Stranger 96, Day 96 - Meet Alisha

Stranger 96, Day 96 – Meet Alisha, the “Smile That Serves”

Today’s Stranger is another one of the security personnel at my building (the other was Chandler, Stranger 13). I’ve always appreciated her smile as I left the building giving an energetic, “have a great weekend!” or “have a great evening!”

She’s always got a big smile on her face, so as I left today, I wanted to get to know her better.

Meet Alisha, 23

Who are you?

“I am a soldier of the United States Army Reserve. I’m a security guard at Securitas. I am a girlfriend of Stephen B. And I’m me, I guess!” She laughs with a big smile.

I’m curious, and this may seem like a silly question, but why are you part of the Reserves?

“I originally joined the Reserves because I wanted to be close to my family, and I felt like if I went active, I wouldn’t be able to just be there when they needed me there. But I could still serve my country. So, I originally saw it as the best of both worlds. I guess it kind of still worked itself out. I still got to deploy. I still get all of my treatments and everything’s covered.”

Yeah, you still get to serve your country. I like the way you said that. It’s pretty important to you.

“Definitely. My mom, my dad, my sister, grandpa, my great grandpa, all of us served.”

What do you love about America, and why do you want to continue serving?

“Well, I don’t know too much about other countries, but I know, here, there isn’t anything that I can’t do. I hear a lot that you can’t do that everywhere. Just the fact that I can do that here, and everyone else can do that, I just want to protect that part of the country.”

“It has its bad parts, but it also has really good parts.” She takes a pause to say goodbye to someone leaving. “Have a good day!” she says with a smile.

“I honor the part of the country that allows me to be myself. I will protect that part of the country.”

That’s awesome. So thinking about what you can do. What is something that you can/ want to do?

“Hmm. I think my dream is to work with inmates, and work on prison reform. I feel like you don’t always have to arrest someone for everything that they do. But there should be different avenues. Some things are just like a behaviorial thing. That’s what I want to do — figure out a way to create, like, a program where it’s not going to go… just showing you the better way of doing things, or helping you condition you to do it the better way.”

So when you think about that dream in helping them, what is something specific that you want to help with? What are some of things that you want do to help those already in jail?

“Them? They kind of already have some of the programs that I wanted to do — already in there. Like, helping them with education. Opening doors for, like, you know you’re about to get out soon within the next two years, there are programs you can start working or making connections to work. So you’re not just here stuck out on your own; you don’t know what you’re doing. I guess just to extend on that. Make more programs. Yeah.”

I also think about recidivism (a person’s relapse into criminal behavior). Sometimes, that happens because society “rejects” or ostracizes former-criminals preventing them to properly assimilate with society. I’m curious what are some things we can do as a society to enable/ “allow” or be open to them and help them into society.

“Well, from my experience, people who have a harder time getting back into society are people who are stamped with the word, ‘felon’. Because you can have a misdemeanor like you got arrested, it’s not as damaging as you being a felon. They would need to go through a program, or they need to go through something that has an equally as big stamp as ‘felon’ that is seen on the positive side. If they can find or make a program or a certificate or whatever it is that you need to do that can be seen as equally good as the opposite of how bad a felon is observed, then maybe they would probably be seen better in society. People would be more open to it. ‘Yes, you’re a felon, but you did this.'”

In a lot of ways, you like to serve others, and help them. What is something that someone could help you with?

“Hmm, if Sally Mae would wipe away all my student loans!”

Wait, what is that?

“If Sally Mae would wipe away all my student loans!” she laughs.

“That’s about it…” Haha “If they’d just vanish! If I woke up one day and they weren’t there. I’d love it.”

“But nothing. Just positivity. When people give and feed positivity that just keeps me going. I feed off people’s energy. As long as I’m seeing people smiling, and they’re happy, then I’m happy. When I see people cry, I’m like, ‘Oh no! What’s wrong?’ That’s probably the only thing I need. It’s just others to be good.”

Anything else that you really enjoy doing?

“Learning about new stuff.”

Anything in particular you’re learning right now?

“Right now? How to be healthy! That’s the journey me and my boyfriend are on. We’re trying to cut down on the fatty stuff… which is so hard! I don’t know how people just…” She sighs, and then chuckles.

