Linda Lorelle: [00:00:01]I’m Linda Lorelle, creator and host of Our Voices Matter. Why this podcast and why now? Because it’s time for us all to take a deep breath, And listen. I am a journalist, business owner, keynote speaker, founder of an education nonprofit, wife, mother, daughter, sister, dancer, and lover of life and my country. And like so many of you I am deeply distressed at the deteriorating level of discourse in our democracy. This podcast is my humble attempt to do something about it. One story at a time. It is my hope that as you listen to and watch the stories of someone you might consider to be “the other”, that you will somehow see a glimpse of yourself and be reminded of our common humanity. So what do you say. Let’s take this journey, together.
Linda Lorelle: [00:00:03]Today’s episode is sponsored by Willis Johnson and Associates a Houston based wealth management firm that specializes in helping corporate professionals with their financial planning needs.
Linda Lorelle: [00:00:15]Hi everybody I’m your host Linda Lorelle. Welcome to Our Voices Matter, a podcast dedicated to empowering us all to better understand each other. Our goal…To replace fear with knowledge, disdain with respect, and hate with love. One story at a time. So let’s get to it.
Linda Lorelle: [00:00:42]Thanks so much for taking the time to join us today. We are joined by James Brown, the Chief Encouragement Officer of EncourageX. So tell our audience what EncourageX is, just the Cliff Notes version, and we’ll get deeper into it as we talk.
James Brown: [00:01:00] Sure. I would say this that for me to give the Cliff Notes version on this platform is difficult because it is clearly my passion. But essentially the idea is that everybody is going through something. That we all need a little bit of encouragement along the way. Now a lot of life events at last for more than a day more than a week more than a month sometimes four years. And if you are a person that really wants to be there for that person in a meaningful way sometimes you don’t know what to do or say. So the platform allows you to create a profile for that individual curated specific recommendations in four areas. Words and phrases that you can use to encourage the person audio and video video content and goodwill and also events and experiences to be able to actually scheduled dates and times to deliver those things to the person to make sure that you don’t forget because we all get busy with regular lives. And usually what happens about this time of year is we get that Christmas letter from families saying this is all things have happened and we’re thinking oh gosh you know I knew about those situations. I had every intention of doing something.
Linda Lorelle: [00:02:07]But I got this the whole idea of encouragement I think is so critical at this at this moment in time. You know the whole reason is you know that we decided to launch this podcast was to help us all kind of get back to our common humanity.
Linda Lorelle: [00:02:25]It’s where it’s such a point in our lives where we’ve got this divide going on and so the idea here is to just kind of help people see themselves in other people’s stories. So I’m going to ask you to share to share a story that might help us understand how you got to Encourage X at this point in your life.
James Brown: [00:02:53] Yeah that’s a more than relevant question for this particular platform. So. You know when I was about 13 years old living in Chicago my dad came home one day and said we’re moving spring from Missouri there was really no conversation with the family it was just removing in four months. I’m going to leave on Monday headed to run the branch and I’ll be back in four months to pick you guys up and I’m going to move or one down in Springfield the first step was to kind of get out the atlas is back in the day when you could have a computer to Google things right. See where the heck spring from was or it was. So I realized it’s going to be in the south for the first time in my life. I had heard about the South but really hadn’t spent any time there and sure enough we landed there four months later. I remember walking through the junior high school and realizing that I was only one walking around with a necktie on leather shoes and carrying a leather leather briefcase. Everyone else is wearing cowboy hats and boots and buckles. Not thinking this is gonna be a little bit different on my first day. And so it was very culturally different environment for me. And I can remember in my freshman class homeroom there was an announcement over the loudspeaker that they’re going to have the freshman class elections for the officers because there were three junior high schools that were coming together. And I remember after the announcement this blond haired blue eyed classmate of mine Tracy George looks back at me and says you should run. And I said run for what you should be net so you can run for president my president. What were you talking about. I’m like I’m I’ve been married for five months. There’s no way that that’s a serious consideration so sure enough I went home that night at the dinner table. We’re going around talking about our days when I announce that I’m considering running for freshman class president. Before I could finish getting the word president now my mother says there’s no way that’s going to happen.
