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Lead Balloon Ep. 10 - Getting Uncomfortable About Race in America

Professional communicators must be ready to have uncomfortable conversations to address issues of race and police brutality in America.


In the corporate world, unspoken rules about what constitutes appropriate workplace conversation provide white employees with a safe, comfortable space free from discussion about controversial topics like race and police brutality.

But for people of color, there's no escaping these conversations--they shape the reality that Black people live every day in America. They can't turn it off or "take a break from it," and that's a form of white privilege right there.


Everyone has a part to play in building a better society, and it starts with knowing how to have uncomfortable conversations. So in this episode of Lead Balloon, three people of color who work as professional communicators discuss their experiences with racism, privilege and the corporate world.


Randy Crump from Prism Technical Management and Marketing Services, Dr. Monique Liston from Ubuntu Research and Evaluation, and Kennita Hickman from Catera Omnivision also share tips for how their white colleagues can help the cause instead of contributing to the problem.


Because if you haven't been uncomfortable lately, you are a part of that problem.


Transcript


Dusty Weis:

There is an uncomfortable conversation we need to have. And I want to start this conversation with the stories of two different 17 year old boys who came into contact with authority figures.


Dusty Weis:

And the first one is me. When I was 17, I put myself in a position where police could have chosen to use force against me. And instead of that, I got this:


Deputy:

I was your age too. Young people kind of get the bad rap sometimes.


Dusty Weis:

The other 17 year old boy, whom I got to know very well, well, he got this.


Dispatcher:

What is... (sound of gunshot)


Caller:

There's gunshots...


Dusty Weis:

His name was Trayvon Martin. He was gunned down by a neighborhood watch volunteer while walking home from the corner store. And the most obvious difference between Trayvon and me is that he's black and I'm white.


Dusty Weis:

I was a news reporter in his hometown of Miami Gardens, Florida at the time and I covered his story extensively. Talked to his classmates, teachers, his parents. And I want to start the conversation here because when we talk about race and racism in America, especially as business communicators, we have a tendency to take the easy way out.


Dusty Weis:

Many of us are willing to say racism is bad, but we don't take that extra step to say we have a racism problem in this country and we need to do something about it. Because in the world of business, we're taught not to ruffle feathers. But unruffled feathers are a big part of the reason that this problem continues. Too many people in the business world believe that racism is a problem that was solved in 1968 or in 2008. Because it's a problem they themselves have not experienced. They are unruffled, they're comfortable.


Dusty Weis:

And, frankly, it's time we had some uncomfortable conversations about this topic. If it's a topic you'd rather avoid, maybe you're due for a reminder that for some people they don't have that luxury.


Kennita Hickman:

I wish I could crank off being black. Like I wish I could turn that off. This is what I live every day.


Dusty Weis:

In this episode of Lead Balloon, tales from three professional communicators, people of color. How they've experienced systemic racism, how they've been affected by the last month of events surrounding the police killing of George Floyd, and how they push back against racism in their capacity as professional communicators.


Dusty Weis:

But, also, how we as their white friends and colleagues need to acknowledge the problems that exist and how we can be there for them to build a better world for people of all races and colors. Because if you haven't been uncomfortable lately, you're part of the problem.


Dusty Weis:

I'm Dusty Weis from Podcamp Media. This is Lead Balloon, a podcast about well-meaning communications professionals and how they've overcome the uncomfortable situations in their lives.


Dusty Weis:

Thanks for listening. If you're a well-meaning white person like me, parts of this episode are going to make you uncomfortable. I hope you tough it out. Let your defenses down, reserve judgment and just listen like I tried to do. Because as business leaders who are white, we're used to doing the talking, used to having our voices heard. We have a poor track record of listening and a worse record of taking criticism to heart.


Dusty Weis:

But first I want to take you back to the 17 year old boys that I mentioned because there are people out there who don't think racism is a problem in our society and it is.


Dusty Weis:

In mid-March of 2012 the shooting death of Trayvon Martin became a major national news story. And day-in-and-day-out I was on the frontlines as the nation tried to get its arms around the facts of that story.


Nancy Grace:

Straight out to Dustin Weis, reporter with WIOD.


Dusty Weis:

It was actually one of the last major news stories that I covered before leaving the world of journalism for public relations and marketing. And it left an indelible mark on me. One day from that period that really sticks out to me was the day that I was assigned to cover a protest by Trayvon's high school classmates just a few miles away from our radio studio in Miami Gardens.


Dusty Weis:

"Trayvon Martin's classmates at Krop High School say they're taking the high road in protest to the junior's death in a neighborhood watch captain's gun sights. Students say they chose to cancel a planned walkout at the urging of Trayvon's mother."


Student:

He'd be proud of us to seek justice in a civilized way instead of riots and all of this.


Dusty Weis:

"The death hits close to home among Trayvon's classmates who have worn black and carried Skittles and ice tea to class this week in his memory. Those are the same items Trayvon picked up at a 7-Eleven the night he was gunned down by George Zimmerman who has not been arrested. Dustin Weis for CBS News in Miami."


Dusty Weis:

Listening back to that footage from eight years ago, it is haunting how familiar it sounds.


Student:

No justice. No peace. No justice. No peace. No justice. No peace.


Dusty Weis:

This could have been recorded yesterday at a protest over the death of George Floyd or Breonna Taylor or Ahmaud Arbery or Rayshard Brooks. Those protests at Trayvon's high school that day inspired protests nationwide. In a lot of ways they formed the foundation upon which the Black Lives Matter movement would be built.


Dusty Weis:

But a quick refresher because this all happened eight years ago. Trayvon Martin was shot on February 26, the Sunday night of the NBA Allstar Game as he walked back to his dad's girlfriend's house after a trip to the corner store in Sanford, Florida. Neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman spotted Trayvon and called police.


George Zimmerman:

Hey, we got some break-ins in my neighborhood and there's a real suspicious guy. This guy looks like he's up to no good or he's on drugs or something. It's raining and he's just walking around looking about.


Dusty Weis:

Trayvon was actually on a phone call with his classmate Rachel and told her that there was a guy in a truck following him and creeping him out.


George Zimmerman:

He's being rude, just staring, he's creeping me out.


Dispatcher:

He's just walking around the area?


Dusty Weis:

Trayvon told his friend Rachel that he tried to lose Zimmerman but Zimmerman kept following him and he never identified himself as a neighborhood watch volunteer.


George Zimmerman:

He's coming to check me out. He's got something in his hands. I don't know what his deal is.


Dusty Weis:

Trayvon was unarmed. The Skittles and ice tea that he picked up at the corner store and carried in his hoodie became hallmark symbols at the protests that would follow his death.


George Zimmerman:

He's running.


Dispatcher:

He's running, which way is he running?


Dusty Weis:

Under his breath Zimmerman mutters what sounds like a racial slur before he's told by the 911 dispatcher that they don't need him to follow Trayvon.


Dispatcher:

Are you following him?


George Zimmerman:

Yeah.


Dispatcher:

Okay, we don't you need to do that.


Dusty Weis:

We'll never know exactly what happened after that call ended.


Dispatcher:

No problem. I'll let them know to call you when they're in the area.


George Zimmerman:

Thanks.


Dispatcher:

You're welcome.


Dusty Weis:

It seems odd that Trayvon Martin would circle back to confront George Zimmerman after running away from him. It seems likely that Zimmerman ignored the dispatcher's advice and continued to pursue him. Trayvon's friend Rachel, who was still on the phone with him, testified that she heard Martin say, "What are you following me for?" And Zimmerman demanding, "What are you doing here?", before the call ended with the sounds of a scuffle.


