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Richmond Matters Podcast
59 minutes | 21 days ago
Lauralee Hites on developing strategy, having hard conversations and finding our place
One of my favorite kinds of community conversations to have is with someone who is making great things happen, but who isn’t necessarily high profile in their work. They lead, guide, advise, nudge and help in powerful ways, but their names don’t always make the traditional “community leader” lists. That’s why I wanted to talk with Lauralee Hites, the Senior Organization Consultant and Principal Owner of Stratavize Consulting. I kept seeing her name go by as someone leading, advising and guiding a number of organizations in our area as they try to figure out their own roles in making Richmond and Wayne County a better place. (You may also recognize her from guest hosting IN Focus on WCTV, leading a workshop or input session you attended, or guest writing on a local blog.) We covered a lot, including what a strategy consultant actually does, how it works to name the real reasons a business or organization might be stuck even if it’s hard for them to hear it, and what it can look like to finally find “our place” in the world. I hope you enjoy the conversation. If you find it interesting or useful, please share! Transcript The below transcript was generated with the use of automation and may contain errors or omissions. Chris Hardie: I have the sense that you are involved in lots of different, good things happening in our community right now. And I know that you probably tend to work behind the scenes a bit and we’re going to get into what those things might be and how you do your work. But first in case someone doesn’t know you, I wanted to ask you a little bit about your background with living and working in Wayne County and what that journey has been for you. Lauralee Hites: Sure. So I do have a funny story to tell, just how I got into the position, and then I can share a little bit about living in Wayne County and moving all over the place. But, years and years ago, it was 2002 and I was a mortgage loan officer for a big bank. This realtor came in and they had a referral for me. I said, “What did you do before you were a realtor?” He said, “I was a consultant.” And I said, “Well, what’s a consultant?” And he said, “I have a go in. I fixed companies. I turn them around and I travel all over the country, helping manufacturing predominantly, make their organization better.” And I’m in my early 20s at this time, Chris. Chris: Okay. Lauralee: “Really?” And he said, “Yeah.” And I said, “Well, tell me all about that.” And for 45 minutes, he shared all of the stories of working at a consulting firm. I remember he got up and he left and I stood up and told the two people that I worked with that I was going to be a consultant. I had no idea what that meant. I didn’t know exactly how I was going to get there, but by God I wanted that job. I wanted to help companies turn around and I wanted to fly all over the place. That really became my journey, my career journey. And it really stuck with me for years. I didn’t know when he left exactly what it meant. Right? I just knew that I wanted to travel and I wanted to turn around companies. And so it took me about 18 months, to get into a consulting role. Lauralee: I feel so lucky because it’s taken me to the East Coast and to the West Coast and back a couple of times and down to Nashville. It’s been a wonderful experience and I feel called to do this work. What’s really interesting is that I had a chance to tell the realtor that started me on this journey- Chris: Oh neat. Lauralee: Yeah. A couple of years ago, about three or four months before he passed away. And so I just thought, you don’t always get to tell people who inspire you to do the work that you do. I wanted to make sure that I had a chance to tell him that. And so yeah, that’s how I ended up becoming a consultant. Chris: That’s a really neat, full circle. Yeah. As you say, you don’t often get to tell people who’ve had some parts. To know that that was a moment that was pivotal and then to be able to thank someone for it. Wow. That’s great. Lauralee: Yeah. And I think it’s important, right? That we do tell people. Because we may have no idea the impact we make on people every day, we really don’t good or bad. And so I think it’s important that when somebody has made an impression or really moved you in a certain way, that they get to hear about that at some point. It didn’t play out for years. Right? I mean, I couldn’t have gone to him and month 15 when I didn’t even have the job and say, “Hey, you really inspired me.” It was a look back on my career over 15, almost 20 years of seeing my progression and realizing where it started. And so yeah, that job took me. I did a lot of different things in corporate America. And I moved away from Wayne County where I was born and raised and I was bound and determined to move as far away as I could get. Lauralee: I moved to Washington D.C. where I got a whole lot of traffic, sitting on the beltway and I’m watching or looking around at six lanes of traffic thinking, “Oh my gosh, there is so much traffic here.” And so, I moved back. I had some family things and I had to move back. And so I was just equally as determined. Several years later, I took another consulting gig and I moved to the West Coast and I ended up having to move back. The third time I decided, “Nope, I’m moving again. I am going to leave Wayne County.” And so I packed up in 2014 and moved to Nashville, Tennessee. A year later I came back and I came to this point, Chris, that I said, “I think that the universe or God wants me to be in Wayne County. And so if that’s where I’m going to be ongoing to make an impact. I’m going to be what I expect to see in other communities. I want to participate in my community. I want to love my community, because this is where I am.” Lauralee: I expected to see that in other places. When I went to D.C., I wanted to be in this big city. Then I went to Seattle and to be in this big city and down to Nashville where there was tons of people moving. At the end of the day, I wasn’t part of anything where here I’m actually part of something because it’s smaller and I’ve learned to embrace that. And that took time. Chris: Yeah. Well, I mean, you mentioned traffic and you mentioned kind of being anonymous in a bigger place. I mean, do you think living in other places was important to help you get to a healthier perspective on what it means to be sort of fully engaged in Wayne County? Do you think people can get, if someone’s feeling that way right now and they lived here all their lives, do you think they can get that perspective without going to another city to live for a while? Or was that a really key part of it for you? Lauralee: That’s a great question. Would I have come to appreciate it without moving? And I think the answer is possibly no, and not that I want people listening to feel that they have to leave. Lauralee: It was my experience. And given my age at the time and my desire to climb the corporate ladder and my desire to feel like I’ve accomplished something by not living here. That gave me the perspective to look back and see the value of being here. And so maybe as a listener, you can begin to change your perspective through someone else’s story, not necessarily having to move and experience it. Because the reality is when I left, I found out how big a city really is and how hard it is to make an impact. I found out how expensive it is. I found out that it’s hard to participate in a meaningful way and see the impact, right? And living in a smaller community. You can do that. Lauralee: I don’t know if you would’ve asked me this 15 years ago, I would have been determined to leave. There was no way that you’re going to convince me that Wayne County is the place to be. Until I left and then realized, that this is a great community and we have many assets and amenities that bigger cities have that we’re lucky to have here, like RSO, like the Civic Theatre, both of those things are a really big deal for a community of this size. I wouldn’t have appreciated that before. And so I feel now with that experience, I look at Wayne County in a different light. Does that make sense? Chris: Absolutely. I mean, I think that’s true for a lot of people, as you said, Wayne County, it has this strange gravity that can bring people back to it. As much as I’ve talked to people who want to get away, I’ve talked to just as many, or if not more people who come back and have found a sense of belonging, a sense of identity, a sense of understanding themselves better because the landscapes are more accessible, the way that things change over time. Maybe we can just wrap our heads around it a little bit more than if we’re living in a place that is so fast-moving, so complicated, so massive that we can’t really figure out where we sit in it. Chris: So, just understanding that sense of who we are and the difference we can make in the world does seem easier, more accessible, in a place like Wayne County. And as you named, I think there are some things that are pretty special about this place that make that even more possible. I want to come back to what consulting is. Because now you’ve been doing it and want to ask if your understanding of it has evolved. I mean, you now lead a firm that you’ve founded to do this kind of work. Can you tell us a little bit about that? Lauralee: Sure. So, I’ll tell you a quick story. I remember I was 30 years old and I lived South of Centerville and I called my mother and I had a complete meltdown on September 21st at about 9:00 AM in the morning, because that was my 30th birthday. I had not opened my own consulting firm. Chris: Wow. Lauralee: I was a failure. How could I have not started my own firm? What was wrong with me? I remember my mother saying, “If you think 30 is old, you have no idea.” And so she said, “Your father didn’t start his own business until he was 46 years old.” And that gave me a lot of perspective and I kind of calmed down. I’m so glad that I did not start my firm at 30 years old. I did not have the experience. I did not have the knowledge I had not really worked on some difficult projects, to really bring the experience that I have to my clients today. Lauralee: So I think it was a godsend that I did not. That I “failed” which I didn’t really, but in my mind, the story I was telling myself is, “How could you not have done this? This is all you wanted for the last…” Whatever that would have been, five or six years. And, “How could you have not done this?” And so I stayed in corporate America until a few years ago, and I finally went out on my own. I had met somebody, we clicked and had several clients and I was enjoying the work. And ultimately I felt like it was time to give this a try. I get up every day. I’m so glad that I did that. I decided as they say, put my own shingle out. Lauralee: I did it at the right time with the right amount of experience that I can provide the best service to my clients. I would not have been able to do that, had I not gone through, almost 20 years of being in corporate America. Well, it was almost exactly 20 years. Wow. Starting my career in a mortgage origination through the time that I left and was working in compliance projects and strategy. I had just done so many things in my corporate career that it was like, imagine if you have a tool belt on, right? And you just keep collecting tools and you keep going through, as you make these transitions, you keep adding one more tool. Now I have a saw, now I have a hammer. Now I have a screwdriver. Now I have this and that. Lauralee: That was basically what I was doing. And I was very thoughtful and very intentional about every career move I made in my corporate life. I wanted to ensure that I was becoming as well-rounded as I possibly could. Then I didn’t just seek, say a management role because it paid more money, but instead, maybe I was looking for a communication role so that I could figure out how you manage strategic communication. Maybe instead of going for a management role, I would move over and work in project management, so I can figure out how to move the technology project along. And so I was really thoughtful, to ensure that I had as much and as diverse of experience that I could get, before I opened up my firm. I always knew in the back of my mind that I would, I just didn’t know when it was. It happened very organically. Yeah, and I don’t regret it and I love what I do, and I feel very lucky to get to do it. Chris: It sounds so wonderful to come into that clarity at the right time, in the right place for the right people and to get to do what you love. That’s really great. So the firm is Stratavize Consulting and you are the Senior Organization Consultant and Principal Owner. People can obviously go to stratavize.com to learn more about it, and I’ll link to it on the website. But if you could give us the so-called elevator speech about what it is that you do, what kinds of services you offer and maybe also tell us a little bit about the profile of a typical kind of organization that might benefit from your services. What do they look like? Lauralee: So I guess if I had to summarize, we just help companies re-imagine their culture, their strategy, their leadership team and how their team members engage with one another. So I think of it like a three-legged stool. You have to have a strategic direction and a strategy is not a strategic plan with all these tactics in it. A true strategy is positioning and how am I positioned against my competitors? So if I’ve seen one strategic plan that comes to me and a client says, “This is my strategy.” And it’s just a bunch of tactics. It’s not a real strategy. It’s not a value proposition and positioning, and I can have the strategy, which is really the direction of my organization and how I will decisions going forward. But if I don’t have high quality leaders or I have a dysfunctional team, I can have the best strategy in the world, we’re never going to execute. Lauralee: I can have great leadership, but dysfunctional team members that aren’t clear on the direction, because I lack strategy, we’re never going to get anywhere. If we have great leaders and great strategy, but our team members are not engaged, they don’t know their role, it’s still not going to get anywhere. And so to me, I looked at it like, I enjoy strategic positioning the most, but in order to be successful, we have to work on the people side. The reality is the most of my clients that come to me, the challenge typically is team members. It’s the people side, it’s people working together, people communicating people, getting through a difficult time with each other. The people understanding their role, creating a toxic culture. Lauralee: I mean, at the end of the day, that’s what the majority of the work that I do is, is the people aspect. But they come to me thinking that they have a marketing problem, or they have a strategy problem, or they have a process problem or they have technology… They haven’t digitized their process, but once you scratch below the surface and all of those things might be possible, right? They may need a new strategy. They may need to realign their customer experience. Lauralee: They may need a culture transformation, but once you get in there, nine times out of 10, we have a people problem at the root of it. And then you have to work at the root level and really bring that out. Chris: And so that’s what I would say predominantly do. I can imagine that in some scenarios that, that could lead to what might be very awkward conversations. I wonder, I mean, if someone’s come to you thinking they just have a marketing problem and you’re sitting in front of them saying, “Hey, you have a challenge with leadership.” Or, “You have a challenge with culture or toxic personalities.” How do people take that? How do those conversations tend to go? Lauralee: You would be surprised most of the time they know it, the senior leader… I tend to work at the C-suite level. So I really work either with nonprofits, collective impact coalitions with community development work or on the profit, the for-profit side. The ideal organizations tend to have at least 50 employees up to a 10 to 15,000. And then once they get bigger than that, they’re too big for me. They often know it. Leadership will recognize or come to terms. The challenge is, are they willing to make the change? And it’s difficult. If change was easy, Chris, I would be very thin and would never eat the Brookside chocolates that are sitting on my desk right now. Right? And so, the hard part is the transformation and not going back to doing what we’ve always done. Right? And recognizing what we’ve always done is not going to get us where we need to go or want to go. Lauralee: That takes repetition. That takes methodology to say, “You know what? This is the direction that we’re headed. How do we change every part of our organization?” And that’s starting with, how do we host our, or how do we connect with our employees? Do we coach one-on-one? Are we meeting them weekly? Are we meeting them monthly? What does their performance plan look like? That’s at the very beginning, right? So if we are trying to move in a different direction, we have to go all the way down to the employee level, to the very first line employee and have a conversation with them. It’s got to be on a regular basis. Just that change alone is difficult to make. Lauralee: If you’ve not been meeting with their employees or managers have not connected one-on-one, that it seems very small. It’s got a huge impact. It completely changes the culture of the organization, just by the manager, interacting in a meaningful coaching way with an employee. It’s that level of change that organizations have to move through. Not including all the really big, the difficult change, right? Going digital is a very difficult change. If we’ve been paper-based for a long time, that’s huge. I’m talking about just the manager one-on-one connection, just changing. That’s hard. Change is hard and so it’s not easy work. It’s really not. And then when you move from just for-profit, let’s hop over to the community development side. Now, you’re engaging with people that don’t work in your organization. So talk about difficult change. Chris: Yeah. Lauralee: It’s hard when you’re at for-profit and we’re all working for the same company and there’s 250 of us. Well, now you’ve got, if you’re in a collective impact and you’re working with 30 different organizations, none of which work for you. You’ve got to move them through the change process and it takes patience and intentionality and purposeful conversation and very thoughtful tactics that are better rooted in change management and rooted in systems change methodology. And you have to be conscious and aware of it. It’s not easy work. Chris: Yeah. Well, and I know that you are not a personal life coach, but what you’re talking about, I mean, it sounds like it really touches people at a personal level, right? Because if they come to work and they are someone who struggles with conflict, or if their communication style doesn’t match the communication style of their manager. I mean, you’re starting to get into some things that can really touch all aspects of their life, not just their life at work or for an organization. And I wonder, as you work with some of these models and methodologies, I mean, do you find that people are experiencing improvements or shifts at just that really personal level that can make a difference in the rest of their lives too? Lauralee: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. And it does make a difference. We started this conversation saying, when somebody impacts your life, we should go and tell them. It matters. Well, if you think about every day, whoever you work with and whoever I work with, we’re making an impact on them every single day, good or bad. And so they carry that home, whether we acknowledge that or not, they do. I often share because I can share it’s a personal story. It’s not a client story. I often share my husband as a great example. So my husband has worked in manufacturing most of his career and I worked in corporate America. And so if you think about, we went two separate paths in life, right? In corporate America, I received a lot of support, I had mentors along the way. I had cheerleaders. I had individual development plans. I had performance improvement plans. Every year we received money for professional development, whether it was going to conferences, attending a class, going to a workshop. There was money stacked against us to improve and make us better. And we constantly got great feedback. Lauralee: I was so lucky in my corporate career to work for wonderful managers. I can only think of one, in all the years that I worked there, that I had just one that was not great to work for. I was very, very young when I worked with her. My husband, on the other hand, though, as I’m going one direction, he’s going another. He didn’t have a coach. He never had a mentor. He didn’t get positive feedback. He never felt that he mattered. Nobody invested him. He did not get any training. And so years ago, he goes to this other company that he works for now and he brings in this individual development plan and he throws it on my desk. And he’s like, “What is this?” I looked down, I’m like, “This is an individual development plan. They care about you. They want you to get better.” Lauralee: I promise you Chris, that in the time that my husband has worked at that other company where he got a better manager who genuinely cared about him, would send him text messages saying, “Hey, I appreciate that. You’re on my team. You matter to me. Thank you.” It changed not just his professional life, but his life at home. I think that’s the message or at least what I take with me in the work that I do, is that we are touching people’s lives at work. And they carry that home in their heart and in their mind, they carry it home. That’s a big responsibility. Though I say, “Yeah. I work in strategy and I work in leadership and I work in team.” But the individual, it’s this underscoring message that we’ve got to be good to people. And we have to know that we are impacting them in the way that we interact with them. And that should matter to all of us. And that’s how we do better work together. Chris: Yeah. I can imagine that some organizations take longer than others to come around to that understanding. I wonder, if an organization does come to you and like you said, they’re all ready to dive into the tactics of a marketing plan and you’re starting to see that they need something at the bigger picture, whether you’re working on core values or mission or long-term goals or culture. In my experience, people can get pretty uncomfortable when you start talking about the patients that will be required to go through that process. When you start to talk about the budget, that might be required for that to figure out that true strategy. So if people are getting impatient or worrying about budget, what do you tell them about how to think about that? If they’re kind of chomping at the bit to get going with their marketing tactics. Lauralee: Well, actually, I just had this conversation relatively recently. I talked to a client about the investment that they’ve made in our work. I said, “I’ve been doing this a long time, both internally and externally. And I can tell you that you spent a lot of money and having me and my team here, but if these changes do not occur, you have wasted that money. And when I leave long after I’m gone, you will sit back and reflect and say, wow, I wrote them a check and nothing changed. And that’s because you didn’t make those, the difficult changes that, that need to happen in order for you to grow the way that you want to.” Lauralee: We can produce the best positioning. And it was great positioning, right? It was something they could take to market and really set themselves apart from their competitors. But if we don’t fix the dysfunction that happens behind the scenes, it’s not going to matter. And so we have to break that down, especially if I have clients that it’s just not in their budget to spend long periods of time with me or my team in their office, working with their managers, with their direct reports. So one-on-one, sitting in on one-on-ones. Working with the managers on how to better coach and how to better communicate and then working with employees and all of the things that you have to do to really increase engagement. If they don’t have the budget, I feel obligated to sit them down and walk them through the things that they can do on their own. I give them just simple plans. Like maybe here’s an employee engagement plan. That’s got five different things that you can do to improve the conversation you’re having with your employees. Lauralee: So maybe we communicate more, maybe you have a team meeting, maybe you’re observing your managers with their direct reports. Maybe you sit in and just observe. I can leave them with some takeaways. I try to make it fit for every budget, but the clients that have the budget, and we can begin with the root of the problem, which could be, team this function, the teams are not aligned to the strategy. Employees are not happy. I would prefer that we begin the work there and that we fix the team problem before we work into the strategy problem or the strategy. Because again, if we pick great positioning and you can’t execute it if you have dysfunction within the organization. I’ll give you a great example. So part of strategic positioning, you only have a couple of different ways. You can go price. That’d be like the Walmart. I will be no matter what price. None of my clients are going to go with the price. That’s not how we lead. Right? Chris: Yeah. Lauralee: You can lead through innovation or product design. You can lead through customer experience. So let’s use the customer experience, for example, if that’s my way to go to market. Let’s look at Chick-fil-A, okay. Chick-fil-A sells deep fried chicken, Chris, little chicken bits. That’s it. Chris: Yeah. Lauralee: There’s nothing special, right? Tell me the last time that you drove by a Chick-fil-A, unless it was on a Sunday, or they were closed in the evening when there wasn’t a line, right. They’re always [inaudible 00:28:09] for deep fried chicken and French fries or waffle fries. Right? But they went to market saying, we’re going to have a very limited menu, and we’re going to give the best service we can. They created the split line that we see a lot of McDonald’s has now. They created the, where we will put people out at the front. We will have this. It’s my pleasure. Right? Okay. So, if your positioning is we’re going to have the best customer experience possible, then you have a dysfunctional team behind the scenes where customer experience is not at the center of the work that they do. And they can’t really execute on it. Then you’ve spent all this money going to market with this great strategy that you can’t implement behind the scenes, because your people aren’t ready. Chris: Yeah. Lauralee: And so that’s the work that we just keep going back and having the conversation over and over and working at the people level and why it’s so important. Does that make sense? Chris: Absolutely. And maybe as a way of transitioning to talking about the work you do in our area, I know your services are not limited to our geographical area, but you do a lot of work in Wayne County. Sometimes I worry or I wonder about the Midwest aesthetic when it comes to politeness and how that affects our ability to tackle hard problems. And a lot of what you’ve been describing is you in a room across from someone having a hard, potentially a hard conversation, telling them things that might be hard to hear about their organization or about where they’re at, even if they know it internally, somewhere in the back of their heads. You are someone who can can say those things directly and clearly and professionally. But I imagine that the Midwest politeness sometimes doesn’t allow for that or maybe a barrier to people hearing that message or encountering it in a way that they can run with it. Chris: So I wonder if you could talk a little bit about what it’s like, if any of that is true, that’s just my theory. But what it’s like to do that kind of consulting in our area to work with an organization, to tell them something that might be uncomfortable and how they respond when everyone’s trying to keep everything sort of forward-looking and positive, maybe to a fault. Lauralee: I like how you started it with the Midwest, being just nice. And I actually get a lot of compliments that we are nice people and that’s great and having worked on both coasts. At one time I was assigned to New York city in the five boroughs. I was often told, “You’re like the nicest Midwestern girl.” I always took that as a compliment. And so I’m happy, I’m glad that we are nice. We can be nice and polite and still be candid. Here’s the thing. There’s a great book, I think it’s actually called Candid Conversations, and I’m looking at my bookshelf while I’m saying this. But in it, it gives a great example of this person that could not bring themselves to tell this under-performer that he was underperforming. Lauralee: They kept beating around the bush. They kept trying to be nice about it. And eventually, they just couldn’t take it anymore. He continued to underperform, but they really couldn’t say what they really wanted to say. And basically, “Chris, you’re letting me down. You are late. I can’t accept it. I can’t have you being late.” Whatever the issues were. And so she sits him down to basically let him go. They go to lunch and she said, “I’m sorry. I just have to let you go.” And his response was, “Why did you wait until now to tell me I wasn’t doing a good job?” So, being nice and avoiding the conversation who does it really help? Because we just get more and more and more frustrated by not having that conversation and not being transparent. Lauralee: I have done it. I am guilty too. I have had people that I just absolutely wanted to avoid the confrontation to say, “You’re really letting me down. The work is subpar.” Whatever it is. But if we don’t, we’ve done them a disservice and we’ve done ourselves a disservice. I just had a conversation with a person earlier this week about something similar to this. And I said, “The times that I’ve grown the most in my life is when somebody told me something very difficult that I didn’t want to hear in the beginning, but I’m so glad that I did.” I’ll give you a really quick story. In that years ago, I was up in Chicago. I remember it was like yesterday. I was at the very beginning of my training and facilitation career, my manager sitting in the back observing. We finish and I’m thinking, I’m the best trainer in the world, Chris? “I’m a rockstar. There’s no way you are not impressed with my training abilities.” I’m still really new in my career. Right? Lauralee: We called it the blue card for years because… And I adored this person. He pulled out two blue cards out of his pocket and he sits down and he said, “Okay, let’s talk about… Tell me what you think.” And of course, I’m very, I would say arrogant and overconfident. I’m like, “Oh, I think I was great. I love how I engage with this person.” Whatever, whatever. And then he looks down at the blue cards and he said, “Here are the things that I observed and what I want you to do better.” I remember thinking, “What? Are we even in the same room? Wait a minute. You can’t do that to me. You have to give me one compliment. It’s one compliment, one area of opportunity, one compliment, one area of opportunity.” Lauralee: He just started laughing. Because, it was a difficult conversation. He’s like, “I’m not saying you’re bad. I’m saying, here are the things that you’ve got to do better. If you want to get where you want to go, these are the things that I expect. This is what great facilitators do. And you’re not just a trainer. You want to be a facilitator.” Right? And those, it was hard. It was hard to hear. But I grew because of that conversation. Lauralee: For years, he would say, “I’m going to blue card you, Lauralee.” This internal joke. But it was really my opportunity to force myself to be better. The best coaches in the world for the very best athletes, they tell them when they’re not doing something right. And they tell them with love and caring and not at a meanness because they genuinely want them to get better. I think as leaders, that’s the way we’ve got to look at it. Chris: Yeah. I think if there are people in leadership roles that are worried about maintaining a culture of respect, which I think often goes hand-in-hand with that Midwestern politeness, that we value respect and we value respectful behavior. If someone’s worried that I’m making a comment or offering an idea for improvement might be seen as disrespectful, maybe we can flip that on its head and say that by challenging the status quo, by saying, “Here’s an idea that might be hard to hear, but I think it’s going to help us in the long run.” That actually could be seen as a sign of respect as well. It’s, “I’m going to tell you something you might not want to hear, but I care about you enough and I care about your work and the end result enough to respect you enough to say this out loud.” I think that could maybe help folks who are wrestling with that, that dynamic. Lauralee: I love how you phrase that. This idea that’s hard to hear, but I think will help us in the long run. I just love that phrasing. Just in itself, it’s not feedback or criticism, but it’s this idea that may be hard to hear. I really like that. So as a listener that might be, write that quote down. I think it’s a great way to start the conversation. Chris, not to hang on this particular topic. Chris: Oh, yeah. Lauralee: Because if we talk about just community development and positioning, but I think today where we are as a country and a nation, I’ve been working with clients more this year about the conflict in their teams. Because they’re bringing things to work from a political standpoint and from social media, and they’re carrying more in their hearts on top of navigating COVID and maybe having to work from home and then having their children. And there’s so much happening outside of our professional lives, but that are coming to work. Right? Imagine having this backpack and when I walk into work, that backpack might’ve been really light before COVID, but now, my husband has been sick and that rock gets added, and then my children can’t go to school. So now I have two more rocks in my backpack. And now I’m conflicted or I’m hurt by what I see on social media. I put that in my backpack and there’s one more rock. And so by the time I get to work, my backpack is very heavy and it can’t help, but come out. Lauralee: I think this is a time and I don’t want to say more than ever because, we often as human beings only think about history within our own context. But if we look over true history, right? This is just a blip in the radar, when we think of all the other things that have come before us that were really difficult times. All the way back to the Roman times. There’s always been difficult times and always had conflict and disease and other things. It just happens to be happening for all of us right now with social media on top of it. Right? And so I think that that as leaders, whether it’s at a community level or at a nonprofit level or within our organization, or even if we’re individual contributors, I think we have to be aware of what is happening around us and how more empathy and more understanding and more tolerance than what we may have had in the years before. Lauralee: This conflict is occurring. I have people saying, “I don’t want to work for this manager because their values don’t align with mine politically.” I think as a country, we have got to work through that and we have to figure out how we’re going to have conversations where it’s okay, that we disagree and that I’m not going to ask for a transfer to go work for somebody else because our political beliefs don’t align. Chris: Yeah. Lauralee: It’s very interesting the conversations I’m having this year. Chris: Yeah. I can imagine that. Another piece that I heard as you’re talking is, sometimes people get really impatient with talk and with conversation and maybe, again, coupled with our Midwestern culture, I think sometimes there’s an impatience for action. And it’s like, if we’re just sitting around talking, nothing’s really happening, right? I want action. I want to see results. You can see that attitude sometimes, in how an organization has set up or even in how people react to the idea of working on strategy. I know if we see in the local paper, such and such organization is engaging in a strategic planning process or a government entity is going to be engaging in a plan process. Chris: You see people kind of roll their eyes at that, or they get impatient about it. They worry about the money that’s being spent on it. I wanted to ask you about that tension between giving people a sense of progress, both in the kind of organizational level work that you do, and also more collective impact, community-wide work. How do we think about that tension between the desire to see change, to see progress, to see something happening that we can feel like we’re a part of. And then also on the other side, allowing enough time and enough space for those really crucial conversations and that really important planning and that really, kind of a central big picture cultural, long-term thinking. How do you think about that when you’re, when you’re doing that kind of work? Lauralee: That is a great question. And there is definitely a balance. It is different for collective impact or a city government than say for an organization. So where conflict will occur is often when for-profit business leaders are participating, which they should in collective impact, sitting on boards, working with community development. The conflict comes from the lens in which they look through, right? And so if I’m with an organization and I’m the CEO and I’m running a 5,000 people organization, and I want to see something happen, I can make that happen, right? I am where the buck stops with me. And if I want to see change, I want to see investment, I can motivate that team to do that. Right? I can make the investment, I can buy the technology. I can do reorg and move people around. I can do a lot of things to influence the speed of change. Chris: Yeah. Lauralee: Because it falls on me when you go to the collective impact and community development side, and you bring that lens, it’s often very frustrating because it doesn’t happen that way in community development, right? So you have a whole layer of relationship building that has to occur, understanding the role responsibility of different organizations, how the funding is going to happen, how you decide which project you move forward with. And if I’m again, a for-profit senior leader, a CEO, and I’m sitting on this committee, they often get very frustrated, “Well, why isn’t this happening? We’ve talked about this? Why isn’t it happening?” Lauralee: Well, they don’t face, often don’t face the same constraints that an organization that’s trying to make this happen, this change, whatever it is. We don’t face the same constraints, right? Resource constraint, starting. That’s usually the first thing, right? As a for-profit CEO, I can move my resources around to free up and get new resources. When I’m sitting on a committee it’s very difficult to realign resources. You have a lot of conflicting or competing priorities. So when you say that frustration, I think the first thing that whoever is frustrated can take time to self-reflect and say, “What’s the lens in which I bring?” If they come from a for-profit background, I think they’ve got to have some awareness to say, “The way that I see it and the way it operates within my world may not work in the community development side.” I think that’s what we see with the strategic plan or the conflict, why is the city… I’m not picking on any one particular city, there’s many complaints that have happened over the last couple of years, both in our County and surrounding the County. Chris: Yeah. So any city plan. Lauralee: It’s frustrating to say, well, why isn’t those things moving along? And they take time, they take investment, they take approval from council members and other members of the community. You have competing priorities and funds get moved around. And so it is frustrating. I think we have to look at, from a community side, the strategic plan is a roadmap, right? It’s the roadmap of where we’re going. If I’m a community leader, and I want to want to show progress, we have to talk about the progress in connection with the strategic plan. What happens is they disconnect those two things. They say, “We did, I’m going to make something up. We have just completed the pocket park and renovated a beautiful bridge and walkway to get to the pocket park, giving this pocket park, giving this community, this neighborhood more access.” Lauralee: They say it out of context or out of alignment to the strategic plan. Instead of saying, “In our strategic plan, we talked about the importance of giving access to our community members, to places in which that they can exercise and be in nature. And blah, blah, blah. And out of that, we invested in the pocket park, that’s located on blah, blah, blah. And now that community, we are fulfilling our strategic plan by doing that. And this community now has access.” Right? And so the communication then connects these two ideas that we did the strategic plan. This is our roadmap, and we fulfilled this one small piece, and this is why it’s important. Lauralee: I see over and over and over again, that the communications that communities do, do not, and for-profit, they do it too. They do not connect it back. And therefore you don’t remind people, as a leader, you may know that it was on the strategic plan, but as employees, community members, residents, council members, whomever, that’s not in our forefront, right? Chris: Yeah. Lauralee: We’re not thinking about that. You have to tell us, you have to intentionally remind people that the things you’re doing are on the roadmap, whether they’re small or big, link it back to that. Does that make sense to you? Chris: It does. I mean, it really occurs to me that we’re struggling with that as a society sometimes where we have trouble seeing how our day-to-day decisions about what we’re going to do in our personal lives, our neighborhoods or cities, communities. We have trouble sometimes tying those back to what’s good and right for the long-term health of a community or a city or the nation or the world. If you’re in a facilitated workshop and someone’s getting bogged down talking about how many parking spaces there are between this street and that street, and you’re trying to bring them back up to the level of a five-year vision or something like that, then there’s a space for sort of calling that out and helping them through that. But in our day-to-day lives as individuals and sometimes in our work and organizations, we don’t always have those prompts. Chris: So yeah, I wish there were more of that in the world where we had someone kind of sitting on our shoulders saying, “Hey, let’s think about this decision you’re making in the context of some bigger picture that goes beyond just you.” So if you know anything that could help us with that as a society, I think we’re listening. Lauralee: I completely agree. I liked how you kind of, you took it just out of not just the community, but us as individuals and us at the bigger part, right? That we are future thinking and that we see this future vision of whatever that is. And the work that I’m doing today does matter. Right? And that’s everything from recycling to, I’m reading a book with my child, because I can envision later on that they will want to be avid readers. Because, being avid readers means they’re more likely to reach educational attainment. We live so much today in the here and now. I would say even in the 15 seconds as we get more and more technology, we’re very much about the here and now. Lauralee: When you think about it from a leader’s perspective, they have to continue to remind people the direction that we’re going. Right? Think of it like a boat and the strategy is kind of the compass telling us and whatever that vision is. So we want Wayne County to be a vibrant community. That’s the sun, right? That’s the destination. We want to be a vibrant community. And what is the route that we need to take in using our compass, help us navigate there. We have to continue to remind the crew that, “Hey, this is where we’re going. And this is the route we have to take.” And every decision that we make goes back to that original discussion, right? This is the way… Remember we agreed to do it this way because of this. This is our destination. And too many times the communication, it happens out and it’s not from bad intentions. Lauralee: People don’t get up and say, “I’m going to write this. I’m going to announce that we’re doing this second. Look, we’ll just make up this little park. We’re going to announce our pocket park because it was awesome. And they intentionally leave out the connection to the strategy. Because, they’re only thinking of the one thing. And so what we call insistent change there’s parts and a whole. As a consultant, I’m in the business of knowing the parts and the whole. And in community or in any industry, we often think about just our part, right? What is my part, if I’m in the parks department or I’m in the committee, or I’m in the group, whatever, that put together that little park, I’m thinking of the parts. Chris: Yeah. Lauralee: As leaders and as my role, I’ve got to look at the parts, but I have to look at the whole, and if I’m sitting and I’m the mayor of a city, or I’m in the County Council, or whatever leadership role in community development, if I’m an executive director of a nonprofit, I have to tell the story of the parts and how it fits to the whole. That’s how real systems change happens. You have to begin to work at the whole. You have to be able to thread together every piece of social complex problems, everything from income, poverty, racial discourse, all of those things, every piece of that. We have to take, not just the parts, but we have to add them to the whole. Lauralee: That’s how real systems change happens. And it’s long and it’s arduous, and it can be very difficult and very complex, but we have to continue to champion, not just the parts, but the whole. And so as a listener, somebody who’s listened to this, they can think back in their own life and say, “Okay. Where are the parts? And how do I think about it at the whole?” Lauralee: So let’s say for example, we’re thinking of weight loss. Because it’s something easily relatable, right? So a part is I should not be eating this Brookside chocolate. Great. The next part is exercise. The next part is meal planning. I have to look at those, not just in silos, but then as a whole. How do I put those things together in a meaningful way to achieve the weight loss, which my end goal is, I want to weigh whatever. That’s how you combined all those parts to build a larger system, to help me lose weight, which is my end goal. Does that make sense? Chris: Yeah, it does. It does. So in thinking about Wayne County in particular, in the work that you’re doing, is there a unifying theme or question, or kind of idea, that drives your work forward or your passion for community improvement forward, that might be useful to the rest of us, to kind of hold up and look at as something that can help us when we’re bogged down in the details? Lauralee: So, in community development, what we often see is nonprofits with absolute good intention. I want to make change. I want to do whatever I’m going to open up my own separate nonprofit, because I want to make this change within my own control. I think about as individually, how can we leverage other organizations that are already doing this work? So kind of a fun fact, we have a lot of nonprofits in Wayne County. We have, in some cases, what they would say is an imbalance. We have more nonprofits than we actually should have for the size of our community. And so if we look about community development, I would encourage all of us to think about how do we combine, partner, facilitate conversations, where we are aligning with others to do great things, instead of trying to spin off and do our own thing. Lauralee: I see this a lot in… And it’s all again from good intentions. People don’t get up and want to open up another dog rescue because they have bad intentions, right? Chris: Yeah. Lauralee: They get up because they want to open up another dog rescue for good intentions. They see a gap. And so I would encourage all of us to think about our role in the community and say, “The things that I would like to do or see. The change that I would like to see occur, how does that fit into the larger vision of the County and the city? And then what are the organizations that are doing that work? And then how can I contribute in a meaningful way to move them further along, which ultimately will move whatever I’d like to see further along and help it fit into a bigger picture?” Instead of us trying to all do our own thing. Does that make sense? Chris: Absolutely. Lauralee: Do you see that in the community? You’ve lived here forever? Do you see good intentions of opening up or creating another non-profit or we have competing nonprofits trying to accomplish the same thing? Chris: Absolutely. I mean, I think as you say, it’s all from good intentions, but there’s duplication, there’s overlap, there’s fragmentation. People will invest time and energy in a project only to find out someone else has worked on that same project, that same goal. And wouldn’t it have been nice if they had collaborated. And so, I mean, if only to avoid that sense of disappointment, of like, “Oh, we might not have needed to spend that particular amount of money or that particular time. Because someone else, we could build on something someone else has done. But also yeah, from the perspective of, we have a generous community when it comes to philanthropy. We have people who want to be engaged in the life of the community when it comes to everything, from showing up to events, to volunteering, to giving their opinion or giving their perspective. Chris: I think we have to be respectful and careful with that because, if we abuse it, if we tear it apart or spread it across too many different efforts or projects, we can lose some of that. But if we work together, as much as possible, and put aside any concerns about territorialism or who gets credit, then I think, amazing things can be possible with that. So, that really does resonate for me in my experience too. I had one last question to ask you about, which is kayaking. You mentioned that you’re an avid kayaker. So I wanted to ask where’s some of the best kayaking you’ve done. Lauralee: I did get to West Virginia. I did not kayak the Gauley. I’m not that skilled yet. Chris: Okay. Yeah. Lauralee: And so, I went to Ohiopyle in Pennsylvania and that was lovely, but I think we also have some great waterways Flatrock River is great, down South of Brookville. It’s funny how I came about to start this whole kayaking thing. I now have a really nice, a cool kayak that real kayakers use. And so, I kind of want all in and it happened because, I’ve never lived a very adventurous life. Chris, I am an absolute dork. I am an avid reader. I did not party. I’ve never smoked pot. I have literally never smoked pot. There’s like 20 people that can say that, I’m pretty sure. I’m that big of a nerd. Right? And so I never broke the rules. I just always get up and like, “What’s the right thing to do?” Don’t live adventurous, don’t scare your parents, any of that kind of thing. Lauralee: And then my kids graduated and then my kids went off to college and all of a sudden it’s just me and my husband. And I’m like, “You know what, I’m going to do something adventurous. And I don’t think it’s smoking pot. I think it’s going to do something… I’m going to do something else.” And so I kind of picked this kayaking thing and I’ve almost drowned. I’ve had really scary moments, but I would not change it for the world. Now, I have pull practice. Matter of fact, it’s going to start again on Saturdays where, we get to practice flipping over and doing these things. Lauralee: I found a community of people, and I wish we had a kayaking group actually in Central Indiana because I go to Indianapolis, but I found a community, a community of people where we all love this particular thing. It’s hard to make friends when you’re at my age. Right? And it’s really given me an opportunity to make new friends, meet new people, do something exciting and is thrilling at my level, which is pretty… I have a very low tolerance for thrill, but it meets it. So, it’s been wonderful. Chris: Oh, that’s awesome. Lauralee: Yeah. Thank you. Chris: Lauralee Hites. Thanks for taking the time to talk with me today. Thanks for all you do. We’ll hope to have a conversation again down the road. Lauralee: All right. Thank you. The post Lauralee Hites on developing strategy, having hard conversations and finding our place appeared first on Richmond Matters.
