In all of my years of work for social service agencies, I have seen so many individuals and families affected by generational circumstances. There have been those who were born into environments surrounded by poverty, abuse or other hardships; and who have followed in the path of the generations before them, and then there are those who find their inner strength and their personal success, and seek opportunities to lift up others.
Rosemary Oglesby-Henry understands better than many. When she became pregnant at age 16, she was to become one of many teen parents in her family including her grandmother, her mother, her sister and her brother. But Rosemary was determined to stop that pattern with her. “You change it by saying, there is a problem,” she told me, “then you can act to change the problem. And I have. I am the last person in my family to be a teen parent.”
And she is the first in her family to pursue a career and education, earning her Master of Science Degree in Organizational Leadership from Mt. St. Joseph University. She did all of that while working through so many other personal setbacks – financial, medical and family hardships, not to mention the difficult challenges that come with being a young parent on her own.
Rosemary has a quote she came up with that speaks to how she sees and lives life: “No one can beat you down lower than you, but no one can lift you up higher than you.”
Life is very different for Rosemary these days. Now 37, a proud mother to a 16 year old son and a daughter who is a junior at Muskingham University, and a loving wife to Charles, Rosemary looks for opportunities to give back. And one of the greatest avenues for that has been her new organization, Rosemary’s Babies, that offers 24 hour confidential support to teenage parents. Young mothers and fathers can reach out to her, or one of her team members (many of whom were teen parents themselves), through social media or by calling 513-813-TEEN.
Rosemary serves on numerous boards and committees including the Board of Tender Mercies, Inc. and the Mt. St. Joseph University Alumni. She has been recognized many times including in 2016 with the Withrow University Distinguished Humanitarian of the Year Award, as a Cincinnati Business Courier 40 Under 40, and as a Gateway College Outstanding Supervisor of Human Services Students.
I asked her a few more questions.
Lisa: What was your inspiration behind starting Rosemary’s Babies?
Rosemary: I am a huge philanthropist, and am passionate about giving back. My daughter is my big inspiration. She tells many stories of her mom that are so cool. “My mom didn’t know what to do all the time but she didn’t give up on me,” she says. I always tell her that, that I didn’t give up on them. Teen parents need to understand that. Nobody knows all the answers. Within my program we are attacking true life issues. There are plenty of pregnancy programs but there is nothing to impact the person – how do I manage the bills, etc. Pregnant teens are kids forced to be adults. They are not taught about health insurance. They may go on government benefits but don’t know how to use those channels. We work on true life skills and problem solving to support them.
Lisa: Of what are you most proud?
Rosemary: Definitely my legacy. My nieces, nephews, and my daughter have overcome more than our family has seen. They have broken generational curses. They have gone to college. I see them go out and see the world and be better people, financially and emotionally, and all give back – and I know I helped to do that. I helped to change what my family structure looks like. My son goes to school inside Aiken.
As a mother working two jobs, when my son struggled in school and his education was still a huge priority for me. He needed a different way of learning, so I homeschooled him from 7th to 9th grade. Sometimes you need to step out of the box to make sure your child gets what he needs. After homeschooling him, followed by an alternative education program, he is now doing well in school.
Lisa: What is the best advice you have ever received?
Rosemary: My teacher Gloria Harper at Withrow once taught me that sometimes you have to walk around the wall rather than through it. You have to think first before you act. I live by that.
Through my work promoting the Cincinnati ReelAbilities Film Festival, I have gotten to know some pretty amazing people who have impacted me in very meaningful ways. Actor John Lawson is among them. I met and got to know John when I was promoting the 2015 Festival. He was a volunteer and a spokesperson with whom I spent a lot of time. Now living in the Los Angeles area for his acting, John is coming back to Cincinnati to join us next month as one of our 2017 Festival VIPs.
What I remember so much about my time with him two years ago was how John could make me laugh, but also, John is an incredible listener, an encourager and a leader. He went out of his way to let me know my work and contributions were valued, and he did that with everyone I saw him come in contact with. At our Film Festival, he spoke with eloquence and humor in spreading our message. He included people. He inspired not because he is someone who has a disability but because of who he is as a human being.
Below are two different posts John had written on his Facebook page awhile back (I am reprinting with his permission) about his story. Since they had some duplication, I cut out part of the second post. I hope that you will take a few minutes to read his words. They just may change the way you see and think about difference.
