Episode 42: Visiting with Arlene Hosea of Bloomington, IL and her story, “I Am Somebody”
ANNOUNCER 00:01 Raising women’s voices one story at a time. Welcome to The She Said Project Podcast.
[music: The She Said Project Podcast Theme]
JENETTE JURCZYK 00:28 Today is a good day to be listening to The She Said Project Podcast—I am just saying, because if you’re joining us right now, you’re going to be treated to one of my all time faves. This is Jenette Jurczyk, National Director of The She Said Project. I’m hanging out in the studio today. This is so fun.
KERRY ROSSOW 00:43 This is so fun. This is Kerry Rossow, co-founder.
JENETTE 00:46 Kerry, you started That’s What She Said in Champaign, but okay, I’m just gonna say it. I started it in Bloomington, Illinois.
KERRY 00:51 I know.
JENETTE 00:51 I took the nuggets. I took the vision and I wanted to see if it could play, you know, in more communities and I have to tell you Bloomington-Normal Illinois: fabulous community, embraced That’s What She Said. I just had so much fun getting to know new women and bringing the vision alive.
JENETTE 01:07 Our guest today appeared on stage in That’s What She Said, not the first show, but the second show, in Bloomington. But here’s the thing, it was the first live show coming back after COVID. It was a unique experience. It was a unique night, we had to pivot but we made it happen. And what is so special about this group of women, it was unprecedented times, there were a lot of unknowns. And they said yes to something most of them didn’t even know what to expect.
JENETTE 01:35 Joining us today from that cast, Arlene Hosea, welcome to The She Said Project Podcast!
ARLENE HOSEA 01:41 Glad to be here with you!
JENETTE 01:43 Oh, it’s so great to hear your voice again!
ARLENE 01:45 Well, it’s nice to hear both of your voices as well.
KERRY 01:48 Okay, Arlene. So tell me how did this all shake out? How did we get our grips on you?
ARLENE 01:53 You know, that was the question that I asked Jenette. Who told you about me?
JENETTE 01:58 How did we find Arlene? It had to have been a mutual friend, probably through United Way. It was probably Pat.
ARLENE 02:04 It was! The lady named Pat.
JENETTE 02:07 So that beautiful show we did a fundraiser for United Way of McLean County, and you know me, I will ask everybody, ‘Who do I need to know? Who do I need to know? Who’s fabulous? Who’s got a great story?’ I’ve had so many awesome introductions and coffee dates, because, you know, I like to drink the coffee. And Arlene and I chatted and oh my god, we just connected. First of all, you’re a fantastic speaker. But you’ve got a lifetime full of awesome stories. You’re just a joy to be with. I just loved every minute with you.
ARLENE 02:33 Well, thank you. That makes me feel so terrific.
KERRY 02:36 Did you say yes, right away?
ARLENE 02:37 [laughing] I thought about it for a moment. You know, you have to digest things and kind of process things. But I came back and I said I would do it. And then I thought, ooh, what did I just agree to? [Kerry laughing] And then I thought okay, I want to tell my story. And I think sometimes we don’t realize how many stories we really have. And so I wasn’t exactly sure what that story would be. But after spending some time with Jenette and just chatting, just talking to each other, it appeared—it just surfaced. And there it was. There was my story. And it had so many layers and so much history. I didn’t realize that it was there until that connection with Jenette.
JENETTE 03:27 Our friends who are joining us – if they were not there in the audience that night, they have not had the privilege of hearing your story, Arlene. So let’s go ahead and cut to the performance. And then we’ll talk some more.
This is our beautiful friend, Arlene Hosea, with her performance in That’s What She Said in Bloomington-Normal, Illinois from 2021 with her story, “I Am Somebody.” [applause]
(recorded at Ewing Manor, Bloomington, IL on September 1, 2021)
ARLENE 03:50 My maternal grandmother, Hattie Pearl Reed Moore, would stand tall, spread her feet apart, place her hand firmly on her hip. And she would say, “I am Hattie Moore. I am somebody.”
[4:16] My grandmother was born on March 28, 1909 in Crystal Springs, Mississippi. A time that was very different then when I was born in 1959. I can only imagine what life was like during her childhood and her young adult years in Mississippi before she came up north. But my grandmother, my Mawma, she was a proud, hard working accomplished Christian woman. And she would set us down off often, and remind us that we needed to believe that we were somebody too.
