no one can do everything
but everyone can do something.

You may have seen the following letter written by “This is Us” actor, Lonnie Chavis. These images are from his original facebook post:

I haven’t watched “This is Us” yet. But I did see the 4 minute clip he talks about here and it was a punch in the gut.

“The director and writers told me that they didn’t need me to cry for the scene. However, it was hard for me not to cry as I witnessed what I had just learned was my reality. I wasn’t acting. I was crying for me. Can you imagine having to explain to a room full of white people why I couldn’t hold back my real tears while experiencing the pain of racism?” Lonnie Chavis

We’ve come so far in the fight against racism and we’ve made so much progress on the road toward cultural competence and inclusion. Until just a few months ago, I genuinely thought we were still steadily moving forward.

Now?

At best, it seems progress is stalled.

At worst? If we’re not careful and intentional and diligent, we could slip backwards toward segregation and division.

There’s still so much work to do. Police reform, like Transitional Justice, prison reform like Restorative Justice and education reform utilizing racial equity tools are all possible paths forward. And those are only three issues.

It will take incremental steps and years for continued change to come to fruition. Implementing extensive change throughout widespread and interlocking systems and institutions is a mammoth objective with countless prerequisites and dependent tasks. The shadow of this mammoth task can block our vision and prevent us from recognizing opportunities to be active partners within these larger efforts, as well as prevent us from seeing opportunities to use our talents and skills to effect change within our own circles of influence.

Unless we intentionally search for those opportunities, we can fall into thinking that, as an individual, our voice is too small to make a concrete difference and that to be heard, our options are limited to voting and activism; such as protesting, signing petitions, donating money, and posting on social media.

Unless we recognize the cumulative and exponential results that grow from countless individuals working one-on-one to change the trajectory of a single person’s life, we run the risk of becoming incapacitated by the self-defeating belief that our individual contribution “isn’t going to cut it” as someone told me recently.

Acrimonious cynicism is counter-productive and that conclusion is unfounded. I’ve seen firsthand the results of helping a single individual break the cycle of generation poverty and overcome situational poverty and that kind of transformation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. When you help one person, the change in their life is contagious. It infects their family and friends. I’ve been focusing on helping individuals for over 5 years now and I’m not going to give up on them because of a cynical dismissal that equates the results these hard working people achieve to being “coddled.” They are courageous and earn every hard fought success.

Some may call me naive, but I believe we can do more than protest, sign petitions, donate money, post on social media and vote.

If we want continued change and effective reform
I believe we need innovative ideas from
diverse groups of people uniting together,
blocking groupthink and creating synergy

I believe we need achievable goals
with sustainable results and
strategic plans tactically deployed
by teams of dedicated individuals

I believe we need patience and perseverance
for incremental steps, grace for failing,
course corrections and permission to try again.

Each of us has unique talents, skills and passions and there are countless opportunities for each of us to be good stewards of those gifts and make a positive difference in someone’s life by meeting a need. If you really want to find a way to help, look for organizations who are already serving in ways that align with your passion. Call a school and ask if there’s a struggling student who needs tutoring, check out Big Brothers Big Sisters of America or similar organizations. It doesn’t even have to be local. Now that so many people know how to use video chat, you can volunteer without leaving your house. Don’t devalue what you’re good at and look for ways to share it, equipping, inspiring and encouraging someone, even if you only have an hour a week or an hour a month. You can change someone’s life.

I recently learned of an inmate who is making a difference in individual lives – from inside prison. Curtis “Wall Street” Carroll entered prison illiterate at age 17 and after teaching himself to read, he studied finance and the stock market. When a warden (strongly) encouraged he teach other inmates, he started teaching financial literacy. These days, Robin William’s son, Zak co-teaches with him to support prison rehabilitation programs.

No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.
#BeTheChange
#RacialReconciliation

Don’t forfeit your opportunities to influence others.
part 2: doxing and terminating are easy.

