Finding Your True Self – Ep.3

Growing a Community – Ep.2
October 7, 2020
Branding for Inclusion – Ep.4
October 21, 2020

Author, Teaching Artist, Poet and “Imagination Activist,” Glenis Redmond talks about connecting with her “Authentic self,” how following your passion can create social change, explains the Afro-Carolinian history, creating a safe space for her students to find their “truest selves,” and shares her unexpected opportunity to meet with First Lady Michelle Obama.

Melyssa Barrett:  Welcome to The Jali Podcast. I’m your host Melyssa Barrett. This podcast is for those who are interested in the conversation around diversity, inclusion and equity. Each week, I’ll be interviewing a guest who has something special to share, or is actively part of building solutions in this space. Let’s get started! So please Join me for a fabulous conversation with Glenis Redmond. 

And before we get started, I just want to tell you a little bit about Glenis. Glenis Redmond travels nationally and internationally, reading and teaching and performing poetry. She’s a Kennedy Center Teaching Artist and has had two Poet-in-Residence posts at the Peace Center for the performing arts in Greenville, South Carolina, and the State Theatre in New Brunswick, New Jersey. She’s been the Mentor Poet for the National Student Poet’s Program since 2014. And in the past, she’s prepared these exceptional youths poets to read at the Library of Congress, the Department of Education, and let’s not forget for First Lady Michelle Obama at The White House. Glenis is amazing. She believes that we all defy categorization, but knows that it is our human nature to label and define. That she has been deemed a poet, a teaching artist. And however, she understands that this and more are who we are. This is where the term “imagination activists” enters. 

So when she sits in a poetic circle with others, she’s still informed by her counselor training. And in this circle, she helps participants discover their depths and enable them to venture on their own creative path. She’s most recently been awarded the Highest Award for the Arts in the State of South Carolina, the Governor’s Award. And also she’ll receive the Charlie Award, given in memory of Charles Price, granted by the Carolina Mountains Literary Festival in the Fall of 2020. In 2014 through 2020, Glenis has served as the Mentor Poet for the National Student Poet’s Program. Her latest book, The Listening Skin, will be published by Four Way Books in 2022. So be on alert for that. So welcome, Glenis. I’m so excited to talk to you. 

Glenis Redmond:  Thank you, Melyssa. It’s so great to talk to you today. 

Melyssa Barrett:  Honestly, I could have gone on and on with your bio. You have so many things in your background that are so interesting. I’m still trying to figure out what an imagination activist is? 

Glenis Redmond:  Well, it’s really stems from when I was five years old and I was a daydreamer and I used to look out the window. And I come from a very southern, loving mother, who would say, “You don’t have nothing to do off. Behind you is something to do on a Saturday.” She wanted us to do chores. And I was that daydreamer that was looking out the window. It looked like I was doing nothing, but my inner life was so rich. And that was the start of me being a poet. 

So when I walk into a room with people who want to write poetry, or prose, or find their inner artists, or just be creative in that way, I come in and say, “It is okay to do that. It is okay to spend time in the landscape of your imagination.” Play is one of the biggest ways. Children learn, and then as adults, we forget that we get so specialized in our field, become so professional, we forget to play. We forget to go outside of our boundaries and do something that’s not our number one thing in our wheelhouse. And that’s my job is to be a facilitator and be at the helm of the circle and say, “Hey, let’s go. Let’s see what happens.”

Melyssa Barrett:  Really tapping into that creativity, which is nice. Having… My husband I think I told you was a professional storyteller. And that sense of playfulness performance just proliferated. Since I have a history of working in finance, sometimes-

Glenis Redmond:  Numbers.

Melyssa Barrett:  You don’t always tap into that side of your brain. So I can appreciate that for sure. 

Glenis Redmond:  Left and right brain. And we just go towards our street.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes.

Glenis Redmond:  And of course I’m not a numbers person. But I have to, as a poet and teaching artists, I have to remind myself of the business side as well. So it’s really good to be ambidextrous. You’re not either or. We’re both. 

