Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Systemic Discrimination in the Federal Sector

A writer writes!

After 35 years, in November 2012 I retired from a career in Human Resources with the federal government.  I began my career as a college co-op from the University of Evansville working every other quarter at the U.S. Army Finance and Accounting Center (USAFAC) in Lawrence, Indiana, a suburb of Indianapolis.  I was 19 years old as I began my first internship.  I had naive perceptions of the inner workings of the federal government.   Over my career I discovered that discrimination that existed in the "real world" was mirrored by systemic discrimination within the federal government.

I soon found out that there were very few Black males in administrative/professional positions within the agency I worked for.  The numbers of Black males in such positions consistently stayed at low levels throughout my 35 year career.  I often found myself being the only black male in my office and in meetings that I attended.  Throughout my career there seemed to be a sign that said, "Black males need not apply."  I witnessed first hand an attempt by my employer to fire a young African American male because he spoke too eloquently and didn't fit the quiet Negro mold that my employer was seeking from African American male hires.

Early on in my career I observed that if you were a Black male who spoke his mind, once you left the agency there was no chance you would be allowed to return if a job opened up.  I saw first hand how a skilled African American man had left the agency for another job.  When he attempted to return the door was closed to him.  Periodically the agency would have a hiring surge of African Americans when ratio levels were below acceptable levels.  Once those ratios were met, there would then be no attempt to hire African American males into vacant positions.  When interns were sought for vacant positions during succession planning, the hiring of African American men was limited to achieving the minimum number of hires to meet statistical quotas.

During my career I saw the bar raised which identified what applicants were "Best Qualified" for vacant positions.  The bar went from requiring a Bachelors degree to then requiring a Masters Degree for select first level supervisory positions.  Later as more African Americans attained a Masters degree the bar was raised to require additional "certifications" as being the preferred level that warranted being identified as being the best qualified employee.

Obtaining these degrees and certifications put an economic burden on the employee to pay for higher education and to prepare for and pay for the cost of the certification test.  For awhile employers would pay the employee to attend school to pursue their degree. But, government spending to pay for education had decreased over the past 10 years, leaving the employee to their own means to reach the new bar.  Those who could not afford to pay out of pocket the cost to obtain a degree or a certification had their job advancement hopes derailed.

Many Caucasian supervisors will not admit that they often did not feel comfortable dealing with African American employees.  Those supervisors had preconceived stereotypes regarding African American employees.  Those supervisors also expected you to conform to their interests but had no intention of caring about the interests of their minority employees.

I obtained high level supervisory positions in my agency through my technical expertise and due to the need for my agency to have at least one token Black male to point to as evidence that it was a diverse employer.  In the latter stages of my career, even though I was one of the most experienced employees in the entire agency and federal government in my field, my advice was rarely sought.  It came to a point that after working for my agency for 34 years I decided to leave my agency to seek a job elsewhere.  At that point I was a GS-14 in terms of pay grade while actually making GS-15 salary due to our agency having been under the National Security Personnel System (NSPS) for several years.  Under NSPS I had flourished as NSPS was a pay for performance system.  After improving a key program for two years I sought to move up within HR.  But, my skills were not valued to reassign me to a comparable position.

Until I found a job outside the agency that I was selected for, I spent about 10 months being highly overpaid for the money I was making.  I wound up applying for and accepting an HR managerial job in another agency in St. Louis, Missouri some 267 miles from my new home which I had just purchased some 2 years ago.  My new agency gave me a relocation incentive to pay for an apartment in St. Louis.  I worked in St. Louis during the week and then returned to Indianapolis for the weekends.  I accepted the job in St. Louis simply to earn the salary I was being paid and to take control of my career.  I did not want my skills underutilized by my agency.  It was my career and I took control of it.  I understood the systemic discrimination that existed in my agency and chose to no longer allow it to control my career.