John Lawson’s Story (in his own words)
Feb 4, 2015
Wow, 28 years ago today February 4, 1987 is the day that I truly will never forget. I guess the cynical smart-ass side of me wants to write that I’ll never be able to forget for there is always someone coming up wanting to know how I lost my arms or who are very quick to remind me how “lucky” I am to be alive. I don’t know that I agree with their assessment of a measure of luck apportioned to me. I started playing the piano at age three, then began lessons at age four and studied classical piano for 17 straight years. At age 30, I had spent over half my life learning to play piano and now would spend the rest of my life without hands. That doesn’t sound very lucky.
I have been lucky to raise three wonderful, smart and somewhat “well adjusted” kids (hey I was their Dad) and had the very lucky chance to marry the love-of-my-life. Unluckily, the cancer won and I lost her too.
I spent five months of my life at the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center in Chapel Hill North Carolina. My left hand and most of my arm below my elbow was amputated that day. My right hand was amputated above the wrist approximately one month later. As the burned skin debridement surgeries stopped and drugs wore off, I assumed a new role I never wanted to audition for as an upper extremity double amputee; a man with no hands left only to watch others play music.
While at the Burn Center, I received the best-specialized medical burn care from some of the world’s leading doctors and nurses. It was there that I decided to do my best to recover all aspects of my life. It was explained that losing limbs is similar to losing a loved one and you should experience the same emotions. While at the hospital, I never felt that I went through all the steps normally associated with a life changing experience such as my accident. If I did, I did them in my sleep, because from early on I realized I had to unconditionally accept my new role. I did find out, that since I never displayed the emotions expected, the psychiatrists that visited my room over the months noted in my chart that I was a “classic case of denial, and would suffer a catastrophic mental breakdown with in five years.”
Again, wow; twenty-eight years gone by and I’m still waiting for that mental breakdown. I think I would enjoy the time off.
Probably the most helpful wisdom I received after my amputations was by an unknown author, but passed on by my mother, “No one ever finds life worth living—you have to make it worth living.”
I am not special in the things I have done, with the conditions I have to deal with to do them. I could not control the circumstances that burned my body and resulted in the amputation of both my hands, but I can control what happens after the flesh has healed. I can control my attitude.
Early in my acting career, someone gave me a coffee mug with a saying printed on the outside, “Life is not a dress rehearsal.”
Those six words carry a powerful meaning. We only get to do this once and no matter what or where our stage, this is our one and only performance. I do not know what roles in life I will have to play in the years ahead, but I do know I will always chug along with the same attitude as the little blue engine pulling the long heavy train in the book read by my mother to me so many times as a child, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.”
Jan 10, 2017
I need to say I am not here to inspire you. I have lost count of strangers that approach me in public while grocery shopping or pumping gas to tell me that I am an inspiration. I guess they mean well, but to me they are just congratulating me for remembering to put on my pants before I left the house. There is nothing inspirational about pumping gas or grabbing a can of green beans off the shelf. You have been lied to about life with a disability.
Most people believe that because you have a disability that your life is worse; that being a person with a disability is a bad thing and that if you live with the disability, it makes you exceptional. Living with a disability is not a bad thing and it certainly doesn’t make you exceptional or inspirational.
Life as a person with disabilities can be difficult and we do have to overcome some things. But it’s not the things that you may think. It’s not the things to do with our bodies that we have to overcome. I believe that disability is caused by the way society is structured, rather than by a person’s impairment or difference. If society looks at ways of removing barriers that restrict life choices for people with disabilities, then disabled people can be independent and equal in society, with choice and control over their own lives. Of course I’m in a profession where the industry creates barriers that 95% of the work for characters with a disability are given to an able body actor. It’s these societal barriers of the industry that restrict the choices and control of my career.
So February 4, 2017 I will start using prosthetics for longer than I had my hands. Half of my life wearing hooks. Do they replace my hands? No, but they are a tool I’m forced to use for maintaining my independence in a society designed for able body people; a tool for me to pump gas or load my grocery cart. I’ve learned to use my prosthetics to best of my ability, so I know when people tell me “I’m an inspiration,” that they mean it as a compliment. I do understand that, but the reason it happens is because of this lie that’s been sold to the public that disability makes you exceptional and makes you inspirational. I’m sorry; but honestly, it doesn’t. I really believe that this propaganda that we’ve been sold is the greatest injustice and makes life hard for us.
Oh, and that quote about “the only disability in life is a bad attitude,” is total bullshit. It’s just not true. No amount of me smiling at a piano keyboard with a positive attitude will allow me to play as I used to touch the ivories with ten fingers.
