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Story of the Week

Women’s Leadership Conference Will Tackle Timely Topics While Changing Lives

TWE contributor Stacey Gualandi reports on the upcoming Women’s Leadership Conference in Las Vegas as she talks with Phyllis A. James, Chief Diversity & Corporate Responsibility Officer for MGM Resorts International, about their theme of Women Inspiring Women and the powerful lineup of speakers.

TWE Story of the Week: Women’s Leadership Conference Will Tackle Timely Topics While Changing Lives

TWE Story of the Week: Women’s Leadership Conference Will Tackle Timely Topics While Changing Lives

Las Vegas Women's Leadership Conference Group Shot/Photo Courtesy WLC

2017 Women’s Leadership Conference attendees including Phyllis A. James (3rd from left)

By Stacey Gualandi/July, 2018

Photos: MGM Resorts Foundation

“It’s up to you to forge your path of success.”

This is the simple – yet strong – message Phyllis A. James hopes to instill in hundreds of women attending this year’s Women’s Leadership Conference in Las Vegas.

“I know a number of people who decided after they went to this conference … to get a higher degree. There were two in our own department – our corporate social responsibility department – who went back to school to get their master’s degree as a result of going to this conference,” says James, the Chief Diversity & Corporate Responsibility Officer for MGM Resorts International.

Women's Leadership Conference Logo/Photo Courtesy WLC

The 12th annual WLC, set for August 27 and 28 at the MGM Grand, gives women of diverse backgrounds, who strive to achieve, the opportunity and developmental tools they need to continuously advance their lives and careers.

The theme is “Women Inspiring Women,” and it welcomes professionals, entrepreneurs, upwardly mobile employees … and men too.

Phyllis A. James from the Women's Leadership Conference Las Vegas/Photo Courtesy WLC

Phyllis A. James, Chief Diversity & Corporate Responsibility Officer

“The need for special emphasis on opportunities for growth and development for women … continues to resonate. It’s open to ALL women and that’s what I believe has accounted for the steady growth of the conference,” says James.

The conference is expected to sell out for the fifth year in a row, and will include a powerful lineup of speakers, like financial expert Suze Orman, Rwandan genocide survivor Immaculée Ilibagiza and #MeToo founder Tarana Burke.

“I took up the mantle from others, and hopefully have improved and expanded it.”

WLC began as the Women of Color Conference in 2007 by local female leaders and MGM Resorts’ Corporate Diversity team, but lawyer-by-profession James rebranded the non-profit in 2012 and added presenting sponsor MGM Resorts Foundation. She says this year the conference will be right on trend.

“In light of social developments, particularly in America, but around the world, in the last year or so with the #MeToo, and the Time’s Up movement, the issues that the conference addresses have already become more prominent,” adds James.

I have covered similar forums in the past (i.e. Lead On Conference in Silicon Valley) so it is with great pleasure to see Las Vegas and MGM Resorts emerge as one of the leaders in the increasingly popular women’s empowerment movement.

I was fortunate to sit down recently with Phyllis A. James to find out more about the WLC, how the organization gives back, her advice to young women and the speakers she would love to have next year!


THE WOMEN’S EYE: What is the ultimate goal for this year’s conference?

PHYLLIS A. JAMES: The most fundamental role or goal of this conference is to inspire and motivate the women who attend to become the best version of themselves that they can be. Only they as individuals can define that.

TWE: What will the conference offer this year?

PHYLLIS: It offers role models, very powerful accomplished women who have done so many incredible things in life, not just one type of thing, but who’ve done so many different things that can serve as an inspiration to other people, especially other women.

We also offer workshops that are meant to hone professional skills or to share particularized experiences. And then part of the benefits of this conference is the exposure to other women in the audience. The networking opportunities are tremendous here.

Groupshot Women's Leadership Conference/Las Vegas/Photo: Courtesy WLC

TWE: Has the demand increased for conferences like this?

PHYLLIS: I’ve gone out of my way to make it clear that this conference is open to men as well as women, but, let’s face it, we still have, in my opinion, a special need for development tools in outreach for women, because women are still in a deficit or unequal position vis-a-vis men in our society and the world.

I rebranded [WLC] because I felt that the issues the conference were trying to address – providing inspiration and motivation, skills or practical tools or professional development, and avenues for networking – are really issues ALL women face.

Tarana Burke promo for Women's Leadership Conference, Las Vegas, Aug. 2018/Photo: Courtesy WLC

TWE: You have lined up many high-profile speakers who will be tackling topical issues of the day. Do you try to outdo yourselves each year?

PHYLLIS: Yes, we’re proud of the fact that one of our speakers this year is going to be The #MeToo Movement founder Tarana Burke, so that’s very timely.

There’s probably very few people in America who haven’t heard of our keynote speaker, money expert Suze Orman. She is going to talk about how to manage your personal financial life. That is an issue for all people, but is a big issue for women.

Genocide survivor Immaculée Ilibagiza is a powerful reminder that whatever is going wrong in our lives, there are people in this world who are struggling for existence from minute to minute, hour to hour.

Xernona Clayton, speaker Women's Leadership Conference Las Vegas, 2018/Photo: Courtesy WLC

And Xernona Clayton is one of the few living survivors of the civil rights movement who actually worked side-by-side with Dr. Martin Luther King. I would like for people to hear her story and what her contribution was to the development of the civil rights movement. Most of the focus is on the men, of course, and they don’t know the unsung female heroes.

TWE: What do you think sets the WLC apart from other women’s conferences?

PHYLLIS: Well, I think that many women’s conferences focus on similar messages, etc., and we try to provide a combination of speakers for the entire conference audience, along with small skills workshops, and then the networking opportunities. This year we’re going to go a step further and provide some coaching opportunities on a smaller scale than the workshops.

But I think that we may be unique in that we are the only women’s conference which has a philanthropic component. We don’t do this for profit, and if there are proceeds after costs, we invest that in our local community serving non-profits for women and girls.

This year, the MGM Resorts Foundation gave $10 thousand dollars a piece to three organizations that provide services to victims of human trafficking: The Embracing Project/The Center 4 Peace, SEEDS of Hope and The Rape Crisis Center.