Linda Lorelle: [00:05:00]Wow.
James Brown: [00:05:02] That’s surprising then that would be the response from my own parents. And she went on to explain. She said Look you don’t look like those kids don’t talk like those kids and you’re not from their town. There’s just no way it’s going to happen.
Linda Lorelle: [00:05:17]What was the racial makeup of the school?
James Brown: [00:05:21] Think I was one of four African-Americans in my school junior high school the only male actually in junior high. And on to the High School one of probably six in my school. Shit I guess legitimate concerns me from Mississippi. She just hadn’t seen a lot of things the short story is that my dad said well it’s up to you but your mom made a point you may want to slow your roll I went back to school the next day and as I’m walking into their homeroom Tracy Georgia stand outside homeroom says Jamie what are you going to do. I’m not sure why so you seem like at the end of the day you’re considering this. We’ll talk my parents about it Mom said not sure but good ideas. She looks at me she says. I think I understand. By the way Tracy is a law professor now at Vanderbilt to a very accomplished. Still good friends to this day I’ve got three things I want to tell you. So lawyered right about exactly 13 and she says 1 Your mom is wrong. Number two I’ll be your campaign manager number three you’re going to win.
Linda Lorelle: [00:06:38]What did she see in you that you didn’t see in yourself?
James Brown: [00:06:41] Well it’s funny you asked. I said to her I said you actually see things in me I think that I don’t see myself yet.
James Brown: [00:06:55] I have to tell you that experience of someone actually believing you before you believe in yourself is a pretty amazing feeling. It’s a real blessing to have someone that actually is willing to risk their own social capital. This is 1985 right. In an environment where she had every reason to hold off right to not do what she did to hold onto that capital for another day. For whatever reason she saw something in me was willing to invest in me and I took away from that experience as you might imagine the power that comes with having someone supporting you in a way that’s just completely false stuff and just never left me. It changed the whole trajectory of my life and made me feel as if I could do things clearly that I had never even considered. So you ran. I did run and I won. She writes that she was right though the more interesting part of the story I think is four years later I ran for student body president of the whole high school and my younger sister happened to be four years younger seen this matriculation of me in student government and she decide to run for junior class president of the junior high school. And so we both were running and we both won. Four years later so I think that had she not experienced the power of what Tracey did for me and why I actually did for her and the trajectory of her life might be different as well. She’s a producer a producer of News at CBS and Chicago. So clearly it’s been very accomplished as well. So again having at least one person believe in you is a non-trivial moment in my life.
Linda Lorelle: [00:08:37]But now I love that story so clearly the seeds of understanding the power of encouragement stayed with you through all these years. So EncourageX is a new company.
James Brown: [00:08:52] It is.
Linda Lorelle: [00:08:52]So what did you do from college until now. Where all of a sudden you decided OK this is the moment I have to start this company.
James Brown: [00:09:00] I went to Notre Dame for undergrad. I worked for Dow Chemical, G.E. My MBA is from Kellogg brand management at Kraft. I worked for a lot of big companies including Shell, Compaq and HP. But during the oil crisis a couple of years ago I had an opportunity unfortunately to lay off 20 to 30 employees that I had in the marketing and sales area. I had a really great CEO that said hey I would love for you to stay but I know you may have things that you may want to do run to give you a really great as related to your business. As a result of your employment contract and they did and my wife said to me James if you don’t take this opportunity to pursue this platform we’ve been talking about on an off the last 15 years it would be a real mistake.
Linda Lorelle: [00:09:55]So where do things stand now? Are You officially out there?
