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Monitor Daily Podcast

March 01, 2021
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TODAY’S INTRO

Raising voices, moving a mountain

Last Friday, several members of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra pulled their mobile concert truck into the Joppa neighborhood of south Dallas. And soon, a tiny outdoor concert was underway: a tribute to the tenacity of residents in an underserved neighborhood who had raised their voices in protest and literally moved a mountain.

The idea of playing there would have been laughable not long ago. Nearby was a 100,000-ton, 60-foot-high pile of roofing waste, part of an illegal dumping and recycling operation that spewed industrial noise and toxic dust into the largely Black and Latino neighborhood. Complaints of residents like Marsha Jackson initially went unheard, reinforcing a long history of neglect of the area.

But Shingle Mountain is now gone, the result of sustained pressure on the city to act. And Quincy Roberts, a Black resident of Dallas who grew up nearby, and whose trucking firm just completed the massive cleanup, decided to reinforce a different message: that the neighborhood is valued. A trained tenor who sits on the board of the Dallas Symphony, he rallied fellow musicians. And on Friday afternoon, Ms. Jackson and friends and family settled into folding chairs to listen to piano four hands, violin duets, and tenor Lawrence Brownlee’s rendition of “All Night, All Day (Angels Watching Over Me).”

It was a caring tribute, done without public fanfare for a group who persisted in being heard. As Mr. Brownlee said of his song: “It’s to say she and so many people are important.”

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In post-Trump era, a GOP battle of ideas – and test of Trump’s clout

That Donald Trump is the dominant force in the GOP is beyond dispute. But as Republicans start looking ahead to the next election cycle, his hold may not be as strong – or absolute – as it appears.

Amelia
Octavio Jones/Reuters
Supporters watch as former President Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida, Feb. 28, 2021. Some 55% of attendees polled would vote for Mr. Trump in 2024.

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Feelings remain raw on both sides of a Republican civil war that has pitted pro-Trump party activists against establishment Republicans. 

For now, the battle for the soul of the GOP seems over, and former President Donald Trump has won. He controls the national party and has acolytes in powerful positions all over the country – with some, like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, in strong position to compete for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024 if Mr. Trump himself doesn’t. 

But between now and the 2022 midterms, much could change. Mr. Trump is no longer president, and has lost access to Twitter, his main communication tool. Perhaps the most surprising outcome of last weekend’s big Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC – a bastion of Trump loyalty – was the straw poll of attendees: It showed only 68% want him to run for president again. In a trial run of a potential 2024 GOP primary field, he won 55% of the vote. More heartening for Mr. Trump was the 95% who said they want the Republican Party to stick with his agenda. 

Even if Mr. Trump himself doesn’t necessarily represent the future of the GOP, it appears his ideas do. 

In post-Trump era, a GOP battle of ideas – and test of Trump’s clout

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Barbara Cubin has known Liz Cheney since she was a little girl, and she’s not surprised that Wyoming’s only House member is taking a stand against former President Donald Trump. 

“She needs to be right; she’s always been like that,” says former Congresswoman Cubin, who represented Wyoming from 1995 to 2009. “It doesn’t matter the cost. She’ll fall on her sword to be right.” 

Since the Jan. 6 riot in the U.S. Capitol, which led to then-President Trump’s impeachment on one charge of incitement, Congresswoman Cheney – the No. 3 House Republican – has been among the most vocal of the 17 House and Senate members from her party who voted against the president. Right before last weekend’s big Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, Ms. Cheney said of Mr. Trump: “I don’t believe that he should be playing a role in the future of the party or the country.”

In his address at CPAC on Sunday, Mr. Trump singled her out for special opprobrium, calling her a “warmonger.” 

“In her state, her poll numbers have dropped faster than any human being I’ve ever seen,” the ex-president claimed, apparently referring to a poll commissioned by his own political action committee, Save America. 

Feelings remain raw on both sides of a Republican civil war that has pitted pro-Trump party activists – many now holding leadership positions in state and local GOP committees – against old-style conservative, establishment Republicans. 

For now, the battle for the soul of the GOP seems over, and Mr. Trump has won. He controls the national party and has acolytes in powerful positions all over the country – with some, like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, in strong position to compete for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024 if Mr. Trump himself doesn’t. 

But between now and the 2022 midterms, much could change. Mr. Trump is no longer president, and has lost access to Twitter, his main communication tool. Perhaps the most surprising outcome of CPAC, a bastion of Trump loyalty, was the straw poll of attendees: It showed only 68% want him to run for president again. In a trial run of a potential 2024 GOP primary field, he won 55% of the vote. More heartening for Mr. Trump was the 95% who said they want the Republican Party to stick with his agenda. 

Even if Mr. Trump himself doesn’t necessarily represent the future of the GOP, it appears his ideas do. 

“We want Republican leaders who are loyal to the voters and who will work proudly for the vision that I’ve laid out today,” he said Sunday. “And what is it? ... Military, law and order, great trade deals, great education.” 

Mr. Trump teased a possible presidential run in 2024, but didn’t commit. He made clear his immediate goal will be to help defeat his political opponents in the midterms – be they Democrat or Republican. He’s reportedly starting a super political action committee, or super PAC, which can raise unlimited funds from individuals and corporations to support his chosen candidates.

Octavio Jones/Reuters
Former President Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida, Feb. 28, 2021. While just 55% of those attending the pro-Trump event said they would vote for him again as president, some 95% said they wanted the Republican Party to stick to his agenda.