Dusty Weis:

What we do know is that the confrontation escalated to violence. George Zimmerman took some licks that left a mark, that he drew the handgun that he was licensed to carry and shot Trayvon Martin in the chest. And that he told the police that he did it in self-defense.


Dusty Weis:

They originally accepted his version of events and sent him home without repercussion. It wasn't until after many weeks of protests and public pressure that George Zimmerman was ultimately charged with second degree murder. He would be acquitted under Florida's Stand Your Ground Law, a deeply flawed piece of legislation that protects shooters from prosecution if they feel their lives were threatened. Even in cases where they themselves were acting in poor faith in the confrontation.


Dusty Weis:

I'm not here to adjudicate who picked a fight with whom, or how a state's statute in Florida should sort out aggressors from victims, but I want to examine what this case has in common with so many other shootings of unarmed black men and boys over the last decade.


Dusty Weis:

Almost all of them would be alive today if authority figures like George Zimmerman or responding police officers had given these young men the benefit of the doubt instead of jumping to the conclusion that they were dangerous criminals up to no good.


George Zimmerman:

They always get away.


Dusty Weis:

And I want to look at that in the context of another 17 year old's story, my own. It was autumn 2002 in the rural Wisconsin town where I grew up. My high school buddies and I, we were actually up to no good.


Dusty (17):

Light the fire, light it on fire. Light it on fire and golf it.


Dusty Weis:

Fueled by the invincibility of youth, boredom and an embarrassing affinity for the TV show Jackass, we were in the midst of what I can safely call a crime spree and I was the genius videotaping it.


Dusty's Buddies:

Jackass, who are they? Exactly.


Dusty Weis:

It was dark out, we had circled our cars up in an old rock quarry outside of town and illuminated by headlights the implements of our mischief-making laid strewn about in the gravel. The makings of an attempted Molotov cocktail incendiary device, a couple bottles of pilfered liquor, some bags of expired produce and 15 or 20 stolen ceramic lawn gnomes that we had taken from the front lawns of little old ladies and gnome enthusiasts in our little town.


Dusty Weis:

These fragile yard decorations had been appropriated over the course of a few weeks under the cover of darkness for the purpose of meeting a grizzly fate in that quarry.


Dusty (17):

What do we have here boys?


Dusty's Buddies:

This is our spud gun.


Dusty Weis:

If you're unfamiliar with the term spud gun or potato cannon, it's a homemade combustion-powered projectile launcher designed to shoot rock hard potatoes hundreds of yards down range at speeds in excess of a 100 miles an hour. They're simple to build out of supplies that are easy to obtain at any hardware store using plans that are readily available on the internet.


Dusty Weis:

And while our intent with this hillbilly artillery was far from insidious, make no mistake about it, we were by definition armed with deadly weapons. And we were up to no good. Cackling with glee we blasted our stolen lawn gnomes to pieces.


Dusty's Buddies:

Hasta la vista, baby.


Dusty Weis:

And in short order turned these potentially deadly weapons on one another.


Dusty Weis:

These are the shenanigans of which we were in the midst when two cars pulled into the quarry and hit us with spotlights.


Dusty's Buddies:

There's a car... Someone. That's Katie. No, that's the cops.


Dusty Weis:

And this is where the story could have taken a dark turn but didn't. It was readily apparent that we were up to no good. We had deadly weapons in hand and stolen property in plain sight. But these two sheriff's deputies approached us non-confrontationally. Listened to our cover story.


Dusty's Buddies:

We have permission.


Deputy:

Can I just get your names?


Dusty's Buddies:

Sure. Yeah, that'd be cool.


Dusty Weis:

Took down our information.


Deputy:

Next.


Dusty (17):

Dustin Christopher Weis.


Dusty Weis:

And even tried to steer us toward an explanation that would not result in consequences.


Deputy:

You guys wouldn't be out doing a school project would you?


Dusty Weis:

All the while my buddies and I just stood there riveted to the ground, waiting to be loaded into the back of a squad. The cops even asked us to fire off a potato for them.


Deputy:

Let's see what you got. I got to see this.


Dusty Weis:

We were certain that they were setting us up to take a fall.


Dusty's Buddies:

They want to see a demonstration?


Dusty (17):

Yep.


Dusty Weis:

But we obliged.


Dusty's Buddies:

Bombs away.


Dusty Weis:

And we forced rigid grins when they walked down the line of shattered ceramic lawn gnomes that we had stolen and bombarded.


Dusty's Buddies:

Those are our victims.


Dusty Weis:

Then there was this long uncomfortable pause as the deputy in charge collected his thoughts and we held our breath.


Deputy:

That's cool.


Dusty (17):

All rights, thanks.


Deputy:

Do you guys know how long you're going to be down here? Because I know there


Dusty (17):

Well, not much longer.


Deputy:

Because I'm going to tell you, there's neighbors down here-


Dusty (17):

Aren't happy.


Deputy:

Well, they're kind of wondering what's going on.


Dusty's Buddies:

Actually we'll head out of here.


Deputy:

Unfortunately, I was your age too, young people kind of get the bad rap sometimes, okay.


Dusty Weis:

We could not believe it. No trip to jail, no tickets, not even a call to our parents. Just a keep it down you kids and get home safe.


Deputy:

All right.


Dusty (17):

Thanks a lot.


Deputy:

Have a nice night.


Dusty's Buddies:

You too.


Dusty Weis:

My high school buddies and I, we get to tell this story and laugh about it these days. But more and more lately I'm starting to realize how privileged that makes us. I'm not telling this story here because it makes me look good, it doesn't really. And the statute of limitations on the crimes that we committed has long since lapsed, so that helps.


Dusty Weis:

But I'm retelling this story here because I consider it to be an example of how good policing should work. These deputies came upon a pack of eight teenagers in the midst of mischief and approached us non-confrontationally, even when the manual gave them permission to come in guns drawn.


Dusty Weis:

We were armed, we outnumbered them and we were in the midst of committing property crimes. But they didn't see us as criminals or as a threat. They saw us as stupid kids who were making dumb decisions. And if that's a luxury that was afforded to everyone equally in this country, we wouldn't need to be having a conversation about race and police brutality.


Dusty Weis:

When we talk about white privilege, white folks like me too often assume it's a knock against them. That someone's saying that they didn't work hard to get ahead and succeed, that they didn't earn what they have, and that's not what white privilege is. And this is where the people who deny that white privilege is a thing chime in with, "Well, you didn't run from the police so they didn't have to get rough with you."


Dusty Weis:

And let me assure you that there were plenty of times when we ran from the police. It became sort of a sport for us, but no one ever pulled a gun on us. And those folks might pipe in with, "Well, you were respectful to those cops." And we were, that was a behavior that we learned from our parents who taught us that you can usually trust the police to do the right thing. Because our parents also benefited from white privilege, and taught us that if you talked respectfully to police you're more likely to get away with a warning.


Dusty Weis:

But what we didn't learn was that if you grow up in a house where the default setting is not to trust police, you don't learn how to sweet talk your way out of a ticket. And because of bad experiences that have happened to people who look like you, instead you learn that the police are a threat.


Dusty Weis:

White privilege is growing up as white kids in a mostly white town in a world run mostly by white people. Living in a system where lenders or teachers or cops, when they look at you, they see themselves.


