In This Episode
DERAY MCKESSON: Hey. This is DeRay. And welcome to Pod Save the People. In this episode, it’s me, Sam, and Kaya covering the news that goes underreported that you might not have heard of. Then I sit down with the one and only Luvvie to talk about her new book, Professional Troublemaker– The Fear-Fighter Manual. It’s so good.
My advice for this week is, y’all, it’s a lot going on, and just know that we can win. We can win in this lifetime. It’ll be hard.
It’ll take a lot of sweat equity. It’ll take a lot of people being unlikely partners in building a world that we’ve never seen, but we can win. That’s the story this week, is that we can do this.
My news is about two different officers, two different places, and the power of an individual officer. The first is in New York. So the Brooklyn DA, Eric Gonzales, announced that he was moving to dismiss 90 convictions involving a police officer, Joseph Franco, who was an NYPD detective who was indicted in 2019 for lying under oath about three separate drug sales, which he said he witnessed.
And now the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus Vance, has agreed to vacate and dismiss approximately a hundred more convictions in which Franco played a key role. That’s about 200 combined convictions that this one officer was involved in in New York City. I mean, wild.
And then we look in Virginia. Jonathan Freitag, 25 years old. He was accused of making up reasons to pull people over and planting drugs in their vehicles in Fairfax County. And there are almost 400 convictions in Virginia that could be overturned because the prosecutors found out that he was racist.
He’s not been criminally charged yet. He’s being investigated. But the allegations were revealed as the attorneys worked to free an ex-firefighter who was sentenced to three years in prison because of a traffic stop by him. And the combination of surveillance videos and a host of other things led people to realize this man is lying.
And the reason I bring these two cases up is that people often can’t grasp what it means when we say the system is broken. People think that it’s a hundred cops need to do this thing, or– it takes people at every level. So the police chief and the commissioner and the lieutenants. What we often forget is that one officer has a lot of power to change people’s lives forever. Just one.
It took one Joseph Franco about 200 convictions in New York City. It took one Freitag in Virginia 400 convictions. People’s lives. People are pleaing down from 10-year sentences, four-year sentence, five-year sentences for things that they had 0% involvement in. This man is planting drugs on people.
One officer. It took one officer. So I bring this up because I want us to remember that when we talk about transforming the system, we talk about scaling back the power of the police, when we talk about what justice looks like, it doesn’t take a whole department. It takes just one or two officers. They all have incredible power to change people’s lives forever.
And you think about the cost of a lawyer. There are a lot of people who get tied up in these cases. They get a public defender who has a million cases. They don’t have a law firm on standby just to fight every tooth. And the system isn’t designed for that.
People are pleaing down so they don’t get a 10-year sentence for something they didn’t do. They’re just pleaing to something because they know that people just trust the cops. I mean, it’s wild.
I wanted to bring you here because there are a lot of people who don’t know about these cases. But 400 convictions being overturned is not simple. 200 convictions being overturned is what? Think about how many people’s lives, how many cousins, brothers, sisters, neighbors are impacted by this stuff, y’all.
KAYA HENDERSON: In recognition of Earth Day, my news is shouting out the state of Massachusetts for enacting a new law to deal with climate change that codifies the principles of environmental justice into law. What exactly is environmental justice, you might be asking yourself? Well, according to the article, and I quote, “Environmental justice is the principle that all people should be able to enjoy a clean and healthy environment and to participate in decisions that affect their ability to do so, regardless of race, color, income, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, and English language proficiency.”
Now, as we’ve reported many times on the podcast, climate change and environmental pollution have disproportionate effects on low-income communities of color, primarily because those communities are more likely to live closer to power plants and incinerators, landfills and highways and airports and et cetera, and are less likely to have access to green spaces and clean water. This new law, which is called An Act Creating a Next-Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy, will actually begin to change that. The law includes important provisions aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and building a green economy. But even more important, one of its most significant requirements are environmental impact reports. So these reports are actually required for any project that is likely to cause environmental damage if it’s located within one to five miles of an environmental justice population, a low-income, minority community for the most part, amongst other things.
And in fact, these EIR– Environmental Impact Reports– are pretty significant because as part of the process, the people who are developing the project have to actually disclose any potential environmental impacts, and they have to suggest project alternatives. Now, you know this is not usually how people get down in communities. They just decide to dump, or they just decide to build without telling people what the impacts are going to be. But in fact, with this new law, the project developer is going to have to submit an assessment of measures and management techniques to limit negative environmental impacts. And this is all subject to public comment.