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah, no doubt. So you did talk a little bit about your mom and your upbringing. 

Glenis Redmond:  Yeah.

Melyssa Barrett:  So can you talk a little bit about how you got to where you are today because you have such an interesting journey? 

Glenis Redmond:  Well, try to put it in a capsule. I am a military kid, a air force brat. I’m one of five, I’m the fourth. And we lived all over. Out of my siblings, I’m the only one born in South Carolina. My brother before me was born in Évron, France, which was much to my chagrin because people would say to him, “Where are you born?” And he would say, “Évron, France.” And then they would ask me and I would say, “Sumter, South Carolina.” And it just did not have the same brain. As a poet, it would have been, why couldn’t we have switched places? But it was much later when we moved back to the South from Aviano, Italy to New Jersey to my parents’ home, to South Carolina when I was 12. And it was culture shock. I was not ready for what seemed like the civil rights movement hadn’t happened in the outer parts of Greenville, we lived in Piedmont. And I had to deal with a race in a very different way than I did when we were on basis. 

And I think that started to form me as a poet. I started looking at the landscape. At first, I didn’t like all of the jarring juxtapositions. As time went on, I went on and went to college first in my family to graduate from college and majored in psychology and became a counselor. And I was working on my PhD in counseling psych at VCU in Richmond. And I would drive down that Monument Avenue with all the Confederate soldiers and I would just go, “I am on the wrong road.” I’m on the wrong road metaphorically and literally. I would say that, in the 80s, I was saying that in the 80s, that’s around 86, 87, 88. 

And then finally, one day I walked in, I was there on a full fellowship, and I walked into my major advisor and I said, “I don’t want to do this.” And it was an honor to have a fellowship. But at the same time he said, “Well, what do you want to do?” And then in a small, still voice I said, “Poetry.” And it was almost as if I had hit him in the center of his chest. I remember he was a manly man. He was like, “Oh, you’re one of those artisans who’s artists, artists” 

And but that was the first time I started to claim the word poet. And I didn’t know how I was going to get there. And it took many years to unfurl. I went on and took a job because I was married at the time, was expecting twins. Went on and took a position as we moved back to South Carolina from Richmond to be close to family with these multiples. And I took a job as a clinical counselor for the State of South Carolina, but it was then where my health started to fail.  I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and that’s a host of things, chronic illness. And back then, people didn’t understand what it was. 

And so what happened to me during that year, I took a year off and tried to regain my health and clarity and I was listening to… And I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life. I was in complete utter pain. I was having a dark night of the soul. And I asked the universe, ask God, I said, “What is it that I… What should I be doing?” And I remember turning on the television and there was a poet who was speaking on PBS, Bill Moyers: The Language of Life, and it was Lucille Clifton. I won’t do the whole poem, but at the end, she says, “Why don’t you come celebrate with me that everyday something has tried to kill me and has failed.” And I looked up, and I sat up off the couch and I said, “That’s it. I am going to do poetry no matter what it takes.” So that started my role in my path as a teaching artist and a poet. I found a lovely book called The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. It was my Bible. 

Melyssa Barrett:  I love that book. I love it.

Glenis Redmond:  Love, love, love. And so there was just a confluence of things that the universe was conspiring for me to get on this road as poet. Yes, you’re useful as a counselor. Yes, you’re good at this job, but it’s the pleading you. So honestly this is not the right track. And so what I did was take all the skills and tools that I has a counselor, married them with my skills as a poet and a teacher. And now you have teaching artists poet 28 years later.

Melyssa Barrett:  Oh, that’s fun because I think a lot of times we get on a path and we think we have to stay on the path for the rest of our life. And so being able to pivot and understand that you change as a person and you have a different passion, but being able to recognize it and actually do it takes a lot of carriage. 

