New York, New York

A week ago (boy time flies!) I had the delightful privilege and honor to stand before a room of my peers in the workforce development sector. I was invited to New York City to join JobsFirstNYC as a guest speaker for a group of seven organizations who focus mostly on helping young adults, who are out of school/work, build workplace skills and find quality employment.

These orgs are doing really powerful work so I’ll link them below. You have to check them out!

Anyhow, so when I got the invite to be flown in from Chicago and have my hotel taken care of in Manhattan hunni, I was like, “girl, yes!”

Sidenote: You never know who’s watching you and taking notes. You never know when – who you are might open doors you hadn’t considered.

This moment has been in the making since April 2017 and I didn’t even realize it. In early 2017, I gave a speech in Chicago about employer engagement, strategies to building and maintaining relationships and overall success driver best practices for doing good work, tracking good work and using data to make sound business decisions. I was introduced to a consultant, Marty, during that meeting.

In 2017 I got a call from Marty with a request to talk to some individuals from New York over the phone. We had a great conversation about emplyer engagement and data.

Several months later, I recieved a request to do an event for New York. They offered a phone or live video conference for me to present. Unfortunately my schedule was insane so it didn’t work out.

Fast forward to April 2018, I was contacted by that same consultant friend, this time with an offer to visit New York and it worked in my schedule!

Taking a Water Taxi past the Brooklyn Bridge

The whole event was amazing. There was a lot of community learning happening as organizations shared with me and each other. There were great takeaways and action planning. This learning community takes times on a regular basis to meet and share their wins and losses, lessons and challanges. Instead of being competitive, they intentionally choose to collaborate. It’s inspiring, not only in our work but in our world.

At the event, I used my time to give an overview of my work, my team, describe our culture of metrics/data and share strategies for strengthening key internal/external feedback loops. I wanted to learn too and in addition to answering questions throughout the day to help as much as possible, I also took notes on ideas a few in the group offered me because who wouldn’t hear of an idea that could increase productivity and efficiency then do nothing!?

Action Planning Session

PS. If you’re not familiar with the work I do, here’s your chance to learn a bit more about Cara Chicago.

Walking through Cara’s Service Delivery Model

This space of helping individuals with barriers to employment, not only get back to work but thrive and walk with them as they transform their lives is such vital work. To sit in a room across the country and experience the synergy between my work and theirs was encouraging! I hope my insight will indeed help some individuals who sat in that room, along in their personal and professional journeys.

View of Lower Manhattan from Water Taxi

Outside of this really stellar part of my trip, I also had a few hours each day to explore New York City and boy did I! I walked all over town through Midtown and Brooklyn, Chinatown and Little Italy, Soho and Tribeca, Hell’s Kitchen and Lower Manhattan to name a few. My little legs were tired from all the walking but so worth it. And I saw crazy things, ate good food and had fun along the way!

Brooklyn Bridge

Manhattan Bridge

I already have a list of places to visit for next time. I look forward to more opportunities like this, more speaking engagements (I had a blast) and more cities to explore.

Thanks New York!

Organization list/links as promised:

Madison Strategies Group– connects individuals with quality employment, maximizing their unique talents to achieve advancement and independence.

Seedconational nonprofit organization that advances economic opportunity for people, businesses and communities in need.

Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation – partners with transportation and culinary employers to offer credentialing options for young people leading to a career pathway.

Green City Force – with partners Con Edison, C+C Apartment Management, and NYCHA’s REES focus on career pathways in the sustainability sector.

The Knowledge House – partnering on the Bronx Digital Pipeline with Hostos Community College and Per Scholas, developing pathways into cutting edge technology jobs by mobilizing pipeline partners who contribute to the Bronx tech ecosystem.

Roundabout Theatre Company in partnership with the IATSE union and The Door provide training and job placement for young people interested in technical theatre careers.

Stanley Isaacs Neighborhood Center partners with employers to train for careers in hospitality and food service. Isaacs Center also offers trainings in community health and education and child development.

Where Did All The Wisdom Go?

