“It was a sense of here’s my story. Is it good enough," Amanda remarks as she shifts in her seat and retells the story of her journey to the Amplify Voices stage.
Watching Amanda confidently take up space in the tiny thumbnail of the Zoom screen is like watching a newly transformed butterfly ready itself to take flight. Its brightly colored wings are a testament to all the work that had occurred to get it to this exact place.
Like a butterfly, Amanda displays beauty and assured confidence that hints at past tribulations but also exudes a triumphant spirit.
“The [Amplify] process for me was transformative. The whole experience of learning about Amplify’s mission of bringing voice to the silenced, the misunderstood, and the oppressed, is spiritually what I’m about.”
Amanda Schneider holds the title of Executive Director at Amplify Voices, a newly formed non-profit organization. I get the sense that this title is merely an organic alignment between personal values and beliefs and the vision of Amplify Voices as a whole.
In the brightly lit space of Amanda’s office hangs a tiny bell, alone and off to the side. It moves gently, almost unnoticed to the intentional listener. At the same time, the ceiling fan overhead whirls silently, providing just enough breeze to make the bell sway. No sound from the bell is audible, but there it sits, waiting patiently to be heard. The bell is somehow a visual reminder of the voices that Amplify Voices wants to boost. When asked what led Amanda to become involved in Amplify Voices, Amanda looks off to the side and then, with conviction, looks me in the eyes and recounts her story.
“I was sexually assaulted six years ago, which was weird because I was forty at the time, and I had three little boys at home. While attending a work conference at a luxury resort, somebody slipped a date rape drug into my drink. It was one of those moments where you realized that this could happen to anyone, so, I chose to share my experience on social media. I don't necessarily recommend this level of sharing because putting something sensitive like that out there on social media is a big deal. Still, my intention at the time was to prevent this situation from happening to somebody else.”
Through a series of events, Amanda was introduced to Deborah Shapiro, founder of DEBx, a speaker training, and development experience. During one of Deborah’s shows, she announced that Amplify Voices, another group she had founded, would host a talk focusing on the Triumph over Trafficking. A mutual friend whose husband was a speaker in the DEBx experience knew Amanda’s story and believed that Amanda and Deborah should meet. In the end, Amanda had her voice and message heard at the first Amplify Stage event, which was renamed Triumph Over Trafficking and Sexual Abuse.
As the scent of coffee filters into my consciousness from the mug, I had placed on my desk moments before, the WIFI connection glitches, causing Amanda’s image to pixelate. I lean in closer to my MacBook, being both drawn in by Amanda’s story, the smell of my coffee, and my silent plea imploring the WIFI connection to hold out. As the WIFI steadies and Amanda’s image refocuses, I notice that her long brown hair, which is swooped to one side, reveals a long dangling earring. However, the dainty necklace prominently showcasing a large colorful pendant resembling the tree of life grabbed my attention. The symbolism of the tree of life represents strength, growth, knowledge, and wisdom. Amanda's pendant, as colorful as a butterfly's wing, seemed fitting for a woman who has boldly stood in her power. A woman who now uses her story and voice to help others use their voices as an amplifier of change.
According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, one out of six American women have been the victims of sexual assault, with one-third of those assaults involving the use of substances designed to perpetrate the crime. The #MeToo movement gave women the opportunity to take their power back and speak out against their perpetrators. Amplify Voices helps equip people to reclaim their voices by crafting compelling messages.
"The Amplify [Voices] program is a transformative experience. The speakers have an opportunity to have their voices heard, creating a ripple effect that spreads. The goal is to spark more conversations. It’s not just about seven or a hundred voices, but more about what those voices accomplish in getting their messages out.”
Amanda takes up more space now, practically filling the entire Zoom thumbnail. She discusses the experience of being a part of Amplify Voices from a speaker's perspective, as a volunteer, and through her appointed role.
"I have always believed that you never know somebody’s story until you walk in their shoes. While we can never fully know, it is human nature to judge. However, by going through the speaker circles and listening, to being behind the scenes at the formerly incarcerated speaker circle, you realize that this is emotional work.”
There is connection and healing in conversation. All one needs is the willingness to be willing. Listening to these engaging and sometimes challenging messages and being immersed in the depths of others' lived human experiences provides the fuel for that connection to humanity that is extremely important.
