Diversity Straight Up: Dr. Nika White
In the latest episode of Diversity Straight Up, hosts Sarika Bhakta and Anthony Arrington talk to the national authority on diversity Dr. Nika White about strategies for battling “diversity fatigue.” Also, legendary broadcaster Tavis Smiley talks about overcoming mistakes and defending yourself during the age of cancel culture. Listen below or subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts!
Or catch the full episode on a live video on Corridor Business Journal YouTube channel.
Season 2 of Diversity Straight Up is brought to you by GreenState Credit Union and sponsored by Alliant Energy. Additional support is provided by Collins Aerospace and the city of Cedar Rapids.
About the hosts:
Sarika Bhakta is president of Nikeya Diversity Consulting and a Certified Diversity Executive with more than 20 years of experience in leadership, management, talent attraction/retention, and resource acquisition/development. Born in Gujarat, India, and raised in the Midwest, Sarika empowers leaders to identify their authentic selves to be successful change agents in today’s global economy.
Anthony Arrington is co-founder and managing partner with Top RANK Professional & Executive Search and Consulting, a search firm focused on helping companies acquire professional and executive-level talent, with a special emphasis on diverse and inclusive leadership. He has more than 20 years of experience in management, strategic planning, leadership, and staff development in both the for-profit and nonprofit sectors.
Transcript of Diversity Straight Up Podcast – Dr. Nika White: Battling ‘Diversity Fatigue”
Voice-over 1: You’re listening to a Corridor Business Journal Podcast.
Voice-over 2: It’s time for straight talk about diversity. Frank questions, honest answers, and real insights. It’s Diversity Straight Up brought to you by GreenState Credit Union with your hosts Sarika Bhakta of Nikeya Diversity Consulting, and Anthony Arrington of Top RANK professional, an executive search firm. Diversity Straight Up, brought to you by GreenState Credit Union is a Corridor Business Journal podcast. Today’s episode was recorded live at the Diversity 5.0 virtual conference with guests Dr. Nika White and Tavis Smiley. We’ll be right back.
Voice-over 3: GreenState Credit Union is proud to sponsor Diversity Straight Up. Established in 1938, GreenState is Iowa’s largest financial cooperative serving nearly 250,000 members of all walks of life. GreenState’s products include checking accounts, loans, investments, insurance, commercial services, mortgages, and credit cards. Profits are returned to members in the form of better rates on deposits and loans. We encourage you to learn more at greenstate.org. GreenState is federally insured by the NCUA and is an equal housing opportunity lender.
Voice-over 4: Diversity Straight Up, brought to you by GreenState Credit Union is also sponsored by Alliant Energy.
Sarika Bhakta: Welcome to another exciting episode of the Corridor Business Journal’s Diversity Straight Up podcast presented by GreenState Credit Union. This is a very exciting one for me as it was live virtually for the Society for Diversity’s Virtual Diversity Conference 5.0. We had some great guests, such insightful reflections, don’t you think so, Anthony?
Anthony Arrington: We did. We had some wonderful guests. Dr. Nika White, who is a well-known diversity, equity, and inclusion expert nationally known. It was a wonderful conversation with her. As well as Tavis Smiley who’s been a media figure for a better part of 20, 30 years. We had some great conversation with Tavis Smiley as well. Great show and we hope that you really enjoy it.
Sarika: Enjoy the show and share your feedback comments at email@example.com. Anthony, there’s been something on my mind. There’s something on my mind. I’m thinking about what is happening globally with women’s rights and seeing and hearing, you know I’m a global citizen, and what is happening in Afghanistan and recently, you’ve seen a lot of the women that are being brave and courageous and they’re doing demonstrations. They are trying to stand up for their fundamental human rights as well as for the girls that are coming after them.
You see about their fighting for inclusion, for representation. To be able to go to work, go to school. My heart breaks when I see how their rights are being impacted and they want to live a life that’s free of violence.
Then I circle back and I think about what is unfolding here in the United States in Texas with their new legislation, Senate Bill 8, which bans abortions after six weeks. It really leaves enforcement up to private citizens. Anywhere, whoever it is, it could be any private citizen, can go after a Texan. I think about it because either you perform the abortion or anyone that aids in the abortion.
If they successfully win that case, not only will their legal services be covered, they’ll also get a payment of $10,000. I say this when I’m thinking about the thought of women in Afghanistan or in Texas, that your rights are being impacted. Obviously, there’s a lot of layers when we’re thinking about these situations, but some of the common themes that I’m seeing is around religion, government mandate, two strangers who are private citizens who are able to act and alter the life of an individual, of a woman.
For me, when we’re thinking about being straight up and being inclusive and creating communities where everyone can bring their whole full self, there’s just a lot of layers that it’s not just their issue, it’s our issue. It’s a global issue that we really, really need to tackle. That’s been on my mind when we’re thinking about diversity. I don’t know. What are your thoughts, Anthony?
