Tuesday, December 15, 2015

What I learned from Negro League Baseball

Along with the great personal milestone of marriage, it has been a hectic, life-changing and value-added summer and fall for me and Progress Strategies+ work.  During that time I have enjoyed reading reply messages to the  ProgressPeeps blog entries. 

Based on some questions about why I started my company and what I am learning, I will have a regular feature titled “What I learned from…….”  Client projects and other issues will still be highlighted.  “What I learned from…..” will briefly share  business and social impact motivations that may be helpful.

To that end, I would like to share  "What I learned from Negro League Baseball."  This is based on a variety of questions I am asked merged into this query:  “What motivated you to start your own business?  How has that motivation helped you?”
I enjoyed my young baseball playing days.  The experience was as unforgettable as the names of teams I played for like the Silverfish, Bumblebees, and Beetles.  Towards junior high I stopped playing baseball but stayed a fan.  I would later become a fan and fledging student of Negro League Baseball.

Reynolds and Sons Sporting Goods in Grand Rapids, Michigan was my second high school job.  They sold a small inventory of replica Negro League Baseball apparel that helped keep me busy in sales.  I was also motivated to take time after work to study the link between this league and economics. 

Some of my favorite teams—most of which I have among my hat collection today—became my teachers of grassroots finance and social responsibility.  Among my team favorites are the original Baltimore Black Sox, Homestead Grays, Saint Louis Stars, New York Black Yankees and Birmingham Black Barons.  These teams and many more were formed and owned by individuals ranging from groups of excluded athletes of color to the highest-paid African-American performer of the 1930s, Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson. 
I started out with the interest in great game play, scores and creative team names.  After learning for the first time about the concept of entrepreneurship, I began to read books on the side narratives of gate receipts, team management, business risks and selling of athletic services among men that were excluded and not expected to do much simply because of their race. 

A new world opened up to me of how Negro League Baseball teams in various cities formed entrepreneurial ecosystems, local economies and systems of self-reliance in the face of discrimination.  From this history and what it means for economic security and respect for those who made sacrifices before me, I knew it was my obligation to one day attempt to start my own business merging profit and social responsibility. 

Now today I can share what Negro League Baseball has taught me:

1.  Opposition can be opportunity:  Negro League Baseball pioneers endured opposition before the league was formed.  The league was formed specifically because those players were not allowed to play en masse with or against their white counterparts.  Even when black players were sometimes invited to bring their skills to an uncertain market and play within integrated settings, the players often faced opposition immediately when arriving on the field.

On any given week in the late 1880’s Moses Fleetwood Walker of the Toledo Blue Stockings would face the intolerance from the famous Cap Anson.  Anytime that Walker was in the starting lineup, Anson would refuse to take the field and play against Walker.  Walker’s journey was indicative of such actions experienced by African-American players throughout the country.  However, instead of permanent bitterness, a new generation of men used these experiences as fuel to create a “League of Their Own.”

Lesson:  When I started my own work and had my first client before the full project management service model, Progress Strategies+ name and brand, I faced an opponent.  This individual provided me a litany of reasons why my endeavor would not be successful.  He was an opponent by the literal meaning:  An action of opposing, resisting, or combating. Like conflict, opposition can be positive but at its most negative it goes beyond someone being a contrarian to having hostility.  

I sat quietly and heard all that he said could not be done and tested his complaints against my service processes.  I slightly changed one of my processes.  That process enhancement has remained a key, productive and successful approach for a client.  The point that I learned from the baseball pioneers is that if you keep to your dream, product, asset and vision while standing firm in the face of opposition, you can often make opposition into an opportunity.  At the least, just let opponents talk because they may give something away!

2.  Patience and perseverance must keep pace with pride in your work:  Jackie Robinson persevered and tended to his craft of controlled but aggressive athleticism for many years before the Negro Leagues and his 10 years in the Major League Baseball (MLB).  During and after his collegiate football career at UCLA he kept honing his intellect and multi-faceted athleticism that would take him into one of the three career lanes of military, football or baseball.  He could have easily abandoned all of them in the face of the racism he encountered in the U.S. Army or slights experienced playing for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues. 

He was confident in his abilities and the talent he offered to an array of industries.  He kept cultivating those talents at every detour or bump that otherwise could have been a stop.  His play matched his patience for the payoff.  On August 28, 1945, Jackie Robinson met with Brooklyn Dodgers Owner Branch Rickey who gave him the ‘test’ that would take him into the MLB that he changed forever.

