Written by Bethany Moon, sister of co-founder Emily Moon. Bethany is a junior at American University in Washington, D.C., majoring in Justice & Law. Bethany writes of her experience at the first By Grace workshop at the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota.
If you Google Native American reservations, you will find horrific statistics of alcoholism, rape, unemployment, domestic violence, and drug abuse. You will also find research on the gradual loss of the precious Lakota language, the history of assimilation, and the impacts of the cruel containment of a culture that led to its decline. If you have the opportunity to speak with a Lakota woman living on the Rosebud Indian Reservation; however, you will find a moving and beautiful strength. You will find a spirit of survival that has kept not only a tribe but a culture alive. This past weekend, I had the honor of taking a glimpse into that strength, and I am forever changed by the women behind it.
The Lakota are strong, and though every high schooler taking U.S. History learns a chunk of the tragic story of how a free spirited people were trapped into borders, the Lakota have endured far more than they are credited for. They were set up for failure, forced to change everything down to their very names, yet they have persevered. They face struggle today, and no one will deny that, but behind the obvious struggle that the world sees, they wear the hard earned scars of a battle they have bravely fought to maintain their culture. In order to honor the Lakota, one must acknowledge their struggles and issues, but one must also acknowledge their fearless fight against those struggles.
In 2011, Dianne Sawyer filmed a one-hour segment on the Pine Ridge Reservation, a neighbor of the Rosebud Reservation that has the same Sioux roots. The film was meant to raise national awareness of the desolate conditions on the reservations, but the Lakota people rose up with one phrase as a response: “More than that!” Among the obvious issues of unemployment and domestic violence, there is an often unnoticed battle that the Lakota fight today: the correction of the external misperception of Native Americans. One student emphasized this fight when he responded to Sawyer’s documentary, “I know what you probably think of us...we saw the special too. Maybe you saw a picture, or read an article. But we want you to know, we’re more than that...We have so much more than poverty” (Adrienne).
One of the highlights of my trip to the Rosebud was picking Sage with some of the women. Breathtaking wilderness blurred past the car window on the way to the Sage field: rolling hills, creeks carving paths in the landscape, open fields of flowers I did not recognize, the cold wind unveiling itself through the waving branches. Then, a cluster of trash the size of a bathtub passed by the window. One of the women, disheartened, quickly remarked, “Great. That’s what people are going to think of when they think of Native American reservations.” This struck me for two reasons. The first reason, is that this was the moment I realized just how
desperately the Rosebud wants to change the external world’s perception of it. The second reason is that this was also the moment that I realized just how lopsided that external perception is. Sure, there is unsightly trash discarded amidst the beautiful wilderness, but looming beyond that debris is just that: the beautiful wilderness. Why does the world choose to only focus on the blemishes of the Native American reservations, when there is so much good, so much potential and desire to rise above, present alongside those blemishes?
Throughout the weekend, that internal battle surfaced more and more. One woman recounted a time that she was utterly hopeless and homeless. She repeated her mom’s response, “Stop being an Indian. Get up and fight.” There seems to be a felt sense of shame among the Lakota for agreeing to relocate to reservations. Though these women do not view themselves asweak or cowardly, I gathered that they feel those terms pressed on them by the external world. When the mom told this woman to “stop being an Indian”, she was telling her not to be the Indian that the world understands.
Perhaps this fight to correct external perceptions of the Lakota is most obvious in the alteration of their very name. The Lakota are a part of a larger people group known as the “Sioux.” They are called that, however, only because it is the name that the settlers gave them. The name they call themselves is actually, “Sicangu”, but because it was difficult to pronounce, the settlers gave them the name Sioux. I lived in Sioux Falls, SD for eight years, thinking I lived in a town named after a Native American group, but I was ignorant of the fact that it was a name forced on them. The struggle to correct that name is not only a fight to correct the
misconceptions that the Lakota have been characterized by, it is a fight to shape their own identity.
One tragic result of external forces having the power to brand or label the Lakota is that many people outside of the reservations now think Native American culture is a thing of the past; extinct because of the assimilation efforts. The focus on the concerns of the reservations has left the cultural aspects deserted to the corners of the picture that the external world paints. Though Lakota culture has certainly changed since the time that they lived freely among the Plains, they still have a culture that is both present and relevant today. During my brief yet impactful time on the Rosebud Reservation, I got a snapshot of the true Lakota identity; the one that, just like the beautiful wilderness beyond the debris, should be showcased but is too often overlooked.
A closer glimpse into the people of the Rosebud Reservation will expose treasured family photos, hides painted with stories, sweat lodges, elaborate star quilts, cleansing ceremonies with sage, a mother learning Lakota in order to teach it to her daughter, enduring respect for the buffalo and the earth underneath its powerful hooves, symbolism of dragonflies and turtles, and a strong people united by a collective identity. I learned that this is the Lakota, a people not left behind in the past, but of the present. One crucial aspect of the Lakota culture that I experienced more in depth is their artful skill in beadwork; a skill passed down for generations. My sister, Emily, started a social entrepreneurship, called By Grace, in which she hires and encourages the training of women to create beadwork. These are the women, the recent hires and a few Lakota women on staff who run a women’s shelter and have helped this social entrepreneurship to become a reality, that I had the absolute honor of spending the weekend with.
According to Janet, one of the staff members that runs the women’s shelter, these women come to the shelter at the worst part in their lives. They are seriously injured, sometimes with broken bones or severe wounds, and betrayed by those who claimed to love them. Statistics show that one in three women are raped on the Rosebud; however, Janet believes it is actually closer to one in two women (Power 64). By Grace seeks to accomplish two goals: the first is to provide a lifestyle for these women to survive that is not a life of reliance on charity handouts or an abuser; rather, it is a life of dignity through meaningful work. Emily firmly believes that,“Beauty and talent are equally distributed around the world. Access is not.” In other words, these women simply need a platform to showcase their talent and creations. The second goal of By Grace does not just seek to empower these women, but to empower the Lakota people; to join them in their fight against exterior misperceptions; to honor and dignify their way of life and the skill that they have cultivated through that way of life.
As we sat and chatted with these women, Emily slipped her catalog out of her bag. Flipping through the pages, she stopped at one that displayed an elaborate pair of earrings. She turned the catalog around and pointed to Tamie, stating, “Those are your earrings. You made those.” Tamie, with a subtle smile and disbelief in her eyes, replied, “Can I keep that page? I’ve never had my work pictured before.” Tamie is undeniably talented and unbelievably strong, she just needed a platform to show it. In displaying and selling the Rosebud work, Emily trusts that “when people think of Rosebud they will think of quality and beauty.”
I went to the Rosebud Reservation because I firmly believe in the empowerment of women. I went to encourage and speak with these remarkable women, and I incorrectly assumed that I would be the one empowering them. I could never have predicted how empowered I would walk away feeling. In order to fight external misperceptions of the Rosebud Reservation, the world needs to stop banishing Lakota culture to the corners of the frame and stop zooming in on the trash amidst the wilderness. They are a people who have suffered greatly, and suffer still, but have courageously survived great injustices and are seeking to correct current problems. I believe that they are a strong people who are trying to find an honorable way of life amidst the suffering.
In order to magnify that truth to the rest of the world, I believe there is great power that can be found in a small bead; power to offer hope not just for one woman, but for a people.
As many of you did, I spent this past weekend surrounded by ghosts, witches, ghouls, zombies, and skeletons. But as epic as many of the bloody wounds and prosthetics may have been, the Halloween season did not leave me with nightmares of the monsters under my bed, but rather the monsters in my own head. After an unseemly amount of reflection upon the things that truly scare me, I narrowed it down to a brief list.
I am terrified of…
- Running into Mark Cuban and not being able to pitch him on all my brilliant ideas. Ok... Maybe Shark Tank isn’t your favorite show, but imagine running into Ryan Gosling or Jennifer Aniston or Hilary Clinton and just staring at them while they wait for you to talk? That would be horrifying.
- Being wrongfully incarcerated. Innocent people go to prison every day. What if one day I’m in the wrong place at the wrong time?
- Clowns. Don’t make me elaborate on this one.
- Losing the people that I love. Waking up and not being able to call my sisters or my boyfriend or my best friend may be my biggest fear. Yes, death is a part of life and losing those we hold most dear is inevitable, but I still fear the phone call about a car accident or a heart attack or an unanticipated goodbye.
- Disappointing others. As much as I would like to say I don’t care what people think about me, I care a lot. I want to make my parents proud, I want to make my boss money, I want to make my clients happy, I want to keep my friends entertained. These are not easy tasks, and I am bound to make mistakes.
- Disappointing myself. Maybe the only thing worse than disappointing those I adore, is disappointing myself. Managing expectations is difficult for me, and I am far less forgiving than those that love me.
