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Monday, June 5, 2017

Dear Hannah: Fight The Good Fight (Truth, Grace & The School Board Race)

Dear Hannah,

Truth without grace is mean.

Grace without truth is meaningless.



Support Our Work - Buy This Song (SEE BELOW)!



"FTGF (Truth, Grace & The School Board Race)"
By Derrick Brown

Dear Hannah,

Truth without grace is mean.

Grace without truth is meaningless.



Purpose describes what we want & need to do.

Ambition describes who & what we want to be.

Purpose is more important than ambition.

However, humans are imperfect, conflicting blends of purpose and ambition.

Who & what we think we are - and who & what we want to be - sometimes hinders what we want & need to do.

Our litany of global issues must be addressed locally and long-term with creativity, strategy, synergy, and power.

Power is the ability to produce efficient work - through wise and skillful use of resources, interests, communication, and expertise.

Ladies and gentlemen, the easiest way to see whether I am being led by purpose or ambition is to review my work.

I have to check my outputs and inputs - my achievements and activities - and my processes.

See, I cannot mistake activity for achievement.

"Doing it" does not mean that I am "getting it done".

Let me "think out loud" and review the work done by a local project that I have supported closely over the past year.

When I evaluate projects & organizations, I use the GRASPP approach.

GRASPP reminds me to improve output and efficiency in any effort by examining

Group Morale
Spiritual Tone
Problem Solving

GRASPP does not ensure victory, but it does provide an approach - and an objective way to develop adjustments to that approach.

Let's go.


I live in a city whose school district has 80% Black & Hispanic students & families - but whose school board is 87% White.

That's a problem at first glance.

A closer look unveils a series of unfortunate events executed by the school board - including its handling of integration in the 1960s - that seem to maintain a "school within the school" approach for the privileged.

This approach maintains a racial divide that is as far as the eye can see - if you are one of the disenfranchised, and if you do not think with your eyes.

If you think with your eyes - you see no problem whatsoever.

All is well.

Why are these folks always complaining?

That makes my chili a little warmer every time I hear it.

To maintain my balance and blood pressure ...

I remember that there's some villain in every hero, and a little hero in every villain.

To put it another way - conflicts rarely come down to pure "good" vs. pure "evil".

Both sides are flawed in very human ways, so winners must often conquer their own conceit before they conquer defeat.

I practice patience, listening, and discernment with my team far more than the opposition.

'Cause we are good at getting in our own way.

But I digress.

Let's get back on track.

I work with a group that came together one year ago after our high school's first Black principal - in forever - was fired (ahem) reassigned and promoted to the district office ...

... pretty much in the middle of the first year on the job.

Getting to the district office is on most principal's bucket list.

So, at first glance ... what's the problem?

I have worked as a high school administrator.

I have served on a school board (for that same high school).

I have been around enough firings to know a couple of things about how to make them look like promotions ...

... to save face ...

... and to make any protesters look like confused, unreasonable folks.

So the firing brought a group of concerned citizens together to speak truth to power.

"We want our principal back" was the demand.

Power concedes nothing without a demand.

The school board said "we hear your concerns" - but supported the superintendent's recommendation to reassign the former principal.

This put the group into "what now?" mode.

Then the group began to wane and disperse.

That is when I came along.


I joined the fight by attending a meeting where far fewer people showed up than had attended the school board protest meeting.

It is well.

Now it is time to get down to brass tacks and strategy.

You do not need a crowd for that.

You need an assembly of courageous, kind, talented folks with supreme work ethic - then you can execute.

Let's do something - I need to assign superhero identities to the main characters to withhold names and such.

Let's go with a Justice League flavor - Batman, Aquaman, Superman, and Captain America.

That's 3 DC comic guys, and one Marvel comic guy.

My apologies for the lack of comic and gender diversity.

I will work on that.

... but I digress.

Now for some character development ...

Superman is a social justice veteran.

He's the "go-to" guy locally for all civil unrest.

He exudes wisdom, charm, analysis, synthesis - and delivers it with a booming voice, commanding presence, and great oratorical skill.

Aquaman is tall & handsome, with lots of retired muscles, an active brain, kind heart, and very large lungs that are not afraid to release his thoughts.

He is a former scholar, entrepreneur, author, teacher (retired from the city school system) and ad executive who combines creativity, a slightly controlling spirit, and independent wealth to advance his agenda.

You can tell that this brother is doin' alright by his fearlessness.

