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Transcript: HER With Amena Brown Episode 38: Partnership in Community with Jeannine Umutoniwase

Amena Brown: Okay, everybody. Welcome back to Season Three of HER with Amena Brown, and I am Amena Brown, your host. You all, I have enjoyed Season Three so much. We are winding down towards the end and I am winding down with some great episodes. This is one of the seasons of this podcast that I just... I don't want it to end. I keep thinking of amazing women of color to talk to, so that makes it challenging for me, but good for all of us, that we get a chance to be inspired by the stories of so many amazing women of color, and today's guest is no different.

Amena Brown: I'm so excited to welcome my guest. She is, I want to say, maybe this season, our guest today might be the furthest away from me, out of all the guests that I've spoken to this season, I think. I'm excited to welcome... I'm going to try to make sure I pronounce her name right because she just told me. Let me see if I could do it, Jeannine Umutoniwase, did I do it, Jeannine?

Jeannine U.: Yeah, you did it. Well done. You did it well.

Amena Brown: Oh, man. We are talking to Jeannine today. She is the CEO of Azizi Life, and Azizi Life is a faith-based social enterprise located in Rwanda, committed to sustainability, collaboration, and putting people first, that's including artisans and customers alike. Everybody, welcome Jeannine Umutoniwase to the podcast. Woo. This is me clapping for you, Jeannine.

Jeannine U.: Thank you so much. Thank you.

Amena Brown: We have been working behind the scenes to have an opportunity for me to connect with Jeannine. I actually had initial interactions with Christi who is one of the founders of Azizi Life, and I have been to Rwanda. Many of you that have been listening to the podcast know that I've been to Rwanda a few times, and almost every time I go, we spend some time in some way connected to Azizi Life.

Amena Brown: We've been able to experience some of the experiences where you get a chance to be with some of the women who are in co-ops with Azizi Life, spending the day with the artisans. These women are amazing. I felt like I needed to go work out in the gym after spending a day with these women. They are amazing and fantastic. Even on the trips where we haven't been able to really spend the day with some of the artisans that partner with Azizi Life, I will at least take teams to buy some of the jewelry and artwork and just amazing things that come out of Azizi Life. So thank you so much for being here, Jeannine.

Jeannine U.: Thank you. It's my pleasure. I've been waiting for this moment. Yeah.

Amena Brown: I always start each episode asking each guest an origin story. I love origin stories because I think our origin stories can take us back to how our early life is helping to show us what we're going to be doing in our future or in our current life. We can look back on our past, look back on our upbringing and some of the experiences we've had, and we can look at that and go, "Oh, man. All those experiences were preparing me for what I was going to do today."

Amena Brown: I want to talk to you about your origin story and how you ended up working with Azizi Life. But before we get to that, before you worked for Azizi Life, before Azizi Life was even an organization or a non-profit or anything, you also worked for another non-profit managing a guest house. I have a little bit of knowledge of this, not from the manager side, but from the guest side, because the times that I have been to Rwanda, I have stayed in a guest house that is owned by Africa New Life Ministries, which is also another non-profit that is there in Rwanda.

Amena Brown: I'm just curious, before we get into your origin story, when you worked as a guesthouse manager for this other non-profit, what are the things that you learned or had to adapt as you were preparing things for Americans and working with Americans? What were some of those lessons that you learned, or I guess I'm hoping you'll give us... I know not everyone that listens to this podcast is American, but quite a few people are. Maybe if you can just share with us what you've learned. You can tell us a few things that Americans shouldn't be doing when we come to Rwanda. Anything you want to share, Jeannine. What have you learned or what are some things that you're like, "Americans please don't do that"?

Jeannine U.: Yeah. Thank you so much. Yeah. If I remember well, I was not even ready or prepared for that job. The lady, she's called Sabine, who was working there, was preparing for her wedding and she only had like a week to prepare. She didn't manage to get a job leave so that she can go back home and prepare for everything. Then she was pushing her bosses to let her go. Then, in that week, she told her boss that, you know what, whether you find someone to stay here or not, I'm going to leave because I don't want to be embarrassed the day of my wedding, and this is the only day that will not come back.

Jeannine U.: Then I was a neighbor to that manager. She has seen me growing up as a little girl, very quiet. But I loved so much, her kids. Then she said, "Maybe I'm going to try Jeannine." She called me and asked me if I was free in that week to go and stay there, just to stay there. She didn't vision that I will become a staff there.

Jeannine U.: Then I went there. She introduced me to Sabine, and she said, "This is Jeannine. She's going to come and stay here while you are going in the market to shop and prepare for the wedding. But we expect you to come back, not to leave forever. Then Sabine said, "Yes. Yes. No problem. Let me talk to her a little bit and then I will plan with her how I can leave." When the manager left, Sabine was jumping in air, saying, "Thank you, God. Thank you, God, I found someone who can replace me." And I say, "What? But I don't know anything about managing a guesthouse. It's my first time to even spend time with white people. I don't know what I'm going to do." She said, "Wait. I'm going to show you."

Jeannine U.: We entered in the house. She showed me the kitchen. She showed me all the rooms, and then she showed me where the living room where they will have dinner in the evening. It was like 3:00pm Rwandan time. She said, "Goodbye and here is your invitation to my wedding." And I say, "Don't tell me that you're leaving now." She say, "Yes, I am. I didn't buy anything for my new home, so this is the right time to go there and do shoppings. I'm giving out all these invitations, got to check the hall where the wedding will be, and so on."

Jeannine U.: Almost I was going to cry. Then the first thing that came into my head was to leave and disappear. But then I remembered the lady who brought me there, she had hope and faith that I'll be someone who is going to stay there and manage the situation. Then I told myself, "Jeannine, you have to do it. Yeah. Don't disappoint the lady who brought you here." Yeah. I was new in cooking for international people, talking to them.

Jeannine U.: Personally, I'm a quiet person. I don't like to talk too much. It was like an exile. It was something very, very embarrassing for me. Lucky enough, in that time, all the guests were outside. They were not there. Then I said, "I have to start practicing my English," because has been a while without even using English, because after school, I went back home. We're all Rwandans. We're talking in Kinyarwanda. Even my colleagues from school were talking in Kinyarwanda, so I didn't have really a chance to communicate with people in English or even in French. But I had started it in school, so I said, "Yeah, let me take this time to practice. But the same time, I have to think about meals that I have to prepare for these guests.

Jeannine U.: When they come back from work, they should be hungry, tired, so I don't want them to see me here, a new person, who is not giving them food, who is not talking to them." But honestly, it was embarrassing.

Jeannine U.: Then, like at 6:00pm, the first guest arrived and she was saying, "Where is Sabine? My friend, Sabine, where are you? I missed you a lot." Then I had to go and say quietly, "Sabine has left. I'm new here. I'm going to work as the new Sabine." She said, "What is your name?" I said, "Jeannine." For some reason, she has already realized that I was embarrassed and not prepared, not ready. Then she said, "Don't worry. I'm going to help you every day. I will be here to help you. So ask me any question you have about everyone staying here, about the meals we like, ones we don't like, when we wake up, when we're leaving, when we're supposed to come back." That lady really helped me a lot in that time. Yeah. She even, maybe to open the window, she gave me a pair of earrings as a gift and I still have it.

Amena Brown: Wow.

Jeannine U.: Yeah. I kept it carefully so that I won't forget it, because whenever I look at it, I remember that story. Yeah. That's how I started as a new guesthouse manager. From that day, I was learning a new thing about international people every day, how to communicate with them, how to cook for them. But the first thing I saw in them was helping, and they were also open. They were there for me. They were supporting me. I can't remember a single day when they yelled out of me, saying that you didn't do this correctly. It should have been done like this.

Jeannine U.: Every time, whenever I did something in a wrong way, they were there to say, "Don't worry. It was supposed to be done like this. But we understand that you are new here." Yeah. They were really ready to help me, so I really appreciate that.

Amena Brown: I love that story, Jeannine, because I think it's interesting when we think about... I mean, in my own life, I can think about times that I had to go into a job or a position and I didn't have any experience. I was going to have to learn everything on the job. And I remember being nervous doing that, and that was without also needing to practice a language as you had to do. I think that's really good and profound, just your ability to be so resilient and adaptable to say, "Hey, this job opportunity has come to me, and I didn't expect it was going to come to me and I don't feel prepared." But just to be able to jump to it and learn those lessons, just in hearing that and thinking about what you're doing now, it seems like you learned a lot of good leadership lessons as well that were preparing you for what you do now.

Amena Brown: Before we get into what you're doing now with Azizi Life, I just want to ask you. You were born and raised in Rwanda. You were just so proud to be from your home country. I want to know, for people who are not from Rwanda that are coming to your home country to visit, what are some tips, some two or three things that you would say that they should do or consider, or things that you might say they should not do when they come to Rwanda? What are those things you would say, having been someone that for many years has welcomed people from all over the world that have come to Rwanda?

Jeannine U.: Yeah. Whoever planning to come to Rwanda should know that most Rwandans are friendly. So whenever you meet them, they will greet you. They will smile. Yeah, want to talk to you, know more about you. But another thing is that, people who are born in Rwanda, they don't like to talk too much. So if you meet someone and maybe you want to hear more about them, about their family, and they don't like to share, it's not like they really don't want to share. It's in their character. Yeah.

Amena Brown: Let's talk about, you went from being guesthouse manager for another non-profit. You initially started with Azizi Life. Once Azizi Life became an organization, your first official post was being a translator. You have worked yourself up all the way from being a translator to being the CEO of Azizi Life as a company, which is awesome, Jeannine. When you look back at your early life, your upbringing, maybe your time around your family or your community when you were a child, do you see things in your early life that prepared you for what you're doing now as the CEO of Azizi Life?

Jeannine U.: I lost my father when I was only seven. I'm the second born in my family. We are five siblings. Our father died very young, and my mom took immediately that responsibility of raising five small children. I remember our last born was two years old and it was not really easy for a young woman to raise all those five children, and it was not only us. There were other orphans from family members, friends, who were living with us at that time. But every morning, I was looking at my mom's face. She was always smiling. She was very courageous, hardworking, and she had hope that one day we'll be adults who are responsible for other people's life.

Jeannine U.: She always encouraged us to work hard in everything we are involved in, to be examples, and to make sure that people trust us. I remember that she was saying that if you are in someone's house, make sure that you leave there, and all things that you have found there, they're still there. Don't take someone else's things, stuff, money. Don't beg. Please work to get your own food or your own clothes. I don't want you to cry for people to give you food, but work for them so that they will pay you and then you get your own life. So all those things were preparing me to be the person I am today, even if I didn't know.

Jeannine U.: Sometimes I was saying that maybe my mom is harsh, she doesn't want us to be free. She want us to always work hard, wake up very early, study every single time, and not play with other kids. But now when I sit down and look back how she was raising up, I said, "Thank you, mom. You were preparing me to be responsible, to find my own solution, to help others even if I don't have that much, but I can offer what is available now." Yeah. I see that she was preparing me for this.

Amena Brown: I love that. I love that. I love the ways that... I also have that experience with my mom too, that there are so many things that she did. My mom was also a single mom raising my sister and I. So when I just think of the things that she was teaching us along the way, that when you're little, you don't always understand what it is your mom is saying or talking about. You get older and realize how important those lessons are. That's so powerful that your mom was really one of the people to initially help you become a leader and show you what that looks like. I think that's awesome.

Amena Brown: I want to talk about Azizi Life, and in particular, I want to ask you some questions about just Azizi Life and women. My first experience with Azizi Life was in 2016. I was in Rwanda with an IF:Gathering team and we spent a day. What's the term for the experience we had where we came and we spent a day with a co-op of women artisans and we went down to where they get water and food, and looked at how they make some of the jewelry of Azizi Life. Is there a term for what that experience is?

Jeannine U.: Yeah. Yeah. We call it A Day In The Life Of An Artisan.

Amena Brown: A Day In The Life Of An Artisan. Okay. Well, I did that in 2016, Jeannine, and I just loved those women so much. Oh my gosh. Just being there and learning from them. We went down to the well where the women were getting water and bless our hearts, Jeannine, myself and most of the women that I have ever traveled with to Rwanda are not as physically strong as our Rwandan sisters, okay? Because we went down to the water. They handed us the water jugs to go down and get water. They were carrying these big jugs, and then they gave us little jugs. At first, I was like, "I wonder why they're giving us these little jugs." Oh my gosh, Jeannine, we went down and got the water. I thought I wasn't going to make it back up that hill. Oh my gosh.

Jeannine U.: Yeah. They're very strong.

Amena Brown: I was like, "I need to exercise. I need to lift some weights."

Jeannine U.: They do that every day.

Amena Brown: Every day, and they were telling us sometimes they have to do that multiple times a day, depending on what their schedule is. I really loved and enjoyed spending time with our Rwandan sisters, learning from them, learning about their families, learning about how they structure their co-ops and just so many things that they were able to teach us and we were able to learn from them and as they were asking us about our lives back in America. How does Azizi Life help women in the villages in Rwanda?

Jeannine U.: The way we help women in Rwanda, a first time, is to be self reliable and yeah, create the dependence so that every single day they don't have to rely on their husband, asking for food crops, and also help the husband to see that they are as a burden but as a support, because women that are working with Azizi Life, they earn money. Then they can contribute to the development of their families by helping their husband to provide for like health insurance, pay school fees for their children, buy crops. But not only that, but also invest in domestic animals, which once they're grown enough, they can be sold and earn more money. That is one way Azizi Life help women that works for it.

Jeannine U.: Also, another thing is that their neighbors consider them as role model because they don't spend time sitting at home, like visiting bars everywhere drinking beer, but they're always concentrating producing handicrafts. So other neighbors learned from them in a way that sometimes they're even jealous but in a positive way, trying to know how they can be involved in their co-operative and then starting make handicrafts and get money as well.

Jeannine U.: Also, they're participating in developing their community, because when they're busy making handicrafts, they don't always have enough time to go and work in their garden, and they decide to hire their neighbors to come and work in their field. Then in return, they get paid. So it means that they're also empowering their neighbors to solve some problems by paying them money to work for them.

Amena Brown: Wow. Okay. I have so many questions because, having been to the Day In The Life Of An Artisan experience, I'm like, this is helping women in certain ways become entrepreneurs, in the sense that they can also help give jobs or work to other people in the community, which is awesome.

Jeannine U.: Yeah, exactly. Yeah.

Amena Brown: That's amazing. How does Azizi Life know when a co-op is... how does that process work as far as when an artisan can become part of a co-op, or how the co-ops form? Can you tell me more about that?

Jeannine U.: Yeah. When we started working with those artisan groups, they were already existing. Some were trained by government entities. Other were trained by their parents and the friends. Then as they were neighbors, they desire to come together and work as a group instead of work one by its own, which was not helping them. Then they decided to come together and work as a group. Azizi Life started with working with them. Yeah, they were already existing, but we helped them to increase the skills, increase the quality of what they were making, and then help also to be strong, because sometimes when they didn't have a market, some members were deciding to leave because they were saying there is no need to stay here. I would rather go and work in my field, stay home, be busy with my children. But now that they knew that there's market coming, this company coming to help them, they started feeling more strong and want to stand alongside each other so that they will keep developing.

Jeannine U.: Azizi Life don't necessarily work with a single person because we want the benefit to reach so many people at the same time. Like encouraging the artisan to form groups somehow helps them to get trainings from the government. There are some non-profit that sometimes have funds to help those co-operative to develop and be strong. If you're not working as a group or a a co-operative, you won't be applied to those kind of help. Yeah. So that's why Azizi Life decide to work only with artisans' group.

Jeannine U.: In terms of choosing groups or women that we host, guests, in terms of experience [inaudible 00:27:59], we first of all choose those groups that work well together, that members are supporting each other well, that they like each other. There is no problems or issues going on every time. Another criteria is that we need groups that are located nearby our office so that guests won't spend too much time traveling from their place in Kigali, and then once they're here, they are going also to spend too much time on their way trying to be at the artisan's household.

Jeannine U.: Another thing we check that they have toilets, that their feeds are nearby their house so that guests will be able to cultivate without having to travel a long distance, and talking about, well, we don't need our guests to carry heavy jerricans, having to travel from the household to the well for like 30 minutes or an hour. Yeah. We make sure that all those criteria are well met and then a group that is meeting all those things is qualified to host guests.

Amena Brown: Okay. Can you tell me more about the types of things that the artisans make? I am going to wait and give my commentary after you answer because I get so excited. So can you tell, for people that are just hearing of Azizi Life and have never either been to Rwanda or have been to the online shop as well to see the variety things the artisans make. What are a few things that you would tell someone who's new to Azizi Life are things that the artisans are creating?

Jeannine U.: Okay. Yeah. We're working with over 450 women and men artisans.

Amena Brown: Wow.

Jeannine U.: Yeah. They're located in Rwanda. Most of district, we have presence there. Most men, they focus on producing wooden products like book ends, spoon, nativity set, nativity hats, statues. For women, most of the time they produce baskets, piece basket, earrings, bowls, boxes that you can use to keep your stuff in like clothes or jewelries and so on. We also have other groups that make handbags out of banana leaves. We have Christmas decorations like bells, stars, miniature baskets, yeah. We have so many beautiful handmade crafts.

Amena Brown: You all listen to me. You all listen to what I'm saying right now. Every time that I have been to A Day In The Life Of An Artisan, at the end of the day, after you've gone to the well and realized that you need to lift more weights, and after we cultivated some of the land of the women who were in the coops and we made bracelets together, we danced, and sang together and ate lunch together, I mean, just had a wonderful day, at the end of that day, you go back to the Azizi Life offices.

Amena Brown: Part of the office is I guess in America what we might call a showroom. It's like a store in there that has all of these items and you would think every trip that I've gone on where we've done this day, you would think that people were about to get into a fight over the art that is in there. People were loving each other and hugging until they realized there was only one nativity set, and now they're elbowing each other and somebody got Mary and somebody got Joseph, and somebody got the wise men or whatever. You all need to know that these are amazing, amazing pieces.

Amena Brown: I have earrings from Azizi Life that I wear, and also Azizi Life was kind enough to be a part of my influencer boxes that went out for my last book, How To Fix A Broken Record, so any of the people who were on my influencer list received Azizi Life earrings. I also have Azizi Life baskets and boxes, you all. I'm waiting on an Azizi Life angel. The next time that I'm in Rwanda or on the website, soon as I see one come up, I'm going to order it right away because those angels are beautiful and they're so unique.

Amena Brown: I have Azizi Life book ends also. I have the zebras and the elephants. You all, it's like you were trying to save all your money because quite as it's kept, Rwanda's shopping is amazing. So if anyone listening has not been to Rwanda or is looking to go, you need to save up your money just so you can shop there in Rwanda. But I looked up and everyone was like, "Oh my gosh, I just spend all my money in Azizi Life and I'm happy about it. I'm happy about everything."

Jeannine U.: Thank you.

Amena Brown: So wonderful. I wanted everyone to know that because there are so many artisans and artisans who specialize in different things, that's one of the things that makes Azizi Life so great, because when you go there to think about buying gifts or buying décor for your home or décor for yourself, you have so many things to choose from, which is awesome. And just to know, after spending the day with these amazing enterprising women, you know that everything that you buy there, you are supporting these entrepreneurial women and men who are making these amazing things. I'm here for all of it, Jeannine. I'm here for everything.

Jeannine U.: Thank you. Thank you so much. In fact, I have your picture wearing one of the Azizi Life earrings. I really like it. You were so beautiful.

Amena Brown: Thank you, Jeannine. I'm wearing the earrings all the time. I'm surprised I don't have them on today. I just had them on yesterday. Every color that they make of the earrings, I try to buy it. Every shape, I'm here for everything. I'm obviously an Azizi Life fan. That's why I was so excited to have you on here.

Jeannine U.: Thank you.

Amena Brown: I want to ask you another question because I had a chance to ask this of a young woman in Rwanda. She was a high school student. One of my trips, which is one of my favorite trips to take to Rwanda, I take with a team of all black women from America. Our time with the women and artisans of Azizi Life was really, really special because our Rwandan sisters that we spent the day with were telling us how they don't get a chance often to be with black women from America.

Amena Brown: I have to send these pictures to you, Jeannine, so that you can see and show to your team because the moments where when you are beginning The Day In The Life, and our Rwandan sisters took Rwandan fabric, and they wrapped it around our waists and wrapped it around our heads as head scarfs, I mean, a lot of us from my black woman team, a lot of us were in tears during that part because it felt so emotional to us to just be connected to our sisters, even though we are from different countries and have different cultures, in certain ways, there are other ways that our cultures are the same. And there are other ways that we got a chance to connect. I mean, we just sang songs and we were crying, and we had to leave them, Jeannine. Crying. There's video footage of us just hugging each other and crying. We just did not want to leave each other.

Jeannine U.: That is so touching.

Amena Brown: Yes. I mean, just they were singing us Rwandan songs and showing us Rwandan dances. Then we sang them some of our traditional songs that we sing in some of our black churches here growing up. We danced together. I mean, there's a video. Thankfully it's not on the internet yet. But there's a video of me ugly crying. I loved being with them so much that I was just weeping. We had such a great time.

Amena Brown: One of the things we did while we were in Rwanda, we spent some time at one of African New Life's boarding schools, and we spent some time with some high school students. I asked one of the young women there a question that I want to ask you. I asked her what made her proud to be a Rwandan woman. She stood up and just really inspired us all. It was just so wonderful for us to hear what she loves about her Rwandan culture and language and what makes her proud to, in her case, be the future of her country. I would love to hear you share with us, what makes you proud to be a Rwandan woman? What do you love about it?

Jeannine U.: Yeah. I love being respected as a woman in Rwanda. Then know that I'm part of the people and the journey of rebuilding our Rwanda. That my ideas, my work, my energy can contribute towards that journey. Yeah, the way that I'm not ignored or left behind, in that it's like, "Oh," like fighting to rebuild our Rwanda. Whenever I remember that I'm part of that war, that fighting, I really appreciate it, to be recognized as a Rwandan woman who can contribute to build her nation and make sure that the future generation will live in a better Rwanda, where there is peace, there is development, and know that I'm working hard so that everyone around the world is happy to come to Rwanda, see what we are working on as women, and yeah, be proud of what we're doing. Yeah. I really like that.

Amena Brown: If you could give any advice or tips to other women that are CEOs, that are also leading businesses... I know that there are quite a few listeners of this podcast that are leading their own business and are the head of a business just like you are. What tips would you give other women or other people who are leading businesses? What would you encourage them to do?

Jeannine U.: If you're working in a business, you must know your vision, why you are involved in that business, then work towards the vision. Why you created or you want to start the business, there was a vision. For example, for Azizi Life, we want to make sure that the people we're working for will have an excellent life as our name means.

Jeannine U.: Every day when I go to work, I remember that the purpose of my work is to make sure that every single artisan in Rwanda that we are working with will have a better life from the work we do. I always work towards that vision. Then whatever they're doing as women, they must know that it's true their business has to be strong, develop and be sustainable, but always not run after money. They must work for people. I think that is the first thing that will drive you and reach you to your vision, because if you are only working for money, sometimes you forget your values, you forget people that you're working for, and yeah. Most of attention is towards money. Then at the end of the day, when you have money, sometimes you don't know how to spend it wisely, and it can disappear. But if you build people, they grow with you and your business grows strong.

Jeannine U.: Most of the time, I like to tell people, "Work towards your vision. That is the only thing that will help you to reach all your targets and your goals."

Amena Brown: Come on and give this great advice, Jeannine. People, listen up, because that is a lot of wisdom in there, right here. We are waiting of Jeannine to release these courses where she's going to be educating us on how to handle our businesses better because that was really, really great advice, Jeannine.

Amena Brown: If people are listening and they want to support the work of Azizi Life, if they are listening and they need these earrings, they need this art as well, what are some ways that people can support the work of Azizi Life, support these amazing artisans?

Jeannine U.: Yeah. There are so many ways people can help Azizi Life. But I'm going to say maybe four main ones. The first one is to pray for us, for our work, that we be always determined to do what we aimed, and pray for our artisans, that there will be always work for them to do, that Rwanda we have peace. Everyone will continue to build themselves. We always send monthly prayer updates that people can subscribe for and they can join us in our prayers so that this work will continue to exist, be sustainable, and always help people, be there for people, like artisans, clients, so that everyone will benefit from this work.

Jeannine U.: The second thing that people can help is to be like advocates for Azizi Life. Another one is that people can help by purchasing our product. By buying our products, you are helping an artisan to pay school fees for their children, to pay health insurance, to provide for their families in terms of food crops and so on. Yeah.

Jeannine U.: People also can help us by volunteering. Sometimes we run some shows selling handicrafts overseas, especially in America. And as we don't have enough funds to run, all those, shows by our own, sometime people can volunteer and that will be a big help for Azizi Life. Also, they can help by hosting those bazaar, home bazaar, or arranging them. That would be a great help for Azizi Life.

Jeannine U.: For more information about how they can be involved in Azizi Life, please feel free to visit our website. It's www.azizilife.com. By visiting that website, you will see and get more information about our work in Rwanda, see people that we work with. There are so many great pictures of our artisans, their work, where they are located, information about their groups, and so on.

Amena Brown: You all, go to there. Go to azizilife.com, that's A-Z-I-Z-I L-I-F-E.com. Go there. Just go there right now, just get yourself a pair of earrings. You're going to need them. You can give them to someone. Just go there and get yourself a basket. Just go there. There are things there that will be great for you.

Amena Brown: Jeannine, I want to ask you the three questions that I'm asking each guest this season. Question one, is what inspires you to create.

Jeannine U.: Yeah. What inspired me to create is living a better life behind every single action I do, because whenever there is a bad situation, I want to contribute and create a new situation that will me help both me and the person living in that situation to get a better life and move on.

Jeannine U.: Whenever I'm creating something, whether it's job or helping someone in her life, I always think about a better life. That is what really motivates me in this [inaudible 00:47:25].

Amena Brown: Question two, Jeannine, is what is one thing you've made that you are really proud of?

Jeannine U.: Yeah. I managed to build my own house, and that is going to be a permanent home for my children. Now I can sleep without saying that the landlord is increasing the rent. We have to move. We have to find another location. Yeah. Whenever I think about that, I feel proud of myself. I can even welcome other people to come, who don't know where to sleep, to come and stay with me when they're trying to find their own home, because that is, I can call it my home. Yeah. I'm very proud of having a house, having a home where everyone feels free to come and stay.

Amena Brown: The third question is about a SHE DID THAT award, and you deserve a SHE DID THAT award for building this house, first of all.

Jeannine U.: Thank you.

Amena Brown: You need to give an award to yourself. But the question that I ask every guest every season is if you could give another woman a SHE DID THAT award, who would it be and why? A SHE DID THAT award is a phrase that a lot of Black women here in America say to each other... it's like if your friend got a new job and you're like, "She did that." It's a big congratulations. So if you could give another woman a SHE DID THAT award, besides yourself, building the house because you deserve a SHE DID THAT award for you, who would It be and why?

Jeannine U.: Yeah. That woman would be my mother. The fact that she managed to raise five children plus other six orphans that we were living together, and she was only earning 30,000 Rwandan francs, which is about maybe 45 USD per month. Yeah. Earning that money every month and you have to feed on 11 children, sending them to school, providing crops to them, and she never gave up. Every single day sh was working hard, encouraging us, and making sure that everything is working out. She tried to provide whatever we needed in the means she had in that period. All of us, all my siblings, have...

Jeannine U.: Four of us have finished university studies. One followed the career of... he is a technician. But I can say that we all have a life and that we're able to even support other people. Yeah, my mom would be that woman.

Amena Brown: You momma deserves a SHE DID THAT award. I love it. If people want to follow Azizi Life on social media, they want to know learn more about Azizi Life, where should they go?

Jeannine U.: They simply have to go to hashtag Azizi Life. That will be on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest.

Amena Brown: Oh, and Pinterest.

Jeannine U.: Yeah.

Amena Brown: Yes, Azizi Life Pinterest. Yes.

Jeannine U.: Yeah, yeah.

Amena Brown: Oh, I love that. Go there everyone and go to the website. Let me tell you all something. Leigh Kramer who is an amazing part of my team, HER with Amena Brown would not be a thing without Leigh Kramer. Leigh Kramer is doing these amazing show notes on AmenaBrown.com for each of my podcasts, but in particular for this one, because this is my podcast that really goes on on a regular basis. But you can go to the show notes there and we will have links for all of the Azizi Life things. Or you can go check it out. You can go to social media and give them a follow.

Amena Brown: Jeannine, thank you not only for sharing your story with us, but also sharing your leadership with us, sharing with us the lessons that you've learned as a leader, as a CEO. You used so many powerful and empowering words and phrases with us today, so many things that I know are going to stick with me, and are going to stick with our listeners here. So thank you so much, Jeannine. You did that.

Jeannine U.: Thank you so much. It was my pleasure also to talk to you, to share my experience, my life, and show that people who will be listening to that will also be visiting our website, see our work, and be able to help us and yeah, make this work more sustainable and they reach so many people, because we want to grow and keep employing more artisans. Yeah. We don't want to stay here at 450 artisans. My dream is that maybe we even have more than 5,000 artisans that we can, yeah, give work, change their lives.

Amena Brown: I love it, Jeannine. Hey, HER with Amena listeners, first of all, thank you so much for listening. Second of all, I hope you enjoyed this episode and hearing more about one of my favorite brands, Azizi Life. As a plus, shout out to the Azizi Life team. They are offering our listener community, for HER with Amena, they're offering us a discount code on their websites. You can go there and look at the amazing things the artisans are making and get a little discount for yourself.

Amena Brown: Use the discount code FOR HER, that's F-O-R-H-E-R. This will also be available in the show notes and on social media as well. Check it out to be sure to support Azizi Life in the amazing work of our Rwandan brothers and sisters.

Amena Brown: HER with Amena Brown is produced by DJ OPdiggy for Sol Graffiti Productions. Don't forget to subscribe, rate, write a review, and share the podcast. Thanks for listening.

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Transcript: HER With Amena Brown Episode 32: Creating accessibility and online community with Alice Wong

Amena Brown: Hey everybody, welcome back to another episode of HER With Amena Brown. I am Amena Brown, and y'all, I am so excited about today's episode. I know y'all probably think I say that after every episode, but really, I'm excited about today's episode. I am excited to welcome disabled activist, media maker, research consultant, founder and director of the Disability Visibility Project: an online community dedicated to creating sharing and amplifying disability media and culture. My guest today is Alice Wong. I always clap, Alice. Thank you for joining us.

Alice Wong: Well, thank you for having me. I'm delighted.

Amena Brown: As Alice and I were just chitchatting before I started recording this, we almost jumped into a whole... I was like, let me just press record.

Alice Wong: We just got right into it. As [inaudible 00:01:38], people just knew.

Amena Brown: That's so right. And actually, I was introduced to you on Twitter, Alice. That's how I started following you and learning more about Disability Visibility Project, and I really have been... I don't know if it's still considered lurking on Twitter, but we used to use that term for other online things when you just like were on there in a message board or whatever, and you're not talking there, but you're reading everything.

Amena Brown: I've been lurking through a lot of your Twitter threads and different Twitter conversations and Twitter parties that you've been having, and just have learnt so much from you Alice. So, I'm really honored to have you.

Alice Wong: Well, I lurked as well. And as you know, Twitter can be a real dumpster fire. There's horrible... the trolling, the harassment. But on the flip side, this is where I learn a lot from a lot of people, I'm constantly amazed by the amount of vapor in terms of education, of wisdom, people are just telling the truth in their own words. It's such a perfect medium that I'm just constantly learning, I'm just struck, it's such amazing. Just like you, I think I have found and followed lots of interesting people. And I think it's still, there's a lot of value, despite all the things that are not so great about it.

Amena Brown: That's true. Because there are quite a few things that we're like, oh gosh, that's terrible about Twitter. But I have to say, one of the opportunities that we have on a platform like Twitter is we have an opportunity to choose the people that we follow. It's not the same as how like Facebook was, when you've added a person and now there's a mutual connection between you. Sometimes you might be following people, they may not even be following you back or even know who you are at all, but you're getting a chance to get this window into some things that you could learn from them.

Amena Brown: And I think too, and we'll talk about this more when we get to hear more about some of the online community that you've been building. But I think a part of it that's been good for me is putting myself in a posture to listen, especially if I am sitting from a privileged place. Getting a chance to just listen, it's not time for me to talk, it's not a conversation for me to add to, it's not my conversation. It's for me to read, listen, learn, support; do those things.

Amena Brown: I really appreciate you Alice, and I'm glad you're on the podcast to tell us all the things. I'm hoping I won't keep you here for three hours, and you're like, listen-

Alice Wong: Listen, I like you, but I don't like lying to you.

Amena Brown: Right, to be clear.

Alice Wong: Listen, I got to hydrate.

Amena Brown: That's right. Hydration is important. That is right.

Alice Wong: But you always do a followup one.

Amena Brown: That's true. I'll see how far I get, Alice. And if it gets to where it's getting long here, I may just have do a followup with you.

Alice Wong: Restrain yourself.

Amena Brown: Thank you, I will. I'm gonna work on it. I'm gonna work on it girl.

Alice Wong: And I will do as well. I will try.

Amena Brown: I'd love to ask you to an origin story. One of the things that I find really inspiring about you as a leader and as a creative is, I start reading your bio and I've already gone to five different links of things that you've made or created or co-created or spearheaded. You are a very prolific person. When you think about young Alice, do you have moments you can think of when you were young that you're like, I started out being a creative person earlier on in life?

Alice Wong: Well, at one stage it's just stories. In kindergarten, I remember we had a project for... our teacher had all these sort of wallpaper samples, that we were supposed to create a book out of these wallpaper samples as our cover for our book. There was this really beautiful piece of wallpaper that was like silvery aqua blue, that had these waves, that I remember in my eyes it's like... I was inspired by that cover because I thought I'm gonna write a book about fish.

Alice Wong: And I just made these illustrations. That was where I figured that gem of writing and creating some things using colors and design, I think that that's where I started. But I think at the heart of it, I've always been really into writing, into stuff like telling my own story, speaking of stories. And I think a lot of this happened because as a disabled child, there were a lot of times growing up where I couldn't participate with a lot of the other kids. I didn't play at the playground that recess. There were a lot of activities, and I grew up in the 70s and 80s, that sort of all the access issues.

Alice Wong: So, I was really off on the sidelines. And nobody thought it was wrong for this to happen. Even I didn't even realize it was a problem. I was always that way. So, I had a lot of time in my hands. And there were a lot of times that I just had my imagination. That was my friend. And I think that that's one of the biggest assets in terms of growing up disabled in a non-disabled world. Having that perspective and that imagination and time to really think and have creativity in terms of imagining what else it could be.

Alice Wong: So, I think I found that I'm a creative person, but not really too sure. I guess other people would have to... people who saw me would have to say like just their two cents.

Amena Brown: I love that, because I think it's some of the phrasing that you use I think was really interesting, when you talked about part of you having an imagination as a disabled child was giving you this ability to imagine what could be. And I think the more we talk about your work as an activist and as a creator, there's so much of that showing up in your work that a part of how what you're doing is showing up in the world. It's creating things, it's thinking about what could be, and making those things, so that there are more spaces in the world where the way we imagine it could be, could actually be. Which is really powerful, right?

Alice Wong: Yeah. And I think as a kid, I've always been a real nerd. I loved science fiction. I think libraries were really my home. Books were, I think, a form of escape, a form of liberation for me. I felt so alive, so engaged into reading. And it didn't matter that I couldn't go on a camping trip or it didn't matter that I was left out of this activity, because due to my imagination, due to reading, I could go anywhere. And actually, it was incredibly radical and liberatory. Books like the Chronicles of Narnia, Octavia Butler-

Amena Brown: Yes, Octavia, yes.

Alice Wong: My mind noted, like in high school, when I discovered, I was like OMG! That was life changing to me. Books really open your world and worlds, multiverses. And I think [inaudible 00:10:43] for so many people, that was like a gateway. And I'm always indebted I think to science fiction and fantasy writers, to really give us a sense of like, there is the real world, but if we don't think about what can be, it will never happen. That's why I loved Star Trek, there's just this hope, this sense of optimism, something to look forward to or something to be fighting for.

Amena Brown: Yeah. Let me ask you this. Would you say that being a reader, growing up, inspired you to also become a writer? Because that's a part of my story too, that I grew up a very introverted kid. Still today I sometimes go to public functions and think that I might enjoy reading a book better than being there talking to people. There was something about just my mom and my grandma both being people who loved to read, and so there were a lot of those trips to the library and getting the max amount of books that I could check out, and seeing how quickly I could get them read between then and when you had to check them back in.

Amena Brown: And I realize now, although I don't know if I knew this as a child, but I realize now there was something about the reading that made me want to become a writer, because I looked at just the power of what a writer could do. One of my favorite series was the true show and adventure books. I'm so glad they're back in print now, because for a while, they went out of print. But I loved those books. Just that someone could think not just of one story, but could write a book that had like 76 different endings, that made want to try writing. Was that your story too? That it's the reading that led you to also want to write.

Alice Wong: Absolutely. I think just the huge spectrum of storytelling that was out there. I don't know about you, but I did these summer reading programs at the library where you're... That was just part of my summers, growing up, just really loving... I really love Beatrix Potter. Her illustrations, they came alive. Just having these visuals, like the [Tonica 00:13:27] awards, those are awards for like children's books, just the illustrations. And I remember as a kid just how nerdy I am, going to all the Tonica that are award winners. And just seeing the different illustrations, because I thought, oh my gosh! I feel like this one, I'm gonna like all of that award winners. Just the power of words plus images, really came alive. And of course, that response, whatever, was going on in my little brain.

Amena Brown: Whenever I would pick a book and then pick it up and see that Caldecott seal on the front, I felt like I was winning something, like I was winning some award somewhere. I just thought, oh yes, this makes this book even more special. I was already looking forward to reading it, and now it's like a Caldecott. Oh, I'm so glad I can share this nerdiness with you Alice, because I love those Caldecott books.

Alice Wong: Me too. There was something really amazingly that they truly was. I thought like, here's what I [inaudible 00:14:46] where it's about... I believe a fish. The way they just used the images, it didn't need that much text, but they just told a story in such a graphic nature. I guess that is like a different way to tell a story. It's like graphic novels, the animation topics, these are all just so many different ways to help people to express themselves, which is really wonderful.

Amena Brown: So wonderful. Oh my gosh, Alice, yes. I can talk to you about all the book things. I'm like, yes, I can remember one summer I lived with my grandmother when my mom was in basic training for the army, and my school had a summer competition: if you worm like a hundred books over the summer, you'd get the t-shirt that had like the little bookworm graphic on the front, "You can tell me anything."

Alice Wong: Yeah, game on. It's on, right?

Amena Brown: Yes, totally. So, you have not only written, but you also took on the role of editor for the book Resistance and Hope. It's essays by disabled people; crip wisdom for the people. Can you talk about what was the process, or maybe the difference in the process between writing and editing? Like going from the role of writer, to now going into editing.

Amena Brown: Because to be an editor... and you'll tell me if this is true, because I've never done this, but in my mind, it seems like it's part curation of bringing the different voices together, of sort of doing that corralling part, and also the actual editing process of like going through all the words and everything. Talk more about, what was that transition like between being a writer and going into being editor? And why was it important to you to release Resistance and Hope?

Alice Wong: I think I'll first talk a little bit about the origins of this anthology. Like a lot of people, the election day of 2016, it was scary, horrible, soul-crushing, and I was independent personally. I knew exactly about the future, of what this administration would bring, despite a lot of people saying, "You never know, just give this person a chance." I'm like, "No. Marginalized communities have been insulted throughout the entire election." That if you weren't listening to them, this is what we have now. Because people didn't listen to black women, people didn't listen to disabled people, people didn't listen to the LGBTQ community.

Alice Wong: I was, like a lot of people, just feeling at a loss about like, what now? And then I realized, you know what? Disabled people are just resilient, creative survivors. And it was really interesting to see the word resistance pop up much more in 2016, and like everybody is resisting this, resisting that. And I realized that there are disabled people who are out there doing some work every day way before this election. And why aren't these voices part of this larger narrative, or this larger conversation?

Alice Wong: And I really thought about, why did we do what we do? And I think that for me, personally, despite all the horror and the distress and trauma, and the real opposite of pain of living and fighting oppression, that we continue this work because we have hope. Then I thought, resistance and hope, resistance and hope, there is something interesting there to observe. What is the relationship between these two? And I really wanted to center it within a disabled lens. So, I thought, what can I do as an individual as a response to this administration and its response to this topic, whatever it is?

Alice Wong: And I've wrote a few things in the past. What's another way I can be creative and challenge myself? I've never done it before. I decided to self publish and edit an anthology. And I thought this could be really a gift to the world. This is something that I think I could do that really showcases the people of my community. It's something that I can release, and have it as a tool or as a resource or reference to say, this is where we are now, this is where we wanna be, and these are some people that you should be reading and following.