Discrimination still exists in the Federal sector.  Caucasian people will not admit it, but they still have viewpoints towards African Americans that limit our ability to be selected for positions.  Also, the new Jim Crow rules that raises the bar that determines a candidate being deemed best qualified for a position supports efforts to keep some people from making the final cut to be considered for selection to a job.  Selection criteria at times is developed to exclude some people from making a final selection list.  This is systemic discrimination that if investigated would show that there is a correlation to the negative impact on minority applicants.

What can you do?  Play the game.  Get those degrees and certifications that management establishes as being preferred.  Then go to management and ask them. "Well, I've met all the requirements to succeed in this agency?  Can you now explain why I am not being selected for positions?"

Monday, March 24, 2014

Working Together to find Flight 370?

A writer writes!

It has now been 16 days since Malaysia Airlines flight 370 was last seen.  The flight had 239 people aboard.  Today the Malaysian prime minister stated that radar evidence points to the plane having crashed into the southern Indian Ocean.

With all the spy technology available to many countries, I have wondered if flight 370 was monitored as it headed towards disaster.  A Boeing 777 is a large plane and any large plane flying off course would raise danger signals in any country that it could fly into.  But initially we were told that no one knew where the plane had disappeared to.  Then suddenly we were given information regarding the last radar contacts with the plane using information from satellites.  Based on this delayed information, a statement was made today that all the passengers likely perished when the plane likely crashed into the Indian Ocean.

Today attempts to find wreckage from the plane continued in the general area where the plane apparently crashed.  There has been mention of the number of countries now working together to find the wreckage of the plane.  This spirit of working together was not readily apparent during the first days of the disappearance of the plane.

Could the effort to locate the plane been coordinated better among nations?  Was there evidence available in countries "spy" technologies that could have been used to quickly locate the plane during the first 24-48 hours of its disappearance?  If the technology was available and information not shared quickly, such non sharing speaks loudly of where we are at as a world dedicated to taking care of and watching out for each other.  If the technology was available and not used/shared, that would simple be a shame.  Non sharing would just be evidence that we are simply still in our infancy of being a "civilized" world.

Finding the wreckage of the plane and the cause of the eventual crash are the next steps. Then closure can be given the families and loved ones of those who apparently perished for a now unknown reason.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Playing Catch Up to Become a Kingdom Man

A writer writes!

I attended a men's group at my church last week.  The group is for men 35 years and older.  The group is discussing Tony Evans' book "Kingdom Man".  We watched a video by the author who discussed God's plan that men exist to bring order to confusion.  Men are to represent God with the bible being our life manual.  As Mr. Evans explained it, men are to live life under the lordship of God.

I had never really heard these concepts explained before.  As I mentioned to my group members, in the context of Mr. Evans' book, I considered myself a "trainee Kingdom Man".  As I was listening to the video of Mr. Evans, it occurred to me that many men were likely to be trainees.  If we did not have a father who was a Kingdom Man, then we had no one to teach us to be one ourselves.  I do not recall my family being grounded in the church and bible as the foundation of our household. My father did not lead from biblical principles. He lead from the perspective of a man who did not have a great relationship with his own father and no daily relationship with God that I could ascertain.

Unfortunately that puts many men like myself in a catch up mode to learn and then apply the principles to become a living functioning Kingdom Man.  Yes, once we learn to become a Kingdom Man we can then pass on our knowledge to our sons or younger men and youth we encounter.  But, the presence of a Kingdom Man within a family unit at an early age is the best scenario for boys to lean to become a Kingdom Man.

Of course ideal scenarios rarely happen.  So we have to modify approaches and try to implement catch up scenarios to spread the knowledge on how to become a Kingdom Man.  Mentoring, interaction with youth at various events, and presenting ourselves in a positive manner at every opportunity around youth are simple ways we can spread the ideology of being a Kingdom Man.

Finally, playing catch up to become a Kingdom Man is better than doing nothing to become a Kingdom Man.

Friday, March 21, 2014

NFL To Penalize Use of "N" Word

A writer writes!

