Forward with NACCE

Be Yourself: The Power of Authenticity with CJ Scarlet

April 05, 2023 National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship
Forward with NACCE
Be Yourself: The Power of Authenticity with CJ Scarlet
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode on embracing one's identity and living authentically, Dr. Corbin is talking with CJ Scarlet, the Vice President of Harmony: NC LGBT+ Allied Chamber of Commerce. Hear about the importance of authenticity and how it can help you achieve your full potential from CJ's personal journey to advocacy work, and explore how the power of being true to oneself can create a supportive community for all. 

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CJ: You can be your authentic self. You can come, you don't have to pretend to be straight or A man or a woman, if that's not what you are, you can dress as you please. You can be who you please, who, whoever, whatever you identify with, and the allies that make up the other half of our membership are there saying, go for it. We've got your back. And that that differentiator, that authenticity, that piece of that is what makes us stand out from every other organization that I've ever been associated with.

Becky: Welcome to this episode of Forward with NACCE. I'm Rebecca Corbin coming to you from our Earfluence studio. Our partnership with them is so robust. We bring in great speakers that talk about entrepreneurship, innovation and making a difference in the world. 

So I'm very happy to have with us today, CJ Scarlet. She is the Vice President of Harmony, NC LGBT+. And so you might be wondering what that is, and they do so many good works, but as we do with all of our guests, would love to start with you, CJ. tell us a little bit about what influenced you as you, you grew up and, and where did you come from and what led you to doing the work that you're doing?

CJ: First of all, thank you so much, Becky, for having me on the show today, and I'm just thrilled to be your guest. My dad was a career Marine and I was born in the military base at Camp Pendleton, California. And then, when he retired, he moved us to Arkansas. A little tiny town, didn't have any programs for girls, no sports for girls.

It was a very backward environment and it was extremely frustrating for me because I am not a backwards kind of girl. I'm very progressive. I'm very fast moving and Arkansas, and I did not mesh very well. So when I was 20, I got the opportunity to join the Marine Corps and I jumped on it. I wanted to show my, my twin brother and my little brother and my father, who were, you know, made up the Marine family what I could do.

And I showed him big time because I was honor graduate of my platoon in bootcamp and I graduated an E three Lance Corporal from bootcamp, which is almost unheard of. Within eight months. I was a corporal in E four and within a year I was a sergeant.

Becky: Wow.

CJ: so I moved up very quickly through the ranks. I was a photojournalist and that was the most fun job you can have in the military.

I got to do something new every day. I got to interview generals and movie stars and infantrymen and riding tanks and shoot machine guns from a helicopter skids and I had the best time, the best time. I was in for five years, and when I, got out, I got into nonprofit work. I started working for Chambers of Commerce, then I worked for the United Way. And then in 1990 I began dealing with my own personal issues of child sexual abuse and teen sexual assault. And that led me to become an advocate for others who've been victimized. And so I started volunteering on the boards at the rape crisis center and helping victims of crime.

While this was going on, I was in graduate school and I got a degree in human violence. It's an interdisciplinary master's degree, humanities degree, excuse me, in, sociology and criminology that focused on how people can do the terrible things they do. Interpersonally, you know, one-on-one domestic violence, child abuse, domestic violence and, institutional violence, war and terrorism and moral injury.

And so it covered the gamut of the awful things people can do to one another. And it sounds like a really dark degree to get. And it was at times, but it was also very illuminating because I feel like I got a good grasp on, on why people do the awful things they do. You know, how can you go from being, you know, a person who kisses their children as they skipped a school and take your family to church and, and then go to the concentration camp and kill people?

Becky: Right,

CJ: You know, there, there are reasons these things happen.

Becky: Yeah, and I, I, I don't know about others, but I've never heard of that type of a degree, but it, it does seem like in today's world especially, all of those things have always been probably going on since the beginning of time, sadly. But they're much more to the fore, and sadly, they're probably much more accepted, you know, just with some of the things that are going on.

However, what I love about the work that you do is you're really sort of in this advocacy space, and you focus on prevention, you know, preventing people maybe from experiencing some of the, the really life altering things that you went through. And so to that extent, you, you have published a series of books, which, which are great.

So I want you to maybe talk about a little bit about how, what inspired you to begin to write these books, and then just give us a flavor. I jotted down three, and I'm sure there are people listening that would think, oh, I could really benefit from reading that, or, sharing it with a friend.