Alice Wong: So, I thought, let me see what I can do. This is gonna be interesting. I thought about creativity, the idea to always push yourself, to do something that you've never done before. And I learned a lot, just too much stuff what's involved in self-publishing. It isn't an e-book, and it was a great learning process. And I think as an editor, it's all about who do you wanna include and feature? Like the generational aspect that you said, I think that's almost just like casting. Once you cast your cast, it creates your products.

Alice Wong: Just like you, in terms of us knowing each other on Twitter, the majority of people that I... if I did just a bit of essay for this anthology, are people that I follow and learn from and deeply appreciate on Twitter. Some of these folks I've never met in my entire life, and I just DM them and I'm like, "Hey, I really appreciate your Twitter threads these last few months. They're just so full of wisdom." And I was like, "Did you have any interest in writing a book for this?"

Alice Wong: That to me was really exciting, in terms of just putting myself out there and just approaching folks, and really interesting cross-section of people that I personally find amazing in terms of just truth tellers, people who I consider are bad asses in just every different field. I was very interested in all, but I wanted mostly marginalized disabled people. So it might be most of disabled people, or just queer disabled people, trans disabled people.

Alice Wong: And basically it was very intentional of having pretty much a majority of the contributors to be a disabled person of color, because I really wanted that to be just the default. And I didn't even use the word [interjectional 00:23:21], because I feel like that word is almost overused, I think that's appropriated. I just wanted it to be what it is, that's it. The takeaway from that, this is gonna be vital, and I want that to be an example for other folks.

Alice Wong: But yeah, it's been really fun, and I think to be editor I learnt a lot. I'm really bad at grammar, so I hired a copy editor to do that. So, that's the way things stand. It was really helpful to delegate, but it's really like... A lot of work of editing is really just having the right combination of essays. And I couldn't be more pleased with what each contributor offered in terms of just what they decided to write about. And just the trust you have to have with your contributors, I think that to me was very interesting. That if you have this trust and faith that your writers will pull through, they usually do. There's just a thrill to be able to have this.

Alice Wong: And I made a point to make sure that this anthology is free, and to make it accessible. Just have it as a form access that a lot of people don't think about.

Amena Brown: That's so good. And we're talking about curation. I kind of want to also talk about podcasts in here, because as you were talking about curating the voices and contributors that were in the anthology... And I loved the phrase that you used in there, the fact that this was majority voices who were disabled people of color, that you wanted that to be the default. And I was like, "Oh yes, Alice."

Amena Brown: When I heard you use that phrasing, I loved that so much, because we want the default to be centering the voices who are most marginalized. That should be our default. That we center those stories, that we elevate those leaders and voices. You also have a podcast. You are so prolific, Alice. I'm out here looking at my calendar like, I need to make more things, because Alice is out here making some things-

Alice Wong: Hey, you know what, it's not a competition. I feel like it's been a lot, but I think I've tried to make space work for me in terms of if I'm not gonna be able to do something, that's okay. I think that's the kind of thing as creators, you and I probably both go through. It's this sense of obligation or this sense of like...

Alice Wong: I feel like we have to forgive ourselves and try to restructure our work in a way that's optimal for us. Because, otherwise, we do have some control over our workflow. For example, when I first started out my podcasts, I assumed that maybe I did it a lot, because I think I did like my first few pods, and I was like, that is way too much for me. I've learned from this. I did reach a more doable. Over a year ago, I decided to do two episodes a month, which is already a lot I think, but I'm one of those people that have a podcast that's [inaudible 00:27:40]. It's just me and some audio producers that I've worked with.

Alice Wong: And I think this is where having that consistency is good for the audience, it is good for me, but doing it in a way that there's something for me to feel like I'm constantly under pressure. I don't know about you, but I'm in it for the long run. It's totally true that some podcasts have a lifespan. It could be sometimes that I'm going through a thing, and that's totally okay. But if I start something, I think I wanna try to carry it through, as long as it gives me joy. That's about like, I wanna love to do this. I don't wanna feel like it's a burden or feel stressed.

Alice Wong: So, I think I'll try to make it as... even if it might be in a way that's atypical, like... I don't know about you Amena, but I plan my episodes really way in advance. I actually interview folks... For example, if I interview somebody in April, their episode won't come out until months later, because I tend to have that wiggle room. So, my podcast isn't gonna be topical, in terms of like the latest thing, the latest conversation. Some podcasts are gonna be like that, but mine are gonna be about these evergreen topics and things that are always going to be interesting, I think. That's how I could have made my choices to really fit with my own abilities, my own strengths. I just [inaudible 00:29:45] for these. How about you? I'm curious about your process.

Amena Brown: Yeah. It's such a good reminder hearing you talk about this Alice, because I am such a, like type A personality. I'm very much like, sets more goals than can realistically be accomplished in the time that I decided to complete them. I'm very much that person. I'm in the middle of a season of life, of really learning the lesson that you articulated so well, that we have to forgive ourselves and give ourselves a lot more grace, and just not feel like everything has to be super urgent. With my podcast, this is my third podcast. My sister-in-law and I have a podcast called Here For The Donuts. That's what I started-

Alice Wong: You know what, the minute I saw that I knew it was yours, because I'm such a donut lover.

Amena Brown: Yes.

Alice Wong: Can we talk about donuts after this?

Amena Brown: Yes, please. Oh my gosh, because donuts are just so amazing. Clearly, that's how much I love them, that my sister-in-law and I were like, we should just start recording this. That's what we do on the podcast. We eat donuts and talk about what we like to call inappropriate things, but they're super appropriate; super appropriate and great. To some people they're probably inappropriate, but not to us, we don't care, whatever it is.

Amena Brown: That's kind of what got me into it. But because my sister-in-law is a midwife, and mom of five kids, and I'm a traveling performing artist who has time. It's like we just have to record as we have time. So, some years we were putting out a bunch of episodes, and then some years it was like a ghost town, nobody knows what happens. But we agreed at that point, we're gonna record this for fun, we're gonna record this as we can. We're not gonna turn this into a machine.

Amena Brown: And then I did a limited edition podcast for my last book, How to Fix a Broken Record. And then I was like, "Oh, there was only 10 episodes. I need to do this more." Now, my current podcast, I'm just in line with you so much in values, because I wanted to have a podcast that can center the voices of women of color. Women of color telling their stories, telling their experiences, personally, professionally. Just whatever women of color wanna say, that this could be a place where I could just galvanize that kind of conversation.

Amena Brown: So, I decided... This podcast comes out twice a year. It's a spring season and a fall season, because I'd be tired.

Alice Wong: I'd be tired too. And I think that's what's great. It's that this media have to be whatever you want it to be. We're not all gonna be like, "I have these professional producers, advertisers, that are gonna be on platforms." No, we're gonna be our own individual creative figures, and just putting the work out there. I think that's already an accomplishment in itself.

Amena Brown: Yeah. I have so many questions about podcasting I'm trying to ask you. I wanna know, what was it about the podcast medium that made you want to create there? Because we have a lot of options now as creatives of how we can put our work out, which in a way I love, because it's created a lot more accessibility to the things that we make. Now it's like, if I have a poem, I put out. The 50 people who are there in the audience don't have to be the only people that get a chance to see it or hear it. Now I have a way to share it in some different places.

Amena Brown: But what was it about podcasting that made you want to use it as a medium? And then what's your process like as far as curating who you interview, or the topics that you decide to talk about? Tell me more about that.

Alice Wong: I think of [inaudible 00:34:05] audio content is inaccessible for some people and also sounds are privilege-y. But with ability, I think that there is something about the intimacy of radio podcasting that's very unique. You hear people's voices, I think sometimes there's a lot of patches that happen during your conversation with somebody, there's a lot of unexpected things that can happen. There's a lot of discovery, it's such an adventure.

Alice Wong: You just as an interviewer prepare as much as you can, but also let it go. Letting the interviewee be the guide, and you're just a listener. Really, making sure that the spotlight is on the interviewee, and just guiding the conversation. I think that to me is why I... What I find important is that my podcast is not a vehicle for me. It is a vehicle for the community that I'm a part of; the multiple communities that I'm a part of. I think it's not the same for everybody's philosophy, but that's kind of my philosophy.

Alice Wong: And I think there is the intimacy, I think that's really... and I think one thing that I love about recording conversations is that hearing the laughter. You could have a Q&A, but you can't write this is laughter. There's a lot of these kind of other noises that people make that I think also express emotions, that is another way of expression. And I think that adds a lot to the overall story, and also for the audience too. I think it is something different, just as if it is a video series, I feel like to be able to see us, versus hear us, versus read a transcript.

Alice Wong: I think there's all these different ways of expressing ourselves, and I think podcast is just another... is one of many modes. And I think it's just that you have to test them out.

Amena Brown: Yeah. And be open to seeing what it's gonna become. That's kind of my experience podcasting so far too, is that it sort of took me some episodes to figure out, what do I want this to feel like? And I had interviewed people in other settings, but what's the frame of how I want to interview people here? And as we were talking about before we started recording, there's the prep work of looking into who it is that you're interviewing, and how to make the interview feel warm. And I'm curious. I feel like that's a part of which maybe I'm just a nosy person, honestly.

Alice Wong: It's true. I think at the heart of... I think every time I feel creativity, I think it's my curiosity. And I create it with interest in learning more. And I think that's what is really exciting. Is that you could do the prep work, but you could also have a lot of questions that just... ways of really just giving space. Which I think is another act of love, I think, which we show for each other. It's an act of solidarity, it's an act of love to get the answers, just giving space.

Amena Brown: I love that phrasing. I've heard the phrasing 'holding space'. But when you said giving space, just now, that has even different implications from holding space. Because to give space is something very different. And I love that phrasing.

Alice Wong: I think that also speaks to our privilege and our power. As media makers, we do have choices that we can make in terms of who we invite, to what we wanna talk about. And I think that's a very deliberate choice of who we wanna give space to, that I think everybody of us, whether it's just politicians or just whatever work they do, I think we all actually have that capacity, whether we realize it or not.

Amena Brown: Yeah. Disability Visibility is your podcast. Disability Visibility is also an online community. I want you to tell me more about that. Tell our listeners more about that, because you are the director and founder of Disability Visibility as an online community. What was the moment that inspired you to create this online community?

Alice Wong: Thank you for asking. It's kind of funny, it's been... We're gonna reach almost five years since I founded the Disability Visibility project, which started in 2014. This was really at first an oral history partnership with StoryCorps. I don't know if you're familiar with StoryCorps.

Amena Brown: Yes, familiar.

Alice Wong: They're a national oral history non-profits, and they draw all their stories from various communities and most of the participants have a choice of having their oral histories archived at the Library of Congress.

Alice Wong: I went to one of their events, and they talked about partnerships with various communities. And I went up to them and said, "Have you ever done one with the disability community?" Then they said, no, we haven't. And I was like, "Huh?" At that time... To back it up, in 2014, the Americans With Disabilities Act was gonna turn 25; 25th anniversary in the year 2015. So, the [inaudible 00:41:30] was really curious in terms of just finding different ways to mark this kind of landmark anniversary and landmark law.

Alice Wong: And at that time I was just an individual person just wondering what could I do? I wasn't really affiliated with any organization. Even at that I time I don't think I even identified as an activist, with a capital A, but I wanted to do something. I thought, why don't I create a 20-year oral history campaign where I encourage people with disability to tell their stories at StoryCorps?

Alice Wong: It first started off as that, and I used social media to really get the word out. That's where the I'd like to be a proponent really happened, and I just stumbled. I think I really started there because of so many people want to tell their stories. There is such a void if we think about disability history. Is that even taught in high schools? No, it's not. How many people have dated major moments in disability history? Other than FDR or Helen Keller or Stevie Wonder, how many people have dated major people with disability history?

Alice Wong: This was a way I think of honoring ourselves, and to say this is history now if we make it. This is the zeitgeist of where the disability really is now. The idea is not just the big names, but really the stories of everyday people. Because I feel like we all are creating history, whether we realize it or not. And I think that's another thing, that we don't value our own history until later on. And for so long, for so many marginalized communities, our stories are not told by us. They're told by historians or other people that just use our work or just use our words like they see us through their lives.

Alice Wong: So, I wanted to just as a way to tell our stories in our own words, and able to be really active, participatory, empowering, kind of experience. And I'm proud to say that as of this year, we have over 100 oral histories recorded. And I do believe that majority of them are at the Library of Congress, so that anybody can go in there, or any other leader centuries later, they're gonna be there for all time. And that to me is important. And it wouldn't have happened without people wanting to do it. It didn't even matter if I had a great idea. But if it wasn't something that resonated strongly with the disability community, it would have never be what it is today.

Alice Wong: I'm just trying to say how much gratitude I have in terms of just the way it's been received and the way that people just seem to really appreciate it.

Amena Brown: Yeah. Wow! I love that. I love the idea of the importance of preserving the oral history, and hearing more disabled history. That's such a powerful thing.

Amena Brown: You also are the creator of the hashtag #CripTheVote, yes? I want to, just in hearing more about Disability Visibility started out as this, put this word out there to get more oral histories from the disabled community. Which that ask, in and of itself, creates more community. Which is just amazing to hear. You also talk a lot about the importance of civic engagement, and use this hashtag #CripTheVote to encourage more discussion about civic engagement in the disabled community.

Amena Brown: Tell me more about what has been your experience as you are leading and initiating these types of conversations among the disabled community. Why is it important? And I'm asking you a question I know a little bit the answer to from my own experience, but I think we're in a time that we're understanding the importance of civic engagement and understanding the importance of resistance. I just wanna hear your perspective, why is it important to you that the disabled community is engaged in the process of government and in activism?

Alice Wong: I feel like there's a lot of things to say about this, because just like every issue is a government issue, I think of every political issue as a disability issue. And I don't think that a lot of non-disabled people do not understand that disabled people are part of every single community. Every single issue to be seen as a disability issue.

Alice Wong: The fact that we, like many other communities have been left out, excluded, and face multiple barriers in terms of not just voting but other forms of political participation. There's a history of outright oppression and discrimination... actual barriers, physical and policy barriers. Some of the decisions, people with disability often do not even have the choice of living in a community. I think people kind of forget that. Disabled kids were segregated to foster homes.

Alice Wong: So, it's come a long way, but I felt we're anywhere near parity in terms of the power that we deserve, political power, as a community of voters. Also political representation. And I think that was really important that the people we elect, the people who are at the major positions of power need to reflect all of us. And we are not there yet, but this is the way to get started in terms of just encouraging people to say, yes, we all have a stake in this. And yes, apathy is a huge problem.

Alice Wong: I myself [inaudible 00:50:00] they'd be like, it's too hard. What is the point? Sometimes it does feel like everything is corrupt and the system is broken, that the system does not work for us; which is actually true in some respect. At the same time we have to think about what are the tools in front of us? Well, for some people voting is still one of the most basic things they could use. For those who can't vote or are ineligible to vote... Let's not forget there are people who still, whether it's because they're in prison or others who are disenfranchised from voting. Voting is not the only thing, but it is something that a lot of people have access to.

Alice Wong: There's also just being involved in your social community. Just showing up to meetings, or whether you wanna serve on a committee. I think even online activism is incredibly powerful. I do feel like Twitter and... social media really is like, whatever I find myself the most comfortable in, that's where I feel most alive, the most active, because I feel like there's a way of sparking conversations through hashtags through Twitter threads to really reach people in ways that traditional forms ordinarily cannot.

Alice Wong: And I think they're complementary. It's not either/or. I don't think one is better than the other. I think there's value in all types of activism. And I'm just using what is at my tips, at my disposal. Really totally savvy way to really talk about these things in a very complex media, so that other people can see it. Other people can join in and listen and just learn. And I think to have it out there is really something really important.

Alice Wong: #CripTheVote really started with my two friends, two partners, Andrew Pulrang and Gregg Beratan. We were just three friends who, we've never met in person. They're both based in New York, and we're just really good friends online. And I think again it speaks to the times we live in, where online friendships are just as real, just as potent as the people we talk to in front of us. And if a lot of disabled people who either can't get out of their house, who are sick, or just... this is the world that we are part of, that this is how we find each other, this is how we connect, and it's really been a form of access just for a lot of people.

Alice Wong: So, giving a voice for just people that throughout history are interested in politics, we follow the elections. Because we thought that since it was founded right before the 26th... They started 26th, they were like just [inaudible 00:54:01]. None of them were really talking about disability. And here we were like, why are we always left out? You never see... you rarely see a person's platform, a candidate's platform talking about the disability community. You rarely see us as a community that is important by a candidate. Why is that?

Alice Wong: And I think this is another really interesting question, because why aren't we being considered when we think about all the diverse communities? There's diversity such as the buzzwords that everybody is just trying to chase, they're trying to look loved, and very often, the disability community is just an afterthought. It's not like [inaudible 00:55:00] until somebody says, "Hey, what about us?" Then they'd be like, "Oh, okay. Of course."

Alice Wong: There's something interesting about that, that there's such an even odd [inaudible 00:55:16]. And I think part of what's great about Twitter is that you can get off like this. You can tell stories, and that's the actual power. Sometimes it is for the creative community, but it's also about marginalized communities. And I think that having a hashtag is... it belongs to everyone. We use it for our threads, we like to be in debates and conventions during election years. It's for everyone to use to talk about disability issues.

Alice Wong: And that's exciting too, that it [inaudible 00:56:10]. Here's what I pray, that that's... every time I see people using it, I was like wow, it feels good. I think that's really gratifying about using hashtags and so it really becomes the space in itself. A place for people to converge and to meet.

Amena Brown: There are so many powerful things that you just said. The part about interviewing people for your podcast is like I wanna have a little notebook here to decide where I could scribble my stuff, but then the whole recording would like [Krkrkr 00:57:01] because I'll be over here writing things. But I thought it was so powerful the way you gave us the both ends there, because if we're going to effect change, I think there can be this temptation to be like, "Oh, well, the only way we effect change is to do it this way, or the only way to effect change is if we do it that way." And just effecting change is accessible to all of us, and there are ways and steps that we can take, things that we can do that can help us all as a community work together.

Alice Wong: Yeah. And I think this is why I like activism is redefined. Because I think sometimes there are some activists that are, there's one way to do this, or just to be an activist you have to put your body on the line and sacrifice this and... No, that's not true. And I think that actually drives people away from wanting to get involved, because they've got this very specific idea, because the images and stories we see about activists and activism is somewhat [inaudible 00:58:23], right?

Amena Brown: Yeah.

Alice Wong: So, it's not just about these rallies and marches, wearing these signs and pussy hats. I really believe that even sharing information is a form of activism. You don't have to be affiliated with anybody to be an activist. You can just do stuff on your own, just do it quietly. You don't need a megaphone. You don't need to even identify as an activist to be an activist.

Alice Wong: Even I myself, I think I was really reluctant... I mentioned this earlier, to think of myself as an activist, because I was worried that people would not see me that way or not believe me. And I think that's, again, this really weird kind of orthodoxy that is like, to be a real activist or to do the real work you have to do this. And I think there's a lot of weird sort of ableist ideas too that if you're not going out, if you're not putting the time and energy to be physically in a space, that somehow you're not getting your voice heard. But that's not true. There's a lot of ways to make your voice heard. And I think we all need to really, to be much more mindful and accepting of all kinds of activism.

Amena Brown: A word today from Alice Wong, a word. I put out to social media if anyone wanted to ask you questions, and Damien from Twitter wants to know what is your favorite Ninja Turtle? Super deep questions here Alice.

Alice Wong: Oh, I'm here for it. I love these questions. Well, David, I'm very sorry to disappoint you, but I'm not a fan of the turtles. I do not know the characters as deeply or as lovingly as you do, therefore, I do not have an answer for you. It would be fake of me just to pick one as my favorite. I will not do that to you David. I will not do that to you. That is my answer, and I'm very sorry.

Amena Brown: Listen, all I know is they had Italian names and they ate pizza, but if you ask me to pick out which one was which, I couldn't help. Damien, there's your answer. Alice does not have a favorite Ninja Turtle. I do not have a favorite Ninja Turtle either, so I'm there with you Alice.

Alice Wong: Thank you for asking.

Amena Brown: Yes, thank you for asking Damien, we appreciate that. I wanna ask you the three questions I ask every guest. Question one, what inspires you to create?

Alice Wong: I think what inspires me is the idea of bringing something into the world, something new, something from me, and offering it. I think that's something about creating something and having it out there. And I think part of the idea is, the idea is part of a better world. I don't know if that sounds corny, but it's the idea of contributing and offering something as part of this process of creating a better world or just imagining a better world.

Amena Brown: Yeah. I love that. Question two, what is one thing you've made that you're really proud of?

Alice Wong: I guess I would have to say that currently this podcast has been really really fun. I think it's been just another extension of [inaudible 01:03:25] oral histories, and then I do this podcast. Other forms of media are all right, but a podcast is just another vehicle for storytelling that's really giving new life. I feel like just even the editing process has been really a wonderful exercise for me as a storyteller, as I craft the story. And I feel like it's just been really rewarding, and just a joy. I feel such gratitude to the people that have agreed to be on my podcast, just to hear their times, to hear their stories with me. So, it's a gift for me and it's a gift from me.

Amena Brown: Yeah. Question three, if you could give another woman a She Did That Award, who would it be, and why?

Alice Wong: Well, I'm gonna have to cheat a little, to give a shout out to two women.

Amena Brown: Okay.

Alice Wong: There are two women I gave she-did-that twice: Vilissa Thompson and Imani Barbarin. These two women are people you have got to follow right now. Vilissa and Imani are just two unapologetic proud black disabled women who have just created a lasting impression on the disability community. They really have just been so forceful and just so amazing in terms of talking about representation in the media, talking about race and racism within the disability community, which is long overdue.

Alice Wong: Other people have been doing it, but I feel like Imani and Vilissa are really really the ones. They are typical of [inaudible 01:05:56] their wisdom, their fire, their knowledge is just amazing. So, for anybody who wants to learn more, go to their websites. Imani's blog is crutchesandspice.com, and Vilissa's is rampyourvoice.com. So, be sure to follow them and just support these amazing black disabled women.

Amena Brown: Vilissa and Imani, y'all did that. She Did That Awards for both of you.

Alice Wong: Yeah.

Amena Brown: Alice, you've already given us just so many great people to follow, resources to make sure we look into, and places to support. What can people do when they want to follow you? They want to know more about all of the things that you're doing, tell people where to go.

Alice Wong: If you're a podcast listener [inaudible 01:07:00], just subscribe to Disability Visibility. It is on iTunes, Google Play, and Spotify. You can also go to my website disabilityvisibilityproject.com for the latest, such as the various interviews and announcements and all kinds of goodies. And if you're on Twitter, my personal handle is SFdirewolf, D-I-R-E-W-O-L-F, and Disability Visibility is on Twitter @DisVisibility. So, follow it, see you around.

Amena Brown: Say hello people. Follow all the things. Go and check out Resistance and Hope as well. You would just go into a wonderful trove of things. I almost was late to this interview today, just clicking on links between the project website and Alice's information. I was like, "Oh, I have an interview to do." Go to these things.

Amena Brown: Alice, thank you, not only for being on the podcast today, but for everything that you create and put out into the world, for taking that imagination and helping the world become what it really could be. Thank you so much Alice, I really appreciate you.

Alice Wong: Thank you Amena. I've just really enjoyed talking with you, and I feel like these sort of conversations are so important, and I really appreciate it.

Amena Brown: HER With Amena Brown is produced by DJ Opdiggy for Sol Graffiti productions. Don't forget to subscribe, rate, write a review, and share the podcast. Thanks for listening.

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Transcript: HER With Amena Brown Episode 29: Writing Unapologetic Happy Endings with Adriana Herrera

Amena Brown: Hey. Normally y'all know I don't do separate intros for episodes, but today deserved a separate intro for two reasons. Number one, because you're about to listen to a really, really great episode. I'm talking with romance fiction writer Adriana Herrera. I cannot wait for you to hear our conversation. I loved it and enjoyed it so much, learned so much about not only romance fiction but the plus of why it's important to write unapologetically, happy endings.

Amena Brown: Speaking of that, we're doing a book giveaway for Adriana's Dreamer series. This book giveaway does include the first two books in her dreamer series. Book one, which is American Dreamer, and book two, which is American Fairytale. So listen, if you want to be a part of this book giveaway, and I know you do, go to amenabrown.com/herwithamena where you can click on the show notes, follow the instructions there. Or, go to the episode description in whatever app you're listening to this podcast on right now, go there to the episode description there will be a link there that will also take you to the show notes. Follow the instructions there. Make sure you do all of the things to enter yourself into this book giveaway because you definitely want a copy of this, and enjoy the episode.

Amena Brown: Welcome everybody to another episode of season three of Her with Amena Brown. I am your host, I hope I'm your host with the most, or they would say your hostess with the mostest. I hope I'm that. But you all will have to tell me if that's true. I am really excited this season as you know, if you are getting yourself knee deep into this season we are talking to all of these amazing women of color who are creating and founding and building all the things in the world. And I am excited to welcome social worker, world traveler, fiction romance author who loves writing stories about people who look and sound like her people. Welcome Adriana Herrera to the podcast. Woo.

Adriana Herrera: Yay, thank you for having me, I'm so excited.

Amena Brown: Oh my gosh, part of what's great for me about having a podcast is it just gives me a good channel for how nosy I am. And so, as soon as I was like looking into your writing and your story I was like, "Oh, I have so many nosy questions I want to ask Adriana, this is going to be great."

Amena Brown: So, I want to give a shout out to my friend, our mutual friend Leigh Kramer, who also does amazing work as a virtual assistant. Which basically means she's my friend and she fixes my life. So, one of the ways that she fixed my life is I was just going through the different guest lists that we had, and she was like, "Oh, I know who you should interview." So, thank you to Leigh for connecting the two of us. I think the two of you are online friends. She said you've never met in person.

Adriana Herrera: Yeah. We have never met in person, which is a very common occurrence in the romance world. Or as we call it, romancelandia. You meet a lot of people through Twitter, and it's basically all very connected to love of books. So Leigh and I know each other through our love of romance, which is super awesome and is one of the things that I really love about the romance community. But yes, she's amazing.

Amena Brown: And she really has educated me so much on just the romance community. Like, when she just starts rattling off to me the different authors that she knows, and of course I'm just so proud of her for the book she's also written. So, I'm so glad that you are on the podcast because I have so many things I want to know about what it's like to be a romance writer, and the things that inspire you.

Amena Brown: So, let's get into it. I want to- First of all, I always like to start with an origin story. And one of the themes that's been coming up whenever I talk to other women who are writers, there's this interesting relationship we all have as writers to the moment that we realize we were a writer, or the moment we felt comfortable to call ourselves a writer. Do you remember what the moment was when you discovered you were a writer? Was it early on in your life? Or was it later in life?

Adriana Herrera: It was later in life, and I think it was very connected to my upbringing. I grew up in the Dominican Republic. I came to the U.S. when I was 23 on my own to go to grad school. So I lived my whole life there, I went to college there and everything. And in the Dominican Republic, and I think that's a big developing world thing. Like being an artist, or being a creative person is not something that's to a degree really encouraged. Especially I think for middle class, upper middle class, where you really need a solid profession. Like, you want to be a doctor, you want to be a lawyer.

Adriana Herrera: Even though my entire life, books were the most important thing in my life, I never even dreamed the dream of being a writer. I just thought that was not for someone like me. So, when I came to the states, I came to the states a long time ago, I was 23, so I've been here for 17 years almost. I also kind of toyed with it, 'cause I was here in grad school. There's a lot more space for creativity. There's creative writing degrees, things like that. Which in the Dominican Republic it's not even a thing.

Adriana Herrera: So, I think then I felt like, okay, just regular people can be writers. So I think as the years passed, I started blogging about books. I had a couple blogs where I reviewed books, and those were really well received, and people really commented on how I wrote. And I was like, oh, maybe I could do this.

Adriana Herrera: So, that was a little seed that was planted a long time ago. But my moment where I decided to do it seriously was probably two years ago, right after the election. And I think a lot of people had cathartic moments after the election. So many people saw the light. But my thing was, I was just so troubled by the narrative around immigrants that was happening at that time. And it's gotten worse, which is really sad. But I really was feeling compelled to bring Afro-Latinx stories. Like the type of stories that I know from my family that came here in the 60s, of my own passage, coming on my own. I just wanted to place those stories in the romance space. Because I really- I felt really compelled to present stories of people of color thriving, and getting unapologetic happy endings. Like, we work for our happy endings so vigorously.

Adriana Herrera: So, I think that was kind of- it was a combination of me having this idea that I couldn't be a writer, and then coming into my own. Like I'm 40, I just turned 40 last year, and I'm feeling like in a good moment to reinvent myself. So I thought, this is a good time to finally do this. And romance has always been a great space of self-care for me. Reading romance. So, yeah. That's my long origin story answer.

Amena Brown: I love it. And I love that you described for you that reading romance is a self-care practice. Because I think I've been looking at my library a lot lately. Leigh and I were actually talking about this when she was in town last. And so part of it is decolonizing your library. So I got rid of a bunch of things that way. And then some of it was also just now that I've gotten rid of a bunch of stuff, it's like looking at what's on my shelves now and thinking like, well what are the gaps? What are the holes of books I wish were there? And I realized, I need more fiction and more poetry. A lot of the books in my library are non-fiction which is great and has its use. But I think there is so much that just reading fiction gives to us, and it gives to us in a different way than reading an autobiography does, or then reading just a non-fiction book does.

Amena Brown: So, I think that's a really powerful idea to remember, listeners, that reading fiction and reading romance can also be a self-care practice. So, you are a writer and you are a social worker in New York City. You work with survivors of domestic and sexual violence. Would you say your vocation informs what you write? Or is it not necessarily an escape, but is it an outlet from your vocation? How is the relationship there between what the day gig is and your life also as a writer?

Adriana Herrera: Yeah, no it definitely influences it. I've always been a romance reader, but I'm a very voracious reader. So I've always read a lot. I'm known for my reading appetite, like I read a lot. But romance has always been a place like I said of self-care, but something that I always do for fun, like re energizing, 'cause I also read a lot of heavy books. My work is in trauma, so I'm constantly reading books on trauma. And so romance is kind of my way of- I don't know if cleansing my palette, but almost re imagining life. I hear so many things that are tough on a day to day basis.

Adriana Herrera: So, one of the things that I think my work really helps me with, is it really makes me thoughtful and mindful about how I present and render relationships. Like, power dynamics in relationships. Power and control, consent is something that I think a lot about. I've been having this conversation, because of course my debut novel just came out, so I've been having some conversations about the book. And people are curious about that connection, and I've been talking about not just consent as a yes, which of course we always want affirmative consent in any type of intimate relationship. But it's also the undergirding and building of a foundation for a yes that has substance.

Adriana Herrera: So, from the moment that the relationship begins, in romance we call that moment the meet cute, when the two people meet for the first time, the two romantic characters that are having the romantic relationship. So, I see it almost as a series of contracts, verbal contracts that happen between those two people, and they are going on back and forth until the moment of the big yes, where there's about to be physical intimacy. But there's been already kind of like a building up of consent because the relationships been balanced and there's been a- power and control has been aligned. So, that's something that I think about a lot, and I think it's because I see so much in my work.

Amena Brown: Yeah, so many moments where those power, in control dynamics go wrong. But in the writing, you are able to write about moments when that goes right, goes well for a character.

Adriana Herrera: Yeah. And kind of also like the pieces- specifically in men and women where they [inaudible 00:12:42] I think we live in a patriarchy, right? So if the women's only power is the ability to consent to sex, then is that yes really that powerful? Because if he has the power in every other aspect of life, he is the billionaire and he's like a magnate, and he's gorgeous, and he's seven feet tall. And she's the women, and the only thing she can consent or deny is her body. Then how powerful is that? You know what I mean?

Adriana Herrera: I like to play with those ideas of kind of dismantling the patriarchy a little bit, as I create those relationships.

Amena Brown: A word, using romance to dismantle the patriarchy, yes. Yes. We are here for everything about that. I want to as you, as a reader, and now as a writer of romance, why do you think it's important to have works of romance out in the world? What do you think that brings to the reader and being involved in a community of other authors who are also writing romance? What does it bring to the writer?

Adriana Herrera: This is something that is not something [inaudible 00:14:08] that Sarah Wendell is her name. She is the founder of this website called Smart Bitches Trashy Books. And it's a website that's dedicated to the romance genre. And she talks about happily ever afters being revolutionary. Like, the idea that you are not only happy, but that all that happiness is absolute and yours, is revolutionary. And the moment that we're living in, unapologetic happy endings, like saying all of this happiness is mine and I've earned it, because I'm me. Not because I had to change myself, not because I had to erase my identity or because I'm this type of person. Who I am, my sexual identity, my gender identity, all of that encompassed still gets me my happily ever after, I think is incredibly powerful.

Amena Brown: I think so too. And I never, until just hearing you describe this, like I don't know that I ever thought about this or put language to it. But I think that you're saying is so right. Like, I remember when my husband and I were first getting married. We were in that first one to two years, that newlywed time. I remember the first several months, I had to have a talk with myself. Like, this is a beautiful and happy moment in your life. You've married somebody that you love, that loves you, that respects you, that gives you this space, that you need in your life.

Amena Brown: And I think there was this part of me, sort of waiting for the other shoe to drop, you know? In life. And you know, and sometimes the other shoe does drop, that's how life is. But that there are also these moments that you can just be inside of exceeding joy and happiness, and I just had to have a talk with myself at that time of like, you know you have not been married 20 years like this crusty woman that you talked to about her marriage. And she's like in a terrible relationship, she hates it real bad.

Amena Brown: So, she's looking at me and my newlywed time like, "Oh well, I hope you enjoy it while it's good." And I sort of took in her sentiments in a way, and I had to just take whatever that was I took in and put it back out and say, "Hey, this is my happy ending right here, my happy beginning in some ways too." And I should enjoy that moment. And I think there are a lot of times in our real lives that we're not enjoying that happy ending.

Amena Brown: And maybe that's a way to your point that reading romance can teach us how to do that. How to be even in those happy moments, right?

Adriana Herrera: Yes. Brene Brown is real popular, and she's a social worker, but she writes a lot of self- and it's not self-help. But in one of her talks, she talks about love and how none of us would want to live without love. Like if any one of us asked, "Do you want to live for the rest of your life without love?" None of us would say, "Yes." Right?

Adriana Herrera: And I think we've created this idea that being able to sit in our happiness is almost something that we don't describe. Like we have to continue to brace ourselves for when it- because it's so wonderful and it's so life changing to find that type of love. And we've been taught and almost socialized to expect it to be taken away almost.

Adriana Herrera: and I think for women of color, or marginalized people, women, a person of any gender, that's living on the intersections of marginalized identities, it's not just that we're told. What we see is that the people that get to be in the movies or in the magazines, getting those happy endings don't look like us. And so, we are taught that this- it's almost like we're imposters. This is not supposed to be what we get.

Adriana Herrera: And I think that's also the power of romance, and romance that has diversity and own voices. Because when we can see ourselves. Like literal reflections of ourselves in people that are getting to have the gigantic happily ever after. And affirming, it's so affirming to see someone in the story getting that kind of happy ending that is just like you, in real ways.

Amena Brown: Oh, I mean, Adriana got me out here like, can I find a romance about a black women married to this red headed man? I'm just like, let me go looking and find my life today, because I'm here for all of it.

Adriana Herrera: I am here for the ginger and the black lady in love.

Amena Brown: Yes, yes. I was literally thinking like, 'cause my first- Actually, to be utterly honest. Adriana, my first thought was, "Could I write that?" And then I was immediately like, no sis. I mean, I could write it. But I didn't get a chance to finish your book, but I did read some of your book. And when I'm writing fiction, it don't sound like what you're doing, okay? It's bad.

Adriana Herrera: No, it's good, do it.

Amena Brown: So I could try and then one day, what I'm planning to do is just release a series that's like, "Here's all my really bad novels, guys." And I'm not going to try to make these non-cliché, I'm just going to leave all the cliches in there. Please enjoy. But you were encouraging me to find some stories to read, to take in. I think that is such a powerful reminder. I want to talk about your book, and I want to make sure my listeners know that this book that has just released, American Dreamer is in the Dreamer series. So you are going to release more books that go along the lines of this one.

Amena Brown: So, talk to me about American Dreamer. Like, tell me listeners a little bit. Just we want to give them a little taste right here that will make them go buy it right away. So tell us a little bit about that, and then how does American Dreamer as a book sit in the series of books to come?

Adriana Herrera: Yes. So American Dreamer is an LGBT romance, so the two main characters are two gay men. And Ernesto Vasquez is a Dominican entrepreneur, I'm Dominican, so I felt like the first one should be a Dominican guy. And he grew up in the South Bronx, and he put himself through culinary school, and he has a Afro-Caribbean food truck that he wants to make a success.

Adriana Herrera: So he moves upstate to try to make a go of it. His mom is already there, and he's just giving himself six months to get it off the ground. And if things just don't work out, he might just have to go to his regular job. So, as soon as he gets there, he meets Jude Fuller who is a librarian in town, and is also trying to get his own project off the ground. He wants to get books to the rural areas, to the use in the rural areas of the county where they live. It's a striving story is what I'm starting to call it.

Adriana Herrera: It's like two people who are striving to be their best selves in terms of their dreams, but also along the way, figure out also different things that are valuable and should be priories. And for Ernesto, he's an immigrant. So he's all about the hustle. He's out there in those [inaudible 00:22:45] streets trying to make this truck be a success. And Jude is someone that grew up in a really conservative family, so he's still kind of grappling with the emotional wreckage of coming out and being disowned by his family.

Adriana Herrera: And so it's a love story, but I think it's almost kind of an American Dream story.

Amena Brown: Oh, I love that. I love that. Just the parts that I had a chance to read, I was like, oh man. And knowing a little bit more of your story too. One of the things I really loved about writing my bad fiction was, you have all of these experiences, places that you've been, things that you've done, and you're not writing something that's necessarily a fictionalized account of your life. But you can take these bits and pieces of your own things you've seen, stories you've heard. And you can put that into this whole world that you get to create when you sit and write a fiction story. I mean that is just so inspiring to me.

Amena Brown: So, talk to us about how did you know- I guess I'll start with this. Did you know when you were first writing American Dreamer that you had enough stories here for a series. Like, how did you know, this is not just a book, this is going to be a series of books?

Adriana Herrera: Yeah, so romance tends to be kind of like a genre where there's multiple books. For the most part, unless you're writing a very specific type of sub-genre like fantasy or something like that. Books will come out standalone. But usually, there's a series. So, I kind of have that idea in mind.

Adriana Herrera: And then when I started thinking about this book, my hope was to be able to render, not just Ernesto and his own experience, but I wanted to show thriving communities of color. I wanted to show- Ernesto's story is not just his story, but it's his community story. His mom, his friends who are like his brothers. And it was important to me to show queer communities of color that were thriving.

Adriana Herrera: Because even in LGBT romance, which there's a lot of, it's very white. And when you do have a character that's Latinx or black, it's kind of like that friend, you know? So I wanted to show- create a community, create a world where the norm was Afro-Latinx queer people. And that's the space that I was in, and these people were striving and thriving.

Adriana Herrera: So, that's how I kind of came up with the idea. And then for Ernesto, I gave him three best friends who are all Afro-Latinx. The second book is actually coming out in May, and it's a Cuban/Jamaican social worker, and he works in New York City. He basically is kind of like my same job. And then the third character he's Asian, he came to the U.S. as a refugee with his mother when he was a child, and he is an Ivy league professor. And he's an economist. And the last character is a Puerto Rican man who works for the Yankees.

Adriana Herrera: So I wanted to show people who were doing well. Like, I didn't want to show a struggle story. I keep saying this, and I really truly feel like this. I don't want to write stories of people of color that are earning their happy ending through brokenness.

Amena Brown: That's powerful.

Adriana Herrera: I am tired of seeing broken black and brown people in fiction. We have struggle, of course we do. Our lives are full of conflict. But there's also so much joy in being who we are. And I really wanted that to come throughout of the gate.

Amena Brown: Let me ask you a question that I've never had the opportunity to ask a fiction writer. When I was in college, I studied English with actual intent to be a novelist, and became a poet in the end, which is most of my writing is poetry. But we watched a documentary, I cannot remember the name of it now. But I remember part of it was this interview with Alice Walker. And she talked about how when she writes fiction, her characters talk to her.

Amena Brown: And when she said that, 18, 19 year old me is like, "That's crazy. No, that is not. Whatever she's talking about, that's crazy." But later on, as a writer, I understood more what she meant. Do you find that to be true? Do your characters talk to you when you're sitting down to write? Or even if you're not sitting down to write, do you have moments that a character might sort of reveal themselves, or a piece of the plot kind of comes to you? How is that part of the creative process?

