So hello and welcome to the KnolShare with Dr. Dave Podcast. This is Dr. Dave Cornelius, your host. I wanted to give you a definition of social justice. Social justice is the view that everyone deserves equal economic, political and social rights and opportunities.
Social workers or leaders, aim to open doors of access and opportunity for everyone, particularly those in greatest need. Formal definitions may vary, but all contain equal rights, equal opportunity and equal treatment. In short, social justice means equal rights and equitable opportunities for all.
The conversation today is with Cherie Silas, one of my great champions. Cherie is an ICF Master Certified Coach, an EMCC Master Coach and coaching supervisor who trains and mentors individuals to become professional and Agile coaches. I could just tell you, I’ve spent seven months once or twice a week with Cherie learning how to be a professional coach.
How about telling us some stuff? We’ll just do an elevator pitch Cherie about you, but also about your superhero persona.
I don’t know how much of a superhero I am, but I am as you said, a Master Certified Coach. To the best of my knowledge, I’m the only MCC who’s like a hardcore Agile coach. I know I’m the only certified leader coach, who is an MCC.
But I think the big things are just that it’s my mission and my purpose. And so years ago, I settled on what I wanted to be in the world was someone who would leave everyone I encountered better than I found them with each encounter.
If they encountered me, they should be better off, not worse off. I guess a little more about me is I live in a biracial family. I have for over 30 years. I have five adult children. I have eight grandchildren and of course child-in-laws and they have various racial profiles, predominantly Black and White, but there are others in there. I’m a lifetime learner.
I was a pastor for 20 years, just resigned recently this year. I really just want to live in a world where people are treated like people. Earlier this year, I realized that people who look like me in the world would not believe that racism and racial injustice was still a thing. I didn’t even believe it for a long time. What I knew was that until they heard it from someone who looked like them, they wouldn’t believe.
And so I decided in the beginning of this year that I would become one White voice and hopefully, to connect with White ears everywhere so that they can hear and realize truth.
That’s beautiful. As a White woman, share your experiences living in a BIPOC family.
It’s been an interesting couple of few decades. I grew up in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana, which is very well known for its non-tolerance of anyone not White. In the world where I grew up, if you were not White, you were considered sub-human.
There wasn’t like a big, “Everyone’s sub-human, but us.” But it was well understood the way people were treated and the way that people were talked about. And so when I selected my spouse, when I was 20, I was ostracized from my family. Except for my mom and my two sisters, they’ve hung in there.
In no uncertain terms, I was told, “You made a choice. You’re going to live with the consequences.” That was okay with me because I didn’t understand all of this thinking around people’s skin, making them less than or more than. I didn’t get it.
So I didn’t want to be a part of that world and I was okay with just walking away. But we lived in St. Bernard Parish when I first got married, which is interesting. Where I lived in that parish, Black people were only allowed to live in three different areas.
There were three… Like two street areas where Black people could live. Of course, legally, that didn’t happen. However, socially, you couldn’t live anywhere else. If you were Black and you were not on one of those key streets, the police were being called. You were going to get drug off and told to stay where you belong. You don’t belong in this neighborhood.
It was a different world, I think, than many people grew up in because it was just outright aggression towards people of color and not just Black people. If you were Vietnamese or Filipino or anything else, you were going to get a lot of that same treatment. And so a few of the more, like the bigger aggressive things that I saw living here was there was a time when I moved into a trailer park with my children because I wanted to get them in a better school district.
There were in there, in that school for about a month and the school contacted me and told me that they were putting the kids out because they didn’t belong there. They said that I didn’t live in the school’s district, although I did and that they couldn’t come back on Monday. So had to move somewhere else and put my kids in the schools where “Black people belong”.
There was another time, a few years later where I rented a house on the border of New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish. New Orleans is predominantly Black. So it’s really interesting how there’s just literally one railroad track that separates the two cities, so much for all the cliche in the world.
I rented a house there with my kids. We moved in on Friday. On Saturday, there was a David Duke sticker on my front porch. For those who don’t know who David Duke is, he’s a politician in Louisiana who’s a former Grand Wizard of the KKK.
So it was obviously a message which we totally understood, totally, totally, totally got the message. And then on Sunday, the landlord contacted me and said that I had kids in the house that were not agreed to on the lease, which the lease said I had kids. It didn’t say they were Black. So he gave me till Friday to move out. And so I had to find another house where Black people lived to move into.