CJ: Sure. Well, in 1997, 1998, I was working for the North Carolina Attorney General's office as a director of Victims issues, and I got to travel all over the state and help victims with crime, with a variety of issues and work with the advocacy centers and rape crisis centers, things like that. And I love my work so much, but it grew very frustrating and overwhelming because there's a constant stream of victims, constant stream of people who are being hurt, being harmed, and it's like it was never ending. 

And I grew really frustrated with dealing with crime after it happened. I wanted to do something to prevent it from happening at all. So at that point in 1999, I left the Attorney General's office and became an entrepreneur, and I was focusing on technologies that would help victims to avoid dangerous situations.

One that did not make it to market was a device called Tiger Eye that was a size of three stacked quarters, and it would look like a piece of jewelry and without having to touch it or do anything, if you were approaching in a dangerous situation, you could cry out for help. It would automatically activate, begin video and audio recording the perpetrator, call 911, show the police and the dispatcher what was happening, what you were seeing, and, call help to your location, which is so much more effective than the bracelets that just gave your gps location to the people in your list.

Becky: Wow. Wow.

CJ: They really can't do anything with that. So it was a very powerful device that we were creating, but we weren't able to raise the 4 million we were looking for to get it to market, unfortunately.

Becky: So, but you really think, like an entrepreneur, you think about a problem that needs to be solved, you think about something you're passionate about, that you have knowledge about, and. Who knows, maybe Tiger Eye, could be re, you know, imagined by somebody else in today's world. so I I thank you for putting that out there cuz I think that that's important.

And, so, so take us into a couple of, of the books that you wrote and I like the titles. One is Badass Parents, which I told you I wish that I would've read like 15 years ago, might have helped me navigate some of the challenging, things with, with children that we love. you wrote Heroic Parenting and then Raising Badass Kids, so would love to hear about those.

CJ: Sure I was living a happy life, think, feeling full of confidence and bravado and I'm the, I'm, I'm a badass and I can take on the world. And then I had grand babies seven years ago, eight years ago, and I started having nightmares almost every night about terrible things happening to them because my head's full of the terrible things people can do to each other, of course.

And so I started imagining them happening to my grandchildren and it was unbearable. I would wake up crying. I was upset. I was tired all the time, and I thought, what can I possibly do about this? And then I thought, well, I'll use my writing skills for my photojournalism days. And so I wrote Badass Parenting and Heroic Parenting.

They are actually the same book, but Heroic Parenting is PG rated and Badass Parenting is not PG rated. The books are snarky and humorous, kind of gallows humor intentionally because when covering dark topics, I cover bullying and cyber bullying. I cover sexual molestation, assault, kidnapping, cyber, crimes, you know, the online digital crimes, where crime is actually going up in a bad way. 

And I talk about who the perpetrators are. So the parents know that you know this, worry about strangers and teaching your kid about stranger danger is a misnomer. It's actually not the strangers you need to worry about. It's the people in your circle you need to worry about. And so I break it down by perpetrator, by type of abuse, and then I break it down by age groups. So how do you talk to your child when she's in diapers about body autonomy? How do you teach her about boundaries and intuition and trusting her intuition as she grows up so that she has these skills?

Because the three things any child, any person needs to have in order to stay safe is the ability to trust your intuition and know when it's telling them that something's off, boundaries that are firm. And you can stand on and you can count on to protect you both emotionally and physically, and your moxie, your willingness to act, to protect those boundaries and tr and, and act on that intuition.

And so in the book I talk about how to impart this to your children in a way that's not gonna terrify them, but rather empower them. One of the biggest mistakes parents make is that they don't realize how much power they and their child have to keep them safe. And a lot of parents think, well, if I'm around, nothing's gonna happen to my child. And unfortunately that's just not true.

Becky: Yeah, you've seen that and I love that cuz it's so simple, but it's so powerful, you know, trust your intuition, boundaries and moxie because. You, you lose your sense of agency yourself or, things like that. And, and to probably a, a lesser degree, but I've seen this and I've had friends that who've experienced, you know, bullying at work and, and things like that. And it's, maybe not as a, a violent crime, but emotionally it's, it's emotional violence. And I think even, you know, just following those three, three tips are powerful. 

What would you suggest to parents that maybe haven't had the experience of meeting somebody like you or reading your books and maybe they have middle school girls or children? Like what, how do, how do they begin to have those conversations when they, they, they don't maybe even have the language for it or they don't know how to do it?

