Tuesday, August 16, 2016

A Quadrennial Reminder of My Own Quest For Excellence


With just 5 days left of competitions for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, I am already dreading the the end of the Summer Games. I love the Olympics. Ever since I can remember, I have loved the games. I remember vividly watching over the years and this year marks the 20th anniversary of my special accomplishment of working at the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta. This year also reminded me of something I'm not so sure I'd recognized before... my absolute love of excellence on display.

I was a tomboy jock girl for as long as I can remember. I loved all sports and all things about sports - playing, watching, coaching. I was a competitive tennis player from age 10 - college. I played other intramural sports at two universities. I've coached a sport I love and know well but could not play very well. I've coached other sports because there was a need. I started my career in sports marketing before it was a "thing" and major college track in the early 90s. I watch sports from around the world and have for many years now. I am a sports fanatic and I partially blame that on losing my mom and female influence early in life and growing up in a sports town like Chicago.

It make sense that a woman like me would love the Olympics. And I never questioned or thought much of my love of the Olympics as it just seemed natural for someone who loved sports as I do.

Until now.

This year, as I am recalibrating my life and examining EVERYTHING I ever thought about myself - I came to a new and exciting discovery. It is not only sports that attracted me to the Olympic Games all these years. It is the quest for excellence.

Mark Spitz
Serena Williams
Mary Lou Retton
Greg Louganis
Dominique Dawes
Michael Johnson
Usain Bolt
Marion Jones
Bruce Jenner
Carl Lewis
Nadia Comenci
Michael Phelps
Simone Biles
Simone Manuel

Those names ring in my ears long after I've been exposed to their excellence because seeing them on the world stage is a reminder of what happens when you excel at your craft. When all the years of practice come down to that moment in time when you exceed even your own expectations - it is glorious. It is inspirational. It's also been my main attraction to the games even beyond my love of sports.  

From a very young age, I have had an insatiable thirst for excellence and the Olympics was one of my quadrennial and tangible reminders of that. Of course, we get to view excellence in many ways, shapes and forms but not quite in the same way as the Olympics. Literally, the whole world stops to celebrate the individual and collective accomplishments of these athletes and their drive for excellence in their respective crafts. And while, I never believed in my own sports abilities enough to pursue excellence there - I have pursued excellence in my work throughout my life.

And at the tender age of 44, I'm starting to see the results of that pursuit manifesting in my business and the work we are doing to change the world, one relationship at a time.

Thank you Rio 2016 for that great reminder and new found inspiration for excellence.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

All Government Is Local: Three Ways To Direct Your Political Energy After This Presidential Election


It was not missed on me during the star studded third night of the 2016 Democratic National Convention that local government was a key theme.

I have always believed and lived my favorite truth - All government is local. From my earliest days, helping a neighbor and local single mom in Chicago Heights as she ran for our school board to my first "official" campaign work on the late Cook County Board President John Stroger's first campaign as an adult - I have invested my time, talent and energy in supporting local government. In my late 30s, I ran for and won local municipal office which led to building a profitable business transforming local government agencies throughout the Midwest and soon to be West Coast.

We heard from at least three different people the importance of local government.

Tim Kaine who started as a city councilman in Richmond, VA.

Sharon Belkofer a local school board member in part due to the encouragement of our President.

President Barack Obama urged us to vote, not just for president but for mayors, judges and other local offices.

Our current Democratic VP pick. The mourning mother of an American veteran. My favorite President.

Every four years, I see folks get energized and involved and I would urge you to find a home for that energy come November.

Want a third party movement? Look no further than what has happened the last 8 years with the Tea Party. Their power has not prevailed on a national stage but one city council, school board and state representative seat at a time. I've watched them progressively take over school and park boards across the midwest which has led to them gaining governors mansions in the last two years. It did not happen overnight. It did not happen on a grand stage. It happened in the elections no one pays attention to.

And guess what? You are way more affected by who runs your cities and counties than you EVER will be affected by who sits in the White House.

I will pick up the baton where Tim, Sharon and the POTUS left off the other night. I urge you to join me in transforming local government. There are three practical things you can do before the next presidential cycle to impact local government.

Vote

Vote in November. Educate yourself and vote next Spring. Typically, the local elections right after the presidential election year have the lowest turnout. Start in November, learn about your local races. Get to know your current local officials and the people who want your vote at the next cycle. Between this presidential race and the next one in 2020, there will be races each Spring and each November electing local, county and state offices and judicial seats .  Start now getting yourself educated so you can vote.