Anthony: This is Diversity Straight Up. This is our conversation. Listen, as a man that’s grown up with a single mother, as a girl dad with two daughters, and with a whole host of aunties and uncles and grandmas that have taken care of me in my life, my respect for women is through the roof. Being straight up is disturbing to me. As a practitioner, it’s one of those difficult things we have to deal with every day in our space as diversity practitioners in how to manage the emotion of how we feel about some of these things. I understand where you’re coming from.
I’m not a woman but as a girl dad and as a man who’s been raised by women most of my life, most of the women in my career have been or most of the bosses in my career have been women, that’s difficult for me. That’s very difficult for me. I respect that. We could go all day but we got Nika White on. We’ve got Nika White today. Let’s get into it. Nika, I don’t know if you have any thoughts on that. Feel free. [laughs]
Nika White: Well, first and foremost, I want to thank each of you. Thank you, Sarika, thank you, Anthony, and thank you, Jess, for having me. I’m super excited to join this conversation. I am right there with you. I can echo the sentiments that both of you have shared. I stand in solidarity with all of the individuals who are fighting to preserve the rights for women to make decisions about their reproduction.
I really am concerned that for those who aren’t taking a stake and a position and really speaking out, I am curious. I am really trying to practice authentic curiosity to understand why, why, why? I think that dialogue is so important right now. One thing I appreciate about this conversation, this platform is that you’re willing to go there. We have to go there. We have to have the hard conversations. It’s very disturbing. It’s obviously talking mind for me as well. I’m glad you led in with that.
Anthony: Thank you for sharing that. Well, let’s tell everybody a little bit about your background, because you’re quite a woman. Dr. Nika White is a national authority, a fearless advocate for diversity inclusion. As an award-winning management leadership consultant, keynote speaker, published author, and executive practitioner for DEI efforts across business government, nonprofit, and education, Dr. White helps organizations break barriers and integrate diversity into their business frameworks.
Now, her work has led to being designated by Forbes as a top 10 DEI Trailblazer. Dr. White is the author of two books as we mentioned earlier, The Intentional Inclustionist as well as the Next Level Inclusionist: Transforming Your Work and Yourself for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusive Success. She has quite a cool podcast. If you all want to check that out on LinkedIn, it’s really cool. Welcome, Dr. White. Welcome. We appreciate you today.
Sarika: Thank you. We’ve got a jam-packed show. We’re going to get straight right into it. Nika, we’re hearing people say they’re experiencing diversity fatigue. People are exhausted and/or cynical when it comes to equity, diversity, inclusion, and engagement efforts, which I’m just going to coin it EDI&E so it’s shorter. Whether it’s diversity training or whether it’s talking about race relations or they’re seeing leaders be performative when it comes to their EDI&E efforts.
Companies and communities we know get very laser-focused around their EDI&E initiatives especially when there’s an incident tragedy that happens as we saw last year and everything. Then the fatigue seeps in. In working with your clients, can you share, in your experience, how you have been able to help them navigate how to overcome diversity fatigue and/or how they can avoid diversity fatigue?
Nika: It’s a great question, Sarika. I appreciate the opportunity to weigh in on this. Fatigue in this space and this discipline is real. I say that considering many different things that come to mind for me, but one of which is that many people who are actually practitioners in this space, they care about this work, because they are directly impacted by the work, because a lot of individuals who do this work are part of those marginalized targeted groups, and they also are looking for support. It really is easy to become fatigued.
I think that we have to remind ourselves of the why and do so quite often. If we can remind ourselves of the why, I think that it helps to position us to not allow the normal frustrations of the day in and day out planning and trying to execute towards some type of end goal to keep us from staying to course. Let’s remember the why. We also have to appreciate the fact that we’re after progress, not perfection. I think that’s really important too, because it may not be necessarily our role to help people reach a very precise end goal. It may be to plant that seed, which is why strategic partners are always very helpful as well. We all need to be working together. I think that we have to also make sure that we are controlling the narrative. Right now, so many people will treat diversity, equity, and inclusion work as obligation. When it’s seen as an obligation, there’s a lot of burden that people tend to carry with that.
When you see it as an opportunity, there’s excitement, because there’s a desire and a drive to be motivated to reach the end goals and so shifting the narrative, owning that narrative and then, last but not least, fatigue is real. We have to be really diligent about our self-care.
Whatever that will look like for each of us who are practitioners in this space, whether it means we need to take a step back and just reflect and remember some of the milestones that we’ve been able to achieve to help refuel us to be recharged for the next journey ahead, whatever it is. Put people into your tribe and into your corner that can help support you and be that thought partner, all of the above, but we need to make sure we’re taking care of self.
