Recalibrated: Renewed, refreshed, and recommitted
I found time over the last three weeks to breath differently or maybe just to breathe.
To pause. To reflect.
I read two books that stood out to me:
David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell
and Minority Leader: How to Lead from the Outside and Make Real Change by Stacey Abrams. (Updated title/version below).
Both books were inspiring for me. They helped to affirm my journey and path to empower others, particularly those who are powerless. They affirmed my belief that even those who are “minorities,” who are seemingly without power, can achieve that which seems impossible and out of reach.
Gladwell breaks down the David and Goliath story to emphasize the importance of a different approach, of using different methods and tools and weapons of warfare. His interpretation encourages those of us who are small in stature, small in resources, to believe that we too can succeed, can overthrow giants.
One of the takeaways for Gladwell is that “the powerful and strong are not always what they seem.” (p. 15). Yet, there is a need to be saavy in understanding how to conquer giants. You have to be willing to not “accept the conventional order of things as given” (p. 25), and use different skills, including endurance, individual intelligence, and courage. (p. 24). Gladwell reminds us that “underdog strategies are hard.” (p. 32). He reminds us that outsiders do have certain advantages and that the outsider status can provide a unique viewpoint and approach. Gladwell almost extols the benefits of outsiderness, including those with disabilities and those who are perceived to be different. Quoting George Bernard Shaw, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” (p.117).
I have often felt like an “unreasonable” woman. For me, as a Black woman engaged in the work of inclusion and diversity, I feel like every day is about fighting the giants of racism and sexism, and able-ism, and homophobia. Every day is about trying to create space for those who are not of the dominant majority culture to be in community and harmony with a community that may or may not want them to be present. And most recently, every day in some way is a battle to validate and educate about critical race theory, an approach to legal analysis and scholarship that was often reserved for law school and graduate programs, that has some how found its way into legislation that bans its teaching. As a critical race and critical race feminist scholar, I am deeply troubled by this new movement. It feels like a giant.
Every day is walking on to a battlefield filled with unknown arrows from unknown directions. Any moment can be a minefield, a misstep; moving into a space without approval. Every day is navigating a maze without directions or maps or GPS. It is a treacherous journey, sometimes accompanied by allies and sometimes, often, alone.
As I wrote about the Chief Diversity Officer role, the position situates leaders into difficult positions on a daily basis, metaphorically as David going up against Goliaths.
As much as I enjoy my work at Virginia Tech and have felt incredibly supported, the work and exhaustion is not inconsequential. In the heat of the battle, we often feel that we cannot rest, we cannot step away, we cannot not do the work.
Yet, it is important to find time to recalibrate, to be be renewed, refreshed, and recommitted.
The past three weeks have been that.
I found time to eat oxtails and sheep tongue souse, some of my favorite meals, with plenty of mac n’ cheese, and greens.
I found time to look at flowers.
I found time to appreciate bees.
I found time to spend with family and friends.
I found time to spend with my children: my daughter who I hadn’t seen for 7 months, and my son for a year!
I found time to braid my son’s hair
I found time to watch my son paint beautiful pictures @emmanuelaopc
I found time to walk alone on the beach of Exuma.
I found time to align my breath with the breath of the ocean.
I found time to reflect on what is important to me and why
I found time to align my breathing with the pulse of the waves, slowly in and out.
I found time to play in the waves and feel free.
And so, in the finding of time, I found time to read wisdom from Stacey Abrams. In “Minority Leader: How to lead from the outside and make real change” she shared her experience and lessons learned from leading from the edges, and trying to influence change. I felt encouraged by learning different strategies for doing diversity work, which is essentially about trying to influence powerful organization lead often by white men and women to move in different directions.
It is really challenging work, often without reward or recognition, and often being at risk for being told to sit down, go to your room, stop doing what you are doing in the way you are doing it. Stacey’s thoughts encouraged me to rethink some of the ways I move about in the world; not big shifts, but important ones. Her chapter titles capture much of what is important: dare to want more; hacking and owning opportunity; the myth of mentors; money matters; prepare to win and embrace the fail (using boldness as your guide); making what you have work; work-life jenga; and taking power. Her words, “If you are bold, you will alienate others. There’s no way around it.” (p. 141)…but, leadership demands boldness, which necessitates failure because each action taken, each decision made, will carry consequence. If you have been bold, and if you have been ambitious, then you will have risked reputation and credibility.” (p. 143).
And so, this work is not for the faint hearted, or the quick hearted. You have to have a special constitution to do this work, day in and day out.
And so, the pause in the step. The Rest step to nourish the soul and spirit is so important. I wrote about the rest step and pausing:
It is important to recalibrate. To adjust to a different metronome beat, the ocean’s pulse, a slower rhythm and slower beat.
She beckoned me.
I accepted the invitation to come into her bosom
To be loved
To be lapped
To be healed.
Comforted me today
Immersed me within Herself
Quietly and calmly whispering softly
And so, I yielded and surrendered to her softness
To be refreshed
To be renewed
And to be revived.
Not only have emerged revived and recalibrated, I am also recommitted.
I have emerged with a commitment to sharing my scholarship in multiple ways, and continuing to serve humanity through education.
I will still host Menah’s Matinee: Music and Musings on the 1st Sunday, where I play a little piano and share reflections on life, so join me on August 1 for Episode 13: A Tribute to Music Teachers (honoring my first music teacher, Leslie Sompong who just passed away).
But, more urgently and more importantly, I will continue to work in collaboration with colleagues at Virginia Tech and others to slay giants and to influence the larger conversations around critical race theory and critical race feminism.
My new logo reflects this renewed commitment:
I feel this is a particularly important time to speak out, speak up, educate, and empower.