That Mr. Trump is the dominant force in the GOP is beyond dispute. His choice for Republican National Committee chair, Ronna McDaniel, won reelection unanimously in January. 

The impact of state and local Republican Party committees, where the support for Mr. Trump can be CPAC-level intense, will also matter going forward – perhaps most in battleground states and longtime Republican-dominant states that are trending blue, such as Arizona and Georgia.

That might seem to work against GOP interests in the 2022 midterms. Republicans will be defending the seats of retiring senators in battleground states like Pennsylvania and North Carolina, as well as trying to win back seats in Arizona and Georgia in their quest to retake the Senate majority. Logic might suggest a more moderate approach to win back, for example, the suburban voters who went Democratic last November. 

But there’s a simple reason some state and local Republican parties are among the most pro-Trump bastions in the country, political analysts say. Mr. Trump remains the party’s dominant figure, and with his MAGA message – Make American Great Again – he’s the top driver of GOP activism. Grassroots enthusiasm is the key to winning elections. 

“Republicans can’t win without the MAGA crowd,” says Gary Jacobson, emeritus professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego.

Mr. Trump remains popular among Republicans, while GOP senators who move away from the former president have seen declines in their job approval ratings at home – a sign that distancing from Mr. Trump is risky. No senator has seen a bigger decline in support among home-state Republicans than the party’s Senate leader, Mitch McConnell, according to a mid-February Morning Consult poll. However, he’s in no danger of being voted out, since he just won reelection in November.

But each state, and even each congressional district, is its own political ecosystem. In deep-red Wyoming, where Mr. Trump won 70% of the vote – his highest winning percentage of any state – Ms. Cheney may still be tough to defeat in a Republican primary, despite her outspoken opposition to the ex-president. 

In an interview, Ms. Cubin at first predicts that Congresswoman Cheney will lose her seat, then pulls back. “People forget stuff in two years,” she says. “If she were to try to sincerely be a representative of Wyoming, that would move some people.” 

Former Wyoming GOP chair Matt Micheli also suggests that Ms. Cheney may be able to survive a primary challenge. “As the next two years play out, and the national fight will focus on Republicans versus Democrats, she’ll reassert herself as a voice of conservatism,” Mr. Micheli says. 

Still, another active Wyoming Republican, Jack Mueller, former national chair of the Young Republicans, describes himself in an email as “very unhappy” with his member of Congress – “even more so after her comments” about Mr. Trump right before CPAC. 

In Michigan, a very different state from Wyoming, Republican political consultant Jamie Roe warns against counting out the two GOP members who voted to impeach Mr. Trump. One, Rep. Fred Upton, has served in Congress since 1987, and “has been primaried more times than I can count,” Mr. Roe says. “People have been writing his political obituary for 30 years. Anyone who underestimates Fred Upton is crazy.”

The other GOP Michigan congressman who voted to impeach, Rep. Peter Meijer, is a freshman – and first-term reps can be especially vulnerable come reelection time. But he understands what he needs to do, says Mr. Roe, who consults for Congressman Meijer. 

“He will sit down and talk to anyone about why he did it,” Mr. Roe says. “He’s convinced he did the right thing.” 

Mr. Roe also notes that Mr. Meijer’s district was represented for 10 years by Justin Amash, first as a tea party Republican and then eventually a Libertarian, before declining to run last November. Mr. Meijer’s voters “understand people who go against the grain,” Mr. Roe says. 

Around the country, Republican House and Senate members have faced censure by state and county GOP committees over their impeachment votes. Some GOP House members have also been censured for voting to remove first-term Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia from her committee assignments over past statements supporting conspiracy theories. 

Even GOP senators who won’t face voters again have received blowback at home for voting to convict Mr. Trump. In Pennsylvania, the state Republican committee still hasn’t reached a final verdict on retiring Sen. Pat Toomey. 

But at least one committee member, speaking on background, suggested the panel should just let it go. “My feeling on the subject is, gosh, it’s over,” the member says. 

Other party activists in Pennsylvania feel more strongly, perhaps if only to lay down a marker for future representatives. After Mr. Toomey’s impeachment vote last month, the chair of the Washington County GOP spoke out. “We did not send him there to vote his conscience,” Dave Ball told a Pittsburgh TV station.

Another state being watched closely is Arizona, where Kelli Ward, an unfailing Trump loyalist, was just reelected state GOP party chair. This, after Arizona voted for Democrat Joe Biden for president and elected Democrat Mark Kelly over incumbent Republican Sen. Martha McSally in a special election. Senator Kelly will face voters again in 2022, a marquee race in the battle for control of the Senate. 

But Florida is another story. Once considered the biggest electoral battleground in the country, the Sunshine State is now effectively the headquarters of Trumpism. Mr. Trump now lives there, and Governor DeSantis topped the straw poll at CPAC as conferencegoers’ choice for GOP presidential nominee in 2024 – if Mr. Trump doesn’t run – with 43% of the vote.

“In most states, the governor is considered the head of the party,” says Aubrey Jewett, a political scientist at the University of Central Florida. “And with DeSantis, our GOP state party is probably as pro-Trump as you can get.”

Profile

Miguel Cardona: New education secretary is a teacher – and unifier

Education secretaries may sit in Washington, but they set a tone that ripples across the United States. Those who know Miguel Cardona see him already prioritizing a signature concern: inclusivity. 

Amelia

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Known as a unifier who earned his chops in a rapid rise through the education ranks – from fourth-grade teacher, to principal, assistant superintendent, and Connecticut education commissioner – Miguel Cardona was expected to be confirmed March 1 as the U.S. Secretary of Education.

