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Book Review: The Firebrand and the First Lady

Firebrand and the First LadyIn her book The Firebrand and the First Lady – Portrait of a Friendship, Patricia Bell-Scott successfully marries the kind of scholarship expected of an academic with the kind of accessibility that will make this book interesting to all readers.

I was especially eager to read this book because I’ve known Pat Bell-Scott for decades — since we were members in the National Association for Women in Education. She also is the editor of Life Notes: Personal Writings of Contemporary Black Women, in which I had the opportunity to contribute a chapter.  

As I read this book about the friendship of Eleanor Roosevelt and Pauli Murray, my admiration for Roosevelt deepened and Murray became my hero. The book revealed new details about Roosevelt’s courage and her fight for civil rights and social justice, and showed how Murray lived many lifetimes in her time with us. She showed us that the way may not be smooth, but it is our duty to keep pushing forward, to reach for the brass ring, and to challenge injustice wherever it occurs and from whomever it emanates.

This book is contemporary in that it plots the path from overt racial segregation to what our country is experiencing today around diversity and inclusion. Bell-Scott tells us that Murray’s “first fiery essay” was “Who Is to Blame for Disappearance of Gaines?”

Lloyd Lionel Gaines was am African American who was denied admittance to the University of Missouri School of Law. It was speculated that he may have been murdered as a result of the Supreme Court decision that supported his case that the University could not deny this highly qualified applicant admission based on his race.

Murray’s essay could well define the current climate in which students are demanding the elimination of what they see as structural racism. After 55 years, the University of Missouri School of Law granted Lloyd Gaines an honorary degree. Is it any wonder that generation after generation of African Americans say they can’t wait?

Bell-Scott is a role model without peer for academics and others who have a book in them that needs to be written. She worked on this book for 20 years and the results demonstrate the time, energy, and love she devoted to this work. Truly, it is more than a book. It is a spiritual acclamation of a cross-section of the lives of two women who were most distinct in their culture and context, yet had a similar strength of purpose based on their values of equity and justice.

Didn’t win the lottery? Here’s a jackpot for you…

I had fun asking colleagues and friends what they would do if they won the $1.6 billion lottery. While some said that they would show up to work the next day just to gloat, others said that they would take some time off to adjust to their new status of being wealthy and then return to work. Each person included some statement about their job.

turn the tide book coverIf you did not have the winning number, I have a prize for you and it’s better than a consolation prize. If you are employed, this prize can Turn the tide: and help you Rise above toxic, difficult situations in the work place.

This is the apt title of Kathy Obear’s new book, launching January 19. I think Obear’s book can help you have a happier life because you will have a guide to lead you through the minefields of “losing it” or feeling shut down and disrespected, whether in your professional or personal life. If you really want to change the way you respond to others when you are in an untenable situation, you will want to learn about the seven-step process in the “triggering event cycle.”

Learning about The Triggering Event Cycle will help readers understand that the impact of their negative over-reactions do not get erased after one blows off steam and moves on. Negative over-reactions can be the trigger or stimulus for more dysfunction in the workplace or in personal relationships in the future because we get into a cycle that will demand special effort to change course. The author’s suggestions about how to find the off-ramps are particularly helpful.

There is much to like and praise in this book. Vignettes of examples of the kinds of issues that arise in work situations makes the advice easily understood and remembered. The problems experienced by Kerry (fictional or pseudonym) at the beginning of the book are so extreme, just reading about her problems could make most of us realize that our own situation is not so bad after all.

The encouragement the author gives from the beginning is comforting and puts the reader in a relaxed and receptive mood to learn. I also like that there is a guide to how to use this book. If one needs advice right away, there is a chapter for what might be “first-aid,” and then there is the sound advice of reading the entire book and doing the exercises. With this much in the opening, I was eager to get started! And, I kid you not when I tell you that I read the book straight through, beginning to end, because it captured my interest and became my priority.

In reading the book, the author’s voice in sharing her personal experiences makes the reader feel as if there is one-on-one coaching and the author really understands what I, the reader, am experiencing because she has experienced something similar or has worked with others who experienced similar reactions.

Because so many have respect for Obear and the work she does, readers will be encouraged when they read that she, too, has had to learn how to deal with triggering events and how to take charge of her reactions.

The vignettes of workplace situations are excellent in defining new concepts. Bringing the vignette of Kerry, who was described at the beginning of the book, back in the concluding section of the book, is an excellent way to demonstrate how the tools for effectively responding could be used. The practical usage of the tools is what readers will appreciate.

