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raceAhead: Another Day, Another School Shooting

As we struggle to cope with yet another mass shooting tragedy, I started to think about the past.

In 1955, Mamie Till Mobley, the grieving mother of 14-year old Emmett Till, made a controversial and fateful decision. Her son had been abducted, tortured, and brutally murdered visiting relatives in Mississippi, and she wanted the world to see what they’d done to her boy.

Jet magazine, one of the most prominent black-owned publications of the day, published the photos of Till’s badly disfigured remains. Then Mobley held an open casket funeral in her home city of Chicago; her son’s beaten and bloated body, completely unrecognizable, was seen by thousands of mourners. Photos of Emmett Till and his mother’s anguish were published in newspapers and magazines around the world, casting a light on racial violence and reigniting a call for change.

“In order to come to grips with this tragedy, she saw Emmett as being crucified on the cross of racial injustice,” says Lonnie Bunch, founding director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture told Smithsonian magazine. “And she felt that in order for his life not to be in vain, that she needed to use that moment to illuminate all of the dark corners of America and help push America toward what we now call the Civil Rights Movement.”

I was thinking of Emmett Till as I watched some of the horrific cell phone videos that were taken by terrified students as they huddled inside of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. yesterday.

The issues are different, of course, but the results were not. Gunshots, screaming, bodies, terror, blood. To my knowledge, this is the first time we’ve had access to this kind of imagery inside a mass shooting event. I wondered if the reality of these images, like Till’s real face, would galvanize a conversation about gun violence that is clearly long overdue.

It is now a familiar story: Breaking news, a mass shooting, chaos, police on the scene. This time, it was committed by a former student named Nikolas Cruz. The 19-year-old was known to be problematic. He’d been expelled for behavioral reasons, and it appears that there had been numerous red flags indicating his potential for violence. It also appears that the FBI had been warned about his school shooting threats and had investigated him in the past.

Now, 17 people are dead and 14 more are injured. There have been 18 deadly school shootings in 2018.

Looking back to my column on the Las Vegas shooting, I’m reminded that everything that was true then, is true now: “Difficult conversations are ahead: About guns, violence, the definition of terrorism, why “deadliest mass shooting” modifiers tend to erase communities of color, and the consequences of white male resentment. About politics. About desperation.

We’ll also need to talk about how to talk about these things, a leadership imperative that seems to have been lost, at least on the public stage.”

And the same advice holds today: Be ready to listen, make sure your managers are prepared if painful issues arise during the workday, and most of all, don’t pretend nothing has happened.

“[A] compassionate organization cultivates a sense of empathy for those who are suffering,” she says. “And the first thing is for leaders to be present, talking, listening, and acknowledging that something specific has happened and that some people may have concerns,” Alison Davis-Blake, professor of business and the former dean at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan.

Of course, she was referring to the police shootings of July 2016. I’m recycling advice about leadership in the face of gun violence because this is the way we live now.

All of which got me thinking about Mrs. Till, and the courageous kids who attempted to document their unthinkable reality — in all its horror — during what might have been the final moments of their lives.

Will we be strong enough to bear witness to their pain this time?

On Point

Women and men of color pay an emotional tax at workA new report from Catalyst researchers Dnika J. Travis and Jennifer Thorpe-Moscon offers essential insights into the price women of color, in particular, pay in unwelcoming workplaces. The Day-to-Day Experiences of Emotional Tax Among Women and Men of Color in the Workplace explores how microaggressions and lack of opportunity can affect the health and well-being of people who identify as Asian, Black, Latinx and multiracial. The business case is clear: When people feel included, supported and valued for their uniqueness, they’re more likely to succeed in teams, bring forward their best ideas and to stay with the company. The research is ongoing, this update is a must read and share.Catalyst

On Trump administration’s plan to deliver boxed food to the poor
Robert Graboyes and Matthew Mitchell, two senior research fellows with the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, say the Trump administration’s proposed change to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – to deliver boxed food rather than distribute cards that are used like cash – is doomed to fail. They tick through a long list of similarly intrusive ideas, from food distribution schemes on reservations to public housing projects which have created “sterile, crime-ridden communities that isolate, rather than elevate, the poor,” they say. “The Trump administration’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea would apply the [public housing] model to nutrition.” 
Fortune

Chloe Kim’s great American adventure
Watching Olympic gold medalist Chloe Kim enjoy her well-deserved moment has been one of the true delights of the Pyeongchang Games. Her parents immigrated from South Korea in 1982, her father plopped his daughter on a snowboard when she was four years old.  The seventeen-year-old has wowed the snowboard community since she was barely a teen; now, her parents, particularly her father, join her in the global spotlight. Her father, Jong Jin Kim, is a former engineer who left his job 10 years ago to help his youngest daughter develop her skills. “Competing at my first Olympics in a country where my parents came from, it’s pretty insane,” she said.
Boston Globe

A family farm in Virginia pushes boundaries as they continue to advocate for black lives
It’s a 116-acre farm in Northern Virginia, known for its fall festival with hay rides and pumpkin patches. But the Cox family farm has been using their traditional roadside sign – the ones that use big single plastic letters – to post messages of allyship and solidarity. It started when the family posted a simple “Black Lives Matter” in 2015 –  a move which inspired a local police union to call for a boycott of their festival. More messages have followed, including “We Love Our Muslim Neighbors” and “Immigrants Make America Great!” Evidently their most recent selection, “Resist White Supremacy,” was a bridge too far. Aaron Cox-Leow, who runs the operations wonders aloud: Who but a white supremacist would hate such a sign? Who indeed?
Washington Post

The Woke Leader

Rapper, CEO, angel investor and entrepreneur Chamillionaire plans to change the way we chat
Chamillionaire has been wowing the West Coast investor community for a while now, partly because it’s fun to hang around with a Grammy-award winning rapper, but mostly because he’s become a successful start-up investor, and now, a compelling company founder. His new app Convoz, is now in wide release, and allows people to upload 15-second video clips to share with celebrities and other humans. While Convoz’s value proposition is still TBD, his pitch was perfect. Click and learn. Even if you’re not preparing for an important presentation there is something in this for everyone: His assessment of what’s wrong with social media is exceptional. (Fun exercise: If you’re not familiar with his song  “Ridin,’”, watch his presentation first.)
Techcrunch

Vimeo celebrates Black History Month
Vimeo has turned out to be a creative safe haven, a corner of calm in digital chaos. To celebrate this special month, the staff has curated some exceptional videos to watch, bookmark and share. I started with The Perilous Fight, a quietly poignant tribute to single fatherhood, and then Masterpiece, a sweetly funny short film about a fine artist and his four friends who gamely attempt to interpret his incomprehensible exhibit. There are no wrong choices. Enjoy.
Vimeo

The lost history of the Confederate Flag
Turns out the Stars and Bars we’re so familiar with were the efforts of two years of work by Confederate leaders, trying to find an emblem that best represented their values of freedom for whites and slavery for blacks. The other designs, touted by secessionist newspapers, were explicitly pro-white and attempted to ennoble slavery. “This rarely discussed history emerges from the work of Raphael P. Thian (1830-1911), who was in charge of transcribing Confederate records from the seized rebel archives in Richmond, Va., after the Confederacy’s surrender,” Harvard professor Sarah Lewis writes. A must read.
New York Times

Quote

The regularity of mass killings breeds familiarity. The rhythms of grief and outrage that accompany them become — for those not directly affected by tragedy — ritualised and then blend into the background noise. That normalisation makes it ever less likely that America’s political system will groan into action to take steps to reduce their frequency or deadliness.
The Economist