When protests erupted across the country last spring, I was confused as to what they were about. Naturally, I was horrified by the murder of George Floyd. But I didn’t understand the Black Lives Matter movement, or the anger behind the protests and where it was coming from. The only information I was getting were news stories, but they weren’t very informative.
I wanted to understand, so I reached out to three of my departmental colleagues and asked if they would mind if I asked a few questions. They are African-American women; I’m a 47-year-old white man. The stories they told me blew my mind. When one of my colleagues explained that she had to teach her son about how to go into a convenience store, it struck me that I have never once worried about going into a store and being suspected of stealing simply because of the color of my skin.
Those conversations were a turning point for me. As my colleagues told their stories, I saw the bigger picture behind the protests and I now have a better understanding of what’s going on.
Sharing what I learned
Afterward, I spoke with my dad, who is a pastor in Central Texas. His congregation is 100% white. When I shared what I had learned from those three conversations, he was inspired to reach out to other churches in his community. He contacted the pastor of a predominately African-American church and they had a conversation about the challenges African-Americans face in their community. The pastor said that in his 45 years in that church, it was the first time another pastor had ever reached out. They realized that racial barriers were keeping people from doing good things, so they decided to change that. Together, they started a food and clothing drive to help a parishioner whose house had burned down, and assembled volunteers to help with the clean-up.
Who knew that conversations I had here at work would end up making a difference in a little community in Central Texas?
Breaking down family barriers
My grandparents were sharecroppers in East Texas. My parents also grew up there. Racism was part of the community. When my dad went to Vietnam and served with African-American and Hispanic men, his views changed. Since then, he’s been exposed to people from all over the world, and he served alongside people from diverse backgrounds when he worked in the fire department. Watching him change has been wonderful and I’m proud of him for that.
That isn’t true for everyone, however. When my sister married an Indian-American man (his family is from India) we had aunts and uncles but who refused to attend the wedding. Others did though, and my sister helped break down barriers just by inviting them.
Hearing stories and being heard
I used to be a social studies and history teacher, so I love hearing people’s stories. It’s one of the things I enjoy most about my job. Having diversity in the workplace gives me access to voices I might not otherwise get to hear.
I like that Accelerate Learning has taken proactive steps to be a diverse and inclusive company. That gives me hope. I’ve always felt comfortable making my voice heard here, but I realize that may not be true for everyone in every workplace.
My kids also give me hope. They’re 13, 11 and 9, and we and talk openly about people’s struggles. They may not have the same struggles others do, but I know they won’t make the same mistakes I have.
When I had those conversations with my colleagues, it was first time I made myself vulnerable and put myself out there with my coworkers. I said, “I don’t understand and I need your help,” and all three of my colleagues said they were glad I asked. It’s wonderful to be able to have frank and open conversations like that. Sometimes, just having a conversation is half the battle. Will it solve every problem? No, but I can solve whatever problems are in my heart. When I see injustices, I can speak up. Democracy is hard. It takes active citizenship to enact the changes we want to see.
I know I can’t change world, but I can change my little corner of it.
Sam Pollard works as an Inside Sales account representative at Accelerate Learning. He taught High School History for 15 years and served as an administrator for 2 years.