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July 21, 2022 37 mins

For many students, entering college is a rite of passage that resembles hope and excitement. But for many others - especially students of underrepresented communities - this experience is often one riddled with anxiety and worries. Young people have to face big challenges: figuring out how to meet the financial obligations that come with their education, and learning to navigate new spaces often without help or representation.
 
In this final episode of Season Two, we meet two guests that have defied all odds in their educational journey and in turn, have become action leaders in their communities - Aimee Allison and Cheyenne Chandler. Aimee is a writer, democratic organizer, founder and president of “She The People,” an organization dedicated to increasing voter engagement of women of color. After beginning her career in the military, she explains how she made a difficult decision that led her to support some of the biggest political campaigns of the last few years. Then, hear from Cheyenne Chandler, a recent graduate from the University of Kentucky who didn’t crack under immense personal and financial pressures during her studies. Instead, she shares how she was able to use her experiences as a catalyst to fuel her passions, and how she leveraged her university’s resources to help her achieve her goals.

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Speaker 1 (00:05):
Hey you, welcome back for the final episode of the season. Yep,
we've arrived, and what a great season has been, with
so many inspiring conversations with pretty dealp people talking about
everything from climate change in global health to the ever
present challenge of education access. Through these conversations, one thing

(00:27):
has become very clear, the importance of togetherness, building spaces
for our communities by our communities, not by ourselves. I
want to continue the conversation we began last episode around
education now. In that episode, our guests touched on the
importance of collaboration and the well being of our educators,

(00:48):
creating safe spaces that allow the youth to be completely
themselves just as they are. In this episode, I'm going
to focus more on that student experience. In the u US,
we've grown to accept college as this write of passage
for so many young people, but for some of them,
especially students of color, going to college can be a

(01:11):
very difficult experience. It's another stressor a source of financial
and social burden that makes for a lonely experience when
you're the only person in a room that looks like you.
That's what makes today's guests so special through their resourcefulness
and collaboration. They've defied the odds, though their actions begin

(01:33):
with themselves, through longing for something more, they proved that
no one action is ever too small, and thanks to
that work and their interests, they've become action leaders in
their own lives, becoming that force that multiplies beyond themselves.
Our first guest is a writer, democratic organizer, founder and

(01:53):
president of She the People, an organization dedicated to increasing
voter engagement and showing the power of the women of
color electorate. Amy Allison strongly believes that women of color
are the saving graces of our American democracy, and her
work kind of shows it. After we'll hear from Cheyenne Chambler,

(02:13):
a graduate and first year medical Sciences Master's student at
the University of Kentucky. Her educational journey wasn't always easy.
As a young student who had a father with a
chronic illness and a family stretched financially, she had to
lean into her university's resources to complete her studies and
fulfill her dream of helping others. Amy, Welcome to Force Multiplier.

(02:43):
I want to start with your early years. Where did
this begin for you? Where did you grow up? And
what was that life like? I grew up in rural Ohio.
I'm one of six kids. My parents had met. My
dad's last couple of years getting his PhD in plant pathology.
For a black man, that's a very unusual and rare

(03:04):
profession at the time. His job took him to the
middle of Ohio and it was a very, very white
town with a little section of black people, and we
went to the A. M. E. Church there, so I
had my dad's teaching me what it was to be black,
and then a few people at church and otherwise it
was a lonely, lonely existence. And I remember then thinking

(03:29):
and always searching for belonging. And I have always been
attracted to and building community with those of us who
were on the margins. And it became a foundational value
of mine, even before I could articulate those words. That's
where it all started. For young people like Amy, especially

(03:55):
in smaller working class towns, that sense of belonging mixed
with a combination and of what comes next is overwhelming.
But there is an institution ready to catch young minds
in their formative years. It's the military. So that's what
Amy did. She enlisted in the U. S. Army in
search of her own community. We're talking a lot about

(04:21):
access and the power of access, whether it's too health resources,
health care essentially to education and your educational journey. It
sounds to me financial resource was the primary driver of
your military enlistment, like this just felt like the way
to pay for school or is there more to it.
I didn't think it all the way through. Your teenager.

