Veena Rangaswami – Act like a lady, Think like a BOSS

By coincidence, our next amazing woman we are featuring that we know personally is ALSO in Memphis, TN. We asked Veena Rangawami, another great friend of HerStory, to answer a few questions about her passion for public service and what motivates her.

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Q: Why are you interested in public service?
A: I’ve never known a life without public service. I grew up in a small town in the Delta as the daughter of two physicians who encouraged my older brother and me to give back for as long as I can remember. My career in public service has evolved a lot over the years, but it has its roots in my Delta childhood.

Q: How did you get started in public service?
A: I grew up in one of the ten poorest counties in the country, and every day my parents would come home with stories of patients whose families could not afford medical treatment. My father is a pediatrician who never turned away a child because of a family’s inability to pay, and that was a lesson I took to heart from a young age. I had the opportunity to go to boarding school for my last two years of high school where I became involved in daily service and learned more about how to serve my community. That involvement continued through various programs in undergrad, after which I moved to India and worked as a program manager for an NGO in Bangalore. Each opportunity has led to the next, and I feel like I have now come full circle.

Q: What do you do now?
A: I am the COLLABORATE Specialist for the Bridge Builders program at BRIDGES in Memphis, TN. That’s a fancy way of saying I coordinate our summer leadership conferences for rising 11th and 12th graders and help to run our year-round program. We bring together 7th-12th graders from around the greater Memphis area to participate in experiential-learning workshops and then discuss ways they can use their newfound skills to create change in their communities. I have the honor of watching our students grow as leaders in their neighborhoods and their schools, and I know how cliched it sounds but I really do feel like I have found my dream job.

Q: What advice would you give a woman coming up in public service?
A: I saw a woman wearing a shirt at a recent festival in Memphis, and the image of it has stayed with me; it said, “Act like a lady, Think like a BOSS.”

Q: Tell me about a powerful moment you’ve had while in public service?
A: During the first week of Senior Conference this summer, I was speaking with one of our Bridge Builders. He is a very sincere, thoughtful young man, and when I said in passing that it seems like he has been a Bridge Builder his entire life, he responded with “Maybe it’s because BRIDGES is the only place where I feel I can always be myself.” He said it so casually, but it really drove home the impact of the work we are doing.

Q: If you had to choose a meme or gif to demonstrate your daily work life, which one would you choose?

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Q: Who is your role model?
A: 
I have so many, but I keep coming back to Joli Anderson. Joli was the director of the service program at Baylor School, my high school alma mater, for over 20 years and has been one of the greatest teachers I’ve ever known. She is the person who first introduced me to daily service, who gave me my first service leadership role, and who afforded me my first opportunity to combine travel and service. Over the years I have turned to Joli again and again, and she continues to be one of the greatest inspirations in my life.

Q: What Instagram account do you like to check when you need a distraction?
A:  

P.S. Veena is awesome. This is just the tip of the iceberg of her awesomeness. She also has one of the best grams herself – @veen_83. You should totally follow her.

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An ode to Beverley Bass

With the anniversary of 9/11 coming up, let’s talk about Beverley Bass. A friend of mine was visiting NYC last spring and told me about the musical Come From Away which tells the true story of what happened when 38 planes were ordered to land unexpectedly in the small town of Gander, Newfoundland. As you can probably guess, Gander is a small community and they had not seen that many planes since World War II. Literally, the planes were lined up wing to wing and there wasn’t an inch of concrete left on the tarmac. The entire town of Gander came out to support the “plane people” and showed up with bags of sandwiches, medicine, blankets, and hospitality. It makes for a really good musical, but when the writers were scouting out Gander, one of the residents reportedly said, “Are you going to make a musical about people making sandwiches? Good luck with that.” Come From Away isn’t about the easiest lunch to make, but it does wonderfully capture a unique day in history and the events that unfolded in the wake of 9/11.

Cue Beverley Bass, one the main characters of the musical, who was piloting a plane from Dallas to Paris when she heard the news and was immediately rerouted to Newfoundland. This is not a story about 9/11. This is a story about the legendary Beverley Bass.

