Advocacy

Meghan Blanton Smith

In this episode, Susan talks with Meghan Blanton Smith about her advocacy work with immigrants and refugees.  They talk about her approach from a faith perspective and how that motivates her to keep going.  They discuss finding your passion, getting involved and how getting involved on a local level just might be the most impactful way to create change.  This is a great and timely episode you won’t want to miss.

Transcript:

Susan: Hey friends I am so excited to share the conversation I had with Meghan Blanton Smith with you today. We had a fantastic conversation centered around her work advocating for refugees and immigrants both documented and undocumented. We also discussed what moving the needle in a favorable direction looks like both from a policy standpoint and a personal standpoint I’d like to also note that this interview took place the Friday of just hours before we learned what was happening with families being separated at our borders which is why it was not discussed. So without further ado here’s Meghan.

Susan: Good morning friends. I am with my friend Meghan this morning and Meghan and I grew up together in the same town. The only difference is is that we when we both moved away she moved back and I have yet to do that. It might happen one day but not anytime in the near future.

Meghan: I like that word yet.

Susan: Yeah you just you never know.

Meghan: You never know.

Susan: You don’t. Anyway so she is huge in her involvement with refugees and immigration advocacy and that’s what we’re here to talk about this morning is her work in that. So good morning Meghan and thank you for joining us.

Meghan: Yeah. Thanks so much Susan for having me. This is fun.

Susan: It will be. We will get through it with or without our coffee intact. So share with us what inspired you to get involved with refugees and immigration advocacy.

Meghan: Yeah. So I actually grew up overseas in Ecuador spent almost 11 years there and then moved to South Carolina when I was 15. And so I spent you know the majority of my childhood around Hispanic people and their culture and the Spanish language and just always loved you know loved Ecuadorians and then moving to the states. I kind of had an experience similar to what I think a lot of immigrants experience when coming to the United States. You know that culture shock. That feeling of being misunderstood under appreciated all of those kind of things. So part of my own story seemed to jive with a lot of experiences that immigrants go through. Obviously very different because I am an American and a native English speaker and all those kind of things. So not trying to draw too close of a comparison there. But then also you know my my faith is is largely what compels me. You know I feel like God commands us over and over again in scripture to welcome the stranger to love the foreigner among you and all of those kind of verses that tell us to show hospitality and that you know our citizenship is in heaven that we’re called to love one another all of those kind of compelling things but then really the main impetus to getting involved with this was when my husband and I went to seminary in Massachusetts and then we moved back. Like you said move back to South Carolina. And we were going to plant a multi-ethnic church. The people in our congregation were everyone from you know people Americans who have served overseas before and are now coming back to international college students to undocumented families. And as we got to know each other and live life together and help carry one another’s burdens. That issue of immigration kept coming up over and over and over again whether it was people trying to get their citizenship or an undocumented single mom who was afraid to you know drive her family to Wal-Mart. And so it almost became a we can’t help but speak up on this issue because people that we love and care about deeply are impacted by this. So how can we with the privilege really that we have as Americans how can we use that in this arena to help bring about change.

Susan: Well that’s a big undertaking for sure. I mean that’s such a cool calling I guess. But that’s that had to be difficult. And I say difficult because I’m guessing it hasn’t always been easy. Doing what you’re doing in the town we grew up in. I know I was back recently and I was excited to see that you have found your people that those people exist our people that those people exist but I’m guessing you had to do some digging to find them. Would that be a fair statement?

Meghan: Yeah yeah I think it would. And you know you’re right. South Carolina and especially the upstate in the congressional district that we’re in we are a very conservative Republican area and just the times that we’re living in immigration reform and all of the stories and you know things that go with that is not necessarily one that is embraced by a majority of the people that live here but it has been difficult in some ways but it’s been really encouraging in others that we’ve been able to see people who’ve never really thought of this issue before or considered it critically or considered it from a personal standpoint. You know we’ve we’ve seen people move along the spectrum and go from either apathetic to caring or even hostile to maybe apathetic and then hopefully we can move them to the caring or involved. But you know this is a deeply religious area. And so when people are open to considering this issue from their faith lens you know and hear the scriptures and hear God’s heart for the vulnerable and the immigrant etc etc. Then people can kind of have that aha moment of oh this isn’t necessarily a political issue this is a faith issue for me and I engage them. But but you’re right I have found some people here. And I’ve been surprised you know how many of us there are that see these issues the way that we do and it’s been really encouraging.

Susan: And I only bring that up just to say that if you’re somebody who is out there and you’re in a smaller town or you feel like you’re in a bubble that is not your own. Your people are there you can find them. You just may have to look a little harder than in other places. And that’s the only reason I brought that up. So you talk a lot about your work with both refugees and immigrants. So can you kind of explain to us for people who out there who aren’t who aren’t in this world who don’t you just hear the words on the news. Can you kind of just explain the difference between a refugee and an immigrant and how that status. What that looks like.

Meghan: Sure. That’s a really good point because there are terms that are just kind of thrown around that are really misunderstood. So an immigrant would be a larger term to describe anyone from another country who has you know moved to the United States. A refugee is a very specific class of person that has been who has undergone you know close to 15 different steps to be approved as a refugee who could resettle in the United States. A refugee is someone who has fled their home country with a reasonable fear of persecution or death because of a variety of different things your ethnicity your race your religion your sexuality all of those kind of things. And it’s a classification under the U.N. to be considered a refugee and so when someone comes to the United States as a refugee they are invited by the U.S. government they have undergone biometric tests medical tests background tests all to verify their story to prove that yes this person has a well-founded fear. And we believe that their story is legitimate and we’re going to give them a new home in the United States. So under under what we were talking about illegal immigrants which is quite a derogatory term so I’m going to use the term undocumented. No one is illegal. Like my existence isn’t illegal. I just don’t have the right papers. So when we’re talking about immigration there’s a whole bunch of different statuses that someone can have. So it’s it’s really a much more nuanced issue than I think people often realize they want to just paint everyone into one category and not understand all the different levels that are at play there.

Susan: And I think, remind me, tell me if I’m wrong but I’m pretty sure in our hometown we probably have a good mixture of both refugee, undocumented, documented. We pretty much run the gamut the spectrum on this, yes?