- Not being a good mother. I don’t have children yet, but I hope to one day, and that thought is so overwhelmingly and so incomprehensible that it makes me want to crawl in a hole. I have an amazing mother, one who is strong and kind and loving and fierce and is my absolute best friend. But I worry, what if I can’t do what she did? What if I don’t read to my kid enough or I can’t protect them from bullies at school or I over/under vaccinate them?
- Narrow-mindedness. I worry that my perspective will be limited by my beliefs or experiences. I fear that I will not be open to all possibilities, and will limit both others and myself because of my inability to see the big picture.
- Not loving deeply enough. Every time I hang up the phone with my family we say, “Loveyoubye.” It’s one word and practically habitual. But there are times the verbiage seems too surface. Love is a complex, dynamic, ever-changing emotion. But it is also a choice. My prayer is that every day I am able to offer those in my most intimate relationships a deep, holistic love, however that is a lofty goal and I often fall short. I am terrified that I will not love those in my life the way they deserve to be loved.
- Not living every single day to the fullest. Sometimes I just want to stay in bed and watch Netflix with a pint of Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream, but I have this constant voice in my head saying that something incredible could be happening elsewhere. Even when at work (where I have to go so I can pay my rent and buy groceries) I feel like I should be out doing something bigger and better. This often leads me to not live in the moment. Dreaming about an “ideal” life is not living a perfect life.
But the longer I pondered these fears, the more I realized that these are (mostly) concurrent with the fears of humanity in general, in one form or another. Fear is an inhibiting factor in so many of our lives, and sitting around worrying about what could be or will be or might/maybe/one day/inevitably happen will only distract us from the goodness, possibility, and success that is within our grasp. I am not going to be a perfect mother, but I will love my children with everything I have to give. One day my loved ones will no longer all be on this earth, but I can love them wholeheartedly now. I will disappoint others many times over, but I will also wow them, fascinate them, and inspire them.
Fears are naturally occurring, but what if instead of viewing fear as something that cheapens our life, we take it and transform it into fuel to love harder, invest more, learn new things, and take chances? Fear reminds us that we are finite and we are fragile and life is short. But it's a good thing to be reminded of that! We need to remember that we don't have an unlimited amount of time or resources. So some fear is good fear. That fear of loss, fear of missing out? Learn to view it as a reminder to live hard. Live now. Love fully. Don't wait for later.
By acknowledging the existence of these fears, we bring them into the light of day. We let them serve as motivators rather than inhibitors, because after all, when the sun rises post Halloween, the powered sugar blood is just sticky and the ghosts are merely bed sheets.
Happy Halloween, y'all.
Until next time,
Me Too. Two simple words. You see it in Facebook statuses. You read the Tweets. It’s screenshot on Instagram. What does it mean? It is a way for women to identify that they have been victims of sexual assault or harassment.
Close friends of mine opened up online, and every single one of them shared something I’d never known. These are women I’ve known for years or in some cases decades.
“Me too. I have been catcalled, followed, harassed and intimidated. This has happened in big cities, small towns, workplaces, public spaces, and homes. I have learned ways to become smaller, to take up less space, to become invisible, as if any of that matters, as if it was ever my fault to begin with. When we say, "It happens all the time," we mean it.”
“Me too. I was twelve the first time I was sexually harassed. I've been scared more times than I can count. I've been angry even more times than that. Hell, I've even walked out on a job because of it. Yet still I consider myself lucky to have made it to the age of 24 without being assaulted (though I truly believe that is only true due to the kindness of friends and strangers). It makes me sick and if it doesn't do the same to you, maybe you ought to think on that.”
“It's very difficult to know/admit that I fall into this "me too" category. I reflected on it most of the day. I spent most of my young adult life feeling ashamed, frustrated, guilty, or dirty because the art of manipulation had been done so well by those "charming" young men...it's sad to know that those experience led to more years of heart break, misguided trust, not being able to trust, or truly doubting that someone could love me selflessly. #metoo”
I won’t recount them all, because all you have to do is scroll through your own social media feed to see the horror that is our country, that is our workplaces, that is our “norm.”
I have a weird aversion to Facebook statuses. It’s hard for me to share any portion of my personal life with people that I only vaguely remember from Chem 101 or a sorority mixer. Especially when it’s only a few brief sentences and you can’t share the whole story.
Because sometimes the whole story is complicated. It’s messy. It’s inhibiting. Sometimes the whole story is something that you don’t even think about yourself because it shames you, overwhelms you, and confuses you. Sometimes you still feel like the “whole story” is your fault, that you brought it on yourself, and if you talk about it people will blame you.
My Facebook status should read: Me too. For many reasons, for many occurrences, for simply being a “pretty girl” who has worked in sales, fashion, and in the entertainment industry.
As many of you, unfortunately, I’ve had the catcalls, the constant advances, the butt slaps, and the thigh grabs. One man told me he would “empty [his] bank account to do dirty things to [my] perfect little body.” Another told me that going to bed with him would be the experience of a lifetime, and I’d never be the same after—neither would my career. Yet another man once reached under my skirt and pulled my underwear to the side before I yelped and jumped out of the way.
Every time words were thrown in my direction or fingers wandered just a little further than reaching for that pen, I would tell myself that this was normal. Men are pigs. What can you do? I’ve never spoken up, never contested what was happening. Part of me thinks that I did this because I’d convinced myself it was my doing. Didn’t I wear skinny jeans so my booty would look perky? Didn’t I wear mascara so that people would compliment my green eyes? It took me years to realize that this kind of victim mentality is normal, but not ok. No matter what you wear or how you speak, you deserve to be treated with respect. I like attention, but you have to differentiate between someone who is flirting and someone who is harassing you.
When I first moved to LA, I auditioned for a web series, and, much to my surprise, booked it. I was overjoyed! An actual series regular role! Yeah it wasn’t for cable, but people were going to get to see me act! I showed up on set, and was immediately given a lot of attention from the producer, who also happened to be the fight choreographer. I thought this was a good sign—I’d never been on a “real” LA set, and was a little overwhelmed by the lights and cameras and amount of crew members. Yet, amongst the hustle this man made sure I was the center of attention. Wow, I thought. This is what it’s like to be the “talent.” He reworked every fight scene with me over one hundred times. I was bruised, I was bleeding, but I was alive. As the week went on, this producer’s hands got more comfortable with my body. But he was the fight choreographer, so I brushed it off. When we wrapped the first episode, he invited me out for drinks with the cast and crew. I felt like I had made it. I was doing what I loved and cool enough to go out for drinks with producers. My naiveté was a result of my newness to LA, but also my inherent belief that people are good and they actually mean what they say.
When I showed up to the bar, it was just the two of us. I thought I’d gotten the time wrong, but the story was that everyone else had cancelled. Thirty or so people had had something come up. Weird, right? However, I was already there and he was buying, so I had a drink. He invited me back to his place for a nightcap. He said a couple other producers and directors would be meeting us there. Ever the cliche, I wanted desperately to meet the people who could put me on screen. So I went to his house. To no one’s surprise, save naive 22 year old me, no one else was there. That’s when the producer kissed me. I told him that wasn't really why I came there, using weak words and a pathetic side step. He told me he liked me, and he could help me. “LA is a hard town baby girl,” he breathed into my neck. “I can make the right intros, get you in the right doors. You’re a star, baby. Let me make you a star.”
Then he kissed my neck, and then my lips. This time I kissed him back. He was attractive enough, and why not? I’m not an idiot. I knew, even in that moment, that he wouldn’t/ couldn’t make me a star. But I’ve kissed people who weren’t producers, why not make out with him? The second I gave into the kiss, he threw me against the wall and ripped my shirt off. I will save the graphic details of his words and his actions, but suffice it to say he wanted more than a kiss or two. When I refused his advances, he threw me against the wall for a second time. He put both his hands around my neck and told me I owed him. Told me I would give him what he wanted because he’s the only reason I was in that series. He’d fought for me to get the role over better actresses than me. He picked me up by my neck, and hurled me onto the couch where he climbed on top of me. And I started to cry. Because I was in pain, because I was offended that I wasn’t actually the right actress for the job, because I didn’t know how I’d let myself get into this predicament. When he finally loosened his grip, I scrambled out the apartment, gathering what was left of my ripped clothes and shattered dignity, but I knew I’d never be the same again.
My mind became a prison for my insecurities, doubts, what-ifs, and loathings. I stopped acting for a year. I stopped talking to guys for six months. I hated Hollywood. I hated men. I hated myself. I never told anyone. Who would believe me? Who would care? Why would I make that public and have my mother terrified that I’d moved across the country?
As the years went on, I started casually telling people about it. Always while smiling or laughing. Humor is an easy way to way to diffuse the situation, but sexual harassment and assault is no laughing matter. I am proud of the women standing up and telling their stories, but just talk isn’t enough. We need to join together to challenge our cultural norms. We need to band together to heal the hurt of what has already occurred. Your sisters, daughters, best friends, wives, yes, probably even you, have wounds and scars. Let’s rally around one another to recover. Emily and I talk frequently about how all we want is to make a difference in the lives of women. We want to make a lasting impact. I think it’s so important to remember that the way we speak, the way we act, the general way in which we live our daily lives makes an impact. Choose your words carefully. Sometimes you need to stay silent, and sometimes you need to raise your voice. So for now, I’ll let my voice be a part of the crowd. Another story to add to the masses. Another voice saying “you are not alone,” because yeah, “me too.”
