The Weirdest Night

A weird thing happened last night 

I ate dinner at a very expensive restaurant. The meals were each no less than 75 dollars per entree. 

I was dressed in my “fancy” clothes and so, too, were all the people in the room. Most of the people in the room looked like me…in our third quarter of life, white, dressed in their fine clothes too. 

The restaurant itself, overlooked a beautiful landscape in Charlotte. Holiday lights lay a festive glow to the well manicured lawn/park outside. 

When BAM, a loud knock on the broad window pulled my attention. 

A black youth stood there…trying to get our attention. I saw him and just as I did, a security guard came and removed him from the premises. 

Several minutes later, it happened again. This time though, a young black female. She was shouting as loud as she could…”See me. I’m hungry over here.”

Several people in the room now noticed. But again, within seconds, she was removed from the property. 

Now I am nearly finished with my meal, when BAM. One more time except now there are a half dozen folks…all black and all holding signs. Some are quiet. Some are crying. Some are banging on the glass and some are yelling. 

They are clearly in distress and trying to get the attention of all the people in the restaurant. 

One sign says, “See me.” “The other says, “Hear me.” The other says, “One in three of my friends will go to prison.” One says, “I’m scared I will die young.” One says, “I am hungry and trying to feed my kids.” And one says “Black Lives Matter.”

I am only a table or two across from the window and so I take a moment to look into their faces. 

I see them. The father. The son. The mother. The daughter. 

I look around me and many in the room are seeing them too. 

There is a discomfort in the room that is palpable. 
Several people at their tables begin calling out to the restaurant management, “Something must be done. Take them away! They are disturbing our meal.”

I heard the man at the table next to me, utter beneath his breath, “They need to just get off their lazy ass and get a job.”

I look back at their faces…there at the glass…their brown eyes…their concerned glances…the desperation. 

They are taken away…this time in handcuffs. 

The room settled back down, but just as my dessert arrived…a beautiful, ornate chocolate eclair by the way…more people showed up at the window. 

A dozen or more, with sticks and signs and shouting and tears. 

“I’M HUNGRY!” One shouted. 

“I’M SICK AND NEED MEDICAL ATTENTION.”

“I HAVE NO HOPE.”

“MY DAUGHTER’S SCHOOL IS LACKING BOOKS.”

“OUR WATER IS BROWN.”

And then it happens…the thing many in the restaurant feared would happen and did happen…a young black boy, oh dear he couldn’t have been more than sixteen, took his stick and slammed it through the window. 

I will never forget as he stepped through the broken glass…his eyes filled with fury, passion and frustration…and stood before the room filled with tables covered by fine white linens and sterling silver forks and knives and utensils that no one really ever uses…stood there out of breath, hands on hips, defiant and impatient. 

And it hit me…like at my soul kind of hit me. If my child…no, when my child comes to me and says “See me. Listen to me. I am suffering, I am angry,” I do not turn away, call him lazy or call the police. 

No…I stop what I’m doing, get present with him and listen.  

I don’t try to fix him or correct him. I do not judge him or send him away. I love him. I listen. I try to get to the root of the dysfunction and see what part I have played in creating it. 

This story isn’t actually true but a version of it was part of an intense conversation I had with an older black gentleman last night at Patrice Funderburg’s screening of “13th, the Documentary.”

Mr Johnson…I may never see you again…but I think you are some kind of sage or spirit or messenger somehow. 

I see you and you have changed everything.

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My Weird Thanksgiving

I’ve never been a big holiday person. My poor kids. 

I’m also not a great cook. As a matter of fact…my kids have always gone to their dad’s house for the food part of any holiday celebration because that man can make just about anything taste delicious. 

My kids have always joked about my cooking. 

And let me tell you…they have every right to. It’s bad. And when I say bad…I mean really bad. 

Like that time a teacher at Hank’s Episcopal middle school asked him, while I was standing there, “So Hank…what are you giving up for Lent this year?”

Without skipping a beat, Hank said, “My mom’s cooking.” We laughed and I laugh now thinking about it.

One Thanksgiving, in advance of the kids’ scheduled departure to their dad’s, I thought I would provide a Thanksgiving treat they would never forget. 

