1. Meet Megan Stielstra

    Megan tells stories and helps other people tell stories. 

    Her recent collection of personal essays, Once I Was Cool, “isn’t just edgy, funny, surprising, a ricochet of wow. It’s practically actionable. The words reach out from the page. They direct us to look, to think, to ask.” Her work appears in The Best American Essays 2013, Poets & Writers, The Rumpus, and elsewhere, and her story collection, Everyone Remain Calm, was a Chicago Tribune Favorite of 2011. She’s the Literary Director of the critically-acclaimed 2nd Story storytelling series and has told stories in theatres, festivals, and bars around the country including the Goodman, Steppenwolf, Museum of Contemporary Art, Neo-Futurarium, Chicago Public Radio, and regularly for The Paper Machete live news magazine at the Green Mill. She teaches creative writing at Columbia College and serves as the Associate Director of the Center For Innovation in Teaching Excellence; she’s also a lecturer at Northwestern University and the University of Chicago, and a 3Arts Teaching Artist Award Finalist for her work helping people get their stories on the page.

    Q+A

    Who is your favorite character? I could answer this in a ton of different ways [1] and all of them would be true, but for now let’s go with this: I just read an excellent essay by Roxane Gay about unlikeable woman in literature and I’m thinking about Cathy Ames from East of Eden, who’s introduced with the line, “I believe there are monsters born in the world to human parents.” And Anna Karennina, who trades everything—everything—for passion and is villified fot it, villified by herself, even! And Cersei Lannister, who gives, like, zero fucks. These women are constantly knocked down and they constantly get up. Everyone wants to cage them and they are not having it. No matter how tormented, they still push back. They make their own decisions, their own rules. Would you want to be friends with them? Maybe no; maybe yes, but honestly, who gives a shit? Lidia Yuknavitch’s Dora. Dorothy Allison’s Bone. Claire Underwood from House of Cards. Sethe, who killed her own children. All of them fight, in their own unique ways. Give me the women who fight. The ones with claws, who live and love and make their own goddamn choices, for better or worse.

    What inspires you? My students. They’re publishing, they’re performing, they’re teaching, they’re starting their own magazines. One just bought a one-way ticket to Prague. Another’s on her way to Thailand; another to New Orleans; another to Saudi Arabia. A group of them started a storytelling series that focuses on social justice. Another group teaches photography to young women who survived sex trafficking. One is taking on the college’s procudures and policies for students who identify as trans. They’re activists and advocates. They care—so much so that I worry about them, their hearts out there so full and raw, but they’re trying. They’re living. They have jobs; some have two or three. They have families, blood and chosen, some with brand new babies, and they show up bleary-eyed, not knowing their left from their right,  but they’re there, and all of them—all of them—are writing their faces off, writing through it and in it and because of it. All those think pieces you read about Kids Today slacking off?—fuck that noise. My students are killing it. #lookoutfuture

    What is your hidden talent? I am awesome at Don’t Touch The Floor, that game where everyone pretends that the ground is red hot lava.

    What gets you through a rough day? Coffee and/or Maker’s Mark, depending on the hour.

    Who helped get you here? Again, I could answer in a ton of ways [2] but for now I’d like to throw my gratitude at Stephanie Chavara and Ozzie Totten, who help out with my son. Knowing that he’s safe, that he’s having fun—it’s everything. I’m able to be a working mom. I’m able to be a working artist. I’m able to live these totally different and totally vital parts of myself. 

    Footnotes (Because she fucking loves Footnotes):

    [1] Buffy Summers. Penny Gadget. Remedios the Beauty. Yu Shu Lien. Keyser Soze. Delia Byrd. Omar Little. Gregor Samsa. Bigger Thomas. Sarah Connor. Sarah Manning. Gandalf. Athena. Inigo Montoya. Bond. Trinity. Michonne. Yossarian. Ellen Ripley. Jack Torrance. Olympia Binewski. Cal Stephaanides. Bartelby the Scrivner. Roseanne Roseannadanna. Tyler Durden. Kara Thrace. Victor Joseph. Peggy Paula. Tank Girl. Clara Bowden. Lena Grove. Frances Piper. Antigone. Maggie Pollitt. Lafayette Reynolds. Arthur Christmas. Olivia Pope. Rebecca Waynon. Claire Fisher. Sonya Alexandrovna Serebryakova. Super Martian Robot Girl. The Great Gilly Hopkins. Lydia Deetz. Gob Bluth. Sloth. Jean Gray. Jessica Rabbit. Seymour Glass. Florentino Ariza. Peter Pan. Thelma and Louise. Indiana Jones. And the entire cast of Firefly, especially Zoe, and the part where River tells Jane she can kill him with her brain.

    [2] Christopher and Caleb Jobson. My mom and my dad. Jeff Oaks. Dia Penning. Lott Hill. Randy Albers. Bobby Biedrzycki. Amanda Dimond. Khanisha Foster. Deb Lewis. Molly Each. Elizabeth Crane. Joe Meno. Adam Belcuore. Patricia Ann McNair. John Schultz and Betty Shiflett. Aaron Stielstra. Samantha Irby. Christopher Piatt. Scotty Karate. Jacob Knabb, Victor Giron, Naomi Huffman, and Ben Tanzer. Gina Frangello. Roxane Gay. Cheryl Strayed. Emily Shultz and Brian Joseph Davis. Andrew Reilly. Jotham Burello. Derrick Robles and John Latino. Kristin Lewis. Amy Martin. Amy Danzer. Soo La Kim. Janice Knight. Sarah Zematis. And all of the storytellers I’ve worked with over the years, who challenge me to climb higher.

    Want more? Visit Megan’s website and connect with her twitter

    Photo by: Julie Sadowski at Grayscale Studios

     
  2. Meet Bryn McCoy

    Bryn, CTO and co-founder of Citizen Made, is unlike any developer you’ve met before. A software engineer and product designer of ten years, she is the epitome of a maker. Whether it’s innovative software for the likes of IDEO and BMW, illustration and animation for lovable brand identity, art projects with her young children, or VJ gigs with Chicago’s indie bands, there is never a moment when Bryn isn’t working with ideas and artifacts, or found sketching with a notebook in tow.  

    Bryn has built an expertise in all sorts of information technology through 15 years of software engineering and interaction design.  From working with a Silicon Valley network infrastructure startup through nine years of development in her Chicago-based interactive studio, she masterfully makes information beautiful from just a spark of imagination.

    Q+A

    What scares you? My first team of engineers regularly touted the mantra, ‘No fear!’  Throughout our wild startup ride, I felt like a poser because I’m afraid of the typical things like failure and pain… and sometimes change.   I still manage to take a lot of risks in my work, but it sincerely takes everything I’ve got to stay the course.  Some of the colleagues I most admire seem to take difficult and potentially volatile challenges in stride, even with ease.  One of them recently reminded me that being fearless is not actually about feeling no fear,  but rather being scared, feeling the fear and moving forward to do our best anyway.  That helped.  A lot.

