As a young black man growing up poor in southeastern Virginia, Ryan Speedo Green believed that opera was “something only a white person could do.” (Think the singing viking lady shattering windows with her piercing high C.)
Now Ryan is an opera singer for the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
After spending time in juvenile detention as a young teenager, including time in solitary confinement, Ryan returned to school and took “easy electives” – football, choir, and Latin club. What at first were excuses to slide easily through school and into a football career soon became the seeds to a different passion. In a recent interview (starts at 15:45) on The Daily Show, Ryan recounts his first visit to the Metropolitan stage, at age fifteen, where he saw African-American opera singer Denyce Graves perform in Carmen. From that day forward, Ryan knew he wanted to – and could – sing opera.
Representation Has Impact
Of course, it’s possible that Ryan would still have become an opera singer without ever witnessing that performance by Denyse Graves. But he describes the power of that moment above: “the thing that made [seeing my first opera] so monumental to me – which changed my life – was that the person singing the lead role, the title role, was an [African-American singer]. And when I left the opera house that day, I told my voice teacher I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I want to sing at the Met.”
What You Can Do
Maybe opera isn’t really your thing. As a leader or influential member in your organization, however, helping grow a world where all of us have the same opportunities may be!
We’ve written a lot on both building cultural awareness and leading the way, including representation in the workplace and in our media. Ryan’s story is another sign that the work, art, and efforts of our leaders – of ALL races, faiths, orientations, persuasions, and abilities – have a positive impact on the diverse world we are striving to build. Hard work and talent are not exclusive to any one group, and each one of us has a fairer shot at success when the organizations we build and influence are true examples of that diversity.
Start with Your Organization
If you build the place where every opera singer, viking lady or otherwise, understands they have a fair shot at their dream, they will come! Building that world and celebrating our differences is what the Dignity & Respect Campaign helps organizations and leaders do every day. Not sure exactly how to get started? Many organizations begin their journey with a D&R Toolkit, which provides everything you need to launch your own internal campaign. Learn more about D&R Solutions by contacting us today!