S02 E09: A Mother’s Day Tribute – 1 Year Later

Pod Squad

Arisha Hatch Vice President, Chief of Campaigns | Color of Change @arishamichelle
Gabby Seay Political Director | 1199SEIU @GabbySeay
Fawn Allison Ashley's Mother
Patricia Hatch Arisha's Mother
Nancy Seay Gabby's Mother

Interview Guest

Valerie Jarrett Senior Advisor to Barack Obama | New York Times Bestselling Author | Mother & Grandmother @ValerieJarrett

Our Host

Ashley Allison Executive Vice President of Campaigns and Programs | The Leadership Conference @ashleyrallison

Contact the Team

For all inquiries related to Pod For The Cause, please contact Brittany Johnson at [email protected] and Kenny Yi at [email protected].

Episode Transcript

Ashley:                        Welcome to Pod for the Cause, the official podcast of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the Leadership Conference Education Fund, where we expand the conversation on critical civil and human rights issues of our day. I’m your host, Ashley Allison, coming to you from Washington DC. And like we start off every show, we got the pod squad where we discuss pop culture and social justice. Today, I’m joined by the OGs. I have Arisha Hatch, vice president of Color of Change and Gabby Seay, political director of 1199 SEIU. So, it’s been a year. We have so much to talk about today.


So, let’s just get into it. I know you’ve seen all over Twitter, all over the news, these protests that are happening. When you turn on the television and you see people yelling at police officers without masks on, not social distancing, what do you think?


Gabby:                        I think the first thing that I think is if they had a tint of melanin, it would not be happening in this way. If they were black or brown or wore coverings on their head, it wouldn’t be protesters storming the capitol to demand we open. As an organizer and person that has worked on social and racial justice for so long, that’s always the first thought that comes to my mind. But then, the second is just like, it’s so unsafe right now for folks to be congregating. So, the very thing that you’re protesting, we saw that there is a pastor in Virginia that kept his church open despite the stay at home order. And he ended up dying himself of coronavirus.


So, if freedom means freedom to get everyone else in your community and your family with a deadly disease, if that’s your definition of freedom, I don’t even know what kind of country we live in together. And so, it’s infuriating.


Ashley:                        Arisha, what do you think when you see those photos and the folks congregating?


Arisha:                        For one, it feels ridiculous. But it also brings up for me just how much disinformation and misinformation there is. I remember when things started popping up initially. It was like black people are immune to coronavirus, which we now know to be the exact opposite. We’re suffering at higher rates than other people. And there is this strain of folks that have been fed all of these conspiracy theories about what’s happening right now and why they’re being told to stay in. And I think it’s also just a reflection of that. I’m here quarantining with my mother, with my family in Southern California.


And my father passed away right before coronavirus really hit. And for us, it’s been sort of like a grieving process to let go of things. Like we’re not going to be able to have the memorial service right now. My brother and his fiancé are postponing their wedding. And yet, I’m supposed to be going to a high school reunion this year and these people want to still have the reunion in July. And I’m like, “Okay, folks. Let’s get it together. I’m not coming to your reunion.”


Ashley:                        I feel like there are multiple ways people are showing up to protest. Yes, there are people with rifles that are part militia who are charging state houses. But people are protesting all by going to the beach. And I’m like, “Okay, we’re not all playing on the same team here.” If you’re at the beach and I’ve been in my house, literally, for seven weeks and I can count on my hands how many times I’ve left. And it’s straight up like you’re rude. You’re disrespectful and you’re inconsiderate and I know the type of person you are. I do. I know you.


You’re the person that runs into my heel in the grocery store with your buggy and you don’t say sorry. And I don’t like you.


Gabby:                        And let’s not even talk about these elected officials who are actually opening up the state and saying it’s okay. DeSantis, are you kidding me?


Ashley:                        I know.


Gabby:                        Can’t even put on a mask correctly.


