MLK Installment #3

Lawrence Funderburke

By Lawrence FunderburkeFebruary 15, 202322 Minutes

The Justice of Just Us: What Does It Mean? Why Does It Matter? Who Stands to Benefit? 

No justice, no peace. It’s a phrase we’re quite familiar with, given its racial, social, and political, pre-Covid overtones. Dr. King stated, “An injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere.” Profound and provocative at the same time. When it comes to justice, black and brown Americans keep asking, “Why is it just us who feel this way?” Just us being scrutinized by law-and-order referees while sporting our permanent away uniforms. Just us being profiled or stereotyped while driving through upscale neighborhoods. Just us being seen as the proverbial window shoppers while walking around high-end department stores. Just us getting the short-end of the opportunity stick outside the workplace. Just us being passed up on a promotion inside the workplace as an over- or under-qualified job candidate, or finding ourselves as that lucky, “handpicked” actually, racial-quota charity hire. Bronze (Indian) and beige (Asian) Americans are also raising their voice of concern. On the higher-ed admission front, they’re asking, “Why is it just us, or our kids, who are unfairly being punished by top-tier colleges and universities because we overrepresent the minority-student population?” And blanco Americans in rural areas — the invisible white class — have equally, if not worse, life outcomes as inner-city communities of color. Their voice needs to be heard and respected just the same. A justice-just us framework will be explored in this third installment of the MLK series. Buckle up; it’s time to go on another bumpy ride.

A Rogue Teacher on a Seek and Destroy Mission

I don’t like living in the past. But for illustrative purposes, sometimes it’s necessary to go back (but not stay) there to explain how we arrived here. The year was 1981, not 1881. I was a fifth-grader at Westgate Elementary School. Across the country, inner-city blacks in the 1970s were bused to better performing schools in predominately white neighborhoods. Institutional racism is one thing, but educational injustice is a whole ’nother ball game. We, Americans in general, can have a civil debate about what fundamental rights we’re owed and who should pay for them. However, every child — regardless of race, gender, or economics — deserves a quality education.

I, along with several classmates, were victims of academic bigotry over the course of an entire school year. Mr. G, one of my elementary school teachers, was an outlier. In no way did his unconscionable deeds cast a dark cloud over the wonderful experiences I had overall in the classroom as a kid being taught primarily by white teachers. The color of their skin didn’t matter to me but their commitment to my educational development did. Ready for this? Mr. G had a color-coded chart in his classroom that rewarded or punished behavior based on his jaded worldview. He served as a judge, juror, and probation officer, whether or not the sentence fit the crime. Looking back, I don’t know how he was able to get away with his demented experiment. Three decades later, I was told by a colleague who worked at the school with Mr. G that he taught with a racial bias. Duh, thanks for the heads up now.

Mr. G would advance a student to the right side of his chart — “good,” “better,” or “best” — for appropriate behaviors. These were the upstream, free-flowing conduct blocks. Questionable behaviors were demoted to the left side of his chart, the downstream blocks, including “on the way,” “almost there,” and for many of the black students in class, “jail.” Think about the seeds Mr. G was trying to plant in our minds: intellectual inferiority, criminal susceptibility, and educational incapability. Latitude was given to the white students for minor offenses such as talking in class, chewing gum, or horseplay, but very rarely did he extend any grace to black students. His methods emitted a foul odor of unfairness. And he wore this putrid cologne every day to annoy us even more. His merit-based behavior system, which he took great pride in, allowed some students to enjoy extra perks — treats that he brought to school or a special recess granted to “worthy scholars” at the end of the school day.

Mr. G’s Behavioral Chart

Mr. G didn’t particularly like me: I didn’t fit his sick narrative. Poor black boys from broken homes are supposed to be academic casualties, incapable of adding anything substantive to the educational experience. I could go on and on about the misdeeds of Mr. G — making us stand in the corner of the room with our hands up and feet spread apart as though we were being (or one day would be) arrested, placing our desk out of view behind the coat wall, or slapping our hands with a plastic ruler — a man who was in his mid-to-late 50s nearing retirement back in the early 1980s, which meant he would have likely come of age during the racially divisive era of the 1950s and 1960s. He was Archie Bunker, of All in the Family fame, masquerading as an educator. To imply that our path in life would inevitably lead to prison (in all its forms) is mind-boggling for someone who presumably took an oath each year to educate all children — black, brown, or white — in Yankee territory.

