Chillicothe Wellness Workshop

Chillicothe Wellness Workshop

By Lawrence FunderburkeAugust 23, 202310 Minutes

In Appalachia Ohio, 10 percent of the population are people of color, and yet, this demographic only receives 3 to 4 percent of the outreach dollars to impact this vulnerable area of the state. In partnership with the African American Community Fund, which exclusively serves Appalachia Ohio, LFYO presented a four-hour wealth and health workshop for black and brown Chillicothians on August 12th. Given the fact that my wife Monya grew up there as a child, this place is near and dear to my heart. Like so many southern Ohio towns, Chillicothe has seen its middle-class lifestyle become more and more constrained by factors outside and inside their control. They’ve also watched their most marketable quality — a rock-solid work ethic — result in less and less residual benefits. Blue-collar jobs lost in the 1980s due to global outsourcing forces to produce cheaper products at lower wages was the unfortunate catalyst. The resulting fatherless crisis (driven by purposeless adult males), drug dependency epidemic, and overall hopelessness have crippled the region. It’s a tale of two vastly different worlds. A shrinking minority have capitalized on an oasis of opportunities as risk-seeking entrepreneurs, real estate investors, and revered philanthropists. The expanding majority view life as one painful voyage with little hope for a promising future but full of legacy-altering, coulda-woulda-shoulda regrets. To most Appalachia Ohio residents, their opportunity glass is always half empty.

Our empowerment goals were clear-cut throughout the wellness workshop. Teach participants the language, lingo, and labeling of wealth and health through sensory-based approaches. All three — language, lingo, and labeling — embrace personal discomfort. Of course, no growth can occur without an upgraded mindset. An individual’s expectation of the future changes when exposure and experience are both transformed in the present. And it’s hard to get someone excited about a future that hasn’t been seen before. Thus, we familiarized participants with the investment world, a key pillar of a well-constructed financial plan. Investing is arguably the biggest stumbling block for any racial demographic, especially those who suffer from “math anxiety.” Investing in math is complex, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. Of course, it can serve as a compound interest friend or foe. (The bulk of the workshop was spent on investing. Typically, blue-collar communities instinctively understand the basics of personal or family finance — live below your means, avoid unnecessary debt, and maintain a respectable credit score. But most middle-class households in rural Ohio know very little about the stock market, even when working for recognizable, publicly traded companies.)

First up was The Portfolio Management Game, one of our signature learning modalities to bridge the growing and glowing opportunity divide in America. This PDF app crystallizes the world of investing in a language that’s relatable, palatable, and sustainable to every social class group. Each player is given $1,000,000 to invest in various investment options, including cash/cash equivalents, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, index and exchanged traded funds, private equity, and hedge funds. At the onset, though, an analysis of one’s risk tolerance and financial goals serve as key drivers of portfolio construction decisions. Participants must wait with bated breath as they watch how global economic factors and conditions impact — positively or negatively — their million-dollar portfolios on a macro level through four scenarios. Of course, taxes, inflation, diversification, and asset allocation are additional considerations of this real-world, simulated game.

The Portfolio Management Game was the perfect segue into the Mr. Fundy’s Stock Pro Game, a hypothetical investment game with both macro and micro components. Participants assessed the dynamics of large-cap, mid-cap, and small-cap stocks from a value-investing perspective. Each participant was given $1,000,000 to invest in five companies, which consisted of 10 large cap, 5 mid cap, and 5 trim cap options. From banks to airliners to software developers to clothing and apparel manufacturers as well as other industry categories, participants admitted that selections were made based on their “familiarity profile” — what they knew, who they trusted, and how they shopped in terms of products and services. Key metrics in the Mr. Fundy’s Stock Pro Game included earnings per share (or EPS), price-to-earnings ratio (or P/E ratio), dividend yield, return on assets (or ROA), and return on equity (or ROE). They were shown how to calculate market share (stock price x # of shares outstanding). Also, participants were taught how to find the missing variable in an algebraic equation when two out of three variables are known. For example, if earnings per share and number of shares are stated, then total earnings or net income can be found through deductive reasoning.

As a race, we’re behind the ball financially. And not much has changed for our wealth picture since The Emancipation Proclamation of 1865, which supposedly set us free. Blacks spend more money on food, clothing, and entertainment than any other ethnic group. What we touch as loyal consumers, we usually buy based on how it’ll make us feel. Who we wear regarding designer labels, in our minds, plays a large role in how we’re viewed, accepted, or denigrated in the eyes of others. Where we find laughter and enjoyment, is how we escape from our real or imaginary pain. As U.S. congresswoman Joyce Beatty once shared with me several years ago, “We, black folks, need to be on both sides of the cash register.” It’s time for us to break free from what holds us back as a people — feeling a certain way before we do a certain thing. Feelings can serve as a barometer, but they inevitably make a terrible guide. In the last hour of the workshop before Chef Jim Warner’s cooking demo, rule-of-thumb averages were highlighted in the five areas of comprehensive financial planning using a case study as the backdrop: life planning, financial management, investment planning, income and asset protection, and estate planning. (In general, it takes a minimum of 20 hours of intensive training to construct a viable foundation in personal or family finance. And scaffolding attributes to accumulate, protect, and distribute legacy wealth involve countless hours more.)

Chef Jim Warner wrapped up the workshop with a stellar presentation on healthy eating. Over the years, he has prepared meals for Kirk Herbstreit, Joey Galloway, Michael Redd, “Beanie” Wells, and yours truly. He discussed the important role nutrition can play in the lives and legacies of those who prioritize wholesome eating. Yes, it’s a matter of life or death every time we sit down to eat. Real food helps us think better, feel better, and do better. Warner highlighted, “Start today by making small changes in what you eat and drink.” He added, “Pay the price now so that you can reap the rewards later.” Every delicious food item prepared by Chef Warner was gluten-free, GMO-free, dairy-free, additive-free, soy-free, and pork-free (but not taste-free). Organic foods may cost more, but the benefits far exceed conventional alternatives. Even on a limited budget, quantity and quality of life are greatly improved when consuming foods that are good for the brain, belly, and body. Pay now, play later. Or, play now and pay later. Doesn’t matter if it’s our wealth condition or health status.

2023 Legacy Transforming Summer Program - Week 7

Week 7

Legacy Transforming Summer Program

By Lawrence FunderburkeAugust 8, 20239 Minutes

In Week Seven, the Mr. Fundy’s Stock Pro Game took center stage for our in-class activity. This hypothetical investment game provided the young men with another opportunity to gain real-world financial skills while assessing the dynamics of large cap, mid cap, and small cap stocks. Each participant was given $1,000,000 to invest in five companies, which consisted of 10 large cap, 5 mid cap, and 5 small cap options. From banks to airliners to software developers to clothing and apparel manufacturers as well as other industry categories, these young men were given a behind-the-scenes tutorial on how to select winning stocks that aligned with their “familiarity profile.” My wife and I will also gift each young man with one share of stock in a local publicly traded company to get him started down the wealth-building path. Key metrics in the Mr. Fundy’s Stock Pro Game included earnings per share (or EPS), price-to-earnings ratio (or P/E ratio), dividend yield, return on assets (or ROA), and return on equity (or ROE). They were shown how to calculate market share (stock price x shares outstanding). Also, they were taught how to find the missing variable in an algebraic equation when two out of three variables are known. For example, if earnings per share and number of shares are stated, then total earnings or net income can be found through deductive reasoning.

