Episode 47: Visiting with Rhoda Banks of St. Louis, MO and her story, “The Rhoda Experience”
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 00:27 We are back one more time. Thank you for joining us on The She Said Project Podcast. I’m your host, Jenette Jurczyk, National Director of The She Said Project. Kerry Rossow,
KERRY ROSSOW 00:39 Immature Co-Founder…
JENETTE 00:40 That is correct! All the things—you keep it light though. [Kerry laughs] I keep you around. [Kerry’s laugh builds]
JENETTE 00:47 Seriously, you are such a gift, because you help me remember not to take things too seriously. When you’re hanging out with amazing women all the time, it’s so inspiring, but sometimes you just got to remember to keep it funny.
KERRY 01:00 That’s right. That’s why we’re a good team. Because you remind me everything doesn’t have to be funny. And I can remind you everything doesn’t have to be serious. So we’re a well matched team. We keep it balanced.
JENETTE 01:10 It’s true. It’s true. So we love getting together, reconnecting with each other but also reconnecting with the women who have appeared on stage in a That’s What She Said performance. The show started in 2013 in Champaign, Illinois, we’ve now expanded, you can find That’s What She Said onstage in cities like Bloomington, Illinois, and Peoria, Illinois. And I’m really excited to say our first production outside of Illinois was in the gorgeous, amazing city of St. Louis produced and directed by a friend of yours, Kerry?
KERRY 01:43 Absolutely. Jenny Miller Pratt!
KERRY 01:46 Everything about that was such a special night for me because my husband’s from St. Louis and so I love St. Louis and I have so many great memories there. And then to have Jenny Miller Pratt, who I adore, I know from college, we were on the same basketball team, in the same sorority, she was my big, all the things in amazing person. So that night, being able to see this show and the stories translate to a city that I love so much, put on by a woman I love so much. To be able to sit in the front row and watch it play out. It was a pretty amazing night.
JENETTE JURCZYK 02:15
And this is a new experience for me and you in some ways that the wonderful, amazing woman we’re about to chat with—she went through her story development process with our amazing friend Jenny, and not with one of us. This was one of the first times I just sat back and watched the show. And I am getting to know these women from a whole new perspective. It’s fresh, and it’s interesting, and it’s exciting. And I’m just going to bring her on here because I can’t wait to get to know her better.
KERRY 02:43 Let’s go.
JENETTE 02:43 Our guest today appeared in the very first That’s What She Said onstage in St. Louis. Rhoda, are you with us?
RHODA BANKS 02:51 I am. I am.
JENETTE 02:52 Oh my gosh, thank you so much for making time for us. Ms. Rhoda Banks. Is that right?
RHODA 02:57 It is. Rhoda Banks.
JENETTE 02:59 How do you know Jenny Miller Pratt? I am so curious.
RHODA 03:02 So I actually met Jenny through another individual when I spoke at Incarnate Word (Academy) all-girls school here in St. Louis, they were having an a women’s empowerment day for the ladies who were seniors and juniors. And I was asked to speak and this individuals asked me afterwards if I will be interested to meet Jenny, as she was looking for women who were willing to share their stories in a production. I didn’t know what it was. And I often don’t when I say yes to these engagements, because I love to explore and you just never know what’s behind door number one or two. So I often say yes. And I said yes. And that’s how I met Jenny.
JENETTE 03:43 Thank you for saying yes because now you’re in the She Said sisterhood forever. We got our claws on you. [rawr]
KERRY 03:51 We have you now. [Rhoda laughs] Well, and we often talk about saying yes. And so that really kind of gave me goosebumps hearing you say that you said yes before you knew what was behind door number one. And we, we are so grateful. Because wow, what a story you told.
RHODA 04:06 Thank you.
JENETTE 04:07 Share with our listeners. We’re going to play the actual performance from that night. But share with us your process. What you and Jenny talked about, what you thought about when it was time to find your nugget, your story, from your life’s experience.