Glenis Redmond:  Well, I don’t know the carriage because the House, Don’t Fall on Me. The illness I think was the wake-up call. And I was really one of these people. I was a box checker and a good girl, and I was a good daughter, I was a good wife, I was a good sister. I was doing everything for everybody else. Good mother, just everything for everyone else, but myself. So I had never asked the question, what is it that I really want to do? I got into psychology to try to understand family dynamics and all that kind of stuff. And you realize at some point, I realized that I can’t fix anybody and change anybody but myself. So I started within.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes.

Glenis Redmond:  And so this path was very healing and fruitful for me. It just opened up a whole new world. I felt like I became my authentic self and I got on the path of poetry. 

Melyssa Barrett:  Wow, and it’s so interesting that you mentioned your authentic self because in this day and age as we’re talking much more boldly about racial injustice and social injustice, there is this authentic authenticity, this vulnerability that people are now looking for. Not only ourselves, but our allies in terms of, especially those who have no clue about what this real black experience is like. 

Glenis Redmond:  Exactly. And cultural competency is something we don’t talk about a lot, but I think it’s important. You can be a very intelligent person, but not be competent culturally, and not understand what others are going through. And I think being other a black woman and then also someone who’s disabled also be an air force kid, gave me a sensitivity of always looking within and looking at what’s going on with other people. And so I think we’re in living in exciting, but also a scary time. There’s a lot of volatility to this because some people feel threatened when you start speaking your truth and wanting equity. And it shouldn’t be threatening because you’re not taking anything away from any other group. What you’re trying to do is give games to those who are in the margins, those who have been oppressed. 

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah, no, that’s for sure. And so when we talk about diversity and inclusion, it strikes me being an imagination activists, along with a poet, a healer, your background in psychology. There’s so many challenges that come up when it comes to just being able to manage through, especially in a corporate environment where everything is cut and dry. You have to cut off your emotions in a lot of cases. Do you think there’s challenges that we come up against that we should better understand in order to make a change in this area?

Glenis Redmond:  It’s such a tricky situation, especially in the work world or dealing with any of these institutions because I think racism and those sorts of issues are systemic and structural. And so a lot of times we get tied around the personal interactions. And so it’s hard to navigate those landmines. And of course, you always want to show up and be your authentic self wherever you are. But many times as a woman of color, a black woman, I’m in a space. I always… You’re not always safe. So you want to make sure you’re safe and you speak to the level. You always want to be authentic, but you also bear degrees of that as well because you’re trying to make a livelihood and I’m not saying you sell out, but you also have this push-pull thing that you have to do.

Now as an artist and a poet, I think I have a little bit more leeway with that because that’s my job. My job is not to make anyone feel comfortable. And I think there are different degrees how we change. There are people who are on the frontline who are fighting. And I did in my days, and I’m not saying I wouldn’t be on the frontline anymore. But a person with stage 3 multiple myeloma, I’m not going to be on the frontlines right now. That’s just not, but I did that work. And now I think you can be in institutions and make subtle gradual changes. So that’s powerful for the next generation. We all can do. I think we should do what’s in our heart. And I think it’s important to listen to our heart and say, “So what is my piece?” Because I read something, I can’t remember who it was on social media today and he was like, “I think that people might get lost in the fire and the fight.”

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes. 

Glenis Redmond:  “And not pay attention to the grief and the sorrow.” And so there are just so many subtle ways, and subtle ways that are actually very expensive to create change. So I think we all have to tune in and say, “What is my calling? How do I impact change the best way?” Because I think the key is to where our talents. Wherever our talents lie, that’s our path. 

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah, I heard somebody say, “We all use our hands in different ways.” And of course, you have a book called What My Hand Say. 

Glenis Redmond:  Yeah.

Melyssa Barrett:  And so as soon as I saw that, I was connecting dots to figure out. Everybody has an opportunity to contribute in lots of different ways. So it’s funny to hear you talk about that. And to me, I guess there’s… I know you have lots of history in your background. And a lot of the things that you do cultivate and nurture that history. And in some cases, we don’t know our own history for a variety of reasons. And I think our allies often don’t know what our history was, so they can’t even relate to the history. 

