AwareNow: Issue 40: 'The Brave Edition'

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AwareNow™ is a monthly publication produced by Awareness Ties™ in partnership with Issuu™. Awareness Ties™ is the ‘Official Symbol of Support for Causes’. Our mission is to support causes by elevating awareness and providing sustainable resources for positive social impact. Through our AwareNow Magazine, Podcast & Talk Show, we raise awareness for causes and support for nonprofits one story at a time.


A coward is incapable of exhibiting love; it is the prerogative of the brave.
Mahatma Gandhi

United is a state we need to achieve.

United means different things to different people. To me, united to means connected with compassion and empathy. I feel we have become a 'me first’ society and it’s been that way for a long time. Let’s change that. I’ll start with me.

All of this leads me to think about a solution in myself. I see more people now than every before still taking the easy road. The problems are laid out before us. Equal rights, environmental issues, human inequity , just to list a few. To pretend that everyday life can go on the same way as it always has, will not help us get the difficult work done. I’m the first to admit, this isn’t an easy task, but if we are united, it’s possible. This Pride month, take pride in the progress we’ve made and will continue to make. Be proudly committed to being the change we need to see.

Thoughts determine what you want. Actions determine what you get. Think. Act. Now.

Allié started her career in performance poetry, then switched gears to wine where she made a name for herself as an online wine personality and content producer. She then focused on content production under her own label The Allié Way™ before marrying the love of her life, Jack, and switching gears yet again to a pursue a higher calling to raise awareness and funds for causes with Awareness Ties and AwareNow Media.

Jack got his start in the Navy before his acting and modeling career. Jack then got into hospitality, focusing on excellence in service and efficiency in operations and management. After establishing himself with years of experience in the F&B industry, he sought to establish something different… something that would allow him to serve others in a greater way. With his wife, Allié, Awareness Ties and AwareNow Media were born.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in AwareNow are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Awareness Ties. Any content provided by our columnists or interviewees is of their opinion and not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, political group, organization, company, or individual. In fact, its intent is not to vilify anyone or anything. Its intent is to make you think.


6 I’m like the bisexuality
of ability.
Photo Credit: Mindy Tucker



Just a spoonful of Tina’s comedy helps the uncomfortability of discussing disability go down. Tina Friml, who lives with cerebral palsy, is a talented comedian who doesn’t avoid the subject of disability. Rather, she dives right in using humor to harness otherwise hard to talk about topics. She calls it like she sees it with a delivery about disability that doesn’t disappoint.

ALLIÉ: Let’s begin this way. Not totally committed to the lifestyle, in your Comedy Central standup feature you share, "I'm like the bisexuality of disability." Love this, first of all. And second of all, for our readers and listeners, please share more about what you mean here.

TINA: Yeah, absolutely. I mean calling it, ‘the bisexuality of ability' is a little bit simplistic and crude, but when I wrote that joke, it was kind of coming from a place that I've been in all my life -- in limbo where I have cerebral palsy. And also I'm fortunate enough to have a very mild case of it, in that I'm only affected in my mouth and my hands and a little with balance. And therefore, I've always thought I was a little bit in limbo. I didn't quite completely relate to much of the disability community in that I didn't quite have the same needs for accommodations. I personally was self-conscious

8 Comedy
really is a spoonful
Photo Credit: Arin Sang-urai

TINA: (continued) I was always kind of in limbo between being disabled and being not disabled. And that was going on inside. But even on the outside... Having a mild physical outward disability, it really affected how people were perceiving me. Especially in my early twenties, I got mistaken for everything you could ever imagine. People would think I'd been drinking, or on drugs, or I would be walking down the street and someone would come up and say, "You look really tired... (wink, wink)" One time I was at a crosswalk light, and this guy with long dreads came up to me and said, "Hey, soul sister, you good? You good?" <laugh>. I'm good. I'm good. And I think it is just kind of... It has always been just a weird place to be in, in terms of perception in such a world that people love... People feel safe in the black and white. To be a little bit in the gray area and show that disability is like everything else -- a spectrum. That’s where I try and describe it in comedy and the simplest way I could was 'the bisexuality of ability’.

ALLIÉ: Well, you did a beautiful job with it. Right away it hit home so quickly and made sense. Got it. So, in your words, these are your words, "Comedy became a cool thing, then it became a hobby, then it became my life." So, in more words of your own, Tina, please share what is it about comedy that made you commit your life to it?

TINA: Absolutely. Well, before I began comedy, I've always been a performer and creative. I grew up, quite literally in theater -- in a theater. My mom worked in a theater box office for 15 years. And my father is a set designer for an opera company. Growing up, at first I wanted to be an actor. And then a little bit later I got really into music, and I wanted to be a singer-songwriter. But with both of these other creative ventures, it was an upward battle. And I was really held back by what I now understand as this unspoken... There was a lot to be said about the condition that I had and the situation I was in. And because when you speak on disability without sugar coating it with comedy, because comedy really is a spoonful of sugar... It makes people very uncomfortable because it's not only a heavy topic, but it's, in my opinion, almost taboo to talk about a disability. It's such a universally sensitive, tragic phenomenon in the world to a lot of people. And I was just one of them. I could sense that. And so because I had this unspoken, yet very prevalent difference about me, it came out in a lot of the other creative ventures. I could never... I was trying to be an actor and a musician, and I never quite could feel supported or feel like I was good enough. I found comedy accidentally. I attended a standup comedy course, a six week course. I paid $150 for it. And it quickly became the missing piece that I've been missing all my life. Not only in how it felt coming out and performing, but how I was receiving it. And I was able to really speak on my authentic, un filtered experience as a disabled woman. And about a year in, this snowball effect of it was rolling so fast that it quickly... I became such a different, more free person than I had been a year before... the day before I became comedy. So, it was when I realized that I could never really go back to the person that I was before I began comedy, that I really realized that this was it. I really often compare it to falling in love with someone, where there's a little bit of dating, there's a little bit of the dance, and then suddenly it just hits you. They are the one. And that's exactly what it felt like. Here it is. This is exactly where I was meant to be.

ALLIÉ: That is awesome. Comedy was 'the one'... So, not only do you entertain on the stage, you educate as well just by telling it like it is. In the spotlight, you address and correct assumptions about CP, about disability. From the start, was it always your intention to both entertain and educate?

TINA: You know, no... Which is so funny. The education part came accidentally. It came completely authentically. I think the education just comes from sharing my experience, and with my experience sharing exactly from my point of view. Oftentimes, when I get up on stage, I love to turn the mirror back on the audience and really, genuinely show them the kinds of things that I see and I hear from people's reactions about seeing a real life disabled person in the world. And on top of that, one of my favorite reactions to any kind of joke that I have or a bit that I have is found every

“I personally was self-conscious that I wasn’t disabled enough.”
I’m not a tragedy.
Photo Credit: Alex Mendoza

TINA: (continued) now and then when I'll read a comment or I'll talk to an audience member after a show. They'll touch upon some element of my experience that I speak on in my comedy. They'll say, "That never even occurred to me that that would be something you would deal with." That's music to my ears. I think that educating people is simply just really sharing with them exactly how it is. Because people are smart... You don't have to explain why this, why it hurt to hear this, or what makes it so ironic or inconvenient. I often in my comedy share exactly my experience and then leave out the commentary about why you should never say that to someone, or how as a society we can better to adapt to this kind of accommodation or that kind of way of thinking that's false. I leave that up to the audience to interpret that. And to be honest, I think that 'up to interpretation' element is what a lot of people love about what I have to say.

ALLIÉ: Absolutely. Because when you share what you do, authentically as you do, it makes it really clear. To your point, "Oh, I never thought of that... Oh, I never looked at it that way." You're giving people a whole new lens to look at life through.

TINA: Yeah, absolutely. I think naturally I get that from my own experience -- watching an incredible documentary, or a film work, or other comics that have a very distinguished experience that I would never otherwise really know... that really eye-opening light bulb moment that you get. That's so... I get a lot of pleasure whenever with my perspective, I can feel it opening up based on just even like a two-minute clip that I watch. That growth... I adore that feeling. So, I think that is kind of what I try and give to people... while they're laughing, of course.

ALLIÉ: While they're laughing…

TINA: Yeah, exactly... I distract them over here.

ALLIÉ: It's the bait switch.

TINA: Exactly! They'll never even learn that... They'll never even know that they're learning.

ALLIÉ: We'll keep it a secret.

TINA: Yeah.

ALLIÉ: So we talked a moment ago about the comfort, or non-comfort as it is. Conversations about disability can often be very uncomfortable. Do you feel then that comedy is, for you, seemed to be the answer, the tool, that makes addressing disability more comfortable? Or has comedy been uncomfortable sometimes? Or is it always just so much more comfortable, do you find?

TINA: Oh, gosh, yeah. Well, like I spoken a bit earlier, it really is a spoonful of sugar for the medicine, you know? And, oh... Well, that song's about me stuck in my head and your head and the heads of everyone watching this right now. About a year before I got into comedy, I was in my final year of college, and I took an elective English course in memoir writing. And I distinctly remember my professor one day telling us while we were trying to pick the topic in our life that we wanted to write a mini memoir about... We were kind of examining all the different elements of our life, of our personal life. And I remember that she said, "Keep in mind, when are you thinking about this, that one thing in your mind, that thing that you really don't want to get into and you don't want to write about, like that thing... That's what you have to write about." And that stuck with me so much because that was what brought me to actually writing a memoir about my disabled experience that I'd never written before. I kept it all inside just because it made people so uncomfortable. I learned from an early age, don't even get into it, because people will change the subject. They'll shut down. They'll distract themselves, and you just do not have that conversation. And you know what? I wrote this little memoir in this class, and I was great. People loved it, and I got a good grade. But I remember reading it back and realizing that it read like a tragedy. And that really hit me because I'm not a tragedy. I'm just me. Comedy was really


“A disabled life is not a stolen life.”

TINA: (continued) the answer to that for me. It really is the perfect tool to show people that yes, there is so much about disability that's incredibly unfair and unfortunate. And yet at the end of the day, we're still people, and we have so much joy and so much creativity and life. A disabled life is not a stolen life. It's still a life just with an element to it that perhaps a lot of people cannot even imagine.

I think that's the ultimate goal in my comedy, even more than making people laugh and even more than educating people... It's just showcasing a disabled person happy, and a disabled person with style and with a lust for life. And that is really authentic to who I am.

ALLIÉ: Well, what you're doing and how you're doing it, I think it's gonna wake a lot of people up and make a lot of people feel more comfortable in themselves disabled or not. So, comedy is, to your point again, all about making a heavy topic feel light. That said, how do you manage that line between keeping things light while also not trivializing the heavy issues regarding disability?

TINA: That's actually the hardest thing that I struggle with. There are a lot of elements that I touch upon in my longer sets, which are really, really heavy. I have a whole part of my show where I go into how I became disabled -- my traumatic birth. And when I was writing that bit and workshopping it, that was perhaps one of the trickiest, most terrifying jokes, stories to workshop. Because I mean, my God, traumatic birth is just so on the opposite end of anything that could ever be funny. And that made it a challenge. That made me determined because again, much like my professor said, that one thing where don't go there... as a writer, that is where you go. That's exactly where you go. When I began comedy, that traumatic birth story that I had was something that for a long time, I would never joke about. I don't like to think about all this stuff. And so that pushed me to ask "What do I want to say about it? What is there to talk about with it? What is there that I could even make funny about it?" And I know that it was when I began to put that bit in my show, I did it for a cerebral palsy conference. That's the thing... I didn't even know that that was a 'thing' until comedy. I did that bit, and I was so nervous. I was so nervous that even if the jokes were good... I was treading lightly. I was walking that line about it, but I was still so nervous that people would not be okay, even with the fact I'm mentioning traumatic birth within a comedy set. And I remember after, a woman coming up to me and saying, "My son had a traumatic birth, and I never in a million years thought I would ever laugh at traumatic birth, but you just made me laugh so hard." And that was the main reassurance I needed, not only for that bit, but just to continue to walk that line. And throughout my whole set, I really go back and forth. There are parts of my show that are very heavy, and in my eyes, I want that to be the case -- even in a comedy show because I think so is life. It's this constant flux of the heavy moments and the moments that just take the air out of your lungs. Then suddenly something happens or someone says something that just makes you burst out laughing. And there's an irony to it. So, walking that line, it's definitely a tricky business. It's something I'm constantly aware of and challenged by. And yet I think if I were to ever play it safe, that would go against why I do what I do.

ALLIÉ: Yeah. Well, thank you for walking that line and walking it so well. I love that you just took the challenge. You recognized the challenge, and you didn't choose to play it safe. You took it on. So, let's close this way. There's a big difference, of course, between laughing with someone and laughing at someone. The latter of course, not being comfortable -- unless you're a comedian. When the audience laughs at you, it feels good, of course. But for those who are not on a stage, those who are not trying to entertain, for those who are laughed at because of a difference they have or a dream that they hold, what advice do you have for dealing with the haters? How do we do that?

TINA: You know, it's so funny too because every now and then I'll get a comment on a video that I post online that will be from a 'hater'. And it will be just some guy, and it is always super awkwardly worded. It's them being like, "Oh, I'm


TINA: (continued) laughing, but not at her jokes... I'm laughing at her because she is disabled." Some kind of iteration of that. And it's so odd because... at this point in my career, they can laugh at me. It really doesn't matter. I'm there to make people laugh... I know maybe it's just a very dumb way of looking at it, but because I'm getting people to laugh, I'm so much less affected than I used to be at the idea of people laughing at me because I'm disabled. I think ultimately... where I grew my sense of humor was in school, being bullied and having people laughing at me.

What kind of clicks in my head was... Well, if people are looking at me, I might as well do a trick. I may as well say something funny, you know? And it was admittedly maybe also a little bit of self security... Well, if I say a joke, I guess I don't really know whether or not they're laughing at me or with me.

Ultimately, if I can give advice to anyone looking to pursue a dream with the fear that they're being laughed at, I think, it's never going to not affect you. I'm actually not a believer in the simple "Oh, ignore them... Let it roll off your shoulders. We're people. We can't do that. We care about other people think about us. It's just kind of ingrained with us. But I think what I began to develop, the outlook that I began to develop in comedy, was that if they're laughing at you, that means they're looking at you. That means they're paying attention. And I would so much rather that, than the opposite... to be looked over to be unseen. It really kind of is, as much as I hate to put it like this, it really is a little bit like 'any attention is good attention'. Like a toddler... But, but there's so many ways that you can take someone's attention whether it's negative or positive. The only control that you have over what someone thinks of you is what you do with the attention that they're giving you. And ultimately, they are giving you a gift... the moment. And so with that, do what you do best. Make the most of the platform that they're giving you in the moment.

ALLIÉ: I love that point. I love that point of if they're laughing at you, that means that they're looking at you. You have something of theirs. You have their attention. And then the question becomes, as you just said, what will we do with it? Right? It's always how you react to it.

TINA: In the world more and more these days, having a person's attention... that is huge. There's so many things in the world competing for all of our attention. Every time I get someone commenting on a video... a hater just saying, CLICK, TAP OR SCAN TO WATCH NOW AWARENOW / THE BRAVE EDITION
I think that’s the ultimate goal in my comedy… just showcasing a disabled person happy… with style and with a lust for life.
Photo Credit: Arin Sang-urai

TINA: (continued) “Oh, it's just pity laughs." Or, "I don't get, I don't get it." They took the time to comment that and to think about that. It's huge.

ALLIÉ: Yeah. I mean the fact that, again, whether positive or negative, the feedback is that you're getting feedback. You took their attention. And so to affect someone one way or another, just to know that you did that, that you are seen, that you are heard... I have to say, I'm very thankful today for having had the opportunity, the pleasure of hearing you and hearing your story and sharing as authentically and beautifully as you have. I'm so glad we found you, so glad we had this time. Just keep rocking it like you do. And thank you so much for helping all of us become a bit more aware now.

TINA: Well, thank you. Thank you. It was a pleasure to talk to you and to ramble away.

ALLIÉ: I love your ramblings. Thank you. ∎

TAP/SCAN TO LISTEN 15 Follow Tina on Instagram (@tinafriml). Learn more about her online ( AWARENOW / THE BRAVE EDITION
Exclusive Interview with Tina Friml
“The only control that you have over what someone thinks of you is what you do with the attention that they’re giving you.”
Photo Credit: Sage Gallon



To Sage, for taking and sharing this photo and this video, thank you.

To all of you who are brave enough to do what it takes to be discovered, may all your dreams become realities. It takes courage to be heard and bravery to be seen. It takes strength to keep believing in what is possible. ∎

“Some people sit at home waiting to be discovered… Others engage in their crafts and allow people to discover.” - Sage Gallon
When you’re taking your own photo, you really see so much of yourself.
Photo Credit: Marissa Kimmel




Capturing the beauty of humans and the moments that life gives to us is what Marisa Kimmel with her camera has dedicated her photography to. Finding comfort with her camera through self portraits that helped her find self love, Marisa redefined beauty for herself and for all who see her. In losing her hair to Alopecia and her breasts to a double mastectomy due to a BRCA genetic mutation, she found self awareness and self acceptance for a new beautiful version of herself.

ALLIÉ: Let's begin by talking about firsts. After losing all of your hair to alopecia, you bought your first camera. It was your self-portraits that helped you find self-love. I wonder if you could share how your photography helped you heal.

MARISA: Shortly after I had cut off all my hair… I was 19 when I finally cut it all off, I probably had like 40% of it left. I was like, "Okay, it's time." My boyfriend then brought his barber stuff home. He was in school to be a barber. I went in the bathroom by myself. I cut it off and he shaved my head. That following year, we moved to Chicago when we were 20. I ran into a photographer and he had asked to take my picture. I come from a small town and no one's really

20 I haven’t lost anything.
Photo Credit: Allié McGuire

MARISA: (continued) I had met with him and he was explaining to me on how photography could be healing in some aspects. I had told him a little bit about my alopecia story and I'm very new to feeling comfortable in a way without hair. So it was very vulnerable for me to get in front of his camera. He was a stranger, and there I was unveiling something that's so personal.

He suggested that photography and taking pictures of myself could be therapeutic in a way. I was like, okay. Then I bought a camera. I still have like those first photos of myself, figuring out not only my camera settings, because I'd never picked up a camera before then but also really looking at myself.

It's different when someone else is taking a photo of you because you don't see that photo until you see their end product. They put their touch on the photo. But when you're taking your own photo, you really see so much of yourself. So, it was the first step of me really looking and seeing the outside of who I was. Photography for me is so much more than just photos. It's a way to get into a deeper part of yourself.