RHODA 04:20 It was a process. I remember when I first met with Jenny and I agreed to do it. The next time we met she asked me to just start writing, just start writing and just tell your story. And because I have gone through so much trauma I made the mistake of thinking that was my story. So my initial draft or couple drafts didn’t make the cut. And when Jenny and I spoke she helped me to get to the Rhoda experience, which was really the thing of what, she said that’s really who you are. Those things that happened to me I contributed to the person that I am today. And so when she opened my mind up to that, simply by asking one question, then the second time we talked, I was thinking she was calling to say, “oh my God, this is such a great story, all this trauma you went through.” She said, “What do you do for a living?” And that, that question like, opened my mind, so I start telling her what I do for a living and what it is that I do, specifically in the space of talent management. And she was like, “Rhoda, I’m hearing so much more to you than this trauma that you’ve written about.” And so that helped to evolve the story that I told on stage that night.
JENETTE 05:43 I love how you just framed that. We are so much more than our trauma, and how many women identify with only that side of themselves. When you ask someone, “tell me about yourself” or “tell me your story.” That’s what automatically comes out. That’s the default. But…
RHODA 05:59 Yeah.
JENETTE 05:59 I’m so glad she pushed you to go through to the other side to find the real “Rhoda Experience.”
RHODA 06:06 Yes, yes.
JENETTE 06:09 Let’s go ahead and play your performance from that night so that our podcast friends can get to know you, Rhoda and get to know a piece of the Rhoda experience. I love that. And then we’ll come back and chat some more. All right.
RHODA 06:21 Okay.
JENETTE 06:22 So, for our friends, this is Rhoda Banks onstage in the very first That’s What She Said in St. Louis, in early 2022. Just enjoy this just enjoy the Rhoda experience.
(originally recorded on March 4, 2022 at The Sheldon St. Louis)
RHODA BANKS 06:34 Hello. Yes. [audience screams and applauds] Who would have ever thought that a little girl named Rhoda, who grew up in a low income housing project, who lived through a series of traumatic experiences would have ever worked her way up from the projects to the boardroom. [audience screams and applauds]
07:05 Look at me. Look at me. [singing] No one. Not even I could have imagined that I will be the head of Talent Management at American AgCredit, the third largest bank in the Farm Credit System, the subject matter expert for leading their talent strategy. [applause] I like to think that I am the best example of what I do in my profession. And what exactly does a talent expert do? Glad you asked. [laughter] I help people to reach their full potential, to become the very best version of themselves. To tap into and leverage talent that they didn’t even know they had. Further, I teach leaders in organizations how to do the very same thing, which leads to high performing teams. It leads to elevated employee engagement. It leads to increased employee retention, and ultimately, positive organizational financial performance. And American AgCredit we serve more than 10,000 clients, ensuring that our farmers and other food and agriculture experts have the finances they need to produce food to feed the world. [applause] And I’m so very proud. I’m proud to contribute to such a mission.
08:40 See, growing up the oldest of four girls, raised by a single mom, there will be many days when we sometimes did not even know where our next meal will come from. For two years, I went to high school hungry. And we know High School is hard all by itself. So I didn’t need that added stress. But having no food at home to pack for lunch, or money to buy lunch, it only added to the stressors of being in school, particularly being in private high school. You know St. Louis is big on private high schools, private schools in general. I begged my mother to send me to Lutheran North because I had gone to a private grade school. And that’s where all my grade school friends were going. What I did not know is that I will be the only student in the whole high school who took three bi-state buses to get to school from the inner city of St. Louis, and that my friends from grade school will make new friends and in high school that I would often be made fun of and mocked for living in the ghetto. Their words, not mine.
09:54 It was hard trying to learn while being hungry all day. But it was only temporary until I was old enough to get a job. And guess what I ended up working? Burger King, where you can have it your way. [laughter] The Whopper became my friend. And fast forward to current day here I am working in an organization who is contributing to feeding the world. Life has a way of coming full circle. [applause] I have experienced a lot of traumas in my life, I mean situations that sound like they could be a Netflix series. And some of them very well could be. I’m wondering, is Tyler Perry in the audience? [Laughter] Because I did invite him. [audience continues to laugh] These situations that I’ve experienced, they’re events that lead to post traumatic stress events, they have the potential to leave many emotional scars. Events that sometimes are very hard to even think about. So we opt to suppress them, and events that most people quite frankly, they don’t even make it out alive.
