Listen. For so many people, they want to do something. Now is the time to listen and recognize that there are opinions that are different than your own. It does not invalidate your opinions or the opinions of others. Realize that multiple realities can exist at the same time and just because you don’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t real.
As part of our series about 5 Steps That Each Of Us Can Take To Proactively Help Heal Our Country, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Froswa’ Booker-Drew.
Froswa’ Booker-Drew, Ph.D. is a Network Weaver who believes relationships are the key to our personal, professional and organizational growth. She has been quoted in Forbes, Ozy, Bustle, Huffington Post and other media outlets, due to an extensive background in leadership, nonprofit management, partnership development, training and education. She is currently Vice President of Community Affairs for the State Fair of Texas responsible for grantmaking, educational programming and community initiatives. Formerly the National Community Engagement Director for World Vision, she served as a catalyst, partnership broker, and builder of the capacity of local partners in multiple locations across the US to improve and sustain the well-being of children and their families. She is also co-founder for HERitage Giving Circle and the owner of Soulstice Consultancy.
Dr. Booker-Drew was a part of the documentary, Friendly Captivity, a film that follows a cast of 7 women from Dallas to India. She is the recipient of several honors including 2020 TEDxSMU speaker, 2019 Dallas Business Journal’s Women in Business honoree, Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc. Global Big Heart 2014, , 2012 Outstanding African American Alumni Award from the University of Texas at Arlington, 2009 Woman of the Year Award by Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. and was awarded Diversity Ambassador for the American Red Cross.
Froswa’ graduated with a PhD from Antioch University in Leadership and Change with a focus on social capital, diverse women and relational leadership. She attended the Jean Baker Miller Institute at Wellesley for training in Relational Cultural Theory and has completed facilitator training on Immunity to Change based on the work of Kegan and Lahey of Harvard. She has also completed training through UNICEF on Equity Based Evaluations. Booker-Drew is currently an adjunct professor at Tulane University and has been an adjunct professor at the University of North Texas at Dallas, the University of Texas at Arlington, Capital Seminary and Graduate School as well as a Post-Doctoral Fellow at Antioch University. She is the author of 3 workbooks for women, Fly Away, Ready for a Revolution: 30 Days to Jolt Your Life and Rules of Engagement: Making Connections Last. Froswa’ was a workshop presenter at the United Nations in 2013 on the Access to Power. She is a contributor for several publications globally, including as an advice columnist for professional women in Business Woman Media, a global platform based in Australia.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Froswa’! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
Family was instrumental in my life. Despite the stereotypes of unmarried mothers in the African American community, I grew up around couples who were married for years. I was born in Shreveport, Louisiana. My parents were high school sweethearts, divorced when I was an adult and then remarried until my father passed in 2005. They dated from their freshmen year in high school and married when my father graduated from college. My father’s parents were also a big part of my life because when I was not with my parents, I spent a lot of time with my grandparents. My grandfather fought in World War II and he came back home, he and my grandmother moved to a segregated community because at that time, African Americans could not live in the same areas as Whites. My mother’s mom passed when I was ten years old. I was so fortunate that I had time with her even though I lost her so young.
Church was another formative part of my life. It not only served as a foundation for my life but provided so many tools. I had such a community of support and people who loved me. Church was a refuge and I learned to speak from an early age because of watching my mom who was always invited to speak in our community. I was given opportunities when I was young to speak in front of the congregation not aware of how it was the beginning of something I would do so much later. Despite the fact that my school experiences from elementary to high school were predominately White, my church allowed me to be around individuals that I could identify with. I saw individuals at church who were nurses, landscapers, business owners, teachers. My dad went to college to become a teacher and when he realized how much he would make, he decided to wait tables because he could make more money. For years, he worked with an amazing man who owned the restaurant who taught him the business and finally, my father and mother decided to open their own restaurant. With the blessing and support of his boss, my dad opened a restaurant in downtown Shreveport in the 80s that had a full bar, a jazz band on the weekends and a phenomenal menu of Cajun and Creole recipes. I was a pre-teen and watching my parents as entrepreneurs was also a key milestone in my development. During the recession in the 80s, we lost so much — the restaurant that was a success began to struggle and on top of that our home caught afire and we had to move to various relatives’ homes. It was a really difficult time. Those experiences shaped who I am today. I’ve experienced a lot of loss, love, and challenges and through it all, I am grateful for my family always being there for me especially my mother who is my rock!
