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Regard, Yourself

Betting on yourself is never an easy feat but people like Dimitry Loiseau can help the rest of us stay on that gritty, sometimes lonely but also very fulfilling path. Dimitry is the Chief Editor and Fashion Photographer for Regard Magazine.  He takes self-made and the meaning of entrepreneurship to the next level.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to be a part of the Regard Magazine family when filming Second Chance for FOX and it was there that I met Dimitry.  We had one of the best conversations about life, world events and philosophies connected to these said events after our shoot.  I learned how he and his partner Valerie started the magazine from scratch.  I was so very impressed by him, that I wanted to introduce him to you.  I hope you will take a read and be as inspired by him, his work ethic and his drive as I was.


Ok, let’s start from the beginning. Starting a magazine is no easy feat to say the least! But you dove in, beginning Regard Magazine 10 years ago with your partner, hair and makeup artist Valerie Noble. What made you want to start your own magazine?

Regard Magazine started because Valerie and I were frustrated at the lack of coverage and representation that most magazines had for the average actor on film and television. Most of the major magazines were primarily covering the major celebrities and talent. We saw an opportunity to create a niche audience who were excited to see their favorite actors and actresses from network, cable television and now, streaming content. Our objective was to create a platform where a diverse group of individuals would be featured in our publication. And that everyone would get the same “red carpet” treatment that the major stars did. In fact, several celebrities that were in the magazine went on to win Oscars, Emmys or become globally recognizable faces.

You really started from scratch. You had no contacts with agents, managers, PR representatives. What were those first phone calls like? How did you get people to finally start coming on board?

We really had no expectations, probably because we were so green in publishing a magazine at the time. As you mentioned, having no real connections in that space did pose a challenge. Our first issue was really to showcase the concept of the brand and the quality of the content. We featured all models in that first issue. By the time we were ready to produce Issue 2, we received a call from a PR company who really loved what we did and started featuring celebrity talent and actors from there on.


Most people wear one hat at work. Here you are the photographer, the reporter, the publisher. It’s pure grit. Did you know how to do all, when you started? What was that learning curve like?

First off, the learning process never stops! Yes, I do wear many hats, with the objective of being efficient in each and every hat. Being the photographer that shoots all the content for the magazine came natural, as this is what I did for a living. Although I write the content for the interviews we feature, I wouldn’t call myself a reporter per say. I have a lot of respect for actual reporters. I do enjoy writing and seem to have a natural lack for doing so. Therefore, when it comes to interviewing the talent, I merely see myself as the conduit between the talent and the audience, relaying the message being told.

With respect to publishing, the digital age has leveled the playing field where anyone who puts in the work and remains consistent can do the same thing. It’s actually putting in the work consistently that puts anyone to the test.


What was one of the hardest mountains you had to climb, personally, while you were trying to achieve your dreams and how did you deal with it?

I think the one thing that goes unnoticed or overlooked with respect to entrepreneurs is SACRIFICE! You sacrifice financial stability, what you’ll make every 2 weeks, time for family and friends, and an actual vacation!
Personal relationships can be challenging at times. Whether that be in the family or with friends, most people only see what is visible in front of them. They don’t see the hardships, the sleepless nights, the constant “talking yourself off the ledge” to quit, the many times you go without the things that most people take for granted. Then, there’s the constant self-doubt. Nothing comes easy from a life of an entrepreneur.

If you had to give one piece of advice to someone who is trying to pave their own way, what would it be?

Surround yourself with people who make you a better version of yourself. Everything else will fall in place.


What came first, chicken or egg?

I think that 2 chickens were necessary for the egg to exist. So the question is where did the chickens come from? LOL

If you had a superpower, what would it be?

Having the ability to instantly transport myself from one time zone to the next!

What’s one thing you’d do differently if you were to start this process over again?

Nothing. Absolutely, nothing.

Who has had the biggest influence in your life, historically or present?

There are many that have influenced me in various ways. Steve Jobs was the ultimate entrepreneur for me. His attention to detail. His commitment to excellence and sticking to it no matter what anyone around him said. From a photography standpoint, Gordon Parks was nothing short of amazing. He was one of, if not, the first African American photographer in the U.S. He came from humbled beginnings, his teachers discouraged him from pursuing higher education and yet, proved everyone wrong. He went on to produce fashion editorials for Life and Vogue magazines. Some of his famous portraits include Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X. He continued his career as a director with big hits like Shaft. A great example on believing in yourself and pushing forward, no matter what!


What are you most proud of?

Being able to understand and connect with people from different cultural backgrounds, who speak different languages, have a different belief system and look different than I do. That’s what life is truly about.

Do ghosts exist?

Yes. My advice, be sure to social distance.

What kind of music do you like?

All kinds, truly. It depends on my mood. But my playlist includes, classic hip hop, R&B, Reggaeton, Reggae, Pop, a little Country. I’ll also take it back with legends like Prince, Hall & Oates, Amy Winehouse and Sting. The list goes on….

Let’s say reincarnation exists, if you had to do it all over again, would you? And no, you can’t start with the lessons you’ve learned this go around.

I would. I may have made a few different decisions, but yes, I’d do it again.


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Got Soap?

Ever gone on vacation and have been inspired enough to stay and start a non-profit?  That is exactly what Samir Lakhani did.  I’m so impressed with Samir as a human being.  He saw children without soap, in risk of disease, and got the idea to ask hotels to give him their used soap, instead of throwing it away.  Not only did he figure out how to get these establishments to hand over their used soap, he figured out how to recycle that soap, and he now employs almost 150 women at Eco-Soap.  Think about how many different ways this little gem of an idea is now helping communities, families.  The ripple effects of his impact is astonishingly impressive to me.  It’s no wonder he was a CNN Hero.  Samir has definitely taken after his mother, Dilshad Lakhani, The Giving Dentist, who I wrote about a couple of months ago.  What a great lead to follow.  Take a read and #beinspired.


So, what made you decide to go out on your own start your own non-profit?

About four years ago, I saw something devastating—and I just had to act.

While volunteering in Northern Cambodia, I witnessed a scene in a village which still haunts me to this day: a village woman bathing her newborn son, scrubbing his skin with laundry powder.

I wanted to help, to do something. Anything. But, I didn’t know how to help in a lasting, meaningful way. I felt completely powerless.

But then, something incredible happened. I returned to my hotel room, stepped into my bathroom and noticed that my housekeeper had thrown away a bar of soap that I had barely touched. It was in that moment I knew what I could do.

That’s the story of Eco-Soap Bank and to date we’ve been able to provide soap and education to over 720,000 people in 10 countries—all because of a single experience and a solution waiting to be activated.

After seeing the hotel room soap in the trash, what were some of the first initial steps you took in making your idea a reality? How did you even know where to start?

Like many, the path is not immediately clear. (For me, it was even quite comedic!) I was so excited about the prospect of saving soap that the very next morning after realizing the idea, I went on a bicycle in the 100+ degree heat to meet with general managers of hotels in suits. Sweaty and tired, I asked for their used soap. They look puzzled, but as they began to realize that this initiative could save lives they joined in a heartbeat.


What was one of the hardest mountains you had to climb, personally, while you were trying to achieve your dreams and how did you deal with it?

You need tough skin to do something new, to innovate, and to go where others haven’t. Initially when I came up with the idea of “recycling soap” – many people and groups scoffed at me. They said it would never work or that hotels would never join.

Personally, I had to continue the momentum and push through the skepticism. But, over time, our partnerships began to grow. With partners, such as Diversey, this year we’ll reach 1 million people.