“It’s a journey… But learning how to be physically and spiritually and all that other good stuff like cleansing ourselves and being better. And then, from there, just learning how to have fun. I’m a very serious person outside of the smiles and giggles, I’m pretty…” she motions with her hands ‘straight’.

“And he’s pretty serious, too, so that’s our, I guess, goal for this year. Or next year — to learn how to have fun.”

Any other thoughts? I’m curious… you have a boyfriend. How long have you guys been together?

“A year.”

What is something he would say that he loves about you?

“Hmm, my drive, and my smile. That’s probably it. That’s what he always says. He loves my drives — how ambitious I am about getting any and everything done. Even if it’s something as simple as laundry, we’re getting it done!” She laughs.

“That, and just the fact that I always want to smile.”

Well, thank you for smiling everyday when I see you.

After the handshake.

It was real nice to get to meet Alisha, and spend a few minutes doing so (vs. a few seconds saying goodnight). She was all smiles just as I know her. I thought it was fascinating that she was in the Reserves, too. She continues to want to serve others, and I felt that was inspiring. I would have never guessed her desire to help inmates. I’m curious why. Looks like I should ask her next time I see her. But hopefully, I won’t see her tomorrow, so she can finally get some time off. (She’s been working for 17 days straight, I think she said.)

Also, I somehow forgot to ask Alisha yesterday’s Stranger question, and for her question for tomorrow’s Stranger. D’oh! The other day, I forgot to press Record on the voice recorder. Today, forgot to ask her the Stranger question. So, I’ll have to relay yesterday’s question for tomorrow’s Stranger.

I think I was just caught up in Alisha’s energy and happiness. It’s quite infectious. 🙂

Meet Alisha. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 37, Day 37 - Meet Giovanni

Stranger 37, Day 37 – Meet Giovanni, the “Mentor and Father”

This morning, I had to go back to my office to do some work. I had yet another extremely busy weekend day — I wonder when this will stop? Anyways, knowing I was going to be busy, I was curious who was around the coffee shop, and if I could meet my Stranger for the day. I was outside when I noticed a gentleman sitting at a table. He just put down his phone and a little pad of paper. “Well, here goes nothing,” I sigh as tend to do when I make my pitch to a complete stranger. Happily, he accepted and was excited about connecting as strangers.

Meet Giovanni, 42

Who are you?

“Who am I, man…? I’m a former Marine. After giving to the Marine Corps, I ended up in Atlanta doing real estate. That’s what brought me here in 2003, and that’s what I continue to do. So it’s kind of similar thing that you’re doing because you know, being in real estate, if you do it properly, it’s a relationship business. I don’t think I’ve been as bold as what you’re doing right now. But it’s definitely… the last couple minutes have opened my eyes into maybe something I should be doing because I think it’s relatively interesting. Being in the relationship business, that I’m willing to take that step you just took to go ahead and connect with a total Stranger. But in any case, that’s what I do.”

What are your passions? Do you have any Dreams? If so, what are they?

“So definitely have passion. Obviously, you catch me here on a Sunday, one of the things I really enjoy doing is working with middle school students here at Buckhead Church. I’m half-way through a three-year commitment with 6, 7, and 8th graders. So this year, I’ve got my boys are in 7th grade. So I spend a couple hours each Sunday here just working with them, and showing up randomly in their lives outside of church here — just to be that one person in their life that is not paid to be in their life. Just help them, you know, walk the path towards a relationship with Jesus Christ, but ultimately to help them find a faith of their own that’s away from their parents who are obviously bringing them here every week. Their parents have their own faith. We believe we help them develop their own faith, and not just vision of Jesus and God that is along the lines of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, so to speak. That’s been really rewarding. That’s been a huge passion. You know, helping people. Every real estate scenario is different. That’s definitely a passion.”

“As far as dreams, having a newborn son has changed a lot. Changed a lot of my focus. A lot of my focus recently has been what’s my legacy. What am I going to leave for him? What do I leave for him if I were to die tomorrow? What is there? It’s a rather emotional journey because when you really start to think about those things, you can’t…” He laughs. “We might think like we’re all the way… like we’ve accomplished a bunch of stuff so far in our life. But man, it kind of hits you hard when you really think about ‘what am I really leaving behind?’ Financially, spiritually… just your imprint on the world. And then you just come to the realization that we’re all going to die, and we probably don’t know when that’s going to happen, but we’re running out of time. You gotta get going. It’s been somethings I’ve been in deep thought about — a few weeks actually.”

