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!
So much is happening these days that important causes come and go, or pass through our radar, as if they’re mere trends. It may seem like ages ago that #NODAPL was all over our news feeds – but it was just a few weeks ago that people were pledging their support for the Native American water protectors at Standing Rock, making calls to North Dakota representatives, and sending supplies to the protesters, who held their ground even in brutal conditions.
On December 4, the Army Corps of Engineers made the decision to deny a permit for further construction on the 1,172-mile oil pipeline, which is hailed as a victory. In a statement, the National Congress of American Indians President Brian Cladoosby said “Our prayers have been answered.” Importantly, he also said: “This isn’t over.”
The Fight Continues
It’s relatively well-known that this particular pipeline was originally set to run through Bismarck, but was swiftly re-routed due to concerns that the pipeline could compromise the city’s drinking water. Standing Rock has been fighting for their dignity, their rights, and even their safety ever since. What is wrong with this picture?
Understanding the #NoDAPL fight is crucial for all of us, whether we’re in North Dakota, Pennsylvania, or California – not only because we’re sincere in our intentions to protect the rights and safety of our fellow Americans, but because these pipelines affect ALL of us. There are about 2.6 million miles of pipeline in the United States, and since 2010, there have been 4,269 incidents, including 474 injuries.
Support Corporate Responsibility in 2017
Questions abound as a new administration takes Washington, and what is to become of the Dakota Access Pipeline is no exception. It will be as important as ever, in 2017, to stay attuned to the facts. Despite the Army Corps’ decision to deny the pipeline permit, the oil company can technically disobey the order, pay the fines, and continue their build.
As leaders in any business, industry, and location, we have decisions to make about the type of world we want to help build through our work and our affairs. There are questions of environmental responsibility, integrity, dignity and respect. Each day we have the choice to build that better world, or maintain a status quo that so often fails those who aren’t in power.
Do Your Part: How You Can Help Standing Rock
Protesters remain on-site at Standing Rock in Cannonball, ND, where the temperature is consistently in the 30s or well below. Many people are sending medical resources and supplies to keep conditions safe for those remaining. But the tribe is now facing new legislation from the state that essentially criminalizes aspects of protest at Standing Rock, with little to no communication or consultation with those involved.
If you’d like to support Standing Rock’s on-the-ground legal team, you can donate here. To keep the protesters well-fed, you can donate here. If you’d like to discover more ways to discuss the Standing Rock protests with your organization and learn how corporate responsibility stems from the basic tenets of dignity and respect, we’d love to help. Contact us at 1-855-222-8211 today.
For the month of June, the Dignity & Respect Campaign has focused one of our initiatives on LGBT teenagers. We’ve developed both reading lists and discussion guides in order to better understand how we as a community can reduce bullying and make the world a better place for this population to live in.
However, our nation was recently shaken by the devastating tragedy in Orlando – a shooting that killed nearly 50 individuals in a gay nightclub. In the wake of such an occurrence, it’s easy to be met with a range of emotions. All across social media, people from varying backgrounds are posting and sharing their diverse beliefs and feelings about the matter – everything from stances on Islamophobia to the ever-controversial matter of gun control.
But regardless of the issues that have arisen from this event, one thing is very clear: now, more than ever, we as a country need to focus on how to treat one another with dignity and respect. We need to remember that our differences are only barriers if we allow them to be.
So in the spirit of removing barriers, we feel that one of the best ways we as a campaign can honor the victims of Orlando and the LGBT community as a whole is to continue talking about it. We recently interviewed Alison Taverna, a young, up-and-coming writer who is a member of the LGBT community and writes frequently on the topic. Taverna is from Massachusetts and was gracious enough to talk to D&R about her experiences as a teenager and coming to terms with her identity:
D&R: What was it like growing up as an LGBT teen? What were some of your struggles?
AT: I never considered myself an LGBT teen. I didn’t come out until I turned 19 and was attending an all-women’s liberal arts college in a city far away from my own. I grew up in a small farm town about forty minutes west of Boston; the Charles River trickled through the back woods, and that was about the extent of any real movement I ever saw. I didn’t identify as gay because I didn’t have the space to, but the real problem was I didn’t know I didn’t have the space to. The summer before my junior year of high school, I traveled to D.C. for a ten-day leadership conference. It was the first time I had ever been on my own. My roommate came from Texas and brought with her a stuffed animal. I remember teasing her about it, asking, “Did your boyfriend give that to you?” over and over until finally she said, “No, my girlfriend did.” That was the moment I realized I was perpetuating this assumption of a heteronormative life that, if I was being honest, wasn’t something I even believed in. After that summer I really started being skeptical of what I thought and who was making me think that way.
D&R: Did you have any role models during the time? Who and why?
