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Jacqueline Alexander of ‘Know Your Fruit’: “Remembrance”

Unity — I look at my circle of friends, I see the best of America — smart, hard-working, kind, generous and diverse people. I know it’s possible to have social unity. So why don’t we just get on with making it happen?! Of course, I’m not naïve. Sadly, there are many being manipulated by a few who have stake in […]

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Unity — I look at my circle of friends, I see the best of America — smart, hard-working, kind, generous and diverse people. I know it’s possible to have social unity. So why don’t we just get on with making it happen?!

Of course, I’m not naïve. Sadly, there are many being manipulated by a few who have stake in keeping us divided. Sun Tzu said it best, “if the enemy troops are united, try to sow dissension among them.”

I believe, however, that there is a collective consciousness evolving to counter that dissension.


As part of our series about ‘5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society’, I had the pleasure to interview Jacqueline Alexander.

Jacqueline Alexander is the founder and CEO of Know Your Fruit. After purchasing a pear orchard in 2006 she quickly realized how much fruit is culled due to size or shape and goes to waste. As a result, she discovered an opportunity to create freeze-dried fruit for snacking.

A BIPOC female entrepreneur, Jacqueline has faced many hurdles along the way including overt and systemic racism. However, she has also garnered the attention and support of highly influential individuals in the food, farming and agriculture industries. She’s received several business commendations, including ranked in the top 50 Black-owned businesses in the Portland area.

A highly engaged and busy philanthropist, Alexander sits on the board of SBP–formerly the St. Bernard Project–a disaster recovery nonprofit that got its start after Hurricane Katrina. She’s also a benefactor to Lewis & Clarke Law School.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to ‘get to know you’. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

I was born and raised in Southern California. I was raised with southern values in a stable nuclear family. I grew up watching my parents work diligently to provide a good life for the family. I modeled that behavior. After high school, I attended UCLA, while working full-time to help pay my way. I worked a crazy schedule while shouldering a full academic load. I graduated, on schedule, with honors.

I then chose to go on and study law at Lewis & Clark in Portland, OR., commuting weekly from my then-home in Los Angeles. While attending law school, I saw and later purchased an orchard in Hood River, OR, and discovered my affinity for growing. The experience I gained running my orchard for more than a decade would prove to be pivotal in the formulation of my latest venture.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I am a voracious reader, so it’s not easy to pinpoint, gleaning different enlightenment from each work I read. I draw from that reservoir, as needed in the course of everyday life. Right now, “The Art of War” is close at hand. I connect to its clarity of purpose and vision

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

A quote that my beloved late great aunt “Momsie” used to always say: If you don’t use your head … you’re going to use your feet.” To me that’s always meant, if you weren’t smart and willing to do the hard work up-front, you were doomed to do twice the work, or more! I internalized my Momsie’s lesson, and it informs everything I do.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

People tend to think of leadership as a skill or thing that is acquired. As though suddenly, as if by some divine intervention, you are a leader. I see leadership as a verb. A capability that is attained through work and constant investment. I’ve always thought that Sun Tzu’s characterization of leadership made a lot of sense. He defined leadership as a mix of 5 traits: intelligence, credibility, humanness, courage and discipline.

I think most people would be surprised to see a military strategist including humanness in his list of traits for a leader. To me, however, this is the essential component of successful leadership. No one would dispute that leaders must be courageous, or credible or any of the traits, really. So why humanness? I believe that, if you cannot connect with the people you are trying to lead, if you fail at the most basic of human experiences, then all the intelligence, credibility, courage and discipline add up to nothing.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

In my high stakes, pressurized moments … I take a warm bath. As simple as it sounds. It centers and calms me, it purges my psyche, allowing for clarity.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis inexorably evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?

I’m a successful entrepreneur. Yet, I realize that our nation was built largely on centuries of racial atrocities and injustice, and that has never gone away. Though the successes that I’ve had are a by-product of the hard work I’ve been willing to do, that in no way blinds me to the inequities of our system.

Yes, as a nation, we have made some strides, but that doesn’t change the fact that black Americans live vastly different realities than white Americans. We may share zip codes, traditions, and language, but most often the similarities end there.

To be blunt about it, rage within the black community has always simmered just beneath the surface. Black people have been disenfranchised, denigrated, and abused since the founding of this republic and, despite some progress, we are far from where we can and should be. What’s different now is that, due to recent events, that simmer, has boiled over.

Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience working with initiatives to promote Diversity and Inclusion? Can you share a story with us?

Diversity and Inclusion initiatives nominally level the competitive playing field. When I look at my experience with these types of initiatives, what they have been most effective at is opening doors that might have otherwise been closed. I have still had to compete, and win based on the traditional metrics that every supplier is held to. I suppose what’s different is that, in a world where people who look like me are rare, these initiatives offer resources that are often hard to come by.

As for specifics, I am a member of the Northwest Mountain Minority Supplier Development Council. Under its President Fernando Martinez, I have been able to feel part of a broader community of suppliers and entrepreneurs trying to build and grow their businesses. The Council doesn’t just provide introductions to corporate partners — though, of course, it does do that — it also helps provide mentorship to help its members run better businesses.

