writer, lawyer, human
Human Inspiration Works, LLC
October 2018 Vol 3 No. 10
Inspired by the words and actions of Robert F. Kennedy
Wrongly Assuming About Another Human
After conducting a Gray Area Thinking® training here in Minneapolis last week, I stopped at a Lunds grocery store for a couple of items. On the way out, I treated myself to a hot chocolate at the in-store Caribou, where I was waited on by a young (20-23 years old) woman who sported piercings and tattoos. The barista remarked that she liked my dress, to which I replied, “I got it on sale at The Loft. It was real cheap, maybe $40.”
The barista answered, “Oh, wow. Forty dollars is a lot of money—it would pay for a lot of diapers for my baby.”
I immediately felt embarrassed and a bit ashamed. With the everyday privilege I enjoy, it hadn’t occurred to me that this young, ostensibly vibrant woman standing in front of me might also be a mother struggling to pay for basic childcare necessities.
The exchange ignited my empathetic heart, and with hot chocolate in hand, I went to the store customer service desk to buy a gift card. On the card envelope I wrote, “We’re all struggling to survive the Human Condition. I care about you. ellie.” I went back to Caribou where I handed the envelope to the barista and said, “I remember what it’s like to struggle. This is for you.” I didn’t wait for her to open the envelope and quickly I left the store, still feeling embarrassed.
By the time I got to my car, I was kicking myself even more. The amount on the gift card was alright, but if I had really wanted to help out this mom, I should have put more on the card. By then it was too late.
The takeaways from this: even Ellie Krug (a teacher on human inclusivity) often forgets the rule that you can’t ever tell someone’s story simply by how they appear. Further, it’s always important to think big—if you’re going to help someone, make it count. It might be your only chance.
As I teach (and as the below story of Anthony Torres demonstrates), we must pay attention to those around us and never assume anything. Most people have stories of struggle, tragedy, perseverance and resiliency that no one would ever guess. Understanding this makes one more caring and compassionate.
I care about all of you. Be well!
American Indians Who Go Missing
Last year, I saw the movie,
, which is a fictional story about the murder of an American Indian woman. The movie, which starred Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen, triggered my emotions, particularly at the end of the film where it details that no one truly knows the number of American Indian women who go missing each year. (Statistically, American Indian women are raped and sexually assaulted at a rate four times the national average and are 10 times as likely to be murdered compared to other Americans—see this
with those stats.) Indeed, the movie so touched me that I found myself crying in the hallway of the theater.
Atlantic Magazine piece
by Sophia Myszowski relates the story of Lissa Yellowbird-Chase, an American Indian and attorney who founded Shanish Scouts, an organization dedicated to searching for missing American Indians. Her work is necessary because of history and federal laws that marginalize the American Indian community; for example, the sovereign nations are prohibited from exercising criminal jurisdiction over nonmembers who commit crimes on sovereign land. In such cases, the FBI or local U.S. Attorney retains jurisdiction, but statistics show that these agencies prosecute less than half the violent crime cases referred to them by tribal authorities.
The burden of pursuing leads about missing American Indian women falls on Yellowbird-Chase and her organization. “Being a neutral party,” Yellowbird-Chase said, “sometimes we can get a little more information out of people. We don’t accept no for an answer, from anybody.” Sometimes this persistence pays off, as in the case of finding a woman’s body inside a truck that was submerged in a sovereign nation area lake.
I can’t help but think that grouping and labeling of American Indians is largely responsible for how society has turned a blind eye to these women (and men) who simply disappear or who are victims of horrific crimes. As Yellowbird-Chase said, “I think every human deserves to be found. Everyone at least needs to be searched for.”
Please get this information about missing American Indian women on your radar—because every human matters. (For more information about the disparities within the American Indian community [which includes a high school graduation rate of only 51 percent], see this
A Viral Video Reminds About Struggling to Survive the Human Condition
In September, I came across a social media video of a 56-year-old man lathering up and shaving sans mirror while seated in a New Jersey Transit commuter railcar. Social media then went into a frenzy over the video, with many postings castigating the man for his purported boorish behavior—some referred to him as a “pig.” Later, journalists tracked down the man, Anthony Torres, and learned that he had been homeless for several weeks (which included sleeping under bridges and being mugged twice). He was on the train from a New York City shelter to visit his brother in suburban NJ; he hadn’t had a shower in some time and wanted to at least shave to give himself some dignity for their meeting.
real story came to light
, everything changed in an instant; a stranger set up a GoFundMe page with a goal of $25,000. Within 48 hours, $38,000 had been raised for Anthony. Additionally, Anthony received several job offers, including one from NJ Transit. All of this helped to change Anthony’s outlook on life; reached by a reporter, he said, "I feel so happy, I feel like a new man."