Now, math is a subject that often terrifies at-risk communities because of painful, negative experiences. As they advance up the math continuum, by and large, so does their level of discomfort. Thus, pain and math are positively correlated in terms of saliency. Why embrace a subject that can be construed as an indictment on a representative group’s frontal lobe development? My tagline: “You don’t have to love math but you better respect it. Why? It’ll either work for or against you in the form of compound interest as an investor or debtor.” That’s why financial education is so important for this demographic. And what better way to demystify math while playing a fun game using various scenarios that help disadvantaged populations make the right moves educationally, financially, and inspirationally as their investment portfolios rise (or fall) through macroeconomic forces. The winner of the game after four macro scenarios was Gavin G., a high school senior. He increased his portfolio by almost $290,000 or 29 percent. That’s an impressive return by anyone’s standards! Kudos to Nate Palmer of Diamond Hill Investment Group for helping me fine-tune the Mr. Fundy’s Stock Pro Game, which took Monya and I roughly 90 hours to create over several years. In fact, every PDF game within our customized wheelhouse has to be exciting, thought-provoking, and transferable in scope and reach to empower a particular audience.

The Mr. Fundy’s Stock Pro Game was the perfect segue for the next item on the day’s agenda, a lesson in fine-dining etiquette at my (and Monya’s!) favorite restaurant here in Central Ohio — Sow Plated. As frequent patrons, the food is reasonably priced, exquisitely prepared, and exceptionally beneficial for the brain, body, and belly. And as mental health challenges engulf our society, sound nutrition can (and should) play a large role in alleviating them. “Real food” — what’s served at Sow Plated — is the medicinal remedy to combating the harmful side effects of “fake foods.” Located in Upper Arlington, this was the first time many of the young men had ever visited this part of town. Think about that for a moment. Now to the five courses served on July 27th. The first course, appetizers, included maple sweet chili cauliflower and edamame dumplings. Yummy! The second course, a savory market soup with seasonal ingredients. The third course, a delicious spring salad. The fourth course, a wagyu burger, mediterranean bowl, or teriyaki bowl as the entree. The fifth and final course, a flourless cacao cake for dessert. Am I making you even more hungry? Founder and owner, John Fahlgren, discussed his heartwarming story with the group as a West Virginia native. He echoed a recurring theme that I’ve highlighted throughout with the young men: “The best investment you can make is in yourself.” They nodded in agreement while feasting on a nutritious meal, unforgettable experience, and the words of wisdom from an incredibly generous host.

Next up was a surprise trip (like Sow Plated) to The Ohio State University. Unbeknownst to them, the visit included a sit-down discussion with Athletic Director Gene Smith for 45 minutes and private tours of Fisher College, Schottenstein Arena, and the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. Smith discussed his blueprint for success with the young men, including lessons learned as a young and seasoned athletic director in Division I sports. His humility and transparency in sharing sensitive information mesmerized all in attendance, including me. Arguably the most decorated Division I AD in America, Smith carved out time in his busy schedule to help our young men pave their life path. Two recent Fisher College graduates and current ambassadors, Julian Slate and Caleb Suh, provided our group with a tour of the OSU School of Business. Given their close age to our young men, this helped tremendously as attention spans never waned. Polished and poised, Slate and Suh represented Fisher College well in both word and deed. I am certainly proud to be a Fisher alum!

We toured Schottenstein Arena, including the Hall of Recognition for men’s and women’s basketball players who wore the scarlet and grey uniform. We stepped onto the practice court of both the women’s and men’s teams. We were then treated to a lively meet-and-great with Chris Holtmann, the men’s head coach. He encouraged our young men to see the positive even in the midst of difficult circumstances. Our last stop at O State was the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, so named after the iconic legend who admonished all of us “to pay it forward.” Former OSU great and current defensive backs coach, Tim Walton, treated our group to an amazing tour. The national championship trophies, wall of NFL draft jerseys, and prized football legacy captivated their (and my) attention. We walked onto the in-door practice field and met Lathan Ransom and Denzel Burke, two OSU top-rated defenders. We even shot some hoops on the basketball court adjacent to the practice field. Yes, I had to show the group that I could still play — a true baller never retires. As we exited, Walton shared, “It was such a blessing to have you visit the facility. This experience might have made your day, but you made mine.” A first-class coach representing a top-tier university. Go Bucks! Stay tuned for Week Eight.

Sow Plated

OSU Athletics

Fisher College of Business

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2023 Legacy Transforming Summer Program - Week 6

Week 6

Legacy Transforming Summer Program

By Lawrence FunderburkeJuly 31, 20235 Minutes

Week Six was all about field trips. We visited Continental Office first, a Central Ohio company specializing in ergonomic furnishings, custom flooring options, interior construction solutions, and brand management of office spaces. Inviting work places can lead to greater productivity, stellar employee morale, and higher overall job satisfaction by associates, among other noticeable benefits. Kim Bodrick, Nicole Lanier, and Gina Frazier provided the young men with a tour and an unforgettable, two-hour experience. This trio taught our group how to assess areas of strength, find common ground in generating ideas, collaborate individually and corporately as a unified team, resolve conflict and diffuse personality clashes, stay within budget (based on design parameters outlined by the hypothetical client), and leverage their creative skillsets. The four teams had five minutes to present their design, with the winning team receiving an AMC movie card for each member. As the video recap highlights, healthy competition brings out the best in our young men. After starting off slow, what a blessing it was to watch them embrace such a challenging opportunity with so many moving parts.

Our second field trip was to Midwest Photo, which is the largest photo, video, audio, and printing specialty store in Central Ohio. And if you think (like I did) that photography has been on a sharp decline as smartphone cameras have exploded over the last decade, you would be mistaken. This company has been thriving with consistent business from Fortune 500 firms to midsize organizations to freelance entrepreneurs. Taylor Cubbie, Steph Parker, and Jim Andracki were our gracious hosts. No pun intended, but our young men lit up and cut up in front of the camera. They expressed a wide range of emotions while reflecting on their individual photo shoots. They were joking, laughing, and at times, even being serious. Taylor Cubbie presented each young man with a photo shoot media card. He also showed them how to monetize their personal brand on social media with a shoestring budget. Cubbie even allowed one of the participants to take pictures with his $3,000 camera! Steph Parker showed the group how to operate video equipment for podcast recording. I initiated a discussion on the state of affairs of our inner-city males. We had a lively and candid conversation on The Kia Boys. The dialogue continued as this controversial topic was broached: Why do you feel the older generation in the black community is so out of touch with your age demographic? In decades past, elders were granted respect without giving it. That outdated model won’t work today; respect is now a two-way street. By and large, most Baby Boomers (and even Gen Xers) are terrified of and simply can’t relate to inner-city youth. They’d rather fight over behavior changes instead of fix misguided mindsets. To win the black culture war, we must be willing to lose a few timely battles along the way. Sagging pants, foul language, and bad grammar are outward signs of inward pain signals. Bind the wound to stop the hemorrhaging.

We ended the day at God’s Hygiene, which provides personal care products to economically challenged families in the Linden area. Jim Andracki, a photography legend at Midwest Photo and committed philanthropist alongside his wife Brenda, helped us with this field trip. Our visit to God’s Hygiene involved three components. First, underprivileged (and privileged) young people need to focus on how they will make our world a better place. Why wait until adulthood before the charitable lightbulb turns on? Time and talents are just as important as treasures in the stewardship equation. Second, I want them to understand that “free” comes with it’s share of costs. Benevolence ministries, summer camps, and skill-trade programs are expensive. As receivers, this fact often gets lost in translation. Third, giving back can boost oxytocin levels. This biochemical superstar combats stress, enhances the immune system, and improves mood. By thinking about the progress of others, they inevitably help themselves in the process. Stay tuned for Week Seven, which will be full of surprises!

