Courageous Leadership and Boldly Challenging the Status Quo for Progress: A conversation with Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at major law firm, Yendelela Neely Holston
Host Allison Hare talks to Yendelela Neely Holston, a Cum Laude graduate of Duke University School of Law and the Partner and Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer at Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton. Yendelela Neely Holston talks about her open letter responding to OK Cafe owner Susan DeRose’s stance on Black Lives Matter. OK Cafe is a 50-year-old Atlanta institution, along with Blue Ridge Grill and Bone’s Steakhouse. During a peaceful Black Lives Matter march that was going past OK Cafe, a few weeks ago in response, there was a huge banner that stated, ‘Lives That Matter Are Made With Positive Purpose. The backlash to the owners putting up this cryptic banner was immediate.
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Not overtly doing something yourself that is racist isn't enough because we all function and live within a racist society. So doing nothing, you're perpetuating racism period. So unless you are actively working against it, you're perpetuating it. So I think we all just need to own up to it and say, we are all actively working toward racism when we're not actively working against it,
The hair. And welcome to culture changers. The podcast that brings you unconventional wisdom by uncommon people together, we are shattering old paradigms to reshape our world and inviting you to make your own. Mark May
Know I've been doing a black lives matters series to really continue learning and sharing black stories. I've been so touched by my guests illuminating and sometimes chilling accounts of what life is like as a black person in America, their vulnerability, their brutal truth for us, it allows us to begin practicing radical empathy. Today's conversation is with young Delilah Neely, Holston. She is a Coon Loudy Duke law, graduate attorney and partner, and the chief diversity and inclusion officer for Kilpatrick towns in which is one of the top one, a hundred law firms in the nation, and has recently penned a searing open letter, responding to okay. Cafe owner, Susan de Rose's stance on black lives matter. Okay. Cafe is a 50 year old Atlanta institution, along with blue Ridge grill and bone steak house during a peaceful black lives matter March, that was going past okay.
Cafe a few weeks ago in response, there was a giant banner that read lives that matter are made with positive purpose. The backlash to the owners of the cafe for putting up this cryptic banner was immediate owner. Susan de Rose had issued multiple statements justifying her position, which led to many people, boycotting all of her restaurants, the open letter, and the article is linked in the show notes. But to sum it up, I'll quote, Yonda Layla with this one sentence. The crux of your letter is that black people should be thankful. And to give a shout out to America for the crumbs that we have received while white society as a collective continues to eat cake, wow, I've been following the story. And when I read Yonda Lila's response, I recognize the personal and professional risks she took and also understood her intelligently breaking down mr.
Rose's actions. I knew I had to speak to her and understand, and I was really touched by our, I saw her as a deeply caring mother and empowered and concerned citizen and someone who is driven by her desire for justice and helping clear a path for others to rise where it might have been too difficult before. And before we get into our chat, I need to tell you about my podcast course that just started this week. It is not too late to get it, get in and get all the guidance you need to get your own messages out to the world. So if you've been considering starting your own podcast or thinking about what is your next move, what can you do? That's going to make an impact. Might I invite you to press play podcast? It is a six week interactive collaborative course where every step of the way is handled or at least guided for you where you can bring your ideas to life.
So you can go to AllisonHare.com forward slash press play. Also, if this is your first time listening, welcome. If you're returning welcome back, it means so much to me. And my promise to you is that every conversation will be thought provoking and perhaps allow you to see things in a new way. I truly hope you'll subscribe to this podcast. So you never miss a perspective shifting episode rate and leave a review on your favorite listening platform. I read every word and your insight. It helps me make a better show for you. I will say that I've got some unbelievable guests coming up, not just Seth Godin, but some really, really big, important names. I've been securing the some really exciting people and cannot wait to bring them to you. Okay. Here is my chat with Yendelela Neely Holston. So we are here with Yendelela Neeley, Holston. She is a partner and a chief diversity officer at Kilpatrick Stockton law firm. It is I think you can correct me if I'm wrong. It's an am law 75, right?
That's a very good question. Yeah, it's a very large offer. I know, to type a word, national and international. And so Kilpatrick Stockton actually merged with Townsend Townsend and crew in 2011. So now we're Kilpatrick Townsend and Stockton.
Oh, alright. Okay. And you had penned an open letter in response to Susan de Rose, who is one of the owners of Oak cafe, which is a, I think it's called the Liberty group. It's a group of restaurants that owns the really, really big in Atlanta. They are landmarks in Atlanta. Okay. Cafe blue Ridge grill and bones. And so they have been around for a long time. And during the protest of black lives matter, we just were peaceful. Okay. Cafe had put up a banner that said lives, wait, what is it? Lives that matter are made with positive purpose and in response to the protest. So there was a lot of backlash to it. There was a lot of backlash to it. And and at the time before that maybe I don't know if it was like maybe a few days or a week before that there was some looting, there was some rioting.
I don't know if it was an organized effort that was separate from black lives matter or that. And so you penned an open letter. And one of the things that you had said was to intentionally try to antagonize a peaceful March, the purpose of which you seek justice shows that you do not want peace. You want the status quo. And that mr. Rose is simply not acceptable. You wrote this incredible letter and I'm thinking, my goodness, you are a partner and a C level executive of a huge law firm. There is great personal risk and even professional risk by writing a letters so openly, so bold to challenge somebody who is fighting for the status quo and to your estimation in my own personal estimation, minimizing the lives of black people who have been oppressed for hundreds of years. Why you, why did you write that letter?