I am not sure Mr. G is still alive, but I don’t hold any animus toward him or his offspring (since the apple doesn’t usually fall too far from the tree). Extended mercy is for my benefit, not his. No easy task when you were intentionally and systematically abused. But you know what’s even more sad about the story. White teachers and school administrators didn’t intervene on our behalf. They were aware of Mr. G’s methods and disdain for the black students who had invaded “his white, middle-class comfort zone” on the hilltop. They allowed Mr. G’s racist attitudes and sinister actions to create a toxic learning environment with legacy implications. For this reason, they were equally guilty. Affecting and infecting the fragile minds of poor black kids who were (and still are being) written off as hopeless misfits is abominable. Even today, many stand by and do nothing about academic gaps, wealth inequalities, mentoring shortfalls, incarceration disparities, economic vultures, and food deserts (or the lack of healthy food choices) that are glaringly obvious in distressed, urban communities. Failing those Americans who need every ounce of positive momentum they can secure to have a legitimate shot at life is un-American. What can you do at a grassroots level to be a solution and not an accessory to these inhumane crimes?

“How Many Strokes Are You Giving Me?”

I enjoy playing golf. The camaraderie with other golfers. The beautiful landscape. The clarity and creativity of thought, which immaculate greens tend to generate, and according to color theory, may explain why so many business ideas, partnership mergers, and handshake deals take place on the golf course. It’s a game that I’ve attempted to play for over 20 years, thanks in large part to Tiger Woods. His ascendency in the late 1990s and early 2000s as the world’s best golfer inspired many people of color (POCs) to try their hand at a sport that was historically viewed as “the domain of privileged white men.” Speaking of hand, my handicap is an impressive 25. Don’t laugh. My athletic skills are such that I will hit my fair share of Tiger Woods shots. But as a golf hack, my Tiger Whoa Whoa shots keep me humble when they venture off the fairway, deep into the woods. And yes, given my impoverished upbringing, I’ll risk catching poison ivy to retrieve lost golf balls, even with two dozen of them in my bag. Now, I’ve had plenty of expensive and time-intensive lessons through the years from great coaches, but for some reason, my handicap hasn’t budged much. Perhaps I need to spend more time practicing and playing to master a consistent golf swing. Then again, so much can go wrong trying to hit a tiny ball using custom-made clubs with extensions to accommodate my 6’9” frame. (I recount this story in greater detail in the book, Sociopsychonomics: How Social Classes Think, Act, and Behave Financially in the Twenty-First Century.)

If you’re not familiar with this sport, a golf handicap allows amateur golfers — on any course — to compete against higher-skilled players. Golfers with a ‘high’ handicap, like me, are allowed a higher number of extra strokes over the course par. Those with a ‘low’ handicap tend to take fewer strokes to navigate the course (reference: In golf, a player’s handicap is a measurement tool to gauge skill level but not necessarily heart or intestinal fortitude. As a lifelong competitor, I’ll take the golf strokes and make the most of the opportunity, no matter who or what weather conditions I’m playing against on a particular day. The law of favorable averages (LOFA), or strokes of good fortune, eventually bend in the direction of those who have been shortchanged in life. That is, if they’re resolute in achieving better life prospects, legacy pathways, and leadership paradigms. They just need a few breaks for their opportunity ball to role in the equity cup.

Golfing aficionados engage, often unaware, in affirmative action practices every time they participate in the sport. Although not a perfect tool, a golf handicap bridges the gap between higher-skilled and lower-skilled players. And for some avid golfers with decent handicaps who are invited to play on a prestigious golf course at an exclusive country club by the host, a scratch golfer by the way, they’re quick to ask as tee time approaches, “How many strokes are you giving me today?” With affirmative action practices in higher education, “strokes” or special preferences are given to some incoming students who aren’t white affluent nor do they qualify as minority adjacent, or young people from Indian- or Asian-American backgrounds with impressive academic scores. Whatever caused or contributed to the academic gaps experienced by vulnerable POC students at the front end — a toxic environment, poor role modeling, negative peer influences, economic challenges, and/or revolving setbacks — let’s find a way to close them at the back end with a quality education, relatable tutors, career mentors, a meaningful degree, and beneficial networking contacts secured in a higher-ed (or trade school) setting. Admission quotas are fraught with perils, but at least they give those on the fringes of society a firmer chance to move up a social class or run in a better opportunity lane.

The Collaboration Arena: A Judgment-Free Zone for Change

Allyship was the word of the year in 2021, this according to It’s actually an old school word for a new school world. Simply put, it’s sticking your neck on the line for others outside of your affinity group, kindred connection, or tribal affiliation. White abolitionists who were instrumental players in The Underground Railroad movement risked their lives and livelihood for black slaves. Allyship is about honor, not duty, understanding, not guilt. Allies find ways to right the wrongs of injustice without pointing fingers — the blaming, framing, and shaming contest. When you point a finger at someone, some thing, or some system where disprivilege or inequity occurs, guess what, you have three pointing right back at you. And if you’re down with The Three Times Rule, then you are keenly aware that a change agent must transform into something better before creating changeable pathways for someone else. Got it? The Collaboration Arena practices holistic allyship, really an accountability partnership rooted in goodwill, for white men who hold positions of power, privilege, and prominence.

