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A Storytelling Trip with Exodus Road

Of the many things at which I am not expert, planning ahead is one of them. When my friends in education tell me about where they're traveling for the summer in January I am usually jealous that they can think that far ahead. Yet, this past January something crossed over into my view and I've been pondering it ever since. 

I do know what I'm doing this summer.

In June I'm heading to Southeast Asia with a group of storytellers that I know and have known for quite some time. For now, I'll let the others tell about their involvement with this group traveling with The Exodus Road but I can share a lot of things now about it and why I decided to join with them. 

First of all, Exodus Road does abolitionist work in the sex slave industry both in the states and abroad. They help find and free slaves in covert rescue efforts. And the things I've discovered about them is that they're not trying to be the White Knight going in to rescue: they're invested in supporting local government to complete their work. There are things I wouldn't know about the industry had I not read a book by Laura Parker, The Exodus Road: One Wife's Journey Into Sex Trafficking and Rescue. It's a story of ordinary people looking to do extraordinary work.


Several years ago, I was having lunch during a summer school break, and my friend Alaya was late meeting me for Italian food. As I sat in the booth waiting I decided to do my favorite pastime and people-watch. A woman in her 30s came in with three girls. She was wearing too-hot clothes for the day, but I brushed it off with the thought that she might have spent time in an air-conditioned place where she needed her sweater. Except, it was warm in the restaurant and she took it off. When she did, it revealed a huge bruise on her back and I couldn't stop staring at it.

My attention turned toward the girls, each a different race. 

This part was important. It's not out of the ordinary to see something like that, but none of the girls' race matched the woman's so I tried concocting a story about them. 

When Alaya finally arrived I pointed them out and mentioned how bizarre a group they seemed and she looked over at them, turned back toward me, and flatly stated, "Kelly. Are you for real? Those girls are hookers." It gobsmacked me that I hadn't thought that, but I pressed on for proof from Alaya because no, right? No way. "You mean of their own accord? Because I doubt those youngish looking girls with her are doing this because they want to."

(I also wondered why she was taking them out for lunch in public but they have to eat. It surprised me because it seemed risky.)

If they were all adults and sex workers, that's one thing. Honestly, you'd be surprised about my feelings on that. You do you, boo. I am all for adults making their own decisions about their bodies. 

But these were girls probably no older than 15 tops. Girls that I thought should be school-aged. If this is how they're spending their summer, can they be doing so of their own volition?

It's a moment I'll never forget: that slow realization that sex trafficking happens right here where I live, where I'm eating lunch. Yet, the clutched cash they used to pay for their meal and the skittish looks of the girls made me wonder if they were doing this because they were forced to do so. It pains me to say that I don't know how the story ended with them but we did report it to a non-emergency number and the officer we spoke with said they'd been looking for girls fitting that description. I've convinced myself that everything worked out well for them, but if they were runaways to begin with then I'm less sure.

In any case, that story is what made me think of reaching out to a local group who does that work so that I could learn more. When I was invited by The Exodus Road to go and learn about the abolitionist work they're doing in the sex slave industry on the other side of the world it hit me in the gut: where I live is the other side of the world, too. And it's not so different in many regards.

We have our problems here, too. What kind of a community member would I be if I traveled across the globe to witness slavery in this form but didn't think about how my ordinary life could support efforts in my own town?

That this trip is even a possibility for me is no small thing.



Fast facts about my decision to accept this invitation:

I won't be writing some kind of review of SE Asia or the work of TER. Instead, I am joining as a storyteller. 

I want to be honest about what I learn, what I see, and be authentic in listening to stories. 

I want people, wherever they are, to have autonomy in their narrative. Doing this with fidelity will undoubtedly be transformational but it's the lens through which I view this opportunity. 

In my own effort to be a responsible storyteller, my aim is to show ways to donate and help, even if that means you share information and articles about what's happening and what ordinary people are doing to help.

Sometimes, no one else is telling the story. I would never know about some organizations or the work they do if it weren't for my friends, both local and global.

I respect the work of organizations that work to develop deep local relationships in order to support them.

