[Audio] 3 African American Leaders Share Their Perspective On Race, Grace & Brokenness In America

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This interview was recorded from a live EDGE call. If you'd like to learn more about joining EDGE Mentoring, visit here.  EDGE Mentoring is a national mentoring organization that pairs seasoned Christian executives with emerging leaders (22 - 32 years old) in groups of 7 for a transformational mentoring experience. 

The interview features: 

  • Elanco President, Jeff Simmons
  • Elanco Chief Scientist, Edward McGruder
  • Elanco CMO, Tony Ezell
  • And Sargeant Christopher Wilburn, IMPD. 

These four accomplished leaders have a candid discussion centered around the racial tension in our country and how they are processing recent events as executives, fathers, and leaders in their community.

Key Takeaways And Questions Asked:

  • There is a general lack of humility and desire to seek to understand others who may be different than us.
  • If we begin to be more concerned with serving others versus fulfilling our own self-interests then the narrative of racial tension in our country will begin to change. 
  • As Christians, we can make a difference if we first focus on the relationship between us and God, us and others, and taking a bold action to see change!
  • In order to relieve the tensions we all feel, we must get comfortable being uncomfortable.
  • [Question] As a white male that grew up in a white upper, middle-class context, I'd like to know what it's like to be an African American male in today's day and age? 
  • We are all biased but only some people are conscious of our own biases or even have the need to be aware. African American's don't have a choice but to be conscious of our actions. 
  • [Question] Even though I'm a white male, I've never felt I've been racist but am I being naive? How can I better empathize with what it feels like to be an African American male?
  • Tony Ezell shares a shocking story about one of his customers treating him differently and being scared of him when he encountered him outside of his work context. 
  • [Question] My wife and I are in the process of adopting two African American males, what I are things need to know about raising two African American boys? Do you have any advice? 
  • [Question] What is your vision for the future of our country as it relates to race relations?

Transcript:

Jeff Simmons:

Great leaders connect to current events. Great leaders don't avoid current events. Great leaders understand these, they process them, they talk about them. They're not politically correct. They connect them to their life, their company, their cultures. They grow during these times, they don't avoid these times.

Number three is there's two kinds of leaders today. There's that leader that's externally connected, well-read, opinionated, has beliefs, is connected, and can't walk through a cafeteria if there's three people sitting there and they know that maybe there's something that he can add or she can add to that conversation and they stop. There's the others that are just lukewarm. They aren't well-read, they let a lot of things pass by, and they're very politically correct. 

This is not about a political party or gun control or which lives matter. This is about how we unpack this as a merging, hungry leadership. You're not on this call by accident. Now let me introduce you to the three leaders and we're going to open this thing up. There's three leaders. There's a sergeant, Chris Wilburn. There's a scientist, Dr. Ed McGruder. There's Tony Ezell, a chief marketing officer. I'll just tell you this, I know them all personally. These are Godly leaders. They are brilliant minds. They're deep in their subject matter. They have amazing families. They're vested, all three of them, they don't even know each other that well, two of them don't know one of them at all, but they're vested in making the world a better place. They're all African Americans and they're friends of mine.

Here we go. Let me start tonight, I'll start with Ed, and we'll go Ed, Tony, Chris, around. Tell them something tonight, starting with you, Ed, that people should know about you as an introduction.

Ed McGruder:

I'll turn it up. Can you hear me okay?

Jeff Simmons:

Yes.

Ed McGruder:

Thank you Jeff. Okay. There's three Fs that define who I am. When I'm doing these things well, I'm on point. The first F is my faith. I am a Christian as well. I've been blessed when I worked for [inaudible 00:02:04] in China I actually had the great opportunity to give six sermons, something I thought I'd never do in my life. Faith is first.

My second F is family. I've got two boys, 14 and 16. Anybody's raising sons and teenagers, give me, send me some money and some tips, please. You know, we're all on this team together. A wonderful wife of 23 years and 14 days and two heartbeats. It's been great and the best part of my life. That's my family.

The last is my field, and that's the field of science and research. I am a veterinarian, but also a microbiologist [inaudible 00:02:40] PhD. I put that last because when I'm doing life right, faith comes first, and then my family, and then my field.

My name is Ed McGruger.

Jeff Simmons:

Great. Chris?

Chris Wilburn:

Oh, was I next? I thought Tony was, but I'll go.

Jeff Simmons:

Okay, Tony? Tony. Okay, go ahead. It doesn't matter.