TWE: What do you think is the best tool to help women lead, succeed and proceed?

PHYLLIS: I think the best tool is the inspiration to become more and do more than perhaps you were or did before the conference.

TWE: How have women been inspired?

PHYLLIS: I’ve had so many attendees tell me that this conference made them want to do more in their jobs. I had other people say, “This conference motivated me to decide that I’m going to volunteer. I want to be active in doing something for other people.”

And I’ve just had other people say, “This really helped me in figuring out how to do X at work. For instance, maybe I should be thinking about a different job path,” or something like that.

That to me shows the success of this conference if it is making people think about where they are at whatever their stage is in their life trajectory, and deciding, am I satisfied where I am today, or do I think I should be doing more?

Natalie Allen at Women's Leadership Conference, Las Vegas/Photo Courtesy WLC

Natalie Allen, CNN anchor and host of the WLC

TWE: What advice do you give young women?

PHYLLIS: Most of us are not gifted with unique attributes (we’re not great singers, musicians, authors…) or a unique gift that will carry you through the world. Most of us have average or good intellects, and most of us are not born rich; we have to work for a living.

I first tell people that you have to decide for yourself, first and foremost, that you are going to become successful independently in your own right. Success, by and large, is not going to be handed to you. It’s something that you’re going to have to work for yourself and develop yourself.

I think sometimes, especially now, a lot of young people believe that success is something that magically gets bestowed upon them. And some people unfortunately think that because they show up after college, or graduate school, “I’m here  success; you need to be tapping me on my shoulder.” [But] that’s not how it works.

The other lesson is you have to develop skills. And you should strive to be the best at whatever the particular discipline or set of skills it is that you choose to devote yourself to.

TWE: Is there one person you would love to have at a future WLC?

PHYLLIS: That would be Oprah Winfrey! The other person I’d truly like to have is Hillary Clinton. We could never have her because she was either in office or running for office in one way or another.

Group Shot at Las Vegas Women's Leadership Conference 2017/Photo: Courtesy WLC

Attendees at 2017 Women’s Leadership Conference

TWE: What do you get personally from heading up this conference?

PHYLLIS: I think that, for me personally, I feel very strongly that this conference provides MGM Resorts an opportunity to do something more that it should be doing as a company to develop women talent in our company.

I am in a privileged position where I have the opportunity to promote and develop and expand – providing to hopefully a larger and larger group of women – the opportunity to get inspiration to be better that they wouldn’t have gotten someplace else.

TWE: I like to think of it as a huge two-day ladies happy hour. 🙂

PHYLLIS: Ha. You could say that!

TWE: Thank you for your time and can’t wait to see you in August!

For more info: WLC






TWE STORY OF THE WEEK: 2017 Books Not To Miss

Lisa See, NY Times Bestselling Author, and Pamela Burke, founder The Women's Eye | 2017 Books Not To Miss

Lisa See and TWE ‘s  Pam Burke at Poisoned Pen Bookstore


By Pamela Burke/December 22, 2017

It’s been a wonderful year for us to find inspiring authors to post on our website. Since the year is ending, we thought it appropriate to remember these Top Five 2017 Books on TWE that have made their mark here. We hope you pick them up or order online whenever you get the opportunity. You will not be disappointed.

1. Lisa See and The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane–Be transported to the remote mountains of China by this #1 New York Times bestselling author. Lisa writes a moving story about tradition, tea farming and the enduring connection between mothers and daughters.

We were fortunate enough to meet up with Lisa when she spoke at The Poisoned Pen bookstore in Phoenix.

Documentary Photographer Paola Gianturco with Co-Author and granddaughter, Alex Sangster with their book, Wonder Girls: Changing Our World | 2017 Books Not To Miss

Documentary photographer, Paola Gianturco, with co-author and granddaughter, Alex Sangster with their book, “Wonder Girls: Changing Our World”

2.  Paula Gianturco and Wonder Girls–Girls are banding together all over the world, finding strength in numbers and succeeding. Wonder Girls: Changing Our World is the first book to document the work of groups of activist girls 10-18. Documentary photographer Paula and her 11-year-old granddaughter Alex Sangster write about 15 groups of girls in 13 countries and their remarkable accomplishments.

Our radio host Stacey Gualandi was the first to interview Paola about the book this summer on this TWE podcast.

Geek Girl Rising authors Heather Cabot and Samantha Walravens | 2017 Books Not To Miss

Authors of Geek Girl Rising Heather Cabot and Samantha Walravens

3. Heather Cabot and Samantha Walravens and their Geek Girl Rising–Inside the Sisterhood Shaking Up Tech–Patricia Caso interviewed Heather and Samantha about the changes in the tech world with the rising numbers of women who are pursuing their dreams–building cutting edge tech startups, investing in each other’s ventures and rallying the next generation of girls to get involved.

Theresa McKeown/Stacey Gualandi/Photo Provided by Stacey Gualandi | 2017 Books Not To Miss

Our contributor and radio host Stacey Gualandi with Theresa McKeown

4. Theresa McKeown and The ABC’s of Everything–Our colleague Theresa and her sisters created a company to publish creative books for children of all ages. Her first book, The ABC’s of Being Me, is part journal, part scrapbook and part photo album. Each book is a personal time capsule to be opened, remembered and cherished over the course of a lifetime.

If you are looking for a books that explore the world kids live in and that will exhance their potential, please check these out. Her second has been published, How to Eat Your ABC’s and they plan on writing more! It’s a change of career for Theresa and she loves it!

Catherine Anaya and Pamela Burke holding 20 WOMEN CHANGEMAKERS | 2017 Books Not To Miss

TWE Radio host Catherine Anaya and Pam

5. Pamela Burke and Patricia Caso, co-editors of 20 Women Changemakers–Taking Action Around the World–We are excited that we were able to publish our first book this year, an anthology that includes twenty of the inspiring women we have included on our website, radio show and podcasts over the last 5 years.

It’s a labor of love and one we hope you all get to read. These are women we can all learn from with lots of advice as to how we can all get involved and make the world a more positive place.

As Jenny Bowen, the founder of OneSky (formerly Half the Sky), whom we feature says, “It doesn’t matter if it’s Chinese orphans or what it is. If you see something wrong in the world that needs fixing, you can do something.”

