Inclusive Mentoring – Ep.55

A Moment of Pause – Ep.54
June 8, 2022
Introspective Leadership – Ep.56
June 16, 2022

Sandra Hunter discusses launching her business, Wild Women Leaders of Color, and forming mentorship programs like Stealth Aunties Network designed to advance DEI. 

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.

All right. So I am so excited, again, this week. I get to talk to Sandra Hunter and I am so glad you’re with me this week and so excited to hear about so many things that you’re doing. I honestly don’t know how you even have time to sleep. I was reading your bio and I was already exhausted.

Sandra Hunter:  Yeah. I’m exhausted, too. So that makes two of us. Thank you so much, Melyssa, for having me on this show. I’m so excited to talk to you this morning.

Melyssa Barrett:  No, it’s my pleasure. You have such an interesting background to me, being a professor of creative writing but then deciding to launch your business within a pandemic, Wild Women Leaders of Color. I mean, I love the title but do you want to tell us a little bit about what prompted you to do that and why the pivot because we know a lot of women are pivoting these days.

Sandra Hunter:  Yes.

Melyssa Barrett:  But it’s an exciting time but it’s also kind of like, I mean, it can be scary, especially if you’re an older woman who’s had this salary coming in and now you’re launching your own company.

Sandra Hunter:  Yeah. So yeah, the big pivot. Within six months, I’ve moved house twice. I moved up to Portland from California and then I moved again within Portland. And that second move was prompted by the fact that I finally decided to leave my husband after 22 years of marriage.

Melyssa Barrett:  Wow.

Sandra Hunter:  So that was a major decision. And what was coming up from underneath was this need to respond to so many examples of seeing women in difficult situations. These incredible, bright, brilliant women whose light is being snuffed over and over again. And I’ve seen it in academia and I’ve seen it in other workplace environments, as well. And particularly in academia, I was watching my young BIPOC women students with all these great ideas and they were certified and qualified and they got the interview and they got the job and the same damn thing happened that happened to me.

It looks a little bit different now because there’s a lot more gas lighting and there’s … Well, was that a joke or was it not a joke? And it’s white tears, all of that stuff is the stuff that I didn’t come up with but it’s still the same thing. And so you see that light being extinguished and you see those dreams being broken and there’s a gap here that we need to fill. And that gap is providing mentorship from professional women to young women entering the workforce so that we can say, “We’ve got your back. We’ve got this steel clad fabric of support for you wherever you are, whatever happens to you. We can tell you when to hold, what to drop. We can tell you when to go to HR, we can tell you, you need to take a breath into where you are and release that stuff because that’s someone else’s story. Those comments are someone else’s story. That’s not yours.”

And I do feel that with the subversive attempts of the Stealth Auntie Network, we can do this globally. We can make such a difference. We can take down racism in the workplace. So that had been bubbling up for some time. And the decision to end a marriage and to pivot away from academia was kind of joint. It came at the same time. It was this release, this knowing that I was moving into the work that I was meant to do.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes. Well and a fancy new haircut and you’re just transforming. I love it. I love it. So, I mean, you talked a lot about stressful situations that women are going through and then you also hit on the Stealth Auntie Network. So how does that come about? Did you just have such a broad network that you could reach out and everybody was like, “Yes, I’ll be an auntie.”

Sandra Hunter:  No, no. I mean, it’s an ongoing process. And let’s talk about the program itself, which goes through three modules. It addresses the very necessary release of stress induced by workplace racism and women are carrying this. And it’s not just racism, it’s patriarchalism, all those things that hold women down that make us need to put on a second suit of armor in the morning because we’ve got our work armor and then we’ve got all this stuff that happens to us in the workplace. So it’s tiring. I mean, are we surprised that women of color constitute the largest group in the US that are affected by emotional and physical stress?

I mean, are we surprised? We’re the ones that keep the pharmaceutical industry afloat, basically. So that stress, those stresses that are repetitive that keep going and keep growing, we keep inside and we keep pushing it down. And you can tell because the stress rises into the shoulders. We have stress in the neck, in the throat. Those are all certain indicators that you really need some stress work release here. So that’s what the first part of the program does. It moves women into a practice of being able to manage their bodies through stress. So by using breathing techniques and stretching, which won’t necessarily be new but we forget. We forget to use that, right?