Arisha:                        Or like the level of privilege. There are people who would love to be able to be at home right now. But they have to go out and work. They’ve got a gig that’s a central worker career – delivering us food, all sorts of things, or keeping the stores open. It’s just like what a privilege.


Ashley:                        All right. I talk about COVID-19 because it’s really important. But there are some fun things I want to talk about. So, on the last episode, we had high school students. And bless their hearts, they tried to know who Teddy Reily and Babyface were but they, clearly, aged me. And they were like, “Do you mean Da Baby?” And I’m like goodbye. Happy graduation. So, we had Teddy and Babyface and we could go on for days.


I’d love to hear comments around that. But then, we have Miss Badu and Miss Jill Scott that I’m like “Give me life!” What have you thought all of these battles? Have you watched? Are you going to watch, Gabby?


Gabby:                        I’m definitely going to watch Erykah Badu with Jill Scott. That is like my dream come true those two performing. And I feel like the women in all of these challenges, whether it was Deborah Cox and someone else did a song, too. Who was it? It was Deborah Cox and Tamia. And I’m like, these women took this so seriously. Teddy and Baby Face just thought themselves and looking cool and not about the technology and didn’t test the one thing that people want to hear, which is you sing.


Arisha:                        I thought it was so enjoyable.


Ashley:                        It was like a cultural moment of the decade, okay.


Arisha:                        I talked about it for the whole next week until it happened.


Ashley:                        Yes. It went late in the night. And I called my sister. I was like you have to watch it. It is black culture at its finest. The one thing I knew that, yes, COVID-19 might be hitting our communities but our culture is stronger than it ever could be through this. Arisha, are you going to watch Miss Badu and Jill Scott?


Arisha:                        I’ll definitely watch it. I’m going to try to watch it live because I feel like the experience of Instagram is like part of the experience. But it’s also difficult to watch it there. But I’m excited about it. I also watched the Ne-Yo/Johnta, which is so, so good.


Arisha:                        I thought it was wonderful, I thought it was a moment for the culture. Black artists have had so much presence. And just to see the genius of all of these musicians and songwriters, it’s amazing. They’re breaking the internet. And it’s hilarious and fun.


Ashley:                        And shout out to DJ D-Nice who really, actually, got this stuff trending and going and the innovation of just doing what your passion is and what’s in your heart. And if you do that, you’ll thrive. So, this is our one year anniversary. I’m so excited that Gabby Seay, political director of 1199 SEIU and chief of campaigns and vice president of Color Change, Arisha Hatch, came back to join us. They are the OG pod squadders, the first to ever do this for Pod for the Cause. We started our episode last year on Mother’s Day.


And we are doing our one year anniversary about Mother’s Day also. And we are not being Zoom bombe,  but we do have some special guests that are coming and joining the final part of our pod squad. Our moms. Go mom. We have Dr. Nancy Seay, Ms. Patricia Hatch, and my mom, Fawn Allison. Welcome to the pod squad.


Group:                         Thank you.


Ashley:                        So, you have done a fantastic job. You raised me, Gabby, and Arisha, so job well done, because I know we’re a handful. And we want to get some advice from you. So, I would like to ask each of you a question that our listeners can learn from you. So, Dr. Seay, I want to start with you. What advice would you give young women who are trying to figure out how to balance it all, their personal and professional career?


Nancy:                        I come from a different generation than young women do now. And so, for me, I would say one thing is to love yourself and that’s huge because I regret sometimes I didn’t take out enough time to love myself. I was so busy doing for other people. Now, I say I’m a little bit different because I didn’t have to do everything at the same time. I kind of did it more to sequence. In my early life, I was a Bible student and became a nurse and did some really fantastic things. But then, I was really a traditional wife. I didn’t just stay home and keep house. I home schooled my kids for about eight years.


And then, when they were big and started going to college, so did I. I started my undergrad at age 47. Now, I’m blessed to be able to teach other people’s children. And so, for me, it was a sequence of things. And that seemed to work for my life.