On January 28, 2021, I hosted a dinner for 20 white men at the C-suite level. On my own dime and time, while also being cognizant of Covid protocols, I invited them to a three-course meal at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse. Now, defense is great for sports team. However, offense is how you keep players excited about the prospects of winning. And yes, white men in positions of influence will be instrumental in the outcome of the racial connectivity game. Only two blacks were in the room, me and the moderator, Steven Davis, the former CEO of Bob Evans restaurants. I spoke passionately and persuasively for about 10 minutes at the onset — using the language of sports analogies as the backdrop — to set the tone for the evening. I opened with these comments, “Gentlemen, you don’t have to sit down, but you do need to scoot over. It’ll be tight, but there’s enough room in the opportunity front seat for those who don’t look, think, and act like you.” I added, “This is our locker room moment. Let’s talk about the game that you have the power to influence as opportunity coaches.” That evening we had some candid conversations on what needs to change in corporate settings and inner-city communities. No one got a free pass. How did we pull this off? Simple. We created an environment where an emotional safety net was present before they even arrived at Ruth’s Chris. Had this not been the case, they would have declined the offer. Straight, conservative white men in C-suite positions have a target on their backs. They’re at the bottom of the proverbial football pile; they now know what it’s like to struggle breathing, figuratively speaking that is. Instead of pilling on, I am pulling off. Working with them through reasonable measures as opposed to working against them constrained by unreasonable metrics was (and still is) the key to helping companies hire qualified POCs through dignified gestures. Diversity for the sake of diversity is a bad thing because it’s based on a zero-sums game: whites regrettably lose and people of color inevitably win. But diversity that appreciates the richness of other cultures, classes, and communities creates a dynamic and panoramic ecosystem where everyone has the right but not the guarantee to flourish.

Let’s close on a positive note. I was invited to a political gathering several years ago (and haven’t been invited back since) to discuss wealth disparities in the black community. Famous dignitaries, CEOs, political figures, celebrities, and other former pro athletes were in attendance. Panelists were given six minutes to share a message that resonated with the audience, most of whom were POCs. My mic drop moment came when I shared this timeless truth at the onset to free black folk, financially or otherwise, from the shackles of America-induced trauma: “We can’t hold whites hostage for all of the historical injustices that have been perpetrated against our people. We must let them go for the sake of our legacy, not theirs.” Roughly half of the attendees agreed with my advice in principle, and the other half rejected it in practice. Forgiveness doesn’t mean blacks must forget about slavery, anti-literacy laws, lynchings (almost 6,000 documented cases), Jim Crow, segregation, housing discrimination, and other ancestral wounds too numerous to mention. No, but we do need to forgive while holding white America and ourselves accountable for the change that should take place. This ongoing choice — a settled decision without a cutoff switch or expiration date — rests in our hands. Choosing to forgive can’t be a head or heart matter; it’s not always going to make sense or feel right. But it must be a hunger initiative to feed and nourish the human spirit. And this, my friends, can’t occur without the accompanying payment of grace, a formidable ally that can pay dividends for generations to come.


This simple formula isn’t easy, but it is absolutely necessary to move our country forward. Diversity, in the form of cultural capital, is next up in the MLK series.

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MLK Installment #2

Lawrence Funderburke

By Lawrence FunderburkeFebruary 6, 202318 Minutes

Equity vs. Equality: What Do People of Color (POCs) Really Prefer and Desperately Needs

In the first article of this installment series celebrating the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, I discussed the hot-button topic of privilege. That controversial trend line will continue here, albeit at a much steeper grade. Before getting started, I have a confession to make: I am a man without a political party. I grew up rooted in Democratic ideology as a fatherless welfare recipient (I still carry around a three-decade old food stamp in my pocket!), converted to Republicanism, more precisely, an in the closet Republicrat, as a former and retired NBA player. But now, I find myself in political purgatory, disenchanted with the leadership and direction on both sides of the aisle as we, all of us, by and large, obfuscate the responsibility to play our part in helping all boats rise in every sphere of color-coded America. And yes, we must accomplish this arduous task TOGETHER without scoring political points in the process. A frank discussion and framework-driven game plan are essential — without pointing fingers — to move the opportunity ball forward for black and brown Americans who feel (and are being) left behind.

