Betty of the Month: April/May 2016

This month’s Betty is Ms. Sarah Fortin. Sarah and I met while both working for a global, faith based nonprofit.  Our chronic sarcasm, quick wit, and disdain for hypocrisy made us hit it off right away.  You know when you meet women who not only share some perspective with you, but push you to think about things differently?  Or better yet, encourage you because they believe in your gifts?  Miraculously, they don’t see your success as their downfall?  They are devoid of the hateration that our beloved Mary J. Blige sings about?  That’s Sarah.

This crazy beauty has made me tilt my face up to the sky and belt out a deep belly laugh based on her keen analysis of sexual politics, asshole politicians, assholes in general, and the bittersweet joys of motherhood.  What makes Sarah a quintessential Betty is her ability to look back on the hell she has been through and call the steaming embers necessary, beautiful, blessings.  If you are lucky enough to talk with her, Sarah offers you biting humor with a pin up phone sex voice.

As we were talking I found out that a couple of Sarah’s tops strengths on the Strengthsfinder were Woo and Strategic with essentially means she can sell afro sheen to a bald white man one minute, then turn around and offer analysis on behavioral health research the next.  Love.

I caught up with Sarah while she was on a road trip to Wisconsin.  She had just finished vacationing in Florida and was heading to meet some friends there.  Her husband, Doug was driving so that she could fully engage in our mischief. It was divine and it was further confirmation that there is no one else like her. Why? Because this is her compact:

i want to look cheap

Sarah is straight outta Minnesota, and her accent tells you so.  Nothing over the top but it’s present enough for you to notice and keep asking her questions just so you can hear her talk. I respect and appreciate her views on motherhood and raising daughters.  I said motherhood versus parenthood because we talked about the ways in which sexism and domesticity have endured over the years to impose bullshit expectations and self-destructive standards on women.  Immaculate houses, toned bodies, smiling faces.  That brand of chronic optimism and downright denial that has stolen many a women’s mind.  To that Sarah offers these insights:

  1. I’m proud of my little gunt.
  2. I don’t find my whole identity in motherhood.
  3. Be ok with being a wreck all the time and you’ll be just fine.

And my personal favorite, which I may have turned in to a T-shirt, bumper sticker and desktop wallpaper:

Motherhood Is A Mind Fuck

Isn’t that delicious?  Whether you’re a parent or not you simply must be able to relate to the unthinkable worry and inexplicable peace of loving another human being that deeply.  Just give it some thought.  And, to speak truth to a topic that’s been used to divide women into Have’s and Have Not’s, pitching motherhood as the thing to have, the ultimate function of a woman, and say hey homies, this is a mindblowing shit show?  It’s empowering and so very accurate.  Sarah says:

“Motherhood makes you feel the most joy, pain, heartache, and love all at the same time. Also tired and weary beyond word, but most happy and peaceful down to your soul. Helps to know that I wasn’t alone, manifestation of true love of another human.”

I’m eager to tuck Sarah’s pearls of wisdom into my pockets because she had to be faithful, strong and brave beyond words when her youngest, Sunny was born with a hole in her heart and spent the first 7 months of her life in the hospital. As I said Sarah and I are on opposite sides of the country. While I am confident that there were breakdowns and freak outs, when we spoke/communicated I didn’t see or hear panic in her voice or tone. But this woman stood in that blistering uncertainty, swallowed bitter pill of having to leave her new baby at the hospital to heal and recover and came out like a phoenix. Like a phoenix with a nursing bra under her war torn fatigues.  She’s amazing.

I asked Sarah what she loved most about your daughters. Regarding Sonja, the eldest: She’s a lover and super sensitive. I want her to be able to handle challenges that comes her way, and learn to protect herself emotionally. She is her own person, and I admire that.

Additional evidence that Sarah is such an incredible mom: Sonja asked her for a faux hawk, and Sarah obliged. Period. No lecture about her hair and what a little girl is supposed to look like. No warnings about how people won’t think she’s pretty.  Just a quick trip to the shop and boom, Sonja is rockin’ her faux hawk with mad confidence and shiny smiles to boot.  Sonja now wants an undercut, complete with slick, tapered edges and some line designs.  Sarah just found someone who can do it so Sonja about to be on a whole nutha level.

About Sunny, Sarah’s youngest, she says: She’s such a thinker.  She is super focused (I do not possess this quality! She got it from her dad) with intense drive. I know it’s what kept her alive when she was born. She as a longer attention span than me!

