A Conversation with Senzela Atmar

By: Alyssa Curran

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In the mid-1990s, following a chaotic end to the nine year Soviet-Afghan War, Afghanistan was ravaged by civil unrest.  After years of war and no clear leadership, competing fundamentalist groups fought to rule the country. A newly formed militia, the Taliban, began their rise to power, and by 1996 they had conquered the capital city of Kabul, establishing the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. It was an era of violence and persecution for the Afghan people. According to the Pakistani government, by 1996, the number of registered refugees who fled Afghanistan to Pakistani and Iranian camps reached 3.2 million. One of these refugees was Senzela Atmar. She shared her firsthand account of displacement in one of the world’s most protracted refugee crises in history.

The Atmar family lived well before the Soviet-Afghan War. Senzela’s mother was a biology professor and her father a university dean. In the ‘80s, her parents thrived as intellectuals with influence, resources and connections. But born into a different Afghanistan than her parents had experienced just a decade prior, Senzela started life with a target on her back.

“In Kabul, in the mid-90s, if you were educated and had land or resources, the Taliban threatened to kill you or kidnap members of your family to hold for ransom,” she said. “If you had lived comfortably before, you lived in constant fear under the new extremist stronghold.”

Members of armed political groups routinely entered civilian houses in Kabul and other parts of the country, killing members of the family who resisted their entry, confiscating property, and kidnapping children. Reports of torture, mass executions and unlawful imprisonment in private detention centers were widespread.

“For our family, and many others, living in Kabul can be best described as survival. We hid in our home most of the time, and left the house only in short spurts to buy food,” she described. “The windows in our home were shattered more than once, and by early 1995, the Taliban forces were shelling Kabul with ferocity.”

It wasn’t until later that year that the government issued a 72-hour cease fire, and the Atmar family jumped at the opportunity to flee the country. Within weeks of their departure, the home they had left behind was left in rubble after their neighborhood was bombed.

“Fleeing the country was not easy,” Senzela said. “First of all, you could only flee if you had some money. Without money, you had to stay put, and many did. We paid a man who was smuggling people over the border to drive us as far as he could, but in rural Afghanistan, infrastructure, like drivable roads, was lacking, and we were forced to walk for many miles. We were six children and our parents, at that time, hoping to find safety and livable conditions, but that’s not what we experienced when we arrived to Pakistan.”

The Atmar family registered at the United Nations Refugee Camp in Peshawar, Pakistan in the winter of 1995. The camp consisted of large tent communities and mud-brick box “apartments”, available at an additional cost. They passed their days waiting in lines for food rations and water, in a compound where resources were limited.

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"Everyone thought it was temporary,” she said. “That the extremists would be pushed out and we could go home.” But the news of a stable Kabul never came.

While rumors of a better life spread among the newcomers, many of the same fears that plagued citizens in Kabul were alive and well for Afghan refugees in the camps. Extremist groups had members living in the camps to enlist young men and enforce their laws, and their influence was strong. Inside the camps there were murders and kidnappings, just like there were on the outside.

“It was, once again, dangerous to look like you were from the middle class. So, people made themselves look poor. Mom wouldn’t bathe us often so we’d look dirty and wouldn’t get as much attention from potential threats. We were pale skinned Afghans and we were getting harassed for this, too -- my brother, Iqbal, especially. Light brown hair and hazel eyes, Iqbal had features that stood out in any crowd. Toward the end of our time in the camps, my brother was pushed in front of a car and killed by, what my mother described as, young Taliban recruits. Iqbal was 11 years old.”

“In a desperate time for our family, we did receive one blessing that year. In his ‘school’ (really a haphazard gathering of kids and sometimes a teacher), my oldest brother, Atal, had submitted paperwork to the U.S. Government to enter the visa lottery on behalf of our family, without our knowing. The chances of being selected were slim to none. Miraculously, our family received word that we had been approved to move to the United States.”

“I used to avoid telling my story. It’s triggering and difficult to relive, but it’s important for people to understand what it was like then and how it affected us.”

The Immigration Act of 1990 increased the total, overall immigration to allow 700,000 immigrants to come to the U.S. per year from '92–'94, and 675,000 per year after that. It provided a family-based immigration visa, created employment based visas, and instituted a diversity visa program that created a lottery to admit immigrants from "low admittance" countries or countries where their citizenry was underrepresented in the U.S. The Atmar family fell into the diversity visa program category.

“When we received the letter from the U.S. Embassy, we first thought it was too good to be true. Then, we spoke with relatives in the United States, and they told us more about the visa process. We learned that upon receipt of the letter, we could leave the country at any time. Thanks to the help of our family, we were able to pay the $13,000+ to purchase flights from Pakistan to the United States. I have a fond memory of landing in the Nashville Airport and seeing all of the bright lights.”

The Atmars moved to Nashville in 1997 and would find themselves facing a new set of challenges: starting fresh as a Middle Eastern family in the American South, where anti-refugee rhetoric was both rampant and deep-rooted. They spent the first six months in Nashville living in Senzela’s aunt’s garage. Senzela’s father, once the dean of a large university, now walked to the local McDonalds each day to work and her mother worked at Kroger. Senzela’s mother spoke English, but the other members of the family began ESL programs to learn the language, and the Atmars lived without a car for a several years until one was donated to their family.

“We were the only Middle Eastern kids at our school,” said Senzela. “Once again, we stood out in the crowd as different. But we are resilient and our parents were able to build a safe and happy home for us to grow up in Tennessee, in spite of all we’d been through.”

Today, there are 2.5 million registered Afghan refugees across the globe, according to the U.N.’s Refugee Agency, many with similar stories to the Atmar family’s. Afghans make up the world’s second largest refugee population, and violence continues to drive people from their homes.

Senzela pays tribute to her past by serving displaced persons through her Nashville-based nonprofit, Relief Without Borders. She and her team help restore post-disaster countries through strategic campaigns. One of the organization’s main initiatives this year is the Afghan School Project where they’re building and developing a sustainable, co-ed school to educate 300+ children. The organization has already purchased the land and is campaigning to move to the next phase, alongside a team of local, Afghan educators.

Senzela believes in the importance of sharing refugees’ stories, like her own, in order to communicate the shared human experience. Hear stories from some of the men, women and children aided by Relief Without Borders and learn ways you can help.

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Mental Health: A Conversation with Margaret Brittingham

By: Kathryn Berk

Between running her private practice and caring for her one-year old daughter, Margaret took a few minutes to tell us about her path to becoming a counselor and how therapy can help.

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Can you tell us what inspired you to become a counselor?

I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do when I graduated college, and I got a job doing street outreach and HIV testing and counseling in New Orleans. The ‘counseling’ was really just filling out a questionnaire of risky habits, but I loved being able to connect with and provide support to people in a scary moment. That eventually led me to getting a master’s in counseling, and from there I got more and more interested in the field -- especially the things to learn about that connect to so many different disciplines, and to the big existential questions of existence. So for me it’s kind of a perfect synthesis between science, art, spirituality, and the beauty and complexity of life.