ALLIÉ: In speaking about your photography, you mentioned this, "Trust me when I say that in front of my camera is such a safe place to be." I love this. Some people hate being on camera and they fear it. How do you help the people that you photograph feel safe?

MARISA: I think because I know what it feels like to be in front of a camera and I still put myself in front of a camera. And when I am having those hard-to-love-myself days, it's the first place that I go, even if it's just with my phone. That has always brought me back to myself. And when you push through that hard uncomfortable stuff, on the other side of that, it's always freedom. I put myself through that, and it was hard. But on the other side, I'm here.

I made it on the other side of that vulnerability. Even saying yes to that first photographer and letting him photograph me, if I would've been too scared and held myself back, maybe eventually I would've gotten here, but it might've taken so much longer and so much more energy and time from feeling most like myself.

So when I have other people in front of my camera, I validate that their feelings are 100% real and we all feel them. But I promise, the photos, if you're not going to love them today or tomorrow, in 10 or 20 years from now, you're going to be grateful that you have those photos. Our memories can only hold so much. But photos… You don't have to stare at yourself all day long, but they’re good to have.

ALLIÉ: They are good to have for sure. Now, let’s switch gears, Marisa. With your BRCA genetic mutation, your chance of breast cancer went up to 80% resulting in a double mastectomy. What was your first reaction when you looked at your reflection in the mirror?

MARISA: Before my surgery, I had talked with a close friend who is a photographer. I mentioned to her how important it was for me to document. Even though it was going to be hard and emotional, I know that I'm going to want these photos and to have them captured. I had her photograph the day before my surgery, and that was the last time that I breastfed my son. She was there for that.

“Photography for me is so much more than just photos. It’s a way to get into a deeper part of yourself.”
22 This time around, it was
all trust.
Photo Credit: Marissa Kimmel

MARISA: (continued) Then the day after my surgery, she had come back. When I first looked in the mirror, it was just me in the bathroom and she was on the outside but she was photographing that moment. Me by myself again and it felt very similar to when I first cut off all my hair when I was 19. I was in the bathroom by myself and putting all my hair up and taking that deep breath and waiting for the relief. Back then, I didn't know what that was going to feel like. But I knew, this time around, how much lighter I was about to feel. She photographed me taking off the bandages and looking at myself for the first time. Of course, I cried. I cry at everything. It doesn't matter if I'm happy or sad, there's going to be tears. But again, tears of relief and gratitude.

When I had alopecia and I was at that point where I wanted to cut all my hair off, it wasn't out of strength. It was more out of fear. I had tried everything to try to accept myself, to love myself, to fix myself and none of it was working. So, my last option was to cut it all off, try again, and to start from nothing. I felt like I was nothing. It's so sad that something like alopecia brought me down to the very bottom. I couldn't imagine making it to 20 years old. I didn't see any future for myself — what that looked in any capacity: having a family, a career, a baby. I had no plans. So, this time when I was taking off my bandages from my mastectomy and looking in the mirror, there was a different Marisa. That first time when I cut all my hair off, I had that little bit of fearful trust in myself. This time around, it was all trust.

I worked so hard to stop trying to search for outside validation. It was just all me. It was another layer of finding the most freedom that I'm worthy of having. It was very emotional, clearly. Lots layered in there, and those photos, I feel like you can feel it.

ALLIÉ: Thank you for sharing all of this.

MARISA: It's hard to get my words out. I feel like they're all up there, but when I get them out, hopefully, they're coming out in a way that makes sense.

ALLIÉ: Absolutely, it makes sense. Now, there was your personal reaction after the mastectomy. With your husband and your son, what was that like?

MARISA: Right after my friend had photographed me taking off my bandages, I also was able to shower. But I wasn't able to lift my arms yet. My husband, he was there to help me cut off all my hair. He was there to help me wash my head and wash my face. That was the first time that he saw me without any boobs — a body very different than what he had seen since we were 19 years old.

My body has shifted many times throughout pregnancy, postpartum, and then this change. My husband has always felt like a safe person to me. So, there wasn't any part of me that felt like... I guess he could have voiced if he felt any different or any concerns, but we were both very "it is what it is" and we work with what we’ve got. I'm very grateful to have someone like that. He is a very safe person.

“So, this time when I was taking off my bandages from my mastectomy and looking in the mirror, there was a different Marisa.”
24 Beautiful isn’t those things to me.
Photo Credit: Marissa Kimmel

MARISA: (continued) My son, Abraham, he is just an angel. We don't really have to say anything to him. He can just feel the energy in the room. He's always wanting to love me. He was like two and a half then, but leading up to my surgery, every time I would feed him, I would explain how it was getting towards the end. At his age, he could not really communicate that well. I was so nervous that he would take it so hard, but he didn't. It was just like, okay, onto the next like phase of him being a toddler, getting nutrients from other foods instead of me. It was an easy transition.

ALLIÉ: With your husband, the first thing you said is that he's been ‘safe’ for you. I think that's so key to be able to navigate these kinds of things. Let’s now talk about ‘beauty’. For many, when they hear the term ‘beautiful woman’, they think long hair, big breasts… all of this comes to mind. That said, we know that beauty comes in all forms. I will confess that you are one of the most beautiful women I have seen. No hair, no breasts, and incredibly beautiful. I see your beauty. So many people see your beauty. My question is, after what you lost, how long did it take you to look in the mirror and to see your beauty?

MARISA: If you were to ask me that five years ago, my answer would be very different. Since you're asking me today, outside appearance is the last thing that I think about when I think about someone or myself being beautiful. When I look at myself, I do want to love my outside appearance and I do what I can to make myself feel most comfortable.

The outside, it doesn't really cross my mind in that way of looking a certain way to be beautiful -- having hair, makeup, the way that you dress, the way that your body looks… Beautiful isn't those things to me. If you would've asked me a few years ago, I would've been like, "Oh yeah, I need my body to look a certain way or my makeup..." My hair was gone then, but I would've wanted the most shaved head. I would've been wanting perfection, and that is made up entirely. This whole world profits off of us hating ourselves. So I try to give as little energy to that whole concept because it's ever changing. As soon as we get to that next beauty standard, they're like, "Oh, just kidding, it's changed," because that's the way it goes.

If we spend our entire lives trying to reach an unattainable image, we're going to waste our entire lives trying to do that. If there's some days where I do not feel comfortable in myself, I will not look at myself. It's as easy as that. Look at yourself a little bit less and then come back tomorrow and try again. The world puts enough pressure on us already. We can give ourselves a break. Sorry… I don't remember your actual question.

ALLIÉ: No worries. When did you see yourself as beautiful — the way I and so many people see you?

MARISA: I feel like it’s whenever I show up exactly as myself, and I feel just like Marisa. The outside is not important to me. When I meet anyone, that is the last thing I am looking at. So, there's very little thoughts given to beauty.

ALLIÉ: That photo that Phil Eich took of you (the one on the cover) was the first I saw of you. In that photo, what I saw wasn't just shapes and lines and colors and these kinds of things. It was an energy about you. It was a light about you. There was something. I think photos can do that.

“Outside appearance is the last thing that I think about when I think about someone or myself being beautiful.”
I feel like I gained my
entire life.
Photo Credit: Taylor Simon

MARISA: I think they can.

ALLIÉ: There's something that can be seen beyond a surface-level element in photos and in film. Let's talk about Ipseity. This award-winning film in just 4 minutes and 39 seconds beautifully and boldly captures your journey. It's a journey of sacrifice, of redefining beauty, and reclaiming your identity as a woman, as a mother. My favorite lines were these: "I feel like I'm only becoming the best version of myself. I'm just moving more into who I'm supposed to be." Again, you lost your hair and lost your breasts. Beautiful you remain inside and out. Marisa, from everything that you lost in all of that, what is it that you gained? What was the win?

MARISA: I feel like I gained my entire life. Losing those things, maybe in the moment I felt like I was losing a lot. I have gained such a beautiful perspective of how I want to spend my days, where I want to spend my time and my energy, and what's actually important to me. We've only got so much time. I'm lucky that I didn't let alopecia take me. CLICK, TAP OR SCAN TO WATCH NOW
“The more that I learn to trust myself and to stop asking for anyone else's opinions on how I should live my life, the more free I’ve become.”
Photo Credit: Allié McGuire

MARISA: (continued) It was very close. And then with my BRCA diagnosis, I had the opportunity and the privilege to control something that... I mean, 80% chance of getting breast cancer, it's pretty high. But to let go of my breasts in exchange of maybe being able to live longer just makes sense to me. So, I haven't lost anything. I look back on my entire 30 years of life, every single moment has led me right here. The more that I learn to trust myself and to stop asking for anyone else's opinions on how I should live my life, the more free I've become.

ALLIÉ: Let's close this with your words. I love your personal statement that reads this way: "I create to remind us that we're all different and that's a beautiful thing." So my last question for you today, Marisa, is for those who don't feel they're beautiful because they're different, what advice would you give them?

MARISA: I'd say that the world can only give you so many reminders, but it's inner work that needs to happen. You need to look deeper into yourself. I feel like the more that we do that individually, the more we stop searching for that outside validation. It's all made up at the end of the day.

So if we are able to make our own standards of whatever beautiful looks like to us, I feel like we'll live a life with less of that feeling like we're not enough. It really all starts with yourself. Trust yourself. You are the first person that you should be looking for opinions from. ∎

29 AwareNow Podcast BEAUTY REDEFINED
TAP/SCAN TO LISTEN Follow Marisa on Instagram (@marisakimmel). See her work online (
Exclusive Interview with Marisa Kimmel
“You are the first person that you should be looking for opinions from.”
For the longest time, I was a lost individual.
Photo Credit: Jonathan Furlong


Jonathan Furlong is a Southern California native, best classified as a self-taught lifestyle and street photographer. Furlong is self-described as hyper-critical with an anxiety-ridden mind, constantly seeking ways to capture authentic beauty and chaos through the lens of photography. He embraces imperfections, true-to-life scenery, and candidness. To him, photography is the art of preserving moments for eternity, allowing those who experience his work to look into the past and to understand how it sets the stage for the future.

EDDIE: I like to start off with everyone I talk to by asking one question. Who are you? Not what is your name, but who are you?

JONATHAN: For the longest time, I was a lost individual. I always thought I knew. Loving life, I had huge ambitions. I could do no wrong. Everyone loved me. But I had a different view of myself than the reality of how other people saw me. Everything about me always had good intentions. Now I'm at a point where I'm realizing there is a lot more behind

I’ve finally come to a stage in my life where I know my self worth.
Photo Credit: Jonathan Furlong

the alcoholism and addiction,

EDDIE: That's a big one. A lot of people stumble there or ramble. I think what I would ask is who are you today?

JONATHAN: I'm actually becoming the version that I always thought I could be… The people in my life, they saw it in me. I just never knew how to get there or believe in myself. And now I've finally come to a stage in my life where I know my self worth. I know where I'm at. I know who I can be and am becoming. I’m becoming that individual and being confident. Being on an interview with you guys, I could never have done this without getting…

EDDIE: A lot of it is people, places and things.

JONATHAN: Yeah, exactly.

EDDIE: That's been one of the biggest tools that I've found. No matter how hard it is to change your people, places and things, once you do, then you follow suit. Or at least I did. That's my experience. And I can tell you, looking from the outside in, bro, it was wonderful having you around. I see you. I don't see all that other stuff. It helps when someone doesn't see that other stuff. I see you, and I like what I see. So that's why we wanted to talk to you today.

JONATHAN: And likewise, I mean, there's similarities that I have with people. It's just now, especially where I am… My brain is firing on a different level than it has the past 20 years. And that is due to a lot of substance that I've put in to cope and to get through life. There were areas where, obviously addiction in certain zones, where I had a completely incorrect view on it. And I always thought, you know, with me being an alcoholic I was doomed. I’ve got this disease, and I'm gonna have to battle it the rest of my life. And through the process of what has transpired in the past 10 months, now I'm learning a completely different way of things. With the alcoholism and addiction, for me, those are the top layers of something that stems way deeper to the root of insecurities and behaviors from how I was raised and how I was taught. And it's no one's fault. No one's to blame. It's just getting in and diving into that deep that no one wants to or realizes they have.

EDDIE: Yeah. That's there.

JONATHAN: It's there, and there are reasons behind it all.

EDDIE: I'll just say one thing and then we'll get into your work. Shepherd made some really great comments about who I am today versus who I was before. And at the heart of that, he always says, “Well, he was always a good guy, but you know…” <laugh> There's always that, ‘you know’. To your point, other people see what we can't. When you start being able to visualize what they see, you can actualize it. As brothers in addiction, I'm here for you.

JONATHAN: It's just really believing in yourself. You can always say it, but it's just actually doing it. It’s saying, “Wait a minute. This is about me, and I have control over it. It's not an endless battle. I'm not a piece of sh*t… (or any of the things that you tell yourself).” Your mind is so powerful in that way. It loves the negative.

EDDIE: Let's move on. Tell us, why did you get into photography?

for me, those are the top layers of something that stems way deeper…”
34 Photography, for me, was freezing a moment in time.
Photo Credit: Jonathan Furlong

JONATHAN: Photography, for me, that was the one… I mean, my dad has done good things in life, but he was a videographer. So I was kind of surrounded by cameras and everything there. When I was young, I picked up film cameras, and I was shooting when I was six – just running around clicking a point and shoot.

In school I was really into the concept of a war journalist, taking photos in like active war zones. I was very intrigued by it. It was confusing. I was like, “Wait, why do I like this?” I kind of felt weird, but I had a teacher in high school who was a Vietnam vet photographer. We connected, and I learned way more. That's what was intriguing.

Photography, for me, was freezing a moment in time, and I'm able to keep that. Also, it sounds weird, but it's something where I never had to really try hard to get a photo. It just came very naturally to me where I felt extremely confident. I just looked at the world differently, and I was able to use a camera to capture what was going on in my mind or how I view things. And through that whole process, I did it as a full hobby. It was something I loved to do. I didn't care if I was in a dark room for 12 or 14 hours.

The older I got, I started getting a little more pissed off, like when teachers would try to control how something should look. But it was just something that I really enjoyed. I never thought of it fully as leading me to a profession. I always wanted to be a war journalist… but my parents shut me down

EDDIE: That might have been your inner self trying to put yourself in harm's way, you know?

JONATHAN: Yeah. I'm thankful, but it was more that concept of even my younger self of the bigger picture of what I can do with this… really making it have a voice and tell a story. Because a photo does. It freezes time. I think a lot of people forget that. Even just looking at a photo of someone, I look at it and wonder what's going on in their mind. I wonder if they’re having a good day or a bad day. There's a lot more behind it, that's all.

EDDIE: I agree. What if you had to think of one photo or one job or one person, and I know that that's a big question, but like, what was your favorite? What was your favorite job or your favorite shot? Is there one thing that sticks out that really moved the needle for you where you realized who you were and what was going on?

JONATHAN: We may need to circle back to that one…

EDDIE: Is there one person that you've shot that's your favorite?

JONATHAN: My daughter. Shooting photos of her… there's specific ones where I just I look at them and it’s just that happiness, joy – just her. There's just so much connection and feeling behind it, like her personality, my personality all transpiring into that photo where it’s a moment. It’s pure. Yeah, it's a pure moment. There's so much energy, internal energy that we are both projecting to create that moment. And I'm able to have that for the rest of my life, and I get to share that. She gets to, and her mom does as well.

EDDIE: Right. For generations to come, hopefully.

“I just looked at the world differently, and I was able to use a camera to capture what was going on in my mind.”


EDDIE: So, let's talk about Louisville for a minute. How'd you like Louisville?

JONATHAN: Louisville is interesting. I mean… I didn't know what to expect. I was going in blind, but I had the most optimistic and positive attitude and just accepted it. And even fully meeting you… I've heard of you. I'm sure we've crossed paths. Regardless, it was exciting, and everyone was extremely kind, generous and made it very welcoming. It was nice and peaceful, no stress. I felt that with the rest of the team. Our energy was just good. We ran into tiny little problems, but it was just like, “Man, it's what it is. Let's just keep going. Let's just do this.” The support from everyone on the subject of the mural, where the mural is at, why we're here, and what we are doing it for. Everything behind Shepherd's voice was received extremely well. At least, that's what we got from everyone… Every single person that came by was thumbs up, doing a great job, and only positive reinforcement. And that just keeps transcending.

Photo Credit: Jonathan Furlong

EDDIE: Yeah, everyone's energy. It's safe to say that giant Ali mural was pretty cool, but you were on the ground doing it. You were up there, right? You were getting the tone. What did you think when you actually got to pull back and look at that massive mural of Ali?

JONATHAN: Oh, it was amazing. It was breathtaking in a way. But one thing where it was a little sad was the abandoned buildings. It's a form of poverty that I wish was looked at more and was more of a concern for the people. Just because you're born and raised somewhere, it doesn't mean you have to continue… that's not your life. You're not defined by it.

Having that mural there, it's going to bring your attention. You stand back, you look at it, and you're like, wow. You can't miss it, and it just brings something beautiful for someone to look at. You know, you might have a hard day and you look up and be like, “Hey, that’s…”

EDDIE: Bright looking.

JONATHAN: Yeah, you got Muhammad Ali on it. It's like you have all the things that he's about, and it causes you to think. Or it might brighten your day just to see something colorful. It could be as simple as that.

EDDIE: I took the former mayor. Greg Fisher picked me up yesterday and I took him over for the first time to see the mural. He was a big champion of ours to get this done, and he was just amazed, you know? And he also told me some plans that are coming up surrounding the area based on the kind of progress that we were all a part of. I think we see those kinds of murals all the time – especially you. But for the city of Louisville, they've never seen anyone come in and rock it like that in four days, you know?

JONATHAN: Yeah, I mean, it was amazing. I thoroughly enjoyed Kentucky. I thoroughly enjoyed being with everyone and the experience. And like I said in the magazine, I always wish I had more time in cities. A lot of times we get there, and we are busy. It's airport, hotels, wall and repeat… eating at the same joints. Eat, work, eat, work, go… But yeah, I always just wish we had more time to soak in more and be involved in the culture and just what the city's about and really getting a full spectrum and understanding to the best I can of where I'm at.

EDDIE: So, what's coming up besides travel with Shepard? What do you got coming?