[5:12] I didn’t know at the time why this was so important to her. I didn’t know where she learned it. Or what life in the early 1900s in Mississippi, had put her through. But it was a lesson I carried with me and found that I have had to draw on it when faced with situations, people who try to knock me down.
[5:50] Let me tell you about my retirement celebration on December 2, 2014. I started as an assistant manager in 1990 and I was retiring as director of one of the largest service departments at the University. [applause]
[6:21] I like to say I grew up at the University, because as a young girl, I would go to the football games, to see my future brother in law, Walt, on the field. It was a beloved place for me.
[6:39] The emcee for the ceremony was introducing the next speaker. The speaker was my immediate supervisor. And it was his time to say a few words about me and my career at the University. I had worked with him for over 13 years and he was my immediate supervisor, at least the last four years. Historically, when someone is retiring from my institution, this was a time for the supervisors to talk about their accomplishments, their career highlights, their contributions, any awards or recognition that they’ve achieved. These events usually involve the retiree’s family, community members, colleagues and co-workers. And they were always, always gracious affairs.
[7:44] This event, it was not just special to me because I was retiring. It was even more special because my 87 year old mother, Josephine, was at the event. My mother, she never saw me run, track or cheer during my junior and high school years. She never saw me compete as a member of my high school speech team. She wasn’t present when I was announced as a member of my high school homecoming court and she never got to see me act in To Kill a Mockingbird. No. She missed so many of my events because of health reasons. But she… she was present that day.
[8:49] The location? Well, it was special too. It was in the same building where my parents and my grandparents got to watch me walk across the stage and receive my bachelor’s degree in 1982. And for my hooding ceremony for my master’s degree in 1984. This day, this day would even be more special because it would be the only retirement reception that my late mother would ever attend for any of her ten children. I was so happy to have her there along with family and friends. And y’all, I just got to tell you this – the room – it was full. Packed! Alright?
[9:58] So… my supervisor is at the microphone and it goes… [pause] it goes something like this:
[10:12] “During lunch, I decided on what I would say today. I looked in Arlene’s file. And it was empty. There was nothing there. So, I decided to Google her name to find out something about her. And there was a lot there.”
[10:37] Now y’all, here’s the thing. As supervisors, we keep a file for every employee. It contains past evaluations. For some people, letters of discipline. Notes, good, bad. Any recognitions. Any awards. Excetera. Mine? He told all of us—was empty.
[11:17] A bit later, he was saying something that he found out about me again on Google. And he referred to me as he. Well several people in the audience said, “she’s a she!” [pointed laugh] Y’all aren’t going to believe this! He let us all know then that he had smeared some peanut butter and jelly on the paper… since he was composing it during his lunch break.
As he was speaking, hmm, I thought about all of our one on ones where I talked about my family. I talked about being on boards of directors for several nonprofits in the community. We had conversations about my leadership team, and how we worked with student managers. And how we, we changed all the meal plans, and we did multimillion dollar renovations of dining centers. And we designed and we acquired new concepts in our Student Center. Now, I don’t recall everything that was said. Perhaps, I was in shock. Embarrassed and bewildered after learning that my employee file was empty, and that my immediate supervisor had to google my name for his speech, and that he wrote his comments while chowing down on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich during his lunch break.
[13:14] However, I was happy. I was so happy. Because there were people there who talked about their professional and their personal relationship with me, and the contributions that I made on campus and in the community, and in the lives of others. I want to say thank you tonight to Linda. I want to thank you, Pat. And I want to thank my sister in law, Terry. They talked about me, and those women didn’t google my name at all. [laughter and appause]
[14:05] Now, shame on me. I should not have expected more from this man who told me that I was an embarrassment to the University when I followed his directive, I carried out his plan, while he was vacationing in the Greek Isles. Now in that moment, I knew I had a choice. I could let the anger and the disgust well up and ruin my party. I could ignore it. And pretend that I wasn’t insulted by Dr. PB&J’s lack of respect and decency. I couldn’t let this man make me believe that I wasn’t worthy of a proper speech. That my twenty-five years of hard work and contribution didn’t matter. Hmmm. Or I could see that God places people in your life for a reason, even if they’re bad bosses to help you find your strength to believe in yourself.
