Having been raised by Mississippi Civil Rights foot soldiers (my grandparents, parents, and family) I was spoon feed diversity and inclusion. I knew first hand that 'isms" of all sorts existed in many Southern, rural communities. But raising my children in Tennessee taught me "isms" were not exclusive to rural communities of my youth. I, like the two generations before me, have always embraced everyone. My deep close personal friends in my private life backgrounds and racial makeup are as beautiful as the rainbow and are uniquely and wonderfully made as the boots I wear. My professional careers mirror my personal life. My customers from my pest control business look like the UN and my radio audience has grown to globally.
My multiculturalism-loving lifestyle was giving a wake-up call seven years ago when my son became a Marine. We were suddenly immersed in all things Marine morning, noon and night. We drastically shifted many of our focuses to support his desire to serve his county. We served along with other families and suddenly realized how small the world is when you become part of The Few, The Proud. At the exact same time, I started a radio program, Living Your Best Life with Genma Holmes, that gave voice to the veteran and active duty military communities and their families that grew listeners rather quickly.
Initially, many of the voices heard on the show were of WW II MontfordPoint Marines who were the first Black Marines in our country, women in the Marine Corps, and retiring Marines. I was booking guests that I knew well, Marines. The texters loved the stories and gave positive feedback back after each show. One day as I browsing through my text messages, I ran across a text that stated, "There are five branches of the military just in case you were not aware." That simple truthful text reminded me of the many times I have sat on planning committees and have had to remind the committee members of whatever event was being planned more voices than their personal friends who looked like them were needed. In many civic organizations, I have usually been the only woman or person of color and my disdain for the lack of "flavor" for any program is quickly known upfront. My observations at the lack of the diversity are often met with indifference, defensiveness, or "Can you contact the them for us?"
|WW2 Veteran Mark H. McCann, Sr. welcome parade at Nia House Montessori School|
After reading the text message, I became the defensive one. I mulled over the comment for days and explained the many reasons why there were only Marines on my program. Most of my points were valid and I truly was not trying to omit any other branch. I was booking my friends and who I knew. But to a member of the Army, Navy, Airforce or Coastguard who are much larger in numbers and were loyal followers of the show as well, none of my of excuses sounded reasonable.
Taking a page out of my grandparents and parents book of life, I decided to be intentional about immersing myself in lives of them, the “other” military branches. I spent time with members of the military who did not say ‘ooh-rah’ until it was as natural for me to contact the Army or Navy as it was the Marines for great profiles. The benefit of being intentional not only grew my audience but my programs became rich with content that everyone could relate too not just The Few, The Proud, The Marines.
Being diverse and inclusive are active ways to begin addressing race relations. Too often, good intentions start with awkward race relation initiatives before organizers or well meaning folks have tried one of the most effective means of breaking down barriers, being intentional in getting to know someone else, personally and professionally, first. We must be the change we want to see in the world.
(The Nashville Business Journal ran a special issue devoted to Diversity and Inclusion. An edited version of my thoughts from above were posted on Friday, September 9, 2016 titled Expand: I was a champion of diversity, until I wasn't.