This November the Heart to Heart: Conversations on Loving our LGBTQ Neighbors and Strengthening our Faith will be holding a series of discussions in the Roanoke area. These conversations will feature the internationally known speaker, author, and spiritual director, Susan Cottrell. Susan is a wife and mother to five children, two of whom are members of the LGBTQI community, and author of Mom, I’m Gay! Loving Your LGBTQ Child and Strengthening Your Faith and True Colors: Celebrating the Truth and Beauty of the Real You. She has also founded the organization, www.freedhearts.org, a nonprofit that aims to address LGBTQI issues theologically and religiously. Having recently been featured on ABC’S 20/20, Nightline and Good Morning America, Susan is a firm believer that the foundation of faith is based upon one’s love for God and all others.
The main purpose behind the Heart to Heart conversations is to create and promote serious discussion and support for the LGBTQ community. What once started as a one-day event, has now turned into a week-long series of events to promote discussion, love, and understanding. Among many topics discussed, some of the most prominent include curiosity and difficulty with sexual orientation, gender identity, and faith. The Heart to Heart events will be held November 8-12 with the main event, the Heart to Heart Conference, occurring November 11, 9am-2pm at the Christ Episcopal Church in Roanoke. A schedule of these events may be found at www.hearttoheartva.com. Most of these events, unless stated otherwise, are free and open to the public.
Donations can be made to the Heart to Heart foundation online at www.donate.hearttoheartva.com or checks can be made payable to the Roanoke Diversity Center and mailed to 806 Jamison Ave SE, Roanoke, VA 24013. All donations will go towards funding for these conversations that deepen our love and support for the LGBTQ community and featuring authors and leaders, such as Susan Cottrell.
If you have ever met Monique Ingram, you know that she is an amazing woman who gives her all to her commitments and truly changes the lives she touches for the better. She is involved in many aspects of our community from her role as a health educator for Roanoke’s Planned Parenthood Health Services to volunteering with the Showtimers Community Theatre. Her interests have taken her around the world, and we feel very fortunate that she continues to share her knowledge and experience with the people in our area.
What inspired you to get involved with Planned Parenthood?
As an adolescent, I found out that my grandmother had breast cancer and I didn’t know what that meant until she was leaving us. I remember hearing conversations in hushed tones between my family members about doctors and reproductive health. After she died, I knew I wanted to have a career where I could teach people, particularly women, about their bodies and how to help themselves.
I thought the only way I could do something with women’s reproductive health was to be a doctor or an OBGYN. I started talking to people at Roanoke College, particularly Dr. Deneen Evans. We discussed how to craft my academic career to achieve my goals. There was a need in our area for women of color, and for women in general, to know their choices and how to find their voice when it came to reproductive healthcare.
My mom helped encourage me to fill that void. She is a strong woman, a minster. We started out in a small community where she was told she couldn’t be a preacher. She found a church home where they embraced women in ministry. I recognized that same fire in me too, and I started to create my own path. I looked into an internship at Planned Parenthood, and there I was mentored by Dina Hackley-Hunt. I used to watch her and think, “Man, I want to be just like her.” Some of my students say that about me now, and it’s crazy because I can’t believe I’ve come full circle.
After I completed my undergraduate degree, I went home for a while before deciding that I wanted to go to graduate school at Virginia Tech. There was a job opening at Planned Parenthood. I thought, “Oh, I’m not going to be able to get that because I need my masters degree.”
However, my mom encouraged me and told me to apply because I might get it. I did, and they hired me.
I am so thankful for all of the wonderful women in my life. They’ve invited me to climb on their shoulders and see the endless possibilities of the world. They knew I would have a limited vantage point from my place on the ground. I love them so much for encouraging me to dream bigger, be better, and pay it forward.
What is your wish for every woman?
