February 12, 2021
How can we use mentorship to advance diversity, inclusion, and belonging? What strategies and tactics work best? Listen to this panel discussion to hear the perspectives of our alumni experts.
- Thomas Lloyd Smith MPP 1999, City Attorney, City of Antioch, California; Former Commissioner, Oakland Police Commission (moderator)
- Charles Carithers MPP 2007, Principal, Cornerstone Global Affairs
- Juana Hernández Sánchez MPP 2015, Senior Associate, HCM Strategists
- Phyllis Johnson MC/MPA 2015, President and Cofounder of BD Imports; Founding Director of Coffee Coalition for Racial Equity
- Ian Palmquist MC/MPA 2012, Director of Leadership Programs, Equality Federation
The Alumni Talk Policy series features HKS alumni in panel discussions about pressing public issues.
Good day everyone. I'm Karen Bonadio, Director of Alumni Relations, and I'm delighted to welcome you to our fourth alumni talk policies and webinar. Today's topic is on, diversity inclusion and belonging with a focus on mentoring. The alumni talk policy series features age, counsel alumni and panel discussions about pressing public issues. While we cannot meet in person, technology allows us to convene virtually, and we appreciate your patience as we navigate this event remotely.
This webinar is being recorded and closed captioning is available and can be turned on at the bottom of your screen. Today, I'm happy to introduce some moderator, Thomas Lloyd Smith, MPP 1999 City Attorney for Antioch, California, former commissioner of the Oakland Police Commission and Secretary of the HKS alumni board. Thomas, I'll turn it over to you to kick off today's important and timely discussion. Thank you.
Thomas Lloyd Smith:
Thank you, Karen, I appreciate it. Let's kick this off by tackling a few questions that are probably percolating in your mind, and then we'll have our panelists introduce themselves. First, what's the goal of our alumni talk today? It's simply to inspire and empower you to use mentoring as a means to advance diversity, belonging and inclusion in your communities. This is not a theoretical conversation, this is based on experience, real personal impact stories that have the potential to increase engagement in the activities that foster diversity, inclusion and belonging.
Secondly, you might be wondering what's the agenda and the process here today? Simply, it's around of introductions, two stories, and then Q and A. We're going to start with a round-robin of the panelists, first, they'll introduce themselves, tell us where they live and work, and what they do for a living.
Second, each panelist will share a story about a mentor in their life and the impact that that mentor had on diversity, belonging, and inclusion. And then, third, each panelist will share a story about their service as a mentor to someone else, and the impact that had on diversity, belonging, and inclusion.
They're essentially telling stories about paying it forward in that part. And then finally, we'll open the floor to your questions. So on that note, let's start with our first panelist Charles Carithers.
Thank you, Thomas. Good afternoon, everyone. Charles Carithers here, MPP 2007. I'm a principal with Cornerstone Government Affairs, a lobbying firm here in DC, where I lobby on behalf of a diverse set of clients who operate in the national security intelligence, defense, and homeland security spaces. So I am a class of 2007 graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School and their MPP program.
I started off my career in the intelligence community directly after graduate school. Spent 11 years in the IC, the intelligence community, two years with the Defense Intelligence Agency, nine years with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, serving in various leadership capacities.
I spent two years on Capitol Hill, one year as a Brookings Institution Fellow, where I advised the committee on Homeland Security and the Senate, and its ranking member, then, Tom Carper, Senator from Delaware and a myriad of national security issues. Most recently spent a year on Homeland Security Committee this time in the House of Representatives, advising Chairman Bennie Thompson, and its members on a myriad of national security issues as well.
I'm also an adjunct professor at Georgetown University where I teach a course on Congress and US national security policy. Happy to be on today's call with everybody.
Thomas Lloyd Smith:
We're going to have our next panelist, Phyllis Johnson.
Hey, thanks Thomas. Thanks everyone. Thank you for joining in today. And I just want to thank the organizers for allowing me this opportunity. I'm Phyllis Johnson, I live in Kennesaw, Georgia, I'm married to Patrick Johnson. We are both HKS Mid-Career graduates of 2015. We have three children, two sons and a daughter. And I'm a social entrepreneur who started a coffee import company 22 years ago. And as of recent started a non-for-profit organization. So I'm really happy to share with you today.
Thomas Lloyd Smith:
And our next panelist, Ian Palmquist.
Hey, I'm Ian Palmquist. I use he/him pronouns, I'm based in Washington, DC. I was a 2012 Mid-Career at Kennedy School, and have spent my career working in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender rights movement, first at Equality North Carolina for many years in various roles and eventually executive director there, and then, more recently Deputy Director at Quality Federation, which is the national partner to a network of state-based advocacy groups across the country.
I'm also the Board President of the Adaptive Leadership Networks, if there's any Heifetz and Linsky and Williams fans in the group here from Kennedy School, definitely hope to connect with you in that space as well. Thanks.
Thomas Lloyd Smith:
And our next panelist is, Juana Hernandez Sanchez.
Juana Hernández Sánchez:
Thank you, Thomas. Good morning to all my fellow West Coasters. Good afternoon to everyone else, my name is Juana Hernandez Sanchez, I'm an MPP 2015 alum of the Harvard Kennedy school based in Los Angeles, California, and I serve as a Senior Associate with HCM Strategists, which is a national public policy advocacy firm specializing in advancing education equity across the P-16 Continuum.
So in my role with HCM, I work with state higher education agencies, higher ed systems leaders, campuses, nonprofits, and advocacy groups to better advance their policy and systems change strategies in order to achieve racial equity for learners. So I'm very excited to be part of today's conversation and to share some reflections on just my personal experiences, navigating the professional world as a woman of color and as somebody who identifies as a first-generation college graduate from a working class immigrant community.
