As we embark upon a new year, we wish you and yours all things wonderful!
2018 was an incredible year! Most exciting was the formation of Inclusion Strategy Solutions LLC – our partnership! (Learn more about Paula and Wendy) We recognize that our skills and competencies are enhanced through our collaboration. Merging our organizations has provided our clients with a greater depth and range of services. Most importantly, our personal missions and visions align and result in greater innovation and impact on diversity, equity, and inclusion in our world!
We are happy to share with you, some highlights of our 2018 accomplishments:
During 2018, we trained over 3,000 individuals in subjects including: Sexual Harassment Prevention (as New York State and other jurisdictions enacted stricter training requirements for employers), Inclusive Workplace and Leadership (Unconscious Bias), and Anti-Racism. The content for these sessions was developed in collaboration with our clients to meet the specific needs and challenges of their organizations. We also developed content to satisfy New York State Bar diversity, inclusion, and the elimination of bias CLE requirements.
We supported our clients with developing diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, and strategies and supporting their EEO and HR needs by conducting investigations, facilitating counsel and advise sessions, and advising leadership on best practices.
In our work as diversity, equity, and inclusion consultants, we had the opportunity to travel to Athens, Greece as well as more than 10 US States to facilitate workshops and consult on various subjects. The myriad perspectives across global and regional environments create exciting opportunities for exploring the complexities and nuances of this work.
We’re excited to continue to enhance our opportunities to learn while engaging with a diverse array of people during this new year.
We look forward to the opportunity to support your organization and collaborate with you on your inclusion strategies!
Please visit our new website: Inclusion Strategy.com and let us know what you think. We would love to hear from you.
We work in places that can be marked on a map with an ‘X’. Those places are occupied by people who come from many other places, with multiple perceptions, and experiences. The walls of our workplaces look and feel solid, but they are porous. Personal experiences and responses to all that occurs in our respective worlds seep into the workplace and impact the relationships that used to be separated (or so we thought) by political, religious and class differences. Regardless of where we are on the political or religious spectrum, regardless of our race, gender, or national origin, we all have thoughts and feelings about what is happening in our world and the impact of those events on our lives.
The workplace is not a microcosm of our world, nor is it a metaphor of our world, it is our world. Just as our home, our community, our city or town, our state, our nation, is our world. So, when we are thinking about what we just read on Twitter or saw on the evening news, those thoughts come with us into the workplace and impact our relationships in that part of our world.
As one of our first steps to aligning communication, let’s make sure that we are using the same vocabulary.
Relationships: the way in which people, groups, countries, etc., talk to, behave toward, and deal with each other.
Social Justice: a fair and just relationship between an individual and society.
Creating inclusion out of our diversity, helping people to relate more indivisibly, teaching leaders to lead more effectively and communicators to communicate more successfully, is a type of activism. We work to raise people’s awareness that their relationships matter, that empathy matters, that inclusion matters. Our work is a form of social justice as we strive to help people treat each other fairly and justly.
Social Justice is exhausting. It’s big. It’s important. We may think it’s a mandate, and it is for some, but not for all. (ironic?) We may think it’s a right— and it is until it isn’t—or it was until it wasn’t. We may hear it’s a privilege- and it isn’t. It’s evidence that we have come a long way and that we have many more miles to go.
On the good days, there’s the organizing, meeting, defending, advocating, listening, collaborating, reading, scanning, posting, talking, campaigning, calling, aligning with others, learning and a sense of making progress.
On the not-so-good days, there’s the organizing, meeting, defending, advocating, listening, collaborating, reading, scanning, posting, talking, campaigning, calling, aligning with others, learning and a sense of defeat.
