Friday, February 28, 2014

Black History Month Friday—Cool Facts about Frederick Douglass

Here it is, the last day of the month, and I’m finally getting around to writing something about Black History Month. That’s wrong.

When I was a kid, BHM was a big deal. You’d see commercials about it on television all month long, there’d be posters all around our school, and we’d have special lessons and projects, too. Now the entire month goes by with barely a blip.

I asked my 10-year-old son Thomas, “Did you do anything at school for Black History Month?”

He sighed heavily. (I'm getting that a lot these days for some reason.) “Well, Benjamin (not his real name) gave a book report about George Washington Carver, and we read about Rosa Parks.”

Wow. All that? 

Sad, sad, sad.

Not that George Washington Carver and Rosa Parks aren’t worthy of classroom time, but this is a little pathetic, is all I’m saying.

So, I figure I should do my part. 

Here are a few facts about one of my favorite African American figures, Frederick Douglass. (And yes, I know Douglass is a BHM staple too, but dude is really, really interesting.)

Facts About Frederick Douglass (With a Little Opinion Thrown in for Good Measure) 
  • Douglass was born a slave in February 1818, which is one of the reasons BHM is celebrated in February, NOT because February is the shortest month of the year. At least … I’m pretty sure month length wasn’t a factor. 
  • Douglass learned to read and write as a young boy, first being taught by his Mistress (until her husband put the kibosh on that) and then by poor white boys in exchange for bread. (Damn. I don’t know which part of this story is sadder—the idea that there were people worse off than slaves, or the idea of a child sneaking around town offering up chunks of bread in exchange for reading and writing lessons.)
  • When he was roughly 20 years old, Douglass fled his Baltimore plantation and landed in New York. Not too long after that, he married Anna Murray and settled in Massachusetts. In 1882, Murray died, and Douglass married his white former secretary. (Yes, you read that correctly. And, I don’t want to judge, but … I ... ah …. Oh, never mind.)
  • In 1841, Douglass spoke before a white audience in Nantucket, Massachusetts. His speech was so well received that he was hired as a full-time antislavery lecturer by the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. However, some doubted Douglass’ story, because he was too well spoken. (Gee, imagine someone being surprised that a black man is articulate? Well, I never!!)
  • To prove the naysayers wrong, Douglass wrote his story. In 1845, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave, was published. Of course, some claimed that Douglass wasn't the real author.
  • For 16 years, Douglass edited a successful black newspaper, successively called The North Star (1847-1851), Frederick Douglass' Paper (1851-1858), and The Douglass Monthly (1859-1863).
  • Douglass was an advisor to President Abraham Lincoln—Hey! Does that make Douglass the original black friend?—during the Civil War. (I’m guessing, however, that Douglass did NOT advise Lincoln to suggest that all the slaves go back home, already. Apparently at his wits' end that the war hadn’t yet ended, Lincoln had the (cough) brilliant idea that the slaves be colonized. You know… since we *all* were having such a hard time getting along, perhaps an amicable parting would make it all better, yo?)
  • Douglass died of heart failure in 1895, ending a well-lived life as a speaker, writer, abolitionist, and civil rights activist.

Learn more about Douglass on

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Things Your Employees Won’t Tell You That You Need to Know Anyway

Is it possible an employee somewhere is thinking this about you?

“If you can’t be a good boss to me, nothing else matters.”
Regardless of what else you and I may have in common—hobbies, educational background, sense of humor, political party, general worldview, or even religion—if you can’t manage me well, I don’t give a damn about it. First and foremost, you’re my boss, and if your lousy management gets in my way instead of helping me out, you can take your compliment about my taste in clothing and stick it where the sun don’t shine.

“If you ever forget that I’m a human being, all bets are off.”
Your position as my boss does not give you license to talk down to me, bully me, or otherwise abuse me. You’re not my parent, and I don’t care to be controlled by you as though I’m incompetent or incapable of contributing to the company in a meaningful way. If you can’t treat me with the respect due any living person, I will shut you out and do only what I must to keep my job. Forget about “going the extra mile” or anything close to it. I’ll only bestow that type of loyalty on someone who’s earned it.

“I’d prefer to make my mistakes in private.”
I understand that you want to be informed, but it’d be nice if you didn’t require that I copy you on every single email message I send. For starters, it’s dumb. Also, I’d like to keep my occasional typo, word usage mistake, or unnecessary question between me and the recipient, if that’s okay with you. The truth is, I do my best work when I feel free to make a mistake every now and again without hearing about it from you.

“I value your support more than I can say.”
When Butthead Bob sent that snarky email about how my department messed up the annual thingamajig report, you were quick to respond “junk in, junk out,” and then you reminded him that we’d made multiple attempts to warn everyone that the inconsistent data input from his department was bound to cause a problem sooner or later. So, we still have a mess to fix, but BB has been put on notice (publically—which is apparently how he likes it) that all of us own a piece of the problem, and you won’t stand for anyone playing the blame game. Thanks. Today, you’re my hero.

“How you feel about your job is your business.”
Please, when I come to you for guidance/advice/a complaint about my work situation, don’t get all “me too!” I don’t want to hear how your boss frustrates you, how discouraged you get, or how X works you like a dog. I promise you these revelations are not creating a “bonding moment.” Instead, they reinforce for me how vain and immature you are as a manager, and they confirm for me that you will not be addressing my problem today, if ever. Seriously, if you don’t like YOUR job, go and complain to YOUR boss. I’m here about me, okay?

“I won’t give up time with my family to accommodate this company’s dysfunction/general inefficiency.”
If you want to work all hours of the morning and night because it suits you, God bless. I’m going to need more of a reason than your example to do the same. What’s that expression again? “Failure to plan on your part is not an emergency on my part?” Yeah, I like that. Listen, sometimes the unexpected happens, and I can live with that. But I won’t regularly sacrifice time with my family because it takes twice as long to do something in this place as it ought and you think a great employee shouldn’t notice that.

“I love it that you ‘get me.’”
Wow. Do you know how many terrible bosses are out there? More than I can count, that’s how many. But you’re the bomb. You understand who I am, and you like it. We go together like peanut butter and jelly, you and me. This is nice.

“I really, really don’t want your job.”
It’s flattering (sort of), but I’m not motivated by hearing how you think I could do your job “someday.” “Someday” sounds awfully far off, and I don’t plan on being here then. Also, I’ve met your boss. No thanks.

“I want your job.”
Watch your back, okay?