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Leading With Hard Work and Heart Work with Shea Kidd Brown

Shea Kidd Brown episode graphic, titled Leading with Hard Work and Heart Work.

It is so difficult to be mindful online these days. The apps and algorithms are just not designed to keep us in the present. And with so much curation necessary to create our idea of a “perfect profile,”  how can we make sure we are showing up in our digital accounts and profiles in a heartful way?

My guest today has mastered the art and science of being her whole self online. Whether she is weaving the values her grandmother taught her into presentations or sharing the intimacies of her adoption journey on social media, Dr. Shea Kidd Brown consistently stays true to her commitment to sharing both her personal and professional journeys openly and genuinely.

Shea has enjoyed a long career in college administration at a number of institutions of higher education in the southeastern region and now serves as the Vice President for Campus Life at Wake Forest University. 

In this episode, Shea discusses her perspective on storytelling, congruency and the importance of bringing humanity into digital spaces. We’ll also dive into how balancing personal and professional narratives is essential for creating an impactful online presence and how Shea uses these platforms to create active, mindful connections for her campus community. 

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Josie and the Podcast is produced in partnership with University FM, a podcast agency dedicated to higher education. University FM works with leading colleges and universities to tell stories on campus that build branding, drive engagement, and connect communities. Reach out to team@university.fm to connect on podcast strategy, production, and growth. We look forward to talking with you!

Element451 is a proud sponsor of Josie and the Podcast. Element451 is an AI-powered, all-in-one student engagement platform, helping institutions create meaningful, personalized, and engaging interactions with students. Our platform harnesses the power of Artificial Intelligence to seamlessly tailor content for each individual, bridging the gap between broad outreach and personal touchpoints. Fueled by intelligent automation and deep data insights, teams are free to focus on what matters most — building real connections with students. Learn more at Element451.com. 

Notes from this Episode:

More About Shea Kidd Brown

For seventeen years, Shea has enjoyed a career in college administration at a number of institutions of higher education in the southeastern region, including her most recent position as vice president for Campus Life at Wake Forest University. Her work spans across faculty, facilitator, scholarly, and presenter roles, with expertise in orientation and retention, leadership education, and diversity, inclusion, and belonging. 

Shea is a life member of the Southern Miss Alumni Association, a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and has authored articles on social barriers to leadership and access within sorority and fraternity life. She has held leadership positions in national organizations, including NASPA and NODA and YMCA.

In 2020, she was among 14 African-American leaders – one from each of the Southeastern Conference institutions – highlighted by the SEC as trailblazers. Known as “Dr. Shea” to her students, she leads with hard work and heart work and facilitates closer proximity through social media and her new podcast, Kidd You Not. She is mom and a wife.

Connect with Shea Kidd Brown

[00:00:00] Josie: Josie and the Podcast is produced by the amazing team over at University FM. They are a higher ed podcast agency, helping communicators build community, share research, and inspire thoughtful discussions with stories that resonate. Do you have a podcast idea or maybe a little stuck on how to put it out into the world? Or maybe you’re looking to grow your audience. They can get you moving in the right direction. Podcast with ease and elevate your stories today. You can talk with them at university.fm. That link is in the show notes.

Hello, and welcome to Josie and the Podcast. I’m Josie, and I’m here asking questions like, what does it mean to lead in the digital space with heart and humanity? On this podcast, Josie and the Podcast, I spend time answering the question with heart, soul, and lots of substance. My goal is to share conversations that encourage you, empower you, and entertain you to rethink digital strategy for yourself and the organizations you support.

All right, let’s get to know today’s featured guests. For 17 years, Shea Kidd Brown has enjoyed a career as a college administrator at a number of institutions in the southeastern region, including her most recent position as Vice President for Campus Life at Wake Forest University. Her work spans across faculty, facilitator, scholarship, and presenter roles. Shea is a life member of the Southern Miss Alumni Association, a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, and has authored articles on social barriers to leadership and access within sorority and fraternity life.

Shea has held leadership positions in national organizations like NASPA, NODA, and the YMCA. In 2020, she was among 14 African American leaders, one from each of the Southeastern conference institutions, highlighted by the SEC as trailblazers. Known as Dr. Shea to her students, she leads with hard work and heart work and facilitates closer proximity through social media and her podcast, Kidd You Not. She is also a mom and wife, and we get into all of this in our conversation today.

You can follow both of us on the socials found in the show notes. The pod is on X and Threads and Instagram. I am @JosieAhlquist and Shea on Instagram is Shea Kidd Brown and on X is HeyDrShea.

Everything we talk about, from resources, people, and posts is on my website, josieahlquist.com/podcast. Enjoy!

Shea, it’s so good to see you. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast.

[00:03:31] Shea: Yeah, I’m excited to be here. Thanks for having me.

[00:03:34] Josie: Yeah. Well, we’re going to dig in, starting with your bios to get to know you a little bit more. So, I grabbed your Instagram, which has some fun stuff. It says, “Snapshots of laughs.” I always mispronounce this.

[00:03:49] Shea: Lagniappe.

[00:03:50] Josie: “Lagniappe living.” Well, okay, I need an interpretation again. “And my labor of love. Hard work and heart work, VP of Campus Life at Wake Forest University.” Give us some insights beyond your big bio that I just read about your Instagram bio.

[00:04:06] Shea: Yeah. So, lagniappe living. “Lagniappe” is a word that came from Southern Louisiana. It means a French word that means a little something extra. My husband’s from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. So, when we were dating, we would meet in New Orleans a lot. So, we enjoy the word, we enjoy a little something extra that we can add to life.

And so, really, I’m about enjoying life, hopefully providing a little something extra in a space. And, you know, hard work and heart work is every day. Like, today is a full day. There are long days. It’s a labor of love, but it’s also in my heart. Someone told me recently, actually today, it’s just a job, you know, just in a larger conversation. And I was like, “No, it’s in my heart.” What I do is really connected to me as a person, me as a mother, me as a human being. And so, if I ever lose that, I think I will need to check out a different career. And so, that’s really what all that is.

And so, on Instagram, specifically, it’s I try to share my whole self. And people have different choices as it relates to social media. For me, the right choice feels like all those various avenues of my life. And that’s really, like, who I am. I show up as a vice president, as a mom, as wherever I am. Hopefully, you get the same person wherever I am. It’s not necessarily constrained to the environment that I’m in.

