Being Here

with Molly Barker

I Could Use Your Support!

Okay…so this is not something I’m too comfortable sharing, but I would love your help.  Apparently the online version of Runner’s World’s Most Influential People in Running, has a VOTE option. (I am so incredibly honored to be on that list.) The winners in each category will get some extra “airtime” in an upcoming  publication. (Thank goodness it doesn’t include a talent or bathing suit competition.  :) )

And while I’m not much into “comparisons” (because I think everybody is equally fantabulous) it would be cool to get some more media publicity for Girls on the Run and possibly my new effort The Red Boot Coalition.

So…if you are so inclined to help a fellow human out, would you consider casting a vote for me at the link I’ve shared here and then possibly spreading the word with a share and an ask of your friends?


I See…

edson love

I used to love hearing my own baby and childhood stories from my Mom.

Like the time she swears I kicked a book across the room…a book that was resting on her pregnant belly.

Or how I pronounced spaghetti…bsketti or perfume…pewfume.

My mom got sober when I was in fourth grade. The days leading up to her breakdown were dark. So dark in fact neither one of us can/could remember much about them.

The days and months following, however, rest sharp in my memory like shining crystals of time…each fragment reflecting light in a way that I had not seen in the years before.

It was 1970.

The change I witnessed in my mom was dramatic. Not necessarily overnight, but pretty darn close.

She became real and present, funny and humble…wonderfully and beautifully broken.

It was like the love I knew she had for me (and others) wasn’t tangled up in the dark tentacles of her addiction, anymore. She became lighter…more transparent…visible.

I was asked recently by a reporter why I do what I do. I’ve been asked that question frequently ever since founding Girls on the Run and now the Red Boot Coalition.

And as I reflect this morning on that question again…it’s becoming clear to me that it’s because of my mom. She showed me that love is always there..just often clouded by layers and layers of life…the trying to fit in and the trying to figure it out; our shared and very real and human yearning to be loved and the very real and human way we get tangled up in the things we think will bring it to us…rather than seeing that it’s here…now.

By having the courage to love and be love she showed me that it is indeed possible for even the most guarded, fearful, angry and hateful of us to have a change of heart…to let loose the love that rests in you and me…that rests in all.

This morning I received a photo from my friend Lisa Gray.

She writes “Wish I could say I did this and left it for others, but I was the recipient! Hope you too are finding joy!”

I have another close friend, Edson Fisher Scudder Jr. He sent me this photo just the other day. He’s been collecting photos of love for years now.

I think those of us who see love are critically needed in the world right now. Especially now.

My mom told me that my first word was “see.” I would take my tiny index finger and point to the empty space around me and shout with the glee of all children, “See. See. See.”

Instead of Waiting…

We can do thisI’ve been thinking about who I’d like to see in leadership positions…and I came up with these core values. Admittedly expertise and other traits are necessary, but I’ve been thinking about what seems to be missing…and if it’s not missing…then it’s certainly not being covered as much in our popular media.

(I am also learning that much of what IS covered in the popular media and what IS actually real…frequently have very little to do with each other.)

STRONG leaders exude a powerful yet humble strength, that “you-know-it-when-you-feel-it” kind of strength that comes when love, courage and compassion are in the room.

HEART-DRIVEN leaders are relentless in their pursuit for heartful connection even when it is least expected.

JOYFUL leaders are willing to express joy even in the most cynical of circumstances.

AUTHENTIC leaders crusade for all people regardless of religion, economics, gender or party…they create spaces for exuberant self-expression and authenticity no matter the situation. They are Real.

COMPASSIONATE leaders listen with their whole heart, see the good in people even when they can’t see it in themselves. They stand up for those who feel voiceless, disenfranchised, lost and unloved, by providing them with the encouragement and the tools to stand up for themselves.

REFLECTIVE leaders know and delight in the wisdom that comes from solitude, silence, slowing down and self-reflection and make time everyday to go to that powerful space.

WHOLE leaders integrate the wisdom of our elders and the idealism of our youth to bring forth a leadership that is robust, gritty, tender and kind.

GENUINE leaders are the first to laugh at themselves, disclose their vulnerabilities and admit their mistakes. This keeps them real, funny and in an ironic kind of way, “unmessable” with.

INNOVATIVE leaders dare to go where others have not. They approach age old issues with fresh eyes and a willingness to create anew. They enjoy bringing issues down to the “last why” and building from here. They are our world’s social entrepreneurs, teachers, philosophers, inventors and change makers. (If you’re still struggling to grasp who I’m talking about picture Mother Teresa with the intellect and innovative mind of the sometimes pushy vision-seeing approach of Steve Jobs.)