Ashley:                        Mrs. Hatch, I want to come to you. We’re all in our 30s. And so, we have seen you all live your lives. I want to know do you have anything you wish you would have known when you were 30 that you know now just from living life?


Patricia:                      I wish I had been as confident in my 30s as I am now. I graduated from college when I was 21, got my bachelor of science in math. I started teaching right away. And I just wasn’t real confident. I had very strong men in my family. I’m from a family of five children, three boys that were like three fathers in addition to my father. And then, I married a very strong man. So, I was just always shy and in the background. And now, I know how strong I am and how confident I am. And I raised two beautiful, wonderful children. My son and my daughter are very, very strong individuals, very opinionated, which is what I wanted.


They were the spokesmen when I couldn’t speak. I knew they would speak up. And they always have. So, now that I’m in my 60s, I feel like I can do anything. And I taught elementary school for 40 years and I learned from my students and my children.


Ashley:                        Oh, that’s beautiful. All right, mom. I’m coming to you. What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned from being a mother?


Fawn:                          Well, I think the first thing I learned was what a great mother I had. When you’re young, you think you know everything. And you’re not always ready to take that motherly advice. So, I realize now that she was a strong woman and what a great job she did. I tell young mothers that the one thing that they should do is live in the moment. When you’re young and you’re raising your kids, it’s so hectic and it’s so much chaos and so much going on – it goes so fast. When you’re living it, it seems like it’s taking forever but it goes so fast. And now, you guys are grown.


And when I look back at it, I think I wish I had taken a little bit more time to do this or I wish I had been maybe a little bit more sensitive about this situation. You learn a lot of things and you become wiser and wiser as you get older. But mostly, I’ve learned just how to love you guys and be patient and understand. And now, your lives are are your own.


Ashley:                        Yes, it is. I love all of you because I love your daughters and, of course, I love you, mom. So, from Pod for the Cause, all of our listeners, but most importantly, from me, Gabby, and Arisha, happy Mother’s day. We love you.


Group:                         Thank you.


Ashley:                        Coming up, we have a special guest, Valerie Jarrett. So, don’t go anywhere.


Welcome back to Pod for the Cause, where we’re celebrating our one year anniversary and Mother’s Day. And I could not think of a better guest to bring us in for Year 2. She is the longest serving senior advisor to any sitting president and my forever president, Barack Obama, New York Times bestselling author, mentor, mother, new grandma, one of my most favorite people in the world. And I had the benefit and privilege of working for her under President Obama’s White House. Welcome to Pod for the Cause, Valerie Jarrett. Thank you for joining us, Valerie.


Valerie:                       Thank you. I am delighted to be here. Mother’s Day is my favorite day of the year. So, I start celebrating at least a week ahead of time. And I’m so looking forward for the first time, my daughter is going to be a mother on Mother’s Day. So, it’s extra special.


Ashley:                        Yes. I call you one of my work moms. Lots of lessons learned from Ms. Jarrett through the years over at the White House. We’re going to talk about her book, Finding My Voice, her time in the White House, what it’s like to have been a working mom, grandma. So, let’s just get straight to it. You have always carried a presence of grace and elegance. But you had to figure out how to navigate some of the toughest halls probably in the world, make some of the diciest policy decisions, engage leaders at the highest level of our country.


Can you talk about the lessons that you learned while being in the White House that you were able to probably do better because you, actually, were a mom?


Valerie:                       Well, that’s an interesting question. I didn’t know where you were heading with that. I think a mom teaches you that it’s not a popularity contest. Sometimes, you have to do what you know is right, even though the person who is affected by it is unhappy in the short term. So, that kind of short term pain for long term gain. I think being a mom taught me patience in a way and it also taught me how to compartmentalize. You could only worry about whatever you’re supposed to be focusing on at that moment in time and you have to let everything else go.


