Geeking Out About Unexpected Journeys & African Immigration with Chioma Azi

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Chioma Azi podcast
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
About The Episode Transcript

We're all dreaming of long weekends and sun-soaked holidays this summer. But how can we balance our professional obligations with our need for some well-deserved R&R? We ruminate on this question, considering alternatives like flexible work schedules and no-meeting Fridays that can offer a harmonious blend of productivity and leisure. And remember, there's no one-size-fits-all solution here - what works for you might not work for your colleague.

Joining us today is an inspirational immigration lawyer who strode an unconventional path into the profession. From aspirations of foreign diplomacy to shouldering the mantle of law, Chioma Azi's story is a testament to the role of serendipity and timing in shaping our careers. We also dive deep into the emotionally charged topic of success, and how its arrival later in our professional lives can sometimes feel rather overwhelming.

We then pivot the conversation to discuss advocacy for African immigrants and the often overlooked diversity within this community. Drawing from her work with African Communities Together, Chioma sheds light on her efforts to amplify the voices of African immigrants. We also dive into the multifaceted impacts of immigration policies and the resultant perceptions within these communities. To round off, we introspect on our personal experiences of navigating white institutions and share the inspiring journey of founding a non-profit organization - the Norah Anena Foundation. Don't miss out on this enlightening discussion!

0:00:08 - Rachel and Felicia

Hi, Felicia Hello.


0:00:10 - Felicia and Rachel

How are you doing? How's it going? Oh, we are same thing at the same time Awkward, i know Well, that's just the way it is in ritual worlds. I think there's so much more over talk.


0:00:21 - Rachel Murray

It's so true, and you know what's cool is we got to see each other in person, like last week, which will be, longer for this recording, literally a week ago.


0:00:32 - Felicia Jadczak

Yeah, I know It feels like we're always recording in a time machine, but that's where we are at this point in time, I guess in the time machine world.


0:00:39 - Rachel Murray

This is how we live our lives, you know. We don't know, between now and the time this comes out, there could be aliens have landed again.


0:00:46 - Felicia Jadczak

If only I'm waiting I said this to you earlier, listeners I'm waiting for the aliens to come down and make their presence known and just take over, because they're obviously advanced beings. So, listen, we have some shit that we have not figured out on this planet. So you know what? At this point in time, i'm ready for some extraterrestrial beings to tell us what we're getting wrong and just do it.


0:01:07 - Rachel Murray

I feel like you have not watched enough episodes of Star Trek to say that.


0:01:12 - Felicia Jadczak

Or have I watched enough?


0:01:16 - Rachel Murray

Yeah, or the robots, we don't know what will happen. It's exciting, but I wanted to chat with you, since it's summertime, a little bit about the approach, sort of summer Fridays and just time off in general, i think, as we're like all feeling this nice little, maybe opportunity to do a little bit of extra rest.


0:01:38 - Felicia Jadczak

We have definitely kind of gone all over the place when it comes to the SGO, i think, especially in 2020, it was like wild. So I don't even remember what 2020 summer was like. I just remember being very overwhelmed and working all the time, and so because of that, we actually were like okay, we got to put some boundaries in place and figure this out, and I know we flip flopped a bit. So like we played around with the idea like do we have a four day work week in the summer and have everyone take a day off? Do we have it be optional? Is it case by case? Is it? no? we historically have always done, or almost always done, no meeting Fridays to try to have a bit of a quieter day anyway, which I really love in general.


But my personal philosophy is living in Massachusetts, summertime is very brief, and so I like to take summer Fridays, because if I don't, then before I know it it will be fall again, it will be cold and dark and winter will set in and I'll be depressed. So that's why I really like to take a day off for a longer weekend, because otherwise my weekends get pretty tied up with like cleaning and errands. So it just makes me feel like I can actually enjoy the summertime while it's here. But not everybody lives in Massachusetts and, like you, live in paradise, so I know you have a very different take on it.


0:02:53 - Rachel Murray

Well, no, i mean, i'm down for it. I think it's really interesting, like the concept of the four day work week. I think a lot of people are doing this now more than ever. companies are doing it now more than ever.


I struggle with the concept of the four day week work week because I've seen that it can be really beneficial And I can also see that it can cause a lot of stress because everyone's trying to cram everything into four days. If you're a remote only company, then you're really spending all of your time during those four days in meetings because you're catching up, So there's less little, less sort of wiggle time during those days. So my ideal is actually probably like just less hours for five days rather than trying to cram everything into four days. But I still love having. what we do is we shut our company down on the last week of August and the last week of December And then we have quarterly no meeting weeks, which is a great opportunity, particularly for the facilitators, to really dive in because their schedules are so busy with workshops. This is an opportunity for you all to really do the thought work and have those weeks to do that, and so sometimes I'm like I'll be down for a no meeting week, but then I'm like but then I have client things, so I gotta get them done. So I gotta leave my calendar open because, who knows, who is going to pop up into Rachel's calendar.


I just referred to myself in third person. I hate that. I did that. You shouldn't. I think everything was said.


0:04:26 - Felicia Jadczak

Well, that happened. I appreciate your point of view because I think it's an important point in general to make, which is that, like, I don't think there's going to be a one size fits all solution for stuff like this, And I think that's what's beautiful about it is so for you, maybe it's like you know what you're going to work five days a week, but you might leave early every day because that's the way your work is spread out and it works well for you, versus me. I'm like I want a whole three day weekend and, like you know, it's not going to work for me because, like, especially with time zones and stuff that goes on, I'm like you know how I will. I like to respond to emails and slacks at like midnight because I see it come through.


So that's what works for me. For other folks I know a couple of people on our team this summer are looking at it more as like a case by case basis where we do have unlimited PTO, and so some people are like you know what? I kind of want to have this Friday or whatever the day is, to do some of that quiet work because it's getting busy the rest of the week. And then other weeks are like I don't have much going on or I need a break, so I'm going to take some extra time off. So I think that's what's nice is that it's something that people can work with to figure out what gets them best.


And I will say, like our team has asked us from time to time, like, oh, is this a company wide thing, is it a everybody thing? Is this a policy? And I think that's where the no meeting weeks and the shutdown weeks are really important because, like when we've experimented with having the three day weekend be a policy, i know some people are like, ah, now I have to work, like 10 hour days, like a whole thing. So I guess all that to be said is that's. Those are some of the things that we talk about, especially when it comes to summertime.