This week I’m in and out of sleep, taking pain meds every few hours, essentially on a diet of yogurt, broth, applesauce and ice cream thanks to an experience Monday that I just had to tell you about.

For the past few weeks, dare I say months (I know), I’ve been desperately trying to avoid dealing with pain around my wisdom teeth, swollen gums, the whole bit. I actually was encouraged by a dentist two years ago to get them removed and I thought, nah I can power through the pain.

When the more recent pain started I thought it had something to do with medication I was taking or perhaps the weather or perhaps some other random reason. Whatever the reason, it kept me in denial about actually going to a dentist to address the issue. It was part fear, part financial because who wants to drop hundreds of dollars (after insurance) for little more than 1 hour of work, part who has the time to deal with surgery and recovery and part a laissez-faire attitude about the whole thing.

Thanks to a loving but stern talk with my mother last week I booked an appointment that night for the next day. I went to see a dentist and ultimately got a chance to consult with an oral surgeon which led to a decision that I needed to get all four wisdom teeth removed from my face at the earliest — May 21.

I was so nervous leading up to it, had tons of anxiety and was so glad that my boyfriend could be there with me. I was taken back to the room and told that they were going to start the laughing gas pretty soon because of course if I’m going to have teeth pulled by the root I need to not feel anything and I mean that! This was my first surgery and first time having anesthesia that was so strong and what an experience that was!!

I didn’t think the nitrous oxide would have such an effect but I knew it had taken hold when the surgeon walked in to ask if I was ready to go and instead of using my words, I just could not stop laughing.


Actually, several times throughout the surgery I burst out laughing because of random things I was thinking about like my boyfriend’s face if he walked in and saw my face looking like a balloon. I was also laughing at the surgeon a little bit whether he knew it or not because he had a tough time with some of the teeth that were really in there. Afterwards he told me that my roots really liked me because he had to work hard to get those teeth out.

I was so glad to have laughing gas but boy coming down off that stuff is a real drag lol.


Of course, Beyonce and Drake got me through the first half of the surgery and I was so grateful but my Google Play app did not repeat the playlist that I had started so about halfway through the surgery my music was gone and of course I’m far too loopy to figure out how to unlock my phone. So I had to just listen to everything. All of the drilling, the talking, the root pulling and I’m way more conscious of what’s happening. It sucked.

The first half at least I was humming and singing a little bit. I’m sure it sounded crazy to them because I had a mask over my face, a bunch of tools in my mouth and occasionally let out wild hyena cackles but in my head I could have been on tour.

I thought that I would have been sleep the entire time so I was a little surprised when most of the time I was awake. I was able to look around. I knew what was kind of happening but there was a time or two when I let the gas take over and I could not keep my eyes awake. I realize that must have been tough for them because they gave me instructions to hold my head still, keep my chin up. In my head I was thinking I’ve got to stay in this to help the doctor and in reality my body just was going to do whatever it was going to do and sometimes I just went limp.

When the surgery was over my bottom lip felt HUGE like that scene in The Nutty Professor where Eddie Murphy is fighting between the skinny and fat version of himself.

I asked them if I could keep the teeth to remind myself of this experience. They could only give me one because the others had to be drilled and chipped into a million pieces.

I remember last week when I first went into their office and they gave me some post-op instructions to review before I came back. They said that I should be able to leave out after surgery on my own if I didn’t have somebody to be with me. Fast forward to surgery day when I woke up from the anesthesia and it was time for me to get out of the chair and leave all I could think was, “How the hell could somebody walk out of here after something like that on their own and be okay?” My boyfriend was the real MVP and has been since.

I felt very Michael Jackson trial or post hollywood cosmetic surgery walking out. Adrian got me a mouth cover to put on. You know, those things that people wear in public sometimes at the airport when they don’t want to share germs? I had my coat on zipped up, my hood on, sunglasses on even though it was raining.

Something very valuable that I learned and would tell anyone now is that I should have taken that next pain pill earlier than they told me to because the timing of when the anesthesia wore off and the pain started to set in….babyyyy…. it was Unreal. I stayed and have remained staying in one place as often as possible — Changing mouth gauze every 30 to 60 minutes, spitting out lots of blood and my face is the size of Canada. My home is a series of alarms going off every so often to remind me of another pill to take or another dressing to change or just to eat.

