CEO: Apologies to Leonard

Aug 5, 2022, 10:44 AM by Chris Coker

I need to apologize to my friend Leonard. I wish he lived next door to me because he is such a nice and caring guy, and since he is such a nice person, I want to apologize. Sometimes I am ridiculously oblivious, so maybe it is a universal apology that I owe. 

Chris Coker and Leonard smile at the cameraThe Genesis of this occurred several months ago, in a strange and mystical place that none of us understand, Washington D.C. In that bizarre place that rarely represents the populace, President Biden appointed a new Supreme Court Justice. Her name is Ketanji Brown Jackson. She is female, and she is Black. Leonard is also Black (not female). I am white (not female). 

These facts are relevant because on April 7, when Ketanji was appointed, Leonard posted on social media: “Such a Historic Moment.” I replied back to him, “What?” I didn’t pause to think about what he was announcing. My wife intervened and apologized for my obliviousness, and I finally got it. 

She is the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States.
I wasn’t too busy to know what was going on, I knew we had a new SCOTUS Justice. I was aware that she was Black and a woman. However, it did not register with me how important that actually is. I did not think about it enough to consider that this was a historic moment for my Black friends, our country and for ME.

Supreme Court building in Washington DC

What’s that all about? Why? 

It’s a very easy answer; we judge other people’s feelings, emotions and life experiences through the filter of our own personal experiences and upbringing. Usually, we do not stop to think and “walk in someone else’s shoes.” We are too wrapped up in what is going on in our little corner of the world. 

The harsh and well-known reality is that Black communities and my Black friends have had different life experiences than I have had. They have faced systemic barriers that I, as a white man, have not. Because of that systemic/cultural/historical privilege, I didn’t immediately understand how historic and important this moment was and still is. Stay with me here, I am not trying to state the obvious. I am trying to bring light to the very unobvious. Which is why I use the word oblivious. Obliviousness does not attach an emotion or intent; it is simply a state of being. I did not mean to be hurtful or negligent in my feelings, but I was simply unaware because I was not lifting my “head” above my everyday life.  

My parents did talk to me about events like this, and my mom even marched with Dr. King. They were very much about inclusion and diversity, but it was not enough. They gave me a foundation, but they did not have the words or experiences to bring it home. I have better words and understanding than my parents, but it is still definitely not good enough… yet.  

That is where we can do better. We have done better than our parents’ generation and a whole lot better than our grandparents’ generation in this area, but it is time to intentionally and literally bring it home — into your home. I am embarrassed about my response to Leonard’s post. You know how you think about things at 3am? The mistakes you have made. This is one that runs through my mind because it showed me that I was not as in touch as I thought I was. I had more work to do and was giving myself too much credit. 

If it didn’t hit your radar, you — like me — still have work to do. 

I did not create generations of slavery, segregation, religious oppression or any of the other historical ills. I cannot be held accountable for them, but I am a member and part of modern-day society that is still suffering from these historical issues. So yes, I am responsible for righting the wrongs and making sure that they do not happen again in my lifetime. My family just got back from a trip to Germany, where they visited Dachau. We did not have anything to do with the genocide of the Jewish population in Germany, buuuuuut there are Holocaust deniers and Nazis who still exist in this country. That is 100% my problem to combat. 

If you think this is not you and your children’s problem to combat, you are inadvertently supporting that issue. No need to be polite at a party when some idiot says, “Yeah, that Holocaust thing was all faked.” You need to verbally punch them out.  

When someone says, “All lives matter,” yup, they are 100% correct. However, it is a great opportunity to help them understand that not all lives were made legal and safe (think gay people in our lifetime), not all lives were able to live freely (think slavery as well as Jim Crow laws in the post-Civil War era through the 1970s) and not all lives are treated with humanity (think about children separated from their parents at the border just a few short years ago). Until we can say with absolute certainty that All Lives Matter equally, then we are obligated to take action and to teach our kids how to act in a way that proves that all lives matter.  

Please note that I use the word ACT as a verb.  

paper dolls with different skin tones

Parents, here is my ask: Please have a very intentional conversation with your kids about why Ketanji Brown Jackson’s appointment to the Supreme Court is so historic and so important. More importantly, do not shy away from conversations about what I said in the previous paragraph with your children; intentionally find moments to discuss what has happened generationally to our BIPOC communities in this country, how it has stunted generational wealth, education, personal freedoms, access, equity, business ownership, home ownership and how it can be made better.

It is about creating thoughtful action and understanding as well as an understanding of history and its influence on current day. Make sure you and your child know the difference between equity and equality. Make sure that they truly understand the common language, phrases and ideals behind fostering change. Help them become loving critics of their country and its history and see the work that still needs to be done. 

History is history, none of us participated in it, which is why it is called history. People and societies mature. I had a family member who was talking about some of the history of Europe and America, and they said, “I hate this country and what it stands for.” It’s a totally ignorant and immature statement. You would not even be here if it was not for this country, and you don’t get to reasonably put down something that actually welcomed you with open arms as an immigrant. You need to make it so people down the line say our generation did good. Intentionally do better. My parents’ generation paved the path for civil rights and acceptance of LGBTQ communities. We need to bring it into our home for understanding and our kids need to bat clean up.

Lastly, teach your children to put down the lens of their own lives and try to look through the lens of someone else’s life. They may never fully understand someone else’s challenges or perspective, but they can listen and they can be open-minded. And if they don’t like what they hear, help them figure out how can they make it better.

YMCA CEO Chris CokerChris Coker
President/CEO
YMCA of Northern Colorado

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