If you had to give one piece of advice to someone who is trying to pave his or her own way, what would it be?

Positivity. Stay unwaveringly positive. As Michelle Obama says: when they go low, we go high. Optimism creates solutions, breaks barriers, and overcomes all.

However, in order to grow, learn to invite constructive criticism. Give and take criticism cheerfully.


Chicken or egg?

Not sure – but I’ll never look at an omelet the same way again.

If you had a superpower, what would it be?

To rebuild. I see so much devastation in the Middle East and all I want to do is help rebuild demolished homes so people can return to their countries, their lives, and their families.


What’s one thing you’d do differently if you were to start this process over again?

Lean in. I would have asked for more support and not felt the least bit shy about it. Eco-Soap Bank does important work and I would have been more forthright in asking people to get involved and to make a difference in the lives of people around the world.

So, if you’ve found something worth fighting and advocating for, don’t equivocate.

Who has had the biggest influence in your life?

My parents. They have come from East Africa to a life of prosperity and philanthropy. They are my single biggest inspiration in life.

What are you most proud of?

The women we employ. Never before have they been given the platform to transform communities, to affect lasting change, and to improve health. They are champions and I’m so proud to have played a small part in employing nearly 150 women and providing them with free education. They provide the energy and goodwill Eco-Soap Bank contributes to communities around the world.


Do ghosts exist?

Nope. Oh wait, I think I feel a chill…

If you could have dinner with anyone in the world, who would you pick and why?

Malala Yousafzai – because I wish to learn from her how she turned pain into hope. She is one of the most important voices of our generation and to carry her message forward would be the honor of a lifetime.

What kind of music do you like?

Radiohead! Doesn’t everyone?

Looking back, would you take this journey to form Eco-Soap all over again?

Yes, absolutely. It’s a privilege to know that your efforts directly help people. That is a satisfaction which is unrivaled and no amount of money could convince me to do otherwise.


An existential question. If you could come back and redo life over again, without having any of the lessons you’ve learned this go around in your arsenal, would you?

Absolutely. Discovery is a beautiful thing. Travel is an outstanding way to stretch your perspective and mind. Meeting new people is the stuff of life. Sharing our humanity makes this life worthwhile.



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That Dancing, Coding Queen

Welcome to December 2020! I’m so excited to introduce to you Ayana. Ayana is Assistant Professor at Drexel (yay Philly!), who has had her work in Education published AND who, with some amazing colleagues, has gone above and beyond to create an organization called Black Girls STEAMing through Dance.  BGSD literally teaches little girls how to code through dance!  The idea itself is beyond imaginative. I am so beyond impressed by this woman I had to share her story with you.  I hope you’ll take a read and #beinspired.

You are an Assistant Professor of Urban Education with a PhD in Education Curriculum & Instruction with a Specialization in Urban Education, so let me just humbly take a back seat to your intelligence here.  Tell me why you went into this particular field of study and what made you want to pursue the academic route with your profession?

Growing up, I always knew I wanted to have a career that was focused on serving others and particularly serving children. Both of my parents are now retired social workers and so I learned from them how one could integrate their professional career with living a life of service.  I love the quote by Ghandi that says: The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. In college at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I double majored in Management & Society and Spanish and had a desire to go to law school, but decided to take a chance and become a teacher through Teach for America. At the time, I envisioned that I would teach for my 2-year commitment, and then go off to law school. However, teaching changed my life, and it became my purpose so to speak.  I was a first-grade teacher for six years,  an elementary literacy specialist and gifted and talented coordinator for a year, and a counselor for 4 years. While teaching, I pursued both my MEd and Ph.D. and shortly after completed a Post-Doctoral Fellowship at The Urban Education Collaborative at UNC Charlotte.  Now I am in my 6th year of being a professor and 2 years ago I became the Founding Director of The Justice-Oriented Youth Education Lab (The JoY Ed. Lab) which is one of the most important and rewarding endeavors I’ve ever pursued. Education is my life…although I’m not going to lie I have considered going to Law school…LOL! I guess it’s the relentless life-long learner in me.


You’ve accomplished such a great deal.  You’re published nationally and internationally.  Now you have decided to begin Black Girls STEAMING Through Dance.  Where did your inspiration for beginning this program come from?  Why did you decide to start this program?

This fall we began our fourth year of Black Girls STEAMing through Dance (BGSD). I actually can’t even believe that it has been so long.  I grew up dancing in Philly at Philadanco (The Philadelphia School of Dance Arts) since I was four years old up until I left for North Carolina for college, and even in college I danced on our team’s Dance Team and a Modern Dance Company.  So, dance has been a very important part of my life and something I love to do even now.  One of our research centers at Drexel University called the ExCITE Center  had a grant competition for innovations in learning/education.  I began to brainstorm with my friend and colleague Val about what we could create that would fit the scope of the grant.  During our brainstorming, we decided to reach out to Raja and Michelle to see if together, all four of us could create something amazing.  Together through our common desire to create an impactful program specifically for Black girls, BGSD was born.  We’re thankful to have the support of US Department of Education West Philadelphia Promise Neighborhood Grant.


You’re partnered up with 4 other professors.  How did you come together and what steps did you take to get started?

The amazing thing about BGSD is that it is led by 4 Black women professors, and our BGSD team consists of a Black woman Program Director, Black women graduate and undergraduate students, and we serve 7-13 year old Black girls.  BGSD is unapologetically a “counter-space” by and for Black women and girls.  My research partners Val (Dance), Raja (Product Design), Michelle (Computing & Informatics), and I (Urban Education),  and our Program Director Destiny, our students Moe (AR & VR), Tejante & Alicia (Dance), and Kalilah (Design) blend our individual experiences and discipline expertise which makes for a truly dynamic transdisciplinary collaboration. We are all like sisters and truly love and care for each other like family!


Tell us what Black Girls STEAMING Through Dance is about.  I’m legit inspired!

Wow! There is so much I could say about BGSD, it’s definitely my happy place!  First, I’ll put in a little plug to definitely visit our website: !  Now let me see what I can tell you to give you a snapshot, but also leave you wanting to learn more! BGSD is an after-school and co-curricular program for 7-13 year old Black girls which is designed to support the development of STEAM identities, STEAM literacies, and positive self-concept.  Our program blends dance, design, and coding coupled with augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) to get young girls excited about the possibilities of pursuing STEAM careers in the future.  We utilize culturally congruent curriculum design and activities that are engaging and exciting for the girls. Who doesn’t love to dance to fun music while learning to design costumes that “light-up”…costumes which the girls learn to control the lights on through coding, and choreographing dancing avatars in their own designed virtual environments.


What kind of changes have you seen in your girls from the time they began this program until now?

Oh tremendous changes, but I would be remiss if I didn’t also share how this program has truly impacted me as a professor, researcher, and woman for the absolute best.  As for the girls, we get to see them blossom over time.  In the beginning they aren’t quite sure what it is all about and so sometimes they are shy during dance, or become a little frustrated while sewing, designing, and also while learning how to code. They often see each lesson as separate from the other, but as time progresses, it’s like they realize how it’s all connecting.  We have seen their confidence and their relationships with the team leaders and each other truly grow. I can give an example of one of our girls who has been with the program since the beginning.  A science program came to visit her school and during a Q&A session, she answered a really hard question about engineering concepts and won an amazing prize for answering the question correctly.  When they asked her how she even knew this, she told them she learned it in BGSD and wants to be an engineer one day! So inspiring…my heart melts thinking about her and this moment!