What is the day-to-day life of a counselor like? What are some of the most rewarding parts of your job? What’s the most challenging part?

I think it really depends on the therapist. I do walk and talk therapy, online therapy, and in office therapy and I schedule my clients around my main job, which is mothering, so my schedule varies from week to week.

The most rewarding part for me is witnessing clients’ healing and growth. It’s pretty amazing. I think the most challenging part is being able to sit with other people’s suffering and simultaneously not shut it out, but also not take too much of it on and have it totally drain me. It’s a delicate dance that I imagine I will be learning for my whole life.

Why do you think there is such a stigma about mental health/ seeking treatment?

That’s a great question. I think a lot of the painful aspects of our internal lives (like depression or anxiety) are really isolating. They make us feel like there is something wrong with us, or like we’re damaged and different than everybody else and then we feel ashamed and our natural impulse is to bury our head in the sand rather than go expose what we see as our brokenness to somebody else.

So I think that is part of it. Another part of it, I think, is that hearing about somebody else’s suffering brings up some pain or vulnerability in us that we have been putting a lot of our energy into not feeling -- so we avoid, ignore or gloss over their suffering and stigmatize it as a very short-sighted way of protecting ourselves.  

I also think we live in a culture where we value self-reliance and perfectionism. You should be perfect and you shouldn’t need any help, and those are the aspects of yourself you should present to the world.  Haha! So those are pretty strong cultural values and messages that I think tend to lead us to bury our pain, isolate more from each other and pretend we’re happier and have it more together than we are and than we do. Then of course our isolation exacerbates our distress and it gets into a problematic cycle...

What’s the biggest myth about therapy?

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The first thing that comes to my mind is that you go to a therapist for them to ‘fix you’. Subtext:  if you go to a therapist, you’re broken, and this other person has the power to fix you. Which is not true!

In reality, counseling is a safe place to become aware of habitual patterns of reacting and to resolve unresolved pain or trauma that is keeping you stuck in patterns that create distress. It can help you discover the link between your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. In moving our habitual patterns into conscious awareness, we are empowered to choose to act differently. When they remain unconscious, they control us.

There is a lot in the news recently about depression and mental health. What does “mental health” mean to you, and why do you think it’s important to talk about it?

“Mental health” to me means self-compassion and a commitment, or willingness, to become aware of the interplay between our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors -- and by doing so, become a little more empowered to be in a relationship with them that creates peace and not suffering.

I think it’s so so important to talk about mental health because so many of the things that plague us -- depression, anxiety, feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem, guilt, shame, fear -- their nature is to isolate us and to sow discord in our relationships with ourselves and with others. When we talk about it, we take away some of the channels through which these issues really grow strong, and we realize that these are things we all struggle with at various times in our life and that we can help each other heal. We realize that we don’t HAVE to feel like this forever. When we drive it all underground and pretend it’s not there, no healing can take place.

How (if at all) has being a mother changed how you approach or think about mental health?

Becoming a mom has definitely changed how I think about mental health, in that it really has made very real for me the poignancy of innocence lost that is part of our human condition.

When I look at my daughter I see how innocent and open she is. She radiates a joy for life, and a natural confidence in being lovable and in being loved. She takes other people as they are and she takes her emotions as they come and she is open and full of wonder. It’s heartbreaking to know that as she grows, she will be put in boxes by others’ expectations and she will inevitably internalize some of those messages and at the very least those messages, and quite possibly external obstacles, will move her away from this place in herself that is open and free.

And hopefully, she will consciously make a choice to try to rediscover and reconnect with that place inside of us which is beyond all the habits of thinking and feeling and doing that we have picked up to survive and to protect ourselves, but which also imprison us.

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So I think for me, just being around and loving another human being who is as open and free as a young baby reminds me that this is how we all started out, and really helps me to see that part in my clients.

It also really underlines the importance of the work of facing all the pain that has accumulated in life and that keeps us imprisoned, because now I think about my baby going through this and how desperately I would want her to know that the patterns she accumulates through her life and her suffering are not the whole story, and she really has a fundamental richness too that is beyond and underneath all of that.

What would you say to someone who is on the fence about seeking treatment?

I would say you should totally do it! You know,  if you hate it, it’s not as if you’re forced to keep going. Just try to find a therapist that you connect with and feel understood by and see if it feels helpful.

Different approaches work for different people. What do you like to do personally to focus on yourself and preserve your health?

I love being in nature, like deep in a lush, green forest after a summer rain or on the beach watching the waves break and feeling the salty breeze. Internally, I like to scan through my body and listen to/ feel any uncomfortable emotions or tension or spots of vulnerability and just pretend they’re a vulnerable little child that needs my love and care, rather than my enemy that I must destroy.

Where can I go to find a therapist and learn more about mental health treatments?

I think Psychology Today is a good resource for finding a therapist. I found my therapist there and most people offer free consultations so you can see if they feel like a good fit for you. They also have a lot of articles about mental health and different treatments.

You can contact Margaret and learn more about her services on her website here.


If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for a list of additional resources.

The Nudes Shop: A Conversation with Caitlin Shirock

By: Alyssa Curran

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Caitlin’s studio is a designer’s paradise: vining plants, antique furniture, abstract artwork framed with gold leaf, and fanned paintbrushes floating in glass jars. “I was bored with my floors,” she tells me. “So, I got down on my hands and knees and started painting.” Now a bold black and white checkerboard, she has created a sanctuary of clean lines.

Her personality matches aesthetic – bright, sharp and expressive. Caitlin talked emphatically about art school, graduate school and starting a design career in New York. We discussed her experiences working for large brands including Betsey Johnson, Ralph Lauren, Oscar de la Renta and Abercrombie and Fitch, and discussed the ups-and-downs of launching her own brand here in Nashville, Cash Color.

You’ve worked with several top-rated brands. How did these experiences lead to your starting Cash Color?
I loved the fast-paced world of fashion and design when I was living in New York, with brands like Oscar de la Renta, and in Ohio, at the Abercrombie and Fitch Headquarters. I was immersed in the entire process, from concept and design to distribution. My favorite part of the work was to concept with my team: building a mood board and choosing fresh colors, patterns and themes each season. It was invigorating work.

I moved to Nashville in 2013 with a vision for change and I was ready to go off on my own. Cash Color was born with the hope of carving out a space in the abstract art market here.

What resources and tips can you offer women interested in starting their own businesses?
Transitioning from a huge corporation, where I worked with a massive team, to a team of one was terrifying. I had work, mainly logos and small design projects, but I felt really small when I first started out here. I built my brand with the help of a creative entrepreneurship program called My Own Irresistible Brand. This organization offers an online community where entrepreneurs support each other. We began by carving out our “why”– digging deep by answering questions like, “Why are you working in the arts and how will your pieces serve the community?” One valuable lesson I learned early on was to stick to what I’m good at and hire out the rest, when possible.