Tony Ezell:

I could do me. Good evening everyone. Tony Ezell here. Very simply, what I will say is, I am a African American boy from south, way south, in Alabama, raised Catholic. For anyone who's from the south, you understand what the mix of a southern African American Catholic boy might bring you. It brings you a nice mix of gumbo, for those who know me. I am the wife of Lavonda. Been married for 21 years. It's been a wonderful life experience for me. We have two beautiful kids, Alex and Austin, 15 years old Alex, my daughter, and my son Austin who is 13. 

Maybe the one thing I would maybe lead to explain a little bit of who I am today is that I really feel like all of the experiences along my life have prepared me to understand that you get nowhere in life without others. That comes through my faith, being an alter boy all my life, and understanding how the Catholic church worked, and how we must partner to help serve others. Also I think throughout all of my life I've learned that the only way to succeed is to succeed through others. That tells you a little bit about me. I'm looking forward to sharing more about my thoughts tonight.

Chris Wilburn:

Okay guys. Yes, thanks so much, Jeff. Hi guys. This is Chris Wilburn here. I share that same sentiment, Tony, being educated in the south, but I was born in Chicago, south side of Chicago. I went to school, undergraduate, at the University of South Carolina, and went on to do my Master's at Boston University. I'm an opera singer by trade, and ended up being a police officer, now a sergeant on the Indianapolis police department here. I have three kids. I have a wonderful wife who is a professor at the University of Indianapolis.

I think the most encouraging aspect of my journey so far and what I want people to remember is that I am a student of the faith and I enjoy the challenges, both intellectually and the physical challenges at work at times. I enjoy challenges because they, like you said, Jeff, they sharpen you and they make you better, and they make you a better leader.

I'll say a little bit more as we unpack things this evening. I'm excited to hear what we have to say as a team.

Jeff Simmons:

Very good. I know there'll be questions along the way. I'll stop along the way and open this up if you've got a question. Until then, keep it on mute. I'm going to just start, and I'll start with you, Tony, and if either one of the others want to jump in and add to this question, I guess Tony I would say, and you and I have had some discussion with your kids, you know, if I'm your child, or I'm even an employee, and I ask you, "Hey, what's going on out there?" I leave it really at that. I'm not necessarily referencing a specific maybe Dallas, but maybe the tension that's out there today. How do you unpack this. Tell me how you're explaining this.

Tony Ezell:

Let me just first start by saying those are not the kind of conversations that I think any of us look forward to having, certainly not the kind of questions you want to get at 10 o'clock or 10:30 at night from your 13 year old son, but a lot of us are getting those questions. For me, it's a pretty simple answer. It starts with trying to help my son, or certainly anyone who might have that question, understand that, you know, part of the challenge that we see today is a failure to seek to understand. There's a quote that I like to use. It's "We all must be comfortable with being uncomfortable." Right now, there's just no tolerance for being uncomfortable. That's putting people on edge. As I shared with you before, Jeff, I think it's created a level of fear that scares me. There's no answer for that. It becomes a conversation where you just need to ensure your kids and others around you become more aware.

Jeff Simmons:

Good. I know you got some other thoughts on how to bridge that to other things. We'll come back to that. Chris or Ed, any additional thoughts here on how you're explaining this? Whether that's to an employee, to a family member? Anything additional and new that you would add?

Chris Wilburn:

I think I agree wholeheartedly with what you said, too, in regards to those conversations are difficult to have. It is uncomfortable. It's uncomfortable for people, and as believers, we don't want to engage people on that level because it makes us feel that we should be beyond this. The fact of the matter is that we live in a broken world. We live in a sinful world. The only thing that can heal this is Jesus. I know, like you said before, that some people's religious beliefs or some people's beliefs may be vast and some of them may not be, but the reality of it is that we are in an evil world. The complexity of that is before ...

Here's the thing. Here's the challenge is that, of the officers that I have on my team, there's about 35 of us, and they range from every socioeconomic background you could imagine. We have people of all sorts of diversity on the team. The goal is is that you don't deal with people, you interact with people. You don't meet them on their level. You genuinely want to know how they feel. It's relational. I think what's happening in the country is that we've lost touch with that. We've gotten beyond the fact where we look at people immediately and judge them, and based on the way they look. I've been judged, trust me, we'll go into detail, great detail about how I've had negative interactions with law enforcement, and I'm a policeman. 

The reality of it is that people intentionally or unintentionally look at you and they automatically put you in some sort of category. The challenge is how do we get beyond that? We won't be perfect. We won't completely alleviate those kinds of things. How do we get better at dealing with those kinds of things? That's the kind of conversations that I'm having with my team and their interactions with people.