The Biden administration choice of Dr. Cardona as a conciliatory tone-setter was a smart move, says Jonathan Zimmerman, a historian at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education. A teachers union leader or someone aligned with the pro-charter Democrats for Education Reform, he says, “would have been a sort of prima facie statement that we’re going with one [ideological] side or the other.”

Strong education partnership with the federal government “has been missing,” says Denise Forte, senior vice president for partnership and engagement at the nonprofit Education Trust. “The past four years, state and local leaders have been asking for federal guidance, asking for support, asking for technical assistance, and even an exchange of ideas on how to do the right thing for their students.”

Dr. Cardona has a reputation as an inclusive leader whose strength, colleagues say, lies in his profound ability to collaborate, juggling competing views like he juggled worlds in his childhood as a native Spanish-speaker in mostly white Meriden.

Miguel Cardona: New education secretary is a teacher – and unifier

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Courtesy of the Record-Journal/File
Miguel Cardona, set to be confirmed the new U.S. Secretary of Education, earned his chops in a rapid rise through the education ranks, from fourth-grade teacher – shown here in his Meriden, Conn. classroom in 1998 – to principal, assistant superintendent, and Connecticut commissioner of education.

Ahead of a Super Bowl back in the early 1980s, Gary O’Neil, a Connecticut grade-school art teacher, had a surefire class project to bond with a roomful of kids: Draw pro-football player faces with helmets on them and clothespin the paper cutouts to the window blinds. Scissors and crayons in hand, students engaged with the teacher in ways that for many – including Miguel Cardona – had lifelong reverberations.

“Miguel was always eager to learn,” says Mr. O’Neil, who met Dr. Cardona, whom the full Senate was scheduled to vote on Monday as secretary of education, as a second-grader in the diverse Meriden Public Schools system.

Miguel not only learned to love art in a way that would ultimately lead him into a teaching career, but he learned from Mr. O’Neil how a man of color – as an African American and Native American – could command a classroom. 

 “I remember looking up and thinking, ‘I want to be like him,’” Dr. Cardona told a local Connecticut paper.

Now Dr. Cardona is inspiring students, says Mr. O’Neil, whose middle school art class watched the Senate confirmation hearing on their laptops last month as they colored designs inspired by indigenous Panamanian textiles. 

Expected to be confirmed as the 12th U.S. secretary of education on March 1, Dr. Cardona rose through a public school system where he eventually returned to pay it forward – as teacher, principal, assistant superintendent, and Connecticut state education commissioner. He built a reputation along the way as an inclusive leader who remembers his roots – a unifier whose leadership, colleagues say, lies in his profound ability to collaborate, juggling competing views like he used to juggle worlds as a native Spanish-speaker in mostly white Meriden. 

Education secretaries may not run schools directly, but they can set a tone. And, steering clear of an ideological divide within the Democratic party, the Biden administration choice of Dr. Cardona as a conciliatory tone-setter was a smart move, says Jonathan Zimmerman, a historian at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education. A teachers union leader or someone aligned with the pro-charter Democrats for Education Reform, he says, “would have been a sort of prima facie statement that we’re going with one side or the other.”

In an era of polarization, he adds, “we need our schools to be consensus-builders. ... Our schools are the only public institution – the only one – that has the explicit goal of making citizens.”   

Devin Leith-Yessian/Berlin Citizen/Record-Journal/AP/File
As Connecticut State Commissioner of Education, Miguel Cardona – at right, with Berlin High School students in January 2020 – was in office just seven months before the pandemic sent education into a tailspin. He successfully maneuvered through the politics of reopening Connecticut schools to in-person learning last fall – and he is likely reprise that role as a tone-setter for the Biden administration push to reopen K-8 schools nationwide by May.

Pandemic “partnership”

Perhaps the top White House education priority at the moment is reopening schools – defined as most K-8 schools offering at least one day of in-person instruction a week by May.  There is bipartisan support for reopening school buildings shuttered by the pandemic, but how to do it will be an early challenge for the secretary. The Education Department noted via email that reopening decisions are made at the state and local levels. And that process is a familiar one to Dr. Cardona, who as state education commissioner successfully maneuvered through the politics of reopening Connecticut schools to in-person last fall. 

“For far too many of our students, this year has piled on crisis after crisis,” he said at his Senate confirmation hearing. “As a parent and as an educator, I’ve lived those challenges alongside millions of families.”

Dr. Cardona may play an important role in granting states flexibility in how they proceed with federally mandated standardized tests this year, along with other accountability requirements.

“The past four years, state and local leaders have been asking for federal guidance, asking for support, asking for technical assistance, and even an exchange of ideas on how to do the right thing for their students,” says Denise Forte, a former Obama administration official, now a senior vice president for partnership and engagement at the nonprofit Education Trust. That kind of partnership “has been missing,” she says.

“Did you see about Miguel?”

The nomination news palpably swelled local Meriden pride, says Dr. Cardona’s childhood friend Genaro Carrero Jr. At the grocery store, he says, “it’s the first thing that comes out: Did you see about Miguel?”

“Mikey” Cardona was a smart, funny kid who “pretty much kept his nose clean,” says Mr. Carrero, who spent countless Sundays alongside him when they were altar boys in oversize white robes, at times suppressing giggles during Mass.

Dr. Cardona’s parents and grandparents were among hundreds of thousands who migrated from the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico to the mainland in the decades following World War II. He says his parents raised him to revere hard work, community service, and education during his childhood in public housing. 