(04:43):
It's your job to not think things through that. Literally,
you have one job as a teenager, underthink things. But
I was also one of those kids where he said, oh,
you can't do it, as I Yes, I can. The
military recruiters have a lot of access to young people
for pticularly in a school like mine, whereas a lot
of working class kids. So when he laid it out, hey,

(05:06):
here's the economic argument. I didn't know that I could
have gotten a job at McDonald's and made the same
or a little bit more. But it was a job
I could quit. I didn't know I couldn't quit. I
didn't know. I had no idea that I was committing
myself for eight years. I wanted to be a doctor
at that time, and you know, in the subsequent years

(05:27):
where I would talk to young people who are considering
the military. So you know why, because service, public service
is an honorable thing. Why do you want to be
in the military? And I often will hear I want
job training, I want to get out of my parents house.
I want to opportunity to be free. And I said, well,

(05:47):
let me talk to you about freedom and what freedom
really is. It's a conversation that I keep having with
women of color everywhere, like the conversation about freedom. How
did you end up getting free of the U. S. Military?
You are no longer a member of the armed forces
of this country. How did you leave? The first I
should say this all happened a long time ago, in

(06:09):
my fifties. I have a chance to think about and
tell the story with new meaning. What happened for me
is after four years of being a combat medic. It
was a reservist, so I was working with vets at
the Palo Alto v A. I would go to my trainings,
you know, and qualify for my weapon and we would

(06:30):
still do MOP training. I was part of a mobile
hospital unit. Our unit was practicing for war. Was the
time where I was, you know, going to college classes.
I was learning about the freedom movement, the black freedom tradition,
and remember I'm still young. The Black freedom tradition in

(06:50):
America is the proudest tradition we have, and I started
to realize I'm part of that. But what does it
mean for me to study war even though the song
clearly says war no more so. My unit was starting
to prepare to deploy, and a lot of us have

(07:13):
this moment where we have to decide what is right
for us. We have to make a hard decision and
we have to have the courage. My dad actually told
me about a very obscure rule that people in the
military can pursue an honorable discharge as a conscientious objector,
which means that a person who wasn't opposed to war

(07:35):
in any form when they joined, which I wasn't. I
really hadn't thought of it to a person who based
on moral, ethical, religious beliefs, could not participate. I had
become that person, and I pursued one of the most
difficult discharges. Took me a few years. I still wore
the uniform, but I did earn that honorable discharge. I'm

(07:58):
very proud of it, and I know of no other
black woman who's won this kind of discharge. I did
it for moral reasons, and I thought so few Americans
serve in the military. People might say thank you for
your service, or remember the yellow ribbons which you might
have been a generation ago, or they have this stickers

(08:19):
on their car, but they actually don't understand what it
is to give to your country. And I still believe
in that, like, let's that's deep for me. It's just
I want to give to my country. Differently, we are
at a perfect point to talk about this time in
this country. You've stated that women of color are the

(08:42):
saving grace of democracy. It's clear you're doing everything in
your power to ensure these women have info, have access,
have tools to exercise this power to save us. All
I want to talk about democracy and color. I want
to talk about get information and then the more present

(09:03):
work of She the People. Can you just give me
a brief overview and the path of the first two
and then we'll focus more on She the People. Democracy
and Color was about supporting courageous leadership that would stand
up for our issues, justice issues. But the thing that's
behind the curtain that people don't see often about the

(09:25):
business of politics is how we get the candidates on
the ballot that we get and what they stand for.
The ecosystem of donors and packs and party politics even
at the state level, and campaign committees and influencers who

(09:45):
say who's electable and not have a very definitive effect
on who we see on the ballot and what they
stand for. So the Democrats for many, many years, and
that's what democracy and Color and ultimately She the People
continues to push on. I really thought the most important
voters to win through supporting particular candidates and the money

(10:07):
that they spend on you know, how they turn out
votes was white voters. Yeah, and so we made the
case and I'm still making the case. White voters are
not the Democrats best hoped for success. They just aren't.
The majority of white men and women vote for Republicans.
Those who are standing for abortion rights and climate justice

(10:28):
and trans rights and economic equality, those are women of color.
Those are the core. We did that work. Demarks and
Color made that case. We're continuing to make that case,
specifically for women of color. Now, what about good information.
We look at a state like Georgia where you have

(10:51):
this fantastic candidate named Stacy Abrams, who I've known for
many years, who was making a run for governor, and
so here I am in California, knowing that we have
this remarkable, talented candidate who has a philosophy of building
a multiracial coalition in order to change the political landscape