Anthony: Thank you for sharing that. We talk about the difficulties and the challenges and the fatigue, and the stress. For you, Dr. White as a Black woman in particular, you’ve obviously experienced a lot of hurdles and a lot of challenges. Try to validate your worth.
I remember speaking with you a couple of years ago, and you talked about being the first in the room and what that’s like. Can you talk to our listeners about some of those hurdles, your challenges? Some of those hurdles and how you’ve overcome those to get to the place where you are today?
Nika: Yes, the hurdles are real. I think first and foremost we have to recognize the hurdles. I say that because again, the complexity of this work and even just navigating as a Black woman in a society that’s very much dominated by Whiteness, it can get really hard, it can get tough, and sometimes we may feel like we don’t have a fight in us that day. I think we have to again, just realize what our why is.
For me, my motivation is the generation to come after me. You mentioned that you are a girl dad and I also have a daughter who’s in college right now. I see that she is watching me and I want to make sure that I’m modeling, and I’m helping her to realize that just because it gets tough, does not mean that we don’t have to find some greater ways of creativity to try to problem solve and be prepared for those hurdles.
I think that if we know what to expect, sometimes it gives us greater propensity to plan for them so that they don’t again frustrate us to the point where we’re ready to feel defeated before we even start and having again those supporters in your corner to help you as well.
Sarika: Well, I’m going to pivot a little bit here. We know that when it comes to equity, diversity, inclusion, and engagement, the journey starts with us. We share this with leaders all the time, especially senior leaders that internal self-reflection and reflection is really needed to be able to drive that cultural transformation. With that said, we’re also seeing an increase in executive coaching around DEI.
I know this is a service that you provide, Nika. Can you share with us any case studies that you have seen, how the DEI executive coaching has really helped the leaders? More importantly, how then collectively has been able to help drive cultural transformation. We’re also seeing certification around certified diversity executives like we all have, but also for coaching, you’re seeing a DEI coaching certification.
Nika: Yes. It’s such an important question. What I have come to understand is that people are approaching this conversation at different places within their learning journey. There are a myriad of mental models that people are carrying and we have to recognize that.
What I find to be really effective is, when you can do one-to-one executive coaching or even small group coaching, it creates this layer of protection if you will, that I think allows people to feel a bit more willing to ask the hard questions, to make sure that they are positioning themselves to be prepared for the hard questions that could come to them. For leaders, I think that we have to realize we don’t know what we don’t know.
The fact of the matter is that a lot of our organizations and corporations these days are still large in part ran by white men. Where you sit in an organization determines what you see and what you see becomes your lens, and your lens is where you then find the ability to make decisions to interact with others. If you aren’t grounded in knowledge that allows you to also have a perspective of those that are not in your shoes, then it’s not going to allow you to be the most effective leader.
I think that a lot of of individuals have come to that conclusion, and they want to be able to get better at having the conversations at supporting the ERGs and BRGs within their organization. Just because we are a leader by positionality does not mean that we know how to navigate this work in this space. I think that’s what that coaching does. It provides more of a customized plan where we’re meeting people where they are, and we’re helping them to navigate the complexity of so many different scenarios that they could be faced with in the workplace.
Anthony: That’s interesting. I was just thinking about this as you were saying that. I was thinking about education and people that want to be better at math, they get tutors. They want to be better at science, they get tutors, and what we’re tutoring on is the importance of equity, diversity, inclusion, and engagement. As a coach, I’m going to have to remember that. I just thought about that.
Nika: Yes. What we are attempting to get people to do is to realize the personal responsibility and accountability of building their inclusion and equity muscle. The great thing about this work of diversity, equity, and inclusion is that in order to grow in your inclusion mindedness, it does have a growth capability to it, but it can happen.
I say that really to amplify. I think there are way too many individuals who at their core, if you were to engage them, they can talk about the value of DEI and certainly can articulate that it’s important. What I find to be true is that way too many people are passive about it, and that they see it as the responsibility of someone else.
Those who carry the title of chief diversity officer or manager, director, or even the HR professionals. I really want to try to shift that paradigm to where people see inclusion-mindedness as a leadership function, leadership not by positionality, but by influence. We can lead an influence from any place in the organization. We all need to now own that responsibility.
Anthony: Yes. That is awesome.
Sarika: Well, I really think that when you’re looking at creating that executive alignment at the top, because as we know, there’s people that have interest, people have power and platform and privilege to be able to drive it. We need everyone to be able to take that accountability. It’s really going to be here that we can move the needle and meet those people that have that passion, and it’s going to take all to be able to do it. I think that sometimes the coaching has gotten a negative rep thinking something’s wrong with me.
In reality, as leaders, we have that growth mindset, do you want to continue to learn? We only know what we know. I think of that the other perspective shift is what does coaching mean? Did I do something wrong? No, as leaders, the executive coaching is a trusted advisor partner to help you, not tell you, but help you explore so that you can make an informed decision in terms of your actions and behaviors to really drive it further.
