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Transcript for Thomasina Williams: Our Next Neighbor

Thomasina Williams Intro

I think that the passion that sense of purpose has always been there. What has evolved is the way in which I manifest that or what I feel I'm called to do at any given time, in order to fulfill that purpose but the purpose is always to be of service.


Arielle Nobile:  I know Thomasina Williams from attending the Purposeful Planning Institute's Annual Conference in Denver. She is one of a very small handful of people of color that attend the conference, so I have always noticed her, but it wasn't until last summer zoom conference when she presented to the whole conference about the twists and turns of her journey that I reached out to start up a dialogue with her.

I was very inspired in that first phone call we had and wanted more, and I knew I wanted her to be a guest in this first season because of the many lives she has led. Here are just a few key points from her personal history so that you can see for yourself what a true powerhouse Thomasina. She practiced law in Miami Florida for nearly 20 years where she became a partner in one of the largest law firms in the state in three years. Well, funneling her spare time into working on voting rights.

She then spent six years in New York City serving as a philanthropic strategist at the Ford Foundation. She was a first consultant hired by Wells Fargo Private Bank to go in house and play a leadership role in building a new internal group to support its ultra-high net worth clients in navigating the family side of wealth.

She also serves on several boards and advisory councils runs her own company Sankofa legacy advisors and still manages to make time for rich spiritual and extended family life. From the few times I've gotten the chance to speak with, or hear Thomasina speak, I learned a lot, and I hope you both learn get inspired to take action and feel filled out by our conversation. Thank you so much for listening and please reach out to us and let us know how you feel about this and all our episodes so far.


Arielle:  Welcome back to another episode of Belonging in the USA: The Podcast, we are so grateful to have Thomasina Williams coming to us today from Orlando, Florida. Thank you so much for being with us on this episode.

Thomasina: Thank you for inviting me Arielle and hello to all of your listening guests out there.


Arielle: We are so excited to talk to you because of just the many, many lives that you've had in the many roles that you've had and just the powerhouse that you are. But I want to start like by going way back, you know, the theme of this series of films and also this podcast is belonging. So, I'd like to ask people to start with. When you were a child, when or where did you feel they belonged.


Thomasina: When I was a child, I didn't think about belonging. I think that is because I was so intimately a part of the community in which I grew up, I was blessed to grow up surrounded by family, my mother had seven siblings, seven brothers and sisters and my grandparents were blessed to own a lot of land, and for each child's wedding, they gave them a plot of land to start their homestead and their new family so I grew up on a street where everybody was basically my cousin.

And in those days, I also grew up in the Deep South, and in the south, in black communities, you were everybody's child, everyone felt a sense, a deep sense of abiding love and commitment and responsibility for you.

And so, I was raised by people who didn't make the kinds of distinctions that we make now and I don't recall ever feeling and so I didn't belong or wasn't wanted or wasn't being held and protected and loved and cared for and is such a blessing. It is indeed. And in those days of segregation. People got everything they needed within their own community.


Arielle: I just started reading “The Warmth of Other Suns Have” you read that? [TW] I have not read it, I have heard, Isabel Wilkerson talks about it but haven't read it. [AN] and heard her talk about it too and I finally got it from the library which I think I need to own it though because I want to be highlighting and I'm not able to do that in the library but I was just happened to be reading this chapter that starts talking about Florida, of course last night right before a call and I was like, oh my god this is where you grew up and I didn't. There's so much I didn't know about Florida. Just the fact that it was the third state to secede from the Union.


Thomasina: People have all kinds of misconceptions about Florida I remember being in college and was told by someone to my face, that quote, they didn't realize there were black people in Florida. This is a New York remind you, they assumed that only I guess wealthy people from New York vacation. And watch this. But I kind of got a chuckle out of that so well, I'm living in the country. Many generations, right, but it was also a very brutal.

 One of the most brutal, from what I was reading in this book just a very brutal even sharecropper society, and it is sort of a form of ongoing slavery post slavery in Florida especially so it sounds like your grandfather must have been a really special person to have come out from under that and been able to own his own land.  

But my grandparents were very special people, and they weren't a formidable couple. Florida has an interesting history at the same time it has a bad history, Florida had, I want to say a dozen or so. Black representatives in Congress also back in the 1800s so it's very much like our US history gets complex. And the really sad thing for me is that we don't know our history. And people tend to think about black history as being something that belongs to black people.

Black history is American history.

Arielle: Yes, we also tend to put it all in two months right we have Black History Month, we have Women's History Month is it these are separate categories or species almost and then we have to look at it just at this one month year but it is everybody's history and I was just listening to a podcast about, black women's stories as history, how that changes the lens of everything right. Getting back to belonging for a second. Where do you feel the greatest sense of belonging, these days in your own experience?


Thomasina: I belong wherever I am, the way that I look at life. I don't believe in accidents and coincidences. Wherever I am in my life today is where I belong. I'm not one of those people who's ever got quote homesick. Wherever I am, I'm very much at home because I am the same person, wherever I am and my surroundings may be different there may be different things that I focus on, but whether or not I belong is not a question that I sit with.


