Dignity and Respect

US Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt Gen Jay Silveria was rightfully applauded for his forceful comments against racism after racial slurs appeared on the message boards of Black cadets enrolled at the Academy Prep School.

This Air Force vet is proud he spoke out and I look forward to his words being enforced when those who know the culprits report them to authorities and when those in authority expel those responsible.

If you can’t treat someone from another race or with different color skin with dignity and respect, then you need to get out.” ~ Lt Gen Jay Silveria, US Air Force Academy Superintendent

Inhale Respect, Exhale Racism…
Inhale Resolve, Exhale Resignation…
Inhale Resolute, Exhale Retraction…
Just Breathe

#JustBreathe
Reflections With Renita

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Oath of Office

I first experienced the Air Force Academy graduation “March On” in 2013. I was there for the graduation and commissioning of my cousin, Wes Cobb, and I still remember that moment of giddiness during the ceremony when I realized the graduates were going to MARCH TO THEIR SEATS!

Cadet Wes Cobb and me!

Yesterday, as I watched the 2017 Academy graduation, saw the precision execution of the “March On”, listened to the call for excellence, I thought about Army 2nd Lieutenant Richard Collins. Killed before he could serve his country, lynched, according to some, for being black, Collins is another victim of the violence perpetuated on people of color in American.

And I wondered how the almost 300 officers of color commissioned feel about their oath to “support and defend” a country which doesn’t always provide a safe space for them…

Inhale Equality, Exhale Supremacy…
Inhale Humanism, Exhale Nationalism…
Inhale Progress, Exhale Regression…
Just Breathe

#JustBreathe
Reflections With Renita

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In Memoriam

This weekend another young black male died violently, this time on a college campus, allegedly stabbed by a white male member of a hate group. This newly commissioned Army officer, on the precipice of a “limitless life” had sworn to “support and defend the Constitution” of his country…this America where he is hated and hunted because of the color of his skin.

And I grieve for what has been lost, for his family, his classmates and his fellow Americans who understand that America is great because of people like Richard W. Collins III.

As a United States Army Officer who gladly puts his life on the line everyday…there’s no greater conflict within me.
How do I feel about my country? And how does my country…feel about me?
Are we only to be Americans when the mood suits you?
Lawrence Fishborne as Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin O. Davis in the movie, Tuskegee Airman

Inhale Sadness, Exhale Despair…
Inhale Courage, Exhale Cynicism…
Inhale Reverence, Exhale Disregard …
Just Breathe

#JustBreathe
Reflections With Renita

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The Choice is Yours…

Last spring, in the face of virulent racism in this country, I started rereading Daniel Goldhagen’s provocative bestseller, Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust. Published almost 20 years ago, it explores how ordinary Germans “came to be such potential willing mass killers and how the Nazi regime tapped this disastrous potentiality.”

Goldhagen argues convincingly that the German’s thoroughly anti-Semitic attitude, which led to anti-Jewish measures, legislation, persecution and finally, incarceration and death in concentration camps, had grown unabated for hundreds of years. Anti-Semitism did “not appear, disappear, then reappear in [German] society”; it was always present.” The Nazi’s simply tapped into the hate.

The parallels to the United States’ unique brand of racism are pretty obvious. There is no evidence the beliefs, which allowed, accepted, and condoned the theft of this country from its original inhabitants and the theft and enslavement of peoples from another continent have ever fundamentally changed.

It’s why the politics of fear and division offered by our 45th president have been so successful.

Last weekend, once again we saw the results of extreme and persistent prejudice when ordinary Americans brutally implemented an illogical, illegal and immoral immigration order. The order, which, apparently, was not reviewed by other government agencies, did not come with instructions for the people responsible for its enforcement.

FirstTheyComeAnd so a Somali women traveling with two small children with U.S. passports was threatened, harassed, handcuffed while officials tried to coerce her into signing papers that would send her out of the country. During the 18 hours she and her children were detained, they were not fed or allowed to get food.

I’m sure those officials will defend their actions saying they had no choice. But they did…and they chose to act with no compassion.

This is how ordinary people become accomplices to atrocities.

In the days to come, Americans will have ample opportunities to choose compassion over unquestioning compliance…what will you choose?

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked

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Where is the Love?

But if you only have love for your own race
Then you only leave space to discriminate
And to discriminate only generates hate
And when you hate then you’re bound to get irate, yeah…”
The BlackEyed Peas

Everyday there seems to be a new executive action designed to divide, separate and isolate Americans from each other and from a suffering world. While our reality president is focused on ratings, I’m focusing on the Americans offering their talents, their time, their treasure…their love to those who need it most.

We, though, are going to love—love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first.” 1 John 4: 19 The Message

Inhale Humanity, Exhale Separation…
Inhale Kindness, Exhale Indifference…
Inhale Connection, Exhale Division…
Just Breathe…

#ReflectionsWithRenita

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American Experiment: What are YOU Doing?

People use double entendre to describe a phrase open to multiple interpretations, one of which is usually indecent. After seeing the Oscar nominated “Hidden Figures”, I realized the title has a number of meanings: the mathematics that made manned space flight possible;
the unacknowledged black women who actually crunched the numbers; and the fact that in segregated Virginia, these women were literally hidden from view, NASA’s dirty little secret.

The movie was a great reminder that even in the face of what must have felt like crippling oppression, I’m descended from people who overcame.

