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Vanessa is no stranger from overcoming obstacles. She was only 3 years old when she first experienced childhood sexual abuse and neglect, which set her on a trajectory of more trauma. She was placed in foster care before being raised by her grandparents and was sexually assaulted in a college prep program at age 15. Despite her obstacles, she became a first generational high school and college graduate. She went on to receive her Master's Degree in Social Work. Now, a survivor and award winning filmmaker, she teaches students how to find purpose, peace and meaning in their obstacles. This talk provides five strategies that will help students confront your adversity with grace. 


 Drawing on her personal story and education she offers transformational teachings, leaving students feeling empowered and inspired no matter what background they come from. Students leave understanding the impact of owning their truth, being authentic, and discovering their personal power.



Learning Objectives: 

1. Adopt five actionable strategies to confront your obstacles with grace, resiliency, and grit.

2. How to find peace in obstacles that have caused pain.

3. Identify the value and meaning in your personal story.

4. How to transform into a trauma victim to a survivor.

Categories: Inspiration, Motivation, Overcoming Obstacles, Personal Growth, and Authenticity.


Vanessa discusses how she has given a voice to the voiceless by leveraging filmmaking, social media, and her personal voice to elevate social issues. She emphasizes the value and power of social entrepreneurship and the social impact it leaves behind. She also emphasizes the importance of service, social justice initiatives, and sharing stories. Vanessa shows examples on how she's elevated social issues like male sexual violence, sex trafficking, and the maternal health crisis. She encourages students to use their voice and tools to amplify issues while inspiring them to become leaders in their community. Students will walk away feeling empowered to lead social justice initiatives and projects.


Learning Objectives:


1. Understand how to give a voice to the voiceless and what the means.

2. How to use creative measures to elevate social issues.

3. How influential and powerful sharing personal stories are.

4. Inspire and ignite social entrepreneurship and leadership in students.

Categories: Social Change, Social Justice, Community Building, Empowerment, Inspiration.


In this powerful and engaging group circle exercise, Vanessa will teach students how to share and redefine their personal stories. This transformative exercise allows students to authentically and anonymously share their stories to their peers. This creates a safe space for students to be vulnerable and often times share things they're struggling with. During this intimate process, Vanessa facilitates how to respond appropriately when their peers share. 


Students are able to practice their personal power, empathy skills, and compassion during this exercise. Often times this is the first steps for students to seek the help, support, and care they need. This exercise also brings communities closer after hearing the stories and responses from their peers.


Learning Objectives:


1. Learn how to share your personal story in an empowered and authentic way.

2. Navigate how to respond appropriately when peers share stories that may be difficult to work through.

3. Experience what mercy and compassion looks like in real life.

4. Personal growth through sharing and/or listening to the authentic stories of others

5. Redefine your environment and build a stronger more empathetic community.


Categories: Authenticity, Community Building, Communication, Personal Growth, Resilience.


How do you collect and honor the stories about sensitive topics? Topics such as violence, abuse, and trauma can be difficult to talk about and hard to share and even harder to collect. This talk will provide you with tips on selecting participants, creating the right environment, walk you through the interview process and provide question ideas. Then Vanessa will walk you through her story-board process in sharing those stories with dignity. 

Learning Objectives:

  1. How to share participants stories in a strategic and compassionate way.   

  2. How to create the right environment for participants.

  3. How to story board

  4. Navigate the interview process and interview questions.


Categories: Storytelling, Story Boarding, Authenticity, Communication.


During a film screening and discussion,Vanessa will discuss her experience Directing her groundbreaking film.  (Gridshock or The Voiceless). She will facilitate a question and answer session and share information that didn't make the final cut of the film. 

  • The film screening can be paired with another engagement or be a stand alone presentation.

Categories: Film screening and discussion, sexual violence, social issues.

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