EP: 155 The Conscious Influencer: A Conversation On Racial Equity, Women’s Rights, Foster Care, And More With Rachel Lauren

BWW 156 | Conscious Influencer

 

I have talked to many successful women in corporate, business owners, authors, speakers, doctors, lawyers, and more, but I have not talked with a socially conscious influencer. But today, I brought you Rachel Lauren. After today’s conversation, I learned we can all be influencers with our platforms and voices. It’s up to us to find what we are passionate about and go and do something good. Rachel’s story motivated and inspired me, and I’m sure you will be, too.

During my chat with Rachel, we discussed:

  • She is multi-passionate and has many different professional and personal roles.
  • How she landed in her current role as Chief People Officer at Dream.org.
  • Her long history in serving marginalized groups, whether that is through prison reform, supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion, or foster-to-adoption.
  • What a conscious influencer means and how Rachel has grown her following.
  • How we can all use our voices to support one another and be conscious influencers.

Listen to the podcast here

 

The Conscious Influencer: A Conversation On Racial Equity, Women’s Rights, Foster Care, And More With Rachel Lauren

Everyone, how are you doing out there? We’re going to do something a little different. Before we dive into the show, I felt motivated to acknowledge that wrapping up everything for the end of the year can be difficult. I wrote a social post on this a couple of months ago, and I just wanted to revisit it. I’m here to give you all the grace and compassion you need that you may not be giving yourself as we’re all hustling and bustling before year-end.

Here are some reminders for you. If you’re hosting at your house or any space for the holidays, it doesn’t need to be perfect. If you have a project that needs to get done at work by year-end, and I’m saying an A through F scale, sometimes B or even B minus work is okay and even better than A or A plus work, especially if it zaps your energy. If you need to bow out of a holiday gathering or the cookie exchange at your kid’s school, it’s all okay. Whoever reads this, schedule a few minutes every day during this season to ask the following questions.

“What brings me joy during the holiday season?” Maybe it’s going and just scoping out like the twinkly white lights. Maybe it is going to your church, your synagogue, your mosque, and following your spiritual traditions. Whatever it is, find what brings you joy, and then go and chase that. Go after that. You don’t have to do all of the other things. Focus on what brings you joy.

This question came from an email that I received from a former Brave Women at Work guest, Courtney Carver. That question is attributed to her. The other question that you can ask is, “How can I best take care of myself now?” Schedule a few minutes every day to do just that. I’m all about you conserving energy to truly enjoy the holidays and have an awesome 2024. If you need those reminders, little love, and compassion, I’m giving it to you now.

Switching gears, what are we going to talk about on this show? My guest, Rachel Lauren, is someone who truly inspires. I’ve talked to so many successful women over the last few years in this show, like women in corporate, business owners, authors, speakers, doctors, lawyers, and so many more with different backgrounds. They’ve lifted me, and I hope they hope they’ve lifted you over the last few years. What I have not done is talk to a guest who is a socially conscious influencer, or someone that recognizes themselves as a socially conscious influencer. We’re going to do that.

After this conversation, I learned that we can all be influencers with our platforms and with our voices. It’s up to us to find what we are passionate about and go and do something good with those passions. I was motivated by Rachel’s story, and I’m sure you will be too. During my chat with Rachel, we discussed how she is multi-passionate and has many different professional and personal roles and hats like we all do, but hers are unique. Also, how she landed in her role as Chief People Officer at Dream.org, and her long history and serving marginalized groups, whether that is through prison reform, supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion, or fostering adoption situations.

Lastly, what a conscious influencer means, how Rachel has grown her following on social media, and how we can all use our voices to support one another and be conscious influencers. Here’s more about Rachel. Rachel Lauren is a conscious social influencer who is passionate about racial equity, Black life, women’s rights, foster care and adoption, and holistic wellness. By profession, Rachel is a diversity, equity, and inclusion practitioner and human resources professional.

Rachel is the Vice President of People and Culture for Van Jones nonprofit organization Dream.org, formerly named Dream Corps, while concurrently serving as the Managing Partner for programming and relationships for diversified boutique DEI consulting firm. It is not by coincidence that Rachel’s passion for people and heart for culture has led her to a career that speaks to who she is and what she believes. Through her popular social platforms and various contributor positions, Rachel speaks out against racial injustice and advocates most commonly for the lives of all Black people. As a proud adoptive mom of three, Rachel is no stranger to foster care and adoption. More specifically, how this industry affects Black and Brown children and families.

She proudly supports individuals facing the perils of a system in need of deep healing. Rachel believes that many systemic disadvantages also separate the demographics. She predominantly works to support access to holistic treatment and awareness. Due to this, she shares her knowledge and interest in healthy alternatives and remedies. Rachel serves on the board of directors for the Austin Area Urban League, & H.O.M.E. Although a proud Chicago native, and I love that, I’m a fellow Chicagoan, Rachel resides in Austin, Texas with her two daughters, Savannah and Kensleigh, and son Elijah. We talked about expanding her family with another boy.

