Episode 113 – Unstoppable Speaker and Mental Health Advocate with JR Kuo
It is always inspirational to me to hear people’s stories of how they found themselves in unexpected life situations and overcame adversity that to most of us would seem impossible to address. JR Kuo, at the age of nine years old, was sent from his home in Taiwan to live and go to school in the United States while his parents stayed thousands of miles away. As JR explains it, his parents wanted him to get a better education in the U.S. even if they could not be with him. Little did they know the amount of frustration and depression JR would face as he grew up.
JR demonstrates a truly unstoppable nature. He eventually was diagnosed with depression, but he made the choice to deal with his condition and work to overcome it. Today he is a coach, public speaker, mental health advocate, and advocate for immigration reform.
By listening to JR’s story you will discover how he tapped into his inner strength to help others and himself as well. He will even tell us how he came up with the creative name for his website, www.coffeewithjr.com. Don’t you just love that name?
About the Guest:
JR inspires people to make positive changes in their life. He is a national speaker, trainer, and coach that inspires people to make positive changes in their life. He is also the founder of CoffeeWithJR (coffeewithjr.com), a company that specializes in providing culturally competent mental health and diversity/inclusion trainings. JR has over 10 years of experience in professional speaking. He has trained college students and professionals on mental health at over 50 universities and dozens of organizations across the country. JR is also an instructor for Mental Health First Aid. As a diversity/inclusion trainer, JR has facilitated numerous DEI workshops for Fortune 500 companies, as well as locally for companies in Denver, Colorado. He also teaches at the University of Colorado at Boulder and Denver on leadership, cultural competency, and mental health. In addition to being a professional speaker, JR has 10 years of experience managing and running nonprofit organizations and small businesses.
As an immigrant who has struggled with the immigration system, JR is passionate about advocating for immigration reform and supporting immigrants in the United States. JR’s mental health journey as an immigrant is featured in a short documentary called “Coffee Talking Out of Mental Coffins,” and in the Harvard Kennedy School’s Asian American Policy Review.
To learn more about JR Kuo’s life story and achievements and watch “Coffee Talking Out of Mental Coffins,” please visit www.coffeewithjr.com/meet-jr
About the Host:
Michael Hingson is a New York Times best-selling author, international lecturer, and Chief Vision Officer for accessiBe. Michael, blind since birth, survived the 9/11 attacks with the help of his guide dog Roselle. This story is the subject of his best-selling book, Thunder Dog.
Michael gives over 100 presentations around the world each year speaking to influential groups such as Exxon Mobile, AT&T, Federal Express, Scripps College, Rutgers University, Children’s Hospital, and the American Red Cross just to name a few. He is Ambassador for the National Braille Literacy Campaign for the National Federation of the Blind and also serves as Ambassador for the American Humane Association’s 2012 Hero Dog Awards.
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Michael Hingson 00:00
Access Cast and accessiBe Initiative presents Unstoppable Mindset. The podcast where inclusion, diversity and the unexpected meet. Hi, I’m Michael Hingson, Chief Vision Officer for accessiBe and the author of the number one New York Times bestselling book, Thunder dog, the story of a blind man, his guide dog and the triumph of trust. Thanks for joining me on my podcast as we explore our own blinding fears of inclusion unacceptance and our resistance to change. We will discover the idea that no matter the situation, or the people we encounter, our own fears, and prejudices often are our strongest barriers to moving forward. The unstoppable mindset podcast is sponsored by accessiBe, that’s a c c e s s i capital B e. Visit www.accessibe.com to learn how you can make your website accessible for persons with disabilities. And to help make the internet fully inclusive by the year 2025. Glad you dropped by we’re happy to meet you and to have you here with us.
Michael Hingson 01:21
Well, hi, guess what it is once again, time for unstoppable mindset. I’m your host, Mike Hingson. Today we get to interview JR Kuo who is a person who lives in the Colorado area. Is it cold there JR?
JR Kuo 01:38
Today, it is not bad today, it’s like close to 50. And unfortunately, two more than I supposed to punch down to minus. And then Thursday supposed to be high in one degree or two degrees. We are getting this this polar vortex thing coming down. So
Michael Hingson 01:59
it was 58 degrees here today. And it’s supposed to get up into the 60s and maybe even a little bit more as the week goes on. But I read an email from somebody this morning who I believe is up in Canada and they were down to minus 45.
JR Kuo 02:12
Yes, yeah. Yeah, rapids city, which is kind of not a lot of like north a little bit east of us. They are already experiencing like minus tan today. Because the date the polar vortex is moving south.
Michael Hingson 02:27
So well. There you go. Well, we all have our lovely weather. Well, yeah. Jr. specializes a lot in dealing with mental health. He’s a public speaker. He’s a coach. He inspires people to make positive changes in their lives. And he is also a public speaker, as you might be able to tell by listening to him. And we’re really excited that you’re here and that you are spending some time with us today. So Jr, welcome.
JR Kuo 02:53
Yeah, thank you, Michael, for inviting me and for this opportunity. I appreciate it.
Michael Hingson 02:59
So let’s start, kind of as I love to do tell me a little bit about you growing up and getting started and all that stuff.