Guys, let me tell you, the reality of the world, it's a bad place. It's a broken place, excuse me. There are a lot of people out here that are really broken. I don't know what you guys feel, but I know I don't want to monopolize this thing, but that's, in essence, where we are.

Jeff Simmons:

That maybe, play off from that. Yeah, go ahead. I want you to build on a little bit of our conversation today. You know? Why does this matter, Ed? Tell a little bit of that. Put some interpretation to this.

Ed McGruder:

I think, as I think about what Tony just said, and also Chris shared, I kind of go to the word. If you look at James in the first chapter, 19 and 20, this kind of resonates and [inaudible 00:10:17] what Tony said, which was, "Wherefore my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger." When you think about that and think about the fact that people get very angry and they don't think about the consequences of their action. They're not hearing. Tony said folks aren't talking anymore. They're not hearing, they're certainly not slow to speak, and they jump into this piece of raff. Well, the word says the opposite. Again, I don't want anybody on this call to think I'm a perfect individual. Very far from it. I am humbled by it, by God's word. When I take that into my heart and consider those things, that's when I'm at our best. When he talks about the fact that there's some healing that needs to take place in our whole nation, I think it really does go back to the foundation of the word. This is just one example.

Chris Wilburn:

I agree.

Tony Ezell:

Jeff, if I can jump back in there, too.

Jeff Simmons:

Yeah, absolutely. Keep going.

Tony Ezell:

Actually, I think my son actually brought up something that was probably the most difficult thing to answer was, "Dad, if all of us believe in God, then why are we having these issues?" Very simple but tough question. It's not about religion. It's about who we believe in, in one single God that we all come from. It's a basis of which, I think your comments, Ed, I speak loudly. If we truly believe that, then the first thing we should do is seek to understand each other. The first thing we should do is reach out to help each other. There's so many examples of our lord and savoir Jesus Christ demonstrating that over and over and over again with people that otherwise would have been shunned. Yet today, we're so quick to judge without first seeking to understand. I would suggest a ton of this is around just people being uncomfortable with folks who are not like them or folks who are perceived to have different beliefs or values from them, as opposed to getting comfortable with being uncomfortable, getting to know each other, and treating others like you want to be treated.

That's all that's ever asked. I told my son this, in fact, I told him last week there's on thing that our lord expects from us, and that is really simple. He expects us to love him, and he expects us to treat others the right way. If we can all live by those simple principles it'd be great. You see this role over in the corporate setting. I know we'll get there, but I just ... It really comes down to these simple things that even a 13 year old can pick up.

Chris Wilburn:

Wow. I want to add to this, too. This is Chris here, for those who don't, will eventually recognize the voice. I think, and what you're saying is absolutely correct. That seeking to understand, that requires a level of humility, right? I think that people are generally inclined to not feel that because they feel as if it diminishes an aspect of them. Philippians 2:3 says, "Do nothing out of self ambition or vain conceit, rather in humility. Value others above yourself." As we move through life, we have to first consider others. That's a tough position for people.

I'll give you an example. We have in our police department, and we have within our city government, people who have different beliefs. People who don't believe in God. People who are different than me, who have other sexual preferences, who don't like meat, who really have a lot of things going on that aren't like my background. They don't view the world in the lens in which I view the world. That eight hours of the day, or for that eight and a half hours of the day, they have the legal authority, based on the framework of our constitution, to enforce certain laws. I tell people, "Take that very seriously. You're taking away, potentially, somebody's freedoms. You have to exercise a tremendous amount of diplomacy. You have to take on an air, although you have the authority, you've been given the authority through the people, mind you, been given the authority to act and be the living law, you have to take that very seriously." That requires a level of humility.

I've never seen where we are today, in my 40 plus years, that people are slow to say that they're sorry, or even to admit that they were wrong. That's a problem.

Jeff Simmons:

I'm going to open it up. I know there's a few questions. I'll take a couple questions, then I'll move to a couple others, to keep us going across. I'll open it up. I know there's a couple that have sent some messages in. The phone is open for a couple questions.

Dave Neff:

I'll jump right in. Dave Neff. Tony, Ed, Chris, thanks for being on tonight. Can you guys hear me all right?

Chris Wilburn:

Yeah.

Tony Ezell:

Just fine.

