16 May Let Them Fly
In the spirit of graduation, I thought I’d share with you what I shared at the recent VTC graduation. If you missed it, you missed something super special. We look forward to seeing you there next time. 🙂 Love, Steph
On June 20, 2016, these five women walked into work at Vickery Trading Company for the first time. They had no clue what they were doing, but they did know that someone had offered to pay them. Some of them for the first time in their lives. What they didn’t know is that I had no clue what I was doing either. They chose to take a HUGE leap of faith and trust this crazy American with a lofty dream and no track record (they didn’t know that either) and we started our journey together. People warned me that I couldn’t have an Afghan woman and an Iraqi woman working together at the same time. I didn’t listen. People told me I couldn’t work out my plan. I didn’t listen. People told me I would have trouble recruiting volunteers. I didn’t listen to that either. And I’m glad I didn’t. Because I never would have had the opportunity to watch these women prove all of them wrong. They have built a family, a company and a volunteer force far beyond anything I am capable of.
When we first started training, we could trip over our differences they were so large. Different clothing, different languages, different skin colors. Some of them walked up to me within ear shot of another woman and said, “I don’t want to sit by her.” So as to respond graciously to their concerns, how did I handle that? I made them partners on the same project. And then when they came back the next day, I’d switch around their machines and put them by someone else they didn’t want to talk to. When my forced team-building wasn’t yielding results as quickly as I wanted, I pulled them all around the cutting table and we had a family meeting. Here’s what I told them, and I believe it more today than I did two years ago. I told them, “It’s not an accident that you’re here. I absolutely hate what has brought you here and I am so sorry that you’ve had to lose so much and live so far from your families. But I believe that God is bigger than the horrible circumstances, he’s still in control and he has a plan for your life. It’s not an accident that you were resettled in Dallas and it’s not an accident that my life now gets to cross paths with yours. So we’re going to make the best of this situation and we’re going to focus on our similarities and the things that are right about us.” That day, we started morning conversation time. They had to spend 5 minutes talking with a partner (chosen by me) about their commonalities. What their grandmother is like. What they wore at their wedding. The food they miss the most. Those forced five-minute conversations laid the groundwork for the family you see today. Today, I have to force them to stop joking and storytelling so we actually have time to work. And that’s what makes Vickery Trading Company so special. It’s not just a job or a training program. It’s a family. A family of very different women who through the common experience of resettlement were blessed to come together to grow and learn, to cheer one another on through victories and support one another through tears.
I am so proud of each one of you. I’ve had the privilege of taking a front row seat for the past two years and watching you grow. When I met you, we could barely speak to one another. And now some of you are going off to college. With English-only classes. When we first started, some of you had trouble threading a sewing machine. Now, you’re using some of the most difficult machines in the industry and making goods for not only Vickery Trading, but for ethical brands sold across the country. Two years ago, you rarely ventured out of the neighborhood to do anything but go to the grocery store. Today, you take your families on adventures all over the city, state and even country. In YOUR car. With YOUR drivers’ license. All without a translator. You’re doing it! You’re assimilating and learning to enjoy this life that looks nothing like what you planned.
To the rest of you…if you’ve ever doubted the capacity of a refugee to adapt. If you’ve ever questioned their resilience or their contribution to our society, I want you to take a walk by our victory wall before you leave here today. Every single card on that wall represents a personal victory for some of my biggest heroes. Nothing on that wall is an activity that was prescribed or mandated by Vickery Trading Company. They are the result of the English and confidence these women have gained while being loved and supported in our program. They did the work. All we did is tell them, “You Can.” And that’s what happens to a woman when you surround her with dozens of volunteers giving countless hours of care and service. When you teach her a skill and allow her the dignity of contributing to the well-being of her family. When you empower a woman and tell her SHE CAN, you get to watch her fly.
So ladies, that’s my challenge to you as you leave here. FLY. Don’t stop here. You’re not done yet. You’ve just barely begun your incredible journey in the United States. Don’t hide. Show the world what you’re made of. Show them that being ripped out of your home country and thrown into a foreign place won’t stop you, but only make you stronger. Don’t take no for an answer. Keep going and keep trying until you get the yes that you’re looking for. Don’t see your differences as a problem. They’re not. They are what make you unique and they are your most valuable tool for success. Don’t believe the lie that you CAN’T. You’ve already proven that you CAN.
And while I’m handing out challenges, I want to challenge all of you. To the families of these women. Thank you. Thank you for loving them enough to let them come to work and learn and grow every day. Thank you for supporting them as they did something that no one had done before. I challenge you to keep doing that. If this is your mom or wife or sister or daughter…let her grow. Let her learn every new thing that she wants to. Let her try things that are hard and take risks. She can handle it. I’ve watched her. Encourage her to speak English. She can do amazing things when she uses it. Give her time to master new skills without stepping in and doing it for her. And celebrate with her when she accomplishes her goal. Tell her she CAN and watch her FLY.
To the rest of you in this room, I want to hand the biggest challenge of all. LET THEM FLY. Don’t clip their wings by withholding your help. Show the compassion you would want to be shown. Listen to their story as carefully as you would want them to hear yours. Ask them why they wear a hijab…so they can ask you why you show so much skin. Hug them. Because their mama’s not here to do it. See them as a person, not a project. Introduce them to the person you would want to know. Open doors for them. Empower them. And then watch them fly.
Ladies, as you leave here today, you’ll be entering a new season of life. A more independent phase of life. But you’re ready for it. This is what you’ve been working for. Look around you. Some of your biggest cheerleaders are sitting in this room today. When we leave here, the cheering doesn’t stop. The friendships don’t end. And our love for you doesn’t go away. We are so proud of you and can’t wait to see what’s in store as you take flight. Congratulations on your accomplishment!