And I remember before I was a mom at work, I would talk on the phone to my friends and I would go out to lunch. And I knew I had as much time as I needed to get the job done. And as soon as my daughter was born, I would wake up in the morning and, actually, try to figure out how to get home. And so, I became very efficient and very organized and very disciplined. No more lollygagging. And I think those kind of early lessons that I learned when I was a young, working mother and every second counted were really important in the White House when we knew we only had a finite amount of time and we had so much we wanted to get done.


So, those are a few of the things. Patience goes a long way though because, as you will remember, there were some meetings where it could have been tempting to lose one’s patience, right.


Ashley:                        Oh, yes. And I think you held me back a couple of times from doing that.


Valerie:                       I do remember just like, reaching over and touch you a little bit.


Ashley:                        Kindness, you always told me.


Valerie:                       I remember that. I’m so glad you remember that. Kindness goes a long way. It’s quite disarming. And I think with children, with my mom, for example, when I would get really angry with her, her voice would get lower and calmer. And I found it so irritating. And so, I found with Laura, I did the same thing. When she was going nuts, I would just speak to her in a very calm voice. And it’s like you are not going to make me lose my temper. I’ll be kind and decent and treat you with respect. And I expect you to do the same. And goodness knows that came in handy in the White House.


Ashley:                        Another memory I have, it’s, actually, the first time I ever met Laura, I remember going into your office on the second floor of the West Wing. And Laura was just in there doing her own thing. She said, “Hey, how are you doing?” And I’m like, “Hi, I’m Ashley.” It was such a welcoming place for me but also Laura. And I know you talk about this a lot in your book about the importance of your child being able to feel welcome in your work environment. Why did you make that commitment to Laura as a child but also feel that it was important for people around you to know that you were a mom first?


Valerie:                       The best lessons I got about motherhood came from my own mother. And my mother was a working mom during an era when most moms stayed at home. And I can remember that she used to always say, “Any time you need me, call me.” And at a very young age, I can visualize dialing the telephone, calling my mom. Whoever answered said, “I’ll go get her.” And you could hear whoever it was going down the hall. And you could hear their footsteps getting fainter and fainter. And then, I could hear my mother’s footsteps getting louder and louder.


And Ashley, the sound of her footsteps made me feel at ease just knowing that she was always there. And it’s not like I called her every day but I knew that I had a lifeline when I needed it. And so, when I made up mind and I was in an, obviously, really high powered job in city hall when Laura was young and I remember saying to one assistant who did not last that long –


Ashley:                        I remember this story.


Valerie:                       — I said, “If Laura calls me, you have to put her through.” And I was in a meeting behind closed doors. And when I came out, she said, “Oh, Laura called.” And I said, “Any time Laura calls, put her though.” And she said, “Laura said it wasn’t important.” I said, “A 5-year-old doesn’t get to decide. I decide. If she wants to call me, I will know in 30 seconds listening to her voice whether it’s something that she really needs me or I can say, ‘Sweetheart, I’ll call you back’”. And in fact, in Michelle Obama’s book, she tells a story about being in my office when we worked together in city hall.


And this is long before she had kids. And Laura called and we were in a meeting with these high power developers. And my assistant this time put Laura through. And she tells the story because we were having this stern negotiation. And I said, “Oh, excuse me for a minute.” I go, “Hello, sweetie, how are you? How is your day?” And she said she thought “Oh, you get to do that? It’s okay?” And I came back when the call was over and I was like, “All right. Let’s get back to business.” You’ve heard me tell the story often about Mayor Daley who was a little terrifying at the time I worked for him and being in his office.


And I’m looking at my watch. And Susan Sher who went on to be the First Lady’s chief of staff was corporation counsel. She’s looking at hers and finally said, “What’s up? Why are you guys looking at your watches?” And we didn’t know him that well then. We were pretty afraid of him. And in this moment of truth that I’m not sure I would have had the courage to do if Susan hadn’t also been in there with me, I said, “Sir, the Halloween parade starts in 20 minutes and we’re 25 minutes away.” And he said, “Then, what are you doing here?”


