Cards, Kwanzaa, and Life Lessons

Habari gani!?

Inspired by the seven principles (Nguzo Saba) of Kwanzaa, I felt it timely to write this post. It captures of the best of what my people have taught me, and how I want to teach others.

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Every year during Thanksgiving, the Wilson’s (my mother’s side of the family) come together for fun, fellowship, and a sometimes unhealthy competition that ends in a lot of smack talking. What’s a family reunion without some smack talking? There is a bowling tournament and a Bid Whist tournament. Many of you may be wondering…what the heck is that? Well I’ll let Wikipedia explain it formally: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bid_whist.

In short, it’s Spades (or Hearts) on steroids. I find it to be a game played by older southern Black folk (in my experience). These are the kind of people who raised me. I would sit at the feet of these veterans of the game, people with names like Milton, Kenny, Gerri, Timmy, Cheryl, Ronnie and of course our patriarch, Otis. These men and women taught me so much about life, and shaped me to be the man I am today. As I wrapped up this last Thanksgiving Reunion in Destin, FL, I got to thinking about the many life lessons embedded in the game of Bid Whist! So here is what I came up with. I think you should all learn how to play Bid Whist, and thereby become a better person 🙂

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1. Lead with your trump

Always lead with your trump. In other words, you want to control the game. Nobody should beat you at your own trump. In life, you have to do the same. Know your trump (your talents) and throw them on the table. Never let someone else outplay you in what you do best. That goes for interviews, at work, in love, no matter what – always lead with your trump. Put your best foot forward.

2. Don’t spend them all

Though you lead with your trump, you never want to spend them all. Keep one, just in case. You may need it to take control later on. This can apply to financial savings obviously, but beyond that, you need to be strategic about how you use your talents to advance your career. Be thoughtful, plan, and execute.

3. Find a good partner, and keep them

Does this really need to be explained? For those who play cards (with a partner), you know how clutch a good partner is. Wow. A good partner will give you life, energy, joy, and you win! So find a good partner and never let them go. Same in life – vet your partner out, test them, practice with them, trust them, and then go all in!

4. Shut up and play

At some point all the smack talking and posturing has to stop. I was so wrapped up in talking smack one day I did something stupid – like cut my partner. So one of those veteran uncles said, “shut up and play.” So that’s what I did. Many of us in the real world also talk a good game (especially on social media). My advice to you is the same as my uncle’s advice – shut up and play. Stop talking about going to school, talking about the money you make, talking about the things you will do. Shut up and do it. You’ll thank me and my uncles.

5. Watch and learn

All of my cousins and siblings know there is a good 10 year or so waiting list to play at the “real” table. We were told since we were little kids, if you want to play, you need to watch and learn. How often do you take this advice in real life? We chomp at the bit to get that next job, start this next venture, open this next chapter, but have not done our work to study – learn – reflect – and understand ourselves or the “game” of life. Do that first, or you’ll find yourself unprepared for the opportunities in front of you.

6. Have tough skin, or don’t play

You should never play anything with old Black folk if your feelings are easily hurt…ever. I’m serious, don’t do it. I mean we invented “the dozens.” But what I learned is this: a) it makes you tough – a much needed cultural asset as a Black man (any anyone nowadays), and b) no matter what they say and how they say it, they still love you. Find people who will challenge you, but do so lovingly. Be tough – because the world is tough. Don’t make excuses, keep practicing, and then go at it again. You’ll get better – it just takes time.

7. Watch the table

The worse thing you can do while playing cards is to not watch the table. That’s how you cut your partner, make dumb mistakes, or God forbid – renig! In real life we call this “scanning the environment.” You need to know what’s going on in your industry, in your job, in your community. You can’t afford to miss a great opportunity to expand your network, enhance your skills, or jump on a really cool experience. You can only do this by being vigilant and paying attention to the table (environment).

8. It’s called BID whist, not SET whist

It’s pretty annoying when you play to set the other person. I call this the hater strategy. Think about it, your goal is not to bid and make that bid, it’s to stop the other team from getting their bid. This is the person in real life who doesn’t set their own goals, but will make it their life’s work to set you back. Don’t be that person. Set goals and then execute. Sometimes you won’t make it, but as we say – “bid somethin’!” You have to try, it’s what makes the game (and life) worth living.

Thank you family for these life lessons – I am because you are!

