beautiful you: your story, cultural heritage, all of you.


Petronella Lugemwa of Petronella Photography_001

I’ve grown up in very intercultural neighborhoods, travelled to 6 different continents  and my closest friends are from all over the world, so cultural heritage means a lot to me.

Be true to who you are.  You are beautiful!!

I look forward to sharing more on this mission, which is so near and dear to my heart.

Petronella Lugemwa of By Petronella Photography (6)

Photo credit: Gina Zeidler Photography



Thank you for remembering who you really are. That is what I’m trying to do too. My ancestors were the Celtic Scots. We were invaded by Roman armies and subjugated by their empire. That is where the forgetting started for my ancient people. Now we are living under a Roman method. My people have completely forgotten who they are. I’m trying to help them remember. Thank you so much for inspiration. Thank you for remembering.

I am so proud of you and I am blessed to call you my best friend. Love you. Never stop dreaming and sharing your dreams.

I LOVE You to the moon & back! Thank you for standing beside me now & always xoxo P

Stay true to you. Your photography is amazing. I love the photo album you have created for the DOVE BIRDS!!.

Jocelyn, hi! Thanks for stopping by & checking out my story. I hope I get to photograph yours one day! They were a blast to photograph!

Jocelyn, hi! Thanks for stopping by & checking out my story. I hope I get to photograph yours one day!

Oh my goodness I love this! You have the most beautiful heart and I am so excited to see how the Lord continues to use you!! Be blessed 🙂

Chloe, thanks so much for stopping by! Love your blog. Keep inspiring others xoxo P

You’re beautiful and help others find their extraordinary beauty. Thank you for inspiring me always.


My dear heart & soul! Words can’t express how much I love you. Muaah!

If comments make you smile, I hope you smile at this: Awesome! What a lovely story. You seem like a beautiful and interesting person- what a neat story you have. Love and well-wishes to you! I skimmed through some of your work and loved what I saw!

Petronella, I am so proud of you! This is such a moving and honest post, and I am so thrilled to see all of your beautiful self be set free into the world. I know that your story will touch many, and I cannot wait to see how your journey unfolds. Congratulations on a huge and courageous first step!

Holy shitniz, this is so cool thank you.

LOVE!!! LOVE!!!! LOVE!!!
I have always known how special you are ever since we shared a two week trip through Africa together. Man, you were one of the few people that I connected to on a spiritual level from b-school. Authenticity = so me and so you. Even when I brought you to my childhood home, I remember thinking you were so comfortable there. Amidst the loud Puerto Ricans and the questionable neighbohood, but you fit right in. I am so thankful to call you my friend.

Thank you for allowing me to be my authentic self with you and for inspiring me.

My dear sweet friend Lizette. This comment brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for always inspiring me too & sharing who you are with me! xoxo

Thank you for sharing your amazing background and photographs. You are blessed to have had some many experiences from so many cultures.

Michael, thanks for reading and checking out the site. You’re right; I’m truly blessed to meet & photograph all the wonderful people in my life.

Petronella, I’m so proud of you! Absolutely beautiful post – – what a powerful personal brand.

Annie, thank you for all your cheers & support!! xoxo

Loved reading this post Petronella and I’m truly happy that you are embracing your heritage. As a Nigerian-American who spent years in the Middle East before coming back to America, I can understand your story completely. Really looking forward to seeing more of your work this year:)


Jackie, thank you for sharing your story here. I had no idea! You inspire me. xoxo P

Hey Lady,
This is a great story and an amazing encouragement! Thanks soooo much for sharing your story.

Simi, thanks for all the love & support. I’m so honored I could inspire you as you do me!

Thanks so much for sharing, awesome and beautiful post 🙂

Chelo, your post on cultural heritage & your son was also so moving! Thank you for sharing! More people need to hear our stories

That is the beauty of us. You can and will fit in everywhere because you know who you are, where you came from, where you are going and what motivates you in every aspect of your life. I am so happy you have embraced yourself. Let people spell your last name wrong and cringe at what you eat. You know how those things have made you the woman that you are. ‘Akwaaba’; it means welcome in twi.

Stella, thanks love for being a great friend. I always learn something new with you!

I’m so happy and proud of you for stepping out on faith!

Excited to see your journey unfold.

Love ya,


Natarsha, you’re one of my biggest supporters. 2013 is ours. Many blessings xoxo

Love you to Natarsha! Thank you for holding me accountable friend!

As an African-American woman whose family was the fifth black family in an all white town in the late 1960’s, I understand all about wanting to fit in, to be enough, acceptable, worthy. Embracing our truth takes great courage, trust in God and in all that He says about who we are in Him, and walking out His truths bravely.

May He continue to encourage you and whisper sweet truths about who you are in your ear. He’s been doing that to me and that’s what moves me to help other women live fully and authentically.

Be blessed,

Monica, wow! I cried when I read this. Thank you for sharing your story with me and for your blessings! I’m praying the same for you and that you always trust in Him!

Monica, thank you for sharing your story. It’s very encouraging to know that & for your sweet blessings. May you always be blessed too!

You’re amazing Petronella!

You’re amazing Crystal! xoxo P

Crystal, thanks for your sweet comment!

I am SO proud of you and grateful for you! You inspire my heart, my friend!

Lara, you truly inspire me. Thank you for giving me an extra BOOST last year, for so openly sharing who you are authentically and for your love. xoxo P

Thank you for reading my story & commenting!

What a beautiful blog post! It’s wonderful to see you embrace your heritage and share your truth to the world… 🙂

Erik, thank you for reading & checking it out & for your support!

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