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2023 Legacy Transforming Summer Program - Week 5

Week 5

Legacy Transforming Summer Program

By Lawrence FunderburkeJuly 25, 20239 Minutes

Week Five might have well been a paradigm shift or pivotal moment for the young men. Why? I invited more than a dozen friends across racial backgrounds and occupational paths to share their story with the group on topics ranging from marriage (and unfortunately divorce) to fatherhood to lessons learned while being incarcerated. Thanks in large part to The Law of Authenticity, pastors, pro athletes, and professors shared engaging insights that resonated with the young men. Transparency is the key to helping people break free from what’s holding them back. Men who aren’t afraid to be vulnerable have the opportunity (but not the guarantee) of becoming relatable, reliable, and recognizable mentors. Imposter syndrome is a real phenomenon that engulfs far too many of our privileged and underprivileged males. So many men reach adulthood but fail miserably in their transition from adolescence. I speak from personal experience. Whether in inner-city or suburban communities, without a rite of passage from boyhood to manhood, we all pay a heavy price when this is noticeably or inconspicuously absent. Yes, Week Five had a lot of fireworks; no topic was off limits. Too much is at stake to skate around hot-button issues. Don’t worry. Guidelines and guardrails are always taken into consideration when I, or any invitee for that matter, address young people.

You’ve probably heard of The Kia Boys, young males, African American in most instances, who steal Hyundai vehicles for the dopamine-, adrenaline-, and endorphin-driven thrill ride. Perhaps a bit controversial, here are three observations to explain their behavior pattern. First, in the majority of cases, these youngsters are (or were) reared in fatherless homes. Without a paternal tour guide in close proximity, it shouldn’t come as a surprise for these teens and tweens to take the wheel of aspiration themselves. To be seen and to see what that “success ride” feels and looks like is their modus operandi. Please note: Fathers are hardwired to provide children with drive, determination, and discipline. Anecdotally this is known by most of us, but biochemically I can prove it while working with more than 30,000 youth over the past two decades. In general, when a fatherless teen living in a feast-or-famine environment reaches puberty, testosterone surges need to be carefully modulated in a maturing body. If dad or a surrogate father-figure is not present, who steps in to monitor the androgen GPS system? Most of the time, negative influences enter the picture to play Big Brother, Big Baller, or Big Brawler roles in the ’hood. They may not be ideal, but drug dealers, gang bangers, and hook-and-crook cliques do provide an outlet for “ghetto-life vents.” Second, The Kia Boys are often deprived of positive, peer-to-peer relationships and adult role models. They aren’t typically connected with a sport’s team, after-school program, or structured setting at home. An idle mind is the devil’s playground. Thus, stealing cars is The Kia Boys’ de facto, extracurricular activity. This initiation, really, a rite of passage by default, allows first-time or even seasoned offenders to earn their street cred. Approval — in the form of eyeball hugs, signature hand daps, and bonding feedback loops — is what they crave. The source of affirmation doesn’t matter; it just needs to be given in adequate doses by willing participants. Third, each Kia Boy is searching for a customized identity or personal brand. Of course, fathers should play the lead role in helping children know who they are, how they’re gifted, and what their contributions will be to the world. Interestingly enough, the word kia means “to rise up” in Korean. Is it a coincidence that this phrase, or similar ones, has served as the inner-city anthem to escape that lowly place of _______________? I’ll let you decide and fill in the blank also. One thing you and I can agree on is this: our most vulnerable males need vision. Without it, the Good Book states, “the people perish” or cast off restraint. And drive, determination, and discipline are held in check by vision. Western cultures, notably America, are digging their own legacy grave by neglecting the father’s blessing. The carnage is everywhere. I don’t want anyone’s blood on my hands. How about you?

Wanna be pro athlete or want to be a pro athlete? No, this isn’t a trick question. Spotlight careers (really high-profile jobs) such as pro sports are attractive to at-risk males. The fame. The fortune. The fanfare. However, very few of them understand what it takes to make it, let alone play, at the highest level. So, I provided them with a taste of a condensed workout — without any weights. ESPN highlights are a mirage; the best clips are edited for maximum audience enjoyment. The behind-the-scenes workouts and grueling practices of big-time, competitive sports rarely make the cut. And during the off-season, most pro athletes spend a significant amount of time on athletic development rather than sport-specific improvement. Here’s a secret I share with parents and their children who train with me: If you’re a better athlete, then you’ll become a better player. No doubt, active bodies with purposeful intentions can deactivate reactive minds. Consistent exercise with weight training can reset an out-of-whack circadian rhythm, boost a depleted neurotransmitter system, and fuel happy hormones in our vulnerable males. Yes, there’s a method to my madness.

When a young man’s internal biochemistry is jacked up, he will go on a campaign to get his fix by any means necessary. Through a drug, drink, drift, drive, or drill (as in music). Chef Jim Warner, who has prepared meals for Kirk Herbstreit, Joey Galloway, Michael Redd, “Beanie” Wells, and yours truly, presented an amazing cooking demo for the group. He discussed the important role nutrition can play in their lives. Chef Warner highlighted, “Real food helps you think better, feel better, and do better.” He added, “Pay the price now so that you can reap the rewards later.” Every food item prepared by Chef Warner was gluten free, GMO free, additive free, soy free, and pork free (but not taste free). Organic foods may cost more, but the benefits far exceed conventional alternatives. Even on a limited budget, quantity and quality of life for disadvantaged populations can be achieved when healthy lifestyles are prioritized. Stay tuned for Week Six!

“If it wasn’t for their tombstones, we wouldn’t know that some people were ever alive. Truly great people don’t need monuments because we will always remember them.”

— Dr. Myles Munroe

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2023 Legacy Transforming Summer Program - Week 4

Week 4

Legacy Transforming Summer Program

By Lawrence FunderburkeJuly 14, 20239 Minutes

We’ve reached the midway point of the eight-week, financial life skills initiative to empower vulnerable males aged 16 to 23. It’s been an honor to work alongside the GoodLife Summer Program at First Church. Growth for some of the participants has been steady, but for others remarkably significant as they’ve grasped “new” concepts foreign to their way of thinking. Success in any arena of life isn’t complicated; however, it is quite complex. Semantics matter a great deal when the legacy of our inner-city males is on the line. Underserved populations often view success beyond their borders as incredibly painful, increasingly burdensome, or worst still, entirely unattainable. Based on the roll of the better-life-outcome dice, a few “lucky ones” might escape the harsh landscape of economic misery. But for most residents, “perpetual failure,” in flickering neon lights, is how they envision their life options and legacy outcomes. Half the battle in working with at-risk communities is convincing them to focus on the certainty of possibilities rather than fighting against uncertain impossibilities. Unfortunately, a lot of people just can’t see past their front door. Thus, we realize how imperative it is to transport the young men under our care outside of I-270. There’s more to Columbus than Livingston Avenue, Main Street, Refugee Road (where the in-class programming takes place), or even their neighborhood.

Participants played The Portfolio Management Game, one of our signature learning modalities to bridge the opportunity divide in America through sensory-driven education. This PDF app crystallizes the world of investing in a language that’s relatable, palatable, and sustainable to privileged and underprivileged groups alike. Each player is given $1,000,000 to invest in a myriad of investment options, including cash/cash equivalents, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, index and exchanged traded funds, private equity, and hedge funds. At the onset, though, an analysis of one’s risk tolerance and financial goals serve as key drivers of portfolio construction decisions. Participants must wait with baited breath as they watch how global economic factors and conditions impact — positively or negatively — their million-dollar portfolios on a macro level. Of course, taxes and inflation are additional considerations of this real-world, simulated game. Anne Richie, a business finance instructor at Ohio State University, served as one of our three in-class mentors for the day. Richie is a former banker and current Managing Director of The Mezzanine Fund, which invests exclusively in female-led and people of color (POC) businesses. Her insights shed light on the benefits of investing in black-owned enterprises. Jason Moore, a private equity investor and board president of Cristo Rey Columbus High School, discussed his views on business investment. He’s vested for the long haul; people and culture shape his capital deployment philosophy (or CDP). Lenzelle Smith, Jr., former Ohio State basketball star and member of the 2012 Final Four team, presented the young men with a game plan to reach their short- and long-term goals through practical approaches.

