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Random Summer Thoughts
Sioux Falls
Dear Friends:
I’ve got summeritis (an ellie word) and can only muster random thoughts.

First, I was in New York City for several days recently with my two adult daughters. On an evening where they went off to a Broadway play, I found myself journaling on a bench adjacent to the famed Radio City Music Hall ice rink (in the summer, the ice rink becomes an outdoor restaurant). I love to listen and observe, and in NYC on that beautiful July evening I was not disappointed—all around me were people of different colors and nationalities, with at least a dozen languages being spoken. It was a sight to behold and hear!

Being in NYC reminded me about the impact that comes with numbers—simply seeing more people of color (many of whom appeared middle or upper class) tripped a wire in my brain; yes, that’s really what the world at large is like. It’s easy to forget this living in the Twin Cities where unfortunately, there are far more persons of color/marginalized groups living on the lower rungs of the economic ladder than the higher rungs. (Minnesota has the largest wage gap between whites and Blacks of any state in the country; I know, incredible!)

I think it would do every Twin Cities (or insert your own town name here) resident good to sit on a bench in NYC for a couple hours.

Second, I have again been reminded of my tendency to forget key details. (Never good for someone trained as a lawyer.)  I spent many hours putting together a blog with ideas about how to make America “unlost” (one commentator I respect opines that we’ve entered “sectarian politics” not unlike the Middle East) only to forget that one of my main points (remembering the words to the Pledge of Allegiance) was too broad an approach—there are many who don’t subscribe to the “under God” reference in the Pledge. Yes, Ellie Krug the inclusionist failed to account for religious (or non-religious) sensitivities in a blog about helping us to communicate better…

Consistent with last month’s Ripple piece on forgiveness, I apologize if I offended anyone.

Still, after posting the blog entry there was respectful dialogue about this on Facebook. In the end, that’s exactly what the blog was about—how in America we need to be able to disagree without castigating the other person. As a country, we sure seem to be struggling with this. Yep, I’m still learning. I suspect that will continue until my last breath.

On that happy note, enjoy the rest of July everyone!

e llie

           Bridging Divides: A Mixed Israeli and Palestinian Chorus Shows (and Sings) the Way

Speaking of how we’ve become divided as a country, a recent CNN article about the YMCA Jerusalem Youth Chorus offers a glimpse into how we might bridge our differences. The chorus is small—30 youth—and led by Micah Hendler, a Jewish-American and 2012 Yale University graduate, who believes that the only way to get past polarization is through old fashioned face-to-face talking. 

“One of the things I noticed in the lead up to and after (the U.S. presidential election) was that I saw how similar the political discourse was getting to the one in Israel and Palestine,” said Hendler.  He added, “I saw there was an increasing dehumanization on both sides of ‘the other,’ an increasing sense that somehow the truth is relative and not [just that] they disagree with me, but that we can’t even talk to them about it.”

When the chorus began five years ago, neither Israelis or Palestinians would talk to each other. However, as Saleem, a 17-year-old Christian Palestinian related, “But despite all of our differences, we moved on and found something that both sides share: first humanity, and secondly our love to (sic) music. And these made us a close, big family despite our differences.”

To get past those differences, Hendler arranged for trained facilitators to work with the students to discuss issues directly. In doing so, they learned the difference between communicating on Facebook—where it’s much easier to say negative, polarizing things—and talking face-to-face. “I think there need(s) to be more places, in the Middle East or the U.S., for people of opposing viewpoints to talk about this stuff—and not on Facebook,” Hendler concluded.

Amen to that.

On top of this teaching, the chorus is quite fabulous, so much so that their wonderful harmonies brought me to tears. Here’s a link to the article and their video; it’s well worth your time!  

Rocking Religious Inclusivity in Omaha

You read that right. In Omaha, Nebraska, they are taking religious inclusivity to a new level with a $65 million “Tri-Faith Project.” In what may be a first in the U.S., project visionaries decided to intentionally build three houses of worship side by side; the campus is 35 acres on what was formerly the golf course of the Highland Country Club (a Jewish club developed in the 1920s when Jews were excluded from Omaha’s other country clubs).

