Transcript Season 1 Episode 1
A fresh new Beat
with Solitaire Leon Carroll
#people #women #life #community #Haiti #nonprofit #onesparrowdc #leader #African-American #peopleofcolor #motherhood
Every color is beautiful, every color is powerful, every color is worthy. They tried to bury us, they didn’t realize we were seeds, they didn’t realize we were seeds. We open doors so others can walk through them. Your legacy is every life you have ever touched. I’m Stella Saliari and this is Salt the Podcast, a series of encounters with inspiring women, they are healers, activists, mothers, educators and world changers. Together we create community, share knowledge, amplify voices, heal and break narratives by elevating a new generation.
Stella: Welcome to Salt the podcast. My guest today is Solitaire Leon Carroll. Solitaire is together with her husband, Jr, the founder of One Sparrow DC, a nonprofit organization working to reduce homelessness and extreme poverty around the world, and specifically in Haiti. She and JR have known each other since high school and have been married for 12 years. They are also the parents of four amazing children, Tre, Xavi, Dev and Zari. Altogether they live in Bristol, Virginia, which is about 40 minutes of DC in the US. There Solitaire works as an IT specialist for the Department of Veteran Affairs as part of the federal government. I met Solitaire in 2004 in York, the UK, where we were living together for one year during our studies. We became great friends and our time in York was very special. I will never forget her chicken and dumpling soup, which was legendary in York. Whenever she made it our kitchen was full of people, and I’m still dreaming about it. Our movie nights, binge watching the The Best Man, cooking and dancing sessions, long talks and our very social kitchen. The title of today’s encounter is a Fresh New Beat and is part of the overall topic, elevating a new generation that is feminist and anti-racist. We will speak about One Sparrow DC’s work in Haiti, living in the US at this moment of history, Throwback Thursdays, raising children, and so much more. Welcome, Solitaire. I’m so happy that you’re here with us.
Solitaire: Thank you so much for having me here. Stella, this is so exciting for me.
Stella: Great, great. So I’ve already introduced you a little bit. But of course, we want to know a little bit more about you. So who is Solitaire?
Solitaire: So I’ve been using this term recently that I am relentlessly optimistic. And the reason I say that is because I think a lot of times people think that optimism equals naivety, but it doesn’t have to. I just choose to believe that you can make a difference, and that you can solve problems and you can fix things. Does it always work? No. But I still think that it’s worth constantly trying to find a way to find a solution for a problem. So I feel like that is kind of the core at which everything I do. And really the way I hope in which I work with people. I am about helping people. Actually, just today, I stopped to help pick up a hitchhiker because he was an old man, and it was cold outside. So of course I stopped and gave him a ride, which you shouldn’t do, but I did. But I think you should, I am sad of a world where stopping to give someone a ride is now considered dangerous. You know, that’s sad to me. And then I love learning. I love trying new things. I love trying everything at least once. So there are a lot of things that I do sort of outside of work, outside of my nonprofit, even outside my family that most times people are surprised that they do not because I have no desire to do it professionally. But just more just to be able to say I’ve done that. And it’s just a new way to learn and grow up.
Stella: Can you give an example?
Solitaire: I do flower arranging, like professionally for weddings. I like it because I think when you do the type of work I do, it’s very complex, and it goes over long periods of time. And even with my nonprofit, it’s very complex things that take time, whereas flower arranging is this creative expression that is done. Like, I’m going to make this arrangement and it’s going to be done in an hour. And there’s something very satisfying about something just being done.
Stella: Yeah. You see the result? Right. It’s manual. Exactly.
Solitaire: So yeah, yeah. Again, then I like it for mental cleansing. I think mental cleansing is really important. So my poor husband has to deal with my mental cleansing when I’m trying to come up with an idea. So this could be anything, from woodworking, to crafting, to re-landscaping our garden, to repainting a room.
Stella: Oh, yeah, I saw the other day, you made a bookshelf, right? You saw a photo on Pinterest? And then you made the whole bookshelf.
Solitaire: Yes, I did. Yes, I did, because that’s what you do when you need to mental cleanse, I pick a craft, and then do it. But there’s something about just using your brain differently. That then allows me to like come back with a fresh perspective and start tackling hard problems again. So I tend to do that a lot, like a lot. I like it.
Stella: I think it’s a very good.
Solitaire: Yes. So that’s one of the things that I do, like to do that. So well outside of the realms of my regular work.
Stella: Nice, nice, thank you for this nice introduction into who you are. And I mean, you’ve already said it, that helping is something that’s very close to your heart, optimism, even if you know, okay, I cannot solve all the problems, but I can do something. I’m not just here to sleep, eat and enjoy myself. And I guess that also probably is the reason why you founded One Sparrow DC. So, tell us a little bit about it. What’s the history of One Sparrow DC, what do you do? Why this name? Yeah. What does it mean to your family?
