29 December 2020
My story about survival was featured in the Fearless Femme Storytelling Podcast which includes female-identifying individuals sharing their personal stories around a theme. Episode 1 features different takes on the theme “I will survive“ from Ile-Ife Okantah, Suzy D’Enbeau, Janet Meeks, Denise Harrison, and ‘The Young and the Fearless’ Maggie Pazderak. I encourage you to listen to the entire podcast episode and hope the diverse perspectives about survival will speak to you as you face challenges in the days and years to come. My story is shared at 14:50 on the podcast and also follows in print. Listen on Spotify or Podbean.
Oh, dear God! I hear car doors slamming, pounding footsteps and voices of angry men storming across our yard. What is happening?
As a young girl, I was horrified to experience those scary sounds in the dark of night. In that moment I rolled off my bed and hid underneath it until quiet was restored. Deep down in my heart, I knew what was happening.
Those sounds came from men who hated my father. They were white supremacists of the Ku Klux Klan. My dad was a country lawyer and a staunch advocate for equal rights. He represented the school board in 1964 when the federal government ordered that school integration must occur. Our school district was one of the first in Mississippi to integrate. As racial tensions were raging, he told the school’s leaders that the government’s order must be followed. On the first day our schools were integrated, my dad helped to escort the first black child, a six-year-old, innocent little girl, safely to her desk at Carthage Elementary School.
When you do the right thing at a time when it’s not popular, harsh ramifications can follow. The Klan burned a cross at my dad’s law office. They burned down the barn on our farm. My dad carried a gun and met with the FBI as those same angry men threatened to kill my family. At the time I wasn’t fully aware of the magnitude of those threats; but as a child, I knew I was afraid. Yet I survived those controversial times because my dad taught me to do what is right, fair and just, even and especially when it’s not popular. I cannot tell you the number of times my father’s wisdom has helped me survive when making unpopular, but necessary decisions throughout my life.
Ten years after integration began, my father took me to the chapel of a hospital where my mother was an inpatient. For months, she had battled ovarian cancer. In fact, she was diagnosed just one week before I left for college. Mother was only 49. I was 18. This heart-piercing meeting was devastating as, with tears in his eyes, my typically unemotional dad said, “Janet, your mother is not going to make it.”
I was very close to my parents. Both were incredible role models in their own special ways. My dad was a brilliant attorney, my basketball buddy and my strongest cheerleader. My mother was a gentle giant. At 6 feet tall, she was a quiet leader who overflowed with compassion. Everyone loved her. My mother was nothing short of my very best friend.
The great times she and I shared provide precious memories for me. At the time, I wondered how I could ever survive without her. But throughout her illness, she expected me to adhere to normalcy. When she died, my heart was broken. Yet I survived by doing what I have learned to do when faced with survival. I poured myself into what’s important to me. I knew my mother would be proud of me for whatever I would make of my life. And through her inspiration, I found joy through trying to make a positive difference in some small way. Yes, I survived my mother’s death because of her love for me, her belief in me, and her expectation that I live my life with resilience.
In 1978 I got married after finishing graduate school and started working for a large banking system. In hindsight, I was too young to marry, and I naively had not taken the time to really know this man who became my husband. The early years were good, and we were happy. And then out of the blue, life threw us a curve when our first baby died due to a fatal birth defect. How could I possibly survive such devastation? During the first year after our son died, I often felt that life was out of control. To survive, I reached out to others who had experienced the same type of excruciating loss. With the help of a hospital chaplain and three physicians at the medical center where I would eventually work, we started a support group. I wanted to help young parents who experienced infant death and who might benefit from listening, love and reinforcement from others who had shared similar pain. In this case, the hope of helping others hurt less helped me to survive the death of my baby. And because of the love I felt from the hospital employees who cared for me when my baby died, I left banking and was recruited to join the executive team of that medical center at the young age of 27! Once again, I poured myself into my priorities while striving to make a positive difference. Most importantly, I survived the loss of my first baby because my two precious daughters were born over the next two years.
A few weeks after my older daughter was born, my husband abruptly gave me an edict that I would quit my job and become the stay-at-home mother he wanted. As much as I love and adore my children, and as much as I respect my friends who opted not to work outside the home, it was not in my DNA to be a stay-at-home mom. So, in that moment, I found my voice and told my husband, “No! I will not quit my job.” My parents had taught me that the sky is the limit and that glass ceilings are nonexistent. I knew I could be a good mother and an effective professional. And once again I poured myself into my priorities… my children first and then my career.