47 minutes | 2 months ago
Kelley Cruse-Nicholson on witnessing the vehicle attack on Black Lives Matter marchers
On September 5th 2020, Richmond saw an act of aggression and violence against peaceful marchers who were demonstrating in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, as a local man drove his vehicle through the line of people, striking and injuring some of them. A few people have reduced this event to arguments over traffic laws. But many of us see this as a disturbing manifestation of Richmond’s serious challenges with confronting and working on racism, and an echo of the ongoing national struggle to do the same. The act of violence itself, the response of the community, the fact that hitting pedestrians is even a topic where people can take sides, and now the sensational charges brought against the protestors for obstructing traffic are once again bringing to the surface that we have a lot of work to do if we want to be a community that offers safety, justice and peace for everyone who lives here. In this conversation I talk with Kelley Cruse-Nicholson, a member of Richmond Common Council (among many other roles), who personally witnessed the attack and then actually followed the driver until police could take over. Transcript The below transcript was generated with the use of automation and may contain errors or omissions. Chris Hardie: So I want to dive right in to the events of September 5th. A demonstration in support of Black Lives Matter was taking place through the streets of Richmond. And as I understand it, you were not a part of that event itself, but you came upon it at a pivotal moment. So just want to ask you to take us through what happened that day and what you saw. Kelley Cruse-Nicholson: Sure. I actually had planned on joining that day, but somehow I had gotten hoodwinked by my nieces to take them to Ikea. So I took my nieces to Ikea and as I was coming home we all know I live right here in the Depot area. So as I was coming home, I came across the railroad tracks right there by Richmond Furniture Gallery. And so the march was going right in front of me, I stopped, I was waving at some of my friends and I let them pass ahead of me. And I thought, well, I’ll just go in behind them to kind of show much support. So I was behind them going up Richmond Avenue or Fort Wayne Avenue, I’m sorry, going up Fort Wayne Avenue. And they were headed towards Jack Elstro Plaza on Seventh Street. Kelley: And they were walking, they were chanting, nothing unusual going on. As we get to where the light is there was a couple that were a little farther back with a couple of other people who were right there on the bike path. And a man had a baby strapped to his chest and they were in front of me. And I saw a red truck who at the time was headed west on a street there. And as they were crossing the street I heard like a rev and then he ran through them. Kelley: Now what I saw is, there was a truck that was sitting there, the people were walking, I will say SUV was, the people walking across the street. He ran through them. I heard screaming, I saw water bottles fly. And I actually yelled at the people who were on the bike path in front of me to get out of the way and I put my car onto the bike path. And then I cut across at Best-One Tire. I cut across their parking lot and pulled them behind him. He continued driving and I immediately called 911, and I told them what I had witnessed. And I told them that I was following the person who had driven through the crowd. Chris: And before we sort of go from there, there’s been a lot of discussion about this and people have made all sorts of speculation. I mean, in your mind, is there any way possible that the driver did not understand that they were driving into the same space that was occupied by people, by human bodies? I mean is that- Kelley: No. Chris: … any way that’s possible? Kelley: No, absolutely not. There’s no way, I bet there was 75 to a hundred people that were walking. There’s no way he didn’t see them. Okay. I told all of this to the 911 operator, as I was driving, I gave her the description of the car, the license plate number. I followed this car all the way to where they stopped, which I assumed was their home. I pulled up behind them and she said do not get out of the car, and I said, I’m not going to and the guy got out of the car and he kind of looked at me and smirked and laughed, and then inside the house and I’m telling all of this to the 911 operator. And she asked me to stay in my car until the police got there which I did. Kelley: I stayed in my car. And then the first policeman actually on the scene was from Centerville. And he came up and he asked me if I was okay. And I told him, yes. And he said, do you know where they went? And I showed him which house they went into. And he said, okay. And then the Richmond police department, they arrived, they talked to me, wanted to know if I was okay, and the 911 operator at that time, I told her the police were there and I hung up because they were talking to me too. The police officer I was talking to asked me to go down to the city building to the police department so that I could meet down there and give a statement. He said there would be some people down there to talk to me. And I said, okay. And I said, are there people hurt? I didn’t know. Chris: Yeah. Kelley: Because when I saw him drive through the people, people were screaming, water bottles were flying and I just took the person. And he said he didn’t know. But they were aware of the situation. And so I then went back down to the city building, I drove by Jack Elstro Plaza to see if there was anybody still there. There was not, they had dispersed at that time. So I went ahead to the police department and gave a statement. And then I called my friends that I knew were at the march. And I was like is anybody hurt? Is everybody okay. And they had told me that there were actually three people would actually get physically hit. Kelley: There were no life-threatening or anything, EMS had not even been called. And I said, okay. So but I came into my house. I was very shaken up. It bothers you when you see it on television and you’re affected by it, but it’s a totally different experience when you see it in real time. It’s an experience. Yeah. Chris: Yeah. And I mean, and I want to ask because I mean, Richmond has had other peaceful marches, mostly without incident this year. Kelley: Yes. Chris: But of course, all of this was happening in the context of national events like you mentioned, where there are incidents of violence against people protesting racism, there are incidents of violence, ongoing concern about violence against Black people. And so, here you are a Black woman following and confronting a man right after what you understood to be an intentional physical act. And it happened in the context of a protest against racism. So when you were following, what were you thinking and feeling in that moment about what you were now unfortunately a part of? Kelley: Honestly, Chris, the only thing that kept going through my head was they can’t get away with this. I cannot let them get away with this. That’s all I was thinking the entire time. Now other thoughts came into my head later after I got home and settled down a little bit some of the things where Kelly, what were you thinking? This person, obviously was not thinking correctly. They could have physically attacked you when you, I mean, all of these things then go through your mind because still thinking about it I get very upset still just because I know how it made me feel. And I didn’t see a vehicle coming at me. Kelley: I wasn’t someone who was standing in the path. I was just someone who followed the person that did it. It makes me emotional sometimes to think about how other people that were involved with this were feeling and not only then was I concerned about their emotional and physical state, but especially now, with the charges that have come up. It’s about a whole new level of insanity to me actually. Chris: And so, I mean, on that day, did you have a sense of how you thought things were going to go? I mean, it seemed multiple witness reports had confirmed the narrative of an intentional act of harm. Was there any question in your mind at that point that this person would be held accountable soon after that through arrest or criminal charges or something like that? Kelley: Absolutely. There was no doubt in my mind that he, in fact, one of the officers said to me, well, he’s not disputing that he did it. It’s just, he’s saying it’s a different reason why he did it. And something I have said every time someone asks me about this situation, I say it every time I said, when was the last time you were going somewhere and thought, I’m just going to drive my car through a crowd of people. That to me is not a thought that has ever, ever entered my mind ever. I use a story that happened just a couple of weeks ago where I was coming across Chester Boulevard and turning off of a street coming North. There was a funeral coming towards me, a funeral procession, but there was enough room. Kelley: There was enough time, it was two blocks away. I could have gotten across the street and went home without problem. But a motorcycle rider pulls up, blocks traffic, gets out and gets off his motorcycle, blocks traffic, the opposite side of the street. The funeral possession goes by, I wait, when the funeral procession gets by, he nods his head at me and I node back at him, he gets on his motorcycle, he drives away. Not at any given point, did I go, forget this guy. I’m just going to drive across the street anyway. He’s blocking the road. He doesn’t have a right to, so I’ll just do it anyway. Chris: Yeah. And I mean, some of the worst conversation I saw happening online shortly after that day was, suggesting that there was some scenario in which a pedestrian deserve to be hit. I agree with you. I have not seen them. Even though Richmond is a town that is not always the friendliest to pedestrians, not always the friendliest to cyclists, to people that are in the way. I mean, I have just not seen anyone escalate that to the point of violence- Kelley: Right. Chris: … using their vehicle. And I think that whether it’s respecting school bus stops or crosswalks, or even people who may be crossing the street at a point where it’s not the best spot. Kelley: Right. Chris: There’s no one running over them and it’s unfortunate that it needs to be said that pedestrians always have the right of way. I mean, there’s just no scenario in which it’s okay to use a… Kelley: Right. Chris: … vehicle to hit someone. So it’s just seems unfortunate that that was even a point of discussion, but apparently that’s something that we need to be reminded about. Kelley: Exactly. Exactly. And that’s kind of where I was, there was no doubt in my mind that he would be arrested or charged at all, there was no doubt in my mind and from what I saw it was intentional what he was doing. Chris: Yeah. So after that day the waiting started, Mayor Snow issued a statement saying in part, “everyone in our city should be free to express their opinion without fear of physical harm.” Over the following weeks, there were calls for witnesses to come in and give reports. There was a lot of online conversation as we talked about, but not much else happening that the public could see. You said elsewhere that you had nightmares about seeing the attack and knowing it could have been worse. Kelley: I did. Chris: I want to ask, what was that waiting time like for you in those weeks after. Kelley: Well, honestly the first week it was okay, the due process, people were emailing me asking me how everybody was doing. I got text messages, phone calls, things like that. And that was fine. Week two, I was like okay, all right. People start asking me, what’s going on? Why hasn’t this person been arrested? And my answer was, every time was, we are fighting for the system to work for us too. So let’s let the system work. Let’s let due process happen, but we need to let the system work for us. And week three, like okay, this is a little ridiculous. I made phone calls, ask questions and it was an active investigation and they were still talking to witnesses and they were still looking for video footage and okay. Kelley: All right week four, it started to be a little unnerving because I was just like okay, what? This is a clear cut to me. It was clear cut. Okay. Apparently once the charges were announced, apparently it wasn’t as clear cut to some people as I saw it. I’ve heard multiple things from people where they have said that the driver felt threatened, that the protestors just surrounded his car and started hitting his car and things like that. No that didn’t, it never happened. And so I was baffled, but the day I got the charges or that day that I heard the charges, my phone all of a sudden just started just going off, text messages, Facebook messages. And I’m just like what is happening? I wasn’t listening to news or anything like that. And I open my phone and I was like you are kidding me. Chris: Wow. Kelley: I was angry. I actually, I mean, I was livid, I cried. I yelled at my husband and I’m just like this is unreal. Who does this. And then honestly, one thing that I thought about Chris is, when I would get upset about things, my mom used to say to me, she’d say, all right, you can’t get anything done when you’re angry. She was like you need to remember whose daughter you are and then get the work done. And my mom was a very strong individual. So after about Saturday, I just wouldn’t talk to anybody at all. I wasn’t on any social media, I wouldn’t answer my phone. I just wouldn’t talk to anyone. On Sunday, I was like okay, now the work needs to be done. So that’s where, and that’s why I’m going now, we are working. I’m sorry. Go ahead. Chris: I guess, well, one thing I should say is for anyone who doesn’t know already so the charges were announced on October 9th and they were misdemeanor charges for the driver for leaving the scene and stunningly misdemeanor charges for five of the marchers for blocking traffic. Kelley: Right. Chris: I mean, we can’t know the thinking or the motivations with the prosecutor’s office, and we don’t know all of the evidence that they’ve gathered, but there’s clearly a feeling that the decision to punish people who cooperated with the police investigation, that goes beyond enforcing the law and into the territory of sending a message about how protestors demonstrating in support of Black Lives Matter should expect to be treated if they get the attention of the legal system. And at the same time, I mean, this is my words, but the decision to only charge the driver with a misdemeanor, I think really risks sending a message to people who might already think that driving into a line of protestors is okay. Kelley: Right. Chris: It risks sending the message that they don’t have to worry about serious consequences for something like that. I mean, if we put all that together, it seems like it could have a real chilling effect on expression of free speech. In just a time- Kelley: Yes. Chris: … when Richmond as a community needs to be having more conversations about racism, not less. And more importantly, for people of color who might already fear for their physical safety and or for the safety of their kids, it clearly makes things worse. It may be easy for folks to talk about this as an incident on the street, but it just has such a bigger implications for our community. Kelley: I agree. One of the things that I have said is that we are walking a very fine line right now as a community, fine line, because a precedent has been set. And some of the comments that came after the protesters were charged, were that’s what they get, they need to be arrested, there was a prominent individual here in Richmond who came out and said, I would run over them. And if they tried to do anything to my car, I would shoot them in the head. And I’m just like geez. Chris: Wow. Kelley: The thing is as someone who is and… I am a city council person, but I am speaking to you about this as a citizen who witnessed an incident. It’s a very fine line that we’re walking right now. And to me, a very clear message has been sent, which is, and people would disagree with me for saying this, but the very clear message has been sent is that, we’re not going to have this in our city. As far as the person driving a car through pedestrians, but the protestors, how they feel, I’ve heard people talking now about, well, I’m not going to get involved in anything like that again. Kelley: I have been asked to be a speaker at the women’s march this weekend. And honestly I said, yes, I will speak, but I’m not going to actually march with the women, because I think that it’s very scary for me to think that something like that could happen again. And yes, I think that there’s always someone out there that is willing to take the worst of a situation and make it even worse. By acting up upon it violently. I don’t want to see anything like that happen. And it terrifies me to think that it’s just going to take that one person that goes, you know what, forget this and boom, violence erupts. That terrifies me. Chris: And certainly in the past, I mean, to varying degrees the message from law enforcement or political leadership has not been one that encouraged violence in any way near what we’ve seen in recent history. And I don’t know if that’s the particular fine line you’re referring to, but it feels like we’re at a point where just the conversation and public dialogue or the lack of it has completely shifted the dynamics of how we figure things out as a community. Kelley: Yes. Chris: I mean, you mentioned being a member of council. I mean, you are a prominent person in Richmond yourself, you represent the community, you are a face of the community. You’re entrusted with the future of the community in many ways. So I know that doesn’t put you above the law, but presumably your word and your perspective have a level of credibility here. I guess I need to ask, do you feel like you were taken seriously through this process so far? Kelley: No. No, I don’t feel like that at all. That’s one of the things that I’m working on right now is that I don’t feel as if I was heard. I don’t feel as if I was seen. Yeah, that’s a tough one for me, Chris, because honestly I was just like if they’re not listening to what I said about this incident why would they listen to me about anything? And this happened in my district, a lot of those people are my district constituents. And yeah, no, I don’t feel like I was heard. I feel that, how could I have seen what I saw when I was behind the protesters at the, this is how I feel. Kelley: My story has not wavered at all. I know what I saw. You have to understand that, this is nothing new for African-American people. Not being seen, not being heard, not being believed, not being trusted, not being understood. This is nothing new for us. This is 400 years in the making, and I hate to say it like that, but I feel that’s exactly how it’s been. During this time of unrest after George Floyd was killed by the police officers, anyone who has been protesting the Black Lives Matter. We have been seen as being unruly, monsters, violent. I had one shop owner who said, what is this going to mean for my business? Kelley: And I said, what do you mean? And he said, well, they start tearing stuff up. That’s the first thought that everyone goes to is that we’re going to tear things up even though it’s been shown that at a lot of the Black Lives Matter protests, that there have been people who have infiltrated in order to cause disruption, cause violence and it’s been proven and it’s been shown, but still here we are. It’s hard for me. Kelley: This is something that I actually said to the Mayor and he was like well, I understand you’re upset. And I said, no. I said, I don’t think that you can truly understand because the fact is, yes, I saw this happen. It affects me. It hits me just a little bit differently as a minority woman, it really does. As a minority, this hits me a little bit differently. And understanding that or thinking to myself, had that been an African-American or Hispanic man who had driven their car into pedestrians, what do you think would have happened? Chris: I mean, I looked up a case from several years back where an African-American man hit a young person with his car, was arrested the next day, charged with a felony. And obviously we can’t compare cases and say they were exactly the same and should have same outcome. But the connection that you’ve made to broader systems of racism at work is really worth noting. And I think some people if they can’t see an overt act of racism, then they can’t see racism. And the risk that we run as a community is to say, well, if there’s not overt act of racism happening out on the streets, then we don’t have that problem. Well, here we have a case that could very well be called an overt act of racism in the sense that, if you look at the context and here we are still mincing words over the details of whether it was a misdemeanor or not. Kelley: Right. Chris: The community just clearly has so much work to do when it comes to being allies to people of color who have experienced what you’ve described and are listening, hearing, understanding, believing, and then being willing to take action. I guess I want to tell you what I understand the Black Lives Matter marches to mean, and you can tell me your view. But as for me, it’s a way of saying that the systems that we’ve had in place, the way we’ve been doing things is not working for everyone in our community. It is not working, there is not justice for everyone. There is not peace for everyone. And so as a community, until we can get to that point where we’re all moving forward together, we’re all being treated equally. Something needs to change. Kelley: Yes. Chris: And the concern of, work through the system, follow the process that that is not enough anymore in a time where, as you said, 400 years of Black lives not mattering. And so for me, Black Lives Matter is the call to say, it’s past time for something different. And if we need to disrupt things a little bit, if traffic needs to wait a little bit longer sometimes, maybe that’s okay if we’re calling attention to that need. What do you see and I mean, I know you weren’t a part of the march, but in marches like that and in events like that, what do you see the call being in those kinds of conversations and events? Kelley: That’s absolutely it. The truth is what you were saying is that this has been, when is it enough, when are we going to say, this is enough, this has to stop. I was looking back on some of the things that my mom did, my mom actually had done some civil rights marches, and she was involved with Mary Jo Clark here in Richmond. And they did the equal rights for women’s act. They registered women to vote, things like right here in Indiana. My mom did a lot of wonderful things. And when my mother was doing that, and I’m thinking about this, I’m two years old, three years old and even at that time, there was the Tivoli movie theater where African-Americans still had to sit in the balcony…and I was alive at this time. Kelley: So, people think about the Civil Rights Movement and the things that happened at that time as being a long time ago. It wasn’t as long ago, as you may think. I think those are the discussions that we need to have is that, I feel that we are at a point right now in our nation where racism is not only been brought to the forefront, but it’s been glorified if that makes sense. What I’m saying, that it’s been glorified. So people feel it’s okay now to do and say things that are disrespectful, hurtful. I really struggled with it because it’s not just, the oppression that’s going on is not just black people. You know what I’m saying? Kelley: It’s not just black people, it’s wide. It’s just wide. And I get very frustrated when I think about it, because the thing is we are saying at this point enough. Chris: Yeah. Kelley: Enough, this is enough. We need to have these conversations because this can’t happen. And right now I’m working with a small group right now of individuals who we had a Zoom meeting the other night. And our focus was, how are we going to talk about racism in this community? How are we going to get those conversations started when there are people who still don’t believe that there’s racism in our community? It’s got to start somewhere. It’s got to start somewhere and ignoring it as you see, doesn’t work. Saying, well, this doesn’t happen in our town. It doesn’t work. These things are happening everywhere. Kelley: And I think that we are calling for a time of change, plain and simple. Time of change. I think that people get confused when they hear about, they say defund the police, I think people get confused as basically as to what that means. And a lot of people, what are you going to do without the police force? That’s not what we’re talking about. I’m not sure how I want to say this, Chris. It’s time, it’s time. It truly is. I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and everything happens at a time that it is supposed to happen. Kelley: We are in the middle of a significant shift in our country, but the conversations have to start in order and it’s going to be tough. It’s going to be tough for people, but the conversations have to start. We have to start these conversations. I would have never thought that in Richmond and I’m been here my entire life, but I never thought I would have actually seen somebody, a young person drive a car through a group of people. I never thought I would have to sit down and have a conversation about that. Chris: I mean, maybe that’s a possible good outcome from some of this is if it starts conversations, but I applaud what you’re starting and thinking about. I would also hope the rest of the community joins in, in that. And I would especially hope that anyone who thinks of themselves as a community leader, as someone who is trying to make Richmond and Wayne County a better place, whether you’re a small business owner or you’re in municipal government, or you are involved in economic development, whatever it is that you don’t think of your job as done if a significant portion of our community sees daily systemic oppression and discrimination. That we can’t think of our community as moving forward, if we’re not all moving forward together. So I hope people hear that and hear that call for conversation, not as a disruption for disruption’s sake, but something that needs to happen so that we can take care of each other as a community. Chris: I wanted to ask, stepping back a bit. Can you tell us how you ended up in public service and what led you to decide to be a part of city council? Kelley: Yeah, I’ve had a lot of things in my life that have made my life take a dramatic turn in a direction I never thought it would go. So 14 years I’ve been on City Council, Chris. Chris: Wow. Kelley: 14 years. And it started with a conversation that I had with Sally Hutton, who said, Etta is going to be leaving City Council. I think that you will be a good person to replace her. And I was like yeah, no. That was my first. I was like no, I was like I’m not interested in being in politics. I wasn’t interested at that time. That was probably a year before the election started. I had told my mom and I kind of laughed about it. Kelley: I told my mother, I said, you believed that, it was like she thought I’d be a good person to be a politician. And my mom’s like why not? And I said, why would I want to be a politician? And my mom said, you have always been in the forefront of controversies speaking for the underdog. She said, always your whole life. And I was just like what, honestly, I never thought about myself that way. I never did. But then I started thinking about it and some of the things I’ve always done, involved in government at school, when I was in college, when I was in high school, well, all these things and getting involved in activist groups and things like that, I’ve always done that. Kelley: I thought, okay, let me give this some serious thought. And I sat down with Sally and we had a long talk and sat down with the Democratic chair at the time and we had a really long talk and I said, okay, well we’ll give it a shot. And I said, how long is the term? And she said four years. And I was okay but I thought, all right, let’s give it a shot. And I got excited. At that point I kind of got excited. I was like I need to be able to make some real changes for our community. And I wasn’t even thinking about the changes that we’re thinking about now, but I was like I may be able to make changes in our community. Kelley: Now a lot of people are, and it’s funny because what I found out from being on City Council is that people want change. But only if it’s the change they want, if it’s not the change that they actually want that you’re pushing for, then you’re wrong. So. I have found that through the years and I guess that’s really where I was just talking with my mom and my dad and thinking about my mom was like your grandfather was a good friend of Evan Bayh. We’ve always done things and I thought about it. I was like wow you have, so that’s where it came from, just talking with my mom and my dad and Sally kind of encouraged me. And at first I turned it down. Just like nah, I don’t think I want to do that. Chris: Well. From what I can tell in the years since, I mean, you bring that same spirit of leadership that is derived from, emerges from the sense of community building and community spirit. And you bring that to Council. You bring that to the work that you do and you bring a lot of heart to it and you don’t let yourself get bulldozed by process or by the mechanics of it. I mean, I’m sure there are times where it can be very frustrating to see change move so slowly or not happen at all. And you know it, but you bring that to Council and it seems you’ve been able to maintain the spirit in which you initially resisted and then agree to Council all those years. Kelley: Yeah. I do my best and it is tough because when you’re in the public eye, you take a lot, a lot of criticism. Like I said, when things don’t go one way that people think that it’s going to go, you can be under a lot of fire. Change is hard but it’s also necessary. I think that’s been my biggest challenge. One of the things I said about city council was we can’t stay with it’s the way we’ve always done it and it works. So don’t change it. I was like we can’t stay with that. That’s no good. We have to push ourselves to move forward and challenge ourselves and the community to make it a better place. We really do. Chris: And I know you’re not here to speak on behalf of Council, but is there something that you see or hope for when it comes to council’s role in helping Richmond confront racism and discrimination in our communities? Is there anything clear there? Kelley: My hope is that we can involve administration and council with the public, to have these conversations. Going to have to start in small groups. It’s like they say the ripples turn into waves. So it’s going to have to start in small groups, but I’m not really happy with the way some of the things have been handled lately. And one thing about me that I don’t know if you know about Chris, but I’m pretty vocal when I’m unhappy. You know so. Chris: That’s one of your best qualities I think! Kelley: Yeah. So a lot of people know that I’m unhappy right now. But I think that’s part of it. I think that would be part of it. Yeah. Chris: I mean, there’s pressure being placed on the prosecutor’s office to reconsider whether these charges are what’s in the public best interest, and there’s a legal defense fund that’s being collected on GoFundMe. And I think that’s up to, over 6,000, almost close to $7,000 as of today. There’s talk of involving the ACLU to help make sure that the justice is found here. Kelley: Yes. Chris: Is there anything else? I mean, beyond those small groups and those conversations that we need to be having, which are so important, is there anything else that you think the community as a whole should be doing or anyone listening to this conversation to be doing and talking about as we go forward for this particular case and the situation? Kelley: Well, I will tell you now that yes, the ACLU has been contacted. And I think that’s a good thing. I think that’s going to be positive for those people who right now are facing charges that I think are ridiculous and I really do. I just think they’re absolutely ridiculous, but I think as a community, we need to start in our mind, start that role reversal change. Look at what we’re doing affects your neighbor. I think it sounds kind of strange to say that, but we need to start one, having compassion and empathy and start to recognize and appreciate the differences in others that are in our community. Kelley: Like I said that’s all going to start with conversation. Richmond has done some things that are very progressive, I think Rainbow Richmond is wonderful moving things forward and the way people have joined in with Black Lives Matter is amazing. I’ll be honest with you Chris, two years ago. I don’t think we would have had as many people show up or support as we are now. But we still have such a long way to go a long way to go. I’m not sure. I really answered your question. Chris: No, I mean, you do a great job of highlighting the tension between the need for kind of immediate action and change and coming to the defense of, or to be allies of, people who are vulnerable, who are in pain. And then also just the long-term processes that we have to go through that it’s not that we have to be complacent or overly patient, but you’re right. I mean, things that take probably generations to change. Right. Through families, through neighborhoods, through workplaces, that those are conversations to be having. Kelley: Absolutely. Chris: That tension is always there and I don’t ever know how to reconcile it, but it’s good to recognize that there’s a place for both kinds of actions too. Kelley: Yeah. Yeah. Agreed. Chris: Kelly, thanks so much for taking the time to share about your experience and to talk with me. I certainly wish you some peace and justice in the weeks and months ahead. So. Kelley: Thank you. We are working, Chris, and I will say that we are working. I don’t plan on making the work stop anytime soon. The post Kelley Cruse-Nicholson on witnessing the vehicle attack on Black Lives Matter marchers appeared first on Richmond Matters.