[15:36] And at that moment, I remembered my Mawma. Because for a significant portion of her life, society and America told her and treated her as though she was not somebody important and worthy. Maybe she found her inspiration in a poem written by Reverend William Holmes Borders Sr., “I Am Somebody.”
[16:22] And she would stand in front of her grandchildren, with her hands on her hips. And she would recite loudly, “I am somebody.”
[16:36] And so I enjoyed the rest of my retirement party. I allowed my friends and my family to celebrate me and my accomplishments. And I made ... I made my mother so proud. And when I feel like the world is setting me up to fail, I stand tall. I spread my feet apart. I place my hands on my hips. And I say, “I am Arlene Hosea. And y’all, I am somebody!” [applause]
KERRY 17:33 Okay, I love, love, love that and one of the things that I loved about it was that when you said that you can be somebody when I grew up, anytime we felt proud of ourselves, or we felt like we got something fancy, like new shoes, like real new shoes, not just passed down from a big sibling, we would all say, and it came from my grandma and her mom, and we passed it down, “I can be somebody now.” And we still as grown ups will say if you know one of us starts to feel like we’re fancy or gets a new car, my sister will say, “Ooh, you can be somebody now, I had never heard someone outside of our family say that. So I loved you. But then when you said that, that clinched it. You’re mine.
ARLENE 18:12 We have a lot in common. Sometimes we don’t realize it.
JENETTE 18:15 Well, it comes from grandma, right? Like grandma inspired you.
ARLENE 18:19 And you know, when you think about that, when you think about our grandmother’s [Jenette and Kerry: Mmmm in affirmation] cuz that’s where mine resonated from, but it overlapped with my lived experience as well, not just her lived experience. But it resonated with my lived experience. And if I hadn’t had that “I am somebody” from her in that moment that I needed that I might have been crushed. Gram passed on this wisdom, because they went through things different than us, but to prepare us and when we say “we are somebody” or “now I’m somebody is that that experience they had that made them stronger. And those things that they said that we remember and resonate with us to this day.
KERRY 19:04 It’s a generational gift. And I think when we repeat those things that they have said or taught us, it honors them and all that they went through to make the world better or life better for the next generations to come.
ARLENE 19:15 And I didn’t know until I told my story. That what she had been saying all those years when I was a little girl would give me strength in the moment that I needed it.
JENETTE 19:26 I think that’s the biggest takeaway, repeating that and instilling that in you when you needed it, it was there and you were ready to shine. I loved how vulnerable you were in sharing the unfortunate events of your retirement party. We’ve all been in situations where we have felt disrespected or mistreated. And how do you handle a situation like that?
JENETTE 19:50 Man oh man, you are one classy lady, Arlene, how you handled that moment and the choice—you know you choose to see the opportunity there and to enjoy the people who we’re there to love and support you and to let go of the people who are there to put you down.
ARLENE 20:04 Again, my mother, my grandmother, Hattie Moore, was in that moment with me. Because I can only imagine how many times that she felt disrespected, that she felt like she was invisible. Like she felt how do I manage this in this moment? And keep going with my pride and my dignity.
JENETTE 20:25 The spirit of our mothers and our grandmothers carrying us forward!
ARLENE 20:29 Yes, yes. And I’m sure, we all have those stories that we never think about. But then there’s that period or that moment in our life that takes us back. And we remember something, whether it’s in the kitchen, or whether it’s on a stage, or whether it’s in a retirement celebration, that should be a happy time for someone. And you remember that you are somebody, don’t let somebody steal your moment. And don’t let somebody make you do something that may embarrass you. Because they need that from you be strong, be somebody because you are. And that’s what I had to rely on. I had to remember that voice. And that power of what she was saying, and the strength that came with it. I will never, ever deny that strength that comes with what she said to me.
JENETTE 21:23 And because you stood on that stage and shared your experience, you gave that gift to all the women on that stage, to all the women in the audience, to all the women who are going to hear this podcast, this episode here today. I mean, Arlene, you shared a gift, the gift from your grandmother to you. And now from you to the world to stand up and whatever you’re facing, just know in your gut, “I am somebody.” That is going to help so many people through whatever they’re dealing with right now. The world’s a crazy place right now. We all need a little inspiration. We all need a little Arlene. I’m just saying it.
