Catherine Combs

January, 2020

Uncategorized

Alliance for Women in Media Foundation Extends Deadline for the 2020 Gracie Award Entries

Foundation announces Ziploc® Brand as Diamond Sponsor of the 2020 Gracies Gala

The Alliance for Women in Media Foundation (AWMF) has announced that the final deadline to submit entries for the 45th Annual Gracie Awards has been extended until January 23, 2020.  The Gracie Awards, presented by the Alliance for Women in Media Foundation, celebrate programming and individual achievement by, for and about women in television, radio and interactive media.  Submissions from all facets of media are encouraged.  AWMF is also pleased to announce Ziploc® Brand as the Diamond Sponsor of the 2020 Gracies Gala. 

The women featured and honored at The Gracie Awards are the same hard-working, busy women Ziploc® brand helps to stay organized. With the launch of the fashionable Ziploc® Accessory Bags, busy women have the perfect solution to stay organized while on the go, with versatile designs, durable material and multiple sizes. As a trusted brand among women, Ziploc® brand is excited to partner with the 2020 Gracies Gala to celebrate women in media.

The Alliance for Women in Media is also proud to partner with its newest Honorary Trustee, Jinny Laderer, Co-founder & CEO, vCreative.  Laderer joins Jason Bailey, Sun Broadcast Group, Catherine Frymark, Discovery Communications, and Mark Gray, Katz Radio Group, as 2020 Honorary Trustees.

 “Each year, the Gracie Awards turn the spotlight on the best and brightest in all segments of the media industry, on and off the screen, by recognizing groundbreakers in radio, television and interactive media,” says Becky Brooks, AWM/F executive director. “As our biggest fundraiser of the year, the Gracies enables the Alliance for Women in Media Foundation to deliver on its promise of furthering the connection, education and recognition of women in media.  All of this is made possible by our amazing sponsors like Ziploc® brand and our Honorary Trustees.”

The 2020 Gracie Awards entry eligibility air dates are from January 1, 2019, through December 31, 2019.  Entry details, including pricing and updated categories, can be viewed at https://allwomeninmedia.org/gracies/call-for-entries/. 

The 45th Annual Gracie Awards Gala will be held on May 19, 2020, at the Beverly Wilshire, Beverly Hills, A Four Seasons Hotel and the Gracie Awards Luncheon will be held on June 24, 2020, in New York City at Cipriani 42nd Street.  To learn more, visit https://allwomeninmedia.org/gracies/.

About the Alliance for Women in Media Foundation: In 1960, the Alliance for Women in Media became the first professional broadcasting organization to establish an educational foundation. The Alliance for Women in Media Foundation (formerly known as The Foundation of American Women in Radio & Television) supports and promotes educational programs, charitable activities, public service campaigns and scholarships to benefit the public, the electronic media and allied fields. The Foundation also produces nationally acclaimed recognition programs, including the Gracie Awards®, a gala that honors exemplary programming created by, for or about women. The Alliance for Women in Media Foundation is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit, educational organization. For the latest news on the Gracies, follow The Gracies on Twitter and Facebook. For more information about the Gracie Awards and to submit your entries, please visit www.allwomeninmedia.org/gracies.  

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Catherine Combs

December, 2019

Uncategorized

The Year in Review

By Becky Brooks, AWM/F Executive Director

At the end of each year, many of us stop to take time to reflect on what we have seen, experienced and learned, and then, hopefully, how to take that into the next year. It is often a time to also consider those historical moments that emerge, and in the case of 2019, it was significant. And each of you, the community of the Alliance for Women in Media (AWM), provide your own unique window for the world to see, experience and learn.

Increasingly, watching television, listening to the radio or to a podcast can feel overwhelming with divisiveness and endless opinions on just about every topic. Amid hearing those stories – a common theme that emerged at AWM in 2019 – is courage.

Courage was prominently in the background of the magnificent storytelling we experienced while reviewing content for the 2019 Gracies Awards. Just a few examples were Noor Tagouri’s podcast series Sold in America that researched the sex trade industry from every angle; Leah Remini executive producing and hosting a program, Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath that revealed the truths of a religion in which she previously participated; Madison Lawson, a student from the University of Missouri, telling her story of living with a disability (and flying to New York to accept the award!) and LaDona Harvey on iHeart’s AM 600 KOGO reminding us in her interview, “I am NOT grateful, I am qualified”.

