Leading Integrated, Supportive Lives

In groups I’m co-facilitating in Chicago, discussing and supporting each other through common struggles quickly erases boundaries of race, age, gender, religion and sexual orientation. I feel the same way when I’m out on the trails. Everyone watches each other’s back, offering helpful hints on the next obstacle, like this waterfall climb in Rocky Mountain National Park.
 
While too many political leaders encourage divides (no, this is not directed at just one person), no one can prevent us from leading integrated, supportive lives if we choose to pursue unity and peace over segregation and conflict.

Hiking up the side of a waterfall in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Trilogy Complete: Doing Unto Others

Interested in challenging your thinking while reading compelling stories of atonement, recovery, retribution and inspirational leadership? After decades of increasing division, America embraces a path toward unity behind the sole principle common to every major faith, as well as those who don’t believe in a higher power. “Doing Unto Others: The Golden Rule Revolution” is now available in paperback only on Amazon and Createspace, completing the trilogy I began writing three years ago. (A formal launch, with e-book version, is still two months away, but I needed to hit the publish button in order to obtain review copies.) This is the most important book in the trilogy and does not require reading the first two to contemplate and enjoy.

Front cover for Doing Unto Others: The Golden Rule Revolution

Front cover for Doing Unto Others: The Golden Rule Revolution

Six Actions We Can Each Take to Build Unity

As a four-year-old in 1968, I sent my mother into sheer panic at a local McDonald’s when I loudly asked the large man next to her why he only washed the inside of his hands. Amidst the race riots of that tumultuous year, the African American gentleman, rather than mistake my naïve question as mean-spirited, kindly explained a fact of life to which I had been only minimally exposed. He was born with dark brown skin.

March forward to 2014. Despite clear progress, some issues facing America remain as they did when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were viciously removed from our leadership landscape. Regardless of one’s view of whether recent widely covered tragedies were driven by race or other factors, few argue that racial bias isn’t an ongoing challenge in our country.

In fact, research has shown that biases, including self-selection preferences, are inherent in the human condition. It has also shown that the vast majority of biases are held and acted on unconsciously. When made aware of biases and encouraged to explicitly consider them in their actions, most people willingly change behavior.

So how can those of us in at least the second half of our lives encourage continued progress toward a color-thoughtful world, even if we aren’t, for various reasons, interested in joining any of the hundreds of post-Ferguson protests or haven’t yet heard about the tragic death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, whose only error appears to have been not understanding how police would react to seeing him with a toy gun.

To move toward a more united America, I believe we need to start within our communities and with ourselves. Following are a few options to consider:

