Cleo Wade Reminds Us of Our Power to Create Change in the World

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Every year, poetry queen Cleo Wade sets up a booth in a Los Angeles or New York park with the words “Are You Ok?” splashed across the top. The artist and activist dubbed “The Millennial Oprah” by New York Magazine sits with her sunflower-warm smile and bright open heart, waiting and ready to chat with anyone who needs it. It’s a summer tradition where the New Orleans native spends roughly 10 hours engaged in peaceful, loving conversation with the community, connecting on life, love, fear, the state of the world, you name it (totally free of charge or judgment). 

This is just one way she’s using her personal power to create big change in our crazy world. And with her new book Where to Begin, she’s encouraging us all to use our same change-making power anyway we can. As her second anthology (the follow up to her national bestseller, Heart Talk), Wade’s new read is a reminder that “change-making comes in all sizes,” that “it doesn’t always have to be one big gesture or nothing,” and that “our big world is made up of a collection of all our small actions.” 

In fact, simply asking another “Are You Ok?” and genuinely caring to hear what they have to say is where Wade first suggests we begin. “Want to change the world?” she asks in a poem by the same title as her book, “Start by being brave enough to care.” 

As an impassioned community builder who travels the country speaking about individual and collective challenges, Wade reflects with me on the year of conversation that led to her annual Are You Ok? booth—the 2016 presidential race. “Everywhere I went, people were talking to me about feeling upset or freaked out or not knowing how to process the way the world was moving,” she says. “So I just wanted to create a space to compassionately listen to other people, so that I could try to understand and so that people could flush out whatever they were going through. Sometimes the first step in healing is just finding clarity,” she notes, “being able to identify what is happening inside of you.”

Now when problems of the world feel too heavy or exhausting to bear, Cleo turns to the pages of her own new book. Afterall, it’s a collection of personal ideas, mantras and poems that she penned while pondering the troubles of society and thinking of how to be most hopeful and helpful. With a majority of the pages doodled in the same sweet handwriting as her wildly popular Instagram poetry on self-love, self-empowerment and kindness for all, Wade says the messages within also remind her that even on the most daunting days, she still has the power to show up and do something, somewhere, in some way.

Cleo recently embarked on a 10-city book tour across America (while pregnant with her first child!) and despite the notion that our country is more divided than ever, she noticed quite the opposite. “I’m so grateful and hopeful at the amount of motivation and desire to connect and be kind and generous with our spirits that I’ve seen on this tour,” Wade says. “We’ve created community groups in every destination, listening and support spaces, and at every stop the majority of people wanted to be in a group with others. Which meant they wanted to get to know someone they didn’t know and that they were in need of the space to be able to sit and talk about their lives. And, also, equally interested and curious about someone else’s life.”

That care to connect, to understand, and to support the greater good in some way—regardless of how different we or “they” are—is where we begin to change the world. “The world will say to you, ‘They are the enemy,’ Cleo writes in Where to Begin. “Love enough to know that just because someone disagrees with you, it does not make them your enemy.”

“I ask the world to end hatred, but do I show up with love not only for those I know, but those I don’t know? Do I show up with love for those whose ideas conflict with my own?” 

 “We find ourselves saying to the world, ‘What should I do? What should we do?’” she continues. “The better question might be, ‘How am I showing up?’ I ask the world for peace, but do I show up with peace when I see my family and friends?”

Wade’s words are a simple-yet-powerful reminder that we get to decide what we do with our energy, our life force, our one true power. “To me,” she says, “true power is being able to allow your existence to do as much for other people as possible. A power that’s generous and rooting for the things our world actually needs, like justice, equality and general fairness.” That’s a power we can all harness from where to stand and live and work today. “If you’re ‘power-hungry’ in that way,” she says, pausing. “Well, that’s a really amazing way to live.” 




photo / Rony Alwin
story / Chad Schubert 
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