And the minute you’re in a stressful situation, your shoulders start climbing, your voice closes down because all that … Your vagus nerve, which runs from the base of the skull down into the gut has all these little nerve endings around the throat and around the face. And that’s what’s causing the stricture and that’s what causes your voice to close down. So to get your voice back, to get you centered in your power, we do stress release. And then once you’ve learned those tools that you can start taking … It doesn’t take long. I have clients who’ve said to me at the end of the week, “I was going into these meetings and I knew how to breathe before I went in. I was taking my space, my shoulders were back and I presented differently.”

So it’s not a slow transformation here in terms of stress release. But we also have to understand that stress is cumulative, right? And it’s not just from where we are but it’s been passed on. So if we’ve had a mother who’s been in stress for various reasons, we will accumulate that. And she’s accumulated from her mother and back and back and back and back generations, okay? So even though epigenetics still get some skepticism, there’s growing evidence to support the fact that this is intergenerational. And so there’s a lot that has to be released, right? Until you can feel strong in yourself and feel that you can breathe and that you have your voice back. Because once your shoulders hunch, once you get tight, your neck tightens because of this parasympathetic nervous system response, you’ve lost your voice, your voice is your identity

Melyssa Barrett:  Like literally and figuratively.

Sandra Hunter:  Yes. So you are being judged on the fact that you can’t speak. Because you don’t have it, you’re being closed out. So that first two months seeks to address that, seeks to introduce strategies that you can use as you go through stress and as you start to manage your body through stress. And then we move into story. So once your voice is getting a little bit released, we can start moving into story. And your story is where you are, what you’ve been through. And you’re also reaching back to the ancestors. What are their stories? What did they give me? And you know, very often women will say, “I don’t know who my ancestors are.” That’s okay, we can still find them.

Because you know something, if you’re an artist, if you are resilient, if you are greater organization, that gift has been given to you by someone in your family. It didn’t just appear in you. But you have ancestors who are paying these gifts forward to you that are waiting for you to acknowledge them. And once we do work with ancestors and get women so grounded in that sense of being supported with these amazing generations of women hollering out, “We’ve got you, move forward. Don’t sit in spaces. We’ve passed the bat onto you. You’re carrying the torch mixing lots of metaphors here. You need to walk forward and we’ve got your back.”

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes.

Sandra Hunter:  So that’s how we pay it forward. They’ve got my back, I’ve got the next generations back. And the next generation is going to have the next generations back. And that’s how we take racism down in the workplace. And so what, at the end of this period of time, these first four months in the program, they are then the women that had the option to be introduced to mentorship. That’s entirely up to them. It’s not, you have to do this. It’s just, do you want to? And I facilitate the introduction between mentor and mentee.

Melyssa Barrett:  Oh, awesome.

Sandra Hunter:  Then mentors take control of how they move into that relationship and I provide all the support. So I’ve got the videos and the guest speakers and the handouts and I’m available for consultation just as I’ve been throughout the four months but it’s just, you’re in charge now. You get to opt into this if you want to do it. And they build that relationship over two months and they do it by exchanging stories with their mentees, whose stories will be a little different. They can choose to braid stories if they want to and present that and they can post that on our website. And then off they go, they’ve got their mentee.

Melyssa Barrett:  And this is a global program, right? It’s not just domestic.

Sandra Hunter:  It will be, it will be.

Melyssa Barrett:  Okay.

Sandra Hunter:  So it’s just, right now, we are in the inaugural group of women moving ahead, moving into mentorship. And what’s really cool is that there’s a lot of university interest now, who want to move the program in-house because we’ve got mentors and mentees. We’ve got maintenance workers, we’ve got faculty, we’ve got staff, we’ve got admin, we’ve got everybody who would be brilliant mentors. And then we’ve got the student population who are ready.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes. Oh, wow. Yeah, it is exciting. It is exciting.

Sandra Hunter:  But I have to say, Melyssa, one thing that I’m excited to start working if this happens, you know it’s still in the talks stage. If this happens, I’m excited to work with them. I also want to reach into trade schools. I also want to reach into underserved high schools because that’s where young women need it the most. I mean, we’ve got research to support the fact that women have reported that the lack of mentorship over and over again has denied them the availability of professional development of being seriously considered for promotion because they just don’t have that [inaudible 00:11:56].

And I believe we can make the difference if we have mentors there. And just imagine, right, if this goes global, you’ve got mentees who are awake at three o’clock in the morning. I’ve got auntie in Indonesia, I’ve got an auntie on the other side of the world who’s ready to talk to me, who’s got my back. And then we start to create this beautiful, beautiful, closely woven fabric that is always there. And that’s the legacy you have as a professional woman going forward.