One last quick thing there is in that same city, I worked at a daycare center for a short period of time. Part of the benefits of working there was you could bring your kids to work because it was a daycare center. My daughter who went to school just a couple of blocks away, she had daycare in her school after-school care.
So I didn’t generally bring her there. One day, I had to go pick her up and bring her there afterschool for about two hours. The next day, the owner of the daycare said that the parents were extremely upset because there was some little Black girl there and they were going to pull the kids out. And so I lost my job because I wasn’t, of course, as important as the income for the daycare center.
So just a few of the experiences, just living in that world and what it was like for me, the things that I saw, the big widespread obvious things.
I’m speechless. Well, I shouldn’t be speechless because this is a reality that many people live in. Yeah. I’m like, “Wow.” But it’s glad… It’s important to hear from your context as well, but just how did you handle all of the trauma that was affecting your BIPOC family and their experiences? Oh my God! That’s hard.
Well, to be honest, I didn’t really understand it. It was what it was. For me and my world, this is just the way it is it. In growing up in that place, this is the way it is. It wasn’t like it was an atrocity. It was the way things were. And so things have been a bit different as we’ve moved out of Texas, not completely different, but I don’t know that my children have experienced the same trauma that others have experienced like my husband. My husband experienced real trauma. He grew up in southern Mississippi during integration and it was really bad. It wasn’t … In his years of growing up, it was not uncommon to find out your cousin was hanging from a tree somewhere or to come home and have a cross burning on your front lawn. It just wasn’t unheard of and it was common. So he experienced trauma and I have seen that come up over the years. One time, we were driving in northern Louisiana. I was driving the car. I got pulled over by a police officer for speeding and I was like, “You’re crazy. I was not speeding. I had the cruise control on. I know I wasn’t speeding.”
Right? So I’m arguing with this police officer and my husband who, by the way, was a police officer, he’s a retired police officer so 20 years on the police force, and he was freaking out. He was petrified. He was begging me to just shut up. “Please just stop. Don’t argue with this man. I do not want to go to jail.” I thought he was ridiculous. He’s terrified. I think he’s ridiculous. I didn’t get it. I didn’t get it for years. There were a lot of things like that. He would send me ahead if we were going to go to a church. He would send me ahead to go make sure it was okay that Black people could be there. It was like, “You’re crazy.” All these things, but it was things he knew that I couldn’t understand.
So we moved to Texas about 15 years ago and I really thought that my kids were shielded from racism because we moved out of Louisiana. It can’t possibly be like hat anywhere else, right? So I guess it’s been hidden a lot, but in these past few years, people have felt like they have permission to just be upfront with their racism. On one side, it’s sickening and on the other side, like my family says, it’s a good thing because at least now we know. Now we know who’s against us, right? So I think in many ways, I failed my kids because I didn’t know. I failed them. I can remember I think when I realized that I failed them, my youngest son was in high school and he was right at 16 because we didn’t allow our kids to date til they were 16. He wanted to have his first girlfriend. So he’s got this girlfriend. He comes home highly upset because her uncle, who was her guardian, said that she couldn’t date that thug. He was completely confused. He was like, “It’s just a big mistake.”
He was going to go knock on the man’s door and explain to him, “I’m not a thug. It’s just a mistake.” He couldn’t understand and it broke my heart to have to explain to him that, “It has nothing to do with you. It’s how you look. It doesn’t matter how you act. It doesn’t matter who you are. It’s how you look.” So I think that’s when I realized how much I had failed as a white mother of Black children to do right by my children and to raise them and to know the things that I needed to teach them. I think for them, racism’s just a part of everyday life. I’m angry. I’m furious. I’m outraged. They’re just like, “That’s just the way it is, right?”
The other day, just a week or so ago, maybe two weeks ago, my daughter was on a trip with her friend who’s white and they were checking into a hotel, an upscale hotel, and my daughter was checking in because the room’s in her name and her friend was kind of standing off to the side just waiting. When she walks up to the counter, she gave the lady the name the reservation was in. The lady looked at her and she said, “So you must be the second person on the room. The first person needs to check in.” So didn’t ask for ID or anything, just assumed that she couldn’t possibly be the primary. My daughter was a little frustrated with her and she’s like, “No, I’m the diamond member. That’s why I’m checking in.” She was a little aggravated and she blew it off, but I think it’s sad that people live in a world where they’re treated this way and they just blow it off because it’s just the way it is.