It also reminded me that there are many ways to overcome an unjust, oppressive system. One scene in particular really drove that point home.

After realizing the impending installation of an IBM computer could make her job obsolete, Dorothy Vaughan, played by Octavia Spencer, decides to learn how to program the computer. In the scene, Dorothy is on her way to the segregated (white) local library to get what she can find about the computer, when she encounters a group protesting the lack of civil rights for people of color. As she hurries her two children past the protesters, she says something to the effect of “That’s not what we do”. Dorothy’s protest was taking the book on Fortran that the librarian refused to let her check out.

She used it to teach herself, as well as her black female team how to program the brand new IBM mainframe, and when NASA needed a larger team to run the computers, her team was ready.

She didn’t join the protesters marching and holding signs yet her actions made a huge difference in the lives of black families in her community.

This Saturday while Chicagoans joined Americans all over the world protesting the illegal and immoral immigration ban of Muslims who are in this country legally, AeroStar Avion Institute Founder and CEO Tammera Holmes was hosting STEMtastic Saturday at the Harold Washington Cultural Center. Tammera’s activism is prepping young people of color to fill projected skill shortages in the aviation industry.

It may not look like what others are doing, but she is making and will make a huge difference in the lives of Chicagoans. Because in addition to an American justice system that is truly blind to race, in addition to an American education system that sees the potential in all children, Americans of all races need real opportunities to support themselves and their families. That is what Tammera is providing.

This weekend, we saw all hands on deck as activists, politicians, lawyers, judges, etc. used their talents and skills to fight an action many perceive as un-American. I’m celebrating them, their contributions and focusing on what I can do to protect our fragile democracy.

What are you doing to make a difference?

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked

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American Experiment: Can You Hear Me Now…?

I get it.

You tried to warn us.

You heard the outright lies…suspected Russian ties…watched the “Alt-right” rise…

You were unsettled. And you tried to warn us.

I saw it too. The “blacklash” that always comes after perceived progress by people of color in this country…

The videoed violence inflicted on bodies of the marginalized…black, brown, female, disabled…

The attack on clean water sources by energy companies intent on “digging up death” instead of investing in clean energy.

The virulent, relentless American brand of racism so reminiscent of the deep anti-Semitism that existed in pre-Nazi Germany.

I found a 40-year old copy of the George Orwell book “1984” on a visit home, started re-reading it and wondered, “Are we already there?”

The novel “1984”, portrays a dictatorship that imposes its own facts.

Now, of course, many Americans are feeling a sense of alarm.

Sales of “1984” have increased “almost 10,000 percent since the inauguration,” most notably when Kellyanne Conway appeared on Meet the Press and introduced the phrase “alternative facts”.

Actually, “alternative facts” is a very “1984” phrase, where “war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength.”

I suspect if the Women’s Marches that took place all over the world right after our inauguration were to happen this weekend, there would be double the participation, upwards of 5 to 6 million.

And now you’re wondering “Why couldn’t you hear and heed the warning?” and “Where were all these marchers when…” and you want to know, “Are you going to be here for the long haul?”

I get your frustration. I understand your anger. I feel your sense of betrayal.

But the majority of Americans did not vote for the person occupying the office of POTUS. Whoever can hear now, is here NOW…can space be made for the newly conscious?

And if you’ve just been awakened, educate yourself, don’t make this about yourself and try to stay engaged.

It’s not a time for cynicism, or finger pointing or embarrassment. It’s a time for Americans to come together and protect our fragile democracy. I pray it’s not too late…

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked

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American Experiment: Hypothesis Disproved?

“America is an idea” Bono.

America is a great idea. It’s an idea full of hope. It’s an idea that speaks freedom, shouts equality and invites peoples from all over the world to pursue happiness HERE…youshouldbeherebanner

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Of course, the truths espoused in the American Declaration of Independence have never been true for all Americans. America has never willingly extended unalienable rights to all its citizens unless they demanded them. For those segments of the population whose rights were initially and deliberately withheld, the 2016 election seems to be a repudiation of everything fought for, hard-earned…never given. Like many Americans, I’m left wondering if America can really ever achieve its promise

Social and cultural psychologists like Jonathan Haidt, one of the creators of the Moral Foundations Theory, would seem to suggest it’s going to be really difficult. In his widely read piece “What Makes People Vote Republican?” he describes a conservative mindset that sees in diversity a breakdown of social norms and feels a decrease in a sense of belonging to a shared community. Haidt suggests the more liberal among the population focus on those conservative concerns and adjust their rhetoric accordingly.

But if the conservative, predominately white part of the country sees diversity in negative terms, what does that mean for an increasingly diverse America? alt-right-protestersIn a generation, America will no longer have a majority white population. If the determined 25 percent of the country who voted for our 45th president, decided an unqualified candidate, one supported by American terrorist groups like the KKK and spouting fear and division, was the president we deserved, are we supposed to believe they won’t support the repeal of rights gained over the past 50 years? And if the 50 percent of the population who didn’t vote is tired of fighting, too cynical to believe their participation matters or too disengaged to understand the impact of their non-participation, will there be enough to prevent what may be coming?

In the long run, the only way the American Experiment will survive is if we all recognize the fragility of our Republic and work together to overcome the fragmentation that threatens to break it apart. Tweet this now.

I pray it’s not too late.

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked

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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

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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

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