Glenis Redmond:  Well, you’re so right, Melyssa. That’s I think as a child, I want to tell you one window, when I was in the fifth grade, living in Aviano, Italy, I remember Ms. Anderson, my fifth grade teacher, wanted us to do a coat of arms exercise. So we had to color our coat of arms. We had to study it. And I just was really frustrated. I didn’t have the agency to say, “Look, that information I’m not privy to.” So I just got angry and did what a fifth grader does. I can’t remember what I did, but I’m sure I was loud and boisterous or whatever.

But it started then that was a seed of going, okay, this is, and what I mean about structural and systemic. There were no DNA tests at that time to find out where our family came from. And there was no “coat of arms from my family.” But now as a poet and artist, I am just investigating. I bought a shield to recreate what a coat of arms would be because I did my DNA and my mother’s side is from Cameroon, my dad’s side’s from Nigeria, and I have some Native-American, very small Native-American. I’m one of these people who’s like 96.8% African origin, which is really high.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah, that’s high. 

Glenis Redmond:  Yeah, really high. So, but at the same time, I always knew that there were these missing pieces. So if I was missing it, we were missing it. You know others cannot look and see what our work and our heritage and our lineage was. And so as a poet, I’m trying to find the research, the actual information, but I’m also in dream time creating that which can never be recovered because we come from a lineage that was not literate for many reasons. And that’s why you were talking about your husband and the oral tradition of storytelling the grill. It was so important to, especially our African ancestors, to carry on that line. And so I see myself as a Negro of the new world, trying to make those connections going from town to city, to all kids, but especially kids who don’t have access to their lineage. So, that’s what I’m doing in the world.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah. Yeah, that’s interesting too because to me, when you start talking about diversity and inclusion, you really cut to the core of someone’s identity and who they believe they are. 

Glenis Redmond:  Right. 

Melyssa Barrett:  And so, whatever that is. 

Glenis Redmond:  And it’s not a fixed point because we’re always learning, we’re always evolving. So it’s not like, I’m this, I’m this, I’m this. It’s like, you’re this, you’re this and. And so as you grow, you discover. So they’re not these fixed points. You’re on a path of discovery if you’re lucky. And if you’re a lifelong learner, you’re open to what you learn and what comes to you through family stories, through whatever the case may be. But I do believe like Maya Angelou says, “We’re more alike than we are unalike.” And that gets lost, especially in the noise of today. But I have gone into some sundown towns. Sundown means if you’re black, by the time the sun gets down, you better be out of town. And those towns still exist. And people would say, “Well, why are you going there?” I said, “Well, those people need me more than people who are already have connected.” 

And so I have had those experiences. And of course, I do get out before sundown, but I go in and talk to kids of all ill and all… And you know what? when I’m there, it’s not met with animosity because everybody’s got a grandmother. Everybody’s got a story. Everybody has and they’re like, “Oh, oh, I see. You’re talking about what I have.” And that’s when the walls come down, that’s when the division comes down, and that’s the power of the arts, and not just poetry or storytelling, dance, music, painting. It brings those walls down. And I would love to see us rise. I think we got a lot of work to do. But we have a lot of work. 

Melyssa Barrett:  Most definitely. It is definitely a marathon and not a sprint. 

Glenis Redmond:  Exactly.

Melyssa Barrett:  It’s going to take a lot… It took a lot to get us here. As far as we think we’ve come, we have lots more work to do. A lot of-

Glenis Redmond:  Or territory to cover. Yes. 