Solitaire: Yeah. So it’s very, very personal to us in the best kind of way. So my husband Jr. went to Haiti in 2012, on this medical missions trip with our church, and it was a trip where basically, they went with doctors and nurses. And the idea was to do medical, like, pop up clinics all over the this part of this region. So while he’s there, they worked with over 1000 people over the course of about a week, and they went to villages, they went to orphanages. And the thing that I think impacted myself the most was hearing a man, a father, that was so impacted by the poverty that he saw. Like at that point in time, our son Trey was like two at the time. And he saw so much of our own son’s privilege, for lack of a better world in what we were doing. I mean, there were situations where, you know, 70% of the children and the people that they saw, had preventable illnesses that could have just been solved by proper hydration, proper nutrition, and proper hygiene. That was it. Very simple things. And so he came back telling me one, about what he experienced and what he saw. But then, two, he had mentioned that the minister that they had been working with, when they went down there was talking about a desire to do an orphanage project. And it was like $40,000, to buy this large piece of land and to start construction. And based on the project we did in college with the fusion project and the dance aid that we did, I of course, was like, oh, it’s only $40,000. I mean, you can raise that. So my really incredible husband agreed, which I can’t say that enough. Because, you know, I think especially in this conversation about raising a more feminist generation, a lot of what I do with One Sparrow is directly because of the support of an incredible partner, who not only listens to my crazy, insane ideas but backs me up, and will spend time with our children while I go network or will you know, let me go to Haiti while I am, you know, five months pregnant, and you know, it’s a very different. A lot of what I am done, I’m able to do is because I have a partner who does not stifle my dreams.
And so we started the nonprofit at that point, we did a 5K. Had about 500, 400 people come out for our first race. And immediately after that, we we really sat down as a family. And we were like, we want to do this like full time. So that’s where we started off the project. So the name One Sparrow actually comes from a Bible verse. It comes from Matthew, where it says that not one sparrow falls without the master knowing. And that’s actually where the verse comes from. And the reason for that was we wanted to be a organization that made people feel like they weren’t forgotten. They’re usually people who are in areas where maybe there’s been a disaster, there’s been a tragedy and the world kind of pays attention, like when tragedy happens. But a lot of times the world doesn’t pay attention, five years out, 10 years out, and that’s really when the community needs help so and so that’s where the name comes from. Since then, we’ve really grown and blossomed. It started as an idea to create an orphanage, but since then, it’s actually grown into a capacity building project for communities. So we focus a lot on partnering with communities, working with people within the country, developing education programs, and I really love what it’s morphed into, like kind of what it’s grown into.
Stella: Yeah. And really like, looking at your website and your social media, I really like it. And you also just said it, that you involve the community, that you really listen to them, and you try to cater towards their needs. And it’s not just about donating money, right? It’s about education. It’s about empowering them, giving them the tools, so they can also sustain themselves. At least that’s what I understood from the work that you do.
Solitaire: That’s I mean, that’s the core of what we do, because, and it’s actually the main reason we moved on from the orphanage project was we had started raising money for an orphanage, we’d been doing it for about three years, and we’d raised quite a bit of money. But the problem we kept running into was What happens when these children are 18? What happens to them? And we could not answer it, we couldn’t answer it. Because at the end of the day, you still run into the same situation, which is, there is not enough economic opportunity in Haiti right now. And also, in a lot of these countries, if there is no work, what happens is that people leave, they go to another country, they go to another place, and they send money back, that sustains the community, but it doesn’t actually grow it. So that’s why about four years ago, we really stopped and we shifted our whole model towards how do you encourage entrepreneurship? How do you encourage growth? Have you encouraged not necessarily just jobs to come to Haiti?
But how do you prepare people for the jobs even of the future, because that’s another problem that you run into a lot is that nonprofits usually like to focus on what they know, from wherever they’re from, you know, the American way, that’s the K12 education. But the reality in Haiti and some, a lot of countries, especially where young girls have to take care of the family is, you know, she might go to school for two, three years. And then she might have to come back home and take care of her siblings, and then she’s going to go back again. So we have to create more flexible models that allow for young women to continue their education, even when there are gaps. And then we also have to have ways that she is learning the life skills where she can make a career, make a business for herself to eventually take care of her family. And so that’s the mindset we tried to take with every program that we greenlight: How is this going to teach a life skill that will help the 40 year old version or the 30 year old version of this 10 year old child?
Stella: Yeah. So you’re not just providing the fish? You’re teaching them how to fish?
Solitaire: I think it’s the only sustainable way. Right? And also it combats, you know, corruption, because that’s another big question we get a lot of people say, Well, hey, Haiti has had so many corrupt people, or, you know, so many nonprofits going to Haiti, and you never really see the results or whatever. And what I say to that is, we can’t judge, because if you think about COVID, right now, what have we seen with people, the minute everybody goes into a survivalist mentality, it does something to you psychologically, when every single person around you is concerned about their survival, you start to see different issues in character, you start to see less community spirit, you do start to see more people taking advantage of things, maybe you’re going to see people not caring about other people’s wellbeing. And this is just been, you know, seven, eight months for the world. Now imagine 20 years of a society in which every single person is worried about their survival every single day. And it’s not just the people in abject poverty, but it’s the police officer that’s supposed to protect you. It’s the doctor that’s supposed to be healing you, it’s the teacher that’s supposed to help your kids, every single person is concerned about whether their kid is going to make it another day. And so what we’re fighting with One Sparrow is how do you restore the sense of community where we can get back to a place where we help each other out. And I don’t have to take from you because there’s enough. I don’t have to depend on, I don’t have to take from you because I’m going to get my opportunity as well. And that’s one of the things that our team really focuses on is rebuilding that community spirit.