Thomas Lloyd Smith:
All right. So now we're going to move to part two. Just so you know, we interviewed a range of people and we listened to their stories and when we heard the stories of these panelists we are inspired. We believe you'll be inspired too. The first story is going to be about a story of a mentor in their life and how that advanced diversity, belonging and inclusion. Charles.
Thank you, Thomas. What comes to mind for this particular question is a great mentor who I first met when I first started my career in the intelligence community at the Defense Intelligence Agency, Dr. Lenora [Gane 00:06:55]. Dr. Gane who's also an alum at the Kennedy school. First met her, I was, we call it, I was a baby analyst, right? That's the term that is given to an intelligence analyst when they first start their career in the Intel Agency, right?
So I'm fresh, I'm green, I don't know what I don't know. And I actually met Dr. Gane in passing. I saw someone who looked like me. And for everyone who knows the national security circles, there are not a lot of people of color and especially in the intelligence community. And so I saw someone that looked like me and I flagged her down and I said, "Hey can I get your email address and grab some coffee?" Didn't know her background. I just saw someone who looked like me, and that was so refreshing.
And so, we got some coffee, we sat down and I told her, "Hey, I went to the Kennedy School," and then an instant close connection. And one piece of advi... She's given me advice throughout the years and she still does to this day, but one piece of advice that she gave me in 2008, that stuck with me was, never take any wooden nickels from anybody.
And what that means is there's going to be a time and place in your career where colleagues, or leadership challenges you on something. Now, this may come from a good space, they may just have questions about your work, how you delivered your analytical line, how you came across your judgment, your analysis, in often, not often, but there may be some times where it doesn't come from a positive place and you're going to have to learn how to navigate those waters, right?
Since there's so few people of color in national security circles, oftentimes we're extra cautious about the words we use, our demeanor, how we come across, but, you always have to speak truth to power. If you're being challenged, there is an appropriate way to talk to that colleague about how you delivered your analysis, or how you came to whatever conclusion you're presenting, and you can't let people step on you.
You have to stand strong, you have to speak your mind, and you have to be that example of a strong individual who can bet his or her own judgment. And that's something that I carried with me. And there've been a couple of times in my career, and I know my colleagues here in the test, you will be challenged and you'll be asked, "Well, I don't share the same sentiment." Or "I think you're incorrect." Or, "I don't think you're accurate." And oftentimes that's done publicly in a conference room full of people, not behind closed doors.
And you have to take a step, step back, breathe, collect your thoughts, and then present your findings on why you think you're correct, or why you think a certain situation has taken place on any given topic or any given region of the world.
And that's important because oftentimes you'll see people of color diminished in certain roles, you'll see their voices made quiet, made less prominent, and as a person of color, I lead to be an example to other people of color that I know my trade craft, I know my material and if you challenge me, that's perfectly fine. I am prepared to present my facts as I understand them and there's an appropriate and respectful way to do that. And I think that's Gane.
Thomas Lloyd Smith:
All right. So our next, thank you very much, Charles. Our next story will be from Phyllis.
All right. Thank you. My mentor is Margaret Swallow. She is a retired executive of Procter and Gamble, a University of Maryland graduate and an HBC, I'm sorry, an HBS Harvard Business School, 1979 graduate. She's a first-generation college student, the second oldest of nine children.
She sees herself as a change agent. She loves shopping with coupons. She's a woman who happens to identify as being white. She comes from a large family, now, as I said, and this is dory about her really, requires me to deliver it to you in the best way that I know how. And that is the fact that I had to take some notes this morning at 5:00 AM, because I woke up coming to the realization of who she has been in my life.
Margaret describes herself as someone that, "If you can successfully get all the kids in the car, you've accomplished your goal." When my husband, Patrick and I started a business back in 1999, a social enterprise, important coffees out of East Africa, we wanted to make a difference in the world.
Someone reached out to me and said, "There's a woman who wants to get to know you." We had a mutual friend. I knew nothing about her. So Margaret called me and said, "Would you come to Ohio and stay at our home?" It was her, her husband, Tim, and their cat, Peaches. And I remember when she picked me up at the airport, we stopped by the Kroger, we went in and she bought some cookie dough and she pulled out a coupon and she looks at me and she says, "Phyllis, you always need to save. You always need to save." You see, what I didn't know about Margaret, was that she was a superstar.
She was an angel and a superstar. After retiring from Procter and Gamble, she took a job at a non-for-profit whose job was to educate coffee farmers around the world about the quality of the coffee they produced. So, I could tell you many other things about Margaret throughout the 17 years that we had work so closely together, but I'll tell you this, she made me comfortable.
She made sure that I had a seat at the table, not as a subject-matter, not as someone to study me as this black person that I need to get to know, but someone who wanted to help me, someone who wanted to be an avid player in my life and in my relationship. She was the first person who pulled me to the side and said, "Phyllis, where are the other Patrick's and Phyllis's in coffee?"
And I thought to myself, "Who is this woman? Who is this woman?" You see, she saw us. A little bit later, I was selected to participate in Women in Coffee Leadership Program, where women from North America and Central America came together, it was a cohort of about 20 people. Margaret led that delegation.
And we had our meetings in Costa Rica once a quarter, we go there for a week. And I remember getting there, I was the only black woman, of course, part of the cohort, and I looked at the materials, the logo had a woman, images of women. One, wore their hair like me. I saw myself, I saw myself on the bag. She knew that I wasn't going to see my self in the room, but she made sure that I would see myself. One of the most difficult and trying times in my career was when I was asked to serve on the board of directors for trade association.
