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An Open Letter to Shonda Rhimes… My Year of OH HELL YESSS Starts Now

Dear Shonda,

You and I had dinner last night. Okay. Well, not really. I dreamt we had dinner last night. Maybe it was the four cities I skyrocketed through on my twenty-four hour work trip. Maybe I was just tired enough, just delirious enough, just hopeful enough that I would meet you one day that my psyche produced sleep magic and Poof! There you were, sitting at my favorite spot in Austin like we hadn’t missed a beat. By the way, you think I’m hilarious. You laughed and wiped your tears and I just kept thinking that my dream-best-friend-Shonda was so beautiful. Not the kind of beautiful that’s dainty and rehearsed, but the kind that wreaks of warrior, that’s been fought for, that’s almost a palpable fragrance of grit, brass with a twinge of earned.

And maybe I manifested you because I too have needed permission. I grew up with four older brothers, not a big sister so maybe I willed you into my life to have you say this powerful line to me last night, “Lex, happiness coms from living as you need to, as you want to. As your inner voice tells you to. Happiness comes from being who you actually are instead of who you think you are supposed to be.” (btw… a little credit for my asleep Alexis memorizing a passage from a book, creating a fake best friend and telling me what I’ve always needed to hear). And just like that you got up from dinner and you didn’t just walk away. You. Literally. Danced. Away. It was actual magic. I woke up with tears in my eyes and something to say…I am 33 years old. I’m about to celebrate my one-year wedding anniversary to my best friend, Bradley. But if I have one more person ask me if I’m going to push a baby out of my vagina, I may punch a wall or their face. Depends on how quickly they move. Because here is the deal, how do people not see that, I ALREADY HAVE TWO CHILDREN and one is a freaking a newborn!!? And for the record, who has the nerve to look at a swirly eyed, sleep deprived, crusty throw-up in her hair, poop stains on her shirt mom and ask if she’s going to have another one? It’s rude. The timing is all wrong. She still has stitches down there and the trauma of pushing a human out of her body is too fresh to imagine doing it again and she’s legally intoxicated with the evaporated sleep she snorts through a straw in between breast feeding.

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And to clarify, no my children will never attend school with yours. They won’t have sleepovers or awkward third grade school pictures taken by amateur photographers named Jeff. But they are just as real and just as demanding as any children out there. My older daughter’s name is I AM THAT GIRL. I was a young mom, 19 years old, a sophomore in college when she was born. At the time, a single mom, shaking off the worst heartbreak of my life, determined to give my daughter a better one. She was the first company I founded, a non-profit geared to empowering girls. My goal was to change the world; I didn’t realize that the only world that needed changing was mine. She was my second chance at life and she saved me; in fact, she quite literally, loved me back to life. Like anyone will say about their first, I remember obsessing over her every move, her every breath, just sitting there watching her heartbeat as she entered into the world.

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So I may not have a “human” baby per say, but I believe there are so many ways to parent, so many ways to mother in this lifetime. I understand sleep deprivation, and sacrifice for something you love more than you love yourself. I understand that when you birth something into reality, that a part of your heart walks around, outside of you forever; and you worry about it all the time and wonder whether you’re making good decisions on its behalf and afraid that one day it won’t need you the way it used to when you cradled it in your arms. I know how much you want to protect that child and how mistakes you make haunt you as you hope you didn’t screw them up forever. I know the guilt that comes when you attempt the impossible “work/life” balance” and how easy it is to disappear and lose your identity because your love for this little creature could make the whole world disappear, swallow you up and you’d be fine with it.

I also know what it’s like to birth a second child and how your work load doubles and suddenly you’ve sent one off to school allowing others to parent them, to help shape their thoughts and mind, and how scary it is to trust them in the hands of someone that is not you. My second child’s name is ProtectHer and he is a company determined to educate young men in locker rooms across the country about the importance of respecting girls. He’s rowdier than my daughter as those with boys know. He requires more physical attention, but my goodness my daughter, though far more “self-sufficient” now, is moody as hell and gives me a heart attack about 324.8 times per week. It’s funny how they fight for my attention; how I oscillate between which one cries loudest that day and how I’m learning the importance of finding a bit of me in the midst of them.

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So what. I may not be a traditional mom. And real Shonda, you own Thursday nights and have three human daughters; I on the other hand, am a mother to a global movement of 1M strong girls, existing in over 52 countries and a mom to a nationally based education program in high schools and locker rooms all over the country and my love tank is equally full. So basically, you and I are the definition of “Badassery.” and I’m just learning how to own that. No apologies. No explanations. No fairytales.