Volunteer

Volunteer in a campaign. The national campaigns typically are more organized than local campaigns and are excellent conduits for connection to local races in the future. Volunteer for a commission. Do you care are about parks and recreation? Join a local parks committee. Do you care about the environment? Volunteer for a county commission. Education? A school board commission or committee. My guess is any interests you may have, there is a local government committee or commission you can lend your talent to.  Introduce yourself to the local officials and make yourself available. Many times when vacancies occur - there are never enough qualified applicants for official to appoint. Volunteer your time and talent to make your community better.


Run

This a big ask and certainly worth its own post. But I'd be remiss if I did not take a moment to encourage you to put your talents to work in your local community. You'd be surprised at who's running your local government agencies. Take time to learn about the issues your town or city or school board is facing. Take stock of your talents and what you can do to add value to the team that is already there. When I ran for local office the first time in 2009, I specifically ran because had two things to offer our board  - strategic thinking and diversity. Our almost 60 year old village had 5 males and one female running its board. The combined average age at that time was close to 60 and there were no people of color.  Winning that seat and bringing the average age down almost 9 years and adding the richness of being a young family with less than 10 years living in the village was a breath of fresh air. Combined with my over 19 years in corporate marketing and strategy - I was a rock star within 18 months.  Local government agencies need new perspective. And they need people willing to contribute their talents versus running because they are mad about an issue.

Since my time as an elected, I have eagerly served on state commissions for the last two Illinois governors and recently accepted an appointment to the City of Evanston's parks and recreation board. This in addition to expanding my company's reach in transforming local government agencies across this state and Minnesota.  My public service led to my business. You never know where your public service will lead you.


Please do me a favor and  don't leave your energy for our democracy in the presidential voting booth this November. Take it to your local city, county or state government agency.

Trust me. They need you.

Monday, July 11, 2016

My Work, My Refuge

Who knew that my tiny company and its powerful work would actually be my respite from the world?

As the United States imploded last week under the weight of the #AltonSterling, #PhilandoCastile and #DallasTragedy, strangely, I was ok. Not that numb, I'm checking out pseudo "ok," but a calm abiding peaceful I'm ok.

As a mom of a gentle giant 11 year old Blaxican boy, how could I possibly be at peace with all that is going on at this point in history?

As a Black American woman and member of a segment of the US population who are also profiled, harassed and killed by police at a similar rates to our male counterparts albeit not as wide publicized,  what could be tempering fear in me?

My work. My day-to-day influence and impact on the very stories that plaster our headlines and bring us to our knees. My unrelenting commitment to transform local government. My objective to change the world, one relationship at a time. All this is literally saving my sanity and keeping me going.

With over 40% of my work focused on local government agencies and municipalities making up a great majority, my work gave me peace last week.  You see, I had the chance to speak to a mayor and few park district executive directors about what's going on in society and how our work to transform workplace cultures in government agencies is more relevant than ever. Police departments and other local government policing agencies are impacted by my work. With every conference and workshop presentation to local government agencies, me and my team are tackling bias, inconsistency and lack of inclusive repeatable processes that make for more inclusive workplaces that lead to more inclusive communities.

Close to 35% of my work is with nonprofit agencies and that also gives me peace. One project I'm working on currently, gives me the chance to assist students in the Oakland public schools and particularly boys of color with understanding and leveraging their strengths and talents. On August 3, I will lead two groups of scholars on the beginning of what I hope will be a life long journey of building on their strengths and formulating their stories versus the stories society may tell them about themselves. By reaching these students at this age - I was over 20 when I first discovered and was tuned into to my strengths - my work is combating the real societal bias against these students by empowering them with their truth.

Waking up Friday and jumping back on calls with my clients, not only soothed my broken heart from all the turmoil, but it gave me the satisfaction that I am contributing to a new narrative in this country both on the micro level with the scholars and on the macro level with my government agency leaders.

Even as I wade through my own personal challenges and often need respite from my own life - I am so grateful I've built a business that provides that for me personally and as a member of our hurting country.

Monday, June 6, 2016

How The GOAT Impacted 8 Year Old Me And Changed Me Forever

The way I remember the Greatest of All Time

2016 is my year of recalibration.

And as I reflect upon the death of boxing legend and humanitarian Muhammad Ali at the age of 74 over the weekend, it is clear why these happenings are occurring. This second iconic death within a 90 day period is an acute reminder of the origins of my own personal strength.

Like many Black kids of the 70s, Muhammad Ali was my hero. Without question.

At a time when Black American heroes were few and often soft spoken (think Arthur Ashe - another hero to me as a actual tennis player), Muhammad Ali was different and captured my imagination from the first time I saw him on the small screen.

He was outspoken.

