Interview with Michelle Renee by Jessica Gilbert

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Author, Speaker,
Activist, Leadership
and Resiliency Expert

Jessica: Michelle, thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to do an interview for TSM. It’s a real honor to have you here and share yourself with our readers on this Mother’s Day.

Michelle: Thank you for having me.

Jessica: Your life’s journey has been filled with success, where you rose to the top as Vice President/Executive Banker by age thirty, and difficult challenges – emotional and physical abuse, violence, your daughter’s MS diagnosis, and your hostage and bank robbery ordeal.

So, what would you say helped you overcome your obstacles to success, and the adversities in your life?

Michelle: My faith in what I was meant to learn and know from all that I have experienced, meditation and seeking understanding, my amazing family and close friends, and even those in the community who stepped up to help us when we, twice in fact, lost nearly everything to tragedy and trauma.

Jessica: You wrote a memoir called Held Hostage, that is a lifetime movie. Tell us about the process of adapting the book into the film.

IMG_5561Michelle: My brother and I have a saying: “Just show up everyday giving it your all.” This is one of my personal mottos that also became the foundation of that process from writing to filming. After writing what was originally 380 pages that was just me purging onto paper, a friend said I should turn it into a book. Pretty soon a friend of theirs contacted me, who is a well- known ghost writer in LA, Andrea Cagan. She took what I had written and shined it up, formatted and arranged it in a way that made sense for the reader, and even added some of her own profound insights and language. After it was published I was asked to speak at a healing retreat for Emotional Healing Systems with Jana Fleming. I “showed up and gave it 100%” and in the audience was a producer’s wife. She went home and told her husband about our journey, and he called me and made me a offer to turn my book into a movie. My manager worked the deal and made sure I involved every step of the way as a producer, writer, and creative consultant on the project standing my ground on the issue of the core message in the film, which is PTSD being depicted in a real way for both my daughter and I, and forgiveness. My only regret is that the journey to Alaska was not included. That was the most incredible healing time of our life, and that road trip from San Diego to Anchorage; alone camping and discovering myself again was the best medicine in the world.

Jessica: You’re also the founder of Rock to Stop that is a vocal advocate for those whose lives have been affected by violence and abuse worldwide. Are there any upcoming events you’d like to share? And what can people do to get involved in helping to share your message?

Michelle: Currently, we have two major programs we are focused on annually. San Diego Indie Fest and Art Inspiring Change. Both focus on healing and awareness through music, art, partnerships with independent businesses, and outreach for survivors. We just finished our most recent large scale events for both programs, so it will be a while before another event. However, we are in  the process of developing what we call “Bridge” which symbolizes the bridge in music that ties an entire song together. This will be a free eight-week self-guided program to help survivors heal through self-acceptance, and letting go of blame and shame.

IMG_4554Jessica: In addition to Rock to Stop, you are also the creator of Extreme Resiliency plus the owner of VERB Entertainment Group. Tell us more about Extreme Resiliency, and the inspiration behind your entertainment group.

Michelle: Extreme Resiliency is the name of my speaking topic(s) and not really a business per say. It is the focus of all I do and how I believe people should live their life, resiliently! VERB is a marketing/PR/Branding/Events company that I formed after never going back to banking. Since Rock to STOP is non-profit and I do not draw a salary from that, I needed to focus on what I am good at and passionate about besides non-violence, and earn a living somehow. I went back to school for my communications degree, and am now finishing that up since I stopped during the criminal trial of our attackers, and after my daughters severe MS diagnosis; I never went back-until now.

Jessica: In the spirit of this day, can you recall one of your most memorable Mother’s Days?

Michelle: I grew up in a home filled with violence and void of my parents having family around them. That meant no grandparents, uncles or aunts, cousins. It was just us, the seven little Indians as my mom called us. So, one Mother’s Day, the one just before the kidnapping, I bought two plane tickets to the east coast. I rented a convertible and drove the coast from Providence to Booth Bay Harbor, Maine where my mom was born and stopped in my birth town just outside of Boston. I visited her school, met some of her high school class mates, learned about her and visited the home she grew up in.  It was a once in a lifetime experience. Several years later, I took my mom back there along with my daughter. She hadn’t been back in forty-two years. To say it was incredibly special and touching is an understatement.

IMG_4942Jessica: Who are some people you admire and look up to?

Michelle: People who have had unimaginable challenges in their life and somehow find a way to remain focused on the beauty in the world, the love and laughter and grace and even the beautiful madness of it all. Those they realize they were victimized, yet do live out their lives as victims. Those are the people I admire the most and who inspire me.

Jessica: If you had the power to do something in the world today, what would it be and why?

Michelle: I would take every person who feels like they can not break free from violence and abuse and the aftermath, the PTSD of it all, and let them know without any doubt they can choose to heal, let go of debilitating blame, shame, and fear and rediscover life in a new way through self-love and non-violence, including stopping all forms of violence towards oneself.

Jessica: What is one of your favorite quotes (or lines) that inspires you?

Michelle: There are two: The first is my daughters quote after her diagnosis when she said “Feeling sorry for myself won’t heal my lesions. Focusing on my dreams is what will give me the strength to live a normal life again.”

The other is by the ever poignant Maya Angelou: “I can be changed by what happens to me but I refuse to be reduced by it.”

Jessica: Anything else you’d like to share? And where can our readers find out more about you and your work?

Michelle: They can get a copy of Held Hostage (book or movie) online. I am also available for speaking engagement globally and would be so honored to speak with more incredible women around the world about Extreme Resiliency. Contact me through www.VERBEntGroup.com or WWW.RockToSTOP.org. You can also learn more about Multiple Sclerosis and my daughters journey with the disease by typing in BREEA MS on Youtube, or by visiting her Facebook page “Help Breea Beat MS.”

Jessica: Happy Mother’s Day and thanks again for this interview. I wish you the best with all you do in the future.

Michelle: Thank you so much Jessica for the opportunity to reach out to your readers. I hope I have inspired them in some positive way. Happy Mother’s Day my global sisterhood of moms, and thank you to my daughter Breea for making every day a special Mothers Day for me.

Namaste.

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