59 minutes | 3 months ago
IN Focus with…me
As a follow up to the hosting of WCTV’s IN Focus public affairs program that I did in July of this year, where I focused on topics of systemic racism and concern about police violence against people of color, Eric Marsh and I sat down to debrief how those conversations went. We ended up having a wide-ranging conversation about a lot of things, including: where and how people in our community get their informationhow I came to Richmond to go to Earlham College and ended up stayingour identity as a “college town”what we can learn from this pandemic about our work-from-home infrastructurehow Richmond could be more appealing to remote workersthe importance of distinguishing between journalistic reporting and opinionwhite privilege and Black Lives Matterthe changing landscape of community mediathe importance of voting in the upcoming election The resulting hour of back and forth with Eric means a lot to me. We touched on many of the projects and personal experiences that have defined my time living and working in this area so far, and topics that I think are important for our community to be wrestling with. I’m so grateful and honored to have had the opportunity. I hope you enjoy it. You can watch the video below, on WCTV’s YouTube channel, on Facebook or as the episode is replayed on WGTV Channel 11. The audio of the show is also available via the Richmond Matters podcast feed, which you can find in your favorite podcast listening app. Transcript The below transcript was generated with the use of automation and may contain errors or omissions. Eric Marsh: Hi, and welcome to this edition of IN Focus on Whitewater Community Television’s WGTV Channel 11. I’m Eric Marsh, Executive Director of Whitewater Community Television, and thank you very much for joining me for this conversation of IN Focus. Before we get there, couple of things to remind you about. The most important one is that there is still time for you to register to vote, and we urge you to do that. There are races locally, coroner, as well as clerk. There’s also six congressional district race going on and obviously, the governor’s race will go, and there is, of course, I don’t know, reelecting some guy who lives in the big White House some place. So be registered. That’s what we say. Please do it. If you don’t know whether you’re registered, you can go to indianavoters.com and check your status. If you aren’t registered, want to get registered, you can go to indianavoters.com and get registered. If you want to find out where your polling places are, you can go to indianavoters.com and do that. So, from the comfort of your living room couch, using your tablet, your phone, whatever, go to indianavoters.com, check your status, register to vote, find out where you can vote, all of that. We do ask you to do that. It is incredibly important for all of us to get that done. Also want to thank our sponsors for this week’s program, Reid Health, First Bank Richmond, and Morrisson-Reeves Library. We appreciate greatly their support. Very happy to have with me Chris Hardie, who, a little bit earlier this summer, gave me some relief by sitting in as a guest host, but Chris also has a number of things that he has been doing. We’ve been hearing his voice on his podcast, also he’s been helping out with Hometown Media. I talked to Brenda McLane a few months ago. She was talking about Chris helping out with their website and making that work. So, wanted to have Chris in kind of to debrief as it were and figure out what he’s doing. So, Chris, thanks for spending some time with us. Greatly appreciate it. Chris Hardie: Thanks so much for having me, Eric. It’s great to be talking with you. Eric: For those who don’t know you and don’t know your background, you’re not native to Richmond, are you? You found this through your college experience, is that correct? Chris: That’s right. I grew up in Cincinnati and hadn’t really heard of Richmond until I showed up to go to Earlham College in 1995. And honestly, had no intention of staying in Richmond after that college experience, but in the four years that I was an Earlham student and on campus and in the community, I really planted some roots here and started to call it home. And now, when people ask me where I’m from, I say Richmond. So, it’s the longest place I’ve ever lived and it’s the place I think of as home. But you’re right, I am a transplant, for all practical purposes. Yeah. Eric: Talk about, because Earlham College is a place that has brought a number of people to town, maybe more than some of us truly realize, and it’s not quite Bloomington, and that impact the people that go to Bloomington supposedly are just going to school and never leave. But Earlham has brought some people to town for the experience of going to college and a number of them has stayed. What are some of the attractions, some of the things that attracted you to make this home? And as we think about some of those people who maybe can work remotely, as you have done a lot, what are some of the things that maybe some of our leaders need to be thinking about to make this a place where people can live, work remotely, that type of thing? Chris: Yeah. I mean, for me, the size of Earlham and the size of Richmond were very appealing. I toured some colleges and universities where I knew that I would be a very small fish in a very big pond, with thousands and thousands of people just at the school alone. And so when I came to Earlham and they knew my name and they were interested in getting to know me and I found that my incoming class was small enough to really get to know people and be known, that was really wonderful. And the same thing sort of translated into Richmond. When I started… honestly, I was in the campus bubble for the first couple of years, but when I started spending time out in Richmond and seeing the people here, the businesses here, small business community, how you could walk down the street and know a lot of people and have conversations and catch up but you could also meet new people, it was just this great size where small enough that you could feel like you were making a difference, but big enough that you could have new experiences on a regular basis. And I think that has continued to be appealing for me and why my wife and I call it home. And I think, someone pointed out a number of years ago, in many ways, Richmond is a college town, right? We have Earlham, we have IU East, we have Purdue, we have the seminaries, and when you put all of the staff and students for all those institutions together, I mean, there’s a big part of our local sort of day-to-day life that centers around higher education. And that’s something I think we can embrace and be proud of and celebrate and build on as a community. So, that’s something that I’ve always been excited about. You’re right. And I mean, in this kind of pandemic time, we’re hearing stories of people fleeing these traditional hubs of knowledge workers and tech workers, you hear about kind of San Francisco and maybe New York City as people are like, “Well, if I can work from home, why am I going to pay so much money for an apartment or a house?” And you’re right, that’s something that places like Richmond need to think about and seize on when you think about the implications of some of those larger salaries, tech salaries, knowledge worker salaries and what they could mean for disposable income, what they mean for the local tax base. That’s something we should be thinking about. And it’s clear, we’re never going to be able to compete with some of those bigger cities when it comes to just the features of the services or restaurants, or that kind of thing, but what we can offer I think is a real focus on quality of life, the amount of green space we have, the small town feel, the affordability, availability of housing, that kind of thing. So when tech workers now are looking at where to live, they’re not saying, okay, I need to be in San Francisco. They’re saying where can I go that I can have great quality of life, that’s affordable, maybe raise a family, maybe start my own small business? So for me, that’s things like green space, it’s making sure we’re a walkable, bikeable community, making sure we’re a diverse community, a progressive community. Yeah, just really inclusive and welcoming and affordable for people who might be interested in making that kind of change. Eric: We’re not going to go down a long political path here, but in that list of things, one of the things you said was a progressive community. When you make that statement, some people immediately go political. I don’t necessarily. So I’m going to ask, when you say progressive, talk about what that means to you. Chris: Yeah. It is a term that has a lot of political connotations, and I don’t mean it to… or I don’t use it in that sense. I use it I guess to mean a community that is thinking about the future, that’s making decisions that will create a life and an environment where people from all different backgrounds, people from all different experiences can thrive, where small businesses can thrive and large businesses can thrive, and it’s kind of forward-looking. And I guess the opposite of progressive might be regressive. So if you were a regressive community, you would be trying to keep everything the same. You would be trying to go back to the way things were at some point in time. And I think we’ve shown that communities that kind of hold on to the past and don’t think about the future often don’t thrive. So if anything, I use it in that context to mean a place that’s thinking about the future, planning for the future, building for the future, and trying to include as many people as possible in that process along the way. So, yeah. Eric: Talk a little about Earlham College, the impact that it had on you. And as an alum who continues to remain here, the impact that it has on this community as people may not completely know and understand. Chris: Yeah, yeah. For anyone that doesn’t know, Earlham as an institution has a background that’s tied to the Quaker tradition. And one of the things, I didn’t know about this coming to Earlham, I wasn’t raised Quaker, one of the things I came to really appreciate about it is that a lot of decision-making there was done by the process of consensus. So instead of saying there’s one person at the top who makes all the decisions and everyone else just kind of has to live with it, instead you can say, what’s a decision-making process that allows everyone who’s going to be affected by a decision to be a part of the conversation. And if you think about the underlying assumption there, that everyone’s voice matters, everyone has an opinion or a perspective that should be considered. Maybe it’s going to turn out that their opinion or perspective isn’t a helpful one, but there’s still a place for that to be a part of the conversation. And then we take all that into the mix and move forward. That really changed a lot of things for me at a fundamental level about the way I work, about the way that my relationships work, about friendships, about small business leadership, about community engagement. Because if you start to think that everyone has an opinion or a voice or a perspective that’s worth considering, that really changes how you do leadership, how you do community building. And so from the time that I was a student and then on to running a business in town, running for office, when I did that, being involved in a local not-for-profit community, those roots and that consensus approach to decision-making and conversations really has informed a lot of that and changed my life for the better, and I think has changed a lot of people’s lives for the better and when they’re able to bring that out into the world. Eric: You just talked about some of the things that you’ve done here and particularly, in starting a business. One of the things that is always a concern for people in a community not just this size, but in all size communities, are we a friendly community for entrepreneurs, with people who want to start a business? You’ve had a chance to do that from the ground up, talk about what you see in this community in that aspect. Are we business friendly? Chris: Well, it depends on what kind of business you are, right? If you can make something, produce something that you can show, a product you can sell, something that is a retail product people are a lot more easily able to see the value in that and support that as a small business, when my co-founder and I, Mark, were starting our business, we were in the knowledge space and the technology space, 1997, websites were kind of a new thing. And so when we’d be around town, telling people we’re building a website development company, they didn’t know what to do with that. And we were also very young. I was 19 at the time. And so two young guys saying they’re starting a business using the internet didn’t get lot of traction around town at first because people just didn’t know what to make of it. I think, obviously, we’ve come a long way. Since then, people are a lot more familiar with what’s possible, online businesses, tech businesses, knowledge businesses, but in terms of the infrastructure when we think about economic development, resources and talent, when we think about resources that are out there to support the startup business world, I think we’re still probably pretty geared toward people that make things and sell things and have retail storefronts as opposed to some of those knowledge workers. So I think that’s an area for growth. I did find… we found along the way that there were lots of things we had to figure out on our own, just legal wrangling when it comes to starting a business, finances, leadership structure, benefits, things like that. And so in each step along the way, we kind of had to go out and figure that out and understand it. And I think when a place like the Uptown Innovation Center was created, part of the hope there was that you would have kind of a hub for resources for startup businesses to have all the answers to those questions in one place. I’m not sure that ever really materialized in the way that we hoped it would, and again, there’s still an area for growth there, that if someone today coming out of IU East or Earlham or just from the community and said, hey, I have an idea for a business and I want to get it going, I think right now, they’d still have a pretty tough uphill battle to figure out where to go and who to work with. There are people out there, there are great resources out there, but they’d still have a lot to figure out on their own. So I think we can do more there to help folks get launched when they have an idea, get up and running. Eric: You’re watching IN Focus on Whitewater Community Television’s WGTV Channel 11. We’re having a chance to speak with Chris Hardie, transplant, entrepreneur, student, a lot of different hats that you’ve worn in your time here. Before we kind of walk away from the tech part of this, one of the things that the pandemic really I think has done is shown us that the conversation around connectivity and our broadband speeds and needing better broadband all the way around really has been a lot of talk, I mean, when people started trying to work from home, and not just here in Richmond, Wayne County, or East Central, Indiana, but you’ve seen it even nationally, as people in California, news anchors in Indianapolis have tried to do what we’re doing from home, pixelation, you get dropout, even in the large communities, that’s happening. As somebody who is in the tech world, talk about where you think we need to go, what kind of conversation we need to be having with our legislators, or the business community, or whatever, because we may get back to something that we remember as normal, but I think there will be more people working from home, obviously, more people streaming, more broadband being used. How do we make that stronger, more robust, and move us to the 21st century? Because we’re obviously not there yet. Chris: Yeah. I mean, it’s funny if you think even just 10 years ago, I think having a high speed internet connection at home was kind of seen as a luxury item. I mean, it was nice to have, but by no means could we have imagined then what we’re experiencing now that having a connection at home and a quiet space to work could make all the difference in your quality of life for your work, if you’re someone who is in an industry or working for a job where that possibility exists. I think it’s really brought to light the digital divide. Not everyone has reliable access to the internet. Not everyone has devices at home that are their own to use. Sometimes, multiple kids, a family sharing one computer, one device, and that’s something that’s now just very real in terms of its impact on someone’s ability to have a great education when something like a pandemic hits. I think people are still figuring out the difference between the kind of frantic working from home during a pandemic mode and then the actual remote work that is planned out, that is thoughtfully done where you feel supported and collaborative with your employer, your colleagues in that environment. I mean, a lot of people are still working in the kind of reacting to a crisis mode, and so I think we have some work to do there to help organizations figure out how to do that well and what leadership and accountability and transparency and performance reviews and all those things look like in a distributed environment. Yeah. And, I mean, a distraction-free home office is a rarity. I don’t think we should take that for granted, shouldn’t assume everyone has one. So, as you said, I mean, internet connectivity is more important than ever. Having more choices and speed options I think is important. I think we’ll come to see internet access as more of a utility than a extra or a luxury item. And I think we need to make sure that the companies that are providing those services realize the role that they’re playing now. And I think for the most part, things have been smooth when it comes to local connectivity, but you think about it, if one of those providers had, had a major outage or if hadn’t been ready in terms of infrastructure, that in itself could put a place like Richmond way behind other cities, other communities. So I think there’s still room there for better tools, communication tools, collaboration tools. I’ve talked some about the value of having a coworking space where people who are knowledge workers or work from home primarily could go to have a temporary desk or a temporary office space to kind of get out of their home office environment, and I think that’s still something that would be a benefit in Richmond. The Innovation Center has offered a version of that at times, but in terms of a sort of real coworking space, I think that’s something we could still pursue. Yeah, and I think there’s more incentives we could be offering to companies in the area that want to transition their workforce to a distributed setup, resources we could be offering, incentives we could be offering to help them do that so that if the choice is to have to scale back business or go out of business or to make that transition, I think we could be doing a lot to help our local businesses work on that. So there’s a ton there to do and to think about. But yeah, certainly getting everyone access and devices at home is a good first step so that we have that kind of even landscape for everybody. Eric: I know you’re not a lawyer or a tax advisor, but one of the things you talked about was incentives for businesses to do things, are we at a point, in your mind, and again, as someone who has worked remotely, where we need to re-look at our tax code? Because we’re having individuals have to leave an office, create a space in their home, and you talked about it, a quiet workspace in their home that maybe wasn’t originally there. Do we need to have our legislators re-look at our tax code so that not all of that benefit goes to business? And this is not an anti-business statement, but understand that there people who are assuming some of that responsibility on their own and maybe not needing to do that. The same way things have been done in state code for teachers, because we know that teachers have had to put out their own money for things that they need. Chris: Right, right. Yeah. And, I mean, it’s one of those things, my best understanding is that at the IRS level or the national level, you can say, I use this part of my house for my work, but there’s a lot of hoops you have to jump through to kind of prove and show that you are using that space exclusively for business purposes and it’s not a mixed use of sometimes, you’re watching Netflix and sometimes, you’re doing work. And I think for a lot of people, that’s just not a level of detail that they’re able to document or prove or they don’t want to take the time to go into that. So I think there are things that could be done there to make that an easier distinction, an easier box to check on your annual federal filing. I know a lot of businesses now are relying on people’s home internet connections and their personal cellphones to stay in touch, but a lot of businesses don’t have a way to pay for that as a benefit, an employment benefit to all of a sudden take on cable and phone bills for all of their employees. So there’s probably something there that could either make that a tax benefit or a tax credit of some kind, or either support the business for the individual. There’s just lots of little things like that, that over time, really add up because that can be hundreds of dollars a month, depending on your home setup. So when we’re coming to rely on those things, we should look at them as more essential services that could be baked in more to the tax code as possible credits or reductions. Yeah. Eric: You’re watching IN Focus on WGTV Channel 11. We’re spending some time with Chris Hardie, who has been doing some work for a number of months with Hometown Media, which kind of falls into some other things that you’ve been doing. You’ve had your own podcast, you’ve had your own space, Richmond Matters, 47374, talk a little bit about, first, what kind of got you into the idea of needing to share information with people on your own? And you’ve done it to the point where you believe people should be connected so you even kind of created this space where you were pulling news reports and information from various people so that they could even get that information in one place. Chris: Yeah. I can talk a lot about the different projects I’ve tackled. I guess I’ve always been fascinated with where people get their information and how people get their information, just what the tools are that people use, what systems are out there, what channels they follow. That’s kind of been my professional life, I mean, as a software engineer, as a web developer, someone who’s worked on marketing, consulting, just thinking about what tools and sites and online presence are going to help everyone do what they’re trying to do in the world, whether that’s in a professional setting or a personal setting. I think in the last decade, I mean, I’ve come, and I think a lot of us, have come to see access to information as much more critical at the level of civic engagement and the health of democracy, the health of communities where the habits and patterns of information consumption can really determine how well a given neighborhood or a community or a city is going to thrive. I certainly saw it while I was running for office, I ran for city council back in 2011. I saw while building a business and trying to grow that business, market that business in the community. I saw it while I’ve been a part of local not-for-profit organizations that are trying to get the word out about their programs, their activities, their need for fundraising, the kind of day-to-day decisions about where do people get their info, where do they find out about community events, it really matters and it can make or break a certain concept or a certain vision for community building. So I guess I’ve always tried to figure out where I can make a difference in that and bring my skills to bear for the benefit of the communities I care about, whether it’s locally here in Richmond or otherwise. And that’s kind of led me to experimenting I guess with different tools over the years. I mean, I’ve always been a blogger. I’ve always been commenting, writing, observing online and sharing what I see in the world and in the community. You mentioned the 47374.info. I mean, some of that came out of some Facebook curmudgeon in me where I didn’t like the feeling I had after spending time on Facebook of having to wade through cat photos, political opinions, really serious, personal updates and trying to understand what’s happening in the world in that sort of chaos. And so I deactivated my Facebook account a long time ago and… Eric: Jealous. Chris: Hey, you should try it. But still wanting to be engaged and involved with what’s happening in the community. So I built 47374.info to pull together the publicly available information out there, whether it’s from local newspapers, press releases, publicly available Facebook pages, news sites, blogs, and kind of put it all in one place. And so I can go there throughout the day and see what’s being published about the community. There’s also a daily email you can sign up for. It’s not a commercial venture. I don’t make any money on it. I want to be clear about that because it’s built on top of the work that other people are doing to write about and report on what’s happening in the community. But it’s been a helpful resource. There’s about 120 people who get that daily email and read about what’s going in the community through that channel. So I feel good that I created something that was useful for people who want to stay involved without waiting through what’s on Facebook sometimes. Yeah, I have a blog, RichmondMatters.com. I’ve tried various other projects in the community, some of them are… I think one time I was like, okay, I’m going to create a live chat for Richmond, Indiana where people can go online and chat with each other, and it was kind of pre-Facebook days. It didn’t really take off. There was I think the Primex Plastics fire was the one time where all of a sudden, 200 people were on it and were sharing information about what streets were closed and what the fire department was doing. And then after that, it just kind of quiet again. So, different experiments. I’m happy to have things succeed or fail, and it’s good information to learn about, again, where people get their news and what’s happening. Eric: You’ve decided to kind of wade in and provide some assistance with Hometown Media. What was your interest there in helping build that? Chris: Yeah. So, I’m working… I should say I’m volunteering as a consulting digital editor for Hometown Media Group. And I saw them, when I became aware of them and I saw the ways in which they were continuing to try to provide local news, local journalism that was grounded in the community where the editorial decisions were being made locally, and as we’ve seen other larger publications struggle with coverage or with budget cuts, local news and local journalism I think just remains really essential. And so I reached out to them and said how can I help? And at first, they were like, “Who is this guy and what does he want from us?” But I think once they realized that I was genuinely offering to help build on what they had already done, we had some really great conversations. And so over the last six months or so, I’ve been able to help them update their online presence, think about their digital strategy, think about their subscription model, think about how they engage with their readers, and yeah, just really focus on modernizing their online strategy and tools. For me, I think one thing we may or may not have mentioned yet is I’m also a graduate student at Ball State studying journalism, and so it’s been a really neat opportunity to put some of what I’ve been learning there and apply it to a real world situation, and it’s been great to see how some of the… where the ideals of journalism meet the realities of small town print newspaper. But it’s been great. I’ve been able to bring just sort of a mix of my small business and local and online publishing and media experience to bear, and we’ve been able to do some neat things together. And they, as an organization, they’re growing, they’re looking for new ways to serve the community and make sure that, again, people who want to get the word out about important things happening here can do that and people who want to read about it can do that. So, it’s been really rewarding to be a part of that. Eric: Talked about being a journalism student, we had to mention, I was too, so, good lead, yeah. As a person who is now studying journalism and as a person who has put your opinion out there and knowing that those two things are not the same, how do you find yourself in that space? Because in my mind, that’s a space that has really kind of been muddied over the last decade or more, where we think people are journalists but they’re really not, they’re just opinion people. And there’s a different ethic when it comes to being an opinion person and being a journalist. Chris: Yeah. And I think we can never do too much community education about that distinction. With the writing I’ve done, the blogging I’ve done, I mean, I’ve always been careful. I’ve never tried to represent myself as a journalist or as someone who is providing a objective coverage of a topic. I’ve always shown that what I’m offering is my opinion or my observations. And I think because people still get those things confused, we just have to say, we have to make those distinctions really carefully… there’s a national organization called The Trust Project that is trying to help people, when they go read something online and they go read an article that’s trying to show some of the signals or the indicators that help you make those distinctions. So, is this something that has multiple sources or is it just one person’s opinion? Is this something that’s been fact-checked? Is this something where the reporter or the publication involved is receiving sponsorship dollars from an entity that’s being reported on? Things like that, that might be conflicts of interest. So, asking people to care about those details and pay attention to them when they’re reading something online, I think in the past, it’s been kind of taken as a given, but I don’t think we can anymore. And when something is shared on Facebook and becomes viral and becomes a widely read piece about politics or healthcare, or whatever it is, I hope that people are taking the time to say, okay, is what I’m reading propaganda? Is it an opinion piece, or is it something that’s been reported in a journalistic context? If we can’t make that distinction, we’re in real trouble because the kind of foundations of figuring out what’s true, what’s based on science, what’s based on fact is something we’re struggling with as a country. And I try to be really careful about that in everything I do, but I think it’s off and also up to the reader and up to anyone out there who’s sharing something or publicizing something that we have to try to help make those distinctions. And I think there’s more work to be done, even just in Richmond, about educating people along those lines because there are times where we’ve had people who are seen as journalistic sources of information who then cross over into the opinion area or have conflicts of interest, and that’s not always been disclosed, and I think that can be really confusing. So we just have to be really careful about it. Eric: And I know exactly what you’re talking about. We’ve had conversations, I’ve had conversations with other community members who have suggested that Whitewater Community Television should have a newscast in the evenings. And my pushback has been we’re not a journalistic organization. I’ve kind of taken on the role of being the question person, but I don’t have a degree in journalism. I did not study journalism, so I don’t consider myself to be a journalist, and no one on my staff is. So we try to be very careful with how those things are presented. So it is important that I think people look at where that information is coming from and what it really is. Chris: Yeah. And, I mean, because I started as a blogger, I mean, I don’t want to devalue, if there’s someone out there who’s able to show up at a city council meeting and say, “Here’s what I saw. Here’s what happened. Here’s what was said,” and they put that on their blog, I mean, I don’t think that just because they don’t have a degree in journalism or have been a part of a journalistic organization, I don’t think that means that doesn’t have value. We just have to be careful to draw those lines and say, okay, this is someone who is showing up as a blogger, as a writer, and offering their perspective. That’s still very different from a news report about what unfolded. So I think our community could use more of all of it. I think WCTV plays a great role in that as a public media organization and creating a space for people to have a voice and to share their perspectives, share their observations, and even offer valuable information about what’s happening in the community. Still not the same thing as a newscast, but that’s a valuable service in itself too. So, I’m thankful for that. I’m glad that you all do what you do in the ways that you do it. Eric: Thank you. We enjoy what we do. You’re watching IN Focus on Whitewater Community Television’s WGTV Channel 11. We’re spending some time with Chris Hardie. Thanks to our sponsors for this program, Morrisson-Reeves Library, First Bank Richmond, and Reid Health. I kind of asked you to step into the space over a period of time and have even suggested that you could step into the space a little bit more often, but talk a little bit about the conversations that you had surrounding particularly racial justice, social justice over that three-week period. You talked to a professor, you talked to the police chief, you talked to Bill Engle, a parent Richmond kind of council member, and a journalist with a palladium item who had covered government, talk about how those conversations went for you. Did you learn anything new? Did it change your mind about anything that you were feeling? Chris: Yeah. I mean, they were meaningful conversations, they were hard conversations, and I was glad to have them but I was tired by them. And to say that as privileged white male who got to swoop in, do those conversations and then I could turn off Zoom and move on with my day, it gave me new appreciation for people who are working on the challenges of systemic racism all day, every day, people who are subject to them, people who are affected by it. And it’s everywhere in the landscape of our country, in our community, and to bring it sort of intentionally onto a TV show and have a conversation about it, it was hard and it felt like, literally, the very least I could do to help keep the conversation going forward. So, yeah, I mean, thank you again for that opportunity. I mean, I think what I learned is that we have so much work to do and so many conversations to have as a community, even calling back to earlier in this conversation, taking a word like progressive and you can hear how someone sees it through the lens of politics or someone sees it to mean something. And so even just saying the word like racism or systemic racism or white privilege, or any of those phrases, they can mean so many different things to different people and they can pull up, they can trigger very strong associations. And if we’re going to make progress on these topics, we have to be able to confront those things ourselves. We have to be able to say what is it that this calls up for me, what are my biases, what are the things that I thought I knew were true that I didn’t actually know or that I need to learn more about. And I hope that those conversations contributed to that. I think through all of those interviews and conversations and through my other interviews on my podcast, I mean, I continue to see that Richmond and Wayne County is largely a community full of kind and forward-thinking and generous people. As I said before, we kind of live at a scale where we can care about other people in our community, we can see them, we can hear them, we can listen to them, and we can adapt and adjust our opinions to what we learn. And just that feeling of we can shape and choose what kind of community we want to be, I feel that sense of optimism that even with something as hard and as challenging and as ingrained as racism, we can still work on it, we can still make progress on it if we want to. And some of the people I talk to and others out there, I mean, I’ve learned that people who are getting things done here are people who are looking at where there’s a need, where there’s maybe an area of pain, where there’s an opportunity, and they’re pursuing it with passion and creativity. Whether that’s in the classroom or in municipal government or starting a march, starting a protest, whatever it is, they’re not focused on being right or being popular, they’re focused on figuring out what’s happening in the world and doing what they do at a level of quality and kind of intentionality that really matters. So that meant a lot to see that in action, to see that in those conversations. But yeah, I mean, we have a lot of challenges. We haven’t figured out racism, we haven’t figured out what’s a sustainable economy for our area that lifts everyone up, we haven’t figured out addiction or poverty or abuse or misogyny. I mean, there’s all sorts of challenges facing us. And I think the things that I still see getting in our way, fragmented efforts, when people are working on similar goals but are doing it off kind of on their own. We’re not a big enough community that we can afford to do that, so we need people to work together more and not duplicate each other’s efforts. Historically, I think we’ve been kind of study happy. It’s easy to commission a study about something and wait a couple months and get a report and then say that progress has been made, and I just don’t think we can afford to do that in most areas. I think we wrestle with avoiding conflict. I mean, I think just as humans, it’s not always easy to go toward something that’s hard where it might feel like we’re being attacked or having our personal views criticized and we have to figure out ways around that. So, I think we get hung up on some of those things and we get hung up on people who are always saying negative things on Facebook or otherwise. But I saw on those conversations and in other conversations that there’s progress to be made, there’s opportunities, there are people who care and who are working on it. We just have to keep working on it and not slow down. So. Eric: Couple of questions to kind of follow up. You used the term pretty early, white privilege. For some people, that term is nails on a chalkboard, and they hear it and it’s an immediate turn off. I asked you earlier to talk about the context of the word progressive when you used it. Talk about your definition of white privilege. When you say that, when you acknowledge in your mind that you’re a person of white privilege, what is it that you see? Chris: Yeah. Well, and it came up some in my conversation with Betsy Schlabach, so I would tell people to watch that too because there was a helpful deep dive there. But for me, it’s the idea that throughout my life, because of my whiteness and because of my background and everything that goes with that, there have been opportunities afforded to me, doors opened for me that I didn’t even realize, sometimes, were being opened or offered because of the color of my skin and just how I look in the world. And that those same opportunities, those same doors are not offered or opened for people who have different color skin, people of color and any form, and that, that is something built in to kind of the long history of our culture in our country. And the reason it’s important to talk about it is because if, as a white person, I say, “Well, I’m not racist and so I don’t understand why I have to care too much about this whole Black Lives Matter movement or whatever it is. Yeah, I’m white, but I’m not racist,” I think that misses the point that there are things about our very existence and upbringing and history that are a part of all of the systems of racism that are out there and that we either knowingly or unknowingly have been a part of. It’s not something, I mean, I’m trying to summarize it here, but it’s not something that’s I think easily summarized. And there are lots of books and videos and resources and workshops out there that can kind of help dive into it. But talking about white privilege doesn’t mean that white people are inherently bad or inherently can’t be a part of the solution to racism. It just means that we have to look harder at the role we play and the role we’ve played in the past in perpetuating some of the systems that make racism possible. Eric: As you’ve done some research and talked to different people, I’m going to ask you to do one more of those. When you hear the term Black Lives Matter, what does that say to you in your space? Chris: Yeah. I think to me, it says that in the world we live in, in this moment and time, we have not been a society that has held Black lives to matter as much as white lives. And that, that has resulted in violence, in incarceration, in oppression, in all sorts of problems for Black people and people of color. And that as a society, it’s long past time for us to confront that. And by saying Black Lives Matter, we can say, whereas in the past, we have not pursued that level of equality and justice for everyone, by saying it now, we’re saying it’s time. It’s past time to pursue that. People often make the analogy that if you were in a neighborhood and a house was burning and you were trying to get everybody out to yell, well, everyone’s lives on the street matter, not just the people in this house. You might look at them funny because the house that’s on fire is the one that you need to care about in that moment and that you need to do something about. And so I think Black Lives Matter is saying, hey, this thing’s on fire and we need to put our attention here and we need to do something about it. Yes, all lives matter is true as well, and they can both be true, but it’s a statement that makes a difference in this moment in time. Eric: You’re watching IN Focus on Whitewater Community Television’s WGTV Channel 11. We’re spending some time with Chris Hardie, entrepreneur, person who is involved with and has been involved with a number of not-for-profit organizations, providing volunteer work, providing some advice, and who is, like me, a transplant to this community, had a chance to see it on a different level. We’ve got about 10 minutes left to go in the show. I also want to thank our sponsors for this program, First Bank Richmond, Reid Health, and Morrisson-Reeves Library. We appreciate their support. I said at the end when I invited you to do this, I don’t do this very often to people, I kind of value my places as the question person and never having to provide an opinion, but because you were kind enough to step in and ask questions of people, I said I would give you a chance, if there were a couple of questions that you wanted to throw my way that I might ask, and no, none of my other guests will get this opportunity. So, I’m curious whether there is anything that you came up with, and if there is, it better be a real soft ball. Chris: Let’s see, favorite ice cream flavor. No. Well, we’ve talked a little bit about where people get their information, and I think public media, like WCTV, has historically played a really essential role in people learning about and connecting to their communities. So, I mean… and especially, I should say, maybe the less mainstream parts, the parts that aren’t always covered in the news, more fringe parts of a community, have been able to be represented. So now that we’re in this age of Facebook and other social media where everything is shared all the time, do you see the role of public media and community television shifting in that context? Eric: I don’t know that it is, in my mind, now there are others who have been around community media a lot longer than me, I think what we are able to do is provide a place for people to share their thoughts. And I don’t know that in that way, it’s changing. I think it is maybe becoming more noticed by people and they are thinking about how they get their voice out a little bit more. And so they are finding spaces like ours that still exist, and I say that because there have been, through the years, attempts, on a local and statewide level, to kind of silence community media to a certain extent, to cut down on the ability of people to have a place for their opinion to be widespread, they want to make that in a small a space as possible. But community media allows that to continue to open. In Connersville, just south of us, where they have one channel, not three, CTV3, who we share programming back and forth with, they’ve got a program that started in the wake of some of the civil unrest at this point in time called A Black Man in a Small Community. So it is programs like that where people in communities are able to share their voices, and I think when that unrest, when that conversation continues to come up, I think people look for an outlet. So I think community media, places like WCTV, CTV3, and others around the state are maybe being noticed a bit more in their communities. What is changing is that we’re having to think more consciously about putting the information that we collect in more places. When I started almost 11 years ago as executive director of Whitewater Community Television, we didn’t have a YouTube page, we didn’t have a Facebook page, we weren’t sharing on WGTV online with a place where you can go and see full government meetings. We didn’t have all of those social media spaces, but it has made us think about using those places to put that community information out a little bit more so it is more acceptable and easier to access for folks. Chris: Yeah. Do I have time for a follow-up? Eric: Sure. Chris: Do you see people as willing to change their minds any more as the result of a conversation or an interview or a program that WCTV has been a part of? Or are we collectively still pretty tribal and just kind of set in our ways, even when we’re theoretically having a conversation about something? Eric: I think, generally speaking, generally speaking, we’re still tribal in a lot of ways. There’s still a lot of people who say, “I can’t vote for a Democrat. I can’t vote for a Republican,” without really finding out what that person feels and believes. I think as a people, we still vote against our interests a lot because we want to vote for someone who looks like us or has a certain initial behind their name, again, whether their values completely reflect us or not. But I will say that in my time, in doing particularly this program, and even the Ask the Doctors program that we’ve been doing with Dr. Huth and Dr. Jetmore during this time of the pandemic, there have been people who have said, “I learn something. I heard a question and I hadn’t thought about it in that way.” So I think we are a community that is still trying to grow, trying to develop. There are many people in the community who are trying to, and I’ll use the word that you used earlier in the show, trying to be progressive, trying to look forward. I think part of that maybe there are a number of people, a lot more than we know, like you and I who didn’t grow up here, who found this place through our travels, through coming for school, through coming for work, who have decided to make this home and who really do want to make this as good a place as we possibly can. I mean, I lament the fact that I’ve got two daughters, neither of which now live here. But my oldest who did live here moved back to Indianapolis just a few weeks ago. So I think there are more of us who would like this space to be more comfortable for our kids so that we can keep them a little bit closer than what they are. And we know that, that means being willing to make some change and think about some things differently. Chris: Absolutely. That’s great. Eric: We are coming to the end of this. I want to give you a minute or so because you’ve gone through a lot. You do have your opinions, you do have your thoughts about a lot of things. So I just kind of want to open up a space to you and say you’ve got about 90 seconds, what do you want to say to Richmond, Wayne County, whoever may be watching? Chris: Well, I won’t pass up the opportunity to encourage people, as you do at the beginning, to vote in the upcoming election. As I said… or, I mean, I ran for office. I know the difference that a few votes can make. I lost my own bid by about 200 votes, so in Richmond, that’s probably a couple of neighborhoods. I get that it’s hard for people sometimes to feel like the effort to vote has the level of importance that we hear about, but I do think it’s literally one of the most basic and critical first steps that people can take, with engaging all the decisions and opportunities that are in front of us. I think it’s how we begin to translate our values and our opinions and all the conversations that we’re having with friends and neighbors. That’s how we translate those into action that can really matter. And the people we put in office, they’re not the only ones who are shaping our future, but they are doing it every day, and we have to make sure that we have a say in that process. So, even if you don’t see an ideal candidate, even if you’re feeling disillusioned about politics in general, it’s so important to vote, and I hope that everyone who’s watching this will do that. Eric: Thank you. I appreciate it. The post IN Focus with…me appeared first on Richmond Matters.