So, hopefully, that gives some insight into who I am. Before we began recording, I was talking to my son about, you know, ninth grade woes, because that has to take precedent over whatever else I’m doing.

[00:05:44] Josie: The woes and the wows of that period of time, I can only imagine or remember. And I’m sure we could go off on a full other tangent what it means to raise a teenager now in the digital age. I had to wait patiently to get onto a computer. Well, actually, why don’t we just jump into that, too? As we think about your early technologies, were there any that are, kind of, like, the earlier memories for you in using tech?

[00:06:16] Shea: My childhood predated cell phones. And I do remember, you know, phones in the kitchen and then, you know, various aspects when you got real fancy. We had cordless. But one of my earliest memories outside of, like, talking to family members was, kind of, middle school to high school. I was really fancy because… or I thought it was, because I had a bedroom phone number. So, I convinced my parents to let me have… we had our house phone number. I had a different phone number in my room. Phone only rang in my room, and I had a different ring. So, I’ve always just been really connected. You know, back in that day, it was, definitely, by phone to friends. And my mom lived 90 miles from her mom. So, that was always a phone call. Her best friend lived in Houston. And so, that was a phone call. And then, of course, as I transitioned through life, I got the Nokia. I’m really dating myself while I’m with the antenna.

[00:07:16] Josie: So, I’m here. I’m right here with you.

[00:07:18] Shea: And in college, I had a leopard-print cover for it, of course. Social media actually emerged in graduate school for me. So, my first platform was Facebook. It is fun to, kind of, think about the evolution of what it means to be connected. And I’m still, though, I’m still… I’m a snail mail kind of person. So, I love handwritten note. I’m still very committed in my desk. I have a box for most occasions. So, I, I do think it’s connected. Sometimes technology is, is actually… I don’t want to get off track, but I think sometimes it’s this facade of connection.

[00:07:54] Josie: Well, I don’t save emails all the time. But if I get a card from someone, I’ll put it in a box. I mean, not every single card, but I think that can be meaningful.

[00:08:06] Shea: It gives you that keepsake, yeah. I’ve got, you know, a handwritten note right now. That’s got to go out. That’s, that’s to my boss. So, yeah.

[00:08:14] Josie: Oh, that is nice. The phone evolution is always interesting. And we’ve also got to see your evolution online. We met when you were at University of Tennessee, Knoxville. And even then, you were quite active and engaged as a dean there and definitely set a precedent. So, no surprise, I continue to see that here now at Wake Forest, including your entire, well, I almost said your costume. It’s not a costume. Your, your entire wardrobe.

[00:08:44] Shea: Wardrobe changed drastically.

[00:08:46] Josie: For those that haven’t followed you yet on social, what could they expect to see or, even, a post that you’ve shared lately and how you’ve decided to show up online?

[00:08:56] Shea: Well, one thing I will say, you know, just connecting our last question about the evolution of technology, is I really came up in the profession at a time where I’m a, a different kind of digital native. I’m a professional digital native, if that makes sense. So, maybe, I just coined a new term, Josie, I don’t know. But I came into the profession of student affairs having very naturally already been on social. So, it just has been a part of me from the beginning, at least in my professional career postgraduate school. So, just wanted add that. I think that it’s really been important to me to show the world through my lens and my experience. And I did not on the front end say, “I’m going to post this so I can be close to students.” It was just like, “This is what I’m doing. Hey, let’s take a selfie, or I’m at this sporting event. Or I am, you know, doing a craft project at home.” And so, that has been important.

But what I did notice at the University of Tennessee, very large state, you know, flagship university, was students began to respond very differently outside of the platform, when we were in person. It’s like, “Oh, I love what you’re doing with your house,” or, “Did you enjoy the tennis match?” Or, you know, whatever it was, they were paying attention to what I was doing. And then, because they were paying attention, they felt more connected to me. And so, it just allowed me to be much closer up, even on a campus with 30,000-plus students, I felt really close. And hope, you know, as many, I got around to as many of I could in real 3D life, but that really helped. And I would say that’s continued at Wake. So, I’ve tried to be really active here and, and share. And same thing happened. Like, “I love the bathroom renovation,” you know. And I’m like, “Oh, they’re paying attention. Okay.”

So, you know, recent posts, you know, if you were to go on, I spend the most time on Instagram as a platform. And I would say, try to use social media as a mindful endeavor as well. So, it helps that I wake up and I’m not just thinking like, “I’m waking up and going to work.” It’s like, “It’s day one. It is the first day of the spring semester, and it’s 16 degrees. Let’s go. We got this.” I’m telling myself we got this. I’m telling the campus.

So, like today, on my stories, that was one of those moments. It’s week two, day one, you know. So, I’m aware, like, students have been in school for four days because I’m really engaged in trying to connect what they might be thinking, as they roll out of bed and it’s 20 degrees today. What’s happening? And today, we do Milkshake Monday. So, today, it was Milkshake Monday. So, that was the first post in my stories. The most recent static post was the first day of school. I don’t have a spreadsheet of when I’m posting things, but as a rule, I don’t do a lot. That’s what I call static post. If it’s the first day of school, I had the dean of the college of arts and sciences who did wake up Wednesday with me, the first day of school, last Wednesday. So, that was a post with me and the dean and a student, a selfie, just very on brand for me.

And, you know, it’s like we’re back. And I collaborate with the university and with campus life, so more people can see it. Those are two, probably, the most recent, I would say. And then, I was thinking back, because I don’t post as much on Facebook. It’s a different audience. But I love, as I mentioned, the whole… everything I do on social media is, is my whole self. So, I love holiday cards. I love the holidays. And we send a lot of cards, and we get a lot of cards. And I always hate to, it feels like, oh, I think about the environment and I think about just loving the beautiful pictures. And so, this year, I turned all the holiday cards into gift tags for next year’s Christmas. We celebrate Christmas in my family. So, next year’s Christmas presents, so that, if it’s a joy or, you know, live your adventure or happy holidays, all of those now I put a whole punch in a little ribbon and then… so, now those will be on my gifts for next year.

So, I posted a picture of those, you know. So, Facebook is more of, like, a lot of people. It’s professional. It’s family. It’s friends from a long time ago. So, that was a long answer, but yeah, those are, those are some of my thoughts, as it relates to both the evolution and what’s on there right now.