I didn't feel like I could sit silently. So there have been many instances over history over the, our recent history where you see injustice and you sit on the sideline, sidedly you shake your head and you say, that's not right, but you say it to yourself, or you say it to your immediate group and the injustices continue. And this one just kept sitting with me. And it was because she had been so vocal in her position. And hers is the only one you got to hear it. Hers is wrong and hers is oppressive and hers is antiquated. And you could say, my open letter came at least like a weekend, some days afterwards. Cause I was hoping the feeling of having to say something with dissipate and that I wouldn't feel it, but I felt it heavy on my heart and my conscience that something had to be said.
And that I had to say it like, if not you then who is basically how I felt about it. And so I had some things to say to her. And so I pinned an open letter in response and it was in the hopes that she might listen, but more so that those around would listen. I wasn't optimistic that she would be receptive. And then her response doubling down confirmed my thoughts. But alternative view needed to be articulated in a way that refocused the message because she focused on small businesses. She's focused on looting, neither of which were the actual intent of her sign, nor are they, to me, the primary problem or the primary issue. And I think that's how we continue to not address things over history is that we reframe them in ways that are convenient and minimize what the real issue is
With that. There are a lot of systemic issues. And I think about people in my own family who are getting their information. I don't know, personally, I think it's through Russian bots, but they have a very limited way where there are people in my family that I don't feel are overtly racist, but they are positioning their positions around. But what about the small businesses? What about, and I'm like, no, you don't, you don't understand. And so there's kind of a limited view versus the macros. So what was the response like? Cause I'm, I looked at the comments and there were so many in support of you. And then there were so many that are like, I'm going to keep going, okay. Cafe they're there. Right? So tell me about the response.
So I didn't read the comments. I watched enough reality TV to know that you don't read the comments. That's what all the modalities are say. You're like, you don't read what people say about you. So I didn't read the comments. People reached out to me as a person, a law firm are a practicing lawyer. I am easy to find. So a number of people reached out to me and the overwhelming majority were supportive. My friend was supportive. So you said, you mentioned my career. I didn't run it by anybody. Like I sent the letter from my Gmail account. I didn't mention where I worked. Oh, wow.
I'm wondering if you took a position from your professional standpoint, because it's been all over that diversity officer and partner of kilter.
So he Googled me, Hey, rightly did his research before I'm running the article. And I found out actually wouldn't one of my partners, a woman who'd recently made partner, sent me the link and said, I just saw this. It's amazing. And I was like, you just saw the way it was in the middle of the Workday. I hadn't gotten to email. I was like, Oh my God, I'm going to lose my job. And so I immediately reached out to our PR people because of course there's a large law firm. You have a PR team to let them know and they were supportive. And then the chair of our firm is a mentor and friend. And so I reached out to him as well to let him know I had not sent it from my work account. I had not mentioned it Kilpatrick, nonetheless, this is the article.
And so you need to know is out there in case you hear or get backlash. And so he has not the last check-in cause I told him I was like, everything I've heard has been good. So that means you're getting out of the bad stuff. And he said he had not at that point received any bad. And I've gotten something from people who were old clients so that they said. And so we kind of ran it in, like you were barely a client 30 years ago. Right? So most of our clients are large corporations. And most of them are not based in the South. And so most our clients also are big clients issue, public statements in support of black lives matter. So it messed with the firm and our public statement because the firm, it also given us that we unequivocally stand in support of racial justice and equality. And so it worked out,
It felt really good though. That must have felt really gratifying because what you did was very bold and it sounds like it was driven from somewhere pretty deep inside where you couldn't stay silent anymore. And so I'm wondering what is your call to action for people that are going to continue to stand up? So, so there's a movement right now where there's no way that we're going back. There's no way we can go back. Like, I don't know if you feel like this is a tipping point, but it sure feels like it, it feels like it's never been this this, this on such a global front that this is front and center. What are your thoughts on it?
I pray is a tipping point, but we've been witnessed to the killings before. And then even the black lives matter movement started in response to Michael Brown and there were protests and then nothing happened. And then we have all these other names that we can add to the list. And I quite literally cried myself to sleep last night, thinking about Elijah McLean. I have a seven year old son, my seven, I have a seven year old. He is black. He is male. And he is autistic. And I have always cried thinking about that. Even before I had an Elijah McLean to compare him to, to know that he doesn't respond to authority and see demands and commands the same way as everyone else. And if he is in the right, he is going to articulate and is Elijah McClain shoulders, you can be dead, right?
He is. He was literally right. And now he is dead. And so I cry myself to sleep thinking about wishing that one day, my son isn't dead, right? Because he's an autistic black male. Like he loves cats. He loves music. He could have still been playing violins to kittens, like everything about Eliza McLean. I see in my child and know that that was someone else's child and I've seen it in other people. And you try to rush the last of the way, but these are individuals in India. And, but our greater community goes to sleep with these burdens daily. And so I pray as a tipping point, but having seen us as a collective society continually go back to sleep. I, I don't want to say no, but I really pray that. Yes, yes. This is a tipping point. Yes. This is a place where we will change, but I don't think we're going to change. If everybody goes back to normal, if everybody, after the next headline, we decided to focus on something else. And so now we're still talking about it, but that's the, we we've had new issues to recenter us. But at some point
Brooks and Elijah McClain, which happened a year ago, right?
