Not In Our Town!

How CEOs and citizens can unite to regain a sense of safety in times of strife.


How CEOs and citizens can unite to regain a sense of safety in times of strife.

In the aftermath of the murders of nine innocent African Americans while worshiping in a local historic landmark church in South Carolina, I have been struck by the impact this event is making on our communities and nation as a whole.

It is impossible for me to deny that this event is part of a long history of cultural conflict in the USA. Unfortunately this is not the first time such heartbreak has happened. As a baby boomer born in the South, now living in the Pacific Northwest, I may be more aware of this syndrome than millennials who are going to be leaders of our future, who may not be as informed about how our communities have been dealing with cultural seeds of hatred over differences for a long time.

So, I decided to find out more about what is happening not just in the South, but throughout all of North America.

As an executive coach I am trained to think more in questions than answers. I experience every day the power of asking the next best question. Asking questions is one way that leads us to be able to change a conversation. Sometimes, we need to adjust the conversation that we have going on in our heads, as well as in our interpersonal dialogues. We can shift from the narrative we tell ourselves and each other, “Well, this is terrible, but I can’t do anything about it” to “Here is what we can do to work together to keep unwanted messages and mindsets from growing in our communities.”

So I asked the question, “What are leaders and citizens and communities doing (I didn’t really know) across the nation to effectively address signs of a hateful mindset?”

I got the following answers.

First, it is important to be aware of a shocking statistic: Hate and bias crimes are a widespread problem within the United States. In 2012, hate crime estimates were close to 300,000, but less than 6,000 were reported to the FBI.

Second, the good news is leaders of communities have learned ways that do work to ‘nip the trend in the bud’ before it can take root in a community and instill fear and separation among its’ members. Apparently hate is like a nasty weed that grows and can take over your beautiful garden if you don’t pull it up as soon as you see it! Like an invasive intruder in a community garden, we must pull them up when we detect them. We can remove unwanted mindsets before they take deeper roots and invade our mental landscape, more difficult to pull up once mature.

Cropping up today are grass roots groups who are joining together to address community strife. Leaders and citizens characterized by ethnic diversity with populations at risk to be targeted are being helped internally by a movement called Not In Our Town (NIOT).

Not in Our Town is comprised of voluntary leaders and citizens who unite out of a deeply felt need for individuals to work together to fight crimes of intolerance. Not in Our Town means just what it says – that intolerant messages and behavior are not acceptable in our community.

Not In Our Town defines itself as a movement to stop hate, address bullying, and build safe, inclusive communities for all, and they have learned something about what works over the past decade.

There are two main principles that NIOT have found to be effective:

1) The first principle is to not act like an ostrich – do not ignore graffiti, vandalism and flyers around town simply because it appears to be written from “kids.” Even if you cannot find where and who exactly crafts these messages, it is important to not do what many have previously thought best- pretend it isn’t happening.

Ways to bring visibility to the situation are:

  • Having a statewide human rights organization equipped to counter events
  • Having faith community leaders willing to proactively articulate thoughtful and strong arguments against unwanted mindsets, and
  • Having a proactive alliance between community members and authorities who know that ignoring the signs will eventually lead to escalating violence and ultimate tragedy.

2) The second principle NIOT groups share is that targeted communities who have citizens at risk of being violated watch very closely to see how the rest of the town responds. If the town is saying, “It’s not a big deal, it’s just kids acting out, don’t pay attention to them, that’s all they are seeking,” the message to the families who are being bullied and intimidated is that, “Your safety is unimportant.” If the town on the other hand, says that what happens to the smallest minority happens to us all; and we will not stand by and permit that to continue, the whole community is strengthened and relationships are built up.

 These principles are found to help community citizens heal and reduce feelings of being powerless and get back their sense of safety and unity. Here is how you can learn more:

  • Go to https://www.niot.org/ and watch short documentary movies on the history of the organization.
  • Find a group in your area or form one if you do not have one in your state.
  • Join the Southern Poverty Law Center – an organization that for many years has provided education programs on tolerance across the entire nation, not only in the South.

Also, we can shout out hooray and be consumers of organizations who are eliminating products with symbols of disruption and controversy–such as Apple, Walmart, Amazon, and Valley Forge Flags have done. We can listen to corporate leaders exampled by Salesforce CEO, Marc Benioff who recently said on national business news, “Companies are tremendous platforms for change”.

As corporations in America, we have both the opportunity and responsibility to our communities to speak out against intolerance.

It is always the right time for company leaders to use the power of their communication channels to foster safety and peaceful relations in their workplace and community cultures. Not just because it is a law, but because it is the right leadership thing to do.

We can ask ourselves the question, “What can I/we do today to promote well being in my circle of influence?”

About the Author:

Jane Hundley, Executive Coach, M.A. Industrial Organizational Psychology (I/O) & Development, President of Impact Management, Inc.

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