JR Kuo 03:06
Sure. Sure. So I was born in Taiwan, a little island in Asia, that lately has garnered quite a lot of attention in the media. So I was born in Taiwan. And when I was nine years old, I moved from Taiwan to United States. And I grew up primarily in California between the Bay Area and Los Angeles area. And 2003 I moved to Colorado where I went to University of Colorado in Boulder so that’s kind of like my journey from Taiwan to California to Colorado. And yeah, and after college, I moved to Hawaii. I lived there for two years. Worked there so anyway, I came back and got my master’s so so yeah, so here I am.
Michael Hingson 04:02
What got you to go from California to Colorado to college. Why UNC? So, yeah, so are you see University of Colorado
JR Kuo 04:11
University? Yes. So what happened was that I grew up in a very interesting setting. I grew up there was a lot of I experienced quite a lot of trauma when I was younger. And then I think part of me I was going through this little bit rebellious phase on my lifestyle like, I don’t want I’m like sick and tired California. I just want to leave NATO I just wanted to go and by the way I did not to go to college, right after high school. In fact, I went to college when I was 2021 years old, so I waited for to go a couple years. Because I was, you know, again, I was struggling a lot with my mental health with my depression. And I just didn’t really think that I was smart enough that I could go to college. So it took me a while to finally decided that, you know, I need to go to college. And so I just decided that I knew I wanted to leave California, don’t get me wrong, I love California. And I’ve upon me, I just feel I need to explore, I need to check out different states. So I applied for seven or eight different universities across the country. And I just decided to go to the University of Colorado in Boulder because I just how beautiful the campus is, like, back in the day, I didn’t even know what to study, I kind of didn’t really know. So I just kind of like chose my destination based on based on the scenic, the scenery of the town and the campus.
Michael Hingson 06:04
Wow. But you obviously enjoyed it. Yes, I
JR Kuo 06:08
did. I did. I had a good time at college.
Michael Hingson 06:13
So you. So when did you graduate roughly?
JR Kuo 06:16
So I graduated back in 2007.
Michael Hingson 06:20
Okay, and what did you then do for a career.
JR Kuo 06:23
So from there, that’s where I moved to Hawaii, I started working for this international business consulting firm, a small consulting firm. And from there, there was an opportunity for me, because the firm owns also owns a farm in Hawaii. So I decided and they needed someone to run the farm. And I was like, You know what, I love outdoors. You know, and I’m interested in some sort of farming. And I want to also use this opportunity to practice my management skill. So it’s a flower farm, a flower and fruit farm. So that’s what I do there for like almost a year and a half working on like running helped to run a farm. So yeah,
Michael Hingson 07:15
sort of a different, different take on things, isn’t it? Yes. Then you then you came back over to the US? Yes.
JR Kuo 07:27
Go ahead. Yeah. So I came back to Colorado to dam. Yeah, recession hit. And even though I enjoyed working at a farm, but I didn’t see like a, like a career for the future. And I had the opportunity to go back to school. So where which I get I went back to school, and I got my master’s in nonprofit management.
Michael Hingson 07:54
Okay. And when did you start really focusing on the idea of mental health.
JR Kuo 08:01
So that was probably a year later, after I came back to Colorado A year later I after I started grad school. So what happened was, is that throughout my teenage years, and through my college years in my 20s, I experienced a pretty severe depression. Depression. Again, it could trace back to my childhood, whatever reason, but like, yeah, I was experiencing really pretty bad depression and unfortunately, within our communities, Asian American community well, even United States mental health stigma back in the days was very heightened. For I remember, back in college, when I was experiencing depression, I would open up to my friends, you know, to share with my friends and they literally would tell me to, to get over it. Right, they would literally tell me that I’m I’m to emotion for man, or I get shut down. So I didn’t really receive any emotional and mental health support. And at the same time, I was very fortunate in college, I have this this staff slash professor does, she was extremely inspirational to me. She was like my mentor. And whenever I was going through hard time, she would make time for me and talk to me. And she’s one of those people that never guilt trip me never forced me to do anything. And occasionally show suggest I hate Jr. If you consider you know, seeing a therapist, you know, have you considered seeing a professional? She never ever forced me right. And of course due to mental stigma. I was like no, I don’t need therapy and you know, I’m good I can I can do this. And I think what she did was she planted a lot of seeds in my head. That’s okay to seek help. So when I was in grad school again, like even when I was in living in Hawaii working in Hawaii in a paradise, right, I was so depressed. The place I was living in literally was five minutes driving away from the beach. And the whole time I was living there. I have only gone to the beach four times. That’s how depressed I was. So yeah, so what happened? So in grad school a year later, I encountered this organization called the Naapimha Their mission is to advocate mental health wellness for Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders and native Hawaiians.
Michael Hingson 10:51
Do you spell that name
JR Kuo 10:52
as N A A P I M H A, the Naapimha, okay. And working and then the executive director offer me a part time position. And that’s when I started officially started my mental health journey and my mental health recovery, both personally and professionally. Professionally, I started working with this organization, I started looking, learning about a lot of our mental health policies, a lot of mental health tools, amazing image, information and materials. And around that time, I was connected with a therapist, and just therapist, Dr. Lisa Strober. She was amazing. She became my therapist, but nine years, so therefore. So it’s kind of like, around 2000 Yeah, 2009. That’s when I really be. And the main reason I decided to work with this nonprofit, that advocate for mental health, and also decided to seek professional help. Therapy is because I was so sick and tired in being in pain, or I’m sick and tired of being depressed. And I was very lucky that I had those opportunities, both professionally and personally, to explore to learn about mental health, and beyond this mental health recovery journey.
