AwareNow: Issue 30: The Waves Edition

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



































































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Sometimes in the waves of change we find our true direction. Unknown

Waves come and go. You can either ride them or make them. We choose to make them with you. While choices seem to be in jeopardy these days, we chose to give our all to every cause and every person. One world, one need, one awareness We welcome you to ‘The Waves Edition’, and to the AwareNow Nation Let’s turn the tides. Stand united side by side. There is always a low tide and a high tide, with lessons to be found in the rise and the fall. These are those stories.

ALLIÉ McGUIRE Editor In Chief & Co-Founder of Awareness Ties Allié is a Taurus. She 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™.

JACK McGUIRE Production Manager & Co-Founder of Awareness Ties Jack is a Gemini. He 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™ was born. DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in AwareNow are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Awareness Ties. Any content provided by our columnists or interviewees is of their opinion and not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, political group, organization, company, or individual. In fact, its intent is not to vilify anyone or anything. Its intent is to make you think. @AWARENESSTIES @AWARENESSTIES @AWARENESSTIES 5




“I grew up in SC in the 80's but my biggest inspiration was California skate and surf culture. The mural merges the aesthetic of surf/skate with pop art and the Op art of 80’s new wave.”



I love to learn. MICHAELA SHOULDIS





A career of cross country commuting isn’t for every nurse, but it is for this one. An eternal explorer, Michaela Shouldis is a travel nurse, with a beautiful smile and beautiful ink to go with it. Specializing in labor and delivery, she accepts assignments in hospitals across the country bringing care and compassion to the new lives she welcomes to the world. ALLIÉ: You went to school. You got your degree. You became a nurse. Michaela, why a travel nurse? And what are the pros and the cons that come with it?

MICHAELA: I chose travel nursing for some obvious reasons. It pays really well. Our hourly rates aren’t typically higher than that of a staff nurse but a large portion of our money is untaxed housing stipends because we have to find furnished, month to month housing for wherever we travel to and so that can get pretty expensive. Another reason why I love travel nursing is because I love to learn. So when I go to these new facilities and get on the units I have knowledge about labor and childbirth and I have knowledge from other places that I’ve worked about how they run their units and what protocols are in place but I get to learn different ways to do things, different perspectives, different tricks of the trade and that is probably my favorite part about it because I’ve grown so much as a nurse just in the last year after working in three different hospitals from coast to coast.






The very best part about my speciality is that I get to meet some really amazing families… MICHAELA SHOULDIS


“I witness some really amazing and powerful connections and love that these families have for each other, and it never ever gets old.” ALLIÉ: Of all the specialties to select from, you chose labor and delivery. Having been pregnant and having delivered in a hospital, as a mom, I personally know how important your role in the delivery room is. Your experience is very different from that of the woman in labor. As a nurse, what is the best part and the worst part?

MICHAELA: The very best part about my speciality is that I get to meet some really amazing families, some that I have kept in contact with over the years and I get to be a part of a family’s first baby and sometimes it’s gonna be their one and only baby or their first boy or first girl or their last baby and now they feel like their family is complete. I witness some really amazing and powerful connections and love that these families have for each other, and it never ever gets old. I’m so lucky to be able to be a part of their experiences. On the flip side, my worst days are the days that a family has lost a child and we still have to deliver that baby. And to even say it’s the “worst” part of my job is kind of untrue because I get to support some really amazing and strong women and partners during their loss but those nights are definitely some of the hardest.

ALLIÉ: Covid has affected us all, directly or indirectly. It’s affected nurses in more ways than one. Let’s talk about ‘vaccinations’. Those vaccinated and not, come through hospitals in need of care. For those providing care, there are those who are vaccinated and those who are not. You are one who is not. Please share why you made this decision and the personal and professional effects your decision has had.

MICHAELA: Talking about the covid vaccine as a nurse is a little tricky because I do believe in science. I believe in medicine and I am thankful for modern medicine. However, personally, I wasn’t ready to get it at the time. I’m still not in a place where I feel comfortable getting it. I have had my own health issues that have made getting vaccinated scary for me especially since it is a new take on vaccines with the mRNA format. All in all, I’m really thankful that I’ve been able to keep my job as a travel nurse, that the hospitals that I’ve worked at have allowed me to practice bodily autonomy and I give the same respect to my patients when it comes to their healthcare choices whether it be about vaccines or something else.

ALLIÉ: When Roe v. Wade was overturned, our country was pulled apart even more than it was before. As a nurse, you will now be pulled in directions I’m sure you never thought possible. What are your thoughts on the Supreme Court’s decision as a nurse and as a woman?

MICHAELA: As a nurse and a woman, I’m sad and scared and angry and disappointed in the people running our country. My personal worldview on this ruling is that it’s a direct attack on Women’s Rights and their right to choose what they can and cannot do with their body. In a lot of social media posts you’ll see the phrase “you’re not stopping abortions you’re just stopping safe abortions.” We can assume is true with what we know from history pre Roe. But what people fail to speak on is that women that are wealthy and living in states that have banned abortion, will still be able to find a way to get a safe abortion. They can fly to a pro choice state, they can find someone to do it and pay 11 AWARENOW / THE WAVES EDITION

My strongest suggestion to those reading this is to do your research. MICHAELA SHOULDIS


AwareNow Podcast


Exclusive Interview with Michaela Shouldis


“There’s a lot more to living than just being alive.” MICHAELA: (continued) them a hearty amount to do it legally. The abortion ruling stops women in poverty from having access to abortions. It’s keeping the poor poor and the rich rich. It’s keeping women from being active members of society because they can’t work if they can’t find or afford childcare. It’s an attack on women and I think it speaks volumes to women that those in power are afraid of what women can do when we have the access and ability to make change happen. My strongest suggestion to those reading this is to do your research. Listen to doctors in this field and gain an understanding of what abortion really is, what the United States statistics are on abortions and gain an understanding that it’s not about women having late term abortions and killing babies. Those are very rare and often very wanted pregnancies and there’s something with mom or baby that doesn’t allow that pregnancy to go on. Learn about viability and when it starts and what it means. I’ll end this question with this cause I could go on for forever but one of the podcasts I was listening to, one of the doctors said, “There’s a lot more to living than just being alive.” And that really resonated with me.

ALLIÉ: Heavy topics aside, let’s lighten things up. You are a light, Michaela. When you walk in a room, things change. Your smile is infectious, and your ink… Well, it reminds me that Jack and I need more. Let’s talk about ink. You’re a nurse, not a nun. What’s your favorite tattoo that you have? And what will your next be?

MICHAELA: My favorite tattoo changes probably daily. Depends on my outfit and my mood but right now? I’m still really loving the sleeve that I just finished last summer. I got it done in Portland, OR over the course of 4 years. Kari Yocom is the artist, her Instagram handle is @pdxraincloud and she’s just one of my favorite people because I can give her a mod podge of ideas and she just takes them all and makes it into art and then puts it on my body and they always turn out so beautiful. I love getting to show off her work. My next tattoo adventure is probably adding more work to my leg. I recently got a tattoo done around my knee in San Diego, a friend of mine, Alexa Barricelli, who is a realism specialist, did it for me and she killed it and has me hungry for a leg sleeve! ∎

Follow Michaela on Instagram: @michaela_noel3


If you want to see yourself, look inside your mind. LEX GILLETTE




With all that is going on in this world, I figured I’d take this opportunity to do something a little different with this month’s entry. Many years ago, I wrote a short song that I felt was very powerful, and still feel it’s powerful. I can remember sitting inside of my room at the Olympic Training Center as the words flooded my mind. The beauty of creating songs is that when you have something good, you absolutely know it! And I felt that this was a good one. Even more, I feel it is important to share at this very moment in life. I’m not going to guide your thinking with an in-depth entry this month. I want you to read the lyrics below, listen to the audio, and take the time to look inside of your mind… that’s where the luxury lies. I see the road,

Mercedes drive.

I see my plane -

Now I’m gon’ fly.

I see the stars,

Grab with both hands.

And Im’ma hold them high to

Brighten where you glance.

I run the trail

Through storm and hail.

They want to break me,

I’m tough as nails.

I am a reason.

I am a sail

To lift you up

When you feel like you’re gonna fail.

But when we think of the memories, of pain,

All of this derails our train.

Anytime the obstacle rises high,

Just face it and elevate up to the sky.

Close your eyes. Envision,

And everything you’re wishing

Will come.

If you want to see for yourself,

Look inside your mind.

That’s where the luxury lies.

Oooo yeah, oooo yeah

If you want to see for yourself,

Look inside your mind,

You will be able to stand the test of time.

AwareNow Podcast


Written and Performed by Lex Gillette



Unapologetically go out there and serve yourself, and serve others in the process. JON ROSE

FOUNDER OF WAVES FOR WATER Photo Credit: @jeffjohnson_beyondandback 16 AWARENOW / THE WAVES EDITION



A PROFESSION OF PASSION AND PURPOSE It was a father/son road trip down the coast to Baja and then over to mainland Mexico. This was the trip that set the course for the life of Jon Rose. This was the trip that served as a blueprint for building a lifestyle of travel and adventure. Passion met purpose when Jon began constructing his future in service to a cause - the water crisis. Instead of only catching waves as a surfer, he began making waves as a humanitarian. ALLIÉ: If you do what you love, you’ll love what you do. With regard to what you do, Jon, what is it about Waves For Water that you love most?

JON: It's interesting because you said “If you do what you love, then you’ll love what you do.” And our original ethos and tagline was "Do what you love and help along the way." It came very organically from its original intention. At that time, I loved to go explore the world, immerse myself in different cultures, and surf. These were my passions at that time. So, the "do what you love" part was that, and then while I was there, it was plugging purpose into that for "help along the way." It was very organic, but it was also pretty intentional. It was thoughtful in the way that that statement reads. It wasn't to help, and then do what you love. It was very much flipped around from the old school kind of





That’s the package, that’s how it comes. JON ROSE


“It’s not coincidental that my life manifested the way that it did.” JON: (continued) martyrdom model of work. There's this really cool energy and spark with that feeling of just going out there and saying, “Screw it, I'm going to do the things that make me the most happy. And while I'm there, I'm going to try and leave these places better than I found them.” It's a real simple concept, but we're a weird species. We really have a hard time loving ourselves, and we have a hard time giving ourselves credit. We have a hard time with it. It's one of the hardest things to do. You can give other people compliments all day, but it's hard to give yourself one. And I don't know why that is. I feel like we should sort of own that shit. And what I mean by that in terms of Waves For Water is unapologetically go out there and serve yourself, and serve others in the process. This is important because you're going to serve others better if you're in a good place. It's really that analogy of being on an airplane. It’s putting your mask on first, because if you don't, then you can't help anybody else. So, that was the big light bulb moment for me early on. Now, the transformation from that is that all of a sudden, the purpose that you plug into your passion becomes your passion. It all gets mashed together and becomes this really amazing synergy, and that's sort of where I've landed now.

ALLIÉ: Like father, like son. Your father, Jack Rose, founded RainCatcher to bring clean water to Africa. You founded Waves For Water to bring clean water to the whole world. What’s it been like, battling the water crisis with your father?

JON: It's awesome. If you know us, then you know that we're sort of like a package deal. You get me, you get him. You get him, you get me. For anyone else that comes in our life that's it. That's the package, that's how it comes. There's no other option. That's the way it is, and it's been that way since the beginning. We've collaborated in life not just as father and son, which is like the ultimate collaboration, but in our work, in our ideology and in the way we have fun tackling the world and adventuring.


Why am I addicted to adventure? Because I started at nine… JON ROSE


“It’s not coincidental that my life manifested the way that it did.” JON: (continued) I remember when I was nine-years-old, he took me out of school two months early in my fourth grade school year. He was like, “We're going to Mexico.” And we packed up his old pickup truck. I'm sure it would be a lot harder to do that now, but back then, he just did it… of course with consent from my mom and all that stuff. It wasn't like kidnapping or anything. But basically just no real plan, just saying this needs to happen. And we spent five months traveling. So, it was the last two months of the school year and then three months of summer. No planning and camping on the beach… that’s where I ended up surfing for my first time.

We went all the way down to Baja and then took a ferry over to mainland Mexico. We camped on his buddy's land that was north of Puerto Vallarta for a few months where we went bushwhacking with machetes and surfing. It was just pure adventure and really adapting daily to whatever energy we were feeling. Then we drove up at the end of that summer through mainland Mexico to Arizona, and then over to Southern California. Then my dad just enrolled me in fifth grade. I would've loved to have been in that room with the administrators of the school. Where's his transcripts from fourth grade? What happened? Somehow it didn't matter, and I just was in fifth grade. You can't really do that now, I know that. But the moral of the story is just his parenting style.

It's not coincidental that my life manifested the way that it did. I mean, if that was my first example… Why am I addicted to adventure? Because I started at nine and learned adaptability and resourcefulness. It was being immersed in a place and present moment type stuff. So, it's natural that I would create a life that was built around that. I used professional surfing as the first vehicle for that and then Waves For Water as the second vehicle to exercise that passion. I think doing this work with my dad is just an extension of my childhood. Now, the roles are reversed too. I've taken the helm and he supports me in a more supporting role. I think that's normal with kids and their parents, but it's a really cool story any way you slice it. 21 AWARENOW / THE WAVES EDITION

I think there are these natural places that you’re drawn to… and you can't explain why. JON ROSE


ALLIÉ: From providing clean water to communities in Haiti following their earthquake to delivering bucket filters by horseback in Mongolia, your work has taken you a long way from home. Of the many locations you’ve traveled to, what place has felt the most like ‘home’?

JON: That's a really interesting question. I think there are certain regions that we're drawn to, and I think there may be some sort of ancestral wiring there. Or I don't know... For example, my dad is very drawn to Africa. That's where he feels the most, I guess, ‘at home’. For me, it was more Central and South America where I just felt at home. And I don't know the answer as to why, it just is. That's just where I feel connected. And my dad is the opposite. He doesn't prefer those places, you know what I mean? There are these funny things that you can't explain. If you want to get a little bit more granular with it all, I think there are these natural places that you're drawn to… and you can't explain why. Then there are the ones that weave their way into the fabric of who you are from more of an energetic standpoint. And whatever experiences you've had there have profoundly impacted you to the point where that is home. The feeling that you have there is ‘home’. And Haiti is that for me. I think I've had the biggest growth of my life in that country and so for that reason, I don't know if it would be without those experiences, like those other places I mentioned, if I just showed up. But now, in retrospect, there's probably no more powerful place on the planet for me than Haiti.

ALLIÉ: While most race away from danger, you run toward it. Jon, what has been the most dangerous situation you’ve run into with your work?

JON: There's been a few that really stand out. Working in Afghanistan in 2011/12 during the peak of the war over there. We were partnering with the US army doing humanitarian assistance programs with these civil affairs teams helping women's empowerment within these communities, training the school teachers and medical professionals, the women of those communities, with our program. And it was a really cool initiative. It was also an active war zone. Two days before I got there, there was a mortar attack that happened on base and sent two people home in critical condition. And the hole where the mortar landed was right outside the barrack door that I was staying in. It was two days prior. One month after we were there, the main doctor that we were working with got sniped on base and killed in action. So, those are real clear and present dangers. It's direct danger. You know what you're getting into. There's lots of protocols. You're assessing that risk and basically analyzing it and saying, I'm willing to take this or I'm not. I didn't force anybody from my team to do that. It was something I felt was really powerful. And all these civilians are literally caught in the crossfire of a situation like this, a war. There's no NGOs allowed, not just allowed, but no NGOs that would work in the middle of a war zone. It's just not typical and it's also not typical for an NGO to partner with the military. It is actually kind of considered taboo in a lot of ways, at least, within our sector, but I don't believe in that. And it just felt compelling to do it and to take that risk. I can't even say if I would take that risk now. I don't know. At that time, it just felt like it. And 50,000 Afghans gained access to clean water because of it. It was the first and only civilian military partnership of its kind, and still the only one that's been documented in the war. And that was extreme danger. There's so much risk and so much palpable risk right there. So that's what you call direct danger. And I don't know. It was a couple days of difference between what could have been something very scary for me, but wasn't in that situation, and I'm here to talk about it. The project was a success.

“Direct danger is like people shooting at you… Indirect danger is the scarier one for me because it’s a danger you can’t necessarily see.” Now, the other side of the coin is where you have indirect danger. So, direct danger is like people shooting at you. That type of thing. It's very clear what's happening, and you can kind of adjust and adapt accordingly. Indirect danger is the scarier one for me because it's a danger you can't necessarily see. It's not right in front of you. I had the opportunity to go to North Korea in 2015. And I'm not going to say that we were in danger. I can't say that because that didn't present itself. But I had to leave my cell phone in China, they took my passport when I landed, and then 23 AWARENOW / THE WAVES EDITION

It’s really about having your wits about you and being aware… JON ROSE


JON: (continued) you’re on their program the whole time. And that feeling of uneasiness... Let's say some geopolitical thing happened while we were there, and then we were just the collateral piece. I'm not making any assumptions saying that they are looking to do this to Americans at all. I'm just saying, let's just talk about history and talk about the way this stuff happens. And you're putting yourself into a situation where you're extremely vulnerable. There are no other foreigners there, no one, there's just us. And if at any point that narrative decides to change for whatever reason, on either side really, you're the one caught in the middle of it. Then you have a huge risk of being stuck in North Korea. There's plenty of stories like this that we know about where this has happened. So that type of thing in the back of your head… Yes, I've been in scarier situations on the streets of Haiti than in North Korea, but psychologically, there’s a level of tension and pressure, at least that I felt personally. I did have a colleague with me, and it was such an amazing experience to actually do that, but it was just a little unsettling because of the nature of everything, the nature of the relationship. You're just really putting yourself out there. And then I've had other very sketchy situations in Haiti and in Africa as well. But, I mean, you could have really sketchy situations in Los Angeles… It’s really about having your wits about you and being aware… We worked in the Syrian refugee camps in the Becca Valley, and there's just a lot of risk. But if you're hyper aware and doing your due diligence, you can kind of mitigate that risk. And we have.

ALLIÉ: With approximately 2 million people displaced inside the borders of Ukraine, your emergency clean water initiative for Ukraine is a priority right now. What’s your game plan? And what’s your goal?

JON: First and foremost, the goal there is to focus on those displaced persons within borders. We're not focusing on the refugee camps. Outside the borders, there are a lot of big agencies supporting that and that's really great. That's where a lot of the volume is, but there are all these pockets of need that are just like basically falling through the cracks throughout the country, as you can imagine. And we just felt like with our Clean Water Corps team, which is our veteran strike force, if you will, they're just bad asses and frankly just very well equipped. This is what they do. This is what they've done. Their entire military career is working in, what’s referred to as VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) situations. They're trained for this. They are led by Rob McQueen, who is really spearheading the initiative and just getting some of his key players involved. We have been building this local network of implementers. In some cases, our crew has been crossing the border, but a lot of it is just coordinating and building





I really believe in life as chapters of a book…there will be more chapters, for sure. JON ROSE


AwareNow Podcast


Exclusive Interview with Jon Rose


Keep exploring. Always. JON: (continued) up these networks of local groups that are going back and forth under the radar and servicing different needs, and really tapping into that. It's a lot more logistically and tactically minded than some of the other programs that we're doing around the world that are really straightforward. This is complex for obvious reasons. For us, the goal is just to find those pockets of need. These networks of implementers that we're facilitating, they are helping on a lot of levels. They're getting a lot of different types of aid, and we're just one layer of that. We're really arming them with new tools to be able to help their people. It's a really rewarding initiative, and it's really challenging.

ALLIÉ: When it comes to bringing more clean water to more communities, your father passed you the torch. You broke the mold and made a model with Waves For Water, where you continue to pass the torch to others, empowering them to serve communities with clean water just as you do. Sustainable and scalable, Waves For Water is a beautiful union of passion and purpose. Do you feel you’ve heard and answered your calling? Or does the pioneer within you feel the need to keep exploring?

JON: Oh, keep exploring. Always. It's so funny… Everyone's like you found your calling. I'm like, I found one of them, for sure. And that's not to sell Waves for Water or any of the things I've done in the past short at all. It's just the way my brain works, and I really believe in life as chapters of a book. I had the professional surfing chapter, I have the Waves For Water chapter, which I'm still currently in, but there will be more chapters for sure. ∎

Learn more online:


You’ll get over it or you’ll grow from it the same way that I did. A.J. ANDREWS




STEPPING UP ON AND OFF THE FIELD A.J. Andrews is an American professional softball player who became the first woman to win a Rawlings Gold Glove Award. The ‘Yoncé of Softball’, she is a host & analyst for the MLB Network, BetMGB & SEC Network. She is the first to stand and speak with strength for all who haven’t been seen or heard… ALLIÉ: Whether sportscasting to the public, or sharing best tips and tricks to players, you are always authenticity expressing and confessing about softball and so much more. When did you first recognize your gift for connecting through conversation?

A.J.: It’s interesting. I've been on a spiritual journey per se for about two years now, and I believe that we choose our families and our parents and what it's going to be like. For me, I believe it's very much true in this sense because my dad is an amazing public speaker. I would go to all of his public speaking events when I was younger, and I would essentially study his cadence, his delivery and the way that he would have the punch and really be able to drive the intention and create engagement. And I don't think I realized just how much I studied him as a child when I was learning. I mean, that's true with any kid. You just pick up on what your parents do. And so I think from that it was something where I was able to watch the lives that he impacted, and I thought it was just the coolest thing ever. Even when I was younger, I was a kid that always wanted to do what was right. I was never really concerned about what other kids thought. Of course, I wanted to have friends, but I was always a person to stick up for kids being bullied or stand up to someone being mean. To me, that was never something that I thought was funny or fun. And when I was able to converse with those people, I always tried to make them feel loved and cared for. And that was always just something I was passionate about. Even at a young age, without realizing that was a ‘nice thing to do’, it was just something that I wanted to do. And so throughout my life, communication gradually became more and more of something that, once I realized how much it impacted people, I absolutely loved to do… And then going to college and realizing so many young people were inspired by me just being out on a softball field, I was excited to be able to expound upon that with "I can hopefully inspire you to do more than just play well on the field, but to also go after whatever it is that you want to do." And so being able to have those conversations and communicate, I enjoy speaking to people about life, and hopefully breathing a little bit of life into them… or maybe helping them find something that they didn't realize they had inside.

ALLIÉ: Play Ball is the MLB’s initiative to inspire everyone to play ball. Hosting the show, you recently had a discussion with George Springer from the Toronto Blue Jays and his young fan, Brandon, both of which struggle with stuttering issues. I’d love for you to share your thoughts on that conversation.

A.J.: It is just a true testament to the fact that you never know the power of one moment. I think we all overlook giving a passing compliment, telling somebody how wonderful they did or something like that. Moments that we view as two minutes can stick with people for an entire lifetime. 29 AWARENOW / THE WAVES EDITION

…you never know the power of one moment. A.J. ANDREWS


“That’s why you’re their favorite player. They’re able to see themselves in you in some regard.” A.J.: (continued) I can think of one person in my life who I'm positive I’ll never see again… I can remember her being outside of Starbucks in a green punch buggy. She came and approached me at a time when I really needed that. And I will always remember that girl. I don't know her name, but I could tell you what she looks like. She just wanted to come up and compliment me, but for me, that compliment was something I needed at that moment.

I think the power with George Springer talking to his young fan, Brandon, is that this young fan found his confidence through that conversation, realizing that someone who was able to make it to the highest levels struggles with the same things that he struggles with and is trying to overcome those things. And I think that's all that anybody wants to know and understand – that they're not alone in whatever situation they're going through or whatever it is that they're experiencing. It's amazing to be able to inspire people in ways that are really just ‘everyday’ ways. I mean, you can look to someone that's so big and is on a huge scale and say, "Oh, they seem almost unattainable or unreal." And then they come down to a human level to say, "No, I'm just like you. I was in your space at one point. You'll get over it or you'll grow from it the same way that I did." I think that that's the power of that moment. Whether Brandon continues on with baseball or not, George Springer will always be his favorite player because he was able to connect with him in ways that other people were not and made him not feel alone. Sometimes people forget that with young athletes. I mean, for me, I realized it in college when I played. Even when I didn't think I did well, a young athlete would tell me that I was their favorite player. I would say, "Really? I did not have a good game, honey." But to them, I was their favorite player because she wore the same number, played the same position, or was wearing the same bow that I was wearing. That's why you're their favorite player. They're able to see themselves in you in some regard. And so that is the power of being able to be that reflection. I think George Springer did it so well with Brandon. It was a really enjoyable moment to be able to share with the two of them.