59 minutes | 5 months ago
IN Focus with Mike Britt and Brylynn Quisenberry
The third and final (for now) episode of the public affairs program IN Focus that I have been guest-hosting in July aired this evening on WCTV. Like my earlier conversations with Betsy Schlabach, Archer Bunner and Bill Engle, it again touches on some of the challenges of confronting and addressing racism in our communities. First I talk with Chief Mike Britt of the Richmond Police Department about how they are responding to national and local concerns about racial bias in policing. Then, I speak with Brylynn Quisenberry about what it was like to organize a local event demonstrating against racist police violence and affirming that Black Lives Matter. Two very different perspectives, and both were intense conversations to have in their own regard. I appreciate the time each guest took with me. I’m sure I left out important questions and could have asked better versions of the ones I did. But most of all I hope these exchanges prompt further conversation and action toward justice for everyone who lives here. We have a lot of work to do. I welcome your feedback. You can watch the video below, on WCTV’s YouTube channel, on Facebook or as the episode is replayed on WGTV Channel 11. The audio of the show is also available via the Richmond Matters podcast feed, which you can find in your favorite podcast listening app. Transcript The below transcript was generated with the use of automation and may contain errors or omissions. Chris Hardie: Hi and welcome to this week’s episode of In Focus on Whitewater Community Television WGTV Channel 11. I’m Chris Hardie, sitting in for Eric Marsh, as your host. This is the third episode in a series of conversations that we’ve been having about what it means for our community to work on and really make progress on the serious and historic challenges of racism, and racial discrimination in policing. In particular, we’re exploring what it means for white people here to join in an attempt to understand our role in systems of racism and what actions we can take to be a part of the solution. Racism and related concepts, like white privilege, are not easy topics for white people to explore. It’s uncomfortable, it’s awkward, it’s full of potential for misunderstanding, defensiveness, hurt feelings, or just feeling overwhelmed. But it is clear that if we care about justice, if we care about making sure that everyone in our community can rise together, we have to do this work, and we have to do it urgently. We have to look inside ourselves and be willing to see what’s there, we have to have these conversations out loud with each other, and we have to show that we are listening that we are understanding and that we are willing to take action. My two guests this hour are coming from very different places in this conversation. A bit later I’ll be talking with Brylynn Quisenberry, a local high school student who recently organized a march around pursuing racial justice. First I’m talking with the Chief of Police of the Richmond Police Department, Mike Britt. Chief Britt, thank you so much for taking the time to join me today, I really appreciate it. Mike Britt: You’re welcome, it’s my pleasure. Chris: You became Chief just back in April, right in the middle of a pandemic, and a lot of other things going on but you’ve you’ve been a part of the force in the department for some time, can you just tell us briefly about your history with the Richmond Police Department? Mike: Well, I’ve been a full-time Richmond officer going on 25 years. Prior to that I was a dispatcher and a reserve officer so I’ve got about a 35 year history with the Department. And it was in January of 2016 when Chief Branum was named as the new Chief of police by Mayor Snow, he appointed me as a Deputy Chief. I’ve been in the administrative offices since 2016. Chris: Okay great. And we’ve been talking on this show about sort of the renewed national attention to problems of systemic racism, incidents of police violence and I wanted to ask what kinds of things the Richmond Police Department has done or has thought about in response to that and in that context? Mike: Well it’s it’s been a very difficult time and I want to start this topic off by saying that those of you who hate the police based on what you saw in recent news articles of officers from Minneapolis and other places in this world, as a profession, as a representative of this profession I apologize for that because I don’t think what you or anybody else saw was true modern police work. What you saw or criminal acts and it’s very unfortunate that the acts of a few officers can cause so many problems to a nationwide organization. And that is what we’ve seen in the news is not what Richmond Police Department or I or most other agencies stand for. This is very unfortunate. Chris: Thank you for that. Are there any specific changes that you, as a department, have made in training procedures or reporting policies, rules of engagement, and I know that it’s a conversation and we’ve heard about different departments looking at how they handle certain kinds of engagements as a result, is that something that has come to the Richmond Police Department as well? Mike: Yes we’ve began the discussion. We have policies and procedures in place, and one of our long-term goals, we haven’t been able to really get completed, is a complete update of our policies and procedures. So some of them are old, however they do cover the key, such as use of force, the use of force continuum and the case law that exists regarding use of force. Just the policies need updated just a bit so I’ve been spending a lot of time going over our existing policies and our training as well. Currently Major Bales and I, my Deputy Chief, been in contact with a company that has offered us an opportunity to rewrite our policy manual and bring it up to today’s standards as far as legally defensible policies. So that’s one of the things that we’re looking at. In general. I looked over our entire operation and, you’ll notice, and hopefully the public can too, the Richmond Police Department is not been involved in any unfortunate incidents, thank God, and that’s just because I have good people. The men and women of the Richmond Police Department are great officers and there’s inherent training now when police officer comes on new in the profession. They’ve integrated IS based policing training as well as the escalation techniques and the mental, emotional training that’s all part of the Academy now, and it’s also a part of our annual re-certification training which we are going through right now. Every officer on this department, and pretty much the state of Indiana, has mandatory training that they have to go through every year and we contracted with a web-based company where the officers are working their way through several hours of video along with pre and post-test and it covers most of those key areas, so we are, I think we’re doing a pretty good job keeping up on that, but we could always do better. And that’s what I’m looking at, what more can I do? And I apologize if we haven’t done that so quickly, I think it’s important think this through. I don’t like knee-jerk reactions and we don’t currently have any issues that have come to the forefront, so we’re thinking forward on this and we can take the right steps, but basically we’ve been very fortunate, I’ve got a, like I say, a great group of officers that are young and, I don’t know if you’re aware of this or not, but since 2016, we counted the other day, we’ve hired 36 policemen, which makes a very young department. Mike: One of the issues that I had that coming in, of course I’m an old guy, older generation, they go millennials, yeah that’s gonna be a problem but it really is not. And what I’m learning along the way it’s that one of the first things that we saw when we started putting younger policemen on the street is the complaints against officers for rudeness and that type of thing is really falling away we don’t get as many complaints of that nature. And I’m finding that these newer officers are, I guess the newer generation, are a lot more tolerant of different social status and I couldn’t be prouder. They’re a lot more accepting of other cultures and I’m not casting the shadow on my generation but when you look around us some of the major incidents in the country you’ll notice that a lot of these guys are our older officers that may be from a different generation of policing. Chris: I do want ask, at a recent demonstration here back in June you know, people sharing some stories of being treated, they felt poorly in certain circumstances because they felt the color of their skin, being treated poorly by local law enforcement and it’s hard to know, if we weren’t there, it’s hard to understand exactly what happened. But I do wonder how you track or if you track or investigate any claims of racial discrimination or bias in local policing, is that a part of some of the systems that you talked about? Mike: Yes, as long as I can remember we’ve always tracked complaints against officers. Additionally, one of the most important things that we do, I don’t think it’s mandatory in the state of Indiana yet, but we’ve been doing it for several years but any time officer has to use force of any type with a citizen, such as displaying a weapon or going hands-on with somebody, in addition to the report that the officer writes, the standard criminal report, it’s accompanied by a use of force report, which is a completely separate document that breaks down exactly what force was used and why. So those are compiled by a deputy chief and we keep a close eye on that. So far we’ve done pretty well by looking… as far as a complaint against an officer’s behavior whatever, we have complaint system in place that’s been there for years and you can come the Richmond Police Department, pick up a complaint form and fill it out and then it goes and comes back to the administration and it’s most likely where it would be assigned to someone to investigate. Chris: And just thinking about that a little bit, people talk about the power dynamic of an everyday resident like me walking into the police station and saying to someone who’s carrying a firearm who has the ability, in theory, to put me in jail, to say that I have a complaint and that could be tough for anyone. I think there’s been some recognition that racism that goes beyond just like an individual act where you can say like, yes this was clearly racism or clearly wasn’t, but we’re talking about ideas and dynamics that are spread throughout society and I think some people say like, oh a police force couldn’t actually be a part of the solution because of the way that they’re set up or because of that power dynamic, so as a department, how do you make sure that you’re open to listening to those concerns, some of which might be really hard to hear if they’re critiques of the department or of your officers and finding ways to improve how you serve the community based on that feedback that you get? Mike: Well, we’ve been getting a lot of feedback, we’ve had a number of meetings with different groups and there has been some input on that and just as I appreciate getting a phone call or an email that my officers did a good job I also want to know about when a person feels they did not do a good job. The most difficult thing is to sort out whether that officers behavior was completely unacceptable or called for, for the other particular incident that they’re involved in. Sometimes, like it or not, the policeman has to become forceful such as one of the biggest complaints that I get my policemen are on the scene of something people walking up and are not involved we shoo them away. You’ve got to stay away from this particular incident till we hit the bottom of what’s going on and people seem to take offense to that and I apologize but that’s not something that we will ever do is allow somebody not involved party to step into one of our encounters in the public. Chris: Okay. And it seems like what I think you’re saying, I just want to check on this you know and some of the stories we’ve heard elsewhere, after an incident happened where it seems like there was a racial bias at work in an incident, sometimes it’s come out later that okay there were there was a pattern with an officer who then ended up having an incident that the committed violence against a black person or against a person of color and the question always comes out then like why didn’t that pattern get looked at earlier. So do you feel like you’re in a good place as a department if a pattern did emerge with an officer’s behavior, you feel like you’re in a good place to see that, to track it, to investigate it, do something about it, is that fair? Mike: Yes that’s fair we are in a good place for that. Nobody gets any special favors because there are policemen, there’s the code of conduct that I expect from my officers and it’s also spelled out in the department policy and we also have a couple things in place such as serious incidents where a law has been broken, presumably by a police officer, we most generally don’t investigate that ourselves, we’ll call our friends at the Indiana State Police’s unbiased, unconnected agency, and have them look at it, we’ve used them this year so far on an incident he had here at the police headquarters and it’s very nice to be in a position where I can call a professional agency, such as that, and have them do an open investigation on it. Look, as far as they use the force reports and all that, if we have an officer showing substandard behavior, it jumps out because we don’t get complaints every day here police department administration in a week. We read all complaints against officers and we don’t get them that often so repeat complaints really stand out, so we’re able to be on top of that rather quickly. Chris: Okay. There have been these calls to, defund the police is one phrase we’ve heard a lot, some people are talking about the version of substantially changing how policing operates and I think what those calls are asking us to do is to try to confront some of the systems that might lead to discrimination and violence against black people especially as they play out in law enforcement situations. And I wonder what those calls mean to you, when you hear them, and what do you think those kinds of changes would mean for our area for policing in our area. Mike: Well defunding the police, I guess you would expect me to say, and I will tell you that is not a good idea. We have enough trouble staying within our means that our current budget. However, there are things that this department does that a lot of people are not aware of and it takes up a considerable amount of our resources, and that being I guess the number one thing would be mentally emotional situations that the police are called to and just some quick reference since 2014, proximately 10% of our calls were mentally emotional-based and so far up to this year is about 14%. So it continues to grow, the demand for that type of services is definitely on the increase, and I think a lot of these situations could be handled by someone other than the police, I guess better outfitted or trained to handle these. We end up handling these just because we’re the default, the fall back and between the fire department and my officers, we handle a lot of situations that should probably be handled by somebody in the mental health field professional. But those resources aren’t readily available in our community, we have some great resources but they’re just not available in the middle the night, and so that leaves very few options for us. But the scary part about that as well as some of these incidents involve sometimes violence and that’s a little bit scary as well having a non-sworn, non-armed person responding to these things but that’s an area of growth that our departments dealing with, it’s a very difficult to keep on top of and when I hear somebody say defund the police, I see other agencies around the nation that are effectively being defunded, but the pattern that I’m seeing is that they are creating non-emergency staff to handle the non-violent situations. Not a bad idea. I do believe that change is needed in this profession, policing has to keep up with modern times just as any profession does in it and it requires a change of thought process for us. But as I said, we’re pretty much good at making changes and that a lot of it has to do the younger officers. But as far as defunding the police, it’s not particularly a good idea but I am fully aware that there are change to be made that need to be made in this profession and the mental illness segment I just spoke about is probably larger facets that that needs addressed in our profession. Chris: Yeah, I was reading an example of another city, I’m forgetting which city right now, but I don’t know if it was a percentage of the police budget, but they took some funding and they set up basically a first responder service for mental health situations I believe as people who were trained in working with mental health but also then got some training that overlapped a bit with what a police officer might receive for how to de-escalate a situation and you know they had a van or something like that that was available you know 24/7 staffed and tried to get to situations where there was a mental health issue. Is that the kind of thing that you could imagine being helpful in our community, I know I’m just kind of pulling that out of thin air as an option and we’d have to figure out where the staffing and where the funding came from, but do you think your department would be able to see that transition and happen be glad for it and that would help in some kinds of situations where right now as first responders in a mental health situation things don’t always go the way you would want them to? Mike: That’s correct. Yeah, I would be in support of such a program. But as you mentioned already, it’s about the resources the funding for these types of things but it’s gotten to be a large enough problem that it needs more attention from the community as well as the city government but that is a direction I can see modern policing moving. It’s something that’s really needed. Chris: Do you have a sense of what percentage of your officers live in Richmond are very close to Richmond, just as a population? Mike: I’ve never really calculated but the majority live in Richmond were close by, let’s say two miles a lot of them anyways, as far as the exact number at live outside the city I know I don’t have an answer. Chris: I guess why I asked, some cities have talked about part of the problem is when you are bringing officers in from well outside of the neighborhoods that they are then in and policing and serving that that can create a clash, and I wonder if that’s something that could work to our benefit as a smaller city, a smaller community, where a lot of officers are part of the communities that they are then serving when on duty, part of the neighborhood’s. It seems like there’s an opportunity there for more engagement and I know some officers are very happy to if they’re taking the patrol car home and parking in the driveway, they’re kind of seen is a part of that that neighborhoods community safety program. Are there other opportunities on your mind for better engagement between the police department and the neighborhoods and the city so that the trust and the sort of understanding of what policing looks like in our community could be improved over time? Mike: Yes sir. There’s several opportunities that we intend to take advantage of. Of course, becoming Chief of Police in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic and all the other problems that we’ve had, my plan when things get back to what we call the new normal is that the district officers will be attending the neighborhood meetings. We’re moving towards attempting to having the officers work the same districts so they can have a familiarity with the public in that particular area of town, and it’s my intention that, as long as the officers are available, they’re gonna be a regular fixture in neighborhood functions and especially the community watch, crime watch meetings, that type thing. But as you might imagine, it’s been a little difficult scheduling these types of things and keeping up the full manpower, that’s that’s very difficult to do, just imagine with all the negative press you’ve seen about law enforcement, how hard is recruiting officers right now, which is an ongoing… they made a news release that we’ve finally made it to full manpower, this was several months ago, and we did, were budgeted for 76 more officers and we achieved that, but it lasted for two weeks, before somebody else retired. And now I think right now we’re down four full-time positions, so recruiting and keeping the street staffed is a factor in how much time an officer would have to go to these meetings. But I guess in a best-case scenario the officer is going to have enough manpower so it won’t really interfere with anything if officer wants to take an hour to go to community meeting. But yeah, I definitely see more community engagement from our department, it just simply a time right now where it’s very difficult to pull that off. One of the other things that we intend on ramping up is social media presence. We’ve been involved with social media but quite honestly in my opinion I think we’ve done a good enough job with it. So that’s another, one thing that as I mentioned before when we find out what the new normal is, that’s going to be a part of it. Chris: In a time where people are really thinking about the role of police and police departments in communities, I wonder either for yourself, if you want to speak just for yourself, or for other people who are a part of the department, why do you think most people get into policing, what is the drive what’s the reason that attracts people to it and what do they hope to get out of it or what do they hope to do in that role for the most part? Mike: Well it sounds somewhat corny but t’s actually true, as I mentioned previously, we’re hired a lot of young officers, these officers are millennials maybe a Generation X or two, but these officers sincerely want to help their community. I mean it’s very very genuine deeply based in them. You certainly don’t get in law enforcement work for the money, that’s for sure. So the success that we had in recruiting, brought us to a generation that do genuinely want to help, and they’d like to be a part of the solution to some problems that our city faces, and that’s a very important factor. And as I mentioned, recruiting is very difficult right now so I’ll throw in a plug as well. Probably tomorrow we’re opening up another hiring process for a officer to fill these vacancies. We’ve got three applicants in the pipeline to hire right now and I’ve got probably two or three more projected openings coming up so I’d definitely love to see people have an interest of helping their community. There’s a lot of problems around here, or perceived problems and my challenge is come and help us fix that. Take an active role, there’s no bones, no mistakes, our Police Department doesn’t reflect our community or our society accurately. We need a lot more minority applicants and everybody that we hire anymore is is basically white and I’m not sure we’ve really wrestled with how to increase minority recruitment, but I’m open for ideas if somebody has some good idea so yeah I think we’re going to start reaching out and doing some radio ads here very shortly with the inception of this new hiring process. Chris: And I’m not at all an expert on hiring for police departments, my sense is that often that the traditional approach has been kind of waiting for the pipeline to be more diverse and my best understanding is that the kind of outreach you’re talking about doing more of where there’s there’s actual connection happening in the community in neighborhoods with people of color and understanding you know what some of their concerns might be that would also be an effective way to increase that understanding. Whether or not people end up applying to be a part of the force, would remain to be seen. I guess in a little bit of time we have left, again if I were a person of color and I were feeling like in this community I wasn’t always safe, if I were pulled over without explanation and I felt like it was because of the color of my skin or if I felt like you know undue attention was on me in a law enforcement situation and I wanted to talk to someone about that or I wanted to try to do something about that out of concern for what’s happening nationwide, but also with the local police department, what do you see is my next step, where do I go, who do I talk to. If it’s not just about filing a complaint form but actually keeping that conversation going, hat’s my next step? Mike: Your next step should be, you actually have several, that you could take, the most common one is calling into the police department asking to speak with that officer’s supervisor. We run three shifts 24 hours a day, seven days a week and the patrol division, each patrol division for 1st, 2nd, 3rd shift are split into three groups. One’s led by a sergeant, one’s led by lieutenant, one’s led by a shift captain. So a call to the police department to find out a particular officer supervisor should be relatively simple to do, and you can speak with them. If you don’t get the desired results from them, then you always have the administrative officer, myself, Major Bales and Major Tonuc are available discuss these situations. But don’t be scared of coming into the police department to complain or question an officer’s conduct, I mean that’s what we’re here for. As I mentioned before, I’m not going to deny maybe some change needs to take place, I can be biased and say that we really don’t have those types of problems but I’m not naïve, I know that there are segments, areas of our profession we can improve on and implicit bias is one of those. Chris: Well Chief Britt, thank you again for your time and your willingness to talk with me about some challenging problems that I know are on people’s minds. Mike: You’re quite welcome, I appreciate the opportunity. I hope I haven’t rambled too much here but we’re very passionate about that, and like I said, it’s a very difficult time to police our community but I think we’re doing a good job, we’re going to be better from here, we’re going to go upward from where we’re at now. Like I say, we just have to find that new normal. Chris: Thank you. Mike: Thank you. Chris: Welcome back and you’re watching Whitewater Community Television WGTV Channel 11. I’m Chris Hardie, and I’m talking now with Brylynn Quisenberry, who’s a student at Richmond High School and who’s been doing some hard work, I think, to help our community make progress on issues of racism and police violence. So Brylynn, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me, appreciate having you here. Brylynn Quisenberry: Thank you for having me. Chris: So you organized a march and a demonstration on June 14th that, I think, brought a lot of attention to problems of systemic racism and police violence against black people. I think you’ve said elsewhere that you wanted to do something after the murder of George Floyd and the protests that were happening in response. I wonder if you could share a little bit more about how you decided to create that event and what it was like for you to put it together? Brylynn: So it kind of happened overnight. So the George Floyd, his death had happened, and then the protests immediately started, so I learned about George Floyd and all the protests in just a day. So I was on social media and I seen it and I was just talking to someone and I texted and I said, “I feel like Richmond might need one of these protests.” So I was like, I think I’m just going do it. I said, “I don’t know how good it’s gonna be, I don’t know how many people are going to be here, but I’m just going to wing it.” So the first thing I did was make a poster. I sent it to my photographer, Sandy Strange, she did some pretty good pictures. I said to her and I was like, “Hey, can you take some pictures here so it can be on other platforms?” And she was like yeah and it just got bigger from there. So many waters being donated, I have never seen that much water ever. I paid for just about nothing, I really did. The horn that I used to talk I borrowed, people passed out snacks, I didn’t even ask for that. It just all happened from the community. Chris: Was there a moment when you knew that had it had gone from kind of a personal project to something that was really gaining lots of traction and interest, how did you know that it was going to be kind of as big as it was? Brylynn: So I actually had started a Facebook group okay so I invited people and then I had people put if they were going or not going and there are so many people interested. I was like 400 interested doesn’t sound like 20 anymore. So there were even times when I thought I wanted it back out of it because it’s so scary, so dangerous, but I’m so glad did not. Chris: I mean marches and protests are not a typical thing in Richmond right, and so I can imagine that there were moments where it was challenging to make it happen maybe where people were questioning you about it, yeah what kinds of bumps did you hit along the way and what kept you going? Brylynn: Well at first I had gotten like a few weeks in, maybe two, and it didn’t seem like there were that many people that were going to show up and at this point I was like I really want a lot of people and I would like cry and really think we need this, I really think people need to see this because there’s so much going on. I actually worked at a place and I quit actually from all of this. So during all this, it was racist comments all the time and hateful, so I had to leave, I literally lost my job because of this. Chris: People were coming to your place of work to comment on what you were trying to do or just was beyond that? Brylynn: It was my actual place of work, people that I have worked with that had comments. Chris: I’m really sorry. Brylynn: It’s okay. I kind of put my foot down, another girl had put her foot down too and we both quit and actually one of the places that passed out water for us, the Cordial Cork, they were super sweet, they passed out water, I didn’t even know they were, I got an interview there. Chris: That’s great I’m glad there were bits of silver lining and I mean it sounds really hard. I mean, what kinds of stories did you hear from people about what they’ve experienced when it comes to racism and difficult interactions with the police, and I know there was some storytelling at the event and I’m imagining you heard others along the way, what kinds of things did you hear about? Brylynn: My own grandpa has told me about ladies when he was younger because he’s this big bald black man. Ladies seemed scared about him, took their purses away and the police followed him, make sure that he’s not doing anything. The guy at my protest saying that he actually got tackled by police when he had just turned 18 because they said that he was starting trouble, He’s a big dude. I just heard so much and not even just in the town like everywhere, it’s everywhere, and it’s too much it’s way too much. Chris: And some of the refrains during the march were just talking about I mean of course, Black Lives Matter, but also “enough” about police violence and about the way that systems of law enforcement, sometimes without even recognizing it, have racism or racial bias built in. Did you feel like that day unfolded in the way that you wanted it to when the day was actually there? How did it line up with what you were expecting and hoping for? Brylynn: Like I said, I kind of just winged it so I wasn’t really planning on what was going to happen, I knew they were gonna be people, I knew that I was going to talk. But as soon as I got there, and as soon as people started to come, I got nervous. I was like, I have to talk in front of these people and I have to tell them what I feel because I actually do feel this way, I feel like I need to be heard it was really hard and I had so many people, lovely people there, that were calming me down that helped me talk that helped me, random people helping me. Just holding signs, I passed out signs, and it all went smoothly. I felt really empowered just doing it. Chris: I was able to be a part of it with my family and it was really striking to me that there was a really great spirit about the crowd and about sort of the message that was being shared. It was also striking that the Richmond, the police department was there too and they were sometimes blocking traffic accompanying the marchers on the route, sometimes even leading the way with their vehicles, and a few times it seemed like waving and indicating their support, so I how were your interactions with the police department in planning the march and on that day, what did you notice about your interactions there? Brylynn: So actually, the first officer that I talked to was Officer Benedict, I’m pretty sure. He was really sweet, I even have a picture with him. He brought me into the police station by myself just then, he talked to me about the route, he told me he had some concerns some places and just to tell people, hey you need to do this here and make sure you try to walk on the sidewalks and not just other streets. And that was really nice, he said that he’d just stay out of the way and just let me do my thing while he just blocks traffic just so no one would hit us. Chris: Yeah, I spoke with Chief Britt earlier and we were talking about the problem of racism in police violence, racism in policing that we’ve been hearing so much about for a long time, but especially in a renewed way recently, and he felt like the Richmond Police Department is doing well in not having a problem with racist police action like we’ve seen elsewhere. And when I asked him specifically about how a person of color, if they had a concern and wanted to voice that about racial discrimination in a police department, his recommendation was to call the police department itself to talk about it and he felt like there would not be retaliation or any reason to be scared of doing that. I want to ask you do you think that suggestion works? What do you make of that in the context of the stories you’ve heard and the work that you’ve been doing? Brylynn: The only reason these protests are happening is because these aren’t being taken care of properly. So when he’s saying to go ahead and just call and we’ll talk about it and blah, blah, blah, I just don’t think it’s civil anymore. That’s why these protests are happening, we are making change happen forcefully, I’m not going to sit down and talk to somebody be like, hey I think this is an issue, oh yeah I’ll get back with you maybe a year or two and see if that works. So I don’t think anybody’s going to do that at all. I think there’s a lot of people that are already completely against the police, doesn’t matter where they are, doesn’t matter who they are, so they’re not going to talk about the problems with them personally or on the phone. I feel like it’s much deeper than just to sit down and have a talk. Chris: And so this is a question that goes well beyond Richmond but if as you say we don’t have time anymore for the kind of conversation approach or the internal investigation approach, what do you think it looks like for a city like ours to make real progress and to see real change when it comes to policing, when it comes to addressing racism in our city? Do you have a sense of that, and again I realize it’s asking you to solve that in a conversation on TV is a difficult thing but yeah, what kinds of things would you hope for? Brylynn: I just like it to be seen more. You don’t go to the State Fair and see Black Lives Matter booth and then handing out things and black owned businesses you don’t see at all. And like I said, we’ve been trying to even just get an event somewhere sometime in the year because I’ve even spoken to the Mayor with a huge group of people and we’ve asked to do some things in the State Fair and he said that we should leave the State Fair alone, so we have leave the State Fair alone, we’re going to have to do something else, make it our own, make it where people can see it, educate people, that’s all we can do, because sitting down and talking to people, people are going to… you don’t have to listen. But if it’s right there you can see it no matter. Chris: Yeah, and it does seem like there’s this real tension between, oops I lost video there, there we are. Brylynn: Sorry. Chris: That’s all right. There’s this real tension between what we’re coming to understand is like, it’s a generation’s long process of people doing work on themselves of people doing work in their community and then also the need to see real progress right, like as you say, in many cases the time for conversation has kind of come and gone and I think you and I were talking a little bit before about there’s this real danger of people saying, “Okay a march has happened so great we’ve had that success we can check that box.” I think for white people, especially if we don’t work at it, and even if we do, we’re always in danger of limiting our thinking and our awareness of systemic racism just to the times when marches are happening or police violence is in the news or when people of color are really asking us to pay attention, and so I mean clearly we need to be doing that work of anti racism all the time every day, we can’t fall back to this privileged position of just hoping things will figure themselves out and I wonder what you’ve seen, if anything, that gives you some hope about the action that’s happening in our community around these topics, where do you think the greatest promise is for progress there, knowing that it’s not always going to be this like happy-go-lucky, tying a bow around it and we’re done kind of thing, but where can we make the most progress right now? Do you have a sense of that? Brylynn: We’ve actually been talking about it there’s so many areas, the places people work, the schooling, just anything like that. I think for me, since I am in school right now I’m a sophomore now, I can see it in schools, I can see it when teachers discriminate, there’s not many teachers I do love my teachers, but I’ve seen teachers that do discriminate and you just have to keep an eye out or you see kids that have been taught at home and their parents bring it there or they’re hateful there, and I just don’t think it’s a place that should ever have anything like that. Chris: I had a good conversation, in a previous show, with Archer Bunner, a teacher in the local school system, and Archer was talking about just the need for teachers to have some more training some more awareness about, both issues of bias and racism and discrimination, but also thinking about alternative ways of doing conflict resolution right because our culture is so geared toward, especially once you’re out in the world, once there’s a conflict, call the police and bring the police in. Chief Britt mentioned how shifting some first responder work to people trained with mental health services could be a way to de-escalate some kinds of conflict, remove the police from the situation. And I really appreciate what you said about just awareness raising has a really key thing that can happen right now, again I think there’s a real danger of awareness kind of fading into the background. We’re coming up on an election season, we’re coming up on you know the fall, in theory school might be starting again. Have you talked to people, who you know, who are doing the hard work every day and maybe they are white people who have been allies in this situation. Are there resources that you point people to when they are looking for a way to spend time, an organization to contribute toward a place to volunteer, or is it really about starting in our homes, in our neighborhoods in the people we spend time with every day. And it’s kind of a rambling question so I apologize for that. Brylynn: It’s okay. I think it starts in our homes and our neighborhoods where we really have to start because we teach each other all the time if you have a phone at your own house and you’re looking and on social media and your social media feed is racist, have a family that’s racist, and then you’re going be like, “Oh that’s okay,” so then it starts at home so I feel like just even putting a booth somewhere that’s like, hey I’m over here maybe you should get some information, it can help. Chris: Do you feel like young people, either students that you know, but just young people generally in our community are they thinking about, are they talking about the problems of racism and police violence in our community, or is awareness-raising needed there as well? Brylynn: No, for sure. I know that kids here for sure are, and there were kids in the last march, there were kids in my March. I have friends on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat talking about it, just even sharing a post is something, just people that aren’t being quiet. I don’t think it’s an issue because when you look at the protest, you see Gen Z, that’s who you see, you see us, you don’t really see a lot of older people getting out there and do that. For my march, I’ve seen a lot of older people and that was really nice, because you don’t really see that a lot. Chris: If someone was feeling resistant to the idea of doing a march or doing a demonstration, again, that sense that like Richmond isn’t a place that’s always been friendly to direct action like that, what did you tell them? Have they said, “I don’t really know if that’s my thing doing a march,” how did you help set them at ease about that? Brylynn: Well, I told a lot of people because a lot of people didn’t like the thought of a protest because they’re seeing social media and they’re seeing how protests are going violent and they’re seeing how people are being teargassed and shot and people are dying, people are getting really badly hurt, so I had a friend myself that was like, “I don’t know if I’m actually going to be allowed to,” when they want to but they’re minors. If the parent says no, the parent says no they can’t go. But I’ve had her me with posters, she packs some water, just simple things like that, that’s helpful. And just the people remember that the people that are working with it, they see that and they remember that. So you don’t automatically have to be marching, I know people that are disabled that cannot march. So just doing simple things, donating, posting, just helping out a little bit, it’s simple. Chris: Also, I think the paper reported that you’ve been in some conversations with the local NAACP Chapter and talking about what kinds of programs or action might be possible there. Can you say any more about sort of what’s what’s happening there and how people might be able to get involved? Brylynn: We’re actually we’re still talking about it, we did a huge Zoom, I don’t know when we’re doing another one. Pastor Chapelle, he’s kind of the one that I’ve been talking to the most, so we’ve kind of just picked out points around the Richmond where we think that we need to really focus on issues, like schools, neighborhoods, workplaces things like that, how people get their money, just all that other stuff. But other than that, we really haven’t talked about much, we’ve talked about a youth that we already have, I’m actually the president of that youth group, so for this youth group it’s just young people that’s it. Just some high schoolers that’s it, and maybe some adults I just look over us I’m sure we’re good and that’s it, because that’s what we need we’re not doing the same things every single time. Gen Z hasn’t been nice about it you tell someone something and they’re like, “Well I’m sorry that you feel that way,” and all this other stuff, Gen Z’s kind of like, “I don’t care, here’s your facts and you can take it or leave it,” and that’s kind of what we’re doing. We want it to be different than what our elders are doing. Chris: Have you had support and encouragement from grown ups, elders, adults in your life that have helped make some of this possible or do you feel like you’ve had to do some uphill battles to make things happen. what’s that been like for you? Brylynn: My mom actually knows somebody in the Roadrunners, so the Roadrunners actually contacted me personally and they just asked me if I needed protection for my march. My mom and my grandma, every single time I’ve been busy and not around, they’re the ones that collect the water and load the water and drive me and do this and that, so that’s really helpful they’ve always been there. They get water for me, they get the posters for me. But other than that, everyone just kind of lean back and let me do what I need to do, which was really nice so I don’t have someone hovering over me to do this, do that, because I feel like if it’s my voice then somebody will see it more. Chris: Yeah, if someone out there, and especially I mean a person of color, but even a white person or anyone else, if they’re seeing racism, if they’re seeing discrimination in action, if they’re not sure how to use their voice to do something about it, I mean you’ve had this experience now of using your voice going, through what at times sounds like are pretty scary process and a difficult process, what advice would you give to someone who’s not sure whether it’s worth it to put themselves out there and speak up? Brylynn: It’s 100% worth it, every voice matters. We say silence is violence because when there’s silence there’s nothing that you are doing to help. When you are just quiet you are not helping, you are just adding to a problem that can for sure be solved if you just open your mouth and say, “Hey that’s not right.” That’s it. Chris: And it feels like there’s some growing awareness in recent months that there is a distinction between just saying I’m not racist and actually doing anti-racist work and that as you were saying earlier, to do nothing, to stand by, and sort of let things go as they are, in a lot of ways is perpetuating and being a part of the problem, and that we’re long past the point where it’s important to do active work and I think there are probably people in our community who would look at a march or a demonstration and say that’s not making any progress but I really appreciate as you said that just even raising the issue keeping it in front of people, keeping the conversations going, feels like something we’ve been bad at, and that we can do better and better at of every day. How else do you think of yourself as keeping the conversations going and being a part of that now? Brylynn: I’m on social media a lot, every single time I see an article, I sign petitions, I do all that stuff on social media, super easy stuff that anybody can do. You scroll through it, you look at it you see if it’s correct do you think Google, Google is real, you can see if the information is correct, share it. I’ve even been sharing things like black lives still matter that’s it. Chris: Well Brylynn, I want to thank you for all the work that you’ve done the passion that you’ve put into this community, even when it’s been challenging for your personal life and employment and everything else, and continuing on with that. And I really do hope that as a community, we can honor that work by rising to the challenge that you and others have put out there to really take meaningful action so thank you and thanks again for your time today. Brylynn: Thank you. Chris: This has been another edition of In Focus on Whitewater Community Television. I’m your host Chris Hardie, thanks for watching. The post IN Focus with Mike Britt and Brylynn Quisenberry appeared first on Richmond Matters.
