January 14, 2021
As part of my own personal journey, I am committed to being a strong equity leader. This is the 21st 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 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'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. 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. 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.
Glen: My daughter's a senior in high school, and my son is a sophomore. During the week of unrest, we went down to one of the Ys and did some work, delivering essential supplies to families. And it was amazing to see how the community came out and, to your point, it was a melting pot. Folks of every walk of life and background and ethnicity and religious perspective and on and on. It was remarkable to see the community coming out to support. Then we walked down to 38th and Chicago in Minneapolis, to visit the gravestones and then to Cup Foods itself.
There was a spark for my daughter, who has been able to live in more of a bubble. It turned her on to equity leadership, and she spent the summer studying and working towards an equity leader certification. It was really interesting to see a young person get turned on to the fact that this is unacceptable, this has to change.
To your point, that was something, allowing her to be in that protest movement, to have those experiences. 'Are you going to sit idly by or how are you going to respond?'
LaToya: Kudos to my husband for opening up my eyes. I was just like, 'He's six! We're supposed to be at Disney World this summer.' But my husband was just like, 'Either you tell him, or he gets it somewhere else, but he's going to get it somewhere.'
He was right.
Then I finally said, 'Let's go.' The other hard part was, we have a two-year old. But we just put the two-year-old in a stroller and went.
Glen: In your book, you encourage people to not read the book alone. Why is that?
LaToya: There's a part of the book, where I address what I call the top 10 questions. Like, 'Why do we say Black Lives Matter? Don't all lives matter?' Or, 'I am not a slave owner, so why are we still talking about this?' And, 'We had a Black president and now we have a Black female vice president. Why is the issue always Black and white?'
These are the type of questions I encourage people to explore with their growth group.
I've had some people who have asked me why the second half of the book isn't a study guide. I also had someone reach out and say that the state was interested in my book but the problem is there's Scripture in the beginning.
But my point is, this process is personal. So in the book, I'm giving stories. And so when I'm talking about examining yourself, I give examples of examining myself. I can't talk about examining myself without talking about my faith.
I don't like words like white privilege, or white fragility because what I think is that puts people down. So for me, the biggest thing is getting it out there for people to say, 'That is how I examine myself, but you do what works for you.’
I did have two publishers that I was engaging with, and one of them told me, 'You know, if you keep your Scripture, you're going to shut off a group of people.' And I said to her, 'I'm okay with that because I'm respectful of everybody's differences, I will want people to be respectful of my differences. So I'm not going to take that out, but I'm going to make it crystal clear in the book.’
Glen: You speak of the unique diversity of the Twin Cities and how much you appreciate that. Why is that so important to you?
LaToya: I think it's because that is what I truly believe. With Gallup StrengthFinders, one of my strengths is harmony. I am a lawyer, and cordial, and I want everyone to be treated fairly. I want there to be equity. So I think for me, it's the harmony piece. It's a strength and a weakness.
Why is it a weakness? Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) says my desire for harmony will cause me to be quiet. So I have these thoughts, and I have these feelings, and I will talk to you in private, but writing a book about racial reconciliation was a stretch for me.
I will talk about this with you all day, every day, but I'm normally private about it. Like when that gentleman posted on LinkedIn that day, that crushed me. I think that the harmony inside of me, is the desire to just love everyone. This is not just about race. This is about equity for everybody. This is for the person with a disability who may not have equal footing. This is about the person whose socioeconomic background causes them to be disadvantaged. I talk about my Christian faith, but I wouldn't want someone to feel suppressed. There's diversity of faith, and it all comes down to harmony and love. That's what I believe.
Glen: You have this passion for people to be treated fairly. Can you share a memorable experience, where you were not treated fairly?
LaToya: I've had so many of those moments. I look back on growing up, and there are some things that I'm just like, 'That's what it was.' It's like the high school I went to, and they came out with this rule that the cheerleading squad, the homecoming court, the dance team could only be a certain percentage of Black people. And they would consider other minorities white. We had an Asian student, and she was considered white.
So if our cheerleading squad had 20 people, only six of them could be Black. And on homecoming court, of the top 10, only three of the girls could be Black, and the other seven would be white.
This was something that no one ever questioned.
I also know other high schools where there's a Black prom and a white prom, or there's a prom where everyone's together, but they rotate who will be the king and queen. One year, there's a Black queen, the next year there's a white queen.
It's very Black and white, and that was just my upbringing. Never really thought twice about it, but when I really reflect on it, I can tell you stories from my childhood, from high school, I can tell you stories from college.
To learn more about LaToya Burrell, visit her website by clicking here. Look for a new “Conversation on Race” next week.