Meghan: Yes that’s true. So in 2015 Spartanburg became a World Relief Refugee Resettlement Site. So starting in 2015 we had refugees coming to this area to Spartanburg and to Greenville and now World Relief has their office in Greenville. But you know since the beginning of the year we haven’t really been admitting many refugees at all. And I don’t know the exact number now. I think last year we had about 60 65 refugees resettle here in this area. And you know they’re coming from countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ukraine, Myanmar. There were two Syrians who resettled in South Carolina not through World Relief. We haven’t had many many Syrians. There was a man from from Iraq. So we’ve been able to meet many of them and the first refugee who came actually lived with our family for a few weeks while his apartment was getting ready. They were going to they were going to put him kind of out in the country in a trailer by themselves. That’s probably not the best welcome to America. So why don’t you stay with us. And so it was an interesting experience that turned out to be such a blessing for our family we didn’t know what we were getting into. He was from the Congo and thankfully he spoke a little bit of English and my husband speaks a little bit of French and he speaks French as well and so he kind of became an uncle to the kids and we love him very much and still see him now. And this has become you know this has become his new new home. But you’re right. And with all of the colleges that we have here we have hundreds of international college students coming every year with all of our international businesses. We have other professional immigrants are coming and working in the businesses here. And we also have a large undocumented population and the fear you know is very real for a lot of them right now. I work with my my paying job, this is my not paying passion job. But my paying job (SC Test Prep) that I’m also passionate about is I work with high school students who are low income are going to be first generation college students and their families kind of preparing them for the the college admissions process. So one of my students earlier this year was telling me about how her parents she’s American she was born here with her parents are undocumented and how her parents had to sign custody over to an uncle so that if something happened to the parents you know her kids would would be able to remain here with a guardian and she was telling that to me with her mom right there and they were both just in tears. You know both of us are moms and you’re talking to moms every week and like the thought of giving up my child so that they can remain here in this country continue their studies and their you know their dreams just the sacrifices that that demands that I cannot even imagine.

Susan: I cannot either. But you’re paying job sounds pretty darn amazing. That is such a cool opportunity. And I know you guys started that and I just think that’s phenomenal. So tell us more about your what your day to day work looks like. With immigration and advocacy and the refugees you’re working with that what does boots on the ground look like right now for you.

Meghan: Yeah that’s a good question. Every day every day is different. You know I’m involved with the Hispanic Alliance here in town and I’m on the steering team for that. And so we have different projects throughout the year that we work on whether that kind of offering some underground legal clinics or monthly meetings to help foster communication and collaboration among those who are working with Hispanics here in town or gosh. I mean there’s really no consistency. But like last week I went down to Georgia with a group of people from Clemson to visit the Stewart Immigration Detention Center. So this is the largest detention center in the U.S. It has almost 2000 men that are detained there and they are either awaiting deportation or they are appealing a court case or they’re waiting for their asylum to be determined. And so like last week I took the whole day and drove down there. And then since coming back I’ve been talking to people about it and I’m going to try to write something up some kind of little article (see May 20th entry) or something to talk about the experience. So it’s a lot of like trying to experience things first hand talking to people who are either you know either a refugee or undocumented themselves and then trying to take their story to either another group or another person who can help move the needle on the issue. So sometimes that’s just staying on top of the quickly changing landscape in Washington and you know emailing other people in town who have questions about it or trying to rally people to call our congressmen and ask them to sign on to something. So every day every day is different and that is not even every day. It’s very responsive to what is happening and what needs to be what needs to be done. But one of the things I was most proud of that we were able to achieve was I believe it was earlier this year our Spartanburg City Council we were able to push them to issue a resolution that just said we support the Dreamers that live here in Spartanburg and we urge Congress to fix this problem. And there was no you know teeth to it but it was a very public and symbolic statement that our city government recognizes that we have Dreamers which is another term that’s thrown around a lot and what that means is a younger person who was brought here to the United States by their parents they’re undocumented but they received DACA status so Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. So with that it meant that they could go to college because in South Carolina you cannot go to a public college if you’re undocumented but with your DACA status you can or you were able to get a work permit or a driver’s license. And so I was very proud when when our city council passed that because we’re still the first the only in the state to do that. So for that come out of here was a proud moment for a lot of us. I had a Dreamer who was involved. She’s actually from your alma mater Converse College and she when they passed that she said to me she’s like you know for one of the first times I’m proud of Spartanburg because they see me and they recognize the value that I contribute to this place. So that was really special.

Susan: See me and recognize my value. That makes my heart melt yes.

Meghan: And isn’t that what we all want?

Susan: Yes. That just that just melted my heart. All right take a moment there. So what has surprised you most in your work do you think, good or bad?

Meghan: Different things. Yeah. So I was I was genuinely surprised at that city council resolution at how open and easy it was. There wasn’t really much pushback. So I was surprised at how willing our city leaders were to to make that message. But then I’ve been really surprised by in a bad way by others who either have the same faith background as me or who know other undocumented immigrants personally yet still not compassionate not understanding of their plight and the need for some kind of reform. That that’s been discouraging as well or surprising for some people but you know in this in any kind of advocacy work you have to remain focused on the individual stories and relationships or else it’s just too overwhelming and there have been times several times sometimes it feels like more often than not that it’s like what is the point. What are we even doing like for each step forward that it feels like we might take in the advocacy community. It feels like three or four steps back you know on a national scale. And so, just remembering to you know really invest in people and and here locally is what keeps me keeps me going.

Susan: Well I’ll share a little bit real quick and I can’t talk much about it. I don’t even know a lot of the specifics but I have seen firsthand how lives have been changed through this advocacy work. And this wasn’t your work specifically. But Stephen my husband is an attorney and immigration court is not his thing. He does not do immigration work. He is a very fun tax attorney very fun job very exciting work in tax law. He does do some pro bono work. And I remember when everything happened. Everybody was going to the airports last year and like protesting and stuff. I remember seeing attorneys getting involved in that. And first I was shocked. I was like I never thought the lawyers would be the heroes. And second Stephen saw that happening and he saw people advocating for others and so he used some of his pro bono hour work this year and has actually done some immigration work and been in immigration court. So don’t think that just because. And there is a young person who he has actually helped get out of a pretty bad situation. I think it’s pretty much cleared up back can’t talk too much about it but just know that people are watching and people lives are being changed because of the work that you’re doing because of the work that the advocates are out there doing. Other people are seeing it and things are happening behind the scenes. And you’re right it may not make CNN or MSNBC or Fox News or any of those other stations or any of those other news channels but lives are changing and it’s because of the type of work that you’re doing behind the scenes. So just know that I know there are discouraging days but know that people are looking to you and the type of work that you’re doing and things the needle is moving albeit slowly but the needle the needles moving.

Meghan: Yeah it’s my that’s my hope for sure.

Susan: I know it’s tough right now. I know it’s tough right now. So I guess that’s a little bit about success is there any way you I guess in your advocacy work do you have any goals that you set. Or is there any what does success look like to you. Is it a day by day thing. Can you talk a little bit about that with us.

Meghan: Yeah that’s, that’s another good question. Gosh Susan, you’re full of great questions.

Susan: Sorry I know this is hard right now because we’re talking about this today. I don’t know when this will air yet but today’s May 25th or 26 and see I don’t even know the day. And I know there’s a lot happening as we speak. So it’s hard.