Stella: Amazing, because it’s a country that has suffered so much also all the natural catastrophes right, and then it’s an island and I know a lot of people go to the DR. Because also my partner’s from there, but it’s also not the richest country and they also don’t want people from there (they experience lots of racism there)? And then it’s an island where do you go so it’s really I find it really incredible what you are doing.
Solitaire: Yeah, and I love it. I love it. Because I will say, that’s another thing that’s just, you see such incredible innovation. Like, every time I go to Haiti, and we joke about it, there are people who’ve come up with these incredible ways of, of surviving. I mean, things that, I’m not saying it’s the safest thing in the world. Yeah. But the fact that you’ve re-engineered your environment, to make a way, to make money to take care of yourself, at the very least, that should encourage us that there’s still spirit and there’s still hope. And there’s still a survival a desire to make it. And if we can just provide better access to resources, we can provide better education. If we can provide just a little bit more of the structure and the help that we get in first world countries. I think you could really make a substantial impact on people’s lives. Will it solve everything? No, but I think it makes a really big dent in the problem.
Stella: Totally, especially also, because you tackle it the way you tackle it, right? Not just about bringing money, you are really doing, you’re working on so many fronts, you’re really trying to make a long lasting change there. And I think that’s incredible. That’s really, really amazing. And I saw that you were doing a lot of events to raise money, like I see all these lip sync battles. And, like, tell us a little bit about that, because you’ve been so creative, right with people.
Solitaire: Oh, my gosh, Lip Sync Battle is my favorite event we’ve ever done. Because it started off as this like humble people, we’re not sure if they were going to do it or not. And just for your listeners, so lip sync is like karaoke, but better. The idea is, there’s no singing, you literally just lip sync with your lips, the song plays and you act out the song. And what we find is everyone takes on this complete alternate persona. And they all become divas overnight, and it’s hilarious. And the stage and the auntie keeps getting up every single time. So the first time it was just like lights, then they wanted a fog machine, then they have strobe lights. Now they have two DJs behind them. And then they bring in flash mobs like we’ve had a person where it was just the one contestant on the stage. And they had arranged for 20 people in the audience to flash mob the stage during their performance. It was awesome. So it’s become this really great thing for the community, because one of the ways we do it is we get community leaders to actually be the performers. So people who are active in our community, people who are small business owners, because it helps them actually promote their small business, and really anyone that’s up for a good laugh for charity. And it’s become a really awesome event. We’ve done about six of them. And we were supposed to do one this year. But with COVID. We’ve had to push it to next year. But it’s such a fun event. And it’s really, it is a very creative way to do it. It’s such a fun.
Stella: I mean, you need to motivate people, right? If you want to also raise money, so you have to be creative. And I’ve also seen that you’ve been quite often also awarded by the community, right? They’ve invited you, and they’ve honored you for the work that you’ve been doing in Haiti.
Solitaire: Yes. So I guess in 2018 I was for Loudoun County. I was named to 40, under 40, which was a wonderful honor to be named one of the 40 under 40 for the county, which is really awesome. And then, um, last year, I was named part of the Loudoun 100. So it’s 100 people within the county that are providing like, a real service to the community. I love the Loudoun 100 because that one was focused a bit more on my work as a nonprofit founder rather than, like my everyday job of being in government IT. And so that was really impressive. And then this year, I was a finalist for a young professional of the year. So it’s been very encouraging to be recognized by your community like that, that are our messages taking hold to the community. So I think we’re just continually trying to get the word out there. I’m not particularly big on awards, however, it brings more awareness to our organization. So that’s the main thing there.
Stella Nice, beautiful. And Solitaire. Did your upbringing or early experiences influence the direction you took in life? Everything you’re doing now?
Solitaire: I think so. I think there’s, my mom laughs about it. She says that I told her, when I was like three years old, while she was having a really hard day as a mom, that I told her we didn’t ask to be born. As a mom, now, I think I would lose my mind if my child said that to me. But what I really appreciate is she took this whole other mentality about it and she was like: “You know what? You’re right. You didn’t ask to be born. Like that is true.”
Stella: And how old were you when you asked that question?
Solitaire: I told her this at three.
Stella: Okay. Just wanted to double check. Have I heard that well.
Solitaire: I still can’t believe that. But I think what has really shaped the way I look at things is I, you know, my parents are from the Caribbean. I spent maybe the first four years of my life living in Barbados. I still have family that lives in the Caribbean. And even in the States, I am incredibly blessed. Like even during COVID, you know, my husband is not an essential worker, we’ve been able to, essentially quarantine safely at home for seven months without any issue in our economic wellbeing. We’ve been blessed with jobs that allow us to work remote. That is a privilege. And I really believe to whom much is given much is required. I think if you’ve been blessed in this life, so you can help someone else. And I think that we all have a moral obligation to help other people. It didn’t escape me that if I had been born in Haiti, I would not have the life I have right now. Or even as something as simple as if my parents had not moved to the States when they did. And we had stayed in the Caribbean, I would not have the life that I have right now. And I think that kind of responsibility to do something with the blessings that you’re given is just really important. It’s not that you’re better than anyone. But if you’ve been given more, it is your responsibility to turn back around and help someone else out.
Stella: You want to be the Salt. This is also why I’m calling my podcast Salt, right? That’s be the Salt of the earth.
Solitaire: And what did your mom respond? When you asked her that question?
