Let’s Celebrate Earth Day’s 50th anniversary making Time to be Kind for this fun interview! You’ll be inspired & learn a few practical ways we can all be kinder to this one planet we share.
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Hi, I’m Marly Q. and welcome to Episode #2 with Michelle Swaby-Smith As PARKers (people who Perform Acts of Random Kindness) we believe …
It’s Earth Day, Every Day! Our guest today is incredibly passionate about our planet and empowering young people to make a positive difference in the world. As the Co-Founder of The Big Blue & You, together with her daughter Danni Washington, and their mighty team of volunteers work passionately year round to educate & influence our youth about ocean conservation through Art and Media. The Big Blue & You is a non profit dedicated to providing a GLOBAL PLATFORM for our young generation to CREATIVELY EXPRESS their passion for the ocean and empower them to take ACTION to protect our blue planet.
What would you do for the big blue?
This interview will inspire and teach you a few practical ways we can all be kinder to this one planet we all share because the time is now!
“May I have five minutes of your time?” this was the question that sparked a beautiful relationship with my guest here with us today. Michelle Swaby-Smith, thank you so much for making the time to be kind.
Michelle: Thank you. Thanks for the invite.
Marly Q: I will tell you today we’ll take a little more than five minutes. I’ll be honest, this time.
Michelle: Always does Marly, it always does.
Marly Q: So let’s backtrack. Really what sparked our meeting and our relationship. Couple of years ago, I think it was 2015, I was planning our second annual 5k PARK Fest for park project and we were looking for a new venue. A new place to host our event. And it was suggested to me that I should reach out to miss Michelle Swaby-Smith over at historic Virginia Key Beach Park in Miami, Florida. And I’m like, “oh, okay. I don’t know this person.” I didn’t google you. I just reached out right away. I think I called, and I left the voicemail.
But I checked the address. I was like, “I’m not that far away. I’m just going to show up.” I’m going to show up here unannounced without an appointment. This woman doesn’t know me, but I’m going to just show up there in all my positivity. And I’m going to get to meet her and talk to her about my event.
And so I went, and I showed up at your office and the receptionist was so kind. She said, “do you have a meeting?” I was like, “no, but I just need five minutes of her time.” she was like, okay. And you were so kind to stop what you were doing. You were on the phone, you were busy, you were planning. I mean, you’re an event producer, like I am, and you’ve got a lot of events going on and this was like the beginning of the year, so I know it was eventful and you stop what you’re doing. You’re like, “hi, come on in.” and we sat down and I went like million miles an hour talking to you. Do you remember that?
Michelle: I remember, I remember. It was great. It was like a burst of joy came into my office. It was great.
Marly Q: Thank you for saying that. Not an overwhelming tornado, but joy. Thank you. Then when I was talking about this event and I just felt your energy was so… You were actually sitting there genuinely listening. And I just really always remember and I’m grateful for you genuinely opening your office and making the time to be kind and listen to someone like off the street literally, that you’ve never met before, that just had something exciting that she wanted to share with you. And you gave me way more than five minutes if I remember. And that sparked a beautiful relationship.
Not only did you help us host our 5k PARK Fest at historic Virginia Key Beach Park two years in a row, you were an integral part of our team. You helped us market the event. It just would not have; we are both event producers and events don’t happen without people. And without a strong team. And you were just such an important part of our team. And I’m so grateful for those five minutes and all the minutes after that.
Michelle: Me too. It’s wonderful that when you can experience things like that where someone comes in for business and then they end up being one of your dearest friend. You just have a beautiful, I knew from the moment you came in with your five fingers up, five minutes of your time please. And I’m like, “okay, this is going to be real fun right here.” and Marly, you are just amazing. And park fest that happened was just an amazing event. The concept of it, the energy of it. If people could just fold into that initiative, it would be amazing.
Marly Q: Awesome. Thank you. I feel like our podcast that we’ve started now is really an extension of that effort. As an event producer that’s my art. That’s my self-expression. I was to create an event to try and inspire people to park and bring them together in real life and experience kindness with strangers and friends and family alike. And I feel that this podcast again is an extension of that in some kind of virtual way. So thank you for being a part of it. And one of my very first guests.
Michelle: Thank you. Thank you for inviting me. Marly knows that I don’t do a lot of these. I like to be behind the camera, behind the scenes, behind the planning. And when she asked me, I had no hesitation where more times than not I would say “no, I’ll send somebody else,” who’s going to do this. But I’m here because I know that it’s going to be fun and we’ve already had like a lot of fun.
Marly Q: Oodles of fun before we hit record.
