Wednesday, July 27, 2016

How to Ask the Right Questions in a Politically Correct Society

No doubt you’ve heard or read some strong statements surrounding the recent police shootings that have dominated the news, especially if you’re on social media. What you probably haven’t seen are people asking questions that might actually move the
Willie Stewart, Andy Menard (Tanner Tees), and C.J. Stewart
conversation forward.

I believe many of us run from asking questions to avoid getting a response we don’t like. If you follow me on social media, however, you’ve probably noticed that I like to ask questions. In fact, I crave being held accountable.

Asking the tough questions

I don’t just ask the easy questions, what I would consider Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs). Instead, I like to ask what I call Should Ask Questions (SAQs).

SAQs make you dig deeper, whereas FAQs maintain the status quo. SAQs make people uncomfortable. Sometimes SAQs make people cry, but that shouldn’t make you shy away from asking them. Remember, Jesus wept.

If you ask me, America needs to cry. You can’t be trite and shallow and solve an issue this big.

America can take a page from L.E.A.D.’s playbook on this. Here’s a look at the three-step process we engage with our Ambassadors to help them dig deeper when speaking with industry professionals, mentors and other adults with whom they come into contact.

1. Many times when we ask for advice, what we receive in return is a simplistic, trite statement. For example, one of our Ambassadors might ask an industry professional, “How does someone become successful?” and receive the answer, “Hard work pays off.”
What has our Ambassador learned from that statement? Particularly for these young men who haven’t had a job yet, what does it mean to engage in “hard work”? The answer doesn’t elevate the conversation, it completes it.

2. This is when we encourage our Ambassadors to challenge the statement – what I call “complicating” the conversation. What we want is for the answer to contain actionable advice. However, many times what we get next is a deeper answer, but not one that advances the conversation. So, perhaps the person replies, “Everyone that works hard isn’t successful.”
Fair enough, we all know people who have worked hard for years and never received any accolades, raises or other acknowledgments of their success. But again, our Ambassadors aren’t walking away with actionable advice.

3. What we want to do is ask those SAQs – specific questions that require specific answers. So, maybe now our Ambassadors ask, “What are some of the things a person can do in order to be a valuable employee?”
Now the Ambassadors get answers like “Arrive for work on time, have a positive attitude every day and engage with your boss in a manner that shows respect, meaning you don’t do things like curse during office conversation.” Finally, some actionable advice they can put to good use.

Don’t be afraid to go deep

The process of complicating things involves conversation. It's like tennis – sometimes there are long rallies. The most important thing to remember is that what is right is more important than who is right. And as much as our society is all about being politically correct and not upsetting anyone, there can be a right person in the conversation.

Decisions are made in this country every day, from “small” decisions like a husband and wife agreeing on the color of their new minivan to deciding who is going to represent our country in the Olympics. Once upon a time, someone decided to crown the Dallas Cowboys “America’s team.”

Now the time has come to decide how blacks fit into American society.

I want this blog to give Americans a framework on how to move from simplistic and trite statements to something simple and actionable – and permission to ask those SAQs and engage in difficult conversations. 

We’d be fools to think any progress can be made without conversation and conflict.

Safe At Home Game in Atlanta, GA Saturday, Aug. 20th at Georgia Tech


Sunday, July 24, 2016

Millennials Will Lead Us If We Let Them - A Conversation About Race

C.J. Stewart
It is my intention to be a catalyst for change and to work with people of all races, genders and economic backgrounds to move conversations about race from trite to solution.

As a man of deep faith, I have committed all glory to God. To that end, one of my goals over the next five years is to grow deeper in my faith. In addition, I want to gain the knowledge and experience necessary, so that I may be recognized as consequential leader with respect to racial issues, and, by doing so, make my intention a reality.

I found myself in a situation recently that proved to me that I was on the right track -a confirmation from God that He is using me to do something amazing. A young man named Chris, who I had coached some time ago, came to me for advice about how to address comments he was hearing from black friends and coworkers that were making him feel uneasy. We talked. At the end of our conversation I asked him to write down what he took away from our discussion.

