AwareNow: Issue 48: 'The Loud Edition'

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AwareNow Magazine is a monthly publication produced by AwareNow Media™, a storytelling platform dedicated to creating and sustaining positive social change with content that inspires and informs, while raising awareness for causes one story at a time.




Loud is a way of life.
Steven Adler

loud: (adj.) strong or emphatic in expression

In this issue of AwareNow, ‘The Loud Edition’, we dive into the profound impact of making noise to drive change. When we think of ‘loud’, we often associate it with volume, but its essence goes beyond mere decibels. Loudness, in the context of raising awareness and igniting change, embodies the courage to speak up, the determination to be heard, and the resilience to push boundaries. It’s about breaking the silence on important issues and creating a ripple effect that inspires action and transformation.

Our mantra "We will no longer ask for permission to change the world," echoes the sentiment of many of our featured exclusive interviews and personal stories. From the trailblazing AJ Andrews, dubbed ‘the Beyoncé of softball’, to the legendary Chicago Bears Hall of Famer Mike Singletary, international football icon Clarence Seedorf, and the unwavering indigenous activist, Shirley Djukurnä Krenak, each voice resonates with passion, purpose, and a fierce commitment to making a difference. Our conversations with Afghanistan Ambassador Manizha Bakhtari, filmmaker Jessica Hausner, world renowned heart surgeon Dr. Ehsan Natour, community builder Ashley Connelly, community developer Eric Rice, and author Aaron Baker with Laura Sharpe, the narrative of empowerment through action is amplified.

In addition to these compelling interviews, this issue also features thought-provoking columns with statements and stories from, Emilie Goldblum, Paul Rogers, Burt Kempner, Deborah Weed, Dr. Todd Brown, Sage Gallon, Erin Macauley with Kevin Hines, Katherine Winter-Sellery, Aalia Lanius, Lex Gillette, Jonathan Kohanski, and Tanith Harding with Helena Donato-Sapp. Together, they add depth and insight to the discourse on creating lasting change and building a world where every voice is valued. Join us as we embrace the power of being loud to create and sustain positive change.



Co-Director of AwareNow Media, CEO & Co-Founder of Awareness Ties

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.


Co-Director of AwareNow Media, President & Co-Founder of Awareness Ties

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.

The views and opinions expressed in AwareNow are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of AwareNow Media. 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.

It includes everyone.
Courtesy: Black Impact Foundation & Energy Capital & Power



Clarence Seedorf is a titan in the world of football and a driving force for positive change. With a career spanning multiple continents and accolades that include Champions League victories and humanitarian endeavors, Seedorf embodies the essence of excellence on and off the field. At the 2024 Global Black Impact Summit, I got to speak with Clarence about the Black Impact Foundation.

ALLIÉ: The Black Impact Foundation, what is it?

CLARENCE: What is it? Well, it is a movement. It is a movement that aims to unite the global Black community so we can be an added value to the whole community. This is, in a nutshell, what the mission is about. How we want to make impact, how we want to create this unity, is to create platforms that will allow, let's say, the younger generations to have access, visible access, and to see how people will represent certain sectors and represent their dream. Representation is so important for everybody in the world. We know that the Black community has suffered at a certain point in life... some stuff that we don't have to mention. But today we have the ability, we have the excellence

“We need to feel each other. We need to hear each other and also inspire each other…”

CLARENCE: (continued) Black community and the diaspora of Africa to connect with each other, to business with each other, to relate to each other, to find that identity, that common identity that many other communities actually have. So, it's a particular mission. It's not just, okay, we have the fundraising, we're going to put the money in the projects... We don't do projects, we will do programs. We create partnerships, strategic partnerships. We create platforms. We have the summit, the Global Black Impact Summit, that has now the third edition behind us, but the other platform that's going to happen now is the sports platform. We're going to use football, and we're going to use other sports to now communicate with the people. Music will be coming. We want to do music festivals, but step by step, step by step.

ALLIÉ: Step by step, and one such step which you just mentioned today was another step yet for the summit. So the summit, wow... this was an experience. What is the idea for this one day summit bringing these people together? What is the thought behind this event that's happened now for the third time?

CLARENCE: Yeah, so as a foundation with the board, we have been strategizing what is the best entry point to really start building this community. We have identified that in order to build community, to build trust, people need to sit and in the same room need to communicate. We need to feel each other. We need to hear each other and also inspire each other and find like-minded people, like-minded souls who understand that this is about building up yourself,

Photo Courtesy: Black Impact Foundation & Energy Capital & Power

CLARENCE: (continued) having that self-confidence, that self-esteem, and that self-worth not as an individual but as a community. Because there are so many people of excellence in so many different sectors, we said okay with a summit this is going to be the platform where we can bring them together from all parts of the world, which has happened. We started online with a little bit, then we had a hybrid for last year, and this year we did a full-in person and what an energy... People have been calling other people to come because they don't know what to expect... It's not easy to explain in words what we do because there's so much that we don't explain by words... It's just happening. That is what we know. That is the awareness we have that with what we're creating, the platforms we're creating, and the way we are actually doing these events, will create the magic.

ALLIÉ: I can speak to the fact that today, for the first time, really feeling part of the Black community in a way that I've not felt before. So thank you for that.

CLARENCE: That is amazing... Thank you.

ALLIÉ: What advice do you have for people who don't know if they're in or they're out of the Black community? Who does it include? It includes everyone, yes?

CLARENCE: Yeah, it includes everyone. So I think you're an amazing example of that feeling, and it's not only you, believe me. There's so many people just not feeling included in any community, really, because of their life story and that is where an evening like this can change your life because now all of a sudden you say, hey, you know, actually I'm seen, actually people love me, actually people believe in what I'm doing, actually people respect what I've done, what I'm doing. So that is elevating the community. Imagine this on a larger scale, whatever you felt today...

So, that is what I know we can achieve, but I also am conscious that we need to be careful to go too fast because we want to have the right people on board, the people who are like-minded, who understand that this is not against anybody. We are not pointing fingers at anybody. We are pointing actually fingers at ourselves, because we need to tap into our own resources. Take responsibility, you know, reach out that helping hand. Reach out support, be a champion for the Black community. We have heard beautifully today, be a champion for who wants that opportunity and deserves that opportunity. ∎ AwareNow Podcast IT
MOVEMENT Exclusive Interview with Clarence Seedorf
LISTEN Learn about the Black Impact Foundation: Find out more about the Global Black Impact Summit:
My greatest joy in life is to conjure something beautiful or meaningful where there was nothing before…


I was born with a creator’s heart.

My greatest joy in life is to conjure something beautiful or meaningful where there was nothing before, or to rearrange existing elements in new combinations that tempt you to take a second look. I relish it but I also wrestle with it. Being a creator is sometimes a very mixed blessing. In order to be true to myself, I have to surrender every trace of victim mentality. No blaming imbecilic producers or editors, jealous rivals, inner demons, crooked politicians or global conspiracies if things don’t go my way. I sometimes glance over at destroyers and think they have it so much easier. But that’s embracing victimhood again.

So I go on, year after year, fueled by a creator’s love for the world. It’s what makes my life worth living, what catapults me out of bed each morning. I’m not a grinning automaton. I grieve when it’s appropriate, I get irritated and restless, but none of that stops me from putting one word after the other, and many of them — more and more of them now — will be used in defense of those the destroyers make their scapegoats. You cannot take away my love, which means you will never be able to take away my freedom. And I am not alone. ∎

AwareNow Podcast A CREATOR’S HEART

Written and Narrated by Burt Kempner

BURT KEMPNER Writer & Producer

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:

I have one life, so why not try to do it all?
Courtesy: @aj_andrews_




AJ Andrews is a powerhouse both on and off the field, renowned for her fearless presence and unparalleled talent. Dubbed the ‘Beyoncé of Softball’ and the first female recipient of the Rawlings Gold Glove, AJ Andrews commands attention whether she’s making magic happen in centerfield or captivating audiences as an MLB network personality. From her advocacy for change to her candid conversations over a glass of wine, AJ’s voice is one that resonates with authenticity, resilience, and a fierce commitment to making a difference.

ALLIÉ: An MLB network personality, camera shy you’re not. You rock mic and the bat with signature style. The ‘Beyonce of Softball’ and first female recipient of the Rawlings Gold Glove, you make magic happen on the camera and on the field. When it comes to your time on the field, what was your most magical moment?

AJ: I can think of two. So the first one would be when I was in my freshman year in college playing at LSU, and we went to the World Series, and, you know, you grow up. That's the mecca. That's where you wanna be growing up, playing softball, and you envision yourself there, but it's so hard to get there. Even if you're on a really good team, the

You have to step into your power.
Photo Courtesy:
“I think that was the catch that really cemented me into becoming the first woman to win a Rawlings Gold Glove.”

AJ: (continued) game doesn't know who's supposed to win. So there are times when you lose to teams that, on paper, you weren't supposed to lose to. It's very tough to get to the World Series. And so we weren't a team on paper that people should lose to. <laugh>

My freshman year we had two really good pitchers, and that was it, right? And so we really kind of rode off of them. And when we get to the World Series, we lose, but we're in the losers bracket and we're playing USF to see who moves on. And it was like zero going into the fifth or sixth inning. The score was still zero to zero. We had runners, I think, on second and third. I was at third base and Allison Falcon hit the ball, and she had a popup to the shortstop. And just the way the shortstop was positioned and the way she was kind of going back for the ball, I ended up tagging at third base and scored the only run of the game. It was the winning run of the game. And it was just crazy because who the heck tags up on a fly ball to the shortstop? That moment's etched in World Series history, they show that every year for the World Series.

For me, it was like one of those moments where I kind of felt like I was etched in who I was. It was foreshadowing who I was to become in the next three years of my career in softball. Collegiately, as someone who's a daredevil and going all the way, I was someone that people really were excited to watch play, but then my opponents also… I was someone that they hated going up against. And so for me, that was definitely my moment. Throughout the season, I never really felt like I came into my own or came into who I was as a player. And I feel like that was one of the first moments.

The next moment would be in pro ball. After I broke my hand, I was very hesitant to make different catches. I broke my hand during the season I won the Gold Glove. I broke my hand towards the beginning of the season, but I would still try and play. It was just excruciating to catch a ball. I mean, imagine trying to catch a ball… the vibration of catching a ball going through to your broken hand. And so for me, I was very hesitant to make diving catches and do different things because I didn't want to injure myself further. It was just really painful. But I go backwards on a wall and I just… My mentality is just ‘go’ in some sort of situations. And so I just went. I completely forgot about my hand, forgot about the pain, forgot about being cautious, and I made this incredible diving catch going backwards. I think that was the catch that really cemented me into becoming the first woman to win a Rawlings Gold Glove. That was also the first catch that really allowed me to get back into my comfort zone, get back into my flow of who I was as AJ Andrews.

Those are two moments that really stick out to me. I would say they both allowed me to get back to myself, the player that I am and the player that I know I'm capable of being.

ALLIÉ: You’ve made a home in the MLB and in the hearts of so many of us with your unapologetic voice that values the win you find in people you interview on and off the field. Will you share two stories now - one of someone on the field who moved you and one of someone off the field who stirred you?

AJ: Probably off the field, I would say Andre Dawson, who is a Hall of Fame baseball player. He's a Black baseball player, and he's much older. He received the biggest impact post Jackie Robinson or even really during Jackie

“I’m very moved by people that have a lot of courage and that are able to move through spaces that maybe weren’t designed for them, but to show up and make it for them.”

AJ: (continued) Robinson. For me, it’s being able to have those conversations with him and how he's been able to see baseball change. From right before he began to play and was watching Jackie to him playing during that time… to him now being able to speak to the Black baseball players today about being able to grow baseball and to understand that they do have value. They do have a space. Baseball and the excitement that baseball is backed upon was really placed on the Black athletes that came from the Negro Leagues.

The excitement of the stealing bases, the flashy catches, the flashy moves… all those came from the Black baseball players that came from the Negro Leagues into Major League Baseball. And so I think that for me, I've never really been starstruck by celebrities or different people. I've only been starstruck by civil rights leaders or people that have a lot of ambition and a lot of courage. Being a Black athlete and at a time when people didn't value Black athletes, Black people in general, and you were still able to go out there and use your voice and use your skillset to show just how valuable you were as not just as a player, but as a person, as a human being and allow other people around you to feel that and also live that and believe that… to me, that's something, just being able to have those conversations with people like that is moving to me, and it always puts things into perspective. So I would de finitely say Andre Dawson off the field.

On the field, I would say one person that I would talk about right now would be Marcus Stroman because he's someone that's been very vocal. He’s been very vocal on human rights, on the rights of Black athletes and Black baseball players. And for a time in baseball, those voices would be shunned a little bit and would be shut out. So, he's been viewed as someone that people would call a villain or would call him someone that maybe doesn't have good chemistry with the team because he is just very vocal. He's someone who will say what he believes in. And in a space where people are like, just play ball, don't speak your mind, that can be very polarizing. But he always stuck to it, and he allowed his skillset to speak for himself. He allowed his words to speak what he believed, but then he also on the field was able to be so good that you just couldn't ignore him. You can't cut him out of your lineup even if you want to. To me, I think it takes a lot of courage, right? Again, I'm very moved by people that have a lot of courage and that are able to move through spaces that maybe weren't designed for them, but to show up and make it for them. It’s inevitably making that a space for other Black people, and not just Black that look like you, but others that have felt like they have been an outsider. You've given them a table to sit at. I think he's one of those people that got to the top, and he sent the elevator back down to help people come up too… It’s being able to also put your money where your mouth is and your talent where your mouth is. He’s definitely one of those people that I think can do that.

ALLIÉ: When it comes to making noise to make change, you’ve been so very loud and proud. If there was one change you could call out and champion right now, what would that be, AJ?

AJ: I would say it would be to support the voices of women in sports. I think that women in sports are gaining a much more prominent space where people are now paying more attention. You have women out here breaking NCAA records and showing that they are just as talented and valuable as the men who receive so much attention. They're

When you compare yourself to others, you put yourself in a box and limit how great you could be.
Courtesy: @aj_andrews_
“I will continue to use my voice to echo that sentiment, echoing the women who have come before me and those who are speaking out now.”

AJ: (continued) just as entertaining, if not more so. I think softball, particularly the World Series for collegiate softball, has demonstrated that with increased viewership. Additionally, for March Madness, women's basketball has consistently garnered exponentially more viewership than men's basketball for quite some time. I would continue to speak out because I think there are still many dollars that don't go towards women the way they could. There are missed opportunities that you don't necessarily see in men's sports. I believe there are numerous creative ways in which women could be championed, sponsored, and uplifted. Therefore, I will continue to use my voice to echo that sentiment, echoing the women who have come before me and those who are speaking out now. I aim to continue advocating for women in sports, ensuring they have all the opportunities that men are often given so easily.

ALLIÉ: You were one of our first Official Ambassadors of AwareNow. On the cover of ‘The Stand Up Edition’ and a participant in the AwareNow Talks on racism, we’ve had the honor to hear and share your voice. While you continue to work with us, you also work with many others. What’s in the works right now, AJ?

