Cool Women Doing Cool Things: Katie Turner

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Katie Turner is a Nashville based artist and illustrator known for creating bright, vibrant work. Though she specializes in children’s illustration, she’s created artwork for brands as varied as ASOS and The New York Times.

She spoke with us about her process and what brought her from New York to Tennessee.

Can you tell me a little about your background and what got you into illustration? Why did you decide to become an illustrator? Did you always know this is what you wanted to do?

I always loved to draw (can’t really remember a time that I didn’t), so I knew even as far back as elementary school that I wanted to be an artist of some kind. It wasn’t until the end of high school, when I started applying for colleges, that I really thought about what kind of artist I wanted to be. The more I thought about it (and through some internet research), I found that illustration seemed like the right path for me. Something about words and pictures together makes me excited.

What brought you to Nashville? Does the work you do here differ from New York, and if so, in what ways?

I lived in New York for almost nine years, and I really loved it! I moved there in 2006 to study illustration at Parsons School of Design. But after living there so long, my boyfriend (now husband) felt like we needed a change. We made a list of cities we were considering moving to and decided to visit them. Nashville was first, and after we visited we were like, “This works!” We didn’t visit any other of the cities on the list and moved here six months later.

  Katie’s cover illustration for  Nashville Scene ’s 30th annual “You Are So Nashville If...” issue.

Katie’s cover illustration for Nashville Scene’s 30th annual “You Are So Nashville If...” issue.

The work I do now is much different than what I was doing in Brooklyn. For one, I worked as a server at a restaurant full time, so I had far less time to work on illustration in New York. I mean… the city is expensive! Since moving, I have had more time to cultivate my portfolio and figure out what area I really wanted to focus on. Rather than editorial illustration, which had before been the bulk of my work, I found that I really wanted to move into children’s illustration with a side of art licensing.

Do you have a dream client / collaborator?

One thing I want to do more than anything else is have my own children’s books published. So working with any publisher would be ideal! A few of my favorite publishers are Tundra Books, Flying Eye Books, and Chronicle Books. But really, there are SO many. On the art licensing side of things, I’d love to work with Hallmark or BlueQ.

Do you have any heroes in the industry?

So many! Three off the top of my head… Jillian Tamaki, Carson Ellis, and Dahlov Ipcar.

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People underestimate the power of design. When do you think your work is at its most powerful and has the greatest impact?

I don’t want to overestimate the power of my own work – there are many other amazingly talented illustrators who make powerful political work, and although I believe all work is political, it’s not something I really do overtly... I think my work does, however, have the power to make someone smile, to tell a story, or to depict people or groups that are not seen as often in the mainstream, and those are things that are important to me.

What’s the best part of your job?

Drawing everyday and getting to create my own hours. My husband is a musician, so it is nice that we are not usually set to a rigid schedule and can work weekends or take weekdays off. And of course, getting paid to be creative!

What inspires your work? What do you read/watch/check out for inspiration?

I live near Shelby Park and love nature, so I love to go for walks at the Greenway and see all the birds, bugs and other animals. That inspires me a lot. As for media, I read tons and tons of picture books (along with middle grade and some YA). Sometimes I’ll watch animated movies too – I’m a fan of Hayao Miyazaki films. I’m also frequently inspired by the work of my studiomates at The Warren, where I work.

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Do you have any resources / thoughts you’d like to share with any up-and-coming illustrators?

I think the only advice I feel really qualified to give new illustrators is to be patient! I’m still working on that. It’s OK if you’re not a huge overnight success. Working and succeeding in any creative industry usually takes lots of time and hard work. If you aren’t willing to be patient and persistent, and work through the rejection, it might not be the career path for you.

What’s next for you? Any cool projects coming up you want to share?

I’m currently pitching two new picture books to publishers – wish me luck!

Outside of work - what do you like to do? Any hobbies/interests/passions?

My favorite thing is going to the movies. I go A LOT! And I’ll see almost anything, but for some reason I just don’t like action movies. I find them boring.  Anything else, I’m game. When I’m not at the actual movie theater, I watch movies at home – my favorite genres being horror and romantic comedy. I also love to read (and I’m trying to make more time to read since I no longer have 1 hour of subway commuting time to do it). I also love to take nature walks and I’m pretty nerdy when it comes to learning about bugs and birds. My in-laws even bought me some binoculars to do bird watching with for my birthday last year!

You can check out Katie’s Etsy store and purchase her work here.


Cool Women Doing Cool Things: Meet A&M Events

By: Alyssa Curran

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If you’ve attended a cool event in Nashville recently, the ladies of A&M Events probably had a hand in it. Founded in Nashville by Amanda Stone and Micaela Reed, A&M Events produces corporate and special events across the country. Not only are Amanda and Micaela boss women, they’ve hired a fully female team and they go out of their way to support fellow women in business. Alyssa chatted with Amanda and Micaela about practical tips for building a business from scratch, best practices for networking in Nashville, and what you must remember when throwing an awesome party.

What led you two to go off on your own and start A&M Events?

