Fired for loving Tupac?: raceAhead

July 18, 2019, 6:43 PM UTC

Being fired is a nightmare. Having your firing become a national news story, has got to be worse.

And yet, I can’t help but feel that 66-year-old Jerry Foxhoven, the now former director of Iowa’s Department of Human Services, won’t be trapped in a prison of seclusion for long.

Foxhoven, a man who presents as most white, middle-aged government bureaucrats tend to, is a known superfan of the rapper Tupac. As a result, his leadership habit was to pepper his emails with Tupac-inspired memes, lyrics, and pep talks. 

After two years in his post, Foxhoven was abruptly asked to resign in June.

His last great act before the Iowa governor informed him that “they were going in another direction,” was to send a mass email to some 4,300 agency employees to recognize Father’s Day, Tupac’s upcoming birthday, and his own work anniversary. 

The email included a picture of a smiling Tupac. “Pay no mind to those who talk behind your back,” he said, sharing a common Tupac meme. “It simply means that you are 2 steps ahead.” He also praised staffers, saying that it was “absolute honor to lead such a dedicated and committed group of people.”

“You are such a breath of fresh air, Jerry!” responded one staffer, according to NPR’s review of the emails:

“The hundreds of pages of emails reviewed by NPR show that by all accounts Foxhoven was widely admired by his staff and regularly took time to mentor subordinates. In one email he dispensed career advice, noting that he was inspired at the agency by the well-known Tupac song ‘Changes.’”

But at least one employee did complain, and Foxhoven fans worry that the hater triggered his abrupt dismissal. 

“As the governor has said, a lot of factors contributed to the resignation of Jerry Foxhoven and now Gov. Reynolds is looking forward to taking DHS in a new direction,” a spokesperson for Gov. Kim Reynolds said. 

Superfans are interesting people. As a boss, probably even more so.

Foxhoven regularly included Tupac in his communications. He played the rapper’s music on “Tupac Fridays” in the office, he assigned Tupac reading assignments for an ethics class he taught at Drake University. He even celebrated his own 65th birthday with Tupac themed baked goods including cookies decorated to say “Thug Life.”

Dude’s legit.

That said, it takes an unusual degree of privilege and position power to inflict your personal passion on everyone who reports to you.

Foxhoven himself is worried that he’d holla’d too much, telling NPR that he wonders if he had gotten his words of wisdom from Barry Manilow instead, things might not have gotten this krazy.

“I always try to assume the best of everybody, and I can’t imagine that [the governor] would base her decision on the Tupac incident,” he says. “If this is the reason, I’m really disappointed.”

But times goes on, and everybody grows.

Now, Foxhoven hopes that there are better dayz ahead and as a society we’ll start making changes.

“It’s important for us to break down those stereotypes: if you listen to rap music, you’re a criminal or dangerous. It’s not true at all,” he told NPR. He was particularly disturbed by a recent news story about a 17-year-old Arizona boy was stabbed for listening to rap music. 

Foxhoven hopes in the future that his story will help in “having open discussions about race and what we have in common, instead of what separates us.”

On Point

House Democrats call for increased security for Rep. Ilhan Omar after Trump rally House members are calling for renewed security for freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar after President Trump whipped the crowd into a frenzy at his re-election rally last night in North Carolina—allowing them to chant “Send her back!” repeatedly. “It’s crystal clear to me that her life is in imminent danger,” said Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), a senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus. “He has threatened the safety of a member of Congress. That takes this to a whole different level.” Politico

After a week of protests in Puerto Rico, calls for the governor to resign For the fifth day in a row, Puerto Ricans are calling for Gov. Ricardo Rosselló to resign, following a leak of hundreds of pages of disturbing misogynistic and homophobic texts between Rosselló and his senior advisers. Singer Ricky Martin was among the high profile Puerto Ricans who marched to the governor’s mansion in San Juan; Lin-Manuel Miranda led a demonstration in New York calling on Rosselló to step down. News outlets are calling San Juan a “war zone.” Among the many disturbing messages, the governor's chief financial officers joked about the piles of dead bodies after Hurricane Maria in 2017. The governor has apologized but refuses to leave. El Nuevo Dia has Spanish language coverage here, find compelling photos here. NPR

