AVMA keynote speaker has a story to tell

Bertice Berry, PhD, uses humor and anecdotes to shift listeners’ perspectives

People are neurologically wired for narrative, says Bertice Berry, PhD. She is a sociologist, lecturer, and storyteller, but she says she didn’t know this last fact until she suffered a head injury years back.

“All my stories and scripts to go by were no longer working. My ability to read was not there. Story was the thing that brought me back to myself,” Dr. Berry said. “When your brain is broken, you have to live in your heart. If I tell a story, your mind goes to that point of connection. You will find a part in that story that has nothing to do with any intention of mine and fill it in with what is important to you.”

Bertice Berry, PhD
Bertice Berry, PhD, will give the keynote presentation, “Owning Your Narrative,” at AVMA Convention 2022 in Philadelphia.

Dr. Berry plans to discuss redefining, reclaiming, and owning your own purpose and story during the keynote presentation, “Owning Your Narrative,” at AVMA Convention 2022, from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, July 30, in Philadelphia. She plans to encourage attendees to remember their personal passion and purpose for their work as well as teach them how to use storytelling to engage teams and become more effective leaders.

The session, sponsored by Hill’s Pet Nutrition, will be livestreamed for the convention’s virtual audience.

“As a longstanding AVMA partner, the team at Hill’s Pet Nutrition is thrilled to be back in person at the AVMA Convention in 2022, and we couldn’t be more excited to help kick off the convention with keynote speaker Dr. Bertice Berry,” said Dr. Karen Shenoy, Hill’s U.S. chief veterinary officer. “Dr. Berry is simply brilliant. She will help us each reconnect with the personal passion that led us to veterinary medicine. Her enthusiasm is infectious, and it is our hope that attendees leave her keynote with a renewed sense of purpose.”

Dr. Shenoy added: “Hill’s is also honored to live out our mission at the convention by supporting the work of the Street Dog Coalition at the AVMA Cares: Street Clinic on Sunday, July 31, and by formally kicking off our annual Clear the Shelters campaign in August. We look forward to connecting with veterinary professionals at our booth, where we will be highlighting new tools and our redesigned Prescription Diet packaging, all focused on helping make nutrition conversations easier. It’s sure to be a great convention!”

Hard-won positivity

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Dr. Berry has posted a story every day on her YouTube channel—as well as Facebook and Instagram. She first did it not only as a way to entertain and help others but also to leave something behind in case she died. Many of the videos have since gone viral as people use them to teach, start meetings, or share with a friend.

Dr. Berry often delivers uplifting messages meant to inspire and motivate. That positivity is hard won. According to her website, she grew up poor in Wilmington, Delaware, the sixth of seven children. None of her family had gone to college, and she was told by a high school teacher that she was “not college material.” Another teacher, though, encouraged her to apply, so she applied to several universities. The day her application arrived at Jacksonville University in Florida, a wealthy benefactor called the admissions department looking for a potential student “who could swim if they had the right backing,” according to the website.

Dr. Berry went on to receive her bachelor’s degree and graduated magna cum laude from Jacksonville. She subsequently earned her master’s and then doctorate in sociology from Kent State University in Ohio.

From there, she taught sociology and statistics at Kent, and she became so popular for her lectures and humor that she left to become an entertainer and comedian in the early 1990s. She was the host and co–executive producer of her own nationally syndicated talk show, “The Bertice Berry Show,” from 1993-94. Dr. Berry also has had appearances on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” and more.

She has authored two memoirs, “The World According to Me” and “I’m on My Way, But Your Foot Is on My Head: A Black Woman’s Story of Getting Over Life’s Hurdles.” She also has written several novels and has ghostwritten books for others. Later this year, she plans to release her newest book, “Black World,” about a corner in heaven where the living and dead can talk and bring inventions and new ideas to the world.

Gratitude and growth

Dr. Berry often comes back to the topic of gratitude, which she says is a powerful perspective shifter.

“Gratitude is a lens, and it shifts the paradigm and perspective from what isn’t happening into what already has and those who are already grateful for you,” Dr. Berry said. “Sometimes we lose sight of that. ‘It’s what I do,’ we say. We need to sit with that for a moment and experience gratitude. It helps us see and be better.”

Dr. Berry said gratitude can also be helpful at work, specifically through the process of appreciative inquiry. The process is a strengths-based, positive approach to leadership development and organizational change. Or, as she puts it, studying not what is wrong but what is right.

“If you only study what is wrong, you will mostly dismantle what is right,” she said. “When you look at what you are grateful for and what is going well, you double down on that. It shifts your perspective from what didn’t happen for you. … It’s moving from that attitude of collapse and powerlessness and the need to control to everything will be OK because it always is,”

Dr. Berry said her head injury helped her become less rigid in her ways. For example, she used to “have to” read six books every week because she had done so all her life.

“We think we have to do things the way we’ve done them. When you know your purpose, you can do it through any means as long as you are who you are becoming,” Dr. Berry said. “But also seeing through the lens of diversity and understanding, we’re not meant to be one way or one thing or one person throughout our lives.”

She continued: “The whole thing of being able to keep evolving and growing is such a beautiful way to live. My skin is shedding, so if that is happening to my physical self, I should do it in a mental way, too, so I can let things grow.”

Bertice Berry, PhD, joined the June 2 episode of the AVMA’s “My Veterinary Life” podcast, hosted by Drs. Marci Kirk and Annie Chavent. Dr. Berry talked about the connection between diversity and evolution, how veterinarians help bridge the worlds between humans and animals, and a special dress she made featuring pictures of her dogs.