Before we get started, if you’re enjoying this show, please make sure to leave a rating and review on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. I’ve seen some of the ratings jump up and I’ll bring them back to review them in future episodes, but I thank you so much if you’ve taken the time to leave a star rating or leave an actual written rating. Any support means the world to me. It helps this show get into the hands of more working women and more women all over the world, and that’s my passion and my purpose. Thank you.

One more reminder, if you haven’t yet gone over to my site to grab any of my freebies, go to BraveWomenAtWork.com. I have mentioned this on prior shows, but just so you know, the names of the freebies getting paid, 10 Negotiation Tips, 24 Career & Leadership Affirmations, and the 5 Steps to Managing Your Imposter Syndrome. These issues are real-world issues that I face with my coaching clients every day. I created them for you so you, too, could get a resource in your hands to help you right now. Go to my website, BraveWomenAtWork.com, to download those for free. Let’s welcome Rachel to the show.

 

BWW 156 | Conscious Influencer

 

Rachel, welcome to the show. How are you?

I am good. How are you, Jen?

I am good. Thank you so much for being here and for being a guest on the show. We’ll go ahead and jump right in. I love women’s stories. That’s what the show is all about. Why don’t you share with our readers a little bit about you and your background story?

I am an influencer. I like to call myself a conscious influencer. You can find me on social media influencing about things that matter. I am also the Chief People Officer at Dream.org, and we’re a nonprofit. We work to close prison doors and open doors of opportunity. Last but not least, I am a mother. I’m an adoptive mother of three and bonus mother of one. I am at the finish line of having my biological baby. That pretty much takes up most of my time.

Congratulations in advance. I can only recall. When I was pregnant with each of my daughters, when I got to the end there, that finish line, I just couldn’t wait for it to all be over. It was such a blessing. Do you know the sex of this baby?

Yes, I am having a boy.

Cool. I’m not asking you to share anything on names or anything, but do you have a name picked out?

Not yet.

Blessings that you find a name that resonates with him when he joins the world. That’s so exciting. When I looked at your bio, you have so many different hats, like in your professional life and, like you said, a conscious influencer. I’ve not talked to a lot of people who would call themselves a conscious influencers. Can you define that for me and our audience?

People coined the term influencer when they have reached a certain threshold or following on social media. People use those platforms to influence individuals in areas that they are interested in or work in. Oftentimes, you find that being clothes or things that are fun. All of that is great, but what I realized is you can use your platform for something that is meaningful and can impact the world.

For me, conscious influencing is being aware of what it is that I’m supporting and speaking out on. There are times when there are brands and things like that I work with, but normally, everything that I do ties back to a purpose. I’m very big on foster care and adoption, so I do a lot of influencing around that. Also, Black lives and different areas that might intersect there like diversity, equity, and inclusion work. It depends on what’s happening in the world and if I feel like it fits in with who I am and what I believe in. That’s how I use my platform.

Use your platform for something meaningful that can impact the world. Conscious influencing is being aware of what you support and speak out on. Share on X

That’s cool. It’s something that I wish more people would do for most people, me included. I was in New York and we were taking pictures of our food and the clothes. You’ve got a different bend on it, which is awesome. Let’s dive into these roles and these areas that you have of passion. One of your roles that I read when I was diving into all things you is that you’re a Chief People Officer at Dream.org. Remind me about the goal of the Dream.org organization.

We close prison doors and open doors of opportunity, and we do that through a couple of verticals. We are responsible for the First Step Act. A lot of people are familiar with what that is. It freed about 30,000 people from prison. Prison reform is top of the list for us. We have individuals on staff who are lobbying around different causes. One would be, for example, crack versus cocaine and the sentencing that comes with it. It is various areas within that. We have a network that we call the Empathy Network, where people can join that want to get involved in prison reform and make their voice matter in their area. We do trainings of individuals to teach them how to be advocates themselves and to even lobby and work on some bills and things like that. There’s a lot that we do in the justice space.

The Empathy Network is where people can join to get involved in prison reform and make their voices matter in their area. Share on X

Another area that we focus on is climate justice. A lot of individuals know what’s happening in the world of climate change and the environment but don’t understand that it impacts certain communities at different rates and will impact certain communities at a different rate. We work on reform for climate but also with that lens of understanding that minority communities specifically are impacted differently. Some don’t even really know what’s coming. We have a team of people that work on policy there as well as several other things that align.