Michael Hingson 12:21
It’s quite an abrupt well, not abrupt, necessarily, but that’s quite a change going from a guy who thinks, oh, I don’t need a therapist, and then you eventually decided that that really wasn’t such a bad thing to explore.
JR Kuo 12:33
Yes. Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t easy, I think, was that saying I took a leap of faith? And I didn’t know what to do. I just I know what, what? What? Like, I was already in so much pain. What could get worse? And how hard is the most I in my logic back then was like no less than two evils. You know? Like no matter what I tried even Danks, let’s try this new thing. So yeah.
Michael Hingson 13:09
And you, you seem like you agree with having tried it. And it’s made a great deal of difference for you.
JR Kuo 13:18
Oh, huge, huge. And I have to admit that first two, three years of therapy and working in the Pima learning about mental health. It wasn’t easy. There was a huge learning curve. And there was a huge How do you say it? It was to struggle to, you know, to to just acknowledge that, Oh, my God, I am depressed, you know, just coming to that realization, and slowly working with my therapist and working with I sign up for different programs, different training to improve myself as well. And yeah, it was hard. You know, I will say first two, three years, was very difficult. And finally, I think after three, four years, I had this like breakthrough like, and that’s when I started really seeing myself that that’s when I really started believing that there’s hope for me, because recovery is very possible.
Michael Hingson 14:29
What does an Naapimha stand for?
JR Kuo 14:30
Do you know what Yeah, so now NaaPimha stands for National Asian American Pacific Islander Mental Health Association.
Michael Hingson 14:38
Got it. So something for anyone who is interested to obviously explore and look for,
JR Kuo 14:46
exactly it’s a great organization, they are still alive. They’re still doing great thriving on the site. I’m still providing them some work some consultation, so it’s a great organization.
Michael Hingson 15:03
So, you went someone you were seeing a therapist? Were you doing anything in a career? What were you doing?
JR Kuo 15:11
Um, yeah, I was just working at the Pima, I started out with Project Coordinator. And then I, we started getting different federal grants. So I can have like, be camp, the project or program director, I was running the Pima US college program. So we got some funding to provide mental health education to Asian American college students. And I have to say, I’m very fortunate through that program, it is called France do make a difference through that program. And also later on through my own business, that I have the experience of speaking at over 50 different universities across the country. So So yeah, so I just, I just imagined, like, and I will say about 40 of them were in person. So I got to travel a lot, you know, see a lot of those college campuses. And on top of that, I, through that program, we got invited to teach two different classes at University of Colorado, in Boulder, so, so I have experience in the academic side, and also the Student Affairs sigh.
Michael Hingson 16:34
So you traveled to a lot of different universities and colleges and so on that, that must have been, I would assume, pretty rewarding for you to do.
JR Kuo 16:46
Generally, extremely rewarding, I loved it. It’s just this couple of levels are different perspectives that I want to share about this experience. First, is that, you know, everyone, almost everyone that I know of, especially younger people, younger, professional, they’ll sit out, they want to travel a lot, they want to travel and stuff like that. And then I actually have the opportunity to travel for work, you know, to check out different campuses so so it’s very, very rewarding, definitely expand my horizon, to see how diverse our country is. And, and on top of that, to work with such diverse student organizations, talking about career wise, definitely has definitely helped me tremendously. So that’s one part. And the second part I want to talk about is that I want to give credit to these college students leaders, right? Without their courage, without their bare bravery that wanted to talk about mental health, I want to break through mental stigma, I wouldn’t be able to do what I did, right. So I give all my credits to them, that they are willing to advocate to fight for funding to bring us out. Another thing that I want to talk about is that I still remember the first mental health workshop that I gave. And he was at George Washington University, and he was the student run conference. And again, this was back in 2010. And we know that like, mental stigma was still pretty, pretty bad. Arguably, even now, mental stigma is still pretty present in our society. Just imagine 10 years ago, 12 years ago. And guess what, only like seven and eight, about seven or eight students show up at our workshop in 2010. That same conference, didn’t run conference invited me to go back to speak again in February 2020, right before COVID hit, and this time was at University of Pittsburgh. And guess what they invite i i facilitated three workshops for their conference as you need most at Pitt. And guess what? Every single workshop, my the classroom, the rooms were packed with students. In fact, one of the my very last workshops, I believe, over 70 students show up and a lot of there were no no chairs, no seats left there was sitting on the floor. The reason I’m showing this is not is that I’m not trying to to any no tuning my horn, stuff like that. But the reason I’m showing this is That is progress. Again, going back to see students do student leaders, they are noticing that okay, they you know, they are noticing that the importance of mental health, right, and they’re willing to fight to advocate to destigmatize mental health. And within nine years, change does happen and change can happen. Why, for my very first one, barely 789, students show up to three workshops that were packed with students, each one, probably at least 50 students. So I just want to show that I just want to show and elaborate that how happy you are, how proud I am. And how rewarding to see these students, young folks, young professionals are willing to tackle these tough issues.
Michael Hingson 20:51
So you think that the reason that you had so many students is at the workshops is that there’s more education or more awareness about the whole issue of mental health and that enough people were concerned about it perhaps in their own lives? Or they know other people that are dealing with it that that they wanted to come in here? You?
