Antionette Carroll, president and CEO of Creative Reaction Lab, founded her St. Louis-based nonprofit after the Ferguson uprisings in 2014. She describes herself as a social entrepreneur; equity designer; and diversity, equity, and inclusion specialist, and her mission is more important now than ever. Carroll is building a movement dedicated to highlighting youth-centered Black and Latinx voices in an effort to create actual systemic change. Here, she shares her inspiring journey from doing living room craft hours with her grandmother as a child to losing her 13-year-old brother to gun violence, which led her to conceive Creative Reaction Lab, a creative problem-solving process that gives communities the tools they need to dismantle systemic oppression and create a future of equity for all.
Stacy Shoemaker Rauen: Hi Antoinette, thanks so much for joining us today. How are you?
Antionette Carroll: I’m doing well. How about you?
SSR: Good. Thank you. So, we always start at the beginning. Where did you grow up?
AC: Oh, I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri and still here. I’ve yet to leave.
SSR: You must love it.
AC: I went through a stage in life, and I think everyone goes through this when they’re teenagers and they’re like, ‘I need to leave. I need to escape.’ And I figured out later on in my career that actually it was important to do my work in St. Louis in addition to across the nation and not just go to another person’s neighborhood to do work. So it became this journey for me.
SSR: Got it. And what was your childhood like?
AC: I remember a lot of books. So I was raised by my grandparents. My mother and father were still in my life, but my grandparents were the ones that raised me from two years old until I went to college and unfortunately, after my grandfather passed when I was 16 years old. But my childhood was a joyful one. I tell people all the time, even though I grew up in economic poverty, I did not grow up in a poverty of love. And that was really important for me, especially navigating some of the circumstances that my family had to navigate, whether it was folks impacted by the criminal justice system or people impacted by the social economic status, educational attainment, et cetera.
But my childhood, it was happy. It was filled with books and it was filled with what I like to call the craft DIY kid syndrome. I was the child that on holidays, on birthdays, if you give me a kit to make something, that brought me joy. And I also very much remember having living room art hours with my grandmother. It was something that really fed my creative spirit, which I think led into my pursuits later on in my life.
SSR: Right. Was there any specific memory that sticks with you or helped guide you to these pursuits?
AC: Yeah, I will say probably the living room art sessions are the specific memories. Still now at my age, I’ve been searching for this one illustrated piece. It was this woman naked. And as a child, it was like, ooh, a naked person. But it was this naked woman in this beautiful garden and it was such a strong realism illustration. And I remember us all trying to draw it. My grandmother was always the best because some of us just sucked, myself included. And I remember the laughter we had in those moments. I remember sometimes having the moments of, should I be an artist because maybe this isn’t for me. And it also made me realize that being an artist isn’t just being a drawer. It’s being creative, it’s being an exploratory. And my grandmother created that for me in those memories that I have with her.
SSR: That’s amazing. So how did you get to where you are today and starting the Creative Reaction Lab? Where did you go from growing up to get to everything you’ve done now?
AC: Yeah. I believe that mentors really shape your future, and I don’t think we talk about it enough. And it was something that I started to really reflect on when I decided to start Creative Reaction Lab, because when I was in high school there was my, I remember very clearly, my sophomore year, I was invited to go to the Missouri Entrepreneurship Week because of one of my instructors. And when I went there, it was interesting because it was students from all over Missouri. And I was nominated in my group to be the CEO, not knowing that I would one day be the CEO, and I honestly think it was just because I came up with a name for our campaign, which was Capital Caps. And we were creating head wear and headgear for folks in government. Don’t ask me why this was an important business idea at the time. It was horrible. And you don’t even want to know what that commercial was. I just want to apologize to Bill Clinton and the way that we did that commercial. But it was this moment when people started to really center me in leadership and my mentor at the time was like, ‘Hey, I see this business sense in you.’
