Take the High Road: Grappling With Issues of Ethics

I’m not perfect. I used to claim to be working on being perfect and, eventually, I realized that’s all I’ll ever be doing: working on it. I was chatting with Aaron, one of the managers at Union, this afternoon and we were in agreement on the fact that perfection is not a destination but a lifelong journey.

That being said (and completely unrelated to my discussion with Aaron), there are some things that one cannot overlook. To willingly work for an institution whose values directly contradict your own is challenging. To do so and begin to side with the morally mistaken institution, however, is just plain ridiculous. We have to pay our bills but do we have to sell our souls? I just cannot do it. I cannot look my family in their eyes and say that I agreed to sell them out so that I could bring home the bacon.

I’m an effective team member who takes ownership over his own and his organization’s success. But I’m not going to sit silently and assist in propelling a M.A.G.A. agenda. And no one else should, either. America not great until it chooses to love everyone before it hates anyone, which it hasn’t done since it was first colonized.

I thought I was done but now I’m not. It sucks. So many institutions, from universities to fast food spots to the companies that sell caps and gowns use slave labor. If you have a mobile phone or computer (which you do), you’re supporting the privatized prison system. They’ve legalized human trafficking. People buy stocks in human beings being locked up. We all support it. In the United States, it’s impossible not to. But it is possible to speak out, to wake up, and to demand change.

The slavery isn’t just in the prison system though. It’s in paying people minimum wages. It’s in keep people shackled to student debt. It’s in poisoning us with McDonald’s and Burger King and all the preservatives in our foods so that we become too dependent on the jobs to say 🤬 the jobs. It’s in holding us hostage by forcing whites to believe that every Latinx is a member of MS13 and forcing blacks to believe that we are going to be killed by cops while forcing cops (who are just glorified elevated slaves) to believe that all blacks are looking to pull out a gun on an armed officer. The powers that be no longer need the whips. Our minds, regardless of race, have been colonized. The solution is choosing to take the hard road by loving others when it’s easier to embrace fear-inspired, self-serving hate. That is the greatest rebellion of all time.

 

Make maintaining your integrity a priority.

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Create 🤬 You’d Pay For

Today, I was at the Triangle’s dopest barbershop, Rock’s. Not only do I get a consistently phenomenal haircut from Jennifer but I also get a craft beer with every cut. Today, I chose a Founder’s IPA and, right under the can’s rim were the words, “BREWED FOR US.” I thought that was great. They brew the kind of beer they want to drink.

Some people say you should make products or provide services that your customers would like. While I agree with that, I also think that you should never create something that you, yourself, don’t consider dope enough to pay for. In the case of barbers, yes, there are people who want really weird cuts and stuff. But that’s ok. Just think of it this way: if I was that kind of person, would I pay me for this caliber of cut?

If it’s not quality, don’t do it. Every photo I give clients is a photograph I would love to put in my portfolio. Every résumé and cover letter I craft is one that I would provide an employer with myself.

Be proud enough of your work to never give anything that isn’t good enough for you. And, if they want something that you wouldn’t be proud to tell others you did, turn down the business. It’s not worth it.

 

Make creating 🤬 you like a priority.

The Get Back

“The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good.” — Proverbs‬ ‭15:3

Have you ever been at a pivotal point in your life and realized that you have to refocus? No one will do it for you. Look in the mirror and make the changes necessary to reach for the stars that you know God put you here to reach for.That was me today. I’ve been doing well as of late in many ways. I’ve got a good job. I workout four or five days each week. I go to church. I’m eating better and drinking less. And I’m doing a better job of managing my money. But something was missing.

Last night, my best man and best friend Sean sent me a devotional he read. It was good advice but, at the time, I thought of it secularly and not spiritually. At 2:25 this morning, God woke me up and I sat and thought about what is missing from my days. I didn’t pick up my phone and scroll. I just thought. And I realized that, even with going to church weekly, leading Bible Study on Wednesdays, and working on the church’s social media team, I was neglecting my own relationship with God. I was doing enough to look like a good Christian but what was I sacrificing? I get up in the morning, do yoga, go to the gym, go to work, come home, watch Netflix and read books. Sure, I’d thank Him for waking me and for my food but that was the extent of my regular prayers.

