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MGAC Inner Voices: Episode 6

MGAC Inner Voices is an interview format podcast where a diverse mix of employees are interviewed to share their perspective on challenges they have faced in the A/E/C industry as a result of their identity—including race, ethnicity, religion, age, gender, sexuality, ability, etc. By discussing the experiences of our staff, our hope is that their stories will have newfound and powerful resonance with the audience—both to comfort others in similar situations and to encourage those in positions of power to bring about positive, actionable changes to workplace environments for all A/E/C professionals, regardless of their identity.

Beth Scully (MGAC Senior Project Manager, Seattle) sits down with Jason Bell (MGAC Senior Project Manager, DC) to talk about defying stereotypes before they take root, the onus of cultural education, and issues with the “race card.”


Transcript

Beth: Hi, welcome to "MGAC Inner Voices," a podcast where we endeavor to dig into issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the architecture, engineering, construction industry. I'm Beth Scully, I'm based in Seattle, Washington. I'm a senior project manager. We want to say, we're not experts in all things diversity, equity, and inclusion. You're listening to two people having a conversation about our lived experiences in the hopes that as we share our thoughts and stories, they will offer hope and help as a catalyst for further thought on a subject. We hope that exploring issues of DEI, we can create better outcomes for all of us in the AEC industry and beyond. Today, we'll be chatting with Jason Bell, a senior project manager in Washington, D.C. So welcome in, Jason, to our podcast.

Jason: Thank you very much.

Beth: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself for our listeners?

Jason: Sure. Thank you very much for the kind introduction. My name is Jason Bell. I live here in Washington, D.C. I've been in the construction industry for 18 years, longtime career construction development guy and I absolutely love it. Have a wife and two children and lived kind of across the country. Been in D.C. for several years, but also lived down in Atlanta, Georgia, Virginia Beach, California in the Bay Area growing up until I was about 13,14. Then again, for five years when my wife and I got married and had our children before deciding to move back to the East Coast. So been all around and definitely a lifer in the construction industry, I believe. So, excited to be here.

Beth: This is gonna be fun, friend. You ready to get right to it?

Jason: Absolutely. Let's dive in.

Beth: So let's just start, how has your identity as an African American male affected you in your professional spaces? Have you experienced discrimination from potential employers? Let's start there.

Jason: Sure. It's hard to say on the potential employer's part, you know, you apply to jobs and sometimes you just don't get them. And I like to believe that in those cases, I just wasn't the right fit or didn't have the particular experience that they were looking for. So not knowingly have I ever experienced any kind of discrimination and, you know, from a potential job point of view. My experience has been more probably, and I want to put this in the right context, I just say prejudice or assumptions about who I was or my background, perhaps, that I had to overcome more than, you know, outright, blatant discrimination. But I think that that aligns to your first kind of question, how do I perceive those stereotypes about African American males and African Americans in general and how I have tried to, in my own way, combat them or head those often negative stereotypes, cut them off before they have a chance to take root in any kind of perception about how I operate or my capabilities. These things, they do have a real effect on how people act and interact, so I think that it's important that we have these kinds of conversations to really give people who maybe don't have that experience, a look into how people act and try to learn so that we don't repeat similar mistakes going forward. This is an honest attempt to learn and have these conversations. So that's really why I'm here and decided to take this opportunity to have this conversation.

Beth: You know, immediately, I already want to explore something. You've identified that you can see a path towards a stereotype and heading those off at the past. Can you talk a little bit about that, what you've experienced in that arena?

