MAKERS@Home with Carmen Perez-Jordan

A Renaissance woman in modern-day activism, Carmen Perez-Jordan has dedicated her life to issues of civil rights, gender equity, violence prevention, racial healing and community policing. The President and CEO of The Gathering For Justice, Perez-Jordan got to talking with Dyllan McGee about the constant desire to give back and support your community. And, of course, we also had to cover the joys of motherhood, baking, and the importance of showing up for one another.

Video Transcript

DYLLAN MCGEE: Hi, everyone. I am Dyllan McGee, Founder and Executive Producer of MAKERS. Welcome to MAKERS at Home live. And today, as always, we have a really special treat that you all are going to love, Carmen Perez!

Some of you may know her as the Co-chair of the Women's March. She is the CEO and President of the Gathering for Justice. She is a lifelong activist, daughter, and granddaughter of farmworkers. She is a mom of two little boys. She is a wife. And Carmen, I think you might be a baker. And we're going to find out about that.

Anyway, welcome. And let's bring Carmen on.


DYLLAN MCGEE: Hi, there.


DYLLAN MCGEE: I don't know if you got to hear my intro, but I do want to start out with-- I did a little bit of an Instagram deep dive on you. And I'm not going to-- I will say, I fell in love with your voice. And I also watched the entire holiday video that you did. That was so cute. And you had a huge spread.

I bet you didn't think we were going to be talking about cookies, by the way. But it was-- it was so sweet. And so I want to know, do you have a sweet tooth? Are you a baker at heart?

CARMEN JORDAN-PEREZ: So I grew up baking for the church when I was little. My mom used to take us to church. And on the weekends, we used to bake.

And I didn't have that gift for a long time until I had my own children. And so my son-- in order for me to entertain him during COVID, I have him helping me out in the kitchen. And so he will bake with me.

He'll get his little chair. He'll stand up on the side where there's nothing hot. He understands that the oven is hot. He puts on his little mitten.

And you know, I'll give him, like, dough to play with because he wants to put his hands in the dough that I'm making. So we have to cut some for him so that we won't have messy hands in our stuff, but. I love--

DYLLAN MCGEE: It only goes so far. He gets involved, but in his own bowl.

CARMEN JORDAN-PEREZ: I have to say, I really love cooking. I love-- you know, I was sharing this with a young person yesterday. I was saying, you know, my mom, when I was little, used to be like, you know, ask God for, you know, the gift of service.

And you know, I've done, you know, the Women's March. I've organized to stop police brutality. But I didn't understand that. I was like, OK, I have the gift of service. But she really meant, like, the service to myself and the service to my children and the service to my family.

And so it's been-- I think a lot of us could relate under COVID. Some of us have taken up cooking more and baking. And that's just something that I really enjoy with my baby.

He does such a great job. He's 2 and 1/2-- about to be 2 and 1/2. So he's been in the kitchen with me since, you know, I could carry him on one shoulder. And so he really enjoys it.

DYLLAN MCGEE: Well, and I want to hear about-- you are the gift of giving. I mean, Carmen Perez-- you are just-- I mean, you have a bleeding heart. And I'm so inspired by everything you've done for decades and decades. But I just want to first check in.

So you talk about COVID. And you do-- you have this big job. You're changing the world for all of us. You're married to what looks like just a wonderful man. And I'm wondering, you know, how are you doing in all this COVID? Like, how are you surviving?

CARMEN JORDAN-PEREZ: You know, I think Mr. Belafonte, who's my mentor-- Harry Belafonte-- he talks a lot about, like, I'm doing better than I deserve. And I feel that's the same way. I've had a lot of loss during this time. And I think it's very unnatural to lose people.

But it also reminds me of just the mission and the purpose that I had to be in the world and not really be near my family. I moved away when I was 17 after I lost a sister who was buried on my birthday. And I never imagined coming back.

And what really brought me back to California back home was the fact that I had my own baby. I got married, you know. I don't know. I guess by the time you're my age, things are a lot more clear because I was like, oh my God. You know, I'm engaged. I'm getting married. I'm pregnant. Like, I'm about to move across country.

And so that really brought me home. And I think I couldn't have-- this couldn't have happened, you know-- it kind of was like, for me, the time being home was easier to digest. I had my mom living with me because my niece-- she's an essential worker. She's a nurse. And so my mom is older. So I got to spend time with my mom, got to bond with her.