AJ: I’m still working with Major League Baseball. I host a show called ‘Play Ball’ on MLB Network. I host a show called ‘The Business of Sports’ on ReachTV. So if you're walking through the airport, just glance at the TVs every now and then. You may see me there. I have a show, ‘Vino Talk’ with Players TV with basketball player DeAndre Jordan. And so it's a lot of different things. I just never shy away from opportunities to really just grow and have fun. I feel like I have one life, so why not try to do it all? And so that's just like my motto. I get asked all the time if I'm tired and I'm like, not yet. I'm sure that will happen one day, but I'm moving and doing as much as I can while I can.

ALLIÉ: Switching gears, let’s talk about wine for a moment. With regard to ‘Vino Talk’, co-hosted by you and DeAndre Jordan, you got raw and real with a glass of wine and the guests that joined you. Personal preference. AJ, what’s your go-to-glass?

AJ: Yeah, I'm the worst. I'm a rookie wine drinker. So anytime I drink wine with my friends, I'm like, can I have some Moscato? It's like a sin to ever say that with the looks, the side eyes, the comments that are made. <laugh> But that's still my glass of choice. And if there's no Moscato, then I'm gonna ask for some Prosecco with a little bit of cranberry juice. I like sweet stuff. I know it's crazy. I get looks all the time. I haven't graduated yet. Maybe one day, but I am very secure in my rookie position of Moscato at the moment. <laugh>

ALLIÉ: You know what pairs well with wine is words. Let’s speak about words in the form of poetry. AJ, we were honored to publish in AwareNow your original poem entitled ‘Dear Brown Skin Girl’. Will you share the story behind lines that left us in awe?

AJ: Sure. ‘Brown Skin Girl’, to me, is a love letter to women of color. Honestly, to my younger self because for a while when I was a child, I was very insecure about my skin. I was made to believe it wasn't beautiful. I was made to believe

I was made to believe that if I had lighter skin, I would be perceived as more worthy.
Photo Courtesy: @aj_andrews_
“Being able to write ‘Brown Skin Girl’ was like writing a letter to my younger self about how beautiful, strong, and profound I was, all because of my brown skin, not despite it.”

AJ: (continued) that if I had lighter skin, I would be perceived as more worthy. And for a long period of my life growing up, I would always get that "you are pretty for a Black girl," or "you are pretty for a dark-skinned girl." It wasn't until my freshman year in college when I realized just how much of a backhanded compliment that was, and just how much those words were rooted in hate and self-deprecation, especially when they came from another Black person.

It wasn't until a friend of mine asked me if it made me mad when people said that I was pretty for a dark-skinned girl. To be honest, I never really thought too much about it. He said it didn't sound like a compliment to him, and that made me really begin to look inward and think more about those kinds of conversations. I realized that suggesting my beauty required me to be mixed with something else to look the way I do, and just being Black wasn't considered good enough.

Being able to write ‘Brown Skin Girl’ was like writing a letter to my younger self about how beautiful, strong, and profound I was, all because of my brown skin, not despite it. I think that's a struggle that many dark-skinned women experience, especially if they grow up in spaces where they are one of the only ones who look like them. It's very easy to feel left out or like you don't meet the beauty standards around you.

I wanted to remind people that Black women are our own beauty standard, and there's no need to compare. Sometimes you just need that reminder, and I hoped to be able to provide that.

ALLIÉ: Continuing with words, what words of advice would you share with young girls growing up and coming up in these days and times?

AJ: One piece of advice would be to go where you're celebrated. Whatever that looks like for you, go where you're celebrated. If you are a person of color in a space where you don't feel celebrated, that's fine. Go where you are celebrated. Oftentimes, we are not in a position or place that allows us to fully be who we're supposed to be, to grow, or to be around the people who truly want to see us excel. You have to step into your power. The only way to do that is to be around those individuals who want to uplift that power. No matter how con fident or powerful you know yourself to be, if you're in a space with people who don't value that, you'll never reach your full potential.

So, go where you're celebrated, and don't make comparisons. People always say that comparison is the thief of joy, but to me, comparison just lacks imagination. When you compare yourself to others, you put yourself in a box and limit how great you could be. You limit how far you can go when you try to be like someone else. You don't see the fact that you could go beyond that. So, on top of going where you're celebrated, use people as guides, not goals. If this is the direction you want to go or you like what they've accomplished, see it as a guide, not something to emulate.

Use people as guides, not goals.
Courtesy: @aj_andrews_
“You’ve been assigned a certain mountain to show that it can be moved.”

AJ: (continued) You can have multiple guides, but don't make these people your goals because the mountain they've been assigned is not your mountain. You've been assigned a certain mountain to show that it can be moved. They've been assigned a different mountain to show that it can be moved, and that can only be done in front of the people celebrating that mountain. Your mountain can only be moved by the people who celebrate your mountain. So, in order to move these mountains and get to where you're supposed to go, make sure you don't make people your goals. When you reach where you're supposed to be, surround yourself with people who celebrate you, who believe in you. Oftentimes, it's not the goal that's wrong, it's the people you've shared it with. ∎

AwareNow Podcast LOUD & PROUD Exclusive Interview with AJ Andrews
23 Follow AJ Andrews on Instagram: @aj_andrews_ Learn more about AJ as an Official Ambassador of AwareNow:
TAP/SCAN TO LISTEN Featuring Sage Gallon
Whoever you are, you need some help. I still need it. So, I know they do.

Mike Singletary, an iconic figure in the realm of American football, stands as a testament to the enduring spirit of the sport. With a storied career that saw him excel as a legendary linebacker in the NFL, Mike’s insights into the evolving landscape of college sports, particularly concerning Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL), carry immense weight. His unwavering commitment to the game and its athletes has now led him to become a pivotal voice in shaping the future of collegiate athletics. Today, we have the privilege of delving into Mike’s perspectives on NIL, its challenges, and the transformative solutions it demands.

ALLIÉ: With all the things happening in the world of college sports right now, particularly around NIL, Mike Singletary, what do you think? What do you think about NIL?

MIKE: Well, I think, first of all, you know, as the whole thing has continued to progress from the beginning until right now, it's just a bit chaotic. NIL or something has just taken off, and everything else has been trying to catch up with it —whether it's the kids, the parents, or the coaches. Everybody's trying to get their arms around it, and every time you

They just want to play football. They just want to play the game, man.
“We’ll go out there and play together. But each and every day, we go our separate ways because somebody’s calling us about a deal…”

MIKE: (continued) third time, the thing that kept coming up was finding a way to bring it back to the team. How do we help these athletes, coaches, and players find a way to pick a game that's always been about the team but is now just kind of taking it out, and now everyone's on their own?

You know, everybody does their own thing, and we're in the locker room together. We'll go out there and play together. But each and every day, we go our separate ways because somebody's calling us about a deal, not to mention some of the other things happening in college football. So, I just think that it's a chaotic situation right now, and little by little, various ones are trying to come in and calm it down. The IRS is trying to figure out a way to get their part of it and help the kids understand that there are consequences involved in taking the money and how you take the money. So, there's a lot of legislature around it. It's a lot of confusion. With Greg and me, we're just looking primarily at the kid— how do we help these young men that all of a sudden all these voices are coming at them not only for representation, money, or taking it to the next level in their playing ability, but it's taking their focus.

A lot of guys are so young; they're not ready for all of this. They just want to play football. They just want to play the game, man. And now all of a sudden, you have thrust them into a situation where there are a lot of other games involved that they're not familiar with.

ALLIÉ: And to that point, everyone in sports can see that there are some challenges within college sports, but with every problem found there is an opportunity to seek a solution. When it comes to NIL, what do you feel that solution is? Where do we begin?

MIKE: Well, I think one of the solutions, you know, there are certainly others, but I think when Greg and I sat down and really talked about the opportunity and how to bring it back to something positive, how to take this negative and not just sit down and continue to throw mud at the situation, but really try to figure out, okay, so what do we do? How do we help this situation? How do we help the kids? How do we help the coaches? How do we help the university? How do we help the parents? So, I think that at the end of the day, trying to figure out a way to, if the money is available and the kids are going to take the money, how do we help the people that are giving them money feel that they're doing the right thing? How do we turn that into a positive so you don't feel like you're paying the kid to play? And then how do you help the kid not feel like the bad guy because they're taking the money?

So for us, you know, TEAM NILO is all about looking at the charities that are out there, and there are many of them. And so you're helping organizations help the kids. You know, a lot of these kids are the same as I was when I was in school. You go to a tremendous university that has millions of dollars in endowments. They're making tons of money off their sports, particularly football, but other sports as well. And the athlete commonly may not get a degree, and they may have an NFL or NBA scholarship or an opportunity to play at the next level. But what if they don't? So everybody


MIKE: (continued) wins except the player. So the thing that TEAM NILO is really trying to do is help those players be able to win. And that is helping them understand the opportunity at hand. You've got an opportunity to make some money, but with this money, there's a responsibility, and that responsibility is to do good. Whether it's going to a classroom and reading a book, whether it's going to a classroom and teaching a group of students financial responsibility, whether it's going to a classroom and just reading, and allowing those young kids in that room to see, wow, this guy isn't just an athlete. He can read <laugh>, he can really read, and you know, he's pretty sharp, or she's pretty sharp. And so it's giving the athlete an opportunity to get out of the university, and even get out of the classroom and see a little bit of the real world and how it really works, but at the same time, being able to give something of yourself, whether it's going to a hospital and visiting kids, whether it's going to the elderly home and being able to visit someone who maybe haven't seen their kids in months or whatever, being able to go and see them, talk to them, and spend some time there.

So, you know, there are just tons of opportunities to do good. And I think NIL is really trying to help corporate America understand that we can be the bridge between you and the kid. And for years, you've helped the university, you've donated to the university, well, now you can help the kids in a very personal way, be able to help them get to the next level. And so that's the thing that we see at TEAM NILO that we're trying to do in enhancing the whole NIL situation, making the best of a tough situation.

ALLIÉ: I love how you speak about the next level, the next level not just on the court… It's not just about the stats that are produced there, it's about the stories, their own stories, that they're creating and cultivating along the way.

MIKE: Absolutely.


ALLIÉ: And for these students to realize that their value is not just on the court, but off it as well… The work that you're doing is awesome, and I'm so glad it's getting done. For a moment, let's put on a different hat. Let's put on the hat of say, a head coach of a college team. What is the win for that coach in working with TEAM NILO? A moment ago, you said that with all these deals going and, and whatnot, that a lot of the focus was being taken away from these athletes. So where does the way TEAM NILO works help a coach who's trying to reign in all these athletes that he has?

MIKE: I think that, for a head coach in college, it just depends. Every deal is different, but really for the head coach in college, you really want to help your MVPs, your starters, the guys that are getting the money, the what have you. You're hoping that the deal is structured where the other guys on the team are the ones that are helping them deliver the goods, so to speak. You know, if I'm a quarterback and if I'm getting paid, for an offensive player, for an offensive lineman, you're hoping, “Man, I'm protecting this guy. So hopefully, they will think about me.” So the quarterback shows a little love for the offensive lineman, the running back, the tight end or whoever… That's the great thing about the game of football. Nobody is great on their own. There's always somebody else.

Anything that I've ever done, any award that I've ever gotten in football, I've always gone back to my defensive line. And if I went to the Pro Bowl, if I was defensive player of the year, I always came back to those guys and said, "Hey, what can I get you? What do you need?" Or asked somebody else, "What does this guy want? What is he looking for?" And tried to get all of my defensive linemen the same thing, a pair of boots, a watch, or whatever that might be, but giving them something to let them know, "Hey, I see you and I appreciate you and I'm not only gonna take this and give back to my family, but I'm also gonna give back to my second family. And that's you guys.” And so being able to really understand ‘team’ and for a head coach, that's something that he can really help drive and guide for a player that has this money, "Hey, am I just gonna go out and buy a car? Am I just gonna buy a new watch?How many watches do I need? Or am I gonna bring some really heartfelt love to this team?"


ALLIÉ: You're so right. It just goes back to ‘team’, which is why I love TEAM NILO (Technology Empowering All Missions). It’s not just throwing an acronym around, but actually living it and breathing it.

MIKE: Absolutely.

ALLIÉ: It’s so important and it’s the same way NIL. We can say, yes, it’s ‘Name, Image and Likeness’, but we can now also say, ‘Now It's Legit’, because now we are legitimizing this space with purpose, with intention, and with integrity. Let’s close this way. For all the coaches, players, universities that might hear this, what are a few things that you would want to say or share with them about transforming their program? What's one piece of advice you might share?

MIKE: I think if I were a player in today's game, wow... The most important thing that I would try to have a player understand is the value of a mentor. Being able to find someone that's traveled this journey and be able to talk to someone who's gone places that I want to go. They've been there, they've traveled those roads, they've had successes and failures. One of the greatest parts of any success that I've ever had is always taking the time to find a mentor and be able to tell them, "Hey, I want you to tell me what you see. First of all, I'm gonna ask you, what am I missing? What am I lacking (both as a person academically, and as a player)? What am I missing? What do I need to do in order to get to the next level?"

Finding a mentor is a very difficult thing to do. It's very hard to do because there are not a lot of people that really care enough to see you and help you with that. So, you first of all have to do a great job in finding a mentor. Once you find that mentor, now it's asking the right questions and allowing them to tell you what they see. And then you gotta be man enough to take it <laugh>. You know, you can say, "Hey, I don't see that." You know, whoa… Are they your mentor? Or what? It may be bad news to you. “Well, Mike, you're not doing your job… You're supposed to be studying more… I see you partying more.” Things like that. We all need somebody looking out for us. We need someone who has our back that can say, "Hey man, you know what? You're doing a little bit too much partying… Hey, you're spending a little bit too much money… Hey, you're spending a little bit too much time doing this when you should be doing that." Those are things that are extremely, extremely valuable. So to a kid in college, I would tell them to find that mentor, somebody that can sit you down because I promise you… You don't know everything. You need some help. Whoever you are, you need some help. I still need it. So, I know they do. ∎

32 AwareNow Podcast NIL: NOW IT’S LEGIT Exclusive Interview with Mike Singletary
Learn more about TEAM NILO:
Our neighbors fire will eventually be our own.
Photo Credit: Jonathan Kohanski


“The further a society drifts from the truth the more it will hate those that speak it.” - George Orwell

My ritualistic trip to the office during the week is superseded by a quick detour to the coast. At least it’s quick this time of year with such late sunrises I don’t tend to linger long. The roads are yet to be congested with people also making their way to work, people that are currently absorbed within their own morning routines, getting kids prepared for school, having a quick coffee, or absorbing news.

Looking at the clouds I knew there would be no awe-inspiring sunrise to bear witness to, so I began scrolling through the mental rolodex of images that are most memorable. I’m not one for filters on images. I find value in the authenticity of the world as it is and while it may not always be filled with positive images and events, part of appreciating the beauty of the world and people is also recognizing the ugliest of spaces as well.

