BY ANGELA JOHNSON
Educator, author and entrepreneur shares how he turned deep personal pain into a purpose-driven enterprise.
The insidious nature of implicit bias, the life-saving value of story-listening and how to start a business while standing in the unemployment line were the salient points of discussion during the recent Black Lives Matter Town Hall meeting on Nov. 20 via Zoom.com.
Derrick Drakeford, Ph.D., the featured speaker who wrote his eighth book titled “Inclusion: The Art of Story-Listening,” demonstrated how all are susceptible to implicit bias and how its harmful and sometimes deadly effects can be mitigated.
“I started my business on the unemployment line,” Dr. Drakeford said.
Dr. Drakeford is the founder and creator of Purpose University, an on- line start-up e-course and app designed to, among other things, connect students to the insights, tools, resources and skills needed to launch and grow a purpose-driven business or enterprise.
At a young age, the CEO of Drakeford, Scott and Associates felt completely lost and deeply hurt by his parents’ divorce. From the pain of being a young Black male who felt lost in society, Dr. Drakeford says he created an educational research and technology firm that was awarded $250,000 in funding from the National Science Foundation.
He kicked off the BLM meeting with a clinical illustration of implicit bias in action. Dr. Drakeford talked about test subjects who were shown photographs of Black men in different social settings. Every picture elicited a fear response from the test subjects.
“But what research is finding is when that same brother shows up at 10 a.m. in a suit for an interview, the same part of the brain, fear, goes off,” Dr. Drakeford said. “‘And I don’t know why but … I feel uncomfortable with this guy’ and he doesn’t get the job. So, it adds to the economic challenges for African American males.”
This is a familiar refrain. Because of widespread racial prejudice, African American men suffer a much higher rate of unemployment than do other ethnic minorities. This scenario plays out time and again because of implicit biases that everyone harbors.
Camille Duncan, administrative assistant to LACC President Mary Gallagher, defined implicit bias as an inner voice that makes you see some people a certain way.
“It’s based on usually how you grew up and the things that you were taught,” Duncan said. “That when you look at someone and already have kind of an idea of how they act or an assumption of the way they will act based on your life experience.”
To drill down on this point, Dr. Drakeford asked everyone in attendance to take the Harvard University Implicit Bias Test. Respondents are prompted to characterize monochrome photos of Black or white faces as bad or good.
While the test results are not definitive, Dr. Drakeford says what they reveal is important.
Jim Lancaster who is vice president of academic affairs said the choices he made in the test were based upon very little.
“For a monochromatic image that only shows a little bit of mouth, nose and the eyes, it really was me going in with my preconceived notions,” Lancaster said.
Other audience members expressed dismay, confusion, annoyance and difficulty with the snap decisions the test forced upon them, which also fed into their implicit biases.
As consumers of thousands of hours of network TV news, Dr. Drakeford says it is easy to get “trapped” by implicit bias.
“Imagine you are a police officer. And you get a call there’s a young Black boy with a gun in the playground,” Dr. Drakeford said. “Now you have a millisecond to make a decision … Without the mental eagerness to story-listen, it’s very easy to hit that wrong button … that wrong button can mean a 12-year-old boy dies.”
Story-listening is the antidote to prejudice, Dr. Drakeford says. It is a mindset that subconsciously tells you when you meet someone different, “I wonder what his or her story is?”
“What our research is saying is that we need to be hungry for the narrative behind the person,” Dr. Drakeford said. “So hungry that we actually want to know their story.”
It is this hunger for knowledge and “eagerness to learn” upon which Dr. Drakeford has built his Inclusion Certificate training course. The course teaches story-listening and cultivates qualitative inquiry skills needed for faculty, staff and administrators to become change agents for inclusion.