Unlikely Friendship: Renee & Kisa
Friends Kisa Hoeltke and Renee Reithel started a podcast called Two Mamas and a Mustard Seed that is dedicated to engaging in difficult conversations about race in America.
“I learned a lot despite a bit of discomfort. But, if I don’t lean in, I’ll never learn.”
“It has been eye-opening and heavy to process, but not ever too much to want to give up the fight.”
In the wake of the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, a tiny mustard seed formed itself in the hearts of two local mothers. Watered by the cacophony of protest, the seemingly endless loops of televised murder and racial injustice, and the love they have for their own Black children, the seed began to grow upwards where it rooted itself at their throats. These mamas, one Black with three children, one white with two adopted Ethopian children, united by their faith and commitment to family, needed to speak up, to speak out, to join the conversation about race. So the sproutling blossomed into an idea: a podcast called Two Mamas and a Mustard Seed that is dedicated to engaging in difficult conversations about race in America in order to feed their desperate hope for change.
Kisa Hoeltke and Renee Reithel, two friends, brought together by faith and motherhood, began this podcast on August 17 of last year, just after the grand jury decision not to charge with murder the officers involved in the murder of Breonna Taylor, and have since engaged listeners in over 3,000 downloads from all over the country, as well as in Uganda, Ireland, and England.
Renee, 38, was the driver of the idea. “I needed advice and a role-model on how to raise my two Black sons, and I wanted to engage in dialogue about race. As a white mom of Black children, I feel close to the experience but can’t fully experience [what it is like to be Black in America]. This process breaks my heart a little more each week. I’m more angry now, the more I learn, that injustices continue to happen and that so many of us are blind to that,” Renee says.
Kisa says, while she has had the optics of race through her own personal experiences, this podcast has made her realize how embedded racism is in our systems. “It has been eye-opening and heavy to process, but not ever too much to want to give up the fight. James Baldwin said, ‘To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all of the time.’ My faith in God keeps me hopeful instead of being eaten up with anger.”
The podcast has featured local leaders and pastors, physicians and educators, and activists and politicians in conversations on racial injustice in healthcare, education, housing, and criminal justice, as well as discussions about faith, finance and self-care. “This podcast is about inviting people to the table. Many are afraid to talk about race, but our mission is to unify,” Kisa says.
In the latest episode as of this writing, Dr. Ron Wright discussed the disparities and implicit bias present within women’s healthcare. The episode unpacked a Harvard research study that coined the term “weathering” to describe the cumulative effect of stress and trauma that Black women face and how it negatively impacts their health in comparison to their white peers. The statistics are gut-wrenching: Black women are four times more likely to die in childbirth than white women and, even more shocking, this statistic spans all socioeconomic strata. Dr. Wright noted that even Serena Williams’ pulmonary embolism was dismissed by her physicians despite her celebrity status and advocacy.
Topics such as these have opened the eyes of both women. Renee admitted that several times during this process she had to address her own discomfort, ignorance, and white privilege. In an episode on the killing of Botham Jean by an off-duty Dallas police officer, the topic of forgiveness was raised. “I was taken to school a little bit during that episode. I didn’t realize that people of color are always asked to forgive, that forgiveness is expected and is unfair. I learned a lot despite a bit of discomfort. But, if I don’t lean in, I’ll never learn,” Renee says. “We have to drop our pride and be willing [as whites] to be taken to school sometimes.”
Despite the heavy content, the two mamas try to make the episodes palatable by incorporating music and humor, and ending each episode with a two-minute feature of a civil rights leader.
With 275 listeners and counting for each episode, these two mamas have moved some mountains with their tiny mustard seed of an idea.
“For us, this has never been a business. We are not trying to be academics. These are conversations from the heart. This has always been from the heart,” Kisa says.