By Kiahnna D. Patton
Diversity, equity and inclusion are more than hot topics. They are the reality of this big, colorful and what we hope to be nutritious and delicious salad bowl representative of the United States. Not long after George Floyd was killed by police officers, many people were moved to mobilize and get active. For some it was protesting, educating themselves about racism and perhaps their unwitting complicity in upholding inequitable systems, and they began to support businesses they had not known about or considered in the past. For others it was speaking out against injustice whether to family and friends or to strangers online, and then there were folks who activated entire communities of people.
Two such people are the wife and husband team of Jennifer and Norman Anthony Coulter Jr. Norman is founder of 6ixth Man Leadership (www.6thmanleadership.com). He is also an educator, author, minister, philanthropist and an intellectual pursuing a doctorate in leadership studies with an emphasis on authentic leadership, self-leadership and solutions to systemic racism. Norman and Jennifer, who is also an accomplished educator, are visionaries of “A Tribe Called Change,” an online community of multigenerational, multiracial people from government, nonprofits and private sectors; parents, students and more, who meet biweekly via video conference to discuss tough topics that many have a hard time broaching, let alone getting past the surface of. From a position of listening with empathy and understanding, they engage in “courageous dialogue and direct action” on topics including:
- What are you doing in your world with respect to equality, equity, understanding between hostiles, etc.?
- How to diffuse the tension inwardly and outwardly as the election approaches.
- How do we feel post-election?
- How do you see things and people you don’t understand?
- Restorative practices and positive deviance.
- Medicine and systemic racism: a view from the front lines.
- Solutions to system racism in education and the church.
- The “how” of destroying systemic racism.
I submit that one of those skills is to create transformational change – the kind that happens when going from a caterpillar to a butterfly. Build your chrysalis, and as the work happens internally to form organs, antennae, wings and legs, you’re preparing to be born anew. But you have to do a bit of work to emerge from the chrysalis, to push through this barrier that has been your protection. Like caterpillars, I suggest that we, barring any genetic predispositions that would situate us otherwise, are largely born with all we need to become beautiful butterflies capable of transformational change and boundless flight.
How can you build and sustain a community to address diversity, equity and inclusion topics and make a meaningful transformational change in yourself and your organizations? I offer the following, certainly not exhaustive, list to get started:
- Build your discourse muscles so that you become proficient at having productive exchanges of thoughts. This concept leans heavily on Steven Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” wherein he encourages us in the fifth habit to “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Empathic listening certainly should not be underrated.
- Open your mind and reserve judgment. As an educator myself, one of the most important concepts I reinforce with our youth is to foster a nonjudgment atmosphere and be open to acknowledge the whole of an individual as they are, and get to know the person’s story and how it impacts the way they show up.
- Invest in intentional healing. Mobilize your mind and body and take personal responsibility for your own healing process. This is similar to Norman’s concept of Lead Self First (www.6thmanleadership.com/self-leadership-humility-empathy/), in which you come to terms with your own moments of truth, and become your truest self. This is an individual journey, as one may need to heal from generational or situational trauma, others may need to heal from a new realization that our society has benefited some and intentionally downtrod others.
Many company leaders have lent their voices and committed on behalf of their organizations to eliminate systemic and systematic discriminatory practices. Public statements have been made, and those words rely on individual action. Companies are entities composed of people, who at an individual level make changes that affect the collective. Ask yourself, “What’s my individual responsibility as part of my tribe?” We all can do something to make the lives of our fellow humans a little bit better. One of your steps might be getting actively involved in the conversation. Start somewhere, and end somewhere better.
Kiahnna D. Patton is senior human resources business partner at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) and nonprofit founder.
Visit A Tribe Called Change Facebook Page. This is a private group that requires acceptance of one’s request to join. “A diversely mobilized initiative rooted in a consensus understanding that the severe effects of systemic racial hatred in America persist. Through courageous dialogue and direct action, this group intends to compose strategic solutions and gather momentum that leads to communities inhospitable to racially discriminatory attitudes and violence.”