Scientist, Human Computer & Trailblazer; Remembering the Legacy of Katherine Johnson

– by Dr. Jalin B. Johnson 

Katherine Johnson – Featured in People Magazine wearing her Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated lapel pin (November 03, 2016) Photo by Katherine Wolkoff

American mathematician Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson (August 1918 – February 2020), changed history as one of the first women to work at NASA as a scientist. Like many women (of her own and subsequent generations) in STEM fields, Johnson helped to create a space for many underrepresented and minoritized groups that succeeded her.

In the United States, representation within the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) are monitored by groups including the National Girls Project (NGP), Catalyst and others.

When examining the STEM workforce, it has been noted that “women remain underrepresented in the science and engineering workforce, although to a lesser degree than in the past, with the greatest disparities occurring in engineering, computer science, and the physical sciences (NSF, Science & Engineering Indicators, 2018). Additionally, according to NGP, women make up half of the total U.S. college-educated workforce, but only 28% of the science and engineering workforce. Likewise, female scientists and engineers are concentrated in different occupations than are men… (National Girls Collaborative Project, 2020).

While ‘Looking at Leadership,’ I spoke with Dr. Cherilynne Hollowell, Natalie V. Nagthall & Andrea M. Stoll. Each of these women are helping to educate our future trailblazers. Here, they celebrate their own connection to the work of Johnson and other STEM pioneers.


And they told us “Black Girls don’t do Math”

– by Dr. Cherilynne Hollowell      

At a time in American history when African American women stood at the intersection of two prevailing and predominant systems of oppression, namely race and gender, Katherine Johnson epitomized the significant reality that Black girls not only do math, they also do physics and they code.  According to Black Girls Do Stem, the number one indicator for a girl to be interested in science is having a role model who is/was a female scientist. As jobs of the future and a continuous movement toward a global economy require an increasingly high demand for persons with knowledge in STEM fields, the reality is that there are not enough Black girls enrolled in higher level math or science courses at the high school and postsecondary levels to fill those positions often because they lack role models and exposure (The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2017).

The release of the motion picture Hidden Figures (2016,) gave Black girls everywhere, superheroes that look like them, thus changing the trajectory of education and the mindset for young girls of color that may have felt anxious or inadequate in their efforts to succeed in mathematics and science. In addressing the challenge that Black girls face in pursuing careers in STEM fields, it is critical to present a historical counter-narrative that countless WOC, specifically Black women, have received advanced degrees in mathematics from prestigious universities and have published in peer reviewed journals, along with working in these fields. Women including Dr. Sadie Gasaway, Dr. Lillian K. Bradley, Dr. Genevieve Knight, Dr. Gloria Gilmer, Dr. Kate Okikiolu, Dr. Evelyn Boyd Granville, and Dr. Marjorie Lee Browne, have done so against insurmountable odds.  The requisite empowerment for young girls and teenagers of color that will change the narrative which suggests that “Black girls don’t do math” lies in allowing them to see themselves in schools in the form of Black female math and science teachers and in presenting and providing opportunities for them to be exposed to and to “do” STEM.  As an educator dedicated to encouraging students to reach for the stars, literally and figuratively, I look forward to the development and exposure of present-day “not-so hidden” figures.


A Diversified STEM Workforce will Yield to Adequate Representation

– by Natalie V. Nagthall   

On the heels of Black History Month, the world of STEM lost a giant in the field. Ms. Katherine Goble Johnson was a pioneer in this arena as were many in our nation’s history. The contributions of women especially women of color (WOC) in STEM are multitudinous with pioneers such as Dr. Glady West whose work in mathematics paved the way to the invention of the Global Positioning System (GPS). Likewise, Dr. Shirley Jackson who developed the technology that led to the creation of caller ID and call waiting, and Dr. Patricia Bath, inventor of a laser cataract treatment device known as a Laserphaco Probe, led with innovation. While the contributions of WOC’s have left an indelible mark on our society, there is a growing concern that these contributions will be halted due to lack of representation.

Even though there has been an increased focus in diversifying the STEM workforce, there still remains a dearth of adequate representation, especially by WOC. In order for our society to be able to compete on a global level, it is important to make the necessary investments in building and diversifying the STEM capacity pipeline. This cannot be overlooked as our contributions in this area can only mean great things for how we are able to compete as a country thereby ensuring our economic growth. If our nation is not cultivating a diversified STEM workforce, this will inevitably lead to huge untapped talent pool. To stimulate this growth, it is also important for young WOC who are considering pursuing STEM as their profession, see representation of themselves so that they can feel a sense of belonging and confident in their abilities to be successful. Historically, there have been numerous contributions by WOC in STEM and it is the hope that our nation will continue on this trajectory for years to come.