Our first field trip for the day was Fischer-Backus, headquartered in Lewis Center. This manufacturer specializes in wire and cable assemblies for clients across various sectors and industries. Whether quick turnaround prototypes or large volume production runs, excellence and attention to detail are defining qualities of the Fischer-Backus brand. We witnessed this firsthand throughout our 90-minute visit of the facility. Associates were unfazed by the presence of our large group. As outlined in the mission statement, they were locked in to the company’s 100 percent, defect-free product commitment. Owner-operator, Tony Carstens, provided our young men with lunch and a wonderful experience. Given the monotony of assembly-line production,  manufacturing doesn’t excite most people. But for some firms and the workers they employ, it is quite lucrative on a per-item basis. With thousands of customized products for each (hopefully repeat) client order, the cash register keeps adding up. Cha Ching!

The art and science behind financial statements kicked off our discussion over lunch. The tug-of-war battle between profitability and productivity in a highly competitive marketplace, Carstens emphasized, should align with customer-oriented goals and organizational-growth objectives. Our young men were introduced to the burden rate, or what the breakeven cost is for a job given a variety of fixed and variable expenses. He highlighted, “With every job you must account for what it takes to pay associates, keep the lights on, and operate expensive machinery.” He added, “If you get this wrong with a customer’s bid, it’ll impact your bottom line or net profits substantially. Got it?” They nodded in agreement. We toured each area of the facility and ended the day with hands-on training. Each participant was given the opportunity to test his manufacturing skills at two of the work stations. They were thrilled!

Aurora-Exhibits was our last field trip for the day. Founder and CEO, Joan Gaudion McKinney, assisted our young men in her area of expertise — branding. “What begin in 1994 as a trade show exhibition house,” the website highlights, “has grown to a three dimensional brand awareness agency.” From idea generation to visual graphics to interior branding of high- and low-traffic corporate spaces, the company has helped hundreds of clients with their brand engagement needs. From Fortune 100 firms to small mom-and-pop organizations such as LFYO, Aurora-Exhibits offers a compelling value proposition during good and bad economic times for enterprises to stand out. Thanks in large part to McKinney, she adds a “happiness touch” that few CEOs can pull off. Why? Because she relates well with people from all walks of life in an upbeat manner, which of course, is a highly specialized skillset. Our group embraced the lesson plan and were challenged by McKinney’s personal and professional branding call-ups, not call-outs. She shared, “Gentlemen, your individual brand can serve you well at a company if it’s marketed correctly. Always take the responsibility seriously since a great one will carry you to new heights in every endeavor of life.” We finished the day at Aurora-Exhibits with a two-team, tricycle race. The young men did what they do best on the oversized tricycles; they competed for bragging rights among their peers. Healthy competition is a vital key to keeping vulnerable males on the right course. When they drift from it, society often follows suit. Stay tuned for Week Five!



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2023 Legacy Transforming Summer Program - Week 3

Week 3

Legacy Transforming Summer Program

By Lawrence FunderburkeJuly 5, 20236 Minutes

Something amazing took place in week three. That lightbulb moment clicked for many of the young men to see their distant future through a present-day lens. Here’s what I mean. Proximity to success holds the master key to unlocking it. And the closer they are to it — however success is defined — the more tangible or real it becomes to them. Inner-city communities don’t have a capability issue; they’re stuck on the ground floor due to an accessibility problem. The young men under my tutelage are experiencing success up-close and personal, thanks in large part to our sensory-driven learning modules (or game-based PDF apps), career role models, and life-altering field trips. Rest assured, though, success is not a resting place; it’s a lifelong journey.

From the jump, it was a full-court press in class. Dr. Lucia Dunn, a retired sports economics professor at Ohio State, stopped by to share insights on the intersection between labor and fair pay. In short, compensation is often shaped by one’s marketable value proposition or personal brand statement. Next up was a riveting discussion on the fundamental difference between movements and moments that have defined America over the last decade. With a movement, you can opt out. But with a moment, you can only opt in. Step up or shut up. Creating unforgettable moments is arguably the most critical factor (and facet) to bridge the growing opportunity divide in America for touch-and-feel, black and brown communities. Of course, this means we all need to change our approach and descent to land the opportunity plane to allow every American to get on board. When we point fingers at others, we have three pointing right back at us. And nothing changes until we do, which is why the lesson on personal branding or success stepping was so critical for our vulnerable males. Shifting from the emotional to the rational is a delicate balancing act when working with drifting minds. The former can get their attention, but the latter will keep their focus on the task at hand.

Located in Gahanna, our first field trip was to Advanced Civil Design, a firm specializing in civil engineering and land surveying. Why would we transport inner-city males to an engineering company? Well, the foundation of success must be laid first before the framework for it is built. Founding owner, Tom Warner, provided our group with lunch and an overview of his company’s expertise in helping clients fulfill their vision. Whether it’s an office building, retail space, senior living community, medical complex, or multifamily development, vision serves as a “seed deposit” or down payment for a project. Here’s what kickstarted their dream currency at Advanced Civil Design. As the guys exited the elevator to the third floor, their innate, God-given vision kicked in as seed-bearers. A blank canvas or empty space with thousands of square feet supercharged their imagination skills. A few of them separated from the group for personal introspection, while the rest shared their ideas with one another for the space. Eventually, every one of them walked over to the massive windows to view their lives from a different vantage point. Words could not accurately describe how I felt as watching them from a distance.

Our last field trip for the day was to the Center of Entrepreneurial Development (or COED for short). Founded by visionary Derrik Pannell, the four-story building located on 1890 East Main Street serves as a hub for aspiring black and brown entrepreneurs who face unique barriers in building thriving businesses. Pannell discussed the rebranding pivot, or getting back on track when facing a monumental setback. He added, “You can’t let other people’s opinions prevent you from moving forward in life when falling short. Too much is on the line to allow this to happen.” Attorney Eric Seabrook, a personal mentor of mine and Pannell, provided a thought-provoking lesson on the value of a name using iconic brands such as Nike and LaCoste to drive home his point. One of the participants blurted out, “I don’t know who Henry LaCoste is, but I do know his brand.” Seabrook asked them, “What do you want your name to be known for twenty-five years from today? A name can have a lasting or fleeting value based on one’s body of decision-making through various quarters or seasons of life.” Seabrook reiterated a comment highlighted earlier in the day on being adept at playing and understanding the rules of success. He stated, “Time will expose your legacy based on what variables you influence or control today.”