11:13 Someone once asked me, Rhoda, what motivates you? The person is in the audience. I remember thinking to myself, whew, feels like a loaded question. It’s pretty deep, take a seat. [laughter] The truth is, it was a combination of not wanting to ever have to go back and live in a projects in an environment where one had to dodge bullets, witness murders, watch my mom being beat by my damn stepfather. Being made fun of for living where I did, being called ugly, and carrying the load of feeling like I had to provide for my mother and three little sisters. And yes, sadly, often having thoughts of suicide, because I did not love myself and thought others did not either.
12:07 These experiences, they were traumatic. And yes, they left many scars. But I am in awe that I’m here to tell the story. [applause]
12:24 The short answer to that question, Rhoda, what motivates you? Is this - survival? That’s it. At the time that question was posed to me my main motivation was to survive. And because of a deep desire to survive, I refuse to let trauma win. Speaking of winning, I have a reputation for not only wanting to see others win, but helping them to do so. My intentions show up in how I lead, how I mentor how I support. How I encourage and how I coach others. I once led a Training Department at a large healthcare organization here in St. Louis, with a team of 35 individuals. And within five years I have promoted 22 of them to higher positions, and many of them have gone on to be very successful, and some are in the audience tonight. [audience roars and applauds]
13:22 I’ve had, I’ve had so many opportunities to impact and touch the lives of others. In the work I do and in by serving and leading others. I saw it and I continue to see it as an honor and a great responsibility to lead others. How we treat people at work or outside of work leaves an impression on them. I am constantly asking myself, what impression did I leave them with? How did they experience me? My ultimate goal is to give people the Rhoda experience. [applause] Mm-hmm.
14:04 “The Rhoda Experience,” I bet you all are wondering, “What’s that?” [laughter] Hopefully for those in the audience who know me know exactly what I’m talking about. And hopefully by the end of my story, you will have experienced it. I learned many things by growing up in the hood. And one of them was how to survive. And the other was how to fight. Tough situations build strong people. And we are all stronger than we know. If I had to describe the Rhoda experience, this is how I would describe it. A breath of authenticity mixed with genuine and instant warmth, care and concern for others laced with words of encouragement and actions to back them up. And sprinkled with intentional and unexpected seeds of kindness.
14:58 Earlier I shared that I work myself up from the projects to the boardroom is true. I started my career as a cashier at Barnes Hospital working in Queeny Tower Parking Garage on South Kings Highway. And I’ve held an array of positions from lower level to leadership. The journey from the parking garage to the boardroom wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. I’m often asked, “How did you get to where you are?” And if I had to summarize that, I will say is three primary key things. One is prayer. I practice putting legs on my faith, and I’m not afraid to take risk. The second is people. I’ve met so many individuals who have helped me, who poured into me and who believed in me, and many of them are here tonight. [applause] The third is persistence. I don’t give up easy. I recognize that redirection is often disguised as rejection. So I don’t allow rejection to discourage me. I perceive rejection as protection. I’m being preserved for something greater to come. [applause]
16:21 The bottom line is, I believe what both people who encouraged me said and what they said about me, and eventually, I started to believe in myself. I believe that trauma that I’ve experienced in life, it prepared me for life’s journey. And that’s what my story is about. The journey, I guess, having made it through a toxemia pregnancy, one that nearly killed me and my unborn son, taught me that nothing is impossible. There was a 50/50 chance that my son would live, there was a high probability that I would need to go on dialysis. And I was temporarily blind for three months due to elevated blood pressure from the toxemia. Fortunately, my eyesight returned, my son lived, and I escaped having to have dialysis. Praise God. [applause]
17:19 Remember, I started with who would have ever thought that a little girl named Rhoda, who grew up in a low income housing project would have worked her way up from the project to the boardroom. I’ve seen so much. I’ve been in so many uncommon situations, I’ve witnessed a murder. I’ve been hit by a car. I witnessed my mother in an abusive relationship, and just a multitude of other traumatic experiences.
17:47 However, as I stated, I refused to let trauma win. Those things that happened to me was just that, they happened to me, but they do not define me. Thank you. [applause]
18:01 Yes. While the things I’ve experienced in life were not positive, they did lead to positive outcomes. Therefore, my journey is one of positivity, one of turning trauma into triumph. The truth of the matter is this. We all have a story. We’ve all dealt with and / or experienced some form of trauma. And we do not have to allow our trauma to take the front seat. To win. And we definitely don’t have to allow it to define us. We can let our paths make us better, not bitter. Repeat. [applause] We can let our paths make us better. Not bitter. [applause] = Yes.