Whether we like it or not, whether we admit it or not, we view and comprehend the world and our lives through filters. The information we receive and understand the world through is filtered. Our morning news, filtered. Our social media, filtered. The filters, controlled by algorithms designed to make us click, creating an endless feedback loop of repetitive information. This filter has only grown more and more efficient as our lives become ever increasingly intertwined with technology. As a result, the topics that we click, we see more of and what we don’t click, we see less of.

The filters keep us in a microcosm of concern, only those things that directly impact us, worry us, not the problems of others, not what might happen 5, 10, or 20 years down the road. We tell ourselves that we’ll deal with those problems later or they are simply of no concern because they’re half a world away. The only way to change our lens and filter of the world is to actively seek everything else. When we actively work to remove those filters, a different reality will manifest.

The world is on fire, literally and figuratively, but we’re only concerned about what we see. We’re only concerned about keeping our own lawns green while our neighbor’s lawn burns simply because we refuse to look… Our neighbors fire will eventually be our own. Until we all see the fires and collectively work to first extinguish them and then prevent them, our world will continue to burn.

It’s been a couple of months since breaking the clavicle that has slowed me down It’s pulled me out of the routine that helps keep me grounded during the shoulder seasons of spring and fall. For awhile I could pick the camera up. I could see, but I couldn’t capture. There is a lot of new, fresh, perspectives and happenings in my life…activities, places, people, new topics and things to learn/understand that I’ve hardly been exposed to…and this is what I do… find something new and dive in. ∎


Hi, I'm Jonathan, I'm a wanderer of sorts, looking to further enrich lives and share experiences that show we are all capable of truly amazing feats that push my own boundaries and can many times turn heads. I'm a sucker for raw and real stories and attempt to share my own, with all the good and bad through that same lens. I'm always open to finding my next adventure that will help me to continue writing the stories that can help others overcome their own demons. I'm a lover of the water and spend a lot of my free time in it, whether it be swimming, body-boarding, or taking photographs while in it. I was diagnosed with MS at the age of 25 and it has changed the course of my life, not just in a physical sense, but also in my perspective of life, what is valuable to me and worthy of my time. We all have our struggles and triumphs, I'm here to share mine and maybe, help others through theirs.

Photo Credit: Jonathan Kohanski
You can influence whatever you want to create in life, through visualizing it first.





It is truly remarkable how some serendipitous encounters instantly spark a lifelong connection, and commitment to collaborate intentionally to empower others. Ten years ago, I had the privilege of meeting Aaron Baker, a kindred spirit and fellow advocate for using the arts to empower individuals in their journey of healing and rehabilitation.

Our paths converged during an Artists For Trauma adaptive art workshop hosted by Aaron and his mother, Laquita Dian at their then co-owned adaptive fitness rehabilitation facility in Southern California. They welcomed the spinal cord injury community, me and my Artists For Trauma team into their space with open arms. We transformed the gym into a vibrant, inclusive environment where creativity flourished and connections deepend.

Inspired by Aaron’s resilience and vision, I pledged to join forces with him and his mother, Laquita, to amplify our collective impact in empowering trauma survivors through art, mindfulness, and intentionality.

Aaron’s journey of rehabilitation exemplifies the transformative power of color and mindfulness in the process of recovery and reinvention; a testament to his unwavering spirit and dedication to helping himself and others thrive.

LAURA: To find ways to heal from trauma, people look many places. In looking down, Aaron, it was your painted toes that helped you heal. For those unfamiliar with your story. Please share.

AARON: Thank you Laura, it's an honor and a privilege for me to share a portion of my history with you and your readers. The painted toes story is essentially the genesis of my recovery from a traumatic spinal cord injury that paralyzed my entire body.

While still in the hospital my sister, Arielle entered my room with the intention of brightening my spirits. She leaned over, kissed my forehead, and then pulled up a chair next to the foot of the bed. Without saying a word she began to unpack her little bag.

I strained to see what she was pulling out, spotting only red, blue, yellow, and green. She carefully placed small bottles of nail polish on the bed. Her calm and quiet, yet playful, energy was apparent as she uncovered my bare feet.

My message in motion will span five continents and transcend ‘languages’ and physical barriers…

AARON: (continued) “What the heck are you doing, sis?”

“I’m going to paint your toes, bro!”

“No way!” I rebelled.

She giggled and dipped the brush into the sky-blue nail polish. She then said, “If you can kick me i’ll stop.” Oh, the agony! That moment was both endearing and agonizing.

As she finished her last stroke of red she stood up and marveled at her masterpiece. All the colors of the light spectrum were combined on my two paralyzed feet.

I stared at my candied toes, perplexed, yet slightly pleased with their color. They looked like Skittles, or M&M candies —A real conversation starter for anyone who entered my room.

This was how I began to reconnect my mind to my body…Through the Art of Visualization—imagining the color from my toes as energy I’d move throughout my nervous system.

LAURA: Honored to have you as a board member for Artists For Trauma, I wonder if you could share how your personal experience of utilizing color and mindfulness with regard to ‘Painted Toes’ connects you with the mission of Artists For Trauma?

AARON: Recovering from trauma is not black and white. The process is an artful expression of heart and mind—a kaleidoscope of colorful emotion and vulnerable events that unfolds a new you. I recognized this early as I slowly rebuilt and redefined myself from complete paralysis, one colorful toe flicker at a time. This understanding allows me a sensitive empathy for those we serve.

LAURA: In your book, ‘Painted Toes - The Art of Reconnecting To My Body After Spinal Cord Injury’, you do more than share your story. What else will we find in these pages?

AARON: Painted Toes is about the art and science of visualization and its in fluence on healing. Visualization is seeing, feeling, smelling, sensing, and experiencing something in your mind, exactly as you would in real life. Visualizing triggers the same processes in your brain as a real-life experience would—transmitting the same energetic frequency and vibration through and around you. Therefore you can in fluence whatever you want to create in life, through visualizing it first.

As an athlete, I used visualization as a way to imagine the perfect technique and positive outcomes. And although I had no prior anatomy education, I visualized the inner workings of my skeletal, muscular, and electri fied neurological systems.

I imagined the color blue from my left big toe traveling up my leg into my torso, filling my chest, and swirling up my spine through the injury site in my neck and into my brain. I did this with the color red for my right leg, yellow for my left arm, and green for my right. All these colors swirled in my mind and created a bright, white energy that I forced throughout my body like a rainbow prism.

It was only days after Arielle painted my toes that—wiggle wiggle—my left big blue toe began to twitch. Again I whispered to myself. The color blue beamed through my body and down my left leg . . . again!

My mind laser focused on the toe . . . again!

My mission is to help people think, move and manifest their way through adversity.
“My mission is to help people think, move and manifest their way through adversity.”

AARON: (continued) Like a spark plug, I exploded a neurochemical impulse from my brain into my body . . . again! This twitch was the beginning of my long, arduous road to recovery… One flicker at a time.

LAURA: With your upcoming project, ‘Adversity Into Adventure’, you will do what’s not yet been done. Please share what this journey is all about and why it is so important to you.

AARON: The Adversity Into Adventure Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit group with a direct mission to enhance rehabilitation, recreation and neurological research by funding high-impact organizations for disability. Our vision is to create life enhancing opportunities for a Diverse-Abled™ world.

Beginning June 10th, 2024, I will wheel, walk, and roll around the globe. With my family, friends, and other community members joining in to spread awareness, will raise money for the foundation. We're not just raising funds though; we're raising hopes, dreams and possibilities. Every mile I cover, every story we share, and every life we touch brings us closer to a world where adversity is not an end but a new, exciting beginning.

LAURA: Transitioning from adversity to adventure seems like a profound shift. How do you envision your project inspiring others to embrace their own adversities and transform them into something positive?

AARON: I believe that adversity doesn’t define us; it’s how we respond to it that shapes our adventure. We want to equip individuals with the tools, experiences, and support necessary to overcome obstacles and turn adversity into a catalyst for self discovery.

LAURA: Both your book and project are deeply personal yet universally resonant. What message do you hope people take away from your work, particularly regarding resilience and the human spirit?

AARON: My message in motion will span five continents and transcend ‘languages’ and physical barriers so all individuals of varied abilities are inspired to take control of one’s life, to view their obstacles as opportunities, and to ignite a spark inside them that lights a fire to overcome anything.

My mission is to help people think, move and manifest their way through adversity. I am planting Mind-Seeds™. ∎

Learn more about Aaron’s book, ‘Painted Toes’, on his website:


Artists For Trauma Founder & Chief Executive Officer, 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.

Paying attention to what is being paid attention to is the first step toward addressing global challenges.
Photo Credit: Safari Consoler


In the intricate web of global affairs, it’s always interesting to pay attention to what is being paid attention to, as we in the United States are not the best at understanding things outside of our borders. Many people argue about the situations occurring in other countries we have seen on social media or sound bites from our news agencies without a clue as to what is happening worldwide (much less any idea what they are talking about). Today, one such multifaceted situation revolves around mineral resources, particularly cobalt, and the complex geopolitics entwined with it.

Cobalt, a critical component in lithium-ion batteries powering our daily gadgets, electric vehicles, and even medical devices, has become a linchpin in global dynamics. Astonishingly, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) produces a staggering 70% of the world's cobalt supply. Yes, the DRC is in Africa, for those of you who are geographically challenged. This discovery, intended to fuel progress, has instead become a source of immense suffering for the Congolese people. When I say suffering, I mean the deaths of ~6 million people and the forced relocation of 7 million others (not to mention those forced into slavery in their own country).

The layers of this crisis are unveiled when examining suspicions of major nations, including the U.S., Britain, France, and Israel, allegedly financing the destabilization of the Congo by supporting rebel groups. The aim appears to drive down cobalt extraction prices, facilitate smuggling, and resell the mineral at signi ficantly higher rates. Tragically, rebel groups are reported to be enslaving the Congolese people, forcing them to manually extract cobalt for sale to the countries backing these groups and the lucrative black market.

The repercussions of this exploitation are devastating, especially in the embattled eastern region of the Congo, where a protracted conflict has persisted for nearly three decades. Over 100 armed groups, several national armies, and geopolitical interests contribute to a dire humanitarian crisis, displacing millions and claiming countless lives. The M23, a well-organized rebel group allegedly backed by Rwanda, stands in con flict with the Congolese army, further intensifying the turmoil.

Amidst this chaos, an election is underway, but rather than promoting peace, President Felix Tshisekedi has heightened tensions by expressing hostility toward Rwanda. Recent border incidents and missiles fired by Rwanda demonstrate the potential for open war, leaving Congolese civilians as the greatest victims, seeking refuge in squalid camps.

The humanitarian crisis is exacerbated by rampant sexual violence, particularly affecting vulnerable women. Armed conflict forces them into dangerous areas in search of resources, only to face violence and exploitation. The roots of Congo's agony trace back to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, creating a complex tapestry of historical, economic, and strategic interests fueling the ongoing conflict.


“Understanding these complex situations is crucial in a world where attention often wavers.”

Despite the complexities, a glimmer of hope emerged with a temporary truce announced by the White House. The introduction of Chinese drones played a role in the cease fire, but the fragile peace hangs in the balance, emphasizing the need for diplomatic solutions to avoid further escalation.

While the world's attention may be drawn to conflicts like the one in the Congo, it's essential not to overlook another emerging African situation involving Iran's geopolitical maneuvering. For decades, Iran has supported militant Islamist groups in the Arab world, and now its influence extends into Africa. The Islamist military government in Sudan, struggling against a democratic revolution, receives military supplies from Iran, further complicating the region's dynamics.

As the Sudanese conflict unfolds, marked by a power struggle between the established Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces, Iran's involvement raises concerns. The civil war, a historical irony initiated by Gen. Omar al-Bashir, now sees Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo ("Hemedti") leading the RSF, which has quadrupled its forces. Iran's military aid to the Islamist generals in Sudan, accompanied by cultural, academic, and religious activities, presents a broader campaign to build influence in Africa. This intervention, detailed in a 2023 report on "Iran's renewed Africa policy," suggests an expansion beyond governmental levels into various networks, aiming for a tenfold increase in trade with Africa.

All of this is not to say that we should know everything that is going on around the world all the time, nor am I suggesting that we ignore Ukraine, Russia, Israel, and Palestine. I am only attempting to illuminate the complexities of conflicts that rage around the planet that we are blissfully unaware of or don’t pay attention to, somewhat fueling the unrest. Understanding these complex situations is crucial in a world where attention often wavers. From the cobalt mines of the Congo to the political intricacies in Sudan, paying attention to what is being paid attention to is the first step toward addressing global challenges. ∎


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).

It’s a curious hope.



Indigenous activist, Shirley Djukurnã Krenak, is a native woman from Brazil. Since she was 13 years old, she has responded to Mother Earth’s call to be a representative of indigenous rights and, above all, to fight for the preservation of the environment and ancestral spirituality. Today, at the age of 40, Shirley dedicates herself in body and soul to the struggle of indigenous women, something inherited from her traditional name, Djukurnã: a woman always willing, because she is the bearer of the spirit that never grows old.

ALLIÉ: Shirley, you've been an indigenous activist since the age of 13, responding to the call of Mother Earth. Can you share with us what initially inspired you to dedicate your life to indigenous rights and environmental preservation?

SHIRLEY: That's a really good question. In all the interviews, all the meetings internationally, no one asked this type of question. Everything starts with my father, as well my mother's history. I grew up seeing my parents fighting and struggling to keep tradition and our culture alive. They've been through different states during their lives, basically having issues with the land, with food, and with a place to live… I always saw my parents and our family fighting to EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH

I am with Mother Earth, and Mother Earth is with me.


Photo Courtesy: Shirley Djukurnã Krenak
“I grew up seeing my parents fighting and struggling to keep tradition and our culture alive.”

SHIRLEY: (continued) keep the culture alive and standing for the sacred land they have. My father was always telling me that they shouldn't let their heads down to the evil. They always need to look straight in the spiritual line, and never let the evil corrupt their ideas, or their minds. My father always told me that it wouldn't be enough if they fight for the land to keep their culture alive if I wouldn't continue the work, because otherwise they (and their culture) wouldn't be here on earth for long. So I would need to keep going with the work they have been doing. My father would tell me to never gave up on Mother Earth and to never give up on my dreams, objectives or goals that I would like to have. I am with Mother Earth, and Mother Earth is with me.

That's how I've been through this journey since I was 13-years-old… understanding how we see nature and how nature sees us. I shouldn't stop fighting because Mother Earth is with me, and I am with Mother Earth. So this is the bigger reason I keep going with my fighting struggle, for Mother Earth.

ALLIÉ: Your traditional name, Djukurnã, means "a woman always willing". Can you tell us about the signi ficance of this name and how it guides your activism and spirit?

SHIRLEY: This name is too one of my aunties. She had this name previously. And then I also have this name that was given from her. In the future, when I have a granddaughter, she will also carry this name as well. The name Djukurnã, it's a young spirit. It means a spirit who is always winning and will keep fighting. Having this name is not easy, but I need to honor her and need to honor the idea of having this name with her. It has not been easy, but I keep fighting. It's a way to connect me to Mother Earth and to the spiritual world.