(11:15):
in Georgia to allow a Democrat to win statewide. And
she had been doing that work for a long time.
So I founded a campaign called Get Information, explicitly to
call black women who were outside of Georgia together to focus.
Now listen. I went to Georgia. I had a friend

(11:35):
who's to live in California. She moved to Atlanta and uh,
I said, Hey, I'm here visiting the campaign of who
I hope is your next governor. She said who's that?
I said, Stacy Abrahams. And at that time she was like, oh,
she'll never win. A melanated, natural hair woman democrat had

(11:57):
no shot in Georgia. Getting formation was about activating the
power of black women before we were recognized. We are
the highest vote turnout, most likely to organize. We are
public servants extraordinary, and we whold division of democracy and justice.
We are unique, we are special. The country needs us.

(12:19):
It wasn't just black women who answered Latina's Asian American
specific Islanders and Native women answer the call. People gave
small amounts of money, they went to volunteer, and they
brought us to where we were today. Out of that,
we saw the potential, even though we were fighting against
these anti democratic people, both in Georgia and other places

(12:43):
in these frontline states, that we have tapped something very powerful.
So she the People was born out of that. It
was out about a vision. There's a thousand Stacy Abrahams
in this country, and if we are able to focus
our resources our attention on those who have the strongest
vision and are most likely to build multi ritual coalitions,

(13:06):
we can win. I love the language of Sheeta people.
You explicitly talk about achieving a multiracial democracy, which is
something we haven't ever quite had. And I often think
of this country, which I deeply love and have only
ever really lived in for the past forty four years,

(13:28):
as this unfinished journey, laudable goals, questionable execution, and we
talk about, you know, we're the longest standing democracy and
like whoa for who? You know, for most of our
history most of our people couldn't participate. So is it
really a democracy? You know? Starting what year are recounting

(13:49):
sixty four sixty never did have that equal rights Amendment
for women, So maybe we can get to nickel on it.
But I appreciate the explicit nature of multi racial democracy
and the terms of love, justice, and belonging as kind

(14:10):
of the spirit that moves this whole operation. So here's
the picture I want to paint. Abortion rights are being dissolved,
economic crises are emerging. Yet again, both of these land
disproportionately on women of color on the saving grace of democracy.

(14:33):
This current US administration, the Biden administration, has a woman
of color right there next to the president. He's only
there because a lot of folks got information and turned
up and turned out for him. It feels too many
like we're losing. How do you handle what feels like

(14:55):
a moment of regression for so many of us? Do
you see it? Is that? Remember when I told you,
m I grew up in this black church in this
really white area. Yeah, the African Methodist Episcopal Church and
Amy Church. The pastor used to talk about a scripture

(15:16):
that called standing in the Gap. Do you ever hear
about that? Hm? Standing in the gap refers to the
difficult ability to see what is like the truth of
what is at the same time hold what could be

(15:37):
the greatest people who have ever lived had an extraordinary
capacity to stand in the gap. This is what we
have to do right now. Everything you said is true,
and the power and the possibility of justice can come.

(15:58):
The reason why we organize are found our values is
I deeply believe and am committed to gathering our people
based on a fundamental belief of who we are with
each other, to love our own and each other, to
make justice the law of the land, to make this
country a place where everyone belongs. If we can hold

(16:21):
that vision while seeing that, then we're doing something that
is remarkably difficult and needed. In this moment, I tell
people to be encouraged. Remember when I started this work,
the term women of color was never used in politics.
Women of color, including black women. Everyone talks about black

(16:41):
women now. That didn't happen until and beyond Latino's huge,
fastest growing part of the women of color population, Asian
Americans was always white voters until now. So what I
got to see, a witness and really be part of

(17:03):
is a changing of the culture that we are now
seen and we are heard. Yeah, right now, we have
all of these challenges that really come down to how
strongly can we gather power? How nuanced can we think
about power? Is it just about representation? It isn't. So

(17:24):
representation is not the answer. Values are the answer and
building power. So when we look at what's happening now,
we have to both prepare for the threat that is
and strategize deeply about using our power, grounded in love,
to overcome these elements in this country because they are