AT: I wrote letters to that same D.C. roommate for over a year after we went back to our respective towns across the country. We never talked about my sexuality outright, but we talked about hers and I was quick to ask questions about her girlfriends, the hard conversations she had with her mother, and gay pop culture. Looking back now, those letters are what got me here. I never saw her as an LGBT role model; I saw her as a [fellow] kid struggling to grow up. But at the same time, I knew she was free in a way I wasn’t. And in her I saw a life where I could be open and my friends didn’t become afraid of me, my parents would still keep me, and I’d be able to be a bold voice in a community I cared about.
D&R: What resources could have benefited you as an LGBT teen?
AT: Any type of public immersion into the LGBT culture. I would have loved to see some LGBT writers or artists come into our school to lead workshops, do readings, or have a conversation. I remember sitting in dark auditoriums where people talked at us from a stage about drunk driving and drugs. But what would have happened if we turned on the lights? If we sat facing each other? I needed successful, unapologetic, talented members of the LGBT community in the classroom. I needed teachers who taught about the worldwide persecution of human beings because of their sexual and gender orientation. We needed a Gay-Straight Alliance, a gender neutral bathroom, a higher level of policing those students who spat insanely ignorant comments based in hate.
D&R: What do you wish someone would have told you growing up?
AT: I wish someone would have told me being “other” can be a gift. I have to fight every day to continue being a person many people, often openly, reject. I think when you fight for who you are that ruthlessly you validate your life. And at the root of that validation has to be the idea that breathes you are worth it. I spend most of my days standing in front of a classroom, a classroom that looks almost identical to the ones I sat in when I was 16, and I know what I represent now. I know what people think when they look at me. I’m at a place in my life where it feels like the most important thing I can do is to keep standing there. Without shame. Because I know so many people didn’t and won’t get that opportunity. And man, I wish someone would have told me how beautiful my skin could feel standing like that.
For more information on Alison Taverna’s latest book of poems, please click here. And to learn how your organization can take active steps to better include and interact with the LGBT community, contact our Campaign Manager to learn what D&R can do for you.
The strong commitment people have to their faith is demonstrated in many ways, including how and what food they consume.
For example, food is an important aspect of Passover, which begins this year in the evening of Friday, April 22 and ends in the evening of Saturday, April 30. Throughout the eight days of Passover, observant Jews refrain from eating leavened bread, and instead consume matzos. The seder is the centerpiece of the Passover experience.
Food abstinence and fasting are evident in many religions. For centuries, Roman Catholics were restricted from eating meat on Fridays; now that restriction is limited to specific holy days. Consider this chart of Food Practices and Restrictions of World Religions prepared by Ruth A. Waibel (download pdf). Also, many foods are religious symbols.
Download the Building Cultural Awareness Reading List (pdf) and Discussion Guide (pdf).
Even with the relaunch of the Dignity & Respect Campaign, coupled with our new energy and direction, it would be remiss to move forward without acknowledging and reminding ourselves of what the campaign stands for in the first place.
One of our original and continued initiatives includes our 7 Pillars of Dignity & Respect. Each one of these pillars represents a specific behavior that we fully believe will help us all create an environment – whether it’s a classroom, a work setting, or even in the line at the supermarket – that we can all exist in both peacefully and productively.
1. Start with You. Understand how you see yourself, how others see you, and how your filters guide you, and influence your behavior.
We all have different backgrounds and vastly different experiences from one another. These experiences have shaped how you have come to see the world, as well as how you react to certain situations. Knowing these factors about yourself can go a long way in your ability to interact with others, and treat them with dignity and respect. Know your strengths as well as you know your weaknesses. Understand what has made you you
2. Sweat the Small Stuff. Understand the concepts of intent vs. impact. Become mindful of how you respond to others and be responsible for your words and actions.
Once you fully understand yourself, it’s crucial to know how others might perceive you. Does your humor upset others around you? Do you find yourself making jokes or casual comments that cause others to wince? This type of “harmless” behavior might not mean much to you, but often it can resonate with other people in deeper ways. Be sensitive to others and aware of your own actions. Hold yourself accountable.
3. Build Cultural Awareness. Respond to employees, customers, and business partners in a culturally appropriate manner. Treat others the way they want to be treated.
Cultural awareness does not simply involve learning about other cultures or belief systems. Building cultural awareness means you work towards accepting those differences. By understanding these differences and welcoming them into your communities or circles, we start to drop the barriers.
4. Find Common Ground. Work through differences and gain agreement while maintaining dignity and respect. Acknowledge the value of different perspectives.
Yes, it’s true that you might not understand another person’s opinion, and you might strongly disagree with it. But does that mean you disagree with that person entirely? Chances are very high that you have something in common with him or her. It could be a small thing (perhaps you both have children), or it could be something you didn’t expect (perhaps you have the same favorite author). Or maybe you and this person share a common passion that could spark a collaboration or partnership down the road. You won’t ever know until you try – until you set aside differences and look for the commonalities.
5. Join the Team. Create interactions on teams that are respectful of individual differences, build trust and agreement, limit bias and favoritism, and strive for the best overall outcomes.
