But They Don’t Look, Think, or Act Like Me

A group of ten executives representing some of the nation’s most successful companies stood across from ten inmates in one of the nation’s most dangerous prisons. The executives had volunteered to spend the weekend mentoring inmates for a prison entrepreneurship program led by Defy Ventures. Defy is a nonprofit that capitalizes on inmate’s expertise in running criminal organizations by teaching them how to “transform their hustles” into legitimate business enterprises and is one of the most successful prison programs in the nation dropping the recidivism rate from 76.6 percent to 3.2 percent among its graduates.

Standing ten feet apart from each other in two parallel rows, executives lined up shoulder to shoulder on one side, mirrored by the inmates standing across from them. The name of the game was “Step to the Line,” and everyone in the room answered the same questions at the same time. Those who answered yes stepped forward. Those who didn’t stayed in place.

If you had two parents who tucked you in at night and told you they loved you, step forward.

All of the executives stepped forward. None of the inmates did.

If you went to a school where you didn’t fear gang violence, and where you had up-to-date books and technology, step forward.

All of the executives stepped forward. None of the inmates did.

If you had breakfast every day before school and took a packed lunch with you to school, never going through your day on an empty stomach, step forward.

All of the executives stepped forward. None of the inmates did.

If you had more than fifty books in your home, step forward.

All of the executives stepped forward. None of the inmates did.

If you grew up with an immediate family member in prison, step forward.

None of the executives did. All of the inmates did.

If you lost a family member due to gun violence while you were a child, step forward.

None of the executives did. All of the inmates did.

If you were addicted to drugs before the age of twenty, step forward.

Two of the executives stepped forward. All of the inmates did.

We all come from diverse places in life shaped by unique experiences which gives us distinct perspectives. Far too often, we judge those that come from different places and have different experiences and perspectives than we do. Or worse yet, we turn a blind eye to those different places, experiences, and perspectives.We don’t need Defy Ventures to conduct this experiment. This week do one (or all) of the following:

  • Have a conversation with a co-worker or neighbor that looks, thinks, or acts differently than you and that you typically avoid conversations with.
  • Take a field trip to a setting where you are the minority. Document your experience describing your emotions and your reactions.
  • Make a lunch or coffee appointment with someone who comes from a different background than you. Ask questions about their life story and a life perspective that is different from yours.

Ryan

(Defy Ventures story modified from The Third Option by Miles McPherson)

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