Older Folks Talking: It’s Probably Not What You Think

I’ve pretty much always been a talker, but, at 67, I noticed that I talk in more detail than I’m used to doing.  It’s not that there is more detail, it’s just that I’m willing to share more.  I wondered about it at first.  I’d catch myself giving a rather long explanation of something that seemed rather simple.  I’d catch myself and say to myself, “Whoa, Girl!  They’re gonna think you’re losin’ it!”  I wondered if it was because I was getting older or senile or some other dreaded thing that we think about older people.  I thought about it a lot.

Finally, it dawned on me what it is was none of the things I was thinking at all.  I believe it is that as we get older, I think we realize how much seemingly random things are connected in ways we never contemplated and in order to truly understand and appreciate the beauty of how they fit together, you have to see the whole picture.

When you’re younger, you’re usually just in a hurry and want to get things done and over with and move on to the next thing.  I get it.  But, as you get older, you (hopefully) tend to grow in wisdom, in grace, and in understanding.  You realize that none of this thing we call life, in all its glory, can be taken for granted.  You realize that you didn’t do this all by yourself; you didn’t get here only by your individual efforts.  You realize that tiny little things can make the difference between you taking that trip to Africa and not doing so, but what a time you had for that ten month period with your three daughters.  Or that the trip with them to Russia could have not happened if you hadn’t happened to hear about the unbelievably cheap airfare advertised on the random radio station you were passing through on the way to your favorite one.  Or that if you hadn’t missed your confirmation call to the airline for your return flight from Egypt because you were too busy lolling by the pool contemplating the awesomeness of the Pyramids you could see from your lounge chair, you would not have needed to take the trip into Cairo from Giza and would have missed the marriage proposal you ended up getting along the way.

It happens all day, every day, and we just rush through it in the crush of life.

In the rush of getting it all done and arranged, we don’t seriously think about what it took to get to that final thing we did, or saw, or wanted, and got.  In our younger years we just talk about the thing itself.  “We went to Africa for 10 months on a Fulbright Fellowship.  We took a family trip to Russia soon after the country finally opened up under Glasnost.  I married an Egyptian I met when I took two of my daughters to Egypt (yep, true story).”  Like the proverbial frantically teenage boy eager for sex, we just get to the heart of the matter and get it over with.  As we all (hopefully) know, that changes as we get older and learn that it is much more enjoyable if we simply take the time to enjoy it.

Turns out, the same thing goes for sharing information and our stories.  It may seem like we’re older people just rambling on about some irrelevant thing or other.  We’re not.  Or, at least not all of us.  We are sharing with you the true enormity of so many things coming together to get you to the final destination of the story that are important for you to understand in order to fully appreciate it.  If I just ask you, the machine repairer, to repair this sewing machine, you will do it.  However, if I tell you that it is the sewing machine that my Grandma was given by her Grandma who was a slave for 50 years before Freedom came, and she used the sewing machine to earn a living once she was on her own, chances are, repairing that sewing machine will seem a bit different to you.  You won’t be so quick to rush through.  You will handle it with tender loving care.  You will appreciate that you were able to help make a piece of history even better by your efforts.

That isn’t rambling.  That is providing context that helps you appreciate the world a little better.  Makes you feel better about what you do.  Makes you think about the issue of slavery in a new way connected to people, not just dry facts that you had to learn because they might show up on a test.  Or worse yet, something uncomfortable that people keep bringing up and you don’t understand why because it happened so long ago and has nothing to do with today.  You now see that your standing here talking to me about it, and about my Grandma who actually lived and dealt with that person who had been enslaved makes it a bit more real and definitely shortens the time span you thought existed between slavery and today.

Yep, me yammering on and on does all that.  So, you just might want to listen a little closer the next time some older person does what you consider to be going off on a tangent or talking to you about a lot of irrelevant stuff.  Listen.  You just might learn something you didn’t expect.


Journey Helpers

I went into the garden this morning and began to putter seriously. Climate change has made it so it is hard to know when it’s safe to do what I’ve done for decades. Here in the south, in the past few years we’ve had startling changes like snow in March or, as this year, seriously cool temperatures until nearly the start of April. At 67, and having been a lifelong gardener –I did it with my Ma from the time I could walk— my body tells me when it’s time to go play in the dirt. I say it lightly, but I’ve learned over the years that dealing with the earth is a necessity for me. But, climate change is seriously messing with my gardening circadian rhythms, so legislators need to get it together.

At any rate, I finally went out to play after a long, cold, weird winter. As always, the first thing is surveying what’s gone on in my months of absence. The next is to clean out a few pots I can throw some color into. I’ve gotten to the place where I sort of creep up to the tasks rather than taking it all on head first, because I don’t want it to seem to overwhelming. I finally had to tell myself I wasn’t a 20 year old gardening huge spaces like I used to be more than willing to do.

One of the reasons I love gardening is because, like quilting, it is a metaphor for life. How could it not be? How can you see your one season black-eyed Susan vine give off seedlings that stubbornly last for years and not learn the lesson that just because you see something you want doesn’t mean you should get it without knowing the consequences before you do? Or looking at a forlorn neglected, totally overwhelming mess of a garden that reflects the heartbreak that caused withdrawal from something you cared so much about and have the cause of that heartbreak work tirelessly to bring it back to life, and not learn about, among other things, forgiveness and resilience? Or watching a tiny pot of eucalyptus you thought would make a nice addition to your herb garden, grow to a 50-foot tree and not learn something about all sorts of things?

So, my gardening time is not just about the flowers. It’s about life. The flowers and veggies are just the cherry on top.

So, I was cleaning the heavily mildewed north-facing side of my favorite wind chime this morning, when I thought about a conversation I’d had with my oldest daughter the night before as we chatted during my granddaughter’s 12th birthday 6-girl sleepover (!!). My daughter had come into a pretty substantial inheritance a couple of months before. and while, as a divorced mother of 2 (with no child support) elementary school teacher, she is extremely fiscally conservative, she’d (thank heaven) kept enough of the money available to do some things she had never been able to afford before. One of them was to buy this wonderful cooking pan. I loved the pan and it would get good use by her.

But, when she told me about the pan, something seemed off. Then she told me that when she’d put the $40 pan she’d have forever in the Walmart cart, her daughter had essentially her, with all the wisdom learned in her 12 years of witnessing her mother’s fiscal conservatism (i.e., “Put that back. We can’t afford it.”), that she was losing her mind buying something so expensive.

So, my strong, independent, kick-ass daughter was second-guessing her choice to spend $40 she could now well afford, on a cooking pot she would keep the rest of her life. Because a 12-year-old questioned it.

I thought about that while cleaning the wind chime because in some ways, I totally got it. I am not a conspicuous consumer. I have driven a Volkswagen Beetle for the past 18 years (and live it! Tho I hate its origins). I don’t spend loads of money on clothes, jewelry, high priced food (organic excepted!), shoes, or many other things that it astonishes me that people do. How can someone pay $800 for a pair of shoes? Or even $200 for a pair of sneakers?! But, last night I ordered over $200 worth of flower plants from a favorite gardening catalog.

And the wind chime I was cleaning as I thought about this? $300.

Yep. A $300 wind chime. I didn’t even know they existed. Until, while browsing in my favorite (regrettably no longer in existence) gardening store destination (actually, an outdoor gardening selling place rather an actual store. It was awesome!) I followed my ears to the most glorious sound I can ever remember hearing (outside the sound of my 3 daughters’ first cry after birth). It was absolutely celestial. Deep. Clear. Unbelievably mellifluous. Amazing. Then I saw the price tag. I was so sure it was a mistake until I asked the owner. Nope. It was correct.

How could it be?! It was a wind chime!? Talk about sticker shock.

I hated to leave it, but I did. There was no way I could spend that kind of money on such a thing.

But, I couldn’t get the sound out of my mind. So celestial. So rich. So sonorous. So transcendent.

I went back to see if the sound was as wonderful as I remembered. It was. Perhaps even moreso. Parting with it was like leaving a dear friend. The sound was a sound that elevated me. That reminded that I was a heavenly being having an earthly experience. It reminded me of my spiritual connection to the Earth and to humanity. It was more than a wind chime. It was a spiritual reminder to my higher self.

I bought it.

Not only did I buy it, but as I realized as I cleaned it this morning, I have never had one second of regret about buying it. Not one. And after all these years, it never ceases to do what it did that first day, remind me of my higher self.

