It’s Time to Talk: Engaging Across Difference

It’s 2016 and we are connected across the globe, and in our own backyard, in ways that many of us could not have imagined, even just 15 years ago. We now have a window into the lives of others who may have experiences and perspectives that diverge significantly from our own.

Both exhilarating and scary, peering through the window can open our eyes to new ways of thinking, new places, new people, and their triumphs and struggles. However, those who will lead in business and society, more broadly, must be more than onlookers. We must engage! We must be willing to have conversations across our differences. The harrowing events around the world have catalyzed such conversations, yet many of us remain fearful of saying the wrong thing when examining and engaging difference. The concerns become most heightened when we discuss race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and identity, culture, religion, class, and the ensuing politics. Leading in our global world will necessitate that we step outside our comfort zone and wrestle with uncomfortable topics and issues.

The world has always been textured (i.e., diverse), but previously it was easier to focus on our own familiar domain. Diversity is a topic that has always been important, but it has taken the spotlight in America and across the world like few times in history recently. It is a challenging topic that kindles differing perspectives, passionate opinions, and sometimes — sadly — hate and violence.

I have dedicated much of my life’s work to the complex issues surrounding diversity, including conducting research on unconscious bias. As Darden’s Global Chief Diversity Officer, a spouse/partner, a mother and a Catholic African-American professional woman of southern, Irish and Caribbean heritage, I want to continue to facilitate a productive dialogue around diversity, inclusion and engagement through the new Diversity at Darden blog.

I hope to share my thoughts here, and also the thoughts of others inside and outside of the Darden community. To start the conversation on this platform, I’d like to share a note Darden Dean Scott Beardsley and I sent to our community in July after a rash of violence and terror swept the globe. It expresses our desire as a School to not shrink from a challenging subject, but to lead and overcome fear.

I look forward to your thoughts, and to our continuing dialogue here on Diversity at Darden.

Melissa C. Thomas Hunt

An email to the Darden community from Dean Scott Beardsley and Senior Associate Dean & Global Chief Diversity Officer Melissa Thomas-Hunt

Dear Darden Faculty, Staff and Students,

Yesterday afternoon, we hosted a community dialogue to reflect on the recent string of difficult global events and their impact on each of us. From the conversation, it is clear that for many of us the recent and frequent acts of violence and terror around the globe have been overwhelming – generating anger, fear, sadness and dismay, and leaving us bereft of a sense of what we can do to make a difference.

Over the past weeks and months we have written to you about atrocities around the globe. Today we are reaching out more broadly to provide solace about the recent horrific shootings in Louisiana, Minnesota and Dallas that have fueled mounting racial tensions in the United States. Our hearts go out to the individuals who in this recent spree of terror in the United States have lost a son, father, brother, significant other, colleague or partner and the broader communities – geographic, demographic, and those in law enforcement and military – that ache. Many in our own Darden community are struggling to make sense of the events, and we find ourselves unsure of how to share our feelings with and provide comfort to one another.

In volatile and difficult times like these, we must remember to continue to lead.  We must overcome our fear; fear of accidentally saying the wrong thing, fear of offending others and fear of inviting conversation not deemed appropriate for a business school, business or any organization. At Darden we nurture global leaders who understand and can navigate local contexts. Each of us has our own local context, informed by our background and experiences. It is through our own local context that we interpret the events around us. This means that any objective event will be experienced differently by individuals. Part of who we are and aspire to be necessitates that we must engage with one another in meaningful ways across the differences in our interpretation.

Darden is a community of leaders, and it’s critical that we gather to provide support for all members of the community, that we ask each other questions and learn from each other, and that we create safe spaces for sharing concerns. We’d like to thank everyone who came yesterday and to assure those who could not — including our students who will return in August — that we will provide additional opportunities to continue the discussion.

Darden’s Senior Associate Dean & Global Chief Diversity Officer Melissa Thomas-Hunt, in collaboration with our students, will put in place a framework for discussion and is open to your suggestions.

As a reminder, Darden and the University of Virginia offer many resources for those seeking individual support, an ear or an opportunity to lead the conversation.