And again, like, my-- my life has really been about the world. It's been about going out--


CARMEN JORDAN-PEREZ: --and being in community with the most impacted people that are facing either incarceration, violence, things like that. And so this really brought me home. Having my own child brought me home. And then COVID kept me home.

But it's also really hard. You know, I see somebody here-- Lucy [INAUDIBLE] says, don't ever lose-- we don't ever lose anybody. We only gain angels. And that is so true. I've gained so many-- I've gained about seven angels. I think the loss for me is not being able to say goodbye. It was just so sudden.

But you know, I'm doing as-- you know, I feel really blessed to have the life that I have, to be-- to be of service and to live in my purpose. I get to do that every day I wake up, being the CEO and President of the Gathering for Justice, being one of the co-founders of She Se Puede, also being a National Co-chair of the Women's March on Washington. I get to meet so many people, you know, like the people that are watching here who are just making things happen, little miracles here and there, that don't really realize that they're doing that, so.

DYLLAN MCGEE: Well, let's get into that. I really-- Carmen, I want to focus on your work because it's extraordinary what you've done. And again, I feel a little angel theme happening here. You are an angel who blesses all of us with your generosity. And-- and I'm, you know-- when you find a purpose and you're following that purpose, it's-- it's amazing what can happen. And you are proof of that.

And so I wonder-- you know, right now, obviously, the Gathering for Justice-- you're doing so much important racial justice work, you know-- you know, youth and incarceration. And so I'm wondering-- I want to bring a little bright light to our audience and know, what is it that you feel proud of and excited about right now in your work?

CARMEN JORDAN-PEREZ: I am really proud of the legacy that I'm able to continue through the work of the Gathering legacy that started a long time, way before me with Mr. Belafonte, who is now 94 years old who was connected to the civil rights movement and Dr. King. I'm really proud of being intentional of building the beloved community, grounded in the ideology of Dr. King, which is Kingian nonviolence.

And-- and I-- and I say that light heartedly, right, because building the beloved community is no easy task. And also, being committed to nonviolence is not the absence of violence, but it's really the presence of love and justice. And so for me, it's understanding that this is bigger than myself. This is not about Carmen Perez and making a name for myself. But it's also bringing others along.

And so something else that I'm really proud of is that the legacy doesn't end with me. It actually continues with the young people. And so as I prepare for whatever journey I'm to take on, whether it's motherhood, or whether it's, you know, taking a step back and just taking time for myself-- I have 25 years in this field.


CARMEN JORDAN-PEREZ: I think that it's important that I cultivate the leadership of other individuals. You know, some people that are directly impacted, right, people that are facing incarceration themselves-- I don't have to speak for them. They-- what I do feel a responsibility to is to cultivate their leadership to-- for them to speak for themselves, to feel as though that they are part of the solution because we know that those that are most harmed are least helped.


CARMEN JORDAN-PEREZ: But there's so many things that I'm proud of, right, so many things that I just feel excited about in this moment. I feel the fact that, seven years ago, when we were talking about stopping police brutality and we were kind of being told to go away because no one thought that that was something to discuss especially, it was a little risky. You know, the fact that now, so many people are paying attention and there are so many people that are being activated to fight and be a part of the racial justice movement.

But I'm also part of what we accomplished with the Women's March. I'm going to share a little story with you. And I'm not sure if my-- my femtor is watching, but I went to UC Santa Cruz. I am a banana slug. And I have--

DYLLAN MCGEE: Wow, a proud one. I can tell.

CARMEN JORDAN-PEREZ: And my professor, Aida Hurtado, was teaching a psychology course. I was studying psychology. And she was a Chicana feminist. And so she introduced me to Chicana feminism, which was really grounded in intersectional feminism.

And-- and so there were a lot of times-- because she was Mexican-American herself-- I'm Chicana as well. I'm Mexican-American-- she was really hard on me. And so she thought I wouldn't pay attention. But it was because I was working three jobs to put myself through college that it was really hard to stay awake. But I listened. Although I would close my eyes, I would listen.

And so really, the Women's March, for me, being able to be one of the co-chairs and grounding it in intersectional feminism was a gift back to her, to let her know that I did pay attention, that I really valued her as somebody who-- who, you know, was representing me in the classroom and who created that entry point for me to really find my identity.

And so a lot of people don't know that. People are like, oh, all the wonderful work that you've done. It was really kind of, like, you know-- and I brought her to the Women's March--

DYLLAN MCGEE: Oh, you did?


DYLLAN MCGEE: Oh, my gosh!

