In This Episode
DeRay and De’Ara cover the underreported news of the week— including three Black women oversee voting access for more than 37 million Americans and eight young burglars exposure of cointelpro + FBI misconduct. DeRay interviews author and CEO Nicole Lynn Lewis about her non-profit organization Generation Hope and her personal memoir PREGNANT GIRL: A Story of Teen Motherhood, College, and Creating a Better Future for Young Families.
DeRay Mckesson: Hey, this is DeRay, and welcome to Pod Save the People. This week it’s De’Ara and me talking about all the underreported news of the week, the news that you should know, but you don’t know. Then I sit down and talk with author and student parent advocate Nicole Lynn Lewis about recent advocacy and her personal memoir “Pregnant Girl: A Story of Teen Motherhood, College, and Creating a Better Future for Young Families.” We chat about the journey of young parents and the pursuit of higher education, the social stigma, systemic hurdles, and more. Here we go. Now, my advice for this week is really to help me out in two ways. The first is we are trying to get somebody out of jail. His name is Keith Davis Jr. The state’s attorney in Baltimore City, Marilyn Mosby is trying him for the same murder for a record fifth time. She’s not been able to secure a standing conviction, and she is going for a fifth trial. She’s trying to do it in May of 2022. We’re trying to get him out. Please go visit Keithdavisjr.org. See the last video we put up. See the campaign. It’s wild. If you’re in Baltimore, please call Marilyn Mosby’s office. All this stuff is on the website. The latest development with that is that Marilyn Mosby, state’s attorney, she filed a gag order trying to silence me and Campaign Zero for making any more public statements about Keith Davis. And it is really, I never thought that, that one of the DAs on our side would ever try and file a gag order to stop advocacy. But here we are. So please go visit Keithdavisjr.org. The other thing is, I am starting a newsletter to come out in April. So you can subscribe at DeRay.Substack.com. That’s it. Deray dot Substack dot com. DeRay.substack com. Sign up now. First ones will come out in April. That’s it. That’s the advice for this week. Let’s do it!
De’Ara Balenger: Y’all, my news today is from NBC News. You can find the link. It’s about three Black women who are overseeing voting access for more than 37 million Americans. And not just Democrats, not just Republicans, not just independents, but everybody who falls into that, OK? They are the secretaries of state in Pennsylvania, California, and New Jersey. This article goes through these extraordinary women one by one, and it also talks about how they are collaborative. So they’re always communicating, talking about how they can expand access to voting rights, how they can protect voting rights. And the article starts with California Secretary of State Shirley Weber. So Secretary Webber’s story sort of comes full circle. She talks about how her folks are from Arkansas and how her grandparents actually weren’t able to vote, essentially barred from voting—and this was in the Jim Crow era—and they were in fear for their lives if they would try to vote or register to vote, and they passed away before the voting rights bill was passed. Her parents similarly, never got the chance to vote because of, you know, fear of racial terrorism in Arkansas. They ended up as a family moving to California, where her mother, where Secretary Weber’s mom, made their house a polling place. She wanted to increase accessibility to voting for folks in their communities, and she thought no better way to do that than making her home a polling place. So no surprise that Secretary Weber became who she became. And she talks about how the fact that she has this history with her parents and her grandparents, and their experience with not being able to vote, and then increasing accessibility to voting, has been a full-circle moment for her now that she’s responsible for 20 million voters in California. Another incredible thing that Secretary Weber accomplished—she was actually a state legislator in California before she got nominated to be secretary of state, and she coauthored legislation to restore the right to vote of people on parole, probation, or still in jail. Unfortunately, though, the law was passed, but the issue became that folks who, you know, who were on parole, probation, or still in jail didn’t know that their rights were actually restored. And so Weber created a campaign to disseminate the information that thousands of formerly-incarcerated people so that they could get registered to vote. So two years since this law has gone into effect in, you know, through Weber’s leadership and, you know, the coordination of multiple agencies, now folks more than ever are being informed, parolees and formerly incarcerated people. You know, this voting information now evidently is included in the parolee handbook, and the department also provides—the corrections department—also provides wraparound reentry services. So they stay committed, hopefully seriously committed, to formerly-incarcerated folks and making sure that they know that they can vote and get registered to vote. The article then jumps to Secretary Leigh Chapman, who is in Pennsylvania, so she was appointed by Governor Tom Wolf and appointed after the 2020 election. So there’s been a ton of redistricting in Pennsylvania, so Chapman is hyper-focused on making sure people know how redistricting will impact them. And so she’s sharing general voting information, such as polling locations and how to decide whether to vote in person or by mail. She also desperately wants the U.S. Senate, as we all do, to pass the Lewis Voting Rights Act and the Freedom to Vote Act. According to her, she really believes that we need more standards when it comes to voting in our own country. The way you vote shouldn’t really depend on the zip code you live in, but the way our election system is run. In 2019, Pennsylvania passed legislation to expand mail-in voting, a move that updated the election