And so the public disclosure and scrutiny that this process allows actually makes public-private developers and municipal agencies more responsible. It puts them on the hook and holds them accountable to reduce environmental impact near these disproportionately affected neighborhoods. And I think what is even more exciting for me as I think about collective impact and the importance of deeply engaging community in solving problems, this law requires additional measures to improve public participation by the affected communities.
And so it includes provisions where, in fact, language access is incredibly important. A number of communities have been unable to participate in these processes because we haven’t made the documents available in their native languages, or because we haven’t made the documents available period. And in fact, this law will allow public participation in a much more extensive way. And I think what I’ve learned, I guess, over my time doing this work is that the people closest to the problem often have the best solutions.
And so when you bring the developers and the people who have expertise in the projects that they’re developing together with the community, you often get a better result than if you leave the community out. And so I’m shouting out Massachusetts this week again, in celebration of Earth Day, for taking the important step of requiring– requiring– public participation and recognizing and codifying the principles of environmental justice so that we can exercise our rights to live clean and healthy. That’s my news for the week.
DERAY MCKESSON: Hey, you’re listening to Pod Save the People. Don’t go anywhere. There’s more to come. Pod Save the People is brought to you by Defund Fear. Following the worldwide protests against police violence and calls to defund, reform, or dismantle the police, people are searching for a new definition of safety.
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KAYA HENDERSON: Michelle Alexander calls Zach Norris one of the most promising leaders and thinkers of our time. And Bryan Stevenson says that Defund Fear is an enormously important contribution in the effort to advance human rights in this country. Defund Fear by Zach Norris is published by Beacon Press, and is available wherever books are sold.
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SAMUEL SINYANGWE: Hey, it’s Sam. And for my news this week, I want to talk about Mississippi. Now, despite having a population that is 38% black, Mississippi has been electing Republicans to statewide office for decades, whether that’s senators, governors, you name it. And a big reason for that is voter suppression, plain and simple. Mississippi has among the worst laws in the entire country when it comes to voting.
Strict voter ID laws– Mississippi is actually one of only six states that does not allow in-person early voting. And five of those six states, this past election, did create opportunities for people to vote absentee and by mail, given the pandemic. And Mississippi was not one of those five states. So a big reason for all of these voter suppression laws has been to prevent Black people from voting, to prevent Democrats from being able to be elected at the statewide level, and some of those laws are working to their intended effect. Mississippi has one of the lowest turnout rates in the entire country, ranking 45th among the 50 states.
But the good news is, there is an opportunity to change that. Local organizers right now are in the process of qualifying an initiative which would be a constitutional amendment to require Mississippi provide at least 10 days of in-person early voting before an election. Now, organizers need to collect 106,000 signatures in order to put this on the ballot. It would make the 2023 ballot if they collect the signatures.
But this is huge because given the current political dynamics in Mississippi, solid Republican control of the state legislature and governorship, this is one of the few pathways available to actually change the law and to create pathways for people to even have access to the ballot. That’s why this initiative is so important. And it’s not limited to Mississippi. Ballot initiatives can be a strategy for getting around some of these Republican legislatures, particularly when it comes to election laws, in a number of states now, whether that is places like Florida or Oklahoma, or whether it is in Mississippi itself.
Pay attention to this initiative. It’s still in the early days, and the language for the initiative has to be approved before they can start circulating it for signatures. But all of this is moving very quickly, and I’m hopeful that this can be emblematic of broader changes that can be made on the ballot to open up access to the ballot in southern states in particular, where we’ve seen some of the worst voter suppression laws targeting Black people and seeking to preserve Republican control in perpetuity.
DE’ARA BALENGER: All right, y’all. Earth Day is coming up this Thursday. The earth has had quite a year. In addition to a global pandemic, climate change has really ravaged us this year, whether it’s flooding, whether it’s wildfires. And so, so much about Earth Day is raising up environmental issues, what we all can do individually, what we can do as collective, to save and protect, preserve our Earth.
But Earth Day also is really a celebration of humankind’s connection to the earth. And with that, I wanted to find a piece of news that really gave us a human idea of what’s happening at our borders, particularly when it comes to children. We’ve seen a lot of news recently about what’s happening at the borders. You know, what the Biden administration has done to pivot and change, evolve, and sometimes, as we saw this week, at the pushing of advocacy groups and folks that have been working on the ground on immigration and working to keep families together for quite some time.
