Home Wisconsin Best of 12 Rounds, Spring 2021

Best of 12 Rounds, Spring 2021


In our new weekly feature 12 Rounds, leaders will answer 12 questions — some light, some heavy — from our Publisher and CEO Henry Sanders to help the community understand them, what they do, and why. Today: the best questions and answers from the spring of 2021 so far.

Nia Trammell: What did you learn about yourself in 2020? That I can be still.  And that is ok.  To be very transparent, like many others, 2020 yielded a range of emotions. We experienced some amazing milestones, yet suffered our share of disappointments and loss.  I think the global pandemic and human rights issues across the country literally crippled many of us. When our worlds came to a halt, many of us were forced to just sit down and be still.  Having to be still unleashed a greater level of intentionality for me.  It gave me a moment to refocus and repurpose, first beginning by really taking stock of my life, the people in it, and cherishing it all.  I learned how strong my faith is.  I learned how powerful the bonds of family and friends are.  I learned to not underestimate the life-changing effects of self-care and love.  These things were not necessarily illusory for me before the pandemic, but I think the pandemic made it more evident and amplified its beauty in a way that I truly appreciate.      

Francesca Hong: The media is reporting more anti-Asian racism in our communities. In your view, is that because there is more anti-Asian racism happening, or has it always been there and is now just being reported more? Anti-Asian violence and racism have existed and manifested in our communities long before Trump exacerbated it with his hateful and racist rhetoric. We have long been defined and minimized to stereotypes, fetishes, and projections of forced cultural experiences. (No, we are not best friends because your daughter-in-law is Korean.) The trauma of constantly evolving racial identities through assimilation and erasure of violence our ancestors experienced at the expense of American militarism and colonialism have traumatized many in our communities. The aggregation of our different ethnicities have increased racialized violence and kept resources from some of our  most vulnerable communities often falsely believed to be part of the “model minority”. I hope moving forward more people are willing to learn about the complex Asian American diaspora and value the diversity of experiences and contributions of our communities.

Jihan Bekiri: As the VP Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, what are three reasons DEI programs fail? In no particular order, a siloed approach that doesn’t strategically embed DEI across the organization (rather it’s seen as the work of the DEI team alone), a lack of senior leadership commitment to the DEI goals OR their own introspective learning needed to lead this work and overlooking the importance of the employee experience and inclusive culture. 

Lorissa Bañuelos: You are the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Director at Employment Resource Group. What makes an effective DEI program in the business community? First and foremost, practice what you preach. With that said, we are implementing DEI learning internally. We are not only understanding terms but connecting that to history and present day. We are a small group of 15, so having a facilitated discussion with a multiracial group of both white and BIPOC participants works for our team but I can see how this particular strategy wouldn’t work for a larger organization. There are no judgements going into these discussions. We know we are all at different stages of this journey and have created a safe place for all levels of cultural competency. 

I think what is the most important thing that my organization has done is INVEST in diversity, equity and inclusion. I am a huge fan of employee resource groups in companies to help create an inclusive community and opportunities for networking. However, but as far as DEI education and strategy goes, you need to PAY someone for that education and emotional labor. DEI work is hard, very hard. It’s not only understanding terms but connecting that to history and present day. Its facilitating hard conversations and reliving trauma sometimes daily. It’s turning around companies that are 100-150 years old and asking them to invest in something that most didn’t even knew existed.

Nicole Sandoval: If you could go back in time to any point of life to tell yourself something, what age would you go back to and what would you tell yourself? This is something I think about a lot. I think that everything in life has a purpose and so I don’t believe in going back in time and thinking if any advice now would change the outcome. Without the choices I had made, I would not be the person I am today. I think the only thing I would tell myself is to be more patient. I think as humans, we get trapped in either thinking about the past or focusing too much on the future, and we forget to live our present. I don’t mean don’t set goals for yourself, but I mean just be more intentional about living for today. I was very guilty of this. I think, I would also tell myself to be more intentional about things, situations, conversations etc. 

Gia Gallimore: What advice do you have for people to balance between a stressful work schedule and your health? Full transparency, I have struggled to find this balance for a long time because I often remember and live by my grandmother’s words “you must work twice as hard.” But, what I failed to understand is that never meant at the expense of my mental wellness and health. So, I am currently actively working to choose to unplug from work, which means not answering emails after work hours, taking time off, and having a consistent workout schedule. 