I don’t live in the same world that my family lives in. I see and I hear, but the reality is yeah, we’re in the same world, but my experience of it is totally different. I don’t have to get a receipt when I walk out of the grocery store. I don’t have to be afraid if I get pulled over by the police. I don’t need to plan my trips so that I’m not in certain cities after dark. That’s not my existence. That’s not my reality. For a long time, I didn’t understand it. I’m a bit ashamed of the fact that I couldn’t or wouldn’t understand it. Now, I understand more.
Those experiences you have to live to really get what it is all about because it seems so outlandish, but the reality is it’s a fact. It’s a reality. It’s a thing that, hearing your story of your children, I could relate to, she same thing for my son. I get it. That’s why we’re having these conversations so that people could learn more, especially in our space that we talk about being human-centric in the world. It’s very important that more people hear our stories and understand that yeah, this is difficult. It’s hard to navigate, but you have gotten way beyond … Well I don’t know. I shouldn’t say that, but what I do know, that you’re the founder of a well-established company and you’re doing a fabulous job by the way. Just want to let you know that.
It’s one of the reasons why I came to your program. It’s because of you. So talk to me about your view on corporate responsibility for diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.
Well first, I think that all humans should be treated like humans. There is no excuse whatsoever to mistreat another human because of the way they look or their choices. They are human. People are human. Let’s start there, right? I also think that it’s not enough to just say, “Send this press release out or email out saying we support BIPOC community.” Yes, great, you do and it’s a start and I don’t knock that, but what concerns me is what else? It’s one thing to say, “You’re welcome here. We’re going to open the door.” Great, and what? Because people are attracted to who’s there and people feel safe around people that look like them. So saying that others that don’t look like you are welcome here, it’s a start, but you have to create an environment where they feel like they’re welcome, where they know they’re welcome.
Go out and find them. Right? If your staff doesn’t look like the community looks … So if I go to your office place, my question is is it going to look like it does if I go to the Walmart nextdoor to your office? If the community that’s in Walmart is not the community that’s in your office, there’s a problem. Check your salaries. If your salary range is not the same regardless of sex or race or whatever and there’s disparities there because you could get some people cheaper than others, there’s a problem that needs to be looked at. What about leadership? So maybe your staff is a bit multicolored. Look at your leaders. Are they all the same color? Do they all look the same? Is it a bunch of old, white men? If so, that’s a problem. Your company is in danger, first of all, because you don’t have a diversity of ideas. You can’t connect with the community you serve with your customer base and you’re doing a disservice to the world.
So I’ve heard people say, “Well we just don’t get applications.” Well you probably don’t get applications because you don’t make it obvious that they belong, that people belong there. Go recruit. I don’t get applications as an excuse and it’s a
CAPA go out and find applications, go to local colleges, recruit from professional associations, do something. Don’t just sit there and say, not my problem. They’re not coming. If I look at you hanging out at a conference and you’re surrounded by people that look like you and I look different, what tells me that I can walk up to you and be a part of that group and talk to you nothing. Right? So, I guess err on the side of action, not on the side of just saying things.
You know, corporate America, it’s all about. Let me be nice. So talk to me about what you’re doing personally, to improve opportunities for black indigenous people of color in the agile community.
It’s really interesting because I didn’t start out like on a mission to do anything. I just treated humans like humans. And then I noticed a few months ago that I went and I counted how many black guide level coaches there were at Scrum Alliance. And I was like, Hmm, 6, 6, 6. There’s a problem. And then I was like, oh cool, there’s three men and three women. And then I realized I had actually mentored all three of those women. And I was like, now that is pretty cool. Right. Sticking to my own advice, I know that people, white people are going to be more attracted to me because I look like them fine. And so I keep a running list of people in the community who I watch, black people in the community, who I think are up and coming talent. And I reach out to them and I called them and I send them a message and say, Hey, can we meet?