One of the most powerful and oldest trade associations in the coffee industry. I served on that board for six years. I was probably only one of five women who had ever had the opportunity to serve at their, a hundred plus year history. It was an old board with a lot of history and a lot of power. I being one of the diverse individuals on that board felt that it was my responsibility to help them diversify. That's what the word was, "We need to diversify, your here."
And as Ian has pointed out, I've taken a Heifetz course that you learn through the adaptive leadership course at Harvard that, "It's not your job. You have to give the work back to the team." I didn't give the work back to the team, so for six years, I plow through as if this work belong to me.
But Margaret was on the other end of the phone to help me plow through a situation that I didn't fully understand. She would grunt. She would listen to me. She would grunt in unison. I could just hear her just, she would feel the pain that I felt in explaining what was going on with me. And she would quietly say, "But Phyllis, you can't quit. You can't quit."
And that voice, that small voice, always stood with me when I would go back in that room in times when I wasn't around her. But in 2018, I penned an article that won an award and it was entitled, Strong Black Coffee-Where Are African-American? And Why Aren't African-Americans More Prominent in the Coffee Industry? Margaret was my editor and coach.
And then, in 2020, doing the racial unrest, I wrote an open letter to the US coffee industry on racism. Her voice has always been there to give me the advice on how my non-black counterparts would respond to my words, which is critical in my success.
She was helpful in carefully constructing every word that I wrote. And the open letter, as a result to that, the Coffee Coalition for Racial Equity was formed that I serve as the board president. I brought together 16 individuals from, my God, the most diverse group of individuals you can imagine. From a young black man who just loves coffee and he served as dad coffee, to an executive at Starbucks. It is the most diverse group of people, full of ideas, very dynamic that you can imagine.
Margaret was the first donor to the Coffee Coalition of Racial Equity. So you see, my mentor, she mentored me, she prepared me for a seat at the table, she helped me to keep a seat at the table, she helped me to build my own table and she helped me to edit my writings that inspired so many other black entrepreneurs, as well as other people in general.
Well, during the pandemic, it was right before the shut down, she had convinced me to go to University of Maryland, her Alma Mater, and deliver a speech for Women's History Month. It was March. And I get there and everything's going well and as I'm packing up my bag to go over across to talk to the students, I look out my window and I see the symbol of the university, which is a symbol of opportunity, freedom, especially for a first-generation college student, like myself, as one that has mentioned, herself as well.
And for the first time, as I looked out at the University of Maryland, I felt successful. In 20 years of scrapping, and trying to build a business, that moment I felt successful. I walked across the campus, everyone there knew me. Margaret had told them about me. I was comfortable. So during the pandemic, I wrote a book, Triumph: Black Brazilians in Coffee, because I asked the question also, "Where are the black Brazilians in coffee?"
Margaret edited that book and we continue our journey. So I'm going to leave it there before I get even more emotional about my mentor. And I just want to thank you for the opportunity to share.
Thomas Lloyd Smith:
All right, Phyllis, thank you for that story. Next up is Ian.
Thank you. So the mentor that I want to talk about is Carmen Vazquez. And she has been on my mind a lot in the last few weeks because unfortunately she actually passed away from COVID in the last few weeks. So if I'm a little emotional, that's going on. But Carmen was an incredible woman. I first saw her on the plenary stage at the largest LGBT advocates conference in the country when I was a college student. And I remember thinking, "Wow, she's impressive." And also being a little bit intimidated and scared of her.
She was a Bush, Puerto Rican, outspoken lesbian from New York City, 70, she passed away at 72, she was 30 years, my senior, and I got to know her in the early 2000s when we served on the board of my current organization together, actually.
She was at the New York Statewide group working on LGBT rights, and I was at the North Carolina group, and we were unlikely pair. Here I was, 28 white boy from the South and coming from really different backgrounds and Carmen really took me under her wing and taught me so much. The organization we were working on together was really in that storming phase of development, just getting started, finding out who we were, what direction we were going, who was at the table, all of those questions and going through some really challenging confrontations within the organization.
And I remember after a particularly tough meeting, Carmen pulling me aside because I think she saw my emotions were a little elevated from all of the conflict in the room and saying, "Ian, it's not about you. It's about the trauma that all of us bring into this room as queer people and as trans people. And it's about the urgency of this work for all of us. It's not about you, it's not about how you show up."
And that was so critical to me to be able to get out of myself a little bit, to really identify more with what was happening with all those folks. And Carmen was just integral in partnering to bring folks together and find a way forward. And I remember her too, because I was really young to be an executive director. And so, I felt I had to put on the suits and have my armor and be very serious to be taken seriously and Carmen also really taught me to bring the joy into the work and to relax.
I remember her, actually, after a board retreat, one night, we went out to a salsa bar and her dragging me on the dance floor telling me I needed to loosen up and swinging me around, of course, she led, I had no idea I was doing. But I remember that moment, so fondly, seeing the way she was building relationship, not just in a professional space, but finding the personal, finding that connection and seeing something in me despite the really big differences that I think we had and I still have kept in touch with her until she passed and continue to bring some of the lessons that she shared with me into all of the work that I do.
Thomas Lloyd Smith:
Ian, thank you so much for that story, and next up we have Juana.
Juana Hernández Sánchez:
Now, thank you, Ian, and my condolences to you I'm sure your mentor was smiling down with that beautiful tribute. It's been so wonderful to hear all of these different stories and there are some, I think, commonalities you'll hear in my own story. And I had a hard time at first, just thinking about one person to highlight in today's panel. I'm seeing heads nod with my fellow panelists. Since I recognize that there have been so many key individuals that have really supported and mentored me along the way, particularly at the very early phase when I was still an undergrad, trying to navigate what we call in the industry, The Hidden Curriculum of Higher Education.
