The SIP: Episode 1 Transcript

Justin J. Pearson (2013), Juliana Tafur (2003), and Albert Lawrence (2003)

Learn more about The SIP and its first episode, Vulnerability and the Art of Listening with Juliana Tafur (2003), here.

[Intro music plays]

Justin J. Pearson

Hi, Coke Scholars family and friends! Welcome to The SIP, the podcast that shares a taste of the Coke Scholars around the world who are igniting positive change. My name is Justin J. Pearson, and I’m a proud 2013 Coca-Cola Scholar originally from Memphis, Tennessee, and now living and working in Boston focused on social and economic justice.

For those who are listening, and may not be a Coca-Cola Scholar, welcome. We’re glad you’re here! To give you a little background, the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation is the largest achievement-based and corporate-sponsored scholarship program in the country. Each year, it awards $20,000 to 150 high school seniors across the country who share a unique passion for service and leadership. It’s a competitive program to get into, but once you’re a Coke Scholar, the benefits go far beyond the money for college. You become part of this bigger family for life. If you want to learn more, you can visit their website, Coca-ColaScholarsFoundation.org.

For episode one, you’re in for a treat. 2003 Coke Scholars Albert Lawrence and Juliana Tafur will be talking about Juliana’s new documentary, LIST(e)N, which challenges people with differing viewpoints on hot button issues to talk to each other.

Albert is an entertainer who carries many hats.  As a correspondent on the Saturday morning CBS series “Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation,” he introduces children and families to new inventions and technological advances. He’s served as a recurring correspondent and producer for ABC7 Eyewitness News in Los Angeles, hosted virtual reality experiences for Lexus, authored digital trending digests for Warner Bros, and won a Telly Award for content created through his production company Talk of Fame.  Whether he’s Camping at Coachella, cosplaying at Comic-Con or covering the Oscars, Albert’s an assertive pop culture junkie – primed to debate topics ranging from country music to superhero flicks. If you know Albert, like I do, you know he’s always full of joy and fun to be around, which is why we’re excited that he will be interviewing the first two people in this podcast series. I can think of no one better to kick off The SIP than Albert. Now, let’s learn a little bit about Juliana.

Juliana Tafur is a talented documentary director, content consultant for Discovery Networks and founder of Orkidea Films. She’s also managing partner for Story Powerhouse, an incubator for the development of programs with societal impact. She’s an honors graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. And on top of all of that, she’s a fantastic mom to two adorable little boys.

Her new documentary sounds really interesting, and I’m excited to hear them talk about it, especially in this moment where we know discourse is so important for building relationships. And now, here are Albert and Juliana.

Albert Lawrence

Juliana Tafur, thank you for joining us on The SIP podcast. Now, look, you are an award-winning journalist you’ve worked internationally, you love digging into finding the human side of stories all around. So, you know, there’s so many different places where we could start with you because you’ve just done such a tremendous amount. But for me, I’m really interested in starting with the trilingual skill set that you have. And maybe trying to figure out and learn more about your story and your inspirations, but through language. So, starting off, can you tell me, what are the three languages that you speak?

Juliana Tafur

I speak English, Spanish and Portuguese. And how that all came about is I’m originally Colombian so Spanish is my native language. English, I actually went to an American School growing up in Colombia.

I moved to the US when I was 15. I already knew English but obviously you know living here and going through high school here and then University, etc. I was able to I believe perfect that somewhat.

Portuguese, because I moved to Brazil in 2009. My then-fiancé, now husband, had lived in Brazil for many years, although he’s Norwegian, and he wanted to start a company there and I was working in production in the US in Chicago after graduating from Northwestern. And I decided that would be a good idea. So, we both entered to Brazil, and I had no knowledge of Portuguese, but with the Spanish that I have, it was easy to learn Portuguese. The languages are somewhat similar. It did become an ability afterwards that also benefited me in my work with Discovery that I came to do here in Miami afterwards as well because I was able to supervise the entire series in Portuguese – supervise scripts, write scripts in Portuguese – and that was really cool as well having that as you know, something extra that I could say I could do.