18:51 I love inspirational quotes. And one that resonates with my story is this; Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations. Without those difficulties, I wouldn’t be here today sharing with each of you. So I want to encourage you all to do the same. Let your paths make you better, not bitter. Remember that tough situations build strong people and that you owe it to yourself to become everything you’ve ever dreamed to be. Thank you all for listening to my story. And guess what? By doing so you’ve each now are a part of it. Thank you. [applause]
KERRY 19:35 Okay, so Rhoda now we are part of your story. Thank you for giving us the Rhoda Experience.
RHODA 19:41 Yes.
JENETTE 19:42 Your story was so powerful. Now that you shared with us how you got to it, how you chose not to focus on the trauma but focus on the gifts that you have now. The gifts that you bring to your work and the people in your lives. Oh my god, I see it clear as day and I felt it. I felt it sitting in the audience that night without knowing you at all until your performance, but there is a light about you and a joy about you that you bring to everything you do.
RHODA 20:09 Thank you. Thank you so much for those words. I often hear that one of the other ladies that was in the show with me that night actually said, you have a special energy.
KERRY 20:22 We could feel it, we could feel it. Well, how about talk a little bit about the relationship that you formed with the other women in your cast?
RHODA 20:30 Yes, it wasn’t hard to do. That night, we that was our first time meeting one another in person was at the rehearsal, which was earlier that day. But prior to that we had met through Zoom twice, once to get to know one another and or breakout sessions. And then we didn’t get to know all of each other in that session because we had breakouts, but we were paired up. The second time, we actually have to share the first version of our story, which was kind of intimidating, because you reading and sharing with people, okay, I don’t know. And then when we met in person, it was like we had known each other already. We had this very big monumental experience in common. I bonded in such a way with many of them, but a few of them I’m still in touch with. And because of those connections, I’m now connected to other people that they were connected to, that was attracted to the things that I was saying. And that wanted to experience some of the things that I gifted to others. And in fact, later today, when I get off for this podcast, I’m meeting for the first time someone who was in the audience, I don’t know how, who she was there to support. Any of that. She just reached out and said she wanted to meet with me and we’re meeting for dinner this evening. This is probably the third or fourth person I’m meeting from that experience.
KERRY 21:53 Wow.
RHODA 21:54 Not only did I build connections with the women themselves that were in the show, they’ve extended olive branches and introduced others to me as a result.
KERRY 22:04 Wow. Wow, that that is fantastic. Well, Jenette, and I think we could be there if you guys can just [Jenette laughing] extend happy hour, we’ll be there in two hours forty-five minutes.
JENETTE 22:04 We’re on our way.
RHODA 22:05 Yeah.
JENETTE 22:06 No, but I just I got chills hearing that. Because everything we do is about stripping away the pretenses and the small talk and getting right to the heart of the stories that make us human, that make us vulnerable, that make us unique. And we see it over and over again that women connect very quickly and very intentionally by going through this process together. But for women in the audience to reach out to you because they were touched by something you said, it shows the power of opening doors, sharing your story can open doors and build new connections. That’s what I’m hearing. That’s just my favorite thing. I love it.
RHODA 22:50 Yes. And that’s important. If there are women who are on the fence about being vulnerable, and shying away from their past and who they are, in my opinion we’re depriving the world of something that was meant to be. We all have a unique reason for being here, unique gifts to share with others. And you sharing with someone or with a group of individuals, could be a breaking point or tipping point to save them from something or to help them get out of a dark place. And that’s how I go at it. And that’s why I often say yes to things. Because it may lead to bringing someone up. Helping someone out. I’ve been in those dark places myself, and you just needed one word, or someone to shown interest or someone to open up and I’d be like, Oh, they feel the way I feel if they experience something similar to me. Sometimes that’s all it takes, boom, when we are not willing to be vulnerable, open and sharing, then we are limiting our gifts and our uniqueness and reason for being.