Until next time,
"I'm a perfectionist," I used to respond, when they asked me my greatest weakness. I knew this was an attribute they were looking for, so I always went in armed with that answer. It was just too easy.
My greatest weakness? Are you kidding me? "Well, I recently realized that I have a lot of pride – that many of my actions have been driven by seeking achievement in the eyes of others. Also, I am working on self-discipline because sometimes I feel out of control. And yes, I'm a very passionate person but that also means I have a high capacity for emotion, so if I'm not careful, those will drive instead of reason and rationality."
I'd love to see their reaction to that. "Okkk….well, Emily, Moon, right?"
Scribbles note – "De-friend from LinkedIn."
"Thanks Emily. We'll give you a call."
Points to the door.
So yeah, I kept it to…"I'm a perfectionist." Smile, wink. Ahhhh look at me I am just so perfect – it tears me up inside, really!!
Here's the thing, though – I really am a perfectionist. That is true. And recently, I realized – that's not a good thing. In fact, it can actually tear your life apart.
Let me repeat – the pursuit of perfection can tear your life apart. I was internally shredding my heart, and I had no idea.
"Well, I'm not perfect. No one is." That's easy to say, but do you really believe that?
Signs that you may be pursuing perfection without even realizing it:
- How do you treat yourself when you mess up or make a mistake in front of others? I used to bully myself mercilessly – "How could you be so dumb, how could you have said that, you are such an idiot, you should have never stepped up, why do you even try?"
- Are there things that you enjoy that you want to try or do, but you won't because you're afraid you'll fail or look dumb?
- Are there things you want to say in a meeting or group, but you're afraid you'll misspeak or sound stupid?
- How do you respond to feedback or correction? Do you shut down and spit something nasty back, or do you listen, absorb and internalize, looking for the truth in what they are saying?
This last one is perhaps the most important. Because accepting correction requires understanding that we are not perfect and are always in the process of refinement. Oooh and the real killer – is accepting that yes, I may have made a mistake.
When someone is revealing a blind spot to you – do you want to stay in this illusion that there's nothing to change about yourself and that you're perfect – OR – do you want to become a better person – of higher character, of greater self-awareness?
I read a quote from The Refined Woman – "The truth will set you free. But first, it will piss you off." Haha – ok, so true though!
That sting you feel when someone corrects you – that's ok. Let it sting. Like hydrogen peroxide on a fresh wound. Watch the bubbles. Breathe in the burn - it's burning your pride so that something more beautiful can grow. Something more like Christ.
If he loves you…he's going to refine you. So breathe in that burnnnnn.
Here's the thing about perfection. It is under a ruthless commander called Pride – and if you're not vigilant, you'll end up serving it all of your life. Perfection is a result of wanting to maintain your status in the eyes of others, of never looking bad and never experiencing failure. And it is straightjacket that will choke the life out of you. I know – I lived that. And now, just now, at 27 (respective) years of age, I'm starting to 1) realize it and 2) break that.
No more perfection. Instead – I'm going for excellence.
Wait…what's the difference?! Great question!! I wondered that too.
"Thank you, Lord, for the internet," I say every time Bre sends me a meme – and also in this example, because I found an incredible answer to that question.
Marc Winn stated the difference between the two beautifully:
- Excellence is about “doing the right thing.” It is focused on the REASON for a task, and the RESULTS for it to be a success.
- Perfectionism is focused on “doing the thing ‘right,’" how things APPEAR, and if OTHERS think it’s done right.
I think what Winn is getting at is that it all comes down to a matter of the heart. Excellence is the result of a lot of "behind the scenes." It's finishing off that seam that you don't notice on the outside, it's practicing for hours before showing up to play.
Excellence is a culmination of your habits. Do you put in the work when others aren't watching? BECAUSE – if you are pursuing excellence, you are not working to be watched. Being watched is simply an after-effect that often comes in tandem with an individual who is pursuing excellence. It's about motives. Are you doing this work to honor God (excellence)? Or are you doing it to honor yourself (perfection)?
Let's break it down further:
There is so much freedom in excellence. Like Sherri (part of our Ghana team!) says, "Life motto: It's not about meeeeeee." Hahah – how freeing is that? It's. Not. About. Me.
- That comment you want to say? It's not about you! It's about what God can speak through you.
- That business you want to start? It's not about you! It's about how God can bring blessing and hope to people through you.
- The dance class you want to take? OK – that one might be about you. JK. But in all seriousness, I think sometimes God just wants to break off some chains on us so that we get to experience his JOY!
God wants to set us free so that we are able to live and love life the way that he intended. Not tip-toeing through life wondering if we are safe and loved. Freaking wear heels and stomp all the way down those hardwood floors, you know?!
Ok think back for a second to high school gym class or summer camp. I know, I know. Some of us have blocked this out. But pull it up for a second. Bear with me.
Do you remember capture the flag? Maybe you were a runner. I was typically a guarder, skirting the line between the two teams. I'd look at that dividing line, usually chalked in white, and it would stare back at me. Taunting me. So I'd stick one foot over, look around. Safe? Cool. Then I'd run over a couple paces. And then run back – flirting with danger, but who are we kidding – not daring enough to really take the risk. Why? I was too afraid of jail. I didn't want to get captured.
I used to admire the "runners" – typically the most fit guys. OKKKK not because of that. What I admired was their courage. They just – went for it.
There's not a runner on the field that didn't at some point get captured and taken to jail.
But guess who got the flag and brought the victory for the team?
What I'm saying is this – if you were called to run – run. If you were called to guard – guard. BUT – if you were called to run – don't guard. Don't sit in safety, dipping only a toe over the line when you know you should be sprinting.
Yep, you might get captured. You might sit in jail for a second. But guess what?? IT MIGHT NOT BE AS BAD AS YOU THOUGHT. You might have a second to pause, and think what you could do differently. How could you change your strategy? To be sharper, faster, stronger, stealthier?
Jail is never fun. Guarders from the opposite team are usually milling around, looking at you, smirking.
But here's what's important - you went for it. God made you to be a runner and you ran.
What I've learned this past year so strongly is that grace can fill all of those gaps of inadequacy or failure, every last one of them. God is so good that way. And God is honored with excellence – not perfection.
Until next time,
Sherri is a missionary with SIM that works with By Grace in Tamale, Ghana. Sherri is involved in meeting all of the women that By Grace trains and employs, checks in the workshop and takes all of our the pictures overseas!
What originally brought you to Ghana?
I originally came as a short termer in 1998. To be honest, I didn’t get accepted to the university that I wanted and thought my life was over (I can get a bit dramatic :) ). This opportunity came up and God opened up all the doors so I just kept walkin’ thru them and ended up in the Upper East Region of Ghana and I loved it.
What is your favorite part about living in Ghana?
I love the warm weather and the warmth of the people. I love that if I get lost there is someone to not only tell me the way, but sometimes take my hand and show me!
What is your biggest cultural learning moment to-date (funny or just memorable!)?
I would come home from a youth activity or church program complaining to my mentor about how they never start on time, or they are not serious, or whatever.
I was with a group of Ghanaians (ages 17-27) who went on a missions trip from Accra to Chiana, in the Upper East Region. They would get so angry because the Ghanaians in Chiana never started on time. I said, “but in Accra we also never start on time”. They gave a flimsy excuse or would say, “it is not the same”. Also, on that trip, the southern Ghanaians didn’t like the Northern food and instead of being gracious to the people who were cooking and trying it, they went out and cooked their own food. That really insulted the people.
All this to say — we are all ethnocentric. We all think our own culture is the best and judge people accordingly. I became aware it wasn’t just the white people who come along and think we should do things a certain way, we are all thinking like that.
A funny one—my friend, who is from the North, who lives in Accra took me out to eat dog. (FYI I do love dogs, I do!) I really thought it was great. So, I was telling one of my friends from the south and he looked at me repulsively. “Sherri, how could you do that? How could you eat dog?” I said, “um…don’t they roast bat in your village?” He said, “yes”. I said, “do you eat bats?” he said, “of course”. He didn’t see the connection but I did and laughed!
I am sure there are more but I can’t think.
What's your favorite part of working with By Grace?
Hearing the stories of the women’s hardships brings reminders of God’s love in my life. He is so good to me. I don’t deserve such love and favor. It makes me want to give back to Him.
What is your favorite proverb, quote, Bible verse or life motto?
- Verse: Psalm 37.4 Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. I love how He makes His desires my desires!
- Fave movie quote: You are everything I never knew I always wanted (I think this about God but the movie talks about a man/woman relationship).