[00:13:13] Josie: I wonder if it was on Facebook or what platform. You had a Santa’s workshop system. I’m the gift wrapper that’s like, whoa!

[00:13:22] Shea: Yeah.

[00:13:23] Josie: Like, she’s Martha Stewart.

[00:13:26] Shea: I do love a celebration. And when we moved to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where workforce is, I had an extra bedroom. And so, I’ve always said I wanted a craft room. What you saw was, like, a dedicated space for sewing or doing various crafts or wrapping presents. And I can see everything. That’s always the challenge when you have all this stuff, for lack of a better word, it’s not well-organized. So, it is well-organized. And it just gives me so much joy to have that.

[00:13:57] Josie: Aw. Yeah, I’ll have some project goals. I will be inspired by your feed as well.

[00:14:05] Shea: Come on over. We can do some things together.

[00:14:08] Josie: Oh, my gosh, teach me your ways. And thanks for sharing how you’re using social, integrating different platforms. You definitely provide that access and insight. And I share your example of Milkshake Monday’s optus. They just think of almost like institutionalizing something that lives beyond you, even. But you are also a showpiece in that, too, that even on a cold day, you can come out.

So, I know we’re ping-ponging a little bit to past, present, and future. Also, maybe, like, a holiday theme. But I went scrolling through posts and content. There was one interview that stopped me in my tracks. It was from last year, from Black History Month, Wake Forest News, also so impressive. You have a university news station. I was like, “Oh, is this a local community?” No, this is from your campus. You’re such a great storyteller and just communicator, whether if it’s written or, you know, on Instagram. But in this interview, you got talking about your granny, how her story shaped you and challenged you to do the right thing, even when you’re scared. And I just find your story and your evolution is also very just so inspiring. So, what else can we, kind of, take from your early influence from your granny or…

[00:15:24] Shea: I’m glad you said early influence, because I feel like, you know, there are things I don’t remember from day one of my life. But I feel like, as early as I can remember, she was always there. And she passed away a year ago in December, but that quote that you pulled, doing the right thing, even though you’re scared, her actions really said that more than any words she ever said. So, you think about, you know, this is someone who died at 86. So, someone who was living a year ago, who I got to witness, who also worked alongside Medgar Evers, civil rights leader in Mississippi, who also was in the Air Force, who also was a single mom. So, talk about three distinct different things that probably scared her quite a bit, that she, not only got through, but I saw her thrive and do things on her own terms. And, and that just taught me a lot. And, of course, as we get older, you value those things even more.

That was my normal. So, it was my normal to talk about, actually spent time at the NAACP in the summers. She worked there for 20 years after the assassination. So, that was my normal. We all have a normal. I always say normal is a setting on a dryer. Like, it’s, it’s all from our perspective, what normal is. There’s not like a true normal. But I think she really, when people see the energy or the courage or, you know, whatever label we want to say, hopefully, the authenticity because, whoo, she was sassy little thing. But, you know, there’s so much that I learned from her. And I was… I’m so grateful that I got to honor her while she was alive and I got to tell her how much I loved her and how much I appreciate it and how much I learned from her. And I got to interview her about… it was before I finished my PhD. So, it was over 10 years ago at this point.

Because people at that time, not going to say it’s a monolith, but it’s not something people necessarily want to talk about. It was a really hard thing. So, we have these holidays that we are out of school for, don’t have work for if they’re federal holidays now, or we romanticize in some ways what happened. But there was physical violence. There was silencing. There were dogs. There was ketchup. There was mayonnaise at Woolworths’ counters.

So, to grow up with someone who experienced that, and then my mom, you know, could talk about integration. And what that was like in her public school system, which just happened the next, or the decade before, sorry, the assassination, but my mom was growing up during that time. So, I am just really grateful that I had both of those women, along with lots, a community of a lot of different people, but who helped me to be really proud of my heritage and my roots and the adversity and, also, the triumph and all of those things. And I’m passionate about, as I work with college students and, you know, large staff at this point, is, when people say, “Well, you’re so calm or you seem really grounded,” it’s because I know my roots. Like, literally using that metaphor, is I know my story. I know that I came from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, 60 miles from the Gulf Coast. I eat crawfish. I enjoy all the things, good, bad, and different, that come with the Southern cuisine. I understand the beauty of having locs that look like mine and the challenge of getting to this place in my life where I’m happy with all those things.

So, until we’re able to truly understand our story, I don’t think we can appreciate the person sitting next to us or the person we might encounter at the grocery store and our faith communities. And I think they both, my mom, I talk about my mom, my grandmother, both, I think they helped me to do that. And they also encouraged me to go seek education and continue to ask those questions. So, some of these things you’re hearing me say now are because of my education and because of the people I got to interact with in higher education, at large, at varying stops. So, I’m just really grateful for a village of people. But Granny is, certainly, you know, she’s part of that origin story. So, she’s how I start most of my talks, you know. I talk about her because it just grounds, like, this is where you’re getting when you talk to me. I’m an evolution of all these people who’ve come before me.

[00:19:42] Josie: I’m sorry for your loss, knowing that that was recent.

[00:19:47] Shea: Well, thank you. It was a tough one. And, you know, she lived quite a life. So, my job now is just to continue to speak into the things that she’s spoken to me.

[00:19:58] Josie: Yeah. Well, and the groundedness that you are able to embody, I feel, relates to storytelling in permission giving that, you know, it’s not just ego I’m telling you all about myself, but telling our stories, again, open doors, whether that is on Instagram or you’re out in the quad. I think you’re such a beautiful example of that.

[00:20:22] Shea: Well, thank you. I appreciate it. And just invites people to do the same, you know, to think about is, what I’ll say is when I present, I have a picture of Granny in the middle and, like, all the various selves of me. And I’ll say, “If you were given this talk, what would your pictures be? What would you choose to focus on?” Just to invite people to just imagine.

[00:20:43] Josie: That’s a great exercise—values exercise.

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[00:22:06] Josie: I’m going to jump forward to talk about podcasting that relates so much to storytelling. We are on a podcast. It’s so meta. Your podcast, Kidd You Not, I grabbed this description, which we’ve already said, we’ve already been talking about this stuff. So, I was like, “Of course, this is your podcast.” The purpose of this podcast is to connect you, the audience, to our shared humanity. Oftentimes, we observe one another from a distance, but it’s surprising how human we all are when we get up close. On this podcast, we discover what connects us to the commonalities, our differences, our stories, and yes, our humanity.