Arielle: To me that's a huge place of confidence and you exude that, but also a place of self-actualization. And I'm curious you do make a connection between that part of you that just knows you belong because I mean my sort of phrase that goes under belonging to say stories from our neighbors is if you exist you belong period.

There's no question if you're here on this planet, there is a reason, there's a purpose. So, do you think that goes back in some ways, do you think you were born just knowing that sense I'm here and proud, or do you think that was part of that beautiful community that you grew up in that held you, or a combination.

Thomasina: I think it was all of the above the prejudices, the fears, the concerns that we develop as young people as adults are all things that we learn in our environment. No child is coming into the world thinking they don't belong; other they are somehow alone. Unfortunately, circumstances may teach them that. And as I said, I'm blessed to not only have been born into the world knowing that I belong, because I exist, but also being brought up in a community where that was never a question that ever entered my mind.

Arielle: What is freedom? How do you define that?

Thomasina: I think freedom is what people want it to be. For some people it may be freedom from what they call demons. For me freedom is just peace. It's an inner peace. And we have our inner lives together settled and healthy, then I'm not concerned about what is going on around me. Because all of that is really temporary anyway.


Arielle: Absolutely. And it takes me especially in this past year we've seen, there's sort of this grappling with oh my gosh.  How there's so much I can't control?  I think if people don't have that center established, it becomes a whole lot harder to hold your ground, or just be settled. And not freak out all the time with what's going on in the world because it's you know it's at a fever pitch, let's just say everything.

This has been quite a year where there's nothing. While there I'm sure there's things that that still have to bubble up, but everything is kind of on the surface as what we have to reckon and look at, don't you think as a society.


Thomasina:  Certainly, 2020 was an unusual year, in many ways, I think for the average person though, most they many people approach life as being somewhat chaotic. It's just that people feel. Either they don't have time to slow down to come to terms with it, or they don't know what to do about it and therefore they choose not to really look at it, but much of what happened, and 2020 was going on all along. We had racial inequities and black men being murdered in the street by police. Forever I have no qualms about it. We had deep partisan political divides and no qualms about it, social, health disparities have long existed, and this country is no qualms about it, in some ways we were.

Some of us that lease, and only some of us were forced to sit and reckon with that because we had no place to go.


Arielle: Exactly.  Well and I think, I mean I will say, I think that some of us in the majority would be a lot of, like privileged white people that didn't have any time of day for me it's there's some people that didn't look or sound or live in their actual neighborhoods and so. And when you finally get put in a space where you can't look away basically right from what's happening because you can't leave your house and you're trapped with the news on or your mind or it's just everywhere.

It becomes suddenly a priority, which is interesting how our society works in that way and how our minds work and it's kind of like I feel like 2020 Was that year, of course, like forcing us to, as a whole to face ourselves, and to and to actually again reckon there's a lot of reckoning that has to happen before reconciliations or reparations or we have to be able to see the things and face them.

And, like you're saying these are income at least nothing from last year was new. When the pandemic is new, but the issues that a pandemic highlighted, have always existed, and are not getting better, and we need to continue to focus on them.


Thomasina:  The real question is whether people in fact do them and there's already talk about whether people have mentally checked out. Then, essentially, I think come up with pandemic fatigue, but also fatigue around issues of racial justice for example, there was a time when the me to movement people are getting fatigued by that we're very spoiled and have very short memories.

And so, the real test is will there be any sort of sustained systemic change from a spiritual perspective. You know the saying goes that we learn the lessons either the hard way, or we learn them the easy way. And the reality is, most of us, opt unconsciously. For the hard way. And if we don't learn these lessons, we're bound to repeat them.


Arielle: And why do you think that is why do you think people tend to go for the hard way.


Thomasina:  Well, again, it's not a conscious thing. I think people don't want to do the work that is required to deal with the issues, and they think that's the hard part. And, you know people like criminals, always think they never get caught, you say why people do something so ridiculous, all this and we're never going to get caught.

People think that it's never going to happen to them that they have to somehow come to reckon with it. And the reality is we don't like to do the difficult work because it requires us to take a look at ourselves and working on ourselves, is the most difficult work there is to do. That's why I don't understand what people talk about so called quote, soft skills. There is nothing soft and easy about developing emotional intelligence or developing self-awareness.

Those are some of the hardest skills that there are, I love I was talking to somebody the other day I can't remember what I was talking about, but I reminded them there's this Hindu proverb that talks about the gods, trying to figure out where to hide. So that man wouldn't find it and one person says we'll hide it in the depths of the oceans.

No no no, they'll go diving and find it there will hide it on the tops of the mountains, the highest mountain in the world.

No no no, there will go exploring although there are, so they talked about all these options. And then, finally, it's decided. We will be buried inside them because they will never be there. That is, the answers to me of the question.


Arielle:  That's Michael D. McCarty and we know he said it. No, but it's true. It is true and it's also that same divinity and humanity however you want to call it awesomeness is in each of us and it's in each other right I was just talking to somebody about just, I feel like, like you're saying there's this tendency to do things the hard way.

