‘Complicated’ is the word that used to come to mind when I would think of my relationship with my mom. Yet at 81 years of age, she has blown me away with how much insight she has into my character. Here’s a beautiful gift she gave me today from the Daily Word, July 22, 2019:
There is a natural order to life that I can trust. Life has taught me that while change is inevitable, I need not worry. As I remain present to changes in my life and in the world, I strive to remain open to the flow of good. Flexibility is my strength. Like a willow tree in a windstorm, I remain grounded.
When I feel concern for myself or a loved one, I take a moment to be silent. Letting go of limiting patterns or worries about the future, I release resistance and open to divine inspiration. I realign myself so I can approach every life situation with a sense of grace and ease. From a centered state of mind, I affirm: I am flexible yet strong in times of change.
The piece I’ve just shared is titled ‘Resilience.’ What ‘s so interesting about these words is their connection to recent events and my mom’s eerie sixth sense. Since there is a lot to unpack both literally and metaphorically I will write several posts on these experiences. Today, however, I want to share a brief overview of the most current “Daring To Own Your Story” Women’s Retreat.
For far too long, I’ve seen the value in other people that I felt was lacking in myself. Embracing doubt, fear, anxiety, and a sense of worthlessness has long been my M.O. yet on July 11 something remarkable happened. This day would take me to the National Ability Center where I’d find strength in my vulnerability.
Becky Andrews of Resilient Solutions Inc. challenged me and nine other blind and visually impaired women to own our stories. Through our shared connection of sight loss, in four days we developed a sisterhood many people long to acquire. At the retreat, we participated in a number of group activities like archery, hiking, biking, and the challenge course.
So much has happened in my life over the past few weeks it’s been hard to obtain clarity. The death of one friend, cancer diagnosis of another, then traveling out of state three times in one month has been taxing. I’ve been afraid of falling behind here at Bold Blind Beauty and CAPTIVATING! Even so, life continues in spite of these events and I’m very grateful for all the opportunities that have come my way. Receiving my mom’s message on resiliency was the icing on the cake.
Flexible Yet Strong & Empowered Featured Image Description:
In this photo, I am 45 feet above the ground crossing a log suspended in mid-air. One of the course staff members guided me across by walking backward as I held her left hand.
A gallery of three images showing me in stages of climbing the rock wall.
Another gallery of three photos showing a group of us at the summit of our hike. A group photo of everyone who biked and a photo of Becky and me posing in the bike shed.
“The one thing you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can. The moment that you feel that just possibly you are walking down the street naked…that’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.”
My business partner, Chelsea Nguyen, is from Houston, TX and I live in Pittsburgh, PA. And together we are walking down the street naked.
You see, our accessible online magazine CAPTIVATING!, only 7 months in the making, has received an award from the Texas Rehabilitation Association. The award is for our work in representing people with disabilities in journalism. Isn’t this exciting? But wait, there’s more!
Chelsea and I envision a more inclusive world—it’s who we are. Changing the perception of disabilities and the people who are living and thriving with them is our calling. Connecting and enlightening people of all abilities is our mission.
If you’ve ever wanted to make an impact would you consider helping our efforts? We invite you to check out our story on Go Fund Me. Help us spread the word. Thank you!!
Baring Our Souls For A Vision Of Empowerment Featured Image Description:
The photo is from our June edition of the magazine. The article was written by Ron Graham of HAVIN. It’s about the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Cane and Able which consisted of a group of 12 people, seven of whom were totally or legally blind, and one of them was on a motorized scooter. Visit www.captivatingmagazine.com to check out the article.
Chelsea & Steph – Photo was taken at DFW. We are posing with our luggage and I have my gold cane in my left hand.
Level Up Brochure – 2019 Envision program brochure with the theme: “Connect Engage Act.”
The Gang – Max, Steph, Chelsea & Jeremy at DFW. Max and I are both holding our white canes.
Envision 2019 Level Up Conference is a week-long training for blind or visually impaired students from across the U.S. Hosted at WSU, students receive valuable skills they need to successfully transition from high school to college and/or career.
From morning to night the well-organized event provided plenty of student activities. Keynote speaker Jessica Loomer opened the conference Sunday afternoon with a very inspirational and motivational speech about perspective. In her speech, she shared her personal journey of losing her sight to LHON. What was really helpful was some of the real life on the job examples she provided. “It’s Just Coffee” mentioned throughout Jessica’s speech became a mantra for many of us who listened to her.
Sunday evening offered everyone the opportunity to let their hair down at the Level Up Live Kick Off. Described as a social oasis and multimedia venue WAVE located in downtown Wichita is an eclectic indoor/outdoor hotspot. The entertainment space is huge and creatively incorporates recycled materials. There was plenty of singing, dancing, eating, laughing, and mingling with Envision staff, volunteers, and students. What a fun way to kick-off such a memorable week.