Albert

So, before 2009, when you were still in the United States when you were still working in Chicago, what kind of content were you making at that point? How did the journalism spirit get into you – where does storyteller Juliana get born?

Juliana

I was studying abroad in Egypt in my junior year in college, and I began working with refugees from all over Africa. And I realized that the Sudanese were kind of living in limbo in Cairo, they were between, you know, two worlds.

They had gone to Cairo to have a better life because of agreements that the Egyptian government had with the Sudanese government. So, they expected kind of better conditions and some rights, but when they arrived there, the situation was quite frankly very different and they did not have those rights that they were being promised as far as the right to education, right to health care, right to protection, and I realized that I really wanted to do something about this. And I had been in journalism and news at Northwestern, and before Northwestern even I had done some internships in news and I just realized that documentaries was a way to tell these stories and have a better impact.

Thankfully, I was able to after a year of my study abroad experience go back to Egypt with the grants that I got from Northwestern. So, I took a little camera and a microphone and myself. And I went into the slums of Cairo to document this story. I had a Sudanese who was my driver, guide, and safety protector. And, and I was able to, you know, get incredible testimonies from them and come back to Chicago while I was still a student and edit using the Northwestern facilities – and learning how to edit.

And it was quite amazing to me like at that time, there was – I’d never done a project that I was so passionate about and that I could, you know, feel that it could really have an impact. Because for the Sudanese telling their stories was meaningful – no one was really covering them.

Albert

How, what do you think was one of the key factors for you being able to gain the trust of the people who you were interviewing?

Juliana

I think the fact that I had already taught English in the community – a lot of them knew me and opened the doors to their homes and their institutions and organizations. They really wanted their story to be known. And I think that’s how I was able to get that access. Also, it’s always been about the story. And throughout my career I have done things that have been risky, that I have questioned myself afterwards.

Albert

[Laughing]

Juliana

[Laughing]

For sure. Ah…

Albert

Let’s jump to that actually! Yeah you just opened up that door so yeah I’m very curious. Can you tell us a thing or two that perhaps you’ve done in your career that was risky, but you did it for this story and thankfully you’re safe, but in the moment you had some second thoughts?

Juliana

Yeah, I would say the riskiest one was for a National Geographic documentary that I was doing on the most toxic trash dump in the Americas, which is in Guatemala City. And the story was about trash divers – people who dive into a river of trash to find scrap metals, and they sell the scrap metals and, you know, get money for it, and they hope for the occasional, you know, lost ring, lost necklace, bracelet, etc.

Albert

Wow.

Juliana

So, the story was incredible, and I was really excited to go cover that and to have that opportunity to meet these people and talk to these people because I wanted to, you know, find the human element to their story. I really wanted to get to know them and understand them. And also show that, you know, their work was dignified – in a country where there are a lot of gangs, this was an honest path for them, and it required a lot of effort and hard work. But the danger came in that the trash dump and the river of trash that was underneath the trash dump was in a hot zone, it was a red zone, and it was surrounded by gangs.

Albert

Oh no.

Juliana

And the river was at the bottom of this, you know, cliff that we had to hike up and down to go. And it was also, I should note, next to the largest cemetery in the city. So, it was all very precarious.

Albert

Juliana! There are all of these signs telling you to get out, you’re not supposed to be here! [Laughing]

Juliana

[Laughing]

Yeah, it was, it was a little bit crazy – like, you know, bodies fell in the river from the cemetery and…

Albert

Oh gosh!

Juliana

And a hot zone and a cliff, and a gang-infested place – I should have seen the signs!

[Laughing]

Albert

Oh my gosh!

[Laughing]

Juliana

I really wanted to cover the story, and I thought you know what, I’ll be safe – we have security. Yes, we had one security guy who came with us, as was the case in many of these, you know, difficult situation shoots and many of the places that I went to. And, yes, he was there. I don’t know how much he could have done had we been surrounded by a gang.

But what happened was, as we were on our last day, we were shooting through a weekend, so I think they didn’t notice us until the last day. And as we were going up the cliff, we had done what we needed to do, we were done shooting, and we noticed two guys come down with a dog and they were like, hooded, and they were checking us out, and I mean we all, you know, got the queue – we were like, you know, fast, let’s get out of here. And we went up as fast as we could. It was really scary because we had heavy equipment and expensive cameras and tripods and etc.