You have to be your number one fan. A.J. ANDREWS


“Every woman needs to understand her power… women are boundless.” ALLIÉ: In addition to your career as a professional athlete, you have a public persona that emanates equality for one and for all. Let’s talk about Title IX. Love to hear your position in your words.

A.J.: Right now, Title IX is the only thing kind of holding together women's rights, if we're being honest. And so to me, that definitely signifies the importance of it. Where it started off with education to now being able to move into sports, it gives women the ability to see themselves in spaces where they're told they don't belong, and to understand that they are not just good enough, but they're more than likely overqualified. Every woman needs to understand her power, and Title IX is an opportunity for women to illuminate that and to recognize that they have these abilities. It's important that women not just take the opportunities that they come across because often they are not provided. They need to recognize that they are just as good as, if not better than, the men that are playing… With the perspective and the ability to get things done, to multitask, to be able to convey the words with empathy and love, but also being diligent while also being assertive, women are boundless. I hope Title IX allows women to continue to believe that and to see that. Because there's nothing we can't do and I think we have to fight for our rights to make sure that even Title IX doesn't go away.

ALLIÉ: There’s so much that doesn’t fly – on and off the field. When on the field, what is the best piece of advice for women in the outfield trying to find their in?

A.J.: I would definitely say to advocate for yourself. 100%. I think being humble is overrated. I'm not going to lie. I think you have to celebrate yourself. You have to be your number one fan. Softball is a very hard sport. It is a sport of failure and there's not many sports where you can fail 3 out of 10 times and be considered a great athlete. And so you have to celebrate yourself. In the same way in which you work out, you have to work out the confidence. You have to work out the love for yourself.

You have to speak to yourself as if you're talking to your five-year-old self. You miss a ball. People get so down on themselves and think they're a failure. They have this negative self-talk. But if we're with a five-year-old and she misses the ball, you're not going to tell her she’s terrible. Right? You're going to talk to her soothingly and tell her what it is she needs to do to get better. That's the same way you need to speak to yourself when you're out on the field. You made that mistake, but this is what you can do to get better. Anyone that's worked with kids knows you make these minor adjustments and then they make the catch or they do something great. You see it instantaneously. And the joy and the elation that comes from these kids, even from you as a coach being able to help them, it only makes you want to do it more. I think it's the same thing or the same concept when you're thinking to yourself. Okay, I failed at that, but I'm talking to myself as if I'm young. This is what I need to do… You go on, you move forward, and then you celebrate yourself. Celebrate the joy the way you would celebrate with the five-year-old…

You have to advocate for yourself in a space where a lot of people don't give the credit where it’s due, especially for women. You need to let it be known what you're doing, how you're doing it and why you're the best at it. And some people are going to say it sounds conceited. She thinks she's all that. And you say, “I do think I'm all that because I am.” And you move forward. Because men get to pronounce that they are these great athletes and we all just agree. Women don't get to do that without getting the side eye. And so that's why I say being humble is overrated. Yes, I think it's good to be a good person. Not going out and saying, I'm the best person to ever do anything in this world, but when you do something well, I think you should be able to say, “I did this well, and you all need to know about it.” Because if you're not going to talk about yourself and be your number one fan, who else will? 33 AWARENOW / THE WAVES EDITION

“For me…‘impossible’ is a dare, not a declaration.” ALLIÉ: Off the field, your passion and purpose are equivocally unwavered. You speak up for those who feel or find themselves silenced. For those seeking to find words to bring balance to gender equality, what words would you share?

A.J.: For me, when it comes to gender equality, ‘impossible’ is a dare, not a declaration. And there are so many things that people declare are impossible for a woman to do. And I hope every woman looks at every time someone tells them that they cannot do something or that they're incapable of something, that they say, “Okay, bet.” And it becomes a challenge. Not only am I going to show you that I am capable of this, but I'm going to show you that I can do it better than you. And you just continue to move forward with that mindset. Instead of allowing it to be something that gets you down, you allow it to be the steps that only elevate you higher to your success and past the people that are at ground zero telling you that you can't even meet them there.

It’s really important to understand that the word ‘impossible’, when you break it down, means "I'm possible." I hope that becomes fuel for every woman that is ever faced with inequality, especially on the basis of gender, to know that it doesn't matter what it is that you place in front of me, I know that I can get it done. And whether it be sport or whether it be finance, business, or tech, women belong in every single space. And I just really hope that when it comes to gender equality, women continue to move that way and once they get to the top floor, just send the elevator back down for the next one so they can come up too. ∎

Follow A.J. Andrews on Instagram: @@aj_andrews_







LIFE & ART THROUGH THE LENS OF MICHAEL KIRST Let me start by announcing that Michael Kirst is the newest member of the G-Team and I could not be more grateful to have him on the squad. His work ethic is inspiring to me and that says a lot, considering I probably work in my sleep. His creative vision and talent baffle me with how quickly he is able to go deep into the creative realm. I’ve worked with a lot of artists, but rarely have I seen an artist match his ability to go from mind to matter so quickly and dynamically. I am truly excited to see what the future holds for this human and his art. During our talk we covered everything from work to family. When he talks about his family, I cannot help but think about what type of father I’ve been to my own children and what kind of friend I will be to them as they grow into adults. Michael Kirst is a true inspiration; his humility shines in grace in his willingness to be of service to others. I encourage you to read this conversation with an open heart, but I believe if you don't, his words and his art will crack it open for you. EDDIE: Who are you? Not your name but who are YOU?

MICHAEL: This is a good question and one that forces me to really look inside myself. I am an eternal optimist. I’ve always believed at my very core that I would have something to contribute and make an impact on society in one form or another. I have always believed in myself despite having a life full of challenges at different points. Hopefully, as an artist, I’m making that happen in one form or another. On that same point, I would like to think that I am grounded in the conviction that nothing comes without putting in real work. I love being proactive and figuring out what it takes to create success. I guess what I’m saying is that I’m not afraid to roll up my sleeves and get dirty in order to make an event successful.

EDDIE: I understand you have been drawing since childhood. Do you remember as a child what inspired you to pick up a pencil or a pen or paint brush?

MICHAEL: I can’t put my finger on any one particular “aha” moment. When I was very young, around two years of age, my parents divorced. I think I started drawing as a means of coping with many different subconscious feelings. I don’t know if it was necessarily an inspiration moment but I instantly fell in love with being able to create through art. I remember the house that I lived in at that time with my mother had a built-in shelf in the dining room. I would stand and draw there for hours on end.

EDDIE: Do you have a spiritual practice? If so, do you have a daily ritual like meditation, mantra, or prayer?

MICHAEL: Yes… Well, sort of. It’s not necessarily a daily ritual, however, I’m one of those people that loves cold water as a means of healing and focus. I’ve done ice baths, cold showers, and cold pool meditation with a focus on breathing and breathing techniques. When you get into really cold water, there’s no escaping the fact that you must force your mind to spotlight feelings of calm and peace. I find real tranquility in cold water for specific periods of time. I once took cold showers for 6 months straight. If you can control your mind in really cold water, there’s really nothing you can’t deal with in day-to-day life.




“Sometimes we get caught up in our ways and forget to stay hungry and creative. We need to be shown something through someone else’s eyes.” EDDIE: In some of your latest paintings, you’re putting words inside the eyeballs of your artwork. Can you tell us about that concept? What are you trying to say? What do you want people to think about as they see these pieces?

MICHAEL: Most of my current artwork has an emphasis on the eyes. Eyes truly are a window into your expressive thoughts and feelings. The concept is a simple one in terms of depicting different words in the eyes but the intended goal is to embolden the viewer to think. You can hide a lot in life but your eyes can never hide the truth. I want to inspire people to explore their own truths. I want people to think of what the words mean in their own lives and relationships with people or experiences around them. People’s hearts hold their entire life experiences and their eyes are how they convey those memories.

EDDIE: I believe you live near the beach. What is your relationship with the ocean?

MICHAEL: This is easy. To put it in the simplest of terms, the ocean is life to me. The ocean is full of mystery and intrigue. Not unlike a piece of art. There is beauty in the imperfection and unknown. An ultimate peace can be found within the ocean and its abundance of life. Growing up in Los Angeles, I remember my mother taking me and my sister to the beach a lot as kids. I was instantly drawn to the power and mystery of that cool deep water. I have always felt a sense of peace with the ocean. So much so, that a few years back I became a certified free diver. There’s something special about the ocean and I will most likely always live near it.

EDDIE: What influences your art?

MICHAEL: I think the biggest influence on me when it comes to art is the life experiences I've had. I think that my style of art and the subject matter itself is a reflection of everything that I've been through up to this point. Music is a big influence when I paint and I listen to many different types of music depending on the piece and the mood I'm in. People influence me. I think we are all influenced by everyone that touches our lives for better or worse. I recently started working with you, Eddie, and in doing so, I've learned that in life we really have no control over what each day may bring but the opportunity we create can make all the difference. There are few people in my life who present ideas that really make me think differently. Eddie, you are definitely one of them. I look forward to seeing what the future holds for us and our team. We were introduced by a fellow artist friend of mine named Beth Bowen who really sparked my desire to pursue art full time after decades of putting it off. Sometimes we get caught up in our ways and forget to stay hungry and creative. We need to be shown something through someone else's eyes.

EDDIE: What organizations are you involved with, and how have they helped shape who you are? And how do they relate to your art?

MICHAEL: By nature, I'm a giver. I like being involved in different organizations and foundations that help shape and improve the lives of others. Being married with children, I've had plenty of opportunities to help shape the lives of my kids by volunteering time at various teams, organizations, or events that they have been involved in over the years. I still coach my youngest son's little league baseball team. 39 AWARENOW / THE WAVES EDITION



MICHAEL: (continued) I'm proud to be involved with Artists For Trauma founded by Laura Sharpe which is an organization that aims to expedite recovery from physical and emotional trauma through artistic expression and human connection. Another fantastic organization that I'm proud to be a member of is Indivisible Arts in Hermosa Beach, California. It is a collective of artists in a variety of disciplines who volunteer their time so that local children can learn and grow through art and a positive outlook on life and all the beauty that art can bring. I've had a great time getting to know its founder, Rafael McMaster, who can always enlighten me with a spiritual outlook on the human condition.

EDDIE: You mentioned children. How many children do you have? What do they think about your art?

MICHAEL: I am a proud father of five children. Three adult children from my first marriage and two more from my current marriage. My youngest is 11 and I always get a kick out of him when he comes up and sees a piece I'm working on. He always seems amazed and asks "How do you do that?" I really like that. It's humbling and makes me feel like a hero at the same time. I really like being a father because it has taught me patience and I still learn things from all my kids. All my kids have been very supportive of me and my art.

EDDIE: What is one thing you want people to know about you?

MICHAEL: That I'm just a normal, everyday guy with the same challenges, heartaches, and victories as most anyone else. I'm friendly and approachable. If you come up and say hello, chances are, we will become friends on some level because I really am interested in people and their own story. I like connecting with people on a personal level.

EDDIE: Where do you see your future in terms of art and creativity?

MICHAEL: I really want to see my art inspire people to explore their own creativity. Whatever your dreams are, be it art of some sort or something else, I think it's important to pursue that dream. None of what I do would be possible without the support of my wife who has always inspired me to follow my heart. If I can inspire just one person to pursue their own vision then I would consider that a win. I want to create a legacy. If I can help others through my work then it's going to be a bright future indeed. ∎


View and purchase Michael Kirst’s artwork:

Follow Michael on Instagram:


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


What I have discovered is the real secret for making waves is to just do it and surrender to it. PAUL S. ROGERS




Release The Genie Fact: A Genie Never Wears a Watch. It Decides What Time It Is. “Life is a wave of consciousness in the ocean of time.” -Debasish Mridha

I love this quote; it is such a powerful illustration of our brief role whilst we are here in this life. The big question is: what are you doing with this gift of consciousness?

For me, the phrase “making waves” means an introduction of some external influence. A change in direction or a transition creates its own momentum and energy change. If you want to know what this feels like, think back to the last time you had to do something you didn't want to do and you had to be brave. By pushing through that task, you made waves. How alive did that make you feel?

Let me share with you a personal story, one of my transitions where I literally made waves…

Believe it or not, years ago, I was a successful commercial lawyer and partner in a great law firm. From the outside, my life looked picture perfect. However, the truth was that I felt deeply unhappy. I had followed society’s path of getting a good education and good job. The thing I found is that society’s “happily ever after” was always just over the next hill. After 11 years of chasing a dream that was not mine, I decided that it was time to stop listening to my head and start listening to my heart. I quit the law to become a kitesurfing instructor. My friends thought I was crazy as I handed back the keys to my sports cars and turned away from the certainty of a job for life. Some similarities did however remain: I continued to wear a suit and attend board meetings every day. The new suit was skin tight and mostly wet, and the board was floating and fast. Wetsuits and kite boards were now part of my everyday life.

What I have discovered is the real secret for making waves is to just do it and surrender to it. My thought was always “What’s the worst that can happen?” The magic that follows when you start making waves is that life conspires with you and lends an invisible hand to take you in directions you would never have originally dreamt of.


Here are 7 cool life lessons kitesurfing taught me…

1. We cannot control nature. Instead, we must learn to harness it and be in harmony with its power. When you are perfectly in sync with the wind and sea, there is no effort required and there is total peace.

2. The older the student, generally the more over thinking they did and the more resistance they had to simply letting go. Instead of harnessing the elements, they were trying their hardest to control them.

3. Most people’s reaction to something they fear is to tense up. In kitesurfing, if you tense up, you pull the control bar towards you. It is equivalent to suddenly putting your foot down hard on the accelerator. Instead, by letting go of the control bar, the kite will simply fall out of the sky.

4. By turning something which is scary into something fun, it loses its power and becomes easy. For example, I used to play the song “Danger Zone” by Kenny Logan in the car park whilst my students got changed to put them in the right mood.

5. By making waves, you encourage others to make their own waves and you change lives. I recently received a photo from a student who was nearly 70 years old when I taught him years ago. The photo showed three generations of the same family kiting together and having fun.

6. If you are not fully present and your mind is elsewhere, it is impossible to be in harmony with nature.

7. Women are more intuitive than men, and generally progress faster. 44 AWARENOW / THE WAVES EDITION

AwareNow Podcast


Written and Narrated by Paul S. Rogers


And here are two more…

8. No two waves (challenges) are the same and each need to be navigated. I found that the quietest and most peaceful glasslike water is between two waves. You may lose sight of the comfort of the shore, but you are surrounded on both sides by your own paradise of a moving corridor of waves.

9. The moon is 384,400 kilometers away and approximately 1/4 of the Earth’s size. However, despite the distance and its small size compared to the Earth’s, it is still able to affect the course of the ocean’s low and high tides and all by just being there.

So, the next time you find yourself in a situation where you have to make a hard decision or a change that will create waves, think of the moon. Be like the moon. ∎

“Don’t worry if you’re making waves simply by being yourself. The moon does it all the time.” – Scott Stabile PAUL S. ROGERS

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.


I think the title I like best is ‘human’. KEITH BOYKIN




AGAINST TIME AND SOCIAL CONSTRUCTS Keith Boykin is a TV and film producer, national political commentator, New York Times best-selling author, and a former White House aide to President Bill Clinton. His latest book is Race Against Time: The Politics of a Darkening America. Fearlessly rejecting respectability politics, Keith embraces all parts of his identity and empowers others to do the same. ALLIÉ: In a recent post of yours, Keith, you provided this important reminder to us all, “Remember, the point of life is to live.” With the many hats you’ve worn in your life, from actor to author to aide at the White House, is there a particular professional hat that made you feel personally most alive?

KEITH: Well, thank you for that question. I was chuckling a little bit when I heard the word ‘actor’ because I've never really been an actor. Although at some point, I thought I might be one but I never actually was a working actor. I have been a producer, writer, author, TV commentator, lawyer, reality show participant and held a few other jobs: teacher or professor and some other things I can't think of. I don't know that any one job defines me. In fact, I'm working on a new book now called, ‘Quitting, Why I Left My Job to Live My Life with Freedom.’ And part of it is because I don't think that I find value or definition for myself solely in a job title. I find it in trying to do work that has meaning to me, work that makes a difference, work that helps to make an impact on people's lives. So I can't think of any one particular hat I would say that would describe that best.





I didn’t imagine that we would be as far as we are in some respects on some issues in our country, but I also understood that there was this tension… KEITH BOYKIN


“Whenever there was progress in America, that progress was met with a backlash.” KEITH: (continued) I think the title I like best is ‘human’. I like the fact that I get to live my life with freedom and to do so in a way that works for me. One day that might mean being a writer, another day that might mean being a producer and another day that might mean being a TV commentator or an author or a lawyer or whatever else. I like the flexibility that comes with being human and being free.

ALLIÉ: Back to that quote of yours, the second part was “Don’t work so hard that you forget to smell the roses along the way.” Often, we get so caught up in the ‘race’ of life that we forget to slow the pace on occasion to simply enjoy it. Keith, what are simple pleasures in your life that you enjoy?

KEITH: I'm glad you asked that question. It always reminds me of the quotation from Alice Walker's book, ‘The Color Purple,’ where she says, “I think it pisses God off if you walk past the color purple in a field somewhere, and don't notice it.” And I think that there's so much beauty in the world that we just take for granted: the fact that we're alive, we get to be a part of this planet right now, and share with so many other people the experience of being human. I live here in Los Angeles now and I love every day that I get to wake up and have this beautiful view behind me of the city. I love seeing the palm trees swaying in the wind. I love just the simple pleasures of life. Just a moment ago I was eating my favorite little morning snack, warmed cashews and almonds and mango chunks separately. In the past few months, I kind of got addicted to this little thing, but there are so many little pleasures in life that you take for granted. I love that I have freedom. Most of all, I love that I get to go to the gym every day. I mean, I go to the gym mostly every weekday when I'm at home. I love that. I just get to just be me and be free. I get to control what happens on my day and in my days, on a regular basis and not have someone else tell me where I have to be and when I have to be there.

ALLIÉ: Let’s talk more about race. In your latest book, ‘Race Against Time: The Politics of a Darkening America’, you share your own personal stories in a book about race and politics. You recognize a growing fear of a darkening America—a country in which there is no longer a predominant white majority. As a black man in politics, what have you personally witnessed?

KEITH: I've been involved in politics since I was a teenager going back to high school, and I've seen so many changes during that time period. I worked on the Michael Dukakis campaign for President in 1988 and Bill Clinton's campaign in 1992. I went to law school with President Barack Obama back in the late eighties and early nineties. I don't think a lot of what's happened today would've been inconceivable, both the good and the bad. I don't think people would've conceived. I wouldn't have conceived in the late eighties and nineties that we'd have a black President by now. And Barack Obama, my classmate and schoolmate would be that President. I didn't imagine we would have marriage equality by now for LGBTQIA people. I didn't imagine that we would be as far as we are in some respects on some issues in our country, but I also understood that there was this tension… whenever there was progress in America, that progress was met with a backlash. So the fact that we have had so much progress, it's not surprising to me then that there would be so much of a backlash that we would have the rise of a Donald Trump following Barack Obama. And, that we would have the rise of fascism in our country, the rise of white supremacy and white nationalism, and that we would have this division in our country that is unprecedented. I think you'd have to go back some decades to an equivalent to what we're experiencing today. 49 AWARENOW / THE WAVES EDITION


“…we have to be as judicious, careful and strategic in the way we use our time.” KEITH: (continued) I've seen this personally up close because I've been both an insider working in the White House in the establishment, an outsider in terms of being a protester and an observer watching what's happened with the black lives matter movement. The most interesting moment I can personally think of happened a couple of years ago when I was covering a black lives matter protest in New York City. I was arrested for simply covering the protest on the west side highway in Manhattan and the police, even after I told them that I was with the press, refused to do anything about it. They arrested me. I've been covering protests for decades and never in my life had I ever been arrested. I never even thought about the possibility of being arrested. I certainly wasn't trying to be arrested. And pissed me off because it happened the day after one of my CNN colleagues, Omar Jimenez, was arrested live on air while he was covering a George Floyd protest in Minneapolis. And, he was arrested in the same protest where one of our white colleagues, Josh Campbell, was not arrested for covering the same exact protest. Even as observers, you know, as African Americans or people of color, when we tried to “objectively” report on or observe something we're still caught up in the whole sort of drag net of racism in America.

ALLIÉ: It seems that time is not on our side. With the division in our country growing more every day along racial and political lines, how do we begin to redirect? What steps do we need to take, Keith, to save our union?

KEITH: Well, you know, it's interesting, you say time is not on our side because I think I look at it a little differently because I think, you know, my last book is called ‘Race Against Time, The Politics of a Darking America.’ The argument I make in the book is that the fear of time is what's motivating a lot of the backlash in our country and that a lot of White Americans are fearful of change. They've seen a Black President now for eight years, a Black woman Vice President and now a Black woman on the Supreme Court. They see that we had a woman who ran for President, got more votes than the White man who “defeated” her. They see that we have marriage equality in all 50 states. They know that in the next 30 years, by the year 2050, the Latino population will be the majority in at least five states in our country. They know that the Asian American population is growing rapidly. And, they see all these trend lines along with the most jarring of all the Census Bureau data that White Americans will no longer be the majority of this country by the 2040s. And they see that. And that's why they're afraid that time is not on their side and they're doing everything they can to stop this progress from taking place: to stop the counting of votes, if necessary, to stop the transfer of peaceful transfer of power from one President to another, to stop people from being able to vote, to gerrymander congressional districts and rig elections, and to make sure they stay in power regardless of the change in democracy.

Let’s go back to your previous question, how the country has changed. When I graduated from college in ‘87, at that point I worked for the Dukakis campaign that we lost. At that point, Democrats had lost the presidency in five of the previous six elections and it was a little hopeless. But since that time, Democrats have actually won the popular vote in the presidential elections in seven of the last eight races. So the tide has shifted as the country has diversified, and that's what scares people. So I don't think that time is necessarily against us, but I don't necessarily think time is for us either. I go back to what Dr. King said. He once warned that time is neutral. It can be used either constructively or destructively. And he worried that people would assume the passage of time would cure all of our ills when it doesn't. So I use that as a motivator. I think we have to be engaged to use time wisely because the people who are trying to stop change and wanna take the rights of women and people of color and others, they're using their time very constructively and productively and have been for the past five decades. So we have to be as judicious, careful and strategic in the way we use our time.


“All I’m saying is that we have to reject all those labels because they’re used to confine and define us.” ALLIÉ: Your words… “I’m bringing sexy back. Not the song, of course, but that part of my identity that fearlessly rejects respectability politics.” I love this post of yours. For those unfamiliar with the term ‘respectability politics’, please share the definition in words of your own and why they must be rejected.

KEITH: Well, respectability politics is basically an idea that we have to engage in behavior in public that is respectable for the outside world. Because if we don't, then people are gonna look at us differently. So if we're black, we have to always be upstanding and speak properly and so forth. If we're women, we have to behave in a way that doesn't cause harm to the community of women. If we're LGBTQA people, we have to make sure that we're not too sexual or we're not too overt in our behavior or anything like that. And I'm saying that we have to reject all those labels because they're used to confine and define us. They're used to put us in boxes and they frame the argument in the context that doesn't allow us to express or identify ourselves in all the different ways in which we show up.

So yes, there are good and bad people in every community. There are people that have all different sorts and ranges of behaviors and patterns, and we should be able to embrace that. We can't and we don't have to fit into some sort of box where we all have to dress properly with dresses and/or ties and, and look a certain way and talk a certain way in order to be deserving of respect. It’s terrifying to me when I reflect on these incidents where a lot of these black kids have been killed over the years, and we keep hearing stories about this person wasn't an angel, this person had this in their past, this person smoked weed or something like that. And I say it shouldn't matter whether you are an angel or not, all of us are entitled to be treated with respect and dignity. And all of us have the right to live our lives as full human beings, not necessarily fitting into somebody else's definition.

