Encourage conversations that are open. honest, and authentic– Encouraging honest and open two-way conversations is a vital step to heal our country. These conversations should intentionally be encouraged in places of work, schools, churches, places of religious gatherings, communities, and in homes with families. By encouraging conversations where people are allowed to talk and express their honest feelings and emotions and where they have a safe space where people can feel like someone is really listening to what they have to say will really matter. In addition to open expression, the other person involved in the conversation should also be allowed to openly express their thoughts and feelings in response without judgment and feel heard. When open and honest communication occurs, and people feel listened to then healing occurs. Compromise is able to occur, people start to feel that their voice matters, and that they can be heard without judgement but with understanding which is important and necessary to start to heal the world.
As part of our series about 5 Steps That Each Of Us Can Take To Proactively Help Heal Our Country, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Elizabeth Jennings.
Dr. Elizabeth Jennings, OTD, OTR, c/NDT, CODC, CEC, CLC is an Occupational Therapist with 19 years of experience, has a Doctorate in Mindfulness Studies, is a Certified Mindfulness & Integrative Wellness Life Coach, with a focus on PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injuries, Anxiety, and Depression. As an Occupational Therapist, she has spent 19 years working with children with developmental disorders, rehabilitating military veterans and making a major impact within businesses, organizations, and communities by helping individuals to manage difficult life transitions and overcome obstacles to success with resiliency and confidence.
Dr. Jennings is the Chief Empowerment of MEASURE Austin, which takes a data-centric approach to address systemic injustices in all aspects of the community and provides resources to restructure and is the CEO of Remember You Matter Coaching, Consulting, and Mentoring where she provides individual coaching and group workshops for youth ages 3 and up dealing with adjustment issues, low self-confidence and esteem, suicidal thoughts, and behavior difficulties.
Dr. Elizabeth Jennings is a visionary and full of passion to motivate and inspire others to action. She is a single mother of 2 children, and she knows first-hand the pressures of balancing happiness, life, work, health, family, and well-being in an ever-changing world. Be sure to check out her leading podcast, Living Bold, and her books “Overcoming Loss,” “God-Given Grace,” “Transforming Through God’s Loving Pursuit,” and “Buster The Test-Anxiety Crusher.”
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia. I am the middle child out of five siblings. I grew up in a quiet community and I was raised by strict Christian principles in a Pentecostal home environment. The only two holidays that my family celebrated were birthdays and Thanksgiving. Our family did not have much. I grew up initially in a two-parent home, then when I turned twelve my father left and moved out of the country. He returned back stateside 15 years later. Growing up during my teen and early adult years, I focused my mind on doing the best I could in school to set a different standard and example for my future. I never wanted to have to depend on anyone and I knew that education was my key to success.
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?
In 2018, after binge reading “Jump” by Steve Harvey, I was inspired and took a leap of faith and decided to start my own business and become an entrepreneur. “Jump” discussed the beauty in taking risks, not being afraid of change, and embracing the inner passions and curiosities that we have inside. I chose to pivot from solely focusing on my primary profession as an occupational therapist to pursuing my passion in the field of coaching kids, teens, and adults to remember that their life matters, has value, and to never give up despite the obstacles they may face. The end result of my own personal “jump” was the creation of Remember You Matter Coaching, Consulting, and Mentoring. This business was named after my mother who died of stomach cancer in 2015. My mother used to always tell me to “remember you matter” when I struggled with relationship and friendship issues in the past.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
A favorite quote that resonates with me is by Maya Angelou: “When people show you who they are, believe them.” When I was younger, I had a tendency to wear my heart on my sleeve. I would give everyone multiple chances, even people who obviously had already shown that they were not planning to treat me differently. So, I experienced many heartbreaks from wanting people to be who I hoped or expected them to be. I created a habit of believing in the potential that I thought people could show someday. I had to learn to release my expectations and just accept what others were showing me as their truth. Embracing this concept of acceptance has saved me from lots of future disappointments and frustrations.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
I believe that leadership is setting an example that pulls people together to accomplish a desired purpose or task. Leadership allows progress to be made towards a desired goal through collaboration and bringing out the best qualities in people. An effective leader can provide support to people to allow them to complete a goal, task, or mission. When everyone is able to have a part and feel satisfied from contributing to the desired end, then you have good leadership.
In life we come across many people, some who inspire us, some who change us and some who make us better people. Are there a person or people who have helped you get to where you are today? Can you share a story?