Saw a comment by an HR professional in which they condemned someone for posting a link to a story and then strongly disagreed with people commenting on the post, calling them “disgraceful and dishonorable.” They ended by saying:

“I hope the people you work with have access to some of the hateful comments some of you have shared here.”

My first thought was, wait.

Did an HR professional just promote doxing and termination?

This person’s entire career centers around employee development and training. They are a professed Christian and appear to have a lifelong passion for helping people find and reach their potential. Doxing and termination seemed counter to everything they work toward. They had an opportunity to influence and not only did they miss it and waste it, they intentionally threw it away.

It nagged at me. Like, “couldn’t sleep till after 4am” kinda nagged at me. I prayed about whether to reply and if so, what to say. Nothing seemed right. So, the next day, I went back to the post and replied, ditching all the possibilities I had considered and just straightforwardly asked:

What do you mean when you say “I hope the people you work with have access to some of the hateful comments some of you have shared here.”

I was genuinely hoping I was wrong and that if I wasn’t, that there might be an opening for dialogue.

Within an hour, they replied:

“The message above is very clear.”

For a fraction of a second, I thought about responding. I prayed. And this thought popped into my mind:

I’m not responsible for the outcome of the conversation.

My responsibilities are, at the very least, to:
1. respond to opportunities to have conversation and
2. ask the Holy Spirit to equip me for the conversation so I can respond instead of react
3. do my best to respond respectfully and humbly.

I genuinely believe part of my calling is to put stones in shoes, and leave the work up to the Holy Spirit to soften hearts and open minds. What that means to me is that, if after a conversation with me, someone is thinking more deeply about something than they were before, then I’ve been a good steward of that particular opportunity.

and I need to let it go so I can get some sleep. Because I need to be alert enough to recognized the next opportunity.

Don’t forfeit your opportunities to influence others.
part 1: Dismissing alternative viewpoints doesn't strengthen your argument or your credibility.

Over and over, I see facebook posts by seemingly kind people instructing friends who [they perceive] believe differently than they do to “unfriend” them.

This week, I saw a post from an HR consultant on LinkedIn, declaring they would not work with anyone who [they perceive] believe differently than they believe.

I have more than a few problems with this increasing cancel culture reaction to diversity. And by definition, I believe the word diversity is accurate.

I included [they perceive] because

perception isn’t always accurate,
the issues facing us today are incredibly complex and
most people aren’t myopic simpletons.

1. Perception is subjective.

Our perception (a way of understanding or interpreting something)

is skewed by our

perspective (a particular attitude toward or point of view)

Consider the possibility that we have more in common that it may appear at first glance.

What if

people who believe and act differently than we do, actually want and value the same things but differ only in their strategies for pursuing those shared goals?

What if

people who believe differently than we do are intelligent and informed about facts, but differ only in their interpretations and conclusions about those facts?

What if

the labels we use to describe people who believe differently than we do actually dehumanizes them and prevents us from seeing them as unique individuals, much less understanding or empathizing with them?

What if

our perception of the “other guy” is wrong? What would we find out about them as human beings if we didn’t unfriend them or refuse to work with them?

2. When an issue truly is “clear” or “simple” there isn’t extensive controversy over it.

Time and time again, I see people completely disregarding conflicting ideas as invalid or irrelevant in their efforts to justify and validate their own view. I’ve said this before:

Dismissing alternative viewpoints doesn’t strengthen your argument or your credibility.

It weakens the first and erodes the second.

If our reasoning can’t stand on it’s own merit and stand strong against questions or counter arguments, it needs some work. And if our reasoning needs work, we might consider listening to the alternative viewpoints as a first step. Allowing them to challenge our assumptions and help us come to a deeper understanding of what we believe so we can explain it. Respectfully.

It’s so. much. easier to call someone by a label instead of by their name, to cut off communication with them and instead surround ourselves with the comfort and familiarity of people who think like us, but we can’t hear different voices if we block ourselves off from their source.