- Twi Proverb: o ho o ho te se ago far a stranger is like a child (being a foreigner, a stranger in a new culture, you don’t know anything. You are like a small child)
- Life motto: It’s not about meeeeeeee
What's a typical day look like for you?
At this point, I am learning the Dagbani language. So, I listen to my recordings that were done the day previous with my language helper. Then I go out wandering about finding people and friends that I can practice what I have learned. Then in late afternoon I meet with my language helper to talk about new things I learned, cultural things I wasn’t aware of, and get some new words or dialogue.
What is your background? Where did you come from? What did you want to be when you grew up, and did you ever fathom you'd be where you are now?
I am a dairy farm gal from a small town in Wisconsin, USA. I have 1 sister and 3 brothers. Growing up I didn’t know what I wanted to do or be so my sister said I would have to take over the farm. All of us children hated farm chores. They all knew what they wanted to do with their lives, I didn’t. Therefore, I was chosen…forced, from them, to accept that I would be a farmer and inherit the farm when Mom and Dad retired, which was absolutely the worst idea to me.
But Mom tells me that I told my first grade teacher I wanted to be a missionary. I found out after meeting up with my best friend from junior high a few years ago that in sixth grade I told her I wanted to be a missionary. I don’t remember either of those instances. In tenth grade I went to a youth group retreat for the weekend and at the last session where the man was speaking, I was crying. I don’t remember what he said but my friend next to me nudged me and I looked at him and cried and said, “I'm going to be a missionary!” But, I didn’t know how to go about that, and you know, only weird people end up being missionaries :). I had no idea this would be my life. I think growing up I thought I would be like everyone else and get married and have kids. I wanted lots of kids.
I love my life. I love it. I wouldn’t change it for anything. I have no regrets in being obedient to God. It is (almost) not a sacrifice, it is a privilege (there is a quote John Piper has about that).
When things are hard or discouraging, what keeps you motivated?
I have moved north from where I lived for the past 11 years. I am starting over. It is hard making friends. It is hotter than I thought. It is difficult to be a dork in language learning. It is hard to be away for holidays or family picnics and events. It is hard to not have a Culvers restaurant nearby…LOL!!
When I look around me I see the difficulty in people’s lives, mine seems so small. My problems are nothing compared with people who have no food or jobs or even holes in the soles of their flipflops.
When I find myself whining about I don’t have or how hot it is, I try to remember what is amazing. God is amazing. Snow and cold are not amazing :). Kinkey with fish is amazing. A roommate from India is amazing. People who do things differently from me are amazing. Life that is so different every day is amazing. That reminds me to put things in perspective. When I have that flitting thought of maybe I should go home because it would be easier, I sense the Spirit in me say, “and you will be absolutely miserable.” He is right. I would be bored.
Though, it can be challenging here I find It also helps to remember that God called me here not to do do do, but to be be be. He wants me to be like Him and for some crazy reason He thinks the best place that can happen and how to learn how that can happen is Tamale.
So. CRAZY!!! God is soooo cool!!!!
What would your advice be to someone who wants to make a difference?
A woman once wrote to me and said there are only 2 things that go to heaven with you—people and God. If you want to make a difference start with God. He will change you to make a difference in people’s lives, whether you know it or not.
An elevator pitch is a brief description of your business and your products/ services, and is typically used when networking face to face or when pitching your company for a grant, a competition or to donors. An elevator pitch is one of simplest yet most powerful tools you have as a small business owner. This pitch is where you sell yourself, your ideas, and your future successes.
A typical elevator pitch is around 30 seconds. However, there have also been times where our elevator pitch has been as long as 3 minutes. Make sure the timing is exactly as instructed in pitch/ competition guidelines or is appropriate for the scenario. For example, if you are truly in an elevator-sum it up. Only say the most important elements and say them fast. If you have more time, still stick to the most important facts but elaborate with colorful details. People’s time is valuable, including yours. Be succinct, passionate, and on time.
Crucial elements to include: Who are you? What do you do? Why do you do it? How do you do it/ how are you going to do it?
The most important step is to clearly explain who you are and what you do.
We are a female founded 501(c)(3) nonprofit that teaches women in impoverished communities a trade skill, and then employs these artisans to craft a signature line of clothing and accessories. Our first workshop was launched in Tamale, Ghana, as a result of my co-founder growing up alongside these women and seeing first-hand the need for assistance. We expanded to India, as we recognized a pattern – in areas of extreme poverty there are talented women and beautiful materials, but no outlet or opportunity to participate in the global marketplace.
Establish who will buy what you’re selling.
Our target market is US based female consumers aged 24-40.
Clearly define why you are unique.
By Grace was founded on the idea that enterprise, not aid, is the way to lift women from generational poverty. Billions of dollars of aid hasn’t, doesn't and won’t fix the problem of poverty, only enterprise can do that. It’s the age old proverb- you can give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, or teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime.
If you have more time, expand on what you have succeeded in doing.
In both campuses we provide a tailor training program, along with a safe and healthy work environment. Our business model emphasizes the empowerment of women, ultimately giving them the necessary tools to elevate both themselves and their families out of generational poverty. By using affordable skilled labor in these countries, we’re able to command an average 67 percent profit margin on our collection. These products command higher margins than comparable goods because 75 percent of women aged 24-40 are willing to pay more for goods produced in sustainable and ethical ways. We are giving the American consumers the opportunity to engage and to make a difference through the simple purchase of a skirt or a handbag. With our low operating costs and high profit margins, we are able to re-invest 74 percent of our profits back into our campuses in Ghana and India, daily combating poverty through education and employment.
Share what you are going to do next.
Within the next 18 months, we are opening a third campus on Rosebud Native American Reservation in South Dakota, and are on track to employ 16 women in Tamale and 92 in Bangalore.
Open strong, finish stronger.
We decided to open with:
By Grace was built on the idea that enterprise, not aid, is the key to uplifting women out of generational poverty.
(It tells a bit of our story, while presenting an idea that is both revolutionary and somewhat common sense. Plus we reveal our heart and our overall goal.)
And we closed with:
When you partner with By Grace, you invest in the dreams of our 8 women in Tamale and 80 women in Bangalore. Change the world with us, one closet at a time.
(We invite people to join us, we present a couple of numbers of our success, and we leave with a bit of our brand identity.)
When you put the pitch together, make sure there is a flow. Make sure every word you’ve written is one you know how to pronounce and are comfortable saying in a conversational, yet passionate tone. Try not to write in too many statistics. They can be boring, overwhelming or both for those to whom you are pitching.
Practice your elevator pitch. Time it. Practice again. Your pitch should be memorized. This is your company. This is your brand. If you don’t seem to know what you are talking about or are in any way uncomfortable, your audience is going to have an issue buying into what you’re saying.
Our elevator is not perfect, and every time I have the opportunity to say it out loud I do. I pitch to strangers, I pitch to my friends; my poor mother has heard about a million versions of our elevator pitches, but each time I do it, I become more comfortable and believe in what we’re doing just a little bit more.
Until next time,
By Grace’s Current Elevator Pitch
By Grace was founded on the idea that enterprise, not aid, is the way to lift women from generational poverty. We are a female founded 501(c)(3) nonprofit that teaches women in impoverished communities a trade skill, and then employs these artisans to craft a signature line of clothing and accessories.
Our first workshop was launched in Tamale, Ghana, as a result of my co-founder growing up alongside these women and seeing first-hand the need for assistance.
We expanded to India, as we recognized a pattern – in areas of extreme poverty there are talented women and beautiful materials, but no outlet or opportunity to participate in the global marketplace.
By Grace is that solution. Billions of dollars of aid hasn’t, doesn't and won’t fix the problem of poverty, only enterprise can do that. It’s the age old proverb- you can give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, or teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime.
In both campuses we provide a tailor training program, along with a safe and healthy work environment. Our business model emphasizes the empowerment of women, ultimately giving them the necessary tools to elevate both themselves and their families out of generational poverty.
By using affordable skilled labor in these countries, we’re able to command an average 67 percent profit margin on our collection. These products command higher margins than comparable goods because 75 percent of women aged 24-40 are willing to pay more for goods produced in sustainable and ethical ways. We are giving the American consumers the opportunity to engage and to make a difference through the simple purchase of a skirt or a handbag. With our low operating costs and high profit margins, we are able to re-invest 74 percent of our profits back into our campuses in Ghana and India, daily combating poverty through education and employment.
When you partner with By Grace, you invest in the dreams of our 8 women in Tamale and 80 women in Bangalore. Change the world with us, one closet at a time.
Name: Lardi Piwala
Were you born in Tamale? If not, where are you from? I was not born in Tamale, I was born in Baras. It is near Kumasi in the Ashanti Region. I moved to Tamale about 20 years ago because my husband was working here.
What is your favorite part about living in Tamale? Many opportunities to sew for people. The food is good in Tamale.
How many brothers and sisters do you have? I have one brother and four sisters.
Are you married? My husband has died. I have three children: Francis, Esther and Ibrahim.