Teams do not function at full capacity unless everyone is involved. Just as two heads are better than one, a team or group in which everyone is engaged and contributing is better than one or two individuals excluding the rest. It’s true that these types of interactions can be difficult to cultivate, which is why it takes everyone’s effort to involve others. Work to find the strengths of your teammates, and figure out the best ways to encourage and inspire each member.
6. Lead the Way. Be inclusive with every person, in every interaction, in everything you do, every day.
If each one of us waited for someone else to step up and be the first to lead an initiative, how many initiatives do you expect would get started? The truth is that it’s everyone’s responsibility to take charge and make an impact. This impact can be as small as an effort to smile at everyone you pass on the street.
7. Do the Right Thing. Do your part to make your organization, school, community, and sports team a better place for ALL to live, work, learn, and play.
Don’t do the easy thing – do the right thing. We all have the ability to make a difference in the lives of others. Don’t underestimate yourself or how much acting out of dignity and respect can impact the world.
In addition to knowing what each of these 7 Pillars stands for, the Dignity & Respect Campaign also offers modules and training materials for you to incorporate these principles into your own organization. Contact us for more information, and take the first step in making the world a better place for ALL to live.
Violence is a constant presence in the news. Scroll through most Facebook and Twitter feeds, or open up any newspaper and you will see the sheer volume of violent acts that happen across both the country and the world.
Community violence, in particular, is most commonly featured on these news platforms and is defined as an intentional attempt to hurt one or more people. In fact, every day in the U.S. over 85 gun deaths occur – which is around 3 deaths per hour. Last year, over 16,000 homicides were committed, and a U.S. Department of Justice study found that over 60% of children in America have been exposed to violence.
But violence doesn’t only occur on the outside in a physical way. Violence can also affect people both emotionally and psychologically. For simple proof of this, compare the 16,000 homicides last year to the 38,000 suicides that also occurred. Violence comes in many forms and is difficult to understand.
According to the CDC’s Principles of Prevention (POP) curriculum, violence as a whole is a complicated issue and there are multiple influences at various levels. “There’s no single reason why some people behave violently while others do not.”
So what can be done about the issue?
The Dignity & Respect Campaign takes all of these statistics very seriously – and when it comes to violence and destruction, enough is enough. Violence places a huge burden on the health of our country and we want your help in working to fight it.
We believe the first step towards violence prevention is education, which is why we’ve started our “I Will Do My Part” initiative. We also want to promote resources like POP training so that you can better understand violence, as well as programs like STRYVE that address more specific kinds of violence.
But beyond these helpful materials, we encourage you to remember that violence is a large issue that can be tackled a little bit at a time. You might not be capable of foreseeing and preventing a mass shooting, but you can speak out and help to demolish violent bigotry towards other cultures. You can look for ways you can get involved locally and report back to D&R on how you helped.
Small acts matter just as much as the large ones do. How will you play your part to stop violence?
November brings with it a kaleidoscope of fall foliage, cooler temperatures, and our national Thanksgiving holiday, which usually calls to mind the image of golden turkeys, simmering casseroles, and loved ones around a table. November is also recognized as Native American Heritage Month. Because one of the goals of the Dignity & Respect Campaign is to model our 7 Pillars of behaviors, we’d like to focus on one of these principles in conjunction with this holiday: building cultural awareness.
The history of this month of remembrance actually began way back in May of 1916, when the governor of New York approved an American Indian Day. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush took this a step further and declared November “National American Indian Heritage Month” which has been ongoing since 1994.
The purpose of this month-long dedication is to recognize the historical contributions that Native Americans have made to the growth of the United States, and also to raise awareness about the tribes that still exist today. According to the 2010 census, there are over 5.2 million citizens who identified as American Indian and/or Alaska Native. Even though this number might seem small (around 9.7% of total American residents), it’s actually very significant because these citizens represent a rich community of culture and history that is woven into the tapestry of the United States.
What can you do?Cultural awareness is founded in knowledge and education. In order to treat people the way they deserve to be treated, we need to educate ourselves about populations and cultures that are different from ours. So make this month all about learning! Read about the history of the Native Americans that inhabited our country long before it was ever the United States. Learn the differences between the various tribes and how many of them still honor the traditions of their ancestors.
The Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. – as well as the National Archives and the Smithsonian – is hosting a range of events throughout November. If you don’t live close to the D.C. area, you can read up on other ways to participate: trying new recipes, for instance, or watching an educational film. The Smithsonian Education group has also compiled a list of resources for teachers interested in educating their students on the history and heritage of Native Americans.
Dignity & RespectThe Dignity & Respect Campaign as a whole believes in working towards creating a better world for all of us to live in together. Regardless of whether or not you take an active stance in Native American Heritage Month, we hope that you will both appreciate and respect this special holiday. Your awareness will help to create a stronger and more compassionate America.
To echo the sentiments of the United States Department of the Interior: “Many voices– one journey– join us!”