I want to address the racial events of the past week.
Growing up a white male in a small town in Central Illinois I have not had many interactions/relationships with people of color. In college at EIU in the mid-eighties there were quite a few black students attending mainly from the Chicago area. I was in a fraternity and we had one black member, Al, or as we fondly called him "Big Al". He was 6'4'' with a wide smile, an awesome sense of humor, and a love for music (he was our frat DJ). We all loved him and he loved being the only black person in our fraternity. There was for sure racial tension on campus so we handled it right out of the "Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock" handbook. We would often poke fun "acting black" and using black stereotypes around Big Al and he would in turn do his best white imitations poking fun at the white race. Upon reflection, we were deflecting and using humor to avoid the racial issues of the day. We were coping, not addressing the racial tensions that exist to this day. I also had a black male friend back in the nineties and we would golf often. These golf courses I had played plenty without him and I most definitely felt different treatment by the employees when I was with him. It wasn't like we got turned down to play golf but a trend started happening with getting our tee times mixed up causing us to wait sometimes up to an hour or even causing us to leave for another course. When we ordered food mine came right away...not his or they would come back and say they were out of that meal...and there were other things...you get the idea...it was not all the time but noticeable.
I share these stories because it was as close as I was going to get to FEEL what it was like to be black in America. I am so grateful for my time together with them as it helped me to be more sensitive to racial issues and it supported me in trying to judge less and not make assumptions even though I fail in those areas as much as I try not to. While I am somewhat proud of my personal/individual mindset towards all minority populations, I have failed miserably in my role as a leader. I must look in the mirror and I ask you to do the same.
Black people should be able to go for a jog, walk in the park to watch birds, and feel safe in the presence of police. I do not have any details yet, but I must lead in a different way to create better policies, procedures, and practices that address equity, access, opportunity, respect, empathy, and acceptance. We need to find a way to create learning experiences and materials that help our mostly white student population FEEL what it is like to be black. Creating that empathy will lead to understanding so our students can be a part of the solution moving forward.
I call on your help with ideas and actions we can take. Let's get the conversations going! Please contact me any time with ideas, thoughts, questions, or concerns at firstname.lastname@example.org.