Business Owner, Actress, Entrepreneur and Mother of nine, Lisa Butler, joins us this edition of Powerful Woman: Let's Talk.
Where does Lisa Butler get her drive, energy and love for the community? Hear this story of beating the odds.
Powerful Women: Let’s Talk is created by WGVU NPR and made possible by WGVU NPR sustaining monthly donors. Become a sustaining monthly donor now at wgvu.org/donate to support WGVU NPR’s local programs, including Powerful Women: Let’s Talk.
Powerful women, let's talk is made possible in part by Family Fare, keeping it real. Produced by women about women. Powerful women, Let's Talk is a series of interviews with women who have helped shape our community and transform who we are and how we live.
Community activist, visionary organizer, artist onstage meet Lisa Butler. Today leading operations at public thread along with developing strategic partnerships for impact did I mention, she's also a supermom? Welcome Lisa to our powerful women, let's talk.
Hi, good morning. Thank you for having me here.
Do you have a favorite kid?
They all say that they're my favorite, so I stay out of that argument because it could cause world war 5, 6, 7, 9 and 10.
How about a favorite grand kid?
Well my first born Nykayla she has always had my heart, but they're all just they're beautiful. They're beautiful young people, beautiful human beings and I'm excited I got one more coming, supposed to be born the date is November 2nd. My birthday is the first so I'm hoping this is this is my prayer that he comes on the first so yes.
You won’t even need cake on that day!
Well glad that you are passing on your genes. The talented genes whether they'll be artists or powerful women or men. Which hat you want to begin with? A for activists, let's talk about your career journey first of all.
Oh, career journey is very interesting. I was having a conversation with somebody the other day just talking about the journey of my life and, what happened is somebody hit my car out from behind now this is a week after I paid it off and so they totaled car out and I you know my daughter has had a car at my house and we figured I could just drive that until I figure out what I'm going to get. Well then I, after 2 weeks of trying to get into the secretary of state to get the title transferred and the plate transferred. As I started driving the car around the corner it literally started “konking” out, I mean I was like OK, this isn’t going to work. So I had to go get a new car. And what I shared with the young lady that I was talking with is I've never been able to walk onto a car lot and buy a new car. I've never had the money in the bank to put down as big a deposit as I did. To be able to feel free to do that was very interesting and I really had a deep moment because I remember when I was homeless and when I was sleeping in the park and had 2 kids and was pregnant and staying in the shelter and getting public assistance and struggling to keep my my lights on and my gas and wondering if I could even take a trip out of town if there were going to be enough groceries and food at home for my kids if I left and then trying to find somebody to watch all of them right and all of those things. It was a struggle and to sit back and think about that, to sit in a car and look and realize where I've come from has been very interesting and so that was a struggle, but that is the thing that powers me every day to fight for other people. It's OK if you have to be on assistance for a while, don't knock it because you got to start somewhere right? But don't let that be your impetus every day let it be the thing that helps you for now, but fight for what you believe in dream dream and fight for that dream right. Having had 9 children at home, I cannot tell you how I got through it every day except for prayer except for being on my knees. There were times where I wanted to sit in the corner and cry, but I would get up daily and say you don't have time for that. You have things you need to do. Your children have to be successful. You have to overcome the situation so there was no time in my life that I wasn't working and I'm telling you I got people that can attest. Four jobs, minimum four jobs, but I was there with my kids when they had parent teacher conferences and when they had their sports banquets when they received their awards and when they had their games and their competitions and all the stuff. I made sure that I was there because I wanted them to know that I supported them and that even though there's always a struggle you can do anything you put your mind to if you just stand your ground and fight for it and never let other people shape your future.
So it was a journey of a day at a time?
It was absolutely.
But you get to how move into the sector of activism the sector of working with the youth. Tell me more about you know, may be going from 4 jobs to one?
It never was 4 to one.
Even now, it's still you know I always think about that.
Because you have to or you want to?