But then I went to another school. I ended up going to two high schools. I went to the same high school my freshmen junior and senior year, but my sophomore year I went to a different school. And when I went to a different school, they actually had me start to learn more about the sciences, particularly chemistry and biology. And I ended up being lumped under the science groups. And my science instructor on essentially was like, ‘You need to be in the sciences.’ And so all the way through my senior year, I started the search for the Science National Honor Society. I competed at one congeniality awards in science and Monsanto gave me award. I actually went to college as a biology major with the intention of being a biotechnologist.
And after my internship, my freshman year, I had a 4.0. I had a prestigious internship my freshman year. My school was fully paying for everything they tell you you’re supposed to have. I realized that I was bored out of my mind and that I essentially was allowing my mentors to dictate how I should pursue my life versus my own creative interests. And so I went through this journey during college to figure out what do I want to pursue, Ultimately ended up on advertising and marketing. Graduated with that degree. I have a master’s in communications and was looking at cultural legitimacy and also nonprofit management, media representation of women, etc. And ultimately worked in advertising and marketing for about almost 10 years.
And my last position was at a diversity and inclusion nonprofit, where I was the head of communications there. One thing you learn about being head of communications is that you learn everything and you see everything. And I started to have this synergy of how do I bring creative problem-solving and creative thought into the diversity and inclusion space and center community members in that process? And so all of that in my journey led to Creative Reaction Lab because when the uprising of Ferguson began, I was in this pivotal point in my own career of understanding how do you design diversity, not only diversity visually, but also diversity, the human connection? And then the uprising of Ferguson began, and I was starting to think through how do you design racial justice and how do you bring community members together, not as just people that talk, but also being the creative problem-solvers in their own community? And so that all led to Creative Reaction Lab, the 24-hour challenge. And subsequently now here we are seven years later.
SSR: So in your 10 years before you got to your last position, what do you think were some of your takeaways that you learned in the advertising and marketing as you build yourself up through your career? What did you learn, what do you hold on to? What were some takeaways?
AC: One of the biggest takeaways for me was that narrative shaping is one of the most important things in our society. When we really think about how we are engaging with the world, this is the time, and it has been for a very long time of the content producers. Not the consumers, but the producers. And advertising and marketing is just one of many forms of producing narratives, of producing stories of really determining who gets to be centered and also unfortunately who’s erased. And so, it ended up being the journey for me where I recognized, I didn’t really care about corporate marketing. I was like, ‘Well, sorry if cell phone company, I don’t really care about your new 3G and 4G and 5G. I don’t care about that.’
I started to really think about how do we take the power of narrative and not just center it on representation, because at that time there was a lot of discussion on how do we make sure that we are not just bringing stereotypical images of Black people or Latinx people or Asian people. There are Koreans and Japanese folks, how do we make sure we’re not just centering them in a stereotypical way? How do we also make sure that they are centered and it’s not just some sort of whiteness? And that idea of being able to shape a narrative impacts how people see themselves, how they see others and also the quality of life and life expectancy we have in society.
I started to really dive deeper into what is the power of what I like to call narrative and livelihood shapers, which are industries such as media and technology, education, health and healthcare, government and public service. When you think about even education, we are consuming narrative every single second in that space. When you think about government and the policies that they create, that shapes narratives. When you think about media and technology, that shapes narratives. Health and healthcare, that shapes narrative of who do you view as a doctor versus a nurse, or who has the rights to actually receive certain resources and opportunities. And so it ended up being very, I guess, idea shaping for me.
SSR: How can you be more inclusive and design spaces that are more inclusive and campaigns and narratives, how do you teach that or how do you help people understand that better?
AC: I think part of it is first coming to it with a space of humbleness and humility and recognizing that we are all learning and unlearning together. We are in a very polarized society. We have been for a very long time. I know everyone makes it seem like that it’s just all of a sudden gotten worse. It’s like, hmm. It’s always been here. I’m an African-American woman. I can name times when I wasn’t even viewed as a full person and the documents that we like to put on a pedestal.