CJ: At the risk of sounding self-serving, my book actually talks about movies to watch with your child and how to use books as, as opportunities to initiate a conversation about these things. How to use your daily check-in with each other after school to gently probe and find out what's going on in your child's life.

So if their behavior changes suddenly and you, you concerned about bullying, there are ways to talk to your child about that and teach them how to train bullies to leave them alone. I mean, I talk about that in my books as well. so there are a lot of tips and advice in the, in the books that, and these, the first two books are for parents of kids zero to Nine, Raising Badass Kids, it's coming out later in the spring is for parents of kids 10 to 18.

Becky: Gotcha.

CJ: There's a big difference between the books because there's a big difference in the age groups. Now when you talk about young girls, when I was a teenager, we got boy crazy at say 13 or 14. Now it's nine and 10, and the norms of what's acceptable sexually with young kids, has changed since we were kids, a lot.

And so if you're not talking to your children, if parents are not talking to their kids, they're getting that information from somewhere. And it's better to arm them with power, empowering messages about how they can protect themselves than to leave them on their own, let them make mistakes, and then try to pick up the, the pieces afterward.

Becky: Yeah, it's, it's safety, empowerment and, you know, that, that's fantastic. Well, I, I hope people will think about getting those books. How, how do they get them? Do they, order them on Amazon or,

CJ: Amazon, Amazon has them, and there are two CJ Scarlet authors. I'm CJ Scarlet with one T, and I write books on empowerment. And then I, there's a CJ Scarlett with two Ts who writes romance novels.

Becky: if you hit a romance novel, you, you're, you have the wrong Scarlet. I love it.

CJ: Yes.

Becky: Awesome. Well, let's pivot a little bit because I'm really excited about the work that you're doing, at Harmony. And you had mentioned before, having experience working in Chambers and United Way and, and I think those are all like really powerful sort of community uniting organizations that invest.

But your organization Harmony is a little bit different because you are kind of unique, in the nation and you have some exciting things planned here in Raleigh, North Carolina, where you're located. So why don't you bring us into the life of what, what's the mission of harmony? What kind of work do you all do? And what's on the horizon there?

CJ: I first became acquainted with Harmony when it was called the Raleigh Business Professional Network. We rebranded last March, a year ago, last March. So I went to Raleigh Business and Professional Network as a speaker. They asked me to talk about the topic of kindness is good business, and it was about referral marketing.

And when I went to that event, I got the biggest group hug of my life. I felt like I had found my people and I had, because even though I had been married twice to a man and had children, after my second husband passed away in 2013, about four or five years later, I realized that I was a lesbian. So my life took a right turn.

And so when I got around the folks in Harmony in the Raleigh Business Professional Network, I just knew that I just felt so welcomed. I felt so embraced and so appreciated. It's like very different from a regular Chamber of Commerce where the people are wonderful, but there's that sense of competition.

Well, you're a realtor. I'm a realtor. So we have to be careful. I have to be careful not to divulge the names of any of my clients, that sort of thing. Harmony's different and has more of a lift as you climb mentality of how can I support you and make you more successful in what you do? How can we work together to make this work?

So I was hooked after that first meeting. And then two years ago, I was asked to join the board of directors. Actually, I think I self-nominated. I did. I nominated myself to join the board of directors. At the same time, Cade Kemper, our president, came on as, as head of the organization. And we had become a chamber, an affiliate chamber of the National Gay Lesbian Chamber of Commerce in Washington back in 2013 or 2014.

But we were basically just acting like a supper club. We didn't really act like a chamber of commerce until Cade came aboard two years ago and we have been on a tear ever since. And we have instituted policies and programs and educational opportunities and professional development opportunities that make us more like a regular Chamber of Commerce.

We have two signature events: our Pride Life Business Summit, it'll be on October 6th, the Raleigh Convention Center this year, and our Pride Life Expo, it'll be on October 7th this year. And the Business Summit is a B2B event for business leaders and influencers, diversity, equity and inclusion, professionals, supplier diversity professionals, and L G B T business owners.

While the expo is a b2c expo for consumers for LGBT and Allied individuals to find out what community organizations and nonprofits and businesses they can go to when they need services and support that are safe and affirming. So we're really excited about those. 