It's a little of both. This is a very interesting time that we live in right now and I have 11 grandchildren and another on the way. And so it's difficult for our people to have that residual income to provide for our children's children right? So I'm looking at that. This is what I'm thinking about: what legacy will I leave for them and what will they be able to step into when I'm no longer here? Even as I walked into this building today and I saw all the pictures of the donors and and people who were on the wall and I did not see one person of color in and begin to think about how we've never been set up to be able to step into that new place right? We've never been set up to take over the family business and to walk into those spaces because there's always been that adversity that kept us from being successful right and to have a $1000 in your bank account is huge for some people right even in this time when people were getting the stimulus checks and they were getting the extra $600 because they were laid off it was like wow, I've never had access to this kind of money but, at the same time there was nobody there to say to say to them, “listen, let's look at your credit and pay your bills off let's show you how to invest some of that money so that you can have something to live off. What do you do when the helicopter of funding stops right when the rain stops what do you have then?”, and so working with these young people it ties directly into you know me having 9 very brilliant children right? And I had somebody say to me one time “you're never going to be able to do anything because you've got all those kids” and that's when I stepped back and said I'm not gonna let you tell me what I can't do and so that was the fighter in me that's always been in me that said I'm going to help them accomplish what they need to do, they're going to go through college they're going to get their degrees. Whatever area they want to get into I'm going to push them to be successful and that's what I had to do and so when I look at the young people in our community and the young people that I’ve worked with it's always been a desire to help them get to that place because they needed somebody to talk to they needed somewhere to vent. But, they did realize my background they had no idea about what I had gone through or what I had dealt with. So I was able to speak to them from you know not the mothering space but, from that you know neighbor who's watching me in who's seeing all the things that I'm dealing with and who is able to pull me aside and we sit on the porch and we have a cup of juice or pop or whatever and I can tell you what you can do. I can give you a couple extra dollars, I go pick you up in my car when you're having a hard time at home and we’re going to sit on the side of road and we're going to have a little counseling session.
Only female minority in concrete business here in West Michigan, lets talk about this.
So multiple streams of income you're right. A family legacy. I've always dibbled and dabbled in different businesses and so I had one of my mentors came to me, he said Lisa, I don't understand why you of all people don't have at least 5 streams of income, you know you’re creative you’re an out of the box thinker this is just the person you are. And so over the last couple years I had just been thinking about you know what else you know I do voiceovers and commercials, I have a studio in my basement, been doing that for years.
We’re Getting there.
Ok, well I’ll save that! That will come later. so I sat back and really thought about the spaces that I was good at right and how to empower people and how to lift people up and so last year I started a concrete business and then Covid hit and so it was like oh, what are you going to do now, but I'm a woman of faith and I really started praying about what do I need to be doing? Where do I need to be? Where is my space right now and I just kept hearing recalibrate, recalibrate and so I started putting my focus into the business. So what I saw that as the time to really tweak and really to gain knowledge and information and connect with people to really build this up and so the unfortunate piece is that we didn't get to start working until June, but it was a fortunate time for me because it allowed me to learn more about the landscape allowed me to learn more about the business and to really realize that there aren't any females in this space. There may be a few but, very very very few and not around here and so that set me up to be in a very different position to not only connect with businesses in the community that I had an already established relationship with but, to be able to create a space where minorities can feel empowered and be engaged, that young women can see people that look like me in this space. Now like my nails done and I like to look you know like to dress up guess what you can do all of those things still and make money and be able to make the kind of money that you need to not only support your family and yourself but to build a future. To see something different right? Our young people need to see people that are successful in these fields, and no I'm not making 10 million dollars. Not yet.
Yep, you’re a dreamer.
Give me 2 years, I’ll get there.
Lisa when? Yes you will, there's no doubt about that. Okay when were you first on stage?
4 years old my very first play: Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. We were at a school
Who did you play? Was it Snow White or one of the seven Dwarves?
So, this is going to shock the world, I was bashful. Never in my life have I played that role. Well at all. Again my family we were the only black family in the school and we were all girls. And so I had fight and I had to fight through all of school and I you know being on stage was just something I loved. There was a statement that my dad used to say about me he said I would argue with a stop sign. I never let anybody tell me no no. You know, I would always argue my point and being onstage allowed me to recreate myself impact people because for a long time I had a hard time understanding who I was, I didn't know I was. I was trying to be everybody and everything and I would always watch musicians on TV and Diana Ross, and Aretha Franklin and all of these people, my dad wanted me to sing gospel and I wanted to see like Aretha and nothing's going to stop me from that. You know that was my thing and so me and my sisters, you know when my parents would leave and they laugh at this, but they'll never hear it. You know I would go get my mom's wig
I'd comb that thing out, I would get her wig brush and we would be in the living room and the music would be playing and I would be the lead singer and they be my little background and we’d just be you know doing our whole thing and that's just what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a star.