As a black gay man, a lot of people try to put me in boxes. You shouldn't be too sexual. You shouldn't post thirst traps on social media. I feel like I am a single guy. I can do whatever I want, unless there's somebody who I'm involved with, and he doesn't want me to do it. But in terms of my life, I shouldn't have to show up in a way that's presentable to the public in order for others to take me seriously. And that's a hard, hard thing to do for a lot of people because so many people, even within our own communities, are trying to make us fit into those boxes.

ALLIÉ: In a time where we find ourselves defined and undermined by social constructs, you end the post of yours that I just referenced with, “I’m embracing all the various parts of my identity, and I hope you feel empowered to do the same.” I love this too, Keith. It’s not enough to acknowledge someone’s pronouns or accept someone’s preference, appreciation is required, as individuals and as a society. In these divided times, how do we cultivate that appreciation in society?

KEITH: Yeah, that's a really good question. And I think you hit the nail on the head. We have to go past tolerance in an old fashioned sort of acceptance and figure out a way to get to appreciation. Part of it is a misunderstanding of what diversity means in our country. There is a big focus on diversity, equity and inclusion in the US and in corporate America, but how serious is it? And, in order to make it serious, it means we have to go beyond just sort of allowing people into the room but appreciating what they have to say when they're in the room, appreciating their voices and the different ways in which they may communicate, and that is a difficult thing for some people to do. How do we cultivate that? Part of it is changing the sort of mindset that we use.


AwareNow Podcast


Exclusive Interview with Keith Boykin


“We don’t want people to ignore our differences. We want to be appreciated for those differences.” KEITH: (continued) I was brought up with and taught the old melting pot analogy for America. This is all a melting pot... I don't believe that anymore. I believe in sort of what I call a salad bowl analogy for America, which is if you have a salad, you have different parts of it. You might have lettuce and spinach and tomatoes and onions and mushrooms and carrots and dressing and all these different things. You don't mix them together in a blender. You eat them together with each having its own flavor, taste and texture. And that's how you appreciate it. And that's what our country is. People will say, “Oh, I don't see your color. I don't want to see color.” We don't want to be ignored. We don't want people to ignore our differences. We want to be appreciated for those differences. We don't want to be mistreated for those differences either; rather, we want to be appreciated. A cherry tomato is not the same as an olive, which is not the same as a carrot, which is not the same as a mushroom. They all add some different flavor to the salad. And so we all should appreciate those different things. ∎

Follow Keith Boykin on Instagram: @keithboykin


Let yourself feel it all. OLIVIA CADE




A DARK COMEDIC SHORT FILM ABOUT TRAUMA & LOVE In the short film, ‘Give It To Me’, a dark subject is given a comedic spin. The film shows the reality of trauma and the lengths we will go to finally feel peace in a body that doesn’t quite feel like ours anymore. As the writer and lead actor of ‘Give It To Me’, Olivia Cade is hoping to help sexual trauma survivors heal with a film that boldly and bravely explores the issue in a different way. ALLIÉ: For those who are unaware of your upcoming film, ‘Give It To Me’, written and starring the one and only Olivia Cade, please share a quick summary of the story that we’ll be talking about today.

OLIVIA: Amazing, yes! ‘Give It To Me’ is a comedic, dark, short film. We're shooting July 23rd and 24th so it's coming up pretty fast. The story is about a woman who hires a sex worker, Lucy, to recreate the traumatic event in hopes of finally processing that event fully. It's a story of trauma and reclaiming your body after your agency has been taken away from you. It’s about the positivity and transcendence of female pleasure and sex. It encapsulates the way that trauma can completely change our relationship with our body and how to come back after something like that happens.





There’s no ‘right way’ to do it. OLIVIA CADE


“…you’re losing and grieving the person you were before that event happened.” ALLIÉ: Often when we see depictions of trauma in the media, the focus is on seeing the incident unfold in real time or the immediate effects the experience had on the victim. Rarely do we see years after the trauma has happened. For you, why was it so important for this to be a film about life after trauma?

OLIVIA: I feel like it's very similar to a lot of people's process with grief. When somebody passes away, a lot of people come and surround you with love and hold you immediately after the event. But we don't really talk about the year after or the years after, and the effects that it still has on people, because I find that the general consensus is that you've had enough time. It's time to move on. It happened. It's done. We were there for you that first month, two months, maybe six months. But you know, now it's time to move on and carry on with our lives. For victims of trauma, that's just not how it works. Trauma, especially bodily trauma, or any kind of violation, follows us forever. It follows us in many different ways. And I feel like the purpose of ‘Give It To Me’ is to show that it’s not about getting over anything, okay. That trauma lives in you. That trauma is with you. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. It just is what it is. It lives with you. It is a part of you, and that's very hard for a lot of victims of trauma to accept. But once you accept and own your trauma and understand that it wasn't your fault, that this was a horrible event and you are unfortunately changed, you can still feel joy, you can still go through life and you can still discover things in this new body that has been changed by trauma.

I feel like we don't see a lot of that part. We don’t see the “It's a year after. I'm alone. I still feel lonely. I'm still dealing with this. And I have shame that I am still dealing with this, and I don't wanna talk to the people around me.” I feel like it's the shame of not being able to get over it as quickly as the people around you either expect or assume that you will and you feel like a burden. You say, “I just can't stop talking about this. It still affects my daily life, but the people around me have already heard about it so much. But it's mine… I live with it and I can't stop thinking about it.” It's a very, very lonely experience for trauma survivors because you feel it should have timed out by now, but it doesn't work that way. And I think that's why Max (the main character of the film) reaches out to essentially a stranger because she knows she can't burden a stranger. There's no contract between a stranger. She doesn't feel responsible for this stranger, whereas with her friends and family, she doesn’t want their perception of her to be affected by what has happened to her.

ALLIÉ: That’s powerful, Olivia, the way you compare dealing with trauma with dealing with the loss of a loved one.

OLIVIA: I find that with trauma, it's so similar to grief because you're losing and grieving the person you were before that event happened.

ALLIÉ: When it comes to recovering from sexual trauma, there are therapists, programs and organizations to help with healing. Through your film, an alternative remedy is presented. Love for you to talk about Max, the main character you play who has suffered from trauma. Share why and how she tries to heal with the aid of a sex worker.

OLIVIA: I feel like everybody handles trauma differently. Everybody seeks out help and resources differently. And I think all help and all resources should be utilized and to their fullest extent. But for some people there comes a time when it feels like you've done the research. You've read the books. You've listened to the therapists. You've done the cognitive behavioral therapy and all the different modalities. And you're still hitting this wall. 57 AWARENOW / THE WAVES EDITION

OLIVIA: (continued) In this film, Max is a very intelligent and studious person. She wants to understand why things are the way that they are, and she's very much in her head, which I think a lot of people can relate to, myself included. I can completely relate to where I've thought about this thing so many times, and I understand it. You keep asking yourself, “Why isn't it going away?” And I find that a lot of times with different therapeutic approaches, there isn't an emphasis on processing through the body where you get out of your head a little bit and you feel it in your body and you heal your body after trauma. And I feel like Max has hit that point where she's like, “I've journaled. I've written. I've baked bread. Now, I have that weird hobby. <laugh> I've done the worksheets. I've done this. I've done that. I've done everything correctly. And I'm still in pain. I still cannot get over this.” And once again, there is shame in that… You say, “I'm a perfect student. I did it all. I did everything correctly. So, it must be me. It must be me that is faulty. I'm not wired correctly because all of the self-help books I’ve read and all of the therapy that I've been to… I'm doing it. I'm doing it constantly and it's still not working.” And I feel like Max, at this point, she needs a person who understands and who understands the body and how the body functions and feels. I know I've gotten here, where I've done so many things and then I just throw anything at the wall to see if it sticks. I'm gonna go outta my comfort zone, and I'm gonna try this weird, different thing that I've never thought would be something that I would do.

Max, again very much a researcher, reaches out to Lucy. So, when you go down the rabbit hole of sexual trauma and you start reading articles, you start to understand and discover kink. Kink isn't necessarily correlated with trauma. There's a big discussion in the kink community, whether those two should be mutually exclusive. Some people believe that kink comes from trauma. Others believe that it exists completely on its own. And so this film looks at the collision of those two worlds. Through Max’s research, she finds out about kink. She’s never tried it before and thinks it may be able to help. At this point she’s just going to do it because she’s exhausted everything else. She needs to heal. She wants to move on with her life. So, she hires Lucy in order to basically recreate the scene in a controlled environment, which is something that happens in the kink community, where there is a sense of control over the trauma that happened to you. It causes your brain to basically view that event a little bit differently because now you're in a state where you are in control. We see this with people repeating patterns in their relationships. A lot of people who have traumatic childhoods or traumatic dynamics with family will get into relationships that mimic that dynamic in order to possibly change the outcome. It’s so interesting that the brain does this thing saying, “I'm gonna put us in this traumatic situation, because this time we're gonna have control over it.” So, Max does this with Lucy. She says to herself, “I'm going to be in control of this. I'm going to take this concept that I've read about. I'm going to apply it to my

Photo Credit: Brandon Dougherty 58 AWARENOW / THE WAVES EDITION

“I know that for a lot of trauma survivors, humor is a wonderful way to be able to finally address these really heavy topics…” OLIVIA: (continued) life. I'm going to recreate the event, and then I'm going to finally move through it.” But it doesn't work like that sometimes, and it doesn't work like that for Max. And we realize very quickly at the crux of the film that her intentions for and her wants from this experience are actually based on shame. Instead of trying to let go and understand, she's trying to figure out where she went wrong in that situation. She holds onto control instead of letting go of it to feel safe and move through it. We find out that she's actually using this experience to figure out if she could have done something differently and if she could have changed the outcome… If at that moment, she could have said “no” a little bit louder or “wait” a little bit louder. And that causes her to become incredibly triggered… Max learns that she needs to let go of the judgment and let go of the control and just be in her body for once after not being in her body for so long.

ALLIÉ: As a comedian, you use comedy to approach subjects that are often taboo to talk about. In doing so, comedy makes conversation more comfortable. Given the gravity of the topic in your new film that’s currently in production, ‘Give It To Me’, was it difficult to incorporate humor with a storyline about sexual trauma?

OLIVIA: A hundred percent. I think that as a trauma survivor myself, I can only write what I know. And I can only write the way in which I communicate. When I write a script like this, I don't ever think it's going to be funny. I never go into writing about these really heavy topics thinking that I'm gonna make it funny. It's never at the top of my head. It's just the way I feel comfortable entering into that conversation with myself. And it's the way that I feel comfortable discussing these topics - with a little bit of levity because there has to be for me personally. And I know that for a lot of trauma survivors, humor is a wonderful way to be able to finally address these really heavy topics in a way that doesn't immediately bring you down and back into that experience. For me, writing this with comedy was basically the easiest thing I've ever done. In this film, she’s meeting a stranger for the first time. She’s having a unique, new sexual experience. I don't know about you, but every unique, new sexual experience that I've had is always a little bit awkward. It's funny. It’s two new bodies touching. It’s funny and weird… It’s fun and exciting. And there's that awkward kind of intensity around it, that I think ‘Give It To Me’ really highlights and expands on.

ALLIÉ: While you wrote this script, as an actor, will it be difficult to play the role you wrote?

OLIVIA: I've been in my writer brain and producer brain for so long because a lot of this film is self-financed. It’s been a lot of getting everybody together and trying to get everyone on the same page. And you know, fundraising for Indie films is a whackadoo thing. And now that we're getting closer to the shoot dates, I'm starting to take a step back. I'm starting to honor my process as an actor. I don't want to see the shot list. I don't want to see this because I want to live in it now. I want to start feeling like Max. I want to start transitioning over. I don’t want to think about where the camera needs to be, what lights we need to get or when the food needs to be delivered on set. So it's that production part of my brain that I'm starting to turn off a little bit, as I start to turn on the more creative actor side of my brain. It's a very weird transition. But once again, as we talk about control, I have to trust the people that have come together and are donating their time and their creativity to my project. I just have to trust and let go. And they make it easy. We have just the most wonderful group of humans that are donating their time to this film because they believe in it. And to me what's also so special about this film is that I get to create a very safe community for trans artists to basically shine and do what they're best at. 59 AWARENOW / THE WAVES EDITION

AwareNow Podcast


Exclusive Interview with Olivia Cade


“It is your body. It is your trauma, and it is your healing process.” ALLIÉ: For those recovering from a trauma of their own, what advice would you give?

OLIVIA: Let yourself feel all of it. Let yourself be angry. Let yourself be upset. Let yourself pity yourself. Let yourself be just forlorn. And do not place judgment on it… I would say to accept every stage of grief that you may have and accept that it's not gonna be linear, and it's gonna be there for a while. And it's not because you're doing anything wrong. It's not because you're not healing correctly. This film is also about not giving into that idea of ‘healing correctly’, because you can heal any way that you please. It's your body. I think that's the core of it. It is your body. It is your trauma, and it is your healing process. Do not let anyone judge you or tell you that you're doing it incorrectly. And don't tell yourself that you're doing it incorrectly… It is messy, it is ugly, and it is horrible sometimes… And that is okay. I think the main thing is just acceptance because when we accept ourselves, then shame can't get in. Shame wants to put you in a little corner. Shame wants to keep you alone and without connection. Shame will tell you that you are horrible and that you deserve all these things. But when you accept yourself and you accept how you're feeling, shame really doesn't have anywhere to go. It is okay to feel and be however you are on any given day. There's no ‘right way’ to do it. ∎

Learn more about ‘Give It To Me’ and support the film:

Follow Olivia Cade on Instagram: @oliviaaacade


Every day I wake up and I say that I’m thankful for another day. KIMMIE WEEKS




CULTIVATING SUSTAINABLE SOLUTIONS IN LIBERIA Dr. Kimmie L. Weeks is a survivor of the Liberia civil war who has worked to alleviate poverty and human suffering in Africa and around the world since he was fourteen years old. He founded the Hope Farm, a ten acre organic and sustainable agriculture oasis and training center in Liberia, to train young people, create community seed and tool banks, and organize sustainably grown food cooperatives. For this program and for Liberia, he has hope. ALLIÉ: Executive Director of Youth Action International, Director of Africa Operations for Intergrum Scientific, and member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council, Dr. Kimmie Weeks, you have a lot of projects you are dedicated to. One in particular is The Hope Farm. More than part of your work, you feel the farm is part of your destiny. Please share the story of your childhood, Kimmie, and how it shaped you and your work.

KIMMIE: Greetings from Liberia, West Africa. The Hope Farm really is a 360 on my life. Reason being, obviously with the farm, the goal is to grow and provide food in abundance for Liberia and do it in a sustainable way. And the idea of providing food actually goes all the way back to a period of my life when I was a child and nearly died from starvation during the Liberian Civil War.





…I woke up. That means I still have purpose. KIMMIE WEEKS


“My body was taken out and thrown in a heap of dead bodies and left for dead. So when my mom essentially found me and revived me, I knew that I wanted to spend the rest of my life working for change.” KIMMIE: (continued) Just to give you a quick bit of history, Liberia is a small country on the west coast of Africa. It was founded in 1847 or received its independence in 1847, and was formed by freed slaves who had left the United States after getting their freedom and had come to Africa. The place they settled was essentially what is now Liberia. So there is that historical tie between Liberia and the United States. In December 1989, the Liberian Civil War began and was led by a man named Charles Taylor who said he was coming to lead a grand revolution. I was nine at that point so obviously I didn't understand the politics but, when the war was coming, they shut down the school. So I was like, yes, thumbs up, no compulsory school as a nine year old. But obviously as stuff was coming, reality started to sink in as everything else closed down.

Liberia at that point was one of the fastest developing African countries. There were people from all over Africa who used to come to Liberia for school, for work, for opportunities. But then as the war was coming, everything started to shut down: hospitals, clinics, supermarkets; everything that you could think about that made life normal. Eventually as the fighting continued, the national electric supply and the water supply were all destroyed. At a certain point, my mom and I were forced to leave our homes and we went to a refugee camp with thousands of other people. And it was in the midst of the camps surrounded by all of this chaos and all of this war, in a classroom built for maybe 30 students that now 25 plus extended families were laying on the ground because there was nowhere else to go. People were essentially surrounded by pain and suffering. That's when I started to experience hunger, then starvation and being sick without access to medication.

After being sick for a long time or for several days, I had stopped responding, stopped getting up, and basically at that point, I was declared dead. My body was taken out and thrown in a heap of dead bodies and left for dead. So when my mom essentially found me and revived me, I knew that I wanted to spend the rest of my life working for change. I didn't know how and I didn't know what I would do. I was only nine going on ten years of age at that point, but essentially I said to myself, or I said a prayer, that if I survived the war that would become my life's work and focus. And that led to basically day after day working on efforts to make a change in the world.

Nobody thought that war would happen in Liberia. I remember when I was growing up, the closest I came to human suffering was seeing on TV in the mid-eighties the famine in Ethiopia, East Africa. And, I remember seeing on the news the starving children with their bloated bellies, malnourished, and I always used to ask my mom, how is it possible that there were children somewhere in the world who are going without food? And of course, my mom used to say at that point, hey, that's more reason to eat all your food. But never did she imagine that one day we would be in that exact circumstance. I mean, my mom had gone to the school in New York. She went to the Fashion Institute of Technology, graduated and came back to Liberia. So I don't think it ever crossed her mind that one day she would be in a war with her child facing starvation and disease and not being able to do anything about it and watching her last child essentially die from starvation. And I know that in the moments or the hours that I had been declared dead was probably the most painful time for her to endure. 65 AWARENOW / THE WAVES EDITION

This is an opportunity to bring hope for thousands of young people. KIMMIE WEEKS


ALLIÉ: The Hope Farm supplies more than food. Tell us about the jobs and training you provide for Liberian youth.

KIMMIE: Well, just to put it in a little bit of context, since the war ended in early two thousands, Liberia has gone through a lot. Coming out of war is never easy, and it's been challenging for Liberia. If you can think about it for a moment during the Liberian civil war, for example, there were 20,000 children who fought as soldiers. The youngest person was six years old who was forced to hold a gun and was made to kill people on the battlefield. So if you think about when the war ended and those children and young people who went through that war, even if you were ten when the war started, by the time the war ended, you're probably like 26 or so, which means basically your entire life has not been going to school or getting an education or learning or playing, it's just been about fighting and killing. And, so at 26 now, you have this whole generation of young people who have no means of earning an income, no education, no skills. What happens to them?

There are so many of them now that they're now referred to in Liberia as ‘zogos’, which are essentially the less fortunate or more affected young people who by the way, are now having kids of their own still also with no opportunities. We also now are in a country where Liberia's annual budget at this point is around $750 million, which is very, very small. I think most small US states have a higher budget than we as a country have. And, we're importing almost everything we eat. Our staple food is rice and we're spending $250 million a year just to import it. We're spending another $50 to $60 million just to import eggs and poultry products, a $100 million to import fish and mind you, we are importing all of this food, despite the fact that God has blessed us with an amazing, amazing climate and weather to grow food in abundance.

The few farmers who have been growing food in the past have been heavily dependent on fertilizers that damage the environment, and unsafe or unsustainable agricultural practices that are contributing to global warming. Further, most young people see farming in agriculture as something you do not do unless you want to die in poverty. Farming in Liberia is just the thing that nobody of any stature is supposed to do. When I looked at the fact that we have so many young people who are unemployed with no source of income and no formal or informal education or skills and when you look at the fact that we are importing hundreds of millions of dollars of food, I thought, wow, this is an opportunity. This is an opportunity to bring hope for thousands of young people.


“Even if that day isn’t a good day, live for that next day.” KIMMIE: (continued) For me, myself, I was blessed after leaving Liberia to go to the United States in exile. And I was blessed to attend some of the best schools in America – Amherst College, the University of Pennsylvania – and get the best education. After I came back to Liberia, I told myself that I’m going to be the example that you don't have to be a poor person or destined for poverty to do agriculture. We're going to make agriculture cool again. So despite my background and world travels, I started doing agriculture and doing it, not as a boss, but actually being there – putting my hands in the ground and working the soil as an example for young people that, Hey, you can do this and there's nothing to be ashamed of in doing agriculture. But also now, doing it in a sustainable way to promote organic agriculture in Liberia.

I met the Minister of Agriculture a few weeks ago, and she said, “Kimmie, there are probably only two other people who I know who are doing organic agriculture in Liberia.” And she wasn't even sure if they were still doing organic agriculture for commercial purposes. So it's something that's brand new. When we started teaching the villagers about compost and utilization of compost, et cetera, pretty much it was so new. When I came and I said, we're going to grow food without using fertilizer, at first, people thought I had gone crazy until we started to do it and then people started to see and said, wow, we can do this. The reason that it's important to teach people or to show people how to grow food without being dependent on fertilizer is because in Africa, it's very, very expensive. The average farmer, for example, the average smallholder farmer, is living on about $30 a month. A bag of fertilizer is between $60 to $70. And for a farmer who's got 30 bucks for an entire month, you're thinking, how am I going to get $70 to buy this inorganic fertilizer? So many farmers simply cannot farm adequately because they cannot afford it. And the message we're sending them is do not waste that $70. Let's do organic farming because you don't have to buy those expensive imports. You will grow food in abundance, and on top of that, you're saving the environment.

ALLIÉ: I can think of no better name for your program than ‘The Hope Farm’. Beyond food and training, it gives hope to the people of Liberia. What is it that gives you hope, Kimmie, for the future of your program and for Liberia?

KIMMIE: Well, two things. The first one comes from an experience being in the United States. Because being in Liberia during the war, I had this feeling that people around the world did not care that we were suffering and dying during the Liberian war. But when I went to the US, I was meeting friends in high school and colleges who had never heard of the war and its brutality; or who weren't aware of a lot of the suffering and pain that's going on across Africa. I also was seeing how, if people knew and were aware, how willing Americans were to reach out and help. And I said, well, that gives me so much hope because before I had felt, especially being a child at ten years old and almost dying, that the entire world knew that people were dying and were not doing anything and that was very painful. Meeting people who really cared and were looking for ways to be involved was why Youth Action started. It started as a way to now give young people in America the chance to connect and make an impact across Africa. So knowing that there's tremendous heart and willingness to give and a want to give and a want to transform the world in a positive way is the first thing that gives me hope. The second thing that gives me hope is just the resilience I see of Africa and Africans and Liberians as a whole, where despite people going through just extreme circumstances right now – families not having food to feed their kids tomorrow or not knowing how they're going to get their kids into school – but yet having hope that a better day is possible and that, hey, we just have to live to see the next day, and the next day will be a good day. And, even if that day isn't a good day, live for that next day. When you combine these two things – bringing people who want to help with people who have so much hope and resilience but just need a little push – you can make a dynamic change, not just in Liberia, but possibly across the entire continent of Africa and the entire world.


ALLIÉ: Working to alleviate poverty and human suffering in Africa and around the world since the age of fourteen, you have done so much to help so many. What help is it that you need now to continue your work with The Hope Farm?

KIMMIE: Well, we're reaching out to people right now to help support the farm, especially in terms of our water system. Liberia is divided into two seasons. There's a rainy season where there's six months, like now, six months of rain, and then we get six months of dry. And one of the difficulties for farmers in Liberia is the ability to grow food year round. In order to obviously feed a nation, you must have the ability to grow food all year round. So we've been looking at working with Jack and Jon Rose at Waves for Water. They have helped us to get our first-hand pump in the farm that's now supplying entire communities. But we now need to have a system that is more than just a hand pump for drinking water, but one to also supply water for the crops. And doing it in a simple way that we would be able to replicate that water system in other places. In addition to getting support for our water system, we’re also hoping to get support for our facilitators. Right now, we have facilitators who are training young people from the nearby villages at the Hope Farm. The goal is to get this farm throughout the county and have at least one demonstration farm in each county, because Liberia is divided into 15 counties. So that's 15 small farms that can be teaching opportunities. Our hope is to get people coming in to help us start farming in one of these counties so we can continue scaling these training sessions. Our goal is that within five to 10 years, the majority of Liberians have been trained in organic farming methods, and are providing food in abundance. So that's the two things we need: help with our water supply and help with getting resources to set up small farms in each of Liberia's 15 counties.

