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. 


The Five Degrees of Why?

Let’s play a little game. I call it the five degrees of why.
I’ve played this game with my children for years and I’m happy to see it show up in their lives as curiosity, intentionality and confidence. 
So here goes. 
Take just about any action, thought or idea and start with “why do I do/think/believe this _______?”
(For example…why do I stop at a stoplight?  
“Because it’s the law.”
“Because if people didn’t stop at the stop light they would get hit.”)
Keep asking why over and over until you can ask it no longer or you get to what feels like a final FINAL  answer. 
It’s really fascinating when we start to challenge ourselves on “things” we have believed or done our whole lives. 
For example: “Why do I wear makeup?”; “Why am I married?”; “Why am I Christian/Jewish/Muslim?”; Why do I go to work everyday?”
If you are brave and willing to have some fun, I would love to hear your final response.
A great starter question…if you can’t think of one…for my friends in particular is: “Why do I run?” 

What I Don’t Know

I can never know what it’s like to be black. 
I will never know what it’s like to be a man. 
I do not know what it is like to be incarcerated. 
I do not know what it’s like to own a private jet. 
I do not know what’s it’s like to be on welfare. 
I can never know what it’s like to grow up in the country. 
I can never know what it’s like to grow up Muslim. 
There is more that I do not know than I know. 
But I do know what it’s like to laugh, to smile to cry;
To feel safe, to feel joy, to feel pain;
To be afraid, to be hurt…to be loved. 
I wonder how things might be different if we began our conversations there, instead. 


Freedom’s Just Another Word for Nothing Left to Lose

you matter

What follows is important stuff so stay with me on this.

Yesterday, I led a Red Boot Coalition Meeting at the Women’s Jail. Ann Crehore and Sarah Funkhouser were there too.

Sixteen women attended.  The youngest was 18; the oldest, 51. We sat in chairs in a circle.  Dressed in burgundy, blue or white suits, some of these women had been there 8 months.  Others for years.  Several were headed to Federal Prison.  The rest would finish out their stay here.

I read the script we now use to kick off all of our meetings.

“Welcome to The Red Boot Coalition​.  ”

We are here because we recognize that right now the world needs us.

Some of us have known it all along.  For others of us, we have just discovered this, but eventually we all heard and felt the call to that voice inside that says, “I matter.”

We are concerned.  At times, even frightened by the current levels of polarization, apathy, fear and violence in our neighborhoods, communities and nations. Anger, fear, violence, us versus them…it’s everywhere.

We want to do something to make a difference, but we feel so small and powerless…like “What good can I do?  How can I possibly change anything…make a difference?”

Well the part of us that says “I matter” and the part of the world that is crying out for help, have combined forces to bring us here, together.

We’ve talked, researched and explored just HOW we can help and we’ve discovered that what we need to do is really quite simple.

We just do the following 11 steps.”

After a few more words on how the meeting would be conducted, I read Step One.

“We came to see that, despite sometimes feeling helpless, angry and even apathetic about the current course of human events, we each play an essential role in our communities, our families, and our lives. We Matter.”

I continued, “And so, we’ve got about fifty minutes to share and ponder the following questions:  Why do you matter? Who matters to you?  Why do you think some folks feel like they don’t matter?  How can you help others feel and know they matter? ”

Immediately the responses begin.

Our 51 year old was first, “I matter because I can love.  I AM love.  I can support and love the other women here.  I can be a source of strength for the younger ones.”

Someone else:  “I matter because my four year old needs me.  As a matter of fact, I’ll get to speak to her today.  I matter because she knows I love her.  I matter because I do love her.”  A long pause.  “I miss her.”

Another:  “I matter because I am a Child of God.”

At times during the next fifty minutes, I was so giddy with love I could hardly contain myself.  At other times, I felt a profound respect and appreciation for being given the opportunity to learn from these women.  To grow with them.

There were several women who did not speak, at least not at first.  One woman, in her 20’s, strong in stature, stoic at first, cried…she wept actually .  The older woman across from her, acknowledged her tears.  “Sometimes we cry in here and that’s okay.  We can’t run from it. We don’t got nowhere to go so we just got to be here in it…in it together.”

With about ten minutes to go, I asked the women to share ways they could help other women know they matter.  One woman said, “I can tell when someone is having a hard time.  I can walk up to her, say her name and look her in the eye.  I can see her.”

One of the other respected elders said, “I like to serve coffee to the younger ones.  I say to them, ‘You look like you need some coffee.  Can I get that for you?’ and then we  just go sit and talk.”

The youngest one, only 18 years old, had remained silent the entire time.  “Sometimes all it takes is a smile.  Just a smile can change somebody’s day.”