ARLENE 22:00 Well, you know, all three of us are around younger women, be it someone—; you guys have maybe daughters and I have a granddaughter who’s four. Something came up after my foot surgery, and she wanted to take care of grandmother. And I told her, okay, you can be my doctor. And you know, she knew she could be somebody because you what she told me? She said, “Grandma, I can be your doctor and I can be a mommy.”
ARLENE 22:29 And that comes from us as women, living our experience and pushing forward or sharing the knowledge and experiences we have and the affirmation to our young women in our lives. Our young girls, be it daughters, nie school one day, my kiddos are now late teenagers and early 20s (I adopted them when I was 10.) But my son called out the door, “Learn a lot and be kind to others.” And it was like oh, look at that. You know those words they did remember and…
KERRY 22:29 Aww!
JENETTE 23:34 I’m gonna take those words. “Learn a lot. Be kind to others.”
ARLENE 23:38 And doesn’t it feel great when you hear them. Repeat. Or remember what you’ve said.
JENETTE 23:44 Suddenly, you taught them. Yeah, wisdom reflected back. atcha. Love it. Kerry, you always talk about how you wanted to set an example for your daughters, for all your kids, that mommy has a life outside of this house. Mommy can be a professional. Mommy can build this. She said project mommy can do amazing things. And still be mommy. Right? And so Arlene, I love that your granddaughter sees the world full of possibilities.
KERRY 24:11 And then it’s all and it’s not you can be one or the other. We can be all the things and.
ARLENE 24:16 That’s exactly right. And she also told me when she flew to California in December to go see an uncle. I said how do you feel about getting on an airplane? Are you scared? She said, “Grandma, I am brave.”
KERRY 24:31 Oh my goodness.
ARLENE 24:32 “I am brave!” Ahh! [exclamation] A four year old! But those are important words. And that’s what I like about That’s What She Said. Because we’re speaking from a place that allows us to be able to share our story, or like Jenette said earlier, for others to hear it.
KERRY 24:53 Yep.
ARLENE 24:53 And those words may bring lots of meaning to those individual women who hear that. It’s the courage, the inspiration, the comfort, to be able to say, hmm! “I can be great. I am somebody.”
KERRY 25:11 It’s really important. We want to give a platform for women to share their stories. But as important as it is for us to tell her stories, it’s also equally important for all the women that are sitting out there to hear those stories, and to either connect to it, or to hear something maybe for the first time and have a new thought. But you know, it allways loops back to connecting with each other.
ARLENE 25:32 And I found just experiencing, going through the process and being on the stage with other women, hearing their stories. I learned so much, and I grew so much more. Sometimes I think we don’t know that we’re still growing. But I heard stories that I had not heard before, about an experience that I had not lived. But those words changed me in that moment. They made me a more empathetic person, a more understanding person, a more knowledgeable person, because I heard stories that touched my soul.
Wow. You were open to hearing new experiences.
JENETTE 26:15 And that’s what’s so great about being in an environment like that. Because we come there to hear those stories.
JENETTE 26:21 I promise I didn’t pay Arlene to be our PR person tonight. kkkkkkkk You really couldn’t have said it better. Everything that you took away from That’s What She Said is really the reason we do what we do. It is so satisfying to hear what you took away from the experience and what you gave to the experience that other women could take away. Like it’s just this beautiful tapestry of love and empowerment. And it’s all the things—it’s exactly why we do what we do. And it’s just really satisfying, gratifying to hear you say it. because I swear I didn’t coach her. I didn’t tell her what to say. But Arlene, you showed up, you came, you had something to say and you were a source of inspiration for everyone else.
JENETTE 27:02 I’m curious, what was it like after the show? Did people reach out to you? I’m always curious to hear how the community reacts to a performance.
ARLENE HOSEA 27:11 Yes, I had friends and family in the audience. And they spoke with me. Some of them re-lived that moment that I spoke about, because they were present at my retirement. I had women in the community that shared the emotional response, they had to hearing my story. For some, it was anger. I had women apologize to me, because they felt like why do have to go through something like that. And I’m sorry, you had to experience that. They weren’t taking ownership of the negative experience I had. They were just saying, this is something that I’m sorry, as a human being that I had to hear you go through, and that you experience that we are better than that, basically is what I heard them saying, or we can be and we should be. Yeah,
JENETTE 28:12 Yeah, you are so much more than those moments. Dr. PB&J has nothing on you, girl.
