Inspiring Social Impact – Ep.32

Amplifying Housing Literacy – Ep.31
June 23, 2021

On this week’s episode, Melyssa Barrett is interviewed by Becky Parker Geist, host of “Audio Book Connection-Behind the Scenes with the Creative Teams,” to discuss her inspiration to create The Jali Podcast and how the show has become a platform for sharing and highlighting social impacts.

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.

Recently, I was interviewed for the Audio Book Connection podcast with hosts, Becky Parker Geist. Becky is the CEO of Pro Audio Voices, providing audio book and podcast production and marketing. She’s also president of the Bay Area, Independent Publishers Association and the producer for the Jali podcast.

Becky Parker Geist:  I am excited to have with me today, Melyssa Barrett. Melyssa is the host of the Jali podcast, and she is an advocate for diversity, inclusion, social and economic justice. She is vice president at Visa Incorporated, and has worked primarily in the areas of risk and product, developing and maintaining products in the areas of identity, security, business intelligence, predictive data models and bankruptcy while optimizing solution delivery for clients. She has sponsored and supported diversity and inclusion groups to amplify the voice of those that are underrepresented in organizations. She lives just outside of the San Francisco Bay area in California, where she raised her three children and enjoys spending time with her six grandchildren. Welcome, Melyssa.

Melyssa Barrett:  Hello, Becky. I’m so excited to be here.

Becky Parker Geist:  Hey. So, I’m just like to jump right in, but I know that one of the things that when we first started talking about your podcast was that you have a message to get out to the world. So, I thought maybe we would just start right off with, what is that message that you’re trying to get out to the world?

Melyssa Barrett:  So, I think probably the first thing that I would say is from the Jali, everyone is a storyteller. So, my husband was a professional storyteller. He focused, specifically, his practice focused on African diasporas and stories because they weren’t being told. And so, one of the things, one of the main reasons that I really started the Jali podcast was to really start getting people to talk, to make people aware of stories that aren’t being told, but to really highlight diversity, equity and inclusion, and the people that should be celebrated because they are, in fact, doing the work. Whether you’re an author, whether you’re a corporate business person, everybody’s hands work differently. But everything we do is really connected to diversity, equity and inclusion. No matter what business you’re in, there is some element of it that you have to think about that you want to make sure that you’re impacting the world in a positive way for everybody.

Becky Parker Geist:  Oh, that’s great. So, it really is focused around the storytelling.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah. I think I always start with, how did you get here? What has your journey been like? Because I think that, to me, is so much of how we learn to share different experiences. And then, getting into how people are impacting the world with their work is my secondary focus.

Becky Parker Geist:  Yeah. Beautiful. And why is that important to you?

Melyssa Barrett:  I was raised, my father was always in the community working. And so, my sister always says that I inherited his philanthropic focus. And so, to me, if you’re at the table, and we need to be at the table, if you’re not at the table, pull of a chair. Then, I just feel like if we’re at the table, we need to be making the impact that we want to see and we have to advocate for ourselves and we need to be there. All of the burden is not on us, but we need to be making sure that people understand our perspective.

Becky Parker Geist:  Yeah. And this speaks very directly to something that I bring up on my podcast frequently, because I’m talking to authors and other people in the audio book industry and I think that one of the most important things that we can get clear on early on is where we’re going. What is our biggest goal with the work that we’re doing? As you said, our hands are working in different ways. I love the way you put that. And do you, and you may have already answered this, but I’m going to ask it just in a different way. Did you have a specific goal when you started your podcast?

Melyssa Barrett:  So, my goal when I started the podcast was to really begin to understand what is being done and how things are being done. That was my biggest goal was really to learn. And I think I have worked at one company for almost 30 years, so, I knew a lot about how that company did it, but I wasn’t sure how is it working in other places? Are they having some of the same challenges that I’ve seen, and what are people doing about it? And so, for me, it was really my way of connecting other industries, other people, whether they were CEOs or analysts or authors or speakers or whatever. There was all these different perspectives that I was just craving to understand more about what’s happening in the world and how do we channel all of these perspectives to get to where we really want to go? Because if you say the system is broken, what system are we talking about and how do all these systems work together?

