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Despite the hundreds of miles that I had already walked with my daughter, I was not prepared for Selma. The subject never came up. We traveled west from Montgomery, Alabama. Montgomery seemed like a nice, unassuming town. It was a nice place to be. Arriving in Selma, it felt as though the hands of time had been turned back. Here, the extreme poverty was much more evident. People worked very hard for everything they had. It was amazing what a difference 54 miles could make.
As a measure of safety, we had a driver following us. He was supposed to scope out the area and stay within sight as we walked. The day we walked was a gorgeous summer day. We walked through the historic part of town. It was lovely! Not having any idea of the area we were warned about (because they wouldn’t tell us), we walked happily down the street. It felt almost as though we were home. Then it happened…
We crossed a street. I thought nothing of it, to see families sitting on their porch talking, until I realized that they stopped talking the moment they saw us. A few homes down the street, there were some people playing cards. They froze. My daughter was the first to remind me… we were in the "black" neighborhood! What now?! Our driver decided he was bored, didn’t say anything to us, and wasn’t nearby. Were we safe? I think the people in the neighborhood wondered the same thing—they all froze like scared animals as we passed. But by the time we realized where we were, we didn’t have much choice but to keep going.
“Hey! Hey you! Stop!”
My heart raced not knowing who was yelling at us or why. But I turned and smiled to wave hello.
That is when one of the most impactful conversations of our whole trip took place. The person shouting at us was a young African American male in his 20s. He said he knew we were different because I smiled and waved. This young man talked to us for at least 20 minutes, telling us about his experiences in school, at work, and what it was like to grow up and live in this area. It broke our hearts when we learned the deep animosity that still flows through the region. His story was consistent with those that the local pastor and parishioners had shared with us, but it was definitely spoken from another perspective. His was a tale of brokenness; it didn’t share the same hope and optimistic perspective of the others.
What about you? Have you taken the time to stop to talk with someone out of the ordinary, someone outside of your circle of life, someone outside of your comfort zone? When I started extending my circle of outreach, I was amazed at how much more I could learn. From this young "black" man to the people on the teams that I have led, I have learned lessons too numerous to count. I have learned that there is always another perspective. Learning doesn’t stop where I’ve been taught to draw all the lines. In business, I’ve learned that taking the time to talk to those on my teams can reveal underlying problems, as well as provide a valuable solution to problems. Connection communication is huge!
What happens when we take time to communicate? We connect. We share our ideas effectively, establish buy-in, and increase healthy relationships. It is a skill that everyone can develop. As it develops, you begin to see that you have more influence; you become a better leader; you see more success.
It doesn’t take a walk through Selma to discover these lessons. We all long to connect, to be heard, to be accepted, and to be understood. I encourage you to reach out to someone today. Take time to listen to their stories. Whether it is a family member, work colleague, or someone you are simply curious to know more about, show your interest. I’m sure they will enjoy answering the questions you have to ask.