Albert

Gosh.

Juliana

And so we went up, and as we got out, we got word at a nearby store that, you know, had we taken an extra hour to get out…the gang had gotten word that we were there and they were going to come for us.

Albert

Juliana! Oh my gosh.

Juliana

That was scary. That was really scary in the aftermath. I did not tell this story to my mom.

[Laughing]

Albert

[Laughing]

I think that was a wise choice, that was a wise decision. Mom would not have taken well to this. Yeah, no.

Juliana

No, no, no. I mean, the truth is, when, when you have a mission and when you know you need to go places, you’re gonna go places. And I mean I now have kids, and I know that I’m gonna be like my mom, for sure, like you need to alert them to these things. But you can’t cut their wings, and you know, you’ve got incentivize them, and you have to be smart and tell them to protect themselves and to take precautions. And I choose to cover other kinds of stories now where I don’t have to put my life in harm’s way. Yes, yes.

Albert

Well, you mentioned when you have a mission, you know, you show up and you commit and you do what it takes in order to fulfill that mission. Apparently, and obviously, you know, as you move into each individual project, each of those projects has its own mission.

But for you, Juliana, what do you feel is your greater mission? Do you feel like there’s a specific overarching theme to your life – something that drives you that connects these various experiences that you’ve had and that you’ve placed yourself in the middle of?

Juliana

I do feel that I have a mission as a journalist, as a documentarian, as a filmmaker, to kind of open hearts and minds on some of the most pressing issues of our time. And that’s what I’ve done now with my film, LIST(e)N, that I’m excited to talk about.

Albert

But let’s talk about that, yes, let’s talk about it.

Juliana

Four years ago, I was working for Discovery networks, and this is after having spent six years in Brazil. I am doing all these, you know, crazy assignments for National Geographic – Taboo was the name of the series, by the way – and I began doing work for discovery, and I moved to Miami with, or to work for them, and I was supervising series, all kinds of series.

And the elections, four years ago came by, and I just felt that the hatred and the polarization in the country was so ugly, and I felt that I really needed to do something about it. And at the same time, I was doing a little bit of soul digging as to the kinds of content that I wanted to do.

And I came up with LIST(e)N as an experience where people come together to listen to each other with the intent of transcending differences on some of the most controversial topics of our time. And I chose immigration, abortion, and guns as the topics. And what I really wanted was for people to connect at a human level, and I didn’t know whether this was going to be possible. But I hoped that it would be possible because I wanted to show that we could do better as a society. So, I went ahead and I chose people whose lives were intricately connected to the issues.

Albert

Did you bring people together who were on polarizing sides of an issue and then encourage discourse that way or how exactly did you take the vision and take the mission that you had, and make it something that was visual?

Juliana

Yeah, well I divided them into different phases. So the different couples, I had them go first through an initial experience where they only talked about the issues. And then they went through a second experience where they, through art, painted, like a situation, a moment in their lives or, you know, I wanted them to depict through art why is it that they feel so strongly about this issue.

Albert

Hmm.

Juliana

And then in the third encounter, I have them come back together and talk about anything that they still felt they needed to talk about and write letters to each other.

Albert

Oh wow.

Juliana

And in the final encounter, sometimes before they wrote letters, sometimes during the act of writing the letters, was when I really got them to see the humanity in the other. And it was amazing, it truly was. For me being there, you know, going through this very much as a social experiment, not knowing if I was going to have a film because I wanted to be able to carry this message through that we were better and could do better. And thankfully, they did come together.

Albert

I mean, that’s a big gamble that you took, right?

Juliana

It was, it was a big gamble. It was my hope that it was possible. I would say that I had to go in, knowing that, you know, we are better. I guess I didn’t see it as a gamble at the time because I was confident that as a society we were ready for this.

Albert

Mmhmm.

Juliana

But, that’s part of listening, and that is something that I have learned also, because I was taken, myself, on a journey.

Albert

Wow, I mean I, and I want to give you kudos – some props – on your film because not only did it have its theatrical premiere at Regal Cinemas in Los Angeles – whoop whoop – but it also received multiple awards. You got the Accolade Global, Impact Docs, Indie Fest, and it’s currently touring universities right now, is that right?

