Meet VISIONS new Innovations Manager, Lawrence Alexander
Currently, I am the Innovations Manager at VISIONS, working to amplify the historic work that VISIONS has done by finding more compelling methods to communicate the VISIONS model and to engage newer audiences. I am also a lead search consultant at Carney Sandoe. Previously, I worked in education for 15 years, in higher education and also in independent schools, including working in DEI.
What do you think have been the most important changes in the DEI landscape as we start 2021?
A lot of the DEI work that has occurred are around the more performative aspects of the five F’s of culture – food, fashion, famous people, festivals, and flags. These things don’t necessarily lead to meaningful change, like around board and management diversity, school curriculum, etc. I think we have gained the understanding that we need to move from what is additive, to what is transformative.
For the communities who are traditionally not in power – for example, people of color, the LGBTQ community – they have always been engaged in these conversations and this work. This year we have seen people who are from traditionally in power communities, engaged in this work. Because a truly diverse organization or community, will bring prosperity and a better outcome for everyone.
What do you think are the main issues DEI practitioners need to focus on, after the new presidency starts?
Author James Baldwin said, “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a state of rage almost, almost all of the time — and in one’s work.” I think we all need to be appropriately dissatisfied this year. I anticipate that after Biden takes office, we will see some initial gestures around diversity in representation. We may see certain policies around areas like immigration to soften or return to their pre-Trump status. However, that alone does not take us to true inclusion or a post-racial America. We need to focus on substantive change, and make data-informed change. We need to be as critical of the Biden administration as we were of the Trump administration.
Racial justice movements have taken center stage since 2020. Do you think there are any backlashes, or exhaustion from the general population on this topic?
Many people who identify themselves as allies have worked hard for many months assisting with philanthropy and supportive work, and educated themselves about racism in this country. Many of them feel this sense of exhaustion and feel like they are done, and want to move on. Of course, people of color, black people, LGBTQ communities and other disempowered communities can never afford to take time off from this fight. Actually, what we need to do is to move from conversations to strategies and cultural change.
What do you think we can learn from our history, to guide us in our work going forward?
There is a lot that we can learn from the unifying approach during South Africa’s struggles against apartheid. There are a few inspirational quotes that I find useful:
“When a deep injury is done to us, we never heal until we forgive.”
– Nelson Mandela
“Forgiving is not forgetting; it’s actually remembering–remembering and not using your right to hit back. It’s a second chance for a new beginning. ”
– Desmond Tutu
Most effective moments in many historical events was when people were brought together and felt a sense of unity. We can appreciate the differences of each other, and recognize that we are a part of a larger community. And if communities of people have been unified around a social movement before, we can do it again.