Exploring the “Ell” in DEL

Institute for Emerging Issues

It’s for each of us to reflect on those moments in our lives when ideas are more deeply understood, when lessons are truly learned. That, I think anyway, is the essence of growth and leadership.

And so, on a recent trip to Durham to start our third (2nd year) or first (1st year) semester as DEL students, we were introduced to Ms. Anita R. Brown-Graham, Director of the NC Institute of Emerging Issues (IEI), a state-funded think tank charged to consider issues affecting NC growth and prosperity (online at iei.ncsu.edu). Ms. Brown-Graham is not an environmentalist per se, that’s not why we met with her. She’s every bit a leader, though – engaging, expressive, and impressive in her command of a room. And who, in the hour we spent with her, helped us to better appreciate our journey of leadership through her own.

The following is a poor paraphrase of one of Ms. Brown-Graham’s anecdotes. I hope that each of you reading this will one day have the occasion to be in her the presence. To hear her stories firsthand (trust me, they’re much better) and to leave that interaction as informed and inspired as we did.

Like many of us, Ms. Brown-Graham came from an immigrant family who placed a premium on work and education. To find greener pastures, the family moved when she was young to Baton Rouge, La. Settling into a new area, Ms. Brown-Graham was thrust into a very new, and very uncomfortable situation: among the first students to integrate her school as part of court-ordered busing. Boarding a new bus, for a new school, for the first time, she found that others wouldn’t make way for her to sit. It was a rebuke both of her as an individual and the institution of busing as an instrument of equality.

Ms. Brown-Graham rode the bus with the help of an insistent driver, then made her way to the school office, where she placed a call to her father. “You need to come get me. I can’t go to this school.” “I’ll be right there,” said her father.. 30 miles to drive. During that time, she thought, “My dad’s the best! He’ll come and fix this for me.” Arriving at the school to meet her, Ms. Brown-Graham’s father immediately, and purposefully, approached her. “We gave up everything to give you this opportunity. Don’t you ever do this again.” He turned, walked to his car, and left back for work. A meeting that took more than one hour to plan, took only one minute to happen. “I learned,” she said, — and here’s the lesson to us — “what it meant to stand on the shoulders of others.” Ms. Brown-Graham finished that school, of course, and went on to graduate from another school in Triangle area (light blue, not dark blue, not red).

To you: with gifts of family, friends, profession, and ambition, upon whose shoulders will you stand? More importantly, what shall you do once there?

I encourage you to consider the DEL program and find out.