Talking #ICantBreathe at Work

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Howard Shultz, The CEO of Starbucks

Howard Shultz, The CEO of Starbucks

During the economic crisis it seemed the best guidance financial advisors were able to offer was to tell us American’s to “Give up your $5.00 daily Starbucks and save that money.” A Starbucks coffee cup was like the logo for excessive spending when excessive spending was not cool.

Very few executives have shown as much resilience as Howard Shultz, the CEO of Starbucks. As if the economic climate was not enough to deal with, Shultz has had to take on the NRA, and Anti-Gay Marriage activists and shareholders.

Now Shultz is encouraging Starbucks employees and partners to openly discuss taboo topics like racism in an open forum setting. 

 

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Increasing profits is accomplished through influencing human behavior.

If you want people to care about the bottom line, you have to let them know that you care about them.

We have arrived at a time where leaders need to be an expert in both human and financial capital. Leaders must be proficient at inspiring collaboration and comfortable with relinquishing control. They must remember that they are not leading through hierarchy, but they are leveraging networks. To do all of this, leaders must understand how to synergize people through meaning and purpose rather than push numbers.

It’s Never Convenient 

Recently, my check engine light came on in my car, which sent me into a frustrating place. You know that place, the one where you throw yourself a pity party and focus all that is wrong in the world.

After I pulled myself out of my mini-funk, I knew I needed to make a choice. I could take it in to a mechanic and gather more information or ignore the light and hope for the best until a more convenient time.

Well, America, our check engine light is on. Fact is, it has been on for a while and most of us have chosen to ignore it.

Here is the deal, it is pretty clear that we can no longer avoid taking steps to eradicate racial injustice, so we better become more comfortable engaging in meaningful discussions around race and racism in our workplaces.

Most American’s grew up being told not to discuss Taboo subjects such as Race, Religion, Politics, and Money.

As a result, race relations are strained, our political system is broken, religion has stifled spirituality, and most people only know how to let money go rather than understand how to make it grow.

Denial is Racism Rebooted.

“We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom.”  Biologist E.O. Wilson

Just because there is a national conversation on racism taking place, we can not assume that it is meaningful. One of the greatest gifts a leader can give to person is to make them feel understood.

When we fail to acknowledge the struggles of another person, we are not creating a safe space where they can fully invest their unique talents and gifts. If the recent events have taught us anything, it is that pretending that there is no problem is THE problem.

Regardless of a leader’s intentions, if they fail to inspire civil discourse around racially charged topics in the workplace, their silence sends a powerful message.

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Moving Beyond Tolerance

In leadership, you get what you tolerate…if your workplace is teaching tolerance, then you are tolerating mediocre results. We know that employee engagement, creativity, and productivity all increase in healthy and inclusive environments.

Tolerance is about surviving together, empathic concern allows organizations to thrive together.

This is not about expressing sympathy or casting judgment. Meaningful connections are fueled through empathy. Highly valuable leaders make the time and emotional investment to learn how others think and feel. They know how to listen with the intent to gain understanding (not exactly a strong suit for a lot of today’s leaders).

As a White male, I would not say that I am the best-qualified person to lead a thought provoking discussion on the American experience for marginalized people. However, I am sure being a part of one will challenge me to grow.

Let’s hope that other CEO’s follow in Mr. Shultz’s footsteps in an effort to let every person in this country feel like they matter.

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How to help “At Risk” Kids Succeed in Life.

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Al Pacino delivers a powerful and inspiration speech in this scene from "Any Given Sunday". Image courtesy of Pauseforclarity.com

Al Pacino delivers a powerful and inspiration speech in this scene from “Any Given Sunday”. Image courtesy of Pauseforclarity.com

Recently, I was asked to speak at a leadership event for student athletes. A prominent political figure in our area was scheduled to speak prior to me on the importance of the pursuit of academic excellence.

I was excited to hear this individual drop some knowledge on these kids and inspire them to greatness. I was hoping he would go all Al Pacino from Any Given Sunday and spit out some powerful metaphors and personal stories that would move the needle in all of our lives.

**Mini-lesson** 
High School Students love this clip, have them interpret the meaning in a writing exercise.

Unfortunately, he went all Ben Stein and started dropping statistics about how difficult it was to earn an athletic scholarship for college. He then essentially proceeded to explain to them how to forget about becoming a professional athlete because the odds were stacked against them.

All I could think after hearing him speak was…

“You had ONE job to do!”

Self Doubt Kills Ability

The quickest way to stifle a student’s development is to set limitations on what they believe to be possible. Or as the French artist Edgar Degas articulated, Self doubt kills ability.”