“While we didn’t always have a lot of material possessions, I was born rich,” he said at his confirmation hearing. 

Those humble beginnings and his Catholic faith informed an impulse to serve others, says Mr. Carrero, who works in construction as a project manager. “You appreciate everything you’ve achieved, obtained, and you try not to forget that,” he says. 

Like the Carreros, the Cardonas are deeply committed to the Meriden Puerto Rican community. Pre-pandemic, the Carreros led Three Kings Day celebrations at a local library for four decades, at times arranging cameos by live camels. The Cardona family band contributed aguinaldos – Puerto Rican Christmas songs – with Dr. Cardona on the bongos. His father Hector, a former Meriden police officer with a handlebar mustache, chaired the annual Puerto Rican Festival.

Hungry to rise

Dr. Cardona’s ascent from a childhood in public housing and a technical high school to a Cabinet nominee models the mobility he fought to secure for his own students.

Despite his committed family and community connections, Dr. Cardona told the CT Mirror, “there were times throughout my youth that I think people had lower expectations than they should have. It just made me hungrier. ”

He studied automotive tech at H.C. Wilcox Technical High School, but spent hours in Linda Ransom’s art classroom. The retired teacher recalls he was a talented artist who loved to use the airbrush. 

“He got along with all the kids, all his peers,” says Ms. Ransom, in Englewood, Florida. “He was gentle. ... He just kind of took everything in.”

She remembers one heart-to-heart they had during his senior year, when he confided that he wrestled with a career in elementary versus art education: “I said, well, you’re male and you’re Hispanic, I think you would have a bigger impact on the children if you went into elementary education.”   

That same year, he painted a mural of five figures with different skin tones beneath the words: “In America, There is Only One Race ... The Human Race.” Ms. Ransom arranged for its display at a musical event in another high school. 

Her support and that mural were formative. “I felt so empowered,” Dr. Cardona recalled in an interview with The Middletown Press. “The specific message was, it’s not only art, but also a way to develop as a person.”

As a first-generation college graduate, Dr. Cardona returned from Central Connecticut State University with a bachelor’s in education to the school system that reared him. 

He decided against a career in bilingual education, he told the CT Mirror, because “I felt it was important non-Latino students saw a Latino in a position as a teacher.”

As a fourth-grade teacher, each morning he gathered his students around a teal rug for a chat about whatever was on their minds.

His former pupils recall how he championed their budding interests, like Ms. Ransom had for him. He coaxed one music-loving student to sing “Believe” by Cher before the whole class, reported NPR. As principal one winter, he had fifth-grader Anthony Kane and a classmate serenade schoolgoers on an upright piano in the morning as they entered the building. Mr. Kane says the encouragement meant more than practice playing Jingle Bells. 

“It made me feel like I was doing something good at 10 years old,” says Mr. Kane, now 19, who is interested in an education career.

Dr. Cardona joined Hanover Elementary School as a principal before he turned 30. Three of 4 students identify as nonwhite in the district, and around the same share qualify for free or low-cost meals.

When Hanover began to gain more Latino and low-income students, the principal warmly welcomed families of color. Dr. Cardona was “always asking: Is everything OK? Do you have any questions about anything?” one former Hanover parent whose children were among the first Black students at the school told Chalkbeat.

During his time at Hanover, he also co-chaired a task force on student achievement gaps while juggling study for advanced degrees at the University of Connecticut Neag School of Education.

“He knew everybody”

In a small conference room at Dr. Cardona’s 2011 dissertation defense, Robert Villanova blinked back tears. The University of Connecticut professor remembers other guests were moved, too, by how Dr. Cardona personalized his presentation. Beyond sharing his findings on how educators could better narrow achievement gaps through a series of slides, Dr. Cardona recalled his own history as a young Latino raised in public housing.

“He described where his commitment to equity came from,” says Dr. Villanova. 

Impressed by the principal’s leadership, Meriden Superintendent Mark Benigni promoted Dr. Cardona in 2013 to oversee state-mandated reforms to teacher evaluations.  

It was through this committee that Jan Hochadel, Connecticut chapter president of American Federation of Teachers, had her first respectful brush with him. She appreciated how he saw teacher evaluations not as punitive, but “a way of helping teachers, improving their pedagogy, improving student learning outcomes.” 

The district again promoted Dr. Cardona in 2015 to assistant superintendent, where he and Dr. Benigni oversaw a range of “student-centered” initiatives, including increased access to digital devices and recruiting more bilingual staff. Dr. Cardona impressed colleagues with his relationship-building skills, like when he took Evelyn Robles-Rivas on tours of the schools as a newcomer to the central office.  

“It was amazing to see him walking into the building and seeing him calling students by their name,” says Dr. Robles-Rivas, supervisor of language and community partnerships. “He knew everybody.”

“We will need to work together”

Two decades after Dr. Cardona bought crayons for his first classroom, in 2019, Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont named him the first Latino education commissioner of Connecticut. Half a year later, the pandemic sent education into a tailspin. 

As he pushed for, but didn’t mandate, the reopening of schools, observers say he maneuvered pushback diplomatically. When he outlined reopening guidance this past summer, he communicated in weekly virtual meetings with teachers union leaders like Ms. Hochadel.

“When you talk about an open-door policy, he truly, truly had that,” she says. “It’s not that we always agreed, but that communication really just built a respectful relationship.” 

In fact, Dr. Cardona shared reopening guidance with her and another union before it went public. In turn, she forwarded him a preview of a PR statement that challenged the plan.