And as long as we maintain that Social Justice is big and conceptual, we lose. Sometime, somewhere, each of us has likely said or thought “how can my thoughts/actions possibly make a difference with ‘X’?” And then one day, we maintain that Social Justice is not big and conceptual. It is personal. Our thoughts and actions are engaged and activated. We are touched personally and emotionally. Sometime, somewhere, each of us has likely said or thought: ‘The status quo of ‘X’ is unacceptable. This is my fight and my right. I can help make a difference with ‘X’.” We engage and connect, and we fight for justice— a place where winning means our actions may have impacted others; a place where the hearts and minds of others have shifted to see, accept, adapt, embrace, perceive and live differently.
A Call to Action
In the workplace, the focus of diversity and inclusion, as well as leadership development, is frequently on sharing the ‘big ideas’ and explaining the ‘right thing’ (as mandated or spelled out in the law.) We comply with the bare minimum by signing up for classes in person or on-line. We complete the seat-time and check the box. The minimum standard is met. We have participated in the big and the conceptual.
And then one day at work we have an experience that triggers something personal. Whether it happens directly or indirectly, we feel the need to speak up, take action, and hold someone accountable for better behavior in “X”. We are on the path for taking action for the social justice in our immediate community— at work, at home, in our teams, or when we look in the mirror.
Just as an “X” marks the spot on a treasure map, so does it mark a spot for discovering the issues or insights that incite you to action; and if you are incited to action, you are likely to be intrinsically motivated to do the ‘exhausting’ work and be energized by it.
The first step in doing the real work of diversity and inclusion, as well as leadership development is to articulate your “X”. Next, the work becomes designing the journey to get there in the most meaningful way possible— “X”-ercising your right to make a positive difference— for yourself and others.
The Big Picture
When we work with clients to facilitate a more inclusive socially just workplace, we are the guides: a person’s path to empathy or an organization’s inclusiveness can only be accomplished and maintained by its citizens – those in relationship with others – for whom there is a great deal at stake. We do our best to never mistake the map for the territory.
In the next installments of ‘X’ Marks the Spot, we will share some of our most successful strategies and techniques. We will discuss how, for us, this work is personal and local and global and matters.
Over the past twenty-five years, Judy has worked in multiple industries in both private and public sectors with internal and external clients eager to align organizational structure to emerging business needs, improve global implementations, define improved strategies for effective transitions, and fine tune organizational integration processes.
Judy holds a Doctorate in Educational Leadership and Masters in Education from Northeastern University and a BS in English Education from Boston University. Her professional certifications include International Coaching Federation Professional Coaching Certification, Myer-Briggs Type Inventory, Facet5, Trust Works, Emotional Competency Inventories, Authentic Leadership, and various 360 assessments.
Wendy Amengual Wark, the Founder of Inclusion Strategy Solutions LLC has worked in the field of diversity and inclusion since 1988. Wendy helps employers to develop and implement practical and sustainable inclusion processes such as cultural assessments, strategic diversity planning, inclusive communications, customized training, mentoring programs, and employee resource groups. Wendy is in demand as a speaker and presenter at conferences and writes a blog on all things inclusion. She is writing the upcoming book, Let’s Not Be Polite: Overcoming Barriers to Inclusion.
Wendy has studied at Columbia University, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences; the City College of New York, City University of New York; and the University of Cambridge, Cambridge, England and achieved several high academic honors, including Phi Beta Kappa and a Ford Foundation Fellowship.
My husband Chris and I have an annual tradition. On New Year’s Day, if we are able, we head to the ocean, regardless of which coast we are on, to welcome the new year. The rhythmic cycle of the waves; the energy and beauty of the elements: air, water, earth, and fire of the sun collaborate to create the possibility of renewal. This year began on the beach at the Shinnecock Inlet which separates Hampton Bays from Southampton, NY. It is a place of incredible energy formed by the great hurricane of 1938, where the ocean crashes against the jetty as it squeezes through the inlet creating truly dramatic waves.
Proper renewal begins with reflection. 2016 was like all of the years that came before: with losses and gains, successes and failures, challenges and achievements. We grieved, celebrated, worked (a bit too much), and played (a bit too little). We wish we had seen more of you and that time did not speed by as it does!
