writer, lawyer, human
Human Inspiration Works, LLC
August 2018 Vol 3 No. 8
Inspired by the words and actions of Robert F. Kennedy
month I presented in Duluth MN at a conference of teen and early-twenties foster youth; the annual event, “Tomorrow’s Leaders for Today,” seeks to promote leadership skills and self-confidence in humans who’ve often seen the worst in other people. I gave a keynote, “Bridging Our Divides,” and then assisted one of the conference participants with leading a breakout session on the difficult conversations that occur with “coming out” as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or gender nonconforming.
The breakout session, attended by about thirty people, was rich with coming out stories—some positive, others not. We talked about fear (for the person coming out and for those learning of it) and about how some straight and cisgender (e.g. non-transgender) folks continue to believe that one’s gender identity or sexual orientation is a “choice.”
Eventually, the conversation progressed to other kinds of “coming out.” At that point, a young woman—whom I’ll call “C” (I guessed she was late teens)—told her story of coming out as a foster youth. She related that after being placed with her foster family she had been lucky to develop several close friends—the kind who would come to her house or vice versa. Apparently, these friends didn’t understand that C was living in a foster care setting. At some point long after the friendships had cemented, C disclosed that she was a foster youth and not a relative of the family with whom she was living.
What I heard next broke my heart.
C said that following her self-disclosure, several of her friends announced that due to parental pressure, C was no longer welcome in their homes; nor could they visit at her home. Additionally, some friends shunned C at school. C’s pain in experiencing this was palpable as she spoke.
C’s story reminds that we can “come out” in a variety of ways. Each time humans do that, they run the risk of shifting from one of “us” to one of “them” or “Other.” Our reactions to one’s coming out—regardless of what forms the basis—can often have profound impacts on the person who is self-disclosing.
The acceptable responses for one’s coming out—for one risking “Otherness”—are compassion and empathy and acknowledgement that we’re all working to survive the Human Condition. Any other response simply doesn’t cut it.
Ask yourself: if someone came out to you in one way or another, how would you or others close to you react? Are compassion and empathy the currencies by which you live?
I care about you.
A Postal Carrier Who Understands
“A Kind of Different Responsibility”
Those who’ve gone through my Gray Area Thinking
human inclusivity training will recall that a key teaching point is “stopping for another human can itself be an act of compassion.”
This point came true yet again in June, when a Sacramento U.S. postal carrier, Ivan Crisostomo, rescued sixteen-year-old Crystal Allen as he was walking his route. Upon hearing someone “desperately crying” from behind a tree, Ivan stopped to investigate. He found Crystal, who said, “They were putting things in me [pointing to her arm]. They are coming to get me.”
What Ivan would soon learn was that Crystal was a survivor of sex trafficking who had just jumped out of a moving car containing her captors. She had grabbed one of their cell phones on the way out of the car and was attempting to call her mother. Ivan helped with that call and then called 911. As they waited for law enforcement, Ivan kept Crystal in his postal van for protection, telling her, “Don’t worry, I’m here for you.” Once police arrived, Crystal was taken to a hospital. She had been missing for three months, during which she was “drugged, tortured and abused” by her captors.
As Crystal thanked Ivan following the start of her recovery, she said, “Ivan himself is a hero for saving me, even though he doesn’t think it.”
Ivan’s response: “
We, as mailmans (sic), we have a duty. But as human beings, knowing the people, we have a kind of different responsibility … with our neighbors, the people that we serve. The way I see her she has a wonderful future ahead. She’s doing so well, I’m happy. I’m really happy.”
It's so very true that we each have a “kind of different responsibility” to each other—one that necessitates paying attention and acting with compassion and kindness. How this story reminds us of that!
One more thing: as you watch
of Ivan being interviewed, you might note that Ivan appears to be an immigrant. Assuming I’m correct, this story also reminds us about the goodness of humans regardless of where they were born. (See also
for more details about Ivan’s rescue of Crystal.)
Four Stories About the Homeless
The homeless, who are invisible to many of us, are often relegated to the lowest rungs of societal acceptance.
It doesn’t have to be that way
. Here are four stories that might add to your perspective.
First, as reported in the
Minneapolis Star Tribune
on July 29th, a thirty-five-year-old woman who jumped from the Washington Avenue Bridge at 2:30 a.m. on a Saturday was pulled from the water by a homeless man who leapt into the chilly water to rescue her. The man had been camped under the bridge.
In a second story, a homeless man, “Phil,” wanted to apply for a custodial job at McDonald’s but needed to arrive for the interview clean-shaven. As he attempted to shave his beard without the use of a mirror while standing in the McDonald’s parking lot, a passing Tallahassee police officer stopped to help. Click
to see a picture of “Officer Carlson” with razor in hand assisting Phil. Later, Officer Carlson took Phil to get the necessary identification card to land the job. He said, “[I[f he’s [Phil] wanting to help himself, I need to help him out the best I can.”
