In the Limelight with Clarissa Burt interviews Tess Cacciatore: Founder of Gwen Global
Clarissa: I’m thrilled to have here a really good friend, a woman’s advocate, which is why I love her. We all should love her three times as much because of all the work that she has and continues to do for women and girls all over the world. She’s a filmmaker and author with a phenomenal story, Tess Cacciatore. Welcome! I love saying Cacciatore, do you know what it means?
Tess Cacciatore: Yes, the Hunter. I went as Teresa Hunter long ago. I’m still registered with Screen Actors Guild as that name. When long Italian ethnic names weren’t popular. But thank you, I feel so welcome.
Clarissa: Let’s give a little back story on you. I do want you to talk about your book and give an idea as to what it means to go from being homeless to the White House. I love the book. I love the title, which is amazing. Tell me what’s behind here, the story?
Tess Cacciatore: This took about eight years to write. It’s not an overnight book certainly, it took a lifetime to live. The title morphed about three or four times through the process and the order of it was kind of ‘Where do I go?’ One day I just sat down then the download happened and it just went, ‘Oh, it needs to go this way.’ It starts in a very pinnacle time in my life. I had been asked by this man from Congo to do a documentary on his life to help him win the election of becoming President of Congo. And he said, “Be the head of my media, my campaign, and do a documentary so I can tell my story.” He told me a story which was quite gripping. I said, “This could be a feature film.” I got on a plane to Ghana and thought I was going to be gone for six days. I do a lot of work in Africa so I thought ‘I’m going back home to Ghana’. I love that. From six days to eight weeks later. I went through this journey while in Congo. So much happened but the first day I was there, I was really sick with some kind of international bug and I was laying out in the backseat of the car and I was filming when I could breathe enough to film all the shots I had and a guard came after our car with a rifle pointed right at my head. And I was like, “Oh my God, we’ve got to get out of here.” He was on foot and we did get out of there but that’s how the book opens; with me being faced at gunpoint in the Congo by myself.
Clarissa: But was there a point in your life that you were homeless?
Tess Cacciatore: Yes, that’s the cause of this. This man asked me to come on board. I drew up the contract, I had the price of what it was going to cost for each day of shooting, travel expenses and all that. Lessons learned. I always tell the girls I’m mentoring, “50% upfront, get the contract signed.” Everyone needs to have that business practice in place but I was so heart drawn because of the women and children of Congo. He dangled this carrot through Africa, through Belgium and he sent me home alone with 100 euro, which is about 60 USD after working with them for six months. I went back to L.A. with no way to pay my rent, my car payment, no way to do anything. It was a slippery slope so I surrendered. I gave away all my possessions threw my few precious ones into storage. I went on this ’17 month adventure’ I like to call it, where I was without a home. I was never on the streets. I got drawn into the homelessness issue. I feel very blessed that I did have a place to sleep. I watched people’s pets, I helped them organize, I became a family chef and did everything I could to help give back to my friends and friends of friends who were able to give me a place to live. It woke me up that I was homeless in that sense. This story is not unusual. I know so many gifted, beautiful, amazing, strong, intelligent women that are drifting out there in the world, having adventures but they have no home, which they used to own homes and have families. I feel if I can have the voice to tell my story and say there are so many other people out there on that level of homelessness. We need to be compassionate for one another. Also, it awakened me to see I was that close to being one of those people laying on the street in a sleeping bag.
Clarissa: Talk about a total life changer, a total game-changer for you and where you were going to be starting to move in your life. How did you go from being homeless, and I assume it took a huge hit to your self-esteem, to the White House? What happened once you got there?
Tess Cacciatore: While I was homeless, I was still passionate about eastern Congo. All of our cell phones, computers, and everything is run by coltan, a very precious mineral. A huge percentage of the world’s supply is in eastern Congo. It borders on Rwanda. There’s a big, huge conflict there. Instead of ‘Blood Diamond’ it’s ‘blood coltan’. Millions of women and children are being brutally raped and killed daily because of the conflict there. I got passionate about that. Jewish World Watch was going to D.C. to talk to California representatives whether they were in Congress or Senate and I went with them. I became the delicate voice to tell the story of me being in the Congo because everyone from the delegation, no one had been there. I told my story. I said, “I’m passionate about this. So much to the point where I lost everything, gave everything away and became homeless because I wanted to bring awareness. We should go after international laws and help mandate stricter laws in the mining and manufacturing of coltan because right now all the major countries and continents of the world are clamoring to get this precious mineral and they’re stepping on people along the way.”.
Clarissa: I’ve never heard of it. Our listeners also have probably never heard of coltan.
Tess Cacciatore: Think of our cell phones, how much we take advantage of that. If you think about the manufacturing and the children that are probably in warehouses around the world putting together little mechanical pieces of these computers and cell phones. It traces back to the Congo with this mineral that comes out of the earth that creates the conductivity to create the technology to work.
Clarissa: So you get to the White House because you wanted to advocate for change?
Tess Cacciatore: Change in international laws for the mining of coltan. And I have to say it’s not the White House, I actually went to Capitol Hill because that’s all the Congresspeople are. I talked to senators and congresspeople from California saying, ‘This is our story. This is my story. This is why I’m passionate about it. Please contact Nancy Shapiro, the chairman of the SEC at the time and make those laws stricter.” There was a lot of change after our visit there.
Yes, I went to Capitol Hill but “Homeless to Capitol Hill” didn’t have the same ring to it so I said, “I have to manifest the White House somehow.” The cover of the book is me in front of the White House. Jacob Foko, a dear friend of mine from Cameroon is a photojournalist who lives in D.C. who took this picture. On the back, you see me sitting on the back lawn of the White House. I was singing that day with a group of people during the National Day of Prayer a song called “We Are One” that was written and produced by David Longoria.