It was August, 2019, August, September 29th. We heap like names keep coming up was recenters us. But I'm worried that people will become re become comfortable because regardless of whatever, our status is, our society, most people have gotten to a comfort at living at whatever that status is ours. You wouldn't be able to focus in everyday life. So whether it's in like a one bedroom house with 10 people are mentioned with two, you have gotten okay with that, because imagine what your psyche would be, if you weren't okay with it. And you were, you couldn't find some peace and happiness in that situation every day. And I'm concerned and worry that we will all go back to our peace and happiness. And that will stop fighting for me. The need to fight an object has always been a driving focus is actually the reason I left my very nice in house job to come back to the firm to be the chief diversity and inclusion officer. But I've been feeling a recent times that even that's not enough and I need to do more and I want to be more impactful. And so you then find yourself between racism is so deep and so wide that how do you attack it? And so your move to inaction from just the scope or your move to inaction from your lack of comfort, but in action. And either regardless of how you move there is unacceptable. Cause it's not going to promote change.
So where, where do you think that we can, you know, like, have you seen people in response to your letter or even people in general say, you know what? I feel like I have been, I have wronged you in some way. Do you feel like there has been a shift in understanding of what it feels like? And I don't know if it's like a place of radical empathy, you know, like of, of understanding. Good Lord. If I, you know, I, I don't worry about my son. I worry about my son. Who's, who's a little white boys, seven years old too, but I don't worry about him being wronged for being right. You know, I don't do that. And to think about that of just, I couldn't even imagine
People have expressed support. People have said, Oh, what can I do? And while I'm just one person or I don't do anything. And so I think anti-racism is really the key. And so not overtly doing something yourself that is racist isn't enough because we all function and live within a racist society. So doing nothing, you're perpetuating racism period. So unless you are actively working against it, you're perpetuating it. So I think we all just need to own up to it and say, we are all actively working toward racism when not actively working against it, but I don't think people want to accept it. I don't, I think it's hard to accept that there may be things that you have in life that you just didn't earn that you were gifted with. And so that kind of doesn't mesh with how the American pull yourself up by your bootstraps.
Everything I have, I earned, I worked for, I deserve, and that's not the case. I'm currently listening to EDM kindie stamped from the beginning on Spotify. And I have the book as it's coming, being delivered today too, but just going back through it. And one of the things he says in a prologue, which is so amazing is that if you truly believe whoever you are, if you truly believe that every person, regardless of their race is created equal and is the same, then you have to admit are acknowledged that any racial disparities are the result of racial discrimination, because we're all equal. That means we have equal talent distributed amongst all races. We have equal abilities. And so if 13% of the population is black and only 2% of the wealth is black. That has to be the result of racial discrimination because we're all equal and we all have abilities equally distributed.
And so I think that Senate, our, that statement resonates so much with me because I don't think we've all subscribed to that because I think in our hearts, we all say, Oh, well, it's 2% because those people worked harder or those people did X, Y, and Z are the, the remaining 98% didn't do it. So they didn't take advantage of this opportunity are they were lazy or they did whatever, whatever we tell ourselves to make ourselves feel good about the disparity in how the wealth is distributed are how mass incarceration rates look or any of that other stuff to try to put it on the person to say that somehow they earned it, perpetuates racism and is racist in and of itself because that is not comport with everybody being equal in all characteristics, being equally distributed amongst all people.
Well, I'm thinking about Candace Owens who has really focused on she's a, that's how I feel about her too, but will not follow her any of her accounts. Cause it I find it infuriating, but I've seen her grow from 1 million to 2 million followers on Instagram, in over this black lives matter. And she is talking about George Floyd was a thug and he was a bad character. And basically that he deserved it and white people need to calm down and all of that stuff. And Dylan, Ruth was still alive. It's just so dangerous. You know, like, I don't understand why are people fighting for the status quo? Why are people fighting so hard for the status quo?
Because the status quo, so Candace Owens. So you do not have to be white to be racist. And Candace Owens is definitely racist. You just have to perpetuate racism, which she does the problem with her and the people before her is that somehow because she's black, her racism is viewed as it can't be. And so it was given a stamp of approval and she is somehow the voice of all black people, but you would never accept Trump as the voice of all white people. So why Candace Owen, somehow the voice of all black people, but in any event it's dangerous because also another plug for seven beginning, I do not know even candy. I'm not get royalties from this book, but he also talks about like Leo Africanas who perpetuated racism and was like one of the early people to do so. And he was black, but when a black voice says racist things is amplified to a whole nother level.
Cause it's like, see, you know, they're confirming everything we've been saying, so it can't be racist. It's gotta be the truth. And no, it is a hundred percent unequivocally racist. I don't care what George Floyd did in this country. You get a trial, you get a jury and you get sentenced and passing a $20 counterfeit bill. If that's what he did, this is not death. This is not a country where the punishment for that is death. We look at Dylan, Ruth who murdered that people in cold blood, he is still alive. So Candice can do some things. Like I was about to say something that I probably didn't say, but you can let it right here, but you can't like, I think that's an other issue. And what we, one of the other things about systemic racism is that when it's a black person doing something, then that's what they do.