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 so many books that have had an impact on my life. I guess one that stands out is Coming of Age in Mississippi by Anne Moody because it was life changing. To read a narrative of a young woman who was a part of the civil rights movement and how she took risks to fight for what she believed in was inspiring. It gave me strength to know that no matter the difficulties you experience, you can use your voice and stand up for what you believe in.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work? One of my favorite quotes is by Marianne Williamson. “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” This quote reminds me of the importance of showing up and being authentically me. It frees me to know that despite the way others may see me because of the color of my skin, I am powerful, and I have value. When I am invested in myself, I free others to be themselves as well.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leaders cast a vision that rallies others to get behind making that vision a reality — leaders are a catalyst for action. Leadership is so important just as followership is. They are both necessary and as much as we spend time focused on leaders, it can absolve those who are following from responsibility. We are all in this together. Leaders are not dictators. True leaders must balance their feelings and thoughts with those who they are leading. It is always examining the impact of your actions and how your decisions impact the larger community. Leaders listen. Leaders are not always strong. Leaders make mistakes. I think what leadership is missing right now is humility. Many leaders are so concerned with how they are viewed by others that it impacts their judgement in making decisions that are good and just. They are also unwilling to be vulnerable and surround themselves with others who may disagree. If everyone on our team says yes, we have the wrong team. We need people that challenge our thinking and when we disagree, we should be able to deal with the tension of a situation without completely dismissing their thoughts or who they are as a person.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a series of unprecedented crises. So many of us see the news and ask how we can help. We’d love to talk about the steps that each of us can take to help heal our county, in our own way. Which particular crisis would you like to discuss with us today? Why does that resonate with you so much?
As an African American woman, I find myself going through an array of emotions. The deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arberry, Breonna Taylor have been overwhelming in a series of deaths and attacks. We forget about Jordan Edwards, a teen who was killed outside of Dallas leaving a party. We forget about Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Atianna Jefferson, Botham Jean, Travyon Martin, Tamir Rice, and so many others and for so long, it felt as if most people could care less. The calls to police made on African Americans ranging from selling water, birdwatching, being in a park, sleeping in the lounge of a college, listening to music and so many other instances that could have resulted in altercations even possibly death has been ongoing and traumatizing. I have been dealing with my daughter who is a young adult that is afraid and an elderly mother who has witnessed racism and oppression her entire life. I recently was pulled over by a police officer in February for a rental car that did not have a front license plate. Even after the officer realized it was a rental, he accused me of drinking alcohol. Without thinking, I reached down on the floor of the car to pick up the hand sanitizer to prove my innocence. I was questioned about having a rental car, why did I need one and the age of my car at home. I was terrified and shaking when I left. It was the same county Sandra Bland was killed in. I’m fortunate because I spoke with individuals in leadership and even filed a report about my experience. I know that everyone hasn’t had that opportunity to use their voice and speak up. Many are too frightened by the consequences. I’ve never been in trouble with the law. I have a PhD and no matter that I have tried to be an upstanding citizen, I have been stopped repeatedly in my community for no reason. It is sad that most of us must prepare our children to be called the ’n’ word and how to handle it. We must tell our children how to go in stores so that no accuses them of stealing. We must teach our kids how to interact with the police because you just want them to come home alive. My mother had the talk with me. I had to have the same talk with my daughter. A friend of mine who is an African American police officer had to deal with his grandson who asked if his grandfather could teach him how to interact with the police because he did not want to die. Talking to my friends, the fear, anger, hopelessness, and disappointment is real. You would like to believe that you are a part of the American dream and to be treated so differently is painful and creates so much trauma that we carry psychologically, mentally, emotionally, and even physically. The stress ranges from being dismissed by physicians that your ailments are in your head, to the adultification of black girls (girls who are given punishments in school as if they are adults), watching loved ones being sentenced unfairly in the criminal justice system and the list goes on and on. Add on top, experiencing microaggressions and being dismissed because your experiences are different than others ultimately invalidating your feelings. I am saddened by what we have experienced and yet, I am hopeful that change is coming.
