Reflecting on My Father in This Moment
I am delighted to introduce you to Dawn Speed, a colleague and friend. I asked Dawn if she’d like to share a blog during this moment of transformation, given her personal experience and passion, and I am thrilled she said, “Yes.” I highly recommend you also read and watch the addition resources Dawn included in the P.S. Without further adieu: Reflecting on My Father in This Moment by Dawn Speed.
Father’s Day is a very special day in our family, but I’m aware not everyone is as blessed as my brother and me to have had a strong, loving father. At 5’7”, Joseph Edward Brown, Sr. wasn’t tall or imposing — yet his presence was palpable. He was integrity, honor, intelligence, and generosity personified. High blood pressure and multiple strokes took him from our close-knit family in 2005, just before his 80th birthday. My parents would have celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary that year. We didn’t have a perfect life, but it sure was wonderful.
Contrary to the “absent black father” stereotype, my father was a daily presence. Driving from his job at O’Keefe Chevrolet Oldsmobile, the local GM dealership, he’d spend his lunch hours with my mother watching The Guiding Light and The Young and the Restless soap operas. Nightly dinners were enjoyed around our big, round kitchen table. He’d often take my brother and me back to “the shop” after hours to prep new cars for delivery (I’m sure it’s where my love of sports cars and stick shifts blossomed).
Dad would devote countless hours to us in our big backyard. “C’mon, Princess!” he’d yell, and we’d play one of my favorite games, Airplane. Grabbing my hands, he’d gently swing me around through the air. Even more fun, he’d grab one foot and one hand, spinning me in great sweeping circles with my free hand and foot outstretched in the wind, swirling faster and faster. No one could tell me this wasn’t really flying!
Fast forward 30-plus years. Dad is “tiger hunting” among the maple and apple trees in that same backyard with his grandson and granddaughter. He adored his grandchildren. And it was mutual.
Racism in real terms
Such cherished memories stand in stark contrast to the “perfect storm” of today’s global pandemic, the resulting economic meltdown, layered with in-your-face uprisings born out of the senseless murders of my people. The whole world is watching. Again. Keenly aware of racism’s long tentacled, devastating legacy. It has been described as, “…the feeling that something is wrong EVERYWHERE.”
Racism has ravaged this country for more than 400 years, passed down for generations. I marvel at the grace with which my father carried the weight of racism throughout his life. A deeply religious man (his father was a minister), Dad was an accomplished pianist, and served as the organist and Choir Director at our church for nearly 40 years. His faith likely softened the pain and indecency of rampant segregation as he came of age in the 1930s and 1940s.
I was nine years old the first time I was called a nigger, spewed at me by a middle-aged white man who drove past as I waited to cross the street to meet my parents. They were at the local F.W. Woolworth’s in my small, hometown of Riverhead, NY. I don’t remember what happened afterward, how my parents dealt with not being able to protect me from it, but that moment is seared in my brain like it happened yesterday.
My son was five years old, in a suburban school in Westchester, NY, when a white classmate called him the N-word. Both my son and daughter endured the humiliation and rage of being called racist names by classmates while attending a predominantly white Catholic high school.
Fast forward to 2015, watching my son’s health deteriorate under the stress of overt racial bias in the corporate workplace. After repeated attempts to raise the issue, he quit rather than continue a losing battle. Thankfully, he is now thriving in a role that aligns with his media career path. Still, it worries me that I cannot protect my children from racism’s grip. Every. Day.
I share these memories to refute those who would say, “That doesn’t happen anymore.” “The Civil Rights Movement fixed it. Why can’t you all just move on?”
2020 is 20/20
So, here we are, entering the third decade of the 21st century. George Floyd. A father. A son. A black man whose skin put him at deadly risk. Daily. Whose skin was the color of my father’s. My son’s. My daughter’s. Mine.
There’s a reckoning in the streets. The lynching of George Floyd — and make no mistake, what we watched on that infamous video was a lynching — is the catalyst for the long overdue deconstruction of systemic racism. Systems in place to “keep us in our place.” The Memorial Day murder in Minneapolis, MN has sparked a global chain of outrage unseen in our lifetime.
What was it that finally broke through?
Was it witnessing 8 mins:46 secs of George Floyd’s life being callously, brutally drained from him as he called for his deceased mother? Was it the arrogant indifference on the face of ex-police officer Derek Chauvin, Floyd’s killer, as he adjusted the knee on the neck, hand in pocket?
How do we protect ourselves from those who “protect and serve?*
Own it. Change it.
This Father’s Day elicits a bittersweet mixture of sadness, love and longing. Longing for more time with my father — and longing for justice for my people. We are done waiting.
Yes, it will take time to deconstruct entrenched systems. But it’s not as complicated as some would like to believe — if we own it. As the saying goes, “We can put a man on the moon, but we can’t….?”
Where do organizations start? 1. Pay parity: measure it, address it. 2. Equity in hiring/access to career growth opportunities: measure it, address it. 3. Partnerships in early education: establish corporate relationships early; children need to see the possibilities, in real terms, for their lives.
When a business sincerely wants to do something, it finds a way to make it happen.
“…liberty and justice for all” is a lofty but attainable goal. One that requires accountability — a word that repels too many leaders. We know we’re able. The question for each of us is, “Are we willing and ready to make it happen?”
Director, ROI Communication
P.S. *Underscoring the frequency of these incidents, since this post was written another black man killed by a white police officer is sparking new protests. In Atlanta, GA, Rayshard Brooks was shot twice in the back. Video evidence shows Brooks was kicked by one officer while he lay dying and the other officer standing on Brooks’ body.
Violence Never Works. Really? How do you think this country came to be? (NYT, 2020)
Van Jones, the Amy Cooper Call (CNN, 2020)
Why Juneteeth Matters (NYT, June 2020)
Jon Stewart, Race/Off (Comedy Central, 2014)