Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins has always been focused on creating change. She started as a leader in the labor and environmental movements, and she’s now using tech to create impact at scale. Her company, Promise, is a financial services tech platform tackling criminal justice reform. And this week, Phaedra joined us to share how she’s become a strong advocate by tuning out critics. It’s something she learned from the late musician Prince… who was also her old boss. More on that in the episode.
Carly: What were the strategies that you learned early on about how to advocate for change and then actually create that change ?
Phaedra: I grew up around a lot of trauma and violence. And I think what it did is there's a lot of science about how kids who experience trauma, how they manage crises. And I think the first thing is that having to manage crisis as a young person made me able to manage crisis as an adult. And so when I went into the world, things that might normally throw someone for a loop didn't feel chaotic to me. Like, oh, someone cancelled? Who cares? That’s not crisis.
…. My friends and I joke we're rowers. Like, when something happens, we gotta keep rowing. It doesn't occur to us to stop because we just didn't have those options. So I'd say I think what made me effective is I didn't stop, because it, quite frankly, didn't occur to me you could.
…. And last is I think that when you feel like you're fighting for justice, it empowers you in a different way because it's not just for you. It's for other people. And I think that makes you very powerful.
On Not Listening To Critics
Phaedra: I think that fundamentally, I am best when I feel like I am helping avenge justice, because it makes me bolder than I might be naturally. It makes me stronger. And then I have an incredible skill which is I don't care if other people like me. And I started to care a couple years ago, but up until then, unless I loved you, I didn't really care what you thought about me.
And that makes you much bolder because I think if you think that you're doing what's right and if your moral compass holds you to a certain expectation, then what someone else thinks of you doesn't matter.
I think women sometimes, we aren't always given that ability to not be worried. And so because I didn't care, and especially as a Black woman, it gave me incredible power because I wasn't impacted, right, by the fact that people didn't like me or that people thought that's not how I should behave or I shouldn't be as bold or whatever. So I think that probably was what made me really able, I think, to make good decisions and to be able to lead is I felt rooted when I was in the labor movement and the people we represented.
So what mattered to me is did the janitors that were single moms working two jobs, living in garages, did they think I was doing a good job? If they thought I did, I didn't care if city council people did or mayors or governors or presidents. And I think being rooted in people and being clear about who you work on behalf of gives you incredible power.
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