A portrait and story project spotlighting women revolutionizing change.
From revolutionizing the way we vote, to chipping down male-dominated fields, to opening platforms for women creatives to thrive.
Book available on Blurb!
Team and Contributors:
photography, Jena Cumbo
producer, Mary Dove
writer & interviewer, Camile Sardina
writer, Tira Harpaz
editor, Angela McNerney
the following are selected portraits from the project with text excerpts from the full interviews
Executive Director of Generation Citizen
CS: Tell me more about how the process works for the Generation Citizen program.
DG: We partner with schools for a semester long civics education program. We go into schools twice a week during class time. We partner with the teachers to teach our Action Civics curriculum. The action part is really intentional on our part, so it’s more than just the civic knowledge. It’s more what skills do you need to participate in our 21st century democracy?
That is more than just understanding the branches of government. You need to know if I have a problem in my community; who are the decision makers, who I can get to help make change on that issue?
CS: What’s a memory that sticks out to you with Generation Citizen New York City?
DG: With a Brooklyn classroom, Urban Assembly Criminal Justice, all girls high school, the school had pedestrian safety incidents happen a lot in their neighborhood – people getting hit by bikes and cars. The students were frustrated and didn’t know what to do. They decided to use data and they analyzed how fast cars were going in the area to document what was going on.
The students invited the local city council member to the classroom and presented their evidence to him. They said, “You need to go to DOT! It’s your job to protect your constituents!” He took their evidence to the DOT and they got a speed light at that dangerous intersection.
Engage in a conversation with someone you disagree with.
New York Civil Liberties
CS: In your recent op-ed, you said, “this is the most perilous time for civil liberties in our history.” From your view, which civil liberties issues are in the most danger right now and why?
DL: Kind of... all of them. We face the existential threat to the pillars of our democracy in the most basic sense. Principles of equality and fair treatment are up for grabs. We have a bully in the pulpit who gets away with and touts his racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia. The fundamental notion that you’re supposed to treat people based on how they behave is really undercut.
CS: What kind of leader do you strive to be?
DL: I try to be visionary. I try to be inclusive and respectful. I think that the key to our success, as a movement, is to have values and strong commitment to them, but to find common ground with people we don’t agree with on everything.
I think that’s the key to our ability to resist the current political regime and it’s the key to our ability to make positive change for the most vulnerable and for the rights of everybody.
I try to be a visionary.
I try to be inclusive and respectful.
CS: What inspired the idea of SassClass?
JS: Looking back at my journals, I always had lists of ideas that I wanted to bring to life. One idea was a music video dance class. I knew I wanted to create an experience for people.
I created SassClass when I was discovering the power of being in a group of women. That was something I didn’t have much experience with. I used to be a total tomboy and would only hang out with guys. I viewed being feminine as a sign of weakness. Through SassClass, I’ve realized the power of sisterhood and started seeing femininity as a sign of being powerful.
CS: Who is eligible to take SassClass?
JS: SassClass is open to all women, meaning, anyone who identifies as a female. It’s for ages 18 and up - and we get such a diverse range. You don’t have to have any dance experience at all – we welcome all levels. There’s something for everyone to explore.
CS: What does femininity mean to you?
JS: I think there are many different facets of it. Femininity could be full on flirtatious. It can be soft and gentle. Powerful and fierce. I wouldn’t define what it means to “be feminine”. It doesn’t look only one way. The common thread is that everything is feminine in the sense that it’s all a side of every woman. We’re providing a space where you can express all different sides of femininity.
Femininity doesn't look only one way.
Never underestimate your ability to change the world around you.
Award-winning social advocate
CS: In your TEDx Talk "What does my scarf mean to you" and in your national appearances, you speak about unconscious bias. What is unconscious bias?
YAM: In the very technical sense, unconscious or cognitive biases are the shortcuts our brains make. We get 11 million pieces of information at any point, but our brain can only process about 40, so it makes shortcuts. Some of those shortcuts are useful, like red means stop. Some, are not so useful and can actually be detrimental.
What is the shortcut our brain makes for ‘leader’? ‘Authority’? What does ‘credible’ look and sound like? Some of those assumptions create blind spots that not only impact individuals, but society as a whole.