Life is too short to deprive ourselves of the things we legitimately believe fill a genuine desire. I’m not talking about buying trying to be better than the Joneses type stuff you can’t afford in order to make yourself seem important in the eyes of others. I’m talking about things you genuinely want that you think are helpful in your journey in some way. Even if it’s to help you more efficiently or happily perform the tedious daily task of cooking a nutritious meal for your kids every day or a reminder of connecting yourself to your higher purpose.

This is your unique journey. No one can dictate what you need for it or how to do it. There’s no telling what may help you with that journey along the way. No one else may ever understand how the me they know who would never buy an expensive car could spend $300 on a wind chime. But then, they don’t have to. They didn’t pay for it, I’m not asking to borrow grocery money from them because of what they consider a frivolous purchase, so what’s the issue? It’s my journey and no one can dictate what I need to help with that journey.

And so it is with you.

Awesome Growth


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I have been on 7 planes in the last three weeks. One of the planes was headed to Florida. It’s spring break time (actually, I was headed there for spring break to meet up with my family) so there were several college students headed south to catch some sun and a break. Being on the plane with the students made me think about my own plane rides back and forth to college in Ohio from 1968-70. What a big difference 50 years makes. Wait! What?! 50 years?!!!! Where did it go?!!

Anyway, one of the other things I was thinking about in this context was the diversity of the flight attendants. On the flights I had a female attendant who looked to be in her 50s. I had a few male attendants. A gloriously effeminate male, a flight attendant with an accent, a flight attendant who was clearly overweight, and several who were very brown. All were wonderful at their jobs. What a difference from when when I was flying on planes as a student back when the student fare (do they still have that?) for the flight between DC and Toledo was $14. Airlines had strict rules about who could be flight attendants. The rule was pretty much that you had to be young, good looking, thin, white, and above all, female.

Back in the day, Southwest Airlines, one of the flights I took, was sued by males wishing to be flight attendants but not allowed to be because they were male. Southwest argued that being female was a bona fide occupational qualification for being a flight attendant. Thank heaven the court disagreed. Now, one of my students told me her Southwest Airlines flight attendant was a male with bright blue hair. I love it.

None of the attributes that I named about who my flight attendants were this time around did a thing to get in the way of them being perfectly fine flight attendants. (What makes us think we should try to fit people into molds to make ourselves feel more comfortable?)

I could not be happier that times have changed such that they are now able to do so.

Life: it’s what happens while you’re making other plans…


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I just realized that my last blog post was 15 months ago, just after the U.S. Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision.  I knew it had been a while, but I didn’t realize it had been that long.  Life.  It’s what happens while you’re making other plans.  I know by the date that I was taken away because of writing a book on slavery.  I am glad to say I finished it, and love it, but in the end I realized it wasn’t the  book I actually wanted or needed to write.  I’ll still let it go out, but I have to do the others now too.

I always feel like people forget when writing a blog that not everyone follows it like a journal.  That means that many who see your entries may have come upon them because of doing a search, so they don’t see your work from the beginning, but just whatever they fished for.  That means that saying you haven’t written in a while is meaningless to them because they weren’t looking at everything, but only the entry they happened upon in their search.  So, I rarely do this.  But, I will this time.  I also do not treat my entries as journal entries.  I tend to write about bigger, more overarching issues.  This time, since it’s been so long, maybe not so much.

So incredibly much has happened until I can’t believe I haven’t written about it.  Not just the usual, “my daughter and I went on an awesome trip to Aruba,” which we did, or “I went to DC for the 15th anniversary of my brother’s church founding and pastorship (Good Success Christian Ministries in Washington, DC),” which my daughter and I did after Aruba, before returning home, or “I’ve now lost 92 pounds since beginning my weight loss journey 3 years ago,” which I have, or even, an “I still get up at 3:30 am each morning to exercise and go to the gym 3 days a week from 5-7 am,” which I do.  All this and more has taken place and each is really neat, but there are other issues and things that have been so colossal that each would be an entry unto itself.

For instance, I was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this past July from Georgia’s 10th Congressional District.


Not bad for someone who could not have told you she even lived in Georgia’s 10th Congressional District before that.  For me, it was about the historic nature of the event and wanting my descendants to know that black folks were there.  I get so tired of looking at photos of significant events and wondering if black folks were there.  They must have  been, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at the photos or reading about the event.  It’s like we did’t exist. I hate that. And it can be said of other “out” groups also.  Take pretty much any significant event you can think of, and we’re simply not in the picture.  Both literally, as well as figuratively.

This was starkly brought to my attention in 1976 as the country was preparing for the Bicentennial of the US.  Sources called for memorabilia and photos and anything else that could be dated to 1876 or 1776.  Even though we’d been here by the millions, nothing I saw reflected it.  I knew then, at age 25, with no children and not yet even married, though I would be in 2 months, that I would let that end with me and my descendants.  I already had a sense of history from a very young age and did things like write my name in my books because I LOVED reading and I knew that one day I wanted my children to see my books and see that I read books, and I wanted them to read and read my books also.  My oldest daughter, the only one with children, has commandeered my entire collection for her own two children, my grandchildren, just as I knew would happen when I was 10 and wrote my name in them.  If my other two daughters have children, the three of them will just have to work out the issue of who gets what.  “My name is Bennett and I ain’t in it,” as we say in our house.

In 1976, I brought tons (16 cases, if memory serves…) of Bicentennial commemorative Mason jars with the Liberty Bell on them (yes, I still can my own tomatoes today and put up 36 jars just this summer), many of which I still have today, 40 years later.  I no longer use them because they are for my descendants, for when the Tricentennial comes around 60 years from now, so they won’t feel the exclusion I did in 1976.  I bought so many because I knew that once they were gone there would be no more and I knew that if they had to last for 100 years, I’d better stock up.  Folks see you can your own goodies and have no compunction about asking for them and they rarely bother bring back the jars.  Out of all those jars 12 in each of the 16 boxes), I only have less than a dozen left today.  But, I digress….as I usually do….  🙂

My descendants will also have my quilt commemorating the trip my sister, Brenda Watkins, and I took to the Democratic National Convention in Denver in 2008 to just be in the same place as history if the first black presidential nominee was selected to represent a major party.  We were blessed enough to actually get tickets to get in to see Barack Obama’s acceptance speech.  Not bad for going to Denver only knowing two things: 1) the Convention was being held there, and 2) we wanted to breathe the air of the place where such an historic event took place.  To get there and discover I knew at least four people there (three of them delegates), one a former student, another a law school mentor, and end up in the enviable position of  obtaining not one, but two sets of tickets to get in to see the acceptance speech, was beyond blessed.  My quilt includes digital documents and photos printed to fabric, including photos of my sister and me, those who got the tickets for us, buttons, napkins and T-shirts of the event, and even the daily emails I sent to my family about our adventures each day.  Now, having seen that process up close for this year’s DNC, I realize even more how extraordinarily lucky we were to be able to get tickets, then, once there, seats for the extraordinarily historic event.  It added to it that Obama’s acceptance was on August 28, 2008, exactly 40 years, to the day, that Bren and I, along with others of our family, attended the historic March on Washington at which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech.  I had been only 12 at the time.


This time around I did real-time Facebook entries everyone could follow instead.  (https://www.facebook.com/dawndba)  And this time around, I was a delegate, not just someone who came to breathe the air.  And this time, while my sister, Bren was once again with me, from Glenn Dale, MD, we were also joined by my sister Gale Harris Pinson, who came from Houston, TX for the event.  We had a blast.  We ended up doing the neatest TV interview about being at both events, that ran on the 4 and 6:00 news in Atlanta, with interspersed clips of the 1963 March. http://www.wsbtv.com/video/local-video/dnc-convention-heads-into-second-day_20160819182033/426604972


Not only did I get to, for my descendant’s sake, cast a vote for the first female to be nominated for president of the US by a major political party, but I got to feel the most comfortable I have ever felt in a public space.  I got to actually feel what the world could feel like if people just loved and accepted each other for who they were—my lifelong goal and what I work for each and every minute of each and every day in some way, shape or form.  I got to feel what it was like to sit in a room where important folks of all kinds for one reason or another were on a stage talking to the entire world, and they talked about the importance of love.  I got to feel what it was like to be interviewed by a Chinese news station, National Public Radio’s Marketplace program, my own state’s Atlanta’s WSB  Channel 2 Action News, and show up on CNN, ABC, NBC, and CNBC—none of which I would know or see except for people calling, emailing or texting to let me know what they had seen, and even screen capturing it for me and sending it to me.  I got to spend a few very precious moments with my all-time favorite hero, Rep. John Lewis, the Civil Rights icon—a word I rarely use. It was truly, truly awesome.  My descendants are and will be, for the ones I will not live to see, proud.  They will feel included.  Unlike me, they will know black folks were there, somewhere  in the frame.