I think instead of waiting for someone else to lead like this…I will.

I think it’s that simple.

The Bucket of Toys

Hank and I fooling around.
                 Hank and Me:   Being Goofy

My kids are grown up.

Almost. Hank is 20 and Helen is 17.

This means the house is pretty neat and organized. Except of course for the mess I make.

I do remember though…when they were younger. There were toys, games, trinkets and dirt scattered about the house pretty much 100% of the time.

And I remember, especially after Helen was born, developing this kind of anxious obsession with trying to keep things picked up.

The two of them would play with any variety of toys and when they were done…the remnants of their joy and discovery would be scattered across the floor:  crayons, paper, glitter containers, Thomas the Tank figures, costumes…well you get the drift.

At one point we bought this big red barrel and would throw the “stuff” in there. One toy out and another one in.

I remember on one particular day both kids were playing alone in their rooms and I took a moment to breathe. I sat down on the old lazy boy chair…and just sat there.

What a luxury I thought!  Relief. Peace. Quiet. At last.

The toys, at least the ones I had control over at that moment…were neatly tossed into the hard red barrel. Tangled up in there but at least “Out of sight. Out of mind.”

And as I sit here this morning quietly breathing in the aroma and warmth of two lit candles, the coffee I brew every morning, I pre-mourn the coming year when Helen will be gone and the house will be neat. I know it’s coming because I felt it when Hank left.

I share this not to be melancholy, but in reflection of what all I missed wanting things to be neatly hidden away in big red barrels…the joy of glitter under fingernails and drifting through hair, the “look mommy…look’s” I missed yearning for the peace and quiet of a cleaned up house…a cleared up mind.

I reflect this morning…as I begin another day in this new “room of work”…on how delicious and joyful and frightening and unsettling and disruptive and frustrating and real and whole and loving life is when I welcome the clutter, the mess, the squishy and scary places of ideas and people who don’t think like me.

And wonder why I was so afraid of them back then…why the need to tuck them away into big red barrels…out of sight, out of mind.

I sit here this morning…in the messiness of our world… and I breathe.

I Choose the Love-Stuff

There’s this bag of clothes sitting in the sunroom. I walk by this bag of clothes everyday.

The clothes in it are clothes I don’t want anymore. I plan on taking them to Goodwill.

I think that bag of old clothes has been sitting in that sunroom for a couple of months now. They’ve been there so long that I don’t notice them anymore. It’s like they’ve become invisible, part of the routine…they sit THERE without my awareness of being THERE.

A few years ago Caitlin Boyle​ and  I set off on an adventure to explore life in the “Beauty Desert”. For two months we stopped using make up, shaving, wearing dresses, underwires, lacy “stuff”, hair products or enhancements…basically only used a brush, soap, shampoo and a blow dryer (it was winter) for our daily “get ready” for the day routine.

We called it The Naked Face Project.

Well peeps…you’d have thought we climbed Mt Everest NAKED with the amount of media attention we got. USA Today, Time, nearly every radio station across America was talking about it. We were interviewed on television and radio shows  over a dozen different countries and languages. It was WILD!  It was SCARY!

And oh how we were judged!  Women and men across all these landscapes assumed that Caitlin and I were “angry feminists trying to prove a point”. Thousands of people
jumped into the conversation defending their use of makeup, high heels and plastic surgery. The comments underneath articles were scathing. “I wouldn’t get in bed with HER with or without the makeup. I don’t think it would help either way.”  Three weeks in I ended up in the hospital. This sensitive soul of mine was having trouble handling the negative assumptions being made about our intentions.

In reality however, our intention for the project was to explore the WHY behind these daily feminine rituals. WHY do I wear make up?  WHY do I feel a need to enhance the size of my breasts?  WHY do I color my hair?  WHY do these things matter to me?

Because the reality was…all those “things” were like those old bag of clothes. They’d been sitting in the sunroom of my life for “years” and I had never bothered to take them out and look at them. I’d never stopped to figure out which ones I like and which ones I don’t.

I just did them everyday…because I had been doing them everyday since I was thirteen.

Somewhere along the line I got the message that straight hair was prettier than my wild and unruly wavy hair.

Somewhere along the line I adopted the belief that perked up, lifted up and underwired breasts were “better” than the ones I had.

Somewhere, somehow I was indoctrinated into a belief system that said blonde hair was more beautiful than the darker (with some silver in it) hair I had on top of my head.

I’m not suggesting now, nor was I suggesting then, that these things are bad. No way!

What I did learn back then and have carried full steam into my life now…is an awareness of all the “old bags of clothes” I have lying around in my life…bags and bags of beliefs, perspectives, constructs that have been handed down to me by our culture, my family, the media, religions and of course corporations,  who want to sell me “stuff.”