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You talk about Cash Color as a brand that was built by women for women. Tell me more.
My series, The Love Every Body Collection, is a nod to the body positivity movement. Our gouache, abstract nudes come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. I want women and girls to feel beautiful in their skin. I’m currently pregnant and my body is changing. I want to keep reminding myself and others that a woman’s body is beautiful at every stage. It’s truly amazing what our bodies can do.


Where can we find your work?
From original abstract pieces and commissions to hand-lettering and homewares, you can find my work at art shows throughout the Southeast, local pop-ups, and via our website. Come visit us on June 29 at Porter Flea. Follow along on Instagram: @cash.color.

Herb Your Enthusiasm: An Afternoon with Kerbi Howat

By: Alyssa Curran

 Photo by Bree Marie Fish Photography

Photo by Bree Marie Fish Photography

Kerbi is a business owner, foliage design guru and first-time mom to baby Arlo.

I chatted with her about practical tips for female entrepreneurs, local resources for new moms, and best practices for designing with houseplants.

 

 

Tell me about how a backyard gardening hobby led to your opening Flora.

I spent my previous career in social service and social enterprise and had great opportunities to work internationally and locally with different populations, but I needed a break. I quit my job with no back-up plan.

I had recently met a new friend, Kate Holl. Kate and I shared a love for gardening and plant life. Our budding friendship led to countless conversations about our dreams of opening a shop. Flora began as a traveling pop up shop until we opened our brick and mortar storefront on Trinity Lane in the Spring of 2017.

Can you offer some practical advice for women looking to start a business in Nashville?

Mentorship is key. Network with people who work in the same industry. Pick their brains about process, infrastructure, business plans, marketing, challenges, and triumphs. Make sure to have this support system because a lot of times when starting a new business, you feel like you’re in open water.

What about securing funding to get started? Any tips?

Nashville is turning the tide on providing funding for women and minority entrepreneurs, but there’s still a long way to go. We had a lot of trouble finding funding, but I’ll go back to the importance of making connections early in the game with like-minded people.

Flora’s Co-founder, Kate, recently moved out of state and you’re now the sole owner of the business. Tell me a bit about this transition and the challenges associated with this change.

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This was bitter sweet. I loved being partners with Kate, but wish her well in her new endeavors in Wisconsin. I certainly would not have had the courage to start Flora without her.

That being said, transitioning from a partnership to a sole proprietorship has been a change, for sure. It has been particularly stressful because the week she left was the week I came back from maternity leave. “Mom brain” is real and I have had it bad. My first week back I would have to ask my staff the names of plants in the shop that I have worked with for years. With a newborn, and learning to navigate without Kate, my workload has quadrupled. It’s getting easier though. I’m learning to do more in less time.

Let’s talk about being a first-time mom to a newborn as well as a business owner. Can you recommend any resources for new moms in town?

I’ve love being part of the Baby+Co community. They are a birth center that offer a ton of resources and classes for pregnant women and new moms. I joined a six week long new moms group and I loved it. I don’t have family in town and for a first-time mom, it was so important to have a community and know that I was not alone navigating new motherhood. It’s a community where you can ask questions like, “Is this normal?” and “Are we going to survive this?” when it’s been a long night or we’re going through a new phase with the baby. I’m currently enrolling in a new class called “About First Foods” which explains how to introduce real food to your baby.  

Those are super helpful tips. There’s no doubt about it that mothers are Herculean. Having a community to learn from and grow with seems so important. Tell me about Flora’s products and services. Your plant design and consultation offerings seem very popular. How do you begin styling a room with plants and can you share any high-level design tips?

When we do consultations, we’ll go into the space and the first things we have to consider are the availability of light and how much maintenance the home or business owner wants to take on. If a client travels a lot and isn’t home often, or just prefers lower maintenance, for example, we’re able to help them choose plants that do not require much attention.

We start with the availability of light and work from there based on their décor. If we’re working with mid-century style, for example, we’ll incorporate more tree-like plants and moody colors. If we’re going for a more Bohemian look, we may incorporate cylindrical planters with palms. The design piece is really fun and a large part of our business.

What are your customers buying? What’s hot?

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Some customers shop for aesthetic, and others for health benefits. In general, we’re riding a wave where houseplants are very popular. The benefits of houseplants are numerous. They help to increase productivity and creativity, filter toxins, enhance our moods and minimize stress.

Currently, our customers are very interested in the tropical plants like fiddle leaf figs and birds of paradise, as well as desert plants like succulents and cacti. With the exception of the fiddle leaf fig, which is extremely high maintenance, tropical plants tend to be pretty low key, and for that reason are top sellers.

Our number one seller is the snake plant. This is a hardy, low maintenance, but beautiful plant that thrives in the shade. I would recommend purchasing a snake plant if you’re a first-time plant owner or if you’d like to give a plant as a gift.

Why do you think houseplants are so “in” right now?

First off, I don’t think having plants in the home has ever not been in style. Mid-century pieces and general style of design is still super popular. Mid-century homes were filled with the same types of plants that are popular today. Macrame plant hangers and indoor house plants dominated in the 70’s and are still trending now.

Also, social media is used a lot to find design inspiration. Structural plants add a lot to a well-furnished room. Vining plants add whimsy. Almost all photos you see online of an interior space contain plants which have definitely led to an increased interest in indoor plants, especially specific plants. The fiddle leaf fig started to see it’s (very long and continuing) moment in the spotlight because it’s the chosen plant of lifestyle bloggers.

I’m glad to hear that the fiddle leaf fig is high maintenance and it’s not just me. I have the hardest time keeping mine alive. Any advice for caring for these tricky little guys?

Fiddle leaf figs like bright light. I would position them near a South facing window and water weekly, but don’t let it get too soggy. Additionally, do not position it near air vents. They can be fickle.

If you’re struggling to care for a plant, send us a picture of the plant, or bring it into the shop, and we can offer advice on ways to revive it.


To learn more about all Flora has to offer, visit FloraPlantShop.com, or check out their Instagram @floraplantshop.

Body Love: A Conversation with Jessica Williams

By: Alyssa Curran

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Jessica Williams is a wellness coach focused on promoting health and body positivity for women. She founded WERK Your Curves to create a safe space for women, and especially women of color, who are trying to improve their overall wellbeing. She takes a multi-faceted, holistic approach to coaching, touching on clients’ personal relationships, spirituality, finances, fitness and diet.

We talked with Jessica about the body positivity movement, the underrepresentation of women of color in the fitness space, and why we should never comment on weight, even if we’re trying to offer a compliment.

What led you to the wellness industry and the founding of Werk Your Curves?

I have dealt with body issues for years. My natural body tends toward a more curvy and stout stature and I always felt something was wrong with me. It started at a very young age and I never really settled the score with how I feel in the skin I was blessed with. I tried yo-yo diets: Weight Watchers, South Beach, you name it, but they weren’t sustainable. Once I reached a certain weight or aesthetic, old habits crept back.