Always Focus on the Passion that Drives Us

– by Andrea M. Stoll    

“We will always have STEM with us. Some things will drop out of the public eye and will go away, but there will always be science, engineering and technology. And there will always, always be mathematics. Everything is physics and math.” Katherine Johnson

While Kathrine Johnson’s life achievements highlighted and eventually, promoted the necessity of STEM, she made a truthful, yet simplistic statement needed for all, “everything is physics and math.”  Many articles chronicling her life relay one important factor of her life’s success: her passion for mathematics.  History has chronicled many barriers to entry into the accounting & finance professions. These challenges called upon women of color (WOC) like Johnson, to stand strong and work harder than their male counterparts. In 1943, Mary T. Washington became the first African American women to obtain her CPA license, while starting her own accounting firm, from her basement. There, she founded Washington, Pittman & McKeever (1968), which remains one of the largest, African American owned CPA firms to this day.

Women like Johnson and Washington remind us, in STEM careers and across professions, that we should always focus on the “passion” that drives us.  By only focusing on the challenges and obstacles we face, we may miss the importance of these accomplishments.  Johnson focused on being the best, asking the tough questions, taking her tasks beyond the assignment and making herself audible, during a time when the voices of women (and particularly WOC), were not always heard.  The obstacles that women face, will always be present; but if we focus, with intent and passion, we will emulate and replicate the life and legacy of women like Johnson. This passion will continue to be my driving force, encouraging me to be the best I can be.



Find Dr. Jalin B. Johnson at          

Looking at Leadership: Kobe Bryant, Mentorship and Legacy

As parents (and as mentors to others) we can often find teachable moments appearing when we least expect them.

On Sunday, January 26, 2020, I experienced one of these teachable moments during a somber time that as a sports fan and parent to a young athlete, I had not anticipated.

Like many, after the news of NBA great Kobe Bryant (41) and his young daughter Gianna (13), hit the airwaves, I found myself searching through the websites of sports and cable news outlets for confirmation and information. And like so many around the world, I was heart-broken to learn that the reports of their passing in a fatal helicopter crash, along with others whose loved ones are now mourning their tragic loss, was indeed true.

During my internet search, I was immediately struck by Bryant’s last Twitter post (1.25.20), acknowledging NBA living legend LeBron James.

On Saturday, James became the third highest scorer in NBA history with 33,655 points, behind only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone. Bryant’s tally sits at 33,643 points and with a running lay-up in the third quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday, James moved past that figure (Calum Trenaman-CNN).

It was in that final Tweet from Bryant, acknowledging this historic moment and passing of the baton to James, that I began looking at leadership, while talking with our young athlete and scholar.

I shared during this solemn moment, how the now final Tweet and public expression from the NBA phenomenon, exemplifies how each of us can mentor and lead by example as we encourage others to continue our legacy.

In a few short words, Bryant acknowledged the greatness of another.

He applauded the passing of the baton and the continuing of his legacy, as all mentors should strive to do.

He offered young athletes around the world yet another example of how to lead from the sidelines with positivity, selflessness and with grace.

During the coming days and weeks ahead, parents, coaches and mentors to young people will have similar conversations. My hope is that they too, will encourage others to start Looking at Leadership and consider how they can be the example of mentorship; passing the torch and continuing the legacy.

Dr. Jalin B. Johnson

Looking at Leadereship: Father’s Day Edition

By Dr. Jalin B. Johnson

“When you’re young, you think your dad is Superman. Then you grow up, and you realize he’s just a regular guy who wears a cape.” -Author unknown

Having always been thankful for the love of parents who taught my brother and I an array of life lessons, I am blessed to have also seen them model excellence. This Father’s Day, I considered all of the many leadership lessons my father has offered us through his own wisdom and insight. My Pops wears his cape well. Recently, I set aside my own bias and asked some of our Brandman faculty and leaders – who also happen to be dads and grandads – about the leadership examples and wisdom they have both shared and received through the years.

Honoring the 75th anniversary of D-Day; How Fathers Inspire Thoughts of Love & Leadership – Dr. Sam Bresler, Associate Dean of Student and Faculty Affairs/ Professor of Human Resources and Business Administration

My father participated in D-Day, and in the months of struggle that followed that day. He served in the Army Air Corps as a flight surgeon, reaching the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. The decisions that he was required to make were challenging and at times heartrending. In addition to attending to the needs of those who were injured in combat, he was called upon to decide who would qualify for flight status and who would remain behind (until the next mission).

As I reached that point in my life where I was contending with the demands of my own military service, he often reminded me that modeling the behavior that you most wanted to see in others was the first requirement of leadership. I never forgot those words, or his continued commitment to them, and have attempted to follow his example in the years that I’ve been privileged to lead and influence others.

The Importance of Fatherhood – Dr. Alan Enomoto, Associate Dean of Multiple subject, Single subject, MAT programs, BA Early Childhood Education and BA Liberal Studies with Credential Programs/ Associate Professor

Amongst other things, I’ve encouraged fathers to become active in their children’s education and make it a point to consistently attend and actively participate in their child’s school activities and events. Through this behavior, fathers are sending a vital, unspoken message to their children that schooling is extremely important and is aligned to their family’s values. This is not always easy to do. In seemingly endless demands placed upon us in today’s society, it is often difficult to juggle the responsibilities of work, home, and education. However, it cannot be discounted how a father’s active involvement in school makes a tremendous difference in how children view education and the success they are able to achieve in school.