code for the first time in 70 years. Secretary Chapman sees this as an incredible opportunity and knows that there’s still more to do, but she knows that this is a step in the right direction. And she also wants to see that same-day voter registration is something that can happen in Pennsylvania. Now in New Jersey. Secretary to Tahesha Way has been in office since 2018, and has taken on the task of implementing automatic voter registration, online registration, and in-person early voting, online ballot tracking, introducing ballot drop boxes, and allowing people on parole and probation to vote. She overhauled the voting system to be almost completely by mail for the 2020 election. And because of that, New Jersey had the highest voter turnout and the state led the nation in youth voter turnout. And so she believes the next step is informing and educating voters. She wants to do more work in civic engagement. And just one quote I want to end on, and Secretary Weber said it. I just thought it was powerful. She said that, “Black women, have always, in this country been sometimes ignored, and yet counted on. We’ve been kind of the silent force for change. When you look at the civil rights movement—and as a professor, I’ve studied it—here were so many women who sat behind the throne, who made the civil rights era happen, whether it was Xeroxing materials or getting ready for the March on Washington. Whatever it was, it was just so many unsung heroes that were female and we kind of push the men forward because that was the way society existed.” But she said, The tide is turning. And I do believe it is. And so, you know, just check out these three incredible women. I think this is going to make all the difference in midterm elections, having secretaries of state who are ethical, who are innovative, and who believe in our constitutional rights to vote. So check them out, continue to follow them and we wish them luck, and sending them all the energy so they can continue to protect the voting rights of those 37 million Americans.
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Don’t go anywhere. More Pod Save the People is coming.
DeRay Mckesson: My news is about COINTELPRO, and it really is like a, it’s like a history lesson for myself that I wanted to bring to the pod. I never really asked how the COINTELPRO papers became public. I think I just took it for granted that somebody leaked them from inside the government. And I was wrong, is that there were actually a group of young white people led by a professor. He was a professor at Haverford College, Dr. William C. Davidon, and he was an anti-war protester. And he essentially got together some younger people, and they broke into an office of the FBI. They cased it out and they went in and they got all these papers from the FBI and they didn’t know what they were getting, which is the coolest part of the story. They had no clue that they were, they didn’t know what COINTELPRO was, but they were just taking a whole lot of papers. They turned it over to a set of news agencies, and a lot of them actually would not publish it. But it was The Washington Post who actually chose to do it. It was eight of them, and they’ve only recently come out in the past decade, essentially, because the statute of limitations is over and they cannot be prosecuted for stealing the papers. And it, like, I had no clue that it was these like young anti-war folks who stole all these papers from a random FBI office. And they were the people who changed history, who helped provide an understanding for all of us that this was happening, that COINTELPRO was targeting Black leaders. It was like really wild. And you know, if you google it, you’ll read about it, Mr. Forsyth, who is the lock picker. You know, he got in—I was reading stories about it—when he got in, the door they thought they were going to go through was locked and he couldn’t pick it so he had to use a crowbar to break the second lock. There was a young woman who essential distracted one of the staff members inside. They walked past the guard. The guard didn’t understand at all. And it was Ms. Medsger who was at The Washington Post who, two weeks after the burglary, she wrote an article based on the files. She had a fight with her publisher. Her publisher told her, you know, it would be a violation of law. The other big newspapers didn’t publish it, but she did it. And the Nixon administration tried really hard to get them to return the papers. And they wouldn’t. Yeah, I just wanted to bring it because I, it really like, I don’t know, really blew my mind that it was—and it’s also such a cool reminder that it’s often like the most unlikely people who change history. It’s rarely the like committees, and the, or like that da da da or like the head organizer—these are like young people who were like, We should do something like this. And they really did just like, they blew the whole lid open. That like that changed the course of the civil rights movement a lot of ways. It was one of the first times that anybody had hard evidence of FBI abuses. There was the Church Committee’s report that came out, and this was some of the beginning of the downfall of J Edgar Hoover, who had stuff on everybody. But the other thing is that they had a lot of discipline. So after the burglary, the eight of them almost never talked to each other again. They never met again as a group, and they had planned to potentially get together. And three of them are still anonymous today. So wild. I mean, like, you know, most people do stuff like this and they would definitely want to talk about it and publicize it and, you know, especially the moment that we live in now. But it really just blew my mind, and I want to bring this here for us to talk about, for you to hear about, for you to learn about. And it’s actually timely because it was March 8th, 1971, and it was a Media Pennsylvania. It was a suburb of Philly, and it was that office that had all these papers. And again, they changed history. So sometimes it doesn’t always happen in the big city. Sometimes it happens in places like Media, Pennsylvania.