Dr. Anthony

Grace

I’ve commented a few times recently via social media how amazing critical colleagues are. These are people who will challenge you, call you out, help you grow and learn in very authentic ways. One such college, who works in Pennsylvania and co-facilitates with me at various leadership conferences across the country, engaged me in great reflection about the concept of Grace. He told me of his friend Tom Matson who wrote in his book, “UNFROZEN: A Father’s Reflections on a Brain Tumor Journey” who had this to say about grace:

Grace: a word and associated actions I’ve never been able to comprehend. I don’t think our minds can fully grasp grace. I know many people could define grace differently, but for me, I see it as receiving love when we don’t necessarily deserve it. It’s love when we least expect it, and it’s love when we have done nothing to receive it.

I use this word often in my work as a Chief Diversity Officer. What I realized was missing in my college, and indeed in all communities struggling with racism and other forms of oppression, is grace. As a Christian, grace and mercy, sit at the core of the love that saves our souls. If it were not for these twins, we would be lost. So I often wonder how I can give grace in my interactions, as I teach acceptance in the work I do. I call on my colleagues who are engaged in tough work around oppression, education, equity, and justice to give each other grace as we struggle through this life. Sometimes its the only thing that we have left, and its the only thing that keeps us trying despite the difficulty.
Dr. Anthony

Real Fear

I share this very personal message from a place of fear because we all know fear on some level. Women know fear from just being women. Surrounded by men in a male-centric world where “rape culture” is actually a thing. Think about that – we have something called rape culture. Men, White folks and others who hold privileged spaces are not immune to fear either. Fear is universal. Why we fear is not. That we should fear because of who we are should never be.

Fear

We were driving from Louisville, Kentucky to Destin, Florida yesterday to start our vacation and family reunion. It was me, my little brother and my daughter. Before we even got on the road my cousin sent the warning:

“if you can, try to leave very early, that way you aren’t going through AL (Alabama) at night. No lights and there are police every where so be cautious. Love you guys and big HUGS!”

That warning came before any Ferguson verdict, and would have come long before Mike Brown was murdered. It’s a warning I have heard my whole life as a Black man. And one we still tell our children and students and even strangers with whom we share a brief moment. The message is simple, and horrifying: be careful where you are, because of who you are.

We literally warn each other to not drive through certain parts of our country, (my country, my home) because we fear what might happen to us. What may seem like a general warning to “be careful” is really laced with an insidious subtext that continues…“because you are black…and they will hurt you.” When someone hates and targets you for who you are, there is not much you can do to anticipate that. It defies logic and normal precaution. If someone is robbing me because it’s dark and they want money; I give them money and they go away. What do I do if I’m targeted, judged, pulled over and they hate my skin? They hate my very being. I have no defense. No escape. Nor should I need one. I have accomplished a lot, and care about people, and have much to contribute; yet before I can even open my mouth – I’m hated by so many.

It wasn’t just my cousin’s words that were terrifying. It was the realization that I didn’t even need to be told that. I already knew. As I drove through the highways of Alabama (and be clear it could have been almost any state) I was fearful. Birmingham…Selma…Montgomery. Each invoking their own sense of history, anger, and fear. As I passed the trees that lined the highways, I thought about the strange fruit that used to hang there. And I remember it wasn’t that long ago…and they were hanged for looking like me. I am acutely aware that the kind of hate that existed then doesn’t easily die. It has a long memory, and continues today. It is everywhere. And I’m scared all over again.

Then came the verdict.

Real fear is not being hurt or murdered. It’s realizing that it can be done so easily. It’s realizing that “they” will get away with it. And that even in death and suffering my family wouldn’t see justice. I can be erased. And that’s all. That’s real fear. No one deserves that.

Dr. Anthony

Solitude vs. Loneliness

Solitude vs. Loneliness

I don’t know this young scholar all that well, but social media has a way of blessing us at the most unexpected times. His words traveled across the ocean to fall on my heart at a time I really needed to read it. His words also reminded me of gifts from two of my favorite authors, bel hooks and Paulo Coelho. All of us wrestle with loneliness and solitude, and it can be hard to find your way in that moment. His blog post helped me to think through my loneliness and solitude in a time when those two fiends are regularly finding their way in my life.

Check out what Mark Anthony Torrez has to say about Feeling Blue in Barcelona.

Share with others who may need it, and I’m sure he won’t mind either.

Dr. Anthony

What Happened to My Piece?

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A few hours into my experience at the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity (#NCORE2014) in Indianapolis, IN, I have been inspired to write this post that has long been on my heart.