Deputy:

Unfortunately I was your age too. Young people kind of get the bad rap sometimes.


Dusty Weis:

I can't say what's in anyone's heart. Who's prejudice, who is outright racist. I can't say what might have happened if we'd been black kids playing with deadly weapons and stolen property while trespassing in a quarry. But in the case of Trayvon Martin, I can safely say that George Zimmerman looked at that 17 year old young man and didn't see himself, he saw a threat.


George Zimmerman:

This guy looks like he's up to no good or he's on drugs or something.


Dusty Weis:

That perception colored their interaction from the start and precipitated its end. And disproportionately that pattern is repeated again and again in interactions with black men in our country. We have a problem with race and policing in America.


Dusty Weis:

So what can we as communications professionals do about it? Well, for starters we can acknowledge the problem especially when doing so puts us in an uncomfortable position. And, secondly, we can listen to people who have lived a different experience from ours.


Dusty Weis:

Randy Crump is the CEO of Prism Technical Management and Marketing Services. Dr. Monique Liston is chief strategist at UBUNTU Research and Evaluation. A firm that offers diversity and inclusion coaching to organizations. And Kennita Hickman is the chief culture curator at Catera OmniVision, a promotions agency involved in the local Milwaukee music scene.


Dusty Weis:

And so for the rest of this episode I'm going to shut up and listen to what they have to say.


Dusty Weis:

Earlier this summer when the protests over the police custody death of George Floyd boiled over into property destruction here in my home of Milwaukee, some of the worst destruction happened along King Drive. It's a bustling historically black business corridor, home to many of the city's successful African American-owned businesses. But in the heat of the moment, as tempers boiled and opportunists moved in, it was those businesses that were hit the hardest.

Dusty Weis:

That included Randy Crump's Prism Technical Management and Marketing Services. On the night its front windows were smashed he says he watched the whole thing on a Facebook live stream of a young man whom he'd been helping to get construction work.


Randy Crump:

He has five children. I had a conversation with him and he told me it was tough raising the kids but it was his job. And I told him that I really appreciated what he was doing. He didn't realize it, but my mom passed away when I was 11 years old and my father worked second shift at Allis-Chalmers. And it just meant something to me having a father stay there with his kids because my father never, ever gave up on us.


Randy Crump:

And so I told this young man that, and we got him certified for the City of Milwaukee's Residence Preference Program. Now I'm watching a video he's filming live of a dumpster on fire or a car on fire. He was looking for his brother and I was just thinking, Lord, get out of the area because if you get arrested what are those five children going to do?


Dusty Weis:

And that just had to be just a conflicting ball of emotions for you as you were watching what was happening. First of all, just as a human being, second, as a black man, and, thirdly, as someone who owns a business in this area. What were you feeling when you saw that video?


Randy Crump:

Well, I was hoping that nothing would happen here in our office because we're in a building with a bank. I know that if something did happen, the alarms would go off immediately because of having a bank in the building as well. But that doesn't mean that significant damage wouldn't be done, and it was just very concerning. Mixed emotions because while I don't personally understand what makes someone damage a building like that, I do know that when you are frustrated and don't think there's a solution, people do things that are not rational.


Randy Crump:

One of the things I learned is that if people don't care about where their own life is headed, they don't care about how they impact your life. It actually moved me years ago to create an effort called Dream Chasing with inner city kids to help them have a vision for the future. Because people that don't think their own life has value, don't value yours.


Randy Crump:

So I understood that, but I don't understand personally how someone goes into a facility and cleans it out. But it's not for me to understand, it's for me to hopefully help and make a difference.


Dusty Weis:

It echoes what I heard from a fellow that I know that actually manages the business improvement district here in King Drive. Fellow by the name of Deshay Agee. I was down here in the days that followed that night of unrest, sweeping up broken glass and picking up police beanbag rounds that they fired at people, picking those up off the ground.


Dusty Weis:

In the middle of that Deshay addressed the crowd and he said something that really stuck with me and he said, "People who feel like they have an ownership stake in their own neighborhood don't smash windows and burn buildings."


Randy Crump:

That's correct.


Dusty Weis:

And that really stuck with me. And I think there are people out there whose aim is to discredit the broader protests over police brutality and racism, and they point to the destruction that happens in neighborhoods like this one. And they say, "What are they doing? Their destroying blacked-owned businesses."


Dusty Weis:

As someone whose business was personally affected by this violence, how would you respond to those people?


Randy Crump:

To recognize the need to do something. I will tell you with all the destruction and anger that's being exercised, I think it is a clarion call for people to listen that something is wrong and it's not getting better.


Dusty Weis:

When I was just starting out in public relations at Milwaukee City Hall, one of the jobs that I oversaw was the production of newsletters that our 15 aldermen and alderwomen would send out to their constituents throughout the city.


Dusty Weis:

I remember, this one sticks out with me really boldly, one day one of our council members, a fellow by the name of Alderman Willie Wade, whom I know that you've met, walked into my office and says, "What is this newsletter that you designed? I can't send this out to the people in my district." And he points to it and on the front of it is Milwaukee's Calatrava at the Art Museum, which is very much considered by people in the broader community to be a symbol of the city, and the U.S. Bank tower, which is the tallest building in the state.


Dusty Weis:

And he pointed to these pictures and he said, "When people in my neighborhoods, people in my district think about Milwaukee, these aren't the landmarks that they think of. Get me a newsletter with a picture of St. Joseph's Hospital and Sherman Park Boys and Girls Club and the Community Garden."


Dusty Weis:

Just having that conversation with him really opened my eyes to the difference in lived realities that people in Milwaukee face. It harkens back to me to... I got to take a tour of the Fiserv Forum, the new Milwaukee Bucks basketball arena when it was under construction. And Alex Lasry introduced me to a young man that was working on the site there. A young man of color from Milwaukee's northside. And he told me that, "I didn't use to come downtown. This wasn't really my scene. But now I come down here every couple weeks and I bring my kids and I point to the arena that was being built at the time, and I say that's where I work, that's what I'm building. This is my building." And hearing him say that really made me feel good inside.


Randy Crump:

And that's how we change things in town. People start to respect what other people have because they were a part of it.


Dusty Weis:

In that vein of then turning the focus to solutions. Your entire business model here at Prism is predicated on extending opportunities to the kinds of people to whom those opportunities have not typically been available. People of color, people in poor neighborhoods, people with a record, people to whom a good education was not afforded. It's your job to help organizations see past their biases and see the potential in these kind of folks.


Dusty Weis:

You've consulted on some of Milwaukee's marquee construction projects, the second tallest building in the state, the new Milwaukee Bucks arena, the city's flagship streetcar line. But when you pitch your business model to construction contractors, you're still, even today in 2020, met with hesitation and even confusion.


Dusty Weis:

Why is it in this year in this day and place that hiring people from the urban areas where projects are happening is still such a novel concept?


Randy Crump:

I think it's a lack of knowledge of the value of the people that are in the city. There is a disconnect in understanding, and this is what segregation causes. People don't realize the character of people in the inner city is no different than the character of folks that live in the suburban areas or the rural areas. It is a matter of giving it an opportunity.


Dusty Weis:

You have made a profession of talking to people about race directly. And having a conversation about race is a tricky thing, even in 2020. Whether we're talking about implicit biases in construction hiring or in policing or in anything else, why is it you think that people, especially people who look like me, get so defensive and standoffish? And what do you do as a professional communicator to advance that conversation and make actual progress?


