The Making of Overhaul of Advocacy, a Resource Database for Allies and Antiracists
Carlyn LaGrone was born on the West Coast, went to elementary school on the East Coast, middle school in the South, and graduated from high school in the Midwest. Growing up in primarily white communities, Carlyn struggled for years with self-love and appreciation for her Blackness. It wasn’t until college that she unlearned many negative attitudes about her skin color and instead, felt confident in her identity and began to truly love being a Black woman in this country.
Carlyn studied healthcare and the system in undergrad and graduate school with a true passion for improving the health and wellbeing of marginalized communities. She has had the opportunity to work in roles dedicated to women’s health, queer health, and the existing health disparities for Black people. She’s a self-professed enthusiastic learner, an eager listener, and is growing to be an effective leader. Carlyn welcomes the challenge and opportunity to better serve others around her and to do this important work.
Mary is a queer, cisgender woman living in California, in the Muwekma Ohlone native land. She’s dedicated to unlearning unconscious biases and being a positive learner in the movement towards a just and equitable world. As a fifth-grade teacher, her advocacy work stems from the deep need to teach her students how to be agents of change and own the power they were born with.
*For purposes of this podcast transcript, we use the initials GR for Gina, MH for Mary, and CL for Carlyn.
MH: Hello. Thank you so much for that awesome introduction. You truly made me feel very humbled.
GR: You are the difference we need in the world.
MH: Thank you.
GR: I really mean that because it takes people who are brave, who want to get out and speak up in order to bring people together as agents of change. I would love to learn from the two of you. Why don’t we start with Carlyn and then jump over to Mary:
Tell our listeners about Overhaul of Advocacy. What is it and how did it start?
CL: Overhaul of Advocacy is a database that we created. Mary reached out to me during the time when things were getting more intense in our country — in May, after the murder of George Floyd. She was working on this Google doc and said, “I think it is really important to talk about how people can be better allies.” She said, “I am not sure if you have seen any resources or anything that you want to add to it. I would love to hear from you. I want to hear your voice.” I hadn’t talked to Mary since high school and it was nice to feel really “seen.” This is something that is nice. I feel really seen right now. From there we were working on this Google doc that turned into so much more. We turned it into a full database — a website and a social media account to follow. It amplifies Black leaders, Black voices from different backgrounds, LGBTQ leaders, and leaders with disabilities in different fields. It’s a great way to help someone who’s new to the journey or has been on the journey for a while, to continue on the journey. We know that it’s going to be ongoing as it is not a moment, it is a movement.
Why did you start this Google doc and what do you see it turning into?
HM: The reason I started the Google doc is because I was really frustrated. I was frustrated in the people around me, not putting in the effort to learn what they needed to learn. Rather, they were reaching out to individuals who are mourning the death of an individual in their community. And to me that is inappropriate and an overreach. I started compiling websites, articles, and resources that helped me gain understanding of what my role was. I started putting information into this Google doc and sharing it every time one of my friends would ask, “Hey, where can I get these resources? Where can I find a comprehensive list of resources that I can use daily to further my knowledge into something that I should have been researching a long time ago, or that we should have been taught in school?”
I reached out to Carlyn …
CL: You checked in on me first and said, “How are you doing?”
MH: Yes, I remember absolutely. I wanted to make sure she was okay. I wanted to make sure she was taking care of herself, taking rest, and making sure that she was focusing on what she needed to focus on to get through this time. Then, knowing her background in mental health advocacy, I may or may not have “creeped” on her a little bit on LinkedIn. I asked her to come on to this project as a co-creator, as someone who I knew would put a passionate hand into something that I saw as just a document. Then we had this wild idea to turn it into a website. Six months ago, we didn’t see it going to this extent. We couldn’t be happier or more motivated to continue this project.
Where do you see this going? If you looked back a year from now, what would success look like?