ALLIÉ: And it seems like it's so doable.

KIMMIE: It's very doable. For the water system and the current farm, our goal is to raise $10,000. For each additional farm which would be smaller farms, we're looking to raise $5,000 per farm. But then when you think about the impact that would have across the country, it would be hugely significant. So it's a small amount of money to have a very, very massive impact in Liberia.

ALLIÉ: Over the years, you’ve had many wins that you’ve fought hard for. Which win has meant the most to you?

KIMMIE: Well, that's a very tough question. There's many times that it's the simple things that really matter to me. Since we've started this work, we've now reached out and impacted well over 300,000 people in six post-war African countries. We've opened schools, and we've done clinics, health centers, and vocational training centers. But honestly, the moments that I cherish are those when I meet individuals who I don't even remember who come up to me and say, you don't know me, but I benefited from such and such a project years ago. There's two stories in particular that stand out. One happened when I visited our projects in Uganda. I was met at the airport by a young girl who was maybe about ten. She was presenting me with a bouquet of flowers. She was one of six children who had been living in the streets with her mother. Her father had died from HIV. But through the organization, they had received a small micro grant of $200 which they used to start the flower business. Five years later that family now had a place to stay, the kids were in school, and that was one of the daughters who was presenting me a bouquet of flowers from that business. Now, pretty much if I did nothing else in my life, just knowing that one family's life was impacted is the most rewarding. The second story is about a beautifully dressed young woman in Ghana who approached me and said, “Ms. Weeks, you don't know me, but I was one of the women who attended one of the vocational training schools.” We run these centers for women empowerment every year that 300 women go through and are trained in various skills. She continued, “I was in this center about ten years ago doing cosmetology and, when I graduated, I started this small salon. I've grown it and I've grown it and now it's so big that I even go to Ghana for products. I leave Liberia.” This was a woman who had no resources before this and was living a life of commercial sex to feed herself. And she was like, “I'm now leaving and flying on a plane with you to go and get more goods.” And again, that's just another story that moves me. So yes, we've done a lot with the projects, but it's these individual stories that keep me going and keep me driven even in the tough times and through the challenges we encounter. 69 AWARENOW / THE WAVES EDITION


“Sometimes the people we impact the most are people we probably will never meet.” ALLIÉ: For those working to create positive social change who feel they’ve not yet found a win, what words of advice can you share.

KIMMIE: Well, even I go through that. I go through that every day because I feel like I have not quite done what I'm meant to do yet. It gets frustrating even for me with all we've done. I mean, it gets frustrating because sometimes I'm like, oh boy, this is going so slow or on many days it's like, I wish we had more resources. Because with the organization, it sometimes appears as if we're a multimillion-dollar organization but it’s really because we're able to stretch every dollar to create a major impact. But many days I'm like, oh boy, I wish we had more funding. I wish we had grants to do more work. Because sometimes I see millions of dollars in grants and it's like, darn, we can't even get one of those. And it gets frustrating so I get it.

But what carries me through every day is really honestly allowing myself to be okay that there's still life ahead. And, as long as there's life in the body, that means your purpose hasn't been achieved yet. As much as I would like to rush to solve all of the problems, I know that as the purpose that I'm meant to do is being achieved, I'm also growing. And as I grow, then I know that I'll be able to do more in terms of my purpose. So sometimes I have to check myself and say it's a journey and as long as you're alive, that means you still have a purpose. So every day I wake up and I say that I'm thankful for another day and I know maybe it's going to be a tough day. But like everybody in Liberia, I say, thank God I woke up. That means I still have a purpose. And even if what I do only impacts one person, I've made a difference and I've come closer to my purpose. So that's what I would say to people out there who may not see the big wins. I think sometimes in terms of wins, we think about the big stuff that maybe everybody would heal and will be on the cover of newspapers and magazines or whatever the big goal that we want to attain. But I think we have to focus and be content with knowing that sometimes it's the individual impact that matters. Sometimes the people we impact the most are people we probably will never meet. ∎

Learn more and support The Hope Farm:


Wish I was ocean size Cannot move you and no one tries No one pulls you out from your hole Like tooth aching a jawbone I was made with a heart of stone To be broken with one hard blow I’ve seen the ocean break on the shore Come together with no harm done It ain’t easy livin I wanna be as deep as the ocean Mother ocean yeah I wanna be as deep as the ocean Mother ocean yeah Some people tell me home is up in the sky In the sky there’s a spy Wanna be more like the ocean No talking and all action No talking and all action 72 AWARENOW / THE WAVES EDITION

Lyrics by: Perry Farrell Photo by: Matt Hardy



A COLLECTION OF LYRICS & BOARDS When sizing things up, life can be measured in heights of waves, lengths of boards and durations of songs. The boards collected hear pair well with ‘Ocean Size’ played by Jane’s Addiction and written by Perry Farrell. Like each one of us, every surfboard has a story and unique artistry in its design.











































Why do I have to be defensive as if I've done something wrong? SARMA MELNGAILIS




Miles' Law states that where you stand is based on where you sit Essentially, we all are products of our time, place, and people, with our opinions shaped by our environment and experience. If this Law holds, we as members of society must understand our environment is built on social media posts, movies, television ads, and news reports. These mediums shape our world by both exposing and not exposing us to information or symbolic annihilation (SA). As a refresher from part one of this series, SA is how the power of written, verbal, and video messaging defines our interpretation of reality not by what is consumed by audiences but rather by what information is left out. The more incomplete the information consumed, the more of what is presented is locked into our brains as the 'truth' because we are unaware of the 'annihilated' topic. To illustrate how the power of the unspoken or unwritten word can alter our environment, let's look at the story of Dr. Martin Seligman. In 2004, Dr. Seligman, the former President of the American Psychology Association, told the story of his experience with CNN. He was asked to give a one-word sound bite to describe the state of psychology in the United States. When prompted, he said, 'good.' Because of the vagueness, the interviewer wanted him to expand his thoughts by allowing him two words. Dr. Seligman's response was, 'not good.' This time, with laughter, the interviewer asked for three words. Finally, the Dr. responded with 'not good enough’ (2). A simple word or two can change the entire landscape of the situation, altering our understanding of a specific situation. While many people may not have seen Dr. Seligman's interview or know the story behind the scenes, what kind of power does an entire network or streaming service have over public opinion if its reach was much more significant?

For example, the streaming service Netflix has almost a quarter of a billion, yes, billion, with a 'B' subscription (3). The organization has a firm hold on the market and earns an enormous revenue. In the first quarter of 2022 alone, Netflix generated nearly $7.87 billion (4). The number of subscriptions and the revenue brings, in many ways, power. With this power comes the ability to control a wide audience's perception of what is fact and what is not. As Uncle Ben in Spiderman famously said, 'with great power comes great responsibility.' But what if money was more important than responsibility? What if the almighty dollar outweighed morality and ethics? Netflix has had its problems with questionable tactics. Take, for instance, Netflix's 35 significant issues (5), not including race-baiting marketing strategies (6), or its dubious labor practices (7) that are currently under investigation in the deaths of multiple people. Would Netflix stoop to the level of hiring a director that has made a living on skewing audience perception using SA or bending the story towards salaciousness rather than the truth? Without much difficulty, the answer is yes. For instance, the director, Chris Smith, has directed multiple projects for Netflix, such as Fyre (8) and The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann (9,10), that have fallen under scrutiny. One of Chris Smith’s and the team's projects is a 'docuseries' (term used loosely) entitled 'Bad Vegan.'

Before we go any further, you may think, "I've never heard of the series. Why should I care? I couldn’t care less about Netflix, Bad Vegan, or the people within the series." While that may be true, this is bigger than the series or Netflix. Society often views women as the 'weaker sex' or secondary citizens in the United States and abroad. But why? Maybe it is because of how they are forgotten or treated as sidekicks in the American education system (more on this later in the series). Could it be how society is inundated with women's roles in print and video media? Victim blaming or shaming is a great American pastime that still permeates modern-day mediums. On Netflix alone, there is no shortage of on-screen documented evidence portraying women as stupid, gullible, or deserving of terrible


There was a huge, missed opportunity to educate people in a useful way about psychological abuse. SARMA MELNGAILIS


“The dehumanizing of women is not isolated to gruesome serial killings.” occurrences. The Yorkshire Ripper, the Long Island Serial Killer, Joel Rifkin, Robert Pickton, the Green River Killer, Jack the Ripper, and many more claimed almost exclusively female victims. We see women's occupations define their existence repeatedly instead of humanizing them as people.

For example, author Hallie Rubenhold's book, The Five, documents the story behind the story of Jack the Ripper and his victims. "For too long, there has been this idea that these women were all the same. A nameless, faceless mass of grubby, disgusting people, indistinguishable from one another. And they aren't. They only ended up in the same place." The book does something novel. It avoids the attempt to identify the killer and the horrific murders in detail. Why? Again, Rubenhold explains, "We don't need to know more about that. We focus on who Jack the Ripper was, to the point that he has become a supernatural creature, like Dracula or Frankenstein's monster. But he was a real person who killed real people. This all happened. And our dissociation from reality is what dehumanized these women. They have just become corpses. Can't we do better?" (11).

The dehumanizing of women is not isolated to gruesome serial killings. We see the exact portrayal and dismissal of the victims that fell prey to scam artists and the cult of one. It can be seen on Netflix's Tinder Swindler and Bad Vegan, among others. The portrayal of the victims as unstable, stupid, gullible, or all the above occurs repeatedly. Often the focus is on how 'crazy' the victims are rather than the cruelty of the perpetrators. This is especially true of the Bad Vegan series. Netflix marketed the series by poking fun at the victim and, in plain sight, degrades Sarma Melngailis without mentioning the sociopathic perpetrator, Anthony Strangis. This depiction is larger than the series or the streaming service, which is why we should care. We objectify, victim shame, and blame so often that we have not only come to accept it but sometimes don't even realize we are doing so.

Bad Vegan is the supposed true story of New York's top raw vegan restaurant and its restaurateur, Sarma Melngailis, whose empire fell apart when she met a man named Shane Fox (Anthony Strangis) on Twitter. Bad Vegan is considered one of the best series on Netflix, garnering over 125,000,000 hours of viewing. But, when delving further into the events and hearing from Sarma herself, we find that this docuseries is yet another inaccurate Netflix/Smith story driven by the need for viewership and, ultimately, dollars for both the director and the network. The story is all too often intentionally misleading and an incorrect account of the nightmare Sarma went through and, because of this, is still living after almost two decades. Sarma has repeatedly discussed the inaccurate portrayal of herself and the overall series (12,13,14).

On a beautiful afternoon in June, I had an opportunity to sit down with Sarma to discuss the series. Below is her story, from what really happened, the intentional victim-blaming marketing strategies, and how all of this still plagues her today.

TODD: Could you summarize the three most important points that were altered or left out of the series?

SARMA: The audio of a phone call at the end was most certainly intended to create controversy. It was a deliberate mischaracterization designed to mislead the audience, leaving people wondering about what they’d just watched.

Also, I’d been under the impression that, at the end of the series, the information was going to be conveyed that I had been paid a sum for my participation which went entirely to repay what my employees were owed in full, and beyond that I did not profit from Bad Vegan. But that was left out.

In one segment related to the circumstances of my marrying Anthony Strangis, they took audio from one part of my interview and spliced it with audio from another part and made it seem like I agreed to marry him so he could transfer money to me, which was not the case.


SARMA: (continued) Lastly, they didn't include any of my interview where I’d explained the sexual abuse part of the story and crying when discussing that experience. Why did they leave that out? One of the producers had told me that that footage was so compelling. It seems to me that was an editorial choice again. Had they included that part, I would have come across as much more of a sympathetic character. There are other things they didn't include, and overall, these editorial choices then allowed the controversial ending, which led some to come away thinking I was intending to scam people and deserved to be in jail, or worse.

TODD: This series focuses on how someone’s belief can be built on what is not told or shown to them. Do you have any experience or an example of symbolic annihilation that you could share from your series?

SARMA: They spent an entire day in Connecticut interviewing a lovely psychologist who is the leading expert in coercive control yet didn't use any of it. I was told that there was a compelling part where he’d said that if he’d had any involvement in my case, I would never have gone to jail. So, again, they left out something that would have exonerated me to some extent. 90 AWARENOW / THE WAVES EDITION

“The series was a betrayal of trust, using somebody who still hasn’t healed from a mind-boggling situation and then injuring them again purely for profit.” TODD: So how did you feel your portrayal within the series made things worse?

SARMA: I think it's a bit tricky because not everyone comes away thinking I'm a terrible person, and there are so many people who can relate, understand, and are very sympathetic. Yet many others came away thinking that I got away with something or I'm a con artist and should still be locked up. There was a huge, missed opportunity to educate people in a useful way about psychological abuse. The series was a betrayal of trust, using somebody who still hasn't healed from a mind-boggling situation and then injuring them again purely for profit. And I know the Director profited immensely.

TODD: How did the series affect your life then and now?

SARMA: It's ongoing and was, of course, most difficult immediately afterward, with the firehose of incoming via every imaginable digital orifice. Even now, I've declined so many podcasts and things like that, but some of them I do. For example, I did Bethenny Frankel’s podcast because she was already talking about Bad Vegan while her listeners were arguing whether I was in a cult of one or the one behind it all. And after the podcast via Zoom, I closed my laptop and burst into tears because I just felt steamrolled by her and the exhaustion of trying to explain something that I shouldn't have to explain. Why do I have to be defensive as if I've done something wrong? I'm the one stuck with the debt. I'm the one here now defending myself while that idiot (Strangis) is somewhere doing whatever the f*ck he's doing without any responsibility or shame. Nobody's hounding him, claiming he doesn't feel any remorse. I try not to read comments, but just like peeking at the comments on YouTube is another wave of, oh, she's a sociopath. I saw how she was looking. She's a liar and trying to obfuscate. She's always looking away. So that nudges me into a dark place for a while.

TODD: The marketing of the series, from the placement of posters to the types of imagery used, appears they were trying to paint you as salacious as possible, setting the stage to make you look like a greedy lunatic. Do you feel it's more difficult to set the record straight because of the series? You didn't know the series would portray you the way it did?

SARMA: Yeah, absolutely. I now understand why they delayed showing it to me as long as possible, and they claimed “journalistic integrity” as the reason for not showing it to me (laughs). I don't mean to laugh, but the word integrity and those filmmakers don't go together. I was on a Zoom call, with two people from Netflix, in tears, explaining how emotionally challenging it is to know this is coming, not knowing what's in it, and not being able to prepare myself mentally. That was agonizing, and I could barely get any other work done because of what felt like low-grade, persistent torture. It was like a kick of sand in the face when two and a half weeks before my seeing it, Netflix began blasting it out to a bunch of journalists, not only high-end journalists but cheesy kinds of pop culture podcasts and tabloid types. I was contacting people who had seen the series, and I hadn't yet. Obviously, I know now why they waited as long as possible to show it to me. I have had no more contact with them whatsoever. I was particularly pissed off about their Perpetual Pups marketing campaign, which was awful on so many levels, and gross because they're injuring me and mocking anyone who has ever been psychologically abused. Would they have made a similar campaign mocking sexual or physical abuse?


SARMA: (continued) People who have been in similar situations have reached out to me and described watching Bad Vegan as gut-wrenching because they were triggered throughout the whole thing. So, for them to watch something so emotional and then have that untrue and disturbing and confusing ending is cruel towards them as well. I imagine Netflix’s marketing strategy to make me look crazy was premeditated from day one. I want to go into a room with all the people who wrote, agreed, and approved that Perpetual Pups part of the campaign in particular and ask why they thought it was a good idea. So, you all really thought that was okay? Are you embarrassed and horrified because you realize now and see how that was really damaging? Or not? How about when you decided to put posters of me on my closed restaurant windows eating a cash salad with the words, 'Fame, Fraud, Fugitives' over my head and 'Bad Vegan'? Really? Obviously, they deliberately conveyed a negative impression of me via the marketing.

TODD: Seeing the marketing strategy without depicting the actual villain in the story blew my mind. Do you feel you must constantly correct all these things, or is it something you want to separate yourself from? Can you even do that?

SARMA: I can't. I think it's something I'll be correcting for the rest of time. Like tabloid headlines, even if they’re wrong and the article explains it in a way that makes it clear that the headline is not really the case, it doesn't matter. Very often, it’s only the headline that sticks. And once that narrative is in place, it's incredibly difficult to undo. I'll probably always be correcting the record. There's a reason why I changed the blurb under my social media to say the ending was misleading, so when people look me up, they can see that right away and hopefully look further to my website to read what I have to say. I've been working on a book for almost five years, and it got completely derailed by the series. I haven't sold it yet to a publisher, but I have had agents say she's not a good fit for us, or we don't want anything to do with her, insinuating that I'm a cuckoo or a hot mess. The book will be a much larger version of the stuff I posted on my website, and it will be the whole story, and I can back it all up. But again, the damage has been done. There's an enormous population that will watch whatever salaciousness is on Netflix, but the last book they read was probably in high school. So, they're not going to read the book. And meanwhile, Anthony Strangis is out somewhere living his best life with a clean slate, while again, Chris Smith (the director/producer) made so much money off this while further injuring me in the process. And I’m sitting here still with millions of dollars of debt from what happened and still getting blamed by so many, despite the fact that I’ve fully accepted my responsibility for what happened and remorse over people getting hurt. Yet, it frustrates me that not everyone realizes that obviously, I did not intend those things, and it was all a nightmare come to life. Living with that shame has been a punishment in itself.

As an audience, we must understand that SA shaping Miles' Law is nothing new, and to grapple with the issue, we must look beyond the surface of a series, movie, or what we read in print. In the next part of the series, we will take a step back using Sarma's story, examining how history has brought us to this moment. We will also explore how Netflix is not the only organization shaping our reality based on filmmakers' desires to eat a cash salad and how this has created a culture that too often celebrates male power at the expense of female dignity. ∎ Follow Sarma Melngailis on Instagram: @sarmamelngailis (For all article citations, visit TODD BROWN

Awareness Ties Columnist Dr. Todd 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).



Sometimes I wondered when we would be reunited with our family. THI NGUYEN




We ducked, hiding for our lives as we weren't sure which direction the sound came from. I didn't realize there were armed men on the island; are we safe staying here long? Scared, I held on to my mother crying from the loud bang. Unsure of what happened, we returned to our quarters until we felt safe coming out. It was like the wild west. Anything goes. My mother found out people who didn't have proper documentation were trying to escape the island. Apparently, there were armed men, maybe with a government of some kind, processing anyone who wants to leave. I'm not entirely sure how it worked or what the connection was to our departure but I had hoped it would be sooner rather than later.

Time seemed to stand still and life on the island was becoming second nature. We survived the monsoon season, although we didn't have much to begin with. Every day mom had to stand in line to get food and water for us. The rations were barely enough and the food was extremely salty but it was better than nothing. People were generally nice to us. My mom explained that it helped since she has me.

We would check on the status of the boat but getting parts was difficult to come by. Days grew longer and nights colder. We didn't have much to keep us warm but luckily it didn't get too cold in this part of the world. We made campfires and sat eating with other families. I enjoyed playing in the sand but mostly stuck by my mom's side.

People were fishing along the other side of the island to catch food. Others were using the local resources to make things to trade and sell. It was as if people forgot this was a temporary stop but survival was key.

It turned out we had been traveling for a little over a year. Time seems to pass by fast or maybe slow when you're moving. I guess for me, time didn’t really exist. I would wake up and think it's another fun day where I got to play. I wondered what my mom was feeling and whether or not she was stressed about making it. Sometimes I wondered when we would be united with our family. As if the stars aligned, we were informed our boat was fixed and we were heading back into the open sea first thing in the morning.

Ky, the man who helped fix our boat, wanted to join us. He was taken by his father on a similar journey as us. Unfortunately, his father passed away. Ky had been stuck on the island for over eight years and had become quite the handyman in getting parts, negotiating, and surviving by himself.

As a trade-off for him fixing our vessel, we had agreed to include him in our next adventure. However, since he did not originally come on this leg with us, Ky mentioned we had to pick him up on the other side of the island.


The next morning as we prepared for our departure, Ky informed us that he would wait down the way away from the dock. He’d try to wave us down undetected so we could pick him up. As we started heading in that direction, the sound of gunshots echoed throughout. We were so afraid, we turned the boat towards the open water leaving Ky behind. Was he okay? What would await us out in the water on our next journey? ∎

This story is based on actual events that happened in combination with personal experiences as well as stories I've heard along the way. I'm reminded that it usually takes a village to come together in order to support one another and to make waves for change to occur. I hope this series is shedding some light on the plight of refugees but is also a reminder of the tenacity one has to maintain for the survival of self, family, and loved ones.

Please follow along with the adventures of the @GoGreenDress for more stories, images, and tips and tricks for life's memorable moments.


Nonprofit Consultant, Entrepreneur & Philanthropist THI NGUYEN brings with her over 2 decades of non profit experience as a participant, advisor, board member, consultant, volunteer and research and development specialist. Her expertise combining technology to further advance the vision and mission for philanthropic causes has allowed her to serve as a trusted partner with many notable organizations large and small. Thi has experience working with organizations focusing on combating various global issues such as: human sex trafficking, homelessness, poverty, fair wages, global warming, malnutrition, gender equality, humanitarian assistance and human rights. She's currently developing an app to connect individuals and corporations to assist nonprofits in furthering their vision and mission.






Raised in an environment of privilege, Nasir never experienced life under Taliban rule… 98 AWARENOW / THE WAVES EDITION



The following story is true. The names have been changed and a few details altered for reasons of privacy and security. Faces have been blurred and eyes covered for needed protection of identities. In 2006, Nasir was born in a private hospital in a Kabul, Afghanistan. The youngest of eight children, he grew up in the charms of a large family who benefitted from the occupation of American and NATO forces. His parents and older siblings provided various services to the American military forces including a vehicle transportation service that yielded profitable contracts. This allowed young Nasir to go to private school, where he wore a coat and tie, and played in club sports. Photographs from his childhood reveal a lifestyle quite like what one would expect in the nicer suburbs of the large cities in the United States.

Raised in an environment of privilege, Nasir never experienced life under Taliban rule, and while there were always the occasional random bombings, stories of the Taliban were relayed by older generations which made them seem in the distant past. His father and brothers drove luxury automobiles provided by the American Government, given out like Skittles at Halloween, and multiple generations lived in their eight-bedroom house.

The Doha Agreement and the beginnings of the American withdrawal from Afghanistan did not factor into Nasir’s early teens. He knew his family’s business was experiencing changes, and some of the employees were laid off, but Nasir still enjoyed going to the offices of his father and brothers and playing football (soccer) in the courtyards with certain employees he had known his entire life.

By July 2021, the American military had withdrawn to the Hamid Karzai International Airport, and fourteen-year-old Nasir watched the tension build in his home and at their family’s place of business. The smiles faded, and on August 8th, Nasir went to school only to be sent home. The private school administrators told the students that they should stay home for several weeks until recalled to class.

On August 15, 2021, President Ghani fled Afghanistan, the Taliban entered Kabul, and Afghanistan, as Nasir knew it, collapsed. Afghan aviation personnel were ordered by U.S. military advisors to fly all available aircraft out of the country, and within hours the Taliban assumed control of all airports. Nasir’s phone exploded with text messages and calls from classmates and friends. In his neighborhood, all seemed the same except for the occasional sound of distant gunfire which was normal. Fireworks for celebrations were illegal. Firing your gun into the sky happened all the time. Nasir jumped on his scooter to check on friends. His mother was not pleased when he left the house, but he promised to be home in a few hours. Nasir had only been able to go a few blocks when he ran into armed Taliban soldiers. They stopped him and asked him why he was wearing a soccer jersey and shorts. Using the barrel end of an AK 47, they poked his legs, and demanded he cover them. The Taliban took his phone and looked through his contacts. After a few minutes, they gave him his phone back and told him to go home and put on proper clothing – meaning like what they were wearing.