So this news is actually from the Los Angeles Times, and it’s about a Nicaraguan-American woman, Nora Sandigo, who helps children who have crossed the border on their own to join their families. As we know, a lot of children are crossing on their own to meet their families here. She’s actually called La Gran Madre.
She’s based in Miami. Evidently, her phone never stops ringing. For a year, she has kept migrant children out of the foster care system by assuming power of attorney or guardianship over them after their parents have been deported. These days, she’s also helping children who have crossed the border on their own to join their families in the US.
So this particular day, immigration lawyer Nicolas Aguado is calling to say one of those families is about to be reunited. “What’s the good news?” As Sandigo answers the phone, she says in Spanish.
“Tomorrow, Catalina’s girls arrive.” Aguado says, Catalina Aviles’ daughters, ages three to five, will be released from federal migrant shelter, where they’ve been held for a month after crossing the border illegally. Again, y’all– ages three and five.
The Mexican girls are scheduled to fly with a federal escort the next morning to join their mother in Austin, Texas. “When the parents don’t know what to do, when they’re afraid or the process is difficult, they call me,” Sandigo says as she rushes to book a flight to Austin to coordinate the reunion. “I have to always be ready with a bag packed.”
Sandigo knows what it’s like to be on an uncertain journey. The second eldest of seven children raised in the rural town of Comalapa, Nicaragua, she was 15 when her parents decided to escape the country’s revolution in the 1980s. She eventually passed north, and now a mother of two grown daughters herself, has a good life in adopted land. She sees herself in the children she is helping.
As of Thursday, y’all, there were 19,537 migrant children at federal shelters, where they have stayed for an average of 37 days. More than 80% of these children have family in the US. Again, more than 80% of these children have family in the US. Some parents have had to wait more than a week to talk to their children by phone, even longer for federal officials to tell them the cities and shelters where their children are being held.
Sandigo is known as the La Gran Madre, and has the power of attorney for more than 2,000 children. She receives hundreds of phone calls a week from a growing list of migrant families. Her words are swift. She nods her head.
Each case, although distinct, has the ring of familiarity she has heard for decades. Aviles’ daughters traveled with their 18-year-old sister. After they crossed the US border, the small girls were separated from their sister by Border Patrol. Children who arrive with relatives other than their biological parents are routinely placed in federal custody until released to their parents or another sponsor vetted by the government.
Aviles’ eldest daughter was sent back to Mexico, her younger sisters in shelters in San Antonio, and later in New York City. Aviles, 41 years old, a restaurant worker from Michoacan, crossed the border illegally nearly a year ago and now lives outside Austin. In a phone interview this week, she said she didn’t want her daughters to have to make the journey, but in January, her eldest daughter answered a knock at the door and was raped by a stranger.
Getting her daughters out of Mexico seemed the only way to protect them, Aviles said. After the girls arrived at the border, she had trouble locating and claiming them. “They didn’t give me any hope for when they would be released,” Aviles said to a government staff she spoke with.
“I said to them, don’t you understand what it’s like to be a mother?” They said, “You have to wait. We can’t do anything else for you. It’s very hard to get information.” Aviles had read Spanish-language news report about Sandigo and emailed her.
“I’m desperate. Please help. I’m going crazy with all this. My daughters are calling me, crying to come get them. They miss me,” she wrote. This week, after Aviles was reunited with her two daughters, she accredited Sandigo’s group. “They were the first people who helped us,” she said.
The list of federal shelters has been growing exponentially in the recent weeks, with new ones opening weekly at military bases, convention centers, and former oil field camps. A shelter capable of housing thousands of children a few miles from Sandigo’s home in Homestead, Florida, is on standby, having drawn criticism and protests in the past. Sandigo founded Nicaraguan and migrant advocacy groups and married a fellow Nicaraguan from her hometown. She started a small nursing home and plant business that cultivates banana palms, mangoes, and guavas, fruit trees she loved as a child.
In 1996, she became a US citizen and the lead plaintiff in a class action suit to get the US to grant legal residency to Nicaraguans. Congress passed a law admitting them the next year. Sandigo said she has helped more than 200,000 migrants so far. She stays in touch with children she represents, watching as they graduate from high school, college, nursing school, and in one case, Georgetown Law School. She and her foundation have filed a number of lawsuits on behalf of children and their migrant parents, including a 2015 brief with the US Supreme Court of Deferred Action for Child Arrivals, which we know as DACA.