Juliana

It is it is, it’s currently on tour, on university campuses around the US, and I’m really excited for that. Because I mentioned earlier that I was taken on a journey as well, like this has been really significant and impactful for me personally, because I realized the power of listening. And I realized that in the film, the participants that were able to complete the experience and actually have a deep connection were those who listen to each other.

And after that I began researching listening and talking to listening coaches and PhDs, who studied listening and apply listening through you know medical fields and other fields, and I just learned a lot about the importance of listening for everything we do in life. And my mission became, you know, spreading listening.

So, yes I do showcase the film, screen the film, at the universities, but I also talk about my journey with listening, and I have the students also engage in experiences, between each other, where they get to listen to each other as well as reflect on kind of where they stand on, I would say, their tolerance levels and their willingness to be more curious and listen more.

Albert

Mmhmm. Now, was LIST(e)N always the name of the documentary? Or did that name find its way as you were seeing what was taking shape.

Juliana

It found its way. For sure. It really happened on its own. And I did not expect to be taken on this journey either. And it really has been fascinating, because I’ve also learned a lot about listening to myself, which is so important. It’s a huge part of listening. And so when I’m going out to the universities I also want to impart that on the students.

Because I myself was very divided – consulting for Discovery on one end while I was, well, first making the film and then as I was on at the beginning of the tour with the film I was going to Ohio State and Northwestern and, you know, screening the film and going to festivals and kind of spreading listening and then I was just so divided because I was also supervising series for discovery and. And I stopped and I said, “Am I listening to myself?” So, that was a huge part of it.

And I’m really, I’m, I would say what, 13 years, almost 15 years, removed from having graduated college. And when I go around to universities, I also talk to the students about the importance of, you know, checking in with themselves – even if some time has elapsed, even if you know they thought that’s kind of the fears of the world had taken over and they have now you know bills to pay and standards to uphold to – like, to go back and check in with what it was that they wanted to do when they were, I would say, 13 or 15, and the world was kind of limitless. And they had these big dreams and these big aspirations of how they wanted to have an impact in the world because I think, as, as we grow up…[Laughing]

Albert

[Laughing]

Juliana

in all senses of the phrase, like we do oftentimes find ourselves, you know, farther and farther removed from those dreams and aspirations because, you know,

Albert

Preach, preach.

Juliana

…pretty much, yeah life kicks in. It’s true. And So, so, you know, listening, listening to ourselves, is where it’s at. Seriously to go back to, to what’s important and what is our life’s mission.

Albert

Do you remember what one of the pivotal moments of checking in with yourself yielded early on? Like, do you remember any of those moments of clarity that you got when you realized, hold on, doing so much right now, it’s not only loud outside it’s also loud in my own head. I need to pause and take a pulse. Do you remember what the impulse for that moment was?

Juliana

Yeah, as I was, you know, traveling and trying to go to festivals and premiere the film, and go to universities and kind of imparting this concept of listening, I think that happened when I was at Ohio State University. And I was standing there, presenting the film and talking about the traits needed for deep listening and seeing kind of the birth of what is now the tour that’s called LIST(e)N Courageously. And I said, “Are you listening to yourself?” Because that is a huge part of listening, but you are so divided like how is this project going to be possible if you don’t stop and give it the attention it requires. I mean, I was also torn after doing the film and doing the consulting for discovery and thinking okay what’s next? Do I, you know, take a full-time job somewhere because I’m done with the film and, you know, I’ve been consulting for Discovery and it’s been wonderful? But, you know, let’s think about, you know, grown up stuff and you know, you’ve got bills to pay! [Laughing]

Albert

[Laughing]

Exactly! Where you’re at, because at this point, you were already a mom, right?

Juliana

Yeah! Yeah no this was this was actually like five months ago, or less. I have dedicated full-time energy to this Listen Courageously project that I’m taking around to universities as of this January, so this is all very, very new and fresh. I am a mom, I have a five-year-old and a one-year-old.

Albert

Oh yes!

Juliana

Yeah.