It's important to me that TER is invested in support prevention and after care projects for holistic victim care. Before, during, and after a rescue they provide training for nationals, encourage collaboration among practitioners through The Liberty Alliance, and work to mobilize civil society to actively fight trafficking in their own communities.

Jeremy Stanely, the traveling videographer for this trip, summed it up on his website for me:

“You have to understand, my dears, that the shortest distance between truth & a human being is a story.”

Full disclosure: TER is paying for my travel and accommodations and I realize that my contribution is supported as a marketing piece of their organization. Sure, they could spend that in any way they want. This venue and platform is just one way they get the word out about what they do.


In 2012 when I was visiting Ethiopia I had moments where I worried about intruding on the spaces of the women and the health camps and bee keepers we listened to about changing their lot in life. The struggle of the chasm between my world and theirs weighed heavily on me but in the process it helped me learn about my own country and government aid, yet it was in speaking to a young mom that hit home for me. When I asked, through a translator, what she thought I could do she responded with, "Can you just tell them? Can you let people know what is happening and that they can look directly at our situation and then ask how they can do something? You can all do something."

I held her hand but didn't want to take her picture to share. I could tell people, I decided. That much I could do.

One of the opportunities that we will get is to focus on interviews with 3 fishermen/former slaves who will open our eyes to the ways in which this form of slavery starts and manifests. I have a feeling that a lot of lines will be drawn for me to see how industries are connected in ways I haven't even considered yet.


Another deciding factor for me is that this isn't a one-off rescue mission for them. The Exodus Road financially supports, organizes, and leads training events and programs to encourage the success of nationals in the abolition movement. The follow up they provide to rescued girls was a really important piece for me.

The role of The Exodus Road is to support the efforts of local law enforcement and government organizations in the intervention arena, not to be solely responsible for the rescue. Please don't expect that Liam Neeson speech from me. I don't have a particular set of skills outside of storytelling (and education, but I had to go to college and grad school for that) and I'm certain I will be able to draw some parallels between what I've learned about the sex slave industry where I live and also in SE Asia.  

This is my invitation for others to come along and learn what we learn while we're there. To see what ordinary people do when they move out of their space to do extraordinary things. Find us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram with the hashtag #TERstorytellers.


The Quiet Ambassador Program

A few months ago I was connected with an editor from The Quiet Revolution, a platform that accompanies Susan Cain's book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. As a self-proclaimed extrovert, I wasn't immediately hooked because I wondered what it would have to offer me. After all, shouldn't this apply to me if I'm going to embrace reading it?

It turns out, no. Everyone should read it because a full 50% of our world is introverted and how are we going to live and work together if we don't understand the needs of others? Cain's book explores how much we misunderstand and undervalues the traits and capabilities of people who are introverted. She then created Quiet Revolution as a means to reach out to parents and has since created the Quiet Schools Network

The first thing I did, upon speaking to Heidi Kasevich, the director of Quiet Education, was take several online assessments to determine whether I truly am an extrovert. You can take the Quiet Revolution Personality Test here.

It's a short 10-question test and the one question that made me guffaw (because I know myself very well) asked me to rate this statement: when I was a child, people described me as "quiet".

Because hahahahahahaa. No way. I was frequently involved heavily in running my mouth. It's written all over my report cards. I was the opposite of Quiet. I ran with large groups of friends constantly and was terribly bossy as a child and any trouble I got in at school usually started because I couldn't shut up.

Yet, here's the funny part: I was a kid lost in thought a great deal of the time. My mother used to tell me that I was like a house with all the lights on and no one was home because I'd stare into space. So, while I was loud and boisterous and tomboyish, I was also reflective and pensive even and had my nose in a book at every opportunity.


This is not me, but how I often looked when staring into space as a child.

photo credit: Pout via photopin (license)

Another test I took online took about 25 minutes and some of the questions that needed to be rated surprised me in how I answered them because they seemed diametrically opposed and it felt like my answers were all over the place:

I prefer keeping my thoughts and feelings to myself. (NO. I WILL TELL YOU.)
I need downtime to decompress. (YES. EVERY DAY.)
My life is an 'open book'. (YES. I AM A BLOGGER FOR CRYING OUT LOUD.)
I offer my time, skills, and knowledge freely to other people. (YES, BECAUSE MOUTHY.)