So when people ask me, “When am I going to have a baby?” I won’t shrink and cringe into thinking I’m failing at womanhood. I will first remind them that I already have two. As for whether I’m going for a third? Much less a human baby? Well, my husband and I don’t know the answer to that yet. What we do know, is that we are madly in love with our lives exactly as they are and with our new born, ProtectHer, our hands are very full. Plus, my dream-best-friend-Shonda recently gave me this really great pep talk reminding asleep me, that “there is one rule: there are no rules. And being traditional is not traditional anymore.”

I am a wife, a Founder, a CEO and a mother of two. I wouldn’t have it any other way. My life is full and beautiful and the two kids I birthed, I AM THAT GIRL and ProtectHer are kicking ass and taking names, just like their fierce momma taught them to. Oh what the world could look like real Shonda, if every woman had the courage to inhale her truth and breathe it out like the magical fire that exists inside every one of us. Thank you for awakening the beautiful, dormant, Gladiator inside of me. She just needed permission. To all the women out there who mother in different ways, who may never birth a human from your vagina, I see you.

You matter.
You are not alone.
You are a Gladiator.

Real Shonda, you didn’t just write a book, you birthed a manifesto. You ignited a movement. We have all been waiting for you. Thank you for finding your truth. I owe you a real dinner and very much look forward to it. Until then, Thank you for inspiring my truth. This is my year of OH. HELL. YESSSSSSS.

 

Sincerely,
Alexis Jones, Gladiator Awoken #SuperSoul100
Founder, ProtectHer & I AM THAT GIRL
@MissAlexisJones
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Talking to Half the Sky: The Value of Empowering Men

by Alexis Jones, Darling Magazine, Issue 13

Available for purchase at shop.darlingmagazine.org.


“Where is Columbus?” the young male athlete said, looking at his coach.

“Who?” responded his coach, baffled by who Columbus was and why all these guys were asking about him.

“You know, that girl who came in and talked to us. Where she at? She coming back?”

The coach was confused by the bizarre nickname but he knew exactly who he was talking about.

“Oh. You mean, Alexis. No, she already took a flight home. But why are y’all calling her Columbus?” Coach asked.

The athlete laughed, “Yo. Cuz she showed us a world we didn’t know existed.” He caught the ball and got back to doing his football drills.

Apparently, I’m being called Columbus behind my back. I’m OK with it. It could cer- tainly be worse. There is an irony to a girl waltzing into a locker room, surrounded by alpha males and talking to them about manhood. However, that has become my full-time job—reminding men of the importance of respecting us women. This was not always how I made my bread and butter. In fact, it was quite literally the opposite. I founded I AM THAT GIRL, a nonprofit with the sole purpose of reminding girls that they are awesome. I wrote a book. I spoke all over the planet. It is not only the mission of the organization; it is a searing truth inside my personal life’s journey.

Then I got a phone call. I didn’t know it then but that call would change my life. I was asked to give a talk to the 18 most influential high school quarterbacks in the country for an ESPNU TV show called Elite 11—get this—“about the importance of respecting girls and women.” Taking into account that I had to create a completely new talk, for a completely new audience, and that it was going to be filmed on national television, I did what any self respecting professional would: I used my friend’s wedding as the perfect excuse. “I’d love to, but I can’t because of my travel schedule.” But inevitably, I was flown out three days later to Nike headquarters in Portland.

That. Talk. Changed. My. Life. As I sat there in the room with all men—with past and present NFL players, with executives from ESPN and Nike—I saw the possibility for REAL change.

It dawned on me that for the past 10 years, I had only been preaching to “half of the sky,” and the treatment of women is no longer a women’s issue or a women’s movement, it is a HUMAN movement. We just forgot to include the other half of humanity.

I looked out at that audience of men and said, “Most people think that you are the problem; I just so happen to think that you are the cure.” Little did I know that a week later everything with Ray Rice and the infamous video footage of him knocking out his girlfriend in an elevator would be leaked. Suddenly, having just been THAT GIRL in the locker room talking to boys about better treatment of women turned me into the face of male empowerment. I still laugh at that irony.

Now here’s what I believe: There is a predilection inside male DNA to protect people; it’s why every little boy under the age of 10 wants to be a superhero.

They aren’t alone. Women are also poorly influenced. Our self-esteem often comes from an unrealistic, unattainable, impossible standard of “beauty.” This “self-worth epidemic” is a human issue, not a sex issue. We’re taught to be “pretty” and they are taught to “bang girls” and tragically those two lies fuel an unhealthy cycle.