“So obviously my passion, my one thing, is to leave behind a legacy that he would be proud of, and he can choose to run with it if he wants to.”

What inspired you to work with middle schoolers?

“Being a part of this church community, one of the things that they encourage us to do is to serve in some capacity. I took a while to figure out where I want to be, but I felt like my life growing up, that stage in my life, that middle school stage, was… I really had a choice to make where I could go the path of being in a not-so-desirable position. I grew up without having a father, not having a mother, so I had a lot of freedom to make choices – either good or bad. That was a stage in my life where I decided to get into sports, and it was only because there was a mentor there. Wasn’t really a mentor, but a next door neighbor who just kind of pushed me in the right direction. I looked at all the different things at the church where we could be more effective at or where not only give us the opportunity to pour into them, but pour back into us. My wife and I do it together. She’s got 7th grade girls. It’s an amazing program.”

What’s a challenge that you learned working with middle schoolers?

“I mean, just understanding that they’re growing up in a completely different world we grew up in. Learning how to relate or just connect… technologically, they’re different. I wasn’t even really interested in Snapchat until I started learning about middle schoolers and seeing how they communicate with each other, and that’s a big part of it. Just understanding how they communicate with each other and how they’re going to want to be communicated to. They’re not so much talking on the phone, or necessarily, writing letters to each other. That’s a been a challenge. Then, just trying to find out how you can show up in their life randomly, and just be that person that they can trust. It’s a process which is why I think the leadership asked us to commit to three years. Last year what kind of like… a big cluster. They were kind of all over the place and unruly, and over time, they’re starting to trust you, and they’re starting to lean on you a little bit more.”

“I think another challenge, I think to answer your question, is patience. To just trust in the process. The process of a 3-year commitment that’s laid out for is going to turn into a life-long relationship with some of these kids. You’ve got to be patient and trust.”

We talked about how to leverage technology to better connections with our audience. We also talk about how commitment underlines the importance of appreciating a process of change. It’s not just a simple switch. Change and connecting is a constant practice.

“You’re walking down the street, and you’re just saying, ‘hi, how are you doing?’ It’s just a standard greeting, but nobody really cares. I thought about it this week, what if I just started stopping everytime somebody said that, and I started engaging with them in conversation. They’d probably be like, ‘how are you doing? why are you talking to me because I don’t really want to know.’ Then why did you just say, ‘how are you doing?’ It’s just a weird part of our culture as Americans that we do this.”

What’s a Life Lesson you’ve learned working with these middle schoolers that you really want to impart on your infant son?

“One of the things that I learned is just watching them, more or less. I guess that they have parents that are comfortable and confident enough to let them go through this process on their own instead of constantly wanting to protect them. For me, I’ll just have to remind myself and remember that when he gets to that age that hey, it’s going to be important for him to connect with other middle schoolers and kids of his age and start to get away from the foundation that we’re laying. Start to learn about himself. There are parents, not necessarily in our group, that are just so protective. They’re so concerned about what language is being used in certain areas. At some point, you have to understand reality that if you attempt to let your child grow up in a bubble, I just feel that it… in itself is holding him back. Things that they’ll eventually be introduced to whether in high school or college or the military or something. Just to keep an open mind and understand that this time we have with them now, we’re just protecting them, and he’s everywhere with us… enjoy it because there’s going to be a time we’re going to have to let go… and we’re going to want to let go.”

We talk briefly about what “normal” means for kids these days. Instead of “normal”, we should inspire for kids to be authentic to themselves.

“To be prepared to have a broad range of experiences. The biggest thing for us, as we see other children who are going through… what things can we pick up that would help us as parents along the way. Be better parents… You’re not going to be perfect, but just to learn things because they’re all sorts of books out there, manuals, people who give you all kinds of advice. Till you do it, you’re just doing what you feel is right and hope that you’re doing the right thing, and not destroying them. I think having a strong foundation with a good community of folks who love God and love each other… it’s really not much more you can ask for. We’re all designed to be in community with each other, and that’s now in this day and age, you really have to seek it. Because we can totally get tunnel vision and stay engrossed in our phones, and everything now obtained at home through the internet. We don’t have to go to the movies because we can download it. We can have groceries delivered to us. We can have food delivered to us. So it’s an interesting paradigm shift that we’re going through as a society.”