0:06:09 - Rachel Murray

Yeah, and it's very relevant to the work that we do. You know it's like okay, how can we create a workplace that feels good for everyone? And the reality is that it's going to be different for different companies, different teams and different employees. There's no one size fits all solution, And that is why Felicia loves to say you know, if we had all the answers, we'd write the book and then we'd be millionaires, because the answers are complicated and they differ depending on the organization's needs.


So that's what's cool about. Well, now I'm just going to talk about how great we are. Please go on. The way we approach the work right is that it is very do it custom to who we are working with, because we know that if we were just up there with, you know, a PowerPoint about whatever that's generic, it's not going to land for people, it's not going to be, it's not going to resonate. So we want to make it so that it's that the examples that we use, the scenarios that we provide, are going to be particularly relevant to the company, to the industry, to the team's needs, like what is going on, and it has shown to be more impactful. So that's been pretty cool, i think Yeah.


0:07:16 - Felicia Jadczak

Yeah, and you know, i think just to extrapolate, kind of pull out a little bit too, i think, especially as more companies, like not just ours are either remote first, or hybrid, or people are all over the world And some people are working from home and some people are working from an office, and just the working world in general feels so wild right now, and I think one of the easiest and best things companies can do to be inclusive is to just remember that not everyone is experiencing the same exact thing. So what works for me will not work for you, what works for you may not work for somebody else in the team, and so on and so forth. And there are definitely areas of overlap.


Everyone loves a shutdown week, right, and I think part of that grew out of the fact that we were like these weeks are slow across the board. Our clients are not here. Last December I still remember. So I always thought it was like our shutdown week is so great in December, like I love it that week between you know that that last week is like so slow and everyone's just not in the mindset. And then you were actually out on sabbatical And I remember I was talking to some clients and I had clients in the beginning of December telling me oh, we take two to three weeks off in December And I was like come again, okay. And then all of a sudden I felt like the stodgy company doesn't do stuff to support And that feels wild to me, but that's how some people are doing it too. But you know it's a balancing act.


0:08:35 - Rachel Murray

Are you saying that we're going to everyone's going to have two to three weeks off in December? now? No, i don't know. Well anyone can, though, but that's a limit of PTO, right? Like that's what that's for. If people want to take extra time, right Yeah, everybody's different. Everybody's got different needs, which is why we care about equity. Okay, so who are we talking?


0:08:56 - Felicia Jadczak

to today. I'm excited for today's conversation. So this is actually the person that we interviewed today is a woman named Shuyama Aziz. She's an immigration lawyer in Philadelphia And, as you will learn spoiler alert her and I go way back, so she and I've been friends since high school. We are still in touch now. I'm just really delighted to have her in my life, because folks who know me well know that I don't have very many friends from high school, so she's one of the few special people, but she's a very amazing person in her own regard, and so we geeked out about the African community in Philadelphia and beyond. We talked about immigration issues and concerns not at all timely sarcasm.


And we also talked about different community organizations and starting organizations and a whole lot more, so I hope you really enjoy the conversation.


0:09:47 - Rachel Murray



0:09:50 - Felicia Jadczak

Hi Rachel, hey Felicia, and hi Chioma. Hi, so we're so excited to have you on the pod today. So you are an immigration lawyer in Philadelphia. We're speaking with Chioma Azi, who is not only an amazing lawyer and does all sorts of cool things, which we'll get into, but a personal friend and classmate. Back in the day We were high school classmates together, back like 10 years ago right. Of course. Of course I mean what is time. but yes, you're absolutely true.


0:10:23 - Chioma Azi

It was only 10 years ago, so not a lot to catch up on at all. So excited to have you. Thank you so much for joining us. Thank you for having me. This is an honor. Actually, i'm excited, i'm just really excited, oh so sweet.


0:10:37 - Rachel Murray

Yes, that is so sweet. Yeah Well, i think I would just love to just start. So I'm coming in new to this relationship, so thank you for inviting me into it. I'm so glad to be a part of it. So I would just love to like go right from the beginning and learn about your journey. How did you get to be this incredible immigration lawyer? It's such a funny story.


0:10:56 - Chioma Azi

I definitely had never planned to be a lawyer. I actually kind of use my story as a cautionary tale to some people sometimes because I hadn't planned it. It was totally not planned. My interests from a young age have always been in the area of international relations, foreign diplomacy, you know. Basically I wanted to be a diplomat Like that's always been my dream and things I've always thought about.


And coming out of college I had some plans about. You know, the route I was going to take to get there didn't quite work out. A friend of mine had just kind of mentioned to me oh, you might want to consider law school as a pathway to this. And I was like law school, why would I do that? I'm a good lawyer. And I dismissed it. And then, you know, i guess maybe like some months or a year later I we thought about it and I casually started the process of applying to law school and studying for the LSAT. And that's why I say it's a cautionary tale, because I don't want people to do necessarily what I did. But you know, i just kind of started to delve into it And then, to my surprise, door started opening. I got a full scholarship to go to law school. I went to Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, a small Catholic school And then so when that happened, that's when my eyes were open I was like, oh, this looks like it's going to be real now. So I guess I should really dial in and take this seriously. So, yeah, so I really was not a traditional law student because I was somebody who fell into it. You know a lot of people in law school. You find that their parents, their fathers, their uncles, whoever were lawyers or they at least knew they had a lot of knowledge and understanding about what it would entail, and that wasn't me at all. But I got in and it was really like a fight for my life, very stressful, but, you know, coming out again still kind of. You know, i graduated during the recession, you know. So I graduated 2008. So, right, when recession was kicking off and not a clear direction Again, once again, not a clear direction as to where I was going to go. I didn't have a job, a lot of people didn't have jobs, and so it was really.


Just the funny thing is immigration. I fell into immigration, not because of my background I happened to be a child of immigrants but I fell into because a classmate of mine said, who also didn't have a job, said you know what we can learn? this Like, here are some skills that we can learn, this is what I'm doing. She's from New York, so she lives in New York, and she said this is what I'm doing, so here you can do it too. And I just started kind of taking on clients and I'm also trying to learn from people here and there doing internships, and I had a little internship with a small firm in New York for about a year And then, before I knew it, i was kind of like it was like my specialty, i suppose.


