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We’re honored to share this episode of Wild Precious Life, a Cleveland-based podcast hosted by Annmarie Kelly, to remember the life and work of Echo Brown. Brown was the celebrated author of Black Girl Unlimited, The Chosen One, and the one-woman play, Black Virgins Are Not for Hipsters. She died in 2023, at the age of thirty-nine, after a long illness. In this episode, which originally aired in 2022, she and Annmarie Kelly discuss health, writing, creativity, and the art of discovering—and creating—magic in life as well as on the page.
Mentioned in or related to this episode:
- Black Girl Unlimited
- The Chosen One
- Black Virgins Are Not for Hipsters
- Literary Cleveland
- “Echo Brown, Young Adult Author and Performer, Is Dead at 39” (New York Times)
- “There Are No Promised Lands” (TED Talk)
- Maya Angelou
- Toni Morrison (and Beloved)
Echo Brown (00:00): For me, the whole value of life is that. Everything is relating and relationship. And I think to find the magic in that for me has really been key to my life. Laura Maylene Walter (00:16): Welcome to Page Count, presented by the Ohio Center for the Book at Cleveland Public Library. I'm your host, Laura Maylene Walter. Laura Maylene Walter (00:32): We're doing something a little different today by sharing an episode of Wild Precious Life, a podcast hosted by Cleveland writer and teacher Annemarie Kelly. I met Annmarie in 2020 when she took a class I was teaching through Literary Cleveland, and I came to know her as an amazing writer and thinker and person. And then the following year, when she launched Wild Precious Life, I also came to know her as a top-notch interviewer...a skill that I know from experience is a lot more difficult than it often looks. When Annmarie interviews someone, she is thoughtful, thorough, and kind, and she definitely does her homework for every guest she speaks to, which is something I always appreciate as a listener. And I also was able to appreciate it as a guest of hers a few years ago as well. But: the episode of Wild Precious Life we're sharing today is a special one. Laura Maylene Walter (01:24): It originally aired in August 2022. It features Annemarie's conversation with Echo Brown, who authored the novel BLACK GIRL UNLIMITED, the memoir THE CHOSEN ONE, and the one-woman show BLACK VIRGINS ARE NOT FOR HIPSTERS. Just last spring, I was very much looking forward to seeing Echo Brown appear as the keynote speaker for a Literary Cleveland fundraiser. But due to her health, she was unable to be there in the end, I think for much of the Cleveland literary community, including for those who knew her personally and those of us who didn't, it was a terrible shock to hear of her passing. Echo Brown died on September 16th, 2023 at only 39 years old. Annmarie aired this interview again with a new introduction in October, 2023 in Echo's memory. And that's the episode we're sharing today. Throughout their discussion, Echo talks about her health issues and about being on dialysis, but she also talks about her origins growing up in Cleveland, how her novel came to her through its first line, how sometimes dissociating and being creative can be a way to cope in difficult times, and how she wrote magic into her own life story. I'm really honored to be able to share this conversation, and I hope someone out there who hasn't already read Echo's words, picks up one of her books and discovers the wonder and the magic that she created on the page. So without further ado, here is Annmarie Kelly of Wild Precious Life, talking with the late author Echo Brown. Annmarie Kelly (03:03): I learned this morning that one of our previous guests, a brilliant young writer named Echo Brown, had passed away. So I came to the microphone to share this news with all of you. We've built a community here, and when one of our own is lost, I want to talk about it. After Echo appeared on the show a little over a year ago, she and I stayed in touch. We met for coffee a few times and once at her request for Brazilian food. I remember it was fall and my meal was served inside a small pumpkin. But Echo wasn't always well enough to go out because both of her kidneys had failed. She endured dialysis three days a week while awaiting a transplant. Often her energy levels were low, so I had stopped by her apartment with rice and vegetables or some fresh fruit. She'd hoped to rally and give a speech at our local literary conference this past summer. Annmarie Kelly (04:02): But she caught Covid, which stretched into long Covid, and she was forced once again to stay home. I scrolled back to our most recent text thread, and it was about the meal I'd brought during my last visit. Those tacos gave me life, she wrote, and we made plans to visit the Cleveland Art Museum together when she was finally on the mend. Except for anyone who knows anything about dialysis or who's ever been chronically ill, you know how too often one health issue replaces another. And my friend Echo Brown never got better. She died waiting for that new kidney. She was 39. I am so sad about that, and I'm also furious. Why do some people get so much longer? Why do they get so many years to spread meanness or drive dangerously or waste everyone's time? Echo should have lived so much longer. She was writing another book. Annmarie Kelly (05:11): She had so many stories left to tell and she'd already endured enough hardship to last anyone a lifetime. So