I’m grateful for the thoughts and prayers and well wishes. I was given a long list of risks prior to this surgery and I was an increased risk for a few reasons. I’m so glad things went as smoothly as I prayed for. Recovery has been a bear but I’ll be better eventually. Keeping some sense of humor is helping me through the moments of crying because of the pain or laying on the bathroom floor because of the nausea caused by the meds. Once I can eat a burger and fries, I never want yogurt again lol.

My parents and nephew came to visit which is just the sweetest. I’ll spend the weekend with my family. I had to tell them there was nothing to worry about. I’ve been in very good hands. My boyfriend has done just a phenomenal job of taking care of me. He has been so kind, patient, keeping me in good spirits. I looked up at him today with jaws full of gauze and the inability to open my mouth very wide because of the pain and swelling and called him my true love then laughed because I clearly looked a mess. He obviously understood none of it but he replied oh yeah of course.

Play Buzz

So the road to recovery I’m on continues and it’s painful but I’m glad I’ll never have to do this again. Seriously…

Forget wisdom I’ll keep whatever is left.

No is a Complete Sentence 

“What’s a pretty girl like you doing by yourself?”

I have spent many times at bars or restaurants alone watching NFL, NHL, NBA or MLB games to name a few. It has never really bothered me to be alone in public places. I quite enjoy it sometimes as I often look around to see people with friends yet all parties are staring straight into their phone, not enjoying one another’s company at all. Though I don’t mind being alone, I have unfortunately found however that in some instances when I am not with my boyfriend, my experience is very different and sometimes it’s exhausting. I often time get approached with opening lines like, “What’s a pretty girl like you doing by yourself?” To which I respond, “Having a beer and watching the game just like you came here to do by yourself.” No thanks, I’m not interested.

Consider this a PSA — Women are capable of being out and about unaccompanied. Gentlemen, don’t make it about you and what you think is the story. We’re not desperate to pick you just because we arrived without a man.


I remember when I lived in Managua, the capital city of Nicaragua. A country I have come to love very much for its beauty and many of the beautiful souls I met there. The violence and unrest of late is particularly devastating to a country that has forever been in a state of rebuild from decades of both natural and man-made destruction.

Anyhow, while I lived there, I studied. The center where I took classes was on a long, dusty road tucked behind homes and trees and even a soccer field. Around one bend in the road on that journey was often a large group of men who would sit for hours, waiting for trucks to swing by in need of day laborers. Some days no one came by so they sat all day. When you could take a taxi past, you could hear the whistles and catcalls once they recognized a woman was around. When I would walk by with other girls, the catcalls grew louder. They never were physically threatening just harrassing from a far. We ignored them, never looked in their direction to show we were clearly not interested in their advances but it didn’t matter for they would call out anyway.

I remember one day I finished with my classes early and had nothing else to work on. I wanted to leave early but I had no one to walk with or ride with. It would be hours before anyone else left for the day. All I could think of was walking past that group of men. I went back and forth in my head then decided to leave since it was the middle of the day. I said a little prayer and went on my way. As I approached the corner, I braced myself for the whistles and yelling but heard nothing. On that day, maybe they all found work or it was far too warm to hang but no one was there so I didn’t have to walk that uncomfortable looong walk past the whole group of them! I whispered a “Thank you God” and continued on my way. Later on that road (it was at least a mile or two), after mostly quiet I walked past a group of homes and heard a whoop to get my attention. Because it had been so quiet on my walk it startled me so I looked up which only increased the whistles. I never saw anyone which I’m grateful for but it made me realize it was a dumb decision I had made. It was unfair that I had to feel that way but it was reality. I was living in a foreign place, a temporary home where I was still learning the language and though I had said goodbye at the center before I left, no one truly knew where I was. I didn’t have a smartphone or gps tracking. In the end, though I know it was God who kept me safe, it wasn’t my best decision to test God’s protection in the first place. I never did it again.