ALLIÉ: Indigenous women play a vital role in the collective vision of belonging to the land. How has this perspective shaped your activism and your hope for the future?

SHIRLEY: Before I start questioning myself about being accepted and what that means, being accepted in this case, would it be being accepted by the white people? Because I've already been accepted by Mother Nature, we are all accepted by Mother Nature. This concept of being accepted only came after the ones who colonized us. I would use instead of being accepted, it's being respected.

Talking about being respected... I have been through a lot. I can mention about the prejudice, the genocide… At the moment in Brazil, we've been through a wave of women being killed, through the mining and agribusiness. Yesterday was built a great leader from one of the indigenous people in Brazil.

Even though it's been really tough with the struggle, what motivates me is there is always coming light beings from

It has not been easy, but I keep fighting.
Photo Courtesy: Shirley Djukurnã Krenak
“At the moment in Brazil, we’ve been through a wave of women being killed, through the mining and agribusiness.”

SHIRLEY: (continued) new waters - from mothers to earth. They need to have a place to breathe, to drink, and to eat. My biggest motivation is how to keep the planet alive for our children, and the future generations.

ALLIÉ: Let's talk for a moment just about indigenous women in general. Indigenous women play a vital role in the collective vision of belonging to a land. How has this perspective shaped your activism and hope for the future?

SHIRLEY: Indigenous women are fundamental to having the balance of biodiversity. I have been through a lot. I have faced violence inside of our lands as well with indigenous people. Indigenous women have been through religious intolerance.

They are forbidden to express their culture inside of their lands because they're being trapped by other religious groups. Some of them are being burned and raped. Violent psychology and also physical violence… At the moment they are occupying different space and not discussing these topics to bring the truth to all the people... It is a big struggle.

ALLIÉ: Your reference to wanting your song to be sung, your body's march to be followed, and your painting to be respected is deeply moving. Can you share more about the cultural and artistic aspects of your activism and how they contribute to your mission?

SHIRLEY: Painting my body is an art, and art comes from earth and all the understanding of being a woman, being a mother, being a daughter.. understanding of hope fighting for land with no evil. Working, singing… it's a way to resonate and also an echo to have a spiritual healing. My singing, my painting and all my actions, they're art and they're activists. But not only this, they are also ancestral.

ALLIÉ: In the face of the many challenges you and your community have encountered, what inspires you to keep fighting and persevering in your efforts to protect indigenous rights and the environment?

SHIRLEY: It’s definitely the children of the future generation. It's the ability to have the power in being true like many children, just like singing to them. It’s when they stop, they hear me, and afterwards, they are asking questions and are confronting me. That's what keeps me alive.

It’s when they stop, they hear me, and afterwards, they are asking questions and are confronting me. That’s what keeps me alive.
Photo Courtesy: Shirley Djukurnã Krenak
“My biggest hope, it’s on the children.”

SHIRLEY: (continued) They are the ones responsible to keep fighting. I get really humble. I get really emotional when I see children during my presentations… I feel when I’m in a space with children, I’m in the right place… They are also earth and water, and they will need resources… My biggest hope, it's on the children.

ALLIÉ: Yes, when the children are curious, that’s got to be hopeful.

SHIRLEY: It’s a curious hope. ∎

57 AwareNow Podcast A WOMAN ALWAYS WILLING Exclusive Interview with Shirley Djukurnã Krenak
to the full interview in the like above. Follow Shirley on
Learn more about and support her work
Instagram: @shirleykrenak
Photo Credit: @machetebangbang

“I’m in admiration of All my sisters, mothers, wives, girlfriends, grandmothers, female leaders and all those who love us gals all across the world!

I adore being a woman, and I’m so lucky to be surrounded by an extensive group of supremely alive ladies that keep showing up for one another and creatively thinking

outside the glass ceiling!”

Olympian & Intuitive Stretch Body Movement Coach

AwareNow Official Ambassador for Health & Wellness


People, when they enter a crisis, they are different once they are out.
Photo Courtesy: Dr. Ehsan Natour



Dr. Ehsan Natour is an internationally recognized heart surgeon who is also the cofounder of a foundation that supports patients and their relatives through numerous activities and art projects – with the aim of initiating sustainable change in our “sick health system”. Author of ‘When Life Comes To A Standstill’, he is a surgeon who touches the hearts and lives of his patients.

ALLIÉ: What inspired you to pursue a career in heart surgery, and how has your upbringing in your homeland influenced your approach to medicine and patient care?

EHSAN: Well, actually, heart surgery was, in fact, by accident. I was supposed to become a neurosurgeon. But then, during my study, I was working in a department of neurosurgery, and I was supporting myself with this job. And I decided to follow that, too. But as I finished my study, I noticed all those procedures were all too long, and you have to be under the microscope. I thought this will end with a headache, and all this stuff. So I decided, no, I don't want to. And I left the country and that city and went to Cologne to start something else. And by accident, I came and started

Let’s understand what’s happening with us when we leave our comfort zone.
Photo Courtesy: Dr. Ehsan Natour
“…you observe that behind this heart is a man, a patient, a human... and behind this patient is a family.”

EHSAN: (continued) where I was touching hearts and saw hearts beating, it was like a newborn moment. Yeah, that's it. That's how I started my career as a heart surgeon.

Now, the second part of your question, my upbringing, which in fluenced this health and patient care. You know, I grew up as a Palestinian in the state of Israel in a big family. We are 13 people. Yes, that means there is something happening daily. So we had stories and scenarios to share with each other. But this gives you... this family feeling gives you that tenderness that you need... those connections and love that you have within the family. And in fact, this is the patient care, the health care that we have to provide our patients with because they need this. That's how I started looking at health care from those eyes.

ALLIÉ: Can you share a memorable experience or patient interaction that has impacted your perspective on the healthcare system and the importance of supporting patients and their families?

EHSAN: Yeah. Look, patients, when they become patients, they are in trouble already. They have the feeling they are alone and they are unsupported. And they don't have, even for their own problems, a kind of instructions for use. So the families, their beloved ones, also are in the same trouble because they don't even have that instruction for use. If you take this from that point, you will discover that the patients and their beloved ones are in trouble. And they need that support. They need that support that could create an overview to reach next steps and could come out from that roller coaster journey where they are landed.

ALLIÉ: As the co-founder of Stilgezet, could you elaborate on the mission and objectives of the foundation, and how its activities and art projects contribute to sustainable change within the healthcare system? What does the de finition of Stilgezet mean to you?

EHSAN: You know, after a high number of surgeries, it means you are part of every faith of every patient. And I'm talking about thousands of people. Personally, I've touched surely more than 6,000 hearts in my life. I was involved in around 10,000 procedures, patients and their families, of course. And then you discover that all these people are in trouble. And despite good healthcare, which is supposed to be following the most innovative surgery, as example in heart surgery - the most innovative discipline in the surgeries, we found still around 40% of our patients are unhappy, despite fantastic surgery. So that was for me a reason to go back and try to understand what's happening. You know, I was observing all that stuff and that's just to do with my roots as poetic Arabics... So you observe not only that the heart is talking to you, the heart is moving, but you observe that behind this heart is a man, a patient, a human... and behind this patient is a family. And then you discover, oh my God, there's a lot to do with this. It's not only that I'm fixing an organ. I am a good doctor when I'm dealing with a good heart and fixing it, but I'm the better one when I take a family and am looking at the patient even behind that sickness. So, that opens my eyes that there is a problem. There is a need for investigations. That was the reason for me to set up a foundation to create awareness for this...

There is a need for awareness that a problem, a life event, will come to you and everybody. Nobody will be spared. So if this is the case, let's understand what's happening with us when we leave our comfort zone. And in fact, once this is happening, we are fragile. And the biggest problem we have is that we don't want to put ourselves at risk and share this with anybody, even with our beloved, because then you are fragile. If you don't share this, then I can't help you. So I have to understand what's happening and to open your eyes so that you can achieve recognition with the end target, to have good strength and resilience for those problems.

I have experienced hearts that are talking to me, moving with me, dancing with me...
Photo Courtesy: Dr. Ehsan Natour
“For this important journey in our life, we’re not preparing ourselves.”

EHSAN: (continued) For the next part of your question, the foundation was set up to create this awareness and how to create this awareness. So I thought, let's put all this in a book and spread this book. But I'm sure that not all people or communities are reading it, and not everybody is going to listen to my keynote lectures, podcasts or whatever. So I decided there are more tools that we can use to reach more people. And one of them is art. Art is an excellent tool because art speaks a language, everybody in the world understands. And we are using, in fact, art in all different forms. I'm busy with a lot of musicians, a lot of artists to create different things like therapies, like music, like piano, like rap… I have a rapper. She raps that rollercoaster journey. I created a chart of how it feels when you leave your comfort zone.

ALLIÉ: What are some of the key challenges you've faced in your career as a heart surgeon, and how have you overcome them to continue delivering high-quality care to your patients?

EHSAN: One of the challenges is what I said before, people are not aware, and that means they are not prepared when they enter the journey, but this journey is going to come to you. So it is challenging to prepare people for bad times because people don't want to be in touch with bad situations. They will decide when it is that far, I will then deal with it. But this is a mistake, because we are preparing ourselves for everything else. For example, when want to travel to Washington, I will use my navigation system to understand what is the way, to be aware when there is a traffic jam. But for this important journey in our life, we're not preparing ourselves. And sometimes not because we don't want to, in fact, because sometimes we're not aware of this. Once you are in the journey in the hospital, I think there is a deficit among the caregivers, that they are also not instructed how to deal with the patient, how to deal with the human being that is now in such a situation. So I think we have to understand that we are one of the co-owners of this journey. So our patient is the owner, the family is a co-owner, but we are also co-owners. And then you end up with the shared decision-making, a shared ownership and responsibility. And this leads to my target. What I would love to see happening is that people find a faster out to their new normal.

ALLIÉ: ‘When Life Comes To A Standstill’ is the title of your new book that also speaks to a moment in time when we stop and reflect. As the surgeon who touches the hearts of his patients, what do you hope people keep, carry and share from the pages of your book?

EHSAN: As I said before, it is a challenging situation once you are on the journey. But entering the journey means you are busy with three or four questions you are asking. “What's this that’s happening to me? Is this treatable? What's going to happen? I don't know the way…” A fourth question is, “I am afraid… What will my new identity be?”. That means people are busy with a kind of transition from an old identification to a new identification. People, when they enter a crisis, they are different once they are out. In this book, I would love to see people prepared for this. So this is a kind of management book for crisis. Be prepared that this will come to you. Accept it. Share your problem. Share the fact that you are, yes, leaving your comfort zone. Leave it. Because we need the crash in our life to understand what's going to happen to us. Learn from it. And that's, I think, an important message to the reader. They should not avoid crashes. They will come. And once they do, be aware, study, and learn from it. This will give you a new strength for your resilience.

ALLIÉ: We’re all on a mission. Let’s focus on one of yours. Please share the mission of ‘One Million Hearts’?

EHSAN: Yes, of course. You know, I think I have a big advantage because I'm not talking about a subject that I don't know. Again, I am by accident a heart surgeon. So, I'm in fact touching hearts. I know that everybody in the world has a heart. So if we have those hearts, let's reach them. Why it's important is because hearts are supposed to be a focus of happiness. And I have experienced hearts that are talking to me, moving with me, dancing with me... That was the

Sharing is a strength. It’s not a weakness…
Photo Courtesy: Dr. Ehsan Natour
“We want the people to listen to their heart, to create happiness…”

EHSAN: (continued) focus, by the way, of those ideas, to create music from the heart when we try to listen to it. And yes, we want the people to listen to their heart, to create happiness, to find their pathways easier and together with their beloved ones. Why is this important? Now, we know that cardiovascular diseases are still the number one killer in the world. It’s not possible to change this if we don't listen to our heart, if we don't start following a change together with our beloved ones, a change of our lifestyle, a change of our awareness towards things that might happen. And I think we have to reach a kind of empowerment of people to reach more and create that transformation from healthcare to connection. I think if we will have that bridge of connection, we all will have more con fidence and trust for a relationship among each other, especially in hospitals. Once you are fragile, you need this relationship. So with the mission of One Million Heart, I think that we hope that we will reach those one million people very fast, three years maybe, and then we will go to one billion, I think, to create empowerment and happiness. And at the end of the story, a healthier community.

ALLIÉ: For those who are passionate about being part of the change they want to see but have no idea where to begin, when it comes to the heart, where should they start?

EHSAN: It’s life changing when you are so far, and I need to open your eyes. I need to open your eyes to let you understand there is a kind of problem ongoing, otherwise you will not be with us in the hospital. So that means we have to work on prevention. Prevention means that it is necessary to get healthier. And as I said before, people avoid to think like this because this is inconvenient and it is a kind of negative thinking in the first moment, but when we create this awareness and let people understand if you take care and are aware of your health status, for your mental health, for your spiritual health and social health, this means you will be prepared for all kinds of events that can maybe surprise you in a healthcare manner. What I can advise to everybody is to start understanding that sharing is a strength. It's not a weakness, even once you are fragile. Put yourself at risk, share with people, share with your beloved ones because we say in surgery ‘four eyes discover more’. This helps with anticipating when you are prepared, you can do your checklists easier, you can go through the crisis easier, and at the end of the story you could find the way easier and earlier to the new normal, the new you. ∎

67 AwareNow Podcast HEALING HEARTS Exclusive Interview with Dr. Ehsan Natour
LISTEN Follow Dr. Natour on Instagram: @dr_ehsan_natour Purchase his book ‘When Life Comes To A Standstill’:
I had to add the heart.


When I usually paint, I’m in my studio. I’m listening to FKA Twigs, Sade, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone or someone along those lines. I’ve seldom painted in front of people before, but when I did, I had my earbuds in. But when I was invited to paint in Dubai at the Global Black Impact Summit, I didn’t have my earbuds in… and heard EVERY WORD from each of the panelists on stage. This was important because as the speakers spoke, I was impacted deeply… and every word I heard went into the painting.

‘My Heart’ is about those of us who have gone through or are going through hard times. The main figure's face is distorted, textured and complex. There is a feeling of pain and confusion yet the figure keeps going. The background of the painting shows the ancestors, our friends and family, the countless people close to us and those who are faceless who have sacrificed for us, those who have our backs, those who inspire and support us… those who push us even when we are unaware.

The heart in the right hand corner was given to me by Dr. Ehsan Natour. He sent me a picture of his actual heart and suggested that I use it. At first, I was a little resistant, but then I reflected on my own life… how many times and how many people held my heart for me when I lived in my darkness… I had to add the heart.

I feel so honored to have been a part of the Global Black Impact Summit and to have been able to create a piece that when auctioned raised $16,000 for the Black Impact Foundation to support their efforts to unite the global community. They have my heart. ∎

With AwareNow Art, support Sage and his work as an artist who paints to raise awareness. Purchase ‘My Heart’, as a 30” x 24” canvas print.