I grilled some hot dogs, cut em up into tiny little pieces and stuck a toothpick in each one. I then artistically set those grilled delights beside some small ornate bowls filled to the brim with delicious ketchup for dipping. I added in some fabulous velveeta cheese, cut into small squares, each too with its very own toothpick….complimented by some orange slices and VOILA!!!  

Thanksgiving Molly-Barker-style. 

I lay it all out on the living room floor, picnic style…and called the kids in for a “Thanksgiving you’ll never forget.”

Oh my god. We laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed. 

And they never did, in fact, forget it. 

So this Thanksgiving, in my ordinary-non-traditional-and-kinda-weird way…I thought I would list some stuff I’m really grateful for…that might go unnoticed without some intentional brain activity focused in its direction. 

1. I am grateful for my daughter’s extreme levels of independence. The boring one-color towels we used to have are now multi-colored with the stains of various hair colors she’s had over the years. Think of it like a random kind of tie-dye experience. The towels match virtually any color-scheme. 

2. I am grateful for the strength I gained raising two extremely independent kids…in particular Hank. Every minute was pure terror as he set off on the various adventures that eventually brought him home to himself. Somehow we made it. I don’t know how we made it, but we did and I am so grateful for that. 

3. I am grateful for the sleep I never got worrying about things that never happened. Worry is my way of coping with scary things and while this method of coping isn’t always the best, inevitably I end up with some kind of meltdown…that forces me to greater introspection, a breakthrough, a big understanding of how things work in the world. 

4. I am grateful that I have no interest in fashion. This is not to say that I don’t love and respect people who do. (My kids would be THOSE people.) I wear black shirts, jeans and cowboy boots. I make up plenty of other s?&t to worry about (most of it unnecessarily…see #3) and not ever having, how I dress on the list, is a true gift. I have my mother to thank for that. 

5. I am grateful for my health with each passing year. Yes…I love feeling my crepe skin ripple across my arm as I ride my bike at speeds most 56 year old people can’t imagine. I love wondering each morning…how much more my belly button will disappear beneath gravity’s pull on my strong abdominal muscles or how much further my butt will drop to my well-developed-from-years-of-running hamstrings. (😜)

6. I am grateful for coffee…coffee so strong that you can literally feel its impact within three to five minutes of the first sip. (See #3.)

7. I am grateful for my dogs. Because they remind me on a daily basis…that pretty much everything is made up…except of course for the furniture they lay around on. It’s a beautiful thing to read news articles about politics, out loud, and watch their reaction. 

8. I am grateful for all the leaves I haven’t raked yet and the fact that I live in a neighborhood where people don’t seem to care. 

9. I am grateful for all the supposedly bad things hat have happened in my life. Like that time I was hit by a car in 2007, while out on a run. For nearly a year I couldn’t run and its during times of great pain like that..where I figured out what really matters.

10. I am grateful for the people in my life…who somehow manage to believe in me while also holding me accountable. I can be impatient and messy and confrontational without trying to be…sometimes by just being myself…and you love me anyway. 

And you know…here’s the truth. That goes for many of you here…who check in every once in while. 

Yeah I’m talking about you. I am grateful for you too.

Happy Thanksgiving people.

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Left Out

I want you to see my America. 

She isn’t all pretty and nice and put together. 

No. She’s like us…messy, imperfect, despairing, grateful, joyful, angry, broken and real. 

Sometimes she’s mean and sometimes she’s loving. 

America is us. She is all of us. 

Today I had the privilege of speaking to a group of folks at a multi-religious, multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-age gathering. 

In other words…a gathering of Americans.

They all are part of Mecklenburg Ministries. 

I shared with them the backstory to Red Boot…my frustration with Washington, DC…my trip across America listening to us share our yearnings to be seen, heard and loved. 

When I was all done, we had a few minutes left for questions. A few had already come and gone…when She stood up. 

Here’s a picture of us. 

She is blonde…beautiful ringlets tucked beneath a head band…and a smile…yes that smile lights up her words as they pass from soul to air. 

“I have moved here from New Jersey. I am a journalist.”

She shares, through a rich and silky accent, that she is originally from Turkey. 

“People were friendly…when I first arrived…meals together…a curiosity about my story, where I’m from…until I shared that I am Muslim.”

“You don’t look Muslim,” some have said to her. 