(17:47):
What are some of the specific ways that you've learned
to build this power and to mobilize communities? What does
that look like on the ground. Is it that use
of technology is a type of messaging and their unique
forms of other ring where people are feeling this potential,
this possibility of what can be and not just what
is well to the last thing, you know, and it

(18:09):
seems like ancient history. But in twenty nineteen, when we
had this historically diverse set of presidential hopefuls, I said,
you know, what would be the power move to put
women of color in a power position is to have
the first presidential forum focused on women of color. And
that's what we did at Texas Southern, which is one
of the largest hbc U s in Houston and we

(18:30):
got it like over a thousand women of color from
thirty states, and we had a presidential candidates and we
were up there asking them questions that had never been
asked to presidential hopeful. A lot of what we like
to talk about on this show is collaboration. We have
folks on taken on big enough problems like of pandemic,

(18:52):
like rebirth of democracy that no one person, no one
organization could pull it off. How has collaboration Asian affected
your work in particularly was She the People? Are there
different types of partnerships and linkage. Is that you've been
able to build and benefit from that help you see

(19:12):
the clearer picture and help you achieve some of the
goals you set for. She the People is a network
women of color are the movers where the organizers were
the most effective on the ground, holders of the vision
and actual turnout of voters. We just do all that.
So She the People is a network of women all

(19:34):
over the country that do that. There are really exceptional
organizing like Florida Rising, which is a statewide organizations actually
themselves comprised of community and other groups that focuses on
speaking to voters of color, doing political education, listening to them,

(19:54):
getting people registered, turning people out to vote, building power
from the ground up, a Virginia Majority one, Arizona, Texas
organizing project, and the list goes on and on. These
are our partners. So I want to I want to
bring it back as we started to close to the
initiating theme of this episode, which is about education access

(20:16):
and getting a little bit of that from your own
story and thinking about the power that women of color
have and the connection of that power to education. You know,
if there's a young woman considering her path the higher education,
if there's someone considering a life in politics, do you
have advice to folks in terms of how to get
that education and that access to unlock you know, the

(20:39):
power to govern ourselves. At the end of the day,
there's so much to that question. It's a it's a
great question. I will just focus on the aspect of
the third part of power is data. It's not just stories,
it's not just knowing who our network is. It's data
about ourselves. No one knows what we think or want.

(21:00):
The education part goes on really figuring out who we are,
how many of us there are. It's astounding, you know,
in the last ten years, our vote share increased ten percent,
white women's increase six where the majority of women in
eight states. Now we are the majority of Democratic voters.

(21:21):
So to me, understanding our power and educating is important
in our contribution achieve the people. Is we're doing a
listening session across ten states and listening to women I
think will help to contribute. Is My dream is to
retell the American story with us in it and so

(21:44):
understanding and almost refounding, getting an education to understand who
America is with us in it, being powerful entities that
shape this country, that served this country and continue to
fight for ideals even if they weren't realized. That's the educationation.
Now would we go, look, there aren't the books, but
we got to write the books. We have to write

(22:06):
the books and have the data to have that kind
of education, and once we do, we can understand and
really embrace our power. We're far more powerful than anyone
ever told us we were, and we're powerful together. That's
holding the vision. That's the vision I got. I got
one more for you, And it's the flip side of
everything you've been describing. Writing women of color into the

(22:30):
story is often perceived and certainly weaponized by folks as
being written out of the story. How do you think
about the fear and backlash generated by the shifting narrative
that you're promoting. Here's what I say. There are more
people then we know and recognize that share our values,

(22:56):
that we have the power to overcome those who would
say the future is this dim, violent, vile, white supremacist future. No,
that is our past. We're building something new. So you
have to ask yourself both how do you want to
play in history? I decided I'm part of the black

(23:19):
freedom tradition, and it's a tradition that's actually open to everyone.
We can be part of that. I have seen the
political power of black women, Asian American women, Latina's I
have seen it grow in the time that I have
started this work till now. We're just getting started. And

(23:42):
the movement that She the people is part of building
is for us not to give up on the country.
It is to create our own future and to create
a new language and thinking about where we're going. Yeah,
Amy Alison, thank you for everything you're doing. It's an
honor to spend this time with you. I appreciate you

(24:05):
and the work that you are part of so so much.
Thank you. I feel the same appreciate you having me
on stand in the gap. You're listening to a podcast
called Force Multiplier. Action meets Impact Now. I'm sure you've

(24:28):
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(25:13):
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(25:33):
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(25:55):
The more I think about Amy's story, the more impressive
it gets. She's someone who challenges herself, doesn't take the
common road from her honorable discharge, which is pretty hard
to obtain to uplifting the voices of marginalized women in
places that can be so incredibly unwelcome to them. She

(26:15):
is a manifestation of what we can accomplish when we
move as one. She also shows us that before helping others,
sometimes we've got to help ourselves be kind and true
to ourselves, even if the choices we make go against
our initial plans. Much like Amy, our next guests also
didn't allow circumstances to define the outcome of her life.