She’s been to the White House a number of times. She has two filing cabinets in her house filled with cases of children whose parents gave her power of attorney or guardianship. At least a hundred were in California. Some of those she’s helping now are from Nicaragua.
Three years ago, Sandigo joined fellow Nicaraguan exiles in a complaint with the United Nations against the Ortega government, alleging crimes against humanity, including violent oppression of anti-government protests, some by Christian groups. Amnesty International and other human rights groups have made similar allegations. The US has imposed sanctions, but Ortega has not relented. “Nicaragua is being held hostage,” Sandigo said.
Sandigo’s ranch became a refuge for migrant families during the pandemic. Friends installed a mobile home, where a Guatemalan single mother is now living with her three children. Volunteers gather at the house to help her deliver groceries to more than a thousand migrants who are homebound after testing positive for the coronavirus. Many can’t get vaccinated against the virus at local clinics, which require state identification Florida won’t issue to migrants who don’t have a government-issued photo ID or proof of residency.
Sandigo compared the flurry of calls seeking her help to Trump’s first year in office, when migrants were deported under a zero-tolerance policy. “We are returning to that time,” she said. “There’s a wrong perception in the community that we have open borders for everyone, that everyone coming will be protected.”
Sitting on Sandigo’s patio Sunday, recently arrived migrant Faustina Hernandez asked if she could apply for asylum to legally stay in the US with her family. Aguado, the immigration lawyer, told her that they had a year to apply, and explained how to go about it. Hernandez, 27, left Guatemala in January with her daughters, ages 8 and 10, heading for a husband who has been a farm worker in south Florida for the last seven years. Hernandez’s mother had been diagnosed with cancer, and she said she wanted to work in the US to support her. She and her daughters crossed the Arizona border in February, were returned to Mexico by Border Patrol, then crossed again last month as they made their way to Florida.
“It’s like me in the past,” Sandigo said on why she reunites families. “It’s my mission.” She serves the family lunch and then sits with them, helping the girls draw birds, including the Guatemalan quetzal, a reminder of Central America, the land they left.
Hopefully, you guys will all check out this story in the LA Times. It’s a beautiful story, but also a telling story that I think helps to humanize what’s happening in some cases when it comes to children who are crossing and who need support, who are desperately trying to find their families, 80% of which are here in the US. So take a look. Celebrate Earth Day, y’all. Celebration of Earth, and celebration of humankind.
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DERAY MCKESSON: Luvvie is a Nigerian-American author, speaker, and digital strategist. Most recently she’s become the author of the newly released book and New York Times bestseller, Professional Troublemaker– The Fear-Fighter Manual. And today, we talk about humility, impostor syndrome, heroship, identity, boundaries, and fighting fear. Here we go. Luvvie! Thanks so much for joining us on Pod Save the People.
LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: Thank you for having me!
DERAY MCKESSON: Now, I’m excited to talk about Professional Troublemaker. I got to read it, and there’s so many gems in here. So we’ll start with– this is your second book, right? I know the first book. This is the second book, yes?
LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: It is the second book.
DERAY MCKESSON: I was like, did I miss a book? Can you talk about what led you to another book? I feel like my first book almost killed me. It was like, whoo!
And you have a second one, which is amazing. Can you talk about what led you to a second book? Why now? Why this topic? Talk to us about the second book.
LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: Well, first of all, clearly I’m a glutton for punishment.
LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: I think for me it was important to write this book because the idea of fear and what happens when we make our decisions from a place of fear is something that I’ve seen how it affected my life, like, you know, my TED Talk that now has 5.6 million views. I had turned that thing down twice because I was afraid that I wasn’t ready for it. So I’m like, imagine if I never did that talk– the opportunities I wouldn’t have, the impact I wouldn’t be able to make on people. If I don’t pay attention to it, I will make a decision from a place of fear, and how it doesn’t serve me when I do.
So I was like, yeah, I got to write about this. And you right. Book writing is not a game. It is not a game at all. But I felt convicted and compelled to do it as a career writer.