Like, so it was further support. Like George Floyd is everybody. And so any bad thing he did is everybody. And then Dylan, Ruth is just a bad Apple. So he's not all white people don't go kill people. It's just him. He was a bad Apple. And so we take two different approaches to things. In addition, all his whole rap sheet, they didn't note any of that. When they were killing him, they were just killing a black man. And so going back and using his past to justify it isn't okay because he should have never been Q if all of that stuff could've come up in his trial, if you were giving him the luxury of one, he was like, we have people who were, are dead because they're sleeping in their bed dead because they're playing video games dead because you happen to be a child at a park of a toy gun dead because you had the audacity to walk home with Skittles in your pocket and not stop.
When the vigilante neighborhood police officer who was appointed by, no one told you to stop and then got upset when you, you were a child who beat his butt dad, because you were just walking home, like just dead, dead, because you had the audacity, the job, all of these things, crimes and non crimes are then punished by death. And that is not okay. And anyone who tries to say that is okay, should be checked out quite frankly, because there's something wrong with you. But while we're okay with the status quo, I think is because it worked for us. So people have found a way to make it work for them. And no one wants to give it up and to also not accept it again, goes against the whole, I am where I am because of my hard work and effort. Not because there were systems playing for me or against me. And so it just goes against what we have come to believe and accept as the American entrepreneurial spirit. So I think that's why people are okay with the status quo. And that's what makes me less optimistic about change. Although I still hold on to hope and I want to be a catalyst for it. And so that's why I wrote the letter in an effort to say, if you want to just do one thing, one thing you can do is this is racism and I'm not going to.
Yeah. And I'm curious, you are a incredibly esteemed and accomplished attorney. Why did you go into law?
That's another racist story.
When, so I kind of
Wanted to be a lawyer for most of my life, but then I wasn't governor school between my junior year and senior year in high school. And I happened to just pick the psychology track for governor's school. And then I watched the pre-loss students and how they never had time to hang out with us and how they were always like in the library decided, you know what? I don't really want that for the rest of my life. So I decided that, you know, made that decision that I didn't want to be a lawyer. And so I go into undergrad thinking psychology or marketing, any number of things that aren't law. And then the may of my sophomore year at the school for me university, we were on a trimester system at the time. So we didn't get out of school until June when most people were out getting out of school around mother's day.
And so mother's day weekend when most other people were graduating, we had this tradition called beach weekend where everyone would go to Myrtle beach and just release steam because we would come back and go into finals. And so my very first beach weekend, we get there. We did that. We're hungry. As soon as we get to the hotel and we go grab food, we walk into a pizza place and the line was long and it's like, you can get pizza anywhere. I'm still a college student, but I want some seafood. And there was a seafood restaurant next door. So we go into the seafood restaurant. One of my friends, here's the owner of the pizza shop say, I wouldn't do that. If I was you, she stays, nobody else stays in there with her. We go to the seafood restaurant cause we didn't hear that statement. So we go there, they are like huffing and puffing at us, mumbling under their breasts. They take forever to take our orders. And then we're mumbling. Well, you're not going to eat here. And why are you here? And all these things that we just weren't processing. Like I heard them say it, but I wasn't processing. I was excited. I was at the beach. I just wanted to grab some food, even if it was chief seafood and go. And so we like snatching money out of your hands. It was very
In hindsight, overtly aggressive. When we
Finally sit down, we look around and realize that there's no other black people in this restaurant and that the white people are steady leaving. And so when the last white person left, which was a couple of older man and a woman, as soon as they left the owner of the restaurant came and said, get out, you're not welcome here. You can't eat here. Some of us didn't even have our food yet. We had all paid. Cause it was one like a think of like a long John Silver's. Although it wasn't cause it was a mom and pop, but we had all paid and we were waiting for our food. Get out, you can't eat here. You're not welcome here. It's this 2:00 PM in the afternoon we go outside and what we try to say, no, we still want our food. What are you talking about?
We pay, we all indicated we were eating in. When they asked how you were going to eat in, like, where were you going to? Was it to go our in dining? And we were like in dining and one guy was like, no, it's not one of the service, but we didn't all have our food. And he's like, get out, get out. I'm calling the police. And so we got out, cause it's a group of black kids, you know, you don't want the police to come. And so we stand outside and we look at the time, in the time we knew it was two o'clock and we were like, well, do they close in the middle afternoon? Something, no, they're supposed to be open till nine. As soon as we go out, they lock the door behind us. And he did. In fact, he had called the police.
And so we're out there trying to groove and figure it out upset because people have food, they paid for the, like, you didn't give us our money back. Like you literally made us pay for you to be racist to us and discriminate against us. And the cop comes up and it's a white cop. And he was just like, quit causing trouble and move along. And so we understand the dynamic. We're not all going to talk to him. So we had appointed a spokesperson who was trying to tell him, we ordered food. They wouldn't give it to us. They kicked us out. We weren't causing any trouble. And he was like, I don't care, quit causing trouble and move along. And so he reinforced what they did. And so then we went back to the piece of place because we had to go get our friends stunned about how blatant, like it literally just happened to us.
