229 – Courageous Conversations

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Dr. Sandie Morgan and Dave Stachowiak are joined by Dr. April Harris Akinloye, the former Chief Diversity Officer and Title IX Coordinator at Vanguard University. Together they take part in a Courageous Conversation, which is an initiative that was launched to bring the community together to have a safe place where they could discuss very uncomfortable topics that touched upon things that were happening throughout society and our country at large. They predominately discuss how to navigate representation, right, and resources as parents.

Dr. April Harris Akinloye

A diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) professional with 18+ years of experience leading teams into strategic analysis of practices, policies, and communication. Facilitates institutional culture change by bridging intercultural and intergenerational perspectives through critical analysis, organizational accountability, and collaboration. Delivers DEI initiatives that are practical, measurable, and manifest representation of all constituents. Known for exceptional communication skills that cultivate trust and influence across all roles and functions.

Key Points

  • The model of three Rs, representation, right, and resources can be used as a starting place to evaluate yourself and others.
  • Being an ally is speaking up for those without a voice. You are speaking through your actions: what you do, how you act, who you interact with, and who you bring alongside you in whatever environment you’re in.
  • Bettering our society when raising kids that are part of a structure where they enjoy a privilege, can start as basic as teaching them to treat others the way they want to be treated.
  • The more we begin to value each other in the different ways that we have expertise and resources, the more we can become inclusive and develop authentic give and take relationships.


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Dave [00:00:00] You’re listening to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast; this is episode number 229 – Courageous Conversations.

Production Credits [00:00:07] Produced by Innovate Learning, Maximizing Human Potential.

Dave [00:00:28] Welcome to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. My name is Dave Stachowiak.

Sandie [00:00:34] My name is Sandie Morgan.

Dave [00:00:36] And this is the show where we empower you to study the issues, be a voice, and make a difference in ending human trafficking. Sandie, today we have with us a dear friend of the Center and just a wonderful partner here at Vanguard University. We’re so glad to welcome to the show today, Dr. April Harris Akinloye. She was the Chief Diversity Officer and Title Nine Coordinator at Vanguard University. She has over 15 years of experience in higher education and is a certified intercultural development inventory administrator. She received her B.A. in Speech Communication, an M.A. in Education Psychology from Pepperdine University, and her Ph.D. in education with an emphasis in cultural perspectives from the University of California, Santa Barbara. April, we’re so glad to have you with us today.

April [00:01:25] Thank you for having me.

Sandie [00:01:27] I’ve known April since she first applied at Vanguard to become our diversity officer and I loved her the moment she started speaking because even when we talk about difficult things, she just comes across with a lot of grace and acceptance. April, I just want you to know that that is one of the things I appreciate about you most.

April [00:01:54] Thank you. Thank you. I often tell people that she didn’t make me feel that she really liked me in that interview. I thought I wouldn’t get the job because of Sandie.

Sandie [00:02:07] I have this perpetual frown when I’m reading, I guess. This conversation that we want to have today about privilege and race is so connected to vulnerabilities that I’ve observed over the last couple of decades in working with victims of human trafficking, and not just here in the U.S., but globally. This is not something that is often talked about, and many times statistics don’t even capture the demographics. But we do know that people of color have higher rates of exploitation in labor and in sex trafficking. So, this is an important conversation for us to have in connection with the Ending Human Trafficking podcast community. So, our conversation today is framed by something that April started years ago at Vanguard called Courageous Conversations. Can you tell us what that means?

April [00:03:17] Sure, Courageous Conversation is an initiative that was launched to bring the entire campus community together, students, faculty, and staff to have a safe place where they could discuss very uncomfortable topics that touched upon things that were happening throughout society and our country at large, not just on our campus. But it was a way for people to see there was someone else who wanted to engage, but who also wanted to understand the other perspective. And that’s what’s so important about Courageous Conversations, knowing that you are in a safe space of learning. People with open hearts and open minds to give and receive, but more than anything to learn.

Sandie [00:04:10] So, we’ve had some really significant courageous conversations over the years. Before Covid-19, they were usually accompanied by pizza. Now we’ve had to have these conversations on Zoom. April, you command the Zoom room when you hold a Courageous Conversation. What are the elements of creating that safe space that you talked about?

April [00:04:42] I think what’s most important is that first up, I communicate that I am a part of the conversation, I’m not leading the conversation. And for people to know that we are in this together, in this space of learning is very important. But also, I’m able to come to the conversation and give a piece of myself. I feel people are not going to engage if they don’t see you engaged. So, you have to come to the conversation, open and honest, so then others feel OK I guess it is OK for me to say this.

