How to Build a Friendlier Whittier: Interview

How to Build a Friendlier Whittier: Interview

The changing world demands more empathy and more inclusion. When it comes to our neighbors, we accept this as common wisdom. In business, lack of diversity training actually costs money.

“Companies will lose out on talent if they’re not prepared,” Whittier-based educator and consultant Justin Scott Campbell says.

Campbell co-founded 2045 Consulting, LLC with fellow educator, organizer, and Whittierite Carlos Antonio Delgado, to address this need. 2045 refers to the year that the United States’ demographics will shift from majority white to majority non-white. Campbell’s and Delgado’s work helps companies acknowledge these shifting demographics and embed equity as a core component of company culture.

“Having spaces that aren’t just diverse but are also inclusive–where people of diverse backgrounds feel safe to be themselves and to show up and be creative–becomes a competitive advantage,” Campbell says.

Campbell, an organizational healer and certified trauma professional, says that one key approach to end marginalization is to teach “empathy and compassion for the ‘other.’” He introduces empathy through training in effective communication, resulting in genuine community.

What is this “effective communication” that builds community?

Campbell says this is a slow process that starts at an individual level. “True empathy–true compassion–only comes from contact,” he says. “It requires people meeting each other and talking. It requires people hearing each others’ stories and being willing to listen to perspectives that are different from their own.”

Without contact-generated empathy, Campbell believes that oppression and stigma will remain the norm, compounding the historical marginalization of minorities in America. 

The course of Campbell’s life changed after a “mystical experience” he had in 2014 while watching a video of Eric Garner’s choking death at the hands of an NYPD officer. “Something in me said, ‘If you don’t do something, if you don’t use the positions of influence and power to speak out against this, do something about this, then you are complicit in the next thing that happens.’” He explained that, though he had studied race and lived his own experience as a Black man in America, watching the video triggered him to take action. 

Campbell takes action from a place of empathy. In one of his talks, “Calling In Versus Calling Out,” he discusses more effective approaches to conversations on problematic behavior that avoid attacking the individual without excusing the issue. 

What Whittier issues could benefit from a call-in?

Campbell offered as an example the lack of discussion around the Blue Lives Matter movement in Whittier. Since moving to the city in 2010, he has seen many black and blue flags flying in front of homes, Campbell said, but he has not heard any conversations on the impact of the symbol. “When you use a symbol and don’t know what it means to somebody else, [you don’t know] what its effects are on the people who could be driving past,” he says.

Though discussing controversial topics like Blue Lives Matter may seem daunting, Campbell says, it’s just one example of issues that impact the structure and sustainability of the city and society at large. “All these issues are cracks in the foundation of the way the society is built,” he says.

How can we create a more inclusive Whittier?

This would require that Whittier become a city of allies, Campbell says. He draws a distinction between activists, who act on their own behalf, and allies, who ally themselves with causes that don’t directly benefit them. As Campbell describes it, “Ally-ship is looking at a problem that maybe you don’t feel personally identified with and seeing the ways in which you can be a part of changing that problem.” He advises allies to start by asking the activist leaders of the communities in need of help for their proposed solutions. These leaders already know what help they need. 

Activism and allyship take effort and selflessness, Campbell says. He uses a metaphor to explain why giving back to one’s community is important: “If you’re planting a seed because you want to sit under a tree, you’re about 25 years too late; but we all get to sit under trees, because somebody else had the foresight to do that for us.” 

If Campbell sounds like a teacher here, that’s because it’s his primary profession. A professor of English at Cypress College since 2016, his lessons take an intersectional approach to literature, his activist work mirrored in the classroom with assignments on intersectional authors like James Baldwin, who wrote about race, class, sexuality, and gender. 

What are the similarities between an intersectional education and diversity training in the workplace?

“Most organizations aren’t harnessing the full potential of their diversity because people representing those ‘diverse backgrounds’ don’t really feel safe enough to speak. They don’t feel safe enough to bring up their own opinions,” Campbell says.

“We help organizations figure out how to build trust, how to mediate conflict, and how to have difficult conversations, so that they can move towards equity and justice and really recognize all the potential in their diversity.”

How to Build a Friendlier Whittier: Interview

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