The National Football League announced that during the 2014 season officials would be charged with penalizing players who use the "N" word during games.  Officials are now charged with penalizing players for the past environments players were in that allowed the use of the "N" word.  Ironically some of the players who will be penalized will be African American players.  In African American culture the use of the "N" word has been common in conversations of a serious or joking nature.

Rather than dealing with the "problem" after players have become use to using the word, it would seem more effective if  efforts begin in high schools and college.  Behavior can be modified at any age.  But, it would be better to focus on changing the behavior and use of words at an earlier age.  Would it be more effective if professional players made community service visits to high schools urging players to refrain from using the "N" word explaining why?

Reacting to a negative with a positive action is needed in this case.  Penalizing players for something no one told them was wrong before seems to be a backwards solution.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Guns in the United States

A writer writes!

In the past decade there have been numerous incidents of shootings in schools in the United States. These events have occurred in all levels of educational institutions, from elementary school to colleges level.  Students, teachers and administrative staff have been murdered by people armed with guns.  There is no reason why innocent people should have to die due to the mental instabilities of others.  There have been charges that the mental health system has failed and that policies preventing access to guns by those mentally ill have also failed.   It is definitely a major mistake to allow those with mental instabilities the access to purchase guns.  Hopefully it will not take another serious of killings before such access is ended.  But, in some instances guns used in these violent acts have been the property of parents of those who have committed the acts of terror.

The freedom to bear arms has long been a valued right in the United States of America.  When there is a call for guns to be banned, the sales of guns and ammunition increases rapidly. People fear not being able to purchase and own guns.  The right to defend oneself through the use of guns is a right people do not want to give up.

The basic premise behind having a right to protect oneself through the use of guns is based on lack of trust in governmental units to keep us safe.  Plus, there is no guarantee that those who work in governmental units are stable and will not misuse their authority to harm individuals.  It is a fact that police departments are designed to respond to emergencies.  Prevention of crime is not the purpose of police departments.  Yes, police do stand guard and are present at a number of public and private events.  Their presence is supposed to be a deterrent to those who want to commit violent acts.  But, there were security people stationed at the airline gates boarded by 911 terrorists. That presence did not stop the events of that day.

So with no reliable deterrent available, people rely on themselves for protection.  We purchase guns for "home defense".  Just in case someone attempts to break in and do harm to our family.  Another reason why people purchase "home defense" weapons may be due to a lack of trust in the ability of police and other agencies to protect them from harm.  Then there is always apprehension that the agency designated to protect it's citizens may one day turn against the people they are sworn to protect.  Fears of "big brother"  governments overstepping their authority even today is a fear in the United States of America.

In the event that "all goes wrong", and there is no police force to protect citizens, the belief may be that we have to protect and defend ourselves.  Our response is to arm ourselves with "home defense" weapons of various calibers and power to do serious harm to invaders of our domains.

I do not foresee guns becoming obsolete until other social factors change that eliminate fears that we are unsafe without home protection.  Until then, those who possess guns will need to govern their use of them in a responsible manner.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Hunger In America?

A writer writes!

Ironically, I am participating in a church corporate fast for the next 38 days. I have made a conscious decision to not eat some foods, mostly meats and sweets, for the next month.  I am blessed for being able to have a choice to not eat such food items.

But unfortunately in the United States of America, there are many people who go hungry every day.  People who don't have a choice.  They don't have a job to be able to afford to buy groceries for themselves and their family. Or what food they have is just enough to get them by.

Yes, this is the same United States of America that you hear politicians bragging about being the greatest country in the world.  Well, how can any country that is the greatest have citizens who are going without food?  How can the greatest country in the world not provide jobs for people to work just to earn money to purchase food?  How can the greatest country in the world have a hunger problem?  Maybe it's time for those politicians to stop patting themselves and the United States of America on the back and direct their attention to the causes and cures for hunger in America.