It wasn’t until the past several years that I recognized the need for a more holistic approach to health and wellness. I want to know that if I make great choices and treat my body with care, my size does not matter to those around me. With Werk Your Curves, I help clients Work, Embrace, Respect and Know (WERK) their bodies and improve their overall well-being. We look within to discover underlying issues and manifest change from the inside out.

Let’s talk about the underrepresentation of women of color in the fitness and health space in Tennessee.

As a woman of color, I personally do not feel represented by the fitness status quo. Fitness has a certain look. I don’t know any other industry that values aesthetic more than this industry, and guess what? She doesn’t look like me, and she never will unless we create a space where she does. I’ve been to countless gyms and fitness events where I didn’t see enough women of color represented. I know so many women who have felt isolated in the wellness space and this really sparked something in me.

My goal is for all women to feel like they have a community. I’m coaching women and hosting events for women where they have a safe space to work on themselves. I want my clients to know they’re not fighting this battle alone. They can have candid, safe conversations here. My clients are all shapes and sizes. We’re not scale focused and no one is judging.  

Body shaming is disgusting and cruel, but happening all the time. What recommendations do you have for helping to foster this body positivity movement?

One easy fix is to stop commenting on weight, period. Commenting on someone’s weight is a no-no unless they’ve brought it up, whether they have gained or lost. We often feel like we’re being nice if we say, “Wow, you’ve really lost weight.” Unfortunately, you don’t know what measures someone has taken to get to this new weight. Are they doing something unhealthy like eating 600 calories a day and going to the gym twice a day to sustain this weight? Are you feeding into that negative behavior that’s causing this person to lose/gain that weight? Or, perhaps they don’t want you to acknowledge that you noticed their previous weight in the first place. I can’t stress enough - don’t mention it unless they bring it up first.

That being said, my idea of body positivity lies in the idea of finding my own version of my best self. It doesn’t have a specific size or weight, but it does have a very specific mindset. Going into every single day with an affirming attitude that I will take care of my life in a very holistic manner, love where I am and look forward to where I’m going. We are all strong and powerful and beautiful. We find that in our process.

What language would you recommend using to compliment someone’s healthy behaviors?

Say something like, “You have this glow about you” or “you’re really thriving.” If they bring up weight, then you have permission to talk with them about it. Let them guide the conversation.

As a mother, how do you talk with your son about body image?

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I focus on encouraging my son to have a healthy relationship with food. He’ll say little things like, “Mommy, I’m fat.” I tell him, “You are not fat. If you’re hungry, eat. If you’re not, don’t.” Additionally, if I I’m not feeling as body positive as I’d like on a particular day, I try not to express negative self-talk around him. So many of our body image issues are passed down because our parents were so vocal about theirs.  

What are your favorite self-care routines?

I indulge in simple self-care. My favorite activity is taking a bath using essential oils, epsom salts, and lavender. I also enjoy quiet time in prayer and thought on my deck. I feel refueled by increments of solitude.  

What does one week’s worth of workouts look like for you?

For my personal taste and my body, I do a lot of kettlebells and strength training at The Southern Squeeze. I commit to a one hour workout, four times a week. I also incorporate other fun routines like taking a walk outside. In holistic health, finding balance is key to success in any facet. It’s about establishing routines that are effective, enjoyable, and sustainable.

Connect with Jessica on Instagram and visit her website to schedule a complimentary intake session. Don’t miss Jessica’s upcoming event: Werk Your Body: A Body Love Movement for Women of Color on May 12.

Burn Baby: A Conversation with Amanda Pargh

By: Rachel Bubis

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We’re hot sauce fanatics at Congress Club, and long-time friends with Amanda. We wanted to connect with her to hear why she started Burn, how she went from fashion major to hot sauce purveyor, and what it was like moving from Nashville to Santa Cruz.

Tell us a little bit about your background. What inspired you to move to California and start Burn?

I grew up in Nashville and went to college for fashion design. I loved feeding my friends and reading cookbooks. After watching a bunch of Iron Chef, I decided to write chefs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo about a summer internship. I moved out to California, spent three months in the kitchen at Animal and fell in love with it. It made me so happy to create beautiful dishes for other people.

After college I spent some time on an organic farm in South America then moved to Los Angeles to find kitchen work. I landed a job at Lucques, where I spent two years making some of the most delicious food I’ve even tasted and meanwhile met Chase, the love of my life, in a drum circle on the beach. It was such a good time in Venice Beach. We moved up to Sonoma and finally had a chance to start our own garden. I started cooking at Ad Hoc and Chase was working on all types of farms and gardens, but when we were at home together we were cooking from our garden, foraging and fermenting all kinds of yummy things.

Not long after, we moved to Santa Cruz for work. Chase was working at a pepper farm and I was cooking at Manresa. One day Chase brought home a boatload of peppers and I started fermenting hot sauce. Months later we blended it, bottled it and gave it to friends. It was so good that you could just see the light bulb go on above Chase’s head. That night we talked about our hot sauce dreams and purchased burnhotsauce.com. The rest is history!  

Can you tell me about what it was like transitioning from working in the kitchen to having your own food business? Why did you make this decision?

We started burn while we were both working other jobs. I was working the line at Manresa and Chase was working at Mountain Feed and Farm. Chase loved my hot sauce and we just kinda started the business one step at a time. We were both working other jobs, but this fermented hot sauce idea just kept us fired up! We would get home and talk about it and it became this cool thing that we did together. After we did our first food expo, we knew we were onto something, so we started selling at the Santa Cruz farmers markets and left our jobs. It was so exciting working together that it all just happened naturally.

What's it like having a business with your partner (and soon to be husband!)?

Chase is an amazing business partner. He saw the magic in something I made and helped turn it into a real business. We support each other in our different roles in and also allow each other to shine in our respective positions. It also taught me the importance of communication- now that we’ve started a business we can do ANYTHING!

What was the most interesting thing you learned working at Ad Hoc and French Laundry?

After working in the kitchen at Ad Hoc I got a job in the French Laundry garden. I helped with weeding, watering, harvesting and planting and it opened my eyes to so many different types of edible flowers, shoots, stems and leaves that you can eat during the life cycle of a plant. After 5 years of kitchen work, it was nice to stop and appreciate where the food comes from.

Did you serve any celebrities while you were there?

Haha no, but last week I gave a hot sauce tasting to Don Cheadle at a Farmshop in Los Angeles!

What would your last meal be?

Bacon, eggs, challah French toast, real maple syrup.

Have you ever noticed any food/culture similarities or differences between Santa Cruz and Nashville?

Definitely that both cities love to eat! Nashville has its BBQ joints and biscuits and Santa Cruz has its farmers markets. There is definitely a time and place for both, and I hope to see more cross over in the future.

What’s your favorite Nashville restaurant?

City House.

Where can you sample or purchase Burn products in TN? What’s next for you and Burn?