There are many more fascinating books and authors we could list here but wanted to give you a taste of those we were able to feature this year. We can’t wait to start 2018 and see what wonders unfold as we keep up with our changemakers and their continuing accomplishments!

Thanks for reading our site and listening to our show…we appreciate your interest and hope you continue to follow our EYE.





STORY OF THE WEEK: “Vegas Strong” Photo Helps Las Vegas First Responders Heal

Las Vegas first responders – Vegas Strong – Dan Sundahl

Las Vegas first responders – Vegas Strong – Dan Sundahl

Vegas Strong – Las Vegas First Responders Mental Health Fund

Photo: "Vegas Strong" photo of Las Vegas First Responders | Photo by Daniel Sundahl

“Vegas Strong” photo by full-time paramedic and photographer, Daniel Sundahl who specializes in Emergency Response artwork. Proceeds from sales of this “Vegas Strong” photo will benefit the Las Vegas First Responder Mental Health Fund

By Stacey Gualandi/October 29, 2017

On the night of the horrifying mass shooting in Las Vegas, first responders from Metro Police, Nevada Highway Patrol, Clark County Fire, Community Ambulance, AMR, Las Vegas Fire & Rescue and Medic West rushed to the Strip to save as many lives as they could. Two weeks later, over two dozen of them reunited to share their personal experiences, offer each other support, and to pose for a group photo.

“It’s an integral part of our history as Nevadans, as Americans. It’s our 9/11.”
—Heather Raasveld, advanced EMT and Las Vegas first responder

They are all trained officers, paramedics, firefighters and EMTs, but none of them could have fully prepared for the tragedy on October 1st. It not only shattered any sense of normalcy, but also bonded this group for life.

Photo: Las Vegas Medic first responders | Photo: Daniel Sundahl of DanSun Photo Art specializing in Emergency Responder artwork

Las Vegas Medic first responders | Photo: Daniel Sundahl of DanSun Photo Art specializing in Emergency Responder artwork

Heather Raasveld, an advanced EMT with Medic West Ambulance and a mother of two young children, was one of the first responders that fateful night. Heather and I have been friends for over a decade. We both live in Las Vegas and I immediately thought of her when news of the active shooter broke. The only way I knew how she was doing was through her Facebook posts. This has been a very difficult time for Heather and her family so I wanted to share her story and her efforts to help all of the First Responders heal.

Heather and Canadian-based photographer and firefighter Daniel Sundahl organized this photo shoot to make sure those who came to help others are not forgotten.

Photo: Stacey Gualandi with Heather Raasveld, Las Vegas First Responder as an advanced EMT with Medic West Ambulance

Las Vegas first responder and advanced EMT, Heather Raasveld (l) with Stacey Gualandi (r)

“It’s an integral part of our history as Nevadans, as Americans. It’s our 9/11,” says Raasveld.

As a full-time paramedic, Sundahl says his artwork (a cross between photography and painting) is a form of therapy, and he’s glad to be in a position to promote their profession.

These are the actual heroes of Las Vegas,” says Sundahl. “These people made the difference and saved so many lives.”

Off-duty officer Charleston Hartfield, who came to the aid of several victims while attending the Route 91 Harvest Festival, lost his life that night. Sundahl is also paying tribute to him; if you look closely, he “ghosted” Hartfield into the photo on the far left so he could stand with his fellow Metro officers.


Photo of Las Vegas first responders from Metro Police and Nevada Highway Patrol with fallen off-duty officer, Charleston Hatfield "ghosted" in (far left) | Photo: Daniel Sundahl of DanSun Photo Art, specializing in Emergency Response artwork and photography

Las Vegas first responders from Metro Police and Nevada Highway Patrol. Fallen officer, Charleston Hartfield “ghosted” in far left. Photo: Daniel Sundahl

Medic West EMT Kit York, who transported security guard Jesus Campus after he was shot in the leg, says what happened will always be there so this reunion “means more than you can ever imagine.” To show her ongoing support, she proudly revealed a fresh Route 91 tattoo on her leg.

Photo of Las Vegas first responder, Kitt York's Route 91 tattoo | Photo: Stacey GualandiRaasveld says bringing this “family” together again so soon after the shooting is instrumental in their healing process.

“We do the best we can to bolster each other up, but we’re not the professionals. We’re there to keep people’s hearts beating, lungs breathing, but we don’t know how to help each other mentally when something like this happens.”
—Heather Raasveld

That’s where The Code Green Campaign comes in. It helps first responders get mental health access and the tools, Raasveld says, “to make ourselves whole again.”

Sundahl says he is donating all the proceeds from sales of his “Vegas Strong” photo to the Las Vegas First Responder Mental Health Fund set up by Code Green.

The sooner she can return to normalcy, Raasveld says, the sooner she can be a functional, productive mother and get back out into the community to help others the way she was trained to. In the meantime, she is grateful to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with her extended family. “I have to say I couldn’t be more proud of my city and my people and those who came here and who stepped up and helped others that day. I think if it wasn’t for that there would have been many more lives lost.”

Learn more about how to order your copy of “Vegas Strong”, or to Donate directly to the Fund.

Photographer Daniel Sundahl taking the Vegas Strong photo of the Las Vegas first responders | Photo: Stacey Gualandi

Photographer Daniel Sundahl taking the “Vegas Strong” photo of the Las Vegas first responders | Photo: Stacey Gualandi






Radio Host Catherine Anaya & Co-Editor Pamela Burke

We are excited!

Check out our new book at changemakersbook.com!
Our first book has finally arrived and is available on Amazon. We’ve called it 20 WOMEN CHANGEMAKERS–TAKING ACTION AROUND THE WORLD  so that we can shine the light on some of the incredible women whom we’ve had the pleasure to get to know and who are doing so much good work to change the world.

Dare to Make a Change!

Get Your Copy Today!

They are but a few of the people we have featured on this site and on TWE Radio.  Following their passions and fearlessly making a difference, these intrepid women tell us how they did it and how we can take action. They have inspired us as we hope they do you!