Started in 2006, the project presently has a new synagogue and mosque sitting next to each other. They will soon be joined by the Countryside Community Church, which is being built for $26 million. Plans call for a fourth structure, a Tri-Faith Center, by 2019. This center will serve as a shared community space for interfaith classes and activities.

The project was envisioned and driven by a rabbi, a reverend and an Iman. As Rabbi Aryeh Azriel explained, “We didn’t create this [project] to tolerate each other. We didn’t create this to just have dialogue…We have done all this stuff already. It’s about what are we going to do together? What are we going to do for the betterment of humanity?”

I love that phrase, “betterment of humanity.” If only we could think of that more often!

As you might expect, there have been some detractors but overall, the project has been well-supported. One reason: the idea for the project originated during the 9/11 tragedy when fear was high and Azriel and his congregants stood guard at a local mosque to prevent vandalism. That spirit of cooperation carried over when the Temple Israel needed to relocate its aging synagogue; from there the idea of the Tri-Faith project was born.

One can imagine all the hard work involved in getting the Tri-Faith Project (website) off the ground. However, through a combination of imagination, grit and determination (and a lot of fundraising), this idea has become a reality. Way to go Omaha!

Two Great Mentoring Stories

I’ve been a Big Sister to Jasmine (pseudonym) for nearly 5 years and consequently always look for mentoring stories. This month’s Ripple brings two such stories, both of which involve police officers.

First, we have Brandon Sheffert, a suburban Phoenix police officer who encountered then 16-year-old Anthony Schultz sprinting down a road in the middle of the night. After Anthony explained that he was training for a wrestling match, Sheffert and his partner continued to engage Anthony (who was fatherless and living with his mother) in conversation. This included asking what the teen wanted to do after college. As Anthony recounted, “Before that, no one really asked me what I wanted to do when I get older. I felt as if he cared instantly.” 

A month and a half later, Sheffert responded to a 911 domestic abuse call at a one-bedroom apartment that housed seven people. One of those people was Anthony, whom Sheffert remembered. Because of the chaos in that living arrangement, Sheffert made a mental note to start checking in with Anthony during regular patrols. From there, a friendship blossomed. “He [Sheffert] would park outside and I would talk to him for like an hour…It was the best thing in the world,” Anthony related. “I knew someone cared about me.”

After Anthony’s mother called Sheffert saying “I can’t handle him anymore,” Sheffert decided to unofficially adopt Anthony, who then moved in with Sheffert, his wife, and their two young children. As a result, Anthony found a real sense of family; his grades in school improved to where he was the first in his family to graduate high school on time in almost 30 years. Anthony now plans to enter the military. 

As Sheffert said about Anthony, “I can’t imagine my life without him around. I don’t think anybody else [in Sheffert’s family] can, either.”  Click here for the whole story. 

The other story is about Scott Nadeau, who was recently named Big Brother of the Year by Greater Twin Cities Big Brothers Big Sisters. Scott is the Chief of Police in Columbia Heights, MN and a three-time Big Brother, who not only recruited a half-dozen police officers as “Bigs” but others from the community. All told, Scott recruited more than 40 people to act as Bigs. As this was happening, crime in Columbia Heights tumbled to a 40-year low, with juvenile arrests down from 243 in 2007 to 90 in 2015. The high school suspension rate also dropped 130 percent. 

As Scott put it, “When you ask me how it’s possible that one of the poorest and most diverse cities in Minnesota is now one of the top ten recognized [nationally], I say that the answer is simple. The people in my community made the conscious decision that we were going to work together in a way that benefitted all of our kids. That includes caring about and finding mentors for our kids that need them.”

Once more, these stories remind that it takes real work (and often, risk) to change the societal paradigm, particularly when it comes to at-risk youth. Yet, the rewards are so incredible for all involved. I urge you to consider becoming a mentor and suggesting it to others. I know that my life has been enriched beyond description by being Jasmine’s Big.