We are optimistic about the coming year, despite the many serious challenges to inclusion, globally and locally. The song, “Get Together” by the Youngbloods, is as relevant today as when Chet Powers wrote it in 1963. We are reminded of how powerful we each are: “You hold the key to love and hate all in your trembling hand.” The song ends with urgency: “Right now, right now.”
So, resolutions aside, what do you want to create in 2017? My hope for 2016 is to be the best Wendy that I can be, to pay attention and live with intention. I hope that you will join me as I strive to test Henry David Thoreau’s observation that: “…if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavours to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”
Wishing you all things wonderful in 2017, and beyond!
In light of recent events, employers are asking if they should be discussing race and violence in the workplace. Discussions of this nature have been avoided historically as they can become emotionally charged and may result in more division than inclusion. Diversity ‘subject matter experts’, such as myself are often in the awkward position of being the first to observe and address what difference difference makes. What are we to advise employers to do? Does it sound like a sales-pitch if we recommend that we should be facilitating town hall conversations in the workplace about the state of racial and ethnic tensions in our nation?
What Are They Talking About?
Everyone is talking about the recent shootings of and by police officers in the United States – everyone. So, whether you employ people who design widgets, make widgets, sell widgets, count widgets, or monitor the impact of widgets, your organization is affected by these events. People are talking about this violence around the new water cooler which is accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This new water cooler offers the cover of anonymity that eliminates the need for people to be ‘politically correct’ or even civil. The water cooler of choice might be Twitter or Facebook or some other internet vehicle. Then, employees will discuss what they just read on the internet in person – at the actual water cooler in the workplace. Of deeper concern, is what is not discussed – what is simmering just below the surface of polite workplace discourse that can erupt at any time in response to the latest headline.
Every controversial issue has sides or camps such as, “Blue Lives Matter” versus “Black Lives Matter”. Members of various segments of society have strong feelings and opinions on these subjects. Helping people with entrenched philosophical differences to find common ground or to resolve their conflict often requires a facilitator or mediator. In the world of EEO (Equal Opportunity Employment), this is a regular part of resolving complaints of discrimination or harassment. Holding people accountable for their actions, having them take responsibility for those actions, and requiring them to treat each other with respect, is a critical element of conflict resolution. Getting people to move from anger and enmity to a place of empathy is the ultimate goal of the interaction.
Pop-up stores have been a trend for the past few years. They might sell seasonal items, such as beach chairs in the summer, or the latest fashion craze, such as stuffed animal purses, but they are meant to be temporary and to fill empty real estate between ‘real’ stores. Pop-up experts, on the other hand, especially in areas fraught with complexity and nuance such as race relations in the United States, can cause a great deal of damage. (I have discussed this in earlier blogs when examining the history of and strategies for the work of diversity and inclusion. Link) There is a great deal at stake when we ask people to trust each other enough to discuss subjects that are painful, and as we see every day in the news, possibly dangerous.
In working to resolve conflict between employees I have been screamed at, threatened, spit at, and assaulted. This work is not for the faint of heart. It takes many years and much training to learn appropriate techniques for diffusing conflict. People, unlike widgets, are unpredictable, messy and well, human. So, in considering strategies for dealing with employees’ emotional responses to traumatic events be sure that the facilitator has experience in conflict resolution.
Employers have an opportunity to address the state of diversity-based conflict that is affecting everyone, hence every organization. The high level of frustration resulting from too much talk and too little action provides an impetus for implementing strategies that can support employees suffering from an over-load of traumatic events in the news. The City of New York, for example is providing information and support for those overwhelmed by the frequency of violence in the news: LINK
In addition to emotional and psychological support, there is an opportunity to provide structured dialogues across cultural differences to create empathy, find community, and develop respect. This goes beyond examinations of unconscious bias, white privilege, and political correctness. This is about creating an organizational culture that is actively, intentionally inclusive. That means that when the Twitter-sphere lights up with chatter about disparate treatment of people of color, your organization is prepared to respond in a thoughtful way, ensuring that all voices are heard and that employees have an opportunity to discuss the issue among their peers.