Living our Lives with Integrity – David Long, J.D., Associate Professor of Criminal Justice and Legal Studies

Interestingly enough, I only truly became a father after I was divorced. Still, I made every effort to involve myself in their lives in those early stages. No matter how “bumbling” that initial involvement was, it was important.  At 35, a divorce thrust me squarely into the role of being a father. My relationship with my children was no longer filtered through the relationship dynamics of being a husband and a father. Suddenly, it was my son, my daughter, and me. Over the past 20 years, I have noticed that leadership and success as a father to me has meant being available to my children as a sounding board. I listen to them without immediate judgment. We might not realize it at the time, but they value our ideas, as long as the feedback we give them comes from a place of love and caring. I have learned that we can lead our children through truly listening to them, asking questions, making time for them and living our own lives with integrity.

A Father’s Wisdom and Leadership –  Carlos V. Guzman, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, School of Education

My father played an important role in shaping me. He brought courage, safety, optimism and wisdom. I developed key leadership characteristics from my father. I learned to be confident no matter what the circumstances and to always speak up when a situation called for it. My father believed in never judging others and emphasized that respect was crucial and part of the Golden Rule. I was taught to always be a team player and contribute to the greater good. My father was a well-educated man but never flaunted it. He once said, “Even though you may have the most knowledge in the room, it is better to sit back and listen, you never know what more you can learn.”

Fatherhood as a Sociocultural Construct – Dr. Isa A Ribadu, Associate Dean of Psychology/ Assistant Professor of Psychology

It embodies multiple definitions and nuances that can cripple the understanding of it, or hide the simple elegance of the role. The practical elements of fatherhood require a father to be present. It asks a father to be who they are as they provide consistent guidance, nurturance, support, wisdom, love, and loyalty to a child; all while remaining present as a child triumphs, offering words of praise, showing love in its unconditional form. Fathers must willingly sacrifice themselves to enrich the life of a child. To have a father who understands this concept in its simplest form is to have a father who understands the value of life.

Sometimes the best guidance can happen without words – Glenn Worthington, Ed.D., Dean of the School of Business and Professional Studies, Professor of Organizational Leadership

Observing my father while I was growing up taught me about the value of family, education, service and work. He never had to say anything special to me to convey what was important. I just watched the things he did and the way he did them and learned from his actions. I wish everyone could have such a great role model. The world would be a better place.

This Father’s Day as you’re Looking at Leadership and considering how to reach out to a special father or grandfather you appreciate, I leave you with this closing thought:

“I am a princess, not because I have a prince, but because my father is a king.” –Author unknown

Happy Father’s Day!

Jalin B. Johnson, Ed.D., is an associate professor in the School of Business and Professional Studies at Brandman University, focusing on business and organizational leadership. She is a regular contributor on issues of leadership and current events.


Operation Varsity Blues, accessibility and the tradition of placating privilege

Looking at leadership: Operation Varsity Blues, accessibility and the tradition of placating privilege

By Dr. Jalin B. Johnson

“Tradition has it that whenever a group of people has tasted the lovely fruits of wealth, security, and prestige, it begins to find it more comfortable to believe in the obvious lie and accept that it alone is entitled to privilege” —Steven Biko

Unfortunately, the reality of the recent college admissions scandal so dubbed Operation Varsity Blues by FBI officials on March 12 was not a surprise. It underlined a tradition of privilege that has purveyed the college admissions process, for generations; now highlighted by those charged for being involved in a conspiracy as a part of “the largest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by the Department of Justice.”

Through my own diversity cognizance, like many in the community of parents and educators of children with special needs, I was disheartened to learn of the bribery enlisted to help falsify the need for college entrance exam disability and accessibility accommodations.

Motivated by a lifelong pursuit to seek and support equitableness and leadership, driven by ethics and integrity, I asked for feedback from advocates whose lived experiences have compelled them to work towards an equality that has yet to be sustained.

To Fairly Compete – Dustin Domingo, Ed.D.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was put forth to assure that individuals with disabilities “have the ability to fairly compete” for and pursue opportunities such as college and university admission. This is done by requiring test taking agencies to administer high stakes standardized exams in a manner which is accessible to students with disabilities. The operative phrase to keep in mind here is to fairly compete. Let us not forget that the playing field was uneven to begin with, giving advantages to individuals based on factors other than accessibility such as socioeconomic status, race, and language acquisition. In the US, education as an institution has had centuries to solidify systems that already give certain populations an upper hand. ADA exists to combat institutionalized barriers to education.

Educational attainment is the second greatest predictor of social mobility. Interestingly, this factor falls behind whether one is already born into wealth. The Varsity Blues scandal is so fascinating in the sense that the parents involved are already well-to-do folks with advantages across many variables that play into whether their child is able gain admission into a college or university through ethical means. It is gravely unfortunate for the Varsity Blues children, the students enrolled at these universities, and arguably more so for the students who were denied admission, that disability and accessibility accommodations were so heinously exploited.

Level the Playing Field  – Lynn Larsen, Ph.D.

There is a broad assumption that for students with learning disabilities, or invisible handicaps, that they are unfairly awarded accommodations that provide them with an advantage over other students. In reality, students with learning disabilities need these accommodations in order to “level the playing field” so the learning and assessment environments are equalized.