CL: Each individual touch is a success. The number of people who follow us is not something that we are stressed about. The number of people who- know about Overhaul for Advocacy is not the make-or-break to me. It’s the people who know it and have shared it, and who have come to us and said it is helpful. One of my friend’s moms texted me last week and said, “My husband and I have been watching a movie every weekend from your site for the past two months.” We had created this movie list as just a suggestion for documentaries and shows that illustrate Black joy, Black life, and Black representation. To know that someone is utilizing it – that is a success. So, a year from now, if we continue on this uphill path, people will be reaching out and saying, “Mary, Carlyn, I read this book or I found this podcast that I never would have found.” It’s one victory a day. It’s one victory a week. I’m just so happy to know that we’re helping make positive change in that way.
GR: You really are. The first movie after the George Floyd murder that my family and I watched was Thirteen and it was very eye opening. I believe you both know, I come from a legal background. I’m a licensed attorney and I worked in the criminal justice system. I never knew any of what Thirteen shared. Talk about the lack of information that is highlighted. We live in a much more transparent world now. I thank you for providing the resources for people to learn how to become better allies and how to become anti-racist. There’s a lot out there on anti-racism and I wanted to let our listeners know to read Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s book, How To Be An Antiracist if you don’t understand what that means. I didn’t understand what it means. It’s not about just saying “I’m not racist.” It’s about changing policy and being an actual anti-racist.
I want our listeners to know that today [October 10], the day we’re recording this, is World Mental Health Day.
What does World Mental Health Day mean to you?
MH: I have struggled for years with depression and anxiety. In the world today where we are in the pandemic, stuck at home, we are seeing numerous amounts of mental health cases coming up from individuals who haven’t experienced it before. Having a day, or a month to recognize that mental health is real and that it should be taken care of as any illness should is vital. You need to reach out to individuals you’ve not reached out to in a while. Make sure we’re checking on our friends, peers, and our community to build a stronger awareness that we need to realize that mental health needs to be “normed.” It needs to be a normal human experience that we all go through. Having mental health awareness day as an individual who’s experienced mental health illnesses is important to me. It’s very important to me to know that we are finally creating a community around it.
GR: Thank you for being so honest and vulnerable with our listeners because I am sure almost all of our listeners at some point in their lives have gone through some similar experience or have known someone who has dealt with a behavioral health issue that’s been a struggle.
You mentioned the genesis of the platform, Mary, was that you started this Google doc, and I think Carlyn said that you met in high school?
MH: Yes, we did. Carlyn was a year older than me. We did not hang out with each other. We knew of each other. We had some mutual friends. I was mostly a quiet kid who participated in cross country. We had some mutual friends, like Carlyn said, but it was more of a hallway thing. I had not seen or talked to her since 2012 when I graduated. Social media, which is at an amazing time right now, just keeps you connected.
GR: Which is one of the great things about it. If you have not watched The Social Dilemma I encourage you to. It was eye opening. While I am an avid user of social media, and I think it is really important to connect with people and feel connected especially if you’re lonely, it is also important to be mindful that not everything that you see is real. For example, the size zero or size two models we women see online.
Now what is interesting about Overhaul of Advocacy is this is not for profit. You aren’t getting paid to do this.
Mary, can you tell me a little bit about your actual full-time work?
MH: I’ve been teaching for four years. I was a music teacher, but this year I decided to transition into being a full-time classroom teacher. I work at Rocketship public schools, which is a charter school network that’s trying to close the achievement gap by making public education more equitable and more accessible, especially to redline districts. Sadly, we still have those in this world. It’s working to close that gap of equity and create a community. It’s to amplify the voices of the parents, creating a network of parents and students who are agents of change while attaining excellence through persistence. We stand on the ground that all Rocketeers count; all Rocketeers here can do something great in their life. I couldn’t be more blessed to be a part of this network.
It’s an amazing charter school network. I see it in my kids, who are individuals with amazing minds. They are so persistent through this challenging time right now learning at home. Some have multiple siblings and family members. The parents must work a lot of the time. They are advocating for themselves and advocating for their education. They are only 10years old. I have kids who are using this website to educating their parents, which is amazing. They like to be present on this website all the time in class when we are supposed to be learning other things; they get so excited about having these resources and learning brand new things that they did not know before. I teach fifth grade English and it is amazing. These kids push me to be the best person that I can be.
Carlyn, can you tell us a little bit about your career?