TWE Changemaker Book

We started this book project two years ago, getting in touch with our special interviewees and guests and letting them know of our mission to spread the word about their accomplishments. We so appreciate their enthusiasm for this project.

To say this has been a learning experience would be an understatement. We have a tremendous appreciation now of what authors go through to create and design their books. We continue to search for people who are making a difference in all kinds of ways all over the world.

As one of our changemakers Barbara Massaad says, “It takes empathy and an open mind with simple ideas.” It’s advice we follow and there is more of that in the book.

The official publication date is July 10, but you can get a copy on Amazon now, and check the book out at changemakersbook.com. Please tell your friends and help us make an impact! (#TWEChangemakers)

Many thanks!

Pam and Patricia

Jessica Posner and Kennedy Odede Transform Africa’s Largest Urban Slum

Jessica Posner and Kennedy Odede/Photo from Jessica's book Find Me Unafraid

Jessica Posner and Kennedy Odede

By Laurie McAndish King (@LaurieKing)/January 12, 2016
TWITTER for Jessica and Kennedy: @hope2shine

Jessica Posner grew up a middle-class American in Denver. She hadn’t seen much of the world, and when she had an opportunity to study overseas she chose to do political theater work in Kenya. Jessica ended up living in a slum with no streets, no toilets, no running water, no electricity and no public services. Then she got malaria.

“No one believed Jessica could survive,” Kennedy Odede, her husband, says. “Every morning my friends knocked on my door and asked: Is she dead, or is she alive?”

find=me-unafraid-kennedy-odede-jessica-posnerJessica Posner and Kennedy Odede’s lives are linked by one unlikely circumstance after another. They met when Jessica was taking a junior year abroad and Kennedy was organizing street theater to raise awareness about sexual violence in his community. Kennedy lived in a Nairobi slum called Kibera, a warren of hopelessness the size of Central Park.

Jessica and Kennedy were in America together, celebrating the launch of the book they co-wrote, Find Me Unafraid — Love, Loss, and Hope in an African Slum. A friend had told me about their remarkable story, so I was excited to hear the couple speak at Book Passage in Corte Madera, California.

It’s hard to imagine two people more different on the surface. Jessica wears a stylish dress; her animal-print pumps have three-inch spike heels. Reserved on stage, she lets Kennedy do most of the talking.

Kennedy speaks with animation and charisma. Until a few years ago he’d had so little exposure to Western culture that he was astonished by the abundance of a school cafeteria and the luxury of hot running water.

Jessica and Kennedy tell us about the work they have done together, which sounds like a minor miracle: setting up and running a free school for girls in the slum, making clean water and medical care accessible and helping dozens of individuals start small businesses.

It hasn’t been easy. Kennedy grew up in extreme poverty, taking to the streets and using drugs when he was just 10 years old to help alleviate the pain of his situation.

“I had a job in a factory where I earned $1 for 10 hours,” Kennedy says. “I saw people getting old in their jobs. My best friend was shot and killed by the police; my sister was abused. I was sad and angry and hopeless.”


But Kennedy Odede was also resourceful, resilient and determined. He read A Testament of Hope: the Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., and was inspired to build a better future.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that,” he read in King’s book. “Faith is taking the first step, even when you can’t see the whole staircase.”

Kennedy realized that the people of Kibera needed to solve their own problems, and he was determined to do just that.

“Where are the donors? Where is the money?” his friends asked. “You are crazy!”

“This is not a non-profit,” Kennedy responded. “This is a movement. We do not need donors to clean our streets. We do not need donors talk about issues that affect us.”

Odede was off to a strong start. He bought a twenty-cent soccer ball and started a team to give people something constructive to do. He organized neighborhood clean-ups and street theater. He raised awareness about sexual violence.

He co-founded a youth group called Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO) and got his fellow citizens talking about how to improve their living conditions. “I got elected mayor of Kibera,” Kennedy says, sounding a little surprised.

jessica Posner and Kennedy Odebe at Book Passage Oct. 2015/from Laurie King

Kennedy and Jessica speaking at Book Passage/10-15

Then Jessica turned up. She moved into Odede’s cramped home, reasoning that it would be hypocritical to live in comfort outside the slum while she was working with the people of Kibera. The two strategized, and decided that if they could change the realities for women and children, everything else would follow. They would open a free school for girls, starting with the youngest, the brightest and the most vulnerable children.

Jessica knew how to apply for grants in America. She had friends whose families donated money. She raised $10,000 to start, and Kennedy worked with community members to arrange a small space for the school.

It had to be free in order to reach the girls most in need, but the school wasn’t set up as a charity. The students’ parents contribute their time — five work-weeks each year — in exchange for the girls’ education. Some of the students are orphans, so friends or relatives donate time for them. Brothers, sisters, cousins and neighbors all work together to help the school and build community.

Jessica and Kennedy hired the best teachers in Kenya, and after just a year their students were speaking good English. Opportunities were opening up, and the community began to understand the value of educating girls.

Eunice Akoth’s Dream: A poem from a 5th grade student at the Kibera School for Girls

The Kibera School for Girls  is adding one grade each year; eventually it will go through 8th grade. After that, the school will try to arrange admissions to high schools, boarding schools and even college for all its graduates.

The school made even more sense when Jessica and Kennedy added a health clinic and a source of clean water. TWE first interviewed Jessica in 2010, when the clinic had just opened. Services now include primary preventive care, women’s and children’s services, HIV care and a child nutrition program.

By including holistic services so all members of the community benefitted directly, they made the school into a portal for large-scale social change.

Jessica Posner at new health center, Kenya

Jessica Posner at the new health center

New York Times Op-Ed Columnist Nicholas Kristof, who writes about human rights, women’s rights and global affairs, has helped publicize Jessica and Kennedy’s work. Now even the government wants to help. (“They want our votes,” Kennedy clarifies.)

And since they have demonstrated what is possible, Jessica and Kennedy are getting requests from young people across Kenya — and around the world — to replicate SHOFCO and the school for girls. “Young people look at me,” Kennedy says, “and see that it is possible to change. We can do it. We don’t have to wait for the government, or for big donors.”

“Standard international development is very top-down,” Jessica explains. “But this is bottom-up. Most of the funding comes from individuals. It only takes $100/month to sponsor one girl, and give her two meals a day.”