Anthony: We’re coached in so many other things. We could be coached as leaders as well.
Nika: I think sometimes we see coaching as being penalized too, because that’s how some organizations will leverage it. It’s like, okay, you’ve missed the mark here, there’ve been these grievances about you and your leadership style, your management style. We’re going to send you to be coached, and if it’s around DEI, then people presume, okay, so now I’m being punished.
I think that’s part of the narrative we really need to try to shift. We need to have a coach around, as you mentioned, Anthony and Sarika, around so many areas of our lives. Why are we seeing it as a way of being penalized when it’s associated in the context of DEI, building our inclusion muscle.
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Anthony: We’re going to pivot. Our great moderator, Jess, who’s been keeping an eye on the board is going to read a few questions from our listeners and questions for you, Nika, that you’re able to answer.
Jess: I have one question for you right now. If you have some more, please throw them in the Q&A section. First question I have for you, Dr. White, is, how do you recommend moving your company leadership from the idea of EDIE away from being an obligation and instead, a normal way of conducting business?
Nika: First and foremost, one of the things that I always like to engage in dialogue around with client partners when they are vetting us as a potential vendor and we are likewise vetting them as a potential partner, I think it needs to go both ways, is asking really thoughtful questions. I always like to understand what was the impetus that led you to this call today? Or if you have already started your journey and you’re at a certain place, but then your continuum, what led you originally? If they’re able to articulate the why, the business case, then I feel that provides me with really good intel to be able to engage them further to understand what the organizational readiness, what is the individual leadership readiness around really committing to this work.
If the why is more for compliance reasons, then I ask some deeper questions. Are we doing this because you’re checking a box? There’re different motivators. I realize that people start at different places. What I want to see is not so much of arriving at a certain destination, because we all know there is no destination. I want to see the commitment to the process, that’s so important for me. I think that’s the difference. If we see it as an obligation where it’s like a compliance, and we have to do it, then you’re not really going to be fully committed to it.
What that translates into, you’re not going to be fully committed to allocating the right resources, infrastructure, human capital, financial capital, which means you’re not going to have a chance to build a solid foundation upon which this work can be sustained, so I think that’s critically important.
The other thing is, I talk a lot about activity versus impact, and I know that’s something that is really a big conversation in this space. Activity has a start and an end date, impact is where you have to look at systems, policies, procedures, culture, that’s where you’re going to be able to move the needle. As you talk and engage with people, you can tell if their mindsets are more so around “I’m looking for activities so I can feel good about it” versus “I’m really looking for change, DEI transformation.”
Sarika: I think that’s very important. Always asking by doing this EDI&E initiative, what was the difference made? What was the change? What was the transformation? Then you’re going from activities to outcomes. We know that this is an investment of time, energy, resources, funding, et cetera. What’s the ROI? We have to really look at the outcomes of what was the difference that was made. Thank you, Nika, appreciate it.
Anthony: I think we got about 10 minutes left for the show. I think we got time for maybe one more, couple of questions.
Sarika: I think we have time for one more question, Jess.
Anthony: Let’s get another one, Jess.
Jess: Another one from our audience. Looking at a perspective of a BIPOC individual, how do you recommend employees find their strength, empowerment when suffering from minority stress?
Nika: This is such a good one. That’s a great question. I’m going to say that reflection is so critically important. We have to spend time quietening our egos and really just listening to what our bodies are telling us, to what our heart is telling us, to what our mind is telling us. Our body speaks to us in many ways, and we know our threshold of emotional capital that we can give to certain situations. When we reach that point, we have to be true to ourselves to make sure that we are making the call that allows us to be okay.
I think it’s about, again, just having those reflection time to assess, how am I feeling in this moment? What am I noticing about the times that I’m triggered? Then, how can I then take some level of responsibility for preventing that to really negatively impacting me? Sometimes that means leaving certain environments, leaving certain jobs and roles, excluding certain people from our inner circle so that we don’t have that negative energy. It also means to maybe even see a therapist that can help us to walk through as we’re talking about our challenges.
Again, I think the main answer there is be reflective, and let that quiet time allow us to be informed about what are some other steps that we need to be taking to help us behold.
Sarika: Wonderful questions. I know, Jess, if you can help capture any questions that we have right now, we will, of course, be able to ask them in our future episodes of Diversity Straight Up podcast. Just like our listeners, continue to submit questions, comments, and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you all for asking Nika some great, great insightful questions. We’re going on to our final piece for Nika here. It’s a little fun one. I don’t know how you are with playing ball, but I think Anthony’s going to do this one with you.
Anthony: We love fun stuff. This is what we call our diversity thumb ball, a great icebreaker. It’s got a bunch of questions on it around equity and diversity. Sarika and I like to bang each other in the head with this ball. Actually, if you were here with us, we would toss it to you in the studio and you would catch it. What you do is you catch the ball, and wherever the thumb lands, you ask that question and you answer that question authentically. How about you throw that to me, Sarika?