And Ashley, to this day, I would do anything for that man because I remember the relief of feeling “Oh, you get it. We’re both single moms. If we don’t show up, there will be nobody there.” And a Halloween parade isn’t life or death but when we arrived at the school –


Ashley:                        But to a kid.


Valerie:                       — and they come out looking for us and we aren’t there. So, I realized from my own younger experiences how it meant for me as a child to have my mother available and how relieved I was that Mayor Daley got it as well. And I thought “Well, I have to do the same thing for other people so that they appreciate…” – and I can’t just presume that they know it. You have to reinforce it and you have to tell it and you have to constantly give people permission because our society, frankly, isn’t stocked that way.


And building the culture as we really tried to do in the White House that was supportive of working families, where we took a beat to say, “Hey, what’s going on in your day? Are you all right?” And you learned a lot about people when you open up to them and then, they open up to you.


Ashley:                        I want to talk a little bit about your book, Finding My Voice. First, why did you feel like it was important to name your book that? You’re someone with so much power. You’re best friends with the First Lady and President, longest serving senior advisor. How could you ever not, actually, know your own voice?


Valerie:                       I think we’re all a work in progress. And I think when I tell my story and I explain to people that I was a very, very painfully shy child and I didn’t have a lot of self confidence and even though I went to some crazy good schools, I kept thinking it was a mistake. They made a mistake when they let me in. And it took me a long time to really appreciate and own the most important one and that’s the voice inside of you that tells you things that you need to hear that are sometimes inconsistent with what other people tell you. And you have to learn to trust your own voice before you can use that voice to be a force for good for others.


And I learned a lot about my own voice working in city government in Chicago because I joined government, and one, I was very miserable working in a big law firm. Mayor Harold Washington had just be re-elected mayor of Chicago. He was the first black mayor beginning his second term. And a really good friend to me said, “Girl, you are so miserable. Why don’t you explore public service? You’ll be a part of something bigger than yourself.” And something about that phrase resonated with me. And in local government, Ashley, the constituents are proximate.


You can’t get away from them. They follow you in the grocery store down the aisle. They come up to you in the dry cleaner. You’re playing with your kids in the park, they’re right there. They have your phone number, your address. They know how to get ahold of you. And it’s 24/7 and that’s how it should be. You should learn to take that deep breath, to listen to people, to realize that public service means you are a public servant in service of others. And that’s the other thing I think you learn as a parent is you do have to be in tune with your children and you have to listen to them real carefully and you have to be present.


And I learned at community meetings in Chicago how to be present and how to let people yell and scream and express their frustrations when you show up and you’re like, “I’m from the government. I’m here to help you.” And they’re like, “No. That’s not been my history.” And do you know what? They’re right. And recognizing that it was going to take, not just one interaction for them to appreciate that my heart was in it and I was going to do everything for them. I had to build a relationship with them. I think one of the themes in my book is about building relationships.


And yes, it might be with the former President and First Lady or it could be with community organizers who, to this day, I always stay in touch with when I go back home to Chicago. Many of them who were not very happy with me early on for fear of what we were going to do to their neighborhoods. And so, learning how to earn trust and recognize that it is an ongoing development in a relationship. You don’t just earn it and then, you’re done. You have to constantly do it. I think those were really good lessons that I learned early in my career as well.


Ashley:                        You mentioned not always thinking you belonged. Until the very last day when I would swipe my badge to get into the grounds of the White House, I just knew one day it wasn’t going to work because they would have found out that I didn’t deserve to be there. But every morning, I would get to go through. And then, once I had changed roles in the White House, I would come up to your office for our morning meeting and I don’t know what it is about you but I will tell you, I always felt like I had a place there because you always asked what my opinion was. And you could tell when I wasn’t being honest.


And I was a crybaby. You could tell when I was about to cry. But you always just created this space for me to be my full human self. So, thank you. You know I love you dearly.