He was fierce.

He was confident.

And those were traits I'd never seen in Black people in my own real life circles.  I remember him most from 1979 as it was a tumultuous year for me personally. It was the year of his "retirement and comeback." There was the Lyle Alzado fight and countless replays of many of his most controversial moments to date at that time.

I remember not being able to peel my eyes away as replays of his anti-Vietnam commentaries were played again and again. Or seeing him talk enormous amounts of trash about his opponents and his legacy.

I also remember driving by his south side Chicago home and being shown where he once lived. It was sort of a mecca for me and family members who took us there. Hearing stories from family members and friends who'd run into him or witnessed him with his kids on the south side of Chicago riveted me. And it was not the riches or fame that attracted me to Ali and his story.

It was sheer bravery to be who he was and boldly speak what was on his heart; To be proud of his heritage,  his people and to speak out about what we suffered in this country.

1979 was the year I was sexually abused by a family member. It was year of a crazy Chicago snow storm and the year I first listened to Prince.

And while I'd never thought much of it before the passing of both Prince and Muhammad Ali these last few months, it was the year I figured out that I have a voice. A strong and powerful voice that started raising and asserting itself that very year despite what the world around me told me.

I was brave.

I was powerful.

I was fierce.

And I felt that way then at least in part because of seeing Muhammad Ali stand up again and again at a time when I felt like laying down. To this day, I live, lead and love fiercely. How grateful am I for reminder of the great life and legacy of Muhammad Ali as this reflection is fueling my growth into the next phase of my journey.

Rest in power, Muhammad Ali - you especially impacted this Chicago girl and woman she's grown to be. Thank you.


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Restoring Fatih When What You See Sucks

A new day sun means you have a chance to restore your faith
 

The last 4 weeks have challenged every positive mass I have in my body.

First, Prince died.

Then a few weeks later, my family moved. And while it was a planned and prepared for quick move across town, it about killed me both physically and emotionally. The grief it emoted about my pending divorce was debilitating.

Finally, I discovered this week that a super precious piece of jewelry is gone. Don't even remember the last time I saw it before the move. It was significant for many reasons among them, it was meaningful by who purchased it for me and the thoughtfully constructed additives each year since I got it for my birthday in 2014. 

I was at my end in puddle of tears, rage, anger, sadness and grief this week.

But I got up the next day and had to face my life all over again and here's what I did to make that happen:

Find Something Good

Gratitude is the cure for everything. In the midst of my worst day this week that really culminated a crappy string of days and weeks, I found something to be grateful for. It was small. But it was significant. It was a reminder that our lives are compiled of moments and while I am in the midst of a string of really crappy moments - I can find some good. You can, too. You must seek it. Look diligently for the one positive thing that occurs in the midst of turmoil. You can build from that.

Focus on Your Purpose

I have a purpose on earth. And I am living it. Even on the super hard days. When I feel sad, angry or despondent, I remember that I am here to drive better relationships. I am here to inspire others to be real - with themselves and those they do life with.  Even in my pain, there is purpose. When you find your purpose, be sure and use it as fuel. This week I was able to impact people with my talents in the midst of deep heartache. Last week was not different. Or the week before that. Focusing on my purpose makes this season less treacherous.

Know It's A Season

I've been saying that to myself for over a year now and I don't believe it any less. We cannot be down forever. I have no idea when my season will turn but I know it will. I have been on earth 44 years  and have seen my life in cycles and seasons since my mother's passing when I was 4 years old. I remember vividly great seasons and really desolate seasons throughout my life. This is no different. And while I have no idea when it will change and be a calm and peaceful season, I have faith that one day I will look back on this season and be better for it. Personally and professionally.


If you are like me, in the midst of a seemingly never ending tough season of life. Take heart.  Find something to be grateful for, focus on your purpose and be confident that it's a season that will indeed pass.

Friday, April 22, 2016

My Life As A Non-Conformist Began With A Prince Song

The immortal Prince in one of my favorite eras of his life.


Prince was the epitome of non-compliance and it was his music that inspired my non-compliant spirit starting at the age of 8. I used to sing "I Wanna Be Your Lover" at the top of lungs.  Most often signing with no recourse until my dad heard me one day and asked me if I knew what I was singing. At age 8, I clearly had no idea what "I wanna be the only one you come for, yeah" really meant.  My dad told me he did not want to hear me singing that "garbage" ever again, with little explanation why.  So I remember nodding and waiting until he went to work to scream the lyrics at the top of my lungs and dared our babysitter to stop me.  No matter what anyone said to me, I was listening to that song and all the others from that man with a one word name. And non-conformity has been a brand attribute of mine ever since. Here's the three reasons I will forever be grateful that Prince touched my life.