What is your favorite memory with your family? I love any time when I'm with my family. We talk about life and God.
Did you go to school? I did not go to school, so I can't read.
What was your first job? I first sold Palm Oil.
What do you enjoy most about sewing? That I have learned a trade. Being a seamstress makes me independent and it is good, especially when the Palm Oil doesn’t sell well.
Has working with By Grace helped you and your family? I am able to buy food for my family. I am the only one who works and tries to care for my children. By Grace helps me with my problems.
What is your favorite food? I like TZ with Ayoyo soup.
What is your favorite quote, Bible verse or proverb? Why do you like that one? I like Isaiah and Jeremiah, books of the Bible. I like how they talk about God and it is sweet.
Do you have any prayer requests or praise reports? Pray that I would be able to continue to care for my children.
What is your favorite song right now? The words are – God loves me so much, you know that He loves me so much.
What is the best advice you ever received from someone? Someone told me when my husband died to give my hurts and cares to the Lord, give everything and He will do everything.
Do you have a role model? Who and why/ how do they inspire you? Madam Lamisi. She is a good seamstress and provides for her family.
What brings you joy? God. You may not know what you really need and yet God provides and that makes me happy.
We were lucky enough to be in India today, August 15, 2017: India’s Independence Day. A day where in a country controlled by an oppressive government, people still celebrate their history, their heritage, and their freedom. We attended a celebratory ceremony at Daughters of Hope, one of our partners’ workshops, where the women danced, sang, and spoke.
The women were beautiful and nervous. They were excited to honor their country, and to share with their peers the rehearsed choreographed and lyrics.
One of the leaders of the workshop spoke on the meaning of the Indian flag. As the American flag is for many of us, the flag of India is of great significance and honor for the Indian people. Specifically she discussed the 24 spokes of the Ashok Chakra (the blue symbol in the center of the white stripe of the flag).
11. Self Sacrifice
20. Spiritual Knowledge
21. Moral Values
22. Spiritual Wisdom
23. The Fear of God
What intrigues me most is that these principles are rooted in Buddhism, Jainism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Sikhism. In a country that is continually plagued by religious animosity, there is a symbol that combines elements crucial to the practices and beliefs in a multitude of religions.
Everywhere we traveled in India we met good people. People with pure hearts regardless of their beliefs, their practices, or their God. We are guided by innate human goodness, and in a world of dissonance, fear, and chaos—there is comfort in that. I believe in a God that created us in His image. From that, comes our inherent knowledge of right and wrong. I believe we were created in the image of the embodiment of love, which leads to a life practicing those 24 spokes on the Chakra. But I also believe that religion cannot divide us. If it is to define us, let it label us, the “religious types,” as the empaths, the courageous, the humble, the magnanimous, the good, the gentle, the kind, the just, the merciful, the patient, the faithful, as the lovers.
So as we celebrate India’s Independence from England, let’s pray for a freedom from hate and religious discourse, and for a nation of people practicing what their flag preaches.
Until next time,
This past weekend, I represented By Grace at our first two day craft fair. And I must admit-it was a brutal experience. First of all, it reached 100 degrees both days. Yes, triple digits. And when it's hot outside, people don't leave it well enough alone. They keep talking about how hot it is... so even if you could try to convince yourself otherwise, you can't forget that you might actually be melting into a puddle of sweat. The heat also makes it difficult to sell long skirts. Which leads to me to my first life lesson... (1) everyone has an opinion. Our Lavanya and Vimala skirts sell well. We love them. When it's 100 degrees out in LA everyone thinks the fabric is too heavy. And many people want to share this opinion. However, I was not there to defend my product to people who were not going to buy them. Instead I thanked each person for his or her suggestions and encouraged them to check out our website in the coming months for new designs.
Secondly, Emily was running a pop-up shop at MADI Apparel in KC (check it out we're there all of July), so I was by myself. This means I could not leave my tiny, sweat box of a tent at all. Life lesson: (2) always bring a helper. You do not have to be alone at a craft fair. Enlist a friend, a sister, a boyfriend. Anyone. You will need time to eat, to walk around, to simply go to the bathroom. Sitting next to your merchandise and selling it face-to-face for 10 hours straight is exhausting. Allow yourself to rejuvenate so that you don't appear disgruntled or worn down to your customers.
The second day of the fair I was beyond burned out. I'd worked both of my other jobs and was really cranky which had a huge impact on my morning, because ultimately (3) products don't sell themselves. If you are a vendor at a craft show or are a salesperson in any capacity, the responsibility of nicely pushing the product is on you.
Which leads to me to the ever important life lesson that you must absolutely, 100 percent (4) believe in your product. If you don't believe in what you're selling, neither will your potential customers. Wholeheartedly embrace what you're selling. Commit to putting that product in the best light. We have a variety of items to choose from. Some people were drawn to our clutches, others to our recycled sari skirts. As a salesperson, it falls on you to make people feel important as individuals so you can pair them with the perfect complimenting goods.
At craft fairs, people are there to buy merchandise, not a cause. There are hundreds of thousands of causes. People won't simply buy your t-shirt because 74% of profits go into an impoverished community. If people are at a craft fair, they're looking to buy something they LOVE. A product with which they connect. Yes, a cause is great, and maybe a potential selling point. But it won't seal the deal. Connect people to the products you're selling. Is someone wearing vibrant colors? Highlight your bold patterns. Is somewhere wearing jeans and a tank? Display your t-shirt and tank collection. Be warm, friendly, and inviting. Be genuine. People always remember how you made them feel.
Something else I learned is that you don't reap all the rewards of your participation the day of the actual craft fair. (5) Take the time to market yourself and your brand. It's ok if you don't make a million sales day of. Build relationships with store buyers. Enlighten people on your cause. Make an impression and hope they actually go to the website listed on your promo materials. People have actually emailed and texted me in the days since the fair. That means they went home, and were still thinking about our interaction and what they had seen of By Grace.
(6) Hydrate. Always bring enough water for yourself, and if you can, for others. The booth next to mine was selling handmade soy candles. They made more sales than any candle company should have because they set out free ice water for any passerby. People came for free refreshment, and left with a $27 candle set. Brilliant strategy considering the heat that everyone was discussing.
Things will not go perfectly at the craft fair, because, well life isn't perfect, so prepare for the unexpected. (7) Always bring tape, scissors, and a whole lot of patience. The second day at the fair, I watched another vendor hit my brand new parked car as I unloaded my goods. Awful. So awful. However, in exchange for me not making her pay to fix my rear bumper, she offered to teach a sewing workshop to impoverished women in the LA area and try to employ one woman in her small business. Not a bad exchange for some dents and scratches in a car bumper. (8) Even in the most unfortunate of circumstances, there is goodness, possibility, and a little bit of humor.
So if you're thinking about participating in your next local craft fair, get ready for some very long, exhausting days. But know you'll be rewarded with connections, market research on what potential customers are looking for, a couple stories, and hopefully a couple of sales.
Until next time,
PS Come see at me at Renegade Craft Fair San Francisco this upcoming weekend. Round 2. Let's do this.
Name: Lamisi Amoak
Were you born in Tamale? I was born in Fumbisi. I moved to Tamale five years ago because my husband works here.
Tell us about your family.
- Are you married? I married Monday in 1995.
- Do you have children? We have three children: Deborah, David and Damaris.
What is your favorite memory with your family? My wedding is a favorite memory and I love how my husband takes care of me. He is very hardworking.
Did you go to school? I went to school until Primary 6 (fifth or sixth grade)
What was your first job? I first sold bowls and glasses. I would get goods all the way from Accra or Koforidua.
How long have you been sewing? I have been sewing for 24 years.
Why did you first learn how to sew? When I was younger, I didn’t like to sit. My mom asked me to try it because she didn’t like her daughter traveling such far ways on accident prone roads to buy and sell things. So, I tried it and enjoyed it.
What do you enjoy most about sewing? I delight in working. I don’t like to be idle and since I am good at it…well, do it.
Has working with By Grace helped you and your family? Working with By Grace has helped me be able to look after my family. It is consistent work that pays. It has improved our state of living. We were even able to buy a plot of land to put a building on. My children are able to go to schools.
What is your favorite quote, Bible verse or proverb? John 3.16. I like it because it reminds me that I am loved. I am included.
My favorite proverb is "small, small, as the monkey goes higher, you will catch his tail." Meaning— going to greater heights, there is nothing he can’t do.
Do you have any prayer requests or praise reports? I pray that I can continue to work so that we can put up a house on the new plot of land. I praise God for life and that I am healthy.
What is your favorite song right now? The words say, "I will love God forever and ever…".
What brings you joy? God’s gift of life brings me joy. I am thankful I have strength day after day. Some people have money but are not happy. I have small, small but am happy. I am thankful for the health God has given me.
I am unbelievably good at living a mediocre life. I go to work, I pay my bills, I take my dog on walks, occasionally I read an exceptional book or binge watch a Netflix show. Since I was a little girl I dreamed of being an actress, but realized upon moving to LA being on a soap opera may not actually be in the cards for me.