DERAY MCKESSON: It’s one of the things you talk about that’s really interesting, is this role of fear. This is early on in the book. But you push back on this notion that our role is to get rid of the fear, like to throw the fear away. You are like, the fear’s here, and we got to figure out what to do with it. How did you get to that place of, I’m not saying get rid of all the fear, but doing something else with it?
LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: Yeah. I think it’s because I started seeing that, OK, even when I did things that scared me, I usually won, and it was usually a growth opportunity. So I started being like, oh, this is something that needs to happen with intention. I actually got to do it on purpose, because when I do it, I usually get rewarded in some way. So for me it was one of those, like, all right. I’m going to commit to the thing.
I’m going to recognize the moments when I’m feeling afraid. I’m going to recognize the moments when I’m not moving in my truly honest way. And I will make sure that I move in spite of that fear. I’m going to charge forward regardless.
DERAY MCKESSON: I love it. And what about humility? It’s one of the things you also talk about in the first section of the book, the role of humility and what you do with it, and what you don’t do with it. What is your take on humility?
LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: Yeah, I think we got humility wrong. I think we think humility is about being self-deprecating or diminishing your gifts to not make anybody else feel some type of way. I think that’s dishonest. I don’t think humility includes dumbing yourself down. I think it is understanding who you are, how dope you are, and knowing that you are who you are because of and in spite of the people and the forces around you.
So for me, I think I’m an amazing writer and amazing speaker, but I know I became this because of the sacrifice of my mom, because of the gift that God gave me, because of me sometimes being in the right place at the right time and seizing an opportunity. So it keeps me not being arrogant. It keeps me humble in that I’m like, yo, I know I’m good, but it ain’t just all my doing.
And I think for us, we need to be– especially Black people, especially women, especially anybody who’s marginalized– we need to not feel guilty about owning our dopeness. We need to not feel guilty about saying, this is my worth and I want to be compensated for it. The only way humility comes in is to just say– I say, shout out to all the giants whose shoulders I stand on, but that don’t mean I don’t get to get paid what I’m worth.
DERAY MCKESSON: There’s a part in the book where you write, and I quote, “Some of us not only make ourselves smaller, but we apologize for our very being. We actually say sorry for our presence, as if we exist as some sort of transgression to others.”
LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: Mm.
DERAY MCKESSON: “We say sorry when someone passes us on a sidewalk, as if both of us don’t have a right to be there at once. We even say sorry for our faces. I’ve seen people write on social media about a picture they posted, sorry that my face looks like it does. Wait. You’re asking people for forgiveness for your visage? How? Why? What did your face do to them?”
I read that and I’m like, go ahead and preach, Luvvie. Go ahead. Go ahead. Preach. But the reason I wanted to bring that up is that what you say next is actually the thing that I’ll never forget, is that you– and I think this is what the book does so well– is that you name those things, but also help people understand the human response that leads them to that.
So you say, but I get it. A lot of it is tied to our past traumas, low self-esteem brought on by years of criticism and other layers of baggage. Can you talk about why you included this section?
LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: When we think about fear, we think about these big moments of challenging systems and challenging people, and I’m like, no, it’s in our everyday movement. We’re afraid of offending people with our faces. We’re afraid of just being who we are. And I think it was important to include here that because I’m like, something is causing us to put a disclaimer on ourselves, as if we need to warn people about us first, as if we need to brace them for impact of us, because it’s wild that we now feel like we have to do that.
I think it’s something that we all contend with, and we’ve all heard that. We all have seen the captions or have written a caption that’s like, my bad for my face, y’all. And I’m like, no, think about it. Why are we apologizing for our faces?
DERAY MCKESSON: No, I love it. Can we zoom out a little bit? And I wanted to ask you about your grandmother.
LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: Yes.
DERAY MCKESSON: She is a prominent part of the book. It is clear to me that she has had a lasting impact on both the way that you think about the world and the way you think about yourself. For people who have not read the book, could you introduce your grandmother to us?
LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: Yes. My grandmother– her name was Funmilayo Faloyin. She was an elder Nigerian stateswoman who took up all the space she wanted without apology, who loved fiercely, who would lambaste you fiercely also, but was so kind and loved being celebrated, smiled with her whole face. And I put her at the center of this book because I think about all of us have at least one person in our lives who we know who’s like that. We have a grandmother, an auntie, maybe it’s our mom who just show up in the world without apology and are like, you can’t check me, right?
It’s not like they can’t grow. It’s that they will not– their very presence stops being offensive to them and everybody else because they just won’t let it. But I’m like, what happens when we take on that idea, that attitude before we turn 65?