    What do you geek out about? The third industrial revolution!  The ways and means of making things are changing rapidly right now.   As a lifelong maker, I appreciate artisanal craft.  I’m also a hacker, so I believe that when the necessary part can’t be found, it can be made.  Somehow.

    Since this has often devolved into duct tape and gorilla glue, the potential in digital manufacturing is not lost on me.  Given some decent software skills + hackerspaces with 3D printers, CNC routers, laser cutters and the like, digital manufacturing can make an honest artisan out of anyone with an inspired idea (and a library card if you’re in Chicago–the maker lab at Harold Washington Library is a great place to start).

    Digital manufacturing is still developing to meet its critical mass.  The current state of this industry feels to me like personal computing when I was a kid–largely for hobbyists and early adopters.  As innovative companies rushed in to make computers more accessible for the masses, we’ve been swept away by the information revolution.  Tangible products on demand are next!

    Brands and designers are emerging with interesting ways to engage customers in parts of the product design process.  I’m really excited to see more consumers turning into producers.   Because digital manufacturing is hooked into the interwebs, we customers can do a little digging and find skilled people to co-create and produce whatever we want.  By buying direct from manufacturers and product designers, the premium we pay retailers for our products can be put to better use by covering the higher cost of one-off production.  It is still more affordable to produce a big batch of products instead of just one, but even that disparity is quickly shrinking while the manufacturing technologies advance.   

    For me, the creative process is one of the most meaningful parts of everything.  I tend to focus on the constructive parts of the process, but there are also important destructive factors to consider in evaluating the importance of new manufacturing practices.  Simply put, mass production is not sustainable.  Especially in our American consumer culture, the cost of fast fashion, big box stores and the race to the bottom in pricing is devastating.  We’re fortunate to be on the brink of such an awesome turnabout for the manufacturing industry–even though the manufacturing giants won’t be quick to shape up or ship out, there will be many more innovative options for people like us, the mindful crusaders who happily have a hand in re-shaping our world.

    If you had to change careers what would you want to do? If I were more courageous, I’d devote my work to fine art.   To spend my days finding beautiful ways to explore the relationships between this world and the next, that’d be dreamy.   

    "An artist is someone who understands the border between this world and that one."
    –Takashi Murakami

    What is your hidden talent? I have a lot to say about lots of things, so it may not be obvious that I like listening to people’s stories even more.  Being a good listener is such a super power, I should probably do less talking!

    And comprehensive listening is the real key.  A good friend of mine also introduced me to somatic psychology years ago.  At the time it was so ethereal, I couldn’t quite grasp the nuances.   Her assessments and insights about people were remarkable though (no one was ever a stranger), so I continued to give it some thought.  Over time, I’ve found that our bodies speak volumes–much more than just context clues, I learn so much about people from the way they’re embodied.

    Favorite quote? I love so many of Kurt Vonnegut’s quotes.  Today, I choose this one:

    "I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over.  Out on the edge you see all the kinds of things you can’t see from the center."
    –Kurt Vonnegut

    Want more? Check out Bryn’s company Citizen Made, read her blog, and tweet with her!

    Photo Credit: Jamie Davis at Greenhouse Loft Photo

     
  3. Meet Corrina Crade

    Corrina was born in New Delhi, India but was quickly sent to an orphanage where she lived for 7 months. Corrina was lucky enough to be adopted by a wonderful Jewish family in Madison, WI. Starting at an early age, Corrina would make home videos with friends in her basement. They would re-enact music videos, popular TV shows and newscasts, complete with commercials. She’d take the white sheets off her bed and drape them over her mother’s lamps to soften the lighting, handwrite scripts and direct cuts with her Magnavox camcorder. To most of her friends, this was just a phase, but to Corrina, these home videos were just the beginning of her life’s passion.


    
I early 2011, after getting dumped via email from a guy she dated for over 6 years, she packed her bags (and her cat) and left everything behind to pursue a life in the entertainment industry. She moved to Chicago during one of the biggest snowstorms in 80 years. After being stuck in a house with no furniture, no cable, no Internet and no shower curtain-with only a blow-up mattress, a few suitcases, her cat and a bottle of Jewish red wine, she decided it was time to be a filmmaker, writer, and actor. Since that snowy night, she has been doing all three professional.  

    Corrina started her own company, CRADEmade Entertainment to empower stronger roles for women in film and to develop creative projects for her film colleagues.   She has produced an indie film and writing a book about the process, currently writing a musical, starring in a local TV show that brings awareness of Chicago culture, and the co-creator of a campaign launching this summer that brings awareness to diverse and same-sex couples.  

    Corrina’s latest project and most important to her is Mogamind, a meditation program she co-founded with her boyfriend. Mogamind is a tool to bring gratitude, love, and visualization to people by guided mediation that is accessible anywhere.

    Q+A

    What do you know for sure? I know for a fact that gratitude is the most important trait anyone can have.  I practice gratitude everyday and found it’s made a huge difference in my life, relationships, and work.

    What don’t people know about you? I am a crazy writer –when I do writing projects like feature films or projects such as commercials, shorts, creative stories or even initial creative development, I use songs to inspire me.  Sometimes the songs just come to me and spark an idea OR I can easily seek one out after the idea is brought to me.  Once I get that song, I lock myself in my room and write the story for hours while listening to the song on repeat until it’s done. When I wrote my first feature film, I listened to one song over 100 times and would listen to it again until all drafts were done. I have a song per project and have a hard time listening to the songs again after the projects are finish.

    Who is your favorite character? Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables.  Anne and I relate on so many levels.  First, we were both adopted into great families and both went into a career as a teacher and writer.  She was also described a girl with too much imagination that needed to spend less time talking and more time doing, which is something I’ve always been  - a dreamer and a talker.  I usually watch the PBS movie and read the book once a year.

    Favorite quote? “Don’t sweat the small stuff” – my mom

    What’s your craziest idea? To run and own an Entertainment company here in Chicago using all local talent and actors.  Have a live recording TV studio running three shows per season with good content and comedy.  I’d like to see a bit of Tinsel town in Chicago.  I don’t know if I’ll pull this off, but I sure am going to try!

    Want more?Follow MogaMind on Facebook. Try out one of the MogaMind meditations here. Follow Crademade Entertainment on twitter.

     
  4. Meet Molly Schemper

    Molly grew up in a farm-to-table restaurant before the term existed. She has always loved food and connecting to people through it. After a stint in advertising, she took a job as a personal chef/crew member on board two private yachts. She resettled in Chicago in 2003 and met her business partner (and now husband) at a downtown restaurant. Together they launched FIG Catering nearly 9 years ago and have learned something nearly everyday since then – whether it’s how to make a better scone or how to source more local produce.