Clarissa: What year was that? I think I knew you then.
Tess Cacciatore: 2016, 2017.
Clarissa: Tell everyone where they can find the book.
Tess Cacciatore: On Amazon under “Homeless to the White House” by Tess Cacciatore. We have the Kindle version and by the fall we should have the audiobook out.
Clarissa: I love the advocacy for women and women’s issues. The idea of going to the White House and being able to speak your mind for the masses to people on Capitol Hill, I think must have been an extraordinary experience. I know it was for you and we certainly thank you. I want to know what’s happening now starting right here in Phoenix; the ‘phoenix’ of your new venture for women and girls happening in October.
Tess Cacciatore: I’m so happy that we’re doing this in Phoenix, the phoenix rising has always been a really big symbol for me. I have lovely friends like you in this area so out of all the places in the world, we decided to do our first summit here. It’s based on our social media hashtag #RevealtoHeal. The process of what our mission is transforming lives through the power of storytelling. Whether you write a book, a poem, a song, a journal that no one ever sees where the world gets to share the adventure, ‘revealing to heal’ I think is a good place for us to be right now and healing on the planet. We have the MeToo movement with the good, the bad, the ugly that came out of that. The Reveal to Heal to me is a way of being able to have a safe place to share our stories.
Clarissa: Dedicated and targeted toward women but for men as well. When and where is the event? How does it play out?
Tess Cacciatore: October 11th happens to be the U.N. International Day of the Girl so Friday night we’re going to come together at the Marriott, a great sponsor, and partner in this whole journey, and we’re doing it at the downtown Renaissance Hotel. We’re going to do a beautiful reception and a welcome party. The participants of the summit will already on a ZoomCall two times leading up to the summit. They’ll have familiarity and safety and be able to dive deep into what we’re going to do that weekend. On the International Day of the Girl, we’re going to honor some girls in the local arena of Phoenix. Saturday we’re going to hit the ground running and we’re going to go into smaller groups. I’m not going to have panels of talking heads. I want the work done. Everyone has a valuable story to share and as I said, whether it’s something that you journal and never show anybody or if you turn it into a book, whatever you want to do. You can be a part of our GWEN compilation books, be part of the music side, whatever it is.
Clarissa: This is why this is so cool because I speak to women who say, “I’ve always had and want to do but I don’t know how to. I don’t know when. I don’t have the time. Who would care about…” It’s funny how nobody goes, “People are going to absolutely love my story. I’m going to write my book.” People always dilly dally around that kind of thing. I think it’s more out of fear of possible rejection.
I think we forget a lot of times that life is just so darn short so a weekend like that is an accelerator. Aren’t you going to be doing this all over the country eventually you’re starting here, but your idea is to go itinerant with this event?
Tess Cacciatore: Yeah. This Saturday concludes with a big GWEN Luminary Awards gala dinner, which is gonna be on the rooftop surrounded by the downtown skyline of Phoenix, which is stunning. The next day we get up and we go to the homeless park and we give out solar panel lanterns, which we’ve already done GWEN Lights up Skid Row, GWEN Lights up New York. Now we’re doing Gwen lights up Phoenix.
That morning we have that community service give back and then Sunday we wrap it up. So Phoenix, if you bundle that three` day formula, we’re gonna be able to replicate that. October is really important because it’s Domestic Violence Awareness, Anti-Bullying and it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We have OctobHer which is the October version of celebrating the story. Then in March every year, we’re gonna do the second summit, which is International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, March 8. We’ll do March in Los Angeles, the following October in Miami then the following March in New York, because it’s always in tandem with the Commission on the Status of Women on the U.N. In two years well end in New York. That’s Phase 1. We’re going to be going to other cities around the country. We’re gonna do two times a year and then it’ll grow and grow. Phoenix is going to be our first one.
Clarissa: How do we get more information?
Tess Cacciatore: GWEN.global is our website then there’s going to be a ticket page. Global Women’s Empowerment Network is GWEN born in 2012 out of this whole movement of me going through this process. I serendipitously had a very defined meeting with a man who was doing this project to empower women and we joined forces and went on our way. Now GWEN’s shifted, morphed and grown and–
Clarissa: But initially it was the app.
Tess Cacciatore: Initially it was the foundation then the GWEN Alert came in 2012.
Clarissa: You guys were the first to come out with it. The app was an alert system that God forbid you should be in any kind of situation where you need help. It would immediately call the first five people that you told it to call for help. I don’t know if it had it had a G.P.S. on it yet.
Tess Cacciatore: It did have a G.P.S. and the reason why we took it down is we wanted technology to catch up to have video surveillance. We’re working on voice activation. GWEN Alert is free on your smartphones you load up your GWEN 5 as mentioned, from your contact list and you have a video surveillance button. If you’re feeling unsafe, walking to your car, walking across campus, traveling alone it videotapes and it goes to our cloud. It doesn’t stay on your phone. If your phone gets destroyed, it’s saved. A 911 button or non-emergency texts saying ‘I’m on a blind date.’ or ‘I’m traveling’ but the big green button, if you push it, turns red and an instant message goes out to your GWEN 5 and it sends a G.P.S. signal of where you are.
Clarissa: Everyone needs this on their phone! For whatever reason you need help, boom, there it is.
Tess Cacciatore: With all these horrible things that are happening in public with mass shootings, you’ll be able to let your family know ‘I’m right here’. If you get trapped in a building, through weather or other circumstance, your family will know my relative, my loved one, is there.
Clarissa: Everyone, get the GWEN Alert app, go to GWEN.global, get all social media handles there and don’t forget Homeless to the White House on Amazon. Thanks again for being with us. ✧