“I don’t [want] you to be blindsided. ... my educators are very upset,” Ms. Hochadel wrote to Dr. Cardona in an email, part of public records obtained by the Yankee Institute for Public Policy.

He thanked her and replied: “We will need to work together.” 

Most Connecticut public school districts have since reopened fully in person: Only 6% remain fully remote. 

Disagreements aside, Ms. Hochadel sees Dr. Cardona as a capable Cabinet member who will promote conversation over conflict. 

National spotlight

“He’s brilliant, he’s qualified, and he’s tested,” President Joe Biden described Dr. Cardona as he announced the nomination in December.  

His nomination was “notable,” says Lindsey Burke, director of the conservative Heritage Foundation Center for Education Policy, “because there’s not a whole lot of information” about him. His hearing remarks, she says, “did acknowledge that there is value in [school] choice.” 

Student loan debt and civil rights issues also loom on the horizon. But, no matter the challenge, says his former boss, Dr. Cardona will lead as a uniter.

“You’re not going to have someone who’s going to be deterred by a problem, by the pandemic, by a disagreement with a union,” says Superintendent Benigni. Instead, he’s “going to huddle the troops and say: All right, let’s work on this together.”

#TeamUp

How to prepare for an increasingly multiracial America? Pay attention.

America's rising generation is increasingly diverse – and workplace leaders who tap into their capability and potential will reap a competitive advantage, writes our columnist. 

Linda

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Are we in a hinge of history, a decisive moment of great import for the future? United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres warned last week that “white supremacy and neo-Nazi movements ... are becoming a transnational threat.” And in the wake of the Senate impeachment trial, Oberlin professor Renee Romano called the U.S. “unstable.”

What should America’s next steps be, and how might the country’s shifting demographics affect them?

“New census population projections confirm the importance of racial minorities as the primary demographic engine of the nation’s future growth,” Brookings reports. In particular, U.S. census data predicts that by 2027 people of color ages 18 to 29 will be in the majority for their age group.

Rosalind Brewer, the next Black female CEO of a Fortune 500 company, has some advice for the women in that demographic. “Take emotions out and put the facts forward,” she told listeners at her alma mater, Spelman College.

And for male leaders, Harvard Business Review published recommendations about how to be an ally: Pay attention! Ask women about their experiences. And then take action to stop microaggressions.

No one can credibly claim ignorance of the risks in the current moment. But each of us can ask ourselves, “Which side of the hinge of history am I on?”

How to prepare for an increasingly multiracial America? Pay attention.

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Jack Dempsey/AP/File
Ursula Burns, Xerox CEO from 2009 to 2016 and the first Black woman to lead a Fortune 500 company, speaks alongside Alan Mulally, then-CEO of Ford, at a trade show in Las Vegas on Jan. 11, 2012. This month, Rosalind Brewer, also a Black woman, takes the helm at Walgreens Boots Alliance, a Fortune 500 firm.

Philosophers, historians, and politicians have been asking a profound question of late. Are we living at a hinge of history, a moment of tremendous change that will influence the future of democracy in the United States as well as the fate of our species? 

Myriad technological advances, a massive pandemic, climate change, and racialized politics in the U.S. and elsewhere are all evidence of this hinge. Speaking to the United Nations Human Rights Council last week, Secretary-General António Guterres described the intersection of these forces. Reuters reported his warning that “white supremacy and neo-Nazi movements are becoming a ‘transnational threat’ and have exploited the coronavirus pandemic to boost their support.” He also raised alarms about the growing use and abuse of data on digital platforms.

In the aftermath of the Senate impeachment trial last month, Oberlin College professor Renee Romano questions whether America can become a truly multiracial democracy. She told an Axios.com reporter: “I think a lot of this is about race, and entitlement ... and now, we’re at a stage where you basically have to use violence to overthrow the results of a democratic election to protect white minority power.”

“In any society where you have such a divide over how you see reality, that’s an unstable country,” Ms. Romano continued. “I’m not hopeful for the future of the country.”

And yet, the benefits of a multiracial democracy – and economy – are evident and enormous. “New census population projections confirm the importance of racial minorities as the primary demographic engine of the nation’s future growth,” Brookings reports. In particular, U.S. census data predicts that by 2027, tomorrow really, people of color ages 18 to 29 will be in the majority for their age group. And they will be a talented majority.

Proprietary research that my co-author, Bonita Stewart, and I conducted for our book, “A Blessing: Women of Color Teaming Up to Lead, Empower and Thrive,” shows that young Black female and Latina workers are well educated, ambitious, mission-driven, and extraordinarily innovative. As a result, we argue, inclusive leaders who tap into the capabilities and potential of workers of color will reap the economic benefits of activating diversity as a competitive advantage.

Preparing for a demographic shift

By all indications, however, the workplace is not ready for a more multicultural workforce. Recently released data from LinkedIn’s survey of 2,000 Black professionals in the U.S. confirms our findings about Black women (described in an earlier column) regarding the increased scrutiny in hiring and on the job that Black professionals experience. LinkedIn reported these findings:

  • “Nearly half (46%) of Black professionals ages 18-34 have faced blatant discrimination and/or microaggressions at work.”
  • “44% feel they’ve been overlooked or intentionally passed by for career advancement opportunities because of their race.” 
  • “81% of Black professionals say seeing other Black professionals in positions of leadership would make their current workplace feel more inclusive and equitable.”
  • 25% believe they “may face retaliation for speaking up about racial justice issues or topics around diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace.”

