Stories Help You to Forge Meaning, Build Identity and Live Your Truth

On June 26, 2015, the United States Supreme Court announced its landmark 5-4 majority decision on same-sex marriage affirming the right of all Americans, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, to marry. And over the weekend, many took to the streets to celebrate.

This came just in time for the annual Pride Parade that commemorates the Stonewall riots 46 years ago protesting police brutality toward the gay community in New York City. It sparked the gay rights movement and today’s fight for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights in the United States. Most importantly, the journey of the LGBT community fighting for equality is a story about basic human rights. It’s a story that continues to test the humanity in this world.

Can we try to see through our differences and recognize what unites us? Do we have the courage to reveal our true selves in order to help others realize what truly matters? How do we get passed these artificial barriers and engage each other in human dialogue?


Listen to three stories from the heart that will inspire you to take a leap and have that conversation that will change your life forever.

podcast 06.29.15

On the Table for Education

A month ago, Nalani and I attended a gathering in Evanston Township High School where Bryan Stevenson, Founder and Executive Director of Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), gave a talk entitled “American Injustice: Mercy, Humanity, and Making a Difference.”

Bryan-StevensonBryan Stevenson is a public-interest lawyer who has dedicated his career to fighting poverty and challenging racial discrimination in the criminal justice system. His team at EJI, an Alabama-based group, has won major legal challenges eliminating excessive and unfair sentencing, exonerating innocent prisoners on death row, confronting abuse of the incarcerated and the mentally ill, and aiding children prosecuted as adults.

In his engaging and personal talk, Stevenson challenged the audience to change the conversation about race in the U.S., starting with realizing that the opposite of poverty isn’t wealth—it’s justice. Stevenson told stories of his childhood, growing up within reach of his grandmother. She was a strong influence to his psyche, helping to shape his values into adulthood. To this day, he hasn’t touched a drop of alcohol. He mentioned this not because he believes it’s virtuous, but rather because it became a significant part of his identity. This resonated with me as I believe that a person must have a solid sense of identity in order to know the true meaning of justice, which then leads to a clear vision for how to make necessary change happen.

According to Stevenson, there are four keys to positioning ourselves to make change:

  • Get proximate to the problem: Be present where we can experience the issues with our own senses.
  • Change the narrative: Understand where people are coming from, what stories fill their minds and engage in the process of reconciling them into a shared narrative.
  • Do something uncomfortable: Be compelled to do what’s right, one trickle at a time, to help yourself and the people around you overcome fear.
  • Protect our hopefulness: Believe in the potential strength and goodness of the human spirit.

Using the power of narratives to facilitate transformative change for organizations and communities is at the core of Barkada Circle’s mission. Stories reveal shared experiences and values deeply rooted in our common truths as human beings. It’s where we all come together and recognize a common identity. To reach this destination, we must first listen to the stories of others and share our own.

On May 12, 2015, Barkada Circle® will participate in On the Table, the civic engagement initiative of The Chicago Community Trust that celebrates its centennial by building community throughout Chicagoland. onthetable_logoBarkada Circle will be gathering people around a dinner table in Evanston to share their experiences and perspectives on education. Participating in this conversation will provide them opportunities for:

  • Meeting other equally invested neighbors who share similar visions for Evanston
  • Deepening their understanding of the community’s needs, programs, challenges and successes
  • Planting the seeds for future interactions, collaborations and resource sharing
  • Exploring possibilities for shared initiatives

This is Barkada Circle’s first step in supporting people’s efforts to make the necessary change for education in Evanston. As we facilitate more conversations, we continue the journey of addressing education as the cornerstone of our democracy and, presently, a tangled web of direction, intention and contention. Once we reach the place where we find our common truth and identity, only then can we change our story that weaves together reconciliation, courage and hopefulness.

Chicago Shines a Light on Suicide Prevention

If you live in Chicago or will be in town on Saturday, March 14th, join me at the Hilton Magnificent Mile and meet the good folks carrying out the mission of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Volunteers from all over will gather to share stories and learn how to increase awareness for the cause. I will be giving the volunteers useful tips on how to engage others through storytelling.

Suicide is a serious public health problem that takes an enormous toll on families, friends, classmates, co-workers, and communities, as well as on our military personnel and veterans.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2013–the most recent year for which full data is available–someone in the United States died by suicide every 12.9 minutes. This makes it the 10th leading cause of death for Americans, but unlike many other leading causes, suicide continues to claim more lives each year. Suicide is currently the third leading cause of death among young people age 15 to 24. The highest overall rates of suicide are for adults age 40 to 59.

To know the reason for someone’s suicide death is challenging. Research has shown that most people who die by suicide have a potentially treatable mental disorder at the time of their death. The disorder has often gone unrecognized and untreated. What we know about the causes of suicide is lagging behind that of other life-threatening illnesses because the stigma surrounding suicide has limited society’s investment in vital research. To find out more, you can go to the website of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Since its founding in 1987, AFSP has connected tens of thousands of people who have lost a family member, loved one or friend to suicide and help them cope. AFSP has reached thousands of individuals who are at risk for suicide, as well as those who love and care for them to make prevention possible. In order to help people understand the facts, AFSP has gained the participation of members of the scientific and clinical communities, who conduct groundbreaking research on suicide and its prevention.