James Brown: [00:09:59] Yes I am. Last week we officially announced and launched the open platform. And some of the other blessings of this has been the business side of it with two very large corporate accounts have also come into the fold. I won’t mention their names at this point but you would recognize him as one of the top three communication companies in the world have decided to adopt this platform because for them they have frontline employees they have customers that they’re trying to build a very tight relationship with an A lot of times our technicians are going into homes and people are sharing their lives with them and technicians are not quite sure how to respond. And how do they encourage their their own customers even with employees managers are not sure what to do and say when people are going through divorce when people are going through menopause when their kids are playing soccer when kids are struggling with algebra it’s essentially 18 life events we’ve identified or able to encourage people to care about. This platform allows you a lot of utility to be there for those folks on a very personal authentic and inconsistent way which is really the objective.
Linda Lorelle: [00:11:12]So I’m curious about. I know that the timing of this was really based upon, as you just described, the opportunity to leave the company during the oil downturn and be able to move into this. But it also coincides with where we are right now in our shared national discourse.
James Brown: [00:11:34] That’s not lost on me in any way.
Linda Lorelle: [00:11:35]Yeah. Yeah. So to talk to me.. Tell me your thoughts about how that intersects.
James Brown: [00:11:43] Well I think the primary objective for this is quite simply that in addition everyone going through something think that we don’t always know what they’re going through what they’re feeling and this platform allows people that may have never considered the pain that someone may be going through with a life event or a challenge. It gives them real context to say maybe I’ve only been thinking about this from my point of view. It’s like how we frame things has a lot to do with how we actually engage with people and even the topic of someone coming out of the closet as an example. I’ve had several friends that have come to me and share this information with them and unprepared really to respond but honestly going through this process of the duration of that to a life event has really informed me as to what that person really is going through it’s not much different than someone who’s experiencing racism as an example or someone who is suffering from a disability. It’s similar feelings but to you actually put your self in that person’s shoes. It’s hard to really understand and have empathy for that person who is going through so a big part of the outcome I think is people have a better understanding of humanity going back to your point earlier. We have I think seemingly lost touch. We’ve become so siloed. So this is kind of my street address. This is my school. This is my team in the NFL. I’m going to cheer for my team. The NFL that we don’t have an appreciation just for the fact that we’re all role playing this game and we all want to win and the ability to actually encourage each other takes a lot less energy than arguing and fighting performance.
Linda Lorelle: [00:13:28]I just love this concept. I really do because it’s all about human connection. It’s all about taking a moment to recognize someone else’s pain which is the common denominator. We all have some kind of pain in our lives. It takes different forms at different times but everybody’s got something. And when you take a moment to recognize that acknowledge it and then do something to help ease that person’s pain. It makes a connection that can then go so much farther than that immediate moment.
James Brown: [00:14:08] Your point is I think right on the tip of the spear with what we’re trying to do in that I think we’re more common than we are. No different or more with the same than we are different. And that’s the first thing. Secondly I think that when you allow people to become more human. I think it’s are more natural state. We come out of the womb everybody the domestication process.
James Brown: [00:14:40] Sometimes we get shaped in ways based upon the environment. This platform is helping us to kind of get unplugged from all of the secular noise that’s around us and it really plug into the true humanity that we have. And I’ll tell you this some of the stories that are coming back now of encourages use of the platform are saying that they encourage and when they get the feedback it’s very positive. The feedback they’re getting from their own DNA and cellular system is that they’re getting more from it than the recipient.
Linda Lorelle: [00:15:19]Well that’s the way it usually works. And whenever you give you you feel like you receive so much more.
James Brown: [00:15:26] It’s a virtuous cycle.
Linda Lorelle: [00:15:27]It is it really is. It really is. And I think that you know through the course of conversations with people about you know trying to decide how and when to begin this particular podcast on this particular subject, I had some really great conversations with people about this, this very point. And I just I think what you’re doing is amazing. And I think it’s going to take off like like wildfire. I really do.
James Brown: [00:15:55] From your lips to God’s ears.