3. Disagreement doesn’t mean people are uninformed, uneducated, racist or brainwashed.

Statements like the ones below assume that people who hold alternative views about the causes of, and solutions to, the problem of racism are only listening to a few well known celebrities “instead of” rather than “in addition to” their friends – and to the alternative views of a significantly larger number of not so famous people with diverse backgrounds, education and credentials:

  • “…if you are listening to them instead of the black people in your life on a daily basis…You’re doing it wrong.”
  • “If you’re a white person…quick to post a video of a famous black person agreeing with you, but won’t read a book from a black person with a PhD in their field disagreeing with you, then you aren’t trying to learn, you’re just weaponizing black voices to confirm your own bias.
  • “If you genuinely want to be part of this conversation, please stop only listening to black voices that prove your white opinion right.”

What if

there are so many of these alternative voices, coming from so many sources, growing louder every day that it’s impossible for us NOT to hear, much less ignore them?

What if

these thoughts and opinions are not just coming from black celebrities but from all walks of life, from multiple socio-ecconomic classes and some with PhDs of their own?

What if

people aren’t just watching youtube video clips and sharing pithy word images?

What if

people are actually reading books, studies and articles – written by authors from both sides, listening to podcasts, interviews and debates AND having authentic, vulnerable conversations with friends who not only don’t look like they do, but also friends who don’t think like they do?

 

Aunt Jemima’s real name was Nancy Green.
and she BUILT that brand.

Does Aunt Jem need a brand update? Yes.

UPDATE TO CLARIFY: By “brand update” do I actually mean change the name and remove the image? Yes.
If all you care about is making sure “I get it” then move on, nothing to see here.
However, if you think it’s possible that I’m NOT a myopic simpleton, then you may find the following to be of some interest.

Last Tuesday, twitter had…more than a few…tweets about Aunt Jemima being a symbol of racism.

On Wednesday, Quaker Oats announced they are “retiring” the brand.

Aunt Jem is CANCELLED.

accused of perpetuating a racist stereotype.

Even the experts agree.

Riché Richardson, associate professor of African American literature at Cornell University on TODAY Wednesday:

It is urgent to expunge our public spaces of a lot of these symbols that for some people are triggering and represent terror and abuse.

this image is triggering and represents terror?

Daina Ramey Berry, a professor of history at The University of Texas:

“Aunt Jemima kept Black woman in the space of domestic service associating them with serving food under a “plantation mentality.”

and “it would be misguided to lament the change by Quaker as a loss of representation for Black women.”

This particular “representation for Black women” was based on a real person, Nancy Green.

“Born a slave in Kentucky in 1834, Green lived in Mount Sterling throughout the Civil War and relocated to Chicago when the conflict ended. There, she became a cook for Judge Charles Walker, who recommended she represent R.T. Davis Milling Company’s pancake mix, according to Marilyn Kern-Foxworth’s book, “Blacks in Advertising, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.” Her fame grew after appearing at Chicago’s World’s Fair in 1893 before she died in 1923.” according to Courier-Journal.com

According to African American Registry:

“Mrs. Green was one of the first black corporate models in the United States…she became the advertising world’s first living trademark.”

She “Green was a hit, friendly, a good storyteller, and a good cook…”

“Her exhibition booth drew so many people that special policemen were assigned to keep the crowds moving. The Davis Milling Company received over 50,000 orders, and Fair officials awarded Nancy Green a medal and certificate for her showmanship.

She was proclaimed “Pancake Queen.” She was signed to a lifetime contract and traveled on promotional tours all over the country. Flour sales were up all year and pancakes were no longer considered exclusively for breakfast.”

She started at 56 years old. A woman. A Black woman. In 1893.

Nancy Green was Aunt Jemima.
and she BUILT that brand.

And now it’s been cancelled.

and Nancy Green’s achievements are not to be admired or celebrated.