Back in 2008 at the University of Louisville, there was a pretty big shift about to take place within a long-standing office on campus. To complicate matters this office was steeped in tradition, and had long served the university’s African-American student population in many important ways. At the same time, there was need for a new direction and vision, one that was more inclusive of other students of color and traditionally under-represented students on campus. I was tapped to lead this important transition, and to literally rebuild a center that would both honor the traditions and work of the past, while moving boldly into the future. One need not live in Louisville, KY to understand that this was going to be a challenge.

When working within the “diversity and inclusion space” there is an analogy used that I can only imagine is borrowed from the budget and finance world. Groups of people (typically clustered around race/ethnicity) will often speak about and vigorously defend their “piece of the pie.” This piece of the pie refers to their slice of the college’s resources that are committed to “diversity and inclusion.” As you can imagine, this is problematic on so many levels, and it showed up during this important transition that I was asked to lead. The prevailing question I was faced with, very loudly from those in the community, alumni, students, and faculty, was; “what about our piece?” Underneath the surface of that questions, was this: “how are we going to get ours, if we let all those other people get theirs?” And, “we don’t have enough already, how are we going to share with them?” These are real questions, born out of real oppression and frustration, and I understand it all too well. As a Black man, raised in the southern part of the U.S., I know well how this “pie” is often doled out by some faceless entity(ies) that expect the recipient(s) to make it last. This can be in the form of public assistance, quality education, financial aid, space, or other resources. The problem is, I think we continue to ask the wrong question. Which leads us to have to ask the same questions time after time.

By way of providing a solution to this dilemma, I would like to offer advice that Dr. Marc Lamont Hill shared during his keynote. We need to reframe the questions that we ask. Instead of saying “what will happen to my piece of the pie,” let’s instead ask:

“Who made this pie?”
“Why is this pie the current size it is?”
“How do we get a bigger pie?”
“Is there different kinds of pie we can have?”
“Who else doesn’t have any pie?”

This shift is beyond mere semantics. As Dr. Hill said in his keynote, this change literally requires an epistemological shift. Asking “what will happen to my piece of the pie” is a deficit way of seeing the world. It assumes limited resources, perpetuates siloism in our lives, and necessitates competition in and amongst communities that are intersectional and oftentimes similarly marginalized. Furthermore it ignores, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., that “injustice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere.” Even if the injustice is being committed to someone different from you. And as if that isn’t enough, this deficit thinking ignores the fact that people are, by design, interesectional beings. I am Black AND (Christian, male, cisgendered, able-bodied, etc.). We force people being oppressed already, to oppress other parts of themselves and pick a “side” to defend. This is the worst kind of torture.

The latter questions, however, redirects the solutions and places the onus of those solutions on the institutions and systems wherein the real power and privilege lies. These questions allow us to own, defend, and advocate for the multiple and intersectional identities that we all have. It also helps us to build allies in our struggle, and deconstruct the real privilege and power systems that create the pie in the first place.

I will incorporate this reframing into every meeting I attend, and every conversation I have. Whether it be in the realm of the personal or professional aspects of my life. I will encourage (and push) those in power to do the same. What questions have you been faced with that need to be re-framed? Where in your life are you asking the wrong questions, and how can you make a change?

Share this with someone who can use it!

Dr. Anthony

Understanding and Managing Privilege

In my work, discussions of privilege and power come up a lot – and actually should come up more. Talking about privilege and power is not meant for trivial coffee conversations either. It is a matter that impacts us every day of our lives, no matter your many social identities. When I find resources that help talk about privilege in a way that will be heard, I want to shout it from the rooftops. So here is my rooftop, and here is me shouting.

Read…marinate…read again…marinate…then post this everywhere you can. Much appreciation to his author for adding to this conversation in a way that many and more can get….and many and more will miss. But it’s good all the same. I humbly share this from http://www.robot-hugs.com/?attachment_id=894Privilege-clean

 

Dr. Anthony

The Community College

Having “officially” worked in the two-year / community college space for just over a year now, I want to re-affirm my total faith in these institutions, and hope to help others gain or renew their appreciation for what they do and can do. Instead of talking about attending them though, I wanted to share this great article from the Chronicle of Higher Education written by Rob Jenkins. For my colleagues, students, future students, etc. thinking about teaching – you really need to read this. I am thinking of a companion piece about working as an administrator in two-year colleges. I think it is equally awarding, particularly for those talented Student Affairs folks out there. Happy reading, and share your thoughts!

Why You Should Consider Community Colleges: http://shar.es/9wxLL