today I did the only thing I could think of. I went back and listened to our conversation. I wanted to hear Echo's voice. I wanted to talk to my friend. For some of you, this will be a repeat, and that's okay. Like me, you just might find that it feels right to be haunted by Echo's echo for others. Echo Brown is new to you, and I can't wait for you to meet this brilliant young woman who asks all of us what it might mean to quote, "Be a promised land for one another". It's my fervent hope that Echo will live on in those who knew her, and that some of us might even behave differently. Dream bigger, try harder, love better in her memory. So ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Echo Brown. Annmarie Kelly (06:23): Echo Brown, welcome to Wild Precious Life. Echo Brown (06:25): Ah, thank you. Happy to be here. Annmarie Kelly (06:28): So you and I have only met once. Like at some point during the pandemic, and the time has actually gone fuzzy for me. But we found ourselves seated side by side in a room full of bookish Cleveland women. And you struck me as brilliant and amazing, and I had a bit of a girl crush, and I'm like, I cannot wait to run into this woman again. So thanks for being here. Echo Brown (06:54): You're welcome. Annmarie Kelly (06:55): And so you've written two books that I've read and I very much want to talk about them, but I also know you have been on a monumental health journey recently, and I also want to make space for that. So we'll start with our usual opening question, and we'll just go from there: Echo Brown, will you tell us your story? Echo Brown (07:15): Yeah, so you know, I think the basics of my story are really, is really about overcoming obstacles. So I'm from Cleveland. I grew up in a really impoverished community. Both of my parents were addicts. Both of my brothers were addicts. One of them died of a fentanyl overdose in 2020. So I just come from really difficult circumstances with generational poverty, generational abuse, all the generational things. And I'm a person who has managed to break those cycles and, you know, break a lot of those chains and overcome, and go and do all these amazing things in my life, whether it be going to an Ivy League school or living in New York and California, and then living in France. And so I would say that's really the basis of my life is a story of overcoming despite unimaginable obstacles. Annmarie Kelly (08:09): How did you do that? Echo Brown (08:11): It's the million dollar question, right? Annmarie Kelly (08:14): Yeah. Echo Brown (08:14): Well, you know, I think, I think, it's not really a matter of how I did it in a sense that it's, I think life is a co-creation between yourself in some higher forces. So for me, I've always kind of been plugged into these higher forces that kind of drove my soul and drove my heart. And so it doesn't really feel like I just did it all. It feels like I was being sort of guided in this way. And I think that's really the only way you can come out the other side of this is you have to be in tune with something that's much higher than yourself. That, for example, my brothers, for whatever reason, were not in tune with. For example, when I was six years old, I had this kind of spiritual awakening where I kind of woke up, I was like, oh my God, this place is crazy and I'm going to get out here. And that kind of awakening kind of drove my entire life in a sense. Annmarie Kelly (09:10): Wow. Well first off, I'm so sorry to hear that you lost your brother so recently, despite the fact that you guys took different paths, that's still your brother. Echo Brown (09:20): Yeah. Annmarie Kelly (09:20): And I know that must've been really difficult. Echo Brown (09:22): Yeah, unbelievable. He was my favorite brother and he was a sweetheart. Yeah. Annmarie Kelly (09:27): I'm so sorry. When you and I were scheduling this interview, we had to go back and forth a couple times because you are working around, or at least you were then, a pretty invasive dialysis schedule, Mondays and Wednesdays and Fridays. Is that still going on? And what has that been like? Echo Brown (09:48): Yeah, I think you know, dialysis is horrible in a way that's hard to put into words. It is still going on. My kidneys failed two months actually after my brother died. So I think that, yeah, I think that the grief of that and not being able to process it, my first book was coming out, then Covid was happening. So it's just all these things happened at once to me. And, you know, dialysis...it's, I think people just assume, oh, you know, you still live a normal life. You're just living on a machine, but you live a normal life. But once you get on dialysis, nothing is normal anymore. Everything is revolved around this treatment. Everything is impacted, your relationships because people want you to be the same as you were before, but you have far less energy to do the things that you were doing before. Echo Brown (10:42): Obviously your health, once the kidneys fail, all the systems in the body start to adapt and kind of fall out of balance. So everything is impacted by this treatment: your freedom of movement, your ability to, you know, I used to be a speaker and I used to travel and give speeches and I can't do that anymore. So, you know, it's, it's horrible in a way that's hard to put into words. And a lot of people struggle with depression on this treatment because it's hard to see the value of life when you don't have the same