Civil Rights and Association Leadership

This is a mini-speech I gave in June at the Detroit reunion of Diversity Executive Leadership Program (DELP*) participants.

New York State just legalized gay marriage.

Regardless of one’s religious beliefs, surely everyone here appreciates this as a civil rights victory, right?

One by one, the states (six, plus the District of Columbia so far) are freeing Americans to marry whomever they choose.

“Same-sex” marriage is not really about gay people having the right to marry. It’s about everyone having the right to marry the person of their choice, regardless of gender, skin color, nationality, etc.

The 44 states where gay marriage is still illegal cling to a pattern of discrimination no less unfair than the miscegenation laws, which made it illegal to marry someone from a different race (and persisted in some states until 1967).

So civil rights are on my mind because of New York’s recent victory, and also because the topic came up in some of the educational sessions this morning.

And of course civil rights came up when we toured the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit.

What an educational — and emotional — experience.

I started asking myself, Is DELP an extension of the civil rights movement?

It’s not promoted as such. It’s a professional preparation program. The focus is on leadership and learning, not politics.

But at its core, DELP is about education and equal opportunity. It’s about helping people achieve their potential, and thus strengthen the whole. Aren’t those core concepts of the civil rights movement?

Of course, civil rights goes by many other names, such as the women’s movement (does anyone remember feminism?), the gay rights movement, and the disabled rights movement. All are about education (including but not limited to consciousness raising) and opportunity.

I once heard this definition of the difference between politics and spirituality: Politics is about what divides people, and spirituality is about what unites us.

Politics is about what keeps us separate, and spirituality is about what brings us together.

Seems to me that perhaps DELP is not just professional, but also political and spiritual.

Because it’s enfranchising disenfranchised groups, it’s political.

Because it’s bringing diverse people together as a professional family, it’s spiritual.

As I look around this room, I see a lot of smiling faces: not only in my “newbie” class of scholars, but also on the faces of the alums who return to Detroit each year for a reunion.

I feel so welcomed by this group. It occurs to me that this is what everyone wants, in any group: to feel welcomed; to feel accepted and even celebrated for our unique talents and contributions; to feel a part of something larger than ourselves.

We want to associate with each other without prejudice or discrimination.

Here’s what ASAE is doing, with support from Detroit: Supporting diverse association leaders who are raising consciousness, opening doors to new opportunities, bringing people together, demonstrating inclusion, and facilitating productive associations of all kinds.

Whether we think of this as a professional program or also a political or spiritual one, I’m sure of this: It’s quite an honor to be on this team!

Each year, the American Society for Association Executives selects twelve members from underrepresented groups (gay people, racial minorities, and people with disabilities) for a two-year fellowship that provides education and training in association leadership. The ten-year-old program is sponsored by the Detroit Convention and Visitors BureauThe goal is to develop a more diverse leadership pool. I was delighted and honored to be selected in the 2011-2013 class of DELP scholars.

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One Response to “Civil Rights and Association Leadership”

  1. Anne-Margaret Olsson Says:

    GREAT speech!! I am only sorry I was not there in Detroit to hear it live. You have truly captured the DELP reunion experience. Looking forward to meeting you in St. Louis.


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