The power of being human and having my brain and my spirit is…I get to pick and choose which of those beliefs, perspectives, constructs I want to adopt into my life and which ones I don’t.

Today I’m going to take that old bag of clothes to Goodwill  and leave the space open for “stuff” that loves people.

Yep. You heard me


Pixie and me...and our naked faces.
Pixie and me…and our naked faces.

I Am Starkling

define yourself

I like to run on trails. One of my favorites is the Davidson College Cross country course. The majority of the run is a fairly well manicured path that covers at least three feet in breadth.

There are a couple of parts though, where the path turns into double tracks…two very thin lines of dirt that, over time, have become well worn and deeply embedded in the ground.

The invitation is obvious.

“Run here or there.”

The grass between the obvious paths is tall and unwieldy…green and lush.

There are times on my run I “do” the easy…pick one of the two lines and follow the path already chosen.

But there are other times I choose the space in between. This requires more of me than the worn two tracks. I have to slow down, watch my footing, be intentional with each step. I am forced to be present…who knows what unseen nooks and crannies rest beneath the tall and rebellious grass.

As I’ve wandered more deeply into my own life, I realize that so much of it has been deeply rooted in the “or’s”…”or’s” set up by the people ahead of me.

This OR that…here OR there…with us OR against us.

Pro life or pro choice…Republican or Democrat…Christian or Muslim or Jewish…pro gun or pro gun control…pro blue or pro black.

I like to wonder how things might change if we removed the OR’s and explored the space in between.

This morning as I stood in line at Caribou and ordered tea…a first for me,  DJ asked “would you like your tea ‘still or sparkling?'”

I think today I will be both and then more and see what that feels like. Today I will define myself with words that I choose.

“Starkling.”  Ah yes. That should do quite nicely.

Sista Keepers

Let me joyfully introduce the first Ripple Person of the Ride!  Tracy Berry-McGhee.  She is the founder and creator of SistaKeeper STL​.  Tracy is an inspiring woman using the power of the spoken word and listening circles to give voice to girls in communities throughout St. Louis (and the nation.)

She kindly gave me a tour of her community yesterday.

We ate lunch at Cathy’s Kitchen and Tracy introduced me to Cathy Jenkins.  Kind, warm and welcoming she stopped by our table to be sure the food was up to the reputation the restaurant had acquired.  Tracy told me the story of how folks from Ferguson, locked arms in front of Cathy’s Kitchen to ward off violent protestors during the verdict protests.  The restaurant has been a gathering place of kindness, love and warmth…for years…and still is.

Cathy's Kitchen

She drove me to the Ferguson swimming pool, where kids of all colors flew down the swirly sliding board and families lay out in the sun.

park sign

She drove me through the apartment complex where Michael Brown lived.  I saw the spot on the road where he died.  There is now a newer square of black asphalt that covers the spot. There were apartments on either side close to the road, kids playing and folks sitting out on their porches.

michael brown

There were split level homes, yards, businesses, churches. People were out cutting the grass, working on their homes, eating outside of restaurants and driving their cars. This is Ferguson

I love ferguson

ferguson home

Tracy and I spent a good amount of time in her office…a very warm and welcoming space. A small table fountain gurgling peaceful waters and a faint hint of incense made for peaceful sounds and aromas. Posters of strong African-American women on the wall along and empowering quotes and words of wisdom were scattered everywhere.

We exchanged a lot of stories.

Tracy shared a story about when she first moved to a neighborhood in Florissant.  Florissant is a neighborhood adjacent to Ferguson.

They had been in their house for less than a week when the house next door was Tee Peed.  (For those of you who don’t know what that is…that’s when someone takes rolls of toilet paper and tosses them up into the trees.  The toilet paper cascades through the limbs to the ground below…akin to tinsel on a Christmas Tree, but it’s toilet paper on really big trees).

Tracy shared, “This was a few years back and the Florissant neighborhood where we moved to was primarily white.  My initial thought was…someone wants us out and they accidentally “marked” the wrong house.”

She was happy (and a little embarrassed) to learn that the house in question had been “rolled with Toilet Paper” on purpose.  The high schooler who lived there had just made the cheerleading squad and her friends had congratulated her by performing this celebratory “rolling” ritual.

We talked and talked and listened to one another.  Tracy’s program is powerful.  She empowers through listening.  She creates safe places for girls to share their fears, their hopes, their anger, their sorrows, their dreams…their love.  She speaks of the feminine divine and the healing gifts it can bring to our wounded neighborhoods and the people who live in them. She has introduced Sista Keepers to hundreds of folks and wants to introduce it to hundreds more.  I look forward to helping her however I can.

