Category Archives: [by alysse]

Interviews by Alysse; edits by both of us.

this is what democracy looks like: chicago women’s march

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“Women, if the soul of the nation is to be saved, I believe that you must become its soul.” – Coretta Scott King

Can someone tell me how long is normal to have “This is what democracy looks like!” “This is what democracy looks like!” stuck in your head? Not complaining, just asking for a quarter million of our Chicago friends.

Saturday, like millions of people all over the world, we marched alongside a diverse, conscientious, passionate, compassionate, and completely beautiful gathering of human beings in Chicago. When we filled Grant Park mid-morning, the crowds kept flowing. When we filled the streets, the march got “canceled.” And after a few hours of empowering speeches, touching performances, chants, cheers, and celebrations in languages from Hebrew to American Sign Language, we ended up taking part in the flow of the cheering, singing crowd through parts of the Chicago Loop that are usually clogged with cars. (It sure felt like a march!)

Our voices and our cheers reverberated between the skyscrapers as people peered down from condos and office buildings and hair salons. It was surreal—one of the most profoundly powerful moments of my life.

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We had so. much. fun painting our positive, hopeful signs the night before:

Make America Love Again // back: Be the Light!
Make America Hope Again // back: There Is No Planet B!
Make America United Again // back: (American flag)
Make America Kind Again // back: (big sparkly heart)
Make America Nasty Again (we couldn’t help it!) // back: Who Run the World?
No Justice, No Peace // back: Love Trumps Hate
Who Run the World? // back: GIRLS!

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We found a kindred spirit with her empathy sign! This woman had also attended Barack Obama’s first inauguration.

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Never before could I ever have imagined that many people could come together so peacefully, positively and inclusively. The theme of the march was “Connect. Protect. Activate.”—which we repeated and yelled and hopefully imprinted on our memories to carry with us to do something about the issues we care about after Saturday!

In fact, that was one of the key takeaways: If this march just resulted in us patting ourselves on the back for taking part, and that was it, it was nothing more than a pep rally. This was a wake-up call, a gigantic moment of empowerment, a call to action—and it’s just the beginning. It’s up to us to take this from a moment into a movement.

Some ideas: 
Run for office!!!
Save your Senator and your Representative’s number. Call frequently.
Volunteer regularly with an organization that supports an issue you care about.
Actively open yourself to and seek opportunities to have conversations with people of different backgrounds and ideologies.
Subvert systems you oppose: grow your own food, make your own clothes, create “sharing economies” of your own, help out at a local school.
Add more in the comments!

Since the March, I did find out that some pro-life groups were turned away from partnering, which is a complex and difficult issue in and of itself (here’s one interesting discussion of the limits of and intersections between a feminist and being pro-life). But I also found it heartening to see a few women’s signs proclaiming those views as well.

As the Women’s March emcee and so many people said, this event was about everyone and so much bigger than one particular passion; no matter if we struggle to understand each other’s issues or experience them ourselves, we must come together to move forward, collaborate, and never, ever give up. Divide and conquer is our government’s prevailing philosophy, it seems, and it certainly need not be our own.

I personally am Catholic and deeply cherish our Catholic social teaching, so no matter the opportunity, I am grateful to be able to have a platform (or crowd) in which I can jump and smile and shout about the earth, the vulnerable in our society, the importance of putting people before our economy—and more.

So, to all the people who marched: Thank you.

To all those who marched before us: Thank you.

To the others talking about the March and, in the future, writing about this in the history books (!!!): Thank you.

And to those with criticisms and questions: Thank you.

Together, all of us will keep this messy experiment in democracy flowing forward, and for better or for worse, we will write history.

How will you contribute to our nation’s history today?

meet chauntee and monique: milwaukee’s sistastrings

Monique and Chauntee, SistaStrings, People with Panache

Chauntee and Monique’s inspirations are Lianne La Havas, a soulful singer with an amazing voice; Monica Martin, the lead singer of PHOX; Erykah Badu – “If she could be my godmother, I would pass away and die,” Chauntee says; Lauryn Hill; classical violinist Hilary Hahn; and Kim Burrell, an amazing gospel singer on Frank Ocean’s latest album. Chauntee laughs — “It was funny, I grew up listening to Kim Burrell, and then I read this article ‘introducing’ her…are you kidding?!”

This Sunday at church, our priest spoke about being vigilant. Not for crime, or bad news, or others’ behavior—but for goodness.

Linking together the messages throughout the service, Father Bob did an artful job of highlighting the urgent need for all of us to be awake.