Jason: Sure. So I think that one of the common conceptions about African Americans, and African American males probably in particular, is that we're, you know, maybe overly aggressive or intimidating in any kind of way. Or perhaps there's affirmative action higher or something like that, that people try to put down your accomplishments or change who you are as a person solely based on the way you look. There are a lot of unique things about people that aren't on full display when you first meet them. Having different colored skin is not something that you can hide, those things are relevant and in your face, quite literally and figuratively, when you first meet people so, you know, to kind of speak to that angry or aggressive stereotype, right? You know, I tried to, and I think this is kind of how I am, but I am especially conscious of it anyway. You know, I'm not a yeller or a screamer or a bully in any shape or fashion. That's not how I choose to operate, that's not how I am. That can be good and bad, there's a lot of testosterone in real estate and construction industry. So that level of intensity often has to be matched when you're having a discussion or disagreeing with somebody, which inevitably will happen. I am very conscious of taking my time, keeping my cool, letting the facts kind of dictate how I engage. When it comes time to correct somebody, you know, I try to do it in a voice much like I'm talking to you right now. I just speak to them, you know, directly, look them in the eye and all those kinds of things. I'm a professional, I present that way because that's who I am. So I kind of take that known stereotype and I instantly try to extinguish it. So I am extremely conscious of how I am perceived and how I come off. And speaking about that kind of affirmative action role or implication, right, I don't want that to be on the table at all in terms of people having that perception that that's a way for less qualified people to advance and take advantage of a system and that's not who I am at all. I want to show that I am operating at a high level at all times and that my work, and my product that I produce, and the relationships are unquestionably good, that's the kind of image that I work hard to maintain and present outwardly. So, you know, there are some steps that I consciously take to make sure that those things are just taken off the table.

Beth: I wonder, have you ever faced discrimination from employers or supervisors? Was it there but not known? What has been your experience in that area?

Jason: Sure, sure. So where these things sometimes show themselves are less in, out and out, you know, just kind of disrespect or saying, "Oh, well, you can't do that because of who you are," anything like that. I talked about the perception or the way that I address things. I've seen white men, white women, other races where that kind of style, because it tends to be ingrained in a lot of places within the industry, those people who are yellers and screamers are jerks, for lack of a better term, advanced and get placed and move up. And their work product isn't any better than mine, but I think that those people who are in management faces and leaders kind of can't always recognize my style and juxtapose that with the fact that I look different. So that's already two differences. And so they can't see themselves often in somebody who doesn't look like them so they can't recognize when they are doing the right things. And I think that sometimes that that is a perception that I've had to deal with. I talk about, you know, my calm demeanor, and how I address things, and all that kind of stuff, that sometimes can be seen as a negative, like, "Jason's not engaged." Right? Because I'm listening and not talking. I'm not trying to get my point, you know, I'm not trying to make myself the center of the attention or have my viewpoint be the end-all-be-all, right? I'm more reserved than that, I had somebody once describe me as being cerebral, which I guess is a compliment. But that perception can be turned around against you because, "Oh, well, he's not a leader because he's not jumping up and down and screaming," right, "he doesn't have the tools to do some of these things." And I think that those kinds of perceptions have sometimes maybe held me back from being recognized for...not saying I'm perfect or having some flaws, but now being said, "Okay, well, he's not up to level because he's not doing these things the way that I have done them or the way that I can't see how I can relate to him and help him do these things." It's always, it's like a weird imbalance or difference in the way that I get sometimes treated.

So I can't particularly talk to one situation where I felt like I was directly threatened, but there have been times where I feel that co-workers, supervisors, you know, other outside consultants, for whatever reason, feel like they can't relate or maybe they overthink it in the other direction, like, "Okay, well, this is somebody who's different or whatever." And, really, it's those kinds of things are completely unnecessary. We're all professionals in this industry. One of the good things about this industry, in general, is your worth is very much in the equity of your work. How long have you been doing what you've been doing? How many projects have you done like this? The people who, in general, who move up, are there because they've done the work, they know what they're doing and they know how to do it. So those types of perceptions, more or less, they start to go away a little bit as you continue to move up and I think for that reason, those kind of instances seem to come fewer and farther apart as I become more senior, but they don't go away completely. And you'll find times where people are unnecessarily awkward, extremely awkward with you, with me, where there's really no need to be in that position. It's more of a inability sometimes to relate, maybe that's the best way to say it. It's just as easy as talking to me like I'm talking to you right now.

Beth: Mind-boggling isn't it, friend? We're just humans, we're doing great work together. And yet, you've spoken of an awkwardness that is still there, which is why we're having this very conversation to say, "Why is that awkward?" And what can we do to overcome, and challenge, and get underneath it and really have these conversations? So I'm wondering, have you experienced those kind of moments with clients? How have you handled that? And how can your colleagues be allies to you when it surfaces?

