One simple way to create real change

You may recall a Skype conversation I had with Ann Imig that I shared back in April. We were talking about Ann's work as the Founder and National Director of the Listen To Your Mother show. During our chat, we hit on something deeper that feels relevant right now, especially in light of my last post.

It's called unconscious bias. We may not think that we all carry an unconscious bias—that we walk around making snap judgments and assumptions about people—but research shows that we do.

Projects like Listen To Your Mother—projects that bring local communities together, in the same room, to listen to people's stories—bring our unconscious bias to light. 

You can watch our whole conversation here. But below is the short segment where Ann talks about unconscious bias and how simply being aware of it can create real, powerful, positive change: 

Here are the highlights:

• How often are you super surprised by what people have to say?

• When we hear people's stories, we are blown away. People are so different than we assume. (Tweet that)

• When we really listen to people, it allows us to see commonalities that we wouldn't have seen otherwise.

• If we do have a moment of clarity or even shame about misjudging someone, it's in a private way that allows us to move through it, listen to them, and experience some change and new perspective.

That's how we link hands and hearts and come together. That's how communities are formed. 

Photo by Anna Hartman.

Photo by Anna Hartman.

This week, videos from the 39 city Listen To Your Mother show season went live on YouTube. 

You can watch the Charleston show here. And yes, as the local director I may be "biased", but I can say with confidence that you will be blown away. 

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Charleston. This place that we call home.

Emanuel A.M.E. Church, Charleston, SC

Emanuel A.M.E. Church, Charleston, SC

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that home is a central theme that runs through many of my stories. I believe that home is a place, and it's a state of being. 

Charleston, SC is my home. I was born here, and I've lived here for most of my life. I left Charleston a few times, but it always called me back. Charleston is a heartbeat. It has a soul that you can feel. 

Charleston is also called The Holy City, and I'd always thought it was simply because of the way steeples rise up and define our skyline, but I recently read it's also because of Charleston's origins of religious diversity. 

That steeple in the background of the image below is Second Presbyterian Church. That’s where Shawn and I got married 15 years ago. 

In the foreground is Emanual A.M.E. Church, the place where nine beloved members of our community were shot dead last month during a Wednesday night Bible study.

These men and women did not know their killer. He walked inside. They welcomed him. The gunman sat with them for an hour. He says he almost didn't go through with it because they were so nice to him. But, when they concluded their Bible study and bowed their heads to pray, he shot them. 

It happened in the heart of downtown Charleston. In the middle of everything.

The men and women who were killed were also the heart of Charleston. They were also everything. Everywhere I look, I see friends who knew the victims personally. The grief is raw and real.

And, during the killer's bond hearing, family members expressed words of forgiveness. 


During these past few weeks, I've been watching and listening. I've tried in my own way to hold space for the anger and grief, and I've searched for the examples, the lessons, and the direction to point my children. I've searched for the beacons to light my own way. What I've seen gives me hope. 

All across Charleston, and across the country, bells rang. And their names were spoken. Clementa Pinckney. Cynthia Hurd. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton. Tywanza Sanders. Ethel Lance. Susie Jackson. Depayne Middleton-Doctor. Daniel Simmons. Myra Thompson.

Thank you to everyone from around the world who rang their bells in solidarity, community and unity for Mother Emanuel AME this morning. We are #CharlestonUnited! Share your videos using #ChimeWithCharleston #PrayforCharleston #CharlestonStrong

Posted by Charleston Area Convention & Visitors Bureau on Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Post and Courier captured this image of Cate and me on the day we visited Emanuel A.M.E. to pay our respects. 

Photo by Lauren Prescott of The Post and Courier. Shared with permission. See the rest of the gallery here.

Photo by Lauren Prescott of The Post and Courier. Shared with permission. See the rest of the gallery here.

One day, I will show her this photo. I want my children to know what happened. I want them to know that evil and racism exist. I want them to understand that racism can be bold and loud, and quiet and subtle. I want my children, my family, my friends, my community—all of us—to recognize racism when we see it, and not tolerate it. But also, to not be afraid of it. 

I know it's possible, because I've seen love prevail in the face of hate.

In this video that aired on NBC nightly news, Harry Smith calls what he witnessed in Charleston an "absolute absence of malice" and "America as we wish it could be." 

In a recent post by Brene Brown she writes, "When we deny our stories, they define us. When we own our stories, we get to write a brave new ending."

That's what I'm seeing. A conscious, collective owning of the past, eyes open to the impact of our history, and a powerful coming together.

(Thanks to my friend Elizabeth McLaurin Uptegrove for capturing this video.)

As with any story we write, we have to make choices about the narrative. We get to decide what to focus on. What's the central theme? 

The story my eyes are focused on right now is how people are choosing to live and love and unite and sing in the midst of, and in spite of, the darkness. 

"Clem understood that justice grows out of recognition of ourselves in each other... that my liberty depends on you being free too. He knew that the path of grace involves an open mind. But more importantly, an open heart. That's what I've felt this week. An open heart... That's what called upon right now, I think." from President Obama's eulogy for S.C. State Senator Clementa Pinckney

Open hearts. Amazing grace. That's where we find home. 