I am convinced that saying, “no” to my husband at that time may well have triggered the beginning of the end of what would become a near 26-year marriage. Based upon his indiscretions and escalating erratic behaviors, I divorced him in 2004. I moved to Ohio for a professional promotion and for a fresh start in my personal life. Not only did I survive, but I would thrive as the years ahead would become the happiest time of my life.
I have shared with you some deep valleys from years past. And yet, while those chapters brought profound sadness, my joy-filled days have far overshadowed the darkness. I have found that valleys absolutely suck, and that somehow mountaintops just might exist on the other side of those valleys. From the experiences with the KKK, my dad taught me to lead with courage and to advocate for equity for all people. Through my mother’s death, I learned the true meaning of resilience. And I cry with joy each time I experience life in ways that she did not… like planning my daughters’ weddings, being present for the births of my grandchildren, and celebrating special traditions with family. Through the painful death of my baby boy, I was blessed with two amazing daughters, and I was called into a healthcare career I have cherished for 40 years. When my first husband ordered me to quit my job, I learned to stay true to myself and my convictions. And, as for the many years of an unhappy marriage, four years after our divorce, I married the true love of my life who is my soul mate and best friend…. the person who taught me not only how to trust again, but also and most importantly, how to love again. Yes, I have survived!
In closing, I really hope that I am done with valleys. I mean seriously…I don’t want any more! But that’s simply not realistic because life in general tends to be filled with peaks and valleys. I am so grateful that I have survived my valleys, and I believe that you can survive, too. When you find yourself in a valley… as devastating as it may be at the time, just believe that somehow… in some way… a mountaintop may not be too far away.
And as for whatever life may bring me in the chapters that are ahead, I will continue to survive!
29 October 2020
We have a new, furry family member at our house. Her name is Greta, and she came to us last December as a ten-week-old pup who was totally shy and had no inkling of canine etiquette. Greta is a beautiful, standard schnauzer who is true to her breed. She is extraordinarily smart and equally as stubborn. I fondly say that Greta vacillates between angel and imp!
During our near eleven months with this precious pup, we have relied heavily upon our wonderful trainer to teach Greta (and for our trainer to teach us how to teach Greta…) the importance of impulse control. Mastery of impulse control is vital as it trains our pets to show respect to others.
Greta has matured a lot in this regard. She is learning that it is not polite to bark at walkers, joggers, and cyclers. She is learning to “stay” until given permission to leave her assigned place. Greta is working on her impulse control to stay calm when dogs are approaching… especially the ones that are larger than she! At long last she has controlled her impulse to lunge at loud trucks, including those mean-sounding and scary-looking garbage trucks. Yes, impulse control is important for Greta, and its mastery could conceivably save her life.
During the past few months of Covid-19’s new normal, I have spent a lot of time walking Miss Greta. As I have seen her grow in her ability to control her impulses, I have also thought a lot about the need for human beings to do likewise.
Regrettably, we witness daily the ongoing deterioration of basic respect across our nation. Why is it that horn honking and road rage appear to have gotten much worse? And what about name-calling and hate speech? Social media provides great value in so many ways, but it has also opened an easily accessible venue where people have become emboldened to spew mean-spirited, derogatory comments.
Next week, the presidential election will officially take place. Regardless of the ultimate outcome, more than half of Americans will likely be ecstatic, and the remainder will be furious.
As mature adults, there is no more important time than right now for us to think about the importance of our own impulse control, especially as we interact with those who do not share our political views. How easy it would be, either in our joy or in our disappointment, to make statements that may be hurtful to others. Is any good accomplished through such insensitive actions? Absolutely not!
Of course, those supporters whose candidates win their races have every right to celebrate, and that is simply fine. However, what is not acceptable is to express that joy by demeaning the opposing candidates or “rubbing it in” via hurtful diatribes. As for those individuals whose candidates do not win… well, we learn a lot about a person’s character in how he or she shows up when things do not go according to plan. Losing while exhibiting grace speaks volumes.
In the weeks to come, “we the people” must take great care to exercise impulse control. In so doing, we can better show respect to one another. And yes, it is possible for us to “agree to disagree” if civility and love reside at our core.
While Greta is still learning to control her impulses, let us take a little tip from this young pup. If through positive discipline a dog can learn “how” to show respect to others, then so can we human beings!
Just remember that those who look up to us are watching our actions. They will hear what we say, and they will see what we do… especially in the days and weeks to come. Our ability to control our impulses at this time in history can teach valuable lessons for the generations who follow.
America, it is high time that we restore decency, civility, and respect into every aspect of our lives. May we all commit to learn from a puppy by showing a little more respect to one another… starting today!