After taking the time to recognize this, I prayed for healing. And after I prayed for healing, I decided I would read the Word. And you know what chapter I randomly came across? The one Sean sent me a few hours before. I didn’t realize it at first until I got to that verse. It was a reminder that, no matter how much I fall off, God is looking out for me and He has a plan to help me get back on the right track.

This has nothing to do with professional development or branding. As I said before, all of that looks good for me right now. It has to do with wholistic care. Are you, as a young professional, feeding your spirit the way you’re feeding your body and bank accounts? If the answer is no, consider how to start.

Make refocusing a priority.

Superhero Status

I’ll tell you my favorite thing about volunteering with young people: It enhances my superpowers. Inspiring children allows me to reach into the future and impact a generation I may never see born. That’s pretty dope.

Yesterday, I visited my old elementary school and spoke to a group of young brothers who are where I was 25 years ago. Talking to them about their aspirations reminded me of my own imagination at the time. I encouraged them to be there for one another because there are rooms in this world where, if we as black men don’t cheer for one another, no one will. I let them know we are one another’s tribe.

Find a way to inspire a kid between now and Monday morning. Even if it’s just a quick word of encouragement to the little girl sitting on the floor of Barnes & Noble reading. Let her know she matters. Or if it’s a little boy on the basketball court working on a certain move, let him know that, if he keeps practicing, he can perfect it. If it’s positive, encourage it and that positive mindset will spill over into other sections of their lives.

 

Make reaching into the future a priority.

Lessons Left By Ira

Most people who know me know that I lost my father in 2011 and some know about the passing of my great-grandma in 2007. But very few people, outside of my friends from Chapel Hill, know the other people I’ve lost. Today, I’ll touch on a pretty special young lady who I have nothing but fond memories of.

I remember in third grade or so, a young girl from Ukraine joined my class. Her name was Irina Yarmolenko but she went by Ira. She was pretty, sweet, and smart. An all-around genuine human being. Until recently, I didn’t know that her family had immigrated here as refugees but I probably didn’t completely understand what was going on in that part of the world at that time. To me, she was just a new student.

Over the next decade, Ira and I went to school together until we graduated from Chapel Hill High. We took everything from college prep to Advanced Placement courses together. At some point (probably during my girl-crazy middle school years), I recall having a crush on her but, when all was said and done, we just became really good friends. She was an amazing young lady.

I almost teared up when I came across her Facebook page today and decided to look through our friendship (or as much of it as Facebook could report, which unfortunately leaves out a large chunk). Ira and I had gotten into the same college, UNCC. I had also been accepted to NC State and UNCG. All three had great business programs but I went with UNCG because the female to male ratio was almost 3:1 at the time. Ira, who chose to go to UNCC, picked on me about that in some of her posts to my Facebook wall. Her teasing still makes me laugh.Screen Shot 2018-03-03 at 4.20.00 PM

In mid-2008, as her second year at UNCC came to a close, Ira passed away. NBC’s show “Dateline” did a segment on the mystery behind her death and I recall watching it, hoping an answer would surface. One never did. How it happened isn’t a concern of mine now. If there is justice to be served, it seems like it would be fair, conceptually. I just know that I’ll never run into my friend on Franklin Street again. She passed at 20 years old. I’m 30 as of this past December 3 and, while I cannot say we would’ve definitely still been close, sometimes it’s nice just to see what’s going on in an old friend’s life or grab a drink (now that we can legally). I would’ve loved to hear her verbose opposition to the current state of sociopolitical affairs in the state and nation that she came to call home. Thinking about it, she didn’t even get to see President Obama elected, nor will she see our first female president. She was a great artist and a great soul and, remembering her reminds me that I’ve only got one life to live and I have no clue as to when it will end. So I must live it knowing that every memory made isn’t just for me but also for those who will smile about the good times when I’m gone.

Don’t go a day without telling at least one person you love them and don’t let too long go without reaching out to an old friend. Live in love and let old feuds die.

Make living a life you love a priority.

