Wednesday, January 9, 2013

December 2012 ESSENTIAL Class Day Takeaways

Guest post from ESSENTIAL Class of 2013 participant David M. Williams, Ph.D. Dave is Founder and Improvement Advisor at TrueSimple Improvement.

I moved to Austin in 1998. My sister lived here and made it easy to meet friends. We enjoyed sipping Mexican Martini’s at Cedar Door, watching live music at Liberty Lunch, and talking about our young lives as we were at the beginning of our careers. Everyone was young, educated (mostly UT), and the future was unknown, but bright. It was so Austin, or was it?

Among my friends, I was a little unusual. While they went off to work in non-profit offices, at the Capitol, or at young start ups, I hopped on an ambulance to serve as a paramedic in East Austin. My days and nights meant racing across city streets with lights and sirens, going from house to house, and transporting patients to the hospital. I saw the whole beautiful and sad spectrum of Austin, one person at a time. My experience of Austin was very much like the description a former democratic senator (not to be named) once described so eloquently as “Two Americas."

In September, our ESSENTIAL Class delved into U.S. Census data with City of Austin demographer Ryan Robinson and learned about the transformation of Austin as populations change and shift. It provided color to our own picture of Austin, which is sometimes only partially visible to us from where we live and work. December’s class day continued the discussion with a focus on diversity and inclusion. Here are a few of my impressions from the day.

Silent Beats Video
As part of a discussion led by Ashton Cumberbatch, Jr (ESSENTIAL 2002), VP of Advocacy and Community Relations for the Seton Healthcare Family, we were presented with the Princess Grace Award winning video “Silent Beats” - written and directed by John M. Chu and starring Antoine Grant. Watch the video below or on YouTube.

In this short, 5-minute video we watch a young black teen walking through a convenience store owned by a middle aged Asian man, and there is a white elderly woman customer present as well. As the young man walks through the store, images of stereotypes and biases pop up about the characters. None of which prove true in the end of the film.

For many, it was frustrating to feel or see these themes emerge. For example, the black youth as a person to fear. It also brought into focus how our biases or perspectives are rooted in our own experience, race, upbringing, etc., and how that may differ from the person sitting right next to you. The film and discussion that followed was a reminder of the journey and opportunity still ahead for change.

Building Trust
Sometimes the most powerful statements are those without words. Bobby Garcia (ESSENTIAL 1994), Director of Human Resources at the Seton Healthcare Family, facilitated an exercise that was new to many of us.

Bobby took us through an exercise where class members deeply and confidentially shared a series of their own life events that have shaped who they are as individuals, and that may have caused them to be discriminated against, or discriminate against others. We disclosed a great deal about ourselves, and it was powerful to see who shared your own experiences and who did not. Seeing very different people who shared common experiences - people you would have never imagined having been through such things - reminded us of our commonality. There were many emotional moments and big smiles throughout the exercise, and we sat down with a different perspective.

This is only a sample of the day’s activities. In each segment, participants broadened their learning about others, expanded their understanding of themselves, and realized common connections that were not readily apparent at breakfast.

As one man in my group said, “I feel like I know some of you better in this moment then I know some of my best friends.”

The day’s content and experience reminds us that we need to step out of ourselves, our norms, and our neighborhoods and discover all who are fellow Austinites. To realize that there are many differences worth understanding, but more in common worth embracing.

Thanks to the Leadership Austin team and the volunteer facilitators and coaches for a valuable day.

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