Meghan: Yeah yeah. I mean there’s there’s a variety of levels of success to me like the ultimate goal is a total culture shift you know and that really hard work. A culture shift where immigrants and people from other countries as speakers of other languages are welcomed and seen as people who have traits and stories and passions and dreams that better to contribute here and know that dividing line between us and them is erased. I mean that would be like a major success. Right now you know in Washington is like legislative policy successes that we haven’t quite experienced yet. So seeing some sort of congressional permanent solution for Dreamers. That would be a success. And you know what does that look like and what is left off the table and you know there’s a spectrum of people in the advocacy world some who are you know who want more and others who would be happier with less. That’s probably unfair to say but then personally like you know a success would be having a family here in Spartanburg know that there’s a community of people who have their back. You know that’s like a microcosm of what a success would be. So it’s there’s a bunch of different things and thankfully you know nationally there’s a bunch of different people working on all sorts of those issues. One thing we tried last this past year that happened in South Carolina was passing a new law called the South Carolina Dreamers Act that would give instate tuition professional licenses and access to state scholarships for Dreamers. That did not pass in this past legislative session. But you know what. In the Fall we’re going to start back up. So it’s a lot of you know kind of learning from, not your mistakes because I don’t think we made mistakes, but learning from the past figuring out how you can tweak your message. Who are some other people that you need to sway. And then you know dusting yourself off and starting back again.

Susan: Yeah. Wow. It’s hard work. It’s hard work, huh?

Meghan: Yeah it is.

Susan: So that kinda segues into another question that was going to ask you at some point that even the strongest of us have moments where we lack self-confidence. And you guys experienced a bit of a setback. So how do you deal with that in your work and how do you how do you deal with that personally.

Meghan: Yeah for sure. And I think you know as women in whatever area we’re working in we encounter that. I Don’t know maybe men do too but they don’t. I don’t know. I know women better than I know men. Yeah that lack of confidence that second guessing myself that desire to be a people pleaser is all very right under the surface for me. And you know thankfully I have a supportive group of friends and family who encourage me along the way or who help provide perspective if I’m losing it. So I think I think that’s really important is to surround yourself with people that you trust and people who love you and people who are willing to kind of speak that encouragement and confidence in you when you don’t have it yourself. But then also sometimes I just try to give myself perspective. Like if it were you know say try to write different things you know whether that like I don’t know an article for a blog or op ed for our newspaper that kind of stuff but writing does not come natural to me at all. You know it’s like a labor to get something out and just sound intelligent to hearing everything. But like when I’m you know getting frustrated with that I think OK I’ve already done already done this like a couple of handful of times and I can do it again. One thing that we say to our kids is you can do it. You already did it. Yes you can. You know I don’t know. Find your shoes in the morning. Because goodness. Isn’t that what. Because you already did it. You did it yesterday. You know you did it last week. You’ve already done it. You already have proven it to yourself. Do it again.

Susan: I love that. That’s really self motivating too.

Meghan: Yeah, we have a little song that I’ll spare you of. But you know that helps with the kids and really like one thing I’ve had to learn in just life is the importance of self care. You know and so today I’m going to go get a massage and it’s going to be nice and it’s going to be 50 minutes of relaxation. And I think another tendency that a lot of women that I know have is to just keep giving. Keep pouring out, keep investing until we have nothing left to give. And so I like to think of it as like a water pitcher. You know if water isn’t being poured into our pitcher and we’re pouring out then you’re dry and you can’t do anything for other people. And so taking that time whatever that is. Whether that is going on a run or eating ice cream or taking a massage or having a girls night out whatever it is for you that’s going to breathe that life back into you. Really crucial in order for you to keep breathing life out on to others.

Susan: Well I love that you added that.

Meghan: And I’ve learned that the hard way.

Susan: Oh Sure.

Meghan: Yeah we always learn these lessons the hard way. I’m trying to be more cognizant of that. Now in my life.

Susan: Yes. I identify with that. I love that. I love that you answered the next question that I was getting ready to ask you and I love how you segued into that. I’m getting ready to do a whole episode on self care because I have been really bad about that in these last two years really bad about it and my body finally said enough and told me so so I’ll save that for that episode. Thank you for bringing that up. I appreciate that. I have one more question.

Meghan: Yeah well thanks for talking about it.

Susan: Well I think we to start talking about these things as women we have to start. You’re absolutely right we have to start taking better care of ourselves because it’s like the mask that drops from the plane and they always tell you you know put yours on first before the other person’s next to you. You do have to take care yourself. Anyway one last question for you. I know a woman listening today has heard your story and is inspired to find her own way to get involved maybe it’s a refugee or immigration advocacy group or maybe it’s another group that’s standing up with the marginalized. And don’t we have a lot of that today. But you know I think a lot of us are finally saying enough but we’re trying to figure out how to get involved. So what action step would you recommend she take? Do you have one?

Meghan: Yeah that’s a great question. And I think all of our passions are different. And you know sometimes, I heard somebody else say this once that like whatever kind of wakes you up in the night or when you wake up in the night and you think about it that that’s kind of what your passion could be. So I mean I think there’s a lot of people who like you like you said have said enough. But where do I start. How do I get involved. And so I think first you have to identify what that issue is for you you know is that are you a mom and you have kids in your school and you’ve seen other kids maybe who don’t have lunch you know maybe that’s working on food issues and sustainable help and all that kind of stuff. Or maybe I don’t know there’s a whole variety of different things. And so I would say you know look at your local community. How can you invest locally. I think it’s locally that we can have the most impact. I think it’s where you know the most collaboration can happen where we can be the least divisive because it’s you know a friend of mine likes to say it’s neighbors helping neighbors. So look and see what’s going on in your own community. Are there initiatives already that you can get involved with. Does your community have a United Way or another kind of community foundation or organization that’s already working on some big issues. You know go there go their website, e-mail they’re volunteer coordinator. Just see what opportunities are there for you. And then like you said at the beginning find your people and that’s not always a quick process. Sometimes it takes showing up over and over and over again and putting yourself out there in a way that might be uncomfortable for you. And I kind of went through that myself of showing up in like literally saying Here I am. What can you use me for. And it’s awkward. And I’ve kind of had to just swallow some of my introvertedness with some of that. So so you know do your research show up make contacts with people. You know we live in an age of information and you know access to that information is really quick and easy and so educate yourself on the issue whether it’s a federal policy thing or state issue. Do your research become expert at it and then also kind of recognize that we’re women we’re moms we’re wives we’re sisters we’re friends we’re busy people but also realizing that if you take on something new that might mean that you have to let something else go. And so being okay with that and doing ending something else in your life well I think it’s really important. You know when I started on this issue I stopped being involved in a moms group that I was a part of for several years and loved it. You know I had to kind of put that down and walk away from that in order to pick this up but it was important to me that I left those relationships intact and that people understood what I was going to and as I started working full time just didn’t have the time for all of that. But recognizing that adding on also means letting go and that might mean a grieving process or making sure that you have someone else to fill your shoes for something else before you move into another area of involvement. So yeah that would kind of be kind of be my advice to someone listening.

Susan: Well I thought that was great advice and I really liked that adding on sometimes means letting go. That’s that’s hard to do. Thank you for sharing.

Meghan: Really hard. Yeah. And you know that’s a lesson I’ve also learned the hard way like I can try to do everything, but I can’t do everything well. And everybody suffered along the way including myself and so I where I’m at now is I would rather do a few things really well and feel proud of my work and feel like I’m giving it all that I can. And that means both letting go and saying no to new opportunities as they arise and that that can be hard.

Susan: Well speaking of opportunities I know you have massage to get to but I’m going to ask you before I let you go. You say you do a lot of writing on this topic and I presume on other topics that are similar to advocacy and all that. Is there a place where we can find you where we can find your articles. Do you post them to your Facebook page or Twitter or anywhere like that and somebody might be able to follow you publicly if they’re interested.