Captain America is dedicated to making Captain America great again - not like Trump, but through a daily devotion and self-promotion of personal, academic, professional, volunteer and civic excellence.

Then there is Batman (that's me) - a quiet (but not silent), mysterious, stealth soldier of the night, with a unique set of skills and gadgets - acquired over a long career - that make him easy to engage, but hard for the "good" guys and the "bad" guys to read and control.

Now let's thicken the plot and get back to discussing this meeting ...


Batman (that's me) called Superman and asked "what's next?".

Superman divulged the aforementioned meeting organized by Captain America, and invited Batman.

Captain America had assumed the mantle of authority as leader of the protest group.

I don't think Superman told Captain America that Batman was coming to the meeting.

Batman arrived at the meeting first (he lived 5 minutes from the meeting site), and greeted all entrants.

When Captain America arrived, he lamented the low turnout.

Batman reassured him that they had just enough people to get work done.

Captain America gave Batman one of those "who's this guy?" looks.

Captain America opened the meeting by summarizing the events that culminated in the (now) former principal's reassignment.

He then outlined several "next steps" - one of which would be spearheaded by Aquaman, who would lead the next meeting's discussion.

Captain America then gave way to Superman, who during his remarks introduced Batman as a "peculiar", "quiet" dude who was a "bad brother".

(Not sure I would use those same words, but that's the way it goes when someone else hands you the mic.)

(They use it before they hand it to you.)

Batman then introduced himself, and explained what he hoped to contribute to the effort (mainly his experience and playmaking ability).

At the end of this meeting, Batman introduced himself to Aquaman, and offered to support his work.

They exchanged contact info, and Aquaman added Batman to his personal email distribution list.


At the next meeting, Aquaman explained a strategy centered on filing a formal complaint against the school system for its historical, systemic discrimination.

This complaint would pave the way for a possible lawsuit.

Heads nodded in approval during the meeting, but the real separation of wheat and chaff would occur when the work of drafting the complaint started.

After that meeting, the group further dispersed to enjoy the Summer with their families.

Most of the momentum created by the recent firing / reassignment crisis quickly dissipated.

However, Batman soldiered forth and built a massive online city map to use for "war room" geospatial intelligence.

Aquaman soldiered forth, too, and contacted the other Justice League members (just before school started for the Fall semester) to deliver a draft of the complaint for peer review.

Batman read the document, and found it to be full of both historical insights and "incites".

He asked that Aquaman address a tendency to "show" and "tell" - the document showed a pattern of discrimination in forensic detail, but then told the reader how to think about that discrimination.

That crossed a subtle - but distinct - line for Batman.

Telling "too much" starts to sound and feel like coercion and manipulation - and invites mistrust.

Aquaman agreed to edit his language, but his writing also revealed the controlling spirit Batman had now noticed more than once.

Captain America replied to the complaint later than the rest of the group, and gave no indication that he had actually reviewed it.

He offered a litany of supporting discipline data that spoke to little of the complaint's core content - another red flag that he had perhaps not reviewed the document carefully.

Other reviewers gave their input, and were asked to meet at Aquaman's house to sign the document before submission.

Captain America notified the group that he would not attend the signing meeting, but would instead attend the first school board meeting of the year.

He would sign the document later.

Shortly before the document was submitted, the superintendent who fired / reassigned the high school principal retired.

We may never know why, but it is not a stretch to say that the pressure of the recent protest contributed to a stress that needed relief and rest.

After the document was vetted and submitted, Superman told Aquaman that the Justice League should hold a press conference to announce the complaint.

---------------- Part 1 ends here 21:13 (6-5-2017)

Press conferences are tricky, risk & reward propositions.

The risks include giving the local media machine (largely a supporter of the school system) a head start on influencing public opinion against the complaint (and the protesters who filed it).

The rewards included heightened public awareness of the change effort and its leaders.

Aquaman, Superman, and Batman spoke during the press conference - which was covered by all local TV news, and several print media outlets.

Public reaction was widespread and mixed ... the faces of the protest were hailed as heroes, but were also assailed locally as angry, uninformed fools.

Captain America expressed his dismay that the press conference was organized without his input, and was hosted at an inconvenient time.

He announced that he was taking a step back from Justice League activities - but did not resign his membership.

Aquaman, Superman, and Batman peeped Captain America's approach, and soldiered forth without comment - but with an unspoken, mutual understanding that Captain America was suspect.

Now that the complaint was filed, it would take an indefinite amount of time to have the complaint reviewed.