I also had the unbelievable pleasure of being presented with the Faculty of the Year Award two weeks ago during the annual Women’s Faculty Reception put on by UGA’s Institute for Women’s Studies. The introduction, by Dr. Nichole Ray, who I had known since she was a student, was such an unbelievably realistic picture of my life and work that it just took my breath away.  As Nichole gave her intro there was a slide show of me being shown.  It was all I could do to keep my composure.  It was like being at a funeral and having your life review—-without the sadness, of course.  The standing ovation after Nichole’s introduction began before I could even get up from my seat and continued until I arrived at the podium and said “Y’all really need to sit down.”    You can imagine what this must have been like for someone who, at 65, is still embarrassed to have her family sing happy birthday to her.  Even though I know it was all sincere, and if I were able to step outside myself and be objective, or if they were talking about anyone else with my record, I’d know it would be very well deserved, it is hard to accept when it is just for me doing what I do every day.  It was a tremendous honor and I do so appreciate it.


That same evening I was blessed to host in my home the first gathering of the University of Georgia’s black female faculty.  Amazing gathering!!!!  I can’t believe we’ve never done it before! There was only one I can think of when I came 28 years ago, and now there are over 50!!!


Since my last entry, last fall I had the truly unbelievable pleasure (not that the above wasn’t…) of being one of only ten recipients of the national Elizabeth Hurlock Beckman teaching award.  It comes with $25,000 to do with as you please.  Far more exciting to me is the fact that the Beckman award comes from having a student you’ve had who has done something truly significant in the world attributing their success, at least in part, to what they learned from you. My former student of 20 years before,  developed the ML4 foundation that does genetic testing for families all over the world (http://ml4.org).  He said I taught him the importance of standing up for those who didn’t have a voice.  Amazing.  The money?  I didn’t spend a penny.  I gave some to his foundation, and the rest I used to fund an endowed scholarship for students at the University of Georgia who engage in diversity and inclusion efforts across the traditional boundaries. (http://gail.uga.edu/DrB-ABuildingBridgesScholarship).  Please donate!!  🙂

I was also totally taken by surprise when, in May, in support of students, I attended the Student Government Association’s faculty dinner.  I hadn’t looked at the program I received when I walked in and did not realize that I had been chosen as one of their ten Outstanding Faculty of the year awardees.  I was shocked. Then, again embarrassed, because the recommender, who happened to be president of the SGA and one of my students, had to read the essay he had submitted to the awards committee when he nominated me.  Again, it was all true, but I was floored and embarrassed as I sat here between the university’s president and provost.  He began by telling everyone that since I read a poem at the beginning of each class, he had written one for me: “Roses are red, violets are blue.  If I could have anyone be my advisor and guide for life, Dr. B-A, it would be you.”  The crowd was blown away.  So was I.  And that was before he even read the essay that got me chosen.  Unbelievable.

I am also tremendously excited that the new Smithsonian will be opening in two weeks!  The National Museum of African American History and Culture is finally here!  (https://nmaahc.si.edu) It is my icon, Rep. John Lewis, who pushed for it and got it up and running again after it had  been on the books for a hundred years or so.  I’ve been a charter member and supporter from the start (not the 100 year ago start 🙂  ) and when I received the invitation in the mail for charter members to attend the opening, I knew that despite my crowded schedule and the fact that I would have flown to DC just two weeks before, I had to go.  Once again, I want my descendants to know that we were there when this began.  So, once again, my sister Brenda and I are off to the races.  I can’t wait.  I even saw on the invitation that my old boss from the White House, Richard Parsons, was on the steering committee for the museum!

And last, another highlight between my last entry and now is that on Wednesday I had the absolutely distinct pleasure of being invited to come to the National Labor Relations Board to deliver the keynote for their annual Cultural Enhancement Program event.  The program committee had seen my TED Talk on Practical Diversity (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ExcDNly1DbI) and were so impressed that they wanted me in person.  This spoke volumes coming from an agency that by its very nature and what they do, is adversarial.  So, even though the only realistic time was sandwiched between my teaching days, which begin with office hours at 7 a.m and I wouldn’t get back home until very late (remember, I am in bed by 8:30 because I arise at 3:30…) I did it.  And I am so glad I did.  It was awesome and I so admire the leadership and employees for what they are doing in this area.  While the feedback was that it was tremendously enriching  and inspiring for them, being with them was enriching and inspiring for me!

I told you that I had missed writing about all sorts of things that could be entries in and of themselves.  This is one of them. This summer also saw, once again, the incredibly sad and maddening police killings of unarmed black and brown folks, and then the killing of police officers by the gunman in Dallas.  I felt like the world was on fire.  It was a really scary time.  We absolutely have to do better.

And then there is the issue of this year’s presidential election.   I can’t even go here.  Suffice it to say for now that, even with politics aside,  Donald Trump has brought the process of running for president to a new place that I am sorry to see it inhabit.  The negative tone, bullying tactics, the seeming inability to be gracious or professional, not to mention his polarizing statements that have the impact of empowering extremist groups to take their message mainstream, have all worked to, in some ways, set us back, just when we were in the most need of furthering inclusiveness. It is such a sad, sad thing that this attracted in excess of 14 million folks.  How do we get along together?  I can’t even begin to wrap my head around it.  I have to just continue to process it.

In the midst of all of this, I have also been quilting, which I have come to realize is like a type of meditation for me.  I teasingly say that “quilting keeps me sane,” but with all the turmoil going on, I have come to realize that this may have more truth than I realized.  Sometimes I feel like the woman knitting in War and Peace.  Quilting helps to create a sense of centeredness and peace for me.  There are times when I simply have to do it to settle my mind and bring me back to the center.  Since my last entry I have done beautiful work and managed to finish a couple of quilts that I like very much.  As always is the case when I am done, I wonder how it happened.  I cannot believe that I did it.  Every single stitch done by hand, and each stitch made with absolute love and gratitude.  It is sewn right into the quilt and never leaves it.  And people feel it.


One I did in memory of my Ancestors who were enslaved.  The backing flannel even has “I love my Grandma” as the design on it.  The oldest relative I have been able to find in the Census is the 1900 Census entry for my grandma’s grandma, Dinah Ratliff, who was born in Alabama in 1816 and had 11 children sold away.  This was for Dinah and the rest of my Ancestors and everyone else’s whose lives were bought and sold as if they were cows.  Seeing Dinah in the Census was like magic.  It made me understand how important it is for us, as black folks, to show up, to participate.

It still takes my breath away to know that the piece of paper I am looking at when I see that Census page I first saw decades before, was written by someone who saw my Great-Great Grandmother who was born in slavery and wrote down her information.  It makes me revere my Grandmother, who did not die until I was 17, even more, to know she knew her.

I was so grateful that I promised myself that I would one day work the Census myself.  In the 2010 Census,  when I was 59, I figured I wasn’t getting any younger so if I was serious about keeping my promise, this was probably going to be the year to do it.  So, I signed up and got a job in the 2010 Census.  It was awesome.  One of my duties was to set up a table at places like schools, the library, and the local bookstore, passing out information and answering questions people had about the Census.  I began this quilt as a tribute to my Ancestors and I worked on it while I worked those tables.  I can’t describe how fulfilling it was to sit there stitching together those tiny pieces while I waited for folks to stop by, knowing these little pieces would one day form a beautiful quilt that my Ancestors would never see, but I knew that every single stitch was made with them in mind as a tribute to the sacrifices they went through for me to be here, in the world, at that moment.  It was one of the most time-consuming quilts I have ever done.  Lots and lots of little pieces.  Each flower had 4 pieces and there were 4 flowers in each block.  Each piece had to traced, cut out, and appliquéd on. And that was just the flowers, not the block itself.  I created each block, put them all together and basted the quilt together, ready to be quilted.  Life took over and there it sat on the shelf in my sewing room until I realized that it was now 2015 and 5 years had passed.  I also realized that Dinah was born in 1816 and 2016 would be her 200th birthday.  I was not going to let 2016 go by without finishing it.  So, I got started on it in 2015, and finally finished it earlier this year.