    Q+A

    What inspires you? My fellow entrepreneurs that I see struggling and working hard every day. I feel like I was so lucky to be born into a family that was educated and able to always feed and cloth me. I am inspired by those who come from harder situations and are able to succeed.

    What is your first (or best) memory? Hanging out at our family restaurant – eating chunks of blue cheese, smelling cooked custard, marrying ketchup bottles, buttering bread pans…everything.

    What do you hate? Close minded people

    If you had to change careers what would you want to do? Make goat cheese in Jamaica or open an ice cream parlor

    Who helped get you here? Everyone – my family, my friends, my enemies even

    What gets you through a rough day? Usually chocolate or wine, sometimes both

    Want more? Connect with Molly + Fig on twitter. Follow Fig on Facebook. Check out their involvement in the Chicago Green Wedding Alliance.

    Photo Credit: Jamie Davis at Greenhouse Loft Photo

     
  5. Meet Saya Hillman

    Saya is an Evanston, Illinois native, Boston College graduate, Chicago resident, and has been self-employed since 2004. She has discovered how to turn her ability to create community and challenge herself and those around her into her “job.”  Through her company Mac & Cheese Productions and its weekend getaways, two-hour workshops, three-month classes, and speaking engagements, she helps others live a Life of Yes!. She was one of BrazenCareerist’s Top Twenty Young Professionals to Watch, has been featured in Forbes and the New York Times, and is a TEDx speaker. She’s married to someone she met at one of her own events.

    Q+A

    What inspires you? While I absolutely love, love, love being self-employed and working from home, I admit. There are (some silly) things I miss about office-life –

    • Birthday lunch from your choice of restaurant and hokey birthday card signed by your coworkers
    • Professional development
    • Regular paychecks
    • Group discounts
    • Ice-breakers (yes, I like ice-breakers!)
    • Someone else shopping around for the best health insurance
    • Pats on the back

    It’s nice to be recognized. And as adults, we don’t have someone putting our 85/100 math quizzes on the fridge anymore. So what inspires me, especially on days when all I’ve done is nag people to complete forms, make a payment, or return an email, or on days filled with peers Facebook’ing about bonuses or company outings, is the heartwarming sharing from Cheese-Its (as I’ve monikered those who participate in my offerings).

    Whether it’s in an application or in a Thank You note, I am continually surprised and touched by how honest, courageous, and vulnerable people are with me. And quite often, it’s people whom I’ve never met or barely know. It’s these sentiments that tell me I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing and inspire me to keep on keeping on.

    What makes you laugh? I am totally in the bag for improv. And I feel so lucky to live in Chicago, where every night of the week, a plethora of accessible, good improv-comedy exists. There is something so magical in improvisers beginning with a simple just-discovered word, phrase, look or action, and watching everything unfold and fit perfectly together as if yes!, of course the performers had practiced for “trombone” being the audience suggestion. The quick wit, the remembering of details, the teamwork, the fun the improvisers have with one another…

    And the golden rule of improv, “Yes and,” where you never deny your fellow actor but instead accept his/her ideas and then add to the scene, is one of beauty. It’s beautiful because it’s applicable to every nook and cranny of life. Since I’ve started Yes and’ing in all that I do, I am infinitely happier and fulfilled. Professionally, socially, romantically, whatever-ally. So much so that the tagline of my company is “Helping people live a Life of Yes!”

    I also love impoliticly correct humor and using laughter to tackle sensitive subjects and help people work through hurt. My boyfriends, Key & Peele, are masters in this arena. So are my best friends Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and Louis CK.

    Then sometimes it’s wonderful to just laugh at silly. I cannot stop guffawing at this Whose Line Is it Anyway segment.

    Biased of course, but my husband is wickedly funny as well. We met at one of my events, thanks to improv actually. My one professional challenge over the years has been keeping up with the number of female Cheese-Its, as I prefer to balance the gender ratio for the dynamic it producers. Single, married, dating, gay, straight – doesn’t matter, I just always need more guys! So I turned to the male-dominated field of improv, posting one of my events in an online comedy-forum. Husband saw it, came, and here we are four years later. One of the first things that attracted me to him was his high-brow humor. He does Workplace Improv, where companies bring him in to work on team-building and business skills via laughter, being silly, and letting go of judgment – of yourself and of others. How cool is that? swoon

    I am a fairly-happy person 100% of the time, but man, there is nothing like the feeling of laughing ridiculously hard, especially with a group of people. Adults don’t have enough of that.

    Have you ever stolen anything? Besides boys’ hearts? Ha. Just kidding. I don’t think I’ve ever stolen a boy’s heart (Holler if I stole yours, it’d really do a number on my ego!).

    A bit of background before this admission –

    Growing up, all I wanted was to be normal. Everything about me – name, biracial’ness, single-parent’ness, everyone else had money’ness, curly hair, towering height, overflowing weight, lack of anything that plugged in, e.g. a vacuum, microwave, or TV, due to my earth-loving mother – was abnormal.

    Instead of Kraft, my mac and cheese was egg noodles, flakes of thyme, and just-grated cheddar. Instead of Skippy, I had oil on top, impossible to spread organic peanut butter. Instead of Barbies, I had some off-brand dolls who couldn’t hold a candle to the real ladies.

    So when the opportunity to have a Barbie, a real Barbie, arose, I took it.

    Age nine’ish, I was in Osco Drug. I made sure to check that no one was watching, slyly glancing up and down the aisle. Then I stuffed one of the pink boxes in my bag. I made it through both sets of automatic-doors; home-free!

    I was halfway down the block when a boy a few years older biked up to me and said, “If you bring back the doll, my uncle won’t call the cops.” Turns out “Uncle” worked at the drugstore. I slowly walked back, eyes on the ground, put Barbie back on the shelf, and slunk out of the swishing double-doors.

    What do you geek out about?

    • Both using productivity and efficiency tools and having people go “Ohhhhh, cool!” when I share productivity and efficiency tools. One of my favorites is MightyText, which lets you text via computer. I love not having to pick up my phone to check a text, it pops up right on my monitor, and being able to type texts. I get asked so often how I manage to keep my sanity herding as many people and curating as many events as I do that I now teach a workshop, Time-Management & Efficiency, to share how I deal with deadlines, To Do lists, collaboration, frugality, focused workflow, all that good stuff.
    • Bypassing bad traffic by knowing what good streets to take (hello Canal, Loomis, and Leavitt!). Shhh. Don’t tell.
    • Direct and indirect passive income. Getting a notification that someone just paid to put something in my newsletter or that I got a credit because someone took their first Uber ride or booked their first cleaning/handyman service (use code SAYA3359 for $25 off your first use at Handybook.com!) is all sorts of awesome. I can’t even imagine the sensations I’ll have if, er when, my book comes out and it goes FLYING off the shelves. Kaaaa-ching! While doing nothing!
    • Smart multi-tasking. It’s easy to fall down the rabbit-hole of inefficient multitasking these days, when doing too many things at once makes you less productive. When I’ve got the slow cooker going, the dishwasher churning, I run to the post office to knock out both exercise and an errand, and a CD is burning for my Life of Yes! Camp, I’m in heaven.