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Beverley Bass was one of many pilots flying on 9/11 who was ordered to divert her plane to Newfoundland. While the events and what happened in those critical moments are significant, Beverley Bass had already made history. She was the third woman hired by American Airlines and became the first female pilot promoted to captain in 1986. Weeks later, Beverley made news again by leading an all-female flight crew. The landing was covered by press from all over the world. All Beverley ever wanted to do was fly planes.

When she told her parents she wanted to take flying lessons, her father wasn’t on board with the idea at first, preferring her to stick to the family business of taking care of the horses. But after she started her freshman year at Texas Christian University (TCU), she finally began taking lessons and quickly became certified and ready to fly. Finding a job was not easy. Women were not pilots back then and she was often asked in interviews “But what would the wives of the executives think?” At 21, the flight school Beverley attended desperately needed a pilot to fly a body to Arkansas, but none of the male pilots would do it. Beverley jumped on the opportunity and it wasn’t too long before her passengers were a bit more lively (pun intended).

After 9/11 occurred, the thought of flying felt dangerous for passengers and flight crews alike. But not for Beverley being the professional that she is, “I will fly anything, anywhere. Whatever you need flown, I will fly it.”

Earlier this year Come From Away opened on Broadway after a record-breaking run at the La Jolla theatre. And Beverley may have broken another record! She has followed the play from La Jolla, to Seattle, Washington, Gander, Toronto, and now New York and seen it over 60 times often accompanied by fellow female pilots or her husband.

I love musicals and listening to Beverley Bass’s song on Come From Away brings so many emotions. Give it a listen! Jenn Colella plays Beverley Bass in the musical and is a phenomenal singer. I’m hoping Queenjules and I can go see it some day.

There are a lot of great articles and blogs posts about Beverley Bass, so if you want to read more, check out the following:

Flight to Success blog “911 and Beverley Bass”
Dallas News, “Tales of 9/11: Beverley Bass took a detour to Gander”
NY Times “A Pioneering Pilot, a Broadway Show, and a Life Changing Bond”

Kayla Brooks – Well behaved women seldom make history

We are trying something a little new here at HerStory and highlighting the women we know personally that we admire and who inspire us on a daily basis. We are starting with Kayla Brooks, a good friend of HerStory working in Memphis, TN. We asked Kayla a few questions about her passion for public service and what motivates her.

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Q: Why are you interested in public service?
A: I am interested in public service because there are systems in place to disenfranchise certain people (poor, black, women, etc.) and I want to work toward dismantling those systems and supporting those affected by them.

Q: How did you get started in public service?
A: I started in public service as a result of my parents. They were extremely active with my childhood church and that is where I gained a lot of early exposure.

Q: What do you do now?
A: I currently serve as a Network Manager for an education focused nonprofit. In this role, I provide training for our partners geared toward capacity building and facilitation.

Q: If you used a wordle to list all the types of service and advocacy that you are passionate about, which words would be biggest?

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Q: In tweet-format (140 characters), what advice have you gotten about being a woman in public service that most rings true for you?
A: @herstory Well behaved women seldom make history

Q: What advice would you give a woman coming up in public service?
A: Don’t be afraid to speak your mind or be yourself.

Q: Is there a book that has influenced you that you’d like to share?
A. Pedagogy of the Oppressed – the book describes how change must occur and the voice of those most oppressed must be at the center of the conversation

Q: If you had to choose a meme or gif to demonstrate your daily work life, which one would you choose? 

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P.S. We love Kayla. She also started a great networking event series for women, recently starred in a show in Memphis, and is generally one of the most delightful humans ever.

I, Activist.

Last month, I spent a few weeks in Belize, doing all sorts of things. Randomly on one of the last days, I was introduced to the concept of an Earth Ship. It’s nothing to do with aliens but rather a home that is completely created from recycled materials, self-sufficient, and totally off grid. And across one of the walls was this quote from Rigoberta Menchu:

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BrownEyedJude and I have discussed Ms. Menchu a few times because she’s the classic definition of a woman who felt compelled to stand up against injustice. You might have seen her book, My Name is Rigoberta Menchú, on pretty much every lists of social justice books.  (Book Nerd Alert: The book is often mistakenly filed under memoir/autobiography but was actually created around a series of interviews done by a Venezuelan author. She had only been speaking Spanish for 3 years by the time she had the interview. I doubt she used Duolingo to learn it.)

