During Black History Month I reflect on my family history. This year, I found myself thinking about a specific incident; “Mommy why did we sleep in our car last night?” “Girls, daddy was tired and pulled over to rest,” she said. We accepted her explanation on face value. As we grew older, she told us the truth. We slept in our car because my Army officer father was denied access to a hotel because we were African American.
Suddenly our little girl experiences made sense. This is why we were sent to filthy bathrooms with “Colored Only” signs on the door. This is why we were meticulously dressed as we traveled across the country. My parents needed to project an image of a “perfect” American family at all times. My parents grew up in the Jim Crow South and had deep personal experiences with racism. They protected us all they could.
The day came when the Webber girls had to know the truth. In order to succeed we had to stand against racism by advocating for ourselves and others. Personal and public activism was the strategy we were taught to fuel our personal and professional success.
Activism is a celebrated tradition in my family. Observing my parents’ journey to leadership taught me that being an African American leader requires one to be an activist at all times. Historically, the leadership journey for African Americans includes a unique set of challenges. African American leaders are often the “first, only and different.” We struggle gaining and sustaining credibility based on frequent questioning of our qualifications. We build legacies of leadership with strategic intent. We know our success creates pathways for new generations of African American leaders. In order to overcome these challenges, we engage in various forms of activism in the office, boardrooms and community.
I lead at the intersection of race, gender and leadership. When race is the leadership topic, I speak up about the joy and challenge of African American leadership. I offer solutions for reducing obstacles and increasing opportunity for African American leaders. My company provides leadership development programs and services specifically for emerging and established African American leaders.
Being an activist leader is good for me, my family, community and Gwen, Inc. Most importantly, this is my way of honoring my family’s black history. During Black History Month 2020 I pay tribute to my favorite activist leaders, the late Lieutenant Colonel (US Army) Charles Webber and Barbara Webber. Because of them I can.