I wish that every woman could have the time and the space to find her voice—to figure out how loud she wants it to be and when or if she wants to use it. That is my wish for every person. It’s a difficult thing to try to figure out who you are and it takes time, effort, and some tears. You have to flesh out what you’re scared of, what you’re willing to stand for, and how you’re willing to grow. Growth is a huge part of finding your voice and figuring out who you are. One of my favorite quotes is, “Change is inevitable. Growth is optional. Choose wisely.”
What do you do in your spare time?
I’m a member at the Showtimers Community Theatre, and I’ve been part of that family for about ten years. I don’t mind being on stage, but I adore being stage manager. I love being behind the scenes and bossing people around. That’s my comfort zone. I’m the cochair of the hospitality committee and we put on all the opening night parties for our patrons and actors to thank them for their support. Actors are volunteers, so they don’t get paid. This gives us an opportunity to recognize the gift of their time and efforts. Showtimers couldn’t happen if it weren’t for the patrons and the actors.
I am also an education partner with Project Real Talk, an all girls leadership and life enhancement nonprofit in Roanoke. Additionally, I serve on the board of Girls Rock Roanoke.
What do the upcoming months have in store for you?
This summer, I will travel to Uganda to work with women and children who are HIV positive and hopefully shadow some educators in and around Kampala. I want to listen and learn how certain educators in other parts of the world approach sex education, particularly in areas where it is difficult to be comprehensive about it.
In July, I will be going to Cyprus to work with high school students from around the United States on a service learning trip. Then, I will head back to Roanoke and start graduate school to get my Master of Public Health degree.
I am also hoping to help schedule “Are You An Askable Parent?” workshops through Planned Parenthood for parents and adults that work with young people and teenagers. The goal is to get them to a place where they feel comfortable having conversations with young people about sex education. Ultimately, our goal is to get parents to a place where they feel more comfortable having those conversations no matter what is going on with their teens or how they identify.
Visit our website during the month of June for Monique’s full interview! If you are interested in learning more about the programs that Planned Parenthood offers our community, go to www.plannedparenthood.org. To view a full list of upcoming performances by The Showtimers Community Theatre, visit www.showtimers.org.
Some experts say a lot of knowledge is lost during the three-month break between school years. The good news is– learning doesn’t have to end at the sound of the final school bell. There are many educational storybooks out there for elementary and middle school kids. Check out some of our favorites:
Black Elk’s Vision: A Lakota Story, by S. D. Nelson, tells the true story of Black Elk a young Lakota Native American who receives a vision from the Spirit World during a time when his tribe is being oppressed by the White People. The book is told from Black Elk’s point of view and is illustrated with beautiful modern paintings and historic drawings and photographs.
Ballots for Belva: The True Story of a Woman’s Race for the Presidency, written by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen and illustrated by Courtney A. Martin, is about Belva Lockwood who ran for President of the United States in 1884 and 1888, at a time when women couldn’t even vote. The illustrations are beautiful and richly colored.
Maritcha: A Nineteenth-Century American Girl, written by Tonya Bolden, tells the true story of a young African American girl growing up in New York City in the Mid-1800s, who grows up to be an influential school principal. The book is illustrated with historic photographs and drawings, some directly related to Maritcha, and some helping to set the scene.
Me, Frida, written by Amy Novesky and illustrated by David Diaz, is about influential Mexican painter, Frida Kahlo, wife of famous painter Diego Rivera, and her adventures in Los Angeles. The book is illustrated in beautiful, vibrant, paintings modeled after Frida’s exceptional painting style.
Pluto’s Secret: An Icy World’s Tale of Discovery, written by Margaret A. Weitekamp and David DeVorkin and illustrated by Diane Kidd, teaches kids about Pluto, formerly known as the ninth planet, why Pluto is no longer considered a planet, and what it really is. The book gives Pluto a voice and is illustrated with cute cartoon drawings and some historic photographs.
We know you want your kids to continue learning and growing all year long, so pick up a copy of these at your local bookstore today. Or enter our contests to win them!