Now before you start referring to me as Captain Optimism (I would probably find that flattering, I could go by Captain O, for short…never mind, that sounds like a SNL skit), I do believe a healthy dose of reality is good for children when placed in the proper context. However, when talking to young people about their hopes and dreams, we must understand the weight our words carry.

I am probably more sensitive to this type of stuff because I was labeled by educational leaders as an “at risk youth” and was told more times than I can remember that I need a “back up plan” if and when I failed to achieve my dreams. I still remember standing in front of my 4th grade class being told by the teacher that “professional athlete” was not a realistic vocation to choose for the upcoming career report because only a gifted few make it that far.

Here I was, a latchkey kid who was struggling in school, my parents were going through an ugly divorce, my older brother had just ran away from home, and I was surrounded by adults who wanted to teach me about “realism.” Being that I walked by drug dealers and sex workers on my way to an empty apartment, only to boil some Top Ramen for myself for dinner, I think I had “realism” figured out.

I served myself a healthy dose of “reality” every night. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

The ONLY thing I had in my life was baseball; I did not understand why the adults in my life were not leveraging my enthusiasm for this game which gave me purpose. Instead, they treated it as a negotiation tool. I know they all had my best interests in mind, and I am sure this elected official had noble intentions as well. However, if we are going to have a shot of preparing our young people for the complex global issues that await them, we need to think critically about the language we use.

3 Practical Approaches to Positively Influencing Youth in High Risk Situations. 

See what I did there?

You are not dealing with “high risk” children. It pisses them off when they hear that…good luck earning your way into their circle of trust with that mindset! 

You are serving children dealing with “high risk situations,” often times due to circumstances outside of their control. [Read more...]

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Tackling Identity-Based Bullying: Minnesota’s Safe and Supportive Schools Act

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The Minnesota legislature made history this week by passing a comprehensive bullying prevention and response bill that goes beyond the simple “zero tolerance” measures advanced in most bullying legislation and gets to the roots of identity-based bullying in our school communities.

MN Gov. Mark Dayton signs the Safe and Supportive Schools Act on the Capitol steps in St. Paul (Source)

MN Gov. Mark Dayton signs the Safe and Supportive Schools Act on the Capitol steps in St. Paul (Source)

The Minnesota Safe and Supportive Schools Act is likely the most in-depth and research-based piece of bullying legislation in the country, focusing not only on the identity-based nature of bullying rooted in power but on diversity and inclusion efforts that can transform school climate to ensure bullying doesn’t take another life in Minnesota.

Identity-Based Bullying

One of the most transformative aspects of the new law is its focus on the particular identities that are most likely to be targeted for bullying in American schools.  In doing so, the law prohibits “intimidating, threatening, abusive, or harassing conduct” that might be directed at a student on the basis of (though not limited to):

a person’s actual or perceived race, ethnicity, color, creed, religion, national origin, immigration status, sex, age, marital status, familial status, socioeconomic status, physical appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, academic status, disability, or status with regard to public assistance, age, or any additional characteristic defined in chapter 363A, the Minnesota Human Rights Act” (Bill Text).

It’s exciting for us in the CivilSchools team to see legislation that so closely echoes our own definition of bullying while also echoing the “research on bullying dynamics [which] shows that bullying is often aimed at specific groups” such as “children with disabilities, African American youth, LGBTQ youth” and others (American Education Research Association, 2013).

At CivilSchools, we call this “Identity-Based Bullying,” and our comprehensive program offers schools teachers, students, administrators, and parents tools for designing school-specific interventions to prevent and respond to bullying behavior, no matter the identity being targeted.

A Focus on Culture and Climate

Aside from their inclusive and research-based definition of bullying, we at CivilSchools commend the legislature for taking the strong, preventative stance to include “developmentally appropriate programmatic instruction to help students identify, prevent, and reduce prohibited conduct; value diversity; foster students’ knowledge and skills for solving problems, managing conflict, engaging in civil discourse, and recognizing, responding to, and reporting prohibited conduct; and make effective prevention and intervention programs available to students” (Bill Text).

By advancing diversity and inclusion and conflict management education in schools, the Safe and Supportive Schools Act ensures that the bill does more than focus on “reporting, investigating, and intervening when bullying has occurred” but moves into “prevention efforts [that are] a key focus for school-based anti-bullying and harassment efforts” proven effective by research (AERA, 2013).

Finally, the act seeks to empower all community members to stand up to bullying by requiring districts to “train student bystanders to intervene in and report prohibited conduct incidents to the primary contact person” (Bill Text) while also training teachers and engaging parents.

CivilSchools: A Perfect Fit for Minnesota

In short, we at CivilSchools can’t wait to partner with more schools throughout Minnesota to offer the kind of training for teachers, UPstander Intervention Training for students, and engagement for parents necessary to effectively prevent bullying before it starts.