James Brown: [00:15:58] I’ve invested a significant amount of my own personal wealth into this but I’ve actually invested more in my personal humanity into it. This is my legacy. I have one that I don’t have.
Linda Lorelle: [00:16:10]You have a beautiful daughter.
James Brown: [00:16:13] Yes.
Linda Lorelle: [00:16:13]There with your wife Michelle and a beautiful daughter Sarah.
James Brown: [00:16:16] Sarah is nine. She is also the chief excitement officer. If I were the CEO as well we hope that she will be. And it sounds like today that she’d like to continue this when I’m no longer here.
Linda Lorelle: [00:16:29]So she gets what Daddy’s doing.
James Brown: [00:16:31] She completely gets it and in fact she’s already curated a couple life events on her own.
Linda Lorelle: [00:16:36]So explain to the audience what that means when you say she’s curated a couple of life events. What does that mean exactly.
James Brown: [00:16:41] Yes. So again we’ve identified over 200 life events a curator in this case Sarah Brown curated a life event called the truth about Santa. It was about that time. And so Sarah went through what is the first in thinking about her at eight years of age when she was concerned about related sentence. She has her bullet points related to provide some context. The second area was what are the things you could say that would be encouraging to that person that’s getting to the truth about Santa. And then also what a thing you don’t want to say would be discouraging.
Linda Lorelle: [00:17:21]I wish I’d had that — Sarah’s curated entry when my daughter Lindsey got to that stage several years ago because I said and did all the wrong things.
James Brown: [00:17:36] I think the beauty of it as I saw her walking through the curation process at the age of eight and a half I could see her humanity trying to balance not only her needs as a and a half year old but also she was balancing the needs of her parents. So she has a more emotional intelligence to say she knows this has been a big deal for Mom to really get all of these gifts together. Once the light bulb went off she went to make sure that mom still didn’t feel like Christmas going to be any less for mom. There was now this truth about Santa.
Linda Lorelle: [00:18:13]She’s wise beyond her years.
James Brown: [00:18:15] She’s definitely got an old soul but it’s the same thing we want to do when we’re encouraging people for other situations. You want to appreciate the only person that’s going through. But everyone else that’s around is affected by that environment. And as a result the humanity starts to really pour out of this. Some of the life events that we’ve been working on lately have been related to some of the political environment really.
Linda Lorelle: [00:18:42]Can I ask you about that. Yeah.
James Brown: [00:18:43] What we have some of the topics. So it really began with some other issues with Starbucks that they were experiencing with the young man that was arrested in the store. And so we did a series of experiences of racism as an African-American, as a Latina. This was the coming out of the game individual. So when this has disabilities we went through the entire range to say it’s not just an isolated issue with African-Americans. There are lots of groups that feel this disenfranchisement disenfranchisement from time to time. And of course the political environment with things really getting heightened with the deportation issues with the caravan all the political acrimony that’s going on. It’s almost as if people were saying Can we just stop for a second before things really get out of control and get back to focusing on more of the things that we have in common versus the things that were different. And so we’re hoping this will become a healing process over the next months and hopefully not years hopefully months that people get a stronger appreciation. We want to be right at the center of those conversations so we can actually understand and encourage each other and get back to the things that brought us together as friends family and colleagues.
Linda Lorelle: [00:20:08]Who are the people that you reach out to to curate something like that?
James Brown: [00:20:14] Yes so Dr. Joel long at the Indiana Indian University is our head of psychology. And so he provides guidance on what he calls the 14 points of proper encouragement or the anatomy of encouragement. And we use those guide points to make sure that all the content that is being developed through that model for all of the what I call third rail topics. Things that could potentially have dire circumstances. Our psychologist has screened all of those topics so Dr. Wong has written on many of those topics relate to suicide prevention suicide alcoholism.
James Brown: [00:21:01] With me two men we have several encouragement graduated to sexual assault in the news lately that we’ve had related to in entertainment and politics, etc. We thought we had to address those head on and in most situations we actually go to people that have either a direct line experience or consulting to make sure that we’re right on point with that content.