8 September 2020
A few weeks ago my husband and I decided to order dinner from one of our favorite restaurants. We have long patronized this particular culinary establishment because the food is consistently excellent.
Because I had some difficulty placing the order online, I called the restaurant for assistance. As I explained my plight to the individual who answered the phone, the employee said, “Let me get you to the manager. I’m just the chef.”
I expressed gratitude for this individual’s assistance, but before he passed on my call to the manager, I shared the following: “Let me encourage you to stop thinking of yourself as being ‘just the chef.’ My husband and I are loyal customers of your restaurant, and YOU are the reason for our loyalty. YOUR excellent food is why we continue to return for more.” It seemed he was caught off guard for a moment, and then he shared, “Wow! I really appreciate that!”
This experience resonated with me. Throughout my career as I have assumed new roles, I have encountered employees who demonstrated similar, self-deprecating attitudes… “I’m just a Housekeeper”… “I’m just a Facilities Tech”… “I’m just an Administrative Assistant”… and on and on. I cringed with horror and sadness when others would say to me, “I’m just a peon.”
You might wonder what is wrong with individuals who demonstrate such self-effacing beliefs. I would argue that the problem is not with the employees, but rather, the problem is with leadership.
It is the responsibility of leaders to connect the dots for all employees so they can see the direct link between the necessary, important work they do every day and the overall mission and goals of the organization.
A hospital cannot provide safe care to patients unless the Housekeepers are carefully and faithfully cleaning the rooms, the equipment, and every space where patients and guests will visit.
A facility is not going to function efficiently and effectively unless the Facilities Techs are proactive in preventative maintenance and consistently loyal when they are called to come in at 1:00 AM for the repair of unexpected outages.
As for Administrative Assistants, these employees are crucial to the success of leadership and the organization at large. Whether the Admin is ensuring the optimal coordination of the assigned executive’s schedule, soothing the angst of angry customers or organizing the logistics of special events for employees, these vital individuals make a deep imprint… positive or negative… upon the reputation of the organization.
The same can be said for all employees regardless of their respective roles. Every employee has an impact upon the organization’s reputation and success.
As for the Chef… I’m certain that customers don’t choose restaurants based upon the site leader, but rather based upon the food’s quality.
And so I invite you to ponder how much you are doing every day to ensure your employees do not think of themselves as being “just a ________.” It’s your opportunity and indeed your responsibility to ensure that all employees understand the importance of the work they do and that they see the direct connection between that vital work and the organization’s success.
My experience has shown that when employees hear from leaders that what they do is valued, they will turn cartwheels of great performances that can help to further the success of the organization …. and its leaders.
Within Gracious Leadership: Lead Like You’ve Never Led Before, I share how my father taught my brother and me early on in life that every person is to be respected, valued and appreciated… regardless of their circumstances. Yes, every person matters!
26 August 2020
Throughout my adult life, jogging has been my physical fitness activity of choice. I love breathing in the fresh air, seeking to stay healthy and taking advantage of our little “friends” called endorphins. Admittedly, I also love to jog so I can enjoy a bowl of ice cream or a piece of caramel cake without feeling too much guilt. For me, a three-mile run is just perfect. It doesn’t take too much time, and it’s a good enough cardio workout to make my cardiologist happy.
While I have never desired to run a marathon, several years ago I decided to train for a half marathon. You might even consider this goal to be a Bucket List aspiration. In any event, I trained as best I could, given a hectic work schedule at the time. Prior to the actual race, the longest distance I had run without stopping was 8 miles. I thought…. If I can run 8, I can make it through 13!
I was supposed to jog the race with a work colleague, but she regrettably injured her leg prior to the event and was rendered unable to run.
So there I was on that cool Saturday morning in April, ready to tackle this race all by myself. I wasn’t too concerned, however, because I planned to listen to my favorite music on my Walkman.
Ready, set, go!
The start of the race was both exciting and chaotic. The adrenalin rush brought smooth sailing early on. Then as the crowd started to thin out, I realized my Walkman was not working. Well, this was not good as I needed the music to keep myself distracted from the fatigue that would be inevitable.
After about 6 miles, I started feeling sorry for myself. There I was with no running buddy and no music. The most challenging half of the race was still ahead. So I started to focus upon other runners who were close by, but who looked like they were struggling. I jogged to catch up with them to chat for a moment and to encourage them.
Hydration was vital, and both water and Gatorade were greatly appreciated. Yet I noticed when I completely stopped for this liquid refreshment (as opposed to merely slowing down), it became more and more difficult for me to start again.