The takeaway here: humans are quick to judge and group and label other humans. However, because of our empathetic hearts, we show up when given a pathway to exercise compassion. At times, that compassion can make all the difference in the world to someone struggling. Be an instrument of good, rather than an instrument of marginalization.
Inclusivity Tip of the Month
Valuing Background Data
Earlier this month I spent two days in Hartford CT with The Bushnell Performing Arts Center where it convened a series of community Diversity & Inclusion Roundtables that I facilitated. The roundtables were attended by business leaders, human resource managers, and others seeking to make their organizations more diverse and inclusive. We did some great collective brainstorming during those roundtables and I think folks came away energized about D&I!
I began each roundtable with asking about “background data” such as who in the room knew the percentage of people of color in Connecticut or the state’s percentages of female and males or the percentage of wage earner education levels ranging from high school dropout to those with graduate degrees. With no intent to embarrass the roundtable attendees, most in the room were at a loss to put accurate numbers or percentages to these questions.
Why do I consider background data important?
Moreover, knowing educational graduation rates informs about the hiring pool, and for idealists like me, understanding that number suggests the degree of hard work needed to change the landscape by ending the cycle of poverty. (The Twin Cities has a 20 percent high school dropout rate—appalling. But one needs to know this if you’re going to even start a conversation about creating an inclusive community.)
In Odds & Ends below, there is a segment regarding community problem solving where background data are critical. Also, check out the very cool
Data USA website
for a wealth of information about many of the country’s major metro areas. If your community isn’t listed on the Data USA website, you can get information from your state demographer or from other sites such as the
Henry J Kaiser Family Foundation
, which focuses on health-related demographics and information.
Odds & Ends
It snowed in Minneapolis this past Sunday. Ugh. So, let’s brighten spirits with this month’s Odds & Ends, beginning with a seven-year-old singing prodigy.
7-year-old Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja is 3’9” tall and weighs 40 lbs. None of that matters as she
belts out a rendition
of the national anthem at a recent LA Galaxy game. Click here for the entire anthem—her finale is unforgettable. Such joy to the senses!
November 5 Gray Area Thinking® Public Event:
As reported in last month’s
, I’ll put on my very first public human inclusivity training with Gray Area Thinking® on Monday, Nov. 5 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Open Book/The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. I would love to fill the space—local
readers, I hope to see you and others there. Here is the
link to register/for tickets.
Please share about this in your networks. Thanks, and see you then!
What Disability? A Remarkable Story of Persistence Rewarded by Nike:
University of Oregon long distance runner Justin “Magic” Gallegos recently became the first professional athlete with cerebral palsy to be awarded a Nike contract. The event was captured on film as Justin was completing a race; he was met by a camera crew, many of his teammates and a Nike representative who surprised him with the contract announcement. In this
CBS News piece
, you can see Justin collapse to the ground with joy over the news. As a toddler, Justin used a walker and then attended grueling physical therapy to improve his gait. “I was once a kid in leg braces who could barely put one foot in front of the other,” Justin wrote on Instagram. “Now I have signed a three-year contract with Nike Running.” If you know anyone struggling to survive the Human Condition, please share—it might just help them to remember they’re not alone and that with hard work (and some luck), they too can thrive!
Good for Transgender Humans:
Earlier this month a Wisconsin
$780,000 to two transgender women—both WI state employees—over that state’s refusal to provide health insurance to the women. Nice. (A major health insurer once retroactively denied yours truly health insurance because I’m transgender.)
But Not Good for a Trans Middle School Student:
During an “active shooter drill” at a Stafford, VA middle school, a transgender student was
purposely left in the gym
(with a teacher) because school officials couldn’t decide which gendered locker room or restroom to have the student seek shelter in. Pretty symbolic of the plight of our trans and gender nonconforming youth—they’re often left to fend for themselves. Unacceptable.
A Perfect Pitch Song for Our Times:
Women and those who love and respect women, please click
Empathetic Hearts Open for a Cancer Survivor:
story about Kirby Evans
, who lost one eye and his nose to cancer, who was asked to leave a South Carolina convenience store restaurant by a manager because his appearance was “running customers off.” After Kirby’s daughter posted about the incident on Facebook, several strangers came forward and met Kirby for breakfast at a different restaurant. It’s another example of how we show up when given a pathway to exercise our empathetic hearts.
Librarians Are at the Top of My List:
Because librarians are the keepers of the truth, I hold them in especially high esteem; I fear that some day they may be the last bastion of real facts. They also serve the public in innovative ways and here’s a
story of the New York Public Library
offering interview classes to younger job seekers, along with the ability to check out a handbag or tie with one’s library card. Brilliant!