[00:22:44] Shea: Oh, so good.

[00:22:46] Josie: So, tell us about the show, and where you got that inspiration to, kind of, live out the purpose of your podcast.

[00:22:53] Shea: The podcast is a place and a space for us to explore people’s stories, just like you and I just talked about with mine. Because if we’re not careful, it is Shea Kidd Brown, Vice President for Campus Life, and that’s a very dehumanized, or if we’re lucky, it’s Shea Kidd Brown. It might just be the Vice President for Campus Life or Campus Life, which takes the whole person out of it.

So, as someone who’s really connected on campus, and I have a fairly large platform on campus, people know me, I always want to use my power for good and my influence for good. And so, I was thinking about, in this world of dehumanization, you know, largely speaking it, taking it out of the context of Wake Forest University, we just need to get up close, you know. Like, technology is this great mechanism. You and I are connecting across three time zones, and it allows for that. But if we’re not careful, it also can just create so much noise that we see someone as the president or the football coach or the SG president or whatever it is, and that doesn’t mean they have siblings or story or anything said. So, then, if you throw all that out, all that human stuff out, you can say whatever you want to about them. You can, in the South, we say ugly, you know, just like not nice.

So, the goal was, like, we all have an origin story. We all have something that connects us. And how can I use my position to bring us closer together as a community? And so, that, really, is the heart of it, is, like I said, the shared humanity. What I’ve learned is, like, we all do have these connection points. Like, we all have an origin story. Good, bad. We all started somewhere. And so, being able to talk about that.

So, I’ve been thinking about podcasting for a long time. When I came to Wake Forest, I started Wake Up Wednesdays, because I love a good pun, as a morning coffee, connecting with students, learning the polls. Milkshake Monday, I brought from the University of Tennessee, because it was just like such a great connection point. And I’m always thinking, like, not what can I do next for the sake of, what can I do next, but it felt like I don’t want to send students an email. I don’t want to write a blog. That’s not me. And voice is important. Like, the soundbites you’re hearing right now are important. So, how can I use my position to give other people the spotlight and for other people to also listen and be connected?

So, I was thinking about this, but as you know, Josie, you host a podcast, it’s a very vulnerable place to be. It’s vulnerable to ask someone if they’ll be on your podcast. And then, when they say yes, oh, you have to record it. And then, you hope it goes well. And then, all the production and all those kinds of things. And so, I just, you know, had it in the back of my mind. And I sat next to a student. His name’s Virguta. And I was at a university police event on our campus, and was like, “Vir, I hear you’re doing the university police podcast and you’re doing such a great job.” He’s producing it. And I said, “I’ve been thinking about that, but I just don’t know.” And he was like, “Dr. Shea, you have to do it.” And this is, like, the students call me Dr. Shea, “You have to do it, and I’ll produce it for you.”

And so, that’s really, like, it’s funny, the line of work I’m in. Often, I learn so much from students, and they encourage me when I’m encouraging them. And it’s this reciprocal relationship. And that’s really what happened, is I was, sort of, “I could do it. I could not. This is maybe not…” and, and then, just environment situated itself where Vir, you know, a student who’s an RA and really active on campus, offered to produce. And I said, “Well, I don’t hire students without paying them. So, let’s talk about all of this and what you need to do.” And he was doing sound engineering for Busch Gardens last summer. And so, while he was there, we, kind of, worked together on a strategy. And so, it was born. And so, then I just said, “Okay we’re going to put this out in the space.” And it’s been really fun—nerve wracking, but fun.

[00:26:52] Josie: So, it’s all-student behind-the-scenes-run.

[00:26:55] Shea: It is.

[00:26:56] Josie: Supporting, that’s awesome.

[00:26:58] Shea: I love the opportunity to work alongside students. And they’re so talented. They’re the audience, in many ways. I mean, this podcast can go anywhere. That’s the beauty of a podcast. But when I think about what’s going to be relevant for students, I have a student who’s producing it. So, my student assistants have helped me curate a list of potential guests who they might want to hear from. And I, I’ve been purposeful. Right now, I’ve had a lot of positional leaders and people whose students may know, but as we progress, I’ve really asked them to think about, who are those people… like, when we think about our shared humanity, it doesn’t have to be a person with the title. So, who are those people that you want to hear from? So, one of those, I’m really excited. I’m not going to share that person yet. But the point is it’s a person that students know. They don’t have a fancy title. This person makes the student experience. So, I’m going to get to talk to this person. I’m really, really excited about it.

I do have a fellow. So, in campus life and at the university, we have someone just post-grad who just finished with the Wake Forest undergrad and they have a year where they work with a unit. And so, we have, like, anywhere on a given year from 12 to 16. And so, we have a campus life fellow, Gretchen Castelloe, who was just a Wake Forest alum. So, one of her primary projects this year as a fellow is podcast. So, she works really close with beer, so like today, similar to you, I record something separate. And so, I had to do an intro and outro for a previous guest today, and she set it up in my office. Sometimes, I go to a studio. So, she is staff, but she’s right out of her undergrad experience. And then my… I have a director of strategic initiatives that really helps me think about the arc of the year time—you know, where I’m going to be, where other people might be, how do we promote it? My executive assistant helps with scheduling, which is, you know, a fun, fun thing, because, typically, both people are very busy. So, trying to figure out, you know, the best time. And then, we work with them. I have to give a shout out to WakerSpace, which is our maker space on campus. So, they facilitate a lot of experiential learning on campus. So, whether it’s embroidery or woodworking or using a laser or working with polymers, they have a booth for podcasts.

That’s another example of, like, I want to work with campus resources to promote WakerSpace. And so Paul Whitener is the director over there. So, he helps on that side of things, get the recording to Vir, then Vir can do the editing. And then, we have a communications team that does the graphics and helps put that together. They send me the graphics. And I’m real… I still maybe call it old school, but no one posts for me on social media. And so, they send me all the, whatever the kit is for that week. And then, we get it published out there. And, and I know I can learn a lot from you. This is our first go. And you learn as you go, but we have transcripts that are home on our campus life website so that it’s also inclusive for anyone who’s listening. And we’ve checked Spotify to host our podcasts. So, It’s a lift, but I have a great team, so…

[00:30:08] Josie: And I think it’s good for leaders listening or marketers or student affairs pros, sometimes we see these ideas or someone’s like, “Oh, I want a podcast.” And I’m always like, “Do you have a team?” But I also love it’s, not only are you telling the stories of Wake Forest, but it also is very much fueled the team that’s part of it behind that is students and the internal resources at your campus. There are a lot of campus-based tools that you could collaborate with different offices on and not to feel like you’ve got to do it all on your own. So, it’s awesome.