I want to talk to you. And so I met her people and I’m connected to a good group of people, even at my company. We’re not a huge company, but we’ve given over $22,000 of scholarships this year so far for education, for coaches and people who want to be agile coaches. We’re doing what we can, it’s small. We can only do what we can do, but it’s a step. And so I have a personal goal to see that guide level community have 50 people of color or 50 black people specifically. There are other people of color black by far is the lowest ratio. And so I want to see 50 black people who are guide level coaches with Scrum Alliance in the next couple of years. Even if I have to mentor every single one of them myself.
You could do it. If there’s anyone who could pull this off, it will be you. Right?
Somebody’s got to make a ripple somewhere that starts a wave.
Well, as you said it’s small, but in a parable, it talks about the woman who only had three pennies and that’s all she had. And she gave it all as compared to someone who has 3 million pennies and you only give one. So there’s a big difference, right? In terms of the impact of what you get from giving. You kind of touched on the agile community and I’ve been around for a moment. Talk to me about significant changes you would like to see to support BIPOC and non BIPOC integration in the agile community. I don’t go to as many conferences anymore because of COVID one. And because, after time you go like, there’s not a lot of space here for me. So you start to create your own space, but what type of integration you would like to see more in the agile community?
It was really funny. My family or my husband, sometimes my kids will come with me when I go to conferences or when I travel and there’s always this running joke, they look around and they’re like, do black people come here. Are black people allowed in this city, at this restaurant. That’s the thing look around. If it’s all white, that’s a problem. And so invite people, expand your circle, right? Each one of us, whether we’re black, white, any other race, whatever, we could all reach out to one or two people who don’t look like us and help them along. And if we all did that, it would make a huge impact. You get so much benefit from working with people who are not like you, my client base and my student base is worldwide.
I worked with just about every culture, every country, and I am better for it. Right? So if we all reach out to one or two people who don’t look like us and say, Hey, I want to invest in your life. I think you’ve got talent. I want to, I want to get you there. Then we will increase the talent base and we will increase the diversity base. I think another thing is, for those of you who are out there speaking at conferences and meetups and things like that, or working with nonprofit organizations, take a look at who’s running it. If all the speakers are white, asked the question, were there no people of color who have any intelligence to add to this topic? Why is it all white? If you’re working with nonprofit organizations, and this is one of my big pet peeves, is that the people on the organizational boards often, they’re all white.
And then they bring somebody in to do diversity and inclusion and they’re white. And it’s like, what? Why was there nobody of color that has any intelligence on this subject that you could have brought in to help with this? It doesn’t make sense to me. In fact, I’ve turned down the opportunity to be a part of boards to say, no, it’s too white. I’m not doing it. You need to go find some people of color, right? So if you see a BIPOC person in the room, you walk in at a conference or some other training or whatever, and there’s one person of color there, go sit down next to him, sit down next to him and say, Hey, it’s kind of a white in here don’t you think? You know, don’t worry, I got your back. Right. And because if you notice it, they noticed it long before you. I’ve had a wonderful opportunity being the minority in my family, to be in plenty of places where I’m the only white person.
And it’s fascinating. And it’s good because when I look around and I realize, oh, there’s nobody somebody who looks like me here. It’s like, ah, this is what it must be like to be black. And that’s a good thing because that’s the thing that I need to recognize, that’s an opportunity that many white people don’t get the chance to see, Ooh, it’s a little bit uncomfortable, nobody looks like me here. Right? And then I think when you have job opportunities, when you’re bringing in more coaches, find the best coaches you can. And then look at that list. And if it’s all white, start to ask yourself, are there no people of color that have this level of talent? It’s probably that that’s just not who’s in your circle. But if you think for a moment, you’ll be able to find others that you realize have a lot of talent and they just didn’t come to mind first, you have to be intentional, right? Talk to your clients about it. If their employee base doesn’t reflect the community, talk about it, bring it up. It’s for their betterment.
Without a doubt, but I want to ask you another question. One last question. It’s really looking at a utopia. I know most people don’t want to think of utopias. Yeah. But I think that sometimes it’s in order for us to understand belonging and we need to have a vision of what that may look like. Right. And now that’s just my personal opinion anyway. So, what would diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging utopia, what would that look like for, and your family and even for the agile community?
