‘The New Status Quo: Just Don’t Call Me Mister’

I always answer the question, “Who are you?” with “Hello, I’m John P. Turner, a Social Entrepreneur who is creating business solutions to address social problems.” As a young Black man I’m offended when people call me “Mister,” which is often hyphenated as “Mr.” in print, rather than addressing me by how I label myself. Historically, Black men and Black boys have had their dignity diminished by way of being referred to as the “n-word” and “boy.” Historically, Black men and Black boys have not been taken seriously as being intellectually or socially competitive by the general public, in comparison to their counterparts with similar education levels and socioeconomic statuses. Also, my generation of Black men and Black boys, which includes anyone who is thirty-four years old and younger in 2014, isn’t taken seriously as being social change agents. Similarly, people who don’t care about the social plight of Black men and Black boys today are oblivious of my generation’s efforts to effect social equity.

What more should Black men and Black boys be doing to end institutional racism? Why are people only criticizing Black men and Black boys without offering their suggestions as to how we can better make a positive social impact? Why hasn’t my generation of Black men and Black boys been mentored by seasoned social activists to effect the social change they wish to see? Why don’t people take my generation as seriously as they did the young people during the Civil Rights Movement? These are the questions swarming my mind when people call me “Mr.”, instead of how I present myself to the world, as a Social Entrepreneur who is effecting social change. Given these points, the new status quo is that Black men and Black boys are not recognized for their social advocacy efforts and the important community work that they do.

Surely, people describe and define themselves by their title(s) – so that others understand who they are and what they do. So there’s more to a title than just its name. More specifically, titles have the ability to reflect Black men’s and Black boys’ efforts to end social injustice, generational poverty, and community violence. When I walk into any room wherein professionals are present, be they academicians or community organizers, I am questioned about who I am for either one of two reasons: 1) someone doubts that I deserve to be there or 2) someone wants to know what makes me an exception to their general assumptions about young Black men and Black boys. White people used to refer to Black men and Black boys as the “n-word” and later as “boy” to discredit their dignity. Similarly, “Mr.” is used today by some people as the modern evolution of this thought process for the same purpose.

Consider two examples, one is related to President Barack Obama and the other one is a hypothetical example. I cringe at the covert disrespect of people referring to President Barack Obama as “Mr. Obama” instead of “President Obama” as his predecessors were referenced. President Obama’s qualifications and abilities are still questioned and disrespected in a way that is different from his predecessors based on his race. For example, Clint Eastwood joked about President Obama as he spoke to an invisible chair at the 2012 Republican National Convention. In 1952, Ralph Ellison wrote about the social and intellectual challenges of African Americans in his book called Invisible Man. Similarly, President Obama was ridiculed by Clint Eastwood as being invisible, which begs the question, “What qualifies him to be our President?” I guess that being an author, a Harvard-trained Lawyer, as well as a former Senator isn’t enough since he’s not a White man. Indeed, being an influential Black person with a college degree is atypical to some people’s perceptions about Black people. As a second example, some Black men who should be referred to as say “Dr.” are called “Mr..” Now one might give someone the benefit of doubt by concluding, “Well s/he didn’t know.” To which I would respond, “Well how come s/he didn’t ask about who you are first?”

Being called “Mr.” instead of “leader,” “visionary,” or “change agent,” because someone doesn’t view Black men and Black boys as such, will always feel like an insult, a grievance that readily provokes disputation. Being called “Mr.” will always make Black men and Black boys feel less important when their counterparts are referred to as “Activist,” “Philanthropist,” and “Social Entrepreneur,” among other titles. Today, Black men and Black boys are still negatively represented in media as being hypersexualized, violent, and irresponsible. As a result, people of all races don’t care about Black men and Black boys today, just like White people didn’t care about them during the hangings by lynch mobs during the Jim Crow era of the 1960s. Today, people should be boycotting the music artists, business owners, and thought leaders who are not using their influence to end social injustice. To illustrate my point, actor Boris Kodjoe is quoted for once saying, “When you have a platform it’s not a privilege, it’s a responsibility.” Undoubtedly, people with influence should be held accountable for using their social influence to advocate for social changes that will benefit their stakeholders. While there is some social unrest today about the killings of Black men and Black boys by the police, the general public disregards this public health issue as not being their personal problem. Case in point, several murderers have not been charged with and incarcerated for their crime of killing Black men and Black boys- all because people don’t care. While my claims may be dismissed, denying the existence of overt and covert diabolicalness is a conspiracy in itself.