The ESPN show aired and suddenly I was hired to speak to boys in locker rooms all over the country. When I speak, I have a black and white slide with this fact: “One in four girls will be sexually assaulted on your college campus.” Eyes glaze over with the expression of “Really?! I gotta listen to a chick lecture me right now? I’m tired. I have class. I have afternoon practice. I have … ” I click to the next slide and say, “But what happens when it’s her?” Little do they know that with access to social media, I have pulled pictures of their girlfriends, their sisters, their friends, their moms. They are staring at a stranger’s presentation recognizing and loving the faces looking back at them. Their eyes quickly come back into focus and suddenly this topic is real. Suddenly, this isn’t a stat anymore. Suddenly, it matters to them and I officially have their full attention.

Not enough of them have been spoken to this way, and not enough of them have heard the message that we want to trust them to help us. The truth is, I’d be ticked off if I were them. I’d also be insulted if I were the majority of men who don’t hurt, rape, insult or disrespect women and I was lumped into the small percentage of men who do. Because, having traveled all over the country, not talking at, but listening to young men share their insecurities, their wounds and their vulnerability, I am witnessing first hand that we have a generation of boys who desperately want to be respectful, compassionate, confident men.

But how do you become what you can’t see? In order to give respect and treat people with dignity, you have to first believe you are worthy of it, and so many young men don’t. Sadly, with the lack of strong, positive role models, so many boys simply haven’t been taught what respect looks like in the first place. With youth consuming over 10 hours of media a day that overtly objectifies and blatantly disrespects women, young men are doing exactly what they have been programmed to do. I am certainly not excusing any of the poor behavior splatter-painted as headline news, but I don’t think that we as a society take a responsibly for them, and therein lies the problem and, simultaneously, the possibility for change.

There are infinite social causes appropriately capturing our attention, but much like Martin Luther King Jr.’s understanding of the pervasiveness of cancerous racism deteriorating the fabric of our humanity, so is the poor treatment of women a reflec- tion of our society’s lost moral compass. We all have a mother and a grandmother. Many of us have sisters, girlfriends, nieces and aunts. This affects us all, and, I audaciously think, may single-handedly be the lynchpin to the future of our humanity.

I’m the first person who owes guys an apology. In my cavalier pursuit to “empower girls and change the world” I drove off and forgot half of my team. I AM THAT GIRL still stands for its mission of empowering girls. However, I am now building a new movement, a new brand, a new world with a new vision called ProtectHer. My mission is simple: to redefine manhood and to inspire men everywhere to better respect and protect the girls and women in their lives and on our planet. My goal is for our digital curriculum to be integrated into every high school in the country. Every middle school. Every elementary school. Every university. Every professional locker room. Every prison. Every military base. And even when we’ve achieved that, it will still be just the beginning.

What I have learned over a decade in the activism space is that real change takes a holistic approach to how and what impacts social behavior. Education is one slice of the pie. But so are legislation and fashion, entertainment, business and major corporate brands. I’m grateful that campaigns exist like “It’s on Us,” “No More” and #HeforShe; I think they are important to highlight the problem. However, ProtectHer is an attempt at a solution because it’s an idea, and ideas have a way of changing the whole world. ProtectHer is a reminder to us all—not just men—because girls need to better protect themselves as well as each other. It is not just about raising consciousness for women, it is about inviting men into the conversation, asking them to lean in and sit up at this table.

Call me Columbus, but I have seen a world in which men and women are both taught that their inherent self worth is not found in external consumption but internally, that they are taught to respect one another and to protect one another. I may not see the whole staircase, but Dr. King reminds us all that faith is taking the first step in spite of it.

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#ImABadassBecause Day 4

Screen Shot 2016-02-17 at 5.13.57 PMWe know in theory that we have to take care of ourselves in order to take of others but DAMN it’s hard to actually do that! It’s so easy for me to show up for my friends, to support my loved ones and to encourage complete strangers… And it’s so difficult for me to show up for myself. That being said, it’s not an excuse. We are exponentially more effective, more productive more compassionate and more successful when we are selfish and take care or ourselves FIRST. This weekend, do something JUST FOR YOU, whatever makes your heart smile. Start to notice how much more you have to give when you do what’s best for you! Q. What are you willing to prioritize above yourself? #dowhatsbestforyou