Then there’s the
incident of a homeless teen
who stole a woman’s wallet from a bench outside an oceanfront restaurant. The teen got a second chance thanks to the restaurant owner, Jimmy Gilleece, who not only hired a dive team to retrieve the wallet (which contained the woman’s wedding ring, and which had been thrown into an ocean channel after looted of cash) but also befriended the seventeen-year-old thief as well. As Jimmy said of the teen, Rivers Prather, “He was living in the woods [near the restaurant], and this is when it was 30 degrees outside. And he hadn’t eaten in two days. I could tell he wasn’t a criminal. He was just somebody who needed a little help.” Jimmy’s help came in the form of inviting Rivers to live with Jimmy and his family and in giving Rivers a job at the restaurant. As Rivers said, “I couldn’t have been luckier. Most other people [would have left it up to the police] and he chose to help me. He’s made me a part of his family.”
Finally, a guest column in the
July 23 MinnPos
t by Julie Bluhm (who is the executive director of Guild, Inc., a client of Human Inspiration Works, LLC) relates how a crowd of Minneapolis music-goers happily interacted with a homeless man who came to listen and dance at an outside concert. When the man exclaimed loudly that he hoped he had enough money to buy one of the band’s tee-shirts, three people came forward and offered to buy the shirt for him. When presented with the shirt, the man “made a grand show of taking off his dirty shirt, throwing it aside and putting on the clean one.” However, police officers soon arrived and escorted the homeless man away, apparently in response to a call from someone in the audience. The band and crowd reacted negatively and asked the “po po” to let the man stay; eventually, the man came back, whereupon the band dedicated a song to him. The man, “stood up at the end of the song and faced the crowd. He thanked us for having his back.”
Inclusivity Tip of the Month
Courage to Interrupt Bias
There’s an instructive
TEDx Youth video
about courage to interrupt bias by Kori Carew, the Director of Strategic Diversity Initiatives at Shook Hardy & Bacon LLP, a 500-attorney law firm based in Kansas City. (Note: I have trained at Shook Hardy in the past and likely will do so again in the future.) I thought Kori’s message was so important that it deserved to be highlighted in this month’s Inclusivity Tip.
Kori, a licensed attorney and African American, begins with a story about how a court attendant stopped her from entering a judge’s chambers while she accompanied a senior (Caucasian) partner for a hearing. Believing that Kori was a client, the court attendant yelled, “Ma’am, you can’t go back there,” and would not accept her representation that she was actually an attorney. The attendant ultimately demanded to see Kori’s bar card. As Kori reached to produce her bar card, the partner who was with her pulled out his bar card too. It was only then that Kori was allowed to proceed.
From this example of implicit, if not outright, bias (and allyship on the part of the partner), Kori draws several lessons about the importance of having courage to interrupt the bias of another and recognizing the universal need to “belong.” She suggests that when bias happens, those who witness it (regardless of skin color) must have the courage to call it out. My takeaways from Kori’s phenomenal talk:
1. Listen to the victim of bias as they speak about their feelings or reactions and acknowledge that “Othering” of humans is real—arguing against that reality simply perpetuates bias;
2. Be curious about other people and cultivating that curiosity—educate yourself and have the courage to respectfully ask questions;
3. Negotiate relationships with vulnerability and a willingness to stand in/speak up for marginalized persons even if it makes you uncomfortable; and
4. Recognize the human need to feel a sense of belonging and how belonging can transcend differences and race.
I recommend taking the time to watch Kori’s powerful talk titled, “Just Belonging: Finding the Courage to Interrupt Bias.” As she says, “Courage is doing the thing that you don’t want to do but needs to be done…Courage is a practice.”
Odds and Ends
This month’s Odds & Ends (like the rest of this edition) is probably too long, but there’s just so much to highlight. (You should see what I didn’t include.)
Check out these
of submariners swimming alongside the U.S.S. Olympia off Hawaii.
Second Darn Wonderful:
there it is
: a 350’ manmade waterfall coming off a high-rise in China.
Coming to the rescue of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum:
After vandals flooded a brand-new education center at the museum in Kansas City, donations from across the country began their own kind of flood. Read more
Art Cullen Pens Another Great Piece:
Last year I interviewed Art Cullen, editor and co-owner of the Storm Lake (Iowa) Times, who’s a recipient of a Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. He’s now written a
great new piece
, “In My Iowa Town, We Need Immigrants,” (reprinted in the NYT on July 30). The title says it all.