CL: Though Overhaul is not l a paid job, it does influence my full-time job quite directly. I work in mental health. I have two jobs. I work for NAMI Chicago. NAMI is the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The Chicago branch is a huge affiliate. It is one of the biggest in the country as NAMI as a national organization. I also work for an organization called Art with Impact which uses art, media and film to help normalize mental health conversation. As a person working in mental health, I know that racism touches every aspect of life for people of color. Simultaneously, mental health is something that deeply touches every individual in a different way. Simply knowing how tough this year has been, the additional stress and strain of being a person of color and the minority stress that we already carry daily, is tough.
It’s taken a big toll. My job is a lot of trying to bring positive change through community building and community partnerships. The biggest goal that I have is to de-stigmatize mental health. I am out there trying to create conversation in communities that do not often have it, which tends to be marginalized groups. On the South and West sides of Chicago, I am having these conversations. I am challenging these communities to find the efforts that are existing in their community as well and trying to amplify those efforts. There are a lot of awesome groups that exist in Chicago dedicated to Black women. There is a group I just met called Coffee, Hip Hop and Mental Health. They are dedicated to Black men — to know what they are doing and how they are trying to identify ways to make wellness more inclusive. It is not super-inclusive right now. I am trying to amplify that and continue finding ways to support.
GR: You’re changing the world — people like you and the people you serve and the people who learn from you who look like you, who feel like you, who identify like you, who have you as role models. And that is fantastic. I know that a lot of the younger generations don’t realize the extent to which you’re role models, because you have your own role models, but I promise you that people are looking up to you. I promise you that they’re learning from you and that what you’ve done with Overhaul of Advocacy that will continue to make a difference. Don’t stop.
I do want to let our listeners know that if you have something that you would like Overhaul of Advocacy to add to the website, reach out.
Can you talk about how we met, Carlyn?
CL: I was trying to find as many organizations and websites that had anti-racism resources, websites, and different lists because there was a huge influx during this year of organizations putting these lists together for folks who view their sites for their staff. I came across your website and I thought, this website is amazing. There is an anti-racism statement that’s so well thought out. There are all these intentions of trying to be better and to speak up. I emailed you and you got back to me. Once you went to the website, you said, “Yes, I would love to talk to you and Mary, the co-creator.”
I am so happy that we were able to set this up because it shows the relevance of our site. We talked in June or July, but the fact is that this conversation needed to continue months later. We are not stopping, and that your organization is dedicated to amplifying our voice and amplifying our effort means so much to us. Thank you so much.
GR: My pleasure. I thank you for getting up early, especially Mary from the West Coast when I am on the East Coast and joining us, because this is such an important conversation. We mentioned the George Floyd killing and Mary, you reached out to Carlyn asking, “Are you okay?” I don’t think people who have never experienced death have any understanding of what we saw. Some years ago, I saw somebody get hit by a car and killed. I was devastated for months. Every time I would get in a car, I would see something — I would have to take a deep breath. It is like post-traumatic stress syndrome.
Here we are, the world watching and experiencing post-traumatic stress; not just the people who are empathetic by nature, but the Black and brown communities as well. I hold you up. I am sorry for what you had to witness. I am grateful that we got to witness it as a world because maybe it will be the change that we need to make so that he did not die in vain. When I say grateful, I mean that with the utmost respect. Y ago we would have never seen that and you wouldn’t have the internet that would put it out. TV would never have shown it. We are getting to see what actually happens to our neighbors as a white person. I have never been pulled over and felt threatened for my life.
CL: That’s an interesting point you make, especially within this year. I have lived in a lot of white communities. I have had friends reach out and say, “I just can’t believe this year…” I have conversations with my family or other Black friends that I went to college with. Their eyes are open to something I have been seeing for years. I remember the fear that my parents had and the conversations they had with my brother when he was 16. They gave him advice that when he was driving home to always have his white friend in the front seat. They had all these different conversations. This has been my reality my whole life. But it took me a minute to even open my own eyes. I understand. I am also grateful that people are recognizing it in 2020, and hopefully not going to ever close their eyes again. The reality is now that we’ve seen this, and have opened our eyes, we can’t go back. We truly can’t.
