Dee Berkley: “My ideas of a hero aren’t necessarily traditional ”

This pandemic, although painful, should serve as a wake-up call for everyone. We should all share the common interest of finding solutions and defending our communities against future crises that could arrive. Whatever it is you can offer the world — whatever talent, whatever trade, whatever calls to you — lean into it and use it to help others […]

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This pandemic, although painful, should serve as a wake-up call for everyone. We should all share the common interest of finding solutions and defending our communities against future crises that could arrive. Whatever it is you can offer the world — whatever talent, whatever trade, whatever calls to you — lean into it and use it to help others however you can.


As part of my series about people who stepped up to make a difference during the COVID19 Pandemic, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dee Berkley. Dee Berkley’s love-affair with creating goes all the way back to when she was seven years old and would remove the spiral plastic binders from her siblings’ notebooks, cut the rings apart, color them with crayons, and sell them as rings. A true creative with an innate knack for knowing which designs people are drawn to, Dee continued on to build an impressive career in the jewelry industry until she launched her own personal line in 2003 after her daughter Maddie was born. Since its launch, Dee Berkley Jewelry has grown from a living-room-run business to a wave-making, head-turning line of hand-crafted gemstone designs and creative fine-jewelry collections.

Both Dee’s designs and her undeniably magnetic energy are inspired by her mom, an industrial designer and landscape architect by trade who designed everything from iconic logos to zoo enclosures. From placing sapphires in window sills to see if she could alter their hue to learning jewelry CAD design in her 80s, Dee’s mom remained curious and creative to her last day — and Dee carries on that same energy today as a lifelong learner who believes it’s never too late to start something new (and who is never afraid to kick a societal standard to the curb).

The notion of what you’d wear with a plain white t-shirt is the canvas for each new piece of jewelry Dee designs — and it’s her goal to create heirloom-quality pieces that don’t break the bank (stuffy, stale, and serious need not apply). Above all, every piece of Dee Berkley Jewelry is light, airy, and infused with meaning and happiness. Her favorite part of crafting jewelry that spreads smiles? It gives her the opportunity to give back to charitable causes. Philanthropic efforts are at the core of her female-owned and female-operated business — and nothing makes her happier to come into work every day than knowing she’s built a brand that gives back.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how and where you grew up?

I had a happy, beautiful childhood. I was born in Miami and grew up in Tucson, Arizona in an amazing household. While we didn’t have a ton of money, it always felt like we had everything in the world. My parents always made us feel fortunate and taught us that, because we were, we should seek out opportunities to help others.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Start With Why by Simon Sinek taught me people only buy into a product, service, or movement if they have a clear understanding of the why behind it. Reading it helped me define and understand my own why, which has really shaped the way I lead my team and run my business.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

Denzel Washington said, “At the end of the day, it’s not about what you have or even what you’ve accomplished…it’s about who you’ve lifted up, who you’ve made better. It’s about what you’ve given back.”

That absolutely describes the way I try to run my business and live my life. It’s the entire approach behind the community support program we just created as a result of COVID-19. I’ve always believed in measuring your accomplishments by the support you’ve been able to offer others.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. You are currently leading a social impact organization that has stepped up during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to address?

As a small business owner, it was important to me to find a way to help other small businesses through this crisis while supporting the communities that need our help. We wanted to empower small business everywhere to become their own hometown heroes — and we wanted to make it easy and seamless for them to do so.

In your opinion, what does it mean to be a hero?

My ideas of a hero aren’t necessarily traditional — especially now during the crisis. I think of a hero as the dad who works hard and gets home in time to make it to the football game, the mom who manages to homeschool her kids and run a business from home, the UPS driver who makes sure families have what they need. In my mind, the true heroes are often unsung and untraditional. They’re the people who make small decisions every single day to put others first, and to do the hard work for the greater good of everyone.

In your opinion or experience, what are “5 characteristics of a hero? Please share a story or example for each.

Compassion

Integrity

Reliability

Kindness

Relatability

If heroism is rooted in doing something difficult, scary, or even self-sacrificing, what do you think drives some people — ordinary people — to become heroes?

I think it’s all about the small decision you make in a moment to seize an opportunity. An opportunity arises to help a neighbor, clean up the community, give to a cause, spread a smile, say something kind. If you take that opportunity, you’re a hero.