I hope in my lifetime to live in a society where someone with a disability is not the exception, but just accepted as a norm. I hope to live in a society where a man stuffing a grocery cart is not an inspiration just because he is using prosthetics. I want to live in a society where we don’t have such low expectations of people with disabilities that we hire able body people to do jobs they are capable of performing. I hope in my lifetime to live in a society where we place value on genuine achievement by people with disabilities.
Today I have such great pleasure in sharing the story of a very dear person and friend. Grace DeGregorio has been editing Hyde Park Living for 20 years. And, for about 15 or 16 of those years I have been writing a pet behavior column for her. I love that my work brings such incredible people into my life. Grace is such a positive soul. She too loves what she does for the connections it has brought her and the personal stories she has been able to share. Now the tables are turned and I get to share Grace’s story. I so much appreciate her openness in talking about a part of her and her family that is deeply personal, and how that experience has touched and impacted her perspective on life and relationships.
Lisa: So many people (including me) know and admire you in Cincinnati. We’d love to learn more about you.
Grace: I was born and raised in Massachusetts. I earned my bachelor’s in psychology at Emmanuel College in Boston, a private liberal arts school, and my master’s in vocational rehabilitation counseling at Boston University. I worked several years at Harvard Medical School as an assistant to the registrar before my marriage to Edmonde DeGregorio, whom I met when he was a law student in Boston. He was from Cincinnati, where we moved after our wedding 39 years ago. I worked for 10 years as manager of a social service program, helping people with disabilities become employed. When our sons Anthony and Joe were born, I left to become a full-time mom. As they were starting school, I was given the opportunity to write for Community Publications, Inc., and soon after was named editor of Hyde Park Living – I’m still there 20 years later! Almost four years ago I also began a freelance position as publicity coordinator with Matinée Musicale, a nonprofit organization that hosts an annual recital series.
In my personal life, my main passion is doing things with my family. We have a timeshare condo on Longboat Key, Florida, where we visit twice a year. Edmonde is a model train enthusiast, and we go to his train club events and train shows. We shared numerous activities with our sons as they were growing up (more on that later!) In 2014, Joe brought his wonderful wife Kristina into our family, and on June 15, 2016 our joy was magnified when their daughter Giuliana Lynne arrived. I LOVE being a grandma!!! I also love reading (bios/autobios and history are my favorite topics), crafts (knitting/crocheting and cross-stitching), watching sports and traveling.
Lisa: As editor of Hyde Park Living, you have shared so much wonderful news and stories. What do you enjoy most about your job and have there been any stories that have really touched you?
Grace: I always loved to write and once considered studying journalism. So I guess it was meant to be! As my sons were young at the time, I was delighted to have a job that allowed me to work from home and make my own schedule, and I loved the creativity it afforded me. I still love those aspects of my job. But what I love even more is meeting interesting, accomplished people who constantly teach me. Their stories are memorable – and humbling: a teenager who convinced businesses to participate in a shoe drive for a charity; a family that discovered their dad was a war hero when asked to accept a posthumous award on his behalf; a person who survived multiple bouts with cancer while still managing a thriving small business; senior adults who meet weekly to sew quilts for hospitals; very busy professionals who volunteer many hours visiting schools to mentor and encourage students. These are just a few of countless stories we’ve told.
My favorite story? I got a call one day from a woman who started our conversation with, “I don’t know if this is a story, but…,” prompting me to pay close attention. She went on to tell me her inspiring personal odyssey discovering her heritage that took her several years and through several states, then all the way to Europe. Her story, which started with her being plagued with gross misinformation and so many questions and apprehensions, ended with great joy as new relationships began and she gained a clearer sense of who she was and where she came from. By far, this story received the most reaction from readers. Stories like this enrich all our lives, and I’m so blessed to be able to help share them.
Lisa: You so often talk about your family. Share some thoughts about them and their importance in your life.
Grace: In the 1980s Edmonde and I experienced three excruciating years of heartbreaking pregnancy losses: two miscarriages and a full-term baby delivered stillborn. We were told there was no connection between the losses and no medical reason pointing to why it was happening – the diagnosis was “bad luck.” We also were told in situations like ours it was regrettably common that couples move apart. But we remained totally solid in our commitment to each other and to becoming a family. We joined a peer support group, Reach Out to Grieving Parents, which helped us onto the path of healing. We applied for an adoption which, at the time, was a painstakingly slow process. I got pregnant again. On August 2, 1988 Anthony was born; Joe followed on April 12, 1990. We got a call from the adoption agency when it was time for our home study, and we let them know we had become parents. We became volunteers with Reach Out and continue 30 years later, doing all we can to help others onto their paths of healing.