Because, as Berry said, it is “misguided to lament” her “loss of representation for Black women.”

Because, as Richardson said, she is the “kind of stereotype that is premised on this idea of Black inferiority and otherness.”

She is not a positive representation for Black women?
She represents Black inferiority?

I may take some heat for this, but…

I don’t understand how Nancy Green’s origin as a slave and her physical appearance eclipses her achievements and their historical significance as a Black woman from 1893 until her death in 1923.

As I was writing this post, I found myself thinking of a quote from the following video:

“…race and ethnicity are closely connected to culture and in my experience, most people are proud of their culture. Refusing to acknowledge race is being insensitive the vast cultural differences across the world.”

Kristin Kroepfl, Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of Quaker Foods North America, said in a statement to NBC News. “While work has been done over the years to update the brand in a manner intended to be appropriate and respectful, we realize those changes are not enough.”

I may take some heat for this, but…

Nancy Green’s legacy is part of American history. I hope Quaker’s rebrand of Aunt Jem finds its way to recognizing and honoring her.

Assuming the Twitterverse will allow it.

intention is irrelevant

I wanted to reach through the television, take her hand, look her in the eye and sincerely apologize for this unfair truth. She didn’t want to have to “choose her words” or be judged by them. She wanted her intentions to be recognized. She wanted her heart to be seen. She felt victimized by those who judged her unfairly. The amazing thing was that after 6 weeks of portraying a black woman, it was these feelings that gave her an inkling of what it feels like to be black and she didn’t seem to recognize it.

48 year old Carmen Wurgel had spent 6 weeks living as a black woman for the documentary series, “Black. White.” While she consciously and intellectually recognized and could discuss the differences and difficulties she experienced – both as a black woman and as a white woman trying to understand a black woman – she failed to recognized that the feelings she had as a white woman – misunderstood by a black woman – was just a small representation of how blacks feel when they are discriminated against. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t right. She wasn’t being judged based on who she was as a person. She was being judged based on someone else’s perceptions. She was being judged.

The documentary also featured Rene, a black woman, who spent the same six weeks living as a white woman. This unfair truth I mentioned is that Rene didn’t filter what Carmen said through Carmen’s intentions. Rene filtered Carmen’s words through Rene’s perspective, which has been decades in the making. Everything Rene has experienced has contributed to her perspective. Rene expects to be discriminated against because she has been discriminated against so often in her life – beginning when she was very young.

Carmen expects to be understood and judged by her intentions. She doesn’t expect that she will be misunderstood or discriminated against because she doesn’t experience discrimination on a regular basis and – most importantly – probably didn’t experience invalidating discrimination as a young child.

This means Carmen does have to “choose her words.” She has to consider what she says and how others will interpret those words. For anyone who has seen the basic communication model, we’re talking about endcoding and decoding.

So what about Rene? What responsibility does she have in her relationships with people of a different race? Is it everyone else’s job to make sure they don’t say something to offend her? Does she have any responsibility to consciously recognize her own prejudices against whites?

And she has them. It this case, Rene is prejudiced against Carmen. Simple statements like, “There she goes again!” are evidence of that. Rene has seen Carmen exhibit some behavior and expects to see it again.

I have some prejudices – recognized or not. So do you. I’m not just talking about racial prejudices. What about religion? Politics? Socioeconomic differences? Age? Gender? Even parenting methods. The list is huge.

My responsibility is to consciously and constantly challenge my preconceived ideas. To approach people and situations with an open mind, not an expectation to be followed by disappointment or in some cases, righteous indignation. My responsibility is to give people the benefit of the doubt. To attempt to empathize with someone who is different from myself. Why did they say that? Why did they do that? My responsibility is to look for the things we have in common because it’s far easier to latch onto one difference and make it overshadow everything else than to make an effort to communicate – really communicate – with another person.

That’s my responsibility. That’s Rene’s responsibility That’s Carmen’s responsibility. That’s your responsibility.

That’s our responsibility.