A Life Worth Living

To thine own self be true

This past weekend I had the privilege of attending a retirement celebration for the outgoing President of Oakton Community College, Dr. Margaret B. Lee. Peg, as she is affectionately known by all, is retiring after 20 years as college president, and 30 years total at Oakton. I could spend this post raving all about who Peg is and her career, but that’s not really necessary. A simple web search, or conversation with anyone in her circle will yield you plenty. Instead, I will share what I came to understand as I shared in her celebration (oh, and remember, she is a bit of a Shakespeare nut ;).

I am an educator. Sometimes it is hard to define what that means. I teach, learn, coach, and support people. I am a leader. I empower, supervise, develop, and manage people. I am not the only one, many others do the same thing. But few of us do it with the humility and grace that I see in Peg Lee. Peg’s life is the intersection of love, passion, education and leadership. To see that, to really see her and her example, is a privilege. It is particularly salient for me as someone who is looking at another three decades or more of life and work. The road before me is long, God willing, and I am very thoughtful about how I want this life to play out.

My life won’t mirror Peg’s life exactly, it can’t. My life and my impact will be my own. But I can only hope that I can strive to do what Peg has done. Peg has lived a life that she was meant to live. She has lived a life full of challenge and success, across a number of industries and geographic areas. Each of those challenges and successes shows up in who Peg is today. She is authentically and genuinely the sum of her experiences, integrated into her very being, and shared with the world in each of her interactions. Who can ask for anything more? As a parent, family man, consultant, educator, and much more – that’s who I want to be. No matter what I do in my life, at Oakton or otherwise, in higher ed or otherwise, I want to be what Peg has epitomized. Peg is not perfect, Peg is Peg. And at the end of your formal career, is that not what we all want to be said about ourselves? Is a live worth living not one in which you were all that you hoped to be – and people are better because of who you are? That message was reaffirmed for me this weekend, and I am inspired to continue to lead and educate, without the need for recognition, or any pay off.

To be or not to be

I am thankful to have worked under her leadership for the last few years, and had the opportunity to see her; flaws and all. I am thankful to have seen what it truly means, to be. Thank you Peg.

Dr. Anthony

Advertisements

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.

kwanzaa-usa

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 🙂

event_25459571

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

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?

Image
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

We Should All Be So Bold

Focus

Watch the world’s best perform. The best anything, athlete, musician, educator, scientist. You can turn your TV on right now and see the world’s best doing what they love. It’s not just the physicality of what they do, though that is remarkable. But watch their faces. Watch how their very souls come out in the work they are doing. I see this despite the gender of the performer, and despite the particular sport. There is a grit and joy in what they do. What is most amazing is they do it without shame or concern for what others think. No matter how silly they may look (some sillier than others honestly), or how they contort their bodies and faces in ways others may not understand or quite appreciate, they do it anyway. No shame – it is all left on the court/ice/slopes. I love that. They do what they do with such grace, passion, and commitment that it inspires me to do and be better. I have to ask you to do and be better too.

Determination

What if we brought this same energy to the work we do; the relationships we build; our businesses; our ministries? We could all be Olympians in that respect, and the world would that much better. That to me is the goal. To be expert and excellent at being my best possible self, and doing my best possible work. It requires a level of self awareness, commitment to who you are, and unashamed joy to do it. Check out these Olympians doing what they do, and challenge yourself to do it too.

Share this with someone who needs to be encouraged to do more, and be better.

 

Then I Looked Around

I am thankful for 2014. There were times in 2013 that I asked that oh so selfish question…you know the one. The one that assumes that you can’t have problems, and that bad things aren’t supposed to happen to you. I asked…Why MeWhy did my aunt have to die? Why did my fraternity brother, and two of my former students, all 33 or younger have to die? Why did my mother get that? Why did she do this? Why did he say that? Why did I lose this? Why is life seeming to crumble around me? Then I looked around. I looked up at the roof covering my head. I looked down into the face of my daughter – the true love of my life. I looked beside me and saw my friends and family, and heard their words of support and wisdom. I looked at my phone to see the technology to which I am privileged to have access.

The reality is that I have my senses, and I can still extend love and support to those around me. Despite the horrors and difficulty of 2013, God has still favored me in numerous ways. Despite my own proclivities and hang ups, I am still shown mercy. The greatest grace I know is understanding that the sadness and darkness passes. It’s OK to dwell in it for a short time, but I have to change the question. Maybe I (and you) should be asking “why not me?” I am resilient, well resourced, and well supported. I have been blessed with so much, shouldn’t I expect to be challenged and tested in this life, just as everyone else is? I think the answer is of course.

So I will start everyday with this: there are two roads we can choose to go down; two realities we can choose to acknowledge. I choose to go down the path that reflects on the blessings in spite of the curses, and I choose to acknowledge that in reality – I’m very much so OK. I am blessed and highly favored. And if you have the privilege of reading this, then you are too.Two Paths Share this with someone who might need it, and Happy New Year!

Dr. Anthony