Alexis ’17, ’19 and Justin Black ’18, ’19 are co-founders of Redefining Normal, a media platform that works to redefine societal norms and inspire people to talk about their trauma, as well as coauthors of the books, “I Love You More Than Cereal: Maeva and Dad Redefine Love” and “Redefining Normal: How Two Foster Kids Beat The Odds and Discovering Healing, Happiness, and Love.” They are both passionate advocates for children, especially concerning those in the foster care system. Alexis attended the 2017 TFAS Capital Semester Program on Leadership and the American Presidency and Justin attended the 2018 TFAS Journalism and Communication Summer Program. They both attended the 2019 TFAS Asia program in Hong Kong and are graduates of Western Michigan University.
In this week’s Liberty and Leadership Podcast, TFAS President Roger Ream ’76, Alexis, and Justin discuss the powerful impact TFAS has had on their lives, how their childhoods growing up in foster care led them to coauthoring two books, the work Alexis and Justin are doing to help both children and parents in today’s foster care system, how traveling the world fundamentally changed their outlook on everything, and a healthy debate over which cereal is superior: Count Chocula or Smart Start.
The transcript below is lightly edited for clarity.
Roger Ream [00:00:00] Hello and welcome. I’m Roger Ream and this is the Liberty and Leadership Podcast, a conversation with TFAS alumni, supporters, faculty and friends who are making a real impact in public policy, business, philanthropy, law and journalism. Today, I’m excited to be joined by two TFAS alums, Alexis and Justin Black, the co-founders of Redefining Normal and coauthors of “Redefining Normal: How Two Foster Kids Beat the Odds and Discovered Healing, Happiness and Love.” A 12-time award winning book about opening up and healing from past trauma. Alexis and Justin and I will chat today about the work they do within their company, their roles in advocating for foster care youth, and their past experiences that have impacted them and who they are today. Alexis, Justin, thanks so much for joining me today.
Justin Black [00:01:03] Thank you for having us. It’s a pleasure to be able to speak to you. Pleasure to speak as TFAS alum and share everything we’re doing and we’re just excited.
Alexis Black [00:01:13] Yes. Thank you.
Roger Ream [00:01:14] First of all, could you tell me how you met and how that has shaped your story?
Justin Black [00:01:22] Yeah. So a little bit about how we met. This is actually the first chapter in our book, Redefining Normal. So we met at Western Michigan University, both from Michigan, I’m from Detroit. She’s in Flint, Michigan, and we met at Western Michigan in 2016. I was the incoming freshman. She was a junior at the time, and we met in a program called the Seita Scholars Program for foster youth higher education and is basically a program that supports youth transitioning into college who may have had experiences in the child welfare system and basically just guiding them, supporting them, campus coaches, resources and everything like that. And we met on the first day before the program even started. They have a summer early transition week, so you get used to where your classes are and meet your campus coach and get familiar with the university. And we met the first day of that summer program and we started talking ever since and then started talking all summer before the school year even began and eventually later that year started dating.
Roger Ream [00:02:29] Well, we have a key member of our team at TFAS, who’s a Western Michigan alum, and we get students from there quite often. It’s a wonderful school in Kalamazoo, right?
Alexis Black [00:02:41] Yeah. Wow. I might have to reach out to them. I didn’t know you guys had someone on your team for Western. That’s awesome.
Roger Ream [00:02:47] Yeah. And you had a great experience there. But this program brings together students who’ve been through foster care and what provides scholarships for you to attend Western Michigan. That sounds like a great program. Do you know of many of those at other schools?
Alexis Black [00:03:06] Yes. The Seita Scholarship Program was the premier program in the country. It was one of the very first to ever exist. And at first it really started with being resources and a campus coach and a scholarship. And then it also turned into other things like providing transitional housing because most foster youth are homeless over holiday break such as Christmas, spring break, things like that, because you don’t have anywhere to go. And so our school and the program really tried to fulfill those gaps. And so there are programs now all over the country and mainly I would say they’re primarily at the state schools. But our school has one of the largest ones, about 80% of the foster youth in Michigan who go to college, go to Western.
