Diversity Straight Up: Marcus Bullock

Diversity Straight Up: Marcus Bullock
Marcus Bullock joins Diversity Straight Up podcast

From Incarceration to Innovator

In the latest episode of the CBJ podcast, “Diversity Straight Up,” hosts Sarika Bhakta and Anthony Arrington talk with Marcus Bullock, co-founder, and CEO of Flikshop, about his time served in prison and justice reform. This special episode was recorded LIVE at the 2021 EntreFest. The group discusses Marcus’ app, which helps keep families connect with loved ones in prison, and talks about being your authentic self, resiliency, and justice reform.

About Marcus Bullock:
Marcus Bullock is CEO and co-founder of Flikshop, an app and website to keep families connected with loved ones in prison.

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 – Marcus Bullock: From Incarceration to Innovator

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 and executive search firm. Diversity Straight Up brought to you by GreenState Credit Union in the Corridor Business Journal Podcast. On today’s episode, Marcus Bullock, co-founder and CEO of Flikshop. We’re live at EntreFEST 2021 at the Olympic Theatre in the NewBo District of Cedar Rapids.


Voice-over 1: 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.

Announce 2: Diversity Straight Up brought to you by GreenState Credit Union is also sponsored by Alliant Energy. Entrepreneurs in the house, let’s hear it for your hosts Sarika Bhakta and Anthony Arrington.


Sarika Bhakta: Welcome to a special episode of Diversity Straight Up, coming to you live from EntreFEST 2021. Who’s having a fabulous time here at EntreFEST?


I’m your host, Sarika Bhakta.

Anthony: I’m Anthony Arrington. We are going to have a good time here. We got a great guest. We going to have some great conversation, and we’re going to get real for a little bit here.

Sarika: Yes. Put your biases aside, strap on your seat belt, and get ready for a wild ride on Diversity Straight Up. We’re always keeping it real. Something’s on my mind. Before we get to Marcus. There’s something on my mind. It seems as if there have been many state laws that have been passed recently that is affecting diversity training, that really impacts schools and universities, as well as state agencies. Any type of curriculum that is revolved around racial oppression, sexism, critical race theory, et cetera, depending on which state laws there are, it could be any or all of them.

It’s worrisome because it’s very confusing. The laws can be very gray. If it’s confusing for us to be able to talk about some of these topics, then what is the schools and the universities going to do about it? Because we know that we need to engage in these critical dialogues, especially when you’re thinking about race and sexism. Think about it, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, year after year after year, can you guess the top two complaints that are filed by people? Race-

Anthony: Race and sex.

Sarika: -and they call it sex, but yes. About last year, 32% charges that were filed were race-related, and then about 31% were sex-related, followed by national origin about 9%. How can we bring those numbers down knowing that those numbers actually are very underreported because people fear retaliation? I know that with clients that I work with, I can foster safe spaces without blaming and shaming. Yet, we still need to address these topics, because as you can see, they’re being impacted and is going to the EEOC. This is the schools, this is academia, and then it’s going into what? The workforce

Anthony: Here’s the challenge, if we’re being brutally honest. I’m glad you brought that up, by the way, if we’re being brutally honest. I just speak from my perspective, my lens. It’s an attack. I believe when you read the laws, particularly we can talk about the law in Iowa, the HF802, when you read the laws, it is, to me, an intent, ability to suppress voices and suppress a dark history in our country. Until we can have that honest conversation about our dark history in our country, we’re going to continue to have these challenges.

What we’ve got is we’ve got people who are fearful to have this conversation, and fearful because it’s a blame. Because we tell the truth about our dark history, suddenly, somebody else is to blame for that, sitting in the audience or sitting next to you hearing that, when the object is never to point a finger at you the person, it’s to have the conversation about where the country has been, and where we can go. Until we can get to a point where when people are able to have the conversation and say, “It’s not me. You’re not pointing the finger at me, the person, they’re pointing the finger at the history, and we need to be able to deal with that.” That’s the challenge.

Sarika: True. That’s why it’s very important. This is advice that I give: when you work with any DNI consultants, facilitators, trainers, ensure that they have the credentials, they have the expertise, and the skill set to create safe spaces because guess what, lived experience alone is not going to create that environment that’s so needed, because blame, shame, guess what, it’s not going to get us anywhere. We need to look at addressing and acknowledging it and coming up with solutions to move forward.

Anthony: I agree.

Sarika: I know that Marcus, you want to share something. Marcus, any thoughts you have on this?

Anthony: We can go all day on it.

Marcus Bullock: I like to listen and learn. I think it’s interesting to hear the conversations. I was talking to one of my sons, one of my son’s teachers at his school, and she asked questions, “Marcus, come to the room. How do you all feel about some of these conversations that are being had?” Because my son, he’s 10 years old. We have to be granular with the 10-year-old classroom, and brings a level of granularity, the question we asked him, “Marcus Jr, do you think we should continue to celebrate these holidays or these monuments or these statues that are aligned with some of our darkness?”

It’s a very, very granular way of introducing him to this conversation. He’s asking questions like, “I don’t know. Are there other people who are not celebrating that have a dark past?” The teacher was like, “Well, if we aren’t celebrating those people–” I thought it was a great question from him, and it made me think, he’s like, “Well, the teacher said, “We don’t know those people, and we don’t know how to celebrate, we wouldn’t know how to celebrate those people, as a country that are aligned with another dark past.”