And so we’ve always had a very polarized society. And in that polarization, many times makes it either you’re yes or you’re no, or you’re right or you’re wrong. And not really recognizing that there is a spectrum of everything and we are all seeped in the culture of exclusion. We are all steeped in the culture of capitalism, the culture of white supremacy, the culture of colonization. It can go on and on. We all have been seeped into this. It’s not as if only white people have been seeped in this, or only as if Black and African American people who have been seeped in this. We all have been seeped into it. And so that means all of us have to collectively, together, start to learn and unlearn together. And that’s hard to do, especially when, culturally, you have been told that this is the way society is and why would you ever change it, forgetting that for society to be the way that it is now, someone had to inherently change it. Society is nothing but change.
And so I think first starting the journey is really stuttering yourself and thinking through what can I unpack? What can I change in my world? Part of it is thinking about what type of media and content and narratives do I consume? Our organization directly works with Black and Latinx youth, and I have to start adding more Latinx media into my own world. I had a lot of Black media, but that also can lead to a very one-sided approach. And so I had to start centering more Latinx media in to my world. I’ve also been intentional trying to center more indigenous media into my world, more AAPI media, more white media, all of it. And so I think that’s the first part.
The second part is really acknowledging when you have contributed harm and what can you do to change that. We love to hold on to what makes us feel comfortable, but for us to get to this place of equity and liberation, you’re going to be uncomfortable. Discomfort is part of the approach to get there.
And then I also think taking things tangibly one step at a time. Not thinking that the approach of equity or inclusion or belonging is getting everything right at once. We’ve worked with institutions where they have said, ‘Well, we want to get it perfect.’ It’s like one, perfection is a form of white supremacy. Let’s let that go, because you also have to ask the question: Perfect according to whom, who gets to actually define what perfect is?” And when you start to unpack that, you’re like, oh, wait a minute.
But that also is a hindrance when we are so afraid to be vulnerable and transparent about the journey that we’re on and with the fear of being called out or being called in, or being told that we were wrong. But for us to get to that space of inclusion, you have to do that because we all have to learn together and people are more open to supporting people on a journey when they authentically are showing up that way versus let me now tell you what I’ve been doing because you called me out. Well, if you were always vulnerable and transparent, when you apologize, people would actually take you for it because they know that you have been acknowledging that you’re on that journey.
SSR: Right. And really wanting to listen and learn. Not just hear it but understand.
AC: And apply. So listen, learn and apply. Because even on Creative Reaction Lab, we are now seven years in. We have a lot of growing pains that we’ve been going through. A lot of things we’ve been talking about, how do we get rid of sense of urgency? How do we get rid of perfectionism mindset in our culture? But it’s not just around employee engagement, there’s also like tangible things. I had to look at the way we were doing our pay structures. We had to look at how are we providing benefits to our staff and recognizing that where I came from, all the places that I was employed, your staff member was the one that received the healthcare benefits, whatever they were. And then everyone else to have maybe a spouse or had children, had to pay for their spouse and children themselves. And when you really think about that, that’s essentially saying, if you have a family, we expect you to pay more to work for us than if you are single. And so we had to essentially take a step back and say, are we penalizing folks for having whatever form of family that they have versus looking at, if we’re going to pay this for the employee, we should also pay the exact same thing if they have a spouse. So, if you’re covered 100 percent with dental, then your spouse is covered 100 percent with dental. If you have children, your children are covered 100 percent for dental. Does that cost us more? Yes. However, equity is about fairness and giving people what they need to succeed. And it shouldn’t cost them more to work at your organization just because you don’t want to give more money.
SSR: That’s interesting. So, on all levels, which people don’t even think of it sometimes holistically like that. You said there was the 24-hour challenge and then Creative Reaction Lab was created. Can you tell us a little bit more about that and what you wanted Creative Reaction Lab to be and what it is today?
AC: What I wanted it to be? Which year, which month? What do you learn about being a social entrepreneur? Yeah, it never comes out the way you think it’s going to. And sometimes it’s for good and sometimes it’s not for the best, and you learn that. And so when we started Creative Reaction Lab, I had no intention of making that a business. I was actually very happy with what I was doing at my job. I love working in communication. Even now, I still am obsessed with marketing. So if I ever return to the workforce, I think I’m either going to be in marketing or philanthropy. I haven’t figured it out yet.