Marlon WhiteEagle: Did any of your experience as a Marine help you in your leadership now as the Ho Chunk president? A lot of the experiences I’ve had as a Marine stay with me and help me being the leader of the Ho-Chunk Nation. Many Ho-Chunks served in the U.S. military, specifically the Marine Corps.

It seems there’s a similarity of a close-knit culture that’s based on discipline. Similarly, there’s also a conduct of code in both of these cultures.

One example is saying the Marines have: “A Marine is on duty, he has no friends.” That speaks to the loosening of rules that govern our conduct. Part of that relates to leading and keeping the rules in the front of your mind, knowing them, and ensuring the adherence to them.

That’s integrity and honesty.

Charles Myadze: What advice would you give someone who is a person of color not from Wisconsin who is thinking about moving to Madison? Bring winter boots and a shovel! Seriously, I would tell them to be prepared to have their assumptions challenged. One might think a major university town with a history of fighting for social justice would not have racial tensions. We do have challenges here – and we are actually just really starting to grapple with them. Madison has addressed some of them in the past theoretically, and now is actually confronted with them.  I’d also tell them to get connected with the incredible network of African American leaders I am proud to call friends – such as Everett Mitchell, Barbara McKinney and so many others. 

Terra Allen: How has your faith helped you in your marriage? My faith is very important to me. The Bible gives many practical lessons on how to have a successful marriage. Some of my favorite scriptures are Ephesians 5 and Proverbs 31. Not to say that every day is sunshine and roses. I love my husband dearly, but sometimes he can get on my last nerves lol. One thing that my husband and I learned early on in our marriage is how to pray for and with each other. We know that our marriage is nothing without God at the center. We understood that before we could ever have a true horizontal connection between the two of us, we needed a true vertical relationship with Christ. So, it’s never just the two of us. It’s the three of us. We are nothing without Him. He keeps us connected.  My husband often teaches that a strong marriage is like the cord of three strands. It symbolizes the unity of husband, wife, and Christ. And a cord of three strands is not easily broken.

Ajamou Butler: If you could go back in time to any point of life to tell yourself something, what age would you go back to and what would you tell yourself? I would go back to 17 years old when I first put a knife to my skin. I would tell myself to take a moment, breathe, take a walk, talk to a therapist but by any means, don’t self-harm.

Ashley Thomas: You used to play basketball for the University of Wisconsin. How did sports prepare you for the work you’re doing now? Discipline and mental toughness. Being a collegiate athlete requires you to put A LOT of work in. Often quite a bit beyond the required practices, film sessions, games etc. I had to learn pretty quickly how to be disciplined when it came to my “free time”. It was important to balance school, relationships, ministry, basketball and just overall well-being. Without the skill of discipline I wouldn’t be able to do anything very well, let alone enjoy the process along the way. In addition, basketball taught me mental toughness. It taught me to push through pain, through uncomfortable situations, how to receive criticism and to always put the team first. These are things that have been so instrumental as I walk with broken men, women and children – we all come from different backgrounds, many with traumatic and difficult experiences. I have to daily be mentally prepared to meet people where they are at and not take things personally, even and especially when what I am met with is not “easy”.

Suzanne Johnson: You are one of the few people of color in the C Suite in the Madison area. What advice would you give to others who strive to get where you are? This is such a wonderful question that I wish I knew the answer to starting out. I don’t claim to have all the answers, however, I believe the items below have worked for me: 

  • Analyze and understand what qualities you bring to your work that no one else can duplicate. Display confidence in the value you add while seeking ways to become a resource to others around you. You may encounter people along the way who imply that you should “dim your shine”.  Don’t let this discourage you, rather take it on as a challenge to shine brighter. You bring a uniqueness and you were chosen for a reason, make sure you know what those reasons are.
  • Understand what’s important to you in an organization. Ensure organizational mission and values align with yours. Do your homework to ask the right questions in interviews, check-in’s, and at developmental discussions. 
  • Organically establish a trusted group of individuals who can support you on your journey. This can sometimes be the most important piece to your career progression. If you can’t find this in the workplace, find it outside of the workplace. People who can hear you, push you, and guide you along the way are essential to the process.

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