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raceAhead: When Your Humble Dad’s Best Friend is Charles Barkley

Pictured: Charles Barkley during an interview on October 11, 2018Pictured: Charles Barkley during an interview on October 11, 2018
An unlikely tale of a basketball star and a kitty litter scientist.Andrew Lipovsky—NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

As the number of columns winds down toward our collective holiday break, I’ve decided to devote as much newsletter space as I can spare to affirming stories and hopeful news. It’s been quite a year, and we deserve it.

Let’s kick off the week with this extraordinary story from reporter Shirley Wang about an unlikely friendship between a kitty litter scientist and a professional basketball player. The basketball player was Charles Barkley, and the scientist was her own father, Lin Wang.

At first, Wang didn’t believe her father when he talked about his “friend” Charles Barkley. She didn’t even pretend to know who he was. “Like a good millennial, I Googled Charles Barkley,” she writes. “He seemed pretty famous — and definitely not like anyone who would be friends with my dad. But again, as a good millennial, I knew that people have very loose definitions of the word ‘friend.’”

(For anyone who remembers watching Barkley play in his prime, ouch.)

Turns out, it was a real and true friendship and one that defies expectations of famous athletes, basketball fans, suburban dads, immigrants, and what men who call each other friend will do for each other.

You will never look down on kitty litter science ever again.

It is also one of the most delightful stories I’ve read in a long time. At the great risk of giving more away, I leave it to you…to decide if you want to end up ugly crying at your desk, in your car, or at home near a box of tissues.

“Your dad is one of the happiest people I’ve ever met in my life,” Barkley told his daughter. “I’m not just saying that — I mean, think about it: It’s fun to be with your friends, you know? ‘Cause, I don’t have that many friends that I want to be around, to be honest with you. I mean, you know a lot of people. But when you go spend time with your friends, it’s a whole different animal.”

On Point

Lyft pilots a program offering affordable rides for families living in food desertsThe program is called Grocery Access Program, and is designed to help low-income families who don’t have a car get rides to a quality grocery store. Qualified families are eligible for up to 50 rides and pay just $2.50 each way to the nearest supermarket in their neighborhood. The program will launch in Washington D.C. next year; eligible households must have kids zoned in one of the two wards in the city that have the poorest access to fresh food. It’s an interesting and admirable idea, click through for details.Marketwatch

Behold the greatness of Simone Biles
This wonderful profile from The Undefeated’s Danyel Smith explains the physical dominance Biles brings to the sport of gymnastics, one part unwavering discipline, two parts focus, all parts truth. Are you ever afraid of falling? “Yeah.” What makes you continue? “’I just cling on,’ she says plain as rice, ‘for dear life.’” In some ways given the extraordinary upheaval in gymnastics since the Larry Nasser conviction, the future of the sport hangs on this former foster kid. She’s got strong shoulders though: ESPN the Magazine has ranked Biles the number one most dominant athlete in 2018. By way of context, LeBron James is number 13.
The Undefeated

Martin Luther King’s childhood home is now owned by the National Park Service
It’s a serious blow to Madison Grant’s great-great-grandsupremacist heirs. “We didn’t get to renovate it at the level that it should have been and preserve it at the level it should have been,” Bernice A. King, Dr. King’s daughter and chief executive of the King Center, told The New York Times. The home, a two-story home in Atlanta, Ga., was bought by the National Park Foundation, the charitable arm of the NPS, by way of an anonymous donor. The home was then turned over to the park service which has plans to “improve and enhance” the home. The home welcomed nearly 600,000 visitors in 2017.  
New York Times

A lexicon of gender bias in medicine and beyond
Esther Choo, an emergency doctor and associate professor has been publicly advocating for equity in medicine and patient care for ages; in this extraordinary resource, she teams up with Robert DeMayo, radiologist and assistant professor to provide a common language for gender bias in the field. You may have heard of mansplaining and bropropriation (when a man takes credit for a woman’s idea), evan a manel (a panel of speakers populated entirely by men). Are you ready for hystereotyping, he-ja-vu, maper and selective mute-hism? Laugh, and the world laughs with you, hopefully.


The Woke Leader

I believe the children are our future, part one
Jim Downs, a professor of history at Connecticut College and author of Stand By Me: The Forgotten History of Gay Liberation, and Sick from Freedom: African-American Sickness & Suffering during the Civil War, sounds like one of those cool historians we’ve been hearing so much about these days. On a lark, he told his students that if they created a music video that explored the themes of his Intro to American Studies course, they could skip the final exam this semester. Well, they did. “I am speechless & weeping. Its brilliant!” he tweeted. He’s right. Enjoy.

I believe the children are our future, part two
Greta Thunberg, 15, is a self-described climate activist with Asperger’s. She has been leading a school strike in her native Sweden to protest inaction on climate issues. But on December 15, speaking at the global climate conference in Poland, she made her thoughts crystal clear to the broader world. She accused world leaders of touting only “green eternal economic growth because you are too scared of being unpopular.” And then, she called for action. “You only talk about moving forward with the same bad ideas that got us into this mess even when the only sensible thing to do is pull the emergency brake,” she said. “You are not mature enough to tell it like it is.”

You can learn to be resilient
Resilience is a funny thing. You only know you have it if your life is difficult. So, absent hardship, how to train for it? How to strengthen it? One researcher found that children who thrived despite trauma tended to “meet the world on their own terms,” and were open, curious and independent. Other research confirmed that even terribly traumatized children could become more resilient later in life. One key: the ability to reframe events not as threatening, but as linked to meaning and awareness. A hopeful and inspiring read for leaders who want to foster resilience in themselves and others.
New Yorker


There is a strength, a power even, in understanding brokenness, because embracing our brokenness creates a need and desire for mercy, and perhaps a corresponding need to show mercy. When you experience mercy, you learn things that are hard to learn otherwise. You see things you can’t otherwise see; you hear things you can’t otherwise hear. You begin to recognize the humanity that resides in each of us.
Bryan Stevenson