The Power of My Black Hand

When I was an undergraduate at NC State University, I was a counselor for the African American Symposium, a per-orientation experience welcoming new undergrads to NC State and helping them get a strong positive start as an African American scholar. I hate I didn’t attend as a freshman myself. There is a poem by Lance Jeffers (1972) that was read to the incoming freshmen, and it gave me so much strength and sense of purpose and power. It helped that it was read by a legendary faculty member and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity brother, Dr. Lawrence Clark. I had the opportunity to read this poem to a room full of students today, kicking off our African American Read-In at Rochester Community and Technical College. I am so blessed to have had people and experiences in my life to remind me of my own power. I hope this poem can remind you of yours. 
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You Are Stronger Than You Think

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I want to slightly modify and repost something I wrote a few years ago. I think it’s important to share a quote that resonates when doing tough work. Tough work in these times is sometimes just living. Such death in the world, and uncertainty, and fear. Politically things are uncertain (which is always the case with a change in new leadership), but in particular on the tail of such a vitriolic election campaign. It is also the start of a new year, and in my world students prepare to start a tough new semester on their road to commencement. This comes with its own fear and anxiety. Facing uncertainty, being afraid and unsure of yourself can be debilitating, even for the most accomplished of us. So these words are for you:

“I can be changed by what happens to me. I refuse to be reduced by it. In the face of such uncertainty believe in these two things – you are stronger than you think, and you are not alone.”

~Maya Angelou

What the master poet Maya Angelou reminds us, is that we can do so much more than we think. And that if we just take a moment to look around, there is help everywhere. So despite your anxiety and fear right now – take some ownership in your great strength, and take a moment to count (literally count) your blessings and friends. If you are short in the “true friends” category, then it’s time to make some new ones. In the meantime lean on me and others like me to be a sounding board and word of encouragement as you transition yet again from one chapter to the next. Take care people, of yourself and each other, and never forget your own strength.

Own Your Stuff

I will preface what I’m about to post as such: I am a DIE HARD and ardent NC State Wolfpack fan. Oftentimes I have thought to myself, “they can do no wrong.” Period. I will admit, that sentiment can be reckless. I also, at the same time, value loyalty: to things/places, causes, and people (in that order). I value family a great deal, and within my community loyalty to family and our people is sacred. A rapper I used to listen to (and still secretly do) said, referring to his brother, “even when he’s wrong, he ain’t wrong, cause he’s my brother.” That pretty much explains how I have felt about my family through time no matter what; but to NC State, not so much. It is an organization; it, and the people within it, make mistakes. And when they are wrong, they are wrong, and should be held accountable.

I am concluding a week long academy for student conduct administrators on college campuses. There are folks here from all over the country, from California, to Texas, to Pennsylvania. In fact, there are several people here from Penn State, and many alumni of Penn State. Of course as we are discussing conduct matters, the scandal at Penn State was obviously going to come up on more than one occasion. After each mention of Penn State, and subsequent snicker, discomfort, or “oh yea – Penn State” comment, some employees and alumni acted like they wanted to be upset! Some playfully, others playfully but kinda serious. They would respond with, “hey now,” or “watch it,” or as one of our speakers apologetically said “I’m a graduate of Penn State, so don’t get me wrong, that’s my school,” before she went on to leverage criticism.

Simultaneously this week, I began reading the Freeh Report, detailing the Penn State abuse by Gerald Sandusky. It also details the appalling lack of accountability, responsibility, and empathy of several in the Penn State community for years and years. My question is, why are people so reluctant, offended, and outraged at the notion of saying anything bad about Penn State? This is exactly the reason they are in this position now; blind allegiance to an entity at the expense of rational critique and ethical protection of innocent people. Pen State messed up…no if, ands, or buts. I teach Educational Leadership to graduate and undergraduate students, and have been in higher education for 10+ years – but a first year freshman can tell you that Penn State messed up. We all should be able to say that without apology. This does not take away the fact that PSU is a great educational institution…but they messed up. Let’s leave it at that for a while.

The leadership lesson: own your stuff. Each of use will fail. Each of us will fail those we love and care about; our family, friends, constituents, customers, etc. Our goal should not be to hide or obfuscate the truth, or to show blind and reckless loyalty to ourselves or others. Rather, we can admit what we did, apologize for what we did, attend to those to whom we caused harm, and commit to act in ethical and consistent ways moving forward. As leaders, it is paramount that we act with integrity at all times, as much as humanly possible. The funny thing, though, is that humans are fallible, and we make mistakes. When we do, we need to own our stuff.