59 minutes | 5 months ago
IN Focus with Archer Bunner and Bill Engle
In July I’m continuing to guest host a few episodes of the public affairs program IN Focus on WCTV, talking with my guests about racism and what it means for people in our community — especially white people — to be listening, learning and taking meaningful anti-racist action so that everyone who lives here can know justice. In today’s show, I talk with Archer Bunner, a teacher at Richmond High School and a leader with the Alternatives to Violence Project, about wrestling with bias and racism in a classroom setting, and how thinking about different models of conflict resolution could complement calls to change how policing works. In the second segment I talk with Bill Engle, member of Richmond’s Common Council and a former local reporter, about the role that local government might play in addressing racism, and what it looks like for Richmond as a city to really work on these issues together. With both Archer and Bill I appreciate that they were willing to talk openly with me about the challenges of confronting and working on racism in our lives and professions. They were candid about the concerns they’ve faced, and in that I think they modeled that we don’t have to have all the answers to make progress. I learned from these conversations and I hope you will too. I welcome your feedback. You can watch the video below, on WCTV’s YouTube channel, on Facebook or as the episode is replayed on WGTV Channel 11. The audio of the show is also available via the Richmond Matters podcast feed, which you can find in your favorite podcast listening app. Disclosure: as I note in the episode itself, I was a contributor to Bill Engle’s 2019 election campaign for Common Council. Transcript The below transcript was generated with the use of automation and may contain errors or omissions. Chris Hardie: Hi, and welcome to this week’s IN Focus on Whitewater Community Television’s WCTV Channel 11. I’m Chris Hardie, and I’m sitting in for Eric Marsh as your host for a few episodes here in July. As with last week, in these conversations, we are continuing to look at what it means for our community to work on and really make progress on the serious, and historic challenges of racism and racial discrimination. In particular, we’re exploring what it means for white people here to join in and attempt to understand our role in systems of racism, what privileges and biases contribute to that, and what actions we can take to be a part of the solution. As white people, I think we need to show that we are listening, that we are understanding, and that we are willing to do some hard work on ourselves in the name of justice for all. My two guests this hour will help us have a part of those conversations. In a bit, I’ll be talking with Bill Engle, a member of Richmond’s City Council, and a former local reporter. First, I’m talking with Archer Bunner, a teacher at Richmond High School, and a conflict resolution workshop facilitator. Archer, thanks so much for joining me today. Archer Bunner: Thank you. Chris: If you could, just tell us a little bit about your background and the kinds of work that you do. Archer: Great. Yeah, my name is Archer Bunner. I’m a teacher at Richmond High School. I teach mostly in the Math Department under the special education wing. I work with students who have identified learning disabilities of all types. I also teach a conflict resolution class. That class comes from a nonprofit that I work with called The Alternatives to Violence Project. It’s a national and international nonprofit that runs conflict resolution workshops in schools, communities and prisons. A lot of what I spend my time doing is working with them and working at the school. Chris: Awesome. My understanding is you’ve taught that workshop in lots of different settings, lots of different contexts, group sizes and everything else. Is it material that you feel just really comfortable with at this point? Or is it an area where you are still learning? How does one master the area of conflict resolution? Archer: Well, facilitating the workshops is certainly an area that I feel very comfortable with, but practicing conflict resolution, your life is a never-ending process. Practicing all of the different skills that you learned, particularly how to be defensive and react in a way that de-escalates a situation rather than escalates a situation, and how to attempt to address conflict even when you feel some fear. Those are definitely things that I still struggle with, which is one of the reasons why I stay working with the program. It’s not a program that’s about teaching other people to deal with things. It’s a personal growth thing. Everybody who comes is working on themselves together, to try and keep getting better at addressing those conflicts that are making our lives more difficult. Chris: Sounds really powerful. We’ll, in just a little bit here, get to the connection between that exploration and personal growth with conflict resolution and racism, and systemic racism. We’ve been talking the last couple episodes here about the challenges of racism and white privilege, and especially what white people can do to make sure that we are listening, that we’re understanding, and that we’re taking meaningful action. I think about the classroom setting in the school system as a place where the young people in our community are undoubtedly having opportunities to see racism, to maybe understand it, maybe to confront it. I wonder if you can share a little bit about what you’ve seen, just as a teacher in that setting, even before some of the recent renewal of attention to racism in our community and around the country has happened. What have you noticed? Archer: I’ve been teaching for six years at the high school, and then I had a year of student teaching where I was actually Hibberd, in the LOGOS program and at the high school. Throughout my entire career as a teacher, race and racism is definitely on the minds of the young people that I work with, in ways that ebbs and flows. It seems that there will be sometimes connected to a national movement or sometimes connected to some of the shootings that have happened by police. There’ll be a big burst of energy where students are really talking about it, arguing with each other, having conversations, talking with me about it. Other times, just for seemingly no reason, it just seems to be a big topic that will just run throughout the school, and students will be really focused on thinking and talking about it. It’s definitely something that students, in particular, notice and want to talk about, want to explore. I would say, some of my personal experiences in the classroom that I’ve struggled with around racism are when students do call me racist, which definitely has happened. Especially when I was a younger teacher, and especially before I started really working on myself, I was very defensive about this. I didn’t think of myself as a racist. No, I didn’t think what I was doing was really separate, and that I was trying to tell them what they were doing was inappropriate, yelling or throwing something in class, or just being a distraction, right? Things that I saw, as a teacher, as typical things that you should try to tell students not to be doing in the classroom. Over time, well, I went through some trainings, some anti-oppression trainings, and I realized it’s less about my response, my defensiveness, or me thinking I’m not a racist, and more about whatever it was that I did that made that student say that, that’s important for me to try to understand and address, regardless of my own personal feelings about myself because whatever it was that I did is making that student feel unsafe or uncomfortable in the classroom. It needs to be worked on. That’s definitely something that I have experienced and try to continue to think about in myself. Yeah. Chris: Yeah. I mean, what does that look in an ideal situation, in that classroom setting where that exchange is unfolding? What did you notice about the difference between how you responded in the earlier days where you mentioned feeling defensive, and that was the initial response to, what do we get to? What do we try to aim for in a different response, or what’s an ideal way that a situation like that can unfold? Archer: Yeah. Well, stating, “I’m not racist,” not an effective response. Chris: Okay. Archer: Trying to have a conversation with the student one on one is the ideal thing. Finding a way to… really, the ideal thing is to have a better relationship with students that I’m disciplining in the first place, to have a relationship where they feel they can share with me when I’m being overly disciplinarian does help on the front end. Building a better classroom culture helps on the front end of that kind of a situation. Then when it happens, having a one on one conversation to ask. The ideal thing would be, “No, I’m sorry I came off this way. That wasn’t my intent. I didn’t mean to make you feel that I was treating you differently. What can we do to move forward?” Chris: Yeah. In one of my earlier conversations, we talked about the distinction. A lot of people think of racism or would define a racist is just, if someone does this overt intentional act to hurt someone because of the color of their skin, that that’s what racism is. I think we’ve been learning, some of you all have known this for a very long time, but it’s coming out again in this current conversation, that racism is much more than that. There are systems that we’re part of, things white privilege, that inform who we are, sometimes without us knowing it. Do you think an understanding of systems of oppression or systems of privilege and how they interact, I mean, is that understanding woven at all into the experience that kids in school are having? Are they aware of those things? Or is that something that that we do need to be teaching more? What does that look right now in the classroom setting, as you’ve seen? Archer: I am mostly in the math classroom, so content doesn’t often flow towards that. In the conflict resolution class, when people have had experiences, there are sometimes topics where we do flow into oppression, and talking about historical oppression, and systems of oppression, specifically against black people, often against immigrants, particularly from Mexico, or other Latin and South American countries. Those are the demographics that typically are the students that want to talk about those, the students in our classroom. I would say, as far as the curriculum goes, I can’t speak to what my fellow teachers are teaching at the high school, but I do think there are some teachers who’ve tried really hard to weed through their history lessons oppression and history of resistance, and how that plays a role on our current situations. There are definitely teachers who are doing that and I think that is the route to go. I do think there are teachers who, for whatever reason, stick to the traditional curriculum, and don’t focus on that. Maybe their own personal experience, or they just haven’t… maybe their teaching program didn’t emphasize that. It’s definitely an individual thing, and something that the curriculum is open enough to, that teachers can take it in different directions. I would say, I think that curriculum should be very much focused on people understanding. When I look back at my school history, and when I learned about systems of oppression, it wasn’t until college. I think a lot of college students are getting that. Chris: Interesting, yeah. Archer: I think that history, especially when it comes to the history of black Americans, the sense that I got from my education was, “Slavery is over, civil rights happen, the black people won, racism is gone, everyone should treat each other equally. There are those people on the far fringes, who are doing these racist things, but that’s not us. That’s not the majority of us,” and that’s a really blinded way of looking at things that doesn’t really address people’s personal experiences, or some of the ways in which our justice department, or other departments, other places still enforce these discriminations against people of color. Chris: Yeah, and those systems can be really pervasive. They can affect all aspects of life. One of my previous guests, Betsy Schlabach described it, white privilege is this backpack that white people can wear that opens up all sorts of opportunities for them unknowingly, that is not something that may be the case for a person of color, a black person who’s applying for a loan, applying for a job, that kind of thing. Do you think the school system… I mean, I think what I hear you saying is teachers in the school system would benefit from additional training, additional formal curriculum around those kinds of systems and what it means to be in a classroom setting with kids learning about that. Archer: Yes, I do think there’s a really positive trend in education nationwide, and in Indiana to focus on brain science, neuroscience, and the way that trauma adversely affects the brain and brain development, and how when we’re in these situations of experiencing something that reminds us of our trauma, our brain makes decisions for us to switch into fight or flight mode without us making conscious decisions, and that’s affecting a lot of our behavior in the classroom. I think that there can be a way to connect in the adversity of discrimination, and the trauma experiencing racism and discrimination. That as this trend towards understanding trauma continues, that there’ll be more opportunities and more interest from teachers to take trainings such as implicit bias training. We’re already taking trainings on de-escalation. There’s been a ton of trainings I took at high school, about how to respond to a person who’s escalating the situation, like ways to hold your body, how to use your tone of voice, and things like that. I think implicit bias training, which I didn’t explain what that means, but is a training where you look at yourself and accept that there might be ways that you’re treating people of color differently without realizing it. It’s not a conscious thing. It’s that racism that’s built into our system where I’m treating somebody differently, and I didn’t even recognize it. How do I step back and notice that and try to change that behavior, based on whatever it is? Some cultural thing that I didn’t realize or that I grew up just reacting towards. Chris: This is probably an oversimplification, but I’ve even seen some universities that have put some online tools up where you can go through an implicit bias exercise, and it illustrates, in just a couple of minutes, ways that you might see the world, that if you didn’t stop and really think about it, or maybe have it pointed out for you, it’s like I have a bias for or against something or someone, or a type of person. The trainings you’re describing sounds they really get into depth with that, which is really helpful. It does sound something that all of us could benefit from, at some point or another. I want to transition to the conflict resolution training. We’ve heard, in recent months, really clearly, the calls to defund or significantly reimagine the role of police departments in our lives. People, rightly, I think, noted that this kind of change would require also reimagining how we, as a community, handle and resolve conflict in our life, especially the times where we would typically call the police. The benefit that stands out to me, of course, is that if you don’t have the police showing up to an already tense situation, maybe we remove some of the occasions where black people are subject to police violence. Chris: I know that that’s a really big topic and a big place to start, but I wonder if you could talk about how traditional models of handling conflict do or don’t work, kind of what you described in the classroom, like just saying, “I’m not a racist,” is not an effective way to handle that conflict, but what does and doesn’t work? What does it look like to do things differently, perhaps in a way that makes us more self-reliant as a community, without having to call the police in every conflict situation that comes up? Archer: Yeah, so I’d say it’s going to take a lot of work. It’s going to take a lot of personal work and personal desire to react in situations much more effectively, without… so, yeah, Chris: Yeah, wherever you want to start there, because I know I just threw a lot at you. Archer: When we talk about traditional ways of dealing with conflict that are negative, escalating the situation towards violence, or even in some cases, ignoring the conflict until it blows up and it seems like there’s irreparable harm, and oftentimes, calling the police. Those, in my mind, they reinforce systems of oppression because I think of oppression as the ability to use your power over somebody else, especially in a historical and a systemic context. When you’re calling people in to deal with a situation, specifically the police, whether or not they come into it with this intention of being racist or making a racist act, all of this history and all the systems, the way that they’re built, accidentally or purposefully, tend to lead towards these racist actions that end in statistically larger numbers of black people being shot and killed, and larger numbers of black men, specifically, being put in prison for crimes that are similar to what white people are committing. I would say that, if we’re going to dismantle our systems that we currently have, dismantle the police, dismantle the prison systems, it’s going to take so much interpersonal work on our part, we’re going to have to really dissect… I’m going to have to really dissect situations where I’m uncomfortable, versus situations where I am in danger, where I’m physically actually in danger, and be able to differentiate that. I’m going to have resources to reach out to when I’m in physical danger, that are going to help de-escalate that situation without… Let’s say I’m in a situation of domestic violence, and my husband is attacking me. Who am I calling to help de-escalate that, to get me out of that situation without them condemning that other person to this system that doesn’t exist anymore of imprisonment? What are we doing with people who have committed these crimes? How are we helping them to actually rehabilitate or repent, or whatever it is in this new system? It’s going to take so much more work and effort on the part of individual people. Chris: You talked about some of the workshops you’ve done, I know, in prison settings and other settings. I mean, what does that look like? Is that kind of personal transformation a one-day workshop? How does it happen? How does it unfold? What have you seen? Archer: It’s a lifetime process, though there are moments where people transform, or you can transform yourself or a situation that seemed very big, but it’s never a one hour or a one-day thing. This goes back to something I think about in schools, we learn math and English, and Science and social studies. There’s no class on learning to be defensive when someone’s yelling at you and how to respond appropriately. In these workshops, the thing that I’ve taken the most from them is these little tools, this tool belt that you have to build for yourself. How am I going to react and respond, when what I want to do is punch someone? What am I going to do to preemptively help myself not be in those situations, but not in a way that’s going to ignore conflict? When I’m in that situation, what am I going to use? Am I going to use my breathing, and am I going to walk away? Am I going to have some way of expressing my emotions that helps the other person empathize with me? Am I going to listen, and just let them rant at me and rant at me, and try and respond reflectively to that, and show them that I’ve heard them, so that they can see that I’m in this conversation? There’s this whole bag of things that you can use to try and respond to people when you’re in a situation where emotions are very heightened. Yeah. Chris: I mean, I hear you describing strategies and tools, but I think I’m also hearing you say that to even get to the point where you could start to pull those tools out of the bag, you have to do a lot of work on yourself first to understand what your responses are, what your biases might be. Is that where you start in those kinds of workshops? Archer: Yes. And what your triggers are based on your experience. We all have these experiences wrapped back into what I was talking about with trauma and your neuroscience. Your brain is wired to react to situations based on experiences that you’ve had previously. One, I can react and I can be triggered, and then there’s, I can recognize what just triggered me, and then I can watch for that. Becoming conscious of these subconscious processes in our brain is one of the steps to being able to react more positively in these situations. Chris: Yeah. I mean, I really appreciate the distinction you made of the difference between feeling physically unsafe, and just being uncomfortable. I mean, I feel like that applies broadly to all kinds of conflict, but I mean, so much of the conversation about racism, and especially how white people are thinking about their relationship to people who don’t look like them seems to be about discomfort that in the past, has been pushed back into that system. Now, it’s like, how can we actually confront that? How can we understand the discomfort that we might be feeling, where that’s coming from, what the origins are, and then what to do about it? I could imagine that, if you do that work, that has a real positive impact in just day-to-day interactions of all kinds, but especially in situations where you find yourself, yeah, around people who are not like you, and especially in racial differences. Do you have success stories…Have you seen transformations happen that give you hope about that kind of… I know you’re saying it’s a life-long process, but about that kind of transformation, that kind of work being effective? Archer: Great question. I mean, I’ve had transformations in myself, like what I was talking about earlier, with going from wanting to respond to my students saying, “I’m not racist,” to getting to a point where it doesn’t matter because that person felt like I was treating them a certain way. That’s what’s important in the situation. I’d say, I’m trying to think about… Chris: Or even just what AVP, The Alternative to Violence Project that you mentioned, the goals that they work on as a project. What are some of the highlights there, where those results are seen in our society or in communities? Archer: I mean, because the project is focused so much around interpersonal change. It is all these stories, and people have these stories, and we often share these stories of personal transformation or personal change. I mean, a lot of these stories do come from prison, so it can be as simple as a person in prison had a positive interaction with a prison guard for the first time ever- Chris: Wow. Archer: … because they listened to the prison guard share a story about why they had just reacted so negatively or so aggressively, and they had tried to speak to them calmly. Just little things like that. AVP is definitely about trying to find ways in your own life to change things, to bring about these resolutions by listening, and reflecting, and interacting in ways that are going to open people up to you. It’s very small. It’s not these big moments most of the time. It’s not these big shifts or changes. It’s very interpersonal changes, and so I can think of these times where I’ve been able to hear people better, and been able to explain myself better, and come to a better understanding of something because of that. Chris: That’s great. We just have another minute or two left, and I’m thinking about, if someone is watching this today and they feel… Someone might be sitting there saying, “I don’t feel like I’m a racist, but I want to be a part of the solution. I want to do some of this work. I want to think about what my biases are, and how that affects my interactions. I want to be better at conflict resolution. Is there a place that you would point them toward to start that work or to continue that work, whether that’s something they can do on their own, or through a program or workshop that you’ve been involved with? Archer: I think that’s a great question. I think in our community, I mean, we have so many wonderful groups that meet and work together, but I do think it’s often hard. You have to really work to get connected sometimes. Do a lot of research and look out there for a program or a group. Right now, there are so many really awesome webinars and things on… I would really suggest where I got started, just trying to find some webinars, finding other people on the internet talking about these kinds of things, and listening to those and feeling uncomfortable, and really exploring how you feel. Listen to something you really don’t agree with, that you really don’t agree with and then explore why you’re feeling uncomfortable and what it is you that don’t agree with, and then try to just keep pushing that. Chris: Awesome. Well, that’s a great suggestion and a great place to start. Archer Bunner, thank you so much again for taking the time to talk with me today. I really appreciate the conversation and we’ll keep it going from here. Chris: I’m here now talking with Bill Engle. Bill, I really appreciate you taking the time to join me on the show and talk a little bit about some topics that I think are really important to the community, so thank you. Bill Engle: Sure. Thank you, Chris. I appreciate you doing this. Chris: Bill, you’ve played a lot of different roles in this community, and I wonder if you can briefly tell us about your background here. Bill: Okay. I came here in 1987 to work at the Palladium-Item. I worked at the Palladium-Item for a little over 25 years as a number of different things, an editor, a sports editor, a features editor, reporter, and at the end of my career, I was doing special investigative projects, and covering city and county government. I raised two daughters here and was involved with them in the sports that they were in, and also other school events and things. Since I’ve retired in 2017, I’ve been involved with a number of organizations, including the Whitewater Valley Pro Bono Commission, the Society for Preservation and Use of Resources. Bill: I served four years on the Richmond Parks Department Board of Directors, and also on the Plan Commission. I’m still on the Richmond Advisory Plan Commission. This is, I think, my fourth year. Also involved in veterans, and Veterans Affairs. I’m on a committee for the VA called the Veterans Stakeholders Committee that serves as a go between, between veterans and the VA, and we handle issues that they have with not getting services and things like that. Richmond has become my home. There’s just no question. I’ve never lived anywhere as long as I’ve lived here, and I do like the community, and I’m happy to be a part of the community. That’s why I ran for City Council. I guess that’s the other thing I should mention. Chris: You buried the lead there, yeah. Bill: Yeah. Thank you. I did run for City Council last year and was elected as the representative from District Three. Chris: Maybe now it’s just a good time to mention, I always feel it’s important to say as a quick note of full disclosure for the audience, Bill, you and I are friends and I was also a contributor to your campaign for Common Council last year. Bill: Good to note that. Chris: You’re a member of Richmond Common Council, and I know that you’re not here to speak for all of Council and you can only speak for yourself. It’s also always good to note Council’s a legislative body. It has limits in the kinds of actions it can take and the oversight that it can exercise, but on these shows, I’ve been having some conversations with folks about this moment in history and the movement that’s happening around thinking about racism, and thinking about discrimination, thinking about the problem of incidents of police violence. There’s just big topics. I wanted to ask you a little bit. Presumably any conversations about police department budgets and that kind of thing would eventually flow through Council. I know that’s got to be on everyone’s minds, but we’re in a time, I think, where people are looking for leadership in lots of different places. I do wonder, what kind of role you think members of Council, and maybe city government just more broadly, can play in the community as we wrestle with racism, discrimination, diversity and equality on a local level. Yeah, what are your thoughts on that, on what role Council might play? Bill: Well, it’s a good question. I think it’s an important question right now. Unfortunately, I’m new to Council. I came on 30 days before the pandemic became a thing that’s really interrupted all of our lives, and my life on council. I want to preference anything I say by saying that I’m still learning about being a councilman and my role as a councilman, and working with department heads, and et cetera, et cetera. But I do think this is an important discussion that we have now. It is a discussion that we as council people I’m sure will have, as we meet more regularly that are not the Zoom meetings. It is also a discussion we need to have with the Mayor to support the mayor in his efforts at both training of police and fire department heads, the ambulance service, and also in recruitment, diversity in recruitment. Those are things that I think I, as a council member, can discuss and make sure that they are a part of our efforts going forward. I did get an email from someone a month ago about defunding the police. I have to say, I’m not really in favor of defunding the police, but I think we need to look at those budgets. If you know how budgets work, the city spends way more than half of its budget on police and fire. I think we spend $6 million plus a year on both, on each one, and then the next closest is parks at about $2 million. It is something we need to discuss, something that we need to look at. I know there have been complaints about the militarization of the police department. It is worthy of discussion. We have to consider safety for our citizens, but we also have to consider how the police and fire, and every other department head represents the city to our citizens. It is a discussion that we will have. I can tell you also in about a 32nd discussion at the last council meeting with one of the other council members, we talked about tax abatements and how we hand out tax abatements. One of the criteria is do they pay a living wage? I think that’s something that we need to look at. If we are going to give abatements to companies, maybe we could look at them paying $12 or $13, or $15 an hour to their employees, but those are some of the ways we can look at that. Chris: Yeah. Well, and I’m glad you mentioned that. I mean, it’s just so important to recognize how so many systems are connected together. The ability of any given person in our community to make a living wage ties directly to the opportunities they have for, say, home ownership or investing back into the community, spending money in the community that ties into the services that we have available. We could probably have a whole separate show, and I may in a future episode- Bill: Sure. Chris: … on the question of the role the police department has, and when there are calls for defunding or significantly changing how the police department operates, the immediate conversation that comes up after that is, well, what does that mean for the frontline mental health services that first responders are often involved in, and especially in a small smaller community like Richmond in Wayne County, and the Whitewater Valley? There’s so much to unpack there. Bill: Sure. Chris: I mean, I think people generally want to know that a body like Common Council and the city government is taking all of that into consideration, and that people who represent us are able to receive emails, like you mentioned, and hear what people are thinking about, what their requests are, and balanced those with the needs of the community. I know you’re new to Council. Does it feel like there’s some momentum there? Whether it’s talking about racism or some of those other challenges, is council a place where you think good change is possible in those ways? Bill: I think that it’s possible. I can’t say that we’ve had any in depth discussions. In fact, we were meeting… the democrats on council were meeting as a group with some of the leadership, including the mayor and other people, the head of Amigos and some other organization. Of course, we’ve stopped all that and I really missed that. I hope it’s something that we can resurrect, but I do think we are leaders of the community because we are elected officials who are looking at budgets every day and passing ordinances, so it is something that we can look at. Bill: I think there are opportunities there for discussion, certainly with the mayor, certainly with the police and fire chiefs, and other people of sanitation. I mean, they’re in the community. They’re also the face of the administration. There are things that we can do to continue this conversation, and I think we need to do that. I know we need to recognize the efforts of our citizens, and to keep this conversation going, but again, I can’t say specifically what we’re going to do at the meeting Monday night or anything. Chris: Yeah. I mean, you and I have talked about the challenges of, we use the phrase ‘keeping the conversation going’, and we’ve acknowledged together that spring 2020 is not the first time that our community has had opportunities to confront racism, to think about racial discrimination. There have been organizations, there have been community projects. There have even been reporting that you tackled is as a reporter to help us think about what’s happening in our community, where is race and racism playing a role, and sometimes those can create momentum, but it’s pretty rare to see something that’s actually sustained. I think that’s a real concern for me. I think it’s a real concern for a lot of people who want it to be more than a conversation, who want it to turn into action. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about some of the projects you were involved with maybe as a reporter, where you maybe put something out into the world and what you noticed about how people responded to that? Bill: Sure. I think it was 2004, I did a series on race and race relations in the community. I think it was a four-week thing, every Sunday for four weeks. It escapes me now, but we looked at race relations, race and education, race in the economy, and I think race in government. I don’t remember the fourth one, but one of the things that struck me when I was reporting on education was, I did a study of African American students, and I think they were male students who entered Richmond High School. Then four years later, I looked at how many of them graduated. I think the number was 27%, which-I was astounded, and I really thought when I reported on that, that that would really hit a chord in the community and spark some conversation. There was some. There were support. There were a couple of business leaders that made note of that and said they were interested in maybe even contributing some type of effort, but I didn’t get the response that I expected, especially from school officials, including the school board. I didn’t actually hear any response at all. Even if people were going to refute it or criticize it, that would have been okay, but just the fact that there wasn’t a lot of discussion was… I was surprised. I was very surprised at that. There was a discussion, we ended the series with an organizational meeting at the Townsend Center at the time, and we had black leaders and also members of the school board, city council were there, and I think the Mayor was there, I don’t remember. But it led to a reunion at Townsend Center, which also led to a series that I did called 50 Weeks of Success where I looked at our citizens and the roles that they… where they came from, how they overcame obstacles to become successful. That was very gratifying, and I think it was well received. Not initially, because I think people thought that I was going to do 50 weeks of African American people in the community, but that was never the intent, and I explained that to a number of people, but I think it was very successful in celebrating some of the successes. There was one woman that got her GED after six years of trying, and I went to her graduation. When they gave her, her diploma, they had put it in a case, and she just hugged it and started crying. That was terrific. I mean, that was just a wonderful thing. For me, it was enlightening, and I think there were some positive things, but I didn’t get the response that I was hoping for. Chris: One thing that really strikes me as you’re talking, in some of the other conversations I’ve had for the show, it’s become clear, if it wasn’t already, that part of working on racism is embracing discomfort in a way, and it’s embracing maybe discomfort because of truths that we learn about ourselves, about our own backgrounds or biases, or the way that we’ve come to see the world, and figuring out how to challenge that. I think that also needs to play out in the community, organizations, leadership, people in positions of power, especially white people, to be willing to say, “I’m going to challenge myself to think about how I look at the world, how I look at people of color, minorities, black people, and what my relationships there are.” I contrast that with your time as a reporter. If it’s fair to say, you were going after the truth of the matter. You’re going after the facts of the matter, trying to report, and often that meant going toward the uncomfortable, I can imagine, even in the study that you mentioned, that you did of high school graduation rates. When you take something that’s uncomfortable like that, and you put it out for public consideration, as a community, I think we really struggle with that. There’s often a strong impulse to say, “Yeah, maybe that’s a problem, but here’s all the good things.” Those good things may be real, and they may be true and worth celebrating, but that doesn’t do anything to help the challenges or the discomfort that we put out there. Did you find ways… I mean, as someone who’s lived here for a long time, and you are proud of the community, you seem to celebrate what Richmond is, but then you were also involved in poking and prodding at some of our challenges. How did you balance that as a reporter and as a community member? How do you do that now as someone working for the benefit of the community, but also trying to call out some of the things we need to work on? Bill: It’s a great question. I did get some blow back on some of the series. I did a series on homelessness, and I actually spent 24 hours homeless in the city. I know that that’s not a good probably representation, but I always looked at my work as being maybe I’m going too far, but I always believed it was a service to the community. When I did get criticism, and I did get criticism, I get people that called me and stopped me, and asked me why I was doing what I was doing. I would always say, “I’m just trying to reflect your community back to you. Whether you agree or disagree, I’m still looking at who lives here, how they live, what are the issues that we face?” It’s not a question of we always find nice pleasant stories about people doing wonderful things, but we also know that there are other issues where people are living in difficult situations, they don’t have the opportunities and maybe never have had the opportunities that some of our other citizens have had. I always felt that it was important to find out, to interview people. I mean, I’m a white guy and I don’t have a lot of black friends or Latino friends in this community. As I see it now, it is an opportunity to educate myself and to communicate with people to figure out what the issues are here. I see that as my role going forward as a councilman, and as representing my community, but again, I looked at it as, it was the truth as I could find it and reported fairly and honestly, and I always thought those were important things to consider in your community. The only way that we are going to be a better community is by facing those things and facing those realizations, that we do have work to do and we need to continually work on making ourselves a better community. Chris: Yeah, and I think there’s this concept of everyone coming together and helping Richmond and Wayne County, and the area celebrate our strengths, and show ourselves as a strong community. I think about that as an important effort, but I also recognize and I think that’s part of what you’re saying, is that if we don’t also stop to look at the challenges along the way, and we just try to sweep those under the rug, they’re going to come back and bite us. For one, because we’re not actually being honest with ourselves about how we’re doing as a community, and then also just purely as a matter of being good people to each other. If we are leaving behind significant parts of our community in terms of residents or the kinds of experiences people have here, if we’re not acknowledging their stories or not thinking through what their experience of the community is, then we can’t ever really get to a place where we have a unified community. It’s just some part of the community might be coming together. I think about that when it comes to the work of council, and also as your work as a reporter, just thinking about that long term arc of figuring out what’s going to work for everyone in the long run. You and I both attended a recent march that went through Richmond, and it was a moment where I felt proud of the community because a large chunk of people from lots of different backgrounds were coming together to acknowledge a hard thing, to celebrate some good things, and to try to move something forward. I wonder if you could say a little bit about what that was like for you to show up for that march, be a part of it knowing you were there in multiple roles, multiple hats on. What was that like? Bill: Sure. It was a really good experience, I have to say, and I agree with you, I was proud of our community and proud of the response that I saw. I was especially excited that there were a lot of young people there, because if you know city and county government, I think you’ve written about this before, it’s a lot of older people, that we hope we are in touch with the younger generations. I don’t know that we ever are. I’m not a young guy, and I think I was excited by the activism that I saw. I was a little disappointed that I didn’t know a lot of the people, especially the black people. As a reporter, you get to know a lot of people because you go to a lot of events. You cover a lot of government events and other events throughout the community, and you get to know a lot of people, and some of their kids and things like that, grandkids, but I saw a lot of people I didn’t know, which, it was okay. I mean, it’s still exciting, but it was a little troubling. I hope there’s a way to meet some of these people and to listen to them. I think that’s the one thing that I took from the demonstration was, you have to listen to people and you have to understand their perspective, and that’s going to be important. I was a little disappointed that there weren’t more people from Council and other representative boards there, but again, that’s up to them. I felt good about my role in that. I was pleased that I did it. I was inspired. As you know, the woman that organized the thing was, I think, a high school student, and that’s exciting to me. We need young people to be involved, just like we need old people and middle aged people, and black and white, and Latino and Asian and et cetera, et cetera. I hope we can keep that going and move that forward. Chris: Yeah, and I think about maybe five years ago, a demonstration going through the streets of Richmond, I think, would have been seen in a much more negative light, just culturally, because of the way that our city works. I think marches, demonstrations, protests have traditionally not been seen as an okay way to express oneself. I remember when the Occupy Wall Street movement was happening, there were a couple of folks who took it upon themselves to stand downtown with some signs related to the concerns of wealth inequality in our country. They were yelled at and not treated very well. I understand that for a lot of people, acts of disruption can be seen as threatening or can be seen as uncomfortable- Bill: Sure. Chris: … but what I saw in participating in it was that, if we have taken a lot of what might have happened in the public square, if we’ve taken that online and people are in their factions on social media, and holed up with other people who think the same way, then we don’t have as many opportunities to express ourselves. That march and marches like it are a place where people can have a voice, they can say, “Hey, this is a point of view you might not be aware of or exposed to,” and I think it’s really important. I mean, I’m really glad that you participated in that. I’m really glad that other folks who, yeah, may not have even agreed with everything that was on every sign, or everything that was said there. Do you have a sense of… like, when Richmond has made progress on hard issues, racism or other issues in the past, what have been the kinds of things that have led to that progress? Is it conversation? Is it committees? Is it government leadership? Is it something else entirely? Do you have a sense of that? I know that’s a big question. Bill: Yeah, it’s a big question, and I bring the sense of my years as a reporter more so than my years as a councilman, because I haven’t been a councilman very long, but I think confrontation is part of it, and that you hope leads to conversation. I can remember when the city council, and I can’t remember the year but was considering its affirmative action and updating its affirmative action ordinance. There was a request that we include gay, lesbian people in the protection. Chris: Right, making sexual orientation a protected class. Bill: Yes. There was a major response from conservative folks, including ministers about that, that it was a horrible thing, and actually it wasn’t included, but we needed to have that. We needed to have that confrontation and that led to discussion. These things have to progress. I always think that’s how they progress, is we have to make them progress. As you know, there’s no progress just on its own in general. You need to have those issues raised and discussed, and then you hope that facts will take over, that there will be progress, because I always think there’s a lot of citizens that are in the middle and they’re okay with it. They’re not opposed. They don’t hate Black Lives Matter, science and that kind of thing, but they need to be aware of these situations, whether it’s across the country, in our state or in our community. That’s how I think you have these things, is to have a thorough discussions about them and confronting the issues. Chris: I’ve always appreciated, I mean, you’ve talked about times where you’ve confronted someone in your role as a reporter and say, “Hey, I’m writing a story. I need to ask you some questions that might be a little uncomfortable,” but then you can have that conversation, you can have that confrontation, and then you can go back to being members of a community that are all trying to do the right thing, or move things forward. It doesn’t mean burning bridges and tearing everything down. I think that’s helpful for people to see models of, yeah, we can have hard conversations, and then we can move forward. In just the little bit of time we have left, what do you hope is next for this conversation about racism and discrimination in our community? What do you think our best next steps might be? Or what do you hope to be a part of in that? Bill: I hope to be a part of the group. I know there is a group that’s organizing to continue the conversation. I think Reverend Ron Chappell is part of that organization. I hope to be part of that and to contribute in any way I can, but again, on Council, I hope we can have a conversation, and I hope we can have a conversation with the Mayor about his practices for recruitment, and his diversity practices. Also, then I again, I need to educate myself. I’m not connected to the black community, I’m not connected to the Latino or Asian community, and I need to have some type of connection. I need to take the time, whether it’s to go to a community festival, to go to a march, to go to these meetings. Excuse me. The last thing you want to do is have a bunch of meetings and then you’re done, because we’re not done it. I guess what I’d like to see is this thing continue. I think it’s important. I think we need to include as many people as possible from throughout the community. I think that’s how you see things change. Again, I thought of the demonstration as a way to confront this, and we need to confront it and then talk about it. You mentioned my years as a reporter. I had screaming matches with the Mayor and with members of council, and county. Ken Paust and I yelled at each other a couple of times, but I have the utmost respect for him. I think he respects me. We’ve always been able to work through these things. That’s how you work through these things. You do them. Chris: Well, Bill Engle, thank you so much for joining me. Thanks for your time and your insights, and the work you’re doing, and best wishes. Bill: Thank you, Chris. Appreciate it. You take care. Chris: You too. The post IN Focus with Archer Bunner and Bill Engle appeared first on Richmond Matters.