I love telling this story. We have a third vertical that was founded by the one and only Prince along with Van Jones. It’s our tech vertical. Within that, what ended up happening was right after Trayvon Martin Prince had commented that, there are a lot of young Black men in hoodies that get the stereotype of being a thug when they’re just seen walking around the streets. The reverse for young White men is that they are seen as CEOs of tech companies. Why does that stigma exist and how can we get more Black and Brown individuals into the tech space and aware of the jobs that exist?

We created the tech vertical that helps to bring Black and Brown talent into this space but also fights for some tech reform as well. There are things like broadband service and different areas, just things people don’t think about from a tech perspective that impact minority communities differently. That’s the organization that I work for. We do quite a bit, and I’m super proud to be a part of it.

Who knew that Prince would be involved with that? That’s interesting. Everyone’s probably wondering. Before he passed untimely, did you get to speak with him, meet him, or anything like that?

Unfortunately, no. I started working for the organization after he passed, but people who did work for us prior did. Van Jones was one of our founders and he was a great friend of Van.

That’s cool. That’s a fun story. I also want you to educate me a little bit on climate change. Bear with me because I’m going into places and spaces that I need to learn to as a brave woman at work. You mentioned a few minutes ago that climate change impacts minorities differently. Can you share a little bit about that? This is for me and the readers’ education.

The most basic thing to start with is the education around it. There are a lot of minority communities that have no idea what climate change is and have not been educated on what’s happening and how it can impact people in general. If you don’t have knowledge, then there’s no way for you to prepare for it. That’s the first. Access is a big thing. We know equity and access affect so many different areas of life. A great example of climate change impacting a community would be Flint, the lack of water and access to water. That’s a climate change issue.

We see that even now, years after we found out what was happening with that water, there’s still an issue in Flint, so why is that? That would be an example of some of the things that are happening. We know that certain communities are not built with the infrastructure to support some of the challenges that weather brings, and unfortunately, minority communities are top of the list for that.

That Flint Michigan is a good example, now that it’s not in the news like front and center. That’s a real issue for people. It’s great that you guys are still working on those issues or as they pop up. I know you were never bored. I also have to mention to everyone that you co-founded a boutique DEI firm called Diversified. Do you straddle between roles? Tell me a little bit. I don’t know if you just found it and other people are in leadership or if you are doing that as well. Can you share?

It’s diversity, equity, and inclusion consulting. The funny thing is that my role as CPO here at Dream.org came from consulting. I was consulting for Dream.org. They were a client for over a year before I stepped into a role. I was helping them find someone at the time to take the role of director of human resources. We’ve made some changes to what that looks like, but they were not having success with that. I made a joke at one point. I was like, “You should just hire me.” I wasn’t serious. I had a full-time job in addition to consulting at the time.

I had a member of their executive team come back and say, “Would you consider that?” I did. I’ve been with them ever since I’ve been with the organization for years now. I do still consult on the side. The beauty of how I got here is that they knew what I was doing before and they support me being able to have that passion and have other clients as well. I just make sure that whatever I do doesn’t take away from what I have to do for Dream.org. Oftentimes it parallels and supports it anyway, so that’s the beauty of it. I have a synergy.

I consult with clients all over around anything diversity, equity, and inclusion within their organizations which can include trainings for staff and coaching for leadership or managers. It can include looking at policies and employee handbooks and revising them. There are several things that we do. It’s not just me. I do have individuals consult with me.

You’re going to have a baby soon. I don’t know if this is going to all be godown. That’s pretty amazing. I have had conversations about DEI on the show, but I don’t think that you can underscore it and highlight it enough. From your perspective, how do you believe we can support diversity, equity, and inclusion no matter what our roles are in our workplaces?

I like to say that the three build off of each other, but the order in which we go after them or tackle them in our organizations, or even in our individual lives matters. Equity in my opinion comes first because equity, unlike what many people think, it’s not about equality. It’s realizing that there isn’t equality until everyone can get to the same point. It’s that idea that if one person starts a race 10 miles ahead of another person, and they’re supposed to get to the same finish line, well do we recognize that the person that’s 10 miles ahead is going to have an advantage? How do we help people get to the same point in different areas? We can talk about what equality is.

In organizations, equity is important because it is what will allow you to have diversity. You can’t have diversity without equity. You can’t have inclusivity without diversity. People won’t feel like they belong without inclusivity. They all feed each other, but it’s impossible to get to one without starting somewhere. In my opinion, equity is the start.

You can't have diversity without equity, and you can't have inclusivity without diversity. Share on X

Is there a certain flag I call the secret sauce? Or is there a magic to getting to the point of equity first?

I don’t know if there’s a magic. Every organization is different. When I enter into organizations that’s the work that I’m doing, look at what their demographics are, their policies, their procedures, their hiring practices, and what jobs look like. Even data about who sits where in the organization can help you determine what equity issues might be there or how to improve them. The reality is there are a lot of people out in the world who are qualified for so many positions, but sometimes just don’t know that they exist which goes back to our conversation about tech. It’s not that there aren’t Black or Brown talent that can do some of the jobs that exist, it’s that they don’t know how to get there or that they’re there.