Over the weekend I was helping at an event at McCormick Place. There was at least one instance I clearly recall where I was like, come on. I was working with a group and one of the girls was my buddy for the day. We clicked and spent much of the day sharing about our lives and praying for time to move quickly. During one of our event breaks, another man we were working alongside started hitting on her. He pulled her aside and asked if she was married and when she said no, his response was, “So you’re interested?” To which she told him she was not interested in him. She was in a relationship and even if she wasn’t, being single is not an auto-invitation to make someone uncomfortable. This man was also twice her age so it caught her completely off guard since she had been as nice to him as she had with everyone, making conversation since we were with each other for 13 hours.

Do you sense a theme here?

These are just instances of people using their words to make someone uncomfortable. It’s also awful for those in this world where harrassment goes beyond words and turns physical.

I was having this conversation with a guy friend of mine the other day over brunch. We were discussing some of the big stories and names that have caught the attention of the public over the past few years. We agreed that it is terribly sad how engrained victim blaming is in society. Harrassers and criminals can repeat harrassment and crimes like assault with little to no fear for retribution when women are involved.

In some of the most famous headlines when there are multiple women telling their story of sharing the same experience, they are called liars or whores or gold diggers or reputation ruiners. They are questioned about what took them so long to speak up. People put timeframes on someone else’s pain and experience. How unfair and unkind to ask someone to hurry up and get over it already.

When a person goes through any harrassment, assualt or trauma, they are likely to process or recover or grieve in a number of ways but the timing of that is their own. There are people who take decades to speak out and acknowledge trauma that happened to them as little kids. In our society, as adult women get harrassed over and over, the world just gets used to it. The stories are so commonplace, it’s ridiculous. Women are told to take it as a compliment or not get so sensitive. Women have actually been killed by strangers for saying they weren’t interested.

Ever seen the videos of the woman who secretly filmed how many times she gets harrassed on the street by men in a day? Part of the #MeToo movement is about individuals declaring how commonplace the experience is.

When individuals who don’t believe it, ignore the victim’s pain or truth after they have relived that trauma by speaking their truth to power, it reinforces the negative beliefs they may have been told by their abusers or the shame they have settled in themselves. Victim blaming damns the victim for wanting to be free.

And the shame placed on women makes the environment that much more uncomfortable for men to come forward about their own experiences with trauma, assault or harrassment. No means no and that statement is not gender specific.

No is a complete sentence. If you don’t like it, you can piss off.

I felt compelled to write this post because I too think our world has room to change. I have a zillion examples of things like this from family, friends, myself and so on. From something as simple as unwanted flirting or advances (no doesn’t mean try harder) to physical attacks, actions have consequences and No means No.

It doesn’t matter how late or early in the day it is. I don’t give a shit what she had on or what signals she might have been giving. People need to keep their hands to themselves in the absence of mutual consent. And yes I believe consent can be revoked at any time if one party feels uncomfortable.

One day in the future I also want to write a blog with this title thats not about the topic of harrassment or assualt but how No is a complete sentence in the workplace or your personal life. You can say No (without explaining yourself all the time) and keep your peace and sanity. Saying No should not make you feel guilty when you’re being asked to meet unrealistic demands or just don’t want to do something.

A Flight of Gratitude

Here is a post I drafted last August and didn’t finish until now…

On a (not so anymore lol) recent flight I took, I sat in a row of three seats with a Marine and Navy man, two young retired U.S servicemen, not much older than me. They didn’t know each and I didn’t know them but boy was I honored for the experience.

Man did I hear some powerful stories.

This BETTER NOT be news to you but there are very real humans fighting and serving all over the world.

I know many men and women on active duty and many veterans. It is a unique role to be in and a special position to take on for those who join the military. My dad is a veteran, honored to have served and I love him dearly for it.

Back in my window seat, I heard many of their graphic stories – one a more animated storyteller than the other.

I heard of an experience in Fallujah —
A guy shot in the head and a bullet ricocheted off his helmet and left a dent this soldier could put his hand in. I was shocked by how casually he spoke about it. Obviously I know nothing of the front lines of war. I have watched my share of documentaries, read my share of personal stories and heard my share of experiences from individuals all over the world. I remain in awe every time still.