quality of life, because life is all about the quality. It's about getting to do the things that you want to do. And that's the first thing that you lose on this treatment. Annmarie Kelly (11:23): So is the, is the prognosis that we're gonna find you a kidney and we are going to make things work for Echo Brown again, so we can see you out there speaking? Echo Brown (11:34): And I just recently started to call for more donors because even though I had a lot of people come forward, like two years ago when I first called, most of those people now have dropped out of the process because it's not the same level of commitment to you when it's not a family member, of course. So I'm hoping, you know, I have a book to write before I can get the transplant. I just signed a contract to write another book, so I have to finish that book, you know, for income purposes and then I can get the transplant. So it's kind of how life is for me at the moment. Annmarie Kelly (12:10): Oh my gosh. If we want to donate to the transplant, I saw you had a GoFundMe, is that still live? Echo Brown (12:16): Yeah. Annmarie Kelly (12:17): I'll make sure to link to that. Echo Brown (12:18): Yeah, so that's still up and I've raised quite a bit, but that was almost two years ago and I had a bunch of bills to pay and then I moved across the country. So it's gone to keeping me up during this unbelievable journey. Annmarie Kelly (12:31): Okay. I will make sure we link to that. And I know that health concerns have utterly dominated your days of late, but as you just referenced, you are creating, again, you are writing a book and I, and I do want to make space for your marvelous creative work in this conversation, but if it sounds like I'm breezing past what's dominating your life right now, that's not what I'm trying to do. I want to make space for all of it. So if we circle back, or if you need to just pause, because as you said, your energy levels aren't there. I completely understand. Echo Brown (13:04): Thanks. Annmarie Kelly (13:05): Alright, so the, the book, I think that was my entry into you. I read them in reverse order. So I actually read your most recent book, THE CHOSEN ONE first, because that was just earlier this year, right? Years have gone. Echo Brown (13:17): Yeah, yeah. Annmarie Kelly (13:18): Okay. So in THE CHOSEN ONE, you share the story of your time at Dartmouth College, and in many ways it's a story for full of disconnects I felt like, between rich and poor, between black students and white students, but also, you know, between belief and disbelief and the way there are all these messages that squirrel around us about who we are that we swallow. We don't mean to, but we do. Many of those messages are not true about what we're capable of, but they're in us and we can't shake them. You were a valedictorian from a Cleveland high school and the first person in your family to go away to college. Maybe we could just start and you could tell us what was all that like? Echo Brown (14:04): Yeah, you know, I think when I first got to Dartmouth, I was still in a state of trauma. I didn't recognize it because you don't recognize the ways that trauma sort of guides your life. And it, there are these invisible rails everywhere that I think a lot of people aren't aware of. So if you already come from a family with money and you already come from a family with, you know, prestige, then you're kind of already on this path to greatness. You know, it's really hard to fall off of that path because there are these invisible sort of guide rails that determine the universe of choices around us. That's the whole point of racism, right? Is to limit your university...your universe of choices. And so I think what was shocking to me was to get to Dartmouth and just assume that everybody was going to be accepting it was going to be this kind of, you know, place where I would fit in and to just find the same world that is everywhere else, right? Echo Brown (15:03): The same kind of biases, the same kind of low expectations of students like me that had come from these communities when in reality we had to work three times as hard to get to the same, you know, school. So I think that was what was most shocking to me, was to see the ways that the world, even in a place like Dartmouth, continued to, I feel, placed these invisible limitations. And really a lot of navigating an Ivy League school, when you come from an environment like mine is how you navigate those invisible sort of guardrails that are there to keep you on this, you know, one track. Annmarie Kelly (15:44): Yeah. One of the things I was thinking about, you, you suffered a loss, you lost your brother in 2020. My father passed away in 2020. And you know how when you're in grief or you're in trauma, people are like, hey, you just let me know what you need. I'm here for you. Echo Brown (15:59): Yeah. Annmarie Kelly (16:00): But you know how you can't, because you're in grief, because you're in trauma, you can't let them know what you need. Echo Brown (16:08): Yep. Annmarie Kelly (16:08): You can't simultaneously diagnose and then self-advocate. And I, I felt like there were some parallels with what you experienced at Dartmouth, right? Because you pulled off this excellent feat. I, I think I've heard you speak elsewhere that you applied to and weren't accepted to, you know, more than a dozen schools, right? And, and yet the Ivy League college that you ultimately attended did not seem