Sarika: You know what? I’m going to be a pretend Nika here where I’m going to throw it to Anthony. I will never be able to pull it off as well as you.
Anthony: All right. Your question, Nika, is how do gender norms impact people’s opportunities?
Nika: It’s a great one. We live in a society where we are so conditioned to put people in boxes, and I think that we need to become much more open-minded. We need to realize that our world is changing, that there’s so much difference, and we need to build up our cultural competencies so that we are well informed. I think that that in and of itself is what helps us to break out of this mold of where we are just assuming what the norm is or being conditioned by what we feel like the norm should be. It definitely impacts how in which people have opportunities, because we’re seeing time and time again that sexism is real.
We’re seeing time and time again that there’s certain opportunities that people are associated with based upon their gender versus really looking at someone’s talent and skills and experience of qualifications. There’s definitely a correlation there, and it all is steeped in bias, and it’s harmful. We need to learn how to dismantle that, learn how to recognize it, and be willing to speak up, be willing to call those behaviors in when we see that bias is creating harm and preventing people from having certain opportunities.
Anthony: Thank you for sharing that. Thank you for sharing that. All right.
Sarika: I think that’s the first time we’ve had that prompt question…
Anthony: We haven’t had this for a long time.
Sarika: I did a great job of throwing a good one for you, Nika. We’re about ready to wrap up with you here, but before we do, we do want to ask you, is there anything that we have not had the chance to touch base that you would like to share with the audience right now?
Nika: Yes. There’s so much that I’m having a lot of energy around these days, because there’s so much occurring. One of the messages around my platform is really just emphasizing the importance of intentionality. We cannot be passive about this work of inclusion, we have to be intentional. That has a certain look about it. It is calculated, it is calibrated. It requires foresight, and be action-oriented, and believing in the process of the journey that there is a reward on the other end. For those of you who maybe are trying to find what are some ways in which I can influence this work and have impact, the first thing that I would say is, just begin to be intentional. Just get intentional about your desire to want to see change occur. I think that in and of itself is going to automatically put us in the driver’s seat of being able to realize some level of impact by our actions.
Anthony: Thank you so much. Thank you so much, Nika, for your time and for joining us today.
Sarika: Thank you so much, Nika, I appreciated your insights and reflections. We’re going to go ahead and transition to Tavis. Do you want to read the bio, Anthony?
Anthony: Sure, sure. Tavis is a host of Tavis Smiley on KBLA talk radio. It’s a flagship radio station of Smiley Audio Media. Smiley’s a bestselling author. He’s an advocate. He’s a philanthropist, and he’s known and respected for his unapologetic progressivism. He is a recipient of nearly 20 honorary doctorate degrees. He’s actually been honored with a star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame and recognized by Time Magazine as one of the world’s 100 most influential people. I must say I’ve been watching Tavis since I was a college student, so we’re excited to have him on today. How are you, Tavis?
Tavis Smiley: I’m doing the best I can with what I have right where I am. Thank you for the kind introduction.
Anthony: You got it. Thank you, thank you for joining us today.
Sarika: Tavis, thank you so much for joining us. We have to say that since we announced that you are going to be a guest executive on our Diversity Straight Up podcast, we, of course, received some inquiries about your PBS situation. We call this Diversity Straight Up, because we’re always about being real, and when we engage with our guests, we always get that and we know that you’re a straight-up individual. We wanted to give you an opportunity to share with our listeners, where are you with the PBS situation, and what can you share with other executives and leaders to help them maybe navigate and or avoid a situation like you experienced?
Tavis: No, I welcome the question. I was laughing to myself when you said you want to give me the opportunity and I was laughing. I don’t need any more opportunity to talk about this, but I’m happy to address the question. The short answer is that I filed a lawsuit against PBS and that case is on appeal, and the appeal process takes some time, and particularly in this pandemic, the courts have been slow and for a long time, in fact, closed down. The appeal process takes a while. For the balance of my career, I’ve always said that my role is to seek the truth, to speak the truth, and to stand on the truth. I’m just the wrong person. I’m not going to let people lie on me, or fabricate the truth. I said to someone the other day, sometimes we have to look beyond the purported facts to get to the truth.
Whenever there’s a movement like Me Too, or any other movement and history is replete with these examples, whenever there’s a movement, there’s always as I hate this military term, but as we commemorate the 20th anniversary of 9/11, this term has come back up again, there’s always collateral damage. There’s always people who end up being exploited, bastardized, and demonized in the process. The short answer is not to go through all this again, the short answer is that in this Me Too era, as the first and only African American in the history of PBS to have his own show, I was targeted.