Learn more here:


Multi-Media Artists, Author & Official Ambassador for Homelessness Awareness

SAGE GALLON is a published & award winning multi-media artist. His paintings, photographs, books, music and films present common themes of our humanity with ingenious artistry and inspiring articulation. Despite the losses he’s endured in his life, the wins he’s gained along the way serve as a light for so many lost in the dark.

‘MY HEART’ Artwork
by: Sage Gallon
I am a Black girl with disabilities who was adopted by two queer dads, one raised in poverty and one an immigrant. Activism is the air we breathe at our house.



Helena Donato-Sapp is a 14-year-old scholar, activist, artist, fierce feminist and soughtafter keynote speaker in the field of education. As a child with multiple learning disabilities, her main focus is on Disability Justice and she seeks to lift up disability pride. She is an intersectional activist, because of her many identities, and this is why she has the rare ability to speak to thousands of educators and win their hearts and minds to action for a better and more just school system.

TANITH: Helena at just 14 years old you have already done so much to raise awareness of Disability Justice and many other issues. At what point during your own experience did you decide to become an activist?

HELENA: That’s kind of a funny question to me because I was raised by two dads who were fierce activists long before I was born. So, to answer your question, I think I’d say that I have been an activist since day one of my life. I have never known a time when I was not political because of all of my intersectional identities. I am a Black girl with disabilities who was adopted by two queer dads, one raised in poverty and one an immigrant. Activism is the air we breathe at our house. CLICK, TAP OR SCAN TO WATCH NOW
I love speaking and reaching people’s hearts and minds through stories about disabilities, anti-bullying, and Black girlhood.

TANITH: Since starting this journey you have become a published scholar and are now sought after as a keynote speaker amongst many other things. What is your preferred way to raise awareness and why?

HELENA: I think my favorite way to raise awareness is speaking. I was 9 when I started going to university classes every semester to speak to future teachers and tell them that kids can tackle tough topics. Also, at 9 years old, I was honored to be named the Designated Poet of The National Institutes for Historically-Underserved Students and I hold that position to this day. I was awarded to be the inaugural Youth Poet Ambassador of my city last year. And I am in a partnership with the National Education Association, the largest labor union in the United States. Last year I keynoted at two of their national conferences, once to 2,000 education leaders and then to 8,000 educators. I love speaking and reaching people’s hearts and minds through stories about disabilities, anti-bullying, and Black girlhood. Speaking is my favorite way to raise awareness.

TANITH: You have also partnered with the National Education Association on a campaign titled ‘Become a Champion for Disability Rights and Inclusion’. Tell us more about that role?

HELENA: One of the leaders in NEA read an article I published in the peer-reviewed journal titled Equity and Excellence in Education and it was about confronting ableism. That piece led her to me and was how I became that first keynote speaker. I did really well and they invited me back for the second keynote and that is where we launched a national campaign titled “Becoming a Champion for Disability Rights and Inclusion.” They got that title because I had spoken about the great teachers I have who are so supportive of my learning disabilities and how I had named them my champions. In my role with them, I serve as “the voice” of more than 7.4 million students with disabilities in America’s public school system. I am very involved with this labor union and the leadership and members are very, very dear to me and are definitely a second family to me. Go Labor and Go Unions!

TANITH: In addition to a number of other awards you have received, in November last year you flew to the UK as a finalist for the Global Youth Awards 2023 and left a winner of the Educational Leadership category. Tell us about your experience in the UK and at the awards?

HELENA: I could NOT believe that I even became a finalist! It was SO surprising and so affirming. Because my Papa is a retired flight attendant, we can fly for free and so he and I and my grandmother hopped a plane to London. The Global Youth Awards ceremony was really glamorous and I just couldn’t believe I was there with so many amazing activists. I went shopping in London and bought some of the new Harry Styles clothes and wore them to the event. The speeches, the music, the new friends I made just made the event incredible. My award was the first one announced and, trust me, I was shocked when they said my name as the winner! Thank heavens you taped it all, because I don’t remember what I said when I went up on stage to receive the award. When I got back to my seat, my Papa hugged me and I just burst in to tears! It was overwhelming. We have the beautiful award sitting on our mantel at home and it is an honor I look at every day to inspire me, to affirm me, but also to help me remember to be fierce in the world and keep doing fierce work for justice. As for London, although I had been there when I was young, I really fell in love with it this time. I could see myself going to college there and that dream happened because of the Global Youth Awards. Everyone is SO nice there. We walked around a lot and I think I’m pretty sure I saw Harry Styles, but he had a hat on and I am the only one who noticed him!

TANITH: The love and support that you have from your dads has been clear since we first interacted, and I’m aware you are collaborating with on a number of projects together in addition to your own work. Tell us more about the projects and also how you feel knowing you have such wonderful support with everything you are doing?

HELENA: I have two fathers – Dad and Papa – who love me and support me in so many ways. I have a lot of new projects going on or coming out soon. A lot of people do NOT think that a young girl can do things like scholarship, so I have a new chapter coming out where I confront that and it is titled “Brick-by-Brick: How I made myself into a 14year-old scholar” and it shows how I write and publish. As a youth activist and scholar, I have to confront those who do not think youth are capable, which by the way, is why the Global Youth Award for Educational Leadership is so dear to me. I just finished a book chapter for a film book titled “Teens on screens in the 21st century” and my chapter is on how the TV show Stranger Things helped me understand the role of the outsider and saved me from a lot of pain because of bullying in middle school. I am going to present that at a film conference soon. Another interesting thing


HELENA: (continued) that happened is that I was invited by our city Mayor, the Honorable Rex Richardson, to become the youngest city Commissioner in the history of our city. He invited me to be an inaugural member of the Commission for Women and Girls. I am also the official Poet Ambassador of my city and I do a lot of poetry speaking. And I have my continued partnership with the National Education Association. There is actually a LOT more.

The thing about my two dads is that they are just great. Here is an example. I’ll tell you that we have nine family values that we live by. We add to them as they come to us, but we have nine right now. And one of them has been that we NEVER say anything negative about anyone’s body and that includes our own bodies. So, I have lived all of my life and never heard a single negative thing about my body in my home. Can you imagine?! That is one reason I see my learning disabilities as my superpowers, because there is not an option to view them any other way! I tell you that family value because it really speaks to the kind of fathers I have. They empower me, support me, and love me to the moon and back a million, billion, trillion, gazillion times.

TANITH: You were also recently featured on The Discovery Education Channel for their series on Identity, Empathy and belonging. How did that opportunity come about and how did it feel to be on a channel with such a huge reach and what opportunities have arisen as a result?

HELENA: As I told you before, I have been an activist since the day I was born, so I have a pretty large body of work at this point. Some things I seek out, like for example a chapter in a book. I have to submit a proposal idea and write up an abstract and send it in and wait for it to be peer-reviewed and then I might or might not get an invitation to write. A lot of work is like that. But once in a while, others see my website or an article about me and THEY reach out to me with a surprise invitation. That has been what has happened, for instance, with an invitation to be on The Disney Channel during Black History Month, or with my beautiful partnership with the National Education Association or being featured in Mission Magazine and having a spread in an actual high fashion magazine like that. And that is what happened with The Discovery Channel. They saw my work and thought I was best to represent the quality of empathy. They contacted me out of the blue. It was such an honor that they saw me as having empathy for my work to lift up disability pride, to affirm Black girlhood, and to name my bullying and speak out against. It. It was amazing because they flew a whole crew from North Carolina and spent an entire day filming me at my home. And they were so nice to me because they found out I want to be in film and TV and they let me work the camera a bit!

TANITH: I know that London is calling but what are your hopes, dreams, and aspirations for the future?

HELENA: I had a mentor early on in my life named Zoe and she is a freshman in London right now and we were able to spend a day with her in London when I was there for the Awards. She inspired me to think about college in another country and I really did fall in love with London. The only job I have ever wanted was to be in film and TV. I love to write and in my fun time I write scripts. We are a family that loves TV and film and we watch and analyze it all the time. We pause and make predictions and we pause and analyze things. My two fathers have been having critical conversations with me about representation since I was little. I mean, as far back as My Little Pony and talking about how the show’s ponies represent whiteness as heavenly and Blackness as evil. So, I do like to write, but I am also interested in representation of race, class, disability, queerness and gender and dozens of other identities. I want to make a contribution to film and TV that makes it better and more inclusive. I want film and TV to more just. Whatever I do, I want it to be focused on equity and justice. ∎

Learn more about Helena:

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.

TANITH HARDING Director of International Development, The Legacy Project, RoundTable Global
So, all my films actually show us from that other side, from that very human side…
Credit: Barbara Seyr



A story of healing hinged on hope, ‘Lourdes’ is a film that takes you where you weren’t prepared to go but are glad you went, guided by the talented writer and director Jessica Hausner. A brilliant testament to the depth of the human condition as it relates to understanding our struggles with ourselves and with society, ‘Lourdes’ is a Martin Scorsese favorite… and a favorite of mine as well.

ALLIÉ: All things start with inspiration. Let's start there, Jessica. What inspired you to produce your film, Lourdes?

JESSICA: So, Lourdes was made a couple of years ago. I think we shot the film in 2008. I remember that the first idea for this project was a very simple one. I started from a sort of log line which was a film about a miracle, and after a while the log line became slightly longer. It became a film about a miracle which might not be one after all. In the very beginning of the film, I already understood that the interesting point is the questioning of what is a miracle supposed to be, what does it mean, is it here for us to give us the idea about some divine power or is it just happening coincidentally? And so I started to actually research different places of miracles, and Lourdes is one of the most wellknown places where they claim that they have miracles happening. So, I investigated that place. I did a lot of

So, that was very moving for me to understand that this is about people who have no other hope left.
“This is a story maybe more like a fairytale about a very existential human condition.”

JESSICA: (continued) the people who go there hoping to be healed actually. On that journey when I developed the story, I understood more about being sick. The people who go to Lourdes are believers, but also people who are very, very sick. A lot of people are near death when they go there because it's sort of their last hope that suddenly maybe a miracle might happen. So, that was very moving for me to understand that this is about people who have no other hope left.

ALLIÉ: Well, let's talk a little technical. Prolonged pauses make you sit with the character's emotions and thoughts, unguided by a suggestive narrative. So I'd love to hear about the power of the pause when it comes to your perspective as a filmmaker.

JESSICA: That idea, like what you call a 'pause', is maybe what I call 'real time'. So when I thought about the visualization of the film or the realization of the film, I normally draw some sketches, and I draw a storyboard. While doing that, I understood that this film is very much about the difference between the idea in my head, like belief or hope and God. So this is all in my head, in contrast to maybe also some banality of the reality. To show this banality, I decided to not cut scenes too much and make them all very fast and intriguing, but to allow the nothingness to take place, to make you feel as a spectator that's just banal life. In that situation when I'm waiting for something, there are a couple of minutes of nothingness. I didn't cut them out, and the reason was really to make us as an audience feel also the absence of some divine power, if you want.

ALLIÉ: Well, it's done in such a powerful way. Let's get more into the technicality of things. I would like to talk about color, because the color treatment, as you very well know, it smartly, subtly sets the tone speci fically for this film in such a profound way. I'd love to hear your thoughts on color as a filmmaker.

JESSICA: In general, the colors in my films play a very important part because the style that I create is slightly artificial. So, it's not that typical naturalism that you find in many films where no color is especially popping out. I try to create a visual that is slightly artificial, also to make an audience understand that this is not just a story about some real incident. This is a story maybe more like a fairytale about a very existential human condition. I work with Tanya Hausner. She's my sister, and she's the costume designer on all my films. She's actually the first person to read the script, and then she comes up with some ideas about colors. So, in my films it starts by the costume and with the ideas of my sister. From there we develop the visual style or the color style of each film.

ALLIÉ: And so, as you're explaining that, I'm just thinking back to the film and, oh, the red sweaters and, oh, this and all that... it was so, so powerful.

JESSICA: The color of red was important in that film because red means love, but it also means danger. I have the color of red quite often in my films. It's also a sort of thin red line that guides you through the film. So sometimes the lead character in my films has a red accessory, like Christine in Lourdes, wearing the red hat, and in other films I have red shoes or a red suitcase. So then the lead character sometimes is going with a red something.

“I think through talking to the people who had MS, we understood also maybe some details from everyday life… And one was brushing your own hair, or scratching your own nose, or putting on your own makeup.”

ALLIÉ: Well, it's just incredibly impactful. Let's talk a little less technical and more personal now of all. Of all the diagnoses in the world that you could have selected for Christine, your main character, why was it MS? Why did you choose MS as your diagnosis of choice?

JESSICA: Well, when we started the research about miracles in Lourdes, we also talked to the doctor, the medical doctor in Lourdes. He's there to investigate the so-called miraculous healings. And he sort of makes sure or tries to make sure of what sort of healing is it. We talked to him, and during that conversation, it became clear that some illnesses do have sudden improvements or a sudden deterioration. And multiple sclerosis is one of those illnesses where you can experience a sudden improvement. But it is not... Sometimes it's not there for long. So, it's a moment or a phase where your body becomes better, and then maybe it becomes worse again. In the history of Lourdes, there are several persons with multiple sclerosis who have been miraculously healed. And there seems to be a connection between also the psychological impact you experience there and your physical condition.

ALLIÉ: You know, the fragility of the main character, Christine, is so beautifully portrayed - two speci fic times for me. The first time she brushes her own hair and the first time she's twirled around on the dance floor... For me, as someone living with MS, I can very much relate to that fragile state. And I guess my question now, and perhaps it's an obvious question, but why was that degree of detail so important in your film?

JESSICA: I think when I remember... in the preparation of the film, I was allowed to visit a group of people with multiple sclerosis, like a self-aid group. And that was an important moment for me because I was allowed to listen to their conversations. So I understood from their personal experiences, what it is like to have MS, or I sort of could understand some personal details. And I remember very well that someone said that it is so hard to allow a helper to help you... That person said she felt it's hard to keep her pride if she always has to ask someone to do this or that for her. I remember that well, because also for the actress, Sylvie Testud, that was a very important moment to understand that the character in the film wants to keep her pride. She doesn't want to feel humiliated because she needs help. So, this was an important point. And I think through talking to the people who had MS, we understood also maybe some details from everyday life… And one was brushing your own hair, or scratching your own nose, or putting on your own makeup.

ALLIÉ: This film, I will say, it makes you question religion, humanity, self. It makes you ask, who do I put trust in? Or at least, that's what I asked myself. Was this the subliminal question that you wanted your film to ask? If not, what was it that you wanted people to ask and to be curious about?


JESSICA: Well, I wanted to show something that I understood only through this process of doing the research for the film and making the film. There was one thing that I understood, which is that we all hope to survive. If you have a bad illness or you don't have a bad illness, every one of us will die in the end. And if you have a bad illness, you might think of it more and you might be more aware of how decay will end your life. But it's true for everyone. And this is some point that was the reason also that I wanted to show that we think we can survive, and we hope that we will live forever. But it's true for everyone that they're going to die. And that is sort of an absurdity also in our existence, that we want to neglect it. We want to forget it every day, but it's there.