Adriana Herrera: There are authors- I think there's pantser's is what we call them. People that kind of just sit down and they're like channeling a character and they're just in it. I find that my process is a little bit different than that. Because I need to really build scaffolding for me to start writing. So I kind of have to really think about origin stories and what's the wound? Who hurt you character. That sort of thing.

Adriana Herrera: And then once I'm really feeling like I have a grip on the emotional arc and stuff like that, then I sit down. And it really kind of comes through in my head. Like I can think of what's happening in this scene, and I can really see it play out. I don't have voices, but I know that there are writers who do kind of- are so in tune with their characters that they're just kind of like rendering what they're seeing. But I'm a control freak, so I need to have an outline and a plot, basically.

Amena Brown: Which I also- when I wrote my first nonfiction book, I thought I was going to have the experience you watch writers have in the movies. Where they sit down and it's like, some bolt of inspiration hits you, and you just start click clacking at your typewriter, obviously. You know, it has to be a typewriter for people you see in the movies. That that's how you wrote a book.

Amena Brown: And I quickly discovered, oh no sis. Like, you need to have an idea of what you is trying to write today. Like, you need to have an idea, or you're going to drive yourself crazy and then you're going to procrastinate, and then you're never going to get this book written. So, that's also a good point. Scaffolding's a great word for that.

Adriana Herrera: That's me. I'm the person with the outline. I wish that I could- I mean, one of our most beloved romance authors is Beverly Jenkins, and she is an African American woman. She writes everything, but her historical are my favorite. Some of my favorite books. And she's a pantser. So she like sits down, and she talks about having arguments with her characters, because she is so in tune with her muse. I have to do a lot more work. Although, of course I wouldn't even allude to being in the same category as the [inaudible 00:30:51]. She's like a treasure, and basically royalty in romance. But her process is very different than mine.

Amena Brown: You mentioned something, and I think we were talking about this before we started recording. You mentioned that you just turned 40 recently, and I just have to ask this question for my own sake, but maybe for some other listeners too. I'm turning 39 this year, so I'll be 40 next year. And it was really wonderful for me to hear you say that a part of the process of you beginning this book and now this series of books was you were like, "I'm turning 40, this is a great time to reinvent myself."

Amena Brown: But now that you are on the other side of 40, I remember being in my early 20s, and 30 feeling like, whoa. I had some thoughts about what I thought life was gonna be. It is not that. But then it also turned out to be this totally new decade for me of going, well I don't need to hold myself to whatever I thought 30 was going to be.

Amena Brown: And for some reason in my mind, I had an idea that 40 was gonna be this like, I only have an airplane metaphor for this. But I just thought 40 was like, we've reached 10,000 feet. We unplug our seat belts now, we move about the cabin. Like, there was some sort of cruising that was happening, you know. In my 40s. And now, in my late 30s looking at 40, knocking on the door of 40 feels like, I feel like my whole life is about to reinvent itself. Can you talk more about what your thoughts have been about that, as you are entering this new decade of your life?

Adriana Herrera: Yeah, so I also had that- I think it's because our age. I think maybe our generation that you saw 40 as something like, well you have to be an established person, and you have to have all your things figured out by 35. And I think, as I was reaching my- as I was in my 30s and starting to really find my voice in terms of my work and the things I believe in, and how I wanted to show up in the world. I felt, I don't have enough time. I need the entire decade of my 40s to really polish this new person that I feel like I'm becoming.

Adriana Herrera: And so, I wanted... I have a thing, I was like, I think I'm gonna have to push back this cruising altitude as you mentioned, kind of timeline. And so I went back to school two years ago, I'm actually finishing up my master's in social work. I had a master's in international relations and then I did social work for a long time, and then I decided to go back to school.

Adriana Herrera: So, I thought the going back to school time was a good moment for me to kind of do the writing thing. So I kind of used this two years moving into my 40s to do something that I had wanted to do, that I hadn't done. I feel like I'm in my best moment. I feel like I love who I am, I've found my voice, and I think I want like another 50 years. I'm not done.

Amena Brown: Right, yes. Ah, that is so inspiring. Ah. Thank you for answering that question, because I hadn't planned to ask you. But as we were talking I was like, you know, let me circle back and ask her. Because I think it's good to process what we- in a way, what we expected our happy endings to be. But then maybe realizing which is a lesson that we can learn from just brilliant writers like yourself, realizing in our real life, we can also rewrite some things. We can also reinvent where we thought we might be headed, and find ourselves down a totally different story that may have totally different happy endings, but they are wonderful happy endings nevertheless.

Amena Brown: So, thank you for answering that for me. That was a little nosy question I needed to know. Okay, what tips do you have for other people that might want to also not only write fiction, but write romance? What tips would you have for writers who are interested in this genre just getting started?

Adriana Herrera: I think get out of your own way is one thing that I had to tell myself. I think, and this I think is a very woman of color thing. I think we really never feel like we have enough credentials to do what we want. So like, "oh well, if I'm going to write, I need to get an MFA. Oh well, if I'm going to write, I need to get a PhD or whatever."

Adriana Herrera: And it's like, because we are- I mean it's a reinforced message that we're like, you don't belong here. I just finished that Michelle Obama memoir, like two or three weeks ago. I've been thinking about it a lot, because she kind also had that experience of having to tell herself, like no, I belong in this world. And I think for us, for me, for any fiction writer, you have a story to tell. You can just tell it. And of course there's structure, there's technical things that you need to do to make that story polished and strong and have good pacing and plot points and all that. But you can tell your story, and then you can build it into a book that you can put into the world.

Adriana Herrera: So I would say just tell your story and get out of your own way. Like, you belong here too.

Amena Brown: Yeah. And not like, building these barriers in front of yourself, 'cause that's definitely a thing for a lot of women of color I know who are entrepreneurial or in creative work, or just even in business and all sorts of fields . I feel like there can be this idea of like, I gotta add 10 steps to myself before I move on whatever this idea is that I have and I want to put out in the world. And even when you talked earlier just about your initial writing being on your blog and about the books that you loved reading. That also was really inspiring to me too, because I think we have a lot of tools at our disposal now to be able to say, hey this is a thing I want to do, let me give it a shot. Let me try and see and see how people engage with that, and see how you feel in the process. Like I really think that's a dope way to think about it, is really, what can you do to just start.

Adriana Herrera: Yeah, right. And I think I heard, I think it was Elizabeth Gilbert, I think she wrote Eat Pray Love. Someone was at a talk with her, and she said something I think is so great. She said, "Perfectionism is fear in a bad mustache." Like, poorly disguised fear. And I think, again, I think for a lot of women of color, we really have this ingrained idea that we have to show up perfect. And not because we made it up, like it's something that we are told by all of society.

Amena Brown: Absolutely, yeah, yeah.

Adriana Herrera: Like the twice is good thing. You know? Like you need to be five times better than everyone else, just so you can sit there and feel like you belong in the room. And I think that turns into a fear of failure, and a feel of told that we're not good enough. That really puts us- kind of hinders us. Just going for us stuff.

Amena Brown: Yeah, yeah. So listeners, whatever your thing is, if it's a book, a business idea, something you want to do in your community, whatever it is. We are telling you, start today. Pick something and start today. You deserve to be in the room, I love that.

Amena Brown: Want to ask you the three questions that I'm asking every guest this season. Question one, what inspires you to create?

Adriana Herrera: I am going to say my community. Like the people that I have around me, the people that I've been around and all the places that I've lived and worked and where I come from. I want all those stories to have space in our world, and there's not enough them out there I think.

Amena Brown: Question two, what is one thing you've made that you are really proud of?

Adriana Herrera: I'd say my book, American Dreamer, I'm really proud of it, and I'm really proud of myself for seeing that through.

Amena Brown: Question three, if you could give another woman a 'She Did That' award, who would it be and why?

Adriana Herrera: I'm gonna go with Janelle Monáe, because-

Amena Brown: It's a good one. That's a good one.

Adriana Herrera: Because I've just been living for her music, basically, and her aesthetic. Everything about her I find is everything I want for women of color for the next 1000 years.

Amena Brown: Janelle Monáe, she did that. She definitely did.

Adriana Herrera: She so did that.

Amena Brown: She Did That Award. And you also deserve a 'She Did That' award, Adriana for not just having the idea for a book, but sitting down and doing what I know is the hard work of writing one, putting it out there, and I'm so excited that we have more books to come from you. If people are listening to this, they want to buy your books. They want to buy more than one copy of our book, because they want to have one for themselves, they want to buy one for a friend. They want to follow you, where should they go? What should they do?

Adriana Herrera: So I have a website, it's adrianaherreraromance.com, and there you can find everything that you would want to know about my books and my writing, what I'm working on. I'm pretty active on Twitter, and my handle is @ladrianaherrera. L-A. Like ladriana. Those are the two places I'm on.

Amena Brown: Awesome. People, go there. Go there and do the things. Go and buy these books right now, and I just want to thank you so much, Adriana, for being on the podcast. I have learned so much for answering all my nosy questions, thanks for joining us today.

Adriana Herrera: Thank you for inviting me, it was so wonderful to talk to you.

Amena Brown: HER with Amena Brown is produced by DJ Opdiggy for Sol Graffiti Productions. Don't forget to subscribe, rate, write a review and share the podcast. Thanks for listening.

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Transcript: HER With Amena Brown Episode 30: Creating Your Voice with Ametria Dock

Amena Brown: Everybody welcome back to another episode of Her with Amena Brown, and I'm Amena brown. I'm your host here, and I'm so excited. First of all, I'm excited because today's interview is an in person interview and this doesn't happen all the time. Sometimes I'm interviewing people, we're just in different places but today's guest is here in the studio with me. Recording artist, vocalist, musical consultant, professional voice coach for artists such as to Janelle Monae, India.Arie, Anthony David, Avery Sunshine, Gramps Morgan, and more, founder of Fruition Organized Music. Let's welcome Ametria Dock to the podcast.

Ametria Dock: Hello, hello. Hello. I'm so glad to be here with you. It’s a blessing.

Amena Brown: I know people that are listening are so tired of me clapping, but there's going to be actual applause there. I just feel like you should feel the applause.

Ametria Dock: I feel it. I feel it.

Amena Brown: This has been a few months coming, this interview. I have been begging y'all. I have been begging Ametria to come on the podcast, I've been begging her to the point that I just emailed her and I was like, "I will crouch in the corner of a tour bus." I was like "I will come in the 10 minutes between clients, whatever I can do to get this story." Just because I really believe that you have such a wealth to offer the community of listeners here. So I'm so glad.

Ametria Dock: You know what? She didn't have to beg me. I love her, and I was honored to do this.

Amena Brown: We've been knowing of each other, or about each other for years-

Ametria Dock: For years.

Amena Brown: ... I feel like. We were running in some of the same circles. I don't know if you knew, I was a music journalist for a little while in Atlanta before my poetry career. I was about to say took off, I'm like, "Did it?"

Ametria Dock: It did. I mean, you are.

Amena Brown: Took off?

Ametria Dock: You're there.

Amena Brown: So I partly knew you from shows, from covering different shows, and being in some green rooms, and different things. But we never had an opportunity to talk, talk until the last couple of years. I'm really excited about that.

Ametria Dock: I knew Amena, like I knew your work, I knew your voice because it was so ... Every time I know my best friend and I we were at an event and you were speaking, and we looked at each other and we were like, "Man, she is so powerful." Everybody was just like ... we had to take a second listening to your words and how you ... I think it was maybe a Black History Month celebration, maybe of women and the way you described women, and the words that you said I was like, "What in the ... who is she? Who is she? How are you doing what you do?" And it was amazing to watch that. It was inspiring, that's what I'll say. It was inspiring to hear, you to see you, and to have all that black girl magic up there.

Amena Brown: We did, we had black girl magic. I have felt the same because I saw you for a while before I heard you sing, and I saw you sing in a soundtrack situation and your vocal sounded so good that it upset me. I don't know how else to describe it, but I was like, "I'm very angry about this at this time." And I have also heard you saying some background vocals, right? In different people's shows there comes a time where it's like, "Here's the time where the background vocalist sing on their own." And I've been in a situation where I saw that and I was like, "Huh. What?" Because some people that sing background, you're like, "We see that. That is where you ought to be. Thank you for using your gifts-

Ametria Dock: Absolutely.

Amena Brown: ... in the station that is best for the voice that you have, we appreciate that." But some background vocalist, you start to hear their singing and you're like, "Wait a minute, wait, I wasn't prepared." So I appreciate that. I have a lot of opportunities to hear that voice, and it does wonders for my soul as well. I want to jump in to hearing a bit more of your story. I am a person who grew up in at least ... Well, I guess I could say in both sides of my family, but in particular on my dad's side of the family, a lot of musicians, and singers, and things. And so it's always interesting to me to hear people that have musical talent, like where that is coming from. If you remember that being a thing in your family.

Amena Brown: I don't know that I have musical talent, but I became an artist I think in part, because I grew up in a space where I was watching my dad play piano by ear, and him and my stepmother directing the choir together, and some of those things. Was that in your family, your love for music? Talk about how singing became a thing that you love to do?

Ametria Dock: How you just described it, is exactly what my family was like. My father was a pastor, he started out playing piano organ in the church that we grew up in. I'm from Racine, Wisconsin. Our church was like a family church, and my dad had 10 brothers and sisters.

Amena Brown: Wow.

Ametria Dock: All of my dad's brothers and sisters were musical. Some played keys, some played drums, some directed the choir. Everybody was in the choir. Funny, my grandmother was not much of a singer. But she would sing from time to time, so I don't really know where they got it from. But most of my aunts and uncles, my mom and my dad, both were singers. That was the start of my brother and I learning a lot of gospel songs, like our church, we were very involved in it from ... I can remember learning my first song, my dad and my mom both coaching me through that as a little girl five years old.

Amena Brown: Wow.

Ametria Dock: And I'm learning Jesus, You're The Center of My Joy.

Amena Brown: Come on Richard Smallwood!

Ametria Dock: I mean from the ad-libs, to giving me freedom to, find my way through the song. That was my start, and my platform was obviously in church singing in the children's choir. That was that was my start.

Amena Brown: Wow. When you were talking about your grandmother, my dad's mom was not a singer that I remember either but she always wanted all of us to sing whenever we got together. Cousins, aunts and uncles, everybody. So in a way it was like even though it wasn't her thing or her gift, she was the person corralling all of us to have that experience. Then as you know, grown up a music family then decide, "Okay, who's going to be the tenor?" And my aunts are like, "I got tenor." Or, "Who's alto? And soprano.?" Working all the parts out even as a family, right? That was your experience too.

Ametria Dock: All day. Every Sunday even when we would get ... after church was over, we would all go over to my grandparents house, and it would turn into a concert. All of my cousins ... and it's like, 30, 40 of us. In each family there are the singers, or the musicians and so we would all get together and it just turned into a concert. At every grandparents house there is a piano [crosstalk 00:08:11] and the drummer, they'd figure out how to make buckets and turn into drums. It was just good times, that was really my start and it was consistent. That was helpful for me to go on this musical journey for myself, and know that consistency is important to be able to be successful in this business. I saw that every week, it was something that we were doing.

Amena Brown: From your family upbringing, from your church roots you go into a solo career as an artist. Was that something even as a kid that you saw for yourself? Or was it just these doors were opening, and now you're like, "I'm here."? How did the solo career come out of your family and church roots?

Ametria Dock: I'm going to be completely honest, I was never the little girl that had the dream of becoming an artist. I wasn't that. I think that I was very passionate about music, and I wanted to do it in whatever way. I didn't have a specific plan like, "I want to do it like this." I just knew that I wanted to do music. I loved creating music, I loved writing music, I loved colabbing as a kid. Then in high school, I started the gospel choir at my school. I was very involved in advanced chorus, and all these different things. So being in school, I was always spearheading musical things in my school. I remember being in course in our advanced choir, and we would have the practice rooms. A lot of the lower classroom would come in and say, "Can we go in the room?" And, "Teach us these parts in the song." And, "Let's create something." So I was always putting things together, and teaching people and I loved that. That aspect of music, I wanted to do that too.

Ametria Dock: I love doing solos, I did it all the time as a kid singing in church. I was leading songs. The opportunity came for me when a friend from church actually knew of a producer who was looking for an artist, and she said, "Well ..." at the time, I was 15 getting ready to turn 16. And I was like, "Well, what does that mean be his artist? What would I do?" She was like, "You do an album." And I was like, "Oh, okay." So it wasn't like, I was prepping. I was not the girl doing talent shows, and star searching. I was just doing it in whatever way 'cause I loved to do it, so when that opportunity came I talked to my parents and my parents were like, "Okay, do you want to go?" And I was like, "Yeah. Okay, what do I have to do? What does that mean?" So, go into the studio for the first time and-

Amena Brown: Whoa.

Ametria Dock: ... I was 16 by then. We set up the meeting to meet him. And this part of the story it's almost like you put your foot on the gas in and everything just went, and my life completely changed. It was around Christmas time, and we were on Christmas break and he ... my friend took me to the studio. When I got there, I met the guy at the time. His name was Joe, and Joe was looking for an artist to produce and he asked me, "Do you write songs?" And I never written a full song by myself, but I had done some collaborations with other people in school. So he said, "Okay, okay, well don't say that you've never written a song." And I said, "Well, what's getting ready to happen?" And he said, "Well, you're getting ready to meet an executive."

Amena Brown: What?

Ametria Dock: And I'm like, "Okay." So at the time this executive was managing 112.

Amena Brown: Whoo, this story is-

Ametria Dock: Yeah, it's getting ... Hold on, hold on. He was managing 112 at the time. And so when 12 comes into the studio-

Amena Brown: What? So are you ... I mean, for this era of time for 112 to walk into the studio is like-

Ametria Dock: Blowing my mind.

Amena Brown: It's like astara is walking into the studio, right?

Ametria Dock: Oh, yeah. I'm completely blown away, I'm like, "Oh my goodness." I wasn't prepared for any of it. I'll just say this to start off with my story, everything up to this point in my life right now, everything is never planned. It's always I'm thrown into a situation, and I have to rise to the occasion. So in this situation starting out it was that, like, "Okay." I'm thinking, I'm going to just meet this guy who's looking for an artist and it turns into, "No, you're going to meet someone who has a big part in this industry, who's working with all kind of artists at the time in the 90s." That was the name, the list of artists that he collabbed and work with. It was insane. So I'm like, "Oh god. So what do I do about this? What am I supposed to do?" And he said, "Well, you're gonna meet him, and he's probably going to ask you to sing." What was happening was, I'm meeting this guy who had a connection with this guy who could possibly sign me to a label.

Amena Brown: Wow.

Ametria Dock: So he was looking for an artist to show this guy, "Hey, I've got an artist. A female artist, but let me let you hear what she sounds like." But he had never even heard ... Joe had never even heard me sing. So when the moment came for me to sing, Joe was hearing me for the first time. It was Joe, the executive, 112 standing in front of me.

Amena Brown: To reflect, you're going into this meeting not knowing that you are also going to be expected to sing there. For all you know, you're going into a conversation-

Ametria Dock: Exactly.

Amena Brown: ... to talk with someone about whatever they're looking for. So this done turn into some audition showcase type?

Ametria Dock: Completely. A showcase, that's what it turned into. I also didn't realize that he was looking for an R&B artist. I'm a kid who's grown up in the church, I don't know what type of music I want to make. So the song that I auditioned with is a gospel song because that's what I know. And so this is a R&B executive who's obviously has 112 on his roster, and a host of other artists. So one, I'm not prepared for the type of song or the type of genre of music that I should be prepared for. But all I have is what I know, and that's what I give. When I finished singing, he goes, "Do you have any songs that you've written?" And Joe interrupts and says, "Yeah, we have some songs." And I'm just standing and I'm like, "Okay, wow." Again, I'm 16 years old. So, at that point, after the meeting, he told him he said, "We'll send over what she's got." So when I said it was go time, it was go time.

Ametria Dock: Immediately after that meeting, we went into the studio ... Joe had a studio, and we went to record. He said, "You're going to write today." I went in. I mean, my adrenaline was going, I was excited because I'm passionate about this music. You put me in a situation where I have to rise to the occasion with something that I'm passionate about, and I go. And so I did, they brought another writer in that met us at the studio, and we started writing and I wrote a song called ... so funny, I Depend On You and I was talking about God. That was the first little ... I recorded it, I never put it on an album or anything like that. But that was the first demo song that I had ever recorded for myself. And it was ... we recorded it that night. We started then setting up times for us to get in the studio and record, and we recorded over 25 songs.

Amena Brown: Wow.

Ametria Dock: Yeah. That was the beginning of a process of me finding my voice at the time, of discovering what I liked musically, sounds that I liked. And really it was the influence of the producers that I was working with like, "I like that." Or, "I like that." But still didn't have a voice in it. As I progressed, even in doing my own album once I got signed, and all of that ... I'm just skipping over, I still didn't have my voice in that as well. The process of that at such a young age being in this industry, and not really having an outlet but just having people saying, "You're going to do this. You're going to do this. You're going to do ... this is good. This is good. This is good." So I'm going to trust that what you say because you have Grammys, or you have this, and you have that, that, "Okay, well that must be good so let me do that." So, I skipped over a lot.

Ametria Dock: But that was the start of my musical journey, and finding my voice, and knowing what I like, what I don't like, and figuring out if I want to be a performer, figuring out if I want to just create, and if I want to teach, and all. Yeah, it started like that.

Amena Brown: Okay. Take us to this pivot that happens in your career because you're on track with these influential people to launch this solo career. The album gets ... you get signed, the album gets completed, gets released. At this point you're at the point where a lot of artists are wanting to get to, wanting to get to that "I'm signed, I've got some backing behind me. I've made this music, it's released." What was that like? And then describe for us the transition from, "Well, I didn't know I was going to end up on this recording track as a solo artist." But now that is transitioning to returning to really some of your roots you described from school, this collaboration, vocal coaching, vocal arranging. Give me like how did that pivot happen?

Ametria Dock: The process of recording my album, being signed, working with the artists that were huge names in the R&B world, I did a gospel album with all R&B artists that were producing my album. There was a lot of ... I was learning a lot about the music industry, and a lot of that, even at 17, 18 it just was ... I was going against it. It was just like, "I don't know that I liked that." I started like ... you know when you're an 18 year old and not in the industry, you're starting to have a voice like, "Oh, I don't like this. I don't like that." So I was going against a lot specifically with my management, and the choices that they wanted me to make, and the artists they wanted me to work with, and the gigs they wanted me to take. I just stopped liking it altogether. I didn't stop liking making music and doing the music, but I didn't like all the ... I want to say the work, but what was put in front of me to do as an artist.

Ametria Dock: It didn't make sense to me. I didn't really know exactly fully at the time what I wanted to do, but I knew I didn't want to do that. It's funny because even talking about this, I remember sitting in the studio. I did two songs with Mary J. Blige and I remember her saying, "A lot is going to change as you go on this journey. A lot for you is going to change, management." And she said it in front of my managers.

Amena Brown: Come on Mary and speak a word.

Ametria Dock: At the time because she knew. She said, "A lot will change for you." Like, "You will find your voice in this process." Like, "I can see ..." she could see it in my eyes. We were in the green room before going into studio and funny enough at the time, while we were recording my album they were filming Behind the Music for Mary. So there's parts of her Behind the Music where she's in the studio vocal producing me, and mentoring me because she produced those songs. But she also took time to speak into me, like "Don't just settle for where you are." Like, "Things will change, you will find your voice." Because she could ... I felt like she felt me, so I was just ... it was a moment for me like, "This is exciting." But at the same time there was tension, and she could see it, and she could see that I was searching. When I think about that, I think about the tension was always not being able to completely be myself, and not given that opportunity.

Ametria Dock: When you're in the industry and people are paying for things, when in reality you're paying for it all ... okay but that's a whole another story.

Amena Brown: A word today. A word today.

Ametria Dock: You're paying for it all, you just don't know it fully. But having time to sit down ... and I'll talk about this later when it comes down to the business, to really sit down and brainstorm about what you want. I didn't have time to do that, everything was go. So I said, "Stop. I'm done."

Amena Brown: You were 18 at this point? Or?

Ametria Dock: At this point I was 19 turning 20 I think, or 20 turning 21. I can't remember because that whole time was just crazy for me. But I basically said, "Stop, I don't want to do this anymore." I was under contract and my managers at the time said, "You can't do that." And I said, "Well, I'm not going to do anything." And I did that, and I got a job. I got a job, I did. I got a job, a job that I didn't want to work at the time. I was doing sales and I said, "Well, you can't do shows, we'll sue you." And I said, "Okay." Because at that point I said, "I can't do this anymore. This is not what I want to do. You're not going to control me." At this point I'm an adult, I'm living on my own and I wanted to find my voice. So saying, "Stop." Was the only way that I saw out, and the only way to let this contract run its course, and to figure out what I wanted to do.

Ametria Dock: I stopped doing shows for under the banner of Ametria, and I decided that I wanted to figure out what I love about this music because I felt like it was being taken away from me. So I went back to my roots, and I went back to teaching, and leading worship, and I found joy in that. I found joy in leading, in teaching, in vocal production going into the studio. So I started taking on some projects doing vocal production for some artists, a lot of artists. That brought me back to this appreciation for creating, and really finding my voice, and what I love about music, and also being able to just be free in the music. Because music is like the universal language, it connects us all. It's one of those things that when you listen to something, it can give you joy, it can ... I wanted to get back to that because I wasn't ... there was a time where I just didn't want to listen to anything. I didn't want to listen to anything, I just became so jaded with music and that was all because of that process.

Ametria Dock: So, once I got into that, I started really writing down like, "What do I want to do? Do I want to write songs? Do I want to record another album, and just go in a different direction?" And I wasn't ... I went back and forth with recording another album, but I knew that I wanted to create, and then tell my story in some way, whether that's coaching another, helping another person on their journey. That's really how that came into play. Vocal production, going into the studio with an artist is basically coaching them through a song, coaching them through giving ideas and things like that. That is my heart, I love that. Coaching and helping a person to go beyond what they hear is how my company just came into play. My work started, it went before even coming up with a business plan. I was already in motion, and that I finally ... my voice became loud, and I could see myself, and I could feel my heart, and feel what was in me, you know?

Ametria Dock: I was able to still sing, I was able to still write, and able to still help others which is something that I love to do. Coaching is probably the number one thing that I love doing. I love being on stage, but I love coming up with ideas and helping somebody to find their voice. I love that 'cause my voice was taken away for a while.

Amena Brown: There's just so many words that you spoke right there that are so powerful. I mean, first of all, the moment of being able to find the freedom and the courage to say stop. I think that can be really, really tough for a lot of us because we get in whatever kind of treadmill we've gotten on now, of whatever people are telling us is the path we have to take to success and sometimes we find ourselves doing that. Whether it affects our health, whether it affects our creativity, or whatever, we just stay on it but we are really on a treadmill. We're not on a thing that's going someplace. I was at a retreat not too long ago, and Dr. Vickie Johnson was there sharing and she said something that made me ... it just really is reflected in the story you just told. She said sometimes you have to let it fall apart.

Ametria Dock: Yes.

Amena Brown: And you being able to say, "You know what? No. We're going to stop this." And then the second thing when you say, "And I went and got a job." I was like, "We need to stop the recording right now. We're going to have to stop this, and do a whole seminar on just that phrase right there." Because when you're an artist, or a creative, or whatever it is that you're doing, when you've gotten in your mind that, "This is going to be the trajectory. This is how I'm going to make my money, I'm going to provide for my family." Whatever, and having to come to a very practical place of like number one, "I've realized ... which I'll tell them I'm not doing." And number two, "I'm about to get a job."

Ametria Dock: Go completely against what is in my heart to do, but I wanted ... there was a phrase that he said to me ... my manager, he said basically, "You can't make it without us."

Amena Brown: Uh-oh. Uh-oh.

Ametria Dock: That really brought me to a place of there is ... only God is in control of everything that I do. There is no man that can tell me that I can't make it in what God has called me and ordained me to do and be, you will not have that power. You won't. And so whatever it takes for me ... not to even prove him wrong, but I had to erase that out of my mind. Like, "No." Like, "No, no, no." I just had to get on my knees and come to a place, and so stop was it. "Stop, stop. No, we're not doing this anymore." I don't care how many ideas that you have, and how many connections you have, I am done because that this is not it." And I could see that, and I was clear. There's another way, and I had to figure that out.

Amena Brown: And the humility to say, "I'm going to get a job while I figure that out." Those are hard things that I have to say when I'm talking to college students, or people who are young on their artists journey, is to say like, "Yeah, sometimes you need to do the humble thing, you need to work as a janitor, or work that customer service job, or do whatever it is. Wait tables, whatever it is you need to do during do that-

Ametria Dock: During process.

Amena Brown: ... while you're on your journey to figure it out. And all of that is becoming these different pieces and revelations to send you down the path that's really meant for you." So I'm loving this Mimi. Okay, I forgot to tell y'all, Ametria is her ... that's her government name. But every now and the people that know her, call her Mimi. Don't you walk up if you don't know her ... If you don't know her, just walk up and say Ametria. You need to say the whole thing till she tells you it's okay. Anyhow, I'm loving this whole thing. So, you go from signed recording artist, having released this album, having worked with the faves faves in that process.

Ametria Dock: 90s Boyz II Men, Jodeci, Mary J. Blige, Jean from Zhane.

Amena Brown: Come on.

Ametria Dock: Like my girl, my girl, my girl. I love her so much. She was super instrumental in coaching me, and just encouraging me so much. She was probably the top one out of that process who just spoke life into me, and I owe it ... to this day I'm so grateful for her words and the time that I spent with her, because she just ... she really did ... I mean, I remember going into the studio and my voice having ... and we'll talk about vocal health, but just having all kinds of complications with my voice, being really sick. Aaron Hall giving me a hot toddy all in the studio, just going through the whole process. I'm a kid trying to figure this thing, I don't know what to do. They've been in the game for a long time, and so that part of the process was helpful because I had firsthand help. I had people really walking me like, "This is what you got to do." Wanya from Boyz II Men just calming me down in the studio while we're recording and just like, "You got this. You're amazing. You're just ..."

Ametria Dock: Layla Hathaway just ... I mean, I worked with a lot of amazing, amazing artists that really just ... and this is another reason why coaching is giving back because it was given to me in so many different ways on this journey for me musically, that continuing that process on that. And even from being a kid and doing that in school, that feels right. It just feels like this is what God has called you to do, to serve others. I love serving others, I get joy out of that. That process brought me to a place of finding my voice and finding what brought me joy. Then I'm going to turn the page because then ... I started to have ... I called my company at the time, New Melody Voices. I don't even know where I got the name from, but it was a name and I started just coaching different artists in the city around ... I would go in and do ... Some artists would call me in to do background, or to come in and do vocal production.

Ametria Dock: And so I was in a flow of that, and it was feeling good. Then I decided I was in the Gospel scene but working with R&B artists, I was like, "I want to branch out and just ... I want to really dig deeper into this music industry, and get more into this indie vibe thing going on in the city. Because honestly, I was traveling outside of Atlanta, and doing more outside of Atlanta than being really in the musical culture here in Atlanta. So, by this time I was about 21, 22 and I started going to Apache Cafe.

Amena Brown: I want to thank you. I want to thank you for bringing up Apache Café in this-

Ametria Dock: For sure.

Amena Brown: ... conversation.

Ametria Dock: For sure.

Amena Brown: Yes.

Ametria Dock: Apache has been instrumental in my life. I mean-

Amena Brown: Let me give a little context for my people who are not from Atlanta or haven't lived in Atlanta a long time.

Ametria Dock: Sure.

Amena Brown: Apache Cafe was just instrumental in the careers of so many artists in, particularly certain artists who were at Apache in a certain era of time, in that maybe mid to late 90s, into early 2000.

Ametria Dock: Yeah, the Yin Yang thing.

Amena Brown: Yin Yang, so there's a lot of artists that many of you may have heard of that really cut their chops on the Apache stage.

Ametria Dock: Sure.

Amena Brown: So that's an important Atlanta music scene venue to bring up right now. Continue.

Ametria Dock: So I started going to Apache and for me, it was a different environment for me because I was used to churches, I was used to mega churches, and some ... the inner type places depending on the type of event we were doing, or whatever. So this was a whole different vibe. What I decided to do is go in and just observe instead of ... I knew it was an open mic on a Wednesday night, and I could just get up there and sing. But for me, I wanted to observe, I wanted to feel the vibe of ... feel the energy of the room, hear the songs that were being sang. I just want to feel it first 'cause I'm very cautious. so I did that for a whole month and I just started just going, bringing friends, just getting plugged in, but not really performing. Finally after a month, I decided okay, I had been working on some songs like, "Okay, what would I sing? What would feel like me in here? 'Cause I don't even ... I'm a new me. What would I do?"

Amena Brown: Come on, I'm a new me. Yes. Yes.

Ametria Dock: I can't remember if I did a Lauren ... I feel like I did Lauren Hill, Killing Me Softly might have been one of the first songs that I sang, which was completely different for me from doing gospel music. So I got up and I did that and the response was really good, and the energy was really good. So you know when you sing, and if people like what you do, then people want to come and talk to you. So I started to connect with other producers, musicians, and all that and that was really cool. Fast forward, I started doing that every week I would go. I wouldn't sing every week, but it became a ... the host of the show was like, when I walked in the door like, "You have to sing, I'm going to pull you up on the top of the list." Or whatever.

Ametria Dock: It was fun because I started to ... the live singing started to become like, "I'm back." Like, "Oh, I'm here." Like, "I'm hearing my voice now, this is another ... Again, this is a new me, but I like this. I like what this feels like. This is different." So one day I was outside getting ready to come in, and a producer friend of mine was talking to a young lady and he goes, "Oh I want you to meet this girl. She's a singer, she's a singer, you guys should meet." And you know Atlanta and Apache in the music scene is all about connecting, networking. I think he was just like, "You guys should know each other." You know? So he said, "She sings background with India Arie." And I said, "Oh I love India Arie, she's amazing." So we connected, and he asked me once again, "Sing something." He said, "Mimi-

Amena Brown: Wait, you're not on stage now. You are outside of the venue at this point, just, "Sing something right now." Right?

Ametria Dock: Right now.

Amena Brown: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ametria Dock: Because this story is getting ready to blow your mind right now.

Amena Brown: Whoa.

Ametria Dock: "Sing something right now." So I'm like, "Okay." I have now started to learn how to be ye all so ready at any point because you never know. So I sing Love by Musiq Soulchild immediately. I don't wait, I just go. After I'm done singing, she's like, "Oh my god, you're amazing." Blah, blah, blah. "We have to connect. Oh my goodness." So we exchanged numbers. The next day she calls me and she says, "Hey, I've got a show. I would love for you to come to the show. I would love for you to meet India, you're amazing. I would just love for you to meet her." I was like, "Oh, that would be cool." You know? I'm just like, "Yeah, sure I'll come and support you." 'Cause I got a chance to also hear her that night and she's amazing singer/songwriter. So I went the next day to her show, and when I went to her show ... I'm going to give you some backstory.

Ametria Dock: What I didn't know was the whole India Arie band was there for her show because they had been rehearsing for a whole week preparing for India Arie's tour that she was getting ready to go on. So the band was there, I didn't know that. India came in and was in a VIP section. I did not meet India that night, but I was there to support the girl that I had met. I heard her sing, it was amazing. She said, "Oh ..." India was ... she had left afterwards. She came to support her background singer, and then she left. I was like, "It's okay. Maybe I'll meet her one day, it's okay." Like, "I was just here to support you, I'm glad we starting out a relationship, friendship." You know, whatever. And so she was like, "I'll give you a call." The next day, she calls me. I was at a gospel concert, Kim Burrell. I was at Kim Burrell's.

Amena Brown: Come on Kim Burrell.

Ametria Dock: Yeah, one of my faves. Another one who's been instrumental in my life. But I'm at a Kim Burrell's concert. I leave the Kim Burrell concert, and I have a phone call, voicemail, and it's the girl saying, "Hey, I would love for you to come over to Crossover Studios. We're rehearsing for the tour, and I want you to meet India before we leave." And I was like, "What? Oh my god." So I call her back and she's like, "Come up here. We're in the rehearsal, but you should come." By this time, it's 12.00 midnight.

Amena Brown: Wow.

Ametria Dock: So I drive over to Crossover Studios, and when I walk into Crossover, the entire band is standing in the hallway of Crossover. Have you been at Crossover before?

Amena Brown: No. No.

Ametria Dock: Crossover Studios is where most artists are preparing for their tours, or studio sessions. Basically, you go in and you have a full concert in there. That space is a rehearsal space. And so I walk in, the band is their. Back history of what's happening before I come in. They're asking the other background singer begging him to come on tour, but he is getting ready to get married and he can't go.

Amena Brown: Wow.

Ametria Dock: So they're in rehearsal. They had hired another person to take his spot, but they didn't ... India didn't really like that person. He didn't really gel well, but this was their last rehearsal that night. It was a Sunday night. So they're standing in the room, begging the old background singer who had come just to say hi to everyone, "Come on and just do this last run. It's three months we can just do it, and we'll knock it out." And I walk in. I walk in the door, when I walk in the door the girl says, "Hey, Ametria." and India turns around and says, "Sing something."

Amena Brown: Again, again with the sing something.

Ametria Dock: I told you, just "Sing." And I'm like, boom. I just start singing because when that happens, you don't have time. Which is what I coach all my people, you have to be ready. So I started singing a song, and when I finished, no one says a word.

Amena Brown: What?

Ametria Dock: She turns around, she doesn't say anything. The Music Director says, "Come here." So it's complete silence.

Amena Brown: But you don't know what to take from that-

Ametria Dock: I'm like, "What's happening?"

Amena Brown: You don't know what that means.

Ametria Dock: Like "What's happening?" He says, "Come here for a second." He takes me into where they had just finished rehearsing, puts me on the mic and says, "Do you know this song? And starts playing one of her songs. I was like, "Yeah, I know it." "Sing it." Boom, I'm singing. "Do you know this song?" Boom, "Sing it." And I'm singing. Mind you, she's in the other room listening to me.

Amena Brown: I can't even take.

Ametria Dock: This is real.

Amena Brown: Wow.

Ametria Dock: She's in the other room listening to me. I did like three or four songs that he was asking, "Do you know this? Do you know this? Do you know this?" He walks out of the room, and he says, "What are you doing tomorrow?" I said I have to work, and then I'm off at 5:00. And he said, "Can you leave tomorrow?" I'm just-

Amena Brown: 'Cause you were still working-

Ametria Dock: Yes.

Amena Brown: ... the job that you had taken?

Ametria Dock: Yeah.

Amena Brown: Wow.

Ametria Dock: I said, "Yes, I can leave tomorrow." "You're going to get paid this, we'll be back in Atlanta after week. You can pack for the rest of the tour. We have a show here. So be back here at 10:30 in the morning tomorrow."

Amena Brown: Ametria Dock, I just ... so you is driving home, the windows is down, you screaming out.

Ametria Dock: Yeah. I'm like, "What did I just subscribe to? What did I say that I can do?" I quit my job obviously. The next day I was on a tour bus with India.Arie. Grammy Award winning India.Arie, going on tour. And so I did not know this show, I didn't. I just knew her songs, you know? I mean, knowing their songs and knowing the show-

Amena Brown: Are two different things.

Ametria Dock: That's two different languages. So my first show I was ... my first show, let me just say this. I get on stage and we're singing, we didn't rehearse anything because they don't rehearse and soundcheck. I'm flowing based off of what I know of her record. In the middle of the show, India turns the audience and says, "Hey guys, this is my new background singer, and I just want her to sing a little something. Go"

Amena Brown: For the third time?

Ametria Dock: Do you hear what I'm saying? And I look at her and I said, "Okay." And I go. Being put in that situation was super eye opening because in this ... I love to create. When you say, "I love to do something." You ... first of all, there is prep that goes into that. Even to this day I may seem like I can do it on the spot, but trust me I have been working through all types of scenarios. So in that moment, I went back to my church roots. I know when I could walk into church and someone would say, "Oh Ametria is here, come on up here and sing the song." I knew that I had to right in that moment, you got to go. It's do or die. So in that moment that was like, "Okay, I know what this feels like. Just go." And that was the start of a really, such an amazing journey. Such an amazing journey for me, but I started coaching India because of what she saw in me. And she will say to this day, and she says it.

Ametria Dock: She says, "If Meme can do it, I can do it." I would do things, our range is the same and so when I would hit higher notes, and do different things, and come up with different ways to do something. She said, and last week she said, "When I say, 'How do you do what you do?' Show me how to do that." So our coaching sessions became like, "Let me show you how to get from point A to point B." Like, "Let me show you how to approach this, and do that." That's how I started with her. I know that's a lot.