So I've just been really grateful and I've been very blessed because doors have opened. You know, i've been walking through life and not a hundred percent sure which way things would go And then, before I knew it, doors are opening and here I am And this is now my career and it's my specialty and it's my focal point, and I find that now everything I do is involving immigration or immigrants. So it's such it's just a funny thing. It's a kind of a funny thing, but it's. when I look back on the journey it's, i'm amazed, but mostly just incredibly grateful.


0:14:03 - Rachel Murray

Oh my God, i love that story so much. It's beautiful And I just also have to throw in just complete nonsense here. but I just had to ask me. so you wanted to be a diplomat like have you seen the Netflix show The Diplomat?


0:14:17 - Chioma Azi

I haven't.


0:14:18 - Rachel Murray

I haven't Who's in it. I haven't seen it. Okay, so it's like if the Americans and West Wing had a baby, like it would be that. But it's Carrie Russell. She plays a diplomat who is unbeknownst to her being groomed for the vice presidency. You find this out.


0:14:34 - Chioma Azi

I've heard of the show before. Yes, i've heard of it.


0:14:36 - Rachel Murray

I'll tell you like I mean, if you wanted to be a diplomat, i feel like you watch that, you watch that and you're like, oh, maybe not, Like I don't know, okay, it looks really hard, it looks really like you got to be really, really, really, really, ooh, and a political animal to do it, yeah, i was like neither here nor there. I was like should I ask this question?


0:14:58 - Felicia Jadczak

Yeah, I'm just giggling, because Rachel was like should I ask? And I was like yes, of course.


0:15:04 - Rachel Murray

So that's my very lame follow up question to your beautiful story. The other thing that I had pointed out, which is I thought was really interesting too, is you talking about doors opening up and how it's sort of just sort of naturally sort of happened, like there were just instances, you know, and I find that that's very true for a lot of folks that are successful, and it's amazing how that kind of works.


0:15:28 - Felicia Jadczak

And I also think what's interesting too is, like I feel, for folks who are not early stage in their careers, it can all seem very overwhelming And you're like I'm just trying to get ahead, whatever. And then when you look back you're like, oh, it made sense, but it's so hard to understand it in the moment.


0:15:43 - Chioma Azi

So it's so true for you. Oh yeah, absolutely.


0:15:47 - Felicia Jadczak

And you describe yourself as not just an immigration lawyer or a lawyer, but a community advocate, a strong voice for the African community, and you've been involved in other things too, besides straight up law, so I'd love you to maybe tell us a little bit more about African communities together. How did you get involved with them? What is the organization focus on? What's that all about?


0:16:07 - Chioma Azi

Yeah, that's just another classic story of me, like the door opening when I never expected it. So I spent about a big chunk of my career, about seven or eight years, with a nonprofit here in Philadelphia called African Cultural Alliance of North America And I decided to make a decision to leave in 2020 before pandemic really hit, just felt it was time And, you know, i guess, wanted a new challenge, but again not really sure what direction I was going to go in. I was doing some work with a small business doing compliance, but you know, knew that wasn't necessarily the direction I would 100% go in. So I was just kind of I got a point in my career where I was reevaluating and deciding should I get into, you know, corporate sector. I've never done that before, it's not really been my interest, but, you know, just for diversification, just kind of thinking, thinking.


And then one day an email pops into my inbox from a recruiter and I didn't quite understand the email. So I asked the front. I said is this, i think, looking, do they want me to help them find a candidate for this job or are they interested in me? And my friend was like no, i think they. They're interested in you to go for it. Like, what are you at? What are you talking about? So I was like, oh okay. So I mean I literally got a cold email from a recruiter working on behalf of African communities together And they told me more about the organization. I think I had heard about them, maybe briefly, but I didn't know a lot about them. They're based in New York, we're based in New York, but we have a presence in a couple of different locations in the country right now.


So it sounded like something similar to what I've done, but a new challenge, because now it would be firmly settled in a leadership position, much deeper into advocacy, and so I said, why not? This just feels like it's definitely building on the skills I've already developed over the last you know how many years it's been when I've been practicing 13 at that time, or something like that And but just taking it to the next level, especially with the position being a national position. So, yeah, i started doing the interviewing process And a couple of months later I had the position. And crazy to think that I'm going on two years in August I don't know how that happened because I really feel like it was yesterday, but it's interesting. Like you know, i think my earlier in my career it was obviously very practice driven. you know, in the courts, in the prisons, you know interfacing a lot of clients, you know doing petitions, that kind of thing.


This role is much more, i guess, supervisory, managerial, but also helping the organization think from a broader perspective, a holistic perspective about immigration.


Practice, but also advocacy, like what are things that we should be thinking about in terms of moving the African community as a whole forward. So I'm just I'm again, I know I gratitude is all I can really express right now, because I just don't know how these opportunities pop up, but they do And just grateful to have the platform to be able to really present the case for why, when you think about immigration, you shouldn't only think about one community, you should only think about the, you know, spanish speaking communities. There's a lot of, there's a lot of diversity in the immigrant community and African immigrants have been coming for like more than 50, 60 years, but a lot of people don't even realize that. So we spend a lot of time also trying to enlighten people and just, you know, spotlighting what we're doing and why our voices should be heard. I'm excited, i'm excited And just grateful for just having this chance to really take my work to the next level, basically.


0:19:37 - Felicia Jadczak

I have a quick follow up question, that that's okay. So, with African communities together, you know, really focusing on African immigrants and all the things that you just touched on, and I'm curious what your thoughts are or how you all approach the reality that when you say African immigrants, we're talking about the continent of Africa. Which way? There are different ones and tons of different countries, and I imagine that there are probably differing challenges or maybe even laws or realities for different folks from all of these various countries that aren't necessarily applicable to the whole group, and so I'm curious if that's something that you could maybe speak a little bit to.


0:20:16 - Chioma Azi

Absolutely. I mean that is literally. I mean I was in New York yesterday to meet with our New York team and that is literally something that we're talking about constantly, because trying to push an agenda for a community as diverse as African immigrants It's easier said than done. I know externally people don't realize the diversity. I think even internally, sometimes we may forget the diversity And I even within the organization, that's something that I try to bring forth. Just to give you an example like our chapter in the DC area is heavily Ethiopian, like right now. The staff is like 99% Ethiopian And I mean that's probably a reflection of the community that down there There's a large Ethiopian or a Trayin community in the DMV area And so the needs of that community are unique and distinct from other communities that are actually like in Maryland and Virginia. So you have a lot of West African, you have Nigerian, ganyans, liberian, sierra Leoneans in the Virginia and the Maryland area And some of their goals and outlooks and their thought processes are very different than some of the messaging that we are engaging in right now when it comes to advocacy.