Over time, she has noticed that folks aren’t as friendly…they don’t invite her for play dates with kids anymore. 

“Molly, what’s your advice or recommendation on how I deal with this? They don’t even stand with me at the bus stop. I am left out.”

The room is still. 

The seconds pass. 

“I don’t know,” I said. 

“I don’t know. Because I can’t fully know what it’s like.”

I thought for a second or two…trying to put myself in her shoes. I think I might’ve said something like, “I am trying to relate by thinking about a time I felt left out too.”

But then I realized that would’ve made it about me and in that moment it was about Her. This holy space…this sacred silence.

“I think we need to share a meal…break bread together.”

“Yes,” she said. 

As I was leaving, she came up to me…we took this picture and made our plans. 

“I want to help with The Red Boot Coalition,” she shares. 

I sit now in the Dallas airport and think about my next-door neighbors. They are Muslim. I have kindly waved as they drive by…but I haven’t done much more than that. I think next week is as good a time as any…to go knock on their door and see if they might like to join me for tea.

#redbootmoment

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Red Boot Ramblings: The Forgotten Ones

RED BOOT RAMBLINGS:

(Reminder… After two years…working on Capitol Hill on a project exploring what’s going on with all the polarization in America…I set off on a quest to discover what’s at the root of all that “us and them”. I drove from Charlotte to Las Vegas and interviewed hundreds of Americans. I thought now was as good a time as any to share those Red Boot Ramblings…to remember that we are all in this great nation…together. Here’s my first journal entry from that trip. I love ya’ll. It’s long and can be also found at my blog at www.mollybarker.com.) It gives me hope this morning and all mornings to remember this journey.

Red Boot Ride Ramblings 1: We are Small Like the Grass

(1) At the Jiffy Lube with the Forgotten

There is so much to share…to say.

Friday August 1, 2014. It is the first day of my cross country journey. I’m in the Jiffy Lube. Waiting for my “rental car” to be prepared for my trip.

We are waiting: me, a man, a woman and their small son. Obama comes on the television…he is talking about the conflict in Israel.

The man and his family are African-American. The man mumbles. “All lies. I’ve gotten to where I tune even HIM out.”

I ask him, “What’s your name?”

“I’m James. This is Gabriel,” he motions to his four-year-old son. “And this is my wife Michelle.” She smiles at me.

“So what happened?” I asked him as I nod my head toward the television screen.

“It’s what happens to everybody. It becomes about the money. He’s forgotten us.”

And so I ask him. “What do you mean by “us.”

James moves his hand in a circular motion, indicating the waiting area…it feels as if he is including me, but I’m not sure if he just means his family.

He continues. “I’m just doing my thing with my five kids, my wife. It’s hard. I work. I try to maintain the peace in my home, my life. He has forgotten who he is, where he came from. He has forgotten US.”

We sit in silence.

Gabriel begins to “play fight” with his dad. They wrestle like two puppy dogs in the chair…there at the Jiffy Lube.

Their play stops and Gabriel hops in his dad’s lap.

“I think all of them (he motions to the TV) need to get in one room and fight between themselves. Instead of sending us to do their war for them, they need to do it.”

He pauses, takes a deep breath. “Wars are not between people. They are between leaders.”

The man behind the counter lets me know that my car is ready. I say bye to James. Gabriel gives me a high five and Michelle smiles.

(2) The Feather

August 2, 2014: I’ve got this ongoing game with myself. About two weeks ago, I was running one morning and for whatever reason noticed a rather small bird feather resting gently on the path of my approaching feet. I took it as a symbol that I was on the right path…a blessed path…a path with wings indicating that this new project I’m working on is one I must pursue.

The next morning, I saw another one. I wasn’t looking for it. It was just there.

I’ve seen a feather on every run since then. I’m not looking for them. They just become seen and when I see them I laugh and think, “Oh there you are, of course.”

(3) Will and Gandhi

I arrive in Winchester, VA thirty or so minutes before our Red Boot Coalition gathering there. I am not nervous. I am excited. Scared but not nervous. I’m scared because the power of what appears to be unfolding in front of me is so beautiful, so powerful, so possible that I am scared of it. Do I have the courage to do this? Do I even want to
do this? Am I cut out for this?