Lesson:  Jackie Robinson was a proud man who was proud of his God-given ability supported by the vision to play in the major leagues.  Throughout his time and tenure people told him why his goal would not work and how the odds were stacked against him.  As I mentioned, I still encounter the cynics and challenges.  What keeps me moving is partially the pride and self-realization that I have a good service to provide. 

I believe in my service just as Jackie believed in his swing.  At the same time I put time, experience and resources to make my work perform as high as the pride I have in it.  Hone your skills at a higher level than what you believe in---and do it daily.  Your skills, vision and talents are yours.  Never quit refining them for the day that they are ready.  Never quit.

3.  Diversify:  Negro League players and player/owners revealed much to me about having a core business area plus other essential products, services, enterprises, etc. to utilize one’s full set of skills and maximize impact and profit.  Because of the need of supplemental income and more profits/investments that would be returned to their teams, Negro League Baseball was strengthened by other profit areas.  Like owners, players also worked in entertainment and many areas.  Robert A. Cole was the owner of the Chicago American Giants ball club.  Mr. Cole also founded the Metropolitan Mutual Assurance Company.  That company was one of the largest black-owned insurance companies that owned and secured entertainment venues----venues that grew when ballgames came to towns.  I would also assume Mr. Cole’s company probably underwrote a healthy degree of player policies. 

Lesson:  This was a great example to me for having different—but interrelated and integrated---units under one entity not just to have ‘many fingers in many pots’ but project areas that create, cultivate and support others areas.  It is not paying homage to the likes of Mr. Cole, but actually following a great lesson that serves as one of a few reasons that the + in Progress Strategies+ means one project business area plus other specialized areas.  If it is sound in the business model along with being done right, it is good to have more than a few things going on.

4.  Social and economic impact for others can coexist with profit: Negro League Baseball Players worked under long and rough hours in the barnstorming traveling of back-to-back games from city-to-city.  They also had secondary jobs and/or a combination of jobs such as owner/player/groundskeeper!  Like an entrepreneur’s vision they kept to those jobs, hours and travel because of the love of the game.  They also believed the market would indeed pay them for their great play.  The individual focus to play, win and make money did more than serve them.   Forming, playing and profiting within a self-sufficient baseball league with high-quality games created a need of black designated hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, ballrooms, barrooms and barbershops.  Those were welcoming places for performers, players, and their audiences.  Those were places that made profits for people in league cities. 

Lesson:  The league’s founders and players served and paid Jackie Robinson and countless others who honed their skills towards new heights.  Andrew “Rube” Foster was one of the best pitchers in baseball (once having a seven game stretch where he averaged 11 strikeouts), ball manager and team executive of the Chicago American Giants.  His ability to make a living for himself added with his ability to seek out talented players to win pennants, improve their performance and manage them resulted in good economic and social outcomes for himself and others within and outside of Negro League Baseball.

I learned that having a business model that provides services for institutional profit and social progress defined by myself and the client could coexist.  A free market and good mission can connect with each other and serve as a great tool to help change issues and institutions for the better. 

5.  Keep your head up---and everything else---during the inevitable setback: Satchel Paige’s storied career with a variety of teams in the Cuban League to the Kansas City Monarchs experienced a disappointing halt.  The golden pitching arm he leased out to many teams and leagues that once produced 144 strikeouts and only 26 walks in 1934 was experiencing pain.  He would be unemployed five years later and could not secure a job as a manager or coach.  He took an offer outside of the Negro American League and played for a second-string team.  He made the most of the time and opportunity, and regained his fastball.  With treatment, self-care and playing other positions that relaxed his arm, Paige got back his ‘groove’ and returned to playing for major Negro League teams such as the New York Black Yankees.

Lesson:  Paige had a constant determination for returning to baseball and playing with the best.  What I appreciate and try hard to emulate is the series of activities such as taking care of his core business (arm) amid trials and tribulations.  Also, I have become a better adherent of self-care and relax time. 

At the same time, when the market and times are challenging I keep my head and eyes up toward the promise and prize.  At bat and at the pitch Paige prepared that way.  I learned to do the same because the opportunities of the market, needs of a client, and the challenges to successfully solve a problem that can benefit customers, consumers and communities will always be there.  But you will miss them if you are looking down.