It’s figuring out how you can extend that arm or that branch and give information about your company and your organization in a way that touches more than the audience that you might already have. We look into that. Also, what are your criteria, and can some of them be changed? After the murder of George Floyd, a lot of people were open to figuring DEI out more. In that, there were a lot of organizations that were willing to take some of the criteria on their job descriptions off just in realizing that simple things can help with the equity conversation.

Very interesting. It sounds like having a company be willing to dive in and do the work, and words matter you said the employee handbook, the job descriptions, and having someone like you or a similar consultant come in and do that work is foundational to getting to equity. Having a neutral third party always helps. Also, on the heels of this one of the things that I saw somewhere around either your bio or the work you do is the idea of having companies become more inclusive and diverse at the same time. Do you have any thoughts about that?

We have to work on our definition of diversity. A lot of times when we talk about diversity, people automatically only think about race and maybe gender, but diversity exceeds that. First, get an understanding of what diversity means and how it shows up in our organization. The most basic things, race, age, and gender, are important things that we should consider. What about background, education where someone grew up, thought process, and how people learn, there are so many different areas of diversity that we have to also consider. There’s no way for us to be inclusive of everyone if we’re not capturing what diversity is.

BWW 156 | Conscious Influencer
Conscious Influencer: There are many areas of diversity to consider, and there’s no way for us to be inclusive of everyone if we’re not capturing what diversity is.

 

Something that I challenge organizations to do is to do a diversity survey. Oftentimes when you come into a place of employment, they’ll ask you those basic questions of check this box for what your ethnicity is and what your race is. Sometimes they’re limiting. I am Afro-Latin when I see some of those surveys, I’m like, “I don’t know what to check because you’re telling me I can only check one thing.”

When you allow your employees to tell you who they are versus making them pick from what your limited idea of diversity might be, or statistically what the information we capture, it paints another picture. Diversity surveys can be optional and they can have a ton of different fields. They can have fields that people write in, and it will give you the truest picture of who’s in your organization. You can plan things and be inclusive and make people feel like they belong because you know who they are and you’re not assuming.

It gives a different perspective on the whole race and ethnicity question. As you said, what do you select? I don’t know if you select one or if you select both or what, but it pigeonholes you specifically and probably so many people when they’re looking for that information, even as a starter.

The other thing is that a lot of people are not educated on what the terms are in general. For me, racially, I am a Black woman and we know race is a social construct that was created based on what someone looks like, and how they present themselves. Ethnicity deals more with culture, where you came from the practices that your family might raise you on. There’s a difference and people mix those up. People also mix up nationality, you’ll hear people use the word nationality often to talk about race. That’s not correct either.

Nationality is the country that you are a citizen of where you were born. If you know those different definitions, sometimes that can help, but it still doesn’t always accurately show up on some of these surveys. Racially, I am a Black woman, but if you talk to me about ethnicity, then you’d know I am Puerto Rican. It’s limiting to say that I’m Black and not Latina because I’m both.

Speaking about that, I wanted to dive into your experience as a Black working woman, a successful woman in corporate America. I’ve heard from some of my other African American successful female guests. That if you’re too strong, you come off as aggressive or even angry. I don’t know if you felt that as well or have experienced that or if you have any different experiences on being a Black working woman in the US.

That is a common thread that most of us have experienced at one point or another. There are some clear stereotypes for Black women and they show up a lot in the workplace. Unfortunately, my founding of Diversified, our consulting firm did come from my experiences as a Black woman in corporate America. Dealing with some of those stereotypes and being the token and realizing that there needed to be someone to speak about what they went through and raise their hand. I will say that it is real, it exists.

The idea of the angry Black woman shows up in corporate America, but it shows up honestly more than that. It shows up in a lot of different areas. We have this stereotype that’s been projected on us that if we’re passionate about something if we raise our hand about being wrong in an area that we’re angry, that we’re unsettled, that we are too loud or we’re doing it the wrong way or we’re aggressive we even have this stereotype about just being strong, which you would think is positive, but it isn’t in certain instances.

For example, within birthing you’ll look statistically at Black mothers and the death rates of Black mothers in comparison to other ethnicities is insane. I chose to go with a midwife for that reason. It goes back to this idea of believing Black women when they say they’re in pain. This idea of a Black woman being strong and not empathizing with her in a way that you might with another race.

That’s such a tangible, real right now in minute example. You’ve chosen a midwife versus maybe going, I don’t want to say traditional route, having birthing a hospital because you’re concerned that if you are in pain, are they going to listen or are they going to be attentive to me? Is there anything else that comes up for you feeling wise about that decision to have a midwife?