Valerie:                       I treasured really watching you blossom and find your voice. And I have this vivid memory. The first time I said to you, “You’re going to run the meeting.” And you’re like, “No, you’re running the meeting. What are you talking about?” “You’re running the meeting because you, actually, know the nuts and bolts and much more than I do.” And I wanted you to run the meeting so that when you left my office, you were empowered. And I wanted the people there to see you in that role with me supporting you, not leading you in order that you would be able to lead them.


Ashley:                        I tell the story all of the time and I do it to people on my team all of the time now. Sometimes, people feel like you have to be emboldened with power and sometimes, people can just place you in the right position to lead. And you definitely did the latter. If there is a young mom or even a mom with adult children, how did you find a way to keep space for Laura and your mom and your family and people like me who you meet and then, you feel so connected? How did you do it all?


Valerie:                       Well, you have to prioritize. And you have to do what’s important to you and you have to make room for it. And sometimes, that means that you’re not perfect at everything like most of the time. Something has to give. So, this whole notion of can you have it all, I think it’s nonsense. Everything is full of tradeoffs. And so, if you’re doing one thing really, really well that means that something else might slip or you get help. And I know early on when I was a single mom and I was so miserable, when my marriage failed, I thought I was a failure. And it took me a long time to build myself back up.


And I attribute it to Laura because I looked at that little baby and I was like who is going to take care of her. And then, I was like oh, I’m the one that’s got to take care of her. I better put my big girl pants on. And I also wanted to do something that would make her proud of me. But I look back on those early  years. I had a good job. I had health insurance. I had a sitter who started working for us when Laura was 3 months old. And she and I packed up Laura to go to college. My parents lived a mile away. My dad took my daughter to school and picked her up every day from nursery school through high school.


I had everything going for me in terms of a safety net and I still felt like I was hanging on by my fingertips. And some of it was cultural and structural when I was in a big law firm. But when I moved to the city and I had a mentor of my own who was very supportive, I still felt like I was holding on by my fingertips. And I realized, do you know what, it’s just hard. And so, part of what I want to say is to young working moms, particularly, is there is nothing wrong with you. I kept thinking if I were just smarter or better organized or more efficient or slept fewer hours, maybe it wouldn’t be so hard.


No, it’s just hard raising children. And it’s hard raising children and working. And so, part of why the work we did at the White House Council on Women and Girls was so personal for Tina and for me is because we had been young, single moms but young, single moms with resources. And for the 30 years that we’ve known each other, we would think to ourselves what is it like for those working moms who are going pay check to pay check, who don’t have a safety net, who are really worried about putting food on the table, paying the rent, and go without taking care of their healthcare to make sure that their children are safe.


And so, what can we do structurally to make life easier on those working families? And what could we do culturally to make the environment one where I could speak up and say, “Sir, there is a Halloween parade.” And take something like paid leave. I’m very big on national paid leave policy. Men and women, same amount. In the White House, men and women in our administration had three months each. But it wasn’t until a Josh Earnest or Jason Furman, two senior men took paternity leave, the full three months, that people went, “Oh, that’s okay here, right?”


And I think because my mom was so important and a central figure in my life and such a role model and mentor for me, I wanted to do the same for Laura. And I think I wanted to do something that would make Laura proud that I was her mother. And that meant that I had to work really hard. And look, I have a note in the other room that she wrote when she was like 6. Dear mom, please come home. It makes me so sad when you’re away. Come home every night. And every day when I would leave, she would go, “Are you coming home tonight?”


And it would break my heart when I had to say, “No, honey, I have to work late.” She said when she read my book, Ashley, she couldn’t believe how guilty I felt because she thought she had the perfect mom. And she said I taught her how to be a working mother and that she knew I was there. She knew I loved her. She’s the most important thing I’ve ever done in my life is to be a mother. I felt at the law firm that if I told anybody I was pregnant, I gained 90 pounds, everybody knew I was pregnant. I didn’t want to talk about it.