And if you didn’t know, it is Women’s History Month and we have Nicole Lewis to give us a glimpse into the lives of young parents in the pursuit of education. I learned a ton in this conversation, both about the stigma around young parenthood, the systemic hurdles, and how she sort of used her own experience to learn about systemic injustice. In her book “Pregnant Girl: A Story to Teen Motherhood, College, and Creating a Better Future for Young Families” she talks about a journey as a Black teen mother, and then talks about, and then we in the conversation talking about her current work in advocacy. How are people supposed to work without proper child care? How are people supposed to navigate systems when the system is not designed for them? All these things that I really didn’t know much about, I learned in her book and talking to her. Here we go! Nicole, let’s do this.
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Don’t go anywhere. More Pod Save the People coming.
DeRay Mckesson: Nicole, thanks so much for joining us on Pod Save the People.
Nicole Lynn Lewis: Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to be chatting with you today.
DeRay Mckesson: So one of the reasons why I wanted to talk to you is I was so compelled by reading your story myself, and I was like, I have a lot of questions. But the first is, this is such a personal book. Why a book? Like, what made you want to write? You’re young. You have a whole lot of life left. What made you want to write a book now?
Nicole Lynn Lewis: Well, actually, the book, you know, it came out in May 2021, but it’s been about a 13-year project. I graduated from college as a young mother and I was in the workforce. You know, you get your first job and you get to know your coworkers and people were like, You need to tell this story. You know, people just don’t hear about teen mothers going to college and graduating. That’s not something that is out there. And I had always been a writer. I had always loved reading. The writing was kind of in my blood. And so I originally, you know, 13 years ago, went to different literary agents and publishers and said, I want to write this book. I want to write my story about being a teen mom, putting myself through college and the door kept getting slammed in my face. You know, publishers and agents were like, One, no one wants to hear about a teen mom being successful, and two, you have no platform. And so I really shelved the project and kind of pursued other things, including launching a whole nonprofit organization that was focused on helping teen parents get their college degrees. But maybe about three years ago, I was at a training and people were talking about ways to scale your impact as an organization, and one of the ways to do that was inspiring people to do the work, and a book would be a great vehicle to do that. And I thought about, you know, my book that had been collecting dust on the shelf. I was like, maybe it’s time to revive that project. And this time around, I wanted to do it one, because I knew that this story needed to be told. For too long the stories of teen mothers and fathers have been silenced by the shame and the stigma. And then, two, I knew that most people think they understand teen pregnancy, and they think it’s a black and white issue, but it’s far more complex, and I thought that I could help to illuminate that for people.
DeRay Mckesson: Boom. Now let’s walk through the book. One of the things I particularly loved about this is that throughout the book, you talk about things that are really personal to you. And then it’s like, as a reader, I could see you making the systemic connections. You were like, And I thought this was just me but da da da da da. I was like, OK, OK. So in the part where you where, you talked about telling your, the different reactions between your mom or your dad and then you, like, got that bad grade, now that you told this story to people, have you heard a lot of stories from other young parents who also faced these similar issues around telling the people in their lives ?and like, how has that been to see the reception to the book just around like the telling people that you’re having a kid and and what that moment was like?
