Wednesdays With Whitney: Vanessa McNeal

“What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have. And I’m especially proud, and inspired by all the women who have felt strong enough and empowered enough to speak up and share their personal stories.” - Oprah Winfrey at the Golden Globes

Over the past year, I have become increasingly aware of the power of my voice, of the resonance of my honesty and my ability to be a champion for others. Wednesdays with Whitney has morphed into this amazingly powerful platform for sharing, and I couldn't be more honored to see all the participation and engagement this segment receives. I love hearing the reactions from my Facebook friends who tune in every week to see what's next.  Together, we've helped share and promote so many people's stories and dreams, trials and triumphs.

Today we dove deep into a tough topic. I think my audience was ready and I know I'm ready to start making a bigger impact.

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Vanessa McNeal is a powerhouse. At the age of 24, she is already a national speaker, film producer, and business owner. Her critical acclaims range from "Best Director" to "Woman of Tomorrow." She has overcome adversity from a very young age and has turned that adversity into her passion. This woman is already making huge waves with her honesty and bravery and today she shared her story and mission yet again, in hopes of garnering support for her latest project Gridshock. 

A little bit about Vanessa: 

Vanessa is a survivor. Neglected and continually molested throughout childhood and then sexually assaulted at a college preparatory program at the age of 15, Vanessa was forced to overcame the many faces of rape culture. Despite of all this, Vanessa overcame the shaming and silence that usually surrounds sexual assault victims. She was the first in her family to graduate high school and went on to pursue her bachelor’s degree at Iowa State University. She received her Master’s degree in Social Work at the University of Northern Iowa. In 2017, Vanessa founded her production company McNeal Media with the goal of creating social change through the art of storytelling and has experienced much success in her business.

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Words from Vanessa:

I took a human sexuality class my Freshman year at ISU. My professor took the time to define sexual violence. She also defined molestation.  She followed these definitions by sharing her personal story of being a  survivor of sexual violence. This was the first time in my life I had a name for my experience. That moment gave me power. It totally changed my life. I had lived my life thinking I was the only one who had experienced these violent acts. My professor stood in front of our class with no shame and owned her experience. She wasn't a victim. She was a survivor and I wanted to be that too. She gave me the confidence to own my story and stand powerfully in my experience. That's when I started the work of healing. 

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I spent my college years healing and growing.  Then one night a friend asked me, "What do you want your legacy to be?" No one had asked me that question before. The seed was planted. I went home inspired. Already I knew my legacy would be driven by my desire to share my personal story with anyone and everyone I could.

I got into film senior year of college. Film is such a powerful form a storytelling. The realization that I could share I could share my story in documentary form took hold and I started reaching out to local filmmakers. With their help, I was able to share my story 6 months later in documentary form. I was overwhelmed by the support I received. It was in that moment I knew I wanted to create social change through film. I have produced a short film and a feature-length documentary about male survivors since then. I have been able to touch so many people with my story and the stories of others.  

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Vanessa's next documentary project is a feature length film bringing awareness to the underground sex trafficking industry in Iowa. Thats right folks. Our state is one of the most profitable places for the buying and selling of HUMANS for sex. The stories Vanessa has shared with me are shocking and horrifying. I want to close my ears and run away - but that is exactly the opposite of what I'm going to do. Instead, I'm asking for us to stand together, to demand something better and require consequences for these depraved and disgusting actions. I'm asking you to donate to the creation of Gridshock, a documentary that is sure to turn heads and bring the hammer down on all who participate in this terrible cycle. Thank you in advance for your action. Together, we are stronger. Together, we make change. 

Wednesdays With Whitney: Empowerment Session Winner

I was overwhelmed by the beautiful nominations received for the Empowerment Session Campaign. The idea, to give one deserving woman her day in the sun. Show one stunning woman how beautiful she is, inside and out. What started out as awarding a complimentary creative portrait session, quickly morphed into something bigger. More women wanted to contribute to the contest and give away their time and talents. 