Melyssa Barrett:  Well, and I will tell you, I remember being 18-years-old and I worked at Citibank at the time. And I think I had just moved into a position of management where I had a hundred and something employees. And if it wasn’t for Ida Jones, she was the best mentor anyone could possibly imagine. And I think about her all the time because she was so matter of fact, very tall, thin woman of color. You know, there weren’t a whole lot but she just took me under her wing.

I had no idea at 18 how to manage a hundred and something employees and they were collectors. So that’s a little bit of a different, I mean, collectors they have to be bold. They’ve got to get on the phone. And so learning managements style and I wasn’t really even … I think I had just started college and was commuting back and forth to San Jose State and I thank God for her. She is a Stealth Auntie, for sure.

Sandra Hunter:  Absolutely, absolutely.

Melyssa Barrett:  So, I think, it does take a special person who really understands. I love the fact that you’re facilitating that because a lot of times mentors also need help with mentoring. I, of course, have had just some wonderful opportunities to be mentored but as I mentor others, I’m always trying to figure out, is there a better way, can I provide more tools, more information, more resources, what stories are relevant.

Sandra Hunter:  Yeah and that’s a really good point and I’m so happy for you. You’re so lucky to have been mentored in this wonderful way, especially age 18. I can’t believe you were given that responsibility at 18. That’s amazing. You were clearly a shining star even then. But yes, I mean, you bring up a good point and I just want to mention that the Stealth Auntie Network is the mentorship part of the program and to become a fully fledged Stealth Auntie you go through that program.

It’s not called a program, sorry, it’s a voluntary mentorship where you step into leadership. The fact that mentors need mentorship is really key. And in my program, there’s a back end to the program which provides a lot of support. So you have access to videos that I do, guest speakers, we have a forum, we have group meetings. So it’s really necessary that mentors have ongoing education.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes.

Sandra Hunter:  And this is not necessarily through my organization, although I would provide … These are links that you can use. But mentors, if you are stepping into mentorship, you have a massive responsibility for continuing education. And that’s something that, I think, mentors need and mentors also need a mentor of their own. So it’s kind of like this is a circle, right? And that’s another thing that I want to do. I don’t know if we talked about this before. The program that I’d like to launch in five years is called Loop.

Melyssa Barrett:  Oh, okay.

Sandra Hunter:  So we’ll have professional women of color who are mentoring young women about to start their careers, who are mentoring college students coming in, who are mentoring high school students, who mentor middle school, who mentor elementary, who mentor kindergarten, who mentor preschool and the preschool is mentor the professional women of color.

Melyssa Barrett:  Oh, wow. Yeah. Well, and it’s so funny because I think the older I get and now I’m watching my mother interact with my grandkids and all of the energy that she gets and she just continues to be like, “Oh my gosh, did he say …” And so it is interesting how we teach each other and your focus really from a intergenerational focus is really amazing because I think a lot of times when you get to a particular age, you start thinking about ageism and all of the things that occur when you’re maybe over 40 or 50, when it comes to your own career. So, I mean, are most of your mentors at a particular age or where do they come to you?

Sandra Hunter:  We’re all over the place.

Melyssa Barrett:  Okay.

Sandra Hunter:  I mean, there’s no specific age because I appealed to professional women, 40-plus.

Melyssa Barrett:  Okay.

Sandra Hunter:  So there’s a broad spectrum there. And I feel that anybody has the ability to be a Stealth Auntie, everybody has that capability. If you’ve grown up in a family, you have the capability to be a Stealth Auntie. Even if you’ve grown up largely by yourself, you have that capability. It’s a transformation that’s extraordinary. I practiced parts of this when I was still teaching at college. And one semester we weren’t able to visit the school, so we had my students write to middle school students. So they were literally handwriting letters that they mailed to the students.

And these middle school students were just, “Oh my goodness. Someone at college is writing to me.” That was lovely. But what I saw was how seriously my students took those letters. And we would have moments in the class, we would have a dedicated 20 minutes. Okay, this is where you respond to your student. And they would be so serious, “Okay, I have to write the right thing. My student needs help and how do I do this?” And it was just this real awakening of responsibility that starts at a very grassroots level, right? You have one student here you’re responsible for but it grows.