Becky Parker Geist:  Yeah. That Is so cool. So often we think about podcasting as the way I started out with you have a message that you’re trying to get out there. And now, what you’ve really expressed to me is that you are engaged in a process of inquiry. And the beautiful thing about this is, you’re sharing that process and every step of the way in that inquiry with us as your listener.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes. As I’m learning, everyone gets to learn right along with me.

Becky Parker Geist:  That is so cool. So, I know that a part of your focus, as you’ve expressed, is equity, inclusion and diversity. And how do you find… So, I’m going to ask a question about guests because yours is an interview show as part of your inquiry. How do you find the guests that you bring onto the show?

Melyssa Barrett:  That’s an interesting thing, because I think I started just by looking around me to people that I knew. And I think most podcasters find that it becomes challenging, because you’re always looking for somebody and then you go, “Oh my gosh, let me call my friend and you know, I’ll get them on.” But for me, it was my experience, and I’m still experiencing it, it is the most phenomenal thing I have ever seen where the people that I’m talking to typically, I am just meeting so many new people.

 And then, those people that I’m talking to introduce me to other people, and it is just profound the number of new relationships that I’ve had, the perspective. I have made some just phenomenal friends. And I don’t know if the fact that it’s been during the pandemic that this has happened, but now, I’ve even had the opportunity for people that I haven’t actually had the privilege to meet in person and we’ve forged a relationship, it’s finally, now that we’re able to actually get together, go to a restaurant, have dinner and really amplify the relationship even more. And there’s just so much interesting work and things going on that I’m just excited about life in general.

Becky Parker Geist:  That is really exciting. What a journey. Do you have any set of criteria for your podcast guests, or who are you looking for, or is it not that… Give me some insight into that world.

Melyssa Barrett:  So, as I think about social impact, that is one of the things that, to me, makes the most significant difference. So, when we’re talking about diversity, equity and inclusion, yes, there are so many things that we should be doing to make people aware. And awareness, not only, just externally, but an awareness that is a very personal journey for many people who maybe haven’t been aware of things that they don’t know or things that they didn’t know were as bad as they were. And so, I think that journey is one piece of it. But, for me personally, I’m trying to connect the dots to the social impact that actually needs to be made. And so, most of the time when I’m looking for guests, I really want to hear from them their journey, because typically, their journey has some form of social impact in it.

The authors, for example, that I have interviewed, they are impacting others as they go in a variety of ways, whether it be going to the White House to visit Michelle Obama with a speaker or whether they are journeying from one country in Africa to Washington DC as a space engineer. It’s just amazing the stories that we see in terms of how were people able to make those impacts and what opportunities did they have on their journey because of some company or some sponsorship that made it possible for them to experience that journey? And so, it’s a lesson, not only in how the people transition, but along the way, if there’s a sponsor, we talk about corporate sponsorships a lot, but they’re not telling the story of the impact that it makes on people when they experience that. And a lot of times, you won’t know for maybe decades, but the impact makes a difference.

Becky Parker Geist:  That’s really cool. So, the two things that it seemed like you really touched on strongly there, one is that individual story. And I love that because I think that probably most of us have this feeling that we are just struggling along or whatever, but not even always recognizing our own milestone moments until we can look back on them. But hearing other people’s stories and how “Oh, wow. That thing happened to you.” or that you did that thing and it ended up with this big impact is very inspiring, and inspiration is so powerful.

And then, the second piece being about what are the systems that are in place that are having an impact and calling those into our awareness. Because I think also then, if we are starting to recognize, “Oh, this program, that program.” that there are all these other things going on out there that, if we’re feeling like, “Ah, the world’s just going down the tubes.” if we’re listening to your podcast and hearing these stories, we’re not only being inspired by other stories, but also hearing that there are other things in place that are making a difference and that I suppose, inspiring and can help us recognize what programs are out there.

So, anyway, thank you for all of that. So, in an interview, this is going to step into a little bit more on the hosting side of things. But in an interview, how much do you prepare questions in advance and how much do you find yourself just picking up on what your guest says and riffing in a different direction? What would you say?