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2023 Legacy Transforming Summer Program - Week 2

Week 2

Legacy Transforming Summer Program

By Lawrence FunderburkeJune 26, 20234 Minutes

The second five-hour session with at-risk males, ranging in age from 16 to 23, took place last Thursday. “At risk” is a term fraught with negative implications and seemingly insurmountable odds. It’s typically used to describe a group, in this case, most notably inner-city males, as potential casualties in the life outcome arena. Fatherlessness, hopelessness, and at times, feelings of worthlessness often engulf this demographic given their economic plight and gravitational pull to veer off course. The latter will not happen under my watch as Papa Coverage; paternal blessings are required to help these impressionable young men fulfill a life of purpose and legacy of promise. The in-class lesson for the day included a macro introduction to the world of investing. Fundamental differences exist among wealth-building tools, including certificates of deposit, bonds, stocks, mutual funds, real estate, private equity, commodities/precious metals, and crypto currency. As risk increases along the investing continuum, so does return. And no, playing the lottery wasn’t an investment option for them to select! Here’s what these young men quickly realized: real wealth takes time to materialize, especially the selection of value stocks.

Made famous by Benjamin Graham and Warren Buffett, value investing is the art and science of discovering “hidden gems,” or finding stocks selling at a discount (significant in many cases) to their current market price. Value investors assess a company’s moat, meaning, management, margin of safety, and motivation in generating appreciable profits and profit margins to derive at intrinsic value, or what a stock is actually worth. Thus, we visited Diamond Hill Investments for an up-close and personal lesson on value investing. Nate Palmer, a portfolio manager and research analyst with CFA and CPA credentials, provided the group with a value investing tutorial using Nike as the backdrop. The young men were fed a delicious meal and nourished by Palmer’s words of wisdom on how to build sustainable wealth. The challenge? Being patient with a process that punishes the emotionally driven. Our next field trip was Luxe 23, a premium luxury apartment building in the Short North. Arranged by The Robert Weiler Company, the building owner, participants were given a private tour of the premises by the property manager, Teena. Living large isn’t cheap. But as my wife Monya likes to say, “You get what you pay for.” I will not allow the young men under my watch to trip over the low bar of mediocrity nor make excuses for what’s not possible. With the right financial game plan, they can achieve a prosperous life down the road if (when?) they make the right moves today. Speaking of making the right moves, former OSU football great Mike Doss and current sales and leasing agent with The Robert Weiler Company, shared his inspirational story with the group. Check out the video above to view this unforgettable experience.

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2023 Legacy Transforming Summer Program

Week 1

Legacy Transforming Summer Program

By Lawrence FunderburkeJune 17, 20232 Minutes

LFYO presented a five-hour workshop for at-risk males ranging in age from 16 to 23 to keep them off the streets and out of harm’s way. In partnership with First Church and the City of Refugee GoodLife Foundation, this eight-week program will help young men gain valuable skills to secure employment, build self confidence, and find (and fund) their life’s purpose. On June 15th, participants played the Money Ballin’ with the Pros and Buying a Dream Car customized, interactive PDF games. These real-world tools allow young men to dream big, make big money, and more importantly, avoid big problems now and down the road. We then transported them to the Toy Barn so that they can see, touch, smell, and plant the fruits of “proximity” success. And it’s hard to taste success without first experiencing it up close and personal. Owner Shawn Cunix, an Independence High School graduate, shared his keys to success via FaceTime with the young men. They were glued to his every word! Sales manager, Greg McDevitt, provided the group with an unforgettable tour and offered behind-the-scenes knowledge on how to start their career off on the right foot. These memories will last (and can be leveraged for) a lifetime. Lastly, it’s okay to have money, possessions, and wealth-generating assets as long as they don’t have you. Check out the day’s activities and stay tuned for next week’s recap on investing:

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MLK Installment #5

Lawrence Funderburke

By Lawrence FunderburkeMarch 6, 202324 Minutes

Classism in Corporate and Entrepreneurial America: The Economic Mobility Road Is Paved by Rocky Experiences

We have more of a class crisis in this country than a color conflict. MLK fought for financial justice just as much as he did for social recognition, political capital, or even racial harmony. Without equity or economic skin in the game, black and brown Americans will always feel like second-class citizens, no matter how we’re genuinely (or insincerely) accepted in this country. Equality is the historical payout for an injustice debt that has accrued with interest and deferred through countless IOU empty payments for hundreds of years, but equity pays off an outstanding bill owed to legacy benefactors by vested parties for generations to come. That includes you, me, us. If the government is limited in what it can do to create a more fair and just economy, without any guarantees of course, then who should pick up the slack? I nominate corporate America and entrepreneurs to step forward, the two formidable drivers of economic ingenuity.

In this final installment of the MLK Series on Race in America, you’ll be challenged on three fronts. First, you will be asked to step out of your comfort zone to better understand colleagues who are stuck, or perhaps stranded, inside their place of refuge. Second, you will be confronted with (or by?) information that may very well contradict generally accepted attitudes and beliefs about social classes, including your own. Third, you will be given a mandate to broach the subject of classism with others inside and outside the workplace to make an uncomfortable subject comfortably rewarding to scrutinize. If you’ve read my other articles, I’ve been consistent with this theme: intentional growth can only be achieved through experiential discomfort. Take a deep breath; we’re going up to a high place to meet others in their low space. (Yes, oxymorons are an integral part of my unorthodox writing style. After all, I am left-handed, which positions me in the 10 percent rare or “odd” category of all human beings.)

Why Class in Corporate America Is Such a Taboo Subject to Consider, Let Alone Discuss

Behavioral finance explains the “what” in front of economic decisions, but psychographics uncovers the “why” behind their scaffolding frameworks. Here’s what I mean. How an individual, couple, or family spends, saves, invests, protects, or gives away money is largely shaped by their Sociopsychonomic filter. It’s both instinctive and intuitive, a foundational structure that serves as a default behavior pattern based on preconditioned mindsets around financial matters. And if a bad habit is hard to break, then an upgraded mindset is easy to keep. Let’s examine the word Sociopsychonomic, a term I coined that provides much-needed context to the classism controversy, and see where it shows up in corporate America.

The classism chasm in corporate America became more pronounced during the Covid pandemic, and quite frankly, hasn’t abated even as some semblance of normalcy returns. White-collar employees were (and many still are) able to work from the comforts of home, but brown-collar or base-level employees didn’t have this luxury, especially those in the hospitality, restaurant, and leisure sectors. In fact, many of them were let go. Those at the top of the economic food chain invested and profited greatly in a rock-bottom stock market, while their struggling peers took on more debt to stay afloat. Low-income wage earners who did keep their jobs were pressed to find alternative childcare arrangements when schools shut down, minimize stress in a stressfully chaotic living environment, and had to do significantly more work for less pay (what choice did they really have?) The poverty tax is glaringly obvious during times of local, national, or global turmoil. The next crisis — just around the corner — will be even more burdensome for them. Of course, the middle class (aka blue-collar workers) suffered considerably as well in making ends meet during Covid. They had to work two or three jobs, max out their credit cards when available credit was drying up, and/or borrow against their retirement accounts just as the stock market plummeted.

Why the subject of classism isn’t addressed inside the workplace might have a lot to do with the uncomfortable nature of social class dynamics in America. Favorable parking spaces, flexible schedules and accommodating work environments, and higher salaries (but with greater responsibilities) aren’t the only distance factors enjoyed by white-collar employees, also known as privileged lane runners. They are often viewed as the firm’s intellectual asset providers and value-driven creators by shareholders, board of directors, clients or customers, and even among their lower-salaried colleagues. This pecking order of importance isn’t a figment of imagination; many blue- and brown-collar workers express their concerns in feeling underrepresented in matters related to their overall contributions and self-assessment critiques. In-house surveys and DE&I programs rarely address the classism problem. In an interview, John H. shared with me, “This is exactly how I feel, and many other work peers who are in the same boat. As a blue-collar employee, I just don’t think my voice is being heard or valued. We have thousands of workers at this company, but only a few have the ear of top management.”