[00:30:45] Shea: Yeah, one question I had as a VP was, do students listen to podcasts? You know, they’re really busy and… but they do. It’s on their own terms, like, their own schedule. So, it may be during a walk or during a long drive, or maybe they listen to the whole season on their way home when they were going home for winter break. But they do listen. We did, like, a recap at the end of the fall semester. And, you know, students are like, “Oh, that reminds me on my way, you know, to D.C., I need to download everything” And so, it’s been really fun. And I’ve learned a lot.

Our first one was our chief diversity officer and our second one was our head football coach. And those are so very different in terms of, you know, journeys and experiences. And they’ve both been really fun. We’ve got some fun ones lined up for this semester as well.

[00:31:32] Josie: So, it’s coming back this semester. Okay. Do you have like a season or a month that you’re planning to do?

[00:31:40] Shea: Yeah, our hope is one every three weeks or so, which times out to be four or five guests for the semester. So, every month, you know, we’re dropping one. And I… everything I do, I want to do well. And I didn’t want to over-promise. And so, what happens is sometimes we’ll front-load recordings so that we can drop more often. So, like, I will give a teaser that we have our head basketball coach dropping. And it may drop before yours is published, but Steve Forbes is a 2022 ACC coach of the year, just a phenomenal person that, again, people see on the sidelines, but they may not know what his experiences are. And he’s just such a joy to talk with. And it’s in the middle of conference play, so it’s really… when I interviewed him, yeah, he was, kind of, he had gotten back at 2:00 a.m. after losing to Florida State. So, but, like, all of those things really hard. And he showed up. We had a great conversation. And then, I just interviewed our university president. So, that’s going to be really exciting. Biochemist, just renowned researcher, now president of Wake Forest University.

Again, two very different people, people, though, that everybody knows in our community. So, they’re both from Iowa. So, that’s an interesting connection point.

One thing I learned, and you may ask me this later, but I have learned over the course of the arc of asking questions… my training is qualitative research methodology, so it comes in handy when I’m asking questions. But one thing I learned is, and you may struggle with this, too, some, as a host, is where do I start? Because, you know, you could start at any point, but a question I always ask people I’ve never met is, where is home for you? And so, it just feels like it has evolved into that’s the first question. And then, I asked, what does home mean to you? And so, that has been a really interesting different and connected answer because, of course, everybody has a different story, but there are some similarities that have really emerged. So, that’s been fun. And as a, again, a qualitative research methodologist, I’m like, “Ooh, let’s look at the things.” And, you know, it’s really fun.

[00:33:46] Josie: Well, I got a couple of those at the end. When I heard you consistently asking that question, I also was like feeling choked up, like, I was like, “I don’t know, like…” because the questions can be really deep. It can be something simple or it leads to something more significant. I think it all goes back to the theme of the show, too, about humanity and what it means to be human, which this show has some threads of, as well.

And I think the theme of this episode is, I’m, kind of, ping-ponging everywhere, but it all is in this… Ping-pong sounds aggressive. Maybe it’s because it’s the Monday vibes, but I’m also feeling quite calm within it. Last season, my theme of the season was about wellness and mental health and self-care, which we could be talking about every single season and need, too. But I also found a lot of people are hungry to more openly talk about the constant change, transition, life decisions, how to be human-

[00:34:46] Shea: Right.

[00:34:46] Josie: … in 2024. Because whether if it’s at home, at work, or you like change or you don’t, being able to learn from each other’s lives and transitions can be really meaningful. And you shared at the very top that your approach to social is very integrated and intentional. We’re seeing family. We’re seeing your craft room and you at Milkshake Mondays and selfies with students. In September, you also shared a very big announcement that I squealed from. And you shared, “We’re announcing our biggest game changer of the season. We’re adopting.” It’s so very exciting.

We chatted earlier that you’d be okay chatting about this, but let us know this change, this transition, and what’s to come, because I do think I know five other women, potentially, and families, on this adventure as well. So, I think telling this story could also be really meaningful to them.

[00:35:51] Shea: Yeah. Well, I appreciate you asking. And yes, as I often share, I’m, I’m a whole self. And, you know, it’s not that I open every detail of my life, but I do think that it offers important perspective. And my husband, Ryan, and I married. It’ll be three years in May. We really, you know, had been thinking about growing our family. And I have a 15-year-old that I mentioned briefly earlier. But, you know, it’s just, kind of, been there. It hadn’t been like something that we fully leaned into, but something about moving to Wake Forest and buying our first home together. And I think it created this… we talk about grounding a lot in this podcast, but it created a sense of grounding. And we could really entertain some of those questions that we had in the past, because it felt like, you know, I’m not planning for the next step. I’m planning to be here for a long time. And, and this is what I wanted to be when I grew up.

So, I’m like, you know, not feeling like I’m climbing, necessarily, anymore professionally, and he’s in a really good place professionally. And so, that’s just a little window into the decision. And it was a little bit scary not to think about the decision but to think about sharing. So, as an executive member of the leadership team at Wake Forest, you know, my supervisor is president of the university and I’m accountable to a board of trustees, and I have a very public persona, as we’ve talked about. And so, I would not be congruent with my values if I was navigating something this special without sharing it with my community, in the larger community.

So, we are adopting a baby, so zero to one. And we are in a really hard season of that in that it is we posted after we were fully approved and waiting. So, you know, and some people wait for a short time and some people wait for a long time. And COVID made that really long for some people. And when I say really hard, I like to know things. I like to know when they’re going to happen. I like to plan. I like to have my spreadsheets. And there is none of that. So, I, I can decorate a room, and I can do a little bit as I go. And then, I have to, some days, sort of, compartmentalize that part of waiting, because I know, and anyone who’s listening who’s gone through an adoption journey, or if you haven’t, you’ll get calls or you get opportunities. And so, each time you think that may be it. And then, if that doesn’t work, there’s some navigating of emotion while you’re also living your life and planning the vacation or pausing on the vacation or helping your team understand that they might not have you in two days if you get a phone call and are leaving.