If you'd like to make a donation to the Mother Emanuel Hope Fund and/or the Lowcountry Ministries - Reverend Pinckney Fund, you can get more information by visiting the City of Charleston website.

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Win a copy of Mary Alice Monroe's new novel: The Summer's End!

**updated** Congratulations, Pam! Please email me your mailing address to get your copy of The Summer's End!

The book just arrived on my doorstep.

Today is the official release day for The Summer's End, the third novel in New York Times Bestselling Author Mary Alice Monroe's Lowcountry Summer Trilogy. Today also marks Mary Alice's 20th year as a published author, and it was an honor to attend the book release party at the South Carolina Aquarium last night. 

Anna Lee, Me, Mary Alice Monroe, Nicole Seitz, Donloyn Gadson and Angela May.

Anna Lee, Me, Mary Alice Monroe, Nicole Seitz, Donloyn Gadson and Angela May.

Mary Alice signed books for two hours!

Mary Alice signed books for two hours!

Mary Alice Monroe is known for her novels set in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, and her intimate portrayals of women's lives. In this short video, Mary Alice talks to Angela May about The Summer's End.

Win a copy of The Summer's End!

**The contest is now closed***

To see more books by Mary Alice Monroe visit

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The best way to do nothing

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Donloyn called me and said, "Hey, what are you doing Monday?" 

"Nothing," I replied. "Absolutely nothing. As in, I wrote 'don't do anything this week' on my calendar."

That particular Monday was the day after the Listen To Your Mother show, and I've learned over and over again that shortly after doing something big, I tend to be more emotional, and then all of the sudden, if I'm not careful, I get slammed with fatigue—the effects of the adrenaline and the "high" wearing off. 

I wanted to be more intentional this time around. I wanted to create space to reset. I knew I couldn't completely check out, but I also knew that I needed to pause before I dove into what's next on the list. 

Donloyn replied, "Well, I just wanted to see if you'd like to go to the beach. I could pack a lunch and we could leave right after the kids go to school." 

"Oh!" I said. "That's different! That's the kind of nothing I'm talking about!" 

By 2:30 that day, I was back in reality. But those few hours on the beach and the slow-moving days that followed were exactly what I needed to decompress from a very busy start to 2015.

This week, I'm back to work, prepping for an upcoming speaking engagement. While I'm doing that, I wanted to share some stories I've written over at Best Kept Self recently:

In this post, I have some encouragement and advice for aspiring writers.
And here, I share what Maya Angelou taught me about leaving a legacy. 

I hope springtime inspires you to find ways to fill your well and reconnect with who you are, what you love, and what you offer the world. 

Now, go be awesome. 


p.s. - It's not too late to join the virtual Happiness for Beginners book club next week featuring author Katherine Center! Click here for details and sign up.

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Let yourself be seen. Let yourself be heard.

When I stood before the audience of 300+ people at the Charleston Music Hall on Sunday, I said, "We're about to take you on an emotional ride. So brace yourself." 

I heard echoes of agreement coming from those who'd seen last year's Listen To Your Mother show—they knew it was true. Twelve women and one man were about to take the stage to read true stories about motherhood—stories they'd written themselves.

Ninety minutes later, the ride was over. Celebrated by a standing ovation and new perspectives. 

I love what one member of the audience had to say about the show:

"It was a great collective expression of souls intertwined, yet liberated and free; of struggles that have made people stronger and better. We loved the stories...." 

Cast member Tanya Robinson said her castmates provided "a safe haven of compassion, empathy, and openness". The audience did, too.

That got me thinking about our everyday life, and what we choose to reveal about ourselves. Maybe the reason we don't open up and share more of who we really are is because it doesn't feel safe. We're afraid of judgment and ridicule. As I observe the harsh interactions that happen on blogs and social media, and even face-to-face sometimes—I believe the fear of speaking our truth is valid.

But, there was no room for judgment and ridicule on Sunday. The stories ranged from childbirth, teen pregnancy, adoption, alcoholism, suicide, and the day-to-day challenges of being a mom. Some were laugh out loud funny. Through it all, the depth of motherhood and how it shapes us hit home. The audience laughed, cried and said, "Me too."

Telling our stories is always a risk. Sometimes, we'll get the wind knocked out of us when our stories aren't respected or they are used against us. But we need to tell them anyway. We need to let people see us, and know us. Another member of the audience expressed perfectly the reason why:

"It's amazing how looking life straight in the face as it was/is and not exactly as you had thought/planned it would be can be empowering and not as fearful as what you thought. If anyone knew my story, what would they think of me? Most people would think exactly what everyone in the audience thought: 'What a strong person to share their story in front of a large group of people, and say this is my life and who I am and to hear the response, Me too, only I was too afraid to share it.' Thanks for giving us a voice." 

The videos from Charleston's Listen To Your Mother show will be released this summer. I can't wait to share them with you.

Have you ever taken a risk and shared your story, and was surprised—in a good way— by how it was received? 

On a different but related note, my middle child pretty much won Facebook this week when I posted this: 

He makes a hilarious case for keeping it real, don't you think?

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