JONATHAN: I've been working on personal aspects of my photography… I'm kind of taking a fully different approach where I'm finally okay with saying I know I'm good at what I do. I know my worth. I know I can provide something that… There's a lot of other people that do this, but I have my own spin on it. This is something that’s part of my life. It’s taking that approach where I can do family stuff, but with more of an intimate take on it. It's not just like, “Hey, let's go to a park and shoot a family photo.” I have a concept of going into and being fully immersed in a family – telling that intimate story with my photography of this family. It's all candid. It's all just who they are as a family, and it's strictly for them. Taking that approach, I can provide that for them and it's my skill, the way I see things. And they can have this for the rest of their life. So, I'm kind of transitioning or just having that as an option when I'm not traveling, when I want to do more creative work in a different realm. But it's still aspects of what I do for Shepherd and on our trips where it's all candid. I'm just doing what we naturally do and I want to have that same component. With a lot of people, it's like, stand and take a picture. I'm like, nope. I'm gonna evolve it into a different sort of side business where I can provide a purpose basically.

EDDIE: I like that idea. It sounds like a natural progression or thought to be able to capture those intimate moments versus stand here and hold your kid and then there it is. <laugh> Come to your house, hang out all day Sunday, and then we're gonna grab some real moments that people want to remember.

It’s learning from everything and not regretting and wanting to get rid of the past.
Photo Credit: Jonathan Furlong

Exclusive Interview with Jonathan Furlong

EDDIE: So, let me ask you this, we all know that there's a mental health crisis in our country, in the world. There's gun violence and all these massive issues that none of us have the answer for, but we all have our own perspectives. You know that I'm on this Artists For Trauma mission now. What would you tell the young struggling Jon about the possibilities that expressing yourself through art has as far as a healing component? What would you tell a young photographer or artist that's struggling to figure it out?

JONATHAN: Well, one is dedication. It’s not giving up. A lot of people want to try things. Art, as like anything, it's your own interpretation. You are good enough in this world. Just because it's not on a high level or you're not getting paid millions of dollars, it doesn't mean that you don't have a voice and you're not talented at what you do. It's believing in yourself and really striving to keep going and not giving up.

Like anything in life, you have a choice. You can give up, and you can stop doing what you're doing. It takes a bigger person and a stronger person to keep going. And with all that negative and failures you have, you have control over that and how you want to be perceived. Your art, it can go deep.

EDDIE: Thank you for taking the time to talk to me. I look at you as an inspiration for a lot of different reasons. I admire your strength to keep going regardless.

JONATHAN: Yeah. It's learning from everything and not regretting and wanting to get rid of the past. I finally realized that I can learn from the past and go forward. I needed everything to happen to get me here – to get me to this point. Everything had to transpire in the same way it did to get me to where I'm at in the direction I'm going. ∎


GuerillaOne x The Seventh Letter

Louisville, Kentucky native Eddie Donaldson moved to Los Angeles in 1986 and became involved with the graffiti movement as an alternative to the turbulent gang activity of his generation. Immersed first as an artist amongst diverse L.A. crews like TCF, AWR, and The Seventh Letter, Donaldson had the vision to develop their homegrown graffiti movement into something beyond the streets. His loyalty and business sensibility transformed the graffiti scene and he evolved into the point person for producing art events and exhibitions that inspire and spread the stylistic of southern California art into the world.

39 AwareNow Podcast
rock the boat.
Photo Credit: Polina Tankilevitch



I distinctly remember my mother saying “What will the neighbors think?” as a way to silence my objections. Objecting was both “impolite” and “unacceptable.” My mind was trained from infancy to be focused on imagining other people's perspectives of us as a family, of me. I certainly learned “Don’t rock the boat”. Speaking truth to power is courageous under any circumstance, and it takes more courage to speak up than to stay silent. The truth is, it’s risky to challenge the powers that be, at any age, and they like it that way. It is especially true for children, the last marginalized community that no one is discussing in this way.

In 1974 I was 13 years old, and alone in my Mother’s store. A man in his mid 30s rushed in, pushed me into the back room and molested me. I said nothing, to anyone, for 40 years.

In 1977 I was 16 years old, it was the year my brother died by suicide. A teacher at my school, the well-regarded football coach, took a particular interest in helping me through this tragic time. I thought he was very kind so when he invited me to his house I didn’t hesitate to go, but felt quite differently when I arrived and his wife wasn’t home. As he led me to his basement "to show me something", I remember thinking about not wanting to upset him. He raped me, and again, I said nothing.

In 1982 I was 21 years old, and studying political science in university. A professor invited me over to his home to talk about the Cold War. I’ve always been fascinated with the Cold War. When I arrived, I was horri fied to realize that my professor never wanted to discuss history, but had something else on his mind. Again, I said nothing. My most frightening realization was that nobody needed to put their hand over my mouth, I had been silenced long ago in childhood. Without even knowing it my parents were passing down to us the same straightjacket that had bound them, “children are to be seen and not heard,” and “children are to be obedient, compliant, and do what they’re told!” Children raised in this way don’t even know they are entitled to object.

It may be easier to teach our children to simply be obedient and compliant, but it comes at a cost. I learned to silence myself, to ignore my inner suspicions and fears, to betray myself and my inner knowing in service to “not rocking the boat” and upsetting the adults around me. This inner silencing is engrained by “loving” caregivers who themselves were trained not to speak up. They too had learned to take care of other people's feelings, needs and expectations over their own under the guise of politeness. Cathected adults will unconsciously cathect their child. Their craving to be seen, heard and understood from their perspective (which never happened to them as children) is then imposed on their offspring. The requirement of the child is to mirror back to them their perspective in order for these adult children to, at last, be seen, heard and understood from their perspective. Something denied them as children they now deny their own child, and so the pattern repeats itself.

The cathected child’s entire orientation is toward gauging those in the outer world’s feelings and responses. In order to protect themselves from the anger, explosion, disappointment and authoritarian discipline, they learn to disconnect from their own feelings and needs in service to outer harmony. It is an annihilation of the self, and the reward for selfbetrayal is favor and praise.


“I’m not afraid to make others uncomfortable by speaking my truths.”

The child’s heightened attunement to what is activated in others, as if they had caused it. With the added layer of these adults' lack of responsibility for being the stewards of their own feelings and needs whilst falsely blaming the ‘catalysts’ as if they were the cause of their outbursts, make a child’s attunement with their own sense of Self woefully impossible. Children become overly-responsible, trapped in a matrix so insidious and overarching as to affect every aspect of their lives.

Often these kids grow up to be perfectionist, self-critical, high performers whose motivation is to get their caregiver to be happy! They are then tortured, as no amount of accolades will satisfy their deepest desire to “make their caregiver happy”. What they never learned was that the game was rigged from the beginning and that no one can be burdened with making anyone else happy, it really is an inside job.

As I had my children, I wanted to set them free from this cycle. However, in order to do so, I needed to set myself free first. I needed to shed “the curse of the family of origin,” to rise up and parent my inner child with the presence I could now offer, to heal. I didn’t always have the courage, however, once I could face seeing those that had imprinted these patterns without needing to protect them I was finally free. Much like stockholm syndrome, it is an intricate layer to be shed, that one that has us protecting those doing the harm.

Often I am asked why I have spent the last 25 years building a Conscious Parenting Revolution. If I had not chosen this family to be born into and to raise me and to face and overcome these painful patterns, I am sure I would not be doing this. However, because of this, it is my quest to support parents everywhere to reconnect with themselves and honor their progeny by freeing them from the burden of their unaddressed wounds.

It has taken me almost my entire life to get to a place in which I will no longer be silenced. I’m not afraid to make others uncomfortable by speaking my truths. I will rock the boat.

So here's the challenge. Let's be the generation that stays connected to our higher selves, is present to the deeper sense of who we are, and raise our children to have a voice and to honor that. It starts with you and it starts with me. trusting ourselves and speaking up. ∎

KATHERINE WINTER-SELLERY Founder of the Conscious Parenting Revolution

For over 20 years, Katherine has taught and coached thousands of parents, educators, social workers, and medical professionals in half a dozen countries through her popular workshops and coaching programs. Katherine is a 3x TEDx Speaker, and Amazon best selling author of “7 Strategies to Keep Your Relationship With Your Kids from Hitting the Boiling Point” as well as her workbook A Guidance Approach to Parenting. She has been featured on local television shows across the US and a guest on over 40 podcasts. In addition, she is also a trained mediator, is certificated in different trauma models, teaches a breathing meditation modality with the Art of Living Foundation, ran her own commodities-trading business in Hong Kong for 30 years, and is on the Board of Directors for the International Association for Human Values (IAHV). IAHV has held special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) since 2002, and contributes to the 17 Strategic Development Goals of the UN.

44 It’s time we started looking within ourselves for something heroic. JONO LANCASTER SPEAKER & AUTHOR
Photo Courtesy: @jonolanc




While he doesn’t have a cape, this hero has a cause. Born with Treacher Collins Syndrome, Jono Lancaster had dedicated his life to helping others who look different to look deeper and to find love for themselves.

ALLIÉ: So let's start here. For those who are not yet familiar with your story, you were born with Treacher Collins syndrome. I'd like to start in terms of love and hate. Let's dive in there… Abandoned at birth with a facial difference. As you got older, you began to hate not only your face, but the world as well. Through all the highs and the lows that you've had on your journey, Jono, you were able to turn your differences into strengths. My question is, what happened that helped you love your face again, helped you love you again, and find the strength to serve as the hero that you are in this world?

JONO: You know, that's such a powerful question, and it's so hard just to give a simple answer. And I would love to say that there was a strategy, that there was a plan, there was a conscious effort of being able to find that love. But over the years, it was just so much trial and error, so much getting it wrong, so much winging it. But luckily, I had people around me that have shown me love and given me strength and laid down foundations for me to be able to explore life through that process, through all those years. And so I feel so blessed and so lucky to be able to say, "You

She met me at two weeks of age, and ever since that moment, she has loved me, she has celebrated me.
Photo Courtesy: @jonolanc

JONO: (continued) And yeah, there are times that I wish I had been able to reach that point earlier on in my life, but the fact that I'm here now, I just feel incredibly blessed. And I know the people are in that place. So the book really goes into how I got there in a lot more detail, and yeah, I just want to share everything that's inside here and inside here to help people find that self-love.

ALLIÉ: So let's get to this book. Not All Heroes Wear Capes. Not only is this a true statement, but it is also the title of your new book. Let’s talk about the term 'hero'. How do you define it, Jono? What is a hero?

JONO: A hero, for me, it literally can be anybody. You know, you could be on the bus tomorrow and you could be sat next to somebody who's done heroic stuff in their life. And when we talk about heroes, there's surgeons, doctors, nurses, there's people that have fought for the country, there are people that keep us safe. They are out there and it's very obvious that they are heroes. And there's also other heroes that don't always get that recognition.

In my and throughout the book, I talk about strangers that I've met along the way. And that 'hero', what they did was a handshake and a smile when I needed it the most. Those moments changed my life forever in the most empowering way. And we all can do some pretty heroic stuff day in, day out by simply being ourselves, open with a smile, "Good morning... Good afternoon." Yeah.

ALLIÉ: Let's talk a little more about heroes. Was there a specific hero that you had as you were growing up as a kid? And then also, who now? What other heroes? Can you name a couple?

JONO: So, in the book, it starts off with the biggest hero in my life, and that was and is my mom. She met me at two weeks old. And every conversation that she had around myself, it was, "Jonathan looks different. He might not be able to walk, he might not be able to talk. We don't know how he'll develop mentally. But would you like to meet him?" And Jean was just like, "Of course. I'd love to meet this tiny little human." She met me at two weeks of age, and ever since that moment, she has loved me, she has celebrated me. She has helped me build, like I said, some beautiful foundations for me to live my best life. She turned 80 last year, and she's getting shorter and shorter as she gets older and older, but her heart is just still so unbelievably massive and she still loves and she still supports. And yeah, she's the biggest hero in my life, and I'm so blessed to have her.

Moving on, today, the biggest hero in my life, and believe me, it takes something pretty extraordinary to top Mama Jean, but the biggest hero in my life is myself. And the reason why I say that is because every night I have a head full of thoughts and a heart that beats for me and only me. And whatever's going on in my life, I have to wake up, get dressed, step out the door and go and live and love and seek adventure. Then I have to do the hard stuff. I have to ... Well, I don't have to; I choose to do my therapy, I choose to do my meditation. Sometimes I'm debating whether to have a cake or a salad. Sometimes I'm dealing with a panic attack. Sometimes I'm just managing my social anxiety. Sometimes I'm on a date and it goes terribly wrong, or I'm having to go through a breakup. Sometimes my mom gets sick and I'm fearing that I might lose her one day. The biggest hero in my life is me trying to navigate through all of that and just do me. And that's what the book is about; recognizing the heroes in our lives, but also saying, "Hey, look, you, the person reading this book, you are one of the, if not the biggest hero in your life too.”

“And that ‘hero’, what they did was a handshake and a smile when I needed it the most.”
48 I want
on this
journey together.
Photo Courtesy: @jonolanc

ALLIÉ: I think that's so hard for someone to say, like you just said, "Well, I'm going to say it." I think that people automatically think, "It can't be me, it's someone else, anyone but me." But therein lies the challenge and the growth perhaps.

JONO: Yeah. I purposely did some questions on my Instagram a while back, and I asked them straight off who was their biggest hero in their life. And we had moms, dads, we had children, we had friends, we had therapists, we had doctors. So many amazing people, and they need to be celebrated. And then I asked them, what are some of the biggest things that they have had to overcome themselves? And again, we had, oh, so many heartbreaking things; miscarriages, overcoming addictions, the loss of a loved one, suicide attempts. People had overcome so much in their life. The final thought was, "You guys have overcome all this stuff and not one person has said that they were a hero in their own life." And I was like, "You need to start thinking about that, because all these other people will help you through whatever trauma, whatever life throws at you, but you are the one that's actually got to do it, has got to start it, has got to receive that information, has got to put that next step in process. So yeah, it's time we started looking within ourselves for something heroic.

ALLIÉ: Once again, you are a hero, Jono. Your story gives strength to so many who are seeking courage and searching for confidence. Your story is one that you've spoken about on stages and places all over the world, but only recently have you written about it in pages; 224 pages to be exact. So my question now is, what did writing this book do for you? And what do you hope that it does for those who read it?

JONO: Writing the book was one of the hardest things that I've had to do. When I speak to audiences all over the world, people have come up to me, they've stayed behind at the end and said, "Jono, I was one of this crowd, but it felt like I was the only person there and you were speaking to me," and we've connected, we've shared, we've embraced, and we've gone our separate ways. And I just know that that person… I don't know all their details, I don't know what they needed, but I know that they got something from listening to me. Whatever part of that story, they resonated, they took something away. So when I was writing, I wanted to try and capture that in the book. And I've shared personal stories, I've stripped everything back, and it's raw, it's vulnerable, it's all there in the book. But alongside my story, there's my thoughts and there's also self-help tricks and tips. You've got a bit of homework to do as you read. We look at boundary setting, working with our inner child, looking at dreams, looking at environments that are positive for us and sometimes negative for us. There's so much in the book that we do together, and it's that journey. I want us to go on this journey together.

I opened up with… I know what it's like to have suicidal thoughts. I know what it's like to feel like you don't belong in this world. I know what it's like to give up on all your dreams. I know what rejection feels like. But I also know what it's like when all that stuff passes and you are living your best life through your authentic self. And that's what I want the reader to take away. I want them to be able to take some of that and apply it to themselves in their daily lives.

ALLIÉ: What a gift that you give to the world just in sharing your story.

“I know what it’s like to have suicidal thoughts. I know what it’s like to feel like you don't belong in this world…”
50 You start with the basics. JONO LANCASTER SPEAKER & AUTHOR
Photo Courtesy: @jonolanc

JONO: Well... You know, if my book, when it sells and people read it, that's amazing. I do hope people take something away, which yeah, it's a scary, nerve-racking process. It's like when I'm long gone, this is still going to be a part of our world. It might be gathering dust or used as a coffee coaster, but I've left something behind. And that's incredibly ... Yeah, that's big. That's big.

ALLIÉ: It is big, Jono. The last time you and I spoke during your first interview for AwareNow, I remember you said something like this… You said, "Human connection, that's what life is about. The more we connect, the more we feel alive." That said, can you share one recent experience, one human connection recently that made you feel alive?

JONO: I did a conference a few weekends ago that was supporting children in care here in the UK, and I was part of a human library. So I was a book on the shelf and groups of people, children in care, came and sat around me and I was to read a chapter of my life. And during this time, I spoke around birth parents and growing up without a dad. I shared that.

There was a young lad, 14, 15 years old, sat next to me, and at the end, I go, "Have you got any questions?", and he looked in his hands and he started talking and he was like, "I feel it. I grew up, I don't know my birth parents. I've got a foster dad and he's old," referencing to my mom being a little older than myself. And he's like, "Jono, I look up to you and you are a male role model. You're somebody who I look up to.” When everybody left, he hung around. And even for the whole day, he hung around and we spoke and we shared. And I don't know. It's that human connection. That was something that I have looked for my entire life… that male role model. There were moments where I saw it in a teacher. There's moments where I see it when one of my friends becomes a dad and I watch them with their child. And yeah, that's something that I've observed from afar. This young lad seeing that in me… Man, that was special.

ALLIÉ: Thank you so much for sharing that, Jono. There’s just one more thing that I must you. For those who are feeling very lost inside and looking, as we say, for that hero within, what advice do you have? Where do we start? How do we do it?

JONO: So where do you start? You start with basics. Again, referring to my book, I am going to give you so many tips. And we talk about working with our inner child, we talk about boundary setting. That's big work, and that's really, really stuff that you need to do. And I encourage everybody to get into that kind of stuff when I talk about self-love and acceptance. But before all of that, there's some basics that we all can do right now. And that is drink some water, eat some good food, make a conscious effort to relax your shoulders, look up, smile, take a deep breath.

Be kind to yourself. The words that we use on a daily basis... I used to call myself so many horrible things when I was struggling; "Ugh. Why have you done this?" Whereas now it's like, "It's okay, you got this, relax, deep breaths." And it sounds so simple, but if you start off by doing those things, it sets yourself up perfectly for the next. So many people look for the quick fix or, "Oh my God, you've got to do therapy. Oh my God, you've got to do X, Y, Z." No, we can be doing some basics right now to help us.

“That was something that I have looked for my entire life… that male role model.”

“I just want to say ‘thank you’ to every single person who sends love my way…”

ALLIÉ: Begin with the basics. That's good advice. Jono, thank you so much for sharing your story yet again, for sharing this book with the world. Excited to get our hands on it, and thank you for helping all of us just become a bit more aware now. Thank you.