Jason: Sure, if a client had an issue with me or was discriminatory against me, I think I've been fortunate, I'd say, that my work has been able to speak for itself in terms of the quality of the work, my ability to have good conversations with people and relate to them so as to put those things at ease. My demeanor has been able to put those kind of things at ease, you kind of already mentioned it, you know, your co-workers tend to be your best allies, in that they spend a lot more time with you to work on a myriad of different projects and go out to lunch with you or you have team bonding and you go out to have drinks or whatever, they know you personally on a level that others don't. So they can speak to your ability, speak to the type of person that you are, and really defend you and advocate for you when you're not in the room. In a lot of places, you don't see folks that look like me, folks that look like, you know, some other traditionally or historically marginalized groups, you don't often see those folks in upper-levels of leadership and management. And everybody knows there are conversations that happen behind closed doors at the C-suite level, etc, etc. Who is going to get promoted, who's going to move on this job, that job, this, and the other. You'd like to think that you have people in that room who know your role, know the work that needs to be done, also know who you are and the type of person that you are. You want to be on that list, you want to be recognized for the work that you do, you want to be given opportunity to do more work and expanding work. And when it comes to a time because it happens all the time, where somebody needs to go out or maybe they need to take a bigger step, a promotion or what have you, a more difficult project maybe they've handled before, you need somebody who's in there and can advocate and say that, "Jason can do it." And not even from a sense of, "We need to have Jason do it because he's as a black man or whatever." But to say, "Jason has the skills to do the work. And yes, it may be a "risk" but I know the type of work and the type of person that he is, I know he can address it and handle it." And those are the kinds of people that you want on your team that take the kind of color out of it and see you as the person that you are, which is everybody's goal, I believe. You know, I think that the color part comes into it more on a social interaction kind of level. And that's a little bit different than if you just focus on the ability to do the work, that's a completely different conversation.

Beth: Yeah, I mean, we all just really at the end of the day, we want to be judged on the merits of our work, right?

Jason: Absolutely.

Beth: Yeah. Let's talk about a couple of keywords that you'd like to chat about. And I'll begin with the race card. What are your thoughts around this?

Jason: I don't like it, at all. And I don't like it because it's become, like, if you think about playing cards, it's like a joker or something, you know, some kind of wild card that just you have and you can play it and all of a sudden you win some kind of... I just really just despise the term. And again, I think, and I said this to you, the perception is that that is, like, the cards you play when you don't have anything else to use or the first place you go when you feel like you've been maybe passed over for something that you felt like you deserved. And it's really, in my experience, the last place that anybody goes because, like you talked about wanting to be recognized for the merits of your work, right? Everybody has their, hopefully, a positive opinion of themselves and what they can do. When you get disappointed, or you're turned down for whatever, or you're having a hard time talking or connecting with somebody, you do go through all this kind of checklist like, "Well, did I present this point well? Was I prepared?" You go through all these things to make sure that your work, first and foremost, was right, or that you presented yourself in a professional manner, or that you didn't do anything else to cause discomfort, or disconnect, or outright rift between you and whoever. And then when you've exhausted all of that, and in your own mind, at least, you've kind of thought through what you produced, and everything seems, like, unquestionably good, you start thinking, "Well, what else could it be?" Sometimes you just don't feel like it's fair, it's not a good feeling to think that despite your best efforts that something that you have absolutely no control over is going to hit you right between the eyes. And that is a very tough pill to swallow. And that's why I think it does stay kind of as the last thing that you want to pull out. Because it's like, man, it's so unfair and it's so out of your control that it makes you angry to even have to think to go there.

Beth: Yeah. And, you know, you're so thoughtful and so deep and you're always examining, did you put your best work forward? But, you know, again, there is history in this country. And there is the existence of unconscious bias. And whether we want to outright say the race card or whatever, the presence of unconscious bias, which is, again, why we're having this conversation, hopefully, folks who haven't checked themselves on the regular to say, "Do I have unconscious biases? And how do I explore that?" And the discomfort of holding that space and going deep there so that we grow as humans and we start to really chip away at removing this. That it's just a matter of being judged on the content of your work, right? Again.

Jason: Absolutely.

Beth: So we have another word, friend, the burden. Shall we chat about the burden? What is the burden? And what are your thoughts on the burden?