Let’s go deeper into the equality-versus-equity conversation. I conducted a poll in 2022 within my social circle across financial, professional, religious, gender, and even life-experience lines. The sample size was small: 50 African Americans. Now, we’re not as monolithic as some political pundits describe our race. However, most blacks working in the public or private sector over the age of 30 are Democrat (voting roughly 90 percent of the time for “the party of POCs”), incredibly resilient in spite of the obstacles behind or in front of us, a component of our ancestral DNA, and lastly, quite disillusioned by the chase. The American Dream has been elusive for blacks. We were, and in many cases still are (outside of collegiate/professional sports, entertainment, and politics) treated as third-tier citizens — whites, others, then blacks with ties to American slavery. We were promised 40 acres and a mule (stop holding your breath black folk!) We were emancipated as slaves in 1865, but how many of us live as truly liberated people in 2023? This is rhetorical; very few of us, though we make up approximately 13 percent of the population. As our revered echo chamber often likes to say, Jesse Jackson, “Keep hope alive.” Sounds good in theory, but what about in application? Hype is good (it brings awareness), hope is better (it breeds confidence), but help is best (it brands justice). Bring. Breed. Brand. Our reparation moment is now! We don’t want to be viewed as a perpetual charity case, but where’s our empowerment train? Enter meaningful dialogue on two contentious issues: equality and equity.

I texted this intentionally bifurcated, two-sided question to each poll respondent:

If you had to pick just ONE, would you as an African American prefer EQUITY (economic “skin in the game” in comparable or greater proportions than whites absent racial equality) or EQUALITY (racial parity into mainstream society to the same degree as whites but without financial equity)? Please explain your rationale.

Here are the results. Roughly 70 percent of respondents selected equity, and approximately 30 percent chose equality. (Unfortunately, the black experience in America has been fraught in making difficult choices within an either-or context, which may explain why we automatically default to this paradigm shaft, not shift, in matters tied to race.)

Not all are highlighted, but poll respondents shared the following explanations, insights, and comments. For the sake of brevity, I’ve taken liberty to condense some of them:

“I’m going with ‘skin in the game.’ Let me get the bread, the resources, and a better network, and I’m good. With street smarts, thick skin, and the right tools, and most importantly, the Lord Jesus Christ on my side, I can’t be stopped. And equity is my legacy game as a father of five!”

— J.T., Brother in the Struggle

“Equality for me because I’ve been in situations where white counterparts and I had the same rank, job title, and work responsibilities but I was paid less.”

— M.A., Teacher’s Aid (Public Elementary School)

“The answer has to be Equity! That is what was needed in the first place. Segregation is less of an issue when economic resources are plentiful in the black community. If you have equity, then you can eventually reach for equality.”

— L.C., Physician

“Equality for me. With this under your belt, you can create your own equity.”

— G.A., Barber

“Equity! Enough said.”

— News Anchor

“Equality. The equity piece is way too late for the majority of our people! We’re born without the silver spoon of family wealth — if you catch my drift. Equality is more achievable; it’s still a steep hill to climb, though!”

— R.T., Corporate Executive

“Equity dominates American financial systems in that money doesn’t see color, only the results of having it, or in most cases, not having enough of it.”

— G.L., Public Civil Servant

“This is tough; it’s a bit of a false dichotomy. Choosing one option assumes the other option is unachievable or false. With that disclaimer, I would cautiously choose Equity. In America, financial parity or financial excess allows for acceptance. While acceptance is not equality, I will take that, along with the money!”

— L.F., Attorney

“EQUITY. Equality simply gives you a seat at the table. But with equity, I have the ability to build many tables and create opportunities for others to succeed also.”

— K.C., Entrepreneur

“Equality has been more important in history to us because it’s the reason equity hasn’t been accomplished to a meaningful degree in the black community. We’ve never been seen as equal to our white counterparts, especially in corporate America. There was a time when we weren’t even considered a full person, and from this, our rights have been constrained ever since. Many of the systems put in place centuries ago, without significant change, have caused inequities that are still being felt today.”

— K.B., Vice President

“Equity. People behave differently when ‘skin is in the game’ vs. ‘being in the game because of your skin.’ Equal opportunity in basketball is this: everyone plays the same minutes. In regard to equity, coaches work with each player to strengthen areas of deficiency and proficiency. We’re equitable in how we treat and prepare the kids, but outcomes and playing time are usually determined by their efforts, not the coaches. The best players receive the bulk of the on-court minutes, unless your dad is the coach :)”

— S.B., Basketball Coach and Business Owner

“Equality. We aspire to be on the same level as white people, We get degrees and work just as hard as them, but they still look down on us because of the neighborhood we live in or the color of our skin.”