And I thought that reaching graduation would be the end of that journey. But as many first-generation college graduates know when you enter the professional world, it's actually navigating a whole additional hidden curriculum and needing to understand the rules of the professional world, needing to understand the language, some of the social capital, and how people tend to operate in professional settings, which was not intuitive to me and I had never seen examples of it in my own immediate family and immediate community.
So I actually want to share a little story about my first boss in the professional world, Esteban [Alavarez 00:25:56], a man who I met as a newly minted, UCLA graduate when I was applying for my first full-time professional experience. What I learned in my relationship with Esteban over two years, working for him was that he really strove to discern his role, not just as a mentor, as one who shares information, provides examples, maybe holds a reflective mirror to you, but really also as a sponsor.
Someone who is really willing and ready to use his own position of influence and his own voice to help build you up and to help others see your potential. And before I even met Esteban in person, he was acting as a sponsor for me without my knowledge. And I say that in that I had applied for a position on his team, which was at a university after I've read the job description, and I thought that I probably met the qualifications, but the catch was that I met the qualifications based off of my work history as a part-time undergraduate, I felt that I had accumulated all of the experiences that would make me eligible.
What I didn't know was that the search committee was really looking for somebody who had all of that same experience, but in a full-time professional context. And so, before I had even met Esteban, he had to convince others at the university that in fact, my part-time student worker experience was the equivalent of what others were learning out there as full-time professionals. And he had to make the case that I did bring an appropriate level of training and competency to the work.
Had he not been in that conversation, I have no doubt that my application would have never even advanced and I would have never been hired for the role. And so, I found myself at 22, and training university where I was one of few young women of color, who, in addition to being young, I looked young, I looked probably younger than my age then as I still get to this day, and so people really doubted that I had enough background or experience to help found this academic advising center. And we later launched a variety of campus wide initiatives.
But, Esteban was, throughout the time that I worked with him constantly doing this, where he would not only help me see my potential, but really help others see that potential as well. And so I recall a time when a few months into the job, he said, "We're going to launch this Summer Bridge Program, I want you to lead it."
And I thought, "I know enough about the Summer Bridge Program, but I don't know anyone on this campus, how am I going to pull that off?" And so, what Esteban had to do for me to be successful in that role or transitioning to that role was putting his relationships on the line and connecting me to the key constituents on that campus that I needed to work with and build trust with in order to move that particular project forward.
And so I started to see that a sponsor is not only one who's willing to give you advice, but who's willing to demonstrate their trust in you by actually sharing their professional contacts and networks with you and really extending that to be something that you can then effectively use.
When I was working at the university, maybe a year into the role, we had another opportunity come up to lead a new center. And we were starting up a search process, competitive search process, to bring in the right individual for that role. And in that moment, he again turned to me and said, "I want you to lead this new office." And at 23, I didn't think that, that would be well-received on the campus community.
And so again, Esteban had to push me to unpack that a little bit and ask, "Well, why not me?" And also he was that voice again in rooms where I was not present where he would ask others, "Well, why not Juana? And I think that's a really important point because there has been an abundance of research that shows that frequently, especially when we look at the differences, the different experiences of men and women in the workplace, where we see that men are advanced much more quickly in different industries, in different companies, whether they're large corporate settings or smaller firms than women are.
And often for that is there are folks that are willing to promote and advance individuals based off their potential. Whereas for women, it's often waiting to see that record of performance. And so, that can really delay advancement opportunities for many individuals, including women. And so, I had to learn early on that it was going to take, not just me showing up every day and giving it my best effort, and performing, and over-performing, but it was also going to take people like Esteban, who could be credible sponsors and voices validating my work and not only speaking to work to date, but talking about my potential to grow into new roles.
And I think that that's something that has stuck with me throughout the years, and the decade plus that I've since been navigating my career in higher education. And I always tell people, when I talk to current students or recent college graduates, "I haven't really had a clear roadmap as to how to have influence in higher education policy, it's a niche field and it's been a non linear path, but what has been really important is to recognize that having mentors is key, but really figuring out who is willing to go a little bit further to deepen their mentoring relationship with you and be a sponsor. And again, that's someone who is willing to extend their own trust and credibility, use their position of power and influence not only to help you [inaudible 00:32:37] well." And so, I know that there're and I also aspire to be for others as I connect with others who are interested in my field. So I'm happy to share a little bit more to that as we move into the next round of stories.
Thomas Lloyd Smith:
Okay. So we've made it through our first round of stories and now this second round is really focused on paying it forward because it's great when we benefit from a mentor, but as we rise, the expectation is that we will do what's been done for us and pay it forward through being a mentor to others. And so, we're going to hear some stories now about how each of our panelists has been a mentor to others and how that's advanced the goals of diversity, belonging, and inclusion. We'll start again with Charles.
Thank you, Thomas. All of us on this panel, we love being mentors, if not us then who. We've all failed, we've all succeeded, and our experiences should definitely be passed down to the younger generations to carry the torch forward. So, I have a mentee who I'm so fond of. I mean, she is absolutely brilliant, born scholar, Fulbright Scholar, just a genius when it comes to US/Arab relations and US/Muslim relations.
And she was an intern when I was on Capitol Hill and I took her under my wing because I signed her a couple of work products and they were just stellar. Just years above what an intern, you would think would inter would be producing at that level. And so, when I would meet with executive leaders, individuals from prominent think tanks, I would have her shadow me, so she could see how a meeting is run, so she could see how to ask questions in particular way and draw out information from individuals in oftentimes when they're a little reluctant to show their cards.