We also have an issue in the African community where immigration is not something that people like to talk about a lot openly.


People still there's still kind of a stigma about talking or acknowledging status or lack thereof. Basically, compared to other groups that are out about it, they're loud, they're not ashamed and they're saying look, this is who we are and this is what we want. Our community is still trying to come to terms with the fact that you do have to put yourself out there to go after what you want. There's a lot of work to be done, and so a lot of my work is trying to remind us and orient us internally as an organization about the diverse viewpoints within the African immigrant community, because I think it's. Immigration advocacy is not an easy thing to do, and sometimes you've got to pick the simplest issue if there's such a thing, or make an issue in the simplest form in order to get to achieve something, but you also don't want to lose sight of all the other aspects that are making up immigration advocacy. So it's something that we're constantly talking about and thinking about.


0:22:31 - Rachel Murray

Yeah, it sounds like incredibly challenging, and the other piece of it that I'm just curious about, too, is how is it evolved? So when you started doing this work I mean we see it as outsiders the landscape changing so much, the conversations around immigration changing so much. How has that impacted your work?


0:22:48 - Chioma Azi

Yeah, i mean, i definitely feel like it's evolving, that there are more voices at the table. I do remember my early in my career at my previous organization. You know, you're at city council, you're at these different, you know coalition meetings and you're the only blackface at the table. You're the only ones, and that's why I was really so happy to come across act, because this is kind of that was the motivation for creating the organization. My boss's supervisors motivation was you know what? we're not here, we're not at the table, where are we?


So I would definitely say more diverse voices, different communities, arab communities, muslim communities, south Asian communities. There are a lot of folks that are being galvanized by the ability to just talk and express their point of view. So I think that's definitely changed. I think the government has a long way to go, obviously, but I think the recognition that they need to listen, That communities Want to be heard I I'm not saying that they are 100, understand and Respond to that, but I think there's a recognition that it's not just a matter of you know. Well, we've decided this and that's it, but it's. We got to engage with these folks too And I, so I definitely feel that that's. That's been a Nice progression, but there's a lot that hasn't changed and that that needs a lot of work still, obviously.


0:24:06 - Rachel Murray

Well, and I'm wondering too is has there been any sort of backslide, given all of the political upheaval you know with trump and his ilk and all of that like has there had? have things actually? Have they gotten better, worse, same? I'm sure it's probably all of the above, yeah.


0:24:22 - Chioma Azi

I mean, i guess I would say that things have not progressed. It's disappointing that things haven't progressed enough. So the idea of comprehensive immigration reform, what we all hear and talk about It's it's as if it's getting further away, and I think that's mostly just a reflection of the polarization in our political process. Our system is becoming more and more polarized as we are all seeing what we're like what eight days away from not being able to pay our debt, and so everything is a fight and There's an inability of our leaders to See the bigger picture and see the value and even just coming together. It has to be. This is our position and we're not budging from it. So the result has been policy like there have been, you know, rule changes, rule additions, but generally the policy hasn't changed to where it can adapt to What it needs to for the realities, because What I told my team yesterday, this is not just about america. There's a shift that's happening in the world.


Migration is a global issue, and so Ideally, we would be thinking about this from a global perspective, right? But as I told my team yesterday, even within europe, you see that the countries can't even agree, right, italy is like, look, we've done enough. Greece is like don't even talk to me. So if you're up as a body, right, can't even decide how they're going to address these issues, how are we going to which? because we're basically like europe, right, like we're the size of europe, almost. So you know, there's just a failure on a on a national, but an international level for folks to understand what is happening. There's a global Movement of people happening and it's not going to stop. It doesn't matter what laws or rules you put in place. People are not going to stop moving. Obviously, you know, there are a lot of factors at play. There's environmental, there's political, there's racial, there's so many things that are that are moving and motivating people to shift. So We're just failing, at many levels, to realize how we can come, come and address some of these, these issues.


And time is going right. It's people are talking about, oh, the border, the border, but what we should be doing is sitting down and discussing. This is not going to end, so what can we do To adapt to it? you know, we don't want to compromise the needs of our folks, of our citizens and our residents, but we also have to recognize what is happening on a global scale. So, yeah, things are not shifting enough. Essentially, and I think what does scare me is that if Decision makers can't act quick enough, then you know I took with my team yesterday that you know sometimes I get scared that maybe They'll, the system will just break. Like you know, we're done, we're giving up. You know. I mean that's where we come in, that's where groups like us come in, advocates to make the government understand. This is what you need to be considering and here are some options about how we can Really come to some kind of consensus that makes sense for everybody.


0:27:12 - Felicia Jadczak

Oh, so many good points that you're just dropping here. So, yes, plus one to all of that, really really great, and I agree with everything. I want to dig a little bit deeper into sort of like recent years around immigration, because I feel like, especially in the last couple years And even the last year, it's become very much at the forefront. You mentioned, you know, the border. There's all. There's like this hype and fear around People coming up from Mexico and you know all these things going on people being bussed to Martha's vineyard and dropped off in the middle of, you know, in front of Kamala Harris's house.


But there was a lot of stuff that sort of kicked off in early 2020 When Trump was enacting and expanding some of those travel bans, and so that impacted a lot of people, including Nigerians, which is part of you know, your background and a group that you're you know part of and very Um close to, and you have actually stated publicly that this is ironic, because many Nigerians in Nigeria and the US Actually support Trump, and that's certainly not unique to Nigeria. There's Folks in all sorts of different communities, immigrant communities, who actually do support Republicans and Trump, even when it might be against their own interests, and so I'm curious, first of all, like how you think about navigating that balance, because sometimes in your advocacy, i imagine you might be Trying to help folks who may not even want that help or or understand that help. How is it impact to have the bans impacted African communities And have you seen any shifts, especially since 2020, because that's really, i think, such a highlight moment for us around a lot of these topics?


0:28:43 - Chioma Azi

Yeah, it's a great question. I mean, i think there were some folks that were taken aback. There were some people on twitter were like wow, trump, you know I, you have my support, but now, now that it's coming home, i don't know if I can anymore.


0:28:56 - Felicia Jadczak

That's what it all is comes you know when. Right. What's a good when, when the crows come home to roost or chicken or whatever.


