When in doubt, dance it out. For me,dancing isone of the best ways to get a present. It is really hard to be stressed while also dancing. It’s a universal language, available to us at all times for free, and there is no right or wrong way to do it. For the first month of the pandemic, I hosted a one-minute dance party every day at 1 p.m. on Zoom. I also joined this dance community called 5 Rhythms that hosts weekly outdoor silent discos. We each have our own headset and we meet in a park or big public area and just dance our hearts out for 2 hours. It has allowed me to connect with people and dance while being very spaced out and I found it’s helped me feel grounded during times of uncertainty.
With the success of the vaccines, we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel of this difficult period in our history. But before we jump back into the routine of the normal life that we lived in 2019, it would be a shame not to pause to reflect on what we have learned during this time. The social isolation caused by the pandemic really was an opportunity for a collective pause, and a global self-assessment about who we really are, and what we really want in life.
As a part of this series called “5 Things I Learned From The Social Isolation of the COVID19 Pandemic”, I had the pleasure to interview Lauren Blodgett.
Lauren Blodgett is a Brooklyn-based immigration attorney and founder of the non-profit The Brave House, which provides legal & holistic services, mentorship, and community to young immigrant women in New York City. Lauren was on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list for Law and Policy due to her innovative & compassionate approach to legal services. Lauren graduated from Harvard Law School where she worked on human rights initiatives in Morocco, Thailand, Jordan, Tanzania, and Washington DC. She was a Fulbright Scholar in Austria, where she researched international law and taught English. When not in the courtroom, Lauren is a part of different dance communities in New York City, such as Daybreaker (early morning, sober dance parties) and 5 Rhythms ecstatic dance.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series Lauren! Our readers like to get an idea of who you are and where you came from. Can you tell us a bit about your background? Where do you come from? What are the life experiences that most shaped your current self?
What a delight to connect with you today! Thank you for welcoming me. My name is Lauren, and I am a human rights attorney and non-profit founder living in Brooklyn. I grew up outside of Boston, MA, and I come from a family of public servants — teachers, nurses, and government workers. My family taught me it doesn’t really matter what career you pursue, as long as you’re being of service to others. I dove headfirst into my public service career at age 17 when I started working at my local City Hall. I carried my passion for service with me through my time at Boston College, and after graduation in Austria for a Fulbright fellowship in international law and in South Africa through an internship at a refugee center.
In law school, I had the opportunity to travel around the world working on human rights issues. I wanted to focus on women’s rights, refugee rights, and protections for survivors of gender-based violence. I was able to travel to Thailand, Cambodia, Japan, Switzerland, Tanzania, and Jordan on different legal initiatives, working with nonprofits, the United Nations, and the State Department. A transformative time for me was when I spent a few months in Morocco advocating for amendments to their criminal code to provide more protections for women, while at the same time I faced harassment and discrimination myself as a woman. I experienced some incidents and trauma there that lit a fire in me to fight for a world where women are protected.
After law school, I moved to NYC and worked at a non-profit where I provided free legal representation to young women fleeing violence and seeking asylum. I found this to be really crucial work, especially given that immigrants do not have the right to free attorneys in deportation proceedings. I defended them in immigration court and helped them get humanitarian protections like asylum or special visas for survivors of trafficking. I had dozens of clients and I started to see a very clear pattern. They would come to my office to prepare for their case, but before we would even sit down, they had the same questions for me: how do I get health insurance, how can I find an English tutor, can you help me apply for a job, how do I make friends, and the list went on. So, I started the Brave House with the goal of creating a place where young immigrant women could come and feel like they belong and also get the crucial services they need and deserve. It’s a one-stop shop, it’s a sisterhood, and it’s a hub for their legal-social-educational needs. This work is challenging but is the biggest joy and honor of my life.
A big part of my identity is playfulness and positivity, and I try to bring joy to contexts that are typically seen as challenging and serious. I have a very adventurous spirit, and I think it informs the kind of leader and advocate I am. Along my journey I’ve been able to do things like white shark cage-diving in South Africa, zip-lining through the rain forest in Ecuador, bungee jumping in a canyon, and sky-diving over the Italian alps. Every time I do something scary and I come out on the other side, I feel my bravery muscles strengthen and it helps shape me into the kind of leader I strive to be.
Are you currently working from home? If so, what has been the biggest adjustment from your previous workplace? Can you please share a story or example?