ALLIÉ: You know, thinking about some of the characters in your film, a number of them, of course, they live with a disability. I feel like this is so important to have this on-screen visibility of people with disabilities to provide opportunities for empathy and understanding, was this a speci fic need that you intentionally sought to support with your film?

JESSICA: I think so. I mean, maybe this is not something that I consciously do, but I understand in my films when they're finished. I sometimes think, oh, interesting. Again, I show people who sort of... are not like... who are let's say on a little bit of the outside. Or how do you say... that not fitting into that image that we all want to fit into. So, all my films actually show us from that other side, from that very human side, where we have weaknesses, where we do mistakes, where we are sometimes wrong and ridiculous, where we are outsiders in our life. So that is something I would say that is moving me a lot, because I finally think that… No one is really perfect. So everyone is, in a way, an outsider as well.

ALLIÉ: I love it, so beautifully put... So good things come to those who wait. And wait we did. Your film has this... You just get drawn in. There's a slow rise that brought so much steep depth to a story about someone who started out a stranger that we then (disability or not), we saw ourselves in. This is where we get a little more personal. Can you share a personal story of time when waiting resulted in something very much worth waiting for? CLICK, TAP OR SCAN TO WATCH NOW
No one is really perfect. So everyone is, in a way, an outsider as well.

JESSICA: I don't know if I can translate this into English. There is in German language, or actually it's in Austrian dialect, there is a saying, which is something like, more things have been waited for than run after... I don't know if that makes sense. I don't know if it's true. I'm personally someone who runs after things. I think I should wait more and just let things happen by themselves. It's probably a good plan for me to learn.

ALLIÉ: Well, I will say that your film is a beautiful testament to that, because with the waiting for what's next, waiting what's going to happen, you take in so much, almost not even meaning to. You just are absorbing it. It's just being gifted to you just in watching. I guess one last question would be, what do you want people to think, feel, or take away when they sit and watch your film, Lourdes, what do you want them to keep with them?

JESSICA: I do think it's about understanding that we are all handicapped.

ALLIÉ: I hear you, we all have a disability, whether it's visible or not. Your film is an incredible one that I'm just honored to have watched. I'm honored to have this conversation with you. Thank you so much for sharing your talent, for sharing your time, and for helping all of us just become a bit more aware now. Thank you so much.

JESSICA: Thank you. ∎

85 AwareNow Podcast LOURDES Exclusive Interview with Jessica Hausner
LOURDES will soon be available on iTunes, Amazon & other leading digital platforms, courtesy of Film Movement. Learn more about Jessica and her work via IMDB:
Let’s get to Paris, win a gold, and we’ll see how it all unravels from there.




It’s hard to believe that this marks 20 years of me participating in Paralympic sport. 20 YEARS!

I spoke to a group recently, and a number of kiddos in the crowd were born in 2005, 2007, and 2008. When I started this journey, I was the teenager looking at the older athletes like…"Dang, you’re up there in age!"

Now, I’m that older athlete.

The blessing in it all is that after five Paralympic Games, seven world championships, and countless national championships, I still have a great shot at checking the one box that I haven’t checked, and that’s winning gold this summer at the Paralympics.

That’s literally it. I’ve won gold at every major international competition excluding the games. I have a world record, an America’s record, and an American record. It has been a beautiful ride, one that only God above could’ve orchestrated. And it continues on!

National championships are quickly approaching which is the quali fier for the world championships held in May. It’s a little awkward having the world qualifier on the same year as the games, but the pandemic pushed a few of our events to different years. Most notably, Tokyo shifted from 2020 to 2021.

Nevertheless, the scheduling of these events are out of our control so the main focus is to be ready when the time calls for it.

You may wonder, will Paris be the last time I will be seen on the track?

Great question. I’m not sure. Assuming that I compete in LA 2028, that will be my final flight. I have no intentions of going beyond Los Angeles.

With all that has gone on in my career, it would be a phenomenal experience to end on home soil. That would be absolutely incredible!

But for now, let’s get to Paris, win a gold, and we’ll see how it all unravels from there. ∎



x Paralympic Medalist, 4x World Champion & Keynote Speaker

LEX GILLETTE has quickly become one of the most sought after keynote speakers on the market. Losing his sight at the age of eight was painful to say the least, but life happens. Things don’t always go your way. You can either stay stuck in frustration because the old way doesn’t work anymore, or you can create a new vision for your life, even if you can’t see how it will happen just yet. His sight was lost, but Lex acquired a renewed vision, a vision that has seen him become the best totally blind long and triple jumper Team USA has ever witnessed.
Failure is only when you refuse to keep playing.
Photo Courtesy: Ashley Connelly




Ashley Connelly is the visionary behind Lionbear Ventures. In this conversation, we explore the profound moments that shaped her journey from grant writing to rural economic development, as she reflects on pivotal instances where her passion for community building led to tangible transformations, overcoming hurdles in male-dominated industries. With sincerity and wisdom, she shares invaluable lessons learned, offering heartfelt advice to young women navigating their own paths, echoing the resilience and determination that define her entrepreneurial spirit.

ALLIÉ: With your extensive experience in startup and small business strategy, what key lessons have you learned throughout your entrepreneurial journey that you believe are essential for aspiring business owners, especially those venturing into rural or underserved markets?

ASHLEY: A mentor told me this and it felt so true. To be a good entrepreneur it’s 2 things. First, you’ve got to be good at “figuring it out”. The breadth of knowledge you need to run a business is huge and you might not be good at it all,

I’m much further ahead in my score than when I started.
Photo Courtesy: Ashley Connelly
“I want to be a leader that inspires others to follow me, to pursue the same vision.”

ASHLEY: (continued) coming next, you just gotta figure it out. Second, think about a business as a sporting game. You just gotta keep playing even when you're behind. Keep pushing even if it just puts you into overtime. Failure is only when you refuse to keep playing. I wasn’t sure I had the willpower when I decided to buy my restaurant. It nearly killed me, but I kept pushing myself into overtime and can now say that I'm much further ahead in my score than when I started.

ALLIÉ: Building effective teams is crucial to building any business. Could you share some insights into your approach to team building and management, particularly in dynamic and diverse settings such as Rivals Taphouse? How do you foster a culture of collaboration and innovation within your teams?

ASHLEY: I want to be a leader that inspires others to follow me, to pursue the same vision. I bought Rivals in December 2022 and quickly learned that the existing culture was not one that aligned with my vision. It took several months, but I mentored, encouraged, and trained key staff members who I identified as future leaders. Today, they run the restaurant, and I just check-in with them. Our leadership team has a culture of trust, respect, desire for continuous learning and self improvement, they care deeply for the entire staff, and we want to win. We want to be the best bar/ restaurant in Shiawassee County and one that treats their staff and guests with the respect they’ve earned.

ASHLEY: For me, it's like with my restaurant. I cannot run a restaurant on my own, nor do I honestly desire to even try to accomplish that. So, I need a team. I need a team, or I'm not going to survive. I think everyone has their own management style, their own leadership style. I consider myself a leader, and my approach is to surround myself with people who I can inspire to follow me, right? They see the vision, they trust me, and I don't have to show up every day and make sure they're doing their job. I give them the box that they have to operate in, and they know what the destination is. We talk, and I mentor them.

So the first thing I did with Rivals was create my management team. And these are young individuals who've never been managers, they've never been leaders. They didn't know they were leaders, but I could see the qualities in them. And so my approach was to identify those that I felt like had the desire and the capacity. I mentored them, we talked, and I trained them in the things that they needed to do. They learned accounting, they learned all kinds of things. Maybe a lot of other leaders would not have offered them the opportunity given their age or their experience, but I just wanted to be a leader that's more about providing people opportunities to develop and grow while ensuring that they can deliver along the way, right? They have to be accountable for the results.

ALLIÉ: As the founder of Lionbear Ventures, you have been deeply involved in rural economic development and community building initiatives. Can you discuss a speci fic instance where you witnessed tangible, positive transformation within a rural community due to your efforts?

ASHLEY: I’ve been working in Rural Development for only about 2 years now, and transformational change is slow, but you can feel it. We’ve been working closely with a few small villages (600 population or less) and you can see the transformation of the village leaders we’re working with. Rural people tend to be realists and they don’t always believe they can win grants or bring about transformational projects. It’s scary, and failure is scary. These folks are community members and volunteers with little to no experience with managing big projects. With two of these villages we’ve secured over half a million each with construction planned a year or more out. The most rewarding experience is seeing clients begin to believe they can make meaningful change and that their community deserves these funds as

I met my husband when I was 19-years-old. So for me, home has always been him.
Photo Courtesy: Ashley Connelly
“For me, it’s the people you surround yourself with. That’s home, right? That’s your consistency.”

ASHLEY: (continued) much as the next. They have so much pride in the village and when they receive the recognition that they deserve these funds because they have the need, the vision, and the capacity to execute… it’s validating.

ALLIÉ: Being a female entrepreneur, you’ve experienced your share of hurdles. What has been your biggest obstacle in a male dominated market where you’re trying to make your mark?

ASHLEY: So, I started my career almost 20 years ago now. The world is a much different place. I worked for Lockheed Martin, and although I didn't realize it at the time, they were quite ahead in thinking about DEI and equity. But I was still surrounded by males all the time. Even 20 or 15 years later, I was working in manufacturing organizations that were still male-dominated. In rural communities where I work, most of the government and people in power are male… There are still boys' clubs that exist. I'm doing my best to dismantle and disrupt them, but it's not always easy. Or maybe it's just a hobby of mine. I don't get paid to do that.

The statistics show that most of the capital in the world is still controlled by white males. When I have clients designing shoe purses, for example, or an on-demand manufacturing or jewelry platform, and all the investors they're talking to cannot relate because they don't make custom jewelry or see the market for a purse that carries expensive high heel shoes, I empathize. So how do we fix those things other than increasing representation? How can capital be managed by people who are representative of different diverse groups? That's the thing that still keeps me awake at night. How do we disrupt that model? Because it could have a major impact.

ALLIÉ: I love that you say dismantling these kinds of things is a hobby of yours. Or maybe it's a calling, I dare say?

ASHLEY: Well, when someone can pay me to start doing that, then I can make a job of it. But right now it's just a shiny distraction where I have to say, “No, stay focused.” <laugh>

ALLIÉ: In your life, you've traveled so many different roads, from a life in Italy, to establishing yourself in Detroit, Michigan, which are of course very different places. Now again, you are living a life in the rural Midwest. What is the common thread? This is where we're going to get a little personal. What is the common thread in all of these places that makes you feel ‘home’?

ASHLEY: I met my husband when I was 19-years-old. So for me, home has always been him. And now that we have two kids… We just both have this natural curiosity about us. We thrive and like change and adventure. That's what's made it home everywhere we go. It’s that you're with your person, and you're in a place where you can discover, adventure and try new things. For me, it's the people you surround yourself with. That's home, right? That's your consistency. Maybe you still have your favorite pillow and your favorite blanket and that goes with you everywhere. But it's really… It's the people you come home to.

ALLIÉ: Yes… The people you come home to make it home. Thank you for sharing that, Ashley. Let's close on this note. To the young women coming up in this world… You've got a daughter… What advice would you give to them that you wish you could have given to your younger self?

They didn,t know they were leaders, but I could see the qualities in them.
Photo Courtesy: Ashley Connelly
“To the young people, one more piece of advice is to find safe ways to fail…”

ASHLEY: That one's hard for me because I feel like advice is so personal. The advice I should have taken for myself was… I don't know if this is everybody or just me, but I was gifted with confidence. <laugh> So, I tended to go into things thinking I had it all figured out. I'm smart, and I don't need to listen to anyone's advice. Well, I wish I would've listened to more advice when I was younger.

I don't know if that's for everyone, for women, or for young females in particular. I think it's just about being patient. A change will come. I know that's hard as a young person where you just want to make an impact early. You don't realize how quickly years can go by, but then you look back and you're like, “A lot’s changed in 10 years.” And so, I think it’s being patient. But they also need to keep the fire in their belly. They need to disrupt things that aren't right. And you know, we kind of depend on our young people to do that. To the young people, one more piece of advice is to find safe ways to fail… It’s a gift to fail. Listen more. ∎

95 AwareNow Podcast RESILIENCE Exclusive Interview with Ashley Connelly
Connect with Ashley on LinkedIn:
I didn’t know how strong I was until being strong was the only choice I had.



That smile hides a lot of pain but also re flects a strength that was building. For I am a Desert Rose. Innocent and brave. I didn’t know how strong I was until being strong was the only choice I had.

I had both a beautiful and difficult childhood full of trauma. This does not make me unique. But what does, in comparison to many others, is the way resilience kept me going at every turn. It’s part of my DNA and literally started in the womb.

Daily, my heart and prayers are with every child in Palestine. As a mother to Palestinian children in the diaspora, it’s impossible not to. When they dehumanize those children, they demonize mine.

The strongest desire I’ve ever had, I’m experiencing now. To be in Gaza. To help these beautiful children know that they are Kings and Queens. Princes and Princesses. One day, the air will be filled with the sound of their beautiful laughter again and replace their wails of fear and anxiety.

I will not leave you Falasteen. We are tied in the womb forever. As I have bore your offspring and we will never let you go. ∎

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.

Let’s not lose hope. And let’s persist in our struggle for justice, democracy and human rights…
Photo Courtesy: Manizha Bakhtari



Her Excellency Manizha Bakhtari, an Afghan author and diplomat, currently holds the position of Afghan ambassador to Austria. Previously, she served as the Afghan ambassador to the Nordic countries (Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, and Finland). Additionally, she has held roles as the Chief of Staff at the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and as a part-time lecturer at Kabul University. She earned a B.A. in journalism and an M.A. in Persian Language and Literature from Kabul University. Manizha is the daughter of the renowned Afghan poet Wasef Bakhtari. Before her diplomatic career, she contributed to the Cooperation Center for Afghanistan (CCA), a non-governmental organization.

ALLIÉ: Well, let's get right into it. Let's begin this way. Could you tell us first how you became the Afghan Ambassador to Austria just before the fall of the Afghan Republic, and how has your embassy managed to remain operational despite the severe challenges and pressure from the Taliban?

MANIZHA: Yes, Allié, it's been quite a journey. I entered the foreign service in 2007, but I resigned from the

“I couldn’t believe it would happen… to lose everything we had achieved over the past 20 years in the blink of an eye, like a house of cards collapse.”