0:29:02 - Chioma Azi

It is right exactly so I think there was a little bit of kind of shock, but The thing about immigrant communities is they are extremely resilient, you know. So the bands, all these things people just were like, okay, this is what's being thrown at us, how can we work around it? And also, you may be surprised to know that it didn't also change everybody's perspective. There were like a couple of like the Nigerian communities that supported Trump fell into a couple of buckets. One of them was people who are business oriented. So, seeing him as a business person and seeing him, assuming that he's a successful business person, people just said, oh wow, successful business person, i want to be that, i'm trying to be. That that's the best person to be president of a country like America And I think that's a great, great choice. There are other people who thought, politically, he might be able to put pressure on the Nigerian government, thinking that He might be able to make a difference, which People don't really understand how foreign policy, foreign politics, geopolitics work. It doesn't work exactly like that. I think, overall, in some communities there was a shift, but I think The drive to go after what you want, the drive to have a better life, the drive to pursue that dream, the American dream or whatever the dream is. It's almost impossible to deter. It's only experience and what actually happens in your life that can help shape.


But I think but to your point, like people have definitely been impacted. We're still seeing we got a lot of letters from people. We have a lot of folks in some of the countries that couldn't come during those bands that are still stuck and trying to figure out legally what happens to people who would have been able to. For example, i'll just use the diversity visa lottery system. I don't know how familiar you are, but just to briefly explain, there's a program called the diversity visa lottery where, for countries that have I believe it's like less than I forget the exact percentage, but they have a low proportion of their population living in the United States, they open up this visa lottery. It's like the lottery but for visas. So anybody from these countries who are eligible can apply for a green card to come to the United States. And so, of course, these bands impacted some of these countries as well, and so there are people who are still stuck, who still haven't been able to be processed And there's legal issues about because the visa has to be processed within a particular time period And once that time period goes, then they're on to the next lot, basically, so there definitely impacts of folks.


You know, doing this for now 15 years, people are just going to find a way, whatever way they can find. Whatever that, whatever's being thrown at them, whatever laws coming across the books, whatever rule is not going to deter people. People will just find another way around. So I would say we've been impacted, but people have continued to find new ways to come and to see how they can, you know, bring their families over and unite. So you know, immigrants are a tough bunch. It can be tough to serve them too. Right, because when you're trying to really explain like this is what you should consider. These are the issues. People are like no, no, no, no, don't worry about that, i got it under control, it's fine And it's not fine. But, yeah, i think overall, the goal and the mission that people have in their mind, like there's very little, like no law can really stop people. Basically, people find ways around it.


0:32:23 - Rachel Murray

I feel like there's more there. Felicia, I wanted to check in with you to see if you have any additional questions.


0:32:28 - Felicia Jadczak

It's not so much a question as just a thought that I came to mind as you were sharing, because, of course, like with your lens and your background and your experience, chioma, we're talking about African immigrants in particular.


But what came to mind was so in my family. So my mom immigrated from India in the 70s I think, and then my dad has Polish ancestry and I just remember growing up in the 80s and 90s And in our household the conversation was a lot around the visa lottery and sort of immigration policies. But one of the ways that my dad was able to help bring Polish immigrants over And this is where it gets interesting, right, because you know, in this era Polish people are classified as white, so not quite the same kind of racial dynamics. But he was able to bring over a lot of Polish immigrants because he sponsored them to work in his factory And so it was like they have a job, all get them set up with housing, and he would like write all these letters to help people over. So it just popped into my head when you were saying like people will find a way. Yes, people will absolutely find a way, whether it's traveling physically, figuring out who they can leverage whatever it is and I just think it really speaks to that.


It's like such a timeless thing, right, it's not a current issue, it's not a past issue, it's like a forever issue. Really, exactly, that's all I wanted to share there.


0:33:44 - Rachel Murray

Thank you, i just felt like you had something to share, felicia, so I just wanted to give you this space to do it.


0:33:49 - Felicia Jadczak

You psychically intuited it.


0:33:52 - Rachel Murray

I did, and it is such a rich issue and I think about it a lot, as sometimes as a very privileged person who was born in this country, you know, i had at times been mystified Like why would anyone want to come to this country? It's got that you can't even take your kids to school. And then I realized that I remember my other part of my brain remembers like there are places that are actually a lot worse and a lot more dangerous. And I think, as we certainly head into, you know the effects of climate change, where they're going to be more climate refugees coming into various parts of the world. You know it's going to just be a larger and larger issue. You picked a really, really tough career like good for you. Hard I just give you so much credit.


0:34:43 - Chioma Azi

Well, don't get me credit. I told you the theme of my life is just kind of stumbling into things, So obviously if I had known I would have maybe stumbled into something else. you know, fair enough, fair enough.


0:34:54 - Felicia Jadczak

I gotta figure out how to stumble into lots of wealth and luxury and relaxation. I'm just putting it out there in the universe, stumbling block.


0:35:05 - Rachel Murray

Just put it out there. So we did a little bit of research. So in 2021, you were appointed by the Pennsylvania Governor, tom Wolf, to their Commission on African American Affairs, which is incredible. Can you share a little bit about what that commission does?


0:35:20 - Chioma Azi

Yes, and I want to also highlight it was another spring side alum who actually made that happen Just for listeners.


0:35:26 - Felicia Jadczak

spring side is our mutually shared high school that we both went to.


0:35:30 - Chioma Azi

Yes, at our high school we had this big sister program for the show. I don't know if you remember, yes, so it was my big sister. I don't even know if she remembers she was my big sister, but she was your sister. Jalila Jalila. What was her name? Brown or white?


0:35:45 - Rachel Murray

Oh, I want to say it was white.


0:35:46 - Chioma Azi

It was white, but she's now married, so different name anyway. Yeah, but she was a one. Yeah, she emailed me, like I think in 2020, about it and just to gauge my interest and I said yeah, i'm interested, and then I guess it took some time for it to work out, but I got appointed in 2021 and it's a two year position. Of course, now we're under a new governor, governor Josh Shapiro. Basically, our role is really to kind of help the governor just kind of keep in mind the perspective of our community. So if there are particular issues at play that impact us or don't impact us or people may not realize impact us, we bring it to the forefront. We may issue statements or influence statements that the governor might want to make. If there are different programs or announcements that are being made, where possible we participate in those programs.