I scored a 59 on a Need for Space subscale and my personality type is a Chameleon. Here's the descriptor:

Chameleons can adapt to almost any social situation, whether they're among a throng of partygoers or in reflective solitude. Known to be fairly friendly and gregarious people, Chameleons aren't hard to like or connect with; they're good conversationalists, good listeners, and great company. Although they're more than happy to join a boisterous get-together, they do enjoy some quiet time on their own as well. They're approachable and relatively unreserved individuals whose presence is neither obtrusive nor inconspicuous.

So, while I score high on being an extrovert, I have lots of introvert tendencies. For example, after working with students and staff each day I come home and say a short hello-how-was-your-day to my father and then immediately escape to my room where I require a full 20 minutes of silence. My phone is off and I may lie down and close my eyes or meditate or play a mindless game, but I can't talk to anyone because it's how I decompress from the day. 

Occasionally, my husband and I chat on the phone while he's driving for a short bit until he says, "Ok, I'm ready for my quiet time," which I completely understand and allow him to have since I've already had mine. It's one way in which we are very alike so there are no hard feelings about him saying he doesn't feel like talking.

Usually because I'm thinking, "Dude. Fine. I need to go have some Think Time anyway."

What I've really learned from talking to Heidi is that I'm most likely an ambivert, someone right in between. I can be on stage and in front of a crowd surrounded by people, but I need that quiet think time where I read and ponder and work out in my head what I've taken in throughout the day. 

That's when I decided to apply for the Quiet Summer Institute. Next month, I will attend two days of workshops where I will learn more about and get a deeper awareness of my personality style as well as learning how to identify and recognize those introverted, quiet students in order to enhance what I know about being an educator. Many teachers and administrators will learn how to bring more balance to the classroom environment and will be leading the charge to ensure that we're not marginalizing students. Any way that I can better understand how to harness the power of students in the classroom and provide professional development to teachers about this mindset shift is where I want to be.


photo courtesy of Quiet Ambassador

I'm excited to become a Quiet Ambassador through this year-long process, but I wouldn't be going if it weren't for the generosity of friends who helped me get there. After this training is complete, I will commit to mentoring colleagues and facilitating conversations within schools as well as writing for and providing resources for future Quiet Ambassadors. It's going to be an exciting year and I can't wait to share because I know this will be an enormous life-changing institute after having read Susan's book. 

When I shared on Facebook how I would like to attend and that I needed help with possible grant funding, my friends shut me down almost immediately and asked how they could help. I insisted that I could work for it and write a grant, but time is of the essence and enrollment to the Institute is limited.

This is where I tell you that I have the best friends in the world. 

Even if I could, I don't think I could adequately thank them for supporting me and encouraging me to do this. They know how passionate I am about marginalized groups, no matter what they are. They know that I'm working towards powerful things right now in this season of my life. And they know that I'll report back (that was part of the deal I made and I'm honored to do so) and share all my learnings on every platform which I am lucky enough to have.

I must thank the following friends who have become benefactors to me on this journey and who chipped in within one hour to attend this training as well as the transportation to NYC this summer:

A’driene Nieves 
Alison Gil Durand
Angie Bollero 
Ann Coleman 
Ashley Garrett
Becky Scott
Bonbon Break 
Catherine Connors
Celeste Lindell
Chrysula Winegar 
Dawana Whyte
Dawn Cole
Deanna McNeil
Debra Roby
Elisa Camahort 
Elizabeth Nelson 
Elizabeth Price
Gay Bride Guide 
Ginny Wolfe 
Gurukarm Khalsa 
Healing Circles (Vanessa Jackson) 
Heather Koshiol 
InfiKNITi Handmade 
Jen Dillman
Jenni Grigsby-Rogal
Jenny Lauck
Jet Harrington 
Kelly Russell 
Kelly Whalen
Kristine Koumentakos 
Kymberli Barney
Laura Willard 
Leah Peterson 
Leslie Fandrich
Lisa Rokusek
Liz Manfield
Liza Kessler 
Lori Vest 
Madeline Holler
Malati Harris 
Mary Kenney 
Matthew Penning 
Melanie Sheridan
Meredith Walker
Mia Woods
Nina Bargirl
Nora White 
Rachel Lopez  
Raya Johnson
Robin Joy
Roxana Sarmiento 
Shannon McKarney 
Spoken Wade 
Tabatha Muntzinger 
Tarrant Figlio
Taya Dunn Johnson 
Will Jones
Yvonne Parsons  
Thank you to all these friends who gave, however big or small, for supporting me. We're going to change the world together.