I wouldn't have said it that way, but I think this is getting at the same thing, which is that we can't seem as people and I wanted to ask you about this but can't seem as human beings to get over us amending right, it seems like there always has to be another, whether that other is a political party or race, a gender socio-economic that there is always an awesome man.

And we can't see each other in ourselves. So, what about you, what do you think about that, and our unwillingness sometimes to see how much we are connected.


Thomasina: Well first I think that is a phenomenon that is prevalent throughout the United States and the so-called “dominant culture”, but not everybody looks at the world that way.

If you think about, I think about the community in which I grew up. There was certainly an appreciation for the interconnectedness, the understanding that we are all tied together that my fate is tied to your fate, and vice versa.

If you look at Native American communities, people don't have that orientation so again it's a question of I think which story you believe.

Arielle: When you are a colonizer. If the colonizer mentality is the unhealed oppressor. Right, it's the part of our, it's the dominator the dehumanizing I feel so in order to dehumanize another human, you have to dehumanize yourself first, you cannot be fully human.

If you are doing this as a meme game, because it is, it's a dangerous to life-or-death game, actually, for many people, but I agree you're right it's not it's an it's the white majority culture that does that more often than not. So, you seem to be somebody who has done the work, whether that was part of, I mean you've done this work that you're talking about and yourself to be centered and to be present and here. And, as whole as you can be.

So, this so where do you gather that, like, do you have daily practices that you do that you're willing to share, like, and also, it's like a two-parter, where do you feel the greatest sense of freedom in your life because I know you like have a sense of centeredness? 

Where do you feel the freest?

Thomasina: Taking your last question first. Where do I feel the most free it's interesting to me that has come up a few times. I don't think my existence or the world in that way of being free and not being free, I just, it's, it's not a, an orientation. That is a part of my way of thinking or my way of existing.


So, I would say I feel free wherever I am to do whatever it is I wanted. There are obviously, you know, there may be, governmental, or there may be financial or other restrictions on what I can do at any given moment. I don't feel though, as though I am hymns, and are prohibited from doing whatever it is that I want to do.


Arielle: Although I guess I want to ask it to a different way. What makes you feel the most alive?


Thomasina: I feel the most alive when I'm hanging out with my eight-year-old nephew, his name is Emmanuel, he’s, my sweetheart. He's a brilliant little guy, he's so creative. He's funny. He loves to create music he's a prankster. I mean children live their lives uninhibited if they're fortunate enough to be raised in a family that Emmanuel is he doesn't have a care in the world. He doesn't think about things like belonging and freedom, his, you know, biggest worry in the world is can he get to the right YouTube channel to learn some new trick.


Arielle: What is he watching?


Thomasina: There's a toy called Beyblades, and he watches all these, there are so many different kinds and don't ask me what. But my point is that children are inquisitive, and they are just carefree, and they are enjoying life, every single minute he wakes up, and he's just chattering all day long chatter and made like you know I have to like get up you got to give me a few minutes, I've got to kind of get my bearings, I got to find my glasses, I've got to get fitted.

He's just like, you know, from day one.


And he's like that, when he goes to bed.

I think being around children who are inquisitive, who are uninhibited will tell you, without hesitation what they really think, why they think it and have a rationale and hold a conversation with you. He would say lights me up. I lived away for, you know, after college, and only came back to Orlando because one of my brothers had a near fatal accident it was a really tense time.

And rather than commuting back and forth to New York where I was living at the time, I just thought well let me just come home temporarily and while I stayed. But what was great and what I realized is, how much I had missed of my older nieces and nephews growing up, and to be able to go and pick up my little nephew from school and to see him develop his little personality, about you know he wants to be a vegetarian, it's like you can't even pronounce the word vegetarian, about being a bacteria, develop his little personality, his likes and dislikes and see his eyes light up when he sees something as basic as a city bus like he was stuck fascinated by buses and trains, and so I just take them on a train ride to nowhere, drive for an hour to train and week back those kinds of things.

I realized just how much I've missed and just children truly are yet some gun, so that's what really lights me up. So, you know, we get a chance to try to say, make up for all the mistakes that we have learned to make that we didn't know we were previously and try to get it right in the next generation.


Arielle: Absolutely. By the way, I am a lifelong vegetarian, and I'm raising my daughter that's so if he has any questions, we can help.  My husband chose to be a vegetarian in Argentina. By the way, which is like the biggest meeting culture. As a young kid his mother at first said “well then I guess you're not going to eat” after probably a week or two of watching him just look technical at his food, she's starting to learn how to cook vegetarian and he's been one ever since, so kudos to your nephew for knowing this, he loves animals is that part of it?


Thomasina: Yes, he's very much into animals, and the more ancient the animal, the better, his favorites are dinosaurs.


Arielle: I can see you getting up in the morning, glasses and trying to, you know, wake up. What do you do you have daily practices though that you do meditate or you do have things that you read rituals if you mind sharing them I love, I like to share those with our listeners because I think it really, I get that question a lot when I do screenings, people ask me what do you do, how do you do what you do and how do you keep doing it so I'm like, don't ask everyone on this podcast to share because I think it helps people.