    Who helped get you here? Mom. There’s so much I could say about Debbie Lyn. I’ll concise it up in list-format –

    • She gave birth to me alone, at home, by choice; I was a full month late
    • She’s never had a car and just got her driver’s license at age fifty
    • The last ‘office’ job she had was when her water broke with me; raising me as a single-mom, she sold homemade dried flower arrangements at craft fairs, typed phD dissertations for Northwestern grad students in the pre-computer age, was the sole female apprentice in a woodshop, and eventually settled down as a self-taught organic gardener.
    • When asked how she got home after her water broke, she said, “I don’t think I rode my bike. Did I? No, I must’ve taken the bus.”

    Check out a video I made on her.

    Want more? Connect with Saya on Twitter and Facebook and learn about her company + how to live a Life of Yes! on her website.

    Photo by: Angela Garbot Photography


     
  6. Meet Amara Enyia

    Amara is a 31 year old community activist, organizer, lawyer, PhD, Iron Man enthusiast, and polyglot with a passion for public policy. She is also running for Mayor, challenging incumbent Rahm Emanuel in the 2015 Chicago municipal elections. Amara got her start as a journalist. She earned a Masters degree in Education, law degree where she focused on international and environmental law, and a PhD in Educational Policy Studies. Amara knew she wanted to understand how policies are made at the top level of city government so that she could use her knowledge to serve Chicago’s most challenged communities. She worked in City Hall and, after gaining experience across several policy areas, went straight to the West Side of Chicago where she served as Executive Director of a non-profit organization and simultaneously worked full time in the manufacturing sector. Amara knew she would expand her work to other areas so she launched a municipal consulting firm to help municipalities in the Chicago metropolitan area address some of their most pressing challenges, particularly around economic development and workforce development. Her work has since expanded to neighborhoods around the city where she acts as a bridge-builder and advocate.

    Q+A

    Where is your favorite place to travel to? My favorite place to travel is any place I’ve never been. I have always cherished the feeling of being in an unfamiliar place, whether it’s a different neighborhood, different city, or different country. For me, there’s always been something both comforting and exciting about being in an unfamiliar setting.  I take a lot of walks, runs, bike-rides and drives around Chicago because I’m always searching for some new enclave I’ve never seen or experienced. I spent years traveling from country to country for no particular reason other than to absorb the unfamiliar, learn as much as I could, and experience all of the mysteries of life.

    What do you believe? I believe that people around the world, no matter their race, ethnicity, geography or background, want the same things for the most part. The things that are similar are far greater than the differences amongst us. I believe that integrity is crucial and living a life true to who you are is the highest virtue. I believe in living a life of purpose and that the most important discovery an individual can make is to discover their purpose, and then to live it, unapologetically. I believe that the only limitations in our lives are the ones we put on ourselves. I believe in challenging myself – when there’s no peril in the fight, there’s no glory in the triumph. I believe that life passes very swiftly, therefore nothing should be taken for-granted. I believe there is value in every experience – good or bad. I believe that regret for the things we’ve done is tempered by time, but regret for the things we did not do, is inconsolable. I believe that one must always strive to do the right thing in every situation, but in difficult circumstances, do what you believe is right and you will have inner peace. I believe that one must stand on principles and let those principles guide your actions. I believe that leadership inspires others and that good leaders are able to translate their vision to people, who adopt that vision and actualize it. I believe that we are all interconnected and that we were all born with power. I believe that when we recognize our power as individuals and then collectively, we have the power to create and the power to transform.

    What expression or saying do you love? This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.

    What is your hidden talent? I’m a spoon carver. I learned how to carve spoons on a farm in Northern Vermont. When I got back home, I bought a carving knife, some sand paper, and started doing it on my own. Sometimes I give spoons away as gifts. I’m also a writer. I finished my first full-length novel a couple of years ago.

    If you could fire anyone in the world, who would you fire? I think we know the answer to that question. But just in case it needs to be said, Chicago’s current Mayor, Rahm Emanuel :-).

    Want more? Learn all about Amara’s campaign for Mayor at www.amaraforchicago.com and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter + Instagram

    Photo Credit: Jamie Davis at Greenhouse Loft Photo

     
  7. Meet Hope England

    Hope is a comedic writer and performer, an improviser, an actress, an empath, a lover of humanity, and an overall life enthusiast.  Her recent work includes a stint at The Second City, The Voice, and corralling young kids and molding young minds in children’s theaters. This work combined with her love of comedy and volunteering in children’s hospitals, lead her to found the non profit Humor for Hope which uses improvisational comedy as a form of therapy to reach out to those who, due to their illnesses, are not able to interact in groups within a social setting. Humor for Hope began on an isolation floor of a children’s hospital and continues to grow exponentially, bringing laughter and healing to many.

     Q+A

    What do you know for sure? Everyone is a lesson, a story, a unique and wondrous perspective on the chaos that is human existence. The purpose of life is to live it, taste it, savor it, and to reach out eagerly for connection and newer richer, organic, authentic experiences.  No one is really sure why they are alive until they are sure of what they would die for. The simplest things bring the most pleasure.  Journey changes you, and it should change you. Passion changes. everything. You are on a sometimes remarkable, sometimes terrible, sometimes beautiful, strange and always completely unknown, journey. Worrying about what happens next will ruin the surprise.

    There is nothing like the healing effect of laughter.  Life is hard but it feels good to grow. Some things will be good, some things will be bad, neither will last forever. Nothing will stay the same. I know that women are remarkable, powerful human beings. Sunshine is delicious and rain is refreshing. The laughter of a child, the tender nuzzle of a dog, the ocean breeze, stars, a good hug, the smell of Autumn, laughing until your stomach is sore, living now, and giving generously, this is what it’s all about. 

    It is better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live an imitation of somebody else’s life with perfection. The more I learn, the less I know. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it. Someday this will all come to an end and it won’t matter where you’re from, what you wore, or how much you made.  Living a life that matters doesn’t happen by accident. I know we can’t relate to others without a heart or reach into the depths of life without a soul. Nothing is trivial or without relevance. Your vulnerability will connect you to the rest of our suffering world and your creativity will set you free. Living a life full and free is worth fighting for. Life isn’t about taking…it’s about giving back.

    What inspires you? Bravery. Rebellion. Art. Challenging the norm. Nature. Collaboration. The power of possibility. The lure of the unknown. The human potential for good. You.

    What makes you laugh? Children. Honesty. Observational humor. My four extremely inappropriate, insanely sarcastic brothers. 

    What do you believe in? Higher consciousness. Ruthlessly being yourself. Changing the world with tenderness. Loving with your whole heart. I believe that every breath is a second chance to create the world we want to live in. Energy drains, soul sucks, and debbie downers are like getting graham crackers for dessert. Pass! If if doesn’t lift you up, you probably don’t need it.