So I think myself and another colleague of mine who also works in the immigration or works with immigrant African let me say black immigrant communities, we kind of have bringing the African and Caribbean immigrant perspective part of like the African American experience community in this country or in the state. So we kind of talk about issues of business, like business development, because we know a lot of immigrants are entrepreneurs and small business owners. We think about population census counting. You know, we know we're here, but how do you make sure that the resources are being allocated so that our communities are being served as well as other communities? Of course we have kind of the other. We also are formed in the working groups, so we have, like, i think, education, like I said, business, gun violence as a big issue in our state and every state and a few others that I'm blanking on.


But I would say one of the challenges that we have faced is just kind of working in the era of COVID.


Right now, i think, if this is pre COVID, we probably would be meeting in person a lot more often. We've met a couple of times in person, but not nearly enough, but we do get together for some of the larger events of Juneteenth, which is coming up, black History Month that we did gather earlier on, which was, like recently, right after the inauguration, a governorship, there was an inauguration, so it's been a great, i think. For me, what I've loved about it is just like people are doing amazing things, like I just seeing my other fellow commissioners what they're doing. I'm just excited for them. I'm just excited to learn from people and be exposed to what other folks are doing, and these people are powerhouses in their communities and they're doing a lot. So I'm just again grateful I feel like I'm saying the same thing over and over again, but just so grateful to have the opportunity to interact with people who are really making huge differences in their communities, but also very down to earth, like very down to earth, approachable folks.


0:38:32 - Felicia Jadczak

So it's been great. So fancy, that's amazing. Sorry, i did not mean to try to downplay any of that.


0:38:41 - Chioma Azi

No, no, no.


0:38:42 - Felicia Jadczak

I'm actually truly impressed, as not only someone who's hearing about all this for the first time, but your friend. I'm like. This is so impressive and I'm just in awe.


Totally Thank you, but you mentioned Springside And so I actually. We have our little list of questions on the backend, so I like rearranged it because I was like I'll take our next one, which is I want to talk a little bit more about high school, because we both went to high school together And, if you're up for it, i would love to maybe chat a little bit more with you and hear your thoughts around what it was like attending a predominantly white institution because Springside shocker for anyone who has no idea what we're talking about very, very white And shifting from that environment into the work that you're doing right now, which is, it seems, like, total opposite ends of the spectrum. So just curious if you have any thoughts on that, and I'm also sharing that. I'm having like a flashback to the multicultural club that we were both in. Oh yeah, cafe, yes, cafe, yes. Cultural awareness for everyone. I'm just having a little flashback to that too.


0:39:39 - Rachel Murray

So yeah, if you're up for it, we'll do your more thoughts on that.


0:39:42 - Chioma Azi

It was a great acronym, it was. It was, yeah, i mean, funny enough, like I've been in private school my whole life. I went to a private elementary K through eight, but somehow Springside was just another level. It was another level, so it was. It was still a shock Like it was still a shock for me.


It was difficult, i think, not just like racially and ethnically, but the privilege, the money, right Like it was just a different level than what I was exposed to, even at like I thought my private school from elementary school was, you know, privileged like, but being that it was Quaker, there was a very strong emphasis on equality and diversity And you know, so it was privileged but they also tried to make sure they had some diversity and making folks feel equal. But Springside was completely different. So it was hard, i won't lie, it was very hard, unpleasant at times for me. Yeah, now we're and of course in the workplace I've definitely worked in predominantly white institutions, definitely been the only you know black person or maybe one of two persons of color, you know, at an institution, at an organization. I guess I would say that I've been trained in it. So you know, you've noticed things, but you've learned to adapt and go with it. That's not easy always. So working now with communities that look like me, yeah, i mean, i have to say there are challenges in any organization. Right, companies are companies, organizations are organizations. They're nonprofit, for-profit There are just things that challenges that you will face across the board.


I do want to acknowledge that It's not as if they're things you're going to see and you know, being a minority versus being in a majority group, right, but there is a comfort level. There is a comfort level When you're working with people who look like you. There are things you don't have to explain. Also, i think, if you're talking about the immigrant experience and me being a child of immigrants and understanding immigrants, understanding multiculturalism, different cultures, different foods, different ethnicity, all of that things that don't have to be explained, versus having to explain who you are and why you're the way you are or why you do certain things, It's been comfortable and it's been interesting.


Some of the conversations that we've had in the organizations I've worked with that are, you know, predominantly or 100% African or African-American, where it's like are we going to hire this person who's not? because my work you know my work generally really does require people to be understanding and have that cultural competency of African or Black immigrants. So it's not just like we want to exclude people, but it's like you need to understand. So it's interesting to be on that side of things, you know. So, yeah, it's interesting. It's interesting.


But I guess I would say, if I want to compare, i wanted to make a comparison to Springside and like the experience now, despite the challenges at Springside, i think working in like or going to school in an all-female environment, like I feel like that really, or mostly female it prepared me and it really strengthened me in a way that I maybe didn't see, i can't see, i've seen, i'm seeing now, like in the present, well, i guess in the future, and so I would say the same thing as like working in an environment where you're with people who look like you and understand you. It also there's a way. It also it strengthens you to be in any space and be comfortable to express yourself and advocate for yourself, whatever space that is. So it's a value, it's a huge value to be able to move in and out of those different groups.


0:43:22 - Felicia Jadczak

Thank you for sharing more And I'm sure you and I probably talk all day about some of those experiences And I know we have chatted about stuff too, but you know it's interesting to your point. Around there's some experiences and challenges that are just universal, like so true. And you know, for us on the SGO side, like similarly, we've had thoughts and conversations around like oh, we're so focused on women, on gender, especially earlier on when we had a lot more of our community, that was kind of a big arm of what we did, and we were like do we hire a man? Like what do?


0:43:54 - Chioma Azi

we do Right right.


0:43:57 - Rachel Murray

It's a universal kind of challenge. And of course we could, because we don't discriminate.


0:44:01 - Felicia Jadczak

Yes, just to be clear. But you know it is something. And also, like you know, when we first started hiring, like thinking about Rachel and myself's identities, and then what kind of company do we want to build? And then who do we invite in? And then do they want to be part of it? Right, because there is always going to be that, especially for a small company like ours.