Organizations, regardless of geographic location, sector or industry, have an opportunity to resolve conflict resulting from diversity. If you employ people and you are not creating a space where they feel safe, supported and respected, isn’t this a great time to begin?
On Monday evening I had the great pleasure to attend “I Am Latino in America” at El Museo del Barrio here in NYC hosted by Soledad O’Brien. The event is part of an ongoing national tour with performances and conversations about being Latino in America with celebrities, national and local advocates, business leaders, and academics.
Learn More: http://www.iamlatinoinamerica.com/
Monday evening’s panelists included: Rosie Perez, Actor and Activist, Jose Calderon, President of the Hispanic Federation, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, President, National Education Association, Carmen Fariña, Chancellor, New York City Department of Education, Anna Maria Chavez, CEO of the Girls Scouts of America, and others.
Ms. O’Brien shared statistics on Latino-Americans ranging from voting trends to educational accomplishments. The presentations and conversations illustrated how diverse Latinos in America are and how rapidly we are changing as a constituency. Most of the speakers agreed that there is a general lack of representation of Latino interests even by Latino politicians. Immigration was #5 on the list of political priorities among Latinos polled, but is the #1 issue discussed regarding Latinos on news/media programs. There seemed to be a general consensus among the speakers that without increased participation in the political process by Latinos, there would not be a change in this trend.
The value of this event is that there is an open dialogue from multiple perspectives and those perspectives, whether agreed with or not, are respected. Ms. Perez made a powerful point when referencing Latinos who, although in a qualified way, agreed to some extent with negative statements made about Mexicans. She cautioned those ready to endorse negative stereotypes that they could be the next target of slurs and insults.
I hope that Ms. O’Brien and Starfish Media Group continue and expand these events as it is vital to have a forum for open, honest dialogue among those who share an identity as complex as Latino in America. I propose that future events include examinations of the impact of the intersectionality of most Latinos. Many of us are Afro-Latino (Blatino), Hispanic-Asian, and White-Hispanic. Then, of course, there are differences with sexual orientation, gender identification, national origin, regional location, generation, class, education, etc. In other words, our diversity is multi-dimensional, a concept that has been explored and discussed for decades, but can get lost among headlines and trends.
You Don’t Look Puerto Rican!
I certainly fit the title of intersectional as the daughter of a tri-racial Puerto Rican father and a mostly Irish-American mother. A native New Yorker who grew up in a public housing project, I am also a woman in my 50s with a graduate school education who has traveled the world, including spending a summer studying at Cambridge University in England. So, what peg to fit me in?
Most of my life people respond uniformly when they learn of my ethnic background with: “You don’t look Puerto Rican!” To which I usually respond, “What does a Puerto Rican look like?” As a descendant of a Caribbean Island populated by Tainos, (an Arawak tribal group) and the Caribs who invaded periodically for more than 800 years before the Spanish arrived; who were followed by other Europeans as well as the African slaves who those Europeans abducted to the Caribbean, I reflect my ancestral history. Based upon that history, what does a Puerto Rican look like?
I share my personal experience and a bit of Puerto Rican history with you because the conversation that is being facilitated by Soledad O’Brien, another half-Latina-Americana, and one who embodies intersectionality, is critical for all who have yet to understand that it is precisely the lack of communication that generates exclusion and reinforces discrimination and hate.
A Multi-Dimensional Conversation
I am in the people business. My job is to engage people who are resistant to change and difference in conversations about those very subjects. The most rewarding and affirming work that I do happens during training sessions when participants come up to me during breaks and tell me that they are pleasantly surprised that they are enjoying the experience – having fun, even! Being able to share that ‘aha’ moment with people of all races and backgrounds when they realize that we all are diverse and can all benefit from inclusion, it is amazing! This is what inspires me to keep doing what I am doing, even on the most challenging of days.