Death rates skyrocketed in communities awash with opioid pills A new database made public this week paints a stark picture of the opioid epidemic. In the seven years between 2006 and 2012 rural communities in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Virginia were flooded with a disproportionate share of oxycodone and hydrocodone pills via manufacturers, distributors, and pharmacies, an analysis by The Washington Post reveals. Thirteen of the affected counties had an opioid death rate more than eight times the national rate; seven of them were in West Virginia. Click through details about both the analysis and the damage that’s been done. Washington Post

The Ebola outbreak is now a global health emergency With 1,600 fatalities, it is now the second deadliest Ebola outbreak in history,  playing out largely in a conflict zone in Democratic Republic of Congo. But now, a case has been confirmed in Goma, a city of two million people with a major international airport. The declaration was made by the World Health Organization, the fifth such declaration in history. While the risk of spread outside of DRC remains low, but officials are afraid that won’t last without immediate international intervention. "Now is the time for the international community to stand in solidarity with the people of DRC," the director-general of WHO said during a press conference yesterday. CNN

On Background

Africa will be home to the next tech boom Africa is home to some of the world’s fastest growing economies, with increasingly vibrant cities and a large population of tech-savvy people under 25. This, says Omoju Miller, the head of machine learning at software development platform Github, is a recipe for breakthrough innovation. "We are the at edge of another kind of technology frontier, and this time around, it is not happening in San Francisco, it is taking place in Africa," she said at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference this week. The Lagos, Nigeria native recounted how she was able to access ridesharing and food delivery apps during a recent visit home, and how her rural relatives use mobile payments effortlessly. “This is going to radically change what the technology environment is going to look like." Fortune

An advertising agency whose creative professionals have been or are currently incarcerated ConCreates was the brainchild of Vincent Bragg, who studied corporate and real estate law while he was incarcerated for five years on a drug sentence. He also co-founded a creative agency. ConCreates generates ideas via a crowdsourcing mechanism, putting out de facto RFPs into a network of 436 currently incarcerated and 319 formerly incarcerated people. “Our mission is to challenge the stigma of how society views people with a criminal history, as well as how people with a criminal history view themselves,” says Bragg. “If we’re able to show them they’re not just a bank robber, or not just a drug dealer, that they have creative potential, then we can show them an opportunity to take a new career path.” People are paid for every idea they put into the network, more as the idea develops. The network owns 10% of the company and shares in profits. Fast Company

Understanding white privilege Kevin Walker, President and CEO of Northwest Area Foundation, starts this heartfelt blog post with a prompt that was asked on a recent NWAF board retreat: “Share a reflection on a time that your identity—who you are—changed or informed a conversation in a way that was visible to you.” Walker, a white man, begins with a story he used to tell for laughs, a time when he was stopped, detained, and interrogated by the police near a peace garden, of all things. It was all a misunderstanding! He was even given a friendly feedback survey to rate the "detention" experience. Kind of kooky, right? He’s since learned that his colleagues of color are hassled like this all the time. “Because my identity, who I am, carries with it a lifetime of learned trust that the system will not attack me,” he writes. If he had been born into any other identity, that would not be true. Now, the story, “can be a way for me to own up to and talk about the white privilege that I’m enmeshed in every day.” Perfect for sharing. NWAF blog

Tamara El-Waylly helps produce raceAhead.


I see no changes, all I see is racist faces / Misplaced hate makes disgrace to races / We under, I wonder what it takes to make this / One better place, let's erase the wasted / Take the evil out the people, they'll be acting right / 'Cause both Black and White are smoking crack tonight / And the only time we chill is when we kill each other /

Tupac, from "Changes"

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