Amanda: Micaela and I began working together straight out of college at a local events management firm and immediately beginning looking for a creative outlet on the side. We began reaching out to other area planners to see if they needed help with their events and we were working as many events as we could both in our day job and as a side hustle. Ultimately, we knew we could see ourselves having our own company in the events space.

Micaela: We saw the opportunity that was arising in Nashville with such rapid growth. We saw a need to fill here in Nashville and throughout the Southeast. What’s unique about our model is that we see ourselves as a long-term partner with clients rather than a transactional vendor and we’ve built our business accordingly.

What are the most important details to remember when hosting an event?

M: One thing that people so often overlook is music. They’ll plan an elaborate experience with larger-than-life details, but you walk in and it’s silent. This is a huge pet peeve of mine. I carry a Bluetooth speaker with me wherever I go, in case I need to swoop in with some tunes.

Another easy fix that will make or break you is lighting. There’s a Danish term called “hygge”, which essentially means the feeling of coziness and comfort caused by a warm glow. This is most important. Nothing bothers me more than showing up to a well-planned event, but the light is so bright you feel like you’re at a doctor’s office. Mood lighting doesn’t have to be expensive. Buy a dimmer or remove a few light bulbs.

A: Think about the event from your guest’s perspective. What will your guests see first? How was the parking experience? Was the invitation clear? When they walk in, do they know where to go and what to do? If your guests don’t immediately know what they’re supposed to do, they’re already feeling stressed and not enjoying themselves. Incorporate clear signage, provide ample instructions on communications, and make it easy on your guests and on you as the planner.

Finally, if you want to add flourishes to your event, pick one or two areas to focus on. Add a balloon installation or a funky menu, for example, but don’t go over the top. Don’t let every detail be the statement, otherwise they will get lost and won’t be appreciated.

What have you learned as you’ve grown your team? What are some tips for learning to delegate?

A: We’re simultaneously narrowing in on the types of clients and projects that we want to be working with and diversifying the types of events we’re doing. We’ve moved into the creative project management space more than exclusively events. What that means is, when a client throws out a seemingly “impossible” or “crazy” idea, we take their creative concept and make it into something real.  As we continue to build our team, we’re able to be more strategic and focus on the big picture rather than being in the weeds coordinating events. We have more bandwidth to focus on our culture, mission and values.

Maintaining good culture starts with the hiring process. If you’re not bringing on the right people then you’re already shooting yourself in the foot. That being said, A&M Events is our baby and growing your team does make you more vulnerable.

M: We’re planners, which means we innately like to have control. In order to let go, it’s important for us to clearly define our goals and paint the picture of what success looks like. I’m an only child and a Virgo. Letting go of control is the antithesis of my innate being, but we’ve hired a team of people who are also leaders, and entrepreneurial themselves, and who we trust wholeheartedly to represent our brand. We’re not bringing people on to simply do tasks, but to complete our team and contribute their own valuable skills.

What have you learned about each other working as partners for so long?

A: We describe our relationship as a professional, life partnership. We have grown to be completely open and honest with each other. We can pinpoint different areas where one of us shines and the other needs support. We also take it to the next level and have taken countless personality assessments to utilize psychoanalytical techniques to pinpoint our strengths and weaknesses.

What networking and professional organizations in Middle Tennessee have helped you to grow your business?

M: We’re involved with Scale Nashville, a competitive training program focused on scaling your business, put on by Chamber of Commerce. In this course, we’re learning to treat our business as if we’re franchising (even though that’s not an immediate goal of ours). This has been very valuable.

A: One general tip for involvement in professional organizations is you only have so much time and money to devote to memberships and fees, so be strategic. We don’t go into an event industry specific organization expecting to leave with a client. We do leave with a sense of community or camaraderie. Other organizations or networking events are better suited for strategic business development and brand alignment, like the Chamber of Commerce, for example. Know what your goals are and what you’re hoping to accomplish before signing up for everything in town.

What parts of your business are you hoping to expand in 2019?

M: We have naturally grown in the experiential marketing arena. People are looking to be more creative and there’s a growing trend toward experiences rather than traditional campaigns or events. Our clients want to touch and feel and do.

We believe that good luck is the result of good planning!

M: An example of this is a fun partnership we have with BarkBox. During CMA Fest, we worked with BarkBox to manage five days’ worth of dog friendly activities in Nashville designed from the dog’s perspective, as well as the dog owner’s. Their goal as a company is to be more than a toy and treat company. They want to be physical and interactive and connected with their customers. This is the essence of experiential marketing.

Amanda, as a mother, how has your professional life changed when your daughter was born?

Both of my parents worked for themselves and were usually working from home when I was a child. I knew I wanted to have my own business and I was always thinking ahead to a space where I could have my child with me and work as well. The day-to-day is very challenging, but also worthwhile. There are days when my daughter is with us and doing well and well-behaved and other days when she wants to chime in.

The most valuable lesson that I’ve learned as a mother is that time flies. That has never felt more real than when you’re pregnant or when you have a baby. Time really slips through your fingers. This can be very grounding. It makes me realize it’s okay to slow down every once in a while, and take a break with her. It also makes me realize I need to accept help from my team, partner, business partner, sitter, etc.