What was the specific catalyst for you or your organization to take heroic action? At what point did you personally decide that heroic action needed to be taken?

I don’t know that I see our program as being super heroic — it’s just what needed to be done. It came very naturally. We saw what was happening to our community and knew communities all across the country (and the world) were experiencing the same. We asked ourselves — what do we have to offer as a brand that can help? How can we keep our all-female team employed from the safety of their homes? How can we stay engaged with our customers? How can we support a local charity that needs us more than ever? And, most importantly, how can we empower other business owners like us to do the same? For us, the answer to all of those questions was the community support bracelets.

Who are your heroes, or who do you see as heroes today?

Right now, it’s the people who are keeping our lives going. It’s first responders, the doctors, the delivery drivers, the parents, the nurses.

If I think about my hero outside of this crisis, however, it’s my mom. She was a lifelong learner who had an incredibly creative mind. She woke up every day with passion and zeal for life. Even at the end of her days when she was in incredible pain, all she cared about was bringing joy to her family and those around her.

Let’s talk a bit about what is happening in the world today. What specifically frightened or frightens you most about the pandemic?

I understand the innate reaction to want to look out for yourself above others — especially in an uncertain time like this — but I think both selfishness and a lack of a holistic world view frighten me a bit. People who are anxious to place blame rather than find solutions — or those who are focusing solely on what this is taking from them, rather than looking for ways to enrich the lives of others — do scare me. I’m scared by the divisiveness this has caused and some of the lack of human kindness we’re seeing.

Despite that, what gives you hope for the future? Can you explain?

There are so many people out there being bright lights in their communities. While I talked about some divisiveness above, we’re still seeing small acts of heroism every single day. People clapping for first responders, donations being made to local charities, people shopping for groceries for their neighbors — I see it every single day in my community. People are resilient, strong, and incredibly inspiring — and it fills me with so much hope and joy.

What has inspired you the most about the behavior of people during the pandemic, and what behaviors do you find most disappointing?

Those who exemplify selflessness and are being the heroes in their community. It’s inspiring to see people in my community and all over the country offering to help their neighbors, donating to charities, getting groceries for the elderly and more.

Has this crisis caused you to reassess your view of the world or of society? We would love to hear what you mean.

This pandemic has confirmed my belief that most people in the world are decent, compassionate humans. I’ve been humbled to see the work my community has done — it’s a special city full of caring, kind people; and we’re seeing the same from communities all across the world.

What permanent societal changes would you like to see come out of this crisis?

I’d love to see more unity. When the world is hit with massive problems like this, we have to band together to see it through. I’d love for us to learn to come together as a nation and support one another as we look to experts for guidance along the way. I’d also love to see us become more proactive and solution driven.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

This pandemic, although painful, should serve as a wake-up call for everyone. We should all share the common interest of finding solutions and defending our communities against future crises that could arrive. Whatever it is you can offer the world — whatever talent, whatever trade, whatever calls to you — lean into it and use it to help others however you can.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

My movement would be centered around what I know, what I love, and what I do — jewelry. I truly believe the best way to help others is to lean into what speaks to your spirit. Use what enriches your life to enrich the lives of those around you. I’m not the type of person who’s going to discover a vaccine or cure a crisis with a major discovery — but, instead, I believe my movement would be something small that would empower and inspire others to do the same. I’ve chosen to feed 45 kids in need with every bracelet sale — maybe you choose to put a teddy bear in a child’s arms. For me, it’s about small acts all around the world that, together, make a powerful difference.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I wish I could have another lunch with my dad who is no longer with me. He was born in 1913 — he lived through WWI, survived the flu pandemic, saw the Great Depression, fought in WWII, lost a sister…you name it. Somehow, though, he was able to find joy every single day. He saw so much pain, but never expressed anger or bitterness. I’d love to ask him where he pulled that from. There are very few men like him left — those who are tough-as-nails but still polite, kind, and full of integrity. I’d love to learn what he tapped into to remain so incredibly positive and peaceful throughout his life.

How can our readers follow you online?

Visit our website: www.deeberkleyjewelry.com

Follow us on Facebook @DeeBerkleyJewelry

Follow us on Instagram @DeeBerkleyJewelry

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