Empowering Leader With a Heart of Gold
Meeting up with Chelsea Nguyen, of CN Vision Image Consulting for the first time was incredible. Our shared values and a mutual desire to create a more inclusive world are the driving forces in our friendship. Meeting Chelsea in-person at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport was an unbelievable experience for me that almost didn’t happen. You see, the first time she asked me to attend the conference with her I declined. Thankfully she didn’t give up on me and asked me to reconsider.
Chelsea is one of the most genuinely loving, compassionate, and empathetic people I’ve ever encountered. From our first meeting where she hugged me she did the same with Every. Single. Person. We. Met. Chelsea’s passion for people with disabilities is extraordinary.
CN Vision Image Consulting’s purpose at the conference was to connect, empower, inspire, and train students. Empowering blind and visually impaired young people was a wonderful opportunity for Chelsea and our team. The team representing CN Vision Image Consulting were The Blind Blogger, Maxwell Ivey Jr.; Jeremy Bostic, and moi.
A hairstylist by trade, Chelsea is an excellent image consultant, educator, speaker, and motivator. She has a way with people that makes them feel like they can accomplish anything they desire. What touches me about Chelsea is just how easily she is able to express how deeply she cares about others.
Chelsea does not have a disability. What she does have is an honest, heartfelt ability to empathize with those who do. Inclusion and accessibility are very important to her. Listening to her speak at the event gave me chills.
This small clip is just a glimpse into how Chelsea motivates:
Envision Leaders, Bonnie Cochran, and Hannah Christenson were extremely instrumental in keeping the program on track throughout the week. These two women who never missed a beat had inexhaustible energy to keep pace with their young charges.
There was very little downtime within the well-structured agenda. Every day after breakfast everyone attended the general session. Three sessions throughout the day (morning, afternoon, and evening) followed the general session with meals in between. After dinner, the students went to their evening sessions.
Our team’s presentation took place on Tuesday morning with an extended version in the evening. As representatives of CN Vision Image Consulting, we trained the students on non-visual grooming & hygiene techniques, professional and soft skills. During the evening training, there was a co-ed hands-on demo then we broke out into boy/girl groups. In the groups, the boys learned how to tie a tie and the girls learned how to apply makeup.
The student’s readiness for the college and career expo was evident as they demonstrated the new skills they recently acquired. It was at the expo where they performed their elevator pitches, networked and toured the Envision facility. The evening prior they enjoyed networking and a four-course meal.
I can’t tell you how good it felt watching these young people increase their confidence by learning these new skills. All of the staff, volunteers, and guests modeled a positive can-do attitude which showed the students limitless possibilities.
The Envision 2019 Level Up Conference was a life-changing event for everyone who participated. I can hardly wait to write additional content about Envision and the work they do. This company really walks the talk to improve the lives of blind and visually impaired people.
The Lasting Impression
Everyone who participated in the conference was there instill the skills these brilliant young people will need to succeed. Witnessing the transformation of these remarkable young people was extremely poignant. As they voluntarily stood to give personal testimonials about how our team impacted them proved the value of the training. Thanks go out to Envision and WSU for their warm hospitality. Also, thank you, students, for working with us and for your feedback.
This post began with an empowering quote about leaving a lasting impression. I think it’s safe to say that everyone we’ve connected with accomplished this task!
Empowering Young People Featured Image Description:
An in-flight photo of the partially visible interior airplane window frame and engine in the foreground. The window looks out into a blue sky and a bed of puffy white clouds.
Jessica & Starbucks: Jessica Loomer is standing in the auditorium between two Starbucks representatives. She has long dark hair and is wearing a white sleeveless dress. Each of them is holding Starbucks coffee cups. The Starbucks representatives provided coffee for the opening day.
Dorm Check-in: Check-in at the registration desk on the WSU campus. Max is standing with his white cane. Jeremy is talking with the receptionist and Chelsea is speaking with our awesome Delta Gamma volunteer, Baylee Almos.
Hubbard Hall: A photo of the auditorium prior to Jessica’s keynote address. There is a floor to ceiling movie screen at the front of the room.
WAVE: An indoor photo of Wave with a few students milling about. The building design incorporates storage containers.
Shocker Diner Evacuation: Students, staff, volunteers, and guests are outside at the meeting location doing a roll call.
Chelsea Speaking: Chelsea is giving a motivational speech at the dinner on Thursday evening. She’s wearing a blue dress accented with a silver statement necklace.
Hello, I’m Carla Ernst’s publisher and I’m contacting you because I know she was involved with Bold Blind Beauty. I’m very sorry to tell you that she passed away a couple of days ago.
I’d just come home from visiting my friend who was recently diagnosed with cancer. The stress is palpable as I’m working on getting the June edition of CAPTIVATING!issued. I heard the email notification on my cell. Figuring it was one of our CAPTIVATING! team members, I glance at it and the next thing I know I’m screaming.
When anyone calls the Bold Blind Beauty 800 line it automatically sends a transcript of the voicemail. I thought this has to be a mistake when reading the transcript. So I open the email on my 32-inch monitor, then read and re-read the message. Comprehension slowly creeps up on me as my heart is breaking—Carla is gone!