This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

It’s natural to want to surround yourself with people who look and think the same way as you do. It’s comforting because it validates our world view; and, in many cases, helps us to feel good about choices we’ve made in our lives. One need only look at what’s happening with social media, and the echo chambers people build for themselves, to see how that’s working out.

From a business perspective, diversity is reality, and any forward-leaning organization or company should reflect that reality. Not leaving a demographic group off the table just seems like an obvious, smart business move.

To be clear, I’m not just talking about diversity for its own sake. Instead, I’m referring to true diversity — philosophically, culturally, politically. All those different ideas and backgrounds and experiences are crucial. Having and utilizing a wide spectrum of perspectives, and talents, has enabled me with a nimbleness I wouldn’t have otherwise had.

Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. You are an influential business leader. Can you please share your “5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society? Kindly share a story or example for each.

Acknowledgement

Whenever I hear things like “slavery’s been over since the 1800s, get over it already” — which, sadly, is amongst the less-outrageous things that many people say, it just reinforces to me why this is the necessary first step.

If we’re “so beyond our racist past”, why is it that the state of Oregon took until 1959 to ratify the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, over 100 years after it was passed? Why was interracial marriage still banned in sixteen states until it was ended by the Supreme Court in 1967? I can’t tell you how many of my dearest, and most well-educated white friends thought that the Tulsa massacre depicted in the opening of HBO’s Watchmen was just fiction.

The sad reality is that, until there’s an official public accounting of the comprehensive socio-economic legacy of slavery, we will have trouble moving beyond where we are now. Rather, doing things like passing HR40 (Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act) will help to move the dialogue away from denial and towards reckoning.

Reconciliation

Once we’ve acknowledged where we’ve been, then we can start to move towards where we need to be. Interestingly, I think we’re seeing meaningful efforts towards racial recognition, today. As I write this, NASDAQ just announced that it wants to require companies listed on its exchange to increase board diversity. Of course, this isn’t some kind of magic wand that will suddenly make under-representation go away. But these kinds of steps are important!

More broadly, we need to look at how to make this kind of reform the norm and not the exception. This is why the carrot can only entice corporate leadership so far. For many, the free market works well enough to overcome racism and bias. But one need only look at the history of redlining in banking, where blacks were systematically declined bank loans, to know that capitalism-alone can only get us so far. At some point, the government will need to step in and create a big stick that forces companies to change. When that happens, that’s when the reconciliation can begin.

(Implementation of laws, reform, initiatives, policies)

Socialization

In this socialization process, we must truly come to understand the systemic nature of racism that infects our society and enculturate the types of behaviors, concepts and attitudes that must replace them, as if injecting social antibodies into our cultural bloodstream. We must understand that racism ferments and festers in the murk of plausible deniability.

Racism I’ve encountered was never overt or bluntly stated. Instead, it’s often subtler, passive-aggressive, institutional, bureaucratic. It’s a government agency refusing a loan to a qualified black farmer that they freely give less qualified white recipients. It’s a municipal corporation — with taxing authority(!) — inexplicably canceling a lease and then maliciously suing for breaking the lease that they canceled!

The bottom line: Until the bad behavior is outside the socially accepted norm, we’re fighting an uphill battle. It is, however, a battle we must win, in a larger war for the soul of our nation.

(Normalizing socially just behaviors, concepts and attitudes, canceling corrosive discriminatory ones)

Remembrance

Commemoration in the spirit of Yom Ha Shoah, (the Jewish Holocaust Remembrance Day), Veteran’s Day or Independence Day are essential because they compel us to reflect on the epic sacrifices made by previous generations. We, at long last, must officially memorialize and commemorate the horrific human toll of slavery, in order to fully come to grips with its legacy.

Unity

I look at my circle of friends, I see the best of America — smart, hard-working, kind, generous and diverse people. I know it’s possible to have social unity. So why don’t we just get on with making it happen?!

Of course, I’m not naïve. Sadly, there are many being manipulated by a few who have stake in keeping us divided. Sun Tzu said it best, “if the enemy troops are united, try to sow dissension among them.”

I believe, however, that there is a collective consciousness evolving to counter that dissension.

We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?

I am an eternal optimist at heart, but I’m also a realist.

As this political season has demonstrated, we are a deeply divided nation and world. This is who we are. Notions of class and race inequality undergird our society. Racial strife is endemic. In that sense, I am not optimistic that there will be a tectonic shift in the hearts and souls of half of our citizenry.

I am, however, optimistic that a critical mass will reach stages of enlightenment that will allow us to move forward together. Which brings me to the other lesson of this political season, which is that the bigotry and hatred ultimately lost at the ballot box. That gives me hope.

Will some feel left behind? Probably. But we cannot afford to wait any longer for those who stubbornly cling to a past that never existed and refuse to accept the inevitability of change.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Mellody Hobson… because she’s “Badass!”

How can our readers follow you online?

Instagram @knowyourfruit

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