Micaela, your family owns the local restaurants, Sinema and 8th and Roast. Any inside scoop on any new restaurant concepts popping up around town?

M: We are opening our second 8th and Roast on Charlotte any day now and that business has a lot of opportunity. Every new office, hotel and company needs delicious coffee. Look for 8th and Roast coffee wherever you may go.

A&M Events is a relationship-based events agency specializing in fresh experiences. Connect with A&M Events via email: info@ameventsnashville.com or on Instagram:@ameventsnashville.

Cool Women Doing Cool Things: Meet Jane

By: Rachel Bubis

Jane Dupree is at the top of her game.  

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Born in Jackson, TN, she moved to Middle Tennessee at age 17 to go to MTSU, and got her start working for the college radio station. Now, she headlines her own shows and has played events with God-Dess & She, Martha Wash, Morgan Page, Questlove, Richard Vission, Bad Boy Bill, Junior Vasquez, The Crystal Method, DJ Funk, Figure, Dieselboy, Star Eyes, BT, DJ Rap, Stacy Kidd, Athens Boys Choir, Superstar DJ Keoki, American Idol Ashton Jones, DJ Trashy, Charles Feelgood, and Vanessa Carlton, to name a few.

 

You started doing music playing guitar at your church. How did you go from playing guitar at church to getting into electronic music?

I started playing guitar when I was 14. It’s cheesy, but it was after the first time I heard Nirvana. I asked for a guitar for Christmas and took lessons. My mom suggested I play this instrument in church, so I started playing on Sundays. I traveled around to different churches playing with the choir. When I got to college, I was in a Christian rock band signed to Ricky B, the gospel rapper's record label. That was freshman year, and I didn't pay much attention to turn tables.  One of the guys I met through Ricky B was DJ Silence. Growing up, I listened to Crystal Waters and the Euro stuff on MTV as well as Liquid Groove electronic music. I always liked stuff like that.

Fast forward to summer after freshman year, I wound up going to the gay bar Connections. I just fell in love with what the DJ was selling and the music. I started buying records from Tower Records. When school started back, DJ Silence showed me the basics of how to use a mixer. I was also in a bowling class with Pimpdaddy Supreme who told me about college radio. At the end of fall semester. l submitted to be involved with the college radio station. In the winter semester I began my short intern period.  After interning, I submitted a show proposal and was approved to launch the show House Nation.  I started the show barely knowing how to use turntables. From day one of my show I used the radio station’s turn tables to practice every week. 

What attracts you to the genre of house, circuit, electro?

I like the way it makes me feel. The experience. It’s about love, happiness, peace, unity. There’s nothing negative about dance music. That’s what I like about it.

“Nashville’s electronic music scene is growing a lot. It has always been an underground scene, but in comparison to other cities, it’s still relatively small. But any weekend you can go out and find electronic music.” 

Who are your biggest musical influences?

Smashing Pumpkins, Paula Abdul, Janet Jackson, DJ Pierre, Joey Deltron, Junior Vasquez.

How do you find out about new music/stay up-to-date on new tracks?

I follow several blogs on Hype Machine and am on several promo lists. I give feedback on those platforms. I also use SoundCloud. I search the top three record stores for dance music. I’m also in a record club called Club Killers, based in Las Vegas, and they supply a lot of bootlegs and remixes.

What’s your process like and what technology do you use?

I start on vinyl which is my preferred method. In the clubs I use a Numark controller and Serato DJ.  At a bigger festival I use Pioneer CDJ 2000s.

Nashville’s moniker is “music city,” but electronic music isn’t the first thing to come to mind for people. Is it challenging to do this genre of music here? What’s the scene in Nashville like compared with other cities?

Nashville’s scene is growing a lot. It’s always been an underground scene, but in comparison to other cities, it’s still relatively small. But any weekend you can go out and find electronic music. Back in the day there was way less, but you can even catch a show on a Tuesday or Wednesday here now. We don’t have any dedicated electronic clubs, but access to friendly venues like the Back Corner. Canvas and Traxx are my resident clubs.

I imagine the DJ profession/culture is pretty male dominated. Do you experience any discrimination professionally?

Oh yeah, where do I start!  I’ll keep it short. For one, I walk into clubs and people instantly assume I’m going to play hip hop. Then, because I’m a woman, they assume I don’t know what I’m doing or know how to hook the equipment up. Also, some frat boy types try to bully their way into my time slot sometimes. That kind of deal. And mainly just assuming I don’t know what’s going on with the music or not as good as the other guys.

How do you cope?

I just mix. I mix and do what I do and there’s no questions after that.

What’s the best advice someone has ever given you?

You can’t please everybody. And have no expectations.

What else are you into besides Djing?

It’s corny but I play Candy Crush haha.  I like to drive a lot. Hang out outside. Walk around and go to local bars. Hang out with my friends and to make music.

How do we follow your music/keep up to date with future shows?

I keep my website updated on a regular basis. Also Instagram and Facebook. 

 

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.