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Powerful Women Let's Talk - 114: Latesha Lipscomb

Latesha Lipscomb
Latesha Lipscomb

Shelley Irwin welcomes Latesha Lipscomb to the podcast

Grand Rapids native Latesha Lipscomb has a passion for the underprivileged in the city's urban core. She is currently serving the community as the Director of Engagement for Amplify GR. Latesha is eager to share advice on navigating the workplace while staying true to yourself as a woman in leadership. Latesha Lipscomb joins us for this edition of Powerful Women: Let’s Talk.

Full Transcript:


Narr: Produced by women, about women. Powerful Women: Let's Talk is a series of interviews with women who are trailblazers and have helped shape our world; transforming who we are and how we live.


Shelley Irwin: Latesha Lipscomp is a Grand Rapids native who has a passion for working hard to better the lives of underprivileged in the city's urban core. Currently she's serving the community as director of engagement for amplifying GR. Plus, there's so much more. Latisha is eager to share her empowerment tips on navigating the workplace while staying true to yourself as a woman in leadership. So welcome to this edition of Powerful Woman: Let's talk, Latesha. Hi to you.

Latesha Lipscomp: Hello. How are you, Shelley?

SI: I’m doing fine. Wearing lime green gets my attention. That's for sure. There are more things to discuss. We have the time. When do you sleep?

LL: You know, I don't know. I was just telling a colleague the other day, I don't know how I'm surviving. Let alone thriving, but somehow I just raise up these mommy arms and I make it happen.

SI: And we'll get to that mom part, too. But I trust that you are a health advocate. Sleep is important if you want to go there.

LL: Absolutely. 1000%. Recently Shelley, you know, I went on a health journey and the VSG surgery, which is not gastric bypass, but it's the procedure in which they remove 75% of your stomach. Like many Americans, I gained a significant amount during the COVID experience in the pandemic and so I had reached almost 400 pounds. And I was on the verge of everything: diabetes, high blood pressure, constant swelling, not sleeping well at all. And so today, I'm happy to report I’ve already lost 105 pounds. I feel so much better and I sleep better.

SI: I'm going to just stay on that role. What was it that made you say Latesha, I need to- we need to change. How does that happen for you to make a call?

LL: You know, getting on the scale and reaching almost 400 pounds was number one. But you know what? The most important thing was me just saying to myself, I wanted to be around for as long as possible for my son. I am a very active and engaged single mom to a vibrant and awesome 10 year-old little boy. And so, yeah, I want to be alive and I want to have improved quality of life to continue to be a rock mom and to be an inspiration to my son. And so going on this health journey with him, as my biggest cheerleader has been an honor and a privilege.

SI: Have you changed some lifestyle habits?

LL: Oh, absolutely. So, with this surgery you absolutely have to. You have to lose a certain amount of weight up front in order for them to operate. And then you've got to maintain it. Right? So VSG surgery really is just a tool. But you need a renewal of the mind. You need to shift your mindset in terms of like eating, breathing, and thinking, healthier. And that certainly has happened for me and I couldn't be more happy with the results.

SI: I look forward to more conversation on that. You are on many boards and committees, obviously you’re a beauty expert and then demonstrating that as well inside and out. But take me back to the 7 year-old Latesha. Where were you?

LL: Oh, my goodness. So I am a Grand Rapids native who’s so happy about that. Who is also equally happy about the fact that I am a Grand Rapids public schools graduate and so 7 years old, I went through the entire public school system. I did some time at Saint Andrews, but then also spent a lot of time at Burton Elementary, some time at Southeast Academic center. And I was just really blessed and privileged to come up under the tutelage of a lot of strong, incredible African-American women in leadership here in the city, in Grand Rapids public schools. And so I was involved in everything at an early age. Black educational Excellence program, I was a participant in Spectrum which was a program for gifted and talented teens. And then I bumped into Miranda at one point and I started my journey on TV on the show she initiated called Fast Forward. So, I’ve had just a phenomenal relationship with, you know, coming up as a young person with youth enrichment and activity and people seeing a gift in me and sewing into that gift. And so, so many people have contributed greatly to the woman that I am today.

SI: But you have a law degree. Tell me about Boston College. Why this? Why this opportunity for you?

LL: So Boston College was kind of a no-brainer for me. Well, that's not wholly true. So I happen to be speaking at a Hugh O'Brian Youth Foundation Conference. And after my presentation, a gentleman came up to me and he said, hey, have you ever thought about attending Boston College like what are you doing after high school? I want to know and I said no, I'm interested in University of Michigan or Harvard. I don't know anything about Boston College. And he said, well, why don't you let me fly you out, come visit and see if you like it. And after that, we can talk. And so I flew out to Boston without my parents. It was just me. I was seeking adventure and I loved what I found. At the time, I had no idea what a Jesuit even was, but I fell in love, Shelley, with the idea of the Jesuit idea of service to mankind above all others. And as soon as I stepped foot on that campus, I knew that that was the place to me. So I'm actually a double eagle, meaning that I have 2 degrees from Boston College. And so I studied political science and I had a focus study in faith, peace and justice. And so obviously the next step for somebody who is an avid reader who’s a great writer and just a pinch of a drama queen was for me to go to law school and to take my, you know, try my hand at landing in a courtroom to see how I would be.