It’s hard to say. I know that it looks like humans being treated like humans. I know that it looks like respect and curiosity. And so instead of looking at, if we would all look at people who are different than us and be curious, instead of afraid and invite those talents to share the diversity in the agile community will make it a better place. It’ll make it a stronger place. There are so many ideas and so much talent that is unexpressed and buried somewhere because it doesn’t have access to the forefront. And so for me, I want to see that talent brought to the front. We need all the talent, not just the talent that’s easily accessible. There are just as many people of color, probably more, if you add all of them together in the Agile community as they’re all white people, but the leadership, they’re not visible. And so I guess I just envisioned a world where we’re all equal. We all have a seat at the table because the seat is there and we can stand up and take it. Not just me feel like I can stand up and take a seat in the world where it’s all men. Yes, your talent has to enable you to sit down in the chair. But if the chair is hidden in the closet because you might sit in it well then that’s not helpful. I don’t know how well that answers your question. I don’t know what perfect is.
Well, it’s perfect as a utopia, as a contextual, right? It’s your own personal things. Some people may have unicorns and Skittles in it.
Dave, one thing I will say is that I guess if we take it outside of the space, the utopia for me is that it’s a world where everyone’s represented. And one of the reasons I fight like I do is because I want my children to be able to look in the professional world and say, “I’m welcome there.” And if there’s no one that represents them to say, “You’re welcome here,” they won’t believe it. And I want that for my kids and I want it for everybody’s kids.
Well, that is such a profound statement because it’s having like Barack Obama and Michelle Obama in the White House. I believe it was a game changer for lots of people because now they could believe if you could perceive it, you could achieve it. So here’s the reality right here. So to me that that was a huge step. And I hope to see much more of the type of progression taking place. Not only just in the United States, where we live, but in other parts of the world where everything is possible for everyone, every human being. That, to me, that’s what I would love to see as well.
Any parting words? Final words? Not even final words, but anything you would want to say that’s even more profound than what you’ve said already.
Yeah, one thing. I want to take a minute and speak to people like me who are afraid, like me. I’ve struggled a lot to know what to do and what to say and who to say it to because I’ve been so afraid that if I say the wrong thing everything’s going to blow up. I will ostracize the people that I want to connect to. It’s like you get one chance to screw this up and I don’t want to do that, but there’s a whole bunch of people out there I know who are fighting that same battle. And the answer is, “Be willing to be wrong.” Ask… I am willing to be the white girl in the room. I meet with a whole group of people who I mentor who are black. And sometimes they’ll say stuff and I’m like, okay, white girl question.
I don’t know what you’re talking about. Could you help me? And being willing to say, “I’m going to make mistakes.” I don’t know what to say. You tell me what to do and I’ll do it. Help me. And being honest about it. I have yet to meet a single person who I have said, “You know what? I don’t know what I’m doing and I’m scared to death. Can you help me? I want to help you. I don’t need to be out front. I want to partner with you and be an advocate.” The white people don’t need to take this race. It’s everybody’s race. And if you don’t know how to run it, then don’t pretend like you do. And just ask for help.
Well said. Being vulnerable, right? There’s nothing wrong with that. But thank you so much for being brave and lending your voice to this conversation. I think it’s critical that everyone contributes. You’re doing amazing work in our space. And I’m certainly grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to spend time with you and learn from you and with you. And I look forward to more of that. So with that, I’m going to close right now and say, thank you for listening to the KnolShare with Dr. Dave Podcast. I hope this learning experience will also prompt you to take and seek more and discover how you can contribute to positive experiences for BIPOC lives, but for all lives as well. All human beings. It really doesn’t take much. All we need to do is tap into our own humanity.
So here’s a few places you could find this recording. You will find it at the Agile for Humanity Podcast, this recording, on the KnolShare with Dr. Dave Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, and Google Play. But you would also find it in several websites like the agilealliance.org and, KnolsharewithDrDave.com, and KnolShare.com.
The Agile Alliance website will also have this showcased every month on their sites and sharing BIPOC stories.
I’d also like to tell you that the music for this podcast was written by my niece Kyanna Brow-Hendriksen.
This podcast is also Copyright 2021 KnolShare and Dr. Dave Cornelius.
But until next time, be well, stay safe, and connect soon.
Thank you Cherie, again, for being brave and just sharing your voice on your story and your experience and being vulnerable.