CS: What are some ways we can combat unconscious bias?
YAM: It’s actually quite hard to de-bias ourselves, but there are ways to mitigate the effects. First, we have to realize and acknowledge that we all have biases. The more you think you don’t, the more likely you are to be running on them without realizing. Secondly, try to slow your thinking down. Challenge your assumptions when you catch yourself making them and ask, why you think a certain way - is it based on evidence, or on a gut feeling?
Cultivate a culture in your workplace or family where assumptions are open for discussion. But most usefully, de-bias your processes. Look at where biases are entering your systems - in recruitment, promotion etc - and ask how you can design out the chance that an individual bias has an impact. Taking out age, gender, home address from a resume, is one example of how at the early recruitment level, you can minimize the biases that you subconsciously make.
Award-winning Freelance Writer
CS: You wrote a Teen Vogue piece about how Trump is gaslighting America. It went viral! Did you expect it to?
LD: I knew it was going to have a ripple effect of some sort, but I did not expect it to get that big. It was like I crossed over into another plane of existence after that day. My life has been dramatically different.
Donald Trump is Gaslighting America was the sample. I actually wrote a book proposal two days before the election, but then the CIA assessment came out. He [Trump] was contradicting a fact-based narrative in such a concrete way. I couldn’t have imagined a better time to roll that out.
CS: Let’s talk about how you put Tucker Carlson in his place. They brought you on to talk about the Ivanka Trump airplane situation and brought up tweets of yours that had nothing to do with the incident.
LD: They thought I was going to be a lamb for him to slaughter. I think I felt so confident in what I was going to say, I don’t think he was ready for me. My dream headline from it was, ‘Rare rational conversation’ on Fox News.
I thought we’d be able to say, ‘Hey, this plane thing is stupid. Let’s talk about her role and what we think about her role.’ People emailed me and said I had defended her plane harasser because he’s gay and that’s not what happened. That’s just what they assumed the progressive spin would be. He’s not even a skilled debater. He curveballs things and just aggressively chuckles.
Union Plumber, Local 1
Tools & Tieras
CS: Tell me about your first memories on the plumbing job.
JC: I pulled up in my Jeep. Which made me looked a lot taller than I really was. I came out and everyone looked at me like.. what? ! Laughing at my size and the fact that I was a woman. At that moment, I knew I was going to show those men that I’m the shit!!!
CS: As a black woman, what has your experience been like in the plumbing industry?
JC: Being a black woman, I can’t be half-assed like the other guys. I know wherever I walk in this world, I am black. I give 100% all the time. When you do that and they give you flack, rest assured your work is the silencer to the naysayers. Your work ethic is your strength.
CS: Tell me about your Women’s Committee ?
JC: It’s called Croton Sisters of Plumbers Local One NYC. Croton because that’s the river New York City gets some of its water supply from. We started it about a year ago.
I told my sister that sometimes it’s going to be just you and I at this committee, but no matter what, we're having this committee. We met the 4th Friday of every month and had a mission statement, but we had to find a way for the union to approve it.
Ironworker, Local 361
CS: You said every tradeswoman has a bit of fire in them. To what or who do you owe your fire?
AM: My mother. She got her degree from Columbia University. She gave us opportunity. She took us traveling.
She taught us: To become the woman you’re supposed to be and be your best at it. Overachievement is in my blood... so I settle for nothing less in this business.
CS: What makes a good iron worker?
AM: An all-around great ironworker can weld too. Welding takes self-correction. You have to know what you’re doing wrong and correct yourself. It’s more mental than anything.
CS: Mistreatment is still alive and well with women in the trades. Has anything shocking been said to you on the job?
AM: There was one guy that said, “You’re gonna come out here, you’re gonna get pregnant and then you’re gonna leave. That’s what all you girls do.”
I was so pissed off at that. There were too many people in the room, I couldn’t push back at him. You have to be a little more humble because you’re constantly (going up) against guys in the field. Men get to act however they want. They get to have tantrums; but when I speak out? I’m crazy. During the recession, I was put on the job because I was female, but my work ethic and heart kept me on the job.
Change happens when women come around. I might possibly be helping. The presence of women in the industry requires everybody to do the right thing
Change happens when women come around.