Melyssa Barrett:  I would say I do spend time really thinking about where I want to go just more generally, but also, just understanding their background and some of the things that they’re doing. But I find, because I know there’s a lot of podcasters out there that will send you tons of questions and they want you to prepare and that way, maybe you feel more comfortable because you’ve already thought about the answer and all of that. I would say my podcasts, I prefer to just really be present and have a conversation with somebody. And so, if they ask me for questions and I will give them probably, maybe five or six questions, because I find that if you have four or five different questions, you have a longer conversation that can go deeper than if I give you 25 different questions to answer.

But what it allows me to do is really be present with them so that I’m not looking at my paper and going, “Wait, what’s the next question I was going to ask?” It’s more about just picking up on what they’re saying and diving in to who they are, what they’re doing and what those impacts are. So, so I find that, for me, it’s less about the structure, and the platform is just so powerful now to be able to just have those conversations and really tell the stories. At the end of the day, Jali, which is a West African term for a storyteller, the storytellers of the day were following royalty around and making sure that from an oral tradition, their generations and generations, were hearing those stories. The platform we have today really allows us to keep those stories and hopefully, they’ll be around for years and years. Let’s pause for a moment. We’ll be right back.

Becky Parker Geist:  What would you say are some of the things that you’ve, if you just maybe pull out one or two things that you’ve learned from your guests in the process that maybe have been surprising or just especially inspiring? I don’t know. Are there a couple of moments you can pull out that?

Melyssa Barrett:  Oh my gosh, so many.

Becky Parker Geist:  Well that in itself is great.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah. What’s fun about it is that the diversity of the interviews that I’ve had, people have been in public service, they’ve been in corporate positions, they’re high in the company, they might be lower in the company, new to the workforce. There’s so many different aspects of it. And I think, gosh, I don’t know. Probably one that was interesting and definitely a teachable moment is I was interviewing Cordero Davis. He works in inclusion and diversity, fairly young and somewhat early in his career. I imagined lots coming from him, but he talked about the fact that in his journey, which in high school, they still had segregation, and we’re talking, this is recent, you know what I mean?

Only a few, some years ago that it went away and I was just like, one of those, “Wait, what year is it? It’s 2021.” So, that had to be one of the more shocking moments because he came from the south and they’re obviously still struggling with lots of that. But his story was was very interesting. And then, I keep going back to Monique Nelson, who’s the CEO of UWG, and I started this because of my corporate background, and she talked a lot about the frozen middle when it comes to management in terms of how they focus on diversity and inclusion.

And she also talked about she had an office in New York that when she took over the company and she went there and it was a completely, all black employee base in that office. And she was like, “That’s not the way it’s supposed to be.” She’s like, “We need diversity in every aspect.” So, she was one of the ones, as the new CEO, who actually brought in the first white person. And she made sure that there were systems in place to make that person feel comfortable and then diversify the office. So, almost the other way, which I thought was really interesting.

Becky Parker Geist:  I remember that interview. It was very interesting and very cool.

Melyssa Barrett:  There’s just been so many. I could go on and on.

Becky Parker Geist:  Let’s take a look at a different side of this podcasting question. And what would you say has been the hardest thing, the most challenging thing about doing the podcast?

Melyssa Barrett:   The most challenging thing? I think it’s probably, so, when I started, for me, I loved podcasting because it was just about a voice. It’s like being on the radio, nobody has to actually see who you are or what you look like. And that’s not to say I didn’t mind being seen, but I think I have had to transform in being okay with being out there more than I’m used to.

And so, with social media and all of that, I think when you say that you want to be vulnerable and you want to really be your authentic self, it becomes challenging to go “Well, yeah. I want to be my authentic self, but I don’t want everybody to see me all the time. I want to have my own privacy.” So not that I’m some big star or anything, clearly not, but it’s just. Being out there it’s knowing that constants and everything is out there for, once you put it out there, it’s out there. So, I think that’s been challenging for me, just being okay with social media posting and just continuing to engage and have the conversation on a much more massive scale.