So, that’s been interesting, as, as this person who very much likes the plan, but that’s also a life lesson that I’ll be able to reflect on the back end. And then, as far as sharing, I mentioned it, so it’s risky. And I’ve so value relationships. We’ve talked about connecting online, but I value relationships up close. And I think that’s what helped me to know that sharing and how that was received wasn’t really in my control. But what I could do is share and hope that I would get support back. But to not share would be incongruent with my values. And so, I shared with my boss very early on in the process, and she was very supportive and, you know, and I don’t have an update for her every week, but she knows what I’m navigating. And she and I developed a strategy for when I’m gone, because again, that, I can’t plan for that. So, like, I don’t know when, but I can, I do have a spreadsheet for what.

And one of my teammates actually introduced me to my adoption agency. So, that was another, you know, in our positions, people say it’s lonely at the top. I don’t know that it’s lonely. It just changes your dynamics with people. One of my team members, who I knew had an adoption story, and I asked her a year ago, actually, almost to the date, “Hey, tell me more,” you know. And it was one of those, like, let’s lean in. And she actually introduced me to my agency. And we’ve developed a different relationship as a result of that.

And then, I’ll tell you the thing that was probably the most scary, because it was public, was sharing the news with my division. So, we have a division of 250 people. We have all staff meetings every month. And so, it felt important before I posted on social that I shared with the people that I get to work alongside. And so, I announced that day. And, you know, you feel a little vulnerable when you’re sharing that, not knowing, do people feel like it’s oversharing, you know, all those kinds of things.

And afterward, I had a staff member come up to me and she had tears in her eyes, and she said, “Thank you. You don’t know what that meant to me as a woman, as a professional woman, as someone who might be in advanced maternal age to use medical, you know, all the things. And you sharing this makes me think maybe I can do this.” That was not something I expected. I was really surprised by that reaction. So, the seat that I sit in, I have a different influence, perhaps. So, just hearing people’s response to that was also reassuring that, again, not looking for that, but hoping for some kind of support. And I have been, and you worry, you share something just like if it’s a pregnancy or whatever it may be, and it doesn’t work out, or it doesn’t work out on your terms, or you have some heartbreak. And we’ve certainly had that over the last four months.

But, you know, it’s like people can love with you, they can celebrate with you, and they can mourn with you, and they can help you navigate things. So, when… you can’t have one or the other. You can’t just have all celebration. You have to… Brene Brown talks about, like, if you numb the hard stuff, you also numb the good stuff. So, that’s really what, you know, I went into. And my husband who is an attorney is also just very careful, naturally. So, he’s like, in the beginning, “I don’t know if we want to share, especially on your social media platform.” But he… the other day he was, like, “I’m just really glad because we have people who randomly say, ‘How are things going?’ And then, we can say, ‘You know what? We thought we were a match for someone and then it didn’t work out. And that was really hard.’” And we’re going to sit in the mess of that, and then, you know, move to the next. And that’s something I don’t post every day, because that’s… boundaries are important.

But, but I think it is important for people to know, like, higher education in corporate settings or wherever you are, like, we are whole people, whether we celebrate that or whether we silence that. We’re always whole people. And so, to be able to share this really important part of our lives with the world, essentially, you know, very few times is it without risk, but we’ve been met with so much love and so much support. And we’re ready to meet this little person whenever they, they may be in the world. I don’t know. That’s the interesting thing about it. So, I’ve done some reflecting. I’ve started a private blog, just to chronicle my feelings. Actually, I just pulled something up that I wrote last night. I don’t know if it’s appropriate. But it was just reminding me.

Like, sometimes it keeps me up at night, wondering who will be, when it will be, how it will be, help me to be patient. It will happen when the time is right. These are the words I tell myself to calm my anxious body and mind. I know this to be true, yet I still fret. I’m still impatient. I want to know how the story will start and how it will end. Tonight, as I go to bed, my emotion is nervous excitement. It’s an odd place to live this season of, it could be tomorrow or a year from now. It’s different to fully describe. 

And I write some more, but, you know, those are, I think that process is important, because once we’re on the other side of hard things, wherever it is, our brain, as a coping mechanism, just, kind of, wipes it.

I am trying. I’m not the best blogger. I’m not the best written processor, but I am trying to document some of that. And I appreciate you asking about it.

[00:43:48] Josie: Oh, I’m just so thankful you’re willing to give us that insight and share. And I, I can’t wait for that status update for you, whenever that is. I met a couple of your staff members at a conference, a marketing conference, and they had shared just how meaningful it was to them about your transparency and openness on the personal side, but also logistical. We know our life decisions. And this one is a unique, right?

[00:44:23] Shea: Yes.

[00:44:23] Josie: That you can’t plan for it. You don’t know when that due date is. But when you actually start, like you said, you shared that example, there are so many other people that have gone through it, that may want to, that are going to be a grandma someday. I think you hit it right at the core, is, it was congruent to your values, about why to post, about why you would share with your staff or not. And just want to see you, too, about it’s the journey that you’re on, and we’re here for you.

[00:44:52] Shea: Yeah. Well, thank you. And I am excited, you know. You and I worked together on presentations and panels before. And we’re going to bring this whole conversation to NASPA. So, I have a session called MVPs, Mom VPs. And I have five mom vice presidents with newborns to high school. And being able to talk about what we’ve navigated and negotiated in some cases, what is it like to talk to a university president about parental leave, you know, at that stage, at the executive table. So, I’m excited to, to also just put that in the space of our profession, globally, to say, “We did it.” Some days it’s messy, some days we got remnants of baby food or whatever might be on us. And we’re imperfect people, and that’s what makes us connected.

[00:45:40] Josie: You are heroes and angels, because I spent four days with some kids and I got out of there alive.

[00:45:51] Shea: Yes. Thank you. Appreciate you.

[00:45:54] Josie: So funny. Whether it’s that example or other stories that you share, especially for women, is you’re holding space, you’re role-modeling for… and that’s why I do this podcast, is the way that you use social may or may not fit for others, but it is going to resonate, or we can try on different ways of doing this work in this life. So, that can be… and when you’re ready to blog, maybe sub-stack or, or just your Notes app. Maybe it’s just for you. That’s okay, too.