That vague timeline was further thrust into chaos by the election of Donald J. Trump as our President.

On to the next move ... helping minority candidates claim seats on the school board.


Batman shared the map he had built with Aquaman and Superman, and demonstrated how its geospatial intelligence could support any city candidate's successful campaign.

Aquaman and Superman spoke with a Black & Hispanic candidate who planned to seek a school board seat in a special election.

Batman joined them for the first and several more strategy / advisory meetings.

At least he thought they were strategy / advisory meetings.

Batman was concerned by the candidate's lack of experience and awareness.

He was further concerned by Aquaman's and Superman's somewhat detailed, domineering (though certainly helpful) campaign advice.

Batman thought they were guiding the candidate too much - and not letting the candidate set and steer their own course (advised by as-needed wise counsel).

Batman wanted this candidate of change to be one who could stand and deliver independently, but decided that this candidate might not be able to.

He talked to Aquaman and Superman offline about his concerns, and his plans to conduct private, one-on-one, performance-based interviews for both school board candidates to help them prepare for the work required of school board members.

Aquaman and Superman encouraged Batman's plans, but - to Batman's knowledge - neither addressed the candidate directly about the candidate's lack of preparedness.

Both candidates responded initially to the interview invitation with enthusiasm, but neither followed through.

Batman accepted that perhaps neither candidate saw anything to gain by exposing their lack of preparation to anyone.

Batman's perspective was that exposure of this lack of preparation would allow wise counsel to help address it.

To Batman, this lack of follow-through was another sign that the Justice League was not supporting a strong candidate.

His concern grew upon considering that this may have been the plan all along - to support a candidate that the Justice League could control.

Batman was not feeling that idea either.

He became a careful, intense listener and observer for the last couple of meetings he attended - and did not like what he was seeing.

Aquaman arranged a meeting with the new superintendent, and attended it without Justice League members.

He did provide a written summary of the meeting, but it was his meeting and his agenda.

Superman divulged that he, too, had an upcoming solo meeting with the new superintendent - it, too, would be his meeting, his agenda.

Meeting after meeting was mired in the minutiae of organizing the candidate's campaign - which was the candidate's job.

Then, in the middle of one meeting, Aquaman cracked an awkward joke (one that may not have been a joke) about Batman's silence that Superman co-signed with a loud laugh.

Batman knew that this was his last meeting.

He was quiet - but not silent.

That silence spoke volumes.

It was time to go solo.

---------------- Part 2 ends here 8:47 (6-5-2017)

Batman arranged his own meeting with the new superintendent - his meeting, his agenda.

Batman found the new superintendent to be fair-minded and like-minded.

They discussed a litany of school system matters - including the recently filed complaint.

Batman revealed that he was part of the Justice League responsible for the complaint.

However, the discussion with the new superintendent continued with the same momentum.

Batman and the new superintendent found synergy around the idea of increasing parental engagement and savvy through stakeholder relationship and resource building.

Here's why ...

Let's say that all of the chicanery uncovered by the complaint really happened.

Even if it *all* happened, there may only be so much remedying of these ills by the "powers that be".

The "powers that be" are what they are because of this litany of chicanery!

There are also problems that have resulted from this chicanery that must be addressed in holistic, humanitarian ways.

Those problems are still there even if policies are confronted and changed.

You have to engage the people who have been harmed by these practices in ways that heal the harm and hurt, then challenge the harmed to be better - not bitter.

They resumed this discussion a couple of months later, and pledged to revisit it before school starts again.

These conversations helped Batman to see that he may have a different purpose in this change effort.

Batman also attended an event sponsored by Captain America as a goodwill gesture.

Captain America called shortly after the event ended.

Batman and Captain America met.

Captain America asked Batman whether Captain America should run for the school board.

Batman answered by describing his private, one-on-one, performance-based interviews for school board candidates to help them prepare for the work of school board members.

In other words, Batman said "I will help you to strengthen your weaknesses in private".

That may have been the only comment Batman made during the meeting.

Batman learned that Captain America wanted his agenda to be heard and encouraged.

He was recruiting Batman to his army of volunteer campaign workers.

Batman would not become one of them.


Last week, Captain America reached out to the Justice League to report that he had met with a focus group of ladies who were concerned about his school board candidacy - because he was "suing" the school system.

Remember - the complaint is not a lawsuit, but is a precursor to one.

Even if this group was conflating or confusing the two - they are certainly related.