As I began the last few miles, I couldn’t help but notice the spectators who were lining the streets. They were holding signs and enthusiastically cheering, “Keep going! You can do it!” Every single word of encouragement from complete strangers provided a bit more energy to finish the race.
And I did finish the race in two hours and twelve minutes. While this performance probably won’t be meaningful for anyone else, for me, it was a major victory. Done! Mission accomplished in completing a goal I had never previously attempted.
So what lessons did I learn about leadership from my Bucket List experience?
Leadership Lesson # 1: You can do things you’ve never done before and go farther than you ever imagined in pursuing your goals. Don’t let the fear of failure stop you. You just have to try!
Leadership Lesson #2: You should anticipate obstacles and seek to remove them before they present a problem. Why had I not realized in advance that a Walkman might not have good reception in the midst of skyscrapers and thousands of runners? I should have used other technology available at the time.
Leadership Lesson #3: You can achieve more faster if you are surrounded with a great team. When my jogging partner was injured, I should have been proactive in finding others with whom to run. There’s simply something magical about the positive outcomes that can happen when team members share mutual support for one another.
Leadership Lesson #4: Encourage others, even if you don’t know them. Everyone can benefit from a kind word, particularly in this day and age. Strike up a conversation with a stranger and focus upon them as opposed to dwelling on your own challenges. Be an encourager, especially when others appear to be struggling.
Leadership Lesson #5: Resilience matters. When you’re tired, try to persevere. I found that it was easier to keep going and benefit from momentum as opposed to stopping and having to exert more energy to start up again. I am amazed at the commitment of healthcare employees and so many other essential workers who have demonstrated incredible resilience in the battle against Covid-19. Countless lives have been saved because of their dedication to “keep on keeping on”.
Leadership Lesson #6: When your goal is accomplished, be kind to yourself and celebrate. Take a break to rekindle your passion for the purpose of the work. Savor the moment. In my case following the half marathon, a much needed long, hot bath was certainly in order to soothe my sore muscles.
Through that special Bucket List experience, I actually ran two half marathons in one day…. my first and my last! I’m certainly grateful to have had the opportunity to run this particular race, and I was extraordinarily grateful to have finished.
And now I’m back to my three-mile comfort zone and loving it! I must confess, however, that as much as I enjoy jogging “in the moment”, the very best part of running for me is… when it’s over!
So please excuse me now…. My treadmill is calling me once again!
28 July 2020
Last week my husband and I were out for a routine bike ride. We were waiting to cross a busy road. The traffic signal changed, indicating it was safe for us to proceed. As we were riding across this busy thoroughfare, a car turned left in front of us. The driver was not watching, and she clearly did not see us. No doubt she was in her own world… her zone in which she was solely focused on her agenda as opposed to being mindful of what else was going on around her. Thankfully, we were aware of our environment, and we avoided harm.
How easy it is for us to get into a zone in the workplace. We quickly get sucked into our routines and become so focused on our own agendas and what we must accomplish that we develop blind spots as to what our employees are experiencing.
When I was a hospital president, I made it my practice to shadow employees and physicians so I could observe the realities of their daily work. This commitment to shadow forced me to get out of my zone and to see the broader environment from the perspective of our staff.
As I literally walked a mile in the shoes of nurses, my eyes were opened widely as to the challenges they faced. Shadowing Emergency Room physicians on the third shift gave me a clearer perspective regarding the wide variation in the care they provided. And shadowing a Nutrition Services employee gave me a bird’s eye view of the inadequacy of our kitchen space and equipment. In the latter case, this observation resulted in our tripling the size of the kitchen and dining facilities, allowing our staff to provide vastly improved food and better service to our patients and staff.
Businesses throughout the world have been adversely impacted by Covid-19, resulting in rampant restructuring and layoffs. Employees at all levels must now do more with less, and as such, they are facing challenges like never before. During these unprecedented times, leaders may have a greater propensity to get absorbed in the busyness of their business. This is precisely when well-intentioned leaders can find themselves in a zone where they become less aware of the ever-increasing struggles of their staff.
In Gracious Leadership: Lead Like You’ve Never Led Before I talk about the importance of Shadowing as an important way to show employees they are respected. Through Shadowing, leaders in any industry have a great opportunity to empathize with their employees at all levels and in so doing, to identify ways to become a better place to work.
Whether you commit to watch out for cyclists on your way home or if you promise to incorporate Shadowing within your To Do List at work, becoming more aware of your broader environment shows others that you seek to empathize with them and that you respect them.
