“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” – Maya Angelou
It was probably 2014, around this time (May 28), when Maya Angelou passed that everyone was talking about the famous poet. I had just begun working on my startup dedicated to violence against women after my long career in technology. At that time, my oldest daughter was working with me. I asked her, “Who is Maya Angelou?”
She was shocked and somewhat appalled that I could ask such an ignorant literary question.
She told me she was one of the most famous contemporary poets and civil rights activists of our time. I shrugged, and went on with what I was doing.
It took me a few years to finally dig into Angelou’s brilliance. When I found the poem, Still I Rise, I recognized myself in it. It reminded me of what one of my male tech partners once said about me that I didn’t understand, so I had to look it up. He told me he admired how I would, “Rise like a Phoenix, over and over again.”
Such a universal truth for women emboldened with the will to survive, to overcome.
And therein lies some of the mystery as to why I’m uninformed as to the great feminist writers. I spent a lifetime competing in a man’s world, surrounded by men, reading men’s words predominantly. I did not have the privilege, nor the luxury, to invest in learning about the oppression and discrimination that dogged me throughout my professional career.
The opening track of David Bowie’s 1972 seminal masterpiece, Ziggy Stardust is an eery dystopian ballad, “Five Years.” In short, the song is about how the earth finds out it only has five more years left to live.
High school came up for me a couple weeks ago when I was writing to a friend. I told her it would take “a barstool, an attendant bartender, and copious amounts of good wine” to begin to explain what went wrong with my high school experience around the time we were rocking out to Mr. Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust.
One thing that’s easy to explain is what we had in common in that email thread. We were conversing about our shared interest in domestic abuse. Today, she consults with one of her favorite clients who happens to be in the Midwest where I was writing to her, and I of course, can’t seem to stop working on this.
Five Years to Change the World?
I always loved Bowie’s song, “Five Years.” Today, I’m going to turn the tables on it and instead of interpreting that song to be five years until the end of the world, I’ll rewrite the story to become five years to… change the world for the better.
When I launched The 2.0 Adoption Council or Change Agents Worldwide, all I had was a vision of what could be. A dream. An idea about the end state. That vision caught on and hundreds, literally hundreds, of people bought into it, and paid good money to be a part of it, and eventually for it. Crazy? Maybe. Riffing on Forrest’s loving Mom, Crazy is as crazy does.
By Far, My Toughest Challenge
It was an insane and dangerous idea to take on domestic abuse and violence against women. I had no credentials, no formal education, no field training, no power relationships, no funding, no nothing– except my lived experience and a desire to make a difference.
Every connection was hard-earned. Every project was a risk.
Nevertheless I persisted.
I’m proud to say, after five years, that hard work has paid off. An award-winning investigative journalist was researching domestic violence for years, and she came across my writing. She discovered the case study that I helped bring to life in a film.* She included the case study in her new book that is flying off the shelves in the Australian market. A U.S. version is in the works. The case study, the High Point model, is saving lives every day. More people are learning about the success of the High Point model than ever before.
In my small way, starting from nothing, I changed the world for the better several times, but this time, and in this way, I think even Mr. Bowie would be singing my praises.
*The film unfortunately never got finished, even though I put six figures into it. It is available, however, as a training film for private audiences.
UPDATE: As it turns out, Jess’ book will be turned into a 3-part documentary series by the fabulous filmmaker Tosca Looby whom I’ve been working with on the High Point story.
Read about it below:
ORIGINAL AUSTRALIAN DOCUMENTARIES
SBS is also a leader in original documentaries that inform, entertain and capture the national conversation around issues central to its Charter; exploring ideas that no other network could or would pursue. Next year, SBS will explore immigration, aviation, identity, homelessness, addiction and domestic violence with a powerful slate of new and returning Australian commissioned documentaries.
See What You Made Me Do
It’s a shocking statistic that on average, one woman is killed by a man she knows every week*. Announced today, See What You Made Me Do is a ground-breaking new documentary series presented by Jess Hill, the author of the critically acclaimed book by the same name, which will trace how a love story can end in murder and which will seek out solutions in Australia and from across the globe to see how we can tackle this epidemic. Source: SBS
I admit, at first, it began as a vanity project. I was high off the success of my two prior Internet-based startups and felt invincible. I had a lot of friends. I felt empowered that I could do this. I brought a whole lot of arrogance and conceit to the fight.
Then, nearly as soon as I began, I got knocked off my my pedestal. I had to learn how to really work… how to really do research, how to make a real relationship, how to inspire someone to work for me for free with no guarantee of any return at all. I had to learn how to persuade people very different from me that I could be trusted and that I was sincere. I had to learn how to accept rejection, in the face of all logical evidence to the contrary that what I was selling was highly effective and worthy of investment.
I was told, “YOU HAVE NO STANDING” to have conversations in this field. In other words, GO AWAY.
Nevertheless, I persisted. But maybe, (h/t Stevie Wonder), like I fool I went and stayed too long–– I actually made progress against my goals. I believe what I’ve set in motion will pay substantial dividends in the future. I’ve said it hundreds of times: The Answers are in the Data. The problem in domestic violence is the offender, and we can identify, track, predict, and control their behavior with proper data analysis and monitoring. I’ve even filed a provisional patent for a software tool that will save lives if implemented properly.
Yet, after three years, I’m quitting. Maybe quitting while I’m ahead, but quitting nonetheless. The reason is personal, not business. You see working on domestic violence brings me to the front lines of my own personal horror show every damned day. I simply cannot continue to work on this for health reasons. Let’s call it a graceful exit.
I will leave behind the seeds of an important beginning conversation about the vast potential of data, and the powerful transformational story told by High Point, NC in our film. We should have a final cut soon. I wholly underestimated the toll this work would take on my mental health. At my peril.
Over time, I’m contemplating writing a short ebook about my experiences working in this field featuring what I learned–– the challenges and opportunities as I see it–– but there I go being thought-leadery again. I may also consider doing some public speaking aligned to the film, but we’ll see.
For now, I’m going back to tech consulting, and continuing with my R&R time in the comfort of the Florida winter chillzone.
Namaste. And a sincere thanks to everyone who helped Big Mountain Data and our ambitious goals.
Update 4/15/18:I was asked to speak at a National conference in the fall and looks like the software tool is moving forward in the hands of some industry experts who can take it to the next level. So, not exactly gone for good. Plus, I have a meeting tomorrow with a local data scientist who’s interested in our work. There is that UPenn machine learning case study I’ve been interested to replicate on the assessed risk of DV bond hearings…
Update 3/16/19:I still speak about this from time to time. I will be speaking Monday evening to an ACM-W group of students at the local university. And I did get to speak at the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence national conference in the Fall, and show our film.