JONO: Thank you. You know, I feel so ... I'm doing an audio book as well. We're recording that next week. So people will be able to hear the audio book with my voice. I'll try not to be too old English Yorkshire, so you don't understand my accent. But I'm excited about that. But again, I just feel incredibly lucky that I have a platform and people do listen and people do share, people do connect with me, because it fills me up with love and it fills me up with energy to live and give and continue to put myself out there. There have been times when we've spoken about trolls and the negative stuff, and that creates impact, and rightly so, but I don't put enough thank you’s out there. Because every single day, I receive so many messages of love. I just want to say ‘thank you’ to every single person who sends love my way, because yeah, it just fills me up with so much goodness.

ALLIÉ: Well, so much love being sent your way right now, and light as well.

JONO: But I do have a question for you, Allié. Do you have a recent human connection to share?

ALLIÉ: Well... I would say certainly right now I'm feeling... Isn't it strange? We can be on Zoom and in different countries, and I can look at you on the monitor, you can look back at me, and the fact that I can feel you right now... The human connection that's available if we pause, if we take a break, if we're brave enough to just be present and receive it. So, I would say right now, Jono.

JONO: Beautiful. ∎

AwareNow Podcast
TAP/SCAN TO LISTEN 52 Follow Jono on Instagram (@jonolanc). Order his book, ‘Not All Heroes Wear Capes’ ( AWARENOW / THE BRAVE EDITION
Exclusive Interview with Jono Lancaster
54 BURT KEMPNER WRITER & PRODUCER Beyond time, the preserver and destroyer…
Photo Credit: Alvara Arano

Beyond the prayer mats

Beyond the namastes

Beyond the benedictions

Beyond Rumi’s field

Beyond the analogies

Beyond the redundancies

Beyond the hallelujahs

Beyond time, the preserver and destroyer, Beyond the veil

Beyond the barbed wire

Beyond the all-forgiving silence

Beyond the painted-on cheerfulness

Beyond the Zodiac

Written and Narrated by Burt Kempner

Beyond the work of the awakened

And almost beyond the reach of love

Lies a place I’ve never seen

Where my spirit has carved out a Refuge it calls soul’s rest. Take me there

For a heartbeat, a minute, an eternity

And let me unmix the elements

That bind me to Earth. But no. Not now. I can wait.

And so can Heaven. ∎

BURT KEMPNER is a writer-producer who has worked professionally in New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Florida. His work has won numerous major awards, and has been seen by groups ranging in size from a national television audience in the United States to a half-dozen Maori chieftains in New Zealand. Spurred by his love for inspiring young people, he started writing children's books in 2015. Learn more about Burt and his books at his website:

AwareNow Podcast BEYOND
I know that preserving the second amendment and reducing gun violence are not mutually exclusive goals.



After being shot 12 times the morning of Sept 6, 2018, in Cincinnati, Ohio and miraculously living to tell about it, Whitney Austin founded Whitney/Strong, an organization dedicated to finding common ground to end gun violence through data-driven, responsible gun ownership solutions.

ALLIÉ: When it comes to gun violence, there are the stories that we see on the news, and then there are the stories that we hear by those who have survived it. For those who have not yet heard your story, Whitney, will you please share what happened to you the morning of September 6th, 2018?

WHITNEY: Yeah, so I was a banker and was often in a position to spend my workday in Cincinnati, Ohio. I actually live in Louisville, Kentucky. What that looked like was about an hour and a half trip up 71 North from Louisville to Cincinnati. On that day, September 6th, 2018, it was just one of those days where I knew I was going to need to drive up to Cincinnati, and it was just a normal morning like every other morning going to Cincinnati. I kissed my kids as I left my house around 7:00, kissed my husband and got in the car and did all the usual things from listening to podcast, talking to my peers just to pass the time. As I descended into the city, I needed to join a conference call with my legal and compliance partners,


We can do it in a way that respects the Second Amendment, but also respects that we have a right to live in this country without being victims of gun violence.


WHITNEY: (continued) I have a really great sense of focus and I was focused on that call so much so that as I approached Fountain Square, which is where my employer's corporate headquarters is located. I can remember that I was concerned about Fifth Street traffic. As I went across the crosswalk, making sure that everybody was not going to run me over, but then once I got passed that perceived risk, there weren't any other risks in my head to consider. Back to focusing on the conference call and there was a huge risk looming. I just didn't notice it. It was that no one was on the square, which was a very abnormal thing for 9:00 AM during the workday. Also, that there was shattered glass in the revolving door that I usually use to enter into the building, but I don't come from an environment in which I recognized what bullet holes looked like.

I just thought, "That's a little weird." That there's shattered glass in the door. As I processed that, I then processed, "Well, no big deal, just go into work." I pushed on the revolving door with my right arm, and that's when the first barrage of bullets hit me all across my body. It was so forceful that I collapsed into the bottom of the revolving door, and I immediately thought, "Well, these have to be bullets. Nobody's close enough to me for this to have been anything else." Then I immediately thought, "And this must be a mass shooting. That's what happens in America. That's what this is. This is a mass shooting." The next thought was, "Well, I have to live. I have to get back to my babies. I have to get back to my husband. How do I live?”

I didn't really have any good options. I tried to stand up and I was too weak to push myself up because my arms were too badly damaged. Then, I noticed at that point that no one was on the square, so there wasn't anyone to save me. Then my last thought was, "Let me call 911 to see if I can get somebody here to rescue me." When I went to move my left arm to get back to my phone, that's when the next barrage of bullets came because the shooter knew that I wasn't yet dead. That was absolutely the worst moment in all of it. As I sat there coughing up blood, praying and thinking that this was going to be the end of my life and that I would never ever get back to my family.

Very soon after, the Cincinnati police officers arrived on the scene, and when I say soon after, it was exactly one minute from the moment I was shot the first time to the moment they arrived. Just one minute, many, many, many thoughts. They arrived and they did everything exactly right for me to ensure that they could rescue me from the revolving door and get me to the hospital as soon as possible. The next string of things get a bit blurry, but I remember waking up in the hospital and being surrounded by my husband and the most amazing nurses and doctors and all of them saying, "You're a miracle. You were shot 12 times, but none of the bullets hit any major organs or arteries." I tell this story a lot. When I'm really present and in the moment, I am just overcome with gratitude because nobody gets to hear that. That's what I got to hear. That was really the genesis of building Whitney/Strong and the work that I do today, because I know I got something that nobody else gets.

ALLIÉ: Thank you so much for sharing that story again, I imagine every time you share it, it's so powerful, so profound. In USA Today, you were quoted saying, "I know that preserving the Second Amendment and reducing gun violence are not mutually exclusive goals." As both a gun owner and a gun violence survivor, would love to hear your thoughts, Whitney. I'd love to hear more about your thoughts on this.

WHITNEY: Well, when my husband and I were sitting in the hospital after the shooting, my brain was really overactive and started to think about how we could build something different and really accelerate change on this issue. We felt as if what was missing in this movement was an organization that was focused on bringing people together, that much of the

“I have to get back to my babies. I have to get back to my husband. How do I live?”

WHITNEY: (continued) work being done on this issue was highly political, was at times anti-gun. None of that made any sense to us coming from a place in which we understood, we believed everyday Americans that supported change on this issue, and when we say everyday Americans, we mean Republicans, Democrats, gun owners, non-gun owners, folks from rural areas, folks from urban areas, and that what was missing is a place in which everyone felt safe. We still focus on common ground as our key strategy for change even today, almost five years later.

That quote from USA Today really plays into it. We are a gun owning family. We owned guns before I was shot, and we still own guns today. To get into debates about whether guns are good or bad are futile. We live in the United States of America, we have the Second Amendment. If you are living in reality, and I'm certainly living in reality, the Second Amendment is going to stand. That's not up for dispute. What is up for discussion is what we can do to reduce harm when it comes to firearms. Whether it's reducing injury or reducing death, we can all agree that much needs to be done. How can we apply the public health tried and true methods of reducing automobile accidents, reducing smoking? There are so many examples of public health change that we've seen over the last several decades in our country. We need to apply the same thing to this issue of gun violence. We can do it in a way that respects the Second Amendment, but also respects that we have a right to live in this country without being victims of gun violence.

ALLIÉ: Let's talk a bit about Whitney/Strong because it wasn't enough for you to survive gun violence. You had this desire, this mission to stop it. Here enters what you founded, Whitney/Strong. As opposed to being driven by trending speculations or popular opinions, the actions taken by Whitney/Strong are data driven. I'd love for you just to share what you are doing differently than others, perhaps with your science-based approach.

WHITNEY: Well, at Whitney/Strong, we have three areas of focus, education, research, and bipartisan led legislation. Data, the way that we utilize data to drive us looks a little bit different with each of the areas of focus. As an example, with education, we believe that there is much that can be done as individuals, as community leaders to make our community safer. Education looks like making sure people understand what safe handling of a firearm looks like, what safe storage looks like, what Stop the Bleed training can do for your community, what suicide prevention training can do for your community. These are all evidence-based trainings that we provide, but more importantly we're providing it where the data says communities are most ‘on fire’ I often say. For example, in the city of Louisville, there are five neighborhoods that have higher levels of homicide than other neighborhoods. That's where we bring our education work. Hopefully we will be able to expand that program into other areas of Kentucky and other states as well. There's an argument for the data would take us to the counties, for example, that see the highest rates of suicide. Always using data to determine where we should put our resources.

On the area of focus that is research, that one is tied to data in all the ways. What people should know is as a country, we have under-studied gun violence. We've actually seen some good change on this in the last several years. In 2019, Congress came together again and said, "We're going to study gun violence, the tune of $25 million." After refusing to study it for two decades. Things are picking back up, but we have multiple decades to make up for. Where we have extra dollars, we'll put them toward research so that we can make sure that the solutions we're pushing, whether it's the education solutions or the policy solutions are backed by research and data.


WHITNEY: (continued) Then, the last area of focus is the bipartisan led legislation and data definitely rears its head here. When it comes to the policies that we pursue at the state or federal level, we follow what the data tells us. There is good polling data out at this point that helps us understand what policies see broad support from both major political parties. If your ear isn't to the ground, if you're not looking at the data, then you'd say nobody agrees on anything. That's not what we're doing. That's why we're not doing anything. That's not true. The data is actually telling us the opposite, that there are multiple policies that see broad support from both major political parties.

Now, we need our elected officials to believe in that data, and that's a totally different ballgame. I do believe that in the end, the elected officials will do what the people want, if the people are loud enough. Just to give you examples, comprehensive background checks as a policy that sees broad support from both political parties. And then there are some policies that are less well known, and there are good policies as well. I've seen recent polling data that shows that both major political parties support a 72-hour waiting period before a firearm can be taken home after purchase, which in research is shown to be very effective in reducing suicide by firearms. There is a lot of hope, there's a lot of good data, and I think it's really important to hitch your cart to an organization that inspires you, that gives you specific actions that you can take so that you can be part of the change.

ALLIÉ: At the end of the day, at the beginning of the day rather, whether it's gun violence or any other subject, to effectively address it we first must understand it of course. I will confess to here and now that in school math wasn't a subject I understood very much, but I did understand fractions. I understood that when adding or subtracting, a common denominator was required to find a solution. This understanding, the same understanding is at the core of Whitney/ Strong with a board that consists of gun owners and non-gun owners, and as you mentioned Republicans, Democrats, my question for you is how has this made your organization more efficient and your work more effective?

WHITNEY: Sometimes, I'd say it's not more efficient because if you're taking the time to hear both sides of the coin, you've got to work through more, but in the end, I truly believe that you get to a better solution. I think what a lot of people are missing on this issue is that people own guns for a whole host of reasons. The experience of what my experience is like living in a city versus the experience of someone who's living in a more rural area is very, very different. Both sides of that coin needs to be considered. Back to the question that is, do you believe it makes you more effective? Absolutely. If anybody believes that they can go into the realm of advocacy and get 100% of what they want, I'd say they're not living in reality. That's not the way our system works.

What is realistic is that you could go in educated from both sides of that coin and you can guide a conversation to get you policy change that can really make a difference, that can save lives, can reduce the number of injuries we're seeing every year, and that in the end is worth it. By doing this in a bipartisan way, by seeking common ground, I absolutely believe and have witnessed us get closer to change than what we had seen previously. I certainly encourage people to take our approach.

ALLIÉ: It makes so much sense to address the issues as things are being worked through as opposed to waiting until just the end and having to make a hard case to be able to curate and co-create these policies. Because there is no single reason why gun violence occurs, you tackle the issue from multiple angles. As an organization, beyond legislature, you shared the different tools that you use. I guess my last question for you is for those of us who are not organizations, but just individuals who often feel very powerless without tools to use against this rising gun violence we have in our country, what advice do you have? What can I do as an individual to make this change that's so needed?

You should never question if it matters. Every single time, it matters.

WHITNEY: I'm really glad that you asked that question and also that mentioned that this is a multifaceted problem that requires many solutions coming together, working in concert to make a change. As to what you can do as an individual, a lot. One of the most important things you can do, whether you're a gun owner or you know gun owners, is to impress the importance of safe storage. We know that mostly school shooters have easy access to a firearm in the home. We know mostly that, especially youth struggling with suicidal thoughts, that die by suicide, by firearm have easy access to a family firearm. Even that some criminal activity is completed with firearms that are stolen. That is one universal tool that can make a major difference on this issue. Safely store yourself and encourage those in your life that you know and love that have guns to safely store.

The second thing that's really important, I've talked about suicide quite a bit in this conversation because actually the largest number of gun deaths every year is attributed to suicide by firearm. Mostly people don't know the warning signs of suicide. We're in the midst of a youth mental health crisis. It would behoove everyone who has children and loves children to learn the warning signs of suicide, to prepare themselves to have conversations with people who are struggling and to know the mental health resources that are available in their community. Certainly, we have a training that can do this, but many of the mental health organizations across the country have trainings that can help you with this. One specific training is called QPR, question, persuade, refer. You can be trained in an hour and a half as a layperson and you'll be in a better position to help with this.

Then lastly, I would encourage people to get involved in advocacy because I alone am not going to affect legislative change. My organization alone isn't going to affect legislative change. It will be all of us working together that will convince our lawmakers to take votes on this issue in the way that we want them to. Certainly as an individual, you are empowered to do that. You can make a phone call, you can send a letter, you can show up at your state capitol. You are empowered to do that. If all of that feels overwhelming, "Oh boy, I'm not thinking about doing that." Then you can work through an organization like Whitney/Strong to do it. We regularly educate our supporters on the actions they can take to reach out to lawmakers at both the state and the federal level.

I can provide evidence of hope. In the Summer of 2022, I spent several weeks in Washington D.C., lobbying for the Safer Communities Act, which was the first piece of federal gun safety legislation in more than 28 years. It was no small feat. As we were in and out of congressional offices, the feedback we heard consistently was we're getting two to three times the outreach on this that we have seen historically. When their phone calls are ringing off the hook when their inboxes are full, it really does work. I'd encourage you to participate with Whitney/Strong. You can opt in through You can follow us on social media at @whitstrongorg. We will give you opportunities to raise your voice, and you should never question if it matters. It matters. Every single time it matters. ∎

63 AwareNow Podcast
TAP/SCAN TO LISTEN Learn more about Whitney/Strong:

What if we didn’t rely on society or a piece of molded gold metal to decide whether we are achieving?



The Oxford dictionary defines “achieve” as “successfully bringing about or reaching a desired objective level or result by effort, skill or courage.”

Our society has different ways of recognizing achievement. Sometimes these are tangible items such as awards or certificates. Awards are often given from a young age at school, tying a physical measurement to what is deemed as successfully achieving something. Exam results that warrant a certificate or title given at the end of school semesters. School sports teams that are given trophies and ribbons based on their performance in a season or tournament. In my industry, the entertainment industry, one of the biggest awards highlighting the best achievements are The Academy Awards. So my question is, if I don’t win this award does that mean I’m not achieving? Should I feel less than because I’m not winning awards each week? What really determines if you are achieving?

What if we didn’t rely on society or a piece of molded gold metal to decide whether we are achieving? What if instead we looked at ourselves and personally decided if we are achieving?

Imagine we are climbing a ladder. As the dictionary de finition of “achieve” states, we have achieved once we reach our desired goal. What if that goal is an ever expanding goal as life goes on? What if that ladder doesn’t have a top step and instead keeps on going? How does that feel? Is that a daunting perspective? Or does that actually do the opposite and remove the feeling of failure and pressure when you aren’t at a certain height by a certain age? What if we all decided that we are already achieving just by living, just by trying each day and making tangible steps towards our goals regardless of outside recognition?

Be in the moment. Give yourself credit for any form of achievement, which could be getting out of bed. As long as we are moving in the direction we want to go, then it doesn’t matter whether we are taking large strides or small steps or even a step backwards or sideways. We know what we want to personally achieve and that is what matters.

Each day, each step is an achievement.

This might be difficult for some people to feel content. Some may feel they need a tangible award or recognition from society. Try to pause and reprogram the naturally ingrained idea that winning awards is viewed as being of a higher standard. Instead of feeling less than when not getting a trophy or applause, what if we remember our past achievements? Recognize and reflect, feel grateful for what we have already managed leading up to our current state in life? What would it feel like if we patted ourselves on the back, recognizing all of our achievements whilst climbing the hypothetical ladder?

Sometimes as we climb our own ladders, we can lose perspective, getting greedy, especially if we start to compare our achievements with those of others. It is important that as we continue our own journey, we must take into account that everyone else has been on a different individual journey themselves. We do not know what other people have gone through to get to the ladder step they are currently on. They could have gone backwards and forwards 10 times over, but all we see is their current achievement. Comparisons can lead to jealousy and our own ego taking over, therefore losing all perspective about our own achievements. Everyone’s journey, everyone’s ladder, is different and often invisible to the outside eye.

“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” - Confucius


“Let’s recognize our own achievements.”

Having an outside cheerleader can be helpful when we feel in a rut. This is not to put down others giving you a pat on the back, so long as we still hold our own opinion of our achievements in the highest regard. Winning that award in our field can still feel nice and might help us achieve our goals quicker, but be sure to not de fine our achievements only through such awards. At the end of the day, if I win that Academy Award or am not even nominated, I am still achieving based on my own reflection and steps taken. Don’t wait for someone else to say “well done”. Look at your own achievements. Say it to yourself and mean it. You’ll be surprised how much that self-validation and self-praise will impact you.

Let’s alter society’s perspective of achieving. Let’s give ourselves our own awards each day just for getting up and smiling, for getting up and facing the world. Let’s rub this mentality off onto others. Whatever our ladder looks like, whatever our journey is, let’s recognize our own achievements.