It was a real feat.  The purple quilting, much  of  it hearts, matches the deep purple paisley of the main fabric.  I chose the fabric because it was so rich and beautiful that when I bought it, I knew I wanted to do something truly special with it.  Purple is the color of royalty and they are the royalty of my life.  The appliqued flowers represent my Ancestors’ agricultural roots which I still commemorate by gardening myself today.  I heavily and beautifully quilted it because they deserve each and every stitch of it.





So, it’s been a full 15 months, with lots and lots happening–much of which I did not even write about, but I promise to try to do better as life lets me!






Living History: A Great Day: Love Won

I cannot even begin to describe what the past few days have been like for me.  There are so many ways I could talk about this.  I’m still not sure how or even if I want to yet.  But, I feel compelled to say something.  It is too historic not to.

Imagine being in the world and being able to appreciate and understand what was going on when George Washington was elected first president of the U.S. Or slavery ended.  Or when Brown v. Board of Education was handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court.  Or the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson.  Or when women were finally given the right to vote.

Except for the Brown decision and the Civil Rights Act, you see how few and notable (what an understatement!) and far between these things are.

Come to think of it, I could add to that list, or when the first black president was elected.

There are some things that when they happen, you just know they are historic and that it is going to create a sea-change.  Friday June 26, 2015 was such a day for me.

I LOVE LIVING  HISTORY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And I am blessed to have been living at a time when many, many things have happened that have profoundly changed history in some way, shape or form.  Some come creeping in.  Some come in with a bang, but you don’t know the significance of them at the time.  And some…well…you just know when it’s happening that it’s one for the books.

When personal computers first came in, especially portable ones (hah! Portable?!  In 1982 my Osborne weighed at least 30 pounds!), I knew they would be big.  But, I was the only one I knew who both had one and thought so.  I work in a male-dominated field and when I lugged my portable computer into the office, everyone gathered around my door.  No one could imagine what I would ever want with a computer.  But, I did.  I dreamed of ditching the infernal drudgery of having to write an article by hand, give it to a secretary, complete with incessant interlineations and time lags, getting it back in typed form, physically cutting and pasting my changes as I read over it, giving it back for re-typing, then proofreading the typed version, making more cut and paste changes, and doing so ad nauseum.  I immediately saw the value of being able to type my paper, electronically cutting and pasting as I went.

For my male colleagues, typing was women’s work since all secretaries were women, so they could not imagine a time when a computer would be of any value to them.  I remember laughing to myself as computers became more and more popular and replaced typewriters, males sitting at their desks pecking away at a foreign keyboard.  Since I was female (and thus presumed to one day be making a living as a secretary or clerical), at 15, I had typing in my high school curriculum—a factor for which I will be forever grateful. It was especially helpful in law school.  😉 But, when personal computers that we cannot now imagine life without first showed up, no one had a clue that they would one day be omnipresent.  My male colleagues had no idea that they were looking at history as they crowded around my door.  To them, it was just Dawn being the outlier she was regularly perceived to be.

Hah!  I got the last laugh on that one, fellas!  😉

I can also remember the first time I saw a laptop.  I absolutely could not believe it would do what the store clerk told me it would do.  By then I had moved on to a desktop with a larger screen.  There was no way that entire desktop could be contained in this little thing I was looking at.  The store clerk laughed at my reaction and actually allowed me to take it home over the weekend so that I could see it for myself and believe him.  Enthralled that he was indeed telling the truth, I came back on Monday and bought two—–one for me and one for my partner.  I had no idea that they would one day pretty much replace PCs.  Again, history had crept in.

I’ve always loved electronics, so my kids were also the first ones to have these cute little things I found that turned out to be early versions of MP3 players.  Awesome.  Who knew we would one day all be carrying iPhones that would contain all of our favorite music in their version of MP3s?  Or before that, a WalkMan?  Or before that, a cassette player?

Having a man on the moon was one of those things that came in with a bang, and it was historic and interesting, and you knew it would change things in some way, but I didn’t perceive it as having any personal impact on my life.

Watching the election returns in 2008 and realizing around 11 p.m. that our next president would be black was a day you knew you lived history, but you weren’t quite sure what it would mean other than he had gotten elected.  But, in the days to come, it was clear that even the folks who hadn’t voted for him or weren’t sure of what his presidency would be like appreciated that history had surely been made when we lived in a country that could go from slavery to a black president in 143 years.

Attending the March on Washington on August 28, 1963 as a 12-year-old was hugely historic, and you could say it went on with a bang, but I don’t think anyone there thought it would have the kind of lasting historical impact that it did.  Nowadays when  I mention to my students that I was there, it is as if something magic just happened.  Like they saw Abraham Lincoln, or something.  Even though it was big, we had no idea at the time that it would be the historic occasion it turned out to be.

But, Friday June 26, 2015?  The day LOVE WON at the U.S. Supreme Court?  The day my first black president sang “Amazing Grace” and told white America that racism didn’t have to be big, but could be deciding to call back Johnny for that interview rather than Jamal as he delivered the eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney who was killed on June 17 when a 21-year-old white man who had sat in Bible Study with black Mother Emmanuel AME Church members for an hour opened fire and killed 9 church members because he said he wanted to start a race war?  That was one for the books.  That was one you knew right then and there would make history.  You knew that was a turning point for society.  It is now Sunday and I am still processing it all.

It was a great day.

It was a great day to be alive.  It was a great day to be an American.  It was a great day to be black.

My epitaph, whether it is on a slab of marble or simply in the minds of those who knew me, will most assuredly say, “It’s ALL about LOVE…”  I have one tattoo on my body.  In the middle of my chest I have a Maori-styled heart that I got in Maui.  Actually, after Friday, I’m thinking of getting another that says “Love wins.”  For me, life is all about Love.  Notice I capitalize it.

I am talking about universal love, not just romantic love.  I’m talking about the way you go through the world and conduct each and every interaction you have.  You do it with the knowledge that we are all human and we matter, even in the smallest ways. I’m talking about caring enough about others that you give them a smile rather than a frown, even if you don’t know them.  I’m talking about Love that takes you through the world choosing to believe the best rather than assuming the worst, but being prepared for it to be otherwise.  I’m talking about Love that makes it so that just today I spoke with each of my two former husbands and my former female partner (couldn’t get married then) and each of them was a warm, wonderful conversation, even tho our romantic relationships ended 35, 9 and 22 years ago, respectively.  I mean a Love that lets me view people as spiritual creatures whose spirit matters most, rather than physical creatures whose hair, clothing or car I focus on. I have lived that truth all of my life and tried to get the message across by example.

In the end, it is Love that rules.  Regardless of wars.  Regardless of politics.  Regardless of differences.  In the end, it’s truly ALL about Love.

In its Obergefell v. Hodges ruling the Supreme Court of the United States realized this too.

As a lawyer, I am totally comfortable with its reasoning.  I have the ability to be able to separate myself from what I want, and if the reasoning was not sound, then even though I might like the outcome, I would not be OK with it.  But, it is.  You will hear people say otherwise, but it is a legally sound decision.  That matters to me a great deal.  We live in a democracy.  We all have to take turns winning and losing.  I don’t like the idea of running roughshod over others to get where I want to go.  This was not that.  This was legally sound and imminently reasoned and reasonable.

And as someone whose longest relationship was with someone of the same gender and we raised three daughters together, for me the outcome was a good one.   Especially when, upon hearing about the Supreme Court’s decision one  daughter texted “Whooo Hoooo!!”.  The second, “Holy f*** shit!!!!!” with emoticons of hearts, kisses and all variations of couples. And the third, “It must be so wonderful to see of your hard work pay off. Knowing you have come so far and no longer have to hide….how wonderful.  F*** the closet.  Now that’s where we can put the haters.”

Friday June 26, 2015 was a good day.

Whatcha’ doin’?

I hate it when people who call me up ask me what I’m doing.

The other day a long-time friend, who I’d already asked not to do it, did it, I’m sure without thinking, then was offended when I reminded her that it is a question I’d asked her not to ask me.  When I’d told her that a few days before when she’d asked the question, and she had readily agreed not to ask, she didn’t even remember that we’d had this conversation before and she’d agreed then as well.  Yet, there she was, mindlessly asking it yet again. It seems like an innocent enough inquiry. Folks always ask it.  Most people answer without even thinking about it.  But, most people don’t care about, or attach as much significance as I do, to words.