— A.B., Government Employee

“I want equity big bro. I’ve went years seeing blacks, for the most part, with no ownership. We are always shortchanged. They, white people, make their equity off of us. I have been in the real estate game for over a decade now. With the equity play, I can pass real assets down to my kids, which makes all the BS worth it. Thanks big bro for challenging me personally, financially, and socially.”

— D.M., Ex-OSU Football Player and Current Business Owner

“Definitely Equity. Financial resources in America are essential, the lifeblood and engine that make this country run. With regard to Equality, the system is dependent on inequity to function.”

— T.A., Vice President (Inner-City Public High School)

“We need both, but I lean more to the equality side. White men do not have to distinguish or choose between the two. What every citizen deserves, regardless of color, religious beliefs, or sexual orientation, is a fair and balanced shot at the American Dream. Provide me with both options; whether I fail or succeed, I was given a fair shot!”

— T.H., English Teacher (Inner-City Public High School)

You’re probably wondering, “What was your response Mr. Fundy?” Glad you asked. This might sound arrogant, and I certainly don’t feel this way now (thanks to an ample supply of the Lord’s humble pie). But for decades, starting at the age of nine, I never felt that whites were on my level intellectually. In my mind, I had no equals in the classroom. Thus, equality from an educational and even intrapersonal (or self-talk) point of view were never on my radar. In spite of being a black man with a built in away uniform. In spite of growing up in abject poverty and being told by neighborhood peers, in these exact words, “You ain’t never goin’ to be nothing but a poor kid from the ghetto.” In spite of being reared in a home without the other half of my paternal DNA present. The shackles of racial orthodoxy still exist, but I never allowed them to be placed around my ankles because of what’s in my mind and spirit. White slave owners knew back then what is intuitively still the case today: an educated black man or woman or child with an unshakeable resolve was (or is) an empowered soul. The body can be enslaved, but the mind is the key to freeing an embittered disposition. Equality is qualitatively subjective; it’s a heart issue. Equity on the other hand, is quantifiably objective. It can be measured by head and hunger initiatives.

Equality-equity discussions make some people incredibly nervous, depending on which side of the Robin Hood ledger account one falls. Taking from the rich to improve the prospects of the poor is how some critics read the situation. To a varying degree, their critique has validity. Sleight-of-hand tricks are unethical, regardless of an individual’s, family’s, or company’s balance sheet. Close friends of mine, affluent white families who are also staunch conservatives, have huge problems with the term equity outside of their well-insulated bubble. They assume it means equitable outcomes, or the implementation of a referee system to right the wrongs of historical transgressions (think slavery and Jim Crow) and widening net worth disparities (look these up by race; they’ll shock you!) Perhaps in the playbook of some social justice scorekeepers, but not in mine. Equity is elusive to the vulnerable, but exclusive to the venerated. Also known as the wealth accumulation stiff-arm of capitalism, this is what separates lane groups. It typically escapes the grasp of underdog lanes (aka the underclass), enlightens and frightens comfort zone lanes (aka the middle class), and extends the grip of inside lanes of privilege (aka the super upper class). I will expound upon classism in the last article of this series, mobility. Here’s a typical conversation I often have with “equity critics” from right-leaning, affluent backgrounds:

Me: In light of the protest movement and the George Floyd fallout, what are your thoughts on equity from a social justice point of view?

Equity Critic: It’s incredibly divisive and counterproductive in uniting people. Wouldn’t you agree?

Me: It can be, depending on how the narrative is spun. But why run from a term, equity, that you embrace on a daily basis? You have equity in your primary and secondary residences. You have equity in your investment accounts. You have equity in your multiple businesses. You have relational equity with your family members, most of whom, I’d imagine, are highly successful. You have equity with your extensive network of like-minded power brokers who, like you, can navigate every sphere of influence with relative ease.

Equity Critic: Well, I’ve never looked at it from that perspective before.

In closing, semantics matter a great deal when human dignity and earning a humanely dignified wage are on the line. Equity, as the “Brother in the Struggle” highlighted, is a legacy play. And every individual as a citizen of these United States should have the guarantor’s opportunity (but not the guaranteed outcome) to secure it. Life. Liberty. Pursuit of Happiness. Didn’t our founding fathers endow these attributes on all of us? For underdog lanes of color, what equity pathways can they pursue with your/my/our assistance? We must help them win the mental health game while wearing a permanent away uniform — black or brown skin — in color-coded America. We must offer to be their voice of comfort and civility in the face of injustice. We must help them develop mindsets and build skillsets for sustainable, employment purposes. We must help them lead when their leadership role models on the home-front, notably paternal seed bearers, are inconsistent or absent. We must help them amass legacy wealth, one opportunity brick at a time. Alongside my wife Monya, this is why we started our nonprofit organization and for-profit enterprises more than 20 years ago. To provide black and brown Americans with a comfortable and convenient seat at the equity table next to their white counterparts. Remember the sit-in (really sit-down) protest by four black college freshmen at a “white’s only” Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, on February 1, 1960? Stay tuned for the next article under the macroscope: justice. It, too, will likely be an uncomfortable and hopefully enjoyable read for you.