So far we are carried at Eio and the Hive and are looking to expand in towards other markets. Just let us know where y’all want Burn and we will make it spicy!

You can follow Burn online and purchase their products at www.burnhotsauce.com

Witchy Woman: A Conversation with Healer and Tarot Reader, Holly Ramey

By: Alyssa Curran

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For the newly curious, the tarot conjures images of clairvoyant fortune tellers, crystal balls shrouded in smoke and secret ceremonies conducted by moonlight. The magic is seductive.

The history behind the practice and accompanying symbolism live up to this mystical narrative, but the realities of tarot readings today are more practical and healing in nature than bohemian folklore.

A novice to the practice, I wasn’t sure what to expect from my first tarot reading with Holly, but I was pleased to find the experience to be fulfilling. Holly guides a restorative conversation, much like a therapy session, letting the cards guide theme and dialogue. She is an empathetic listener and dynamic storyteller who facilitates natural connections between symbolism and reality. Maybe it’s the burnt sage or dimly lit space, but there’s something about the spellbinding energy that melts away walls and leads to meaningful discussion.

In this interview, I connected with Holly to talk about ways she utilizes the tarot deck as a therapeutic tool, her thoughts on the ever-growing healing community in Nashville, and why women, in particular, are drawn to these practices.

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When did you first started practicing yoga, reiki and tarot and how did these practices lead to your substantial career shift?

In 2008, I was working in sales in New York. I began practicing and teaching yoga as a way to relieve stress, and that practice was the gateway into the other mystical things.

Through practicing and teaching restorative yoga, I found reiki. I noticed that I could feel my clients’ energy in my hands when I was adjusting them. At that time, I didn’t know much about reiki. In fact, if you would have told me what it was I would have been skeptical. I signed up for a reiki session, and I could tell that my body was sensitive to this type of work. It came quickly into my life because it was the most natural thing that I’ve ever done. Even the process of teaching yoga took many years – to find my voice and to feel skilled enough to stand in front of a group of people and tell them what to do. With reiki, it was something where all I had to do was get out of my own way and feel the energy grow through my hands.

I discovered tarot in a similar way to reiki. I went to a local shop in Brooklyn and booked a session with tarot reader. I felt connected to the practice and, for the purpose of personal exploration, signed up for an intensive tarot study.  During that time, I was also in the process of opening a healing space in New York called Medicine Space. I started offering readings there. The more you read, the more the deck shows you. You start to see and recognize certain symbols and ways the deck speaks to you. I’ve come to learn that no one card ever has a hard and fast interpretation.

For those, like myself, who are still learning about these practices, can you briefly explain reiki?

Reiki is an energy healing treatment that works holistically on the whole body, mind and spirit. It is now being used in medical facilities throughout the US to relieve stress and pain, promote relaxation, release emotional blockages and balance our energy centers.

What about tarot? Give us the run-down.

Tarot shows you how to see situations in your life from a different perspective and can bring unprocessed emotions into light - therefore, helping you to move forward and often facilitating mental, emotional and spiritual release. 

I love tarot because it is a more specific tool to work with people. When I give reiki, I do feel specific blockages in the chakras that we can talk about. When I give a tarot reading, though, it can uncover a full range of human experience and human emotion. I don’t predict the future, but through the deck, I can help you see your situation through another lens.

A growing number of women across the country are becoming drawn to healing practices like yoga, reiki, crystals and tarot. Why do you think these are resonating with women, in particular?

When I think of the time we’re in it right now, I recognize that there’s a real movement for change. There’s a universal shift happening where we’re leaving the patriarchy behind and returning to a matriarchal time. Women are standing in their personal power. These practices: yoga, reiki, even tarot, allow women to rely on natural elements, and the power within their bodies, to heal themselves rather than relying on the system.

These practices have existed for long before this and they’ll exist long after these practices are en vogue. Medicine women and witches have used basic energies, intuition, and elements found in nature to heal themselves and heal others for centuries.

How would you describe the healing movement in Nashville compared to Brooklyn, where you practiced for many years?

You can’t swing a bag in Brooklyn without hitting a witch. These practices have had a strong-hold in New York for many years now, but here in Nashville there is a budding community that is interested in the work and has a hunger to dive into it deeper. There aren’t as many resources here, but I think that’s going to change over the next few years. In fact, I’m actively trying to help foster this change.

How would you recommend that a first-timer approach a tarot reading?

Tarot can be very therapeutic. In one reading, for example, you may be able to see what is going in your love life, your career, and your relationship.Bring an open mind and don’t be afraid of it. Tarot has interesting connotations and has historically been associated with practices like fortune telling and even devil worship, but I truly believe the symbols and archetypes are familiar to everyone and they transcend religion and specific beliefs about spirituality. Bring a clear intention of what you want out of the reading. Then try to be receptive to hearing some guidance.

Holly Ramey is an intuitive healer, tarot reader and yoga instructor based in Nashville. Connect with Holly on Instagram: @HollyDRamey, and read about her service offerings by visiting her website: http://www.hollydramey.com/.

To learn more about Holly, listen to her interview on our favorite podcast, Mirror Mirror Podcast.

A Conversation with Adrienne Kittos

Adrienne speaks with us about her career supporting immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers

By: Alyssa Curran

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Adrienne Kittos is the Legal Director for Tennessee Justice for Our Neighbors (JFON) and received her J.D. from Vanderbilt University Law School. She has worked on behalf of clients at the Tennessee Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence Immigrant Legal Clinic and Rose Immigration Law Firm in Nashville, Tennessee.

JFON provides affordable, immigration legal services to immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers.

From the travel ban to The Dream Act to the DACA program, immigration reform is top-of-mind for many politicians, constituents and non-citizens, alike. I met with JFON Legal Director, Adrienne Kittos, to discuss issues that immigrants and refugees are facing here in Middle Tennessee, important legislation to keep tabs on, and ways we can help.

It’s clear that immigration reform is an important issue for many people in America. With many new ideas being discussed, what policies should we focus our attention on?

A lot of issues are being considered around immigration in Congress. One of the big areas of concern is the future of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients. When that program ended in September, there’s been a lot of talk about that population: what’s going to happen to those young people who have had DACA, but now don’t have a way forward to get permanent residency (a green card) or U.S. citizenship?

There’s buzz around the possibility of a clean Dream Act. A clean Dream Act would be instituted without stipulations like the border wall add-ons or stricter limits and measures that would affect non-DACA immigration populations in U.S. A clean Dream Act is certainly a best-case scenario.

There’s also talk of a complete overhaul of the immigration system. This new system could be merit-based, where non-citizens would be awarded points for their education level, language fluencies, etc. There are dangers associated with this sweeping change. One potential negative impact would be that permanent residents and citizens would no longer be able to reunite with family members outside of the U.S. Right now, adult citizens may have the ability to bring a sibling or parent into the U.S., but under some new proposals, that would no longer be available.