Each of these Gracie winners had the courage to tell a story. And many times, through courage also comes hope. Just this year: A record number of women were installed in congress; the largest class of African American women graduated from West Point; an entire community in Texas showed up to a funeral to support a man who lost his wife in a mass shooting so that he wasn’t alone; a group of women in Iran seeing their first soccer game from the stands, an activity that was once forbidden; and, a child hosting a hot chocolate stand to pay for a classmates’ lunch at school. That – is hope.

One of our favorite stories at AWM is the courage it took for a group of women in the 1950’s to form a group called the American Women in Radio & Television – now known as the Alliance for Women in Media. They created the path for the community we have today, and our current leadership continues to forge that path.

AWM has given nearly $20,000 in scholarships, created an online community forum for our members, interviewed more women (and men!) in media to relaunch our Gracie Interview Series to provide insight and education and heard first-hand the harrowing experience of Elizabeth Smart during her keynote at the Gracies Leadership Awards where we also heard from six inspiring and fearless leaders in our industry about their career journeys.

On a personal level, these stories give me hope and courage for the future. As my husband and I raise two kids who are seeing and experiencing life in a different way than we did – we can tell them the stories you have the courage to tell and encourage them to do the same. We have friends who have experienced unimaginable health scares and loss – yet our personal community rallies to support one another – just as we see happening in communities across the country.

AWM is committed to do even more in 2020. We will recognize story tellers, bring communities together through our membership and events and connect women (and men) in radio, television and digital medias who may not otherwise have known one another. We ask you to join AWM, submit your content for Gracies consideration, judge Gracie Awards, attend an event – stay connected.

Our challenge to you in the new year is to continue telling important stories and to give hope.

Cheers to 2020!

Catherine Combs

November, 2019

Press Release

Alliance for Women in Media Honors Six Female Leaders at Gracies Leadership Awards

The Alliance for Women in Media (AWM) hosted the annual Gracies Leadership Awards luncheon on Thursday, November 21 to a capacity crowd at the Plaza Hotel in New York City.  Keynote speaker Elizabeth Smart eloquently gave an awe-inspiring address, sharing her captivating story of overcoming the trauma of her 9-month abduction, at the age of fourteen.  Smart shared with the audience, “I don’t think that you are made by what happens to you.  I think you are made by the choices you make after things happen to you.”  She ended the speech, saying, “As I move forward with my life, I am dedicated to preventing what happened to me from happening to anyone else and continuing to empower women, and girls of all ages, as much as I can.”    

Six female leaders in media were honored at the event, along with the Inaugural AWM Legacy Leadership recipient, Chickie Bucco.  Highlights from their speeches include:

  • Mary Berner, President and Chief Executive Officer, Cumulus Media, shared how she watched more and more females rise to the top in the magazine industry but said there is still work to be done in radio.  Berner shared a quote by Maya Angelou, saying, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”  She continued by saying, “At Cumulus, we know better, and we are working hard to do better.”
  • Weezie Kramer, Chief Operating Officer, Entercom Communications, thanked those who have helped her along the way, and said, “Looking back on moments in my career, the times that I was able to help others find their super powers or help them achieve their ambitions, whatever that ambition may be, those are the moments that give me the greatest joy.”
  • Rosemary Mercedes, Chief Communications Officer, Univision Communications Inc., thanked her mother for teaching her how to be strong, and proudly said, “It’s so easy to get caught up on headlines of the day – the ‘Me Toos’ and the statistics, which are not as great as they should be.  But, when you expand your view and think about the century and where we were in 1901 to where we are today, it is such a wonderful time to be a woman.  I know there’s work to be done, but it’s a great time to be a woman today.”
  • Michelle Rice, General Manager, TV One, shared that as a child, she had big dreams.  Rice continued her acceptance speech, saying, “So many times I have been the first – the first woman, the first person of color, the first woman of color.  Maybe you have been the first.  Be fearless.  Your fearlessness will ensure that you will certainly not be the last.”
  • Michelle Vicary, EVP, Programming and Network Publicity, Crown Media Family Networks, beamed as she told the crowd how much she loves the work she does.  Vicary said, “In the last few years, our industry has undergone a seismic shift.  Women are more empowered than ever before, and this is in large part because other women stepped up and paved the way.  I have personally had so many female mentors that have helped me along the way.”
  • Danyelle Wright, VP, Employment & Labor Law and Chief Diversity Officer, The E.W. Scripps Company,began her speech recalling her mother telling her from a young age that she should become a lawyer.  She shared, “One particular word comes to mind when I think of why I do what I do – calling.  My calling is to help people, to carry other people’s burdens, to stand in the gap, resolve problems, take the hits, and make things just a little better, even when it’s tough on me.  That’s why I do what I do.”
  • Chickie Bucco, upon accepting the Inaugural AWM Legacy Leadership Award, thanked her family, and said, “When I started, it was really the Mad Men days.”  She continued, saying, “The people that I worked with and the people that I worked for were wonderful to me.”