    A little known fact about yourself? I once got arrested for stealing a cow. -IT’S NOT IMPORTANT!

    Want more? Check out Humor for Hope or follow h4h on Facebook

    Follow Humor for Hope’s journey this summer while working alongside Paul Newman’s camp for terminally and chronically ill children on Tumblr

    Photo Credit: Jamie Davis at Greenhouse Loft Photo

     
  8. In honor of Mothers Day, I thought it only appropriate to introduce you all to the original seriously badass woman, my mom, Paula Downey.

    Meet Paula Downey

    A native of Massachusetts, Paula has had a long career as a dental professional ranging from Dental Assistant to Office Manager and a three year stint with the Federal Government at Fort Devens. She’s a big fan of fluoride. She is an entrepreneur who started and ran her own residential cleaning company for 7 years while raising two amazingly gifted children (see what I did there). To call her “involved” would be an understatement. She became a famous volunteer at St Jerome School and was known as “the ice cream lady” after launching a lucrative ice cream day, once a week in the cafeteria, which then became the revenue source for the schools end of the year field day. 

    Paula is infamous for her terrifying Halloween costumes which left many children in tears or under desks. She is the first one on the dance floor at any event and the last one off. Paula is a master of standing up for herself, her family and her beliefs. She is a very active Democrat and alternates between picket lines, caucuses, conventions and fundraisers. She is coming up on her 40th wedding anniversary (applause + gratitude). She was a competitive skier but now sticks to yoga, hoola-hooping, golf, walking, spinning and outdoor pursuits to stay healthy. Paula laughs harder and louder than anyone ever. She calls M&M’s ‘power pellets’, her nickname is P-Ditty and she is a badass.

    Q+A

    What’s your favorite quote? “And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.” - Robert Frost

    What gets you through a rough day? I can’t carry a tune but I sing in my head or really loud in the car which helps. I also enjoy a nice walk at Webb Park by the ocean.

    What is your craziest idea? I have always wanted to fly (zip line) like Tinkerbell from Cinderella’s Castle to Tomorrow Land in Disney World.  

    What’s the most outrageous thing you have ever done?  I once led an entire pub full of people in a rousing rendition of God Bless America while standing on a table with a lit candle held high above my head; like Kate Smith. The band had me do an encore so it couldn’t have been too bad. 

    What do you believe? That people shouldn’t take themselves so seriously. We should treat one another as we would want to be treated. And life isn’t a dress rehearsal; it’s the only show in town.

    Happy Mothers Day P-Ditty!

     
  9. Meet Dana Kerford 

    Dana is a Teacher, Friendship Expert, Author, and the Founder of the internationally recognized friendship program for girls, GirlPower Inc. With extensive research on relational aggression and conflict-resolution, Dana developed GirlPower’s skills-based curriculum. She has worked with over ten thousand tween girls, parents, and educators across North America and Australia and has been featured in magazines, newspapers, and been a guest on numerous television programs. Dana’s passion to empower girls with the skills, language, and self-confidence to be better friends and develop healthier friendships is the heart and soul of GirlPower.

    Q+A

    What makes you laugh? I will confess that I’m a total ‘cheap laugher’. Pretty much everything makes me laugh and I tend to be that person in the movie theatre who LOLs when nobody else is laughing. The movie, Bridesmaids, had me laughing so hard I was crying - especially the scene with Kristen Wiig on the airplane. The female comedians these days are my faves – Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Melissa McCarthy, and Kristen Wiig are at the top of my list. If they’re in it, I’m laughing. Oh, and those crazy lists of autocorrect mishaps have me in stitches every time!

    Where is your favorite place to travel to? Nothing makes me feel more alive than being in a new place, exploring and immersing myself in a new culture. My husband and I spent our honeymoon traveling the world for 3 months across Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, and Singapore.  We continue to travel with our two children, including just spending 3 months escaping our cold, Canadian winter living in sunny San Diego, California. Every place we’ve been has a special place in my heart and I especially love Costa Rica… Pura Vida!

    Who helped get you here? Without a doubt: my husband, Michael. He’s the business-mastermind behind GirlPower and has taught me so much. I used to always say, “I’m just a teacher,” but he believed in me and my dream of sharing the GirlPower message with as many girls around the world as possible. He’s truly the greatest person I know – along with being crazy smart and living with such integrity, he’s hilarious and is always up for a good time. He puts the ‘cherry on top’ of every situation! My Mom is also instrumental in shaping the person I am, teaching me to always trust my intuition and the importance of taking care of my emotional health. She taught me to appreciate the little things in life and is a great example of a strong female role-model. 

    What gets you through a rough day? Cuddles from Reggie and Ruby (our gorgeous children), listening to good music with Michael, and getting outdoors to reset. It’s amazing how small stressors become once I bring my focus back on my family. I will admit that I rarely have a rough day and feel very fortunate to live such an amazing life!  

    What is the world missing? Healthier friendships, of course! GirlPower’s research shows that children who have healthy friendships perform better academically, have higher self-esteem, a more positive body image, get involved in more leadership roles, and make smarter decisions in future relationships. It’s so important to have a voice in our friendships, create relationships that are transparent, rooted in trust and respect, and spend more time with people who make us feel good. Through GirlPower and GoodGuys (our friendship program for tween boys), we’re teaching these skills at a young age so that these lessons become part of their core. This is what it’s all about! This is how we create change…one child at a time.

    Want more? Check out Dana’s work at www.urstrong.com and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

    Also, read this fantastic article (which is how I connected with Dana in the first place because I was so blown away by her insight + approach). It takes a minute to load so be patient.

     
  10. Marker 1:01:30 is where this story begins

    Hey Everyone, Shannon here. Up until now I have kept this blog quite consistent, each week delivering you a seriously badass woman to get to know. 

    Today, I watched the video you see above of Neil DeGrasse Tyson responding to a question at a relatively obscure (according to UpWorthy) conference. 

    I can’t stop dissecting it and for that reason I feel compelled to write about it here. I did watch the full hour panel so as not to fall into the UpWorthy trap of what I call “editing for reaction”. It was a brilliant hour and I highly encourage you to enjoy the whole thing.

    The full scene: A room chock full of white male scientists. The panel is titled “Science of the Public”. The moderate announces that the panel will focus on roadblocks to science education and science literacy and potential solutions for overcoming said roadblocks. 

    They spend an hour tackling incredibly insightful topics like: What is science? Do we need to “re-brand” science? What are the benefits and values of science? Can we foster an appreciation of science that inspires involvement? The impact of science on religious thinking and vice versa. Is the biggest barrier to buy-in among students that the teachers are teaching it wrong? Why aren’t we teaching critical thinking in science to inspire? How is pop culture effecting perceptions of science and scientists? 