Often, when examining the impact of our perceptions on our relationships at work and elsewhere, we discover that someone may have a Hispanic name, but not be Hispanic, (such as my sister-in-law, Julia Garcia or several of my Filipina friends). Furthermore, someone might have a name like Wendy Willow Amengual Wark and be culturally more Puerto Rican than she is Irish.
So, what does it mean to be a Latino in America? For me, it means belonging to a group, like other immigrant groups who were treated with disdain, hatred and abuse in the past and have reached a tipping point where we cannot necessarily be identified by our names or appearance as native born or immigrant, as legal or illegal, as a member of any particular racial group – in other words as very American!
Is your organization looking beyond appearance and listening for more than surnames in your search for inclusion? If not, isn’t this a great time to begin a multi-dimensional conversation?
Please share your story and opinion on this subject as this blog post is part of that conversation.
There is resistance in weight training, resistance in electricity, resistance in magnetic fields (thinking of Leonard Nimoy today!), and resistance when it comes to diversity and inclusion. D&I practitioners have been trying to figure out how to overcome this resistance for decades and now, in 2015, resistance to inclusion seems to be stronger than ever. So, how do we deal with people, especially those in leadership and management positions, who resist including others who are different from themselves in whatever it is that they are leading or managing?
The first thing that we need to do is accept the fact that there is resistance to diversity and inclusion. This has nothing to do with how you might feel about that resistance. Neither does it have anything to do with you. Those who resist diversity and inclusion may do so for a single reason or a complex variety of reasons. Perhaps they are afraid of change. Perhaps they are afraid of difference. There are many causes for such fears, but acknowledging the existence of fear in people is the first step toward ameliorating it. I do not recommend that diversity practitioners begin calling in psychoanalysts for every manager and leader in their organization who resists diversity and inclusion. I do suggest that we need to understand the history of racism, sexism, Islamophobia, homophobia, and other fears and hatreds of groups of people if we hope to create inclusion in the workplace or anywhere else.
What’s In A Word?
If people cringe every time we use the word diversity or the word inclusion, might we find other words that help us to diminish resistance and achieve our goals of creating sustainable inclusion? What words are acceptable or even embraced by leaders and managers? Development, succession planning, return on investment (ROI), value-added, are all words and phrases used in the business world. Use this vocabulary to create successful and sustainable D&I initiatives. Diversity will be woven into the fabric of the initiative when you intentionally include your hidden high potentials and others who have not traditionally been invited to the table. ERGs (Employee Resource Groups) should sponsor community activities that expand your market share and fulfill your corporate responsibility, hence establishing an ROI for executives who want to see more than a woman’s history month luncheon result from their investment in the women’s ERG.
Launching a pilot initiative that uses an intriguing vocabulary will create curiosity in ambitious people. Whether it is a mentoring pilot with a small group of mentors and protégés as part of your overall succession planning / employee development plan or a leadership think tank where brilliant ideas are exchanged in a safe environment, those who were not invited to participate will be curious about the endeavor. Promote the initiative. Let all of your employees know what you are ‘piloting’. Keep them apprised of the progress of your pilot program. Then, if you decide to make mentoring a part of your organizational culture, you will have created sufficient curiosity to have more applicants than spots for protégés. That is a great formula for success!
What’s Their Mission?
Do you know your organization’s mission? I have shared mine with you before: To make manifest the value of all people. If you do not know your organization’s mission – really know it – then stop reading my blog and go and read your mission statement! Print it out and tape it on the wall. Study it and understand that every word of a mission statement should be there for a reason. Does your diversity and inclusion mission (you do have one, don’t you?) support the organizational mission? If not, tear it up and go back to the drawing board! Each time I help an organization to define and develop its D&I mission it reminds me that the lack of a viable, articulated mission is the primary reason that D&I initiatives fail. Trying to plug-in a diversity event, a single training session, or a new ERG will not create a successful D&I program.