Something else very fascinating they mentioned in agreement which I had never heard… When people say “Thank you for your service” or “I appreciate your service,” while those words never go unappreciated, they said… when they come from someone who hasn’t been on a battlefield, they can’t really know. They don’t really know what it takes. What it’s like.

That struck me. I, for one, have never been on an active battefield.

I happen to believe things happen for a reason. Of all the flights, of all the seats I landed there and so did these guys. As I said before, they did not know one another. They had different ethnic backgrounds, different religions, different experiences. Neither wore a uniform. But they recognized something in each other and spent the entire flight sharing with one another about it.

To them it was special because though different military branches, they each have a level of understanding that I for one will never have even though I fully support the men and women who give of their time and lives to do what they do.

These men talked about their lives now, the struggles they face, the PTSD and how they survive millions of miles away from the battlefield. One, encouraged the other through his faith. The other, resistant but respectful while hearing what worked well for his new friend.

Though I don’t stand in their shoes and I haven’t seen or done what they have firsthand, I am grateful for them anyhow. I am thankful and grateful beyond holidays that remind us to remember to have gratitude and show care or kindness. I am glad I chose that seat near the rear of the plane, for I will forever remember that experience.

Finally a request to any employer… hire veterans. A request to regular citizens… remember to treat all veterans and our servicemen and servicewomen with respect both when they return home and while they serve. It breaks my whole heart that there are people who served and don’t have proper access to healthcare, housing, food, mental health services and many other resources or support they may truly need. I hope that changes in my lifetime.

I personally don’t care much for war but that doesn’t stop war from happening so while I pray more that true peace can exist worldwide, I will do another thing that feels like my part. I have and will continue to fully support the people who honor the role, the duty and our country with their sacrifice.

Happy International Women’s Day

It feel like just yesterday I was in the middle of Women’s History Month, getting all the feels about this day.

On a day like today when I was beating my latest winter cold with meds and tea and sleep, I also couldn’t help but take a minute to reflect on the women in my life who I honor on a day like today.

I have a mother who is full of strength and wisdom. Most of which I see unfold all the time in my adult life. When I was a kid I didn’t always see it very clearly even though it was always there. Thankfully moms don’t give up. She had so much to teach snd I had so much to learn. I have gained so much from my mom and I am ever grateful.

I have learned great lessons and life tips from my sisters and girl friends and family members like aunts and cousins…Women full of knowledge and experience, willing to open up about the ups and down so they can teach someone else like me.

I have also learned a great deal from my mentors. I have a few very dear women in my life who have been gold in my life both personally and professionally.

Like the other women in my life, they are powerhouses! They encourage me, motivate and inspire me. They remind me where to find the light if or when I’ve lost the way. They allow me to unload when the professional pressures build too high and still challenge me to keep moving forward in a loving and caring way. They help me unpack the truths I already know and give me the push I need whenever I need. I am so grateful.

“Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
‘Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.”

by Maya Angelou

Thank you to all of you brave and phenomenal women for being who you are!

Then They Came For Me

Free and open to the public until November 19th is a very honest, powerful, yet heartbreaking exhibit at the Alphawood Gallery in Chicago. You must see it if you can. Then They Came For Me is about the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II and the demise of civil liberties.

I went to go check out this exhibit finally over the weekend. I’ve gone past the building a few times and was struck by how they decorated the outside. How will you stand up to injustice?…giant posters ask as you go by. I’ve done my research in the past about Japanese internment camp incarceration so when the exhibit popped up I had to go see it. 

Then They Came For Me takes a look at a very difficult and painful part of United States history when the government forced over 100,000 American citizens and permanent residents out of their homes and put them into internment/relocation/concentration camps. because they were Japanese-Americans. This happened immediately after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. 

The exhibit is wonderfully done with a number of life-size photos, artifacts and videos depicting the experience. They show what led up to that point in history, the experience of the people who suffered through that time and how that impacted their families for generations. 