CARMEN JORDAN-PEREZ: And to this day I speak in her classrooms. And she's just phenomenal woman. And like, I think what people don't realize is the fact that there's so many-- there's little things that-- there's little seeds that you plant in people's minds and head. And you never know if you make a difference. And there's times when you never see that person ever again. But for me, it was important to show her that I really valued her and I really saw her and that I was inspired by her to be the best person that I could be. And so yeah.

DYLLAN MCGEE: Oh, I love a story like that. And it's-- the gift she gave you you gave back.

CARMEN JORDAN-PEREZ: Yeah. It's always about giving back, right? It's-- it's not about holding the gifts for ourselves, but it's also making sure that, as we receive gifts from others, it's our responsibility to share them with the world. And that's really what my elders have taught me.

DYLLAN MCGEE: Well, I-- God, Carmen. I have so many questions. And I hate-- 20 minutes is never enough.

CARMEN JORDAN-PEREZ: [INAUDIBLE] college baller. Yes, I played basketball at Oxnard College. It's so cool for somebody to bring it up. I did. I played ball for 16 years. Have always lived in an environment of-- of a team and teamwork. And so I love the fact that they're-- they're bringing it up.

DYLLAN MCGEE: Well, and, you know-- you are-- our MAKERS audience is filled with strong women and female and male activists ready to, you know-- ready to do what you tell us. And so I wonder-- you know, I'm-- I'm so fascinated to learn, actually, about activism in your 25 years of-- and how you've seen it evolve. And I guess my question is, when we look at the horrific crime that just took place in Atlanta and we look at the rise of, you know, violence and racism against Asian-Americans, you know, what, as a lifelong activist, do you-- what's your first response to do?

CARMEN JORDAN-PEREZ: For me, it's-- I immediately reached out to my friends that were Asian-American and asked them, how could I show up, and how could I support them? I always feel a responsibility to stand in solidarity, and not just in a way that is a passive solidarity, but. Even when things like this happen, I tend to want to show up prior, you know.

And so I text some of my friends. I actually felt that it meant more for me to call them. I was in the middle of traveling because I'm moving from California, stopped in Oklahoma, and moving to New York right now. So I did have-- you know, I had called people because I thought it was important for me to check in on folks. That's the first thing that you could do.


CARMEN JORDAN-PEREZ: Really, we think that we have-- I will share with all of you. I've not always been this woke activist. I've had the privilege of being at the feet of some amazing leaders. But I've also had people meet me where I was at and champion me to their cause. And so it means the fact that I didn't have to learn all the language, I didn't have to know everything.

What I did do was I listened. And I asked people, you know, how do you say this, or what does this mean? How can I show up for you? How can I support you?

And I did. I called some of my friends. Greg Cendanda-- he's part of the People's Collective. They have forums on anti-Asian racism, him and [INAUDIBLE]. And so they're on Instagram, as well as the People's Collective. And so they do phenomenal work.

And I just, you know, called. And I asked, how can I show up? How can I be there? He directed me to some organizers that were in Atlanta that were doing the work. But it's not just about when something happens. It's also about, how do we change hearts and minds, right?

When something happens in our home or somebody says something that's not appropriate, how do we actually invite them into a conversation and have a courageous conversation? The-- the smallest act of kindness actually go a long way because people don't often know what to do. But you can make a phone call to somebody who you may know who is part of that community.

DYLLAN MCGEE: And I just want to dig a little deeper because it warms my heart that-- you know, I think some people think-- and all these things are not wrong. There's no right or wrong, obviously. But I think there's immediate action. Where can I give money? Where can I get to my Congress-- local congressperson? And-- and there is that-- you forget that first step of just reaching out to the people in your world.

And I think a lot of people are scared to do that because they don't know what to say.

CARMEN JORDAN-PEREZ: Yeah. Well, the-- I think, for me, the easiest thing is to say, you know, I'm thinking about you. I know that there were some acts of violence against your community. How can I support you? I'm here if you want to talk, right? Or if you just want me to listen.

It doesn't mean that I have to know everything about the API community. But if I'm opening to learning and listening, then I think that goes a long way. And, you know, I see, you know, Sid on here. She's from the API community as well. And so big shout out to her.

But, you know, again, it's showing up for one another. It's not making-- you know, when I share with people, people will see me as the National Co-chair of the Women's March on Washington. That took 20 years for me to get there. I sat-- I sat-- I slept on benches. I, you know, stayed in community with people. I made a lot of mistakes. I was corrected many times.