And slowly, without realizing it, a new dream crept in. A dream where I could make an impact. A dream where I could empower women to be entrepreneurs, to believe they are more than what they were born into. A dream where I could teach women to be the difference, to not settle for the status quo or accept what has been, but rather to push for what could be.
As this dream began to form, I started working. Every free second was spent on building this idea, making this dream a reality. But even though I worked tirelessly on budgets and vision statements, on patterns and purchase orders, something felt distant. It felt like I was working in the dark, not quite sure if my efforts were for naught. But then something crazy happened. Other people started to believe in my dream. And Emily’s dream. People believed in By Grace. In what we were doing, in what we are capable of doing. And let me tell you… there’s nothing more frightening than having your dream come true.
As you’ve seen (because we’ve unashamedly plastered it all over our social media) we won the Regnier Venture Creation Challenge at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Which is unbelievable. We’re both still pinching ourselves. But we shouldn’t be. If we would have seen our dreams as more attainable, as probable, even as inevitable from day 1, I think we’d be in a different place. But that’s what this crazy business world is all about—constant learning.
This competition taught me more than simply to believe in my dreams. I also learned that no dream is too big. In fact, if your dream is too small, the judges will ask you why you are thinking on such a minuscule scale. Direct quote: “Why do you say you’re raising $10,000 in fundraising by October? Shouldn’t you be trying for $100,000?” So yeah… dream big. Emily and I both realized that if what we were doing wasn’t revolutionary, we really had no reason to continue. So we asked one another—is this what we’re supposed to be doing? Is By Grace revolutionary? We have the chance to elevate women and their families out of generational poverty, while changing the mindset of the fashion industry by actually paying our employees and manufacturers livable wages. That’s pretty revolutionary. That is a dream worth pursuing.
I learned that trusting your business partner is absolutely terrifying but absolutely necessary. Emily and I operate under the whole separate but equal principle day in and day out. We don’t actually work alongside one another very often. We do many of the same tasks, and we do many different roles, but because Emily lives in Kansas City and I’m in LA, we don’t have a lot to opportunity to move as one. When we pitched together, there was a synchronicity and a timing that we could not have planned. We knew when to speak ourselves and when it was time to hold back and let our partner answer the question. For example, I know literally nothing about marketing. I cannot tell you the difference between PR and Paid Marketing. I only know that they were in separate categories on our powerpoint. Emily not only worked in marketing, but she’s passionate about it. When she speaks on the subject, she does so with authority. I worked in banking for a while, so I tend to handle the financial projections and money specifics.
However, there isn’t always a perfect flow and you can’t plan for everything. Especially when it comes to Q&As. There is a lot of trust that goes into letting your business partner field questions. There were several times that I wanted to interject when Emily was speaking, whether to rephrase what she had said or steer her answer in a different direction, but it would not have presented us as a unified unit had I interrupted her. It’s easier to criticize someone when you aren’t doing the talking yourself, because you are an outsider listening, not the one answering a difficult question on the spot. And I know Emily wanted to correct me a couple of times because in one presentation, I said we paid our employees ten times the average wage. We don’t. We pay them two times the going wage… But as we moved on, she knew it was better to let our powerpoint highlight my mistake, rather than her. Appearing as a unified team is evermore important than correcting your partner.
I also learned that mistakes only make you human, and exposing your humanity is beyond ok. No one wants to partner with robots; people invest in founders, they invest in heart. While pitching, I told an entire room of judges that we were planning on running a fundraising scheme. Yeah… a scheme. Not something that has a positive connotation in the least. I quickly corrected myself to say that we had planned “an aggressive fundraising plan.” The room of esteemed judges caught my mistake, but chuckled at my correction. Investors, donors, mentors, judges—they’re all people. And they were once fledgling entrepreneurs as well.
Which leads me to my biggest revelation of the competition—people want you to succeed. The most supportive people of By Grace, but also of Emily and me, were our fellow competitors. Whether it be a “you crushed that presentation,” or a “your expo booth is stunning,” people were complimentary and kind. There wasn’t that high school mentality of wanting to put others down to make themselves look better. I think this happened for a few reasons. One, there were amazing, good-hearted people at this conference. Two, successful people like to surround themselves with successful people. The more people you know, the greater your network, the more you can help one another. Three, people want the world to be a better place. And what we’re doing with By Grace will change the world. We are working to end generational poverty and that is no small feat.
So pretty soon we’ll stop talking about our first big win at a competition, but Emily and I will never forget what the experience taught us. #winning is so much more than a check and some accolades (although that is awesome), and we are better for what this competition taught us.
Until next time,
She stands in the doorway of my house, a sight I rarely see. My mom is so cute, standing there, with her hair tied up in a messy bun, comfy jeans and a sweater. I think she just gets cuter as she gets older.
"I like your shoes," I tell her, as her face lights up with a mix of joy and surprise. It always does that when I tell her she looks pretty – I think she truly is surprised, and I'm always surprised at how surprised she is.
"So I have to tell you about these shoes, it's kind of a funny story," she says, with a slight giggle. "When I was in college, my roommate had these shoes called Mary Janes. And I loved them – I wanted them so badly. So my mom and I went all over town trying to find them in my size. This was before online shopping or Amazon or anything like that was around."
My mouth drops open. What. I'm reminded - yes, there was a time when the internet didn't exist. And yes, it wasn't that long ago.
My mom continues, "I couldn't find them anywhere, so I never did get them. Until, a couple of months ago, I was passing a store, and I saw them – these shoes that looked like those Mary Janes that I wanted when I was 22. I'm 56 years old, and I finally got my Mary Janes."
Have you ever wanted something so badly, it was hard to think about anything else?
Do you know the disappointment of it not working out? Feeling like you're going to store after store – leaving disappointed each time?
Timing is an incredible thing – and so often, we can't quite see why certain things work out and certain things don't.
I'm not sure why my mom didn't get those Mary Janes when she was 22. I think God could of easily intervened and magically made an extra size 6 appear.
But I do know… that God loves her very much. And that He never forgot that she wanted them. And that for 34 years, he remembered.
So maybe you don't have your Mary Janes yet.
But don't give up hope.
Kelsey and I have been working on By Grace for two years, and dreaming about it since eighth grade. Sitting there, hearing our name announced first place, it was indescribable (we can't wait to share more details on our next blog!). It was the first time we felt that our dream, it's actually coming true. All of our hard work - it was worth it.
I remember the first time I saw our team number. Team number "73." I tried not to let discouragement wash over me.
"It's ok," I said to Kelsey on the phone. "God just wants to stack the odds so that he can show off."
I remember the morning I saw a flyer, advertising the competition, at Crow's coffee shop. It was staring at me - reminding me, that I was one of many. That I was just a stupid girl, filled with embarrassing ideas but nothing that would ever amount to anything. "You're not special," the flyer taunted me. "Who are you to go up against tech companies and venture capitalists?"
We haven't always gotten first place. In fact, we've been dead close to last a couple of times. But we didn't give up. We believed in our mission. And we got better and sharper and clearer in our purpose, our product and our company.
"Hey mom," I said. "Why do you think God didn't give you those Mary Janes at 22?"
She paused for a second. "You know, if I had gotten them at 22, they would probably be in a dumpster somewhere by now. I would have enjoyed them for five years and then thrown them away. And - they wouldn't have been as nice of quality as the ones I have now."
"If you had told me at 22," she continued, "that I would have to wait until 56 to get my Mary Janes, I would have laughed and told you that was crazy. But, I hate to say it - it was worth the wait."
"The longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful in our expectancy." Romans 8:25
The best piece of advice Kelsey and I ever got was from a businessman in Ghana. This man owned 20+ businesses throughout the region, and as he sat down with us, he said - that through all his ventures, and all his accolades, he had learned this one thing - failure is the prelude to success.
If you feel like you've failed - or maybe, you just feel like you're in the waiting room - that's a sign that you are right where you need to be. Don't give up.
My mom is the greatest human on the planet. If you happen to think your mother is the greatest, I will not argue with you. I will simply rejoice that we are both lucky enough to believe our mothers are the best. Because that is one of the most amazing gifts in life. Yes many of our mothers gave us life in that whole gave-birth-to-us-biological-way, but daily, my mother gives me perspective and life through motivation, questions, answers, inspiration, and oftentimes, straight up hard truth.
I'm not entirely sure if I want children, perhaps because I have this fear that I will never amount to the woman my mother is. She is strong yet humble; she is compassionate yet fierce; she is independent but loyal. She loves with every fiber of her being. She loves completely, unabashedly, and unashamedly.
As we approach Mother's Day, I am again blown away by the fact that she is my mom and I was chosen to be her daughter. I may never be a mom, and I may never amount to the woman that she is, but here a few of her idioms in order to inspire us all to be better people this Mother's Day weekend:
1. Pretty is as pretty does. What you say and what you do is far more beautiful than a combination of features, genetics, and make-up could ever be.
