“Sharing Guy’s Journey” is my personal blog, and I often refer to it that way, even when I’m writing about topics that are not particularly “personal.” In this case, that description couldn’t be more accurate.
I have often written about my friendship with and my respect for Frances Hesselbein. Today she has shared a very important message with all of us, to guide us in these troubled times. Of all the messages I’ve heard over the months of the pandemic and during the last two weeks since George Floyd’s death, this is the best. Mrs. Hesselbein is kind to share her thoughts and experiences with us.
This is a very difficult time in our society, and it’s leaders like Mrs. Hesselbein who will keep us moving forward.
Here is her message, distributed by The Frances Hesselbein Leadership Forum at The Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at The University of Pittsburgh:
At a young age, I learned from my grandmother that I should respect all people. Her lessons were defining moments in my life and determined the type of leader that I would become. I also learned the need for action-oriented justice through my husband, John D. Hesselbein, a journalist, photographer and filmmaker who served on the governor’s first Civil Rights Commission.
John responded to acts of discrimination in town, like a barbershop that would not cut black customers’ hair. “I don’t have the right tools,” the barber complained. John’s response: “Then you will have to buy the right tools.”
This statement, sadly, is as relevant TODAY as it was back then. My heart breaks to know that black Americans are being murdered by police officers.
We need the right tools to fight against systemic racism and support the black community in any and all ways possible.
I have worked my entire life as a passionate advocate for inclusion and diversity, and I am not giving up. At Camp Blue Knob (pictured here, circa 1952), in western Pennsylvania, in the early 50s, at a time when I could not eat with my African-American staff members at any restaurant in any nearby town, we worked to lead by example. In 1976, when I became CEO of the Girl Scouts, the organization was 95% white. We worked to bring in the best educators, designers, communicators and trainers, who could help us diversify, and five years later, we tripled racial diversity.
There are many strides we can take today. We must demand sweeping police reform; invest resources to employment services, education and health care for those who are marginalized; continue to mobilize to raise awareness, and cast our ballots to ensure we elect candidates who will reform our systems.
Today, as racial injustice continues to plague our society, I have been comforted by the words of educators across the country.
Howard University President Wayne A. I. Frederick, noted, “In this moment, it is necessary to grieve over another life taken unnecessarily and those who loved him who are now broken and left behind to mourn. It’s okay to be angry. It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to feel numb. Stay there as long as you need to. I encourage you to take those feelings and channel them into something durable. Write about it. Sing about it. Participate in the electoral process and vote about it.”
An open statement from Spelman College Faculty and Staff instructed, “As educators, we encourage our colleagues at all levels to use intersectional lenses of analysis in teaching future leaders, and especially to learn and to teach about historic and contemporary iterations of white supremacy. We must engage in this and other work that brings forth substantive change.”
University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said, “We must hold our leaders accountable by voting and pushing to reform the laws and institutions of our democracy. Working together, we have enormous power to realize change. Local efforts may seem like small acts in the face of a national civil crisis, but they can catalyze powerful change.”
Pitt’s Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor Ann E. Cudd quoted educator and activist Mary McLeod Bethune, who once wrote, “Knowledge is the prime need of the hour.” Provost Cudd noted, “When protests wane, it will be important to continue to intensify our critical understanding of the roots of racism, violence, and oppression.”
Together, we can and will make a change. Right now, we need to use the right tools to make it lasting.