Being Black and White: A Brief History of Troublemaking


I am 4 and sitting atop my father's shoulders. I tell this story all the time. If you know me at all then I have probably told you this story. If I haven't told you this story and ended it with tears in my eyes then I haven't properly told the story. Sometimes I am guilty of that. He is taking me for ice cream and I have begged to be picked up and get a ride. He does so and I ride all the way into the shop, ducking even when we get to the door. My father is tall, well over 6 feet and even as a young girl I was "tall for my age". Later, people will comment on my height and tell me to play basketball and I will not want to play basketball. I will love volleyball. But, at 4, I know nothing of sports. I know of making friends at the park and holding hands with other little boys and girls. I know of playing and swinging and teeter-tottering on the equipment at the playground across from where we get ice cream. 

I am 4 and he is my father and I am his daughter. I am used to the stares at 4. I think that's the way everyone is and I learn to stare at other people until one day a girl slaps me at school because of it. Sometimes, I imagine that we're famous and that's why they stare. The hard looks and angry eyes come because they are jealous of my mother who is a film actress and also an opera singer and maybe a magician, too. We hold fancy parties on the weekend with champagne flutes and tiny food on toothpicks and everywhere we go there are cameras taking our picture. But, none of this is true.

We are normal and I hate it.

But we are also a mixed-race family in the progressive area of Hyde Park where the University of Chicago brings immigrants and so much diversity that when we move to the suburbs later I ask my mother, "Where did all these white people come from?" 

And my mother is white but this doesn't bother her. She laughs at my question because I am a silly girl.

The white lady who yells at my father while I'm riding atop his shoulders points her finger in his face. She gets THISCLOSE to him and now I am frightened. It is the first time I feel the tightness in my chest that will take decades to identify as a panic attack. She makes me panic. I am panicked at her behavior and everything about this encounter scares me.

We don't get the ice cream because I keep crying and my tears have ruined everything.




I am 6 and foolishly believe that when someone calls me an "oreo" that it means I am sweet and desirable in a cookie form. My mother laughs when I tell her but this time it's not because I'm silly. She is hurt behind the eyes.

I try the word out for myself along with half-breed which my Aunt Cora calls me and my sisters. Neither of these end well. 



I am 10 and we have moved out to the suburbs. It is a big house with a giant yard we will have to mow for the first time. A crabapple tree is out front and when my father paints the garage door in late fall of that year I have on a pair of my mittens and touch the door to see if it's dry yet. It isn't and I leave a mark, lying about it when asked later. The next summer my aunt comes for a visit and spends a lot of time out on the porch next to the kitchen. She drinks coffee and smokes cigarettes and writes. She's a writer which means she is also a people-watcher. 

I have explored the neighborhood with friends and we fracture off, some people going home for lunch or heading back to get their bikes so we can meet up at the bridge later. The street we live on makes a huge S and winds around for what seems an eternity but from where I am it's easier to cut through yards to get home. Everyone else is dropped off and now it's just me and a white boy from a block not too far from our house. 

Whatever conversation we were having turned into something devastating for me because, by now, I know the word nigger when I hear it. It's not the first time. The first time I am far too naïve but it drips off their tongue and out of their mouth with venom attached. The first time I don't know what to say so I don't say anything. I'm just a child, how would I know how to respond to such a slur?