Rigoberta grew up in a activist family, with her father being a member of one of the guerrilla groups in Guatemala, but she used her own voice to resist the oppression of the Guatemalan government and to bring to the international community the reality of the civil war in her country. She amplified the voices of the Maya Indian community in Latin America and she was run out of her own country. She still finds it difficult to return due to the frequent death threats.

She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 and is a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador. I’m not sure what an UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador has to do but it seems pretty cool. She elevated her Nobel Prize experience and formed the Nobel Women’s Initiative with the other five female Peace Prize winners. The idea behind the Initiative is to support women’s groups around the world in promoting peace and justice.

My “favorite” [insert sarcasm font] part of her story is the mansplaining that a historian tried to do on her book. He went back and interviewed many of her friends and family and tried to prove that everything she said was false and tried to get the Nobel Prize people to take back the prize. Rude. Years later, he said in ONE interview that she was actually pretty accurate in the book but he refused to change his book or apologize. Dude. Not Cool.

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BAMF Hillary Rodham Clinton

On November 12th I came home from work, sat on my couch watched Hillary Clinton’s concession speak while drinking a glass of wine and cried my eyes out. To punish myself further I watched her speech multiple times that week and repeated this ritual. Her words that day gave me a wormhole tunnel back to the United States version of love, hope, and acceptance that seemed so distant from the parallel universe of building walls, bullying, and gilded everything. Turns out Secretary Clinton and I have many things in common, we both like long walks in the woods, fugly fleece, and wine. Yo, you go girl! Whatsapp me and let’s hang.

Secretary Clinton’s commencement speech to Wellesley Class of 2017 was honest, articulate, and on point. Girl had many things to say about he who shall who not be named. Seriously she didn’t say his name but got her point across.

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You are graduating at a time when there is a full-fledged assault on truth and reason.

And once again Secretary Clinton reminded young women that they are powerful, important, and worthy of achieving their dreams.

Watch the video above and you might want to have some tissues nearby.

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Should’ve worn goggles

Katherine Hepburn and I have a lot in common. Not only do our names have some of the same letters in them, we also both almost went blind while acting. She famously fell into a Venice canal multiple times for a shoot, which caused a series eye infection that she struggled with for the rest of her life. I was randomly in a transportation commercial a few weekends ago when I was visiting BrownEyedJude and somehow managed to hurt my eye, leading to a swollen eye requiring antibiotics and 2 days of a weird puffy eye. See? Totally the same. I will take anything that puts Katherine Hepburn and I in the same category.

Growing up, like any good theater kid, I was obsessed with old movies (shocking, right?). Of course I had no context so I didn’t realize that the strong, independent women that I gravitated towards in these movies were an anomaly. Lauren Bacall and Katherine Hepburn frequently played women who were not stereotypical. They wore pants (GASP), smoked cigarettes (gross but still mindblowing for the time), and generally did what they wanted.

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You could be asking why I am featuring yet another actress in our public service ladies blog. For me, groundbreaking actresses portraying independent women who refuse the “traditional” gender roles have an enormous impact in changing people’s ideas and open doors for women to express themselves in their own fields. Not only that but Ms. Hepburn openly supported access to birth control and abortions when birth control was frowned upon and abortions were illegal.

In addition, most people don’t realize that she was aggressively opposed to the McCarthyism that swept Hollywood in the 1940s. She was active in the Committee for the First Amendment, a group that supported the Hollywood Ten, ten individuals who were cited for contempt by Congress after refusing to answer questions about their supposed involvement with the Communist Party.

If you aren’t already a fan, I encourage you to watch Katherine in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” or “The African Queen” or “The Philadelphia Story”. You’ll feel empowered and inspired.