prepared to safeguard your transition there. Right? On the other hand, you, on the one hand you got in and Dartmouth says, you're one of us now! You can walk these hallowed halls, you can stand in these buildings on a hill, but on the other hand, you are surrounded, overwhelmingly surrounded by white privileged students who don't even realize that privilege in an institution that just keeps saying there's help here, find it. Is that a fair categories, uh, characterization of your campus experience? Echo Brown (17:07): Yeah, I would say so. You know, I think, I think Dartmouth, when I was there, they were just sort of at the threshold of welcoming minority students. Like I think I was one of the first classes where they had the most minority students. Right now it's, it's even more, but I think probably the Dartmouth of today, I would hope does a better job than when I was there. But I think when I was there, it was kind of right at the forefront of pushing this institution in a different direction. You know, than had been traditionally...they've been traditionally used to. And so, yeah, I think that's a good analogy is that people, first of all, I think a lot of people don't know how to provide support because they don't really understand the environment and the community that you've come from. I think a lot of people when it comes to grief don't know how to provide support. Echo Brown (18:01): They think you'll ask for it, you'll never ask for it. It is better to just offer things and see if one of those things fit. So yeah, I think that's an accurate sort of characterization of Dartmouth is they were well-intentioned, they were well-meaning, but they didn't actually have enough support there for students like me. And the result of that is a lot of students ended up dropping out or going back home because it's really the the mental aspect that you're coming up against constantly at a place like Dartmouth. Am I good enough? Should I be here? Those are the things that you're really battling there. Annmarie Kelly (18:40): Yeah. Michelle Obama writes about that in BECOMING, about her time at Princeton. One that she had a similar story to you where you had a counselor say, hmmm, maybe you should shoot a little lower. That's not...yeah, you're just, you're just you. Echo Brown (18:55): Yeah. Annmarie Kelly (18:55): And so she, she remembers one, being told, being held back from, from shooting for it, but then also feeling like once you got to the school, folks not creating space for you to find a community. She, you know, she, she did find a community at the Black Student Center, but, but that, that was more students helping one another. The university not stepping up. And you were, you were in, where is Dartmouth? Is it in New Hampshire? I always forget. I get Vermont and New Hampshire... Echo Brown (19:26): It's Hanover, New Hampshire. Yeah. Annmarie Kelly (19:27): Yeah. I mean, so you were confronted with racism Echo Brown (19:31): Yeah. Annmarie Kelly (19:31): Big and small with aggressions, micro and macro pretty much at every turn in that book. What got you through, what got you through that? Echo Brown (19:45): You know, I don't know. I mean, I'm really kind of a stubborn person, so if somebody tells me I can't, or if there are barriers or obstacles, I have to figure out how to overcome them. I think that's my personality. And you know, it's one of the reasons I was able to transcend a lot of those early obstacles. I think I was in a major depression there, so a lot of it I was just kind of in this fog, you know, just kind of drifting from class to class and next encounter and next encounter. I think the fog helped me, to be honest. I think a lot of times depression serves as a kind of protection mechanism against some of the things that you have to experience and you have to face. And that was definitely the case at Dartmouth. I spent a lot of time alone in my room. Echo Brown (20:32): I didn't feel like there was many people there that I could connect to. Even the other black students, a lot of them had come from privileged backgrounds. Students like myself, from poor neighborhoods were very rare there. So I really didn't feel like, you know, I found a lot of people to connect to. So I think ultimately, you know, as backwards as it sounds, what saved me was being in this kind of foggy depression and kind of just being disconnected and out of it, you know, so much so that I think I really didn't experience the real impact of what I write about in the book directly, if that makes sense. So looking back, I understand looking back, I can process it, but while I was in it, I was more in a kind of fog than actually present to the experiences that were happening to me, because if you were really present to everything you're up against, you'll just sink. Annmarie Kelly (21:31): Yeah, I wondered about that because you use what I'm going to call speculative elements, in both of your books and for people who don't know what that word means, and I'll, I'll be honest, I don't always know what that word means, but I would call it, kind of magic in a way that can be both bring us closer to what the character's experiencing, but also can push us away, right? To give us some distance to reflect your first girl, or your first book, BLACK GIRL UNLIMITED, you, you do that as well. And it's, it was fascinating, right? It's, it's for folks who haven't read it, it's loosely about a young girl from Cleveland, aka Echo