(26:38):
As a recent graduate of the University of Kentucky, Cheyenne
Chandler had to quickly learn how to leverage resources from
the institution to complete her studies. Check it out. Hi,
my name is Cheyenne Chandler. I am a recent graduate
from the University Kentucky. So I have always really been

(26:59):
interested in oncology and cancer therapies. I have a personal experience.
My dad is a cancer survivor and he's also going
through treatments. Currently he has a jenetic cancer and so
it's just going to be continuous for the rest of
his life. I have seen and witnessed a bunch of
oncologists and munologists actually create therapy specifically for him, and
that's how I really figured out that that's actually what

(27:21):
I want to do. I really want to just honestly
help people. But before helping people, had to learn how
to help a person, namely herself. She had made the
first step, she got herself into the school, but once
she got there, she had to learn how to stay there.
That's a whole another game, that's a whole another class.

(27:41):
And when you're in one of these big universities, it's
already hard. When you're bearing the pressures from home, that
can be a lot. This is the point where we
lose a lot of our young people especially women of color,
because financial challenges coupled with the lack of representation can
leads to this feeling helpless and alone. Lucky for Cheyenne,

(28:04):
she stumbled upon our University's LEADS program, which is short
for Leveraging Economic Affordability for Developing Success. This is her
school scholarship program set in place to ensure that every
student who needs an education can actually afford one. First,
when I was accepted into UK, the first thing that
they normally do is send you a bill, and I

(28:25):
remember when I opened the mail and I saw fifty
dollars and I screened, that's it. I can't do this.
It's just just a lot of money. And I was like, Okay,
I'm gonna figure out how to do it, and went
through the Financial Aid Office website where I was able
to get instate tuition. But for me to get into LEADS,

(28:47):
it was actually a really bad circumstance that I was in.
I was not a part of my LEADS program my
first year in college, and so my family really forked
out the I think it's around like dollars that we
had to pay for in state and that didn't account food,
and that an account the required meal plan that you
had to be on as a freshman in the building.

(29:09):
So I think it was like dollars total, which is
better than some people, but it was still very high.
I made it through my first fall semester and I
just couldn't afford it. Classes were registering again and I
just couldn't get my account opens register at all because
you have to pay your balance off. And I remember
going to the Financial aid office and they recommended for

(29:30):
me for getting a loan, and I said, I already
have some loans. I can't afford that. And at that
point my mom had gotten laid off, and also my
dad a lot of a cancer treatment that he was doing.
It was just really difficult for all of us to pay.
And this is when Leeds really was starting to get bigger,
and I think they had just started and they were
still collecting money to start the program, and they were like, actually,

(29:52):
we're gonna put you in contact with the people who
can really help you, and that was LEADS. So it
was sort of just a blessing. And I remember I
was walking back to my dorm and I was on
the side of the the road and that's when Miss will Gis,
who is the advisor over me for LEADS. She called
me and she was like, Hi, Cheyenne, I know you
just talked with someone from the Financial aid office and
we heard about your story and we really just want

(30:14):
to help you continue scholarship journey and continue academically. And
I was like what, I was on the side of
the road crying because that one phone call really changed everything,
because they truly let me get to the point where
I was able to graduate. And it was just an
honest question. So here Cheyenne going through this difficult moment

(30:41):
in her life, and even in this very stressful time,
she is still helping others. She's still thinking of ways
she can do more. I think programs like leads are essential,
not just for what they provide on the surface. As
a scholarship kid, myself, I believe in the value helping
kids pay for tuition and books. That is practical, that

