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Open Minds, Open Hearts: Developing People

Miriam Persley responds to: How Can Leadership Development Programs Make a Difference in the Challenges of Tackling Racism?


Trayvon Martin’s death was a symptom of a larger problem. Our society is littered with inequities. With time, legalized racism has evolved from physical segregation into something that is “happening at nanoseconds at subliminal levels, not conscious levels,” as Maya Wiley[1] argues. It is this subconscious racism which is embedded in our social system, and therefore into other systems as well. The symptoms are all there to corroborate this. We see the symptoms of racism in the criminal justice system,[2]  further corroborated by the discrepancy of “underrepresented minorities’” admissions into colleges,[3] as well as by the data on income distribution[4] or the percentages of children below poverty,[5] none of which reflect racial equity. All these symptoms come back to racism; its roots in American history of colonialism, slavery, and imperialism. The problem is not one of Black vs White, this in itself ignores the American reality of others that are outside of the White or Black communities[6] and those that are of mixed descent. Rather this is a social problem which affects everyone.


Racism continues to happen. President Obama came out and validated the African American male experience in his statement to the press. Beyond his personal experiences, he also spoke on systemic racism in the disparities in the legal system. Furthermore, President Obama also put a call out to the nation; he proposed that “We need to spend some time in thinking about how do we bolster and reinforce our African-American boys?” He brought some initial ideas on how to change the systems but that is a questions that is still open and we should all continue to think about and hold our government accountable for. Furthermore, the President reflected and asked “How do we learn some lessons from this and move in a positive direction?” This is a challenge that we should all meet.


We all need to be able to relate to one another and not allow our biases get in the way. The media quickly searched and promoted “evidence” of Trayvon’s criminality; and the people quickly consumed that information and used it to hold on to their biases. In the article by 40 Acres And A Cubicle,A Sad Night In America,” he argues that Americans have failed the African American community. Furthermore, the real crime is that:

“Those mothers [in the jury] couldn’t see Trayvon as their son. Because their sons don’t send silly photos through their phones. Their sons haven’t tried marijuana. THEY haven’t tried marijuana. Their sons haven’t walked home in the evening after coming from a store. The sheer ability for those women not to empathize and see the basic commonality in Trayvon and their own offspring gives me a cold chill.”

We should all share that chill for Trayvon and if we do not, something is definitely missing in our human capacity. We must then reflect on our own feelings and ask ourselves what is standing in the way of our human compassion. As some have asked, how would I feel if Trayvon looked just like me?


The reality is that we all look different and we must each hold each other accountable, but the discussion now is how? How do we, as average citizens, hold each other accountable not only in our legal system but every day? I do not yet know that we can, but we can each pledge to have real self-accountability daily and make an effort to talk about these biases and experiences with others. To tap into the human resources available. We all identify with our histories of ethnicity; we are all part of the problem and therefore can be part of the solution. This has been a growing problem for millennia and it will not disappear overnight. But if we all work on ourselves, the individual, constantly, we can start making a difference. I enjoyed Eleanor’s call to action into a life-long process of allyship and encourage everyone to take up the call and reflect on own privileges whatever they may be. The posts on “We Are Not Trayvon Martin” Tumbler continue to prove that privilege exists and that there is not a hard boundary that segregates groups of people, rather there are varying gradients of privilege (sex, race, ethnic, linguistic, class, education, physical attributes, etc). Even within races there are gradients of privilege, but we can each constantly reflect on these and make a commitment to work on them, to put them out to the light and not allow them to fester in the darkness. This is a part of the healing process, which we should all be a part of.

We should work towards being able to come together and listen to each other, learn from one another's experiences, and offer support. The environment should feel safe and open to allow for this. We may feel uncomfortable in this process; and that is okay. I look back at LLC's Transparency Rules for inspiration and know from personal experience that these have made a big difference through difficult conversations here at LLC.  The LLC team is having these discussions and it is important for all Leadership Development programs as well because this is human development. Although this is a work-in-progress, we will continue to do this work together. Our work must continue not only address the symptoms, but to treat the main problem of subconscious racism and strive to weed it out of our social systems. I look forward to the upcoming Learning Circle in Oakland where we will talk more on Leadership and Race. Keep an eye out for the invitation and notification email.


Your comments are always welcomed. To contact Miriam Persley via email and through Twitter @MiriamPersley


[1] MSNBC. “Up with Steve Kornacki.” Weekends 8-10 AM. July 15th, 2013.

[2] Kerby, Sophia. March 13, 2012. The Top 10 Most Startling Facts About People of Color and Criminal Justice in the United States: A Look at the Racial Disparities Inherent in Our Nation’s Criminal-Justice System.[2]

[3] The number of “underrepresented minorities” almost equaled the number of White/Other admitted in 2010 & 2011 into the UC System. Check out slide 10 from UC Conselor’s Conference

[4] US Census Bureau. 693 - Money Income of Households--Number and Distribution by Race and Hispanic Origin: 2009

[5] US Census Bureau. 712 - Children Below Poverty Level by Race and Hispanic Origin

[6] Check out Lauren’s Article to hear more about this.