[00:46:21] Shea: Yeah. And that’s, you know, sometimes because I don’t have my computer like that. What I read was actually on my Notes app. And being able to… I think we all need to do a little more low tech, even though a blog is high tech, it’s just a way to write it down.

[00:46:36] Josie: Yeah. So, I got a couple of more questions. Thank you so much for your time.

[00:46:42] Shea: Absolutely.

[00:46:42] Josie: Where can people find you to connect?

[00:46:44] Shea: So, I’ve spent most of my social media time on Instagram, as I mentioned, and mostly in my stories. Feel free to find me at Shea Kidd Brown. And it’s Shea, like the butters, S-H-E-A-K-I-D-D, Brown, like the color. I am deciding what my identity is on X. I’ve been… kind of a rule that I have is, if I’m on the platform, I need to be active. And I have not been active. So, I really need to make a decision that I go back in or that I tag out. So, I’m at a crossroads, not to pun, [crosstalk 00:47:21] crossroads with X. So, for now, you can find me at HeyDrShea on X and just my name on Facebook. I’m also on LinkedIn. I’m also on Spotify. And Kidd You Not is on Spotify as well. And so, those are all really good places. And for my Wake Forest identity, campus life, that wakeforest.edu is a great landing page, where my team and I are all located. So, that’s another… a good place to find me.

[00:47:48] Josie: If you knew your next post, let’s not use X as an example, because there really might be a… you might be logging off very soon. If you knew your next post was going to be your last, what would you want it to be about?

[00:48:03] Shea: Ooh, that’s a hard question. I think I would want to honor everyone who has been a part of the journey. And I would want to be in the picture with them, if possible. So, I’m thinking of an Instagram paradigm, 10 pictures max is what they allow. So, I would think about my parents, my family structure that I mentioned. I would think about my, my education and those who’ve been such a critical part of that. My undergraduate mentor is now a university president, so he’d have to be somewhere in that as the start, but also what I learned at the University of Georgia and my various institution stops. That would have to be like a collage picture in a picture.

You know, I would think about my immediate family, like my husband and son and their impact and influence and what I’ve learned from them. Certainly, my students all along the way have been my greatest teachers. And that’s… you know, all but two years of my professional life have been in higher ed. I was not in higher ed right out of undergrad. So, there’s so much of my life that has revolved around the university and the university has revolved around my life. They’ve both been just such key aspects. And then, you know, I’d say the creative piece would have to be in there.

So, it’s a hard question, but what I would say is I would want those who, if I was no longer on the earth, to not go another day not knowing what a difference they’ve made in my life and how that collective whole is really not about Shea K. Brown but about all the people who have influenced my life along the way and encourage them to continue to do that for other people, because we just never know. I’m getting a little teary-eyed, but we just don’t know. So, when we see people at the grocery counter or the bottom of the stairs or, you know, at an event, that can be such an important starting point, if we notice.

So, many of my most dear friends we met in the hallway of a conference or the stairway of a student center or in a classroom. And I stayed to introduce myself after they pulled me aside. So, I would want to give a shout-out, as we say, to all those great people in my life, because sometimes, when people leave the earth, we think about how we honor that person, but that person also doesn’t get to think about how they honor all the people that have been in their lives.

[00:50:25] Josie: That’s beautiful, very full and whole life. So, for now, you’ve got a podcast, you’ve got a secret Notes app blog. When you are sharing out in digital spaces, what do you hope the impact that it’s making? So, to answer the question, what is your why for leading online?

[00:50:47] Shea: I guess if I could boil it down, it’s hard. I struggle with one word, but, you know, it’s accessibility. So, it’s the ability to connect with a student. And I didn’t even talk about families and that impact, but, you know, if I have a family in Oregon and their student is in Winston, Salem, same time zone as you, but, you know, opposite side of the United States, they actually know, “My student’s all right because she’s got somebody who’s getting up every morning and thinking about them and, you know, connecting with them.” So, I’m on air. I’m on social media to connect, to be a bridge on a lot of places, but I’m not everywhere. But social media helps. And higher ed, especially, as we know, I use it for multiple reasons, but in higher ed, the tendency for administrators is to be fairly distant. I wouldn’t say disconnected, but distant. An unintentional benefit has been that I’ve been able to bring that a little bit closer together. So, even if the dean of the college isn’t on Instagram, she’s on my Instagram, you know, so then people understand who she is. Or today I co-hosted Milkshake Monday with our chief diversity officer. So, people may not know Dr. V’s social but they know mine. And so, it’s this bridge, it’s this connection point for people.

It’s also, I mentioned earlier, a mindfulness. People might think social is actually the opposite of mindfulness, but it is a great way, particularly in stories, for me to share what might be on my mind on any given day, but also, like, a quick tidbit on my way to work. It is cold. That might be a post I have tomorrow. “People, it is cold. How y’all doing out there,” kind of thing.

[00:52:37] Josie: It’s relatable.

[00:52:37] Shea: But, yeah, it’s relatable. But it’s also, it helps me to think when I get on stories, like, okay, my students are really stressed today, so let me show them this beautiful tree that I saw as I was looking up on my way to work, you know. Or, it’s week eight. They just made me really stressed. Let me just put something out there. So, it’s this mindfulness practice. It’s just a way to provide connective tissue. And I also… I don’t use it just to post. Like, I’m learning things about other people. So, you know, at Wake Forest, we have an intimate student body. It’s 5,500 undergrads. And when they connect with me, then I know, “Hey, that’s Lauren that I met, or that’s Prajna that I met on Friday, or that’s Danny that I met on Friday. And these are real people that I met on Friday, you know.” Like, we’re able to reinforce maybe a hallway conversation that we had, if there’s a follow afterward, or if there’s a follow and then I meet that person in public. It really, you know, it goes back to the podcast, the purpose of mine is connecting to our shared humanity, and it helps with that piece of it.

And so, it doesn’t work for everybody, but for me, I think it works because it’s really real and not, like I told you, I post all my content. And that doesn’t work for everybody. Some people need a team to post their content. I just came up in it. And so, it comes really naturally to me. So, those are some things that I think it’s also a news source. You know, I can quickly skim through and understand, or, you know, unfollow things I don’t want to see. So, that’s helpful as well.