Meghan: Yeah I don’t write a lot. I speak a lot about writing and then I usually write. Let me clarify that. Yeah my twitter. I do all my Twitter basically all dedicated to this kind of work. And so I am at @megitasmith and then my Facebook I also post some stuff there as well. Meghan Blanton Smith and Meghan with an H, The H is in there and that matters.

Susan: Well, we will link that. Yes we will link that over on the website. So make sure to head on over there and check that out folks and you’ll be able to find all the links we talked about and I may add some fun stuff that we talked about that we didn’t talk about linking but Meghan I really really appreciate you taking the time to do this today. You squeezed me and and I just really really appreciate it. I appreciate you talking about this issue. I appreciate all the work that you’re doing so thank you so much for joining us today.

Meghan: Yeah thank you, Susan. I’m proud of you and the empowering work that you’re doing for women both where you live and you know podcasts you can listen anywhere. So I think it’s awesome how you are helping tell stories. Bravo.

Susan: Well thank you very much and I will talk to you soon.

Meghan: All right. Bye.

Susan: Thanks so much for joining us today. I hope you took away as much from that conversation as I did. I also hope it encouraged you to think about things in a way that maybe you haven’t thought of before. And something somewhat related and yet very related is I am slowly learning just how black and white I can see the world sometimes. I think I’m finally realizing there’s a lot more gray out there than I thought and sometimes it just really helps to hear things from the perspective of others. So if I could I’d like to humbly encourage you to have a conversation this week a safe conversation to be sure but a conversation nonetheless with someone who has differing views than you. You just might learn something from each other. And maybe perhaps move each others needle just a little. Thanks again friends. I’ll see you soon.

Anna Caudill

Susan interviews the founder and executive director of Post Adoption Learning Services (PALS), Anna Caudill.  Anna shares that forming PALS was not something she wanted to do, but felt had to be done in order to help other families dealing with international adoption.  Anna and Susan discuss the importance of surrounding yourself with a talented circle and team of support and that you don’t have to do it alone.  You are not going to want to miss this episode.  

Transcript:

Susan Long:                        Friends, I’m so excited to share the conversation I had with today’s guest.  Y’all are just going to love her, not only his aunt and my cousin, she is the founder and executive director of Post Adoption Learning Services or PALS. She is a true warrior for families with internationally adopted children and specifically for those with disabilities. We talk about everything from adoption to motherhood, to starting a non-profit. She has an incredibly amazing and empowering story. So without further ado, here’s.

Susan Long:                        Hey Anna. Good morning. How are you?

Anna Caudill:                      I’m good. How are you?

Susan Long:                        I’m doing well. I am so excited to have you on our podcast this morning. Friends, this is my cousin, Anna and she is the founder of Post Adoption Learning Services and I’m just going to let you take it from here and I want to know all about it. Um, tell us a little bit about the organization and how it came, how its mission came about.

Anna Caudill:                      OK, thanks. And thank you so much, Susan, for, for asking me to be a part of this. I’m really excited about this and I think what you’re doing is incredible.

Susan Long:                        Aw thanks!

Anna Caudill:                      Post Adoption Learning Services or PALS, I put it together to support the unique learning, and behavioral needs, um, that children who have been adopted internationally have. And so we do that by providing resources and training, and sometimes even direct advocacy services for families of children who have been adopted internationally and then for the professional community that supports them, whether that’s um, special education advocates and attorneys, social workers, adoption professionals, um, church-based ministry groups that support adoption and other peripheral adoption related groups. Um, PALS kind of grew out of my family’s experience, um, with my children and public education. And I know that as hard as it was when I was going through that and as lonely as that felt, I knew I couldn’t be the only parent who was facing the challenge of helping my child learn at school. And I figured if I was going to have to fight for education for him, um, as uncomfortable as that made me. And as much as that interfered with my ability to have a career or doing anything else, that I was going to help as many people as I could along the way.

Susan Long:                        I absolutely love that. That is a hard thing to do, to give up everything. I mean obviously you were going to do any mother would give up anything in the world for their child, but to take everybody else under your wing, Anna, that’s. That’s a lot.

Anna Caudill:                      Well, it kind of like when you get up from the table and you look around and you think, gosh, does anybody else needs something else to drink? Right, and maybe there’s an overdeveloped sense of motherhood there, but it was so much work and it was such an uphill battle to decide to take the next step at each step along the way from finding an advocate when my child needed one, to finding a special education attorney to any of those steps that I thought, Gosh, how many people don’t do this just because the mountain’s too hard to climb? If I’m going to have to climb up the mountain by cracky, we’re going to go to whoever’s office and bug whoever we can.  In addition. So that nobody else has to do this.

Susan Long:                        That is just phenomenal to have the foresight to do that. I just would not have even known where to start. How did you do that? Like you knew there was an issue, you saw a problem. How did you, how did you, how did you know what next steps to take? How did you, I mean, at the end of this you had a whole non-profit created, so take us back a little bit. Like what did that, what did that look like in the formulating of all of this? Had you ever done anything like this before?

Anna Caudill:                      The funny thing is I didn’t want to start a non-profit at all. To me that felt really presumptuous. It did. I thought, Gosh, who do I think I am?  I’m not starting a non-profit. And the funny thing was I, in working from home as, as we switched our plans, realizing that we were going to need to homeschool my older son, Fu for at least a season. I was trying to look at writing for magazines or writing for a publication and everything that you see or all the advice that you hear is write about what you know, your niche area and so as an artist I was working on identifying my niche areas in teaching. And then, um, then when this happened and I had to focus on this, I realized, you know, there’s, there’s this area and I have this expertise because I’ve had to learn about special education and I’ve had to really dig into law, which I didn’t anything about in order to learn how that whole conversation works when you’re trying to, um, defend your position and defend why you’re trying to ask for basic services that the paperwork that the school gives you says your child was supposed to have. So, um, you know, I started talking on social media. I post every now and then on Facebook without naming teachers without naming the school on what we were facing. And then my sister in law was reading it and she works for a human rights organization in Russia and she and my brother started saying you really need to start a non-profit and I would laugh at them every single time.  Yeah. And it got to where Craig was telling me every day just about if I got anything from him on Facebook, it was, hey, you need to start a non-profit. How’s that coming along? I have some people you could talk to. And so I just kinda shut him down, but then I started getting all of these messages by email and through social media from parents who were in the same boat. And it wasn’t just people in Tennessee, it wasn’t just people who go to church with me or who I see at um, my younger son, YoYo’s school it was people in Oklahoma and Minnesota and Massachusetts, California, South Carolina, Missouri. People that I had never met who found me because of a friend of a friend. And they would say, oh my gosh, this is exactly what we’re going through. What are you doing and what’s working. We thought we were the only ones.

Susan Long:                        So once you started sharing your story, you realized you weren’t alone.