Yes. It has been a huge adjustment going from our office in bustling Manhattan and the hallways of the courthouse to now being confined to my tiny apartment in Brooklyn. Even though the pandemic has put many things on pause, my clients’ legal cases have continued. So that means I’ve had to get really creative about what zealous advocacy looks like in the middle of a lock-down. The first month of the pandemic I had to have a client come to my apartment and speak to me from the other side of my window. Luckily, I live on the first floor, because I actually had to slide papers out the window so she could sign and slide them back. I needed to notarize the papers so I had to literally witness her sign them; they could not be mailed to me. Law school definitely didn’t prepare me for that bizarre attorney-client scenario! In recent months, I’ve had to meet with clients on park benches, outdoor café patios, and sidewalks to sign papers. Just yesterday, I met with a client outdoors and a huge gust of wind almost blew her work permit papers all over the streets of Brooklyn and right into the East River.
Working from home has also been a dance of coordinating schedules with my roommate. He is a high school teacher, so we use a whiteboard to plan out which one of us gets to use the living room space because it has the best WiFi connection and prime lighting. It works most of the time, but there have been times that I forgot something in the living room while he is teaching, and I need to tiptoe in or crawl on my hands and knees to get it. One time when I was having a very serious zoom call with the prosecutor on a case, I saw the prosecutor’s mom walk into the background wearing a robe. The call seemed much less intimidating then!
What do you miss most about your pre-COVID lifestyle?
Hugs and dance floors. These are two of my biggest joys in life and it has been such a challenge living without them!
The pandemic was really a time for collective self-reflection. What social changes would you like to see as a result of the COVID pandemic?
The pandemic has made it hard to hide from our shortcomings and has brought a lot of painful truths to the surface — whether on a personal, professional, or societal level. I find a lot of hope in the overdue ways we are now engaging in conversations and policy reform regarding racial injustices and systemic inequities. I hope that these discussions and, more importantly, actions, continue to take place.
A big takeaway from the pandemic is: we must do better. We each have a responsibility to figure out what role we can play in creating a more beautiful and inclusive world. Even if that role seems small or insignificant, it matters because collectively we are powerful. My friend always says, “many drops make an ocean” and I think the pandemic has shown us how we all play a role in supporting each other and that being an authority in one area does not give you permission to be ignorant in another. For example, as an immigration attorney, I might not know how to advocate for climate justice, but I can still compost my food wastes and support my local farmers. Especially in the age of technology, where information is freely available on the internet, the pandemic has proven that ignorance is a choice and indifference is often more dangerous than hate. I hope a lasting social change is people feeling responsible for educating themselves, taking small and usually uncomfortable steps in doing their part, and uplifting the voices of people with lived experiences. I hope this pandemic has contributed to a culture of asking thoughtful questions and taking action.
What if anything, do you think are the unexpected positives of the COVID response? We’d love to hear some stories or examples.
I think the pandemic has made us see the beauty and brevity of life. I’m a very happy person and I credit my joyful spirit to the fact that I think about death a lot. I read a lot of stoic philosophy, where one of the key tenets is the contemplation of death. It isn’t meant to be morbid, it actually is what helps me cherish every moment of life in a more vivid and vibrant way. I think an unexpected positive is that in the midst of so much death, pain, and hardship, the pandemic has made people appreciate life more. This has shown up for me in lots of different ways — I’ve created a weekly zoom call with my college roommates (we call it a “love huddle”); I mail at least one handwritten card, letter, or postcard each week to someone in my life; I go out of my way to smile at or speak to strangers. There isn’t one big moment or example, it’s lots of small ways that I’m trying to sprinkle more gratitude and love into my daily life.
How did you deal with the tedium of being locked up indefinitely during the pandemic? Can you share with us a few things you have done to keep your mood up?
I’ve become the queen of walking. I go for a walk every single day, sometimes for 3–4 hours at a time especially if I can take work calls on my walk. I try to go on different routes and really explore my neighborhood and new parts of Brooklyn. A change of scenery is often a mood-booster for me, and all these walks make me feel even more connected to my community and neighborhood.
I’m also a kid at heart and my roommate and I are always finding ways to still have fun even when confined to our small space. We had a Roaring 20s party with just the two of us, where we dressed up, learned the Charleston dance, and zoomed with our friends and family. We’ve done virtual game nights, puzzles, built forts in our living room, and just continued to find ways to play without having to leave our apartment. We also have spent so much time on our front stoop, something we never did pre-pandemic. We will eat breakfast out front, people watch and chat with neighbors walking by. There have been so many moments during the pandemic where we’ve asked each other “why have we never done this before?”
Aside from what we said above, what has been the source of your greatest pain, discomfort, or suffering during this time? How did you cope with it?
Being separated from loved ones during times of mourning and loss has been challenging. A family member of mine passed away during the pandemic and we weren’t able to have a funeral or the type of goodbye that we would have wanted. It was such a lesson that we need each other, especially during moments of pain, and it was hard to accept that being there for each other looks different, at least for now. I know so many other people who have had similar experiences to me in this regard, and it’s hard to cope. My approach was lots of calls and zooms with my family plus a real deepening of my own spiritual and meditative practices.