I’m like, “Well, look. Here’s the thing. I come from the hood. I was born and raised in the hood, unapologetic. Two things here. One, I have to walk into every room, including this room yesterday, I have to walk in and say, “Hey, listen. Before I even mentioned anything about the technologies that we’re building, the solutions that we want to introduce to the country, I committed a carjacking.” I did it. I did it. Although I got sentenced to eight years for it, and I got sentenced eight years for it at 15 years old, I did. I have to acknowledge that. There’s a sense of accountability that has to come with it.

The only way for me or anyone else who sat in that courtroom, the victims who was the victim of that carjacking, the family members of the victim, who was a part of the carjacking, my mother, my grandmother, the invisible victims, who we don’t talk about victimized by the carjacking, there’s no way for them to get through it until it gets to a point where Marcus can walk into a room and apologetically say, “I did it.” You have to acknowledge that first. The second thing I said to him in the classroom, which is a little awkward because I come from a neighborhood, where I can tell you all the biggest dope dealers in my neighborhood.

I can tell you all about all the famous dope dealers across the country who got locked up. Because I’m from DC, one of the bigger ones was Rayful Edmonds. Rayful Edmonds, he was known for supplying the District of Columbia with over 65% of the cocaine that permeated across the district, that led to the District of Columbia being the murder capital of the country during the era when he was selling drugs. Rayful was celebrated inside of the neighborhoods I lived in. If I’m being honest, he’s celebrated in those neighborhoods. Can you imagine having a “Rayful Edmonds Day” on the calendar? It sounds stupid, doesn’t it? It sounds crazy acknowledging all of the catastrophes that has aligned with Rayful Edmunds, but there was so much gain from the people who worked under Rayful Edmunds’ crew. They made a lot of money. They bought homes, they bought land, and property, and material possession, and cars. They made investments inside of wills and trusts for their children, to be able to continue to grow. There were people who went to colleges and universities that were descendants of Rayful Edmonds and his family members.

They went on to live amazing lives as a result of the drugs that Rayful Edmonds sold early in the day. Those people are living in incredible lives now, and ain’t nobody knocking on their door and telling them they got to get their degree back now that Rayful Edmonds is locked up. It would sound crazy if we said we want to celebrate that and put Rayful Edmonds day on side of the calendar, or any of the other hustles like “Bumpy” Johnson or any of the other people that we probably can name, we’ve seen movies about.

We’re so comfortable with saying, we acknowledge that there’s a dark past in people that have done things that have allowed for a level of privilege from a lineage of the people who’ve done those things and yet we can’t talk about that in the school simply because it hurts your feelings? You bugging. You tripping. No. My 17-year-old son is right. Marcus, yes. You Marcus Jr. you’re right. Who are those other people? Rayful Edmonds is one. Are we going to celebrate them?

The teacher says, “No, we’re all not going to celebrate them.” It’s crazy.” Yes, we have to talk about the dark past of the others that don’t mimic the people who look like me who don’t get celebrated because of the craziness that they did. We have to be able to acknowledge and build accountability into the lives of the people who lived the earlier– I mean, that’s just my feelings about it. I’m like, you know.

Anthony: That’s a great segue. I’m glad you said that because you talked the other day in your keynote about storytelling. This is kind of a segue into how you got into your business and for our listeners, some of you have heard a story about how you got into your business, but some of our listeners hadn’t, but as you moved into your business, talk about some of your strains, some of your challenges being a black man trying to start a business.

Marcus: Oh, a black man starting a business, that’s the challenge in itself.

Anthony: Yes, that’s the challenge in itself, but you had an extra challenge coming out of a penal system; having to deal with those mental challenges. Can you talk about how you overcame those challenges that maybe others didn’t have and how that affects you as a businessman today, how that resolve affects your ability to continue forward today?

Marcus: Let’s go to the end of that question, which is, how does my past impact or affect the businessman that I am today? Like I told Mike that was sitting in the corner, I’m going to have a conversation with you when I’m going to let everybody else just eavesdrop on this part of the conversation, right? [laughs] If I’m being honest for real, my past allows me– it gave me a superpower in the business in the role of the CEO today. The reason why that’s the case is because the barriers that most entrepreneur– I mean, I don’t care, you can be Black, White.

It doesn’t matter. What nationality – It’s just hard to run a business. I don’t care. It may be a little bit more challenging to start a business and to continue to scale a business and build relationships for your business to be able to grow and thrive. Nevertheless, I don’t care what business you’re running. It’s just hard to run a business in general. You wake up tomorrow morning and it is just hard. You know what I mean? There’s no one to tell me tomorrow morning what to do in order to be able to be successful.

There’s no direct deposit that’s waiting on the other end of this goal unless I generate revenue for my company. We all suffer that. There’s some similarities across the board. With that being said, I went to prison as a 15-year-old kid and I stayed in prison for almost a decade. I grew up there. I went through puberty in prison. When everyone was getting driver’s licenses and graduating and going to prom, I was in prison calling home, making 15 minute, $18 collect calls to my mom and asking her to call my friends on three-way as I listened to them talk about how they were going on senior trip.