And this was 2001. And she was like, yeah, didn't you hear the guy tell you not to go over there. We were like, no, she was like, he said, I wouldn't do that if I was you. That's why I stayed here. And he came out and he was so nice and he gave us free pieces and apologized and says, he sees it happen all the time. And that's why he tried to warn us, but they're notorious for it. And everybody knows. And I was like, yeah, except if you're not from Myrtle beach, but I was so upset. And I came home knowing, cause I was like, I was maybe a sophomore in college, but I do know that you can't not serve a person because of their race. Like I don't know which law it is, but I do know as a law. And so not only did the restaurant break the law, the police reinforced their breaking of the law and made us move along when we were actually the ones following the law. And so talk to a few lawyers, tried to find somebody. They were like, well, the claim isn't worth anything. You didn't get beat. Like nothing major happened to you other than, you know, like your spirit being defeated.
Yeah. And so like, they were like, there's basically nothing you can do about it, but be upset and never eat there again. And that just wasn't okay with me. So then I decided I wanted to go into law because it didn't, I wasn't okay with that type of situation. And so, I mean, I'm in it now and I know they're right. Like that would just be one of those battles that you would pay tons of money to fight, but you wouldn't recover very much. You know what I'm saying? Like they're not going to really suffer. And so there isn't much teeth to it, but at the time I was just a college sophomore who is infuriated that I witnessed people break the law and I wanted to go to law school to do something about it,
The law school. And then what happens from there cause you were affirming grad and then in Duke Duke law, which is like ridiculous, hard to get into, no matter what color, no matter what race you are and, and really, really hard. So what was that like? You're obviously a chief diversity and inclusion officer. This is something that is so deeply embedded in baked into who you are. Tell me about your journey from there,
There, from the incident Myrtle beach, I came back to school and got a internship with the public defender. So like, okay, I'm going to do law. Let me check this out. And so I did intern with the public defender still very much believe in the work they do, but was not, I didn't feel that I could give the quality of legal services that I want to be able to give it with the resources that are provided to the public defender. So please fund public defenders. And so came back to school and the next summer did civil rights law. So did plaintiff's sizable rights law. And in that instance, the owner, like it was a woman shop. It was a white guy. He had helped fight the Maurice barbecue. So it's, Maurice's barbecue in South Carolina and some other major civil rights issues in South Carolina. So I got to work with him, which was awesome.
And one day like he's like we're taking on this reverse race discrimination case. So the client will be white and he's arguing that he was fired from his job because he was white. And I looked at him white in South Carolina. You're right. But okay, we've taken on this case, I'm just a student and I had to do the intake. And so I'm talking to our client and he was like, well, you know how those people are and those people do such and such and they only did this. And so I write his affidavit up, I go talk to the attorney whose farm it is. And it was like, so how do we end up with this case again? Cause I just listened to the plan and talked to me about those people. It seems like he's the racist and not the result of racism. And so he's like, well you can't judge the client as they come in and you have to take them as they come and based on the subject story, blah, blah, blah, turns out.
Actually he was writing in word all over the bathroom and doing all kinds of other stuff. So he deserved to be fired. It was about a person and came in to sign his declaration that I had drafted. And I was like, hi, I'm Yendelela. The person took your statement. You know, one of those that you talk to on the phone. So his face kind of failed, but that also kind of recentered me too that also civil rights work doesn't fight for what I want either. So that kind of shaped me going into law school. And so went to Duke, was qualified to go to Duke. I one of my professors was a Duke grad and was really pushing me toward Duke law school. Cause I didn't have, like, my sister was, had just gone through the process. I didn't really have anyone to go to cause we were the first to do professional school in our family.
So I didn't have any guidance lights. I just relied on my professors at affirming it. And so once father had graduated from Cornell law, so she was pushing that one and one of my professors had graduated from Duke. Wellesley's pushing that way. And everybody else was basically a crap shoot and wake forest Toby that I should be excited that I got in. Cause they didn't even know my sister was my sister. So I was like, you lose, I'm not a little sister. It was between the two of them. And finally for Duke the day before you had to make a decision, I, the, my professor that AC walked into the library. So I had five jobs in undergrad and one of them was at the circulation desk in the library. And so he walks in while I'm working and asked me how the search is going.
And I was like, well, I think I'm going to Cornell because I got a good scholarship package there. He was like, well, what about Duke? I haven't heard from Duke. He's like, well that's unacceptable. Grab up there and tell them that they are making a huge mistake and this is how much you want. And if they know what's good for them, they'll let you in. I was like, not going to happen. He was like, no, tomorrow you don't go to class. You drive up to Durham and you tell them. And so, and he's a very animated little man. I call my mom and we drive up to Durham and I follow the AC script. And the Dean Dean shields at the time says, how much money would it take for you to say you're coming to do? And so it was like, you see on TV, I wrote a number on the table and slide it to him. And he was like, if I say that you have this much money, will you sign now? And when this conversation's over and I was like, yes. So he's like, you have this much money. Wow. That's done. And I was officially going to Duke and I drove back to South Carolina. And so I went to Duke law school. I hate law school. I don't think it's specific to Duke. I just think it's specific to law school. It's not a fun process, but came out with some honors and when they killed passion,
It's amazing. One of my best friends does placement for attorneys and she's an attorney herself. She also graduated from Duke and I asked her about it. You know, I talked about your credentials and asked about Kilpatrick Townsend. And I said, you know, when you're placing people, how important is it from a diversity perspective to play? She goes, it's gold. It is absolutely gold to have a diverse candidate placed, but it's really, really hard. They're not as many. And so I wonder of your position in the diversity, a chief diversity and inclusion officer, what is your role? What is your, your hope and your goal?