Roger Ream [00:03:48] Wonderful. And I’ll point out and we’ll touch on a little later. But now you’re married and you welcomed a daughter into the world a few months ago, and we’ll talk about that. But that’s a spoiler alert. So you dated at Western Michigan. And I think, Alexis, it was you first who discovered TFAS and came to a TFAS program.
Alexis Black [00:04:10] Yes. So I was actually a Newman Civic Fellow, if you’re familiar with that. And so the former president of my university selected one student to represent our campus. And so I was selected as a Newman Civic Fellow. And then from that I received an email to apply for TFAS. It was the Leadership and the America Presidency Program and I wasn’t going to apply because I felt like I had too many things going on. I think what would have happened and what did happen was I did I think it was two back-to-back study abroad programs. I came home for two weeks and then I would go to D.C. for the semester and I thought that would be too much, you know, to be gone that much. But then Justin encouraged me the night that it was due to apply. And I’m like, okay, well, fine, I’ll try it. And the only way for me to go was through the scholarship. And so I was actually awarded a full scholarship for the full semester. And so that is exactly what happened. I was gone all summer, back-to-back study abroad, came home for about a week, then was gone for the semester.
Roger Ream [00:05:12] So that was a program that focuses and still focuses on leadership and the leadership styles of various American presidents. And you had an internship attached to it. Can you just talk briefly about that experience and the program and maybe what your assessment was of that being in Washington?
Alexis Black [00:05:35] Absolutely, I mean, absolutely 100% once in a lifetime opportunity, I was able to live right next to the Library of Congress. I had an internship that I could walk to. It was absolutely amazing. And then two of the people that I live with, they actually were bridesmaids in my wedding. And then my friend, our neighbor, who was also in the program, he’s one of my best friends now. So I have three of my lifelong friends from that program. Some of the closest humans I have around me and also helped me expand a lot of my worldview. I think, unfortunately, coming from both of us, from Flint and Detroit, I think we tend to have and for foster care, you tend to have a very limited worldview on things. And so when you can expand outside of that and go to an a different environment and be surrounded by people who have very different worldviews and ideologies and things like that. Whereas I mentioned my bridesmaids, one was a mormon and the other one was a stronger Republican, which I was more Democrat at the time. So it was just, you know, it was an interesting dynamic for me to just, you know, test the waters and meet new people. And that was one of the first times that I was able to really meet people outside of, I guess, my demographic and viewpoint and things like that. And then my other friend, we just went to events pretty much every day for the whole semester. I wrote down every single event that I went to and I filled up probably two and a half pages of my journal, just because I was like, this is amazing. I’ve never been to a city where I could do, you know, an event every single day if I wanted to. So it was a absolutely phenomenal experience, and I wish I could do it over and over again. I talk about it all the time.
Roger Ream [00:07:18] Well, when you mentioned the broadening of your worldview, it reminded me of something this summer, I had a breakfast with about a dozen students one morning and I happened to ask them. I said, when you get back to the dorm at night after attending classes and your internships, do you tend to have heated arguments about things going on in the world about, say, recent Supreme Court decisions? And of course the Dobbs decision on abortion had just come out and there were some other controversial decisions by the Supreme Court. And I was struck by the first answer, a young woman said, said actually, no, we don’t argue at all. We just want to listen to each other’s viewpoints, hear different opinions, and come to appreciate how people come about with their different opinions. And I thought, that’s great. That’s exactly what we want you to be able to do, is have civil discussions with people you don’t agree with. So I’m glad that that’s reinforced by what you just said, Alexis. Now, Justin, Alexis, I take it encouraged you to do a TFAS program the following year, is that right?
Justin Black [00:08:18] Yes, she did. She did. And at the time I was doing journalism, and that was kind of my direction in college at the time, focusing in on journalism before switching my major and I did a journalism program, and I interned at the National Black Child Development Institute right outside of D.C. And D.C. was kind of a life changing experience. It helped me with my discipline today, needing to make sure I’m at the metro on time, make sure I get my clothes organized, my suits together and everything. And it was a fun experience doing that during the summer when in like 90 degree weather putting a full suit on, so I had to learn from other people like, hey, you know, you don’t need to wear a suit on the metro, you can change your outfit when you get to the internship. So small things like that. And then being like 8 to 12 minutes from the Lincoln Memorial. So it was just an environment that encourages me to be disciplined, be healthy. You know, going for a jog every night to the Lincoln Memorial is just the mindset that D.C. influenced me to have, was something that I carried on as an entrepreneur. Now, as a parent, my marriage and in every aspect of my life, really.
