My experience as an expert in diversity, equity, and inclusiveness (DEI) and facilitator of workshops in organizations is that the leadership often hires me and steps away. This leaves workshop participants clueless about how to affect the necessary changes in their organizations. Employees enjoy my sessions on a personal and professional level; they learn to be more empathetic, conscious of their biases, cross-cultural in their interactions, and more democratic at work, in the community, and among family and friends. On the other hand, I often have to convince leadership of the benefits of impact studies and assessments to validate the training. DEI initiatives should have pre- and post-evaluations to ensure stickiness.
I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to compare my training experiences in organizations to where we are now post-election in the United States. Early last summer, we saw people of all ages, races, religions, sexual orientations, and vocations, marching for racial equality just as multitudes of people did 60 or more years ago. It is inspiring to see that the numbers have swelled, and the faces are more diversified than ever before. Will this public outrage sustain itself? How will it play out at the top where legislation is needed to ensure equity and make inclusiveness the norm? We were bombarded with contentious ads during the presidential campaign season, pitting candidates against each other with as many lies as truths. Contenders railed about the opposition party’s stance on everything from healthcare, immigration, to taxes, and the economy — you name it. Where else in the world, but here in the U.S., did a global pandemic become so politicized that people died because government leaders refused to come to the table in a timely, purposeful, and publicly-spirited manner? Thankfully, the new administration is the most diverse we have ever had; their promises of unifying the country and infusing inclusiveness in every institution makes me hopeful.
I am not here on my pages trying to bend your world view to mine — even though I passionately believe in all the tenets of a real democracy. You have experienced whatever it is you have experienced, and so have I. Those experiences shape who we are, what we do, who our friends are, what we eat, and if we will even be open to listening to people who do not look or speak like us. Let me tell you this: the change many Americans want, whether they are black, brown, yellow, red, or white, is a safe world where we all have access to healthy food, excellent education, affordable housing, and good healthcare.
When was the last time you heard someone say, “I want the best medicine and care available for my family and I don’t care how much it costs”? I think we Americans have more in common than we dare acknowledge. I blame the shaky economy, biased media, and the incendiary rhetoric of both the leaders of the major political parties and the voting public for making this campaign a battle between ethnic races rather than one between political platforms.
How do you think things got so quickly and violently out of hand? Because racism — American-style — never went away. We need a novel grassroots movement to turn back this new tidal wave of racial unrest that exhibits itself throughout society: unequal access to quality health and education, food scarcity, underemployment, overpopulation of prisons due to unfair judicial policies, and too many ill-trained, biased, and bigoted officers. Now that we have a top leadership team committed to eradicating the divisiveness nurtured over the last four years, there is a great need to work from the bottom up.
Those of the new grassroots movement won’t be easily identified by the clothing they wear— recall the unofficial uniforms of Black Panthers and Guardian Angels, and today’s tee shirts emblazoned with Black Lives Matter. This movement will be — is already— composed of your neighbor, your boss, your local business owner, your clergy, your children’s teacher, and every single member of your community bravely working — whites, blacks, browns, yellows, and reds.
However, the new civil rights movement needs a shot in the arm; we all need to work on our language and its delivery in conversations and discussions. We must learn what it means to respect each other and adopt standards of civility for public speaking, private conversations, and even on social media. Poor communication skills will continue to drive us apart. Learning to listen, empathize, become self-aware, and respect other worldviews is within every human being’s capability because we are social animals. We can all learn to appreciate and celebrate the diversity that this country was built on. Michele Obama, in her biography, Becoming, said each morning (as First Lady), she was reminded that she was in a house built by slaves. When I read that, I thought of other women like Eleanor Roosevelt, Shirley Chisolm, and Barbara Jordan who would have said something similar because they fundamentally believed in diversity, equity, and inclusiveness. America has a chance to become great — not “again,” as the departing president falsely claimed. Our history is too bleak. It was great for some and hell for others, particularly people who looked like me. Let us learn from the past and continue to grow in numbers of those determined to commit to and invest in creating an inclusive society.
It is simple. This is nothing complicated. It doesn’t require any of us going to school or taking a course or a workshop to begin. It only needs us to be willing to take one step. There’s a Lao Tzu proverb that says, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” What matters is our willingness to take one step (one action) to see what is possible, whether we are Democrat or Republican, black or white, or female or transgender. What if we are willing to take that one step, whatever it might be?