GR: I don’t think we ever will. I have the utmost hope — we have several generations in the community who are speaking up, people who are changing their views and who’ve become so much more empathetic because they want to learn. My heart goes out to every community. I am thinking of anyone listening– both of you and anyone who has felt discriminated against because of who they are, whether it is directed toward your skin color or your gender identity. I do not even like to use the word race anymore because of what Ibram Kendi talks about, the origins of the word race. So, I am still learning.
Mary, can you tell us a little bit about ‘compassion fatigue’ — what is it?
MH: From my own experience with compassion fatigue, we all get it. It is the overload of information that is geared towards bettering yourself as an advocate, and it is heavy. Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd–all the information that you learn from any of those deaths is shocking. And while it is shocking for some communities, it’s normalized in others. We’re trying to be better advocates while getting all this information, consuming it, and trying to digest it all at once. It’s not healthy and it leads to fatigue. People give up because they feel as though there’s too much information in front of them and they can’t begin to even comprehend how to go through it. One of the main reasons Overhaul for Advocacy works for us is because it gives you a start.
It gives you a way to start with reading one article one day and maybe watching a movie during the weekend. The consumption of information is spread out. So, in that way learning is a lifelong journey, and it’s doable. It’s achievable. You’re achieving your action steps to defeat compassion fatigue.
Rest is resistance. I’m learning that through the Nap Ministry. Everyone should look into that ministry. It’s amazing. Their belief is that rest is resistance. When we look at the systems of white supremacy in society, we keep working because that is what has been ‘fed’ to us. You’re not a whole person if you don’t have something that you produce or you’re working towards; or we are so defined by the work day, the work week, that to stop is protest. With compassion fatigue, it is us not stopping and then being forced to stop because we are hurting our mental health, or we are hurting our physical health.
GF: Work to be an ally, to be an anti-racist, but breathe.
CL: Self-care is important. I think about that all the time because I often get people reaching out to me to say, “It’s not your job to be educating others. It’s not your job to be making this website.” I respond to that by saying, “I think I know that it isn’t — I am doing this because I care. And I love it.” I found my voice so late in life, and this is giving me a sense of control. I have not often had that. It’s allowing me to make positive change that I feel good about. But again, that doesn’t change the fact that this work is exhausting. I do need to sometimes just close my computer. I tell Mary all the time that I am unplugging. Self-care and rest are a part of ensuring that you can rest and keep coming back to the work that’s important to you.
GR: There is something that I have been struggling with and maybe you both can enlighten me a little bit. A lot of people were reaching out perhaps to Carlyn and other people of color and asking, “How do you feel? Are you okay? What does this make you feel like?” And then people say to you, Carlyn, “That’s not your job.” This is where I struggle because I want to be able to ask questions. I don’t want to ask the wrong questions. I don’t want to sound insensitive. I will look for resources, but without the conversation that is happening, and people like you providing the information, how do people like me learn?
CL: I love that you asked that, but I think there is no right answer. Each person will have a different one. I came into loving myself so late and like being proud of being Black. I was neglecting these conversations. My parents would try to bring it up when I was younger. I wish that I had been more receptive to it, but because I did not do that, I have a strong interest and eagerness to use my voice and have these conversations right now with you. Not every Black person is going to feel that way. Black people are tired and a lot of us are very angry. It has been a really tough time. But I think that there also are incredible spaces and ways to learn from Black people, like you’re saying, but it does not mean necessarily that you’re burdening them. I think you have to be intentional with how you do that.
GR: Is it okay to ask, “May I ask you a question and if you prefer not to have this conversation, just say, ‘I don’t want to have the conversation?’”
CL: Yes, give people an out. You do not want his person to feel as though you are burdening or ‘tokenizing’ them. We always say take the burden off this marginalized group and do the work. So, say you are doing the work. It sounds like you are reading, and you are trying to continue to better yourself. But again, like you said, sometimes it does take personal conversation. There are so many events and open round-table discussions on Overhaul for Advocacy. We’re always adding these. I have added many events free with Black women having an open discussion where they can have a candid conversation about race Where there is a dedicated space in which you’re not stepping in or infringing on someone’s boundary, the reality is sometimes people still ask me questions that prompt me to ask myself, what?