Randy Crump:

It is amazing how difficult it is to have a conversation about race. But I think you have to lighten up the conversation a bit. I recall at a construction managers meeting for Miller Park I played the song for a room full of Caucasian engineers Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud. And they looked at me like I was crazy. I said, "Guys, I want you to understand that we can have a conversation about anything. If there is a challenge that you have, we need to talk about it. I'm shocking you with this because I know it's freaking you out, but we have got to have these conversations."


Dusty Weis:

So humor, sense of humor is how you get people to let the shields down.


Randy Crump:

If we just realize that people are just people and we've got to have the conversations, we can get through this.


Dusty Weis:

Do you ever come up against someone who is just so ingrained in their line of thinking that you can't figure out how to get them to loosen up?


Randy Crump:

It happens, it happens. Interesting enough, I recall as a student I interviewed at a couple of companies that asked me about race. They're not supposed to but they did. One company asked me if I could take a joke about my color? It wasn't later until I understood that if you are a minority person going to work in sales in a state like Wisconsin, you're going to go places that black people have never been before, and that there could be some uncomfortable moments.


Randy Crump:

What does a company do when a customer says something racist to a salesperson in a part of the state where they're not used to people correcting them? But as an 18 year old I didn't really understand it, thought it was a little weird.


Randy Crump:

But I got to experience it as a sales engineer once I graduated, had a customer of one of my distributors in Sheboygan say to me that I was all right to be the wrong color. He was drunk. It was a two day open house at one of our wholesale distributors in Sheboygan. The conversation started out rather funny. He asked me how tall was I. This guy was about six inches shorter than me and that means you're really short. His nickname was Shorty.


Randy Crump:

And so I proceeded to play with him and say, "Well, how tall do you want me to be?" And we joked a little bit, then finally he loosened up and said, "Randy, you're all right to be the wrong color." I said, "What does that mean?" He said, "Well, I thought I was going to have to call the NAACP." It was really weird. But that was the moment I understood why I was asked as an undergrad could I take a joke about my color because they knew that someday this was going to come up.


Dusty Weis:

And it shouldn't have to be that way. For you to live in a world where you're expected to have a thick skin about that kind of stuff when so many people who look like me have a thin skin about it, has got to frustrate you to no end.


Randy Crump:

Well, you learn that people do it because they don't understand.


Dusty Weis:

I should pause here to let you know that in the next segment of this interview, Randy's going to use that word, the N word. A word that offensive in most context, although he's certainly within his rights to use it. It's a word that was used deliberately to cause him pain. And out of respect for his pain and his decision to share this story, I'm going to leave it unbleeped. If hearing the N word in this context causes you pain, I'd invite you to skip forward in this episode by seven minutes so you don't have to hear it.


Randy Crump:

Fast forward from that point to 1984. I bought a company in Waukesha, a leveraged buyout. It was a motor repair company. We basically had a milk route to drive around to various small factories around Wisconsin picking up electric motors that needed to be repaired.


Randy Crump:

And my truck driver of the company I just bought, everybody in the firm was Caucasian, and we pulled into a firm in Waterloo, Wisconsin, picked up a motor and my truck driver introduced me to the maintenance supervisor who brought the motor to the truck and he said, "This is the new owner of the firm and I wanted to introduce him to you." The maintenance supervisor said, "I'm glad you guys showed up today because the motor was really giving me a problem. The bezel on the front of the motor was vibrating. I tried to fix it, I welded the foot, and it broke off. And then pretty soon after welding that, it broke again. I had a clothes' hanger holding the thing together."


Randy Crump:

And he looked me dead in the eye and said, "Well, you know I nigger-rigged it." And my truck driver he got bug-eyed like an old movie and we get back in the pickup truck driving around to the next location and my truck driver said, "Randy, why didn't you say something to that guy?" I said, "About what?" And I knew exactly what he was saying because I felt it but I bit my tongue.


Randy Crump:

And my truck driver kept trying to pry it out of me and I would not suggest that I even understood what he was saying. Finally, after several miles down the road I said, "Are you talking about when he used the N word?" He said, "Yes. Why didn't you say something?" I said, "Well, why did we go there?" He said, "To pick up a motor." I said, "What's in the back of the truck?" And my truck driver said, "Well, a motor." I said, "Well, that's why we went there. What do you expect me to do? To help solve the racial problems of the world? If you're worried about whether or not the customer was bigoted, he saw me before he went to get the motor. We got the motor. Mission accomplished."


Randy Crump:

I said, "What'll probably happen now, in the middle of dinner tonight at home with his wife and kids, he'll probably be recounting the conversation with me about this colored guy he met and then he'll realize what he said in the conversation. And it'll probably make more difference than if I had said something to him and then embarrassed him and he'd be too afraid to talk to me the next time I show up there. So that's just something sometimes you got to do."


Dusty Weis:

When I hear you tell a story like that, it makes me think about the adversity that I haven't faced in my life. I've been learning about coming to terms with this notion of white privilege, over the last 10 years in my life, but certainly recently as well. And I've come to think about it like a hurdle race. So when somebody points to the privileges that I enjoy as a white person, they're not saying necessarily that I didn't run a good race, or I don't deserve success. They're saying that I do face fewer hurdles in my path that are baked in to the system than someone who looks like you do.


Dusty Weis:

Can you think of hurdles, obstacles that you've overcome in your career as an entrepreneur that I would not have had to face?


Randy Crump:

Well, the greatest challenges are people that prejudge or whatever that have a challenge. It's a difficult thing because it takes longer to build a relationship because people have to get over those biases. But I take it a little differently. I take it that if you can get through that, the miracle of people meeting someone who's not who they thought you were; and I actually tried to tell this to young African American males, get through that initial period and people will think that you're something special.


Randy Crump:

There is a phrase that used to be applied to Barack Obama, that people would say that he was the magical Negro. And they would say that because people thought he was so special. And I tell people that if you can get through that period where people realize that you're an intelligent individual and you can gain their trust, people will think of you as something special. It is their mistake in thinking that you're better than all the other black people that they have ever heard of. But people then start to grant you with a special status.


Randy Crump:

It shouldn't have to happen, but it takes longer to build that relationship initially so you do have to prove yourself. And that is draining, and some people can't do it.


Dusty Weis:

That's a hurdle that not everybody clears.


Randy Crump:

Absolutely. And that's the problem because it takes energy, it's draining. I'll share one other thing. The employer I eventually went to work for in Milwaukee as a sales engineer, after turning down, this is shocking when I think about it, 21 job offers. I graduated with honors and decided to go into sales. I was a hot commodity when I graduated.


Randy Crump:

And my employer, after finishing my training in sales gave me a raise and a company car because I was in sales. But one thing happened in training that could have derailed this. When I was in training, I was the only minority in the class, all males. And we had to learn how to give a professional presentation and I did well in that individual presentation.


Randy Crump:

We had to learn how to give group presentations. And so now working in a group, I disagreed with my group and I stood my ground because I felt comfortable with myself. We were all fine, never a problem in my group, but we were loud. In a mass group and small groups, the instructor who was a retired instructor from UWM, walked into the room and heard the noise that our group was making just debating issues. And the instructor said, "Don't be a nigger in the woodpile."


Dusty Weis:

You were in a group of people being loud and he singled you out?


Randy Crump:

Yes. And there were maybe 21, 22 students, or graduates that were in the training program. I, again, bit my tongue but everybody started laughing. I'm a kid that grew up on 27th and Auer without my mom. I was rough. I was ready to go off, but I didn't say anything because I thought for a moment. Everything I worked for goes up in smoke if I say something. It was the toughest time of my life.


