SPEAK UP: Do not go silently into that good night. When someone makes a racist joke, inflammatory comment or sexist remark. It is beholden upon each of us to Call. It. Out. with grace and love of course, but to call it out, nonetheless. In other words, sit idle and complicit no more. Difficult conversations don’t have to be confrontational and may not be easy, but they must be had. A suggested conversation starter might begin with, “I feel obligated to let you know your remark sounded offensive”, etc. etc. and then explain why you feel that way and offer the elephant in the room a seat at the table to continue the conversation. Commit to change.
Aspart of our series about ‘5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society’, I had the pleasure to interview Lanette Ware-Bushfield.
Lanette is a New York City-born actor, writer and producer who has worked alongside Samuel L. Jackson, Bella Thorne, Chris Rock, Kerry Washington, Alec Baldwin and James Gandolfini. Lanette has produced several film and television projects and has been directed by Spike Lee, Joel Schumacher and John Singleton to name a few. Her personal essays have been featured in The Globe and Mail, Dreamers, Chillfltr, Aaduna and Mothering Magazines. Lanette is the creator/writer of the sci-fi series, MONARCH 7, and THE MOTHER LOAD, a podcast dedicated to showcasing published authors and artists. She plays SALLY on THE WEDDING PLANNERS, CityTv and Judge Lawrence on DIGGSTOWN, CBC and BET. She is currently shopping a multicultural children’s book series in development for the small screen and a serialized drama based on several non-fiction articles she has recently published.
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?
Igrew up in Spanish Harlem — El Barrio as we knew it during the exhilarating years of the 1970s and 80s — diversity was my monarch, acceptance of my culture, and faith my freedom. People thrive in tribes and the beauty, diversity, and respect I had for mine sustained me throughout my teens. Some say this was a curse, others call it a blessing. Race, religion, and politics had yet to wreak havoc on my soul.
With a hodgepodge of African-American, Puerto-Rican, and Italian offspring to play with on every corner, a private school and regular visits to religious and after school enrichment programs, I was blessed by a constant surge of vibrancy and drama. Rice, beans, and fried pig perfumed the air, Coquitos passed in plastic cups to kissing couples dancing merengue. The spray from fire hydrants rippled pride and possibility across our brown, olive, and black bodies as high-tops flipped over braids, boomboxes, and broken lamp posts. If the roosters birthed and brought over in crates could jump as high as the local double dutch sway, I knew anything was possible for me.
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?
Toni Morrison’s, “Beloved” has meant the most to me personally. It is a brilliantly nuanced narrative on family, spirituality, legacy and race in America. As the first African-American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, Toni Morrison famously wrote her early novels on cramped New York City subway commutes, while raising two sons making her my personal hero on many levels! “Beloved” made a significant impact on me and my imagination in particular, because Toni has a way of defining the Black experience in America with such lyrical beauty that you can’t help fall in love. Toni defines each character in such a caring way that after you’ve digested all the grit, grace and glory she’s laid out, you find yourself experiencing everything from deep sadness, insufferable frustration, laughter, forgiveness, loss and joy all within 324 pages. I learned the power of saying less in an effort to give more when I write, from Toni Morrison. Did you know that Oprah Winfrey would not have started her book club if it were not for Toni Morrison? There are no words for the profound contributions she has made to the literary and non-literary world at large with her linguistic gifts. One of my favorite Toni Morrison quotes is, “I don’t think I could have happily stayed here, with the calamity that has occurred so often in the world, if I did not have a way of thinking about it”. That just about sums it up for how I feel about the arts, wholly. Without them, life would simply be unbearable.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
“Trust because you are willing to take the risk, not because it’s safe or certain” is a personal favorite because it is literally how I live my life. I believe life is one giant bungee jump, so this one truly suits me. I take pride in living without regret because there are no failures in life, only lessons. Beautiful lessons that move us further towards are natural, true selves. Make no mistake, the best part about trusting your gut is the reward you experience when you look around and finally accept, the reason it is so gratifying, is you are the one to thank! Each of us possesses a hero, an inner cheerleader, that shouts at the gate, encouraging us, at every milestone, to honor ourselves, first, and know the rest will follow, as naturally as a leaf falls from a tree or soars in the sky. Our only job is to listen.
A second (2nd) close favorite of mine is: “Fall down 7, get up 8”, because well, that says it all!
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership is the art of motivating a group of people to follow their dreams in order that they may live their best lives. Leadership is living a life of encouragement by example. Leadership is shining a light on the gifts and talents of others and providing a platform so they feel recognized. Leadership is uplifting, showcasing and supporting others in order to achieve a common goal. Leadership is a personality that possesses a combination of inspirational skills that motivates others to follow their direction. We need a different brand of leadership today. Leadership that represents a range of interests, other than the ever destructive ambiguity of self-interest.
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?