The white boy takes it upon himself to use the word against me and by this time we are cutting through the yard between our house and the one next door. I don't see my aunt there. She is quiet, listening to the entire conversation which is quickly escalating into an argument and I only remember looking down to make sure my tennis shoes are tied and on tightly so that if I am faced with the choice I will either:

a) beat him up and leave his bloody pulp face for the next yard-cutters to find


b) run like hell until I can find my older sister

My mother tells this story all the time now. Her sister witnessed him calling me a bad name and then she witnessed me finding my legs and making the decision, for the first time, to take someone on when they are mean to me. I don't have my father's long legs below me from my perch on his shoulders. These legs are mine.

When my mother asks my aunt how I responded she tells me that she narrowed her eyes and leaned in to my mother's face and shakes her head slowly from side to side and says, in a whisper-raspy voice, "She gutted him like a fish."

My mother is proud of me. She is then and she is now when she tells people how strong I am. 

We have ice cream for dessert. I think it is a prize. I will try to win at this again.



In junior high I begin to hear a phrase coming from some friends. Not Black enough. Sometimes, it's followed by laughter. Sometimes, it isn't. 

I don't understand when that's supposed to apply to me so every time a racist joke is told I laugh. I like Your Momma jokes. 

I shouldn't.

I try out some bad words of my own. Sometimes I get caught. Mostly, I like the way the hard consonants feel in my mouth. Too much Catholic school has made me afraid of cussing. 

But I still jump on top of a boy at the pool who calls me a nigger. I gave him a bloody nose. His mother doesn't let me cut through their yard anymore.





In college I am asked to declare a race. When I applied I looked for the "2 or more races" box and couldn't find it. My mother tells me that my birth certificate reads "white" because the nurse refused to put "mixed" on it. She said that since my mom is white, so am I. At the time, I looked it. Blonde hair and blue eyes that turned greenish-hazel later on. By kindergarten I had an Afro and after that it was a hair disaster. 

My mother is mad, even now, that none of my father's Black relatives or friends helped her do my hair. 

I am taken to the beauty salon my mother goes to and the stylists squeal at my curls and run their hands through it and ask, "Can I do your hair?" and when it's wet it looks like white girl hair. When it begins to dry, their faces take on a confused look of terror because WHAT IS IT DOING RIGHT NOW?

I leave every salon in tears. The always cut too much off and they never moisturize it.

My mother doesn't have to pay for any of my haircuts. Guilt makes them free.

I am 18 and have begun to fill out my own paperwork for college. After the FAFSA and taxes, I'm on my own to pick classes and take the writing sample entrance exame and get my own textbooks. My schedule is on a card, torn off from the computer printout everyone gets. 

My race reads "White" because, when I went to register, the lady saw me as white. I have giant 80s hair (but not the feathered kind because my hair won't do that) and pink lipstick so, yeah, I can see that. But I don't want it to read "White". I ask several professors and my counselor about it but the only answer anyone has is to go down to the registrars office and change it.

I go to the building shaped like a castle and take a seat until it's my turn. I tell the girl behind the counter, the one doing work-study, that I want to be "Mixed" on my paperwork. She doesn't know how to work the system and gets her supervisor who gets a "Huh?" look on her face.

I am adamant. I will gut her if she doesn't give me what I want. I ask her why she can't make this happen.

"There's a code for each race. A number. I punch it into the system and this is what it pulls out. I can't make it say 'mixed' for you."

Every semester after that one I return to the registrar's office. 

"I want my race changed. I am Black."

They are angry with my constant requests. They roll their eyes and sigh when I come in and one time a new work-study girl is there. "You're not Black." she tells me studying my face after I have made my request.

"Do you have to put down what I say you have to put down?" I ask.

She is silent. I already know the answer is yes because the lady who works there told me. 

"I've changed my mind. Put me down as Hispanic." I tell her.

The next time I am Asian. Then, Hawaiian. One time I am a Pacific Islander. 

"Are you going to keep coming back and changing this?" a cranky white lady asks me one time.

"Yes. You programmed that computer. You're supposed to be smarter than the computer. You can fix it if you want to. See you next semester!" I chirp, walking out.

No need to gut her today.

But I'll treat myself to some ice cream for the small win. 

I am normal and I love it.


with thanks to Anne Thériault for the format

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