We finished up the day walking the Labyrinth at the Zion Church in Florissant, MI.  I felt the peace I’d be searching for on my way out here, settle in.  Finally.

I heard a distant train let go it’s mournful noise and thought of the poem my new and fast friend Robert, shared with me just this morning.

I found a cardinal feather.

Heading West:  AGAIN-Red Boot Ride 2015. 

As many of you may recall (and many may not :)) last August, I set off on a journey that changed my life. With little structure and a very humble “agenda” I set off in a Mustang convertible…and drove from my hometown of Charlotte to Las Vegas and back…asking literally hundreds of Americans what they thought was going on with the vitriolic and highly polarized dialogue spoken by our nation’s leadership.
As I crossed the country, I quickly came to realize that the “us versus them” perspective so prevalent in politics was simply the manifestation of the “us versus them” perspective so prevalent in our LIVES. I was in St. Louis the day Michael Brown was shot and even though the ripple effect of that event wasn’t felt fully until days and weeks later, the tone of the trip changed.  
It’s like I woke up. This process of “otherizing” those not within our own tribe, became overwhelmingly obvious to me in all facets of American culture…politics, religion, race, gender…it was freakin’ everywhere!
So I came back home with a new (and at times I must admit exhausting) passion to DO SOMETHING about the separation and violence caused by the anger and fear so prevalent throughout our nation (heck…world). Little did I know as I sat in a local bagel store and wrote out The Red Boot Coalition Eleven Steps that I would be founding a program whose mission and timing couldn’t be more perfect. With the increasing and ensuing dialogue around religion, LGBTQ rights, race and now again…the increasingly hot Presidential campaign…the Red Boot Coalition is a program whose timing couldn’t be more perfect.  
Our purpose is to address the labels, polarization, ideologies, anger and fear that are so prevalent throughout our nation today, by getting underneath them. By engaging in honest, face-to-face dialogue inspired by the Red Boot Eleven Steps, we create places where people feel safe, connected and loved. 
And when people feel safe, connected and loved…when we see and understand each other as human beings first…the change of heart so desperately needed right now, can occur. 
So, my friends, this week is a big week for me. Thanks to the hard work of many too long to list here, the Red Boot Coalition will be hosting our first Red Boot Training on Wednesday. Thirty fine folks, from across the country will be coming to Charlotte to learn all about how to bring the Red Boot Program to their towns, universities, schools and cities. I’m also happy to share that I will be flying this fall to three different schools systems to train educators how to deliver this much-needed program.
This is also the week that I head off on this year’s version of the Red Boot Journey! 
So once again, saddled up in a borrowed little red convertible, I’ll be heading West! 
I’ll be asking random folks I meet in coffee shops, restaurants, gyms, stores, gas stations. to share with me their stories about one person in their lives…who deeply influenced them…who loved and supported them in such a way that they came to see and know their own strength and power. I’ll share their stories with pictures and video here and on my blog.
I also have planned stops in a number of cities where folks have written to me, in advance, about the folks who positively influenced them. 
So…if you live in any of the following cities…and haven’t sent a “Ripple Person” (this is the word I’m using to describe those folks who deeply impacted your life), or want to hear more about the Red Boot Coalition, please write me now! Message me through Facebook and I will do my best to find you while on my trip. If not, I will find a way to tell your story. For those of you who sent in your stories already, but are not featured on my trip…keep your eyes open. I’ll be sharing YOUR Ripple People over the course of the weeks as well here and on my blog…I just won’t get to meet you in person. :(
The actual stops for the trip look like this:
July 25-26: Lexington, KY

July 26 – July  29: Ferguson, MO

July 29-30: Waukee, IA

July 31-August 2: Middlebury, VT area.

August 4: Statesville, NC

August 7-9: Charleston, SC 

August 10- 14 Charlotte. (This will be particularly difficult. I want to hold to the mystery and focus of the trip right here where I live, work, play. Thank you Edson Fisher Scudder Jr. for this brilliant idea.)

August 14- 19: Various cities across Michigan.

August 19 – 24: New York City
If you live in the St. Louis/Ferguson area I’m particularly thrilled to announce that on July 28th, we will thanks to Wendie Weiler Cummings be hosting a town hall meeting at Ferguson Middle School from 6:00 to 8:00 where we will celebrate a handful of Ripple People and take part, as a community, in a Red Boot Meeting. PLEASE COME and see what this is all about.
Now…time for a deep breath. 