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The Day After Tomorrow

I’ve been circling the idea of writing about Margaret Atwood for a while. An amazing author, a fascinating personality, lover of comics and social media…she’s a symbol of female empowerment for me. I mean, she says things like this:

“’Why do men feel threatened by women?’ I asked a male friend of mine.
“’They are afraid women will laugh at them’, he said, ‘undercut their world view.’
“Then I asked some women students, ‘Why do women feel threatened by men?’ ”’They are afraid of being killed,’ they said.”

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Everyone knows her as an author. After all, my favorite novel of hers is being shown on Hulu right now, with the insanely talented Elisabeth Moss as Offred. Other books of hers (Alias Grace and the Maddam series) are being developed for our viewing pleasure. She even collaborates on a graphic novel series, Angel CatBird. She writes real good. You should always start with Handmaid’s Tale but if you like her, go with Cat’s Eye (reflection of an artist’s childhood), Blind Assassin (a story within a story, fascinating), or Oryx and Crake (another dystopian and first of the MaddAddam series). Her books tend to focus on a woman or women finding their strength and exposing secrets. They are usually oppressed by men as well.

But Margaret Atwood is prolific outside of the written page too. She’s a huge animal advocate and her Angel Catbird graphic novels are intended to educate about the perils facing cats and bird. She partnered with Nature Canada, encouraging owners to keep their domestic cats from roaming and protecting the environment’s natural ecosystem.

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She’s a frequent political commentator. If you don’t follow her on Twitter, you really should. She isn’t afraid to share her opinion and is a strong feminist (no matter what people try to say about her). Even though she’s a hardcore Canadian, her commentary on the recent U.S. election gave me LIFE.

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She’s also an inventor. Since she’s always on book tours, she came up with the brilliant idea to create the LongPen. It allows authors to sign books even if they aren’t there. People who show up for a signing can even talk to the author through the pen. Sounds randomly weird but I can see other uses. It’s still in its early stages so I’m excited to see all the uses. As I see how it could be used for evil, I hope it remains a positive invention.

Margaret Atwood refuses to be boxed in and remains using her voice to amplify issues and use fiction as a form of educational tool. I think, at minimum, we should require a deep dive into the Handmaid’s Tale but we can all learn from her and her life. As she says:

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12 Angry Men + Some

Hi, friends! Browneyedjude here, after a mini sabbatical, I’m back from my adventures to distant lands oceans away. I’ve missed you!

I am obsessed with true crime stories. 48 hours, Forensic Files, Cold Case, pretty much the entire Investigation Discovery network lineup. It’s a really good thing I don’t have cable because I would probably never get anything done. One of my best friends, Edna, is also obsessed with true crime stories, and sometimes we ask each other about specific episodes or crimes.

When Serial came out, I was all about it and would have debates with anyone who would listen about Adnan’s verdict and whether or not he did it. For the record, I don’t think he did it, and you can’t convince me otherwise. I mean he was seen in the library around the time of the murder. And what about those cell phone records? Sketch! But one thing that we should all agree on is Sarah Koenig’s awful hosting job of the podcast. The waffling back and forth. No true crime story addict would be so doubtful and unsure of who the murderer is. That’s the thing about me, I don’t have any legal or criminal justice background, but I can give my best opinion of a case because I have played Clue about 100 times.

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Since I’m too lazy to go through law school or study for the bar, I have always dreamed of serving on a jury of a high-profile case. I’ve only been called once but it was an outdated address and I had already moved out of state. To think – I could have totally been 12 Angry Men!

Speaking of jurors and a baker’s dozen of angry men, I recently came across this interesting story about a woman named Gwendolyn Hoyt in the book My Own Words which is a collection of speeches, writings, and stories of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Let’s set the scene, shall we? It’s 1957 in northern Florida. Gwendolyn Hoyt is married to a man named Clarence Hoyt. One summer evening Gwendolyn confronts Clarence about his skirt chasin’ ways. I don’t know exactly what he said, but it’s pretty clear he offered a half-assed apology. Gwendolyn is madder than a wampus cat in a rainstorm because her husband just admitted his lyin’, cheatin’ ways and he also wasn’t groveling for forgiveness either. Gwendolyn grabbed a baseball bat to poor Clarence’s noggin’ and well in plain southern speak – Clarence was deader than a doornail.