Brown, but it's loosely about a young girl from Cleveland who discovers she's a wizard. And I went in expecting, you know, a Harry Potter spinoff. Echo Brown (22:19): Yeah. Annmarie Kelly (22:19): And what I discovered was, was so much richer, right? This is BLACK GIRL UNLIMITED is a book about secrets, and silence, and armor, and how a black teenager might use wizardry to fight back against sexual assault, you know, intergenerational trauma, injustice in her neighborhood. So in either of the books, what gave you the idea to infuse your, you know, biographical stories with magic? Echo Brown (22:52): Yeah, I don't know if, you know, I really came up with that is kind of just how the books came through me. So I'll never forget the first sentence of BLACK GIRL UNLIMITED, "My mother is a wizard," because I was on a plane actually back from Paris. This is when I was living a privileged, you know, my best life. And the sentence just came from, came to me. My mother is a wizard, and I thought it was such a strange sentence. And oftentimes I find that creativity is like that for me. It just kind of comes through this other channel and it kind of hits you upside the head and you're like, what was that? And it's really important in those moments to try to capture the essence and the, the energy of that and the electricity, because oftentimes, you know, Elizabeth Gilbert says that ideas just kind of jump into you. Echo Brown (23:39): And that's how I felt writing these books is these ideas just kind of jumped into me. And if I had sat down to try to make a story about wizardry, it wouldn't have been as compelling and complex as when it comes through this other deeper channel. And I think part of it also is that, that's just how my brain works, is when I am dealing with something that I cannot face, or that is too, you know, emotionally difficult or challenging, my brain starts to sort of disassociate. And I think it's a survival technique, even in this dialysis process. I find myself going off into these other sort of rounds instead of staying present because it's so hard to stay present. So I think this kind of disassociate, you know, disassociation is a technique for survival that a lot of people, you know, use when they have to go through challenging situations like that, because sometimes reality is, is really hard to stay in when it's difficult. Annmarie Kelly (24:43): Yeah, no, I agree. And I found that, I mean it, the magical elements in your books, I found not intrusive at all. They, they were so fluid and they made so much sense because I do think it must take some magic to overcome adversity and trauma, and you can fill in spirit or magic or something outside of ourselves, but there is something bigger than you that helps us overcome adversity. And I think you're right. There's also something ineffable that you can't quite put your finger on when you try to write down what you remember. I know that your journey led you through New York City and you mentioned Paris, and also you were in California, correct me if I'm wrong here, but with no real theater experience, you wrote and performed in an incredibly successful one woman show. Can you tell us, how did that come about? Echo Brown (25:49): Almost seems like a lifetime ago now, but, you know, I actually, got to California because I had applied for this job as a motivational speaker in high schools. And at the time I was working as a legal secretary. So there, it was a big jump, let me tell you. But I've always been good at writing, so I was able to convince them to give me an audition. And so through that work, I traveled around the United States and Canada teaching these workshops. And part of that work was we had to tell our life story. And I realized that the most powerful part of the entire program for me was when I told my life story. So after I finished that work, I was like, man, where can I go to just tell stories? And the Bay is actually the hub of solo performance, so they have the most sort of, you know, solo theaters. Echo Brown (26:43): And I just started taking this class at the Marsh Theater, which is kind of the hub of solo performance in the Bay. I started working with this director who understood my voice, who helped pull it out of me, and wrote that show, I think in a year. And then I put it up and it was pretty much sold out for the duration of its run. And again, it's because I think I'm coming from the depths, right? And I think people connect to that when you give them something that has so much meat and so much heart and so much soul, there's a hunger for that, whether people realize it or not. And I think I kind of fed that hunger, at least in the Bay. So I really didn't even have to sell that show. I was a no name, nobody knew me, and I just kind of put the show up and it was word of mouth, it was instant success. And that, that show took me everywhere. I did it in Europe, I did it around the United States. I did it here in Cleveland. And I think the reception was always the same as people really connect, you know, to this deeper emotional rawness and honesty that I hope comes across in my work. Annmarie Kelly (27:53): Yeah, that's, that's amazing. And for folks, I didn't mention that the show is called, I believe Black Virgins Are Not For Hipsters. So then I have to ask you, why aren't black virgins for hipsters? Echo Brown (28:08): Well, it's kind of a play in words because if you actually see the show, you'll know that