Things Not Good for LGBTQ Humans:
On the docket for consideration by the U.S. Supreme Court is a
case where a funeral home fired a transgender woman
and claims that federal law (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964) doesn’t prohibit outright discrimination based on gender identity; we’ll see if the newly evolving SCOTUS takes the case. Then there’s the
who refused to grant a 13-year-old transgender boy (female-to-male) his requested name change and intimated that he believed the boy’s gender identity was because of Caitlin Jenner. Finally, see
finding that gay teens are at least twice as likely to use illegal drugs—please remember this.
But Then There’s Good Stuff Too:
about Seth Owen, who had been forced from his home due to family intolerance over coming out as gay. When it appeared he’d not be able to attend his dream college, Georgetown University, one of Seth’s high school teachers launched a GoFundMe page to raise $20K. Fast forward to $150K being raised and Georgetown then deciding to give Seth a full ride. Seth’s now seeking to establish a scholarship fund with the $150K to help other banished LGBTQ teens.
First Transgender Governor?
It’s possible in Vermont, land of Bernie, cool cows and my favorite ice cream. See
Federal Religious Liberty Task Force Announced:
If you’re LGBTQ or have someone in your life who is,
frightening. The magic word is “federal.”
Showing Up on Southwest:
I have been sharing in my trainings
of Chicago charter school teacher Kimberly Bermudez who struck up a conversation with her Southwest Airlines row mate and shared her love of teaching and the challenges her school faced—and how the immigrant parents of her first-grade students would forego meals to feed their kids and pay for school supplies. As the flight was landing, someone in the row behind Kimberly tapped her on the shoulder and while apologizing for eavesdropping, handed over a wad of $100 bills. “Do something amazing,” the stranger said. That was followed by two other passengers giving money—all told, it was $530. Yep, our empathetic hearts are always there.
Shame and Apology:
A woman stole from her long-ago waitress job; with shame ever-looming, she now sends the restaurant owner $1000, along with an apology note. Proof that most want to do the right thing, even if it takes decades. Click
James Baldwin on Twitter:
His words about race relations from 50 years ago still ring true.
If you click on nothing else in this issue, please click on
“I always get to where I’m going by walking away from where I’ve been.” Pooh to Christopher Robin in
Another Pooh quote: “Dreams don’t come for free; you have to work for them.” I highly recommend this thought-provoking movie that’s way more than a story about a boy and a bear.
A Near 50% Increase in the Number of People Living Out of their Vehicles:
The gap between haves and have-nots continues to widen. See story
My 28-year-old daughter Kate, a writer like me, is a freelancer for
where she reviews books. She also has an
that’s fun and smart,
Snarky Yet Satisfying.
She regularly reviews books on her blog; check it out! Her book pick for this month is
The Dinner List
by Rebecca Serle. "If you could have dinner with five people, dead or alive, who would it be?" This popular icebreaker question becomes real life for Sabrina, who shows up to her thirtieth birthday party only to be surrounded by the five on her list. (Note: this book comes out in early Sept.)
“Ellie 2.0 Radio” Shows:
My show, “Ellie 2.0 Radio,” airs on Mondays from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. CST and can be live-streamed by clicking
; podcasts can be found
. Ellie 2.0 Radio highlights various idealists and my work as a “practical idealist” trying to change the world for the better. Recent shows include the intersection between religion and idealism, which features an interview with my Zen Buddhist teacher Bussho Lahn. (August 6) and how but for Max Yasgur’s idealism, Woodstock (that is, the famous Woodstock art and music festival) would never have happened. (August 13).
I took a wonderful road trip to Grand Marias, MN with my twenty-six-year-old daughter Meredyth in late June, which I document with my August
Lavender Magazine column
aptly named, “Road Trip.” (Reader reactions have been amazing!) On a separate note, I wrote a
, “What Transgender Humans Might Offer for Healing America”; check it out and let me know what you think!
Past and Upcoming Talks/Trainings and General Stuff:
I’m just back from two talks in lovely-but-steamy Phoenix/Scottsdale. Coming up are all-day trainings for a charter school in the suburban Twin Cities and speaking to US Bancorp in St. Louis in mid-September. After that, I go to Brainerd MN to speak at a human resource manager conference one day and a US Probation officers retreat the next. While in Brainerd, I’ll also present to the community at large in collaboration with WeAreBrainerd. Love it that I will be in greater MN—where there is so much work to do! On the horizon is human inclusivity training for the Bushnell Performing Arts group in Hartford, CT. And, I’ve finally updated my Upcoming Engagements page—click
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.
Encouraging Open Hearts and Thriving Human Spirits
Human Inspiration Works, LLC: We make "inclusion" an action word