A perfect example is my college-aged son. He is twice-exceptional, meaning that he is highly gifted as well as having learning disabilities. He has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), which impacts his ability to focus, and severe dysgraphia, which impacts his ability to handwrite any work. Since he is verbally gifted, many teachers and professors wrongly assume that his accommodations give him an unfair advantage over his peers. In actuality, without his accommodations, he would not have been able to score high on the ACT, nor would he be successful in his college courses. Those using accommodations unlawfully only perpetuate the myth that students use them in inappropriate ways to gain an advantage.

Refrain from Stigmatization – Anne Spillane, Ph.D.

Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities (ID) have long faced adversity when accessing the accommodations needed in Institutions of Higher Learning (IHE). Offices of Disability Services on college campuses have led to improved access. Likewise, advances in technology have amplified accommodations made available to those with ID.  As a result, we are seeing more people with ID able to access (and thrive within) these institutions.

The publicity given to the recent college admissions scandal has magnified the potential for stigma to return, for those utilizing accommodations in the IHE environment, particularly among educators.  While ensuring the process for identifying those who qualify for accommodations is thorough, it will be important for those in leadership roles to refrain from making the process too difficult or stigmatizing those who truly need (and qualify for) accommodations. It is important that they reiterate that providing accommodations for those who genuinely need them is not only appropriate, but also a way of ensuring diversity on our campuses. This helps to create environments in higher education where all have the ability to succeed and reach our highest potential.


Operation Varsity Blues may indeed continue to uncover gaps in the admissions process. Rebecca Cokley, Director of the Disability Justice Initiative at the Center for American Progress, concisely reminds us that “the experiences of 57 million Americans with disabilities are not just costumes to wear to get pre-boarding access to a plane or extended time on a test.”

As you’re Looking at Leadership, know that there is power in recognizing the significance of each individual’s lived experiences, and advocating for inclusion and equity. This allows us to rebuke the tradition of placating privilege and to support sustainable equality.

Jalin B. Johnson, Ed.D., is an associate professor in the School of Business and Professional Studies at Brandman University, focusing on business and organizational leadership. She is a regular contributor on issues of leadership and current events.


Looking at Leadership: An International Women’s Day salute

By Dr. Jalin B. Johnson

Brandman University-connected leaders share inspiration for International Women’s Day. (Top row, from left: Dr. Jalin Johnson, Dr. Tess Breen, Dr. Felicia Haecker. Bottom row, from left: Kristen M. Grimes, Dr. Kathryn R. Taylor, Dr. Tiffany D. Ware.)

When I was first asked to consider contributing my thoughts this March to coincide with International Women’s Day, “a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women,” I was reminded of some of the women whose journey I have been a part of as advocate, teacher, mentor and friend.

Representing a variety of backgrounds, areas of advocacy, and champions of those who serve, these Brandman alumna took a moment to share and recognize a woman that inspired them to achieve their goals and to be the change they wanted to see. These are their stories…

A Grandmother’s Legacy – Dr. Tess Breen

I am inspired by women who demonstrate their strength through self-sacrifice, determination, bravery, wisdom, and compassion. The most influential in my life is my very own grandmother, Charlotte DeRossett. Born in Tennessee during the Great Depression, her father was a kind and generous farmer who would set aside food each week to give to the poor. She recalls, “We were the poorest people we knew,” but her father instilled the importance of generosity from an early age.

Lesson #1: There is always someone who has it worse than we do. Be generous, always.

At the age of 15, she left home working two jobs to support her younger siblings. She always regretted not getting an education, but read every book she could get her hands on.

Lesson #2: Be a lifelong learner, hunger for knowledge, and be your own teacher.

My grandmother will never miss an opportunity to give a sincere compliment and tell you how special you are. She will be 90 this year, and attributes her health to the joy that comes from approaching life with gratitude and optimism.

Lesson #3: If you woke up today, be grateful. There is always something to be grateful for.

We celebrate Charlotte along with all the powerful female influencers who have opened the doors of possibility.

Fearless – Kristen M. Grimes

I am inspired by many women who have pushed the boundaries in fearless ways to create a world that doesn’t just accept what women have to offer, but appreciates it. One such woman that comes to the forefront is Kathrine Switzer. I often wonder if she knew the impact she would have, inspiring countless women in the pursuit of equality, the day she toed the line of the Boston Marathon in April 1967, a race that didn’t allow female participants at the time. Probably not, but she surely began to recognize the impact when the co-race director attempted to physically drag her out of the running. In that moment she stood strong and ran, most likely knowing that the world was watching and that if change was going to happen by crossing the finish line that day, she needed to find a way to keep going.

Following that race, Kathrine made it her mission to fight for equal rights for women in sports. She founded a non-profit organization, Fearless 261, with running clubs across the globe aiming to promote equality and female empowerment. Today, I am inspired by the countless women lining up for big and small races and I think of Kathrine. When I see Shalane Flanagan cross the NYC Marathon finish line with arms raised high and a cry of victory on her lips, I know she owes a debt to those who have run before her. In those moments, I know that I owe the same debt to these fearless warriors. I may not win a marathon, but I can teach my daughters and granddaughters that they are powerful in all they do; that together we can create a better future – arms raised high above our heads, a cry of victory on our lips, fearlessly moving forward across our own finish lines.