This is likely a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?
Without making it so simplistic because it is not — this is a huge issue with multiple variables but for the sake of time and space, I will share a few thoughts.
For many people, they do not understand or are aware of the history of African Americans in this country. This has been an ongoing issue. Research the Tulsa Race Massacre, Jim Crow laws, Tuskegee experiment. Take a look at this website to better understand, which will offer some additional insight on the historical to present day challenges African Americans experience(d). They assume because there are Black people in positions of power that we’ve made progress and, in some ways, we have made progress but that doesn’t mean that racism and discrimination are no longer present. This has been an accumulation and not the result of just one or two incidents. COVID has forced the world to pause and because of that, we are witnessing more because we are on social media and home watching television. People are already filled with anxiety from the unknown of this disease, being locked in for months, job losses, etc. As a result, people could not hide from it and all of this combined created the environment for what we are now witnessing daily in our streets.
Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience either working on this cause or your experience being impacted by it? Can you share a story with us?
My experience begins as a college student at the University of Texas at Arlington. I was bothered by the limited number of African American and Hispanic faculty on campus, the recruiting efforts and support for these populations when they were on campus. As President of the NAACP, I addressed a number of these issues with my counterparts. We were successful in bringing attention to those issues and even received an award by the national office for our work two years in a row. My work has continued over the years in education and nonprofit management. In my current role as a funder, I am trying to change the narrative of philanthropy as seeing communities of color as broken. There is so much brilliance and amazing work happening especially in the area I focus on which is South Dallas, a predominately African American community. These leaders know what they need and are not often given the opportunity to be a part of conversations to change the way money is distributed. Many philanthropic organizations provide funding in these communities, but their boards and staff do not often reflect this. I advocate for nonprofits led by people of color to receive more funding and I have even been a part of one of the first giving circles created by African American women in Texas. More than 40 women have pooled their funds and raised since 2017 approximately $50,000 to distribute to organizations led by Black women or serve Black Women and children.
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share your “5 Steps That Each Of Us Can Take To Proactively Help Heal Our Country”. Kindly share a story or example for each
- Listen. For so many people, they want to do something. Now is the time to listen and recognize that there are opinions that are different than your own. It does not invalidate your opinions or the opinions of others. Realize that multiple realities can exist at the same time and just because you don’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t real.
- Read. It is important to have a historical context to better understand what is going on. Read authors that are from different backgrounds and without judgement. Be present and take in what they are saying. How is it different from your experience and what are opportunities for growth?
- Create spaces for proximity and presence. If your social network looks solely like you, it’s time to expand your network and begin to find others who are different. Different in race, ideology, background. It is hard to change something that you don’t understand. Get close and follow #1–2 when you do. Being close to me should not lead to the desire to change me into you. In my TEDx Talk, I share a number of things we can do, I talk about creating spaces that we can be safe in, How are you creating that for those who are different than you to share? We need more spaces of vulnerability and in doing so, we can begin to build trust through our authenticity. Continue to show up. Even when it becomes difficult.
- Now is not the time for polarization. Just because people think differently than you do, this is not the time to retreat. Lean in, ask questions. We need moments of cognitive dissonance and disorienting dilemmas. When you hear something that you don’t like or disagree with, wrestle with why. Ask yourself why it bothers you and dig deeper. At the core of it, we realize that we are afraid of giving up what we have been conditioned to believe. If that unravels, our identity is now challenged. What if what we have been taught is incorrect? What if there are other ways and new experiences of doing things that are better, create harmony and fulfillment in our lives? We are so afraid of losing things but when we lose those ideas that do not serve us well, we have so much to gain.
