December 24, 2020
As part of my own personal journey, I am committed to being a strong equity leader. This is the 19th 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.
I still have a long, long way to go.
When I think about some of the challenges I’ve had to confront, they just pale in comparison to what some of these leaders have had to overcome.
Their reflections were maddening and heartbreaking, yet inspiring.
There were universal themes, such as the added pressure each of them faces to not only represent themselves and their families, but their communities in a professional setting. Despite the shock of many, including myself, there was the general lack of surprise by my guests at George Floyd’s murder, especially from team members such as Hayley Tompkins who works with young people in that very neighborhood.
There was the brilliant and insightful perspective on U.S. history from Chuck Collins, who noted that it’s the “weaponization of race that’s toxic” and that this is not a “woke moment” for Black people.
“White supremacy is completely ubiquitous in America,” Chuck told me. “This country was built for white, male, landowners, and it was built on the backs of African slaves and indentured servants. This is often called America’s original sin. These are histories that are deeply embedded in being Black. What you’re seeing now is a broadening of that understanding, but only reveals the tip of the iceberg.”
There was the fascinating perspective on “privilege” from Emily Holthaus, who is married to a white man and how they are treated very differently, even when dressed casually at the airport. She also provided a peak into the future after her visit to a Y in Colombia, where she interacted with a thriving board diverse in ethnicity and age.
There was the eye-opening experience of my friend Mohammed Lawal taking a business call in his car, outside his home, yet eventually being questioned by police because someone had called and asserted that he was a “threat” to their life.
There was the mesmerizing reflection of North Minneapolis by Chanda Smith Baker, who grew up and lives there, perspectives that are vastly different from the predominant portrayal of that community.
There was the deeply personal backstory from Jenny Miller, born to a 14-year-old single mom and adopted by a loving interracial couple, on the heart and backbone of the important Y program she pioneered, Enough. Yet I was also moved — and disturbed — that she was stung by an instance of racism yet did not feel believed or supported.
There was our YUSA president, Kevin Washington, a man I greatly respect and admire, predicting to another Y leader — who like me is a white male — that he would get followed at a department store.
Sadly, Kevin was right.
Lastly, there was the incredible story of James Morton, whose childhood was wrought with the pangs of systemic racism that landed his father in jail and wreaked havoc on everyone else in his family.
Yet in each and every one of them, despite their many negative personal and professional experiences, communicated hope in the future, buoyed around what they see in and hear from young people.
These conversations have been overwhelming and emotional, yet such a gift to me. So I am grateful to the past and upcoming guests of A Conversation on Race for their honesty, their willingness to be vulnerable and for both encouraging and challenging me to become a part of the solution and not continue to be a part of the problem.
My 12th guest is LaToya Burrell, a dynamic native of Louisiana who has become a blessing and powerhouse in our community. She has bachelor's and master's degrees in Business Administration, and a law degree, graduating in the top of her class from Southern University Law Center. She's been on the faculty at North Central University since 2015, currently serving as Dean of Graduate Education and Accreditation and Associate Professor of Business Administration. A wife and mother of two sons, LaToya was inspired after the tragic death of George Floyd, penning a book titled, "Be Bold: How to Prepare Your Heart & Mind for Racial Reconciliation."
I hope you will find great wisdom and insight in my conversation with LaToya Burrell.
Glen: LaToya, thank you for joining me for this conversation. Tell me a little bit about where you are from?
LaToya: I was born and raised in Louisiana, and I moved to Minnesota in 2013 for my husband's job. One thing that we would say as a couple is — it may sound cliché — we'd be happy wherever we go. You could send us anywhere, and I think we both have that personality where we'd be just fine
Truthfully, when we moved here, though, we thought that it was going to be maybe a five-year plan. Well, after about a year here, we were like, 'Well, we like it.' I count it in winters. Seven winters, two little boys who were born here, and we absolutely love it here.
Background wise, I have a law degree and an MBA. The irony with my law degree is I never intended to practice law! I went to law school with the intention of being able to be a pre-law advisor, being able to mentor or work with youth in some way. So I went to law school. I did well, and I had everyone saying to me, 'These opportunities don't come. You will be crazy to turn down this opportunity at this law firm or practice.' And so I did take advantage of that for awhile, and I wouldn't change it.
I teach business law. I teach human resource management. I teach leadership and ethics. I tell the students, 'Let's brainstorm. Can you tell me something that doesn't have a legal component?' And then they realize they can't. And then I'm like, 'Can you tell me something that doesn't have a business component?' And then they realize they can't.
So I tell them that they may be taking the class to fulfill a course requirement, but my goal is not to make them an attorney but to make them realize when to consult a lawyer.