Most of the people in our team, at least in the early stages, were the onlys because we didn't have any people otherwise. Right, and you know and I think to your point, i appreciate what you said around it sort of like strengthened you, you leaned into your uncomfortableness And then I'm also sad for, like you and me and other folks in this position who have had to experience accepting being uncomfortable at the expense of other people's comfortability levels, right, and I know for you, rachel, too, like you've had similar experiences, maybe not so much on the racial aspect, although I know you've also gone to school in you know, where you maybe were not the dominant group, and so I'm sure you've had similar experiences too around that level of like you know, how do you fit in, what do you?


0:45:09 - Rachel Murray

get out of it. I will tell you, for me, i relished being different. I don't know if it was the books I was reading, or cause I was watching Heather's, or as I'm part of Gen X, but I was just like I liked being different. That said, i was never. I never felt like I was in a position where I was potentially could be harmed in any real way, and that is a privilege that I had. So for sure I could like rage against the machine without any real fear, you know, but I appreciate you inviting me into this as well. I wanna backtrack a little bit. Chioma, based on something that you've been saying, a story that you've been telling yourself about how you just fall into these situations. But you founded some organizations So, which is incredible the Philly Nigerian professionals and the Nora Arena Foundation, and so that's intentional, i think, right, unless you were going to tell me someone just handed this to you.


0:46:10 - Chioma Azi

Yeah, mostly intentional. So, for Philly Nigerian professionals, we're on our 12th year now, i think. So, yes, mostly intentional, but still also I do feel like it's not something that I necessarily planned. So I started with an event that I went to in New York, i think, 2010. It was something called the Nigerian Professionals Happy Hour And basically they had a bunch of people in some moderately sized club or, i think, bar in New York somewhere and took some girlfriends with me and I had a lot of fun and I just thought, wow, this is amazing to be able to bring all of these folks, all these amazing people, in this space, and they're all, we're all Nigerian, you know. And so I thought, why wouldn't we do this in Philadelphia? So that was the thought process behind bringing PMP on board. Funny enough, my ignorance kind of bit me in the butt, because there were people doing this already.


0:47:08 - Rachel Murray

That's so real. I didn't know Exactly.


0:47:12 - Chioma Azi

I just didn't know. But the beauty of it is, when we came on the scene, people embraced it. It wasn't like, oh, who is this? It was like, oh, somebody else. And then there ended up being a lot of collaboration and support and it was really, really, really great. And so we've done a lot of different things, mostly social organization, where we bring people together for social activities. But we definitely made it a point of doing a lot of charity work. You know at least two general volunteer activities a year. Also, professional development. Someone actually just reached out to us a couple months ago from TD Bank. She is, i guess, one of the few. She's a Ghanaian American trying to help diversify TD Bank and reach out. She's been reaching out to a lot of different ethnic organizations and trying to help recruit and bring more people on board. So it's been a great journey.


I think I've definitely been transitioning and thinking about how to bring some of the younger members into leadership and help them kind of grow into it. I'm not someone who feels I have to be doing this forever. I'm not somebody who can't let go. I think in the beginning I definitely was like that. I was very protective over what I had built and wanted to make sure that whoever was coming close wasn't trying to destroy it or take it away. So I remember my former partner who helped me really build the organization. I remember telling her like you can't have my emails, like I'm not, you know, you have no access to that. We can talk about this. But then, you know, she became amazing and really helped shape the organization to what it is even today. But now I'm really thinking about, i guess, similar to what I'm doing in my job thinking about how to groom leadership, how to promote people to step up and kind of take over the reins a little bit. You know, because this kind of organization is one where people are going to go, they're going to grow and then they might move to something else. So it's going to really require people to be continuously, you know, coming into the stepping up, i guess, onto the stage. So that's what I've been putting a lot of time and energy thinking about How do I, how do I encourage folks to get more involved, so that, you know, i can take a backseat and do some of the things now, but I'm proud of it. I'm proud of it.


And then the Norah Nanna Foundation is a nonprofit I founded I'm basically in honor of my mom. My mom is somebody who, from from the time I can remember, has always been helping people paying school fees, tuition for folks, relatives in her native Uganda, but also like my relatives in Nigeria, just anybody. She's just this kind of person who just is always doing a lot of giving. And I thought to myself I guess, based off of all my experience in nonprofit organizations, that you know this we should make this into something. It shouldn't just be you doing it by yourself, casually in the corner where nobody's seeing you. And so that was my motivation for creating the organization And we so we've been in existence I guess seven, eight years now.


We have a roster, i think, about a little over a dozen students, but also looking to build to that, and also we have several alumni. And it was just my way of trying to acknowledge what my mother's work has been. I think there is. My mother is the kind of person she's very unassuming and she's somebody who doesn't. She's not, she doesn't like to be out there, like that's why you go on the website.


You won't find her picture, because she won't even agree to take a picture from you up there you know, So, but I really wanted to, I wanted to honor her And I wanted to put some structure around the work that she's been doing And so, yeah, I mean that's some of the things I want to shift more attention to to help build and grow further.


So, yeah, I just proud of trying to just bring folks together and acknowledge the work that people are doing. Just to go back to PNP, it's not just about bringing people together, but it's also providing a platform for folks that are doing amazing things. We also had a platform of we call it a spotlight as a spotlight feature, where you kind of highlight amazing things that African immigrants in general, not just only Nigerian Americans, but any, any African or Caribbean person. So you know, I always just want to make sure that, as I'm also doing what I'm doing, I want to make sure that I'm helping spotlight what other folks are doing, because people are out here doing great things, And whatever I can do to also bring it to the forefront, I try to do where possible.


0:51:29 - Rachel Murray

That's so much, by the way. I mean, it's really impressive all of the things you're doing, because you know, fulish and I just got the one thing and we have some side things on the side. This is where we consider, where we're amplifying other people's voices. So this is amazing that you're doing all of this work. Just wanted to acknowledge that, and I really I think both Fulish and I really appreciate the fact that you are actively working to lift other folks up so that you can sort of pass that baton on. I think Fulish and I feel we have similar feelings too, like there's just a lot to do. So just kudos to you for doing all of that.


0:52:06 - Chioma Azi

Thank you.


0:52:07 - Felicia Jadczak

Yeah, and it's not easy, because I definitely felt it when you were like I don't want to give my emails up. But, looking ahead, what's the big vision for you? Are you going to keep being like universe tell me what's up next Or like what do you have in mind for future Chioma?


0:52:25 - Chioma Azi

Well, ironically, I think I want to slow down a little bit.


0:52:29 - Rachel Murray

I don't know what you guys.