Roger Ream [00:09:36] Wonderful, wonderful. We’ll touch on one other TFAS experience you had a little bit later. But now I love to get into this, the work you’re doing now. You wrote a book, Redefining Normal: How to Foster Kids Beat the Odds and Discovered Healing, Happiness and Love. It’s a powerful title. A powerful book. Talk to me about and what led you to write this book and to focus so much energy in this area of foster care and redefining normal? I mean, I’m taken by, you know, the importance of what you’re doing and trying to help others establish healthy practices that, as you say, break the cycle. Let’s talk some about that now.
Alexis Black [00:10:20] Absolutely. I mean, I think throughout life, generally, people were kind of planning to see that we both need to write a book. And I know it was around the time where my internship ended in D.C. and we were talking about if we were to write a book, what would that look like? And then the following year, so it was January 2020. We were on our way to South Africa and we actually stopped in Egypt and we’re like, you know, let’s start thinking about it. What would that look like? And initially we thought the book was going to be about healthy relationships because that’s something, you know, the lowest hanging fruit of a book topic that we could choose. It was something we talk about every day. This was a topic that we don’t see in our communities of people talking about with almost everybody we knew were in unhealthy relationships. I was in an eight-year abusive relationship, so I had personal experience in that. So I wanted to teach other people how to really avoid that. What are the red flags? All that good stuff. But then I got really overwhelmed with the idea of writing a book by myself, especially since I’m not a writer. That’s not my skill set. I’m very like type A logistical get things done person. But Justin is very creative and a brilliant writer and, you know, and that’s his thing. And so I said, let’s do this together. And as we were starting to do the process, we thought to ourselves, okay, well, what establishes what you view is healthy and where does that come from? Well, that comes from what do you view as normal? And then to take it a step further, what else has been normalized? And so that’s where we came from, the idea in the thought of Redefining Normal because everybody has their own definition of what normal is based on your family, community or society and that’s really just reinforce moving forward. And so if you have parents or a community that teaches you very unhealthy dynamics of communication, love, family, all those things, and then that’s now your normal and that’s what you’re going to proceed with in relationships. And so we couldn’t write a book about relationships, without going back to the root of what’s your normal. And so that’s really where the concept came from. And then we decided that we were going to write the book back and forth in each of our narratives because we wanted to make sure that people could physically see that in order for us to come together and have a healthy relationship in marriage, that we had to each deal with our own stuff, be held accountable, we had to go through our own individual journeys of healing and self-discovery before we could come together and have that healthy relationship. And that’s where the last section of the book called Agreement is written as one voice in every other chapter is written sort of individually and bouncing off of each other with different topics. And that’s really, you know, how we structured it. And we never wrote a book, you know, structured in that way. So we just kind of made it up as we went. And that was my thing. I’m good at, you know, the organizing and figuring things out. And he was very much my person of I’m going to speak to you of the things that happened and can you write it out in a nicer way than what I do because I tend to write very what is it called? Police report style? Words like this happen at this time and no feelings or anything and then Justin comes in and he puts in, you know, the feelings and the surroundings and stuff like that. So it was 100%, you know, a team effort and a book generally takes about five years to write. And we wrote ours, drafted our first draft in three months, and then we decided to print it and read it out loud together. And that was a way also for us to build empathy for each other’s story. So I read all of his parts out loud and he read all my parts out loud as a way to like, you know, go through the book the first time. So it was definitely also like a healing process before we got married, just to make sure every single thing was out on the table. We knew everything about each other so that we could be as, I guess, proactive in marriage. That’s what it really started as first was a project of how do we get closer together before marriage with our backgrounds.