Tell me about clients JFON serves and some issues facing immigrants and refugees in Middle Tennessee. 

At JFON, we provide low-cost immigration legal services, educate others about immigration to the U.S., and advocate for the rights and dignity of immigrants in refugees.

Right now, we’re in a unique period-of-time and we’re working with a lot of DACA recipients who wish to renew that grant. That renewal is available because of pending litigation allowing more DACA renewals. It is possible that this ability to renew will only be available for a limited time, and we can’t be sure for how long.

We continue to see U-visa cases. The U visa is a nonimmigrant visa which is set aside for victims of certain serious crimes who have suffered substantial mental or physical abuse. These cases are oftentimes associated with domestic abuse.

We do some work with the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). This allows certain spouses, children, and parents of abusive U.S. citizens and permanent residents to file a petition for themselves, without the abuser's cooperation. This allows victims to seek both safety and independence from their abuser, who is not notified about the filing.

We’re also starting to do some asylum work. Asylum is available to someone who is facing persecution on race, religion, political opinion, national origin or membership in a social group. These might be people who are facing imprisonment because of the religion they choose to practice or whose ethnic group may be targeted for threats.

We also have a handful of family-based cases and green card renewals.  

Can you speak to the intersection between feminism and immigration? How are policies harming women in disproportionate ways? 

A lot of the clients we work with are survivors of domestic violence and the majority of those clients are women. Women may be more vulnerable to some of those more serious crimes that are prioritized within the immigration system. Within other parts of the system (family or employment-based) there are sometimes income requirements that privilege work outside the home, or a certain level of income, which can put women at a disadvantage.

How would you respond to someone who is more reluctant to support immigrant and refugee rights?

I think that there are real issues that underlie some of the concerns people have about our immigration system.  That being said, a lot of opinions that have born out of this issue are born out of a lack of knowledge about why people are coming to our country.

A question we hear a lot is, “Why don’t people just get in line?” Unfortunately, for many people, there’s not a line to get into. There’s not an ability for a person to come to the U.S. just because they want to “work hard and better their family.” There’s not a visa for that.

What the media doesn’t do a very good job of is personalizing stories – what immigrants and refugees are facing, what they’ve been through and what they’ll encounter as they navigate the immigration system. It’s easy to dismiss a faceless number without taking into account each story.

Immigrants and refugees are our neighbors and friends -- people with hopes and dreams just like the folks we go to school and work with.

How can we advocate for immigration reform and better serve refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants locally? 

Support and volunteer with any number of local organizations including JFON, Conexion Americas, and Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition. One thing that’s neat about JFON model is that we seek to give volunteers an opportunity to sit down and have a meaningful conversation with an immigrant neighbor. That can be really transformative for someone who wouldn’t have this interaction in their day-to-day life. It’s important to connect with others in that way as we’re contemplating these big issues facing our country.

A Conversation with Marisa Richmond

By: Rachel Bubis

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Marisa Richmond is a transgender politician, activist, member of The National Center for Transgender Equality Board of Directors, the Trans Advocacy Network, and a lobbyist for the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition. She is also an active leader in the Democratic Party.

Hi Marisa. Can you tell me a little bit about your background and how you got into politics?

My background is in academia. Both of my parents were college professors teaching Organic Chemistry and German.  My career is in history.  Both of my parents believed in social justice and equality, and exposed me to important ideas and people.  My mother took my sister and I out to see President Kennedy when he came to Nashville. When I waved at him, he smiled and waved back.  I became a political junkie at that moment.  A few years later, we hosted a fundraiser for the Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee with Stokely Carmichael.  I didn’t know who he was at the time, but again, my parents exposed me to important people who were working to change the world.

As we approach the mid-term elections, what bills and/or candidates should we be looking out for?

In Tennessee, we have open seats for Governor, U.S. Senate, and in three U.S. House districts (2, 6, and 7).  I urge everyone to look at the candidates in those districts.  In addition, we have several state legislative seats open, and incumbents who need to be challenged and removed all across the state.  The filing deadline is April 5, and I know that outside of Nashville and Memphis, many progressives are looking for good candidates to run in those races.

There’s a lot of recent controversy surrounding our Nashville Mayor, Megan Barry. What do you say to people concerned about this recent news?

The only thing I have told others is that there should not be a double standard for women, and that I hope as these investigations go forward, that she will be exonerated.  I believe that, overall, she has been good for Nashville, especially the LGBTQ community, and has been a positive role model for young women and girls.

You’re participating in an upcoming  LGBT College Conference at MTSU with the theme, All Identities—Bridging the Divide, a dialogue on how to bridge divides based on identity. The conversation will be centered on how access and opportunity intersect with identity to influence our interactions with education, commerce, community, government, and, most importantly, each other. What do you hope people will take away from the event?

In the past, I have been concerned with making sure trans voices were included.  One year, I was the ONLY trans speaker, and I was a last minute addition to the schedule.  Furthermore, I hope to see more workshops on advocacy.  College students have made their mark over the years and have proven they can make a difference.  We should use the conference to help train future community leaders to take the reins.

Our country is clearly divided. Do you see anything really working to help bridge this divide or where do you see hope for this changing in the future?

I see hope coming from good people working to address real problems. Part of the division is exacerbated by politicians who focus on faux issues to scare people.  If our leaders were focused on making life safe and secure for all, we would all be better off.  More and more Americans are increasingly frustrated with the lack of response to gun violence, and are increasingly supportive of access to affordable health care.  The political leaders must listen or prepare to be replaced.

What do you think is the most important issue facing women in Nashville today?

Economic.  There is a real economic boom taking place here.  We need to ensure that it is equitable and that the benefits of that boom are shared by all.  Ironically, we are more successful in politics than ever before, but the business community is still woefully underrepresented by women.  The General Assembly has already shut down the Economic Council for Women, and it now targeting the Tennessee Human Rights Commission for an early sunset.  They just don’t care about equality.  While they are statewide agencies, they have an impact on women in Nashville.

What’s the biggest misconception about the transgender community? What do you think the biggest issue transgender Tennesseans are interested in today?

The biggest misconception is that trans people are dangerous.  That is why we keep seeing these crazy bathroom bills pop up around the country, including Tennessee, year after year. The biggest concerns of transgender Tennesseans are job opportunity and access to health care. Many simply want to work with dignity and take care of themselves, and have access to fully inclusive health care.  They also want to be free from fear of physical violence.  This is especially problematic for trans people of color, where hate crimes are most prevalent.

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I follow you on social media and have seen two photos I would like to ask you about: 1) A picture of you looking very cool wearing olympic rings sunglasses and a puka shell necklace. Where and when was this taken? What is your favorite Winter Olympic sport?