But with what I was doing, I decided to do Creative Reaction Lab a 24-hour event. It was where we brought together some community members from activists and creative professionals across 24 hours to have them come up with their own intervention around St. Louis’ racial division. They came over 60 ideas throughout the night, and five were worked on to completion or at least a good prototyping place by the end of the 24 hours. And all five were left to St. Louis within a year. Also, several of them went on for several years.
And when I did this program, there was no intention of making it a business. I was just like, ‘Let’s do this community event. Let me continue to support these teams as a mentor, pro bono.’ There was no pay. And any money that we received we gave to them to launch their ideas. And from there, people started to come to me and say, ‘How did you do this, tell me more. What does this look like?” And I’m like, “I was building an agenda while I was going.’
SSR: It just kind of came together.
AC: ‘What do you want, I booked the venue, what are you asking for?’ But I started to see what they were saying with the secret sauce, that it wasn’t as traditional when it came to most either to create a problem-solving process or it wasn’t traditional when it came to maybe like community development work. It was very participatory community center, community owned, community led. And so ultimately decided to leave my fulltime job to pursue Creative Reaction Lab fulltime. I was not paid for three years pursuing that journey. We tried 24-hour challenges two more times, one around gun violence and other around domestic violence. And I realized at that point that we were so focused on the intervention that we forgot to center the people.
And so it was around late 2016, we decided that we were going to make our work more people-centered. We decided we were going to center young folks, especially acknowledging that they are the architects of change in our society. And if we’re looking for actual systemic change, it’s not going to be working with elected officials only or working with folks that have a certain term limit or timeframe that they’ve been in more traditional leadership. And even that journey of being youth centered went through a processes. We had some programs, we had summer academies that we no longer do. We had weekend events that we no longer do. And now we have too much to do, so I would say.
SSR: Isn’t that always the thing? You’re like, ‘Oh, I’m going to start here,’ but then you get here.
AC: Absolutely. We have an apprenticeship program now where we directly work with formerly incarcerated in criminal justice system impacted youth to develop their own racial justice and health equity interventions in their communities. We have our REFRESH program, which stands for Redesigning Education for Racial Equity and Social Healing, which is working with educators when we create curriculum in their classrooms across the country and then their youth community organizations.
And so we went from small to discontinue to very large scale. And part of that large-scale growth came from us pioneering the equity center community design framework that is now being used across the globe with over, I think it’s actually over 700,000 folks now impacted by that framework. And that is where I would say that shift started to happen for us. We’re not only our youth program work, but also our capacity building work with institutions across the country, recognizing that it’s not enough to just work with young people, even though they are centered in everything that we do, but we also have to try to change the institutions that they’re working in.
And so even the institutional work that we do, we tend to have our young people as co-facilitators of those engagements. So shifting power with these large-scale organizations where they are still in a position of power, they’re the ones that are providing the training so they are still centered, but we are still also challenging the institutional structures that we navigate every single day.
SSR: Amazing. Okay. So going back that first 24-hour community event, what were those five things that, or five programs or initiatives that came out of that? And why do you think they were so effective that kind of made people kind of stop and be like, ‘Oh, what is this, why is this one special?’
AC: Yeah. We have projects from civic engagement, online tools to public art efforts. So we had the Look Beyond Your Fear project, and it was actually a guerrilla art warfare campaign where they started to have community members ask themselves the questions in public art in interactive participatory way like, what do I fear and how am I also allowing the cultural fear, particularly in regards to Black people or sexual orientation or political status, how am I allowing that fear to dictate how I am treating others? And so the Look Beyond Your Fear project was part of artwork workshop engagement that actually went on for several years.
We then had the Vibe Switch campaign which was looking at, how do we challenge the stereotypes that folks place on us? And so it started as this, actually was mobile chalkboard where people would draw themselves and then actually say, ‘People define me as this, but the reality I am this.’ And it led to these larger discussions that also led to a full apparel line illustration, digital illustration campaign. And that one was another one that went on for several, several years, several pop-up exhibits as well.
