Politics 30 January 2017
Suzan Johnson Cook's life has been anything but ordinary, and she recognizes in a recent interview with SWAAY, that the same thing could be said for the coming four years under this administration. As a former presidential adviser to both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, Cook has lead a devoted life to public servitude and looks ahead to how we can endure and thrive in testing times. Having finished her public service roles, she is now concentrating on helping minorities through motivational speeches and care-giving, and is also the writer of both Too Blessed to Be Stressed - Words of Wisdom for Women on the Move and Soul Sisters - a compilation of African American, Asian and Latina women's stories to move and encourage progress in the right direction for minorities.
“Our family was very public service - oriented, and so it was a natural fit, it was really just carrying out that legacy," says Cook.
Courtesy of NY Daily News
Having helped her late brother to gain office in New York, 'Sujay' went on to work under the Clinton administration herself, and recalls fondly working with Bill Clinton on his race initiative. She remembers the objective at the time, was to address "what we're dealing with now - that we need to be one America - that we're ethnically, racially and socio-economically diverse, and not to diminish that, but to celebrate it."
Sujay had to be nominated twice for the role of Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, and on the second try the vote was passed through unanimously. She was the first African-American woman to adopt the role and it entailed representing the country abroad on faith missions with other international leaders. She visited Ghana as Ambassador - where her family is originally from, and also the Vatican, taking part in an assembly the likes of which her ancestors "would never have dreamed of."
“We were taught to help - to show others how to be empowered themselves so they did not have to have a life of dependency on welfare on systems."
She was dedicated to the promotion and enhancement of life for those who could not speak for themselves - who don't have publicists or staff and who most of all, don't have the means or capital to attract attention in a country driven by wealth. She is hopeful, but skeptical about the four years ahead, especially given the first executive order issued under the new administration to begin the dismantling of her former boss' s biggest achievement - Obamacare.
“It's rough because I personally know people who were helped - who didn't have healthcare and had it for the first time."
Even though she's confident and hopeful of progress in the next four years, Cook understands that within the communities she serves and works to improve, there is unease about the swift and hasty nature of the new presidents rulings. "We want to go forward" she says, "we don't want to dismantle what has been done - we want to build upon it."
"All of it contributes to our notion, there is no role too small. What is it they say? The summation of the parts equal a whole."
She looks back fondly on her time under Bill Clinton, and praises Obama for his help getting her nomination through, but perhaps her favorite moment at the White House? When Clinton held a formal welcoming ceremony for the then newly elected South African President - Mr. Nelson Mandela, and she got to attend the ceremony on the White House lawn. Having seen what protests and public demonstration has the ability to do through the likes of Mandela, Sujay participated in the Women's Inauguration marches with a plethora of other activists who are now focused on remaining positive throughout what has the potential to become a despotic presidency. Below are her 'S' words that might just help you get through.
1. Scream Really Loud (in private)
We all have those days when our stress level is through the roof and nothing is going right. I had many of those days working in politics. It might not seem “lady like" or be good manners to go off in public, but when you get home and are all alone, scream at the top of your lungs and get your aggressions out. It feels good to release the tension.
Every woman needs an inner circle of advisors and confidants for professional and personal growth. It's a group of like-minded women you can confide in and speak openly to about whatever challenges and struggles you are facing. If it's business, make sure and get with a group of other highly successful women who push you to be the best in your field. If it's personal, things like trust, compassion and a shoulder to lean on are important qualities.
3. Be Silly
While you wouldn't necessarily expect a former presidential advisor to recommend acting silly, it's necessary. Stress is a killer of our health, relationships, success and so much more. We all need that time to just let go, have fun and act silly. When was the last time you let go of your inhibitions and just let loose? If you can't remember it's time to give it a shot as soon as possible.
4. Find Sanctuary
Every woman needs a sanctuary, a special place they go to rest, reflect and recharge. It can be a place in your home like your master bedroom. It can be the beach or the mountains. It's whatever gives you refuge from the hustle and bustle of the world around you. During my Congressional run, I would go sit at Carl Schultz Park in Manhattan to get away from it all. Sanctuary leads to stress reduction.
We spend a great deal of our lives trying to accumulate things, whether it's that promotion, more friends or material objects. But often times the best advice is that less is more. Give yourself permission to let go and shed the things in life that aren't making a positive impact for you. Whether it's the people who say 'you'll never be able to,' the mountain of clutter piled high on your desk or anything else slowing you down, get rid of it.