There aren’t enough words in the English language to describe how much value I place on meditation. Meditation, positive self-talk, a good old fashioned sloppy cry (when needed of course) and visualization, but mainly? Meditation. When stress rears its head, and emotions run high, what the body craves most, is a release. You must as a human being, find the thruway of your soul in order to ride the highway of life. When the world is constantly threatening your spiritual and emotional equilibrium not to mention the physical challenges of the moment, as we continue to socially-distance, we need to provide ourselves with extra healthy escapes to recharge, refuel and revitalize. For me, that’s a return to nature, carving out quiet time to hear my own voice. Meditation allows me to escape the noise of the surface in exchange for a beautiful Venetian dive into enlightenment and joy. I highly recommend it to anyone curious to begin a practice of their own.
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?
The rise of nationalism, economic disparity, authoritative brutality, bombastic politics, radical rhetoric, not to mention, the dangerously blatant uptick of on-camera murders of unarmed Black humans at the hands of those sworn to protect us, all the while fighting a global war with an invisible enemy. Shall I go on? In essence, the bow was bound to break, even in the best of times. As weary as we all are, we must continue to work towards bridging gaps and creating safe spaces for deeper understanding.
It’s important to state that The Black Lives Matter movement has never been about pitting one group of people against another as some might contend; it’s about equality, period(t). There are some who are intent on devaluing the peaceful, positive energy coming forth for change, while others are working diligently to uphold its promise. However, we can’t deny how exhausting it’s been and how vital self-care is at this crucial moment so we must rest but then reset. There Is no doubt those who reside on the right side of history will smile proudly upon their grandchildren when asked how they helped bolster change in 2020.
Sadly, the boiling point you speak of isn’t new to communities of color who have been crying out for ages. True self-reckoning will occur when our commitment to facing dark truths swept under the rug for far too long, come to the surface and are finally dealt with. Martin Luther King Jr. said it best when he reminds us, “our destinies are tied in with one another”. Going forward, we are each going to need to check our personal biases at the door and ask who we want to be, next. Having these kinds of conversations is a start.
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?
In December 2019, I organized a diverse panel of artists and activists to share their perspectives on diversity, identity and inclusion. The evening was called “Listen and Learn: Converting the Currency of Understanding — Demystifying the Myths that Divide Us”. Participants were given the opportunity to talk about their work as actors, writers, directors, and allies. Some panelists spoke of their personal experiences of racism and exclusion encountered in their own communities. The goal of the evening was to build bridges and gain an understanding of the very real challenges that many BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) individuals face. Throughout the evening there was a genuine spirit of curiosity and openness, even when we shared difficult stories. It was truly heartwarming and the event ran over on time as people across all aisles had deep-seated desires to speak up and be heard.
I am committed to continuing these conversations all the while recognizing that while allyship is greatly valued and is a huge step towards challenging oppression, we must still understand possible feelings of resentment, bitterness, and even resistance towards those seeking change from the people we seek to work to establish it. Building trust takes time, so we must recognize there will be times when what we are offering may not be immediately accepted, and that may hurt, but I believe we all can grow in alignment once mutually committed to eradicating the divisiveness and hate of the moment.
As I question everything I thought I knew prior to 2020, I am further promoting diversity and inclusion by holding people I know in powerful places, accountable. This is not easy for me personally, as I am someone who would rather carry a ten-ton stone on my back, before asking for help, but I have found a way to face that within myself and begin the process by offering ideas, solutions and new ways of thinking so that I immediately remind myself, I am contributing my talents, not asking for any special treatment as Joaquin Phoenix so powerfully reminded BAFTA audiences in early 2020 when he spoke directly to systemic racism in the entertainment industry. I highly encourage your readers to screen a clip for further insight. These inner and outer shifts in our chairs are uncomfortable, to hear, to feel, to breathe, but they are a start. It is extremely uncomfortable to bear uncomfortable conversations, but bear them we must. They expose us, embarrass us and often shame us, but when the intent is to hold one another up and not break each other down, there can be nothing other than love that survives the discomfort.
Helping infuse images of positivity and light shed on underrepresented and marginalized communities of color who rarely see accurate depictions of themselves represented on screen, remains my life’s work and I can think of no better way to enter the next chapter of my life without shaking a few trees on my way up.
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?
We can’t build sustainably conscious companies without working on a truly global reach that highlights diverse voices, thereby making the world a better place. It is incumbent upon every organization to establish a positive impact on the next generation of leaders who are hungry to see themselves more fully represented.
On the one hand, diversity may be the first place you feel inclined to begin; however, it’s inclusion, on the other, which allows people who are working in these diverse environments to feel respected by their co-workers and managers. Corporations must ensure diverse configurations are in place so that employees are positioned for growth opportunities within the organization. As we begin to integrate these ideals into the twenty-first-century organization, I believe it is then, we can crystalize the diversity efforts we are committing ourselves to, into the hearts and minds of our teams.
Businesses need to start setting goals, collecting data, and examining change over time and in comparison to other organizations where it directly deals with diversity and inclusion efforts. This way, they can compare and share data with key stakeholders who will naturally need to begin increasing accountability and transparency around multicultural hiring practices and promotions.