Thomasina: Yeah, I do all of that.

I meditate.

I love silent meditation retreats, The longer the retreats, the better.


I love music, I have spiritual books that I read.

Right now, I am reading Marianne Williamson. If your audience knows her actually was a Democratic candidate for president last time around. She is a student of the Course of Miracles and has started January.

Every morning she sends a video from a lesson. The workbook, and of course in miracles, so I do that I do other readings, and I am very much, like I said into music, and rhythms and so that is very soothing and calming for me.

There are times when I will write her journal that I find interesting what's more fascinating than the writing part is when I look back at what I've written, and the date on which I've written it I think that's interesting, and spending time with families important to me, prayer we have.

My family has a weekly prayer call where we get together and pray. Figure out what's happening each other's lives, where people might need support, derive inspiration from that, there are certain speakers, I love listening to, like, Marianne Williamson. There is a gentleman in the LA area named Michael Beckworth.


Yes, yoga, been doing that with a group of women for, I don't know several months so I do a number of different things.

One of the most important things for me is the internal conversations I have with myself and reminding myself. Remember to remember and to keep things in perspective, to know the truth of who I am and that whatever it is. This too shall pass, that I may not be able to see and appreciate the reason today, but somehow, it's all working together for good and just have that faith and keep it moving.


Arielle: I love that. "Remember to remember".


Thomasina: Yes, that's my favorite affirmation to remember to remember.


Arielle: And I love that idea of the conversations we have with ourselves because we're all having conversations with ourselves, every second, actually pretty much throughout the day but are those conscious conversations or are they just chatter that we can't control. And also, it sounds like you're very nurturing to yourself.


Thomasina: I try to be I'm not always so good at that. I think self-care is very important, and I'm a firm believer and what they tell us on airplanes to put on our own oxygen mask first before attempting to help others because if we're gone, and we're not in a position to help anybody. But that's obviously a lot easier said than done.


Arielle: Yes, as release I'll find it to be the case, as almost as like the proverb you talked about earlier, I mean, seeing the divinity within ourselves, is a bit sound simple, but it is again one of those concepts that can feel, I feel like people will have a knee jerk reaction to that statement.

I would guess that even the listeners. I'm so curious listeners, if you will, you know, let us know how you feel about that and yourself because it is a big can be a big aha, you didn't get to watch my films the belonging films yet but in the first one, the story of Michael D McCarty, a huge part of his journey was meeting this Indian guru of his, and having this spiritual awakening, where he really had just he was basically anti God.

Before that, and then became awakened to that and it's been the rest of his life this beautiful, it's made him who the spirit that he is today because he woke up to him his true self. But that's, you know, not everybody can look at it that way some people in the next story I'm telling the second one. She was tortured and Kleinfelder and had horrible things happen to her, her, I would say her God is probably community and solidarity and people.

So, I think, however you want to call it. There's this universal connection that we can tap into, and it could be each other, it could be something higher. For me it's the question is the asking. It's the inquiry, it's the humility to be curious and open. It's about being a seeker, which I feel like that's why I sense from you.


Thomasina: I think, for me, and spiritual level, it's all one God community nature. We have put constructs as man we have put man in the writ large sense, not the gender sense, human beings that we say, have put constructs on everything.

One of the things I wanted to suggest if you're enjoying Isabel represents both The Warmth of Other Suns you might also be interested in her most recent book “Caste” and Climategate phenomenal. Also, when she talks about the history of how race and whiteness became a construct, it's all constructs, but on a spiritual level we are all connected.

Energetically, and the challenge is we have forgotten that which is why my personal favorite mantra is, remember to remember. Remember the truth of who I am. The challenge I think for a lot of people is even in their own families. There are many people who don't feel free, don't feel as though they belong. And that's why I dedicated myself to the work that I do now with families.


Arielle:  That's exactly right and I think the same for me and I would say, I didn't always feel freedom or belonging in my own family, which is probably why I'm so obsessed with these topics to this day, and instead my whole life searching in that way for those, because I believe that those are fundamental to who we are, that sense of belonging, and a sense of feeling free, which to me is a liveliness right to being the to be able to be fully oneself, I guess I think of that.

And what freedom is. I want to talk about your work with voting rights actually because I'm really, I think that's one of those big things that you've done that is still such a major hurdle and obstacle for so many people. It's one of those basic freedoms that people are supposed to have who are citizens of this country, but it still isn't something that everybody is afforded. I mean, when did you start working in that how did you see it evolve.


What do you think we can do?


Thomasina: Well in a democracy, there's always something we can do. The question is do we have the current wherewithal, and can we move beyond our own self-interest to actually do it. So there's a voting rights legislation is being considered by Congress right now, and certainly people can write to their congress people, they can show up in hearings, they can write up ideas, they can use vehicles like their personal podcast, they can use social media, there are all kinds of things that people can do to let their voices be heard and the question becomes, will people actually do it.

And the sad reality is that in our society for the most part, people will only react when something touches them personally in some way. There are people who can't fathom why it should be a problem that you have to have multiple pieces of government ID to be able to vote because they've got that, then everybody has that people who have multiple very fancy cars sitting in their garage, who don't appreciate that it can take someone literally two and a half to three hours to get across town, if they have to ride a bus, those kinds of basic realities.