I started to understand my own spirituality
Body Positivity Advocate
CS: You already have a published book out called “Every Body Yoga”. Can you talk about the book and your reasons for writing it?
JS: The book is about how any human being can start yoga. A lot of people are too intimidated to even walk into a yoga studio. Of all the questions I’ve received over the years, most say, how do I start practicing yoga? This isn’t just a question about what kind of mat to buy.
I never had the opportunity to answer that question, so I decided to write a book that also talks about my story. It includes things about love, death, addiction – things that really bring us to a yoga practice.
Even if someone isn’t interested in yoga at all, they are still going to read a story about a person who is conflicted and just wants to be happy and love themselves on a day-to-day basis. It’s also an advice book and a memoir of the human experience.
CS: You grew up in a deeply religious household and from your posts, it seems like you needed a release from that. You wrote about how you became skeptical of everything. Has yoga challenged or perhaps changed your skepticism in any way?
JS: I was very religious as a child and young adult. It wasn’t until I came out as a lesbian in high school when I came into conflict with my religious beliefs, because there are clear writings that are homophobic. Talking to my parents about it did not give me any relief. So I started pushing away.
When I started practicing yoga, I was in a place far from my faith with excessive drinking and excessive sexual activity. I was against the spirituality of yoga because spirituality of yoga in the west is very superficial. Not reflective of yoga at all.
Through real yoga, I started to understand my own spirituality and it transformed my understanding to this world. Yoga has had a very positive impact on my overall spirituality and it’s allowed me to understand what religion looks like in my particular space.
Activist, Artist, Model
CS: You’re a model and photographer. What makes you love being an artist?
RH: I think the most interesting thing about being an artist is that you’re exposed to so many different facets of society. I try to never take that for granted.
Creatively, I can’t think of a time where I wasn’t doing something visual. Doing something visually is second nature.
People who succeed in the arts are generally people who don’t know how to do anything else, and I think that’s why I’m here.
CS: Let’s talk about xIST. What is xIST?
RH: We were formally a group called GRLCVLT and we rebranded it.
We’re an intersectional feminist society full of anything except for men. We’re there for each other to talk about anything; from which shoes we like, to health emergencies to intersectionality. It’s really a lot of fun.
We’re a society of best friends who haven’t necessarily met.
We're a society of best friends who haven't necessarily met.
How do we make people aware of all the different things you can do in tech?
Founder, 20/20 Shift
CS: What propelled you to start 2020shift?
AL: In 2014, I came up with the idea for 2020. Working in tech loosely, I always knew there was a disparity in diversity mainly because of the people getting hired and offers (made). The numbers were shocking to me and it was important to me to fix the issue.
I also noticed people weren’t learning about the other careers in tech. I thought, how do we make people aware of all the different things you can do in tech?
CS: What were some of the biggest obstacles in starting 2020shift?
AL: At the time, I was still working full-time, so it was finding a way to take the leap. When I quit and made the leap, it was out of necessity. There was no way I could have handled two different workloads.
The other thing is just fundraising. As a woman founder, you don’t have the same success rate as your counterparts. Black women receive less and I wanted the same chances as everyone else - but that doesn’t mean I won’t do what I need to do for my business.
CS: 2020shift offers different non-engineering tech courses. Which of those courses has been in most demand? Why do you think that is?
AL: Definitely design. I think people are drawn to design because big companies are very thoughtful about the user experience. When it comes to how products are created, it’s based off of the demands and needs of consumers. If consumers aren’t’ happy with the user experience, then that has an effect on how successful a tech company will be.
Self Awareness and authenticity are the most important ways to stay sane.
Broadist, Co-Creator & Editor
CS: What made you start Broadist?
Caroline: I didn’t relate to fashion blogs because they skewed high end and there was never much diversity. There were a lot of body positive blogs popping up, but the ones I found tended to be very “us vs them” which wasn’t feminist. The logical in-between, personal style blogs, weren’t overtly political. There was some ground-breaking, incredible fat positive feminist writing happening at the time but photos rarely accompanied these essays. No one I found seemed to be taking it to a new level, save for Gabi Gregg and Nicolette Mason, who continue to amaze me.