Attention-Seekers, Please Read

“Don’t toot your own horn.” — Yuridiana Ortiz

I’m all for motivating yourself to yourself but be wary of speaking too highly of all that you’ve done in front of others. You know what you’ve accomplished. You know that it was good. Let that be enough. A hunger for attention is an unhealthy hunger, like a hunger for candy or ice cream. As a treat, it can be wonderful but too much can be sickening. The difference between attention and ice cream is that feeding too much ice cream to yourself makes you sick. Feeding too much attention to yourself makes those around you sick. They can no longer stomach you and, therefore, they avoid you.

When you’re truly doing well and are humble about it, the accolades and admiration will come. People will approach you and say “Great job.” But when you tell everyone else how much you’ve done before they do, you’ll feel underappreciated, which leads you to continue talking about how much you do, which leads you to feel more underappreciated. It’s a vicious cycle that only you can end by working hard and shutting up.

Humility is and always will be important. Don’t berate yourself but be cognizant of how you come across. You’ll never be seen as perfect but you can be less self-centered. I quickly joke with my close friends about how I’m the smartest guy in the crew but I will never walk into a room of associates and come across like that. It’s unbecoming, even if I know I am.

In this era of self-promotion, things get fuzzy because we must be able to draw a boundary between productive branding and problematic bragging. It took me a while to differentiate one from the other and, there are still times when I struggle with it, so don’t beat yourself up if you’re trying to separate the two. The wonderful thing is that every day is another opportunity to get better.

One more thing: The time to toot your horn (with some class, of course) is when you’re interviewing for a job and talking about your accomplishments or when you’re up for a raise/promotion. But, at that point, no one should be sick to the stomach if you’ve exhibited humility up to either of those points so, play that horn with confidence.

 

Make humility a priority.

A Fault in the Foundation

I woke up this morning at 1:50AM with plans to lazily scroll though Instagram until sleep reappeared. Within a few minutes, I saw a post about the Dakota Pipeline (remember the #NODAPL hashtag on social media?). The Sioux and their allies weren’t protesting the installation of the pipeline to prevent economic growth. They were doing it because of the very real chance that the pipeline would leak, contaminating their environment.

Yesterday, the pipeline leaked, contaminating their environment. Things like this would make a more innocent version of myself wonder why our nation puts the good of the economy over the good of its citizens. But, as I’ve become more cynical, I’ve realized that the Bible was right and the love of money is the root of all evil. Not only has America historically trivialized the lives of our Native American brothers and sisters because of its insatiable greed, to this day we spit in their faces and poison their water in an attempt to make the rich richer. Being that I am not a scientist, I cannot say with any certainty what 210,000 gallons of oil will do to an environment but it doesn’t take a genius to know that, yesterday, some of these protesters’ greatest fears were realized. Their children’s children may suffer as a result of America’s gross negligence and moral bankruptcy.

How do we begin to hold the government accountable? When do we put the corporations on trial to the point that they must be dissolved? At what point do we realize that, if a system is grossly underserving so many citizens, it should be done away with? And, to those who say, “Well, it is working for many, so let’s keep it in place and try fixing the broken parts instead of scrapping it in its entirety,” I say you are disillusioned at best and malevolent at worst. A system that, at its base, was meant to serve only those of a certain race and class will always primarily serve only those who meet that criteria until the foundation is replaced. We cannot fix this from the top down or the floor up. We have to dig deep, get to the bedrock, and redefine who we are as a nation. As I said in a piece published yesterday on Blavity, America is in such turmoil right now because its values do not align with its actions, and never have. We say we are the land of the free and the home of the brave but our (using that word loosely) founding fathers were little more than cowardly thieves of the most predatory nature with no regard for a humanity that didn’t look like they thought humanity should look. If one fails to identify the brokenness at his core and work to repair and make amends for it, how can that person (or nation) ever get better and live up to a set of lofty values? You don’t fix a bad habit by saying you’re working on it publicly while privately going back to the same habit. You need to be held accountable. We must hold America accountable.

So, to my Native American brothers and sisters, I hope Sioux nation sues the pants off the American government, pun intended. I pray they have wronged you for the last time. And I hope that, at some point sooner than later, America will go through the painfully revolutionary process of looking in the mirror and saying, “We have to start over.”

 

Make integrity a priority.

 

Originally written on 11/17/17.