I said from the very beginning when these allegations were made, I have never harassed anyone in my life, never. What PBS did in a very difficult contractual, negotiation period, was to use this Me Too moment and to weaponize it against me, and they dug back 30, 40 years into my life trying to find anything they could find that they could use to get out of this contract that, obviously is pretty significant, there’s a seven-figure bonus that comes with the signing of my contract.
After they fired Charlie Rose, somebody got the bright idea. Well, if we can get Tavis up on some charges, we can get out of this contract. After 15 years of being the first and only African American to host his own show on PBS, same thing I’d done for NPR, first and only African American to do it. I found myself in this situation where I was being asked questions and people were digging into my past. I’m getting calls from high school friends and others. Where PBS has hired not one, not two, but three different firms to dig into my past. Long story short, what they came up with was a couple of women who I had dated 20 plus years ago, long before I ever started on PBS and both of those relationships were consensual. What I said on day one when this story hit the news was, if this is about dating somebody I worked with consensually 20 plus years ago, then I’m guilty. If this is about trying to use this moment to get rid of me as an African American on public television, I’m not going to stand for that, and I’m not going to let people lie on me.
Again, long story short, as the process went forward, PBS communicated with these two women, and they were told that we dated consensually, there was no issue about that. In the Me Too moment, this incident was weaponized and that’s precisely what happened. Now, to your question about, what advice I would give. Well, in retrospect, if I were a young kid again, I would tell myself, don’t date somebody you work with, but it’s hard to say that to people when we live in an environment and work in a country now where we’re all spending all of our time at work and we’re home now because of the pandemic.
If I had known 20 plus years ago that dating somebody I worked with, you meet people at work. You go out for drinks, you go out for dinner, you may have a date. If I’d known that that was going to upend my career the way it did, temporarily, then I would’ve not done that, but nobody has that kind of foresight years ago to know that going on a date with somebody you work with is going to cause this kind of damage, so that’s my advice. Try to be circumspect about your decisions.
Anthony: Yes. Appreciate it. Thank you, thank you. We wanted to give you some time and I appreciate that. Tavis, every challenge we go through seems to take us to another level. You left BT and then you moved to PBS. You were quiet for a few years and now you’re launching the first Black-owned radio show, talk show. What were you doing before you launched the talk show in your time and in LA, how did you do it? Can you talk to where you’re at today, got to your radio show?
Tavis: No, that’s a great question. I thank you. What I was doing for the last three and a half years was again, trying to navigate this post-PBS drama, and in the midst of a lawsuit against the network and all of that. The last three and a half years were very difficult years of just trying to navigate and a lot of downtime, a lot of time spent in reflection and you’re thinking about decisions made and what I might have done differently, and what I’ve learned from this. You spend time in reflection, you spend time being Socratic if I can put it that way, but at some point, you realize that the gift that God has given you has not disappeared, it has not dissipated. At some point, you realize you got to get back to work.
After spending all the time I spent on the trial and the case, and trying to defend my good name, it became clear I had to get back to work. What also became clear to me in this season of racial reckoning is that, as I watched from my home here in Los Angeles, the protest in the streets and beyond, it became clear to me that when the protestors left the streets and the cameras were turned off and the microphones were muted, that we really don’t own our own platforms to address issues that matter to us.
Everybody talks about diversity and inclusion, and oftentimes those are just buzzwords. In reality, we don’t have enough African American owned media and it was clear to me that one of the ways that we can advance our cause, one of the ways that we can advance the issues and raise the issues frankly that matter to us is to have more African American on media. In the city of LA, for example, which is the radio capital of the world, there are almost a couple hundred radio stations here.
For years, for decades, the only Black-owned radio station in this city is a station called KJLH owned by the great entertainer, my friend Stevie Wonder, but there is never in the history of LA, in the history of California and frankly, west of the Mississippi, there’s never been a Black-owned and Black operated talk radio station for us, by us, and all about us where we could get a chance to express ourselves. The problem with talk radio in this city and across the country is that talk radio is, I describe it this way all day, all night, all White. How then do we have our voices heard? How do we have a platform to express the issues that matter to us, our aspirations, our fears, our frustrations, our dreams, and our goals.
Long story short, when that idea hit me, I did what I always do. I go to work. I don’t ever believe in letting misery have the last word in my life. You’re not ever going to let misery have the last word with me, and so it’s about bouncing back and that’s the story of Black people. We bounced back from slavery to segregation, to Jim Crow and Jane Crow, we keep advancing the causes that matter to us, and so I went to work and ended up purchasing this station, acquiring this station. It’s called KBLA Talk 1580, and we on Juneteenth, literally, just about three months ago on Juneteenth, we cracked the mic and we are having great success three months in. We have a great lineup of hosts, all kinds of guests are coming on the program, the callers are calling in, and our app is being downloaded all across the country.
