Medford Mermaids



“I met with the Medford Mermaids, who are a water aerobics group that meets three times weekly in Medford, NJ. They range in age from 63 to 89. They find strength in remaining active but they also gather it from other sources – one of those sources would be the connection that they have to one another. Joan said that she finds her fellow mermaids to be “inspirational” and Marnie calls her lady friends the “goddesses”. Several of the women I met expressed how they find strength through their faith and Lyla finds it through accepting changes and prioritizing, tackling challenges one at a time.

Dian said that her strength comes from a “continuum through generations towards empowerment”. She states that independent women taught her which gave her a foundation that helped her develop confidence and resiliency. Now retired, she continues to “encourage young women to take ownership of their rights and responsibilities”. She is involved with mentoring programs like Alice Paul and Running and Winning, which introduce girls to resources which instill confidence and promote leadership.”



I’ve always felt very strong being in opposition; my strength derived from fighting – for, or against. But strength in opposition requires linearity and measurement of progress; you have to know where the ground is, and if you’re gaining it or losing it. Both adulthood and the work I do (10 years of humanitarian aid, I’m an epidemiologist – I deal with the prevention and control of infectious diseases-  and work with Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres) have really been eroding any sense of clarity I used to have about winning or losing.

I’m not sure we can judge for ourselves what strength looks like. My friends and family see the work that I do as taking enormous strength. But mostly what has driven me to act has been emotional chaos – passion, anger, fear, ambition, righteous fury at injustice. I used to think these qualities were synonymous with strength, and that doing this work would give me more certainty about truths of life, and hence more strength. Instead, this work has evaporated much of my certainty. Yet somehow in that vacuum, strength has come to light. What does this mean? Is strength not certainty?

 Advanced meditation practitioners refer repeatedly to this experience that the ‘further’ you go in meditation practice, the more un-grounded the world seems. You lose all boundaries, the ground slips away, there are no clear parameters of Right and Wrong. It is a nightmare of dis-embodiment. Yet, lost in that miasma, one finds the body. Bizarrely, supported by nothing, it is still strong.

 I don’t yet know how to live fully in that kind of satisfied uncertainty. And I don’t know how to get to that place of strength because the route seems to be a map-less land. All that I find I have left to do is what I’ve done to get me here: to continue to show up – to play, to fight, to watch, to resist – whatever. To have faith that the answers are emerging. To not go away quite yet.” 



“My life was forever changed when my first child was born with a craniofacial difference. 

When Dan was born, it wasn’t evident to us that he had a facial difference, at about 4 weeks, we could see that one side of his head was not developing fully.  His eye was smaller, and his head looked as if it had a “dent in it”.  Our pediatrician at a major local hospital, told me I was a “neurotic Mother”…imagine being so worried about your child and the head of Pediatrics telling you that?  Fortunately, I did pursued other options and came to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where I met a Pediatrician that actually recognized what anomaly was present and set up appointments with the Plastic Surgeon and Neurosurgeon.  After these meetings, we were facing a craniofacial surgery on our 4 month old, which would mean opening his skull from ear to ear, correcting the misshapen bones, and making his face more symmetrical.  I asked if they had performed this procedure prior to this time, and the answer was “a few”.  This was 1975, and craniofacial surgery was still in its infancy.  The anxiety and fear was overwhelming.  I had to change my thinking to keep my husband from collapsing and myself, as well.  This was not about us, but about making a better life for our child.  We needed to do all that we could to give this child and his future a chance.  We went ahead with surgery and gratefully have a handsome, 43 year old man, a kind and gentle human being, a Dad, an accomplished businessman.

Our Plastic Surgeon, Dr. Linton Whitaker, asked me to speak with parents about our experience and support them through the process of diagnosis and surgery, with non-medical information.  I think if he had asked me to jump off the roof, I would have…this is the man that changed the future of my child in a positive way.  I volunteered at CHOP for 6 years, 2-3 days a week. Dr. Whitaker hired me, paying me through a grant.  23 years later, I am still here, and have been given great liberties and financial assistance from Dr. Whitaker to develop activities outside of the hospital for our patients; activities that build self-esteem and erase some of the feelings of isolation that our patients experience. 

These past experiences have shaped who I am today.  Out of something so negative and devastating, I have been able to build a life of giving back to others that are in the same situation where I once found myself.  It doesn’t matter that Dan’s surgery was 43 years ago, the feelings of handing over your baby to strangers for major surgery happens here daily.  I support our families at the appointment, at home, at surgery time, post-op, and 24/7 by cell phone.  It is my hope that my strength supports our parents, may of whom are facing multiple surgeries for many years, as their children have serious syndromes associated with facial difference.  They make me strong by the support I give them everyday.”