Well done. ∎


Storyteller, Philanthropist & Official Ambassador for Human Trafficking Awareness

Elizabeth Blake-Thomas is a British award-winning storyteller and philanthropist based in Los Angeles. She is the founder and resident director of entertainment company Mother & Daughter Entertainment, whose motto is “Making Content That Matters”, putting focus on each project starting a conversation amongst viewers. She is also the creator of the healing methodology Medicine with Words which is designed to help “spring clean” your mind and help free yourself from unnecessary noise so that you can live a more purposeful, peaceful life. She is the author of Filmmaking Without Fear which is a multi-medium resource curated for indie filmmakers. Her FWF podcast is available on all streaming platforms, and the book of the same name is available on Amazon. She is a regular on panels at Sundance, Cannes and Toronto International Film Festival, Elizabeth mentors wherever possible, ensuring she sends the elevator back down to all other female storytellers. AWARENOW / THE BRAVE EDITION AwareNow Podcast
I thought I would take a few minutes to dig into not ‘what’ is happening but the claims of ‘why’.
Photo Credit: Nikolas Gannon


Let’s be clear right from the start. This is a very muddy topic. Part of the issue is that we are trying to answer the colorful question of should trans athletes be allowed to compete with a black-and-white approach. The question is far more complex and should not be stripped of the critical nuances that come along with reality. Whether these kids should be allowed to compete should be dissected into bite-sized chunks that vary depending on the level of competition and viewed through a two-question lens: 1) Compared to what? and 2) At what cost?

Before getting too deep into sports, let’s take a moment to examine kids' well-being in general. Lawmakers declare they want to protect kids. Fair enough. Because of this common-sense stance, they don't want sports to be unfair to the participants. So, to accomplish this, some states have introduced a range of solutions. Some are downright bananas, ranging from genital checks (1) to a total ban on transgender athletes. Thankfully, the idiocy of examining what is in a child's pants to greenlight their ability to play a sport has been removed. I don't know how that was ever considered. But the total bans, at least for now, seem to be staying put.

Interestingly not one of the dozens of lawmakers sponsoring a trans-athlete ban bill could cite an example of trans athletes causing an issue in their state (2). What is most striking to me is that in states that have passed these ‘kid’s safety’ bills, such as Texas, Florida, and Arkansas, there are some glaring holes in their concerns. For instance, Texas ranks first in child food insecurity and second in child sex trafficking. Florida ranks eighth in child food insecurity and third in child sex trafficking, while Arkansas ranks second in child food insecurity. According to the Shared Hope International Institute for Justice and Advocacy, Arkansas fails in five of the six child sex trafficking categories. Currently, there are no bills on their Governor’s desk in those states addressing these issues. I cannot believe I am typing this, but apparently, a child's ability to attain food or be safe from the human sex trade has taken a backseat to ensuring a 15-year-old is safe from a trans classmate playing in the same league.

Maybe these bans are to keep 'normal' kids away from all the 'mentally ill' trans kids. At least, that's what lawmakers are saying in multiple states (3). Suddenly, state lawmakers are more concerned about the fairness of a junior varsity softball game than a handful of trans athletes that disproportionately suffer from mental health issues to the point of suicide. Lawmakers are so worried about mental health that 205 voted against the Mental Health Matters Act (4). So, they are not concerned? Or are they concerned? Or are they concerned only for certain groups of people, not others, but not enough to vote for services and funding? I'm confused, so we will have to earmark this and come back to it.

Before we go too far down this rabbit hole, let's eliminate prospective reasoning that would make sense for a ban: injuries. If trans athletes were responsible for steamrolling cisgender athletes, I could see the case for a ban. But this is so rare that no tracking is available, according to the National High School Injury Surveillance Database (5).

It’s probably safe to say most people know about the transgender athlete debate raging across the United States, where states like Texas, Florida, Arkansas, and others are banning trans athlete participation. I thought I would take a few minutes to dig into not what is happening but the claims of why.
This is all about the great American pastime, winning.
Photo Credit: Cottonbro

Maybe the data is not being recorded due to the low number of trans athletes. Or, perhaps, people like Professor John Banzhaf of George Washington University have a point that trans women are dangerous to cis women in sports (6). Again, this is a very, very muddy topic. Is there an elevated potential in all sports or for contact sports only? At what age(s)? How long have the trans athletes been on hormone therapy? Is this post or prepuberty? We don’t want athletes to get hurt, but we cannot record or understand if his claims are correct if total bans are in place. While it would be ridiculous to think that injuries do not happen, we may want to consider collecting more data before acting.

Getting back to our first question, compared to what… What if we shift the context slightly and look at sports injuries in general? Overall, 90% of all athletes sustain injuries during their playing time. Speci fically, let's take an easy one, American football. According to the Revere Health statistics, there is a 75% chance that a player will sustain a concussion (7) during their playing career (I did during my sophomore year in high school). How about women's soccer? Again, according to the National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance System, 41% of all female players sustain injuries ranking it second only to American football (even higher than boys' ice hockey). Call me crazy, but if we are really worried about safety, especially with a 90% injury rate, we might want to ban sports altogether. But that would be absurd.

Let’s look at the second question. At what cost? Participation in sports has decreased high school dropout rates, increased physical and mental well-being and social skills, and improved academic performance (8). Trans children, especially girls, have shown the highest rate of being bullied (forcing 22% out of in-person school) along with the fact that suicidality is higher than in any other demographic (40%), and depression and anxiety are double that of cisgender children (9). So, according to lawmakers, what is the natural solution? Ban a tiny population of kids with mental health issues from an activity that is scientifically proven to help. We wouldn't want someone suffering from depression and thoughts of suicide to engage in an activity that would possibly prevent something nightmarish. That would be unfair to the others.

If we allow trans girls to play girls' sports, it will crush participation rates and chase all the 'real girls' out of the sports world, right? No. Research shows that since the NCAA allowed trans participation, the number of girls engaging in sports has climbed steeply. But apparently, that doesn't matter because 18 states ignored this trend and created bans anyway. Interestingly, in all the arguments, trans men are not mentioned anywhere. If trans women are inherently advantaged, wouldn't that make trans men inherently disadvantaged? Isn't that unfair? Why doesn't anyone care? Because trans men don't win, and this is all about the great American pastime, winning. It's unfair to the 'real girls' that compete in sports. They can't win because of the trans invasion.

So, according to lawmakers, what is the natural solution? Ban a tiny population of kids with mental health issues from an activity that is scientifically proven to help. AWARENOW / THE BRAVE EDITION

In the U.S. particularly, the goal of youth sports has been to win. Pure and simple. Not for social skills, learning teamwork, or physical or mental health, but winning a championship. Don't get me wrong, winning is fantastic, but does playing on a winning team correlate to playing at the 'next level'? No. Does having an under-14 league or even a high school championship help you land a better job later in life? No. But that doesn't matter.

People may have forgotten, but the argument for 'advantages' for trans athletes is the same one used when Black athletes were labeled as physically and genetically superior to White athletes and should not be allowed to play with white athletes (10). Katrina Karkazis, a Yale University expert on testosterone and bioethics, explains, "Transgender girls on puberty blockers have negligible testosterone levels. Studies of testosterone levels in athletes don’t show a clear, consistent relationship between testosterone and performance. These trans-ban bills lack scienti fic validity. Keep in mind that around 10% of all women have polycystic ovarian syndrome, which results in elevated testosterone levels." Maybe we should ban them from participating too? What about the national high school survey illustrating that 5.3% of cis teen girls admitted to using anabolic steroids (11)? That’s about 169,000 cis girls using performanceenhancing drugs (PEDs) versus the infinitesimal number of trans females competing. Yes, there is a ban on PEDs, but only Texas, Florida, and New Jersey’s legislatures mandate steroid testing for high-school athletes (12). So, if this is about fairness, how do lawmakers reconcile this? There is a total ban for a small group of trans kids but not blanket PED testing in high school athletics for cis girls.

Moving on, are these bans about potential scholarship opportunities being stolen from cis athletes? Wake the kids and call the neighbors! It's math time, so let's dive in. As it stands, only 7% of high school athletes will play in college. Only 2% will play in Division I (the highest level of college athletics), with only 1.3% of all high school athletes receiving scholarships (13). As an example, North Carolina reports that there are ten trans athletes out of almost 190,000. In Utah, there are six trans athletes out of 95,000. In Texas, 23 out of 810,000. So, in those three states, the percentage of trans athletes is three-thousandths of 1%. Taking the percentage of scholarships earned (1.3%) and the total number of athletes (1,095,000), the number of scholarship athletes would be 14,235. But we can't stop there. Considering the percentage of trans athletes (.0003%), the odds of a trans athlete taking a cis athlete's scholarship is roughly 1 in something infinitesimal. Sorry for the anticlimactic math. I'm not so good at math. Blame my sophomore year concussion.

“A trans person is choosing to be part of a group that is more likely to be bullied out of school, become a victim of violent crime, and be discriminated against so that they could be good at a youth or high school sport. Seriously? That’s an interesting take, to say the least.” AWARENOW / THE BRAVE EDITION

Now let's go further down the 'fair' road. Hold on to your hats because it is a slippery slope. I was an All-American (two sports), an All-State athlete (three sports), and a nationally ranked sprinter, setting records at the NCAA Division I level and eventually playing professionally. Pretty unfair to virtually every athlete I played against in high school. I should have been treated like a 1930s racehorse and given extra weight to carry to level the playing field. What about such people as Lebron James? Nolan Ryan? Emmitt Smith? Serena Williams? Simone Biles? Not fair. They shouldn't be allowed to compete.

Wait, I know. Those mentioned above are natural-born talents (not entirely accurate), while being trans is a 'choice.' Really? A trans person is choosing to be part of a group that is more likely to be bullied out of school, become a victim of violent crime, and be discriminated against so that they could be good at a youth or high school sport. Seriously? That's an interesting take, to say the least.

I could ramble on for days about this, but I wanted to throw in some objectivity for perspective. So, in a nutshell, lawmakers are banning a handful of kids that suffer disproportionally from mental health disorders and violence against them from sports-an activity that helps all aspects of physical, mental, and social health because they don’t increase injuries, don’t have an unfair advantage, because these lawmakers are super worried about kids except when it comes to the massive food insecurity and child sex trafficking. I don't know about you, but that math doesn't add up. But, as I said earlier, I'm not so good with math. ∎


1. and fl orida-lawmakers-pass-bill-legalizes-teen-genitalinspections














Awareness Ties Columnist

Brown is a winner of multiple education awards, including the U.S. Congressional Teacher of the Year Award, U.S. Henry Ford Innovator Award, Education Foundation Innovator of the Year, and Air Force Association STEM Teacher of the Year. Dr. Brown is the creator and founder of the Inspire Project and cocreator of Operation Outbreak, which was named the Reimagine Education Award for Best Hybrid Program in the world. He is also an Education Ambassador for the United Nations and an Educational Ambassador of the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
When we tap into our infinite source of courage, bravery has no choice but to follow.
Photo Credit: Gustavo Fring



Release The Genie Fact: A Genie Has Never Lost a Game of Rock, Paper Scissors.

We all know someone, or we are that someone, who have in the past uttered these Immortal Words. No, not I love you. The cringey “Hold my beer and watch this.” I have put this short phrase as an answer to the question. “What is the best title for a book that sums up your life?”

The phrase is a call for people to watch whichever jackass action comes next. This impulsive behaviour is certainly devoid of any thought of self preservation. A kinder assessment would be fool hardy, which is defined as foolishly brave.

Whilst not all acts of bravery are foolish, and ill thought out, they are actions which are taken largely in the spur of the moment. Life can be very hard to navigate, but the following quote does at least give us all some hope.

This certainly makes sense to me, and gives me some relief about certain events and acts when I look back through my life. Again the word stupidity is used, which would imply lacking of intelligence or common sense. Whilst it may be a frank assessment, it is clear to see that bravery, courage and/or stupidity are very subjective assessments and words.

You would have noticed that, in the above quote, the word courage has replaced the word brave. These words are commonly thought to be interchangeable. There are a couple of subtle differences worth noting.

These differences can be traced back to the origin of these words. The root word for bravery is the Italian word “bravo,” which means “bold” but also once meant “wild, savage.” The root word for courage, however, is “coeur”—the French word for “heart.”

This is an interesting distinction; it strikes to the essence of the motivation for the act, rather than the act itself. Acts of bravery are embarking on a real life danger with a lack of fear. It is the act of doing something without immediate concern for your own well-being. For example, rushing into a burning building to rescue someone.

It is also the response to a truth or dare situation. For example, a group of guys agreeing to do something daring such as skydiving. Everyone agrees, in that moment of bravado, that they are completely up for it. Even though, deep down, they are hoping that this is just guys talking and being macho. Timing is of key important here. If that person is still in that state of mind of no fear, then yes, that act will be carried out and would indeed by a brave act for that person.

However, if there is a delay from that initial decision of bravery, and then the commencement of the act, something different starts to happen. The person starts to think of their own safety, and sanity, of agreeing to do the act. It becomes apparent that bravery is not a constant state of mind. Time is definitely not its friend. This is where the matters of the heart comes into play and courage takes over.

“Courage is knowing it might hurt and doing it anyway. Stupidity is the same and that’s why life is hard.” - Jeremy Goldberg.

Courage involves the presence of fear, while bravery lacks it. Courage is a result of mindfulness; it is one’s decision to fight despite one’s fears. In the case of burning building, bravery is the immediate act of rushing in to save someone. Staying in the burning building to search for someone is courageous. Courage entails a cause, most commonly love, passion, compassion and/or concern.

It is worth noting here that Merriam-Webster defines brave as “having or showing courage.” Commonly, it is more appealing to describe someone as a “very brave boy"; it has a nice alliteration and flows better than "a very courageous boy.”

Therefore, being brave is to put yourself out of your comfort zone on purpose. To be courageous is to continue pushing yourself after you have left your comfort zone. Courage establishes the foundation on which we can then choose to display the bravery. Courage is a prerequisite for bravery, and then continues to expand the limitations of time for brave acts to continue.

In life, we all have long periods where we have to deal with adverse situations. We may not think of ourselves of doing anything particularly brave, but when we tap into our infinite source of courage, bravery has no choice but to follow. “Hold my beer… I am about to do something courageous,” is of deeper and more profound nature. ∎

PAUL S. ROGERS is a keynote public speaking coach, “Adversity to hope, opportunity and prosperity. “ Transformation expert, awareness Hellraiser, life coach, Trauma TBI, CPTSD mentor, train crash and cancer survivor, public speaking coach, Podcast host “Release the Genie” & Best-selling author. His journey has taken him from from corporate leader to kitesurfer to teacher on first nations reserve to today. Paul’s goal is to inspire others to find their true purpose and passion. AwareNow Podcast
“Courage is a prerequisite for bravery…”

We’ve both been cutting hair since we were 14-years-old.

Photo Credit: Phil Eich


I interviewed twin brothers, Adrain and Tard Smith, about their barbershop in Saginaw, Michigan last September. Being a twin who used to work for my brother, we had a lot to talk about: family, the pursuit of a craft, and community. On May 12th, Adrain passed away unexpectedly. Even though we had met only once, his passing filled me, as it did the entire community of Saginaw, with sadness. When I reposted this story to honor his passing, people began sending me messages to tell their own stories about Adrain. Those messages were a great reminder that our stories are more than just stories: they're one of the only things we leave behind.

“We've both been cutting hair since we were 14-years-old. We have never had another job, and we’ve been here, owning Twins Side by Side Barber Shop, for 25 years. We’re inseparable and there's nothing in life we haven't done together. We got married on the same day, we went to barber school together—the only thing we couldn’t plan out was having our kids at the same time!

When we were younger, we would get our hair cut at an underground barber shop. I can't remember the exact name, but it was the Carter brothers’ underground barber shop. They worked side by side cutting hair and we thought that was nice. We are artists and we like to draw, so we thought if we could draw, we probably could cut hair, too.

Our grandmother gave us an allowance, so, one time, we took the money and decided to go buy some clippers and give it a shot. We started by cutting each other's hair. Then family members started asking us to cut theirs, and then it grew to friends asking. We found cutting hair exciting. We got married early at age 20 and started our families, and that’s when we knew it was time for us to make more of a career out of it instead of just a hobby. We had families to support.

We enrolled in the Flint Institute of Barbering, Inc., and then we figured we had to find a place for our barbershop because we couldn't just continue to cut hair at the house like we did. We had to get a more professional location. So, we found this place, which was the ice cream parlor a long time ago and we knew the owners. We talked to them and we got it. We took our first steps, then a step after that and so on. Then we ended up as a barbershop and moved here in March of 1998.

It’s uncountable, really, how much hair we’ve cut since then. We’ve run into some interesting people and we get a huge variety of different people from everywhere. Right now, we’ve got a customer coming from Grand Rapids to get his hair cut on the regular. Along with people who live in the city, we get a lot of people doing their residencies at St. Mary's or internships at Dow Chemical or people from Consumers when they come to clean up after storms, or students during their four years in college—from Saginaw Valley State University, Central Michigan, Eastern and more. One summer, the Detroit Lions did their camp here at Saginaw Valley and some of the players came and got their hair cut here. We've been blessed.

A barber holds a lot of titles, besides just being able to cut hair. Sometimes you could be a marriage counselor, a psychiatrist, a doctor at times, a child specialist, etc. Because people ask you for all types of advice and they pretty much internalize and trust your advice. So, you wear a lot of hats. It's not just about getting your hair cut. Some people pour their heart out to you.

80 Some people look at barbers as almost like TARD & ADRAIN SMITH TWINS SIDE BY SIDE BARBER SHOP
a family member.
Photo Credit: Phil Eich

allows people to tell their own stories in their own words while shining a light on the greatest strength of our cities: our people. You can follow Storyville at AWARENOW / THE BRAVE EDITION
They taught me to decide to be uncomfortable in order to learn more about myself so that I could unconditionally trust myself.




It was 1979. Sister and I were 4 years old, holding Mom’s hands as she navigated through the bustling crowds at the Los Angeles International Airport. We haven’t seen Papa for nearly a year.

As young as I was, I still vividly remember our time living in Tehran from 1977 to 1978. The museum had gloriously colored Persian Rugs hanging from the ceiling. The street vendors were full of candies and brightly colored radishes, tomatoes, carrots, squash and herbs. My ears were ringing from the busy sounds of the city - animals, bells, and intense negotiations between sellers and buyers getting the best price in their favor.