Justin Black [00:14:13] Even just beyond the foster care aspect. I think that it’s important to realize or think about as an individual, your character traits, your principles, your values, and how that meshes with another person and that relationship that you have, that relationship and that marriage that you have. So on the influence the next four to 5 to 6 plus generations and you’re going to create the standard, you’re going to create the normal and went to foster care, not, you know, many of us are going to be in relationships, many of us are going to have marriages, have children, and you’re going to set the normal and set the standard whether you want to or not, intentional or unintentional, you’re going to set a standard of normal. And for us, unfortunately, trauma and unhealthy practices and habits became our normal throughout our childhood and teenage years. But through this book, we want to challenge other people to see what was your normal. And it may not be like, you know, similar to ours, filled with abuse or filled with some type of neglect and trauma, but certain aspects of maybe how you deal with finances, how you communicate, how you approach tough conversations, how you approach raising children, whatever it may be. Have a conversation about it so you can know that your normal is not consisted of something that may be unhealthy or conducive for the next generation and generations to come.
Roger Ream [00:15:31] I think that’s an excellent point that your story, what you write about, isn’t exclusive to kids in foster care, and we all need to, you know, redefine normal or not all but a lot of us have situations that require us to redefine normal. You know, I’ve heard it said that, you know, if you want to be successful in life, you increase the odds of success by doing four things and doing them in this order. Graduate from high school, get a job, get married, have children, and if you screw up the order and join in a different order, chances of success are reduced. You have more challenges in life if you have kids first before you graduate from high school or before you have a job. And I think that just plays to the importance of what you emphasize of developing healthy habits, of finding ways to break the cycle. It’s wonderful what that did for your own situation, your own marriage in your own lives, sounds like it was a transformative experience writing the book, but it’s also you’re influencing others. So talk a little bit about what that book has led to and how you’ve been able to, you know, build on it through talks you’re giving, different things you’re doing in life to help spread the word of the book to others.
Justin Black [00:16:52] Yeah. And so we as Foster Care alumni, we have been kind of speaking on different subjects throughout our time of foster care as teenagers and through different spaces because we’re just active and trying to support and serve. And it wasn’t until we created this book and it put all our effort in. So everybody we know, I don’t care if I haven’t spoke to you in three or four years, you’re going to know that I’m writing a book and publishing a book. So getting a word out there about this book and then just being invited to speak at different places, on different podcasts, on different stages, and making it to where, you know, we always encourage, you know, foster care, to have a conversation to be able to speak about more or less the impact of this, making sure that this is a company, that this is a brand where not only just influence foster care, youth and social workers and foster parents, but also students who are transitioning into their career, students and young people who are entering relationships, people who’ve dealt with trauma or unhealthy practices and habits for decades of their life and don’t know how can we find a solution to figure out, you know, how to progress forward, how to use them for the good? So many populations realize and so many people and populations that need this message and have this conversation. So being super intentional about positioning ourselves to conduct trainings, workshops, collaborating not just with our experiences, but collaborating with counselors and therapists, collaborating with other people who have years of experience as foster parents and just people who’ve been married for decades and a long time. So combining our lived experience and the information that we have as mentors and mentees, combining that with people who are specialists in other fields and conducting these workshops, trainings and speeches for different organizations across the country, really with this message and breaking it down. So where it’s not just redefining normal, but redefining family, redefining marriage, relationships, career, and all of these other aspects that we have some experience and collaborating with other people with so we can be conduits of information so we can help or support people and then be able to produce additional books where we have our Redefining Normal book and then we have our companion guides where we create an entire curriculum for youth and students and books, companion guides, an entire population of just people who love to support us and just giving back to them as well.
Roger Ream [00:19:22] Alexis, how do you see this going forward? Do you expect to be involved in this far into the future? Certainly, the need will be there.
