writer, lawyer, human
Human Inspiration Works, LLC
May 2018 Vol 3 No. 5
Inspired by the words and actions of Robert F. Kennedy
Spiking My Idealistic Heart
I’ve often written about being a hopeless idealist and how my work is informed by the words of Dr. King and Robert F. Kennedy (the “Special K’s”) who taught that we each have an obligation to be there for other humans, especially for those who lack voices of their own. Every talk I give, every training that I do, is against this backdrop.
Thus, you may understand how my idealistic heart spiked wildly last week when I was given an extraordinary introduction to a group of Ramsey County (St. Paul, MN) managers and supervisors before training them on Gray Area Thinking®. The person who introduced me, Elizabeth Tolzmann, Ramsey County ‘s Director of Policy and Planning, had gone through my Gray Area Thinking® training last year when she worked for the Bloomington, MN city government.
At first, Elizabeth’s introduction included the usual: my education, experience as a trial lawyer and nonprofit executive director, and my inclusivity work now. However, just when I thought she was done, Elizabeth diverted and pointing to a screen, clicked on the accompanying image. She then related that because of Gray Area Thinking®—and specifically, the Four Commonalities where I speak of seeing the restaurant “water pourer” as human “just like you”—she had started a practice of tipping housekeeping staff at hotels where she’s a guest. The photo is proof of just that.
I was so very touched by Elizabeth’s story (and I have her permission to share). For me, someone who lives and breathes changing the world nearly every waking moment, to hear that my words rippled to another human who then
acted in response to those words,
well, it doesn’t get any better than that. I was so very grateful (and humbled) that Elizabeth would share her story. I was also so touched that I was actually a bit speechless. (I know, really Ellie? You?)
We all ripple to each other—in good and sometimes bad ways. My goal is to have the good far outweigh the bad. I know that you reading this have the same goal. Shall we go forward doing just that, together?
See all humans. Have compassion. Allow your empathetic heart to be open. We will get there, I promise.
Pedals for Paul: Our Empathetic Hearts Show Up Again
A hallmark of my work is conveying that almost everyone has an empathetic heart; it’s just that most of us are scared to death to allow our hearts to open because we fear getting caught up in the unexpected or the costly if we help another human, especially a stranger. However, when shown the way, we humans respond with empathy time and again.
A recent example of this happened with a
fundraising effort to help buy a new bicycle
for a 43-year-old Buffalo, Minnesota man named Paul Pykonnen. Paul, born in Liberia, was adopted by a Minnesota family as a baby; he was greatly malnourished before the adoption (he weighed only 8 lbs. at 6 months old), resulting in a disability that affects his reading and speaking skills. He’s worked as a cart coraller/utility worker at the local Mendards for at least 10 years. Paul doesn’t have a driver’s license and commutes three miles to work by bike year-round, including in Minnesota’s very unfriendly winter months.
By all accounts, Paul is very well-liked by Mendards team members and customers. “He’s one of the most powerful and amazing young men I’ve ever met,” said one customer. The store manager, Kevin Dahl, said of Paul: “He’s honest as the day is long and you can’t get him to frown. What you see is what you get.”
It was at Mendards that customer Todd Sandberg first met Paul, who was struck by Paul’s friendly demeanor and hard work. Last summer, Sandberg encountered Paul riding his bicycle with multiple bags of groceries hanging from the bike handlebars. Sandberg stopped and gave Paul a ride home with the bike in the trunk of Sandberg’s car. It was then that Sandberg noticed that Paul’s bike was falling apart. Sandberg then took Paul’s bike in for repairs but eventually concluded that Paul needed a brand-new bike.
At that point, Sandberg launched a GoFundMe drive to raise $1500 for a new bike. Within 72 hours, nearly 700 people had donated more than $24,000 toward the bike appeal. Quite incredible and proof again that we will show up for humans when someone shows the way. The money has been used to buy Paul a new street bike and a second, “fat tire” winter bike. The extra money will be used for repairs on the home that Paul shares with his wife; any remainder will be donated to charity.
There’s also another angle to this story. A
Star Tribune piece
references something that’s incredibly enlightening; a Menards team member said this about first meeting Paul: “I was scared to talk to him at first. I was concerned I wouldn’t understand him, so I was a little standoffish.” (Later in the piece, the same team member says of Paul, “He’s just uplifting to be around. Some people come in just to talk to Paul.”)
This is how fear of “Other” separates us. As Todd Sandberg showed, once we get past our fear and see a human for who h/she/they are, we form affinity, which then allows for empathy and compassion to grow. We just need to remember that good can flow once we get past fear. It really is possible!