               Pew Report Spells Bad News for Inclusivity

A July 10 Pew Research Center report, titled “Sharp Partisan Divisions in Views of National Institutions,” reveals that public attitudes toward key institutions—the news media, religious organizations and colleges and universities—are further breaking down along political ideology or affiliation.

For example, Pew found that the share of Democrats holding a positive view of the nation’s news media has increased 11 percentage points (to 44%) just since last August whereas 85% (!!) of Republicans say the news media has a negative effect (this percentage has not changed over several years).

Most important from an inclusivity perspective, there has been a significant shift in how colleges and universities are perceived. For the first time, a majority (58%) of Republicans say that colleges and universities are having a negative effect on the way things are going in the country. (This figure is even higher (65%) for conservative Republicans.) This is up from 37% of Republicans who had a negative view in just 2015. On the other hand, 79% of liberal Democrats and 67% of conservative or moderate Democrats view colleges and universities favorably.

This split between the two camps inevitably will impact inclusivity since no doubt, funding of higher education (the great equalizer for those from marginalized communities) will be viewed as less important by Republican/conservative decisionmakers (current power holders). (Also, please note that while I go to great lengths not to fall into the “we vs. them” trap with this newsletter, it’s impossible to talk about this without identifying the issue along political party lines.)

A July 13 New York Times op ed piece by Thomas Edsall heightens my concerns since he reports that the Department of Homeland Security proposed ending a federal regulation (the International Entrepreneurship Rule) that encouraged start-ups and finance to high-tech ventures in the U.S. Edsall opines that this reflects a pronounced resentment of the less educated against those who are better educated, particularly better educated immigrants.

Edsall quotes the famed urbanist, Richard Florida, who stated, “The political backlash from this divide can kill us. It is the only thing that can hold back our cities and stop talented and ambitious people from coming here.”

How do we stop the erosion of positive attitudes toward key American institutions, particularly those that help reduce the effects of systemic prejudice and marginalization? We need to get this on our collective radar and be vocal about it. The future of our country depends on it.  

Inclusivity Tip of the Month: The Power of Symbols
HIW Logo

When I consult with businesses and governmental entities re: how to make their workplaces more welcoming, one of the simplest suggestions relates to the understanding the power of symbols. 

For example, for those who identify on the LGBTQ spectrum, the easiest-to-understand symbol of welcoming is a rainbow; it doesn’t have to be flag-sized either—usually, even a postcard-sized rainbow  displayed in a conspicuous place will do the trick of making a LGBTQ human think, “okay, I’m safe here.” (For many LGBTQ humans—including Moi—there can be concern about whether the person or entity with whom we’re interacting has a hidden agenda. This fear will become more pronounced as states [and god forbid, the federal government] enact “religious freedom” laws.) 

There are other symbols that signify welcoming: for African Americans, it might be a “Celebrate Black History Month” sign or a poster commemorating a Black leader; for Jewish folks, anything with the Star of David (including the Israeli flag) might be considered welcoming. Also, for many regardless of religion or sexuality, the word “namaste” is deemed very welcoming. 

Finally, did you know that the pineapple is considered a fairly universal symbol of welcoming? That, frankly, I didn’t know until Google told me.

On the flip side, I suggest taking inventory to determine if your workspace or organizational space contains artifacts that symbolize intolerance. In some regards, this is easy—no Confederate flags for example—but in others it’s not. For instance, displaying the Pledge of Allegiance with its reference to “God” (see my commentary above) may turn off agnostics and atheists. Likewise, the symbol of a cross or Biblical references (footprints in the sand) may chill any number of people—Muslims, LGBTQ persons, and Jews.

Or, you could mess up like the American Red Cross with what was deemed a racist poster about pool safety and etiquette. 

One school of thought is to have a “sterile” workplace where there are absolutely no symbols of any kind. Given that we spend so much of our lives at work, I’m not a proponent of this. Rather, I do believe a purposeful inspection of one’s physical space—along with some smart employee handbook language—can avoid any potential pitfalls. (If you’re interested, I can offer suggested handbook language, too!)

