#SWAAYthenarrative

"If I were white, I'd be a millionaire by now." — Finding Strength in my Family's History to Fight for Change

4 min read
Business

My father's uncle invented the first fully mechanized sugarcane planter in Modeste, Louisiana, in 1964. He marketed the machine during the civil rights era, selling them for $6,000 and making a $1,000 profit. While he was eventually able to get a patent, he ended up losing about $11 million due to unauthorized copies of his machine. "Those white folks don't like the idea of paying me that $1,000 royalty. If I were white, I'd be a millionaire by now," my great uncle, Leonard Julien, Sr. told Ebony magazine in 1976. The technology used for his planter is still in use today.

My father's family history is not in history books. It is pulled together from a line of oral history and newspaper clippings; stories that are untold, underappreciated, and buried deep beneath the whitewashed history learned from school books. For far too long, the voices of Black artists, writers, inventors, leaders, and educators have been discredited, devalued, and swept aside. But now, the confluence of the pandemic, Christian Cooper, George Floyd, and now Rayshard Brooks have finally created enough of a current groundswell and space to let "the streets speak for themself," as Dave Chappelle summed up.

My father's family history is not in history books. It is pulled together from a line of oral history and newspaper clippings; stories that are untold, underappreciated, and buried deep beneath the whitewashed history learned from school books.

As a mixed-race woman, I feel deeply connected to these tragedies. Recently, I've been asked countless times, "How are you doing?" The answer varies depending on the day, and while I am angry, I am also thankful for my ancestors' strength, resilience, and persistence. The struggles and injustices that members of my family have seen in their lives are vast and make any suffering I could directly speak to feel insignificant. I am fortunate to have gotten where I am today, yet I too suffer from "otherness" and am frequently met with race-based microaggressions. The past few weeks have invigorated me, and I am ready to let my voice be heard more than ever.

Threespot has been my home away from home (one and the same during COVID-19) for almost 11 years. I have seen and been a part of its evolution and am proud that we've always been home to a team of values-driven, justice-minded individuals. We work exclusively for organizations and socially responsible businesses that are advancing a society that is more humane, open, peaceful, and equitable. As a B Corp, we have spent the past six years redefining the success of our business around promoting a more inclusive and sustainable economy. All this to say, it is not enough.

I am fortunate to have gotten where I am today, yet I too suffer from "otherness" and am frequently met with race-based microaggressions.

While we've been quiet on social media for the past few weeks, we've instead spent time creating space internally for open conversations and caring for one another. We know we have a lot of work to do, and we have started to put plans into action. To accelerate the efforts we've been pursuing for the past year, we are engaging a diversity, equity, race, and inclusion consultant for training. We are honoring Juneteenth by hosting a letter-writing workshop to encourage our team to reach out to policy-makers around racial justice and equity. We are doubling down on our support of our client, Color Of Change, and the incredible work they are doing to promote justice through comprehensive policing reform. We are going to continue to diversify our staff and support minority-owned vendors and partners. We are being thoughtful in how we move forward as an organization and we will by no means be silent.

Black Lives Matter.

The tech industry has been historically white and male dominated and so you rarely see non-white women in leadership positions. As president of Threespot, a digital agency focused on fighting for change, I have a rare opportunity to leverage the power, experience, and strength of my ancestors to guide and create change. My promise is to create a space at and through Threespot where every member of our team and every organization we touch will be encouraged to push this conversation forward. We will seek opportunities to elevate and amplify justice for all. This is not a temporary commitment but one that I will ensure does not fade or falter.

The past few weeks have invigorated me, and I am ready to let my voice be heard more than ever.

I, and the rest of Threespot, look forward to hearing from our audience and having their voices, your voices, be an important part of this conversation. Together, we will make this change.

5 min read
Self

Lessons Learned and the Power of Turning 50

Except for 16, I have celebrated all of my milestone birthdays in New York City.

I turned 16 in Arnold, Missouri. Arnold is a small town (though not small anymore) 20 miles south of St. Louis. St. Louis is known for the Gateway Arch, a beautiful arch of shiny stainless steel, built by the National Parks Service in 1935 to commemorate Thomas Jefferson's vision of a transcontinental U.S. St. Louis is also known for its custard, a frozen dessert that is so thick, they hand it to you upside down with a spoon inside. Something else about St. Louis you should know is that there is a courthouse just steps from the base of the Gateway Arch where one of the most important cases in history was tried: Dred Scott v. Sanford.

I'm turning 50 during what I define as a miraculous time to be alive.