Dave Neff:

Okay. I'm a white male from Indianapolis, Indiana. Grew up in an upper middle class family. This is just kind of a broad question here, I'd love to hear your perspective, but what is it like to be a black male ... A little bit of background noise. Can somebody mute their phone? All right. What is it like to be a black male in today's society, kind of, and culture? What issues do you three deal with that me as a suburban white American have never had to face?

Ed McGruder:

Let me, this is Edward, let me jump right in because that's relevant to a conversation I had at work on Friday. [inaudible 00:16:05] on Tony's beat, be comfortable being uncomfortable, asking those uncomfortable questions. I had a Caucasian female who's a colleague of mine say, "Hey, Ed. Can we go to lunch?" It was impromptu. I said, "Sure." She said, "As a mother, I want to know what, because I'll never experience this, what would it be like to be a parent and have African American children?" We talked 30 minutes. I can tell you that that wasn't a dry at the end after 30 minutes.

Here's some of the things I shared. This sort of answers the question. First of all, my oldest son is studying out in California right now. He's gone about three or four weeks, he's got about four weeks left. After things happened in Dallas, and by the way, I didn't mention my hometown. I am from Dallas. Wife from Houston. We meet at Texas A,M. It was tough to see that happen in my city. After this happened, my wife called my son and told, "You need to call me every night. I know you like to ride your bicycle around the campus over there in California. You need to, like Boy Scouts, you need to have a buddy system. I need to hear your voice every night." My son got pretty upset. He called me and he said, "Dad, is mom okay?" I said, "With all this going on, she just wants to make sure you're okay." That's the reality of sort of where we live. That's one point. 

I think a second point it, you know, I'm sure those of you who are parents and have teenagers, you may have some dress codes in your house. These are things you can't wear. Here's my dress code, especially for my youngest son. We don't wear hoodies. Why? Because if you wear a hoodie, and you in certain environments, it could cause you unnecessary problems. That'll be something to think about. That's another piece that becomes critical.

I think when all this happened, through 2016 and even before, when you're youngest son, who has a Apple phone and pulls it up and shows you things on social media that really represent kind of the signs of the time and some of the things we're talking about, Jeff, and says, "Daddy, why?" After a while you get numb. I told you that the other day. I went from anger to just being numb because it's these same kinds of vivid image every day. You get to the point where you can't hardly explain it. I imagine these things happened in the past, but with social media and folks having video cameras and so forth, it's just more prevalent.

For me, Dave, I think those are the kinds of things are becoming important. In the wrong situation, nobody cares about the fact that I work for [inaudible 00:18:25] or have degrees, that doesn't matter in the wrong situation. It's a situation where you have to be more vigilant and tell your children to be vigilant as well.

Chris M:

If it's all right, I'd like to ask a question as well, this is Chris Merrill. I'm out here on the west coast in California. Similar to Dave, I was raised in an environment where not a ton of African American people. I was raised in an environment where everybody, you know, God loves everybody whether they're black, white, whatever color, race, background. I've never, I would say, felt I've been racist at all. I generally feel that way, but with that said, am I just being naïve? Do I have racist tendencies? I guess my question is, how can someone who doesn't feel like he's racist, but maybe just naïve to what you guys go through, how can we help get out of this mentality of racism? Ultimately, I think I've just been naïve to it to think that maybe I'm not racist.

Chris Wilburn:

May I say something? This is Chris. What's your name again? I'm sorry.

Chris M:

Chris, as well.

Chris Wilburn:

Chris? All right, Chris. First of all, that was an outstanding question. I'm going to come from a different perspective in that countless times in our interaction with ...  I hope I'll answer it, I'll try to be brief, there's a lot to unpack here. Countless times in our interactions with regular citizenry, and this is from a policeman's perspective, no one ever, we're going to be provocative here, you guys said we're going to be uncomfortable, here, right? It's okay to be uncomfortable, right?

Chris M:

Absolutely.

Chris Wilburn:

Here's the deal. Here's my opinion, okay? Crime as it relates to the inner city doesn't really affect a lot of suburbs. No one really cares, you know, in the suburbs, because it doesn't really affect their doorstep. What ends up happening is the inner city problems, those are those guys. Who cares about what goes on for us in this city over there on 42nd and Post Road, which is a city that had, which is a area code, a zip code that has a lot of crime. In the suburb it's not a problem. Here's the challenge is that it affects everybody. Crime affects everyone, so we should care in the suburbs. We should care wholeheartedly what goes on in other parts of the city, realizing that education is the great equalizer.