I went back to my cell and I cried because I knew how much of a failure I positioned myself to be because of a decision I made. For years, I had to deal with that, not a day or not two weeks or not six months, but 365 times I had to get up and I had to deal with that. I had to do that eight times. Eight years I had to deal with that. The level of resilience that had to innately build internally to allow me to psychologically make it through that season of my life, positioned me to come home.

When I’m starting my businesses, when I’m working inside and there’s all of these massive mountains that I have to climb in order to be able to solve problems, whether it be in my company or for my team or for my family members, the problems don’t really seem that big. You know what I mean? At the end of the day, I’m like, “It’s not really a problem.” When I hear others talk about some of the issues that they have– When we were fundraising, when we were first raising our first round of funding to bring in some venture capital, we got told no so many times, but a lot of people get told no a bunch of times.

As I listened to some of my cohort members inside of some of the accelerators I was in or when I go to college and universities and I talk to some of the students there that are a part of some of these programs and they talk about having a door slammed in their face 10, 15, 20 times, in my head, I’m thinking like, “Keep talking and tell me what the problem is because what did you think was going to happen when you went out there to go start pitching your business? You thought that when you walked out there, everybody was going to say yes and write you a check the first time?” Come on, you bugging . I don’t wear a necktie to work.

If I’m writing or if I’m in interviews, I’ll use the euphemistic words that allow me to be able to convey a thought that will help the audience identify in the way that is common to their way that they communicate since the way they communicate. In any other environment, I talk like I’m talking right now to you, and this is how I communicate on a very, very daily basis. My authentic self. Unapologetically, I’m Marcus, because of that, I get boxed out of opportunities, simply because I show up authentically me.

The resilience that I had as I went through prison now transfers here, and so I’m like, “Yes, no problem is a really big problem. No problem.” Nothing compares in comparison to some of the people, some of my peers who graduate from HBS or Wharton, or Oxford. I’m blessed to be in these rooms now. It’s such a major, a big deal where they have these issues, they’re back into these corners and they’re falling apart. They’re crippling, “Oh my gosh, I don’t know how to solve this problem. I’m like, “That’s a problem for you?”

Sarika: Yes. Well, Marcus, you know what It seems like? It seems as if you can have all the book smart, but you also have the street smart that you have authentic leadership and you have resiliency to help overcome anything that’s in your way. I think you said 41 times the doors were slammed in your face.

Marcus: I got up every– 41 times applying for jobs, the 42nd, I got the job yet.

Sarika: 42nd is a good number then, huh?

Marcus: I’m it could have been 82nd and I would’ve continued to keep going.

Sarika: That’s the thing about the resiliency. You’re going to keep on going.

Marcus: Yes.

Sarika: I have a question that when we’re thinking about the workforce and we’re looking at returning citizens. You have been on the other end, trying to knock on the doors and ask for a job. What can you tell employers to help with any anxiety they may have about employing reentry or returning citizens, based on your conversations you’ve had with these?

Marcus: Yes. I mean, that’s a really good question. I struggle with that one as well, because it’s no red or blue pill. I tell the same people, I’m like, “What’s the reservations you have for somebody who just graduated from Howard University? Talk to me about the issues you– Tell me what are some of the concerns you have for them and I could probably mirror them with the people that come out of prison.” On the flip side of it, I could talk about some of the benefits of employing people that’s coming out of prison. Someone’s coming out of prison is– I never thought I was going to be– Can you believe I’m in Cedar Rapids, Iowa? [laughs]

Sarika: Can you believe you’re in Cedar Rapids, Iowa?

Marcus: I can’t believe am in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Anthony: I can’t believe it either.

Marcus: The thing of it is the people who are coming out of these jails, they say similarly it doesn’t matter what opportunity they get. Almost all of them are almost an unbelievable accomplishment because for years, sometimes in my sake situation, almost a decade and others, decades, plural, we’ve been told, “You’ll never be anything.” When I walk into prison as a 15-year-old kid, the assistant warden walked to me, there was seven of us walking into the reception center and we had to take off all our clothes and we were literally naked.

That was my first time I was completely naked around a bunch of other grown men. I’m a 15-year-old kid, and everyone else is 30s and 40s. I’m standing there and I have no idea what to say, what to do. My hands are shaking. My hands are sweating. I don’t know what to say. Nothing is happening that’s normal that looked like what happened just a few weeks ago in high school where I was going to school. The assistant warden came in there– With my body completely naked and me not even allowed to cover myself. I can’t cover myself. If you cover yourself, the correctional officer will take you by both of your arms, slamming on the ground, they’ll cuff you backwards with your hands to your ankles and then you’ll lay there and so they get opportunity to take you into solitary confinement. When I sat there and I knew I couldn’t cover myself, with all of my bodies sticking out and everyone else standing right beside me, and he walked up and said, “You’re in big leagues now. Welcome to the big leagues.

I wonder what’s going to happen to you here. Oh, I heard you from DC. You’re in Virginia too? Oh, you know the Richmond boys don’t like boys from DC? Wonder what’s going to happen to you?” He walked off. As if I wasn’t already fearful enough and now I have to walk and deal with that. From that moment on, every other correctional officer– I mean, not everyone, but a lot of the correctional officers, the counselors, the wardens, the majors, almost every adult that had a badge on their chest, they would tell me how much of a horrible person I was, and how I would never do anything upon release. I already didn’t think I was going to win, and most people don’t.