What was one of the hardest mountains you had to climb, personally, while you were trying to achieve your dreams and how did you deal with it?

If I could sum up the hardest mountain, it would be loss. I have lost such close family members along the way like we all have at some point in our lives or another.  I’m incredibly blessed and grateful to have had each and everyone of them in my life, but I would say missing them and wishing they were still here for my journey has been hard.

If you had to give one piece of advice to someone who is trying to pave his or her own way, what would it be?

Wow, just 1 piece of advice huh?  I guess I’d say:  let love be your driving force and stay hopeful, for hope anchors the soul.  A quote I heard recently which has quickly become a favorite of mine states, “The Dream is free, but the hussle is sold separately” motivates me daily!


Chicken or egg? 


If you had a superpower, what would it be?

To be invisible would be amazing…I would love to be “present” but not having to actually be “present”.

Who has had the biggest influence in your life?

The amazing women in my family… My 3 great-grandmas Granny Lizzie, Granny Carrie, and Nanny who all lived well into their 90s and Granny Lizzie lived to be 102 years old.

My grandma Elizabeth (who lived to be 90) was my everything! She was my biggest cheerleader in life and would always tell me I could do anything and everything I put my mind to. She would tell me “You came out the womb that way”…never letting anyone outshine you.”  I guess there’s definitely some truth to what she would tell me.

My Aunt Myrtle was like a mom to me.  She was pure love, joy, and fun and I am compelled to enjoy life because that’s exactly what she did with hers.

My Mom Michelle is my greatest support.  She always tells me to “Fly…fly my Black butterfly”…her love anchors me.

What are you most proud of?

Being a Mom to my amazing son Aiden

Do ghosts exist?


What kind of music do you like?

Old School Motown, R&B, Jazz, Reggae, Hip Hop, Gospel

Say reincarnation exists…if you had the chance to do life all over again, would you?  And no, you can’t start with the lessons you’ve learned this go around. 

In that case (not being able to start with lessons learned), that would be a no! If I were to ever return to this side of Heaven after departing this Earthly shell, I think I’d like to return as a Black butterfly (see Mom reference above)…or a beautiful flower (because that’s what my name, Ayana means) 😊


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Makeup Is Art

Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce you to Seekie Simon, my makeup artist from Cloak and Dagger.  I absolutely adore her and the reason I have asked her to be a part of my blog is because I think it takes a certain amount of bravery and self-awareness to pivot in life.

Seekie started her career wanting to be an actor.  However, she soon realized she was much more interested in what was going on behind the camera.  She didn’t necessarily know where this path was going to lead but she took that first step, which eventually led her to realize her passion and pursue makeup in the film and television industry.

I think it takes a lot to step outside of what you thought would be and into the unknown.  But the gifts that await for anyone who has the courage to do so are enormous.  So please read and #beinspired.

Hi!!!  So, we met on the set of Cloak and Dagger and you were my fabulous makeup artist, but you didn’t start off as a makeup artist.  You started out as an actor.  Tell me about your journey.

Funny enough I’ve always been into Theatre, Acting and Entertainment since I was a child. I did drama camps in elementary and media arts camps in high school. I was in the Drama Club in high school, on the Modern Dance team and in the choir in school and church, and President of the Videography Club. So, for me going to college as a Theatre Major was a no brainer! But my family didn’t necessarily understand.

 Because my dream was to attend UCLA, I purposely failed most classes at LSU except Theatre which lead to my Mom eventually sending me to L.A. to see if I could pursue my initial dream of becoming a film/tv actress.  Unfortunately, I learned really fast that while I was getting callbacks and small featured background roles, acting was not my true passion. I found myself paying more attention to the world behind the camera.

The road twists and turned from production assistant gigs to background casting assistant to heading back to New Orleans where I got offered a dream job as a makeup artist for the MAC.  I used all my industry contacts to eventually fight my way into the film/tv world of makeup. And here I am 15 years later.  I never knew how I would end up in the industry, but makeup is truly where I belonged and I worked so hard to get here!


Doing makeup for a television show is so different from say your own makeup or going to a makeup counter for some tips. What is the creative process for you, as a makeup artist, on a TV show?

In my eyes all forms of makeup is art. Whether it be something as simple as finding the right match to skin tone for anyone who sits in my chair to making sure my actors are ready to be in the mental space of their character for that day.

 As a TV makeup artist with a theatre degree, I research not only the characters of my cast, but I also research my actor’s personality through makeup and looks they are used to. I will research some past roles they have had, or red carpet/media looks, if available.

And usually you can find a few key techniques that they prefer. Doing this helps me understand their comfort levels and if I can push the limits depending on their new roles. We may not always agree, but in the end, there is always a compromise that all creatives involved end up happy with.


Ok, I have to tell you, your whip sharp and your memory beats mine any day of the week.  The amount of knowledge you need to have at your disposal to work on a TV show, at the pace we work at. What types of knowledge did you have garner in order to be taken seriously on a professional level? 

Common sense, multi-tasking and a very thick skin!!! And maybe a little bit of telepathy LOL!!!! Learning your department and cast needs before they have to tell you will take you a LONG WAY. You have to be able to be a secretary, therapist, nurse, Mom, baby-sitter, friend, sister, etc. Basically, a Jack of All Trades. Applying makeup is probably the most fun part of the job sometimes. There is so much more that I do especially when working in the trailer that people will never understand.

This pandemic has had us all thinking about our place in the world and our part in making it better.  Tell me where your thoughts have led you and your future goals to make this world a better place.

Honestly this pandemic has been the first time since I was a child that I wasn’t sure if the industry I spent my life working towards would be something that would be considered essential in the future. The idea of that SCARES me!

But if I’m going to be transparent, I think I needed this shock. It made me sit down and not only evaluate myself but the survival of others. And for once I recognized more than ever how blessed my life has been the last few years…if the only major concern I have is will I be able to step on a set again then I need to check myself!

And I started to think back at how HARD it was for me to get here and how poor I was at certain parts of my life, but my dream kept me fighting. There are kids and probably a lot of adults out there who never even had any type of dreams to keep them hopeful. So, I started thinking of ways I can do my part to make that change in someone’s life one day. I’ve been working on some Non-Profit ideas for child and adult programs to help encourage hope. Because if there is one thing this pandemic has shown all of us is that NOTHING is guaranteed, and multiple sources of survival and talents are necessary!


What was one of the hardest mountains you had to climb, personally, while you were trying to achieve your dreams and how did you deal with it?

I don’t think there is ever really ONE hard mountain you climb on your journey to your dreams. But if I had to choose then it would be losing my Dad in a car accident at the age of 11. He was my biggest supporter as a kid and it’s extremely hard not having him here for any of my accomplishments or the ones to come.

If you had to give one piece of advice to someone who is trying to pave their own way, what would it be?

Pray and notice the signs of where you are meant to be! If every time you think of giving up and a phone call or an opportunity reveals itself, don’t doubt it! No one will believe in you more than you!

Chicken or egg?

2 chickens that produced the egg!

If you had a superpower, what would it be?

To time travel or unlimited wishes.

What’s one thing you’d do differently if you were to start this process over again?

Be more financially responsible in my 20’s!

Who has had the biggest influence in your life?

Anyone who is living their dreams. I love talking to and meeting people who live their passions.

What are you most proud of?

Never giving up!


Do ghosts exist?

I’m from New Orleans of course they exist!

What kind of music do you like?