My grandmother was a woman who, like every Black grandmother, just– you couldn’t tell her nothing. That woman could cook. She would protect you. She would insult you. She would make you laugh.
You know that as long as she’s alive, you are covered with her prayers. And just that solid– that anchor, that grounding that she represented– I’m like, how can we be that person before we become that age? How can we be that for other people today? How can we move in the world in that authentic way, now?
DERAY MCKESSON: I love it. I love it. You know, it was one of the things where it was like, wow.
I felt close to– my great-grandmother helped raise us, and every time your grandmother popped up, I was like, I get it. I know that. I know that kind of love.
I know that kind of spirit and energy, that other generation. What does she call you? Does she have a nickname for you?
LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: So my first name is Ifeoluwa, which means “God loves.” So she actually used to call me Ifemi, which means “my love.”
DERAY MCKESSON: Aww.
LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: And whenever she’d talk to me or see me, that’s what she would say.
DERAY MCKESSON: I love it. There’s another part of the book where you talk about your relationship with impostor syndrome. And one of the things that I took away is that you talk about both sides of it.
The part that might be beneficial, maybe– beneficial is not really the word you use, but that was sort of how I read it. But then you also talk about the danger of even the way people think about that. Can you help us understand your relationship to impostor syndrome?
LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: Yeah. I think impostor syndrome is something everybody has in a certain form. It doesn’t look the same for everybody. It’s not always about you not thinking you belong in the room. Sometimes it’s that you are in the room. You know you belong there, but you somehow feel like you must overwork to earn your keep while you are there.
It means you’re constantly striving and digging deeper to make sure you are somehow worthy of the room. I think it’s impostor syndrome serves a purpose in that those who have it– if it’s harnessed properly, it makes you better, because it makes you better at your craft, because if you’re constantly practicing with the intention of being better, you’re going to get better. And then it makes you more humble, because you know that, listen, I’m not going to take it for granted that I’m here, so you will work towards it.
But where it can stifle you is, it keeps you from accepting growth opportunities. You know, the job that you are offered that you don’t think you’re qualified for. The raise that you should ask for, but you don’t think you are worth it.
The TED Talk that somebody asks you to do that you turn down twice, and had you turned it down the third time, it wouldn’t have happened. So I think with everything, too much of anything is not good, so impostor syndrome, when harnessed properly, can be a driver of you being better. But when you allow it to sit on your shoulders, you might actually stop yourself from saying yes to no opportunities or even saying no to yes opportunities.
DERAY MCKESSON: Another thing. You know, Luvvie, what I’ve always appreciated about you from when I first knew who you are as a blogger, and then book one and now book two, and obviously, I know you in the real world and on Twitter– is your honesty and the way the honesty shows up both in how you understand success and how you understand the areas that you need to grow on. And I wanted to talk to you about the chapter “Fail Loudly.”
LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: Mm-hmm.
DERAY MCKESSON: And you recount the story of your biggest public failure. And can you talk about why you included it and what you hope people get from seeing you and reading you recount that experience?
LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: Yeah. So I’m talking about my biggest public fail, which happened in 2018. People can go ahead and read the details of the book when they buy it, but I think it was important to include in here because this is a book I’m talking about being a professional troublemaker, showing up in the world, being bold. It was important to talk about what can happen sometimes when you are being bold, the fact that sometimes you will fall flat on your face. Sometimes you will be in the middle of very public storms. For me, I trended on Twitter for a bit, and it knocked me off my square.
And that was part of the honesty that was necessary for this book, because I’m telling people, I need you to show up better in this world, and bigger and bolder, but you got to also know that it’s not without the consequence. It’s not without certain things they put on the line. And for me, something I said was completely taken and ran with, and people threw arrows my way and tried to destroy my career.
And from that what I learned was that with all of the visibility with living a big life, I was no longer seen as just me. And my platform, being as big as it was, was now something that I have to be cognizant about. That my words, even if they hadn’t changed from what they would have been before, now landed different because I was no longer the underdog. I was no longer David. I was Goliath.
People can shoot arrows at Goliath because Goliath is the problem, right? So understanding and having that frame of reference was a shock to my system because I see myself as just me, not Luvvie the brand, the person with the platform, the person with this many followers. But I think it was God being like, hey, I set you on a mountaintop.