Okay, wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Learned From The Social Isolation of the COVID19 Pandemic? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- It is our human nature to love others. The outpouring of love, mutual aid, and neighborly support that has emerged from this pandemic is so profound. The amount of texts and calls I have received with a simple “how are you holding up” or “how can I help?” is so beautiful and overwhelming. In spring and summer of 2020, the young women our non-profit works with were having difficulty accessing food and within the blink of an eye, we had an entire system of food assistance set up for them. We partnered with this amazing local restaurant, Santo Bruklin, and coordinated volunteer drivers to bring warm, delicious food to our members all over Brooklyn. The restaurant donated hundreds of meals and the drivers asked for nothing in return — everyone was truly acting out of kindness and love. There are countless examples of this kind of support happening all over the country and the world.
- Nature is a free spa. The pandemic redefined how I view self-care. It reminded me how much I need and appreciate nature and that one of the quickest ways for me to feel centered is to be outside. When I’m feeling overwhelmed, I force myself to go outside and get my bare feet on the grass. It is something that is so simple and available all the time, for free. I think we over-complicate wellness and the pandemic has encouraged us to really get back to basics.
- You have to ride the rollercoaster. I laugh when I look back and see how many times in my life (especially in the past year) I was shocked to be going through a hard time or feeling upset. This pandemic has taught me that the rollercoaster of emotions is actually the norm, not the exception. If you feel like you’re just cruising down the highway of life, then you probably are on the wrong road. But if you know the rollercoaster is coming, it is much easier to embrace it and be gentle with it and just ride it out instead of trying to stop or change it. Social isolation has made me personally notice my rollercoasters more and I think it has had this impact on society as well. It has sparked so many conversations about mental health and I think it’s created more empathy for each other. I’m realizing everyone is riding their own rollercoaster and it helps me extend grace and patience to others and myself.
- Hardship can lead to creativity. This is a pattern throughout history (like Isaac Newton during the Great Plague of London), and it is inspiring to see so many innovative ideas that have come out of the pandemic — from new companies to hybrid models of school and work. Something I’m really proud of and still in disbelief about is that my non-profit created and launched an App in the midst of the pandemic, as a way of giving our members a safe community space and immediate access to crucial resources. The App is something I only dreamed would happen one day, but I was able to work with an incredible team of volunteer coders and designers to make it happen. It makes me wonder — would this have been possible in the hustle, bustle, and distraction of “normal” life? Maybe not. So now when I’m going through something challenging, I get a twinkle in my eye and ask myself “I wonder what awesome new idea is going to come from this?”
- When in doubt, dance it out. For me,dancing isone of the best ways to get a present. It is really hard to be stressed while also dancing. It’s a universal language, available to us at all times for free, and there is no right or wrong way to do it. For the first month of the pandemic, I hosted a one-minute dance party every day at 1 p.m. on Zoom. I also joined this dance community called 5 Rhythms that hosts weekly outdoor silent discos. We each have our own headset and we meet in a park or big public area and just dance our hearts out for 2 hours. It has allowed me to connect with people and dance while being very spaced out and I found it’s helped me feel grounded during times of uncertainty.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you during the pandemic?
“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.” — Friedrich Nietzsche.
This has really resonated with me especially during the pandemic. For me, this quote is about empathy. It’s about acknowledging that you don’t know what other people are going through (what their “music” is). It makes me reflect and ask myself “who am I judging simply because I can’t hear their music?” It reminds me that just because I don’t understand someone, it doesn’t mean that what they’re doing is wrong. There’s no right way to live, just like there’s no right way to dance. This quote also literally applies to me because, during the silent disco parties, there are always lots of confused tourists who stop and take pictures of us dancing. It’s a good reminder to just do your thing and have fun because there will always be people who won’t understand you and that’s okay, they just can’t hear your music!
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Lilly Singh. I’m inspired by her openness, positivity, work ethic, humor, and commitment to uplifting others. She’s done work with UNICEF and she started this incredible initiative called GirlLove to help combat bullying. I also think she would just be so much fun to have lunch with and we would spend most of the time laughing.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
We would love to welcome you all into our community! You can read about my work and sign up for our newsletter at thebravehouse.com. You can also follow along our Instagram @thebravehouse for our weekly IG Live interviews with our community every Friday at 12PM EST, and check out my personal account @blodgey as well. If you’re in New York City, you can see the mural that we painted in the Lower East Side at 38 Rivington Street. Thank you so much for your support!
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.