Shay Franco-Clausen - Fierce and Ambitious

Image by Jillian Cocklin,

Image by Jillian Cocklin,

What are your “and” words and why? Fierce and Ambitious. I face daily challenges, as I am a very vocal and active Mother, Leader and Elected official, but I come from challenging beginnings. I grew up very poor, from home to home, with a family stricken with addiction and mental health issues. I share the same stories of many African American Women in this community, touched with a Latino father, who faced similar barriers. Having lack of their own education, working from job to job, they didn't teach us about college. The end goal was getting past high school and finding a good job. I was born a hustler, in the community and streets, and I was always "Fierce" as I did it. No matter what I was doing, poor, enduring horrific sexual assaults and domestic violence, working two jobs, friends always called me fierce. I could go from wearing dirty shorts and a t-shirt cleaning up the streets of Hoffman Court, peeling myself out of my Kragen Autoparts uniform, to stepping out of my home to hang with my guy friends, not letting my circumstances dim my light. So, even in my darkest hour, beaten within an inch of my life, stories of pain and struggle, no one could ever see it.

Ambitious, because I am always trying to be better than I was last year. As you can see, I didn't have much guidance from family and parents, but something deep inside me wanted to break that cycle of oppression and addiction. I didn't finish high school, but because I am very smart and learn very quickly, I have always been able to learn on the job. In most work places I would get bored and I never could understand, until I did something incredible. I worked for Applied Materials in the travel department, and the approval process was so slowed, it delayed travel for Executives and Engineers, which would cause all sorts of issues. One day I proposed on online system that would move the approval process through email, versus snail interoffice mail, so it would relieve my team and the company of extra fees associated to travel. That idea, which someone else took lots of credit for, landed me another job making almost double my salary down the road at another tech company. From there, when the collapse of tech era of 1999, I moved to work for a banking company, where I worked my way up the later, teaching myself all of the software and department functions, to be relocated to Southern California. During this process, they learned I had not had a High School Diploma, and my job was on the line. They informed of a GED, at the time I had no idea, in which I went the next day and took the test and passed it first time, without the 6 months training they told me I had to take. 

Now, I am a 44 Mother, Wife, Chair of the Santa Clara County Commission on the Status of Women, Chair of the San Jose Evergreen Citizen's Bond Oversight Committee, Director of Gender and Equity for Santa Clara County Democratic Central, Chapter Lead for Black Women Organizing for Political Action, Chapter Lead for Black Girls Hike Global, found of "Lady Lifting Sundays," for Domestic Violence Survivors, Co-Chair of the Silicon Valley Stonewall Democratic Club, I know it's because I am fierce and ambitious.

What you are known for saying / a quote from you. What does this quote mean to you, (or if it’s from someone else, why does it inspire you)? "I am just trying to be the Women I wished I would of met when I was 14." I am a survivor of life's circumstances in black communities, but I didn't let the define me. Instead I picked myself up, made my bootstraps and became a strong Woman to lead other like me.

Which other Ladybadasses inspire you and why? I can really say this, my wife. She is the most amazing, supportive, intelligent person I ever met. We make sure we challenge each other, to be more that we were last year, to grow.

When did you first realize that you had some Ladybadassery in you? In November 2016, as the world around me mourned, I found it hard to empathize, having lived with men like Donald Trump treating Women and Men of color this way our entire lives, except they didn't have Twitter. Many people have never experience the struggles Black Women have been subjected to our whole lives, so of course #45 was shocking. However, like we always do, we show up. I was headed to the Women's March to be with my brother and friends in DC, when I seen a link for a San Jose march on my Facebook. So, I click going, it only had about 25 people and sent a message to the organizers. I told them I have been active around Women's Issues and on the Commission for years, I would love to help them engage more Women and Girls to attend. Jump on the team, and soon enough, helping drive the Social Media worked like magic and I was the campaign manager that had recently won a controversial State Assembly race for a local leader. I invited one of the organizers to our Commission meeting to ask for support, so we cal all take part. In this, one night on the call when another committee was in charge of finding speakers, they told me that all the Women didn't need to look any further, they asked me to be the Keynote. I was in tears, like ugly cry tears. You have no idea, well you might reading my journey, that these very well established Women, many come from wealthy families, great careers and I have always felt a different pedigree, would want me to have the responsibility of addressing a large audience. I gladly accepted, thanked them and still had to be the DJ, MC and now the Speaker, this was impossible. So, I called my friend up, a great spoken word poet, teacher and friend, who graciously accepted. As we expected only about maybe three thousand at the most, on Friday before the March, we had over 38K people signed up. On Saturday, when I seen how many people show up, in the thousands, I rushed back to the stage. As they came around the corner, chatting and shouting, I knew this was going to be one of the most life altering things I have ever experienced. So, having a huge responsibility, I addressed to 63K people in the streets that day, being a part of San Jose History.

What keeps you motivated on days when you aren't quite feeling like a Ladybadass? Getting on the turn tables and making some mixes, gym or spending time with my family.

What is your advice to other women who are trying to tap into their Ladybadassery? Live. Live in your greatness, not anyone else's. You are powerful in your own, manifest it and it will be.

Shay Franco-Clausen is the District 5 Director of Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority (elected office), and Chair of Santa Clara County Commission on the Status of Women.