“This is a really important event because what it does is really our three pillars – it’s recognition, it’s education and it’s connection,” said Becky Brooks, executive director of AWM.  She continued, “What a gift we have that our education is Elizabeth Smart as a keynote speaker.”

Photos from the event can be found at graciesawards.photos.

Sponsors of the event were Ford Motor Company, CBS Corporation, Benztown, Cox Media Group, Crown Media Family Networks, Cumulus Media, Discovery, Entercom Communications, Katz Media Group, NCTA – The Internet & Television Association, Nielsen, TV One, Univision Communications Inc. and vCreative.

About the Alliance for Women in Media (AWM): The Alliance for Women in Media connects, recognizes and inspires women across the media industry. AWM is a diverse community – whether type of media, job or global location – that facilitates industry-wide collaboration, education, and innovation. Established in 1951 as American Women in Radio & Television (AWRT), AWM is the longest-established professional association dedicated to advancing women in media and entertainment. AWM harnesses the promise, passion and power of women in all forms of media to empower career development, engage in thought leadership, and drive positive change for our industry and societal progress.

Catherine Combs

November, 2019

Uncategorized

Alliance for Women in Media Foundation Announces 45th Gracie Awards Call for Entries Open

The Gracie Awards, presented by the Alliance for Women in Media Foundation (AWMF), has opened the call for entries for the 45th Annual Gracie Awards Gala, May 19, 2020, at the Beverly Wilshire, Beverly Hills, A Four Seasons Hotel, and Gracie Awards Luncheon, June 24, 2020, in New York City at Cipriani 42nd Street. 

“Each year, the Gracie Awards celebrate and honor truly exceptional content by, for and about women.  It is our belief that recognizing expertise, courage and contributions across television, radio and interactive/digital media is essential to ensuring continued growth for our industry,” says Becky Brooks, AWMF executive director. “As our biggest fundraiser of the year, the Gracies enables the Alliance for Women in Media Foundation to deliver on its promise of furthering the connection, education and recognition of women in media.”

Serving again as chairs for the 2020 Gracie Awards are Mike McVay, president, McVay Media Consulting and Alliance for Women in Media Foundation board members Heather Cohen, executive vice president, The Weiss Agency and Annie Howell, co-founder and managing partner, The Punch Point Group. Vicangelo Bulluck, an Emmy Award-winning, seasoned veteran in awards production, has produced the Gracie Awards since 2016 and will return to produce the Gracie Awards Gala in 2020.

Each year, attention is given to evaluating categories, and this year that included adding a category for showrunners in television and creating more avenues for radio hosts/co-hosts by adding categories for Outstanding News Anchor and Weekend Host Personality.

Highlights of the 2019 Gracies included honoring outstanding and powerful talent such as: Leah Remini for Scientology and the Aftermath; Christina Hendricks & Retta accepting on behalf of the cast of Good Girls; Elizabeth Perkins of Sharp Objects; Angela Yee of top-rated Breakfast Club morning radio show; Rachel Bloom of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend; and, Hannah Storm & Andrea Kramer as the first female NFL sports commentating team.  Melora Hardin and many other presenters joined Lauren Ash from Superstore as our host and Sheryl Crow as entertainment for the night. 