  • Take on a mentoring role. We had the opportunity this summer to invite a young man into our home who needed a safe place to train for college sports, as well as gain access to employment. We were aware of this African American young man through a basketball network from our kid’s AAU basketball days, but hadn’t met him until he showed up at our door with luggage in tow. He learned from us. We learned from him. Seeing the value this type of engagement could bring, I’ve signed on as a volunteer mentor for 360 Youth Services in Naperville, Illinois and have since been paired with a fascinating young man from an immigrant family. Male mentors, I’ve been told, are particularly difficult to attract to these programs.
  • Find Ways to Broaden Your Exposure. Geographically, we are re-segregating in the communities in which we live, a shift detailed in books such as The Big Sort by Bill Bishop. If you find yourself in an all-black, all-Hispanic, all-white or other ethnically concentrated communities, look for ways to broaden your exposure to people from different backgrounds. College, working in Congress and global corporate roles contributed to my education. There are many other ways to access diversity, including volunteer work, shared interest groups and military reserve service.
  • Consider Your Biases. The Golden Rule concept of treating others as we want to be treated is the sole unifying principle that covers every major faith along with those who don’t follow a faith. Consistency is a critical component of Golden Rule behavior. When you act or speak, ask yourself if you would make the same decision or statement if you changed the racial or ethnic makeup of everyone involved. (As an added exercise, try applying this concept to the actions of political leaders. Are your expectations consistent, regardless of party?)
  • Create Integration Sundays. Dr. King often remarked that the most segregated hour of the week is 11 a.m. on Sunday. For those involved in a faith community that may be lacking diverse membership, push to create regular Integration Sundays at your place of worship. Integration Sundays (or Fridays or Saturdays) can include attending each other’s house of worship, sharing a meal and/or participating in common charitable activities with worshippers from another ethnic or racial community. Over time, you’ll get to know people from another background on a deeper, human level.
  • Advocate for Interfaith. For a diverse nation, respect for those of different backgrounds must extend to those of different faiths as well. (Interfaith experiences include secular humanists, atheists and agnostics, so you aren’t required to believe in a higher power to participate.) Interfaith weekend events offer enrichment. When I recently asked Dr. Paul Eppinger, Executive Director of the Arizona InterFaith Movement, about interfaith experiences conducted through his organization, his eyes lit up about the hope that comes from giving people an opportunity to discuss and respect their differences, and their similarities. My wife and I were raised in different faiths with different holy days. Our backgrounds created distinct perspectives on many issues. We’ve bridged those differences now for 26 years.
  • Encourage schools to create integration experiences. While court orders drove integration following the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, our movements are now re-segregating our schools. According to a UCLA Project on Civil Rights study, by 2011 the percentage of blacks in majority white schools was less than it was in 1968. Latinos attend even more segregated schools than do blacks and Asians, a challenge exacerbated by growing demands to provide language-segregated instruction for Spanish-speaking immigrants. Repeating the court-ordered busing of the past isn’t necessarily the right answer. Small group projects, through athletics, volunteer activities and extra-curricular activities have proven to be more effective at building cross-racial friendships than simply attending the same school. Can our schools alter schedules to allow for regular, full-day small group work or activities that help to build friendships across communities? Can sports activities include a post-buzzer component?

Whatever your take on what really happened in Ferguson and the need for changes in areas such as mandating police body cameras, our best path to respect, understanding and unity starts with the actions we take. Pick one of the above, or identify your own step forward.

Just don’t wait to start. For Tamir Rice, it’s already too late.

Six Questions Syria Raises for America’s Future

Syria’s collapse into ethnic and religious civil war carries with it lessons for the United States perhaps far more important than current missile-launch debates.

Two lessons are critical:

  • Segregated societies can be divided easily, just as Syria is being torn between Sunnis, Alawites, Christians, Kurds and other religious sects in their different geographic strongholds.
  • Politicians who exploit divisions, or fail to heal wounds of divisions, can quickly turn nations into bleeding grounds.

After substantial advances toward racial integration in recent generations, progress has halted in many parts of America and even moved toward re-segregation in many regions by race, ethnicity and, recently, language.

Syria reminds us that we need to answer different questions beyond those being debated today in order to create a more unified society. Following are six questions particularly worthy of introspection and debate:

[Read more…]

Immigration, Segregation, Mothers and National Survival

In recent weeks, issues of race, language, immigration and the potential for broader conflict have elevated considerably following a national report showing that  racial segregation is expanding at a dramatic pace. That this study took place and subsequent consternation is taking place in the United Kingdom should offer no relief to those of us worried about the long term impacts of segregation in the United States.

A recent column in Express laments Britain’s move toward looking like America: “In such places as Detroit and Baltimore a white person is as rare as a truthful politician. There are entire school districts that are white, black or Hispanic. It is important to stress this is wrong for everyone involved, from black to white and every colour in between. Segregation is not the way forward; integration is, yet we are further away from that in this country than ever before.”

The Express columnist noted former Equality and Human Rights Commission Chairman Trevor Phillips saw accelerated segregation coming eight years earlier when he warned Britain was “sleepwalking into segregation” and allowing “ghettoes” of different races and faiths to flourish. “Predictably he was shouted down and bizarrely even branded a racist,” the columnist wrote.  (Segregation is Madness.)

Long-term segregation, along racial, language or religious lines, has led to violent confrontation in nearly every country through human history where it has been allowed to flourish. Those who suggest it won’t happen here believe the conditions for conflict won’t exist in their lifetime. I believe we are merely awaiting the final demographic shifts and ascension of exploitative, self-serving politicians to turn growing divisions into conflict if we don’t begin acting to create more integrated experiences.