Although things are getting better, many residents of Kibera still struggle every day. The political situation has improved significantly since 2007, when Jessica and Kennedy began working together. Kenya’s government is much stronger now, but there is still no functional government in the slum, and no police protection. Poor women still have a dismal life.

Jessica Posner

Children at The Kibera School

But SHOFCO isn’t waiting around for donations. They provide computer, adult literacy and business skills classes for Kibera residents. SHOFCO’s sanitation efforts include cutting edge bio-latrines, community toilets and hygiene and sanitation education initiatives.

All this has grown from Kennedy’s initial work to create a safe, productive space for community members to gather and improve their lives. The real magic of Jessica and Kennedy’s collaboration is the local participation Kennedy inspires, combined with the outside funding prowess Jessica provides.

This approach works so well because it empowers the people of Kibera and lets them decide for themselves how best to use outside aid. Most of all, it engenders hope by demonstrating that a better life is possible.

Wedding of Jessica and Kennedy by John Moore on YouTube/6-19-12

Jessica and Kennedy took their collaboration beyond SHOFCO — they were married in June of 2012, and they will undoubtedly keep right on making things happen. As a friend said at their wedding, “It’s never going to be dull!” I have a feeling there are more miracles on the horizon.



Author Paula McLain Reimagines the Lives of Two Remarkable Women

Paula McLain; speaking at Book Passage, Aug. 2015/Photo: Pam Burke

Paula McLain at Book Passage Bookstore/8-15

Update 6-5-18: Paula is getting great reviews for her newest historical fiction, Love and Ruin, the story of Ernest Hemingway and writer/journalist Martha Gellhorn.

by Laurie McAndish King/November 16, 2015
Photos: Pamela Burke

 “The genre is completely addictive to me. It’s almost like every step of my journey as a writer has been leading up to historical fiction. It allows me to use all my gifts as a writer — my empathy, my curiosity.”   Paula McLain

Paula McLain didn’t plan to write breathtaking historical fiction; her sights were set on poetry. She worked hard at it, earning an MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan while single-parenting her toddler. She published two books of verse, a memoir about growing up in the foster-care system in California, and a contemporary novel … and then came The Paris Wife (@randomhouse). McLain hit her stride with historical fiction.

Paula McLain books/Photo: Pam Burke

That book, published in 2011, is a fictionalized account of Ernest Hemingway’s first marriage and early years in 1920s Paris, told from the perspective of his wife, Hadley. Friends were raving about The Paris Wife and I knew McLain had just published a second piece of historical fiction, Circling the Sun, so I was delighted to hear her speak at Book Passage in Corte Madera, California.

Looking lean and graceful in a black jacket and lively pearl earrings, McLain radiates warmth. She talks with both hands, and her right arm clearly has a life of its own. She flips her long brown hair, enthusiastically.

Paula on Reviving Ernest Hemingway and The Paris Wife/Random House of Canada on YouTube

Before she wrote The Paris Wife, McLain says, she had a problem. “I hadn’t yet had a big idea, and I wasn’t sure how to find one. It was by fluke that I stumbled onto A Moveable Feast. I was moved to tears by the love story. When Hemingway believes his own genius … I wanted to know more. Who was she? What really happened, so that they lost each other?”

McLain read two biographies of Hadley. “I let the first fall open, and a letter from Hadley leapt off the page at me. This is my girl,” I thought. “This is my book!” McLain quit her teaching job (she was actually working three teaching jobs at the time) and borrowed some money. She wrote every day in a Starbucks in Cleveland — which, McLain points out, is the absolute farthest one can possibly get from a Parisian café.

“I had never done research before. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I had never even been to Paris. It was almost as if I was channeling her, like an actress in the role of my life,” McLain remembers.

In the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, she found a treasure trove of love letters—thousands of letters that she could “follow down the rabbit hole” into Ernest and Hadley Hemingway’s exuberant life in Jazz-Age Paris. “Hadley had burned all her letters from Ernest, but he kept everything. It was like a ghost chase.”

A member of the audience asks McLain how she managed to recreate Hadley’s dialog. “How do you get into their heads? How much is fact, and how much is fiction?”

“Because it is a novel, you can say anything,” McLain explains. But due to copyright issues, she was not allowed to use any two words together that her subjects had actually written. “Getting inside her head was like an actor’s trick. I had read so many of her letters … I also love what is not being said. Really good dialog is people not saying what’s on their minds.”

The Paris Wife was told from the perspective of a relatively unknown historical figure. It included “no detectives, no porn, and no death on page three.” Yet it hit the New York Times bestseller list — and stayed there for 77 weeks.

“The genre is completely addictive to me,” she explains. “It’s almost like every step of my journey as a writer has been leading up to historical fiction. It allows me to use all my gifts as a writer—my empathy, my curiosity.”

The Paris Wife was named one of the best books of the year by People, the Chicago Tribune, NPR, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Kirkus Reviews, and the Toronto Sun. It sold 1.6 million copies. And that presented a new problem.

BEA Librarians’ Breakfast on “Circling the Sun”/Penguin Random House-2015

It was time for a follow up. Readers were asking McLain what she was writing next. She had started novel about Marie Curie, another extraordinary and underappreciated woman, and worked on it for two and a half years. But the story was boring. “It felt like pushing a mannequin in a shopping cart,” McLain recalls.A nudge from her brother-in-law introduced McLain to West with the Night, the memoir of history-making aviator Beryl Markham. Markham’s achievements alone might have captured McLain’s attention.

Paula McLain, Elaine Petrocelli/Book Passage 8/-15/Photo: Pam Burke

Paula with Elaine Petrocelli, owner of Book Passage/8-15

She was a daring bush pilot in 1920s Kenya; the first person to successfully hunt big game from the air; the first licensed female horse trainer in the world; one of the first people in the world to hold a commercial pilot’s license; and, in 1936, the first woman to fly the Atlantic east to west—the hard way. In McLain’s words, “Markham was a real badass.”

Then there was Markham’s personal story. She suffered incredible losses early in life, somehow managed to draw strength from them, and grew into an exceptional and fearless woman.