Be awake to the good things going on around us in our world.

Be awake to the fact that we can create that goodness ourselves, in moments both small and momentous each day.

Be awake to others’ challenges and victories, and lend a hand how you can.

It’s not news that those are effective ways to start making change. But the reminder is key: No matter our talents or situations, we have a little spark within us, ready and waiting to make a difference.

Chauntee and Monique Ross understand this so beautifully. These two are sisters, some of Milwaukee’s most gorgeously talented musicians, and incredibly authentic, inspiring humans—and they got their start in a church.

“We were Sisters of PraiZe,” says Chauntee, laughing with Monique about her sisters’ string quartet that toured the church circuit in the ‘90s. “I found a really heinous picture of the four of us with string instruments and our flutes just laying around—laying around!—wearing our little leather jackets.”

I wish I had access to the Ross family photo album for this gem, but instead I got a way better gift. Read on for the best parts of a few hours on the porch with SistaStrings—a violin-cello string duet making heartfelt music for expression, connection and social justice.

People with Panache: What was your first instrument?

Monique Ross: I started piano when I was 3. My parents saw I was picking up music quickly, through ear training—and so did my piano teacher. In lessons she would play the piece, and I would play it back to her. I got to a level where I should be able to sight-read the next piece, and she realized, “Oh! You can’t read music!”

Chauntee Ross: Mine was violin… I got mine when I was 3. It was the best Christmas ever. Our oldest sister was the ultimate coolest big sister in life. All of our sisters, all of our cousins, all of our friends thought she was amazing. She played violin, so I wanted to play, too.

Our mom grew up on the west side of Chicago. Her mom was an alcoholic, so she didn’t invest in her kids like she should’ve. So when my mom got older, she had a personal mission to invest in her children.

PWP: How did your parents support your music growing up? I want to be that kind of parent!

SistaStrings, peoplewithpanache.com

Monique [right] speaks so highly of Wendy Warner. “She spoke into my life so hard as a senior in high school and prepared me for college auditions. Her main focus was not technique—we’re going to work on musicality of your playing, how you feel, how you’re going to interpret this piece, how you’ll put yourself into the music. She is a very beautiful, professional solo cellist, which is so hard to do, and she saw something in me.”

Monique: Dad did IT at M&I Bank, and Mom home-schooled us. But they were also traveling street evangelists.

Chauntee: Growing up playing in churches was really good for our ears, which plays into how we play now. You go to a church and somebody will break into song, some old gospel spiritual, and you just pick up on it and go.

When we do string arrangements, playing with various hip hop groups and singer songwriters, it’s very easy to fall back into that. We also went to The String Academy of Wisconsin, are classically trained, went to college and did the whole conservatory life.

We started SistaStrings in 2014, and I moved to Milwaukee rather than grad school because I was kind burned out from the whole school scene and competitive aspect. Everyone wants an orchestra or chamber job.

PWP: A lot of my favorite songs I’ve heard of yours have a really deep message. How do you tie social justice in?

Monique: Growing up, we were home-schooled, and it was very important to our parents that we learned correct black history. You don’t hear about Stokely Carmichael in school, for example. History was very important to my parents. Obviously these things, like his work with civil rights, have been happening but you are more aware of it as you get older. We are the generation to do something—we can’t pass this up.

I have a daughter now. I can’t be like, I didn’t do anything to make this world better for you.

We start every show with “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and Chauntee does a great job explaining why.

Chauntee: Growing up, we were two of the only black kids playing classical music—in every class. There were maybe about five other black students in The Academy. Of course you notice a difference in how sometimes teachers treat you.

When Monique first started violin at the Conservatory of Music, there were a lot of great people, but the guy who was teaching her wouldn’t teach her because he said he didn’t teach ‘her kind.’

SistaStrings, People with Panache

“I know how blessed I was to have teachers who believed in me as a person,” Chauntee [right] says. “That’s what fed me and kept me going to where I am today.”

I would go to orchestra concerts, our parents would get us tickets, and we would be among the very few people of color in the audience, let alone on the stage. We would notice and carry on with our education because our parents are amazing people.

It became more prominent in how we produced music. How I relate to classical music might be different than how the next person who is white might. For example, when I hear Vivaldi, a very classical composer, he had really funky beats, kind of like hip-hop beats to me. I’m relating to it in a different way.

Now we combine “Passacaglia,” a famous classical duet, with Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good.” It just spills forth.

PWP: After your experiences, and teaching young people music yourselves, what lesson do you want to share with your students?