This isn’t my job. But if I’m approached in a respectful manner and if they give me the out, if I feel up to it, of course I’m going to answer. But if I do not, I will say so. It also depends on your level of intimacy or connection with that person. It can be beneficial and healing for a Black person to speak all this pain and agony out into the world. I have been lucky to have such incredible friends, Mary included. I feel like I can vent about these things that I never really got the chance to, whether it was about my insecurities, about my hair, or whether it was the comments I literally always still get about the way I talk — the eloquence. I was called an ‘Oreo’ growing up. If only I had a dollar for every microaggression that I received.
GR: Please send me any microaggressions that you have experienced because I’m writing my next blog on microaggressions and language. To enlighten our audience, microaggressions are those things that you might say or do that you don’t realize are hurtful. You may not have a negative intent, but to say to a Black woman, “Your cornrows do not make you look professional,” is a microaggression.
CL: “You sound so educated.” I used to get that all the time.
GR: There is so much that we must learn. I have learned that there are things I have said, not just microaggressions, but also the racist origin of language and terms. I used to say all the time, “That’s the low-hanging fruit.” Then somebody said, “You do know that for anybody who has experienced lynching, you do not want to say that.” I didn’t know and thanked him for enlightening me.
With Overhaul of Advocacy, you have provided a great way for people to be enlightened without having to put the burden on anyone who identifies in any way different than you.
MH: I have been listening a lot. I think that one of my jobs right now is just listening to a community that I need to listen to and not putting my own voice into it. A lot of what I am hearing is the same for Carlyn: if you just bombard individuals with a bunch of questions and do not take time to take care of them as you would take care of yourself, you are not an advocate. You are an aggressor, and it is not okay. From what I’ve learned, there’s a lot of different people who have a lot of different feelings about it.
Myisha T. lives in Oakland. She is an amazing person. She has an advocacy group where she has opened herself up to a lot of white women, my mom and me included. That’s how I started figuring out checking our privilege. Her group is called Check Your Privilege. It’s a way to learn about the avenues by which white supremacy has seeped into our society, into our daily lives, and how to actively go against it as a white individual who benefits from that society. There are so many spaces for white individuals as we’re the ones who need to do the most work because no one gets an ‘out’ from white supremacy.
If you had one resource to be a better ally, a starting point to be a better ally or anti-racist, what would that one resource be besides Overhaul of Advocacy?
CL: Its’ hard to answer because this must be based on the type of learner. Some people love reading. Some people don’t. Some people love podcasts and shows. I would say when it comes to trying to find something for you, know what works for you and especially what kind of learner you are.
Procter & Gamble did a series of one-minute videos from a Black person’s perspective called Talk About Bias. It is ‘the look’ a Black person might get when walking through a store. The more attentiveness the person gets because they are Black and just walking down the street shows bias. The videos tackle day-to-day things that you might not notice but that a Black person experiences. It has a conversation guide too. The videos are less than three minutes. Watch with some friends, hop on a Zoom, and discuss these questions because it is an awesome way to learn.
What is one social media platform where people can connect with you where you would be open to receiving feedback?
MH: Our Instagram for Overhaul of Advocacy. Our DMs are open. We love getting feedback. We can’t grow without feedback, whether that be critical or positive, all is welcome. We’re trying to learn; we’re trying to grow. We’re trying to expand beyond the lookout for a platform soon on our website that has to do with education and racism. I’m actively working on that as I’m a teacher and would love to see that. We also have our Facebook page. And then on our website, there’s a section where you can submit any resource that you think would be an amazing addition to our website. We’re always on the lookout for new and fresh eyes for new material.
GR: I will throw one out to you. We have a podcast with Reggie Shuford, who is the executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. You will both love him. I loved speaking with him, and it was very enlightening. He is from Wilmington, North Carolina, and has a wonderful story to share. I have the great honor of being able to call him a friend and to learn from him regularly.
Carlyn and Mary, I’m thrilled you could join me today. I’ve enjoyed our conversation immensely. I’m sure our listeners have too. I want to say thank you for being you.
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