We have never taken for granted our sons or our relationship with them. It was our greatest pleasure to devote ourselves to them as they were growing up. It annoyed us to hear other parents whine about getting no sleep at night because the baby cried – we remembered getting no sleep at night because of the silence after our baby died; or about having to drive the child to activities – we scheduled our lives around activities we once feared we’d never experience. And, boy, did we experience! As kids, our sons played sports and took piano lessons. I was active in their schools and Edmonde arranged frequently to be at school events most dads sadly missed. During their high school years, I was active in so many groups one day a teacher said to me, “Why don’t we set up a little room for you where you can take a nap while you’re here?!” We were in the stands for the boys’ football games; lugged heavy instruments when Anthony was in the band; froze at Joe’s hockey games and at the stadium in Canton when he was a wide receiver on the football team that won State in 2007; attended numerous parent meetings and events. In college years, we drove to Dayton for Anthony’s concerts (he majored in music) and for parties Joe and his friends threw during parent weekends (he majored in communication). Every minute we spent with or for them, and every memory we made, we treasure.
Our sons are now adults, and our relationships with them remain close, warm and honest. They both work hard at their jobs, have friends and personal interests. Joe is married and is a wonderful husband and dad. Anthony has dated a lovely young lady for two years. Edmonde and I are so proud of them and what they are accomplishing.
Lisa: What is one of your greatest life lessons?
Grace: When our babies died, we learned to put things in perspective. It’s so easy to get caught up with and react to everyday stresses that seem overwhelming. You don’t know what overwhelming is until you are faced with something you are helpless to change, something you never dreamed could happen and becomes your worst nightmare, something that saps every ounce of emotion out of you and leaves you feeling totally vulnerable. While we’re not perfect, we do find we are better able to weigh the relativity of life experiences – things that once might have bent us out of shape we find we can handle better. Also, because of our experience, we find we’re more compassionate and tolerant of others. You never know why someone is in a nasty mood – there may be something terrible they’re dealing with. It’s easier to make allowances and be forgiving.
Lisa: What is something that people may be surprised to learn about you?
Grace: I used to study Middle Eastern (translation: belly) dancing! I started with a friend in Boston and continued for a few years with my sister-in-law when I moved here. I now take Pilates, and my “muscle memory” from those dancing days has thankfully returned as Pilates requires a lot of core strength!
Lisa: What is something which you are looking forward to in 2017?
Grace: We are so excited to watch Giuliana grow. Our plans are for the whole family to go to our condo in Florida this summer, and we can’t wait to introduce her to the beautiful Gulf water and the beach, maybe take her on a boat ride and just show her off to our friends at our resort! Everything is new and exciting when you’re with a little one.
I can’t remember how Elizabeth Truitt and I first met, but I know this. She has an effervescent smile that lights up a room and having lunch with her can be a ton of fun. Her passion for her work and life is contagious. It is what I enjoy so much about her.
Elizabeth is the director of public relations for Broadway in Cincinnati and she loves her work. It introduces her to so many diverse and incredible people (including stars), challenges and excites her. How very fortunate for her to have a job that is so fulfilling…and how great for Broadway Cincinnati to have Elizabeth on their team!
Let’s learn more about her…
Lisa: Please tell us a little about yourself, what you did before Broadway, what led you to your current job, some of your outside interests.
Elizabeth: It’s hard to remember a time when I didn’t work for Broadway Across America as I’ve been with the company for the last 12 ½ years. I’ve been really lucky that new opportunities became available when I was ready for a change within the company. I started in customer service in our Indianapolis office, then handled Box Office Management before moving into Group Sales. After some changes within the company, I was offered a job in public relations just over 7 years ago and moved to Cincinnati to cover the market here. I absolutely love PR and consider myself blessed to work in an industry that I’m so passionate about day in and day out. As far as outside interests go, I absolutely love to read, listen to live music and explore new places in Cincinnati.
Lisa: In your career with the Broadway series, has there been anyone (or an experience) who has significantly made an impact on you? If so, please explain.
Elizabeth: One of the first shows I worked on after moving into PR when I moved to Cincinnati was the Broadway tour of RENT. RENT has long been one of my absolute favorite shows and was actually the first Broadway touring production I’d ever seen. Both Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal from the Original Broadway Cast were in the tour and I took them out for interviews. We had breakfast together during a break in the schedule and as we sat there discussing our cats over coffee, I realized this is my job. It all felt a bit surreal and reminded me of how amazing this opportunity is to do what I do. I get to work in an industry that offers the chance to witness incredible productions on par with what one would see if visiting New York. Cincinnati has a thriving arts community that offers so much support to the Broadway series, and I don’t take that for granted.