The Empowerment Session team consists of Ivy Boyd, makeup artist extraordinaire; Sarah Noll Wilson, leadership coach powerhouse; and Christina Davis, personal stylist and Cabi consultant. The grand prize package: a complimentary two-hour clothing session with Christina, makeup application with Ivy prior to the photo shoot, and a 90 minute creative portrait session with me.

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The lucky winner, Mary Bacon, was nominated by her daughter Angela Ames. Mary is a fighter, survivor and the epitome of selfless. In her daughter's words:

"My mother is so beautiful...let's start by in 2005 she beat stage IV breast cancer. She is legally blind but spends endless days making blankets for those in need. She has a rare form of leukemia that fights against her healthy blood cells as well as her good, in addition to currently waiting her chance for a new kidney and finally beating colon cancer. To say my mother is strong would be an understatement. A woman that should be full of life resentment, she actually just wants to do what she can to get back home to keep working on blankets! This woman is incredible!!! She doesn't fuss over the little things, because to her "that's life" and "well that's the stuff that God gave her to deal with." She's so beautiful, her eyes are a stunning blue, and she could really use a day about her, to highlight how amazing she is."

"She is a true definition of humanitarian , a warrior, but above those an amazing mother. Because she never gives up. She sees ten paths to a way out of a dead end. Her girls mean everything to her, nothing, not even being told that she has a few short months to live would keep her from encouraging her girls to do what makes them truly happy."

"I recently moved to California, taking her beloved grandchildren (boys 8 & 7) 1600 miles away. My husband took a new job. My mom would never stand in the way of someone wanting to move closer to their dreams. Most grandmas would be devastated but not my mom. She put her own feelings aside! She misses my husband (who she loves very much, she misses her grandsons but she just says, 'I have to get better so I can come visit.' This woman is truly a blessing to anyone that has her in their lives!"

I drew additional names for extra prizes. Amanda is the winner of a Professional Portrait Session. She was nominated by her sister-in-law. A snippet from her nomination:

"I have known Amanda (my sister-in-law) since she was in high school. She nearly died when I was dating her brother (now my husband) due to long-qt syndrome, which is a heart issue. She had a pacemaker put in when she was 16. It completely changed her trajectory in life. She has always been an active, giving and outgoing individual but has had many obstacles put in her way. On her journey to realizing how strong she is, she built her life up around what she can and can not do (physically) given her heart condition. In the last year, she also has been diagnosed with alopecia. Amanda’s beauty comes from her love of others and her beautiful smile. When she smiles you can’t unsee how beautiful she is. It’s incredible contagious. As a case worker for Broadlawns, she brings her beauty and strength to the lives of those who are less fortunate. While this work is difficult and challenging, she manages to do it with extreme care and grace, that most can not. This is exactly what makes her beautiful and strong at the same time- her very giving heart."

Last but not least, Teresa Tomka is the winner of a $100 Cabi gift card. She was nominated by a friend. The three adjectives used to describe Teresa:

"1) Strong - so strong. She lost her husband in a sudden, tragic accident. She has five children. She owns a business. STRONG. 2) Giving. She gives back her resources, her time, her laughter. 3) And speaking of laughter, this lady is F-U-N! An evening with her is an evening laughing."

Thank you to everyone who took the time to nominate a woman. You are incredible for taking the time and recognizing the powerful women in your life. All participants, nominees and nominators, are receiving the opportunity to participate in a Championing Workshop. 

Words from Sarah Noll Wilson on the workshop: 

"Do you build up or break down? Learn how to powerfully acknowledge and build up those around you. 

Everyone is capable of greatness and everyone is capable of revealing greatness in others.  Think about this, in every moment you impact those around you, is it the impact you want? By being a powerful champion for others you help others see their most powerful self even when they can't see it themselves. Join us for this transformative workshop where you will learn and practice the skills to be a champion for others and yourself too!