 My playlist is so random but the way to my Heart is 90’s R&B and Real Hip-Hop! But don’t forget my degree is in Theatre so Little Shop of Horrors soundtrack is likely to pop up too!

Existential question: If you had the option to do life all over again, would you? And no, you can’t start with the lessons you’ve learned go around.

No, I wouldn’t I think each life is meant to be lived once and learned from every day. And if we do get to come back as someone else then I hope we learn different lessons and get better every time.


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The Spiritual Filmmaker

Sanjay and I met while he was screening and promoting his documentary feature, Food Chains, which focused on the behind the scenes struggle of farm workers trying to ask for a penny more in their wages and taking on the powerful supermarket chains in doing so.  His new film, Gather, follows the Native American plight of connection and re-connection to their heritage through food, is his best work yet.  It was just beautifully reviewed by The New York Times and given their Critic’s Pick…. eeek!

I am struck by Sanjay because, for me, he is someone who is following his heart to build his own path and that path is about doing something good in this world for others.  I consider him a good friend and I am very happy to bring his story to you.  I hope you enjoy and I hope you stay inspired.


An independent filmmaker route is definitely not for the faint of heart.  In the past, we’ve spoken about how you self-funded, the uphill battle of getting people on board.  What guided you to initially start on this creative journey?

I never really considered myself a creative person. I studied music but I never felt like I was an artist. Somewhere along the way, in working in human rights, I began taking photos. And I began exploring the artistic side of photography. When I tried making my first short film, Ocean Monk, I definitely focused on the artistry of imagery rather than the story line. That little film did pretty well on the festival circuit, but it also revealed how complicated filmmaking was. But I enjoyed it.  And I made a few more shorts before tackling a feature – Food Chains


I’m sure you wanted to jump ship at some point…or many points.  Especially, in the beginning, when you are the only one setting the bricks down, the uphill climb can feel lonely.  You now have a strong support system.  What did you hold onto to make your dream into a reality?

By the time I started making films, I had over 15 years of experience working on human rights and peace building campaigns around the world. I learned how to be pretty resourceful. But I never really had the chance to work on large teams or to lead them. I learned pretty quickly as a filmmaker that I had to really be a motivating force and less of the introvert I was. At the same time, I had an unusual spiritual background. I had the blessingful opportunity to study meditation with Sri Chinmoy and traveled around the world with him. He taught me the importance of humility, which I came to realize as the source of true confidence. I understood that leadership wasn’t assertiveness but oneness. That ideal helped me to build a strong network and support system and to learn to find ways to bend my goals so that they meshed with other peoples’ goals too.


A lot of your work revolves around food…the first film of yours I saw was Food Chains and it definitely opened my eyes…sourcing of food, the invisible people behind what we, as consumers, see at the supermarket.  As an independent filmmaker, what is it about this subject matter which attracts you?

You’re the best! I was so grateful to have met you thru Food Chains!! I’m really interested in how hard people work! And there’s almost nothing more difficult and challenging than growing food while simultaneously being the source of so much sorrow and oppression. Food is supposed to be healing and I’ve wondered why there’s so much hidden sorrow in the food system. That’s what I try to explore – as well as the solutions to that imbalance.


You also made a film about the longest race in the world…3100, Run and Become.  I had no idea a race like this even existed…in Queens, NY no less!  Tell everyone about your connection to running and this human connection to running you try to portray in your film.

I was a competitive runner when I was in college but the joy I got from running came more from winning than just getting better. Racing was much more fun than training. I never really saw running as more than just fitness even though I had some friends that were pretty amazing runners.

It turns out that when I moved to NYC, I moved to a neighborhood where the world’s longest race was staged. It was 3100 miles and it took place entirely around a 1/2 mile loop. That was too crazy for me to comprehend until, 20 years later in 2015 I met a Navajo ultra marathoner, Shaun Martin who told me how the Navajo used running as a prayer. He intuitively understood the spiritual benefit a race like the Self-Transcendence 3100 miler could hold. And when I ran with him, I realized he was getting much more out of running than I ever had. He looked at running as a prayer, where one’s feet were praying to Mother Earth and one’s breath inhaling Father Sky. Running could connect me to the universe if I had that perspective.

And so, that idea drove me to making a film about the runners who take on the 3100 mile race and why they do it. Their motivations are as old as time and their use of running harkens back to a connection most humans have lost – to both their feet and to the Earth.

Now we’re at Gather.  You’re shedding light on the Native American population who are reclaiming their identities through food sovereignty.  I found it to be quite powerful.  What drove you to make this film?

You were so kind to watch! That means so much to me.

The story of our food system in America is rife with oppression. Obviously people know about slavery and Food Chains looked at the legacy of slavery in modern agriculture.

But the first sin was the theft of land to build our food economy. That early colonial and American economy was agricultural. And the land the colonizers needed was already occupied. So, to build an extractive economy rather than maintain the relationship to land that Natives had – that of being stewards – the Natives were forcibly removed.

That inequity exists in the food system – for all of us. But not all of use are aware of that. I hope Gather increases that awareness.


Why do you think you keep coming back to this connection of food and the human spirit?

That’s a great question. So many great documentarians are doing such great work on political and technological topics. With all the great food documentary work out there, I feel most of that energy is going to the culinary side of things. I try to focus more on the solutions to problems in our system.

Rat_Hunt Sammy

What was one of the hardest mountains you had to climb, personally, while you were trying to achieve your dreams and how did you deal with it?

It took me a while to find the place within myself where good ideas originate. And when I say “good ideas” I mean those that are relatively devoid of ambition and ego – things that can hopefully be of service to others either now or in the future.

I try to use my meditation practice to give me that general foundation and access to my best self.

So, basically, my answer to this question is that I am always the problem! My mind stands in my way. It’s too noisy and full of itself. So, I need to practice techniques to marginalize it and get a bit closer to the part of myself that wants good fulfilling things.

If you had to give one piece of advice to someone who is trying to pave his or her own way, what would it be?

Try to silence your mind as much as you can – and find ways to get in touch with your spiritual heart. It’s there where creativity and confidence flow together.


Chicken or egg?


If you had a superpower, what would it be?

Stay healthy til I was 200 years old.

What’s one thing you’d do differently if you were to start this process over again?

Ahhh – I’d learn to listen more!

Who has had the biggest influence in your life?

Sri Chinmoy

What are you most proud of?

That I haven’t burned too many bridges – yet.

Do ghosts exist?


What kind of music do you like?

I love movie scores.

If you had to do it all over again, would you? And no, you can’t start with the lessons you’ve learned this go around.

Nope! I’ve been so fortunate. And maybe lucky! I don’t want to chance it.


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That Tanzanian Heart of Gold

I had the priviledge of attending the Gala in NYC for Room to Read last year, an organization I am a very proud ambassador for.  At this Gala, I was fatefully seated across from a woman who turned out to have traveled from Tanzania to be there.  Her name was Neema.

I was completely taken by her.  Her energy was beyond anything I had come across in a while.  She was so full of life and excited…about everything!  Infectious is the word.  She had me at hello.

Turns out, she is a social mobilizer for Room to Read who had flown in to speak at the Gala.  A social mobilizer is one of the great and many aspects of why Room to Read is so very successful.  They are the people who are mentors for the students outside of their classrooms.  They are the people who walk into these students homes, meet with their parents to understand their home environment, all to make sure nothing stands in the way of them continuing their education.  They are the ones who stand along side students who are at risk of dropping out of school.  They are the sounding boards for their students.  It’s an emotional job.  One which requires patience, passion and most importantly, love.  Love for the students they mentor and love for their families who may be going through a numerous amount of hardships.