    Seriously. Watch the whole thing. It is so inspiring. And while you watch you get a sense of just what a beautiful person Neil DeGrasse Tyson is, most especially at elevating those around him (check out the 18 minute mark and just watch). Oh to have been able to sit in that room and absorb all of that brilliance! 

    The panel ran long and they had time for only one question. At which point an older white man came to the mic and said, “Mumble mumble, What’s up with chicks and science?”

    At this point I just had rage. That said, I realized he said something before the question that I just couldn’t hear. I replayed it eight times before I was able to figure out that he said, “Um the “Larry Summers” question: What’s up with chicks and science?”

    Now I had to hit up google to get the context of his statement “the Larry Summers question” so here’s the deal on that via Wikipedia (that said, more than 75% of wikipedia contributors/writers are men):

    In January 2005, at a Conference on Diversifying the Science & Engineering Workforce sponsored by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Summers sparked controversy with his discussion of why women may have been underrepresented “in tenured positions in science and engineering at top universities and research institutions”.

    Summers had prefaced his talk, saying he was adopting an “entirely positive, rather than normative approach” and that his remarks were intended to be an “attempt at provocation.”

    Summers then began by identifying three hypotheses for the higher proportion of men in high-end science and engineering positions:

    1. The high-powered job hypothesis

    2. Different availability of aptitude at the high end

    3. Different socialization and patterns of discrimination in a search

    The second hypothesis, the generally greater variability among men (compared to women) in tests of cognitive abilities,leading to proportionally more males than females at both the lower and upper tails of the test score distributions, caused the most controversy. 

    In his discussion of this hypothesis, Summers said that “even small differences in the standard deviation [between genders] will translate into very large differences in the available pool substantially out [from the mean]”. Summers referenced research that implied differences between the standard deviations of males and females in the top 5% of twelfth graders under various tests. He then went on to argue that, if this research were to be accepted, then “whatever the set of attributes… that are precisely defined to correlate with being an aeronautical engineer at MIT or being a chemist at Berkeley… are probably different in their standard deviations as well”.

    Summers then concluded his discussion of the three hypotheses by saying:

    So my best guess, to provoke you, of what’s behind all of this is that the largest phenomenon, by far, is the general clash between people’s legitimate family desires and employers’ current desire for high power and high intensity, that in the special case of science and engineering, there are issues of intrinsic aptitude, and particularly of the variability of aptitude, and that those considerations are reinforced by what are in fact lesser factors involving socialization and continuing discrimination. I would like nothing better than to be proved wrong, because I would like nothing better than for these problems to be addressable simply by everybody understanding what they are, and working very hard to address them.

    This lunch-time talk drew accusations of sexism and careless scholarship, and an intense negative response followed, both nationally and at Harvard. Summers apologized repeatedly. Nevertheless, the controversy is speculated to have contributed to his resigning his position as president of Harvard University the following year, as well as costing Summers the job of Treasury Secretary in Obama’s administration.

    So let’s be clear here, while Larry Summers may have posed some provocative questions he never phrased the question as “What’s the deal with chicks and science?” That was just this middle aged white guys way of wrapping his sexism in a “joke” which, I submit, was done so that later when he gets called out for his sexism he can say something like “Why are you getting so emotional? It was just a joke.” … like “they” do. 

    Clearly the moderator didn’t have to hit wikipedia to understand what the ‘Larry Summers’ bit meant because he took the question and re-phrased it as, “Does anyone want to field maybe if there are genetic differences between men and women that might explain why there are more men in science than women? Anyone?”

    At which point, Neil DeGrasse Tyson grabs his microphone and begins by saying, “I have never been female but I have been black my whole life.” The audience is laughing.

    I still had rage so I immediately thought, “Geez Neil WHY wouldn’t you let the one woman on the panel speak? Because male privilege.” Then I checked myself. I can’t even imagine how the one woman on that panel felt in that moment (although something tells me this is not a new experience for her). I would have been so angry and disappointed that after so much profound, intelligent, interesting conversation among panelists that the ONE question there was time for was that piece of shit question. 

    I know from experience that constantly being expected to “be the voice” of all women or all gay people simply because I’m the ONLY one of “those” in a room is fucking exhausting. So after a few seconds of watching Neil (can I call you Neil, Neil?) take ownership of that response brought me to such a happy place. 

    What I love best is that he clearly acknowledged that his experience, while similar in many ways, was not exact to the experience of women. He pointed out the shared inequalities of access and expectations between being a person of color in the sciences to that of women. 

    He infused his response with humor, sharing a personal story that illustrated his experiences with racism and yet did it in such a way as to keep the audience open minded to the implications of the story. 

    He got to a place, at the end, that any real scientist would have to accept and consider when he says, “When you don’t find blacks in the sciences, when you don’t find women in the sciences, I know that these forces are real and I had to survive them to get where I am today. So BEFORE we start talking about genetic differences, you have got to come up with a system where there is equal opportunity. Then we can have that conversation.”

    He challenges that room full of people to do something about the system they are a part of. Additionally, he does NOT shut down the possibility of eventually having a conversation around the hypothesis of genetic differences being a factor. He simply clarifies that that hypothesis cannot be tested until the confounding factors are addressed. 

    As his response ends the room erupts into applause and I found myself clapping right along with them. I hope that someday I can be as thoughtful and eloquent an ally for someone in the moment when they need it most. 

    I therefore name, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, the first Seriously Badass Ally and invite him to be part of this blog so he choose.

     
     
  11. Meet Tiffaney Florentine

    Tiffaney has always had a passion for health and fitness. She has helped others focus on health and fitness during her time in the military, as a management consultant and now as an entrepreneur relentlessly focused on transforming lives via health and fitness. Two years ago she learned about the power of community, which compelled her to launch Trodo. Trodo is Greek for vulnerability. Trodo is all about having the courage to be vulnerable and creating experiences for others to put themselves out there. 

    Tiffaney drives rapid and sustainable change in people’s lives by building and strengthening communities dedicated to fitness. She consults schools (Trodo Youth), consults with CrossFit affiliates (Trodo Consulting and Trodo Box League) and consults with companies (Trodo Workplace). 

    Q+A

    What do you know for sure? Starting Trodo was the best decision I have ever made in my life. I’m incredibly fortunate and grateful for the opportunity to wake up every morning and positively impact the lives of others through health and fitness. 

    Every life experience that I’ve had has helped me develop the mission and vision of Trodo. From my days spent working on a factory floor, to my year caring for my ailing father, to my time in the Air Force, to my life as a consultant, and even my time as an American Gladiator contender; every single life experience happened for a reason. These experiences have shaped my views on the importance of living a healthy life and the power of surrounding myself with positive, loving and caring people. All of these experiences and powerful interactions have inspired me to chase what’s most meaningful in life —- helping others.  

    With the love and support of my partner, family and friends, I was able to launch Trodo. Now, I focus on creating experiences for individuals to be vulnerable, to push themselves outside of their comfort zones to get better, both physically and emotionally.