ARLENE 28:19 And women celebrated me! To stand in front of people and talk is, as all three of us know, public speaking is one of the greatest phobias that people have. So some just said, ‘Oh, my goodness, you just seem so comfortable up there speaking.’ I got hugs. And then, later on, that was the night of—I heard from some sorority sisters that had attended and really complimented me. And women I didn’t know that spoke to me, women who had worked with me at the University that spoke to me and knew the rest of the story. And then months later, matter of fact, April of this year (2022), I got a text from a former colleague of mine, beautiful young woman in town, who is just dynamite—just someone I want to grow up to be and I think I’m much younger than she is. And she saw a clip of my story. And she was going to Peoria’s event. And she wrote me and sent me a text as soon as she saw it. And she said, “I saw a wonderful clip of you and you were phenomenal.” A friend had invited her to the event in Peoria. And she said, “I just wanted you to know that.”
ARLENE 29:39 When women celebrate other women, you guys, I get excited about that. And when she sent me that—that’s like, oh my goodness!
JENETTE 29:51 Yeah, months later out of the blue.
ARLENE 29:54 Yes!
JENETTE 29:54 It’s coming back around. It will inspire women to say wonderful, kind, empowering words to each other again and again and again.
KERRY 30:03 Well, she didn’t just think it and she didn’t just feel that you were fabulous, the fact that she took the time to reach out and make sure that she said the words and made sure you knew and felt what her thoughts were… again, it’s just a gift.
JENETTE 30:17 It’s the gift that keeps on giving. Your show was so powerful. It was a beautiful evening. It was the first live show back after the COVID situation. We made a unique choice. We were at an outdoor amphitheater at this beautiful theater in Bloomington where they hold the Illinois Shakespeare Festival. Just gorgeous setting, gorgeous cast of women. Just this beautiful evening and if you want to see and experience Arlene and the rest of the That’s What She Said cast from Bloomington-Normal, you can actually find the show on our YouTube channel at shesaidproject, where you can actually watch every single performance that has graced The She Said stage so far including Arlene Hosea. Today we all got to share in the inspiration from wherever we are, we got to have a moment, have a moment to remember and cherish and celebrate. So Arlene, I know you’re a busy lady, I want to thank you for making time for us to remember and to celebrate because you are somebody girl like you are somebody and because I know you I am just a little bit more someone pretty sensational too.
ARLENE 31:24 Thank you both for inviting me here today. Thank you for allowing me the space to be able to tell my story.
KERRY 31:31 Thank you Arlene, thank you we appreciate you so much.
ARLENE HOSEA 31:34 Thank you for what you’re doing. It is powerful. Always know that.
JENETTE 31:37 And again, you can catch our PR person, Arlene… [Kerry laughing] The check is in the mail. But really we want to thank our fans and our friends who support us at The She Said Project and who tune in to really enjoy every single woman’s story because everyone has a story and every woman’s story matters and we just want to be that platform that raises them up and hands them a microphone. It might be you next time, it might be someone you know but thank you for joining us today on The She Said Project Podcast. See you next time.
KERRY 32:10 Over and out.
[music: The She Said Project Podcast Theme outro]
ANNOUNCER 32:15 Thank you for listening to the She Said Project Podcast in partnership with Illinois Public Media. All materials contained in the podcast are the exclusive property of The She Said Project and That’s What She Said, LLC. For more information on our live shows, go to shesaidproject.com. This podcast was made possible with support from Carle and Health Alliance and presented by Sterling Wealth Management, empowering women to live their best lives.
[music: The She Said Project Podcast Theme playout]
Hosts Jenette and Kerry are excited to welcome guest Arlene Hosea, who appeared in the 2021 show in Bloomington, IL. With her story, "I Am Somebody," Arlene shares how this powerful lesson from her grandmother gave her the strength to shine, no matter the circumstances.
The She Said Project Podcast is recorded in partnership with Illinois Public Media. All materials contained in this podcast are the exclusive property of The She Said Project and That's What She Said, LLC. Learn more at shesaidproject.com.