Then we had the Connected for Justice Project, Connected for Justice Project was formerly called Beyond Today. And that project was only created around the uprising of Ferguson in 2014. So it ended at the end of 2014. And the point of that project was really centering civic matchmaking. So it was an online tool where folks would come and put ideas that they want to change in our community. And the other folks would come and volunteer to help them bring it to action. And that project in itself led to over 700 actions in St. Louis before its completion.
The other project was, oh my goodness, what is the Cards Against Humanity? Yes, Cards Against Brutality. So this is not like hard to get humanity, which I’ll admit I have now, I didn’t play prior to them creating this tool called Cards Against Brutality. I’ve played since. It was a great time, but I will not speak about what happened there because it goes against my brand completely.
SSR: That’s for another talk later.
AC: Yeah, that’s for another talk. Cards Against Humanity is for another talk. But Cards Against Brutality was directly looking at the media narration of victims of police brutality and how there tends to be victim blaming similar to sexual assault cases, opposed to actually looking at people as humans. And so this was actually a card deck and an educational series that they did with students as well, and students from high school to college students, as well as police officers of having to really start to challenge the narrative that we have around the victims of police brutality and how we can challenge them themselves.
And then the last project that came from that is the Red Table Project, which was looking at how do we turn strangers into neighbors, understanding that there are streets and St. Louis has several of them, but one that we’re known for is the Delmar Divide, where there actually was too many documentaries created around the Delmar Divide; one by BBC and one by Vox where there’s literally a geographic segregation of race, economic status, resources across this one street. And so the Red Table Project was around bringing folks together at a red table to have conversations across economic status, across race and just learning about each other and how we can be again, better neighbors.
And so those were the five projects that actually came from the 24-hour challenge. And I think what stood out for folks was, again, the stuttering of community, the creative problem-solving process that we took throughout the program itself, and also just the different interventions and approaches that came out of it.
I’ve been to hackathons where the approach is always a technology piece, but guess what? That might not be the approach that is needed around the intervention. I’ve been in spaces where people only talk about policy, guess what? You can change a policy, but at the end of the day, if you don’t change the mindset of people, then the policy is just this piece of paper. And so the variety of approaches I think was unique, the type of leadership, especially centering community members, activists, and creative professionals together was different. And also, I think just the systemic impact of The mindset shift of the folks in the room was also very important. A lot of those folks have gone on to do more social justice work, not only in St Louis, but also across the nation. It’s amazing.
SSR: And was there a way that you facilitated that 24-Hour Challenge that, not to give away all your secrets, but that might’ve helped generate that type of thinking?
AC: For that 24-hour challenge, honestly I just facilitated as if I was a community member, because I was. That’s the best way to put it. I feel like a lot of spaces I’ve gone to, there’s this major power dynamic of, I am the facilitator and you are the listener or the creator, but at the end of the day, I have the power, and there’s the separation. Versus I came in with the acknowledgement that not only was I working in diverse inclusion space, yes, I was a practicing designer and an advertiser marketer, but I also was a former Ferguson resident. My family and I had just moved out of Ferguson six months prior to the uprising. And I had also lived in neighborhoods that were worse than Ferguson and St. Louis. I literally was born in a hospital that no longer exists because it was torn down. My family is from a neighborhood that was displaced when now Boeing, formally McDonnell Douglas had bought up the land.
So I came in with that living expertise. In addition to that creative problem solving process. I came in humbling. And also that allowed the folks in the room to feel comfortable, understanding that we were all on that journey together. I made sure they had their space of creation, but I also came in to provide feedback as they needed it. And I also was very much centering of the community history as well as what was happening currently. And for me, it was never coming in with the agenda of okay, let’s get this done so we can get a grant or let’s get this done so that we can win some type of award. It was like, we are all here together, exploring together. And because we came in with that mindset that there wasn’t this time put on it, or it wasn’t the agenda put on it, it allowed us to do some of our best work.
I would also say from the lessons I learned from that is what went into the equity center community design process of centering history and healing, acknowledging power dynamics, inviting diverse co-creators, building humility and empathy, constantly thinking about testing and learning from the beginning through the end. And so everything in ECCD is what also showed up in that initial lab.