People begin to arrive. Allison Freeze Major has offered her home. Prior to the trip’s beginning, I asked, through social media, if folks would be willing to host a gathering in their home…to talk, to listen with each other.

There are fifteen or so in a circle.

We begin. On this day I have found the words…or the words have found me. Like the feather on my path each morning, I see them and they come and we talk and we share and we cry and we laugh and we imagine and we create.

Something awesome comes into the room, when a woman who lives from the heart and leads with compassion, begins to cry sharing how she has felt judged by some individuals in her community because of her party affiliation. She is a Republican.

We listen and let her cry.

I look around the room and see the seekers, the open, the heart-driven, the compassionate, the vulnerable, the
real, the innovative, the unifiers…people who care deeply about each other, even though they may have never met.

We brainstorm.

We imagine how things could be different in leadership because that’s where the ideas flowed…people begin rapidly sharing them:

 What if folks like us came together and emotionally supported those of us in our group who were brave enough to “go first”…to run for office with an entirely different mindset than the system currently supports.

 If we no longer spoke through political ideologies, but spoke from the heart about the things that matter, like our children, listening to each other… if we were willing to truly dig deep to the heart of a matter and together find new solutions to some of our world’s most pressing problems. This isn’t about compromise…this is about co-creating!

 If we came together in our local communities and together created safe spaces for those who wish to run for office, to be themselves, to speak without ridicule, to be heard…to be supported because we really trust them.

 If we really trusted each other…leaders and people…because we are, after all, the same.

 If we participate in the political process not to win or be right…but to do what is best by sitting down,
creating safe spaces for people to listen to each other and build solutions together.

 If we were overtly transparent and vulnerable by admitting we don’t always know or have all the answers…that sometimes we did stupid stuff when we were younger…heck even when we were older…but that through it all we have learned, grown and continue to learn and grow because we are after all remarkably human.

We all feel a tremendous amount of positive energy emerge in the room…this is possible…because we are at this very moment creating the space right here right now…what has been done cannot be undone, so if we can do it…and we WANT to do…surely there are others.

In closing each person shares how they can contribute to the Red Boot Movement.

 A 19-year-old woman shares, “I can take the time to learn a little more about the political process. I don’t have to go all in, but I can begin to dig in a little bit.”

 A 27-year-old shares, “I’m going to seek out a friend who differs from me politically and ask to talk with her. To do as we have done here. To really dig down underneath and invite her to be a part of the Red Boot Movement, by having a conversation with her that goes to the heart of the matter by speaking from the heart…telling her I care about our relationship and I want to understand her.

 After several other people share their takeaways, Will, a free-spirited 24-year-old…his hair in a tight ponytail
on top of his head and a smile to light up the world, says. “I’m just gonna be it.”

We all pause…feel the grace of the moment.

I share with him later that he and one of the world’s greatest leaders have a lot in common. “Gandhi said the exact
same thing you know? Be the change.”

He smiles that smile and I wonder if Gandhi smiled like that.

(4) The Bottle Cap

This morning I go for a run in Winchester. I’m running through neighborhoods. The sun is shining. It is a beautiful day. I decide to go to the local high school track to run a couple of miles there. Three girls are playing soccer with heir dad down on the track infield.

I am starting mile 2 when an orange bottle cap catches my eye. I reach down to pick it up…concerned someone may not see it and twist an ankle…when my eyes are pulled to the side of the track where three bottles await the family on the infield. One of them is a Girls on the Run 5k water bottle.

I can’t resist. “Excuse me,” I say to the father. “Did one of your girls do Girls on the Run?”

“Yes,” he says. The girls run over.

The oldest says, “I did it this past year and I’m going to do it again.”

The middle shouts as if she has just won the lottery, “I’M IN THIRD GRADE NOW SO I GET TO DO IT!!!!” She lifts her hands up in the air and does a small victory dance.

The youngest pouts and says. “I’m not old enough.”

I tell them that I am the founder. They think it’s kinda cool, but soccer on this beautiful morning is way cooler.

I finish my run…and of course, see a feather on the way back.

(5) Grass

I am driving somewhere. Tomorrow it is Rochester, NY. I am going North. I have no idea where I’m going to stop…just somewhere that seems cool. My cell service and wi-fi are spotty so I don’t know where I am exactly except heading in the right direction for my Red Boot Gathering at Molly Harrigan Huff’s tomorrow.

