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In celebration of Black History Month, Julian highlights four members of the Understood team: 

  • Berman Fenelus, Senior Content Producer

  • Livingston Steele, Social Media Manager

  • Misha Williams, Grants and Relationships Manager

  • Deb Wilson, Chief People & Culture Officer

Each of them is making an impact in the lives of people with learning and thinking differences, from silencing shame and stigma to promoting inclusion. Learn the reasons why they choose to do this work.   

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Episode transcript

Julian: From the Understood Podcast Network, this is "The Opportunity Gap." Kids of color who have ADHD and other common learning differences often face a double stigma. And there's a lot that families can do to address the opportunity gap in our communities.

This podcast explains key issues and offers tips to help you advocate for your child. My name is Julian Saavedra. I'm a father of two and an assistant principal in Philadelphia, where I've spent nearly 20 years working in public schools. I'll be your host. Welcome to Season 3. 

Today's episode is a really unique one and I'm super hyped about it. February is Black History Month. It's a time to honor and celebrate the rich cultural heritage, the contributions, and the sacrifices of African Americans.

Now y'all know I'm an educator, and I'm a Black male educator. So, it's only right that I share some history with you a little bit. Let's get ready. Ring the bell. Class is in session. Let's take it back. 

The story of Black History Month begins in 1915, half a century after the 13th Amendment to the Constitution abolished slavery in the United States. In September of 1915, a Harvard-trained historian named Carter G. Woodson and a minister named James E. Moreland founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life in History. 

This organization took immense pride in researching and promoting the achievements by Black Americans. In 1926, they sponsored a National Negro History Week, and they chose the second week of February to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. 

By the late 1960s, Negro History Week had evolved into Black History Month on many college campuses all across the country. This was thanks to the Civil Rights movement and a growing awareness of Black identity.

President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month in 1976. That's right y'all. The president recognized Black History Month in 1976. He called upon the public to seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history. 

So, now that our history has been shared — class is over now — now that our history has been shared, let me explain today's special, special episode. Last year on the show, we did something a little different.

We celebrated three Black women: science fiction author Octavia E. Butler, Grammy Award winner Solange Knowles, and activist Lois Curtis. All of them have been changemakers in their own way. And if you haven't checked that episode out, please make sure you go back and check it out. 

This year, we're going to switch it up a little bit. This year, we're celebrating our own here, right at Understood: Berman Fenelus, Livingston Steele, Misha Williams, and Deb Wilson. We're calling this episode "Diverse impact: Champions of change at Understood." I think everyone's going to enjoy getting to know them. 

Getting to know their role right here at Understood, and learning how they're making a difference in the lives of kids and adults with learning and thinking differences. I am so, so excited for them to be on the show. So first up, please welcome Berman. Berman, what's really good? How are you? Welcome to the show!

Berman: Thanks. Thanks for having me.

Julian: Berman, can you introduce yourself to the audience and tell us a little bit about the work you do here at Understood? 

Berman: My name is Berman Fenelus, senior content producer at Understood. And I create content across the board for our partnerships, for our internal videos, and social. 

Julian: What kind of content do you create? 

Berman: It varies. There's some content that we work with individuals that have learning and thinking differences but aren't necessarily, you know, like actors or talent. And, we also create content with experts that help guide people through difficult situations. Some stuff is animation, but overall, most of the content is here to help people learn how to achieve and thrive to be the best they can be. 

Julian: How are you making an impact?

Berman: From this job I've learned to be very conscious of what I put on the screen and what we output and how people could receive it. And I think, I just I'm always open to trying to make things as accessible to as many different people as possible. 

Julian: Since you've been on Understood, has there been an experience that's felt super rewarding? 

Berman: There's been tons of experiences. When we were working on "Quarantine Chronicles," which was a series about families with kids with learning and taking differences. We got really close with a lot of the families, and we learned just as much as they learned from us. 

And also we recently did a campaign called "Many Faces of Learning and Thinking Differences," where we spoke to different individuals of wide backgrounds in different ages, and I learned more from the person, from the nine-year-old, than I did from the oldest person there. 

But I also learned from that person, because their experiences are unique to that time, and they were kind of like a timestamp of what it was like growing up with the learning and thinking differences during that time. 

Julian: Learning from one another's experiences, I love that. Thank you Berman. Next up, Livingston. Livingston is the social media manager for Understood. Livingston, what's going on? Welcome to the OG. 

Livingston: Hey, Julian. Thank you for having me. 