Our conversation moved on to my traditional battery of questions.  Check it out.

What’s your jam; who are your musical messiahs?

Sarah’s deep love of music meant she wasn’t going to just offer up a song or two.  Oh no, y’all, She shared a playlist and commentary for your listening pleasure.

While Nicki Minaj’s Did it on ‘em would easily be her theme song she gathered a constellation of jams and grooves that are as deep and multifaceted as she is. Queue this up and read Sarah’s commentary as the tracks play.

Grip by Tessa Thompson. Because it’s hot AF, duh. But in all honesty, any kind of beat that remotely resembles a heartbeat gets me hot. This won’t be the last song on this list that has a heartbeat.

Get away by The Internet. I have a massive crush on Syd tha Kid. And that upright bass? We all feel like this scenarios sometimes. Great video, great song, stop acting like you don’t want to lick your speakers.

Babylon by SZA feat. Kendrick Lamar. The tempo, the lyrics, it all keeps you hooked and guessing, only further enhanced by Kendrick’s rhythm and writing. SZA’s voice is in my bloodstream and you need to just stop what you’re doing and listen to this whole album, okay bye. “Aren’t you tired, always making amends….bring on the thorny crown, crucify me.” Lawdy yes.

M.A.A.D. City by Kendrick Lamar feat MC eiht. Kendrick is obviously one of the best story tellers of our time, across all genres and all mediums. Transparent and wise beyond his years, he relays the complex human comings and goings of real people–whether you want to label their activities good or bad–inviting the outside viewer to see what he’s seen and feel what he feels. And it works. His verse in the first half of this song had me hitting repeat for months.

Two Weeks by FKA Twigs. This song’s reverberating sound is what an orgasm with your lover feels like. But in song form. In your ears.

Stay Right There by Aby Wolf. I listen to this song when I’m deeply sad and deeply happy. Deeply lonely and deeply content. I feel like, if you could scrape away all my shitty ways, clear off the glass and look into my soul to view what I’m really like inside, you’d hear this song.

You Got Me by The Roots feat. Jill Scott. Jill Scott sings the song she wrote for Erykah Badu’s album version, and this live version really has some power and life to it. Jill Scott wrote the verse, and it’s been one of my fave renditions from this album for years.

Did it on ’em by Nicki Minaj. This song came into my life when I was picking myself off the floor, dusting myself off, and began living again after I had my second child, who had a very rough start in life. Months in the hospital, heart failure, open-heart surgery, small airways–that child almost died a couple of times and damn near took me with her. I became a very fierce mama during that time. I really had to take life by the horns, and keep marching in order to get us all to survive. And it by no means looked pretty. But I took my marching orders from Nicki, and this song captures the fierceness I breathed during that time.

7/11 by Beyonce. This is what I call a power song. You listen to it, you feel it’s power and positive energy, and you adopt it as your own and let it feed your internal power. In short, I listen to this song to help me get my ass on the treadmill, or to hype myself up for a long day of work. Gets me in the right head space.

Part II (On the Run) by Jay Z feat. Beyonce. One of my favorite love songs of recent years. It spells out imperfection that is passionate and committed to the long fight for love and life, however ugly that is sometimes.

LoveHate Thing by Wale feat. Sam Dew. This song has a little bit of something for everybody. Rap and a live band, with Sam Dew’s buttery voice. It captures the peaks of happiness and the depths of sadness all at once. Where can I get more of Sam Dew, by the way?

Lemme Know by Vince Staples feat. Jhene Aiko. Vince Staples is my new favorite– I even read Twitter just for him. The whole album is a must-listen, but this one is HOT.

The Zone by The Weeknd feat. Drake. I’m a little bit of a snob about being a superfan of The Weeknd before he was really big, and this song will tell you why. The heartbeat rhythm will make you take your pants off in about 3.4 seconds. What you do after that… film it and put it on the internet, you’ll get rich.

Brain by Banks. Banks is my shit. She. Is. My. Shit. The whole album was written from pieces of my soul, I swear. But this one got me through some heartache last summer, so it’s extra bloody, just for you.

F**kin Problems by A$AP Rocky feat. Drake, 2 Chainz, Kendrick Lamar. Well…it’s true. Plus, A$AP and Kendrick nail it. Also, Drake messes up his verse, so it’s funny.