For the next week, Nasir and most of his family stayed in the house. His father and brothers did not go to work. There was chaos as the Americans and other NATO allies evacuated tens of thousands of Afghans each day from the airport in Kabul. It was known the Taliban would exact vengeance on those who had supported the Americans during the twenty-year war. The executions had already started, and panic around the outside gates was covered by every news channel and dominated social media. On August 22nd, the Taliban raided the offices of Nasir’s family’s business. His father and brothers expressed concern that employee records had been found along with years of contracts with the American military.


The family of ten remained outside the gates for three days sleeping out in the open. 100 AWARENOW / THE WAVES EDITION

“As the crowd surged forward and sideways, as it did frequently, there was the sound of gunfire, and Nasir saw people near him fall to the ground.” Early the next morning, on August 23, 2021, Nasir was woken by his older brothers who told him to pack a bag with extra clothes. They were leaving for America. Fourteen-year-old Nasir was given less than ten minutes to pack what was most important to him from his childhood. He grabbed his soccer team backpack, pulled out his uniform, ball, shin pad, cleats, and replaced them with shirts and shorts. His father yelled for him that their ride had arrived and to hurry outside. Nasir, and his family totaling ten, were jammed into two taxis driven by a friend of his oldest brother. His mother, and his only sister, already married to an Afghan who left for America a year before, were the only women, and the men did their best to shield them.

The ride to the airport was frenetic. Taliban seemed to be everywhere, and most of the businesses were closed. Nasir remembers the smell when the doors of the taxi opened dropping them near the airport. It was the smell of humanity – tens of thousands trying to get into the airport gates. No bathrooms, no shelters, and intense screaming that piqued when large cargo flights took off full of people. Nasir’s brothers formed a ring around him, his mother, and his sister as they tried to push through the crowd. There were bodies strewn about, and quickly the family realized the large throngs of people moved in waves as the Taliban periodically opened fire.

The family of ten remained outside the gates for three days sleeping out in the open. There was no food, no place to go the bathroom, and they slept in the dirt. It was hot and dry, and the dust caked in their eyes and mouths. Each day, the family tried to move closer to the gates – jockeying for position — hoping to convince American military guards to let them through to the planes. Two of Nasir’s brothers carried their uniforms and their military ID to show at the last moment hoping it would carry them through the gates.

On August 25, 2021, Nasir and family had pushed their way to yards from one of the gates. There was hope that the family would be able to get inside the gate, into the airport compound, and onto a plane bound for America. The brothers had their military ID’s in their front shirt pockets ready to plead with the American Marines on the other side. As the crowd surged forward and sideways, as it did frequently, there was the sound of gunfire, and Nasir saw people near him fall to the ground. Some had been shot, some simply dropped, and others stumbled. Nasir turned and ran as the crowd erupted in chaos.

Nasir’s sister watched as her family dispersed in the melee and saw her youngest brother run into a Taliban soldier. Nasir’s head was down, and he collided into the backside of a Taliban guard carrying an AK 47. Nasir fell to the ground, and as he started to get up, the Taliban soldier took the rifle butt and struck Nasir several times in the head and shoulder knocking him unconscious. Nasir’s sister saw people trample her youngest brother’s unconscious body and then saw her father collapse. Her father had a cardiac condition, and she recognized this as another heart attack. She grabbed her mother as her brothers pulled their father out of the crowd.

When Nasir’s sister looked back at her brother’s body, she saw a young Marine whom she thought didn’t look much older than her brother, come from behind the gate and drag her brother by his arms out from the chaotic crowd and back towards the gate. She ran towards Nasir and lunged at his feet trying to pull him back. The Marine reached forward, grabbed her, and pulled both inside the airport compound. She and her brother were now separated from the rest of the family.


In U.S., in traditional Afghan clothes for Eid. 102 AWARENOW / THE WAVES EDITION

“We saved one… there are more.” Nasir regained consciousness several hours later, and a medic assessed he probably didn’t have any broken bones – just a mess of contusions and a probable concussion. For the next five days, Nasir and is sister ate MRE’s supplied by the military and slept on a cement floor waiting to be reunited with the rest of their family. The explosion at the Abbey Gate which killed 13 Marines and 180+ Afghans further sealed their position inside the compound. Neither had anything more than the clothes they wore. They stayed in touch with their parents via cell phone and learned their father had been resuscitated and was in the hospital. They were not permitted to leave, and the remaining family could not get in. On the fifth day, August 30, 2021, Nasir and his sister were told to board one of the last U.S. military planes out of Kabul. They were assured their family would follow them shortly on another flight.

Nasir and his sister, neither having ever been on a plane before, neither having ever been outside Afghanistan, found themselves on multiple flights leap frogging through the Middle East and Europe as part of the American airlift of Afghan refugees. Eventually they arrived in Philadelphia where they spent a night in a tent city under a bridge before being sent on another flight to the Afghan refugee camp at Ft. Bliss in Texas. It was a confusing and complicated time, and Nasir’s English learned in his private school in Kabul proved of great assistance. He turned fifteen while in the refugee camp and celebrated with his sister with a Snicker’s bar and a candle.

Nasir’s sister was able to contact her husband who had moved to America the year before. He lived in California, and he instructed her to tell the refugee camp she had a place to live with him in California – only he said Nasir could not come and live with them. This presented an administrative issue in the refugee camp as Nasir and his sister had been assigned one number for both as humanitarian parolees, and Nasir’s sister had been designated as his legal guardian by the refugee camp personnel. If the sister were to go to California, then Nasir had to go too.

On November 15, 2021, Nasir and his sister left Texas, on another plane bound for Sacramento. Upon arrival, the sister’s husband made it clear the fifteen-year-old Nasir could not live with them. They had only one bedroom and no couch. Nasir was told to sleep on the floor outside the kitchen and given a blanket and a sheet. Efforts were made to find Nasir a place to live without success. Four months went by, and Nasir was not permitted to go to school, not permitted to make friends, and not permitted to go outside without accompaniment. When his sister found out she was pregnant, this finalized the husband’s decision. Nasir must go – even if that meant making the fifteen-year-old homeless.

The author of this story had been in touch with Nasir’s family since October 2021 coordinating humanitarian aid drops and medical assistance to Afghans in peril. When it was apparent Nasir would become homeless or a ward of the State of California, Nasir’s family reached out and asked if we would raise Nasir. My wife and I have a blended family with seven children, four of whom are married, and two grandchildren. Our youngest is fourteen, and we couldn’t let Nasir get lost in the world of foster care. Within a week, my wife and I went to saying (when describing our family) we have his, hers, ours, and theirs.

Nasir entered school within two days of his arrival at our home, and we work hard to blend Afghan and American traditions. In March, while we vacationed in Disney, the Taliban assassinated Nasir’s first cousin. While the first cousin was driving to pick up his wedding clothes, he was ambushed at an intersection and a sticky bomb attached to the side of his car – punishment for working with the Americans. It was one of the ultimate dichotomies of my life – standing beneath a rollercoaster with people shouting in fun while I held Nasir sobbing uncontrollably.

The remainder of his family never made it out of Afghanistan. They are being actively hunted by the Taliban for their allegiance to the American military, and we wait for and expect further bad news.

We recognize the fifteen-year-old boy we brought in has lost everything – his family, his way of life, the only home he has ever known. He has no idea when, or if, he will ever see his family again. We regard Nasir as a gift and a success story. He is an honor roll student and a varsity athlete. Shoulder to shoulder as a family we stand – many of you will understand that expression. We saved one… there are more. ∎ 103 AWARENOW / THE WAVES EDITION

Artwork by: Allié Merrick McGuire 104 AWARENOW / THE WAVES EDITION


COASTAL CRASHES AN ELECTION YEAR POEM the sun set on the hampton shores

acrylic cataclysms

as the coastal crashes shrouded the crowds

it’ll never be the same

little adhesives sinking to the ground

so they say

tides spoken of for decades


back and forth


left and right


little fortresses buried in the mist

back and forth

sly smiles plastered on cobblestone

left and right

the waves kept coming like a see-saw

there’s a connection


jagged lines

back and forth

pill factories

left and right


elsewhere, it used to be still

built on the fires

never again,

that burned our courts

where the lakes came to meet

the sun rises

bloody waters

on the cherry blossoms,

blue fire

swinging slowly in the wind,

back and forth

back and forth

left and right

left and right.

little strings

nets of gold and silver

a web of lies


Founder & President of GOVLEARN LUKE GIALANELLA Founder & President of GOVLEARN Luke Gialanella founded GOVLEARN when he was 11 years old, in the summer after the 2016 presidential election. Finding that there was a lack of substantive civics education for elementary and middle schoolers, he went on a mission to correct that. Creating a website and YouTube channel, Luke is obviously extremely passionate about government and politics and has participated in many mock governments, Model UN, and debate programs outside of school.


It’s this process of refinement through evolution. NICOLAS TILMANS




SCIENTIFIC COLLABORATION FOR A CAUSE What do you get when you mix experts in biology, chemistry and machine learning? With Anagenex, you get a fully integrated team working as one to find new medicines. Nicolas Tilmans launched Anagenex to accelerate drug discovery by combining DNA encoded libraries and machine learning to rapidly explore chemical space. ALLIÉ: Straddling the line between computational and bench science, you’ve earned degrees in computer science as well as a Ph.D. on directed evolution using DNA encoded libraries. Nicolas Tilmans, please share the win you’ve found at the intersection of those sciences.

NICK: We think that machine learning for drug discovery and applying machine learning to find new medicines is an incredibly powerful approach. We think that it's going to bring a lot of help to patients, help us tackle some new diseases, and bring relief to people who so desperately need it. But historically, it hasn't really worked. Machine learning for drug discovery doesn't have a lot of wins under its belt, and we think that the reason for that is because machine learning hasn't been combined properly with an experimental approach that matches its needs. We think the reason for this is that machine learning loves to have large data sets that have a lot of granular information about close relatives. It works best when there are a lot of examples closely related, with each one being a little bit different.





One thing I think is important is believing that what you’re going to do matters. NICOLAS TILMANS


“The average drug taken to market today costs about $2 billion to get there.” NICK: (continued) That’s the kind of data that machine learning likes to see. But experimental life science data sets in most drug discovery contexts aren't quite built that way. And so what we've done at Anagenex is develop a system that allows us to build those kinds of data sets. We've then built custom models and developed new machine learning approaches that are well adapted specifically to the kind of data that we're generating. So really, I like to talk about gears in the transmission. We have the lab and computer meshing together, like gears in a transmission driving our company forward, and we've built those gears to mesh perfectly. So that's the win that we think we found.

ALLIÉ: It wasn’t enough for you to establish a successful career with a company, you wanted a company of your own. Here enters Anagenex. Let’s start with the name and then get into the science behind it.

NICK: Sure. Anagenex comes from anagenesis. Anagenesis is the process of evolution without speciation. So if you've got a species and it's sitting on an island, over the years it gets better and better at living on that island but it doesn't turn into two different species. It's this process of refinement through evolution. That's what is at the root for Anagenex. It's anagenesis, and we want to do that for small molecule drugs. I think in terms of why I started a company rather than go to work for an established company is that I love this idea. I just want this idea to exist and I think maybe it'll work. Maybe it won't. Maybe we'll crash and burn. This drug discovery is an extraordinarily high risk business. It's not for the faint of heart, but if it works, we'll get to help some people, which is number one on the list. And number two, I felt like I was in the best position to bring this idea to life. I understood both sides and the way that I wanted to build it, and I could do that best doing it myself. And that's not fair entirely because I had the idea, but I brought a team on board. This company has been built really by the team at Anagenex. And that's been amazing to see: the ability to build that team and to drive it from when it was just a slide deck and me, to now where we're about 18 people with a hefty bank account. It's been an amazing personal journey, but it's because I thought this was the best way to find new molecules, to find new medicines, and I thought I was the best person to bring it to life given my shared background on both sides of what's needed to bring it to life.

ALLIÉ: See a need. Fill it. It’s a simple methodology. However, in the field of medicine, even the complications have complications. Of the many needs in the industry, what specific one will you work to fill? And how?

NICK: We believe that our approach is especially well suited to what I would call the selectivity and the optimization problem. There's two issues with finding small molecule drugs. One, if you have a new target. If you have a protein that you think is going to be important to some disease, you may not have a starting point, a molecule that you can move that might start to affect that protein. So finding that starting point is difficult, but even more difficult is once you have that initial starting point, how do you turn that initial starting point into an actual medicine? And that's called the optimization process. It goes by various names – hit to lead, lead op – but we just call it lead optimization for simplicity. And that optimization process is about 30% of the cost of bringing a drug to market. And the initial finding of a hit is about 10%. So together, that's 40% of the cost and the rest is essentially clinical trials. And, the clinical trials are the big question mark. But you have to have good chemical matter and you have to have good compounds to set you up for success. And so we are really working on that initial part, especially the optimization.

Machine learning for drug discovery has had difficulties, because again, I think the data set sizes and the life sizes weren't there for the machine learning to gain traction, and typically they weren't refined enough. What we want to have is a machine learning algorithm that's smart enough to understand that data at high resolution and to be able to 109 AWARENOW / THE WAVES EDITION

NICK: (continued) guide a chemist during that optimization process so that the chemist needs to make fewer molecules faster. It takes about 2,000 compounds, sometimes even more, to get a compound to the clinic. A chemist can usually make about 10 compounds a month. That is a lot of time to get through this process. And we can parallelize that by hiring more chemists. Just add more chemists, but that gets very expensive very quickly. The average drug taken to market today costs about $2 billion to get there. So even if we're off by a factor of two, $1 billion dollars to get a drug from an idea to a patient is a huge amount of money, and we want to figure out a way to do that faster. We think that the best way to do that faster is to help that optimization process go much more efficiently. Then the next step is also to be able to attack some of the problems that are most difficult to attack ordinarily, and that will require better systems to find new molecules. And those, we think, are the ones that are going to have the most success in the clinic, because I like to say, we're trying to drug the things that you want to drug, not the things that you just can drug. Maybe it's not the best thing to do, but we can go after it. We want to be going after the things that we really think are ideal, but are hard. That's why we exist… to try and solve that.

ALLIÉ: You just won your Series A round with an investment of $30 million. What are you going to do now? While Disneyland is great, you have work to do. How will these funds be used to support your vision for Anaganex?

NICK: People are the most important thing for us. We're going to hire a bunch of people that know more than we do. We try to hire people who are smarter than we are. Next thing we're going to do is expand our facility. We've got a new lab that we're going to build out. It's about threefold larger than our current lab, actually fourfold larger. So we're growing the lab, we're growing our staff, and we're going to spend a lot of money on the kinds of things that are needed to bring a drug to the clinic. And that's buying and making a bunch of compounds, and running a bunch of experiments and assays. We're spending money. I think if we look at the actual fraction, about half goes to people, the next 20 to 30% to equipment and science, the next 10% to equipment, and then the next 20 to 30% to science (compounds, assays, experiments). And then the rest is keeping the lights on.


AwareNow Podcast


Exclusive Interview with Nicolas Tilmans


ALLIÉ: For all those with a dream of making waves in an industry, what advice do you have for those who feel like a small fish in a very large pond?

NICK: One thing I think is important is believing that what you're going to do matters. So no matter what, even if you're a small fish in a big pond, having the conviction that where you are headed matters. You've got to start there. You have to realize a few things. One, the things that you think are true now are probably not. You're probably wrong about a lot of things, and it's important to as rapidly as possible, test your ideas, figure out what is it that you are right about and everybody else is wrong about, what are the things that you are right about that agree with everybody else, what are the things that you're wrong about for real? And so that's going out and finding experts, stress testing your ideas, asking, “Does this matter?” “Is this the thing?” That's important. This is sort of generic advice. More specifically, I would say, if you are a little fish in a big pond and you start to make it, you start to grow, some of the things that people told you in the past – oh, that'll never work, that's a bad idea, don't do it, – they will be wrong. You would have made it. You would have advanced. However, you need to also know when those people, although they were wrong in the past, have advice for you that is correct now. I think that's one of the things that you start out with: a need to have this monomaniacal conviction. I am right. Screw all the people who told me I'm wrong. I'm just going to go all the way. And then you start to succeed a little bit and now you need some of those people to grow to the next level. Having the humility and having the judgment to understand when to push and when not. It's, I think, one of the most important things to get right. So I think to do that, you need empathy for things like building a team and you need to be humble. So you're maybe a small fish, but a small fish can survive in a big pond if they move with a lot of other small fishes. If you perform as a school of fish, now you're going to be better off. And you only form that group of fish if you can convince other people to join you. And, in contrast to the general tendency of saying, “Oh, assholes make the best founders and they're out there and they're swashbuckling,” I don't think that's true. I think you have to have a conviction. You have to be able to put out some charisma and really be able to articulate your vision very well. But people who are good want to work with other people who are good, they want to be respected and have autonomy, and they want to be able to drive the ship as much as you do. So, as a leader, you want to give them that space and to be able to step back and to have a fair amount of humility and empathy. I emphasize those things, humility and empathy, because everybody knows about the big stuff. Everybody knows about the need to be able to tell a story incredibly well. That's absolutely true. If you're a founder, if you're whoever, you're selling all the time. My job is sales. I'm in sales at least 80% of the time – either selling investors, potential business partners, employees – and the rest of it is strategy, which feeds into how do I do better sales? So it's a real sales job. Now, that's all true but people don't emphasize that empathy, that ability to listen, that ability to be humble… that is very important too. ∎

Learn more about Nicolas and his work:


She touched a star… BURT KEMPNER




Lovingly dedicated to those who keep ascending without a net, despite the occasional pang of fear or doubt, unshackled by the weight of others’ opinions and expectations.

And the crowd below gathered to jeer.

“Who do you think you are?”

"Come back down, you fool!”

“Your place is down here!”

"Look at that rickety ladder. It can't possibly support you.”

"Why can't you be like other girls?”

She ignored them and kept climbing.


Higher and higher still.

They pelted her with rotting produce and when she’d climbed too far for them to reach, they hurled insults.

Their mocking laughter eventually grew too faint to hear. She never looked down, not once.


And while they strutted and sneered and profaned the Earth, she touched a star,


They shook the ladder, but they could neither dislodge nor distract her. Her attention was elsewhere.

And liberated us all to do the same.

AwareNow Podcast


Written and Narrated by 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:


What I have come to notice about myself is that I am someone who thrives in chaos. ANGEL PÉREZ




THE RIPPLE EFFECT OF OPTIMISM IN HIGHER EDUCATION “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” - Seneca (a Roman philosopher) “Young man…”

Angel felt a tapping on his shoulder as he was trying to navigate the foot traffic of over 4,000 high schoolers trying to get to their classes. Every morning, Angel had the same routine - wait in line, pass the metal detectors, and fight the crowds to be on time for first period. He looked over. It wasn’t his assigned school counselor but he recognized the person. Another school counselor. Interesting.

“Have you ever thought about going to college?”

The term college wasn’t something that Angel resonated with, although it was a familiar concept because he grew up watching The Cosby Show. Instantly he thought, only those kids of color attend college. Not me.

And there it happened. The first pebble to be dropped that would create the change agent who would nurture its ripple effect.

As Angel walked across the stage at his graduation from a liberal arts college, he understood that he was one of the few who was able to leave his neighborhood alive. Growing up between Puerto Rico and the South Bronx as a firstgeneration student in very low-income neighborhoods, the opportunity to impact higher education became deeply personal. Angel recalls feeling an immense sense of responsibility that one day he will pay this back. He wasn’t sure how, but he was absolutely sure he would.

Shortly after earning his college degree, Angel worked in college admissions where his 24-year path towards leadership continued to build momentum. In 2019, a Forbes article named Angel as the most influential voice in college admissions. He was courageous, understanding and optimistic. Although he never planned to become a CEO of anything, Angel realized that his entire life of personal and professional experiences led him to serve the position of CEO at National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC). He shared, “When I arrived, I was prepared.”

His decision to lead on a national scale was fueled by his passion to expand the ripple effect of college access for all students, particularly underserved populations. He kept questioning a way to quicken the pace, “How do I impact educational policy at a national scale as opposed to one campus at a time?”

When Angel was offered to lead NACAC as CEO, the timing was terrible. And yet, maybe it was perfect. In July 2020, he arrived at NACAC in the middle of a pandemic, facing America’s racial reckoning, a financial crisis and a consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice. Angel was challenged to steer NACAC’s finances and operations in a time of turmoil, confusion and uncertainty. Within the first couple of months, he found himself making the toughest decisions in terms of organizational restructuring while building trust and a sense of belonging within the association. Angel’s optimistic leadership style would be the foundation to creative problem solving, limitless support, relentless courage and recovery. Indeed, the timing was perfect. 115 AWARENOW / THE WAVES EDITION

I get to be a part of the change, no matter how hard the work is. ANGEL PÉREZ


“Once you personalize and bring experiences to life, the message is relevant.” He stated, “What I have come to notice about myself is that I am someone who thrives in chaos. I’m energized by it.” Angel has learned to anchor his virtues of curiosity, compassion, courage and advocacy in times of deep need as he shared that his life was filled with meaning and drive during the course of transforming NACAC. He knew he was meant to be in this role to inspire people during a time when inspiration was severely lacking. As for his vision, Angel will fiercely transform education as an ecosystem.

Instead of individual schools and colleges running in silos, Angel is striving for educational systems, nationally and internationally, to be interconnected through thoughtful policy reform. Although it makes sense that our students’ experiences in kindergarten will influence their success in high school, which will impact their opportunities beyond high school, Angel finds it perplexing that educational policies haven’t done well in connecting and unifying the dots. Media isn’t helping either. Exhausted about how media reporting gives too much power and credit to college admission departments for the controversy of college access, there is the lack of understanding that these departments have less control, authority or power than we think they have. Blaming one department is naive as one must look within the system of colleges that impact college access, from the college president and board of trustees to the state legislature which approves state budgets and college appropriations.

Serving NACAC is an opportunity to view the educational ecosystem and have transparent discussions about where the dots are connected and where they are lacking cohension. This is the wave that Angel is making. He works with his colleagues in the Washington DC education policy space to engage advocacy efforts with Congress, and met with the Biden-Harris Education Transition team to outline NACAC’s college access agenda. Angel stated, “Government is so deeply connected to college access on both state and federal levels. If we can have people think more in terms of systems, and not just within their own institutions, seeking sustainable solutions are more likely to occur.”

In creating waves, there are certainly challenges to overcome. Finding himself in meetings with the U.S. Department of Justice supporting NACAC or advocating for international student rights with the Trump administration known to be unwelcoming to college-access initiatives, what keeps Angel going is his belief that there is transformation on the other side. He shared, “I get to be a part of the change, no matter how hard the work is. For me, being in this position is an honor.”

So how does this all change conversations at the kitchen table, in our homes?

How can we have teens already understanding their rights and opportunities to access higher education without the luck of being tapped on the shoulder?

Angel understands that the ecosystem is about educating families, students, educators, college administrators and political leaders. They are all part of the transformation. Angel strives for NACAC to become the household name for every person who wants to learn about college access. To begin this process of unity and understanding, there are two foundational skills that will create these honest conversations, which Angel brings into his optimistic leadership style and creative advocacy.

The first is through storytelling. Angel shared that “Once you personalize and bring experiences to life, the message is relevant. People listen.” Stories are what inspire people; they are what move people towards change, towards action.


The second skill is through listening with curiosity, not judgment. Angel shared, “The way you create change and reform is to figure out a way for some kind of win-win scenario.” In order to move towards this outcome, the ability to ask and listen to another’s intention is critical. Many believe that engaging in any change means that someone is gaining something while the other is losing something. However every relationship that Angel has will likely lead to each gaining something, positively shifting the connection altogether.

He recalls a time while working in college admissions. Angel was looking to increase funding for low-income students. He met with a potential donor who let Angel know at the very first meeting that it was a problem and that he was too focused on diversity. Angel paused. Yes, this was a moment that could have gone bad. Fundamental differences lay on the table; however, Angel had a bigger goal to raise funds for a lot of underserved students. He listened without judgment. He became curious to better understand the donor’s intent. He began seeking out a win-win solution.

Angel shared, “I wanted to find out where this belief was coming from and dig deeper.” It took a year of meetings before the donor made a seven figure gift. What Angel came to understand was that this donor really cared about academic excellence above all else. Angel was able to lean into the donor’s value of excellence and persuade him through research, data, and case studies that building a diverse class correlates with the increase of excellence overall. Angel helped the donor understand the overall system, and perhaps increase his value of diversity just a bit.