Isn’t that where business starts?
That it is I wanted what you see it’s what our kids are visualizing during this time and these are the things that imprint them so we think about the kind of music that they're listening to and the things that they're seeing on TV and they're beginning to mimic some of those things it’s not the positive things that they need to see and that's why us important for us to be the ones to stand in the gap to stand up for them, to show them what they can be, to help them understand who they can be and how to access those things. We have to do it because if we don’t, who else is? TV, social media, videos all of that stuff is feeding into them and its not feeding the positivity that they need in their lives. They need to know that they can actually access things right here, right next to them, but we as adults in this community have a responsibility to stand next to them and to show them the direction. Let me tell you I had mentors in my life that were amazing, that were amazing and that really kept me from walking off the cliff because they were so many times I could have been there, I mean sometimes it's just you know it's interesting to think about.
Well, speaking of cliffs let's go the other side you scuba dive?
Where do you find time for this?
I have always loved the water, even as a child. I was a water baby and I loved swimming and I wanted to be a lifeguard but, I'm the type of person that it's like somethings in front of me and it's like I want to get I want to I want it now and so I learned in life to start slowing down a little bit and to to listen and so I actually got my scuba diving and license while I was working for Holland America cruise lines so I was the lead singer for the ship and we were on a route that took us past Saint Martin and Saint Thomas enough times for me to go and take my classes and so that's where it took my classes and that's where I got certified and so I try to go at least twice a year to get a nice dive in but, since last year I think last September was the last time I was able to dive since all of this has happened and so I just kind of you know been sitting around but, man I want to get out there.
I know you haven't been sitting around.
Well that's true hey you loved to cook. What would you cook?
I do. I cook everything I love to recreate things I like to create things out of my garden so I have a garden in the back of my yard and yesterday I got home so I thought I had to be at this event and pulled up and realized that it was the wrong date and so I went home and I just had a taste for Thai food, I love Thai food. I spent time in Thailand and in Asia and all over the place and so I just I pulled some chicken out and I grabbed some lemon grass out of the garden and I created this kind of curry Thai chicken soup with vegetables and stuff in it and it was so good
Nice, a gardener too. Hey, do you know a book that's perhaps kept you up at night or you say you've got to read this?
Man, I got a list that and I don't know of the book keeps me up at night, life sometimes keeps me up at night a my mind it's hard to shut it down it truly is and I literally,
Is that a good or bad thing for you? Do you thrive on that? Maybe you thrive on it.
I think that that’s just who I am. My brain wakes up and it starts talking.
I get up and I have my prayer and meditation in the morning and you know I have conversations about the things that I need to be doing. I talk it through in my head and my daughter's doing some some work for me on some of my consulting paperwork and I literally was dreaming about all the things that I needed to get up and text to her so she could put that mission in the paperwork but, I see things in 3D sometimes, I see all the working parts and then I just get up and I do it.
I dream a lot. I had a dream one night and our business we're in this huge warehouse and I went in and I told my partner. I said I saw people rolling around on skate boards and skates and scooter going back and forth because we were so busy and there was so much to do and there's you know the warehouse, the space is so big and then 2 days later, she comes in with a scooter and so we ride that scooter from our space up to the front door when somebody rings the Bell.
Lisa what's your message to keep this on the powerful women subject powerful women, what do you say to future powerful women?
Never let anyone tell you what you cannot do. There's so many opportunities and there's nothing holding you back. I never let people shape where I was going, they may have fed into but, I had to make the ultimate decision. And there were times where I could have walked away, I could have shrunk back I could have said forget it, I'm not doing it. And I had to trust my heart, I had to trust what was in me and I had to step out on that faith and that is not easy to do, but you can do anything you set your mind to.
Want to go out with a song?
What song would I sing?
What song would you sing? Goodness gracious.
Ok, I don’t know if the mic can handle this.
*sings I Will Always Love You by Whitney Houston*
Lisa Butler, thank you for your role as a powerful woman. Take care to you.
Thank you so much Shelly, I appreciate you.
And thank you for listening to Powerful Women, Let's Talk. I’m Shelley Irwin.
Produced by women about when these powerful podcast 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 dot org or wherever you get your podcasts these rate and subscribe powerful women, let's talk is produced by WGBH you at the Myer 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 are Grand Valley State University.
Powerful women, let's talk is made possible in part by Family Fare, keeping it real.