Alexis Black [00:19:31] Yeah. I mean, we’re all about, you know, how can we build this ecosystem of support in this, you know, I guess in this ecosystem that we’re trying to build. That’s really what we’ve been trying to do. And so as Justin just mentioned, you know, we have other products that we’ve come out with. We have our book, we have multiple workbooks, we have a children’s book actually coming out on April 2nd, which happens to be his birthday and International Children’s Book Day, and it’s called I Love You More Than Cereal: Maeva and Dad Redefine Love. So it’s really taking the principles from our book and breaking it down into a children’s book series with our daughter Maeva, as you know, that the central character in honor of her. And because these messages are important and our book is inappropriate for youth 16 and under. And so we’re like, how can we make sure that these messages are construed in a way that’s, you know, that’s going to reach them? And so we have a graphic novel that’s coming out. We have all these things, you know, in the pipeline. And we’re also going through a rebrand in the moment with a new logo, new website to make sure that people are aware that we’re not just focusing on foster youth. We’re generally focusing on people who have experienced trauma. And over 90% of Americans have experienced at least one form of trauma in their lifetime. And with COVID, I would say everybody has something, as you mentioned, that needs to be redefined. So we’re just figuring out how can we reach those different niches and make sure that people don’t lump us into a box saying that we only work on foster youth and things like that. And so that’s really where we’ve seen expansion.
Justin Black [00:21:07] The biggest thing is that, you know, in a perfect world, foster care wouldn’t exist. And it’s not exactly our goal to make foster care not exist. But for so many people who enter foster care, the cycle continues with their same mindset, their practices and habits. And we’re trying to make sure we’re not trying to make a better foster care system. There’s a lot of people out here contributing to that and doing that, which is amazing, supportive of policy and other things. But we want to make sure that youth, the families, don’t have to encounter the child welfare system. So giving them the ideas, the practices, developing their skills that it wouldn’t need to enter the system or be a part of the system in any way. So trying to do some of the preventative work which goes into mental and emotional health, sometimes spiritual health, career prep for young people who are, you know, on the brink of maybe having children very young and need support in other ways or maybe already have children. So trying to support people in so many other ways, so do a lot of their preventative work so they won’t have to come in contact with the foster care system.
Alexis Black [00:22:13] Yeah, I mean, we have generally traveled full time since we started. You know, when we came up with the book, we have been traveling two or three weeks a month constantly. And that’s a little more difficult when you have a child, especially a newborn. So we’re seeing this year of, you know, maybe just doing one or two trips a month. But we do a lot of stuff virtually as well. So we travel and we love doing it, you know, as a family. But also we have another company where we do real estate on the side. We’re purchasing our third property in the next week or two. So we have a lot going on.
Roger Ream [00:22:47] Yeah. That entrepreneurial spirit. I love it. Well, you know, you’re right, Justin. It’s never going to be a perfect world. So the need for what you’re doing will always exist. And I’m afraid we’ll always have children going into foster care. And so it’s wonderful that you’re doing this. I do want to ask you about your travel, because as I understand it, you both did quite a few study abroad programs during your college years. I think I’ve heard Justin say he’s been to over 30 countries. I don’t know if that applies to both of you or just Justin, but you’ve both traveled a lot. You did our program in Hong Kong, which sadly we don’t do anymore because of changes that have taken place in Hong Kong. But it was a fantastic place to go. Could you speak to your study abroad experiences. What’s prompted you to do so many of those?
Alexis Black [00:23:42] Yeah, so I started college and then I transferred colleges. So I started at University of Michigan, Flint, and then I transferred to Western and on my tour of Western, one of the tour guides said that the record for study abroad programs was it six or seven?
Justin Black [00:23:58] It was seven.
Alexis Black [00:23:58] It was seven. So I think subconsciously in my mind, I said, I’m going to beat that. And so they talked about it on the walk around campus and about how there’s just so many resources on campus. If you want to go abroad, you can. We want to make sure that every student who wants to is accessible. And I could see that in the study abroad office and then with every single department who had programs and I had a teacher who really encouraged me to go. I had an entrepreneurship course. And within two weeks of having that course, I changed my major, I was in accounting because I thought that was going to be the most stable career I could possibly choose. So I wanted to be in accounting. I was good at numbers, but I did an accounting internship and I hated it. And then within two weeks after an entrepreneur class and I loved it, I created a concept for a company, and then I studied abroad the next semester, and then it just kind of picked up after that. Every single study abroad that I did while I was on the program, I was applying for the next one. And so I think I did at least two or three before I met Justin. And then I said to myself, you know, I want to do another one to Korea because I just really want to go there. So I thought to myself, where are places that I want to go? And how could I try to make it fit with what I’m studying? And so I would write up proposals to my teachers and the advisors of why this program needs to count for the classes that I know it could count for. And I talked Justin into going on a program with me. At first he really didn’t want to go abroad, he didn’t want to travel. But then, you know, he mentioned how you saw it as an opportunity that we could go abroad together for the summer. And he didn’t want to be alone. So he was like, let me just go. And so Korea was our first program we did together, and then we did at least a couple more together. So we did 13 combined. So it was a lot.