Don't touch.

A lot of people. And so, people don't do what is required so there's something, there's always something that can be done. For those of your listening audience who didn't have a chance to see my presentation referred to last year. I became interested in voting rights as a child, I grew up during the 60s I'm very much a product of the 60s when I grew up, it was basically lawful to discriminate against black people in any way you want it to be voting, whether it be stealing from them, whether it be rape, I mean you name it, it was, that's just kind of the way it was. And so, as a child, I have a distinct recollection of watching the debates back in the days of water and concrete.

This will definitely date me CBS News and the days when they actually reported the news, rather than all the commentary and their judgments about me and when we heard the facts versus this story. Back in the days when we literally had three television channels and they were black and white, and they went off at sundown. I remember watching the evening news and it was a big deal, and black communities in the South.

My parents were activists from college, and there was a Tallahassee boycott which people probably across the country don't know much about, but people in Florida, May. My father was a veteran of the Korean War and had a car, one of the few people on campus who had a car in Florida and in university and organize a boycott and would literally was part of the crew, the few people who had cars, who took people to work, because they couldn't wouldn't ride the bus as a part of the protest so being concerned about the rights of black people in particular in this country is this, it's in my blood.


Arielle: I can just say that I think we need to change the language around it because I think, instead of being called civil rights I feel like this is a human rights issue, and we call it civil rights, which I understand why, but I think that it this is human rights.

These are basic human rights to be seen as a full human, that have never been granted to black people in this country and still art.


Thomasina: I think you're right that language certainly is very, very important, and the words that we use do have power. I think when most people in this country, to use your term white people hear the term human rights, they think about a violation in some so called third world country.

They don't think about human rights because, okay, for the USA. They don't think about violations here, and I think that when it comes to things like the right to vote, that, that should be considered we talk about it as though it as a so-called fundamental right.

But we don't treat it that way so part of it is being integrity and integrity and walking the talk with what we say about the right to vote, the right to vote absolutely should be accorded to everyone, but just right now. In the wake of the 2000 presidential election, there are all kinds of reports about what's happening in state legislatures across the country that are controlled by Republicans who are doing everything in their power to make it difficult for people to vote, including making it a crime to get somebody standing in line to vote, a bottle of water, literally to give someone a bottle of water without asking who they're voting for what their political affiliation is.

So, it really comes down to the fact that this country is still very much trying to figure out, how does it live up to the ideal of what we say we believe in. We have never been able to walk that talk from day one, and it is still very much a struggle. And unfortunately, a lot of what happens depends on who is in the leadership and our leadership may be well intention, but it's not always that a student or strategic and how they proceed.


Arielle: Well, I could go so many places with that.


Thomasina: Let me tell you, how I got into voting I was watching it unfold on television, the debates over the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a, was like a community event. You talk about people huddled around the television watching the Oprah interview of Harry and Megan. It was kind of like that.

Arielle: Just way more important.


Thomasina: Far more impactful, and I just remember watching television, and when the Civil Rights Act was finally the question became, how do we enforce it. That's always the big question people think about passing legislation the real key is in the enforcement and off, oftentimes the enforcement has a lot to do with budget with whether funding is allocated to enforce it. And then, what are the ramifications if people don't follow the law.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 then became a real focus because the assumption was well if black folks could get the right to vote, then we could elect officials who would enforce the Civil Rights Act. And I grew up watching those debates on television listening to my parents and their friends and family members and realizing that as I sat and listened as a child, they were all white men who were sitting in Congress, debating and making the decisions. And I decided I wanted to be in the room where I could help to represent people who didn't have a voice and could be part of making the decisions.

And one of the ways it seemed to me as a child, that at least everybody that Walter Cronkite interviewed seemed to be a lawyer.


That's how I decided to become a lawyer, because those seem to be the people that had power to make the laws that impacted me and my family and my community and people who I cared about, and voting rights was, I think it still is an important way for people to change public policy and help to define the tone that is sent because public policy, one of the things I didn't realize as a child but have come to realize is that public policy is only part of the challenge, you cannot legislate what's in someone's heart, or what's in someone's mind.

There's a whole “nother” challenge in dealing with those kinds of issues but having the right homerun policy is certainly a good starting point.


Arielle: But we must come at all of this from so many dimensions and angles, it's not gonna work. In one way, and that's why I think we need all hands-on deck, basically we all have to, and we and I really do feel that we have to stop looking at, again, if we look at racism, and we look at discrimination and we look at the evils that are done in the name of that.

These are human rights violations and I don't think, like you're saying I don't think that anyone in the world wants to be that bad country over there doing these bad things but we are, we are doing these things we've been doing it for the beginning of, you know, when the Civil War ended in a way, the North seems to have turned a blind eye, because they couldn't legislate, even though the laws were enacted they couldn't make the south do what they wanted and still continue to have that relationship right even though the war was won.