What many privileged lane runners fail to grasp is this: the employee flow charts or hierarchal structures in which they oversee has birthed and bred segregated groupings by virtue of shared (really, “felt”) oxytocin connections. White-collar employees typically associate and congregate with peers who tend to look, think, and/or act like them. The same can be said for blue-collar employees as well as brown-collar or base-level workers. Work environments are quite cliquish, this based largely on comfort rather than convenience. In other words, where colleagues feel they stand within an organization can mirror how they navigate occupationally and opportunistically, or even who they sit with in large (or small) group settings.

Whenever I’m invited to present, I usually walk around the room and greet a few employees prior to my speech, asking these three questions, with an inviting smile of course: Who do I have the pleasure of meeting? What is your role with this organization? How can I assist you today inside and outside the workplace? Obviously, correlation doesn’t equal causation but it should lead to contemplation. Here’s what I’ve observed. A predictable pattern often emerges as random seating is occupied by familiar faces, lane groupings, and employment positions. Even when arriving early, many brown-collar employees tend to sit on the periphery or in the back, blue-collar employees in the middle, and white-collar employees (or those with C-Suite aspirations) toward the front. Where they sit is known, but the “why” is not. I can’t share all of my secrets for “free,” but a deep dive into neuroscience and biochemistry will provide many cues and clues.

How Do Lane Groupings Cope with an Uncertain Financial Future Inside and Outside of Corporate America?

Take a look at the condensed chart below from our Lane Change U holistic development website. What piques your curiosity about a particular lane grouping? Which group(s) do you identify with personally, professionally, and/or philanthropically? Where am I missing or hitting the mark in my assessment of lane groups? How can this information help you relate better with your colleagues, customers/clients, or community partners? Why do you think classism is so difficult to discuss inside or outside of corporate America?

With a global geographic template, Lanes 4 and 5 are best equipped to deal with the unpredictable state of world affairs. Contingency planning or strategic forecasting is their domain, where the impact of international events or catastrophic crises seldom catch them off guard. They are proactive planners, lanes 3 and 6 reactive planners, and 1 and 8 bioactive planners. Proactive planners have a system in place to handle unforeseen events, a team of professionals who can assist them in making the right moves from a holistic vantage point. This doesn’t eliminate unforeseen problems, but can invariably diminish the effects of mental and emotional stressors in dealing with circumstances beyond their control. Reactive planners, lanes 3 and 6, respond to unexpected events or setbacks using their own devices but on others’ terms. In other words, their tightrope journey is often missing a corresponding balancing bar (which lanes 4 and 5 do have) to navigate an ever-changing, global landscape. The safety nets leveraged by lanes 3 and 6? You guessed it, unions, political parties, and their commendable work ethic. Bioactive planners have to feel a certain way before they take (or fake) a definitive course of action. Thus, they are more prone to displaying false-start tendencies in their life race while passing along the baton of emotion-guided behavior patterns to their legacy followers. World affairs disproportionately punish lanes 1 and 8 more than the other lane groupings; they’re often indifferent or oblivious to what happens around the globe. No matter the lane grouping, effective planning provides options and opportunities to capitalize on — instead of being punished by — the unpredictable state of world affairs.

I won’t explain in great detail the “why” but will express the “what” in regard to three class-related phenomena inside corporate America. Workers from the underdog lanes, especially black and brown employees, contribute significantly less to their 401(k) plans than other lane groups. A company or employer-sponsored match is technically “free money,” so why are they so reluctant to participate? Might it have a lot to do with their limited incomes? Perhaps. Could the primary reason be that investing, given the odds at play, is considered a close cousin of gambling by this demographic? Maybe. How about the unfamiliarity with wealth-building principles that are foreign to their way of thinking? Possibly. One thing is certain: They believe a bird in a hand is better than two in a bush.

For comfort zone lanes, the middle class, why do they treat W-4 withholdings as a forced savings vehicle? Providing Uncle Sam with an interest-free loan, returned in the form of a tax refund, offers peace of mind to middle-income earners. Since many of them take the standard deduction instead of the itemized deduction on their tax return, they could reduce their W-4 withholdings throughout the year (at the start of a given year) and use these “extra funds” to invest in the stock market, start a side business, contribute to a child’s 529 college account, reduce interest-bearing debt obligations, or apply them toward a real estate investment fund (which happens to be a comfortable place for the middle class to invest given the tangible nature of land or property). Like most things in life, this lane grouping’s primary concern is quite clear: they only want to deal with what’s in front of them. Right now is here; the future is not. Their focus is most content in the present moment.

Lastly, inside lanes of privilege do tend to suffer (among others) from one noticeably glaring drawback. They are often quick to conclude that a simple formula is the key to closing the wealth gaps in America. Do A + B + C to get D. Voila! Unfortunately, classism and the differences among lane groupings, as well as the subsets within them, are quite nuanced. Employees from traumatic backgrounds usually have compromised circadian rhythms, which regulate, like a symphony conductor, nearly ever system in the body. If a life is out of rhythm, then so will one’s finances, economic compass, and monetary filter. By all means, blue-collar employees can stay true to their down-to-earth roots. However, they do need a white-collar, wealth-building mentality as promises owed by employers turn into obligations not kept to employees. Gone are the days of guaranteed pensions, lifelong job security, and free health insurance (nothing is ever free!) When you’re at the top of the employment hierarchy, it’s easy to assess things from a 30,000 foot view. But the ground floor is where you/me/us can come in contact with common folk who are scared to death of what the future holds financially. Let’s help each other without pointing fingers in (but certainly at) the process.

A Chalkboard Scratching Moment That Still Gets Under My Skin 


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I’m showing my age (might you be as well?), but I remember those ear-piercing moments when teachers, back then, female in the majority of cases, would rattle my inner core. How so? Their nails would, out of nowhere, scratch the chalkboard while writing incursive. Several of my classmates, including me, would immediately cover our ears as the penetrating sound sent the alarm bells ringing deep inside our gut. We were caught off guard and did our best to mitigate the effects of that screeching, attention-deflating noise. Ironically, our sense of wellness is largely produced in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract through the serotonin pathways. Over 90 percent of the production of this feel-good neurotransmitter is manufactured naturally in the GI tract, with favorable or unfavorable sounds, words, and foods boosting or busting our feel-good meter. And every time someone uses the term “financial literacy,” especially in the world of banking or financial services, I am reminded of those sickening, chalkboard-scratching moments in elementary school.

A few years ago, I had a meeting with a banking CEO. We discussed a win-win-win partnership to close the wealth gap societally and organizationally; his bank, our nonprofit, and the community footprint in which his institution served would all benefit. The following account with the banking CEO crystallizes my thought process on financial literacy. (Yes, it hurts to even write the term, let alone revisit a conversation about it.)

Me: What are your thoughts on where we stand in closing wealth disparities here in Central and Appalachia Ohio?

Banking CEO: Well, the first step we need to take is to improve the financial literacy of disadvantaged communities. Without this knowledge, they will always be playing catch up. Right?

Me: Well, with all due respect sir, I have to challenge your conventional framework in a critical area.

Banking CEO: (leaning back while creating distance between us) Really, in what way?

Me: (showing noticeable agitation) You see, the term ‘financial literacy’ is fraught with all kinds of negative connotations. To state matter of factly that someone, or, in this case, a community, needs literacy is to imply that they are or could be viewed as being illiterate.

Banking CEO: Wow, this perspective never crossed my mind.

Me: As someone who grew up fatherless on welfare in a low-expectation environment, I take tremendous offense to this term. Capability is one issue, but accessibility is something altogether different.

Banking CEO: What do you mean?