Sandie [00:05:21] The first conversation after the death of George Floyd that you hosted was very emotional. People crying and people who were crying were white, black, brown. But it was such a safe space for us to share how we felt. Some of us are very pragmatic and we want to know what do we do now? And you just held space for all the different perspectives. So, one of the things that I heard in the conversation I was a part of is how hard it is to raise our children in today’s society. Can you talk to us about what kind of changes we can help promote by just the way we raise our children?

April [00:06:21] Yes, I can definitely speak to that. I am now the mother of a three-year-old and a nine-month-old. So, with everything that was happening across the country and the climate just becoming more and more just a little frightening, to say the least. It really made me think about this world and the type of environment and community and places of learning that my children are going to be a part of. And I think what really, truly cut to the core for me in this courageous conversation was making it known that I’m not even worried about myself. I’m worried about what is the world going to be for my children. And you don’t really think like that before you become a parent. But in creating a space where your innocent children are feeling that they are respected, and they are cared for and they are looked after. How could that not be a better space for everyone involved? You know, you think about maybe the street where you grew up. And I remember growing up in Inglewood, California, and there was a stereotype based on black music, but that was not the Inglewood, California, that I grew up in. I grew up in a neighborhood where everybody was a distant relative almost, everyone had kind of adopted you as one of their own. It was a place where everyone knew the neighbor next door or across the street and shared recipes and meals and things of that sort. And how do I make sure that my children are going to be raised in that type of space? Well, first and foremost, I need to make sure that people don’t see my black boy as a threat or as someone to fear. And I think what is necessary is for parents to come together and to have conversations that they’re hoping the neighbor next door is having with their kid. Treat others fairly, treat others the way you want to be treated, I mean that’s where we start, right? That has been something that it’s just so basic and so elementary to where it almost seems too simple. That can’t be it, but oh my goodness, it actually can.

Sandie [00:08:56] And it’s a really difficult conversation to those of us who we sometimes and I probably shouldn’t use the word “sometimes”. I personally often don’t really appreciate the privilege that I have. And I don’t think through how I can easily do something that somebody else can’t do. I didn’t raise boys, I raised girls and the things I taught them was how to be safe on a date. And I remember my parents teaching me, my dad would make sure when I left the house, you guys are going to know how old I am now but I had a dime in my shoe in case I needed to make a phone call. But that was like about the scariest thing my dad ever said to me is you need to have a dime in case you need to make a phone call. But having to make sure that you approach other people from a very non-threatening perspective, even if you’re just a jovial, happy go lucky, singing kid, that’s not something that’s part of any of my experience ever. And so, I know I take my privilege for granted. And I was very intentional, raising my kids even as old and as far back as this goes. So, one of the first things that I did when my kids wanted baby dolls is, I bought a baby doll of every color for their little crib set. And sometimes my very conservative friends thought that was a little weird. They learned that there wasn’t going to be any negotiation on that. I think we can make choices about how we raise our kids when they are part of the structure that they enjoy a privilege. But first, we have to educate the adults in the room.

April [00:11:09] Correct.

Sandie [00:11:12] Yeah and that sometimes is a big challenge. You spoke to my Women and Justice intro class this last semester, and you were one of their favorite lectures and everybody wrote about the three Rs. I think it’s a good model, it’s a good starting place for us to start to have some way of looking at a situation and asking some questions that aren’t emotionally overwhelming. So, can you walk us through those three Rs?

April [00:11:50] The three R’s you’re referring to is representation, rights, and resources. I’m actually going to take a different turn in this conversation with those three R’s in stating that we’re especially speaking about parents right now and just family dynamics and how do we move into this better space for all of us. Representation, who do you have represented in your life, in your space, at your church, on your job? Who do you invite to your family gatherings? If it’s just a play date? Who’s represented? Does everybody look alike? Does everybody talk alike? Does everybody have the same exact behaviors and schedules? And that’s one place we can start with just the representation that we allow our children to see in our personal life. And then who are we allowing them to have representation within their own life, in their own bubble, in their own circle. From what they watch to what they read, what is the representation there? And then rights. I know I shared a very personal story in our last creative conversation, but in thinking about right, this is where they have the most impact you have to start by looking within. And I say that because, you know, you mentioned Sandie your own personal privilege and not being aware of it. But the fact that you’re able to just stop and check yourself and just take a moment. Is this a privilege that someone else might not have? Me walking through this store right now and touching and looking at and opening whatever I like, and no one is following me or looking at me as if to question, why are you touching that? What are you doing here? That’s a right that, believe it or not, someone else might not have. Technically, yes, they have it technically. But they know if they walk in that same store and perform the same exact behaviors that you’ve just done, it’s probably not going to go unnoticed. So, in evaluating and looking at your own privileging and your own right, how do you create a different dynamic for someone who may not have that same privilege? Bring them with you. Bring them with you. Show them. Show wherever you are, we’re both people. We’re both doing the same exact action. That’s how you become an ally for someone when you bring them into your space and allow them and show them. This is what I do, you can do it, too. And if anyone questions it, you’re there to defend them and to cover them. I’ve got your back, you’re OK. If they have a question, they can question me.