There is no greater gift that we can give to mothers on this day than to ensure their children do not end up fighting in senseless conflicts driven by divisions we saw coming, but then allowed to happen.

 

 

School Segregation Leads To More Violent Crime, Study Finds

Thought you might find the following piece interesting as it discusses the effect of school resegregation. While I don’t agree with all of the characterizations of the article, the idea that integration is a positive contributor rather than a zero-sum game is an important one.

“In the past decade, resegregation through so-called “white flight” and relaxed integration enforcement is leading to greater inequality from an earlier age. Modern inner-city schools are often underfunded, while dropout rates are high and violence is common. Police officers routinely intervene to discipline students for minor infractions, exposing minority kids early to the criminal justice […]”

via School Segregation Leads To More Violent Crime, Study Finds.

Carlos Gutierrez and Immigration Reform

Had the chance yesterday to meet former U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, whose life provides a remarkable story of the opportunity America offers if we don’t lose our way. Born in Cuba, his family fled to the United States from a Castro regime that was intent on making everyone equal by taking from anyone who had achieved success. Carlos was six at the time and spoke no English. He began working for Kellogg’s at the age of 22 and worked his way up the management ranks to become its chairman and CEO.

In 2004, Carlos became Secretary of Commerce under President Bush and led the President’s effort to secure comprehensive immigration reform. During that work, he saw firsthand how much immigration is tied up in partisan politics [Read more…]

Finally Integrating Prom

My first reaction was simply: Why is this still an issue?

It’s remarkable that, in 2013, teenagers are finding they have to overcome objections of adults to engage in an integrated activity. Societies in which races, ethnicities and languages are allowed or required to operate separately never reach the level of integration and understanding necessary to develop harmony and national continuity.

As a nation, our integration progress has become more sporadic and demographic evidence suggests is even reversing in many areas of the country. [Read more…]

Segregation Suggestion at CPAC Misses Mark

A controversy erupted recently when a Towson University student suggested that black Republicans should be segregated from white Republicans during a recent gathering of political conservatives. “We self-segregate as it is,” the student was quoted as saying during a Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) session.  “I really don’t think we have any other choice, it’s just human nature.”

Recent U.S. demographic trends and other historical studies suggest his first statement is accurate. But the idea that we have no other choice but to segregate is wrong, ignores evidence of the value of integration, and weakens our society by separating each of us from others whose philosophies, cultures and ideas can enrich America’s melting pot and us as individuals.

While this article, and many others about the exchange, rightly call out those in the conservative movement who advocate racial intolerance, there is equal evidence that many liberals think race should be a determining factor in establishing a wide range of government policies. Both directions call for the population to be segregated. Segregation does not bode well for America’s future, and should be rejected in whatever forum the idea arises. Building a common language and common elements of culture are necessary pre-conditions to the nation’s long-term survival.

Baltimore Sun Article

Integration Reversing into Segregation

In a recent discussion at a local high school, we talked about concerns with the re-segregation of America and how not sharing a common language and some elements of common culture and experience makes it difficult to solve community problems. From an overall perspective, America looks more diverse today than 50 years ago. That diversity, however, is not evenly spread. Our melting pot is coagulating into separate spaces.

Much of our divide, as Bill Bishop writes in The Big Sort, is driven by demographic choices families are making to live in communities where other residents look like them and share their political and economic interests. To compound this segregation, race is a primary characteristic used in establishing legislative and congressional districts around the nation with majority-minority districts created to elect officials of a particular race or ethnicity. Racial gerrymandering had the positive purpose when promoted in the Voting Rights Act of ensuring that minorities had electoral power. Too many politicians, though, recognize this Act means they will never represent a diverse constituency. They then proceed to mock the Act by fostering racial divides to enhance their reelection prospects at the expense of solving real problems.

The linked article, from the Richmond Times Dispatch, provides background on another growing issue worth understanding, the issue of segregation within communities and even within individual school districts: http://bit.ly/13Yd9wV

How do we ensure that America has enough of a common culture to be united? How do we encourage integration, while maintaining respect for various cultures and differences? Not easy questions. But it’s clear we have yet to find the right answers.