SI: Well, how are you?

LL: You know, I was actually really good. Unfortunately, I’m not practicing because I didn't pass the Illinois bar exam and I attempted to take it twice. But my gifts and abilities kind of landed me overseeing all of oral operations and advocacy for the institution. So I was the head of negotiation and mediation for years. As a matter of fact, they loved me so much, they offered me a job to come back to be the assistant director of admissions for the law school and I turned it down because I thought I'd never find love in Boston. Still haven't found Love, Shelley, so.

SI: Well, we can get to that, If that's even necessary. We you know, we want to have you a complete woman, but boy. Thank you for sharing that. Amplify GR, though. You call home.

LL: Yeah, I do. So, Amplify GR is my current home and really makes me happy because I describe my work and my life there as ministry. That's just the bottom line. I am the director of engagement and relationships. And I really dedicate my whole self to making sure that we are honoring and uplifting neighbor priority in every way. I am a huge proponent of authentic inclusionary true engagement. And I really do firmly believe that when people are, you know, involved in the process, they develop a sense of pride and ownership over their own neighborhoods. So I get a lot of joy out of being the champion behind them that says, you know, you don't need permission from anybody to be the architects of your own lives. So take your neighborhood by storm and be the change that you wish to see.

SI: This is part of your whole authentic community partnership role that you're on the right.

LL: Absolutely. So everything we do, like our whole perspective in life, I believe should be about partnership, right? The sum of the whole is greater than its individual parts. And it's so important that we work together, really for greater collective impact. So in my role, you know, I get to be strategic in determining what relationships and partnerships we need to hold in order to push the community forward. And so that's just been quite an honor and a privilege because I get to be an advocate and voice for those that have been, you know, muted or that have quieter voices in the community. And so I get a lot of passion and purpose out of serving in historically marginalized communities. So before I made my way to amplify, I actually was serving in Heartside where I live, work, and play. And so, you know, I was able to learn from the city of Grand Rapids under Susanne Shultz, It's tutelage that the way we design cities really affects how people live and learn in their own communities

SI: I’m going to repeat what you say. You are an advocate for those with quiet or muted voices in the city's most vulnerable communities. If a young lady is listening now and says I want to be on board with this, how does she start to be kind of where you are now?

LL: I think the most important thing to do is to get involved in your neighborhood. I think the neighborhood associations have an impeccable amount of power. Some organizations have realized it, some organizations have yet to discover the power that is within them, but it starts at home. Everything starts at home. So when you walk outside your front door, whatever fabulous neighborhood that might be in our Grand City, I would encourage you to start there. Become involved in your community. Get involved in your neighborhood, like charity really does start at home. And then you work your way out. You can join other boards like actively serve on the Heartside Downtown Neighborhood Association board. I serve on the downtown neighboring network. I also serve on DGRI Citizens Alliance board. And all of that is important because I want to ensure that I am reflective of creating a sense of belonging, a sense of placemaking for off people in the city of Grand Rapids and in order for the city to become a top of mind destination, truly, we have to make sure that we're inclusive and all of our practices and that equity is always top of mind for us. So you can't do that unless you're serving.

SI: And how do you do it? Do you wake up and say I have a lot to do today, but it's going to get done. What's the practical advice?

LL: Man. I think I like, live and die by my phone. Like, if it's not in my calendar, it doesn't exist. And so unfortunately, I'm swamped all the time. Sometimes I have an internal journey that's a bit of a struggle because I think that I sacrifice my son for the amount of work that I do and pour into this community. But at the same time, I oftentimes give myself a pat on the back because if you know me, then you know my son Caius because Caius is always with me at every event. And so I take a lot of pride in the fact that I'm raising a strong, civic-minded citizen that is going to make positive contributions to wherever he lands and he already is because honestly, he's more popular than me.

SI: Yeah. And let's expand on that because one of your hats is mom-trepreneur, or entrepreneur. How do you keep him in your life?

LL: Caius is at the core of everything that I do. I- I call him my heartbeat and that's literally what he is. So every decision I make is with him in mind and everywhere we go, we’re like a tag team. We are definitely a dynamic duo and a package deal. So if we're serving our community, we're serving together. If we're serving neighbors who need a meal, Caius is right there next to me serving or he's being a greeter or he is mister Personality, Mister Congeniality. So he's welcoming people. He's doing sign-in sheets. So I just basically build him into everything I do. This morning, I attended donuts with grownups and, you know, I'm just proud of that because honestly, as I was walking into the school, I was thinking there's no place I'd rather be than with you. And so I think that the most valuable gift you can give your children is your time and then even more valuable when you're leading a life of inspiration, something that they can craft their own life after.

SI: Expand on your hashtags. Hashtag be the change. Hashtag we all can eat.