The tendencies that you're speaking of, it's all ... Chris, we're sinners. Listen man, God came to save us. We are redeemed by the cross. What you're talking about, even in the state of you feel like as if you have racist tendencies, I have tendencies. We're sinners. The fact of the matter is that we can acknowledge that. We can balance that out every day. We can come to this point in which, that we as Christians, we as believers, our prize and what we do, our citizenship isn't here, our citizenship is in heaven.

The thing is, and I'll say this, is that when we talk about relationships with people, I mentioned it before about relationships, the only thing that I can ... I played football. The only thing that I can remember as a adolescent and playing through high school, et cetera, is that when I played sports, regardless of people's background, where they came from, that was a thing that everybody kind of, you shed every tendency that you had because you had one focus, and that focus was to win. That focus was to listen to that coach. That focus was to be the best athlete that you could be. We see it here on display across numerous stadiums here in our city and in our country where people, speaking in the vernacular here, thugs can sit right next to people who are making $250,000, and they can hand shake each other and high five each other and yell for a sports team.

The bottom line of it all is that as long as you're acknowledging that you have to calibrate your spirit every day, that's a start. You know? I think that that's a good place to be. I don't know whether you got ... Tony, Ed, what do you guys think about that?

Jeff Simmons:

Great, Chris. Tony, I'm going to ... You've probably got something to say here. I'd also like you to apply this, Chris's question, he's a professional, a lot like you are, business guy. You work in a company that's heavily prevalent white Caucasian people in the Midwest. Talk a little bit also, be practical. How do you learn and better understand what both sides are going through and walking on both sides?

Tony Ezell:

Yeah. I'm going to try to tie this back to a few things that have already been said. First of all, I can't remember if it was Chris or the gentleman before you, but the whole question about whether or not I'm racist or not. I actually don't think that's where this is emanating from. I think it's emanating from a, people ignoring the fact that we are all biased. The folks who walk around saying, "I'm not biased. I'm not racist," that's why you have a problem. We are all biased by our experiences. Every single one of us. We can't avoid it. The question becomes are you conscious. This is where I think in a corporate setting it becomes a challenge. [inaudible 00:23:46] clear personally, Jeff said to you, the African American on his team, said to our chief diversity officer, celebrating the second African American female VP in the company's 140 year history, she's retiring, so we were celebrating her. One of the things I talked about was, if you want to understand engagement for African Americans, in my space, I can pick up the phone and call them and tell you what that is.

That gives you a perspective of two things. One is there's a level of consciousness that you have in a corporate environment that never goes away. I can tell you, every day, African American male, 20 hours a day, conscious. When I drive, [inaudible 00:24:40], 2006 Land Rover, I'm conscious that I'm African. When I walk through the doors of my office, I'm conscious that I'm an African American male. You ask why am I conscious? Because of life. I [inaudible 00:24:55] a difference. Many of my colleagues are not conscious about that type of thing. It impacts who you are, what you do. In one way, that consciousness allows me to create the right environment for of inclusion for others who are not like me in the teams that I'm a part of. I would challenge us to say, if you're not conscious, whatever [inaudible 00:25:20]. You can take that from the corporate setting, you can take that to the street. 

Maybe I'll close my comment with this example. I'll go back, I've been with Lily now, Lily [inaudible 00:25:37] family for 24 years. About 22 years ago, I was a sales rep. I was working in Tampa, Florida. I went to Baskin Robbins after working out, of course. You go work out, then you go to Baskin Robbins. [inaudible 00:25:55] is one of my best customers, I mean, we always sit down spend a ton of time together. We talk about our families. There he is, with his wife and his kids, who I know their names because we talked about them. I speak, he jumps back. He's startled. He puts his arms out in front of his family. Why? Because I was dressed in workout gear. I looked like just an average black dude off the street. This is what it feels like. That doesn't go away just because I'm a VP on Jeff's team. It doesn't go away at all.

When you start to say, "Well, how does this happen?" You take that out into the street. You take that out into others. If you're not conscious, if you don't recognize like Galatians 6:2, "Bear one another's burdens." If we don't take that view of things, then we will continue to have a world that is intercepting of people who are not like us. That's where we need to step back and say, "How can we change things."

Ed McGruder:

Jeff, I wanted to go back to that question as well. This is Ed. This was around is it wrong that I may feel like I'm racist, or something of that nature. I think it's not that feeling of fear or the lack of consciousness or the bias that's the problem, as Tony said. It's what you do next.