On the other hand, social activists who started their advocacy efforts during the 1960s, or Black men and Black boys who were born around the time of the Civil Rights Movement, feel that my generation is not advocating for social justice. To support their argument, they usually reference the hypersexualization of music videos and the disproportionate number of Black men and Black boys who experience their first-time arrest before reaching the age of twenty-five. However, I completely disagree with the sentiment that my generation is not advocating for social equity. If nothing more, these negative examples support why Black men and Black boys should be mentored. Furthermore, as an active member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., I can attest to maintaining excellence in scholarship and service to the community. Of course, my fraternity Brothers and I are not reinforcing the negative stereotypes of Black men and Black boys; we are trying to change negativity into positivity through our service to the community. Additionally, I can name at least thirty Black men who are also younger than thirty and are doing big things to benefit the social plight of Black men and Black boys. At 25, people tell me that I am very mature for my age because of my commitment to helping others. However, I simply view my social responsibility to helping others as the standard for Black men and Black boys.

For many reasons, people often refer Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as the epitome of “what [Black men and Black boys] should be doing.” However, social problems do not look the same today as they did during earlier decades. For example, racism is no longer politically correct with the advent of new laws meant to lessen the effects of the historical significance of race in the U.S.. For this reason, people’s prejudices, or stereotypical assumptions, about each other are expressed privately more often now than before civil rights laws were enacted. Since the way that U.S. social problems look has changed, the efforts of Black men and Black boys to address them look differently as well. More specifically, the U.S. socio-political circumstances have changed since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. The social activism of Black men and Black boys today occurs through illustrations on social media platforms and the provision of social services, in addition to traditional social protests. Therefore, there’s no lack of social activism in my generation, it’s that Black men and Black boys aren’t given credit for what they do. For example, I participated in a nonviolent social protest on Tuesday, November 25, 2014. I walked two miles with over 200 people, most of whom were college students under the age of twenty-five years old down the middle of a busy street in Philadelphia, PA. Five helicopters circled us overhead and there were about 50 police officers in the area who were blocking off streets and ensuring our safety while protesting peacefully. However, this social protest was not shown on any local or national news reports. While we didn’t do this for a pat on the back, this example serves as just one of many numerous ways that Black men and Black boys are advocating for social change. With this in mind, people should call my generation of Black men and Black boys social change agents or social activists because of our social advocacy efforts.

In conclusion, it’s important that people be addressed by how they present themselves professionally. There are no second chances at a first impression, so Black men and Black boys must take advantage of every opportunity to educate people. The media gets an overwhelming number of opportunities to serve as the library for people’s negative attitudes towards Black men and Black boys. Therefore, Black men and Black boys have a social responsibility to debunk stereotypes through their conversations and social action. In order for Black men and Black boys to be taken seriously, they must acknowledge the new status quo and overwhelm people with positives examples of their thinking and behavior, so that we aren’t just called “Mr.”

‘4 Steps To Enforcing Performance Standards That Your Team Will Follow’

Click here to read my original article, which is exclusive to SEE Change Magazine, that was published on December 8, 2014.

Leaders can’t accomplish their goals without enlisting the help of others. Although they’re likely to have expertise in various areas, it’s important for leaders to remember that their accomplishments are an extension of others’ contributions. Leaders must, therefore, know how to effectively delegate responsibilities in their personal and professional settings. Moreover, teamwork is exemplified when everyone completes their shared responsibility to meet the larger goal. Leaders can cultivate teamwork in any setting through transformative leadership, which involves providing people with individualized encouragement to actualize their full potential.

So how can leaders inspire others to adopt performance standards that they’ll follow? These four steps will prove effective. After all, people will maintain excellence in roles and responsibilities that are clearly-defined, meaningful, and in line with what they would like to do.

Defining Objectives

When someone creates an objective, there are necessary action steps for it to be completed. However, people need to know why and what it is that they’re doing to reach a particular objective. Appropriately, leaders should communicate team objectives with their related actions steps to both peers and supervisors. Additionally, leaders should take people’s questions and concerns seriously; otherwise leaders will experience resistance and unwillingness to help and no objectives will be accomplished. For example, I once led a research study that was composed of five team members. Each team member had unique expertise in an academic discipline with more or less research experience than me. Initially, I was anxious about how we would delegate our action steps due to my limited experience in leading a research study.