Jason: The burden, in the way I'm using it, is kind of acknowledging the cultural differences and the history of the country and knowing the way that past experiences have influenced the present and continue to influence the present. We have an opportunity that as we work with these things in the present, that we have a different type of future, that kind of burden seems to fall mainly on marginalized people, people of color to essentially prove that these things do exist. Juneteenth becomes a national holiday. I've known about Juneteenth since I was 9, 10. And I didn't learn it in school, I learned it from my parents and my friends of my family. African Americans had been celebrating Juneteenth for a very long time and what history has taught, what history has known. This stuff, it continues to happen and show its head. So when you talk about knowing those things and putting those kinds of things in context, why should I be the only one who kind of knows that and acknowledges that and let that influence how I am working in the world? That was a known event, and yet, if you polled a lot of people, and I'm including African Americans, people of color, etc., it's not something that's taught in school, it has to be taught outside of the classroom, or you have to go seek, gain that knowledge yourself. If every high schooler had that kind of context, you know, before they went out of their little bubble in high school and went to college where you're definitely going to be exposed to new people and new ideas, and they go out into the world where you're no longer, maybe those things wouldn't be passed as often if they had some context and some history and some knowledge of those things. And it's difficult to have those kinds of difficult conversations and make changes that will lead to kind of improved relations unless the majority acknowledges that there's a problem and is willing to do the work to fix it.

If you look on social media, a lot of people, a lot of African Americans are like, "Okay, that's good, but that's not what we asked for. It wasn't a part of any kind of agenda." It's nice to have acknowledgment, but it doesn't really move the needle. Without the history, without the knowledge, without the context, it's just a day. And people too often take, you know, it's just a day off. It could be another reason to have a sale, you know, comes up for some commercial holiday and now it doesn't mean anything. It's almost like, I want to be acknowledged, but I'd rather just have the day to reflect...the country should reflect on what this really means, 1776 to 1867. What's freedom? And I think that's a difficult conversation and that probably affects a lot of people's perception of how they view, you know, the country, or maybe not. But it's relevant in the way that a lot of people feel. They have all these high aspirations and statements about what the country is and when it doesn't live up to that, it causes, and this is anybody, causes anybody to question or get angry about what that reality means. People will have a reaction like, "Well, now I've got to celebrate Juneteenth? Does that mean that I can't celebrate the 4th of July?" No, it's just something else to put in your head. That's something that happened, it really happened. And it shows a symptom of something that has happened in the country and continues to happen. You know, what about things that really make a difference? Like I said, education, why aren't we teaching this in the school? Why is it such a surprise?

Beth: Why do people have to google this? And I would suggest that there's a whole history that has never been acknowledged that is not taught today in schools of the African American experience in this country. And it's not taught as part of history, it is not yet in the books. Some of the horrible atrocities that have happened that led to, and I'm with you, friend, it's like there's a whole lot of history that is not being taught, people don't know it. And we have so much work to do yet to get it into the books.

Jason: Yeah, you talk about representation. You know, there's a rightful reverence and interest in, like, World War II, fighting the good fight against something that's unquestionably evil. World War II also, it's like in the strategy and all that happens, and all the stories, it's amazing. But then you go back and you look at pictures of the people who were fighting the war. And if you look at all the famous pictures, all white males. But there were definitely African Americans serving, some of them in my family. But they were relegated to positions of, either, for the most part, quartermasters, cooks, you know, deck-hands if you're on a boat. Those African American men existed, they fought, and then they came home and they were still second-class citizens. So not only do you get the disrespect kind of in your face when you come home, but now you're not even talked about in the history books. Now you're not in all those epic war movies. Now you're not represented for life, for eternity as having participated in a World War as part of the United States. How does that lack of recognition change your perception of the war and of the promise of the United States?

Beth: Well, I mean, let's be clear, that is a truth for every war that this country is engaged in. It is not like African American males were not contributing and, in fact, leading some of those efforts, and yet they're not represented. Let's talk about the comfort in sharing these kinds of things and recommending solutions.

Jason: I'm glad that this forum exists. I'm glad that this is something that people want and have an interest in learning about this knowledge. This is something that's going to be used in a genuine manner. Is there genuine interest in it? Is this something that, you know, people are going to say, "Oh, wow, that's great. Thanks for your story," then move on and don't do anything with it? Is it something that people are just doing for the fight, for the look of it? Is this something that is really going to be taken seriously and something's going to be done with it? Or is your experience going to be just used for people to feel good about...? There's a level of trust that comes with being honest and open.