The 2019 Gracie Awards entry eligibility air dates are from January 1, 2019, through December 31, 2019. Early Bird rates for entries end on December 12, 2019, at 11:59 PM Eastern. The deadline for all entries is January 16, 2019, at 11:59 PM Eastern. Entry details including pricing, updated categories can be viewed at https://allwomeninmedia.org/gracies/call-for-entries/. 

To see more about the 2019 Gracie Awards, including the media release and past video, visit https://allwomeninmedia.org/gracies/.

About the Alliance for Women in Media Foundation: In 1960, the Alliance for Women in Media became the first professional broadcasting organization to establish an educational foundation. The Alliance for Women in Media Foundation (formerly known as The Foundation of American Women in Radio & Television) supports and promotes educational programs, charitable activities, public service campaigns and scholarships to benefit the public, the electronic media and allied fields. The Foundation also produces nationally acclaimed recognition programs, including the Gracie Awards®, a gala that honors exemplary programming created by, for or about women. The Alliance for Women in Media Foundation is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit, educational organization. For the latest news on the Gracies, follow The Gracies on Twitter and Facebook. For more information about the Gracie Awards and to submit your entries, please visit www.allwomeninmedia.org/gracies.  

Catherine Combs

October, 2019

Uncategorized

Why are organizations like the Alliance for Women in Media so important today?

By Vanessa Arredondo, 2019 Emerging Voices Scholarship Recipient

Women are making significant strides in media and mass communications. More women are directing films, becoming war correspondents and taking on executive roles. But despite an increase of gender diversity in fields where there has historically been none, women are still vastly underrepresented and undistinguished for their accomplishments in news media.

According to the Columbia Journalism Review, only 16 percent of all Pulitzer Prize winners in the 100 years of the award’s existence have been women.

A lack of representation and acknowledgement make it necessary to have organizations such as the Alliance for Women in Media (AWM). Every year, the institution awards its Gracies Leadership Award to women who have made significant impacts and inspirational contributions to the business. The annual Gracies Awards recognize women who are making positive social changes by increasing visibility for women and their narratives in media and entertainment.

The organization, created by women for women, not only celebrates the various accomplishments of women in media, but encourages, supports, educates and trains the next generation who wish to pursue a career in the industry.

Educating and supporting women to pursue a career in media is a fundamental goal for the AWM—and for good reason. According to the Women’s Media Center (WMC), women receive 37 percent of bylines and credits across all news platforms.

A study by the Pew Research Center determined that the percentage of white and male workers in U.S. newsrooms was higher than national workforce rates. The nation’s 135 most widely circulated newspapers have an overwhelmingly male and white editorial staff, according to the Columbia Journalism Review. This is all in spite of the fact that women continue to outnumber men in college and university journalism programs, according to the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.

A lack of women in news means that many stories, especially those sensitive to gender politics, are reported with a male perspective. Studies show that men receive more bylines for articles about women’s reproductive rights. Additionally, a 2017 Washington Post Op-Ed states that, across all media groups, only 27 percent of the people quoted in a male journalist’s article were women.

Without female reporters, 50 percent of the population are less likely to be given an appropriate platform to speak. Equal representation can be easily achieved by hiring more women in newsrooms. Studies show that women are more likely to include women sources in their reporting. Increasing diversity in the newsroom allows for more well-rounded reporting.

Through organizations such as the AWM, women can network and meet talented, successful and up-and-coming women in the media industry who can guide them on how to start their careers or help them get their foot in the door. AWM allows women to raise each other up, look out for each other and celebrate the amazing things others might have overlooked.

Catherine Combs

October, 2019

Uncategorized

Vanessa Arredondo, Ford Emerging Voices Scholarship Recipient

Vanessa Arredondo’s Scholarship-Winning Essay

I walked into the newsroom fifteen minutes after midnight, late, my apology ready at the lips. The lights were on; reporters and editors were frantically running around, yelling commands and information. The newsroom, that was usually quiet until reporters started trickling in at 3 a.m., was buzzing with excitement.