So, I thought if I tell them I’m pregnant or if I tell them I’m taking her to a doctor’s appointment, people will think I’m not committed to work. And I think that was a mistake. I think I should have talked about being pregnant. I think the guys would have done well to know a little bit more about what it’s like to have a pregnant woman around. So, we have a responsibility to educate, too. And so, part of finding your voice is learning to stick up for yourself. Or if you see somebody who can’t stick up for themselves then, you better use your voice to stick up for them, too.


Ashley:                        You mentioned Laura a lot in your last answer. And she is celebrating her first Mother’s Day. What has it been like to see her become a mom and you get to be a grandmother?


Valerie:                       Well, I just released my paperback book, Ashley. And you’re going to, unfortunately, have to buy that, too.


Ashley:                        I will.


Valerie:                       It has two new chapters in it.


Ashley:                        Yes.


Valerie:                       The last chapter is about being a grandmother. And I talk about what it was like to – first of all, I was in San Diego when she went into labor. And so, if you can imagine trying to get home from San Diego before she has this baby. And thank goodness I had wi-fi on the airplane. So, long story short, her labor turned out to be very, very long so I got back in plenty of time. But while I was sitting and waiting to see the baby because she had to have a C-section so only her husband could go in, and that was a thing. They said only one person could go in and I’ve been a single mom and this is my child and we’re close. And I realize that I’m not going to be the person that gets to go in.


Ashley:                        I would pay to be a fly on that wall.


Valerie:                       I had to lower my voice and dig deep. And I said, “Of course, Tony, you’ll go in.” So, I’m not going to do a spoiler. But the last chapter is looking at the world through the eyes of my now black and brown grandson and some of the challenges that he’s going to face that Laura didn’t have to face because she’s a woman. Some of the opportunities that he’ll have that maybe Laura wouldn’t have and what kind of a man I want him to be.


How I want him to treat people, how I want him to look at his responsibility as a citizen of the world, and what I want to do to help him understand that the family that he’s been born into is one with a very long legacy where we have a history in our family that has been passed on from generation to generation. And that is a rich and wonderful history. And I want him to feel a sense of belonging to that because I think our roots are important. As a young person, my grandmother used to always tell me all of these stories about my grandparents and my great grandparents and my great, great, great grandparents.


And it kind of washed over me until I got older. And now, I realize oh, my gosh, what must that have been like. And someone said to me once, “Well, does that make you feel I can never live up to that? Or does that make you feel like this should be easy?” And it’s neither. It’s just like it’s a responsibility to just continue to do better and to do the best you can. My parents loved me unconditionally, provided me with a safety net of support, and set very high expectations, not of my title in life but what I would do for others.


Ashley:                        So, Valerie, you’ve had an amazing career in public service. So, I want to ask you for people who are thinking about pursuing a career in public service, what advice would you give them?


Valerie:                       I have spent now half of my career in the private sector and half in the public sector. And I would tell you that my absolute worst days in the public sector – and as you know, Ashley, we had some really tough days.


Ashley:                        Yes, we did.

Valerie:                       They were more rewarding than my best in the private. And so, if you feel as though you have a skill set and something to offer, there is nothing more satisfying than feeling that you’re leaving your community, your city, your state, your country a little bit better than you found it. It’s just incredibly satisfying for me. What my passion is is really to try to get people to feel creative and engaged and empowered to be civically minded. And goodness knows, you are Exhibit A for that. And I think you are a role model for your generation in a way that I can’t possibly be.


And so, I’m calling on you to spread the word. So, public service, do it for yourself full time. You don’t have to do it for your whole career. It destigmatizes perceptions. When I first went to work for city government, a lot of people who knew me said, “Why would you go work there? They don’t work very hard.” Well, I worked harder in city government than I have practically anywhere else.


Ashley:                        Yes.