What one thing will you commit to do today to get out of your zone and to become a fully respectful, peak performance leader?
1 July 2020
Have you ever felt uninspired? You know… you just cannot find that “fire in your belly” to get things done that you need to accomplish?
Well, I have a confession to make…. That has been ME for the past few months.
You haven’t heard from me for a while. In fact, I have essentially been radio silent on social media. Why? Because frankly, I have not known what to say amid the unprecedented crises our nation has been facing. For challenges so daunting, what can we possibly do to make a difference?
Covid-19 became real to me in late March when the spouse of a former colleague was diagnosed with the potentially lethal virus. Time and time again, this dear lady fought for her life. Through the grace of God, thousands of prayers and the outstanding care of dedicated, caring medical professionals, she finally came home to her family about a month ago. Her road was incredibly difficult with 75 days in three different hospitals (including 62 days in isolation with 40 days on a vent). Even a month after her homecoming, she perseveres to reclaim her health completely, and I am confident she will! Her battle has been long and hard, but well worth the fight!
This is one person’s very special story. And as I see this individual’s face in my mind, I think of the millions of other human beings around the world who are doing battle with this wicked illness. The battle for each person will be well worth the fight.
Our nation is also afflicted with yet another evil disease … chronic racism… a perpetrator that rages with a vengeance and has lasted far too long. Racial injustice was recently made real to millions around the world through the faces of George Floyd and other African Americans whose lives have been senselessly taken from this earth. For weeks the streets have been filled with protesters who are rightfully calling for an end to chronic racism in our country. This battle requires dramatic action and perseverance. Victory will be well worth the fight.
As individuals, what can we do to make a difference?
With Covid-19, Infectious Disease scientists have been crystal clear: stay at home if you can, practice social distancing and wear a facial covering. The best way to show respect for others and for yourself is to follow these simple rules.
Relative to chronic racism, let’s start with the Golden Rule… Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Treat people like you want to be treated. Lend your hands, your heart and your resources to help others. Remember that to those much is given, much will be expected. The time to act is now.
Get involved in ways that make a difference and in which you can infuse your passions. One of our family members is an excellent seamstress. She and her sister made masks to donate to a nursing home when PPE was scarce. Another family member’s five-year-old daughter is making beaded bracelets and is selling them with all proceeds’ being donated to support Black Lives Matter organizations.
So now as these two diseases continue to rage, I will look to the faces of Covid-19 and chronic racism to find my inspiration. I will be grateful every day for health, happiness, family, and friends. And I will be committed to fight both Covid-19 and chronic racism in ways that are meaningful and that make a difference. As the sun sets each day, I will remember that victories over Covid-19 and chronic racism will require all of us to show basic respect to others in everything that we do.
Regardless of what we are doing right now, suffice it to say that we can do more!
27 February 2020
For the past few years, I’ve made it my routine to go to Starbucks for a Café Latte or a cup of hot tea. Every time I patronized one particular location, I drove past a business with a parking lot sign that read, “CEO Parking Only”.
This sign was troubling to me as it didn’t send the right message to employees and customers. Although not intentional, the sign promoting special treatment for the CEO did not convey a “customer first” mentality.
Every time I drove past this sign, it reminded me of a planning session from a hospital I had the pleasure of leading.
We were embarking upon a $100+ Million construction project for our campus. The architects were eagerly seeking employee and physician input on important aspects of the expansion. Although clearly not as exciting as the ideation sessions for new clinical spaces, patient room design and other interior aesthetics, we were encouraged to think carefully about the configurations for the redeveloped parking lots.
I shall never forget that during a particular planning session with physicians, a proposal was presented that showed physician parking close to the entry of a medical office building. This was a common practice for healthcare facilities, and it represented a continuation of the norm for our campus.
One physician shared his frustration that patients walked farther than doctors to gain access to the facility. He lamented that many of these patients were not in good physical condition, and it concerned him to see them struggle as they walked to the building. The physician acknowledged the need for several parking spaces to be designated for doctors who would be called in for emergent situations. And then he made a passionate plea. “Patients will be grateful for a thoughtful medical staff that puts patient needs first. Let’s move physician parking farther out and let patients have the top priority spaces!”
Long story short… as a result of that planning session, physician and administrator parking was moved, and patients received the priority spaces they needed and deserved. To my knowledge, not one single physician complained about this change that could have been perceived by some as an inconvenience.
What an important message this action sent to our patients, our employees and to the community. This departure from the status quo took place because one young physician had the courage to speak up when asked for feedback. Through his fresh insight, he easily convinced his colleagues to do the right thing by living our “patients first” philosophy, even with parking.