I had just walked into my ABC 7 Early Morning News internship half an hour after news broke of a mass shooting at the Thousand Oaks Borderline Bar & Grill.

As a student journalist, this incident has been the most significant media event in my life, because it is the first national breaking news story in which I was part of the news-gathering process, working alongside writers, editors and reporters. It provided me with a chance to put my knowledge to the test in a high-pressure situation, dealing with an incredibly sensitive subject. It also made me seriously consider how this career path can weigh on one’s mental and emotional well-being.

That night, I answered phone calls, monitored social media for official updates, watched the Air 7 helicopter feed in police rescue efforts, and contacted witnesses and families of victims to give us details about the incident. I tried my best to be sensitive, thanking people for speaking with me and wishing them well.

Thousand Oaks was about a half hour away. It was a city that people didn’t know about unless they had connections to the San Fernando Valley. To us, it was an affluent neighborhood, quiet and safe. Now it has become known for this.

My shift ended at 8 a.m., and I was off until Tuesday. I had a lot of time to reflect during that weekend, and I wondered: How do journalists do this every day? How can they see so much tragedy and continue with this career path?

The shooting in Thousand Oaks made me realize that anything can happen anywhere. For a while, I didn’t leave the safety of my home. I thought about the sarcastic mantra “If it bleeds, it leads,” and was reminded of the freeway accidents we covered and the gruesome caught-on-video attacks that we pulled from the internet.

I spoke to journalists and professors about covering tragedy, and many told me they had to desensitize themselves early in their careers. Some had to step away from their jobs for a period of time after a particularly harrowing event.

Because of this incident, I reflected on what measures I would take to care for my emotional and mental needs. It made me realize that sensitivity is not antithetical to good journalism. I saw that people want and need to be heard, and journalists can act as facilitators to accomplish that.

As I continue my practice as a reporter for UC Berkeley’s student newspaper the Daily Californian, I find myself gravitating toward stories that underscore issues in communities. I would like for my journalism to serve as a platform for those who are underserved and struggling, for those who aren’t being heard. 

Catherine Combs

September, 2019

Uncategorized

“Let Your Life Do the Singing”

By Rashida Jones, senior vice president for specials at NBC News and MSNBC, and Gracies Ambassador

O Hampton, we never can make thee a song,

Except as our lives do the singing,

In service that will thy great spirit prolong,

And send it through centuries ringing!

At 17 years and seven months, I first sang this phrase with hundreds of other students who matriculated to my alma mater, Hampton University. It is part of our school song, a song students learn as Freshman and never repeat again until they walk across the stage at graduation. 

The concept is a weighty one. Build a profile that represents who you are, so people have a clear picture of your brand without you having to utter a word. At 17 years and seven months, I had no idea what song I wanted my life to sing. I had no concept of what mark I wanted to make in my field or in my community. 

But I learned early on the importance of this philosophy and it’s one that has stuck with me decades later.

Your daily actions color how people view your work ethic and character. Volunteer for a work project and your bosses see you as ambitious. Go out of your way to acknowledge your colleagues on their big wins and others characterize you as gracious and kind. The opposite can be true-get caught up in office gossip and your peers see you as petty and unprofessional. Show up to meetings late and unprepared and colleagues may think you are lazy and don’t care about your work.  

It is not all about impressing others. In fact, it’s not at *all* about impressing anyone. It is all about choosing to make decisions that reflect the best version of you that you can offer. Are YOU happy with the story you tell? Do YOU feel like you are being your best self? Does YOUR life pay homage to those who have sacrificed for you to reach certain heights? 

As you think about the song your life is singing, it’s important you maintain a sense of authenticity while creating purpose. Do not create an artificial version of yourself. You will never be able to sustain the caricature and it’s demoralizing to not be authentically you. You just have to own it and be purposeful in how you represent yourself. 

We’ll treasure the dear happy days

We’ve spent here in life’s preparation,

Yet go with brave hearts upon our chosen ways,

Of service to God and our nation.