Here's a Godly example. There in Matthew, we see Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, and at that moment, he said you know he wanted the cup to pass by him. He did not want to go to [inaudible 00:27:33]. He said, "My father, if it's possible, may this cup be taken away from me." That was, if Christ can have anxiety and uncertainty as we may and I have on some of these issues in terms of fear, anger, and some of those things, it's not the fact that I had those feelings, it's what comes next and how I act on that. If you continue in that scripture, he says, "Yes, not my will, but thy will." That tells me, as a believer it tells me, it's okay to be angry or have feelings of difference, and as Tony said, everybody has bias. However, what's most important is, from a Godly perspective, is what do you do next. 

I think for me, that model of Christ is the way I've been trying to do my best to work through these situations, is to say, "Yeah, I have these deep feelings. I have fear and I have anger and all those things. What is it my father, what is the mission he has for me?" The mission he had for Christ was to die on the cross for our sins. What's the mission for Ed McGruder? What's the next step? Maybe it's to be on this phone call.

Chris Wilburn:

That's awesome.

Jeff Simmons:

Let me build on that and I'll open up here for a couple more questions. I want to build on Ed's. What do you believe God wants us to do? What's he want us to see? What are you guys, as families, as you're praying about this and translating this, what's [inaudible 00:28:54] this is what God is leading you to do or act on? Chris?

Chris Wilburn:

You know, for me, it's simple. I mean, we talk you know, all of the pursuits of riches. We talk about all the pursuits of our education. We talk about pursuits of relationships. God tells us clearly in Romans 8, we mentioned it before, he wants us to conform to his image. He sent us his son. I mean, how awesome is that? We talk about our families. I heard about Ed and Tony's wives and their kids and you guys heard about my kids and my family. I can not tell you how much I love them, but I would be very, very leery of offering them as a sacrifice for anybody, but God gave us his son. He gave us his son for a reason. For me, I think that God wants us to be conform in his image. He wants us to take on a posture of humility. I mentioned it before. In Proverbs talks about when pride comes, comes disgrace, then goes on to say, "But with humility comes wisdom."

The thing is, that I feel that for me, at this place in my life, what God wants me to do, and what has been constantly resonating in my conversations with my wife is stay put. Stay where you are right now and do his work. I tell you, the interactions that I have with people, they're tough. They're tough conversations and they're tough interactions. I'm around a lot of things that affect me personally, they affect my family, my wife, my kids, because of the negativity in this hand. You know, this is what's been prevalent in my mind is just to be conformed in his image.

You know, we have to take God at his word. I think I read about Kevin D Young taking God at his word. I would highly recommend it. We really have but a few moments, as opposed to in relationships, to an eternity, right? 80 years compared to an eternity is really a blink of an eye. The time that I have on this earth, I don't know when I'll be called, I don't know the day or the hour, but I want to do good while I have life in me, right? My interactions with people are meaningful. 

You said before when people ask, you started off in meeting Jeff there, like you said you start off all your meetings, "How's everybody doing?" The question is, do we really mean it? Do we really mean it when we ask people how they're really doing? If they tell us they aren't doing well, it's like, Jeff I know you and you're a Christian guy, you're an outstanding guy, and you really are concerned about people. You guys who are on the phone, I don't know you, but you're going to be working in corporate America in hospitals and practices, in attorney's offices, in government, and this is where it counts. This is where we start really sharpening one another as believers. 

That's it, Jeff. That's all I have right now. [crosstalk 00:32:04]

Jeff Simmons:

Good, good. Let me open up other questions. Anybody else want to jump in? Then we got a couple to close here with. Any other questions before we move into action?

Adam:

Hey, guys. This is Adam Aukerman. Can you hear me okay?

Jeff Simmons:

Absolutely. Go ahead, Adam.

Adam:

Yeah, hey. I overheard one of you talk about having a conversation recently with a woman who was asking questions about what it's like as a white person to parent African Americans. My wife and I are in the process right now of adopting two African American males and they're five and eight years old. I think I've grown up in, you know, in culture where I'm oblivious in a lot of ways to race. I'm realizing just in the last six weeks since they've been placed in our home, that that's no longer good enough, that I have to be aware. I just wanted to ask is there any advice you have for me as somebody who's jumping in and having a diverse family? What do I need to know to raise two African American males?

Chris Wilburn:

May I say something, and I promise I'll be brief here? Adam, that's an outstanding, and I commend you. There are multiple organizations. My wife and I are part of Safe Families. We take kids in throughout the year who would otherwise be wards of the state, et cetera. 