She lived a dramatic life as part of a circle of glamorous British and European expats and had affairs with a prince and a duke—not to mention her part in the decade-long love triangle with Danish writer Baroness Karen Blixen and Denys Finch Hatton, a charismatic hunter and pilot. “She lived like Calamity Jane and she looked like Great Garbo,” McLain observes.

But there was still more that drew McLain to Markham; the two shared surprisingly similar backgrounds. Both were abandoned at age four by their mothers and felt the loss deeply. Their mothers were both gone for 16 years, reappearing when their daughters were 20 and making the girls’ lives extremely complicated. Both McLain and Markham were married at age 34. “We share emotional DNA,” McLain says.

And finally there was Markham’s own voice, reaching out from the pages of West with the Night, and captivating McLain. “Within two paragraphs of reading West with the Night, I knew I would write about Markham,” she says. And write she did. Paula McLain’s new book, Circling the Sun, is a fictionalized account of Markham’s life, and it’s getting rave reviews.

McLain is getting rave reviews, too. Here’s what Ann Patchett says in Country Living, “Paula McLain is considered the new star of historical fiction, and for good reason. Circling the Sun … is both beautifully written and utterly engrossing.”

The audience members at Book Passage are eager to hear what McLain is up to next: Is she working on a novel? Will it be about another extraordinary woman? “Will a man ever inspire you that way?” someone asks.

“It’s these women’s lives that are capturing my imagination and magnetizing it,” McLain responds, flipping her hair back. She clearly has someone in mind, and it’s my guess that we’ll soon be treated to another lush piece of inspired historical fiction. In the meantime, I’m tucking into Circling the Sun.



Dr. Christine Carter on Finding Your Sweet Spot at Home and Work

Dr. Christine Carter/Photo: Blake Farrington

Dr. Christine Carter/Photo; Blake Farrington

By Laurie McAndish King (@LaurieKing)/April 16, 2015

“Every time someone would ask me how I was doing, I would always give the same answer: I am so busy. Extremely busy. Crazy busy. I wore my exhaustion like a trophy, as a sign of my strength and a mark of my character.”  Dr. Christine Carter

That was Dr. Christine Carter a few years ago. It probably sounds familiar—most of us would respond in a similar way. We are parents, partners, children, friends, employees, entrepreneurs, volunteers, committee heads, weekend warriors. And we’ve been programmed to believe that busier is better, that the busier a person is the more important, productive, and successful she is.

The Sweet Spot by Dr. Christine CarterChristine Carter doesn’t believe that any more, and she’s out to convince the rest of us that busyness does not equal importance. In fact, that’s a major theme in her book, The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and at Work. And it’s the first of three myths she busted in a talk at Dominican University’s Institute for Leadership Studies Lecture Series (in partnership with Book Passage).

Carter looks happy and healthy as she stands onstage in a slim sheath and a peppy orange jacket. But she wasn’t always that way. Back when she was into busyness—when she had a high-powered job she loved as Executive Director of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and had just released her first book, Raising Happiness, and was raising her four kids and training for a marathon—Carter got sick.

She had chronic low-grade strep throat for 18 months. She contracted a kidney infection. She even had a hospital fantasy: “I wish they would just admit me so I don’t have to go to Atlanta next week.” That’s the price of busyness. Carter emphasized her point by asking us to imagine that we had spent time at a pleasant lunch with a friend or tossing a ball with the dog.

When we’re involved in enjoyable activities like those, we don’t characterize ourselves as busy, even though our time is filled. When we feel busy, it’s usually because we’re doing things that we don’t really enjoy, or that don’t engage us, or that make us feel harried.

Christine Carter’s TEDxGoldenGateED Talk/6-11-11

We call it “busyness,” but neuroscientists call it “cognitive overload”—a state in which it is difficult for a person to plan, decide, remember, think creatively, solve problems, and control emotions. Busyness is a sign that we are not functioning optimally, that we are not living up to our potential.

It is often a sign we are sacrificing our own needs for the needs of our children or our workplace. We need to dial it back in order to become our best selves, Carter explains.

What’s myth number 2? “More is better.”

We know that’s a myth, but it’s a hard one to resist. We tend to put our children into more activities, so they can get into more prestigious schools, so they can get better jobs, so they can make more money, so they can buy more stuff. Do we really want that kind of life for our children? Often, less is more. Often, we already have enough. Dial it back again.

Myth number 3? “Doing nothing is a waste of time.”

The truth is that our brains benefit tremendously from rest; when the mind wanders, the “creative insights” part of the brain turns on. Carter knows, because, as a sociologist she has studied productivity, elite performance, and well-being.

So where does that leave us? If we’re buying into those myths, we’re not living from our sweet spot—that place where we can feel ease as well as accomplishment. Carter shows us a slow-motion video of a baseball player hitting a ball perfectly—hitting the sweet spot. It’s a beautiful thing to watch. The bat doesn’t wobble. The ball flies high. The hitter has used “effortless power, not powerful effort.”

“The sweet spot is pretty fixed in athletics, but not for us humans,” Carter observes.

Fortunately, she has distilled cutting-edge scientific research into five strategies for finding the sweet spot in our own lives. “This book is me road testing all the research about elite productivity,” she says.

Working Mother Magazine–2/23/15

And here they are—Carter’s five sweet-spot strategies:

1. Single-task. The human brain is not designed to multitask, and when we try to do so it increases the chance of errors and creates a subtle, low-level fight-or-flight response. Christine tells us a story about her grandmother as an example. “My grandmother, who had a very difficult life, nevertheless lived to be 104. She loved to cook and taught me to cook. When we were cooking, if I asked a question she would put down the wooden spoon, turn, look at me, and answer my question. She was totally present.” That’s single-tasking.

2. Find the minimum effective dose of any given activity. “I had to do this in every area of my life.” Christine says. Her three-minute, do-it-every-day, better-than-nothing workout, for instance, consists of a one-minute plank, twenty push-ups, and twenty-five squats. And she looks terrific.

3. Stare into space. How will you feel? “Guilty, stuck, anxious, lazy. You’ll want to reach for your devices, read your email, check your Twitter feed. Stare into space anyway,” Carter advises. “Start small. Look at your anxiety or guilt with curiosity. Let yourself feel it. Device-checking is tremendously effective at numbing our emotions. But we don’t numb our emotions selectively. If you want to feel profound joy, you’ll also feel grief.”