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah. Well, and the systemic aspects of it go to the centers of the mind. And so I think a lot of times we don’t necessarily, in some cases, have levels of confidence or esteem or our own mindset may limit what we think we have the ability to do. If I walk into a corporation and I go, “I want to be the CEO of this company.” I think I had that because my father he was born with seven sisters and he watched his sisters work hard, but they didn’t have training. So they would get married, they’d get divorced, and they wouldn’t have… you They had never worked. They had know lack of skills. And so he ended up with two girls, and he wanted to make sure that we knew we could do whatever we wanted and whether… And he would compare me to the president. What’d you do today? Let’s see what the president did today. 

Glenis Redmond:  That’s so powerful.

Melyssa Barrett:  That’s a high bar. 

Glenis Redmond:  Yes, but that’s wonderful that you had that father figure to guide you in that way. Because I think a lot of times what happens is this learn helplessness, especially in our culture, where even if we’re not physically told, we can verbally toll, we can do something, we’d learn it by looking at the examples before us. And if we’ve never seen it before, we don’t know it’s available to us. So your father was saying everything’s available to you. 

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah, yeah.

Glenis Redmond:  You can do it. You got to get the skills and tools that you can do it. And that I think is so empowering. And I think our young people are empowered because they have more opportunity and role models. They see someone like you and they go, “Oh, oh, yes.” And it’s inevitable. We just didn’t have that… We had the exceptional view, but we didn’t have the landscape that we have now. And we just have to keep getting past the… Instead of having the first this, the first black this. We’re still in the era of the first because we just haven’t made the progress that we needed. 

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah. Yeah, that is so true. Let’s pause for a moment. We’ll be right back. So when you think of your own history and the history of others, can you talk a little bit about some of the North Carolinian heritage and history? Because I think there’s just so much there that don’t know. 

Glenis Redmond:  Okay. So I am actually what I call Bicarolinian. I was born in South Carolina and my family’s from South Carolina, but I left and I got my poetic wings in North Carolinas later in life. So South Carolina, even though I had this kind of love-hate relationship, as I grew, I realized all the answers lead back to South Carolina. My family did not come through Ellis Island. My family and most African-Americans, especially in this area came through Charleston, South Carolina. So that’s our point of entry. 

So every time I go to South… Go down… So I’m in Greenville, which is upstate. When I go down three and a half hours South to Charleston, I am filled with a certain energy and connection that I don’t get anywhere else on the planet. People say, “Well, where do you want to go?” Of course, I love islands, and I’d love to travel, I love exotic locations. But Charleston is the place, the mouth of Charleston in the port, speaks to me louder than anywhere else. So that kind of communication is important to me as a poet. And then also it gives me a certain grounding. 

What people, they… People talk about the middle passage a lot, but they don’t talk about the second middle passage. And the second middle path… The first middle passage is, of course, is from across the seas to wherever they took our enslave ancestors. The second middle passage is where you were bought from the auction block and where did you go from there? And so my family didn’t move far, but they moved three and a half hours, four hours North to Greenville, South Carolina. And some did go to North Carolina, some went to Asheville. 

So I don’t know how much about that truck. That’s what I’m investigating in this next book. I have What My Hands Say. And I have a new book that will be published in 2020 to cover The Listening Skin. But the fifth book will be called Port Cities. And it will be talking about the power of what happens at Port Cities because you can’t have an incident of mass people being brought in, stripped of their culture without it shaping the rest of everything. And so if you come to South Carolina, it’s very… What you think is Southern a lot of times, it’s African. 

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes. Yeah.

Glenis Redmond:  And so the food is ties the basket weaving, the music, the gospel music. At my core, there is a very West African connection through South Carolina. And that’s why I think South Carolina I think everyone should visit because it tells the story once we have left Africa. And even we don’t have all of the information there, there’s a lot of it. There’s a lot of it there. And there’s so many people who are trying to preserve the heritage. But it got a erased in ways, especially when it comes to education. Anytime I was in school, I was still looking around like, “Well, how does this relate to me? Where’s my history? So I’m sure that’s why I claimed to be in a South Carolinian. 