“When you travel over seas, you don’t see that. They’re so excited about having a Bible because they’re just like, ‘this is the greatest thing ever’. They have nothing else in the community. They might not even have running water. They see you coming with a Bible and they’re like that’s the greatest thing ever because they’ve got that connection now to God. We could sit here and see 15 different things we can go and consume. Whereas in some other countries, the only thing they can consume is what they can get out of the river that’s a mile away. It’s crazy to think that we have that on this Earth. But this is one of the reasons why we’re perceived to be such a great country, and I love it. But it can catch you by surprise. I think it leads to complacency. Leads to laziness. That’s some things we’ll have to constantly battle and to overcome.”

Giovanni actually answered Jeff’s question (Stranger 36) about what impact to leave behind — the legacy. So I asked him what Mike, Stranger 35, asked from the day before — what would it take for your to talk to 100 strangers in 100 days?

I would likely need an accountability partner to help me… to hold me accountable. In a way, I do talk to a 100 strangers a day, but not at the level you do it. It’s usually about business.” We talk about talking to someone without the motivation of selling.

“I already do it… probably do it in a week, but it’s always in the context of ‘how can I help you with your real estate question’. Yeah, accountability! I think accountability is what a lot of us need. It helps me. Not that I need somebody to hammer me, hammer me. But anytime you’re going on a journey with somebody else whether it’s working out with someone at the gym or learning a new skill or hobby, it’s always having the leverage of having 3 or 4 people together is more powerful then staying it alone. Accountability is the one thing that would help me do that.

What would you like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

“I’m always a big fan of ‘who two or three people you know that I should know?'”

Giovanni also provided a second question — “The greatest book that you’ve read this last year?”

After the handshake.

I kinda lied at the beginning when I said he was excited to connect as Strangers. Listening to Giovanni talk, we weren’t really Strangers at all. Instead, we were connected as people living in the community.

It was great to talk to Giovanni about all that he’s passionate about — especially how religion has shaped his life and continues to influence him and those he interacts with. The lessons he’s learned, too, working with middle schoolers really resonated with me. His thoughts about learning Snapchat and how to use it is key as he wants to connect with those he mentors. It’s not about him and what he’s engrained with if he’s trying to help shape these kids’ lives. Instead, it’s learning how best to leverage technology to speak to the kids. It’s about knowing his audience to deliver his message and influence them.

The second point about patience and the process is also very important. In an age of “we need this now!” or rather, “we want this now!”, patience and trust in the process is important to appreciate. Rarely are things ever a quick-fix or a quick-influence. Instead, there’s a process that comes with transformation… especially meaningful ones. It’s about how to sustain those changes so influences can take hold, and to make change requires consistent effort/ practice.

Pleasure to meet Giovanni this morning, and hope you got/ get a chance to meet him, too.

Meet Giovanni. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 19, Day 19 - Meet Rickey

Stranger 19, Day 19 – Meet Rickey, the “Passionate Medical Dreamer”

So I’ve had a rough 8+ days so far having severely strained my neck. In fact, last night was real difficult to sleep — one of the most painful sleeps I’ve ever had. I was in so much pain, I thought about going to the ER, but was able to knock myself out briefly and make it to 8AM to go to the nearest Urgent Care facility. It was at Urgent Care where I would meet today’s Stranger.

Real quick about the Stranger, he was actually my x-ray technologist. That is, he took x-rays of my neck. While I was standing there getting my x-rays taken, the technologist was very friendly and mentioned to me that while he was entering my personal information, he noticed we had the exact same birthday. Fast forward a couple x-rays and couple minutes later, I shared with him 100 Strangers, 100 Days, and asked if he wanted to be the Stranger for the day. Not surprisingly because of his energy and kindness and openness, he was up for it.

Meet Rickey, 31

Who are you?

(I have to paraphrase for the first few questions because I had neither my notepad and pen, nor my phone to record the interview when I started getting to know Rickey.)

“I’m a husband. Former military serviceman. I’m a father of two.”

Rickey expands on his military experience, “… in the Air Force… spent eight years in there… worked on a lot of fighter planes, I did drones that you see out there on TV — worked on those. And now, I’m a student and working at Smartcare.”

He mentions to me how he was actually born in Germany to military parents. Also, he shares how he became an x-ray technologist — simplistically it was easy for him to get into, and has been a great gateway into the medical field. (More on this later with his dream.)