I learned Neema had her own hardships in life and an uphill battle to get an education.  To me she exemplified a selflessness in humanity because after achieving her goals she turned around to make sure other people facing their own hardships had someone to break down barriers for them.

Dearest Neema, you fill my heart with joy knowing there is someone like you out there.  You are all that is right in this world.  You inspire me.


You’ve begun your career working as a social mobilizer for Room to Read. But I know that this is more than a regular job for you and you have had quite the journey becoming a social mobilizer and role model for the girls you mentor. Will you tell me a bit about your life and what took you here?

I’m one of six children who was raised by a single mother. As a primary school teacher, my mother struggled to raise six children and my two other family members. It was a daily struggle, living in financial hardship without support from my father or anyone else. My mother always did her best to make sure we could survive, but like I said it was a struggle.

When I was in primary school, I watched almost half of the girls drop out. Most dropped out as a result of early pregnancies, early marriages, poverty, and divorce or family separation. Of the 100 girls in my primary school, I was the only girl from my class who completed secondary school and then went onto college.

What was one of the hardest challenges you faced, while you were trying to achieve your dreams and how did you deal with it?

Apart from mother, no one else believed that I could achieve my dream. As such, I wanted to prove to them that my mother was right and they wrong and that I could finish school and go onto college. I did (and am still doing) everything to achieve my dreams, and here I am today.


As a social mobilizer, what do you do on a daily basis? Why is your job so important?

As a social mobilizer, I mentor girls from Grade 6-12 to encourage them to work through obstacles and stay in school. I facilitate life skills trainings that help girls negotiate key life decisions and make choices that work best for their lives, even if they are hard decisions. I also work closely with parents and my larger community to advocate for girls’ rights and their education.

When I was younger, I saw countless friends drop out of school – and all of this made me want to change my situation. I couldn’t take my family and friends back to school, but I believed I could help change the lives of the next generation. So, I decided to use my passion to help girls study hard and reach their educational goals. I saw how many girls’ dreams were crushed by getting pregnant at a very young age and how these girls were treated in our community and knew I could help them.

For me, working with girls in Room to Read’s programs has given me a real sense of purpose. I am able to give other girls something that I have already been given—an education and an opportunity to overcome challenges and succeed. I hope I am living proof to Tanzanian girls that they, too, can fulfill their dreams. Seeing girls inspired and working towards their goals is my greatest purpose in life.


If you had to give one piece of advice to one of the girls you mentor, what would it be?

I would say that “It’s okay to have more than one dream”.

If we were to go to Tanzania, what’s the number 1 thing you would suggest us doing?

I would suggest you climb mountain Kilimanjaro, it’s an amazing experience being on the roof of Africa.

Who has had the biggest influence on your life?

My mother. Her ability to overcome all the challenges of being a single mother, while never letting us feel like we were a burden to her, always stands out to me. She is my super woman.

What is your most proud accomplishment?

Being a mother to my very beautiful daughter.

If you had a superpower, what would it be?

Take peoples’ pain away.


If you could have dinner with anyone in the world, who would you pick and why?

Ellen DeGeneres!

I started watching “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” when I was in college in 2009.  The first thing I loved about her show was and still is, her slogan  “BE KIND TO ONE ANOTHER”. It made me want to do better and be nicer to people like she is. I really try to never miss her show, but if I do, I’ll watch the videos she posts on YouTube.
She is very genuine, kind and positive, which is amazing considering what she went through in her career and life. She could have been bitter from those experiences but she chose kindness, and I admire that. So I try to act similarly because if she can still smile and treat people so positively,  then I can certainly be kind. I just really love Ellen.

What kind of music do you like?

Gospel Music

What’s one thing you’d do differently if you had the chance to restart your life?

I would not change anything, I am grateful for the lessons and the blessings I have experienced in my life. From them, I can learn from different lesson and have an understanding of how to improve myself as I move forward.


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Climbing Mountains, Creating Music

Last year, I was invited to a cocktail hour.  In a room full of incredibly gifted, driven and kind women, Jennifer Lee Snowden stood out.  There was something about her spirit.  Something open, vulnerable and generous.  So I decided I wanted to get to know her better.  I’m so glad I did.

Jennifer is a phenomenal woman.  She is wise, caring, intelligent and definitely funny.  When you sit down with her you feel like you can just be yourself.

She is a classically trained pianist who started her training at 5 and now writes her own music no less.  Talk about magical.

From all of this, what you wouldn’t know is that Jennifer has also already beat cancer, twice.  I can’t even wrap my head around that.  Your 30’s are when you should be planning momentous occasions in your life not fighting cancer.

The reality is, no one expects to get the news they have breast cancer, especially when they are so young.  As a woman you think, well it’s something I am going to have to think about, but later in life.  Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case here.  Shockingly breast cancer is detected more and more in young women today.  More so than you would think.

Instead of letting this experience get the better of her, she decided to learn and grow from it.  There’s an inner strength to that level of awareness I’m not sure a lot of us can grasp.

Jennifer, I’m so glad I met you.  I’m so glad to call you my friend.  Thank you for your generosity in being a part of my blog and for opening yourself up.  I know someone out there reading this is going to walk away stronger.


Getting the news you have breast cancer had to be shocking to say the least. By the time you were 35, you had already gone through it twice. You can now proudly call yourself a survivor.

What was one of the hardest mountains you had to climb, personally, during this journey?

One of the difficult things about cancer is that there are rarely any certainties. No one can tell you why you got it in the first place or whether they’re 100% sure they’ve gotten rid of every rogue cell. Even though I was diagnosed with a very, very early stage the first time around, I still had a small local recurrence 2 years later even after undergoing a double mastectomy.   I’m lucky enough to have beaten it a 2nd time and to be declared cured and cancer-free. But doctors don’t often say those words with great confidence, which can send your mind down a bit of a rabbit hole if you let it. I’ve often said that some of my toughest battles were fought not with my body, but with my mind. Fear grows like weeds and it is a daily practice to root it out, to remain focused on the present moment, to trust in your healing and to plant seeds of gratitude and love in its place.


You’re keeping a blog and sharing your experience for other people who are fighting cancer as well.   It’s not easy baring your soul, especially after traveling such a road. Why was this important for you to do?

I felt it was important for me to share my story because there are just so many women going through this. And even if you haven’t gone through it yourself, you likely know someone who has. It is such a life-altering journey and it can be comforting to hear how others express their emotions, both positive and negative. There are also so many things that come with the package as byproducts or side effects that don’t often get talked about. A lot of people suffer in silence believing that they are alone in their experience, when in reality, thousands of others are wading through the same muddy waters. The more we are willing to share, the more others feel comfortable to open their hearts as well, a conversation begins, deeper understanding can be found and that’s when really beautiful things start to happen.

I also feel that there are tremendous lessons that get learned when facing a life-threatening illness that can help others ask themselves the hard questions too easily avoided in life. Things like, “Am I truly spending my time on this planet in a way that fulfills me? And if not, what do I need to change?” What you value most has a way of snapping into focus when you are forced to consider your own mortality, but we should all be asking ourselves these kinds of questions every single day. Because the truth is, even though we don’t like to think about it, tomorrow is not guaranteed for anyone. Every single day is a gift.

If you had to give one piece of advice to someone who may have just gotten the news for themselves, is in the midst going through treatment, or is now on the road to recovery but still has a lot of emotion and trauma of illness to deal with, what would it be?

