Interview With Tracy R. Rector: Lemon To Lemonade Winner

“Tracy is the reason we created the Lemon to Lemonade campaign, she should be celebrated for what she has done, what she is doing, and how her work is impacting peoples lives globally. She is a storyteller, honest, smart, and her journey will move anyone who knows her. I am honored to be part of a company that is bringing attention to women like Tracy.” Donna Letier

The Lemon to Lemonade campaign began with a comment made by CNN anchor, Don Lemon. Lemon, ignorantly spoke about a woman being past their prime once they move on from their twenties and thirties. The Lemon to Lemonade campaign is all about honoring and lifting up women who are over 50 and still doing the most to make a change and spread positivity. 

At Gardenuity, we reject the idea that women over 50 are past their prime. There are countless extraordinary female leaders who are well over 50, so we are turning Lemon’s comments into lemonade: lifting up women who are leading the charge for change. Gardenuity is lifting up women over 50 to prove to the world that they are not and will not ever be “past their prime.” 

The woman we are honoring today is Tracy Rector. Rector is an activist, filmmaker, and motivational speaker that leads efforts to stop abusive relationships and spread awareness of a little talked-about issue.

Tracy Rector never dreamed of being a filmmaker, but in 2019, at 59, she found herself on a movie set in North Texas as executive producer for the film, No Ordinary Love

Her 23-year abusive marriage to a minister fueled her dogged determination to raise awareness on a global scale. With the film streaming in 19 countries, the mission was accomplished. USA Today calls her film one of the “biggest summer movies” of 2021, while national domestic violence experts rave about the authentic portrayal of this issue that affects one in three women in their lifetime. 

After the film’s 2021 release, Tracy created PROJECT #RaiseAwareness to take the film to college campuses across the country to raise awareness among the highest-risk age group for abusive relationships. At a virtual Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month event, over 950 college students joined to watch film clips and listen to Tracy discuss red flags for abuse as well as how to talk to a friend who is being abused.

 The questions and comments from students came at such a rapid-fire pace, the Q&A time went an hour longer than planned. Teens’ and young adults’ hunger for this issue is reflected in the TikTok posts of movie scenes that have gone viral with over one million views.

Audiences across the US including Guam, Asia Pacific, and the UK have seen Tracy’s energy on stage as she continues to speak and raise awareness of domestic violence on a global scale. 

Tell us about your career path.

Tracy Rector’s career path looks a little bit different, as she was a stay-at-home mom for most of her life, yet very involved in her community and had part-time jobs. 

She married right out of college, and her first husband was abusive to her for 23 years. Like many domestic violence victims, she did not realize at the time that it was abusive, she thought it was just difficult. This experience led her to SafeHaven, the second-largest domestic violence foundation in Texas, where she served as a Chair on the Board. Working with SafeHaven, gave her the opportunity to information like fatality reviews. Fatality reviews are reports of all of the women who have died from domestic violence per year. A shocking statistic of these fatalities is that very few women reached out for help in these situations due to the lack of awareness of the resources available or overall lack of awareness of the danger, itself. Rector was stunned by this information and asked herself, “what can I do with this information?”

This is what led Tracy Rector to film. A great way to raise awareness for issues on a global scale is through film. Rector reached out to a filmmaker and asked her if she wanted to jump on this adventure with her. 

The main goal of creating a film was an authenticity to shine a light on domestic abuse, and spiritual abuse. Creating a film was difficult, especially on a tight budget. Filmmaking consists of long hours, post-production, and film festivals, to gain traction. And, to thicken the plot, COVID was happening. Despite all of the challenges, the film was eventually picked up by a distributor in January 2021 and released in the summer of 2021. It is being shown in 19 countries worldwide. 

Rector is taking this advocacy to the next level with a program called Project #RaiseAwareness, which focuses on taking the film to college campuses as a Title Nine program and awareness piece. College students are the highest-risk demographic for abusive relationships, so Project #RaiseAwareness shows the film on college campuses, followed by a Q&A with college students on how to help victims, how to handle digital violence, as well to connect students with resources. 

Rector is currently finishing up some online courses to improve her speaking skills and is reaching out to conferences, campuses, and events to speak at in order to continue the awareness project. 

Can you tell us a bit more about domestic violence?

Domestic violence is two people in a romantic relationship where one of the person’s goal is to gain power and control over the other partner. A huge part of domestic violence is coercive control, in which the aggressive partner tries to isolate the other partner from their circle, friends, and family. 

The aggressor in the situation wants to control what their partner does, what they cannot do, and who they are spending time with. For example, in a college setting, they would try to prevent them from being in a group because of their extreme jealousy. Another example of domestic violence is that of cyber or digital abuse. In this day and age, there are apps that can monitor someone’s location at all times. This has become a huge problem in domestic violence, with advocates even reaching out to Apple to discuss ways to address technology like AirTags, that make it easy for an abuser to secretly track their partner. 

Love bombing is also a red flag of abuse that takes place at the beginning of the romantic relationship. The potentially abusive partner will smother the other partner with love and attention to get you to fall in love with them, then the abusive side comes in with controlling tactics and harassment every hour. Emotional and psychological abuse continues with the abuser telling the victim what they can wear, and who they can hang out with, all while shaming and guilting. 

Other red flags of abuse are a lack of support when an accomplishment takes place, blocking your body from leaving, strangulation, when the abuser has a weapon to instill fear or threaten, and any time when someone does not have control over what is happening to your body. 

It is extremely important to look out for these red flags.

Oftentimes, women discount some of the physical abuse unless they have a bruise or a broken bone. But these signs are a huge factor in homicide and create a much more dangerous environment and higher risk for death through that relationship. 

Who is a woman that you look up to?

“Oh gosh, there are so many.”

Two women that came to mind for Rector were Ruth Glen and Gretchen Carlson.

Ruth Glen is the former CEO of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. This is an advocacy group that helps train and influence policy at the national level. In October, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence merged with the National Domestic Violence Hotline in order to create more change at a federal level. Ruth Glen now serves as the President of the Public Affairs of this merger. 

Gretchen Carlson is a “shero” for women in the workplace. Carlson was one of the instigators of the #MeToo Movement, in standing up to the power of Roger Ailes and Fox News. Carlson has been instrumental in the latest legislation regarding workplace sexual harassment.

What would you say to women who believe they are past their prime?

Rector would tell these women to find girlfriends that will get that right out of your head because that is so wrong. 

She went on to say that we have so many women that are way past 50 that are doing amazing things. For example, Nancy Pelosi is a powerhouse Speaker of the House and she is 80! There is an incredible photo of her standing up and shaking her finger at a table full of men – a great example of not letting the patriarchy stop you. 

“Our culture and society have been in a place for far too long to silence women and encourage us to not own the power that we have. We have so much to give and share with the world and our voices deserve to be heard.”

If you could say something to Don Lemon, what would it be?

“I hope that through this whole incident that you are able to take time to reflect on your words and see how truly wrong they are. There are so many women over the age of 50 that are doing so many amazing things. The last thing that we need is another man telling us that we aren’t doing it right. We need men to support us and encourage us to use our voices to make a difference.”