In the end, it all boils down to engagement. When a workplace is diverse, and people who represent different races, national origins, genders, ethnicities, ages, interests, backgrounds, educational attainments, socioeconomic statuses and sexual orientations feel heard, this variety of perspective, thought, and experience truly contributes to an inclusive workplace environment, and therefore, you have more employee engagement. Be sure to understand, however, this does not include tokenism. It is vital not to hire the one voice, you believe will speak for an entire race of people. Without varying voices who can contribute to the trajectory of an organization’s growth, how will employees ever feel valued, be dedicated to joint causes not to mention feel connected with one another? When individuals belong to groups that are seriously underrepresented in the organizational context, such as racial minorities or women, they may be subjected to stereotype-based evaluations. The work of the corporation is to set standards that will not tolerate biased perceptions on any level. Having inclusion training and employee resource groups are great tools that can be considered to increase the likelihood of having a truly inclusive team.
OK. Here is the main question of our discussion. 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.
1) SYSTEMIC RACISM: Dedicate yourself to accepting that systemic racism exists and has been swimming about, without hook or bait, our entire lives. Although it has appeared more vibrantly in some quarters all the while more inconspicuously in others, it is real. Further, accept that some laws currently in place (housing, voting, employment, etc,) were brought to pass with the full intention of holding and keeping an entire race of people behind. Pledge to help eradicate as many (isms) as best you can.
2) SPEAK UP: Do not go silently into that good night. When someone makes a racist joke, inflammatory comment or sexist remark. It is beholden upon each of us to Call. It. Out. with grace and love of course, but to call it out, nonetheless. In other words, sit idle and complicit no more. Difficult conversations don’t have to be confrontational and may not be easy, but they must be had. A suggested conversation starter might begin with, “I feel obligated to let you know your remark sounded offensive”, etc. etc. and then explain why you feel that way and offer the elephant in the room a seat at the table to continue the conversation. Commit to change.
3) INCLUSIVE HIRING: Dedicate yourself to the consideration of more BIPOC applicants. Keep in mind, the goal is not to hire “tokens” of color, but rather, qualified candidates of color and believe me, we exist in every sector and at the highest levels. Commit to judging a name by its cover, no more. If you are basing a candidate’s credentials on how s(he) spells their name and how it lands on the unaccustomed ear. It’s time to get accustomed. Be thoughtful, open and fair in your decision making and give people a chance to prove themselves on merit and the content of their character.
4) UPHOLD HIGH IDEALS: Expect your team to treat people as they are created, equal. Change your ideas so that they are more ideal and lead others towards doing the same. In the end, simply be more empathetic towards those who have been traditionally shut out. Appreciate that lack of experience does not mean a lack of effort. Be the bridge between opportunity and inaccessibility.
5) DO THE RIGHT THING. Full stop.
We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?
I have always been a glass-half-full type of individual, but optimism and resolve are two words I am not quite ready to use in the same sentence at the moment, even though I just have. The Black community has known all along that the burden of this fight is not ours to carry exclusively. The recognition of our cries, sorrows and pleas for justice finally being heard, across nations, hearts and minds is a win for sure, but I also sense a great surge of fatigue settling in, but I have hope.
The concern is at this very moment, while there are some working diligently for justice, alternatively, there are others so threatened by the slightest progress, they are working mightily against it. I do believe in the end, decency will outweigh the hate but much work needs to be done, from the classroom and courtroom to the boardroom and beyond but now that the weeds have reared their ugly heads, and more people are tugging at the root for what’s right, folks are starting to see the benefits of standing for something outside of themselves. Just look at all that has transpired since those brave souls on the frontlines have demanded their voices be heard. People are more aligned across more mountains and waters in unity regarding a singular cause than we have seen in a lifetime, and that is massive, so again, I have hope.
When the cries and calls to action eventually fade, and we consume the necessary time to recover, the trifecta of questions to ask will be: a) what have we learned b) are we a better nation and c) where do we go from here. There will always be something to fight for, something to lose and something to love love, sure, and we may not always agree, but I am so proud of the next generation. They are brave, they are resolved and they are up for the challenge. I say, we need to roll our sleeves and continue to push forward, for them. They deserve to live more symbiotic, benevolent lives. My hope is, they will.
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. :
First Lady Michelle Obama, hands down, because in the words of Tina Turner, she is “Simply the Best”! Mrs. Obama’s 2019 bestseller, “Becoming” is an inspiration and joy to my heart and truly changed my life. The notion of never being done as we journey, that we are all “Becoming”, is a remarkable message for all. I envision sitting with the First Lady someday, on a rooftop patio, in our power suits, discussing family, legacy, her current chapter, her next book, her grace, humor and shining light but then again, a hearty post-COVID-19 hug, would do just fine as well!
How can our readers follow you online?
I am reachable on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, IMDB and Facebook at: Lanette Ware-Bushfield, Lanette Ware and/or @workitware
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
Thank you for all the work you all do! It is always an honor to be offered a seat at the table of discussion on such important matters.
“The future was sunset; the past something to leave behind.”
-Beloved by Toni Morrison