Stay in the present moment as much as you possibly can. When your mind starts to wander and cling to thoughts from the past or paint terrifying pictures of the future, bring it back to the here and now. Cherish each moment as much as you can. Even in the painful and difficult ones that are full of discomfort, view them as opportunites to lean on and draw closer to the people you love. Meditation helped me immensely.

Also, when I was diagnosed the second time, I made a promise to myself that I would use the challenge as an opportunity to grow and to become stronger. I stopped trying to resist and instead invited the entirety of the experience into my life to teach me the lessons that I most needed to learn. And through doing this, I was able to transform so much of the pain and trauma into gratitude and power. Cancer was no longer something that was thrust upon me, that I just had to endure. I embraced it for all it had come to show me and allowed it to shake my very foundation so that I could rebuild on more solid ground. And while there were some incredibly difficult weeks and months, I can actually say that I am profoundly grateful to have gone through it. It made me stronger, more compassionate and more certain about the kind of life I want to continue living.

When it comes to family members and friends who are seeing their loved one on such a difficult road, what advice would you give them? What did you need the most as someone in the center of it all?

There are so many ways to answer this question but one thing is for sure; ASK! ASK how they are doing. ASK how they are feeling, ASK what you can do to support them. So many people are afraid to ask because they don’t want to bring up a tough subject. But in my experience, most people who go through hard times don’t want to avoid the elephant in the room. Show them that you are strong enough to handle the truth and that you aren’t just the kind of person that’s only there when times are good.

You’re now getting back to your music! As you plan your future, what is your vision for your work?

I want to be bolder with my work now. Less concerned about fitting into a specific box and more willing to just play. I’m really excited to put something new into the world and cultivate it. After spending a few years in the corporate world, I have the exciting opportunity to start at the beginning again, rediscover my sound and what I want to say as an artist. I also don’t want to focus too heavily on what the endgame looks like. Before it was so much about trying to get a record deal and “make it big.” But now I want to focus on the work and leave room for the universe to surprise me with how things develop. I have goals of course; certain venues I’d like to play, placing a song in a TV show or film and performing for a fashion show. I really want to perform for a fashion show! I would be great at that.


Chicken or egg?

I love eggs, so egg!

If you had a superpower, what would it be?

I would love to speak every language of the world fluently. The ability to communicate with anyone and everyone would be tremendous!

Who has had the biggest influence in your life?

My parents and my husband. All three of them have shaped every facet of my life and the person that I am today. They are my biggest supporters and have undoubtedly made me a better person. And through the most difficult times of my life, they continue to clear the path in front of me so that there are a few less obstacles along the way.

What are you most proud of?

That life knocked me down more than once, but I got back up each time…and never let it keep me from singing and celebrating.


Do ghosts exist?

I have no idea, but I know there is so much more to the universe than what we currently understand in this three-dimensional reality….so I certainly think it is possible.

Being a musician yourself, what kind of music do you like? Who are you inspired by?

This list is so long and it changes regularly. I just love music. Sometimes I listen to Classical, sometimes Rock, R&B, Rap, Pop, Alternative and occasionally even a country song here and there. I can’t really say that there is one kind of music that I don’t like. It’s more about what you’re I’m in the mood for. I will say though, while it’s difficult to list my favorite artists because there are so many that I love…Bruce Springsteen will always hold a very special place in my heart. Some of his lyrics are so profound and man, The E Street Band was really something!

If you could go back in time and meet one person, who would it be?

Definitely Jesus. Regardless of religious views, I think it would be incredibly interesting to meet the man that inspired a worldwide, centuries-long belief system.

An existential question, if you got the chance to do life all over again, would you? And no, you can’t start with the lessons you’ve learned this go around.

This is a tough question when you really start thinking about it. The short answer is that I’m really happy with the life that I have, so I don’t feel like I would need to re-do it. But if I was like a cat and given the choice to have a couple of lives…yeah, why not. Living is beautiful thing. I’d be happy to do it again.


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Connecting the Dots

Geetha and I met a little over a year ago. I as a Room to Read Active for Education Ambassador and Geetha as the new, incoming CEO, we wanted to get to know each other.  Already knowing some of the people who work at Room to Read, I expected Geetha to be incredibly intelligent and passionate about her work.  What I didn’t expect was to hear her story and see so clearly how the dots of her life have connected. This, of course, being acheived through brutal hard work and instinct.

Upon meeting Geetha, I could tell right away she was a force to be reckoned with.  I mean, she’s a statistician by training and can throw it down with the best of them in any given room. What really struck me was Geetha’s story. How her mother fought child marriage, gained an education, joined the Indian Army, came to the States as an immigrant on a nursing visa, only to send money back home to make sure her family members earned their education as well. Family members who I might add have gone on to do incredible things in their own right. She then made sure her children had the same level of an education as she did, if not better.

So, here I was sitting in front of someone who is the product of that boulder lifting sacrifice. This person knows exactly whose shoulders she stands on. She’s taken that baton to not only make something exceptional of herself but is now passing that baton onto millions of children. Geetha never expected to become the CEO of Room to Read but she followed her heart and swerved —as Michelle Obama would say. How beautifully poetic that her path has led her to be at the forefront of making sure others receive the very education her mother faught so very hard to gain.

Geetha, you have had such a vivacious life. And I say that because of what I know about how incredibly accomplished your mom is and how she fought the grain to stand up for herself and do what she wanted to do. A rebel in her own right. Would you go please elaborate for those reading this?

My mom has always been a bit of a revolutionary. Her family had a tradition of early marriage – my grandmothers were married by 2 and 14, but my mom refused to get married too soon. She graduated high school at 13 and remained adamant that she would not marry, even in the face of constant pressure. Instead, she joined the Indian army and trained as a nurse, paving the way for her to move to the US on a nursing visa, put herself through school, get a doctorate, become a statistician and join the pharmaceutical industry. For years, my mother sent money to her younger siblings and other family members for their education, setting them on a path to pursue impressive careers spanning from medicine to the United Nations. Over time, her family assumed she would never get married, but she surprised them all and got married at 32 in a one-bedroom apartment in New York!

Geetha Mom

How did this set you on your path to now be CEO of Room to Read?

Without the role that education played in my mother’s fight for her future, I would not be dedicating my life to an education focused organization. My mom’s background meant that education was everything to her and that thinking became the foundation of my life from an extremely young age. Her story, my family history, helped me recognize that knowledge gives you the power of choice and dignity. That recognition drives my commitment to this work. Providing educational opportunities to young girls and boys gives them the chance to learn about opportunity, to seek it and reach their full potential.


If you had to give one piece of advice to someone who is trying to pave his or her own way, what would it be?

I have tended to shy away from the “follow your passion” philosophy and have always believed in the notion that you have to put in the hard work to become excellent at something that is important and valued. Learning and achievement can help you develop passions you never had on your radar. This is not to say, start on a career path and just work at it all your life – as I certainly did not, but rather ensure that what you’re doing is opening you up to new skills and experiences that can optimize your positive contribution to the world. I never had specific ambitions about leading an organization. To be completely honest, when I was young, I didn’t even know that being the CEO of a non-profit was a job to aspire to. I was on a direct path to a career as a statistician. But this is where I am now, and importantly, where I want to be. I know that your life trajectory can change as you grow and expose you to new possibilities. Once you have cultivated marketable skills and you can apply them, more opportunities and choices emerge for your future. That was the lesson I learned as I built my career.


Who has had the biggest influence in your life?