Literally, across the country and around the world, all the fans I’ve had by the millions for years are listening to us through our app which is KBLA 1580. I’m back on the air personally, three hours a day but more than me, there’s a great complement of hosts who are talking about issues on a national and international level that matter to Black people. Again, if you download the app at KBLA 1580, you can listen to our program in real-time, anywhere in the world.
Sarika: Tavis, thank you so much for sharing your journey for that chapter of your life and what the transition to the next chapter looks like, and using the platform to be able to discuss issues that matter. Before we get to the next question here, I would like our participants to please put in the chat questions you would like for us to ask Tavis, because he’s ready, eager. Please go ahead and submit them in so that we can get to that segment here after I ask this last question of Tavis. We have always said that equity, diversity, inclusion, and engagement is a journey where mistakes will be made, whether it’s by the individual or a company, or a community. Why? Because we’re humans, this is the work of humans interacting. This is where we learn and grow, because we have to give each other grace.
We also know that in this era of cancel culture, people are quick to judge. They’re not taking the time to seek to understand, and they’re not making allowances for people to overcome adversity. You just talked about creating a new platform. Cancel culture isn’t something that just happens once and is done. It can happen multiple times. What would you recommend for leaders to navigate and balance this whole cancel culture, which I’m not a big fan of, because again, I have this growth mindset and you learn and grow from our mistakes, because we’re humans? What are your thoughts, Tavis?
Tavis: No, that’s a great question. I think you’re right. We all have to learn and grow from the mistakes that we make. My problem with the cancel culture is simply this, particularly as it relates to younger people who I see people get canceled when they’re in their 20s or even younger. The reality is we’re talking about young people. Young people by definition are learning, they’re growing, they’re maturing. If we have a zero-tolerance policy for young people making mistakes, then God help us all, because that’s what being young is all about. It’s about making mistakes, but more broadly speaking, I think that the way you navigate through this is to be clear about your North Star, to know who you are. You can’t let anybody else write a narrative that defines you.
Now, again, you want to be circumspect about the decisions you make. I think in this era of social media, younger persons in the workplace really have to be careful about the things they say on social media, about the things they post on social media, about the pictures they upload on social media. Anything that you post. The thing about the internet, of course, is once it’s there it’s always there. You cannot scrub the internet. Once it’s there, somebody has a copy of it.
You got to be circumspect about the decisions you make, about the places you go, about the activities you engage in, and you ain’t got to put all of your business on the internet, because some of that is going to come back to haunt you somewhere down the road as you’re trying to build and grow through your career. Again, be circumspect about the decisions you make, try not to do things, and make decisions that you’d be ashamed of. It’s pretty simple. If you’re engaging in something that you would be ashamed of were it to hit the media, then it might be something you want to reconsider doing.
Again, you want to be circumspect about the decisions you make, but at the end of the day, we are human. We are not human and divine. No matter how careful you are you’re going to make a mistake at some point. Again, as I said earlier, you can’t let misery have the last word, you can’t let others define you, you can’t let someone else write a narrative about you. I just believe in doing the best you can with what you have, as I said earlier, right where you are, and in the end, so long as you are determined, you are dogged about your pursuit of what matters to you, I think you’ll be alright.
Sarika: Going back to your purpose and your North Star as we were talking about. Thank you so much, Tavis.
Anthony: Absolutely. It’s funny, someone told me before when I think about social media. If grandma wouldn’t like it, you probably shouldn’t post it. [laughs]
Tavis: There you go, there you go.
Anthony: Well, listen, I know you’re a little late, but we still want to get some of our listener questions in-
Anthony: -on our podcast here. We want to make sure we get a few questions in. We want to turn it over to Jess and see what we got in the queue for a couple of our listener questions. Jess.
Jess: Yes, for sure. We have them here. If you only had one last show to speak about, what would your message be and what is the most important message that you would have us know?
Tavis: It’s a good question. I’m going to answer it this way. This is something that I admit in advance. It’s atypical and out of the ordinary. I believe that what’s wrong with public discourse in this country, it’s clear that it’s too uncivil, what’s wrong, though, is that there was a time in our public discourse where we would put love at the epicenter. We would put love in the middle of the public square. When you think about Mandela, Mandela put love in the public square, Dr. King put love in the public square, Robert Kennedy put love in the public square.
When you think about the persons we admire and revere and respect the most, Mother Teresa, run the list, there are people who engaged their work, but they put love at the epicenter of it. Let me define what I mean by love, because that word gets tossed around. It’s cheap and it gets cheapened by the way that we misuse and abuse it. When I say love, what I mean is simply this. That you live a life and you create a legacy where you want the same thing for everybody else’s kids that you want for your kids. That’s what I mean by putting love at the center of our public discourse. That you will work and engage a witness. That is whose in the name is that every other child in this country and around the world will have the same access, the same opportunities that you want for your child.