Michelle: So it’s always great. So I’m very happy to be here. Thank you so much.
Marly Q: Thank you. And you were so generous and really just being completely focused on me and my mission and my cause and wanting to support. And it wasn’t only until maybe a few months into us knowing each other that you really started telling me. I think during our first meeting you mentioned to me that you had a nonprofit with your daughter. And I think saw in me like a little spark of you. You relate it to me, not just as an event producer, but also, I think that you saw a little bit of your own cause and your own passion for what you do with your nonprofit and how I was sharing it. So would you mind please sharing with our listeners about your nonprofit?
06:16 Michelle: So the nonprofit is called the Big Blue and You. My daughter and I started it in 2008 and actually made it a nonprofit in 2009. And she graduated from university of Miami with her marine biology degree and did not want to work in the labs. She said she had a bigger mission in life, and we realize it now. Fast forward all these years. How many years is that? I don’t even know. So the mission of Big Blue and You is really to inspire and educate the youth and do it through art and science. And a lot of organizations go out there and they want to change the world, which is a great initiative. But we don’t want to change the world. We just want to educate the youth to help the world to be a better place.
Marly Q: Which does change the world.
Michelle: Eventually. But it’s such a daunting task to say we’re going to change the world. Cause a lot of times the world is not ready to be changed and a lot of people don’t think that the world needs to change. They’re happy with it as it is. We only have one planet. So we have to educate and inspire the youth right now. And even some older people that are open to it. To make choices, make better choices, do better things in life. Just using less invasive things for the planet. We can start with straws, as simple as this plastic straw that we can stop using. We can go to a restaurants and really ask and be mindful to say, “we don’t want a plastic straw.” thousands, millions, millions and millions of plastic straws end up in our ocean, which is over 50% of our oxygen comes from the ocean.
So the biggest message I think we want to give people is that 50% of your oxygen, the air you breathe every day comes from the ocean.
Marly Q: So we should be expressing some love and gratitude and kindness towards our ocean and what a simple way. One of the things that I love about the Big Blue and You and the way that you educate and inspire our youth and young at heart alike, is really by giving people kind of practical, simple ways that in your everyday life you can be better about or my mindful about protecting our planet that we all share. Protecting the world that we all share. And what you just mentioned right now about just not using plastic straws or where you go to the restaurant, just saying “don’t bring me a plastic straw.” sometimes they just bring it to you automatically.
Michelle: They do. They do. So I’m glad you brought that up. Because that’s one of the things that we kind of spiraled. We would go to restaurants; we would see all the single use plastic utensils they were using. They would bring a straw in your drink. You didn’t even ask for it. And so we would get a little angry, my daughter and I, and go about its kind of the wrong way. And so we finally realized that it’s very simple. We go and we say, “can we see the manager?” we say to the manager, it’s a very simple fix. Not saying that you should throw away all your plastic straws. We’d prefer that you have paper straws, but could you just ask the surface not to bring a straw and wait till the person asks for a straw and you’ll see the difference.
You’ll see that a lot more people are more aware of the fact that they shouldn’t be using plastic straws.
Marly Q: Instead of just assuming that we should bring one out. Just waiting to be asked if the customer would like that. That’s such an easy way to make a difference.
Michelle: And the hardest thing is when they actually bring the straw to us. What do you do now? Do we use it? Our conflict is, do we use it? Cause it’s already there. It’s already in the drink. We could take it out and put it to the side. That was a fight, but now we take it out. Because we really don’t want to be seen using a plastic straw.
10:09 Marly Q: It seems like such a small thing, but when you add up all the straws and all the people making the choices to use them, they make up a large portion of all the plastics in our ocean. So I just love that. I think it’s important. I think that’s something that’s a tip. It’s a practical way that we can all help our planet, help our world, our environment, save the oceans. And it’s something that a child can very easily understand and embrace, which to me is really important because when I found out that kindness was my super power, I was 10 years old and I had someone make me believe or make me feel that I could in my own little ten-year-old self without any money, without any power, influence, a car. I mean, nothing I can make a difference. With these small acts of kindness every day.
You can make a difference by picking up paper and recycling it by recycling plastic bags. Not using plastic bags when you go to the grocery store.
Michelle: Zero plastic bags. We’re in 2020 now and I think as a whole, the united states is starting to realize that they have to be a part of that difference. And so New York has banned plastic bags now, California of course, always the first to do these environmental movements. California has banned it. And one of the solutions that I find with plastic bags, we have the reusable bags in our cars. And even I sometimes go to the store and I get in the store. I’ve gotten all my items, I’m at the cashier and I’m like, “oh, my bag is in the car.”