In a certain sense, it was so much it was able to be perpetuated right group Jim Crow was able to, to become what it was. And I don't know if it still feels in that way in some parts of the south, I honestly have to say.


Thomasina: It's that way in some parts of the country. I think, is that, you know, segregation was relegated to the south.


Arielle: Oh no Chicago is Chicago is the most segregated city in the country, and that's where I am and I, it's insane that it hasn't been anything in my lifetime, it's gotten worse, that's what I would say.


Thomasina:  This has been one of the ways in which public policy is perceived. So, even though it's not the whole picture because a lot of the way it's been able to be sustained and perpetuated in some cases deepen was the official government policy, [Arielle] like redlining, [Thomasina] like redlining, like who got what benefits even for people who were in the military, like where resources are allocated for schools, I mean you name it.


Arielle: I consider this environmental racism.

What's happening to this day in Flint, Michigan, I mean having access to clean water again, basic human rights. In a country with this much wealth.

But then, I want everyone listening to know that there are places in this country where people do not have access to clean water, and those places are predominantly going to be people of color and black people, again, like you said, if it's not in your own if it's not impacting you, you often just don't care.

And we have to start, I want us to start, I want to care.  

I do care and I want people to listening to really care more and pay attention and start learning what's going on because I do think the first thing you have to have some awareness.

That's part of what I'm hoping this conversation you got you can't change something you have no idea is happening.


Thomasina: That is very true and I'm glad you said that because I think that is part of the challenge.

Sometimes people don't care, more often than not, people just don't know.

And again, they don't really have any reason, they feel to know because it doesn't impact them, they don't know anyone who was impacted when I just think about some of the conversations, I had with my white friends right after George Floyd murder people who were just beside themselves.

Part of the challenge is this question around who gets to tell them, not the narrative.

It's why they call it history, “his-story”. If you don't have control over media, I think, Fox News is a perfect example of what happens when people hear only what the powers that be, quote unquote, want them to hear, versus the facts. The same thing happens on MSNBC and the other networks, that is a huge challenge around education and public education because education in this country I mean they're in Texas had some crazy thing the other day about a historical fact, not a story but fact, that the Texas legislature wanted to have taken out of books and I'm sorry I don't recall exactly what it was, but this was something that literally happened this year 2021.

Part of it that's where the policy piece comes in who decides what gets told in the history books. Who decides what gets taught and classes to our children? I you know have friends whose 20 something year old kids’ white kids are horrified and feel betrayed.

Because they were lied to throughout school, they didn't get the real deal.

Arielle: Not telling not telling the whole truth not teaching all of what happened not learning all the facts, is a betrayal.


That's why.


Thomasina: I'm thinking about one young woman in particular was this just mortified and took it upon herself to do independent research, I say God bless her good for her but very few people will do that, including her own mother, initially told me about her daughter's journey, and wanting to know what to do and I said well the first thing to do is follow your daughter's example, educate yourself.


Arielle: It really is no excuse we all have access there is no at this point in history in 2021. There are libraries, there is the internet. There are so many ways to access learning that we no matter what your socio-economic background you can find out about things.

Now, I think the other piece though, has to do with consciousness, though, and receptivity, which is part of consciousness because if you don't feel belonging safety, a sense of autonomy in your life all these sort of basic things that you have to feel in order to have an open heart, I think, then, there's not a lot of space in there for learning, because I think that's part of what our education system does to people.

It breeds competition.

It breeds fear.

It breeds perfectionism and sameness and sort of, it's a factory mode it's outmoded.

And so in that way. Some people get really, I mean, I don't know but I'm guessing for you. You were a good student, you did very well. Did school come easy for you. Yeah, so, I was too, but I think that for people who aren't, and don't perform the way that they're supposed to, quote unquote, that sticks with you.


And then it affects the way you even look at learning or being open to things for the rest of your life, don't you think?


Thomasina:  I think it absolutely sticks with you and the sad reality is that there are some people for whom learning is a luxury. There are you know some young people who feel that they have no choice but to go to work to help to keep a place for them and their family to live and food on the table there are people in this country who are working two jobs and still can't pay rent.

Another myth is that poor people are lazy.

Poor people on the contrary, are not lazy.

They're just being paid less than nothing.


Arielle: One of the best books I ever read, and I read this in my early 20s was Nickeled and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich, everyone should read it. It's a book about a white journalist who I think basically goes undercover and she tries to live on minimum wage jobs for a year, we visited her memoir of that time, and it's just absolutely heartbreaking.

And it to me, should have signaled Okay, everybody should read this book. We should realize that was 20 years ago almost this minimum wage is not working people, And we have to do better treat each other better and care more about every single one because I think that's the point that you're making, it's a lot of what you're saying too is, it seems to be that in your community where people didn't matter if this my kid or your kid or whose cousin up, we take care of each other, we have to take care of each other, No matter who we are what we look like it's not we don't belong in this neighborhood, it's how can I help you, how can I serve, I love that Wayne Dyer, I don't know if you're familiar with Wayne Dyer, but I love, he always would ask how may I serve?

And I think about that's a question that's one of my mantras, sir about my serve because it also gets you out of your own headspace. It's maybe it's my remember to remember.