I mean, that’s the point of it. You plant that extraordinary seed of responsibility. And so that you start to believe that’s possible for you to do in other areas with other people, with other ages. And that’s what knits us back into community by all of us taking responsibility for ourselves. Because community has been so trashed and so violated and broken apart by patriarchalism, by racism, by violence, which we’ve seen this week, very sadly. Just violence on violence. And I’m not saying we can stop that completely but I think we can mitigate it by having a stronger network of people that have got each other’s back.

I had one of my students say, “I saw my middle school student on the street. I saw him at, I don’t know, some restaurant, a Denny’s or some … Not a Denny’s. A fast food place, like a Kentucky Fried Chicken or something.” And he said, “Oh, I just saw him and I went to talk to him not realizing that this was school hours, the kid shouldn’t have been out of school.” And immediately there was this kind of, “Oh my goodness, I shouldn’t be here.” And so they had that conversation, which is lovely, right? It was completely unexpected but it was lovely.

And then the other one that I wanted to mention to you because I’ve been just been talking about this future program called Loop, was that my students came in to learn how to write children’s stories with kindergartners. This was obviously pre- COVID and it was an elementary school that was quite close to our school. So I took my class over and their job was to listen to received and perceived language. So received language is the language that they’re using, that the little ones are using and then perceived as what they can understand but not necessarily use themselves.

So this was very important for them as they’re writing their kids’ stories, just how are you going to appeal to these little ones? So my students, coming from the classroom environment, sat down and I said, “We’re going to have to sit on the floor here because these are little ones.” So we sat on the floor when they’re ready and the little ones just climbed on them and they sort of hung on their neck and sat in their lap. And it was a very [inaudible 00:21:04] experience of storytelling.

And the little ones were lovely because when my students came back with their own stories because they’d started with already published stories to get an idea of what little ones loved. And then they came back with their stories. The kids were just amazing. Read that bit again because that’s my brother. And for my students, when I went back at the end of the semester and I always ask them, “Okay, what was the worst part? What was the best part?” Best part was interacting with the kindergartners.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah. Oh, I can imagine.

Sandra Hunter:  Because that literally changed everything for them. And it changed the way that they saw themselves. That’s what’s so cool about mentorship. You see yourself differently, you see yourself as having something of value to offer. And when you’re in a toxic environment, as many women are, this is something that changes their perspective on their life but I’ve got this.

Melyssa Barrett:  Well and so your background in creative writing and critical thinking, how important is that as people think about the release of stress and racism and all of those things when you’re talking about writing a story. Because I feel like you’re giving this pathway of being able to change your mindfulness, de-stress and then you go into this storytelling process. My husband was an oral tradition storyteller.

So I kept wanting him to write things down and write stories, which he never would do because he was really about the oral tradition, which was awesome. Obviously he was a performer, entertainer but also an educator. But it’s amazing how the stories can really transform someone’s perspective. So that process of writing, how does that provide the value as you’re going through this process?

Sandra Hunter:  Well, writing your story connects you to the somatic stress release that you’ve been through and that you’re practicing. So the actual tactile sense of the hand moving across the paper, the tactile sense of holding the pen in your hand tells the mind, I’m externalizing this story onto the paper. I’m externalizing this part of myself that might have been taking up so much room in myself that has frightened me so much I don’t want to talk about it. I’m externalizing that, I’m birthing this under the paper and it might be a little painful as you birth it. But once it’s out, women keep saying, “I thought it was such a terrible thing and now that I see it on the paper, it doesn’t have control over me anymore.”

Melyssa Barrett:  Wow, that’s powerful.

Sandra Hunter:  So that’s the value of learning that you create that space that you then can take up and you become full and you become whole, you become grounded and have self-confidence and self-worth to go forth into the world with this iron clad shield of story around you that repels all those ridiculous little attempts at gas lighting or isolation or marginalization because that’s not your story. It gives you the strength to arrive in a full sense of yourself, instead of being at the whim of social media, advertising, any kinds of attacks on you because you see women being beaten down by this all the time.

And that’s where critical thinking comes into, by being able to spot what is advertising, which is most of what we get through social media and knowing that this is biased because they’ve got a product at the end of it. It helps you to take control of your decisions. This new site is coming at me with I know therefore it has advertising. I know therefore that the stories that they promote and that they’re reporting are influenced by the advertisers.