SSR: So tell us some of maybe your favorite example of the work you’re doing with youths that you think is having some lasting impact or some changing impact.
AC: Yeah. I would say for me, it’s two programs of ours that come to mind. Actually, I love them all. Just look at everything on creativereactionlab.com. Go to our Artwork for Equity program where our young leaders come up with posters and advocacy postcards around a social justice issue, last year with voter suppression, this year, we’re looking at educational disparities and you will be blown away with the pieces of work. Also we have our Seeds of Power Fellowship Program. And what I love about this program is that last year when we held it, our Seeds of Power fellows, they were the co-facilitators for our institutional engagements. And so two of our Seeds of Power fellows actually came up with their own webinars series around centering youth voices when it comes to challenging diversity statements that have been embedded in a lot of corporate and institutional structures, and they created it themselves.
One of them also redefined our race and ethnicity module at our organization that is now being used across the country. But they are the ones that have been in front of the rooms co-facilitating these learning engagements with over 6,000 folks in the last year alone. And because their program has been so successful, not only are we continuing that track, but we also are adding two more tracks, one around media and content and other one around community giving and philanthropy where young leaders will either be creating their own media pieces around racial justice. It could be a children’s books. It could be their own podcasts. It could be their own YouTube series. And then we also have a group of young folks that will be distributing $250,000 across the country to smaller arts and design organizations that directly work with youth of color. So they will be defining that fund, the parameters of it, and then distributing a quarter of a million dollars. And this is youths that, can be as young as 11 years old, up to 26 years old.
I will say the program I think that’s had the biggest success has been our Community Design Apprenticeship Program. That program, the first year we did it in 2018, we had all Black male cohorts. They were addressing the issue of public transportation access in St. Louis or the lack of, and how that has led to continual divisions and barriers of communities of color, namely the Black community. And particularly our light rail system was looking to make a large investment, and many cases it was only thinking about commercial investments of the light rail expansion. And so their community engagement community research brought in the mindsets and reality of the fear of gentrification in certain communities, thinking about how this impacts business owners and also the quality of life of Black residents.
And then last year’s cohort still continued amongst the pandemic had initially started looking at food apartheid and limited healthy food access with the neighborhood in the St. Louis Promise Zone. And as we know, COVID showed the continued exacerbation of limited healthy food access in communities, particularly communities of color. And so that topic was already predefined and therefore they deepened bit with their nine month exploration in the community where they also launched what they call Blessed and Highly Flavored food boxes where not only did they provide a community members with food access, but also community led recipes that the community defined themselves, and really had a folks start to think about, how do I center healthy living in my own cultural understanding and being as it relates to my ethnicity, which was really important.
And what has been so great about that program is some of our apprentices have gone on where one apprentice actually was named the executive director of actually a food nonprofit here called the St Louis Metro Market at the age of 23 years old. Another one currently we are actually hiring fulltime as our community organizing and healing resident internally. Another one created a foundation in her brother’s name that she lost due to gun violence in St. Louis. And our upcoming cohort is also looking at the issue of gun violence and its impact on community health and mental health in St. Louis. And so that program impact has been substantial, not only in St Louis, but also across the country and the work that they have been doing.
SSR: Wow, that’s amazing. I’m like let’s just deliver on what you’re doing.
AC: Just deliver. Here’s why I said we went from one program to many programs.
SSR: But your impact is amazing. And I’m sure for you to see all the different things that your one idea could spawn, must be inspiring. Must keep you going. Or I guess the question is, what keeps you inspired, what keeps you going to continue to push, continue to challenge, continue to fight in a way?
AC: Yeah. I will say there’s multiple things, which is hard, that I need to take a step back and step away. And I think everyone needs to think about how do they integrate that in their journey. The young people I engage with every day, even when I’m tired, they remind me of the why. When they send me the texts saying, ‘Hey, I’m processing this, can I get your thoughts on it?’ show that they are still doing the work. When they send the email as if you say, ‘Hey, I went through this and let me show you the impact that you’ve had on my life or on my thinking.’ And that’s not even just the young folks, but also even the folks that we engage through our institutions and webinars when they send those messages of that mindset shift, it reminds me the why we do what we do.