CS: I'm sorry about Roxy. Can you tell me about her? How has it been carrying it forward without her?
Caroline: Roxy is irreplaceable force and a star of a human being. She and I started Broadist together in spring of 2011; taking pictures and talking about feminism. She died unexpectedly in the fall of 2013 and after that happened, the blog became mine.
I wanted to keep it real, create something that was accessible for all body types, and focus as much as possible on intersectionality.
I wanted the space to be fat positive, not just “body positive.” Bodies aren’t required to look or be a certain way. Personal style is the veil under which Broadist exists, but what’s behind that is culture, politics, anxiety, mental health, whatever goes on in our lives while saying, “Hey, look at this cute outfit.”
Leading Exponent & Innovator in the Tap World
CS: Brenda, you are creative by nature. Which creative outlet do you think was your first love?
BB: I danced every day from the time I was six. I started performing with my mother and my aunt when I was seven or eight. Did I love dance the most? You know it's funny...it was just something that I did and kept doing for the next 70 odd years. Did I love it? Well no, not so much I love to dance, I have to dance. It's how I move through life.
CS: When you were a teenager, you said you were dancing in nightclubs at the end of the vaudeville era. Tell me about nightclub shows.
BB: There were many acts: a dog act, a comedian, a singer, maybe a dance duet or trio, a stripper, an exotic. When I worked in clubs in Boston, sometimes I performed a tap act. But eventually interest in tap died. Then I performed with an inter-racial company, "The Bobby Clark Dancers," and I performed West African, Jazz, and even performed doing West African dance on Toe Shoes.
CS: Is that when you developed your Calypso act?
BB: Yes, when I moved to New York I developed a Calypso Act. And performed solo in many Calypso Clubs that opened up in NYC in the fifties, sometimes 7 nights a week for months. A highlight for me was headlining at Cafe Society. I traveled to Chicago and worked the Blue Angel for a month and did some television. Eventually the Calypso craze died, and all the clubs were closing. Even the big clubs like the Latin Quarter, and the Copa, where all the big acts played closed, it was the end of an era.
CS: When did you began to perform with Honi Coles?
BB: I invited him to perform with The Dancing Theatre Company, for the first full-length concert of tap dance, "Singing, Swinging and Winging" on the concert stage in l978 at the Pilgrim Theater in NYC. And though Honi was sure tap dance would never return, he would found himself leading the renaissance with me. We created two complete shows and travelled internationally, as well as creating the choreography and performing The Morton Gould Concerto for the Brooklyn Academy of Music Philharmonic.
...not so much
I love to dance,
I have to dance. It's how I move through life.
Don't let anybody tell you that you have to choose
Creator of Tinder Live
Writer, Comedian, Musician
CS: Would you ever work (just) one job or do you need to be stimulated by multiple?
LM: Um, that question was sexual.
When people say, ‘how are you doing it all?’ I’ve always known there was more of a crossover.
I don’t need a lot of stimulation from all these different avenues, but I have all these jokes in me, all these performances in me. It feels like I have a fridge full of all this different produce, and if I don’t make it, it’s going to go bad.
CS: You’re in the band It Was Romance. Tell me about your role in the band.
LM: I write all the songs and I play like a million instruments. The band started out as a solo project with me playing all the instruments. I just didn’t want to do that. As much as I like wearing all the hats, I respect having people in a group working together. I love collaborating. You’ll see when we play live. Sometimes I just listen to what my drummer is playing or bassist is playing and I light up like a tree. At the core, I’m a singer and I’m a songwriter. I never strived to be the best guitar player or the best drummer.
CS: Amongst your strong work, you’re most well-known work is Tinder Live. Tell me about it and how the idea came about.
LM: I saw both my male and female roommates on Tinder at the same time. I was like, ok, this app is everywhere. I signed up right then and there; and then started making live commentary based off the profiles. I started recording myself reading the messages live and turned it into a comedy show. I asked my roommate, ‘What if I made this a ‘live’ comedy show?” They said, “Yes, you have to do it!” I started pitching theaters immediately.
The second show was sold out. I knew I had something. Now I’m touring the world with it. The New York Times even wrote this two-page spread. People will tell me how much the show means to them.