“I never felt ultimately strong I always felt that regardless of the trials one faces you just overcame. My parents are a great role model in that regard immigrating from Haiti and raising three children from a third world country becoming upper working middle class. I was strong because of them. 

I was strong through the diagnosis of my father’s cancer, I was strong after the murder of my older brother and I am still strong through my own bouts of depression. 

Today I strive to continue to show perseverance as I seek higher education hopefully one day obtaining my law degree, working now through the child welfare system and if all goes well run a successful production company highlighting the Black diaspora.”

Ashley C.


“The day I told my corporate job that I was starting my own business was a memorable day for me, where I felt strong and empowered. I did not want to sneak around, and I wasn’t in a position to leave in that moment. But, it was important to me that they knew I would be taking this on. I had learned a lot from that job, and enjoyed the people I worked with. It was just time for me to see my dreams become reality. It was time to stop taking on the extra projects in hopes of a promotion I didn’t really want, and to focus my extra energy on starting a business I’d been dreaming of for a long time.

I hadn’t planned on telling the company for some time, but that morning I had to go to my corporate office (normally I worked from home), and a feeling washed over me that I should just do it right now. I walked confidently into the HR office, asked the available HR personnel to speak privately, and I heard the words come out of my mouth: “I want you to know that I am starting my own business.” The conversation continued with the reasons I believed this would not interfere with my current position. I explained that I’d like to establish an open line of communication, so that as my business grew we could discuss the potential for more flexibility with my work responsibilities and that ultimately I may step down.  A year later I resigned from that position, and I felt supported in this decision. 

I left that meeting with my chin up and a natural high. A veil had been lifted. I wasn’t having to keep this new adventure I was about to embark upon a secret any longer. I felt a sense of control over my career that I had never felt before. Even when I shared with friends about this day, I had moments of shock that I’d really done it; that I had told the company where I worked full-time that I’d be pursuing my own business. In the past, I had been laid off multiple times due to budget cuts, both as a teacher and as a marketer. These negative experiences had left me exhausted, and this corporate job had offered me stability I’d not had in previous positions. To take my career into my own hands, and do something brave like pursue my wildest dreams when I had something safe, was and still is one of my proudest moments.”


Ashley is the owner of Crystal Palette Management, A Management Company for Emerging Artists.


“When I think about what makes me strong, it’s not what I am doing or have done. I owe my inner strength to my Mom. Not only my inner strength, but also my bravery, determination, and dedication to working hard and doing the best that I am able. I didn’t understand this growing up, but I totally get it now.

My Mom is German and was raised in a situation that most only have nightmares about. Through every hellish thing that she went through as a child (being raped, being sold to men, stealing food so that she and her sisters could eat), she remained a strong force. She is an absolute survivor of a most-tragic childhood. My childhood wasn’t the best (some call it unconventional), but one thing is for certain, my Mom always did the best that she knew how — she did better. As a single Mother of two hard-headed teenage girls, my Mom worked incredibly hard day-after-day and overcame many challenging obstacles. Growing up, I witnessed a lot, but most importantly, I observed a woman who gave all that she had for us children and embodied every aspect of the word “strong”. 

I am strong because I had a really strong role model. It’s a part of me because of her. Thanks Mom. I love you.”





“Once you accept the negatives in life you can then find the positives

All my life I have been extremely hard on myself and still am at times. I still remember shopping for prom dresses with my Mom and saying, “My hips are too big, my chest is too small.”  My mother and the ladies around would say I was crazy and I shut them out.

 When it came to emotions, I always put myself down and second guessed if I should be feeling that way.  Not to mention I would always wonder what people think of me and my emotions along with my anxiety issues. If you ask me why I am extremely sensitive, I say it is because I am the baby of my family but that is probably just an excuse.

 With my professional career, I am always striving to be more and grow. There have been times I did not get the job I wanted or the promotion I wanted. IT SUCKED!