Amena Brown: I just ... I didn't even make any tea for this interview and I feel like I have the tea right now. And that's Wow. First of all, it just resonates with me in so many ways. Just the power of what you're saying about being prepared for the doors that open, being prepared for the opportunities that come. Sometimes as creatives, as artists, as business people, whatever, we can spend so much time hustling to get to the opportunity that we might not even be ready. I was thinking about all the moments that someone's been like, "Say a poem right now." And it's like, "Okay, you got to say the poem right now." Like I was at unnamed person's house who is influential celebrity. She invited me to her home, so I went and I'm thinking I'm there just to kick it. Just to chill. I get there and see some faces that are famous, of course, and has talk with oneself. Has to talk with oneself about like, "You're going to be cool, you're going to be cool. You're not going to ... everything's fine. You're going to be cool."

Amena Brown: And she walked right up to me and said, "We having a jam session, I want you to do your poem next with a band." Which is not even a thing that I normally do a lot, but what I'ma say? I'ma tell her that's not really normally my scene?

Ametria Dock: Yeah, nope.

Amena Brown: Nope. You about to think right now about what poems you have that go with that, and just the importance of as a creator being ready, being prepared. And I can be a control freak. I'm working on it y'all. I'm working on it, God working on me.

Ametria Dock: [inaudible 00:50:23].

Amena Brown: But you can't be prepared for opportunities when you are expecting everything will arrive in this neatly pre planned package.

Ametria Dock: For sure.

Amena Brown: You know, there you were right at that moment of like, "I could either get up and go to this job tomorrow, or I could get on this tour bus and have this opportunity." And if you have been like, "Oh, guys, I'm going to need like two weeks notice, and I'm ..." you know, that was a window.

Ametria Dock: Yep.

Amena Brown: You were only going to have that window-

Ametria Dock: It was-

Amena Brown: ... that one time.

Ametria Dock: That one time it was okay. Like, "Listen, what are you saying God? Is this the moment? Okay, let's go." I mean it was a, "Can you leave tomorrow?" It was a, "Yes."

Amena Brown: Yeah. Thinks about luggage, thinks I have two outfits, "Yes."

Ametria Dock: "Yes sure, we'll figure it out. We'll figure it out. We'll figure it out." And I do like to plan things and I'll say this, as I've gotten older because of those impromptu moments, I now know how to plan accordingly. And so, I can be my spontaneous self, like we talked about I'm super spontaneous, but I am very well ... everything is planned out. Like, I'm thinking about all the ways in which it can go. So, "Let me do this. Let me do this. Let me do this. Let me practice this. Let me work on this. Let me vibe to this a little bit. Let me vibe to that a little bit." And so I can be free to flow how I need to flow when the opportunity rises, I can go. Yeah.

Amena Brown: Yeah, which is part of the preparation.

Ametria Dock: Yes, preparation is my number one word. I need self care. Take care of me, let me do all the things that I need to do to be able to be my spontaneous, flowing, watery self. 'Cause I'm so watery.

Amena Brown: I'm here for all of the watery listen. Talk to me about the things you've learned being a business founder because as we're hearing the iterations of your story, you have the experience of being an artist, you have the experience of writing, of arranging, of coaching. It's one thing to do those things, and it's another thing to say, "This is going to be a business. This is going to be my business, I'm going to house these services I've been providing in various ways in a business." What are some of the things you learned when you made that transition then into now being a business owner?

Ametria Dock: Time management. Sitting down and really brainstorming on ... because I'm a creative, I'm so ... I'll just say all over the place when it comes down to creating, I can just jump into anything. I had to put on a business hat and honestly, that was not my strength. It was my least favorite thing to do like, "Oh, I got to sit down and have structure." Like, "Oh, no." But I had to, in order for this to run smoothly. I had to sit down, I had to have a team of people that are stronger in structure, the structure area, that could take my creative self in that structure and blend it together and say, "These are the things." And having a team of people that I could trust and that could help take my ideas and put it down on a website, and on paper and say, "These are the services that you can offer. This is what you can and can't do, and say." Because I'll do a million things, still I do a million things.

Ametria Dock: But they help to ... I don't know, to help me to keep ... to take care of myself, because I will do everything. So having, "These are the services that I'm going to offer, and this is what I can't do." And the can't part.

Amena Brown: That's that's a whole another episode.

Ametria Dock: But yes, the can't part was very important for me, what I can and cannot do. Now, even having a waiting list is hard for me. But that is a thing, it's a thing now where I am with within my company, I can't see everyone, I can't take on every project, I can't do it. So being okay with that, and being grateful that ... wow, a waiting list of people that want to get on my calendar. But just having the time, taking time out for myself is very important for me to do this work, for me to run a business and run it smoothly. I need to because the conversations that you're having on a daily basis, seeing the clients, and all of their things, and taking on all of their things, a lot of times by at the end of the day, I'm like, "Whoa, I got to take all of this off. There's eight different people I'm carrying all of their stuff." This work is heavy sometimes.

Ametria Dock: So, just making sure to implement things for myself to be able to be my best self every day to do this work. And I'm sitting down, and having hard conversations, which is very difficult. But I had to be a woman and do it, you know? Like, "Okay, again these are the things that I can do and the things that I can't do." And making sure that I am ... time management thing became a huge thing for me because I'm balancing. I'm a wife, I'm a mom, I'm a singer, songwriter, creative, worship leader, teacher, coach, confidant. I'm all these things, so I had to figure out like, "Okay, me first and then everything else comes after that." Then I can flow in that for everyone else.

Ametria Dock: As a businesswoman, just having some type of structure, and having a team of people or someone that you can bounce ideas off of, and sit down, and that's really not going to agree with everything that you want to do.

Amena Brown: A word. A word.

Ametria Dock: And that's so helpful 'cause it really helps you to see the bigger picture 'cause you're in your head, and so saying it out loud and someone saying, "Okay, no."

Amena Brown: "Never." Or someone saying, "That sounds great for next year." Listen.

Ametria Dock: All the way.

Amena Brown: Man.

Ametria Dock: For next year.

Amena Brown: "For next year. Super great. Super great for 2021."

Ametria Dock: Not happening.

Amena Brown: "Not going do that this year though with all this other stuff, that you got to do. Just the power of you saying, "Can't." The power of, "This what I do, this is what I can't do." That's been a big lesson for me as a businesswoman, is learning what my limitations are and getting comfortable with them. I think in the past, I felt like I need to take on all the things. And then somehow after I've taken on all those things, I'm just going to find some time in between to take care of myself. I'll build my limitations around all those things that people are asking of me, and then being unhealthy, and tired, and irritable, and all sorts of other sundry unhealthy habits pulling up in life because of that.

Amena Brown: This was the first year that I was like, "Oh, that? No. I'm not going to do ... we will stop that. That right there, we're not doing. For another two years I can't do that. This one, no." And it being humbling for me because I like to be a person that can complete the task another person wants me to do, you know?

Ametria Dock: Yeah.

Amena Brown: Something like, "Oh, you've come to me and asked me about this, I want to not only do this for you, but I want to get it done for you. I want to make you a priority." Which means I'm whatever number after 100 on this list of things, and just the power of knowing this is what I do. This stuff over here, I can't do that.

Ametria Dock: You know what? I'll tell you this, going through what I went through, it made me stop and say ... 'Cause you know what I do? Someone's always calling for something and wanting something, and I want to like you said complete the task. I want to do it for them, I want them to be happy, I want them to shine, I want whatever. But then I had to ask myself, "Well, what is it? Put on paper what do you want to do? What projects do you want to take on? What brings you joy?" That's something that I'm constantly saying to myself when I'm agreeing to do something, "Is this something that brings me joy? That brings glory to God? And is a part of what His purpose and plan is for my life? Is this what I'm supposed to be doing? 'Cause if it's not, then I'm going to have to say no to that." I didn't hear that back then. I didn't know that to be something that I needed to do.

Ametria Dock: So sitting down and actually putting on paper, whether you journal, whether you ... I don't know, get a poster board and write down, whatever. Whatever it is that your creative process of seeing your vision for your work, you've got to do that. That's been helpful for me for Fruition. Like what is Fruition Organized Music? What does that look like? Why did I name it that? What is the full vision of that? And so sitting down and brainstorming that with the team was like, "Oh."' so then when things come-

Amena Brown: Yes. Yes.

Ametria Dock: ... oh, that doesn't fit there.

Amena Brown: Yeah, that doesn't fit. Yes.

Ametria Dock: Yeah. So that that doesn't fit this.

Amena Brown: You told us the process of you coming to find your own voice. One of the things that I think is so powerful about what you do and why I wanted you to come on the podcast also, is because now it's such a huge part of your work helping other artists find their voice figuratively, and also literally, in the work that you do. What does that process look like as a vocal coach? How are you helping clients find their voice? I've never worked with a vocal coach ... probably should, as a person who be speaking for a living. But I've worked with a writing coach, and that was my first experience with coaching. I was actually a little offended when my publisher was like, "Yeah, and we've included here this money in the budget for you to work with a writing coach." And I was like, "I don't need no writing coach. I've been writing since I was 12 years old, nobody needs to coach me. I want to ..." you know? I was immediately-

Ametria Dock: Sure.

Amena Brown: ... in my feelings with the attitude. But once I started working with her, there were some ways that she pushed me, and there were some ways that she questioned me and the choices I had made in the writing, in the things I had left out.

Ametria Dock: Sure.

Amena Brown: Or a story. And she not even knowing me and knowing the full story, she would read something and go, "You have left out this, and why did you do that? Talk to me about why you did that. And then after we talk about why you did that, I want you to go back and put back in the part you left out."

Ametria Dock: I love that.

Amena Brown: That was my first experience with having someone coach me in my craft, and I'm so glad I didn't let my ego and my attitude keep me from what she really had to teach me. So talk us through what's some of your process, and how you take on working with a client?

Ametria Dock: Let me say this, being an artist and walking through that process I feel like prepared me, I feel like I've always been a vocal coach. My dad always called me the encourager, that was always a part of me. So before "Ametria the artist" came into the picture, Ametria Mimi was that person. So it was natural for me to see the parts of someone and say, "Oh, I see this inside of you, and I see that you're afraid to do this. Let me help you bring that out. I want you to trust me, and I'm not going to ... I'm going to point those things out, but I'm going to help you to come up with a plan to be able to do that which is inside of you, bring that out." That's coaching.

Ametria Dock: If you ask any of my clients, the one thing that they would say, when they're seeking out vocal coaching is, "I need someone to build my confidence. There's so many things that I know that I could do, but I don't know how to do them. Or I hear them in my head, and I don't ..." you know, the execution part. When you're looking for a vocal coach, it's not because ... I mean, there are some people that are looking for a vocal coach to learn technique, and how to sing. But a lot of my clients, especially those that are already established artists, which I have a lot of, are looking for someone that they can trust, that they trust vocally to be able to bounce ideas off of, and like bring out ... so part of it, yes is, "I trust Mimi to vocally ... she's going to give me more ideas, more than what I hear because I stay ..." a lot of artists, they stay in a box, "This is what the audience loves about me, so I'm going to stay there. But really inside, I want to do this."

Ametria Dock: So each album, I'm coming up with a different plan of action for them to execute because they're changing, they're evolving, their sound is changing. That is fun for me because it's a part of creating this new sound for these artists, and it's also helping them to go outside of their box. Because, again you do what you know, and then a lot of times they don't have someone in the beginning stages of their careers. They had ... you're open to vibing being with people. Once you get to a certain point, you're not having vibe sessions with other artists. So when you have a vocal coach who is an active singer, active artists who loves that work, it's like the best of both worlds. Where I'm going to coach you, I'm going to tell you, "This is right, this is wrong. And then I'm going to give you ideas of how to execute this." That's a lot of the work that I do.

Amena Brown: There's two things that I really loved about that. I think one of them is such a great reminder to us as creatives and as artists, is to have an idea of where you want to go. But if you want to have someone who is a professional coach come alongside you and help push you even further than you might push yourself, you have to have an idea of where you want to go.

Ametria Dock: Yeah, sure.

Amena Brown: So that this person can come alongside you and say, "Okay, I see that's where you want to go. Now I know how we get there." I love that part, and just the humility for all of us of having to come to this place of going like, "Yeah, I get comfortable. I get comfortable, I have a thing. I know I'm doing my thing. I did my thing, it worked." Whatever. Or, "Has worked in whatever sundry cities I've been in doing this."

Ametria Dock: Sure.

Amena Brown: It's good for us in our creative process to come back to that place where there's something else we can learn, and other places we can stretch ourselves. That we never arrive at a place where it's like, "I've learned all the things."

Ametria Dock: Yeah, "I've made it. I'm there."

Amena Brown: Yeah.

Ametria Dock: We're constantly changing, and evolving and growing, and you have to be open to criticism, you have to be open to learning something new. And specifically the artists that I work with, I have to say they really inspire me because they push the envelope with that. With India going and learning Hebrew and doing a whole album in Israel, just ... like who does that? You're a soul artists who decides, "Oh no. I mean, if I say I love music, I love music and I want to explore different cultures and different things." So even being a part of that process and watching that, and then going to Turkey and learning, working, just seeing that the sky is the limit. I'm open to learning and growing in this thing that we call music, it never stops. I enjoy that part, it never gets old and now at this place music it just feels new because I'm constantly learning, and researching, and collabing, and talking with other creatives.

Ametria Dock: Because I again, I'll take on a project and it's like, "Oh my goodness, I don't know a lot about this, but you trust me so let's let's dive into this. Let's figure this thing out." And it's blown my mind from blues, to bluegrass to ... I mean, it's been such a journey working with different types of music styles, and different genres, and different artists, it's crazy.

Amena Brown: People ask me questions about vocal health. I don't know why-

Ametria Dock: Because-

Amena Brown: ... they're asking me that because I don't have a lot of answers. I have been learning in these later years ... now I've performing for, oh gosh, over 20 years of life now, just how your voice gets tired. And the type of water that you should drink. I just learned within the last five years that if your voice, if you feel like you're getting to where it's like a little laryngitis a little bit, like you're losing your voice, that whispering is not helping you.

Ametria Dock: Not at all.

Amena Brown: Can you give just a few tips here for people who are singers, are speakers, are using their voices all the time. I think when we think about athletes, we think of how an athlete trains, and what they do to help their muscles recover, and all those things. We don't think a lot about that most of us. You think about it-

Ametria Dock: Everyday, all day.

Amena Brown: ... 'cause you are amazing at this. We are not thinking about it, we're just using it until it's worn out, and tired, and doing all sorts of things that aren't helping it. What are some of those just beginning tips that people can do if they are involved in work that they use their voice a lot? What are the things we can do to take care of our voice so that they can do the great work for us? We know so many singers, I think of some many singers. I [inaudible 01:11:09] names right here, but I think of so many singers who've been singing a long time, like decades and decades. And there are some singers that we listen to now we're like, "Oh my gosh, how did this singer keep their voice sounding like ..." I mean, you can tell they're older than they were when they recorded this thing-

Ametria Dock: Sure.

Amena Brown: ... but my keep their voice sounding so good. And some singers go a period of time, even shorter than that, and you're like, "Oh, that voice you have is not the same as the one where you recorded this great record." Tell me some of those things?

Ametria Dock: Vocal care, vocal health is the number one thing I start out with, with my clients. Coming up with a formula for each person is important to me because it never fails. When I get in a person, and they get in their flow of whether they're working on an album, or touring, or something. I get the calls and the emails, "Oh my god, my voice is going out. Oh my god, I'm sick and I've got drainage, mucus." Blah, blah, blah. The first thing is obviously ... and you can google it a million times, and you're going to see sleeping. Okay?

Amena Brown: Wow. I was not expecting that was the first thing.

Ametria Dock: Yes, it is the rest. Resting your body, your ... laying down, resting, sleeping, not talking because that's the only time that you're not talking. Laying down and getting physical rest that you need it. Right, that's the first thing. Number two is going to be staying hydrated. You'll see different artists drinking different kinds of water. I like to drink alkaline essentia to be exact. You don't have to do that. I mean, drinking water. I know a lot of artists that don't drink water, and choose to do other things like soda, which is just absurd. If you do anything where you're speaking, and you're drinking soda in 2019, I just ... I don't know what to say.

Amena Brown: That's basically Ametria's version of booing you, if you're still doing that you're getting booed in 2019. Okay.

Ametria Dock: I'm just ... no. We can jump into different teas, and there are so many different ways. Some coaches will say don't do teas that have bags because there are certain chemicals in the bags, and things like that. I like loose tea, I love echinacea, I love slippery elm. In some whole foods or different places, you can find these herbs that you can make teas out of and those are great. I like throat coat, we want to be simple. I love any type of tea that has echinacea in it, or that has slippery elm specifically is good for your voice. I love Manuka honey. As a vocalist you need sleep, you have this raspy ... my voice is naturally raspy. So I don't eat honey anymore, but I used to. For health reasons I can't do it, but honey is very good too. A spoonful of honey is great, or in your tea to take it down. I don't like sugars, no sugar. You want to get that out of your diet. Caffeine.

Amena Brown: It can be hard.

Ametria Dock: Yeah.

Amena Brown: It can be hard.

Ametria Dock: It's rough. It's rough out here.

Amena Brown: Hard [inaudible 01:14:36].

Ametria Dock: It's rough. It's rough, but as a vocalist you shouldn't. Okay?

Amena Brown: That's right.

Ametria Dock: So we're just going to leave it like that, you should be caffeine free. The other thing ... so here are my secrets, and they're not really secrets anymore.

Amena Brown: [inaudible 01:14:52] secrets.

Ametria Dock: I do a couple of things. So on tours, or prepping for church, or just in general a steam inhaler is your best friend. And if you don't have one, you need to have. You can get it on Amazon.

Amena Brown: This is not a diffuser, that's not the same? [crosstalk 01:15:13]

Ametria Dock: Not a diffuser. It is a steam inhaler.

Amena Brown: Not a humidifier.

Ametria Dock: Not a humidifier. I will show you exactly but I have one that is called a puremist. For a lot of my artists, they have them on the road. So when you get in the shower and you have that steam coming, it feels great. It's much like that for your voice, goes right to it. Steam is amazing for your voice. So if you're speaking a lot, that's one thing that you ... 15 minute treatment before you do what you do, 15 minutes after for that care. That is one of the main things that we do and then I'll tell you this, diet and exercise is key. So for speakers, singers, if you are eating foods that are mucus forming foods, you're in trouble. I tell my pastor all the time, if you're clearing your throat chances are you had a lot of mucus forming foods the night before.

Amena Brown: Can you just discuss real quick what's some examples of some foods that form mucus? 'Cause I feel you about to say some things that's delicious but-

Ametria Dock: Yeah, well let's just start with don't eat pizza the night before your performance, dairy. Seriously, dairy is ... breads. Honestly to make it simple, if you have a performance veggies and a protein that is not fried.

Amena Brown: 'Cause I was good on the protein, and then you said not fried.

Ametria Dock: No fried foods. So basically a salad with fish, or chicken, lean protein, and some fruits and vegetables. And even with your fruit, you want to stay within the berries. Bananas can cause mucus if you like that sort of thing. So, for me in the morning, one of my breakfast things I do chia seeds with almond milk, and I put strawberries, a little bit of cinnamon, which is really good for breaking up mucus. I stay away from lemon. Lemon is a mucus ... it breaks mucus up, but lemon is also acidic. So I stay away from the more acidic fruits. I like strawberries, blackberries, blueberries. So I add that to my chia oatmeal, if you want to call it that. It's just chia seeds, and almond milk, and some fruit and it's really great. It's helpful, and then ... again, a veggie, and a protein.

Amena Brown: Ametria done got in all up in my situation. I was like, "I need to go downstairs right now, start eliminating some things." I want to ask you the three questions I ask every guest this season. Number one, what inspires you to create?

Ametria Dock: What inspires me to create? I think so many things, I can't even pinpoint. My family. My daughter, my father ... rest his soul. He had so many opportunities to do so many things, and his life was cut short and he wasn't able to fulfill a lot of things that he wanted to do. So even in writing music, and singing on the stages that I get to sing on, I often think about the opportunities that he and my mother ... the times that they sacrificed for my brother and I had to shine. So I think my family honestly, they inspire me to create.

Amena Brown: What is one thing you've made that you're really proud of?

Ametria Dock: My child.

Amena Brown: Yeah, it's a good answer.

Ametria Dock: Oh, that she is the one thing that brings me the most joy.

Amena Brown: Oh my god, [inaudible 01:20:01].

Ametria Dock: Yes, she is. She is my joy for sure. For sure. Just Watching her grow, and come into herself, and feel the freedom of creating 'cause she's a little star in the making. But just seeing her journey, she makes me want to get up every morning and be the best that I can be. It's her.

Amena Brown: I love it. If you could give another woman a She Did That Award, who would it be? And why?

Ametria Dock: My mom. My mom. My mom was such a ... I'm going to start crying, oh my goodness.

Amena Brown: I forgot to bring the tissues into this [inaudible 01:20:56] 'cause sometimes-

Ametria Dock: Oh my goodness.

Amena Brown: Sometimes we do cry here.

Ametria Dock: Oh my goodness. My mom. My mom has sacrificed so much. My mom is the reason why I'm where I am today, she is my inspiration. But where my mom is right now is continuing to inspire me because the work that ... my mom is in the health field, but the work that she's doing with other women, encouraging and inspiring other women to reach their highest potential is what motivates me. She gets on, and she does her Facebook Lives, and they have their group meetings, and just seeing the work even with kids, it's just ... seeing her work makes me know that what I'm ... this is all a part ... this is in my line. This is what I was born to do, I see it every day. I see her. I mean, she was on our anniversary trip, and she's on our Facebook Live encouraging women.

Ametria Dock: I'm like, "Mom take a break." But she's just the most motivating and encouraging person in my life, and she keeps me going, and keeps me grounded, and keeps me focused. It helps me to know that like, "This is God's plan for you, and the sky is the limit. Don't limit yourself."

Amena Brown: Mama, she did that. If the people need vocal coaching, if the people want to follow you, follow Fruition, tell my people the things how they can stay up on what's happening, and if they are looking for what your company provides, how they can stay connected?

Ametria Dock: Absolutely. Well I have a website, and it is www.fruitionorganizedmusic.com I'm on all social media, Instagram, Facebook and it's just Fruition Organized Music. I also have an Instagram with my name, which is Ametria Dock, and on Ametria Dock, the website is listed under there as well. So if they follow me Ametria Dock, they can click on the website. Or Fruition has a page as well.

Amena Brown: Ametria Dock, thank you so much for being on the podcast, sharing your story, inspiring us. This has been the best. Thank you so much.

Ametria Dock: This was so much fun. Thank you for having me.

Ametria Dock: (Music)

Amena Brown: HER with Amena Brown is produced by DJ Opdiggy for Sol Graffiti Productions. Don't forget to subscribe, rate, write a review, and share the podcast. Thanks for listening.

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Transcript: HER With Amena Brown Episode 28: Online Community & Bridge Building with Latasha Morrison

Amena Brown: Hey everybody, welcome back to another episode of HER with Amena Brown. I am Amena Brown, I am your host here and I am so excited about this season. If you are just joining us this season. Our theme is create. So I am talking to all of these amazing women of color who are founders and creators and creatives and inventors, just everybody that I can get to. So I'm excited to have today with us speaker, author, reconciler, bridge builder, founder of nonprofit organization Be The Bridge, the Be The Bridge equips organizations, companies and individuals for racial justice, diversity, restoration and reconciliation. Welcome to the podcast Latasha Morrison. Woo!

Latasha M.: Hey, how you doing? Yes!

Amena Brown: I'm clapping. I always do this 'cause I want you to feel the claps. I want you to feel it. Like there's going to be actual audience applause that's gonna be there but I like to clap while we're recording so that you can hear the claps.

Latasha M.: Oh great, it's great, it's great.

Amena Brown: So y'all, Latasha and I, we go way back. Like way, way back before either of us were doing any of these things for a living. Latasha has known me long enough to have seen me with my straight hair before I went natural, and my straight hair wasn't even cute. Like she was around for my fashion faux pas, my too big glasses. Latasha has known me a long time, so I just love her as a friend and have been so excited to watch just what's been happening with you and your organization, but even more so because we have such deep history. Some of which we will talk about here and most of which is not for the public. We gonna share the parts here that we can, so, I'm so glad that we met.

Amena Brown: So Latasha's known me since I was a college student, we actually went to church together when I was a college student. And then she moved away to Texas and so we didn't see each other a long time. And then I get to Texas to an event and I was like, "Latasha?" And we reconnected and your life really has just taken off. Maybe in some ways that you had no idea it was gonna do. Like when you think about that time of us reconnecting in Texas, and looking at your life now, did you have any thought or imagine this was gonna be your life several years later?

Latasha M.: No, not at all, not at all. And I know some people, they have their lives mapped out, and in some ways I had my life kind of mapped out as far as what I wanted to see myself doing, when you think about when you're younger and you're in college and you're mapping stuff out. My life in no point has turned out how I mapped it out. Not one thing has turned out the way I mapped it out, so, I had no idea none of this would happen.

Amena Brown: We're gonna talk a lot more about Be The Bridge just as an organization, and just as a founder of a nonprofit. Just, that's a big deal by itself, that you founded a nonprofit, but also that you have watched this organization grow exponentially so fast.

Amena Brown: But I wanna go back to your origin story, I always like to start each guest just talking about your origin story. Because a lot of times the things that we end up doing that we love, that we believe in, that we feel called to, we had some moment earlier in our life that actually was showing us that this what we were going to become. So, you have been interested in bridge building long before you had a nonprofit organization to show for that.

Amena Brown: What was one of your earliest moments that you could say, you look back at yourself and you're like, "I was meant to be a bridge builder,"?

Latasha M.: Yeah. I think it really started in middle school and high school for me. I think those times in your life are just instrumental, I think they give insight to what's to come if we pay attention to the threads and to just the fingerprint that's being placed there. And so I think for me running for class office, being involved in student government activities, I was always trying to bridge that divide between administration and students. And so that's something that, wanting to be a voice for students, and then that even lead to me leading the charge for Black History Month in my high school.

Latasha M.: And so that was something, I saw a need, kind of like now, I saw a need, "Okay, why don't we do that? Why don't we talk about this month?". Not thinking that there would be any pushback and I didn't have the language that I have now to speak up against it. I just knew that, hey, I wanna know more about this, we don't talk about this, and when we do talk about stuff the way we talk about it makes me feel shame. And so I knew something was wrong, and so I think that's the charge, and I remember bringing that up.

Latasha M.: And when you were into the government in my school you had to take a leadership development class that taught you how to conduct meetings, Robert's Rules of Law, or something like that, think that's what it was. And just, all these different things that we would learn. It helped me find my voice, that type of class, helped me find my voice but I still didn't understand the thread that was there at that time. But it was information that was poured into me that later on that I would use to kind of point back and say, "Oh man, okay, that was definitely a fingerprint right there,".

Latasha M.: But for me bringing it up in class and just the rejection and just the different points of view from people that were your friends. The people you were in band with, people you served with in clubs, that participated in sports with that you thought were your friends, but realizing in that moment as a teenager, "These people don't know me, and I don't know them,". And I think that right there was probably the thing for me, having to be that voice for the African American students in my high school going back to them.

Latasha M.: And then I will never forget this one girl telling me when I was upset about how the meeting went in the class, and I remember going to the lunchroom, and I didn't hardly eat much at school. I would either bring my lunch, or either do work or always have projects during our lunch hour. But I remember that day going to the lunchroom, and if you go into mostly any high school today you're gonna see the cafeteria is pretty much gonna be segregated by race. And then maybe the band students will all sit together, maybe, maybe. But I remember going in there and sitting at the black table, you call it, and just telling them what was going on. And I remember this girl was like, "You could do it, you could make this happen Tasha, you gotta be our voice," and I remember that. And then she remembered my campaign, I had a theme for my campaign that was like, "It's time to make a change,". So I came up with that before, so.

Amena Brown: Come on, come on. "I came up with that before,".

Latasha M.: I came up with that because you-

Amena Brown: Thank you.

Latasha M.: -know change was happening back in the 90's at Southview High School.

Amena Brown: Come on, brother Barack, being inspired by Latasha's campaign in school. Thank you, okay, mm-hmm (affirmative).

Latasha M.: Yeah, and she reminded me of that, but it gave me that really empowerment to go back and say, "Hey this is why we need to do this,". But I had to kind of compromise, and we had a pretty good teacher and I think she saw the need for it too. I think she understood that I didn't really have the language, I didn't really know how to argue the point at that time.

Latasha M.: But we turned it into Brotherhood Month. It's a travesty. So we did Black History Month but they refused to call it Black History Month.

Amena Brown: Wow.

Latasha M.: We called it Brotherhood Month, yeah. Isn't that something?

Amena Brown: Wow, wow.

Latasha M.: We couldn't even have (that).

Latasha M.: But yeah, but I think that was the beginning of it as far as understanding what bridge building is and I think some people get a misconception of that, especially when you're talking about racial bridge building. Because when you talk about bridge building you are getting walked on from both sides. Because you're trying to please the group that you're representing, the group that when you think about racial bridge building as an African American woman is like every marginalized group is looking for you to be kind of like their voice, and that's too much of a burden to carry. So that's why a lot of people are like, "Uh-uh (negative), I can't do this," and that's understandable but it's in the fabric of who I am, Amena.

Latasha M.: I don't have to try to be this, this is who I am. I think it goes back to even how I was raised and my family dynamics, family situations, I mean I've just been designed this way. So for me, I don't really know another way and when we talk about racial bridge building, when you're talking about this you're trying to bring out the stories and bring conversation to a group that has been harmed. And so who carries the space? Who should carry the dominant space in that conversation has to be the marginalized groups. When you talk about racial bridge building it's not about, "Oh we're coming together on the bridge and we're both gonna tell each other's stories," and that's the misconception that a lot of white people have about when they hear the word bridge building.

Latasha M.: But we're talking about racial bridge building, you're talking about highlighting the marginalized voices so that the stories that they've been telling can be heard. Because nobody's voiceless, they're just unheard. And so that's what, when I think about the bridge building that we do on Be The Bridge, that's the type of bridge building that we want to represent is we're highlighting the stories and the issues of the marginalized groups. And then the other response of the majority group is to be that of learners and listeners in the conversation. So, it doesn't always work like that but we have to remind each other of that.

Amena Brown: Right, right, right.

Amena Brown: How did the idea for Be The Bridge begin, because for many people who ... Obviously we have some people listening that may be encountering this information about Be The Bridge for the first time, or some people are sort of new even to the concept of bridge building itself, and new to knowing that there is an organization that helps equip people to do this. How did that idea for Be The Bridge begin with you?

Latasha M.: Yeah, I think for me, like I said nothing that I'm doing has happened as a plan. But I think for me going from being in a predominately African American church to transitioning into predominantly white churches, I just saw the difference. In the black church, in the African American church, even as messed up as the church I was a part of was in that sense, there was always a effort to reach beyond that racial barrier to the events that we attended, the music that we played, the conversation that we had. There was always some intentionality as it related to that. And then in our staff although our church would not have been considered multiethnic because when you're talking about percentage, 20%, we had representation in our elder board. Several, not just one person on our staff, but several, at least four people that were white on our staff.

Latasha M.: So I just remember there was this intentionality behind what we were doing but transitioning to the white church I didn't see that at all. It was just kind of like not even thought of. I would go to conferences and we would be the only brown people there and we would be able to engage, but I just remember having this space and the white church it was kind of oblivious. You're not even trying to reach anyone beyond your box in that sense. And I think some of it is unconscious, because when you're the majority culture you don't have to think like that.

Latasha M.: But there was no intentionality behind it, and so one of the things I realized is that, "Hey, if I'm gonna be in this space I'm gonna have to speak into this space," because I'd sat on staff before and seen things happen and not speaking into it because of fear, because you're young at that time. Just a lot of things. Just being fearful of your job and just the tension and the conflict that it would cause. And when I went back on staff, because I didn't have intentions to go back on a church staff, but when I did I was like, "Okay, if I'm gonna be here I'm gonna speak into this,". And I just started saying stuff and I realized the comments that people would say and the things that people would say, I'm like, "Oh my goodness, we have a problem,".

Amena Brown: Listen.

Latasha M.: It really started with conversations around Trayvon Martin, just being in a small group at a church. It was like, we are in an uproar, pain, everything is happening, and people are carrying on like nothing in the world is happening. They haven't been impacted. And how the narrative that was created around him and having to correct that and I mean why would you even get that? This was a 16 year old kid walking in the neighborhood, coming back and what would make you think that someone had the right to shoot, I mean to bring a lethal attack against a kid? Even when the cops was telling them to stand down on the phone. Not the cops, but the operator.

Latasha M.: And so just those stories I was like, "We gotta talk about this, if we're gonna be family, we gotta have some family talk," and I think to start it with conversations like that and then just correcting. And I think the main thing was just hearing someone's historical account about slavery that shook me to my core. And I remember it like, "Okay we not gonna be family if y'all thinking like this,".

Amena Brown: Right.

Latasha M.: And I mean we lump people together, I'm not saying everyone thought that, but I had ran into so many people with this type of mindset where this uncommon memory. The memory we have about our history and how history has happened, the way it has been taught in schools has done a disservice to our country. And disservice to groups of people, and it has really plagued the reconciliation process. Our disownhership of our history, our full history of American history, and so I think that was the part that started the conversations where, "Let's just come together and start having some conversations on some things,".

Latasha M.: And that's really where it started, it started with me and it just started with me having some conversations around movies at first and just little things. I was having those conversations on Google Hangout at first and then those were just around movies and then I wanted to do some real life conversations and that started with a group of women in Austin.

Amena Brown: So going from what seems like you still were using some online components there, but I alao was really excited to talk to you because Be The Bridge, as some of you may be familiar and some of you may not, Be The Bridge as an organization really was built through online community. And so for you, your initial steps even early on as a bridge builder were these in real life interactions with people. These in real life conversations that you were having in the workplace, in other personal settings or in other settings that involve spiritual community. Why start, or I guess I should say, why one of the next steps there in what became Be The Bridge organization, why online community? Why did you feel like that was gonna be really helpful to this conversation?

Latasha M.: Yeah, I think it's one of those things where you have all these different vehicles and I tried Google Hangout and that was a little complex. And it was on the phone and I really wanted to post information that was articles and stories and different things that was gonna be helpful for people. I didn't want this long text message group or all that stuff-

Amena Brown: [crosstalk 00:18:27]

Latasha M.: -email group. But the only vehicle during that time was Facebook, and I think is really still the only vehicle that has groups like that where you can interact and share information, share videos, share files, share documents, share stories. There was just so many tools within the Facebook groups and so I started the group because I wasn't an organization, a lot of people think when I came out at the conference that I was already a organization. I was just a girl trying to do my little part in pushing this conversation forward. That's all that I was trying to do and I knew that, okay, not having a website, not being a organization, if people have questions, or if we wanted to start something how're we gonna capture people?

Latasha M.: And so I created a Facebook group, probably a month before, just to kind of curate the conversation and I started with 69 of my friends and posted stuff. Just wanting to talk, because people needed an outlet. Especially people of color. A lot of us were in spaces where we could not be our full selves. We could not express the things that were really in our heart, a lot of us were in places where we were code switching a lot and just all these different things. And so creating this space for people, like, man. Okay, yeah, because I been in this other space alone, and I wanna know if anybody else is thinking like me. It was a wake-up for a lot of people when you think about things that were happening in 2014, 2015, leading up to that, after Trayvon Martin's death. You had Tamir Rice, and all these other things where we were just getting compounded. There was something the news, and although these things were already happening, we know that they'd been happening for centuries, they were magnified and illuminated because of the vehicles of social media, and cell phones, and technology.

Latasha M.: So these things were in our face for the first time, we weren't just reading about it, we were seeing it. We were seeing it for the first time and that creates a lot of trauma, triggers where people had gone through some of these things before, this happened in your family. Or just where you're thinking the country is one place and you're realizing for the first time that it's not. And so I think that was also the space, I wanted a place where people of color could share their stories and where majority culture, where white people, can listen in and learn. That's really the heart behind it.

Latasha M.: And it started with 69 people, and then we had the conference and so we couldn't point people to a website or to a organization so we pointed people to this group and to start having conversations. I had no idea, that sounds real simple, right?

Amena Brown: Right, right.

Latasha M.: It sounds real simple, "We just want you to have a conversation, and we want you to download this guide," just real simple. And I mean, we had, I think that first month there were over like 10,000 people that downloaded that guide.

Amena Brown: Wow.

Latasha M.: I had no idea that would happen, and you were part of that conversation. Some of your stories probably contributed to that. [crosstalk 00:22:02]

Amena Brown: Y'all, let me tell y'all something right now. First of all, Latasha knows I love her, so when she come to me like, "Hey, will you be on a panel for this? Will you do this or that?" she knows, because it's her asking I'm about to be like, "Yes, I'll do this girl,". So we were all at an event together, which became a part of how a lot of people were made aware of the work that Tasha was doing in bridge building. And so she asked me to be on this panel, y'all, and I'm not saying I'm a bad person to be on a panel, I just feel like I have a little thing in my brain that's kind of ignorant. Just have ignorant thoughts.

Amena Brown: And so there were a couple of questions Latasha had reviewed with us before the panel and she was like, "I might ask this, I might ask this," and so of the questions that she named I was like, "Please don't ask me that,". I had a question in my mind that I was like, "Don't ask me that one," because I knew I had very ignorant thoughts about that. And we got out to do the panel at this event and she turned to me and was like, "Amena, this question," and I was like, "I told you! Don't!". But we were there, on stage in front of thousands of people so if I had been at Latasha's house I would've been like, "I told you that I'm ignorant and I can't answer that question,".

Amena Brown: And ironically I can't remember exactly what the question was, Tasha. But I think maybe the question was along the lines of, it was something about stereotypes, like "What are stereotypes," or thoughts you had about people who were in a different ethnic group from you. And I was like, "Please don't do this to me," but she turned to me and so, y'all, and I'm still getting made fun of by a few friends for what I said that day.

Amena Brown: Because one of the things that I talked about is, growing up, I talked about what my experience was like sitting behind a white girl in class and how there was a lot of flicking of the hair, which resulted in hair on my desk and I was trying to talk through it and not embarrass Tasha on this panel. And I'm like, "I just want her to watch the circumference of how she's coming back here with this hair," but then that kind of gave me a thought about white girls and white women. That made me think, they're arrogant. Anytime I would see a white girl or white woman after that sometimes I would be like, "Oh there she go,". I still have friends to this day who will text me and that's all the text says, just all it says is, "Oh there she go,".

Amena Brown: But for y'all to have a little bit of context, a part of how Tasha was facilitating that panel while we were opening up with questions like that, which are obviously vulnerable for most people to answer, because we all have some bias, some experiences that we've had with other people who are in different racial or ethnic or cultural groups from us. We all have those things that we think about it, we might talk about it behind closed doors or at our small family dinner table, but we very rarely open that up in public even though those things we say in private effect how we see things. How we view the world, what hurts us, what wounds us. Especially in the case of those of us who are marginalized people also and the situations we were in where we did not have power to be able to make change in certain areas.

Amena Brown: So part of opening up that conversation was really leading us in the panel to be able to talk about, in the end, most of the women at that table were women of color, to say like, "What was the first time you encountered racism?". And most of us I remember, which was really impactful to me, most of us it was junior high, it was 6th grade for some reason. That 6th to 8th grade kind of time frame in life. And just talking about those things has been such a powerful thing for me and the work that Be The Bridge does. Because sometimes you're encountering racism all the time as a person of color, for me as a black woman, that some of it becomes normalized to you in a certain way.

Amena Brown: So even to have someone ask that question, "When did you first encounter that?" and me remembering those racist things my 6th grade teacher in Texas said to me was a way to honor ... You really gave voice to this earlier when you were telling your high school story, that when we're young we don't have the language to say, "That's racist, that made me feel horrible,". And we also don't have the language to say, "And it's okay for me to feel wounded by that thing that was said,".

Amena Brown: So I would do more panels with Tasha, but I just want y'all to know that that's what had happened.

Latasha M.: That's so good and that's the thing, because we haven't been allowed really to tell our stories and to talk about our pain. And I think the greatest insult that people can give to us is when we're telling our story, when we're talking about our pain, is to try to explain it away and reject that and to ask questions about it versus listening to it. And I think that takes a lot of discipline, and that's one of the reasons why as we've grown in our group online we've had to institute rules and guidelines for that. And so, we basically tell everybody, "When you come into our group I don't care who you are," because sometimes we're all, even if we're the same ethnicity, we're not all on the same page because we're not a monolithic group.