After going through a series of losses, from the death of my mother, divorce after 17 years of marriage, a period of unemployment, my son failing school, and a few tough legal challenges that I had to face, I had to accept that my comfortable life was being totally uprooted. Around the same time, I remember having a conversation with another female who was dealing with similar legal challenges. As we spoke, I remember listening and realizing that at that moment we were really the same. Our past upbringing did not matter. The greater meaning that came from that conversation was the fact that we are all only one decision away from possibly making a decision, when in a state of distress, that could put us in a life changing situation or predicament. At that moment, I learned the importance of releasing judgments and embracing true acceptance of other people’s differences. Since having that conversation, I made a commitment to speak up for those who cannot share their voice or story. I have continued to hold true to that promise and commitment.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a series of unprecedented crisis. So many of us see the news and ask how we can help. We’d love to talk about the steps that each of us can take to help heal our county, in our own way. Which particular crisis would you like to discuss with us today? Why does that resonate with you so much?
I would like to discuss the racial tension and division in our society. Being a black female and mental health advocate, I can personally feel the impact and weight of this issue. I can also see the toll and burden that mentally the racial tension is causing on everyone.
This is likely a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?
I believe that repeated trauma, be it mental, emotional, or physical, if left unchecked can develop into a breeding ground for more trauma and the side effects that result are feelings of intense anger, aggression, violence, fear, rage, unrest, and division. Observing all the things happening in our society, I realize people are reaching their breaking points and limits. More than ever before it is important for our mental health and well-being to be cared for to prevent emotions from continuing to erupt and thus leading to internal and external chaos. We are beginning to see what a state of chaos looks like in our society.
Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience either working on this cause or your experience being impacted by it? Can you share a story with us?
I am a mental health advocate and Occupational Therapist who specializes in mindfulness and working with military veterans with PTSD, children with special needs, and supporting educators in our education system. As an integrative wellness life coach and empowerment coach, I specialize in understanding trauma and its connection to depression, anxiety, and physical health. Prolonged trauma can disrupt the mental state and cause a lapse in judgment, and as a result, our protective mechanisms can cause a fight or flight response. Our society is actively in a fight or flight response in reaction to COVID-19, fear of safety, feelings of being overworked, job loss, losing loved ones to death, racial tension, police brutality, and the political climate and division in society. Everyone is at a heightened state of alert and either fleeing from marriage, families, responsibilities, suicide is increasing, domestic violence rates are high, teachers are resigning, and unemployment is increasing. These issues will not improve unless they are addressed appropriately with sensitivity and care.
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share your “5 Steps That Each of Us Can Take to Proactively Help Heal Our Country”? Kindly share a story or example for each.
#1 Encourage conversations that are open. honest, and authentic– Encouraging honest and open two-way conversations is a vital step to heal our country. These conversations should intentionally be encouraged in places of work, schools, churches, places of religious gatherings, communities, and in homes with families. By encouraging conversations where people are allowed to talk and express their honest feelings and emotions and where they have a safe space where people can feel like someone is really listening to what they have to say will really matter. In addition to open expression, the other person involved in the conversation should also be allowed to openly express their thoughts and feelings in response without judgment and feel heard. When open and honest communication occurs, and people feel listened to then healing occurs. Compromise is able to occur, people start to feel that their voice matters, and that they can be heard without judgement but with understanding which is important and necessary to start to heal the world.
An example of this occurred during the recent first presidential debate. It was noted and evident that there were multiple interruptions during the debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. Being on the outside looking in, it was easy to observe a tone of disrespect, no one was listening, but everyone was talking, there was no order, resolution, compromise, or unity brought from that conversation. During the 2nd debate limits were clearly defined, but you were able to hear the voices, opinions, and the tone was changed. There was less disrespect, and their voices were heard. When people feel heard, they feel less angry, depressed, or volatile. If people were heard more this would help to heal the world.
#2 Advocate for empathy to be shown frequently– When people learn to empathize with others, they show compassion towards another person. Empathy also allows a person to relate to the emotions and feelings that someone else is going through. When people show a sense of understanding, people feel understood and cared for. If society could learn how to empathize especially now with the race wars or the political unrest that exist, then the racial tension, division, and the breakdown of relationships would start to be mended and restored. In order for our world to heal, society has to be taught how to empathize with one another.
3 ways to show and practice empathy:
1. Listen with an open heart to people.
2. Respond to other people without judgement.
3. Realize that if promises are made or if someone gives their word, then it is important to honor those words through consistent actions.
For example, when Black and Brown Americans express that they are tired of being treated unfairly, instead of being so quick to jump to defend behaviors as a non-black person it is important to take time to hear what is being expressed with empathy for their feelings and without judgement or dismal. If you do not know what to do or how to respond simply ask what you can do to make a difference, then take the advice or information and do something with it. If a suggestion is made to educate yourself, then do just that. Ask for recommendations or books that would provide insight, connect with a group that educates or works to support the rights and justice of all people.