Nicole Lynn Lewis: Yeah. So, yeah, I talk about it in the book that, you know, for young parents, there’s a common story of like, “What was the reaction” story? You know, what was your, when you told your parents, when you told your friends, you know, even when you told your partner, how was it received? I think all of us share that reaction story and I tell my reaction story in my book. But I’ve heard some really heart-wrenching reaction stories. You know, I have heard stories where, you know, in a church, you’re made to stand up and tell the congregation that you’re pregnant and deal with the backlash that you get from that. I’ve heard stories of getting kicked out of your parents’ home. So here you are, you’re young, you’re pregnant, you have nowhere to live, you have nowhere to go. I heard stories where you tell your partner that you’re pregnant and they completely abandon you or it’s an abusive situation. And so it is such a personal story. It’s a complicated story. It’s heart wrenching. So many of us who have been touched by teen pregnancy, you know, share some really difficult reactions to the pregnancy.
DeRay Mckesson: On Page 15, you highlight this again, you said at the time, I had no idea how common my displacement was or that homelessness in teen pregnancy were so intertwined. I wanted to know, and there are a lot of references that you, you make between like your own awareness and then systemic things. How did you, how did you start to learn about the systemic issues? So like in this part, you talk about the Massachusetts [unclear] and teen pregnancy, but what was that like in real life? What was that like? How did you learn? How did you start to know, these larger societal things.
Nicole Lynn Lewis: Well, when I got pregnant, I was 17. I had absolutely no idea how my pregnancy and my situation connected to anything larger than me. I had no understanding of that. I felt extremely isolated. I felt like I was the only person going through this, and I had all of the shame and the stigma wrapped up in teen pregnancy. That’s what I was shouldering. I really started to understand things as I one, began to navigate different systems, and two, in launching my organization. And so, you know, I started college when my daughter was a little under three months old. And what quickly became clear to me was that there were no mechanisms in place for me to be successful. It was 100% on me. I had to piecemeal supports together. So many times it was hard to access those support. I had to stand in lines. I had to make tons of phone calls. I had to be on waiting lists. I had to follow up with people and never-ending paperwork. And what was really interesting to me was it had no connection to how great of a student I was, how smart I was, how capable I was, or even how hard I worked. It didn’t matter. And that’s when I started to understand that there were some systems that were beyond me that I was, that I was being impacted by. And then I think, you know, I launched my nonprofit in 2010, and we have worked with hundreds of teen moms and dads who, you know, we’re helping them in their college journey, and as the years have gone by, those systemic barriers have become even more clear. And the connection to race and gender and poverty, that has really influenced my learning and helped me to understand, you know, how teen pregnancy connects to all of these larger issues.
DeRay Mckesson: What would you say are the common misconceptions that people have about young parents?
Nicole Lynn Lewis: I think, gosh, I could talk to you all day about misconceptions. I think, you know, one of the big ones, which is a really damaging one, is that they’re lazy, they’re unambitious, they don’t care about their future, they don’t care about their education. What everything that I have seen with the young parents who we have worked with flies in the face of that. I mean, incredibly smart, capable individuals who work really, really hard. I mean, we have students coming into our program who are going to college and working three jobs and raising a child, or they’re waking up in a homeless shelter and they’re getting up and going to school and getting their kid ready to go to school. So we’re seeing just incredibly driven, ambitious young people who are juggling so many things, things that many other people wouldn’t be able to handle. And they want to do well in life. They have this commitment and this desire and this drive to achieve goals so that they can provide for their children. And that stereotype and that misconception is so damaging because it allows people to say, well, they’re not worthy of support, you know, they don’t need these systems to be changed to work in their favor because they don’t care. And so that it’s not only inaccurate, but it’s also incredibly damaging.
DeRay Mckesson: One of the things that I’m interested too in is, you know, I want all the listeners to just realize how personal the story is and how you do bridge the gap between the personal and the systemic, is that you talk about receiving food stamps for a few months. And there is so much stigma for so many people around food stamps. And I think about, my sister’s a principal in Delaware. One of the things that they did in Delaware is that they actually gave all parents food stamps, like everybody got food doing COVID. Partly because people needed it like, you know, COVID sucked for everybody, but also to like to try and lessen the stigma around food stamps. Have you seen the stigma around food stamps or any other part of the the government system helping people in need, have you seen that get better over time? Do you think it still is as bad as it was when you were living through what you were writing about in the book?