Odds and Ends
This month’s Odds and Ends is heavy on…gorillas:    
Darn Wonderful:  Watch a gorilla splash about in a tub; then in a very poignant short video, see a gorilla remember a girl whom it had not seen in 12 years (the girl’s family had raised the gorilla from birth until it was released into the wild). As I teach and train, certain things of the heart are hard-wired into "us" (which may include primates and other species).
Second Darn Wonderful: Here’s a toy and video that help children and their parents understand what it means to be transgender. Wow.
Why Do They Hate Us So Much: Earlier this month, the House of Representatives attempted to pass a rider to a Defense authorization bill that would have prohibited the military from either accepting transgender service members or paying for the cost of gender confirmation surgeries for service members who are currently serving. Congressman Steve King (from my dear Iowa) even claimed that trans people are the equivalent of Roman Empire castrated slaves. Really? Thankfully, the hateful measure failed.
But Then Many Love Us Too: See this video of Ken Ballard speaking to Texas legislators about his 15-year-old transgender son Ashur and how you must love, love, and love again. Yep, it’ll tug at your heart.
Bravery: My Gray Area Thinking™ includes a video of a Buffalo N.Y. bus driver saving a woman who was about to end her life. Here’s a recent story of a MLB umpire who did the very same thing as he was walking to a stadium. We all have the ability to be there for others…
Redeemed: Here is a story about Aaron Tucker, just released from prison, who jumped off a bus to rescue a badly bleeding man who had just flipped his car. Aaron missed a job interview to do this; later, job offers and a $16K GoFundMe page ensued. Yes, compassion sometimes does pay.
Recent Writings—mine and others’: My July Lavender Magazine piece, “Moose Lake” about my visit to Minnesota’s civil commitment facility for sex offenders, can be found here. Also, as referenced above, here’s my blog post about how to make America “Unlost.” Finally, Gail Rosenblum of the Minneapolis Star Tribune did a really nice piece covering my talk in Bloomington and how I speak of the “Four Commonalities”(she calls them “four truths”).
“Hidden Edges Radio” Shows: A couple weeks ago, I interviewed Cathy Heying, a social worker-turned-auto mechanic who founded the Lift Garage in Minneapolis which serves low income persons. If you want to be inspired, take the time to listen to the podcast of that interview. Also, last Sunday I interviewed Zaylore Stout, a Black lawyer who’s running for a seat on the all-white St. Louis Park City Council. (Zaylore has also become a sponsor of the show! That’s in addition to another new sponsor, the Michaud, Cooley, Erickson engineering firm.) Click here for the podcasts link.
Past and Upcoming Talks/Trainings and General Stuff:  June was pretty raucous with a wonderful evening at the Bloomington MN Civic Plaza for a three-hour pubic inclusivity training that attracted 125 people (thank you Bloomington!). I also spoke to a great group of legal administrators (the Golden Gate Chapter of the ALA) in San Francisco and presented to a very receptive group at the MN Dept. of Employment and Economic Development in St. Paul. In late July, I’ll train St. Louis County employees in Duluth and Virginia, MN on Gray Area Thinking™. In September, it will be two days of such training for Scott County, Iowa (Davenport) county employees. On the horizon are trips to Boulder, CO, Vancouver, British Columbia, Los Angeles, and Palo Alto. My entire schedule is here.
57. That’s the number of live presentations I gave between 1/1/and 6/30 this year. My goal is 120 live presentations by 12/31; with your support and championing, I’m confident that I’ll make this goal. Thank you so very much—I am incredibly grateful for all of you who have my back!  
The Ripple is a work in progress, so please, I welcome your suggestions and comments! Please share this newsletter with others, too!
Thank you for helping to make the world a better place! I'm at your side, cheering you on, I promise! Please have compassion for yourself and for others.
I care about you.
Encouraging Open Hearts and Thriving Human Spirits 
Human Inspiration Works, LLC: We make "inclusion" an action word

Ellen (Ellie) Krug