However, my long-time mentor and friend suggested that I first create a list of specific assignments that were necessary in order to complete our research study. Next, he suggested that I give each team member a copy of the assignments and that we all have a conversation about who would like to be responsible for what. Shortly thereafter, I took his suggested approach and my team members were excited to be responsible for different aspects of our research study. Since these assignments were necessary for the completion of our research, my team members understood that each task had to get done. Furthermore, the deadlines that were associated with each assignment were based on our agreed-upon timeframe for the study. Intuitively, leaders can enforce performance standards by helping people do what they’re comfortable doing. Defining objectives gets participants excited about and investing in the vision, mission, and values of a particular objective.

Determining Task Assignments

Whenever possible, let people volunteer to take on assignments related to a particular objective. Since people are their own best experts, they know what they’re good at and want to do. Leaders often have trouble getting their peers and supervisors to take direction without experiencing resistance or noncompliance due to not having assessed the skill-set of team members or assigning tasks that aren’t in-line with their interest. For example, staff members who work in non-profit organizations typically have more work-related responsibilities than their job descriptions listed. Furthermore, these staff members may find themselves doing things for the first time to progress the vision, mission, and values of the nonprofit organization.

Consider that a staff member may be asked to manage the organization’s Facebook page, without any prior experience or interest in doing so. Consequently, this staff member may become resistant or unwilling to perform the task. To navigate this situation, leaders should make clear which tasks he or she is responsible for first. This approach should inspire peers and supervisors to follow suit after recognizing the leader’s dedication to being a team player. If that doesn’t work, leaders should ask their team members for clarity on how they would like to support the vision, mission and values of the objective(s) they’re being asked to support. Then, leaders should assign responsibilities that are in-line with people’s passion, asking for feedback and addressing their questions as they may arise. In this way, people will take advantage of opportunities to step up and take care of things that need to be done.

Rationalizing Performance Standards

People always have to work with others in order to get things done. Consequently, leaders must be able to set performance standards for themselves and others by taking and giving directions. Leaders must always inspire people to believe that their contributions to the team’s success are important. Teamwork is often misunderstood as being one’s willingness to do anything as needed. However, teamwork occurs when people are collaborating through specific responsibilities that are necessary for accomplishing a common objective. Consider the example of how two landscapers may work together to beautify a yard within two hours. One person decides to mow the lawn while the other trims the perimeter of the lawn, as well as the hedges. Based on their clearly-defined responsibilities, these two landscapers accomplish their objective. This example illustrates how having clearly defined responsibilities and deadlines results in the accomplishment of a particular objective. As a final point, whereas some people require less convincing than others, leaders must convince their peers and supervisors that successfully performing a role on deadline is integral to the team success.

Responding to Questions & Concerns

People need to know the reasons behind what they’re doing. When people experience difficulties in their role and responsibilities, they need to be able to refer back to why they’re supporting the overall objective in the first place. Leaders should therefore validate people’s questions and concerns while addressing why their contributions are vital to the team’s overall success. If team members are unsure of their role, leaders must clearly explain that they were assigned particular responsibilities based on their skill-set and expertise. After all, people’s number one need is to feel like they’re a part of something larger than themselves; they deserve to feel their contributions are valued. So, when specific questions are asked and specific concerns expressed, leaders should reply in a way that conveys that they’re part of a particular mission Furthermore, it’s equally important for leaders to validate others’ feelings through their reassurance that no questions are foolish and that no concerns are superfluous. And leaders should remain cognizant of questions and concerns when communicating objectives and their related action steps.

In conclusion, leaders must not be afraid of challenging people to give and to take direction. When people can set their responsibilities, leaders empower them to adopt a leadership role in order to accomplish the objectives by their stated deadlines. However, when people are unable to determine their responsibilities, leaders must always convey how their individual success is essential to the team’s success. The process of enforcing performance standards that people will follow should be as inclusive of everyone involved as possible. By keeping everyone’s questions and concerns in mind, people will be receptive to being held accountable for the tasks they chose to pursue.