I bought the necklace at Nashville’s African Street Festival many years ago. It is one of my favorite cultural events each year.  I bought the sunglasses in Los Angeles at the 1984 Olympics.  The photo was taken during Nashville Pride in 2000, which coincided with the Opening of the Sydney, Australia Games that summer.  I prefer the Summer Games over the Winter Games because I have played a lot of the events in the Summer Games.  I have played soccer & basketball competitively.  Softball, which will be back in 2020 in Tokyo, is another sport I have played.  I was on my High School Track Team too, and I have done a lot of swimming, dating back to when I was 5 years old.  In the Winter Games, the only team sport is hockey, and the US women are one of the best teams along with Canada.  The men don’t have any NHL (namely Predators…)  this year, which I think is a mistake by the NHL owners and commissioner.  I also like the racing events: skiing, skating, and sledding.  I have done all three for recreation, but I am not good at any of them.  I prefer warm weather sports.

2) A picture of you shaking hands with Obama. What was that like? Was he wearing cologne?

That was taken at the White House LGBT Pride Reception in June 2011.  I also met Vice President Biden about an hour after the photo-op with the President.  The President was very pleasant and he listened as I spoke on behalf of the transgender community since I was the only trans person getting a one-on-one with the President that day.  When I realized that, I said to myself, “I am representing the whole (expletive deleted) country!”  And I was so starstruck by the moment, I have no idea if he was wearing any cologne.  I just remember my excitement when he put his arm around me, so I thought, “well, Michelle’s not here,” so I put my arm around him. That photo is probably in the White House archives.  I should try to get a copy.

A Conversation with Mary E. Walker

By: Rachel Bubis

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Mary Walker has experience on the national, state, and local levels serving women and children in the juvenile justice system and managing preventative programs for women and children at risk. Walker has been a practicing attorney for over twenty-five years - having served as General Counsel for the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, an Assistant Attorney General for the State of Tennessee, and Senior Referee for the Davidson County Juvenile Court. She was a founder of Renewal House, a long-term residential recovery program for addicted women and their children, and along with others helped launch A Step Ahead Foundation (Middle Tennessee Chapter), an organization that aims to prevent unintended pregnancies by providing FREE long-acting reversible contraception (LARC), the most effective reversible methods of birth control, to women in Middle Tennessee.

Below is a conversation with Rachel and Mary on her life, work, and mission:

Your experience as a social worker informed your decision to become a lawyer and later begin incredible organizations that support women in need such as Renewal House and A Step Ahead Foundation. Can you talk more about your background and what inspired you to help start these organizations?

My first job was with the State of TN as a social worker in child welfare investigating abuse and neglect, and when necessary, removing children from their homes and placing them in foster care and when no return to the home was possible, finding an adoptive home. My husband at the time was in the military, so I worked a lot with the military base, encouraging those families to be foster parents and adopt. After I got divorced, I went to UT School of Social Work to earn a Master’s Degree.  I  worked with children and families to increase the number of adoptive homes available for older children.  I worked closely with a private law firm that would come in the day of the hearing and represent the State using the materials I had developed to present the case to the judge. It finally occurred to me then that I should just become a lawyer myself. I’m better at this than these people (laughs). So, I went to UT College of Law in 1976.

Being a lawyer and social worker has provided me with an invaluable perspective in every job I have had. As a juvenile court referee, I handled all the abuse and neglect cases in Davidson County and I understood poverty and the needs of the children and the parents. I came away from that experience knowing that juvenile judges should be educated more than being a lawyer.   They really should be social workers or trained in child development and treatment modalities to make informed decisions. Very few judges had that background or education. From my social work experience I knew how important it is for a child to be with his or her mother. I knew what resources were available in the community and the importance of strong social work by the Department of Children’s Services. Some lawyers and social workers did not like my involvement, but the Judge backed me up on the new way of operating the court.

What else can you tell us about what you learned in court?

Through my work in juvenile court in 1992, I started noticing some trends. We had an overwhelming number of children coming in foster care because their mother was addicted to crack cocaine. The moms were older and some had jobs and homes, but lost everything as a result of their addiction.  Crack was new to Nashville and there were no long-term treatment options for women coming before the Court. The law required me to terminate those moms’ rights, and put kids up for adoption if they had not made any progress in a certain period of time towards getting clean.  The courts are required to offer services for women to be reunited with their children prior to termination of parental rights. Research shows that generally children are better off with their biological parents as long as they are safe and have their basic needs met. So, I started looking for addiction treatment resources, but there was nothing.

There was no place for these women to go. If they had insurance, the maximum treatment time was 10 days. I realized we needed a long-term treatment program where kids stayed with moms during that treatment.  There was only one place in the state where they had something like that and it was in East TN. When I started gathering statistics, I discovered almost every neglected dependent child I brought into custody, 85% of the time it was because of their moms being crack cocaine addicts. Because of lack of treatment resources and the addictive power of crack, the permanency options for the children were much reduced. Out of this crisis, the idea of starting Renewal House was born.

Now, the Renewal House is in its 21st year of operation and is the only one of its kind in the state. Women may stay at Renewal house with their children for 12 months or longer and undergo treatment together and have access to jobs and education. It’s very successful and has one of the lowest recidivism rates. During their time at Renewal House we offer opportunities for jobs and school and try to make the resources available to stay clean and be able to support their family. We are trying to access more higher paying jobs for our women and affordable housing, which is a real challenge in Nashville.

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Can you tell me about A Step Ahead Foundation (ASAF)?

A Step Ahead provides free IUD’s to women. ASAF started in Memphis, and as a result, over a three year period, they saw a 30% decline in unintended pregnancies. We have been offering services for 18 months here in Middle Tennessee and have given around 400 women free IUD’s and free transportation to the clinic.

There is clearly a growing women’s movement in response to the current social and political climate. We just had the Women’s March. It seems like every day in the news we are hearing about a new powerful man accused of harassment and assault.  What are your thoughts on the #metoo and #timesup movements? Are you optimistic about real change happening in the future?

I do think it’s going to make a big change in the work environment and I think the movement is really important. Men haven’t been held accountable for too long. The #metoo movement is a great first step because it allows women to feel brave enough to say something. I think the fact that people with such high stature in society are coming out with their stories will make a difference. There are no excuses left!

Have you experienced sexism or sexual harassment in your professional career? If so, how did you respond?

When I first started out as a lawyer in 1979 there weren’t that many women lawyers. That’s why we started the Lawyer’s Association For Women to provide support to women and to increase the number of women judges.  But yes, more than one time in the courtroom I have been addressed as “little lady” and “honey.” And one time in Winchester, TN, when I was defending a case as an Assistant Attorney General, the judge was belittling and asked if the “little lady from Nashville wanted to speak”, as if I would not have anything to say. I just don’t think he was used to seeing a woman in the courtroom.

I also had a supervisor suddenly kiss me with no warning or explanation. I told him not to do it again, but I didn’t report it. I had a lot of respect for him professionally and I knew his wife and questioned if I had done anything to suggest I was interested in him.  I had not, but this experience shows the automatic response of, is this my fault?  He didn’t do it again and it was not mentioned again. Should I have reported him, perhaps.