When it comes to making waves in higher education, in addition to transforming educational policies through a systematic lens, Angel is also looking to build a robust and healthy college admission profession. In order to create a sustainable educational ecosystem, he knows that it is time to build systems to support, train and mentor the professionals coming our way. Angel stated that “while it’s wonderful work that our profession is helping students, which is important, I also know that NACAC will be a big player in recruiting the next generation of admission leaders who are able to find meaning in their lives while acclimating to the ever-changing admission landscape we find ourselves in.”


AwareNow Podcast


Written and Narrated by Sonja Montiel


Under Angel’s leadership, NACAC’s most recent achievement is with Lumina Foundation, who recently awarded NACAC with a grant to gather university presidents, board chairs, and vice presidents of enrollment to determine how they can meet diversity, revenue, and access goals. This is something that has never been done before. The result of this effort will be for institutions to walk away with a plan to implement at their colleges, and create a successful framework that can be implemented nationally. Angel believes colleges can embrace diversity fully and pay the bills.

“No one wants to be led by a pessimist.” - Bob Iger (former CEO of Disney) To create the expansive ripple effect with big waves towards change, effective leadership is at the forefront. For Angel, he is a trained optimist. Due to his difficult childhood, he knows he wasn’t born with it, but he learned along the way that optimism, combined with honesty and transparency, inspires people. Even when it gets tough, as a leader, Angel knows that optimism elevates the energy in the room and fills the darkest of meetings, with hope. He knows. He’s been there.

As Angel continues to lead NACAC, the people he leads and serves know that there is only one way to move, represented by a word that Angel uses after every meeting, event, conference and work day: onward! ∎

For more information about Angel Pérez SONJA MONTIEL

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


We can never understand other people’s life stories until we put our feet in their shoes. SAMANTHA FERDOUS 20, BANGLADESH




BERTHODOLER CARAVAN: SEASON 5: EPISODE 7 ‘NOTHING MATTERS MORE THAN EMPATHY’ Where should I start?! My life has turned 180 degrees in recent years. My biggest dream was to be a doctor. I used to see myself wearing a white apron in my dreams. But I actually couldn't make it. That's my fault. But days come and go. Years pass. And I realized, The Almighty has brought me to a place that is best for me. But the main problem in these years and still now is what I am facing: others' perspectives towards my university, subject or pofession. A friend of mine from a public university says, "You can easily get a high CGPA just because you are in a private university". Someone says, "My family doesn't want to keep any relation with lawyers." One of my closest teachers says, "Don't be a bottolar ukil." I can't explain what I have gone through when I listened to their opinions. I know others' opinions don't matter. But it hurts the most when it comes from those closest to you. But I wonder! Before telling anything to anyone, shouldn't we think twice? Shouldn't we be more empathetic? Do we know why the other person is in that situation and what was his/her background!! No! A big no!! We don't know! I don't know.

We can never understand other people’s life stories until we put our feet in their shoes. So we shouldn't be judgmental. Then the question arises, what can we do? Well, in my life I have learned that we should be more empathetic to others. If we can't motivate or inspire someone then please let's keep quiet. It's better to keep silent than to demotivate someone. - Samantha Ferdous, 20, Bangladesh For more stories, follow Team Bertho on Instagram: @teambertho





Research must not be conducted with a paper or publication as a goal, it should be driven by seeking the truth with excitement and passion. DR. NICOLAS BAZAN




PATIENCE & PERSISTENCE FOR MAKING PROGRESS IN SCIENCE Dedicated time and timing are critically relevant to progress in science. Good science requires passion, dedication, persistence, patience, purpose and a willingness to take risks. At the end of the day we need a commitment to move innovation in neuroscience. The timeline of work and of data findings is not a straight path, and often we find setbacks because the hypothesis tested do not pan out. The winning moments in science discovery are rare along the way. When I solve one difficulty, there are often additional hurdles to overcome. This means taking the time to unpack my experiences and evaluate. Despite this, most days are interesting, and I want to go to work the next day.

Obviously, each of us have a technical approach using experimental models to recapitulate aspects of a function or disease event. Additionally, it is our attitude and purpose that drive us through negative results to then overcome. In a way, the time in the process of searching for something new sparks true enjoyment in some special manner that is unique to each of us. For instance, because I love music, both classical and jazz, sometimes when thinking about solving a scientific riddle, I feel that I am like a music composer. The group photo includes college and high school students of the 2022 Summer Undergraduate Program in Neuroscience that Dr. Bazan began in the early 90's. Thus far, they’ve mentored close to 700 participants in this program.

Often called “a true renaissance man”. Dr. Bazan is an innovative scientist, inspiring teacher, effective mentor, community leader, creative author, screenplay co-writer, executive movie producer, patron of the arts, entrepreneur and above all an exemplary family man. 123 AWARENOW / THE WAVES EDITION

TIMELINES OF DISCOVERY In timelines of tireless dedication to discoveries in the science of the mind, the bars below mark milestones in the career and research of Dr. Nicolas Bazan. These listed discoveries are some of them.

Arachidonoyl‑coenzyme A synthesis, eicosanoid release, and phospho­inositide metabolism in the retina

· Synthesis of arachidonoyl‑CoA by rat brain microsomes

· Docosahexaenoyl coenzyme A synthetase in frog retina

Brain and retina, toad brain and retinas, cattle retina, lipids, phosphoproteins

· Phosphohydrolase in bovine rod outer segments (ROS)

· New pathway for the esterification of docosahexaenoate in bovine retina microsomes

· Conversion of arachidonic acid (AA) to cyclooxygenase (CO) and lipoxygenase (LO) reaction products and incorporation into membrane lipids in the bovine retina in vitro

· Biosynthesis of docosahexaenoyl‑phosphatidic acid in bovine retinal microsomes

Founding Director of the Institute of Biochemical Research

Also Director of Department of Biology, Univ. South, Bahía Blanca, Argentina

Discovery of the release of free docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (AA) during seizures or ischemia by a phospholipase A2 (PLA2).

This has been referred as the “Bazan effect” (Citation Classic, “Neural Stimulation or Onset of Cerebral Ischemia Activates Phospholipase A2”: Current Contents, Life Sciences, 1991).

First Lab of my own in Toronto 1963
















Identification of the liver-to-retina (and brain) “long loop” for DHA supply (1985-1989) and a retinal pigment epithelium (RPE)/photoreceptor intercellular “short loop” for DHA retention in photoreceptors

This recycling is similar to one of retinoids, and he postulated it to be critical for photoreceptor survival; hence, its breakage leads to retinal degenerations

Retina’s DHA is strictly controlled by the liver, the central lipogenic organ of the body

There, DHA is packaged along with other lipids into lipoproteins, which are then secreted into the blood and subsequently delivered to extrahepatic tissues, including the retina. Using an intricate “bucket brigade” pathway, these DHA-containing lipoproteins make their way through the choroidal circulation and into the RPE, where they are partially degraded and the DHA exported via the apical side of the RPE to photoreceptors and other neural retina cells.

Development of novel synthetic compounds

Based on fundamental mechanisms uncovered and effective collaborations with medicinal chemists, novel PAF receptor antagonists, novel elovanoids (ELVs), and other compounds were developed

Found that Usher’s Syndrome patients have DHA shortage in the blood, implicating the long loop in retinal degenerations Platelet-activating factor (PAF) modulates hippocampal excitatory synaptic transmission and presynaptic glutamate release and is a retrograde messenger of long-term potentiation enhancing memory formation

Identified interstitial retinoid-binding protein (IRBP)

as the transport and protective molecule

Showed that endogenous fatty acids are covalently, as well as noncovalently, bound to IRBP in the monkey retina

Discovered the class of 22-carbon compounds

and named the “docosanoids”

(a nod to the “eicosanoids”—20-carbon molecules derived from arachidonic acid (C20:4w6)) from initial studies of retinal DHA dynamics. Surmised that these oxidized derivatives of DHA might be neuro-protective, subsequently demonstrating the synthesis and biological activity of neuroprotectin D1 (NPD1), a docosanoid made by RPE cells during times of oxidative stress— fundamental mechanisms by which photoreceptor/RPE functional integrity is sustained—as highlighted by endogenous signaling that supports RPE integrity

















Platelet-activating factor (PAF) modulates hippocampal excitatory synaptic transmission and presynaptic glutamate release and is a retrograde messenger of long-term potentiation enhancing memory formation Demonstrated that 15-LOX-1 catalyzes DHA enzymatic oxygenation and conversion into NPD1 and that neurotrophins stimulate this process (e.g., BDNF, NGF, PEDF).

Showed that endogenous fatty acids are covalently, as well as noncovalently, bound to IRBP in the monkey retina

Contributed to the discovery of the first docosanoid, Neuroprotectin D1 (NPD1).

NPD1 arrests apoptosis in RPE cells at the premitochondrial level and is neuroprotective in brain ischemia-reperfusion and cellular models of Alzheimer’s disease. Thus, he coined the name neuroprotectin D1 (NPD1) for this first-identified docosanoid.

Discovery of DHA neuronal-specific protective molecular principles in ischemic stroke and epileptogenesis

















Discovered elovanoids (ELVs) further illuminating the impact

of his pioneering work on cellular responses counteracting

homeostatic disruptions to the brain and retina

ELVs are set apart from all other lipid messengers derived from 18- or 22-carbonlength fatty acid precursors, including prostaglandins, leukotrienes, lipoxins, resolvins, and docosanoids. ELVs, on the other hand, have structures derived from 32- or 34carbon precursors and are cell-specific mediators necessary for neuroprotective signaling for photoreceptor cell integrity. Identification of molecular principles in the supply and retention of DHA in the CNS

DHA is avidly retained in the CNS, where it attains the highest concentrations in the human body. While studying its release several years ago, Bazan began using the retina as a nature-made brain slice because its differentiated neurons (photoreceptor cells) are enriched in DHA, and its neuronal circuitry makes it an integral part of the CNS. He then stumbled on new mechanisms regarding how DHA is acquired to reach such a unique endowment in the CNS. MCAo stroke model prompts selective neuronal cREL translocation followed by BIRC3 expression, resulting in remarkable neurological recovery

These findings will help to unravel further the endogenous signaling that sustains cellular integrity, thus providing a greater understanding of these mechanisms that could lead to novel, precise therapeutic approaches for neuroprotection. Discovery of a specific transmembrane protein (Adiponectin Receptor 1) for uptake/retention in RPE cells and photoreceptors necessary for cell functional integrity

This AdipoR1-protein is not a G-protein, and he demonstrated that the ligand is not the cognate ligand, adiponectin. He showed that AdipoR1 represents a key molecular switch in the conversion of DHA to a photoreceptor-specific molecular species of phosphatidylcholine that are decreased in age-related macular degenerations (AMDs).

















“It’s my job seven days a week that comes with even conceiving ideas or experimental short cuts in the middle of the night.” Scientists need to have a healthy personal outcome result from frequent disappointments. This means taking the time to unload experiences every day to ensure that we do not get lost in the journey of exploration. Personally, I sometimes feel like a healthy workaholic performing a hobby. It’s my job seven days a week that comes with even conceiving ideas or experimental short cuts in the middle of the night. Research must not be conducted with a paper or publication as a goal, it should be driven by seeking the truth with excitement, objectivity and passion. ∎

Support Dr. Bazan’s work with a donation to the LSU Health Foundation.

While LSU Health New Orleans strives to discover, teach, heal, and serve, LSU Health Foundation New Orleans strives to connect the needs for critical funding to those capable of providing critical funds.

Donations to support Dr. Nicolas Bazan’s work can be made here:

Please designate: ‘Medicine – Neuroscience Dr. Bazan Research’

Born in Argentina, MD, at the University of Tucuman in Argentina, trained at Columbia University P&S, NYC, and Harvard Medical School. He was appointed faculty at age 26 at Univ. of Toronto/Clarke Institute of Psychiatry. He is Founding Director of the Neuroscience Center of Excellence, School of Medicine, LSU Health New Orleans, inaugural founder of The Ernest C. and Yvette C. Villere Chair for Research in Retinal Degeneration (1984-), and appointed to the highest academic rank in the LSU System, a Boyd Professor (1994-). He is also a Foreign Adjunct Professor of Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden. Learn more about Dr. Bazan:


Artwork by: Sara Rahmani 130 AWARENOW / THE WAVES EDITION



LOST BUT NOT FORGOTTEN I thought about Afghanistan on Independence Day, and my heart broke. It was hard to celebrate my freedom this year when so many people, especially Afghan women, are being oppressed. The sound of the fireworks reminded me of war, a war that still rages on even though the U.S. and NATO forces are gone. So I hid inside the house, ashamed of the past and afraid for the future because life without freedom is a dead-end road. Unfortunately, it looks like humanity has reached its capacity for caring about what happens to people in other countries. As Martin Luther King, Jr. stated, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” therefore, the risk of tolerating evil like the Taliban makes society vulnerable to being overtaken by it. That's why freedom should never be taken for granted. Afghan artist, Sara Rahmani, understands that better than anyone else, and her beautifully tragic picture captured the change and desperation of freedom lost. Freedom is…

The American Dream


Offers endless hope and possibilities

Easy to take for granted

Gives a voice to everybody

Can be lost in an instant

Liberates the captives

Isn’t free

Empowers the weak

Must be maintained

Valued more than money

Is missed greatly when taken away

Is worth the risk to obtain

Worth dying to reclaim

A motivating incentive that others crave

Should be the priority

Breathes life into the soul

Provides opportunities for people to succeed

Permits people to dream

A privilege to have

Freedom is everything.


Author, Navy Veteran & Mother of 2 with Special Needs LORI BUTIERRIES is a full-time caregiver to two children with special needs, one child being terminally ill and physically disabled. Lori uses her life experiences and the medical knowledge she gained while serving as a Hospital Corpsman in the United States Navy to help others facing similar hardships. Lori focuses primarily on advocating for and educating others about the special needs, mental health, and veterans communities. Her long-term goal is to reduce the stigma associated with disability by talking about it with people of all ages, thus minimizing the fear and the mystery attributed to the unknown in this regard.


I think some of that “manning up” hinders a lot of us from revealing our feelings. T.J. MCLEOD




Tareem (T.J.) McLeod is an advocate for men’s health and mental health. T.J.’s passion for mental health stems from working with children and assisting them with their academic and personal growth. Being in a stable and positive position to help friends and loved ones in times of need is also important to him. He holds a graduate degree in Mental Health and School Counseling and an undergraduate degree in Journalism & Mass Communications with a minor in Writing. He is also certified in marriage and family therapy, addictions counseling, as well as general mental health. T.J. is currently a Technical Recruiter for Amazon and formerly worked as a teacher. Originally from the D.C. area, he currently lives in Dallas, Texas. T.J.’s recommended ways to help cope with daily stressors are staying active, proper rest, and regularly speaking with his counselor. He also enjoys working out and giving back to his community. MEAGAN: Can you talk about your passion for mental health, especially being a man in today's society with all this chaos going on in the world? Why are you passionate about mental health and what changes would you like to see evolve in the coming months or in the future?

T.J.: I decided to study mental health while I was a special needs teacher. Right before I moved to Dallas, I lived in North Carolina for about six years and was an employee of Guilford County Schools in the Greensboro area. I wasn't really in love with the classroom side of things. My favorite part of the day was seeing my students attend their counseling sessions, learning how to cope with behaviors and discuss things that they were going through. I enjoyed the one-on-one sessions that were held by the lead counselor. That sparked my interest and I wanted to learn more about mental health. I ultimately decided to obtain my graduate degree in mental health from my time in the classroom and participating in those sessions with the students. At that time, I was also heavily involved with a children's ministry, and a mentor to young children in a mentorship program. I have always been involved in helping others deal with life skills, manage their behavior, develop coping skills and learn to embrace positive, active thoughts. That’s something that I've always been very passionate about, particularly with children, but a lot of my work can register with adults as well.

MEAGAN: Thank you for your commitment to children, especially in the mental health space. When you worked with children as a teacher, did you see signs or situations where some of the children were suffering in silence and dealing with mental health illnesses?

T.J.: Absolutely. The age range of the children that I worked with were from kindergarten through fifth grade, so around the ages of 5 to 11 years of age. I worked with the older children the first couple of years and then the younger children around the second half of my tenure at the school. The interesting part about working in the school system is I got to witness the different complexities and relationships. I saw not only how the teachers influenced children's behaviors, but their peers as well. When the teachers had an opportunity to meet with parents during PTA meetings or when parents picked up their children at the beginning and end of day, the dots started to connect. One thing that I observed was that some children acted certain ways because maybe the parent or parents were allowing for certain behaviors and not addressing them. As a teacher, it is important to enforce positive behavior and try to redirect negative behaviors as much as you can. When the children go home, in some instances, they're allowed to do whatever they want. Some days were like Groundhog Day, because whatever lessons I enforced one day, I would have to reinforce the same lessons the next day. 133 AWARENOW / THE WAVES EDITION

As a 10 year old child, I started to act like a 30 or 40 year old adult because that was who I was often around. T.J. MCLEOD


“A mother’s nurture is not the same as a father’s guidance.” T.J.: (continued) A lot of children’s behaviors are based on the hereditary, generational behaviors that were not only passed down from parents but from grandparents, cousins, older siblings, aunts, and uncles. It can even be things like eating habits that influence behaviors in children while at school. For example, they are typically served lunch and a snack during school hours and when some children get home, they are allowed to eat constantly. During school hours, some children want more than lunch and a snack, and are necessarily not able to be fed more than the regulated lunch and snack. Maybe a child is selfish and lashes out at other kids when they are not getting their way. When a child gets upset, their first instinct is to hit, rather than process their thoughts or feelings. I noticed lots of that behavior and pieced a lot of that together when observing the full scope of their family situations.

MEAGAN: While working as a teacher and mentor, did you observe the different behaviors between the girls versus the boys, especially siblings that lived in the same household? You would never think some siblings were raised in the same household because their behaviors are different from one another.

T.J.: I am answering this question speaking from an only child perspective. I didn’t have any sibling behaviors rub off on me, but maybe my cousins to a certain degree. With the children in the schools, I did see various behaviors, especially if the siblings were closer in age. I can recall an instance where two sisters, one in the fifth grade and the other sister in the fourth grade had similar mannerisms, and this could have been because they were so close in age. That sort of relationship isn’t quite the same as maybe siblings that are five or six years apart, where they hang in circles and are in different phases of their life. In situations with sibling age gaps, the younger sibling may look up to the older sibling, or the older sibling may boss around the younger sibling a little bit. Even circling back around to my situation, I know not having siblings, a lot of what developed my personality was either being by myself or being around adults. As an only child, I was imaginative and picked up adult personality traits. Especially coming from a single parent household, a lot of my characteristics were passed down from my mother or my father. As a 10 year old child, I started to act like a 30 or 40 year old adult because that was who I was often around. When I went out with family or whatever, I would either play by myself or hang out with my mother’s friends. I had cousins that were close in age, but my mother's friends’ children were either younger than me or older with the exception of a couple.

MEAGAN: Did you grow up with your mom or dad or were both parents in the household?

T.J.: I grew up with my mother, so she was the single parent. I did spend some time with my dad growing up as well, so he wasn't absent or anything of that nature. My parents divorced when I was around 6 years old. There was a period between 6 and 12 years old where I did not see my dad at all. My dad and I had conversations over the phone because the divorce between my parents was not amicable unfortunately. There wasn't much communication with my dad and I until around the age of 11 or 12, and I finally saw him for the first time around that age since my parents had divorced. Once I started high school, I got a chance to live with my dad for those years. I had the opportunity to have the best of both worlds, as I experienced single parenthood with both my mom and dad.

MEAGAN: In my dating experience, I'm starting to see a lot of single dads, especially men raising young boys. Do you think that some women don’t have the ability to raise boys especially because of the world that we're living in now?

T.J.: To tie a couple of things together, mothers are very loving and generally more hands on. I think the relationship between a father and son is unique. Especially being around my dad, I developed a lot of my personality traits from him. There were some things that I knew I just couldn't get over on him and my dad was a lot tougher. My dad was a marine and a police officer; he grew up in the hood in Brooklyn, so he was not the one to try to pull something on because coming from those three environments, he saw everything. Once I became a teenager, my mother knew that I needed the influence and direction of my dad. She knew that he was able to provide me with things that she just could not. A mother's nurture is not the same as a father's guidance.


If I lose my cool, I am not going to receive grace in a public space. T.J. MCLEOD


MEAGAN: Many men are scared to say that they are hurting and need help. Do you think the “man up syndrome” plays a factor in men not being open in talking about their feelings and seeking therapy?

T.J.: There's so many layers to that question, which is a great one, and I will try to hit on each. I don't know how it is to be raised in a white household but being raised in a household with a black mother and a black father, and growing from a boy into a man, I think some of that “manning up” hinders a lot of us from revealing our feelings. Growing up, gender roles were very strictly defined, and then the cultural shift really didn't start to happen until maybe about ten years ago where gender roles started to become less defined. With that said, probably about two thirds of our life, everything just really had a conservative, old school approach. Whenever I have conversations with my mom, she always reinforces for me to be confident. Even if I am hurting or upset, she advises me to do it in private. In my upbringing, “manning up” wasn't necessarily meant as bottling everything in as much as it was to do it in a safe space with people you trust. I had a conversation with my mother about two or three years ago because I was experiencing a difficult situation at work, and I lost my cool. My mother told me that I should have not allowed people to see me in that light, especially being a six foot tall black man weighing 205 pounds. My mom advised me to be very careful, as I could end up in handcuffs or be in a much worse situation. If I lose my cool, I am not going to receive grace in a public space. With my father, it was a little bit of both as he grew up in an old school upbringing and being “soft” just wasn't an option growing up in his environment. “Manning up” without certain context can be negative because you don't want to be emotional in an environment that's not conducive to your safety.

MEAGAN: What are some of the things that you do to take care of yourself as far as self care is concerned?

T.J.: I am a big sports fan. If I'm watching TV sports are on 90% of the time. During COVID, however, there were no sports on TV, and everything was completely locked down. Some of what helps my mental health is being cognizant of how much news I consume. I think just letting that influence my thoughts and fear daily can be very overwhelming. It can really get you to a hopeless state. I enjoy exercising outside when it's warm. I also think it is important to have people in your circle that you can trust and, as a man, to maintain my mental health in a positive way. ∎

Follow T.J. McLeod on Instagram: @thedreamiam_ Connect on LinkedIn:


Founder of Mental Rich MEAGAN COPELIN is an international speaker, author, empowerment coach, blogger, contributing writer and podcaster. She is the founder of Mental Rich, a mental health company & brand, dedicated to helping young girls and women who suffer from mental illnesses, steaming from abuse, abandonment, and rejection. Meagan’s passion is to become a trailblazing voice for young girls and women worldwide. Drawing on her own experiences of mental illness due to abuse, rejection, and abandonment, Meagan uses her words to encourage others to build a home within themselves; to love, live, and create fearlessly. Her tremendous projects and efforts have helped her to be featured on several platforms for the purpose of empowering women to tell their story from struggle to success and live up to their full potential.





A KIDS BOOK ABOUT Self-love isn’t talked about very much, but this book seeks to open up a conversation about how important it is to love yourself.

The Book

Change is impossible to avoid because it happens ALL the time! In this book, the author speaks on how to cope with and embrace life’s changes by recounting personal stories and asking kids pointed questions. Empathetic and encouraging, this book emphasizes talking through life’s many changes with the people you care about and trust.

The Author

David Kim was born in Seoul, Korea, but is now pastoring in Silicon Valley where there is constant change! And as a husband and father of two young girls, he is still learning to navigate change with them every day! You can find him @davidjanghyunkim on instagram and .


Awareness Ties Official Partner in Purpose We’re here to tell stories that empower kids, hence our tagline: “Made to Empower.” Empowerment isn’t all about slaying dragons. It can also be about learning to love yourself, or love someone who doesn’t look, sound, think, or act like you. It can be about overcoming trauma, heck even understanding what trauma is! It can be about finding your passion. It can be about just getting through the day. Kids are people, too. They have real experiences, thoughts, and ideas. We (grownups that is) have to do away with “I’ll tell you when you’re older”, “You wouldn’t understand”, “We don’t talk about that”, or worst of all “Grow up.” Kids deserve better. And we can do better.