they are. Black virgins are in fact for hipsters. And it's, that show is really about my first relationship to this hipster that I had met in...on Craigslist, actually. He was from Oregon. He wore plaid shirts. He looked like a lumberjack, he was my first boyfriend. And so that show is about, you know, how you develop a self-esteem to pursue somebody, because I really believed I was the ugliest person in the world. I had a really low self-esteem. So that, you know, it was about coming to terms with being processed, I mean being programmed with those ideas and then eventually finding somebody who, you know, was a boyfriend at that time. So that's what it was about really. Annmarie Kelly (29:01): Well, I'm sorry that I didn't live in the Bay Area to be able to see it. And for folks who were lucky enough to see it, I am jealous of them. I'm thinking about, I'm thinking about, again, with the stories that we swallow about ourselves that just aren't true. In, in your works, you talk about not believing yourself conventionally beautiful. We've been going through my childhood home because my father passed away and we're selling the house, and we've been going through photographs, and I've been coming across photographs of my middle school and high school years where I remember telling myself that story, right? I was a dark-haired girl with like big boobs and a big butt. And what I told myself was that I was not conventionally beautiful. And I look back on these photographs and I'm just, I'm, I'm blown away by just, that's, I'm, I'm lovely and this is not arrogance. This is me like reframing it through decades later that I can look back and I see the vulnerability and the lovely innocence of that, of that young girl. And have you been able to reframe the stories you told yourself about how you looked growing up and that now that you're decades later, you can see I was always beautiful because you're a beautiful person. Have, have you reclaimed that for yourself yet? Echo Brown (30:23): Yeah, I mean, I look at pictures, you know, when from when I first got to California and I was so gorgeous, especially compared to now. Annmarie Kelly (30:32): No, you're gorgeous now too! Echo Brown (30:33): I was so gorgeous. I was like, oh my God, how could I have not seen this? But, you know, I think what what's really critical is that self-esteem is not something that you just wake up with and you develop in a vacuum. Self-esteem is a community societal process because everybody, you know, falls into line with something that's being projected onto them. So it's not that you should have bear the responsibility for developing self-esteem, especially when you're receiving all these messages. Anybody that received the kind of messages that I received growing up from everywhere. TV, men in my community, boys at my school...you would've looked at yourself and say, oh, you know, I must be ugly because this is what everybody in the world is telling me. So self-esteem is less about you just developing some magic perspective of yourself and, you know, it's more about you breaking through all of these negative messages that have been planted in you and projected onto you. It's just about breaking through that projection. So that takes time and it, it is, like you said, it takes reframing and it takes relearning and re-imagining who you are in the world. Annmarie Kelly (31:53): Absolutely. All those messages swirl around us, and it's too big for any one person. I guess that goes back to like the co-creation of ourselves. Echo Brown (32:02): Yeah. Annmarie Kelly (32:02): We need, we need other, often other women, but certainly other allies to help us cut through that nonsense. It's very true. Echo Brown (32:12): Yeah. Annmarie Kelly (32:13): Hey, while you were in California, you also gave a TED talk that I've seen and truthfully not quite been able to shake about the, the myth versus the reality of, of a promised land. You know, you spoke quite extensively back then about there is no promised land in America. Echo Brown (32:36): Yeah. Annmarie Kelly (32:37): Do you still believe that? And can you talk more about that? Echo Brown (32:40): Yeah, I think, you know, for some people they might experience America as a promised land because, you know, like we were mentioning earlier, if you come from certain backgrounds of privilege, right? The whole point of privilege is to distance you from the harsh reality of how difficult life can be and set up, you know, rails for you to sort of go on this higher trajectory track, I think. But for many of us, America has never been a promised land for many of us. You know, the struggle to be American or to live in this nation has been a struggle of overcoming, of fighting. That certainly is my legacy. So what I'm really trying to get at is that the promised land is this evolving concept of fighting for freedom for many people. And it's a place that we will never get to, right? Echo Brown (33:35): Many of us will never live in, in the promised land of America. But I think you have to keep, have to keep reaching for this imaginary illusory concept, and you reach not for yourself, but for the generations to come. You know, it's, somebody was fighting for me many generations ago, whether it be Harriet Tubman or all these mythical, you know, Martin Luther King. If those people had never stood up and fought, then I wouldn't be able to have lived the life that I've lived. So you make it a reality for the