June 3, 2021
As part of my own personal journey, I am committed to being a strong equity leader. This is the 38th in a series of blogs that will be a part of that effort. I hope you will benefit from the conversation.
I have utilized A Conversation on Race to engage with equity leaders — mentors, teammates and dear friends — from all over the country, and I’ve learned so much about them and me in the process.
As we pass the one-year anniversary of George Floyd's murder, it is my hope that the rallying cries for systemic change and our progress on social justice will only accelerate. We are sustaining our voice for change, but we must continue the work.
My 19th guest is Brian Davis, the senior sports director at the YMCA of Hastings. Brian holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and economics from the University of Rochester and a master’s in business administration in finance from Syracuse University. He's worked at Northwest Airlines and Target, but Brian's passion around young people has made a massive impact on his two children and many others in and around Hastings. To say he's involved is an understatement: In addition to his important role at the Y, Brian is on the school board, and president of the Raider Nation Baseball and Basketball Boosters.
Glen: I've noticed recently that some people of color I know — friends, mentors, leaders I admire — who are pushing back on the BIPOC acronym and feeling like maybe it speaks to what you just said. "Hey, I want people to recognize what's unique about me. Maybe I don't want to be just lumped into a big pond."
Brian: I think you're right about that, Glen, because I think sometimes those types of things become triggers for other things. And you get too much down that road, then people that you're trying to bring over to your way of thinking, or to have a conversation with, are so caught up in the labels you've thrown out there. It's triggered them. And it's a tough one.
For example, I've seen it happen here in our Y location. When people are mad about something, they try to find the most hateful thing they can say, because it's going to hurt you. We've had front desk people that are just doing their job and have been called a racist. I've seen co-workers in tears over someone saying that to them. And I remember taking them aside and saying, "Don't ever let anybody have that kind of power to say that and hurt you that way because that's all they're trying to do." Because it's a word. It's a hard one, but sometimes BIPOC can trigger somebody.
Glen: I'm really trying to make sure even my feelings there are not just a further manifestation of my own privilege. So it's an important thing to me, to ensure that our language evolves in a way that everyone feels more and more connected and included and accepted.
What do you want to see from me? What would you like to see change in that leadership?
Brian: I think the most important thing is, what I'd like to see more of is opportunity. While I absolutely love the Y and love what I do, you get to the point of saying to yourself, "What's next? I want to stay with the Y, so what's next?" And I think sometimes there's not necessarily pathways to getting there, in particular for people of color. I see it's improving — I've noticed that — but I definitely see that there doesn't seem to be as many opportunities like that for people of color. There's a lot of things I'd like to do personally and other people would like to do. And I think that I'd like to see more paths to getting there. And I think that'd be very important.
Glen: More delineation of, and support of, and development around those career pathways. I get that. That's good.
Any more advice for me, in terms of how you'd like me or our leadership team to show up?
Brian: This work around equity has been unreal, and opening it up to part-timers. There's things I'd like to see us continue to pick up on. But I think that you guys are doing a fantastic job with executive leadership. I've been through every module. I've done everything. I look forward to whatever the next thing will be because I know there'll be a next thing.
It's exciting. Ben Thomaas (YMCA of the North's Learning and Development Manager) has done a fantastic job. It's been really fun, and it's been enlightening. It's been an opportunity to have conversations with coworkers that have also gone through it, and then we sit around and we talk about it, and what we experience and what we're feeling and things like that. So it's been really important.
One thing I hear a lot in the process is, "I want to be more accepting. I want to be more open." I always say that if you really want to know where you are on your journey, ask yourself this question: "What if someone came to pick up your child for a date, and they were of another race or religion? How would you feel? What would be your initial reaction?"
That will tell you a lot.
"Oh, I accept everybody. I love everybody." And they come to your doorstep. Would you react to differently? Because for a lot of people, they would. It's a very different thing when someone is on your front porch, versus just in your workplace.
Glen: That's a brilliant juxtaposition. I think that question alone has the potential to probably expose the individual's heart and soul, how much work they have to do. Brian, what gives you hope?
Brian: What gives me hope is that I think that the country, as a whole, is getting a little bit of a different perspective now. I've been through this three times now. The Derek Chauvin trial is the third time in my lifetime that I've seen this play out.
There were the Watts riots in the 1960s, then in 1993 with Rodney King. And now, here we go again. But I have hope that these videos, these visuals, are moving in the right direction.
It's an incredibly slow movement in the right direction, but I refuse to be pessimistic. I will continue to be optimistic that we are indeed moving in the right direction.
I'm looking at people who are trying to change. There was that craziness on January 6th at the Capitol, but a lot of people saw that and their reaction was, "We can't be doing that in this country." I think those things give me hope. I think that we're trying. There are a lot of people who are trying to do the right things. There are efforts being made now in states to change election laws again because people didn't like the way it went. But there's also people on the other side saying, "No, that's the way it's supposed to work." It's called democracy!
So I have confidence that we're going to get this right. We're slow rolling it. I wish it was faster, but I refuse to be pessimistic and give up. I think we can get there and these kinds of conversations, Glen, make a difference.
Glen: I know you're a proud and engaged dad. Can you share an experience where racism has shown up for one of your kids?
Brian: My daughter is into competitive dance, and every year, we'd go to Wisconsin Dells for this national dance competition. A few years back, she and I were at the Walmart, and I was carrying a bunch of groceries. We always get a little condo there and make our own meals. And my son Drew was trailing me, by a couple of steps, and he had these two things of Gatorade that he was carrying.
I had watched a lot of people walk out, but I hear someone say something to Drew, and I turn around, and they're asking him where his receipt is for these Gatorades. And I went back and I said, "Let me ask you a question: I have watched a million people walk out of here carrying something, and you haven't asked for one person's receipt until now. Why are you asking him?"
I was hot! I'll be honest, I was hopping mad. And the reality was, that this young man of color was walking with these Gatorades, and now you're going to ask for a receipt?
So that's a classic example. And so we do deal with these things, and I have had conversations with him when he was younger — conversations that I'm happy that you haven't had to have — where I've told my kids, 'Hey, if you get pulled over, here are the things you absolutely must do: You do not talk back. You put both hands on the steering wheel. I don't care how mad you are. I don't care how in the wrong you think they are because I want you to come home.'
And it's insane that I had to have these conversations, but I do, and I have multiple times. Now, my son is in Texas, and I'm always telling him, 'Make sure you're doing these things!' And he, by and large, is doing all those things, just as my daughter here has done all those things.
And I warned my daughter because she's dating a gentleman who is white. I said, 'If you guys are in the car together, you may get pulled over just for that. Understand that these things happen.' Glen, we have these conversations because it's reality.
I believe I told you the story about my earliest memory. Unfortunately, a bad one. Four years old, my dad gets pulled over in 1969. It was a basically a stop and frisk type of thing. They asked him to get out of the car, and they're checking the car, and I remember I was sitting on the floorboard of the passenger seat, trying to make myself as small as possible because I was so afraid for myself and my father.
I'm 55 now, and the realities are not much different than they were — and it's been five decades. So these are the types of things that we make sure that we talk about with our kids, and make sure that they understand, 'Here's how you're going to be viewed. It doesn't matter how you view yourself.' My children are like, 'I'm half Black, half white.' And I'm like, 'No, you're a hundred percent Black. Just view yourself that way because that's how you're going to be looked at, and you're going to have to approach the world that way.'
Glen: Thank you for sharing, Brian.
Brian: I really appreciate it. Thank you for your time.
Look for a new “A Conversation on Race” next week.