Solitaire: She said you’re right. You didn’t ask to be. I just, I was so impressed with that response. That would not be my response. But she said, it like helped her like, kind of put things in check that day. Because, again, I have two brothers. So I can only imagine how chaotic it was, especially since she’s saying I was three at the time. So that means that my baby brother was probably an infant. And then my older brother was like five, so like a five, three year old and a baby had to have been stressful. So I still can’t believe she said, You’re right, that you didn’t ask to be born like, I would not say that. Being honest.
Stella: Now that we have kids, right, you think differently about a lot of stuff you did when you were younger? And Solitaire, you’re a leader, at least in my opinion, you are a leader, at least what I understand under leader. What is a good leader for you?
Solitaire: I think a leader. And this is actually something I think about quite frequently right now, I think a leader is supposed to provide cover. Like if you’re not, you can be good at your job, or you can be good at anything. But leadership is supposed to provide cover. They’re supposed to support. They’re supposed to mentor, they’re supposed to help. They’re supposed to put things aside even when they’re tired, and keep things going. And I feel like that something that we sometimes lose is leadership is not: I’m the best or I’m the most famous, or I’m the only one that can do this. It should be servant leadership in that I’m going to not focus on myself for a minute to make sure all of us get where we need to go. And I wish more people would think about leadership like that. Like it shouldn’t just be a title. It should be almost more of a calling. Yeah, that’s, yeah, that’s how I think about it right now. At least.
Stella: I think we agree on that one. And not that I don’t agree with the rest of you said, but yeah, I could have I could not have said it better. I totally agree with what you said. Yeah,
Solitaire: I think it’s because leadership is one of those things that I find is universal, right? Like we all know how it feels to be under a bad leader. And then we all know how empowering it can be to be under a good leader. I had a previous manager at a job I had a couple years ago. And I’ve always found that she’s one of the best leaders I’ve ever had. Because she was very comfortable in letting me try things, she was comfortable in letting me have the stage at times. That never threatened her. She just saw that as the team doing better. But at the same time, though she was generous in her correction, she, it’s not that she would destroy your spirit. But definitely, hey, I think you could do better in this area because I want to see you grow. And she set such a tone for our team that when she eventually moved on and went to another project, like I mean, the team’s never recovered. Because that absence of leadership was so vital. And I feel like that’s something else you really notice, this is when a good leader is gone. And someone hasn’t stepped in. It’s all of a sudden you recognize the, the need for that leadership? Yeah,
Stella: Um, since we talk about leadership, I think it makes sense to ask this question to you. What could it be? I want to hear your perspective how it is to live in the US at this time of history. And of course, a lot is happening, especially the last few months. And I want to hear your perspective on that.
Solitaire: So in key, not in keeping but in remembering what I started with, I am a relentless optimist. However, I mean, America’s scary right now. It’s scary, because we’re at a point in history, where facts are not facts. And that that’s concerning, you know, something as simple as science. I mean, the scientific method exists for a reason. But we are at a place in our country where we don’t even agree that science is real, we’re at a place in our country where we don’t believe in scientists. And that’s not just talking about, like climate change or anything like that. I mean, this is just the basics of how diseases spread. We can’t agree on that. And the reality is, it’s an absence of leadership. I’m not a political person, but I am a moral person. And I think that when any leader takes a known fear, and a known division, and uses that fear, and that division specifically for the retention of power, that is immoral, and that is wrong. And it is disgraceful. And I think that’s what we’re seeing in America, I can’t even just blame that on the current administration because there have been many people who have enabled the lies, but it’s specifically for power.
And, you know, I think that it’s funny to me, because I think even when you have the destruction of facts, you forget history, you forget what has happened. And I think that’s also another part of it, we have in America where we don’t agree on I mean, on facts, things that can be proven. And we’ve also gotten to a place where it’s not, trying to think of the right way to put this, we’ve gotten to this place where if I tell you the truth, and it’s a hard truth, then I hate. No, I’m just sharing hard truth. We need to get back to a place where I can have a discussion with you and I can share something with you and maybe that’s a very hard thing to say, and that’s a hard thing to understand. But let’s have the discussion, and let’s move forward. But me sharing a hard truth with you is not an indictment of what happened. It’s just, we need to all agree that this is what’s happened. Because if you don’t understand your history, you’re doomed to repeat it. And I feel like that’s what we’re missing is this idea of, well, I don’t want to tell them the truth, because then they’re going to be upset. So I’m going to give them a lesser truth. But that creates more problem. And that creates more absence of leadership. And I think fundamentally, that’s where we’re at in America. It’s not just this election. It’s not just COVID, it’s not just what you’re seeing in the protests. It’s a fundamental inability to look at hard truths, and do the hard work of moving forward from and that’s what I think is scary. Because if you can’t even agree to have a discussion, how can you fix it? And I think that’s what I am the most, for lack of a better word anxious about is will people be willing to have difficult discussions, so we can actually move forward.
Stella: How do you deal with this in the US? Everyday Life, let’s say or the community, or do you go to the protests? Do you have certain discussions with people? Do you? Yeah, I mean, I saw also of course on Facebook, I saw you tell people go and vote. I’ve seen that you’ve been very vocal about that.