 As for relationships, well, you might as well not even go there. Toxic, abusive, controlling, you name it and I’ve been through it.  Sometimes I still sit back and question what was going through my mind.  It has been so bad that one of my relationships I made a commitment to move in with him, but under his circumstances. This meant making an hour drive to and from work so he could walk, further from family and friends, and I was not allowed to cook because I couldn’t hold knives the way that he said I was supposed to.  Sorry I was not a chef! Stealing my car keys from me and my cell phone was also his favorite thing to do. Six months passed and during a Sunday morning jog I received a phone call from him threatening me. It was that specific Sunday that I had what I call one of my biggest epiphanies. Once returning home, I didn’t say a word just started to pack my bags. I even left brand new furniture behind for my own happiness and sanity.  After a few short hours, I was then living in a hotel until I found the right place for me to start again.                                                     

 But once I accepted all these negatives in my life it was then I found the positives. Yes I have big hips for a tiny girl and now I have learned to love them and embrace them!  Yes, I am emotional, extremely caring, and passionate person but if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be who I am.  I have failed at getting some jobs and promotions but life goes on and there is something better out there for me. As far as relationships go, the same rule can apply. This journey has brought me to love East Passyunk Ave where I started a new life in Philadelphia. Most importantly, I wouldn’t be the strong, wise, independent, resilient woman I am today. I now know my worth and what I deserve! I will continue to accept my negatives whether it be an experience or a characteristic and turn them into positives.”



I’ve been through a lot of adversity from childhood until now. I’ve gain resilience, wisdom and purpose from all the pain, hurt, and shame from my past. Certain things in life can shape you or break you. Adversity as bent me, twisted me but not crushed me. You must be double jointed to run this race called life. Life will stretch and put you in uncomfortable places making you feel alone and with questions of WHY ME?  Why did I have to go through child abuse and having a child by my dad? Why did I have to go through losing a child due to being stabbed? Why did I have to witness one of my seven children doing time in prison? Why was I ganged raped while pregnant with my third son while homeless?  Why, Why, Why. I now realize these adversities have shaped me into the woman I am today. Now I say WHY NOT ME?

I’m strong because my faith has gotten me through the minor and major things in life. Like my grandmother use to say,” Life will learn you and you will learn it.’ No one asks to come here. No one asks for pain, struggles, hurt, shame, guilt, and depression. So now I’m here on Earth. We’re here. So now what?  Take your pain and turn it into purpose. Heal by sharing your truth (your story). Heal by renewing your mind daily. Deliver your message to others so you will be delivered. I’m strong because my faith in God has allow me to withstand the pressures of life. I saturate my mind with positive affirmations and stay vertical with the God of my understanding He is my strength. I’m here for it all.

Despite everything that has happened to me, I am in a strong place now. I’m married to my loving husband, Divine Warren, and we have a radio show called “Divine and Ira Warren As One”. We discuss diverse topics on relationships, abuse, etc. I have ten children, three by marriage. My first children’s book will be published in June. I’m also an actress, singer, poet, massage therapist, and author. I have a BA in Religious Studies and I’m a certified spiritual counselor. I give back by being an advocate in the Philadelphia community by teaching children how to protect themselves against pedophiles and educating parents on signs of abuse to look for in their children. I’ve done several documentaries on domestic violence and child abuse – one of which will be out this month called “SHE RISE” produced by Melissa Grant. I’m an ambassador and motivational speaker for Self-Discovery Pain, Positioning and Purpose and I have a page on Facebook called “M.E Molestation Epidemic”.




“The past few years I have been building my business, Pop Up Polaroid, a polaroid photo booth, here in Philly. Since I first started setting up on the corner of Frankford and Girard with a handmade backdrop stand and one camera trying to convince passers by to let me take their photo, Pop Up Polaroid has grown up quite a bit. I am now working with amazing clients and collaborators and in places I never dreamed I could. Most recently I moved Pop Up out of my house and into a studio, a goal of mine since I can remember. I am now able to make 8×10 Polaroid portraits, something that felt like a pipe dream just a year ago.  

So whenever I‘m feeling defeated or overwhelmed or let imposter syndrome creep in, I step inside this space and remember that I made it here. I remember how many times I didn‘t think I could make it happen but kept at it anyway. I remember every time I questioned if I was crazy for running from my day job to a night gig to my day job to my computer to answer emails and try to build a website that made me look like I had any idea of what I was doing. I remember every time I was scraping by to pay the bills and still buying just enough film to keep going. I come in here and am reminded that it was all worth it and it still is. It shuts down the self doubt – at least for the moment- and gives me the space and the motivation to go for the next big thing.”



“I’m Marjory and I am 89 years old. I enjoy life very much and I think it is all because I have a positive attitude. I get great pleasure out of just about everything. It is important to keep active and to continue with exercise of all different types. I do swim aerobics which is great – and my doctor and my chiropractor tell me that swim aerobics is good for me. Life is good!”

* I want to mention that in addition to swim aerobics, Marjory rides her bike to and from the gym where she works out. She also told me that she plays tennis, but has eased up on it lately.  Marjory told me that she sees no reason why she should stop doing all of the things that she’s always done. She said being 89 does not change anything – so she keeps on moving, happily.