Here's the story. There was a friend of mine who adopted two girls from the Congo. It was Halloween and she was taking their kids trick or treating. She has three boys and the two girls from the Congo were making the family have five kiddos. She's trick or treating with her other biological kids and she has her two daughters and they ring a doorbell of a home and a woman whispers in her ear, "I don't know who those girls are. I don't know who they belong to, but here." Basically, it was an insulting comment and she was mortified.

The reality of it is that what you're about to do and the landmines that you're going to navigate are going to be challenging for you as a family. It's going to be challenging for you to raise a man and to raise a boy, and then an African American kiddo. I would encourage you to reach out to people that you trust, not just in your church, but in your neighborhood, African American men, they can be coaches, that you can have a dialog with. Just kind of be open. Be receptive. It's challenging raising kids anyway, but you and your wife are doing some outstanding work here. I believe that having conversations with people that you otherwise would not are good starts.

Tony Ezell:

I would agree with it. I think the first is obvious. Raise them to be God-fearing, God-like children. That basis is going to take them through everything. I know that goes without being said. Then the next thing I'd say is probably going to sound the opposite of what you would expect to hear, but I would say, do not expect that you're going to be able to create experiences that make it the same. That would be impossible. That won't happen. You can create exposure and experience. That's what I think Chris was alluding to, is that there are multiple organizations, whether it's getting them involved in organizations like Jack and Jill or something that's associated with the ministry and the church where they can start to learn through some of the cultural elements of it that ...

I think if you were to say, "How can I ensure," I don't think that's possible. It's like having our kids understand what it's like to mow the lawn today. It's something that was ages ago. I would really encourage you to look for different avenues, leadership development programs for African American youth, things like that that can create a different level of, what I would say, exposure.

Jeff Simmons:

Okay, I want to move to ... I have room for one more question here at the end. Let me move to vision and action. I know you three guys. You are, you're on the positive side, not the negative side. The glass is half full. There's always a future that is better. Cast us a vision that creates some hope for us. Then we'll move from vision to action. I'll give you guys kind of a minute each. Tell us what you see in the future. What can be? Whether it's in our little world, your world, whatever. Cast us a vision here. What's the future look like if it's better.

Ed McGruder:

Jeff, that's a great question. This is Edward. Here's what I would say. Again, go back to the word. Second Chronicles 7th chapter, 14th verse, and we hear this when my son and other people's sons and daughters say, "What is going on?" For those of us who are believers, here's the word. "If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves," and I heard Chris talk about humility quite a bit tonight. I agree with that. "And pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land."

What I love about God, if you're looking to the promises of God, he basically says, "Hey, Jeff, this is what, if you all will do this, then I will do that." His word never comes backward. He always does what he will say.

I simply, in terms of vision for the future that's very positive, I believe that if we will do these things that he asks, that he will forgive our sin and then heal our land. That's across all, everybody's heart, everybody's vices, everybody's challenges and concerns. To me, it's in the scripture.

Chris Wilburn:

Wow, that's awesome. I will take this, and I totally echo that sentiment too, pastor. I'm reminded, and I'm trying, forgive me if my memory, I'm not as quick on the take as you are. First Peter 3:8, says, "Finally, all of you be like minded. Be sympathetic. Be compassionate. Be humble." Loving one another obviously is a hard thing to do. When people don't look like you, they don't talk like you, they don't have your background, they aren't accustomed to your styles, et cetera. 

I think a good action item for us, not just the humility component, but like we said before, that resonated with me, be comfortable being uncomfortable, guys. Be provocative in your questions. Stay hungry, and not a physical hunger, but a spiritual hunger. Stay hungry after the word, after God. Study those tenets and precepts.

Then, for me, my action item would be seek understanding. There are people who's lives guys, let me tell you, who have come from broken homes, who've seen their parents get killed, who've seen their loved ones addicted to narcotics, who have never made over $20,000 a year, who don't eat three meals a day, who live in 200 square feet homes, who have all sorts of health issues. Guys, when we seek understanding and we can look at people, not as somebody who's all, "You just need to pull yourselves up by the bootstraps." That's impossible to physically pull yourself up by the bootstrap. When we seek understanding, and we look at people as God's children, and that they came from somebody, they were a child once, then I think our hearts will be moved.

Tony Ezell:

Here, here.

