“Take the step - be the person who shows up. A lot of people don't show up because they're afraid - but the world depends on the people who decide to take that first small step.” -Kara
I often joke that the reason I have the Steller Kindness Project is to make friends, and to be honest, that isn't 100% false…
Christmas time: the time of year that everyone in the service industry is surviving on adrenaline, sugar and convincing ourselves that this it is “the most wonderful time of the year.… "
This past December was especially chaotic for Steller Hair Co. due to the fact that we had just expanded into our new salon space.
December 22nd was a typical day where I was running from one thing to the next. On my way out the door Jennifer’s client, Lizzie Breyer, who was currently having her hair colored, called to me. I’ve known Lizzie for a couple years now, and the way we met was total Kindness Project style, even though it was “pre” Steller Kindness.
You may have heard about a wedding we hosted on February 19th, 2017. If not, here is a quick synopsis (click here to read the full story).
Valentine’s day 2017, it was brought to my attention that two of our clients, Gary and Kanika, were being impacted by pending government decisions that could result in them being separated. They were planning on leaving for a trip to visit family in India that Sunday, when their immigration lawyer brought up a big concern. With the chaotic unknowns regarding the executive orders that were on the horizon their lawyer felt Kanika’s HB1 visa that enabled her to work in the US could be compromised. They were cautioned not to leave the country as Kanika might not be able to reenter the US. This reality put their relationship in razor sharp focus. They decided to make February 19th their wedding date, instead of their travel date.
Gary and Kanika are our neighbors & friends, and we realized that we had an opportunity to help make this happen, We wanted their wedding to be a reflection of love, not fear and so Steller Hair, along with 14 other Minneapolis individuals/businesses, planned an entire wedding in 5 days.
Photo: Empiria Studios
One of those businesses was Maddy and Maize, a gourmet popcorn company created by the incredible Lizzie Breyer.
When Lizzie shared with me that she had someone incredible to nominate for the Kindness Project, in true “Katie” fashion I bumped this opportunity right to the top of my extensive priority list. I told Lizzie to fill out a nomination form and share the impact that this friend’s kindness was having on her and others.
Nominee: Kara Lynum
Nominator: Lizzie Breyer
How Has Their Kindness Impacted You?: I am actually incredibly fortunate that her kindness hasn’t needed to impact me, but so many people DO need her, and she is a literal superhero. Kara is an immigration lawyer in St. Paul who has worked tirelessly to advocate for and support the most vulnerable asylum seekers as they seek safety and a better life in America. At a time when the administration is being so cruel and divisive, she recently went to Tijuana and spent five days - completely out of pocket pro bono - helping families cross into the US and get what they are legally entitled to. She slept outside in the cold, fought CBP officials brandishing guns, and brought her unique expertise to those who needed it most.
How Has Their Kindness Inspired You?: She makes me believe in goodness and hope when there is so little of either coming out of Washington. She demonstrates the power of intellect, caring, kindness and passion. She changes people’s lives every single day, here in MSP with the Muslim bans and at the border. She is fearless, tireless, and does it all without any need for thanks.
My brain loves to find patterns and connections. I hardly ever seea anything as a “coincidence." So the fact that Lizzie, who I met because of the immigration executive order chaos, nominated Kara, who is using her expertise and legal status to support and protect those who are being treated unethically and inhumanely due to the decisions being made surrounding immigration, close to Valentine’s Day, which is was when we decided to throw the wedding for Gary and Kanika two years ago created a trifecta of connection and a chance to affirm the difference one person can make.
Before meeting Kara, I wanted to do a little research into the work she was doing. After typing her name in to Google, I realized I was about to meet someone who was creating an impact on a national level. City Pages recently wrote about her in their People Issue as someone who is making Minnesota a better place.
Jana Shortel did a piece for Kare 11 about Kara’s work and what happens to kids seeking asylum. MPR did a story sharing how Kara, along with Ana Pottratz Acosta (who is an assistant teaching professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law) experienced an 18-hour standoff with officials at the border between Sand Diego and Tijuana. They had traveled to the border to support migrants whose only option was to navigate the complex system of seeking asylum on their own.