Many “friends” and neighbors completely turned their backs on these Japanese Americans because of demeaning propaganda. They were treated like enemy spies even though there was no truth or proof or due process or charge or trial or sentence, just fear and hate driving policy that led to the infamous Executive Order 9066.

When the camps closed in years after the war, these families returned to racism, little hope and no opportunity. They were treated as outsiders, foreign enemies even though they were born in America, were Americans and called this country their home because it was their home. 

There was an interesting statement during a film in the exhibit that said there were 18 people arrested as spies in connection to the bombing but none of them were of Japanese ancestry. These citizens deserved the same human rights, civil liberties, respect and dignity of anyone else and they were denied all of it.

The exhibit also makes parallels between that experience and present day rhetoric and policy proposals driven by a culture of fear around Muslims in America, for many citizens and permanent residents who love their country and are loyal to a home that still treats them with on-going suspicion since 9/11. 

Decisions, laws, bills and executive orders seeking to make it legal to discriminate against people because of their religion or what they look like or the color of their skin or what they wear and using war and crime as the catalyst and propaganda to turn against anyone who looks like they could fall into that category. People in and outside their communities become black sheep, isolated, condemned, harrassed and the list goes on.  

Obviously we’ve seen this kind of hate and intolerance bubble up over and over again with many communities including the African-American community, the Latino-American community, other Asian-American communities and so on. Many people who are made to feel or believe that they don’t belong in a country that is theirs. 

For example, I was in a bar watching football a couple months ago and when the national anthem came on and a few players on the telly protested, a man in the bar began yelling, “Go back to your own country” and “If you don’t like it then leave” and other inappropriate comments which at the time I was thinking for a person who is trying to make a statement about disrespecting the flag and anthem, he sure was showing disrespect to both in that moment. I also thought to myself, this is their country so maybe if you don’t like it, then you can leave.  I’ve got stories like this for days and not just since the 2016 election.

It’s obviously very upsetting that these stories continue to happen. There is a saying that if we don’t know our history we are doomed to repeat it. Some days it feels as though we know our history well and still choose to repeat it, meaning that we don’t often learn from it. We don’t extrapolate the lessons that could make us not circle back to those same experiences. We can all use a dash more self-awareness, love, empathy and speaking up when injustice happens. Even you can be an agent of change.

If you can get to the Alphawood Gallery and see this exhibit before November 19, I would absolutely recommend it! 

Many of the photos and artifacts come from Dorothea Lange and Ansel Adams who were photographers sent by the government to the document what was happening. There is also a daily screening of a film called “And Then They Came For Us,” created by Abby Ginsburg and Ken Schneider. The documentary is shown at the top of every hour.

Star Trek’s George Takei, a big advocate for human rights and civil liberties shares a lot in the exhibition because his family went through living in those camps, feeling betrayed and humiliated as they spent years behind barbed wire with armed guards from a watchtower.  He did a TEDTalk on it as well. 

Like I said before…honest, powerful, yet heartbreaking. 

26.2 Miles of Commitment

So hard to believe it’s already been a week since the 2017 Bank of America Chicago Marathon where 45,000 people from across the world raced through the streets in the city of neighborhoods. 

Part of the route runs through my own neighborhood. This year I was nestled between miles 6 and 9 to the East and West. I had a few friends in the race this year who I could track progress for along the way. I saw several others I knew and could cheer on during that beautiful fall Sunday.

Whenever I watch big marathons or parades or large scale celebrations with participants from all walks of life, I get so emotional. There’s something about the power of community that gets me in my feelings. I shed a few tears of joy as my boyfriend and I stood and clapped for both strangers and friends.

I was watching people in the midst of accomplishing something major…26.2 miles worth of sweat, grit, self-talk, joy, pain, victory. A metaphor for life like no other. Alongside other spectators, I spent much of my time cheering along and encouraging people I didn’t even know. 

There were people of all ages, fitness levels, races, religions, genders, etc but we were all there to rally around the same cause. We all wanted to see people accomplish some variation of the same goal — to finish and to do so safely. 

It was a beautiful day and so many accomplished goals. My favorite part was feeling part of one positive community and I hope for more of that in my town and yours.