Amplify Voices speaker circles are the fuel that ignites, which causes a shift in perspective in the minds and hearts of people you may not have the opportunity to reach.
“When you can wake up every day and do something that you are passionate about and get so much satisfaction—it's a big part of arriving someplace in life. Before becoming involved in Amplify Voices, I had my judgments about certain communities. It wasn't until I heard someone share their experience and message that all my preconceived labels and stereotypes disappeared. I saw the human being in front of me. The compassion that I could access and feel in those moments changed my life, my experience, and my satisfaction with life. Life is not always easy and happy but to be able to work every day to pass on that opportunity to others—that’s pretty awesome.”
On November 19, 2022, Amplify Voices will host their second annual fundraiser—The Journey at RC Lurie, in Phoenix, Arizona. Amanda’s face beams as she begins to share details of the upcoming event.
"It's going to celebrate how far we [Amplify Voices] have come.” The idea of Amplify Voices was initially conceived during the pandemic. It was exclusively virtual, allowing for speaker participants from Canada and the United States, including Arizona.
“Deb and I are from Arizona and want to be more active in our community. We have been connecting with other local non-profit organizations here in Arizona to see if they will attend our event and set up interactive exhibits. We want to help educate our guests by collaborating with the experts in the communities of the people whose voices we have amplified to date. We recognize that we are not the experts in those circles. Still, we are the experts on taking those voices and helping them create impactful messages and helping to amplify those voices."
The Journey, a one-day interactive event, is an out-of-the-box fundraiser which will be a hybrid event—a combination of in-person and virtual. “We want to take our guests through an interactive experience of what it's like to have your voice be heard the Amplify way." The fundraiser will function like a museum exhibit. We have exhibits representing the three communities of focus that Amplify Voices has engaged with thus far. The survivors of trafficking and sexual abuse, the formerly incarcerated population, and people affected by breast cancer.
The Journey promises to be an interactive, engaging, and exciting event with both a morning and evening session.
“The morning session will be interactive and immersive, with exhibits and a silent auction component. In our evening session, we are including the Impact awards announcing our 2022 Amplify Impact award recipient. This person has made the biggest contribution to moving the message of Amplify Voices forward. We will also have the Spark Awards, awarded to individuals who embody all four Amplify principles and have continued to keep the ripple going.”
The fundraiser is an excellent way for us as an organization to get to know our local community and for our community to get to know us.
As the timer on my Zoom meeting flashes in the corner of my screen, I ask Amanda the two questions circling in my mind—what voices would you like to have amplified? Amanda leans back in her chair, drapes her arm over the back, and announces, “The LGBTQ community. I feel like those voices and stories can add a powerful piece and the voices of people of color. Listening to Richard from the formerly incarcerated group say that the experience reminded him of elementary school before racism was a thing makes me teary every time. I think with where we are in the world, these voices have powerful messages to share—there is a lot to be heard here.”
If ever there is a magic formula, Amplify Voices has captured it. The glow on the faces of people who have stood in their truth is unlike anything you will ever witness. As a speaker, it is unlike anything you will ever experience. The impact of the safe space provided by the Amplify Voices speaker circles casts a spell in the ears of their listeners. Hearts and souls connect, bringing about a different understanding, which helps to break down the stereotypes and labels, facilitating conversations that create change.
"I feel that there is so much disconnection in our world which has only been made worse by social media. We have lost a lot of compassion and empathy for others. It’s so easy to sit on the sidelines behind your computer or television screen and make judgments. We are all interconnected. Seeing each other's humanity is the only way we can move forward for the safety of our children and future generations. We need to start thinking outside ourselves and realize that we are all human beings doing the best we can.”
What’s next for Amanda? “It’s like I told Deb, you’re stuck with me; I’m not going anywhere.”
As I end my meeting, I am reminded of my experience in one of the Amplify sister circles. It's the circle you didn't know you needed and the organization you never want to leave. As I close my laptop, my heart feels full, as if it is somehow more tuned in. A butterfly flies past my office window. Seeing those colorful delicate wings brings a serenity that holds me as if some universal blanket has wrapped me in its arms.