Playball everybody!


Eric K. Foster, a social entrepreneur, is Principal of Progress Strategies+, a project management firm.  While his business motivations, life lessons and positive attitude can be derived from Negro League Baseball and baseball in general, he can no longer hit homeruns blindfolded every time at bat.









Thursday, June 25, 2015

Michigan Works! Muskegon-Oceana: Working towards cultural competency and inclusion

Among the many indicators of client satisfaction is a project wrap-up lunch with those who have retained you for services.  The positive feedback that matches affirming evaluations is even better when the subject turns to them giving you humorous—and useful—advice about marriage! 

Personally, I am appreciative of the Michigan Works! Muskegon-Oceana’s leadership team sharing the impact of the Progress Strategies+ Diversity, Inclusion and Equity Team’s Unity of Purpose:  Facilitating Intercultural and Inclusion Development cultural competency training.  Furthermore, I took great acceptance of some pre-wedding advice!

In the last blog entry I introduced Michigan Works! Muskegon-Oceana’s mission of preparing people for meaningful work, wages and careers.  They are among the best in such work.  Furthermore, they have a brave willingness in transcending diversity and moving towards the complexity of cultural competency to effectively serve each other as colleagues and their clients.  Our human community is already diverse and will continue to grow in that diversity.  What we miss often is how the variety of cultural preferences, dimensions and hidden norms of diverse people connects or conflicts with the workplace and community.  Michigan Works! Muskegon-Oceana and the 52 staff participants are on a great path to ensure that they are not missing a thing.

Michigan Works! Muskegon-Oceana has been journeying with Progress Strategies+ to develop cultural competency awareness, cultural connection skills, cultural conflict mediation values and scenario approaches to effectively grow and manage cross-cultural relations with employees and their job-seeking clients.   The Progress Strategies+ Diversity, Inclusion and Equity Team has also benefited from adapting some approaches to their real-time issues.

Impressions and improvements

I received a great email from a staff member on the Michigan Works! Muskegon-Oceana team immediately after one our first Unity of Purpose:  Facilitating Intercultural and Inclusion Development cultural competency sessions.  As Progress Strategies+ is a project management firm, I was pleased to hear how the staff member was excited about ‘the tools’ that they were given in Session One to first learn how to accept cultural differences.  When professionals accept and adapt to cultural difference (norms, etc.), it does not have to mean agreement— a first and great step to meeting and managing difference, communication and connection. 

Specifically, the staff member was excited with having a better concept of cultural competency tools to help them navigate the inevitable conflict that comes from authentic engagement with culturally diverse communities.  I agree with them that this removes and replaces the outdated memes of ‘tolerance.’  Here are some other impressions our team received that we appreciate seeing impact and growth in:

·         Know thyself:  Developing and defining an individual’s and/or institution’s culture is highly important and a must before that individual or institution prepares to engage and effectively connect with culturally diverse groups.  The team has been personally excited that individual staff members stepped into the vulnerability of learning ‘what they don’t know’ about their own culture or preferences. 

They will now be patient in the journey of how to better connect with others while learning and discovering their own backgrounds.  Finding ways to connect with others (in different communities, markets, etc.) starts with knowing the foundations of our individual or institutional culture. 

·         Conflict is inevitable—it should be embraced:  Through our models, scenario role plays and management tools we provided, staff members appreciated the invitation to embrace cultural conflict.  The intersection of difference and deep engagement with others of different backgrounds will produce the learning, growth and mistakes that are often labeled as ‘conflict.’ As long as learning, healing and understanding have taken place it is hard for me to term such occurrences as 'conflict.'

As long as ‘conflict’ comes through our planned steps of moving from unconscious ignorance to conscious ignorance (and devoid of intentional harm), any mistakes made such as miscommunicated words or comments should be met with learning experiences.  Therefore, our Change Opportunity Policytm with project management, cultural competency learning steps and restorative justice elements provide the foundations for organizations to help the so-called ‘offender’ learn about the cultural communication 'mishap' while journeying in understanding and perspective-learning with those who may have been slighted. 

Like all of us, many staff members want to benefit from a workplace environment where compliance-oriented correction is preceded by—or connected to---learning and lessons to overcome the inevitable mistakes made during the travels from unconscious ignorance and conscious ignorance to unconscious competence.  We all make mistakes.  In fact, our team shared our narratives of what those personal (and young!) cultural mistakes were and the specific strategies of how we improved.