So there's this one instance, we had an expert from a prominent Washington D.C. think tank, come in and speak to congressional staffers about Muslim relationships in the United States at the local level. And great discussion, fruitful discussion toward the end of the discussion, my mentee said, "No, you're wrong. This is why you're wrong." And then started to present her case and her facts and this was just a listening session, we were trying to solicit information from a subject-matter expert, so we could get her perspective and shape off views on what we might want to do legislatively, right?
But she was very embraced. Not rude, but created an atmosphere where things get really, really tense when they didn't need to be. And at the conclusion, we said our pleasantries and we escorted our subject-matter expert out, I asked my mentees, said, "Hey, let's grab some coffee off campus somewhere."
So we sat down and we got some coffee and she said, "I already know what you're about to talk to me about." I said, "Hey, I understand that you're very passionate about these issues and that you have such a rich, real, robust understanding of Muslim/US relationships at the municipal level. But you have to understand that we brought in a guest to our office and this is supposed to be a friendly and opening environment and you almost made it the opposite. And it's important to know this, that there are certain times where you don't show your cards, and there are certain times where you can get your point across without being abrasive, especially in this circumstance, because this was not intended to be a debate, we just really want to solicit her thoughts and her ideas on what was going on, on the ground with a certain community."
And she said, "I understand, I'm working on that." And I said, "It's important to know that oftentimes you can catch more flies with honey." And what I meant by that is, "It's okay to feel a certain type of way. It's okay if your thoughts and viewpoints run contrary to what you're hearing from another individual, but there's a time and there's a place to voice those and this was not it. And you're going to be in situations as you progress through your career where it is appropriate to bite your tongue. I know earlier I mentioned, speak truth to power, but there are certain instances where it's okay to bite your tongue, especially, when you're inviting a guest into your home and the sole purpose of that meeting is just to solicit their understanding, their perspective on what's going on, on a particular ground."
And she took that, she understood, and she actually reached out to the individual we brought in and apologized and just made it known that, she's very passionate about Muslim/US relations and that she's lived it, she's breathed it, and that she shared antidotes of how she's had family members arrested for no real reason other than they were suspected of doing nefarious things, which ended up not being true.
And she voiced that, she apologized, and she's very gracious. And in turn, cultivated a very positive, healthier, warm relationship with this subject-matter expert. Again, it goes back to catching them. Sometimes you catch flies with honey, and it's important for the younger individuals who are listening on this call, that oftentimes you're going to hear opinions that you don't agree with, opinions that you find offensive, but if it's just a listening session and you just want to solicit one's feedback, you have to take, and oftentimes it's not appropriate to challenge them in that particular situation.
Thomas Lloyd Smith:
All right. Thanks, Charles, for that story. I'm doing a little time check over here and I think if everyone, from this point on is perfectly efficient, we'll actually have a little bit of time to take questions as well. So I invite you Phyllis to tell your next story.
Yes. Thanks, Thomas. Thanks Charles for that. Mine is going to be quicker than the last one. When I was thinking about who I'd mentored I'm just as passionate, I could think of someone, I was just as passionate, but for some reason it's still felt to me as if I was still getting something out of it. And what that said to me is even in mentoring, you're still going to get so much.
The person I'm going to tell you about is untraditional person for mentee. Her name is Isabel [sinimenyee 00:41:03], she's Burundi, and she's a Burundian woman. She was a school teacher who moved into being a Quality Control Manager at the National Coffee Board in Burundi. If you don't know, Burundi is a landlocked country whose major gross national product is the raw material of coffee. Isabella is 10 years my senior. She referred to me as mom.
She was a student in the leadership training for Women in Coffee Program that I took to Africa from what I learned, from my mentor, who did the program in Latin America. Isabel showed up for the first day of class, not knowing many words in English, but she did her presentation. She took back the manual, that thick manual that we had written about how to form a network of women and pull them together and she translated that to French so that the other women could read it, who didn't have the opportunity to come to the training.
She retired as of recently, but she's just an amazing, an amazing person who saw the community. She saw more than herself. She and I developed programs where she said, "We don't need to separate the women. We need to engage the men. The men will feel too much of a loss. If you buy the coffee, we'll figure out the programming on the ground."
And I respected her for that. And she led that work. She led adaptive work and allowing the men to not feel left out. I watched her do some amazing things. I watched the sidelines. I invited her to visit me in the US, she had visited me when I was a student at Harvard. She walked the campus. So to see this tall lanky, Burundian woman who's from the fields of Burundi at HKS, just gave me joy and in the library and doing all the things that we like to do on campus.
But I invited her oftentimes to the table and I would watch the buyers, the coffee buyers, who wouldn't have the interest in struggling a little bit to get through her accent. I knew that it was much more comfortable for me to talk to them, but I always had her there with me. I took her into places where she was uncomfortable, I took her to Vegas for a conference, just to see the world bigger than where she was. Margaret would always say, "Is the ripple effect, Phyllis. We're trying to create a ripple effect."
My involvement with Isabel was like a tidal wave, that just continues, just continues to happen. International Women's Coffee Alliance, Africa, if you want to learn more about that work, she and I did great work together and in a relationship I'm proud to be a part of. Thanks.
Thomas Lloyd Smith:
All right. Next up is Ian.
Thanks. Charles says, "I think we're all really enthusiastic about leadership," and in fact, it's a big part of the work of my organization is creating spaces for LGBT leaders across the country to get support from our team and from peers across the country and foster those relationships and enrolls that can be sometimes isolating working in challenging spaces.
But what I'm going to talk about today is actually outside of my work. It's with a guy named [Blistorol 00:44:36], who I'd known from around town, I used to live in North Carolina. And I really got to know him when he was hired to be the Executive Director of North Carolina AIDS Action Network. And I was really honored that he actually reached out and asked if I would be willing to be a mentor and a sounding board since I've been the ED of another small scrappy nonprofit advocacy group in the state just a few years earlier.