    I am sure I am living my dream. Through Trodo, we are poised to impact many more lives through the power of community. 

    What inspires you? People with the passion to be better and the courage to be vulnerable inspire me. 

    It’s incredibly moving to see someone walk into a fitness community (CrossFit gym) for the first time, or to see a traditionally ‘not athletic’ student actively engage in fitness programming in front of his/her peers for the first time. 

    Their vulnerability and desire to be better motivates me. Every time I see it in action, I just want to high five and hug people that show up for the first time. I want to jump up and down and congratulate them for climbing the biggest mountain imaginable…by just walking in the door and saying, “here I am. I am vulnerable. I am ready to ‘be better.” Let’s be honest, most of the time I do jump up and down and hug them. 

    Every one of these individuals becomes an athlete. These athletes inspire me. 

    A little known fact about yourself? I have two little known facts. One is a fun fact, and the other not so fun.

    Fun: I had the opportunity to compete on American Gladiators as a contender and finished in second place. I was fortunate to be selected out of 14,000 applicants around the United States. I took a leave of absence from the stressful management consulting world to spend six weeks in an arena competing against enormous Gladiators, and spent time with 39 fascinating, incredibly fit contenders with amazing stories. It was a once in a lifetime experience. 

    After episodes aired on NBC, others began viewing me as having an expertise in health and fitness and sought me out to share personal goals and achievements and to seek motivation and help along their journey. This was eye opening. I could inspire, motivate and educate others to live better lives through health and wellness! Wow, I found my calling! 

    I realized I had a unique ability to influence and empower others to live healthier, fitter lives. I realized I could enable personal transformations that could last a lifetime, and would positively impact all areas of their lives; health, family, career, etc.  Right then and there, I committed to building a future that would allow me to impact as many people as possible. 

    My less fun fact:  I live, healthily, with a debilitating disease. When I served in the military overseas, I began experiencing severe pains in my abdomen. After several rounds of poking, prodding and testing, I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. I was ultimately medically discharged from the military because of it and it limited my life for a number of years. While most people with UC live on painkillers for the rest of their lives, I have been lucky enough to manage this disease through a healthy lifestyle and diet. I workout regularly, manage my stress levels, and avoid gluten to live a high quality life despite this chronic condition. I consider this a victory. I did not let this disease dictate my life direction. I found a way to manage and control what’s controllable. I had a choice, and I chose to deal with it and turn this experience into an opportunity to educate myself, live an even healthier lifestyle and forge ahead in the direction to inspire and educate others to live a healthier life. 

    What do you geek out about? Progress. I’m obsessed with progress. It does not matter where you start, it just matters that you’re forging ahead to be better. Passion and grit are the underlying factors that drive continuous progress in life. I commend anyone that has the courage to set a goal and relentlessly pursue it. Making a choice to hurdle an obstacle takes courage. Progress gives us a pep in our step, a confidence boost. This boost influences attitude and personal drive and it’s contagious. 

    Create a contagious environment. Progress in something that matters to you. You’ll be better and others around you will be better, because you’re bound to inspire someone. 

    Favorite word? Vulnerability. Being vulnerable is scary, and sometimes viewed as being weak. It’s not weak. It’s everything. You will not grow unless you step into a place of vulnerability first. No one ever accomplished anything in life without stepping outside of his or her personal comfort zone. 

    When was the last time you accomplished something you were proud of? You were scared at first, right? You were hesitant to completely dive in, right? Ask yourself what would have happened if things didn’t turn out the way you wanted them to. I’m certain that if you were open-minded and chose to learn from the experience, you grew from it. You are better because of it. 

    Courage is admirable. Courage is what makes our lives vibrant and meaningful, and it drives us to be vulnerable. Be courageous. Be vulnerable. If your eyes and your heart are open, you can only learn and grow in the process. 

    Want more? Check out Trodo, connect on Facebook and Twitter

    (and because I just HAD to find some video of her time on American Gladiator, I thought I would share! Sorry not sorry Tiffaney.) Min. 6:28

    Photo Credit: Jamie Davis at Greenhouse Loft Photo

     
  12. Meet Rebecca Loebe

    Rebecca quit her job as a recording engineer over 5 years ago to pursue music full time. Since then she’s released three acclaimed Americana albums, won several songwriting contests including Kerrville’s New Folk Award and represented the singer/songwriter community on the first season of NBC’s “The Voice.” This spring she is releasing a live album with Goose Creek Records and performing concerts and workshops in the US, Canada, Europe and Japan. She’s a great driver, an enthusiastic gardener and she wants to be your friend.

    Q+A

    What do you know for sure? Working many customer service jobs has taught me one thing for sure: in every interaction we have with every person we encounter we can improve or damage the quality of their day with about 15 seconds worth of effort. It takes as much time to smile and say one considerate thing to someone as it does to do nothing, and in return for that small expenditure of energy comes the potential of providing someone comfort and a sense of community when they may need it. In a world where 50% of the population lives on less than $1 a day, I think we owe it to each other to help in any way we can, and this is the very least we can do. Be kind, every time.

    What inspires you? I am inspired by artists who let their guard down and show their vulnerable, true selves without — or maybe in spite of — fear that some will find what they have to offer unappealing.

    What do you suck at? I am not good at cutting ties. I collect people as I go, and when it’s time to terminate a relationship (personal or professional) it’s really, really hard for me.

    Have you ever stolen anything? Not since I got busted at Kroger attempting to steal eyeliner when I was 13. I wanted to put it on a boy I had a crush on (we had just had a lengthy conversation about guy liner and he said he would try it…soooo….) Anyhow, the whole experience was humiliating, especially since I *knew* I was definitely in the wrong, and I’ve never stolen anything since (and as an adult I took a lot of business to that Kroger when I was working as a backstage runner at a venue spending thousands of dollars on dressing room food…so I figure I worked off some of the bad karma). 

    What is your favorite quote? I once got a horoscope that said “Radiating your highest integrity is the truest form of self promotion.” I frequently find myself trying to balance art and commerce in my daily life, and this has become my mantra.

    Want more? If you live in Chicagoland you can SEE HER LIVE on May 10th at SPACE in Evanston. Buy your ticket now right here for a mere $15 (plus you will get to hang with a whole bunch of SBW’s because you know we will be there supporting!) 

    Check out her website + watch her new video http://rebeccaloebe.com/ Follow her on Facebook + Tweet with her @RebeccaLoebe 

     
  13. Meet Candice C. Cusic

    Candice started taking photographs at age six and has been a camera geek ever since.

    After working as a photojournalist for 15 years, including 11 years at the Chicago Tribune where she was on the team that won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize, Candice started her wedding and family photojournalism business, and has continued to teach Photojournalism at Northwestern University, where she has taught for the past 10 years.

    Her business isn’t focused on posed images of her clients smiling for the camera.  She blends, documents, and captures moments that are most important to her clients on their special day, or their every day!