Other direct feedback and staff goals shared as sentiments were staff members using our methods to “learn more and how important it is to incorporate this in the workplace” or “use this information and tools now to move forward into adaptation and then integration” based on their individual cultural competency briefs and progress movement steps.  As the Michigan Works! Muskegon-Oceana team prepares for more authentic cultural connections with others, it was satisfying to hear staff progress steps based on the values of “Change Opportunity Policy as a technique being effective in repairing harm in the workplace.”

We were also pleased to hear how these dedicated professionals are developing a heightened understanding of serving clients who are coming to them with different notions of work, time, communication and adherence to the ‘Hidden Rules’ that are often overlooked or ostracized.   We are not to make judgments of those preferences, rather we should make some adjustments to them.  Not only will these dedicated professionals accept those differences that are under-girded by culture, they will adapt to them for the benefit of the client, organization, community and job-market---a job-market that can itself benefit from many of those differences.

One thing I valued is that the aforementioned lessons and other outcomes were encompassed in the Progress Strategies+ approach of interactive equipping sessions and scenarios that staff participated in and followed.  There were some academy-award winning acting performances based the scripts we gave people!  Simply put, those sessions were fun and enjoyable---just like Michigan Works! Muskegon-Oceana  is to our team and work.  

Eric K. Foster, a social entrepreneur, is Principal of Progress Strategies+, a project management firm working with corporate and non-profit clients in five areas of Diversity and Inclusion, Corporate Social Responsibility, Public Policy and Advocacy, Grant Writing and Project Management, and Community Engagement Strategies for economic and social impact in communities.  In the midst of other impact movements and measurements to be attentive to in change work, he is going to devise a satisfaction and outcome indicator on “Fun.”  Seriously, fun just needs to be gathered and measured more everyday!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Working with Michigan Works! Muskegon-Oceana: Unity of Purpose

Michigan Works! Muskegon-Oceana is working for job-seekers searching for economic security and long-term careers.  They are also working for employers seeking qualified, prepared and developing workers!  Progress Strategies+ is working for Michigan Works! Muskegon-Oceana!  See how this works?

The Progress Strategies+ Diversity and Inclusion Team is pleased to have Michigan Works! Muskegon-Oceana as a client.  Specifically, we enjoy the creation and coordination of employee diversity and cultural competency training to 52 employees in order to develop and strengthen their understanding of intercultural sensitivity, cultural understanding and conflict management in situations with co-workers and job-seekers of different backgrounds.

One of the five business project areas of Progress Strategies+ is diversity and inclusion with Track One (Diversity and Inclusion Training) and/or Track Two (Diversity and Inclusion policies, practices or program creation) that we focus on for corporations, businesses and non-profits.  The Michigan Works! Muskegon-Oceana Unity of Purpose:  Facilitating Intercultural and Inclusion Development training sessions have been specially formed to help their dedicated employees learn and use intercultural development skills, change opportunity strategies to learn from cultural misunderstandings and other methods to identify---and solve---barriers to inclusion within the workplace.

Michigan Works! Muskegon-Oceana serves residents of its area through an innovative approach to employment for highly qualified and developing skilled workers.  From job training to assistance in preparing and placing displaced workers for new jobs, they help Michigan’s economic future.

A variety of career development, administrative staff and community specialists also provide important staffing and recruitment for organizations.  As those organizations and businesses search for employees for the state’s new economy, Michigan Works! Muskegon-Oceana develops training programs for workers at every skill level in order to fulfill the needs of those job providers.

As a social entrepreneur who works daily to ensure that everyone can enjoy wealth and economic opportunity, I love what this team does for people:

-The single mother with two children who knew that she could have more opportunities moving from a displaced home health care worker to a Pharmacist.  After episodic job placements and setbacks from job loss, Michigan Works! Muskegon-Oceana prepared her for the Pharmacy Certification Program.  She received free training from the staff to prepare her for the first career change driven by her desire “to do more.”  She is now a Pharmacy Technician.  Her children are proud of her drive, new income and goal to become a Pharmacist. 

There are many more narratives of job-seekers from the full-range of diverse backgrounds served by Michigan Works! Muskegon-Oceana's attention, time and outreach who are moving from job displacement to a career.  Progress Strategies+ has helped this group of staff members improve in the cultural diversity and inclusion skills needed to work with a growing group of job-seekers---and the companies who accept the business case of inclusion---representing a changing workforce.  

