“For the first time, I owned my experiences that I learned to avoid calling racist for fear that it would create roadblocks to my success.“
Like many people, I’ve had anxiety about the pandemic and concerns regarding the economy. As I watched the murder of George Floyd and the unfolding events thereafter, I moved from sadness to anger to reflection to curiosity!
My personal interest and position as a Chief Corporate Responsibility Officer invited me to many conversations about racism, inequality, diversity, and opportunity. I’ve watched with amenity the protesters and their persistence to drive change.
I’ve even had moments when I thought of myself as a coward because I wasn’t among the thousands of people who risked their lives to march in the scorching sun, hold signs, and chant, “I can’t breathe” to demand a shift in racist behaviors.
It wasn’t until family and friends reminded me that I was in the fight when I spoke up in boardrooms about over medicating black and impoverished children and the need to recruit more black police officers. And that each time I fought for my humanity by challenging leadership when I was mistreated due to the lack of inclusion, I was impacting change. Further, I helped gift the world with generations of future leaders when I founded an academic scholarship for black students (now an endowment at DSU an HBCU) needing assistance to help navigate university corridors that would otherwise have been closed to them.
I came to realize that by sharing my story in my first book, There Is More Inside (2005), about my three white friends who “came to me and said that they could no longer be my friend because I was black,” and in the same book encouraging diversity was my way of influencing transformation. Here some of what was published:
“In social situations, I notice that people segregate themselves. It has been proven that people are more comfortable with people who look like them, but it has also been proven that there is tremendous power, insight, and creativity in diversity. Because I believe in the power of diversity, I try to keep an open mind in all situations.
In social situations, I make it a point to meet someone different from me. I’ve met some amazing people employing this method. I especially like going to tables where people are different from me. Yes, it can be intimidating, but I simply walk over and say, “Hi! Is anyone sitting here?”
It seems like time stops as they all look at me in a daze. I then hear, “Oh no, help yourself.” I do this because I think it is essential to send the message that I’m comfortable with you and myself — regardless of our differences — and that I don’t have to only be around people who look like me to feel secure. If you get to know me and I get to know you, our lives will be enriched because of our time together. Sometimes I’m received with friendly, open arms, and sometimes I’m not. And that’s okay. “
Today, I wouldn’t say it’s okay–because it’s not. The Black Lives Matter movement has sparked confessions of white privilege, disclosure of disingenuous diversity and inclusion programs, and utterances of shame for failing to recognize personal biases and behaviors that uphold a system that mistreats people of color. None of us benefit from continuing to cause America’s soul to ache. We have to continue to press and push for equality and fairness in wherever space we occupy.
General C.Q. Brown’s (the first Black U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff) speech What Am I Thinking nails it! As tears rolled down my face, I saw myself in his stories. I felt his pain, saw the distress in his eyes, and heard the impact of racism on him and his family.
Most importantly, for the first time, I owned my experiences that I learned to avoid calling racist for fear that it would create roadblocks to my success.
General Brown’s power and eloquence in reflections provide “Why?” the time is now. This is a God glory moment. The United States Declaration of Independence declares that “all men (woman) are created equal.” In living the fullness of who I am, I want to live out that decree in love, understanding, and peace and I’m willing to do the work that will help get us there. How about you?
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© All rights reserved 2020 S. Renee Smith is recognized self-esteem, branding, and communications expert, and author of six books. They include Self-Esteem for Dummies, 5 Steps to Assertiveness – How to Communicate with Confidence and Get What You Want and Harness the POWER of Personal Branding and Executive Presence.