When you have an opportunity to be able to go apply for a job, like I did, and you finally get that 42nd yes, you get that yes on that 42nd application. From the moment that that assistant would have told me I will be nothing to that moment that I got the job, I felt like there was a possibility that I will lose. From that point forward, I was like, “Oh, my gosh, I have an opportunity here.” What it created was a sense of loyalty to the employer. I was like, “You ain’t never have to worry about me going nowhere. I will mix paint for the rest of my life.”

Sarika: Marcus, did you ever ask the employer why they took a chance on you when the other 41 did not?

Marcus: No, I didn’t ask them, I knew why they took a chance on it. They want a job application, they asked me, “Have you been convicted of a felony, within the last seven years?” I have served eight years in prison. I was able to say, no, I haven’t been convicted of a felony within the last seven years.


The same Marcus is from the first 41 applications was the same exact Marcus on the 42nd one, and I officially became an employee of the year and got promoted within nine months to a sales rep, managing the entire DC metro region selling more paint to this day than anyone has ever sold in a company in Sherwin Williams.

Anthony: That’s amazing. That is amazing.


Marcus: Here is the thing: The reality of it is that I woke up every morning not wanting to accomplish the goal of saying I want to set up put my name on a wall with a record saying I sold more paint. The reality of it is that I just wanted to come home and win. I wanted to come home and prove to those correctional officers and that assistant warden that I was something more than the naked person that they saw when they sent me sitting on that bench when I got to Southampton reception center.

I wanted to prove to my mom that I wasn’t wasting all of her postage, all the money that she sent to me to go on my commissary books, all of those collect calls that she accepted for me when I was sent into prison. I wanted to prove to my sister that I was as smart as the person who talked about the books that I read in the letters that I wrote her. I wanted to prove to my grandmother that she wouldn’t die and leave this earth with the last memory of her grandson having inmate number 247384.

600,000 people that are coming home from prison every day simply want to be able to check those boxes in their own lives. As employers think about the possibility of bringing on people that just simply want to come home and win, let alone help you drive your revenues– I mean, Sherwin Williams stock is doing really, really, really well right now,

Not only did I help contribute to that, but I just want to be able to make my mama proud.


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Anthony: You come from nothing to get in $250,000 investments from Boeing. John Legend is having conversations with you. You just mentioned you like to prove all these people wrong. Do you ever think about some of the individuals in your life that you wanted to do business with that maybe turn their back on you? Maybe you do business with them today or maybe they’re knocking on your door today. Are you experiencing that and how does that feel because you’ve proven them all wrong? How does that feel?

Marcus: I’m always caught in between this place where it’s interesting that I come from a place where — I did have a felony– I have a felony on my record. The majority of the– I would eventually say that the majority of people in this room today have never met a Marcus before, right? Right?

Sarika: Well, you’re only one Marcus, so yes.


Marcus: That, too. A lot of the nameless faces that will appear on your social media feeds on media, they’re a replica of a Marcus with a different last name. What I tell them, I’m like, “Marcus, man, look. Dude, you’re approaching people, and you’re asking them for– initially it was jobs. Now I’m asking for venture capital. I’m looking for social capital to allow me to create the introductions that will help me land relationships, like the relationship that we landed with Boeing and Slack and Facebook and Apple.” It’s a blessing to be able to have that.

When I think about the people that work in these HR departments, they’ve never met a Marcus before, the people that work in corporate social responsibility departments, they’ve never met a Marcus before. They haven’t come from neighborhoods or communities where they had cousins or uncles or brothers or sons in their families that have been relegated to the corners in the shadows of their neighborhoods and unfortunately end up on the defense table, where they end up getting sentenced to eight years as 15-year-old kids for stealing a car. The people in their families, if they would have gotten caught for stealing a car, they would have gotten probation.

I met them. One of the 16-year old– I’m sorry — we went to cell together, one of the 18-year-olds that were in the holding cell with me when I was getting sentenced, there was a home invasion. His gun actually accidentally discharged and shot the lady in the leg. He got house arrest. He didn’t look like me. Same judge, I went for that judge, I was 15 years old, and I stole a car from someone and no one got hurt. I got sentenced to — By the way, I served eight years. I got sentenced to 23 years to life… for stealing a car. When you think about what that means, the other 18-year-old, his family members, you know what they did?

They went on to say, “You know what, make sure — Let’s take the gun out of the house and make sure you don’t use it anymore,” and they went on about their life. Who knows what he went on to go do? That’s the reality of the situation that people who run OCSR departments. That was their son. That was their uncle, that was their brother. I realized that, I’m like, “Marcus, you ever you have a responsibility to be able to not go into these conversations with malice in your– You can’t go in with the all of the frustration and anger that was baked into your life as a result of witnessing this time and time again.

If you actually want to see change, Marcus, what you have to do now is walk into these same rooms and tell the story and be a person and be a human. If you humanize your own journey, take accountability for it, and introduce people to the way of the culture of what was happening in my community when I was growing up, then I believe, if I do my job right, then I will create a level of empathy that will allow for them to be able to hopefully see the next Marcus that comes behind me in a different way.

Sarika: Absolutely. I’m a firm believer that how you engage with someone, it is going to stick in their mind. If we’re able to create positive interactions, then it’s going to allow positive interactions with someone else that may be in a similar situation as you. Looking at the mass incarceration, first of all, the inequities, they were blatant in your face. You just saw that with a fellow cellmate.