JR Kuo 21:13
Exactly, exactly is, is progress? Exactly. Even though prior to COVID. And so as you know, not many people talked about mental health, but still, I was witnessing this this movement, this change happening on college campuses.
Michael Hingson 21:32
What do you teach in the workshop? What what do you tell students?
JR Kuo 21:36
So yeah, so there’s really good question. So I start off saying that my workshops, might speeches, my presentation, my training, they are not clinical, they are not therapeutic. All my training is about prevention, and education. So my workshop, I have a series of workshops. And it goes from what I call mental health 101, learning about what’s mental stigma, just awareness, all the way to suicide awareness of was in between, we learn about signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety, all that. So a lot of information, a lot educational. And also, I provide a lot of practical tools on how to support each other. Right? There’s different types, I have different sets of tools. So for example, one of the sets is how can we when we see our friends, when we see our family going through mental health challenge, how can we provide practical support? That’s one, the second sale tool I often offer is that when you’re going through mental health challenge, we noticing that you might experiencing some sort of depression, anxiety, how can you internally break down overcome all these noises of stigma, right, and seek support and seek help? And the last several to what I often teach about is that okay, once you acknowledge that you are going through some mental challenge, and you feel willing to do something, then I have a set of tool, it can wander prevention, so early intervention on how can we improve on our mental health. So again, it’s not clinical, as prevention, early intervention. And the analogy I like to use is that is wellness. This like, it’s about teaching students teaching people how to be healthy, eat healthy exercises. So I’m not about going to hospitals now about treating people with diagnosing people.
Michael Hingson 23:52
So you went through a whole period of depression that clearly took you on a journey that eventually led you to begin to give workshops and so on. But what what caused or can you can you pinpoint what started you down the road of having depression? Or can you talk about that?
JR Kuo 24:12
Yeah, yeah. So what an example I like to use is my immigration story, right? I moved to this country as nine years old. I didn’t know any English and then I had to learn English so of course I went to the school I was bullied I was making fun of right and there’s another component of potential racism there that people making fun of me because my accent the way that I look. So all these contribute it to a lot of trauma, right? And just imagine it as a nine year old boy, got I have to uproot myself from Taiwan, my home to a country that I You’re not no to a place that idea. No, I’m talking about just the weather, the climate, the food, by France family, that is self contributed all the do some damage will cause some trauma inside me. And of course, when I was young, no one talked about mental health, no one like pretty much I was told just had to, I just have to tough it out. Right? I got bullied, you know, and, and I, that is one of the examples of how I think trigger will cause my depression later on.
Michael Hingson 25:42
So Where were your parents in that whole process?
JR Kuo 25:46
So my parents, they will or so what I was, so technically, I went to a boarding school in United States. So my parents were in Taiwan, mostly living in Taiwan. So my parents will be there to support me as best as they could. But it’s something we talked about 5000 miles away over the Pacific Ocean. So so they will charge up there as as much as they could, you know, I just some time it just out there. And you just remember that. That was in the early 90s. Right? That was before cell phones, smartphones. So if I had to talk to my parents, I literally had to go to a phone booth. Either early in the morning, will later in the afternoon because of timezone difference. And I had to call collect call, you know, I have to put quarters into phone booth. So there are no smartphones, there is no WhatsApp or FaceTime, none of that. So even communication wise, it was challenging.
Michael Hingson 26:50
Today send you to the boarding school here. Did you want to just move here? Or if?
JR Kuo 26:56
Yeah, they did, because I was part of that wave. Back in the 80s and 90s, that East Asian countries like using Taiwan, a best example. They were sending a lot of the kids to United States for better education, and hoping that their kids might have a better lifestyle. So So I was part of that cultural norm.
Michael Hingson 27:24
Would it have made a big difference if your parents had been able to come over with you?
JR Kuo 27:30
Oh, yeah, I think so. And again, I, I, there’s no which there was no way that I can know, at the same time, I would assume it could be better. Or it could be worse. I don’t know.
Michael Hingson 27:46
So you came here, and you had to deal with so many kinds of differences. And I can appreciate that. Trying to get through all of that can be a real challenge. And in your case, you you did have to deal with a lot of depression. But eventually you work through it.
JR Kuo 28:09
Yes, it took me a long, long, long time. Yep.
Michael Hingson 28:14
So you have continued to speak. And I’m assuming at least this is my opinion. I’ll explain why. But I’m assuming even speaking and talking about it, and doing workshops is therapeutic for you.
JR Kuo 28:30
Oh, exactly. And I think that is one of the main reasons I do what I do. I’m in this feel is part of my continual healing process.
Michael Hingson 28:43
Yeah. For me, I remember of course, being in the World Trade Center on September 11. And escaping and people kept saying how traumatic it had to be in so on. But one of the things that I tell people, even today is that, although I didn’t think about it a lot because I had to, or I decided to let myself be interviewed and talked to a lot of reporters, and then also began to speak about it. Doing that well. And I can tell you’re with me doing that really helps put it in perspective, it causes you to think about it, think about whatever it is, in my case, the World Trade Center, in your case, the things that you went through, then you finally are able to put that in perspective. And so today, Is it painful to talk about September 11? In I wouldn’t say it’s painful. Is it meaningful and do I learn from it? Every time I talk, I get to learn and think more about it and learn new things which which helps, but talking about it does really put it in perspective.
