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AdvoKate: How (and Why) You Should Be Having Candid Conversations About Privilege and Inequality

In Kate Healy's recent blog, she speaks with Lazetta and others about their experiences as people of color in the industry.

You're lined up at the marathon start line. You've followed your training program, improved your nutrition, and even passed up nights out with friends and family so you could get up early to train.

It's a 26.2 mile footrace. But some of the competitors are starting the race at mile five. A few are even starting at mile 10.

It's going to be awfully tough to catch them with that much of an advantage. That advantage is called privilege.

I never considered myself privileged. I grew up in a middle class family with an accountant dad and stay at home/volunteer mom. We certainly weren’t rich, and both of my parents grew up in single parent homes. Because my father attended college and received his bachelors and masters degree on two GI bills after serving in WWII and the Korean war, we talked about money and savings and the value of education. I was expected to further my education—and share in the cost to pay for it. But I had strong support at home and I knew I could get some help if I fell short of my contribution. I thought race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or how you look didn’t matter as long as you worked hard.

Because of my background, I had the privilege to think working hard was the path to achievement. I was wrong. Through circumstances of my birth, where I was born, my upbringing, and any number of life events, I had an advantage over someone who grew up in poverty, or was a first generation college student, or faced systemic discrimination.

I can’t change that. But I often quote Viola Davis from National LINC a few years ago, when she said, “You never know where someone started their race.” And I’ve learned the best way to understand where someone started their race is to ask them.

Last spring, I was meeting with Rianka Dorsainvil, Sonya Dreizler, and Dani Fava and we were telling our stories. I had heard some of them before, but when we were all together it became apparent that I had a much different experience in this industry. We all thought, what if everyone in the industry could hear these stories? We brainstormed an idea to get on stage at a conference and let people tell their stories. That led to the “Candid Conversations” panel at this year’s National LINC conference. This was a ground-breaking session that allowed our panelists—Sonya Dreizler, Hollie Fagan, Lazetta Rainey Braxton, and Dasarte Yarnway—to tell their stories. I can tell you the audience was captivated. We need to do more listening to their experiences and stories and create safe places to have these difficult conversations. This couldn’t be more real than today.

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