Our couple of years living in Iran brought my family so much joy. To this day, Mom would reminisce with bright eyes, her posture being lifted with the memories. “It was the best time of our lives. I learned to speak Farsi shopping in Gisha. Vendors always smiled at us and gave us flowers.” When the Islamic Revolution forced us to suddenly leave, my parents made a courageous decision. Papa stayed back to sell our possessions. We needed that money to begin our lives in the United States. While Papa navigated ways to setup our future livelihood, Mom took Sister and I through a traveling adventure.

Close to a year went by when we united at LAX. Seeing Papa exiting the airport gate, Sister and I gasped. We didn’t recognize him. Mom warned us that we wouldn’t since he had to go into hiding by covering his Berliner features dying his facial hair black and growing out a thick beard. In our greatest time of unity and our scariest time of Papa’s absence, our experiences in Iran remains one of my most inspirational stories that keeps me rooted in humility and gratitude.


It was 1978. Since fleeing Iran, Papa still there, Mom took Sister and I to Istanbul, then Bangkok, and finally to the rural village of Legazpi City to live with our Lolo and Lola, before heading to the States. I remember cold water being pumped from the ground, the water coming out through a pipe that spilled over my head while I squatted in a wooden round tub. Lola was using a bucket to wash me. Helping my family to prepare for meals, I watched in awe as one of my Titos climb the high palm tree for coconuts. I helped shred them by sitting on a kudkuran (coconut shredder) moving back and forth, while watching Titas wrap fish in banana leaves for steaming. There was so much laughter and talking during meal times, the sounds carrying a comforting feeling that I was safe. As a child, I didn’t know that this was a life experience where my virtue of unity developed. I would grow up knowing that people belonged to one another.


Finding belonging in the States wasn’t as easy as other places we traveled to. I didn’t know it then, but I felt the sudden shift from collective societies to an individualistic one. Starting school in the States was where I learned about siloed subgroups and that belonging wasn’t automatic. There was an unspoken vetting system to who hangs out with you depending on the clothes you wear, the food you brought for lunch, and which neighborhood you lived in. The clothes I wore were either hand-sewn from Mom or hand-me-downs from a neighbor. My food consisted of liverwurst sandwiches, no one wanted to trade with me. The apartment building I lived in didn’t happen to be where cool kids lived.

As a child, I didn’t know that this was a life experience where my virtue of unity developed.
Trust is everything and the most important thing in life is to trust yourself.


Wearing either beat-up tennis shoes or old cowboy boots, Papa assigned us to tackle one big adventure each Sunday. I never liked it, at first. I would wake up those mornings knowing that I was going to feel afraid. On a particular morning, Papa drove up to the middle of the mountains, tying a rope around each of our waists so that we could stay connected to one another. He proclaimed that we would climb that mountain. And we always did. And I always felt like I shattered a personal ceiling each time.

As the ambassador for education for AwareNow, I wanted to honor my first educators, my parents. They taught me to decide to be uncomfortable in order to learn more about myself so that I could unconditionally trust myself. This remains my greatest life lesson. No classroom, grade, exam or schoolbook has ever made that kind of impact on me. ∎

To learn more about how to build trust and belonging within families, schools, and companies:


Co-Founder of The Decided

SONJA MONTIEL has served more than twenty-one years in the college admissions profession, having extensive experience in the areas of freshman, transfer, and international admissions. During her time working with thousands of teens and young adults worldwide, she began to witness many societies creating an unhealthy college-bound culture that misguides our young people in their pursuit of living a life of ful fillment. In 2021, Sonja met Hilary Bilbrey to begin something amazing. They created The DH Effect – The Decided Heart Effect with a mission to guide individuals, schools, and organizations to build high-trust relationships and belonging through self-discovery and personal accountability.

AwareNow Podcast
I think that fear is what’s driving the anti-everything legislation.
Photo Credit: Craig Adderley


I’m not saying anything new here. Reams have been written about the intersection of fear, suppression, and politics.[1] But given where I sit at the intersection of politics[2], education, and the LGBTQ+ community, I think the following is worth repeating. Also, a very quick bit of context before we get started, Botox is (now) a very common treatment for Spastic Cerebral Palsy, and it operates somewhat differently than cosmetic Botox that many would be more familiar with.[3]

When I was very little, Botox injections were my biggest fear. Now hurting the people I love is my biggest fear. Botox is painful. As a child, I imagined that the injections felt similar to what being actually stabbed with a popsicle stick would be like, and no matter how many times someone explained why they were good for me, it didn’t do anything to take away the pain of lying on that table.

When I was a child, I quite literally could not walk flat-footed. I walked on my toes.[1] At the time, my condition was bad enough that I got Botox every three to four months, and I fought going to these appointments every single time. My little child brain thought it knew that the crux of whether I needed injections was if I walked flat on my feet rather than on my toes in a walking test. I figured out that if I held onto the table while I walked, my feet would stay flat, but inevitably I’d run out of table before I ran out of walking room, and hard as I tried, inevitably, I’d start walking on my toes again, and the injections would begin.

The recent stain of anti-trans, anti-drag, anti-LGBTQ+, and anti-cultural, anti-racial justice, and anti-intellectual bills sweeping through state legislatures (hereinafter referred to as the “anti-everything bills”), puts me in mind of that little boy holding onto the table trying to keep his feet flat. I didn’t entirely understand what was happening to me, and I was afraid and an unwilling (if compliant) participant. I imagine that this is what people in these states (particularly the children) feel right now. I think about them, and my heart breaks. There’s a version of this article that was based more on the tortured metaphor that I used to lock myself in my dad’s half bathroom because it was small and it didn’t look like it had a keyhole on the outside, so I thought I was locking myself in to keep from having to go to appointments. The parallels between that bathroom and the closet are hilariously obvious. The thing is, there was always a key to the bathroom door, though, and my parents or sisters would always talk me into coming out. What’s happening to the people in these states, particularly Transgender people as well as members of the LGBTQ+ community more broadly, is much closer to throwing them back in the closet for being who they are. So, the closet metaphor falls a little flat for me. These bills aren’t protecting kids, preventing dangerous medical practices, or safeguarding education. The legislators writing these bills are trying to eradicate information and who people are as though those things aren’t just as inevitable as my weight drifting onto my toes as a child. My question then becomes, why are they doing this? Why can they not understand that these traits are immutable and that the progress made in these areas is necessary for a better world? Some of the reasons are showmanship and pandering to a base, but the way our electoral system works is a whole article unto itself. For now, I’ll focus on the internal why of how these bills have gained the traction they have in the minds of some.


Working in politics, and to a lesser extent, the law, has given me not only some insight into the minds of the people writing these pieces of legislation, but I also have some insight into what it takes to reach out a hand to someone you don’t know or disagree with. I’m sorry to keep referencing things I’ve already written, but it’s relevant, I promise. A while ago, I wrote a piece about the power of two random strangers who helped me get onto a train. [1] In very brief, I had just taken the Bar exam, and my bags were too heavy. I looked genuinely awful, and when I got up to go to the platform, I proceeded to fall over immediately. Two strangers stepped in to help me onto the train. To flip that article on its head for a second, it would have been very easy, at that moment, to see a very sweaty and shaky, painfully skinny boy in a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in a train station and assume that I was not safe to approach. But these two young men did take the time to help me, perhaps even setting aside their trepidation to do so. Knowing the kinds of people who are writing the anti-everything pieces of legislation as I do, if I had to guess, they would not have approached me that day. My appearance would have frightened them. I think that fear is what’s driving the anti-everything legislation. They see members of the LGBTQ+ community, and they hide behind aphorisms of it being a “choice” or call it unnatural, confusion, or immoral because they fear something they fundamentally do not understand. They see Black, Brown, Indigenous, and other People Of Color beginning to get the equality they should have always had, and they fear what that means for their place in society. They see the spreading of knowledge about these subjects in things like books, teaching Critical Race Theory, or children being openly who they are, and again, their reaction is fear.

To be clear, it takes a certain level of privilege to be able to assume that every unknown situation is one that you can navigate safely, and that is a level of privilege that many do not have. I am not suggesting that we all dive head- first into uncertain situations. Nor do I want it to seem as though the anti-everything bills aren’t anything but reprehensible and that those in power should not be held to account for supporting them. But maybe this perspective will make it easier for those that wish to have a dialogue with those that think this way easier.

We all overcome some small amount of fear every day. It takes courage to speak up, to introduce yourself to someone, to admit that you are wrong, or to live as who you really are. When we overcome fear, whether in whole or in part, we do so in one of two ways: by understanding the thing itself so that we know why it does what it does or how it works. We then know how to operate around whatever that thing is and in that understanding, fear it less. The other way we overcome fear is by understanding something within ourselves. We come to understand what we need to do to get through whatever it is we’re afraid of, whether that is simply riding it out, talking to someone, setting up coping strategies, etc. I know what I’m about to say is dripping with optimism, but also, it is the system in which we have to operate. We can either educate these legislators by voting them out of office (gerrymandering and practicality aside for the moment), or we do it by talking to them to make them understand what they fear.

“They see the spreading of knowledge about these subjects in things like books, teaching Critical Race Theory, or children being openly who they are, and again, their reaction is fear.” AWARENOW / THE BRAVE EDITION

I mentioned at the beginning of this article that it didn’t matter how many times someone explained to me why I needed Botox; it didn’t take the pain away, and it didn’t. But eventually, being taught over and over again why they were important did make me less afraid of them. I also learned how to handle the pain better, and once I had that measure of control, that helped too. Eventually, I stopped hiding in the bathroom. Eventually, I stopped trying to hide the fact that I walked on my toes because I understood that this was something about myself that I could not change. Maybe someday, the world will learn to stop fearing what others cannot change about themselves too.

Coming out is a terrifying and sometimes even unsafe process. Likewise, loving someone out loud and openly is a leap of faith that is also terrifying and, in some cases, unfortunately, unsafe. This world does not need more fear. It needs more people willing to hold your hand as you walk out of tiny bathrooms to participate in the terrifying act that is love.[1]

Call your local legislators and happy Pride.

Special thanks to my sisters Hannah and Linden and my friends Ryan and Mark for helping me get this onto paper. ∎


[1] This isn’t an article in reference to the anti-everything bills, but it does provide something of a summary of politics and fear in recent years.

[2] Necessary disclaimer, to the extent that I am discussing public policy, my views are my own. I wrote this on my own time, and the opinions expressed here do not reflect the official position of the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

[3] By way of a very quick non-medical explanation, the dosage in “medical” Botox is higher, the needle is somewhat larger, and the placement is more deliberate

[4] The surgery I referenced here addressed that issue.



JOEL CARTNER is a lawyer and public policy professional with Cerebral Palsy Spastic Diplegia and Retinopathy of Prematurity. Cartner has a background in public health, disability, and education law and policy. He received his J.D. from Quinnipiac University School of Law and his B.A. in Political Science from the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Cartner currently lives in Washington D.C. where he works as Director of Access Policy for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. In this role he works to ensure greater access to therapies, devices, insurance, and specialists for those with neuromuscular diseases by conceiving of and enacting public policy efforts.

I love art. I love what it does for people. I love what it’s done for me.



Abbigail Wade, has a genetic condition called Dystonia Type 11. What started as a small tremor in Abby's hand when she was 3 years old, took 7 years of testing, MRIs, EEGs and bloodwork to get a diagnosis. Dystonia Type 11 is a progressive condition that causes Abby's muscles to cramp along with twitching and jerking. Only 20 years old, she has difficulty walking and must rest often no matter the activity. Having been through so much trauma in her life, living every day in pain, Abby continued to search for a solution and found it. Deep down, hope was not lost, it was found with Deep Brain Stimulation. She bravely chose brain surgery in hopes for a new beginning.

LAURA: Abbi, who are you? Not just your name, but who are you? And where do you live?

ABBIGAIL: My name's Abbigail Wade. I currently live in Alabama. My birthday will be in October, so I'll be 21 soon. Right now, I’m just healing up from the surgery scars on my head. That's why I got my funny hat on… And I love art. I love what it does for people. I love what it's done for me, personally. I like what you guys do. It really makes me happy.


LAURA: That's great, Abbi. We so appreciate you joining us today in this opportunity to share and help you bring awareness to what dystonia type 11 is and how it's impacted your life. We met at the Sonic Music Festival in Columbus, Ohio a couple of weeks ago. Your joyful energy… it was just so easy to fall in love with your energy and what you're about. We’re excited to support you in your long-term recovery process. You found Artists for Trauma at the music festival. How did you find our booth? And why did you feel compelled to come visit us?

ABBIGAIL: When I'm at concerts, I always walk around to all the booths, and I love to see what people have to bring. Because it's not just a music festival, it's an art and music festival. So I get to go and experience what other people have to bring to the table. I was walking past your booth, and just something inside me told me to come and talk to you guys. I don't know what it was. It just was something deep down, and I said, "I got to tell them about my story." And so that's how it all started.

LAURA: Well, we’re so glad that you did. We all embraced you. We thank you for coming over and introducing yourself. We know that trauma looks and feels different for everyone. For you, Abbigail, trauma took the form of this genetic condition called dystonia type 11, which you're growing awareness for by sharing your own personal experience. For those unfamiliar, please share what living with this condition has been like for you.

ABBIGAIL: It didn't start out as bad as it is now. It's a progressive disorder. I was born with it, and I was diagnosed when I was around eight years old. After that, I had problems writing, problems walking, problems with balance, and motor control, and playing games or holding a fork even. It has progressed to the point where I cannot write anymore, and walking gets extremely tiring. It's very rare. It's one in a million. So I think I'm kind of, in a sense, blessed… because I was that one in a million. It just makes me special, I guess.

LAURA: I've appreciated your positive attitude. To me, that's very important. What it's about is the power of positivity and leaving yourself open to the possibilities of a quality recovery. It takes faith to believe in miracles and bravery to make them happen. Abbi, you manifested this. Deep brain stimulation is a procedure that you bravely chose with the brain surgery you underwent a week ago. What gave you the strength and courage to move forward with this particular procedure?


ABBIGAIL: What gave me the strength is that they do a lot of this with Parkinson's patients, and they see tons of improvement. I'm not diagnosed with Parkinson's, but I have a condition that's really similar. When somebody's asking me what I have, I say it's like Parkinson's disease, because it is. They see so much improvement, and I got to the point in my life where it was really getting hard for me to get around from point A to point B. Not being able to write anymore bothers me, and I just decided to go ahead, buckle down, and do the scary part… to go ahead and get the brain surgery.

LAURA: I think it helps the layman and for people who don't know, to better understand that the symptoms are very similar to Parkinson's disease. You're also shared with me that this is a multiple-phase surgical process that you're in.

ABBIGAIL: Yes. I just got this first part done Friday, June 2nd. I will undergo the second part, where they attach the wires to batteries that they put under my skin. When they turn it on, it'll send electro pulse waves into my brain and stop my brain from creating those signals that causes me to shake. And so I'll get that done on July 17th at Cincinnati Children's Hospital.

LAURA: I remember when you were explaining it to me at the Artists for Trauma Booth, and I thought it was very smart. You were comparing it to a pacemaker that many people get in their heart. And so if I'm understanding this correctly, this is sort of like a ‘brain pacemaker’, and it helps improve your neurocircuitry. Would you say something like that?

ABBIGAIL: Yeah. It basically is a pacemaker, but for the brain.

LAURA: Abbi, we are so grateful that you appear to be improving so quickly. Yet you did have a scare. There was a hiccup. You had to go to the emergency room. Was that scary for you?

ABBIGAIL: I was kind of scared and nervous, but I didn't know what was wrong with me. I didn't want to worry before there was anything to worry about. So, I just let the doctors do their job, and they ended up diagnosing me with two pulmonary embolisms in my lungs. They're not humongous, but they're also not tiny, either. So I'm on blood thinners right now for that.

LAURA: Well, to me, it was another test of your bravery, and you went deep within yourself. You didn't panic. You stayed focused. You trusted the process. You took right action, and you went to the emergency room, which is really where you needed to be. That was very smart. I'm super grateful that you stabilized, and you've just decided to get back up on that proverbial horse and say, "Let's go.”

ABBIGAIL: I want people with chronic illnesses of any kind or any trauma, if they feel like something's wrong... If you get a gut feeling, and if you feel like something's wrong, you need to go to the hospital. A lot of people make the mistake of going too late, and so I just want people to know that if you don't feel good, that you need to go and get medical attention.

“Not being able to write anymore bothers me, and I just decided to go ahead, buckle down, and do the scary part… to go ahead and get the brain surgery.”


I decided to buckle down, do the scary part and get the brain surgery.

“My wings were always closed up. And one day, I just spread them.”

LAURA: That is such great advice, Abbi. When it comes to trauma, art and music can heal. We know that personally. We've seen it in other people. As we shared, we had met at the intersection of art and music at Sonic Temple Festival in Columbus, Ohio with the Danny Wimmer Presents team. They are Artists for Trauma's music festival partner, and you met some of our team members during that time. You met Haley Wimmer. You met several of our volunteer young ladies, boots on the ground, and our live painter, our team member, Eddie Donaldson… Then, you made other friends at the booth there that day, as well. I'm so thankful for that connection we made and the conversations that we've shared. Let's talk more about your art. Tell us about your art, Abbi.

ABBIGAIL: I decided that I'm going to do this project. Before I do the second part of my brain surgery, I'm going to paint a picture with my shaky hands, and then, after they program my pacemaker for my brain, I'm going to paint the exact same picture. I want to see the difference between how bad I shake.

I also do resin pieces. I make tons of jewelry with homemade charms out of polymer clay in the oven. I mean, I have so many different ways of healing.

LAURA: I love that. I just love the way you think, Abbi. I love your joyful heart and your smart brain. I think that's really smart to actually paint something now with your condition, with your shaky hands, as you said, and then use that same painting and watch the progress over time. That's really smart.

You have additional ways that you express with art. You shared with us your beautiful first tattoo -- your marigolds. Would you mind sharing with us what that means to you?

ABBIGAIL: I got my first tattoo, I think in January of 2021. I got it for my grandmother, who had passed away in 2013. She was the light of my life. She was born in October, and she died in October. October's flower is a marigold, and I thought that would be the best way to honor her. Because she is the one who got me into art. She gave me the courage to do art and not be ashamed of it or be afraid of what other people think. So I just… I needed to find some kind of way to honor her.

LAURA: And you have, Abbi. I mean, that is such a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing that and for sharing your grandmother with us and what the marigolds mean. I know that you held those marigolds and your grandmother in your heart and soul as you went into the surgery, and I know that she is with you now and always.