Flashing Lights by Kanye West feat. Dwele. Have I been listening to this song since 2008? Yes. Yes I have. The whole thing…And that video. Damn yes.

Human by Daughter. This is what I listen to when I’m working to repair my severely broken marriage.

Bad Girls by M.I.A. Another power song. I need her to teach me how to do that with my car.

Bank Head by Kelela. Run a hot bath and put this in your ears.

Gravel Pit by Wu-Tang Clan. This song by the classic Clan will put a spring in your step as you’re off to tackle your day. It kind of makes me feel like I’m in a movie and everything is working out for me.

Rosa Parks by Outkast. My kids love this one.

Ready Aim by Mali Music. There are times when I get wildly introspective and hermit-like, and I hole up in my room and sort through my thoughts as I sort through my laundry. I turn this up when that happens. Now I want to know what you all listen to when you do that.

Never Catch Me by Flying Lotus feat. Kendrick Lamar. Once again, Kendrick tells a story and makes you feel, carried along by the genius notes of Flying Lotus. The kids dancing bring life to senseless death, and make you think twice, three or six times about whatever you have to say about violence and murder in America.

They.Resurrect.Over.New. by Lupe Fiasco. Another great lyricist with excellent social commentary for our time brings you this energetic word. This song has set the rhythm for more than one of my days as I make little sense of life around me, and need to keep my mind uplifted, receptive, and productive.

Wake Up Little Sparrow by Lizz Wright. Last but definitely not least, I gift you with this sad lullaby that I sing to my girls at night. I started singing this to my youngest during one of her especially difficult hospital stays at the ripe age of 6 months old. It was probably more healing for me than for her, but they still have me sing it to them as they drift off at night, so I’ll take it.

More questions unfold…

First celebrity crush? Dolph Lundgren as He-Man in the He-Man Movie and Theo Huxtable.  Interesting combo, right.  That’s my girl.

And to close it out, a nice round of Kiss, Marry, Kill!

Looney Tunes: Bugs, Elmer, and Daffy Duck?

Sarah would:

  • Marry Elmer because he’s a provider.
  • Kiss Daffy because she loves a nerd
  • Kill Bugs because “I don’t need his pranks and his fuckery in my life.”

Disney Princess: Cinderella, Ariel, and Belle?

Sarah would:

  • Marry Cinderella because she would keep my house clean and I could
  • Kiss Belle because she knows how to have a good time
  • Kill Ariel because she is just dumb, she’s so stupid.  Write a note, bitch!  She “lacks strategic skills.”

Female Musical Powerhouses: Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, and Beyonce? Note she was mad as hell at me for making her choose among these three.

Sarah would:

  • Marry Beyonce! She’s got longevity, always keeping things interesting, major partner potential
  • Kiss Nicki Minaj because I’m too emotionally invested to kill her
  • Kill Rhianna because I can’t think about this anymore

In the spirit of reciprocity Sarah put me on speaker phone so her and her husband, Doug, could present me with a couple of scenarios

  1. Cole, Kendrick Lamar, singer Maxwell?

Brown Betty would:

  • Kiss J. Cole: He’s cute enough and has likely had time to craft his lip on lip skills.  I also dig his joint on loving your life for exactly what it is.
  • Maxwell – Kill. I went to his and Jill Scott’s concert and he made the crowd wait an hour before he got on stage. I don’t do diva shit.
  • Kendrick Lamar – Marry, marry, marry! Kendrick has a balance of intellect, consciousness and rage that would drive a lifetime of mind blowing convo.  What more could you want in a partner?

Doug, in true form, comes out with a witty and unexpected scenario:

1980’s Mel Gibson from Road Warrior

Marry! Protector extraordinaire.  I mean, kind of unclean, but I know I could roll thru the block unscathed and learn valuable survival skills.

1990’s Mel Gibson from Lethal Weapon era

Kiss.  I always think Mel and his character, Martin Riggs as one and the same.  And this character truly needed a kiss.  And a damn haircut.

2000’s Mel Gibson from Passion of the Christ era

Kill. This mofo has got to go because this mofo looks like a young twisted Colonel Sanders who most black folks see as a modern day overseer. Oh, hell no.  He gots to go.

Damn you, Doug.


Mel Gibson nightmares aside, I so enjoyed lifting up Sarah’s journey. Like all Betty’s she keeps trying, regardless of the outcome to find her way to free.  Thanks to my girl, Sarah for sharing herself with me, and now, you.  She says, “You’re welcome.”