Randy Crump:

After the class the instructor came over to me and said, "I want to apologize for what I said." And I know that he was thinking, here comes a lawsuit. And I said, "It's too late. You should have said I'm sorry immediately, the moment those words came out of your mouth. It never should have happened, but if it did, you should have said I'm sorry immediately."


Randy Crump:

So I went into my job with that hanging over my head not knowing how this is going to play out. But when I finally finished the training and got a raise a car, I got a 25% raise. I believe my employer probably thought this kid is ready to be sent out into Wisconsin as a sales engineer. Because they were probably thinking the same thing that one of the other companies I interviewed with can he take a joke or a jab at his color?


Randy Crump:

Because I was going into sales. But that hurdle, that first hurdle could have taken me out.


Dusty Weis:

Yeah, and, again, it's something I never would have had to face. And had I had to face something like it, I certainly don't think I would have had the grace under pressure to do what you did and keep my temper in check.


Randy Crump:

When I tell young African American males going into construction that they're liable to hear that word, and I tell them that story right there. Most of them say, "Well, I know that you beat his a-s-s." They immediately think that the answer is violence. And I tell them no, and I explain to them that I have been involved in construction projects where young black men have got in fights. And one of their reasons for getting into a fight, they said that somebody used the N word. I said, "You're likely the only person on the job site that heard that conversation, but everybody can see you fighting and you're going to get fired."


Randy Crump:

I said, "I would suggest when those words come out of somebody's mouth, to go over to the guy who said it and shake their hand and say I'm glad you're finally the first person to use that with me. Now I can stop thinking it's going to happen because it has." I said, "You've got to control life. Do not let that word control you. Control your life and take control of it today."


Dusty Weis:

Is it a two-way street? When you talk about coaching young black men to hold their temper and not take the bait when someone throws that out there, do you see people who look like me making progress too?


Randy Crump:

Yes, I think that employers are starting to recognize that they've got to do something with it. You know there is a shortage of people in the construction industry, but not really. If all people are available to work in construction, there's not nearly the shortage that gets talked about.


Randy Crump:

Again, going back to Miller Park, I remember an electrical contractor telling me that they could not use somebody from the inner city to work on Miller Park and they were telling me about what they needed people to do. And as an electrical engineer, one of the things was an electrical contractor that said they couldn't use a minority person to pull wires through a conduit. And I made the statement to the electrical contractor that, "I could train a teenager to do that. There's not a snowball chance in hell you're going to get away with that with me."


Randy Crump:

You have got to take a shot giving people a chance. When our office was over on Capitol Drive, I watched work being done to resurface Capitol Drive and I saw an electrical contractor they had, on the whole project site they had no minorities on it. And it actually made me mad.


Randy Crump:

There was miles of wires that were pulled through conduits at the job site. Now that's a job that you could take somebody off the street. You could go into a McDonald's and pull somebody off of a cash register making six or seven dollars an hour and put them in a job making $30 an hour with benefits as a starting apprentice.


Randy Crump:

It's just ridiculous to not have people of color doing those things to get them started in a trade and recognizing what life can be like with those opportunities.


Dusty Weis:

Because ultimately access to opportunity is one of the best and foremost ways to go about undermining the inequity that's baked into the system right now.


Randy Crump:

Yes. And it's exposure. Without that exposure, people think that it's not for them. I make the comment about my son. My son has caused me to be a real dreamer as to what's possible. And my wife and I were teenage parents and the most important thing to us was to make sure that our son got an education. And, frankly, he got accepted to Harvard from 27th and Auer, where we lived at the time.


Randy Crump:

He went to Duke undergrad and Duke Law School when he thought he wanted to be an engineer, he thought that Duke would be a better school for engineering. Fast forward after that experience, and he got scholarship money to go because it was still going to be tough for us to do, even though I was a working engineer, we were relatively young.


Randy Crump:

My wife and I took 13 inner city kids from our church to see Miller Park being built and I asked the kids what they were going to do when they graduated from high school. And they said that they didn't know. This was in 1990, '91, whatever it was. So I asked, "Had they ever considered working in construction?" And these kids had no idea what that meant. They said, "Mr. Crump, that's what you do when you can't do anything else."


Randy Crump:

We were watching from outside the fence and so I asked the kids, "Well, if you don't know what you're going to do and it's not going to be construction, then you're all going to college, right?" Not one of them could say they were going to college. And a couple of girls started to cry and that bothered me to no end.


Randy Crump:

So I said, "What's wrong?" And they said, "Well, there's no money in my family for college." A couple of the kids said, "Well, my parents told me when I'm 18, I'm on my own." I actually went home to my wife and told her that story and said, "We got to do something about this." Because we had the backdrop of our son getting accepted to Harvard and getting scholarships to go anywhere in America he wants to go to school.


Randy Crump:

So we loaded a 15 passenger van with these 13 kids and my wife and I. It was packed to the hilt with our luggage for 10 days.


Dusty Weis:

Oh, man.


Randy Crump:

And we took these 13 kids to Harvard. We actually had... in the summer we went to all the schools in Wisconsin that we could get to in a day and back. So they went to UW-Madison, went to Marquette, went to UWM, [Annasoy 00:42:06] and we took them to Harvard, we took them to Princeton, Duke. We took them to USC, Purdue and a couple other schools on the way back. And we came back in 10 days.


Randy Crump:

The grade point average of these kids jumped over a point in one year. And it was not because of the schools they went to, it was because Harvard told these kids that if you can get in you go free if your family makes less than 45 grand a year. That was in 2000.


Randy Crump:

So our rallying cry for these kids became what's the hardest part about going to Harvard? It's not the money, it's can you get in? From 2000 to 2008, we took a 107 kids on a trip like that. We eventually moved to a motor coach. We had 40 kids at a time. Some of the kids went on multiple trips. We took a total of 107 kids, 40 of them are doing amazing things.


Randy Crump:

And the thing that burns me to this day, too many of them are not in Wisconsin. A lot of them are in Atlanta. We have one young lady who works for Microsoft. We have a number of nurses. One kid who had respiratory therapy for children's hospital for a while, I think he's in his own practice now. Three attorneys, one that graduated from Yale University. Two Milwaukee police sargents. It's amazing.


Dusty Weis:

It's a remarkable story and yours is a remarkable business and you've walked a remarkable path. I thank you for sharing it all with me to today and advancing a dialogue that I think is real important and one that can't be talked about enough right now in our country here today. Thank you, Mr. Crump, I appreciate it.


Randy Crump:

Thank you.


Dusty Weis:

Randy Crump and his mission at Prism are certainly an inspiring and hopeful story. And for communications professionals who are looking to make a difference in a world that can seem awfully bleak these days, we offer some ready solutions. But I keep coming back to what he said about the racial slurs that were used against him.


Randy Crump:

You do have to prove yourself and that is draining.


Dusty Weis:

I don't know about you, I'm not comfortable living in a world where a person of color feels like they should have to suppress their legitimate feelings of anger when someone attacks them with a racial slur. So coming up after the break.


Dr. Monique Liston:

I think it's really important to note that there is no line between personal and professional when it comes to understanding yourself in this way. And if I am not going to see myself outside of my business then I'm part of the problem.


Dusty Weis:

What other steps we can take to build a better world in this racially-charged environment. And we're going to get uncomfortable. That's coming up in a minute here on Lead Balloon.