I always knew it made me feel uncomfortable, but I didn’t really think about why. When she became offended I started thinking about it.  I realized that I am a pretty honest, straightforward person and when someone asks me a question I answer it truthfully, without even thinking.  But I realized I don’t like the idea of accounting for my activities to people and being judged about it.

Why does someone need to know what you’re doing when they call?  For me, the only reason I can think of is to make sure I’m not interrupting them by calling at an inconvenient time.  So, that’s what I ask.  “Did I catch you at a bad time?  Can you talk now?”  The simple yes or no answer is all I need.  If they want to add more and tell me what they are doing, that’s up to them and that’s fine with me.  But, they are not telling me because I asked.  What they were doing is none of my business. Why do I need to know?  Even between the best of friends, everyone has a part of their lives for public consumption and a part that is private—hopefully.  If I am engaged in a private part, and I answer truthfully, I’m divulging more than I care to.  If I don’t, I’m forced to lie.  Why should I be put in that position?

In my experience, telling someone what I’m doing usually results in them responding by commenting upon it.  That comment is usually a value judgment about it.  If I say I’m twiddling my thumbs, I get a lecture on what a ridiculous waste of time twiddling one’s thumbs is. But twiddling my thumbs may make perfect sense in light of the rest of what I’ve been doing or am getting ready to do.  Why do I need to be judged for that?  Why are we even having a conversation about it?  What does it have to do with why you called me?  I may be happy to hear your voice, but then we are waylaid by your first question about what I’m doing.  It’s not that I am trying to hide what I’m doing, it is simply irrelevant to why you called.  And if I care to share, I will.

Or, I may simply be doing something that isn’t worth talking about and I don’t feel the need to do so, but also don’t feel like having to lie to get out of talking about it.

So, save us the trouble and don’t ask.

Going with what we know


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The Huffington Post recently ran a story about unconscious bias in the workplace and how it impacts women in something as seemingly simple as the language used in job postings.   I loved the piece and thought they did a good job of addressing some of the subtleties that make outcomes for women in the workplace —or even in the job hunt—so different than that of men.

Then I read the comments posted at the bottom in response to the article.

How depressing.

Most of them were about how stupid the research was because it meant it was saying that women weren’t capable of being the things the article said were words more likely to discourage women from applying because they understood them to mean the employer was looking for a man to fill the position. One commenter even accused academics of being the reason for this foolishness.  Disturbed, I sent the link to the head of Women’s Studies and our Vice President for Institutional Diversity and reminded them that we had so much work to do, though I know they are already intensely aware.

So much of what was said in the comments was based on misinformation that after I gave myself some time to cool down, I began writing a comment myself in order to try to bring some understanding to the issue.  As is often the case, I felt like we take our own personal reality as the entire picture and run with it.  But, what we don’t know can make a huge difference in our position.  It was clear that the commenters did not have the full picture.  But, since these are not simple issues, I found that in order to do it any justice, it would take more space than a comment should.  So, I decided to blog about it and cut and pasted it here.

I had had the same reaction earlier in the week when I read the comments in the NY Times and Fortune magazine stories about the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch, finding for the employee against A&F clothing stores after the applicant sued A&F when A&F refused to hire her because she wore a hijab. The hijab was in conflict with A&F’s policy of not wearing hats, regardless of whether it was for religious reasons.  They argued they shouldn’t be held responsible if she did not tell them of the religious conflict.  But no one ever asked her about it and it was clear that the interviewer suspected it was worn for religious reasons. When the interviewer’s district manager told her the rule about conflicting with their policy and she said she thought the scarf was for religious reasons, he said it didn’t matter, it violated their policy and not to hire her.  This is illegal.

In announcing the very-rare-these-days 8-1 decision, even the Supreme Court said, “This is an easy one.” Clarence Thomas was the only hold out on the decision (it pains me to even put the world “Justice” before his name—-don’t get me started on that man…).  Let me just say that in the past 20 years he’s been on the bench, I have had reason to re-think the saying I use about there always being a bright side, “even a broken watch is right twice a day.”

Easy. As well it was. The decision totally upheld the law, as well it should. If you want to change the law, have at it but that’s another issue. In its present state, this is covered by the law and the Court was right in its conclusion (I have some issue with the way it got there and the concurrences, but that’s legal stuff).

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in the workplace on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, and gender (including pregnancy, sexual harassment and gender identity).  Other statutes have added the categories of age, genetic predisposition and disabilities to that list.  Religious conflicts in the workplace must be accommodated by an employer unless to do so would cause the employer undue hardship.  If the employer can demonstrate that it causes undue hardship based on factors set out for determining that, the employer has no duty to accommodate.

When Title VII was enacted 51 years ago, and in the ensuing regulations set out by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) the agency responsible for enforcing the law, it was clear that if  the law was to be effective then employers would not be able to use as a defense to discrimination claims reasons such as customer preference (“No one will come to our store unless we discriminate.”—sound familiar?  It should.  It’s much like the present RFRA – Religious Freedom Restoration Act laws presently sweeping the country) or marketing schemes (“We only hire females as flight attendants because we have mostly male business travelers and that’s what attracts them to us.”).  Of course, you can easily understand why.  Since Jim Crow segregation was the law of the land at the time Title VII was passed, either formally or informally, de facto or de jure, though just as ironclad, if such defenses for employers’ discrimination had been allowed, we’d still be seeing segregated facilities today.

Religious discrimination includes not only a stated preference for one religious group  or another (fairly rare), but also conflicts in workplace policies based on religion (the usual basis).  Here, it was a policy not allowing the wearing of head gear even when it was for religious purposes.  If A&F could show that trying to accommodate the wearing of the scarf caused A&F an undue hardship, it would be able to keep its rule intact.  If not, the rule has to go.  A&F could, of course, show no undue hardship since there isn’t one as required by law.  It is simply part of a marketing scheme it prefers.  Since marketing schemes that violate Title VII are not protected by law, it had no legal basis for its refusal to hire.  Simple as that. Clear as a bell.

Or so I thought.

It was clear from the 500+  comments I read between the two pieces that very few people understand Title VII and how it operates.  They took for granted that a business’s marketing schemes and policies are somehow sacrosanct and above the law.  Once they are there, that’s it.  They must be obeyed.  That is so not true. There is no legal protection for marketing schemes or workplace policies and certainly not when they violate the law. Owning a business does not give a business owner the inalienable right to do whatever they want as many apparently thought.  They also did not realize that Title VII applies to both private as well as public employers.  And let’s not even get into their belief that religion has no place in the workplace equation at all, totally ignoring the fact that it was Congress that included the category in the law on employment discrimination i the first place—for reasons that I would hope we could all agree with.

Oh, it was ugly.

It scared me to think about this being a democracy based on people’s informed input about issues and that they could be so wrong about such a basic law that has been on the books for 51 years this July 2015.  This year is the 50th anniversary of its effective date (it was passed in July of 1964 and became effective in July 1965).   Think about what happens when people vote in a referendum or vote for candidates with such little understanding of what it is they are doing—thinking they absolutely know all there is to know.  These comments were forceful and solid and stated as fact, not opinion.

And absolutely wrong.

They were based on the commenters’ total lack of knowledge of, or misunderstanding of, the law.

The emails between my co-author and I were really spirited and interesting since we author the best-selling Employment Law text in the country.  But neither of us is eggheads up in some academic tower somewhere.  We both teach and do consulting in workplaces, so we are very much in touch with those who do not know.  We get that all the time.  That’s why we do what we do.  But the difference may be that these folks making comments not only didn’t even know they didn’t know, but they were imperious about it.  They absolutely thought they had it right.  And there were so very many of them.

So, I was still reeling from that little fiasco when when I read the comments in the Huffington Post story about the job ad language.  I think that adding to my distress was that I thought I would be reading the reactions of a group of what I would have thought would have been fairly informed, discerning, in-the-know readers, given what I perceived to be the readership of all three of those outlets.  But, there I was, hit with this latest reaction to a good and accurate piece about impediments to employment for all based on the laws on the books and it too was being lambasted.

As an “academic” accused of being responsible for attention to things that impact the workplace like the unconscious bias represented by this article, I feel the need to say something. Most of us walk around in our lives experiencing our own realities and we often don’t really think an awful lot about much outside of that. Our reality is made up of our experiences and those of our friends or others we are connected to or exposed to and it is that reality that shapes our experience and our lives. Not only do each of us have different realities, but there is also operating outside of all of this, another, greater reality made up of pretty much all of it.

