Featuring Kelly Woolfolk
Kelly Woolfolk is an attorney (LL.M., Berkeley Law) with a variety of work and life experiences. After her initial foray into the entertainment industry as an actor in Spike Lee’s School Daze, she began her career in the legal department of Virgin Records in Beverly Hills, a stint that led her to pursue her first law degree. Upon earning her J.D. from Howard Law, she worked first for the federal government and later represented private employers and clients in real estate and commercial transactions. Her favorite work as an attorney to date is as counsel for a television production company in Los Angeles, where her creative interests flourish. Kelly also consults with a community college in the San Francisco Bay Area and is looking forward to sharing her knowledge and experiences as an adjunct professor in the years ahead. Kelly lives in Oakland, California, with her son, Andrew.
We had a chance to interview author Kelly Woolfolk, whose essay “Finding Home” appears in All the Women in My Family Sing. This is what we learned…
What inspired you to write your essay for this anthology?
I was inspired (nudged) to write by my dear friend and literary star, Sarah Manyika. Sarah and I were chatting as we strolled to lunch one day in San Francisco and she simply stated “Kelly, I think you should write an essay.” I had no idea what she was talking about or from where the seemingly random suggestion emerged but we chatted some more and I accepted the invitation. Thoughts about what I experience as a mother permeate my consciousness daily, and witnessing what my son is experiencing and how he interprets the world around him inspired the words themselves.
What is one of the most memorable challenges you have experienced as a woman of color in the twenty-first century?
Without a doubt or shred of hesitation my most challenging feat day to day is raising my son in the San Francisco Bay Area. My son is not the challenge; he is a gift and a delight. It’s the insane cost of living, the doing it alone (HUGE shout-out to my parents, though, for their loving and unfailing support—much of what I do would not be possible without them helping so vitally). Raising a child in a time of not only astronomical costs of living from a financial perspective but also from emotional and psychological ones is tough. I came into the 21st century equipped with what I believed were fine tools to carve out a career and life that would please and sustain me and my child. But it never seemed to be enough. I even went back to school at one of the world’s top universities and got a super fancy deluxe Master’s Degree in International Law. Still not enough. Where were the employers beating down my door? Where was my golden ticket to Easy Street? All I heard were crickets. So I slowly began to create my own world: a new career trajectory, planned residence in a peaceful place, with no daily news of bludgeoning or bombs, hate or harassment. I now have a revised master plan and no longer wait for a reply to my submitted resume and job application. Raising my child will be what I always wished for: an international affair filled with adventure and continuous learning, often just by being. Lovely.
Give an example of women’s roles in today’s social justice movement.
As with other significant historical and civic events, women participate in all aspects of the social justice movement, from those in the public eye, leading charges against injustice near and far, to unknown souls licking envelopes to share information and solicit support. Whether we know their names or not, women are habitually central figures in efforts to improve lives. I don’t consider myself an activist and do not often engage in broad, public displays of advocacy. Where I feel I am most effective in impacting social justice is in my daily tasks and interactions with people, whether professionally or personally. I don’t necessarily see any movement or cause as separate from the way we conduct ourselves as individuals. In fact, all the rallying, campaigning and championing for causes is useless if individuals do not change their patterns of behavior to incorporate socially-conscious ideas into habitual living. Hopefully the essays in this anthology will encourage all people to reflect, then to behave in ways that support the lives most of us desire to experience: those rich with love, laughter, peace and wellbeing.
What have your experiences been in leadership as a woman of color?
In some of my professional roles, such as attorney and professor, I am routinely called upon to provide answers, offer guidance and advise on navigating difficulties. I find that the manner of addressing and counseling people through stressful circumstances and new discoveries is at times more valuable than the work or lesson itself. It is how we deliver the lesson, how we demonstrate the decorum that is needed to manage a challenge that often most profoundly impacts the recipient of the information. Leadership is not necessarily about telling people how to succeed at a given objective, rather I find that it is guiding them to answers in a way that demonstrates for them how certain approaches, strategies or behaviors can improve their chances of success. My goal as “leader” in this regard is achieved when my clients and students take what I have taught or demonstrated and apply those tools themselves, successfully, like birds out of a nest.
What do you most hope the readers will take away from this book?
I hope that readers will recognize some of their own stories and voices in these works. I hope that, if so, they will feel more empowered and more heard, more willing to step into places in their lives and speak up there, live there more boldly and less fearfully. I hope that readers may offer more support to others and be more forgiving of themselves when they read that so many also struggle and wonder and yearn and thrive. I hope that they feel hope, redeemed.