Solitaire: Because I think at the very least, like I can’t tell you who to vote for. But I do think that, again, a hard truth or hard conversation is you should vote, whether I agree with who you’re going to vote or not, you should vote because that’s the only way we can have the validity of our elections. I think it is important for everyone to have a voice regardless of whether I agree with it or not. And I think it’s important for leaders in this time period, to encourage that, like, dissension does not mean, lack of respect, I don’t have to agree with you to respect you. But at the same time, for my voice to have importance, I also have to give importance to yours, too. Otherwise, we’re going to keep getting back into this fighting thing. So that’s one of the things that I do like even right now, I have training next week for election officer training, because I’m going to go be a poll worker. Reason being for that is right now, especially in the African- American community, people are afraid to vote, like they’re afraid that a lot of the Republican supporters and the more far right supporters are coming to people’s polling stations, and intimidating people, which by the way, is illegal, like it is illegal. Voter intimidation is illegal in America. However, the current administration is encouraging it. So they’re doing it. So one of the things I thought I could do was go work at the polls. So somebody else that looks like them, is there to encourage them like you need to go vote. So that’s something you can do, I do go to protests, I don’t go to every protest, just because I do have four children, and like three jobs, but I do go to protests because I think, again, it’s important for people to see that this movement has to continue. Yeah, totally. And then I think also having discussions with people, I recently joined a small group with a local group of women, specifically to be a voice of a person of color, that is open to having a discussion. Because I think right now, people are trying to have really real discussions. And, you know, being a person of color in America is exhausting. It is mentally exhausting. And there are a lot of people who they’re just not in a place to have that discussion, they’re exhausted.
Stella: So a lot of emotional labor.
Solitaire: It is a lot of emotional labor. And so what I’ve committed to and I’ve had a few of my friends commit to is, if you are in a place emotionally, that you can be in a constructive discussion, you should do it. And then when you can’t be you pass it off to somebody else who can do it. But it’s going to take all of us being open to having discussions. Because as much as it’s painful to talk about, I can’t expect growth if I’m not willing to share, because I can’t expect someone to just understand what I’m going through. No, one’s a mind reader.
Stella: Yes, but I also think we should all play our part. Like, you’re not there to educate everybody. Yes, there are books out there, there’s a lot of stuff that people can do. And I think it’s very important that people realize they have to be allies, right?
Solitaire: I love that you said that. I read a book that literally just said that the other day, and it was so encouraging. I agree with you, the people of color in your life cannot be your full source of information. If you really care, go read the book there tons of books, and then come have a discussion after you read the book. And we can now have a real discussion about it. Um, and I love that you said that because I wish more people would say that, like there are things that you can do to become educated yourself, take that ownership first. And then hopefully someone will trust you to let you in their personal experience as well.
Stella: Yes, totally. That’s why one of the goals let’s say or one of the reasons why I set up Salt the podcast is this whole idea of raising a generation that will be anti-racist, right? Because it’s not enough. There are people who say I’m not a racist, okay. But what are you doing about it? It’s not enough to be just I’m not a racist, you have to be anti-racist. You have to speak up also when nobody sees you. You have to speak up in your home, the way you raise your children right. And I cannot expect from every person of color to do the work. No, you’re not my dictionary. And you’re not just this, you have a life.
Solitaire: Exactly, exactly. And I think that I’m loving that people are starting to have this discussion about being anti-racist. Because, you know, I think there’s some realities that we have to face, especially when it comes to racism, when it comes to diversity, when it comes to even inclusion. And that means you actively have to understand that for there to be diversity at the table you sit at, someone has to give up a chair. You either make more seats, or someone has to give up a chair. And you have to be committed enough to this progress for us as a people, as humanity to give up your seat. And that is something that I think, I don’t know if everybody’s there yet. But I do think that it’s something that we have to be realistic about what we’re asking, you know. I was reading a statistic that was talking about the Fortune 500. And of the Fortune 500s, only, I believe 37 of those companies are run by women. So 500 – 37, like that’s not even 10%. Now, for true diversity to take place, basic math says that 223 more seats would need to be filled by a woman just to get to 50%. We haven’t even started talking about you know, if you want to do people of color, people of different religions, people of different sexual orientations. We haven’t done that. But just age. Yeah, ah, nothing. The fact we just say man versus woman, 200 people have got to give it their seat.
Stella: And then of course, it’s also like, say, the women who occupy these positions, what do they do once they occupy them? Do they just stay there and collaborate in the whole marginalization of others? Or do you actually do something about it?
Solitaire: And that’s a really interesting point you brought up because I feel like that’s so vital to this conversation is overt racism. Yes, that does not happen every single day. You know, the stuff that we saw with George Floyd, the things that we see with Breonna Taylor, things we see with police brutality, that is not an everyday occurrence. For the majority of Americans, the things that are probably the most damaging, and the most long lasting, are the microaggressions. That’s the stuff that you feel every day.
Stella It’s the systemic racism, actually, it’s what you don’t see. And then people tell you, but you’re making them up.
Solitaire: It’s the bigger things. It’s the WHY CAN’T certain people work remote versus others that have to be in the office. It’s the why are some people automatically taken at face value for their ability to do things where others have to pass exams and improve themselves over and over again, before they can even be considered for a conversation? It’s, I mean, it’s down to simple things like the neighborhood you live in, and you know, the type of car that you’re supposed to be able to drive, the expectation of how you dress. I mean, even something as simple as my hair. I have gorgeous curly hair. I love my hair. However, do I understand that there are some environments in America where to be taken seriously, I need to straighten my hair. Yes, and is that something that I know I need to do? Why should I? This is where society is, you know, and I think that’s the kind of thing that we tried to bring more awareness to, is that’s what we’re talking about when we’re talking about systemic racism. It’s not just a police officer will pull you over, it’s that every day of our life, we have to put on another identity to be considered or taken seriously, because the system will not accept us for where we’re at. And that’s what’s damaging.
