Dream On

The dreams that you have, the desires placed on your heart, the emotions you experience in response to events are there for a reason. They are showing you bits of your destiny…what your world can look like if you step into the fullness of who you are…and how stepping into your purpose can impact your larger community, even the world.

“If your dream only includes you, it’s too small.” ~ Ava DuVernay, director of Selma

Inhale Dreams, Exhale Distractions…
Inhale Desires, Exhale Indifference…
Inhale Destiny, Exhale Complacency…
Just Breathe…

#ReflectionsWithRenita

American Experiment: Relentless Racism

Before the 17th century, the concept of race did not exist in what would become America. According to Professor Audrey Smedley, the first time the term “White,” (rather than “Christian” or an ethnic name to indicate origin i.e., English, Irish, Scots, Portuguese, German, Spanish, Swede, etc.) “appeared in the public record was seen in a law passed in 1691 that prohibited the marriage of Europeans with Negroes, Indians, and mulattoes”.*

Race was created in America to separate poor whites and poor peoples of color. Outnumbered landowners sought to divide their labor force by encouraging and incentivizing poor whites to identify on the basis of color versus socio economic status. And it worked.

Slavery was not the result of race, but the other way around. And the uniquely, brutal American version of slavery didn’t really end but morphed into other forms of oppression, all undergirded by the racism created during slavery to control and economically exploit people of color.

“…the notion of racial difference…proved far more durable than the institution that gave birth to it.” ~ Michelle Alexander

Me and my soror Vicky at the NMAAHC.

The durability and relentless nature of racism was my key takeaway from two days of exploring the new National Museum of African American History and Culture. The pattern of gains by black people, followed by backlash from those who would oppress and control was on full display at the museum.

A Civil War fought over slavery and the all too brief Reconstruction period after emancipation was followed by the terror of terrorists groups like the Klan and the implementation of black codes and Jim Crow laws which sought to control and restrict every aspect of black life.

The legislative gains of the 50s and 60s were negated by the seeds of mass incarceration of people of color sown during the Regan era War on Drugs.

The election of Barack Obama led to the overturn of key Civil rights legislation to include the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act because, according to Chief Justice John Roberts, it “had done its job, and it was time to move on”. The ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, which removed the requirement for states with histories of voting discrimination to approve their voting changes with the federal government, resulted in the almost immediate passage of restrictive, discriminatory voting laws by Republican state legislators under the guise of voter fraud.

Of course, the real voter fraud is being committed by those states with a history of discrimination. Another kind of voter fraud is being committed by those who would try to convince you that your vote doesn’t matter. The truth is your vote does matter…unless you don’t use it.Tweet

I’ve seen and heard a lot of cynicism expressed about the power of voting by Chicagoans recently. It’s surprising given the success of activist organizations like Black Lives Matter, Assata’s Daughters and Black Youth Project 100 in ousting Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez during the Democratic primary. But if those same voters don’t vote in the general election, her opponent, Kim Foxx, who won 58 percent of the primary vote, could lose the general election.

The forces of racism are relentless and determined to undermine every hard fought gain, negate every success, overturn every piece of legislation enacted to protect and empower those who have been exploited and abused.

The voices of equality and freedom must be vigilant and just as determined to use all the tools are our disposal, to include our vote.

In other words…stay woke, go vote!

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked

*The History of the Idea of Race… And Why It Matters by Audrey Smedley

American Experiment: Willful Ignorance

Amid the videos of violence committed against black bodies this past week, was one of a Trump official stating that she didn’t “think there was any racism until Obama got elected.” The video of Kathy Miller, who is white and chair of Trump’s campaign in Mahoning County, went viral and resulted in her resigning from her post.

Just in case you missed it…

But her resignation only means she won’t be associated with the “isms” emanating from the Trump camp.

It doesn’t mean she has suddenly changed her mind about why some black Americans have not thrived.

It doesn’t mean she no longer believes blacks have “had benefits to go to college that white kids didn’t have.”

It doesn’t mean she’s realized black voter turnout percentage exceeded all other groups in the last two presidential elections.

It just means she won’t have a public platform to state beliefs shared with a number of white Americans who are increasingly vocal about their racism.

She is a product of the systemic racism taught in our public schools and reinforced through racist institutions, most notably our criminal justice system. She has bought into American’s collective self-image, the core of which “is the assumption that mobility is always possible, so failure to move up reflects on one’s character. By extension, the failure of a race or ethnic group to move up reflects very poorly on the group as a whole.” ~ Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow

She will hold onto her beliefs because in a country that continues to attract freedom-loving people from all over the world, it’s easier to believe that everyone is free to achieve the American Dream.