Anna Caudill:                      I did. And um, it was really profound in that I drew actually a lot of energy from that in a way. In terms of moving forward and the point at which I thought, oh my gosh, I really am going to have to start an NGO was when I found a piece of obscure writing that was attached to the 2004 congressional reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act. The IDEA. And that’s the structure that organizes special education in public schools and that’s what creates the IEP, the Individualized Education Plan that, um, lots of parents know about, um, and how meetings and things are set up. But this piece of writing talked about special considerations for kids adopted internationally and it was the kind of thing that showed legislative intent, like when Congress crafted these special education supports here’s, some of what was in their head while they were thinking about students adopted internationally and some of the things that people had brought before them. Um, they had that in mind in some of the changes. But that population didn’t make it into it, into the statutes. Right? So none of that actually became law. It was just, hey, here’s why we wrote the law this way.  And when you saw their explanation it kinda changed everything. And so I, you know, I thought, oh my gosh, this is a really important piece of information and this makes all the difference in the world. And, and by that time I was spending about twelve hours a week answering questions from parents, cause I couldn’t not answer an email from somebody who, you know, who might say, my kid is in 10th grade, and now he is reading on a 2nd grade level, and now he started to act out aggressively because he can’t communicate, his needs aren’t being met and we don’t know what to do.

Susan Long:                        And so at that point, no, no, go ahead, sorry.

Anna Caudill:                      Yeah. Oh No, you’re good. Or I have six children and I have no idea where to start. There’s no way I can homeschool all of them.

Susan Long:                        Yeah. So at that point, was it just your personal email that you were still replying from or had the, had you kind of started the non-profit wave yet?

Anna Caudill:                      At that point I was replying from my personal email and from my personal Facebook account, and this is where my husband gets all the credit because he’s such an incredible partner. He kept saying, you know, let me know what I can do, what I’m going to, what I can do. And I couldn’t identify what he could do cause I had no idea where to start.

Susan Long:                        Sure.

Anna Caudill:                      So he said you keep working on the thing that you’re doing well and I’ll find out what I can about this. And so, um, he started making calls and he learned how to start a nonprofit in Tennessee and the steps that needed to be taken for that. And so he’d come home from work and I would be buried on the computer or I would be at a class. And so he got dinner together for the kids so I could study and once they got into bed, we’d sort of wrangle the organizational pieces of putting a non-profit together and starting PALS. And we brainstormed a list of board members and he did the asking and the reaching out to them and just spent so much time on the administrative start up needs, so that I could focus on sort of the professional development that I needed to formalize what I was already doing, what I was already spending so much time doing and what I already knew about. And um, and that allowed me to to complete special education advocacy training  at Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, and with the Council for Parent Attorneys and Advocates and the specialized seminars on the behavioral needs of children from trauma backgrounds, children who are adopted domestically or internationally or who had been in foster care. Um, and because it was that sort of partnership we were able to, a year ago, get our 501C3 approval from the IRS. And back in 2015 when I first thought, oh my gosh, this is what I’m going to have to do. I can’t fight this anymore. That idea of getting non-profit status seemed like such an impossible hill to climb. It seemed like this impossible mountain. And now that it’s been a year since we got that, I feel like, oh my gosh, we really are just starting. Sometimes its good when you can’t see around the bend in the road because you’d go there is just no way! I think I had to learn to be a little bit forgiving with myself and not have everything laid out in a five year plan when I first started. I mean, I know that, you know, banks or funders or grant makers, they’ll ask you to do those things. Where do you see yourself in five years and you know, you go ahead and you give your best stab at it, but really you don’t really know.  It’s all performance theater.

Susan Long:                        Sure.  Because you don’t know what you don’t know

Anna Caudill:                      You don’t. And because of that, I didn’t anticipate really. I didn’t know how to anticipate our momentum or how that would build or, or what success might look like. And we haven’t been an overnight success because the irony is, and I think this happens, you know, as I’ve seen this, I think this happens with other non-profits too or with other projects that people launch.  The irony is that once I decided to go for it, once I decided to do the thing that I thought needed to be done and to go forward with this vision, um, that was slowly taking place. The ironic thing was that the people that I had been responding to who had been asking me for help they stop emailing me and I was, it was because I kind of disappeared from social media there for a bit communication and from those communication places because I’m so immersed in training and so immersed in research and learning everything I could and even in some policy advocacy and learning how to do that. Learning how to approach legislators and having conversations, um, you know, on the political end of things to learn about policy and where barriers to policy can affect people. Um, and I didn’t expect that and there was a season where I thought that I had killed the thing that I had dreamed of doing, you know, by actually taking the steps to do it. But part of our momentum since then has come that didn’t expect has come from what my friend and writer David Dark calls messy coalitions. And I learned that I’m learning that pitching into a project that maybe seems peripheral to the larger goal of PALS ends up building alliances and relationships that you wouldn’t expect that can really inform your work later down the road or support your work. Because when you’re talking to say somebody in the legislature about paddling in public schools and you hear their position on it and they happen to tell you, oh yeah, we have, you know, my sister was adopted from Ghana, or you know, my, my wife has a disability, or you go into the legislator’s office and you realize oh my goodness, he’s a paraplegic. Then you have a different set of conversations and you know who you can go to, you know, to ask about issues and you can say, hey, how, how, how do you imagine we could more effectively support this community? And um, and along the way, the peer organization, the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) I’ve learned so much because they do training sessions and breakout sessions. But then you have people who are attorneys who have argued before the supreme court saying, here’s why special education law is written this way and here’s how we explained this and here’s what worked. And so it helps you develop a cohesive structure to be able to support the families you want to support. And so now I’m finally coming back into the place where I’m actually getting three or four calls a week from folks and I have other organizations referring people to me because now at this point on this side of it, when you’re on, um, apparently the reputation of PALS is starting to spread to other organizations and I have to add that we wouldn’t have made it if it hadn’t been for board members being invested in adoption and civil rights and finding those people was really critical. And having my husband as a partner go, hey, I’m going to carry this part that is not your strong suit. And it really, yeah, people already knew because there were a lot of women in my community and you know, when you’re a teacher, you know, students who had gone through your school before, students who are going to your school now,  you know, their families. We all have wider circles of friends than we realize. And I looked to women who had done some things that I admired. And um, people who I just felt like I learned a lot from. And so I kind of looked at those folks with fresh eyes and thought, well, you know, Gosh, this woman did this and I wonder if she’d be interested in this. I wonder if that would feel like a good place for her to step into, to form and add her voice to, to this work. And one board member was adopted from Korea and originally when I approached her I was thinking about her experience in the non-profit world and with adoption related an adoption related agency that she had worked with and her incredible media skills because that I just a weak area for me and I thought if she could just explain some things to me that would be good. And then, um, as I thought about her, as I got ready to ask her, you know, cause she was a person that I asked everyone else Shane asked, as I got ready to ask her, I thought, gosh, that would be so helpful to have the voice of an adult who had been adopted as a child internationally inform this and bring me back from my mama mission perspective because it’s not wrong to have an agenda. It’s not wrong to have this thing that you need to do, but you’ve got to have some other people from perspectives along the way that might be adversely impacted if you just come barreling through without trying to understand multiple perspectives as you go. And um, another member had helped organize a symposium on AIDS in Africa back in 2003. Um, she worked for a publishing group in Nashville and uh, she and a friend had collected some assays and then that led to this symposium on AIDS in Africa. And then that became part of the back story of Bono’s ONE Campaign back then and AIDS in Africa and the Gates getting involved and international adoption is a part of her family’s path. Another board member  works for an adoption support organization now and another works in housing equity. So there’s, there’s all those people with all that experience who were in, in my circle and they’re not folks that I was necessarily talking to every day and they’re not folks that I am talking to every day now or even running into every day. But they are those people who I knew who had those skills and those visions, that really meant a lot to me personally.