Stella: And it’s always, how do you raise your kids on that Solitaire? Or how do you raise them in general?
Solitaire: So I had a situation literally just today, where I was doing somebody’s hair, and I saw how, I mean it’s hair, right? But I saw how filled with anxiety she was about what she thinks that the view of beauty should be. Because society has told her for so many years, her hair should look this way, it should fall this way. And if she wants to be beautiful, this is what she needs to do. And something that I started doing really since I had my daughter about two years ago, it’s I actively wear my hair more natural more often, because I don’t want her growing up thinking there’s anything wrong with her hair. I don’t want my sons growing up thinking that there’s anything not beautiful with natural hair. So there are things like that, that we do within our family, where it’s about what are what am I showing them is right, and what is right about themselves, you know, there’s beauty in all colors, and all races and all abilities and all religions, you know, I actively advocate for my kids to, to play and go and hang out with anyone, I actively ask them to learn about other cultures and try other foods and develop an appreciation for other people. You know, we joke about it with my son, but any country he wants to learn about, we encourage him to learn about it, what are the people like, what is the culture like, I want you to stay curious and not to box yourself in. And then I think in life, it’s just living it. I support, when I’m in a position of power, I reach back and I help other women of color get into positions, if I can hire, I’m gonna hire someone who someone else would not look twice at. You know, um, because I think it’s like you were saying a little while ago, it’s not enough just to get into positions of power it is reach back is very important, and is very real. And if we’re not actively reaching back and helping someone else get to where they need to go or a diversity of ideas at the table, then we haven’t done enough yet. And so that’s one of the things I can do is constantly live a life that actively is pushing for this change in our society.
Stella: You also have this tribe of women, what do they mean to you?
Solitaire: Um, I mean, my tribe is everything. So I have different tribes too, I will say that I have different tribes that do different things. For me, I have a mentorship tribe, where these are women who are older than me, they’ve been doing this longer than me. And I love those women, because they show you what’s possible, they show you what steady plotting can really do like over time. And they also show you how you can do this successfully because I feel like society does perpetuate this idea of strong women. Strong women of color have particular usually end up single or they don’t have husbands or they’re not good moms, but they box us into a hole. So I’ve women in my tribe that specifically helped me perpetuate, dispel that myth. That’s one. I have another group of women who are really sort of our spiritual advisors. They’re the ones that will pray with you. They’re the ones that will kind of talk you off the ledge, when you’re really sick of being the bigger person. They’re the ones that will encourage you to keep moving forward when things don’t look good. I have my group of women, they’re also younger than me. Because there’s so many things that I wish I had been told younger. I mean, I am pretty young, I will say that I am pretty young and I think I’ve learned quite a bit in my short time. But there are some things that I just I wish I’d been told even younger. And if I can help tell that even younger than we can get more women going sooner. Being okay with saying no.
Stella: Boundaries, right?
Solitaire: Boundaries. I mean, it’s so vital, even just the simplicity of being okay with who you really are. Like I find that we get into culture, especially women, we get into this culture very quickly of, well, this great woman did this great thing, you should be like her. No, you’ve never can be. It doesn’t matter what I do in life, I could never be like Maya Angelou. I could study all her books, I could read all her things. I could do all of that. I can never be like her. Now I can be a really good writer, or I could be a really good storyteller, but I can’t be her. And if God wanted two Maya Angelous, he would have made two. There’s something unique about you and your perspective and your abilities and your being that I think the world needs you. It does not need you pretending to be somebody else. And I feel like I wish like we would encourage young girls that about that earlier. Like you don’t want to be like me, you want to be like you and whatever I can do to help you be the best you. That’s what I wanted to do. But you don’t want to be like that. That’s boring. So I wish, I wish I’d been told that more younger, at least.
Stella: Yes. That’s also why I say we have to elevate the next generation. That’s also what Salt is about because I feel our mothers didn’t know many things. We know more than our mothers also, of course, Internet everything has helped us also that now we can do things that our mothers were not allowed to do. And now we need to elevate the next generation, right? We need to pass on the wisdom so that they know and they can go even faster or better or just yeah, just go for it. You know, Maya Angelou has been my Salt. It’s funny that you’ve mentioned her, she has been very crucial in a lot of the things that I’ve decided to do in my life. She’s really my inspiration on so many levels. So who has been your Salt, who has inspired you? And of course, it doesn’t have to be just one person.