And still, we persevere, buoyed by evidence of Black women “winning” almost every day. It’s been five years since the last permanent CEO of a Fortune 500 company was a Black woman, but two have been appointed this year. In January, Rosalind Brewer was named the next CEO of the $140 billion Walgreens Boots Alliance (No. 19 on the Fortune 500), starting in March. And last week, Thasunda Brown Duckett was selected to be the next CEO of TIAA, the 103-year-old investment and retirement company (No. 81 on the Fortune 500). Currently the CEO of Chase consumer banking, Ms. Duckett will replace Roger Ferguson Jr. as TIAA’s CEO in May, making this the first time that a Fortune 500 company has replaced one Black CEO with another.

Advice from the next Black female Fortune 500 CEO

In a wide-ranging conversation with the president of her alma mater, Spelman College, Ms. Brewer described her career journey and offered tips for thriving as an African American female executive. She conceded that microaggressions are real, that she has felt a chill when she walked into certain rooms, that even she has been asked to serve the coffee. And yet, reacting with anger shuts down the room, she said. Ms. Brewer urges Black women to turn a negative into a positive. 

Using the critical thinking skills she developed as a chemistry major, she learned to be overprepared when entering a meeting. She also tried to bring her anger down and the facts up. “People will listen if you speak with conviction,” she said. “Take emotions out and put the facts forward.” 

Ms. Brewer said her best advice came from a former boss: “Manage your integrity, and know that everything you do will be watched.” That fit perfectly with wisdom her mother had passed along years before: “Always be a lady. Carry yourself with poise, even when no one’s watching.”

Ms. Brewer also said effective leaders must be agile and curious about what they don’t know. Those who follow that advice, who want to reap the benefits of a multiracial workforce, who want to land on the most profitable side of the economic hinge of history, have resources to help them.

For male leaders, in particular, Harvard Business Review just published a recipe for improving male allyship. The advice from two white, male college professors, one from the U.S. Naval Academy and the other from the U.S. Naval War College, is simple. Just pay attention. Sensitize yourself to seeing and hearing sexist and racist language and actions. Ask women about their experiences. And then take action to stop microaggressions. 

Given the history of the first two months of 2021 alone, no one can credibly claim ignorance of the risks in the current moment. But each of us can ask ourselves, “Which side of the political, racial, and economic hinge of history am I on?  Where do I want the United States, indeed the world, to end up?”

Difference-maker

India’s blind readers had no lifestyle mag. So this woman made one.

Shouldn't everyone be able to pick up a magazine and peruse it for fun? Upasana Makati thought so – and decided to create a Braille magazine that would embrace blind readers in India.

Linda
Courtesy of Upasana Makati
Upasana Makati with White Print, the lifestyle magazine in Braille that she launched in 2013, photographed at a talk she gave in Mumbai, India.

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More than 9 million people in India are blind, and tens of millions more are visually impaired. For many of them, technology has helped open new opportunities at school and at work, just as it has for people with perfect vision. 

But stubborn barriers to information remain – especially when it comes to reading that’s just, well, for fun.

Since 2013, White Print has been trying to change that. It’s India’s first English-language lifestyle magazine printed in Braille, founded by a young college graduate who simply wondered one day what kind of reading-for-pleasure materials were available for blind people in India. When she realized how scant the options were, she decided to do something about it.

“As I’ve taken one step forward after the other, I realize there are deep gaps in the sector,” particularly around education, says the founder, Upasana Makati. She’s now published several children’s books, including some in Braille, that focus on inclusion and diversity.

“We need to change perceptions of people,” she says.

Usha KN, who has been a White Print subscriber from the very first issue, agrees. “The biggest challenge is people’s attitudes,” she says. “We know our strengths and capacities, but it is difficult to convince people that we can take on more responsibilities.”

India’s blind readers had no lifestyle mag. So this woman made one.

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Upasana Makati had always been a reader. But one night before bedtime, she had a stray thought that wouldn’t go away: What do blind people read for leisure?

She assumed there were Braille textbooks and educational materials for blind students in India. But on her own bookshelves and magazine racks, there was so much more. What about material that was simply fun and interesting?

At the time, Ms. Makati was a busy young graduate, working at a PR firm in Mumbai. But she threw herself into a whirlwind of calls and research. “I had no interaction with a visually impaired person before this, none whatsoever,” she says. “It was just a random, far-off thought and I needed to learn more about this, which is what made it interesting. It was uncharted territory for me and that kept me going.”

Google searches dug up newsletters and newspapers published by the National Association for the Blind (NAB). But when she visited NAB’s offices, they confirmed her research – no lifestyle magazines were available.

And so in 2013, Ms. Makati launched White Print. The 64-page English-language magazine is priced at Rs.30 ($0.41) and printed in Braille, at the NAB press in Mumbai – though each issue costs seven times that to produce. Complimentary copies of the inaugural issue went out with Braille newspapers, and new subscribers, starved for a fun, lively source of information, began signing up rapidly. “The feedback was immense,” says Ms. Makati. “Readers would write in saying they had finished reading the current issue and wanted to know when the next issue would be out.”  

Three months after talking to the NAB, she quit her job and began working on the project full time. “I was 22 and so convinced about this idea that I didn’t want to think otherwise,” says Ms. Makati. “I was convinced that this was important. ... I had an urge to take this risk and I ran with it.”

One-woman start

More than 9 million people in India are blind, and tens of millions more are visually impaired. For many of them, technology has helped open new opportunities at school and at work – just as it has for people with perfect vision. But stubborn barriers to information remain, some of them rooted in stereotypes.