The ode ends with a charge to each of us to serve. When painting the picture of who you are and what you represent, if your greatest accomplishments do not reflect what you have done to help others, then you still have a lot of work to do. As women, it is our responsibility to ensure we are doing everything we can to help others find their purpose and help script the songs they want their lives to sing. It is our responsibility to bring someone else along for the ride.

Catherine Combs

September, 2019

Press Release

Elizabeth Smart to Keynote the Gracies Leadership Awards Presented by the Alliance for Women in Media

The Alliance for Women in Media (AWM) is pleased to announce  Elizabeth Smart, author, founder of the “Elizabeth Smart Foundation” and children’s advocate, will serve as keynote at the Gracies Leadership Awards on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019, at The Plaza Hotel, New York City.  The annual event provides an opportunity to recognize and celebrate the significant impact women have made in the media industry, while also spurring to action and emboldening female leaders in attendance.  The list of this year’s honorees will be announced soon.

“The Alliance for Women in Media has a strong history of supporting and celebrating women in media.  I am honored to be a part of an event that aims to inspire a new generation of trailblazers,” said Elizabeth Smart, past Gracie winner and keynote speaker for the event.

Elizabeth Smart is best known for her abduction in 2002 and has since become the founder of the “Elizabeth Smart Foundation” and an advocate for change related to child abduction, recovery programs, and National legislation.  She is also the author of the New York Times best-selling book “My Story”, “You’re Not Alone: The Journey From Abduction to Empowerment” and “Where There’s Hope.”   

“The Alliance for Women in Media is proud to honor women for their extraordinary accomplishments,” said Becky Brooks, executive director, AWM/F. “It is our honor to have Elizabeth Smart, a past Gracie winner, as this year’s keynote speaker, as her address will surely inspire and empower all in attendance.”   

Tickets are available for AWM members at a rate of $250 and for non-members at a rate of $350. A special student rate of $100 is available for undergraduate students with proof of enrollment. Students may also apply for a sponsored ticket made available through the CBS Fellowship.

For table sales with premium seating or additional support opportunities, contact Alliance for Women in Media Executive Director Becky Brooks at becky.brooks@allwomeninmedia.org.

For more information on this event or to reserve your seat, visit https://allwomeninmedia.org/events/gracies-leadership-award/.

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About the Alliance for Women in Media (AWM): The Alliance for Women in Media connects, recognizes and inspires women across the media industry. AWM is a diverse community – whether type of media, job or global location – that facilitates industry-wide collaboration, education, and innovation. Established in 1951 as American Women in Radio & Television (AWRT), AWM is the longest-established professional association dedicated to advancing women in media and entertainment. AWM harnesses the promise, passion and power of women in all forms of media to empower career development, engage in thought leadership, and drive positive change for our industry and societal progress.

Catherine Combs

August, 2019

Uncategorized

Tracey Quezada’s Winning Entry for the 2019 Ford “Empowering America” Scholarship

Tracey Quezada, the winner of the 2019 Ford “Empowering America” Scholarship, submitted this video profiling Danielle Castro, a transgender, Latina activist. Tracey is pursuing a Masters in Journalism at UC Berkeley.

Tracey Quezada’s Winning Entry

Catherine Combs

August, 2019

Uncategorized

(Dis)ability is Not Inability

By Julia Morrison, 2019 Loreen Arbus Foundation & AWMF Scholarship Winner

If all determination is through negation, then disability is not inability, nor is it a lack of strength, desire or resolve. (Dis)ability is an opportunity to explore what it means to be a human being in all of our infinite glory. The Latin prefix dis- means ‘apart’; disability as apart from ability, but not as mutually exclusive. What may constrain a person in one area may liberate them in another through the gift of profound insight. Some of humanity’s most important discoveries were born from the minds of those who struggled with disabilities, people whose experience of time & the universe were unlike the experiences of others. Among those who have contributed groundbreaking insight to humankind include dyslexic Albert Einstein, who gave us the theory of relativity; theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, bound to a wheelchair & dependent on a computerized voice, transported us to other dimensions of space-time with a theory of cosmology; A Beautiful Mind mathematician John Nash Jr closed gaps in game theory with his internal life rich with numbers & schizophrenic characters; Thomas Edison, America’s greatest inventor of the motion picture camera, electric light bulb & more, made use of a hearing aid; & life-long disability advocate Helen Keller, who touched the lives of millions with her unparalleled vision for peace & radical progress even though she couldn’t see or hear a thing. I believe that Ability is a philosophy of life rooted in the spirit of the scientific method, for better it is to try, fail & try again, then never to have tried at all.