Justin Black [00:25:53] Yeah. And for me, I made a transition from journalism to public relations with a focus on trying to understand how different communities, especially within the U.S. and also outside the country, build, form community politically, economically, how are these ideas to be shaped and what is the history of things that go into that and what are their kind of projections, so to speak, and the influences that go into their success or lack thereof. So with that, you know, going to South Korea, studying economic and political philosophy in South Korea, in countries like Senegal and South Africa, in Hong Kong as well, and trying to bring all this information back to what we do here in the U.S. and hopefully within our businesses as well. And fortunate enough, during my study abroad trips, I noticed that there weren’t as many programs on the continent of Africa and especially within East Africa. So we had one in South Africa and one in Ghana ever in only about two or three years and then one in Senegal, which unfortunately didn’t have the best structure. So it eventually discontinued. And for me, I wanted to just try to take charge and see how I could support our university with having more programs in Africa. So I did an African study abroad night where students came from all over the campus to let us know, you know, their thoughts on a program in Africa. Where would it be? What would be the focuses of it and what would they want to study? And already had some relationships or I’d like to have some relationships and connections to someone in Uganda through a different program. And from there we created Western Michigan University’s first African Multi-country African Study Abroad Program for Rwanda and Uganda. And unfortunately, we created the program, and it was the spring of 2020. Like January 2020, when it was first created and its program was supposed to go in December 2020. So that didn’t happen. So that kind of threw things off a bit. So we have yet to actually go on the trip. But I was able to travel to Rwanda and Uganda, meet the people and go to the locations, and it was kind of my first time traveling by myself to East Africa or just in general, travel by myself. And I did that in East Africa. So that was kind of a bit overwhelming at times, but it was so memorable. It was very enjoyable and just an exciting time. Something so much out about one day and encourage you to do it. And yeah, it was just a blessing being able to be a part of that.
Alexis Black [00:28:47] But I would say that definitely Hong Kong was definitely in our top two or three favorite study abroad programs that we went on. I mean, we still have lifelong friends from there. We’ve been invited to weddings. We’ve been, you know, we still to stay in touch with everybody. So I mean, just TFAS does a phenomenal job with bringing together individuals from all over the world and from different backgrounds and coming together to where it’s very cohesive and supportive and healthy. You know, debates and conversations and things. So I always have felt like TFAS and my family over at AEI, you know, you guys all do a phenomenal job with bringing together people and just creating healthy and safe spaces for conversation.
Justin Black [00:29:30] Because the one TFAS program in Hong Kong, I mean, there’s students from China, students from Mongolia, students from Nepal, students really from all over the world. They had us Americans there as well, and just such an enjoyable experience to be able to interact and just have those conversations, learn about other cultures. You know, we have our perspective as Americans, but learn about other cultures and ways of living from their perspective while they’re in from those countries that we have conversations about. But getting kind of the inside scoop, so to speak, of what is their day to day life like? What is their systems of operating like and just how they can contribute to our group as well?
Roger Ream [00:30:16] Well, when you were in Hong Kong, that was 2019. There were a lot of protests going on at that time.
Alexis Black [00:30:24] The subways were shut down. You know, we weren’t allowed to go off campus at certain hours and stuff like that. But I mean, I think from my semesters in D.C., I just kind of got I don’t know, I get excited about being in all that. So it was kind of exciting for me. I just happened to be in places at some of the biggest, you know, moments like we were in D.C. when the abortion legislation just happened with the Supreme Court. We were in Hong Kong during that, and then I was in South Africa during the Rhodes Must Fall debacle.