For those who have strength deep down but have trouble bringing it to the surface, what advice might you have for them, Abbi, as they're going through something really significant and serious – an illness, surgery, or trauma? What are your thoughts?

ABBIGAIL: For a long time, I didn't have the courage, and I didn't have the strength. I felt kind of in a shell and sometimes would feel ashamed for having a disability and being the way that I am. One day for me, it was just one day… I woke up, and I said, "Why do I pretend to be somebody I'm not?" These people around me that I don't know… It's not fair. I can't be me. I can't spread my wings. My wings were always closed up. And one day, I just spread them. You've got to stop worrying about the other people's opinions.


Exclusive Interview with Abbigail Wade

LAURA: Speaking for myself, I know that I've had to learn that in my own life. I think that that's great insight from you, Abbi, regarding yourself and regarding other people. I just think you're an amazing leader in your own life and for your generation. I would agree with that… People shouldn’t focus on what other people think about them, but what they think about themselves. That is the most important. You have to love yourself. You have to believe in yourself. There's no right or wrong answers, but just the willingness to go deep in your own self. That was really wonderful advice, Abbigail.

We just want you to know how much we enjoy you, love you, embrace you, and support you. You're not only a new friend. You are now a part of our family, the Artists for Trauma family, and we look forward to supporting you as your recovery evolves over time and to see you at the next music festival by Danny Wimmer Presents in Louisville, Kentucky for the Bourbon & Beyond and Louder Than Life.

ABBIGAIL: I really feel like I found my second family here, and I've made so many friends along the way. It is amazing to finally find the people that get you.

LAURA: We get you, and we're so grateful you get us.

Follow Abbigail on Instagram (@abbigail_.wade).

Trauma Survivor & Artist

LAURA SHARPE contributes to AwareNow with her exclusive column, ‘Fellow Travelers’. Trauma, tragedy and miracle are all part of the life process. They do not discriminate nor are they fairly distributed. Simultaneously they occur across all diverse cultures, countries, colors, ethnicities, genders, religious beliefs, and dimensions of time and thought on planet Earth. In this process of life, birth and re-birth; decay and destruction are integral to creating new life. As fellow travelers, we are mindful, compassionate, and intentional through our attitude and actions to one another. We share our authentic personal story of survival or service to offer relatability, respect and hope to others who are navigating intense physical, mental and emotional life impact. Uncomfortably or joyfully, we share the range of human emotions related to our personal trauma or miracle. In the end or the new beginning, we learn we are all fellow travelers.

AwareNow Podcast DEEP DOWN

You have to be lost before you




Theresa Cheung, dream expert and best-selling author shares, “Your dreams are the language of your soul.” In this AwareNow Magazine exclusive column, ‘The Stuff of Dreams’, every month Theresa decodes a dream submitted by one of our readers.


This was a dream where I felt every moment. Each one was uncomfortable. In the first moment, I was in deep water where I could not touch the bottom and I could not see the land. I was treading in dark blue and green frigid water. Then I looked up to see a mirror. The reflection wasn’t mine. I wasn’t anyone I’ve known. And yet the reflection seemed to know me entirely. In this last moment of my dream, I felt very foreign in my own body, staring at a reflection that wasn’t mine.

What’s does this mean?


Dear Caitlyn,

What an epic dream! When you actually feel things happening in your dream this is one of the highest forms of dreaming when parts of your brain remain super active. It brings you close to the holy grail of dreaming - lucid dreaming which is knowing you are dreaming when you are dreaming (as showcased in the movie Inception).

The reason this intensely felt dream matters is that it is a sign the symbolism in it is really in fluencing and imprinting itself deeply on your unconscious and what your unconscious experiences or beliefs impact what you attract in your waking life. Your unconscious beliefs are what you tend to manifest into reality. In other words, this dream runs very deep for you with an important message for your personal growth as underlined by the symbolism of deep water.

Let’s unlock that symbolism. Water in dreams is a symbol of emotions and the potential for renewal and rebirth. It is showing you in an honest way how you are dealing with your emotions right now and in this dream you are in very deep. You are overwhelmed and confused and don’t feel emotionally grounded and have perhaps lost sight of the reason why as you can’t see the land (the goal) ahead.

The water is nature themed blue and green - colours of harmony, abundance and peace - showing that good things and inner calm are possible for you but you have to trust and let go of fear (the frigid water) which is limiting your momentum and personal growth.


“Dreams, like great poetry and art, yield more and more insight every time you reflect on them.”

How to do that? Your dream offers a clue with the potent symbol of the mirror. You see a reflection of yourself that isn’t yours. This is all about the power of self reflection in your life right now. Your dream urgently wants you to think deeply about your personal identity. You are perhaps going through a challenging time that requires you to con firm the expectations or beliefs of others. This is good news for those around you (the mirror recognises you) but in the long term isn’t going to be positive for you.

This dream is urging you to look within and discover what matters to you independent of the expectations of others and the material as you may be in danger of becoming a reed blown in the window if you continue in this way. It’s all about identity issues but don’t let that demotivate you. You have to be lost before you find yourself. That is how we learn and grow and discover who we are and the meaning of our lives.

Please let this epic dream be a catalyst for your creative and personal and spiritual rebirth. Finding out who you are, what you truly believe and what really matters to you has never mattered more. The frigid water needs to flow so you can be reborn. The reflection you see of yourself should be authentically you. Live your life with a spirit of adventure and experimentation. Follow your heart. Learn and evolve from your mistakes and let your creativity flow. Above all trust your own heart and intuition now and don’t be swayed by others.

Your dream is calling your name here. Keep returning to it to reflect and brainstorm some more as dreams, like great poetry and art, yield more and more insight every time you reflect on them.

And whenever you reflect on this epic dream, make these wise words of Gandalf your mantra to guide you. ‘All who wander are not lost.’ And this awesome statement is your inspiration: ‘No one is you and that is your superpower.’ ∎

Have a dream you’d like decoded?

← Scan, tap or click the code to submit your dream to AwareNow. If selected, it will be published in AwareNow Magazine with Theresa’s analysis.

THERESA CHEUNG is a best-selling author and dream decoding expert who has been researching and writing about spirituality, astrology, dreams, and the paranormal for the past twenty-five years. With a Master's degree from King's College Cambridge University in Theology and English, and several international best-selling books, including two Sunday Times "top 10 bestsellers", Theresa has over 40 published books and cards on topics of the science of cognition to intuition. Her Dream Dictionary from A to Z (Harper Collins) regularly sits at number 1 on its category's Amazon list, and is regarded as a classic in its field.

the love that makes the brave face the pain.

Photo Credit: Jack McGuire


Sometimes the facade fades away The frame always remains

While the paint can hide

It’s the love That makes the brave Face the pain

JACK McGUIRE got his start in the Navy before his acting and modeling career. Jack then got into hospitality, focusing on excellence in service and efficiency in operations and management. After establishing himself with years of experience in the F&B industry, he sought to establish something different… something that would allow him to serve others in a greater way. With his wife, Allié, Awareness Ties and AwareNow Media were born.
Photo Credit: Jack McGuire


For some, the threat of maltreatment, violence, or death was more real at home than it was in a combat zone.


Lani Hankins, a woman of remarkable accomplishments, embodies the roles of a veteran, artist, writer, author, and podcaster. Lani served in the United States Army for six years as an Automated Logistical Specialist and deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom from 2012 to 2013. She has a Master's in Business and Communication with an interdisciplinary concentration in transnational and cross-cultural communication from Bellevue University in Nebraska. Lani's artistic expressions and literary works serve as powerful vehicles for raising awareness on sensitive subjects such as domestic violence, military sexual trauma, veteran suicide, and mental health. Through her artistry and eloquent words, she sheds light on these challenging topics, initiating meaningful conversations and fostering understanding in society.

LORI: What struggles did you face as a female in the military?

LANI: Early on it was clear that the military was different for females. During Basic Combat Training, I watched as the failures of individual males became a reflection of their own inabilities, while the single failure of an individual female represented every woman there. Upon arriving at my first duty station, I was ranked by the males on staff duty responsible for picking up new soldiers based on how “easy” they believed I would be to sleep with and then my room number was given to incoming males. On deployment, as the men prepared for our final flight to the FOB, the women were called aside to receive rape whistles—the disappointing reminder that some enemies exist within the wire.

As a woman, my focus was on being accepted by the men. I wanted to feel like I belonged and I needed to prove I deserved to wear the uniform as much as anyone else. In trying to not stand out or draw unwanted attention to myself by hanging around those that were considered “drama”, I forfeited my opportunity to build bonds with other women. My sacrifice of having female friends earned me a place amongst many of the men, but I would pay for that acceptance. For the remaining years at my unit, I would be considered a rival and outsider to many of my female peers and my fight to belong would lead me down a long road of harassment, sabotage, and mental breakdown.

LORI: One common thought is that military service members can only suffer from wounds related to war; what experiences can you speak to that counter that narrative?

LANI: When I left the service, all the pain and difficult emotions that I had pushed down finally broke through the surface. I struggled with depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress, and when I would attempt to reach out for help, I was often ignored or treated as though I was making it all up due to the common belief that women don’t see much in the military. This is why one of the main topics I have focused on since leaving the Army has been combating the myth that veterans and service members can only struggle from what they did or what they saw in a combat zone.

enemies exist within the wire.
Original Artwork: Lani Hannkins


LANI: (continued) As a soldier/veteran that faced military sexual trauma, harassment, and domestic violence, I needed people, both veterans and civilians alike, to understand the brutality, suffering, and struggles that could take place stateside. For some, the threat of maltreatment, violence, or death was more real at home than it was in a combat zone.

Every day we lose service members and veterans to suicide. Many of which never stepped foot in a combat zone, or witnessed actual combat while in theatre. What people need to realize is that being in the military does not cause you to be exempt or protected from things like domestic violence, sexual assault, accidents, abuse, etc. At the end of the day, service members and veterans are human. We hurt, we bleed, and we can struggle like anyone else.

LORI: How have you found healing after your traumatic military experiences?

LANI: Healing came in many forms. I began by journaling to have a place to purge all that I had remained silent about while I still wore the uniform. From there, the writing was shared as a blog and eventually converted for podcasting. Blogging and podcasting was an attempt to throw a lifeline out into the world and see who grabbed hold. As much as I wanted other veterans to know that they were not alone in their suffering, I needed to know as well.

Art and poetry have offered me an outlet for expressing deeply embedded emotions and pain. Both have been part of the bridge that helped me connect with other service members, family, and civilians. The paintbrush is what I turn to when I cannot find the words and writing is what I do when I need a release from all the noise inside my head.

LORI: You've written and published four books so far; can you tell me why you chose to label your fourth book “Bunny?”

LANI: I decided to label my fourth book “Bunny” because the name represents a certain view many people have of women. As a soldier, I heard the name “Barrack Bunny” thrown around as a reference to promiscuous female soldiers. Then of course, as a young woman growing up on the coast of California who frequented the beach to surf, I would hear “Beach Bunny,” which was slang for women that would hook up with male surfers. Throughout my adult life, “bunny” has been used to objectify women or stereotype our appearance or sexual behavior in some way.

After many years of giving demoralizing and derogatory words free rent inside my head, I eventually understood that it did not matter how hard I worked, or how much I tried to prove that I was not some stereotype. The labels and the people that give them would always exist. By placing “Bunny” on the front my book, I was challenging readers to not just accept something at face value, but to dig deeper; to read all that existed beneath the cover. After all those years of not being allowed to simply catch some waves or serve in the military without my presence, abilities, character, or worth, being called into question, “Bunny” was my way of telling the world that, regardless of what anyone believes, I belong and my story matters.

LORI: Speaking of labels, what advice would you give to other women struggling with labels of their own?

LANI: We are so much more than the labels we are given. It took me a long time to figure out, but I eventually looked at all that I had accomplished and all that I had survived and how much of that took place outside of people’s knowledge or presence. How many of the people that label us have been around for the ride? For myself, not many. The labels I was given were either judgments made after only a slight glimpse into my life or a snapshot of my existence, or because some hurt person decided they needed to tear someone else down to feel better about themselves momentarily.

“We are so much more than the labels we are AWARENOW / THE BRAVE EDITION

LORI: It took a lot of courage to speak up and be so transparent and vulnerable through your writing; what do you hope your words accomplish now or in the future?

LANI: There was a time when it felt like every few months someone I had served with was committing suicide and it made me feel helpless. When one of my close buddies from the Army ended his life, I began questioning whether I had done enough. As I witnessed more of my buddies (mostly men) suffering in silence, I felt the one thing I could do was be open and be vulnerable on their behalf. One of the differences I had learned between males and females in the military was that women were ALWAYS expected to complain. It was the one stereotype I was willing to ful fill so that I could help others.

With that, I hoped that my words would draw attention to crucial veteran-related issues and bridge the communication gap that seemed to be constantly growing between service members and civilians. It was also important for me to tell others that they were not alone after many years of believing I had no one to turn to. It was at my loneliest that I came closest to giving up, so it was vital to me that others never reached that low point. I knew going into it that I would not be able to save everyone, but convincing one person to stay was one person saved. If we all aimed to help at least one other person, imagine all the souls that might choose to stay.

Lastly, I hoped by speaking up my story would help end the stigma tied to mental health and dispel certain myths about post-traumatic stress and women that serve in the military. There was no one to tell me what life in the military would be like, or even anyone that could help me understand that the pain I felt was valid. Out of all the PowerPoints I sat through, not one helped me understand that I was showing signs of PTSD or that military sexual trauma would come back to haunt me years after the fact. I may not be a doctor or a licensed therapist, but I believe each of our experiences can be a page in someone else’s survival guide. ∎

Follow Lani on Instagram (@kruse_corner & @sisu4life).


LORI BUTIERRIES is a full-time caregiver to two children with special needs, one child being terminally ill and physically disabled. Lori uses her life experiences and the medical knowledge she gained while serving as a Hospital Corpsman in the United States Navy to help others facing similar hardships. Lori focuses primarily on advocating for and educating others about the special needs, mental health, and veterans communities. Her long-term goal is to reduce the stigma associated with disability by talking about it with people of all ages, thus minimizing the fear and the mystery attributed to the unknown in this regard. AWARENOW / THE BRAVE EDITION
“I may not be a doctor or a licensed therapist, but I believe each of our experiences can be a page in someone else’s survival guide.”


Were my boots too loose?

My uniform too tight?

The bun on my head must have been too low, or the sling on my weapon must have caused my chest to show. My pant leg must have been untucked, or maybe I had removed my cap. Had my bangs come unpinned?

Was it because there wasn’t a PT belt across my lap?

Could it have been the makeup?

No way the pattern was too daring.

Did it even have anything to do with what I was wearing?

It shouldn’t, it couldn’t, but that always gets mentioned. Even when your outfits were matching we must still face such a question.

I wanted to be the person that I couldn’t see as a kid.



In this episode, Aalia is joined by Bryan Ruby, an openly gay professional baseball player and country music artist. Bryan shares his experiences and insights on the importance of representation and inclusion in sports and entertainment, as well as how storytelling and music can play a role in promoting social acceptance and empathy. He also shares the purpose behind his non-profit organization, Proud To Be In Baseball, which supports and encourages

Producer, Award-Winning Writer & Host

AALIA LANIUS is an International Multiple-Award Winning Novelist, Executive Producer, Publisher and host of the award-nominated globally top-rated social good show, UNSUGARCOATED with Aalia. As founder of UNSUGARCOATED Media, a 501(c)(3) media enterprise, Lanius is creating social impact through storytelling while building community, providing education, and ending isolation for trauma survivors. Aalia's role extends to leadership as a creative, and she is considered a thought-leader in approaches to media, believing that artists are pioneers of the human mind with great potential and responsibility to positively in fluence society through proper representation and accountability.
Stay connected with Aalia Lanius on IG: @aalia_unsugarcoated And follow Bryan Ruby: @bryanrubyofficial CLICK, TAP OR SCAN TO WATCH NOW AWARENOW / THE BRAVE EDITION
For me, I write for the same reason I dance. It’s an escape.



An artistic director and founder of a body-neutral professional dance company, a deaf ballerina, a chronic illness advocate, and homeschooling mother of 2 daughters, Bailey Anne Vincent is an invisible illness insurgent living with a progressive disease (a variant of Cystic Fibrosis). And yet, even with 5 robot parts, over 5 internal organs removed, and an ever evolving cycle of infections, treatments and interventions, she catches her breath and carries on.

ALLIÉ: You dance despite a body that seems to not want to help or fix itself, you dance. Bailey, for those unfamiliar with your story, please tell us about your condition.

BAILEY: I have a rogue version of cystic fibrosis. It's like being a mutant within a world of mutants in the most beautiful and complicated way. And so, it impacts almost everything. For me, in particular it impacts most of my internal organs -- my pancreas, my liver, my colon, intestines and stomach and all of that. It's impacted my heart, it's impacted my sinus, my lungs. And it's also impacted my skeletal system, which a lot of people don't associate with cystic fibrosis will think of it as a lung disease. And so, in my case it's really impacted, as of late, my spine and my hips and the health of my bones. And then it's also impacted my hearing. I am among a small subset, but very real existing

We all wear our own masks, I think.

ALLIÉ: A lot going on. And yet with everything that's going on, I'm sure you hear, "You're a dancer, you look amazing. It can't be all that bad." How many times have you heard this, Bailey, and what is your go-to response to that?

BAILEY: I definitely have heard either that I don't look sick, which is a catchphrase of people, which we often think is complimentary and people are trying to be kind. Or I've even heard that I don't look deaf, which of course the question is, "Well, what does deaf look like?" But I most definitely am met, even by my own doctors, who if I'm meeting a new doctor for the first time and they look at my chart and they see what my insides are made of, they have an idea of what my outsides should be made of, and so then are surprised when they find that I am a professional dancer. But I think it definitely goes back to that old adage that you never know what's going on inside of somebody. What we see on the outside, whether we think someone's mental health is amazing or we think they're feeling great that day, we all wear our own masks, I think.

And when we see someone who's dancing on stage and we think that they look really strong or really healthy, which I often will hear, which is very kind of someone to say. I do definitely enjoy people's kindnesses, but I think sometimes we will project what we hope to see. If someone doesn't want to know that you're suffering, they will see a strength in you that they hope is there. Or if they're suffering with illness, then they'll project something onto you because they want to be able to see the strength in someone else that they're searching for, I guess. Not to call myself strong, but often I think that just what we see on the outside doesn't always match what we see on the inside, as kind as we all are trying to be to each other.

