Saturday, June 13, 2009

Look Who's Coming to Dinner

"If we cannot now end our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity."

John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Lately, I've been putting a lot of "thought-energy" into the issue of diversity.

The Webster's definition goes like this:

The condition of being diverse; variety; especially the inclusion of diverse people in a group or organization.

I live in Charlotte, NC...a city that, back in the 70's, was one of the first to intentionally integrate our school system. I was in sixth grade...the same year that my parents enrolled me in a private school.

My experience with diversity, at least ethnic diversity, has been, shall we

This week I had lunch with Janine Davis. The "physical " differences between us are striking. Frankly put...I look a bit like a white athletic-peace corps-soccer mom and Janine looks like an African American chic-diva-stylin'-urban woman.

Janine is an award-winning 20-year veteran of the professional broadcasting industry and currently serves as Producer/Co Host of Charlotte's #1 Urban radio morning show "No Limit Larry and the Morning Maddhouse" heard each weekday morning on WPEG-FM otherwise known as Power 98.

I've known Janine for several years now. We've talked about getting together and finally did this week over lunch. What drew each of us to the other was our desire to create an environment where all girls can recognize and achieve their greatest human potential.

Janine started Girl Talk Foundation, in 2002 after visiting several middle and high schools, where girls talked candidly with her about their issues. But, it was Janine's 10-year old niece who pushed her to start Girl Talk Foundation, after telling her aunt she wanted to "grow up and become a dancer in a rap video." Fearing her niece would succumb to further peer pressure, Janine organized an all-girls rap session later that year to focus on the needs of teen girls...nearly 200 girls attended. Janine went on to launch Girl Talk Foundation, focused on building self-esteem in young girls. Today the program has served nearly 3500 girls throughout Charlotte-Mecklenburg and hopes to serve many more.

Her program is building momentum and Janine turned to me...not only for feedback on business questions, but for some emotional support. It can be very emotionally, physically and mentally draining, working a full-time job so one can pursue the dream of impacting social change at the individual and cultural level. I remember all too well, the early days when I was just getting Girls on the Run off the ground.

As I sat there with her, I realized that half the battle of celebrating diversity, at a personal level, is being willing to step outside my comfort zone and invite myself to "dinner". To just show up where I am the minority. I've got to then be willing to hang out for a while. I can't just drop in and hope to understand or feel anything meaningful. Nope...I've got to spend time in the space and see how it feels. Of course this is easy for me to say because I still spend a good bit of my time in the least as far as ethnicity goes.

Lately I've been considering the notion of a dinner where I host one other person who has a very different viewpoint on a topic--a topic upon which I have a very strong opinion. I'd be upfront in my invitation to my dinner-mate. I would also be very clear that I seek nothing more than conversation. A curious one-on-one exchange where we just share a meal, together, and listen at a very deep level to each hope being that we find common ground in that space..that we explore the themes of our lives. I mean...haven't we all felt left out, felt happy, loved children, felt pain, been scared, laughed till we cried and been hurt so badly that we never thought we would know joy again?

I am always amazed how sharing our stories engages people in real dialogue. Our differences are somehow beautifully diminished. We can't hide behind the curtain of "popular ideals" or lose outselves in "the status quo". There we are...just two people sharing a meal and telling our stories, trying to connect the dots and doing our best to understand one another.

This is perhaps what I love most about my connection to Girls on the Run. The program magically breaks down barriers by putting girls, volunteers and community members from all walks of life together, for ten to twelve weeks. Yes, we may have opposing ideals on how certain societal issues should be addressed, but deeply rooted at the starting line, long before the issues become a problem, rests our mutual hope and dream that all girls, women and people are loved, respected and honored.

And that got me really thinking. If you could invite someone to dinner...someone who supported a viewpoint on an issue that was in opposition to yours on a particular topic, who would it be? What questions would you ask them? How would that feel? Does WHO you invite tell you something about who YOU are? Let me know what you think...

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