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#ImABadassBecause Day 3

IMG_0924The truth is- we are infinitely more powerful than we give ourselves credit for because we’re so distracted by all the noise in life. We stop tuning in to the frequency of our own hearts. We’ve all had moments when we were in the zone, that feeling of invincibility where you feel like you’re on fire and couldn’t mess up if you tried. What if you were told that feeling could be accessed at any moment? The truth is you can. We all can. But we can’t do it when we’re all over the place, juggling a thousand different things, beating ourselves up and focusing on everything but the little voice inside us screaming to be heard. The power exists in you to be brave… We just forget. Close your eyes and remember the last time you felt like you were unstoppable. Q. What did it feel like? How did you stand and walk? What expression was on your face? What did your voice sound like? You already have all the courage and wisdom and guidance you need; you just have to stop looking outside of yourself for it. The journey to discovering your Badass just requires you remembering that you already are… #youvealwayshadthepower

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#ImABadassBecause Day 2

IMG_0909So apparently “trauma” is real. Haha. I took Bella (my new puppy) to meet my brother’s cats yesterday and in the midst of their first meeting ended up on the wrong end of the cat’s teeth and claws. I’ve never been attacked by a cat (so that was a first) but I have been attacked by a dog. Three. Times. I have the scars and surgeries to prove it. And I’m flat out terrified of dogs because of it. But I played it cool during my niece’s six year old birthday party and it wasn’t until I got in the car and headed home that I started hyperventilating and shaking and hysterically crying. Something deep inside got triggered, and I couldn’t stop bawling for hours after I got home. It’s like the 1.5 year old, 11 year old and 13 year old in me who’d been attacked years ago freaked out all over again. So here’s the deal, when you get hurt or scared or emotionally wounded- whether it was something a mean kid said in 4th grade, or when you got bullied in high school, or when your dad bailed on you or your coach yelled at you and embarrassed you in front of everyone, or you got cheated on or your mom said she didn’t want you or you got your heart broken… The truth is we have these wounds and the invisible ones are the most severe and hardest to heal because we think we can bury them deep down. But we can’t. If we don’t address them, they will rear their ugly heads at some point. Trust me! So when someone says something and your panic button gets pressed and you don’t even know where it came from… Don’t shut it down and ignore it, it’s an opportunity to let all that energy and fear and heartbreak go by just being present with how you feel, honoring it and breathing through it. We’re all emotional creatures and we’re all sensitive beings. It doesn’t make us weak, it makes us human. Take five minutes to think about the trauma monsters in your own life, hiding in your closet. Q- what has been the biggest heartbreak in your life? What did you allow that to mean about you? #facingourtraumamonsters

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#ImABadassBecause Day 1

IMG_0899I started a #40day series on Instagram called #imabadassbecause mainly because I don’t always feel that way :). The craziness of the world gets to me and I forget that I’m just a girl, trying to figure it all out. Because sometimes life is surprisingly hard, and disappointments sting more than we want to admit, and yes, sometimes it’s breathtakingly beautiful and thrilling… But the truth is our confidence gets shaken easily and I’ve found that most people rely on external validation to fuel it, like (and I totally struggle with this) winning that football game or making a lot of money, or getting public accolades, an A in class, a promotion at work or hanging your hat on your good looks… And the truth is that there is an expiration date to all of that because having a strong, authentic confidence ONLY comes from within and it tends to be the LAST place we go to find it. So I’m on a journey inside and over the next 40 days, I invite you to join me ;). If you really want to go on a mind blowing adventure, all you have to do is get really still. You can’t fathom why lies in store. Today, try and spend five minutes in complete silence (set an alarm on your phone and turn it face down), put your hand on your heart, close your eyes and just listen. I have a feeling it has a LOT to say and we are just getting warmed up. Write in a journal or share with a friend what came up for you. Today’s Q: how do you feel the most loved? #day1

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FSU: But she hit first?!

Now bear in mind that no one is a bigger feminist tomboy than me. Yes, I’m a walking contradiction. I have four older brothers and I founded a non-profit empowering girls all over the world called I AM THAT GIRL. That being said, I’m also a connoisseur of phenomenal men and refuse to buy into the mentality that “all men are monsters.” Last year, ESPNU asked me to give a talk to the top eighteen quarterbacks about the importance of respecting girls and women on a TV show called Elite 11. A week later, everything with Ray Rice came out. You can imagine how many head coaches called my agents asking me to come deliver the same “ProtectHer” talk. I went overnight from talking to girls to talking to dudes about the caliber of men they want to be.