The F.W. Woolworth's lunch counter is part of the collection at the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in Greensboro, N.C.

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MLK Installment #1

Lawrence Funderburke

By Lawrence FunderburkeJanuary 27, 202314 Minutes

The Power of Privilege: Are You Using Yours to Make Our World a Better Place or Bitter Space?

In decades past, privilege was synonymous with child-specific opportunities and responsibilities, as in certain siblings enjoyed more merit-based perks or benefits than their other brothers, sisters, or extended family members. Whether hanging out with friends, playing outside after school (now seen as punishment by so many of our kids!), or staying up late on the weekends, equality and equity were two separate concepts back in the household-privilege day. “Treat equally but trust equitably” was the de facto motto shared by parents and grandparents alike. “Treat” deals with fairness, while “trust” encompasses firmness. To be fair is just, but to be firm is a must, especially on the opportunity and responsibility side of the parental-child ledger account. Caregivers may not admit this, but we do have our favorites. (I don’t want to get anyone in trouble, just stating the obvious.)

Given our nation’s troubled history on race, the twenty-first century version of privilege has taken on a new meaning. But is this word solely and wholly now tied to skin color? Of course not! More on the far-reaching aspects of privilege later. In our weaponized, Americanized, and commoditized echo chamber, its connotative association is typically accessorized in racial garb. Weaponized in terms of how privilege is used as an “us vs. them” contrasting tool (better yet, a sledgehammer). It’s Americanized by virtue of the fact that when a US citizen visits multiple countries on different continents, he or she quickly realizes that privilege is usually connected to social class determinants rather than skin color diversions. It’s commoditized from the standpoint of a “one-size-fits-all” lens; individual benefits often mirror inherent group privileges, notably in the context of race. Herein lies our modernized conundrum on privilege: do embedded or endowed benefits of skin color cause, compound, or contribute to disprivilege?

Before weighing in, let me define disprivilege. It is the unfair hand, invisible in many instances, dealt to those who are “outsiders looking in” from a racial, societal, or organizational vantage point. And when you’re safely inside the privilege bubble, you’re often not aware of those stranded on the outskirts of it. Most non-Hispanic whites have (and in some cases, still do) enjoy the benefits of pigmented privilege on several fronts. They’re less likely to be profiled while walking in or around a store, driving through an upscale neighborhood, or being viewed as a potential menace to society. They’re less likely, and quite frankly less inclined, to have to “sell” their value proposition rather than to “prove” it. They’re more likely to benefit from “cultural fit” in corporate America, thanks in large (or in small) part to The Law of Familiarity. Buckle your seat belt; you’re about to go on an uncomfortable but necessary, growth-oriented ride.

I have dozens of examples, but this particular profiling story stands out. My wife Monya is a light-skinned African American woman, although some people assume she’s Hispanic or from the Middle East. Twenty years ago, our team, the Sacramento Kings, played on the road against the Los Angelos Lakers in the NBA Western Conference Finals. We stayed in the prestigious Beverly Wilshire hotel, steps away from Rodeo Drive. During my pre-game nap, Monya ventured into a high-end boutique and was immediately stereotyped as the proverbial “window shopper.” If you’ve ever been treated (or felt) like a second-class citizen in the presence of a sales person before — regardless of your racial makeup — it hurts. It’s often stigmatizing, demoralizing, and can even be traumatizing. No one paid attention to Monya until she walked by a commission-based sales associate and blurted out, “I want that, add that, and that.” No money should have to be spent to receive the debt of human dignity in order to grow humane capital.