LL: Oh, man. So those are 2 things that I say all the time, especially in this work, for 2 reasons. Number one, I believe that individuals are powerful beyond measure, right? It's never that we are inadequate. It's just that sometimes we’re fearful of doing the work or doing our own work to figure out what's in it for us and how we can really make a contribution to advancing the community. And so when I say be the change again, it all starts with you. So don't be fearful. Have the courage, be brave, take a chance and go out and just do whatever you set your mind to, whatever change you wish to see in your neighborhood, in your neck of the woods. It honestly starts with you because each person was designed to do something special and unique and nobody can do it like you. So the world is waiting on you. And then when I say we all can eat, I mean that there's an opportunity for everybody to get a piece of the pie if you go after it. When you make that opportunity to be the change, if we all work together collectively we all can eat, we all can participate in the benefits. And so that's again, like one of the things that Amplify GR stands for is widening pathways so that all people can participate in and benefit from community growth. So when I say we all can eat if we work together, if we strategize together, if we create a swarm mentality, at the end of the day we can all feast together.

SI: But let me take apart eat literally. You are a foodie. You’re a self described foodie. What does that mean?

LL: Yeah, oh man. I love it. So, Caius and I are both thrill seekers and adventurers. And one of the things we like to do is research and visit all of the new places opening around the city. So if there's a new restaurant, if there's a new type of food, if there is a new experience, trust you me, we've had it. And if I haven't had it yet, I have on the list to try. So it could be anything from Persian food all the way to, I remember taking Caius to have lobster for the first time. He literally ate three of them. Now mind you, it was in Florida at a seafood buffet, so I paid one price. But it was just amazing to me because he was like 7 years old at the time. And he just really enjoyed it. Our favorite food together is sushi. So we always have Sundays out for my son. So we always have sushi on Sundays.

SI: How important is it to as you've mentioned, I guess, be comfortable in your own skin and I'm leaving this to a fun fact. You are a self-proclaimed selfie queen. So it's OK to take selfies.

LL: Yes, Yeah. I Absolutely Love it. My son teases me. Everybody knows that I'm famous for the duck lips. And they're like, why don't you smile more? You have such a beautiful smile. And it’s like, I just can't let it go. I love the duck lips and I love the selfie concept. I think that loving yourself is so important regardless of your circumstance, right? And that could mean a number of things coming your weight, that can mean your skin color, that could mean your lived experiences and how they manifest in you physically. You have to be able to find the joy in yourself because if you don't, no one else can love you as you are. And so I think I take selfies because I was teased often when I was younger for being a bigger girl and so I developed this self hating complex around nothing being beautiful below my neck. And so, honestly that's how I Got Face was born. So I spent a long time doing makeup. I have a makeup studio downtown. That is the mom-preneur side of me. It has since been deactivated because I've prayed and asked for a major leadership position. And when I got it, I didn't have the time to really juggle, you know, a makeup artistry business at the same time. But I Got Face was me raging against the machine saying no, like, yeah, I Got Face. But all of me is equally beautiful. Also take it or leave it in this selfie.

SI: Yes, and it goes back to the woman who is listening that says, should I take a risk? Wait, this isn't working for me, but this is. Just do it. Obviously, you're an example.

LL: 1000% because no one is created like you. You have an important space in this world. You have work to do. You have a contribution that nobody else can ever execute like you. So find yourself like yourself, embrace yourself. And even though in those hard moments and when it gets difficult, sit down, center yourself, self care is an act of resistance. Walk in that and then, you know, do your best to live a life where no matter what comes your way, you can find the joy in it.

SI: You do say the future is female.

LL: I do. So I am just a big fan of women, women empowerment. You know, I always feel a special affinity for women in transition and teen girls. So when I was active in makeup and styling and all of that different stuff, that was always my focus, being able to go into a school like Covenant House and talking to young women about self-esteem, how to look and feel beautiful, how to rediscover the beauty inside them. Those are opportunities that feed my soul. So, yeah, I really do believe that women are amazing. And I do believe that our time is just around the bend.

SI: I don't know, you've been bending a lot successfully, but keep on- keep on going. What do you leave us with?

LL: You know, I just leave you with one bit of advice, no matter what, find your passion and pursue it relentlessly. Dream in color. And then finally, like live out loud, you only get one life, so don't waste time. Go ahead, be bold, be brave, and live out loud.

SI: And wear lime green.

LL: And wear lime green.

SI: Latesha, thank you for this conversation on this Powerful Women: Let's talk.

LL: Thank you so much for having me. This is awesome.


Narr: Produced by women, about women, these powerful podcasts focus on powerful women and how their strength transforms who we are, and how we live. Want to hear more Powerful Women: Let’s Talk? Get additional interviews at wgvu.org or wherever you get your podcast. Please rate and subscribe. Powerful Women: Let's Talk is produced by WGVU at the Meijer Public Broadcast Center at Grand Valley State University. The views and opinions expressed on this program do not necessarily reflect those of WGVU, its underwriters, or Grand Valley State University.


Shelley Irwin is the host and producer for The Shelley Irwin Show, a news magazine talk-show format on the local NPR affiliate Monday through Friday. The show, broadcast at 9 a.m., features a wide variety of local and national news makers, plus special features.