When you dedicate yourself to that kind of work and that kind of witness, I think it makes your life more meaningful. At the end of the day, I make a distinction all the time between your work or your job and your vocation. They’re not the same thing. Your vocation is your calling and sometimes that is the work that you do, but when you think about your work and your witness, what really is your vocation? What were you born to do? What are you being called to do? My sense is that if you can find a way to use your vocation to aid and abet those who may not be as fortunate as you are, then your work ends up being a lot more rewarding.
I hope I’ve answered your question.
Anthony: You have.
Tavis: Which is, I think if you can find a way to center and to situate love for others, respect for others, at the epicenter of whatever you do, because everybody’s somebody’s child, everybody’s somebody’s kid. When you come in contact with clients and with customers, with colleagues, if you keep that in mind, then I think you’re working toward being more meaningful in the long run.
Sarika: Thank you so much, Tavis, for your response to that wonderful question that was posed. I think we’re going to move on to the next segment of our show here, which is a diversity thumb ball. Tavis, I know you’ve probably played ball with Derwin growing up here. Maybe in the backyard. We’re going to do a little diversity thumb ball here. It’s got prompts and questions around the softball, otherwise, I would never have Anthony throw a ball that’s hard at me. He’s going to throw it at me and whatever question or prompt that my thumbs land on, that’s going to be your prompting question to answer. If you were here, we would do it in person, but we always are able to pivot for virtual.
All righty, Anthony, go ahead and do your best here. All right. Tavis, this is your question. What’s your biggest challenge when it comes to achieving social equality?
Tavis: You’re not going to like this answer. You’re not going to like this answer so I’m going to give it you.
Anthony: We’re straight up, Tavis. We’re straight up.
Sarika: Keep it real.
Tavis: Keeping it real, I believe that the greatest challenge we face is people being able to understand, appreciate, and embrace the humanity of the other. I’ve been Black my whole life. I wrestle with this question many times. The question is whether or not I think people who don’t look like me have the capacity. Do they even have the capacity to truly understand, appreciate, and embrace my humanity? What’s wrong with our society is that rather than embrace the humanity of the other, and let me just say this, I don’t believe that you can ever come into the fullness of your own humanity. I don’t care what color you are, what gender you are, which orientation is, any of that. I don’t believe you can ever come into the fullness of your own humanity if you cannot respect and revel in the humanity of the other, whoever or whatever the other is.
If you want to experience the fullness of your own humanity, you have to be able to respect and revel in the humanity of the other. The problem with our society is because of the way we look or our preferences or because of where we live or because of any number of erroneous factors, things that really don’t even matter, too often the humanity of people gets contested. It doesn’t get celebrated. We find ourselves having the humanity of people contested. The contestation of humanity, by any other definition, is what homophobia is. The contestation of humanity is what sexism is and patriarchy. The contestation of humanity is what ageism is.
I could do this all day long, but all of those isms are rooted in a behavior that contests the humanity of the other. The greatest challenge we face in trying to achieve real and meaningful and lasting social justice in this country or around the world is that we have a difficulty getting people to understand, again, that everybody is somebody’s child, everybody is somebody’s kid, and the ultimate goal is to respect and revel in their humanity, not to contest it. As I said, you might not like the answer, but that’s a tall order. That’s a tall order.
Sarika: We’re inclusive leaders and we know that we really need to get to know the other. I did like that response, because I wholeheartedly believe in it, Tavis. Thank you. Thank you. Appreciate both your time and Nika’s time. I do want to say thank you, thank you to The Society for Diversity for allowing us to be able to do a live episode of Diversity Straight Up podcast. We appreciated all of your time, and thank you to the participants. Thank you, Jess, for moderating. Special shout out to our sponsors here as we wrap up here, Anthony?
Anthony: Yes, special shoutouts to GreenState Credit Union along with Alliant Energy and city of Cedar Rapids, and Collins Aerospace. We really thank you for your sponsorship. If you love this episode of Diversity Straight Up, then head over to the most popular podcasts if you’re a subscriber and rate us and review us. Please jump online and catch our next episode of Diversity Straight Up which drops the last Thursday of each month. We will be dropping this episode live on YouTube and all your podcasts, and so you’ll get to see these wonderful guests again. Share this with your friends, colleagues, and co-workers. What a great conversation we had around that equity, diversity, inclusion, and engagement today. Thank you for that.
Sarika: Remember, wherever you live, work, and play, our backyards are increasingly global. As we say on our show Diversity Straight Up—
Anthony: Keeping it real. Thank you for your time everyone and thank you for hanging on –
Sarika: Thank you everyone.
Anthony: Thank you.
Voice-over: You’ve been listening to Diversity Straight Up, brought to you by GreenState Credit Union. Additional support provided by Alliant Energy, Collins Aerospace, and the city of Cedar Rapids. For more from the Corridor Business Journal, please visit corridorbusiness.com. This episode was produced by Joe Coffee of Coffee Grande Studios.