JR Kuo 29:56
Yes, yes, definitely. And then not only on top of building on top of what you just shared is like, I appreciate what you just share him because I totally agree with you. And building on top of what you just shared is that I think another privilege that I have is that not only talking about sharing my stories with teaching about this also hearing other people’s stories, students or young professionals or professionals sharing their own stories about their struggles with mental health, or their struggles with different lighting issues. And when they’re sure their stories, it helps me to put my own experiences into perspectives. And I also learning from them, right. And sometimes they would they could what they would point out different parts of my speech or my stories, that I didn’t even realize they are talking about blind spots, right. So some parts that are interactive, that mutual conversation and dialogue is definitely very, it can be fairly powerful.
Michael Hingson 31:12
I love to say that, if I’m not learning more, then my audiences when I speak, are thin listeners to this podcast, or even the guests on the podcast, and I’m not doing my job, right. I think that there’s so much to learn. And I have grown to recognize and understand. This is all an adventure. I’ve thought about the internet for years. And it’s a treasure trove. Yes, there are challenges with the internet, but what an incredible place to explore what a what a treasure trove of experiences and so on we get to deal with and, and hopefully get to understand as we we move forward.
JR Kuo 31:58
Exactly, exactly. And you
Michael Hingson 32:01
clearly are able to, you know, continue to do that. Well, you also do talk some about diversity, equity and inclusion in in your workshops or in things that you do and and I’d love to hear more about that.
JR Kuo 32:17
Yes, yeah. Fair. Thank you for this question. So, so I, I like to joke around that. I, so my two main fields are mental health and diversity, equity inclusion. And I like to joke around that. Talking about mental health, I can talk about it every day, every minute every second, right? It’s like eating fried chicken. I love fried chicken, I can eat fried chicken every day, every meal. And talking about diversity, inclusion and equity. Besides eating broccoli, I don’t really prefer eating broccoli, I don’t mind eating broccoli, it is so important to eat broccoli, for our health, for environment for the environment for you name it, and that this example I like to use is that I like mental health is my passion. And I I do I talk to you about diversity equity inclusion is because I think it’s such an important topic for myself for my soul, and also for our society for our country. So and I think you might be thinking about how I started with the diversity, equity inclusion type of
Michael Hingson 33:39
love to learn more about that. Sure.
JR Kuo 33:41
So what happened was back in when I was at college, as you know, the you know, after the first year, first year, I lived in a dorm, and then I and the summer after first year students had to like be kicked out will move home and stuff like that. So So I did I moved back to California. And that summer I my buddy he was driving, and we got into a car accident and I have whiplash, right. So what that means is for the next whole month, I couldn’t move my neck at all. I have to be stationary. And around that time for those folks out there don’t know what Block Buster is. Around that time blockbuster started on limited rental. So you play you pay a flat fee for the month. You get unlimited DVD. Unfortunately, the place I was staying, there was a blockbuster just a couple blocks down the street. So since we couldn’t move we I used to love to exercise we’re at GAO. We couldn’t do that. All we could do is was either lay down on the bed was set up high. So we rented movies at the movie He’s on average, we’ll watch him four or five movies per day. And we get that four month since you do the math, and I probably that one month, I probably lost over 100 films. To the point out whenever I put a movie in, within five minutes, I can tell you what’s going on. I can tell you who’s going to die who’s going to live in I already know the plot. And around that time, back on my campus, I College, this is theater group called Interactive theater deal or looking for actors. Right? And then like, me and my friend, I saw the email and me and my friend, were just joking around say that, hey, you know what? We should be actors, because we have seen so much so many films. So I signed up for audition. And I went back to campus second year started school start and I totally forgot about the audition. In fact, I was out partying with my neighbors. The day before the night before audition, and my neighbor, my girlfriend, Katie, she was hey, Jr. Do you have an audition tomorrow? I was like, Oh my God. Yes, I totally forgot about. So I didn’t really prepare, initiate my friend Katie was like, Do you have a monologue? Do you have anything prepared? I’m like, I don’t know any of that. I don’t know what’s so I’m just like, whatever. I’m just gonna wing it. So I did, I want you to audition. And then I got, I got a job. I from what I heard later on, there were like 35 people auditioned. And they only brought off three actors. So I was one of them. And turns out that interactive theater projects was a social justice theater. They use what the what we call theater for the oppressed by a gospel bow. So the idea is that we perform these low scenes, in classrooms, in community centers. And the scenes are based on real people stories about fighting, experiencing racism, sexism, or homophobia. So our stories revolve around fighting, entice. Yeah, fighting, racism, sexism, homophobia. And through that program, I was in that program for three years. That’s when it really kick started my awareness, my understanding of different social issues that’s going on with in our country. And that’s pretty much the start the beginning of my diversity, inclusion and equity work. And, of course, after I graduated, I was still kind of involved with our theater program throughout the years. And, and, and on top of that, working out in the Pima we were doing a lot of mental health work. And we always emphasize the importance of cultural considerations into mental health work. So the key word here is called social determinants for health or social determinants for mental health. And through this type of work, I become more and more aware that Oh, my God, our society is not equal. Right? This a lot of people are suffering because of heat and discrimination. And therefore, five years ago, was six years ago, when I started, I decided to start my own company that I make diversity, inclusion and equity work as one of my priorities. So yeah, so that long story short, that that’s kind of like how it started.