Without a doubt, my parents –from the second I was born to this moment. My parents were extremely focused on my future, especially in relation to education because they knew what hardships I might face without an education. The love, care, and time they devoted to my education and my ability to succeed in life have been instrumental in the life I’ve carved out for myself. I’ve charted my own path, but the foundational lessons my parents have taught me remain today and now are passed on to my children.

What are you most proud of?

When it comes to my career and work to date, there are so many things to be proud of. I’ve built a career that brings me joy every day, however, my truest sense of accomplishment lies in my family – specifically my children. I had my first child in 2004 as I was just finishing my dissertation and had a little flexibility between school and my next job. After having my son, I went through a personal struggle around whether I should have my second child biologically or through adoption. Through my work, I’d seen so many children in this world without parents to guide and nourish them, which made a lasting impression.

I ended up taking my family through a journey towards adopting our second child. It took us three years, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that we needed to do it. That’s how our family was formed. My son is 14 and my daughter is 9 and adopting her is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.


What was one of the hardest mountains you had to climb, personally, while you were trying to achieve your dreams and how did you deal with it?

After getting my master’s in Biostatistics and working at pharmaceutical companies, I got a good sense of what a career trajectory in statistics would look like. I kept asking myself if I really wanted to do that type of work for 45 more years, and I realized I wanted something different for my life. I had just invested many years of my education in statistics and had a lucrative job. In order to make a shift to the social sector, I’d have to take a risk, go back to school, and acquire more hard skills and experience. This process took several years, including personal and professional sacrifice; but, in the end, my practice reflects my purpose, and I am contributing to the world in a way that makes me satisfied.


An existential question….If you had to do it all over again, meaning life, would you? And no, you can’t start with the lessons you’ve learned this go around.

No, I wouldn’t. I could never give up on the life that I’ve built and the lessons that I’ve learned. This life and the people in it are too precious to chance on anything, and I have so many things that I am currently looking forward to!

What kind of music do you like?

This question is hard as there are so many answers to choose from! I grew up as a dancer and I was exposed to many types of music, so that has made me a bit eclectic. I enjoy everything from jazz to classic rock to Carnatic music. But the artist I’d love to hear live is Andrea Bocelli. His voice is magnificent!


Do ghosts exist?

I hope so – that would make life interesting!

What’s one thing you’d do differently if you were to start this process over again?

When I was younger, I wouldn’t have been so singularly focused on grades, but would have taken the time to enjoy the learning process more.

Chicken or egg?

Chicken. Nobody ever asked if the egg wanted to cross the road, did they?

If you had a superpower, what would it be?

Time-travel: I can show the world how our actions today can have a significant impact on our future.


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Maxine, The Shoe Designer

My incredible friend, Maxine is the definition of making your dream come true with nothing less than hard work.  Like all newbies in the work force, she started her professional career in the world of fashion by putting in long hours and learning from the ground up.  It eventually led her to realizing she needed to follow her heart and start her own shoe line, Maxine Shoes.  Most people would have let the thought sit and day dream about it.  Maxine did exactly the opposite.  She worked herself to the bone to launch this line.  I know because we FT’d two weeks before her launch. The girl was down to the wire and she still took time to have a chat with me about my own project. That’s how incredible she is!

Just this month, she was one of only two winners chosen to have her designs sold in a boutique in NYC and have them showcased for Fashion Week in NYC and Paris.  It is an exciting milestone for anyone just starting out.  She has been generous enough to share her thoughts, her road and lessons learned, so far.  So dive in.  #besinpired


It is such a difficult thing to do, and unless you’ve done it, I don’t think people quite grasp what it means to start something on your own and then build its legs. So, what made you decide to go out on your own start your own business?

I have always had a soft spot for shoes, but only realised during my time in NY that starting a shoe brand was what I really wanted to do. The fashion industry has changed a lot in the past years, not only product offerings, but the way products are offered. Consumers are increasingly interested in sustainability and ethical aspects of businesses.

I think realising that most big brands are past the point of pivoting to truly sustainable processes, I felt a certain urgency to offer a well- and responsibly-made product.

Not having much of a work-life-balance back then was not easy and I noticed over time that my relationship with what had been my passion and work had changed…it was mostly work and I felt habits sticking. Something I was taught is not what one should aim for professionally. I guess this was the very moment I knew I had to move on in order to grow and contribute more in a different way.

Just recently, you have definitely hit a milestone.  Tell us about it.

Since February I have been showing at designer showrooms during London and Paris FW. A few weeks ago I participated in a competition for young designers. They chose 2 winners, who would be sold in a boutique in NY (Flying Solo) starting this season (not charging any commission or wholesale prices, but providing us with the full retail amount to reinvest). When I found out I was one of the winners, I was also told that they have a catwalk in NY (and as I just found out in Paris also) showcasing their community of designers. We are an international bunch and were around 50 designers collaborating, resulting in 320 looks. The show was at Pier59 studios and my shoes were used for 3 designers; in total 24 looks. In a few weeks a similar event will take place in Paris with a smaller selection (total of 37 designers).So it’s been super exciting! Happy to send you pictures this week once I have them – waiting for the final ones from backstage and the runway.


What was one of the hardest mountains you had to climb, personally, while you were trying to achieve your dreams and how did you deal with it?

I think doubt and anxiety were (sometimes still are) my two big challenges. There were days, sometimes weeks – especially in the beginning – when I questioned everything, especially myself.

Starting a label is an incredibly personal endeavour. Not only is it a financial and professional risk, but as a designer you open your heart to the public. The aesthetic of the brand and every single design reflects me. Which is the very reason why it was hard not to take feedback and critique personally in the beginning.

Starting my business with the help of a fashion incubator program based in London was the best decision I could have made. Having a life coach and mentors was incredibly helpful not only for the building of my brand, but my personal growth. Being open and honest about struggles is key to moving passed them and improving.

If you had to give one piece of advice to someone who is trying to pave his or her own way, what would it be?

I think setting goals is incredibly important. Aiming high and visualising your definition of success helps to stay positive and those of us who have read The Secret know it will do us favours… But most of all change goals along the way, have milestones and reward yourself for even the smallest success. I really noticed how my motivation and also my pride grew as I took in even the tiniest success and felt joy and gratitude.

Chicken or egg?

Absolutely egg. Being a atheist (and having watched Big Bang Theory too much as a student) I believe in science and a something pre-eggy evolving into an egg as we know it.

If you had a superpower, what would it be?

I would love to be able to create through thought. If I could create objects and feelings through visualisation…that’s the dream!


What’s one thing you’d do differently if you were to start this process over again?

Probably I would go on a holiday before I start the business. I got so caught up since business plan stages that I was too excited to even think about a holiday. I love travelling for work, but its not the same. I wish I would have enjoyed the quiet before the storm a little more. Over all I think there is no perfect preparation, and whilst I don’t have a regret, I think it’s important to take everything in and enjoy even the craziest times of building the foundation of the business. Looking back, these days were still slower than the ones now and it’s a very special period that doesn’t last forever. Its like a honeymoon phase with yourself that hits once you start breathing and living your brand.

Who has had the biggest influence in your life?

My family! I know this is (gladly) the answer of most women, but I cannot thank my family enough. I grew up assuming being a female entrepreneur was no less realistic or hard than being a male one, as I was surrounded by my parental grandmother and mother both being entrepreneurs.

My grandmother taught me that a right mindset will get you anywhere, my mother is responsible for my work ethic, and my father – probably the biggest feminist of all of us – taught me how to make things happen for myself and not let anyone answer for me. And my sister of course, apart from having to stand up for myself from an early age, she has taught me positivity. I truly would not be anywhere close to where I am now without their support and advice, which I still make use of multiple times a week.