Latasha M.: And so people come into this space with different wounds, and different experiences, and different stories. Our story is not the same, there's a lot of commonalities and a lot of similarities as it relates to the big systems, but we're different and we were raised different. And so we tell everyone to not talk for three months, and my team was trying to talk me off the ledge because I wanted to change it to four months. Because I think in our society we just don't listen, and people want to be heard. I mean just human nature, everyone wants to be seen and known and loved. You know what I'm saying? And a part of that, the out working of that is being heard, and feeling heard.

Latasha M.: And I think that's the greatest gift that you can give to marginalized groups, especially those from majority culture, is to stop talking and listen. And just maybe think that, maybe the history that you've been taught or the stories, or your experience, is not universal, and it may not be completely accurate. But sometimes people would rather listen to 5% of people versus the 95% that's saying the same thing.

Latasha M.: And so I think that's the benefit of what we've seen through social media, so I think social media can be a blessing or a curse just like anything. I tell people, "Just like the car,". The car was a beautiful invention. It helped get people to places faster than horse and buggy would've done. But along with that there's a lot of things that you had to work out with the invention of the car as it relates to safety, seat belts, I mean there's a lot of things in a vehicle. Anything can be used for harm, so even a vehicle that can really bring people closer together, help you see the world, it also can be used to destroy families through accidents and through people using vehicles to bring harm to people. You know what I'm saying?

Latasha M.: So I think of social media the same way, where it could be used to bring beauty to the world, but it also can be used to really destroy people. And I think we have to use it for good and there's so many things I think about. My family, we're able to connect and share stories and share pictures before family reunion time. Or if you missed the family reunion you get to see pictures and you get to see this person. We had pictures of someone that passed in between our family reunion, we were able to share stories in our Facebook group about our family member and stuff like that. Those are beautiful things. People you graduated with, maybe you disconnected with, where you're able to connect again. People, I mean, in my family, I ain't trying to give away family secrets, but long lost family members, children that you had that you never knew.

Amena Brown: It happens.

Latasha M.: But I'm saying it happens, but I'm just saying, those are just some things that happened and I think the beauty of it is that people can dehumanize. People get a lot of strength and a lot of boldness when they're behind the screen. But sometimes you wanna say, "I bet you wouldn't say that to my face,".

Amena Brown: I bet you wouldn't.

Latasha M.: "I bet you would not say that to my face!".

Latasha M.: But I think we try to make sure that you're humanizing the person on the other side of that computer within the group. And so our group is closed, it's a secret group, we try to put as many safeguards as we can to keep people safe. We make sure that people have to answer questions before they enter into our group. We have admins and moderators to help manage that, and then when you're in our group there's, now we have a whole unit. A unit of information that we give you. So before you even speak to this we need to make sure you're educating yourself, so here's some things that you can work through. Because if, after your three months is over, you start saying stuff and it's bringing harm, we can see if you took those units. And if you didn't take those units we're gonna give you another three months of silence.

Latasha M.: And the thing is, you're signing up for it. I mean we're not asking you to be a part of the group, you're signing up to be a part of the group. So when you sign up to be a part of the group you sign up to be a part of the rules. And things don't always work the way you want them to work. You're gonna have flareups, you're gonna have tension, and it's how we work through that tension. And sometimes it can be, we work through it in a beautiful way, where healing happens, and sometimes there's a need for reconciliation in how we work through those tensions.

Latasha M.: But I think social media can be a great platform to start, as long as you know that, hey, this thing could go left or right. So you're gonna have to put time into developing the systems around it to try to keep it a brave space. It's not gonna be a safe space, because when people are putting their heart out there and when people can still reject it because we're in different places on the learning curve, and then we're exhausted as people as color, just exhausted in this anyway. What we're inviting people to is just discomfort and awkwardness and a lot of times pain. And who wants to sign up for that, you know what I'm saying? And so we were asking people to be brave in this space and then sometimes you can be brave one week, but you don't have to be brave next week. You don't have to be on there.

Latasha M.: But sometimes people need a place where they can say, "This is what happened to me, this is what I'm going through,". Or sometimes they need someone to come alongside of them, and so we're hoping to put some more safeguards even around our groups this year, even adding some counseling in our people of color group. Just to deal with racial trauma and really building up a brave space for people of color. And so 2019 is really gonna be focused a lot on some of the people of color initiatives as we have focused on some of what we call our whiteness intensive initiatives that we've had to educate white people so that they're able to come to this conversation and not bring as much harm.

Amena Brown: Yeah, yeah. I really love that the listening is so important in Be The Bridge as an organization, and how Be The Bridge equips people to become bridge builders. I was actually talking with a friend recently and just telling her just some things that I'm learning myself about life, and the world, and places that that effects my spiritual practice. Places that effect the way that I see God or see the community, all these different things. And my friend said to me something that's really wise that I really heard in the ways that you are helping people to approach bridge building. She told me, she was like, "This is a time for you to learn and discern," she was like, "It's not a time for you to speak about it,".

Latasha M.: You know?

Amena Brown: And how, especially when we approach social media, a lot of the times we ended up on social media because we wanted a soapbox. Or we wanted a place to say our things, we don't always think about the online space as a place to be quiet for a time and learn before we attempt to sort of use our voice when we may not be prepared or equipped to really speak truth to power at that time. We may have a lot that we need to learn.

Latasha M.: Yeah.

Amena Brown: I wanna ask a question of you. I actually put out to social media, I've been trying a new thing this season and so far it's been going so great. I put out on social media, "Hey everybody, I'm interviewing this person, what should I ask them?". And you got some good old questions.

Latasha M.: Oh lord!

Amena Brown: So, I'm a have to throw a couple of these out there because I wants to sip the tea from the answers here, so.

Latasha M.: As I sip tea. Hold on, let me get my thoughts together, okay?

Amena Brown: Please.

Amena Brown: So [Cat 00:36:53] from Twitter wanted to ask you, "What do white female ministry leaders do with the best intentions for racial reconciliation that actually harm the cause?".

Latasha M.: Cat went there, she just wanting to dive right in.

Amena Brown: Yeah, she went in.

Latasha M.: White women centering themselves in this work, I think is one of the things that works against it, and I think sometimes it's the air that you breathe and the water that you drink, and sometimes you're unconsciously doing it because that society revolves around you.

Amena Brown: Okay it's like, step in here and give us some examples on what it looks like for, in this case a white female leader to center herself. Because I think centering ourselves when we are a person of privilege is similar to pride, right? In a way it's like a chicken and egg sometimes that like, well, if you're prideful then sometimes it's hard for you to even see that you're prideful. And when we're used to centering ourselves, sometimes we're doing that and we don't even know that we are making ourselves the center of something we shouldn't.

Amena Brown: So like, give us some examples, one or two right here, of what does it look like for a white female leader to center herself?

Latasha M.: Yeah, I think one good example would be is, whatever you're doing or speaking on, is there another person of color that can do what you're doing? Does your voice have to be the voice? Are you thinking about other women, especially other women of color, in your pursuits? How are you trying to change some of the power dynamics, especially as we talk about reconciliation, undoing the wrong and the harm that has been caused. Like a complete reordering of things, when you're talking about those things, what are you doing daily to change that and to shift that? And I think that's even some of the best bridge builders sometimes even have a problem with that because you also wanna be seen. It depends on your personality. You wanna be heard, you wanna be leaders. But can you submit to a person of color's leadership, and be led and guided by them? Have you even ever put yourself in a place where you're being led by a person of color?

Latasha M.: And then also, even if you speak on something like this, I think a great example would've been the Jada Pinkett, she was bringing up this conversation about white privilege. And she interviewed Jane, I forget the lady's name, it's a older lady. But even in that, here's an African American woman ... And I know sometimes you want to, when you're talking about something that has white in front of it, you wanna have a white person's voice to kind of validate what you're trying to say. And the optics looks better for white people sometimes. But I think as a white person when someone comes to you with that, "I can speak to this but I also want to bring my friend," whoever, "That's a person of color to really speak to this first, I understand what you're trying to do as far as validation as it relates to other white people. But we have to get white people to listen to people of color,". You know what I'm saying?

Latasha M.: As so I think in those dynamics just really being able to put your voice in the background in order to lift up a lot of the voices that are around you that are not being heard and just don't have the same opportunities and the same influence. So sometimes you have to say no to some things, but not just saying no for the sake of saying no. Saying no and giving them names of other people to reach out to and why you're doing that. And so that will cost you, and I think the other thing is white women in this space they're not really counting the cost, this is gonna cost you, and it may cost you a book deal. It may cost you some money. It may cost you a speaking gig. You know what I'm saying? It may cost you some things. But the thing is just think about what the systemic issues have cost people of color in this country.

Amena Brown: Yes, yes.

Latasha M.: What this will cost you would never amount to what it has cost my grandmother, or my great grandmother, or my mother. We have to think in terms like that. That it will never cost you what it has cost us. And this may be painful for a while, but the endurance of that has not been centuries like it has been for our people. And so I think that's the weight and the burden for people to carry, and understanding when to speak and when not to speak. And I think sometimes that's a dance and sometimes people get afraid because if they mess up they shut it all down, they don't wanna have to like, "I'm not gonna talk about this anymore, because I'm afraid of messing up,".

Latasha M.: The thing is, you're gonna mess up. But a part of it is we wanna know are you gonna show up tomorrow. You know what I'm saying? And I see so many times when someone messes up or they get, what you would say, rebuked or ridiculed or something because in the process of their learning they mess up or have some missteps. But my thing is if you really care about this issue are you gonna show up again tomorrow to say, "You know what, I messed up. Show me how to do it right,". Can you take the low? But are you gonna fight your way because you feel that you've arrived and you know everything.

Latasha M.: I tell everyone, "This is a lifestyle, you don't arrive, this is a lifestyle, we're all learning,". I learn something everyday, we have to remain teachable. And I think the other thing that happens with a lot of well-intentioned people in this space, they don't remain teachable. Where it's like, "Hey I read a lot of books, I'm doing this, I'm doing that," and you're not listening anymore, and we see that happening in that space a lot with a lot of people who are thought leaders in this that are white. Where they make some mistakes and they don't even know how to correct the mistakes the right way anymore. And so I saw that happen with just some major thought leaders, where comments that were made and instead of apologizing for the comments they're trying to back trail it-

Amena Brown: Right, and double down.

Latasha M.: -or explain it away and double down and different things like that. And the thing is, that too is a part of white supremacy showing up still. So it's like a deconstructing, a detoxing, that you have to do because it is the air that you breathe, and the water that you drink. And the same thing with us as people of color is that we are impacted by that same air and that same water, and there's something that we have to deconstruct daily, because I see that happening within just the minority groups. The disunity within that, the anti-blackness within that, that we are also learners in this and we have to learn each other's stories too.

Amena Brown: Yeah, no, that's great. And Cat didn't ask me but I'm gonna tell her my two thoughts.

Amena Brown: I think one of the things that, it's been my experience particularly in some of the faith-based spaces where I've had the opportunity to work is, to your question Cat, what are white females leaders doing even with best intentions that are actually harming racial reconciliation, racial justice. And I would say one of the big things is thinking that this is about feelings or that this is about being personally offended more than this is about systems and structures and equity and justice.

Amena Brown: And I think a lot of times it's been my experience when I talk to other women of color that they've had countless experiences, whether it's in a faith-based space or a corporate space or a nonprofit space, so on, where they have had a conversation with a white woman who they thought was a colleague or who was in leadership in some of these situations and went to say, "Hey, this is something that I think is an injustice. This is something I think the organization needs to do better," or this or that. And that became a conversation about tears and about feelings and about the white woman leader feeling like, "I don't want you to think of me that I am," fill in the blank, "racist, or I am not looking out for you or that I don't love you," or those things. And that's not really what the conversation is about. The conversation is about how can you, as a person of privileged in those situations, use your privileged in better ways and in good ways and how are you leading that leads to equity for marginalized people, that leads to justice for marginalized people.

Amena Brown: And not that we're not gonna have feelings about that, but a lot of those conversations are not about feelings. They're not about personal offense, we don't wanna stay stuck in that side of the conversation. We wanna get into the part of the conversation which is the very center of true bridge building. We wanna get into the part of the conversation where we wanna effect change. And if you are in a leadership position, if you are a person of privilege, or a person of influence, a person who has power, that's really what we're talking about. Is how can you really do, for a lot of us in a Christian context, how can you do what we watch Jesus do all the time, which is lay down your privilege, right? And think about the ways that you can center the voice and experiences of people who are marginalized.

Amena Brown: So, Cat we thank you for going there girl because, receipts.

Latasha M.: I know, and that's such a layered thing because even when you get up underneath that, where people that centering, where does that come from? And you have to see the outworking of where that, what you were saying, that normality to center yourself and to make it about you. You have to understand the system that that's coming from, and that's coming from the system of white supremacy. And so you don't wanna operate out of that system, and so you really have to fight that centering and stuff on your feelings.

Latasha M.: So, that's a good thing, and the other thing I'll add just to throw this out there, just right quick, is that I think sometimes we focus more on diversity-

Amena Brown: That's right.

Latasha M.: -than inclusion and anti-racism. And so I think, well-intentioned you want diversity but you have to long for anti-racism and inclusion more than diversity. Because if you're focused on being anti-racist and you're focused on inclusion, you will get diversity.

Amena Brown: Right, that's good Tasha, yeah.

Latasha M.: So you know, a lot of times people focus on diversity and don't understand why this is isn't happening. Because you haven't really focused on anti-racism and inclusion, and when you focus on those two you're automatically get some diversity. But when you're just focusing on diversity the other two may not ever come. And they shouldn't because it would be a horrible place to people of color.

Amena Brown: That's so good.

Amena Brown: I wanna ask this question, [Monica 00:49:28] from Facebook, she said, "I'm sure you've seen your fair share of setbacks, and lived through disappointments while doing this emotionally intensive work. How do you keep faith in humanity?". Thought that was a great question.

Latasha M.: Yes. That's a good question.

Latasha M.: You know this is something I'm walking through right now, you have to know when to shut it off and shut it down. I think probably the last seven to eight months social media has been more difficult for me, and so monitoring how much time I'm devoting to social media, what I'm doing on social media, and really focusing on self-care. I have to be intentional about it, I miss it a lot of times, and a lot of days because of just where I am in this season of life. There's not a lot of margin and so it's really hard, but I think as we're fighting for justice, we can get, for me as a person of faith, I have to remember that I'm also fighting for redemption. And we need to want redemption just as much as we want justice, and if we're not wanting redemption as much as we want justice, something has gone awry.

Latasha M.: Because ultimately, God wants redemption, and redemption should also look like justice. And we're talking about restorative justice, and so I think that was a thing because you can get to the point where you burn it all down. Not just burn it all down, burn them down. And when you're talking about, when I say burn them, I'm othering people already by using that term 'them'. I'm already not wanting to see that person rightfully restored and made right and things reordered. It's just that, I just wanna win. You know what I'm saying? In this life that cannot be my heart posture, this is for me, I'm talking for Latasha Morrison. This is the journey that I'm on because in the midst of this I don't want my heart to be marred in the midst of this. I wanna love deeply, I wanna see the humanity in everyone even when they don't see the humanity in me.

Latasha M.: And that's hard talk, you know what I'm saying? Because this is a really tough time right now. But I think, just that reminder, and I think the key for me is having a place where someone can say that to me. And so you need whatever that is for you, if you're meditating, if it's taking retreats, if it's getting with friends that you trust and talking and dialogue and people that's pouring in to you. If it's a conference, whatever that way is for you, I think that's important for us to have those things in our lives. And I think that's the thing that's keeping me right now, but you will mess up and you're not gonna always get it right, but then the next time maybe I'll get it right. Maybe I'll think differently, maybe I'll say something differently.

Latasha M.: But we're gonna have some missteps in this, and I think we have to understand this. We're gonna hurt each other because what I'm realizing, especially in this people of color space, is hurt people hurt people. And I think that's some of the most painful thing when you're hurt by your own community or you hurt your own community. I think those are some of the painful things, so I think we really have to give grace to each other in this space just in order to maintain some type of emotional health.

Amena Brown: So I have another question here, and I didn't get confirmation on pronunciation here, so this is either [Rachel 00:53:50] or it could be [Rochelle 00:53:51]. So, both, until we get confirmation on which one it is.

Amena Brown: But she asked, "What grounds you in the midst of a season of a rapidly growing organization?"

Latasha M.: Oh wow, yeah.

Latasha M.: I think the thing that grounds me is the mission. The mission and the values that I've set up. That's the thing that grounds me, because you can have so many things happening. Right now I have the book stuff, I have grant stuff, there's so many exciting things but there's a lot of work. There's the people part of it. I think the mission grounds me as of ultimately what do I wanna see? What do I feel is the pathway for being a bridge? And then also the reason why I do this, and I do this because I want to create a better future for those that are coming behind us. The same bridge that we're walking across now is through the blood, sweat, and tears of our ancestors and those during the civil rights movement. The first civil rights movement back in the 1870's, you know what I'm saying? We're living out and carrying the mantle of the work that people done before us.

Latasha M.: And so I wanna do my part to really pass off a mantle well to this next generation, and I think that's the thing that grounds me is ultimately understanding that, you know what? I have to hold this work with open hands, I don't control people. I don't control people, I'm just gonna do the next thing that I know to do, the next thing that I know to do, the next thing that I know to do. And understanding that I don't transform hearts, and not getting sideswiped when someone rejects what I'm trying to do. You know what, if you're rejecting it, it's not for you. It's not for you. It may be meant for you, but if you're rejecting it then I'm gonna move on to the next person, you know what I'm saying? And you're missing out, I'm not missing something, you're missing out. That's your loss. And I have to look at it like that and keep it moving where, you know what? I'm not the person that's gonna help that person, maybe there's someone else.

Latasha M.: And so not exerting too much energy in people who are not trying to change. I'm about helping those that are aware, and that are acknowledging, and that want to see change. Anybody else I'm not trying to convince you of anything, if you feel like there's not racism then I'm a let you sit right there and feel like there's not racism and I'm gonna keep on moving to the next person. Because, that's exhausting, you know what I'm saying? Because some people are fully gonna reject what you're doing and you cannot get so caught up in those people where they take all your energy and they zap you, and they de-center you. Because then you have 20 people over here that are like, "Which way do we go? I'm with you. I'm ride or die with you," or "I don't understand, but I agree,". You know what I'm saying? Or, "I don't completely get everything but I wanna learn,".

Latasha M.: Those are the people, those are your people, and all those other people? We gotta keep it moving because what I do know looking at history, it doesn't take a million people to really transform the world. It's always a few people. When we think about our history it didn't take millions of people, there were a few people. There were a few people, and when I look at it from my faith I look at it like, Jesus had 12. Jesus had 12, against a whole bunch of people, so that's kind of how I have to look at it to stay grounded. Hey, let's just do our part because there's some other people out there doing some other parts, and some people doing some other parts. And with their parts, and my part, and this part, and that part, no telling where our parts can take us.

Latasha M.: And so we have to understand and support each other, even people that have different voices from you. People who have different ways to deliver this message of reconciliation, of bridge building, it's not gonna be one way. There are gonna be many ways, and so I want to support other people who have other ways because I understand it's not just gonna be my part that's gonna shift culture but it could be the whole of all these things that other people are doing. And if we can just support each other in that and understand that there may be differences, but we can still have oneness in our differences.

Amena Brown: I wanna ask one more question from Rachel, Rochelle and then I wanna ask you the three questions I ask every guest.

Amena Brown: She also asked, "What's coming up for you or Be The Bridge that you're excited about, and how can we champion that?"

Latasha M.: Yeah I think one of the things that's exciting, I just wrote my first book!

Amena Brown: Woo!

Latasha M.: And I know there's probbaly people out there, you were a little girl and you dreamed of doing stuff like this. This was not a part of my plan and I think it was just, I'm not completely surprised by it because if you remain open in that sense. But I think this is a big thing and I think I was just telling you that it's just now setting in. Like I don't think it's been this distant thing, but yeah I'm releasing a book October of 2019, this year. And so that is something that I want people to rally around, I mean this is where I really want people to use their privilege. Utilize that privilege!

Amena Brown: Leverage that power!

Latasha M.: [inaudible 01:00:17] yes! And so just with promoting that and just I'm putting this book in the hands of people who want help. And so I think that's one of the things.

Latasha M.: The other thing is, when I talk about this next generation I'm really passionate about that. Just because I don't have children but I just feel this weight of making sure that we're setting this generation up for success, they wouldn't have to endure. We didn't have to endure what our parents endured, our parents have not had to endure to the same degree of what their parents, each generation has gotten better. And although it's changed we cannot feel like, "Okay, well I didn't have to endure what my parents endured so we good now. We good, we good,". We do a disservice when we do that to this next generation. We're not good. It could be better.

Latasha M.: And so we want to hand them something that they can take the charge and really instill in them that hey, now it's about your kids. And keep passing this on because something like what we've had happen in American with intentionality it take centuries to change and to shift. We've had a little over 50, almost 60 years and people are like, "Okay we good!". See, we're not good when you're talking about systems and structures and stuff like. So I think that's one of the things that I wanna make sure that we do.

Amena Brown: Three questions I ask every guest.

Amena Brown: Question one, what inspires you to create?

Latasha M.: Oh, I think that goes back to, I think what inspires me to create would be my faith and my love for people. I really love people, I really do. I do. It's not that I don't get upset with people, but I really, I love image bearers and I have hope in image bearers. So I think that's why I love to create.

Amena Brown: What is one thing you've made that you are really proud of?

Latasha M.: A freaking book, dog!

Amena Brown: You should be proud because writing a book is hard. You should be really proud.

Latasha M.: Oh my god. I mean, I think that probably more so than even Be The Bridge organization I think one of the things I can see myself doing organization, and things. I think the book is the next level and who else? What else can happen from here? So I'm just open and ready and this is not the end. Look, my thing is this is a lifestyle, so my thing is like, "Look I'm gonna be doing this until I take my last breath,". So whenever that is I want to, what you would say, fulfill whatever purpose I feel that I'm here to fulfill. You know whatever is that part I'm here to fulfill.

Latasha M.: So, yeah.

Amena Brown: If you could give another woman a She Did That award, who would it be and why?

Latasha M.: Oh man! Oh, She Did That award. Okay. You know what? I'm gonna go, I watched the Oscars andI'm a rep my people right now, just to see the ladies from Black Panther win for costume design and I forget the other lady, I think it was production or environment or something. I'm not technical so I don't know. But you guys, you know what I'm talking about. But I think just to see the pioneering in the area that hasn't been for us, and doing it without the recognition or the accolades for so long and to see them shine this Sunday and then to see just the wealth of history, just the projects they worked on before and it never really being recognized. I think I would say, she did that.

Amena Brown: Woof, yes, she did that.

Amena Brown: So of course my people on social media please know I did not get to all of your questions but don't worry, Latasha and I are gonna record these questions and her answers to them so you will hear those soon. In the meantime Latasha, how can people follow you, follow more of your work, find out what's going on with Be The Bridge, how they can be a part of it, how they can support this book coming out in October 2019. How can the people get all this information?

Latasha M.: You can follow me on the social medias @latashamorrison, that is my information on Twitter, Instagram. I am out of space on Facebook, so did y'all know you can run out of space on Facebook?

Amena Brown: Oh yeah because it happened to me. Yeah, it's not fun.

Latasha M.: Okay, yeah, and I've been removing people. People if you don't have a picture you're probably deleted. But I've been removing people all along because I saw that I was getting close but it's gone now. I have another page which is tashamorrison, it's my author page, and I actually post a little bit more there anyway than my private Facebook page. So you can follow me on Facebook on tashamorrison.

Latasha M.: So that's really all my social media and my website is latashamorrison.com.

Amena Brown: It's nice, y'all. It's nice.

Latasha M.: It's up and running! So yeah, that's all my information.

Amena Brown: If people-

Latasha M.: And I'm not on, what's the, the Snapchat?

Amena Brown: No, mm-mm (negative) I gave up on that a long time ago. I just, no, I was like y'all.

Latasha M.: I'm not on the Snapchats! I can't do all that.

Amena Brown: I'm not, no. It took me awhile to figure how instastories work so I definitely was not gonna be on Snapchat.

Amena Brown: If people want to know more about Be The Bridge as an organization, they want to support it or find out how they can be involved, what's the best place for them to go?

Latasha M.: Yes, for Be The Bridge the best involvement would be to start following our social media. That is beabridgebuilder.com on Instagram, bethebridge on Facebook, and then @beabridgebuilder. Yeah, all these people, be the bridge is a common thing so we were having a hard time getting that and our website is actually under construction right now. It's still up but we are working on a new website for that, and that is bethebridge.com for all the things, for our guide, and all those different things for that. And yeah, and we have a Facebook page and it's Be the Bridge to Racial Unity on Facebook.

Latasha M.: But just know that you will have to answer questions, you will have to do work to get into the group, and you will have to be quiet for three months. And we know basically, when you join a group, we can click on your profile and it tells us exactly when you joined. So we will know. So yeah, so for all the brave people who wanna take that step you can join bethebridge.com but that's all the information.

Amena Brown: Tasha, thank you so much for joining me-

Latasha M.: [crosstalk 01:08:39]

Amena Brown: -for sharing more of your story with us and just, as we're talking about create the season it was really cool to get to hear how creating an online community played such a big role in what Be The Bridge is today and what Be The Bridge is becoming.

Amena Brown: So thank you for sharing that with our HER with Amena community so much!

Latasha M.: Yes, great! I am so glad to be here, and glad to be interviewed for HER.

Amena Brown: HER with Amena Brown is produced by DJ Opdiggy for Sol Graffiti Productions. Don't forget to subscribe, rate, write a review, and share the podcast. Thanks for listening!

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Transcript: HER With Amena Brown Episode 27: The Integrity Of Making Art With Makeda Lewis

Amena Brown: Hey, hey, hey. Everybody, welcome back to another episode of HER with Amena Brown. We are in the middle of season three and if you're new here, season three is going according to the theme, Create. Today, I'm super excited because, my guest today is one of my favorite people on the planet, is one of my closest, closest friends, is a family member. Let's talk about it. Based out of Atlanta, illustration and multimedia artist, author of Feminist Press published book, Avie's Dreams. Featured on nylon.com, bet.com, and various artist/author talks everywhere you want to be. Special shout out to my sister and my guest today, Makeda Lewis. Whew!

Makeda Lewis: Whew! Oh my gosh. Whew!

Amena Brown: You are the first guest who clapped with me. Nobody ever claps along.

Makeda Lewis: I mean I was really kind of hoping that we had a clap track, but since we don't-

Amena Brown: Oh it's happening. It's going to happen.

Makeda Lewis: Oh word. Okay. Okay. Are you going to add some radio sounds too like ...

Amena Brown: You know what? For your episode, I will see about that. I will definitely ask DJ Opdiggy because I feel like we ... I'm glad you brought that up. I feel like we need that.

Makeda Lewis: I need the Missy Elliot new shit in the background.

Amena Brown: Yes. Yes.

Makeda Lewis: I also need Jazze Phizzle, even though Jazze Pha is not here.

Amena Brown: Product shizzle. Because it's like you can't say Jazze Phizzle if you're not also gonna to go for the product shizzle. So yes, I'm in support of everything.

Makeda Lewis: Ciara!

Amena Brown: Yeah. Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. I'm here for everything. Y'all, I'm so excited to have my sister on the podcast.

Makeda Lewis: Oh my gosh. I'm so excited to be here.

Amena Brown: I always make a list each season of ... sometimes it starts out with particular people's names. Most time I think it starts out with roles or things people do and then I just am trying to find the women that do those things. So I was like, I know I want to interview a visual artist. And I was like, I'm definitely about to ask my sister.

Makeda Lewis: That's me. I do that.

Amena Brown: You're only the second family member to be on a podcast with me.

Makeda Lewis: Oh yeah. Grandma was. Aw!

Amena Brown: Very excited. Okay, so those of you that may not know our sister story, my sister and I are almost 11 years apart. My sister being born was just one of the best things to ever happen to me. Also, if y'all want to know a reason I would go to jail is for somebody harming any millimeter on my sister. Those are reasons.

Makeda Lewis: Oh my God, pause. Can I tell y'all that when I went to prom, that my sister, I know she probably ... unexpectable. She didn't know I was gonna to say this. She definitely pulled my date to the side, he was also my boyfriend at the time. Unbeknownst to me, this is right before we get on the party bus, it was a terrible decision. She pulled him to the side and was like, "If anything happens to my sister, I will break your legs off and beat you with them."

Amena Brown: Yeah.

Makeda Lewis: I don't think he told me that for a week after the prom happened. And then I text my sister and asked her and she was like, "Yeah."

Amena Brown: Yeah. I said it. I said it to him. And he kinda like, you know that gif, that's Kevin Durant and another basketball player, and the basketball player talking to Kevin Durant and he's nodding.

Makeda Lewis: Oh yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Amena Brown: Yeah, that's how like... That's how your boyfriend at the time, did me, when I said it. He was nodding, in front of the bus... I think he didn't wanna give off to you or anyone around that I was threatening him. And so I said it and then I just smiled and I was like, "Y'all have a good time. Have a good time tonight." But I was dead serious, it was not a game. Not a game. You arrived back home safely...

Makeda Lewis: I mean also, Jeanne Brown, knew that we had to go to church in the morning. If I had any inkling of a thought that I was gonna have fun after prom, that was quickly dismissed.

Amena Brown: This was the exact experience I had with mom, going to prom. She was like, "Yeah, you can go, but you goin to church tomorrow. So, you better be back in this house by a certain time." I still am just laughing at the fact that mom was dead serious about it.

Makeda Lewis: That did not change. That did not change.

Amena Brown: 11 years went by but Mom didn't change, it's the same.

Makeda Lewis: Bruh, it didn't.

Amena Brown: Also, let's talk about the intended but underlying also statement of, "...so don't do anything tonight that you're gone be sitting in church, shaking like a whore, because you're ashamed. 'Cause you will be going to church tomorrow."

Makeda Lewis: I'm glad you're bring that to light because, how about that never entered my mind as to why that might've been the motivation for her saying that but, fair. That's a fair point right there.

Amena Brown: Girl...

Makeda Lewis: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-

Amena Brown: So, we been sister's, forever. Since then. And I love my sister so much, and I'm also just really, really proud of you. I've had opportunity to... I know I'm just kinda getting super emotional... -

Makeda Lewis: You know it's Pisces season.

Amena Brown: Super proud of you because, I've had an opportunity to see you as, a published author and artist and your art shows. I have been watching since you were a little girl, that we knew you were going to do some sort of visual art of some kind. Because you were very good at it, very young. I wish I had... Wanted to show y'all... I need to find it. My sister learned how to use Paint, was it Paint? It was some program that was on the computer... -

Makeda Lewis: Oh yeah! That I used to...

Amena Brown: That you learned how to use. When I was in college... -

Makeda Lewis: Completely forgot about that.

Amena Brown: ...since we were so many years apart, by the time I was leaving to go away to college you were eight, turning nine. So while I was in college, you would send me these letters and different cards that you made using this program. You were drawing little Black girls with little mermaid dresses and all sorts of things. So we knew when you were little that you were probably going to do something, or we hoped you were gonna do something with that...-

Makeda Lewis: Right.

Amena Brown: ...but do you remember the earliest moment that you knew you wanted to be a visual artist, or wanted be an artist or wanted to do creative work. What was that realization like for you?

Makeda Lewis: I think actually this journey has been really retroactive, in realization. I think when I was little and anytime between being a toddler and now. Or maybe between being a toddler and, let's see I'm finna be 28... So maybe between like four and 23, I was kinda just making it as a compulsion. Like the way that you pick your nose or, I don't know, whatever other thing... It's like a habit. I don't know that I really thought of myself as an artist, and I damn sure didn't, I wasn't like, "When I grow up I wanna be an artist." I never thought that about myself. Which, again, in retroactive realizations, that was because I didn't think I was good enough. Especially once I got to college and all the other art kids already had portfolio's and they were doing commissions, they had internships and all this other stuff. Nobody ever sat me down and talked to me about portfolios.

Makeda Lewis: I was like, "Oh. Kids that have portfolios are really good, they're really serious about art." Also, when I was in high school I was writing and performing, because I wanted to be like my sister... -

Amena Brown: And now I wanna be like my sister.

Makeda Lewis: That's what everyone thought I was gonna do when I left high school. At graduation I said a poem, at graduation. So people thought that I was gonna be a writer. I mean, I still write but it's for me now at this point. I don't for real, for real, unless I feel super pressed and I need the catharsis of telling other people this thing. I guess, at least within the last three to four years, I feel like I've taken myself really seriously and I've made changes, concerning the ways that I move in the art world; and the ways that I move in business and presentation. There are certain things about you as an artist that can show other people how seriously you wanna be taken. That's not you sitting down and telling them, "I'ma be famous, I'ma be great one day." Stuff like that. That's a recent sort of, acceptance, maybe.

Amena Brown: I always like to ask that question because I've... You'll have to tell me if this is true in your experience. I feel like there's a gap between... If I think about myself as a writer, there's a gap between when I started writing and when I called myself a writer.

Makeda Lewis: Absolutely.

Amena Brown: And there's this gap between, in your life, when you were making art, that you started making art very early. But there has to be this realization process for us, as people who make things.

Makeda Lewis: Absolutely.

Amena Brown: That we can now sort of, name that, inside of us.

Makeda Lewis: Yeah. Yeah.

Amena Brown: Right? Is that like the experience you had to?

Makeda Lewis: Yeah, pretty much. It's almost like when babies discover mirrors. It's not like, potentially, it's maybe not that they haven't been in mirrors before. It's like that realization of being like, "Oh I'll be in a mirror." Or, I guess when you're a baby you're like, "Who is that other person in the mirror?"

Amena Brown: Right.

Makeda Lewis: "What are they doing over there? Why are they so close to my face? What is this?"

Amena Brown: "Why they doing the same thing I'm doing?"

Makeda Lewis: Okay. "I feel like every time I move you move, this is really problematic." When you get older and you are self-aware and you're looking at yourself in the mirror and you're realizing that, that's my self. And this is my hair, and this is my face. This is what I look like after I've just finished crying, or when I'm sleepy. Or when I just woke up. Or with makeup on. So yeah, that's definitely accurate. Huge gap. Huge, huge gap.

Amena Brown: As a visual artist you've had the opportunity to not only, be an artist in the sense of your work being shown, putting your work into published form. You also have had the experience of being in the business of how art gets made. How those exhibits and shows happen. Learning about some of those things with various sundry, galleries and non-profits that you've worked with. What are some things you can share with us that you've learned about the journey of, making art and then the journey of the business sides, of making art.

Makeda Lewis: This is also something that I've been examining more deeply, more recently. I feel like in the world of art there are, lots of different factions. There's art, which is technically... I think the dictionary definition is, something that's been edited or manipulated by human hands or something like that. Which is interesting to think about in an age of technology where we can draw something and then upload it to a machine, the machine actually will make it a thing. So that's interesting. There's art, all the things we could consider art. Then there's, fine art, there's things that people would pay, exorbitant, really disgusting amounts of money for.

Amena Brown: Right.

Makeda Lewis: There's commercial art. There's art that... The kind of art that Doctor's offices might buy, or hotels, or art that's on t-shirts.

Amena Brown: We were talking before we started recording. I was kinda talking about how, a lot of times the fantasy about art, is for those of us who make it... -

Makeda Lewis: Okay, yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Amena Brown: Right. But then, that's the front of Disney World ... -

Makeda Lewis: Yeah.

Amena Brown: ...that's where the rides or the sidewalks are so clear and everything. But when you start getting into what makes that exhibit happen. How do the artists get chosen for that. And thinking about all the different...-

Makeda Lewis: Politics man ... -

Amena Brown: ...ways that people can engage with art, interact with it, all those different aspects. Then, you start maybe getting behind there and sort of seeing Mickey Mouse, smoking a cigarette instead. So I think you were getting ready to tell us, what are the different facets of that... -

Makeda Lewis: Like the difference, between the front and the back end ...

Amena Brown: Yeah. And then how does that play a role in how you interact with it, as an artist. How artist’s interact with it. How the people who want to engage with the art, interact with it. And how money gets made, how capitalism edges in on that ... -

Makeda Lewis: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.

Amena Brown: ...more about that.

Makeda Lewis: I would say, there's a really huge gap because, I know for me as an artist, when I'm making art I'm really emotional about it. I'm drawing things from the heart. I'm drawing things or illustrations of just my thoughts at the time, of what I'm going through in life, etc., etc. When I finish it, I might be like, "Wow, I'm really proud of this. I sat here for a few hours and really got my emotions out." But then, let's say I enter it into a group show of some sort or maybe I'm having a solo-show, or a duo-show with someone, and now I have to think about all of these other things. So one of the galleries I intern for - I'ma go ahead and shout them out because, they actually do really amazing work and they're one of the only Black-owned galleries in Atlanta, but ZuCot, word up to ZuCot.

Amena Brown: ZuCot!

Makeda Lewis: They do a class that teaches people about investing in art.

Amena Brown: Wow.

Makeda Lewis: So they talk about all the different facets, things that you would look at when you're about to buy a piece of art. So that means that, me as an artist I'm making my art, I'm super emotional, I'm in my feelings about it. It's like my metaphorical little child, right. I want people to think it's as great as I think it is. I bring it to a gallery, let's say I bring it to ZuCot and I get there and it doesn't have a frame on it, or it has a stain on it from where I dug some wax outta my ear and then I touched it. Or it's kinda frayed on the sides from being in the backseat of the car. Or it's on paper that's really thin and probably isn't gonna last that long. Or it's been made with really cheap ink pens that are going to change color and look really gross, in a really short amount of time.

Makeda Lewis: Those are the sorts of things that people look at when they're investing in and collecting art. Alongside, once you get to a certain level, let's say like a Damien Hirst or something. Which, I went down a rabbit hole about him a while ago (but we're not finna get into that). Then people take into consideration other things like, the popularity and the, I guess I wanna say, the projected trajectory of your career. You're popular now, how much longer are you gonna be popular and can you get any more popular, to the point where this is gonna appreciate in value or whatever.

Makeda Lewis: So, it's interesting to think about those things because, also... One, how you treat your work, is a signifier to other people who handle it, about how to treat your work. -

Amena Brown: Message.

Makeda Lewis: So that means if I show up with my artwork, it's on a really nice wood panel, it has a really nice frame. I've got D-rings on the back so you can hang it, you can do whatever with it. I come in and it's wrapped, even if I'm hand delivering it. That means that you need to treat my art with the same level of care because that's how I feel about it. I spent money on this, I invested in this so I want you to treat it like its an investment. Versus, you know... And that's without me even having to say anything, that's them just looking at it and being like, "I can tell the care and time, effort that this artist put into their work. That it means something to them." Sometimes it's just really hard to think about that stuff when you just wanna make art.

Amena Brown: Right.

Makeda Lewis: When you're just really angry, which is really a place that I've been in for the last, honestly, probably the last two years but I didn't realize it until the last four months. And you just wanna make about it. And you just make and make, and make. Then after the making is over, then you have to think about money and capital and investment, and all the other stuff. Sometimes it feels dirty. Sometimes it feels, I don't know ... -

Amena Brown: It feels like it taints the purity of the process you experience when you make.

Makeda Lewis: Yeah, sometimes. It makes me sad that I guess, these are, this is the way that I have to tell you this is valuable. Other than the fact that I've really just cut myself open and put it on this, whatever, medium thing. And that I really hope that you are moved by it. And that is something valuable that we shared something and we never had to have a conversation about it.

Makeda Lewis: Sometimes I can suck. Also it can be exhausting because let me tell you, we are broke. We are broke okay. That's also the thing too, sometimes when artists really treat their artwork like investments, that means that sometimes... You know those little sample sizes of cosmetics that you get, they be like 4oz. Depending on the brand of paint you buy, a 4oz. thing of paint, could cost you $25.

Amena Brown: Wow!

Makeda Lewis: So that means, if I'm trying to make a full color painting... I can't just buy one, two... I'm spending hundreds of dollars on paint. I'm spending hundreds of dollars on paint, on paint brushes, on canvas. This is a big deal. So it really sucks when you want to give your art that ability to speak without you having to speak in terms of like, "Hey, I matter." But you be broke. You gotta work with what you have and it can get a point across, but it's not an eternally living thing sometimes. Just because of the materials that you used because that's what you had access to. It doesn't make it any less valuable, but it's hard and sometimes it can make an artist feel insecure, I think. When you realize how much money other people have been able to invest in their art.

Makeda Lewis: So, big gaps. I think I've definitely learned a lot. I still make my content the way that I make it, which is really emotional, like I said. I just try to be cognizant throughout the process or prior to the making, I guess. Of like, okay, I need this to outlast the apocalypse. Once I'm dead and I have to put all my art in a big metal time capsule, hopefully some humanoid creature like 200 years from now finds it. I need this to be legible.

Amena Brown: Right.