Captain America revealed his plans to announce publicly (through the local newspaper) that he was not a part of filing the complaint, and did not even have a copy.

This one is a "true lie" ... he was not a substantive part of the complaint, but he did sign it.

Why he signed it - but now wanted to distance himself from it - is a troubling, unanswered question.

However, other Justice League members could read between the lines.

Aquaman expanded both lungs and let Captain America know of Aquaman's displeasure with Captain America's tactics, and withdrawal of his support.

Superman (who was recovering from major surgery) emerged to offer his own eloquent rebuke of Captain America.

Batman, too, offered that this strategy was sketchy, and that it would cost Captain America some respect.

Captain America pledged to soldier forth with his school board race - emboldened by these stern rebukes, and determined to have the last laugh on his "haters".

He thanked the Justice League for showing their true colors.

This brings us to today.

---------------- Part 3 ends here 7:39 (6-5-2017)

Where are we, how did we get here, and where are we going?

Remember - when I evaluate projects, organizations, whatever - I use the GRASPP approach.

GRASPP reminds me to improve output and efficiency by examining

Group Morale
Spiritual Tone
Problem Solving

GRASPP does not ensure victory, but it does provide an approach - and an objective way to develop adjustments to that approach.

Let's start by examining group morale ...

Aquaman may want to fight and control more than he wants to win.

Captain America may want to "win" and control more than he wants to fight.

Superman knows that the fight is long, and provides his social capital and raison d'etre, so he is OK with fighting.

Batman is more concerned with the work than the fight or the control or the win.

He is aware of and eternally frustrated with how poorly freedom fighters handle the work.

This weakens the fight, puts winning out of reach, and leaves control (of your teammates) as the only attainable goal.

This may be why so many of our social activism efforts end up crumbling - or resembling the institutional cultures that they claim to oppose.

Let's examine relationships ...

Aquaman and Superman are usually aligned - even in dissent.

They are both older, scholarly cats who are veterans of many wars.

They have similar controlling natures - which are exacerbated by their experience advantage.

Captain America is isolated.

He is consumed with making Captain America great again, getting connected, and getting appointed.

He is so concerned about getting that seat at the table, he may not realize that the seat is a platter - until it is too late.

He is too "busy" to handle business.

His purpose may be easily compromised by his ambitions.

Batman is the ombudsman, outsider, and equalizer.

He maintains balance, neutrality, respect - and protects his time - by not "buddying up", and by questioning the status quo.

He is at his best - and his worst - when he is quiet and observant, which makes him hard to read.

His stealth nature is at least one of the reasons why he often runs afoul of the cats who want to be in control.

His trust is earned through demonstrated work ethic and efficiency.

He travels a lonesome road, but would rather be alone by himself - than be alone with an ineffective team.


News flash - I learned a long time ago that morale and relationships influence administration, spiritual tone, planning, and problem solving.

So let's just say that each of these aspects of output and efficiency need improvement, and move on.

So were do we go now?

The good news is that all the Justice League's members are too stubborn to just give up and withdraw.

We will all continue to do what we have been doing.

Aquaman will fight, and has the resources and energy to do so.

Superman will be the social justice "go-to" man after he recovers.

Aquaman and Superman will continue to collaborate.

Captain America will be Captain America - and as long as he is the shaky dude I have observed, it may be best to stand clear.

I (Batman) will focus on increasing parental engagement and savvy through stakeholder relationship and resource building.

Perhaps what we have done together is what we were purposed to do together.

Perhaps the next steps are all solo ones.

If so, it is well.


One of my parting lessons is a "note to self" that I will share.

Most of us are adept at identifying and articulating flaws in other people ... and delivering that information with an accompanying smackdown.

Most of us are able to articulate opinions (no matter how uninformed) ad nauseum.

Most of us are horrible at self-honesty.

Most of us could stand to develop more empathy.

If we are ever honest about our lack of self-honesty, we would then discover our well of empathy.

We would have no choice but to mature into more graceful, merciful people.

We would handle delicate matters privately and with sensitivity.

We would speak truth - but would recognize that it is just our truth.

We would deliver the harshest versions of our truth with the most abundant grace and mercy.

That truth still may not be heard.

But if we can deliver it with grace, we walk away having sown a helpful seed of kindness and wisdom.

We may never overcome injustice in this world, but it is my hope that we can all one day overcome ourselves.


---------------- Part 4 ends here 10:20 (6-5-2017)

Copyright © 2017 Derrick  Brown. All Rights Reserved.

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