I Also Love Nurses…
and you will too as you
watch these rehab nurses dance
with walkers to lift the spirits of an older patient. More imagination to benefit another human! (Special thanks to Aunt Rita for this one…)
Speaking Up for Those Who Lack Voices:
of an ordinary human standing up for two Latinas being harassed in a grocery store (!!) just because they were speaking Spanish. For those who’ve taken my Allyship 101 training, this is what true allyship looks like.
Remember Commonality No. 3?
Gray Area Thinking® attendees will recall the “Four Commonalities” that all humans share; No. 3 of those commonalities is that we all want “twenty minutes of peace.” Here is a
story about an Olive Garden server
who provided just that for a mother trying to tame her hyperactive toddler.
Lexington, KY Restaurant Offers a Second Chance to Persons with Addictions:
See this NBC
that dishes up hope for people who thought they'd never again have it; I believe in the power of human resiliency—it can transform us if only we believe in ourselves.
My 28-year-old daughter Kate, a writer like me, is a freelancer for
where she reviews books. She also has an entertainment-book review website that’s fun and smart,
Snarky Yet Satisfying.
She regularly reviews books on her blog; check it out! Her author for this month is
Carol Anderson, who came out with
Anderson’s newest book is
We Are Not Equal
, which breaks it down for those of us who need things presented in a more approachable narrative.
We Are Not Yet Equal
looks at five key moments in American history where there was a systemic hostile response to the fight for equal rights and provides additional context, photos, and supplementary commentary.
Just in time for the election.
“Ellie 2.0 Radio” Shows:
My show, “Ellie 2.0 Radio,” airs on Twin Cities-based AM950 on Mondays from 7 to 8 a.m. CST and can be live-streamed by clicking
; podcasts can be found
Ellie 2.0 Radio highlights various idealists and my work as a “practical idealist” trying to change the world for the better. Recent shows included a Sept. 17th interview with Cathy Heying, founder of the nonprofit Lift Garage, which serves low-income vehicle owners (Cathy pivoted from social worker to automotive school student and then licensed mechanic with the hope of making a difference in the lives of others—check out the Lift’s website
); most recently, on Oct. 15, I interviewed 22-year-old Nick Alm of the start-up nonprofit,
which funds LGBTQ entrepreneurs in Africa, where being LGBTQ is illegal—talk about idealism!. Yes, the radio show takes a good chunk of my limited time but the idealists I feature are inspiring!
Articles Worth Reading (assuming you think like Ellie…):
I try not to be political with
but some may see that with me highlighting Adam Serwer’s
Atlantic Magazine piece
, “The Cruelty is the Point,” arguing that part of our current tribal politics landscape is about “rejoicing” in the ability to marginalize others. Also, check out David Brooks’s
article in the NYT
, “A Really Good Thing Happening in America,” regarding how community problem solving—which brings school, law enforcement, social services and other professionals together to tackle community issues using data and old-fashioned relationship-building—is taking off in communities around the country. This very well may be the magic bullet we’ve been looking for on ending the cycles of poverty America can’t seem to break. Finally, regardless of your views about immigration, this
New York Times story
, “A Mexican Man’s Fatal Journey to Reclaim His Life,” by Simon Romero informs about the human tragedy of Adrian Luna, who for 27 yrs. built a life and created a family in Boise, Idaho, only to die in an American desert after being deported.
My Writings and a Writing that Includes Me:
My most recent
Lavender Magazine column
, “Attention to Detail,” concerns my recent experience with a health care provider that misgendered me as “male,” which just threw me into total tilt. Also, I recently received an email advising that I’ve earned mention in a new book,
Amazing Women of Iowa A-Z
, because of my distinction as the first transgender person to argue a case before the Iowa Supreme Court
I look forward to reading the book; this also makes me homesick for Iowa, the land of tall corn and good people. Or maybe it’s vice versa...
Past and Upcoming Talks/Trainings and General Stuff:
So far this month, I’ve been to Hartford to train The Bushnell Performing Arts Center/Hartford Symphony; in N.J to train McElroy Deutsch, the largest law firm in the state; and in San Francisco to kick off a diversity conference. This coming week has me at Lands’ End corporate headquarters in Dodgeville, WI and then at an all-day in-house training for the Sioux City School District. In November, I’ll be in Milwaukee for several talks/trainings and then in Richmond, VA. To see my Upcoming Engagements page, click
is a work in progress, so please, I welcome your suggestions and comments! Please share this newsletter with others, too!
Thank you for helping to make the world a better place! I'm at your side, cheering you on, I promise! Please have compassion for yourself and for others.
Encouraging Open Hearts and Thriving Human Spirits
Human Inspiration Works, LLC: We make "inclusion" an action word