The Champ is Here! #1
Here is my first blog in a four part series on my values and my journey.
My Journey (Part 1) – Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (EDI)
NOT JUST WORDS ON A PAGE – WALKING THE TALK
Muhammad Ali was one of the greatest champions. I will always remember the evening my mother took me to watch the greatest boxer. It was May 16, 1977 and Ali fought Alfredo Evangelista, at the old Capitol Centre in Landover, Maryland. I insisted on waiting for him to come out of the dressing room so that I could get his autograph. Of course, it felt like we waited for hours! He finally came out and it only took a few seconds for me to get his autograph but it was well worth the wait! At that age, the only thing I knew about Ali was that he was a great athlete and boxer. I later came to realize that his character traits were also what made him the iconic individual that he was– he was a great human being and humanitarian. He not only spoke up for his beliefs but he ensured that his career path was shaped by his values. In fact, he sacrificed his career for those very values. Over the years, those values of standing up for what is right and being a voice for the underserved have influenced the way I have sought to grow, lead and mentor.
Last month I attended the 3rd Joint Conference of Librarians of Color (JCLC) in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The JCLC theme was “Gathering All Peoples: Embracing Culture and Community.” This was an appropriate theme as over 1000 librarians of various cultures came together to discuss and share important issues facing librarians of color. I was also fortunate to have presented a program about an issue that I am passionate about: equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI), and retaining librarians of color. Our program, “Walking the Tightrope: Retaining Librarians of Color” included my co-organizer Carla Davis-Castro, with Past ALA President Jim Neal moderating an all-star panel of librarians who shared their stories of championing librarians and being championed. I was reminded of Muhammad Ali’s characteristics as Jim clearly informed our audience about several important qualities of a champion:
- A champion is NOT just a mentor, NOT just an advocate, NOT just a sponsor, NOT just an advisor, NOT just a role model.
- A champion LINKS your reputation to their own. They take your career and professional aspirations and HELP YOU turn them into REALITY.
- Champions INVEST in YOU. They PUBLICLY ADVOCATE for YOU. They CHALLENGE YOU and provide critical feedback.
- A champion is NOT a friend, but a PROFESSIONAL ALLY who advances YOU.
- A champion is at the decision making tables, has ORGANIZATIONAL\PROFESSIONAL clout, and can help to ELIMINATE BARRIERS.
One highlight of the program was the personal stories that were told. From our panelists, we heard examples of how champions helped librarians achieve success, overcome challenges and navigate tough situations marked by discrimination, stereotypes and racism. We also heard one champion describe the increasing number of Native librarians since she became a librarian and we hope to see upwards trends for all librarians of color.
I shared my own story, providing examples of how several champions used their influence to advance my career and created opportunities for me to grow professionally. Librarians of color have been an instrumental part of my trajectory. I explained that as librarians of color, we have an obligation to champion all librarians, especially librarians of color. One personal story about champions that I did not share was that every library job for which I have been selected, including five positions at the Library of Congress, was offered to me by a person of color. Librarians of color have been the foundation of my career.
Recognizing the importance of collective solution-building, we also initiated a group exercise with all the attendees. We provided several challenging scenarios that many librarians of color may face in the workplace and asked the participants to develop strategies to address these often uncomfortable situations. The participants responded with great strategies – many of which I intend to explore when I become YOUR President.
As we listened to the panel, and as the participants presented their strategies, one fact kept resonating with me: all librarians need a champion; especially librarians with target identities – librarians of color, librarians with disabilities, LGBTQ librarians, and new and younger librarians.
I continue to be a champion for inclusion and diversity in librarianship, because diverse library staffs create improved organizational outcomes, greater customer satisfaction and more inclusive collections. This includes being a champion for gender equality in our profession, particularly given that despite women dominating the profession, male librarians reach administrative positions at a higher rate than women.
We need to create a culture in ALA that permeates throughout our workplaces, a culture where equity, diversity and inclusion is lived, where they are not just aspirational words on a page. We must create professional opportunities for librarians with target identities. We must champion a librarian and emphasize the value of equity, diversity and inclusion among our ranks. Muhammad Ali said, “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.” Librarians practice this everyday by serving our communities and colleagues. As your ALA president I am committed to serving and working with you to uphold our values of EDI.