Your jackpot and lottery is below:

REGISTER TO DOWNLOAD MY BOOK FOR FREE ON JANUARY 19th!!

My new book, TURN THE TIDE: Rise Above Toxic, Difficult Situations in the Workplace, will be featured at the BOOK LAUNCH PARTY/webcast along with several others publishing with Difference Press on January 19th at 12:30pm ET!

Sign up, it’s free and even if you can’t listen in live, you’ll get an email with links to all the recordings AND the books to download! AND access to free offers from authors including my new 10-minute video, “What is a Triggering Event?” and the Companion Discussion Guide to lead Lunch & Learns and trainings in your organization!!! 

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Register at: www.theauthorincubator.com/livefromtheauthorcastle


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Oh and they are giving away lots of cool prizes to celebrate the book launches!


Hope to see you there!!
Kathy Obear

Copyright © 2016 Kathy Obear Life Coach, All rights reserved.
You signed up for updates from Kathy Obear on her book launch – “When workplace situations explode: Tools to respond when your buttons get pushed!”

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An Observation on the Eulogy

Like many of you, I was moved and enlightened by President Obama’s eulogy for Congressman Clementa Pinkney. President Obama honored those who lost their lives, and he reminded us of this nation’s history of violence based on racial hatred and prejudice. His remarks about how the deaths of those in the church stimulated “big-hearted generosity” and “thoughtful introspection and self-examination” in South Carolina and in the United States was a needed balm for all who grieve. It helps to think that these lives were not lost in vain.

I was taken with the emotion and sincerity that the President showed throughout the eulogy. However, I think he made one comment that he did not mean for us to take literally. We all know that he spoke the truth when he said that we cannot expect a “transformation of race relations overnight,” but I think his emotions were outweighing his beliefs when he said that we do not need more conversation or more talk about race. The point he was making is that we need to act on our talk. Just having conversations is not enough.

Discussions, dialogue, and discourse are the coins of the realm in colleges and universities. These are our tools and we must use the tools we have. We cannot be part of helping to achieve the vision the President painted if we don’t have the talk with our students.

I think it’s the manner in which we have historically fashioned these conversations that doom them from the start. We can’t just invite students to come to a conversation on race and expect anyone to come except those who already have what President Obama called the “path to grace,” that he described as “an open mind” and “an open heart.” A lecture on the history of racial prejudice followed by discussions won’t change a mind or heart if students have not experienced personally or vicariously through peers what it means to be the object of discrimination or violence based on racial hatred. In a world de-sensitized by violence and tragedy, empathy does not come naturally.

If we, in Student Affairs, want to participate in President Obama’s vision of not avoiding uncomfortable truths, not judging people as bad because we disagree with them, not shouting but listening, and move towards “recognition of ourselves in others, we need to set the stage for the conversations by inviting students to have conversations that are firmly grounded in the academic program of the college.

To achieve this grounding in the academic program, Student Affairs partners with faculty to expand the definition of student success to include skills essential for the workplace and for good and humane citizenship. We must convince faculty that Student Affairs can help to deepen students’ learning of the content of their courses and programs by reinforcing the content in a structured group experience where students are also learning how to influence others and be influenced by others through the development of strong interpersonal communication skills.

If Student Affairs Had a Hammer – A Strategy to Teach Adaptive Skills

Whenever I have heard variations on the quote “If you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” it has been used in a pejorative sense indicating that one has few resources or ideas to address any issues with which one is confronted. No matter what the issue is, the same response is used. I want to use this hammer and nail saying in a positive manner.

In my most recent blog, I wrote about the need for Student Affairs to reorient our work to address a critical learning need for students. That critical need is for students to acquire experience in learning about and in practicing adaptive skills. I have been honing the list of skills for years, and the list I’ve settled on includes interpersonal communication skills; cultural intelligence; and social responsibility. After reviewing the many lists of competencies suggested as essential for college graduates over several years and asking for feedback from faculty, Student Affairs professionals, and students, I am confident that these categories of skills are sufficient to meet the career and personal needs of college graduates.

I am also confident that my strategy to help students acquire these competencies and skills will have a powerful impact when employed effectively. The hammer that I think can address many of the challenges we see among students and, frankly, the population in general, is the implementation of co-curriculum laboratories attached to or embedded in academic courses and programs. The co-curriculum laboratory is the hammer that can be applied to the nails/ challenges that prevent many colleges and universities from fully realizing their learning goals for students.

For example:

If students see themselves less open to having their views challenged than they think they ought to be, this is a nail. A co-curriculum laboratory can be the hammer to help students practice interpersonal communications where controversial issues can be discussed with a skilled facilitator present.