Linda Lorelle: [00:21:25]That’s fantastic. It really is.
James Brown: [00:21:28] I’ve had at least five women that have come to me since we had the hearings and have talked about their own experience.
Linda Lorelle: [00:21:34]The Kavannaugh hearings.
James Brown: [00:21:35] Yet even relatives of mine have talked about the fact that they’ve too to have gone through some of these experiences and you know your heart just breaks. And for me it’s not enough for your heart to break. You have to actually encourage that person to make sure they feel that you’re there for them. And a lot of times we will say gosh. You know my thoughts and prayers are with you. Well that’s great. And thoughts and prayers are fantastic on day two week two month two you want to still communicate to that person that you still here and still thinking about it exactly still care.
Linda Lorelle: [00:22:14]Exactly.
James Brown: [00:22:14] And so we want to ultimately help people be better parents better colleagues better managers and it’s something that we want to make it easy. We want to be that one place we can handle all of your encouragement needs. Here is exactly me at the end of the day. It’s all about the relationships that we have. I mean the idea of convenience is very very much a big part of most relationships. If you are there physically it’s easier to be there psychologically. This platform allows you to be there psychologically even if not there.
Linda Lorelle: [00:22:49]What I love about it..there are so many things I love about it. I gave a commencement speech to some high school students a couple months ago a few months ago in May or June. And one of the things that I said to them is words matter. All day all day every day. Words matter and choose your words carefully and wisely and use your words to encourage and uplift not denigrate and demonize.
James Brown: [00:23:29] Yeah.
Linda Lorelle: [00:23:30]And that’s what I love about this platform because just the fact that you’re encouraging people and you’re taking the time to understand the power of the words that are used in any given life event and how even if you’re well-meaning you might say the wrong thing and it will hurt that person.
James Brown: [00:23:55] Then you’ve got the other side of it where we have so many people nowadays who are deliberately using words to hurt.
Linda Lorelle: [00:24:04]And we’ve got to have something that combats that. And this does it.
James Brown: [00:24:08] Yeah I think it’s unconscionable today to not be accountable for the power of your position as well as the words you’re using. Right. I’m not talking about just from a political perspective you know as a parent you say every day is going to be played back either in real time or years later. So would you say. I think that again the power of words and that they matter is a non-trivial statement. They are everything right. As human beings we’re not like the other mammals that walk and crawl the earth. We have a sophisticated system here of communication and it’s what separates us from the dogs and cats is our ability to communicate. So if that’s the case that higher level of. Communication is going to be the thing that matters.
James Brown: [00:25:06] It really truly does. And we all know it we just take it for granted sometimes that you can say whatever we want to. But there is there’s always a price to be paid for something that is not willing to.
Linda Lorelle: [00:25:19]Kudos to you for following your passion following your vision. Thank You, Michelle, for pushing him to do it because it’s going to make the world a better place. I have no doubt. I think this is going to be huge and I am thrilled to have had you come and share this time with us on Our Voices Matter. This voice particularly matters.
James Brown: [00:25:41] Very kind of you and I will tell you that you know along the way you were one of those voices as well that helped me to continue to stay focused. There’ve been moments like gosh this seems like such a different concept and because it’s never been done. There are moments when as an entrepreneur at 51 for the first time in my life it’s like gosh what am I doing. But I appreciate all the people that have been ironically enough encouraging me to continue to push for and make this thing.
Linda Lorelle: [00:26:08]Because you’re on to something that’s that’s important I think is going to make a lot of difference a major difference in a lot of lives and we look forward to continuing to watch the growth of Encourage x. And we’ll have you back for sure. Awesome.
James Brown: [00:26:24] I’d love that.
Linda Lorelle: [00:26:26]Thanks so much for sharing this time with us for giving our guest permission to speak and for having the courage to listen with an open mind. I’m Linda Lorelle reminding you that our voices matter.