Beth: So how do we calibrate and measure our progress? Or if we're treating it like that, how do we ensure that this doesn't just become another blip where we acknowledged, we said, "Yeah, okay, tick. We acknowledged, we spoke about it, game over." Because we certainly know, we're nowhere close to game over on this topic, or, you know, there are so many things for us yet to tackle. And so, I'm curious your thoughts about how do we measure and how do we ensure that we're kicking it forward?

Jason: I'm gonna punt on the how do we measure and I would focus on how do we maintain it? The more you talk about something, the more you learn, the deeper the questions get, the more interest is gained, etc., etc. Now you start seeing all these different things and you start going in different directions. If you don't have a kind of a company or a workgroup, whatever, goal, and a plan, and a method to bring these things in and bring these issues to the consciousness of the workplace, it's going to be a blip on somebody's radar. There's more of a desire to having these kinds of conversations, it's got to start somewhere. Lots of companies started to hire chief diversity officers, that's a permanent position that is essentially helping craft the culture of the office of the workplace such that the company is successful, let's not be naive in thinking that companies don't want to do the best they can and will take whatever opportunity they can to, you know, get the best talent, be the best version of themselves. It doesn't have to be hitting, you know, banging somebody over the head with it. Just a consistent plan to recognize and for people to check their preconceived notions as it relates to the work because we spend so much time at work, especially Americans, it's one of the best places to reach people. Need to maintain consistency, need to maintain and have a plan to make it just a part of business at your company. To make sure that people see different perspectives, people of all shades and all backgrounds represented at all levels of the company, and make sure that the merit in terms of work is what is driving people up, down, left, right within the organization to help remove the boys club or the girls club and whatever kind of silo that you're in within the organization. I think it's really about creating access and maintaining access to have the conversations to bring education to your company, maybe a little bit of metrics to kind of look at maybe your workforce and say, like, "How closely does my workforce resemble the United States? How does my C-suite look?" When I was applying for this job, when I was looking for this job and I was going on any potential company's website, I'd look at what the composition of the company was in the C-suite and the leaders. There was a job that I would apply to, looked great on paper. I went to the page and they had a lot more than just the C-suite. And I didn't see one person of color, period. At all.

Beth: Not one.

Jason: And they had a lot of people listed on the website. And it was, like, wow, how does this happen? Because I know, I know that there are people of color everywhere. And I know there are people of color and minority groups and in every walk of life, in every profession. And I got a call back to, like, apply. And by the time they got to me, I was like, "No, thank you." To be in a position where you are clearly different is so intimidating and I think that that is something, again, that people in the majority don't have to often think about. Almost everywhere I've worked, many places I've worked, I've been the only African American that's in a position of leadership and management on the job. It's a feeling that takes getting used to, to feel like people have all these eyes on you and feel like they're first judging you and perceiving you even if they aren't, you start to notice your own differences. Now, you're either acting unlike yourself to try and fit in, or you are unwilling to show people maybe who you are for fear of becoming even more different and being more on the outside. It's an odd feeling, there's a level of confidence. And like I said, some of those steps that you take to make sure that you are accepted for who you are without necessarily compromising who you are or hurting your opportunities to advance, because that's what everybody wants to do. Everybody wants to continue to advance, okay.

Beth: It's an impact on your personal safety, right? All of those things impact your feeling of personal safety within an organization. And to that end, you know, I'm wondering, let's explore what the greater big picture impact of this kind of treatment behavior and discrimination beyond a specific event itself, what is the greater big picture impact in your mind?

Jason: In my particular experience, you know, being perceived as not engaged or not able to have the ability to lead or to take action, being hesitant or whatever, when what I'm doing is thinking through a topic or making sure that I have my stuff in order, the way that I act. Does that somehow signal something to the rest of the company that people like me are going to do the same thing, or maybe aren't in a position to lead? Does that happen? I took myself out of the pool for a potential opportunity, because I didn't see somebody that looked like me on the website. That's twofold, right? That company's search continues and my search continues. Now we're not making a connection based solely on something that I saw, not a perception, that was real. I'd have to make that up. So now you have, potentially, people taking themselves out of places where maybe they thought they could be happier, places where they thought they could contribute, you've taken yourself out of the pool. So in an industry like real estate, construction, all those industries that are traditionally been white men, people have self-segregated themselves so that that industry continues to look like that. What's gonna stop some client or some job that you're chasing, you know, somebody's doing the same thing that I did and say, "Hey, let's take a look at who these people are. Oh, wow, they're very homogenous." Those people who do good work that are outside of the "norm" are out there, they exist. And I think it's in your best interest as a company to have those people on your team, you want that diversity of experience, the diversity of thought, that kind of initial perception can be huge, that can have other ripple effects outside of the industry.