Language is the key, but where is the door? The words we choose to define our lives, ourselves, & each other are inextricably tied to the outcomes we receive. Words take shape, giving form to ideas like seeds give sprout to trees in an old growth forest. My speech impediment led me to study my voice & language, practices that serve me well as the artist, actress & writer I am. I may not have pronounced clearly my ‘R’s’ until the age of thirteen, but that didn’t stop me from speaking poetry as a child or my truth loud enough to send the man who molested me years earlier to prison in third grade – the same year I started speech therapy. To some, I could have been from New England, while others insisted I spoke like a baby. Random kids I’d never seen or met before would demand I entertain them a few sentences as I’d try to pass in the hallway. They’d sneak in one more laugh, meanwhile I’d find another time & place pretending to be dinosaurs with a few friends on the school’s front lawn. But even my best friends couldn’t resist the temptation to interrupt me mid-sentence to showcase their best rendition of “I park my car in Harvard yard” & wait for me to say it in turn. “C’mon, say it: I pahk my cah in Hahvahd yahd”, they’d push until I’d cave like the prehistoric bones in my velociraptor body.

The year preceding my graduation from speech therapy was wild: my brother & I were homeless, Columbine happened, Clinton faced impeachment & my Grandma died while the whole world watched, anxious with anticipation as Y2K came & never showed up. But I was used to things & people not showing up by then. As someone who overcame my impediment later in life & a child of foster care, I was surprised to learn that 70% of children in the foster system struggle with an impediment or disability. I am beyond grateful for my school for identifying my speech impediment & getting me the therapy I needed. I even looked forward to the hour I’d spend every Friday during my Physical Education class working on my speech while my peers ran a mile around the racetrack. Instead I got to be inside perusing images, shapes, colors, & syllables while practicing my ‘R’ sound in a small room wedged between the main office & the boys’ bath woom – excuse me: room. To this day I slip up in speech when I’m anxious, but my therapist taught me there is nothing we cannot achieve when we take our time & articulate our target outcome into a series of clear, identifiable steps. Figuring out how different parts of my tongue fit into the corners of my upper cleft & met my individual teeth was like finding a whole new landscape within myself – a body map defined yet free from border. In facing my struggle, I discovered new parts of my Self.

I believe in the power of film to ignite social change, catalyze catharsis for self-growth & most importantly: heal. I hope to use my story to help people. Music, myth & metaphor are the three most powerful signatures in the world, which is why I cherish the art of cinema. I aim to maximize my focus over these next few years in my educational career so I may pay this debt forward in the aspiration of helping others. My next great challenge is to honor the girl I raised to turn the page & deliver her story to the big screen. As an actress, artist, & activist, I can appreciate that some of the greatest moments in our lives have the power to render us disabled: the butterfly in our stomach that takes our breath away, the cries of a man as he screams “I can’t breathe’ that render us speechless, or the depressive spell that seeps into every facet of our lives & cripples our spirit. Whether it be physical, that moment we jumped & took a risk, or something intangible, extreme vulnerability harbors an ancient wealth, 1 a secret gem unique to each individual that only she can mine, for in the struggle of its discovery holds the truth behind what makes the human spirit the most dynamic force in the world, as the butterfly strengthens its wings breaking from its cocoon to fly.

On my last day in speech therapy, my therapist paused, expressing concern about my ‘-ing’ sound. I let out a sigh resounding throughout the hallway, closing the door behind me as she pulled out a deck of cards I’d never seen before. I read them off for her one at a time:

Hoping.

Working.

Wishing.

Laughing.

Crying.

Dreaming.

Praying.

Loving.

Falling.

Trying.

“How’s that,” I begged her, “is that good enough?”

She smiled & said, “You’re good to go”.