59 minutes | 5 months ago
IN Focus with Betsy Schlabach
In the month of July I’m guest-hosting a few episodes of IN Focus, the public affairs program on Whitewater Community Television‘s WGTV Channel 11. In talking with my guests I’m hoping to keep the conversation going around our region’s biggest challenges and opportunities when it comes to addressing racism, and making sure that white people are listening, learning and taking meaningful anti-racist action. On today’s episode I talked with Betsy Schlabach, who has not only studied and taught about the history of race relations and racism in our country, but has also facilitated a workshop locally about anti-racist parenting techniques. We tackle the vocabulary of conversations about racism, what systemic racism looks like, how to build on what kids already notice in the world to help them think about race, and where racism and quality of healthcare availability intersect. I hope you find the conversation helpful; I know that I did. You can watch the video below, on WCTV’s YouTube channel or as the episode is replayed on WGTV Channel 11. The audio of the show is also available via the Richmond Matters podcast feed, which you can find in your favorite podcast listening app. Transcript The below transcript was generated with the use of automation and may contain errors or omissions. Chris Hardie: Hi and welcome to this week’s IN Focus on Whitewater Community Television, WGTV channel 11. I’m Chris Hardie and I’m sitting in for Eric Marsh as your host for a few episodes in the month ahead. As Eric and I talked about possible themes for these next few episodes, we felt that it is very important to continue the conversations in our community around the essential question of what it looks like for Black people in our city and our state and our nation to feel and to know true equality. We also know that we cannot fully explore that question without white people in our community joining in and attempting to understand our role in systems of racism, what privileges and biases contribute to that and what actions we can take to be a part of the solution. I think that as white people, we need to show that we are listening, that we are understanding and that we are willing to do some hard work on issues of racism in the name of justice for everybody. My first guest is someone who I think can help us have at least a part of that conversation. Betsy Schlabach is an associate professor of history and African and African American studies at Earlham College here in Richmond. And she is someone who’s done a lot of research and learning and teaching around these topics. Betsy, thanks so much for joining me. I really appreciate you being here. Betsy Schlabach: Oh, you’re welcome. Thanks for having me. Chris: I wonder if you could briefly just tell us a little bit about your background and your areas of study and teaching. Betsy: Sure. So my research focuses on African American history, urban history and race relations. Most recently, I’ve been working on the intersections of racism and public health specifically how that relates to the pandemic of 1918, which has a lot of relevance for our current epidemic. And so I teach African American history. I teach urban history and I’ve published a book on Black Chicago, and I hope to soon publish another looking at women’s roles in Chicago’s economy in the mid 20th century. So yeah, that’s a little bit of what I do in the classroom and outside of it. Chris: Great. Vocabulary can be so important in these discussions we’re having. So before we dive into some questions, I want to make sure we take a minute to get on the same page about a couple of key terms. And I know that it can be really tempting to oversimplify racism as kind of overt, clear, bad acts that someone commits with the intention to hurt someone else because of their race. But I think that we’re learning to kind of go beyond that definition of racism and think about systems of racism and systemic racism. So I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about what systemic racism is and how it works. Betsy: So I think systemic racism refers to the ways in which like you said, that racism, yes can be these overt acts of violence committed against people of color. But racism is also about the systems and the pervasive nature of racism. So it’s not just one incident of racial bias or racist actions, but it’s how those intertwine and filter through the systems that we live in. So how racism might inform access to health care or voting rights, college admissions policies. So it’s about the ways in which racism informs the structures and the systems that govern our lives that give white people more privilege than Black people. Chris: And is there a way to quantify something like that? Like can you say a given country or region is experiencing or has a certain level of systemic racism or another, or is that part of why it’s hard to get at because it’s hard to measure? Betsy: I think it is. It’s part of the reasons why it’s really hard to measure it. I also think that it’s, we should hold … we should be skeptical of trying to quantify it because once we quantify it, we think we can measure it. And that’s when again, like even the systems that might measure it are informed by racism. And so it’s really messy and tricky. And in terms of which nations are more or less racist, I know the UN has done some summits on racism, global racism and the United States hasn’t had a good track record of participating in such things which should tell us something. But I think that quantifying it is difficult because those systems of quantification would also be informed by racism. So it’s all, it’s very messy and I think to help me understand it, I’ve always, I’ve most recently I’ve been reading Ibram X. Kendi’s book, How to Be an Antiracist. And in his book, just to go back to your question about definitions, he sets up in the introduction. He starts his book by offering definitions of racism and anti-racism and he doesn’t want us to rely on a binary of racist or not racist, because what he says, racism is supporting a person who is supporting or ignoring policies or racist policies through their actions or inactions. Okay. So he says … I’ll say that again. So racist is one who supports a racist policy through their action or inaction. And he says anti-racist is one who supports an anti-racist policy through their actions or expresses an anti-racist idea. And so that’s the binary that he wants us to adopt and abandon this idea that something’s not racist, because we live in a racist system. So everything is informed by that condition of being within a racist system. And then going back to systemic racism, what I think these definitions offer us as an opportunity to attack racist policies. So look at those policies, look at those systems or the policies that inform systemic racism and attack the policy, not the people because policies are easier to change anyway, in my opinion. It’s very hard to change someone’s mind. Chris: Yeah. Do you have an example of a policy that might be informing or reinforcing a racist system, just so we can kind of wrap our heads around what that looks like in practice? Betsy: Sure. So red lining, for example. Looking at mortgages and lending practices. So my work focuses on Chicago and there are some really, really interesting and thorough studies of housing and mortgage lending in the history of Chicago. And so specifically I’m talking about something called restrictive racial housing covenants, and these were agreements between realtors and homeowners that home owners wouldn’t sell their properties to people of color. And that effectively kept neighborhoods white. Or their agreements between or among real estate agents that they wouldn’t rent homes or show homes to people of color in certain neighborhoods. And so that’s a racist policy that really, even to this current day informs our way, the way in which we think people move throughout the city of Chicago. Like so African Americans only settle on the South side and white people inhabited the suburbs, like that just occurred naturally. Well, that’s not the case. There’s a racist policy in play that created that dynamic that informed segregation that we’re still living with today. So that would be a policy and people did this, they mobilized a policy that people attacked to hopefully rid the city of racism. And again, but we’re not there yet, right? Like that’s why Kendi also says in his book that being anti-racist attacking racist policies is an everyday pursuit that you have to wake up and commit yourself to it every day. It’s a lifelong journey and you’ll lose focus and you’ll experience fatigue. But that it’s a commitment that you really have to make. Chris: And we’ll talk more in a little bit about sort of what that action might look like. I want to also get to this other term white privilege, which I know is a phrase that’s used in so many different ways. And just off the cuff, it could feel like a phrase that’s maybe off putting to a white person who hasn’t explored it before. So let’s talk about like what is white privilege and what does that mean in the context of thinking about racism? Betsy: Sure. So when I talk about this with my students, particularly in my white students, I try to use myself as an example. So I was raised in a very white, rural town in Northern Michigan. I was not exposed to a lot of racial diversity. And then I went to college and my first semester I learned about white privilege and I had no idea what we were talking about. I’ll be honest, I was overwhelmed, but reflective and I had an excellent professor who helped walk me through what that meant. And over the years, there’s a lot of great reading we can do about this. There’s a reading by McKintosh called The Invisible Knapsack. And in that reading, she talks about how whiteness is like this backpack that white people wear and they can take various forms of privilege out of the backpack whenever they need it. Let’s say applying for a job or opening up a bank account. Those things are easier because of one’s whiteness. But I think it’s people trip up over it because for many white people, it’s like you’re being told that you don’t have any struggles, that your life isn’t hard. And that’s not what the concept is talking about. It’s merely saying that your life isn’t hard because you’re white. So I’ll say that again, that whiteness isn’t a barrier for you. It’s an avenue to access resources that people of color don’t have. And it’s really tricky to talk about it because white people don’t talk about being white very much. Like we just don’t know how to do it. We might defer to class or sex or where you’re brought up. Like that’s the first thing I mentioned. Oh, I was brought up in Northern Michigan. And so I think it’s very hard for us to talk about whiteness, especially something that’s not been a stumbling block for us. Whereas and also, I don’t think we’re trained at a very young age to talk about race at all. And that’s in itself a form of white privilege that we don’t have to focus on it. We don’t have to reflect on it. It’s not something that we have to think about every day as we mature, as we progress through our life. And that’s a privilege that it’s not something we have to talk about or talk about with our kids. Whereas African American families, they’re talking about race day one. Their Black mothers are teaching their children and the Black fathers how to interact with teachers, how to interact with law enforcement because their lives are literally at stake. Right. My kids don’t have to do that. And so I think that’s, and that’s a privilege. So it’s this idea that yes, you have barriers in your life, whether it be class, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, but whiteness is not one of those barriers for you. And that’s a privilege. Chris: Yeah. And just to put a fine point on what you’re saying, I mean, someone could be in a pretty difficult situation financially. They could be struggling to make ends meet, unemployed, whatever that looks like. And if they are white, they’re going to still experience the world in a different way than someone who is going through those same struggles, but is black or a person of color, because that privilege is, like you said, that backpack is still worn. Even if someone is yeah, not fitting into some stereotype of a wealthy white person. But if they’re struggling, they’re still going to be able to experience white privilege, even if they don’t know it. Yeah. Betsy: And like I said, I don’t think we’re equipped to deal with it because well, we don’t really have to. And so it’s these moments of reckoning, of racist reckoning that we have where white people are forced to confront our … we’re forced to confront our whiteness and we don’t know how to do it. And so we get very defensive. And I think it’s also, it’s tough like if you have barriers in healthcare, if you’re bouncing checks and whatnot, it’s hard to think, but wait, you’re going to tell me that I have racial privilege? Like my life is hard. And so it’s tough to have those conversations. Chris: Yeah. Yeah. Are there other terms we should kind of define before we move forward? Anything else that stands out to you as really kind of key for understanding this conversation? Betsy: Well I think and this is a pretty theory laden word. There’s this idea of intersectionality. And I think that also can help us understand race and identity. There’s this wonderful scholar, her name is Kimberly Crenshaw, and she coined this term or developed this theory in the late 20th century. And it refers to the ways in which various forms of oppression intersect to make life difficult for people of color, women of color, trans people of color. And so in terms of privilege and the ways in which various forms of oppression intersect, it gets a whole lot more complex. And so this is sort of like scratching the surface of that. And I think it’s exciting to think about the theoretical levels. But that can be … I mean, that’s not everybody’s cup of tea to talk about that. Chris: It sounds like it’s important to get at, at some point along the way. So you’re watching Whitewater Community Television, WGTV channel 11. I’m Chris Hardie and I’m talking today with Betsy Schlabach. Betsy, you’ve conducted workshops I think locally and in addition to your classroom work about what it means to understand and address racism. And I know you’ve done at least one in particular about what it looks like to parent a child in a way that that works against racism. So I’m wondering if you could talk us through some of the points that you cover in that conversation. Betsy: So yeah, I’ve given this talk a couple of times and it stems from my own interest as a parent of two small children and trying to figure out how they will navigate the world of race and racism. And in particular, I got really interested in it after a few embarrassing conversations with colleagues where my kids were being their observant selves. They’re about two years old. And then I thought, well, I need to look into this further. And so what I do in these workshops is I basically, I talk about the stages of racial socialization. And so experts say that infants, as young as three months old can track the differences between races and experts know this because they watched the eye movements of infants as they sort of meander, switch between colors. And then between the ages of two and three, children start to notice racial difference and they start to conceptually put together racial differences. They start asking questions and wondering if racial differences stick. And then by ages five to seven, experts say that this age range is where children evidence their greatest racial prejudice and they start identifying systems of racial prejudice. So noticing why all of the students in their school might be of a particular race, how congregants at their local church might be of a particular race or not. And they start verbalizing those differences and that’s where those embarrassing questions for parents might emerge. And then between ages seven to 12, with greater access to the internet peers and social media, children start to show that they’re able to place themselves within those systems of racial prejudice. And they start to be able to measure how they might be arbiters or might be consuming racist ideas. And that’s a really important moment because you have kids ages seven to 12 starting to identify systems of racial prejudice or those racist policies that Kendi talks about in his book. But what’s so distressing is that in 2017, 70% of white mothers espoused a color blind parenting process where they were- Chris: What does that mean? Betsy: That means like they would downplay the notion of race or … And I’ve seen this recently on social media, especially in regard to the protests that we see. People say, well, I was taught never to see color or I was taught that everybody’s the same. Well, and experts tell us, actually you are designed to see color. Those infants at three months old are tracking between racial groups. And so what this can do is especially for white kids, it can result in really, well, misalignment, right? So that they’re noticing racial difference in the world, but when they bring it up at home in their safest space, their parents are shutting down that conversation. And I don’t think the parents that are … like I don’t think we’re being malicious at this point, but we’re just doing what our parents did. Like, oh, you’re not different from them. Everybody’s the same, treat everybody equally. We treat everybody equally. But kids are really good at, at least my kids are very good at pointing out what’s fair and unfair. I have twins. And so it’s really easy for them to be like, “No, that’s not fair.” And they’ve been doing that since they were three. And so it can be really confusing for a child to witness the systems of racism to be able to sort of parse out their participation in the systems of racism, but then have their most trusted adults say, “Let’s not talk about that or we don’t see color.” And so what I encourage people in that workshop to do is I have a number of strategies and one of them is make race an every day descriptor of your world. And I talk about the book by Eric Carle, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? And in the book, he walks the reader through all of these different animals and their different colors, like the purple cat or the white dog, the red bird. But then in the end, the story culminates with a teacher looking at the children. They don’t tell us what color the teacher is. They just say teacher. And when you actually look at it and you figure it out, you’re like, “Well, that doesn’t even rhyme.” Like it’s just, it’s really bizarre. So I’ve been encouraged to insert the word a white teacher is looking at us, because your child is learning, okay birds are red. The dog is this color, the bear’s brown. And I see a white teacher. So it helps them become comfortable having race be part of or just like a descriptor of their everyday worlds. Other strategies include go to culturally diverse events and talk about race when you do or with your children talk about racist messages that make you uncomfortable. So another example, I was preparing to my kids to Disney world, and I thought I want them to watch the Disney movies and we watched Peter Pan. Well, that was, there’s a whole host of racist messages in Peter Pan, if you haven’t seen in a while especially when it comes to Native Americans. And so I stopped the film and I walked them through some of the messages that I have a problem with and why. And they kind of just stared at me which they do when I lecture to them. But then later on like little conversations emerge about how all that wasn’t fair or … Then we got to talk about Thanksgiving and some Pilgrim thing at their school and other messages like that. And I’m just trying to get them to think about the materials they’re being exposed to and what I think about it and why I’m uncomfortable or why I’m comfortable. And honestly, the third thing I tell people is that this takes a lot of practice and you’re going to be uncomfortable, and you’re going to think that you’re making mistakes. But I really think it’s better to talk about these things with your kids than leave them unprepared for conversations about race. Chris: Yeah. I know, like for me personally, I mean, I went through a lot of the first part of my life when the subject of racism came up, it was definitely like yeah, racism is a problem and like what are black people going to do about it? It was kind of like, well, poor black people, they have to fight racism. Isn’t that too bad? And that obviously coming from a place of white privilege and a place of not having seen race and the resulting racism come from something that I was participating in. So it sounds like the strategies you’re describing, I mean, if they are woven into everyday life, everyday parenting, the awareness that that can come out of that is beneficial because then white people maybe stop seeing ourselves as separate from the problem of racism, but woven into that system. And we can start to understand where we might have a role in undoing it or fighting it. Are there studies or results that kind of show that it does have a positive effect over the course of a child’s life and sort of as they start to think about the systems they’re part of? Betsy: I can’t name any off the top of my head actually. But that is my sincere hope is that we can create a sort of informed generation and feel a little bit more responsible for the current racist climate. And then we can engage in anti-racist work in authentic ways because there are some times when I see my children talking about race, talking about anti-racism where they’re steps ahead of me because they are getting a different racial socialization than I did. And that gives me a lot of hope. I think it’s exciting. And there’s so many resources out there, reading lists and our own local library does I think a great job with the range of diverse sources they have, the readings that they promote, even the … when you walk in and you look at the books on the shelves, there’s a lot of great material in there. And so I think we have the tools. It’s just that part you talked about, like we have a role and it’s part of our responsibility because racism is never going to go away if we don’t do our part to end it. Chris: You mentioned that the library, I wonder, are there other local resources, tips, organizations that you know of for parents, especially parents of, white parents who are doing parenting, trying to figure out racism and if they’re watching what’s going on in the world right now and saying like where do I start? How do I get going? Like where would you point them especially here in Wayne County? Betsy: Sure. So my kid’s a little bit too young, but Girls Inc, they’re doing a fantastic girls empowerment series over the summer, a summer camp and I’ll shout their accolades from the rooftop. I think that’s a great place to start. I’m a little less familiar with the Townsend Center. I’ve met their director a couple of times. But I guess the first thing that comes to mind would be Girls Inc. I know they’re doing great stuff. I know Richmond Friends School, they have their curriculum is … I’ll put a plug in for them too. They did summer camps last summer, but now due to COVID, I don’t think they’re doing any. But yeah, those two resources would be the ones that come to mind. Chris: Great. And we’re talking about racism, anti-racism, white privilege, what people in the Whitewater Valley and in our community can do to make sure we are understanding, listening and acting on this incredibly difficult and challenging part of our world. And we acknowledged at the beginning, there’s so many different layers to these discussions, there’s vocabulary that becomes difficult, and it’s important to clarify. There’s understanding when awareness of race and racism starts. And we talked a little bit about parenting. I’m also struck that some people have talked about we have this pandemic going on. And then on top of that, we had this whole other series of events renewing attention to racism. And sometimes the conversation is we had pandemic over here, racism over here they are these separate things. But Betsy, I know you’ve studied how race affects the quality and the kinds of health care that’s provided to people in this country. And I wonder how you’ve seen that dynamic play out in the current public health crisis either locally or just beyond that. Betsy: Sure. So I guess I can speak to nationally, not so much locally, other people who could comment on that. But so I’m an expert in the 1918 pandemic, Spanish flu, and the way that Americans suffer from that epidemic. And that story resonates so well with our current moment, so COVID-19 and the protests for the murder of George Floyd. What people may not know is that, so after the first wave of the epidemic in 1918, there was a massacre of African Americans in urban centers all over the United States. So there was one in Chicago in late July. There were other massacres in East St. Louis. And so I think like the racial unrest and pandemics, like there’s a link to be made there. And basically what I’ve seen from Black scholars is the argument that the uptick in deaths of African Americans from COVID-19 is a result of structural racism. Police brutality and the deaths of Brianna Taylor, George Floyd, that too is the result of a structural racism. And so what I’ve read is that from the Black community perspective, these two things aren’t very different. That structural racism, structural violence informs both of these events. And so and I think it’s really important that we try to think about them together. So for example, in March, I’m going to cite a statistic here. So from the Midwest to the mid Atlantic to the Mississippi Delta, Coronavirus has hit African Americans especially hard. And so one third of the Americans hospitalized in March were black, that’s despite being only 13% of the US population. And what we know is that for some of those people who were hospitalized for COVID, some African Americans they’re in service industries. And we know also know that health insurance is usually tied to our employers and not all employers offer health insurance. So it’s really difficult to find care if you’re in that spot. And so what people are being forced to do also in these cases is do they take time off to recover from illness or do they keep working? Do they run the risk of getting fired and do they take care of their health? And if you work in service industries, this is a really, this is a life and death decision. Right. And so all of that is historically I mean determined, I think is the word I would use. And so it’s structural racism that has put many African Americans in the spot where they are at risk for COVID in ways that white people haven’t been put at risk. And it’s because of mass incarceration, the trend toward mass incarceration and police brutality that African Americans are put at risk for being violently assaulted by police officers. So I guess what I’m trying to say is that these things are informed by structural violence that puts people of color at risk. And so they’re not that different. Chris: Yeah. Well, and it’s a really striking example where if you zoom in to any particular encounter in all of those systems, healthcare, employment, health insurance, I mean, you could probably, if you asked a local doctor or a public health official, like is there racism in the options available to address COVID-19 or until I get tested or something like that? In general you could probably find like, oh, there’s no one saying like Black people are going to be treated differently than white people. But it’s when you zoom out and look at all of the interplay and all of those systems where you see those trends that you talked about. And certainly you see them if you’re a person of color trying to figure out healthcare, health insurance, if you’re a frontline service worker who doesn’t have those options. And just going back to our earlier conversation, if you’re a white person who’s always had access to those things or where the access has not been limited by race, you may not see them. So if we’re acknowledging that there is systemic racism there, and we’re talking about structural violence, as a white person, what can I do about that? Because it can feel very overwhelming to say we’re talking about all these systems that are just massive. You have massive governments and bureaucracy and corporations behind them. What should be our reaction to that when we hear the idea that there are all those systems that are working against Black people? What do I do about that? And I know it’s a huge question and maybe an unfair question, but I assume a student has asked you that in class, in some form, and like how do you answer that? Betsy: Well, I guess yeah, I have been asked that and I try to get to the motivation of the question. And I think you said it’s like, it’s people feeling helpless like they can’t change the system. Well, the system wasn’t built overnight. The system is the result of various pieces of legislation, different kinds of systems of representation. And so I would point us to the upcoming elections in November and really reflect on what is your vote going to do to attack racist policies. Do your research, do your homework, look at the candidates, who are the anti-racist candidates and support them. Then also I think it can be really … and I do this too, I get wrapped up in the macro level stuff. Right. But I think about like just trying to go get a test for COVID and I was texting with a friend and I said, “Well, how did you get your test?” And one friend said, “Well, I think you need an Indiana ID.” And my husband just so happened at that moment was renewing his driver’s license and he needed two pieces of mail with his name on the address. Well, what if you don’t have … what if you’re homeless? How are you supposed to get those two pieces of mail to get that ID, to go get tested for COVID or to vote. So if you could break it down into the micro policies and then try to help people navigate that, I think you’re doing your job, you’re doing anti-racist work. Or just being able to identify strategies to ease the path for others that you don’t have to walk because of your race. I think that’s what we can do. Chris: I wonder in your studies, if you’ve been able to put a finger on the role of protests and marches and kind of speaking out in sort of outside the context of some of those formal structures like elections. I know that, I mean, you studied a lot of Black history and you’ve looked at stories of how and where Black people have found ways to be heard and understood in that struggle for equality. But as we’ve talked about, it’s not and shouldn’t be Black people’s burden to bear on their own. So what does it look like when we see protests marches, other events like that coming up, what does it look like for a white person to participate in those, support those or not? Like where is their value, where’s their leverage that we can apply to work toward justice in that way? Betsy: Well, I think part of what white people can do in that moment, because that’s about visibility, I think, getting cameras and that’s a tactic used by the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Right. So create sympathy with media exposure. But I think it’s important to take our cues from that moment. And this is not a moment for white people to lead the way, this is a moment for us to support and follow the lead of people of color, follow what our African American brothers and sisters are doing, not to take the microphone from them, to be sensitive accomplices. And I mean, some people use like the word allyship, but I’ve learned that accomplices is a little bit better. Because when we think about ourselves in that way, we have to be willing to take risks and show a genuine commitment to dismantling structures of white supremacy. And to do so is to take a risk because it might be viewed as betrayal to other white people. Betsy: But terms of marches and visibility, I think what history tells us is that it’s our duty to support and not take the mic. This in a way it’s that’s our role in this present moment is to engage in critical self-reflection on the harm we’ve done. And then once we’ve done that and we’ve done our homework, show up and support. I think that’s what … I recently saw an image from one of the protests I think was in Louisville, a woman, a white woman holding a sign that said, sorry, I’m late. I had a lot to learn. And I thought, wow, that sign kind of hit me. There was like this sort of you’re there, you’re doing what you should be doing, but come informed and ready to serve, not lead. Chris: Yeah. It seems worth talking a little bit more about that self-reflection piece. For a lot of people, if they just pose the question to themselves again, this oversimplified version of racism, am I a racist? They’re probably going to say no or they’re going to say no. I mean, I don’t know. I haven’t done anything racist lately. So what are some other ways that people could engage in self-reflection that really gets to the heart of participation or contribution to systems of oppression or systemic racism? Because I know, I mean, it’s with respect to the profession of academics, like it can feel like a huge time investment for people to take classes, spend lots of time thinking about these topics, even participating. Chris: A while back in Richmond, there were study circles around racism and it was great. And they’re also, they’re a time commitment and some people maybe don’t even have that luxury on the surface anyway of how they spend their time. So what I don’t know, is it an unfair question to say, like how does someone start that process of self-reflection if they’re not feeling like there’s a tool or a resource out there for them to just sign up for? Betsy: Well, I guess I would disagree. There are tools and there are resources. Just lately there’s a Google doc being sent around about anti-racist tools for white people. And I guess even prior to doing the self reflection, I think they’re important questions we can ask ourselves. And again, I don’t think the … it may not be the right question to ask, am I a racist, but perhaps ask, am I an anti-racist? Am I supporting anti-racist policies? Am I expressing anti-racist thoughts? And that’s Kendi’s book telling us to do that sort of mental exercise because I think that that can get for white people, it can get you past the hurdle of getting hung up on, oh, I’m racist, I’m a terrible person or people who don’t even want to engage in that line of thought and I think asking that question can do different types of work. Betsy: I do think it’s important though to reflect on the harm that you’ve done to people of color unconsciously or overtly or otherwise. But again, I read this op-ed in the Washington Post by a man named Tre Johnson. And he says like don’t get caught up in the comfortability of like white book clubs talking about racism, because that space is a little too safe. I think it’s not going to challenge you to really think about the ways that you’ve consumed racist ideas. And so I guess if my answers sound like they’re meandering is because there’s no … a path is, excuse me, remarkably clear, but it’s really difficult for white people to take. Like it’s going to take some serious reflection and commitment and being really uncomfortable with yourself. But know that there’s another side to it. And that this work is, in my opinion, the most important work we can do. Chris: Yeah. I’m mindful too, we’re two white people having this conversation. And a lot of people, I think navigating these topics are trying to figure out like when, if and when it’s appropriate to ask for help from Black people, people of color in the work that we’re doing. And I wonder if you have guidance there in the study and the work that you’ve done. How do you know when you’re far enough along in committing to anti-racism that it’s time to reach out and go beyond that self-reflection or that like working within white privilege and our own whiteness to say whatever it is you might need to say like, “Hey, I want to be a part of something. I want to keep this conversation going.” Because there’s, I think people are worried or sensitive about like I don’t, again, I don’t want to make this the burden of Black people who are already working with so much around racism. So how do we know, or is there a way to know when that engagement should be expanded or increased? Betsy: Yeah, that’s a tough one. I’ve seen just recently an Earlham alum published a piece online about all his white friends keep checking in with him in a way that they had never done before. So it takes like the murder of George Floyd for white people to check in. And he was wondering and he’s a Black male. And he was like, “What are their motivations? Like what do they want from me? Do they want me to tell them that they’re okay?” And so I think it’s really, really sensitive and my advice would be you can educate yourself on these topics or ask me and I’ll give you stuff to look at, conversations to have. And I think it’s after those important steps of self reflection, education, figuring out what racist policies are out there. Once you’re doing the work of anti-racism, you’re going to find those networks of, the interracial networks where you can have authentic conversations with people of color about race and racism. Well, you’re not asking Black people to do the emotional labor of dealing with white guilt because that’s not their job, right? Like we’ve got to figure that out on our own. There’s a scholar, there’s a book by Robin DiAngelo called White Fragility that can walk you through some of those topics. But so once you’ve done the self-reflection and you’ve looked at the resources that are out there, done your homework so to speak, once you’re doing anti-racist work, that’s when I think the connections will come and in an authentic way. Chris: Great. We have just a little bit of time left and I wanted to ask you another sort of probably unfair question. But you’ve studied a lot of history and thinking about where we are now in society and the nature of racism today, do you have any sense at all of are we worse off? Are we better off? Are we making progress? Are we finding new tools and new strategies? Because people are, I think there’s a lot of excitement and attention about the movement. As people say, it’s more than a moment, it’s a movement. But is it one that has the potential to be lasting and to push us to new areas of progress in what you know, and what you’ve seen in the studies you’ve done? Betsy: Well, I’m thinking of all the reading I’ve done and the scholars who are engaging in this. I guess I don’t think a movement is a movement only because outsiders are calling it a movement. I think the struggle toward racial justice has … African Americans have been doing this since 1607, right? Like since they were brought here against their will. And so there’s always a movement, right? It’s just at various intervals, white people seem to notice. And so I think we are at our latest moment of noticing the struggle toward racial justice. And that’s why I think like the refrains from since 2014 with the murder of Michael Brown is that Black Lives Matter. And because that’s something that African Americans have been shouting since, like I said, since like 400 years, it’s been 400 years. And so I think this is the latest iteration of that 400 year demand for racial justice. And it’s a matter of like what’s my place in that movement going to be? So I don’t know if I answered that question. That’s a big question. Because I don’t think I’m well positioned to say gains or losses. Like historically, we’re dealing with different factors now than we were in 1919, but also like the same really. Police brutality. They used to be slave patrols and so in some ways not a lot has changed. But it’s a different historical moment too. Chris: Yeah. Well, and just to reflect what I’ve heard you saying in the course of our conversation is that when I’ve talked about things like measurement or progress, I think you’ve hopefully pushed back on the notion that there’s going to be some box we can check to say 400 years of racism and oppression have been undone and solved. And I think what you’ve been saying is that the important thing is to be a part of whatever progress is possible by doing anti-racist work. And not just being quiet or observant on the sidelines because being quiet when racist things are happening, racist systems are at play and we’re a part of them is a way of participating in that quietly maybe, but still participating. So I appreciate the idea that the hard work is ours to do and that it may not have concrete observable results, but that it still needs to be done. And that, that is the nature of I guess pursuing justice for the longterm is finding that balance and that discomfort in the short term. Is that fair? Betsy: I think so. Yeah. That’s, I think you’ve captured it. That someone wants … I think it’s that’s still that op-ed from Tre Johnson in the Washington Post where he said, if advice about this feels convoluted or confusing, that’s what it’s supposed to be. Yeah. It’s an emotionally fraught issue and it’s complex. But I believe in good people. So I’m hoping. I still have hope, right? You got to. Chris: Yeah. Well, Betsy, thank you so much for your time and for your insights and for having this conversation together. I really appreciate it and I hope it’s been useful to our viewers as well. Betsy: Yeah. Thank you so much. I appreciate the time to talk and reflect more on my role. Thanks. The post IN Focus with Betsy Schlabach appeared first on Richmond Matters.