I was awed and truly humbled by their vulnerability and willingness to share like that.

As I walked away I knew I would have to write.  I would have to share another time…a time several weeks ago, when I conducted this very same meeting and this very same step with a group of our city’s wealthiest people…top earners with prestigious titles…fine clothes and private school educated children.

We sat in a circle.

“Why do YOU matter?”  I asked.

The discomfort was immediate…that squirmy feeling that comes when you want to get up and run, but you can’t.  Unlike the response in the jail, the silence was deafening, long and uncomfortable.  For several minutes, a good three or more, not a single one of these well-respected, high income earners could find the answer to that question.

I sat there in the silence with them…that awkward and painful silence remembering in my early 30’s when I had acquired all the things this world had told me (a young Southern woman) would make me matter:  a sexy body, a handsome boyfriend, prestige as an elite athlete, popular on the social scene…and yet I still felt unheard, “unmattered”, lost and without meaning.

When finally the silence was broken by one very brave woman. “Because I am capable of great.

I’m beginning to question everything I’ve ever been told, freedom means 

Crepey is not Creepy

Okay so I crack myself up.  Yes…me, myself and I.

This past Sunday, I decide to watch a little TV while I’m paying some bills.

Now mind you, I’m not a TV watcher.  We have it, but the majority of folks…that would be actually everybody in this household…lean toward Netflix, listening to music and well…that thing we don’t hear much about anymore…silence.

I’m flipping though the 1,234,563rd channel.

Oh hi there one-woman-pulling-out-the-hair-of-another-woman while other women stand around drinking cocktails.

Oh hello, mister-man-in-a-suit yelling at another mister-man-in-a-suit.

Ah…now here’s something…two women (one of them is a famous actress) discussing something that is apparently very important because there is a large audience of women happily clapping at nearly every other word.

I settle in.

Now, let me state for the record…I am almost 55.  Yes, I can hardly believe the words coming out of my mouth, or rather from the tips of my fingers, myself.  I’ve never been happier.  Never felt wholer.  (When you are 55 you can make up words.)  I’ve never actually felt more beautiful.  Now I know that sounds weird to some of my younger sisters, but the truth is…once you get to a certain age the stuff that used to matter, at least as far as bodies go (and all that damn advertising that would suggest otherwise) just doesn’t anymore.

Cellulite?  Ha!  Makes me a woman.  Small breasts?  It appears they are “fashionably popular” again.  Straight, curly, frizzy hair…it’s all good.

But as I became increasingly more mesmerized by the-famous-actress and her lovely interviewer, I realized that I have something that OH MY GOD I DIDN’T KNOW I SHOULD BE WORRIED ABOUT BUT APPARENTLY ITS JUST TERRIBLE TO HAVE…crepey skin.

No…I didn’t say creepy skin.  I said crepey skin.

Now people.  I know and am very grateful that years without tobacco, alcohol and unhealthy foods coupled with exercise and a positive outlook, have made me look younger than some would expect.  But suddenly while watching this ad, I began to realize that I am old.

Why?  Because I have what is now being marketed by a slew of people as something I should apparently be very ashamed of…crepey skin.  I hadn’t ever really noticed my crepey skin.  I just thought it was skin that had been around a while…skin that had covered an otherwise healthy 55 year old body for 55 years…skin that enjoyed the wind, a child’s touch…a lover’s touch.  :)   Skin that turned brown in the sun and skin that protected the organs, blood vessels and muscles underneath.  Skin that stretched across my belly when I was pregnant with my kids…skin that itched, got freckles and turned red when I ran.

I watched that whole damn infomercial and by the time it was over I actually went to the website that touted erasing the wrinkly crepey skin.

Since that ad, I’ve talked with a few of my 40 plus sisters and it seems that everyone else knew about the dreaded crepey skin.  They knew the word, the dread, the products associated with removing it.

I’m not sure why I’m sharing all this except here I sit on Thursday morning and I’m still thinking about the impact this silly little infomercial had on me.  I’m thinking about the ads that constantly bombard our girls about their beauty.  I’m thinking about the industries that make millions and millions of dollars suggesting that what we look like…just isn’t pretty enough.  I’m thinking about how beautiful I felt Sunday morning on my long run…with nothing on but a jog bra, shorts and running shoes…apparently unaware of just how awful and offensive my crepey skin looked to every one around me.

And now, I’m thinking about my mother…and how she touched the soul of everyone she knew…how people still tell me about how she changed their life…about some of my friends who are sixty five and older and how they are wise, courageous, peaceful and strong…the women who impact me with their presence, their power, their gentle prodding to keep on in the work that I do.