Tawanda “Tee” Marie Hanible proudly lists the things that she is: a woman, a mother, a daughter, a philanthropist, a Marine, a survivor, and nobody’s hero. But she also self-identifies with the moniker “bada--.”
A product of the foster care system — after her father was killed on a South Side street — Hanible came of age in Chicago and endured growing pains that included expulsion from school, becoming pregnant as a teen (and having a subsequent abortion), getting shot while hanging out with friends, and enrolling in a military reform school before joining the Marines.
Hanible’s 40-year story is laid out in her first book, “The Warrior Code: 11 Principles to Unleash the Bada-- Inside of You.” Throughout its pages, she gives readers tips and worksheets for navigating and overcoming personal struggles.
Hanible, now living in Fredericksburg, Va., powered through her travails to lead a life of service — first as a Marine gunnery sergeant and now as a founder of nonprofit Operation Heroes Connect, which pairs at-risk young people with service members and veterans as mentors. Along the way, the mother of two tried her hand at reality TV (Fox’s “American Grit”) and won a number of awards for her volunteer efforts.
Now she hopes her life experiences can help others, noting that her book “pushes the boundaries because it’s not your average ‘you can do it’-type book. It’s an in your face, gritty, hold-no-punches type of book,” Hanible said. “One that takes you on a journey, and at the end of each chapter, this book challenges you to do the ‘work’ by completing short warrior assignments to help you find your inner warrior and get past obstacles that challenge you.”
Here, Hanible talks about her Chicago past and future plans. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: What was the impetus for writing the book?
A: The more time went by and the more I spoke out on social media about things from my past, the more I started to realize that people needed to hear my story, people needed to know that they aren’t the only ones still trying to heal from the emotional scars of their past.
Q: In the book, you don’t shy away from calling out fellow service members who stood in your way. Was that difficult?
A: No, not at all. Forbes did an article once that said “sometimes, even the most self-aware people in the world are completely unaware of the impact they’re having on others. Sometimes a tactful, non-confrontational discussion can help call attention to the matter.” Well, sometimes you can be the most tactful person in the world but if you work for a--holes, you simply work for a--holes, and there is nothing wrong with calling them out.
Q: How do you raise a kid to incorporate his or her “bada—ery” on a daily basis?
A: My daughters are 20 and 14. My technique in raising my daughters is simply to respect those who are different, embrace those who embrace you and focus on knocking out those goals that make you unabashedly proud of what you’ve accomplished.
Q: Who is this book for?
A: This book is for men as well as women. This book is both for those teens needing motivation dealing with their own circumstances or that executive in corporate looking for that push to get them to the next level. This book is absolutely for everyone.
Q: What are your thoughts about Chicago nowadays?
A: My thoughts on Chicago are synonymous with my thoughts 20 years ago: My city needs help. Not the kind where people come out to film a movie, call it “Chi-Raq” and exploit the city and its issues. Chicago needs the kind of help that gives its youth more resources and more art, music and sports programs. Chicago needs the kind of assistance that we rush off to give to other countries. I love my city, however, I know that it’s going to take a lot of focus and assistance in order for Chicago to be the city it’s capable of being.
Q: Out of all the principles you offer, which is the hardest for you to adhere to?
A: I would say my hardest is the 9th Principle — Find Your Tribe. I, myself, struggle with this. As we grow and life takes us to different elevations, we want those around us to grow with us. However, life has taught us that everyone isn’t meant to stay on this journey with us as we rise, and sometimes those who you may be surrounded by are the ones that help keep you stagnant. But we still try to hold on to people we shouldn’t, and we still try to fit these people into our tribe knowing they no longer belong there.