Justin Black [00:31:03] If Alexis comes to your country, then she’s going to bring some chaos with her.
Roger Ream [00:31:09] Yeah, well, we just held a dinner in New York in November where we gave our Ken Tomlinson Award for Courage to Jimmy Lai, who is currently in prison in Hong Kong. He’s a big supporter of the rule of law in democracy. And he’s tried very hard to get China, Beijing to uphold the terms of its treaty with the UK, which turned over to Hong Kong. And just two days ago he was sentenced to six years in prison for a minor violation in the lease he had on his office headquarters building. Just terrible. They don’t want him out of prison. He’s 75 now, and I think that Beijing wants to keep him in prison the rest of his life. And we’re trying to draw some attention to his plight. But he didn’t want to leave Hong Kong because he wanted to support those students who were in the streets protesting for the rule of law and democracy. And so we’re continuing to shine a light on that, even though our plan was to move the program to Singapore. But again, because of COVID, we haven’t held it. So we’re still in Prague with two programs. We’re going to be in Santiago, Chile, in January with a Latin America program. I do think share your view that the study abroad experiences for Americans are so broadening, so valuable. And no doubt it’s been great for you to participate in those programs. And I don’t have any doubt that your daughter Maeva Rose someday will have those experiences traveling the world with the two of you, or as a student on an exchange program.
Alexis Black [00:32:48] We’re already planning it.
Roger Ream [00:32:48] Good. I’ve heard Justin say, Alexis, that you do things to your cycles. I guess you met in 2016, you got engaged in 2018, you got married in 2020, and you had Maeva Rose in 2022. In September, right?
Justin Black [00:33:06] August. She was due in September.
Roger Ream [00:33:10] August, great. Did that inspire you then to write your latest book? I Love You more than Cereal.
Justin Black [00:33:20] Yeah. So funny story. And while we were dating and even while we were talking on the phone this summer when we first met, it was weird. We would just say, what cereal are you eating tonight and what cereal are you eating tonight? And we have funny conversations and it’s just like two cereal lovers just coming together. But even more important than the cereal aspect is the concept of, you know, in this world. You know, we think that some people are deserving of love and some people aren’t based on your actions, and it has a faith based foundation to it. But we wanted to create a concept for kids that, you know, we are all deserving or we all should give and receive love and have that conversation of how to give and receive love for children and even for people who, quote on quote, don’t deserve it. Making sure that we are serving people in a way because, you know, we’ve all have moments where we think we don’t deserve love or think, you know, we were not our best. And hopefully we have someone around us who are still there to love and support us and contribute to us and treat us how we should be treated. So understanding how to adapt that model and give to other people in the same way.
Alexis Black [00:34:31] We even have photos of us eating cereal at our wedding. We brought cereal and everything at the wedding.
Roger Ream [00:34:37] Okay, you’re speaking on a very serious subject, but I do have to ask you. Favorite cereal, each of you?
Alexis Black [00:34:45] Count Chocula.
Justin Black [00:34:46] Mine is usually owned by the season. You know, I go buy Special K sometimes in the summer. In the winter, I may go for like a Honey Bunches of Oaks or, you know, in the fall, maybe like a Cinnamon Toast Crunch. So a lot of season.
Roger Ream [00:35:00] Well, I think that’s an appropriate question to ask two people went to college in Kalamazoo, which isn’t far from Battle Creek, home of Kellogg’s. I think before we went on the air, the engineer here told me that Count Chocula was his favorite as well.
Alexis Black [00:35:16] I love it. I buy like ten boxes when they come out every season.
Roger Ream [00:35:24] Well, you know, my favorite cereal is something called Smart Start. And it had a supply chain issue about a year.
Alexis Black [00:35:31] I’ve never heard of that one.
Roger Ream [00:35:32] Smart Start. I couldn’t get it. It was not on the shelves for about three months. So I now make sure I have like five or six boxes in my inventory at any one time to deal with any future.
Alexis Black [00:35:42] I’ve never heard of that one.
