This Thanksgiving I’m thankful that my eyes have been opened wide

by jeffhilimire on November 21, 2012

There are so many things for me to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. I have my health. I have an amazing family that I yearn to spend every minute of every day with. I work with some of the most talented and fantastic people I know. I am without question, the luckiest person on the planet.

But there is one thing that I am especially thankful for this year that I didn’t see coming. Not at all.

Nine months ago I was talking to a friend and mentor about whether I should consider getting an MBA or joining an organization like YPO. I was looking for some form of advanced education or learning. Since starting my company when I hadn’t yet graduated from college back in 1998, I have spent little time thinking about how to “build myself” and all my time on building my business.

Without hesitation he said that I should consider applying for Leadership Atlanta. I had heard him talk about the program before but had only lightly paid attention. He said it would change me as a person. Sure. That it would be an experience that I’d never forget and that I would bond with my classmates (there are 80 every year) that would last forever. Right. It was a big time commitment, he said, but you’ll find yourself eagerly anticipating the next all-day session and yearning for more. Uh huh.

But…he had never steered me wrong before. In fact, he is such an important part of my life and I respect him so much that I had little choice but to trust that he was pointing me in the right direction.

Fast forward nine months, and I’m now about 1/3 of the way through the Leadership Atlanta experience. And boy, has it changed me.

First of all, and this was not something I expected, I’m now deeply in love with Atlanta. I want to learn more about its history and, probably more importantly, I want to be a part of its history.

The first program you go through in Leadership Atlanta is Race Awareness Day. The purpose is to expose the class to the causes and current state of racial inequality in a rip-the-bandaid-off kind of way.

I’m now reading books I never thought I’d read. I’m attending events that I never thought I’d be at. Last weekend I went to Oakhurst Presbyterian Church in Decatur because my wife saw that they were having an “Open Forum on Race & Election Results” and suggested it to me. I didn’t know it before I went, but one of the speakers, Representative Tyrone Brooks, is a very accomplished civil rights activist and marched with Dr. King. He has been arrested over 60 times. And he was incredible.

Did I enjoy those two hours? Well, I was supposed to leave after an hour and a half to get back to something, but I stayed the entire two hours and then some, and I have over three pages of notes. I enjoyed it immensly.

I am a white, heterosexual male. I have every advantage. The system is slanted in my direction and, whether I know it or not, I take full advantage of it. I used to not believe that. I used to think that anyone who rolled up their sleeves and worked hard, the way that I have done, could make it and have every chance of success that I have.

I used to resent the rules that said if you were a minority-owned business that you could get special grants and funding. Why should someone else get an advantage over me? I’m working just as hard or harder, yet I’m not eligible for that? I didn’t come from a rich family. I never convinced a bank to loan me money for my business, no matter how many times I tried. Why shouldn’t I have the same privileges?

Oh, how naive I was. I’m learning that I am still naive. But I’m getting better.

So this Thanksgiving…

I AM THANKFUL that I am a white, heterosexual male. Because of that, I can make a different kind of difference. I can try to help those with less advantages than I have – which is everyone – to have equal rights and to be treated fairly and equally.

I AM THANKFUL that I have the resolve in me to be a part of the solution.

I AM THANKFUL that I was pointed in the direction of Leadership Atlanta by my friend and mentor, Ken Bernhardt.

I AM THANKFUL that I am a part of the 2013 Leadership Atlanta class, “the best class ever”, which is composed of a diverse and incredible group of people that inspire and support me seemingly every day.

I AM THANKFUL for that first Race Awareness Day where Al Vivian changed my life forever.

I AM THANKFUL that people like my new friends, Constance and Henrietta, will spend time with me, helping me discover the right path to make a difference.

I AM THANKFUL that I go to a church – Central Presbyterian Church – that fights this fight and has since its creation over 150 years ago, and that we have a pastor that is as passionate about this issue as anyone I’ve met.

I AM THANKFUL that I’m going to raise my children with their eyes wide open.

One final thing. If I listen closely I can hear the unsubscribe clicks from my blog. I know this is not a topic that most people come here to read. Most people that read my blog are probably like I was nine months ago, oblivious to the institutionalized favoritism toward white, heterosexual males. I only ask that you go on this journey with me and be open to hearing more. I’ll still talk about technology and entrepreneurship and marketing, but here and there I’ll be sharing my experiences. And I hope you’re willing to stay with me.

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  • http://twitter.com/a_la_amelia Angie Terrell

    Lovely, Jeff. Just lovely. What a perfect example of how our democratic system should work and how it can enrich the lives of its citizens. BTW – I would love to join you in coming to any of these events in the future!

  • http://www.jeffhilimire.com Jeff Hilimire

    You got it, Ang!

  • http://www.facebook.com/beth.nigro.79 Beth Nigro

    Very nice.

  • Wayt King

    Wow that was amazing! Thanks for sharing it, and happy Thanksgiving!
    Wayt

  • Rick Wingo

    So many of us live in little bubbles of privilege but have no idea that this is the case. Thanks for the wake up.

  • ali albrecht

    Thank you.

  • Al Vivian

    Jeff, “I AM THANKFUL” that I was blessed with the opportunity to facilitate the Race Awareness Workshop with you and Leadership Atlanta’s “Best class ever”. “I AM THANKFUL” that you MADE MY DAY! Thank you my brother for your commitment to
    this cause. Know that God is with you every step of your journey — and so am I.
    If you EVER need any words of encouragement or advice call me. Stay strong, and know that you are not alone. Be blessed. Al Vivian

  • Frank McCloskey

    Jeff, inspirational thoughts. Well done. Thank you.

  • http://www.jeffhilimire.com Jeff Hilimire

    Thank you, Al. And I intend to take you up on the offer to call you as I’m certain I’ll need direction along this journey. Thanks for everything that you do.

  • http://www.jeffhilimire.com Jeff Hilimire

    Thanks for the note, Ali!

  • http://www.jeffhilimire.com Jeff Hilimire

    Thanks for the comment, Wayt. I know you of all people have had this mindset for a long time. I’m happy to finally be “awakened”.

  • Marilyn Muckerman

    Thanks Jeff, somehow stumbled onto our Blog..and have found that I can learn and appreciate based on what I have read thus far. I have a friend/co-worker moving to Atlanta area soon so will forward your URL to her as well b/c I definitely think she would also appreciate your expressed thoughts and aspirations.

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