[00:54:10] Josie: Well, as a qualitative researcher, I love to hear the behind-the-scenes stuff that’s actually happening. I’ve heard it enough, but it’s always nice to continue to hear the impact, the heart work. It’s not just what is in the feed about where it’s going. And I feel like the theme of our conversation, storytelling, accessibility connections, y’all can’t see this, but behind, Shea, there’s like this magical ladder that goes up a very tall bookshelf, which I would definitely need. It’s like a Beauty and the Beast. It’s so beautiful. And I really think that emulates you as, whether if you’re helping someone to reach or you’re making those connections. We got just a little taste of that here today.

[00:55:00] Shea: Well, thank you. Thank you for facilitating the conversation. It was really great to connect with you.

[00:55:05] Josie: As this episode is coming out on Valentine’s Day, it’s quite fitting that there is lots of heart and soul, and even some of the hard stuff in this episode. Love is more than just your partner. We discuss the love for Shea’s granny, how the impact she had and early influence, but also the love for the work that Shea does and the hope for love in her adoption journey story.

Even in her Instagram bio, she talks about her work as a labor of love, that it is hard work and heart work. There were so many themes throughout our episode and our conversation, and they all come back to storytelling. And not just about stories on social, but sometimes those private moments or a private Notes app or a handwritten message.

And so, I hope, as you listened, you found some ideas and inspiration all over the place. But it’s also a reminder, even to our senior leaders, you may actually be a different kind of digital native, as Shea shared. As she started to experience social media, like tools, even in grad school, and this very much excites me as we see this new generation, the next generation of vice presidents and presidents that didn’t know any other way.

But what I appreciate about this episode is Shea provides what social can provide for campus leaders, but when it’s driven to increase accessibility and to be a connective tissue for your campus. Shea realized even back in Tennessee that students were paying attention, sharing about a bathroom renovation they would come up to her and comment, reporting they felt closer to her, even at a very, very large institution like UT.

But it’s not just about posting for her. She shares it’s a mindfulness project that, when she chooses to post, she is entering the lens of a student and be aware of what they’re going through in that moment, even if it’s the weather, and then what they might need to hear.

But you also don’t need to overcomplicate this. She shares she doesn’t have a spreadsheet. But what you do need, you need to be present. And you need to be out there. And finally, you need to be willing to be a storyteller, including telling your story. This is what makes us human. So, in addition to social, I’m sure a lot of leaders and staff and faculty know this, you’re speaking to a variety, whether if it’s in a class or in a meeting or a workshop. And many times, Shea integrates her story as part of that. She will share a slide with a collage of photos that represents who she is and her values. But then, she’ll also flip it and ask attendees or students, “What photos would make up your slide?” And I think this is a great exercise for you listening right now to think about what that would be.

On her podcast, Kidd You Not, it’s centered on humanity. And she talks about, that there is a whole lot of dehumanization that’s happening. And social media can be the root of some of that, but not the only. And as campus leaders, we need to get up close, because we all have an origin story.

As we think about the logistics of this podcast and content strategy, I love that it’s student-centered and student-run. I hear from many leaders, the further they go up, the further away they get from students. And so, what a cool way to meet so many things at the same time, making sure you’re content student-centered, working with students to do it. But also, you’re going to need, especially with podcasting, a team approach from professional staff and technical staff.

And if you didn’t hear her say and answer the question, do students listen to podcasts, she said, yes, they absolutely do. And it also doesn’t surprise me then why she makes sure the show is on Spotify.

Like this podcast, we get into some meaningful questions. For hers, she asks, where is home for you? And what does home mean to you? And I’m also a fellow qualitative researcher, always looking for themes. Heck, that is how my book, Digital Leadership in Higher Education, all came from my podcast episodes, asking the question of why you lead online.

There was also some really great takeaways. As I also get asked often, what should I share? What’s personal? What’s professional? Which, that phrase didn’t even come up in our chat. For Shea, she put it right, is it congruent with your values? And so, when she was deciding whether to share about her adoption journey, it absolutely was.

It also was an example beyond social of executive communications and knowing the impact, the way that you talk to, and sometimes roll out things to your team, your division, your entire campus can make such an impact.

And then, we get into the whole life stuff. She quoted Brene Brown, if you numb the hard stuff, you also numb the good stuff. But Shea’s spin on this is we are whole people, whether we silence that or we share that. The impact that’s happened since she’s told staff in private spaces, as well as publicly on social media. And again, we are all here rooting for you and your family, Shea, on growing your family.

There was one other quote that I just absolutely had to pull into my reflections to make sure that you heard, as we talked about what her why is for leading online. She says, don’t go another day on earth without telling people the influence they have had on your life. We just don’t know.

Shea has made a difference in my life. And I don’t even get to work with her that close, even though I’m going to make every excuse I can to put her on our panel or maybe collaborate with in the future. And she very much is a connector and a bridge or, like, a ladder that we saw in the background of her, or at least I saw when we recorded. She will welcome a connection with you in digital spaces, or if you happen to see her at a conference or on campus.

[01:02:32] Shea, thank you so much for being a bridge, for telling your story, and giving so many people permission to do the same.

Thank you all for checking out this episode. I would be so very appreciative if you make sure that you are subscribed, that you’re following, and if you really loved it, give a little five stars, maybe share it. You can join the conversation online, finding me @JosieAhlquist on all the platforms. And the podcast is on social, too.

Remember, the show notes and additional resources can be found at josieahlquist.com/podcast. Remember to give some love to our sponsors, Element 451, and the producers of this show, University FM.

I’m sending on this Valentine’s Day hugs, loves, and waves to whatever corner of the world you’re listening in from. This has been Josie and the Podcast.

About Josie

I’m Dr. Josie Ahlquist—a digital engagement and leadership consultant, researcher, educator, and author. I’m passionate about helping people and organizations find purposeful ways to connect, engage, and tell their unique story. I provide consulting, executive coaching, and training for campuses, companies, and organizations that want to learn how to humanize technology tools and build effective and authentic online communities.

My blog and podcast have been recognized by EdTech Magazine, Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education. My book, Digital Leadership in Higher Education, was published in 2020 and was listed as a #1 new release for college and university student life. I have been growing my consultancy since 2013 and am based in Los Angeles. When I’m not helping clients lead online, you might find me training for a triathlon, spoiling my nieces and nephews, or exploring with my husband and our rescue dogs in our new RV called Lady Hawk.

I’d love to connect! Find me on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

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