46 minutes | 7 months ago
We all need fresh air: Marcie Roberts of the Richmond Friends School
After 16 years working at the Richmond Friends School, Marcie Roberts is wrapping up her time leading the local independent school through significant growth and change. The current public health crisis has altered what her final months as Head of School look like, especially for an institution that values getting kids outside together, but the commitment to quality education and positively shaping young lives hasn’t wavered. In this conversation I talk with Marcie about how RFS is different from other school offerings in the area, how COVID-19 has changed things for teachers, parents and students alike, and what she sees as important for all of us to be thinking about in our community’s approach to education, post-pandemic and beyond. Disclosure: I am a donor to Richmond Friends School and a parent of a student there. Transcript The below transcript was generated with the use of automation and may contain errors or omissions. Chris Hardie: Marcie Roberts, thank you very much for joining me here on Richmond Matters. I appreciate you taking the time. Marcie Roberts: Thanks for having me, Chris. Chris: You are the head of school at the Richmond Friends School. And for anyone who might not already be familiar with RFS, I’m wondering if you could tell us a little bit about the school and sort of what sets it apart from other education options in our area? Marcie: Sure, I’m happy to do that. We are a preschool through eighth grade independent school here in Richmond, Indiana. We are the only Quaker school in the state of Indiana that serves this age student. Obviously we have Earlham College, a higher ed option there. Which sometimes surprises people, given Richmond … Oh, sorry, Richmond and Indiana’s rich Quaker history. But we are the only Quaker school in Indiana and one of I think it’s 78 other Friends Schools across the nation. So we are a member of Friends Council on Education. They’re based in Philadelphia. But what does that mean? What does a Friends Education mean and how does that set us apart from public schools here locally and also other independent schools? We have a really experiential approach to education. All of our classrooms are multi-age, meaning more than one age or grade level per classroom. We’re also committed to small student to teacher ratios. We currently have, it’s usually about no more than 15 or 16 per classroom. Depending on the age and developmental needs of the students, there are often times two teachers in a classroom of that size, if we’re talking preschool or pre-K and K. We have, we start Spanish language instruction starting at preschool, which is awesome. I think we’re the only school locally who does that. We have other specials, music and art specials as well. We do a lot of field trips. We love getting our kids outside and exposed to different passionate people in our community. Whether it’s to do community service or to visit local museums or environmental resource centers, things like that. We do project-based learning, so that fits in with that experiential learning part. Starting in pre-K, K, our students have a research project. We have four and five-year-old who are doing two to three research projects a year, which can sound daunting if you’ve never done that as a parent, to help your student through that. Or even as a new teacher who’s trying to facilitate that. But what we know is never to underestimate the power and imagination and gifts of a child if they’re set up and given the tools they need to succeed. So, those are all distinctives. Another thing is, sorry, I’m just going to ramble here, Chris. Chris: No, that’s fine. Marcie: I get on my spiel and I can’t stop. But we really try to have a holistic approach to education. That is taking care of not just the academic sort of cognitive needs of a child, but also the physical and emotional and social and even spiritual needs of children. We get kids outside every day, and that’s all ages. And I don’t think any other school can say that. So I think that’s something we really value here, is just the opportunity to be outside and to be active and what that does for our everything. It’s a part of how we learn here, so it’s a valuable part of what we do. Chris: It’s really an amazing array of things offered. And I should disclose at this point that I’m a parent of a child at Richmond Friends School, so I have some particular enthusiasm for the way that you do things. I think sometimes if people are not a part of the Quaker community, they hear Quaker School or Quaker Education, and I know this happens with Earlham some too. But let’s just be really clear, does someone have to be a Quaker or believe a certain thing to have their child attend Richmond Friends School? Marcie: No. And I think that’s a great question and it’s a good thing to help break down for people. Because we don’t want that to be a barrier of any kind. One of our testimonies, so we’re sort of guided by what we call the SPICES, which is an acronym for different Quaker testimonies. The SPICES stands for simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality and stewardship. Those are just sort of good morals and ways to know and navigate and live in the world, no matter what your spiritual background or religious background or non-religious background. We just believe those are good ways of engaging with people and problems. So, those SPICES sort of guide us formally and informally. But part of that, that equality piece, we really value difference. We think we learn best sometimes from people who are different than us. So, we welcome people from all backgrounds: socioeconomic, religious, cultural backgrounds. And we think, like I said, we’re better off with people, with having a really rich, diverse community. We have about, gosh, I should’ve pulled up this fact, but I think it’s about 15% of our students are Quaker currently, which actually is a pretty big percentage. There are other Friends Schools as I mentioned, around the country, with far fewer than that. But again, because we’re a small school, our handful of Quakers make a big impact in terms of the percentage. But certainly the vast majority of folks are not Quaker and you don’t have to be. Chris: Yeah. We’ll talk in a little bit about what life has been like at the school here in 2020. But I wonder if you could take us back to when you first came to RFS and what the school was like then, sort of what you thought you were getting into, what you noticed, any surprises and sort of help us think about that time. Marcie: Sure. So, the school was actually originally founded in 1971 but a woman, Chris Nicholson, who is a member of West Richmond Friends Meeting and a gentleman by the name of Warren Smith. He is a former professor at Earlham College. And it was founded as the Children’s School and not designated as a Friends School, even though it sort of always had those Quaker connections because of Chris Nicholson. Chris worked as a full time teacher for many years at the school. And it had a real rich history of I think being transformational for children and families. But there had never been an administrative structure to the school, other than they would designate what they called a lead teacher and assign that full time teacher additional duties working closely with the board and trying to take on some of the admissions duties and things like that. When I first was introduced to the school actually, my husband Jay Roberts who works at Earlham College, had been asked to join the board. He was really working with the board at that time to think strategically and sustainably and try to identify things the school needed to I think position itself a little bit better. It definitely was in some dire financial straights and running deficits and struggling with enrollment, as I think more organizations would if they didn’t have sort of someone other than … Just needing an ED, some sort of a leadership position to help the school. Anyway, they carved out a part time administration position, that at the time was called a school coordinator. And as a new young mother, we had just had our first child in April and I was working full time at Earlham. Anyway, my husband was like, “You should apply for this position.” Chris: Nice. Marcie: I have a background in early childhood education, so a love of experiential education and education. But also had dabbled in other sort of leadership positions in the hospitality field, at an online gaming company.Some kind of wacky things, but somehow they all came together and made sense for me to apply here. Because I thought, “Oh, I can do this as a new mom, it’s a part time job.” But we all know there’s no such thing as a part time job. Certainly a leadership position, it’s never part time. But I was really lucky that the school was the size it was and it fit sort of the flexibility of my needs and my family’s needs. Sort of as my family grew, my responsibilities grew and the school grew sort of all simultaneously. The school, when I started was I think just pre-K through eight actually. They had just started having … They tried a middle school for three years I think starting in the year of 2003. But we had to lay it down in 2006 for a variety of reasons. But I started right in the middle of that tenure. We all learned a lot about why it worked and why it didn’t. And luckily we were able to revisit the idea of a middle school in 2015 and our board decided to try it again. We added seventh and eighth grades, excuse me, in 2016. Chris: It’s pretty neat to think about what you’ve just described as I guess being able to do some experimenting in an educational context. Because I think a lot of times we talk about the school system and there’s a lot of structure and a lot of administrative overhead or bureaucracy I guess, involved in making changes. Can you say a little bit more about what does it mean as a school to be able to experiment with something to say, “Hey, let’s try something.” Is that easy? Is it hard? Is it a big deal? How has that tended to work over your time there? Marcie: I think it’s never easy. But I really appreciate I think our size and our creative, sometimes almost fearless approach. Because we always learn things, for better or for worse. And we have had, given sort of our built in multi-age classroom structure that I described, that also has given us the flexibility of sort of blending and re-shuffling different age and classroom configurations based on enrollment and based on need. So that’s just kind of a logistic example of how we’ve been able to sort of be flexible. But I love to sort of quote Chris Nicholson, one of the co-founders of the school, in that she sort of developed this school as what she calls a pattern school. And she always sort of wanted it to be a potential model for other schools. Because with our size and our ability to be sort of nimble and creative, we can try things that sometimes other schools have a harder time wrapping their heads around or just implementing. Marcie: I’ve heard that before the Discovery School was started, which is now no longer, and before the LOGOS Program, we were the first school to have multi-age classrooms. We were the first school to do conflict resolution in our classrooms. We were the first school to do project-based learning. So I think, I would like to think that some of those schools, when they were starting out, looked to us and tried to figure out what’s working, what’s not? I think we’re currently really trying to be a leader in environmental stewardship efforts. We have an outdoor learning lab outside, we compost our food waste, we try to plant a garden a couple times a year. We recycle all of our materials here at school and encourage our families to follow our lead. So we’re really trying to be … We’re looking into solar panels, it’d be awesome if we were the first school here in Richmond to have that kind of energy source. We want to work with and collaborate with other people and other schools. And I think our size gives us the opportunity to think creatively about what we can do. Chris: Marcie, you announced recently that you were going to be wrapping up your time at Richmond Friends School and onto new adventures. I don’t know if you’ve gotten into a reflective mood about that yet, but I’m wondering if there are accomplishments or changes at the school that you’ve overseen that you’re feeling most proud of, as your time comes to an end? Marcie: I think I’m not completely in the reflective mode yet, although things like this help me get there, perhaps. I think I’m … I mean, one of the things I’m really proud of is that some of the teachers, like Kay Maurer, who’s been here over 30 years and John Sheets, who’s been here over 20. And Chris Nicholson, the co-founder of the school still joins us, or used to when we were meeting together physically for all school meeting weekly. And donors and friends of the school, I’ve somehow … We, I should say, it’s never just I. We have somehow managed to stay together and grow and evolve together, which is sometimes hard. Because change can be challenging for a variety of ways. But I feel like my approach in terms of being really consultative and trying to listen, enabled people to kind of jump on board with me. So I’m really proud that we’ve maintained some of the amazing characters. Both character like as a character trait, but characters in terms of personalities together. So that’s been good. Marcie: Obviously the growth in the school, the range from preschool to eighth grade and the enrollment numbers. We were as low, I think we were in the 30s at one point when we had to lay down the first rendition of the middle school. Now we’ve been sort of steady around 85. We still have some room to grow, we could be around 90 or 100 students to be full. So we’re not full, we’re still happy to look at new students. So that sort of stability has been great. And also that’s brought some obviously financial stability. We’ve been able to offer our teachers better compensation packages, whereas before they didn’t really have benefits. They had sort of a benefit stipend, where they had to choose between health and retirement. Chris: Yeah, wow. Marcie: Which doesn’t feel like a healthy choice to force anyone to have to make. So, we’re much more competitive in terms of how we can compensate our employees, which is great. We’re not running consecutive year deficits. We have an endowment that we never had before, we have an emergency fund. We have some investment accounts. So we’re definitely in better shape than we used to be. So that all feels like a big deal. Chris: It does. It sounds really good for the school. I’m sure in no small part due to your leadership. One of the things I appreciate as a parent involved with the school is that it is … And I think this is a function of your leadership style as well. It’s not the kind of environment where the parents get to just drop their kids off at school and then never think again about what’s happening during those hours. It’s a very collaborative and engaged and sort of always prompting parents to be a part of the process. And there’s no directives handed down from school leadership saying, “This is the ideal version of education for your child.” It’s, “Let’s work on this together. Let’s build this together.” And at first I think that can be surprising because it is so different. And maybe in some ways it’s harder or just requires more time and investment. But it creates such a richness in the community that is sort of built around the school as a place and as an educational setting, that makes it really special. I don’t know if that was by design or if that’s something that you’ve cultivated, but it’s really impressive. Marcie: Well, I would like to take credit for that, but I do think it’s maybe something that I inherited. I mean, I’ve always felt that about the school and certainly your daughter being in pre-K, K, that just invites parents who are able. Obviously there are people with different work schedules who can’t necessarily walk their child into the classroom and check the morning job board and even start to do that together. But if you can do that, we love that. Especially at that age. Because it is about building relationships and making sure these kids are comfortable in these settings and able to thrive and go forward with their days. But yeah, this is not a place where you’re going to put your kid on the bus and wave goodbye and see them delivered back at your doorstep. And I think there are a lot of obviously powerful pros for those families who need those services. Chris: Yeah, sure. Marcie: But for our school, getting the kids and the families involved. I mean, we have three work days, they’re Saturdays that we count as school days on our school calendar and we do service together. And it’s about building community so that parents can meet other parents and students can engage with service and also show off their school. So, we have a lot of opportunities and sort of rich school traditions that I think create a really special place. I know I was a young … Well, a young mom. Some of my richest friendships have been through other kids and my kids’ parents. You know, their friends’ parents. So it’s says a lot. And even our alumni that we try to keep track of, so many of them think back to and keep in touch with their friends from preschool, from the Friends School. So, it definitely, it sticks and it can stick for a lifetime, which is exciting. Chris: Yeah. So you described an educational environment that was very … is very hands on, experiential education, outdoor play. It’s such a contrast to think about the time we’re in, here in April 2020, COVID-19 pandemic, isolation, stay at home orders. Can you talk a little bit about how that unfolded at the school in terms of decision making about stay at home and classroom schedules and then some of the effects that you’re seeing that have on you approach education and effects on students and teachers? Marcie: Sure. Just to back up a little bit, I think a lot of the public schools and other independent schools have had some experience with what they called e-learning when they would close schools for snow days and weather related things. Because we’re not reliant on busing and because we’re so small, we really do take our independence seriously. So if we can encourage families to be safe and get here even if there’s an inch or two of snow on the ground, we have school, So we’ve never had to think about e-learning or virtual supported learning here at the Friends School. Because you just said it, our philosophy is sort of the opposite of that. We want to engage socially and physically and mentally together. So, it was a real challenge for us to wrap our heads around setting this up. And we thought, “Well, my goodness, these other schools are 20 years ahead of us because they do this.” But as we’re seeing, they’re approaching extended learning even differently than e-learning. And I can appreciate the difference there. But what did that mean for us? Luckily, we had a half-day teacher workday scheduled the afternoon of March 16th, which at the time we knew Wayne County, I think Health Department had decided they were going to close schools after Spring Break for three weeks. But then on that day, they announced that no, we actually would not come back for the week before Spring Break and we would be closed as of I think it was March … Let’s see, I’m looking at a calendar here, it all runs together. Oh, it was March 13th, so we would be closed as of March 16th. So, we spent the afternoon together on that March 13th. I had an agenda, we were going to do some things related to accreditation, but we scratched that. We have a couple of board members who are education professors at IU East, so we invited them to join us. So they not only teach teachers in general how to teach, but they do have some coursework on teaching remotely. And they, themselves have to teach some remotely. So it was great to have them in the room with us. We also had a parent who specializes in sort of remote technology and access to learning environments. So he also joined us to talk about the power of Zoom, which at the time I think nobody knew too much about, or at least we didn’t. We all … I wanted to just get a bunch of tools in the toolbox and talk about what we were going to do. But one of the things we really value here at the Friends School is meeting each individual child where they are. And also giving our teachers autonomy to teach in ways they know are going to meet the needs of each kid. It’s a tricky thing as a leader, because I didn’t want to come out and say … Of course, I hadn’t done the research to say, “Okay, this is what we’re going to do. We’re all going to use Google Classroom platforms and we’re all going to have to Zoom three times a week.” Because every classroom is different and every teacher is different and the developmental needs of the students are wide ranging. So I really felt like we needed to just process this together and I needed to support each individual teacher with finding a path that was going to work for them. But it was also a little bit of grieving and just reacting to the shock. But I guess what I’m most proud of is that we left that teacher workday on March 13th and the teachers committed to sending an email and communicating with families that next Monday. And then by that Wednesday, getting out either the first packet of activities or online Zoom classes or projects or whatever they were doing to support their learning. And without fail, every teacher did that. Here, normally at school I can walk around and I walk through the classrooms and I can see and hear a glimpse of what’s happening. And I can’t do that online. So I asked each teacher just to CC me on all their communications with students and families, just so I could sort of have a glimpse into what was going on. I was just shocked and amazed. And again, it’s been some trial and error and we’re learning about what works and what doesn’t. But they were creative and they were fearless and they immediately committed to providing what they called doable and purposeful work for these kids. But of course it’s incredibly challenging. And parents are sometimes having to work from home and then having to help manage, especially young ones who can’t do it all independently. So it’s really hard. Chris: Sure. Yeah, yeah. And I imagine, I mean, this time of year for a lot of schools there are rituals and field trips and events and things that typically mark the passing of time and the changing of seasons. Have you noticed or talked with parents and families who have noticed changes there or has most of your attention I guess been on the academics and sort of helping people figure out the day to day? Marcie: Well, I guess my focus is sort of all over the place. Because luckily, I mean for better or for worse, I’m not having to plan those weekly sort of curriculum maps and things like that. So I am trying to keep my head wrapped around those traditions and what can we do and what can’t we do? And how might we change things? Because as you know, you had offered to help sort of, we were going to do an online talent show and sort of morph what was going to be a spring event fundraiser into something online. And we just, we tried and we tried, and for a variety of reasons it just didn’t seem like it was working. And of all times, given what’s going on in everybody’s life, it doesn’t feel like a time to force something that doesn’t feel quite right. So we have had to cancel our spring fundraiser event. But we’re looking at other creative ways to fundraise, because the school, we are tuition and income from fundraising driven. Because we don’t take vouchers, that’s another distinctive, we don’t take vouchers. We’re the only independent school that doesn’t take vouchers. And that means we don’t administer standardized tests, which we don’t think is necessarily the best way to assess what a child is capable of. But things like our middle school class was going to go to Michigan and do some field study work on Lake Michigan. Our fifth and sixth grade class, they have a tradition of going to Virginia and staying with our teacher’s family and then planning excursions to different historical and recreational sites. So obviously all of those trips have been canceled, which are just pinnacle experiences for so many of our kids. So that’s heartbreaking. We’re looking at how do we do graduation? We’re known for sort of these amazing and meaningful, rich graduation ceremonies at the end of the year where our graduates each give speeches and our younger students and families and staff get to speak about the graduates and celebrate them in different ways. How are we going to do that remotely? But we’re not the only school struggling with that. So, I know we’ll come up with something awesome. But it will certainly be something different, as this all is. Yeah. Chris: Yeah. I mean, it may be way too early to think about this, but when you look ahead to post-pandemic education, does that landscape look different to you now? Can you think of the ways that it’s going to be affected? I just think about from a public health perspective and people talk about high touch surfaces in public spaces and school classrooms are kind of the definition of full of high touch surfaces when it comes to kids being in a space together. So what does it look like to do education in person again when hopefully all of this is over, sooner rather than later? Marcie: Yeah, that’s a really good question. I think everybody at every level is struggling with that right now. You know, whether you’re going to have to take every kid’s temperature before they come to school or have even beefier cleaning regiments at the end of every day, all kinds of things. I mean, I think the logistics in some ways are maybe easier to wrap your head around. It’s just the how are we going to have to sort of fundamentally and maybe even philosophically change how we approach education? I think, hopefully we go back to all of our favorite ways of knowing and being with each other. But we all have to have, we have to be ready for plan B. The reality is, is this may continue in some way, shape or form. It may go away. It may come back. So I think if anything, we’ve learned that we can do this. So that’s the good news. But obviously nobody wants to continue and certainly continue for this kind of time frame. I just had a chat with a teacher, I’m having sort of end of the year sort of self-evaluation check ins that were supposed to be face to face, but now they’re on the phone or Zoom. She was just like, “This isn’t what I signed up for. This isn’t how I want to teach.” So what teacher did sign up for this, is the question. And what child? Although, I mean some people say that our introverts are maybe secretly loving some of this. Chris: As an introvert, I can say I’m not loving most of it. Not loving most of it, yeah. Marcie: Okay, good. Good. But I think for our teachers, the biggest thing that I’m hearing is that the divide. I mean, you’re always going to have some kids who are just more capable of engaging with the material and then others can’t, for a variety of reasons. And that divide is getting bigger given the constraints of online learning. And how do we close that divide? I don’t know. We don’t know yet. That’s the scary part. Because all those little sort of informal ways of supporting kids physically and emotionally when you can do that in the same space, but you just can’t now. So how are we managing that divide, is a tough one. Chris: Yeah, sounds like hard questions. And with things changing so rapidly out in the world and in the local community, I imagine you all have to do a lot of figuring out on the fly. So, certainly wishing everyone the best in that process. Marcie: Thank you. Chris: As you sort of wrap up your final couple of months in this role, what are you looking forward to next? And sort of putting aside current public health situation, when you think about the future of Richmond Friends School in the years ahead, are there particular things that you hope for, for the school as well? Marcie: Well, we have an interim head, Joe McHugh, and he actually is going to start on May the fourth. So, we get to overlap a whole month, which just feels luxurious and awesome. Chris: Great, yeah. Marcie: Although I don’t know what that’s going to look like in our socially distant office space or whatever that’s going to end up being. But he has experience being an interim head at other Friends Schools, one in Minnesota and one in North Carolina. So it’s kind of this weird niche that I never imagined people having, but turns out they do have it. And he sort of specializes in this sort of leadership transition. He is just, he is presenting this kind, calm, confident person with these abilities that I, for one, can’t wait to have join me, certainly. But then sort of take the reins. I think having an interim head is maybe a really great opportunity to sort of wipe out the Marcie cobwebs. You know, I’ve been here 16 years. And change can be challenging. So just sort of figure out what are those things that are worth hanging onto and what are those things that we might want to look at and do differently or approach differently? So I think it’s awesome and I think the school is really primed for new vision and new energy. I’m hopeful that it’s being left in a good spot, it’s certainly changed and grown a lot over the years. But I really do think it’s time for the next phase of growth and opportunity for the school. I’m thrilled. So I think Joe will do a great job and he obviously not only has experience leading the school through this transition, but helping with the next search for the next longterm head of school. So, I can’t wait to see how things shake down. Chris: Yeah, that’s awesome. I know that you’ve also been a part of conversations in the broader Richmond and Wayne County community about sort of the state of education here. I wonder too if there are things you’ve noticed about kind of the state of education in our community and what some opportunities might be for us to seize on, whether in the context of Richmond Friends School or more broadly. Maybe that’s just another way of asking what have you learned about how kids learn best and what can we do to get even better at that as a community? Marcie: Obviously I’m biased, right? I really believe in our approach to education. But I’ve seen so many different kinds of learners thrive here. I don’t know … I just think this is the best learning environment. Even if you’re sort of academically really beyond your chronological years and you need to be challenged appropriately. Or maybe you’re academically gifted, but you don’t know how to sit in a circle and follow directions and have a ways to go with your social and emotional sort of developmental skills. I think our teachers just do such a nice job of sort of customizing the education for each individual child. But then when you combine that with the holistic approach and getting kids outside, it just, it really makes me sad that not every child gets to have fresh air during the day. I mean, as a human I think that is something we all need. And as children even, I just think it’s even more critical. Yeah, I mean, I get it that other schools have serious constraints and they don’t necessarily have the freedom or the time. And a lot of that comes from standardized testing, which again, I almost feel like everybody knows that it doesn’t work. That the current system’s sort of broken. But until there’s a new approach, we have to keep doing. Which to me, feels like insanity. So, again, I’m just so thankful that we don’t have to do that. Because again, some kids are good test takers and they will thrive in that environment. But there are many who just physically get ill from it. And the amount of time that other teachers have to spend not just administering the test, but teaching to the test. And the kind of funding and reputation and things that follow test scores is just a broken system. I hope … It’s not an easy one to fix, that’s for sure. If it was easy, it would’ve been done by now. But yeah, I just … Yeah, that’s a tough, tough thing. But one of our biggest things is access. There are people who believe that they can’t afford an education like this. And we do try to give a lot of financial aid and make it accessible to families regardless of need. But sometimes families just need that advocate. Sometimes it feels like we’re a hard rock to uncover unless you’ve stumbled upon us or talked to the right person. So for us, it’s just trying to get our message out there and make connections in the community. And again, we’re bigger than we’ve ever been, so we have more people telling the stories. But we’d love to have everybody know our name and understand at least what we can do here. Because all of the schools, we’re all trying to do our best and serve children in different ways. And not every school fits every child. And I think that’s really important. But what we do is so unique to this community specifically. I think even though we’re small, we’re a vital part of Richmond and Wayne County. Because we also can help attract people who are moving here, physicians at Reid or people at Blue Buffalo or big new companies who are trying to recruit from other markets where Friends Education might be better understood. Chris: Yeah. I know in normal times you would invite anyone interested in the school to come for a visit. Marcie: Yes. Chris: But knowing that they can’t do that right now, if someone wants to learn more about Richmond Friends School, where should they go? Marcie: Well, we have a great website and we have a Facebook page that’s really active. We also, I’m about to do a virtual tour of True Blood Preschool, I think it’s this Wednesday at 6:00. So, we’re trying to get crafty with this new virtual world. So, certainly a phone call. But I will say, and my family and I are moving to North Carolina, so I’ve actually just gone through, I’ve been on the other side of things. I’ve been looking at schools. And it’s made me not only appreciate the Friends School even more, but appreciate actually what our message looks like and sounds like to the greater public. I think our website obviously has a lot of detailed information. We have archived newsletters, so our teachers are writing and submitting articles and pictures that really give a nice summary of highlights that are going on in each of the classrooms every month. I think there’s a lot of information out there. There’s some great videos, really gives you a sense of the school. But I’m always happy to talk to people and would even … I could walk around the school will my cell phone and do a little FaceTime. Chris: There you go. Marcie: I’m ready. Chris: So that’s RichmondFriendsSchool.org, I believe. I know you can find phone number and email address there as well, so sounds like that’s a great starting point for people to get in touch. Marcie: Absolutely. Chris: Great. Well Marcie, thank you for your time and thank you for all that you’ve done for Richmond Friends School and for the broader community. Wishing you the best in this final time in your current role and what’s ahead for you and your family. Marcie: Thank you, Chris and thanks for what you do for our community. It’s just, I mean, it’s been a pleasure and a treat to be involved with an organization that’s so near and dear to my heart and that’s really making transformational sort of opportunities happen for kids and families. Kids are happy coming to school every day and that’s … there’s nothing better than that. Life is precious and childhood is short and I love that children love this place. So, thank you. The post We all need fresh air: Marcie Roberts of the Richmond Friends School appeared first on Richmond Matters.