Michael Hingson 38:50
Well, one of the things that, of course, comes to mind for me being a little prejudiced, but when the opportunity comes up, I bring it up is what we don’t see when we talk generally about the whole subject of diversity, equity and inclusion are disabilities, we tend to be left out completely even though according to the CDC, 25% of all people in this country have some sort of disability, and that never gets brought into the conversation. Yes,
JR Kuo 39:23
I so rarely, I totally agree with you. And I have to admit, I’m guilty of that, too. Like bigger for the longest time when I work in diversity, inclusion, equity, equity work, I was focusing on racism, fighting against racism, and sexism and homophobia, and only until three four years ago, damn, like when I’m going to help our people with physical disabilities, right? And I to admit that I am still learning about different types of physical disability. I’m still learning about this field. So I often would mention Jim will talk about I will highlight from the elementary knowledge I have just to bring awareness. And this is something that I’m working on continue to work on to learn. So I hint in the future that I can incorporate into my training more confidently. But I totally agree with you. And I like to say that is such an important issue that oftentimes is forgotten, and is often forgotten.
Michael Hingson 40:30
Not just physical disabilities, but mental disabilities to neuro divergence, autism are, are also well in depression for that matter, would certainly probably come under the definition of having some sort of a disability as well. The reality is, we don’t tend to really collectively as a society tolerate difference very well. Oh,
JR Kuo 40:55
yeah. Oh, yeah. I agree. I agree.
Michael Hingson 40:59
And it is something that we really should do more of. But we we haven’t gotten there yet.
JR Kuo 41:06
Yes, I agree. Yep.
Michael Hingson 41:09
So when did you start? Because you mentioned it earlier, your own business.
JR Kuo 41:14
So yeah, so I started in 2017. And the reason I started is because I love working at in the Pima. At the same time. The POS focus is super specific. It’s about Asian American Pacific Islanders and native Hawaiians. And I wanted to reach out, I want to expand my experience and my horizon. And so that’s why I started my own business, that talking about education, about mental health, and also working with more diverse population, with the black communities that Hispanic communities and white communities overall. So So yeah, so that’s why I decided to start my own business.
Michael Hingson 41:56
Well, tell me more about your business, if you will.
JR Kuo 41:59
Yes. Yeah. So my business called Coffee with Jr. The reason I title Yeah, I think the reason i i came up with this name is that, that I truly believe that if we really want to achieve world peace, well, whatever was your name, you know, equality, equity, happiness, if you want to fight hate, and discrimination, oh, that, I believe in one conversation at a time. Let’s sit down. And let’s let’s talk because I truly believe that we have more commonality than differences. And often time, because due to power or evolution, we like to lump things together and hate this thought. Right? We were taught with discrimination where hate and prejudice. And the one of the best way I can I believe, is that one on one conversation? Hey, let’s sit down. Let’s talk. And you know, and let’s learn from each other. So that is that the start? That’s the reasoning behind the name behind coffee with Jr. And yeah, and I focus on providing culturally appropriate mental health, educational training and diversity inclusion training and, and give you an example, when it comes to the type of training. I remember. And this is what’s even before COVID Is this right before COVID. I spoke out I think two hours in a change with Nike and I spoke at a conference. And then after my speech, I you know, I asked some time, I just decided to check out a workshop, right? And I saw Oh, there’s a diversity inclusion panel going on. And I walk into the room. And guess what? There were like four panelists sitting on the front. Now all four panelists, they will White identify, folks. And for me, I was the moment I saw that I turned around and walked out. Don’t get me wrong, I believe like, I have a lot of good good, good friends that are white, white, identify people that are huge advocates for D AI, you know, they are amazing people at the same time for me, representation matters, right? When I walk into a room expecting we’re thinking about talking about diversity inclusion, talking about different issues and when I just witness for individuals that are Elise for appearance wise down are the same. And I started questioning the authentic the the legitimacy of this panel, you know, and they might be good could be these four individual might be amazing that expire in the I don’t know, you know, they could be a symptom. I just think that, again, representation matters. In this world we’ve been advocating for decades for centuries that we need representation. So therefore, I, yeah, that I started my own company is that like, we need more representation when talking about these important issues, especially also in mental health field as well.
Michael Hingson 45:32
The The issue is that if we don’t learn to demand and work toward that representation, and truly work hard to be heard and be part of the whole process, then we never will. And what I mean by that is, it also is true that you can’t go off and just form some organization or form some subgroup that goes off and does what it does by itself, and doesn’t really get back integrated into the mainstream. I know, I’ve seen a lot of conversations. Lately, I’ve been reading some conversations on a particular listserv about women who don’t speak up. And the the issue is that the list service for a particular product, it’s about a product, so it’s not relating to sex or anything, but what I’m hearing women say is they don’t speak up as much as men because they don’t feel as comfortable and so on. So they’re talking about starting a separate group. And my, my opinion, and my observation is you could start a separate group, but then you’re separate, you’re not part of the mainstream, and you’re not pushing to be part of the mainstream. And in this case, it’s talking about technical stuff. It has nothing to do with sexual orientation. But they’re bringing that into it, which is a little bit unfortunate.