Marly Q: I know that’s happened to more than just you and I and people listening. You’re like, “it’s in the car. I’m a good person. I care about the planet. I swear!”
Michelle: But I’ll just take a plastic bag.
Marly Q: I’ll just take a plastic bag. How can we better?
Michelle: Oh my gosh, it’s so easy. Everyone listen. Your reusable bag is in the car. So put the items back in the shopping cart, go to your car and put them in your bag.
Marly Q: “just a moment, I’ll be right back. It is right outside.”
Michelle: No, you pay for everything and you put them back in your shopping cart and you wheel that out. Like you’re at Costco, at Costco you don’t get a bag. Should we say those names?
Marly Q: I don’t know, would you like to sponsor? Please call us.
Michelle: They never give you bags or anything like that. They’ll give you a cardboard box, but just put your items back in your shopping cart, wheel them out and pay for your items and wheel it out to your car and then put them in your bag that’s sitting there waiting for you.
Marly Q: Michelle, that sounds so obvious and I have never thought of that. I’d be like, “oh no, I can’t do anything about it.” and it really is so simple. You can really just roll your cart out with your items and right there in your trunk. Fill them up into your usable bags. Thank you. I swear like I had not thought about that before and it’s a very easy way.
Michelle: It is so funny that no one thinks of it. Not even the cashiers at Publix, and part of my education is telling, when I go in, I’m cashing out at these stores. I say to the cashiers cause they’re like, “you want me to put it back in your cart?” I’m like, “yeah, just put it back in the cart, because I have a bag in the car.” and they’re like, oh! And the light bulb goes off.
Marly Q: Thank you for that light bulb moment for me and anyone listening, it really could be a lot simpler than we make it. And I love that. I think everyone can agree that we all need to take better care of our planet. But sometimes the way that the message or the education is delivered is not in a way that people want to receive it. It’s not in a very kind way. Sometimes you want to avoid the environmentalist that are like kind of jamming down your throat what you should or shouldn’t do and making you feel like a bad person for not doing that. And I just love that the Big Blue and You doesn’t approach education that way.
Michelle: We don’t. One of our biggest questions is, if people have another planet that they can go to, we’d love to know. We really would. Because 90% of the population is treating the planet like they have somewhere else that they can go once it’s destroyed and we’re heading in that direction. I hate gloom and doom, but we’re heading in that direction if we continue to do the things that we’re doing now.
Marly Q: You’re right. You’re absolutely right. So I do think it’s a matter of education, awareness, mindfulness. And it does start with our youth. Just bringing that to light, that it could be so simple to make a difference and to help our environment. That’s why I was such a fan of the captain planet and the planeteers. I know it’s a little cheesy, but that’s why also they made it seem like I can make a difference. So please keep doing the great work that you’re doing. Could you please share with us, I know you have an annual event that’s amazing?
Michelle: We do a signature event called Art By The Sea. And we do it once a year. It’s a really heavy lift as far as planning an event. Cause we are perfectionist. And so what it does is we bring art and science together. So we have usually about 10 booths that have artists and 10 booths that have scientists. And what we do is we correlate, there’s an artist booth, a science booth, and it goes all the way through and whatever the science message is and that could be something about why do dolphins strand themselves? It’s the biggest mystery that people don’t understand. So scientists are looking into it.
And what I didn’t mention was the science booths are done by university students. They come up with the ideas, they put the activation together and they put the message together. And once the kids go through that, or the youth or families go through that booth, then they go to the artist booth next to it and they create some kind of art that correlates to whatever they learn in the science. And it is so eye-opening for so many kids. And especially underprivileged children. We find that their whole world is about survival in underprivileged areas.
And so part of what we do is, we know that transportation on a Saturday maybe a little bit hard for parents to do that. So we rent buses and we send buses out.
Marly Q: Yes, I was going to mention that how you all facilitate that. Like a big family field trip on your buses and you all do that. I think it’s such an amazing effort. Because again, as an event producer, I understand the logistics involved with renting buses and shuttling people in. And it’s a whole lot of extra work that you all take on from your heart to do in order to make this event accessible, make this education and this experience accessible to underserved areas.
Michelle: Absolutely. Few years ago we decided that we want to make this worldwide and take Art By The Sea worldwide. So we created the Art By The Sea popups. So we’ve done quite a few, la, St Croix, the Bahamas. We want to go to Jamaica this year.
Marly Q: Of course you do, my Jamaica fans.
Michelle: And so we just want to take it everywhere. We’ve been invited to Boston to do an Art By The Sea popup. We’ve done one in Washington DC at a really big event that had 362,000 students and we did a pop up there that was so amazing. And just for an organization that’s volunteer run.