At Darden, students, faculty and staff can continue to reach out to Sarah Wilcox-Elliott and her team in the Office of Student Affairs, and Lisa Cannell and her team in Darden Human Resources. Additional resources are listed on the Diversity at Darden webpage.

Some additional resources available at UVA include:

At Darden we are leaders and we have an obligation to engage with one another in meaningful dialogue and with positive intent, both in the classroom, at school and away from school, in our internships, jobs and communities.

Given the increasing frequency of attacks in the USA and globally, we do not intend to communicate on each and every event via email. Instead, face-to-face community dialogues led by Melissa and her team, as well as a variety of student leadership organizations, will be used to provide support for members of our community. However, know that we always check on the safety and well-being of our students, alumni, faculty and staff wherever they may be, and will communicate any necessary information as appropriate.

We look forward to continuing the conversations, and thank you for your leadership to help Darden live up to its full potential as a globally diverse, inclusive and wonderful community.

Sincerely yours,

Scott and Melissa

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Why Diversity and Inclusion are Important to Me

This post was originally written by Nathan Guo, First Year student and international and diversity student advisory group representative. You can read more about his experience at Darden in his student blog.

“This year, I was honored to be elected as Section D’s international and diversity student advisory group representative. What this means is that I will be meeting with the International Student Advisory Group (ISAG) and the Diversity Student Advisory Group (DSAG) to facilitate conversations about diversity and inclusion at Darden, advocate on behalf of international students, and promote understanding and awareness to build a stronger Darden community. To be elected, I submitted a statement to explain why diversity and inclusion are important to me. I want to share this piece to provide my perspective.

I am passionate about connecting people of different ethnicity, religion, sexual orientations, or any other label people use to put people into buckets. No matter what your background, each one of us is the same. We’re all human beings with hopes and dreams, successes and failures, triumphant wins and heart-crushing defeats. I’d like to tell you a personal story of one of my heart-crushing defeats that I hope will show why I’m so passionate about connecting people of different backgrounds.

On July 4th, 2011, I was celebrated Independence Day by driving 190 miles to Austin to meet up with some high school friends from Dallas. Over the next several hours we reminisced about the past, caught up on each other’s lives, and had a blast watching fireworks. After I’d had enough, I took my leave and started walking back to my hotel.

Suddenly, a car screeched by. A man leaning out the window yelled at me, “GO BACK TO CHINA!”

Go back to China? I’ve lived here all my life. Am I Chinese? I thought this was home. I thought I belonged here. Am I American? Who am I?

Am I Chinese? Over the last four years, I have spent a substantial amount of time working abroad in China. Even though I speak Mandarin fluently, my Taiwanese/American accent was obvious and Chinese people could always tell that I was not Chinese. They could tell even before I even opened my mouth by the way I dressed. I am not Chinese.

Am I Taiwanese? Although, I have relatives in Taiwan, I cannot even communicate with my grandparents because I cannot speak the local dialect, Taiwanese. While I’ve visited Taiwan many times during my childhood, it’s never felt right to me. The very environment seems to reject me. Too hot. Too humid. Too many mosquitoes. It’s as if the entire climate of Taiwan is trying to make me recognize that I don’t belong there. I am not Taiwanese.

Am I American? I worked at a chemical plant with mostly blue-collar workers. Here I am even more different. Not only am I a different ethnicity, I am the ethnicity that is stealing jobs from them. They associate me with the Chinese sweatshops that are taking food off of their tables. I tell them I’m in the same boat. I’m fighting to keep a job in America as many engineering jobs are getting outsourced to China. They can’t see past my skin color. I am not American.

After the incident, I posted a status update about it onto Facebook. I was instantly flooded with sympathetic Facebook messages and texts. In times of crises, none of these labels matter. I am not Chinese or American, Christian or Buddhist, Republican or Democrat. I am a human being with friends and family that love and support me through thick and thin. I am passionate about diversity and inclusion because they are essential to the development of strong bonds that will last beyond the time we are here at Darden and endure across cultural, religious, and political borders.”