Becky Parker Geist:  Yeah. And speaking of that, how are you learning about the impact that you’re having with your podcast? Do you know?

Melyssa Barrett:  It’s interesting because I think the podcast is almost now a piece of it. So, one of the things on my own journey that I’m finding is, having engaged with a person on my own personal brand and it was all of a sudden, they were like, “Yeah, you’re doing all these things, but you have your own personal brand. You need to think about it in that sense.” And then, it was almost like the podcast is over here and then there’s all these other things that I’m doing that fit together and it may be eclectic but it is who Melyssa Barrett is. So, I think when I started thinking of it that way, the podcast became a component of my product set, and I come from the product area. So, I’m like, “Okay, I have, as a person, I have all these different products that I’m trying to deliver.”

Becky Parker Geist:  Yeah. Yeah. And I know that we’ve looked at analytics on occasion for your podcast. And I want to mention… Well, let me ask this. Do you hear from people by email or in comments somewhere about your podcast? Are you getting some feedback?

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah. So, social media is wonderful because it does allow people to give you comments and you get feedback pretty much right away whether people like something or not, you tend to see whether those hearts are hitting or not. And friends of mine will certainly call me or send me a text or they might say, “Oh my God, this was the best episode yet.” or whatever, to just continue to inspire. But I think a lot of times, when I started, I didn’t necessarily view podcasting with the amazing platform that it is for voice, for perspective, for engagement. And it has just been a blessing to me to be able to highlight these wonderful folks as I continue my own journey.

Becky Parker Geist:  That’s great. So, for others who may be listening and feel like they’re thinking about podcasting, they have something, maybe it’s an inquiry of their own, or maybe it’s a message that they feel like that they have some expertise or inspiration to share. What advice, if anything, what tips might you share with them as they get started?

Melyssa Barrett:  I would say, first of all, let me give a shout out to Pro Audio Voices here because Becky and her team are phenomenal in what they do. And what I have truly appreciated is, sometimes I have felt stuck. I’m not sure, maybe I have a gap and I freak out because I have a gap or whatever. And you have always been one of those people that are like, “I think you should record this and do this.” There’s these wonderful ideas that come out of being stuck if you just have a conversation with somebody else, or somebody cares enough to give you some mentorship.

And I find that there are mentors, way more mentors around me than I anticipated. And so, I love the fact that you can dial into expertise, but you can also have a bad day and forgive yourself and plan the next day. So, I think this is amazing opportunity to utilize your voice, to impact your community, whoever that community is in a way that nobody else can, because I think everybody has such a unique voice and perspective and we should use it.

Becky Parker Geist:  Yeah. Beautiful. Is there anything else that you would like to share, either about your podcasting experience or your message or any of the episodes that you have recorded? This is that open-ended, anything else that you think, “Ah, I’d just like to share this with that audience.” what might that be?

Melyssa Barrett:  Well, I always want to ask people to subscribe because you always need subscribers. But I think one of the things that I went into it being very professional corporate, and I have realized that my professional and personal life begins to converge. It began to converge a while back. And I think most people, maybe theirs converged a lot earlier in life than mine has, but I feel like I want to make sure that personally, I’m accomplishing what I want to accomplish so that my professional activities really kind of amplify my personal mission.

And I think, for the most part, it has been a real treat for me to be able to learn more about myself as I have gone through the podcasting experience, because, I think, a lot of times it’s one thing when you’re in the room with someone but when you realize that there are people listening to you that you may not even know, and you could potentially be making a difference for them, it just puts your whole life into a different perspective. For me personally, it has. So, I just encourage people be open, life is a journey, nobody has all the answers. But when we learn better, we do better and let’s continue to engage and have the conversation.

Becky Parker Geist:  That’s beautiful. What a beautiful way to wrap up. Thank you so much. Again, this is Melyssa Barrett. She is the host of the Jali podcast. That’s J-A-L-I, and you can find it on all the podcasting platforms. Melyssa, thank you so much for being with me today.

Melyssa Barrett:  Thank you, Becky. It’s been a pleasure. Thanks for joining me on the Jali podcast. Please subscribe, so you won’t miss an episode. See you next week.