And I learned so much getting to work with Lee really thinking about mentoring, not just as sharing advice and wisdom, but really asking questions and helping him think through and solve the problems that he was facing rather than just saying, "Oh, this is what I would do." I'm sure I did that sometimes too, and we would have these really incredible conversations, or he would come to me with a challenge, whether it was trying to figure out how to navigate something that was going on in the state legislature or trying to figure out some weird dynamic with folks on his board of directors and being able to be there and ask those questions. See him, develop, see him, have those, "Aha," moments.
And the conversations was so incredibly rewarding for me. And it's been amazing to see him grow as a leader. He came in fairly young, taking over this non-profit has dramatically grown at more than doubled its budget sticking around for six years which is a long time and some of these small nonprofit roles. And it was really taken something that was a startup at the time to really get an institution that's going to be there long after he decides to move on.
And we still, six years later, don't check in quite as often as we did in those first few months on the job, but are checking in every couple months, seeing how he's doing and really working to set that organization up so that when he is ready for whatever comes next, and helping him think about whatever might come next, that the organization is as strong as possible.
And to me, that's really indication of a good leader is that you leave it better than it was before and ready for that next person to come in and take it to the next level and to really advance diversity, equity and inclusion. We, as a white leader of this organization, and we've also spent a lot of time thinking about, how they bring in a racial justice framework? How he mentors leaders within his network so that whenever he steps away the next leader, very well, maybe someone of color, which is really critical in a state where HIV is so disproportionately affecting communities of color.
And it's been really exciting to get to do that work with him and see the organization really transform over the time he's been there.
Thomas Lloyd Smith:
All right. Thank you so much Ian. Next up, Juana.
Juana Hernández Sánchez:
Gosh, there's so much I would want to share, but let me try to focus in on what I hope are some good takeaways for the participants. I think a lot about my role as a mentor or the sponsor I want to be as a reflection of my broader commitment to public service and my broader commitment to, frankly, systems change work and I think all of us who have a commitment to an issue, advancing a policy issue area know that we are one small part of that. We're one small piece of that, and we really need to have a movement building approach.
And so, I think a lot about the time that I do invest in mentorship as an investment in helping our field get toward the change that I want to see and that I alone cannot achieve. And so, I think, starting with that perspective of humility and knowing that we need to actively be mentoring, it's critical to our work sometimes in direct and indirect ways, and it's critical to the change we want to see.
And so for me, it's really important to always start with that in mind, because it speaks to my motivation as, not just being like a selfless mentor, but we actually have a stake in mentoring. And the other piece I would want to highlight is that we have a lot of privilege, right? As Harvard Kennedy School alumni, affiliates with the institution, there are real networks, experiences, funds of knowledge that we can actually share with others who may have not gone to Harvard or the Kennedy School. And so I always start with that, that I actually have a lot to offer, and I have a direct stake in my mentees success.
And I'll just share one quick story about a woman I met several years ago now by the name of [Alma 00:49:57]. And I met her through my undergrad Alma Mater through UCLA, and at the time she was a rising senior. We had some [inaudible 00:50:07] orgs and networks in common and she reached out because she was also interested in education policy and we come from the same corner of Los Angeles.
So in my time cultivating my mentoring relationship with Alma, I had to be very clear of what I could offer, how I could extend as a sponsor to her. And so I would give her really practical advice that I have learned over the years, like, whenever you have a coffee meeting with a mentor or an informational call, you need to follow up and ask them to do something next, give them some direction.
And so, we would do things, like I would have Alma follow-up with me by going into my LinkedIn and letting me know three contexts that she wanted to... She was interested in their background, and I would then facilitate introductions to those three people and help her explain what it is she was interested in with what interested her about their background and give her tips on how to start expanding her network.
When she was selected for a competitive policy fellowship in Sacramento, I went through my Rolodex in my head to think about who I knew in Sacramento that would be key people for her to meet. And I went through that same process of introducing her to those individuals in Sacramento. Something I do for mentees would be examples, like flagging events in their area where they can actually go and broaden their network, broaden their knowledge of the topic.
And so, over about two years of this, she had completed UCLA, she had completed that one-year fellowship. I really started to also treat Alma, not as my mentee, but as my colleague. And again, that's part of extending that trust and giving them that credibility, that they are your colleague. So every time I would fly up to Sacramento for advocacy meetings, I would set up a meeting with Alma as I would with my other contacts in the state and consult her and seek out her perspective on different issues that we were working on. She was handling education for a member at the time.
Now, I'm happy to say Alma is actually directing the legislative agenda of the California State Superintendent of Education. And she really is my colleague, she really is someone who I can turn to for advice and counsel, for insight.
And so, having that kind of longer-term vision, of who we want our mentees to become, the types of leaders we think they're capable of becoming, I think really sets an important tone from the beginning and teaching them how to use you, use your network, how to activate you, if you will, can be really necessary, especially, when a few, like me, are really intentional about building mentoring relationships with others who might be first-gen college graduates or folks from underrepresented and often marginalized communities making it really explicit about how you can be helpful can go a long way.
So those are things that I took from my own experiences being mentored or understanding what a sponsor can do that I've since tried to apply when I do interact with others, particularly those who are at the early to mid-point of their careers.
Thomas Lloyd Smith:
All right. Thank you so much, Juana. Thank you for that story. So we've made it through both rounds of the stories and we're about to approach the point where folks can ask questions. There's one question that I think is on the minds of a lot of people that I just want to toss out there now, and that is, how can I use the alumni talk as a means of advancing diversity, belonging, and inclusion? And I want to give a few pieces of advice on this before we figure out how to proceed.