Finding my way – Dr. Felicia Haecker

As a female veteran living with PTSD, I can truly say I have been battle tested. I pride myself in being able to face difficult situations and see them through. After serving on active duty for 12 years, 6 months and 5 days, I decided to transition out of the Air Force. Imagine my surprise when the transition was much more difficult than I could have ever imagined.  Here I am, a warrior, and I cannot will my civilian self to overcome my transition issues. I found myself in the grips of depression. What was I thinking? Military life was all I have ever known. I was born into a military family, both parents were active duty at one point. My entire life had been prescribed for me and now it was up to me to decide which direction I wanted my life to take. This was completely overwhelming and I began to retreat from the world.

Dr. Janice Doucet-Thompson and I would meet two years after I transitioned out of the Air Force. I was trying to understand who I was and what I wanted from this life. She would invite me to attend women’s events and I would decline, which never deterred her. I did not think I was smart or good enough, to be amongst these women. Always with a smile she would say, “Okay maybe next time,” reminding me that my voice as a female veteran was needed.  She believed in me when I did not believe in myself.  It would take nearly four years for me to join her at one of these events.  I found myself providing new perspectives to others on the female veteran experience and people were listening. I found my confidence, my voice, and my path. Janice inspired me to launch my own company for female veterans. I hope to do for other female veterans what Janice did for me.

Shirley Chisholm: Dare to Change the World – Dr. Kathryn R. Taylor

This International Women’s Day comes on the heels of an unprecedented number of women announcing their intent to run for President of the United States. I am inspired by a woman who declared her intent to run for President, 47 years ago. Shirley Chisholm was able to catapult over societal limitations placed on people because of race, gender, religion, and economic status only to land standing firmly for social justice in America. Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm began as an educator that recognized the need to change her platform with a purpose to evoke transformational change in education.  She made history by becoming the first African American woman elected to Congress in 1968, and the first woman & African American to seek the nomination for President, from one of two major political parties in 1972.  Known as “Fighting Shirley,” she introduced more than 50 pieces of legislation and was a co-founder of the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1971.

As an educator and through my work mentoring young girls, I deem it necessary to educate young women of today about the trailblazing women of yesterday. Chisholm understood her true purpose to champion racial and gender equality. Her lived experience as an African American woman born to two immigrant parents, set the framework to channel her passion toward becoming an advocate for others oppressed by similar intersectionalities. I am encouraged to continue working as an agent of change by remembering the legacy of dynamic women from the past, celebrating phenomenal women of today, and preparing our young girls to lead the charge of social justice in the future.  Chisholm said, “I want to be remembered as a woman…who dared to be a catalyst of change.” As we celebrate International Women’s Day, I hope to inspire more woman to dare to change the world.

Inspirational Words from Jennifer Lopez – Dr. Tiffany D. Ware

As a woman of courage, ambition, and strength, Jennifer Lopez has inspired me throughout my life: “As women, we almost never give ourselves enough credit for what we’re capable of, for what we endure and how giving we are. Part of loving yourself is about forgiving yourself – which is something I’ve always struggled with. It’s the messy parts that make us human, so we should embrace them too – pat ourselves on the back for getting through them rather than being angry for having gotten into them in the first place. Because loving yourself is ultimately about self-acceptance, about embracing every part of who you are. And that’s never just one thing.”

Lopez was someone I could always identify with. Being Hispanic and seeing her flourish into a successful business-woman and leader; has given me the courage to never give up. Today, as a wife, mother, and combat Army veteran, I have seen so many things and learned so much throughout my life experiences. Her words resonate with me. I have made it my mission to own who I am, mold it, and create it into a beautiful leadership experience. I can say today, that I am the first in my family to accomplish many milestones; the greatest, becoming Dr. Tiffany Ware. Without Lopez’ words of encouragement and her ability to share her milestones, I would not have the momentum to do what I do now. Today we celebrate and honor all the wonderful women around the world who helped shaped us all.


On March 8, as you’re Looking at Leadership, consider supporting one of the many International Women’s Day events in your area. Whether we attend a panel discussion or book fair, support a GoFundme campaign (intended to raise money for young girls to see Captain Marvel), or share a story of an amazing woman in our lives, the opportunity to celebrate outstanding women who lead is something we can do year round.

Jalin B. Johnson, Ed.D., is an associate professor in the School of Business and Professional Studies at Brandman University, focusing on business and organizational leadership. She is a regular contributor on issues of leadership and current events.


When diversity cognizance allows the ‘lions to have their own historians’

Looking at Leadership: When diversity cognizance allows the ‘lions to have their own historians’

By Dr. Jalin B. Johnson

Over the last several decades, through my own work and research, I have shared one of my favorite African proverbs in a number of different contexts. This saying, “until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter,” reminds us that the narrative of the unseen and underrepresented is often skewed or untold.