Makeda Lewis: 'Cause it's important. 'Cause the message that I'm trying to get across to you is so important that it needs to be here to be able to, for me to converse with you. No matter what plane of existence I'm on.

Amena Brown: Yeah.

Makeda Lewis: I hope that answered your question but I feel like I was just ranting.

Amena Brown: No, no. That answered. And it made me think about a conversation I was having with some students, some sixth grade students recently... -

Makeda Lewis: Oh sixth graders.

Amena Brown: It was kinda like a career day or career week kinda situation, so I was in there class telling them about what its like to be a poet and some of that process. And one of the kids asked me, "Do you have to do what you're passionate about for a living?" And first of all, it was just some realness to be there as an adult staring back at this sixth grader, which is probably around the age I started taking myself a little more seriously in my own writing. And I think some years ago, I would've been like, "That's everybody's calling, you should take what you're passionate about and you should do that for a living." That day, and I hoped I wasn't shooting anybody's dreams down, but that day I said to him, "You know, some people do and some people will. And some people will work another job that may not be this thing they super care about in the world. But they work that job so that they can have space and time or resource, to do the other stuff that they might feel really passionate about." And that that's okay.

Amena Brown: I think a few years ago I would not, I don't think I would've had the wherewithal to make sure I gave voice to it. Because, to your point, I think with people who are creatives and are making things that matter to them in the world; it matters to you what you make, it matters why you made it. You have in your mind who you hope feels seen or known, or understood when you made it. So it's okay to not have to muddy that process with all of the other financial whatever, whatever things. It's okay if you don't want to and it's okay if you do, but lets not put all that pressure on people who are making. All of the making is not about the money. We need money, to survive in the world. But to put that pressure on this thing I need to get out of my soul, to put out in the world, may not be fair.

Makeda Lewis: Absolutely. Yeah. I feel like more people might feel free also to feel that way if, if the alternate options weren't actually so fucking crushing.

Amena Brown: Yeah.

Makeda Lewis: I feel like there's so many alternate... Working this thing to take care of myself and to pay my bills and to survive, and to be able to go out and have drinks every now and then. Or take a little trip, go on a road trip with my partner or my friends or something. More people would be okay with not trying to put all that weight on something that's literally a compulsion of who you are in your existence. If their options weren't so... They can just really beat you down. They can really beat you down. So you feel like you have to go in the complete opposite direction of, "Well I really love doing this thing and it really makes me feel whole and people feel seen and heard when I do it and when I share it, so I'm gonna try to make this a thing."

Amena Brown: Yeah, agreed. I think that was a lesson, I mean you watched me learn it in a lot of hard ways in my career, especially in the beginning. Just trying to figure out. I think in a way sometimes... I think I experience a similar thing in the relationship that visual artist can have to, "the patron." You know, in quotes, "the patron."

Amena Brown: I think on my side, or those of us that are in the performing arts, that can become the label or the publisher. The entity that you think is going to come and be like, "Look at this stuff you made in your room, I would love to pay you more money to make that." And sometimes it happens that you find some good symbiotic relationship in those situations, but sometimes it's that, you're letting those entities do more of the work than you are. And for me sometimes that was like, "Okay, you need to get your head together here. If you're trying to make a business of this then be a business woman now. Don't expect someone else to walk in and have all the business knowledge and trust them to take care of all your things." And hope that they'll pay you fairly and they'll do all these things, while you sit in a room and all you do is create.

Amena Brown: That was a hard realization for me. To be like, I have to make with the same integrity that I'm gonna handle this business part of it, if I'm going to want to make a living at it. But also, I'm similar to you in that, there are certain things I could do that would make me more money, but my soul can't... -

Makeda Lewis: I can't stand it.

Amena Brown: I can't be at rest with it. So then some opportunities come where I could get paid a lot of money and I can't silence the thing in me that's like, "But that's not really what I do. Or that's not really why I do it." Or me going to there and doing that for this money is making a mockery of... I'll give you an example ... -

Makeda Lewis: Say no, 2019. Carry on.

Amena Brown: So there was a time that in the market where I've been in, which is a faith based kinda more conservative market. There's a time that it was popular to have spoken word, script. I don't know if I talked to you about this. So there would be different, larger kind of entities that might have an artist like me, write a script, for a spoken word piece, for Easter, let's say. So that this church, in Houston, could have sister so an so, buy and download that script and perform it on Easter, right. So at the time, that is a way that you could make money as a creator. You're making something that can go some places that you can't go. But then the more I returned to the roots of what it meant to me, to be a spoken word poet, the less good that that felt to me. Because then it started to feel like, spoken word's not a monologue. Those two things are not the same. Like how in a theater space you could take that monologue from Death of a Salesman, and then this person in Iowa can take it on a stage and perform it. That's in the ethos (pronounced like ee-thohs) of what making looks like in a theater space.

Makeda Lewis: Is that how you say that word? Ethos? (Pronounced like ee-thahs)

Amena Brown: I think you can say ethos (pronounced like ee-thohs) or ethos (pronounced like ee-thohs)? Can you say ethos (Pronounced like ee-thahs)?

Makeda Lewis: I have never heard anybody say ethos (Pronounced like ee-thahs).

Amena Brown: What people normally say?

Makeda Lewis: Ethos (pronounced like ee-thohs). I ain't never heard ... -

Amena Brown: You ain't never heard ethos (Pronounced like ee-thahs)?

Makeda Lewis: I haven't. But I kind of appreciate it 'cause it sounds a little bit... I don't know it sounds like something else that I really like, I don't know.

Amena Brown: I'ma keep saying it and then if it's not right, then the episode's gonna be like, "And then the ethos..." (pronounced like EEEE-thOHHHHs) It's gonna be some strange editing going on. I'ma keep saying it y'all and then if we find out after we recorded this that it ain't right, then we gone come back and fix it...

Amena Brown: That's the ethos in theater world, just like it's a ethos in singer/songwriter world that you cover the songs of other artists right. But in the roots of spoken word, spoken word is built on originality. It's built on me, as the poet, writing my piece and performing it. It's not built on me writing something that's general enough that anybody could perform my piece.

Makeda Lewis: And half of that impact is the performance. You can't trust other people to do your art the way you intended it to be done.

Amena Brown: No. So the ones that I had that I was selling, I took them down.

Makeda Lewis: Absolutely.

Amena Brown: When I still get those requests, and I get them less and less now, but I still get them. My response to people has been, instead of wanting a poem of mine to have another person in your church/organization whatever it is, perform that. Find a local poet, who was me 15 years ago. Where I was still learning what my voice was, but I was a good writer, I was a good performer. But I needed that opportunity. Find that person in your community. Don't look to create this assembly line way of building a creative element, there are creative people sitting there. Just like I was sitting in so many of the spaces I was, little shy girl, at 19 years old. But that's an example for me of trying to balance that... If I had a whole thing on my site where I was selling scripts, I could probably make money doing it. But it doesn't feel right to me, for the roots of what I do and the community that I come from. It doesn't feel like it represents well and I just couldn't sleep at night if I was taking the money for it. I know other people who can. I just, unfortunately, cannot.

Makeda Lewis: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I totally get that. You already know I used to sell stuff on bigcartel. When I first started selling stuff, like mugs that I had made or... Like the original coloring book, before it got published. I feel like that was one moment that I was really proud but either which way. I don't think I ever cared enough about that kind of traffic enough to do what it would take to make it pop. I didn't care enough to go out and get my art printed on shirts and tote bags, I didn't care enough. I did it for a little while then I was like, "Wow I'm tired, also y'all are annoying and I don't feel like going to the post office anymore. So, this is gonna be the last sale, don't ask me no mo'. And I will be doing what I want in the future, 'cause that's what I wanna do."

Makeda Lewis: But again, me as a visual artist, it's really not something that I see as, the intention is for that to be my main life line either.

Amena Brown: Which makes a difference in what you make, how you make it and how it gets presented into the world. I think as creatives, not that it's wrong if you are a person who can monetize what you do... -

Makeda Lewis: Absolutely, those people have talent, or skill I should say.

Amena Brown: ...you should. But there are always gonna be some things that you probably are gonna hold back that, you don't monetize. For some of us there will be things that we shouldn't, monetize. But I like that as creatives, we can have the option. You can have the option of being like, "I'ma make this stuff." But I don't want it to turn into a machine. Or, "I'ma make this stuff because I know it would be good for a machine." Just having the option right there versus it being, you have to do one or the other. If you don't do one, you're terrible or if you don't do the other, you're the worst. But you have to choose, based upon where you are and the work you're making.

Amena Brown: So I wanna ask you a question about what, grounds your art. And the image that's in my mind, even though this might be ignorant but I don't think it is. It's a Marie Kondo image...-

Makeda Lewis: I love mess. (mimics line from Marie Kondo’s show)

Amena Brown: Hello, Marie! Listen. So you know how on the T.V. show on Netflix, what's it called, Tidying Up?

Makeda Lewis: Is it? I ain't never watched it. I just be seeing clips and little gifs, and stuff, and reading people's tweets about it. But it seems like it's lit.

Amena Brown: So I need to find the gif of this motion that is in my mind when I ask you about what grounds you. Marie Kondo, on the television show, has this way when she's working with clients in their homes; she'll chit chat them and everything, kinda talk about a little bit about them, get to know them. Then before they get into the process of decluttering, she'll say, "I wanna greet your home." So she'll get down on the ground, she'll sit like on her knees with her legs tucked back, Then she has this motion she does where she sweeps her hands on the ground in front of her, and then she kinda puts her hands just flat on the ground. That's kinda the image that has been coming back to me a lot because, the more that I create art and watch other artists make. It's like we all have a thing that grounds us. To me it's different than what inspires us, it's like the place from which we're creating.

Amena Brown: Which in our mind brings up who we're making this for. There typically is... It could be one person, it could be a group of people, but there's a specificity when you're creating. You're not just creating for mass amount of people, or maybe you are. I guess I'm trying to understand from you, what's grounding that? Is there, when you're making art that you intend to be publicly displayed in some way. Are you making it with the vantage point of wanting particular people to walk by and be like, "I see myself." Or is it some roots of your own story and experience that kind of ground how you go into your creative process. What's the centering for you? Does that question make sense?

Makeda Lewis: I think so. I'm gonna answer it and then if you feel like the answer is not accurate then you can do further explanation. I guess probably transparency. Wanting to be transparent enough to the point that people can see themselves. Transparency to the point of reflection I guess, is probably the thread that runs through everything. Which means that, I don't make things because I'm like, "This is a popular thing to draw right now." I'll be like, "I'm finna draw this because I'm pissed today. I'm gonna draw this because I'm actually really in love and I just feel like drawing that. I'm gonna draw this because someone that I follow on Instagram posted this really cool photo and I took a screenshot of it and I thought that it'd be cool if I turned it into mushrooms. Or I'm gonna draw this..." Yeah, that's probably the thing.

Makeda Lewis: When I first got in contact with my publisher and we were working through the book, and we coming up with... I think we were trying to come up with title names, because for the published version I actually drew like 15-16 more illustrations and we added text for each one.

Amena Brown: Wow. I didn't realize it was that many more from what your original was.

Makeda Lewis: Yeah. It was like half that size when I first made it. So, we added more things and we were considering changing the title. Of course that were inspiring me, first of all I'm sure were under copyright, like, "Girl you cannot quote this Black woman's poem. You cannot quote this Nikki Giovanni poem as the title of this book unless you pay for it, and I don't know how much money these people got girl."

Makeda Lewis: My publisher asked me why the book was called, Avie's Dreams. And I told her that it was because the whole... The couple months, like four, five, six months that I had been drawing those images, I was only eating avocado's for breakfast. I think sometimes, especially around the time of the book being published, it being released and stuff. People would ask me certain questions and they would expect a really deep, intricate answer. So when I say things like that, I find that people first reaction is to laugh. Not because they think it's stupid, but because they're just like, "Oh my gosh. What? Are you serious?" And I was like, "Yeah." So, it's 'cause I was eating avocado's and I decided that, the metaphorical character whose journey you're following, her name should be Avie.

Makeda Lewis: After I said that I think is when we started to, I think we started to go through different titles. Oh we were looking at subtitles, we were gonna do like, "Avie's Dreams: somethin, somethin, somethin." I remember my publisher being like, "Oh you know, when I Google Avie's Dreams, some other weird things come up." And this is a thing that I also really appreciate about the people I worked with at Feminist Press, is that, they would make suggestions and they would ask me questions and I was very clear about what I wanted to be in that book and what I wanted it to be about. So when I would say, "No. I don't like that, I don't want that." They would be like, "Okay, cool." And we would just move on to the next thing.

Makeda Lewis: 'Cause at first she was like, "Well I don't know, have you thought about changing the title to, not Avie's Dreams..." After I told her the avocado thing, 'cause I'm sure she thought that it wasn't deep enough. And I was like, "I mean, when I Google, Avie's Dreams, a BET article comes up. And a bigcartel page and other things that I've posted on my obscure presence on the internet. Also, no I don't wanna change it because, even as silly or potentially minuscule as it might be, it's true to me and it's a true thing." So yeah, even the silly things or the little things, the not so intricate or the, "Maybe I don't have a reason for that, maybe I just like how that line texture looked." Maybe it doesn't actually mean anything, or it was not intended in my mind, to mean anything in the context of this composition. If you wanna interpret it however you wanna interpret it, that's cool but sometimes lines are just lines.

Amena Brown: Huh. Tell that to an English professor.

Makeda Lewis: So, back to my original answer. The grounding is transparency to the point of reflection so that maybe people can see themselves and feel not alone.

Amena Brown: I love that. Okay. I wanna ask you because, this is a big part of your work as an artist. And I love that this is a big part of your work as an artist, that communal work and community work, community engagement, is a part of that. I really love that because speaking of grounding, I feel like when we as artist or creatives, are more connected to the communities, communities that we come from, communities that we interact with often. I feel like that is what grounds what we make. Because we are staying connected to what is the gumbo of inspiration, when we're connected to the community. Why do you feel like it's important for art to also include community engagement? Because like you talked about earlier, sometimes the only way people interact with art is in a high-art scenario. Which may or may not be engaging with the community of people who may not be those patrons that are gonna pay $7,000 for... -

Makeda Lewis: Or even $15 to get in the museum.

Amena Brown: Right. You know, like that. So, talk about why it's important for art to also engage with the community?

Makeda Lewis: Interestingly, the community engages with art every day. But I think that sometimes, a lot of the times probably we just don't realize it. There are so many things in this world that require design. Or that design was born out of something really visually beautiful. Or some random thing that someone's, someone's different eye, or someone's eye interpreted that in a different way and then they decided to make this thing based off of that.

Makeda Lewis: But to actually answer your question, I think it's important because, in my experience I find that art can sort of touch these recesses of you that you can't seem to always find the language to access. To the point they can express themselves. There've been times where I've looked at art and cried.

Amena Brown: Yeah, me too.

Makeda Lewis: Which is interesting, I mean it ain't interesting to me but maybe it's interesting to other people. Because you would think that you need some sort of active interaction to have an emotional response. Even when it comes to theater, right... The last couple of months me and my partner have been to so much theater. I have left the theater in tears. Of course there's people on stage, there's inflection, there's lighting, there's all these other different facets, I guess, of what's coming together to make you feel a thing. So I guess, in saying that, this doesn't just apply to visual art actually. I feel like that's just kind of the importance of art, is that it touches you in ways that... The daily spaces that you move through, might not give you access to.

Makeda Lewis: So many times, I've read poems and cried 'cause I was like, "Oh my God, this is literally how I feel, but you already said it. I feel...I feel like I just got something off my chest, you wrote it. First of all, that means I'm not alone. That means that there's nothing wrong with me. I don't feel abnormal. I think that's important because, I think that sort of feeling and that catharsis or feeling a sort of weight lifted. Or like an expansion of self as you open up and kind of like, "Oh my God, I feel things that I've been avoiding or that I haven't had access to."

Makeda Lewis: I feel like, those things can lead to conversation and they can lead to introspection, and they can lead to seeing people differently. Being more open to other people's views. For example, another example and then I'm gonna stop answering this question. There's an Octavia Butler book that I read, I think I've read like three or four of her books, but the one that I read... Wild Seed. I read Wild Seed, and for anybody who might be listening and has never read Wild Seed, one you need to get on that. Two, I feel like Octavia Butler, among many things, among many reasons why she's such a great writer. I feel like one of the things that she does really well is, building worlds and crafting narratives around, habits, or things, or events, or happenings or whatever. That are actually really uncomfortable, and if said to you in a non-fiction sort of way, your first reaction might be to be disgusted. Or to get angry, or get offended or be like, "Oh I'm not watching this. I'm not participating in this."

Makeda Lewis: But she writes things in such a way that, whatever's happening in that fictional society or world, that she is telling us about or bringing us into. You just can't get enough of it. And she does such an amazing job of taking you on this journey of emotional access and emotional... Just all these different feelings. And for anyone who has read Wild Seed, you know what I'm talking about, you know that book is crazy. Wild. Literally, Wild Seed. But I remember getting to the end and feeling really tender towards the world.

Amena Brown: Wow.

Makeda Lewis: Feeling really soft and open and accepting. At the time, I think when I read that book, I wasn't too far removed from a break-up, getting out of a serious relationship. You know how sometimes... I know some of us are super evolved when we break up with people and it's like, "That's dead, whatever, moving on, whoop, whoop. Happy for y'all." But for folks who is not like that, you know it's them couple months afterwards when maybe y'all play games a little bit. Maybe it's a gray area. Maybe this month, I'm sick of your shit and I hate you. I'm blocking you on everything and anytime anyone brings up your name to me, I'm gonna puke on their shoes.

Amena Brown: True break-up feelings.

Makeda Lewis: Maybe the next month, I coincidentally forgot to block you somewhere and you hit me up to say, "Hey." And then I realize that I do wonder how you're doing, and maybe we go to lunch and maybe I actually have a really good time. And then maybe at the end of lunch you tell me that you have a girlfriend, then I'm like, "I hate you, and I..." You know it's a rollercoaster, right.

Amena Brown: Yes. Yes. Yes.

Makeda Lewis: It's so many things. I think, before reading that book I'd gotten to this point with specific ex, or whatever. That I was like, "You know what, I don't think we ever finna be cool, and I don't hate you. But also, I don't like you..."-

Amena Brown: "And I don't want you here..." -

Makeda Lewis: "...I don't want you in my space, honestly, maybe I don't really want any good things to happen to you. I don't want bad things..."-

Amena Brown: I want you to live, I want you to have breath in your lungs I just don't want you to have blessings.

Makeda Lewis: Okay! Like I'm not damning you. I don't want bad things to happen to you, I don't want you to get hit by a car or anything...-

Amena Brown: Stay alive. Live.

Makeda Lewis: ...but I don't want you to find three dollar bills on the street.

Amena Brown: No. I don't want you to reach in your pocket and find that pink Starburst ...

Makeda Lewis: When you go out to a party, I don't want you to get nobody's number. I don't want your car to get booted but I might want you to get a ticket.

Makeda Lewis: So I was in that space with this particular ex, then I read Wild Seed, and I got to the end of the book and I felt like the softest I had ever felt, in months. Not just about that person but about the world and about life. I just felt very insightful and very like, you know what, it's not even that serious. That's life. Sometime after that I also had this super tender dream and I ended up hitting him up and being like, "You know what, it's like all whatever animosity, I'm letting it go." Which, do listeners, explore this on your own time but let's, do remember that sometimes when we need the presence of the other person to apologize for things, it's really about ourselves. I was really thankful that this person allowed me to come into their space and use their presence to do some cathartic things, but it really wasn't about them. I wasn't apologizing to them for being mean. I was apologizing 'cause I wanted to do it, I need to say it out loud. So let's do remember that guys, thanks.

Amena Brown: Come on, let's do remember.

Makeda Lewis: Let's do remember, yeah.

Amena Brown: Okay. We got a couple of questions for you off Twitter. Assata Shakur asks, she actually has three great questions for you, so I'm really glad she brought these up. She asks, "What is your favorite medium to create with?"

Makeda Lewis: Ink and paper. Specifically print making, but I haven't had access to a print making studio since I was an undergrad, so I've really just been drawing. But I love print making. I also like, found object use. I guess this is a quirky thing now that people are gonna know about me. I have an obsession with tiny things.

Amena Brown: Okay.

Makeda Lewis: There are so many miniature makers and artists and stuff that I follow on Instagram, and I lose my mind every time they post something new. I have a tiny baby on the keyring of my keys, that's like one of those babies that you get at the baby showers when you gotta find it in the cake. I've had it on my keyring for a couple months now, it definitely has lost an arm. Which may or may not be an indicator about my ability to raise children. But either which way...

Amena Brown: That's fine.

Makeda Lewis: I like tiny things. I also like collecting. Which, after a conversation with an administrator of mine I realized that might actually be a function of trying to control things because, I don't feel like I have any control in other parts of my life.

Amena Brown: Oh, but I didn't ask you to get in my business... -

Makeda Lewis: Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't realize I was in the wrong house, my bad. I thought was... -

Amena Brown: I didn't ask you to get into my things that I'm working on with my therapist.

Makeda Lewis: I thought I checked my PO Box...Anyway...

Amena Brown: Continue.

Makeda Lewis: Yeah, so ink and paper. No, I think that's it.

Amena Brown: Okay. Assata also wanted to know, "What is your favorite medium to observe?"

Makeda Lewis: That's a really great question. What is my favorite? I feel like I have a lot of favorites, depending on, how it's executed. My first thought is the same answer as the same question. Ink and paper. Simply because, I really like print making and I like other people's prints. Particularly like traditional Japanese prints. I think they had some really intricate line work that I really love and the gesture of bodies is really amazing. And sort of the story telling and the myths, the cultural myths and stuff I think that stuff is really beautiful. But since that was also my first answer I wanna think of another answer.

Makeda Lewis: I guess I'm gonna say, I like installation. I really like installation art. Felix Gonzales-Torres is top five of my favorite visual artist. And if you don't know who he is, I implore you to go to Google right now and read about him.

Amena Brown: Come on implore.

Makeda Lewis: I like installation art because, it can literally transform a space. I think a lot of people probably don't realize this but, how a space is or how it's designed, or how it's set up or even the color scheme, affects how you feel in that space. Like, if I went to the Doctor to get a pap-smear and the lighting was dimmer, and maybe there was an accent color wall, maybe there was some art or something in there. I think I might not have my inner thighs so tight.

Amena Brown: Right.

Makeda Lewis: Versus the fact that... It makes me feel like a frog being dissected. It makes me feel anxious...-

Amena Brown: Yes. The fluorescent lights.

Makeda Lewis: ...I totally understand though that the Doctor needs to see what they doing and see what they seeing, so I guess it's not realistic. But even in the front office, it just be a bunch of grays... So I appreciate installation art for literally quite, changing spaces. Which means they're changing a mood, which means they're changing thoughts and they're changing whatever. I think that's it.

Amena Brown: Assata also wanted to know, which I'm curious to know too, especially 'cause on your Twitter you've been doing some really cool art history threads, lately. So she wanted to know, "What is your favorite period of art so far?"

Makeda Lewis: I feel like at this point of my art history learning journey, that I don't have a favorite period. I think I have favorite works and often times the reasoning behind that being my favorite, outside of just the visual aspect, is usually the concept. Oh, that's probably my favorite! Even though I know we already passed question two, I really love conceptual art.

Makeda Lewis: It's usually concepts or how the inspiration behind that art ties back to real world circumstances. Like for instance, when the conversation first started about Roe versus Wade, sort of being in danger of being overturned. I think that was around the same time that I realized that I've actually been angry for the last two years. So I decided to do an art history thread update that day and I found, which you know... Anyone who has taken any sort of art history class of some kind. Maybe if you've taken a women's art class, we all know who Barbara Kruger is. She has this piece that I think says, I wanna say it says, "Your body is a battle ground." Or something like that. When she made it, it was during one of the many times where it seemed like the state was just hammering down on women's rights and really trying to inflict suffering on people. So, I appreciated that it was tied to something, some real world event. But also it was kinda depressing 'cause I was like, "Wow, you made this in 1973 and I'm feeling this way in 2018."

Makeda Lewis: That makes me depressed 'cause I'm like, damn, are you telling me they really not ever gonna stop doing this? Whatever I'm not gonna get into my depressing whatever's. But yeah, I don't really have a favorite period I think I just have favorite concepts, or things. Reasons why I like Felix's work or because I feel like, Felix does a really, or did a really great job at conveying what it's like to be in love. Or what it's like to be in partnership, or what it's like to lose people. To either general spreading apart or to death. What it means when the ways that you lose people are influenced by the society's view of the value of those people. And I think, just really brilliant, really, really brilliant. Maybe favorite genres? Do I have favorite genres of artwork?

Makeda Lewis: I've come to appreciate minimalism more than I used to. When I first encountered minimalism and installation, honestly, even though it's one of my favorites. I really thought that they were lazy as hell. 'Cause there's sometimes installation art will be like, it's like one thread that's attached to the ceiling and then it's attached to the floor. And then I'm like, "Bro what? You didn't do anything. This is not..."

Amena Brown: Or like when I see a painting in a gallery and it's just like...-

Makeda Lewis: One shade.

Amena Brown: Yeah. And I'm like, "Wait, what?"

Makeda Lewis: See that's where the concept comes in for me. 'Cause that's how I learn to appreciate minimalism and appreciate I guess, the ways that they still change the space even though it looks like not much is happening. Also I appreciate the way that it's in some ways, a reaction to previous years of the popularity of art that's full of colors and full of figures, and full of intricacy. And minimalism is like, "Nah. We good. We gon' do something else, we don't need all that. We straight." So maybe minimalism and installation... Honestly if Black people are making it too, I'm probably with it.

Amena Brown: Supporting everybody Black.

Makeda Lewis: Yeah. I mean, some of it do be trash but... I feel like that's just generally. -

Amena Brown: In general.

Makeda Lewis: People's stuff be trash. But honestly if it's bomb art and then on top of that it's somebody Black, I'm with it...

Amena Brown: Rooting. Rooting.

Makeda Lewis: Yeah.

Amena Brown: I wanna ask you the three questions I ask every guest.

Makeda Lewis: Okay.

Amena Brown: What inspires you to create?

Makeda Lewis: I have to, or I'm a really bad person. I think I'm really mean, and really restless and unfocused, and just generally all these things that don't make me feel good when I'm not creating consistently.

Amena Brown: Question two, what is one thing you've made that you are really proud of?

Makeda Lewis: I've made time, for myself. To do what I wanna do.

Amena Brown: A word. A word today, "I've made time for myself..." So that's our episode because, I don't need to let my sister talk no more. Wow. Wow. I love it. Wow.

Makeda Lewis: That really is my favorite thing though, especially as someone who has had 7,000 internships and works a lot, and then I have a partner, I'm always going out. When it's my days off, it's my days off. Don't ask me to do anything. Don't ask me to anything. No I'm not covering that shift. No I'm not coming in. No I'm actually not e-mailing you back until business hours on Tuesday.

Amena Brown: Come on, business hours. Just 'cause the e-mail's on my phone, doesn't mean I'm not gonna respond to you during the business hours.

Makeda Lewis: Honestly, if I'm keeping it funky, I could reply at midnight. I ain't really got business hours but also, whoa whoa whoa, it's my day off. I'm taking shots, I'm having coffee, having a cigarette. Chillin with my dog. Not doing whatever you want me to do. It's my favorite thing, very proud of myself for telling people, "No."

Amena Brown: That's a good thing. That is one of my favorite answers to that question so far. Question number three, which I ask every guest, every season. If you could give another woman a, She Did That Award, who would it be and why?

Makeda Lewis: She Did That Award, that's what it's called?

Amena Brown: She Did That.

Makeda Lewis: My She Did That Award goes to you, the listener. You woke up today. You maybe even put pants on, maybe took a shower. Maybe you didn't wake up 'cause you've actually been really tired and you've been fighting sleep, so you slept a long time. You got that promotion, maybe you didn't get it but you resolve to reply again to something different, and still keep working. You went on a date. You were kind to someone, you were kind to yourself. You laughed or you cried when you needed to, and you acknowledge when you were feeling things that maybe wouldn't make other people feel comfortable. You didn't explain yourself.

Amena Brown: A word today.

Makeda Lewis: You didn't explain yourself. You said no, and it didn't have a last name. You said yes, to things that you really wanted to do. Maybe you bought yourself some nice shit, maybe you didn't buy yourself anything 'cause it was responsible for you to not do that. You filed your taxes. Technically you're a little bit early 'cause tax day ain't really 'til the middle of April. So you doing good! You doing good! You made a payment. Maybe you were quiet, maybe you were just quiet. Maybe you worked really hard today. Maybe you picked up your kids, you took care of them like you be doing. But I just wanna shout out to you even though you do whatever you do, everyday, or maybe just today. Maybe today is the first time in a long time that you've done it. I am giving you this, She Did That Award, because I am super fucking proud of you. And I want you to keep doing it, or keep not doing it.

Amena Brown: That was one of my favorite, She Did That Awards. Because it was like an affirmation and a manifesto, in addition to being a, She Did That Award. You did that, that was dope.

Makeda Lewis: Oh wait. I have one more. Listener, I am proud of you for being okay when the journey that you are on didn't match up to what you were told it was supposed to look like.

Amena Brown: I didn't ask you to be in my business, either.

Makeda Lewis: This looked like the mailbox that I was supposed to be at, I'm just saying. I'm proud of you for being okay and for not being okay. Being okay with saying that you're not okay. I'm proud of you for being vocal. Or I'm proud of you for being quiet when people would gladly dig into your throat and pull out everything they can. Okay. I think that's it.

Amena Brown: I want y'all to just understand, the ways that my sister be like, "Oh I don't write anymore I'm doing my visual arts stuff." And then she just gon' bring out here, you're gonna no and it doesn't have a last name. I want you to know, that I have not forgotten that that's what was said.

Amena Brown: If people want to follow you. Want to, get a copy of Avie's Dreams.

Makeda Lewis: Oh true.

Amena Brown: Want to, just know when you are doing these solo shows, group shows, curating shows. Just they wanna know. Where do they need to go, what do they need to be doing?

Makeda Lewis: Okay, so I be on the twitters, I be on the bird. I be on the bird bein real messy. And my Twitter name is themakeda, Makeda as in the song by Les Nubians. I'm also on Instagram as hungermakesme, and I host events and I organize things in Atlanta. So if you're local or if you're ever in town, send me a message, come through to a thing. I cannot guarantee that you'll get a response if you send me a message because I am actually very picky about responding. I'm sorry, I just wanna be honest with you guys I don't want y'all to think that y'all finna be hittin me up and that I'm gonna reply to y'all.

Makeda Lewis: And also if you are gonna send me a message and ask me a question. First, I want you to ask yourself, is this something you could Google. Because if you could find the answer from Google, don't ask me that. Other than that actually, I do really like connecting with people. I know that seems antithetical to what I just said. I really like connecting with people. I'm also really awkward and sometimes I don't... I don't know I'm like a, what they call it, a ambivert?

Amena Brown: Oh ambivert. I think I am too.

Makeda Lewis: Yeah. Like sometimes I'll be on and then sometimes I'll be like...

Amena Brown: It's like when I'm on, I'm really on. But when I'm not on though, I'm really by myself.

Makeda Lewis: So I don't ever want you to feel offended. If you see me out somewhere and you wanna say hey, please do say hey. Whether I'm on or off, please say hey. Follow me on the things.

Amena Brown: My sister, thank you, for joining me on my Podcast.

Makeda Lewis: Thank you my sister for joining me on my Podcast.

Amena Brown: Yeah, you know I think you're dope. So I'm happy to, not only share you with my listeners, but you just closed this episode with such a wonderful affirmation everyone. I might have to take that chunk out and re-post it again. And be like, "Go back and listen to this. Listeners you did that today." Thank you my sister, I appreciate you.

Makeda Lewis: Yeah. I love you, this was great.

Amena Brown: I love you.

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Transcript: HER With Amena Brown Episode 26: Becoming An Author with Alia Joy

Amena Brown: [00:00:25] Hey, everybody. Welcome back to HER With Amena Brown and I'm Amena Brown. I'm so excited we are here in Season 3. 

Amena Brown: [00:00:35] Some of you this may be your first episode you're listening to. And there are two seasons before this that I would love for you to check out. With season three is really exciting for me because the theme is create. Which means I'm getting to talk to all of these amazing women who are creating things and founding things and doing the things. 

Amena Brown: [00:00:55] Today I have author and speaker Alia Joy with me and I want to read this line from her bio because I just love it so much. I think it articulates so well what she does. It says she is an author-speaker who poignantly shares about her life with bipolar disorder, as well as grief, faith, marriage, poverty, race, embodiment, and keeping fluent in the language of hope. Whew. Show your love for Alia Joy. Whoo! I always clap, Alia. And I know it's like an episode but I always have it. 

Alia Joy: [00:01:29] I love it. 

Amena Brown: [00:01:29] You know there's not a crowd here so I just feel like I need to say. 

Alia Joy: [00:01:33] I'm feeling it. 

Amena Brown: [00:01:35] Thank you so so much for joining me, Alia. I'm so happy to have you. 

Alia Joy: [00:01:39] Thank you for having me. 

Amena Brown: [00:01:41] So, Alia and I were actually trying to figure out how we know each other and we're thankful for the Internet because sometimes that's a part of how you connect with the person. But so far Alia and I have surmised that we met at a writers conference at Allume and met there. And I did I did what I would like to call a little lonely writing workshop. 

[00:02:08] I was asked at Allume to do like a breakout session and I do it as a writing workshop and at a conference full of writers. There were only five of us I think in the room and you know. 

Alia Joy: [00:02:22] There's more than that. 

Amena Brown: [00:02:24] Seven. 

Alia Joy: [00:02:24] Isn't there? OK I remember more. 

Amena Brown: [00:02:28] And Alia was there and I think we were writing along the theme of shoes if I remember. 

Alia Joy: [00:02:35] Yes yes. 

Amena Brown: [00:02:36] And Alia was there writing and sharing with us what she was writing and we were all like. "Tell us more. Read us more." So that's when I started following you online and then a a while went by. We didn't see each other. I just saw you online and the next time I saw you, I was like "Alia! Our long lost moment.". 

Alia Joy: [00:03:00] It's all so spread out. I love those conferences. 

Amena Brown: [00:03:03] Yes. So I'm really thankful for the Internet in these ways because it helps me to stay connected with people who are so amazing and so brilliant like you. And I got an email from Alia about her book and we're gonna be talking a lot more about this but I want to make sure I mentioned it here. Alia's book is coming out April 2nd Glorious Weakness: Discovering God in All We Lack. And I had the honor of endorsing this book. I'm not able to endorse a lot of books so a lot of requests come in that I have to say no to but I'm really glad I said yes to Alia's request because this book, hoo y'all. 

Amena Brown: [00:03:39] Mm hmm. So we can talk about this book. Before we get to that, I want to talk about the moment when you called yourself a writer. I always start off asking each guest an origin story. And I think it's interesting you know when we, those of us, I mean obviously I feel a kinship with you because I'm also a writer. And of course I remember growing up and reading books and a part of my reading books becoming the thing that really made me want to become a writer. But it's even more interesting to me to think about what's the moment where I finally would have said in a conversation to someone, "Oh that's what I do. I am a writer." Do you remember that moment for you or what the season of life was like when you were finally able to say those words and say them with confidence? Or not. 

Alia Joy: [00:04:24] Yeah it's funny. I had just tweeted the other day. I said something like somebody had asked a question about, is your Twitter persona the same as your in real life persona? And I tweeted something about like I pretty much never tell people I'm a writer in real life, like small talk stuff. I mean, obviously my close people know that I'm a writer but I don't I don't ever really lead with that. It's usually my husband who outs me. He's like, "oh she's a writer. She has a book coming out." And then you know they obviously ask me all about being an author and my book and I usually like have awkward pauses and or I ramble incessantly with word salad. So I don't. I mean I do call myself a writer. 

Alia Joy: [00:05:05] I am a writer but I still think, yeah, it's something that's it's kind of a strange identity to have. And so for me I think I have always written. From the time that I was really little I would journal I still have boxes and boxes of journals that I have made my husband promised to burn if I ever die. He. Yeah I just I think that you know I never intended to start blogging. I never intended really to start writing the way that I do write. It was kind of upside down and backwards and accidental. And so when I started blogging I was like a blogger. But I never. That identity never really fit me because I'm not a marketer. I'm not. I just like the words. So as things have transitioned kind of away from some of the—I don't want to say gimmicky because I think there are people that do it really well. But just some of the stuff that went with blogging back in the day and has kind of streamlined down to places where the words really matter. 

Alia Joy: [00:06:12] I think that was when I started to come into my own and own the fact that I was a writer so I want to say it's probably a year or two after I was started blogging where I really felt like this is something that I was made to do. I like the Chariots of Fire. Eric Liddell said you know God made me fast and when I write or when I run I feel this pleasure. And I feel that about writing. You know this is my one thing where when I write, I really feel God's pleasure. 

Alia Joy: [00:06:41] And so I think that identity as a writer has been continuing to form. I can't pinpoint one spot where I was like, Now I'm a writer. It's kind of an awkward thing that I try on. And you know I've walked around in for a while now but it's still it's still a little strange. I think because in normal in the normal world, it's like a weird profession, you know, to be a writer. It's a weird world. 

Alia Joy: [00:07:06] So online I'm like yeah I'm a writer and I talk about writing all the time. But because it's not a part of my I mean in my everyday life I'm just Alia and I'm a mom and you know I'm just a normal. And so yeah I don't I don't think that's. I don't know. I would definitely call myself a writer but don't think about it too much. 

Amena Brown: [00:07:28] Yeah. Which is kind of. It's kind of interesting. It's kind of a Clark Kent Superman dynamic there. I dated a guy once who was also an artist and he would all he. That was one of the first questions I remember he asked me like on a first date. It was like, "You know, what's what's your Clark Kent? You know, it's like I know you're you go and do things on stage." But he was like what's your what's your Clark Kent you do. And I think writing is kind of interesting that way because if you don't write in a way that means it would be something you'd talk about at a cocktail party or that someone would be like catch you doing. You know like it happens to me sometimes. Sometimes someone can be at a show and be like, "No I saw you there" and you were there performing you know. But nobody's like seeing you at your desk crying or whatever we're doing. 

Alia Joy: [00:08:18] Right. 

Amena Brown: [00:08:19] When we're writing you know so it is this interesting Clark Kent Superman connection that nobody nobody has to know if we don't sort of out ourselves or you know have our loved ones out us. Your husband did. 

Alia Joy: [00:08:33] Yes. Totally. Every single time I should have words prepared by now. But I'm like I wrote fifty two thousand words in a book. And still when they're like, oh what do you write about? I'm like blah. You know. Like with me, well, I have bipolar disorder and I write about grief and suicidal ideation. Like it's just, it's one of those like big conversation leaks. So you know I usually say, "Well, I write you know spiritual memoir." And then you know as it gets further I'll talk about you know I write about mental illness and stuff like that but it's always that weird pause where I'm like oh. 

Amena Brown: [00:09:07] How do I explain to you I sit at my desk with some tissue and just hoping for the best. That's that's what I should say from now on. People are like, "so what is it you do?" I sit at my desk with a box of tissue. 

Alia Joy: [00:09:24] That's definitely true. 

Amena Brown: [00:09:25] And a notebook and I hope for the best. That's what I do. I want to ask you about what was it like transitioning from blog writing to book writing. Because I know for me was it was a very interesting transition to go from like writing poems into writing you know nonfiction in book form. What was that transition like for you? Or did you find that the blogging sort of helped you and your book writing process? 

Alia Joy: [00:09:55] The blogging helped in some ways because a lot of the material that I've been talking about forever may only have one story in this specific book. You know when you're doing kind of like a memoir you're picking certain. Pretty much cherry picking certain stories to be in this arc or in this narrative. And you know somebody could read this book and think Oh I know everything about Alia Joy. But there are giant chapters years of my life that are not didn't make it into the book. And so I tend to be pretty verb— verbose and I tend to write long. I don't typically write for places that are like you need to write a 500 word, you know, that's our max. Because I just I wish I could get it done like you and have you know the words be super fierce. When it's but I'm just I'm not I'm not as good at that. That's a lot harder. So I tend to write long form anyway. So I think the transition for the writing part to the book writing was actually easy for me. I feel like I've been talking about this stuff. For so long. I knew which stories I wanted to put in I knew where I was going in terms of that stuff. So the that part wasn't hard. 

Alia Joy: [00:10:59] I think the biggest issue for me from blog writing to book writing was dealing with Imposter Syndrome. Dealing with, "they gave me a book deal and why the heck would they give me a book deal?" Like I'm not anybody, you know? And who am I to talk about like anything and who's gonna buy this book. And coming from you know some of the places that I was coming from and some of the things I was writing about. 