When tragedies occur such as the mass murders at the church in South Carolina last week, there are many nails to pound such as racism, gun violence, and the call for civic engagement. A co-curriculum laboratory can be a hammer because it provides a safe space for the discussions to occur.

When tragedies occur caused by natural disasters such as the recent devastating earthquakes in Nepal, and students appear not to have empathy for the victims, this is a nail. A co-curriculum laboratory can be a hammer to require discussions about other countries and cultures and to assign students to make deliberate connections with people beyond the home country in order to better understand the impact of a tragedy on people who are not within students’ inner circles.

If students have little experience in figuring things out on their own and appear not to have practical skills for functioning, this is a nail. A co-curriculum laboratory can be a hammer to help students take incremental steps towards independence aided by peers who role model and encourage personal growth and maturity.

The concept of attaching co-curriculum laboratories to or embedding them into academic courses and programs can be an effective strategy to address many of the challenges we face in helping students acquire adaptive skills. Yes, co-curriculum laboratories are the hammers Student Affairs can use to reorient the focus of our work in effectively contributing to holistic and transformative learning for our students.

FYI

Ending my role as interim senior vice president for student services on June 5th.

Still smiling, still enthusiastic.

So grateful for the opportunity.

Once in a life-time experience.

Amidst life’s distractions, love still breaks through

The 10-year-old boy’s eyes were staring unblinking at the monitor on the wall in front of him. He had been in this intense and trance-like state totally absorbed in Lego Batman 3-“Beyond Gotham” for at least an hour. At his right knee was his computer showing one of the Penguin animated films, and to the right of the computer was his iPad. I sat at the end of the sofa on the other side of ‘technology row’ reading a book on my iPad.

In the middle of the sounds of the video game and the animated movie, I interrupted with a question to the 10-year-old. He was startled when I asked him, “Do you know what it means to love someone?”

Still chewing his jaw and manipulating the video game controller he said, “I have a difficult time explaining what I think about abstract concepts.”

I was surprised at the response although I should not have been. Young people today with educated parents who spend considerable time explaining things to them have a tendency to speak as if they are years beyond their chronological age.

I was undeterred by his response and continued to pursue the point about his knowledge of love. As he continued to play the video game, he responded, “Do you mean the way I feel about my parents?” I was ecstatic at the response and went back to reading my book on my iPad.

Ambushed by Memories on Christmas Eve

It’s Christmas Eve and I’m wrapping gifts. Why am I suddenly feeling sad? My chest hurts as if I have heartburn and my nose burns the way it always does when I’m holding back tears.

After all these years and after telling the story to those close to me, I still remember the Christmas Eve that I hoped that there was a Santa Claus. I still feel the pain I felt that Christmas morning when I really knew that there was no Santa Claus. I have had so many joyful and happy holidays since then, but the feelings of that one Christmas Eve always ambush me this time of year.

Once upon a time, a long time ago, I don’t know how I had a few dollars to spend, but I had been happy when I bought small gifts for my mother, grandmother, grandfather, and little sister. I don’t recall whether or not my little brother was living with us or with my daddy during this particular Christmas time. But on Christmas Eve, I had the horrible thought that these folks, my family, may not have thought to get a gift for me. I hoped they would care enough about me to understand that if I didn’t receive a gift from them, I would think that they didn’t love me.

I was standing at the window looking out at the sky hoping that some man dressed in a red suit would find his way into our apartment and leave something, anything with my name on it that I could unwrap on Christmas morning. I listened long into the night and never heard anything like Santa Claus sneaking in to leave something for me.

The next morning, there were gifts for my little sister. I don’t remember the other gifts, but there was no gift for me. I finally accepted the fact that there was no Santa Claus. I felt embarrassed and almost apologetic that I was unworthy of even one small gift. I was ashamed that someone as old as I was even entertained the idea that there was a Santa Claus. I was fourteen years old.

A Little Spring Cleaning for the Soul…

Before there was Spring Break and Alternative Spring Break, there was spring cleaning, promoted in schools as “Clean Up, Fix Up, and Paint Up Week.” Being in school in Chicago, we really needed the break, and though the winters are brutal in Chicago, it seemed as if that one week that we were on break from school in the spring was always gorgeous with unseasonably warm weather and lots of sunshine. I remember the sunshine because what we did that week at my house was all about the windows.

Washing the windows and whatever was covering the windows was the hardest and most time-consuming part of the week of cleaning, fixing, and painting. However, the clean windows and curtains after the struggles were also the most gratifying result of the week’s work because the result was visible for all to see and it would last until next spring when we would do it all over again.