Being White and Being Myself

Years ago, I was on a bike ride with a friend of mine, Jeff. He recounted a funny story back when he moved to NC. A certified Northernite, he had moved to Charlotte having lived his whole life in the Northeast. He “threw baggage” for US Airways.  

As I recall his story went something like this:

“When I moved here, everybody was so nice; but there was one thing I just couldn’t figure out. Every time I assisted someone they would follow up my helpful act with the words, “Pretty Shaded.” I didn’t know what that meant, and being new and just trying to fit in, I started saying it too. Someone would do something nice for me like hold open a door, I would automatically follow-up their kind act with “Pretty Shaded.”

Finally, after half a year or so, one of the guys stopped me and said, “Jeff, what are you saying? What the hell does ‘Pretty Shaded’ mean?”

I laughed and said, “I don’t know. I was just saying what you did. Everyone here says ‘Pretty Shaded.’

After sifting through the how’s and when’s of the strange words, the two of us figured out. The words I had heard as ‘Pretty Shaded’ were ‘Appreciate it’…just said with a Southern accent.”

Something akin to this happened to me not too long ago. I was speaking to about forty “Leadership Charlotte” alumni about my trip last summer. 

 As some of you may recall, last summer, I rented a Mustang Convertible, donned a pair of Red Cowboy Boots and headed west and back to go deep into the question, “Why is America so polarized?” After having served two years on a commission in our nation’s capital, tasked with “fixing” the uncivil dialogue happening on “the Hill” I was still highly frustrated by what seemed to be the “us versus them” happening in all facets of American Life. So what better way to get to the bottom of it, then to go to the American People…you, me…and ask us…”what do YOU think is going on with all the polarizing dialogue?”

After I shared my story and the many beautiful encounters I had experienced with literally hundreds of people from all facets of American Life, I asked the Leadership Charlotte audience, “Does anyone have any first impressions, thoughts, takeaways from what I’ve just shared.”

As I recall, someone said, “Inspirational.” I think someone else might have said, “Courageous.” And then…HE raised his hand. I nodded to him. “Yes?”

“White Privilege,” he said.  

Like knife to gut, I felt myself react. It felt like my insides died a little bit. I felt diminished. Small. Scared even.
The discomfort in the room was palpable. Pins and needles. Awkward. Scary.  

I looked at him…this younger-than-me African American man with tender eyes and a very, very brave heart.  

“That hurt,” I said out loud. “I don’t know why, but that hurt.”

 “I don’t mean to hurt you; but you asked my first impression and my first impression is white privilege.”

We sat there looking at each other for what felt like an eternity. My guess is, though, it was probably only a minute or so.  

And then I asked, “Why does this hurt so much?”

Another pause, and I said, “I think it’s this hurt that stops people from talking to each other.”

His gaze was strong, clear and very honest. As I recall, he tried explaining a little bit what he meant by White Privilege; but the truth is, I was dealing with where to go from here. It was like being caught naked in front of a room full of people…What do I do? Where do we go? How do I move forward? I’m so embarrassed, ashamed, unsure of myself.

“Will you go to lunch with me?” I asked. “I need to understand why this hurts, what’s going on here.” I motioned toward my heart. “I think what’s going on in here, is what’s going on everywhere.”

After my presentation, he handed me his card. Patricke Ward works for an insurance company and is President of one of the largest Black Fraternities in the nation.  

A couple of weeks later, Patricke and I went to lunch. We talked for an hour or more about our lives…as in really talked. Not about what we do, but what we feel, see, believe…what matters to us. Somewhere at the beginning of all that, I asked him pointblank, “What do you mean by White Privilege. I don’t really understand what those words mean, I just know that I had a gut-wrenching knee jerk reaction to them.”

“Imagine if someone like me,” he said, “tried to do what you did last summer. How many people would have talked so openly to me? Molly, you are the most non-threatening person, both in spirit but also in form. My experience on a trip such as yours would have been different, even if my intention had been the same, simply because of how I show up in the world.”

After some more dialogue on the topic, I said, “I get it, now. I am a small, white, blonde 50-something female. Who’s going to be afraid of me?”  
Pretty Shaded. Appreciate it. White Privilege. 

I had been afraid of the words…had disdain for them actually because I hadn’t understood them. 

Patricke has become one of my best friends. We meet regularly for lunch. We talk from the deep places that scare us, inspire us, mean something. We met this past week for lunch as a matter of fact. And as I write about him now, I can feel myself well up. “Keep doing what you are doing,” he says. “You can reach people I can’t.” 
I love this man. I love the fact that he lets me be me fully. When I am with Patricke, I feel safe to be myself…and I wonder if that’s what we all want anyway.  

I prettyshade this man. 


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