MANIZHA: (continued) back by the former foreign minister to rejoin the service, and I accepted the offer and commenced my rule as the Ambassador of Afghanistan to Austria on January 2021, only to witness the government's collapse in August of the same year, I mean like in six, seven months. And what do you call it? Fate, I don't know. Even during those six months, we encountered numerous challenges as the then government was on the brink of collapse, and we received conflicting instructions. We were a bit lost even on those six, seven months. And despite obvious signs, I couldn't believe it would happen. I was convinced that with the thousands of security forces, the brilliant civil society and women leaders around us, we wouldn't reach such a point to lose everything we had achieved over the past 20 years in the blink of an eye, like a house of cards collapse. Following the collapse, we found ourselves made of numerous problems. Firstly, our embassy residence and our diplomats accommodations were in rental apartments, and we hadn't received any financial support and still we do not receive any financial support. Consequently, we had to relocate to more affordable places. We couldn't sustain a large team. I had a large theme at the time, so we have to let go let of diplomats and local employees. Currently, we survive on the small income earned... I have a small team. Well, I won't elaborate further on this, but it's important to note that when I speak of the embassy, it is not the typical office of diplomats, as you have something in your imagination... We simply strive to survive the financial challenges. And when you call me the 'ambassador', that's not like a typical ambassador with the driver or secretary or whatsoever... We try to survive. Additionally, we face signi ficant political challenges and obstacles including pressures from the Taliban. Especially these pressures are directed towards me as the head of the nation, and you know I'm vocal about the atrocities committed by the Taliban and consistently I oppose them whenever I can speak on international platforms or other media spaces. So that was the journey.

ALLIÉ: Quite a journey... So, what is the overall situation in Afghanistan today?

MANIZHA: Afghanistan today is a prime example of a failed state, both domestically and internationally. It's a landscape defaced by poverty, with little to no support for its people and minimal job opportunities. According to a recent report from UNICEF a staggering 29.2 million individuals, including 5.3 million of poor populations are in dire need of humanitarian assistance. They are trapped in a large wave of restrictions and struggling. They are struggling with severe limitations on their freedoms. And the Taliban's takeover since August 2021 has plagued the nation into a downward trend. They have blatantly disregarded Afghanistan's commitments and their international treaties like the Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Afghanistan rati fied that in 2003. And Taliban's policies are draconian, particularly targeting women. They are limiting education, imposing barriers to employment, and severely restricting their movements, pushing them to the margins of society. And besides that, arbitrary arrests, prosecution and torture are happening, especially targeting young women and former security forces. And Afghanistan once was an active member of the global community, and now it stands isolated, ruled by extreme ideologies and shunned by international platforms. And I remember that our then foreign ministry with the help of other entities were reporting to the Commission of Resolution 1325 once, and now we do not have even one female employee in the very same ministry. The situation is extremely dire and disheartening. Millions of girls can't go school and can't continue their higher education. Women have lost their rights and aren't part of progress anymore. Afghanistan used to be an active member of the international community, now it's controlled by a strict extreme way of thinking and as things get worse, people's problems grow, showing how hopeless the situation is.


ALLIÉ: Could you discuss for a moment the term we're hearing more of 'gender apartheid' in Afghanistan and how the Taliban's edicts, verdicts, and bans affect the future of women in Afghanistan?

MANIZHA: Absolutely. You know, since their takeover, the Taliban has issued over 70 decrees, at least I know about the seventy decrees, that effectively ban women from participating in society, politics, and other various activities. And now when we translate these decrees and look at the Taliban's governing structure, what comes is a reality of gender segregation or what can be strongly termed as 'gender apartheid'. You're aware of the international convention on the suppression and punishment of the crime of apartheid, which was certi fied in 1976, in response of South Africa's racial segregation. That actually serves as a crucial document condemning any actions leading to racial segregation. And now, if you just replace the 'racial' with 'gender' segregation, then it's applicable to a constant situation as well. It's significant because it identifies any inhuman acts resulting in the domination of one group over another as apartheid, and now that is the male domination in Afghanistan. And in recent years we have seen the application of those provisions expanding to define a situation of discrimination and the criminal segregation based on various factors including gender, culture and others. So, particularly in women's issues, this convention serves as a vital legal framework for addressing such matters. And I would like to use that term because if you do not have a legal term to hold the Taliban responsible, how we can de fine the situation? You know, like politically, I'm aware that we can talk about everything, but legally, we need to have structure to hold them accountable. These actions also encompasses humanitarian crimes and other offenses, which unfortunately can't be fully addressed in our discussion today. Anyhow, I hope we have this term as a legal means as soon as possible in the international conventions and legal system. I'm aware that a large group of entities and individuals are working on that issue. And now, well, in the Taliban's ideology and religious interpretation, women are essentially created to serve the comfort of men. I mean, like raising a family, raising children, cleaning and cooking. And this viewpoint, of course, objecti fies women... defining them as possessions of men and the guardians of family honor. And as for the Taliban, their presence in society is viewed as a threat to men's social status, moral health, and mental wellbeing. So that's why they do not want women in the society. And unfortunately, this mindset finds resonance in various layers of our society, and we cannot hide the fact. That is kind of leading to traditionalism and in some cases silence and ignorance. You see that the Taliban are coming and arresting a group of women or an individual on the streets, and people are just looking. So then it means that there is some resistance in some layers of our society. Well, ultimately, these decrees and ideologies mean that we will not have another generation of female doctors, teachers and professionals to contribute to the society. It creates a cycle, a vicious cycle, where our women remain dependent on male family members are unable to exercise their basic rights. So it's a dire situation, which has far reaching implications for the future of Afghanistan. Many young girls want to leave Afghanistan, and many take illegal ways to their passports, and that leads to another phenomenon. I'm sure that you're aware that a passport is not available for everyone in Afghanistan. So they take an illegal way, and even if they have the passports, then of course they face problems to get the visas. And that current development has intensified to the risk of human trafficking, particularly for women who are at a higher risk for exploitation. And this includes trafficking for purposes such as forced and child marriages, sexual exploitation, and forced labor. So, yes, I believe the situation and the atrocities of what the Taliban are doing is a form of gender apartheid in Afghanistan, and we should recognize this term.

ALLIÉ: Yeah... just call it what it is. See it for what is... And once seen for it is, it has to be addressed. Considering the fact that almost 50 percent of the Afghan population is under the age of 15 and the Taliban have replaced schools with madrasas, similar to those attended by the Taliban in Pakistan, what threats will the world face years from now after a generation of young innocent boys have graduated from these institutions?

MANIZHA: Certainly, thank you for bringing up this point. Indeed, I always want to bring up this subject because, you know, many minimize the situation of Afghanistan only to women's rights. But the tragedy is bigger than that. So, we should talk about these two phenomena as well. It's essential to clarify that, well, first of all, let me clarify that not all schools have transitioned into madrases. Many are still functioning, well with alterations to the curriculum which is leaning more towards religious studies, in a way of we can call those schools like kind of madrasas. However, recent reports indicates that the Taliban have constructed thousands of new madrasas. According to the BBC report, which I read a while ago, the number of official religious schools in Afghanistan has increased five-fold over the past two decades. I would say that you are absolutely correct about the concerning trend of innocent boys being drawn towards extremism, and it's a reality that deeply worries me. And the rise of a new generation of extremists poses a significant threat, not just to Afghanistan, but to the entire region and beyond. And even if we were to witness the


Let’s keep the conversation ongoing.

“The situation in Afghanistan is undoubtedly dire, as we have witnessed the loss of two decades of developments and progress, and many of us are even unable to return due to fear and persecution from the Taliban.”

MANIZHA: (continued) significant transformation in Afghanistan today and the Taliban goes away, still the Taliban's rule and their policies have already left a profound impact on our young generation. So, Allié, let me share a personal story to highlight this issue. A close friend of mine in Kabul, who was once openminded, now sees her young sons adopting extremist ideologies and indirectly supporting gender apartheid in Afghanistan. And they have even changed their appearances to mimic the Taliban. And she sent me a couple of pictures that scared me. It may seem simple, but it underscores a deeply rooted problem, and I'm genuinely concerned. Through platforms like yours, I hope to work once again to pay attention to this pressing issue. I cannot emphasize enough. We must be cautious about the rise of a new generation of extremists in Afghanistan.

ALLIÉ: Absolutely. So, let's talk about you for a moment. What actions are you taking? What actions are able to take to counter the Taliban's oppression and their violations of human rights?

MANIZHA: Very difficult questions to answer... Indeed, I don't have a concrete answer for that. The situation in Afghanistan is undoubtedly dire, as we have witnessed the loss of two decades of developments and progress, and many of us are even unable to return due to fear and persecution from the Taliban. However, I mean, despite these challenges, there is still hope. We shouldn't lose hope. Actually what has remained is hope, and we always go ahead with the hope we've had for the past 40 years. And of course, since our young generation poses high levels of education and knowledge, I firmly believe they will be instrumental in reshaping the narrative of our country. It's inspiring to see our girls courageously standing up for your rights, even in the face of violence and arrest. Moving forward, it's imperative that we prioritize networking and foster interest among various groups. I believe networking and establishing a robust network of individuals and parties who are opposing the Taliban's policy is crucial, I think. And together we can firmly stand against them and work towards a better future for Afghanistan. Let's keep the conversation alive about Afghanistan. Let's keep the conversation ongoing. Because, you know, right now, the discourse of Afghanistan is kind of dying down because of other crises in the world. Ukraine, Yemen and many more. And Afghanistan is kind of a forgotten subject. Let's not forget Afghanistan. Let's not lose hope. And let's persist in our struggle for justice, democracy and human rights because these are the universal principles that all humans around the world agree on, at least many. We should not forget the universality of human rights declaration. That should be applicable everywhere, including Afghanistan. We cannot talk about human rights, women's rights, gender balance, and even feminist foreign policy but forget Afghanistan. We should have Afghanistan in the loop and we should not forget the universality of human rights declaration... Yeah, we must not abandon Afghan girls. They deserve every opportunity and support. We should not forget them, and we should work together with them. We should give them


“They deserve to have a seat.”

MANIZHA: (continued) spaces. We should bring them into conversations. They deserve to have a seat. They deserve to have seats on the negotiation and conversations about Afghanistan.

ALLIÉ: Thank you so much for taking this time today to share your story, to share this state of affairs, to give us a different lens to look through to see perhaps a bit more clearly. Thank you for helping all of us become a bit aware now. Thank you so much.

MANIZHA: Thank you so much. Indeed, the pleasure was mine. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to talk with your audience, and let me finish by this... I have three girls and one son. My three girls have every opportunity. They have every opportunity to study and to be useful members of the society. I want this for all girls around the world, including Afghanistan's girls and women. Let us work on that. Thank you so much. ∎

104 AwareNow Podcast ECHOES OF RESISTANCE Exclusive Interview with Manizha Bakhtari
Follow Manizha on Instagram: @manizha_bakhtari
At a time when women were regularly hushed and silenced and put in their place she seemed to have been oblivious to this requirement.
Photo Courtesy: Katherine Winter-Sellery


It was spring break and a couple of my college girl friends and I headed to New Orleans (along with practically every other college kid on spring break) to bask in the fun of the big easy. My grandmother, Gaga,, met us at our car with margaritas on a tray. Knowing I had hands down the coolest grandmother on earth, I recall bursting with pride as my friends commented that their grandmothers weren’t anything like mine.

Gaga lived life loud! She was my own personal Auntie Mame, in awe of her my whole life. She had a twinkle in her eye, mischievous, and always up for fun. As the president of the Jefferson Parish Episcopalian Women's association she and her girlfriends would meet once a month at a restaurant and decide where their bake sale proceeds would be donated and which charities to raise money for that month.

My friends and I were fortunate to be in town for one of these epic gatherings and I recall all of our jaws dropping as these proper southern bells bantered back and forth, calling each other bitches and throwing their heads back laughing uproariously. They were so alive and so interesting. They de fied every convention of their day for women of their age, station in life and gender, it stopped us in our tracks!

My Grandmother Winter on dad’s side was very proper, never swore, her entire life she was never seen wearing pants, incredibly conservative. I have one picture of her and Gaga together and it’s the most relaxed and joyful I ever saw her. Gaga just had an effect on people.

At a time when women were regularly hushed and silenced and put in their place she seemed to have been oblivious to this requirement. In fact she and PawPaw had their own finance company right on Canal street! As kids we would go in there and enjoy the hustle and bustle, they’d make small loans so folks could buy cars or renovate their houses and if someone didn’t pay that month Gaga’s the one that would head out and repossess their car! There seemed to be nothing that she couldn’t do.

Remembering she had 5 brothers she was quite the tomboy too and my mom told me when she was little the neighbor kids would come over to see if Gaga was free to come out and play ball in the streets! Can’t help but make you smile.

Smoking then was the epitome of cool and glamorous. Hollywood icons like Audrey Hepburn and Marlene Dietrick made it look sophisticated and sensual. So of course Gaga had a beautiful box on her piano that disposed of cigarettes and as a little girl I would sneak one and go out and sit under the iconic moss-draped live oak tree in their front yard smoking and imagining how cool I was and she would come out and let me know that it was our little secret. I could trust her with anything.

I think she rubbed off on me cuz everybody called me ‘the little general’ growing up. I am sure I watched these strong women around me and I just stepped right into it, just so naturally. My mom was that role model too. She also owned her own businesses and when I was growing up I would stop into her shop too.

“With this line of powerful matriarchs surrounding me I didn’t even realize that I was being forged in a path to take a stand.”

I remember at her memorial service a friend standing up and recounting that the women in the Cherry Creek Women’s Club met and decided that they needed one of them to stand up and run for the board of education and they all agreed my mom was the one to back. Mom won that election and it was a big deal too, death threats, picketers, impassioned supporters and objectors. I was in awe of her too. She was also my hero.

It helps to find our own courage when we see those in our family model it for us. With this line of powerful matriarchs surrounding me I didn’t even realize that I was being forged in a path to take a stand.

Then it happened. Monday Oct. 2, 2017 I got a text from USC that there was a suspected active shooter incident on campus and they were in lockdown. Our daughter was a freshman there and we couldn’t get through. I was terri fied. After having lived overseas in Hong Kong, at that point for 28 years, I had missed and our kids had missed the entire chapter on school shootings beginning with Columbine in 1999. CLICK, TAP OR SCAN TO WATCH NOW

Frantically I tried to reach our daughter for hours and finally it was declared a false alarm. But it wasn’t that easy to move on from. Before then it was out there, from Hong Kong it was no more than a news story in the distance in a distant land. Now it was personal.

I was kept up at night, wondering about if it hadn’t ended so well. Imagining all the families who had experienced this with tragedy befalling them. I just couldn’t do nothing anymore. It started as an unformed idea about getting to the front side of this tragedy. From my years of coaching parents through “the tragic expression of the unmet needs” I knew that this act was a symptom and that ultimately addressing the root was needed for long term sustainable change.

In Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic she says that if you embrace your creativity you will experience “Big Magic” a mystical force of creativity that brings joy and purpose.

I’d only ever experienced what was about to unfold as vividly during one other time in my life. As my heart was filled with urgency to address and turn the tide on this devastating situation in American Culture, magically, magnetically all the key players came. From politicians, to educators, mental health care providers, business leaders, and spiritual teachers a summit on National Mental Health and Fitness in Denver, Colorado in the year of the 20th anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings was taking form.