I've had an interesting career, but I feel like I've developed a skillset that's transferable. And I think that that's been part of the excitement of this journey for me.
Glen: Well, first of all, I love your feelings for Minnesota. That's great! I also love the fact that you and your husband have settled in here and are finding a community that you love. I have never had a chance to live in another part of the country, just traveling a lot for work. But what are some of the reasons why you like this community?
LaToya: What I like about Minneapolis is the progressiveness. I love the diversity of Minneapolis. I love the fact that there is so much to offer, not just for me, but for my children. And so I say that not in a way to diminish Louisiana, but I say that to give context.
I'm the first one in my family to go to college. My parents were 17-year-old teenagers when I was born. So I'm the oldest child, oldest grandchild, and my perspective is that in Louisiana, the diversity is Black and white, Black and white. And I say that with all due respect. So to give you an example, if an Asian were in Louisiana, he or she would be considered white. That's just my experience, because it's based on your skin. An Asian person wouldn't be considered a person of color or a minority where I'm from.
So I get to Minneapolis, and it's a true melting pot. And when I say melting pot, it's not just Black and white because I might have a person whose skin looks like mine. And then once I connect with them, I realize that they are not Black, and they're not even of African descent. And so I see that true diversity, and that's one of the things that I love.
My oldest son, when he went to daycare, we had narrowed it down. But we picked the one that was diverse because he has other kids whose skin looks like his, and then I learned that one kid’s mom is Asian and the dad is Black. The next kid's mom is native and dad is Black. The next kid's mom looks white, but her dad is from France. And so it was a true melting pot.
When family comes to visit us, and we go to the Mall of America, the nieces and nephews are looking hard at the Muslim people, and my kids are not because one of their preschool teachers wears a hijab every day.
We both agreed that we thought that Minneapolis had more to offer, not just us but now our children.
Glen: Following the murder of George Floyd, you were inspired to write. Would you share what you see happening here and what you are feeling?
LaToya: Minneapolis is an American city, right? I get people who are like, 'Minneapolis may seem progressive but it's racist.' Or, 'That person may seem liberal, and they'll put the Black Lives Matter sign up in their front yard, but that's about it. They don't do more than that.'
I feel the need to be defensive because my my opinion is, 'Well, that's more than what I saw growing up.' People weren't going to put a Black Lives Matter sign in their yard, and they're not even going to acknowledge it. So to me, number one, is the willingness to acknowledge it, right? But at the end of the day, whether I'm a white person in Minneapolis or a white person in New Orleans or in Detroit or in L.A., it's still America. But I think that the first step, though, is that willingness to acknowledge that something is wrong and that we want to change.
I don't think it's a coincidence that George Floyd — whose death touched six continents — took place right here in Minneapolis. I think Minneapolis is going to end up being an incubator for change. My perspective is, that there is more of a willingness here. So I think if this very thing had happened in another place, where there's not a willingness, it wouldn't be the same potential or possibility that I believe we're going to see here.
People are looking at Minneapolis, so even if I'm on another continent and had heard of America, but had not heard of Minneapolis, now my eyes are on Minneapolis. So when something else comes out of Minneapolis, people are like, 'That's right, the city where George Floyd was killed.' So I think that we're an incubator.
Glen: I actually really appreciate that notion! We've been this global epicenter, and it is amazing to see George Floyd's mural in Amsterdam and Thailand...all over the world. I'm curious on your thoughts of why? Why this time does it seem like the conversation is extending and that that incubation for real change can happen? Because we've been losing our Black and brown brothers and sisters over and over again — our Black men and boys, in particular. Why is this different?
LaToya: I think a number of things are different. Number one, COVID-19. We're in the middle of a pandemic. That's impacting everybody, the globe. And I'll talk about myself, for example. I was go, go, go, go, go. Then COVID-19 comes and forces me to slow down. So we're listening, whether we want to be or not.
So when George Floyd was murdered, we were still sheltering in place. People were home. People were listening, whether you were watching the news because you were worried about the COVID numbers or not, we were attentive.
Number two, we have technology now that not only allowed us to see what happened. We didn't have to wait on a dashboard cam. We didn't have to wait on the news reporter to report it to us from their vantage point.
We got to see that video, and we got to see it immediately. The worldwide web allows globalization to take another step. So when we're talking about George Floyd touching multiple continents, what happened was, people around the world were able to see that same video we saw.
It reminds me of the quote from Dr. Martin Luther King: 'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.' I think that a lot of people saw that as, 'Even if I can't relate to a Black man being murdered, I can relate to it as an injustice happening.'
To learn more about LaToya Burrell, visit her website by clicking here. Look for Part 2 of our "A Conversation on Race" with LaToya next week.