Marcus: Yes.

Sarika: That has to be very hard to be able to stomach something like that, yet, you said there’s no malice in terms of you wanted to be able to impact change, so it’s hard– [crosstalk]

Marcus: It was hard. It’s hard now looking back in hindsight. At the time, I thought that the judge was going to remember his case and then see my case, “Oh, you know what, we made a mistake.” That just didn’t happen. At the time, I wasn’t upset or angry. It’s in 2020 in hindsight while I’m like, “Dude, how are you going…” Yes. [laughs]

Sarika: With the high, high levels of mass incarceration that we’re experiencing here in the US compared to any other part of the world, you’re about justice reform. You’ve seen what’s happened in the inside of the prison that you were in. What do you think needs to happen? What do you think if you had a magic wand, next two things that is really going to be critical to make some changes in the systemic institutions here?

Marcus: Yes, so one of them I’m really proud of, I sit on the board of the Justice Policy Institute and we worked on an academic research paper, along with a bunch of legislators in DC, it’s one of the benefits of living in DC. I can walk up the street, I’m on The Hill. We were able to work with some of them, and we launched the First Step Act. Since then, we’ve also partnered with the White House to be able to introduce the Second Step Act.

The First Step Act, giving opportunities to people that are coming home from prison and helping to help create second chances. Second Step Act, giving employment opportunities to folks and bringing equity to HR practices. That was one of the places as I think about what reentry looks like. In my own personal life, I feel like no child should be in adult prison, and so we wanted to be able to help pass legislation to prevent kids from going into prison and we successfully did that in 48 states, so I’m excited about that.

Anthony: Great.

Marcus: Which means we’re keeping kids out of prison.

Sarika: What age ranges up?


Marcus: Anything under the age of 18 in most States and up to some states like Connecticut where it goes, I think up to 25, I believe– No 23. There’s some other thing– You talking about justice reform, I mean there’s a lot of stuff going on with the penal system, right?

Sarika: Yes.

Marcus: I’m an advocate of eradicating solitary confinement. Solitary confinement is tough. I sat in solitary confinement and literally talked to myself inside of a scratched-up aluminum foil mirror that was above a toilet that was connected to my sink inside of a room that was six by nine for days and days on end, and I hadn’t even turned 16 yet. That can do something to you psychologically.

It’s interesting we toy around with the idea of being on lockdown as a result of this pandemic that we just experienced, and people are like, “It’s tough. My mental health has been completely disrupted as a result of having to be in the house and look at the same four walls, and look at my same family members for an entire year without being able to interact and engage in other places, especially with our children.”

We had these conversations and we toyed around with it, but we advocate to put people inside of these isolated rooms that are much smaller than your house and without your nice refrigerator, and all the things you have inside of it. We’re like, “No, definitely. Lock him up and throw away the key.” I try to advocate for eliminating solitary confinement but that list goes on and on, and we don’t have enough time to talk about it.

Sarika: Oh, well, I know that we can definitely talk a lot more about that and your life story, which is very inspirational, but now we’re going to change a segment up here.

Voiceover: What’s on our listeners’ minds?

Sarika: Ready to take some questions from audience members. Any questions, comments–? Yes.

Marcus: This is the safe space. Before we go to Q&A, I want you to be– This is the opportunity to ask the most uncomfortable questions. The question is where you’re like, “You know what? I don’t even know if this is insulting Marcus, but I really just it’s been on my mind,” it won’t be insulting to me. I want this to become a safe space. I want this to be able to be the environment or the room where we feel super comfortable being uncomfortable because that’s where real change happens. That’s what allows us to be able to take this conversation back into our own homes, our own Facebook pages, Instagram pages, or Twitter, and be able to really create a conversation that erects change. I’m grateful for it.

Sarika: Yes, absolutely.

Anthony: That’s what Straight Up is for.

Sarika: We’re always keeping it real, so as you’re thinking about your own equity, diversity, inclusion, and engagement journey, what questions do you have?

Crowd Participant 1: You talk about talking openly with your son regarding race and bias and a world that he has to grow up in. As a white female, I was wondering when I trying to, unfortunately, educate my parents last summer with George Floyd and educating myself because I obviously did not know a lot of what was happening. I didn’t really realize white privilege until last summer on Floyd and very embarrassingly. When I have children, I really want to know how do you approach that with children because I would love to start as early as possible without terrifying them, but also because I want to raise good children who understand their privileges and everything else? I still have a lot to learn, how do you approach that with young kids?

Sarika: Great question. We’ll just repeat it. I’m going to paraphrase it. How do you have conversations with your child or young children about race?

Crowd Participant 1: Yes.

Sarika: Thank you so much for being brave and for asking a question that

Marcus: Am so grateful.

Sarika: -it’s on a lot of people’s minds.

Marcus: There’s at least 20 people in this room that want to ask that same exact question. I promise.

Sarika: Yes, thank you.


Anthony: All right. I can give a few thoughts. I think it’s important that you are– It’s okay to be honest with our children. It’s funny when I was growing up, I used to hear stories about farm kids, how hard they worked. They got up at five o’clock in the morning, they worked until nine o’clock, then they went to school and they worked until five o’clock then they get home and worked until nine o’clock at night and that was hard. It was hard. My question is– We already know what it’s like to live hard lives, we’re already teaching our kids even in rural communities and urban communities to understand hard things in life.