Alia Joy: [00:11:24] It took me a little bit to shake that off and to kind of figure out like who is this book really for. I feel like when I went into it I knew exactly who my reader was and I was like, "This is who I'm writing it for." And and you know very much this vision for it and the vision for the message and a vision for the person that I felt really really needed this book. And then there's the periphery people that will pick it up but whatever but when I was writing and I'm like This is the woman that I am writing for. This is the person this is what she's feeling this is what she does what her life's been like. But then when I went through the whole publishing process and you do the book proposal and you send it out and you know everybody's critiquing everything and they're looking for marketing angles and platform and influence and who do you know and how do you you know how we're gonna package this how we're going to market this. 

Alia Joy: [00:12:09] By the time I got to past all of that I had a lot of voices in my head that were that I was like just dealing with. And I had to eventually just I mean I was pretty frozen for the first couple months of book writing. Like I just would sit there and be like writing words and then you know it's like I completely forgot how to write. This is all terrible. And I remember reading at one time to my mom I had maybe a couple thousand words. And she said, "this doesn't sound like you it sounds like your you know trying to—." I think what I was trying to do is write for every audience, was trying like in my mind I had all the critics that are gonna say yeah but what about this or oh but she's too emotional here Oh she's too flowery here Oh this is too I don't know you know all of that stuff. And so all of that was in my head when I was trying to write and I think I was just I was writing solely to the critics and I was not writing to my reader. And once I was able to just be like, ya'll sit down. I'm you know me and her talking. Then the book came out and I think yeah I think that really was the process for me and has been with a lot of my writing. I feel like people talk about you know getting over your fear. I write scared pretty much all the time and I haven't gotten over it. I do it anyway. 

Amena Brown: [00:13:29] Ooh. I love that. I write scared. I'm like I try to clean my baseboards scared instead of writing scared. I get scared of writing and then I'm like What are the other things I might— 

Alia Joy: [00:13:43] Right. 

Amena Brown: [00:13:43] To do instead. But I I really love the way you describe that process though because I think it's interesting whenever we are creating the voices that enter that room with us. And sometimes you know it's a muse that we have you know like I remember when we were studying Alice Walker in school and she would always talk about how like her characters were talking to her. I thought that was so strange until I experienced it myself in writing that sometimes it's a muse or The Voice. Because coming in to tell you what to say and sometimes it is the critic that has entered the room now and is like bup bup bup bup. Maybe let's not write that the people are—you know. 

Amena Brown: [00:14:24] And these things you get ready to say and how a part of it is sort of you as the writer standing up on their own and be like you you you get out. You: sit closer. You: be quiet. You know? 

Alia Joy: [00:14:39] Totally. 

Amena Brown: [00:14:41] I want to talk more about your book and I I. I just I love your book. I love your writing. I love your voice as a writer. I love how it is vulnerable and beautiful and artful. I just I love it. And then I was reading this book and just felt so impacted so I want to talk about Glorious Weakness: Discovering God in All We Lack. And I want to read one of my favorite excerpts from it. I will not be able to read it with Alia Joy voice but I will do the best I can with my Amena voice here Mm hmm. This is one of my favorite passages here. 

Amena Brown: [00:15:29] You said: "I am thirty nine years old. Most every picture taken of me I'm smiling at the camera with my lips closed like I'm holding in a secret. When I go to restaurants I'm careful to only order things I'm able to chew with my front teeth and my one set of connecting molars. Nothing indicates your station in life more than poor teeth. The poor don't go to the dentist until their brittle teeth shatter like porcelain, leaving them with a jaw full of rubble. Even then, most dentists don't take random people who can afford little more than a fragment of what's due and when I've sat in the dentist chair I've often been met with disdain and judgment when the modeled x-ray is slapped onto the lightbox displaying all the ways I failed in basic hygiene and discipline. To fix each tooth would be hundreds if not thousands of dollars and so they are plucked one by one like roots from the earth. There's a reason we use the expression, 'it's like pulling teeth' to describe something that is difficult and no one wants to do. So I sit mouth agape waiting for the void, the empty spot where my phantom tooth can still be felt, and where my tongue can't stop probing its grave. This empty and cavernous vacancy spreads in the whole of me when they look at my chart. I know what they see." 

Amena Brown: [00:16:55] Alia. First of all just I have so many things I want to say about your book. I have all the things. I think first of all which is going to lead into my next question though you know I've read quite a few books on faith over the years and I know listeners not all of you are necessarily people who ascribe to a faith or who would consider yourselves to be Christian. Alia and I both have the shared experience of having published books in Christian publishing as well as just coming from a context of Christian faith. But in my time of having read a lot of Christian books Christian living spiritual memoir type books I have almost been given the vibe that Jesus is middle class. And that to be Christian, an American is to be middle class or above. 

Alia Joy: [00:17:57] Right. 

Amena Brown: [00:17:58] And the only time I read words in books like this are, words like poor and words like poverty, are typically words reserved for an experience some American Christian had in a village somewhere or in an inner city somewhere. But it was a very distant experience. An experience you observed others having and felt really bad for them that they were having that experience. And to hear you articulating what it's like to be poor in this book really is important to me. Because I think you are you are bringing up a narrative that so many people know and know really well and know in a painful way. And even when I think about the person of Jesus right like I was just talking to my friend about this when she asked me about your book I was like Alia is really telling the truth right here that Jesus is not a middle class person. 

Amena Brown: [00:19:11] You know. Jesus and the disciples are not walking around in a subdivision you know. Like Jesus also knows what it's like to be poor. I want to ask you. I want to ask you why, why do you think we avoid up close narrative of poverty personal experience of poverty why why are we avoiding that? And I would love for you to speak to what is the shame that we have there. For those of us that have experienced poverty are currently experiencing poverty. Talk more about that. 

Alia Joy: [00:19:53] Yeah I think I think the shame you know you're talking about this middle class Jesus. For me growing up Jesus was middle to upper class and he was white and he drove a nice car and that was the picture that I got from the church. We had come back from, my parents were missionaries in Nepal. I was diagnosed with leukemia when I was five. We returned to the States and we were poor. You know, for all intents and purposes. And and so when I looked around I just saw all of these areas that in the church that had no place for me and had no place for my parents. And as I've grown up and wrestled with this idea of poverty throughout my life we've gone through different phases. I would wouldn't consider myself in poverty now but I definitely have struggled. We still you know my husband is a painter he works construction. So we're both high school dropouts. We have you know that's that's part of the story. My mom's the first one of us to ever have gone to college. And I think that what what we see a lot of times is this merit based theology where you do the things and then you get the blessing and because you know we can say, "oh we don't you know we don't have that. We're not really prosperity gospel." But there's a very subtle prosperity gospel that is so present in Christian culture. And when we look at somebody that is getting their electricity cut off or can't afford to go to the dentist or can't pay the rent we think, "what did they do? They must have done something." Right. There's this sort of, they're irresponsible, they made bad choices. 

Alia Joy: [00:21:34] We don't look at things communally in America. We don't look at things as systemic so we wouldn't say, OK well what if we trace this all back? What are the systemic injustices and oppressive things that have kept people in cycles of poverty for generations? What are the things that the church can do to alleviate this burden? How can we enter in with people instead of as a service project but as a community as a church as a body? And I think we don't because we don't live communally in that way with our hearts where we're connected and we're actually grieving when people grieve, actually celebrating. Like there isn't that, that aspect. So I think it's very easiest for us to identify poverty as something that is over there instead of something that is in us. You know. The Bible, I talk about how the Bible talks about blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Like how do we inherit this kingdom of heaven when nobody wants to be poor? Nobody wants to be poor in spirit nobody wants to have that story. You know. We fight against, against it and there's this shame to it because you know I think in a lot of churches if you're poor you're sort of disciplined for it. It's it's a bad thing. You know you you've made choices that are bad along the way. But Jesus you know he was always esteeming the poor. He was always lifting them up. He was always aiding the poor himself. And in fact said you know that he's present in the poor. And so if you're not seeing that you're not seeing a full picture of Jesus for sure. So I definitely think that we are starting to have these conversations. 

Alia Joy: [00:23:17] I see them on Twitter as people talking about poverty and people talking about you know how we do this differently. But for a long time I think you know we also have the stories that you know people that that were struggling with these things their stories were told secondhand from the people that would go to the village. The White blogger goes to the village brings back these stories of you know how grateful the people were in the village and how wonderful and how we should all be super grateful for all the stuff we have and we should give up our latte and sponsor a child. And I'm not I'm not I sponsor three kids with Compassion. I'm not against that but there's a difference between what charity looks like and what community looks like. And then I don't know that we absorb those things into our body into you know I don't think we identify with poverty in ourselves. I think it's still something that we don't esteem. But I think that's unfortunate. I think we miss out. 

Amena Brown: [00:24:14] Yeah. And I really I really enjoyed in your book the layers of how you talked about the experience of being poor that we can we can know poverty in an economic sense and we can know poverty in a systemic sense and we can know poverty in a social and spiritual sense as well. And I really appreciated the layers that you were excavating there. It made me think about you know when I had a chance with a nonprofit to visit the Dominican Republic and you know it's one of those kind of you know the bloggers and whoever influencers get invited to kind of see this work the nonprofit does and you get to be with different leaders there from that country. And I will never forget our our closing time with our Dominican brothers and sisters that had been there with us kind of showing us you know what the country was like and you know showing us some of the hardships of some of the people there at the end. One of the Dominican leaders prayed for all of us as Americans and he looked at us and he said I want to pray for you because I know when you go back it's hard for you. And there was something about him saying that that really broke me down deep within because I realized he looked at us and also saw our poverty. 

Alia Joy: [00:25:38] Yeah. 

Amena Brown: [00:25:39] In our souls and in our mentalities about certain things. And I I really appreciated that you spoke to that and I think one of the other things I really think is important about just the narrative of what you're writing here in this book is I it just made me it made me really want to interrogate my own thinking about some things you know and just to really think about sort of what are what are the narratives I'm laying on top of other stories. So for example I feel like you know I have obviously a lot of American narrative. Love a hero. 

Alia Joy: [00:26:16] Right. 

Amena Brown: [00:26:17] Love a story that's going to wrap up like a sitcom at the end you know. Love a story where like the problem gets presented in the first five minutes and somehow by the time you get to minute twenty three before that last set of commercial breaks you know. 

Alia Joy: [00:26:32] Yeah. 

Amena Brown: [00:26:32] Everything's fixed. 

Alia Joy: [00:26:34] It's all good. 

Amena Brown: [00:26:34] Yeah. And I appreciated that your your narrative here in this book is to say that that is not a realistic narrative. That that's not how our real life goes. You know that certain things we may walk through in life our whole life you know and never experience that. I think I think in my, you'll have to tell me if this is if this is similar to how you grew up or how you experience some of these narratives in a church context or Christian context but for me a lot of that church or Christian context came from this idea of the testimony, right. And in some ways the testimony is super great. It's like super great thing because you want to be able to hear the stories of other people hear the ways that they have experienced faithfulness of God. But in other ways the other side of that coin that could sort of turn bad, is it was kind of like you know I used to fill in the blank with whatever this thing is. Yeah. And now God did this and I no longer fill in the blank or get over this thing is. You know if someone were to come up to you know testimony service and go, "I used to deal with this thing also still today deal with it, also will probably be dealing with that for the rest of my life and God is still faithful." Like that's a narrative we don't hear a lot of like is that. Does that resonate with the ways that you may have been raised to think and how did you experience that kind of thought process turning to be able to accept sort of the faithfulness of God as a as a long term process or healing. Right. As a longtime process. 

Alia Joy: [00:28:16] Yeah I think for sure a lot of us, the big problem with testimony and like I agree with everything that you said is that our testimonies typically are you know highlight us right the same like you said. Before I did this. Now I did this. And I think what we get wrong and what is detrimental to the church is that our testimonies are only ever how God is faithful to us. They're never about how we're faithful. Like we are faithless people that screw up and and will continue to forever. And so you know if I were to give a three word testimony it would be God is good. Like that my entire life. All of this narrative is leading up to one thing and it is that God is good and he's faithful to me. And and so I think when we don't enter into testimony like that what happens is it becomes performance right. I did this. I accomplished this. I overcame this, right. And I think there's a place for talking about you know the revelations as they overcame by the blood of the lamb and in talking about sharing their testimonies right. The word there's been so I think that's an important aspect to it. But I also think it can prohibit people from coming broken and vulnerable and hurting and depressed and addicted and saying how can God be faithful to me in this space. Still. I'm still here. How can God be faithful to me? And because there isn't that space for those conversations. Because we're waiting for the after. You know my book doesn't have a lot of afters. 

Alia Joy: [00:29:51] I'm still literally I've been out of bed for two weeks and two months prior to that I barely could get out of bed going through one of the worst depressions. You know I just keep going through them. I was sick for like the last year and I literally told my husband the other maybe last week I said I'm launching a book and I can barely I'm so depressed I can barely function right now. How am I going to do this? And it really was the reminder that like God's strength is made. I've got people holding me up. I've got people offering to help. I've got you know it's not because I'm amazing it's because God is faithful it's because God is tender and he what he births, he completes. And I don't have to stress about it and so I'm doing this in the heart space you know I thought when I first signed my book contract I mean I really did. I'm writing a book about weakness and lack and I had all my material going in. But somewhere in my mind this is how tenacious this prosperity gospel is. Somewhere in my mind I still pictured like this giant hedge of protection, right. Like hedge of protection that we pray descends from the heavens and surround me and keep me like stable and safe and well so that I could do this work for God right. 

Alia Joy: [00:31:09] And what happened instead was my meds weren't working. I got sick. I had horrible asthma. I had. I got bit by a black widow. Got super sick. I sprained my ankle. I had a cyst burst. I had a kidney stone. I it's ridiculous right. I mean absurd. I was waiting for the rivers to turn to blood and the locusts to come and I'm writing this book and I'm thinking, God. Are you kidding me? Like this is absurd. Like you want me to finish this but I am I'm. I can barely breathe. And you know writing through this book like I realized I would not have been able to write this book in any other place. I just wouldn't have. It wouldn't have come out the same and so God's faithful you know. It's not. And that doesn't mean that God's torturing me for a good book. But like there was this presence of God that was with me because I knew I can't do this on my own and that presence was so strong. 

Alia Joy: [00:32:05] That I think you know you realize that it really is true. That in our weakness God is present like overwhelmingly present. And that was really where I had to kind of stake my claim and go OK. Like if this is this is how it's going to be like you're still faithful you're still good. And you know I tell people all the time right. The reminders because it's gonna get hard and you're going to forget. This book is the reminder I literally read it when they're super depressing and oh yeah OK yeah you know God. God is good. He's gonna come back. He's gonna come for me because when I'm in the middle of it I feel like he's gone. I feel like it's all a hoax and he's gone and I don't feel anything. And so the reminders are there to tell me that that I might be in the darkness right now but the light never leaves me even if I can't see it you know. And so that's what we that's what we can claim. That's our testimony. 

Amena Brown: [00:33:02] I love that. I love that. It's such a it's such a great reminder to to to stay the course. Like even when I mean I love the way that you worded that when you're going through that place of darkness. And I also it just made me think how my experience in writing books I've only written two and who knows how many more I'll write after how hard those first two were. But my experience with writing books is that you will try and write the book but in so many ways the book will also write you. 

Alia Joy: [00:33:39] Oh my gosh completely. 

Amena Brown: [00:33:40] You know that's not what you said it sounded like to me it sounded like yeah. You know like I had my first book was called Breaking Old Rhythms and I thought it was going to be a guide for me to give other people how they can you know get out of their routines and comfort zone and all the rhythms that could break right when they would start to write that book did. Like what's the deal here. You know. 

Alia Joy: [00:34:08] I know I don't know why anybody wants to write a book. If it's not burning a hole in your gut. Why would you want to do it. It's terrible. 

Amena Brown: [00:34:14] It's hard. It's so hard and still we will go back and write more books. 

Alia Joy: [00:34:20] I totally will. I have another one yet. But it's terrible. 

Amena Brown: [00:34:23] Oh my gosh. So you are a writer and blogger who had already been prior to this book writing a lot about mental health. And you are writing even more about that and very poignantly here in Glorious Weakness. Why do you think we fear talking about mental health and about mental illness. 

Alia Joy: [00:34:48] Some of it is just it's you know societal. There's certain stigmas. When I was first diagnosed with bipolar, I was actually in my thirties. I was already blogging. I probably had bipolar disorder in my early teens but it was never diagnosed. And when I first was diagnosed I wrote on my blog about depression. So I had this this diagnosis of bipolar disorder but I didn't ever say bipolar disorder because it was this big scary word and I had watched this episode of Law and Order and there was some crazy person on it and I was like they're going to all think that I'm like just this person and it's going to you know it was just I didn't want to be that. 

Alia Joy: [00:35:27] And I remember for a while I thought maybe I'm not that just you know this bad thing and I thought I'd have grace for another person but not for myself and it wasn't until I was having a conversation with a friend who her son her teenage son has bipolar disorder and she was saying you know they don't want to tell anybody in the community because they don't want their kids to not play with him and it just that kind of stuff is a very private thing. And I thought this needs to change. Like we we can't have that. We need to talk about it because there are tons of people that have it and at the time I actually didn't know that there were tons of people that have it. I literally only knew one person that had bipolar disorder in real life. And what I've found since I've started writing is that there are there are they're everywhere. Lots lots of people struggle with mental illness in different capacities. One of the things that I have a lot of friends that that struggle with it and that will private message me or email is that their work they know their jobs are in a capacity where mental illness could really hurt their chances for advancement because of the way it's seen. And so they don't they are not at liberty to discuss their diagnosis or their problems or their things and so it's all kind of bottled up and hidden because although it's not supposed to, it would totally hurt their chances at their job for promotions and responsibility. We look at somebody that has bipolar disorder and there are hard times. You know I knew going into writing a book that my capacity was really small. And so I say no to stuff all the time and so that can be difficult. There are people that handle it better and that are stable. I'm a rapid cycler. It's been it's been a tough thing for me. 

Alia Joy: [00:37:09] So I think some of that is that is that there is a reality and a stigma out there that is limiting. But I also think that there's a lot in the faith community. There's just with mental illness there's so much confusion about what is spiritual and what is physical. And we are holistic. There's no doubt about that. But I just I know that when I was in bed for two months, if I had cancer, nobody would be like, "Yeah that makes sense. You know she's really struggling and she's hurting." But when you have bipolar disorder it's like, she should pray more and have more faith and choose joy and take you know spread some oils on her body and I mean who knows. You know there's just a million things that people offer up that that they think are gonna be helpful when when you have a mental disorder. 

Alia Joy: [00:37:57] And so you're kind of getting it from all at all areas all arenas. And I think that can be really hard because you already feel terrible. You already feel guilty being in bed and not being able to do stuff. You already are struggling to get out of bed and go through your day and go through the motions. You're already you know dealing with panic attacks or anxiety or you know all of those things are already built up and piling on you. 

Alia Joy: [00:38:19] And then on top of that you have to prove that you really have something wrong with you because you can't point to a broken bone or a cast or a blood tests and say well this is obviously you know what I have. And so I think that can be very very difficult if the church does not understand how serious a condition clinical depression is and you know a lot of people I think equate it's like, oh they're in a bad mood or they're just feeling kind of down. Like feeling kind of down and clinical depression or not the same thing. Or people will be like oh well you know they a lot of people with anxiety. People like to throw the verses about like, don't be anxious for nothing you know and all thing and not realize that being worried is not the same thing as having an anxiety disorder. And so I think because those lines are are so blurry. A lot of times people offer advice that can be really hurtful. It's just easier to be quiet sometimes and not have it all piled on you. So yeah I think there are a lot of people that don't understand what somebody who is struggling with these things. The very real physical aspects of it the very real emotional aspects of it and there is a very real spiritual component to it too. Like I said when I'm really depressed, I don't I almost don't believe in God like I believe because I know because I've written the reminders but I can't feel him at all. And it feels like maybe it was all made up. And so that is a component to it. And so during those times I go through the motions and I and I hold on and I wait for God to come back. And that's really what it what it feels like sometimes. So we have to do better. 

Amena Brown: [00:39:59] I put out a request on social media for questions that people might want to ask you and Vivian from Twitter wanted to ask a question that I think would be great to answer. Just thinking about some of the things you just said there. She asked. What's your advice for how to come alongside someone you love who lives with mental illness. I would love to hear your thoughts on this because I think I think there are a lot of ways people can get it wrong and think that your you know if you're watching a loved one go through depression that your whatever your instinctual thoughts are might be like well I need to be like, well get up. You know opens up curtains and turns on the lights and you know and doing. 

Alia Joy: [00:40:44] Like get out of bed. 

Amena Brown: [00:40:45] Yeah. That you're like you're thinking that I'm helping I'm doing the right thing and you're actually really not helping the person that you love. What's what some advice you would give for people who may be walking alongside someone. 

Alia Joy: [00:40:58] Yeah. I mean I think that you know definitely people that struggle with mental illness are not a monolith. So you have to take personal. You know this is not going to be blanket advice for everybody. Some people like, no, that doesn't work for me. I think if you really know the person that that's important. You know I'm an introvert. So a lot of people will offer to do things that I know are just they're they're going to exhaust me. It's just too much. And so I don't have a lot of energy to expend when I'm really depressed. So I remember thinking once like I need a checklist like when somebody offers to help with something like what is your Enneagram type? What do you expect from me? What do you like. What am I. 

Alia Joy: [00:41:39] How much involvement am I going to have to have in this. Because you know you do get people that show up and they want to talk and they want to like but it's you can tell it's kind of center focused. Like they're there to cheer you up. And I just you know I can't do that. I can't do that when I'm seriously depressed because it costs so much energy and I'm using my energy to try to stay alive. Like that's where my energy is going to try to stay alive. So. So I think that that it can be hard to have you know one set of things but I think you know we don't need a pep talk. What I want to know is that you'll sit with me in the dark while we wait for the light. I want you to know that you are walking through this with me that you're not trying to drag me that you're not trying to flip on the light you know scald my eyeballs. I want you to know that you're somebody that is present and sometimes that presence is you know could be practical things. Take something off their plate say you know hey I'm ordering takeout. You know it's going to be delivered. You know I'm ordering delivery food for you or I'm dropping a gift card in the mail so that you can order food. Or you know for singles especially that are struggling with depression and don't have somebody there to say hey have you eaten have you eaten today? Have you eaten this week? Check on those people you know. Make sure that they're getting those essential basic things. And then I think they're soul nurturing things. I had a friend send me flowers and I put them by my bedside while I laid in bed. And you know I remember telling. Somebody sent me a nice smelling candle. I remember saying you know I wouldn't have been able to enjoy this like a week ago because I just didn't feel anything. But as I was coming out you know I would smell this candle and I would think about what this person who took the time to think of me and send me that and that meant something. You know those things anchor you to the world. They say you matter in this world and we want you here. 

Alia Joy: [00:43:23] And I think for me you know sometimes I can't respond when I'm not doing well but I will have people message. If I disappear from Twitter is basically when people notice. Like I'm gone from Twitter for a while. People are like, Oh! She's in a bad spell. And I will get people messaging or saying you know hey we're praying for you or we're thinking of you or you know in those kind of things just they just remind you that your presence in this world is something that is important. I think we need to all do whether you struggle with depression or mental illness or not we need to all be people that are telling other people hey you matter in this world. I'm glad you're here. 

Alia Joy: [00:44:01] I think one of the things I remember for me that was just kind of life changing was I was years ago when I was first diagnosed. I had a really bad depression and was struggling and I remember somebody set up a meal train for me. And it was so astounding to me because you know people do it when you're sick or you have the surgery or when you know something that's like more tangible. 

Alia Joy: [00:44:24] And I just had never had anything like that people signed up to bring me meals because I was depressed and was struggling and I had little kids and and what was so amazing is that because the people that were doing it knew me and knew how exhausting it was going to be for me to have to get out of bed and put on a bra and answer the door and let people in and have them explain how to heat my oven to 350 and do all the things. And they put a big Igloo cooler on the front porch and people would just come and put meals in there and then when my husband would get home from work he would take them out and put him in our freezer. And it costs nothing for me but it still showed me that that they cared and that they were thinking of me. I mean it was just it was it was kind of life changing because they loved me in the way that I specifically needed to be loved. At that moment there been other times that I've needed to talk with somebody. I had a friend who used to come pick me up and she would take me. We would literally sit in the McDonald's parking lot because everything was closed. We would sit in her car. We'd get an ice tea and sit in her car at like 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning and she would just let me cry. 

Alia Joy: [00:45:28] And you know she would ask hard questions about me you know about what I was going through but she wouldn't expect easy answers. And she was just a lifeline during that time. I've had people offer to pay for my meds. It seems like a stupid thing. But you know meds are really expensive and there are times when I can't afford to go to my psychiatrist when I need to because I don't have the money. I had a woman who said hey let me pay for the first few appointments. Let me tell me how much your meds are. Let me pay for your meds. That was that was huge for me. So I mean there's so many practical ways I think that people can step in. 

Alia Joy: [00:46:10] And then prayer. I mean I am one of those people that believes that prayer is incredibly powerful. I know a lot of people you know it can be one of those like brush off things like Oh I'll pray for you and it doesn't mean anything. The people that really commit to pray for me like I. I find that astounding because I know that there are people that have committed to pray for me and I know that that makes a difference. It just does. And so that has also been a big thing is having a team of people that when I'm not doing well they step in and they pray for me until I come out. Yeah. So you know I think there's a lot of things. I think if you have somebody that struggles with depression, maybe ask them when they're not in a season of depression. Because you know most people go through seasons and if they struggling with it life-long, they probably will struggle with it again. Ask them in a season of health, hey you know if you struggle with this like I hope you never struggle with this again, but hey if you do what are some things I could do that I could have on the red light to just be there to support for you. Because I can talk about it a lot more now that I that I'm in a better place and coming out of this depression. A week ago I would say on a scale of one to ten I was like a five point four. Now I'm like at a six point nine. So I'm on the upward swing. I'm hoping to get it like an eight or a nine. But now I can talk about that. I mean now that I'm feeling better and I'm up and I'm starting to do better. I can say OK these are the things that would have been helpful. But in the middle of it no. I couldn't I couldn't even answer the phone. I mean I could barely form sentences. 

Alia Joy: [00:47:39] And so if you if you have people that are in your life that struggle with those things make contact when they're healthy and you know ask them. Hey let's have something in place for for this to have something you know a plan that I can support and walk with you you know over the long haul. 

Amena Brown: [00:47:58] That's such good advice and I really loved that you open that up by saying and not not everybody that has mental illness is a monolith and that you know it's really important to really talk to that person in your life when they're when they're in a place where they can talk to you about it. That's just. Thank you for sharing that because I obviously cycle through like you know times in my own life where I've gone through bouts of depression and know thought about what were the things that people did that I was like thank you so much. You know what were the other things people did that I was like please rescue me from yourself. That's what I want to do. Rescue me from you. You know and of course I just like cycled through times that I've been close with people that were going through bouts of depression and the times I did not respond in the way that would have been best for them. You know maybe I was thinking about myself. I wasn't thinking about what would be good for them. So that's just thank you for sharing that. I think that's gonna be really helpful to a lot of people listening. 

Amena Brown [00:49:00] I want to ask you one more question and then I want to ask you the three questions I ask every guest. But I was telling you earlier, Alia, that I'm I'm at the very beginnings of Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way. Rolls eyes and is thankful at the same time. That's the type of person I am and whenever I encounter some truth my first response is to like be mad or annoyed. I don't know why. That's how I have to respond. And I'm like you speak the truth to me it angers me. And then three days later. 

Alia Joy: [00:49:31] How dare you. 

Amena Brown: [00:49:32] But you're right. OK. So like friends have been telling me about this book for years and years and just swearing by it and how much it helps them and I was like and rolls eyes. Who's getting up in the morning to write these pages. Now I am. But one of the phrases that she said in the first portion of the book I wanted to ask you about not only in your process of now that your book is about to launch and be released but because you are a writer who writes vulnerable things in general not just in this book but even in your blogging and other writing that you do. When she talked about the phrase creative recovery. And when she said that phrase it made me think about my experience having written my last book How To Fix A Broken Record, which was probably the most vulnerable thing I've written. 

Amena Brown: [00:50:18] You know there was some personal stories I told in that book that are still unresolved you know as much as I was like Yeah I'm gonna write this story and really hope by the time the book launches things are resolved. And then it was like really hope by New Year's that things are resolved. It was like at the year anniversary when this book release really hope that things are resolved. You know. 

Alia Joy: [00:50:46] Oh my goodness. 

Amena Brown: [00:50:47] And when she said that phrase creative recovery and she was kind of talking about when we create when we when we make things when we write you know when we build or whatever our creative activity is that sometimes we can experience that fatigue after we've done that work you know. And I experienced that having written things that were more vulnerable. You know it's kind of different when you write something that you have a lot of distance from and it's like oh if people critique that like oh I'll live I'll survive. You know if people don't respond to that in the way I thought it's it's fine. But when it's something that's real close to the chest you know then it's like oh no you don't get to write about that in your blog. You don't get to tell me what you thought chapter whatever was supposed to say. What are what are you what are some things that you do or practices you have as a writer who does write about vulnerable things in your life? What are some things you do to help yourself in that creative recovery. And also to help your mental health in the process too. Because I think you know when I think about the things I've written and had to write them from this very vulnerable place sometimes in a way that would send my mental health into a different place or into more of like a for me more of like a weakened place that I sort of lost some strength having put this thing out there. Like talk to me about any just tips or practices that you would have for that. 

Alia Joy: [00:52:16] Yeah. And I think it's funny that you mentioned The Artist's Way. I just tweeted yesterday about why I don't do morning pages but that's really funny. 

Amena Brown: [00:52:24] I want to find out more about it because I'm not super convinced and not all the way. 

Alia Joy: [00:52:29] But I know a lot of people swear by it. I'm not I'm not knocking it. Don't at me. Just saying. 

Amena Brown: [00:52:35] Please. 

Alia Joy: [00:52:38] Yeah. Creative recovery. OK. So I have a strange I don't feel vulnerable about that much stuff. I'm fairly open about my story and I don't know where that came from or how. I think sometimes I'll get e-mails like oh my gosh you wrote this and it's like ah you know it's so personal and I'm like I don't know. It doesn't feel that way. I don't feel like exposed in certain in certain areas. I'm still very like people are always like you're so open, you're so vulnerable, you're so authentic. I'm still very private. I don't think. Some of that is my Asian mom. She used to say if you uncover all the roots the tree dies. You know so it's like we have a sense of privacy in our life too you know I don't. If you really look there are a lot of things that I don't write about. I don't write about certain relationships. I don't write about my church ministry. I don't like. There are just places that are off limits that are just my life. And I just want to live it. And I don't want to Instagram that. I don't want to be and you know I don't think that's being separate. I think that's protecting and protecting some of those relationships and protecting a part of me that I don't I don't think we have to share everything. I think you can still be authentic and you choose what you're going to be. 

Alia Joy: [00:53:52] We have to be transparent but we don't have to be translucent where you can just see everything you're like in the glass house and just walk around buck naked like that's not nobody wants that. Or if they do you should get away from those people. So I think now we have we have I choose what I share. I choose how I share it. I choose when I share it. I do not write that often. And for seasons that has been really hard and turning people are like, you have to write. All this you know be fairly prolific to be able to succeed. And there has to be consistency. And I have tried and I just I I can't do it. And and so there is a part of me that just realizes this is sort of my lot in life. I write infrequently and part of the reason that I that there are sometimes long spaces between pieces that I put up is because of that recovery. And I think part of the recovery is not so much vulnerability but the interaction that comes back. I feel like my readers are very interactive because they're sharing their stories and so I can expect to write a piece and get, I mean, a really poignant piece I can expect to get one hundred e-mails and fifty DMs and you know. Like people are just you know some of them are small they're just saying hey thanks for writing this and I know. But then other people are like sharing their stories and so sometimes, you know, I read them all but the process of going and being like, "here's a number that you can call" because some of them are like hey are you going to hurt yourself. I mean there are literally e-mails that I'm like Are you are you safe are you considering hurting yourself. Do you call somebody you know. And then there are people that are just sharing like this is what I'm going through and it's I have never been. I remember when I first met somebody a long time ago at a writing thing and I was starting to grow and he was like this young pastor I swear it like it was one of those things where you sit down at a writing conference and you get like a mentor appointment but I wasn't able to pick who it was and so it's just like young pastor author guy he must've been in his 20s. I was already like you know I'm 40. So at the time I was really in my mid 30s and he's like you know you got to make it scalable and you gotta, telling me all this stuff and I was like, What is he talking about? 

Alia Joy: [00:56:03] Like I just want to like feed you a snack and invite you over to play video games with my son. Like I don't know what you're telling me. But live in your world. You're just a baby. And I don't know. And so then finally I was like I just am not this person. I I am not going to be scalable. Not going you know. And so it bogs me down a lot because I do read and I try to respond and sometimes I have to just say hey give me grace. Like it's gonna take me a while and you know. But. But that is part of the recovery is the connection after and I know that I can't connect with everybody all the time and do all of that and I don't feel like I'm like the savior of all the lost people or anything like that. But there is a toll that it takes to read and connect and I'm an Enneagram Four so I feel all the things. There's just all the feelings all the time. And so I have a lot of margin. I mean I feel like a normal writer maybe would have opportunities come up and say yes to all the things and I'm with somebody who is constantly saying no, you know. And no to good things, no to endorsing friends' books that I would like to endorse. No to speaking at things sometimes. No to writing for places you know that's just those are like protections that I have to do and so with those no's to opportunities, there's this aspect that I will never be big and famous and do all the things. But I'll do this one thing really well you know and I'm OK with that. And so that's how I recover is I just do the one, you know, the one thing and then I do the next thing and if I can't do it then I have decided that it's not you know it's not the end of the world. I do what I can. I'm faithful in the places that I can be faithful and I let the rest go. 

Alia Joy: [00:57:49] And I'm not going to say that there isn't some disappointment. There are times that I really struggle I think I went through a manic phase in the beginning of writing this book. I wrote a blog post about it. I was going through it. My meds were off and I was going through a manic phase. And during it like a hypomanic phase I only have to sleep like one or two hours at night and I have all this creative energy and I could just go and go and go and it's like all of the sudden somebody that has no capacity has this amazing amount of capacity. You know I could go run marathons and write books and clean a kitchen and learn Latin. 

Alia Joy: [00:58:22] And like all the things and I knew that I was taking the medicine to bring me back down and at the same time like everything in me wanted to throw away the pill and ride it out because I loved how capable I felt. I loved how I love my own strength. I mean it really was that I was wrestling with God and it was like I love my own strength and I'm sick of my weakness and I want it. I want it for my own glory. I want it so that I can speak and I can talk and I can write and I can do all the things and I really had to wrestle with do I want God's presence in my life in the way that it comes or do I want to you know be the bomb that can do all the stuff? And but it was just this powerful thing because I was I knew that if going into a mixed phase of bipolar is dangerous for me I knew that it would cost my family. I knew that I had to take care of myself and come down. But there was part of me that was like I can be my own god if I just stay here and there's that kind of feeling in my head and I can I can I can create myself to be my own idol and it's going to be awesome. I could be my hero. I can save myself. I can do all the things. And to come down means to relent to dependence on God again and that you know I didn't want it. Honestly I mean I'm just being 100% honest I was like I pretty much like this power kick that I'm on. And so for me I think that wrestling and that being in that place of dependence and that saying there are some things that God does not intend for me and I am not going to waste time like worrying about it. Everything that God has for me, I will get. And you know nothing that God has for me is going to pass me by and I can rest in that. And so that's what I have to tell myself. 

Alia Joy: [01:00:12] You know when I'm saying no to things or when I'm, I can't do these things or have these opportunities or keep up because I do feel like there's a lot of times when I'm like I just can't keep up. Right now I'm in the process of launching my book. I just opened a book launch team a couple days ago and you know all of the marketing things are coming and all. And there's all these ideas of how to market your book and I'm just like I am not going to be able to do all the things. I will do what I can and it will be what it is you know. But there's that just that understanding like this isn't going to look like everybody else's path you know. But that's OK because God is with me who's walking with me on this and I don't need to jog somebody else's marathon. I don't need to jog any marathon. OK. No marathons for me. I was like well. You not have that. 

Amena Brown: [01:00:59] I need to put that up on a print. I don't need to jog somebody else's marathon. Dot dot dot. Or at all. Or any marathon. 

Alia Joy: [01:01:06] Or any marathon. 

Amena Brown: [01:01:08] Please. 

Alia Joy: [01:01:09] That was not on my bucket list. 

Amena Brown: [01:01:20] I want to ask you the three questions I ask every guest. Question 1 What inspires you to create. 

Alia Joy: [01:01:30] Well I'm an Enneagram Four so I would say everything. Everything. I think yeah I mean I think everything I think you know I have asthma so I pay a lot of attention to breathing and inspiration and I I've thought about that a lot like what inspires to [garbled] what makes it so that we're able to live. And I really do believe it's Dostoyevsky has a quote that's of Beauty will save the world. And I really I put a lot of stock into that. I feel like as Christians you know we talked before about how our native tongue is this language of hope. We spend a lot of time in this world. Code switching. Right. We have to practice to remain fluent in hope. Because we look around and there's so many hopeless things but I really believe that that love makes up the syllables of that language and the things that we love and where we focus our adoration and our attention, our attention and our devotion the things we give our whole heart to you know whether they're big things like you know huge ministry things or like our spouse or small things like you know street tacos. Whatever it is like those things matter and they point to the goodness of God. 

Alia Joy: [01:02:40] And I think the reason that I create is you know I really believe that the goodness of God is what brings men to repentance. The Bible talks about that. You know that it's the goodness of God that brings us to that place where we get to know grace and we get to know what it means to repent and to walk with him and I think you know by creating we bear witness to glory by noticing and paying attention and that translates to creation. I remember I think I saw Twitter Marlena Graves this morning tweeted something about walking around the world marveling. Flannery O'Connor has a thing she coined it like, Christ-haunted. And I just love that like I feel like that is what my life feels like. It's like Christ-haunted. Like hounded by glory and there are times when I wish that that it was less that I was less hounded because I think it's easy to kind of go numb in the world and not have to practice you know paying attention. But when you pay attention I think we all create right. Like I don't think that that's something specific to artists writers or painters or poets. We are all creating. I think it just depends on. Are we creating something that's beautiful you know. Are we creating something that will save the world. 

Alia Joy: [01:04:04] And you know I 100 percent believe that like good street tacos save the world. So it doesn't have to be this like you know huge like monumental thing. You don't have to write you know this huge book or have some gallery painting or you know I think we think of creation like this big thing that those people do but it's something that we all do. And we just have to choose you know how much beauty are we going to make with what we're given. 

Amena Brown: [01:04:34] What is one thing you've made that you are really proud of. 

Alia Joy: [01:04:39] One thing I see my kids. Does that count. 

Amena Brown: [01:04:43] Yeah totally. 

Alia Joy: [01:04:45] I would say my kids they are because they're hilarious and they they laugh. I feel like if I would say one thing about our family I would say laughing is what we're good at. And yeah I think if if you have the kind of laugh that I have of you like you have to get good at laughing and I love it. There they are. They all grew up super witty and they have great comedic timing and they're my favorite people so yeah my kids. 

Amena Brown: [01:05:13] If you could give another woman a She Did That award. Who would it be and why. 

Alia Joy: [01:05:19] Hands down my mom. She's by far the most faithful woman that I've ever known. She's just as she should have her own book about her life and her you know. Just all of the things that she's been through she's taught me about how absurd and wonderful the Kingdom of God is. And I can never be more grateful for that. So yeah my mom. 

Amena Brown: [01:05:46] Shout out to mom. She did that. Tell my people,, Alia who want to get these last preorder copies of Gloreous Weakness: Discovering God in all We Lack. If you're listening to this prior to April 2nd get in on these preorders and if you're listening after April 2nd just get in on the orders and just order order them like 10 at a time. If people want to do this, they want to know more about you. They want to follow you. Where should they go. What should they be doing. 

Alia Joy: [01:06:19] I am at Alia Joy so A-L-I-A J-O-Y dot com. I'm pretty much always on Twitter. A-L-I-A-J-O-Y-H is my handle and then I had a column at Patheos, The Fluency Of Hope. And that's really new so I'm gonna try to work on linking them all together so you can go to just Alia Joy and find me everywhere. You know that's on the list. So by April 2nd maybe it'll be done. 

Amena Brown: [01:06:47] I love it. Alia, thank you not only for just joining me on the podcast and sharing your story with all of my listeners who I feel like we're all in a crowd together. We were all here together listening to Alia even though I don't get to see all of you but thank you Alia for sharing this with us and for putting this book out into the world and sharing with us what can happen when we really lean into our glorious weakness. Thank you so much for being on the podcast today. 

Alia Joy: [01:07:16] Thank you so much for having me. 