#3 Master the skill of forgiveness- Forgiveness is not an easy task. When we have been violated, wounded, or offended, to forgive is not easy to do. True forgiveness takes being intentional and working at it daily. Forgiveness is not a one-time task, but it is an action that may have to be repeated. The key to remember is that forgiveness is not something we are doing for someone else, but it is the permission to be and live free that we give to ourselves. When forgiveness is practiced, people can sleep better, have a calmer mind, and release the built-up stress and tension that comes from holding on to unforgiveness.
I remember struggling internally with having panic attacks and only being able to sleep for 2–3 hours for most nights, when I struggled and battled with past unforgiveness. Once I was able to release that unforgiveness and master doing it over and over, forgiveness came easy and the payoff was worth it. I now quickly release feelings of unforgiveness, and I do not hold grudges. As a result, panic attacks have stopped, I sleep for 6–8 hours nights, and internal peace is present. Mastering forgiveness is a gift that everyone deserves to give and receive.
#4 Practice Mindfulness daily– At the core, mindfulness is about being present in the moment. It is about living and focusing on making the most of every day. Mindfulness centers on strategies to implement to be more aware and conscious of the daily thoughts, words, habits, and actions. Mindfulness allows more attention to including daily actions that focus on meeting our self-care and self-love needs while also being aware of our actions towards other people.
When we practice mindfulness on a daily basis, we embrace the concept of making the most out of every day. We are not worried about the past or anxious about the future. We learn to stay and remain grounded and rooted in the present moment experiences. We learn to not put off for another day the pleasures and activities that we could make memories and connections that would last and make a difference in our life.
#5 Make a commitment to serve others– When people make a commitment to provide service or volunteer within a community, organization, or for a cause that has meaning and impact, then connection occurs. Connection brings feelings of community and is healing to the soul and for relationships. When we cease to keep our eyes focused on problems and we redirect our focus to serve a mission or cause that is bigger than us, then people are open to find purpose and satisfaction from serving others.
I personally have found passion in serving others through the mentorship program, Boys Matter to Men, that I founded to support boys ages 8–18 who lack the presence of fathers in their life. By recreating the family village and empowering mentors to connect with single mothers and their sons, this fills a gap that is needed. By giving to a cause greater than us, hope is found by paving the way for a better tomorrow for future generations.
It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but what can we do to make these ideas a reality? What specific steps can you suggest to make these ideas actually happen? Are there things that the community can do to help you promote these ideas?
In order for the community to promote these ideas, then it is important to do the following 5 things:
1. Inquire or check the hearts of those who serve
2. Ask honest questions
3. Start conversations in small groups that allow space for nonjudgement expression. Start a proactive discussion about actions to bring about positive changes that will move us forward and not backwards.
4. Adopt a ‘people first” attitude in all areas of occupation and services. Be internationally daily by doing things that matter to the people who are doing the daily job or work. Take and hold space to allow people to be heard at the beginning of a workday for a few minutes each day.
5. Have mental health resources available or implemented during the workday or during meetings to ensure an attitude of support, respect, openness, and availability of resources exist.
We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain? I am optimistic for the future.
I do not think things will be resolved easily. I feel people will need to engage in more open and honest conversations where voices and experiences are elevated and listened to in regard to racial tension. It is important to remember that for people who feel that they have been disrespected and walked over that it will take time to heal the past wounds. COVID-19 forced people to slow down and learn to treasure the simple things in life again. I think we are a strong and resilient country, and we will rebound. It is important that we show more compassion, empathy, a willingness to listen to other people, and an attitude to work together.
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?
I would tell them that their voice matters. Oftentimes young people feel that no one is listening; if they speak with anger, frustration, and disrespect, then young people’s voices are usually dismissed, shut down, or judged quickly even if there is meaning to what they are trying to communicate. Young people can empower themselves through education about the issues confronting the world. Then, they are better able to take a stand and make a positive difference towards moving things forward. It is important to know the history of what has happened to reflect, but the key is to not stay or remain stuck in the past. Young people are powerful and full of energy, passion, drive, endurance, and stamina. It is important to use those special qualities and gifts for good and to share a message that will evoke positive change.
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. 🙂
Yes, Oprah Winfrey; Oprah is a humanitarian that people listen to and people are calmed by hearing her speak. We need a voice of calm in the world today. I would love to hear her advice about the actions that she believes are necessary to gather people together in order to make a bigger impact on the world today. I also would like to let her know what an inspiration that she has been for me and my life journey by sharing her honest truth and encouraging others to do the same. I am paying that same message forward.
How can our readers follow you online?
Facebook Elizabeth Leigh Jennings: https://www.facebook.com/elizabeth.jennings.94/
Remember You Matter Coaching
Linked In Elizabeth Leigh Jennings: www.linkedin.com/in/elizabethjenningsotdcoach
1.Remember You Matter Coaching
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!