So I need to find a new site that doesn’t have that is Associated Press or Reuters or Al Jazeera, for example, that don’t have advertising in them. So that kind of reporting is less biased and that’s what you want and hopefully unbiased, as close to unbiased as you can get. But that’s what critical thinking does for you so that you become in charge of this person who you’re growing into.

Melyssa Barrett:  Wow. That is powerful. So what’s interesting to me is, because there’s so many things that you’ve done and I know I’m not going to have enough time to get into all of them … Because I know you’ve done diversity, equity and inclusion in your college setting, obviously working as a professor but then you’ve also written books. And so let me jump over the DNI portion for a moment and just really capture some of the books that you’ve written. I know, Losing Touch, was one and, Trip Wires, and I think, Small Change is an award-winning book, as well. Can you tell us a little bit about how these stories came about?

Sandra Hunter:  Sure. So the novel that you’re referring to, Losing Touch, is a fictionalized account of my family’s move to London in the 1950s. But we cast them as an Indian family. My family is Anglo- Indian, Portuguese, Dutch and Scots, so we are not fully one thing or another. But I cast them in this story as an Indian family and also the father figure was suffering from Spinal Muscular Atrophy, which my father did have.

And it shows how he changes during this journey as being this brash, cruel young man as his body starts to deteriorate and retreat from him, he becomes more understanding and aware of himself and does transform. That’s his journey through that book, so that was that. And everybody’s got one of those stories in them so that was mine, I got that one out of the way. But the books that she mentioned, Trip Wise and Small Change, are all set in politically or socially traumatic backgrounds-

Melyssa Barrett:  Hmm. That sounds familiar.

Sandra Hunter:   … including London, including Paris, but these are backgrounds that are difficult for the immigrant or difficult for children. And very often my stories, the heroes of the stories are children and it’s watching them become resourceful and their loyalty and their compassion for each other and how they lift each other up, they show us the best of humanity. So even though the situation is dire, they can make things work for themselves. There’s one story called, Say That You Saw Beautiful … I’m sorry. Gifts We Carried With Us, which is a story about young Moroccan girls who are in marriages from a very, very young age, from 13 and 14 and they decide to escape their abusive husbands.

And it’s the story of how they escape. And one of them is pregnant already and they get down to the coast and through all these different methods they find the boat, the inflatable boat, that’s going to take them to Spain where they’re going to own beautiful houses. And you realize that none of them knows anything about navigating or how they’re going to get there. But the point is, it’s not the tragedy of that, but the beauty of those relationships and the beauty of hope.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes. Oh wow. So where do you get these? Are they-

Sandra Hunter:  You can find them on Amazon.

Melyssa Barrett:  Okay.

Sandra Hunter:  You can find them at Barnes & Noble. And I believe, yes, Powell’s in Portland still carries them.

Melyssa Barrett:  Awesome, awesome. I have been to Powell’s. It is monumental.

Sandra Hunter:  Yes, the Trip Wires is still there.

Melyssa Barrett:  It’s amazing. Okay. So, I mean, there’s so many stories and works that you’ve done with respect to creative writing and short fiction, A Girl Needs Spike Shoes. I love the sound of that, but I can you talk a little bit about how you perceive diversity, equity and inclusion in some of the success that you’ve seen because you’re really fighting racism in a way that is so fundamental to each person and their own perspective.

I feel like every time I talk to you, I feel like I leave and I have this grounding sense of center around just coming back and thinking through my own life and what it should be and what it means. But then there’s all these impacts that I want to make both as a person, as a manager, as well as, leader and a company. And I think there’s so many companies out there trying to take diversity, equity and inclusion and really make it impactful. But at the end of the day, it’s all about a person.

Sandra Hunter:  Yes. And going back to Wild Women Leaders of Color, that’s the whole mission. We start grassroots. So we start with the individual because that’s where nothing can change unless the person realizes, “Oh, I need a different mindset. I need to ask questions.” And I’ve had non-BIPOC women ask me, “What do we do? How can we support you?” That’s up to you. You need to make those decisions yourself.

So for me, DEI is about taking responsibility for your actions. So non-BIPOC women who are listening, if you arrive in a store and there’s another person of color there, let that person go first. You know, insist that person be served first. If you have the opportunity to choose a BIPOC doctor, choose the BIPOC doctor if they have the same qualifications. There are so many things that you can do in your everyday life that mean that you are stepping out of lip service into action.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes.

Sandra Hunter:  And these aren’t my ideas, by the way. I mean, Resmaa Menakem talks about this in his amazing book, Your Grandmother’s Hands, he has so many incredible ideas.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes.

