May 13, 2021
As part of my own personal journey, I am committed to being a strong equity leader. This is the 35th 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.
The murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, inspired an awareness and awakening on injustice in our nation. Enough is enough! Yet so many events have happened in the 11 months since, from the attack at the Capitol and the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th president of the United States on January 20, 2021, and Kamala Harris as our nation's first female, Black and Indian American vice president in Washington D.C., to multiple mass shootings and the alarming spike in domestic hate crimes against Asian Pacific Islanders.
But the national and international spotlight returned to Minneapolis, first with the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, then the shooting of Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, by a police officer during a traffic stop on April 11th in nearby Brooklyn Center.
The testimony was powerful and emotional, and many Black people in our community were re-traumatized watching the viral video of Chauvin's knee on George Floyd's neck and hearing the insights of those on the scene next to Cup Foods in Minneapolis. Our community and country anxiously awaited the jury's decision to convict Chauvin on manslaughter, and second- and third-degree murder charges, and now many are wondering if justice will be served for Wright and his family.
In addition, COVID-19 still heavily influences how we live, and there are many daunting challenges that our community and nation are facing. But the YMCA of the North remains focused and committed on our goals.
We will continue our efforts to become an anti-racist, anti-oppressive and multicultural organization. To that end, I will continue to have these conversations with influencers and leaders of diverse backgrounds who will be a part of the solution.
My 18th guest is Dr. Hedy Lemar Walls, the YMCA of the North's Chief Social Responsibility Officer. Her background is rooted in education, particularly in and around addressing Minnesota's achievement gap between white students and students of color. She holds multiple degrees, including a doctorate of education in leadership from St. Mary's University, and she held leadership roles in the Minneapolis Public Schools and Bloomington Public Schools before joining the Y in 2009.
She is responsible for the Y’s social responsibility, diversity, inclusion and global efforts and provides leadership for the Equity Innovation Center of Excellence that is committed to connecting individuals and organizations with valuable information and insight to help them navigate our ever-changing community and learn ways to advance inclusivity and system change so all may thrive.
But beyond that, Hedy has been an invaluable sounding board and colleague of mine. She is a mentor to many and widely admired, locally and nationally, for her expertise.
Glen: I want to change course. What are some of the challenges you face, as a Black female in leadership in the Twin Cities? And do you have an anecdote that you'd be willing to share that illustrates how much work we have to do to get more diverse leadership in our communities?
Hedy: I will be honest with you, the number one reason why BIPOC people, in general, leave the Twin Cities is because there's no connection. I had this conversation with a couple of Black people who actually live in Florida, but who lived in Minnesota for a number of years, and the challenges they faced. You're the outsider, and you're coming into a cliquish community that has been well-established. And to be honest with you, a lot of people from other states come into Minnesota and feel that we are not welcoming, not even in our own communities sometimes. So it's not just being welcomed into the white community, but it's being not welcomed in the BIPOC community also. So that's another whole cultural thing going on there as well. Currently, it's really looking at it from Black male versus Black female in these roles. And some statistical data is saying that organizations will hire a Black female before they hire a Black male.
What does that do to the family structure? Think about it. If my husband is not employed, and he can't get a job, but yet I'm an executive. So that, in itself, can rip families apart. It's the pride that we have been taught to have. As I said earlier, my father believed in the man being the breadwinner, and now all of a sudden things have flipped, and it's easy for me to walk into a job.
Let me give you a great example. I was married when I graduated from the U of M, with my MBA, and I was recruited by a couple of companies. I took the job at Northwest Bank, and I was making more than my husband at that time. That created a tension, within our marriage. Now people will say, "He was insecure." That doesn't matter. The fact is, he had been working for three years, and I had not had a job, and I'm walking out of grad school making more money. That was a cultural norm that I didn't even recognize. So there's a lot to be said.
And then the other piece of it is, thinking in terms of how we dress. People didn't understand why I had to dress up all of the time. Why do I feel I have to "dress up" and other women don't feel that's necessary? Or, as Black women, thinking about our hair. Do we get hired based on having straight hair, as opposed to having braids or an Afro, or whatever. So there are issues here that we have not even really talked about and won't talk about today. But there are multiple things.
For me, I am very aware of where I'm going and who is going to be there. "Is the crowd going to be more white, more multicultural?" Because that will dictate my behavior, how I dress, and how my hair looks, and what jewelry I wear.
Glen: Is there a book that you wish the whole of America — or the whole of the world — should read?
Hedy: It's funny, you would ask that question. I have captured some of the things I think are critically important that we should be reading. I was just putting it together.
- Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People, by Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald
- Success is an Inside Job, by Simon T. Bailey
- Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do, by Jennifer L. Eberhardt
- How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
- Hope in the Struggle: A Memoir, by Dr. Josie R. Johnson
Glen: You made some impactful recommendations for my daughter last summer, around diversity, equity and inclusion.
Hedy: Our leadership team has been going through some, as a book club, like How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. So there's some really good stuff.
Glen: Who are some of the leaders, outside of the Y, that you look to? I know that you have an ultimate leader that you and I look to, but are there mortal leaders that you really pay attention to?
- Dr. Josie R. Johnson
- Congressman John Lewis
- Michelle Obama
- Vice President Kamala Harris
- Kevin Warren
Glen: Hedy, thank you for having this conversation with me. I think the hope and the transformative power you have as a leader is actually making an unbelievable difference, and not just at the Y, but throughout this community. And from a legacy perspective, your leadership is carrying the Y movement to another place around equity that's going to be felt for generations.
Hedy: I think there's a reason why I have blinders on. I keep my head to the grind, because there's so much work that has to be done, and I think I'd rather stay there, then really move into this other place because, unfortunately, I may be human enough to get prideful.
Glen: I would encourage you, Hedy, that every once in a while, you'll turn around and look back and realize how far you've brought this organization. I think the world of you.
Hedy: Well, you know how I feel about you. I love you.
Glen: I love you, too.
To learn more about Dr. Hedy Lemar Walls, click here. Look for a new “A Conversation on Race” next week.