So, what sounds like you had an awakening as a little girl watching that television, and that major history being made. What are some other moments in your life that put you on a path of purpose that you really felt like were awakening moments?


Thomasina:  Interesting question. I don't think of my experience as a child, wanting to be a lawyer has an awakening, as much as an evolution. When I was constantly surrounded by people were very politically conscious, and not only politically conscious but politically active. Part of my reason for being on the planet is as you say to be of service, so it wasn't so much an awakening, and I don't know if it's a five-year-old awakening.


Arielle: It is what I mean you know like, oh I want to do that, you know, that's because you did it.


Thomasina:  Because I wanted to and still do want to help people who feel as though they don't have any power, help them find their power and so that's what has driven me throughout all three of my careers, whatever I have done I think we are all leaders, and we all have any power.

Some of us have been brought up in circumstances where that has been drilled out of us, so we have forgotten about it, and I have been blessed to be in environments where not only have I not forgotten, but it's been modeled for me in a multitude of ways. What that means, and that there is a responsibility I have as kind of my purpose for being to rent, I pay I guess to exist on a planet, to figure out how I can serve?  


What can I do? 


Get about the business of doing it. I, like I said, since I was five, I always wanted to be a lawyer. I was horrified to find how little money voting rights lawyers make.

And so, I went to work at a big law firm so I could make a bunch of money and use the big law firm resources to refine the Voting Rights Cases. Get to the point where I could start my own firm and fight my own voting rights cases. And then, you know, I think that, at least for me, the passion that sense of purpose has always been there, what has evolved is the way in which I manifest that or what I feel I'm called to do at any given time, in order to fulfill that purpose but the purpose is always to be of service, I, I firmly believe in those to whom much is given much is required.

And I have been blessed and continued to be blessed with all kinds of opportunities that I oftentimes say but for this race of God. Now I could have been born in some other part of the country some other part of the globe to some other family, where I didn't have the opportunities that I have so gratitude and service are just kind of ingrained in who I am and it was a part of the community in which I grew up, the family in which I grew up, it's the way that people I'm closest to now who are not blood family kind of walk in the world.

And so, again, it's, I'm fortunate enough that I don't have to worry about those kinds of issues of, you know, thinking about a client right now I'm particularly working with people who don't know what their purpose is, it's a very, very scary, and lonely place to be.

So, I think about these issues, not in terms of myself. But in terms of the client families and the individuals within families that I work with today trying to help them figure out what is their individual, and then collective purpose for what they should do as beings, and then how they want to use the significant financial resources they've been blessed with to be of service to other people.


Arielle:  I think that is key. And that's kind of why I love hearing stories from people who, at a young age to have a sense of purpose, I want to go back to something that you were talking about because one of my new question that I've added to this podcast and I'm asking people is about power, because I was watching Judas and The Black Messiah the other night, before I interviewed Michael D, who was, you know, contemporary and a friend of Fred Hampton, and you know Fred Hampton. Black Panthers power to people and I was thinking. I want to talk about power because I feel like that's a word that we throw around. We don't always define so what is power, how do you define power?


Thomasina: I think the most important power we have is our innate power, and our belief in ourselves and in something larger than ourselves. Because if I weaponize that I am part of something much larger than myself. That gives a greater context and importance to what it is, I'm trying to do in the world. It also helps to locate me if I know that I'm part of something else that gets to I guess your question of belonging.

One of I don't know if you're familiar with it but one of my favorite quotes is from Martin Luther King, do you know that quote about power, justice and love? Let me pull it up really quickly, so I don't butcher it.


Arielle: I want to look it up too.


Thomasina: Power, love and justice


Arielle: Power at its best is love, implementing the demands, demands of justice. And justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands in the way.

Yeah, I'm gonna say it what I'm gonna say one more time power at its best is love, implementing the demands of justice, and is so good, and justice at its best is power, correcting, everything that stands against love.

That's so good and I don't know if I've ever heard that one.


Thomasina: That's one of my favorites.


Arielle: And that is so true, and I love that you brought love into this conversation because I think that is the key, what it's all about.


Thomasina: I think if you have an understanding of what love is, at a deeper level than where we tend to think about in our society, then you're right, things like what are human rights is not a debate, because I am my brother, my brother is me, I am my brother's keeper and my sister's keeper.

Why would I try to deprive someone? It's like air, right. I can have all the air that I need to breathe, it doesn't take away from you at all.


Arielle: It gets into the work you do with families too, I mean that we both do it's that the answer is, well, because people have really messed up relationships with their families, in a way that begins with a sort of cycle in some ways of how we treat everybody right and when you don't have, I mean it really starts with how you treat yourself first, but if you don't have that modeling of family behavior that is love base in that bigger word love, right, and self-care base, and that you don't have any ideals or models around self-love, it's very hard.

But there is something about how being a mother has made me want to love myself so much so that I can model that for her so that she doesn't have to go through the pain that I felt when I did hate myself because I did for years, because I just felt too much and I'm very empathic and I just picked up on a lot of energy and couldn't handle it. I have been. But I think it also goes to the key of what you were talking about with your nephew, not working so hard on ourselves playing more.