When I was little, my grandparents took me on vacations. It was the early 1970’s, when one got dressed up for air travel. Men wore coats and ties, and ladies wore dresses. I still recall women in white gloves seated around me as I flashed a young boy’s smile yearning for the window seat. Air travel was an event. Commercial airline pilots were revered and held in awe by young boys hoping to get a set of “wings” from the Captain. I was invited into the cabin on more than one occasion and distinctly recall wearing my new “wings” to Mrs. Cleave’s third grade homeroom after spring vacation. Pilots wore (and still do wear) uniforms that look military, and command respect. Much of the advertising for airlines in the 1960’s and 1970’s depicted Captains as white males and played off their experience as World War II pilots to make one feel safe in the air. It was the new age of the jumbo jet airliners, with flight attendants portrayed as glorified waitresses in alluring clothing flocking to the appeal of the Captains. While it was a marketing campaign to increase air travel, it reflected the status of the times.

In the 1990’s, my wife and I began interviewing schools for our own children. As we visited elementary school classes, teachers frequently asked the same question: “Children, what would you like to be when you grow up?” Many answered doctor, lawyer, or veterinarian, with a few boys always holding out for baseball star or fireman. Looking back, after educating five children, no child in all those years ever answered, “I want to be a pilot.” At the same time, I was traveling for work and, as luck would have it, I traveled mostly during the summer months and departed on Sunday afternoons for my coming week. Gone were the upscale dress codes of my youth, and many times I flew in shorts and flip flops with my feet still sandy from a half day on the beach with the kids. The fancy meals of the earlier years had been replaced with boxed meals for longer flights and the difficult choice of peanuts or pretzels.

Flights became more about efficiency of passenger manifesting. Legroom became smaller, and services that were once part of a standard ticket fare became parceled out as payable options to increase revenue. The whole perception of the commercial airline industry changed in a matter of two generations and, with it, so did the interest in becoming a professional pilot. The trickle-down effect has been devastating to all industries that employ commercial pilots from airline travel to cargo transport to fire-fighting from the air.

In the year 2000, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) statistics revealed that the average age of an airline transport pilot (ATP) was 45.8 and the total number of airline transport pilot certificates issued was 28,273. In 2018, the last year for which data is available, the average age of an airline transport pilot was 50.8 and the total number of airline transport pilot certificates issued was 25,172. Midway through this twenty-year period, in 2010, the number of airline transport certificates dropped to a low of 13,962. Of note, as of December 31, 2019, the FAA statistics revealed 55.3% of the airline transport pilots were over the age of 50.

In March of 2020, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) shut down offices nationwide due to COVID, and did not reopen until 2021 with many working remotely into 2022. It is estimated that the FAA is 18 months behind in processing data, licenses, and registrations. During COVID, thousands of pilots were laid off, furloughed, or granted early retirement. Subsequently, the numbers are expected to be even worse regarding the national pilot shortage. 141 AWARENOW / THE WAVES EDITION

“Children are the world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for the future.” “What we are seeing, and have been seeing for more than a generation, is the ‘graying’ of pilots in the United States. Each year, the average age of a pilot gets older, and the number of new pilots is not keeping up with those exiting the profession,” says Barry Oberholzer, co-founder of the Upperwood Foundation. “The solutions that are needed are not a quick fix. We must lay groundwork today in our youth to create the next generation of pilots. As a boy, I dreamed of becoming a pilot. Our goal with Upperwood is to get out and ignite those dreams in young boys and girls, and my life experience as a worldwide aviator has taught me that engines and gravity don’t know the difference between skin colors, ethnicities, and the sex of the pilot.”

Upperwood Foundation, founded by Marcel and Barry Oberholzer, internationally renowned aviation and technology entrepreneurs, is launching a strategic initiative geared towards attracting and educating youth of all socio-economic demographics towards a career in the air. The Upperwood Foundation initiative reminds me of a famous line by President John F. Kennedy, “Children are the world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for the future.” ∎

Follow @upperwoodfoundation on Instagram as we spread the word starting in the youth programs and inner-city programs of Los Angeles. Let’s go!


Eating too much food is a form of waste in a way. NITHIN PARTHASARATHY




A CONVERSATION WITH NITHIN PARTHASARATHY Nithin Parthasarathy started his non-profit “Zero Waste Initiative’ with the aim to rescue food waste and reduce food insecurity while sustaining the environment. His Zero Waste Initiative has been featured in the media, community news articles and TV and has won recognition through numerous awards including a Global Youth Award in 2021 for Empowering Change. TANITH: Nithin, you’re clearly passionate about making change in the world. Where does your passion come from?

NITHIN: I would say the source of my passion comes from my parents. There are clear events in my life that have definitely led me to start the Zero Waste Initiative. They are the people that have always told me “don’t waste food” because there are people in the world who really need it and so we should always make sure that we don't take it for granted. Whenever I came home without finishing my lunch, they made me sit down and finish it before I could do anything else. They made sure that I didn't take too much food, that I always ate exactly as much food as I needed and never more, because then that leads to more wastage. Eating too much food is a form of waste in a way.

TANITH: What gave you the idea to come up with the Zero Waste Initiative as a solution to food poverty?

NITHIN: When I was about eight I was in India visiting my grandparents and we went to an outdoor restaurant. Inside the gates of the restaurant were people eating, but there were also hungry children on the outside staring in which really bothered me. There were some people who just got up and left without finishing their meals. They didn’t seem to care that there were hungry children outside, they just left with food half eaten. That's something that really stuck with me when I was a child, and made me really aware of those disparities.





“I think people becoming more aware of their own effect on others and on the environment is a big change that I hope to see in the world.” NITHIN: (continued) Later, around the beginning of 2020, I went to a bagel shop here where I live in California and ordered a skinny bagel, because I heard that it's a way of making the bagel slightly less big and I wasn't really hungry at that time. I just wanted a smaller one and I noticed that they chopped off parts of the bagel and, instead of reusing them, they just threw them away. That made me feel really bad because I had contributed to that waste. I asked them what they did with bagels they can't sell if they are throwing away parts of the bagels they can't use. I assumed that they just threw them away at the end of the day, and I was right. I really did not want that to happen anymore, because so many bagels go to waste every day. So that's when I got the idea that this food should be redistributed to the people who really need it.

TANITH: As well as helping families in food poverty, you have saved so much food from going to landfill - how much was the environmental impact a factor when you set up the Zero Waste Initiative?

NITHIN: When I set up the Zero Waste Initiative, the three goals I had in mind were food waste, food insecurity and environmental sustainability. So it's definitely a huge part of what the core values of the Zero Waste Initiative are. In fact, the environmental impact of food waste is a huge statistic. I know off the top of my mind that around 20 to 25% of our water consumption for food every year is ultimately gone in our food waste which is huge. One fifth of our water consumption is wasted so it's definitely a detrimental impact on the environment. It was a huge part of what I took into account with our Initiative because saving this food not only goes to the people, but also helps make sure that our environmental usage isn't also going to waste.

TANITH: How does Zero Waste operate and what is the impact so far?

NITHIN: The way that Zero Waste Initiative operates is that every day we go into several stores in Orange County and we collect bagels from them. We also collect Dunkin Donuts and we used to collect a variety of items from Starbucks during the pandemic when they couldn't donate themselves. We go to the stores at the end of their work day when they close and collect about two full trash bags every day from each store. Then we go directly to organisations in the county. Some are on a national level, like the Salvation Army, and some are local rescue missions for people in need, and we deliver on a daily basis to them. In the past two and a half years since I started the initiative, we've collected over $300,000 worth of bagels, a landmark that we recently hit that I'm really proud of. I hope to raise even more.

TANITH: Aside from the amazing work you are already doing, If you could make one lasting change in the world what would it be and why?

NITHIN: I hope that people in the world become more aware of their impact on others. This affects food waste and food insecurity, because our awareness of how much food we eat, and how much food we waste, could help us realise that we waste a lot on a day-to-day basis, not just food. We waste a lot of water. We throw away stuff on a regular basis that we don't have to like clothes for example. Fast fashion has a huge environmental impact and is not a very sustainable process. I think people becoming more aware of their own effect on others and on the environment is a big change that I hope to see in the world. 146 AWARENOW / THE WAVES EDITION

“We need to make sure that we waste as little as possible and taking into account what has to be thrown away and what can be donated, reused or recycled.” TANITH: How can people get involved or support the work you are doing?

NITHIN: If you're in the local area in southern California, you can definitely reach out to me but also I would love to expand more around the world. If you are willing to go to stores and figure out if they're throwing away food that doesn't easily spoil and if they are willing to donate it to people in your community, I definitely suggest doing that. I do know it can be a significant time commitment on a daily basis though. When I first started the initiative, definitely one of the challenges I had to overcome was to go every day with my parents, but luckily there were some friends and volunteers that quickly joined me. So if you and a couple of people in your community want to help, that's a great way to get involved.

Another way to help the cause is to be aware of your own waste, because as I was mentioning before, we all have a huge impact on our surroundings that we may or may not know. We need to make sure that we waste as little as possible and taking into account what has to be thrown away and what can be donated, reused or recycled. That could go a really long way in making an impact. You don't necessarily have to be going out and collecting food every day. What we do in our own homes could make just as big an impact. ∎

Connect with Nithin Parthasarathy online:


Director of International Development, The Legacy Project, RoundTable Global 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.


All acts of kindness, whether big or small, can have a huge impact on someone’s life. SAMMIE VANCE




13-YEAR-OLD SPREADS SMILES, ENCOURAGEMENT & KINDNESS From a young age, I realized part of what this world has in store for us. Of course, there is good and evil, but it is our job as humans to bring the good out in everything and everyone. Now some things we decide to do are subconscious, but have just as big of an impact. When I was in second grade, I helped a friend learn English when she only spoke Spanish. Or maybe it’s the simple act of holding the door open for someone, or even just smiling at a stranger. Other acts become more noticed in this world… When I was going into third grade, I started Sammie’s Buddy Bench Project. I started this initiative to help anyone who may be lonely or in need of a friend. It is a signal for people to know that if someone is sitting on the bench, they are simply wanting someone to talk to. This initiative has carried on for almost five years now, and I have gotten around 250 buddy benches made out of recycled plastic caps and lids all across the world! But it’s important to know I did NOT start Sammie’s Buddy Bench Project in hopes to get recognized on national news or to get awards. I didn’t even see that in my future at the age of eight. I started my initiative to bring out more good in the world.

A few years ago – at the start of the pandemic – I started Sending Smiles. This is where I would send an encouraging letter to someone every day, along with a laminated smile. I did this in hopes to make everyone smile – with the power of another smile. I have sent them out to teachers, schools, veterans, friends, and with requests. I sent them out once a day for about a year, and now, though not as much, still send them out pretty frequently. I was able to get a bunch of people to help me on Giving Tuesday, and we spread over 4,000 encouraging notes and smiles in one day!

Another way I have been able to “speak” smiles is through my podcast. I started Sammie Smiles over a year ago with the goal of making other people smile through what and who makes me smile. I interview people who inspire me and put them up weekly every Monday. Less than a year ago, when I was 12, I got to publish my own book “Inspire the World: A Kids Journey To Making A Difference.” My book is about my journey with the buddy benches and also how others can make a difference no matter what. I published this in hopes to spread kindness by teaching others how to as well.

Throughout all of my kindness initiatives, I have learned all of a few things. All acts of kindness, whether big or small, can have a huge impact on someone’s life. You don’t need to have an organization to make a difference in today’s world. I have also learned to be more kind to others and myself. With that, I encourage you to go out today and show a small act of kindness to someone, because it may not be so small to them. ∎ Follow Sammie Vance on Instagram: @sammiesbuddybenchproject CHANNEL KINDNESS

A Project of Born This Way Foundation Channel Kindness is a digital platform created by Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation. It is a safe space for young people to tell their stories of kindness, resilience, and community. By highlighting the people and organizations that are doing good in their communities, Channel Kindness’ audience is inspired to create a kinder and braver world, one story at a time.


Everything is about love. CHIEF OGIMAA




FROM THE BEGINNING TO NOW: LESSON 15 I’m coming to you from Turtle Island, the northwest part of the turtle. I thank you for listening. My name is Acha-Kooh-waay. This is my spirit name. Being the leader for Foothills Ojibway First Nation is not easy sometimes but it’s good in a way. I’m going to talk a little bit about what I learned growing up and how this world we were put in is all connected. Everything is connected. One world, one land, one air, one sun, one water and everybody is part of all that. We breathe the same air. We come to this world with our mothers the same way, as everybody throughout the world. We all can see the sky from wherever we are. We can feel the sun from wherever we are. We need to drink water. We come to be born to this world, with all those things and that’s about humans and the spirit of everything. Everything that was put here into one. One sun and all of the stars that are individual but all stars are connected.

Each is an individual, just like looking at the trees….individual trees like spruce, poplar, pine.…and trees that provide food like cherry, maple, and apple.

All in all, it’s about being human. A human has all those connections and our kids face the same connections….all in this one world. We are here to respect and care about one another and all those things that were put here for us to take care of….then it takes care of us.

Our mothers have the responsibility to create with creator. That’s how he created people, all races of people, throughout the world. Mothers are the ones that were given by creator or God the right to create a human being. Like everything else the birds have mothers, the animals that are out there have mothers…. but it takes a mother to create all those things. So mothers were given a special human right because they can create a human. Anybody in this world can prove that to themselves because we are human beings. We wouldn’t be humans if God didn’t create mothers. God created all of the things I just talked about.

All the animals come through mothers too…. even the birds who lay eggs. We are all connected!

Everything that this world needs is provided. First of all we’ve got to respect that. You have to take care of it….for it to take care of us… If we don’t respect everything that was put here, that means that we don’t believe in creator’s given rights because it is one human race. We cannot be at war with each other because we are all equal human beings. We must be kind to each other. We must respect all those children because they are human. They are human beings, somebody’s child, somebody’s loved one.

No matter where we are, no matter where things are or where things happen, it still impacts us because we are all one human race. All over the world, God gave us humans. God didn’t give us humans to destroy. God gave us humans to love….to take care of and to teach the children. That’s why he gave the right to women to create and bring new humans to the world. There is only one way to be a human and we need to support each other.

If you really want to know about human rights, if you believe in God, creator, you would understand where the humanness comes from. We are all human no matter where we are or where we move. 151 AWARENOW / THE WAVES EDITION

When someone wants something without respect for all, then the spirit suffers. CHIEF OGIMAA


“Everything is a spirit.” It seems no matter where we are, somebody's going through something because someone wants to take….always. When someone wants something without respect for all, then the spirit suffers, the land suffers, and everything, but people still manage to live when something is happening….even when people are getting hurt. When the environment is not balanced, everything is off balance. Somehow spirit guides us through so some people can stay healthy. What’s not healthy is people who are suffering, people having problems because someone wants and is not looking at the big picture, thinking about the humanness and the spiritual ties to everything. Not only on this island….it’s happening all over the world.

It’s always the children suffering. The children that are being found all over Canada. I wonder if it’s happening in other countries? Are the children being destroyed and how many have been destroyed? If so, it’s sad because then there’s just no value to children. The children, the babies…. they don’t even know what’s going to happen. Of course we know they're supposed to be loved and educated. What are they going to have? What are they going to do if we don’t take care of things for them? I think about children all over the world where there should be enough of what they need. Whether it’s China, Iraq, Pakistan, India, anywhere, every state loves its children. If anyone wants to see their children have a future, we cannot let children suffer because somebody wants or needs something for themselves or does not care about the children, their future and all that creator provided.

Whatever you put your love into has the love....that was the intention of creator! We must love and take care of the environment. We are supposed to take care of the spirit, and care of the physical at the same time. We love everything that was created to care for us. It's like taking a deep breath and saying, oh I love the air.…I love today….everything! Everything you can think of. I love my children….grandchildren….my family. We must love and respect everything that God has created but if we don’t think about that love then it becomes nothing. It becomes no spirit. When you love something or somebody, it has feeling. It has a purpose. It has a connection. It has an awareness in the world because it is about spirit.

You can love anything without this spirit but it doesn’t mean anything. It is just the same as people saying I love music or I love dancing. Everything is about love. You give that love and love comes back. It loves you too because that’s how the creator intended life to be. People who don’t love anything don’t care about life. They don’t love themselves and they don’t like anybody. Everything is a spirit. If you think about things, you think twice before you do anything to harm things. So it’s only when we love everybody and everything we wouldn’t harm. If we only think about ourselves, then there is a danger of harming, especially the children. Things can happen to harm them….it all comes to loving them. Loving your own self worth, loving everything the way it was intended to be in all the world.

Thank you for listening. ∎ Miigwetch,


Respectfully recorded and submitted by Kathy Kiss


Anishinaabe Knowledge Keeper, Chief of Foothills Ojibway on Turtle Island I am Ogimaa (Acha-Kooh-waay), I begin with words from my own language to say hi to everybody. My identity… which is… because God put me in this part of the world is my Annishinaabe language and name. That means “leader” for people and environment here. So I am not saying I am the leader of Turtle Island but that’s what that means. It is an individual’s name, which is a spirit name that we carry on from our traditional culture and lineage in this part of the world. We were put here on this Turtle. This Turtle Island is massive.


We help prisoners, and it’s a hard sell. GINNY DOUGARY




RELEASING AND EMBRACING POSSIBILITY WITHIN More than ten years ago, MJ Paranzino, singer, composer and choir director, and her partner, journalist and writer, Ginny Dougary, founded Liberty Choir. Delivering interactive music programmes into prisons and psychiatric units, Liberty Choir is designed to help develop skills and self-confidence, opening up the world of arts through singing while providing access to new social networks as the participants re-enter the wider community. ALLIÉ: We talk about the difference between speaking to someone and speaking with someone. Liberty Choir sings with (not to) prisoners, with a truly inclusive program for inmates to find connection and purpose through performance. It’s a brave and brilliant concept. MJ and Ginny, as founders of Liberty Choir, I’d love to find out more about how and why you do it.

GINNY: As the Project Developer, I bring people in to experience the rehearsals with the mixture of the community choirs and organize press and that sort of thing. I persuaded Mishal Husain, a wonderful and tough British journalist for BBC Television and BBC Radio, to come into the prison to do a short documentary. So you have these young Somalian guys, men who had committed white collar fraud, working class kids of color – you know every kind of person was in that room – singing their hearts out to My Way, some with great conviction. Mishal got like these tears just running down because you are in that terrible space in this little room in this chapel. And they're brought to their lowest point yet they’re singing about the defiance of their spirit. And they're all singing together in this community with quite a lot of women of a certain age who are coming in and volunteering and they’re responding to maybe the only kind of good woman they've had in their lives who could be their aunt or grandmother or something. There's something just profound when you talk about why you wanted to do this for the cause: that we’re united, all these causes are humanity. That's an absolute, glowing endorsement of that.

MJ: There are a couple of reasons I do this. My brother-in-law, who was my best friend, became a heroin addict. He had a very difficult childhood in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and then went into the army, where he became a heroin addict, started drinking alcohol, and just had lots of problems. He eventually moved to Philadelphia and my partner and I said, ”we'll help you get off the drugs.” But it was difficult and George didn't make it. I used to say to the counselor, “George keeps on meeting the same people. With the family, we love him and we hate him. It's a rollercoaster ride, you know?” You have to leave rehab after 30 days and then you keep meeting the same people in group therapy. He tried his best for a month and a half. As a family member, you're picking up all the problems: you're raising the kids and doing all these other things. So, you can't give George quality time because you're living your own life and this other life. And I said, ”Nobody's helping George.” He's a house painter with limited reading and writing skills. And yet he's a hard worker. I know he wants to try but, because in America there are no benefits for house painters, there's no opportunity for him to take two years out of his life or three years out of his life to focus on recovery.

It used to frustrate me. Who is actually going to come along and give him a job? I believe if you actually have value and worth, and you have a good job, you feel you’re giving something back – whether it's work or whatever it is – the possibilities, potential and opportunities for you are better. And, the hope that you will be able to maintain your sobriety is better. So you put that in your pocket.

The second reason is because I know the things you can learn from choir. I remember I was a kid who always could sing. I was raised in a household where we all sang and my father was a big Sinatra fan. The first time that I sang in the choir, we sang a Mozart piece. It's the first time that I heard classical music and was singing in a classical voice. I remember the first time I heard the school orchestra and heard a cello. I remember all this and how it affected me. 155 AWARENOW / THE WAVES EDITION

“Sometimes we’re gonna be fabulous and sometimes we might stumble and fall, but we’ll keep on going on.” MJ: (continued) As a kid, I was good at math, but I never really liked reading. If I read a book, even if I read a book to this day and I read a page, I might have to read it three times because I'm not comprehending what's going on. For whatever reason, I never really got it. But when I sing choral music, or songs, I learn about words, diction, poetry, I observe all kinds of things, in a different way. I perceive patterns and symmetry in language, in math, and can even learn about social and political history, all through a song.

ALLIÉ: That’s so interesting. We tend to think about choirs as part of a church, not a prison. Choirs are thought of in terms of voices raised not versions of ourselves explored. However, Liberty Choir has transcended traditional framework to fill a need for so many. MJ, can you share with us what your work is like inside prison walls?

MJ: So if you're singing Bob Marley’s “One Love” there's a phrase in there that says “let them all pass all their dirty remarks.” Songs by their very nature encourage dialogue and open a doorway to discussion. “There is one question I really like to ask,” the very next lyric in this song: “Is there a place for the hopeless sinner? Who's hurt all mankind just to save his own.” We’ll be singing it with the guys or the community choir, and I'll stop the music, and say, “What does that mean?” Usually a young kid who probably was a drug dealer on the estate will say, “That's cause ‘the man's’ always over. He always has his thumb on you.” Then an older guy or somebody in the community will say, “Is it just about you? Or is there a bigger picture to this?” And so begins a dialogue. If we sing “Down by the Riverside” or “Wade in the Water,”you can talk about slavery and Harriet Tubman. You know you have all these things you can talk about. And now they know because they've learned it in the session.

When we set up a room in the prison, I always ask a prison volunteer to hand out the lyrics to other prisoners, not the volunteers, and have the prisoners hold them and share with a volunteer. And, I’ll say, it’s okay if you can’t read it, explaining some of you may be dyslexic or you’ve never learnt the words. I encourage them to ask somebody they are sitting next to and if he doesn’t know either, keep asking further down the row. Somebody will say, usually a volunteer, “I’m dyslexic” and somebody will say, “Yeah, I’m really good at math.” Or, you know, “I was lousy at math, but I could really read.” And, all of a sudden this discussion opens up. All of a sudden, somebody who may have never thought they could communicate with someone who's upper middle class or vice versa, who has grown up on the other side of the tracks realizes that actually we're all the same. And we can talk to each other and, and we should be able to cross that barrier and say hello to each other.

I remember when they said to me, “Why don't you get name tags for people?” I said, “We’re not going to get name tags. We’re actually going to know each other’s names.” I let them know that if they don’t know somebody's name – even if they may have seen them every week and still can't remember – they’re allowed to walk up to 'em and say, “You know, I see you every week and for some reason, I can't remember your name. I'm Joe, what's your name?” That you're allowed to not know. That you're allowed to not know something, whether it's somebody's name, a fact, or not being able to read. The point is, that you're allowed to admit it and move on. So all of this you’re learning in the room, not just singing together.

And, then when they get out, they can continue to learn, whether it’s with the safe group that they’ve now become a part of or with other people. And that it’s okay. If you get a negative vibe from someone, you don't get bitter and twisted and then give up. You move on to the next person.

In the community choir, I'll say you're allowed to squeak and squawk. It's okay. If you're sitting next to somebody when you squeak and squawk and he/she cringes, you'll have to make a decision at halftime. When we take a break, do you leave and say, oh, I’ve been treated horribly. Or, after halftime, do you sit next to somebody else? Cause that's on you. It’s all about how you react. You're allowed to squeak and squawk, because I want you to discover your voice. And it's a community choir. And if there's enough voices, we won't know you're squeaking and squawking. And, even if you do, who cares. We're not recording a record. We're just singing. And sometimes we're gonna be fabulous and sometimes we might stumble and fall, but we'll keep on going on. It's not the end of the world. It’s going to be okay.