My belief is it’s okay to have challenging conversations with children in safe spaces, because you have no idea how smart they really are. I think we take the intelligence of our kids for granted. It’s important to understand that there’s opportunities to have those conversations. It’s really about not being afraid, finding that time, you don’t have a conversation with your kid in front of their friends. Maybe you’re not embarrassing them but you’re having a conversation at home. There’s nothing wrong with having conversations I think that we perceive as challenging and more often than that, it’s probably more challenging for us than it is for the kids.

Sarika: Anthony, you raised biracial children. How did you have race relation conversations with them?

Anthony: I had a lot of– There were times that I did not have conversations with my kids. I allowed them to learn their own lives and ask questions. Then I was able to take a question and turn it into a story. Take a question and turn it into a conversation. My kids are fortunate enough that I was able to raise them in an environment where they’re able to see all types of culture, and I pushed that. It was important that I did that, living in a biracial family.

Sarika: Yes, thank you. Thank you. My children are born here in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I was born in India. My daughter came home one day, I think, a couple of years ago and she’s like, “Mom, your skin color is lighter than mine. How come mine’s darker?” We had a conversation about skin and she said, “I don’t see color.” It’s a very beautiful thing because she says, “I just want to look at somebody as a human,” so she was saying that around her friend circle. She never thinks about their color skin. I said, “Well, honey. What if that individual is really proud of who they are in terms of their skin?”

I have these conversations in terms of where is someone on their cultural competency, and she’s in a place where she’s minimizing differences. I know she’s elevating similarities and it’s always that journey. She’s like, “Well, I identify as an American not as an Indian,” so we had another conversation. I said, “That’s a good thing.” People put us in labels, they put you in a label, how do you feel, how do you identify? I need to be respectful of that as well. The other thing is race relations.

I said, “Guess what? Race is something that we created as human beings. It’s a social construct.” She’s like, “Oh,” and so that’s how we’re just having authentic conversation. They’re young. Guess what? They were born with technology. They go to the refrigerator with the laptop. Guess what? They’re really connected with what is going on in this world. When it comes to diversity, they get it. For me, I think about the younger generations it’s really equity, inclusion, and engagement in the social media, but diversity is something that they are going to be embracing a lot more than some of the other generations that we have here. Great questions.

Anthony: Did that answer your question?

Participant: Yes.

Anthony: Great questions.

Sarika: Yes.

Anthony: Yes, we got another one? Go ahead.

Marcus: That was a great question. Again, I just want to pause to say thank you. Seriously, I do have to thank you because again, there’s a ton of people in this room, there are people online, and we all struggle with it. It doesn’t matter what color you are, what neighborhood you live in, your social-economic status, we all struggle with it. We all struggle with it. I have to have the conversation with my son. It’s unfortunate the neighborhood that we– I was talking to someone about this early this morning. The neighborhood that we work–

My wife and I work so hard to live in a neighborhood we live in, and I have to tell my son, “Because of the neighborhood we live in, you can’t walk to the basketball court by yourself. You can’t. I’m so sorry. Now if we lived in a neighborhood that I grew up in, I would let you guys walk the basketball court and you’re safe. You’re all right. We work so hard to be in this neighborhood and you would think that we would be way more safe, but you aren’t safe in this neighborhood. You can’t do that.” That’s a hard conversation for me to have with my 10-year-old son, something he can’t walk to the basketball court by himself. What it does is it spawns the conversation that I honestly don’t even want to have. I don’t even want to have it. I only want to tell him the fears that I have or the apprehension that I have as a result because then it creates this snowball. What I also don’t want is I don’t want him walking around a world with a big ball of hate as a result of how I articulate what has happened in the past to others that look like him that have tried to go to the basketball court by themselves but didn’t come home that same night.

That’s challenging because I don’t want him to walk around because the other thing that my son has to deal with as a result of my success, the rooms that we’re in, we’re typically the only ones look like we’re in the room. Some of my closest friends are my white friends and I have to tell him, I’m like, “Yo bro, this really is my–” I have to articulate to him because he is like, “I don’t understand,” because when we have family dinner– I’m being transparent, very transparent.

We have family dinner with all of my sisters and my aunts and my uncle. Everyone in the room looks like me and the conversations that we have, the frustration that we see when we turn on the news and you see somebody else it’s like, “Yeah Lee.” You know what I mean? He’s sitting in, he’s absorbing that. He’s learning in that moment. It’s creating something, it’s crafting something that I don’t even want to see in him. It’s a struggle for us all to have these kinds of conversations. For that, I just want to say thank you.

Anthony: Yes, thank you.

Sarika: Thank you very much.

Marcus: Absolutely.

Sarika: We got one more question and then we got another segment, a fun segment. Thank you so much for joining us.

Crowd Participant 2: Thank you for your panel today. Again, thank you for your story. My question is about the larger community and we see corporations now bringing people onto their boards, almost forced to do that by the SEC and some other organizations. We see diversity and inclusion officers, big splashy publications rolling out that these things are happening. We see efforts at the city community, at the state level to make sure that we’re are doing things for diversity. What successes have you seen? How do you hold people accountable for these actions to make real change and not just press releases?

Anthony: I’ll let you take that first.

Sarika: Go for it.