Beth: I'm going to ask you a very specific and personal question, if we can do that. How does your unique identity make you a strong asset to your team and how has it informed who you are professionally?

Jason: I'm an introvert, kind of by nature. But I'm an only child, so I tend to listen and I am perfectly happy kind of being in my own thoughts and I don't need outside influences to necessarily get me going, it comes from inside. Kind of that ability to listen, especially in a client-serving business has always served me well. Say, you know, in a situation where you have a conflict that you need to get resolved, somebody is trying to sell you on what they did and why they did our change order. If you bite your tongue and let them talk, either they're going to prove their point, or they will prove your point for you. That's a tactic, take that flipside. If you're listening to your client and the client has this laundry list of things, they think they want part of our job as managers, and especially managers for owners is to help them realize their vision. And sometimes, people don't know what they want, your job is to come in and say, "Okay, you have these five things that you say you want, but do you really want those five things?" If you're not paying attention, you may take that first thing that they say and just go down that path. But if you take time and listen and let them explain it to you, now you can help them prioritize. When you have that, now your job as a project manager or construction manager, what have you, becomes a heck of a lot easier, because they told you exactly what they want you to deliver and you can help them get there. That makes me a strong asset, I listen. For the most part, my personality hasn't been a detriment in any way now that I've kind of become self-aware, and recognize those things about myself, and how I handle things, and how my personality is a benefit, and where I need to make sure that it doesn't become a hindrance.

Beth: I've got a three-pronged question for you. And I'd like to hear your thoughts on ways that we can impact change in the future, in the AEC industry, at a company level within MGAC, and with our colleagues at MGAC. Do you want to chat first about the AEC industry?

Jason: Somebody has a line out there somewhere, representation matters, you know, a little tagline that makes it easy to remember. But it's true, who are kind of the flag bearers for the industry. There are AEC firms that are led by women, that are led by African Americans, those companies exist and are successful. But do you know about them? How much have you been exposed to them? One of the things that's important is giving those people who have traditionally been marginalized those opportunities, people get risks taken on them all the time to see whether they can perform, and sometimes they will, sometimes they won't. That opportunity to go do new things is something that I think that all industries, but the AEC industry can embrace because there are skilled people within the industry that will continue to stay in the industry if given the opportunity to succeed at a company level, make connections within the community. Show people that these types of jobs exist, you never know what's going to spark somebody's passion. There's a world-renowned HBCU 96 miles from where I'm sitting right now. Go get them. Go get the people that you say you want, they're easy to find, we're all easy to find. Follow through, it's not hard to get somebody in your door. And again, maybe that person that you hire doesn't stay, you never know. But if you don't have those people on your team, then you're not going to have that ability to impact people outside of that sphere.

Beth: It's real.

Jason: It's huge. Go out and get them.

Beth: So what about with colleagues? Let's get down to the granularity.

Jason: There's a level of discomfort that kind of these conversations carry with them, it's important to have those conversations. I think one-on-one is best because it takes some of that discomfort out of it, and have that conversation, which is uncomfortable, but at least you have a level of trust with that person, you know, for both sides. The person that you're asking, a person of color, or a person of different background, they're going to give you an honest answer. And that the person or the person of color, that the person receiving the information is going to actually take it to heart and actually think about it. Actually, acknowledge it. If either of the side isn't honest and isn't prepared to have an uncomfortable conversation, it's not going to be worthwhile. It shouldn't be a spur of the moment thing, there should be some thought behind it. I won't say there's a fine line, but there's a line between ignorance and asking a question that you really don't know the answer to. And it comes out in the way that you craft your question. You know, if you can show the person that has information that you want, that you take what they do seriously, or that you value their opinion. And you also have taken enough interest in what they are doing and the information that you want to gain to have done some work on your own account, wow, they'll tell you the world if you show them that you've tried to understand where they're coming from and show an actual interest and value their opinion in something. Take the time, come up with a series of questions, really drill down on what you want to understand or what you want to know, this is establishing trust, establishing credibility.