It’s sort of like those pictures you’ve probably seen made up of tiny little pictures that you don’t realize are separate little photos until you get up close and see it. Each “pixel” of the photo is actually a photo itself, but they all come together to make the single photo we originally see. I think we would all agree that once we see what’s going on, we now know that there are actually two versions of what we initially thought was only one.

Most of us deal with our pixel and those around us. Academics deal with those also, but they also deal with the big picture. I think we can also agree that seeing our own pixel and even those close around us gives us one version of reality, but, as it turns out, that is not the only one. The big picture exists also. If you’re in your own pixel, it makes sense that you may not be able to see all the others that make up the entire photo—until it is brought to your attention. Much like going up in a plane gives you a very different view of where you may have been located than just walking around your neighborhood.

Again, both are accurate realities, but just different ones. We have to make sure that we understand we are operating with both. What people have said makes perfect sense in the little pixel sense. They simply don’t deal with the bigger picture that academics do. Nothing whatsoever wrong with that. But, we need to recognize the difference and also that it can impact what we know.

Those of us who study these issues understand the impact of implicit bias and how adversely it impacts women’s ability to move up in organizations the way their talents, experience and performance would otherwise have them do. Because we are teaching those about to go into this world, it pains us greatly to find what we do.  For most of us there is no negative and nefarious “agenda” that shapes what we go looking for. It’s more like the other way around, in that what we find makes us want to have an agenda so we can fix it.

Having students means we have real live people who are about to experience for themselves what we discover in our research and that hurts. We know these people.  We know how hard they’ve worked over the years to position themselves in the market, what they bring to a workplace and how much they have to offer. But, we also know the overall reality of how they will often be received.

Also, as someone who does consulting in the workplace on these issues, I also get to see it from the other side.

I listen to the managers and business owners who tell me they didn’t give a raise to the next in line who is qualified for it because it’s a woman and she’s married, so she doesn’t need the money. Or that a promotion would mean she’d have to travel and if it was his wife “he wouldn’t want her schlepping around in strange airports at all times of the night.”

At the same time, I’ve had a graduating MBA student tell me she received an offer from the place she’d been interning for a year and they told her they loved her work so much that had she been a man, they would have offered to pay her 50% more. They actually told her that.  Or the one who, at the end of the post-internship offer meeting had the owner tell her that one of the things she now needed to do as an employee is to find an apartment to rent out for them to have sex. When, confused, she said she had a house and a husband, he said “Me too. What’s your point?” Let’s not even talk about the one who arrived at work the first day, only to be told by her boss that one of her responsibilities would be to let him smell her underwear every morning.

So, for us academics to discover these things through research like that which served as the basis for the piece, or whatever other ways we discover our subject matter, and to try to do what we can to make things better, including bringing it to light, then be castigated for it by the public, is, under these circumstances, simply unknowing.  That is about as charitable as I can be.

Think about that the next time you get ready to vote on an issue or even comment on something in the public sphere.  Do you really know what you need to know in order to  have the opinion you do, or are you just using anecdotal evidence that may not be the whole story?  Or repeating what you friends or family told you as if it’s fact? And certainly before you vote on something that may deprive others of a much-needed service or take away something they need, do you really have all you need to know to vote or are you just winging it, thinking you know it all based on what your friends have said about it, or that it won’t matter in the end?  If you are mistaken in something you pass off as fact,  please remain open to the idea that someone who may know more may be able to correct you.  That’s fine.  Being corrected by someone who may know more is all part of the process of public discussion of issues of the day. Lord knows, I learn from my students and everybody else in the world every single day. And I am glad to do so. But thinking your opinion is absolutely correct and not subject to correction degrades the whole process.

It is our responsibility as participants in a democracy to base our public decisions (including comments in the public sphere) on good information and analysis.  It’s the price you pay for living in a democracy.  A dictatorship makes it nice and easy.  You don’t have to do any thinking because it’s all done for you.  But, that’s not what we do in America.  We vote on issues.  Part of that is knowing what they are in the first place and engaging in public discourse.  One of the ways to get that is to be willing to put yourself out there, then be willing to change your views as you learn additional credible information that could impact your view.

Giving both your opinion as well as the corrective information should be done in a kind, helpful, non-judgmenta, and certainly non-condescending way.  It’s just providing information.  Why are so many people so negative and nasty when they do it in these public forums?  I don’t get it.  What does it cost to be respectful to someone?  Why in the world wouldn’t you do that? Why wouldn’t we want to live in a world that treats people that way?  Why wouldn’t we ourselves do it?

If we can’t use these public forums for places of a pleasant gathering of knowledge of public information and discourse, then at the very least, don’t nastily pass off what you know as absolute, irrefutable fact.

Snow Mountains….Difference….Change….Adjustment…..Comfort

What is it about snow mountains that gets me so?

I am blessed to be teaching a Study Abroad in Verona, Italy for a few weeks this summer.  Each morning, before the clouds set in over them as the day goes on, I have a wonderfully clear, unobstructed view of the panorama of the snow-covered Dolomite mountains in the distance as the backdrop out my entire window wall.  As I sit at my computer working, I just look up and there they are.  A wall of Italian hills and mountains.


When I first arrived and looked out the window, it looked like exactly what you’d expect an Italian scenery to look like: gentle rolling green hills dotted with occasional villas, the swift-moving Adige River running right there below me,  red clay tiled roofs (it’s required) and neat rows of vegetation that clearly must be vineyards. (This is one of the most popular wine-growing regions in Italy, with the winery we visited last week having over 1200 vineyards in its cooperative, alone).

This scene of rolling hills and vineyards and red-tiled roofs was charming enough.  But even moreso when I awoke the next morning and saw the mountains right where I had looked the day before and without my realizing it, they had been covered by clouds.  It just looked like the green mountains ended naturally.  Turns out there was an entirely different, much richer scene behind them: The snow-covered Dolomites!

Seeing the mountains helped with adjusting to the idea that I sort of never get over when I’m in Europe that apartments are the rule and houses are the exception.  Seeing houses in most European cities is a rarity.  For the most part, virtually everyone lives in an apartment.  Coming from the US, it takes getting used to to process that.  We think of apartments so differently.  Unless, maybe, you live in New York.  Since many of the immigrants who populated New York came from Europe, it doesn’t surprise me that the concept carried over to these shores.  But, when we think of life in the US, we generally think of houses rather than apartments.  Even though I have been to Europe and even lived here for weeks at a time, I didn’t realize how much that was in my head until I felt a distinct sense of unease as I walked along the street my first day and finally realized I was waiting to see houses in order to get a sense of judging where I was and being grounded and in my own element.  I finally realized that I wasn’t going to get that.  All there were going to be were apartments.  Much to my surprise, I had to do a mental readjustment and put that in my head with all I understood it would mean. The good news is that virtually every apartment has a balcony and virtually every balcony has flower pots hanging on the railing.  It made me miss my own garden even more.  What a delight it was to find a few days later that the windy rainstorm had left little pieces of the overhanging plants and flowers all over the street.  I picked them up, brought them home, bought some dirt and a planter and voila! I felt more at home with my little pieced-together garden!  🙂

I believe there is a reason that cafes do well in this part of the world.  In recent months I’ve read a few articles saying that they are trying to get us to that point in the US with there being a move to have us enjoy sitting at cafes and enjoying a coffee house experience.  But, I think we’re working with different realities than the cafe/coffee house societies. I think that aside from the difference in the way societies view time, family, relationships, food, and other things in different parts of the world, there is also the issue of apartment living.  In my view (and I realize I’m saying this as someone who has grown up with a house being the ‘norm’ and only having occasionally lived in apartments), if you live in an apartment, you’re more likely to not mind going out to a cafe and hanging out.  Most cafes here don’t mind, and, in fact, expect you to stay for long periods of time without buying anything more than your cup of coffee.  They even post signs saying “Aperto.”  It’s the same sign for parking your car in parking lots.  I get the hanging out.  At home, in my spacious house and grounds, with my gardens and hot tub and the gardening, hobbies and general piddling I can do, it wouldn’t bother me to stay home for a few days.  Here, I go out every day.  Just to get out of my apartment.  Of course, because they are more used to apartment living and they are surrounded by their familiar things, they may not feel the same way.  But, I certainly think there is an element of that somewhere in that mix.  I walk at least 10,000 steps every day, and sometimes do it all at home, without going out.  Here, I do it outside, even, as has been the case for the past two days, it is rainy and cool and all I have is a shawl.  I could have used the long apartment hall corridors.  But, I wanted to get out.

