HOW I OVERCAME RACISM AND BECAME A LEADER FOR CHANGE
My Journey to Social Awareness: The Early Years
I was born into a white, German-American family in a small town in Illinois. Raised by my mother and grandmother, we lived a life that could best be described as impoverished. My first lessons in reading came from "Uncle Tom's Cabin," a book that, unbeknownst to me at the time, framed my early perceptions of African Americans through a distorted lens.
My grandmother, born in 1904, was a person of faith and a very strong and determined woman. She endured the tragic losses of her first husband dying at 35 and her first child drowning at 3 years of age. Although I spent a lot of time with my grandmother, I lived with my mother. She was a single parent who struggled to make ends meet. Both she and my grandmother shaped my views as a result of their cultural influences of the early 20th century America. This became the lens through which I saw the world.
By the time I turned 13, our financial situation was so dire that we celebrated my birthday with just Bisquick and potatoes—what little we had in the house.
The Wake-Up Call
However, my life took a significant turn in 2015 when I quit drinking. Sobriety cleared my vision and made me more receptive to the world around me. I saw things in myself and the world that deeply disturbed me. I began researching systemic racism and its deep-rooted presence in our culture. I started questioning all of my beliefs and their origins.
The Power of Education and Self-Reflection
One of the most transformative aspects of my journey has been education. Not just formal education, but also self-education through books, documentaries, and conversations with leaders that challenged my viewpoints. I've come to realize that ignorance is a choice in the age of information. The resources are out there for those willing to seek them. It's a continuous process, and I'm still learning every day.
The tragic death of George Floyd in 2020 was a pivotal moment that led me to take action and strive to make a difference in my own way.
The Impact on My Professional Life
As I went deeper into leadership development, I discovered that my new mindset was not just a personal asset but a professional one as well. Companies and organizations are increasingly recognizing the value of diversity and inclusion, not just as buzzwords but as crucial elements that contribute to success. I've been able to use my experiences and insights to guide other leaders in creating more inclusive environments, which is incredibly rewarding.
The Road Ahead
Looking forward, I see a long road ahead, not just for me but for society as a whole. While I've changed, the world still has a long way to go in overcoming prejudice and systemic inequality. But I'm optimistic. Change starts with the individual, and if my journey has taught me anything, it's that transformation is possible. I'm committed to being part of that change, and I invite you to join me.
So here I am, a man who has traveled a long way from the small town in Illinois where I was raised. A man who once viewed the world through a narrow lens of prejudice but who has learned the value of diversity, equality, and inclusion. I'm proof that it's never too late to change your mindset (repent) and, by extension, your life. I'm driven to help others do the same, to help leaders become champions of change. Because united, we can do incredible things; divided, we defeat only ourselves.