CS: What’s your advice to young women who want to actually make a living off of all the creative things they love, as you’re doing?
LM: Don’t let anybody tell you that you have to choose ‘just one.’ That happened all throughout my childhood and teen years. People will see that you’re going to do it all. You don’t need their permission.
Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls
CS: What led you to work at Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls?
JK: El Sistema. It is an incredible program that my horn teacher in Berlin introduced me to. El Sistema is a system of youth orchestras in Venezuela (and internationally) operating as an intervention for youth empowerment and development through music education.
CS: Where does the name Willie Mae come from?
JK: Willie Mae Big Mama Thornton was a blues singer and guitarist. She was the first person to record the song “Hound Dog”. Elvis Presley recorded it and her name was erased as the person who had originally recorded it.
She’s in our name because it’s essential to shine a light on and celebrate women who are and have been underrepresented. We’re very intentional about every artist we bring into the rock camp.
CS: Is there a process to getting to know each other? Finding common ground?
JK: Totally. Our team has strong education backgrounds, and we bring this experience to developing our curriculum. The first thing we do is a songwriting class. They’ll start creatively mapping; throwing words out there that you’d want to use. From there, you take an instrument class. Maybe someone wants to be a drummer and likes The White Stripes. The coach will then teach them a beat that The White Stripes might use. Same thing with guitar and bass. They all connect together, play around with sounds, then they start to map out their song together.
At rock camp, we’re encouraging everyone to be more confident. To not apologize all the time. If you do something and you say ‘sorry,’ instead now, you say, ‘I rock!’ You’ll hear all these women screaming 'I rock!' and 'You rock!' It’s an incredible feeling of empowerment.
CS: What else should we know about Willie Mae Rock Camp?
JK: Willie Mae Rock Camp is more than a camp: it’s year-round intensive and fun programming designed for youth and adults to unlock their power through music. We offer day-long Ladies Rock Camps for women’s networks at companies interested in developing team collaboration and creative problem-solving. We have unique workshops for youth and adults on music and social justice, such as Bang a Drum, Raise Your Voice to teach songwriting as protest. We offer after school programs for schools across New York City. We are keenly interested in creating anti-oppressive spaces for people to develop self-expression and confidence.
Girls don't see themselves being as smart as their male peers starting at age six.
W Magazine, Managing Editor
Girls Leadership NYC, Board Chair
CS: Tell me about your position as Executive Managing Editor?
RS: Executive Managing Editor means that I oversee the day-to-day operations.I’m responsible for a lot of people and systems. I manage the entire budget, which means I get to look out for people and help them grow in their careers.
CS: In addition to W Magazine, you’re putting your passion into Girls Leadership NYC. What is the purpose of Girls Leadership?
RS: Girls Leadership is a national nonprofit dedicated to giving girls the skills to find and exercise their voices. It's rooted in social, emotional education and research. I really wanted to take my skill set as an organizer, overseer, a mission-driven person and apply everything I can, in my spare time, to something that builds up girls and women.
Girls Leadership conducts workshops for girls and their caregivers, starting at age five. Because by the time girls are six, they start to self-select themselves out of leadership roles. They don't see themselves being as smart as their male peers starting at age six. By seven, they go from raising their hands enthusiastically, to not really wanting to raise their hand because they don’t want to get the answer wrong.
As we know, confidence and risk-taking are two of the fundamental qualities of leadership. If girls are already, not putting themselves in positions of risk-taking; how are they going to go from that, to being leaders?
CS: How do you include your young son in the conversation? How do you make sure he doesn't feel less important as a male within the girl power?
RS: I bring my ten year old son to every Girls Leadership event that I can. It's important to me that he soak up as much of an understanding of what girls are facing in society. I don't want him to grow up feeling guilty about being a white male, but it is imperative to me that he understand the power and influence that come with his privilege. He can use it to do good, to be an ally, only if he is aware of how power actually works.
Founder & Editor in Chief of
& Koko Celeste
CS: You have your own magazine, fashion line and public relations company, which we’ll dig into. First, who or what gave you your entrepreneurial spirit?
KN: As a black woman, I never really trusted anyone enough to give them my life and my hand. I always felt very suspicious of the corporate world. I always needed to have my own thing.