My ultimate goal is that we reassess what we consider in terms of recruiting. I consider myself a bit of an anomaly. So like, yeah, I'm an easy choice. Like I had great grades, like avid started compadre as a one L so I was the first one now they hired in the Raleigh out. So that was the beginning of their one out summer program in Raleigh. So I've been with the firm, my entire career. But again, like to your point, like I'm easy to place. I had great undergrad grades. I have great law school grades, and that is a blessing in and of itself. And I have previously told Henry I can't imagine where I would be if I had the same opportunities as other people. So I went to law school, not knowing anything I stumbled through and still graduated with honors. Like I can't imagine if I had had a family member to talk to or some historical knowledge, our knew what I was doing. Like if I walking into the door and so I've actually created a pipeline program to make sure other students don't have that issue. And so we can talk about that, but like what potential I could have reached if I hadn't had all the us stacked against me. Cause I think I did pretty good with the us deck. Yes.
Blew everybody away. You blew everybody away.
No, I was like, until he was like, well, you can't live in the past. Like I know, but to think what I could have done if I hadn't spent the first couple semesters, just figuring out how all of this even works. But I think changing how we look at that and realize that that's also part of the systemic issues is that it's not a lack of intellectual horsepower is not a lack of ability. It's because you're spending so much time just figuring out how this works. I don't, you don't have a cousin or uncle, our family friend to call and help navigate through all of this stuff. And so that to me is one of the things I would love to see come out of my work. And you know, it's, it's a slow process because this is very interested in, well, it's not Kilpatrick specific, but Rico reassessing, what we, what makes a good candidate?
Is it really your grades? Because I think if we look around a lot of you guys didn't have that great degrees either, or is it more so certain skillsets, certain abilities that we can test another way? Yes, Duke is a great school and taught me how to think, but maybe we consider other schools too. So maybe you can have a C at Duke, but you have to have a 4.0 at some other schools. Like we need to reassess it because grades have been shown to not be a predictor of success, but we continue to rely on them. And your school isn't necessarily a predictive as success. Like I, before I had this role in the first time I made partner, I told him, I would tell people when they look around at the make of the partnership, the black partners at the firm, we have Ivy league law degrees that is not uniform for all the partners at the firm.
And so why is it that, you know, you had to have, we had to have an Ivy league degree to get to that point. And so that just kind of shows how we have to be a little hard. We have to work a little differently. And so you have people explaining off, Oh, well they went to X, Y, and Z law school, but I know their parent and their parents are good clients, so we're going to hire them. So we make concessions for other people and don't think twice about it. But when it comes to diversifying the workforce, we take it differently and don't consider everything else. And I would like to see as broad in what we consider in terms of what makes a person qualified and where we're looking to get the candidates in the first place and not do it because we're diversity hiring. Because I think that's, I think that's it.
Primitive action thing is become very pejorative to the action, right?
Like the formative action, because your regular action was racist, right? Like it's so annoying. But to take that approach, it's like, Oh, it's a diversity hire. And somehow you're stamped as being less than I'm not, I can guarantee you. And so you're not, you're not going to the dredges of society and pulling someone up, you're giving a person that you were overlooking a chance and I can guarantee you they're going to do good, but they're not less qualified than the other person, because just because the other person got into whatever school, maybe on their qualifications or maybe because their parents were legacy, doesn't make them more qualified
For Salesforce. And Salesforce also has a chief diversity and inclusion officer. And one of the things that have been, I don't know if frustrating is the word, but imbalanced in some ways that there are, I think at this point there are 2% of the workforce that is black and through the black lives matter, we have a lot of, we have a lot, a lot, a lot of internal education and enablement around anti-racism. We've had Abraham, Kennedy's speak with us as a company and they are now going into HPC colleges and specifically changing the practices of hiring and enablement throughout to make sure that we are a little more equitable. So I love at least from what I'm seeing, it seems like there are more real concrete actions being taken. And I wonder if continuing to do that, I'm sure you probably are involved with some mentor programs or some type of like, you kind of have to dismantle the status quo and rebuild all over the place. And I wonder what that looks like in your world and, you know, from, from your standpoint, from your receipts.
So one of the things that I actually started even before I came back to the farm was a pipeline program. And so we're doing it on two coasts with two of our largest clients. And the program is a law readiness class. And as for individuals historically underrepresented in the law. And so in this, it's now virtual this year, but in this previously in-person two and a half day conference. It had a couple of things, but you take a law school class, like you sit in what would really be a law school class, typically in a subject matter, that's harder to grasp. So contracts and property are two of the harder ones to grasp, especially if you don't have a family history or background ground you in that, like if you don't have family there, yeah. That land that was buying and selling are this gets significant contracts.