I don’t know a black male over the age of 40 in my inner circle who hasn’t been profiled by law enforcement while driving through an upscale, predominately all-white community. Even when he lives there! Remnants still exist, but the double-takes and stare-downs seem to have subsided substantially, post-George Floyd. Back in college at Ohio State, I was roughed up and nearly shot by two white police officers. It was the classic case of mistaken identity, which was surprising given my high-profile status. Didn’t matter. They had a person-of-color (POC) narrative to uphold and a guilty-as-charged (GAC) suspect to apprehend. At the time, I stayed in a condominium on the periphery of Upper Arlington, a desirable suburb here in Central Ohio. Two blacks lived in this complex of more than 100 residents, me and my next door neighbor. Come to find out, he was a big-time drug dealer. Now, I grew up with “street entrepreneurs,” but I never associated with them. I didn’t speak to my next door neighbor, not once, for obvious reasons. I later learned that his vehicle and daily movements were being monitored by law enforcement. They pulled up in the parking lot on an overcast day in April of 1994, a few seconds after me and a good friend had just returned from a basketball workout. We saw the cops looking inside the window to my neighbor’s attached garage. Snitching is a no-no in the black community, so I didn’t feel inclined to share with the police any incriminating evidence about my neighbor, who wasn’t home at the time. Here is our conversation:

Me: Can I help you?

Police Officer #1: We’re just here to look around.

Me: Alright.

Police Officer #2: Where do you live?

Me: Right here. What’s up?

Police Officer #1: None of your business. (He walks over to my SUV and peers inside.)

Me: What are you doing?

Police Officer #1: (in a raised voice) Don’t worry about it. As a matter of fact, get on the ground!

Me: (Initially, I sat down instead of laying down on my chest.) Cool. Hey, my name is Lawrence …

Police Officer #2: (Guns drawn.) We don’t care who you are! Lay down on the ground! Right now!

My Friend: (crying) Lawrence, just do what they say.

Dozens of residents gathered around as the situation escalated. They saw me and my friend lying on the ground with our faces to the pavement. My girlfriend at the time, now my wife, was crying hysterically and imploring me to cooperate before things took a tragic turn. The officers, who I did forgive, finally admitted their error and apologized for the mishap. Their supervisor showed up about 20 minutes later. He was horrified; he instantly recognized me and apologized profusely. I didn’t sue the Columbus Police Department, and those two cops weren’t reprimanded for their actions. This was the classic case of guilt by association. Of course, I can recall more than 10 other unsettling experiences when “mistaken identity” reared its ugly head. Unfortunately, black disprivilege has been (and still is) a glaring problem in every sphere of American society.

In corporate America, the privilege bubble is deflating but it hasn’t quite burst. I’ve discussed this phenomenon with my mentor, Stephen Davis, former CEO of Bob Evans. He passed last year and I pledged to keep his mission alive. As a well-respected POC, he extended grace while holding others accountable for the chances, choices, and changes that needed to take place at the C-Suite level. In one conversation, he shared, “Black and brown executive prospects must often sell and then prove their value proposition before they’re taken seriously.” He added, “although we are praised for our ability to connect with others, a deficiency in ‘strategic thinking’ is what supposedly holds us back from professional advancement.” If you have an in-depth or even a cursory understanding of neuroscience, you’re keenly aware that the frontal lobe is where executive functioning takes place. Attributes such as planning, organizing, problem-solving, weighing consequences, and avoiding distractions are developed and fine-tuned in this region of the cerebral cortex. Coded terms can serve as disprivilege justifications. Strategic thinking deficits or contingency planning shortfalls are attributed to African Americans, language barriers or dialect challenges to Hispanic Americans, and a lack of relational equity or insufficient people development skills to Indian and Asian Americans by some organizations when reviewing C-Suite candidates. Affinity connections and affirming convictions serve as protective measures for the Law of Familiarity. To break out of the privilege bubble, we have to embrace people who don’t look, think, and act like our tribal affiliation. And no growth occurs without intentional discomfort!

In closing, I’ve highlighted the low-hanging fruit associated with racial privilege. However, there’s political privilege. C’mon now. We’re more friendly to neighbors, work colleagues, and even total strangers (at voting precincts while standing in line) who share our ideological viewpoints. There’s relational privilege. Thanks to oxytocin, sports fans of every color high-five each other in jam-packed arenas and stadiums when their team excels. Go Bengals! There’s financial privilege. Those who have more in life are often treated much better than those who have far less. Think about how we interact with someone in a three-piece suit needing directions compared to a homeless person asking for spare change. There’s educational privilege. Society places a premium on academic success and intelligence. When subject-verb disagreements occur in a conversation or are doled out on a noon talk show (aka The Jerry Springer Show), might we be inclined to look down upon that person who doesn’t quite measure up to our dialect standards? There’s nutritional privilege. Those of us who are fanatical about healthy eating and purposeful living might react in disdain, a scrunched nose or raised chin perhaps, when encountering someone who appears to value exercise and diet significantly less than we do. Now, how will you use privilege (or even disprivilege) to make our world a better place instead of a bitter space? Stay tuned for the second installment of this five-part series in memory of Dr. Martin Luther King’s bridge-building legacy.