Susan Long:                        Well yeah, and I mean you had, you knew the people to reach out to and you surrounded yourself with this amazing team and one of the things that I love about it is that you were one of those people too and you didn’t know it yet. So how did you. I mean even the strongest of us have moments where we lack self confidence, but you were going into something so new, so I’ve never done this before. So how did you deal with that? How did you deal with the balance of sometimes I’m sure it was fake it til you make it, but on the inside, how did you really set yourself up with self confidence?

Anna Caudill:                      One of the things that I’ve always bristled against, I guess to some extent when I read any kind of how to do this or how to do that explanations sort of thing or or guide is this idea that it’s all about your goals and it’s all about your vision and it’s all about your mission and then you battle down through that. And I know my limits. I’ve probably made some of those clear already, but by looking to what other people were doing that, I saw, that, that I found helpful to any larger community and by looking to the people that I admired, then there was more of a sense of I knowing that I couldn’t do this by myself and knowing that there needed to be a team that could approach this together. And that I had this idea and I saw this piece of it, and who can I find that fit the other pieces of this and help me get my head around this? And, and so there was much more of a sense of an us approach and I think taking myself out of the equation as much as possible has helped because then, there are the day that I still need the self confidence boost, but it doesn’t all depend on me and if I have some dark days it’s not going to drag the whole organization down. But, by in large, I try not to take myself too seriously I try to laugh at myself a lot. And um, and you know how it is in our family, you’ve seen it since growing up. If we can laugh at something we do, so I’ve tried to make use of that. But um, my husband has always my biggest cheerleader and my voice.  I carry two things with me that are very important because they ground me and remind me, you know, that I’m not alone. That I don’t need to be afraid and that others have walked this road, and will walk this road.  And one of the things, and this is going to sound really odd, but one of the things is my grandmothers obituary and the other thing is a UVO card that belonged to my oldest son, Fuxia when he lived in China and my dad’s mother was such a strong woman. And on some level I know, I feel like I carry her story with me internally, everywhere. And I feel like sometimes there’s internal conversation that goes on between me and her and I go you just wouldn’t believe but, I guess the obituary is just an outward token of that, because it’s not like I open up my wallet and look at it. I guess it’s part of that I have that little token in my wallet. I reminded. She is with me wherever I go because she’s spoken into my life so meaningfully that she’s part of that. And it’s part of who I am.  And the UVO card, of all things, that was a gift from Fu. And he and YoYo were living in this, um, a medical foster home in Beijing and we went in 2008 to adopt YoYo and YoYo was 3 at the time and Fuxia was 7. And we didn’t know Fuxia at the time, hadn’t met him, didn’t know him before we went to China. And then when we went there we went to this foster home to sort of learn how to care for YoYo from a, from a medical perspective, because he had some pretty severe needs and this little guy kept following us around everywhere and he wanted attention all the time and he was so sweet and he was so adorable and that was Fuxia, and he was so bright.  And as we got ready to go, um, on the last day we were there, at this medical foster home, we prepared to go and we’re packing some of our things and we’re packing YoYo’s things. And he pulls us aside and he wanted us to go up to his room. And at the time he used a wheelchair for mobility, but his bedroom was on the second floor. So he pulled himself up the stairs by his elbows and took us to his room, and he pulled a little plastic bag out of his pillowcase and inside this bag were these five UVO cards and he handed us one. At first he handed us each one, and we said, how about we share one? So he wanted to give us that. And those were five things that are so precious to him that he hid them in his pillowcase, so that none of his other friends or none of the other children in the foster home could get those.  Those were his treasures.  That is all that he had that belonged to him as a human being.  And he shared that with us and how remarkable is that? That this little boy, would have that largeness of spirit. And so as we took that and we looked at that, he said, I love you but you do not come from me.  and we were crushed? So crushed? Because we did not. I mean we assumed we would never see him again. Because it’s not often that you can find a path back to a child in another country and so we were heartbroken as we went away with YoYo and for the next two years, I just carried that in my wallet and I looked at it every chance I got and I wondered what, what is he doing today? And at the end of two years when, at the end of the year, we started the adoption process and at the end of two years when we finally returned to China and when went to get him so much had happened in his little life and he was nine and he didn’t recognize that card anymore and he found it in my purse. We were at this hotel, um, on the day that we went to the consulate to find our, finalize our adoption. And, um, he said, what is this? and I explained the story to him and I told him about how I thought about him every day and he said, and then you picked me. And his face was like sunshine and those two lives are a part of mine. And I can’t lack self confidence when I remember and carry with me those reminders that I’m part of the journey that started long before my grandmother and it’s going to continue long after my son and so this is not all about me and this little moment.

Susan Long:                        Oh, Anna. Tears are in my eyes. Like that is just the most precious story. And who knew that it would take you down this road? I mean, there’s no way you knew back then. This is where this would lead you. And I just, Oh, the whole story is just fascinating and I love every bit of it. Um, I want to, um I want to switch gears just a little bit as I dry my eyes and every listener who finds this dries their eyes.

Anna Caudill:                      Everybody take a moment. Take a sip of your tea.

Susan Long:                        Right? So tell us, um, as we come to the end of our time together and I, we are going to have to have you back because this is just, I want to know, you know, I want to know how this is going. I want to keep up with this, but tell us, tell us how you recharge your batteries, because I know you’re going, going, going with this all the time. How do you, especially when it’s your children, how do you put it down?

Anna Caudill:                      Well, you know, it’s really hard to draw some boundaries and Shane has been really supportive in that too. Going hey, make sure you get some sleep tonight. But you know, there’s so many moms, right? Who, who do the business of “momming”  whatever that looks like for them.

Susan Long:                        Well this is “momming” on steroids.

Anna Caudill:                      Right. And then, at night, there’s the chance to learn when things have quieted when you have space there’s that chance to learn. For my mom, night was when she said sewed. And so to bring extra income into the house was sewing projects at night. But um, you know, so because of that I, I’m, I sleep late when I can and I allow myself that indulgence that I think a lot of folks probably don’t because they think there’s always going to be more stuff to do. So if I find a day when I can sleep a couple hours late I do it. I putter with gardening, I like keeping chickens, like raising chickens, that sounded weird for a second.

Susan Long:                        No, all us Paw Patrol moms just presumed you had a purse chicken and you probably don’t get that joke.