JENETTE 23:56 I feel like The Rhoda Experience just keeps going and going,
KERRY 24:00 You know, everything you say I’m like, I look like a bobblehead. I’m just nodding and nodding. And I’m like, amen, and amen. After everything you say!
RHODA 24:08 Yes.
JENETTE 24:08 Because you shared all the vulnerable parts of you, growing up in the projects, having food insecurity, you know, caring for your brothers and sisters, your mom. You had to choose to be the bright positive person that you are today. [dog barks] You had to choose to see your gifts and then share them with others.
RHODA 24:30 That is so true.
JENETTE 24:31 Yeah.
RHODA 24:32 I had to choose.
JENETTE 24:33 And you did.
RHODA 24:34 It was definitely a deliberate choice. Yes.
KERRY 24:37 And that now on the other other side of it, I love that, when I was listening to you it made me think of the image that is on social media of someone, a woman climbing the ladder but at the same time reaching back and pulling helping another woman up. And I thought of that image with you is because you as you said you’ve gone from the projects to the boardroom, but you’re also opening the or for so many other people.
RHODA 25:03 I’m so glad that’s the image you get, because that’s really something I’m intentional about. I really genuinely want to see other people win. But it’s, you need more than just to want to see them when you need to help them win.
KERRY 25:15 Right? What’s that look like?
RHODA 25:16 Yes, that looks like me, being willing to go meet with strangers, and sit across the table with them and listen to their, whatever they want to share with me and offer advice and words of wisdom. It looks like me being a resource for people and looking at their resumes and giving them feedback. It looks like me being that coach for them as they go through the interview process. At times, it looks like me saying, Hey, I have an opening over here, I have no other opportunity. Hey, it may be you know what your story is so powerful, you might want to consider applying for a being part of the That’s What She Said project, because your story can reach others. And so it looks like me, encouraging others, pulling them along. In fact, I’ve had employees who’ve worked on my team tell me, you want to be careful what you suggest to Rhoda , because you’re going to end up as the project leader for it. [Kerry laughs] So, I like to push people out of their comfort zone, because out of the comfort zone is where the learning and growth and development happens. So that’s what it looks like in a practical thing.
JENETTE 26:24 I’m envisioning that social media meme, the image you’re talking about. I want to recreate it with Rhoda.
KERRY 26:29 Yes.
JENETTE 26:30 On the ladder, looking back, reaching back and that’s like the cover of the She Said calendar or something like, I want to recreate it. I want to. I can see it because it’s so true. You just have a spirit of giving and helping and empowering others. That’s contagious. And thank you for the plug in the shout out that yes, She Said is a platform where women who have something to say can truly be heard. And I’m so glad you said yes because you got to be part of this awesome sisterhood. This awesome team. And I hear there’s plans in the works for another She Said show in St. Louis. And I think you guys are doing amazing things there to uplift the women of St. Louis. We’ll be there. I’ll be there front and center.
RHODA 27:12 Yes.
KERRY 27:13 Thank you, Rhoda. Thank you for saying yes but thank you for everything you’re doing in your community. Thank you so much.
RHODA 27:19 Thank you, thank you all for having the vision, executing the vision and pushing it forward to be on a broader scale so that others can be blessed by it and be made aware of it and be part of it.
JENETTE 27:33 Yes.
RHODA 27:33 It’s phenomenal. It’s just, like I get goosebumps just thinking about how big this is going to be and to know that I was part of it makes it even that much more special. But I… that night after I walked away from all of it, I was like wow, this is this is big. So kudos to you both. For the work you’re doing.
JENETTE 27:54 Well I feel like this mutual admiration society I feel like I’ve been part of the Rhoda experience and I want you know, I’m grateful that you feel part of the She Said experience. And so by re-sharing your story here on the podcast, we can encourage even more women out there who need a little bit of Rhoda to keep them going and keep them inspired. So thanks for joining us so much today we love to come back each and every week to check in with one of our amazing she said ladies here on The She Said Project Podcast
RHODA 28:24 Thank you
JENETTE 28:25 Over and out.
[Music: The She Said Project Podcast Theme]
ANNOUNCER 27:11 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 continues to play until it ends]
Hosts Jenette and Kerry get "The Rhoda Experience" when they chat with Rhoda Banks who appeared on stage in the first That's What She Said show in St. Louis, MO.
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.