2. Just be. The past can lead to regret, frustration, and pain. The future can lead to anxiety and apprehension. Existing in the present allows us to focus on our current blessings, our goals, and shift our mindset to that which we can still change.
3. Do as I say, not as I do. She knows she is human, and hopes to inspire us to be better than she is, better than we are. She frequently leads by example, but when we catch her with a Mountain Dew at 8 in the morning or hear that sneaky little four letter word escape her mouth she reminds us that she is not perfect.
4. Figure out what you really want, and do that. I am easily influenced by people, and sometimes I try so hard to please others that I forget to pursue what I really want. She always knows what I want to be and what I want to do before I know myself. Moms are good like that.
5. You are so loved. No matter what. No "ifs," "ands" or "buts." There is nothing I could ever do that would make her love me less.
Since I understand that other children feel just as blessed to call their mother's "mom," I asked a few friends the best advice they got from their mothers.
1. Always be the bigger person. Always.
2. You are stronger than you think. Unless you think you're stronger than me. Then you're wrong.
3. Don't cut your sister's hair.
4. If you want to know how a man will treat his wife, watch how he treats his mom.
5. She thought she could, so she did.
And for a bit of perspective, I reached out to a few of my favorite moms for their advice about motherhood:
"Moms often struggle feeling inadequate or like they're failing as a mom some days. But the reality is being a mother is the hardest job in the world. And if she's worried she's not good enough, it means she's actually a better mom already that she's even concerned that could even be a possibility."
"Take pictures of your kids sleeping. Look at them often and when you are frustrated or angry look at those photos, and use the soft feelings they give you to get through that challenging time. Also use those peaceful moments to remind you that you are doing some things well."
"Being a mom is amazing! One thing I have learned through the years from watching other amazing moms and being a mom to three kids is to find more opportunities to say, "Yes!" Meaning...let your kids pick their clothes, even though it's a tutu. Give your kids the ability to live and learn from life! Be their guide and support always!"
So this Mother's Day, learn from she that has tirelessly taught you. For you mothers out there-know you are not alone, and you are not perfect, but you are as close to perfect as it gets for the tiny (and not so tiny) humans that call you "mom."
Happy Mother's Day!
Until next time,
I looked at her face in the image. Sullen, downcast.
As I read through her story, my heart began to bleed for this girl I didn't know. This girl who lived in Bangladesh, in a country I couldn't even locate on a map. Read her story here - I promise, it will change you.
I made coffee, went on a run. This article, her story - continued to loop through my mind. I started to get dressed for work, the sun streaming through the windows of my bedroom. I wondered - who made this shirt? Was she my age? Did she work twelve hours a day in a windowless factory; did her shoulders ache from stitching? Could she afford to eat lunch that day; did she have hope that tomorrow was going to be better, that she would have time to spend with her family?
Today is the first day of Fashion Revolution Week. Here's the most unfortunate thing - often, it takes a great tragedy for us to realize the magnitude of the problem. Four years ago on April 24th, 1,138 people died in a factory fire at Rana Plaza in Bangladesh. This sparked a global movement of conscious consumers to question their retailers and demand safe, clean and fair environments for everyone.
Below are a couple of ways to get involved:
- Visit Fashion Revolution's website here to learn more about the movement.
- Support your retailers that are fair trade and fair pay - they are the ones fighting for a better world.
- Spread the message so that others begin to question, who really made these clothes? And what is the real price of cheap fashion? Awareness is the first step to change.
Transparency is beautiful. But to get the answer, we first have to ask the question - who made my clothes?
Until next time,
At By Grace, we are committed to creating beautiful, unique products that incorporate a taste of the exotic with the dependability of the known. We hope to produce a line of standard American styles with bold, vibrant Ghanaian patterns. And so far, we're pretty excited about the dresses that we have to offer. However, getting there took months and months of designing, redesigning, sewing, throwing away, sketching, starting over, fitting, redoing, reworking, and creating. Here's a little insight into our creative process:
1. Inspiration. We shop, browse, sketch, and brainstorm. We've gone through hundreds of styles and designs before we decide on the one that will actually become part of the line.
2. Design. We CAD (which just stands for Computer-Aided Design) the dress, so that we give finite lines and shapes to our style.
3. Patterns. To achieve consistency and to be able to appropriately size our garments, we have patterns created from the CADs.
4. Samples. We create a Pre-Production sample to make sure we like the direction we are headed. We pin and cut and rework this sample so that our pattern-maker knows where the adjustments need to be made, both aesthetically and in fit.
5. Fabric. Since all our fabrics are purchased in the local Ghanaian markets, our buyers and seamstresses often send us pictures of available prints to aid in our design decisions. If we happen to be in Ghana at the development phase of a style, we love going to the markets with our buyers. It is important to us that the fabrics selected have a Western African vibe while complementing our American styles.
6. Communication. We then send a perfected sample and the completed patterns to our talented seamstresses in Ghana, along with our sketches, CADs, and other images so that the women know exactly what they are expected to produce.
7. Production. Lamisi, Lydia, and the many other skilled By Grace seamstresses carefully craft each garment.
8. Quality Control. Each garment is inspected for flaws and sizing issues. We love that our garments aren't made in a factory, so each one is somewhat unique and special, but we do look for an overall consistency.
9. Wear Test. We wear the dresses ourselves to confirm fit, wearability, and overall aesthetic. (Also, we love them and are always anxious to see the fruits of our seamstresses efforts).
10. Dress-up. We sell the dresses to you and celebrate each unique woman who wears one of our By Grace originals.
Every dress is designed and sewn with you in mind, and we are thrilled to continue honing our process and creating more (and more) dresses for you!
Until next time,
Sometimes I'm not quite sure if the first half of my life was real or just an odd dream. I'd have to lean towards odd dream if there weren't pictures to prove it actually happened.
I grew up in West Africa in the 10/40 window, which is an area of the world that contains 85 percent of the world's poorest of the poor. The people that live here have the least access to resources on the planet.
Why was I out there? Great question.
My dad was top of his class in engineering at Virginia Tech and decided to trade it all in for a life pursuing what God asked of him. When the department learned of his plans, the dean of the school sat him down and said, "Jay, you are throwing your life away."
What he really did was trade a large paycheck at a firm in California for an alternative - saving thousands of people's lives by establishing clean water systems, and at the same time, spreading the Gospel to an entire unreached region in Africa.
Yes, my dad is probably the most incredible person I know.
I remember reading a quote in To Kill A Mockingbird in eighth grade, "Atticus Finch is the same in his house as he is on the public streets." And I thought - that's my dad. His integrity, compassion and leadership that he shows in public is exactly who he is at home.
My childhood was very unique. It was filled with some crazy stories - both funny and scary - and we went from one adventure to the next. Filled with secret waterfalls and rebels who attacked us and cobras, alligators - hand built rollercoasters and ziplines, learning a tribal language - the list goes on and on.
When I came back to the US at the age of 11, I started to realize how bad the situation was for women in Ghana. For my friends. My girls that I grew up with.
Actually, I came to realize - it was much worse than I thought.
It's an epidemic dubbed the kayayo women - and though little work has been published about it, the BBC did release some images on it here.
- When women can't find work in the northern region of Ghana, they're shipped to the South to live on the street. Here they carry large items on their heads for 8-12 hours a day, making less than $1 total for the days wage.
The entrepreneurial spirit is strong in Ghana. According to related data for 2010 by Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, in almost every country, worldwide business formation by women lags behind that of men – of the 59 countries investigated, Ghana was the notable exception.
The problem - there are so many barriers to overcome. Access to technology and capital (to purchase a sewing machine) are two of the largest obstacles. When you are making barely enough to feed yourself, how could you even think of saving for a sewing machine - or even more, going to school?
- Ghanian entrepreneur Herman Chinery-Hesse said, “You are stuck in a hole in a village with all your skills and all your talents, and that’s just unfortunately the way it is…the people here are not stupid, they’re just disconnected from global trade.”
Here's what I learned - there's a right and a wrong way to address poverty.
Doing "good" is not always good.
Let me explain.
Well, let Peter Greer explain. He does a much better job:
Every social need is a business opportunity.
Solving poverty - in a sustainable way - isn't through a handout. It's through investing in talent and beauty.
Until next time,
“I’m going to tell you a story…” begins the white-haired man seated next to me.
Oh no… here it goes… this one’s a talker. And not just a talker, a rambler. He has something to say and a captive audience for the first time in, what would seem to be, a while… Do I run? Can I hide? How do I move away without him noticing and/ or being rude? It’s impossible… So… I’m halfheartedly listening.
“When I was doing missions work in Nicaragua…”
Wait, what missions work? And just like that I was suckered in.
Let me back up. The last two weeks have been insane for me. I started interviewing for a new job, was hired at multiple places, shadowed at the different places, selected where I would go, accepted an offer of employment, put in my two weeks notice to a job that I’ve been at for almost five years, and started training at the new place of employment while completing my two weeks at my previous job. Amongst this I also have my modeling career and By Grace that are my priorities, and require the bulk of my mental energy and time.
