I haven't seen my friend Brenda in a long time. In fact, the last time we saw each other in person was when we were both Christmas shopping for our husbands at Duluth Trading Co in a city neither of us live in. After years of not seeing each other, we swiftly jumped in to the physical pain both of us had been enduring, and how we were addressing it. Some people are like that - you skip the surface and dive deep right away, always.
I first met Brenda in the summer of 2011 when my husband and I had just wrapped six months of traveling through South America. But before we'd purchased those one-way tickets to Buenos Aires, we packed up our lives in Denver, put everything in pods, and planned to move back to Minnesota when our money ran out in the southern hemisphere.
For the first time as adults, we lived in the Twin Cities. We rented a gorgeous second floor apartment in St. Paul near where I was working as a Youth Program Something-or-Another, basically running an afterschool program in the basement of a big high rise in the city. Brenda was my boss.
If you’ve ever worked in the non-profit world, you’ll know that a centered value to the work is doing your own personal work so as not to continue harming the communities you’re often serving. Brenda led Anti-Racism Book Clubs, potlucks, a team of inspired-but-naive young professionals. She challenged the infrastructure of how everything functioned so gently you hardly knew it was happening, yet rattled it all the same. She was a gentle voice as I became pregnant with my first child, then came back to work after maternity leave, making barely enough to pay for the childcare I needed to do the job I needed to pay my bills. She is compassionate and kind, unwavering and fierce.
After some time, I moved into a new position at the central office, which was more money for my family and a better schedule as a parent. At that same time, Brenda became my professional peer, but remained someone I admired and trusted and looked up to. I began referring to her, without her ever knowing, as “My Wisest Friend Brenda.”
She consistently met adversity and dilemma with grace and thoughtfulness, while remaining steadfast in the advocacy of her values and what it meant for the people around her. She was unflappable, unwavering, had the ability to offer feedback in a way that kept equity and respect for humanity at the center while also genuinely inviting you to think differently about each situation. Most conversations took 2-3 days to finally settle into my psyche, like a mind-bender. I’d walk away thinking, ‘Huh?” and then a day or two later think, “Aaaaaah.”
Brenda’s impact on me, I believe, was immense. The work I do here at the Locket Sisters is very different than the career I had in the non-profit world. But what remains are two very important things that I saw from many supervisors in that world, Jeff, Johanna and Sue come to mind, but particularly Brenda – which is to lead with your values. Live into them. Work toward them. Reflec ton them and believe in them.
And while this modus operandi was fierce, Brenda, a vegetarian, also demonstrated her own humanity, her own ability to be flexible and human and real, by going to Burger King one day to get a cheeseburger. She said, “Allyssa, you can’t live in to all your values all the time.”
I always knew we’d name a locket after Brenda. She’s made too big of an impact to not. So when this design happened, a very small pendant, holding the literal smallest photograph we’ve ever opted for inside, but then gets bigger when you look at it from many angles, leaving a mark on second glance and in your afterthoughts, too, and then with a chain more interesting and thoughtful than any others we’ve had, it had to be The Brenda Locket.
It’s funny to think about how Brenda probably had no idea she was leaving such a mark on me. It makes you wonder, who are we leaving marks on and don’t know it? Everyone, probably.