Nicole Lynn Lewis: I do. You know, I think that there have been some improvements. There have been some efforts to really make improvements in many of these public benefits. But the stigma, I think, is still there and the red tape and the insistence that people perform their poverty in order to access those benefits. Those are things that haven’t been improved upon. You know, we, I remember talking to a young dad who’s in our program, and he lives in a state where he can count some of his time in school, in his classrooms when he’s pursuing his degree towards the work requirement for him to access TNF and other public benefits. But in order to do that, he has to walk up to the professor at the end of class and ask them to sign off on those hours. And he described to me how embarrassing it is because there are usually other students around who want to also talk to the professor, but about different things. And you know, he has to explain within earshot what he needs from that professor and how sometimes he just doesn’t want to do it because it’s so, it’s so embarrassing. He feels like it’s demeaning in many ways. He knows that students are looking at him and judging him. And so we have so many processes in place around these benefits that are really robbing people of their dignity, they’re making people perform that poverty. And you know, one of the big things that we are proponents of at Generation Hope, my organization, is removing those barriers. You know, how can we make sure that people can access these resources without making them jump through hoops and do tons of paperwork and have to go through these things that can be really embarrassing and cumbersome? And all of that. That’s where the improvements need to happen. And in that, when I went to go apply for food stamps, I describe in the book that it was really an embarrassing conversation as well because I was trying to explain that I needed this for my family. I needed this to put food on our table and I said, I’m in college, and I remember the person sitting across the table, the desk said, You know, we don’t count college. And she also didn’t believe that I was in college. You know, she was looking at me and thinking, You have a baby in a car seat, you have a gold hoop earrings on, you know, you’re not a college, you’re young, you’re Black, you’re not in college. So there’s so much that needs to change about the way that we make people go through these processes to access these benefits.
DeRay Mckesson: Now, one of the things that you are advocating for Generation Hope, there’s a set of policy issues and one is around child care. I would say that most people who have kids know the issue around child care and the costs, but there are a lot of people who care, who believe, who you will need to mobilize, who don’t have kids or who don’t yet know why child care matters as like a key pillar in the fight around justice. What would you, how would you explain to people the importance of affordable child care?
Nicole Lynn Lewis: So child care is connected to so many things. I think there’s a perception that it only impacts the workforce, and that’s something that we’re really working to help people to change, to help people to understand that it’s more than a workforce issue. Even though the workforce argument is a compelling one, we need people to be able to go to work and provide for their families. That should be reason enough. But I think the other side of it, too, is that it’s an education issue. One in five undergraduate students across the country are parenting. That’s almost five million students across the country. When we look at it and desegregate by race, it’s almost half of all Black female undergraduate students across the country are parenting. And so when we don’t have affordable child care in place, when we don’t have real solutions–where do you bring your child when you need to go to class and when you need to go to work–we are creating these significant barriers to economic mobility. And that’s the bottom line. If you care about people experiencing economic mobility, particularly people who have not had access historically to that opportunity, then you have to care about child care. And then I think the other really important thing is, is the generational impact. You know, we know that when little ones are able to access quality, early childhood child care and early child care experiences, it really does become a game changer for them and their academic and career success years in the future. And we all need to be concerned about what’s going to happen with the next generation. We need to be making sure, regardless of whether we have kids, those are going to be the doctors working in our hospitals, wo they’re going to be teachers, you know, teaching in the classroom, they’re going to be politicians. They’re going to be working in all of these jobs and industries that we need them to be working in. So we want this next generation to be successful. So child care is not just an issue for parents. It’s an issue for all of us. It’s an issue for our entire country.
DeRay Mckesson: How familiar were you with navigating the landscape of social services when you needed to access them as a new mom? Is there any work that Generation Hope does around that part of the continuum?
Nicole Lynn Lewis: I had zero experience navigating social services when I came into motherhood. It was completely new to me. I had grown up in a middle-class home and so I didn’t have any kind of historical context for accessing public benefits. A lot of it, I had to just do a lot of research. I don’t even know if Google was a thing back then, if it was, it was in its early stages. You know, I was in school 20 years ago, and so it was a lot of phone calls. It was a lot of research. It was talking to different people. It was trying to find a ride to get up to the Social Services Office. It was really hard and it was completely foreign to me. And I was thrust into this world as a young mother where, you know, I was sometimes sleeping in the car in the high school parking lot and I would drink a little ginger ale every, you know, couple of days sometimes and we didn’t have food to eat. I mean, I definitely went into pretty dire circumstances with my daughter’s father, and so I needed those benefits and that was even before I started going to college. What we do at Generation Hope is a lot of helping people, young people in their situation understand the landscape of resources that are available to them. Some of them come in in the same way they don’t know all of the different resources. Some of them also are really cognizant of the stigma and the perception that as a teen mother or a teen dad, you’re quote unquote “mooching” off the system and so there’s a reluctance to pursue, you know, benefit programs because of that stereotype. So a lot of what we do is working with them to understand these benefits to make it easier for them to access them. We have a really wonderful program team that works closely with each of our students and helps to connect the dots, helps to do some of that research and provide a repository of information where we can hopefully save them some time. And then following up with them, making sure that they are getting any application materials in. Can we be helpful with that? That’s all a part of how we work with our students in addition to helping them get their degrees.