If you help your leaders and managers to achieve their missions over a sustained period of time, they will be able to move from resisting to embracing inclusion. In other words, you can flip your organization’s magnetic field so that it can live long and prosper!
If you are not diminishing resistance to diversity and inclusion in your organization isn’t today a great day to begin?
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I was once asked (directed) by a boss of mine not to use the words “race” or “gender” while facilitating diversity and inclusion education for the organization’s employees. The main reasons I was given for this approach were:
1. There are all types of diversity: job title, geographic location, marital status, parental status, we don’t have to focus on the obvious differences.
2. According to Dr. R. Roosevelt Thomas (the late diversity scholar and author of Beyond Race and Gender: Unleashing the Power of Your Total Work Force by Managing Diversity; AMACOM, NY, NY. 1991.), “Employees differ not just on the basis of race, gender, and ethnicity, but also on a variety of other dimensions such as age, functional and educational backgrounds, tenure with the organization, lifestyles, and geographic origins, just to name a few.” Dr. Thomas was absolutely right, but that does not mean that any dimension of diversity should be avoided when trying to create an inclusive environment.
3. If the training focuses on race and gender, it might make our people uncomfortable.
I was also told, in other terms, that we were living in a post-racial society and that there was no reason to dredge-up the past and make people feel guilty about things that they could not control.
Today, as we celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and contemplate his legacy and the history of race in our nation, it is impossible for me to understand the claim that we live in a post-racial society when there are so many racially based challenges that we face every single day.
No Pain No Gain
Many people have begun the New Year by trying to live healthier lives. They have started to exercise, possibly after a long period without doing so. If this is the case, underused muscles will be aching in response to the pressure to participate in this healthy activity. If one is out of shape and overdoes it, then it can become too painful to continue and make progress toward better health. (I will confess that as I write these words, more than a few of my neglected muscles are groaning in response to my recent attempts to include all of my interdependent parts in goal oriented exercising.)
To continue with the exercise metaphor, much of the diversity training of a few decades ago was also a bit painful because of neglect, particularly when trainers would overdo it. So, the tendency might be to cringe at the thought of working out when lingering pain from the last effort reminds us how uncomfortable exercise can be. This certainly makes sense. That is why it is wise to begin a regimen of exercising carefully, mindful of old injuries, weaknesses, and risks. While there is going to be some inevitable discomfort, it does not need to be debilitating.
Beyond Trends and Fads
Just as with zumba, and other forms of exercising, fads and trends come and go, but three basic methods remain at the core of a healthy physiological program: reaching a targeted heart rate for your age and condition (cardio or aerobics), stretching, and strength. Similarly, effective methods for reaching sustainable inclusion goals require energy, stretching one’s ability to communicate and connect, and improving an organization’s cultural strength, or interdependence. These may initially cause participants some discomfort, but with time they will grow and expand their capacity to be truly inclusive. Just as anyone beginning an exercise regimen is advised to see their doctor to make sure that they are not causing themselves any harm and if they can afford it, they should hire a professional trainer to guide them. Likewise, it is recommended that your organization reach out to an experienced guide before embarking on an inclusion campaign.
One Step at a Time
Just as we are advised to begin an exercise plan by walking – simply walking before we start running – I recommend that we begin by talking. Conversations that have the goal of creating empathy in spite of diversity can help us to acknowledge our common history and distinct positions. In other words, let’s not be polite; let’s have genuine conversations that result in real relationships. Conversations that are grounded in mutual respect and the understanding that every one of us has a unique perspective – a unique set of experiences – can result in sustainably inclusive relationships. Conversations that are facilitated in a safe environment where respect is the primary requirement can be the first steps that move our homes, our schools, our workplaces, our cities, and our nation in a direction of healing and sustainable or manageable health.