JR Kuo 47:08
Yes, so I have heard similar examples before, in the way that I view or I understand is this is that there’s a couple of different levels that I see is that it comes down to one of them is safety. Right, in tech industry, based on my experience working with the tech industry, is that there is a lot of misogyny, the last sexism, absolutely what’s going on. And on top of that, talking about sexual in appropriation, you know, not appropriate sexual languages and a lot of woman have experienced that. And they are first of date, they are talking about safety, they don’t feel safe, they don’t feel comfortable to contribute to be part of it. Second, is that you’ve seen lisser will different form or different, different setting, oftentimes is started by man. And for the longest time is these platforms. Happy and ran by man, therefore, is cater to men and have man standard expectation. Therefore, when the other genders decided to contribute, oftentimes, it could create a lot of friction, especially from it, I like to say is two way streets right? From the creator. cyfle for from the man’s perspective that I this is called Men’s World. This is our expectations. And when we don’t feel like changing, when we don’t build an environment to be inclusive of woman. Yes, the woman definitely is not going to they don’t want to be part of it is something and this logic was this experience can be applied to people of color. Right? So oftentimes two way street is taller, how can we? How can the owners of people that control the people in power of these platforms? How can how can them educate themselves become more inclusive, so therefore, whoever that can join, can have a sense of belonging. And this does take requires a lot of reflection, a lot of humbleness, acknowledging that, hey, I’m coming from the perspective of man may be coming from the perspective Mantis in authority. So how can I find to myself to change a little bit so I can be more inclusive? So yeah, so that that that’s my thought.
Michael Hingson 49:50
One of the things that came out in the it’s an email listserv, one of the things that came out today is that maybe, and by the way, it’s mostly a I’m blind people. So it’s not like their pictures or any of those sorts of things. One of the things that came out today was maybe there needs to be a female moderator added to the original people who founded it, which who were men when and when everyone acknowledges that are that certainly is something that makes a lot of sense. Because ultimately, though I still am of the opinion that separate, will not be equal. And even if they discuss just the same things as men do on the list, which is all about the technical aspects of what we’re talking about how to use products, and so on, and not going further, separate means that we’ll lose out on a very rich part of the culture. And, and so well, women, and so we need to figure out ways to deal with that and get people to all be part of the same group. And I recognize that women are oftentimes intimidated, because they come from a different viewpoint, and I can appreciate that. I think the solution still is not a different group, but rather figuring out ways to make sure that we truly integrate. Yeah. And, and endorse that, especially since also let’s be real, they’re more women than men on the earth anyway.
JR Kuo 51:30
Yes. I agree. Yeah, I agree with you. I think the more we can integrate, the more we can build these spaces, this opportunity for people to integrate and work together. That yeah, I’m all for that.
Michael Hingson 51:48
Yeah. It. It has to be that way. Otherwise, weren’t we’re never going to see people joining forces? Yes, yeah. So what do you do in your business today? How does it work?
JR Kuo 52:03
So how does it work? So I just say, I’m very fortunate, really happy. That majority of my business, my speaking gigs are referral based, which, which I’m really happy about it. So yeah, so my normally I, I write a lot of content, I try to, of course, I have certain content that I reuse a lot. But every year I try to, especially during winter time, holiday seasons, I try to take this downtime to update my content, or to create new ones. And I am, you know, I enjoy working with just whoever, whoever that’s willing to just try it out. You know, I been very fortunate to have been working with so many amazing people that coming from the place of curiosity, coming from the place of wanting to learn once you wanted to mutually exchange information. So yeah, so this is what I business look like. Yeah, I write a lot, too. Every month, I publish a blog. Through my newsletter, I send out a newsletter every month. So in a blog, I write a lot about my own mental health journey as an immigrant, my own mental health experience. And also I love to travel so sometime I will write a lot of my my travels still race. So so it could be a mental health block, or a travel blog just depends on the month
Michael Hingson 53:49
in reading some of the material that you’ve put out, including your bio and so on your for me, you’ve referred to mental health first aid, what is that?
JR Kuo 53:57
So yeah, so mental first aid is similar to physical first aid, right? Physical and mental process for mental health. Again, how is trained people how to recognize signs and symptoms of mental health challenges, were a crisis and provide practical supports, such as encourage professional help, again, like using physical first aid as an example, physical first, that when you see someone bleeding, your job is to tend to the wound, right. Make sure you try to provide as much as support until the doctors until the professionals show up in physical mental health, physical first aid. We were taught we don’t we don’t do operations. We don’t diagnose, right, we don’t cut open the heart or something like that. We are there to provide support until professional show something where mental health per se is to be there. To provide practice practical support until professionals show up.
Michael Hingson 55:06
So with your company today, and obviously you provide first aid when you can, but what kind of projects? What kinds of things are you doing with your company? Exactly? How does it work?
JR Kuo 55:18
Yeah, so I, what do you mean by that?
Michael Hingson 55:24
So, what what exactly do you do with your company? Do people hire you? Or do you give courses online? What exactly do you do?
JR Kuo 55:34
Yes, people hire me. So normally companies organization university, they hire me to go into provides training workshops. Sometimes it is, it is what I call one hit wonder they hire me one time I do one workshop finish or there’s some companies will hire me like on a consistent basis meaning I my provides six workshops in the span of six months, one per month. So So in your in between will conferences, my hire me will ask me to go speak. So yeah, so and then on top of that, some rigging other organizations might contract me to do projects, for example, I’m working with this organization called 1000 cranes for recovery is based in Los Angeles. And I’m working with them to execute some some of their contracts from Los Angeles County to teach mental health to Asian American population in Los Angeles area. So yeah.