It’s just being heard is a thing. I did not start with a midwife. I went to a couple of OB-GYNs and it did not feel right to me. I felt like a number, which I won’t say is based on race. I know right now we have a doctor shortage so that has something to do with it. You could Google maternity death rates of Black women and the amount of data that will come up around what’s been happening in the last few years is astounding. Knowing that’s a thing is something that drove me towards the midwife route. I’ve talked to doctors as well that know that’s a thing as themselves or Black women doctors even that say, it’s happened somewhere along the way after school. It’s weird. It’s unconscious for some, and we know that a lot of biases are, unconscious, and these stereotypes that society projects impact our minds.

These stereotypes that society projects impact our minds. Share on X

Thank you for sharing that example. That’s a very real one at the moment. We’ve talked about this on the show, of women lifting other women of all races and spaces, and I know this is a big problem, this is not for just one show, this is a whole movement. How can we help one another to have a voice at the table? I’m super passionate about helping working women. I don’t care what your background is, your race, your ethnicity. I want women to get paid what they’re worth. I want all of us to have a voice at the table. How can we all help each other to do that? It’s a problem. Why isn’t there pay parity? Any thoughts about that?

Everyone should start where they are. Sometimes the hardest part is getting started. You believe in these things and you have a passion to change certain things, but where do I start? The reality is that even small changes matter. It’s what organizations you work with or volunteer in or where are you active. It could be your church or your community. You can look and try to find where you see there’s an imbalance, check the diversity of what’s going on in that area. Check the practices of how people can enter into those organizations, into those companies. Even the demographics of maybe volunteer groups or churches or different things that you do for fun. Where do you see diversity there and why? If you don’t see it, why is that?

Speaking up is important, but if there are individuals who may represent the minority that are within a space with you, allow them to tell you. Sometimes allyship can become loud, and I know that people have the right heart and want to help. Sometimes allies can become the voice that overshadows the voices of the people who are already not heard. You want to make sure that anything that you’re doing, that it’s educated by the people that are there and that can speak to it, and that you allow them sometimes to say, “I’m not going to speak. I’d love for this person to speak because I know that they’re not heard in the same way, or they haven’t been heard in the same way, and I want to support their voice.” You can do that in a job setting.

Those are definite ways to get started and challenge superiors. A lot of times people are uncomfortable doing that, but I have had some amazing allies throughout my life who have raised their hand and said, we noticed this, and it’s not fair. Is it down to paying in organizations and taking opportunities that could be given to someone else? Sometimes it is taking a step back and maybe missing out so that someone can take a step forward.

You’ve hit on something, I’m like, “I may need to do a whole show on this.” We’ve talked about mentorship. Where someone gets that mentor-mentee relationship, we’ve talked about sponsorship, but what you’re talking about is allyship. Sponsorship is where that person’s speaking on your behalf to get you in those rooms. In the allyship, which we haven’t talked about before, you’re talking about that they’re going to have your back, but they’re going to open the doors so you have your voice, which is a whole different level. It’s one thing to have someone speak on your behalf, but maybe that person still thinks it’s that person’s idea or they’re still in power, and we want to hear the voice of that person if possible so that they can get stronger and they can open their doors. The sponsor or the mentor may not be there all the time. I like the concept of allyship, so thanks for introducing it here.

I bring sometimes to organizations employee resource groups. You’ll find that they’re really helpful in the workspace. It’s just groups that surround certain topics or demographics. For example, you might have a Black employee resource group that is in support of and in celebration of Black people within that organization. Oftentimes ERGs are open to the people who identify, but also to people who want to be allies to that demographic.

I’ve created this stoplight model that we’ll use in different meetings. Red means it’s a closed meeting, meaning we’re giving the individuals that identify as whatever the group is, the space and the time to be with each other. Maybe allies are not welcome in that particular meeting or event. We have the yellow where allies are welcome. We want friends and identifying members here, but take caution with your words. Or maybe this meeting is for you to listen and not to speak. We want you to hear from us and learn from us and allow us to speak in this, but we want you to be a part of it. Green is go, we want active communication. We want you not only to listen, but we want you to speak. Allowing groups to tell you what they need, makes you the best ally versus assuming. Sometimes, you can become the loudest voice and you’re not helping what it is that they might see as the problem.

Did you create that green, yellow, red methodology yourself or is that something that you follow? It’s cool, I’ve never even heard of it before, so I was just wanting to make sure we give credit where credit is due.

It’s something that I created when instituting ERGs through my consulting firm.