A Rural Texas Town Elects a Gay Mayor Who Wears Heels
As reported by
, Del Rio, Texas (a city of 41,000 situated 110 miles west of San Antonio) just elected a 35-year-old gay mayor named Bruno “Ralphy” Lozano by a margin of 62 percent. Not only is that statement noteworthy, but Lozano is known for wearing high heels in public—like in last year’s Veteran’s Day parade where women and teen girls approached and hugged him for his bravery.
Lozano had previously served in the Air Force (Del Rio is home to Laughlin Air Force base) during the “don’t ask, don’t tell” era. At the urging of former classmates at their 15-year high school reunion, he decided to run for mayor in part because he recognized he was standing on the shoulders of those who came before him. As Lozano stated: “Stonewall [the seminal LGBTQ movement event that happened in June 1969] happened because drag queens and a minority group stood up to animosity, and I had to go back in the closet [while in the Air Force] because of the same hatred. I know what that was like, and it translates to today’s campaign. I’m not going to bow down. I am who I am. Accept me or not.”
Lozano’s platform was aimed at making Del Rio more relevant for businesses and tourists with generational change at the forefront. He said,
“The Baby Boomers have been running the government over the last twenty to thirty years. Del Rio needs investment and infrastructure, flood prevention, and then they also need economic growth.
Lozano’s election demonstrates that our younger people—who are very impatient as it relates to marginalization of other humans—are driving real, lasting change. Remember, nearly two-thirds of the town voted for Lozano, an openly gay man who wears heels; use this to buoy your optimism about the future of our country. Don’t let oppression in the headlines (see Odds & Ends below) keep you from having faith in our collective good and desire for human vibrancy.
Inclusivity Tip of the Month
Fellowship Hour at Professional Conferences
I spoke at a conference of state court professionals in Denver earlier this month where the conference schedule included a sober alternative to the usual happy hour that we’re all accustomed to. The alternative, what I’ll call “Fellowship Hour” (I don’t recall the exact name of the alternative they used at the conference), overlapped in part with the conference happy hour; this was done intentionally to allow sober conference attendees to engage in networking before then proceeding to a sobriety/recovery-focused meeting. For me, this was the first time I had ever heard of the concept of a sober alternative to happy hour at a professional gathering; as someone in recovery (three years, alcohol), I thought it was a brilliant idea and great way to foster better inclusivity.
found that 10 percent of American adults report being in recovery from drug or alcohol abuse problems. Thus, the odds are good that any collection of humans (such as at a conference) will include many people in various stages of recovery. While those who have been sober for some duration be able to successfully handle any happy hour, others who are new to recovery might not. Providing a ready alternative could very well help some people stay sober.
As a side note, the Denver conference also had an organization bring in several emotional support dogs for anyone who wanted to take advantage of hanging with a pooch. Conference planners also set aside a “quiet room” for attendees needing a break from the hubbub.
Professional conferences can involve great stress for many humans—we’re put into contact with strangers and often feel pressure to network as a way of expanding business or professional opportunities. Not everyone can handle that stress successfully; why not build into a conference schedule options for folks who have different needs rather than simply assuming everyone is alike?
Odds and Ends
There are so many things I want to share, so bear with me please. This is an extra-long O&E.
Doctors at the William Beaumont Medical Center helped a 21-year-old service member who lost her left ear in an auto accident by growing a brand-new ear under the skin of the service member’s forearm (you read that right). See the
Second Darn Wonderful:
Check out this
of a New Delhi, India engineer who rescued a puppy from a filthy drainage pipe using a drone.
Right Place, Right Time, Right Cop:
A mother whose 3-month-old baby boy became unresponsive flagged down Marion County Deputy Jeremie Nix on a Florida roadway; as
the video reveals
, Deputy Nix sprang into action and when he couldn’t revive the baby, he drove “hot” to a nearby hospital where the baby was revived and is expected so fully recover. Because of our focus here, I need to note the deputy is white and the family is black. Color obviously didn’t matter.
But Then Again, Sometimes Color Does Matter:
I’m sure that many have
read about the three black women
who were surrounded by police cars and a police helicopter as they left a residential area Rialto, California Airbnb with their luggage. The reason? A white woman in the neighborhood reported “suspicious activity” because the black women didn’t return her wave. Really?
Publishing the Words of the Last Slave:
On May 8,
Harper Collins published
posthumously Zora Neale Hurston’s book,
Barracoon, The Story of the Last “Black Cargo,”
which Hurston wrote in the mid-1930s after meeting 86-year-old Cudjo Lewis. Cudjo was brought to America in 1859 on the last-ever slave ship, the
, and was in slavery until freed in the Civil War. At the time of Hurston’s interviews, Cudjo was the last known living former slave. (FYI, my Ellie2.0 Radio show on May 21 will be about
as a black female writer in the first half of the 20th century.)