Gosh, just writing this brings it all back—the tears, sorrow, and devastation of losing someone so close to me. While it’s been two weeks since she died a very large part of me still can’t believe she’s gone.
Exhuberant & Extraordinary Carla
I met Carla on November 10, 2016, right here on Bold Blind Beauty. It all began with a comment she left on one of my blog posts:
You look fab Steph! (I’m trusting my sighted girlfriend Ann who told me so). I lost my vision several months ago, but I have not let that negatively impact my sense of fashion one bit. I wear a lot of pencil skirts too, but I’m thinking of upgrading to pen skirts. Way more permanent. These pencil skirts could erase. Which would not be good because they have a no-nudity policy here in Milwaukee.
~ Carla Ernst
How was I to know that this one comment would lead to such an extraordinary friendship? The funny thing is, Carla and I never met in person. Yet this comment was the beginning of something very special. The comment led to an email which in turn led to a phone call that completely changed my life.
It’s so interesting how meaningful relationships can evolve while living in the virtual 24/7 world. My friendship with Carla was such a relationship. From the very beginning, her corny sense of humor was contagious; I remember telling her she should become a standup comedian. In addition to being a person who could make you laugh non-stop, Carla was extremely intelligent and uber professional.
My relationship with Carla was life-changing because she clearly understood my passion for advocacy. Because of this understanding, she offered to help me to improve Bold Blind Beauty.
In a matter of months, we consolidated messaging and websites. If you’ve been following Bold Blind Beauty for a while you’ll remember there was a separate online store. The standalone online store was named after Abby our fashion icon. Then there were individual social media platforms for each site which made things a little hairy.
Carla’s offer to create a concise message made me feel a little; no, I was actually extremely uncomfortable. Living on disability means finances are tight and I knew I couldn’t afford her services. Here’s the kicker though: when I told her I couldn’t pay her she said all she wanted to do was to help. Who does this in this day and age?
Carla wasted no time developing a strategy She:
wrote Abby’s story and rewrote my bios (I now have several from which to choose)
hosted two focus groups to gather data to learn more about our audience
advised me to create a Steering Committee
updated the site’s structure to make more sense
helped me consolidate the obsolete Abigale Style into Bold Blind Beauty
contributed tons of content to Bold Blind Beauty
represented Bold Blind Beauty as Chief Communications Officer
presented endless ideas the most recent was giving Abby a voice
As a communications guru, Carla’s passion for writing could only be matched by her advocacy. She had a heart for volunteerism and gave so much of her time and talents to organizations who help improve the lives of others. What’s ironic about me writing this piece is I feel like I cannot do her justice.
What Carla Taught Me
Acceptance has to be one of the most important takeaways from my friendship with Carla. Remember how I said I met her in 2016? It wasn’t until last year that I learned something about Carla that hurt me to the core. Her memoir, Life Without Pockets: My Long Journey Into Womanhood, was a subtle hint.
I read Carla’s book in one sitting. It was excellent. As soon as I finished reading it I called her. While I can’t remember our exact conversation what I do remember is how badly I felt for her. To be clear, learning that Carla was trans was not an issue for me. Instead, I was hurt that she thought if I knew it would turn me against her.
Carla and I would talk on many subjects the majority of which focused on preconceived notions of others. Blindness was a great starting point, I think because of the many metaphors on the topic. For example, when you can’t see how a person looks it doesn’t matter— it’s about character.
However, in Carla’s defense, I get it. Being a member of several marginalized groups myself I understand how much it hurts when people cannot accept you for who you are. The beauty of Carla was that she didn’t place conditions on her friendships. She was 100 percent the real deal and I’m so beyond honored to have known her and call her my friend.
I talked to Carla two days before she passed away and we had such a great conversation. She wasn’t feeling well; hadn’t been for that entire weekend but she wanted to share some ideas with me.
Being who she was, Carla was also a CAPTIVATING! team member and had big ideas on how we could further impact the world. We talked by phone at least twice a month and no matter what was going on in her life, Carla was positive.
I’ve always believed the majority of the world is full of very good, well-intentioned people. People like Carla reaffirms my belief, yet it would be reckless of me not to acknowledge the hatred. Hatred is the reason why Carla was hesitant to tell me her story and no one should ever feel this way. We are all human and we all struggle. For those who cannot feel empathy for others, you’re the ones missing out. Nobody knows what’s in store for each of us but I’ll tell you what it’s far easier being kind and compassionate than filled with hate.
Everyone has biases but until we get to know one another, I don’t understand how we can feel dislike towards another. Carla, I will forever be grateful to you for bringing so much light into my life. You are a bright star and I will miss you terribly my friend. I love you. RIP
It takes a minute to find a special person, an hour to appreciate them, and a day to love them, but it takes an entire lifetime to forget them.
Featured Image Description:
A headshot of Carla with auburn hair and she’s wearing a black top.
The second image is a black and white full body shot of Carla posing with her white cane. She is wearing a floral dress with floral patterned hose.