That’s cool. If you have anything you want to share with me after that we can link up even for someone who maybe owns a company or who works for a company that might benefit from those types of services. Often when I’m in meetings, I’m sure you’re going to laugh at this. It’s like the most dominant voice in the room. Whoever has got that biggest voice, the biggest bark will often overtake unless someone else is managing the way the flow of the conversation is going. I like that because it gives very clear parameters on what those discussions are going to be about, who’s welcome, who’s going to be listening, and who’s going to be speaking.

From a personal perspective, you have mentioned one of the causes, one of the things you’re passionate about is being a foster parent. I want to be clear, you’re a foster-to-adopt mom of three children. I’d love to learn we have a little bit of time. I’d love to learn what drove you to do that, what the process was like, and what the experience was like for you. There were a lot of questions there. What drove you to be a foster-to-adopt mom?

I always wanted to adopt. I have a best friend who is adopted and I grew up with her and we went to high school together. I was able to witness what love could do for her, if you saw her and her four siblings, you would never know. She’s the only one that’s adopted by that family and you would have no idea. She was adopted at the age of five. She would tell me stories, little things that she did remember before her adoption experiences in the foster home. She tells an awful story about a foster home she was in where a woman made her eat white rice and ketchup every day. That was her meal.

There are horrible stories within the foster system. There are some beautiful ones as well, but I wanted to make a difference in that way. Adoption was always in the plans for me. I ended up deciding to foster-to-adopt because I learned more about the foster system and the needs that were there. I felt like there are so many of our kids that are right here in the system that need us, why go another route? When you decide to foster, there are different ways that you can enter.

You could be a foster parent that doesn’t want to adopt. You just want to be like a rehabilitation area for children, and then they go either home or to whoever will adopt them. You can enter as a respite, which means you’re just an emergency placement for some foster children. It’s very temporary. It could be a week until they find a placement, or it could be babysitting for a foster family that’s going out of town and can’t take the child.

There’s foster-to-adopt. That means adoption is your goal, and when you get a placement, there’s no way of you knowing if that placement will be adoptable, but you’re open to it. Simultaneously you’ll get these really sad emails. They’re emails that they call broadcasts and they are of children within your state. They will tell you their cases. Usually, these children are adoptable or they’re about to be adoptable and they have not found a home yet. You’ll get these cases and you’ll have these pictures of kids and you’ll be able to respond and say like, “Yes, consider me while you might already have placements.” It’s like you choose two ways.

It’s like you’re choosing the child that you are thinking of adopting, or is that what you mean by that?

It is. It’s a strange process, I’m not going to lie. You’re getting a file picture and you’re saying, “I would like this child,” and maybe, “Not this one.” When you say yes, remember that there are people all over the state getting this broadcast, so it’s almost a needle in a haystack. You can say yes to 30 kids and you might not get picked, so you just keep doing it. Again, simultaneously you might have an emergency placement that could eventually turn into adoption depending on what the reason is or how that process is going with them.

In total, I’ve fostered a total of seven children. I’m not fostering anymore, but I was fostering two children. They were both under the age of two, a boy and a girl. I had submitted to adopt a few children and then I got picked for my now son. My son came into my life. I was fostering three kids at one time when he came in. You still have to foster them for an amount of time before it’s legal. I had 3 kids under the age of 3 when he came, 2 boys, 1 girl.

The girl ended up being reunited with her family, and the little boy did shortly thereafter. I kept a relationship with him and his family for some time. I thought I was done. I had my son. I adopted him. I closed my doors to fostering, but I kept getting the broadcast because I was like, “Maybe I want to see them.” Two little girls popped up and I immediately started crying when I saw these two little girls. I 100% knew they were my daughters.

That gives me absolutely chills. Are they twins?

They’re not. They’re biological sisters. I submitted a video which you don’t have to do. You can simply just say yes and then your agency will send your file. I felt like they were my girls. I sent a video and I want to adopt these two girls. Normally, the process takes a while because like I said, there are so many files that they’re getting and yeses. They’re going through all of these and they have to pick 3 and then they might pick 2. If you’re picked, you have to date the child. You go meet the child and then you might come back and get a day with them and then you might come back and get a weekend. It can be months. Believe it or not, those girls were in my home a week after I said yes.

It was the craziest thing. They had already been adoptable, they were in a home that was supposed to adopt them and had to be removed from that home for reasons that were not great. It was like an emergency where they needed to find a placement, but they didn’t want to just put them in a foster home that wasn’t adopting them. They worked hard to find their forever home. A week and three days later, they showed up at my doorstep, and my oldest daughter called me mommy the first day. I opened the door and she was like, “Hi, Mommy.” It was insane. I finalized their adoption at the very beginning of COVID. That process was crazy because we did it in the mail because courts are closed. that’s my story. I stopped adopting and fostering because I have my hands full now, but I have another. That’s my oldest.

Are they excited to have another brother?

They are. My son is the only boy. I have a girl stepdaughter, so he’s the only boy of three. If you don’t have a boy, I’m leaving. I’m not living here anymore.