Monique: Put your pain into your music, your happiness, your hurt—all of that is so important. That’s what I want to give.

Chauntee: The most recent impactful music moment was when Philando Castile and Alton Sterling were killed. I had a new emotion going on; I was just feeling very helpless, and I hated how helpless I felt.

But that’s incorrect. Let me go back to what my parents taught me and what we’ve learned by talking with good people: We do matter, and we can make an impact, even a small one.

So we had a bunch of artists come together over dinner here. We laughed, we talked, we cried, we shared experiences. Now that we’re together, we asked, what can we do to make a difference in our community? Tarik Moody from 88.9, Jay Anderson, Johanna Rose, Airo Kwil, Bo Triplex, Zed Kenzo, Siren, a whole bunch of people were here—so we had a huge long dialogue. Obviously we’re all artists, and our form of protest is going to come through our music. We put together a music fest that came together the weekend of the Sherman Park situation. Then we started getting all these texts about what was going on: “You need to go home!” Actually, we were right in the middle of the right place right now, with all these beautiful people who understand. Music was the way to communicate that. Since then, it’s been a whole new mission for me.

SistaStrings stuck in laughter, PWP

What’s it like playing together as sisters? (Besides having trouble stopping laughing, like in this attempt at a photo…) “When you run into hard times with people who aren’t your siblings, you might end it,” Monique says. “With sisters, you work through it. For our Sofar session we played an original piece we’d done a million times before and since. It hasn’t happened since then, but we just vibed off each other in a different way, and when those moments happen it feels like it wouldn’t happen with anyone but my sister.”

Monique: It was a beautiful thing. Chauntee is the more vocal between us. For me personally, with everything that’s been going on recently, I realized I need to find my voice.

Chauntee: It’s sometimes very painful playing these songs. Like we have done the song “Strange Fruit” I think since the end of 2014, when Tamir Rice was killed.

I’d been to the art museum in Detroit and saw a quilt called Strange Fruit. The quilter had listed any name she could find of a person who had been lynched. And it was enormous. You know so many nobodies were not even represented. It was really heavy, and ever since then, that song meant a lot to me. There was no “Now we’re going to be social justice women.” But it was like this is what’s happening, and it’s reaching us on so many levels: our nephews, father, brother, friends.

The power of song and lyrics, the power of sound to pull on heartstrings…from there you can go and hopefully make some type of small difference in one person’s life.

Monique: The only way things change is if people make it happen. Hopefully it will spread and something will change.

PWP: When you play, your body, your heart, your soul is just so obviously part of your music.

Chauntee: I’m so glad that comes through. One of our teachers used to ask: What do you want to say when you play this? He showed us how to move our hands, our bodies, to share a feeling, get to the audience’s heart—it’s a whole different way to relate to students.

That’s why I’m so passionate about the future of musical education. So many kids are going to come up and do some shit because they have the right tools to get a message across to anyone who hears them. That’s the thing that keeps me from being down on myself, the community, the country and whatnot.

When I think about the possibilities of the future, what we can do in a feasible way makes me very, very happy.

Me, too.

Catch SistaStrings on December 10 at the VoodooHoney Unveiling Show, January 19 at FemFest, and watch their Facebook page for more.

[Photos by Alysse.]

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meet erin: healing community through yoga in detroit

One Sweet Erin

I love this picture of Erin at Iyengar Yoga Detroit. “My goal is to live in intentional community settings,” Erin says. Since she left college, she has lived in intentional community settings, focusing on connection and creating family space with non-blood family. It’s like her yoga practice brought out in how she wants to live. “My home community is a microcosm of how I want to live in greater community, with conflict resolution, vulnerability, and more.”

“Aren’t I radiant?” my grandma asked me last night.

She just had her final radiation treatment last week in a grueling series of surgeries and therapies over the last year and a half. Hallelujah—she is completely back to the spitfire of a woman that I know and love very, very much. Her puns prove it.

My grandma is a beautiful example of healing and resilience—of knowing who you are and not letting anything stop you from being you. Ever her teacher self, she brought apples to the hospital staff on her last day of treatment. Continue reading

meet melissa: milwaukee compost entrepreneur

Melissa Tashjian - Compost Crusader

One of Melissa’s proudest moments was taking the kids from McKinley Elementary School on a field trip to Blue Ribbon Organics, where her food scraps and compostable materials turn into rich compost. The kids saw the mountains of compost in various stages, felt its warmth, got to touch it and play. ”They were so into it!” Melissa says.

“I’m not here to point the finger and tell people they have to change,” says Melissa Tashjian. “It has to be something they really desire.”