Valerie:                       And so, you see it from the inside and you gain respect for career public servants who have dedicated their lives to service and who often aren’t celebrated in the headlines but are working every day for you and for me. And you have this opportunity to give back. And if you don’t want to do it full time then, go vote and make sure that the people who do want to do it who reflect your values and priorities are in office. And then, go volunteer and do something. Work for not for profits part time, be on the board, go tutor at a school. There is so much we could all be doing.


And look, in this environment, we’re all kind of, in a way, on hold but, in a way, not on hold. I don’t know about you but I’m finding I’m spending more time Facetiming with my mother than I ever have. So, maybe part of this is a wakeup call that we need to catch our breath and exhale from time to time and appreciate what we have.


Ashley:                        Well, thank you so much, Valerie Jarrett, for being on Pod for the Cause. Thank you for being you, for doing everything you have for this country, for being –


Valerie:                       Right back at you, honey.


Ashley:                        — my work mom and, most importantly, happy Mother’s Day.


Valerie:                       Thank you so much. Thank you, thank you. And stay safe, Ashley.


Ashley:                        Thanks, again, to the incredible Valerie Jarrett for joining us on Pod for the Cause. Coming up, I’m going to hit you with some real talk during my hot takes where I get a few things off of my chest in three minutes or less.


Welcome back to Pod for the Cause. And between the pod squad, our moms joining us, and Valerie Jarrett, I have a few things I need to say. Last year, we launched Pod for the Cause and we were joined by two moms who were impacted by police violence. Their children were killed. And for Marion Gray Hopkins and Rhanda Dormeus, Mother’s Day will never be the same.


This episode, we were able to laugh and pay homage to our moms and the great work that they’ve done to raise us, as well as the great work Valerie Jarrett has done to change our country. On Pod for the Cause, we know that joy and pain can be present in the same moment. We also know there is lingering injustice that we cannot stand for. Throughout this pandemic, healthcare workers have risen to the occasion taking care of folks. People have done random acts of kindness. And we’ve been able to see the best and worst in people. But the lingering injustice continues to persist.


We’ve seen protesters storm the capitol because barber shops are closed. Some of these protests have even become violent with no repercussions to those who are inciting the anger. Many of these protests have been organized by white supremacy groups who are the same type of folks who organized the deadly rally in Charlottesville just a few years ago. This is lingering injustice because when you remember how the protesters in Ferguson were treated after Michael Brown was killed, the pain that so many mothers are feeling on this Mother’s Day is because of the lingering injustice.


This past February, unfortunately, another mother was introduced to that pain. Her son, Ahmaud Arbery was killed in cold blood by two men who were claiming to make a citizen’s arrest. This death happened in Georgia in February but it’s May and we’re just learning about it because a video tape surfaced. Now, I haven’t watched the tape for many reasons but mostly because it would bring me too much pain. But this is what lingering injustice looks like. This is what we must stand up to. I’m outraged because of the silence from February to May. I’m outraged because yet again, another person of color, a black man was killed in cold blood.

We’re in a worse situation than we were when we launched the show a year ago shining light on this very issue. I don’t have a call to action for you today. I don’t want to tell you how to feel. But I am going to share the truth. Lingering injustice must be dismantled. I know we’re celebrating Mother’s Day but so many will not be able to have joy. And so, for that, I am extending heartfelt love and compassion to those moms. I also want to send compassion and love to the children who are also missing their moms.


But most importantly, I am counting my blessings every single day that this year and for so many years, I have been able to say, even if this year it’s through a screen, happy Mother’s Day to my mom.

Thanks for listening to Pod for the Cause, the official podcast of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the Leadership Conference Education Fund. For more information, visit us at www.civilrights.org. And to connect with me, hit me up on Instagram and Twitter at Pod for the Cause. And we’re trying something new here. Text podcasts to 52199 to get updates from us right on your phone. Be sure to subscribe to our show on your favorite podcast app and leave a five star review. Until then, for Pod for the Cause, I’m Ashley Allison. And remember, a cause is nothing without the people.

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