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Love Is Love 2013

It is quite unorthodox to quote Barney, that big purple dinosaur that children watch on television, on a business school blog. However, I am reminded of his “I Love You” song at this time of year. It is not because we are in the month that celebrates Valentine’s Day…. or at least not completely. It is more because the Gays, Lesbians, Allies at Darden (GLAD) club does a special series of activities and events to bring the community together around topics related to living, working and loving for LGBTQ members. We just closed out a celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King and perhaps his oft quoted “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” is an appropriate theme for these activities. At Darden, I believe, we simply want to celebrate every member of our community no matter where they come from, what faith they practice, how they look or who they love. So, perhaps an even better theme is “Love Is Love”. (Humming the Barney song….)

Darden celebrates Love Is Love 2013 through the following activities:
Entire month of February
Photo exhibit by Jeff Sheng featuring images of military personnel in response to Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and its repeal.

February 10
Screening of “Out at Work” and discussion to follow about workplace scenarios involving the LGBT community

February 13
A Safe Space training to help allies support those members of the community who are LGBT and a panel discussion on Religion and Same Sex Marriage in partnership with religious affiliated affinity clubs at Darden

February 14
Love Is Love First Coffee with remarks made by Professor Martin Davidson and a panel discussion on Life After Don’t Ask Don’t Tell featuring Jeff Sheng and Military LGBTs and their partners.
Glad sponsors the community-wide Cold Call, a social hour.

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Darden joins in UVA’s MLK Celebration

The Darden MLK Celebration Planning Committee is happy to present the Darden 2013 MLK Celebration activities sponsored by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at Darden in partnership with the Olsson Center for Applied Ethics.

Remembering MLK and “I Have a Dream”
January 22, 9:30am First Coffee
Dean Bruner will make remarks, Committee will make announcements, “I Have a Dream” speech video will play on loop throughout the day.

Panel Discussion
Theme: Free Enterprise: From Montgomery to Main Street
January 25, 4:30 – 6:00pm Darden School Classroom 50
Significance of business ownership in social justice and community empowerment from Civil Rights era to present day.
Greg Fairchild, Darden Professor
Claudrena Harold, UVA History Professor
Uday Gupta, Darden alumnus and entrepreneur
Toan Nguyen, Darden Alumnus and Entrepreneur

Brown Bag Lunch
Business and the Poor
January 31, 1:30 – 2:30pm CR 30
Informal, round table discussion about role of business in addressing poverty using MLK’s Poor People’s Campaign as foundation.

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Opportunities for Round One Admitted Applicants

Darden values its diversity strategic partnerships. We have several non-profit organizations and corporate partners with which we consistently engage to help us with our diversity initiatives and programming. One such partnership is with the Management Leadership for Tomorrow organization. This relationship occurs primarily with our Admissions Office as that office engages with the MBA Preparation program. However, MLT has several programs and they have recently launched another. This program, the MBA Professional Development program has just opened its doors a little wider to include admitted Round 1 applicants who are not already current members of MLT. I think this is a bold move and a right move. If you are an admitted applicant or know an admitted applicant and wish to learn more, please access the MBA Class 2015 blog. If you are not an admitted applicant, please share with your personal and professional network the work MLT is doing. MLT is a mission-focused organization that is meeting the need of a diverse talent pipeline to top levels of organizations.

Kellie Sauls
Director, Diversity Initiatives and Programming
Associate Director Admissions

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Diversity 365

Darden has been recognized for our community’s efforts in diversity recruiting and student body makeup in regard to underrepresented minority students as a percentage of the class. We are very proud of our accomplishments but we are not satisfied with them.  Darden views diversity as only one half of the story. Inclusion provides the other half. We decided several years ago that Diversity alone was not going to help us make the strides toward a more enriched, open and holistically engaged institution until inclusivity became just as important in our efforts.

Many years ago I read this wonderful book titled Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? 1   It helped me better understand this dynamic to the degree that I could explain it to others without feeling awkward or defensive.  So, when a few years ago at Darden I was sitting in a room with a diverse group of students and the question was asked, “Why do all the Black students hang out together?” I understood what was really being asked and could help our students articulate not only their perspective but listen actively to the questioning student’s perspective. We didn’t solve world problems that day but we had one of the most honest and revealing conversations in which I’ve engaged at Darden. The conversations continued over time and we challenged ourselves to challenge others but to also include others, invite others, bring others into the conversation as much as possible.  I believe these early meetings and conversations led to some of Darden’s diversity and inclusion initiatives and programs under Dean Bruner’s leadership.  I’m not going to list them all here – frankly, there are too many to list – but I will share that the tide is shifting, the community is stronger and the experience is richer.

