First, many thanks for all of the positive feedback on Issue #1 of the Monday Morning Mojo. This is definitely a labor of love for me.
A Woman and A Mission
As we celebrated Women’s Day last week, there is one woman who has inspired me over the past few years I feel deserves greater recognition. That woman’s name is Antoinette Brown, and we met over the most unlikely of circumstances.
Antoinette is a hairdresser living in Detroit, Michigan, and while I would love to get my haircut by her someday, that is not how we connected. We were introduced to each other after I saw an article online in November 2017 featuring Antoinette’s appeal to Donald Trump for help. Wendell Brown, her son, was in prison in Chongqing, China, and she was seeking the former President’s assistance with his case. Antoinette’s article appeared at the same time as a story about the US government helping with the release of three UCLA basketball players who had been in detention near Shanghai, China for shoplifting. Antoinette was smart enough to leverage this time to generate media interest in her pursuit of freedom for her son. She did this like a tactful stateswomen, never naming or shaming anyone in the process.
Antoinette is as unassuming as anyone you might meet. She works hard at her beauty salon, takes care of her family, loves her broader community and is a proud Michigander. When her son Wendell, a standout football athlete from Detroit King High School and then Ball State University, decided to go to China to teach Chinese kids American football, she did not stop him. China was far away, but she always supported Wendell’s dreams.
It was all going well for Wendell in China, until it wasn’t. On the night of September 24, 2016, Wendell attended a birthday party for a friend at a bar in Chongqing. What happened next changed Wendell’s life forever. Wendell was minding his own business when a man pushed him from behind, down a couple of steps. Wendell followed by defending himself from the guy and another man. Wendell was subsequently arrested and pleaded innocent on the grounds of self-defense, and for reasons we still don’t understand, he ended up spending nearly three years in jail. For Wendell and his surrounding family, spending more than one day in prison so far away from home was a tragedy. The silver lining, however, came from Wendell’s faith, a smart, unstoppable mother who tirelessly campaigned for Wendell’s release, and a community that formed around Antoinette’s pursuit for Wendell’s freedom.
After reading about Antoinette’s campaign for her son, I reached out to see how I could help. Working and living in China for more than 20 years at the time, and as a fellow, proud Michigander, I wanted to offer whatever support I could. What I found was a community of fantastic volunteers already working closely with her. Leading the group in Detroit was Dan Redford, a good friend, someone very knowledgeable about China, head of the Michigan State Beijing Alumni Association and an all-around great guy. Sheree Hollis, a deep-hearted woman who was living in Shanghai, but originally from Atlanta, was also helping serve as an advisor to Antoinette. Sophia Wu, an outstanding lawyer who was very committed to Wendell, was leading the legal defense. And Matt Liston, a talented documentarian and fellow Ball State alum, who documented Antoinette’s campaign and Wendell’s plight, as well as raising money for Wendell’s release. There were others offering to help, but Antoinette had a way of figuring out who to engage and who to politely decline. She sought advice better than any client I have ever serviced and took responsibility for making the final decisions.
On September 24, 2019 Wendell was released. His sentence was reduced on good behavior and skillful arguments presented by Sophia. What was clear, however, was the direct and indirect influence orchestrated by Antoinette. One woman, a mother, who campaigned aggressively for Wendell’s release without ever offending anyone.
Here is a clip of both Antoinette and Wendell sharing their story with Fox2 Detroit. It is 11 minutes, full of positivity, and tells the story of Wendell’s experience and Antoinette’s influence.
If you have extra time, this TED Talk with Wendell and Matt Liston provides a bit more color to Wendell’s story. And stay tuned for more to come on this from Wendell, Antoinette and Matt Liston.
Vaccines and the Pandemic
Sharing this perspective on vaccines and the pandemic from my former boss, lifetime friend and mentor Chris Graves. Chris was interviewed on CNN a few times working to convince people getting a Covid-19 vaccine is not a “one size fits all” message. Chris founded and leads a growing practice at Ogilvy, the Ogilvy Center for Behavioral Science, and he is working on some of the most fascinating aspects of the public relations business today.
And from a communications point of view, how to simplify complex topics to engender trust, here is more from Chris.
You’re Never Too Old…
Sharing this inspirational article brought to my attention by Simon Webb in Ogilvy’s Beijing office about a New York public relations veteran nearing 100 years old and still going strong. For those in public relations, “The Marvelous Mortimer Matz” is a wonderful read.
And You’re Never Too Young …
To close out this week’s Monday Morning Mojo and for a bit more inspiration for the week, my daughter and son sent me this fun video clip trending across social media channels. It is the acceptance speech by Alan Kim, who won the 26th Annual Critics Choice Awards “Best Young Actor” for his role in the Korean film, Minari. Enjoy.
Thank you for reading and have a great week!