Not Good for LGBTQ Humans:
Last Friday, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin
signed a bill
that allows private adoption agencies and foster care placement programs to discriminate against LGBTQ couples if placing a child with those couples would violate the agency’s “written religious or moral convictions or policies.” This came the day after a National Day of Prayer event where President Trump
signed an executive order
establishing a White House “Faith and Opportunity Initiative” which establishes a panel of religious “experts” to report on, among other things, “religious liberty” and “strengthening marriage and family.” The Order requires each Executive Branch agency to identify a religious and faith-based liaison and permits referrals of religious liberty infringements to the Attorney General. For LGBTQ humans, the handwriting is on the wall re: upcoming marginalization based on religious liberty grounds.
A 5-Year-Old Boy Loses His Police Officer Father to Violence and Returns to School with This as Support:
It’s probably small consolation to the boy but certainly, empathic hearts abounded
Relevant to Transgender Parents and Kids:
“Cub Reporter” Michelle Cohen alerted me to what looks like a
delightful book about a 10-year-old transgender
girl struggling for identity; have you heard of
by Alex Gino? The book is now the subject of controversy in an Oregon school-based reading competition. See more here.
On Friday last week (it does appear last Friday was not a banner day for LGBTQ humans), following a lawsuit by four female inmates identified as “evangelical Christian women,” the Trump administration
rolled back protections for transgender inmates
in federal prisons; the Bureau of Prisons will now use “biological sex” rather than gender identity/gender transition status as the basis of where to house trans prisoners. This will inevitably lead to more rape, assault and murder of trans prisoners. Just saying.
Prisoner Rights—Solitary Confinement:
My thanks to Zen teacher, Tonen O’Connor of Milwaukee for alerting me to
this high production video
she helped create with the Wisdom Organization re: solitary confinement within the Wisconsin prison system: “Like an Animal in a Cage.” It is well worth your time to view.
Wedding Photo in a Class of Its Own:
You’ll have to click to
Maxine Waters Won’t Have Any of It:
If you have a daughter (or a son) whom you want to teach how to stand up to oppression, please have them watch
this video of 79-year-old California Congresswoman Maxine Waters
as she refuses to yield in a debate over rolling back anti-discrimination protections on auto loans (data show that minority loan applicants regularly experience discrimination in these loans). This is what it looks like to speak truth to power.
My 28-year-old daughter Kate, a writer like me, is a freelancer for
where she reviews books. She also has an entertainment-review website 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
What If It's Us
by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera. In this book, Arthur meets Ben while he is sending back his ex-boyfriend's belongings at the post office. He misses his chance to introduce himself, but fate has a way of bringing them back together. This book is insanely cute and a super quick read.
“Hidden Edges Radio” and “Ellie 2.0” Shows:
My April 30 Ellie2.0 Radio show featured a piece on Johan Van Hulst who helped save 500-1000 Jewish babies and children during WWII; on May 7
, I spotlighted the work of Harry and Bertha Holt, who singlehandedly created a mechanism to allow for international adoptions in the U.S. (and through whose agency, Holt, we adopted Kate and Meredyth). You can access the Ellie 2.0 Radio
. On May 6, I spoke to St. Paul legal incubator executive director Karin Ciano on
Hidden Edges Radio
The title of this month’s
“Ellie Gets Braces!”
is self-explanatory; yes, at age 61, I now have braces. God. But, at least I’m still kissable (you’ll have to read the piece to understand that part of the story…).
Much to my great regret, I’m losing my rock star social media director Renee Grassi, who in her own right has become a speaker on library access to persons with disabilities. (Check out her website here.) I am now looking for a full-time employee who can help not only with social media but with other aspects of what’s turning out to be a very robust speaking, training, and idealism-fueling platform. Please share this shout-out with people whom you think might fit the bill.
Continuing Shout-out for Interesting Guest Leads:
Hidden Edges Radio focuses on how we’re all trying to survive the Human Condition. I like to bring in guests who have shown personal grit and resiliency. If you know of people with stories along these lines, please tell me about them (they can be anywhere in the U.S.—we can air telephone interviews) at
Past and Upcoming Talks/Trainings and General Stuff:
I’m about to embark on a whirlwind that in the span of two weeks will take me to speaking events in Norfolk, San Francisco, Seattle, and NYC. I’m worn out just writing about it. But really, it’s all so good and I am so incredibly lucky, You can check out the
calendar of my upcoming engagements here
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