coming generations, even though it's a constant moving point, if that makes sense. Annmarie Kelly (34:13): It does. One of the things, I left your TED talk, I watched it a couple of times. You're a wonderful speaker, by the way. Echo Brown (34:19): Thank you. Annmarie Kelly (34:19): Hopefully you know that, but just captivating. And I was hanging on your every word, and I could tell the audience was as well. But one of the things I left there with is that if there is no place that's a promised land, that our obligation, that our common humanity calls upon us to be promised lands for one another. Echo Brown (34:41): Exactly. Annmarie Kelly (34:42): And to, to offer up whatever it is that you have. And, and I can list many of them women, but women who were promised lands for me when I was lost in my own wilderness. Echo Brown (34:53): Yeah. Annmarie Kelly (34:53): That these were women who, who were able to say, I've been there and I know the way out and follow me. And to be that, to, I felt like we were called upon to be that for one another. Echo Brown (35:05): Yeah I think that's the only real hope in life. I think it's what we co-create together, right? We either make a bunch of misery for each other, which I think is happening in the world today, or we figure out how to transcend these seemingly what I think are really minor obstacles and misunderstandings about each other and how we're positioned and the whole point of politics, right? Is to position us in these different ways. But I think a lot of it is figuring out the commonality, as cliche as that sounds, is finding this point of commonality. But it, again, it's really hard to find that point when some people have been told you're better and you're worse. And, but I think if you search hard enough, there is a point of commonality. It's just a matter of if we're going to reach for it and if we are going to decide to be these, you know, mythical promised lands for each other. But for me, the whole value of life is that, you know, it's, everything is relating and relationship. And I think to find the magic in that for me has really been, you know, key to my life. Annmarie Kelly (36:19): Oh, so as a, as a creative, as a creative person outside of yourself who are creative people, either writers or, or performers, who do you look to for strength and guidance? I guess, who are some of your creative crushes? Echo Brown (36:34): I mean, I guess it's, you know, the typicals, the, the Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison. Because I feel like, and I wouldn't put myself on the same level, but I understood or understand the depth, you know, from which they write about that comes from this kind of experience that I think a lot of black women go through, where you just have so many obstacles and the world, I think, you know, what I'm realizing is very negative to you in a lot of ways. I think I'm only realizing now, you know, how impactful microaggressions are in defining my experience and why so many black women, I won't say so many, but some black women take the approach of having this kind of hard exterior because you have to, because there's so much negativity coming to you from all angles. Within the black community, outside the black community, other people of color communities. And yeah, I think I'm only realizing the impact that that has on how I move through the world, and how you still stay in the pulse of vulnerability and love despite all this negativity that's coming towards you. It's no easy feat. Annmarie Kelly (37:52): Brené Brown calls this armoring up, right? When you put on a shell, when you put up armor, when you put on a shell that, that hard exterior you're talking about, it keeps the bad things out. Right? It keeps those zinging arrows from, from reaching me. I'm gonna have a thick skin. Echo Brown (38:10): Yeah. Annmarie Kelly (38:10): But it also, it also keeps the warm things out too. It makes it hard if I armor up when you talk to me, you can't hurt me. But it also means you can't love me. And it, it, there's that boundary between us and I understand why, why, folks, you're right. There's a lot of reasons to armor up and, and as you say, black women have have generations of, of reasons. But we gotta figure out a way to make it safe, to have love get through there, Echo Brown (38:44): Or I guess to make it safe with the people that you want to be safe with. Because I think, you know, what I've realized is I have to have armor in the world because otherwise it's just, it's coming from everywhere. Right? But I think the challenge for me is to be unarmed with the people that I actually love and the people that I actually appreciate. And that's a real challenge for me because I'm always armored. So I think being able to let it down in certain circumstances is really the work for me. Because otherwise you just kind of, like you said, you just kind of move through the world in a constant state of vigilance and you know, I'm going to hurt you before you hurt me, or I'm going to put up this wall before you have a chance to attack me. But then there's a price that you pay for that, you know, and the prices, you can't connect to people anymore, and you live through this kind of wall and this kind of hard exterior. And so I think it's more about letting it down and circumstances where it's okay to let it down. Annmarie Kelly (39:50): Yeah. Finding those communities, finding those people, or finding those rooms where we