This January, during the weekend where we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the U.S., I, along with my esteemed colleague Dr. David Gonzalez, had the honor of presenting a keynote address titled “Diversity Cognizance,” to Brandman University EDOL Doctoral students, Faculty and alumni. We note that diversity cognizance “offers a pathway for transformational leaders to make room for diverse backgrounds and perspectives at the decision-making table.”

Each year during the 28 days that make up Black History Month (formerly ‘Negro History Week, circa 1926), many in the U.S. increase their diversity cognizance by revisiting many of the achievements and milestones attributed to men and women of African heritage in this part of the diaspora.

In 2019, awareness of the 400-year mark of the beginning of the U.S.-bound slave trade (1619 to 2019) will continue to add to the larger discussion of diversity, equity and inclusion. As February 2019 began, and remembrance of the first Dutch ship carrying enslaved African natives being brought to Jamestown, Virginia, took place, the current governor of Virginia found his ability to lead being questioned.

picture posted in the Eastern Virginia Medical School 1984 yearbook of two people, appearing on the page designated for (then medical student) Gov. Ralph Northam (D-Virginia), made headlines. The image is of two people wearing “blackface” and dressed as a member of the KKK, respectively.

While the history of blackface in the U.S. is not new, and discussions around its effect on those of African descent from across the diaspora are not relegated to Black History Month, understanding its stain on western culture today, requires diversity cognizance and cultural competence. Each of these are often achieved when representatives of varied populations (this goes beyond ethnic diversity), the unseen and underrepresented, have a seat at the decision-making table and hold positions of influence, allowing for their narratives to be recognized.

Throughout the last three decades, while facilitating discussions surrounding multiculturalism, diversity cognizance, cultural competence, equity and inclusion, I have found that transformational leadership, like awareness, requires seeking guidance and having critical conversations in spaces dedicated to knowledge seeking. The decision makers and those who hold positions of influence must represent varying narratives, backgrounds and ideas.

Scenarios like what Gov. Northam and the Democratic caucuses in Virginia are currently navigating, and those much like what former NBC host Megyn Kelly experienced when she led a panel discussion where “painting one’s face to look like Diana Ross,” was mentioned (“Are These Halloween Costumes Too Controversial To Wear?” – October, 2018), can benefit from having diversity of thought and lived experiences, accessible to you.

Gov. Northam held a press conference on Feb. 2 to apologize to those who “may have been hurt” by the previously mentioned photo, which he first said included him but later said did not. He said that he was “not surprised” by the photo’s appearance, comparing it to other things that were “commonplace” at the time. He went on to share that he did however, “darken his face” when wearing a costume, in order to look like Michael Jackson, while at a 1984 dance party.

It is within these same facilitated discussions of cultural competency and diversity cognizance that those in leadership positions are afforded an opportunity to understand why the logic offered for similar actions, are historically received as offensive. In retrospect, we are left to wonder what influence these same discussions, or representation from those with varying narratives, could have had on the leadership of Eastern Virginia Medical School.

While the outcome of what surrounds Governor Northam is yet to be determined, in a state that will soon face the two-year anniversary of events related to the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, VA (August 2017), what is evident is that this discussion surrounding awareness, will continue beyond the month of February. These discussions need targeted leadership in political, professional, familial and academic settings alike. Creating a space for those with experience and knowledge to both lead, and participate in, critical conversations is only part of the process.

Achieving equity is not possible when representation does not exist.

As you’re Looking at Leadership, remember that the narrative of the unseen and underrepresented can only be told when there is opportunity and a dedicated space to speak, to be acknowledged and to be heard.

Jalin B. Johnson, Ed.D., is an associate professor in the School of Business and Professional Studies at Brandman University, focusing on business and organizational leadership. She is a regular contributor on issues of leadership and current events.



How Stan Lee became an icon and created space for the unseen & underrepresented to lead

Looking at Leadership: How Stan Lee became an icon and created space for the unseen & underrepresented to lead

By Jalin B. Johnson

“Let’s lay it right on the line. Bigotry and racism are among the deadliest social ills plaguing the world today. But, unlike a team of costumed super-villains, they can’t be halted with a punch in the snoot, or a zap from a ray gun. The only way to destroy them is to expose them—to reveal them for the insidious evils they really are. The bigot is an unreasoning hater—one who hates blindly, fanatically, indiscriminately. If his hang-up is black men, he hates ALL black men. If a redhead once offended him, he hates ALL redheads. If some foreigner beat him to a job, he’s down on ALL foreigners. He hates people he’s never seen—people he’s never known—with equal intensity—with equal venom.” (Stan’s Soapbox, 1968)

Marvel Comics icon Stan Lee penned these words, discussing the “deadliest social ills plaguing the world today,” 50 years ago. It is a harsh commentary on our reality that these words are relevant and prevailing even now. This issue of Stan’s Soapbox resurfaced when Lee tweeted out the column on Aug. 15, 2017 after the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., and the subsequent violence and loss of life that ensued.

Horrified by what the world witnessed that day – and the excuses made for the reasoning behind the violence in the weeks following – Marvel Entertainment released “A Message from Stan Lee.” 