6. Savor the Moment:
A lot of people are stuck in the past. Planning for the future is good, but often times we lose sight of what's really important: the present moment. Savor it. If you're out to dinner with your family, put away your smartphone. If you're watching your child's school play, then stop thinking about your boss. If you just won a prestigious award and are being recognized for it, soak it up and enjoy it. No matter what's going on, live more in the present.
4 Min Read
What would you do if you felt physically or emotionally threatened in some way? Do you trust your ability to escape a dangerous situation without harm? Would you remain calm and grounded, responding if needed in an appropriate way, or do you fear you'd panic — making a frightening situation worse?
The ability to respond to danger and protect yourself both physically and mentally from violence and fear is a valuable life skill. Especially in these times of uncertainty, protest, and unrest, simply knowing you have the tools to respond in the case of a physical or mental assault can bring peace of mind and boost your self-confidence — even if you never have to use them.
Especially in these times of uncertainty, protest, and unrest, simply knowing you have the tools to respond in the case of a physical or mental assault can bring peace of mind and boost your self-confidence — even if you never have to use them.
As a former US Secret Service agent and international protection professional, I co-led a team protecting top Colombian officials including the president at a time when Colombia was nicknamed "the kidnap capital of the world." Its government was in the throes of a bloody war with guerilla and terrorist groups. Three Americans had just been kidnapped and the State Department had issued an alarming Level 3 (Orange) Travel Advisory. I have worked undercover, had a bounty placed on my head, and kept a watchful eye on drugged-up thugs on the streets of countries such as Haiti, Peru, and Colombia. High-profile individuals I've protected include members of the Versace family, Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and the grandchildren of President George H. W. Bush. I talk about all this in my memoir The Protector: A Woman's Journey From the Secret Service to Guarding VIPs and Working in Some of the World's Most Dangerous Places.
It wasn't often that I needed to use the self-protection skills I'd been trained in — although when I did have to, I was beyond grateful I learned and practiced them, tirelessly. But as one of the tiny minority of women in this male-dominated field, I am thankful for the sense of peace and empowerment that simply having these skills, and the ability to stay calm amid danger, gave me. My personal motto is, "prepare for the worst, hope for the best."
Doing so requires not just physical toughness but also mental toughness, a skill I now help people build in my second career as a psychologist. Although in an ideal world, nobody would ever find themselves facing threat or danger, here are the basic steps I recommend you take in order to protect yourself physically and mentally in uncertain, frightening times and for all times:
Learn your surroundings to notice when something is out of place (e.g. it's 90 degrees outside and there is somebody walking around your neighborhood in a long winter coat). Make "surroundings checks" a habit, almost like a game, taking mental note of anything unusual that has changed. This will help prevent you from being caught off guard.
"Prepare for the worst, hope for the best."
Learn five self-defense moves. You do not need to have a black belt in martial arts to effectively protect yourself and boost your self-confidence. Take a weekend self-defense class and learn just five techniques. Then, practice them until they are natural and are part of your muscle memory. There are many excellent techniques to choose from, including knife and/or gun takeaways, getting yourself out of a choke hold, and breaking someone's nose with a palm strike.
Choose the lens through which you look at things. When you notice you are starting to panic or become scared, focus on acting, not thinking. For example, shift from "Oh my gosh, I don't know what to do…" and freezing in the process, to telling yourself, calmly, "I am going to get myself out of this situation, NOW!" and acting. Always tell yourself you can do something — it could be a matter of life or death.
Focus on your physical fitness. This is the key to both mental and physical health, and for mental and physical preparedness in any situation. When you are strong and fit, physically, you are more self-confident and likely to respond with clarity and, if needed, strength and speed.
You do not need to have a black belt in martial arts to effectively protect yourself and boost your self-confidence.
Find your voice. Voice is a stun technique that can buy you 2 to 4 seconds that you need to either run or disorient your attacker. If someone is making you uncomfortable — for example, by walking close behind you on the street for quite a while — turn around, put your hand up, signaling, "stop", and scream, "stop!" Then, run. Oddly, people are embarrassed to do this. Don't be! It will stun your attacker and buy you valuable time.
Meditate. Meditation is proven to reduce stress, decrease fear and anxiety, boost positive mood, and promote emotional health and self-esteem. Do it! It will serve you well in any stressful situation.