There's nothing in your normal everyday experience for you to tie the concepts and those two classes for, so we've done property for the first years and now contracts the second two years. But you have that, you have an essay like you have to respond to a law school exam. So we give you an exam to answer overnight, and then it's graded. And you're given feedback on it before you had anything before you set foot into law school, illegal writing like primary, and then having you write a memo mode that we also grade and provide you feedback on how to network certain things that you need to know about how to spend your time, like which organizations are worthwhile and which ones are not. For example, if you look on my bio, it says that I was on the Duke law and contemporary policies journal. Well, I was, but when I tried to write onto journal, there were certain things about the note that I didn't even understand.
Like I didn't even know how to change word to make hyper scrubbed and subscript and had no one to ask. Duke has a policy that the TA, well, at least when I was there, they expect the top 10% of the students in the top 10% GPA wise to be on a journal. And if you're not on a journal, they will put you on a journal it's called grading on. So I happened to grade on to journal, was unable to write on because I didn't understand. And the, the system. So like I just kind of ended up there where I needed to be. Cause being on journal is a pretty big deal. So we talked to them about journal, all that stuff. We even have a course on, like, these are all the terms, like journal that you're going to hear, that you will have never heard of before.
And nobody's gonna sit down and explain it to you. And so all of that stuff so that you walk in a little more prepared than you otherwise would have. So I literally created thinking, what did I wish I had known walking into the doors and two that I didn't, that I think could have better prepared me to succeed. And so trying to give that to other students so that they don't flounder. And also more importantly, in the in person, they have a lot of networking opportunities with lawyers and everybody involved in the program wants to see them succeed. And so you have some resources that you can reach out to once you're in law school. And once you have questions so that you, you're not again on your own which I think has been very valuable. I've had former scholars reach out and say, when I'm like, Hey, I really want to work for the da in this County.
She was in Florida. And she was like, and I keep calling and they're not responding to my calls. I just really need to know what the application deadline is and blah, blah, blah. Do you know anybody? Yes. Forwarded along. She had an interview before the end of the day. One of my other scholars reached out because he was going into JAG. And so Georgia had pushed back the swearing in date and he needed to be sworn into the bar. And the new date wouldn't allow him to get his materials in for his JAG appearance means, sorry. Oh, I'm sorry. Isn't the judicial army Corps is the lawyers for the military. And so he was for the Navy. So the military lawyers, and so he had to appear in January and so reached out to a few judges in town. And the one I, one of them said, I can't help, but I know another judge who's holding a special swearing in ceremony this Friday.
If you're Frank and get everything done, like you're a mentee, get everything done. So then he sent it and I'm in another state, but like I signed for him to be sworn in. And then I had one of my friends signed, cause he had to have two people to sign on your your admission packet. And so he gets sworn in within three days of reaching out saying, I don't know what to do. I'm not going to be able to sworn in this morning, I'm not going to appear. So like those types of things, because I think about like if I had been in a position I would not have had any of these resources. Well, we try to be a resource for the students to, as they go throughout their careers,
It sounds like you're changing a lot of processes and that's super helpful. What have you seen over the past few years or whatever that has given you hope for change and that you feel like if we could continue to do more of that, it will make a difference. So
That's a good question. I don't know, because, so the good thing about the farm is that I feel as if this has been something that's been on capacitors radar for a while. And so that's where my bubble lies. You feel supported there. Yeah. And it has. And so I know the farm has a very long history in it and is continuing in that way. I think what gives me hope is how a diversity and increasing diversity in the profession, isn't something that you have to argue for anymore. So I think now people just accept it's needed. The challenge is they don't understand why. And so they kind of also put a stamp on the people, but are they, they say it in theory. So as needed, we'll hire them, but they don't give you the support you need once you're there, which I think is our next obstacle. But I think the fact that there is like, it's a given is accepted. Like you're not out here trying to convince people that we need diversity in the legal profession anymore. Now we're at how do we achieve it? And so just moving from the, having to convince, I think is a positive step.
Great. So what do you know that you wish other people could know? So in general,
My parents did a great job, making sure that the history that we heard was not just the history. We learned school. Tell me more about that. So they were very intentional and knowing that we got a very biased view of history in school, they were very intentional in knowing us, knowing black history wash. Do you think that I think history school definitely is again, we still like, look at how we talk about Columbus. Our kids still learn that he sailed the ocean blue and that he discovered something like native Americans were here. Like we don't talk about the fact that native Americans weren't even allowed to be citizens of the country and the land that they like all wounds. So it was taken from them. And then what was, it was like the sixties. It was crazy recently. They were even allowed to be citizens.
It isn't like, that is insane to me. So yes, history is definitely whitewashed. And so I would love to see history, tell a balanced perspective of everybody's voices. And so I know why it doesn't because there's a lot of racism in history. And so the people telling the story are not going to tell about their racism. And so I understand why it's not there, but my parents were very intentional in making sure that we added a more holistic picture of history and that we understood what wasn't true in what we were being taught in school. And so I wish that more people would take the time to like listen to and learn the actual history of this country. Like I even think about all the people who are arguing that the Confederate flag and these Confederate monuments are history, not, Hey, no, they're hate, like if you actually have three of them, you would know that they were, Hey, you would know that they went away. And then they came back in two major waves reconstruction and the civil rights movement because they, the monuments and the flag were both intended to oppress people and to remind them of their social position and their position in the racial hierarchy, that is a hundred percent hate. It is not
The middle finger to black people Wars and it's civil war. Yeah,
Civil rights. And during reconstruction, like our two big times where these things happened. And so that's a hundred percent, Hey, that's not history. And history is in museums. History is not at your state Capitol. So like, no, I wish people would take the time and learn. But I mean, I think they prefer ignorance. And so it makes you more comfortable, but I wish people would take that time to learn.