DeRay Mckesson: I want to know, too you know, because a lot of people hear stories like this, they’re like, you know, just like me, I was somebody who started out in the middle of a street, stay in the street, but I started an organization. You also started close to an issue, impacted by an issue and now started an organization. What has it been like to transition from somebody trying to navigate systems to somebody helping other people navigate systems, and somebody who now is a leader in an organization, building an infrastructure, helping people to have better access and better quality options? How has that transition been? What is it like leading an organization? I feel like this is one of those things that people hear about, but we never actually hear how it is to run it.
Nicole Lynn Lewis: Yeah. I mean, in short, it’s surreal. You know, there’s not a day that goes by that I am not just completely amazed at where we are as an organization or the fact that I even am a CEO of an organization. You know, somebody asked me once, Did you know in college that you were going to be a CEO, that you were going to found an organization? My answer to them was like when I was in college and I was a young mom and I was just trying to make it every single day, my aspirations around a career were to have a job that would put food on the table, gas in our car, you know, a roof over our heads, and I could pay for childcare. That was my aspiration because things were so dire. And so when I started Generation Hope it really did feel like this, this calling. It was like I felt compelled to start this organization. It was something that was really on my heart. But we had very humble beginnings. I started in my husband’s man cave. We didn’t have any staff. We didn’t have any office to use. We, I had to build the organization and we had to build the organization brick by brick. And as I’m sure, like anybody working with populations that have been marginalized, you know, I was up against the stigma of people wanting to know why we should even invest in een parents. I was working with a population that many people weren’t necessarily ready to rally around, and I had to do a lot of work to educate people about why this population is worthy of resources, why this organization needed to exist in the world. So I kind of just, you know, put my head down and plowed ahead. And I have a tendency sometimes to continue to do that. And every now and then someone will remind me to look up and just and look around and see where we are today. You know, we’re close to a 30-person staff. We have offices in D.C. and we’re now doing national work and it’s incredible. But yes, sometimes I forget to pop my head up and just take stock of everything.
DeRay Mckesson: Now there are a couple of questions that we ask everybody on the podcast. The first is what’s the piece of advice that you’ve gotten over the years that stuck with you?
Nicole Lynn Lewis: Hmm. So when I first started, Generation Hope, the last thing I cared about was my title or anything like that, and I actually was pretty reluctant to even fully embrace my role as the leader of this organization. I honestly didn’t feel like a CEO. I didn’t feel like a founder. I felt like a worker bee. I was probably more focused on being a worker bee. And I remember our first board meeting, it was about seven or eight board members and me around the table, and we were in some donated space in an office building and, you know, we’re at this long board table and I went to go sit at the side seat of the table alongside one of the other board members. And someone nudged me and said, This is not your seat, your seat is at the head of the table. And I was like, kind of like, Oh my gosh, I don’t want to sit it, you know, I’m not ready for that seat. But I sat there and I, and it was the first time that I realized that this was my seat, that I did belong at the head of this table, that I was a leader of this organization. And I have ever since really embraced that. And I know a lot of people talk about having a seat at the table. That was literally a situation where I didn’t necessarily feel like that was the seat I needed to take at the table, and now I’m very much aware of always knowing that I belong at the table, often I’m at the head of the table and embracing my leadership. And I think particularly for women and for Black women, that’s a message that we need to hear. And when we do hear it, we need to hold on to it because there are so many times where we’re excluded from that table. We’re not invited to the table, we’re not invited to sit at the head of the table. So I try to keep that with me, especially in, you know, in settings where I can be pushed to the fringes.
DeRay Mckesson: Boom. And the other question is that there are a lot of people who’ve done all the things they were supposed to do. They emailed, they called, they testified, they stood in the street, they read your book, they read my book, they volunteered with Generation Hope, and the world hasn’t changed in the way they want it to. What do you say to those people?