Solitaire: Um, so that’s the thing, I can’t even name one person. So I will say my tribe is very inspirational to me, because I feel like they make things very real. I have an incredible mentor. Her name is Phyllis Randall, and she is the first woman, black woman as a chairperson in the entire state of Virginia, which is insane, right? Because Virginia has been around in America for 300, almost 400 years. And they’ve never had a single black woman run an entire county in 400 years, just blows my mind. But why she’s inspirational to me is, she is a strong leader. She is an ethical leader, she pushes through, she is a Democrat in a primarily Republican area. She is a black woman in a primarily white male dominated profession. And she is an incredible wife, and a strong mother and a gracious friend and a loving sister. I mean, she recently stopped campaigning for her last re-election for like three weeks because her sister needed her. And she like literally cancelled all of her campaign stops and went and got her sister and hung out with her sister for a couple of weeks, because family comes first. And I just thought that, you know, that’s the kind of woman that I hope 10 years from now, people equate me with, because what we do is only an extension of us in terms of our professions, but who we are, I think my there’s so much more. And I think that’s what carries regardless through what position, what age, time, what field you’re in. And I love women like that show, that strength is not necessarily heartless. And that, you know, ethics does not mean that you cannot be decisive, and that you can be this multifaceted person, in any situation. And that’s what I love about some of the women that you see really making an impact right now. They show that they’re multifaceted, and they can be vulnerable, but tough. And I think that’s incredible.
Stella: This is something that I really love about Maya Angelou because she was so multi-layered, right. She was so many things at the same time. And she was constantly evolving.
Solitaire: Yeah, there was actually a quote. There was a poem she has that was in this movie years ago. And it actually is like, on our wall in like our bedroom. It’s called in and out of time. And it’s a, I mean, it’s gorgeous. And the whole concept of it, is how she’s talking about loving this person, like, regardless of time, like they love each other in another time, sun is going up and coming down and in time has no boundary for their love. And we actually had it on the invitations, for our wedding. Ah, and so now it’s like a, I blew it up like on this giant, like, four foot wide like board. And it’s like in our room, it was an anniversary present for my husband.
Stella: I think I still have your wedding card somewhere. So I’m going to check. Yeah. And Solitaire, to whom do you want to pass the Salt? What do you want to say to the next generation?
Solitaire: Collaboration over competition! I think that and this goes with everything. There’s so much room at the top. I know that we, everyone thinks there is this limited space. And there’s this limited ability. But there isn’t. Like you just create a new table. If there’s not enough seats, create a new one, make a bigger table. But the big thing I think is that there is such a collaboration, and there’s so much to be won, through people coming together and leveraging their best ideas and their best self to come together and create something even better. And I wish that we could get to a place in society where there’s beauty in diversity of voices, and there’s beauty in diversity of opinions, and there’s beauty in diversity of experiences. And I feel like the more that you do that, the better it gets. It’s a simple thing, but I mean, how much do you love when you share recipes with somebody from a different culture? It doesn’t mean that the food from your culture doesn’t taste good, or it’s no longer a value, you just expanded your cuisine plethora to another cuisine. That is what we did in York, right? Exactly, we did it all the time. And I wish that that was something that people would do. Like, I learned so much from my coworkers, I learned so much from the people I network with. And it’s just, I wish that’s what we could do. And so if anything I would say is collaboration over competition, you don’t have to compete with somebody for you to be special, or for you to have value or for you to succeed, you’ll probably get further if you collaborate with a like-minded person to develop and expand.
Stella: Beautiful. Before we finish, and you ask me the question that you want to ask me, Throwback Thursdays? What’s that about?
Solitaire: So that is a silly American thing where on social media, everyone does these, like, you know, you post a picture on Thursday, that’s like, of the previous, like a previous time. But I love Throwback Thursday, just because like, there’s something about realizing the passage of time, for just a minute. You know, I think I was looking at pictures of my son, usually, for his birthday, which just passed, I always tried to, like, go back and see like all the pictures, like over the years, and it’s incredible, like what the passage of time does, right? But even to like little things, like with your relationships, like I knew you, like 16 years ago, like, that’s insane. I don’t even understand how 16 years have passed, yet alone that like, we’ve done but that’s, you know, I mean, and that’s what I love about. Thursday is like for just a second, you stop, and you get out of what’s happening currently, and you realize the passage of time. And I mean, for me, especially like with my nonprofit, same thing, you know, there’s some days where it feels like things are taking too long, or it’s stalling or you know, it’s not moving as fast as I would like. And then you’ll look back, and you’ll see, we’ve done a lot. Like we’ve impacted a lot of people’s lives, we have gotten a lot of things accomplished. And yes, is it the speed at which I might want? No, but has it been any less valuable? No, it’s still been impactful. So that is Throwback Thursday. It’s, I’m not on with all of them. I don’t do like man crush Monday or Woman Crush Wednesday, but I’m not about those. I don’t have time for that.
Stella: But I mean, the way you explain it, it’s beautiful.
Solitaire: That’s at least the way I think about it. Right? I don’t know about everybody else. But that is the way I think about it. Because like even, like even little things like I love memories on like your Google Photo. So Google does this awesome job, like in the photo app, where it’ll show you like, what you were doing a year from the state, three years from the state, seven years from the state. And I’d love to see it because it’s just like, again for that minute. I’m like, wow, like, it’s actually gotten a lot of stuff done. Like, okay, this has been good.
Stella: Beautiful. Is there a question you want to ask me?
Solitaire: Yes. So I love this concept of being the Salt. I just I love it. What would you say is your greatest like hope? Like, if you look back 10 years from now, on your own, like Throwback Thursday? What would you want to feel like Salt accomplished?