Dusty Weis:

This is Lead Balloon and I'm Dusty Weis. Randy Crump had to hold his tongue while someone assaulted him with racial epitaphs because he knew that his success as a professional depended on it. It's not okay that he was ever put in that position and we all have a role to play in building a better world than that.


Dusty Weis:

But kind of toughness and level-headiness that he displayed is something to which we all should aspire. And that especially, especially includes us white folks when we're confronted by our own shortcomings in the area of racial justice. If you're really serious about building a better world, it means having a thick skin, engaging in some awkward conversations, listening to voices of color and considering some ideas from outside your sphere of comfort.


Dusty Weis:

In the wake of George Floyd's death in police custody, I was invited to take part in a Wisconsin Podcast Association live podcast-a-thon. I brought along two professional communicators who offered up some actionable solutions and were not afraid to make me uncomfortable.


Dusty Weis:

First up is Kennita Hickman, founder of Catera OmniVision, a communications and branding consultancy that specializes in the fusion of music, business and democracy. And she's the force behind Artist Eats and Our City Your Vote.


Kennita Hickman:

Thanks for having me first of all, Dusty, I super appreciate it. So Catera is where we help creatives, entrepreneurs, musicians and politicians to be seen and heard. Part of that is through branding and brand strategy in communications.


Kennita Hickman:

And content creation as Dusty mentioned. Artist Eats where I interview musicians over food at a local restaurant. And Our City Your Vote where we help get out the vote leveraging the celebrity of independent musicians.


Dusty Weis:

And fresh off her appearance on the Lance Bass podcast, true story, Dr. Monique Liston is an adjunct professor at Marquette University and the chief strategist at UBUNTU Research and Evaluation.


Dr. Monique Liston:

Yes, UBUNTU is a professional learning community led and powered by black women. We evaluate, facilitate and strategize with individuals, organizations and communities. We focus largely on issues related to racial equity, justice and liberation. Our work forces us to think about what does it mean for us to make the world a little bit better when it comes to these issues? Where do we push buttons? Where do we light fires? Where do we point out inequities? How do we highlight the issues?


Dr. Monique Liston:

I come to that space as an educator, a professional evaluator and definitely someone who is thinking about we have to walk through the process of creating more equitable organizations. Of thinking about challenging anti-blackness and white supremacy, of undoing the harm and hurt that black people have been enduring for far too long. If I can be on the frontlines of that fight, so be it.


Dusty Weis:

Well, thank you both again for joining me. You clearly bring a level of credibility to this that I am lacking as it goes. This isn't something that you two saw on TV, this is something that you lived in a very personal way. So how has that impacted you both personally and professionally, Dr. Liston?


Dr. Monique Liston:

On one hand I think it's really important to note that there is no line between personal and professional when it comes to understanding yourself in this way. This is what it means to exist, right? And I don't have any memory or understanding of myself outside of this racialized context.


Dr. Monique Liston:

And so it's permeated what it means to have an education. What it means to date, what it means to have friends, what it means to shop at a store, what it means to pick a career, to do my hair, to go shopping, to put on shoes. It's so deeply intertwined into every decision and consideration that I make that I can't separate it from any part of my life, right.


Dr. Monique Liston:

I did make a joke to my mother yesterday that with all this going on and we're still in the middle of the pandemic and all of this, I got in my car and just drove, far, far outside of the city and I was like, "Mom, did you know if you leave your house and drive far away, it's like being on vacation where none of this stuff exists." Except you're going to see a lot more images of We Back the Badge, which might temper your vacation a little bit.


Dr. Monique Liston:

But it's just a different feeling when you're away from your current context. So I just share that because it's really impossible to divorce it from what it means for me to exist. For me to think about not this or to think about a space where this wasn't relevant, is to think about in a sci-fi, Afro-futurist, next world sort of thing. And it's so deeply entwined, but I wouldn't trade it for any other position to have in the world.


Dusty Weis:

I'm glad that you said that, Dr. Liston, because I saw something that an old colleague of mine posted on Facebook recently. Scrolling through Facebook right now is really an exercise in feast or famine. You either see something that makes you feel good, or you see something that just really gets you going.


Dusty Weis:

This one got my goat. He posted, "You know I'm feeling really depressed. Everything that I'm seeing on Facebook is really bumming me out so I'm turning off Facebook and I'm turning off the news and I'm just unplugging for a little while."


Dusty Weis:

Kennita, when you hear something like that, what's the first thing that you think? How do you react?


Kennita Hickman:

I wish I could crank off being black. I wish I could turn that off. Like two days, two weeks is too much for you, this is what I live every day and it's in every part of my life as a Monique mentioned. It's the choice to wear my hair how it is now. It's determining how much do I say at that board meeting? Because if I say too much as a black woman, I'll be looked at as aggressive, but my white counter part will be forward thinking.


Kennita Hickman:

If I express too much emotion at work, I'm punchy, I'm emotional. But my white colleague is passionate. It's what do I wear to the store? How big of a purse do I carry with me? Because if it's too big, I will be followed and people will think that I'm putting things into my purse.


Kennita Hickman:

Wow, I wish I could turn off being black. And not that I don't enjoy being black, I love being black, but I wish I had that option. I've been jogging lately out in public and I was coming from behind this building and there was a white lady gardening. And the first thought that hit my mind was take your hands out of your pockets. I had on all black, I had on a puffy vest, I didn't have on my fanny pack that day and my first thought was take your hands out of pocket and stop running.


Kennita Hickman:

Because she may think that you up to no good, and she may feel cause to call the police. She may feel like you don't belong in her neighborhood. And pull down your mask so that if she does see you, you can smile so that you don't look aggressive. None of my white friends who jog ever have to think about those things.


Dusty Weis:

It's true and for someone like me I can take the option of unplugging from it, of saying, you know what, this is something that I care about and I'm passionate about but I'm tired so I'm going to take a break. And when people talk about privilege, well, what is privilege? There are still people that are convinced that privilege is not a thing that exists. I turn back to them and I say, "Privilege is being able to unplug for starters." There's a lot more to it, but just for starters.


Dusty Weis:

I haven't unplugged. I've been watching the news a lot, too much, I think. For people who learn about these events secondhand, and Dr. Liston, I know that you make your professional headquarters on King Drive here in Milwaukee. A wonderful historically black neighborhood where there's been a lot of great business activity lately. And one that was really hit hard by some of the unrest this week.


Dusty Weis:

So for the people who are learning about these events secondhand, what are the things that you wish outsiders understood about what's happening on the ground in a place like King Drive?


Dr. Monique Liston:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). First of all, it's to understand that we're talking about a special political moment in time, right? While the protests are happening, the protests are the finally crafted show of a lot of behind-the-scenes work. I think in this moment, because of social media, because of the internet age and with the difference between now and the previous civil rights movement is that it's a little bit more exposed. You can see a lot more happening on a lot more fronts.


Dr. Monique Liston:

And so I think the first thing is, it isn't just the protests, it's way bigger than that. That's just a part of it. I think the second thing to know, and I have been really public about this as a business owner, is that these systems of oppression that we're trying to undo and destroy, are intertwined.


Dr. Monique Liston:

There is no undoing racism without also undoing capitalism. And I understand as an entrepreneur in this system, that I'm invested slightly in capitalism because I own a business, right? But I understand that that system needs to go as well. When we're protesting and we're understanding the intersections of these things, where businesses are not more important than people. The things in my office are not more important than people. The things in my office are not more important than black liberation.