Mr. Scott was born into enslavement around 1799 and, in 1830, was sold to a military surgeon who traveled back and forth between his military posts in Illinois and Wisconsin, where slavery was prohibited under the Missouri Compromise of 1820. In 1842 the doctor and Mr. Scott both married, and they, all four, returned to St. Louis. Still enslaved, Dred Scott filed a lawsuit against the doctor's wife for his and his wife Harriet's freedom. We don't know exactly why he chose this moment in time to file a lawsuit, however, he did. At the time of filing his, now, famous lawsuit, he was 50 years old. Ultimately, The Scott family did not gain their freedom, but their profound courage in filling this case helped ignite the Civil War and what we would come to know (or think we know) as freedom from enslavement for all human beings. Powerful then and even more powerful now.

My next milestone was turning 21, and I did it in the Big Apple. Having only moved to "the city that never sleeps" a few months prior, I knew nobody except my new friends, the bus-boys from the restaurant I was working at, Patzo's on the Upper West Side. And, yes, pazzo is actually the correct spelling of the Italian word, which translates to "crazy." Trust me we all had several laughs about the misspelling and the definition going hand in hand. I worked a full shift, closing out at around 11 PM, when, my kitchen team came out from the line with a cake singing, "Cumpleaños Feliz." It was fantastic. And the kindness of these almost-strangers was a powerful reminder of connection then as it still is today almost 29 years later.

I design the life I desire and the Universe creates it for me every day. I show up, keep the story moving, and work hard because I am relentlessly devoted to making the world a better place and this is how I choose to leave my legacy.

When I turned 30, I had just finished a European tour with Lucinda Childs dance company. The company had been on tour for months together and were inseparable. We traveled through Paris, Vienna, Lisbon, and Rome. We ate together, we rode on a bus together, we had drinks after shows together, and we even took turns giving company class to get warmed up before a show. It was deeply meaningful and dreamy. We ended the tour back in New York City at BAM, The Brooklyn Academy of Music. It was an incredible way to end the tour, by being on our home court, not to mention I was having an important birthday at the culmination of this already incredible experience.

So, when I invited everyone to join me at Chelsea Pier's Sky Rink to ice skate in late August, I was schooled really quickly that "tour" does not mean you are friends in real life, it means you are tour friends. When the tour ends, so does the relationship. I skated a few laps and then went home. This was a beautiful lesson learned about who your real friends are; it was powerful then as it is today.

Turning 40 was a completely different experience. I was in a serious relationship with my now-husband, Joe. I had just come off of a successful one-woman dance show that I produced, choreographed, and danced in, I had just choreographed a feature film, John Turturro's Romance and Cigarettes, with A-list actors, including Kate Winslet and James Gandolfini, who became a dear friend and had even been on the red carpet with Susan Sarandon at the Venice Film Festival for the movie a year earlier.

And I encourage all women to identify their power and choose to be fully in your power at any age.

This was a very special birthday, and I had, in those 10 years between 30 and 40, come to cultivate very real friendships with some wonderful colleagues. We all celebrated at a local Italian restaurant, Etcetera Etcetera (who is delivering for those of you in NYC — we order weekly to support them during COVID), a staple in the theater district. Joe and I were (and are) regulars and, of course, wanted to celebrate my 40th with our restaurant family and friends. We were upstairs in the private room, and it was really lovely. Many of those in attendance are no longer with us, including Joe's Dad, Bob Ricci, and my dear friend Jim Gandolfini having transitioned to the other side. Currently, that restaurant is holding on by a thread of loving neighbors and regulars like us. Life is precious. Powerful then and today even more so.

I write this article because I'm turning 50, still in New York City. However, I'm turning 50 during what I define as a miraculous time to be alive. And I could not be more filled with hope, love, possibility, and power. This year has included an impeachment hearing, a global pandemic, and global protests that are finally giving a larger platform to the Black Lives Matter movement. Being able to fully embody who I am as a woman, a 50-year-old woman who is living fully in purpose, takes the cake, the rink, and the party.

I'm making movies about conversations around race. I've been happily married for 11 years to the love of my life, Joe Ricci. I'm amplifying and elevating the voices of those who have not previously had a platform for speaking out. I choose who to spend time with and how long! I design the life I desire and the Universe creates it for me every day. I show up, keep the story moving, and work hard because I am relentlessly devoted to making the world a better place and this is how I choose to leave my legacy. Being 50 is one of the most amazing things I ever thought I could experience. And I encourage all women to identify their power and choose to be fully in your power at any age. I'm 50 and powerful. Dred Scott was 50 and powerful. This powerful lesson is for today and tomorrow. We have the power. No matter what age you are, I invite you to use your powerful voice to join me in making the world a better place.