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Lawrence Funderburke

By Lawrence FunderburkeJanuary 15, 20237 Minutes

Why MLK’s Appeal to White Moderates Fell on Deaf Ears and How We’re Still Paying the Price Six Decades Later

If you think I’m calling out whites for all of the historical grievances experienced by people of color (POCs) in this country, you’re mistaken. But I am calling them, you, and myself up to the mountaintop of lasting change that Dr. King envisioned through his expansive and expensive faith lens in the valley of (in)decision. On August 28, 1963, MLK’s I Have A Dream Speech should have been viewed as the down payment for racial harmony in America. The audience was predominately black and brown, but whites were in attendance as well. The obligation behind (or in front of) MLK’s ominous and prophetic speech still applies today. And it is quite costly. You see, America is changing. Unfortunately, far too many of us confuse change happening around us as a sign and signal that transformation is occurring within us. This, my friends, is the classic case of delusion. Tough talk, I know. But let’s go and grow together on this change journey.

Why go back to a time — the contentious Civil Rights Era in the 1960’s — that many in our nation would soon forget? Well, America’s future is predicated by what we learn from our complicated past. No time for historical amnesia, but we do need to make ample room for experiential grace and personal accountability. Here’s what I mean. Grace is a tenet or prerequisite of the Christian faith. And for those of us over the age of 45, it was a ritualistic prayer or rote blessing we shared publicly or privately before each meal as children. Now, we can’t deal with the uncomfortable subject of race without grace. This doesn’t mean we forget, but rather, we choose to forgive and hold others accountable for the change that must take place personally, organizationally, and societally to bridge the racial gaps. Without accountability, frustration steps up. People may know how long they’re going to be given to change in order to implement a racial call up, but they won’t know what to do. And without grace, exhaustion creeps in. People may know what to do behind a racial call up, but they don’t know how long they’re going to be given to change.

As a college and former NBA player, I know this to be true: sports and life intersect on a number of fronts. In corporate settings, I make it a point to highlight this truth: “Too much defense and not enough offense usually results in an ‘L’ for a team.” The implication is clear. Whites, regardless of their political leanings, will back away from the change table, especially men in positions of power who are (or even feel) targeted. Blaming-shaming-framing tactics create distance rather than close it. The oxytocin window to trust-bond-love will be missed, an opportunity to connect with those who don’t look, think, or act like our tribal affiliation. In this video game era of sports, high-octane offense keeps fans, viewers, and sponsors on the edge of their seats. Thus, it’s incumbent upon me to provide a venue in which racial growth occurs through offensive tools rather than defensive traps. This encourages buy-in and empowers all vested parties when equity, justice, diversity, privilege, and mobility are discussed against the backdrop of race. I’ll feature each one of these five hot-button topics in coming days, free of guilt but full of conviction.

In closing, no change can take place without a recurring payment. Time out for racial equality IOUs. Now, if we celebrate the life of MLK, shouldn’t we honor his legacy also? He said a lot more than “I look for the day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Along with “I don’t see color,” MLK’s regurgitated saying is often quoted by many whites to provide racial cover. Allow me the liberty to share the essence of Dr. King’s appeal to white moderates while dissecting the prevailing theme embedded in his gut-wrenching jailhouse letters: “We serve the same God. We’re covered under the same blood of Jesus. However, we have very different skin tones.” They were shown a need, in graphic detail, but didn’t fulfill it. The result? A lot of innocent people were (and are still being) hurt in the process. Why? White moderates in the South and even North didn’t want to exhaust their racial, social, and political capital, so they backed away from the change table. Six decades later, here we are.

 Let me leave you with something to ponder until my next post:

“It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note (that all people will be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness) insofar as its citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check that has come back marked, ‘insufficient funds.’”

— Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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 What is a Lane Change U Team Captain?

In sports, team captains step up to the leadership plate when the occasion warrants. They’re not afraid of the bright lights when pressure is most intense. That moment doesn’t catch them off guard; in fact, they flourish in it. Whether playing at home or on the road, they provide the calm voice of assurance in the midst of a competitive storm, They are masterful motivators who keep others focused on the task at hand, even when victory is all but assured. Team captains have the uncanny ability of galvanizing their players to accomplish challenging goals — incrementally and exceptionally. Lane Change U team captains have the championing pedigree to help others shift gears and change lanes to break free from the status quo. As divisive rhetoric pulls our nation farther apart politically, racially, and socially, the expertise of team captains is just what we need to find common ground at the front end and fund common good at the back end. That time is now.


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