There, he reminds fans and the casual observer of where he and the comic industry juggernaut stand:

“Marvel has always been and always will be a reflection of the world right outside our window. That world may change and evolve, but the one thing that will never change is the way we tell our stories of heroism. Those stories have room for everyone, regardless of their race gender religion or color of their skin. The only things we don’t have room for are hatred, intolerance and bigotry. That man next to you, he’s your brother. That woman over there, she’s your sister. And that kid walking by, hey who knows, he may have the proportionate strength of a spider. We’re all part of one big family, the human family …” (Marvel Entertainment, October 2017).

Sergeant Stanley Martin Lieber, known everywhere as Stan Lee, was born in New York, New York, on Dec. 28, 1922, to Celia (née Solomon) and Jack Lieber. Both were Romanian-born Jewish immigrants. After World War II (Lee served from 1942 to 1945), his story takes twists and turns, full of drama and intrigue, ready for adaptation to the big screen. The reality of his day-to-day life, and occasional controversy, lends itself to characteristics found among the heroes and villains that grace the pages of comics penned by Lee and co-created with fellow comic icons, including illustrators Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby.

Although there are too many characters to choose from, casual and serious fans can find similarities to themselves among Lee’s greatest character collaborations. Whether well-known or lesser-acknowledged characters, many of their alter egos carried the weight of being unseen, under-appreciated and often forgotten.

In a previous “Looking at Leadership,” I marveled as the story of Black Panther was coming to the big screen 52 years after Kirby and Lee introduced him in Fantastic Four #52. While it was not the same year of my own arrival, landing on my birth date made it appear to this fan girl as though it was always meant to be.  Other characters, in recent decades, have become legend while exploring gender stereotypes, socio-economic challenges, accessibility and disability, human rights struggles and advocacy for the voiceless. The backstories and cannon behind Jean GreyThe WaspPeggy Carter, members of the Avengers and The Fantastic FourDaredevil and Spider-Man, and their evolving character iterations, have inspired discussions, creating a space to address the very ills that Lee described in Stan’s Soapbox in 1968.

Among the plethora of examples of Lee collaborations, you need only read or listen to Lee’s recent words to understand why he championed the benefit of “reflecting the world right outside our window,” with compassion and understanding, while always remembering the heroes inside and among us.

As you’re Looking at Leadership, and considering what is worth advocating for and supporting with your own voice, allow Lee’s last Instagram post from Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018, the day before he passed at age 95, to encourage you: “Thank you to all of America’s veterans for your service. Fun fact: Stan’s official US Army title during WW2 was ‘Playwright.’ #VeteransDay.”


Jalin Johnson, Ed.D., is an assistant professor in the Brandman University School of Business and Professional Studies focusing on business and

#YouToo? When lived experiences and our own awareness pre-date and go beyond a hashtag movement

Looking at Leadership: #YouToo? When lived experiences and our own awareness pre-date and go beyond a hashtag movement
By Dr. Jalin B. Johnson

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: “A group of women and men came together and began sharing their truth…”

One of the challenges we face in higher education is remembering the mantra “With great power, comes great responsibility.” As educators of adult learners, we create a forum for adults, with diverse backgrounds and lived experiences, to come together and share those very truths.

When I first introduced the ECP framework (Experiences, Context & Perspective), during a series of professional leadership conferences (Johnson, 2015), focused on how lived experiences influence the context with which we view any given situation and thus, shape our perspectives, I began to see how people would reflect and re-evaluate “why” they felt the way they did. Whether in the classroom or in a public setting, as educators, we have to recognize that while our platform may be stationary, their lived experiences, context with which our stories are viewed and the shared perspectives of our students, are not invariable.

I had the opportunity to connect with a group of women who have lived experiences that existed prior to what we know as the #MeToo movement and whose perspectives are widely sought, both in the classroom and on the international stage. I asked them about their truths and what was on their minds. Here is what we learned…

These are Challenging Times; Haven’t They Always Been?
Leticia Rojas, Ed.D.

This has been a difficult month – really, a difficult couple of years. My friends and I have reflected and held each other up through what seems like a constant attack on our very beings as women, as people of color, as part of the queer community, as children of immigrants, and as human beings focused on prioritizing people over profit.

On Sept. 27, 2018, I watched Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee during the (then) Supreme Court nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s Sexual Assault Hearing. I did not view it because it was extraordinary or unfamiliar, but rather the opposite, in its commonality among so many women. I held hope that it would make a difference for her and for all the lives of women and other communities affected in future court decisions. The day of the vote, one of my friends texted me that “if someone like Dr. Ford, with all of her privilege and legal counsel, was not to be believed, was it not clear why others with less privilege and more vulnerability to those in power, were afraid to name their oppressors?” We both understood it to be a rhetorical question.

This is a trying time for folks living at the margins who do not fit the mold of those making long-lasting decisions (although I would argue it always has been). But I try to find strength from those who came before me, including my strong Mexican mother and her mother and her mother; women whose stories might not get told and yet are so important to this world and to me. One woman who came before is Tarana Burke, the original #MeToo founder, and in a recent article, Variety (October, 2018), she advocated for a new iteration of the movement, focused on concrete actions and accountability. I am hopeful because of leaders and organizers like her and eager for the next iteration of a movement that is more inclusive and focused on justice. So, I unplug after having refueled, and with others, try to move forward, always.