As you guide your teams to peak performance, be mindful of the need to ask for feedback from your employees and other key stakeholders. Just remember that those who are closest to the front line will likely have the optimal view of your customers’ reality. And it is new stakeholders who are best equipped to bring a fresh perspective.
Encourage your team members on an ongoing basis to challenge the status quo. Just because, “We’ve always done it that way” is not good enough for today, and it’s certainly inadequate for tomorrow.
Have the courage to challenge old practices. In so doing, your team can create excitement internally and send the right message to your external stakeholders who have the choice of becoming (and remaining) your customers.
As for the “CEO Parking Only” sign, I noticed when I drove by this week that THE SIGN IS GONE! While I have no idea what prompted the removal, hats off to this organization for making this needed change. I’m confident that I am not the only Starbucks patron to have noticed!
For more insights on tools and techniques for seeking feedback from your stakeholders, be sure to read the chapter entitled “Gracious Leaders Seek Feedback” within Gracious Leadership: Lead Like You’ve Never Led Before. The book is available on Amazon in hardback, Kindle and Audible.
19 January 2020
On this special day we celebrate the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., an uncommon man who ranks among history’s most influential and impactful leaders. Also, on this special day, I’d like to share with you an adaptation of a story I was asked to convey during the 2011 Martin Luther King Day Celebration in Westerville, Ohio.
This story is about the influence of another uncommon man, a man who lived in Carthage, Mississippi, a small town of 3,000 people…. a town located approximately 25 miles from Philadelphia, Mississippi, the community where three Civil Rights activists were murdered in 1964.
When this man graduated from high school, his father gave him $64 and told him “Son, this is all I have to give you. Go get yourself an education.” This man went to Tulane University where he joined the U.S. Navy’s V12 Program. The Navy afforded him the opportunity to complete some of his collegiate studies at Harvard University. He then returned to Tulane where he finished his undergraduate degree. He ultimately received a law degree from the University of Mississippi.
He moved to Carthage and fell in love with a beautiful young woman whom he married. They looked forward to starting their family, and he began the practice of law.
This man considered himself to be a simple, country lawyer. He frequently smoked cigars; he drove a Ford Pick up truck. He had a deep, slow Southern drawl.
Who was this man, and what did he represent during the turbulent times of the Civil Rights Movement?
This man was both loved and hated by the residents of Carthage. Why? Because this man didn’t accept the racial bias that permeated his community and his state.
This man believed that all people should be treated equally, fairly and respectfully. He and his wife were often the only white people who attended NAACP gatherings. This country lawyer and his wife were invited to dine one evening at the Mississippi Governor’s mansion where they met a certain young Senator from Massachusetts. Along with his wife, Jackie, this Senator (JFK) was on the campaign trail for the Presidency of the United States.
This Mississippi attorney represented his local school board when the federal mandate was issued that the public schools were to be integrated. He was the person who told the School Board that integration was the right thing to do, and he is one of the individuals who personally escorted the first black student, first grader Debra Lewis, to her desk at Carthage Elementary School.
This man was stalked by the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan burned a cross in front of his law office; they burned down the barn on his farm. This man had to meet with the FBI, and he had to carry a gun because the KKK threatened his life, his wife’s life and yes, even the lives of his children.
This man was blamed for having caused integration in Carthage. This man didn’t cause anything. What he did do, however, was to advocate for equity and justice for all people, even when it was not popular, and the stakes were high. The influence of this uncommon man made a long-lasting impact on his community. In fact, at his death, the local newspaper wrote an editorial about the impact of his leadership in trying times. Not surprisingly, this op-ed was entitled “An Uncommon Man.”
This man …was my father… yes, he was my dad.
As a child growing up in the South in the 60s, I well remember Cliff Bailey’s drug store and soda fountain. One of my favorite things to do on Saturday was to walk “to town” to get an orangeade.
One of my most vivid memories was from one particular Saturday afternoon. I remember being afraid when I saw from within Mr. Bailey’s drug store windows the hooded Klansmen, filled with hate, circling the court square, inviting people to attend the KKK rally they were hosting that night. That same night I remember riding in the car along the Pearl River with my father and my brother as my father assessed how many people were attending the rally.
In my mind I can still see the huge flaming cross that burned in the dark of that night. On another night I remember hearing angry people slamming car doors and storming across my family’s back yard as they purposefully tried to frighten us… and they certainly scared me as I remember rolling off my bed and crawling underneath it to hide.