And I called myself an Afro-Carolinian because we’re missing that part of, “Yeah, let’s talk about what we added to this land.” And that’s why I refuse to let the Confederate flag and these people who say, “Go back to Africa.” This country, this state is just as much my state as it is. There may be a little bit more because of what my ancestors contribute to building. And we’re finding that not just in the South, but we’re finding them at Ivy league colleges that were built on the backs, the White House, everything that was built on the backs of Black and Brown people. So, but South Carolina is very near and dear to my heart. People talk about Jazz and Blues and I’ve friends like, oh, you’re best epicenter is that actually, if you trace those people, many of them have ties. Most of them have ties to the South. 

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes, for sure. 

Glenis Redmond:  So, What My Hands Say, I’m talking about people like “Dizzy” Gillespie. He came from Shiraz, South Carolina. He’s black and Native-American. I’m talking about “Peg Leg” Bates [inaudible 00:28:16]. He was a one-legged tap dancer. He taught my parents and he’s amazing. People all over the country knew him, but he came from Fountain in South Carolina. So, I believe a lot of the roads lead back to South Carolina. 

Melyssa Barrett:  Oh, wow, yeah. And I did say North Carolina. The reason I was thinking South Carolina, my husband’s family came through South Carolina as well as he investigated his own DNA. And so there are lots of routes that come through there. And in some cases, obviously, our ancestors pave ways in so many different ways. So it’s so interesting, especially for people that don’t know some of the history to understand how all of these systemic… All these systems were created to eliminate, restrict specific people from wealth and thriving.

Glenis Redmond:  Right. Yeah, because if the premise of African-Americans were not smart, then why would you have to have Black Codes to keep them from reading and writing? Because if they’re not intelligent beings, they’re subhumans, our ancestors were subhuman, then you wouldn’t have to have those laws. So there is-

Melyssa Barrett:  Right.

Glenis Redmond:  It’s insidious because these Black Codes were 35 to 40 lashes on your bare back if you’re caught reading. If you’re a white person and you’re teaching a black person to read, there were penalties as the same penalties or a financial penalty. So, there lies the rub to keep people from gaining an expansiveness and a foothold in America. But still we’re just such a resourceful people that we found our ways and we owe a debt. We owe a debt to those who came before us. 

Melyssa Barrett:  Absolutely. So then in terms of… I know you’re such a teacher that I keep having… I want to go back to education and your view on… Because I think part of what I’m hearing today, especially when it comes to diversity and inclusion is, just trying to educate people and create a safe space. And you seem to create that safe space, either when you’re doing your poetrys or when you’re sitting in a poetry circle. What do those things mean when it comes to educating people in terms of how they create their authenticity, because I think you clearly are pulling on people to go deeper into themselves?

Glenis Redmond:  Well, there’s a line in my poem. I said, “I feel like my own Harriet Tubman, leading them on the Underground Railroad saying, “This way.” And you can get your freedom papers too. I got my freedom papers in the 90s of becoming my authentic self. And here’s the thing, I’m not asking people to become poets and writers professionally. But of course, there are some that show up and the path that they’re going to lead. I’m really just… My job is to be a facilitator. And one of the things I do in my workshops, yes, I give lectures on craft of poetry, but the big thing I do is prompting and giving questions. And the root word in questions is quest. So a question is meant to take you on a quest to your inner landscape and go down deep and delve, find whatever that is and bring it back up and write it down. And so it’s not a simple process. And people, they find some conflicting things there, but it’s better to find it then to leave it buried because things come out sideways if we don’t address them…

Melyssa Barrett:  Head on. Yeah. 