This may in part help explain why Admissions is changing the way we host diverse prospective students on grounds. We have done things the traditional way for so long:  Host several visit events and one other event geared toward diversity.  Admissions has been thinking about the look and feel of this type of recruiting programming for a long time but I think fear of breaking away from the crowd and appearing to be “insensitive” to diversity prevented movement…..until now.  This new generation of students is the most diverse we’ve ever seen. They think about diversity differently. They’ve experienced diversity differently. I’m not saying that they live in a utopian society where difference doesn’t matter, we know that’s not the case. But these students are smart, savvy and demand better.   Darden Admissions decided to give them better. Every Darden Admissions Open House is a Diversity open house.  Admissions went from offering one diversity open house to offering five.  Everyone who chooses to will learn about and experience our diversity partnerships, classes, community and diverse student body as it exists every day.   This is an inclusive approach. Everyone benefits from everyone else’s experience.  We call this Diversity 365 because it’s us/Darden as we are everyday.

The reason diversity works at Darden is because we leverage diversity in the classroom through the case method and because we practice student self-governance which requires engagement and leadership outside of the classroom. There is no other choice but to put different experiences, ideas, backgrounds to work to create value in regard to learning, extracurricular activity and the community as a whole. What good is diversity if it remains silent and unengaged? No good.

Kellie Sauls
Director, Diversity Initiatives and Programming
Associate Director Admissions

1 Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Tatum is a book that explores the psychology of self-segregation.

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The Future With a Majority Minority

Recently a Census Bureau Report identified for the population under the age of one, the majority is now minority in regard to race. Basically, Hispanic, Black, Native and Asian Americans have assumed the majority in this youngest of generations and the Hispanic American population is leading the way in terms of growth in population. In the Darden Office of Diversity and Inclusion, we are constantly challenging ourselves to look at ways to impact the future leaders being educated here by influencing the community culture and the academic offerings. We truly believe that the best managers, leaders in business and in society, will be able to adeptly navigate a workforce that is increasingly becoming more diverse at a relatively fast pace. This adeptness requires not only practical intelligence but emotional intelligence as well. Over the next 20-30 years, the workforce will look dramatically different from today. The social, economic and political implications are significant. If MBA students (and academicians) are not preparing for this historical shift, then there will be a real deficit in how well companies and organizations compete.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that by 2020 the percentage of whites in the labor force will shrink as the percentage of minorities and women will grow. That growth racially will be at a much faster pace among Asians and Hispanics and women will outpace men. Corporate leaders will be called upon not only to positively impact the bottom line but to advise, coach, lead a group of professionals who come from a generation that is the most diverse this country has ever seen. If one thinks about the skills needed to effectively manage in this future workforce so that companies can be in the best competitive position, those skills should include a prowess for navigating across diversity, identifying strengths, and leveraging them to the organization’s and employee’s benefit. How mainstream is this notion in business programs today? I really don’t know. I do know that Darden is, and I assume other graduate management programs are, constantly looking for ways to infuse diversity in all of the things we do well. We ask ourselves, is there an opportunity, where is the opportunity, can we create an opportunity and how best do we use that opportunity to help our students, our community gain a better understanding of diversity in this particular context?

A future where the majority is made up of the minority will challenge even the most skilled manager and leader if they are not prepared for the impact on the way business will be conducted. I offer these basic suggestions for starters:

1. Ask the Question – Often a question makes all the difference when looking at a business case/scenario; How is diversity impacting or impacted in this situation? Is there a diversity message we are sending by making this decision?

2. Read Up – there are some great articles addressing the topic of diversity in the workforce beyond 2020 and some futurists out there who have been researching and talking about this phenomenon for years. Check out the 2007 Forbes The Futurists article and The Arrival of the Thrivals, an article written in 2004 by Dr. Nat Irvin, II.