Here Christine illustrates her point with short clip from the viral Louis C. K.’s “I Was in My Car One Time” video.

Team Coco–9/20/13

4. Lubricate your brain. Love, compassion, happiness, gratitude, awe, inspiration, hope, optimism—all these positive emotions have a physiological effect. They put the brakes on our fight-or-flight response, decrease stress, deepen our breathing, return our heart rate to normal, and even change our brain function. Carter shows us a short video of a child laughing, and we laugh, too. “You just did it!” she bubbles. “You just reset your nervous system!”

5. Change your mantra. When we have constant conversations about how busy we are, our brains go into overdrive. As an example of the importance of what we pay attention to, Christine shows us a video of Professor Daniel J. Simons’ “Monkey Business Illusion”:


We are what we pay attention to. Next time people ask how you are (“You must be so busy with your book launch…”) consider what you feel grateful for, Carter suggests. You could answer with something like, “I’m very focused on my book launch and I particularly love doing radio interviews.” Then you could change the subject to, “And I’m happy that it’s been so sunny.”

These strategies are hardly a spoiler for Carter’s book, which is jam packed with research-based advice on generating love and connection, shaking things up, problem-solving, fighting the right way, learning to apologize, letting go of grudges, tolerating discomfort, learning from difficulty, the importance of recess, and lots more.

Christine Carter and her Sweet Spot book at Dominican University

Christine Carter at Dominican University promoting her new book.

I love Carter’s message, but wonder whether she’s speaking to the choir, here in Northern California. We may not be aware of all the latest research, but we’ve certainly heard the takeaway. We know it’s important to slow down, to avoid multi-tasking, and to unplug when we’re not working.

As Carter closes her talk, I look around. The air is soft. Many people in the audience are hurrying out into the warm evening. More than half are checking their mobile devices—more than half!—before they even reach the auditorium door. We need you, Dr. Christine Carter. We are crazy busy, and we need you.

Listen to TWE Radio on iTunes to hear Christine Carter interviewed by Stacey Gualandi.



Photojournalist Lynsey Addario On Her Relentless Pursuit of Truth

Combat Journalist Lynsey Addario at work/Photo from Lynsey

Photojournalist Lynsey Addario at work

By Laurie McAndish King/April 8, 2015
Photos Courtesy Lynsey Addario (@lynseyaddario)

“I was now a photojournalist willing to die for stories that had the potential to educate people. I wanted to make people think, to open their minds, to give them a full picture of what was happening…”  Lynsey Addario

Lynsey Addario asserts, “I don’t think of myself as a war photographer.” Yet war photography is what she’s known for. It’s what earned her a Pulitzer Prize for international reporting and a MacArthur Fellowship or “Genius Grant.”

Lynsey Addario photo for NY Times Taliban series

Addario’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of armed men and boys near the Afghanistan border

It’s what got her embedded in Afghanistan and landed her in a Libyan prison—blindfolded, bound, and beaten. And it’s the subject of her new memoir, It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War (@penguinpress).

I met this extraordinary woman in a crowded auditorium at the San Francisco Jewish Community Center, where she spoke about situations I can barely imagine, and showed photos that were beautifully composed, yet horrifying.

Lynsey Addario, author "It's What I Do"Addario explained that she photographs conflicts not just for the sake of covering war, but because there are humanitarian and human rights issues she wants to expose. She has photographed victims of drought, famine, land mines, mental illness, AIDS, genocide, and rape. Her documentation of bodies strewn across the desert in Darfur made it impossible for the government there to continue denying a massacre.

She has also shot night raids and refugees, soldiers receiving incoming mortar rounds and children playing outdoors in war-torn Benghazi. Cars burning, bombs exploding, a dying soldier’s last moments—these are the images that first drew me to Addario’s work.

Her memoir tells the story of Addario’s life as a conflict photographer, a single woman, a wife, a captive, a reluctantly pregnant freelancer in a man’s profession, and a mother. It is filled with images from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sudan, Iraq, and Libya.

Addario’s style is gritty. Some of her photos show billows of the dark smoke that rises after bombs fall. Many use a dramatic lower-left-to-upper-right diagonal composition to help convey the scene’s tension. Some show bleeding soldiers, corpses, or skeletons.

Others were taken at night, without enough light for a good exposure. One was taken through green night-vision goggles, and another glows with the red light that was used to avoid enemy detection. They all show human lives in intimate detail.

Lynsey Addario photo 10/23//07--War in Afghanistan

Ambushed from three sides in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan, a wounded soldier is about to be airlifted out/10-23-07

What prepares a person for this kind of career? Were Addario’s parents journalists, or military personnel, or doctors? No—they were both hairdressers. Their home in Westport, Connecticut in the 1970s was “a kaleidoscope of transvestites and Village People look-alikes.” Everyone was welcome at our house, Addario says. The doors were always open.

When Lynsey was thirteen her father gave her a Nikon FG, her first camera. She was hooked. Too shy to shoot people, Lynsey began by photographing architecture and flowers. She eventually got work as a stringer with the Associated Press, and graduated to covering protests, press conferences, and accidents. She shot one of Monica Lewinsky’s earliest public appearances, on the TODAY Show.

Addario on the advantage of being a woman photographer

Addario’s first serious assignment as a photojournalist was for a story about the working conditions of transgender prostitutes in New York in 1999. Her mentor at the Associated Press (whom she refers to as “Bebeto”) figured Lynsey was perfect for the project, given her family’s lifestyle.

Getting the photos involved spending weeks with her subjects—without a camera—in order to gain their trust, and then five months more getting the shots.

“I had no idea that I would become a conflict photographer,” Addario says. “I wanted to travel, to learn about the world beyond the United States.”

A year later, at twenty-six, Lynsey found herself in Afghanistan, there to photograph the lives of women living under the Taliban. It was illegal to photograph any living thing in Afghanistan at that time, but she had access to women in a way men did not. Lynsey literally knocked on doors, spoke with women, and asked to photograph them.