Me: Vulnerable communities are capable of learning anything, so long as the messenger communicates a relatable, palatable, and identifiable message in an easy-to-understand language. When this occurs, foreign concepts come alive; the veil of secrecy has been lifted from their eyes. More importantly, these individuals feel empowered. In fact, they’re now granted access or entrance into a new world of upgraded words. This is how we can partner to change lives and legacies one family or inner-city community at a time.

Banking CEO: (breathing a sigh of relief) Makes perfect sense to me, and from this day forward I will never use the term ‘financial literacy’ again. Mark my word.

Me: Thank you.

Take your pick. Financial education. Financial wellness. Financial empowerment. Financial success. Financial fitness. Financial freedom. Financial stewardship. Economic mobility. Economic wellbeing. Economic health. Economic harmony. Economic viability. Fiscal diligence. Fiscal resilience. Fiscal sustenance. Wealth security. Wealth parity. Wealth privilege. Knowledge currency. Please use any of these terms interchangeably when advocating on behalf of underserved populations or disenfranchised groups, but not financial literacy. Literacy, as highlighted, connotes a lack of knowledge about a given subject, being unskilled in a particular area, or worse, someone who is incapable of learning due to underlying deficits, deficiencies, or defects. See how problematic financial literacy is? Semantics matter a great deal when ________ ________ (you choose) is on the line personally, professionally, or philanthropically. I cover the phenomenon of classism in great detail in my book, Sociopsychonomics: How Social Classes Think, Act, and Behave Financially in the Twenty-First Century.

In closing, economic mobility is arguably the most important skillset a young (or even seasoned) employee must develop in corporate or entrepreneurial America to survive, let alone thrive in an ever-changing and dynamic landscape. Its pillars include the ability or conviction to live out one’s values, the agility or condition to labor in one’s value proposition, and the affinity or connection to lead with one’s invaluableness. Those who do all three equally well will be coveted in boom or bust labor market cycles. These outlier attributes are not native to a particular ethnicity, class, or gender, but they can certainly help any employee run a life race or complete a legacy journey with grace, the love kicker. When you add value consistently and efficiently — regardless of the task or activity — people take notice. Economic mobility is a rocky road in corporate America. The terrain can be remarkably treacherous; its pathways quite taxing and exhilarating, and beneficial outcomes anything but a sure bet. In due season however, the work involved will eventually be rewarded. The Law of Compound Interest wouldn’t have it any other way.

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    MLK Installment #4

    Lawrence Funderburke

    By Lawrence FunderburkeFebruary 28, 202322 Minutes

    The DE&I (and B) Conundrum: What Initial Is Missing from the Connectivity Equation in Corporate America?

    DE&I (and B), which stands for diversity, equity, and inclusion, and belonging. Some employees love the initiative, while others despise it. As a mentor of mine shared, who is arguably the most respected black woman and thought leader here in Central Ohio, “This is a movie that we see every 10 or 20 years. I’m hopeful but a little leery on what gaps DE&I programs will actually close this time around.” She added, “Even though it’s a different version of the same movie, we still have to take advantage of the opportunity to move the needle forward for black and brown employees as well as for women and other underrepresented groups. And what’s different today than in decades past is the number of organizations who are on board. Where the ship sails, time will only tell in regard to meaningful change.” One thing is certain: DE&I isn’t a passing fad; it’s likely here to stay, with ESG (or environmental, social justice, and governance) serving as a companion anchor. But the question to ask, “How will organizations create an atmosphere of growth where every employee benefits, not just a particular carve-out group?” In this fourth installment of the MLK series, I’ll present a fair-minded and sensible approach to making all feel welcome inside corporate America, including minority and majority groups alike.

    Which letter, starting with “A,” would represent the next addition to the DE&I plus B equation? How about accommodation? Might appreciation work better? Best of all, should acceleration be pushed to the front of the selection line? Accommodation. Appreciation. Acceleration. Not in corporate America, but AAA can save the day when a vehicle emergency occurs. As a proud, card-carrying member of AAA, help is only a text or phone call away. We’ve all been there as seasoned drivers, or witnessed it while driving on the highway, a car that is stranded on the side of the road. Whether it’s AAA or another roadside assistance operator providing a battery charge or fixing a flat tire, this service offers members the convenience — really peace of mind — of safety and security. And this is where we are today in corporate America, and society overall, in need of a different kind of roadside assistance. Now, we can continue to add letters and advocate for top-down change, but rarely do we consider the urgency of bottom-up transformation. Here’s what I mean. Nothing changes corporately until we diversify individually. We often confuse change happening around us for growth occurring within us. And this is the classic definition of insanity, where we expect a different result using the same, tired process. Progress does not occur unless process is upgraded. And it’s easy to point your finger at someone, some thing, or some system to change. Inevitably though, you have three pointing right back at you. When we deal with ourselves three times more than someone, some thing, or some system, change will be an organic and deliberate endeavor. If you accept this premise, then what catchall A-word would best serve DE&I purposes? I propose “accountability,” of the grace-led kind.

    You see, DE&I won’t work without accountability, and it can’t survive without grace. I often tell my children and those under my stewardship care, “I love you enough to hold you accountable for the change that needs to take place in your life, legacy, and leadership pursuits.” Leading with love — the calling card of grace — doesn’t minimize responsibility. However, it does soften the blows of personal and professional growth. Not just those who are in positions of power, privilege, and prominence, but everyone needs to change. Be on the path of change before you create changeable pathways for others. A lack of accountability is akin to a team requiring that only one or two players improve their skillset, while allowing the other players to maintain who they are. This team will not only struggle, worst still, it’ll likely suffer as well. When players, coaches, and support staff are not held accountable, distrust creeps in and bonding moments head out. That oxytocin connection, which keeps a team unified, is short-circuited or severed altogether. Either way, distance is created. Handshakes, chest bumps, and other encouragement gestures subside, while finger-pointing picks up as players become more self-centered on the field or court. Talent can only carry a team so far; camaraderie is the key to sustainable success. This oxytocin-busting dynamic happens in corporate America, too. Now, teams and employees can still do their jobs, but that bonding, trusting, and loving connection will be lost or out of tune. Productivity can be maintained, but it likely won’t be enhanced. No rhythm, no rhyme. Work is just about a paycheck with benefits. Nothing more, nothing less. Does this describe you or your organization?

    Why the Pros Are Not Joes and How You Can Imitate Their Growth Trajectory, Too!

    Change — meaningful and measurable growth — is obviously difficult for a lot of people to pull off. Now, change is uncomfortable, but it’s absolutely necessary. The only way an individual can change is through discomfort. No growth can take place without some type of friction, and this friction involves consistent and deliberate action steps. Employees have to change, but they need to grow into their progress through an upgraded process. Enter the shot clock and game clock. If a team fails to shoot the basketball within 30 seconds in college and 24 seconds in the NBA, then that team loses the possession. And squandered growth opportunities are lost everyday in corporate America when workers check in for the day but check out on personal improvement and professional refinement. With the game clock, a team sets the tempo early and executes the game plan accordingly, depending on who is on the court in the first or second half, with adjustments being made during halftime. Herein lies the problem. People may want to change, but they don’t know how to change, who can assist them with the change, or where change needs to take place first. Organizations introduce their employees to DE&I concepts, many of which are theoretical in nature, but how do they create an environment where growth is dynamic and automatic? And who is responsible for initiating and monitoring gains personally, professionally, and philanthropically? If any of these are MIA, then holistic change will be DOA (dead on arrival). One more point: Accountability must be a two-way street or else it leads to a dead-end road.