Anna Caudill:                      That’s a hilarious concept actually. But we also have some friends in Charleston that we met through adoption and they’ve got kiddos the same age as our kiddos and we get together with them every June for a week or sometimes more. That is so grounding and so refreshing and it kind of reminds us of being human. Cause, sometimes you have to have those reminders like that, right? And I’ve also found a surprising source of restoration going with my mom on quilting retreats.

Susan Long:                        I love that.

Anna Caudill:                      I know that sounds so weird. And I would’ve thought, I would’ve laughed 10 years ago cause I would have thought oh my gosh that’s the fudydudiest thing. But, I go with her on these quilting retreats and we sew for like three or four days straight. All we do is sew and gossip and eat chocolate.

Susan Long:                        That sounds like heaven.

Anna Caudill:                      Fabulous. It’s great. And there’s all these women there, and sometimes, the more I listen, the more outrageous stuff I hear. And it’s great.

Susan Long:                        I love that. I love every little bit about that. OK. One last question before we end. And that’s, you know, I know there are women who are listening to this who have something in the back of their mind, either they’ve always wanted to do and they haven’t jumped out there and done it or they’re finally like whatever about this podcast or something else that happened to them today. They’re, and after listening to you, they’re like, OK, this is my time and I need to do this, whatever this is. Um, I like action, you know, we have all these great ideas, but we don’t, nothing happens unless we take that action step. So if you could nudge somebody, if you could give that woman out there today who heard you an action step, what would that be?

Anna Caudill:                      The biggest thing that I can tell you, and I know that I’m spoiled to have a husband who is so supportive and empowering, but I really believe, that if you get quiet and you look around and you, at least for a season, get quiet that so many of us have what we need around us and in us and we just haven’t woken up to it yet. And so if I, you know, when I got overwhelmed at the beginning, that seemed so presumptuous to start a non-profit, I would sometimes climb into the van in the driveway cause it was the only quiet space.  I would sit there with my hot tea, you know, sheltered from the world and I would go. OK, all right. We can do this? So if you know that getting quiet and that, looking within that space to find what was already there in my life, other things that I already knew that I might otherwise overlook, that was so invaluable because that’s how we found board members. That’s how we became open to the idea of, you know, stepping into some other projects that otherwise wouldn’t have fit with a three year plan. Look to the people in your life that you want to learn from or those who have done something you admire and purpose to sit down with them for lunch or for coffee and seek their wisdom. And if you can’t go back to school full time, because I couldn’t. I had to choose between financing motherhood and financing Grad School. And I financed motherhood. And so now I have neither the time or money to go back to grad school. But, I can find ways to finance a one day seminar or I can apply for a scholarship to this professional organizations conference. So those little places and those creative ways of tackling those give you the tools that you need in smaller bites. And there’s times when you’ve got to break it down like that. In fact, when, when I went to the one-day seminar, um, that seemed like the biggest, it seemed like a baby step. It seemed insignificant. It was this one day seminar. It was six hours. It was with a special education attorney named Pete Wright, who had defended or successfully represented a student with special needs before the Supreme Court about 10, 15 years ago. Um, I hung around afterwards, you know, the way that um, people hang around after concerts. I hung around afterwards like a  geek at this attorney thing. And I asked him about that little piece of obscure writing that I mentioned earlier from, The IDEA, that referred to international adoptees. And he said, where did you find this? And I said, Oh, it was in this document. And it was actually in a larger document that he used in his court case. And um, he said that’s a great piece of research and I’ve held onto that like it was Easter candy cause it was so affirming.. That’s really helped me through some hard things. So find your Easter candy look around, look within, and find your Easter candy. You know, look at your own life and find the things that in retrospect, even if it was just one thing that prepared you for this moment, what was, who was there and what was that moment and for me it was when we didn’t expect that somebody had spoken to somebody else about us, and we got this call from Washington saying that we had been honored as Angels in Adoption and would we come up to this week long celebration. And at first I thought it was a prank because I was in the hospital with YoYo he was recovering from surgery and I thought, oh my gosh, who is teasing me and trying to get me to laugh while I’m in the hospital. And it turned out no, it was a very legitimate thing and an incredible organization that has a tremendous impact on adoption. And so we went up and we took part in this in, in Washington DC and when it was all over later, as I took that piece of, you know, congressional writing and I decided, which, you know, I took a risk and I thought, I’m traveling to DC and I’m going to ask some policy makers about this little piece of obscure writing. I’m going to find out from the source what’s behind this. Then, I was able to call some, I thought, well, why don’t I call some friends that I made during that week, of Angels in Adoption and maybe they can help me get my head around this and they taught me so much and they hosted me in their homes and they were women who had walked this road before and when I at the risk of asking that question and saying, Hey, I think this needs to happen is that if I think this is important and they had been helped by other women and they were so ready to share their, their gifts and their knowledge and any support that they could, you know, to help me take the next step. And that helped me be a lot bolder than I would otherwise because otherwise I’m the kid who would rather stay home and spin wool and read books and hold up in my own little shell.

Susan Long:                        Yes, and times are a changing sister friend and I don’t think we can. We can do that to recharge, but we can’t do that anymore. Can we?

Anna Caudill:                      Right. Yeah. I think living that way, I don’t know that it’s. I think at one point in my life I would’ve bought that as a luxury, I don’t know that I think of it as a luxury anymore because we don’t realize how much we minimize ourselves and allow ourselves to sort of fade into the wallpaper when we do that. And there might be seasons when you’re need to do that. And there might be. It might not be that you are the person who needs to start a nonprofit, but you might be really, really helpful on a board. I’ve had one former student call up and say, you know, I’m really great at organizational stuff. Could I help you start up a filing system to manage your stuff?

Susan Long:                        Shut the front door.

Anna Caudill:                      And I hadn’t even expressed that as a need. Not Anywhere

Susan Long:                        They can come to my house. Any day.

Anna Caudill:                      Right?! OK. So I have this organizational filing need in my coat closet. But no, I mean that there, there’s opportunities that are there and there’s people who want to be involved and it’s important to find yourself, you know, where can you be involved and where can you help?.

Susan Long:                        Yeah, absolutely. I’m sure there is so much more we could cover and I’m not kidding. You’re going to have to come back. Um, but tell us where we can find you on social media, how can we get involved in PALS if that is something we feel led to do?

Anna Caudill:                      Right now, we are online at www.postadoptionlearning.org We’re on Facebook at Post Adoption Learning Services and on Twitter we’re at, @postadoptlearn and um, right now I have more work that shows up on Facebook because that’s really accessible for me. We’re building the website and trying to built content. You know, thats one of those things that always takes time to formally write down the research that I’m doing but um, those are the three places.

Susan Long:                        Excellent, and we’ll link all of that on our website, um, once we publish this puppy so that, so that we can link back to you. So friends if you’re listening to this and you didn’t have a chance to write that down. Don’t feel bad, don’t feel like you have to go back and relisten. It will be on our website. Anna, thank you so much. So, so much for all you are doing for our kids. Um, we didn’t even get into it, but this just doesn’t, this what you’re doing does not just affect, um, international adoption or children with disabilities or international adoption, children with disabilities. On some level, this affects all our children and at the end of the day as a mom, I think that’s what a lot of us out there going to be fighting for is our kids. So thank you. Thank you. Thank you. From the bottom of my heart. I really appreciate it. Um, yeah, it’s been a lot of fun. All right, well thanks so much and we will talk to you next time.