We are thankful to all of those legislators, community members, and advocacy groups who fought hard to ensure that this bill passed, as it establishes a model for states around the country to push for effective, research-based legislation to protect our young people from bullying.

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#BeNice: A Reminder to Listen to Young People

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We at CivilSchools get to work with some pretty amazing young people on a regular basis.  It’s honestly inspiring to realize how many young people are out there in the world, working daily to improve their communities and our society.

Thus, when I got to work with a school in Washington recently, I was expecting to find some pretty phenomenal young people, but I wasn’t prepared for the force for good named Jake.

During our UPstander Intervention Training, I talked to the students at Jake’s school about the idea of being social normers, of being the change you wish to see in your school so that you can inspire others to do the same.  We talked about how social norming helps to change the air students breath in school to make it more inclusive, which makes the other work of being an UPstander far easier.

While talking to these students, though, I didn’t realize that one of the students to whom I was speaking could easily have been up there offering his wisdom.  After all, not long before I came to his school, Jake had made this video:

One of the most common forms of ageism toward young people in our society today is thinking that as adults, young people have nothing to teach us.  Often adults pretend that we have the whole world figured out and that young folks will one day know as much as we do if they make it to the magical world we call adulthood.

In reality, though, young people are often the ones with the most to teach.  After all, they have not been fully clouded by the cynicism or negativity that sometimes comes with age.  Even more, young people are engaging with the world in ways that those of us even ten years older than them could not have imagined at their age.  Youth are inspiring revolutions in the Arab Spring and transforming their communities through activism and servant leadership in every community around the world.  Plus, with the power of the internet that they know so well, they have the ability to learn from other young people as well as from elders in ways I never would have imagined at sixteen.

What Jake reminded me, not only when I met him or when I first saw this video but in our continuing relationship through social media, is that I have a lot to learn.

And Jake reminded me that sometimes the best teachers are those who are many years younger than me.

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Columbine High School: A Community Defined by Unity

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After spending time leading trainings and an assembly at Columbine High School, our Director of Education Jamie Utt put together this creative video blog about his experience.

In the video blog, Jamie discusses his preconceived notions about what he would find at Columbine.  But what he actually found was NOTHING like what he was expecting…

Bring the powerful CivilSchools program to your community today to take the first step in  a comprehensive approach to building an inclusive community that’s free from bullying.

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The Healing Power of Community

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Considering how very important it is that entire school communities are involved in the efforts to prevent bullying, this article on the healing power of community, originally published at Everyday Feminism, seem like a good fit for our CivilSchools community!

***

Every year, I struggle when the days get shorter, grayer, and colder.

I feel the sadness and inertia creep over me around the middle of November, and I grapple with it well into March or April. Never, though, has it been as intense as it’s been since moving to Minnesota (or Minnesnowta, as I like to call it).

In addition to the simple weight of the season, I’ve also been wrestling with some personal hurt and trauma, as well as the hurt and trauma of some people I love so very much.

As a result, even getting out of bed has been a struggle lately, and I’ve had to build extra structure into my schedule to make sure that I accomplish even the bare minimum of the hefty load on my plate.

So you can imagine my loving partner’s response when I told her that I would be spending the months of January and February in a 45-hour sexual assault survivor’s advocacy training through an amazing organization called the Sexual Violence Center.

“Jamie, is spending between seven and thirteen hours a week in a class that deals solely with sexual violence (not to mention the extra homework) the best thing for you right now?”

And honestly, I couldn’t give her a good answer.

The truth is that I was afraid that all of this talk of trauma and violence would only add to the weight that I’ve been carrying during this difficult time.

Yet, seemingly inexplicably, the class has helped tremendously.

I couldn’t explain why until a recent counseling session when my counselor asked about the class. I told her about my partner’s concern, and in my explanation, the words came to me.

“At first I was worried she was right, that the training program would make some of my other struggles worse. But when I’m sorting through the impact that sexual violence has had on my life and on the lives of those I love, what better place to be than with 25 other people who care deeply and passionately about eradicating sexual violence? It’s brilliant actually!”

A few days later, Daniela, one of the activist trainers from our program, tweeted something with the hashtag #communalcare.

That’s it! That hashtag named it.

As important as self-care can be, for many of us, communal care is equally as vital!

Holding Space

Obviously not all community or communal time is healthy and healing.

If you feel anxious in large groups, going out with friends to a concert (even of a band you really like) may not necessarily be healing or self-care for you. And even communal experiences that we enjoy may not be ones that help us to cope with or heal from the weight or trauma we carry in our lives.

But healing community is about holding space: holding space for love, care, reflection, laughter, crying, feeling what we’re feeling, dancing, screaming, sorting through, moving past, sitting with, or for whatever else we may need.