So locker room after locker room, I get to sit and talk with these division one athletes about the impact the media has on them, and on how they think about girls, talk about girls, and treat girls. And get this: I thought I was put on the planet to empower girls, until I stood in a room full of guys. I quickly realized that in the midst of the all girl-power madness, these boys had been left behind. Most of them have never had a healthy conversation about sex. Around 90% of them learn about sex through porn. Can you imagine how that affects them and their thoughts about girls when given a misogynistic lens right out of the gate? Of course it impacts how they think about women and the way in which they treat us. I’m not excusing the behavior, I’m just saying I understand why some have a tendency to disrespect the females in their lives. It’s literally how they have been programmed and people would rather talk about their bad behavior than where they actually learned the behavior in the first place.

As for the FSU quarterback who popped a girl in the face. My first DISCLAIMER: under no circumstances is it EVER appropriate for a guy to hit a girl. But here’s my other disclaimer: under no circumstances is it ever appropriate for a girl to hit a guy. The bigger conversation here is, when did we as a culture start teaching people that it’s okay to use violence as a way to communicate?

It’s too easy to lump this situation into another “Ray Rice” incident. I’m bored with “another girl was hit by a male athlete and all guys are dangerous abusers.” Yes, there are men out there who hurt women. And there are women out there who hurt men. None of it is okay. So let’s use this as a teaching moment rather than an opportunity to fuel the fire of the latest “don’t hit girls” campaign.

To all the athletes out there to whom I have spoken and all those I have yet to speak to: at some point you will become a man. It’s inevitable. However, you get to decide what kind of man you are and I just want you to know the difference between a good one and all the others. After all, why do you show up to practice every day? Why do you watch film? Why do you spend all of your time memorizing plays? Why do you work your ass off in the weight room? Because when it’s game time, when the pressure is on, when it’s the last play in the game and it’s up to you to do the impossible, all the hours of practice you put in prepare you to be a real life hero. I’m just asking you to be a hero off the field and off the court too. The real question is when you lose your temper, when a chick or anyone hits you first or insults you or taunts you, do you have the guts to walk away? Do you have the self-control, the conviction to your morals, the ability to die to your ego in that moment and Just. Walk. Away?

If you need some inspiration, by all means watch the movie 42 again. Watch the scene where Jackie Robinson is being taunted by the head coach of the opposite team. Watch the magnanimity he exudes when he keeps his cool for the sake of something bigger than himself. That man had guts. He understood that in order to be great, he had to learn the ultimate lesson of self-control.

You raise a hand to a chick and it’s literally the end of your professional career. Simply for the sake of your future, don’t. Trust me, I have a whole other rant for chicks about the role they play in these situations. But this is about you. Be the guy who walks away. Be the guy who stops his teammate, who steps in and steps up. Not just because it’s your future, but because it’s the kind of man you choose to be. We need a new generation of young men who redefine manhood and it starts with each of you. Be better than that. Your job on the field is to be a badass athlete. Your job off the field is to ProtectHer, whoever she is. ProtectHer at the party, in the bar, after school, in the locker room, and in your bedroom. How you treat the girls and women in your life is a direct correlation to your own confidence; it tells the world the kind of man you are with no words at all.

ProtectHer not just because she’s a girl, but because it’s the kind of man you choose to be.

 

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A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story

I had the immense pleasure of producing my first documentary over the last year, and it just debuted at SXSW in Austin, TX! Once referred to as the “world’s ugliest woman,” Lizzie Velasquez is an amazing girl who has one of the most inspiring life stories I’ve ever come across and she is now redefining beauty altogether! Her story highlights the inhumane bullying happening all over the country and serves as an example of how love and grace are the ONLY cure for the rampant fear and hate inundating the cyber world and stalking the halls of our schools everywhere. Thank you all for your love and support in the making of this film, I couldn’t be more proud to share this courageous story with you.

Here is the trailer for the documentary:

“She Was Called The World’s Ugliest Woman, Now She’s An Inspiration” – MTV

Anti-Bullying Advocate Lizzie Velasquez Debuts Inspiring Documentary ‘A Brave Heart’ at SXSW” – Just Jared

“She was mocked for ‘looking different.’ Now she fights bullying in SXSW documentary.” – Washington Post

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Access Hollywood

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“Alexis Jones, self-esteem expert and author of “I Am That Girl,” chats with Billy Bush and Kit Hoover on Access Hollywood Live about how families can empower, support and educate our teens.”

Check out my interview! Access Hollywood

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