Ashley Ratcliff’s ('06) diagnosis didn’t stop her from doing what she loves and doing it with intention. Ratcliff graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a degree in Sociology and a minor in Professional Writing with an Editing Emphasis. She found the perfect balance between writing for herself and writing for an audience. After being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, Ratcliff has learned to embrace it and help others to do the same.
In her bestselling novel and first solo book, Jesus Year, she reflected on the first year of the rest of her life after the devastating diagnosis. Ratcliff’s illness does not define her, she defines herself. Before landing her job at Snapchat, her experiences both inside and outside of UC Santa Barbara brought her many opportunities. UCSB introduced her to life-changing internships, the UCSB Dance Team Black Reign, and in general what it means to be a Gaucho. Ratcliff’s generosity and humanitarianism have spread across the world through her meaningful work in journalism.
We sat down with Ratcliff to discuss her cosmic career journey and her transformative experience with MS. Read how UCSB has paved the way for her wide variety of talent.
Tell us about your career path since graduating from UCSB.
I wanted to pursue a career in journalism after graduating from UCSB. Being a big fan of storytelling, I got a job at the Palos Verdes Peninsula News on the southern coast of LA and it was a great opportunity to get my feet wet in the industry. While there, I had the opportunity to interview Donald Trump to discuss his legal battles with the city over his golf course, as well as talented students and business owners in the area. From there, I transitioned to Home Media Magazine, a trade publication for the home entertainment industry, where I interviewed studio executives and attended press junkets and red carpets.
Then I transitioned to a nonprofit called 826LA, a writing and tutoring center. My prime role was as an Americorp VISTA, which is similar to Peace Corp but domestic. It was quite a journey as I lived in poverty for a year to serve the students that attended the nonprofit who were from underrepresented communities. Despite making pennies, the work was so meaningful and exposed me to kids with immense creativity, innovation, and skill, as well as people who are passionate about serving and inspiring youth.
I continued my career path in the Advancement Department for Crossroads School for Arts & Sciences in Santa Monica. I managed the website, spreading awareness on students’ accomplishments, as well as the quarterly magazines. My colleague at the time got hired by Snapchat, and she knew I would love working at Snapchat, too. I’ve worked on the internal communications team for nearly five years. I help our employees feel seen and heard and create a larger platform for them to voice their opinions through our own internal app and video series, in addition to raising awareness about company-wide initiatives, products, and wins.
It all comes down to my love and passion for storytelling and engaging people in the corporate environment to ensure employers are being heard.
How did UC Santa Barbara prepare you for your journalism work? What news organizations did you write for when studying as a Gaucho?
UCSB left me well equipped to pursue a career in journalism. Granted, there is no journalism major, but being a part of the writing program was instrumental as I use my degree in that regard daily. With this minor, I had to find an internship and ended up at The Pacific Coast Business Times, a newspaper for the tri-counties.
While I was at UCSB, I wrote for the Daily Nexus, which taught me the fundamentals of journalism. The basics like how to get readers interested with a lead, how to write for your audience, how to place the most important information for the top of the article.
During my academic career, I also got an internship at the Santa Barbara News-Press. I formed great relationships and the News-Press showed me what it would be like working in the real world at a newspaper.
How did your Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis impact your outlook on life?
I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in March 2018 and it was news that came as a surprise. The fact that I am living with a chronic illness taught me to live intentionally and urgently. MS is very unpredictable and I can wake up tomorrow with mobility or eyesight issues and because of that, it lit a fire inside of me to do what I want to do in life … so I wrote a book. This book was self-serving but ultimately, I wrote it in service of other people living with chronic illnesses. It took me six months to get formally diagnosed, while it takes some people years, and I wanted to help people who found themselves in the same predicament, whether it be with MS or another illness.
With your first solo book, Jesus Year, published at the end of 2020, how does your book support and encourage others diagnosed with MS?
Jesus Year is the guidebook that I wish I was given when I was first diagnosed. I like to explain it as part memoir and part self-help. It is a book that encourages others along their MS journey with certain tips I call “Action IteMS.” Very small actions are very important within the journey, like finding your community or telling your family or close friends you have MS. One of the pieces of advice I give to readers is to confront your reality. If you don’t tell anyone, you are suffering alone and it is so hard to go through this without a support system. Another important pointer to help you through your journey is to celebrate life. Try to do things that bring you out of your comfort zone and have fun in the process.
Social media is one of the most efficient ways to spread awareness on current social issues such as your recent work as an advocate for those living with invisible and chronic illnesses. What is some advice you could give to others that want to spread awareness on topics that are rarely discussed in the media?
I say just do it! With social media, everyone has a platform and anyone can create an account. Although I work with nonprofits that spread awareness about MS, they don’t often talk about what it is like being a Black woman living with MS. Initially, I felt there was no lane for me to discuss that aspect of my diagnosis, as Black women largely do not feel represented in these major organizations. I say to anyone who feels like they can’t voice themselves because no one else is talking about it, that is your advantage!
One of the limiting beliefs I told myself was no one will want to read my book because I just started my new journey. But, no, many authors have experienced this for a long time and my book created something special for readers. I hadn’t read a book that said, “I just got diagnosed with MS last year and this is how I went through it.” There are people out there who need what you have so don’t be scared that no one else is doing it because that is your perfect chance.
Tell us more about your freelance work, like your blog.
I created my blog, Ashley Adores, nine years ago to create a platform outside of work to share things that bring me joy, like outfits of the day, exploring my city, looking at art, and finding new places to travel. I write for a living so I wanted to write about things other than my work assignments and express myself. I never had plans for it to be the next big thing and it is still pretty under the radar. But I love when people happen upon it and interact with what I write and blog!
One of my most favorite freelance gigs from my professional life was copywriting for entertainment studios’ DVDs and box sets, including Universal Studios’ properties like “The Office” and “Psych.” When you read the description on the back of some of those packages… that’s me! Little jobs and opportunities like this are so useful in my day-to-day work with my blog, internal comms, or nonprofit work.