    Q+A

    What is your first (or best) memory? I remember the day I learned how to read!  After finally figuring it out, I ran into my parents’ bedroom and read aloud to them, and I’ve been a bookworm for most of my life.

    What makes you laugh? Absolutely everything.  Laughter is so cleansing, so addictive, and something that should be a daily occurrence in life.  My laugh is identical to my sister’s… loud!  You don’t want to sit next to either of us in a funny movie if you don’t care for laughter!

    What do you hate? The word “Hate!”  I’ve never been fond of it. 

    What do you suck at? Math!  Truly, I embraced art, music and language at a young age and stuck with it.  Math was a casualty!

    What inspires you? Life!  Vintage architecture, sunlight, the colors of our Chicago skyline, seeing people I love accomplish their dreams, a fantastic vegetarian soup, and bear hugs.  Life inspires me!

     Want more? See her amazing work at www.CusicPhoto.com and www.CusicPhotoBlog.com and follow her on twitter @CusicPhoto

     
  14. Meet Jessica Disu aka FM Supreme

    Born and raised in Chicago, Jessica Disu, also known as FM Supreme, uses language as a tool for positive change. She’s a three-time international performing poet, artist, activist and educator who describes herself as a “humanitarian rap artist.” As a two-time champion of Louder Than A Bomb, the Chicago youth poetry slam festival, Disu has served as coach and youth leader in that slam and others. Her commitment to mentoring youth extends across the globe. Recently, she toured Southeast Asia in Bangkok, Thailand and Myanmar (Burma) with The Peace Exchange: Chicago-Asia 2013-a community-based, educationally focused and young adult-led effort to understand violence and foster peace in some of Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods;  chicagoyouthpeace.org. FM Supreme is releasing her music project, Beautiful Grind III: The Transformation in June 2014.

    Q+A

    What inspires you? I am inspired by circumstance and life experience. I have learned that the purpose of life is to discover your Truth(s), breathe and live. Whatever that means to you. Living to me means never giving up even when you don’t see or feel the light at the end of the tunnel. I am very inspired and encouraged by the brilliance and intelligence of children and young people. The hopes and imaginations of youth that I have encountered across the world in North America, Europe and Southeast Asia has significantly impacted my life. I love young people, and I know that one of my callings, is youth servant leadership. I feel very blessed to have a genuine connection with young people. I understand their perspective as I am not far removed from the up and coming generation, as a 25 year old, Nigerian American woman born on the West Side of Chicago. I am inspired by great Hip Hop music, R&B, Jazz, Gospel, Alternative Rock, Soul music, Motown, and Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble,” «««my favorite song of 2013.

    What makes you laugh? I laugh at things that should not be funny. Like turning in my paper a week late, even though I worked hard on it and maybe deserve an A or B but will get a C because it is a week late. I laugh at my obstacles that I have had in the past and how after learning lessons learned, the obstacles which seemed life or death, was more or less just minuscule challenges to prepare me for my next level. I laugh at television shows that are intended to be reality t.v shows but the ones that are clearly scripted and or made with an agenda. I laugh a lot, like in my song with Prince Talent, ” No Turning Back,” ‘anything is possible, I get over my obstacles and laugh, and laugh/no turning back aye!’

    Where is your favorite place to travel to? My favorite place to travel to is Amsterdam, The Netherlands. I love The Red Light District. I played many shows there with my comrade and sister in the struggle, Deja K. Taylor. This was in 2009 for The Beautiful Grind Movement European Tour. It was amazing, the cultural freedoms of expression was eye opening to say the least. We stayed near Oosterpark and felt very welcomed by our Dutch friends. On that tour, we traveled through Rotterdam, Belgium, and France before making it to Brixton, England to perform at a private birthday party. Deja and I both were 20 years old then. It’s five years later and I am starting to feel a bit old..er;)

    What do you suck at? I suck at being a good auntie sometimes. I want to be more around and involved in the lives of my nephews. I love them as if they are my sons…I don’t have kids yet but one day maybe in the distance future. I also suck at keeping enthusiasm for things, work or projects that I don’t fully believe in.

    Who helped you get here? Jesus helped me get here. My mom and dad who are the reasons why I am who I am and am on earth helped me get here. My brothers and sisters and extended relatives helped me get here and never judged me or laughed at me for my mistakes. The community helped me get here and is also the reason why I have been so blessed, empowered, encouraged and determined to make a difference. After School Matters Words 37 Program, Kuumba Lynx, Youth Struggling for Survival, Louder Than A Bomb, Chicago Academy for the Arts High School (CAA), Young Chicago Authors, Trinity United Church of Christ, Holy Family Ministries and Open Society Foundation’s Campaign for Black Male Achievement has helped me vibrantly stand strong. Last but not least, my mentors and mentees helped me get here and arrive at this present moment.

    Want more? Read, listen, download, buy at www.fmsupreme.com
    Connect with her on twitter: @FMSupreme

     
  15. Meet Molly Cantrell-Kraig

    Molly is a woman with drive. Possessing an innate sense of purpose and a pragmatic, solution-based approach to empowering people, she fused these two traits in order to establish Women With Drive Foundation. Based upon its founder’s personal history, Women With Drive Foundation is a means through which Cantrell-Kraig may effect change on both a micro and macro level. By providing women with something as essential as personal transportation in order to transition them from poverty to prosperity, she, through Women With Drive Foundation, seeks to empower women to help them help themselves. Through this action, the individual applicant benefits, as does society as a whole.

    Q+A

    What do you suck at? Logistics. I rely heavily on my bean count-y friends who realize and understand the implementation component of my “castles in the air” propensity. It is they who help me to implement effectively. Without their strategic and implacable prodding, I wouldn’t be nearly as effective.

    Favorite word? Reciprocity. I love the actual sound it makes as it rolls off the tongue, but I also love the thought behind it. We are dynamic creatures, designed to work best in tandem or within synchronous orbits. When we find someone who complements us, we’re unstoppable.

    Who helped get you here? The list of those people would be immense. Truly. There are literally hundreds of people who interacted with my journey and who have helped me to refine and define my passion, purpose and the manifestation of what’s currently visible in my life. To name a few: the women of Ms. Tech; Liz Strauss (and by extension, the community of SOBCon); Melissa Pierce in particular helped me to directly get to Chicago; my three daughters (who I identified during a conference as my first ‘stakeholders’).

    What don’t people know about you? I’m actually very aloof and intensely private.

    What do you think about when you are alone? Honestly? That the world IS a stage and that we are merely players. Sometimes, I think that this whole production is a collective character study, writ large and that we are each here to learn from (and love) each other. Then, when I get too serious for my own good, I binge watch something on Netflix and have a glass of wine.

    Want more? Follow Molly on twitter as @mckra1g or @WWDr1ve (Women With Drive) or like them on facebook.

    Gorgeous Photo By: greenhouseloftphoto.com