Well, if you lean into those mistakes and you're willing to learn and you're willing to do something that is not about you, then, you know, things-- things just happen naturally. And you gain so much more relationships and friendships. And not just life long-- or not just like transactional relationships, but transformative relationships, where they become lifelong--

You know, I have childhood friends from-- one of my friends, Vanessa-- her and I were babysat together. We-- Out of the crib. And then my friend Trish-- her and I have been friends since the fifth grade. And so again, it's important to just do what feels good in your heart.

And if you fear, you know, not having the answers, that's OK. None of us have all the answers. And that's the beautiful thing about, you know, progress is the fact that we invite the ability to learn.

DYLLAN MCGEE: Carmen, you've warmed my heart and given us such a gift today. And if you can believe it, the time flies by so fast. I mean, I want to celebrate you and all you've done. And you're right. It's so much about the years that you've put in and the love that you've given.

And so I just-- from-- on behalf of MAKERS, let me just first say thank you for all the gifts that you give and that, you know, just even that little, immediate advice of just reaching out to your friends.


DYLLAN MCGEE: I do want to end with something a little fun, if you're up for it.

CARMEN JORDAN-PEREZ: OK. Of course. I'm always up for some fun, you know?

DYLLAN MCGEE: I can tell

CARMEN JORDAN-PEREZ: I need a little bit of joy in my life.

DYLLAN MCGEE: OK. Let's have a little Friday fun, which is-- we play this thing called the MAKERS minute. And I will-- full disclosure, the-- Gloria Steinem holds the record. So if you win, you have to break Gloria Steinem's record. So that's your choice.


DYLLAN MCGEE: OK. And it's how many-- we have-- we have 17 questions. We've never gotten to 17. And they're rapid fire. And Gloria got to 16. So it's how many can we get to in a minute?



CARMEN JORDAN-PEREZ: I didn't know I was going to have a quiz. All y'all--

DYLLAN MCGEE: Well, you know, it's-- it's all things about you. It's not a quiz.

CARMEN JORDAN-PEREZ: Every-- every person on here needs to help me, so.

DYLLAN MCGEE: OK. Everyone guess. OK. In the chat, everybody-- you're totally allowed to help her with the answers. But this is not a quiz. There's no-- we're not talking about history or anything.


DYLLAN MCGEE: These are, like, about you. It's all about you.


DYLLAN MCGEE: So you're the best expert in you.


DYLLAN MCGEE: All right. So-- and Kelly Matousek, our producer, I'm going to have you tell us when a minute is up. I'll just put her on the spot. So Kelly, text me when a minute is up. Are you ready, Carmen Perez?



CARMEN JORDAN-PEREZ: We're all ready.

DYLLAN MCGEE: Number one, best word to describe you.


DYLLAN MCGEE: A female who inspires you right now.


DYLLAN MCGEE: Something that makes you hopeful.


DYLLAN MCGEE: Something that makes-- something that pisses you off.

CARMEN JORDAN-PEREZ: When people hurt each other. Call out culture.

DYLLAN MCGEE: Call out culture, yes. Ugh, I want to talk about that. OK, but I don't want to eat up your time. Something you're afraid of.


DYLLAN MCGEE: If you could be any other woman on Earth, alive or dead, for one day who would it be?


DYLLAN MCGEE: Something you wish you did more often.


DYLLAN MCGEE: Something you wish you did less often.


DYLLAN MCGEE: Something you've never tried but would like to.

CARMEN JORDAN-PEREZ: Dance with both my children.


DYLLAN MCGEE: If you could change one thing for the next generation of women, what would it be?

CARMEN JORDAN-PEREZ: I would change patriarchy. Stop it. Eliminate it.

DYLLAN MCGEE: And on that note, eliminate patriarchy. Carmen Perez, you get to keep Gloria Steinem-- and I know you did it on purpose-- as the record. But boy, are you close.


DYLLAN MCGEE: Everyone's a winner in MAKERS' minute.

CARMEN JORDAN-PEREZ: Everyone, I'm so happy! And it's so good to see so many of my friends on here supporting me. I really appreciate all of you showing up. And I really love and thank you all. And thank you so much, Dyllan, for having me on. And MAKERS Women-- this has been such a joy for my Friday evening.

DYLLAN MCGEE: Likewise. I'm sending you a big virtual hug. And you know that MAKERS is always here supporting you in everything you do.

CARMEN JORDAN-PEREZ: Thank you so much. Thank you, everyone.

DYLLAN MCGEE: Bye, everyone. Thank you.