My brother recalled that from time to time we would look out of my father’s bathroom window and see an unknown car. We later learned that the car’s inhabitants were seeking to protect our family from harm.
When our schools were fully integrated, a greater divide occurred in our community. Half of the students went to a newly created private academy and the other half remained within the public-school system.
The “white kids” who stayed with the public schools either drove or were bussed daily to what had previously been the black high school… Jordan High School. I was a freshman at the time. The environment was initially tense, awkward and uncomfortable. Yet the students, black and white alike, began the process of understanding and embracing our new way of life at school.
As our students began to adapt, we found ourselves seeking a commonality of purpose. It was the sport of basketball that seemed to provide the entrée to the unity we desired.
I remember clearly our first “away” basketball trip. The games were over well after dark, and our athletes had boarded the bus for the drive back to Carthage. The tension on the bus was thick, and the silence could have been cut with a knife.
I don’t remember if we won the games that night. However, I vividly remember a much greater victory. As the bus departed the Edinburgh High School parking lot, one of the Black athletes started softly singing the song “Under the Boardwalk.” A few other students joined in unison and within a matter of a minute, all the athletes united in song. This singing represented a special kind of harmony that transcended music as it was symbolic of the unity we would collectively strive to share for a lifetime. The times were far from perfect, and the weeks and months to come would be difficult; but for us, it was a profound beginning.
I can only imagine it was this type of beginning that existed within MLK’s dreams and for which my father longed.
I share this story with you as a reminder of our responsibility as role models, just like my father, to live the dream of the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In looking back over my life, the recollections of my father, my childhood and my high school experiences remain among the most impactful memories…. Not because my family was subjected to threats… but because I had a role model father who stood up for what was right, fair and just, even and especially when it was not popular.
Look around you. Today our communities should be overflowing with role models. As leaders within our schools, our places of work and our communities, we have opportunities every day to serve as role models. Role models should not teach others to be afraid or to take the easy way out. Like Dr. King and like my father, role models are to teach others to be courageous and do to what is right, even and especially when it is not easy.
Let us role model for others that integrity is something never to be compromised. My father told me it takes a person a lifetime to earn a reputation of integrity and only a fleeting moment to lose it.
Let us never judge others by their ethnicity or their lot in life. Let us be relentlessly focused on treating every person with the respect and compassion that God expects us to extend.
With so many different cultures now represented in our nation, let us call upon the wisdom and the promise from John 4:35 which says, “Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for the harvest.”
All of us know we have a great place to live in America… one of the very best in the world. Just imagine how much better our country can be as we consistently share with all people the respect and compassion we are called to extend without regard to color, creed, economic status or other aspects of diversity.
I am grateful for today’s celebration of life of one of the greatest role models of all time. I humbly thank you for allowing me to share the story about my father and my family and the life lessons learned along the way. I look forward to “our” journey as we collectively seek to perpetuate the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
9 January 2020
Even as we have concluded the Holiday Season and entered a new year, many families ponder the memories of little ones whose eyes danced as they anticipated the arrival of Santa Claus. To these children, believing in this Jolly Old Elf led them also to believe their stockings would be full of toys on Christmas morning. Yes, as children, we were taught to believe.
Believe. This word can be powerful in the new year as we strive to cast away doubts and replace our fears with the promise that seemingly impossible aspirations can indeed become possible.
The willingness to believe can provide each of us with inspiration when things are going well.
As a child, I was encouraged to believe I could achieve anything. The confidence instilled within me by my parents and other adult mentors led me to dream big and to reach farther and wider than realistically seemed possible.
My high school basketball coach taught our team we could win if we would commit to hard work and if we believed we could win. That belief coupled with passion and perseverance led us as seniors to a 24-game winning streak.
In 2006 I found myself at the helm of a hospital with tall mountains to climb. With a host of daunting challenges, our leadership team decided to dream big. We embraced the word “believe” and started a journey to make our dreams come true. In fact, the word “believe” became our mantra. My office overflowed with memorabilia touting this wonderful word which we talked about with great zeal during our team meetings. Through the staff’s willingness to believe again, that struggling community hospital was transformed into a regional medical center with outstanding clinical care, compassionate caring, happy employees and collaborative physicians.
The act of believing can also carry us through challenging times in our lives.
The week before I left for college in 1973, my mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I longed to be with her every day during her fifteen-month battle with this horrific disease. Yet, my precious mother taught me to carry on her convictions and to believe she had prepared me well for the inevitable days ahead without her.