- Recognize the power of purpose. Just as you have a purpose for your life, so do others. When we recognize the power that exists in ourselves, we can see it in others. We will not feel threatened when we hear Black Lives Matter because we’ll understand that it doesn’t diminish the lives of others. Instead of feeling bothered ask why African Americans feel that this needs to be highlighted and do not feel as if they are included. What is happening that creates this experience? When you break you leg, you would be stunned if your doctor said, “Your arms are important.” At the time, you want your leg addressed. Doesn’t mean the arm is less than, it just means at that time, we need to focus on getting the leg healed knowing that if it isn’t operating at an optimum level, the rest of the body will be impacted.
It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but what can we do to make these ideas a reality? What specific steps can you suggest to make these ideas actually happen? Are there things that the community can do to help you promote these ideas?
I shared this on my Facebook page for my friends who are non-African American. This can provide some tangible actions.
- I can’t sit down with you to process your pain. I’m grieving. I’m balancing my own stuff and it’s heavy. Instead of asking me to help you figure out what to do, can you just ask me how am I doing? (And for those who’ve done that, I’m grateful.) I can’t do your emotional labor.
- Private confession is good but it can’t stop there. Sending notes to your Black friends is cool but you need to publicly say it. You need to start talking to your circles of influence and telling them how you feel and telling them the problem. Write Op-Eds, call your legislators locally, statewide and nationally and demand action.
- Put your money where your mouth is. Start donating to causes like Faith in Texas and others that are working in social justice spaces led by people of color. Begin to demand that organizations you fund do the same.
- Start questioning your organizations and workplaces. If there are only a few people of color (or none) who are employed, you need to demand change. You also need to examine your culture because just bringing folks in without a true change of beliefs, identity, and operations, it is window dressing. Looks nice but underneath, it is still foul. This goes for senior leadership and board membership.
- Question investment. Those groups you are supporting — where are they investing their dollars? If they are funding causes that hurt people of color, move your money. Banks that support mass incarceration and candidates who back policies that are detrimental to our communities need to be dismissed from your roster.
- Educate yourself and read. Just because you know one or two black people that you eat lunch with does not mean you haven’t been impacted by white supremacy. You are so impacted in ways you don’t even realize. First, read White Fragility. Pick up Peggy McIntosh’s work. Learn. Watching Roots isn’t enough.
- It isn’t Black folks responsibility to coach you through this stuff. Allies should be available and willing to listen but you must also do the work.
I’m tired. I’ve been doing this work since college. I won’t stop and you can’t either.
We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?
I am optimistic. I have many of my White friends who are desperate to learn, to do something, to listen. I am also elated to see the solidarity that exists across race, age, sexuality, backgrounds in the streets and in meetings. People are coming together advocating for change and that is exciting to me. We cannot give up or get frustrated because it is a process to make changes at both an individual and systemic level. We must do both.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
I would tell them don’t stop. Do not give up. This work can be discouraging and painful. Yet, it must be done, you are the ones you’ve been waiting for. You must be committed to seeing it through. I am so proud of our young people and how they are determined to make changes. I am disappointed in some of my colleagues who are older who find ways to diminish their efforts because what they are doing does not fit their criteria or meet their expectations. They must learn and those of us who are older and seasoned need to mentor instead of criticizing. I marvel at adults who forget what it was like to be young. Their world is so different than ours with technology. As a result, their involvement in making changes will not look the same. I was told by a young man in my area about how a leader has been targeting younger men by discrediting them and instead of going directly to them to give his opinion, he tells others his thoughts to jade the way others see them. It is unfortunate and unfair. Young people are our future and if we do not take the time to invest in them now, why will they feel the need to invest in us as we get older?
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. 🙂
Here is just a small listing of some of my favorites: Brene Brown, Michelle Obama, Mark Cuban, Oprah Winfrey,
How can our readers follow you online? Through LinkedIn:
Instagram at drfroswa
Twitter at @Froswa
Personal website: https://drfroswa.com/
Legends in Leadership: https://www.realnewscn.com/froswa-booker-drew-legends-in-leadership-ep-62/
LinkedIn page: https://www.linkedin.com/in/froswabookerdrew/
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!