Nicole Lynn Lewis: First, I would say, I understand, because I think when you’re in the trenches, all of us have those moments where it feels that way. I think especially, you know, we look at the past two years, if you’ve been working with communities that have been hit hard by the pandemic, it has been incredibly frustrating and slow-moving, and a feeling like we could have avoided so much of the suffering that’s happened over the past two years. So I completely understand it. You know, one of my idols, the person I look to, is Martin Luther King Jr. And I’ve always looked at Dr. King as someone who I aspire to be like. And the more that I learn about his life, and I’m always learning about him and his life, there’s so much to learn, the more that I’m reminded that this is, it is a marathon, not a sprint. You know, there are so many things I’m sure that he would have wanted to see in his lifetime, and he knew that he was not going to see those things, but he was working towards those things. And that’s what I think kept him encouraged, is that he was doing his part to move things towards those bigger goals and that momentum was important for him to play a role in. And so I think that would be my advice, is to find the people who you can look to, who can remind you of the importance of every piece of the battle and not just the big win, but all of the things that have to happen in order for that big win to come to fruition.
DeRay Mckesson: One of the things I wanted to talk about, too, is that in the book, you talk about that like you’re learning around there were more white moms than Black teen moms. And can you talk about like, what that, like when did you learn that? And then how has learning what’s true about the system, how has that like shaped the way that you have been an advocate?
Nicole Lynn Lewis: So I probably learned about the realities around the data around teen parents and other issues that are connected to teen pregnancy, you know, probably within the last five or so years. I mean, really starting to understand the research, the data that provide the context for our work. And what it’s really shaped me about those realizations and what I what my biggest takeaway is is that I have to be a truth teller, because so many people are completely unaware of those numbers. A great example is like when I was, when I got pregnant, you know in the ’90s and my understanding of teen pregnancy rates were that they were the highest they’d ever been, it was a crisis. It was an epidemic. It was, it was at an all-time high because that’s the messaging that I heard. That’s the messaging that was coming out from the administration. It was everywhere you look. And then in doing research and kind of understanding the historical trends around teen pregnancy rates, I came to learn that that was not true. That actually, when I got pregnant, teen pregnancy rates were on the decline and had been on the decline for years. And I think many people who have read Pregnant Girl have been like, Oh my gosh, I couldn’t believe that, you know, when I read it because they had the same thinking that I did. And so what I have really taken away from just doing a deeper dive into the data, really finding out that a lot of the things that we’ve been taught, that we hear, the messaging is not accurate and it is really very linked to an agenda that seeks to oppress and marginalize, that my responsibility is to really be a truth teller. And that was one of the reasons why in Pregnant Girl, I wanted to not just share my story, but to have those bigger kind of step back perspectives and say, And here’s the reality that I was operating in, here’s the reality that so many teen parents are operating within today, and it’s not the reality that you think it is.
DeRay Mckesson: Well, tell people how they can get involved and how they can find you, how they can reach you, how they can, how they can follow your work.
Nicole Lynn Lewis: Yeah. So Generation Hope is on social, so supportgenhope on Twitter and Instagram, and just Generation Hope on Facebook. I’m on social as well at nicolelynnlewis on Twitter and Instagram. And you can go to our website Generationhope.org, we have a ton of ways that you can get involved, whether it’s volunteering, we have virtual and in-person opportunities. As you mentioned, we just launched our policy and advocacy agenda. We’re going to be sharing more ways for people to get involved from an advocacy perspective, no matter whether it’s at the federal or local level. So we would love to have people get involved in whatever way works best.
DeRay Mckesson: OK! Nicole, thanks so much for joining us today, and we can’t wait to have you back on the podcast.
Nicole Lynn Lewis: Thank you so much. I appreciate it. It was awesome.
DeRay Mckesson: Well, that’s it. Thanks so much for tuning into Pod Save the People this week. Tell your friends to check it out. Make sure to rate it wherever you get your podcasts, whether it’s Apple Podcasts or somewhere else, and we will see you next week. Pod Save the People is a production of Crooked Media. It’s produced by A.J. Moultrie and mixed by Veronica Simonetti, and executive produced by me. Special thanks to our weekly contributors Kaya Henderson, De’Ara Balenger and Myles Johnson.