ALLIÉ: Absolutely. Yes, that's one of the things with invisible disabilities. Things aren't always what they appear to be. Let's talk more about dancing. For you, it wasn't enough to be this fabulous professional dancer. You needed your own fabulous professional dance company, so you founded Company 360, a body neutral professional dance company using the power of art to tell stories in effect change. I want to pause here a moment for those unfamiliar with ‘body neutral’. Please explain what that means and why it's an important part of your company.

BAILEY: I think that we might be familiar at this time with the term body positive, which is so very needed and is, of course, the movement of us not all trying to fit into one size pair of pants to feel valid and accepted in the world. And there is so much sizeism, in particular in dance to an extreme. Most of us, when we think of a ballerina, the first thing that pops in our mind is a very specific body or a very specific image.

And so, with body neutrality, we're trying to take the body positive concept and create a body positive dance company, which unfortunately there are very few of those in the world. But then also be able to meet our bodies where they are that day. If someone who is struggling with how their jeans fit that morning when they went to work and then they're coming to dance with us, we're not expecting everybody to feel amazing about the skeletons we were born into and couldn't choose, but that we're going to try to take those skeletons and create things that hopefully will move an audience, because I really do believe that it's not our size, it's not our body that moves an audience. It's how we move our body that moves an audience.

ALLIÉ: More about your company now, Bailey. Each year, Company 360 presents two original full length narrative dance works. Let’s talk specifically about your most recent Across. If you would please accept the scene, set the stage. Please describe the story that comes to life through dance on your stage.

“What we see on the outside doesn’t always match what we see on the inside.”
That’s how I cathartically express it. I put it down into words.

BAILEY: With Across, we took the concept that was like the original Romeo and Juliet. And then we rethought it and retooled it and imagined it in this dystopian, post-apocalyptic world where two cultures are divided by a wall, and of course two star-crossed loves fall in love despite this wall. And we actually, in the live version, have made the wall made up of dancers. It's a living wall. It's as if these dancers are drafted, these performers are drafted into this wall and have to serve dividing these two cultures. We'll create these original shows and have a live performance, then we'll create a cinematic dance film of it so that if someone can't come to the live performance, perhaps the theater is not accessible to them due to their health, they might be stuck in the hospital or they can't travel or they can't afford theater tickets, then they can watch this dance film and feel like they're literally part of the show, because our videographers are on stage and in the dances with us, so it makes it an immersive experience and hopefully more accessible experience.

I also write a novel that goes along with each show. The stories have multiple modalities that someone, depending on how art would speak to them the most or how they would find art the most accessible, they can pick their modality to enter that story. And all of our stories, at least the onstage versions, are languageless versions in the sense that we use our bodies, our body language, our facial expression and dance to tell the stories, which means that someone with any element of... No matter their neurodivergency, whether they're deaf like I am, or even if they just speak a different language and are new to where we live, anyone can access these stories because we all understand facial expression, body language, we all understand and connect to dance and music. That, ultimately, is not just the goal of Across, but all of our original stories.

ALLIÉ: I love that. I love it, and I'm a word nerd. While it has no words, I love it. Speaking of words, in addition to being a dancer, you are a writer. From the books you've authored, the social media posts you craft, for which even your image descriptions are so eloquently written, your writing is saturated with depth. It's steeped in so much detail that artistically articulates aspects of your life. My question for you, Bailey, is why do you write? Is it a way to heal yourself or is it a way to heal others? What's your 'why' behind your writing?

BAILEY: Well, I can tell you're a writer from how all of these questions are so beautifully crafted yourself, and thank you so much. I write for the same reason that I dance. It's an escape. And so, for me it's a way of processing feelings. Much like you're a word nerd, I also see you and feel you with that. And I think that it's almost like whenever there's a certain pain that hits my body, depending on whatever the surgery or the infection or the thing that's going on, or even just the pain of a certain emotion or a situation, that's how I cathartically express it. I put it down into words.

If I'm angry about something, I will write a very hopefully Michelle Obama style elegant letter about that anger. Or if I'm feeling an emotional, I'll try to write that down, and that applies to the stage where I think it allows me to... When I'm on stage or when I'm writing for that brief moment, I'm not in my body, so I'm allowed to be someone else, maybe someone who doesn't have pain or someone who finds the right words. Because in-person, I often might struggle to find the perfect thing to say or be overcome with emotion. But when we write out our feelings, we can almost tell ourselves the way that we hope to think and then trick ourselves into believing it. If I'm feeling very pessimistic about, say, a medical situation, I work through it with writing. It’s like a way of helping myself feel the things that I wish I was strong enough to feel to begin with.

“It’s like a way of helping myself feel the things that I wish I was strong enough to feel to begin with.”
Finding the overlap where pain and passion can create purpose, that’s the way I think to try to get through this life.


Exclusive Interview w/Bailey Vincent

ALLIÉ: That makes so much sense. And that's a beautiful 'why'. One more question for you today, Bailey. For those who struggle catching their breath with the condition that they have or with the circumstance they find themselves in, what advice do you have for carrying on?

BAILEY: I think we all have to find the thing that makes the inevitable pain in life regardless of the circumstance, because it's inevitable. None of us are getting off this planet without being scorched multiple times. I think we have to find the thing that pushes us and that essentially, it sounds cliche, but not to say gets us out of bed, because when I think of someone like Frida Callow, some of her most beautiful work was created when she was in bed, going through endless traumas and surgeries and that's when she painted. But she didn't paint for her partner, Diego. She didn't paint because that's what she was being told to do. That's just the thing that made her open her eyelids every morning, so to speak. And I really do feel that when we tell people that it's mind over matter or to pull yourself up by your bootstraps, I don't think that that is enough.

If I could ‘mind over matter’, I would be fine right now. I would be healed. I would have no pain. I would be dancing with much more ease than I am. But for me, whether it's disappearing into a character or disappearing into a piece of writing or creating a dance, because that's my distraction of the day, finding the thing that for a brief moment makes the pain worth it, I think is the only way really to get through, because the pain is going to happen whether we want it to or not. It's not that we can avoid the pain, it's choosing our pain, picking the pain that feels worth it, picking the times that pushing ourselves, even if it causes pain, makes it feel worth it, and then the times when it doesn't and we need to rest and listen to our bodies.

I guess to me, pain and passion, there's always going to be an overlap, whether it's in our minds expressing something, being difficult or whether it's in our bodies because executing something is dif ficult. Finding the overlap where pain and passion can create purpose, that's the way I think to try to get through this life. ∎

AwareNow Podcast
TAP/SCAN TO LISTEN 123 Follow Bailey on Instagram (@catchingbreaths) and visit Company 360 online ( AWARENOW / THE BRAVE EDITION
I’m the one that people look up to now.


Zunaira Waheed is a sixteen year old author and motivational speaker from Oman that has won several awards for her work including a Global Youth Award 2022 in the Educational Leadership category. Her first published book “That Night” has been appreciated by many electronic and print media platforms, well-renowned authors and prestigious government officials, including Ambassador to Pakistan in Oman.

TANITH: Zunaira, it’s evident from your many published works that you love to write, where does the passion come from?

ZUNAIRA: I think every writer is a reader, that’s where they start off. I started reading at a young age. The first book I read was about adventure and fantasy and from there on, I kept reading a bunch of fantasy series. I've read the Harry Potter series, which was one of the books that made me want to be a writer. JK Rowling creates this amazing world of different characters who make the story more special and you can relate to them. It’s a huge thing to be able to do that.

To write something and then have people all over the world read it and fall in love with that, I think it's a pretty cool thing that writers can just transport you into an entirely different world. So I was interested in doing that myself. CLICK, TAP OR SCAN TO WATCH NOW
When you grow up reading, you’re admiring all these authors and how they spoke to you in a way.

TANITH: You published your first book ‘That Night” at the age of fourteen, tell us what the book is about?

ZUNAIRA: ‘That Night’ is a mystery book about a teenage girl. She runs away from home when she sees something interesting one night. It's so bizarre that she has no idea what to do as It's something she never imagined possible. Now she's far from home, she gets a fake ID and she's this entirely new different person. She's keeping to herself, not letting people get to know her. So she's under the radar, because she's still on the run from someone that she saw that night. Of course, it would be boring story if the man didn’t show up again, so she feels him following her. Throughout the story I wanted to write about how the character struggled in life but stayed strong. I think we all go through difficult situations and we've all managed to come out stronger and better people. I wanted to show that in a more interesting way.

TANITH: How did you end up publishing your book and how did it feel to see it available on Amazon for the first time?

ZUNAIRA: I started writing without intention of publishing it. After I finished my parents were pretty impressed and decided to enter it into a competition. They told me to look out for opportunities of how I could showcase my talents. I participated in this international creative writing competition from a publishers and I won that competition. They published the book themselves on different platforms, including Amazon. They help out young authors and have different competitions each year and there was one for people to submit short stories to be published in an anthology, which I was part of, but they help you figure out how to publish a book if you have no idea what to do. When I first saw it published, it was completely unreal. When you grow up reading, you're admiring all these authors and how they spoke to you in a way. You've never met them but you know what their thoughts are and how they write and you can tell a lot about a person from what they write. It kind of felt unreal that I put myself out there and my words in the world as well.

TANITH: In addition to your book you have written a plethora of articles and fictional stories which have been published in books, magazines, blogs and social media channels. What has been your favourite and why?

ZUNAIRA: Initially, I started publishing short stories. But as I grew older, I started writing articles a lot more as I'm a part of this club here in Muscat where I'm a public speaker. I write motivating speeches. That's where I got the idea to write more articles. I wanted to write something that impacts people, words create a huge impact on people. That motivated me to write a bunch of articles that I think are pieces of advice we can share with each other. I do have a couple that stand out but I don't think I have one favourite one.

The first one was called Count the Blessings. It's about gratitude and I wrote it around COVID. During all of the craziness we forgot to appreciate the little things in life. We had a negative mindset and you can't really blame us because it was an upsetting time. A way I found I could take care of myself was appreciating the little things. I could still text my friends, still talk to my family, I wasn't completely alone. I learned to appreciate little things like going on walks. You do these things throughout life and don't realise how important they are. I wanted to spread positivity during a time that I didn't think was completely positive.

Another one is about determination. It's called Phoenix Rising From The Ashes talking about how we all go through tough times in our lives. It's about struggle and how we have to rise above it. You've gone through difficult situations and it seemed like the worst moment in your entire life. It's the biggest challenge you've ever faced and I talk about how you can recover from that and stay determined through everything.

I shared stories that motivated me to keep going about successful people. JK Rowling for example was completely poor. She had absolutely no money when she first started Harry Potter, it got rejected by a lot of publishing houses. Now we're sitting here and I said Harry Potter and immediately you knew what I was talking about. There’s one more that's important to me in a book I'm launching next month called, ‘Nobody Told You This Before’. It's a collection of motivational articles, but let's just keep it a surprise until then.


TANITH: In addition to your written work you are an active member of ANA Gavel Club, Oman which is part of Toastmasters International and have recently been appointed as VP-Education of the club. Tell us about that?

ZUNAIRA: Growing up I was shy, public speaking was a challenge for me. It was something I wanted to work on, and I enrolled in a public speaking club. I kept trying and couldn't seem to get it right. My first speech shows that, I was pretty shy, I did work hard, but it didn't turn out right. I kept giving speeches at my club. I kept getting inspired by the people who were great speakers. I continuously worked to improve my skills. I think a lot of people impacted my journey, not just people in the club, but figures you see outside. Someone that impacted me was the lady who won 2019 Toastmasters International competition, the World Championship. I was amazed how when she spoke, you could hear a pin drop. She had everyone's attention. I thought it was cool how you could say something so perfectly that it leaves an impact on you. Something that's really important to me is leaving an impact on people. I just constantly kept working. For around 10 consecutive sessions I won the speaker for each of the sessions. Then I became vice president and last summer like the people in my club that motivated me, I was one of those people now. I'm the one that people look up to now. The newer people who join the club are gonna be inspired by me. I've been working with them. I've been helping them grow as speakers and it's nice to see people come out of their shell the way that I did and become amazing speakers.

TANITH: As we prepare to relaunch The Legacy Project charity what is the legacy that you would like to leave in the world?

ZUNAIRA: It's important to create an impact on people around you. We don't realise it but we're influenced by what everyone else does. We're all unique and go through different experiences and learn and interpret them in different ways. I want to encourage people from what I've learned and motivate them into becoming better versions of themselves. Into loving and appreciating themselves and figure out a way they can give the best to the world and get the best results. I've been motivated by United Nations. They've set a bunch of goals and they're working hard to achieve these for the world. We can't expect just the leaders of the world to do it, you and I have to play our part, and contribute to the goals they've set. They have 17 Sustainable Development Goals. This is our world. We live here and we have to figure out how we can impact people around us to create change, because if I do something here in one part of the world, and nobody else does something in another part of the world. It's not going to work because it's not universal.

I've created a podcast called Real With Us. It's available on Spotify, and we're just into season two. I started with a friend at school, our goal was to highlight the issues in our world, and inform people our age, because no one really addresses issues we face. We want to have a platform where everyone can feel safe to talk about controversial topics. We're mainly focusing on the Sustainable Development Goals. Our first season was about mental health. We had 10 episodes and in each one we talked about how mental health affects different aspects of our lives. We did have an episode dedicated to students mental health, we talked about how students can make a change but also how educators can make a change in people's lives. It's about talking to every single person in the world and how they can look ahead. I basically strive to inspire people to join me on this journey to create positive change. Because alone, one person can't do anything, but together we can definitely create a positive difference in the world. ∎

Follow Zunaira on Instagram:

Follow her podcast: @realwithus.podcast

Listen to her podcast:

Tanith is leading change management through commitment to the RoundTable Global Three Global Goals of: Educational Reform, Environmental Rejuvenation & Empowerment for All. She delivers innovative and transformational leadership and development programmes in over 30 different countries and is also lead on the international development of philanthropic programmes and projects. This includes working with a growing team of extraordinary Global Change Ambassadors and putting together the Global Youth Awards which celebrate the amazing things our young people are doing to change the world.



Photo Credit: Louis Faury Editing by: Grégorie De Lillo
At first it was just for me, to feel better… a bit like therapy.



They say ‘seeing is believing’. In Mounika.’s case, ‘hearing is believing’ that beautifully crafted beats are capable of providing incredible depth and inspiring texture to life. While many musicians aspire to be seen and heard, Mounika. is an artist heard by millions but seen by few. An elusive artist, Jules puts his music as centerstage, giving the spotlight to what he produces. His music offers a narrative of its own that lends itself to the interpretation of the listener.

ALLIÉ: Music is a language often difficult to articulate. Its meaning, purpose and definition is hard to put into words. Let’s try though. About your music, I would use words like ‘magical’, ‘ethereal’, ‘deep’, and ‘ineffable’. Love to hear about your music in your words. Can you please finish this sentence for me? The music of Mounika. is __________.

JULES: Fragile. I always thought my music is done for myself, and I consider myself as someone ‘fragile’… But it's pretty hard to choose just one word, some days it could be ‘sunny’, other times it's could be ‘dark’... Depends of the mood! But I hope one day everyone can answer this questions as "Yeah, the only word is ‘cool’ for his music," because I want to be cool. ;)

ALLIÉ: When playing your music, I am thankful for the ‘repeat’ function. So many of your tracks I will put on repeat. ‘Cut My Hair’, the track that put you on the map and now has over 79 million streams on Spotify alone, was on repeat for me often. Not just the beat, but the words. “Often I am upset that I cannot fall in love, but I guess this avoids the stress of falling out of it.” In this one line, a negative becomes a positive. Tragic but truthful. There’s comfort in calling things out for what they are. Is that your intention when creating music?

JULES: Yes, I love this question. When I was young I got a Walkman CD player, and there is a function A & B on it. When you press A and B while playing music, the loop between A and B is repeating. This was clearly my first experience of the loop and the sample. I don't know why, but I think the power of the loop can be very powerful. It's surely for this that I started making music with samples, with the goal to find the perfect sample! Now I’ve stopped using only samples because it's pretty hard to clear every sample… I try to recreate it with my piano, guitar or by singing, ect.

ALLIÉ: Another track that you recently released is one that I recently put on repeat. ‘Little Love’ caught me off guard, as I released tears without knowing why at first. These lyrics… “I'm a broken ship without a sail, and nothing really seems to work. So I need you to hold me like when…” I was diagnosed with MS a couple years back. I won't go into those details, but the details of your song resonate. Often, I feel like that broken ship without a sail, needing to be held. That’s my story with this song (on repeat as I type this). I would love to hear your relationship with it. What’s the story behind ‘Little Love’ for you?

JULES: Damn, thanks. I'm glad you like this one. This one is based on a sample from Roland Fautne. I found this sample by chance and immediately fell in love with this sentence, "I'm a broken ship without a sail." I feel like I can get in the same mood when I'm lost some days. You know this kind of day, when you don't really know what to do and to think. It's definitely a song about love, but it's working for so many other things.

Photo Credit: Louis Faury
Editing by: Grégorie De Lillo

ALLIÉ: Music has a way of satisfying both the artist who makes it and the audience who hears it. When there is so much left desired in this world, music has a way of filling voids in ways that other forms of art and expression can’t. What void does music fill for you?

JULES: I start music to feel better. I never thought my work could be liked by so many people. But at first it was just for me, to feel better… a bit like therapy. With the name of the track, and the name of the EP, it's like a diary with all the good and bad moments. I was pretty sad when I had to delete all my older stuff because of the samples. It's nice to get a more popular project, but you have to be very careful when you use samples. Now, it's a bit different. I make music for me but also for everyone who listens. I got so much love from everyone. It's so motivating! Now when I feel bad, I only open my messages and let go. I feel better. ;)

ALLIÉ: For those who want to make music, but don’t feel there is room for them in a very crowded space, what advice do you have?

JULES: No worry, my friends, if you want to make music. There are always solutions. At first I got a pretty bad computer and headphones, and it was enough to learn and play. I remember going to a bar instead of my studies (sorry to my parents for that they didn't know), only to get some space and make music. With no internet and no one for help, it was just FL studio and my headphones! I loved this time. It was exciting to make some music. In my head, I was like "I got the power to make music. Is that possible?" Before that, I thought making music was so dif ficult, but with all the software and tutorials now, everyone can make it and I love that. Every month I discover some crazy good young artists, and it is possible thanks to the new generation of software like Ableton, FL Studio, Reason... Can't wait to know how this generation will grow up! ∎

Follow Mounika. on Instagram: @iammounika._ CLICK, TAP OR SCAN TO WATCH NOW

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