Sandie [00:14:52] Wow. That word Ally is very powerful. But I’ll let you finish the R’s before we start talking about that.

April [00:14:59] OK. And then resources, again that’s just looking at who do you know, what do you have that may be difficult for someone else to have access to? And how do you bring them into the fold? How do you become a sponsor for someone else? Not that everyone needs a mentor. Sometimes you just need a sponsor, someone who will walk with you and allow them to be you in your same circle, in your same standing and helping others to see the potential, the dynamics and how this collaborative effort with everyone in the same room, at the same table can benefit all of us.

Sandie [00:15:42] The whole thing about resources. When I heard you talking about that, you use the word access. And in women’s empowerment circles, we talk about a triangle of women’s empowerment, and just having the opportunity is not enough. You could have done this; they’ll say to her. But if you didn’t have access, if you didn’t have a car, if you had to take public transportation, so many different things that just having an opportunity, it is not enough. Not enough. So, I really appreciate that. Tell me what it looks like for me to be an ally.

April [00:16:29] You know, you have spoken so strongly on being an ally for me with your scripture that you shared, Proverbs 31:8-9. And honestly, I think that is the perfect summary of what an ally is speaking up for those without a voice. And sometimes speaking is not with your voice, it’s through your action. You are speaking through what you do, how you act, who you interact with, who you bring alongside you in whatever environment you’re in. But that’s really what being an ally is all about it. And it’s usually someone behind the scene making things happen vs. let me come and save the day for you.

Sandie [00:17:22] You know, and this is the thing, too. I think I want people to understand this is not some sort of patriarchal, patronizing pattern. When I really got to know you, even more, you were my boss for two years. You were the first person to make sure I had professional development resources. You mentored me, you took me along and I’ve never forgotten the lessons that I learned when you sort of wound up being my boss by default. Do you remember that?

April [00:18:03] Right. That was crazy.

Sandie [00:18:06] So, I think that the more we begin to value each other in the different ways that we have expertise and resources and become inclusive, we don’t just have to say, oh, gosh, what should I be doing? The word “should” is something to always be really cautious about. And so, I want to be able to have a very authentic give and take relationship.

April [00:18:37] Right. It goes back to everything that you just said as your boss the things that I did, I simply did what I would hope and pray someone would do for me.

Sandie [00:18:51] Wow. Well, that’s a biblical principle, too. So, when I was thinking about this a little bit more, I wanted to kind of pull Dave into our conversation because he’s got two kids. My kids are raised, you all know that. So, Dave, what kinds of things have you been thinking about with your kids as you’re raising kids just a few years older than April’s.

Dave [00:19:21] Yeah. Thanks for asking, Sandie. Two things come up for me, just listening to what you’ve both already shared. And thank you so much for sharing your stories on this. One of them, the things that Bonnie and I have been really intentional about, is having conversations about what’s happening in the world at an age-appropriate level, but so the kids know that there’s something going on. And so, we’ve talked about George Floyd’s murder and we’ve talked about what the police did. And we haven’t gone into the details that a six and eight-year-old don’t need to hear it is not helpful. But they do know that that happened and that we live in a place that is broken. And while there are many good intentions out there, there’s a lot of brokenness, there’s racism. And so, I think one of the things that I have, this is just my own journey as a parent. I remember when our son was a year old, fifteen months old, however old he was at the time. I did something, I can’t remember what it was. But I told Bonnie, I feel like I need to apologize to him. And I did. And its sort of like pointless for him because at the time he couldn’t possibly process. But just for myself, I remember saying out loud to Bonnie, I need to get in the habit as a parent to apologize. So, when he’s old enough that he can process that, that I’m already in the habit of doing that. And I think about this conversation, about this just incredibly difficult topic of racism in our country and with them of wanting to open the door and for us to keep walking through that door and to keep having those conversations so that they don’t wake up one day and go to school or go to church or go to wherever and say, oh, the world is not as it seems in the history books and with the people that I see in everyday life. So, that’s a bit of just what comes up for me, Sandie. Then that leads to a question I actually have for April because I love what you said about representation. And I think so many of us, me included, we have this idealized version of the world that we want to live in. We show up at a party or an event or a church and that we see all different colors and all different backgrounds. And the reality of the world that I live in at least, it does not look that way, it does not look the way I want it to look. And so, the thing I’m curious about for April, and I assume Vanguard students come to this conversation too looking around their groups of friends and not seeing as much diversity as they may want and wish for. And I’m curious, April, when people are at that place. I mean, I find myself at that place, and have the good intentions, but have not yet taken enough action to really create the world that they want. What do you invite them to do, just as a first step to begin to move in that direction, to really embrace a bit more of that representation that you speak of?

