Carla and a fellow MBA apply teamwork to pick the buds from the invasive species, caesar weed, off of each other at the end of their day of service at the Palm Point Park.
One of the UF MBA program goals is “Transformation Guaranteed.” I did not understand what that transformation would be for me until after my first semester. Coming back to UF opened my eyes to issues I always said were important to me, but never took action on because I was never aware of how real they were in my life. I am referring to the injustices that still exist around race, gender, and status.
It’s not to say that I’ve experienced debilitating instances personally. On the contrary, I feel – as a UF MBA – surrounded by inclusive people and in a program that continues pushing the envelope on diversity. It’s also not that UF is specifically bringing this new level of awareness and sensitivity to the light – you can blame daily headlines and tweets for that. It’s also not a matter of what is right or wrong. It just is. It is just something that exists, and coming back to UF, 10 years later, has fueled my need to reflect on it and talk about it. The combination of being challenged intellectually and being surrounded by bright and ambitious future leaders in business encourages me to have more conversations about race and gender, even if it makes things a little uncomfortable.
This is my prologue to my reflection on MLK Service Day 2020. For the first time in a long time, I reserved the three-day weekend hosted by the UF Center for Leadership and Service to serve my community and reflect on my impact. With my fellow UF MBA, Chelsea Nesbeth, I volunteered with the Gainesville Greenway Challenge. The event kicked off with a ceremony featuring a motivational speech from P.J. Jones, the Assistant Director of Multicultural & Diversity Affairs at UF. She quoted Martin Luther King, Jr.’s letter from Birmingham Jail:
“Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection”.
She had us list the injustices that frustrate us the most and what we were currently doing about them. You know what I’m doing about the criminal system and gun violence? Nothing.
I continued to reflect on this later in the day when I went to see the movie, Just Mercy starring Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx. So many emotions; I was angry, heartbroken, then joyful for the “happy” ending. That was until it set in that the story of Walter McMillian happened just over 30 years ago – in my lifetime! – and it is still a serious issue that exists to this day. The movie had me reflecting on another quote: “Hopelessness is the enemy of hope.” Ain’t that the truth? It’s a message that continues to show up in my life in many ways, particularly in the last year. You can’t lose hope on your dreams; you must keep fighting for the things you believe in. And there’s a lot of power to do that with words. Having uncomfortable conversations is a vital component in the fight against injustice.
Sure, some readers might think this is just me rallied up around MLK Day. It is not. I realize now what the UF MBA transformation is supposed to be for me. It is about speaking up and speaking out on the subjects that matter. To work well with tension when those that are listening do not agree with me. And to be comfortable with the discomfort that comes with discussing race, religion, sexual orientation, and gender inequality. I am grateful to be here, surrounded by people that have made me feel comfortable in my most authentic self and given me the safe space to express my feelings. Wherever each of us stands regarding these issues, right now is the time to have the discussions that will influence our decisions of tomorrow when we’re running all the businesses as future Directors, Vice Presidents, and Executives.