Healing community is not about putting our problems off on another person, but about holding space for us to set down the weight we’re carrying for a while, and sometimes it’s even about letting others hold and share our weight while we do the same for them.

In the words of one of the wonderful advocates in training from my class, “Everybody has issues, and [in this space], we’re all just healing with each other.”

I can tell you without a shred of doubt that spending time every week for two months talking about sexual violence with people who are not intentional activists and advocates would be quite the opposite of communal care.

But the space held within the advocates training program intentionally focuses on care, healing, and sensitivity, even when we’re talking about those things that make my chest tighten and my breath shorten.

As a result, when I feel that tightness in my chest, I know there are people whose chests are tightening with me, and I know there are people who are also ready and willing to hold space for me to talk through why my breath has shortened.

And more often than not, just knowing that space is being held is all it takes for me to breathe deeply and allow my chest to open, letting light into a dark space.

Communal Care for Introverts

At the same time, though, I recognize that being around other people isn’t always the most healing or recharging thing in the world. Some of us actually need time away from other people in order to find healing or calm. Knowing that is fundamental self-awareness.

Even for some introverts, though, time in community can be important to healing.

I wouldn’t call myself an introvert, but I am far more introverted than others perceive. Too much time around other people (even if it’s just one other person) leaves me feeling drained and craving time alone to work or read or watch Netflix or cuddle my dog.

At the same time, though, I am self-employed, and it’s entirely possible for me to spend entire days or weeks in my apartment, never interacting with other humans except for the hours that my partner is home.

I’ve learned, then, that while too much time around others is draining and far from communal care, too much time alone can also further my feelings of isolation and stagnation.

In turn, I’ve learned that even spending time in the community of a coffee shop, never actually interacting with other people, or in a one-on-one with a friend or my counselor can be healing in the way that it reminds me that I am never really alone.

Even when my work seems bleak or when my personal life feels burdened, community exists all around me.

Getting Stuck: A Metaphor

About a week ago, I was out shoveling snow to clear a parking spot for the car I share with my partner, and frankly, I was pissed.

I was cursing under my breath at the giant pile of snow that has accumulated from shoveling all of the snow that’s fallen since November without ever getting warm enough to melt.

I had a podcast playing in my headphones, but I wasn’t even really listening to it. I was just brooding – over winter and the other things that are weighing me down.

That’s when I heard a little voice shout, “Hey!”

Startled, I turned around, and a little girl said, “Sorry! I tried to get your attention, but you didn’t hear me.”

“It’s okay. What’s up?”

“Our car is stuck,” she said, and she pointed to a mini van a half a block away that was idling in the alley. “Can you help us?”

“Sure thing,” I said, happy to help, but honestly a little annoyed that this would slow down my progress in my shoveling chore.

When I got over there, the girl’s mom looked frustrated. She had hurt her hand while trying to get the car out, and it was clear she had been trying for a while. I immediately got to work, pushing with all my might while she pumped the gas, only spinning the tires down more into the ice and snow.

We tried everything to no avail, so after about fifteen minutes, I called my partner. She said she would hurry over to help. On her way, she told a few other neighbors that we might need some help.

Before I knew it, there were five of us pushing and pulling and shoveling and fighting to get that car unstuck, but it wasn’t budging. My partner went to get our car to see if we could tow it out of there with a Subaru Forester.

Needless to say, that didn’t work at all. But in the time it took for us to hook up the Forester, a neighbor with a snow blower came by and cleared the area around the car of snow, and another neighbor with a 4×4 Jeep came.

We hooked up the van to the jeep, and with everyone pushing from behind and me behind the wheel of the van, the Jeep inched forward. I heard a creak that made me nervous that we would harm the van in towing it out, but before I knew it, the van lurched forward, out of its ruts and into the space cleared for us.

Everyone cheered and high fived!

Just before we all went on our merry way, the guy with the jeep remarked, “This is why I love NordEast (the name of our neighborhood). I’ve lived here for seventeen years, and this is why. Neighbors take care of each other. When everything in the world is crazy, we take care of each other.”

After hearing those words, I went back to my shoveling, turning on Beyoncé and singing through a smile while finishing my work.

***

When everything in the world is tough, we have the power to take care of each other.

Until I started taking this advocacy training, I’d been feeling pretty stuck. I have wonderful supports and loving family and friends, but I needed something different.  I needed a 4×4 of sorts. I needed a different kind of communal care.

And I’ve found it in a group of people who are passionate about doing whatever is within their power to help survivors heal and to eradicate sexual violence from our communities.

There’s tremendous power in that community. It’s the kind of power that heals. It’s communal care.

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