In addition to all the craziness of quitting the old and starting the new, I have also been stressed about this career move because I will be making less money. Money which, in my mind, I need for By Grace to thrive. But I put all of that aside to go to my first day of training at the new gig.
This is where I met said white-haired man. First, I met his wife and she complimented my earrings. I mentioned to her that they were from Ghana, which led me to briefly explain that, yes I had indeed been to Ghana, and that By Grace was the reason for the visit. She quickly alerted her husband to the work we do through By Grace, and he started talking.
And we’re back, to me thinking that this man was going to delay my training, when in fact he was about to teach me something of much greater consequence than anything I could learn in an employee handbook.
He proceeded to tell me that he volunteers in Central America, and he had incredible story after incredible story. The one that hit home the hardest, however, was of an impoverished man living in Managua. This white-haired gentleman had struck up a conversation with the Nicaraguan, and although I don’t remember the details of the story (essentially the man was destitute and hopeless), the moral was: are you going to trust yourself and your community to provide for you or are you going to trust the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth? Are you going to rely on God to fulfill your needs and provide you with the necessary resources to succeed or are you going to lean on your own capabilities?
And just like that, I knew I had made the right decision. God is the provider. And no, that doesn’t mean every single dollar you need will be handed to you via a lottery win, and every task you need accomplished will not be completed by willing volunteers. Yet, God opens doors for the right jobs that provide income; He allows you to cross paths with the right people who can donate time, money, and advice.
I do believe that God helps those who help themselves, but for me, the simple fact that the man was talking about God my first night on the job affirmed that I am in the right place, and that I must learn to trust God more than I trust myself. He will be the key to my success, not me. Which is terrifying and comforting. For a control freak, it’s unfortunate that I am not in the driver seat. For an imperfect human, it is amazing that I can relinquish that control. So I am going to keep going through the doors that open, continue working hard, and trust that God will provide the necessary resources for His call on my life to be properly executed.
Until next time,
Beep beep beep. The shrill sound echoes throughout the minimalist concrete room.
My friend Bre and I look at each other, feeling like criminals in between these doors at Urban. I wait for the store clerk to come over and vindicate us. We paid for this "Happy Birthday" banner, pore mask and deep-v tee; I promise.
Bre finds a sensor on her shirt and we go back to the counter. "Whew," we both say, because that really would have been the end of the world. Truly. Nothing kills a birthday outfit like a sensor.
The store clerks are quite chill about the whole situation. And by chill I mean that nobody moved. We stand at the side of the counter, waiting for assistance. A couple of minutes goes by, a couple more minutes goes by, and we just continue to wait as the line behind the counter grows.
This nice looking man walks behind us, piled high with shoes and shirts, walking deliberately as if he's on a mission to re-stock the shelves. And I think, I have two options here. I can watch him walk by and continue to stand here (safe), or, I can speak up in front of this line and ask this man for help (quite daring).
"Excuse me," I say, confidently. "Could you help us with this sensor?"
He looks at me.
The line of people look at me.
And he says, "Uh, actually, I don't work here."
And I feel like saying, "Alright, I'll just go die now, thanks."
It was such a small moment. But it got me thinking about what that encounter sub-consciously taught my brain.
It was teaching me that stepping out = embarrassment.
It was teaching me a pattern of behavior to remember for the next time I am confronted with (safe) vs (quite daring). My brain will tell me - yes, but do you remember the time?
That time you spoke up, and said something stupid?
That time you went for it, and failed?
That time you exposed your heart, and were humiliated?
That time you jumped, and fell in front of everyone?
And I remember this quote, "If you are never scared, embarrassed or hurt, it means you never take chances."
Taking risks means different things to different people. But if you don't take the small ones - like speaking up in that meeting, asking the waitress for that side you really want - how will you take the big risks?
If you don't take small risks, how will you take the ones that mean the difference between a fulfilled life in pursuit of your calling or just a life of mediocre comfort?
I think about the "greats" of the Bible:
- Noah was shamed when he was building an ark.
- Moses was scoffed at when he returned to demand freedom.
- Jesus was mocked on a cross.
Maybe doing what God calls you to do does not save you from embarrassment. Maybe, instead, it actually leads you into it.
Risk = faith, faith = risk.
You can't have one without the other.
If you're anything like me, you're thinking - well, that doesn't sound like much fun. Why would I want to follow God if it's almost sure to lead to some sort of embarrassment, vulnerability and humiliation?
If you look at the short term - then sure, no way.
But if you look at the long term:
- Noah - When the rain started to pour, his family was the only one that was saved across the entire Earth
- Moses - He rescued an entire nation out of slavery, split the Red Sea, had an intimate relationship with God
- Jesus - He made it possible for us to go to heaven
Will you venture into the unknown, where you feel this inexplicable pull, or will you stay where you are, where it is safe, comfortable? Where you know you won't be embarrassed. Where you know you won't have an entire line of people look at you like you're an idiot when you ask this man to help you with a sensor and he was just trying to buy some shoes - actually, a lot of shoes. But that's neither here nor there.
I'm learning to re-train my brain.
Did I say something that didn't come out perfect? Good. It means I spoke up when I was unsure. It means I had something important to add, and I didn't let the moment pass me by.
Did I make a fool out of myself today? Good. It means I tried something that I knew I wasn't good at. It means I played that game even though I was terrible at it, it means I tried to be friends with someone very different then me.
Stepping into your calling isn't safe. It requires risk. It requires vulnerability. It requires the capacity and strength to handle embarrassment.
"For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and a sound mind." 2 Timothy 1:7
Until next time,
Tomorrow, March 8th, is International Women’s Day. IWD is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day is also intended to encourage actions that help advance gender equality.
In honor of IWD, women across the country will join together in a demonstration of “economic solidarity.” The strike has been called “ A Day Without a Woman,” and aims to shed light on the current work for the equity, justice, and human rights of women.
This economic display is one of love and freedom, intended to showcase the importance of women without harming others. “A Day Without a Woman” recognizes the insurmountable value that women of all backgrounds, ages, skin colors, and skill levels add to our socio-economic system—while receiving lower wages and experiencing greater inequities, vulnerability to discrimination, sexual harassment, and job insecurity.
Every woman, or man who supports his daughter, wife, sister, mother, friend, or co-worker, can join in “A Day Without a Woman,” in one or all of the following ways:
1. Women take the day off.
This can be from work, from volunteering, from internships, and may be harder for some people, but is certainly possible for others. There are school districts across the country that are closing due to teacher’s absences. That is a big deal. That is impactful and impossible to ignore. I know it’s a long shot, but can you imagine what would happen if every single woman were to call in “sick” tomorrow? Our country would basically stop for the day. Because we all know even the most powerful man is nothing without a woman telling him what to do. Ok… I’m kidding. But it’s an interesting concept to think of what would happen without the female surgeon, the female teacher, the stay at home mom, the woman general manager. White women make 79 percent of what white men make, and Black and Latina women make even less. Insane, right? So for those of you who can take the day off—DO IT. We deserve 100% of the wages our male counterparts are making, because the world may not stop turning without us, but society as we know it could not exist.
2. Avoid shopping for one day.
Women are responsible for 70 to 80% of purchases made in the US. Purchasing power is true power, and by keeping yourself out of stores, you’re reminding businesses and the government of who is the boss. If you need something on March 8, get it the day before or buy it from businesses owned by women. (In case you forgot, By Grace is entirely owned and run by women, who also employ women… Just saying.)
3. Wear red in solidarity with “A Day Without A Woman”
It’s hard to ignore a woman in red, even more so if there is a group of you in red. This is a great conversation starter and a reminder that we are not alone. We are in the fight for gender equality together.
4. Make a donation to your favorite non-profit.
This charity can be any one of your choosing. Many non-profits have specific missions that strive to empower women, and others are run strictly by women. Giving is a sign that you are putting your money where your mouth is. Investing in women will ultimately benefit us all. By Grace is an excellent choice if you're passionate about educating women. Others are donating to Planned Parenthood or their local Domestic Abuse Center or the Girl Scouts. Whatever inspires you and empowers women is a winning donation in our book.
“A Day Without a Woman” is inspired and run by the women who organized the successful “Women’s March” a couple of months ago. On the “Women’s March” website they call their sisters to action:
When millions of us stood together in January, we saw clearly that our army of love greatly outnumbers that of fear, greed and hatred. Let's raise our voices together again, to say that women’s rights are human rights, regardless of a woman’s race, ethnicity, religion, immigration status, sexual identity, gender expression, economic status, age or disability.
Here at By Grace, our entire life is about loving women, believing in women, seeing the good and the possibility in each and every “she.” So join us. Wear red. Don’t shop. And if you can, take the day off. Because the world needs us. And we deserve full compensation and rights for our contributions.
Until next time,