Setting Realistic Goals
Just as exercising and dieting goals need to be realistic and practical, inclusion goals, if they are to be sustainable, must also reflect our current state and condition regarding diversity and inclusion. That requires an honest assessment and a well thought out plan. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. did not just show up in Selma, Alabama and expect racism or the denial of civil rights to end. He worked with others and developed a well-thought out plan and still met with incredible resistance before he and all of those who fought for our civil rights advanced that goal. That success enables and encourages all of us to continue to walk, to continue to strive to achieve our goals of inclusion, of equity, of humanity.
If you have not begun to advance your goals of inclusion, isn’t today a great time to begin?
Please let me know what you think! firstname.lastname@example.org
Visible Lives: Oral Histories of the Disability Experience
I recently wrote about Visible Lives: Oral Histories of the Disability Experiencewhich is a New York Public Library project. This project excited me from the moment I learned about it and now I am even more inspired to continue as an interviewer and to invite others to participate in this unique initiative!
I interviewed Elinor Cohen, who has an amazing story and shared it openly and bravely during our two hour conversation (the time sped by!). In preparing for our taping, Elinor and I learned that we live across the street from each other. In fact, I am looking at her building while typing these words! We are also both City College, CUNY graduates. In addition to learning about one person’s experience and perspective on becoming disabled, I have made a new and dear friend. I am grateful to the New York Public Library for many things, including being my baby-sitter when I was young, and now I add my gratitude for connecting me with Elinor! Please let me know what you think of her story. http://oralhistory.nypl.org/interviews/elinor-cohen-pawejx
Visible Lives: Oral Histories of the Disability Experienceis an oral history project that works to both preserve and document a thematic history through personal recollections. This project will collect stories of people who have lived (or currently live) with a visual impairment or a disability. The Library will train community members to conduct these interviews. Interviews will be shared in a preservation archive at The Milstein Division and on the New York Public Library website. Public programs will also connect neighborhood residents and project participants.
Visible Livesis a project of Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library in Manhattan. A public archive will be kept at this local branch for future generations to listen to and research.
For more information about this project or to share YOUR story:
Please contact Alexandra Kelly at Outreach Services and Adult Programming, AlexandraKelly@nypl.org or (212) 621-0552.
I am interviewing other storytellers and will share those conversations with you as they are posted.
If you haven’t been inspired lately, isn’t this a wonderful time to be?
On December 3rd I was part of a wonderful celebration hosted by Jaime Klein, Founder of Inspire Human Resources. http://www.inspirehumanresources.com/
We participated in an (dare I say it), inspiring exercise! We were given blank journals and asked to decorate them and to write a message inside for participants in Dress for Success http://www.dressforsuccess.org/. The journals will be used to keep career related notes on job interviews, training and other thoughts. It was such a personal act: coming up with a design and a message that a stranger would have and read and carry with them as they embark on a new, hopeful chapter in their lives.
The force behind this exercise was Susie Schub, Founder and President of Caring Capital. “Caring Capital™ ignites employee engagement by empowering corporate volunteers to make appealing gifts for neighbors in need. Through our proven philanthropic team-building services, employees connect, create, and make an impact on the community. We deliver no-fail projects to employees worldwide, so each company may serve the community no matter where employees reside. Since its launch in 2009, Caring Capital has engaged 25,000 employees who have donated gifts, from furniture and clothing to bedding and toys, to nearly 110,000 children, families, seniors and service members.”
Look what resulted (Beaming Wendy!)
I am grateful to Jaime and Susie for the reminder that something that is easy and fun to do can make a huge difference in another person’s life! Please visit the Caring Capital website and check out some of their amazing projects! http://www.caringcap.com/
If your organization has not embarked on an opportunity to be inspired, isn’t this a great time to do so?
So, why did my heart leap? My heart leapt because we have the freedom to protest an act that many people have determined to be an example of injustice based upon the circumstances of Michael Brown’s race. Petitions were distributed within minutes of the announcement and many individuals and organizations have expressed their commitment to continue to work toward improving our systems of justice and law enforcement. This nation has been founded on the principal that we have certain inalienable rights, and since the passage of the 13th, 14th, 15th, and 19th Constitutional Amendments, http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution_amendments_11-27.html those rights have belonged to all U.S. Citizens. We have a legacy, in fact a responsibility to defend our rights and the rights of others, which is why we have a jury system, a jury of our peers, who hear arguments from both the prosecutor and defense attorney, is supposed protect our rights under the law.
