the institutions are still lacking in any analysis worth taking seriously in regards to the ongoing issues of political oppression, economic exploitation, and social degradation that black people are faced with (In the final analysis, we may find EDAI is anti-black on its face and at the core. What it could/could not be depends on the activities of you and me and whether or not we are prepared to struggle for our perspective to be recognized).
The disproportionate degree to which black people are affected by this antagonism is popularly reduced to being the effects of discrimination within the populace. However, I have found a more accurate word than discriminate to relate the numerical disparities to our experience as Africans – that word is target. This system doesn’t discriminate, contrary to popular belief. Everyone can get it, but Africans and other global south people are targeted by this systemic, structural predatory violence.
What is your favorite memory about BUILD?
I remember when Dr. Karen Johnson (KJ) and the governor were addressing the wider BUILD audience, and the governor had made a comment about how the state government needs to, in essence, find some African/black talent in order to fill the perceived void in representation at the leadership level. I very much appreciated KJ’s “I don’t know what he’s talking about ‘we need to find’ – I see plenty of talent right here” follow up comment. I have worked very close with KJ – what is understood doesn’t need to be said. Notwithstanding, I have an appreciation for conduct that challenges the ontological violence that is the fact that African people are invisible except when the system anticipates there is something of value to be extracted from our being. We live in a world where the fullness of African/black identity is unfathomable. Consequently, the wealth of contribution to civilization from the African diaspora is not only underappreciated – in the final analysis, it is also unfathomable. Needless to say, sometimes we have to remind people … I’m bad; find out.
Tell us something about your professional development journey.
The circumstances surrounding myself being hired to work for state government in a myriad of ways gave me a profound sense of purpose. According to the many pervasive stereotypes surrounding people like myself, I am among the last people you would expect to find where I am, and in hindsight, I find it to be impossible that I would not come to see this verified daily throughout the duration of my employment. In lieu of this, I wanted to make a difference; I wanted my employment to impact change in some kind of way. It is for this reason that I gravitated towards the framework of leadership.
A mentor and wise woman once told me that in essence to do the work today of what you aspire to be tomorrow. Literally, make yourself into what you want. One of the features of leadership that I immediately began to grapple with in picking this idea of leadership up and putting it to use was authority. This is because in my immaturity and lack of experience with this idea, now tool called leadership, I naively conflated leadership with authority.
Because I began my career in the furthest place from authority, this created quite the challenge for me and my attempted execution of the function of leadership. Conflating leadership with authority while at the same time having none created a nearly debilitating contradiction.
Thankfully, I am truly blessed to say that I have had the privilege of being in community with some amazing leaders (most of whom are women), who conferred in me clarity. Leadership is not about authority; you don’t need authority to lead.
These words of wisdom were not merely the regurgitation of established norms passed down through agency letter. Much more, everything they said was right, true, and correct, they went about proving with actions. So I saw these leaders, or people using the tool we call leadership, but in a way where authority was almost completely absent. What took the place of authority was a unifying objective and a clarifying analysis. I began to see more clearly not only the features of leadership, but more precisely, the essential features.
I began to realize the meaning, purpose, and function of leadership was not to be found in a position or status, but more importantly, from the relationship leadership emerges in.
Leadership is about relationships, but to be more precise, leadership is about being in relationship and being responsible to that which is in relation to. Leadership is more about giving than it is about having; leadership is more about serving than it is about subjugating.
Moreover, what added to this clarifying analysis was that though I am still far, far, far removed from the C-Suite table, nevertheless, the more I give to the people I am with and the more I serve the people I am with, the more I am likened to being a leader. Like so, the only reason my own particular department recognizes me as a leader is because many of the people in that department do, not because I have a department leadership position.
To describe my professional journey in many ways is to say that when I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. In my child like naiveté, I aspired to be an administrator of some kind as a way to make the most of my participation, and to contribute positively. However, the more I understand the world that I am in and my relationship to it, the more I happily boast: I am not a King, I’m a servant of The People.
What do you think is the most important skill that a successful professional needs to have?
First, I believe that knowledge of any particular thing comes from struggling with that thing. It’s not enough to learn about an idea in a classroom or in a book; you don’t really begin to understand what you’re working with until you literally pick it up, put it to use, and then see what happens when you do. That is knowledge. That being said, the ability to develop an analysis is an important skill, as analysis is one of the most powerful tools we can develop.
We exist in relation to and in relationship with others. Nothing exists in isolation, and without analysis, how do you really know what you’re doing? One of the biggest analytical mistakes I see people make is that they fail to understand the relationship they have with what they are observing, and how in a very literal way, what is being observed is reacting to the observer. You are a part of what you see – sometimes we forget that while pontificating in our ivory towers. Consequently, we make mistakes when assigning value, and ultimately find ourselves left with answers that don’t answer, explanations that don’t explain, and conclusions that don’t conclude.
Thinking, thus, is a very important skill. We can no longer avoid to simply do as we are told and not give any serious thought to what it is we are doing. Thought without action is empty; action without thought is blind. What follows is that it’s not enough to merely think. All of our ideas must be put to the test. Theory doesn’t mean jack until it’s proven in practice.
What have been some of the most important lessons you’ve learned throughout your career?
“Once you fight for the people, the people will always fight to protect you – but your fight for the people must be honest, it must be dignified, it must be with integrity, and must be about no compromise at all.” – Kwame Ture
Personal message to BUILD:
One of the popular lines circulating around the 2020 summer was that there is a need for black leadership and black representation. While appearing innocent on its face, there is a very dangerous trope hidden in this rationale, which is this prevailing idea that leaders can only be found in the positions the society calls prestigious, at the tables the society calls high, and that the qualification of a leader is in accordance to title and/or a combination of letters before or after our names. Alas, when we recall the history of African people we find contradictions in this conjecture. While today we recognize Dr. Martin Luther King as a civil rights leader, the positions we find him in historically are antithetical to what that society calls prestigious – he was arrested nearly 30 times – ask his family who they think killed him. While today, the message transmitted through the medium of state agents is that change takes place at these tables, our leaders have always understood that change begins with us. Not at any table, but in OUR hearts and minds. Once the people change in that dimension, the state has no choice but to change with it or perish.
Many of those who are identified as leaders derive this identity from their titles only, in spite of professing this to be a democratic society, and none of them having ever been elected in any sort of way by the people they insist on their lordship over. This contradiction inevitably leads to a people who insist on speaking for a people they have no relationship with, and no sense of responsibility to. It goes that, because an individual is the Chief of this or the Director of that, while not ever speaking to the people and having no relationship with those impacted, this same individual finds that Chief/Director qualifies them as the spokesperson for us all.
All of that being said, regardless of what we are called, if I am recognized as a leader, let it be a sign that the true power over history and all of the world is not the Chief or the Director, it’s YOU – the faceless, nameless masses of people. If I am a leader, it can only be because I am The People. I am YOU, and I am nothing without The People; I am nothing with YOU.
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