Julian: As the social media manager. How are you making a difference? 

Livingston: As a social media manager, we're making a difference by creating different ways of showing people who have learning and thinking differences that they're not alone. 

Julian: What's the most rewarding part of your job? 

Livingston: The most rewarding thing of my job is being able to relate to millions of people who I would have never been able to. In a way, connect different types of pain points or things that we go through with having ADHD, whether you're 10 years old or you're 40. 

Julian: Can you tell us about a time you were able to relate to a person that you didn't expect to? 

Livingston: There was a time where I was on the podcast with — for "ADHD Aha!" with Laura — and I didn't expect to relate to her in understanding of having ADHD and dealing with perfectionism.

From a person that's — she's a director — I wouldn't have assumed that she would have had ADHD or would have went through the same situations I went through, like growing up and like trying to get ahead or trying to mask my ADHD. 

Julian: Sometimes we have a lot more in common than we think we do. Thanks, Livingston. Now let's talk to Misha. Misha is the grants and relationships manager. Misha, can you tell us a little bit about the work you do here at Understood? 

Misha: Yes. And so, I am the grants and relationships manager. So, that means that I spend my time bringing funds to the organization by writing grants and building relationships with foundations that are interested in funding our mission. 

Julian: What made you decide to do this work, specifically here at Understood? 

Misha: I came to Understood because I found out that a family member of mine, was diagnosed with dyslexia. However, she is 50 years old. And so for her, a lot of things started to make sense. However, kind of sucked that it took that long for her to find out. 

And so, just thinking about the implications of going undiagnosed for so long on her life and pretty much everything that she's done, made me want to be in a space where I could help foster change and, especially intersectionally.

And I came to Understood because, what I saw on the website and what I heard from other people about the work that's being done here. It seemed like something that was really important to be funded, and I wanted to be a part of that and help build out that arm for fundraising. 

Julian: You are so right. It's very important work that needs to be funded. Thank you. Misha. Deb is the chief people and culture officer for Understood. Welcome to the show Deb! 

Deb: Julian, thanks for inviting me. I'm so glad to be here today. 

Julian: Deb, can you tell us a little bit about your role at Understood? 

Deb: Yeah, sure. So, I've been at Understood — just for a short period of time — since May of last year. And I lead the people and culture team, which literally means all aspects of HR. And, so I'll speak to three of those aspects of my role today.

So, as you know, our people are a huge asset. And so, building new capabilities, whether we are the originators or rather we're leveraging relationships to learn new skills, helps our people grow. 

And, you know, as an educator, Julian, that when people feel that they are growing, they are more engaged. So, that's a critical part of my role.

Also, we have an office-first, in-person culture. So, leveraging our beautiful office in the West Village as part of our engagement strategy is key. Again, this helps to support collaboration and our core value of growing together. 

Julian: Deb, but I really have to ask. In your opinion, why is it so important for organizations like Understood to embrace the idea of diversity? 

Deb: Yeah, Julian. So, Understood's vision, shaping the world for difference so that all employees who learn and think differently can thrive at every stage of life, truly speaks for itself. All people who learn and think differently.

Twenty million people visit our website,, every year. And the data shows us that once learning and thinking differences are embraced, and inclusivity is truly valued, confidence is built. Community is created, jobs become careers, and life is more fulfilling. 

Finally, I'll say, my colleagues tell me that working at Understood is more than a job. It's a mission to shape the world for difference. 

Julian: Thanks for joining us, Deb. I want to give a big shout-out and a big thank you to Berman, Livingston, Misha, and Deb for joining us today. I admire all of their brilliance and all of their efforts to make a difference for the so many people who are living with learning and thinking differences across this nation. They are an integral part of the Understood's team. 

Listeners, I really hope that you enjoyed today's episode. Until next time! Enjoy Black History Month. Celebrate our culture, celebrate the achievements, the challenges, the struggles, and everything else that we have overcome. Wish you an enjoyable Black History Month. Let me check up with y'all later on. Thank you for listening. 

"The Opportunity Gap" is produced by Tara Drinks, edited by Cin Pim. Ilana Millner is our production director. Our theme music was written by Justin D. Wright, who also mixes the show for the Understood Podcast Network. Laura Key is our editorial director, Scott Cocchiere is our creative director, and Seth Melnick is our executive producer. Thanks for listening and see you next time. 


  • Julian Saavedra, MA

    is a school administrator who has spent 15 years teaching in urban settings, focusing on social-emotional awareness, cultural and ethnic diversity, and experiential learning.

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