The snow mountains, however, help.  Just looking at them has always given me a sense of peace while at the same time being totally awesome and overwhelming.  I thought I would go into apoplexy the first time I flew over the Rockies, then landed  and saw Mount Rainier, Shasta and Hood.  It was even more intense when I took a gondola ride up the mountains in Switzerland and as we came through the clouds, saw the Swiss Alps and the Matterhorn.  O    M    G  I thought I’d have a heart attack.  I was nearly completely undone.  On my desk at work I keep a photo we took there at the top of the mountains (who pays attention to the warnings in the camera instructions about the temperature below which you can’t take a camera? Turns out, we should.  Our Nikon never worked after that.).  In the other side of the double frame is a photo of my toes on the railing of a cruise ship as I relaxed looking out at the intensely blue and beautiful Carribbean water.  For me, obth of the photos are about the enormity of nature, how insignificant we are in comparison, our existence here on earth, the vastness of the world we live in and how absolutely awesome God is.

Staring at the snow-covered Dolomites as I sip a nice cup of tea and glance over at the 15 beautiful new hearts that I managed to find in a tiny shop on a side street that I wandered into, I’m sure, in the cosmic scheme of things, just to find them to add to my collection, I am about as comfortable as I can be in a strange place where few speak my language and the customs, and even the food we think we know, are all so different.

When I asked my students what the one thing is they noticed about how different it is here, I knew precisely what the answer would be—and I was right.  The people don’t speak to you on the street.  Coming from Georgia, that is very strange for them.   I guess even though I grew up in DC, since I’ve been in the south for 33 years, it’s strange for me too.  You don’t realize how much it means until you don’t have it.  It is very strange not to speak to folks you pass by on the street, or have them speak to you or to smile or even acknowledge you in any way.  Italians are perfectly fine with it, apparently.

It is also strange to order my favorite Italian dessert, Tiramisu, and have it come with peaches and a sort of runny pudding and totally soggy coffee-soaked ladyfingers. Peaches?!  In Tiramisu?!!  Soggy rather than firm?! Turns out for them, what makes a Tiramisu is not the Amaretto and coffee flavoring, as much as the pudding and ladyfingers, so it can be anything and they call it Tiramisu the server said.  It’s also strange realizing that true Italian salad dressing is not what we call Italian dressing but instead the server sitting on your table a bottle of vinegar and a bottle of extra virgin olive oil. Period. I haven’t even seen salad dressing, as we know it, in the grocery store, where we’re used to row upon row of choices.

I still haven’t figured out what they expect you to do with that basket of slices of Italian bread they serve at every meal without them serving any butter with it.  Hmmmm…. 🙂

I promise you, I am NOT one of those people who goes to visit other countries and gets pissed off because they do not speak English or act, dress, eat, etc. the way we do. It’s just that enjoying it for what it is doesn’t mean I can’t note the differences. Like, better make sure you have your shopping done by Saturday, because unlike the US, stores are closed here on Sunday.  🙂

So, the mountains, the tea, the hearts, all become a comfort in adjusting to being in such a different place that, even if you enjoy it, is so different.

Ciao!  🙂

“Welcome to dealing with the press”….

Lee Shearer, Athens Banner Herald

Dawn Bennett-Alexander, who teaches employment law in UGA’s Terry College of Business, argued in favor of tolerance, not just for those who are different, but those who may seem bigoted to us.
“We all walk around with those things (unconscious prejudices) in our head,” she said.
It’s important to find those prejudices within ourselves, she said.
“How can you deal with them if you don’t know they are there?”

Rachel Eubanks, Broad Collective

We must take our mission statements off the paper and into reality if we expect to embrace diversity in corporate culture.
As legal studies professor Dawn Bennett-Alexander teaches, issues with diversity in the workplace are completely avoidable. Through mutual respect, and ultimately love, we can create communities that embrace personal differences as tools for our unique life purposes.

These are both quotes about my TEDxUGA Talk I gave on Friday 3/27/15 at the university of Georgia’s 4th annual TEDx UGA program.  Rachel’s is the closer one in describing my talk.

The main newspaper used words I never use to describe what I did, or to quote me.  I am VERY intentional about my language.  I NEVER use terms like “biased,” “prejudiced,” or “bigoted,” and I didn’t “argue” anything.  As the TED Talk tag line says, I simply presented to the sold-out audience “an idea worth sharing.”

I was pretty upset about it. When I complained to a friend who is often in the press about the difference between the characterizations of my Talk,  his comment was “Welcome to dealing with the press.”

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t much care, but a big part of what I consider my life’s work to be is contributing tools to enable us to have the difficult conversations that need to be held around issues of workplace discrimination.  Thirty years of doing this work, training and consulting in workplaces, speaking with thousands and thousands of people and analyzing zillions of cases, convinces me that there are some ways that are more effective at doing that than others.

Experience has shown me that using terms like “tolerance,” “bias,” and “prejudice” are words that carry lots of negative baggage.  Negative baggage has a way of shutting down communication rather than facilitating it. No one wants to be lectured to about these issues (whether they need to be or not).

I want real change.  I believe that a good deal of why people make the choices they make in the workplace is because they don’t always realize what they are actually doing.  Of course there are certainly those who do, and are hell-bent on discriminating.  But my work with thousands of people over three decades convinces me that this is not the majority.

The things managers and supervisors have said to me completely openly in training sessions without realizing it, would make your hair stand on end.  As hard as it can be to believe, they are often completely clueless.  They would never have told me if they weren’t.  We are social creatures and we do what we believe to be acceptable. Dealing with someone who is clueless is different than dealing with someone who knows and is simply bound and determined to do what they want to anyway, whether it is illegal or not as a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and related legislation that outlaws workplace discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, national origin, age, disability, genetics, and to some extent, sexual orientation and gender identity.  They should not all be treated the same.

My graduate student who interned at an accounting firm for a year was called in and praised to high heaven and given an offer of permanent employment with a good salary quote.  In fact, they told her, she was so good that if she had been a man, they would have offered her 50% more. Her boss had no clue how illegal this was.

Last semester one of my students told me his employer told him to throw away all applications with ethnic names.  It wasn’t the first time a student had told me that.  It bears out research that shows that the same resume with non-ethnic names like Emily and Brad receive 50% more call backs than those with “ethnic” names like Jamal or Lakeisha.

I was conducting a gender session for a group of bank managers when one of the males said he wouldn’t promote a female because it would mean more travel and if it was his wife, he wouldn’t want her shlepping around in strange airports at all times of the night.  All of a sudden, marshmallows began flying across the room from all directions toward him.  I had no idea what was going on.  They finally told me that they had earlier established a working rule that if someone said something with which they disagreed, rather than say anything, they would throw marshmallows.  This is how the manager found out his genuine concern for his female employees was inappropriate as a basis for decision-making about females in the workplace.  He wasn’t trying to be mean.  In fact, the exact opposite.  He simply hadn’t realized the real impact of his decision.

The same thing happened to me with a supervisor who gave me an unsatisfactory rating during an evaluation.  I had no idea why.  When I asked, he told me that he had assigned me less to do because I was pregnant and if I was his wife, he wouldn’t want me to be doing a lot of work while I was pregnant.  I had never once asked for a lighter load.  I was an attorney looking at documents, not a package handler at UPS.  I had no idea he had done this.  I told him I appreciated his concern, but I wasn’t his wife and I did not ask for a lighter load and should not be penalized on a permanent federal job evaluation because of his personal ideas about pregnancy.  He changed the evaluation.

Teaching people how to view the workplace decisions they make, then making it clear that if that is not what they intended, and giving them options for how to do what they may more likely reflect their intent, allows them the space to come to it on their own.  Experience has taught me that this is more likely to create lasting change rather than them feeling like I’m foisting my views off on them externally and they don’t get to create the change on their own.  If I’m shaming them into it or accusing them of it with those words, they are more likely to feel resentful and reject the change—even when it may be needed.

While some may say I am soft-pedaling the idea of discrimination, I assure you I am not.  I am, however, keeping my eyes on the prize. What I want is change that comes from within because people have their eyes opened and see for themselves the impact of what they may have been doing and realize they need to change their ways.  And yes, it really can—and does—happen. If using more positive and realistic language accomplishes that, then I am willing to use it.