32 minutes | 7 months ago
Believe them, listen to them: advocating for child safety, even during a pandemic
31 minutes | 7 months ago
Rebecca Gilliam on adapting community philanthropy and support during COVID-19
Rebecca Gilliam had only been in the Executive Director job at the Wayne County Foundation for a few months when the COVID-19 pandemic changed daily life for everyone in Wayne County. From helping not-for-profit providers of essential services to shifting day-to-day office operations to planning for the future of grant-making and philanthropy in our community, Rebecca and the staff of the Foundation have been busy. In this conversation, we talk about some of those efforts, what to do when our initial plans don’t work out, and what kinds of shifts in thinking and priorities area organizations may need to consider moving forward. Disclosure: I am a current donor to, and former board member at, the Wayne County Foundation. Transcript The below transcript was generated with the use of automation and may contain errors or omissions. Chris Hardie: Rebecca Gilliam, thank you so much for joining me and I’m excited to talk with you. Rebecca Gilliam: Oh, no problem. I’m very excited. Chris: For those who might still be unfamiliar with it, tell us exactly what the Wayne County Foundation is and what it does. Rebecca: We’re a county wide community foundation, and we work with donors who are interested in leaving a legacy and impacting their community today and into the future. So we’re working with them on charitable giving and how their legacy can be met. And then on the other side, we work with nonprofits and other community organization to better understand the needs that are in the community, and then, we match those funding sources with the community need. And really it’s … I feel so blessed to be able to serve in this role, especially today. Chris: And you started in that role right at the end of 2019, if I am reading correctly, right as Steve Borchers was retiring. What did you notice? What did you learn about this community as you came into that job? Rebecca: Well, first I was welcomed so easily back into the community. So I have a history. I grew up here, but like a lot of us, we went away to college, then we took a first job. I was in Indianapolis, sort of wound my way around and ended up in Muncie, Indiana. So coming back at the end of December, I really reconnected with some old friends, some family friends, and then was welcomed into the community through a lot of different organizations. The other thing that I noticed was the incredible reputation that the foundation had within the community of really serving through grants, the Challenge Match Program, the nonprofit support. It’s such an important institution in the community, and I am so pleased that I was able to come in at the end of the year and begin my leadership. Chris: We know anyone who’s been through any kind of job transition, moving, and anything else like that, those things are full of learning and stress anyway, but then this pandemic just a few months into your tenure, what’s that been like? Rebecca: Well, I’ve joked, so I came in as part of the hiring process. I had a hundred day plan and best made plans don’t always go according to your thinking. So the foundation was poised to do this work and I just had to catch up. So what I thought might be my work in the first three to six months has turned out to be very different. I’ve still had to learn all of the different moving parts of leading in this organization, but we’ve had to really shift and pivot our thinking in how we’re doing, grant making, additional response dollars that we can make available, and finding ways to fill those gaps in the community. So it’s been wonderful. It’s been hard. It’s been rewarding. It’s overwhelming. All of those things, but it’s a great place to be. Chris: Yeah. Was there a moment in all of this kind of unfolding where you really knew that, “Okay, this is not going to be just a temporary shift in how we do things,” or like, “Oh wow, this is like a really big deal”? Was there a moment like that for you where it kind of crystallized or is it a gradual process, like I imagine it has been for some people? Rebecca: Well, it was gradual. I was seeing two sides. So one was just the daily work that we do within the foundation, having to clean the office more frequently, think about how we were seated around the table. We all just sort of jumped into doing that. But very quickly, as we started … As schools … I think it was probably when schools closed and we realized all these children were going back into their homes 24/7, we started to see how food distribution and childcare was being disrupted and that became very real, and it was at that point that … And it timed out just fortunately perfectly that we had a board meeting and we were able as a board to really discuss ways that we could mobilize to very quickly address some of those short term needs. Chris: And if you can, walk us through what some of those have been. I know that this has affected everyone in some way, but how has the COVID-19 pandemic affected not for profits and where there were already community needs that were maybe unmet or under met? What does that look like now? Rebecca: So for some nonprofits, it means that they are seeing a higher volume. So your agencies that typically provide food and nutritional support, it is just increased exponentially the amount of need. You have other nonprofits that, this time of year, your cultural entities, they’re having performances. They’re expecting patrons to come and enjoy the arts. That’s not happening. You have all of your agencies that are dealing with the health and humanitarian side. Centerstone, they had to shift to telemedicine and be able to do support for children who need counseling services. They had to completely shift how they’re working with them, but there are other agencies that they still need to provide the services, but they had to completely change how they were able to go about doing that because they were not able to be face to face. So there are all sorts of different needs. And then some agencies have simply had to just completely shutter for the time being because the services they provide, although awesome and wonderful, were not considered essential. So they don’t really have a mechanism for being open unless they were to shift the work that they were doing, which is in some cases not appropriate. Chris: For the agencies that are having to really retool their programs and services, is a lot of the mechanics of it with communication online through the internet, through apps, whatever, or is it more, is it deeper than that? Is it a cultural shift for them? Is it a really kind of rethinking the nature of the programs themselves? Rebecca: We’re seeing both, and I think we’re going to see more of the rethinking, the programming, in the future. So the immediate needs were how do we still stay in business, we still serve our audience, and do that either virtually or using approved practices? I think of all the Circle U, the ministries, and the churches that do meals. You have to do take out. So where they were not having expenses related to food service, they could wash dishes, reuse materials. They had to completely shift to all take out supplies, and that’s very costly, a much more challenging way to deliver their essential services. So yes, there has been an immediate retooling, but I think this crisis is going to force a whole lot more of the nonprofits, in particular and I’m guessing small businesses across the board, to really rethink how they’re doing business in the next six months, 12 months, even 18 months. It’s going to really make us rethink everything. Chris: Yeah. Yeah. Now, tell us about there’s a Wayne County Cares fund that the Foundation has been a big part of. Tell us how that came to be and what that does. Rebecca: Sure. So if I could back up one quick, to delineate the two. So we immediately did the COVID-19 crisis response grants, and that was an effort to quickly get resources out the door to frontline needs to keep those basic, essential services being provided as they had more pressure and more people to serve. So that was the first prong of our approach. More recently, we had a donor, who was very interested in pulling together a fund that could directly serve families and individuals that are impacted due to loss of employment and that really have no other backup. They were living month to month. They were making it, but a loss in income really puts them in a precarious situation. So that was the start of the thinking behind the Cares fund. And with those dollars and conversations with the Township Trustee, Salvation Army, and other service providers, we were able to look at offering resources through those agencies to be able to directly impact the individual or the family. And since then, we’ve had First Bank Richmond come on board. We’ve had additional donors throughout the community, and we’re probably going to partner with some other agencies to see how we can pool resources and ensure that we’re filling that gap and those needs that families have that are not … They’re all just a little different. But how do we get resources directly to their immediate needs? Chris: It sounds pretty amazing. And I get the sense that as our community begins to understand what needs are out there. As a community, we’ve really risen to those challenges, and people are asking how they can help, whether it’s at the individual level or the corporate level. If someone wanted to read more or learn more about that Wayne County Cares fund and what the opportunities are either to contribute or to benefit from it, what’s a good place for them to do that? Rebecca: Visiting our website is probably their first place. We, of course, have been putting it out on all of our social channels and then conversations. We welcome any calls to the foundation. We’re really trying to help folks who want to find a way to do something, make that happen. Chris: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Great. I know that there’s always a conversation happening within organizations like the foundation and in the broader community about what the right mix is of how to meet community needs through … What’s the responsibility of public and government agencies? What’s the responsibility of a private, commercial interests? What’s the responsibility of philanthropic organizations? Does this pandemic and this situation bring into focus for you any sort of data points about our community in terms of where we rely too much or not enough on any one of those sources when we think about families who are right at that edge? What does it tell you or what can we learn from that? Rebecca: Wow. That is a big question that … You’re right. It is a conversation happening within the Wayne County Foundation but also across the state. All the community foundations and other philanthropic organizations are really wrestling with that and it’s hard and we have a fairly low income community that suffers on a lot of levels and we have incredible individuals in the community that would give anything to help relieve some of those areas of need. So we are fortunate that we have folks who do want to support it. Yes, there’s absolutely a role for all of those entities. I fear that we are going to find ourselves even worse coming out of this than where we started, and we already see a lot of support from the federal, state, and county government in supporting a lot of the basic services that need to happen around here. I don’t know the answer. I think time is it going to tell, and at the moment, we’re needing inputs from every source. Chris: Yeah, it’s a lot to ask anyone or any organization to solve that problem or tie that conversation up neatly. One of the things I appreciate about our community is that it’s small enough that you can make a difference in substantial ways and in visible ways. It’s really tempting when we talk about how to support people in need. The national conversation so quickly goes to these really big numbers and really big generalizations, I guess, about big parts of the population. And you can live in a place like Richmond or Wayne County and when you’re talking about thousands or tens of thousands of people, it becomes more human scale, I guess. Rebecca: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Chris: And that’s why it’s really neat to hear about something like the Wayne County Cares fund where instead of trying to solve that bigger problem in the midst of this crisis, it’s like let’s do that direct front line assistance and giving and make a difference now. And then we can worry about some of those bigger things later. Rebecca: Yes. We’ll start sorting out some of those details later because we know that that’s … I was able to talk to almost all of the township trustees and there’s 15 of them in Wayne County. And I was so encouraged by their understanding of the families that were in their township and their needs and their concern. So we do. We have this wonderful community that wants to step up. We’re covering this short term need. It’ll be very interesting to see how it grows and how we’re all going to have to come together to really support a wide variety of industry and business and nonprofits and individuals in the coming months. Chris: Yeah. I know that the foundation lists it’s kind of assets that it stewards is around 45 million, and I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about the process that’s used to decide during grant cycles or other opportunities to decide how those funds are brought to bear for the benefit of the community. I’m sure there might be someone out there, again if they’re unfamiliar with the foundation, that says, “Forty-five million. Just write a check to local government or write a check to whatever entity.” Rebecca: Right. Chris: So how does the Foundation ensure that it is a good steward of those funds, and do you see that process shifting at all just in the light of current events? Rebecca: So the funds, that we have, have been contributed by individuals and corporations since we were established in the late ’70s. Most of those were established with guidelines. So we’re really an organization that has a lot of funds that we manage, that we distribute per their fund agreement and/or using a spending policy. And why that is very important is that it ensures that we keep the principle, that original gift, and we are then only spending out of the interest and that way gifts can be made in perpetuity and impact the community. So when we make decisions about grants, we are looking at the amount of money that we’re able to offer. And right now, it’s a four and a half percent spending policy, and our CFO does all of the calculations behind the scenes and we are very diligent about being very good at keeping all that in order. I have a great investment committee that evaluates our investments on a quarterly basis. We’re making decisions so that we preserve those assets that have been entrusted with us. When we move into grant making, we have an approach to grant making that uses a general application process with guidelines and then we use a committee to evaluate all of those based on a scoring rubric that aligns with the guidelines and then there’s a pool of resources that we’re able to allocate each year. And so that’s one half of it. The other side, which a lot of people are very familiar with also, is the Challenge Match side, and that is an opportunity for organizations to seek funds for operations. So we partner with organizations and offer matching dollars so that they can really grow their annual support campaigns. Chris: And yeah, do you think current events will shift any of that or does that all still seem all very relevant and a helpful way to approach it? Rebecca: It already has shifted it. We immediately offered flexibility or the opportunity to change what organizations were wanting to do in the spring grant cycle. The spring grant cycle was underway right as all these events started unfolding. Because nobody could really see where this was going too clearly, we hated to completely shift the spring grant cycle. So what we did instead was reach out to the organizations who we knew were applying or had already applied and give them some flexibility in the type of application that they wanted to present. If they wanted to shift it, great. We’d offer that. If they need an extension on getting the application in, we made that possible, as well. Rebecca: I don’t know where it’s going. I think as this continues and we see that organizations are still shut down or, unthinkably, if this summer we see organizations that are able to gather and have the events that they’ve planned, we’ve made a commitment as an organization and the board has supported being very flexible in how that grant making shifts again, if those organizations need us to shift with their changing needs. Chris: Yeah, yeah. Rebecca: So every day is a new day. We’re taking every case individually, and we want to be a good partner and ensure that funds are being used in a way that is most meaningful for the organization and the audience. Chris: That’s great. I think of fundraising as an art and community development, as a general practice, as something, especially in Wayne County, that often takes place in person, historically. Meetings, gatherings, strategic planning sessions, workshops, and like all of us, this has forced us to work from home or to really change the way we think about getting things done. Do you notice anything so far about in terms of how the foundation is operating or just how you see nonprofits doing their day to day business? Is it working to do that over email, video chat, that kind of thing? Are there still big challenges to be solved there? Rebecca: We’re all trying to make it work. It’s a challenge. What would normally be a face to face or a quick coffee with somebody, you’re scheduling, you’re doing it over video conferencing. Not only are there conversations you’re having in fundraising but you’re also just colleagues in the community. We’re trying to ensure that we’re all moving in tandem and not stepping all over each other and duplicating efforts. So it’s been interesting. It’s been hard. I’ve said that I think this is a much harder way to work than a traditional office. Chris: Yeah, yeah. Rebecca: But most folks are pretty resourceful and we’re figuring out ways to do it. I have a virtual chat with somebody tomorrow. We’re just having a one-on-one using Zoom. It feels a little weird saying that out loud, but I hate to not move forward. Chris: Yeah, yeah. The work doesn’t stop. As some people have pointed out, it’s not really fair to ourselves to say that everybody is just working from home because for most people what’s happening is they happen to be at home trying to get something done in the midst of the stress and uncertainty of a global pandemic. And it’s a very different kind of situation in which to try to figure out those sort of processes and tools and everything else. But as you said, people seem resourceful about it too. So it’s neat to see what creativity comes out of that, as well. Rebecca: Absolutely. I’ve heard some folks joke that so many people are working from home with new co-workers because a lot of children are at home with them and that that’s a whole different scenario. So many families are trying to work from home and school their kids from home and that is just unimaginable trying to make that work. I’m fortunate. I have support of some parents, who are willing to help me school my child while I’m doing work, but it’s a really hard way to work. Chris: Yeah. Yeah. And it highlights that as a community … And I think this is being said at the state and national level too. Our ability to go back to work really does depend so much on what happens with childcare and with the school systems, and we already knew that Wayne County had some challenges with childcare availability and early childhood education. And so I can imagine that this situation, just again, brings those into focus, and hopefully, has some silver linings in it in terms of how we think about it. But I know that that’s got to be affecting a lot of people everyday, right now. Rebecca: Absolutely. Most of the childcare in the county is closed. That’s been some recent conversations. Are we ready for when people go back to work and what’s going to happen with some of these organizations? Are they ready to do this? Chris: Yeah, yeah. I know you already said that you have this concern that when we come out of this, some of the challenges we were already facing, we might be in an even worse place. Maybe it’s too early to be asking this question, but if a not for profit organization or really any organization, business, whatever is kind of looking ahead and trying to think about like how can they position themselves to come out of this in the best way possible … If they came to you for advice on that, what would you tell them? What kinds of things should they be thinking about or doing now that might set them up to be in a better place hopefully, not too far in the distant future? Rebecca: Well, I can tell you that the things that I am trying to think through and do, and I’ll start with my own organization, is really looking at everything we do and the why behind what we’re doing so that if we have to prioritize what we do, we have a really strong reason for doing that and it aligns with our mission. So that would be the thing I would start talking with specifically nonprofits. I have much more experience in that area. Is really looking at all the work that’s being done and getting down to the why behind it and alignment with mission and then seeing what can be done as changing resources, changing audiences come to bear as we see what happens as the community tries to start to recover from this. I’d also encourage folks to look at services that are duplicated. And I’ll say that loosely because there’s a lot of small groups who are serving very niche populations and I think that’s very valuable. But in general I think we’re going to have to look at how we can combine some resources and combine even some back office work perhaps to ensure that we’re serving needs and also doing that really efficiently. So I think those are some of the things. At least, that’s what I’m starting to talk with folks about, some of the things I’m thinking about. Chris: Great. Well, that’s really insightful and I hope, yeah, I hope people listen to that and take that to heart because that sounds well worth doing. If someone out there wanted to be involved with the work of the foundation, either in the specific context of helping the community through our current situation or just in general thinking about philanthropic giving or being a part of some of the programs and services that you offer, where’s a good place for them to start, if they want to help out in some way? Rebecca: Well, certainly we do provide resources on our website. However, these are the kind of conversations that I like to have, my staff love to have with folks to really better understand what they’re hoping to achieve, and we can help them understand all the different ways that that can happen. So that’s the best part of this job is really talking to individuals and understanding how we can help, how we can get them where they want to be in their charitable giving. Chris: Great. Well, Rebecca Gilliam, thank you so much for your time and for all of the work that you’re doing to help our community in this time, and we wish you the best in all of that. Rebecca: Well, I really appreciate you inviting me, and this has been great. The post Rebecca Gilliam on adapting community philanthropy and support during COVID-19 appeared first on Richmond Matters.
32 minutes | a year ago
Lisa Burkhardt and Steve Hayes Jr. on outdoor education at the Playscape
There are lots of great options for outdoor play in Richmond. A newer one that you may not have encountered yet is the Playscape at Hayes Arboretum. A series of hands-on activities, stations and outdoor experiences built almost entirely from natural or found materials, it’s a place for kids (and grown-ups too!) to engage with and learn about the natural world. And it’s free. I sat down with two of the people most responsible for bringing the Playscape to life, retired teacher Lisa Burkhardt and Hayes Arboretum Executive Director Steve Hayes Jr. We discussed how the Playscape came to be, the importance of giving kids lots of opportunities to play outdoors, and how the Arboretum is continuously evolving to serve the community. Transcript The below transcript was generated with the use of automation and may contain errors or omissions. Chris Hardie: How did the Playscape come into existence? Lisa Burkhardt: Probably two and a half years ago. I heard that Hayes Arboretum was interested in developing a Playscape, and I wanted to be a part of that, because I feel really strongly that that’s an important thing for children to be exposed to. And just wanted to volunteer my time as best I could. What I started off with – because I didn’t even really know what a Playscape would look like – and how to create one, was researching and … But, the staff at the Arboretum had also done some researching too. We went on a few field trips, traveled to Indianapolis, over towards the Dayton area, stuff we could do within a day’s period of time. We did spend one really long day going all the way to Kalamazoo, Michigan, and saw several Playscapes along the way. We had these routes mapped out so we could see as many as we could. Took lots of pictures, lots of notes. And came back and looked at the space here, and decided what features we wanted to include, and how it could get done. Then Steve has to come in with his big equipment to get things just laid out and started. Steve Hayes, Jr: Yeah, my background is in landscape architecture. I’ve worked here at the Arboretum … this is my 10th year. Our staff had been talking about a Playscape, and they were researching some grant funding. And the grant funding came in very quickly. We have some great grant funding partners: Reid Health, Community Benefit, and Wayne County Foundation jumped on board to help with the Playscape. At the time, we had ideas. We had some rough plans. We kind of knew generally what we wanted. But it was really working with Lisa and seeing some of these other Playscapes, like she said that exist in our region. Then from over in Ohio to up in Kalamazoo, Michigan. We looked at a lot of different Playscapes. I had never designed a Playscape. But I love guidelines. When we were talking about the Playscape, for me trying to understand what all it was – what were the design elements, how were these kids and their parents interacting with nature? What were the different zones like? What were the requirements? We looked at a group called Nature Explore, which is a company that specializes in Playscapes. We knew early on that we wanted to be a certified outdoor classroom Playscape, and meet all the criteria to be certified; that’s a national certification. We were fortunate that throughout this process, we kept that in mind. We were willing and able to put forth the effort and the expense – because there were expenses – that were supported through the community, to really get to a space that is intriguing for the children, a great learning environment, and a great amenity to have here at the Arboretum. Chris: I know when a lot of people think of outdoor play for kids, the first thing that comes to mind might be big steel and plastic structures: brightly colored, rubber mulch arounds, maybe some fountains. And we have some of those in Richmond, and they’re great. But what’s the difference between that kind of an outdoor play space and a Playscape? Both in terms of what it looks like and how it works? Then also, sort of the philosophy behind it? Lisa: All the materials that are used are from the Arboretum. They’re all natural, they’re logs and stones and some of the things got brought in. Some big stones and things, but nothing’s man made out there, except one little short slide. But it’s elevated on a log. The idea behind it is that that there are so many different textures and levels, that children really have to use every part of their brain and senses to negotiate the area. Not in a dangerous way at all, but just in an exploratory type of way. As on a regular playground, the surfaces are all smooth and the steps are all the same distance apart. There’s not a whole lot of testing that needs to be done from a kid’s standpoint. The thing I like about our Playscape, that I really found is different and unique from some of the other ones we saw, is that it’s large. It’s covered with grass. But there are lots of trees around. And there are comfortable seating for parents in so many areas. But it really doesn’t matter what area you sit down in, or choose to be in. You can see every one of the features, from any spot you’re in, and keep an eye on your kids. There’s a nice perimeter that I don’t think even is, the kids don’t even notice it. It’s just made by the trees that are bounding the area. It all seems logical to both the parents and the children, where they can be in that space and be safe. At the same time, challenging themselves, yes, to be with nature. Chris: You both have experience observing kids learning inside. The Arboretum has an indoor education center. Steve, you’ve been a part of building that, and making that great. And Lisa, you had a lot of time in the classroom as a teacher for a long time. But this has such a focus on outdoor learning experiences. I wonder what you notice about the way that kids learn when they’re inside, when they’re in a classroom, or reading something or looking at a display, versus how they learn and what they experience when they’re outside. What kinds of things do you see that are different? And what does that mean? Lisa: A lot of times in the classes here, at the Arboretum, we start with a topic. Sometimes with actually reading a small, short book. But that’s just a springboard for the rest of the lesson that’s going to take part the rest of the day. As the instructor, you have to be open to all different kinds of ideas that the children are going to bring. You can’t really plan, I guess, what they’re going to find or see or be interested in as you walk down the trail. For instance, I was just working with a group of pre-kindergarten students that were interested in birds. That was supposed to be the focus of the class. But, they picked up rocks and nuts and leaves and saw flowers, and things along the trail. I just have to be ready as the instructor to engage in all those other opportunities with them, because that’s what they were ready and interested in to learn. Steve: The Playscape is a great interactive hands-on learning experience for the kids, and parents. But it’s a great transition for them to go explore. One more element that existed before the actual construction of the Playscape was the tipi structure. One of the things about the Playscape, they love kind of what they call the building, with natural elements. It was interesting, this tipi structure, had been built by a previous summer class. When we started planning the Playscape, it was easy just to say, “All these elements we want to include, we want these to be our border elements. We want to add areas into this area … what’s now going to be the Playscape area. It was interesting; right in the middle was this tipi. Yeah, it’s definitely evolved, and it will continue to evolve. Lisa: Yeah, there’s a Pinterest page that we’re all part of, that has ideas that we’ve taken from lots of other places to see what else we want to add in. I think that a lot of families don’t realize it’s there, because it is behind the annex. There’s a sign, but you have to be in a certain part of the parking lot to even see it. I just want families to know that they’re free to use that any time that the Arboretum’s open. Chris: That’s great. A parent myself, free opportunities to help a child learn and also burn off some energy, are always in high demand. It’s just so great that it’s there. The Arboretum has such great hours and availability. Makes itself available to the community, no cost, you can drive right in. It’s just incredible. I want to make sure we don’t take for granted the idea that engagement with the natural world is just an important thing in a child’s development, because I think the three of us sitting here probably know that. Both of you, your existence, your work, has had that idea built into it. But if you could say a little bit more about why is it important that children, adults, all people of all ages, are engaged with the natural world … children especially though, as they’re learning about how the world works? Why is that an important thing, and how is the Playscape help in that? Lisa: One aspect of the children’s development is definitely physical; I think I touched on that a little bit about having them learn how to balance and walk on areas that aren’t totally smoothed out for them to begin with. They have to figure all that stuff out. I’ve done a lot of research and reading on other outdoor preschools, and the kind of curriculum they use, or the kind of things they do to encourage children to engage. Because sometimes, they’re afraid. It’s different, it doesn’t look like home, it’s not smooth and soft and bug free for them. One of the things they caution instructors, or even parents, to say to their kids is, “Oh, be careful. Be careful.” That’s a no-no, because you’re not being specific about what to do. You just ask children questions. If it looks like to you they’re going to get themselves involved in a place that’s not potentially safe, that you ask them, “How do you feel? Do you feel like you’re going to be able to handle this?” You don’t help them climb up on to something tall, because then they will have to get help getting down. You might not be available or something, and they could get hurt. But just allow children to explore on their own. Just by asking them questions about how they’re feeling about their body in that space, and that’s going to let them develop. Then another area is developing immunities against germs and allergies and things. I just was listening to a podcast about a study that’s been out for a while. That from the ages of zero to four, is the most important time to have your children be exposed … but not to viruses and bacteria. We have medicine and vaccinations for that. To be exposed to non-harmful microorganisms in nature. That’s where you come into contact with them, is with the dirt and the leaves and animals. The Arboretum’s Playscape gives them a perfect opportunity to do that. Steve: As a youngster, you learn about all these cycles. You learn about the rock cycle and the air cycle and water cycles. And you start seeing relationships of how the environment works. I think in one of the most general senses, there’s a definite relationship between us as a human species and the earth. We depend on all the resources that we have at our disposal. The natural resources. Then the earth and the resources depend on us to be proper stewards of the resources we have. Good stewards of our air quality and water quality, soil quality, plant health. It’s something that’s definitely generational. Trees help show us that. The Arboretum’s fortunate to have roughly 60 acres, or 3% of the state’s old-growth trees. One of the sayings is, “When you plant a tree, you’re not doing it for yourself. You’re doing it for your kids and your grandkids.” We want good stewards at all age levels. But when you engage the youngest of our society, you’re then engaging not only those children, but hopefully their children and their grandchildren. Good environmental stewardship, a good appreciation for what we have, I think comes from interacting and learning about it, and of course not being afraid of it. It used to be – and this is just a few years ago – when the hot topic was childhood obesity. It was getting children to go outside and play to help combat childhood obesity. It’s still an issue, but what seems to be even more prevalent these days is screen time. Children having their lives dominated in their free time by looking at a computer screen. That’s something that, as a society, is not going to go away. But I think to take a break from that – and our Playscape is a tech-free zone. We want the kids to be busy with interacting with the natural elements. You’ll find that when they’re doing that, and they’re expending their energy and they’re having a good time, they’re not on the screen. But interacting with nature, not being afraid of it, not being afraid of the unknown, helps them to segue out into hopefully looking for other opportunities that they might have to experience nature. Maybe closer to their house, or around our community, or even later in life. And they’ll remember, “Hey, I went to a class at the Hayes Arboretum and I hugged a tree when I was a youngster.” Lisa: One of the features that I especially like that we have out there on the Playscape is our water feature. We knew from visiting other places that that was going to be really important. But we couldn’t really figure out how to get it incorporated. And it’s quite a distance away from the mud kitchen, because the best place to put it is back at the far edge. The only way we could do the water, really, was through rain barrels that are up against the buildings. But there’s not a better way to teach kids that you can collect this free water. You don’t want to drink it, so we have a sign there about it. But, it works perfectly well to mix in with sand and dirt and paint the wooden turtles and the rocks that are out there. It encourages them also to move, because they have to walk across the distance to get from the rain barrel to the mud kitchen, or to the turtles. They learn how to turn on that spigot themselves; even four-year-olds can handle it all by themselves. It’s not a hard thing to do. But, it kind of teaches them that. Chris: I wonder if we could take a minute to step back and just hear from each of you about your background, and how you ended up here in this moment. What you’ve done, personally and professionally, that led you to being involved in this project, and why it became something that was important to you. … Who wants to start? Steve: So, my background is in landscape architecture. Went to University of Georgia, and then worked for a couple of years up in Virginia, and then four-and-a-half years in Baltimore. There was some positions that had opened here at the Arboretum, and I figured I could make a great impact here. I saw a lot of potential, as I still do, with our organization. Of course, it’s definitely close to home. My dad works here as well. The rest of our family are kind of scattered around the country. But I felt with my background and connection to the environment and passion for the organization, that it was a fantastic opportunity that I didn’t want to turn down. I felt that opportunity may not be around again, for whatever reason. We could find a good staff, so when the opportunity provided itself, I went ahead and accepted, and moved out here. That was 10 years ago. When I started here for the first four years, I was working on building and grounds. The past four or five years, I’ve been doing more administrative, as the executive director. There are definitely days when I wish I was still out on a mower or a tractor or helping with our grounds. But, I do really enjoy … it’s definitely additional responsibility, and a different perspective, being in a leadership role here. But I continue to be amazed at the resources we have in Wayne County. The networking, the partnerships, and in a leadership role with any organization, but especially here, you do get to talk about all the good things that we do here at the Arboretum. But then, look for those connections to grow the organization, and have an outlook that really is more than just the day to day. Hopefully, we’re setting great five-year goals, and even longer-term goals. Hopefully, we’re inspiring our staff, inspiring our visitors to be good stewards, and really making a great impact on the community we live in. Lisa: I got involved as a recently retired science teacher, and had taught several lots of other subjects. But mostly eighth-grade science and have just been always interested in environmental issues. It was part of the statewide curriculum that I had to teach, and always enjoyed how interested students would be in issues that I brought up, that impact their lives and their future. Then once I was retired, and knew I wanted to spend as much time as I could outdoors, because that’s just an interest of mine. The Arboretum’s really good about allowing me to work here, and do what I enjoy doing. And of course, I feel like educating children is one of the best things I could do. I still have a passion for that. Chris: What would you say … Playscape, or just more broadly … is one of the common misconceptions that people have about the Arboretum as a place to come? Because I think it’s easy to simplify it and say, “Well, it’s just a bunch of trees. You can walk through the trees and that’s it.” But it’s a place with so many different experiences, so many different options. The landscape is sprawling and varied. For anyone who’s spent time here, they may start to get a sense of all that you can do here. But when you’re out in the community, talking about this place and what’s possible, what’s the thing that you have to keep reminding people of, or changing their perceptions of? Steve: The two that I hear most often are, one, they don’t realize that we are free. Lots that we have is free to experience out here. The hiking trails, the mountain bike trails, the nature center, that’s all free. Crafts in the nature center. We do have some programs that have a small cost to them. Our auto tour does have a $5 fee per car. But just to come out here and go for a hike, which is the number one thing that people enjoy about the property, it’s free and open to the public year-round. We used to be closed for the winter months. But we’re open and accessible year-round. Then on the east side of the property, we’re open dawn to dusk, seven days a week. That’s kind of the first thing: that we’re open, accessible, and free. The other thing is, just the amount of amenities we have. I think people don’t realize what all we have to offer. And they kind of sometimes, I hear an attitude of, “Well, I’ve been there, I’ve seen it.” And I say, “When was the last time?” And we’ll talk. “Well, it was 20 years ago.” Well, a lot has changed, and hopefully, we will continue to change as the community and the needs of our community continue to evolve over time. We serve the community. Hopefully, we never stop evolving and changing to meet the needs of the people we serve. I think the Playscape is a fantastic example of that. Lisa: As a volunteer, I’ve learned so much more about it. Just being on the grounds, and I’ve always come over here. But just being on the grounds more, you see something new all the time. The wildflower prairie is a nice new addition on the east side. And just the work that volunteers have done, eradicating non-native invasive species here, is something that’s environmentally conscious, and on everybody’s minds right now too, that are involved with the environment. And leading a class of preschoolers? Just opens my eyes to so many different things that I just would have walked past, I think. But just pointing those things out to them, and looking for things they might be interested in, and just listening to what they find when they’re walking through here. All the seasons … There’s so many different things to see here. There are streams and ponds and prairies, as well as the trees, that I think people already know about. But just the variety of habitats, makes for a unique place right in town. Chris: So, what’s the next big project for the Arboretum, or beyond the Playscape? What would you tackle next, either in this vein of outdoor play and education, or other parts of your mission? Lisa: I keep sending Steve pictures of a rope-climbing spider web kind of a feature. I mean, just the rope is expensive, to get the quality that you need that’s going to weather through all seasons out there. Then figuring out where to fasten it up. But I think it would be a great thing for kids to have to climb on. Steve: Yeah, I like the water element. We talked about maybe trying to get the water actually closer to the mud kitchen. In our community outreach board, which is our local board that helps the Arboretum, they suggested some, kind of along the same lines of getting the word out there, some marketing. They suggested drone footage; so we’re working on trying to find somebody that can help us with drone footage. But I think it’s really finding great ways to get the word out there. Sometimes we are told we are a hidden gem, and there are misconceptions that things out here cost money. A few things do, but by and large, Playscape’s free, and we’ve tried to be more accessible to people and things. I love being a gem; I don’t want to be hidden. So we need to do a better job there. That’s definitely one of the things that I’m working on. Then just to be open to new ideas, and to let people share with us. We did a survey, but it was some years ago, about what they liked most about the Arboretum. I know it was before the Playscape. Just by surveying, I think our users and letting them know that if they have comments, suggestions, those kinds of things, we serve them. We serve our community. Lisa: Always, one of the things that you have to balance with all of the extra features you’d like to see is keeping them maintained, then, year in and year out. That’s an issue in my own yard, in my own house, in my own gardens. Just adding the Playscape features, then that wildflower prairie, all those things take some volunteers, a lot, to be willing to come out. And you have to know they’re going to be there, or it’ll just go by the wayside. Chris: If someone wants to volunteer, or they have ideas, or they have a drone, or they want to give money, what’s the best way for them to learn more about the Arboretum and get in touch with you? Steve: The web site is a fantastic resource. We went through a rebranding campaign, I guess, it was probably five years ago now. With a new web site, and our web site has volunteer information on it. They can always call the Arboretum. Our volunteer coordinator and naturalist, Jenny Lee, is fantastic. We try to do a great job in pairing up the volunteers and their interests, with the role that we have out here that needs attention. Definitely, check out the web site, fill out a volunteer interest form there. Chris: It’s hayesarb.org? Steve: Correct. Yeah. Hayesarb.org. They can come to the nature center, fill out a form there, or call us if they want to give a call out here. The post Lisa Burkhardt and Steve Hayes Jr. on outdoor education at the Playscape appeared first on Richmond Matters.
32 minutes | 2 years ago
What you make of it: Shana Nissenbaum on power tools & building a life in Richmond
Shana Nissenbaum is an educator, a builder, a community organizer, and a non-profit founder…and that’s just the start of a long list of the many ways she spends her time to make Richmond a better place. In this conversation we cover a lot of ground including Shana’s work empowering women through power tools via Women’s Workshop Richmond, how she measures success in her classroom, what it’s like to run a maker space, and the different ways she’s learned to build a life and community for herself here. Enjoy! Transcript The below transcript was generated with the use of automation and may contain errors or omissions. Chris Hardie: You and I know each other from a variety of things around town, we were neighbors at some point. I think I put a small dent in your vehicle when I got overconfident about backing up a trailer. Shana Nissenbaum: I thought about that today in fact. I was like, “Who was that?” Chris: Yeah, that was me. I probably owe you some money for a fix up paint job there. But moving on from that, we also recently connected over your work in the Women’s Workshop in Richmond. Let’s just start there. Tell me a little bit about the Women’s Workshop and how it got started, what it’s for and what kinds of things you’re taking on right now. Shana: That covers an awful lot. Women’s Workshop Richmond is in the process of becoming a nonprofit in Richmond. The focus is empowering women through power tools. The way that it works is, women sign up for an individual workshop which typically runs about three hours. They come, they learn to use the tools, they build the confidence and then they actually physically build something, whatever that something is, and then able to take it home and say, “I made that.” In addition to having some actual practical use, they also gain the confidence of, “Here’s how a drill works,” or, “Here’s how a miter saw works.” And then being able to take that back home and say, “Hey, is this picture broke, or if the doorknob needed to be tightened or whatever, I would feel comfortable using the tools to do that.” Chris: What gave you, I guess, who started it and what gave you the idea to start it in the first place? Shana: Three years ago we moved into my house and I wanted a porch. I got some estimates on a screened porch and it was anywhere between seven thousand and thirty thousand dollars. I just didn’t feel like that was reasonable for literally screens. So a buddy of mine helped me build a foundation, build the frame of it, and then I turned it into a porch by the end of two summers. And I realized like, “Hey, I can do this.” So I had a couple other woodworking projects from there. Then I was at a friend’s house in Minnesota last summer and she was talking about how once a month she gets together with these other women and they go to this one woman’s house and that woman teaches them how to do a craft. She had mentioned that recently they had done a pinata. And I thought, “Hey, I could teach women how to make something.” I had these plans for these giant dice, you play Yard Yahtzee with. You put them in a bucket and you cut up a four by four to make them. I thought, “I guess I could do that.” That was last fall and it very quickly snowballed from there. It was clearly something that was missing from Richmond and for women in general that are missing that skill. This filled that void really easily. And women were interested in it as a hobby, but also for the empowerment piece. Shana: I’ve actually had quite a few men say, “Well, what about me? No one taught me.” And there is a social stigma associated with the men not knowing how. So they don’t really have any opportunity to learn. So at some point, I would like to expand and have a couple of novice men’s classes, but, for now, it’s women and girls. Chris: There’s all sort of interesting cultural things going on there. Yeah, you don’t often see classes for men on how to use power tools. I assume that is tied to some very broad stereotype about men know how to use power tools, “They’re born with a drill in their hand.” Then the corresponding very problematic assumption and stereotype narrative that women don’t know how to use power tools and, in some cases, I’m sure you can find parts of our culture that would say, “Oh, women don’t need to use power tools because the men will do it.” I heard you use the word empower and, yeah, I wonder what you’ve experienced in the women that you’ve worked with and talked to, just beyond the basic knowledge of like, “Hey, here’s how to be comfortable with a power tool.” What kinds of empowerment are you seeing happening? Shana: Honestly, it’s even more than I had imagined and I’m blown away by that part. For example, I had someone come to one workshop and was like, “Ah, I’ve never really thought about owning a drill.” And she came to a second workshop and was like, “Nope, I need one. I need to have one at home just in case.” Her husband is, we’ll say, not particularly handy so we secretly told him around Christmastime that that would be the perfect gift. While I picked it out, he physically went to the store and bought it for her for Christmas. That’s something that she now feels comfortable with in her home. Or I had another woman that came to a couple of workshops and then called me up one day and said, “Hey, I found this thing on Pinterest. I think I can build it myself if I can use your miter saw.” I said, “Sure. Come on over.” Then she ended up going on a semester long workshop where she learned how to refinish furniture and build her own stuff. Chris: That’s amazing. Wow. Shana: Yeah, it was really cool. They’re not all quite that big, but … and just like the little pieces, of a woman staring at her finished project. We always take pictures at the end and line all the women up with whatever they made and them all standing there and just the pride in their faces of like, “Hey, I made this thing.” It’s awesome. Chris: It seems like it has implications too for something that sounds simple like home repair. You mentioned building a porch, but being able to fix something, repair something, bolt something together, drill something together. That could represent huge economic savings for someone over the course of their life, just being comfortable with that. Has that come up at all in the workshops and training that you’ve done? Shana: Not that specifically, but absolutely the idea of that is part of the point. One of the reasons that we’re transitioning from an LLC to a nonprofit is that, right now, my clientele typically have a little more expendable income. That’s great, I want all women to be empowered, but I’m not able to hit the demographic that I think most needs the power and that would be typically the single Moms that don’t necessarily have a support network or don’t have somebody that could do it for them and allowing them to do it. So part of the reason for going nonprofit is to get more funding so that those women can come either at a reduced price or for free, just making sure everyone has access to it. And another group of the population, or another population, that I’ve been trying to focus on is, I’ve met with Centerstone and I recently set up something with Meridian where they have a residential facility for people that are going through rehab, specifically their women are going to come in … I’m going to bring things to them and they’re going to build things for the facility, like some picnic benches, some yard games, just a couple different things. I think those are probably a subset of women that really have lost all of their personal power. And this is something very hands-on, but also going to give them that empowerment piece back and hopefully that control back into their lives. Not entirely, there’s lots of other things involved, but just another part of it really. Chris: It seems like every step, every piece helps. Where are you holding these workshops now? Do you have one facility or does it move around? Shana: That’s a great question. Right now, they’re in my “workshop” and we’re going to put that in quotes, it’s a two car garage. But I am in the process of working with a couple of different people. There’s a couple that owns a storefront downtown that is interested in helping out if we can get that going. I’ve also spoken with RCT, the Richmond Civic Theater, about maybe sharing their workspace and in return, the women could help build the sets. That would be a nice symbiotic relationship. I’m not really sure. I’m open to anything. I’m looking for, with a nonprofit looking for something very low cost, but I’m definitely expanding faster than my space will allow. Chris: That’s amazing. It’s also worth mentioning that we connected through the KIND.ARMY project that I started in. There’s a project that you and your group are taking on as a part of that. Can you tell us a little bit about what that’s about? Shana: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve done a ton of partnerships so we can come back to that piece, but one of the ones that I did through the Institute for Creative Leadership is, I paired up with Deirdré Schirmer who works at Morrisson-Reeves. I said, “What’s your take on Little Free Libraries?” I didn’t know if Morrison-Reeves saw that as competition or whatever. She said, “The more books, the better.” So she and I got together with Alis
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