I want to stop and write and enjoy this beautiful fall-like-feeling afternoon before I head to my hotel. Starbucks would be great. I can write, sip the hot stuff and read.

I take the exit off the highway toward what looks like downtown Williamsport and of course, a Starbucks is there.

I sit down, open my book to read a bit. It is a book by the sage Osho.

The title of it is “Courage, the Joy of Living
Dangerously.”

I open the book and return to where I have been reading. I am at this section:

“When you move into life, what do you see?

A great storm comes, and big trees fall. They should survive, according to Charles Darwin, because they are the fittest, strongest, most powerful. Look at an ancient tree, three hundred feet high, three thousand years old. The very presence of the tree creates strength, gives a feeling of strength and power. Millions of roots have
spread inside the earth gone deep, and the tree is standing with power. Of course the tree fights—it doesn’t want to yield, to surrender, but after the storm, it has fallen, it is dead, it is no longer alive, and all that strength has
gone.

The storm was too much—the storm is always too much, because the storm comes from the whole, and a tree is just an individual.

Then there are small plants and ordinary grass–when the storm comes the grass yields, and the storm cannot do any harm to it. At the most it can give it a good cleansing, that’s all. All the dirt that has gathered on it is washed away.

When the storm has gone the small plants and the grasses are again dancing high. The grass has almost no
roots, it can be pulled out by a small child, but the storm was defeated.”

I think about what’s happening in my life and I marvel at the Red Boot energy…it is a grassroots effort created by the whole of us.

I feel so small as I write this and I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry.

 

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We Begin

For the last few weeks I’ve found myself crying. A lot. 

And let me tell you. This isn’t about the election OR the outcome. Listen to me…MY DESPAIR ISN’T ABOUT THIS ELECTION so please don’t make it about that!

No…it started long before. 

It pretty much didn’t matter what I was doing. The tears appeared.

So I made a decision (and this was, friends, several weeks PRIOR to the election) to go ahead and cry. To cry hard. To curl-up-on-the-couch-in-the-fetal-position kind of cry. To look-at-myself-in-the-mirror-and-watch-the-tears-appear kind of cry. To drive-in-the-car-and-play-sad-music kind of cry.

I talked to my family, my friends, my colleagues. “Am I going crazy?” “Am I depressed?” “Am I losing my grip on reality?” I have spent nearly as much time trying to determine the cause of my crying as I did…crying.

And finally, I figured it out. I have been mourning…mourning my loss of hope.

Hope for my nation. Hope for compassionate leadership. Hope for my children. Hope for my children’s children. Hope for the bullied. Hope for the poor, the suffering, the disenfranchised. Hope for the underserved, the disabled, the voiceless. Hope for our creatures, this land, the environment. Hope for wo/man/kind.

For someone like me who has literally made a living…heck a life…inspiring hope…losing it is like dying. Seriously, it’s like dying little tiny deaths every day.

Two years ago, I had reached a similar kind of despair. After working on Capitol Hill for two years on a project (the name of it was Run2Lead) designed to address our highly polarized nation, I had to pull the plug on it. “Whatever you do Molly,” one Congressional staffer shared with me. “Do NOT use the words peace or compassion here on the Hill. You’ll get written off right away. Those words don’t work here.”

She wasn’t kidding. I was written off.

I drove home cynical…a heart filled with despair and a tank low on hope.

After several weeks of wandering around my house, and acknowledging my frustration with the current state of my beloved America, I decided, rather than waiting for hope to come to me, I would go find it!

I rented a Mustang convertible and drove from Charlotte, NC to Las Vegas, NV and interviewed hundreds of Americans about what they believed was separating us from each other…in essence, what was stealing our hope. I wrote extensively about my conversations. I experienced more joy than I thought possible. I changed. I grew.

I came back overflowing with hope.

After hearing the despair, frustration and anger from all sides and all people this past week, I decided to revisit my writings. At the time I called them the Red Boot Ride Ramblings.

And now that I’ve read through these materials, two years later and at another point of despair and inflection, I am again…filled with hope and a new call to action.

The Red Boot Ride Ramblings are my unedited journal entries from the ride.