Windex was too expensive to use on the windows so we saved it for the mirrors. For the windows, we used buckets of soapy water to remove the dirt; then, we rinsed with clear water and white vinegar. We used crushed newspaper to wipe them dry until they squeaked and sparkled. Before we had a washing machine, we washed the lace curtains in the bathtub. When these white lace curtains were hanging at the windows, they didn’t look to be that dirty, but when the soap and water hit them, the water turned black. I was always surprised at the amount of dirt they held.

With our lace curtains, we didn’t just wash them and put them in a dryer or even hang them outside to dry. After washing them, we put starch in them. Then, we put them on curtain stretchers. These were open wood frames on spindly legs with little nails a couple of inches apart all around the frame. To stretch the curtains into shape and dry them, we slipped a piece of the edge of the curtain onto each nail all the way around a long line of rectangular frames that stretched throughout the living room, dining room, and down the hall. If we skipped a nail, when the curtain was dry, the place that was skipped would ruin the entire line of the curtain.

When stretched correctly, the curtains looked great when they dried, but putting them on stretchers was not without consequences. Those little nails pricked and stabbed fingers all the way around the frame because the job had to be done quickly in order to get the curtains on the stretchers before they began to dry with the starch in them causing them to wrinkle beyond imagination.

I was so happy when we got a wringer washer. We never did get a dryer, but it was fine drying the clothes in the yard or on the back porch. It was about the same time that we got the wringer washer that we became more modern and changed the lovely white lace curtains that had become thin and worn with new fiberglass drapes. When it was time to wash these during spring cleaning, we popped them into the washing machine and let it do the dirty work.

The fibers in the fabric of the drapes were some kind of very fine glass needles as the name implies. When we removed the drapes from the washing machine, the static from them shocked the stew out of us! When we handled the drapes, the fiberglass made us itch and scratch. And worse, those glass needles were all throughout the machine and we did not realize this. So later when our clothes were washed in the machine, they were infested with fiberglass. The fiberglass in our clothes caused us to throw them out, and Lord knows we could not afford to throw our clothes away.

After the fiberglass nightmare, we switched to venetian blinds. They were metal white blinds; I don’t know whether or not they were really “Venetian.” No more bloodied fingers from stretching lace curtains, no more fiberglass everywhere causing pain and itching. Alas, the darned blinds had to be taken down and put in the bathtub for cleaning. With soapy water and a sponge, I would wash each blade of the blinds until it was clean and shining. Then I would carefully dry off each blade before the blinds were placed back at the windows. I refer to these blinds as “blades” because there were cuts on all of my fingers from washing and drying those darn blinds.

So what is my point about spring cleaning and windows, in particular? I am using spring cleaning as a metaphor for recommending that we, who are expected to be resources for students, designate a time to take stock, to anticipate transitions, and to seek clarity.

Like the dirty lace curtains I described, we tend to look well enough as we carry out our  responsibilities, but what would come out in the wash if we put our reflexive refrain of “I’m fine” to the test? Our own mental and spiritual spring cleaning is not without consequences, and that makes it hard to willingly do.

If we took stock and attended to ourselves at specified times such as when we think of spring cleaning, we might be surprised that we are holding onto some people, causes, ideas, or jobs that we have made   more important than our own spiritual comfort or peace of mind. These things, like clothes infested with fiberglass have to be thrown out even if we think we cannot afford to let them go.

As with my experiences with the windows during “clean up, fix up, and paint up week,” where I said that the “clean windows and curtains after the struggles were also the most gratifying result of the week’s work because the result was visible for all to see, and it would last until next spring when we would do it all over again,” I believe that the consequences of mental and spiritual spring cleaning can be endured if we bank on results that will result in a brighter and more sparkling attitude about ourselves and our future.

Of Housing and Job Markets…Trying to Find Reason Amidst the Fickle

Reasoning why you are not selected for a position for which you applied and interviewed is an interesting mental exercise. Unlike a crossword or other puzzle, there is no correct answer; and unlike an interactive game, you don’t have an opportunity to keep practicing on the same target. Selling yourself to a search committee or an employer is a lot like selling a house.

I have followed the ups and downs of friends who put their house on the market a year ago, and I find their experiences very similar to what colleagues experience during the job search process. In order to get their house ready for the market, my friends downsized, and they had professionals “stage” the house in order to display the best assets of the house. They made major investments to upgrade appliances though what they had was in perfect condition. They had everything freshly painted, and there was nothing left to chance. Then they contracted with a realtor who suggested that though their carpeting was in fine shape, they should get new carpeting in the living room just so everything would look brand new. They were extremely proud of how the house looked and they were assured by friends that the house would sell immediately.

