Diversity: My Path, My Passion

When my parents married in 1967, it was big news in Chicago. On page 3 of one major newspaper, the headline read:

Raby Weds White Teacher

My father, Al Raby, was African-American, a major civil rights leader, a good friend and close advisor of Martin Luther King. My mother, Patricia Novick, was the “white college teacher.” (She was also Jewish—a point that is very deliberately made in the newspaper story).

If you look at my photo—or if you meet me in person—you wouldn’t know that my father was black and my mother was Jewish.

But that is who I am. I am a descendant of slaves. I am kin to people who were murdered in the Holocaust.

There’s a public school in Chicago named after my father, who died in 1988. My mother has won many civic awards for her service to the city’s minority and disadvantaged populations, and she continues that work to this day.

The day after that story about their wedding appeared in the newspaper, my mother and father began receiving a steady stream of death threats and hate mail that continued for months.

Much has changed, in ways small (I wonder sometimes when it was that a newspaper headline like the one above became unacceptable) and large (the year my parents married was the year that the US Supreme Court abolished laws that existed in nearly 20 states against interracial marriage).

Much has not changed, and much has remained the same or just become more subtle.

Diversity has lately become a hot topic in the Bay Area tech community, thanks to voices that include Van Jones, Hank Williams, Ben Horowitz, and Jesse Jackson, and because of the companies that admirably collect and report diversity information.

Wisdompreneurs’ leadership is committed to joining with and amplifying those voices, and to taking whatever action we can to support and facilitate change. Because it is the right thing to do. Because it’s who we are as individuals. Because as an organization we’re about wisdom, and diversity spurs wisdom. Because as an organization we’re about effectiveness, and diversity is shown time and again to produce higher levels of organizational success.

Brain studies show an interesting phenomenon. People don’t begin automatically (and often subconsciously) reacting negatively to people who look different than them (by “race,” by age, or by other criteria) until they are about 14 years old. Once that bias kicks in, it can be quite strong. The biggest factor that reduces its strength is how much experience a person has had with diversity. "The more racially diverse your peer group,” one report of brain studies states, “the less strong the effect. At really high levels of diversity, the effect disappeared entirely.”

So diversity today will probably lead to more diversity tomorrow. As Dr. King once said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Wherever Wisdompreneurs can influence that arc, we will.