So, let me just get to the point. If you are despairing about the current state of our nation…the Presidential election, the bullying, the violence, the anger and separation between us, please consider joining me every morning, for a while…right here. The writings that follow are very close to their original form. I’ve made a few changes to accommodate the typesetting, but other than that, these were the words as they came through me at that time.

I will highlight these essays on this page (and my Facebook page if you are over there as well) by labeling them “THE RED BOOT RAMBLINGS.”

Read along and know that you are not alone. We are not alone. There are many more of us who yearn for a joyful, united, harmonious America than those who do not. It’s just hard to find each other sometimes.

We begin tomorrow.  

I love you.

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Give a Little Love

Hey…so at Red Boot, we like to use “hiking” metaphors. Look at it this way. You can’t go straight for a hike of the Appalachian Trail without training first, right? You have to start small…maybe a walk around the block, and then a walk around the block with all your gear on.

I remember when this video came out. It brought me some peace this morning. I’ve been having trouble assuming positive intent…the media, the world seem to be so “us and them.”

I think you can start small. As simple as a smile at someone…or holding the door, or helping a neighbor.

I made the effort yesterday to return to some of my “early” Red Boot Ways. I went out of my way to be extra kind to people I encountered and guess what…I felt better about things.

Smiling, eye contact, being kind…these all restore my faith in humanity and I get something in return for sure…the feeling like I can do something…like I can be love…in what feels like a dark time.

Social justice is important. Marches, protests, organizing…these things are all important to me AND so too, are the ways I choose to treat the people around me. For me, it’s an AND.

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Almost Ready

I’ve been working on a proposal this morning and had to give some backstory on the Red Boot Coalition. I realize that I have many new folks here and so I thought I would share.

In 2014, I founded The Red Boot Coalition (www.theredbootcoalition.org) to address the highly polarized state of our nation and communities. This “us versus them” mentality is everywhere. Whether it’s race, religion, politics, gender or economics, there seems to be no escaping it.

After I “retired” from Girls on the Run in 2012, I spent two years on Capitol Hill, serving on the Commission on Political Reform (CPR.) The CPR, a project of the Bipartisan Policy Center (http://bipartisanpolicy.org/commission-on-political-reform/) was tasked with exploring ways we might encourage a more civil dialogue at the highest levels of our nation’s leadership. At the conclusion of that experience, I felt personally dissatisfied with the results and decided to address the issue at a more grassroots, personal level.

In August of 2014, I put on my “conversation-starting-red-boots” and traveled across the country, listening to hundreds of Americans as they answered this one simple question, “What do you think is at the root of our highly polarized nation?” Conversations were authentic, lively and honest. I listened to people from every walk of life share on race, religion, gender and politics. In coffee shops, restaurants, truck stops, convenience stores, state parks, on farms and in big cities…Americans opened their hearts to me–and time after time I heard the same thing, often with tears in their eyes: “What people want and what’s missing is that sense of being seen, heard and loved. People just need to know they matter.”

I came home a changed person. No longer as tangled up in biases and labels (although…I am human and folks point out my biases all the time, which in my opinion is a good thing.) I quickly developed the Red Boot Eleven Steps (http://theredbootcoalition.org/the-11-steps) and began holding Red Boot Meetings in coffee shops, YMCA’s and other locations across Charlotte-Mecklenburg. 

Over time, more people came on board and thanks to them, the Red Boot Coalition received its nonprofit 501 (c) 3 status. The program now exists in twelve communities across the country. 

After two years of seeing what works and what doesn’t, the Red Boot Coalition is now prepared to scale.  

Soon we will be announcing a new strategy that will make the program more accessible to more people.  

Truth is…that damn trip changed me…I mean once you see, you can’t unsee. I listened to the poor, the rich, the white, the black, the brown, the Muslim, the Christian, the atheist…pretty much everybody and I just can’t bring it to my heart and soul to ever hate or demonize anybody. 

I also found this photo from my time on Capitol Hill and for some reason…it kinda makes me laugh at myself. 😀. I fell in love with everyone of these people because we had to work through some hard things. I also notice the lack of racial and ethnic diversity, although there was a tremendous amount of political diversity. I will share that I totally fan girled the women on the commission…especially Olympia Snowe (in the front row in purple) and Vicky Kennedy (in the bright red suit on the right.)

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