I appreciate Melissa’s perspective, as she scales up Milwaukee’s composting capabilities. Certainly I’d be fast to admit I wish there was a way to more quickly help people care. Composting, growing food, remaining on the cutting edge of true sustainability—and regenerativity—of our food system are several of the big things that drive my life and career, so I am especially grateful to get to share this week’s wisdom, Melissa Tashjian style.

Melissa, 35, launched Compost Crusader in April 2014 to give food waste and other residuals a higher purpose: creating compost that helps grow more food. She’s trying to close the loop!

Starting with five customers, Compost Crusader had 15 by end of its first year and 40 by the end of 2015. Now, Melissa helps more than 60 current customers—from local restaurants to national corporations including Harley Davidson, Kohl’s and Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin—turn “trash” into earthly treasure, keeping it out of our increasingly overstuffed landfills. Continue reading

lean in milwaukee: sharing stories and support

What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

The Empowerment Project asked us in their documentary, Sheryl Sandberg asked us in Lean In, and now we’re asking you.

Lean In Milwaukee

Kate R., on the left, started Milwaukee’s Lean In Chapter after reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book. Way to Lean In, Kate! In this picture, I am holding the group’s namesake book, and everyone else has a “You Inspire Me” PWP postcard.

But first let’s rewind a little to 3 years, 6 months, and six days ago: January 20, 2013, the day before Kate and I launched our favorite little corner of the Internet—People with Panache!

Back then, Kate and I found reasons and ways to see each other in Milwaukee, Chicago, and the best rest stops in between just about every other week. In our professional lives, we were securely situated in jobs that fit well with our paths so far, but we weren’t quite satisfied. Sound familiar? Continue reading

alysse is going to be a teacher!

“I don’t have a passion!” I remember whining to my mom from the kitchen table.

I was 17 years old, applying for colleges and attempting to pick a path for essentially the rest of my life. (LOL about the passion thing; I may have overcompensated since then.) Knowing how much I love people and enjoy writing, 17-year-old Alysse did a very nice service to 27-year-old Alysse and picked journalism. In journalism school, I met Kate, honed very handy researching and reporting skills, and gained experience with big assignments and tight deadlines—I really couldn’t ask for more. 

We both worked in magazines for several years during and after college, grew professionally, moved into our first adult apartments, and quickly wanted more from our jobs—in different directions. In the years I spent at Reader’s Digest, my first post-college gig, I found the time and freedom to figure out where all my passions—education, environment, social justice, people, animals, and more—intersected.

Getting to work on behalf of a movement I love with PEOPLE I love (like my dad here!) has been such a gift.

Getting to work on behalf of a movement I love with PEOPLE I love (like my dad here!) has been such a gift.

Lightbulb moment: The food system! Since that epiphany, I’ve hustled non-stop to help build a community-based, socially just, ecologically sustainable, nutritious food system for all—starting in my beloved Milwaukee, at Victory Garden Initiative.

But a simmering energy has been the undercurrent of nearly every job I’ve had, and over time it started to come to my attention with more and more clarity. I thought frequently of something I learned from Lisa at Sister Pie: Figure out the basic action that makes you happy, and build your career around that. All along, the thing I have been seeking is spending my days teaching kids. Challenging kids, sweet kids, struggling kids, goofy kids, all the kids. And what better way to influence the future than care for, educate and empower the pint-size people who are going to create it? There are nearly 80,000 children in Milwaukee Public Schools—80,000!!!—so why not pour as much positivity, resources and love as we can into a massive institution that will actually, literally, create our future?

I am extremely excited to share that I will be starting a certificate-to-Master’s teaching program at Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee this August. I’ll be a teacher in a year in a half, then I can take a few final credits to earn my Master’s. From then on, you may call me Master Alysse. But just Alysse is okay right now. Continue reading

meet sarah: making milwaukee sweeter—and nuttier

Sarah’s favorite way to toast nuts: “I prefer the oven, but still watch it: They’re good, almost there, almost there—burned.”

Sarah’s favorite way to toast nuts: “I prefer the oven, but still watch it: They’re good, almost there, almost there—burned.”

My boyfriend gently suggested on Sunday that maybe—even just for a day—I take a Facebook break. (One more poorly fact-checked meme and I’m going over the edge, people!)

But for real. There is so much anger, divisiveness and aggressive misinformation batting back and forth across the intellectual wasteland that is Facebook—from all sides of any issue, mind you. If we’re playing pickle in the middle, I am feeling sort of like the pickle, and sort of overwhelmed, and more than sort of mad. I need a break.