I found myself spearheading a conversation that also included the WHO and the UN. In a 3 day summit concerned parties from so many walks of life, together with two presidential candidates, and numerous leaders in the field of mental health all shared openly as we focused on easy to implement, sustainable, practical solutions that everyone could take back to the communities that they represent. It culminated in the largest mediation in US history led by humanitarian, peacekeeper, and meditation teacher Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

I had approached him to come to Colorado to lead us in mediation to raise the vibration to bring about a shift in this community that has been plagued by many mass shootings. He not only graced us with his presence, the Art of Living foundation sponsored the entire event!

When this urgency inside me was catalyzed it took on a life of it’s own. I experienced it as something I was called to shepherd to fruition. It was a responsibility to see it through as I was carrying the shakti. I had absolutely no way of knowing that this urge would culminate in the largest in person mediation in US History.

Recently, Sept 29th, 2024 I was invited by Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shakar to emcee at the opening night of the World Culture Festival on the National Mall in Washington D.C. with over one million people in attendance. It was a celebration of diversity and a call for inclusiveness with dignitaries from around the glove and altogether 17,000 performers from 180 different countries uniting humanity through the power of connection, joy, love and celebration. The irony, when the mediation began you could hear a pin drop. As loud as the speeches, performers and musicians were, when we all went into mediation the silence spoke volumes as we transcended the noise and experienced collectively our connection to one another. ∎


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.

All we need is an interest and willingness to help, which I believe is innately hardwired in all of us.



The Genie Fact: A Genie has finished the Never Ending Story.

Symbols carry immense power and education. Everyone knows the blue and white wheelchair symbol indicating a physical disability. For hidden or invisible disability, it is not as easy. I know there are many activity groups working on coming up with a similar symbol for invisible disability sufferers, which will be as internationally recognizable as the wheelchair symbol. This maybe a little way out, but I can introduce you to a fantastic symbol which is already being used at this moment.

I'd like to introduce you to the Sunflower Lanyard scheme. I really like the thinking behind the sun flower as a symbol. It means happiness, positivity and strength, as well as growth and con fidence. By infusing a symbol with this type of energy, it cannot help but be successful.

The Sunflower Lanyards are designed to be bright and noticeable, yet still retain a discrete nature. It is a powerful tool; it breaks down the hardest barriers of all which is “You don't look like you have a disability!” It sends a signal that the wearer may require help, additional support and/or additional time. It is a way of raising awareness of hidden disabilities. The Sunflower Lanyard isn't for any specific disability, and you don’t need a formal diagnosis to get hold of one.

Globally, one in six live with a disability. That is approximately 1.3 billion people. There is a growing number of people who live with a visible and non-visible condition, or purely invisible disability. So what is recognised as a hidden disability? In general terms, it is a sensory loss, including difficulty seeing or hearing, a physical disability that may not be obvious, autism, a learning disability, anxiety or any other mental health condition, neurological, respiratory and chronic health conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, chronic pain, Crohn's disease and MS.

One of the myths I have discovered about disability is that there is a perception that people with a disability have had it for their entire lives. This is not true. I have only had mine for 6 years and I am still on a steep learning curve. The frustration is that you maybe able to accomplish one thing one day, and not be able to achieve the same thing the next day.

The Sunflower scheme was launched in 2016, and since then, businesses in retail, travel and tourism, and transport have joined the ever-increasing support system. Currently, there are over 200 airports that offers the Sun flower scheme. One of the most recent subscribers to the scheme, and the first North American Airline to do so, is Air Canada. I have been very fortunate to have had some involvement with its launch which took place on the 30th of January 2024 as part of Air Canada’s accessibility inclusive development plan.

As for my own personal experiences of wearing of the sunflower lanyard… I may look fine as a 6 ft well cared for (sarcasm) body. However, once I have been triggered by crowds, light or noise, I lose my ability to walk and I’m also unable to talk without an almost incomprehensible stutter. I am unable to process any further external input. Even the calming touch of a loved one, given in complete goodwill and faith, feels like receiving an electric shock.

Awareness is a creative spark which was made to grow, evolve and affect real change.

Written and Narrated by Paul S. Rogers

So for an oversea trip, I thought the Sunflower Lanyard would be recognised at check-in desks, and with an attached card with the list of my symptoms, I’d be fine. There, job done. Or was it? No, not at all. I thought I had done my part by showing someone that I did have a hidden disability. But I left out the most important part of awareness: how someone reacts to that awareness. The only question which matters is “How can I help or be of assistance?” In my enthusiasm to be helpful, I had identified my symptoms but had not given any clue as to what assistance I needed. The realisation is this: it is more important to communicate what help you need rather than reciting a medical dictionary.

With the increasing introduction of the Sunflower scheme, the goal is to seek recognition as a symbol of awareness. This is first base. Awareness cannot be left in the vacuum at first base, otherwise it becomes just another piece of information. Awareness is a creative spark which was made to grow, evolve and affect real change.

From recognition comes human behaviour.

“Human behaviour flows from 3 main sources: desire, emotion and knowledge” - Plato

Hopefully, you can see from the above explanation that in order to make genuine change in raising awareness, not only does the issue need to be recognized, then understood, it needs to be applied so that everyone can use that awareness to help. All we need is an interest and willingness to help, which I believe is innately hardwired in all of us. ∎ Visit


Transformation Expert, Awareness Hellraiser & Public Speaker

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 SUNFLOWER
for more information.
It all starts with our employees and their desire to change...
Photo Courtesy: Eric Rice



Eric Rice is the visionary behind Drive Staffing Solutions, a program dedicated to empowering individuals facing homelessness with opportunities for employment and a fresh start in life. Eric’s unwavering commitment to breaking down barriers and providing support beyond just job placement has transformed the lives of countless individuals. Through his compassion, determination, and collaborative spirit, Eric is not only changing lives but also challenging societal perceptions, proving that everyone deserves a chance to thrive.

ALLIÉ: Let's start this way. Can you walk us through the inception of DRiVE Staffing Solutions? What is it that inspired you to create a program aimed at providing employment opportunities to people facing homelessness?

ERIC: It really started... Prior, I was a plant manager and I was trying to keep our equipment running. I was managing the facility during COVID, which was a very unique time. During that time, there was a lot of pressure to keep people out of the workforce. So I put most of my energy, if not all my energy, into trying to attract people to the workforce. And through that event and activity, I ended up visiting one of our local homeless shelters. I had a colleague that

…that one moment changed the entire focus, mission and vision for what I plan to do the rest of my life.
Photo Courtesy: Eric Rice
“It’s just knocking down any barrier that either prevents people from going into the workforce or maintaining reliable employment.”

ERIC: (continued) day, that one moment, changed the entire focus, mission and vision for what I plan to do the rest of my life. I see myself in a unique position where I can help community members connect with employment opportunities. I've spent my entire life in manufacturing, so I can help community members... at least give them an opportunity to be successful in the manufacturing arena. So we went there, we did the job fair, and we met six people that day. We still have three of them employed with us almost two years later. There's challenges, but that's what we focus on now. It's just knocking down any barrier that either prevents people from going into the workforce or maintaining reliable employment.

ALLIÉ: The impact of DRiVE Staffing Solutions seems profound with so many stories of success. Of the many, many stories of success that you've personally witnessed, Eric, could you just share one with us today that really, really resonates and means so much to you?

ERIC: Yeah, one of my first employees, when we met him in the shelter, it was actually that first day when we were doing our very first job fair... The gentleman had an orange vest like you wear when you're out in the shipping area, or some plants make you wear them anywhere throughout the facility, and it was really dirty and ragged. We were talking to the director of the house at that time, and she mentioned that he worked for a previous employer, it was one of his first jobs. He didn't make it, but he kept that vest on as just a reminder of his employment. So Chelsea and I, Chelsea was our HR manager at the time, and we were very intrigued by his story. At the time, he needed help filling out the application... So they helped him out with that, but as a plant manager, I'm looking at it, and I'm saying, you know, I have over 500 employees in my facility... If he's struggling, we have work that we could use him for, and that might free up somebody else to run a piece of equipment. So, anyhow, we gave him an opportunity. He came in, and he first started cleaning all of our fixtures, all of our quality gauges, but he didn't like that because he saw all his friends that he came in with working on the equipment. Shortly after that, I tried a short-term janitorial stint. Still, he didn't like it because his friends were on the machine. Then we ended up transferring him to one machine, and he loved it. Now, fast forward, he's been with us two years now. The supervisors and the plant, they absolutely love him. He never misses a day of work. He's always there, very reliable. And since, he's learned how to operate, five or six machines in his area, and he's become a very strong asset to the supervision because he's reliable, has a great attitude, and he's there to work every day. So that was for sure and still is my favorite success story.

ALLIÉ: It's a wonderful story... So partnerships, partnerships are important. The partnership with Martinrea seems to be pivotal in providing job opportunities and additional support, like transportation, shoes, work uniforms. How did this collaboration come about? How did this begin?

ERIC: So Martinrea was my employer when I was the plant manager. And we have a great leadership team at Martinrea. I have a great relationship with Pat, the CEO, as well as the other directors and managers that I worked with. Ultimately, there was a huge need for labor at Martinrea. And when our program started, Pat, the CEO, he said,


ERIC: (continued)"You know, if I can be a part of somebody's transformation, then I'm going to have a reliable employee for a long period of time." So he saw the value in investing in the people and trying to be part of more than just an employment opportunity, but a change in someone's life.

ALLIÉ: Let's talk about the job fair, held every Thursday at the Jackson Interfaith Shelter. I wonder if you could just elaborate on the structure of this fair and what sort of success you've seen from it over all this time.

ERIC: We host a weekly job fair at the Jackson Interfaith Shelter. Interfaith has been just a huge partnership in this whole exercise. We go there every Thursday at nine o'clock. It's not just residents of the shelter, but there's community members from all around that come. Every single week, we have 10 to15 future candidates looking to start work. Sometimes there's some return employees, but for the most part, it's new community members trying to connect. And the Interfaith has been just such a blessing because their program relies on accountability, and it's a faith -based program, which are both very, very critical behavioral attributes that we look at in our employees, right? It all starts with our employees and their desire to change... and change whatever situation it might be that they're in. So, Interfaith helps with that and helps in those early transitional stages so that they can be successful not only at their employment, but also whatever they're pursuing in their life.

ALLIÉ: One last question for you today is this, beyond immediate employment, what long-term support does DRiVE offer to ensure sustained success and stability for the program participants?

ERIC: We're working right now with... we've collaborated with a total of four nonpro fit organizations, and our long-term vision, ultimately, is to provide transitional housing for our employees. So that when they exit the shelter, they have somewhere safe and secure to go for a period up to maybe 24 months. We believe that if we can stabilize employment, shelter, and transportation for a period up to 24 months, then we give the community members an opportunity to transition from their state of dependence to independence. ∎

118 AwareNow Podcast DRIVE TO THRIVE Exclusive Interview with Eric Rice
Learn more about DRiVE Staffing Solutions:
Little do we know what the people we interact are going through.



I was standing in line to get a cup of coffee. The barista behind the counter had long hair, a nose ring, was adorned with tats, and had an angry scowl on his face.

After he put whipped cream on a woman’s frappe, he banged it down on the counter with an umph and a snarl. Just like a dance routine gone bad, he performed his coffee presenting skills in the same way for each person in line. He’s so rude.

I wanted to tell him, “It’s first thing in the morning, is this how you treat people?” Yet, when I was in front of him, there was something about his eyes that didn’t match his demeanor. So, instead I said, “You look really upset. Are you okay?”

At first he looked away, busying himself with getting ready for my order. Then quietly, so that other people couldn’t hear, he said, “No, my mom had to go into the hospital last night. She’s in ICU. Cancer. We’re not sure if she is going to make it.” I stood there stunned for a second. Judging him on his looks and attitude was instantaneous. It hadn’t occurred to me that being rude could be a cry for help.

When he got me my coffee, he still banged it on the counter, but he flashed me the tiniest smile. Since I had gone through a lot of health challenges in my own life, I knew what I had to do.

The coffee shop was in a book store full of cards. I bought a Get Well card for his mom, then wrote a message from my heart. Once sealed, I marched back up to the barista, gave him the card and told him it was for his mother.

A few weeks later, I came back to get a cup of coffee. There was the barista, but this time, he was smiling and the way he served the coffee to his customers — it was as if he were presenting them with a cup of happiness.

When I got up to the counter, he gave me an oversized smile. Without waiting, he went on to tell me that his mom was out of ICU and she absolutely loved my card. Especially, since it came from a stranger.

I learned something really important that day. People can be angry for so many reasons. It is so easy to be angry back. The ‘I’ll show him or her’ seems to protect us. Little do we know what the people we interact are going through. That’s why kindness is so LOUD. It has the power to reveal what the heart couldn’t say. ∎

Written and Narrated by Deborah Weed
As Kevin faced the darkest moments of his life, it was his father who stood as a pillar of support.
Photo Courtesy: Kevin Hines


While information about Kevin Hines’s story, the young man who leapt from the Golden Gate Bridge, and was saved by a sea lion, is widely known Kevin’s father’s story may not be as widely known.

This is a perspective often overlooked in the incredible story of Kevin Hines—the role his father's love in shaping the narrative of resilience and hope that we associate with a suicide attempt by a survivor turned mental health advocate, best selling author, and award winning filmmaker, Kevin.

We all know the remarkable tale of Kevin Hines, a man who de fied the odds and found hope on the precipice of despair. Behind every remarkable individual, there is often an unsung hero, and in Kevin's story, that hero is his father.

The Pillar of Support

As Kevin faced the darkest moments of his life, it was his father who stood as a pillar of support. In times of crisis, a father's love was a guiding light, providing strength and encouragement when needed most. Kevin's father played a crucial role in helping him navigate the challenges of mental health, demonstrating the transformative power of familial support.

The Silent Advocate

While Kevin became a vocal advocate for mental and brain health, his father Patrick, though perhaps less visible, was a quiet, and diligent advocate in his own right. Hines gave unconditional love and unwavering support to Kevin.

Through his efforts founding the Bridge Rail Foundation, and as a former President of its board, he led the fight to end death at the Golden Gate Bridge. Because of Hines initial work in the space, the Bridge Rail Foundation was a significant pressure on the Golden Gate Bridge District. With the completion of a net at the Golden Gate Bridge a project completed Jan 1, 2024, the suicide rate at the Golden Gate dropped to almost zero. He helped break down the barriers of discrimination and shame often surrounding mental health issues.

Leading by Example

Fathers have a unique ability to lead by example, and Kevin's father demonstrated resilience, patience, and compassion in the face of adversity. His quiet strength served as an anchor for Kevin, a reminder that, even in the darkest times, there is a source of love and stability. It wasn’t always easy between Kevin and his Dad. They seriously struggled due to Kevin’s brain pain. However, they always agreed to be there for one another.

His quiet strength served as an anchor for Kevin, a reminder that, even in the darkest times, there is a source of love and stability.
Photo Courtesy: Kevin Hines
Learn more about and follow Kevin on Instagram: @kevinhinesstory

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