Women Studying Koran in Peshawar, Pakistan 2001/Photo; Lynsey Addario

Women and girls study and recite the Koran in Peshawar, Pakistan, 2001

I was not surprised to learn that Lynsey always got her photos. From her presence onstage where she spoke, it was clear that the journalist was both outgoing and determined. But beyond that, she didn’t look like a war photographer. Wearing a fitted black v-neck blouse, skin-tight dark jeans, and black booties with high heels, Addario looked more like a model.

Tabitha Soren, a Berkeley photographer and former news correspondent for MTV and NBC, interviewed Lynsey onstage at the JCC after the photo-slideshow and talk. Addario, of Italian descent, spoke eloquently with both her words and her hands.

“The more I worked, the more I achieved, the more I wanted,” she explained. “I think I’m pretty tortured about my work as a photographer. I’m always thinking about composition, light, access. I never feel like I’m doing enough as a journalist, as a photographer.”

Vumilia, 38, Kaniola/Photo: Lynsey Addario

Vumila, 38, from eastern Congo was kidnapped from her home and raped by nine men.

Conflict photography is difficult for many reasons, and combat is one of the worst. “I’m not gonna start crying when the bullets start flying, ” she said. Addario trained hard before embedding in Afghanistan. She needed to be able to keep up under extremely rigorous conditions of high altitude, traveling on foot in mountainous terrain, and carrying her tent and enough food and supplies for a week—as well as being shot at.

The last thing she wanted was to be with soldiers who thought, “Oh God, the chicks are here.”

In January, 2003, Addario was on assignment in South Korea, and the U.S. was clearly gearing up for war in Iraq. Lynsey knew she would go to Iraq and that she would need body armor there so she ordered it herself, online. From South Korea. It wasn’t easy.

As Soren read a passage from It’s What I Do describing the process, Lynsey sat onstage with her legs crossed and twined together, her hands clasped tightly on her lap, fingers laced together. She was uncomfortable hearing the passage, even though it evoked a big laugh from the audience.

“Basically, I have no idea what I am looking at—ballistic, six-point adjustable tactical armor, etc. Please understand that this language is not familiar to me—I grew up in Connecticut, was raised by hairdressers.”

Lynsey Addario Photo of soldiers being carried out of Fallujah, Nov. 2004

Wounded soldiers being carried out of the Battle of Fallujah/11-2004

The following year, with government permission, Addario took photos of injured American soldiers in Fallujah. Her editor at Life declined to run the story, saying the images made “too strong a story for the American public to see.” Addario tells us about her reaction:

“… something in me had changed after those months in Iraq. I was now a photojournalist willing to die for stories that had the potential to educate people. I wanted to make people think, to open their minds, to give them a full picture of what was happening … When I risked my life to ultimately be censored by someone sitting in a cushy office in New York, who was deciding on behalf of regular Americans what was too harsh for their eyes, depriving them of the right to see where their own children were fighting, I was furious … Every time I returned home, I felt more strongly about the need to continue going back.”

Addario on photographing injured soldiers in Fallujah/11-2004

Addario did keep going back. In the first three months of 2011, she worked in South Sudan (shooting a Newsweek cover with George Clooney), Iraq, Afghanistan, Bahrain, and Libya—where she was kidnapped and beaten.

The first three days were violent, she said, as “we were shifted along the front line. Each new captor asserted his power, beat us, told us they would kill us.” One caressed her while she was bound and blindfolded, repeating over and over, “You will die tonight.”

Addario on being kidnapped and held hostage for six days

Several days later, when she was living off the front line in an apartment under house arrest, one of her male captors offered to buy some supplies. What did she want? “Coffee. Cream. Sugar. Shampoo. A toothbrush,” Addario listed her priorities. Did she need “any feminine things?” he asked delicately, in a surprising show of empathy.

The man returned with “twenty-five bags of groceries. Enough food for a year! We’re never going to be released,” Addario despaired. He also brought new Adidas tracksuits for the three male captives who were her colleagues. Addario, the only woman, got special supplies: an extra-large tan velour sweatsuit embroidered with teddy bears and emblazoned with the words The Magic Girl! plus three pairs of underwear decorated with the words Shake it Up!

Stephen Farrell, Tyler Hicks, Levent Sahinkaya (the Turkish ambassador in Libya, Lynsey Addario, and Athony Shadid in Turkish Embassy in Tripoli before being released to Tunisia

Released captives Stephen Farrell, Tyler Hicks, Levent Sahinkaya (the Turkish ambassador to Libya), Lynsey, and Anthony Shadid in the Turkish Embassy in Tripoli before being released to Tunisia

Lynsey Addario was released a few days later. As she settled back into her life, the inevitable question arose: Would Lynsey cover another war? Of course!

She did pause, if only briefly, to have a child. The criticisms she received for traveling while pregnant, risking assault and disease, possibly putting her life and that of her unborn child in jeopardy—did not deter Addario. What she does is a calling, which she will not—she cannot—give up. Like all professional women, Addario struggles to balance her career and personal life.

“I was more selective about assignments after the birth of my son,” she writes, “and I weighed the importance of every story with the importance of every day that would keep me away from my family.”

Motherhood has added an unexpected depth to her work, though. She feels “happier and more complete with my new family than ever before,” but she also suffers more.” Being away from Lucas was worse than any heartbreak, any distance from a lover—anything I had ever known.”

The indescribable love Lynsey feels for her son amplifies the atrocities she sees on assignment. Now she can imagine the depth of grief a parent feels when she loses a child to war or disease or starvation.

Lynsey Addario and husband Paul on their wedding day in 2009/Photo from Yamil for story

Lynsey and husband Paul on their wedding day in France/2009

She is still photographing conflict around the world, opening our eyes to horrific situations most of us will never see in person. She still has the Magic Girl! sweatshirt. And she’s still shaking things up, doing work that makes a difference.

You’ll be hearing lots more about Addario and her work—Steven Spielberg is set to direct a film based on It’s What I Do, with Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence portraying Lynsey. In the meantime you can see her talk at the San Francisco Jewish Community Center below.

Lynsey Addario at the San Francisco Jewish Community Center

Facebook page for Lynsey Addario

You can find the ebook edition:  itswhatidobook.com