Anthony: Some just sent me just an idea. I’m going to coin this, so if you hear it somewhere else, I just thought about it right now.

Crowd Participant 2: I’m tweeting it later.

Anthony: Tweeting it later. I think it’s a great thing that we’re having these discussions post George Floyd and all corporations are putting out statements and doing things. I like that what I call married to the moment. How I judge organizations is there’s a couple of ways. One is, are you married to the moment? We are married today, but in six months, when we’re not thinking about George, what are you really doing? Did you just do a training today? Did you just do a statement? What’s going on in your company? Number two is, what’s your budget set?

Crowd Participant 2: Exactly.

Anthony: We can have a lot of conversations, but what’s the purse. When we open the purse, where’s the money going and that’s not money to me or to Sarika or Marcus. It’s investing in the cause in your people. There’s a lot of organizations that have done great things and are putting out great statements, and that’s wonderful. My judge is what are you doing at the purse, and are you married to the moment? Because we can talk about it today, but when I see you in six months or when I see you in 12 months, are you as excited about that issue today as you are 12 months, and what does your pocketbook say in your company?

Crowd Participant 2: That’s really my point because, in 12 months, where is that accountability of people standing up and going, “This is what you said, this is what you did. This is the result, which didn’t make it to where you’re going,” and we don’t do that part. As a community, what successes have you seen where people have been able to affect that and hold people accountable and not just roll something out, “Hey, we’re we’re going to band-aid this with a statement and nothing happens,” and you continue to have these problems? It should never take what you had to go through to make change. We shouldn’t be outraged about George Floyd because it happened. We should be outraged that it was a possibility.

Sarika: So interesting when you say that because I completely agree.

Anthony: Great point.

Sarika: I was on one of the sessions earlier and I know that there are laws as I say being passed to certain states. This session was from someone from Missouri, and their law is a lot more friendlier because of the Ferguson incident. Their state communities further advanced. I said, “I don’t want what happened in Ferguson or what happen in Minneapolis that happen in Iowa or any other state for us to impact change.” I don’t want that. I don’t want my diversity business to be going gangbuster on the murder of someone. I don’t want that. To me, that’s not a good deal.

Your question about how do you measure success? I think that for best practices when I see with organizations, when you have a commitment from the leadership it’s support, it’s part of their strategic plan. They allocate money resources, and it’s not just the chief diversity officer’s role. It is a role of every individual on the board and every individual on the leadership as part of their performance and you’re driving it throughout the organization and you have a strategic plan around equity, diversity, inclusion, and engagement that’s tied to your overarching strategic plan, thus creates an agile roadmap for you to go on this journey with measurable outcomes.

I’m not talking about how many number of trainings you’ve done. Based on the training, what are you trying to impact change? That’s the key to measure those outcomes. More importantly, don’t give up. Guess what? You’re going to fail. Yes, I said it. I’m going to fail. Why? Because we’re humans, we make mistakes, but you learn from those mistakes. Have that growth mindset. When something happens, stop, assess, course correct, and keep on going. Guess what? It’s not going to happen overnight. Changes are not going to happen overnight. It may take five years, it may take 10 years. Remember that, just celebrate the small win, but I think that’s what success for me looks like.

Anthony: I know we got another segment, but to real quick to wrap up, put a bow around, what can you do to hold people accountable? In your situations where you’re at, if you feel the place of business or the organization that you’re working with does not align with your values, then you have a choice. Your choice is, am I going to stay in this organization or am I going to use my voice in this organization to ask for change, or am I going to leave? In your community, you have a choice. From a policy standpoint, you all have a choice, you have your vote. I never knew how valuable it was to vote locally until maybe 10 years ago.

I want to kick myself that I wasn’t a local voter. I don’t care what party, what political– where you come from your vote for your causes matters. That’s how you hold people accountable. You leave your job if you’re not happy and you go work somewhere else. I can tell you a long story about Victoria’s Secret. My daughter’s a fashion model. I can tell you a long story about their trajectory and what’s happened to them because they didn’t focus on their customer base. Another long story, but I just wanted to wrap you up voice and ability to walk away.

Marcus: 30 seconds. I promise.

Sarika: 30 seconds.

Marcus: I promise. You can put me out of time. I promise. 30 seconds. What you’re describing is emotional activism. You’ll see it on TV. You feel bad and you want to do something about it. As that emotion is lingering, you feel committed to the cause. As the conversation dwindles, so does the emotion. That’s emotional activism and it has to stop. That’s what I want to identify and put a name on it, so you can call it what it is. The solution, bring people like me–

One, what is the economic infrastructure of what it is, how you’re solving this problem? Where’s the bread land? Where’s the money landing, and who are you bringing in at the executive leadership levels that look like me that will help you tie it back to the mission overall to the community? Because I promise you, if you bring– If it’s a board full of middle-aged white men that are making this decision to increase their DNI, what do you think was going to happen six months from now?

Because they’re walking with a level of privilege, but they don’t have to have them my kind of issues. If you bring me into the boardroom, I promise you, I’m going to get on your nerves every Monday morning. I’m like, “All right. Look, let’s go back. I know we working on that, but let’s go back to this. We said that we will want to allocate funding to this problem.” I think that the people that’s closest to the problem are the closest to the solutions.