Roger Ream [00:35:43] Yeah, Smart Stuff. I think it’s well, I won’t guess which maker it is. Well, we’re coming up on our time limit here, but do you have advice you might offer to, you know, students with similar backgrounds to yours in terms of, you know, how to be successful? I mean, I know it’s in your book, but maybe you could offer a little advice here on how students with difficult backgrounds, traumatic, dysfunctional, foster care, you know, can deal with that besides just reading your book?
Alexis Black [00:36:20] Yeah, we may have to just go for a quick second, baby is starting to get riled up a little bit. One second.
Roger Ream [00:36:26] We don’t mind hearing a baby. We want to see her of course. That would be even better.
Alexis Black [00:36:33] If we give her the bottle. She’s good. Awesome.
Alexis Black [00:36:37] You said advice for youth and students who may have come from a similar background. Two things I would say that we a lot of times do workshops based on matching people’s skills and and making sure that we all had different skills, different things that we’ve been blessed with, that we had to maybe develop, nurture and all of our skills are directly matched to some of the problems in our local community, national community, global community. So we have to start to work to identify different skills and things that we have in order to serve and be able to solve those problems. And I would just encourage you to think about your experiences, think about you. If you combine your experiences, some of your dreams, with some of the problems that need to be solved, you can identify your career and your pathway in life and your purpose. And a second thing, I would say as it relates to purpose, one thing that our pastors always told us is to make sure that you die empty, meaning that, you know, many of our dreams are ideas and some of the greatest inventions are in the graveyard because they never came to existence, because we kept them in our mind. We kept them in our heart, and we take them to the grave with us and make sure that we die. If you’re an author writing books, make sure you can write all the books you can, get all the information you can through books, podcasts, some platform. If you are any type of creative or you are an engineer, whatever it may be, making sure you are dying empty, making sure you’re putting all your ideas out there because some of your ideas, you know, our book, other books that we will write some of our ideas and experiences are directly tied to helping and supporting other people, getting through what they’re getting through. And if we don’t write that book, if we don’t create that idea or make it come to life, then basically we’ll be robbing people of their ability to grow and develop. So if we weren’t writing our book, we will be robbing someone of someone else’s abilities to grow and develop. And it’s super important that we do that, that we get our ideas out so not only just for ourselves, but so other people can get through their circumstances and get through their situations and be a kind of would have information to pass that along to someone else and be super intentional about that. So that’s something that we’re passionate about having five year, ten year plans, even though life may change, we didn’t imagine we’ll be where we are right now in life, but make sure you have the idea and the plan to get it all out, to make sure you are inspiring and supporting other people along the way.
Roger Ream [00:39:17] Well, Alexis and Justin Black, thank you so much for joining me on the Liberty and Leadership Podcast. It’s been truly inspiring to hear your story. Now you go hug that baby Maeva Rose and remember in 20 years to send her to TFAS for a summer in Washington. Thank you so much for being with me.
Justin Black [00:39:35] Will do. Thank you all so much. We appreciate it.
Alexis Black [00:39:37] Thank you.
Roger Ream [00:39:40] All right. Best of luck.
Alexis Black [00:39:41] Thank you.
Roger Ream [00:39:42] Thank you for listening to the Liberty and Leadership Podcast. Please don’t forget to subscribe, download, like or share the show on Apple, Spotify or YouTube or wherever you listen to your podcasts. If you like this episode, I ask you to rate and review it. And if you have a comment or question for the show, please drop us an email at podcast@TFAS.org. The Liberty and Leadership Podcast is produced at kglobal Studios in Washington, D.C. I’m your host Roger Ream and until next time, show courage in things large and small.
About the Podcast
TFAS has reached more than 46,000 students and professionals through academic programs, fellowships and seminars. Representing more than 140 countries, TFAS alumni are courageous leaders throughout the world forging careers in politics, government, public policy, business, philanthropy, law and the media.
Join TFAS President Roger Ream ’76 as he reconnects with these outstanding alumni to share experiences, swap career stories, and find out what makes their leadership journey unique. With prominent congressmen, judges and journalists among the mix, each episode is sure to excite your interest in what makes TFAS special.
If you have a comment or question for the show, please email podcast@TFAS.org.
View future episodes and subscribe at TFAS.org/podcast.