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When Gwendolyn’s case went to trial, as you might suspect in the late 50’s in the south, the defense, prosecutor, and judge were male. Shocker. Right? What is interesting about this case, however, is that according to Florida state law at that time, women were not required to be part of the jury pool. In fact, it was entirely up to women in the state of Florida, if they wanted to register to be on a jury pool at all, so a very small fraction of women were even able to be selected for the trial. As a result, Gwendolyn was tried by an all-male jury. It took them exactly 25 minutes to hand down their guilty verdict. Other key facts brought to this trial were the fact that Gwendolyn had been physically and emotionally abused by Clarence (to which the prosecution summarized as an “unsuccessful marriage” during the trial), that Gwendolyn had hired a baby-sitter previously (was she an unfit mother some juror members thought because she outsourced help?), and the inclusion of damaging testimony from a baby-sitter that claimed Gwendolyn was sleeping with another man. Gwendolyn was handed a 30-year sentence with hard labor by her “peers” and by her peers I mean 6 bros men.

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Gwendolyn argued that had she had a jury that included even some females, she would not have been convicted guilty. She pled temporary insanity. With the help of the ACLU and a motley crew of inexperienced lawyers – her new defense team took the case all the way up to the Supreme Court. The case was argued in 1961. Because women were primarily responsible for household duties and were given the option should they ever choose to register for a jury pool – the Supreme Court upheld the Florida decision and women were not required to have jury duty. At that time, the sentiment was not that women were being prevented from serving on a jury, but that women had the best of both worlds because they could work in the home or be a public servant. But of course, it was not possible or expected to be both.wife-13-600x824

In 1975, Taylor v Louisiana (which is another story for another time) overturned Hoyt v Florida and it was decided that women could not be excluded from a jury pool on the basis of having to register for a jury pool. Huzzah! Finally, juries would be filled with women and representative of the population. No more 12,000,000 Angry Men juries!

You might be wondering what happened to Gwendolyn. Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to find any mention of her outside of her trial and the Supreme Court Case. I was only barely able to find a footnote of her life in a 1993 Washington Post article which stated Gwendolyn was eventually released and she returned to live a quiet life in her hometown.

So, ladies, the next time you get called for jury duty think of where it all began.

P.S. Despite what it may seem, I actually recommend watching 12 Angry Men if you haven’t seen it yet.

Ice, Ice Baby…too cold, too cold

If you’ve been wondering why you’ve only seen posts from QueenJules, it’s because BrowneyedJude has been on an adventure on another continent. She returns today, bleary-eyed and inspired. Before she takes a well-deserved nap and returns to our blog, let’s throw out all the blueberry kombucha (so gross) and learn a little more about some of my favorite lady adventurers. I have a soft spot for lady travelers. I posted about one of the most famous ones in an earlier post, Nelly Bly, and I follow a few current bloggers that focus on solo women traveling. My interest stems from my own wanderlust (which BrowneyedJude also shares). I can’t wait to see all of the big 7s: continents, seas, and wonders.*

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My interest in Liv Arnesen and Ann Bancroft comes from my deep desire to visit Antarctica. I know they would totally understand this desire since they were the first women to ski and sail across the entirety of Antarctica’s land mass in 2001. In case you aren’t up on your geography, that’s 1,717 miles. They completed it in 94 days. As many can tell you, I complain about a flight of stairs. 1700 miles is almost unfathomable to me especially when you consider that Antarctica isn’t an easy place to take a stroll. Individually, these ladies are pretty amazing already but together, they are just beyond words.

1200px-Liv_Arnesen_Portrait.jpgBorn in Norway, Liv Arnesen had been breaking records before she strolled across Antarctica with Ann Bancroft. In 1992, she was part of the first women’s only team to make an unsupported crossing of Greenland’s icecap. In 1994, she walked solo to the South Pole (half of her trek with Bancroft. For giggles, she hangs out in the Arctic Circle. On her website, Ms. Arnesen says she is a keen outdoor enthusiast but she isn’t fanatical. If she isn’t fanatical, who is?