Susan Long:                        All right. Thank you.

Susan Long:                        I wasn’t kidding, was I? Isn’t she just great? I find her story so inspiring and empowering. She continuously spurs me to action and I hope our conversation did just that for you. If you liked this episode, I know you will be excited about our future guests, so go on over to itunes or our website and hit subscribe. I would love it if you would also leave a review as I’m excited to hear what you think. Also on our website, you’ll be able to find the links to the things we mentioned in the show as well as PALS website and social media info. Thanks again friends. I’ll see ya soon.

 

Premier Episode

In the premier episode of How She Got Here, Conversations with Everyday Extraordinary Women, Susan, the creator and host of the podcast, shares the tipping point in her life that drove her to action.  She was tired of being made to feel inadequate by messages she had heard and internalized since she was a young girl.  She also discusses how sharing her story with other women lead to her hearing similar stories from others.  The result of all of this has lead to the creation of this podcast. The goal of which is to share the stories of Everyday Extraordinary Women! 

Transcript:

Susan:                  Hey friends, welcome to the first episode of How She Got Here, Conversations With Everyday Extraordinary Women. I’m Susan. Your host and creator of this podcast and I’m grateful to have you join me. Ladies, we are on the cusp. We are living in a time of great opportunity and possibility. Women are rising together all over our country, all over the world. This space highlights everyday women doing extraordinary things. Why? Mother Teresa once said, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” These everyday women’s stories we hear are the stones, stones, to inspire us, to create the ripples, calling us to be ourselves, to push our dreams, to reach a little higher than we thought we could. My goal each week is to bring you a guest with her own awesome and inspiring story. So consider this my invitation to you to accompany me on this journey. Come with me and let’s explore the fascinating and inspiring stories of the women around us. I hope we will laugh together. I hope we will cry together. I hope together we will learn more about ourselves. I confess, I don’t know where this journey will take us, but as Tina fey once said, “You can’t be that kid standing at the top of the water slide over thinking it. You have to go down the shoot.”

So to me, one of the greatest part of going on a long trip with someone is that you get to learn so much about them and your relationship with them is never the same. So today I’m going to share a little about me.

A few years ago there were some huge changes in my life. My husband and I overcame a struggle with infertility and we finally had the baby of our dreams. That will be a whole separate episode that I’ll save for later date because that’s a hard subject. One evening after a particularly hard day, I put the baby to bed and finally had a moment to myself. I was watching television and what I saw on the screen sent the message loud and clear that as a woman I wasn’t enough.

And whether it was the straw that broke the camel’s back that night or the huge lack of sleep, I burst into tears and yet no matter what I did, I couldn’t shake that feeling in the pit of my stomach and it’s that feeling we all have sometimes. It’s that voice in the back of the head, my head and your head, and the anxiety that no matter what I did, I was never gonna be enough. This feeling consumed me and the fear of failure paralyzed me. These are messages I had heard either directly or indirectly all my life. Most recently it was a message I heard when I was talking with someone who was very close to me, and this is not a political podcast. This is just my truth and this is just a part of the story. It was the night that the Access Hollywood tape was released and I was on the phone with this person and I said, what if this man had been talking about me? And all this person could say to me at that moment was “he represents my values” and I was shocked.

But you know, like I said, I’ve heard this directly or indirectly all my life. I heard them in the church I grew up in where to this day in 2018, women are still not allowed to preach. I heard them in school when I was told I couldn’t wear shorts to school because they weren’t fingertip length. And like many of you, I’m sure I heard them from strange men, adults who cat called me when I was around, you know, 14, 15, 16. And the adults that I trusted said, oh, just ignore them and take it as a compliment that you look cute.

That’s the message we want to send to our young girls. That’s the message that I was supposed to get from that. That not only that I’m cute, but I’m supposed to take a cat call as a compliment. No!  No more. But I realized that these are messages that have been internalized and ingrained in myself, and I’m guessing some of them are probably in you too. And what’s worse is I kind of believed them. We’ve all gotten these messages on some level, haven’t we? And it seemed this night, this night that this breakdown happened with me, it seemed like it was a night that was years in the making, but I wasn’t just devastated anymore. I was angry and I was mad and I was tired of the BS. I cried myself to sleep that night.

I woke up the following morning and I was exhausted. I knew I hadn’t slept well, but I also woke up determined with a new sense of purpose. I reached out to a few friends who I consider to be sisters and I was reminded that I was at my best when I was surrounded by these women. They’re friends from college and I was fortunate to have graduated from a small single gender liberal arts college. It was an amazing bubble. It was safe and it was empowering for me and it was like no other place on earth. And I have not had that same experience since. I also reached out to my former professor for women’s history, Dr Melissa Walker for a list of books on our foremothers. I felt like a refresher would help on our history, so I read about Ida B. Wells, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B, Anthony, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, the early days, how it was started, why it started. I read about the Seneca Falls Convention, who was and wasn’t included and the privilege associated with that. I re-read the story of how long it took us to get the vote and in case you didn’t know, it took us 70 years to get the vote. Susan B, Anthony did not live to see the nineteenth amendment ratified. She died in 1906 and the nineteenth didn’t happen until 1920.

Y’all change takes a long time and sometimes it won’t come in our lifetime. I read about Catherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson, and they had a really cool movie come out about those women, but the book was 100 times better. I read about Grace Hopper, Coretta Scott King, Sally Ride, Sandra Day O’Connor, and these are just a few, a few of my favorites.  Y’all, there are so many incredible women. Women we didn’t learn about in standard history classes and these are women that changed history that for sure will be a future podcast episode

During this time I also found it helpful to talk things through with a therapist and I know therapy is still sometimes a taboo subject, but just being able to talk this stuff out is really helpful and if you’re going through something, I would seriously encouraged you to do that. I also journal during this time and I started some serious spiritual meditation. I tried being still and I tried centering myself and eventually started to pay off. I started to notice things that I had not noticed before and hear things that I would have otherwise missed. I began to truly value these authentic moments, not just with myself but with those around me. I found that it was these moments that renewed my spirit. As I worked through all of this and started sharing my story. Other women confirmed similar situations and similar feelings. Apparently a ton of us are walking around looking pretty darn amazing on the outside, but on the inside we constantly feel like we aren’t enough, and I have had enough of that.

Have you? Y’all I want this space to be a place of peace. I want to create a place where we can celebrate. I want this to be a place of inspiration. I want us to be able to share our hopes and our dreams, but more importantly, maybe most importantly, I want us to be able to speak our truths and I want us to grow together. So that’s just in a nutshell my story and we’ll learn more about each other as this goes along. The next time we meet, I want to begin our journey together in earnest. In the meantime, I would love for you to reach out and say hello. Tell me about yourself. What are your hopes and your dreams? What do you think of our first couple of episodes? I would appreciate your feedback after all. This journey and this space is not just mine, but I want it to be ours. And I’m ready and I’m so excited for it to begin.

I’ll see you soon.