It's really hard. It's something that for me is personal. Because like I said, I have people in my family that are saying about keeping the monuments and I don't think they are overtly racist. I don't think they're seeing the full picture. You know what I mean? They're much older and you know, like I don't know how to fight it. Like I tried and just, you know, got hung up on, you know what I mean? And it's, it's really hard to figure out how to undo and dismantle some of, some of those teachings and, you know, understand it from a different point of view.
But, and I think like what I would say in my family is like, even the fact that you're hanging up on me or choosing not to listen shows your privilege. Yes. Because you can choose to view them as history because you have that benefit because they were never used to oppress you. And like, we don't see statues of Hitler or any other Nazis throughout Germany. So why do we see statues to the Confederacy? Like these were treasonous individuals who lost mind you. So when have we ever celebrated the losers are like, those are two things that are supposed to be like a no, here we don't celebrate trees and we don't celebrate losers here. We're celebrating.
It seems to me though that it is again dependent on the narrow source of news that they're getting. And, you know, from a media perspective, I think is pretty obvious that, you know, the media, the media is designed is to hype stuff and to kind of sit on a position. I wish it was a little more balanced, but it's really hard to find balanced information. And for me, I feel like a lot of times the answer is in the middle, but it's hard to undo that. And I think representation matters. I think that from a cultural perspective in our media and entertainment, you see a lot more colors. You see a lot more races. You see, even in our entertainment and from like a Hollywood perspective, there's a lot more representation of the Indian culture in Asian culture and black culture and mixing of that, which to me, I think is positive, but it's not enough.
And I'm really disappointed to see some people fighting for stuff that really doesn't affect them. You know what I mean? Like it doesn't personally affect you. It is the privilege of it not affecting you. And so from your perspective, it's clear from our conversation today that you are driven by something that irritates and gnaws that you every single day. And I think about you crying yourself to sleep last night over, you know, the protection of not only your son, but black boys, black children, everywhere that I'm hopeful can grow up in a little bit of a different world or a little more balanced world that you are paving for them. So what is next for you? What is on your roadmap?
I don't know. Everything else has been kind of have hazard. So I feel like the next one will appear. So just as the letter was sitting on my soul as something that had to be done, I suspect that God let me know what's next when it's time to do it. Yeah.
Do you feel, are you glad that you did it, did you, were you scared? What did it feel like? Even writing that?
So I, like I said, I, I didn't do it for like a week and a half. And then I was like praying a lot before writing it and then shaking a lot, writing it and then praying and shaking, shaking from anxiety, not from anger, like, yeah. I, it, you need to do something, you feel it in your body that racism is real and people are crazy and I can be found. So it was that like, okay, you're going to speak up and make your self known. And I mean, I grew up in a town, like I grew up in the home of the world's only clam exam. I remember very clearly at like 12. Is it still there? No, no. Like the buildings are there, but I don't think people actually go in and out. But you know, it was erected in the nineties.
Like there's a movie about it. It came out this year with usher in it called burden. But I remember it like 12 going to the grocery store and having to stop. Cause the Klan was marching and like looking out and seeing them be like face to face. So this was, I'm not very old, so this is kind of how I grew up. So I am very aware of the activity and the activeness. And so, and also how bold people are, even these days where they'll do it on camera. So it was more of that kind of say, he like, okay, you have to do this, but there could be repercussions, but you have to do it like you're feeling called and led to it. So you can't not do it. So it was that kind of anxiety. So it was anxiety when writing it anxiety.
So I had it for like, I had written it a few days before I sent it out to anybody. So like, cause it was all kind of nerves and anxiety and there was somebody sent me the headline. I felt the wave come through again. So it's been a ball of knots since then, but everything's been fine. And my neighbors are like paying attention all on alert. And so all of my family members are, but it was that kind of anxiety. But I wonder if it would encourage you to, I mean, it was such a bold move and it sounds like it came from a place of very, very deep, like you could not write it, you know what I mean? And I'm, I'm so glad that you did. I think your voice matters. And I think it makes a difference too. I think it puts some perspective on some positions that maybe people hadn't thought through, even from an empathetic perspective. And I'm so glad that you are a culture changer in that and hope that you continue to do that with that. I thank you so much for spending some time and sharing the stories. I think it's important. Thank you for having me and thank you for your series two for all of your calls for st. Andrews. It's my pleasure.
I have such great respect and honor for bold courageous women. Like Yendelela Neely, Holston. I hope her examples sparked something in you to stand up for what's right. And push back on the status quo when it's no longer acceptable as for culture changers podcast, please share this episode with your friends. Of course, I hope you subscribe, rate and review. It means so much to me, but the real measure of a great podcast are the ones that are shared. So please think of two or three people that would really get a lot out of this conversation and share it up. Thanks so much for listening and I'll see you next week.