“There is but one coward on earth, and that is the coward that dare not know.” ~ W.E.B. Du BoisTweet

The easy thing is to reject new information and realities. The hard thing is to accept what is difficult to know and be transformed through a deeper understanding of the truth.

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked

How Are You?

I admit, I have struggled to stay positive in the face of so much injustice, so much hypocrisy, so much inhumanity. I haven’t been able to watch the videoed violence against black bodies, seemingly a new one each week, but like most people of color at least, each incident has impacted my sense of security. It’s personal…it’s frustrating…it’s heartbreaking. I weep at night for the families and friends directly impacted. I look at the faces of the black people I see on the train and wonder…”How are you doing? How are you coping with the trauma?”

And then I remember that “suffering is inevitable for human beings as long as we believe that things last—that they don’t disintegrate, that they can be counted on to satisfy our hunger for security.” ~ Pema Chodron.

And I try not to panic…

Inhale Action, Exhale Apathy…
Inhale Caring, Exhale Indifference…
Inhale Resolve, Exhale Fear…
Just Breathe

#ReflectionsWithRenita

Right Now

“Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift from God, that’s why they call it the present.”~  Babatunde Olatunji

This right here, right now moment is all we really have so be in it. Embrace this moment…wallow in it…let it wash over you. Enjoy the wonder, the emotion of it…see what is there to see, experience the flow of life, feel what you are feeling.

“…Each day is God’s gift. It’s all you get in exchange for the hard work of staying alive….” Ecclesiastes 9: 7-10

Inhale Now, Exhale Frustration…
Inhale Now, Exhale Worry…
Inhale Now, Exhale Anxiety…
Just Breathe…

#ReflectionsWithRenita

Leading Differences

My dad turned 80 last month…a blessing I’m grateful I got to celebrate with him. Longevity runs in the family so while we’re not surprised, it’s not something we take for granted. He and my mom are doing aging the way it should be done: engaged in life, enjoying the fruits of their labor, and exercising enough to keep their bodies able to move.

My dad’s celebration and a planned joint birthday party for both parents not withstanding, birthday celebrations are not something our family really does well. I don’t remember many (any?) birthday parties, just the occasional birthday present…unless you were born in December or January in which case you had to make do with a Christmas/birthday present.

As my brother says, if our parents and a majority of the five siblings acknowledge your birthday, it’s a good birthday!

My sister-in-law is appalled. APPALLED, y’all! She does celebrations in a big way with ALL the bells and whistles, so our birthday behavior, or lack there of, is different, foreign, alien to her.

This is the kind of difference that can cause conflict in any relationship. Fortunately, my brother and sister-in-love understand how our individual experiences inform our choices, what we perceive as normal behavior, and what we might judge as abnormal. They’ve opted to reserve judgment and strive to accept and enjoy their differences.

Our individual experiences inform our choices, what we perceive as normal behavior, and what we might judge as abnormal. Tweet this now!

Here’s the thing. We sometimes assume everyone has had the same experience, has the same perception and will react the same way as we do. Of course, they haven’t, don’t and won’t. Even in the same family… my brother is a decade younger and my experience as the first child born to young 20-somethings just starting out, is remarkably different from his as the youngest of five.

Now, if we could just silently “Bless their hearts” and keep our perceptions and judgments from outwardly affecting our reactions, our interactions would be absent of conflict. Unfortunately, when the other person doesn’t react in a way that is familiar to us, we often judge them negatively. Tweet this now!

“…man is so imprisoned in his type of thinking that he is simply incapable of fully understanding another standpoint.” ~ Carl Jung

On a team, negativity toward differences can stop differences from being expressed, create unresolved conflict and result in a team imploding. Tweet this now!

How can a team leader prevent differences from destroying a team?

Embrace the differences!

Differences in thought, experience, and perception are what give a team its edge. Tweet this now!

As the leader, you have to understand that differences are good, enthusiastically embrace the diversity of your team members and create a culture where they can be fully themselves.

Express differences!

Maybe you aren’t comfortable with hearing a difference of opinion. Maybe you equate disagreement with disrespect. Maybe you’re not sure the person with a different perspective is as committed to the vision of the team as you are. In my experience, however, the team member with a different perspective just wants to make sure the team has considered all possibilities when choosing a course of action. Tweet this now!