Rules As Suggestions

Prince was known to push the limits and saw rules and regulations as suggestions only. His life overall is a walking example of nonconformity but let's just focus on his music. Every time someone put a label on his music, he reinvented his sound. He even took the same music and made it cross every genre imaginable and some say he had his own genre altogether. Even the way he executed in the music business was unheard of. From being the youngest producer at Warner Bros at the age of 19 to changing his name to protect his copyrights to releasing music independently of a label long before the internet, Prince busted up every rule of the music industry and wrote his own. Clearly, there were some constraints thrust upon him throughout his music career but his ingenuity transcended each and every one.

His Own Brand Of Black

Prince is my perfect example of how to be Black. Stop for a minute and look at his style and the way he presented himself to the world. Seeing all the images of him the last 24 hours reminded me of how he literally lived his life as Black man like no other. At the time he entered the music scene, most Black artists had a look and sound that was familiar and  "trademarked Black." Enter this light skinned, petite bodied man from Minneapolis who busted the paradigm for what Black music was and what a Black artist could do. Then he elevated his story with his movie Purple Rain and told a different view of Black life that was not being told widely at that time. I cannot recall anyone ever questioning his Blackness. I mean, he began his 2007 Super Bowl performance in a do-rag.  But as a light skinned, gender bending, multiple genre rock star, he elevated what Black in America could be and pushed  and challenged traditional Black narratives daily. Until his death, he continued to drive issues that impacted Black lives all while living his own story of Blackness.

Clearly He Loved Himself

If there was ever a person who accepted himself fully, I have to believe it was Prince. The sheer courage to be who he was at all times was unprecedented. Again, the imagery we have witnessed across the almost 40 year career is a self-love display. Interview after interview, I've watched him talk about love as a centerpiece of life. His documented generosity to countless charities uplifting those without a voice. His political activism - both the subtle and outspoken - for decades against injustice. Love for others, especially marginalized people, only comes from a deep sense of acceptance and love of oneself. Prince lived his life fully and wholly accepting of who he was which made him a gracious and genuine lover of others.


As I reflect on my life- especially now during a particularly tough personal season - each and every one of those attributes of Prince have permeated my life as well. It only upon his passing that I realize how much he influenced those traits in me throughout my life. Prince lit the way for this non-compliant, fearless leader. Thank you. May you rest in Power.

Monday, March 28, 2016

My Journey To My New Normal - You Coming?






So anyone who has known me for any length of time knows I do my best to follow the simple instructions of that post-it at the top of this post. And that is why it's especially vexing to live in our Facebook fairytale world these days.

Take this past Sunday for instance.

Easter Sunday.

Resurrection Sunday.

Christians and even many non-Christians kept a string of happy pastel colored photos in my stream all day. No ill feelings for that. I am one of those folks is happy when people I love are happy. But I'm also one of those folks who feel sad and feel deeply when my people are sad. But it's a fine line these days for the extended tribe. Of course those who are close to me are intimately aware of what's happening. In my desire to live authentically, I don't struggle with sharing my current state of affairs openly and regularly. But in our social media highlights versus day-to-day living, it is tough to keep it real.

How do you express sadness without evoking pity in our Facebook era?

How do you keep it real about where you are without bumming everyone out?

Well right along with all those other things that Sunday was to masses, it had been a very special day to me in the past. Sunday March 27 marked what would have been the 15 anniversary of my marriage that crumbled under the weight of depression that swallowed up my partner of 15 years late last year.

Yep.

I am not hiding or hesitating to state that every chance I get.

I am sad.

I am mourning as are my two kids.

It's natural and normal to feel this way but it's whole 'nother thing to post about it. But I'm hoping to change that. There is dignity in opening mourning your losses. People learn how to love you when allow yourself to be broken before them. And we are broken.

But like the hope that is in the hearts of those who actually celebrate Easter and Resurrection - we all know that there can be no Sunday morning without a Friday afternoon. Trauma. Sadness. Death. All necessary to rise again. Well that space between the death and the resurrection is where we are living these days in my house. We are doing the best we can under the circumstances we have.

We could not get all dressed up take photos of our holiday happenings because it was all we could do to make our food and smile and be with each other this year. And when I finally looked at the calendar at the end of the day and saw that it was a day we used to celebrate with fervor, the sadness overcame me and I had to share it.

My relationship with reality is too solid to fake it for the masses. So we must endure these days and this pain to have our resurrection as a family in its new form. We are gonna talk about it and share it and hope that others will join us on our journey to our new normal.