And what’s interesting is yesterday our organization went through one of our quarterly blackouts and there was literally “stats” in there from young leaders that I had never even heard before at them talking about the impact that these programs have had on their lives, the space that it provided them for reflection and improvement and growth. And that keeps me going.
And the last thing I would say that keeps me going is again, finding space for myself, for my family. We are huge anime fans. And so sometimes you just got to sit and watch a whole bunch of anime to relax. And circling back to your first question of what was my childhood like, and I mentioned being DIY, I also do a lot of crafting. And so that keeps me going. People need to find the thing that brings healing and joy in our life, even amongst the hard work. And I also want to name that the work for me is a part of my healing.
SSR: Yeah. Was there one major challenge along the way through your life that you had to overcome? I’m sure there’s many, obviously everyone has many and everyone has different challenges, but was there one or one moment that you go back to as the point that pushed you even harder?
AC: Yeah, I will say prior to 2018, it was when I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. Yeah, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 2017, and I was hospitalized 10 times within six months, ended up with having to have surgery. And that was a very hard time in my life, especially at the moment prior to them learning it was Crohn’s disease, they had gave me this cancer scare which we could talk about the healthcare system later. But when 2018 happened, I will say, not that to diminish what I went through in my Crohn’s disease, but that was the moment when I started to question if I was affective and why I should be doing what I was doing. And that was where my 14-year-old brother was an unarmed victim of gun violence.
My 14-year-old brother was killed by a 13-year-old boy in his bedroom over his iPhone. The boy was supposed to be his friend, and I received a phone call on one of our fundraising days, and literally it was the day I was leading a fundraiser for one of my sisters and she was saying, ‘Our brother’s been shot.’ And I was the only person in the family at the time that had less flexible transportation. So even though the hospital he was rushed to was 10 minutes from my office, I had to drive 30 minutes to get my sister and then drive 40 minutes to get to the hospital. And when we were in the lobby area trying to get up, because they had told her she was shot in my arm, so when we were in a lobby area trying to get up, our other sister, his twin, actually called and told us that he had died because apparently he was shot in the chest and not in the arm.
And so that was and still is one of the hardest things that I have had to go through. And it is what continues to push me forward with thinking through how do we not have more folks continue to be statistics? How do we recognize that there are a lot of legacies that we have lost in our communities due to the systems of poverty, the systems of racial injustice and equity, all of it combined. Because to me that day, we lost two young men. Not only did we lose my brother, but we also lost a 13-year-old boy that you have to ask the question, what structures, what systems were put in place for him to feel an iPhone was worth the life of someone else? And so that’s what keeps me going. And that was something that I’ve continued to have to go and work through, because I don’t think I’ll ever be over but work through and what continues to push me on the work that I do.
SSR: I’m so sorry.
AC: Thank you.
SSR: I don’t even have words. I can’t even imagine. Hopefully all that you do moving forward will speak for him and everything everyone else in similar situations. For this podcast, we always end on the title of the podcast and that’s, what have you learned or what I’ve learned. What has been your greatest lesson or lessons learned along the way?
AC: What I’ve learned is that your living expertise is just as powerful as any degree, any years of experience in a job. And I would argue probably even more important than that. And that is something I had to learn earlier in my journey where I went through the naivete or the silliness of thinking that my degree was what made me and led to also this barrier between myself and community members, including my family that didn’t have the privilege of having a degree. And I had to realize that that didn’t make me better than them at all. And that their living expertise was just as important, if not more so than anything I could have learned in a book. And so that is what I’ve learned. And I’ve also learned that we are all enough and we are all on this journey together, and that we have to continually provide grace for one another. And we also still have to provide accountability as a form of healing for one another as well.
SSR: All right. Well, thank you. So well said. Just could talk to you forever, but in sake of time, we will end there, but just thank you for all that you’re doing. And please, keep in touch. And if there’s anything we can ever do or help or get the word out, let us know.
AC: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.