Albert

And you are out here crushing it! Like you – because it’s funny, because even in your own household, not only are you listening to yourself now, but you also have a husband, so you have a partner who you’re listening with, and you’ve got two kids who also have some voices that I’m sure also want to be heard. So, you’re doing a lot of listening these days!

[Laughing]

Juliana

[Laughing]

I am, I am! Indeed, yes.

Albert

Yeah, but how do you, how do you find your space, and your time? Do you have a ritual for how to silence everything out for those moments when you do need to check in with yourself now?

Juliana

Yeah, well I was very lucky that when I grew up my dad was, you know, very, I would say, checked in with himself. [Laughing] And he taught me – he would meditate every morning and exercise every morning and, and he taught me at a very early age to meditate without me knowing it. I mean he used to just call it, you know, relaxation – let’s just do some relaxation together.

And, yes, I’m kind of finding moments to where I can kind of find that, kind of, stillness and peace. It is important to me, and it’s hard to do, especially when you have a one-year-old. I try to whenever I can, basically, even if it’s, you know, right before going to sleep or in the mornings if I wake up a little bit earlier than everyone. It is important to do that and check in, but I don’t think that’s required, you know, for those out there who don’t meditate or don’t know how to kind of calm their mind. I think that checking in with yourself and being real about what it is that you feel that your mission is in life is something that everyone can do, regardless of whether they, you know, have these techniques handy or not. I think, yes, it does require kind of some introspection, but I wouldn’t say that it’s the only way. Just to – I’m trying to not discourage people.

Albert

Right, right! No, I think that’s wonderful. I think that one of the most valuable elements like really at the core of what you’re sharing is that this is just an example this is how you function. This is how you have figured out how to really be your best self, right? And like how to take the temperature and the tone for your life and…

Juliana

Yeah.

Albert

…others may find there other ways but I think that it is very helpful just to see, you know, “how’s everybody else doing it?” because it can be challenging and intimidating.

Juliana

Yeah, it can it can. But you know, I think the clearest message I think came from, I would say, the momentum that I was feeling with Listen, and how it seemed like it was a project that was just ready to burst and it had wings of its own. But it needed me. And you know oftentimes it’s that – oftentimes it’s stopping to realize that you may be looking for something else. When this amazing thing is brewing right under your feet, and it just needs you to happen. I think that’s the loudest kind of call it was, it was realizing that.

Albert

Wow, well Juliana, itt sounds like a theme that has been consistent in your life, whether or not you recognized it from the beginning or whether you realized it later on, but it’s the idea of risk. The idea of seeing a story, seeing a mission and feeling really in tune with the mission, and then just pursuing it and going out and truly pursuing it with excellence and now whether that brought you around the world, or whether it’s now brought you into an even deeper cavern which is your own mind, where you’ve had to learn to listen to yourself. There is, there is danger that’s associated with vulnerability and it really does sound like you have lept in, and whatever fears were there you were courageous enough to truly confront them.

Juliana

Hmm! Hmm, that’s such a nice summary!

Albert

You gave it! All I did was take what you already shared!

[Laughing]

Juliana

[Laughing] Oh wow!

Albert

So thank you so much for, for giving us these threads to hold on to, I really do hope that everyone who’s listening will be able to find a piece of your story that that connects with them, that resonates with them, and will be encouraged then to be daring enough to listen to themselves in addition to others.

[Musical interlude]

Albert

So, now we’ve come to the end of the episode where there’s one more thing that we have that we’re doing at the end of every episode and it’s called the Fast Five. So, with the Fast Five, these are five questions – I’m going to throw them out there, and the first answers that come to your mind, I just want you to throw them on out. Okay, no judgment! [Laughing]

So, number one, what are two apps or websites that you can’t live without.

Juliana

Ah, well, in line with the listening. There’s this, I mean, it’s a free thing that I go to usually when I need a guided meditation. And I think it’s up like SoundCloud or something like that, I should I should probably double check it, but that’s something I go to frequently to find this one guided meditation that really, like, even when there’s a lot of noise outside and inside, it gets me in a good space. I say Spotify with music that I play throughout the day to work to get me in the mood, with my kids to put my baby to sleep. I really can’t live without Spotify and the albums and playlists that I have there.

