Calvin Harris Jr.: “History tells us this will end”

All in all, these reasons for hope share one commonality, that the pandemic is forcing us to consider what is truly important, and ways we can be more just with each other. The cost of learning this is undoubtedly more than we wanted to pay, but perhaps this is one positive that can come from […]

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All in all, these reasons for hope share one commonality, that the pandemic is forcing us to consider what is truly important, and ways we can be more just with each other. The cost of learning this is undoubtedly more than we wanted to pay, but perhaps this is one positive that can come from this challenging time.

As a part of my series about the things we can do to remain hopeful and support each other during anxious times, I had the pleasure of interviewing Calvin Harris Jr.

Calvin Harris Jr. is a seasoned, experienced executive, served as Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of the National Urban League, a national, historic non-profit that works to provide economic empowerment, educational opportunities, and the guarantee of civil rights for the underserved in America. Before the Urban League, Calvin served in senior leadership roles for organizations such as the United Nations Foundation, NeighborWorks America, Legal Services Corporation, Baltimore City Community College, and Aeras Global TB Vaccine Foundation. Calvin is a Certified Public Accountant, a graduate of Morehouse College in Atlanta and has served as CFO, auditor, controller, forensic accountant, and consultant over a 25-plus year career.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

I knew back in middle school that I wanted to be an accountant, from my love of math to my first bookkeeping class. So, I got on the path to becoming a Certified Public Accountant (or CPA) and later a Chief Financial Officer (or CFO) fairly early on. I’ve always loved how every business, in every industry, needed someone managing their financial status. To me, choosing accounting meant a world of opportunity. And after starting my professional career as an auditor, I discovered (almost by accident) that I truly loved working for non-profit and charitable organizations. I enjoy the fact that I’m able to use my financial expertise at a place that does good for the world. That matters to me.

For my “on Call CFO” work, where I provide consulting services to organizations who need a seasoned CFO on a project basis, I discovered that passion after leaving a prior in-house CFO role. When I wasn’t finding new opportunities that fit my spirit, I decided to provide “On-Call CFO” consulting services in the meantime. In that type of work, I encountered many organizations and leaders who struggle unnecessarily. If they only had the right high-level financial expertise, at the right time, many organizations would thrive.

All in all, having seen so many types and sizes of organizations, it is rare when I’m surprised by a financial challenge. But my backstory just begins with a kid who loved numbers and business.

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?

There are a few books that have impacted me. Admittedly it’s hard to pick one, but the two books I have been reading recently are “A White-Collar Profession” by Theresa Hammond and “The Gumbo Coalition” by Marc Morial, my boss at the Urban League. Professor Hammond’s book explores the first 100-plus African American CPAs. Ironically 2021 will mark the 100th anniversary of the first black CPA in the United States. And Marc’s book has been great as I am a big consumer of leadership books. To have one from my boss, who is also a former mayor of a major city, has been a great read, as I learn first-hand how he approached various challenges over his career.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

It’s a tough time for sure. There are few moments in life where you just know you’re living through a moment that will be talked about historically for years. This is such a moment. Yet, there are reasons to be hopeful:

  1. History tells us this will end. This is not the first pandemic the globe has seen, though it definitely is the first, at this skill, within our lifetimes. But in those prior times, even with massive losses of life, the pandemic eventually ended. While reputable experts may differ on how long it might take, all agree that this too will pass.
  2. Honest Conversations are being had. The pandemic, followed by racial unrest, has forced honest conversations about economic, racial, and social disparities in health care. Through those conversations, we can create real help to those who need it.
  3. Health is a Great Equalizer. Despite all of the differences among us, if we choose to focus on them, we are still part of one human race. A pandemic like this may be more dangerous to older persons or those with underlying health concerns, but it is a great equalizer. If we take those equalizer lessons to heart, we hopefully realize that we all are one.
  4. We are More Focused on What’s Important. For some of us, the crisis has forced us into virtual isolation and remote work. For many others of us, we have to brave the challenges of working outside. In a time like this, we become more focused on significant things like friends, family, and happiness.
  5. Benefits and Costs. This crisis has forced us all to consider the costs and benefits of even something as routine as going to the grocery store. We are also having more open debates about the ethical choices we have to make when the benefits for some lead to costs for others. If we remain open to learning lessons from these benefits and costs, we can emerge a stronger society.

All in all, these reasons for hope share one commonality, that the pandemic is forcing us to consider what is truly important, and ways we can be more just with each other. The cost of learning this is undoubtedly more than we wanted to pay, but perhaps this is one positive that can come from this challenging time.

From your experience or research, what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

From my own experience, five steps we can take to support others who are anxious (including ourselves) include:

  1. Connect. With so many of having to isolate in some way, simple things like handshakes and hugs are less common than a few months ago. Help find ways to connect virtually, if we can’t physically.
  2. Physical Care. Make sure you get plenty of sleep, movement, and proper nutrition.
  3. Create Space. Find the time and physical space to get away, even if for a few moments
  4. Mindfulness. Ensure time is taken for meditation, reflection, prayer, or whatever helps you quiet your mind. A quiet mind fights an anxious one.
  5. Focus on the good. As hard is it can be to maintain a positive attitude, look for the good in the world and each other.

What are the best resources you would suggest to a person who is feeling anxious?

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

“This, too, will pass.” History and life show us, time and time again, that no matter the circumstance, no matter the challenge, it eventually will pass us by. Remembering this phrase and remembering the impermanence of discomfort has helped me get through tough times. Because no matter how bad it is, it eventually will pass us by.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I feel like I’m already part of the most critical movement I could be in, the Urban League Movement, which simply seeks a just and equitable world for the underserved in America. Just like a rising tide lifts all boats, the best way to make America and the world, the best it can be is by ensure those who are underserved are treated with dignity and served properly.

What is the best way for our readers to follow you online?

My consistent online handle is CalvinHJr. I use that for all social media platforms, including Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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