Marly Q: Yeah, that was started by a mom and a daughter.
Michelle: Mommy and daughter. Because we’re volunteer ran, we came up with Art By The Sea popups because it’s a lighter lift for us. Because planning a signature event, of course as you know, is arduous and a lot of moving parts and the popup, the brilliant idea that Danni and I came up with was that we could take Art By The Sea into an event that’s already created by someone else and they did all the work. We just have to create an area of space.
Marly Q: It’s being resourceful and it’s also adding value to someone else’s event. That’s what I call a beautiful PARKnership. And I want to thank you so much for just allowing me to be a part of Art By The Sea, part of the Big Blue and You and in a small way that I’ve been able to thus far, it’s been just such a joy to see just how far you’ve come in the short amount of time that we’ve known each other. And I had just seen growth and it’s all heart driven. It’s all super purposeful, meaningful, impactful work that I am just incredibly proud of and I’m just so happy to be able to shine the light on a little bit and celebrate.
Michelle: Thank you so much. I do want to give kudos to my daughter of course, Danni who is very driven, hasn’t swayed from the mission. She knew she wanted to do marine biology and marine science since she was six years old and she hasn’t swayed. And so with the Big Blue and You, we put together a great team of people.
Marly Q: Absolutely. Talk to me about your team and I know that you just recently have expanded your team and you have an executive director now.
Michelle: Yes. Amen. Hallelujah for Kim Jones.
Marly Q: And shout out to Kim and your volunteers and your amazing committee that comes together every year, not just for Art By The Sea, but to put together your popups and just spread your mission and your message year-round.
Michelle: Absolutely. To find people that have the same drive, have the vision. You don’t have to lead them, I’m talking about Kim in particular. Kim came to us and she was working on a lot of projects. She’s actually an event producer as well.
Marly Q: Oh of course, us great people, event producers!
Michelle: She came into my office as well. She was working on an event and I’m like, “this girl has something really special.” and it evolved into today. As of last year she became our executive director of the Big Blue and You and has just done amazing thing. There’s a lot of moving parts to it and she is tackled all of them and is driving us in the right direction. So kudos to Kim, kudos to our board, Ellen Woods and Orvill Dwyer, and they’ve been with us since the beginning. They have never swayed. They’ve been a part of our board and we brought in other board members, but they have never left us.
Marly Q: It is so important. People, our PARKers, our partners is really what keeps it all moving forward, what keeps the movement moving forward and keeps us really focused on the mission and the drive. Because if not, it would just be you. It would just be you and your daughter. It would just be us. And there’s an expiration date to that. There’s burnout. We’ve experienced it over and over again. So big shout out to the team at the Big Blue and You. How can people listening connect with you all and be a part of it?
Michelle: Very easy. So thank goodness for the worldwide web and you can go to our website, it’s www.bigblueandyou.org and or you can put thebigblueandyou.org. Either one will work and there’s a lot of information on there and you can definitely click on there to volunteer, to be a part of our board, to reach out and send us emails to find out about the signature event and the popups and anything else that you may want.
Danni’s now an international speaker. She does science communications, marine science communication, and does science communication as a whole. And so she can go around and, if you want somebody to come out and speak to you about, just storytelling I think is her biggest thing. And her storytelling tells you how you can do something that seems daunting as far as being somebody special in the world that make different, to make good choices and to help kids inspire kids to do better with what they do for the environment. She goes out and she’d speaks from ages 4 to 90; can really understand her stories and really have what she tells them resonate in their lives.
Marly Q: Absolutely. Please follow. Is it @DanniWashington?
Michelle: Yes. Danni Washington.
Marly Q: There you go. And check out the www.bigblueandyou.org. Follow them on social media. Please connect and reach out. There’s really so much that we can do for the planet, and our oceans together. So thank you so much for making the time to be kind today, it was a joy to have you here.
Michelle: A joy to be with you, Marly Q. Thank you so much and thanks everyone for listening and definitely continue listening to Marly’s podcast because I know they are going to be so much fun and interesting.
Marly Q: It’s our podcast. Thank you for being a part of it right from the beginning, in the beginning of so many things. Thank you.
So now what would you do for the big blue? I know I’m going to be more mindful about not using plastic straws or plastic bags, that’s for sure. I hope this interview not only inspired but empowered you with some practical tips on how we can all be kinder to our planet. Not just today on earth day, but every day. I encourage you to connect with the Big Blue and You and learn how you can participate in Art By The Seat and their pop-up events as a volunteer. Visit www.bigblueandyou.org and follow them on Instagram @bigblueandyou