January has presented us with National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, MLK Day (today) and the inauguration of Barack Obama to a second term as US President. It is definitely a month to reflect on how much this country has changed in 50 years and highlights that human abuses are still occurring in startling numbers.
In light of this, today, we revisit one of our favorite FACES ever, Katrina Robertson. If the saying “love heals” is true, then her story is a testimony that when life hands you despair, hope is the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. Katrina’s abuse at the hands of a family member at an early age lead to a devastating cycle of addiction and prostitution that began in her teens. After being on the streets for 22 years and becoming HIV positive, she entered The Magdalene House, where she found a nurturing environment, support from those who were dealing with similar problems and a sense of purpose. Clean from crack cocaine for over five years now, she has a beautiful daughter and is married to the love of her life, her husband, Barry.
Katrina is now National Sales Director for Thistle Farms, a social enterprise run by the women of Magdalene who have survived lives of violence, prostitution, and addiction. Thistle Farms produces natural bath and body products that are hand-made by the women on staff. Purchases of Thistle Farms products directly benefit the women who made them.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Nashville on 12th Avenue South, and then our family moved to East Nashville. My Mom was a single parent who worked three jobs to support my two brothers and me, so we were pretty much on our own. My mother taught my brothers how to do everything in the house, including taking care of me. As a result of our struggles, we are a close family.
What type of education did you get? Where did you go to school?
In 12th grade, I dropped out of high school. Eventually, I got my GED and took some college courses at TSU. I was addicted to drugs during that period, so it was a hard time in my life.
Your life and its transformation is nothing short of miraculous. What is the greatest piece of advice you have been given?
My mother taught me to be independent and not to let anything hold you back. That means not being dependent on drugs, men or anything else that keeps you from living a healthy life. My mom is so strong and is a role model for me.
What advice did you receive that has helped you in your successful career as national sales manager for Thistle Farms?
Believe it or not, I had many jobs before this one and learned a great number of skills. I worked as an administrative assistant at an insurance company, but was still struggling with drug addiction. Even with these issues, I was responsible. With the help of family and friends, my drug use subsided.
What assets do you bring to your job as National Sales Manager?
I understand how important customer service is for our company. I enjoy interacting with the retailers who carry our products. I meet with all of our customers in town often and usually face-to-face. Thistle Farms’ out-of-town clients receive a phone call from me every month.
Do you have any irrational fears?
Yes, a great part of my job is that I get to travel all over the county with the Reverend Becca Stevens, the founder of the Magdalene House. We were doing our first ever prison tour to Hazard, KY, and had an automobile wreck. For some odd reason that I don’t understand, I now have anxiety whenever I fly on an airplane.
Tell me about the prison tour.
The goal of the prison tour is to take love and hope to a place where there is none. If you’ve ever been in a women’s prison, you will find great despair. The Magdalene House does many such tours to help spread the word of hope. A group just returned from Africa, where they traveled to meet with the women of Rwanda. Unfortunately I could not go because my mom was diagnosed with cancer.
What books can be found on your bedside table?
I am going to be honest, I don’t like to read. But one book I always have beside my bed is Find Your Way Home, a collaborative anthology written by the women of The Magdalene House. This is the book we take to women in the prisons.
Favorite thing to do in Nashville?
I like to go to movies and I love to dance. Last night I went to the Stepping Ball at the Maxwell Hotel. It’s a cultural thing, but African Americans like to express themselves through dance. The Stepping Ball happens in other cities like Chicago and Detroit and a woman from Chicago brought it to Nashville. Last night was the first Stepping Ball for Nashville, but in other cities they have several a year. Also, every Sunday we have dinner at my mom’s house. We will have ribs, chicken, greens, and corn— real Southern fare. I love to spend time with my family, especially my star, Ebony Davidson, my 21-year old daughter.
What do you do in your spare time to relax?
Most people don’t know this, but if you remain clean for two years, the Magdalene House helps you find a place to live. Some may go to apartments; some may end up in transitional housing until they can save money. In my case, the Magdalene House built me a house from the ground up. It is as huge source of happiness and joy for me. I can relax with Barry, my husband, watch television and enjoy the sense of community that being a home owner brings to you.
Thistle Farms has helped so many women. What message you like to tell women in need?
I want to tell them that there is hope. In Nashville, there are many places to go if you are in trouble, but almost all of them charge rent. If you have been living on the streets for 10 years, it is impossible for you to find work (most companies will not hire you), pay rent and keep clean. So what happens is the women return to the streets and start using drugs again. The Magdalene House is the only place I know that gives you a rent-free place to live for two years. Most women who come here are so broken that they need to heal their bodies with no financial pressures. The ultimate goal of The Magdalene House is to move its residents from dependency to living independently.
Of all the Thistle Farms products, what is your favorite product and why?
The Body Butter is my favorite product because it smells so good and keeps my skin soft.
Where is your favorite place to eat in Nashville?
My favorite place is actually in Hendersonville in the Indian Creek area. Cheddars has great steaks and shrimp and is worth the drive.
Favorite vacation spot?
This year for my anniversary I went to Miami for 7 days. It was wonderful.
Do you have a playlist for a dinner party or a favorite artist or CD that you can share with our readers?
Okay, I was raised in an older generation—my favorite artist is Luther Vandross. All he has to do is open his mouth and I am happy. I have all of his CD’s.
Name three things you can’t live without (excluding friends, family and God).
- I am in recovery from addition to crack cocaine, so I can’t live without recovery, which means going to meetings, meeting with your sponsor and finding love and support from other women in recovery.
- Scooby, my lab and chow mix, who is my therapy and security.
- Magdalene House and Thistle Farms
Thank you Katrina!
And, special thanks to Ashley Hylbert for her beautiful photos of Katrina today for FACES of Nashville! To see more from Ashley, click here.