In 1982 my first baby died of a fatal birth defect. To say the least, I was devastated and was petrified that this same problem might happen again. This obsession could easily have taken over my heart and my mind. But then my faith led me to believe that good things can come from bad situations, and they did! I am so thankful for the opportunity to believe again as I was subsequently blessed to welcome to this world my two precious daughters.
I have learned over the course of my life that believing is not necessarily easy. Yet, I am convinced my willingness to believe in a loving and mighty God who welcomes all people in spite of our flaws has carried me through the valleys of my life while also blessing me with the peaks of my most treasured mountaintops.
I am reminded of the late 1960s when racial unrest was prevalent in the midst of public-school desegregation. Some adults in my southern hometown (including my father) believed that black and white families could co-exist amicably while showing mutual respect. While those times were certainly tumultuous, the conviction of parents to role model their belief that all people were created equally set the stage for the pursuit of harmony that ultimately would be achieved by those who were willing to believe.
Here we are 60 years later, and we are entering the year 2020 with a state of angst, unrest and incivility across our country. Bitterness, hatred and disrespect have once again become much too common and sadly have been accepted by some as a new normal.
What if we could find within our hearts, minds and souls the willingness to believe again with childlike faith? What if we could strive to see the good in others as opposed to assuming the worst about them? What if we all would believe again that we are one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all?
My prayer for the new year is that we might pledge to believe again. May we the people be individually and collectively convicted to live with uncompromising integrity while offering goodness, grace and respect to all. In so doing, may we all believe and receive a brighter tomorrow!
20 November 2019
Don’t you just love Autumn? The glorious leaves are at a peak, and we eagerly anticipate precious time with loved ones while enjoying “family favorite” Thanksgiving traditions.
Another eagerly anticipated aspect of Fall is Rivalry Weekend. During this special time, college football teams across the nation participate in the once a year opportunity to face their fiercest rivals.
As a child my family loved to watch our beloved Ole Miss Rebels take on the archrival Bulldogs from Mississippi State. For both teams, this was the one game of the year that really mattered. My parents taught me early on how to cheer “Hotty Toddy!” with great enthusiasm.
When I moved to Ohio, I learned to shout “O-H-I-O!” and to understand that the game between the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Michigan Wolverines would be the hottest rivalry game of the year.
Having been a college athlete, I have always been mesmerized by the impact of enthusiastic cheers. The accolades from raving fans can be the lifeblood of any team.
I invite you to take a moment and imagine that it’s Rivalry Weekend. Your favorite college football team is undefeated, is ranked in the AP Poll Top Ten, and is clearly expected to win. It’s a beautiful Autumn day, and the stadium is overflowing with fans. The coin is tossed, and your team receives the opening kickoff. Your receiving player runs the ball all the way down the field for a touchdown and …. NO ONE CHEERS.
In the next series, your team intercepts the ball and runs it back to score again and … NO ONE CHEERS.
The same outcomes are repeated time and time again until the game is over and… NO ONE CHEERS… not even the coach.
Because your team was supposed to win. Winning was an expected goal, and for that reason alone, affirmation was not necessary.
Now how ridiculous is that!!!?!!
Yet, this same pattern sadly takes place every day in Corporate America when leaders fail to praise their teams for a job well done. These leaders believe that because the team was expected to achieve stated goals, accolades were simply not necessary.
Leaders who fail to praise their team members for great performances are robbing their teams of the opportunity to build upon positive momentum. They run the risk of having disengaged employees who ultimately feel unappreciated for the contributions they made to organizational success.
A study by the John Templeton Foundation found that 60% of employees say they either “never” receive gratitude at work, or if they do, it occurs perhaps once a year. This is grossly inadequate for the modern workforce!
Millennials are projected to comprise 50% of the employee base by 2020, and evidence indicates they require “in the moment” affirmation for a job well done as opposed to hearing compliments only during performance conversations. Plus, Gallup has reported that “employees who do not feel adequately recognized are twice as likely to say they’ll quit in the next year.”
Are you taking for granted the efforts required for your team to achieve its goals? Or, are you being purposeful in systematically and sincerely expressing appreciation to your team members for achieving their goals?
Perhaps it is not a coincidence that Rivalry Weekend and Thanksgiving occur during the same week. In this special season when gratitude should be front and center, I hope you will seize the moment to remember that sincere expressions of appreciation are not only needed within our homes and on the football field, they are needed now more than ever before within the workplace.
I hope that starting today, you will become a Gracious Leader who is grateful for the great performances brought forth by your team!
Have a Happy Thanksgiving! And good luck to your favorite team during Rivalry Weekend!