Sandra Hunter:  But ultimately it’s about instead of blindly pushing through the world in the way that we’ve learned, it’s understanding that education is ongoing. And we’ve talked about this right in the earlier part of the show, that if you understand that you are continually being open to new ideas … New ideas, not the algorithm that follows you around on the Internet. But by taking responsibility to finding challenging ideas, that will challenge your perspective. It doesn’t mean that you have to become a different person. You might, which would be amazing. But it does mean that you’re allowing your brain to stretch in ways that gives you a brilliant new perspective on what you’re already living.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes.

Sandra Hunter:  As a way in writing workshops, when I teach those and people talk about being blocked, having writers block and one of the ways that you can get yourself away from that, there are different methodologies, but this one tends to work is to work in a different medium. If you’re a writer, pick up a camera, pick up a paint brush, use clay, something that’s tactile, something that takes you out of your medium and forces you to look at the world in a different way. I do ice photography, that’s the thing that I use. But it all connects back to writing.

So if I’m taking photographs and I see some filament, this tiny filament of ice, that reaches across to another block of ice is just, “Oh, that’s connection. That’s what people do.” We gradually reach out these filaments of connection. I mean, there’s so many ways of seeing the world in so many different colors and so many different spectrums that we forget because we’re so used to. We finally arrived at something and it works, so we’re going to continue to do that.

But the challenge is, do one thing this week that’s out of your comfort zone. Talk to somebody in line, reach out to somebody you wouldn’t normally speak to, pick up a different food in the grocery store, pick up a star fruit, pick up something that you wouldn’t normally eat that’s not packed with sodium and glucose and all the rest of it and fats. Do something different, go to a different food cart. In Portland we have so many food carts and … Melyssa, where are you?

Melyssa Barrett:  I’m in California, just outside the Bay Area.

Sandra Hunter:  There’s all the food trucks I know in the [inaudible 00:34:51] of South Fernando Valley. Go do something different because food is such a great way of changing your mind about something. I’ve had friends who … We go to an Ethiopian restaurant for the first time and it’s just, “I never knew vegetables could taste like this.” Yes. And that’s another way of changing your perspective.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes, yes. Oh, and I love it. You know, I was just at an Ethiopian restaurant the other day and it was awesome.

Sandra Hunter:  Yes.

Melyssa Barrett:  And it’s so funny because, I mean, you talk about stepping out of your comfort zone and I love the fact that you talk about, if you’re an artist go outside your medium. I don’t consider myself necessarily a photographer but I love photography. Everybody knows I’m always taking photos. But I love landscape photography but for me, probably over the last five years, since my husband has passed, I think everything has felt outside of my comfort zone.

Sandra Hunter:  Yes.

Melyssa Barrett:  And I got to the point where I just decided, I’m pretty much out of my comfort zone, so let’s just stay outside the comfort zone. But it has been richly rewarding just to … Even just the fact, it’s so easy for women to say no to something. It’s like, “Why don’t you come over, let’s go here or do this.” And it’s like, “No, that’s okay. I’m not going to do it.” And I started really small just by saying … I will never forget a wonderful woman at my church asked me to go on a trip to The Bahamas. And the first thing in my head, I was like, “No.”

And I said, “You know what? I need to start saying, yes.” So I said I’m going to say, “Yes, let’s do it.” It was awesome. And so it’s like, I really love what you’re saying because it so helps people step outside. It’s okay. Everybody gets nervous about stepping outside their comfort zone. But a lot of people don’t know your outside your comfort zone and you would be amazed at the accolades that come when you start doing something different. It’s like a whole new voice coming out of you.

Sandra Hunter:  Exactly, exactly. And I love this idea of you’re being such a warrior woman here. I’ve been so far outside my comfort zone that’s become my comfort zone almost, right? This is just kudos to you for doing that, Melyssa. But there are all these things that accrete. And the example I give in workshop is the hermit crab. So you’ve seen them wandering around, they’ve got little bits of shell and anonymity because they hide. And then, but when you see them strolling around, they can look like little divas, right?

So there was an experiment done by a Marine biologist and they scrubbed the shell of the hermit crab gently and then put it down next to this little gaudy pile of beads and little bits of broken mirror and all the rest. And this poor little crab sat there and was frantically touching its shell to see if there was anything left and there wasn’t and it sort of sat there and sulked for a bit. But then it started picking up these new things and putting those on top of its shell. All these little shells, little broken shells and colorful beads and little flashy bits of mirror. And when it sat in its favorite spot, it looked just like the pile that it was next to. But when it strolled around on the sea bed it looked amazing. 

