Best In The Citi | Innovator: Rachel Lauren

Rachel Pierce, Best In The Citi Innovator for 2022
Lauren sees her life’s work as advocating for a better life for people who look like her – whether in business or in her personal life.

“I say really from a place of pain is how I got here, having had a lot of different jobs, mostly in tech, I was always tokenized,” she says. She found herself constantly feeling “overqualified, overworked, and undervalued,” constantly raising her hand to speak up when she saw things that she thought were unfair.

Her mother was from Puerto Rico and her dad was from Gary, Indiana. Lauren, who was raised in Chicago, says she grew up seeing life through their eyes – and there was a lot of struggle.

“They would always come home and have stories, and it was always about community,” she says. Both of her parents were “always doing things for other people, always trying to stand up for kids,” she says. Her mother was an educator for over 50 years, and often came home stressed out about her students’ home lives. She emphasized to Lauren and her siblings that “‘not everyone is lucky like you are, not everyone has two parents,’” Lauren remembers. 

Lauren always knew she wanted to do something to help children. She and her husband at the time vowed to adopt a child after she birthed their first child, but when they had trouble conceiving, they questioned “why is there this order that we’re putting on ourselves? Why does conceiving have to come first,” she remembers asking.

They signed up to be foster-to-adopt parents, which meant they’d be open to emergency placements – and the possibility that children could be placed with them, then re-homed with their biological families after a period of rehabilitation. 

“Once you start fostering, once you get in the system and you’re going to the court cases, dealing with the families, it becomes a calling,” she says. “It brings me also to another system that needs to be looked at, needs to be fixed.” 

Now the mom of one son and two daughters she’s adopted permanently, Lauren says she’s even more motivated to make her community a better place for them to grow up and live and work. 

“There have been parts of me that have considered leaving. I work for myself and work remotely – I could live anywhere. But I stay here, because if we keep leaving, who’s going to make the change,” she says. “All three of my children are Texans. I want to show them that I did what I could.”

something’s got to change. If not for my generation, for my children.

Like many Americans, the summer of 2020 served as a push for Lauren to do even more. 

“Seeing George Floyd’s murder on TV, realizing Breonna Taylor’s killers are still free,” Lauren says she realized “something’s got to change. If not for my generation, for my children.” 

Her father was the first Black captain for the State of Illinois’ police force. So when she started advocating for cities to defund the police and reallocate the funding to social services, Lauren says she “felt almost hypocritical.” But then she remembered that her father used to come home and share the fears that even he had as a Black man in America. Even he was nervous about racist police who might not recognize him right away if he got pulled over in plain clothes. 

“Even though he was in that system, the system didn’t care what he accomplished. They cared what he looked like. He was still a Black man,” she says. 

Lauren says she is committed to the idea that this country, the state of Texas, and the Greater Austin area “was built not just for everyone else, but built for us, has opportunity for us, has some sort of fairness in the way that things operate.”

“I want [my children] to understand that’s something I’m working on too. I want them to grow up and say, ‘mom did the best she could,’” she says. 

It is taking a lot of self-healing work for her too, as she unpacks experiences she’s had throughout her life and the ways she’s internalized those. 

“Not only is systemic racism so deeply rooted, but it is put into our minds as … so digestible to us that we’re almost blinded to it,” she says.

“Being in Austin one of the things that intrigues me about Austin is I think it’s a great city, but I know we’re underrepresented here as Black people, and when I look at systems, equity organizations here, I don’t think they’re being challenged the way they should be,” she says. 

“This is a great city, and it could be a great city for us if we change some things and we challenge some people.”

 

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