Colleagues who are applying for their ideal next position also do a lot of preparation in order to show well. They write draft after draft of their resume or vita in order to streamline it and highlight their strongest skills. They even get help from professional career counselors who advise them on the best way to present their resume or vita and themselves. Their colleagues encourage them to go for it.

When my friends’ house did not sell by fall, they changed real estate agents figuring that their agent must not be as good as another agent. The next agent told them that the reason the house did not sell immediately was because it was not priced correctly. So they adjusted the asking price. When that didn’t garner buyers, the sellers and all of the sellers’ friends concluded that the prospective buyers were just stupid and didn’t know what they wanted.

Colleagues who are in the job market ask experts to help them with their interview skills when they have not been selected following what they thought was a good interview. After getting sound advice on how to interview well and doing a superb job but still having the position is offered to someone else, the candidate and all their colleagues conclude that the search committee members or the potential employer are all idiots and don’t know what they are looking for in a candidate.

In frustration with the stupidity of buyers, my friends took their house off the market for a while figuring the timing must not be right. Colleagues drop out of the job search mode for a while for the same reason. Then something totally unrelated to preparing the house for sale occurs and my friends say, “It’s providential! This occurrence needed to happen first and that’s why the house didn’t sell sooner.” Colleagues have something totally unrelated to their search occur and they and their friends declare that the jobs they applied for were just not right for them and their dream job is waiting.

We really don’t know why the house did not sell as quickly as expected, and we don’t know all the variables that went into decisions not to hire our colleagues. The best thing we can do is to get our houses in order to the best of our ability, take the risk of having what we offer not accepted, and if we determine that we want to stay in the game, know that we may really never know why we were not selected, and take solace in the idea that not being selected may not have anything to do with you or how well you showed. And remember that reasoning why is just an interesting mental exercise.

Nothing New Under the Sun: Of Mentors, Mentees, and Common Experiences

I think it’s true of everyone; it’s just that I have lived so long, it probably happens to me more frequently…

It seems that no matter what someone says to me, I have an experience that is similar that I can relay. I have to work really hard not to jump in when they take a breath and tell them how the very same thing happened to me! I hope that when I do share, it will help to establish that we are similar and therefore have something upon which to build a relationship or at least a common reference point.

When I’m out and about among young professionals, they frequently take me aside for a private conversation or ask for time to talk with me by phone at a later date, particularly about their career direction.

I’m always open to hearing and helping in any way that I can. Sometimes, they want me to just look over their resume and give my thoughts; other times they seek an introduction or nomination for a professional position; and some want to bring me up-to-date on their career in order for me to serve as a reference.

Some of the most intriguing conversations are those when I’m asked to critique a recent interview at a time when the person was not selected for the position. During these conversations, I turn myself into a fly on the wall and imagine the space and the interactions from the perspective of the interviewers and the interviewee. I imagine what the conversation was among the search committee members prior to the candidate’s interview, and I make assumptions about what the conversation would be following the interview as described by the candidate.

What’s uncanny about my mental reenactment is that the candidate and I come to the same conclusion about what was a strength of the candidate during the interview and what needed strengthening. Sometimes one’s reflections upon an experience needs a mirror outside of one’s self.

In a recent conversation with a tremendously talented mid-level administrator, I was struck by how our experiences were so similar. I was able to share my experiences and what I learned upon reflection. I also found that the person in describing her experiences used the exact same words that I used when I wrote in my journal following our common experience!

While time marches on and the circumstances in regard to climbing the career ladder may differ, I continue to be amazed how the experiences elicit many of the same responses and reactions that colleagues generations before also expressed. It’s these kinds of encounters that convince me that mentors can be useful.

Seldom am I stumped for words when I’m in conversation with those who want a sounding board. I use my communication skills that have as the first rule that I listen attentively and encourage the speaker to continue. When I do respond, because this person has trusted me with their deepest dreams, aspirations, and fears, I have moved them to my inner circle of people I love and want to protect and help succeed.

While I have at times shied away from being a mentor in the formal sense because I didn’t think I had enough to offer, I realize now that it’s not what the mentor thinks she has to offer, but what the person who wants a mentor thinks one has to offer. And, if the potential mentor has reflected on experiences and gleaned lessons from them, the relationship can be mutually beneficial.

After listening and sharing with some of my colleagues who are thinking about the paths they want to take for the next stages of their career, I feel energized, hopeful, and useful. There are not many experiences that can leave me with such a feeling of euphoria.