Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Distinguished, Everyone

Please welcome Amy Shoemaker, principal at Amy Shoemaker Partnerships. Amy has a quarter century of experience in Business, in the highest levels of HR and executive coaching. Her blog - "Lead Forward" - is an advanced course in all things leadership. The "Distinguished Clown Brigade" is a collection of leaders in Denver who don gaudy outfits, face paint and often brave plummeting temperatures to raise money, enjoy the company of the like-minded and give a little bit back to our community. 
You would not expect a middle-age, middle-class, executive to be a clown. It doesn't seem like an “executive” or “middle” thing to do. Yet I have relished the experience several times in community parades. For one evening a year, I have the opportunity to be someone else and interact with my community in a completely different way. As a Human Resource Executive, my passion has been to hire and develop a diverse workforce. I've redesigned recruitment and promotion strategies to attract a more diverse candidate pool and won Business Diversity Awards from The Urban League of Wichita and the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ).
2012 Parade of Lights Group Photo 50 by 50Yet I have the stigma of being a professional white woman. I have read the studies that professional white women tend to hold their purses tighter or move them to the other side of their bodies when a minority man approaches. I am ashamed to admit that I have modeled this behavior. So I tried an experiment, instead of moving my purse, I look teenage boys or gentlemen in the eye, smile, and say “hi”. Not everyone responds, some look away and pretend not to hear me; however many smile and say “hi” back. My experience has been positive or neutral; it is never negative.
So with this perspective, I transform into a clown. Our parade audience includes all races, genders, ages, disabilities, socio-economic status, and experience. We “high-5” the kids in the crowd and people smile, wave and laugh. A 4 year old girl holds her arms out and announces “I want a hug!” I knelt down to her level and held out my arms, expecting her to change her mind once she saw me at her level. She ran into my arms and gave me a big hug as cell phone cameras flashed. I danced with a couple of teenagers, whose friends exclaimed “How cool! You got to dance with a clown!” I held hands, smiled, and looked into the eyes of people with a variety of disabilities and really saw and honored them as people. It was so fun to interact with people in a way that I seldom could as myself. As myself, the teenagers would have said “Ugh, that creepy old lady tried to dance with you” and the mom would have yelled “What are you doing?” if I tried to hug her child instead of smiling and mouthing “Thank You.” How often do you get to spread so much joy to so many people in such a short time frame? Did I mention that the 4 year old girl and her mom are African American, the dancing teenagers are Hispanic and Caucasian, and the 3rd grade girls who asked what it was like to be a clown are American Indian? Does it matter?
I got to glimpse at a world that celebrated inclusion and for a few hours, no one cared about my age, gender, the color of my skin, or how much money I made. They enjoyed a fun evening with their family and laughed at the joy of a silly clown.
I have been wondering; what changes would occur in our community if we judged people by their positive intent and the joy they bring into our life?

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