Last Thursday, Oct 1st, was the US launch of my book Deep Diversity: Overcoming Us vs. Them, at the Racial Justice Summit hosted by the YWCA Madison. After working for 3 ½ years on this project, there are not enough words to say how was amazing it felt to be there!
I was especially nervous getting ready for my speech. Speeches are not my strength. Leading workshops where I get others to talk – yes. Speeches—no. My partner Annahid— who is a very passionate, moving speaker—has pointed out that I can get wooden during speeches because I start reading rather than being in the moment. So I had her voice in my head as a reminder.
This was also a US audience — how would they respond to a book written by a Canuck? Oh… and did I mention I was to speak in front of 600 people who were trying to eat their lunch (the only time slot available)? And that there would be three giant screens projecting my image, ready to broadcast any flub or misstep?
So, I was a little anxious, to say the least. What helped my confidence was that I already had some cheerleaders in the crowd.
Besides my friend, Gery—a well-respected grassroots organizer— who introduced the Madison community to my work, there were some new friends. Eric and Brandi, two amazing activists who’s network, Young Black & Gifted, was making a serious impact on a variety of issues including police violence faced by racial minorities. These two had attended the training I had given the day before the conference at the Madison Area Diversity Roundtable (MADR), and really loved the Deep Diversity message. MADR was another network predominantly made up of local businesses and this is where I met the fabulous Annette Miller, a powerhouse organizer at the corporate level. She had asked me to design a workshop that would help p
eople “move their internal dial” on issues of diversity and inclusion and was very pleased with the results of the training.
Annette was also in the crowd, along with others from that workshop. And Brandi and Eric began cheering loudly when I was introduced. All this helped my mental state.
So I got up and started talking.
I shared a few of stories including when my own unconscious bias reared its ugly head during a professional interaction, resulting in me underestimating someone’s abilities. I spoke about burning out early in my career and self-care—one of the conference themes—and how this was instrumental in helping me develop the Deep Diversity framework. I also read a couple of passages from the book, including a segment where our team supported a group of young leaders in Europe process a terrorist attack — the bombing of the London Underground in 2005—while that tragedy unfolded.
I don’t remember much of my speech, only that people seemed very attentive. In fact, a few times the room felt so silent that I couldn’t hear any silverware moving around. I fleetingly wondered: Are they with me or have I bored them into a coma?
As it turns out, no fleet of paramedics were required to resuscitate the crowd. People responded really well to both my speech and the work I presented.
In the following 24 hours, many people came up to talk to me. Some wanted me to sign their book— a surreal experience to say the least. Others shared how my story resonated for them personally, and how it helped them think about their own bias and prejudice and workplace dynamics in different ways. There seemed to a lot of insights and aha moments. One man shared how he came to many of these events and never bought books—but he bought Deep Diversity because of what I shared in my speech.
In fact, I was told there was a line-up for the book— again, thrilling and little hard to believe. I didn’t see the line but personally saw a woman purchase 6 for her staff team. Apparently, almost all the copies of Deep Diversity at the book kiosk were purchased, making it the biggest seller at the conference.
I also connected with at least three different academics who were really interested in Deep Diversity. Markus Brauer, a social psychology professor at University of Wisconsin Madison (UW), who invited me for an awesome evening dinner hangout with other Profs and grad students doing prejudice reduction work. I was also interviewed by Sue Robinson who is also an academic at UW in the school of journalism who was interested in discussing strategies of how to introduce bias reduction strategies in newsrooms. And, I also connected with one of the other keynote speakers from the conference, Rachel Godsil, a professor of law from New York who works with a very cool organization called the Perception Institute. Not only is she a kick-ass presenter, but is doing amazing work in the context of policing and racial bias. She loved my book and we are already looking for ways to collaborate in the future.
Academics. Activists. Business people. Three big groups attracted to Deep Diversity. Wow. I’m feeling a ton of gratitude. The US launch just couldn’t have gone any better.
Author of Deep Diversity: Overcoming Us vs. Them