3. Check Your Social Circle – The best place to learn about differing viewpoints and experiences is in your circle of friends. If your circle is a bit homogeneous, that’s ok. Push yourself to meet people and establish relationships with those you perceive to be different from you.

4. Access Your Organization’s Resources – Diversity/Inclusion Offices, Employee Resource Groups, Professors and Libraries are great places to gain recommendations for events, workshops, professional networks and research to help expose yourself to various diversity topics/challenges facing professionals.

Our world is changing. Will we be ready?

Kellie Sauls
Director, Diversity Initiatives and Programming
Associate Director of Admissions

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Art + Diversity = Inclusion

I received an e-mail from one of my colleagues at work letting me know that she was part of the theatrical crew producing For Colored Girls at a local Charlottesville theatre. This colleague is very good about letting the Darden staff and faculty know about interesting theatrical productions with which she is engaged and inviting the community out to see the them. I am so glad she does that. “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf” is a wonderful, landmark literary work that became a tony nominated Broadway play. In brief, it is the Black woman’s story with multiple facets as experienced through Ntozake Shange’s poetic pen. Seven women represented by various rainbow colors, share their stories of love, heartache, domestic violence, abortion, rape and abandonment. It is intense.

A group of Darden staff decided to see the play together. After some discussion the group decided that it wanted others in the community to participate. Darden has Staff/Faculty sections modeled after student classroom sections, to encourage staff and faculty to collectively impact the community around themes/topics that interest and matter to them. We have a “Create Your Own” cross section for those of us that want to be a bit less structured and more ad-hoc around our themes. As a result of the discussion, the “Create Your Own” cross section and the Darden Office of Diversity and Inclusion partnered to invite the entire Faculty and Staff group to see the play. Yes, we did.

Part of my initial reason for supporting this idea was simply about the artistic movement tradition itself. Think Social Realism, Mexican Muralism, Social Documentary Photography, Black Arts Movement – you get the idea. Often art has taken the mantel for social movement through music, dance, drama, still art, photography, etc., and placed it starkly in the face of the art patron. Art has made shadows light, what was disdained revered and what was shunned mesmerizing. For Colored Girls is a perfect example of how this was done. I thought seeing this cornerstone play would be a wonderful gateway to discussion about culture, social movement and diversity. What better way than with art. There were so many other reasons for supporting this idea, many personal, but this blog entry would then become way too long if I were to share. Suffice to say, at the end of the play there is a symbolic physical gesture that calls to mind self-empowerment combined with a mantra – “I found God in myself/and I loved her/I loved her fiercely.”

Not all faculty and staff participated but for those of us who did, it was a rewarding experience. Immediately at the conclusion of the play, the discussion turned to generational differences, the Feminist Movement and Black culture especially in the 60’s and 70’s. We couldn’t help ourselves. We shared personal stories about our own growth in cross cultural circumstances and if they hadn’t started turning out the lights, we might still be there talking. We’ve decided to have a brown bag lunch to continue our conversation but there are still conversations happening in the hallways today.

This isn’t the traditional Diversity activity you might expect to see at a business school. However, it is one that can have positive impact on the diversity and inclusion culture at a school. It’s happening here in real time.

Kellie Sauls
Director, Diversity Initiatives and Programming
Associate Director of Admissions

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Breaking Bread, Breaking Barriers

There is something about sitting with people while sharing a meal that lends itself to comfort and open, engaging conversation. The cynics might say the wine at dinner loosens up the lips and creates a positive feeling but I have seen it happen too much, both with and without the presence of alcoholic beverage, to agree with that cynical view. Having a meal fosters intimacy. It is an invitation to share in a ritual that historically was usually reserved for one alone or with family and close friends. An invitation to dine, especially in one’s home, is an invitation to get to know people at their least guarded. It is an invitation to be included in one’s closest social circle.

So, it should not be surprising that dinner is the order of the day currently at Darden (pun intended,) for cross cultural engagement. Students are using this cozy and strong interpersonal practice to manifest effective leveraging of diversity. I offer two examples.

