I Am Rose - Mesha Byrd
SRG: We think you have such a cool story! Tell us about your path and what makes you the woman you are today.
MB: Gah, thank you! I’m originally from metro Atlanta and grew up an only child, which has resulted in having (what some would say) an unusually close relationship with my parents.They are more than parents to me, they are two of my closest friends. I also grew up in an extremely close knit extended family and many of my close friends have been in my life since elementary and middle school. If it isn’t obvious at this point, community is very important to me and my community has shaped so much of who I am.
My family instilled the importance of hard work and made it clear that because I am a Black woman, I will have to work twice as hard to get to where I want to be. I was taught to dream big and to not allow others to limit my potential. My parents are both very passionate about justice and equity and passed that down to me. I knew very early on in life that I wanted my career to be focused on helping others. I didn’t know how I'd get paid to do it, but somehow I've made that part work!
I recently read an article comparing Atlanta to Wakanda because of all the success that black and brown folks are experiencing down there. As I'm reflecting on my upbringing, the experience of being around so many successful business owners, educators, physicians and artists that looked like me, absolutely framed the idea of what I knew to be possible for my life.
SRG: It's obvious how community is a priority for you! You've received a lot and you want to give a lot in return!
A one liner that would describe you is…?
MB: Audre Lorde said “When I dare to be powerful—to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” I’m on a journey to be fearless, so when I'm old and fabulously grey, I hope someone reads this quote and thinks of me.
SRG: That is the best! Might have to borrow that quote ourselves. Ok, on to the next!
Tell us about a time you were afraid to do something, but did it anyway! What was the motivator?
MB: My decision to move to New York for grad school was super scary and I regret nothing! After graduating from undergrad, I moved to Baltimore, Maryland and worked for a university in their civic engagement and leadership department for a couple of years. I knew I wanted to attend graduate school and was accepted and committed to going to university in Baltimore.
One day while browsing a website, I read that a local university was hosting a grad school fair and it was not too far from my home at the time. Because i’m curious/nosy I found myself there after work. I ended up chatting with a recruiter from The New School about as similar program to the one I committed to. The recruiter was savvy, for she convinced me to take a bus up to New York to visit the campus. She connected me with a current student and I was able to sit in on a class. I left that trip knowing in my gut that I needed to be in their program. I headed back to Baltimore, applied for their program and within two months, left my job and community to move to New York. Trust your GUT people, it will only open doors you were afraid to see.
SRG: When do you feel the most powerful in life?
I feel most powerful when I’m surrounded by my friends and framily, they’re my squad!
SRG: And to counter that - when do you feel the most vulnerable?
MB: When do I feel the most vulnerable??? Well, I see vulnerability as a good thing! So I feel most vulnerable when talking about the people I love and those I have lost. I practice vulnerability because it’s a way to connect with people and connection is healing.
SRG: What do you find most challenging working toward voter participation within the infrastructure of democracy, most rewarding?
MB: What I often find challenging about the work is that voter participation isn’t a singular problem. The lack of voter participation is tied to systems that can and have limited people's ability to show up and vote.
From a government perspective, 2018 was the last time since the early 2000’s states received funding from the federal government to improve their election systems. In absence of that money, states had to budget and allocate funds to their counties and localities, resulting in outdated voting technology and systems. Local election offices are often led by people (mostly women) who have a team of 1-2 staff members. That local clerk and their staff, own the entire election process for your county or locality. These offices are often understaffed and under resourced. So you can only imagine that experience for communities that are primarily, poor, Black and Brown.
Additionally, we can not talk about low voter turnout without having a discussion on the reality of implicit and explicit voter suppression from those in power. I’m from a state that allegedly purged voter rolls in 2018, and that’s not okay! I’m going to hop off my soapbox now to focus on what I find most rewarding.
When I graduated college, I told my parents that I wanted to work for a job that allowed me to connect people to resources that could change their life. I’m doing that work now. My current work is centered in creating channels for voters to stay informed about the elections taking place in their area and how they can cast their ballot. I love that my work is focused on problem solving through innovation.
SRG: Your passion and commitment is commendable and something we wanted to share here on the blog! Thank you Mesha!
(If this inspires anyone to learn more check out Democracy Works)
SRG: Fashion is often an added topic women in politics are forced to give extra consideration. As a woman involved in the political sector, why do think this exist?
MB: Simply because we are women and everything we do is evaluated through a micro lens. As a Black woman with natural hair, curves and a plus size body what I wear does bring attention in most spaces. We’re in the midst of a movement where people are learning to embrace and love on their bodies. What’s more intimidating than woman who is smart, ambitious and strong? I’ll tell ya, it’s a woman who knows it!
SRG: You are a woman going, what do you look for as most important to you in clothing? And what are your favorite fashion hacks?
MB: When traveling I NEED clothes that allow me to move around. Flexibility is key! I often travel to attend or speak at conferences, so it’s important that I have a decent amount of basics that I can style multiple ways. I do however looove a statement piece whether that be clothing or jewelry. Statement pieces can jazz up and outfit and make it feel unique to your personal style.
SRG: What’s next for you? Wildest dream scenarios encouraged!
MB: I’m such a planner and would usually be able to provide you with a dissertation on the next 10 years of my life. But right now, I’m in a season of exploration. Lately I've been needing the push to dream bigger, so that is what I'm giving myself space to do.