246a0d015901306313dfb6c8b3fbeaa3_f244Ann Bancroft (I don’t have to tell you that this isn’t the actress, right?) also was super impressive before she started hanging out with Liv Arnesen. In 1986, as part of a 6 person team, she was the first woman to reach the North Pole with a dogsled, without being resupplied. She also crossed Greenland’s icecap and both polar icecaps to reach the North and South Pole. These days, Ms. Bancroft also advocates for same sex marriage in her home state of Minnesota.

After crossing the Antarctica, they started an exploration company together and can often be found leading expeditions to highlight the devastating effects of climate change on the polar icecaps. They work with schools around the world, teaching kids about the Poles, the environment, outdoor activities, and climate change.

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It’s not hard to admire these ladies. They push themselves physically regularly and care deeply about the world they traverse. They get to put “Explorer” on any forms that require you to fill out your occupation. When I do that, people think I’m ridiculous. Someday it would be awesome to hang out with Liv and Ann although I imagine it will be somewhere pretty chilly. I better wear nine sweaters.

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*Occasionally I run across someone that maintains that there are 5 continents. Weirdos.

**Grammar note: I have no idea whether “ice cap” or “icecap” is correct. Google is not helping resolve this issue.

Sending you a texty text

I love text messages. I love apps that have texts like WhatsApp, SnapChat, etc. I once had 2000 texts in one month between me and one another person. Do the math on that. Other math that is cool? Text messages are opened by people 99-100% of the time. In 2014, 561 billion texts were sent EVERY month. 4.2 billion+ people text every day. 97% of Americans text weekly (my mother is in the 3%). 50% of adults from 18-24 say texts are just as meaningful as a call. (If you need the sources, let me know) Texts are obviously pretty powerful and in my opinion, vastly underutilized as a tool for change. My public service crush, Nancy Lublin, totally agrees with me. She hasn’t told me that directly but based on her career, I think she is down.

I am not inspired by helping you find Chinese food at 2am in Dallas, or swipe right to get laid. I want to use tech and data to make the world a better place.”* Nancy Lublin

Ms. Lublin has dedicated her professional life to supporting people, starting with an organization called Dress for Success. She started D4S in the mid-90s with a 5k inheritance and a few nuns as partners and it continues to this day by providing professional attire and development skills around the world. The entire organization is founded on the dream that every woman can achieve her full potential and full financial independence. As anyone can tell you, when you look good, you feel good. You feel good – it’s amazing what you can accomplish.
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Once D4S was standing on its own, Ms. Lublin moved on to DoSomething.org. Started in the early 90s by one of my favorite Melrose Place actors (hello, Andrew Shue), DoSomething focuses on empowering young people to make positive change in their communities. Some of my favorite programs include Diversify my Emoji (to get Apple to create non-white emojis), Nude Awakening (to convince Merriam-Webster and other dictionaries to create a more inclusive definition of “nude”) and Teens for Jeans (a nationwide jeans drive to provide jeans to homeless youth). I enjoy the play on words for most of the programs and their commitment to try and reach young’uns where they are at.

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During one of their programs, DoSomething used a text blast. One of the responses shook Ms. Lublin so badly, she started Crisis Text Line in her spare time. I can’t do justice to the story so you can check out her TedTalk. Designed to be an anonymous, free, text line to provide support when anyone is in a crisis. It’s not designed to be a long term solution but helps people talk through their problems, reach out for help, and brainstorm ideas for support.  It’s a great solution, using a method that has such an incredibly high response rate. It allows people to reach out by texting 741741 or through Facebook, no matter what their situation. I don’t have any jokes about this. This organization is awesome. I even volunteer for it as a crisis counselor. Ms. Lublin left DoSomething to focus on CTL because the organization grew so quickly. It really addressed a need that no one else had noticed.

That’s the common theme for Nancy Lublin. She sees a need that seems to have gone unnoticed and designs something to address it. As for her being my public service crush, she regularly gets on the platform and she once messaged me individually to thank me for helping out. I legit squealed IRL. I once met a friend of a friend of hers and was not articulate once he started talking about her. I almost fear what happens if I ever meet her in person. It won’t be pretty. Probably similar to how I would react when/if I ever meet any of the badass ladies we feature on this blog.

*Pretty sure this should be a t-shirt