What are you most proud of?

I am not a very proud person, it usually hits me months past others told me to be proud of something. Looking back I am proud to have grown and nourished industry relationships independently. Having built my career without any support has given me wonderful and kind mentors and friends, who have been by my side during this journey.

Do ghosts exist?

No – but I do think that we are able to feel the spirit of someone even once they have passed. Whether it is triggered by a sense or memory, I believe we want to see and feel loved spirits until we are ready to let go. When my grandmother passed, I could feel her in the house, her scent, I heard her voice, it was like she was still there. I think only once we are ready to let go, spirits fade.

What kind of music do you like?

My parents raised us with an attitude that we could do and achieve anything, which was great. Except I got bored quickly, so I learned a lot of instruments and went to choir practice. I still play the saxophone, but piano, guitar and drums unfortunately are not really my strong suits anymore.

I enjoy various genres, but especially jazz and soul can make my day. I love how music influences our emotions, I think that is absolutely beautiful.

If you had to do it all over again, would you? And no, you can’t start with the lessons you’ve learned this go around.

Big fat YES! I have never been happier. Probably not more tired either, but my excitement levels have also never been higher. Since my e-launch it has almost been 1 year and I could not be more ecstatic about what has happened since. It’s such a privilege being able to start my own line, I could not be more grateful and joyful!

Insta: @maxine_shoes


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The Giving Dentist

I have known Dilshad Sumar Lakhani (yup! same first name) or as I call her, Dilshad Aunty, for a minute now. I was always taken by her kind-heartedness even in how she would say normal, every day hellos.

We had lost touch when low and behold, I ran into her during a recent trip to Atlanta. What are the chances of that? Out of the blue, in a city and setting of thousands of people, I run into her. We caught up for a bit. She told me about pseudo-retiring…she still teaches part-time…and starting a foundation with her husband. I was so very touched and asked her to be a part of my blog. Luckily, she said yes! Here are the questions I threw her way and her answers from which we can all learn so much from.

I’ve always thought we are surrounded by heroes, in our every day lives. Well, here is someone I know personally, who is that hero. We can all become better human beings because of people like her. I know I can. Happy Reading! xx


Most people tend to retire and enjoy themselves in spending time in the sun, pursuing hobbies, etc. Instead you and your husband started the Sumar Lakhani Foundation. What was your inspiration to pursue creating your own non-profit?

I was born in Tanzania – a country in East Africa. My father was a merchant and had a variety-store some 70 years ago. Life was difficult, and I remember him working very hard. We, the children were loved, but we had only the bare necessities to live on and grow. We belonged to a very progressive religious community which meant we focused heavily on education and gaining independence. With this philosophy, we studied hard as children and received scholarships to study abroad. I became a Pediatric Dentist – where I was able to treat children every day and provide for my family.

My husband had a similar background from Uganda. He is a physicist by profession. He studied at Makerere college in Kampala, Uganda. He went to Brown University to complete his studies and get his PhD in Physics. He is now a serial entrepreneur and philanthropist – with one goal in mind: to make the world better for women and for children.

We always gave to charities, but my husband knew the importance of making a sustainable difference – not just a handout. This was the founding principle by which Sumar-Lakhani Foundation (SLF) was born.

What does the Sumar Lakhani Foundation focus on?

The Sumar-Lakhani Foundation is involved in many projects. This includes education, health programs, and social enterprises. Since we cannot physically go to all the places where we are involved, we got involved with organizations with the experience to implement projects. They report to us on a regular basis as to the progress they were making with their projects and we regularly discuss with them methods to improve and scale.

To read more about our work here.

I have been involved with Angkor Hospital for Children (AHC) in Cambodia – a nonprofit hospital providing free health and oral care for over 150,000 patients annually. After our intervention, the hospital is now thinking of prevention rather than restoration and treatment. New ideas have been developed where parents are taught how to brush their children’s teeth and about nutrition preventing them from making costly trips to hospitals.

Knowing that my efforts have done good for rural Cambodian children and families fills me to the brim with pride.

Another important partner in our portfolio is Smile Train – an NGO who provides free cleft palate surgeries for children. Cleft Palate is a disfigurement condition which affect speech, eating, and oftentimes, patients with this condition are the victims of stigma. We are on a mission to restore smiles to those who cannot so they can lead healthy and prosperous lives.

My dream is to try and help women get out of poverty, educate them and make them self-sufficient and independent.


If you had to give one piece of advice to someone who is trying to pave his or her own way, what would it be?

If I had to advise somebody who is trying to pave his or her own way to make a difference around the world, I would say:

  1. Have a heart or be compassionate: Put yourself in that person’s shoes and feel the pain or distress that person is feeling. One may not always be able to help in a material way, but some kind words and a listening ear would help.
  2. Read about people who are going through difficulties. Read books, articles, and biographies of people who have overcome their difficulties with the help of charity organizations or accounts social workers give when they report their findings. An example would be Melinda Gates – she is a visionary.
  3. Do your homework. There are a lot of untrustworthy organizations around who would take what you give them, and you do not see them again. Before opening your heart and your wallet make sure you speak to them and at length. If you hear/see red flags, they probably aren’t the most reliable group to fund or support.

For those of us who are on the search of what to do to help and with there being so many overwhelming issues in this world, can you share how you pinpointed, for yourself, which avenue to pursue?

As Emerson says:

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”

I wanted to be useful and therefore the avenue I pursued was in dentistry because I knew it was a craft that I could learn to make me effective, to make a difference. I use my skill in treating not only children but training communities to implement sustainable oral interventions themselves. What I would suggest for those searching for a path is develop the competency in a trade or craft in order to teach it to others. Then sustainable change can occur.

If you had a superpower, what would it be?

If I had a Super Power, I would make all women independent somehow like rescuing women out of bondage especially those who are being trafficked and being abused. That is my wish and hope.

Chicken or Egg?

I do believe there was always something innate within myself that propelled me to help others. In that sense, my answer is Egg. However, that is not to say that people cannot become humanitarians. The first step in doing so is to step out of your comfort zone, see the world (if able), and connect with others that you normally wouldn’t meet. That is the foundation of empathy and therefore a good place to start a lifetime of service. 

Who has had the biggest influence in your life?

The biggest influence in my life has been my husband. He believed in me and gave me the liberty to progress as a Pediatric Dentist and supported me throughout my career. He was the one to think about setting up Foundations and how to make good judgement when disbursing resources to projects which will make a difference in people’s lives. He was the one who believed in my need to share with ones who needed help.

What are you most proud of?

I am most proud of my 2 children. Samira who is part of the United States Tennis Association (USTA). She is change maker in her part of the institution. And my son who is the founder of a non-profit organization – Eco-Soap Bank. He is making a difference in the lives of thousands of people and children in the developing world.

Do ghosts exist?

I do not believe that Ghosts exist outside of you. They exist inside you in the form of bad thoughts or negativity. The point is: be positive, optimistic, and always believe in yourself.


What kind of music do you like?

I grew up listening to Indian Music, it is nostalgic and meaningful to me. When it plays, I am filled with vibrant memories, smells, and emotions.

If you had to do it all over again, would you? And no, you can’t start with the lessons you’ve learned this go around.

If I had to do this all over again, I would do exactly what I am doing in Philanthropy in a heartbeat but starting earlier and with more gusto. There are so many people who still need our help. I know there will be generation of change makers that come after me as well – and this gives me great pride and hope.


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