The work you do is so important and meaningful, but I imagine extremely difficult at times. There’s a lot of talk about “self care” these days. How do you stay positive and have fun?

I get out and do stuff! Raising my daughter Elizabeth was a lot of fun. I played softball until two years ago. I like to garden, read and watch movies. I guess you’ve just got to look into yourself and figure out what type of work you can emotionally handle. The abuse and neglect cases are extremely sad and disturbing, but I feel like I was really making a difference. I didn’t finish a day that I did not feel I had done something to make a child’s life better or at least safer.  

Sometimes people wonder why I did not practice a different kind of law and make more money, but that was not what I wanted and I was fortunate to know that. I feel like it is a privilege to do the type of work I got to do. I’m very lucky. It’s really important to find your passion or your spark! It also helps to work with people you like, or at least respect. In the early days of Legal Services where I worked right out of law school, we would work 12 or more hour days, but as the evening wore on, we would balance the important work we were doing with opening a beer and talking strategy and the law while we worked.

It’s also really important to have a support group. I am not married now, but have wonderful friends. When my daughter Elizabeth would be sick as a kid, my friends would take care of her if her father and I had to work. Sometimes though, I would bring her with me and have her lay in a sleeping bag under the courtroom bench at Juvenile Court while trials were going on (laughs). My courtroom officer would check on her and would sneak her Sprite!

If you could offer advice to women starting out in your field (or otherwise), what would you say?

Find your spark! If your job doesn’t fulfill you and feels routine, look around you and find something that excites you. Get involved in something outside of yourself. I’m convinced that when people find something that gets them outside themselves it makes them happier.

One thing I’ve learned is that to make change, you just have to get a group of concerned citizens together and get them the right information, give them a story they can respond to. I’ve also learned that if you get women involved things will actually get done. They are the ones that will do it. Don’t think you can’t change the world -  if you get the right people together and work hard you really can!

To learn more about or get involved with the Renewal House or A Step Ahead Foundation check out their websites:

http://www.renewalhouse.org/custpage.cfm?frm=153240&sec_id=153240

https://www.astepaheadfoundation.org/about/

 

Thursday, February 22nd

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Congress Club presents Mirror Mirror LIVE brought to you by LIVELY and Lemon Laine: A Conversation with Female Entrepreneurs in the Self-Care Business

Mirror Mirror Host Jesse Harbison will speak with women entrepeneurs in the beauty business on how they think the beauty industry is adapting to changing ideas about women and society – feminism and female empowerment, impact of celebrity/social media culture, changing technologies, beauty trends, and more.

How to Keep the Momentum Going, Even After the March

A conversation with Women’s March 2.0 leader, Darlene Leong Neal

By: Alyssa Curran

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Marching alongside more than 15,000 men, women and children at the Women’s March 2.0: Power Together TN Conference and Rally was a uniting and powerful experience for the second year in a row. This year’s tagline, #PowertothePolls set out to celebrate the anniversary of last year’s historic march, and motivate advocates to mobilize in the face of critical midterm elections.

The days and weeks following the march are energizing. Advocates cover their walls with protest signs, and calendars with resistance activities. Participation in local human rights and political groups sparks, and activists recite their first amendment rights like nursery rhymes. But, how do we ensure the movement doesn’t fizzle when the march is but a memory?

I sat down with Women’s March 2.0 Power Together Tennessee founder, Darlene Leong Neal, to talk about her perspective on the current state of the women’s movement in Nashville and discuss ways to remain actively engaged, even after the march.

How did you first become involved with the Women’s March?

Women’s March Tennessee is run completely by volunteers. On November 8, 2016, when the election results became clear, Hawaii native, Teresa Shook, turned to the “Pantsuit Nation” Facebook page and posted that she thought a pro-women march was needed. She went to sleep that night knowing that a few dozen friends had said they would attend. By the time she woke up, 10,000 people had responded to what would eventually become the Women’s March on Washington. The next day, I sent Teresa a message about the need for a sister march in Middle Tennessee. Our team of grassroots organizers set out to develop sister marches across the nation.

Had you worked in the political arena in the past?

No, I have not worked on campaigns, nor did I get a degree in politics. I’m not even a professional organizer. I have, however, led community organizing efforts on a lot of different issues. This movement has grown mainly out of grassroots activism. The march has been successful at giving a voice to those who have been disillusioned with their access to political process, and those who haven’t been involved in this space before.

Fast forward to the Women’s March 2.0 Power to the Polls, how would you describe the current state of the women’s movement, specifically here in Nashville?

I think that we have demonstrated momentum and sustainability because we’ve stayed engaged throughout the entire year. We’re a year out from the original march and we still have active involvement from thousands of new organizers and activists. In Tennessee alone, there were five different Women’s March anniversary events across the state. Additionally, we have listed over 500 events on our closed Facebook calendar, and that’s a significant amount of activity.

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How would you compare the state of the women’s movement in Nashville to the rest of the country?

Tennessee, and other Southern states, have some challenges that California and New York, for example, do not. It can be harder in a red state, or in the South, for women to step up fully, and to their power, because we get so many mixed messages about who we should be and how we should act. It’s not a partisan issue for me. It’s not about political affiliation, but it is about values. Our women’s march values are listed in our Unity Principles.

Do you collaborate with march movements in other states or are they unique to each state?

One thing that is important and exciting is this inter-state, collaborative effort on a grassroots level. After the march last year, we instituted Huddle – small neighborhood groups that get together to write postcards, set goals, make phone calls, and be supportive of one another. These Huddles have transformed into voter registration groups, phone banking groups, and more. Sometimes it’s messy, and we have so much to learn, but what encourages me is that we are in the room, on the calls, on the streets and in this struggle together.

How do you recommend that women in Nashville stay involved year-round?

First thing I would say is to join a local Women’s March group. Join our Facebook page as an easy entry point. In Nashville, our Women’s March group represents over 100 different organizations, 501c3 groups, grassroots groups and thousands of individuals. It is a movement that is driven from the bottom-up.

We employ a technique that is called Step Up, Step Back. When it’s your time, step up and into the work, but when life happens, take care of yourself.”

It’s hard to stay in this day-after-day with so much negativity around our work. It can be a toxic environment. We employ a technique that is called Step Up, Step Back. When it’s your time, step up and into the work, but when life happens, take care of yourself. We support people stepping back during those times.

Will Women’s March 2.0: Power Together TN accept donations and volunteers after the March?

We do have to address funding, especially in the South, because our progressive funders are not as robust. The Conference costs money to gather activists, put together issue training, maintain phone banks, materials, venues, transportation, and more. We accept donations year-round.

In terms of volunteers, as we move into the official affiliate status, we are interested in folks who appreciate and understand our bottom-up structure, but can bring their expertise on board.

Nashville’s Women’s March 2.0 was held on Saturday, January 20 at Public Square Park followed by a rally at Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park. For more information on how to get involved, visit: http://tnpowertogether.org.

By: Alyssa Curran