In the fall, I became aware of an idea that Darden’s chapter of the National Association of Women MBAs was proposing for a diversity fund competition. The idea proposed and eventually sponsored by Darden’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion is a Diversity Dinner Series that would run the entire academic year, one dinner per month. Each small group gathering would focus on a topic unique to women and women in business. Efforts were made to keep the group small to ensure group-wide engagement in the conversation, but to also make sure men, alumni, faculty and staff were included. The plan also included ways to expand the conversation beyond the dinner itself but to the community at large. The kick-off dinner was phenomenal. The topic was “How Diversity Creates a Corporate Advantage in the Workplace” and an alumna was invited as a special guest. Dean Bob Bruner was in attendance as well as Sr. Associate Dean and Chief Diversity Officer Peter Rodriguez. I remember the discussion that night being thoughtful, revealing, enlightening and challenging. It was a great way to break bread and break barriers.

For the other example, you will need to access another blog, Global Voices of Darden. I would like to call your attention to the entry dated March 29, 2012 where second-year student Anders Hvelplund shares an experience around small, informal international lunches he and two of his classmates initiated. This effort has grown into the International Business Society club’s cross-cultural small group dinners. Anders describes the benefit of Taking Advantage of Our Diversity plus simply having fun at the same time.

In essence, what value is diversity if it is not being explored? Leveraged? Enjoyed? Taken advantage of? At Darden this is not simply something that is optional. It is something students initiate, demand and value.

Kellie Sauls
Director, Diversity Initiatives and Programming
Associate Director of Admissions

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Black History Month

In a January blog, Dean Bruner reflected on Dr. King’s legacy, particularly the concept of servant-leadership. It inspired me to extend the conversation to Black History Month.

Black History Month has traditionally been a time set aside to recognize the terrific accomplishments of African-Americans. Indeed, there are many breakthroughs to acknowledge.

Reflecting on the achievements of others may stir within us the very human desire to be great, and to be recognized ourselves. In fact, during the course of a Black History Month program or after an announcement of “Today’s Black History Fact,” our grade school teachers likely implored us to consider how we might make “make the race proud.” Dutifully, we may have declared (depending on age) “I’m going to be the next music mogul like Quincy Jones or Sean (Jay-Z) Carter.” Or, “I’m going to become a world class surgeon like Dr. Ben Carson,” or “My goal is to be a stateswoman like Dr. Condolezza Rice.”

Unquestionably, these individuals applied the admirable qualities of persistence, innovation, and faith to achieve their goals. None of them received their high positions or world-renown as a birthright. Dr. Rice details in her recent memoir, No Higher Honor, the long hours, rigorous study, and incessant travel she completed in order to serve effectively as the first African-American female National Security Advisor, and later the Secretary of State.

Yet, it would be a mistake, at best, to allow admiration for others’ greatness to fuel our own engines of self-promotion. Yes, in each of us, there lies a hungry desire to be recognized—to see our name and unparalleled success profiled in Black Enterprise, the Wall Street Journal, or the Harvard Business Review. While we appear to celebrate their achievements, we may—just a little—be coveting their sustained celebrity, and plotting to obtain the same for ourselves.

Dr. King’s sermon, “The Drum Major Instinct,” provides exceptional (and, of course, eloquent) guidance on how to avoid this pitfall. He says that while “we all want to be important, to surpass others, to achieve distinction, to lead the parade,” what is more important is to be “first in love…first in excellence…first in generosity.” These are the foundations of servant-leadership. Where the “drum-major instinct” fosters “exclusivism” and “destructive race prejudice,” servant leadership unifies, encourage and builds better communities, better companies, better societies.

The opportunities to be a servant leader are open to all: “You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subjects and verbs agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve…You only need a heart full of grace.”

As the recent and historic Facebook initial public offering demonstrates, our society values and encourages self-promotion. We have an insatiable appetite for ourselves. The challenge to turn away from orchestrating the enchanting world of me to serving the greater, less-glamourous community of us is daunting.

Perhaps, then, this is the excellent assignment for Black History Month 2012: Use the twenty-nine days to honor the incredible “firsts”, honestly explore our own motivations to emulate their success, and to properly harness the “drum-major instinct” within us.

A version of this writing appears on the BBSF website.


Rhonda Henderson, Second Year Student

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