“Blind readers don’t avoid bookshops because they can’t read. They stay away because these stores don’t have books for them,” says Ms. Makati, who praises Trilogy in Mumbai, the one bookshop to stock White Print, which also carries many books in Braille.

Usha KN, who has an administrative job at a scientific organization in Bangalore, has been a White Print subscriber since the inaugural issue. Smartphones, screen readers, and apps like Audible or Kindle are a help, but getting information in Braille is a problem, she says, and “the biggest challenge is people’s attitudes.”

Courtesy of Upasana Makati
Students at the Amar Jyoti School in Delhi, India use Tactabet, a Braille alphabet book in English and Hindi.

“We know our strengths and capacities,” Ms. Usha adds, referring to visually impaired people, “but it is difficult to convince people that we can take on more responsibilities,” especially at work.

Learning about these types of barriers motivated Ms. Makati through the difficult first years of White Print. Determined not to lean on financial help from family or friends, she wrote much of the content herself – everything from culture and inspiring profiles to food and travel. Out of 200 emails she sent to request sponsorship and advertising, only one received a reply.

But that one reply, from the Raymond Group fabric manufacturer, led to a 5-page ad – enough to get the first issue out. She distributed it through NAB’s database in the government’s postal system, which does not charge postage for Braille publications.

“Many advertisers are clueless about Braille and don’t want to invest in something nontraditional or unusual,” she says. There are no pictures or visuals in the magazine, so innovative advertising stands out. Another of the first sponsors was Coca-Cola, whose ad played a jingle when the centerfold was opened.

“There were times when things were not going my way,” Ms. Makati says, recalling how she watched her friends move on in their careers. Even today, she hasn’t cut a salary for herself, but narrates voice-overs and audiobooks for income. “There were fleeting thoughts whether I was doing the right thing or not.”

Over time, White Print has brought in contributions from well-known writers, and the content has matured to reflect changes in India. “I’m doing a lot of environmental stories,” says Ms. Makati, who partners with a website called Eco-Spotlight. She also likes to highlight individuals helping other people, and articles on healthy lifestyles.

“They cover stories about people we might not know about, and I find the cover stories especially inspiring,” says Ms. Usha, the subscriber. “I love reading fiction. ... Now with technology, books, and magazines like White Print, I feel much more positive and hopeful.”

Next up: books

In 2016, Ms. Makati was named one of Forbes India’s “30 under 30.” But it’s not recognition that drives her. It’s “the love that our work has received,” she says – and her growing awareness.

“As I’ve taken one step forward after the other, I realize there are deep gaps in the sector,” she says, particularly around education. Braille literacy in India remains very low, which prompted her to begin printing children’s books.

“Tactabet,” a Braille alphabet book in English and Hindi, pairs letters with associated words and tactile pictures. “Look Out, Look Within” is a storybook about inclusion, inspired by how rarely children with disabilities feel accepted in public places like parks, malls, or bookstores. Braille versions of the book were distributed free to more than 100 schools, and a sign language version is available on YouTube. The book “celebrates” differences, Ms. Makati says, noting that she doesn’t like the word “normalizes.” “Flowers for Sunaina,” an e-book on inclusion and diversity, was released in 2020, and Ms. Makati will become an author with “Run Saba Run,” a forthcoming book about blind runners.

Even though technology has opened doors, there’s nothing like an actual book, Ms. Usha agrees. “We remember what we read in Braille,” she says. “The younger generation especially is so dependent on audio books and apps that they don’t even know spellings of words.” Ms. Makati recalls one White Print reader who used to listen to a lot of audio, but struggled to spell, and had trouble finding a job. Today, he subscribes to strengthen his spelling.

For now, Ms. Makati’s main challenge is still finances. “Right now, it’s only about survival,” she says. She needs around $5,000 per year to meet her printing costs. Before the pandemic, White Print had 400 subscribers, many of them corporations, schools, and libraries. But today, as COVID-19’s economic toll continues, that is down to 150.

But Ms. Makati remains adamant that Braille materials be affordable and accessible. “It’s a vicious circle. Most of us assume that because this is a digital India, most people have access to technology, but it’s not true. We actually forget the population that doesn’t have it – the ones who are only dependent on books,” she explains.

And the big picture, she emphasizes, is bigger than technology. Above all, “we need to change perceptions of people.”

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Why protest signs in Myanmar are in English

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If you’ve noticed more images of Myanmar’s protests in the news, there’s a reason for that. The demonstrators are displaying signs in English rather than Burmese to reach a global audience. They make sure to march past foreign embassies. They are also using a well-known gesture, the three-finger salute from “The Hunger Games,” to signify a universal defiance against the military coup of Feb. 1 as well as their own commitment to nonviolence.

Myanmar’s pro-democracy activists know that, unlike during mass protests in 2007 and 1988, the world has far more peace watchers in place, able to track violence against protesters and other innocent people. A global “peace industry,” enhanced by the connective power of the internet, is establishing a norm that peace can be a positive force, not merely the absence of violence.

By closely watching protests, international monitors help democratic activists better engage repressive regimes. In a globalized world, peace is not only local. It has universal appeal.

Why protest signs in Myanmar are in English

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Reuters
A protest slogan is written on a street in Yangon, Myanmar (also known as Burma).

If you’ve noticed more images of Myanmar’s protests in the news, there’s a reason for that. The demonstrators are displaying signs in English rather than Burmese to reach a global audience. They make sure to march past foreign embassies. They are also using a well-known gesture, the three-finger salute from “The Hunger Games,” to signify a universal defiance against the military coup of Feb. 1 as well as their own commitment to nonviolence.