The reason the mischaracterization upset me is because someone reading the newspaper who did not see my TED Talk, who may benefit by it, may be less likely to view it after seeing that language.  My own would be more likely to drive them to view the Talk video online and benefit by it, if for no other reason than I am dealing with the concept of using love in the context of avoiding workplace discrimination claims.  That’s a big difference.

I wrote the author of the mischaracterized piece, and without accusing him of mischaracterizing it (because to do so would likely be useless since, of course, he’d likely say he didn’t) I simply told him how different his word usage made my message and how disappointing it was to have those whose job it is to bring us the news, and in that capacity, knowing how important words are, would do what was done with my piece.  I did not hear back from him.

Like my friend said, “Welcome to dealing with the press…”

Update: Within an hour after posting this, I was at a program and Shearer walks up to me and apologizes for his mischaracterization and says he’d never gotten anything so wrong in his life and wanted to do a story on my work to correct it. When I thanked him, he couldn’t understand why I would do that when he was the one who screwed up. I told him I was thanking him because what he did was gracious and I appreciated it. He didn’t have to do it despite what happened. He seemed confused. But, the tagline for my life is “It’s All about Love…” and my reaction was love in action. You never know what life has in store for you. I was floored by what he said and did. Neat.

Selma at 50. O M G


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In a previous blog post, I said that I was “Going to Selma” for the 50th anniversary commemoration of the Bloody Sunday March with a former student, Randy Gold who I had gone with 15 years before, in 2000, and his 8-year-old, son Natanel and my 8 year-old granddaughter, Makayla.

As you know, Bloody Sunday is the name given to the events of March 7, 1965, when 600 non-violent protesters began a march from Selma to Montgomery, AL, the state capitol, to protest blacks not being allowed to vote simply because they were black. As they reached the bottom of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, they were met by state troopers who proceeded to tear gas them, beat them with clubs, fists, and barbed-wire wrapped clubs, and ride over them with horses. Two weeks later after a call was sent out by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  for people of good will to join in the march, 25,000 marched across the bridge with the protection of troops federalized by President Lyndon Baines Johnson. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed into law a few months later by President Johnson.

So, this year is the 50th anniversary of the historical event and we went.

OMG.  I am so glad we did.

Makayla and I drove the hour from Athens to Randy’s in Atlanta, and from there we had the three hour drive to Selma.  It was worth very mile.  Along the way, maybe near Montgomery, we saw a two-bus and one short van convoy with a front and back police escort.  Even though we could not see through the darkened glass of the vehicles to see who it was, we had no doubt where they were headed. We felt even more excitement as we passed by the Viola Liuzzo memorial along the highway.  You may recall that she is the white Detroit mother who responded to the Bloody Sunday violence she saw on TV by coming down to Selma when the call when out to the nation to join them for another attempted march for voting rights.  She was shot to death by the KKK as she ferried marchers to the Montgomery airport.  There is a tombstone memorial on the route between Selma and Montgomery, which is quite noticeable because it is right there on a rise beside the highway and is surrounded by a wrought iron fence to protect it from continually being defaced.  Even though we were driving on the very stretch that the marchers used from Selma to Montgomery 50 years ago, it made it even more real to see her very sad memorial there, and to remind us of why it was important of us to take time out of our busy schedules to be there.

When we got to Selma, we were lucky enough to find a parking space right behind the housing subdivision that sits just across the street from the Brown Chapel AME Church that served as the gathering point for the March 50 years ago and was where people were gathered when we arrived.  We had no real idea of what was what. Online details were pretty sketchy, but it didn’t matter.  We knew that we’d find out when we got there.  If you show up in a town like Selma, AL for something like this, you really don’t have to worry about finding your way or other details.  Everyone is there for the same thing, so information won’t be hard to find.

As it turned out, there was a jumbotron video screen set up outside the church, as it was filled to capacity inside and there were zillions of people outside. That was probably the first really big difference Randy and I noticed from when we had come 15 years ago, to what, I think, may have been the first big commemoration, when President Bill Clinton came in 2000.  That time, we were inside the church.  In fact, I think pretty much anyone who wanted to could come in.  There were lots of people there, but not like this time.

So, we found a spot close to the church and stood by the barricades blocking off the street, watching the speakers as they took their turns at the pulpit in the church.  Rev. Al Sharpton was on when we came.  Then there was Rev. Jesse Jackson.  We saw seated there Martin Luther King, Jr’s son, Martin, III, and former UN Ambassador Andrew Young. As the speaking service ended, we were well placed to see the the attendees as they left.  Radio personality Tom Joyner walked by.  Several of the luminaries got right into their cars with dark windows before we even realized who they were.  We got great pictures of Jesse Jackson working the crowd.

Unlike 2000 when the folks came out of the church and lined up to begin the march, this time, age had become a factor and a lot of the historical figures had to drive to the foot of the Edmund Pettus bridge.  There was also the logistical matter of the crowds.  Not everyone had amassed in front of the church.  As the program was going on, there were also people who skipped that part and went directly to the bridge.  It meant that the streets were not totally clear for cars because the crowds were massive.  We finally fell in and began to walk with the crowds headed toward the bridge.  As we neared it, the crowd grew.  By the time we got to where we could see the bridge, the bridge was a solid mass of people.  It was unbelievable.  It was incredible that that many people had come to show their support for the idea of freedom, justice, and equality.

Where Randy and I had been able to simply walk over the bridge in 2000, though with many others, this time we could barely move. While we easily managed a photo with Ambassador Andrew Young in 2000, it would have been more difficult this time. We inched along, tightly holding on to the hands of our 8-year-olds, lest they be quickly swallowed by the crowd.  However, the mass of people did not take away from the impact and significance of what it was we were doing.  There was still an incredible sense of occasion.  All of these people, many with matching T-shirts from their organizations touting the 50th anniversary and their organization’s support, had taken the time, energy, effort, and expense to come be here in this place at this time to show their respect and honor for those who were brave enough 50 years ago to walk in the very place we were walking, all so that they could help America live up to its promise that “All men are created equal…”

Though they were so much shorter than most of the people in the crowd, and did not know all the famous people who had been such civil rights pioneers (though we told them as we saw them), the children with us understood the import of the occasion.  On the drive home when Randy asked how it made them feel to be a part of this and to walk over the bridge, Makayla said it made her feel famous to know she walked where she had seen the people in the video marching for their rights.

It is not always convenient to be at an event like this.  Most of us go through our lives pretty much just doing what we need to do day to day.  But there are times when you have to step back and look at things from a different perspective.  Sometimes you have to live life with a sense of the history and import of the moment.  As president and CEO of an accounting firm, and an incredibly busy civic activist and father of three, Randy is as busy as a one-arm paper hanger.  As someone in the throes of working and advocating and preparing for an upcoming TED Talk that made me cancel spring break plans, I, too, am busy.  Even Makayla was leaving town the next morning with her Mom and brother for spring break in Florida.  Everyone had perfectly valid reasons not to interrupt the normal flow of their lives by going.  But Randy and I understood not only the historical significance of the event, but also our own personal historical significance since we had been at the commemoration 15 years before.  It also held special significance for me because I had been at the 1963 March on Washington as a 12-year-old, and my life’s work is in dealing with issues of social justice and diversity and inclusion.  We understood that no matter how busy we were, this was important.  Makayla, having had many, many discussions with me about these issues in her 8 short years on earth, was as excited as I was to go.

Sometimes, the significance of the event is as much—or even more—about creating the memory and aftermath as it is about the event itself.  As a 12-year-old at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963, who was just thinking it was awfully hot, there were more people than I’d ever seen in my life, and trying to figure out what the “SNCC” and “CORE” meant on the paper hats I saw people wearing, I had no idea of the profound effect that the 1963 March would have on me and my life.  Listening to Dr. King’s Dream Speech, I had no clue that 48 years later I would receive my University’s highest award, the MLK, Jr. Fulfilling the Dream Award, for building bridges to understanding.  Even Randy and I having the memory of having gone 15 years before in 2000, at what Randy says was the first official commemoration event, is an incredible memory, especially thinking about all that has happened in our lives in that 15-year span.  But, with his son and my granddaughter, there is no telling what this memory will mean for them and how it will resonate for them in the years to some.  Even if it is just as a pleasant thought, it will be worth it.  They will never again see the footage of what occurred at the Edmund Pettus Bridge that day in 1965 and not be again connected to the memory of walking over that bridge in a sea of humanity with their Dad and Nana.  That is worth what it took to make that happen.

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