0:52:30 - Chioma Azi

I don't know what that's something people are allowed to say. You know, yeah, that's sad. We promote so much of, like, you know, being a rock star and growth and 40 under 40 and you know, being amazing and doing all these things, but I'm a little tired, i won't lie, i'm a little tired. I want to build a family, you know. I want to have time for myself, i want to be able to sleep in. Sometimes, you know, so I've actually been thinking a lot about how to like, like, like talking about passing the baton, how to structure mentorship and supporting people and kind of passing on what I have learned to others, not being the one to do everything, helping, guide people to do some things.


I've been thinking about, just, you know, exploring ideas about maybe starting a new venture, you know, kind of a company that would combine my interest in consulting. So I've still do some of the legal work, but consulting, advising, maybe doing some market research work, things about basically polling and getting opinions of our communities and putting it out there. I mean, it's a lot of kind of things that I'm still trying to sort out, but basically using more of thinking and strategizing versus a lot of the hard doing, if that makes sense And not to say that thinking and strategizing isn't a lot of work, because it absolutely is. But I think strategizing and doing is what I've been doing for the last 15, 16 years, and it's a lot. It's a lot of work that I'm trying to do, and so I'm just trying to figure out how to shift focus in one area so that will leave me room to do other things and kind of live life a little bit more. I've lived life, but I do want to slow down a little bit.


0:54:11 - Rachel Murray

I'm going to go ahead and on the record and admit that I'm just going to chime in here My phrase of 2023 that I've stolen from everyone, which is I love that for you. Oh, thank you. I do I mean it so good?


0:54:25 - Felicia Jadczak

We're almost at our close of time, but I think we have enough time for one like fun question Not that these haven't been fun already, but our favorite question that we like to ask us is what do you geek out about? And with the caveat, as I know Rachel loves to share, which is it can't be work related or it can't be something that you've mentioned already, so something like unrelated to building a new company, passing on the baton, african immigration rights, any of that stuff, now, that they're not important and that you don't geek out about them, but something else Travel.


0:54:57 - Chioma Azi

I love traveling and maybe this loops back into the diplomacy dream I've had since I was like nine or something. But I love traveling and I haven't been able to travel as much in the last couple of years, obviously just pandemic, but also just the nature of my job and different things. I've been a little bit more grounded than I'm used to being. I don't know if you remember this, but you know like after I graduated law school I made a promise to myself that I would go somewhere every year and I mostly did that. After a few years I didn't make it somewhere And so just traveling, living vicariously through people who are traveling, just seeing new places it never gets tired somewhere, old to me. So I just love traveling and seeing new places and seeing people being able to see new places as well.


0:55:41 - Rachel Murray

So Do you have any plans for any time this year?


0:55:45 - Chioma Azi

You know we're trying to figure it out, like my husband and I are trying to figure it out. It's either going to be the end of the year or maybe something in the summer. We want to also squeeze maybe Niagara Falls. at least I do, that's what I've been trying to. I've been trying to like pump them up on it, but you know he's new to the country, so he's like what? So? and I haven't been able to travel within the country. I've done a lot of international traveling, but you know America's. there's a lot to see in America and I do want to do more of that too. So road trip maybe.


0:56:12 - Felicia Jadczak



0:56:13 - Chioma Azi

Yeah, road or train trips, cause I'm listening to these new stories about the plane tickets and the roads and so I'm like maybe the train could be a little bit different.


0:56:22 - Rachel Murray

You know. So I love that. I love that We actually know someone that did, i think, a bunch of train travel and I've moved out to the West coast from the East coast and I will say it is such a different landscape universe out here from the East coast and I haven't explored all of it and I want to explore more. So I'm with you on that, thank, you.


0:56:41 - Felicia Jadczak

Yeah, Oh my gosh. So much such good stuff. but thank you so much, Chioma. If folks want to find you or if they want to learn more, connect. What's the best way for people to get in touch with you?


0:56:53 - Chioma Azi

Yeah, they can definitely visit my website. It's chiomaaziesqcom, so just my first and last name with ESQ at the endcom, and definitely can find out all the projects I'm working on and you know more about me.


0:57:07 - Rachel Murray

Hey, awesome. Thank you so much.


0:57:11 - Chioma Azi

Thank you, thank you, bye, bye, bye.


0:57:16 - Felicia Jadczak

We did it. Hope you enjoyed that.


0:57:19 - Rachel Murray

That was a great interview. Chioma is delightful. Yes, yeah, super smart.


0:57:25 - Felicia Jadczak

She's a delight, so thank you for listening to her. Before you go, we have some stuff to tell you about. Don't hit that pause button just yet.


0:57:33 - Rachel Murray

Yeah, don't delete our episode yet. We have some things. Do you want to start us off with those coming up next month?


0:57:40 - Felicia Jadczak

I would love to, yeah actually this month is actually a time machine. It's coming up immediately for these customers.


0:57:46 - Rachel Murray

So on July 12th, communicating your values and qualifications through a job search workshop It's totally free, come along virtual. And then on July 18th, we actually have two things that are happening. So during the day we have a webinar on leading with compassion, emotionally intelligent management, and then in the evening, if you're in Boston, we have our next monthly geek out at the lovely offices at CarGurus. So if you're in the Boston area, highly encourage you to come. You can check out all of our events at shegeeksoutcom forward slash events And that's pretty much it for us.


0:58:23 - Felicia Jadczak

Yeah, if any like parting words to share.


0:58:27 - Rachel Murray

Well, only that we also have a job board. So if you're down to share jobs or if you're looking for jobs, you should come and check them out, because they're there And there are still people that are looking for work and looking to get hired, looking to hire. So it's an exciting time. Check it out, yeah. So thank you so much for listening. Please don't forget to rate, share and subscribe. It makes a huge difference in the reach of this podcast and, by extension, this work. Make sure to tune in for our next episode in a couple of weeks. It's going to be amazing and it's going to require two parts.


0:59:01 - Felicia Jadczak

Yes, that's a little teaser, so mark your calendars. If you're looking to further your own knowledge and gain support alongside other incredible people, join our free community. you're going to get a welcoming built-in support system grounded in the values of diversity, equity and inclusion. You'll have access to bonus episodes, additional resources, courses, webinars, coaching and more, so check that out at risetogethersheekeeksoutcom.


0:59:26 - Rachel Murray

Yay, goodbye, bye, bye.


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