Thomasina: Just being, I mean it's yeah, it's just how kids are they; you know it's a rose or isn't.

Yeah, rose doesn't have to work to be a rose.  You know acorn doesn't have to work to be a tree, oak tree they just kind of unfold and I think children are like that, but we tend to beat that out of them. And we impose all the “should” and instructions and all kinds of limitations and boundaries and expectations that more often than not, are tied up in our own anxiety.


Arielle: I think that there's something about recognizing, I don't know if you do this with your clients but this is something I really practice with again people I meet is I just have this way of being able to see how people whereas little kids, like I look at you and I can see you as a little girl I can just see I can feel your energy of little girls. I just because we still have that same light that we came here with from babyhood till, so I don't think we have to lose that spark.

How do you think of the idea of a neighbor, because you grew up in this community, they were everyone was family basically?  I wonder is your picture continued ongoing conception of neighbor as family.


Thomasina: I think maybe that the term neighbor for me as a child had a sense of community, again that oneness, associated with it. I think more often than not these days we're actually strangers for the people who live next door or downstream.


Arielle: That is, maybe it's their base living or self. We're looking at our belly button navel gazing thing.


Thomasina:  I think in most places people are just very self-contained, you know, we do our thing and we're rushing there and aren't really paying that close attention. What I find interesting is how people come together so much when there's a disaster or some sort of catastrophe, like where was that two weeks ago?

Thomasina: I was talking to a friend of mine in Austin, who had to be evacuated her new home, because she had no heat, and she had no electricity, and she was gone away only to come back and find that her neighbors had gone over, and they did something to make sure that her pipes didn't freeze.

She hasn't had a conversation with that person since she moved in there last year.

So, why haven't made been over to have a glass of wine on a Friday afternoon?  

But the person is a caring person, obviously, because they took it upon themselves to go over and do whatever it was that they needed to do they could do I guess some outside belt or something, and I just find that fascinating, it's like, you know, when we have a major car accident on the highway, and people who are cutting each other off in traffic and engaged in road rage, we'll get out of their cars and physically try to lift up 1000 pound vehicle off of someone.

There's something about that. Seeing someone in trouble and need that.

I guess that's just innate compassion within, within us that causes us to react. But then when things go back to quote, normal, we're off doing our 10,000 things at 5000 miles an hour and we don't even see other.


Arielle: Right, we don’t see each other, just scramble to and fro, and a lot of it like is also about basic survival. And I want to say that about purpose too. I wonder if you would, if you find this, I think school, the way we do it now, it could be that when you go to school, that's one of the first things they're trying to get you to focus on not What do you want to be, but what are you here for, because that question is so different.


Thomasina: It is a very different and much more meaningful question. What it evokes for me though is how much we put on public schools. To me that's the kind of question that I as a parent or an auntie or god mother, or a cousin, should be having with my family, I think that's a, what's been interesting is to hear parents, talking about the challenges of teaching their kids during a pandemic and this rude awakening of what teachers go through is though that's not your responsibility to teach your child there are only so there's only so much that our kids are going to get at school and most of what they're going to learn, anyway, is from watching the adults around them when they're outside of school and somehow we lost sight of that and want to put everything on school.


Arielle: Well, I agree, and I don't think you can put everything on the schools, the way they are now, for sure.

My last question for you is about inspiration, you may answer it the same way you did before but where do you find the most inspiration what lifts your spirit, the most these days what gives you hope?


Thomasina:  Oh, just being gives me hope.

I mean I feel like the moment I am not going to have hope, there is no point in getting up and getting out of bed in the morning.

So, hope is something that is innate, for me, I get inspiration from all kinds of place or from no place I mean just, you know, I had an idea about something a little while ago I'm just sitting in my computer working and an idea popped in my head.

I think we are always, let me say for me personally, I am always getting inspiration from any and all kinds of things from my eight year old nephew and the way he says something to a conversation I have with someone, to something I overhear somebody say standing in line in the grocery store, because I'm a curious person, because I'm always thinking and I love putting puzzles together and being creative, or just sitting in meditation, and an idea comes to me so I think it's really about being receptive to what is always all around us all the time, the question is, Do we see it. Are we listening, are we paying attention?


Arielle: I could not imagine ending with a more powerful question. Are you reading anything now or what are your most like the books that have most impacted you, that you would recommend to listeners?


Thomasina: Oh gosh, I'm reading several books now. The books that have most impacted me. I would say the first book that comes to mind is a book I read in college. That's called Black Capitalism in America, fascinating book that really just blew my mind.

My favorite books tend to be spiritual books. My all-time favorite I will say is that Eric Butterworth Discover the Power Within You, and I love almost anything that Marianne Williamson has written the Gift of Change is a great, great one of her books.


Arielle: Thank you. We'll add those to our resource list because we have a resource guide on our website, and everybody we will put it in the show notes where you can find, Thomasina and her work, and thank you so much for doing this for being here for sharing.

Thomasina: Thank you for having me.

Arielle: Thank you for all for listening.

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