I need some extra testosterone in this house. This is ridiculous. They do give me chills. If you don’t believe a miracles, there’s a miracle right there. You’re crying in front of the screen and you’re like, “These are my girls.” A week and a half later, there they are on your doorstep saying, “Hey, Mom.” I don’t know who needs to hear this, but if you’re struggling and I had secondary infertility. I don’t have experience with adoption, so that’s why I wanted to talk with you, but it also shows that you can be a mother in so many different ways. You can do it this way and you can have your own of course. There are so many ways to be a mom. What a beautiful story. You mentioned that some of the things that I read about you are that you believe that more minorities need to be foster parents. Why is that?

It goes back to the idea that I do believe that there are a lot of things that minorities are just not educated on. Foster care and adoption is one area where that’s the case. When I was getting licensed here in Texas, my agency shared a statistic that there’s this misconception that there are more Black children within the foster system. The truth is that within Texas, more White children enter the system, but there are more Black children left in the system. That’s because a lot of times people will try to adopt individuals that look like them.

I don’t have an issue with that. The reality is if there are not enough Black families or minority families that are raising their hand to take in minority children then they are left in the system. We need to be educated on it and recognize the ways that we can assist and help. I also think that some families and people would, if they knew they just don’t, I’ve had so many conversations with individuals about respite. When I talked about earlier the emergency placement temporary placement that is like, “If I knew that was a thing I would’ve done that years ago, I just didn’t know.”

I did not know that. I’m glad it’s like a PSA for everyone. If someone wants to do something amazing for a child in need, I didn’t understand that it could be short periods. You’re saying that with respite, it’s like an emergency, so it could be a week or two.

My girls when I said yes to adopting them and they were removed from the home that was supposed to be, they went to respite for that amount of time. It was great because I was able to communicate with that family. They helped transition them, letting them know, “You’re only here for a few days. You have a forever family.” We were texting back and forth. The mother of that home was so sweet. She sent my daughter with flowers.

They help. They’re the in-between and then there are times when you might be fostering and you do still have to get permission in some cases from the biological parents to take them out of state or to take them past a certain area. Some families will say no. What happens if you have a death in the family, or you have a vacation or something, what happens with the child? Respite steps in, it can be a day, a weekend, or two weeks. There’s a maximum, but it’s different depending on what state you’re in. I want to say in Texas, it’s around a month.

It’s really neat. It sounds like what you’re saying is that there’s a shortage of people that are doing this. Whether it’s Respite or complete foster-to-adopt, which I know is a monstrous life change. What you did is so amazing. It sounds like there’s a shortage of support in the foster system.

In Texas we’re dealing with, they’re not being placements to the point where children are being put in hotel rooms or sleeping in the child protective services offices. There’s a shortage and a need.

I’m glad that we’re talking about this. Rachel, we’re hitting on all of the things. We’re getting it all out there, which is a good thing. For someone that might be motivated by your story, whether it’s from the foster story or being a Black working woman in corporate, or DEI or Dream.org. We’re coming back around to being a conscious influencer. How do you think that if someone’s like, “I want to do that, I want to switch my Instagram up a little bit. I want to do good. Do good with social, influence in a positive way.” How do they get started? What would you say if they want to start influencing in a socially conscious way, how do we get started doing that?

First, know what it is that you want to speak out on and what it is that you believe in. I’m not someone who will tell people to limit, I do recognize that you can’t do everything. You’ve heard everything that I do and it’s not technically all one thing, so I don’t limit individuals, but it’s starting somewhere. What is it that you are passionate about? I often tell people, that your purpose is the thing that you would do for free if you had to. What is that thing? What is that area? Educate yourself on it and begin speaking on it. Show yourself volunteering, stepping up, speaking, or creating organizations. Whatever it is that you’re doing, show it in the same way that you would show a new shirt that you love and you want your followers to buy. It’s the same thing. It’s just being transparent about that area of your life.

BWW 156 | Conscious Influencer
Conscious Influencer: Your purpose is the thing that you would do for free.

 

For me, building my platform happened because of being transparent. I let people have a front-row seat to my journey. That helps my following grow. It’s not that I don’t talk about cooking or the fun things, I do all of it, but I make sure that people know that this isn’t a place that you’re going to come to just for that because, for me, there are more important things that I talk about. That’s how you get started you figure out what it is and you start speaking on it, doing, showing, and giving your followers that call to action. This is how you can get involved, these are the things that you can do.

How do you protect your energy? There are so many haters out there. Do you just not read the hate comments or do you have a team that helps you? Do you block things? People myself included, I’ve been more vulnerable on social media, LinkedIn particularly. This show is an exercise in vulnerability for me, but it got to a point, Rachel, where I just couldn’t anymore. It sounds like you were probably pretty similar where I was like. My cause is women, getting them paid, negotiating, and getting them to the places and the spaces that they want. That is what I’m super passionate about. It’s scary because some people are hating on that stuff. How do you deal with that energy?