Dr. Monique Liston:

And if my building where I have my business is one of the things sacrificed in the middle of a protest for black liberation, the only thing I can do is come in and clean up, right? I'm not here to stop the protest, derail the protest because I need the focus to remain on the end of police terror. I need the focus to remain on the lives that have been lost. I want the focus to remain on Breonna Taylor and all other black women and black men and trans lives and queer lives that have been lost because of police brutality.


Dr. Monique Liston:

My business can go, it can go. I cannot be so invested in it that I'm going to stand in the way of black liberation. And I think that's really important. Those are things, right? And if I am not going to see myself outside of my business, then I'm a part of the problem.


Dusty Weis:

To that end, we saw a lot of businesses come out this week and turn their social media screen black, some carefully spaced white words up on that screen. And some of them went so far as to condemn racism, condemn police brutality. Is that good enough? Kennita?


Kennita Hickman:

No, it's not good enough in my opinion because I think it's very easy to put words on a social media screen. It's very easy to hop on what you think is a movement. But the reality is this work has to be daily, it has to be moment-by-moment. If you are a co-conspirator, if you are an ally, you are living this every day. It is showing up with your staff, it's showing up in how you treat your staff. It's showing up in how you create equity for your staff, black staff. It's showing up in how you hire. It's showing up in what that job application looks like.


Kennita Hickman:

And people have to be committed to that, and people have to be committed to potentially losing friends and losing colleagues. That's going to happen if you're doing the work. If you're doing the work, and if this is what you really believe in. And, again, I mean it's going to be real easy to see who believes in what.


Kennita Hickman:

But I think for me what I think about is the fact that black spending power, a couple of years when I looked up the numbers, 1.3 trillion. Like our dollars matter. Black women is the demographic most likely to talk about your business online, to give you reviews. Nielsen statistics show that.


Kennita Hickman:

And so we are also looking for folks who are unabashedly unafraid to say Black Lives do Matter and this is how we're showing it and this is what we're doing. Because when you don't, I can speak for myself, I take my money and I will spend it somewhere else. And I have no problem spending my money somewhere else where I know that I'm valued and where I know that our values are aligned.


Dusty Weis:

From my position, albeit a position of privilege, but I've been in and out of the corporate world and I can say this. That there are a lot of well-meaning white folks in the corporate world who have been taught from very early on in their careers that business and politics should not mix in the place of business. Which is silly, of course, because politics is a business.


Dusty Weis:

But then these people, they look at the issues that we're seeing now and they say, oh, Black Lives Matter, that's politics, I better keep that out of the workplace. When it's an issue of decency and morality at the end of the day.


Dusty Weis:

To me the difference between putting out a statement and saying racism and police brutality is bad and saying we have a racism and police brutality problem, is the difference between a doctor walking in, looking you in the eye and saying, "Well, Mr. Weis, I hate to tell you, but cancer is bad," and then walking out. Because that doctor's job is to say, "You have a cancer problem, and here is what we're going to do about it." We have a racism and police brutality problem in this country and now we need to move on to doing something about it.


Dusty Weis:

Dr. Liston, can you tell me a little bit more about this difference between overt racism and implicit racism? Because as a well-meaning white guy, I'm going to throw that term around a lot tonight. Just because I'm not running around acting like George Wallace, that doesn't mean that I'm not contributing to racist inequities.


Dr. Monique Liston:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). One of the most important things that I'm echoing in this moment is that when it comes to race, white people are intellectually lazy. It's just laziness and when it comes to understanding how you show up in the world every day, you just refuse to hear anybody pointing that out to you. And do everything in your power not to exercise God-given brain that you have to think more critically about how you're showing up in the world. I think it baffles me all the time.


Dusty Weis:

But it's comfortable to not think. It's so much more comfortable when you just don't have to think about it.


Dr. Monique Liston:

Because it's safe to not think about it. It's unsafe for me not to think about it.


Dusty Weis:

Right.


Dr. Monique Liston:

To put myself in harm's way for me to not be conscious of it. So when we get to this issue of what's overt and implicit and all of that, I really push away from that because that is the space where white people like to land to make themselves feel good, right? Because there's bad racists and then there's not so bad racists in some weird mathematics that the intellectually lazy white person does.


Dr. Monique Liston:

What I'm going to say is that what George Wallace was doing and saying, it was easy to detect and understand, and what you're doing is actually a little bit more dangerous because you don't admit it, behind closed doors. You will say something, one thing to my face and something completely different when I turn around.


Dr. Monique Liston:

And so I'm not going to go into that's overt and that's bad and this is covert and not as bad. No, this is all bad an all racist system, it's all white supremacy, it's all white privilege, it's all anti-blackness and you need to connect yourself to George Wallace. You have to understand that maybe I've said the N word one or two times, sort of thoughts that you have had, or the fact that I can't really trust that name because that might be a black person and I don't know how they're going to fit into our office culture, is directly tied to the segregationist south, directly tied to slavery. It's nothing different. It's the same stuff.


Dr. Monique Liston:

There's no flavors. Racism is one straight flavor. It's unsalted potato chips, baby, and people got to understand that's your flavor and that's what you're associated with. There's nothing to hide from. It's either own it and start addressing it, or actually get called out and that could get your feelings hurt.


Dusty Weis:

So how do you get people, people like me, to drop their defenses then examine their own implicit biases?


Dr. Monique Liston:

We do this in a lot of ways. I mean there's a lot of different fronts and I want to just echo that point because I show up in the world with multitudes, right? Some people engage and know me because of social media. I'm a little upfront and brash in the social media space, this is what it is. I'll use a lot of cuss words. There's no debating there.


Dr. Monique Liston:

I know that in a lot of the workshops that I end up hosting, when I talked about things that people can connect their daily lived experiences to, and then boop, let me talk about rack on top of that. Then all of a sudden you see the lightbulbs happen, right?


Dr. Monique Liston:

I come with the approach of talking about human dignity. What it means to respect, protect and fulfill a sense of dignity for each person. And I sneak up on you because I focus on your personal sense of dignity. What does it mean for you to protect and maintain that? And then I say, "Well, what happens when you're black." Then all of a sudden it's like, oh, I didn't think about that. Yeah, because you're not black.


Dr. Monique Liston:

And so here we are, now you're understanding this basic sense of humanity which you are assuming everyone is trying to maintain and protect for you and you now know and have evidence that people are not protecting for others. Now you understand this system and now it works. And now you even have a clear picture of how you've been a part of it.


Dr. Monique Liston:

I think it's really important to think about access and the dignity of access and what does that look like to what people are able to do. I always remind people that I'm not special. Me getting a PhD isn't because I'm special or I have some unique narrative or anything like that. I was lucky. I was lucky that I didn't get stopped by any of the multiple systems that are meant to set black people back.


Dr. Monique Liston:

I'm not special, I did not do anything unique to black people or black identity to become a doctor or to own my own business or any of that. I am not special in that regard. I know that I was just lucky in a lot of different places and that there's some people who weren't as lucky as I was. And that means that I need to understand how these systems just happened to miss me. That's it.


Dr. Monique Liston:

But the white narratives in a lot of academic spaces and a lot of social work space, they want to treat anybody who's black and successful as someone who has a magical power. They've got to figure out how to activate those magic powers in the other folks. They call it grit, they call it resilience, they call it thriving, they call it all these things and then they use that to measure the success of other black people. So why didn't you do this? Why didn't you do that?