Here's the advice I would give to you. One, reflect on your own experiences. Use the same model that we use today. Think about stories when someone mentored you and opportunities where you mentored others and use that as a motivation to take a step forward in mentoring.
The second thing I wanted to say is, identify one pinch of potential mentee, and do it today. Think of one person out there who could benefit from your help and then contact them today. Send them a social media communication, send them something on LinkedIn, Facebook, whatever your choice, and then just schedule a Zoom call. Ask them questions about their goals, challenges that they've encountered and begin a dialogue.
Think through options for tackling those challenges with them and define some concrete action steps that they can take and that you could help guide them with to accomplish resolving those challenges and moving forward towards their goals. And then just follow up.
If you can do those things, and can take a proactive step today, I think everyone who's a panelist here would agree that their time has been well spent and that we've done what we tried to do, which is to inspire you to develop mentoring relationships that would advance diversity inclusion and belonging.
At this point, I'm going to turn to Karen and Kristen, asked her advice and how you want to handle, do you want to take some questions from the audience? If so, I think we've got a few minutes that we can do that. So I am prepared for however you want to proceed.
We have one hand raised so far, James. If you'd like to unmute yourself and ask your question?
Good evening, speaking from Nigeria, My name is James, once again. At least [inaudible 00:56:17] kind of discussion containing how to mental. But in the side of Africa here we haven't authorities really alarming and our institution where by you think you want to mentor somebody, [inaudible 00:56:35] own true to make sure you are in [inaudible 00:56:38]. The mentee believes if money's not involved in wherever you are saying, or you're not need to go through some right process, there's no high we will be able to follow your due process.
Everybody, the quick wins syndrome of having to make it on time, asked to follow the normal process you went through before you go to Harvard, the process you went through, most of the youth, maybe you want to mentor cannot stand for that challenges. So is one of our own pretense and then you are facing in whatever you have intensions to mentor anybody, in that respective. I don't know whether I've made sense with that? Thank you.
Thomas Lloyd Smith:
And do any of our panelists have any comments on James's comment?
I'll just make a comment. I think, I don't know that I got everything that James was saying, but I think from what was implied was that the mentorship relationships can be hard to establish because of the expectations from the other side. And I think that's always a challenge.
My daughter will say to me about one of my mentors, "Mom, you don't even pay her for that. I mean, she's so valuable to you," and that is what you think, but what I've found even with my mentees is that, once you discontinue to give, and sometimes it's just a trust issue, that people don't necessarily think that you're giving them something valuable from your heart and you will continue giving them that and there is no financial gain or exchange of money there. So, that's what I have to say.
Thomas Lloyd Smith:
Okay. I think that was the only hands that was raised. Is that correct, Karen?
No. Thank you for your question. We're going to take... We can go a few minutes over, so Dr. Lang is next with his question.
Hi everyone. Thank you so much. This was really informative. I am in New York, I'm a founder of an organization, Parents and Children of Color. I was very much interested in what Juana and Charles shared and everybody else, this is really helpful.
I have a question here which is more to racial equity. And I know there's a lot of awareness, globally, about anti-racist ideologies, and also, basically, understanding that there is equity going on when it comes to race and this is more or less pretense to acquire about this information. I'm a neurobiologist, so I'm not really informed in that area, except for understanding the neuro basis associated with race.
My concern here is that, is awareness enough to implement the real change that we want to have in a community where there is these reinforcers that allows the vicious cycle of racist ideologists to continue? What are the practical ways that you think we could bring a real solution to this problem? Because I just feel there's the awareness, which is fine, but, just letting an addict know the unaddict is not sufficient unless something gets done. And I'm just wondering what are some of the thoughts that any of you may have towards a real practical approach in racial equity? Thank you.
Juana Hernández Sánchez:
I'm happy to start. I'm sure others may want to respond as well. It's a very timely and important questions. I thank you for your question, Dr. Lang. I would say awareness is a really important first step, and it's important that we not also allow ourselves the comfort of staying in the awareness space for too long, but that we're thinking about how are we implicated in action and what actions are available for us as individuals and as individuals situated within organizations, within networks, within other spaces that we occupy.
I would just offer that one thing that's good about awareness and discomfort that we might feel in reckoning with racial inequity, whether it's in the US or in other global contexts, is that, once we see the problem, we can feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem, but I think we should also feel energized that we have a role to play in generating solutions.
And so I'll just give you a small sense of actionable steps I've been taking within my organization. So we've been starting a diversity equity and inclusion committee. We're really trying to think practically about ways we can operationalize a commitment to racial equity.
And what does that mean? So I think for one, it's assuming, or not assuming that many of your long standing policies or practices as an organization are actually just neutral, and instead questioning what has been the, maybe, unintended disparate impact that you have had on different communities, including communities of color.
So, one small way, we're doing that is we're looking at our hiring recruitment processes, candidate review and selection processes, we're thinking comprehensively around the life cycle of employee retention, professional development and advancement, and we're trying to understand there are ways that we can improve our approach to better achieve the kinds of outcomes we want.
We want to have a more diverse team and inclusive and welcoming environment, a sense of belonging, and to really have the kind of in-house knowledge that will then enable us to do our work in education policy more effectively. So I think awareness is an important step, but always then looking at, "Well, where do I sit within an organization? What are things I can advocate for in my own house, so to speak in order to play an active role in contributing to not just the conversation, but some of those solutions?"