I need you to be responsible with it. I need you to know what you are now wielding is not the small thing that you think it is. It’s big. It comes with things.
DERAY MCKESSON: I remember that moment, and y’all need to read the book to see the moment. But did that change your relationship with the internet? And I ask because I think about myself, right? Twitter feels like a very different place today than it was in 2014 and ’15.
LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: Because it was. Yup.
DERAY MCKESSON: Yeah, and just– sometimes people’s joy in the downfall just feels way– I just don’t remember that in 2014. I was in the street all day, so maybe I missed it, but I just don’t remember it being that way. Maybe I’m off, but did that change your relationship to the internet?
LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: It’s shifted it for sure, because I do agree that we do have a different relationship with criticism now than we did 10 years ago. I remember a time when Twitter was the wild, wild West. Before anybody was any type of success, before anybody had any type of brand attached to them, we’d just be up there just roasting each other all day, every day, on some dirty dozens type stuff.
DERAY MCKESSON: [LAUGHS]
LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: And it reminded me that with everything, everything shifts. Everything shifts. We cannot engage in the way we used to before we had these names, before we commanded these dollars. And even if we don’t change, the world around us, when it shifts, we have to shift along with it.
Sometimes you forget. Sometimes you forget that, oh, the game is different now. And that’s part of the growth and the change of it all. It’s asking us to constantly evolve, which is tough.
So I think for me it was a shock to my system because I was like, wait a minute. I don’t see how I’ve changed, but I realized it wasn’t really about that. The internet is different. We gotta move different. We can’t just go on Twitter and post anything we wanted to, or even laugh with our friends in the way we would typically, because now it’s part of a grander statement.
And, yeah. You just take it to the group chats. It’s crazy. Twitter definitely has changed in tone, in the way people receive intentions, in the way people are looking for somebody to be the trending topic of the day. It wasn’t always like that.
DERAY MCKESSON: Yeah. I know I’m not going– I’m like, this feels different. Something feels different. Now, I’ll just read this passage from the book, one that stuck with me in this section.
“When it comes to failing, we come up with stories about who we are because of it.” I have the digital copy of this, but if I could highlighted that and cut it out of the book and put it on my wall, I would make a poster with that. So, Luvvie, I want it.
That is where the shame came in for me. I felt like I got caught with my pants down and ass all out in the open. I felt exposed and raw and thought everything I had achieved was clearly a sham because it was able to get taken away.
LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: Mm-hmm.
DERAY MCKESSON: As people pointed out, whatever old, problematic thing they didn’t like from my raving, dumbass 24-year-old self on Twitter, I felt embarrassed. The lessons were plenty.
LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: Mm-hmm.
DERAY MCKESSON: And those of you listening, I’ll tell you, what’s really cool about this section is that it is both a story that you can understand about Luvvie’s public failing, but some of the lessons that you got from it, Luvvie, are just so great that I’m like, where’s the T-shirt? I hope that part of this rollout is– I need a book. I need a bag.
I need a bookmark with this. I need a– it’s just so good, you know? And I only say one, but I thought it was so interesting that one of your takeaways was none of us belong on pedestals.
LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: Yes.
DERAY MCKESSON: And can you just tease us with what that means? And then there are more lessons in the book and even in this section, y’all, so when you read, you’ll get the rest of them. But I will ask you about none of us belong on pedestals.
LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: Yes. I say this to my audience tonight, talk about it in IU Stories, or I’ll talk about it on Twitter sometimes, where I say, if you have me on a pedestal, I need you to take me off it, because when you put me up there, you are setting me up for failure. You’re setting me up to fall off it. I will disappoint you.
This is not a if. It’s just a matter of when. I will say something that you don’t like or agree with, even if you love and agree with everything I say right now. I will do or say something that you are like, I don’t like that she just did that! Cap cap cap!
And I say I don’t belong on a pedestal because, one, I’m no hero. I’m a person who happened to end up getting a lot of people following her just because she was doing the thing that she loved. That does not make me perfect. It doesn’t make me better than anybody. Nor does it always make me an authority on being a human, a great human.
So I’m always like, yo, I need you– for my favor, so you don’t set me up to fail– I need you to take me off that mountaintop that you place me on, because I don’t belong there. I firmly believe that, and a lot of what happens in these moments is people project heroship on all of us just because we have 400,000 people, a million people following us. But listen, we got here accidentally, too! And we’re learning how to navigate it on the job.