Myanmar’s pro-democracy activists know that, unlike during mass protests in 2007 and 1988, the world has far more peace watchers in place, able to track violence against protesters and other innocent people. A global “peace industry,” enhanced by the connective power of the internet, is establishing a norm that peace can be a positive force, not merely the absence of violence. The protesters, says Myanmar expert Richard Horsey at the International Crisis Group, are very much looking for foreign governments to show solidarity with their cause.

The protests have so far drawn one global reaction. On Friday, after the military killed at least 18 protesters, Myanmar’s envoy to the United Nations, Kyaw Moe Tun, broke ranks and addressed the 193-member General Assembly. He asked for strong action by the international community against the country’s generals and a return to democracy.

In another example of the U.N. pushing peace, the Security Council passed a resolution Friday calling for a sustained humanitarian pause in world conflicts to allow for distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. In Afghanistan, Taliban militants have heeded international concerns and allowed vaccinations to start in areas they control.

The world’s ability to stand guard over peaceful protests has become so sophisticated that there is even an official manual for it. The 57 countries that make up the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe just reissued a handbook on how independent observers can monitor peaceful protests. This impartial monitoring “is an effective means of bringing to light violations of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and other associated human rights, of identifying related challenges and good practices, and of supporting national and international action to guaranteeing human rights and fundamental freedoms,” the OSCE states.

By closely watching protests, international monitors help democratic activists better engage repressive regimes. In Myanmar, says Mr. Horsey, international attention can “support the agency of the Myanmar people at this time.”

In a globalized world, peace is not only local. It has universal appeal.

A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

Blessings – even in a pandemic?

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Our circumstances are not always easy – sometimes they may seem severe – but God’s saving presence is always able to meet the need.

Blessings – even in a pandemic?

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Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition

During many years of busy autumn days driving my kids around to their multiple activities, I had completely overlooked the changing colors of the leaves on the maple trees around my home. This past fall, spending much more time outside than usual, I had been particularly aware of their brilliance and of this incredible gift of beauty that is free to all and showering us in a warm glow. This was just one of the many blessings that have come to me over the past year due to a worldwide change in everyone’s way of life.

Isn’t it remarkable that a worldwide crisis, that has indeed brought my family many challenges, has also brought new views of God and of Life’s rich beauty and goodness?

Considering this, I’m convinced that we can’t ever be in a position where God, good, is not present to comfort, care for, and bless us. Even in the midst of trying or troublesome times, there is an abundance of good that is constantly made available to us through God, and appears to us when we most need to feel the divine presence.

Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, wrote these wise words, reminding us there is no situation we can ever find ourselves in where the love and care of God will not be apparent to us: “Remember, thou canst be brought into no condition, be it ever so severe, where Love has not been before thee and where its tender lesson is not awaiting thee” (“The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany,” pp. 149–150).

Years ago I had a sweet reminder of this during a painful bout of illness. I had three kids under the age of five, a new and demanding career, and a spouse who was traveling all the time. It was a busy time, and I have to admit that sometimes I forgot to take time out to just enjoy life’s precious moments.

One autumn night I was preparing dinner for my family and was just overwhelmed with a feeling of illness. I hadn’t been feeling well that day, but I had carried on with my daily tasks until dinnertime, when I was overcome with a feeling of nausea and dizziness. I quietly excused myself, assuring my kids I was fine, and went and lay down on the couch in the nearby family room.

I closed my eyes and was trying to pray, when I heard some little feet walking by. I opened one eye and saw my four-year-old daughter sitting at her craft table a few yards away, busily working on a project and humming absent-mindedly while she worked. I closed my eyes again and tried to find the peace and joy that prayer usually brings to me.

Several minutes later, I felt someone touching me. My daughter had been busy drawing hearts, and she was laying them all over me. When I asked her what she was doing, she said, “Momma, I’m covering you in love. Remember God loves you!” Well, that certainly opened my eyes. It was like waking up and suddenly being aware that nothing had ever been difficult or overwhelming at all. I was just filled with a deep feeling of warmth and goodness.

In a moment my eyes were open to so many of God’s blessings – to my darling daughter who without being told came to shower me in love; to the warm, cozy scene of the rest of my family eating dinner and chatting in the kitchen; even to the golden glow coming from the red, orange, and yellow fall colors outside the window! Within a few minutes I was off the couch and back at the dinner table, and there was not another moment of illness. The ill feeling, along with all its symptoms, was just gone.

If we find ourselves in a situation where it is difficult to feel blessed or to see God’s beauty around us, we can turn to God and silently, mentally ask for the beauty and peace of His presence to be revealed to us. “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law,” we read in Psalms (119:18, New International Version). The spiritual reality of life, the harmony that reigns throughout all time and space, is intact. And there’s nothing that can keep it hidden from us!

Some more great ideas! To hear a podcast discussion about the difference between character and charisma, please click through to the latest edition of Sentinel Watch on www.JSH-Online.com titled “Breaking the spell of charismatic personalities.” There is no paywall for this podcast.

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Together in red

Ramzi Boudina/Reuters
Sahrawi women take part in a parade at the Awserd refugee camp, one of several that are home to more than 165,000 refugees in Tindouf, Algeria, on Feb. 27, 2021. A movement seeking an independent Sahrawi homeland announced the end of a three-decade ceasefire with Moroccan forces in November.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )

A look ahead

Thanks for starting your week with us. Please join us again tomorrow for a look at what might be the next environmental justice issue: urban trees.

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