CS: What makes LADYGUNN fulfilling for you?
KN: What makes me happy is fulfilling dreams, reaching success and connecting to other people. With LADYGUNN, I was able to offer platforms to people who might not have had one before.
So many talented people had their first photo published in LADYGUNN. I feel honored.
CS: Who was your first really big name at LADYGUNN?
KN: Norman Reedus. There was Jared Leto in Issue 8 and Laverne Cox in Issue 14. I don’t think anyone is more important than anyone else. It’s artists doing what they love.
CS: What do you want to change in the media editorial world now?
KN: The whole celebrity obsession thing. There are so many talented people who deserve to have a platform.
Let’s lose the labels and connect on a human level. That’s where growth as a species will happen.
CS: On top of LADYGUNN, you founded your own fashion brand, Koko Celeste. Tell me about it.
KN: It’s an homage to my Nigerian upbringing and my deep love for wanting to do something good for the world and wanting to give back to Nigerian communities.
It celebrates the vibrant colors and patterns of Nigeria and it’s fun to wear and get active in. It’s just sold online now, but - I’ll put it out in the universe - pretty soon all over! Internationally!
Let's lose the labels and connect on a human level.
Actor & Writer
CS: Let’s talk about your work with the Broadway musical Fun Home. You played Joan, a confident young lesbian in Fun Home at the Public Theater. The original Broadway production was nominated for 12 Tony Awards. What was it like playing Joan?
RC: I thought it was really cool to see a character who was fully themselves, confident and ready to do anything. Joan’s confidence came from knowing herself.
I thought she was really positive and encouraging. It helped me be even cooler with who I am as a human and a queer in this industry. It was a gift.
CS: Let’s talk a bit about your current character Devon in the Amazon Prime original series I Love Dick, forefronting Kevin Bacon and Kathryn Hahn. What’s her role in the show?
RC: Devon grew up raising cows. She’s a playwright struggling to find her own voice in the community. She’s the handy person run by Dick, the guy who runs the town.
CS: The show has different subtextual messages about sexuality and obsession. What can I Love Dick teach us?
RC: It’s a show where women can learn that their sexuality is a tool to earn freedom. That sexuality doesn’t have to be something that defines them, but something that liberates them.
CS: The major roles you’ve played are ones that can lead discussions on gender and sexuality. Do your purposefully pursue these roles?
RC: No, I think Hollywood is still in a place where people who are queer will only be seen as queers. I think gay people can totally play straight people, and I think we need to stop labeling people’s sexualities.
I’d love to see a queer story not about them being queer. I grow impatient. Like if someone’s going slow on a sidewalk, I’ll walk around them.
Hollywood is still in a place where people who are queer will only be seen as queers.
Mason, Union Local 237/780
CS: Name a past memory that really defined you.
AH: In 2005, I gave my mother a kidney. I was the only blood type match for my mom - O negative blood. Giving her my kidney wasn’t a thought. My mother is my best friend. My mother gives the best advice. She listens, no matter how big or small the problem is.
CS: A mother like that keeps you strong. Did your mother have any influence on you entering the trades?
AH: Both of my parents are tradespeople. My mother is a retired laborer and both she and my father were carpenters.
They had six children and couldn’t afford for me to go to college. I wanted to work in communications. When I realized what my starting salary was going to be in communications, and then realized I’d make the same amount or more my first year as a starting apprentice, I chose trades.
CS: Have you faced any challenges as a woman being in the trades?
AH: The challenge is often being the only woman on the worksite. I’ve worked with my crew for over 20 years. We work for the government, in a union, and I’ve met a lot of tradespeople. I’ve met a lot of tradespeople who’ve taken me under their wings to get me to where I am today. I’ve also met tradespeople right now who are teaching me things that I’m not known for.
I haven’t stopped learning ever. As long as you have a good personality, people will be willing to help you in the trades.
CS: What should women know before entering the trades?
AH: Learn everything. Be humble. Don’t be afraid to teach someone else. Judy Garland said, “Always be the first rate version of yourself rather than a second rate version of someone else.” The only stupid question is the one not asked.
Like my mom says: “As long as you know you’re right,.. you fight for it.”