Betty of the Month March 2016

It gives me immense joy, as well as tingles in unexpected places to introduce you to this month’s Betty. She meets all the criteria:

Soulful? CHECK!

Joyful? CHECK!

Brilliant? CHECK!

100% Real? ALL DAY , ERR DAY!

Let me introduce you to Liesl Santkuyl. I met Liesl in passing some time ago as happens in the nonprofit community.  I had the pleasure of getting to know her, serving the city along side her working with Stand for Children.  We have both since moved on to other positions but the love and respect I have for this blue eyed beauty has only grown.

Liesl grew up in Hartford, Wisconsin with a Venezuelan mom and a German dad.  Any time Liesl talks about her family, I get a little more understanding of how she came to be the badass Latina that she is.  She is that magical woman we all cling to that makes life beautiful by loving the absolute shit out of you thru belly laughs, supporting your every move and being your willing partner in crime on pretty much any occasion.  Case in point: Liesl help us win a jukebox race war at a local motorcycle bar.  The old bastards kept loading up country songs to drown out the hip hop and funk.  Liesl wasn’t having it.  Not only did she load up more tunes, she joined in an  impromptu Electric Slide right there in between the darts and the pool table. She’s so down, y’all. So so down.

A testament to her commitment to serve, Liesl joined the Peace Corps in Guatemala as well as working at a migrant health clinic. Liesl came to Tacoma after an intense job search, sending 157 resumes out to potential employers.  This was before email mind you, so she spent a killing on postage (this is another classic Liesl move; she just does what needs to be done).  She accepted a position as the first Health Educator at Sea Mar in Tacoma. She remembers getting told by her supervisor that wearing her bright dresses from Guatemala were inappropriate and “unprofessional.” She was crushed as many of us are when we are told that who we are (clothing, hair, language) must be left behind in order to find success. Never forgetting the damage done by racist and sexist policies, Liesl is the eternal advocate, friend and ally.  She has an uncanny ability to call bullshit and question authority in a tone as sweet as caramel cake.  I’m telling you it’s a talent!

Let me tell you how much i love this woman:  I suppressed my deep rooted Black girl tendencies to hike with her in the pouring down rain.  There I was, getting wet down to my unmentionables, dragging my LeBron’s through the mud, afro puff dripping because why?  Cuz it’s Liesl.  She has a deep connection to nature and it’s nothing short of amazing watching her engage with Mother Earth.

What are your greatest joys?

I experience joy every day; in my kids (Eli and Zane), in people, and in the present moment. I experience the world intensely and never take life for granted.

What will you do if Trump becomes president?

I’m moving to Venezuela! I have dual citizenship and would be on the first plane out of here.

Who was your first celebrity crush?

Madonna in the Like a Virgin video.  She was brash, non-conventional, and in your face. I loved it. I also fell in love with Kate Shugak, the protagonist in a series of books by Dana Stabenow. She is a real badass; an Aleut detective solving crimes in the Alaskan north.  And of course, Antonio Banderas, every Latina’s dream- the melty eyes, the voice, you can’t go wrong.

Who are your personal heroes?

My dear friend and colleague, Sara Irish.  She tells it exactly like it is.  She gives freely of herself and demonstrates a deep kindness. She has integrity and this boldness that I respect.  She has a great sense of humor and most importantly, she uses dirty words in everyday life!

Now for a round of Kiss, Marry, Kill.  Let’s start with Elmer Fudd,  Bugs Bunny, and Daffy Duck.  

I’d marry Elmer because well, I am already married to Elmer (lets out her famous laugh)! I’d kiss Bugs.  He’s charming and witty and would be my side piece.  I’d kill Daffy, to include plucking and roasting him.

How about Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Aniston and Sandra Bullock?

I’m sorry but Jennifer’s got to go.  I just find everything she plays trite and uninteresting.  She’s just annoying.  Angelina is great so I’d have to kiss her.  And Sandra I would marry.  She just seems more real than the others and I know she would make me laugh.


Liesl is currently the Project Coordinator for Leaders in Women’s Health, a coalition dedicated to addressing and eliminating health disparities for women of color in Pierce County. I’m so honored to know her, and I can’t wait to get in some more mischief with her soon.

Do you know someone that should be featured as a Betty of the Month?  Contact me!  I’d love to hear your ideas!