Glenis Redmond:  Head on. Yes. And so that’s my goal and it is a safe space. I’ve loved circles, so we don’t sit in rows, I’m not the head because the knowledge that’s being… And I believe, and I teach everyone, Black, White, Brown, all people of every elk and creed and belief and race and orientation. What this thing when we’re in the room, I envision that they have all their ancestors behind them as well. And we welcome the ones who are on the right side of good and change. And we welcome them and they’re in there and it’s an energetic moment. It’s charged. It’s charged, and it’s charged for the good and it’s charged for the betterment of humanity. And then I just tell them, I say, “Write your way out. Write you way out.” let’s generate, let’s create. And I call it as sacred as church. It’s one of the most sacred places I find is that where we’re meeting our truest selves. I believe that that’s what the universe, that’s what God, that’s what the ancestors are getting us to do. And everybody does it in their own form, but I’m a poet. That’s what I do. 

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah.

Glenis Redmond:  And I come from a family-

Melyssa Barrett:  Powerful.

Glenis Redmond:  I come from a family of preachers. And so I’m the poet. But I do feel like the poet’s job is a very sacred job and I take it seriously. I don’t think it’s me. I think that I’m a vessel, and I think we need more arts, and I think people need to leave their truest selves. 

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah, that’s impactful. That’s amazing. I have to ask you though, what was it like to be working with somebody who ended up in front of Michelle Obama? 

Glenis Redmond:  Well, I’m going to tell you what. I was a little frustrated because I had been working, and we were taking them in to see Michelle Obama and we got rattled down from 30,000 students to five students all across the country. And we would take them to the Blue Room and they would get… but see, I would be there for the reading, but only the parents and the teachers got to go in and meet Michelle Obama. So I was…

Melyssa Barrett:  Devastated. 

Glenis Redmond:  It was the last year there an office and I said, you know what? I called my mom and said, “I’m just not going to get to meet Michelle personally.” And my mother, who’s 83, Jeanette Redmond, “Glenis, is common. You go and get your chance child.” And I said, “Yeah, mom. Okay. Right.” And so she’s done. And I get off the phone. I kid you not Melyssa, five minutes later, she’s like, “Well, we have a student whose parents and teachers cannot be there. And we want to know if you could you fill in and meet Michelle Obama?” And so I had to sort the student in. And you’re announced and you take a picture. So the student are first to take picture. And then I was all composed in everything and I’m like just wigging out.

And so, in my turn and I go to put my hand down and she just opens her arms for a hug and I’m 5.2 and she’s 6.20. And I come in and I hug her and I just have the cheesiest grin. I’m not composed at all and then they snap the picture. The students who… I was so jazzed for them because those opportunities weren’t around for me and us. And I take it seriously and I said, “You know what? You get to start at the pinnacle?”

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah. 

Glenis Redmond:  That’s so powerful.

Melyssa Barrett:  Where do you go from there?

Glenis Redmond:  Well, you go and do the work. It’s wonderful to meet people who are… And I wouldn’t even call her a celebrity because I felt like the work that she did as first lady and before that sets an example, and she was so down to earth. And really she’s exactly what you hear heard doing. She talked to them. There was part mother, part teacher, part counselor. She just was so wonderful. And it was… And my mother was right. My mother just got it right. And I’m just pleased and I’m pleased for the students. And it’s sad that we don’t have that with the administration now, but they get to go to the Library of Congress, they get to go to the National Book Festival, the Dodge Poetry Festival. There’s just so much work for these students to become not just great poets, but ambassadors of the work.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah, absolutely. Ambassadors of the work. We all stand in that lineage, right?

Glenis Redmond:  Just like you’re doing with your student that you had there, you pass the work on because they learned skills and tools and they give us the skills and tools. And it’s just really important to me as a teaching artist that I know that I spent 28 years on the road. I won’t be doing this road life forever. So you got to pass it on and you got to… Or I say I want to pass it on and I want it to that’s part of the work too. 

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah. Well, and I think in any, even if you work in a corporation or a community in some way, at the end of the day, we’re not going to live forever, right?

Glenis Redmond:  Right. Right.

Melyssa Barrett:  So you want to pass that legacy on so that it can become better and bigger as well. 