To fully achieve its mission, AFSP engages individuals and families, scientists and legislators, and community organizations in essential dialogue to increase awareness, understanding and support for those impacted by suicide.

Register today for the AFSP Volunteer Gathering on Saturday, March 14th and take the first step with me. It is a journey in which everyone must participate because the stories surrounding suicide reflects what’s happening in our homes, our schools and our communities. The more we openly talk about it and listen, the better we can see and act.


The Trust presents On the Table at the Philanthropy Club

Thank you to Eva Penar, Director of Marketing and Communications at The Chicago Community Trust, and Jean Westrick, Independent Consultant to the Trust, for leading a dynamic discussion at the Philanthropy Club’s March 3rd session on how individuals and organizations can participate in the Trust’s civic engagement initiative called On the Table.

onthetable_logoIn 2014, the ambassador program for On the Table created a social viral campaign that led to over 17 million digital impressions. As May 12, 2015 marks the Trust’s Centennial, that day will see thousands of people throughout Chicagoland gathered around tables sharing meals, sharing stories and sharing commitments to make our region the most philanthropic in the nation. These conversations will bring people together around a common vision which is the first step to realizing change and making an impact in our communities.

Barkada Circle is happy to be an ambassador for the program and will be hosting two On the Tables, one in the city and one in a suburb. Stay tuned for details.

For more information about On the Table, visit their website at

Chicago AMA Convenes Marketers with a Mission

chicagoamaThe Chicago AMA continues its tradition of inviting the larger community of nonprofit marketers to participate in open dialogue and identify key trends and tectonic shifts in the field for the coming year. This collaborative process will shape a vital program to support shared interests and hone high-priority focus areas for communication and development professionals. As with previous years, the outcome will be a series of dynamic conversations between thought leaders sharing ideas, best practices and resources to help them gain a fresh perspective, build relationships and develop innovative strategies.

The program comprises two distinct, yet related tracks: a think tank for marketers of nonprofit organizations and a think tank for marketers of higher education institutions. Participants begin their discussion with a starter list of topics. At the end of each think tank, they will have defined three to four major topics with talking points for the 2015 program year.

Below are the starter lists for each Special Interest Group (SIG), event details and registration links. Admission is free. Sign up today for one or both!

IMG_5576Chicago AMA Nonprofit Marketing Think Tank
Tuesday, November 18, 2014
8:00 am – 10:00 am
The Chicago Community Trust
225 N. Michigan Avenue
Suite 2200

Chicago, IL 60601

Nonprofit SIG Preliminary Topics:

  • Content marketing tools and social media
  • Mobile & responsive website design
  • Personalizing donor communications
  • Big Data for fundraisers
  • Different types of gifts – from bequests to monthly giving
  • Direct mail & acquiring new donors
  • Bring media back to social media – producing videos, photos & infographics
  • Strategic planning & engaging your stakeholders
  • Why can’t we be friends?  Successful Executive Director & Development Director relationships
  • #GivingTuesday on December 2nd


IMG_5535Chicago AMA Higher Education Marketing Think Tank
Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014
5:30 pm – 7:30 pm
415 N. Dearborn St.
Suite 300
Chicago, IL 60654

Higher Ed SIG Preliminary Topics:

  • How can cause marketing advance your institutions reputation?
  • Social media as a recruitment tool
  • From school rankings to student outcomes, what is most compelling?
  • Using your brand as a recruitment tool
  • How do you develop your school’s value proposition
  • Mobilizing the university to support your marketing efforts
  • Webcentric – What’s the outlook for web communication?


Stories help you dream big and overcome your fears.

Mary.Nerburn.photo_Today on Barkada Circle radio, we interviewed Mary Nerburn––author, coach, speaker, and entrepreneur/business owner. Mary is celebrating the one-year anniversary of her book, Jack It Up: A 50-Something Women’s Guide to Fixing a Flat Life and Start Living Again. Internationally, women and men of all ages are benefitting from her wisdom.

In today’s program, she tells the Barkada Circle audience how she uses storytelling in helping people dream big once more, push through fears and show up in life again. Mary’s no-nonsense approach appeals to those who seek an engaged authentic life by answering their true calling and realizing their new life mission. Her reminder for embracing your true north is “Like a pebble in your shoe, your dream will nag at you until you respond and live it.”

Jack It Up explores core values as the foundation for decision making and suggests ways to identify and act on personal giftedness as well as using laughter, movement and connecting with nature to create balance. The reader is guided from one chapter to the next with tools for both reflecting and making real changes with laser questions such as, “What do you know about your potential and what do you intend to do with this insight?”

Listen to the podcast of today’s program.

Mary is available for workshops, book readings and consultations with individuals or companies: Mary’s book Jack It Up is available at