Michael Hingson 56:41
Do you do any online courses or things that people can subscribe to or? So yes. Classes? Yeah,
JR Kuo 56:49
I started one, I started creating one through teachable. I’m still going through the final review. And yeah, so So my goal into 2023 is to have this online course self paced, online course life. So yeah.
Michael Hingson 57:10
And what will it be about?
JR Kuo 57:12
So this one is about how to develop your wellness action plan, a wellness action plan that actually work. So this is stuck, step by step, how you can go from Why do you want to improve yourself, it could be physically, emotionally, mentally was socially. And from there, I’m going to walk the students through on how they can break it down what they want their goals, objectives to deliverable actions, and how can they keep themselves accountable? So that’s one of the courses that I actually in fact, I have created it, I just need to do a little bit more editing. And there’s other courses that I am I want to create such as Yeah, how can we like when you know someone a person it could be a friend it could be a family member that have experienced discrimination through racism, right? And how can you provide practical support to that person scripting mentor support with different support so I a different set of tools. So yeah,
Michael Hingson 58:30
well if we can help you in talking about disabilities and especially blindness and so on, don’t you ever hesitate to reach out?
JR Kuo 58:37
Yes, I would love that. In fact, as my learning curve into more about disabilities, if you’re up to it, I want to write a blog about disabilities because I have about two 3000 subscribers and every month I up on wi fi 600 People read my newsletter by block so I think we’ll be some is Michael Is this something that you want to collaborate I would love to have so I can I myself can learn more. And my audience might yeah my my readers can can learn more about this. This this whole field.
Michael Hingson 59:17
Let’s talk about it. Absolutely. Awesome. Well, we didn’t do coffee but it was very fun to have over an hour with JR I really appreciate that. People want to reach out to you and learn more about what you do and maybe explore hiring you in some way. How do they do that?
JR Kuo 59:36
Yes, they can email me directly at some My email address is coffee with JR and my last name K u o Kuo coffeewithJrkuo@gmail.com more they can just reach out to me at my website at www Coffee with jr.com and they can Just send me a message.
Michael Hingson 1:00:02
Well, that’s cool. And I know we found you on LinkedIn. So I know you’re there as well. Yes. LinkedIn.
JR Kuo 1:00:07
Yeah. LinkedIn, I’m on LinkedIn quite a lot. I am not on Facebook or Instagram social media down much. So LinkedIn can be another good platform. So my LinkedIn is just straight up Jr. Kuo K U O, my last name. Well, if you look under coffee with Jr, you should be able to find me and, and only I get back to people pretty fast within a day will too. So
Michael Hingson 1:00:32
have you written any books yet?
JR Kuo 1:00:34
I am not bad. Yeah, I know. That being said, I am. I’m working I we just wrap it up. I’m the one that contributors to this book, an academic book, and supposed to get published by March 2023. I don’t even know the title of the book yet. So I just two weeks ago, I finalized with the editor. finalize everything so fingers crossed, will be published,
Michael Hingson 1:01:04
keep us posted. I would like to tell the world about it from our perspective when when it’s available, and we certainly would love to have you back again to continue the discussions and maybe you need to do your own podcast and that’s another another story.
JR Kuo 1:01:21
Yes, yes, definitely. Yeah. Yeah. Thank you so much, Michael. You’re absolutely welcome. Yeah. And it’s been a pleasure chatting with you.
Michael Hingson 1:01:31
Well, thank you I hope people enjoyed it I hope wherever you’re listening to this you enjoyed it and you found it interesting and helpful. If there is any way that Jr can be a value to you, please reach out to him coffeewithJrKuo , K U O or coffeewith jr.com. And so I hope that that people will do that. So again your email address one more time coffeewith JrKuo at Gmail gmail.com ASAP so hopefully people will reach out and I hope you all do. I’d love to hear what you thought about today’s podcast please email us at Michaelhi at accessibe A C C E S S I B E.com. Or go visit our podcast page www dot Michael Hingson h i n g s on.com/podcast. And wherever you’re listening, please give us a five star rating. We appreciate it. We value your input we value your ratings. It’s what keeps this all going. So once again, JR Thank you very much. I enjoyed this and I look forward to having more discussions with you.
JR Kuo 1:02:43
Sounds good. Thank you.
Michael Hingson 1:02:48
You have been listening to the Unstoppable Mindset podcast. Thanks for dropping by. I hope that you’ll join us again next week, and in future weeks for upcoming episodes. To subscribe to our podcast and to learn about upcoming episodes, please visit www dot Michael hingson.com slash podcast. Michael Hingson is spelled m i c h a e l h i n g s o n. While you’re on the site., please use the form there to recommend people who we ought to interview in upcoming editions of the show. And also, we ask you and urge you to invite your friends to join us in the future. If you know of any one or any organization needing a speaker for an event, please email me at speaker at Michael hingson.com. I appreciate it very much. To learn more about the concept of blinded by fear, please visit www dot Michael hingson.com forward slash blinded by fear and while you’re there, feel free to pick up a copy of my free eBook entitled blinded by fear. The unstoppable mindset podcast is provided by access cast an initiative of accessiBe and is sponsored by accessiBe. Please visit www.accessibe.com. accessiBe is spelled a c c e s s i b e. There you can learn all about how you can make your website inclusive for all persons with disabilities and how you can help make the internet fully inclusive by 2025. Thanks again for listening. Please come back and visit us again next week.