Melyssa Barrett:  I love it.

Sandra Hunter:  And so I think when we accrete like I’ve moved into photography and you’ve moved into photography and what has helped me continue to expand is to start looking at the work of different photographers that I wouldn’t normally know about. I didn’t even know about Julia Margaret Cameron. And it was just, wow, this is a woman who brought photography into the world. It’s just, yes. I want to know more about you. And then from her, who are the women painters who painted landscape, who painted portrait, who were never acknowledged? Let me find out about those. Who are the women writers that have been overlooked? Who are the women musicians that have been overlooked? And you keep opening and opening your lens until you have such richness around you that you feel like you’re comfortable there.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah. Well, and it’s so funny that you say that because I immediately was thinking about when you were talking about non- BIPOC women that are like, “What can I do?”

Sandra Hunter:  Yeah.

Melyssa Barrett:  And it can be as simple as reading a book that you would never read by a person of color. Or it’s amazing how small some of these actions can be to just start intentionally thinking differently. Because I think in some ways there are so many people that don’t even realize how much of a bubble they live in until they intentionally go out of their comfort zone.

Sandra Hunter:  Exactly, exactly. And I think to close the circle there, as well. I mean, this is such a valid argument. Just read a book, right? Read a book, a woman of color. But it also applies to those of us who are leading the way and all the rest of it with our banners and shouting for justice or trying to make justice happen. But it also applies to us being patient, as well. Patient is the wrong word but inclusive.

Melyssa Barrett:  Right.

Sandra Hunter:  Being inclusive.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah, yeah.

Sandra Hunter:  So if you are a non-BIPOC woman and you’re terrified of saying the wrong thing, just ask a question.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes.

Sandra Hunter:  Just come and say, hello. You know, we actually know how to say hello to you, too. But you know, we can cross the divide by starting those conversations, which can be difficult and bumpy and clunky at first. But if both sides are willing to agree or willing to be receptive, let’s say, to a different point of view that becomes something creative by itself.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah. And it’s amazing when you start looking for something positive in somebody. Like their beautiful hair or their glasses or whatever, you would be amazed at how much that really starts to open a conversation where you can really get to know somebody.

Sandra Hunter:  Genuine curiosity. I think you’ve nailed it there, Melyssa, but absolutely right. Genuine curiosity, instead of saying, “Oh, where are you from?” Just going on those … Assuming that you’re the nanny. Instead of making those assumptions, put those aside and see that person just as a human being.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes.

Sandra Hunter:  And talk to them as a human being. And that’s how this can grow.

Melyssa Barrett:  I love it. Well, I absolutely love all the work that you’re doing. You know, whether it’s, Wild Women Leaders of Color, the Stealth Auntie Network, all the storytelling and books that you’re writing. I mean, it’s such wonderful work to really tap into the human potential.

Sandra Hunter:  Thank you.

Melyssa Barrett:  It is so wonderful. It has been such a pleasure to meet you. I hope that we continue to stay in touch because I will definitely be following Sandra Hunter. And we’re looking forward to keeping up with Loop and getting involved. So anything we can do to help support the work that you’re doing. And I have a son up in Oregon, so I’m going to have to call you next time I’m up there.

Sandra Hunter:  You definitely will, Melyssa. I don’t think this is the last time we’ll be talking. I feel that we have a-

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes, definitely.

Sandra Hunter:   … powerful amount of stuff to say to each other.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes, for sure. So it has truly been a pleasure. I want to thank you so much for being on the Jali Podcast and I look forward to having more conversations with you as you go. So please do tell people how they can reach you. If there’s any way they can get hold, if they’re interested.

Sandra Hunter:  So like everything else, I’m still in transition of my website that will be happening in a month. But you can reach me on Facebook, Wild Women Leaders of Color. Ask to join the group because that’s where all the cool stuff is going on. And there will be another workshop on ancestors, reaching your ancestors on the 9th of June. So if you follow in the Facebook group, you’ll get all that information. I’m also on LinkedIn, you can find me there.

Melyssa Barrett:  Awesome, awesome. Thank you so much again, Sandra. It has been a joy.

Sandra Hunter:  Thank you so much for this. Yes, it’s been amazing. Thank you so much.

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