Amena Brown: [01:07:29] HER with Amena Brown is produced by D.J. Opdiggy for Soul Graffiti Productions. Don't forget to subscribe, rate, write a review, and share the podcast. Thanks for listening. 

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Transcript: HER With Amena Brown Episode 25: Crafting A Song with Jennifer Chung

Amena: [00:00:09] Hey everybody. Oh my gosh. We're about to go into the first episode of season three. But before we do that I wanted to just take a minute and say thank you to all of you who've been listening to the first couple of seasons of this podcast for all of your great ratings and wonderful reviews for all of your DMs and emails and messages and comments on social media. How you've been engaging with these episodes how you've been engaging with the women that I've had the honor to interview here just thank you, thank you, thank you. Please keep it up. Thank you so much. Also if you're new here. Yes. This is about to be Season 3. But there are two seasons before this that you can check out and catch up on at any time you want. 

Amena: [00:00:58] The reason why I started this podcast is something that's really important in the rest of my life. I love empowering women. I love elevating the stories of women. I love celebrating the stories of women and the leadership of women as well and in particular women of color, and so being able to do that on this podcast has been one of my favorite favorite things. And we're not done this season. There are some really great insightful, informative episodes coming up. I can't wait for you to check them out and engage with them. And if you have not had a chance I would love for you to rate this podcast, review this podcast, share this podcast. Every time you do that, you are helping other people to find out about it. You are helping the stories and voices and leaders here get a chance to be exposed to people that need this information, that need these stories to know they're not alone. To know that they can feel seen and heard and understood. So here we go. Welcome to season three of HER With Amena Brown. Our theme is create. 

Music: [00:02:01] Change a thousand times. You will a thousand more. No matter who you are. You'll always have a home. Blood boils in the pot of contempt. It gets hard to forget all the things that were said. It drives us all to the edge. Break down, knees are bent. Dark clouds over head. 

Amena: [00:02:31] Y'all. That voice that you just heard is my guest today and I'm so excited to have singer-songwriter Jennifer Chung who also is the co-founder of Watts Media and also among other things is a social media strategist. Welcome to the HER with Amena Brown podcast, Jennifer Chung. 

Amena: [00:02:56] [clapping] Woo. This is me, Jennifer. [sound of applause] 

Jennifer: [00:02:56] Thank you so much for having me again. [laughter]. 

Amena: [00:02:57] I always clap because I just you know. There's was going to actually be some like applause in here but I clap because when we're recording you get a chance to also experience that I'm trying to clap for you. 

Jennifer: [00:03:14] Thank you. 

Amena: [00:03:15] Y'all. I'm so excited to have Jennifer on the podcast and any of you that have been following my other podcast that I did for my book, the limited edition podcast I did for How To Fix A Broken Record. You may be familiar with Jennifer Chung already from that and some of you may just be familiar with Jennifer Chung because she's amazing and you've already been listening to her music but I'm so excited that you are joining me on the podcast today, Jennifer, we have so much to talk about. 

Amena: [00:03:41] So, if you haven't listened to it you should go back and listen to How To Fix A Broken Record Podcast Episode Five: Lessons In Adulting. You would get a chance to hear some different things about Jennifer there because we talked a little bit about your music but we're gonna get a bit more in-depth because the season 3 theme for the podcast is create. And Jennifer was actually at my house, we were working on another project. She and her husband and me and my husband, we were all at the house, like kind of partly working and partly like, "catch me up on these things" and "tell me what was going on about that," you know. And I was like oh gosh I got to have Jennifer on the podcast. So I'm so glad you're here. 

Amena: [00:04:20] And I was trying to remember, Jennifer, how did we actually meet each other. Do you remember that? 

Jennifer: [00:04:27] I feel like it had to have been through John. Hundred percent. I don't know if it was because we went to an event that you both were throwing, maybe we—I feel like you're so kind that you probably had found out that John had met someone. You probably reached out just being your kind self. 

Jennifer: [00:04:48] And I remember you inviting me to do a show that usually you hosted but you weren't going to be there. But you had graciously invited me to be a part of it. I feel like that might have been the first time I pseudo-met you. 

Amena: [00:05:05] I think that might be right. And I was very sad. This was when my husband and I were still hosting our open mike at Urban Grind and I wanted you to feature so bad. And then it turned out the day that I had asked you, I was gonna have to go out of town and I was like Oh [sad sound]. 

Jennifer: [00:05:20] That was such a good experience and honestly it was probably one of the first shows I did it in Atlanta. So I really appreciate you even giving me a chance to show some people in Atlanta what I do. 

Amena: [00:05:31] I will tell you though, because since I wasn't there that night, I didn't get to hear you sing live that night. But the first time that I can remember hearing you sing live was at Five To Nine here in Atlanta, when you and your husband John, who I have known all this time under his artist name, Joules and some friends of yours did this show called The Flip Side. And Matt and I, I forget where we were going that night. We had like another thing we had to go to and then we were trying to like hurry up and leave that to like make your show. And we got there and that place was packed. I was like, it was so packed. There wasn't even like enough room for us to get inside the venue. We were like looking at y'all performing from like outside and sort of like the entry way of the building. And that was the first time that I ever heard you sing live and my life has been changed. My life has been changed. 

Jennifer: [00:06:24] Thank you. Honestly it's, it's been a huge adventure and it's really cool that you also got to see John and I create events just like you and your husband do. Obviously a lot of our community has to do with a lot of Asian-Americans and it's something that we're still trying to break through in this city. 

Amena: [00:06:43] Yeah I really I really appreciated that about The Flip Side, just the the push to celebrate Asian-American creatives, Asian-American artists like I just I loved. I loved everything. It was like every artist I saw I was like writing down all the names like, wants to book this person, wants to work with them. 

Amena: [00:07:03] So I start every podcast episode with getting an origin story from my guest and I just, I love not only the way that you perform. I've joked with Jennifer in the past. She did this cover of Khalid's Location and to me, that's like your song. Like when I finally heard him sing, it I was like, "What's he doing singing Jennifer's song?" 

Jennifer: [00:07:28] I still have to do a cover of it and upload it online. I literally only performed it at that one show. I never did it again. 

Amena: [00:07:33] I really need that in my life. So I really need you to get that on a video. But since we're talking about create, I was really interested to hear more from you as a fantastic performer and also as someone who, you can, you can cover other artist's songs are you also write your own songs. Do you remember the first song you ever wrote? Were you writing songs as a child or did that come to you later in life? 

Jennifer: [00:07:58] I remember when I was a kid, I would literally write my own songs. Like let's say my mom yelled at me and I got in trouble. I would start singing like my life was a musical and my mom would be so upset that I was singing. But she wasn't that good at English so she probably just thought I was singing some random song. But for me I was singing like so dramatically, as if this is like a ballad piece of musical where I was like, "woe is me." And just making up words. And I think from then on that encouraged me to go to music whenever I'm feeling an extreme of a certain emotion. 

Amena: [00:08:35] What is it. What is what is it like to write a song? Like how how do your songs start or begin? I feel so crazy asking this question because. 

Jennifer: [00:08:44] No, no. I mean honestly I. OK. So I technically was learning piano but I really didn't learn it that well. I think my piano teacher and I just really hung out and she encouraged my singing a lot. So when I start writing songs it starts with words. What I'm feeling. I put it into musical notes and I record it through voice memo. 

Jennifer: [00:09:07] And then from there many of my songs were written it from beginning to end and then I'll sing it to an accompanist or I'll sing it to a producer and they'll make a beat around it. But I also hear music in my head so I like, hum the melody that's supposed to compliment my vocal melody and there are also times, very few times, where I hold the guitar and I start strumming and then write a song through that way. But there are a couple songs on my first album that I wrote with guitar first but usually it's the lyrics first. 

Amena: [00:09:43] Wow. Like I I'm very fascinated by the songwriting process because even though I also write you know something that's lyrical as a poet, it's just so different then like the structure of songwriting and the type of like economy with your words that you have to have in order to express like an emotion. But in this hook or in the way the verse or the bridge is structured. 

Amena: [00:10:11] So tell my listeners a little bit more about how you ended up like sharing your work through social media, through YouTube. 

Amena: [00:10:23] Like when I think back about Jennifer and I'm like oh my gosh like you were sharing your work on this platform at a time that there weren't even a lot of people at that time you know sharing their work that way. So talk to me about how you go from here's this little girl you know singing these songs she's in trouble to kind of finding this audience for these songs that you had written. 

Jennifer: [00:10:49] Yeah I would say when I started putting videos on YouTube I wasn't sharing any of my original work. It was just me sharing that I loved certain songs that people were coming out with and I wanted to show to others how I sounded singing them and it was kind of like the Wild West. You didn't know what YouTube was except that people were uploading stuff. 

Jennifer: [00:11:12] So I just decided to and I think it was all in God's timing that I uploaded when I did and I was able to build a community like slowly but surely. And as an artist I think that was such a blessing because when I did come out with my first song, I already had an audience that was engaged. But it was definitely scary to upload my first original song. Because then that's what going to set the pace of what people have. 

Jennifer: [00:11:41] People may have expectations of what that's going to be like especially with the song choices that I had made but I think it was a blessing to start off so early and just letting my music go because I've met so many artists now that are so talented and they have such great music but they literally hide it and they hoard it because they think it's not ready or it's not perfect and I always let them know I don't release these songs because I think they're perfect. I release these songs because I know it's time and I think that comes with time. And knowing that what I release now maybe years from now I'll be like "Why did I release that? What was I thinking?" But at least I let it go and I can give myself and my listeners an opportunity to realize that I've grown from that moment. 

Amena: [00:12:31] That's one of the things I really love about about your music and about you as a person. Having engaged with you like personally and in professional environments. But I love that about your brand as an artist to you. You're very authen- authentic and genuine. And 

Jennifer: [00:12:50] Glad you think that. 

Amena: [00:12:51] That's that's a huge thing to me because I think especially being someone who had this like career trajectory that kind of started out on a social media platform I think there can be this temptation to sort of have to succumb to whatever whatever air quotes anybody is supposed to look like or be like or whatever. And I love even about following you on social media that you're like, "hey guys, this is me. This is me like being myself. This is who I am. This is me learning to love who I am, you know, learning to love how I am, learning to accept myself just the way I am." And I put out on social media to see if people had any questions they wanted to ask you and this was a really good question I wanted to get your thoughts on. Tanisha asked from Facebook. She wanted to know: can you share more about the lessons you learned as a creative after the photoshop incident you had with the recent magazine cover that you were on? Can you tell us more about that? 

Jennifer: [00:13:48] Yeah. So the question is like what I learned, right? 

Amena: [00:13:50] Yeah. 

Amena: [00:13:52] Well, first I learned how much it still affects me when people ridicule me about my about my appearance whether it was intentional or not. But also it was a reminder of how deeply ingrained a certain beauty standards are especially in my Korean American community. Not even Korean American. It's like my Korean culture. There are certain standards that people have to live by, not just women but men too. And you know South Korea is known to be one of the capital countries that promote plastic surgery and I'm proud to say that I haven't gone any gotten any you know plastic surgery done because it was my choice and I totally empower anyone who feels like they want to do that for themselves. 

Jennifer: [00:14:44] But so many times people feel pressured to do that. I've had conversations with friends who felt pressured that they had to do it in order to be accepted. But reality is there are so many things that people think that you have to do to be accepted. But it's an endless it's an endless cycle. You're always going to want to like nip and tuck this or change that. And going from that I practiced grace though to the people who were behind that magazine because I know they meant it well they meant to serve me well and they thought that this would make me happier or make me more accepted by their demographic. But I had to let them know that it wasn't OK because the original reason why I decided to do that magazine interview was because they wanted me to encourage the youngsters. That's the word they said. The youngsters that are up and coming. And I did not want to say. I didn't. No. I did not want the audience to believe that them photoshopping me was something that I wanted. And so I made it clear to the publishers and I had tallies posted on Instagram and to let my followers know in case there's some people who ran into the article like in the Bay Area. Because that's not what I'm about. I really do have goals to stay as honest as I can and one of my best compliments that I feel like I get from being on YouTube and people meeting me in person is that oh my gosh you're the same. Like just as I thought you'd be online and in person. And I might have my bad days but for the most part I feel like I'm genuinely being myself and yeah. I have like since I had posted that I hadn't posted anything on Instagram and I'm just giving it space for people to really read that. And in case they run into the magazine. But I've also learned that the community is so supportive and I've gotten so much love and I think it resonated with a lot of people too. Because I'm just being honest. I didn't think that I could just get away with my face being completely altered. And you know thinking like oh that's fine. That's how I should look. It's like no, no. That's not how I look and that's not who I am. So it was a huge growing experience and how it's always going to be a battle for the rest of my life to choose to love myself and to hopefully empower others to choose to love themselves too. 

Amena: [00:17:04] I love that, Jennifer, because I. I read the post myself and I was just like yes. It's like put to words that things you know that so many people feel whether you know whatever it is that in our different cultural backgrounds or according to whatever that you know standard of beauty is like we need that encouragement we need to be reminded that you're not just OK you are beautiful and worth it as you are and that that's our work is to you know accept who it is we are you know and of course like you said each person is going to decide what's empowering to them. You know in that journey, right? Like nobody can decide that for each person but it's beautiful to start that journey for yourself of this is who I am. You know this is how I love me, you know. 

Amena: [00:18:02] OK I want to talk a little bit more about writing songs. This is a curious question that I have so some of these questions are just my like nerdy stuff that I want to know from you but I know that you've had experiences co-writing songs with other people and I would love for you to share a little bit more about what that process is like. As a poet, it's hard for me to imagine co-writing a poem with someone. So I'm always curious when I have friends who are songwriters and also write with others. Describe what that process is like and how's the give and take between you and maybe the other writer or other writers. 

Jennifer: [00:18:40] Sure. I think that everyone works very differently. But for me personally when it has come to working with collaborators who like, for example, in December I have written for another artist and it wasn't for my project. So I let it be very open. The producer had created the melody and I asked the artist, "what's the story that you want to share?" And from that I use the melodies to like let the words come out of me. And back to where I was able to start creating the foundational base of the lyrics and where that was headed. I tend to write choruses first actually and then from there I have to pull out verses. But it's definitely give and take and being open to what other people have to say. Personally I think I work better if I don't I don't have someone telling me how to write the lyrics. I think I am a lyricist by heart and I'm interested in seeing what it's gonna be like if I write with another writer-writer because I think it'll be good practice for me. Because as of now I'm like, "No no these are my words. These are the words that are going to be so solidified." And if you listen to my songs you'll notice that I tend to rhyme a lot. So in a way I feel like it has it's like poetic rhyming scheme to it but I think because vocally it flows through me and singing wise it just comes naturally to me. 

Amena: [00:20:11] I want to ask also about these songs. This is like a very exciting part of the podcast for me. 

Amena: [00:20:22] Before we get into that part I want to ask a question from Instagram. Naynay wants to know how do you maintain vocal health as a singer? This is a great question. So do you have a routine, a regimen? Are there things you would recommend to other listeners who may also be singers? 

Jennifer: [00:20:42] Sure. Ever since I was young I knew that I wanted to sing for Disney one day. I don't know if that's going to happen yet but it's still on my bucket list. 

[00:20:51] And you know the princesses in the musicals they sound very clean and don't count too coarse. So ever since I was younger I told myself I'm never gonna smoke and I haven't ever smoked a cigarette. And it just doesn't appeal to me because I don't want to lose the vocal quality that I have right now. Even though I listen to someone like Adele or Alicia Keys and wish I had that husky tone. It's just not part of my my vocal regimen. 

Jennifer: [00:21:22] And also I've heard, I was told that whispering actually not good for you. So I don't whisper very often. And even if I'm like yelling or shouting at the top of my lungs whether it's at a basketball game or whatever I always support myself with my diaphragm and I don't, if I lost my voice the night before, I did something wrong. And when I'm practicing singing, if I feel any pain, I stop because it shouldn't hurt. That means I'm placing things incorrectly. And also it's good to stay away from dairy on days before performances and personally for me I don't actually like to eat before I sing. And that could be like all day. So if I have a performance line on we have a long set, I actually fast the whole time and to drink water and pee just because I don't want to burp. Yeah. 

Amena: [00:22:19] I need to take some notes, honey. I normally I don't eat before performances. 

Jennifer: [00:22:25] Yeah. 

Amena: [00:22:26] I have to I have to eat, unless it's within like a two three hour threshold. Like whatever food I'm going to eat, I need to eat before that time and then I can't eat more. But that's actually just for nerves. Just like. 

Amena: [00:22:41] Speaking of YouTube, I've always been like you know before there was YouTube it's like you're just afraid I'm gonna throw up on stage. That's what I was afraid of. But then when YouTube came along, I was like I really can't have somebody capturing footage of me throwing up on stage now. So I just have to. 

Jennifer: [00:22:55] Oh, no, it's not a look. 

Amena: [00:22:57] You have to stick with it have to stick with it. And I learned after getting laryngitis the first time as a performer that whispering is bad for your voice. I had no idea. I was at some event and the singers were like, "Yeah. You're gonna need to stop whispering if your voice is gone. You either needed to stop talking or talk on your regular voice. The whispering is actually making it worse for you." I had no idea about that. 

Jennifer: [00:23:23] Yeah. And you know, if there's a moment that you're able to just not speak. Maybe there's some like vocal rest. Every once in a while. 

Amena: [00:23:34] You know that's hard for me. You know you as you were saying it, I was like yeah that's true, have to give me a chance to contemplate my life and things and then I was like wow. 

Jennifer: [00:23:47] Like carry around like a post it note to everyone so like, show people like, I'm on vocal rest today. Feel free to text me. 

Amena: [00:23:55] That would be so hard for me. You know how much I love talking. That would be just like oh gosh. I mean, a couple of times, which I really need to have a better vocal regimen myself because now that I've been performing so long sometimes the end result of me getting a cold is laryngitis. Now like if my voice gets really tired so I really do need to try this voice rest thing but I just love talking so much. At the times I've had laryngitis and I couldn't talk like everything inside of you was like, "oh I have so much to say to everybody.". 

Jennifer: [00:24:29] Oh I understand. I understand. 

Jennifer: [00:24:32] Well as long as we keep supporting the way that we talk with our diaphragm. And also it's nothing bad to like strengthen your head voice. So sometimes, if you want to just talk up here and instead of talking down here, you're just like lift it up over here and talk to people like you're a Disney princess. 

Amena: [00:24:49] I didn't even know about a head voice. I'm getting educated. I'm getting educated. 

Amena: [00:24:52] Let me let me ask you this also because I know that not every singer writes songs and then not all songwriters are super great singers. You know, there are some people who are really great songwriters but then their songs sort of end up with people that have you know the really great voice. Why do you think songwriting is so important? It's like we have an idea in our mind of why singing itself is important. You know for all of the emotional connection that we have to our music to our memories and those different things but we don't often think about you know who is writing some of the songs that we really love. Why is the songwriting so important? 

Jennifer: [00:25:36] Man, songwriting is it's such a gift to be able to share what you feel. I mean you know you're like literally sharing your feelings and your thoughts and people receive them. And it's one thing when people are like, "oh it sounds nice" but it's another thing when someone like, "it feels nice." And I think that's why even if there's a vocalists who don't write if they can sing it as if they did. That's how you know that they're a performer and they're able to engage in the music and deliver it in a way that it's meant to be. Songwriting for me is so important because I know like as I get older my voice isn't going to be the same. Right. Like when I'm at the age, hopefully 80 years old, I might not be able to sing the way that I do now but I can still continue to write and I hope that I'll continue to write for other people too. And it's a gift right now to be able to sing and to be able to perform live. 

Jennifer: [00:26:40] But I'm sure that that will get exhausting too as I get older-older but I hope to be inspired by life and write for other artists and use my gift, not just to continue my own platform. 

Amena: [00:26:58] I love that and I love as an artist having all of these layers of what you do that can really last you through these different seasons of time and I even think about Maxwell and his first album that he put out. I think he was twenty three years old and he said his goal was to make music at twenty three years old, that if he were in his 60s or 70s that he would feel no shame singing it. 

Jennifer: [00:27:26] Yeah. 

Amena: [00:27:26] And that was such a great thought because there are some things that you know, maybe when I was 22 or 23, oh gosh, if I went back and looked at those some of those poems I was writing, I'd be like oh no you know, what I did, right. 

Amena: [00:27:40] But you know there are some things that as a songwriter I feel like because music can have this very timeless kind of quality. You know there are these things that you can put out into the world that somebody 30 years from now, you know, maybe listening to and still resonate with which is one of the things I really love about music. 

Jennifer: [00:27:58] Like how beautiful is that that someone can connect to it years from now. Or connect to it even maybe like maybe there are certain songs where you first listen to it, you're really not into it, but like you keep hearing it. And then there's a moment where it clicked like the words just clicked to you. 

Amena: [00:28:15] Yeah. Yeah. That's like some songs you have to grow into as well. 

Jennifer: [00:28:20] Yeah. Yes. Experiences. 

Amena: [00:28:24] You're like, "Oh I see why." Like there was some music my mom loved, you know, when I was growing up like my mom loved Frankie Beverly and Maze when I was growing up. She just listened to the tape until you know until it broke almost. And I was just dying of boredom. Like please rescue me from Frankie Beverly and Maze. And for some reason I got into like my late 20s and I was like, "Frankie Beverly and Maze are amazing. This is some of the best music anybody ever made." 

Amena: [00:28:55] Like I don't know if it's like your palate has to change or broaden maybe as you get older or if it's just some resistance we have sometimes just to what we deem our parents music to be. And then we get older and we understand a little bit more about life. 

Jennifer: [00:29:12] Yeah. 

Amena: [00:29:12] You know? 

Jennifer: [00:29:14] Yeah. 

Amena: [00:29:15] Okay. I want to talk about your songs and this is like a new thing that I've never done on the podcast before, Jennifer. So I'm so excited that I'm trying this with you and it's gonna be great because it's basically me getting a chance to share with the listeners just a little bit of what your music sounds like. So I want to talk through a couple of the songs from your latest mini album After All. So if you're listening right now, it's OK if you want to just pause this and just go download After All right now. Just. That's fine. 

Jennifer: [00:29:47] Check it out! 

Amena: [00:29:47] I welcome you to do that and then you can come back and we'll talk through these things but I want to specifically go through two of these songs and just play a couple of clips from these. And Jennifer, I want to tell you what I love about these songs and then I would love to hear your story of kind of what's behind this song. 

Jennifer: [00:30:04] Yeah. 

Amena: [00:30:04] Like how did the songs get written. What's been your experience now, not only after having recorded this music, but also performing it live for an audience. So from After All what we want to listen to first is the song Take It One Day At A Time. Let's listen to this clip. 

Music: [00:30:20] You've got to hold on. Don't put aside what you're feeling. There is a process of healing. You will be more than alright. Take it one day at a time. 

Amena: [00:30:51] Y'all. Are you in your feelings? Because I feel like you should be in your feelings. Like if you're listening to Take It One Day At A Time, you should be in your feelings. So let me tell you something, Jennifer, that I don't know, even though we are friends in real life outside of the podcast, I don't know that I ever shared this with you. So the beginning of 2018 was a really really hard time for me and just for us, for my husband and I personally and professionally. And I had created a couple of years ago this playlist on Apple Music called Healing Tunes. And every now and then I would just like if I listened to a song that kind of was really soothing to my soul I would just like chunk it into that playlist. So it's like hours of music now. And I listen to this song Take It One Day At A Time, at a time that I was very sad very full of grief very depressed. And I added it to my Healing Tunes playlist and I still listen to it during times that I need to be reminded to take that space and it was so beautifully written and it had so much space in it. You know like to me the way you sang it and the way you approached even like the gentleness with which you sang some of the parts of the song. It is really one of my favorite songs of yours. Tell us more. How did this song get written? 

Jennifer: [00:32:22] Well I would say that growing up I've definitely been exposed to my mother battling depression. And she's a single mom and I think it slowly became a part of my life as I grew up to an adult as well. And the only way that I can say that I was able to survive is first and foremost God's grace over my life. And I literally could not move forward unless I was taking it a day at a time. And I'm such a planner and I have all these things lik,e okay, I need to do this, I need to do that, in order for me to get there. But sometimes you literally just have to take today for what it is. And you know now my husband and I are going on to six years of marriage and we've learned so much about ourselves and my husband battles through a dark place as well. And it was really my letter to him. 

Jennifer: [00:33:24] And when I say those first words like, "I know it hurts, you don't want to get out of bed, much rather lay there instead, but you face what you fear at the thought that no one is near." Because you think that you're alone in this and you think that no one will understand and no one will completely understand. But you have to keep going. And. I think that's where he and I are intrinsically a little different. Where I'm the type of person to kind of keep moving forward and maybe to the point where I don't want to face it. But he sits there and he lets it soak in. And I think that's something that I could learn from too because I've always been this type of person that's like gotta keep going gotta keep going. 

Jennifer: [00:34:12] But there's beauty in being able to take it a day at a time and taking that moment and being able to just be proud of what today was and not fear what tomorrow is. 

Amena: [00:34:28] And I think that's one of the things that makes songwriting so important is you were able to you're able to put words to something that you know even as I was experiencing that very low depressed place. I was almost at the point you know and for somebody that works in words, that was very hard. I was at a point where I really didn't even have like the language to express you know how I was feeling and that that's the beauty of the gift that you have and the gift that so many great songwriters have is this ability to capture what human beings are feeling even though you might have the gift to articulate what we're feeling and the other person listens to your music and didn't have the words to say, "oh that's what I need to do. You know I need to take it one day at a time. I need to pace myself." It was just so gentle and moving and healing. And I'm I'm really glad that you wrote it. And so glad that you're sharing you with the world. Have you performed this song anyplace and what's been the experience now? Not just having written it but also like sharing it in an audience. 

Jennifer: [00:35:38] Yeah I've sung it a couple of times. I sang it at my mini album release in Atlanta and I sang it at my mini album release in L.A. 

Jennifer: [00:35:47] And first of all it's kind of a hard song to sing so I get annoyed at myself for writing it. Because I have to be mentally and physically prepared to sing it. But it's also really depressing song. OK maybe I sang it three times. But. It's. It's. It's a song that really brings things out of people. So I have to think about whether or not I want to put people there and if it's the right space to do it. Like imagine if I was doing this like lit party, where like music's poppin and people are drinkin, like with incense going on just like all these lights and then I'm like out there with Take It One Day At A Time. I just don't think it's like the right place. But it is. It's like my little magic power if I want to release it. Because I know at least one person might come up to me and share with me a story. And I also have to be ready for that. 

Amena: [00:36:45] Yeah right right. I love that. But let's let's talk about my favorite song. This is my all time favorite Jennifer Chung song. If you are ever at a Jennifer Chung show and I'm there and she does this song is it's me it me yellin from the crowd, "that's my song." OK so my favorite Jennifer Chung song is Broke, which is also featured on her latest mini album After All. Let us take a listen to a little bit of Broke. 

Music: [00:37:19] You had integrity, I wasn't just for fun. Made sure that I was yours. Got married in four months. We still out here, now it's four years. I'm saying. We were broke. Well. We're still broke but never broken. Flashy things can get distracting, from what's happening. Without 'em, we're still happy. It doesn't even matter that we're broke. Well. We're still broke but never broken. Flashy things can get distracting, from what's happening. Without 'em, we're still happy. It doesn't even matter that we're broke. 

Amena: [00:38:05] Y'all, if you didn't body roll while you were listening to that, I don't know what to do. Like I don't know what you're doing with your life like listening to Broke is a perfect body roll opportunity. So if you missed out on it, you need to just go back and just buy the whole album and you need to listen to Broke again and body roll to it. Oh my gosh Jennifer YOU KNOW THIS IS MY SONG. YOU KNOW THIS IS MY SONG. 

Amena: [00:38:27] And you know, Jennifer and John and Matt and I have something in common in that both of us work in our businesses with our spouses. So when I first listened to the whole album, Jennifer, and I got to this song I was like, "This is us too." You know like I knew this was you like telling your story but I was like this is this is us too you know like when you're in business together you make it through the times that you know the gigs came in. The clients pay and there's money and you make it through the times that you're like somebody please send us a check because. 

Jennifer: [00:39:08] Yes. 

Amena: [00:39:09] So tell me more about the inspiration behind Broke and what's it like to get a chance to perform that song with your husband. 

Jennifer: [00:39:19] Oh man. I mean it's a story of our life. Like when we when we decide to commit to each other we literally told each other, "Hey you're broke. I'm broke. Let's just be broke together." And then we could build together. And I think that's why when we wrote the song when we say like we were broke. Well we're still broke. It's like this uphill climb of like trying to build something. And for sure God has delivered and continues to do so. But it's also us letting people know like you don't have everything figured out. But we continue to choose to figure it out together. And I hope that it encourages people like you don't have to have everything to have everything. You can figure it out together. You can build together. And I also thought it was a really good like juxtaposition like having this like contemporary like hip song melody that's very resonating right now with contemporary music. But to say like as a rapper said that you don't have all the chains, you know. So when John is able to rap through it and I'm singing through it. Like you sing it proudly because it keeps us grounded and keeps us relatable and we can continue to move toward something. 

Amena: [00:40:44] You know that's my song. I love the song so much and I just think there is a lot of power in being able to talk about being broke too because I know like I've been in some settings you know particularly like professionally where I'm like looking around you know and I'm like, OK I know we broke but like these other people are here. Maybe they don't seem like they're broke and you know. Now like I have a part of my set where I just talk about brokenness real quick and you know there are some people in the room who are like, I have no idea what you're talking about but most people in the room are like yes yes yes either been there or are currently there. And it's just this moment where like you get to share in that with people. Like everybody is not going to have it together all the time. People have bills and don't necessarily have the money to take care of those bills like that's a part of the human experience for a lot of people you know. 

Jennifer: [00:41:38] And that's a thing. Like how cool is it that we were able to you know create a song where people can proudly say that they're broke. 

Amena: [00:41:49] I'm broke and I'm proud. Yes. 

Jennifer: [00:41:51] Yes like it's okay. We're not broken though. Like how cool is it that we have the opportunity to work hard towards something and if we're happy while we're broke. Like we'll definitely be happy when we're not. 

Amena: [00:42:05] Right. Because it's not it's not. You know what. You know it's cliche to say but it's true. Like it's not the amount of money a person has that makes them happy. Like that's not where the center of your joy or your peace is going to come from. And I also thought Broke is just a beautiful it's a beautiful love story to tell. That's not like, you know, it's like you. There are certain different ways a love song can be written you know and maybe it's written from the angle of like the guy has all this money and he's like I want to buy you rings girl. I want to take you to do this or that. Or it's like some like Bonnie and Clyde 0 3 type situation you know it's like here we are with all our name brand whatever things like. I just appreciate it. It's like we can be in love and walk through our lives together and partner together and put our little nickels together. 

Jennifer: [00:43:01] And honestly when I know like there's a thing where you have to or society make you feel like you have to look like you have everything together. 

Amena: [00:43:09] Yeah. 

Jennifer: [00:43:09] But we've found that people have been so much more gracious and loving towards us because we're honest with what we have and don't have. 

Amena: [00:43:16] Yeah. 

Jennifer: [00:43:17] And still can find joy in that because you know people want to be around happy people. And and it also just reminds us that if we can find. People who relate to us on a real level then we don't have to act like something we're not. 

Amena: [00:43:44] Let me ask you the three questions I ask every guest this season. Question one is what inspires you to create? 

Jennifer: [00:43:55] What inspires me to create. I think what inspires me to create is when I see or hear art that moves me in some way. It triggers me like whether it's like in a hurtful way, a nostaglic way or a feel good way. Those things happen every so often when I'm paying attention. I think there's so much good art around us. 

Jennifer: [00:44:23] But sometimes there's so much that we can't process it all when I can take a moment to really let it soak in and just appreciate it. I get inspired. And I get inspired by people like you who continue to create good work and are good people because that's what makes art worth sharing. When you can share it with other people and just find pure joy in it. 

Amena: [00:44:52] What is one thing you've made that you are really proud of? 

Jennifer: [00:44:56] One thing I made that I'm very proud of. I am I'm really proud of the growth that I've made as a human being and whether that is like who I am continuing to learn to be as a wife, as a dog mother of two rescues, as a friend, as a daughter, and as someone who has whatever little platform that I have to share a message to people. I think I do seek out authenticity and genuineness. And it's hard to do when people get so scared to show people who they really are. 

Jennifer: [00:45:41] I don't think I've completely lost that and I want to continue holding onto that because that'll make me a better artist too. Just to have a clear message on who I am and putting that into fruition in my art. 

Amena: [00:45:56] If you could give another woman as She Did That award, who would it be and why? 

Jennifer: [00:46:03] She Did That! There are so many people that I wouldn't want to just, you get an award, you get an award, you get an award. 

Jennifer: [00:46:15] I would have to give it to my mom. 

Amena: [00:46:17] Yeah. 

Jennifer: [00:46:18] Because you know she didn't raise me in the church. She was hurt by the church. And she tried to fight me about it when I wanted to go to church myself. But before I married Joule she went back to church and now she's single and she goes to church every weekend and has community and now we can talk about God. And she gets to say that she raised two kids on her own, not knowing how to speak the language and we'd take care of ourselves. You know. And she's living in the Bay Area still teaching dance to this day. And she gets to say like she did that. You know? 

Amena: [00:47:03] Momma you did that. 

Jennifer: [00:47:06] She did that. 

Amena: [00:47:07] Jennifer. Tell my people how can they follow you, watch you, buy this music from you. Tell me all the things. 

Jennifer: [00:47:19] Well first and foremost I just want to say thank you for having me on. And you can find me on Instagram. It's JenniferJChung. J-E-N-N-I-F-E-R-J-C-H-U-N-G. And that's my username for Twitter, for Facebook on Spotify and Apple Music and all those platforms. You can find me at Jennifer Chung and I came out with my single V Day for Valentine's Day and it's a song for single people. So if you're if you were riding solo this Valentine's Day, then this song for you. Because this was written to embrace that singlehood, because it is a gift and whatever place you are in life is a gift. So I hope that y'all will keep up with me and come to a show some time and every stream matters and every you know music purchase matters and check out Watts.Media. That's the content agency my husband and I founded. Besides being a rapper, producer, he's also a videographer and photographer. I also help with brand messaging running social media accounts of people and I love it. It's one of my favorite things to do. Because in a world of so much content out there and social media being something that could be used for bad. I believe, Amena for example, someone who uses it for good and I think more people can do that. So we're here to help if you need it. 

Amena: [00:48:46] Y'all, check out everything that's Jennifer Chung. Check out all of it. And if she comes to your city, don't think about it. Just buy the tickets. Just buy 'em. 

Jennifer: [00:48:55] Please! 

Amena: [00:48:55] And come there and see her. Jennifer thank you not only for just joining me on the podcast but for being such a positive force in the world. I'm so glad that your voice and your writing exists. Thank you so so much. 

Jennifer: [00:49:10] Thank you so much. 

Amena: [00:49:34] Her with Amena Brown is produced by D.J. Opdiggy for Soul Graffiti Productions. Don't forget to subscribe, rate, write a review, and share the podcast. Thanks for listening. 

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Transcript: HER With Amena Brown Episode 24: Season 3 Intro—The Mystery Of Creativity

Amena: [00:00:17] So this is my favorite picture of me probably talking in midsentence with my two grandmothers. On the left there with the polka dots, that is my great grandmother, my Grandma Sudie. In the middle is the grandma of all grandmas, the favoritest grandma ever, my Grandma Bert, who is here today. Hey Grandma! 

Amena: [00:00:42] So when I was about 25 I realized I could only cook three things well: spaghetti, meatloaf, and brownies, which is not a bad thing. But it depends on how well rounded you wanted your meals to be and how many choices you wanted to have. And as a Southern woman it feels shameful that those are the only things that you know how to make. So I went to the expert, I went to my grandma and I said, "Grandma if the way to a man's heart Is through his stomach, I'm not going to get there like this. So you need to get in the kitchen with me and show me how to do something." So I go in the kitchen with her and she shows me how to cook all the things a Southern woman should know. The collard greens and the mac and cheese and the cabbage and the rutabaga. My grandma has no recipes for any of this. You have to get in the kitchen with her. 

Amena: [00:01:30] She has to show you what the batter is supposed to feel like when you're stirring it around and how you know if the cabbage is too salty and how you know if your macaroni is dry or not right. She has to show me all those things but she did and I learned and I got married so shout out to Grandma. 

Amena: [00:01:48] Well later on, now that I'm married my husband and I have our own house. I got my first Kitchen Aid mixer and this is like a huge deal, as you know. It's like now I feel like I'm an official adult that I have this kitchen aid mixer sitting on my countertop. Whether I use it may not matter, just that it's sitting there. I call my grandma and I say "Grandma, I'm turning 35 and I want you to come to my house and teach me the last things that I need to learn from you and your cooking repertoire, which are your cakes.". 

Amena: [00:02:18] My grandma had a tradition that whenever it was your birthday, all of us among the grandkids, you got to choose whatever cake she was gonna make. She can make German chocolate cake. She can make coconut cake. She can make whatever cake it was that you said you wanted and to me there was mystery happening in my grandmother's kitchen. I mean, as a kid, you know I'm going in the refrigerator and I'm seeing like half a gallon of buttermilk and I go in the cabinet and see like two cups of flour and some Vienna sausage. And somehow I went out to play and I came back and there's greens and yams and Turkey and a three layer cake and I don't know how a woman does that with a can of Vienna sausage. I haven't figured out where those Vienna sausages went. To me, my grandma was in the kitchen like clapping her hands with flour and glitter and there's just all this mysterious magic happening in her kitchen, somewhere so I'm like, Grandma come and teach me the things. Show me how to make this cake. 

Amena: [00:03:11] My grandma says "Mena, now, I don't even know if I remember how to make that cake. You know I haven't made a cake in ten years. I'm like, "Grandma, I bet you'll remember. Come to my house and we'll do it." She said, "I gotta tell you something. You know I used to use a cake mix." 

Amena: [00:03:33] Have you ever felt your childhood dreams deflated? That was that moment for me. And she says, "I don't even know if they make the cake mix I used to use anymore. It was called Super mah"...(letters trail off). I'm like, "What what what?! What is she saying?" She says, "Mena, it's called super mah"...(letters trail off). I'm like, "What is that?" I'm trying to understand her North Carolina accent and what this means. And then my brain is going, "what is this vintage special edition cake mix that they don't make any more that my grandma was using to make all the mysterious magic in the kitchen? I got to go to Williams-Sonoma now. I got to go to Cook's Warehouse. I got to order this online. Do I have time?". 

Amena: [00:04:19] She says, "Mena, you spell it S-U-P-E-R M-O-I-S-T." In North Carolina language, Super Moist is what she was saying. (Shows picture of Betty Crocker Super Moist cake mix box.) And if you're wondering, you can go anywhere and find this any place that you would like to get it. So I say to my grandma, "OK we can fix this. We can fix this. I'll find a recipe online that's as close as I can get to your pineapple cake and just come in my kitchen and help me make it from scratch.". 

Amena: [00:05:01] So we get in the kitchen together, we're hips to hips in there with the flour and all the baking powder and the salt. We're talking, we're laughing, and my grandma starts to remember some things. She remembers how you got to poke holes in the cake first after it's done before you put the pineapple filling in the middle so it can seep down into the cake. She's remembering all these things and she tells me, "an older woman told me just stop making the cakes from scratch. Just use the cake mix and make homemade frosting. Nobody will ever know." And clearly no one of us in the family ever knew that this was the mystery behind why the cake was so awesome. 

Amena: [00:05:39] So my grandma and I made a cake that day. (Shows picture of grandma and Amena) That was my birthday. It was a very ugly cake, not because of Grandma, just because I don't know what I'm doing. It tasted good but it was very ugly. I realized my grandma, all those years in her kitchen she was teaching me something about the mystery of being creative. She was teaching me that it doesn't take a lot. You can take what you have and be creative. It doesn't take a new computer it doesn't take all the money that it might seem like someone else has. You can be creative with what you have. And she also was teaching me to never take that magic and that mystery for granted. 

Amena: [00:06:16] Maybe there was cake mix involved but there was still glitter and there was still flour and there was still this mystery that we still can't explain. Whatever It is that brings us all the ideas, right? Whatever that process is we can't explain how creativity actually exists all the time but we should lean into that mystery. It's in the fact that we don't know that makes us be more creative. And lastly we get the honor and privilege as creatives to make something sweet to put love in it so other people can enjoy it. So shout out to grandma and shout out to Betty Crocker's cake mix and shout out to the mystery of not knowing and being creative. Thank you. 

Amena: [00:07:02] HER with Amena Brown is produced by DJ Opdiggy for Sol Graffiti Productions. Don't forget to subscribe, rate, write a review and share the podcast. Thanks for listening. 

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