I couldn’t be more proud of Chris. Here is what he wrote:

Recently within the United States, racial and social tensions have been growing. As a 29 year old white male, I was uncomfortable entering into these discussions. I feared good intentions would come off as racist, or certain phrases would be misconstrued.
I recently spoke with C.J. Stewart, my first batting instructor and former baseball coach for help. Statements I sometimes hear from black friends and co-workers range from “all white cops should die” to “I will disregard the Constitution until it has a black signature”. I felt there was no good way to address these statements without being viewed as racist, so I remained silent.
After C.J. and I spoke, I realized there are good ways to address such comments. I understand that the statements that were being made can be viewed as simplistic. By simplistic, I mean very surface level and not much context. If I address the statement straight on as simplistic, then we get nowhere. I need to get to the root of the problem to move the conversation forward, and to do that I need to ask questions.
By, asking questions such as “can you share some of your experiences [on] why you feel this way?” I acknowledge that there’s more to the statement, and that the conversation is complex. Complex is not a bad thing. It simply means that the statement is composed of many interconnected parts, and the initial conversation should be based on that complexity.
Once we break down the statement by having the complex conversation, and I truly understand the root problem, the conversation becomes simple. It becomes simple because I know where the other person is coming from. We have now created a non-hostile atmosphere between us because the other person can see that I have an understanding of his or her point of view.
I can use the A.C.T.S. Method between the simplistic and complex stages and help ensure that the other person knows where I am coming from and I am not here to judge, but to understand their perspective.
  • Acknowledgement – “I see you’re hurting; this must really hit home for you.” 
  • Confession – “I understand we come from different upbringings and have different experiences.”
  • Thanksgiving – “Thank you for bringing this up.”
  • Supplication (asking for something) – “Do you mind if I ask a few questions so I understand your experience?”
From this point, you are setup to have an honest conversation. The goal of this conversation is not to solve a problem or fix something, but simply to learn from each other. I do not believe I will ever understand everything that is involved [with] growing up black. Neither do I believe that the other person will understand some of the things I encounter being white. What I do believe is that the more I understand about the experiences he or she has gone through, the closer we stand a chance to be united. We have a long road in front of us. It starts with all parties involved being open-minded enough to understanding each other’s perspectives and experiences to begin to progress. When we can get to that point; we can begin moving in the right direction.

As Chris’ advisor, I knew I didn't have to have the right answers. I simply had to give him a framework that would allow him to be comfortable with having the challenging conversations about race. I think after having read Chris’ thoughts you will agree with me that he understood our conversation, and all of us will be blessed by his efforts.

Chris Johnson


Friday, July 8, 2016

Empowering Young Black Men to Speak on Alton Sterling Shooting

Earlier this week, I was attending a Gwinnett Braves game with a group of our Ambassadors when I heard that Alton Sterling, a black man, had been shot by a white Baton Rouge police officer.

I’m standing there watching the video that I’m sure many of you have seen by now, realizing that it’s something I have to share with the Ambassadors. Speaking with, and guiding, the Ambassadors through situations like this is not something I take lightly. I view it as an opportunity to empower them to use their voices and explore not just what they feel, but why they feel it.
We have a four-step “Pathway to Empowerment” methodology that I used in this situation:

Assessment: Without expressing judgment, I asked the Ambassadors what they knew about the shooting of Alton Sterling. I then asked them to share how they felt.

Engagement: Instead of focusing on what they said, I challenged them to think about why they said the things they did in reaction to the situation. I explained to them that you can’t solve anything with trite statements.

Empowerment: I gave them the power to share their thoughts publicly on social media as Ambassadors for L.E.A.D., as Atlanta Public School students and as citizens of Atlanta. 

Application: Lights, camera, action . . .I decided to shoot this video so you can see the reaction of the Ambassadors as they watch the video for first time of Alton Sterling being, and then I asked a couple of the Ambassadors to share their thoughts on what happened and what they want people to know about them as young black men.

No doubt, the shootings this week of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile have left many feeling helpless, angry and a whole host of other emotions. Hate and fear are two of the emotions I’m sure many of you have felt, but it’s not what we want for you or for our Ambassadors.

To combat emotions like hate and fear, particularly as they relate to the men and women who risk their lives each and every day to protect and serve our communities, L.E.A.D. will be hosting its second-annual “Safe at Home” game this August at Georgia Tech.

We’ll bring together our L.E.A.D. Ambassadors with officers from the Atlanta Police Department so they can interact with one another in a positive setting. Young black males and police officers may have more in common than even they realize – both are targeted and find themselves labeled as thugs, criminals or corrupt because of the actions of some of their peers. Through the “Safe at Home” game, we’re able to bring together two important groups who are assets to our community.

We want to abolish any notion of hatred or fear – from either side. Our young men seek to be stewards of this community, right alongside the men and women in uniform whose job it is to keep this community safe.

Now isn’t the time for hate and fear. It’s a time for reflection and change. Join us.