I look forward to sharing more.  Today I wanted to provide an introduction to these great people at Michigan Works! Muskegon-Oceana as they expand and enhance their understanding of diversity, cultural competency, and systems of equity that will lead to innovative inclusion practices allowing everyone to perform and prosper in our global community.
More to share on Michigan Works! Muskegon-Oceana in future blog posts.  For now, back to work!

Eric K. Foster is President and Principal of Progress Strategies+, a project management firm working with corporations, businesses, organizations and non-profits in five areas---Diversity and Inclusion, Grant Writing and Project Management, Community Engagement Strategies, Public Policy and Advocacy and Corporate Social Responsibility.  Eric is also the lead of its Diversity and Inclusion Team.  He enjoys creating economic opportunity and income equality for all people through helping develop environments of inclusion.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

‘And How are the Children?’ An answer from the Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative

Masai (Kenya) warriors—known as fearsome and intelligent---would traditionally greet each other with “And how are the children?”  Among the many greetings one would assume that warriors would extend each other, it was “And how are the children?”  Not, “How are the weapons?” or “Will we win the battle today?”  Wow.

On the journey of social change, social impact and social profit, I work with some clients, partners and allies who do their work to affirmatively answer that question.  One can wonder how our world would be if we consistently extended to each other such a greeting---regardless of our profession directly or indirectly impacting children.

Progress Strategies+ is pleased to work in public policy and advocacy efforts with the Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative (ELNC).  ELNC works hard to answer “Healthy,” “Learning” and “Secure” to that timeless greeting of “And how are the children?”  As a congressional staffer pretty fresh out of college I had the privilege of working for a congresswoman who brought her past work as a Registered Nurse to advocate for children with that question on her mind.  She would be proud of organizations such as ELNC.

ELNC was first funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and is fearsome in its commitment to changing the conditions of vulnerable children in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Led by its Chief Executive Officer, Nkechy Ezeh, ELNC engages in their change work for vulnerable children through the successful design and implementation of an intentional preschool service system. 

The distinctive of those preschool services comes through their aim at providing, expanding and sustaining the capacity of high quality early care and education programs in vulnerable neighborhoods of Grand Rapids.  And similar to a village with a collective concern for its children ELNC is also a model of collective impact as their comprehensive preschool service system consists of seven partner organizations. 

Those organizations are the Baxter Community Center, New Hope Baptist Church, South End Community Outreach Ministries, Steepletown Neighborhood Services, the Hispanic Center of West Michigan, The Other Way Ministries and United Methodist Community House.  Affirmed and acknowledged in successful service delivery, ELNC and its partner organizations have now stepped forward to learn more about advocacy and systems change strategy through public policy. 

Progress Strategies+ is proud to assist, equip and inform ELNC in theory of change, policy advocacy and engagement with elected officials in a non-partisan manner that is permissible for non-profits---but that many choose not to do for reasons of time or misconceptions about advocacy.  As we affirmed in one of the session pre-readings titled “What is Child Advocacy,” more groups and businesses must embrace their responsibility to raise the question with their public officials regarding legislation and public policy issues with: “Is this in the best interest of children and their families?”

We are moving through sessions such as Advocacy 101, Engagement with State Government and even Racial Equity and Policy with other areas in between.   It has been encouraging to work in this project management area with organizations like ELNC who excel in service delivery but wish to explore or improve upon enhancing their voice to share with state, local and federal policy-makers on how decisions impact the children and families that they serve.  More to be shared at another time.

I have worked in---or engaged with---all levels of government.  I know that policy impacts programs.  Furthermore, fairer and more socially responsible public policy can diminish the over-reliance of programs to solve systemic problems.  When groups like ELNC wish to learn more and act upon such a reality through policy advocacy, they are truly taking that fearsome step to continue presenting an affirmative and positive answer to the greeting of “And how are the children?”

Eric Kenuawn Foster is principal and president of Progress Strategies+, a project management firm specializing in five areas of social responsibility with organizational, non-profit and corporate clients.  Those areas are Diversity and Inclusion, Grant Writing and Project Management, Community Engagement Strategies, Public Policy and Advocacy and Corporate Social Responsibility.  He first honed his experience and love for public policy as a congressional legislative aide on budget and tax policy in the U.S. House of Representatives.