My friend Dr. Alan Letton is a remarkable man, and cool and fun. He has a PhD in Chemistry and another one in Chemical Engineering, and he was going to get a third one in Mathematics but figured that was enough. His career led into developing continuing education courses for universities, and, due to his leadership in industry, into business consulting on management. He extended this expertise to community groups struggling with issues such as racism.
Because I’m stuck back here in the present day, and three hundred years before my time, I have to add that Alan is an African-American man. Three hundred years in the future that descriptor won’t be so important any more or more than that someone has bigger or smaller ears or narrower or wider shoulders, but right now it is all important.
So on top of everything else Alan is a jazz musician. He’s up in Boston playing a gig. Afterwards he heads towards the subway, red-line. The platform is empty except for four young men of the White Nationalist persuasion. The biggest one of them, presumptively their leader, says, “Well, we are going to have to mess you up because we don’t like your kind around here.”
Now, in recounting this story, Alan said he didn’t know where it came from, but he replied, “Excuse me. Can I ask you a question?” To which the young tough guy replied, “Okay, what?”
Then Alan asks, “Let me ask you…without you really knowing who I am, how can you hate me so much?” This causes a pause. Alan continues, “You like black basketball players and football players, don’t you?” To this, and to their credit, the four youths nod their heads, I guess provisionally, and acknowledge that. Alan continues, “And you like black musicians?” Again he gets a yes, although we must allow there may be a “So what?” attached to or implied in the acceptance. Alan connects the dots: “Well, how can you hate what you don’t know. In another place, we could be sitting at a bar, or our kids could be playing a game together.” They look at him, maybe seeing him for real for the first time, and they say to him, “Alan – you’re alright! We’re not going to mess with you.”
I wasn’t there but I take it that they shared a moment of recognition. Then the next train stop came up and they waved at him and they got off the train. There’s every chance that something important in their lives changed in that encounter.
Dr. Alan Letton originally considered a career as a jazz musician, and cut records and was requested by leading musicians, but his academic abilities led him to take a degree from M.I.T., then to become a professor of mechanical engineering, then Dean of the School of Engineering & Architecture for Tuskegee University. He was also a chief science officer, worked for Dow, for Sealy, and was president of a manufacturing company. He offers training on strategic management and planning and on Diversity, Inclusion and Ethics. He is also a partner in CultureFit2020 which aims to assess and improve corporate cultures.
Alan developed what we regard as a clearly more effective approach than traditional “implicit bias training” courses. The traditional approaches encounter resistance and sometimes have a negative (paradoxical) impact. His method comes from an original angle that is brilliant and effective. If your company, organization or agency has issues of racism and undercurrents and stress or overt problems, you will want to talk with Dr. Letton. Please contact us at R3Results and we will arrange for that.