Albert

Question two – if I looked at the music on your iPhone or iPod right now, what would most surprise me?

Juliana

Ahh, surprise you, depends on what you think I listen to! [Laughing]

Like, I’m on my Spotify right now and I’ll fill you in on some secrets. Like, my albums are like Reiki offering, and, like, music for meditation and, you know, I do have some like Kundalini mantras and some like crazy stuff like that. If you were to be surprised of the songs in my Spotify accounts, it would be the ones that my son, my five-year-old, has been playing that don’t really jive with me but it is what it is! [Laughing]

Albert

[Laughing] Yeah, I mean it’s funny because I’m sure that those songs end up surprising you when they pop up during your listening session sometimes.

Juliana

They do! I’m like, “Oh, what is this?” Yes.

Albert

[Laughing]

Brilliant! Actually, that’s perfect because that leads us to question number three, which is, what’s your favorite book or piece of music or art that has helped or inspired you in your life.

Juliana

So, book – that would have to be a book that I used to read with my dad when I was younger, and it’s a book by Paulo Coelho, and it’s called The Manual of the Warrior of Light.

Albert

Mmmm. The Manual of the Warrior of Light.

Juliana

Yes, yes.

Albert

And what’s the title in Spanish?

Juliana

It’s called El Manual de la Guerrera de la Luz. Yeah, give it a look, it’s powerful, it really is. It kind of hits your needs to hit you, you know, it takes you where you need to go. It’s really something.

Albert

So, we’re almost down at the bottom. We’ve got question number four. So, what quote or motto do you live your life by?

Juliana

So, a quote that I more than live by right now, a quote that really inspired me and that I discovered actually after making the film and that I included in the film. Now that it’s coming to the Miami Film Festival, as like the end statement, is a quote by a Norwegian-born, American sociologist called Elise Boulding, and the quote is, “Listening is the beginning of peace,” and certainly that resonated with me now that I’m in this mission to spread listening, and it very much tied in everything that I am doing. I feel like, you know, bringing peace and healing are very, very interconnected and I’m just happy that I’m able to kind of be in this mission, and I really deeply connected with this quote because it really kind of in a way made me realize that this is all about peacebuilding.

Albert

This was just sort of like this, this invisible guiding principle that was here all along. But now, now it has shown itself, I love it.

Juliana

Yeah, it was bizarre – to me it was bizarre. I was like, “listening is the beginning of peace,” – peace? What? What?

[Laughing]

Albert

[Laughing]

So, with that, the final question. What makes the Coke Scholars Program or network unique?

Juliana

The Coke Scholars Program is incredible. I did not know what I was walking into at age 17. It’s a network of people who deeply care. It’s a network of people who are committed to making a difference in the world. And who are willing, like genuinely willing, to help each other out. And I don’t think there’s anything like that. I sincerely do not. I think there’s many programs out there that you know give students money to go to college, but the group, and the quality of people selected for this program is really unique. And it’s a network that you know you can count on because it’s people who deeply care about each other.

Albert

Well, Juliana, you are a shining example, and the epitome of a Coke Scholar, clearly. So, thank you again. Thank you for being generous with your time. Thank you for also being honest and vulnerable with your answers and with your responses. I think that you have a voice that commands listening, while at the same time, you have an ear that clearly is processing what others are saying. So, thank you so much, Juliana.

Juliana

Wow! I feel so honored. Thank you, Albert. Thank you for this. It’s really been a pleasure.

[Music begins playing]

Justin J. Pearson

We hope you enjoyed this first episode of The SIP featuring Albert Lawrence and Juliana Tafur. For links to the LIST(e)N trailer and other things they discuss, I hope you check out our show notes or Coca-ColaScholarsFoundation.org.

Tune in for Episode Two in just two weeks where Albert will interview 2007 Scholar Shaan Patel. For a little teaser – if you’ve seen ABC’s Shark Tank, you may already be familiar with Shaan. We’ll say Marc Cuban definitely is! Find out how him getting perfect SAT’s in high school propelled him to create his company, Prep Expert. You don’t want to miss it. We’ll see you next time on The SIP!