After hearing more about his military experience, I wanted to dive right into what he’s learned. What’s a Life Lesson you’d like to share?

“Connect and get to know those in a similar situation as you.” Rickey explains how he learned to connect with those he served with in the military. He cited the 12-hour days, 6-days-a-week schedule while serving, and how it really forced him to get to know his colleagues very well. He goes on to share how he was able to connect with them and learn about their diverse backgrounds and upbringings.

Today, Rickey still keeps up with many of his fellow service men.

What was a Life-Defining Moment for you?

“Becoming a father for the first-time.” Rickey’s quick to say this, and I realized in that very moment of 2-3 seconds of answering that there was a strong appreciation and gravity of becoming a father.

He shares how it was at this moment that he had to provide for someone else, not just himself.

Looking back at your time in the military and fatherhood, how has one impacted the other?

“Definitely being in the military made me a better father. When I first started… when I first became a father, I was doing military, and I sucked at it. My oldest daughter, she’ll tell you, ‘you weren’t good at it’, and for the most part, she wasn’t either!” He laughs at this.

“The military forced me to become an adult. Forced me to be a man, and to handle my responsibilities the correct way. And so now, I’m better for it — a better person, a better father.”

Do you have any big life regrets?

“Not in the sense of ‘I wish I could have done this better’, but definitely I would’ve joined the military before college. Student loans are RIDICULOUS right now.”

I ask him if there’s anything else… any other life regrets that might come to mind. Rickey responds, “Not really. I like the way life’s played out for me. It’s good. I joined the military — got school paid for. I’m married. I’m happy. I have two daughters. They’re wonderful, they’re great. I love life!”

What’s a good lesson or teachable moment for anyone who’s expecting to be a father?

“Patience.” He smiles and laughs briefly.

“Patience is a virtue. Just be patient.” He shares how his first year with his first daughter was really “trying”. He became a father to his first daughter when she was 7, so after the infant and toddler years. It was with his second daughter (first biological) that he really appreciated the need to be patient.

Rickey then adds, “it’s a beautiful experience — watching your kids grow. How they come into their personalities…” He smiles and holds his hand to his chin like he’s recalling his children’s growth.

What did you dream about last night? (Thanks to Katherine, Stranger 18)

Rickey laughs and thinks about this for a second before telling me how he was dreaming of what his next step would be. He’s appreciated his current position and opportunity, but it’s clear he’s looking for something bigger next. I realize for a second that I should build on this, but before I can, he wanted to ask his question to tomorrow’s Stranger…

What would you like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

“Where have you been?” This was an interesting question… seems like Rickey is as intrigued about how people respond to an otherwise uncommon question. I’m now very curious how tomorrow’s Stranger responds to this. I’ll have to make sure I ask in an incredulous tone, not possessive boyfriend kind of way. Haha

Now, stepping back, I asked him what was his dream.

“My dream is to finish x-ray school, and go back to get my bachelor’s. Then from there, enroll in PA school. My goal is to become a surgical PA.”

“I like how the body works. In x-ray, we’re in the back, we don’t get to see the action. They call us in to take a picture, then we go back out so the doctor can finish whatever it is. I like to see how the body works. I want to see the inside — I want to touch and feel the organs, and to put it all back together. That intrigues me.”

This was fun to learn about Rickey. As he describes this dream and goal, his face lights up and he’s using hand gestures. For a moment, I ignore the pictures in my head of organs (no thanks), and I stare and absorb what he’s sharing with me. He’s sharing a real passion and interest with me. You can see this in his facial expression. You can hear it in his voice. You can see it in how his whole body moves to show me how he would operate.


After the handshake.

The final question about Rickey’s dream was special. Or rather, his response was special. This. This is what’s so special about connecting with Strangers — with a simple question, you can see how people are so optimistic and excited about their futures. They’re excited about something that they love, and they want to share that excitement. Indeed, I felt the excitement with Rickey, too.

The moment we met, I realized Rickey’s kindness, and some energy about his happiness with life. He didn’t seem like he was content with his life to stay this way forever, but instead, he seemed like he had a realization that he was on his path. It was… something interesting to just hear his progression over the last several years through the military, through fatherhood, through studies, and beyond. I’m thrilled I got to know him better, and I wish there was a way to have captured and transcribed his energy and passion as he described his Dream.

Meet Rickey. No longer a Stranger.