Becky: Yeah, I mean, it sounds great and I think when you speak about, allied, I, I think some people might not know what that is. I, I found that out a, a couple of years ago, but it's really, you might have a loved one or a friend or a child, and you wanna be supportive, the community, itself. And I, I love that it, it is so inclusive in that way and that you kind of bring people together, you know, for the purpose of obviously conducting business and kind of growing that.

It's a place where people feel like they can, you know, be their true selves and, and, and bring that to the equation, which is, is wonderful. Now tell

CJ: I, can I speak to something on that really quickly? You just put your finger right on the biggest differentiator that Harmony has, and that is that within Harmony, within the community, we have built, you can be your authentic self. You can come, you don't have to pretend to be straight or A man or a woman, if that's not what you are, you can dress as you please.

You can be who you please, who, whoever, whatever you identify with, and the allies that make up the other half of our membership are there saying, go for it. We've got your back. And so we have each other's backs. And that that differentiator, that authenticity, that piece of that is what makes us stand out from every other organization that I've ever been associated with.

Becky: You know, it's funny you say that because my experience, with NACCE, you know, my, the organization that I'm, fortunate enough to, to lead, I had that experience the first NACCE conference I went to, and, and NACCE stands for the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship. And being entrepreneurial I never really identified as a business person, but I found out later I'm actually a really good business person. I'm good with finance. I'm good at getting customers. I'm good at getting things done. 

But the differentiator for me, going to my new first NACCE conference, I felt. Completely accepted. I, it was a room of, there were people in suits, there were people in shorts, there were people in every, and they, they embraced the fact that they were a little different. They were different than your traditional academic people or, you know, the, the really buttoned up people. And it was really a community that said, how can we really support one another and celebrate one another? 

And I, I think any organization that's lucky enough to have that culture and that spirit, which you have to really keep working at right CJ? Because once you start to really grow and be successful, we've all seen organizations that, that lose that, you know, you've gotta have policies and procedures in place cuz you got more employees and so on. But I'm, I'm just, I'm just makes my heart very happy to hear you talk about how you guys really embrace that.

One question, how many members do you have of your, of your chamber, your association? I mean, approximately how many people are, are engaged in that and how many would you like to see in the future?

CJ: So we're about 150 members right now. We'll, we'll have 200, easily, 200 by the end of this year, and then our goal is to have thousands of members, and we can achieve that. There are, you know, in the older populations, about 5.6% of individuals identify as LGBT, but in the younger populations it's over 21% identify as LGBT, and they're growing businesses, they're out there. And so we want to invite them to become part of this community so that they can get the support and, and, encouragement that they need to be successful.

Becky: That's great. That is great. So how can people find you? There's probably people who are listening or they're gonna come across you. we already talked about your books, so we know we can get those on Amazon, but how, how can they find Harmony and, and what do they need to do to join? Is it, is it, do they have to apply? Do you interview people?

CJ: Well, we vet people. They can come to Harmony on our website and our website is being redone. So everything's kind of in flux because we've been changing so quickly. But they come to our website and join as a, professional $50 a year. It's very affordable, or a small business of one to 10 employees for a hundred dollars a year.

In fact, we have a partnership with the City of Raleigh to give away free small business memberships to Raleigh based businesses. So they get that hundred dollars free, that a hundred percent, excuse me, a hundred dollars fee free. And they get the opportunity to become LGBTE certified. In other words, they become certified as an LGBT owned business, so that they can, get a leg up when they're looking for corporate contracts.

Becky: Oh, that's good. Now, how does, how does that work? Like what kind of a certification is that? They fill out an application or they have to take like a test or something.

CJ: They fill out an application and they submit their articles in the corporation and some of their business documents. They have a letter of affidavit that's signed by our board President, Kate Kimber, that states that they are known to be a member of the LGBT community and that they own 51% or more of their business.

Becky: Gotcha. Okay. Great.

CJ: Harmony's web address is

Becky: Okay.

CJ: and mine is 

Becky: With one T.

CJ: with one T.

Becky: One T. We it. We got it. Well, this has been a, a great conversation and you know, I appreciate you sharing your story. Sometimes it's hard to share, stories of struggle, but I can see how you've really leaned into your role as an advocate and as a leader. And, so I thank you for that work.

I hope people will check out your website, you know, consider joining. If it’s not right for you. please pass it along to somebody else that could benefit from that. So, so thank you, CJ Scarlet. It's been a great conversation. We appreciate you being here with us on forward with NACCE.

CJ: Thank you so much, Becky. I really appreciate it.