Very briefly, and one is a hundred percent correct, and thank you, Dr. Lang, for your question. Awareness is just one piece of the pie, but we need champions who are not afraid to challenge the status quo. We need champions that will focus on inclusion, right? So everyone tats out diversity, diversity to great thing, but do people of color, do women have a seat at the table? Are they decision makers? How are you doing your recruiting? I challenge anyone to find me prove that there are competent people of color who are young, who can go into any industry.
So I think it's very important that leaders in any organization think about how they do recruiting particularly people of color communities of color, and once individuals are brought on, how we can create an inclusive environment and for the people of color that are currently in these respective organizations, do they have a seat at the table? Are their voices promoted? Do we create an atmosphere where they feel safe, or they feel that their opinions and their work is valued?
That's wonderful. Very good insight. Can I have a follow-up person or there isn't enough time?
Thomas Lloyd Smith:
Let me ask the panels because I know we're over our time, do people have to depart at this point in time?
I'm happy to stick around for a few minutes.
I'm fine. I'm fine.
Thomas Lloyd Smith:
Okay. You can proceed.
Thank you. So the follow-up question I have is, in terms of, I know that we want to increase the diversity with hiring and all of that, but also there is the realization that persons of color are most... The number of individuals that are persons of color in these positions that would allow them to be decision-makers in these areas, we do not really have a lot of persons of color occupying these positions, even in the police force, in the communities, we do have persons of color, but it looks like certain positions, the number of persons of color that qualify for those positions is really, we don't have a lot of them.
And so, I'm just wondering whether we've looked at our schools. There is a lot of, believe it or not, segregation with our public schools and the resources available to some of the schools to allow our students to get the skillsets that would allow them to succeed in college.
I'm sure Juana, you may be aware of some of these inequities that damages the students before college, and then everything is free for college, as a minority, but yet still you cannot succeed because you've been crippled at the schools. Is there a way to engage the schools in a way that the potential of presence of color is really primed at that place before college? So that we know they can succeed and especially as a first-generation college student, you may be able to speak to that as well and in any bed. So that's my last questions, my last question. And thank you.
Juana Hernández Sánchez:
Yeah. Absolutely. I would say really astute observation that a lot of the inequities we can map back into early ed and educational inequities at the K-12 level. I'll say I personally have specialized on higher ed because I know that in many fields and industries, a post-secondary degree or credential is critical to then accessing leadership roles and opportunities. So I get very excited thinking about how we build a pipeline for more persons of color to attain post-secondary education and be able to then pursue their passion, whether that's in healthcare policy, immigration policy, you name it, business.
And I will say again, thinking about us as individuals, what can we do? I mean, there's so much we can definitely volunteer, mentor within schools, we can think really critically about how we vote, how we vote for school board members, things like, we had, here in LA County, we had a revenue measure on the ballot to raise money for LA Unified Schools, for example, we can think about encouraging our employers to actively partner with schools.
A friend of mine, her company has an employee matching contribution. So if you're donating to any cause, but it could be an educational cause the employer will match that contribution 3:1, so that your giving is amplified. I used to, most recently, work at a chamber of commerce, so we would work with businesses to actively engage with schools. They would provide everything from career mentors, job shadow days, bringing students to their place of business, to understand career pathways, what type of education and training is needed post high school to succeed in that industry.
And we would have also our CEO's match up with principals to exchange management and leadership lessons. And so I think there's a lot of knowledge that can be culled from other industries and brought back to school leaders as well to enhance their ability to be effective.
So I think to summarize, you can engage as an individual and how you are spending your time, spending your dollars, voting engage your organization to also develop partnerships, whether that's mentorship, job shadow, internship opportunities, or other structured programming with local schools or with schools that may not be local in your community, but you can help enhance that pipeline.
So there's just some off the top of my mind ideas, I'm sure we could have a long conversation about that. And unfortunately we don't have the space to have that longer, more nuanced conversation.
[crosstalk 01:10:46], could I, Oh... [crosstalk 01:10:48]. Dr. Lang, I just wanted to offer my perspective on that. Well, I'm a big believer of education and higher education, I don't necessarily feel that you can educate yourself out of racism and oppression. It's qualification is dependent upon who's setting the qualifications. And so I think that we always have to look through that lens. Situations aren't always as they seem just based on who's the most qualified and education will fix it. So I just wanted to add that.
Yeah, I'd be remissed if I didn't mention this institution founded on February 14, 1867 in Atlanta, Georgia called Morehouse College. So Morehouse graduates more black men than any institution in United States, roughly around 400 annually, and it's a top feeder school for black men going into grad school. What's not widely known is there's a program at Morehouse College, the Pre-Freshman Summer Program where I'm a former counselor, where we take academically challenged students who are either juniors in high school, or just a recently graduated.
And it's an eight week program, intensive program where we prepare students for the rigors of Morehouse College. So what we do, we take students who are challenged academically, we give them a rich sense of African history, a rich sense of African-American history and remedial math, we're literally sitting next to them in an intimate environment, teaching basic math, and basic algebra, basic geometry, and based on their matriculation through the program, we'll admit them to Morehouse College that fall.
It's an amazing program, it's outstanding program, very, very, very successful and it's geared toward young men who don't fare as well as their counterparts nationally in terms of where they are in their particular grade. And I just had to mention that.
Okay. Well, that is the last question, I want to thank you so much for volunteering an additional amount of time at the end of this scheduled time, but you can see the commitment of all the panelists and we're going to thank of course, Harvard Kennedy School for making the commitment to this topic along with us.
Wow, what an incredible panel, thank you so much for sharing your stories. I'm certain you've inspired some people, and I hope that each of you out there in the audience will go forward and reach out to somebody today, make contact with a potential mentee, begin a dialogue, and then we'll know we've done our part, we've invested our time well. So, thank you and I think we're all signing off now.