When the decision was announced at approximately 9:30 EST on Monday, November 24, the internet lit up with millions of comments. People wrote of despair, heartbreak, rage, disappointment, disgust, and sadness. Others wrote hateful things, racists things, dividing things about those who grieved and mourned. Then, images began appearing of violence in Ferguson, MO. Images also appeared of peaceful protests in Ferguson and across the country; however, the predominant images posted by the media were of looting, burning, and violence. Let’s be very clear: violence solves nothing. Looting, burning of shops and destruction of property is worse than an exercise in futility – these actions result in raising barriers to inclusion and reinforcing the stereotypes held by many who do not understand the reasons for riots or even protests.
Individuals who believe that they are not represented by the justice system or their government may stop voting and if their frustration over their inability to effect change or achieve social justice reaches an extreme level, they will react not in a rational, ‘cool-headed’ way, but as a mob, pushed to mindless rage. There is not a specific cause and effect to riots. In other words, rioters or looters do not necessarily attack shops owned by people who treated them rudely or those with contents of the greatest value, there is just a need to vent. I experienced several riots in the 1960s first-hand and will never forget the enormity of the despair that consumed my community. The events of this past week have brought back those memories and feelings.
Haters ‘Gonna Hate
Since last Monday evening the twitter-sphere has been deluged by a steady stream of hate speech. I will not quote any of the comments here. I will state that although I have spent my life fighting hatred and have heard and read more racist comments than I care to count throughout my career and life, the sheer quantity and vitriolic intensity of many of the comments posted during the past eight days has shaken me. We do NOT live in a post-racial society. Racism is as prevalent today as it was in 1865. Yet, most people are fairly polite when they meet other people, in person, who are different from themselves. But if the numbers of comments on the internet in response to the events in Ferguson are any indication, we need to pay close attention to the reality that many people who are not discussing ‘the Ferguson matter’ at work, have very strong thoughts and feelings about this matter, which they are expressing elsewhere.
Some insight is offered by “The Whiteness Project,” being produced by PBS Video. This is “an interactive investigation into how Americans who identify as “white” experience their ethnicity.” http://video.pbs.org/video/2365320408/ The comments made by several of the participants indicate a profound lack of connection with or empathy for African Americans or their experiences. They also exemplify our nation’s deep polarity along racial lines which appears to be increasing rather than diminishing. [This project certainly warrants an entire blog post, but as it is relevant to this topic it is included here.]
Can We Talk?
We need to address the responses to the reactions to the announcement in Ferguson, MO by creating a forum for productive dialogue. This dialogue needs to be based on the desire to experience empathy. It is only through empathy that we can begin to understand behavior or feelings that seem foreign or unacceptable to us.
It is with this in mind that I am making the following request: How do you think you would feel if you were an 18 year old African American man living in the United States of America right now, observing all of the news, media and internet commentary regarding the events in Ferguson, MO?
Please, think this through very carefully before responding. As you try to walk in this person’s shoes, remember that the exercise is not based upon fashion or wardrobe choices, vocation, educational status, profession, religion, political affiliation, class, region, whether one was raised in a home with two loving, supporting parents or by a single parent, this has only to do with the circumstances of one’s birth – to be born as an African American male in the United States of America in 1996. Can you imagine how you might feel during this past week reading all of the headlines on “the Ferguson matter”? [If you are, or ever have been, an 18 year old African American man, please share your comments as well!]
Please send me your comments and – for the love of our country – let’s not be polite! Let’s start to talk about race honestly, openly, respectfully, and with the intent to work on healing a nation that has been poisoned by racism since long before it was a nation.
If you have not asked yourself questions like this before, isn’t this the time to begin?