It’s like being hired for a job and learning the rules as you go along. There’s going to be days where you’re going to break rules that you didn’t even know existed. And you have to be allowed to have those days. So that’s absolutely something that I need people to keep in mind with anybody who’s visible, anybody who’s prominent. Don’t put them on a pedestal, because a pedestal is telling them that they are basically above you.
I am of the community. I am of people. I am learning out loud. And I think it’s important for people to give that grace.
DERAY MCKESSON: One of the other things, as we take a quick walk through the book for the audience, is you talk about setting boundaries. And there was a sentence– so I feel like I’ve seen a million things about setting boundaries, and I’m like, OK, got it. Yup, check. Yup.
I’ve got the T-shirt. Got it. But you write this sentence and I was like, Luvvie, I want the T-shirt on this. And as you say, at the core, setting boundaries– at the core, setting boundaries is trying to minimize self-betrayal as we exist in this world.
LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: Mm-hmm.
DERAY MCKESSON: What does that mean to you?
LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: Mm-hmm. I think minimizing self-betrayal looks like making sure people stop honoring– don’t stop honoring who we are. It actually starts with us. I can’t tell somebody to honor me if I’m not honoring myself.
DERAY MCKESSON: Yeah.
LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: And that usually comes with me creating some type of space, some type of line that they can now know to honor. To that point where you don’t create rules that are visible, that are easy to understand, and if somebody breaks the rule, you’re like– well, they’re like, well, you never told me this is a rule. So it’s all about creating rules.
We don’t honor ourselves enough. We don’t. We’re constantly worrying about what other people think, who we might run afoul of, so that we do end up betraying ourselves. We do end up doing things we don’t want to do that are deeply offensive to us, or just deeply not enjoyable, or that annoy our whole spirit.
Or we allow people to do it, and we are silent as they do it. I’m just like, that, for me, is self-control and self-sacrifice. We don’t have to constantly self-sacrifice to be worth love.
DERAY MCKESSON: How do you grow? How do you reflect? What’s the thing for you that gives you that you think about your own processes and check in with yourself? Is it journaling? Is it therapy?
What is it? There are so many lessons in this book that make it clear to me that you have had time to reflect and that you’ve had time to check in with yourself about the grows and glows– that’s how we– I used to teach middle school, and that’s what we would call things– grows and glows. What’s that practice like for you?
LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: Yes, all of that. Therapy, it’s writing, it’s talking to my friends, it’s reading a book. I think I’m in constant reflection mode. I’m in constant growth mode because I’m always doing one of those things.
I’m picking up things that I can use as I read other people’s books. And I’m like, ooh, that’s a word. I hold on to that. All of that allows me to grow constantly. All of it allows me to figure out ways to shift how I’m moving that will serve me better. So you have to constantly–
DERAY MCKESSON: Why did you call it Professional Troublemaker?
LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: Uh, I called it Professional Troublemaker because I think making trouble gets a bad rap. I think the world needs troublemakers, and troublemakers are truth tellers and trailblazers. They’re people who want to disrupt for the greater good. They’re the people who are challenging ideas in meetings. They’re the ones who are the friends who are telling you, I don’t like that thing you just did, but let’s talk about it.
Professional troublemakers are not just nice to have. They’re necessary, because they save the world. They’re the activists, the teachers, the sisters asking tough questions. It is something that I think people need to stop shying away from and own it.
That whole quote of, “Well-behaved women seldom make history”– well-behaved people, period, seldom make history. Well-behaved people seldom move and make impacts. And I think we all need to be less nice and more kind. And kindness looks like disruption for justice. Whatever space that is, whether it is why you’re sitting across the dinner table with your friend, or your boss, or whether you are marching in the streets.
DERAY MCKESSON: I love it. Well, Luvvie, thanks for coming on the pod. Hope to have you back soon, and let’s live it up.
LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: Thank you for having me, fam!
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 that you rate it wherever you get your podcasts, whether it’s Apple Podcasts or somewhere else, and we’ll see you next week.
Pod Save the People is a production of Crooked Media. It’s produced by Brock Wilbur and mixed by Bill Lancz. Our executive producers, Jessica Cordova Kramer and myself. Special thanks to our weekly contributors, Kaya Henderson, De’Ara Balenger, and Sam Sinyangwe, and our special contributor, Johnetta Elzie.