Sarika: Yes. All right. This is a fun part of the–

Anthony: I’m excited about this–

Sarika: I hope this place has a liability. Thank goodness. This is a softball. I’m not good at throwing balls here, but these are softballs, a diversity thumb ball. I’d love to have a couple of volunteers. If you want to join in on this fun game, if you want to join in, please come to the front. It’ll be easier to toss it to you. Come on up.

Anthony: These balls you want to explain them?

Sarika: Yes. There’s prompts and questions on these diversity thumb balls. These are great ice breakers. What we do is, first of all, it’s a safe space to be able to have conversations, reserve judgment, and just authentically respond to the question or the prompt that your hand lands on when we throw it to you. If Anthony throws it to me, wherever my thumb lands, read out the prompt or question, and then please share.

Anthony: I love this.

Sarika: I think I’m going to step out and because we’re going to allow our participants to go.

Anthony: Sounds good.

Sarika: Why don’t you do the honors and throw it out to the audience here? Whoever wants to– we have I think maybe two, three.

Anthony: Let’s do it.

Sarika: All right.

Anthony: Ready?

Troy Miller: My name’s Troy. I’ve got, describe the messages you received about race with when you were growing up. I grew up in a small Iowa farming community. As I got older, I realized just kind of people talking around that there aren’t Blacks in my community because the community drove them out anytime they came in.

For me, it started opening my eyes to like I had no idea. It’s a shameful past as much as the United States has, whether it’s 100 years ago, or 200, or in the past 30 years. That was like this silent message that I grew up through and didn’t even know and had to be told later on and then reflecting on it. I realized the impact of it on one small Iowa community.

Anthony: What’s your name again?

Troy: Troy Miller.

Anthony: Troy, thanks for that.

Marcus: Thank you, Troy.

Sarika: Troy, thank you so much and just for you participating.


Sarika: You can keep the diversity ball.

Marcus: Winning.

Sarika: Yes, winning, winning always about it here.

Anthony: Thank you for that. All right. Ready for the next one?

Sarika: Yes.

Anthony: You want me to throw? [laughs]

Sarika: Liability, Anthony, liability.

Skylar: My name is Skylar. I got, a time you went out of your way to make someone feel included. As a volunteer service dog trainer, I am aware of some of the unique challenges that those that require service dogs have, so anytime I see someone with a service dog, whether I have my foster with me or not, I always make sure to go out of my way to ignore the dog because I know that that can cause some issues or unwanted attention.

Anthony: That’s great. Thanks for sharing that. My daughter just got a service dog. She travels with a little poodle. She’s able to help with stress if she traveled with a really enjoys her dog. I’m mad she’s leaving Sunday and I don’t want her to take the dog home.

Sarika: You are such an inspiration. Thank you.

Marcus: Thank you. Thank you so much.

Skylar: Thank you

Anthony: You’re welcome.


Sarika: All right. I’m just going to toss, and whoever gets it.


Micah Kolbert: Thank you for that. My name is Micah Kolbert. I have, how might you personally combat prejudice and discrimination? Something that my wife actually recently talked about. She’s a part of the knitting community. I don’t know if we have any knitters. They actually became quite involved in being activists. One of the things that she shared with me is stand in the gap. Wherever you are, if you see something going on, and you’re not okay with it, stand in the gap. That’s all I have to say.

Anthony: I like that.


Sarika: Well, what an inspirational show this has been. Thank you so much for being part of this, Marcus. I don’t know how else we can thank you. We appreciate your story and journey and for really helping to drive equity, diversity, inclusion, and engagement. Thank you to EntreFEST. We also want to give a special shout-out to our sponsors of Diversity Straight Up.

Anthony: GreenState Credit Union, we appreciate you. City of Cedar Rapids, Alliant Energy, we really appreciate–

Sarika: And Collins Aerospace.

Anthony: and Collins Aerospace

Sarika: Special thanks to those that are joining in virtually. To all of our listeners who are going to hear this recording afterwards, if you have any questions, comments, suggestions, please send it to info@diversitystraightup.com. If you like this show, if you feel that we need to continue to do it Season 2 by Corridor Business Journal, please subscribe, please share, please like, please love us.

Anthony: Absolutely.

Sarika: That’ll help for us to continue to do the work that we’re doing. As we always say, we’re bubbling out of Iowa going global, so please help us through that.

Anthony: Wherever you live, work, and play, just realize that diversity is in your backyard and have a conversation about it. Like we always say, Diversity Straight Up.

Sarika: Keeping it real.

Anthony: Thank you for your time.


Sarika: Thank you for listeners as we wouldn’t be here without your support. Help us grow our subscriber base by sharing our show with others.

Anthony: Love this new episode of Diversity Straight Up brought to you by GreenState Credit Union? Then head over to the most popular podcast audio platform subscribe, rate, and review us. Check out our other episodes while you’re there.

Sarika: Catch us on our next episode, which drops monthly.

Anthony: We’d love to hear from you. Hit us up and send your questions, comments, and suggestions to info@diversitystraightup.com.

Sarika: Remember, wherever you live, work, and play, our backyards are increasingly global. It’s not enough to simply be a leader. Be a global leader by leveraging diversity with equity, inclusion, and engagement and share your journey. This may empower others to be bold change agents. Be courageous, be authentic, be vulnerable.

Anthony: Diversity Straight Up brought to you by GreenState Credit Union.

Sarika: Keeping it real.