As a podcaster for justice, I stand with my sisters from the Women of Color Podcasters Community. We are podcasters united to condemn the tragic murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and many others at the hands of police. This is a continuation of the systemic racism pervasive in our country since its inception and we are committed to standing against racism in all its forms.
Madison Ways is a junior in high school in Maryland, trying to figure out her life after the death of her father three years ago. “My friends didn't understand or feel comfortable with my grief and weren't very nice to me at a time when I needed them most,” said Madison. “As a result, I lost many of them. I have been trying to rebuild a new life for myself focusing on my schoolwork and have developed a strong passion for social justice. I have cultivated a huge TikTok following with some controversial posts around inclusion, diversity, and politics.”
Madison is the youngest guest I’ve had on my podcast. As a child, she was very close to her mom and dad and she loved to dance (tap and hip hop). She described her dad,
“He was probably one of the kindest people I ever met, the kind of person who would laugh at his own jokes…he would throw himself in front of a train for anyone, and he inspired me in so many ways to be a better person.”
Her dad got sick with Stage 4 lung cancer when Madison was 12. He lived 16 months after his initial diagnosis. After he died, she lost a lot of friendships while she was trying to put her life back together.
Madison describes herself as very introverted and shy, so making friends is really hard.
“A lot of my friends didn’t understand grief all that much. The year after he died really sucked for me. I was sad all the time, and there was visibly something very wrong with me. My friends didn’t really understand, cause they were like, 'Shouldn’t she be done with this at this point? He died a year ago. Shouldn’t she be over it?'”
They left her out and stopped talking to her, really hurting her.
“Grief is a time when you need your friends to be there, and when they left, that dumped a whole new pile of grief on me.”
Since her dad died, Madison and her mom memorialize her dad by going to New York City and seeing Broadway shows.
“We’re just trying to pick up the damage and move forward. You never move on…you just move forward.”
One of the things Madison has used to occupy her time is making TikTok videos, beginning in 2016. In the beginning, she mostly lip-synced…but in 2019 she began making original TikToks. Now she has 61,000 followers and over 4 million likes. Many of her TikToks are political commentary. She has gotten even more involved in social justice during the quarantine.
She also made a poignant TikTok about her 17-year-old self, waking up in her 13-year-old body. Since her dad died, she has come out as a lesbian.
“Coming out was one of the hardest things I had to do. I lost some friends. I live in a conservative Christian area. A friend who is Mormon said I was going to go to hell, and she called me a lot of slurs. But a lot of people took it very well.”
Because she is introverted, when she heard we had to stay inside for six months, she jumped for joy. I asked her how she can be so forthcoming on TikTok when she feels so shy. She told me she feels more connected because she’s talking to a screen…like she’s talking to someone she’s known for years.
I asked Madison what lessons she would pass on to someone else experiencing the loss of a parent.
“You’re not crazy, you’re not going crazy…you’re totally normal. Grief is extremely confusing, and I still don’t understand it even though I’ve gone through it…Don’t talk badly about your friends during the anger stage…if you don’t know how to handle a specific stage of grief, talk to somebody about it, and don’t just internalize it. Don’t let people tell you you’re grieving wrong. There’s no way to grieve wrong, and there’s no expiration date on your grief. You’ll be grieving for the rest of your life, and don’t let anyone tell you differently.”
As a young person, she’s feeling in major despair over the state of the country. She wants to be a lobbyist and work for police reform. Her mom wrote this about her a few months ago:
“Last night Madison and I watched the debate together as we did with the first. I continue to be amazed by how much she is like her father in nearly every way. This is good for me because it’s a personality I fell in love with. Sitting with her through this debate having intellectual conversation and hearing her perspective, it was like she was channeling her father. She has inherited his very liberal views, his drive for equality and social justice, and his thirst for political knowledge. She is more educated on politics and the candidates running than most adults I know. My heart was so full and I knew how proud her dad would be.”
I recommended the TV show “Never Have I Ever,” also about a teenager whose father has died, and Madison shared a recommendation for the movie “Onward,” which hit a soft place in her heart.
I asked Madison about a time recently when she felt great joy, and she said finding out that she got accepted into the National Honor Society. Her mom wrote this about her:
“A leader is someone who takes the shit sandwich that life has handed them and finds a way to persevere. They show others what is possible by the way they live their life. This girl has demonstrated leadership skills in her signature quiet gentle way but has had a bold impact. From sharing her grief journey on multiple podcasts to tonight‘s induction into the National Honor Society, she shows her unending courage and how to live a life aligned with values. Continue to lead by example my sweet Mad Pie. The world needs more of you. Her dad would be so proud!”
As her mom mentioned “her signature quiet gentle way,” Madison wants people to know she is constantly changing…she is not the same person as she was yesterday, a week ago, or a year ago. She doesn’t like it when people treat her like that person. She considers every day as a fresh start.
When I asked Madison whose grief and resilience story inspires her, she immediately said her dad.
“My dad didn’t go to college. He wanted to be an IT guy, so he studied day and night, and he became an IT guy for the IRS. He had a really good head on his shoulders, and he was the nicest person. He inspired me to be a better person.”
Next I interview Court Wakefield (they/them), a digital marketing leader in the healthcare industry and host of the For Folx Sake: Cultivating Inclusive Communities podcast. After growing up and surviving life as a queer in the Bible belt, they and their wife underwent three rounds of IVF followed by 97 days in the NICU. Their wife was hospitalized for 25 days at the same time, and Court nearly lost them both.
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