(31:03):
is necessary, greatly appreciated. Thanks for all the folks who
helped me out. But programs like this do more than
just provide the money. They are providing a service to
students and even hold communities. That's hard to measure. Here's
what happens when we help students like Cheyenne, We're telling them,
we believe in you, believing in yourself, We believe that

(31:27):
you matter just the way you are right now. That
sort of investment beyond the money, but just caring about
people's well being. That investment pays dividends for communities that
needed most because it turns people like Cheyenne into leaders
who can go back and pave the way and advise

(31:47):
others and create more people like Cheyenne who can go
back and pave the way and advise others and create
this really virtuous cycle. So I actually agreed to a
mentor a couple of students and help a couple of
organizations that I was still a part of. So like
one of them is he's in Medicine, which is an
organization for health care really directed towards minority students, and

(32:12):
so I'm actually the social media manager and so I'll
be doing that while I'm in my maths program. But
my advice for any student that is really participating in STEM,
anything from engineering to science to medicine to even math,
really is if you do not see representation, then say
something about it first, because there really are a lot

(32:33):
of people who may not be actually at your university,
but in the community who would love to come. Secondly,
never give up on yourself. That's one of the biggest
things that I told myself when I was crying because
I just felt so alone in some of my classes,
and I really just told myself, you got this. You
are capable, and you are extremely intelligent, and you will

(32:54):
make it through. And third really would be if you
see lack of representation then started and that was the
biggest one for me is when I went back to
several organizations that I was a part of our other
classes and I said, I don't see anybody that looks
like me, and that's a problem. And if so, if
you need that person, then I would be that person
so that the next person we'll see someone that I needed. Financially,

(33:21):
my advice would definitely be asked as many people as possible.
It was really me just walking around campus for an
hour and a half in the blistering he just going
around and not taking another loan. So go to your
financial aid office, asked them if it is there any
other programs, Are there any grants, any fellowships, any work

(33:43):
studies that I could possibly do. Additionally, there are a
lot of scholarships that are available, especially if you are
a person of color. There's just so many opportunities. My
advice for any business audience would truly be to actually asked,
is there any small initiatives that can really help? Or
can I start an initiative that can help students and

(34:07):
helping financially, You're really helping someone complete their life. It's
just it's just that's I feel like that's an honor.
Over the years, higher education has become synonymous with this
ritual symbolizing the ultimate American dream and freedom. As we've

(34:29):
learned from our two guests, the path to education isn't
always linear. In fact, it's sometimes lonely, terrifying, expensive and wobbly.
But sometimes these are the experiences that allow us to
help others. When we find these hidden gems, the people

(34:50):
that believe and invest in our potential, then we can
finally start to believe in some of the promise that
this country offers up, that we can be anything we
want to be. That's a big promise, you know. And
there's definitely these moments when I feel like it's just marketing,

(35:10):
and then I meet people like Amy, I meet people
like Cheyenne, I remember finding these moments of belief in myself, myself,
that little motor in me that kept me going, and
I love seeing that in others. So folks can go
and share that wealth with all of our communities and

(35:31):
uplifting empower us all, especially when we're not feeling so empowered.
These ideas don't have to be grand, over the top huge,
as we've seen time and again throughout this season, our
guests proved that being yourself is sometimes the most radical
thing you can do, the most profound action you can take.

(35:52):
And whether it's through their lines of work lending an
air offering practical advice to building communities during difficult times,
I guess I've never up in their pursuit of making
a difference, of bridging the divide and solving some of
today's greatest challenges. It's in the small lack sometimes, like
seeing a face that's willing to help you in a

(36:12):
classroom setting, or the acknowledgment of your wants and needs
by a political figure. It's those moments that help teach
us to learn to bet on ourselves, to take risk
for ourselves, and to take our community along for the right.

(36:43):
Are you feeling inspired and want to check out more
information about the organizations we talked about in this episode.
Learn more about our guests and how you can support
their work by going to Salesforce dot org slash Force Multiplier.
Force Multiplier's production of I Heart Radio and Salesforce dot Org.
Hosted by me Barrett tune Day Thurston. It's executive produced

(37:04):
by Elizabeth Stewart, produced by Vane Chien, edited and mixed
by James Foster, and written by Yvette Lopez. A special
thanks to our guests Amy Allison and Cheyenne Chandler. Listen
to Force Multiplier on the I Heart Radio app, Apple Podcasts,
or wherever you get your podcasts. M
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