    The most diverse player or skillset on the basketball court is the small forward. This is why LeBron James and Kevin Durant (and Larry Bird) are considered the standard by which all small forwards are compared. Small forwards can create offense for themselves and others. They can shoot and score when needed. They can rebound and play defense. Small forwards often have intangibles that go unnoticed to the casual fan, such as their leadership credentials and allyship capabilities. They have the athleticism and quickness to play on the perimeter or wing, just like point guards and shooting guards. But they also display interior skills where they can post up, score inside, and rebound on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. They often have the size, strength, and stamina to battle inside. In fact, NBA teams typically break down the development game in practice into two groups. One group consists of “smalls.” These include point guards and shooting guards. (I realize it’s an oxymoron to call a 6’6” guard “small.”) The other group is the “bigs,” which consists of the power forwards and centers. And depending on the size and skill level of small forwards, they will be asked to join either the smalls or bigs. Now, some small forwards have the same height as the interior players, but they also display the quickness, athleticism, and skillset of point guards and shooting guards. In other words, their diverse skillset serves as a bridge between interior and perimeter players. Lastly, the first step of change is to take a personal inventory assessment (PIA) or internal scouting report (ISR). Without a frame of reference to track where you currently stand, growth will be a fleeting proposition. I cover this developmental template in my book, Momentum Power Play, as well as in Huddle Up Coaching presentations.

    “I Can’t Put My Finger on It, But I Will Do Plenty of Finger Pointing Until I Do!” 

    DE&I is not a perfect system. It has inherent flaws that are beyond the scope of this article, including the following unintended consequences: the promotion of gender stereotypes or racial archetypes (rather than the absolution of them); the propagation of hand-up programs that many employees view as handout promises; and the propitiation attempts to right the wrongs of historical injustices in a corporate setting through referee means and referendum measures, among many other side effects. I get it. Skeptics of DE&I initiatives offer legitimate concerns, critiques, and complaints. Unfortunately, they’re too afraid to voice their displeasure out loud in a public setting for fear of reprisal. Simply put, they don’t want to be labeled “out of touch with the times,” “outcome puritans,” or worst, “outed bigots (aka in-the-closet racists).” Those who are out of touch with the times can’t, or simply won’t except the fact, that America is changing. Now, we can argue about the changes that have taken place, whether good or bad, or somewhere in between, but things have certainly changed and are changing inside and outside of corporate America. Outcome puritans, a term I coined, want to see a return on investment (ROI) with racial connectivity offerings but without a commensurate OCI — ongoing capital infusion. They form committee after committee, facilitate breakout session after breakout session, and send survey questionnaire after survey questionnaire, but nothing ever gets done. Teasers who don’t like being teased. Box checkers who inevitably and regrettably box themselves in. All talk and no action but plenty of reaction when an optic-driven racial incident occurs that sparks a controversial protest or countrywide movement, especially during Black History Month, around Juneteenth, or on the anniversary date of a social justice martyr’s death. I hope this doesn’t sound like your organization. Finally, outed bigots or in-the-closet racists can’t be defended. They often say the wrong thing in the wrong way for all the wrong reasons. No example needs to be provided because their folly is evident and quite varied, including their unfiltered coarse putdowns — really slam downs — and demeaning jokes about minority groups. Absent character, they morph into caricatures of backward thinking, reminiscing about the “lily white” glory days of Maw and Paw television sitcoms, protecting their good ole boys network (on both sides of the political aisle), and maintaining the status quo of their power structure within the corporate America hierarchy. Nothing’s funny when people choose to be that ignorant, okay, mindlessly inconsiderate.

    A close friend of mine, who I’ll refer to as Joe, has utter contempt for DE&I initiatives. He is white, conservative, straight, Christian, and affluent. Are you profiling him right now? Don’t fall into the judgmental trap! You see, he is entitled to his opinions, but he can’t pass them off as facts. And he shouldn’t be ostracized or demonized for having divergent viewpoints. Why can’t we agree to disagree without engaging in blaming, framing, and shaming tactics? A few months ago, he and I had an unprompted discussion on DE&I. Here is part of our conversation:

    Joe: By the way, I heard you were working with companies in the area of DE&I. Is this true?

    Me: That’s right. What are your thoughts? (Open-ended, counter-serve questions create a level-playing field when hot-button topics are discussed.)

    Joe: (laughing) Honestly, I think it’s a sham, or better yet, a scam. I don’t see any value in offering DE&I programs in the workplace. They don’t make any sense to me; they’re also a waste of time and money. Besides, they’re incredibly divisive, pitting one group against another group.

    Me: (in a firm but non-threatening tone) Do you honestly believe that things inside and outside of corporate America are where they need to be?

    Joe: (pausing) Well, no I don’t, but …

    Me: (interrupting him as he gathers his thoughts) C’mon now. Doublespeak isn’t good here. You agree that problems exist and then quickly pivot to the proverbial ‘but.’ This, my friend, should lead us to a teachable moment. First, this type of thinking assumes that time has healed the historical wounds of racist ideology and racial orthodoxy. Second, our world would be in a much better place if society simply practices what it preaches.Third, external change is led by internal transformation — not the other way around. And if you’re against DE&I, then what are you for?

    Joe: Alright, I see your point.

    Notice that I reaffirmed our friendship and gave Joe every opportunity to play offense rather than pay defense, yes, pay defense. Defensiveness is costly. The brain goes into emotional overdrive instead of rational positioning. Blood pressure rises, thanks to cortisol and adrenaline surges. Breathing becomes more shallow and pronounced as airflow constricts. And of course, tribal affiliation talking points are staunchly defended. The result? Baseless (or boastful) allegations, combative bickering and contentious bantering, or even physical altercations are the default, usual suspects when uncivil dialogue goes off the rails. Will the real adults please stand up, because the cardboard cutouts in the corner don’t count? Yes, I did interrupt Joe when his pause segued into that classic, Double Jeopardy countdown music. Teachable moments serve as connection opportunities — not recruitment tools — independent of a person’s social, satirical, or sexual orientation cues. Allyship is a partnership, a pathway for authentic leadership to flourish. Even with people who don’t look, think, or act like you, take the high road when you’re dragged through the conversational mud. Adding grace and accountability to the discussion mix can clean up any mess. And don’t forget to separate the person from the problem. Now, problems are created by people, and problems get fixed when fixated people change their fixable perspectives, which should occur by choice, not force. Got it?

    In conclusion, let’s recap some of the themes highlighted in this article on DE&I (and B). Truth be told, critics and beneficiaries alike are leery of diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. Both camps offer up valid reasons that support their premise. Detractors believe carve-out programs cause more harm than good. They assert, “Isn’t diversity best served through unity, rather than the divide-and-conquer strategy of unity through force-fed diversity?” I’d argue that diversity is evident when unity reigns (a la winning sports teams), and oxytocin-led unity is the inevitable byproduct of holistic diversity, where diverse mindsets, skillsets, and subsets are wholeheartedly appreciated. Now, those who do stand to benefit from DE&I offerings don’t want to be viewed and judged as perpetual charity cases, nor do they want to be denied access to opportunities and options that have been traditionally earmarked for white men in the PPP club (or the power, privilege, and prominence clubhouse). Optics do matter, but semantics should matter more. If an organization preaches diversity, then its practices should align without alienating or denigrating those who fall outside the carve-out group ecosystem. See the Catch-22 that both camps, and the organizations that employ them, find themselves here in 2023? The win-win solution to the DE&I (and B) conundrum is this: Create an emotional safety net where minority and majority groups can both grow into their graceful change through self-imposed accountability measures. Stay tuned for the last installment of the MLK Series on Race in America: mobility. And yes, as a certified financial planner (or CFP), we have more of a class issue than a color beef. I’ll prove it.

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