April [00:22:15] You know, it’s work and it’s uncomfortable. And none of us like to be uncomfortable, that’s just us being human. But in order for us to step into those spaces where the representation is there, we have to step out of our own space. And I was even talking with a few professors, you know, and just reaching out to the students that normally don’t associate with the professor or just come by and, “Hey, just want to talk to you. How are you doing?” But taking that extra step and say, I would love to have lunch with you and maybe this student does feel like, oh, no, I’m in trouble. What’s going on? This is a weird kind of thing. But having to overcommunicate, I really would like to have a relationship with you. I would really like to just get to know you. And it may seem weird, but being able to say, honestly, I know this may seem weird, but I would really love to just be able to have time to learn about you for us and our families to engage. And obviously, I’m not saying open up your doors and let just any stranger in or anything like that. But instead of going to the park that is two blocks away, can you go to the park that’s 20 minutes away from where there is a different group of people for you to associate with. Is that convenient? Probably not. But your children are going to take notice of that. And it is going to be something different. So, what is the difference that we’re bringing in for them? What is this other type of representation that they’re seeing and how do we make this into? Oh, my gosh, I can’t wait to go there again.

Sandie [00:24:11] Wow. Over-communicate.

Dave [00:24:13] Thank you.

Sandie [00:24:14] I love that. I just assume if I said something once people understood my meaning, my motivation, and if they didn’t get it, they just aren’t paying attention. Over-communicate, I’m writing that down. Dave, sorry, I jumped in.

Dave [00:24:30] No, I was just saying thank you. What a wonderful invitation for all of us to, as a first step, get out of our comfort zone and to think about where we can go, where we are going to have the opportunity to enter into relationships that we wouldn’t normally enter into. What a great invitation. Thank you.

Sandie [00:24:48] And I’m so glad, April, that you brought up my favorite verse from Proverbs 31, the second half of the verse after “be a voice for those who have no voice”. There is a semicolon, so it’s one complete thought. It says, “Ensure Justice for those being crushed” and the kind of justice we’re talking about there is the justice of making things fair, making things right, making the playing field even for all the participants. And we do Ensure Justice conferences every year, the first Friday, Saturday in March. And we’ve always used that verse somewhere in the program. But this year, it’s going to be on the cover. And our theme is going to be examining what being crushed really means in today’s society and how you address making things fair, making things right. And we’ve already invited our first keynote speaker, Karen Cheek’s Lomax, CEO of my sister’s place in New York City. And she’s been doing the intersection of domestic violence, human trafficking, and race for more than a decade. She’s an amazing, amazing leader. So, being crushed is Ensure Justice March 5th and 6th, 2021. So, write that on your calendar, April.

April [00:26:22] Yes indeed, that’s going to be powerful.

Sandie [00:26:25] So, April, you have been a fount of resources for me in my journey and so in a recent email that you or your office sent out, there is a list of resources that will help our listeners find media articles, books, films. And we’re going to put those resources in our show notes. Alright?

April [00:26:50] Great

Sandie [00:26:52] OK. We’ve got like one-minute left and I’m going to give that minute to you, and you get to close us out.

April [00:27:02] I would say to all those who are listening, just take a moment to reflect within on the type of world, the type of community, the type of environment you want your children, your sons, your daughters, your grandchildren to be a part of. None of us ever want to see our loved one suffer or have to deal with the chaos of this world. So, how do we teach our own to make a place, an environment that is welcoming and accepting and caring for all those who come in contact with them?

Sandie [00:27:48] Perfect. Thank you for being with us today. Dr. April Harris Akinloye.

Dave [00:27:54] April and Sandie, thank you so much for this conversation. And I hope that you will take a few minutes to look at the resources and the episode notes that April’s passed along to all of us and to take that invitation for the very first step. You’ll be able to find all of those on the Endinghumantrafficking.org Web site. And this episode will link up to all of those. And also, if you have not already, we’d invite you to take another first step to download a copy of Sandie’s book, The Five Things You Must Know, A Quick Start Guide to Ending Human Trafficking. It’s a guide that will teach you the five things that Sandie has identified in her work through the Global Center for Women and Justice that you should know before you join the fight against trafficking. You can get access by going over to Endinghumantrafficking.org and Sandie also mentioned the next Ensure Justice conference coming up March 5th and 6th, 2021. All the details are at EnsureJustice.com. And we’ll be back in two weeks for our next conversation. Thanks so much, Sandie.

Sandie [00:28:59] Bye, Dave.

Dave [00:29:00] Take care, everyone.

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