'I Define Me:' An Interview with Tracie Berry-McGhee
by Deborah LeeAnn
As a speaker, trainer and paradigm-shifter in the area of Authentic and Conscious Leadership, I enjoy meeting and highlighting women who are creating impactful change in our community.
When I met Tracie Berry-McGhee, she was shining with a presence and light. Her enthusiasm, high-energy and creative programs and ideas were asking to be shared with a wider audience. Here’s a recap of our interview:
Deborah LeeAnn: Tracie, I’m honored to have this time to chat with you and learn more about the SistaKeeper organization, the #IDefineMe movement and who you are as the creative genius behind it all.
Who is Tracie Berry-McGhee?
Tracie Berry-McGhee:Well, first I want to say thank you for allowing me to be a part of your journey and allowing us to connect and understand the value of defining our voices. I just want to thank you for the experience because it allows me to define myself in the same space.
I feel that I am my heart. This leads me. I think that I'm constantly walking in and trying to figure out how I can make myself a better person and be a “Keeper” to my community as well as a Keeper with my “Sistas.” I say Sister with the “a” because I think that we may have biological sisters, yet we're all Sistas.
I'm an empowerment coach for women and teen girls. I'm a mentoring coach for businesswomen and leaders. I believe we don’t need to compete. We need to collaborate. And I'm a wife and I'm a mother. I know that if I did not define myself and know the value of walking in my purpose, I could not do any of those things.
DLA Yes, women tend to keep a lot of balls in the air. We keep them going, but to progress and create a true movement, we have to have momentum which comes from the daily steps.Would you tell me what “Keeper” means to you?
TBM: So, in 2002, I started a nonprofit called SistaKeeper. And there was value there for me because my daughters were struggling with defining themselves in a community and a society that definitely tries to define you, through television, social media, radio, or our communities and families. And so I thought, why not have an organization that empowered our girls to lead and to value character in leadership? I will understand my value, be a Sista to myself, but I will also look at the issues that impact my community and value those issues and try to create change. I think that when we teach those values to our girls early on and allow them to define their voice, they don't lose it.
If we can find something that allows us to grow and impact the world, that we can be better people. So that's what's SistaKeeper is about.
We provide mentoring wellness circles, we're school-based and community-based. We're in different countries as well. And, it just started from a vision of me wanting to make sure that my girls lived in a better world than I grew up in.
I'm the product of a teen mom. I grew up in the inner city, first person to graduate from high school, from college, to own a home, to get married and have children, to have a business, and to want to have a nonprofit even, and travel to get outside of my box and into a circle of diversity and see the value of what we can be when we're keepers to each other. My story speaks to me, but it doesn't truly define me.
DLA: I would like to talk just briefly about when you had the vision of SistaKeeper. What were all the feelings that went through you? Did you also have doubts and fears going on at the same time?
TBM: Well, I think it starts a lot of times with a small voice inside wondering “maybe this is something that I can do that can empower others.” You question, am I enough? What happens if someone does not like what my light looks like? And I had to realize that I like my light and I want my light to shine, I've dealt with self esteem issues. We all do, we feel awkward.
I think what fed me most, was realizing that if I had had what I felt we all needed: a circle of girls and women coming together. I knew that other girls needed that.
DLA: How did you birth SistaKeeper? You had the idea, but like what did it look like when you first got started?
TBM: So it started out with me writing a book. And, I wrote a book because I wanted to share, how you always do when you have daughters or sons, you want to leave that legacy to them, something for them to be in touch with you and understand the value of what was my mom like. I felt like I wanted to write a book of poetry for my daughters to understand the value of loving themselves.
Then I did a CD because I love poetry. I love spoken word. I love reading out loud. I love the value of hearing those words come to life. I'm a dreamer, so things that I would dream about, I would write about . And once I started writing, my daughters started listening and hearing it and they started writing. I thought, you know what, let's bring all these girls together and invite their friends to come into a space, a safe space. Because we always need a safe space. I didn't always have safe spaces growing up. The library was my safe space, but I felt that my daughters needed that and their friends needed that as well. And so I wrote the book, I did the CD and then brought in seven girls from our community that I felt we could all impact each other. Their mothers said, “Sure, why not?”
I brought them to my basement. We developed a pledge and the girls started talking and sharing feelings and I made sure every girl had a journal. One of my best friends joined with me and she provided healthy snacks because girls like to eat. And it became a safe space for our girls to connect and see that we have more in common than not.
Then I wanted to tie it into purpose. Because I feel that early on, if we can attach to a purpose then we won't lose our way so quickly. I knew I dealt with so many struggles around self esteem and saw a million different struggles my daughters and other girls had as well. And I thought this is a way for us to connect them to the issues that impact our community. And those issues I felt needed to be specific to women.
Breast cancer, domestic violence, Lupus, sickle cell, teen pregnancy, suicide, all these issues, that if we could just understand and have a clear awareness, then we could be keepers. And it worked. We went from the basement to schools that invited us to do after school programs. To church, different faith based communities, to traveling to different states and different countries that said, “Let's start a chapter here.” And I kept feeling like, okay, this is what I'm supposed to do because it felt effortless.
I am a licensed therapist, I knew that I wanted to work with women and teen girls, but I didn't know that I needed it to be prevention, intervention, and awareness. That was that still voice inside of me, it's God saying, "this is what you need to do" and I needed to listen.
So I started nurturing that in me. I started walking the labyrinth and consistently writing every day and knew that my voice has value, but I also think it came from me reading I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and I knew that I could not be caged. My voice could not be silenced. I cannot allow that to happen to my daughters, my daughters' friends, communities, local, national, globally.
We had to be keepers for even those who did feel silenced.
I also realized the importance of mental health and the importance of having a safe space to share and, and being told that it's okay. So we do prevention, intervention and awareness, and lots of love, love, love, love.
DLA: When did you realize that I need to take care of ME first and then I can be there for others?
TBM: I love being a keeper. Yet, I have to be a keeper to myself first. I have to understand the value of that. And to be honest, I did not see a lot of women being keepers to themselves. That's not okay, I knew I wanted to be different. My mom always told me that I needed to be a cycle-breaker.
DLA: So I'm just curious, how do you work with girls (and women) who are unsure how to be with all their emotions? Especially if they think they're supposed to be positive all the time?
TBM: As a therapist, I'm not a big fan of, "Well let's talk about the story and stay in the story." But I am a fan of sitting in the storm and letting it thunder and lightning all around you and being with it so that you can heal it.
Yeah, I think it's important. I can sit with it because that’s your story. I'm not owning your story. I'm okay with sitting with you and allowing you to take your time to move forward. Because everybody moves at a different pace. I think that's what it means to be client-centered, I'll stand in the gap with you and, and then we can move forward together because you need that light.
And, I love the storm, because that's where we grow. I love the rain. That's where we sow seeds.
DLA: What’s next?
TBM: Sista Keeper was specifically for girls. We have books at different levels (elementary, middle, and high school) that focus on poetry and journaling and we have a curriculum that is taught in schools all over the country.
But for me now, it's all about the I Define Me Movement. We want everyone to sign on and pledge #IDefineMe. The I Define Me Movement of women and girls that are defining their voices and bringing awareness to issues that impact our communities and the world.