Lisa: When I think about you, I always think about your smile. It is so inviting and you wear it a lot. What makes you happy in life and what inspires you?
Elizabeth: I’m lucky enough to have a job I love going to day after day, but beyond all of that I have an incredible community of friends and family that bring a lot of joy to my life. They’re spread across several states but mean the world to me. They inspire me with their approach to the opportunities they are given and how they’ve risen in the face of adversity. Whether it’s the loss of a spouse or cancer or a major career change, it’s a gift to walk with them day in and day out.
Lisa: What is something about you that people may be surprised to learn?
Elizabeth: I love books so much I’ve had a part time job at Joseph-Beth Booksellers for over 3 years. I get to be around people who appreciate and support reading which, next to theatre, is probably my biggest passion. I get a lot of satisfaction from offering a book suggestion to someone and having them come back to tell me just how much they enjoyed what they read. It’s a fun environment and a really amazing independent bookstore to be a part of.
Lisa: What are some of the reasons why you enjoy living in Cincinnati?
Elizabeth: Cincinnati is a really beautiful town. I grew up in central Indiana so even after living here over 7 years, I’m still not tired of the hills or view of the river. As I mentioned earlier, Cincinnati has a thriving arts community. There are always opportunities to see things on stage I haven’t seen, or experience art in a way I haven’t before. I didn’t ever picture myself ending up here, but now I can’t imagine ever living somewhere else. I love our city.
It had been years since Karyl Cunningham and I had last seen each other. In fact, admittedly we had a hard time remembering where we met, but that didn’t seem to matter. Within in minutes I felt as I was sitting across the table from a very close friend.
That is Karyl’s way. When you speak, she listens with careful focus. She naturally inspires others to want to do more, be more, achieve more. Her smile leaves you with a strong reminder that she is someone who cares.
Ironically I learned she has the role now of another woman who also held a special place in my heart, Toni Miles. Karyl is executive director of the YMCA of Greater Cincinnati’s Black and Latino Achiever’s Program which provides teens with essential tools for pursuing higher education and identifying career opportunities. One hundred percent of the Program’s high school seniors graduate high school, with over ninety percent entering post secondary education and over eighty percent, completing college, earning Associate’s or Bachelor’s degrees. I remember well seeing the importance of this work during the five years I did public relations work for the Y.
It is no wonder Karyl is the recipient of numerous community activity awards, including the 2016 Venue Magazine Women of Influence Award, 2006 Star Award, Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce, for individual community contribution; Urban All-American Achievement Award, Toledo, Ohio; and Ohio State Assembly Community Service Recognition.
She has served on several nonprofit boards, including the Leadership Council, Seton High School, and Healthy Moms and Babes. And she serves on the boards of the Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce, the OTR Foundation and the 3CDC New Market Funds Advisory board and member of the Citizen Advisory Panel for Agenda 360.
Let’s learn more about Karyl.
Lisa: Please tell us about a life experience that may have been difficult or challenging, but ended up being a positive growth lesson.
Karyl: I would say that the most difficult challenge for me, was as young women beginning my first non-profit position in my hometown of Toledo, Ohio. After working there about a year, I was approached by my employer who had an interested in transferring me to Covington, Kentucky to open up a satellite office that would serve individuals who were underemployed or unemployed and interested in starting a career in retail sales. To say the least, I was nervous and skeptical in moving from my hometown, which at the time felt so final. In hindsight, it was one of the best decisions that I made. As a result of this move, I fell in love with Cincinnati and decided to take a leap of faith and look for other opportunities that would align to my skills, knowledge and abilities in the field of education or non-profit work. I overcame my fear of leaving my safe place and jumping right in! And I am still here, after 30 plus years.
Lisa: What are some of your greatest passions and how do they impact your career and life choices?
Karyl: Definitely I’d say connecting with people, reading history/novels and cooking. In life…we are all connected, somehow and in some way, and it is a beautiful thing. People can impact your life in so many good ways, ways that give us hope, gives us advise and teaches us to advance to our greater good! History teaches us so much about who we are, why we are – and supplies us with a foundation and framework for making decisions in both our personal and professional lives. Cooking allows us to blend people and conversation over great bounty!
Lisa: What is the greatest legacy or impact that you hope to be remembered by when others think about you?
Karyl: I want people to remember me as someone who was always honest, trustworthy and a true friend! Someone who made a difference!
Lisa: What is one of your favorite pieces of advice and why?
Karyl: Never allow anyone’s negative opinion of you, become your reality! That advice says it all!