Dr. Monique Liston:

And that's not the issue at hand. The issue at hand is that there's too many systems that exist, there shouldn't be any, that are preventing black people from thriving, living to their fullest human potential. And they're showing up at every stage of their life. Some people are able to navigate them, and navigating them also means them also suppressing some of the hurt and harm that's happening to them as black people, right?


Dr. Monique Liston:

I haven't met a single black woman with a PhD who isn't going to tell you about how racist that system, that process was. How harmful it was to them and how much therapy they had to go through to undo all of that.


Dr. Monique Liston:

But I have to say to a lot of people, particularly large groups of white people, I'm saying the same thing I was saying a decade ago. But now I've got these letters after my name, everybody wants to hear me now. So that's because I had to play into your system in order to get some notoriety.


Dr. Monique Liston:

But we just have to understand that luck shapes this. There is no amount of grit or resilience that defines black people overcoming this. These systems are set up for us to fail all the way down to how we're born into this world, right? Especially here in Milwaukee where if you look at our infant mortality rates, you would think we were in a worn torn country.


Kennita Hickman:

And I think to add to that, the infant mortality conversation, it's important to note that it's not just poor black women, it's women like Monique and me who are educated, who have jobs with good insurance, that our babies are not guaranteed safe delivery. We are not guaranteed safe delivery and we have the things, the markers that are supposed to make us successful and make us anomalies, to make us the good ones out of the other, right? And it's not true, it's not true.


Kennita Hickman:

I think that's most interesting about the statistics that, wow, I don't live in an area with poor health outcomes, just being black, just being black. And some of those internal stressors... Mo made another point about talking with black women and having to suppress it. I didn't recognize I was affected by George Floyd until this past Monday where I broke down and cried at a Zoom meeting at work. And promptly told them I'm taking the rest of the day off because you see it so much it's easy to become numb to it.


Kennita Hickman:

And from Monday through Thursday my week just got worse. I just got deeper and deeper into, oh my gosh, how do I protect my partner? How do I protect my co-worker? How do I protect the artists that I work with? The reality is this director line on my business card does not save me. Being an entrepreneur and being on Dusty's podcast does not save me. I am black. And I'm not immune to anything that happened to George Floyd or Sandra Bland.


Kennita Hickman:

And that's a real sobering reality, that I can't escape that no matter where I go. Someone can come into my home right now and ask do I live here? The police can come in right now, guns drawn. These are everyday-lived experience lived by every black person, not just in America, but in the UK, everywhere. Racism is everywhere.


Kennita Hickman:

And in order to fit in, we have to suppress these things. We have to suppress them, we can't even be our most authentic self unless you have your own company or you work with Mo.


Kennita Hickman:

There's an intentionality in the space that we've created. For my company, I make sure to make room to work with black photographers and videographers because they don't have opportunities to work on other projects. They just don't. People aren't checking for them. And so even if I can have them work on something with me, that sets them up to be able to get something more. At least it gives them a byline on the resume, right? Some experience to help them move forward in whatever else they're doing.


Kennita Hickman:

That's a way as an entrepreneur that I can open the door for other folks who look like me because I don't have letters behind my name. And so when I made the decision and not complete college, I had to work so much harder just to be visible. Just to be visible. And it sucked.


Dusty Weis:

Listening is step one, but as business entities, as well-meaning white people, what else can we do to help right now?


Kennita Hickman:

I thought of this question and I'll say one of the best things, take the college degree requirement off the applications. Because for me I don't have a degree, but I have 21 years of media experience, writer, working in radio, da, da, da. But all of my day jobs I couldn't get past entry level.


Kennita Hickman:

My previous organization, their decision not to include that on the application is how I was able to serve as a lead event producer and put on over a 170 events as their first lead and first black lead. Which then led me to where I work now at ImagineMKE to serve in a director role. Again, because they didn't have the college degree requirement on the application.


Dr. Monique Liston:

Come up out of your pockets and give your money to black people at every single chance you get without contingency or question. Come up off that money. If you've got something in your pocket, give it to a black person. Don't wonder where it goes, don't ask for them to report back. Just know that that's the least you can do. And you should do it with reckless abandon.


Kennita Hickman:

I have not gone out to the protest. I am immune compromised and I wish that that weren't the case because I would love to have been protesting every night. But what I did do immediately was reached out to Mo and said, "Who can I give money to? Who can I help? Who do you know in Minnesota?" And she tagged me in a post of a group of women who were coming from northeast Wisconsin, going to Minnesota, I sent them money for gas.


Kennita Hickman:

I also sent some money to the Minnesota Freedom Fund. So I'm a heavy budgeter and because of this quarantine I was like, oh, I haven't spent my whole budget on gas money so let me put the rest of that towards gas. Let me send another little bit over to the Minnesota Freedom Fund. And then supporting as many black businesses as I can.


Dusty Weis:

Well, thank you guys so much. Again, I just wanted to end by saying, I saw a post on Facebook this week something to the effect of behind every thoughtful and emphatic white person is an exhausted, patient black person.


Dusty Weis:

As a white person, I'm not perfect. I'm trying to get better. It's a process that's taken years, it will continue to take many more years. Maybe it's because I'm dumber than most, but I've got an entire parade of exhausted patient black people who have contributed their patience and understanding to this work in progress.


Dusty Weis:

So to them, to you, Kennita Hickman and Dr. Monique Liston, thank you. You shouldn't have to invest in making other people better but you do and that's heroic, so thank you.


Dusty Weis:

Ultimately, my conversations with Randy Crump, with Kennita Hickman and Dr. Monique Liston, they weren't always comfortable for me. I might not agree with everything they said. As for an instance, I probably won't be calling for the complete deconstruction of capitalism anytime soon. But I'm better for having listened and given thoughtful consideration to their ideas.


Dusty Weis:

I told you the story earlier about my high school buddies and I the night that we could have had a bad encounter with police but didn't. I'm still in touch with almost all my buddies from that night. There were eight of us and we've largely grown out of that kind of behavior.


Dusty Weis:

Today we're all what you would call productive members of society. Business leaders, volunteers, and not a criminal conviction among us, but only because we were given the benefit of the doubt again and again and again.


Dusty Weis:

In a lot of ways Trayvon Martin's death marked an awakening of sorts for me. Where I realized that white people and black people still live in very different worlds in a lot of ways. That they are not given the benefit of the doubt in places where I was.


Dusty Weis:

And that's where we all need to challenge ourselves and put a little bit of skin in the game if we're serious about building a better world. That doesn't look the same for everyone, radical is a relative term after all. And I don't typically like dichotomies, classifying people as one thing or another.


Dusty Weis:

But there is one dichotomy that's helpful right now. Folks with closed hearts who don't want to be made uncomfortable, and folks with open hearts who are trying to be part of a solution and listening and growing a little more each day.


Dusty Weis:

It shouldn't take the death of a Trayvon Martin or a George Floyd or a Breonna Taylor to get folks to open up their hearts and cry a little bit, but it's so important that their deaths not be in vane.


Dusty Weis:

Thanks as well to my old friends and colleagues Andrew Julian and Larry Kilgore, for consulting on this episode, as well as for being two more… in that line of patient, exhausted black people who have made me better. Lead Balloon is produced by Podcamp Media, where we provide branded podcast production solutions for businesses. Podcampmedia.com is the website. We're on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Please subscribe for more stories from professional communicators. If you've got a good to share, email Dusty at podcampmedia.com.


Dusty Weis:

'Til the next time, thanks for listening. I'm Dusty Weis.



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