Glenis Redmond:  Right. And I feel like I want to be the type of teacher I did not I want it because I didn’t have… I had some good teachers, but I’d never had anybody who really saw me and saw my value of my potential and say, I did have a teacher, Mr. Candler, who said, “I think when we first moved back to South Carolina instead of black…” I came in, it was my freshman year and I was sitting on the first row and he said, “A black girl sit there last semester.” She was a straight a student. I believe you will be too.” Boom! I just-

Melyssa Barrett:  Lit up.

Glenis Redmond:  Topped on on a roll and he just lit something in me because I was an athlete, I was an actress, I was all of these things, dancer, but nobody had really claimed me as being intelligent. And that lit the fire. But so I try to do… It doesn’t take much to mentor. It doesn’t take much to say something positive or empower a student. 

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah. 

Glenis Redmond:  I’m astounded how little it takes. 

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah. But it’s there, right?

Glenis Redmond:  It’s there.

Melyssa Barrett:  Once you open that little door, it’s amazing how wide it can open. So that’s awesome. Well, I just want to thank you so much. I could spend hours and days talking to you. So I’m looking forward to a trip to the Carolinas to hang out with Glenis.

Glenis Redmond:  Yes, you got to come. Yes, you have to come and then we’ll have to plan a trip to Charleston and go eat some good food, low country food, and then continue the conversation from there. 

Melyssa Barrett:  Definitely. Definitely. As soon as we can go out, I’ll be there. 

Glenis Redmond:  Okay. [inaudible 00:39:46], the invitation is already extended. You just have to tell me. We just have to figure out the schedule. Okay. That’s all we have to do. 

Melyssa Barrett:  That’s right.

Glenis Redmond:  You can meet my mama. She’ll embrace you.

Melyssa Barrett:  Awesome.

Glenis Redmond:  And you’ll be immediate family. So it’s been a pleasure to talk to you about my process, my journey and my craft. And I find what you’re doing here with this podcast invaluable because this is a way that others can learn and see and what we’re talking about cultural competency. 

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes. 

Glenis Redmond:  Picking up books, listening to others, deep listening. This is how we go further. And we all have much to learn. And I’m I don’t feel like I’m a fixed person. I’m still learning cultural competency as well. 

Melyssa Barrett:  Definitely. We all are, right?

Glenis Redmond:  Yeah. Yeah.

Melyssa Barrett:  It never stops. 

Glenis Redmond:  It never stops and it’s so beautiful. And my mother has to say… And What My Hand Say, you’ll hear a lot of colloquialism. And my mother says, “Don’t fly so high because everybody has to come down to earth to get a drink of water sometimes.”

Melyssa Barrett:  All right. And that is the-

Glenis Redmond:  This woman-

Melyssa Barrett:  I love it.

Glenis Redmond:  And it’s true. And all we have to do is see the humanity in each other while we’re on earth. That’s it. That’s the biggest-

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah. That’s the connection, right? That’s the connection.

Glenis Redmond:  Yeah.

Melyssa Barrett:  We’re all a member of that connection. 

Glenis Redmond:  Right. 

Melyssa Barrett:  For those of you that are interested in learning more and reading Glenis’ book, What My Hand Say is already out. You can get a copy by Glenis Redmond. And the audio version is actually read by Glenis herself. So do yourself a favor. I have my copy already. Please order a copy and check it out. You won’t regret it. 

Glenis Redmond:  Thank you. 

Melyssa Barrett:  Well, thank you for all you’re doing, all the connections and touch points. I know you are at the height, but I feel like you have higher levels to go. So I’m sure-

Glenis Redmond:  I’m working on it.

Melyssa Barrett:  I’m sure we will continue to hear about all of the great things you’re doing in your community and around the world. So keep up your great work and thank you so much for being here.

Glenis Redmond:  My pleasure, Melyssa. Thank you. 

Melyssa Barrett:  Thanks for joining me on The Jali Podcast. Please subscribe so you won’t miss an episode. See you next week.