One thing every person can do is to donate to such organizations as Gleaners in Indianapolis, Indiana. Gleaners takes donations of food or money for the purpose of feeding those in need. Gleaners has a food pantry from which those who are in need can come to get groceries.  This enables families to feed their children and not to turn to other means of getting money to simply buy food.

Recognizing that a hunger problem exists, I have voluntarily donated money to Gleaners for several years. Yesterday I took the next step which is to volunteer to perform manual tasks at the Gleaners warehouse in organizing and distributing food to people.

In the "greatest country in the world" people should not be going hungry.  As simple citizens we can all do our part to rid this country of hunger.  Please take the time to donate food or money to your local charity that feeds those in need.  If you have the time, spend a few hours a week volunteering to help out doing those manual tasks needed to support the effort of feeding those in need.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Learning From the Past To Move Forward

A writer writes!

I was watching an interview of Allen Iverson, former NBA player for several teams.  The interviewer asked him that traditional question.  If he could do it all over again, what would he do differently?  To Allen's credit he responded that he would not change a thing.  I found that to be a very honest answer.

As people we are prone to make mistakes.  What kind of life would it be if we could call time out and go back in time to correct our mistakes.  Sure, some things would turn out better, but our lives would be far from human if we were perfect.  The movies "Groundhog Day" and "About Time" feature stories where the main character had the ability to go back in time and change events. Those films work from the premise that if we had the ability to change our actions, the actions of those we interact with would not change.  What if that person felt that their behavior wasn't perfect and they wanted to go back and change how they interacted with you?   Life could be a series of mid course corrections with each person or the person(s) they interacted with constantly "going back" to make changes.

In real life we have the ability to learn from past mistakes to avoid making the same mistake again. But, how many times do you in fact make the same mistake again?  Learning from the past gives us the ability to change our future behaviors.  But, our past does not prevent us from making future errors.  We all need to make a conscious decision to move forward in a different direction from past behaviors that resulted in negative results.

In your personal journey, try to avoid a series of repeat mistakes that lead to the same result.  It is  not as easy at it should be to avoid repeat disasters.  We still hold on to the belief that even though something turned out bad the first time, the second time all will be much better.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Our Life's Windshield

A writer writes!

I was returning from an errand in my car one day.  My vehicle is 10 years old, but still runs well.  It doesn't have all the computerized gadgets and safety features of today's modern vehicles.  It does not have cameras to show what is behind me as I back up or turn. It has no GPS to direct me in my paths.  I noticed that the windshield of my car is somewhat like me.  The windshield has several cracks in it.  Damaged from debris on the highways over the past 10 years. I had those cracks filled in at a repair shop to prevent the cracks from widening and causing further damage to my windshield.

The windshield is like my life.  My life started off with the innocence of youth.  Over the years I made many mistakes and poor judgments that damaged my windshield in life.  I sought to repair those cracks through a variety of methods.  The most consistent and reliable repair method has been through turning to God and a spiritual approach to life.

My life and actions over the years have not been perfect.  Like my car I encountered debris on my life road that came out of nowhere to damage my life windshield.   I could have swerved and missed some of the debris by staying on the spiritual road.  But, I made human choices and chose to detour onto side roads looking for the shortcuts in life.  On those side roads I encountered the small rocks and pebbles  that I drove right into and damaged my windshield.

My life windshield is still in tact.  It is staying in place after many years.  I still get chipped by debris.  But, I continue to go to the repair shop to fill in the cracks and get back on the highway.  My life GPS has become the Bible and seeking God's guidance.  I seek direction from God to keep me away from the self made detours and short cuts I want to take. At times I ignore the directions of my GPS, but I always wind up coming back to it for directions that I can count on.

We all need to take time to wash our windshields so we can see clearly on our journeys.  As we sometimes stop to wash our cars, I urge you to stop and check your life windshield for any cracks that need your attention.  Perform this maintenance check before your windshield's crack grows to large where it becomes a danger to you as you travel along the road of life.  It only takes hitting one big pothole in the road to shatter a severely cracked windshield.