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Marching for a change of heart

For what seems like longer than usual, those protesting the deaths of Mike Brown, Eric Garner and the seemingly growing list of African-American men who have died at the hands of police officers have sustained and gained momentum. People of all ages, races and geographic locations have not halted their cries for justice, and this is a good thing. But, in an age where discrimination is illegal and the justice system is allegedly blind, just what does that look like?

I had this conversation with someone who have a vested interest in this movement—a young African-American male. I wondered and asked, what exactly is the call to action beyond the march and movement for change? His comments still have me pondering the potential outcome of these efforts. He pointed out that during the Civil Rights movement, there were two things: a collective agenda and an effort to change the law. Desegregation was divisive, and sent many blacks scattering to the comfort of their respective corners which are not always occupied by others who look like them. What some want, others don’t; and, the paths to reach certain goals are now as varied as those who champion for them.

Then, there is the law. Discrimination based on race, ethnicity, gender or religious beliefs or practices is illegal. No more signs refusing service to blacks, who can now walk in the front door with everyone else. But, once they get there they are subject to the personal and sometimes prejudicial perspectives and subsequent actions of those therein. Sometimes, those actions are as subtle as being ignored; other times, they may result in a 911 call fueled by an innate fear that society continues to perpetuate.

So, what is the ask today of those marching? My young man was quite clear and definitive in saying that what is being asked for involves changing a personal opinion, a perception and an abandonment of a prejudicial thought or opinion. Who can change that?

While the election of President Obama as the first black president (half-black to those who still can’t accept the 1/3 rule) was supposed to validate a post racial society, it still doesn’t exist. Sure, we see white people who want to use the N-word because…well, blacks use it, and commercials openly show bi-racial couples and children, but the reality is that any blog or social media forum will give you a completely different—and scary—insight into some of the heartfelt perspectives and opinions still held (and thus acted upon) about people of color.

The real issue here isn’t about the police, even though they are at the forefront of this challenge. The real issue is that people still harbor personal opinions and prejudices based on ignorance that become evident in their job performances. We see this from sales clerks to corporate executives. Good people make good professionals; unbiased people make the same. But, this can be achieved only through exposure and experiences that create a more tolerant person and community. And, unless everyone marching is taking time to really get to know each other in the effort, I am not sure what else will result.

Talk to strangers

Today, I had a very interesting conversation with a stranger. It’s something I do as often as someone will entertain my invitation to talk. While waiting for a carry-out order in a chain restaurant, I sat next to a middle-aged white lady who was also waiting. The sights and sounds from the television at the bar easily spilled over into the pick-up area and offered the perfect opportunity and excuse to strike up a conversation, which I did and she obliged.
The topics weren’t serious—the holidays, the weather and family, and we transitioned easily from one to the other. She was pleasant and for a moment, I felt like I had known her for longer than the 5 minutes we had been sitting together. The conversation was easy and comfortable.
I enjoy talking to strangers. Doing so is disarming to those who may have already arrived at a preconceived opinion about me—who I am; my personality, what I think and do on a daily basis. Sometimes I start with “hello” or a compliment to put them at ease. Other times, I may even inject myself into a conversation already in progress, apologizing first for interrupting, of course.
In doing so, I have learned that most people want to connect with others; they almost seem starved for a personal connection that has been replaced by technology and relying upon the endless and usually subjective opinions of others. You know–cloaked prejudices and perceptions. But, what I have learned is that nothing beats a (mis)perception or impression of a person (or people) or like talking to them. And, as cliché as is may be, we really do have more in common than not.
At a time when our country teeters between a post-racial society and Civil Rights regression, nothing does more to break the fragile but age-old barriers like a simple hello. More often than not, people respond favorably and a positive impression and connection are made.
One hello, one person, one conversation and connection at a time; no new laws, policies or means of enforcement are required; Just a smile and two willing participants. Making a difference is really that simple.
Some of the best conversations and moments of my day are with or because of my encounters with strangers. Go ahead; try it sometimes.

Jobs without preparation still equal unemployment

Every election, and political discussion in between, yields the topic of jobs; job creation, availability, and access. But, nowhere in the conversation is job readiness and preparation. People can easily get by on the promise of “bringing jobs” to the community, but what happen when those who need them most are not prepared? Nothing.

Bringing jobs already filled, as well as those which require an elevated skill set continue to elude those who have come through a failed school system or who have fallen off the beaten path somewhere along the way.  Many of those who have a history of unemployment are saddled with a severe lack of basic job readiness, which limits their ability to be considered for anything beyond manual labor or basic service roles, if even that.

Rather than continuing to cite “jobs” as demanded by some and touted by others, the conversation must lend itself to viable and available resources to help those who are undereducated and chronically unemployable.  This isn’t a political or party-specific challenge or conversation; it’s a people one.

While working to address and assist those who don’t know or have never been taught the basics principles of employment—dress, timeliness, the dos and don’ts of interviewing, and basic social and professional etiquette—this amended discussion is also a call-to-action for those in the pipeline to get it together before they end up in the seemingly endless pool of unemployment.  After all, I don’t think we talk enough about the connectivity between preparation and success.

Talking more about dollars to schools than personal commitment to education is also misleading. The best looking schools and materials mean nothing without the proper attitude and engagement. We also need to present skilled trades as an option; a respectable and well paying one, I might add.

I can only assume that those who could and should be regularly leading this public discussion won’t do so for fear of insulting or losing their support base, political or otherwise. But, without doing so they will constantly be delivering broken dreams and unrealistic promises; and providing a social service net to those who otherwise fell through the cracks these “leaders” are refusing the help properly fill.

This isn’t to say that everyone is capable of realizing the same goal, or that there will never be a segment of society that will require—and should receive—social service support. But, there are many who would benefit greatly from a realistic challenge on the front end as well as those who need supplemental support on the back end. Promising jobs for which they are unqualified to fill is neither realistic nor helpful.

As it relates to job preparation and readiness, it is way past time to change the conversation.