ALLIÉ: Wow. What an incredible project. You're looking to do more though, right? What’s next for Liberty Choir, and what keeps you going?

GINNY: Before COVID, we were expanding to go into three more new prisons, and now we’re in touch with eight because we were able to get money to get an Operations and Partnership Manager who'd been actually a prison officer which is marvelous.

MJ: Our dream of course is to go into every prison in the UK and someday, we hope to get into American prisons as well. We also want to make people aware that this is one way you can try to help somebody who's done something and made a mistake. Do you put them in a four foot by six foot cell? That's the size of a cell with a toilet in the middle of the room with two people sleeping in it. Or, do you try to help them and discover what are the underlying issues? How did you get there? What caused you to make this bad decision? Whatever it may be. It may be a multitude of things. And, how can we help you then get on with your life? Because your contribution as a human being in our community is valuable and you are valuable because you exist.

I had an uncle who used to take us down to Atlantic City to the beach early in the morning. One day, he took my six cousins and I down there very early and the sun was coming up. We were all floating in the water, holding hands. My uncle said, “Look out there. See that sun. Every day the sun comes up and you get to begin again. It doesn't matter what you did today because you get to start all over again. That's the wonderful thing. You get to begin again. Every day, it's a guarantee the sun is gonna come up.” And, as a kid, I never forgot it. When my uncle died when he was 85, 90, everybody was getting up saying something about Uncle Jack. One of my cousins who is way older than me got up and told a story about this gift my uncle had given to all the different generations and we all remembered it and didn't forget it.

And that's the thing… There are more people that get that in the world than don't. It's so easy to be kind and thoughtful and help each other, and you don't have to give your whole life. And that's Liberty Choir. That's it in a nutshell. And we do it through music. Community singing and socializing so that people understand people and they understand the system.

I always say to Ginny, I won't live long enough for people to know how horrible it is, what we're doing to people. That we're so much better than this, that we don't need to cage people this way. We're so much better than this But the more people we bring in, the more people know about it, that's the way we change it. It's not the political argument that people wanna take up because it's easy to avoid it. We need courage to address problems, because in the short run it'll cost us money, but in the long run we’ll all benefit.

ALLIÉ: Given all the time you’ve spent in prisons over the years, can you tell us what the conditions are like. And, what more do you think can be done to stop their doors from revolving and rehabilitate instead? What closing thoughts would you like to leave our readers with?

GINNY: We've been in one particular prison since April, 2014, which is our sort of flagship prison in England – famous or infamous as not only the largest prison in Europe with, at its worst 1,800 prisoners, but also the most challenging. It’s a Victorian prison created under Queen Victoria’s reign with cells initially built just to fit one prisoner, but now they’re all doubled up, with lavatories in the same room as where they eat. You know, we don't do that to our animals. We separate where they sleep and shit. So it's pretty harrowing that we have a problem with the public whose sympathies are not with prisoners, particularly when you take into account that something like 80% are people with mental health problems and these problems may be the reason they’re self-medicating with alcohol and drugs and those alcohol and drugs just make the situation worse and so on and so forth.

I guess what I would like to say to a member of the public or somebody reading this article who might be skeptical is, you may think that nobody in your family or group of friends will ever end up in prison, but if they were to do that they would absolutely deserve it. And that's just exactly what they need: a boot up there arse. But can you honestly say, you don't think that that could ever happen to you, that you are never in danger, that either yourself or a member of your family or friends is suffering from a mental health problem?

I think that most people would think it's possible to happen given the high rates. And, when you do have a mental health problem, you are not always answerable for your actions because you're ill and you will probably self-medicate in whatever way you can. Then, you take actions that aren't really representative of you.

One of our politicians who actually was a Minister of Justice in charge of our prisons and is now on our Board of


Our dream of course is to go into every prison in the UK… MJ PARANZINO


GINNY: (continued) Trustees said he joined us because he did not believe that everybody who's in prison should be judged by the very worst thing he has done in his life for the rest of their life. And, the whole of that person with all their potential shouldn’t be restricted and put in this box for the worst thing that they've ever done. I kind of want to put that out there and I would hope that that message can come through here because this is a difficult charity to set up. We’re not a cancer or children’s charity. We’re not about pets. We help prisoners, and it’s a hard sell.

It's in your interests to actually want prisons to work better, right? Because those prisoners, when they come out, if they have not been rehabilitated in prison, that's going to affect you in your community because they won't come back reformed. They may come back and do even worse than they did before because the right approach has not been taken.

ALLIÉ: And this is the reason your work is so important. For communities and inmates alike, your program is redirecting lives and reassuring those inside that there is a place for them when they get outside. A creative conduit from a life in prison to a life with purpose, thank you for all that you do. Thank you for making us all more aware. ∎



You don’t have to do it yourself. SUMMER AZUL




DIY QUEEN & SINGLE MOM SUMMER AZUL HAMMERS TO INSPIRE In Episode 82, we are joined by the DIY Queen Summer Azul. Today Summer talks about the benefits of bringing selfsustainable villages into areas such as growing our own food and building our own homes! During the global pandemic, Summer established “My Super Quarantine Life”, a platform for creative sustainable education through fun music videos! Aalia discusses being a successful single mother as well as a successful entrepreneur. Summer reveals her message that healthy food does not have to mean distasteful food and drops some gems about how to maintain a healthy lifestyle while having a good time. ∎




Stay connected with Aalia Lanius on IG: @aalia_unsugarcoated And follow Summer Azul: @iamsummerazul AALIA LANIUS

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 influence society through proper representation and accountability.


If we work together…our response can be even more overwhelming than the challenges we face. DAVID SANTULLI




A CONVERSATION WITH DAVID SANTULLI David Santulli, Founder & President of United Planet, is building stronger global community and preparing a generation of globally minded leaders through bringing international service learning, workbased learning, language immersion, leadership development, and virtual learning and project-based exchange programs to students and adults around the world. By partnering with middle schools, secondary schools, universities corporations, civil society organizations, and governments, United Planet is unlocking the potential of every person as a global citizen leader and catalyst to create a more peaceful, cohesive, and sustainable world. CNN selected United Planet as one of only ten nonprofit organizations in the world for their "Be the Change" initiative. ALEX: Tell us about how you grew up and a little about yourself.

DAVE: My name is David (Dave) Santulli and I am the Founder & President of United Planet. I grew up in the suburbs of Baltimore. I am the youngest of four boys. My mother passed away when I was 14 months old. My father raised me with the support of my brothers and Italian grandmother, who used to spend a couple of months at a time visiting with us. I have fun memories of her fried dough and eggplant Parmesan!

My father had his own business and also went to graduate school, but he devoted all his attention and care to his family when we were together. I went to a Jesuit University where we had to study a diverse range of topics from world religions and philosophy to literature, creative writing and more. I loved the opportunity to learn about a range of subjects, but I ultimately majored in business.

After college I went to work for PwC for about a year and during this time became a CPA. I had the opportunity to work with many different businesses as clients during this time. While I learned a lot and developed some important skills, my heart wasn’t in it. I dreamed of seeing the world, visiting and learning about different countries and cultures. I set out to travel and ended up working and traveling abroad for the next ten years with much of my time spent in Japan.

ALEX: What inspired you to create United Planet?

DAVE: When I returned to the United States from my travels and life abroad, I realized that there was a need to build bridges across communities around the world. This is the reason I established United Planet - to bring people together one relationship at a time by finding areas of common passion and interest such as sharing each other's cultures and addressing local and global challenges together. We offer culturally immersive volunteer abroad programs, internships, and gap year, as well as virtual volunteering and virtual internships in more than 30 countries. We also have an innovative new program, called Unite All Schools.

ALEX: Tell me about the mission of Unite All Schools!

DAVE: The mission of Unite All Schools is to connect and empower students and teachers (and their classrooms) from across the world as global citizen leaders through project-based virtual exchange programs. At no other point in our history have we had the opportunity to bring schools together across the world and foster collaboration, partnership, and friendship among students across our very diverse countries and world. What better way to learn 163 AWARENOW / THE WAVES EDITION

DAVE: (continued) about climate change than to speak with students who live at the edge of the glacier in Greenland? What better way to learn about the Syrian refugee crisis than to speak with students at the border town in Jordan who are living through that situation every day? It is true that the challenges that our world faces are overwhelming. But it is also true if we work together across our communities, our response can be even more overwhelming than the challenges we face. Unite All Schools is a program that would never have been possible even just a decade ago. We just need to use the tools and technologies within our reach to create positive social change.

ALEX: What is your favorite team-building exercise and why?

DAVE: When it comes to my favorite team-building exercise, I take my inspiration from Professor Donna Lubrano from the United Planet team. We have been working together on virtual programs, including a special program bringing together high school and college students from the US and Iraq. Professor Lubrano's favorite ice-breaking question is: "What is your favorite food?" If students have too many, she says, "Well, if you were stuck on a deserted island and only had the opportunity to eat one food, what would it be?" Whether we share rice or break bread together, food is something we all love and need. Food brings us all cherished memories of coming together with family and friends. ∎

Learn more about United Planet: ALEXANDER TAYLOR

Founder & President of Artem NexGen ALEXANDER TAYLOR is the Founder of Artem NextGen, a 2019 Global Citizen Year Senegal Graduate, and a 2019 1M2030 spotlight speaker at the United Nations European Headquarters in Geneva. After spending 7 months overseas in Senegal after High School, he developed Artem NextGen, an strategic advisory group for social entrepreneurs, to empower the rising generation of youth to address UN Sustainable Development Goals. ​He has been featured and quoted on a UN website in honor of his efforts. His story is about to be delved into by a New York Times bestselling author and he has several international summit invitations on his itinerary. Outside of his efforts, Alex enjoys running outdoors during his own time as a rising junior at Morehouse College. He is an avid writer and chess player.


I decided I would make people laugh. TONY BLACKSTONE COMEDIAN




MEMORIES OF LOVE AND LOSS, A MISSION OF LAUGHER It all began on a Wednesday August 9th, at 11:42 AM at Franklin Square Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland where I was born, becoming the last of three children. I was a vibrant and handsome or, should I say a ‘cute’ little bright-eyed baby boy who lit up any room. My parents were both so proud, especially my mother after carrying through those hot long summer months with me kicking her the whole time. I came out with one eye open as I looked around, noticing the lights, doctors and nurses staring down at me. The doctor announced my time of birth out loud, 11:42 AM. Suddenly there was a slap on my behind, although I hadn't even done anything yet, and then there was something being sucked out of both nostrils. I was washed off by one of the nurses and handed over to my mother, a bright-eyed and beautiful browned skin woman with a gold tooth.

She was so happy and so was I as it was so hot inside of there while I waited to enter into this world. As I looked around there were nurses staring down at me and saying “aww, he is so cute” while congratulating my mother. One nurse asked, “Is he your first born?” My mother responded that she had two other children, both boys, one who had just turned one in July and another who would be three in September. I couldn’t wait to get home so that I could meet my two big brothers. My brothers were so glad to see their little new born baby brother, but that all quickly changed once they noticed I was suddenly receiving all of the attention, and I sure was enjoying it, with everyone coming over to the house to see this bright-eyed, cheerful good-looking baby boy. I could feel the love and boy was it deep.

My family and neighbors were all so happy for my mother. It was as if I was her only child. One could only imagine trying to figure out why I was loved so much, and why all the attention suddenly was about me. I took total and complete advantage of it and I was loving it. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, it all changed on Friday, September 22, several weeks after I was born. It was my oldest brother’s birthday. I could hear the singing of happy birthday to you, and someone saying now you can blow out the candles. Family and parents and kids from our neighborhood were all enjoying birthday cake and ice cream while music played in the background. I could hear the sound of the music as my aunt held me in her arms, until it was time to change my diapers, when she quickly handed me over to my mother with a sigh of laughter.

We were a loving close-knit family. My aunts and uncles, as well as all of my cousins, were the very best and there was a whole lot of love, laughter and fun times. Even without teeth as a small child, I could light up an entire auditorium. Growing up I was a very talented kid. I would often sing and imitate family members as well as my parents' friends.

My father was a strict disciplinarian who ruled with an iron fist, but he sure was an excellent provider. I remember as a kid my brothers and I often wore designer suits made by Yves Saint Laurant, Geoffrey Beene and Pierre Cardin. Easter was just another day for us because we were always wearing designer suits while sometimes sitting on our front porch with new shoes that my mother would often shine.

We were raised in an area of South Baltimore called Westport. While growing up, there were a lot of fun times. Even when there was a disagreement amongst us as kids, we would all make up and be playing together again the following day. During the really hot summer days, the fire department would come out and turn on the fire hydrants with a special spraying device to keep the kids cool. I remember roller skating from the blacktop as it was called, receiving free lunches from the Westport Recreational Center, building skate boards and playing with marbles and skillet tops. Kids got along very well back then. It seemed like everyone in the neighborhood was all family and we all treated each other as such. There were no gangs and not a lot of crime like we face in today’s society. Sure, there were things that happened, but not to the magnitude that they do today. I remember going over to one of my friend's houses and his mother had brand new plastic slip covers over the living room furniture but no one was allowed to sit in the living room. As a kid, I found that rather odd. I would often say to myself, “You mean we can't sit down?” 167 AWARENOW / THE WAVES EDITION

It was a lot of fun back then…when families loved and respected one another. TONY BLACKSTONE COMEDIAN


As kids both my brothers were extremely good at basketball. My oldest brother was tall and, with his good arm reach, could dunk very well on the basketball court. He was also extremely intelligent with a skin tone like my mother's. My mother worked the four to midnight shift, while my grandmother on my mother’s side, who lived directly across the street from us, would watch us and often make sure that we would meet our 9 PM curfews. You could hear my grandmother's voice calling you from afar and we knew we better come running home.

My grandmother was well known as well as well loved by everyone in our neighborhood. She was a highly-intelligent, Godly woman who would often hum gospel songs while rubbing her right knee. She was also an awesome cook, never giving anyone her secret ingredients. She made eggnog during the holidays, melt-in-your-mouth rolls that she let rise overnight, fried fish, steaks with gravy, and cheesy eggs with fried potatoes and onions, amongst other family favorites.

My grandfather was known to all of the grandkids as Pop Pop. He would give us all a crisp, unfolded one dollar bill every day. I would always be checking to see if there was another one stuck to it as, back then, a dollar was a lot of money to a kid. He was also intelligent as well as Godly. He would always give us the best advice about life and on the importance of having a closeness with God. He and my mother shared almost the same complexion.

Now my grandmother on my father's side was a slender woman, very outspoken, and bold. She spoke exactly how she felt no matter what. I remember my grandmother had her car up for sale and she wanted $3,500 for it. I had just got my driver's license and a $3,000 income tax return. I went out to my grandmother's house knowing she would sell me my very first car. I happily said to her, “Grandma, I have $3,000 in cash and I would love to buy the car. It would be my first car.” My grandmother pulled me in close to her, rubbed the back of my head, and whispered in my ear that I was $500.00 shy of getting the car. The only thing that I could do was laugh. I never did get the car. She wouldn’t even allow me to be on a payment plan. She wanted all of her money upfront. When I came back with the $3,500, the car was gone. My grandmother told me I was too late. The car had already been sold. Once again, I had to laugh, but I was glad that I didn't buy the car because soon after my elder cousin sold me her car for $350, which saved me $3,150. I drove back out to my grandmother's house to thank her for not selling me the car!

She was a loving grandmother and had a Godly spirit. She had an awesome hat collection, and often wore her favorite hats to church. My aunt and both of my uncles on my father's side were also awesome. One of my uncles would give me a crisp, brand new unfolded $100 dollar bill each and every Christmas. I would always check the mailbox in December as well as check to see if another $100 bill was stuck to it. My uncle must have worn rubber gloves whenever he'd send me out the money as I never found one!

I remember the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. when I was just seven years old. Everyone was running around looting stores and people were setting fires. I recall asking as someone ran past my mother's house with stolen goods, “What's happening?” Even one was yelling out that Dr. Martin Luther King was just assassinated. A year or so later things had sort of calmed down but only just a little. The tension and racism were still out of control.

At the age of eight the teachers at Westport elementary school decided to take several of the classes on a field trip to the Baltimore Zoo. When we got back to the classroom, my teacher showed a reel of the trip on a film projector screen. I was fascinated with seeing myself on film and I decided I wanted to be an actor. One hot summer day my brothers and I, along with a couple of our friends from the neighborhood, decided to play the Jackson Five. I played Michael Jackson because not only did I consider myself to be talented but I could also sing. And, hey, I was also the youngest out of the five of us.

As a kid, I often wondered why my mother had to always go through the rear of a Macy’s department store instead of the front door. I remember my brothers and I jokingly pulling down the pants of several female manikins at the store and laughing while my mother assured us that a whipping would follow as soon as we got home. We learned very fast never to do that again, and we pulled the mannequin's pants back up.

I sure miss the good old days with family gatherings and cookouts. It was a lot of fun back then growing up as a kid, a time when families loved and respected one another. Family members would come out for summer cookouts, eating hamburgers, hot dogs, baby back ribs and barbecue chicken, and let us not forget those Maryland crabs, while the music of Stevie Wonder, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, The Temptations, Earth Wind & Fire and Al Green played in the background. I fondly recall one time when the Jackson Five’s “I’ll Be There” was playing and one of my family members gave me a salt shaker to use as a microphone. My grandmother told me I could sing all I wanted too but I better get all the salt up. 169 AWARENOW / THE WAVES EDITION

I simply had to change and not become just another statistic. TONY BLACKSTONE COMEDIAN


When I was around ten years old I wanted to help the homeless so my brothers convinced me to go to the Trailways bus station downtown. They helped me pack my backpack with sandwiches, snacks and a small amount of clothing for me as they walked me across the Westport bridge to the bus stop. When the bus arrived, the driver opened the door and my brothers said, “Ok, get on the bus.” Fear kicked in and I asked them, “Where am I going to stay?” They both told me to go to the Trailways bus station where the homeless were and stay there to help them. As I looked up at the confused bus driver, I decided not to get on the bus after all. My brothers walked me back home, mad that I didn’t get on that bus and not saying one word to me all the way home. I was ok because I was eating the snacks and some of the sandwiches that they had made. At this point in my life, my mother still worked the four to midnight shift, with my grandmother continuing to watch over us, ruling with an iron fist and feeding us her delicious homemade food. She got a bird she called Jackie. She taught her how to say “Pretty bird, Jackie.” She also got a white pet bunny named Pinky because of the color of her eyes.

As I mentioned, all of my uncles were just awesome, but one of the coolest dudes ever kept a toothpick in his mouth and gave all of us kids nicknames. As a kid, I loved peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, so my uncle nicknamed me Peanut. My middle brother was nicknamed Pickle Boat – I think that he liked pickles or something because we never had a boat – and my oldest brother kept his original name. My little cousins were nicknamed Kimmy Cool and Up-Up. One of my cousins was cool I guess, and the other one just couldn’t keep still.

Then all of the fun times suddenly came crashing down when my oldest brother was murdered. His loss was devastating and the pain incredibly traumatizing. My surviving brother and I, along with my entire family, took the loss very hard. Within a year of his passing, at the age of 14, I met my childhood sweetheart and the love of my life who helped me through all of the pain. But, as she was helping me cope with this pain, just as suddenly, a few years later my other brother was also murdered. The devastation was so severe for my cousin and I because this happened on his birthday. If not for the grace of God, I didn’t know how I was going to survive more loss and more pain. I had to find an outlet and I also had to find a way to change the direction of where my life was headed. I needed therapy which led me to wanting to see people smile. I wanted to see people laugh because we were in a world faced with so many lives lost, and still so much racism, hatred, and White supremacy along with the ongoing black-on-black crime against one another within our own communities. I had to find a way to release the pain, and I needed to find a way out quickly. I was filled with rage and anger, along with a need for vengeance that was beginning to spiral out of control. I had to find inner peace, and I needed to find it quickly. I was filled with suicidal thoughts but I had to be strong for my family: my mother and father as well as my own three kids and my nephew who had just lost his father. I had a family to provide for that I could not let down. I simply had to change and not become just another statistic.

So, I decided that I would make people laugh. It was at this point that comedian Tony Blackstone arrived and started receiving standing ovations in and around the city of Baltimore. I wanted to be an inspiration to others and to show that no matter what obstacles you are faced with and no matter how bad it gets, if you trust in God everything will be just fine. We can all change for the betterment of our families and loved ones, because at that point it was my time to step up and be a man and provide for my family to make their lives better. My mother had gone through enough pain and suffering with the losses of loved ones, and it was now my time to do the right thing, and to be an inspiration to others who are faced with similar losses. No one really knows the pain that a family has to go through because someone took the life of their loved one, except for the one who has been through such. The pain is so enormous. And, it is now being felt around the world with the innocent lives of others taken in senseless acts of violence. You can't even go to church or to an event, go shopping, or even go to school. Kids cannot even play outside. People are living in fear given the way things are in this world right now. We, as a people, have to make a change. It has to begin with us. It has to be a change within our households, within all communities, within ourselves. It has to change, and it has to change within you. Stop the hatred. Stop the killings. Stop the racism. Stop the black-on-black crime in our communities. It is time to step up as parents because we hold a responsibility for the lives of our children.

As a child, I always wanted to come to Los Angeles to follow my dream as an entertainer. I had an opportunity to meet someone that I fell in love with early on in my life, who asked me, “If this is your dream, why haven't you gone for it?” Well, I did go for it, and that very woman who encouraged me and remained there throughout this journey, that lovely woman just happens to be my wife who I love and thank so much. Let me end this by giving praise and honor to our Lord and Savior because without him we are nothing yet through him all things are possible.

May each and every one of my loved ones who have passed away, including my childhood sweetheart, rest peacefully and may those who have also lost loved ones find inner peace. ∎ Follow Tony Blackstone on Instagram: @tonycomedy





CORNERSTONE WEST LA: AN IMAGINE LA PARTNER To raise up those who have been kicked down, it takes a community. It takes neighbors. Cornerstone West LA and its engaged, diverse congregation have been bedrock of the West LA community for decades and has prioritized supporting its unhoused neighbors for as long as they’ve been in service. As one of Imagine LA’s first partners, beginning in 2009, Cornerstone has helped us develop every step of the way: through mentorship, community advocacy, donations, and much more. Back in 2017, when Imagine LA first approached Cornerstone with the idea of building a housing development exclusively for families, only a mile from their campus, they were ecstatic. While Imagine LA serves families all over the city, this would be the first building of its kind in West LA. Now, with the prospect of Missouri Place firmly in place, Cornerstone immediately pushed all their efforts into helping us make this dream into a reality.

Pastor Scott Mehl and his team rolled up their sleeves to mobilize their congregants and the wider community to attend neighborhood council meetings and speak in support of Missouri Place. They ran awareness campaigns, recruited volunteers to help once the building was open, and raised $12,000 so every new family could receive a Welcome Home Kit upon move-in. They've also committed to sharing their resources and spaces for future, fun, creative family events.

Cornerstone’s community impact goes far beond Imagine LA. They are also active with their In-House Mercy Ministries, which prepares and distributes food to their unhoused neighbors on the 3rd Street Promenade. A number of congregants recently returned from Nigeria after serving abroad. Pastor Scott says, “We’re so excited to continue our partnership and to work with Imagine LA on Missouri Place and future projects.” Truly a place of refuge and guidance, Cornerstone has proven their mission true. “Love thy neighbor as yourself.”

Thank you, Cornerstone West LA, for all your hard work and for being our neighbor. ∎

IMAGINE LA IMAGINE LA prevents first-time and repeat homelessness and equips families to maintain housing stability and thrive long-term. Every day, families across Los Angeles embody resilience and tenacity as they navigate their way out of poverty. Imagine LA provides the relationships and resources to help the entire family thrive for the long-term. Everything Imagine LA does is built on a foundation of trust and relationships. Whole-family, caring case management works to prevent first-time or repeat homelessness, and clear barriers to family goals, which sets the stage for economic mobility programming, financial independence, and success for the whole family.






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