“Do you see me? Do you hear me? Does what I say mean anything to you?” ~ Oprah Winfrey

On a team, each member has the right, even the responsibility of expressing fully who they are, what they know and what they bring to the team. Tweet this now!

As the leader, you’re responsible for creating a safe space for your team to express their differences.

Explain differences!

It can be difficult for people to explain the origins of their reactions to their life experiences. Or maybe their knowledge in their area of expertise cause them to reach an obvious conclusion so it’s NOT obvious to them that an explanation is necessary. However, if the differences are causing conflict on your team, it’s imperative that you seek to resolve the conflict. If there is no explanation, ask for clarification!

It won’t mean the other person agrees with you or that you have to change who you are, but it can lead to deeper understanding and more compassion on either side. Digging deeper for a greater understanding, greater clarity can bring greater success to your team.

It’s the differences on a team that makes the difference! Embrace them, express them, explain them if necessary and, most of all ENJOY them! Tweet this now!

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked

Expectations

Letting go of the illusion of control doesn’t mean we can’t expect good things to happen. In fact, we SHOULD expect that a loving Father is going to provide for our needs and not fall into despair when that doesn’t happen on our timeline. Our expectation may seem like unrealistic optimism, but when we look for and expect what God has promised, we can be confident.

“In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.” Psalm 5:3 NIV

Inhale Expectation, Exhale Hopelessness…
Inhale Provision, Exhale Withdrawal…
Inhale Favor, Exhale Despair…
Just Breathe…

#ReflectionsWithRenita

Freedom

When you can encounter each experience with openness, when you can let go of your expectation about what you want to happen and embrace the excitement of infinite possibilities, when you can let go of the belief you are in control…you will experience freedom!

“To live your life without expectation-without the need for specific results-that is freedom. That is Godliness.” ~ Neale Donald Walsch

Inhale Openness, Exhale Expectation…
Inhale Freedom, Exhale Control…
Inhale Liberation, Exhale Struggle…
Just Breathe…

#ReflectionsWithRenitaTweet

American Experiment: The Symbols

It always fascinates me how people, many of whom have done nothing in service to this country or made any sacrifice to represent this country, have something to say when people of color don’t honor the USA the way THEY think it should be honored.

CPT Humayun Khan DIED in service to this country but it didn’t stop so called “patriots” from disrespecting his parents and his memory when they spoke out against bigotry.

Gabby Douglas and her family made sacrifices so she would be able to continue the streak of American gymnasts who have won Olympic Gold in the Individual All-Around competition in 2012. She is one of the reasons Team USA was so dominant in 2012 and this year, but when this 20-year old stood at attention versus putting her hand over her heart during our National Anthem, she was treated as if she had committed treason.

This week, the person of color who has most upset those who would dictate how and when Americans honor America is San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. What I found most interesting about the criticism of Kaepernick’s decision to no longer stand during the National Anthem is the idea that he was disrespecting the symbols that give him the right to speak.

But isn’t the opposite true…that the ideas and sacrifices behind the symbols represent the freedom of expression Kaepernick exercised? Tweet

Our freedoms, to include expressing a difference of opinion, are what attract freedom loving peoples to this country and make us different from countries where dissenters are jailed or executed, protest is violently squashed, and the freedom to criticize government doesn’t exist.

And is there anything MORE American than protest? From the Boston Tea Party to the march to Selma, to the unrest in Ferguson, protest has been a catalyst, if not THE catalyst for change in this country especially when it comes to race. This veteran swore to “support and defend” the experiment that is America so that every American could experience the freedoms promised to all Americans, to include the freedom to protest America. But every American has a different role to play in making the American experiment in democracy and diversity a success.

And each of us has the right, even the responsibility to speak out when there is injustice against any American. Tweet

The freedom of expression afforded to all Americans includes NOT honoring the symbols of America when America is NOT honoring its citizens.

“…And my country is the great American Republic. My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.” ~ Carl Schurz, the first German-born American ever to serve in the United States Senate Tweet

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked

Present Moment

I am a planner. I believe the way to make a vision reality is to plan the route that makes the most sense and head in that direction. But we can get so caught up in preparing for the experience that we miss the experience! The trick is to keep the planning simple so we can take the time to enjoy the journey to the envisioned experience.

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10: 41-42

Inhale Being, Exhale Doing…
Inhale Presence, Exhale Planning…
Inhale Now, Exhale Next…
Just Breathe

#ReflectionsWithRenita