Beth: Yeah, I'm thinking about something you said, Jason, because I think it's important to call it out, and address it, and help folks because there are ignorant questions, right? And so my mind went to the place of, I don't think as humans we want to ask ignorant questions, I don't think we want to walk in the world as ignorant people, but where I'm going back to is, perhaps, being thoughtful about not just the what you want to know, but the why you want to know it. And we've touched on this as we've chatted today, there's a whole history that has not been written. Get after that, get after that history, start doing some searching, start doing some digging into what aspects of the African American community are not yet written, are not yet taught. And then, like, let that maybe be a starting point for folks that are really interested in starting a conversation not based on ignorance, but really wanting to relate, and understand, and know the what and the why. Because I think the why is so important, right?

Jason: Yeah, absolutely. People need to be given credit for asking the question. It takes some humility to ask a question that has, you know, thorns on it, that's prickly.

Beth: It's not a light topic. It's not a light topic. This is not just some, "Oh, hey, bud, I was thinking about this the other night," and, you know, like, these are sacred grounds that we're walking on, right? And they need the respect and the honor they are due in order to engage and in order to grow as humans and
just have these conversations. There's still voter suppression, there's still a myriad of things that we've got to overcome. Not the least of which is the young African American men that still cannot walk freely on the streets and not feel safe.

Jason: Yeah, I mean, those kind of things happened to me, you know, personally. I was coming home from college, driving to my parent's house in my dad's car. Plates were in order, registration and all that kind of stuff, no broken taillight, nothing. Coming down route one and a police officer pulls behind me. Lights aren't on, they just followed me. They had been behind me for 5 minutes, 10 minutes. And I pull into my driveway, I get out of the car. The police officers pull up behind me in the driveway. They turn the car so it blocks me being able to drive back out of the driveway. And the officer starts questioning me, "How'd you get this car? Where are you going?" They knew they were at the house where that car's registered. My mom knew I was coming home. She came to the door. When they saw her, they were like, "Oh, oh, this actually...this is your house? You live here?" And the older cop turned to the younger cop and said, "Okay, we're done here." And I have to imagine that the only reason that didn't turn out was because they could see that, yes, I actually did indeed live there. There was no reason for me to be followed home. I didn't get a ticket. They just saw me in a predominantly white area that wasn't "expected" and they decided to check me out, see what was going on. Did I cut somebody off? Was I driving too fast? Was my taillight out? Were my tags not up to date? Is my tint too dark on my car? Like, you go through all these things. Like, what did I do? But then at the end, you've got this gap. Well, what else could it be? And for some people, you don't have to consider that next step. You just say, "Oh, the cop is being a jerk." But I can't believe that. I can't. And I "have that card to play" but who wants to play that card? Playing that card is not on me. That was not my intention. And it was just unfortunate. You've done nothing. And that's your interaction with the police, that informs how you interact with the police going forward. Ask why those kind of things do happen. Maybe because you know me that you know who I am, maybe that carries a little bit more weight. Now, the story of somebody that you know and it's like, "Maybe I can do something so that Jason or somebody else doesn't have to go through this." Right? Now it's personal.

Beth: Right. I mean, these things are real. And I think it's important. It was one of the genesis of this podcast was to make it personal, right? To understand your colleagues' perspective, their experience, because you can work as you're saying, daily, professionally with somebody and not know that when they left work, that evening, they were followed by the police, for no reason. And this is their experience, sadly, probably more than once, and something the way that they have to walk in the world that you're completely unaware of.

Jason: Yes, it's tiring. And again, this is why I talk about the race card, like, no, that's not it. That can't be why, that can't be why I'm treated like that. Like, there's got to be something else. But then when you really dig down, that, that was probably it. That was probably it.

Beth: I want to express to you my gratitude for your courage and your profound presence within MGAC. I'm so grateful to have had this time and just appreciate you so much, sir. Thank you, Jason.

Jason: Thank you very much.

Beth: That concludes this podcast of "MGAC Inner Voices." Thank you so much for joining us and please, check back next month for another episode of "Inner Voices." Until then, take care.

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Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee

MGAC's Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee is a staff-led group that establishes initiatives aimed at encouraging employee conversation around issues of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion including a book club, podcast, calendar of cultural holidays, and more.

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