Don't be afraid to teach someone else.
Model & Activist
CS: What are some misconceptions about Native Americans today?
DR: Unless you live around a reservation, you don’t really know that Native Americans are still around. I’ve heard that people think we have free housing, free food, free government money, but that’s not true. We have to pay for everything like everyone else.
CS: What do you want people to know about Native American culture? What are some messages you want to spread?
DR: It’s actually a very beautiful culture and it’s very sacred as well. Our pow wows and peyote meetings are very spiritual and we hold it near and dear to our hearts. We still go to pow wows and dance. Peyote meetings are basically a prayer meeting held in a sweat lodge. There will be a fire in the middle of a teepee and we’ll sing songs.
Something very sacred to us is our headdresses. A headdress is made up of eagle feathers. You have to earn every piece of that headdress. Now people are wearing them for fashion, but that’s not the sacred way. For example, if I was walking about wearing a purple heart for fashion, how would people look at me? That’s what it feels like to me. People who wear headdresses who didn’t do anything to earn it.
CS: After the Teen Vogue cultural appropriation video, you became a voice for Native Americans and cultural appropriation. How has your life changed since that video?
DR: Since that video, I couldn’t even tell you how many positive comments from people around the world. They said, “Finally, Teen Vogue is waking up!” They finally felt like our voices were being heard.
If I was walking about wearing a purple heart for fashion, how would people look at me?
We Speak represents, health conscious,
drug free models of sizes 0-18.
Founder, We Speak Modeling Agency
CS: You started We Speak agency because the modeling industry wasn’t so pretty. What are some moments that made you realize the industry wasn’t a healthy environment?
BM: When I moved to New York I felt like I needed to lose a couple of inches. In the first two weeks when I was in New York, my agent was floored because I lost two inches from my waist in 2 weeks. I wasn’t eating enough on top of running. Waking up shaky every morning was not right and I shouldn’t have had to do that to be successful as a model. Unfortunately, agencies only sign models who meet certain body requirements.
I was really bullied by my agents. I was bullied about my skin, my thighs. I was told that my legs were too doughy and that was the thinnest I had ever been. So I would think, how do I get my legs thinner without being emaciated?
It took nine months to get paid. I even had to take them to a small claims court to show that I was serious. I realized somebody needed to do something and thought about starting a union, but then I decided to start We Speak.
We Speak was a response to my experience. We Speak is a marriage of both sides of the industry, the “plus” side and “straight” side.
CS: Tell me about We Speak and what makes it unique from other modeling agencies.
BM: We Speak started in New York City in 2013, then expanded to Seattle. We have more than 40 models in We Speak. We represent health conscious, drug free models of all sizes. We Speak represents women sizes 0-18 and heights 4’9’’-6’1’’.
Co Founder & CEO, Rorus Inc.
CS: You’re a biomedical engineer. Why did that profession call to you?
CC: I really do enjoy medical things, but the idea of being a doctor is a little too stressful for me. Biomedical is a great way to improve medical care and improve suffering and not accidentally kill someone.
CS: What were you doing before Rorus?
CC: It was actually a direct transition. I was still studying for my Master’s when I started the company.
I’d been working in South Africa in 2013 making ceramic water filters, and there were obvious cases where filters were misused. The issue was that filters weren’t understandable enough to use, so we made a product that was easy to use and that provides clean water. We started with nanotechnology, but overtime we changed to a different kind of membrane – a different kind of filtration technology.
CS: What makes it unique?
CC: What’s unique is that Rorus filters out by ionic charge and not by pathogen size. It’s a comprehensible filter with a good design that people actually enjoy using. It helps people form healthier habits around water.
We applied technology around what users want. They want water that looks and tastes good, and works really quickly.
CS: Who or what pushed you to make Rorus happen?
CC: There was one person who explained to me why business could really be ‘for good’. He explained how he made products for disadvantaged people. People who actually want products that help their daily lives.
CS: What should we know about water filtration?
CC: That the clean water crisis is a money issue. We can’t give everyone water filters for everything to be solved. It’s more difficult than that because of hygiene awareness. We grew up with an innate sense of microorganisms. Not everyone around the world is growing up with this. Think about when London didn’t know their water was causing cholera.