Ed McGruder:

First of all, let me just say, it's hard going behind both of you brothers. I think you've laid it out so clearly in terms of vision. I thank you for blessing us with those words. I'll take an approach that's slightly different and mabye a tad bit simpler. Many, many years ago, earlier in the 21 years of marriage with my wife, I told her, "Look, this is really simple. We'll have the best marriage ever if we can do these things. One, I think about and understand you, and take care of your needs. You think about and understand me, and take care of my needs. Neither one of us has to worry about ourselves." That's really straight out of the bible. Philippians 2:3-4. It is all about us focusing on someone else. When you think about not being selfish, your humble, when you value others more than you value yourself, that's really what it's about.

Chris Wilburn:

I agree. Totally agree.

Ed McGruder:

If you do that, if you do that, then you won't be thinking about your own self interest, you'll be thinking about others. That is God like. That would be my vision. My vision would be, we start thinking about others. We're not thinking about ourselves selfishly. If we can take care of our brothers, we can take care of our sisters, we're thinking that every day, and everyone's thinking that every day, then none of us really have to be so concerned about ourselves. That would be my vision. If we can do that, I think we can certainly start to heal. It's going to take a lot for that to happen, though.

Chris Wilburn:

Absolutely. Here, here.

Jeff Simmons:

Here, here. Well, hey, I don't think there's a better way to end than those last three sets of comments. We could go on. I know there's a lot of people that have questions. Don't hesitate through edge to send them in to Dave and Dante. We're more than welcome to get them answered, get you connected with these guys. A special thanks to Tony, Ed, and Chris, for what you guys have done tonight. I'll end with a couple challenges and then one little piece of information.

I told you this call got initiated by a conversation with Tony. My challenge is in maybe the remaining 10 minutes of this hour, you take a couple minutes and think about what can you do. I think there's three buckets here that were touched on tonight. One is you and God and seeking him. Two is the conversations. How can you go out and have, I'm going to challenge you, three, four conversations, and take them in a better and a different place than I did initially with Tony. Initiate them, talk about them, and I would also encourage you, if you're a white Caucasian male or female, go have a conversation with your brothers and sisters that are African Americans or Hispanic. Go somewhere uncomfortable. Get uncomfortable. Have the conversations.

The third bucket is do something bold. There's a lot of big leaders on this phone. My challenge is do something significantly different. We're working on something right now in [Elanko 00:43:15] to say, "Hey between Nice and Dallas and across the board, the world is hurting. Let's be a company that proactively creates a dialogue and touches many employees on a routine basis every two weeks." How do we do that? We got a team working on that right now because of what we've been seeing on the TV. What are you going to do boldly?

Prayer with God, personal actions and conversations, and a bold action. That's my recommendation.

I end with this, and I'll turn it to Dave for the final prayers. Anyone that wants to know a little bit more about Edge, you're more than welcome to just jump on the website or reach out to Dave. I would also welcome and invite, we are having an Edge X conference. Four hours, four keynote speakers. The author of Essentialism, the author of, I think one of the boldest authors, Christian authors, Mark Batterson, that's written The Prayer Circle, and Bob Goff that's written Love Does. We've got another sharp female entrepreneur as well. That is on October 7th. I would tell you, anyone that wants to send me a personal email, the first kind of 20 that send in, I got you and another ticket. I'd love you to join us in kind of our section for that conference. My email is jnsimmons@me.com. First 20 or so, I got tickets are on me for you and somebody you'd want to bring to the conference. Love any other thoughts or questions directly to me after this call. 

Hey, thank you. Hopefully you're a little sharper, you're a little bit more provoked to thought. There's one big insight that's come out of this for you all. Again, a special thanks to the guests that joined us tonight. Dave Neff, I'll ask you to end us in a quick prayer.

Dave Neff:

Yes sir. Dearly father, we just thank you for this gathering tonight, for using Ed and Chris and Tony and Jeff just to guide us in a dialog here. God, we would ask that you would get us all comfortable being uncomfortable. May we be quick to listen and slow to speak and to be humble, and to, as Chris said, to wake up and calibrate our spirits daily. Just to be self-aware and to put others' needs ahead of our own and to bear one another's burdens, God. As we leave here tonight, may you just stir in all of us a desire to do something bold and to initiate conversations and to really be engaged in what's going on around us and to not let life pass us by, God. Pray for courage for those on the call and those that couldn't be on. May your favor just continue to be on these men that joined us tonight and all the other men out there, and women, that are going through these things, God. We love you, we praise you. In Jesus' name, amen.

Chris Wilburn:

Amen.

Tony Ezell:

Amen.

Ed McGruder:

Amen.