Stella: That’s a very good question. It’s a beautiful question. For me, Salt is a project. It’s not about me. I’m of course, the person behind it. And I’m the one that is leading all this right now. But to me, it’s really important to come together as women. And when I say women, I don’t see women as something homogeneous. As you said also, earlier, women come from all spheres of life, whether it’s from different classes, abilities, age, sexual orientation, creeds, so on and so forth. So for me, it’s really about us coming together and having meaningful conversations together, liberating knowledge, because you know, something that I don’t know, and maybe I don’t have the chance to go to university because of whatever reason, but you did. So you can share your knowledge with me. So it’s about sharing knowledge. It’s about connecting people, creating circles. It’s about deconstructing kind of universal truths that are out there, that, yeah, it’s about deconstructing those and creating something else, like bringing a different perspective in it. So this is one thing that it’s very, very important, this idea of female solidarity, love, change. It’s really the hope of transforming society, but it’s also about the next generation. Because and that happened, the idea of the podcast I had it already two years ago, but when I got pregnant with my daughter something happened to me. I remembered things that I went through in my life that I don’t want my daughter to go through. And I went through those things because of me being a woman. I remembered the racism that I went through the sexism. And I said, now’s the time to make Salt real. And at that time, I didn’t even have the name Salt, there was just the idea to make the podcast. And, yeah, I really felt she really made a change in me. And the moment I was pregnant with her, the moment she was born, I changed a lot of things in my life. And for me, it’s really about the next generation, there’s just stuff I don’t want our kids to deal with anymore. I don’t want them to be discriminated against because of their gender, because of their color because of their religion because of I don’t know what, I just want them to live their life in a more meaningful way, we are wasting time talking about so many stupid things that they’re not important, we are still doing that. And this has to change. So for me, it’s also about how I raise my children, it’s really, really important. We need to have conversations with our kids, and we need to have those when no one sees us. You know, it’s not just looking good for a school project or looking good, because now right now, I’m telling you this and I want to look good to my audience. No, you have to do the work at home, and we have to speak up. It’s not enough to be, to say I’m a feminist, okay, what are you doing about it? Nothing. It’s not enough to say I’m not racist, but not speaking up. And everybody does whatever they can, you know, some people go and protest, and some people are scared, or they don’t like it, but maybe they will write an article somewhere that will make a change, or they will talk to their neighbors. So this is like, I really have a hope for a generation that will speak up and they will be compassionate, feminist, anti-racist, and that they will make a change. So this is what I hope for Salt.
Solitaire: This is beautiful. And so encouraging. And like I said, that’s, that’s why I am relentlessly optimistic person, because people are good, like, people are good. And people want to see things differently. And I love that this is your action, like you’ve seen something, and you want to change it. And so this is your action. And I think that it’s going to be impactful. I just I had a conversation with a friend. And I think the one thing that after I had my daughter as well, that really did change the way I thought about things was, I really believe that we have boxed ourselves into too much as women, that you can only be one thing, yeah, whether it’s you can be a stay at home mom, or you can work you can be a woman that is a church woman, or you can be a woman that’s of the world, you can be a career woman or you cannot and we boxed ourselves in. And I think that that’s the beauty of women, we are multifaceted, we can be a really awesome career woman who has great ideas and is great entrepreneur, but is an incredible mom at home, and makes all the special cookies for school and likes to bake, you know, brand new costumes and stuff. And also be an incredibly supportive wife and partner to whoever we’re with, like you can, you could do all of those things. And you don’t have to choose. And I want my daughter to grow up in a world where she does not feel like I’m gonna make her choose one or the other. I want to develop the totality of what makes her awesome. And I want her to grow up in a world that she doesn’t have to choose, that she feels like she can be an incredible mom, and an incredible career person and have a career and be supportive for her family, and be a woman of faith. And all of that can be who she is. And I love that you’re creating an environment for these discussions to hopefully create that world for our girls that they won’t have to choose. So this is awesome.
Stella: Thank you so much, Solitaire Thank you. I really, really love talking to you. It has been a lovely conversation. And I thank you so much. And I always finish my conversations by honoring a woman. And today I want to honor Toni Morrison. And I think it makes a lot of sense. And it gives a really nice ending to what we talked about before. Obviously, you know Toni Morrison. But maybe not everybody who’s listening knows her. So Tony was an American novelist, essayist, book editor and college professor. Her first novel was The Bluest Eye, a novel about a black girl that is obsessed by white standards of beauty and longs to have blue eyes. A very sad book. It’s a very controversial book, as I know in the US, but highly recommended. For her book, Beloved, which is based on the true story of a runaway slave who at the point of free capture kills her infant daughter in order to spare her life of slavery. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 1993. She was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. In 2012 she was awarded the US president Medal of Freedom. And there is one quote by Tony that I like especially and I want to finish today’s conversation with this. Tony said: “I tell my students when you get these jobs that you’ve been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab bag, candy game.”
Thank you so much Solitaire.
Solitaire: Thank you for having me.
Stella: Thank you. I’m so grateful. And I will of course upload your information about One Sparrow DC on my website. And I want to thank our listeners for listening. Feel free to visit my website at www.salt-thepodcast.com for more conversations and information. Follow me on Instagram under @salt_thepodcast and of course feel free to contact me if you have questions, if you want to speak on the show. I’m very much looking forward to hearing from you.
Something that is loved is never lost. I’m Stella Saliari. And this is Salt the Podcast.
Useful links and websites
One Sparrow DC https://www.onesparrowdc.org/