are going to hold space and let one another take off those shells if only for a few moments. And to let you know that I'm going to hold space for you to, to be authentically and vulnerably you. Echo Brown (40:10): Yeah. And it's, it's rare to find those spaces, but they do exist. Annmarie Kelly (40:14): Mm-Hmm. They do. Maybe when you're up on your feet, we're going, we're going to, we're gonna create one of those spaces right here in Cleveland. Because I know a few other women who I'm, I'm, I'm thinking of right now. Who, who we need that. Well, Echo Brown. I could talk to you forever, but I don't want to wear you out because I know that you're on a health journey. We always close with just a few kind of quick, quick fire round, just like this or that questions. All right. So you could just, this is quick. Multiple choice. Just pick one. Coffee or tea? Echo Brown (40:46): Neither. Annmarie Kelly (40:46): Dogs or cats? Echo Brown (40:48): Cats. Annmarie Kelly (40:49): Mountains or beach? Echo Brown (40:50): Beach. Annmarie Kelly (40:50): Cleveland, Ohio or Paris, France? Echo Brown (40:53): Cleveland <laugh>. Annmarie Kelly (40:54): The one time you heard it people, we won! That's the only time anybody ever answers that question that way. And I love it. Echo Brown (41:02): Definitely Cleveland. Definitely. Hard to believe, but true. Annmarie Kelly (41:07): The Believeland. Ah, love it. Early bird or night owl? Echo Brown (41:11): Definitely night owl. Annmarie Kelly (41:13): Are you a risk taker or the person who always knows where the band-aids are? Echo Brown (41:17): Definitely a risk taker. Annmarie Kelly (41:19): And if you could time travel, would you rather go back in time or forward? Echo Brown (41:23): Forward. Definitely. Annmarie Kelly (41:25): What's something quirky that folks don't know about you? A like, a love, a pet peeve. Echo Brown (41:31): I like to dress up my cat. So I dress him up. I put a little Santa hat on him on Christmas. I recently put some sunglasses on him and a big chain. He looks so cool. I really...he hates every minute of it, but it brings me so much joy and I just laugh at him, just laugh. Because he hates it, but I love it. He has a little elf suit. Annmarie Kelly (41:55): <laugh> So cute. Do you have any of those ones where there's like the feet? I don't know. I think I've seen him online where there's like the... Echo Brown (42:01): He has an elf suit like that. Yeah. He has a Christmas sweater. Christmas scarf. Yes, he does. Annmarie Kelly (42:08): Cute. What's your kitty cat's name again? Echo Brown (42:10): Well, his name is Baba Baby, but uh, also known as Cat Daddy. Annmarie Kelly (42:15): <laugh> What's a favorite book, or movie, or both? Echo Brown (42:21): I guess my all time favorite book is gonna be BELOVED. I just was rereading that. And movie? I haven't been really seeing anything lately, so nothing comes to mind. Annmarie Kelly (42:33): I know. Been a, in a low point there. Echo Brown (42:36): Oh, I saw Nope. Annmarie Kelly (42:37): Oh, was it any good? Echo Brown (42:38): I thought it was okay. Yeah, just, okay. Annmarie Kelly (42:41): All righty. I'll check it out. What's your favorite ice cream? Echo Brown (42:44): Chocolate. Annmarie Kelly (42:44): And last one. If we were to take a photo of you just really happy and doing something that you love, what would we see you doing? Echo Brown (42:54): Probably sitting on the beach with Baba. Yeah. And him hating every minute of it. Because he also hates going outside, so I also drag him outside, take him to the parks and he hates it. Annmarie Kelly (43:08): Well, thank you. Thank you Echo Brown for sharing your story with us today. I really did spend maybe 35 minutes in your presence at some point in the last year. And I could just tell immediately you were a force to be reckoned with and someone I wanted to know. We're going to spread your story far and wide. We're going to echo your call and it's my fervent hope that health and healing are going to flow your way and that we're soon going to have the opportunity to hear and read the next chapter of your story. And I know that this idea of being promised lands for one another is going to stay with me. It, it already has. I'm wishing you a promised land also full of good health. Echo Brown (43:55): Thank you. Thank you for having me. Annmarie Kelly (43:57): Absolutely. Folks, today's guest has been the indomitable Echo Brown. She's the author of BLACK GIRL UNLIMTED and THE CHOSEN ONE and the creator of the One woman show, Black Virgins Are Not For Hipsters. Guys, she needs a kidney transplant. If you have been moved by Echo's story, please hop online. We will put links in the show notes and you can find her at Echo Brown...It's echobrown.com, right? Echo Brown (44:21): Yeah, it's echobrown.com. Annmarie Kelly (44:22): Learn more about her story and contribute to her fund because we need more of what Echo has in this world. Echo, I'm wishing you love and light, wherever this journey takes you. And to everyone else...Be good to yourselves, be good to one another, and we'll see you again soon on this wild and precious journey. Wild Precious Life is a production of Evergreen Podcasts. Special thanks to executive producers Gerardo Orlando and Michael DeAloia, producer Sarah Wilgro and audio engineer Ian Douglas. Be sure to subscribe and follow us on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.
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