These are just a few examples of what Kara is capable of, and how she is choosing to use her status and skills to give people the representation that their humanity deserves.
After reading more about Kara, I was thrilled (and a little intimidated) to meet her. It was a good opportunity for me to remind myself that the Kindness Project is to show gratitude to individuals who are changing the world, whether it impacts one person or thousands. In order to get to know the person behind the super hero that is Kara Lynum, I started an email thread between a couple of Kara’s friends. I learned more about the impact her friendship has had, as well as what would feel like a meaningful way to show gratitude to her for everything she does (on a personal, as well as professional level).
I learned that a few of Kara’s interests outside of saving the world are dogs, wine and llamas. Her friends shared that she is in desperate need of rest and personal TLC, and that she enjoys skincare. When I reached out to Kara, she was open and excited about being a part of the Kindness Project, but didn't need her hair done. I decided to look into seeing if I could find any last-minute appointments for her to get a massage. I asked my instagram followers if they had recommendations on an amazing local spot that would give Kara the space and experience to rest and relax. 100% of the people who responded recommended Spot Spa NE! Their Northeast location is just down the street from Steller Hair Co. (It is awesome to know that we have such highly recommended neighbors!) The team at Spot was able to find an appointment for Kara on short notice for a massage and pedicure, and the timing worked out perfectly: directly following her massage, Kara was recording an episode for her podcast Immigration Nation, and then headed to a weekend away with a few of her friends.
Kara grew up in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. She attended the University of Minnesota for her undergrad, and went on to obtain her law degree through Mitchell Hamline School of Law. She currently lives in Saint Paul with her puppy Conan.
Kara decided to go into immigration law because of her love for problem-solving and helping people. Being an immigration lawyer enables her to help people stay together as families and hopefully help reduce the fear of being separated.
I asked Kara about her kindness, and who inspires and impacts her to take the steps she does to incorporate kindness into her work. She responded with:
“The first person who comes to mind is more of a type of person: a person who steps up to help people. A person who hears about someone having a hard time and wonders how they can help - and then actually helps. This happened to me when I was on MPR talking about DACA recipients having to scramble to pay expensive filing fees on a short timeline - and a woman called me after she heard the story and offered to pay a $495 filing fee. That kicked off a $30,000 fundraising drive to pay DACA filing fees. That is true kindness.”
So much of what we know about the issues of immigration, decision-making and whats happening at the border is based in what the media shares. Kara and I talked about how that can often dehumanize what is actually happening. Kara went on to tell me about an experience that has stuck with me since hearing it.
“I was in DC for my birthday and my sister was running a pro bono program for families who had been separated by the Trump administration's family separation policy over the summer. This program matched immigration attorneys with these families to accompany them to their first ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) check-in appointment after their release and reunification. The program was so new and no one knew if families were going to be re-detained or be questioned by immigration authorities. These check-ins were supposed to be the first step for their cases to move forward after release from custody. My sister said there was a family who needed an attorney for their appointment - the next day. I said I'd do it.
I arrived at the ICE office in northern Virginia the next morning and kept an eye out for my clients - we had only spoken on the phone and I had their file. Soon, I saw a young boy and his father, accompanied by the father's sister. But then I realized we were not the only reunified family there for their first ICE check-in. There were at least 7 other families in the small waiting room. One of the other boys came up to my client - they had been detained together in the same detention facility for children. They knew each other and were friends. They moved toward each other as if to hug, but suddenly pulled back and shook each other's hands. They hadn't been allowed to hug in the facility and these children had internalized that rule and didn't hug - presumably for that reason. It was extraordinarily heartbreaking to see.”
Kara is not only advocating for people who are presently experiencing the immigration process, she is also a voice in bringing awareness to the support persons require after experiencing this level of fear and pain. The lasting impact surpasses discomfort, often resulting in trauma that will be a part of their story for the rest of their lives.
So many of us have privilege, and that isn’t the issue. The issue comes from what we decide to do with it.
Let’s use our capable voices, abilities, and empathy to stand up for those who might not have the same privilege as we do. This starts with educating ourselves, talking about the uncomfortable things, and doing the next best thing. It is never wrong to do the right thing, and standing up for others is always the right thing to do.