I try to tell people to shift their mindset. If you’re being hated on, you’re probably doing something right. Usually, that’s when they come. I am not afraid to block like, “Hello,” block, and blessed is what I say. I’m no longer entertaining this. That block button is great, but I know it might sound simple, but I just ignore it because the more people that hate and the more people that come with that energy, that means the more I’m doing, it’s got to be.

If I wasn’t doing something right, then that wouldn’t happen. I see it. If I pay attention to it, I’ll block it. Otherwise, I just don’t pay attention because what I’m doing is so much greater than worrying about that. There are so many more positive comments and positive people and people that need it and individuals that are benefiting than most people that I’m not going to concentrate on it.

I’m going to give you all the credit. I may do a meme later or a little #blockedAndBlessed. Just talking about that because I love it. I haven’t heard that particular phrase. It would be attributed to you, Rachel. That’s exciting. I’d love to wrap us up by asking you what are one to two ways women you believe can be braver at work.

Being their authentic full selves. That can include the mother, the Black woman, the activist, whatever it is, whoever you are don’t be afraid to bring that to work that’s our superpower. Oftentimes, we check that at the door. It makes us the best employee in all those different areas of our lives. That’s one. The other thing is to be okay with having a hobby.

I know that this sounds crazy but I’ve learned that oftentimes and specifically this is something that statistically shows up for minorities as well. We will find something that we like and that we’re good at and we’ll monetize it instead of continuing to enjoy it. We deserve to have luxury. We deserve to have things that we enjoy. It’s okay to have a hobby that we’re not making money on. That can feed you and allow you to be brave when you have something that pours back into you.

We deserve to have luxury. We deserve to have things that we enjoy. It's okay to have a hobby we're not making money on. Share on X

You get the star. I’ve never heard that one in 150-plus episodes. That’s a good one. I like that because we all think, “I got to have a side hustle because it’s popular to have a side hustle.” No, you don’t. You can love to read or whatever your hobby is, love to crochet, whatever it is. That’s great because I’ve had coaches ask me and I’ve asked some of my coaching clients, “When was the last time you felt like a belly laugh joy?” Women and all people were like, “What do you mean?” It’s all about work and not as much play. It’s a beautiful reminder for us to play. Thank you for that. That’s wonderful wisdom. How can women find you and look at what you’re doing out there and what you’re influencing in the world, how can they connect with you online?

@TheOnlyRachel is my handle on all social media that I’m on exclusively. Instagram is what I use the most. You can find me at @TheOnlyRachel. TheOnlyRachel.com is my website. You can also find me there. Those are the best places.

Rachel, it was so fun. I thank you. I know your hours and your minutes are precious right now. Thank you so much for spending time with us.

Thank you.

That’s a wrap for my discussion with Rachel. I hope you found our conversation both valuable and inspiring. As a reminder, please rate, review, and subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. The show is also available on Google Podcasts or any other platform you enjoy. Until next time, show up be a conscious influencer, and be brave.

 

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About Rachel Lauren

BWW 156 | Conscious InfluencerRachel is a conscious social influencer who is passionate about racial equity, Black life, women’s rights, foster care/adoption, and holistic wellness. By profession Rachel is a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion practitioner and Human Resources professional. Rachel is the Vice-President of People and Culture for Van Jones non-profit organization Dream.Org (formerly Dream Corps) while concurrently serving as a Managing Partner (Programming and Relationships) for Diversified, a boutique DEI consulting firm. It is not by coincidence that Rachel’s passion for people and heart for culture has led her to a career that speaks to who she is and what she believes.

Through her popular social platforms and various contributor positions, Rachel speaks out against racial injustice and advocates, most commonly, for the lives of all Black people. As a proud adoptive mom of 3, Rachel is no stranger to foster care and adoption, and more specifically how this industry affects Black and Brown children and families. She proudly supports individuals facing the perils of a system in need of deep healing.

It is Rachel’s belief that many systemic disadvantages also separate the demographics she predominately works to support from access to holistic treatment and awareness. Because of this, she shares her knowledge and interest in healthy alternatives and remedies.

Rachel currently serves on the board of directors for the Austin Area Urban League, & H.O.M.E. In addition she is a regular contributor for the African Diaspora Online News Channel. Rachel is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated and was initiated at the University of Illinois’ Urbana Champaign’s Alpha Nu Chapter. Presently she is a member of the Austin Alumnae Chapter. Although a proud Chicago native, Rachel currently resides in Austin Texas with her 2 daughters, Savannah and Kensleigh, and son, Elijah.

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