So this week, can we all agree on something?

Gun laws? Women’s rights? Nah. We’re talking self care and treatin’ yo-self in the most deliciously scented way imaginable: SPICED NUTS.

Meet Sarah Marx Feldner of Treat Bake Shop, and then take a break from that smartphone bossing you around and visit her Milwaukee shop—or any of these (very astute) retailers across the country. Continue reading

meet emily: radio producer sharing milwaukee’s stories

Emily Forman's producer-phones, People with Panache

What does Emily’s job entail? Producing a radio story each week. That means she pitches ideas, does interviews, writes a script, collects the tape, mixes it together in audio software and delivers the complete radio package to the radio station.

I’m still waiting for Orlando being the “largest mass shooting in American history” to sink in. Filling my mind instead are images of the individual people: mothers texting their children to no replies, police officers listening to the haunting rings of owner-less cellphones, survivors wondering why they were spared.

This week, we’re featuring Emily Forman, producer of Precious Lives, a two-year, 100-part radio series about young people and gun violence in Milwaukee. Each week, Emily and her team weave together living snapshots of survivors, neighborhoods, families—of resilience. They’re 73 episodes in. With many episodes about healing and peace—rather than shootings and funerals—they frequently focus on the helpers, the people working to create positive change.

Milwaukee, Orlando, and so many cities in between remind us constantly that life can change in an instant. So with each story Emily brings to light, we share the same hope that listeners grow in compassion, acknowledge the very different lives of others in their own city, and recognize just how precious every life is. Continue reading

alysse’s trip to africa

When I think of the best trips of my life, moments from each come to my mind in specific snapshots. I do this on purpose; in special moments, I’ll do a little sensory check-in, feeling what my feet are touching, how my skin feels, what I taste, little details of what I see, what sounds are passing by my ears. That’s how I can still vividly recall lazily floating in the ocean, the warm sea holding me as I tasted the last drops of fresh coconut water on my yoga retreat in Costa Rica. I can smell the pine needles under our tent in central Wisconsin on my first camping trip with my boyfriend. I can still see a hummingbird breathing at the speed of a fast-beating heart in its cocoon-like nest in the Amazon.

Especially since it was just two weeks ago, I can also still hear the trumpet of a teenage male elephant as he ran toward my family in a “mock charge.” My parents and I were on a safari—definitely among the very coolest weeks-and-a-half of my life—and “mock peed our pants.”

Check out a few of my favorite snapshots from my family’s trip to southern Zimbabwe and northern Botswana. Which are your favorites? Please share in the comments—I might even enter some of these into a photo contest to win my way back to Botswana! (I thought that trip would be once-in-a-lifetime, but I really, really hope I’m wrong.)

PS: If you’d like any of my photos for your own use—hello desktop backgrounds—please ask first. Include your email, and I’ll do my best to send photos promptly.

Alysse in Africa 01[ellie on the move] Continue reading

meet sarah: using nutrition to change lives in milwaukee

Abundance is such an important theme for Sarah—she wanted it to be a constant reminder for her. So it became part of her business’ name!

Abundance is such an important theme for Sarah—she wanted it to be a constant reminder for her. So it became part of her business’ name!

A few weekends ago, one of my closest friends came up from Chicago for the day to share that she had broken up with her boyfriend. She was still settling into singleness (with the happiest smile, I must say) and evaluating her next steps while deciding to stay put for a bit—with her job, her apartment, herself. Time for a little bit of dedicated solo time. And friend time. And really simple, solid advice: “I realized that I was blaming my job for unhappiness and stress—but a lot of it had to do with my attitude.”

While I know I have a lot of blessings in my life—my faith, family and friends—she helped me remember that day-to-day happiness is a choice. It’s a choice to adjust my attitude to point toward the positive. It’s a choice to take a deep breath when I feel overwhelmed, make myself a piña colada, and just keep moving forward. (Real life. Last Monday.) And it’s a choice to stay out late singing Space Oddity on the karaoke stage rather than sleeping. (I’m in no way saying I always make good choices.)

Sarah Philipp, 32, was born with an entrepreneurial gene—check out her cousin!—and also reminds me how empowered I am to take charge of my own life and body. She is a Milwaukee nutritionist who created a beautiful little business, Abundelicious, where she uses food as a tool for wellness. She specializes in anxiety and digestive disorders, teaching her clients (and hopefully you now, too!) the power of nutrition as fuel for our lives, our minds and our happiness. Continue reading