UsToo, but Are You Ready for Our Stories?
Lata Murti, Ph.D.

I have a confession: I never listened to the Kavanaugh hearing nor the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. It is not that I don’t admire Dr. Blasey Ford’s courage, or that I don’t appreciate the significance of her testimony for all women. It’s that her story is still not our story – the story of most of us who do not share her level of privilege.

Our story is one of never being invited or allowed to go to the parties of our wealthy high school and college peers, if we even knew about them. Our story is not having access to alcohol even when with our parents and older relatives, who rarely drink themselves. Our story is never being left alone in a room with a man other than an older male relative and always being escorted by a male relative in public. Our story is dating infrequently and not fully participating in, or benefiting from, the sexual revolution.

Still, Us Too.

Us Too, because at the age of 6, we sat away from our parents and next to a stranger in a dark theater, in order to get a better view of the cultural performance sponsored by our ethnic immigrant community. Us Too, because we were too petite and unpopular for any of our classmates to notice our much taller high school principal touching us inappropriately as he blocked their view in the classroom.

Us Too, because while studying abroad in another country, we decided to share a cab ride home one night with the neighbor who lived down the street from our host family. Us Too, because just a few months later, in the same country, we missed our bus stop, and had to walk alone, at night, through a field, to get to where our mother was staying. Never mind that we were almost fully clothed, in a loose T-shirt and jeans.

But who will hear our stories? The men who are responsible for them will never run for political office in the U.S. Many are poor, don’t speak English, and don’t even live here. Some of us are also poor, don’t speak English, and are not permanent residents of the U.S. Will we have a chance to tell our stories, too? If so, who will listen?

Us Too, but not like you, Dr. Blasey Ford.

‘Otherness’ as Our Strength
Sheila Lakshmi Steinberg, Ph.D.

I am a product of the two largest democracies, India and the United States.

My dad is from Kerala, India, and my mom is from Louisville, Kentucky. In other words; I am “the other.” I was different from many of my classmates and neighbors, throughout my life.

When I got married to my husband, Steve, my dad made an interesting comment at the wedding as part of the formal toast, sharing that I was “both the son and the daughter!” What my dad was indicating was a very cultural approach, that because I was the first-born, their only child and a girl, he raised me with the expectations of achievement and success “as if” I were male.

Females in every society, often face different expectations than males do. This, in itself, was interesting and helped set a high cultural bar for my achievements (beyond gender).

I’ve never really thought about being second place (to my male counterparts), because I was raised to actively compete and participate with them. I have a strong memory of being 3 years old and coming home from preschool upset because they made all of the girls make nurses hats, and all of the boys made doctor’s hats to align with said profession. I had wanted to be a doctor, not a nurse! My dad strongly let the preschool know that it was sexual inequality to enable the boys to only be doctors and girls, only nurses. In the end, I made a doctor’s hat!

For me, it has always been about trying to find a way to be “inclusive” and to make students feel welcomed, embrace our differences and building upon these differences as strengths, avoiding making someone feel like “the other.”

We can be stronger as a nation by embracing our differences. It is essential for our leaders to adopt inclusiveness as part of their toolbox of leadership skills, and to embrace differences as a strength and not as a threat.

Social Constructivism and Human Solidarity
Nakisha Castillo, DMFT

In the Swahili language, the word “harambee” means pulling together. As women we have to gather and examine the reality of the world that we live in and the meaning of being a female. Where does the truth lay for us? Where does our story begin and what part do we omit in order to protect others?

As the hashtag of the #MeToo movement unfolded, the reality of that hashtag changed from #MeToo to #UsToo, as we watch our community become painfully saturated with the stories being told. The hashtag offered an opportunity for women to examine their stories and experiences while in school, within their families, in social gatherings, and in the workplace. The reality of the matter came when we as women began to take a stand and say that our stories will be heard.

A hierarchical social construct, designed to dissociate women of their desires, strong sense of self and self-esteem, gives others the power to take advantage and to narrate our stories. We will not be dismissed. We will not be disrespected. We will not be silenced while our narratives are created for us – while our bodies, minds and abilities are taken advantage of.

As the dialogue surrounding harassment and sexual assault permeates around the globe, we have to find and create a safe space to tell our stories of pain, invisibilities, and exclusion, for ourselves. Stories of being made to feel guilt, shame, fear, and anger will be told. Stories of rising beyond anxiety, depression, and oppression for what others have done. Stories of courage and victory.

As I write, I think of the shared stories of our ancestors, untold for many reasons. Stories of resiliency and strength, without a hashtag to propel their plight.

Stories from a generation where such things weren’t openly discussed. We must take a different path for the next generation, setting aside race, ethnicity, privilege, and culture; agreeing to stand in human solidarity, demanding accountability.

As women I say, “Harambee, harambee,” as we let our voices be heard and share our untold stories.

Moving Forward
Jalin B. Johnson, Ed.D.

With all due respect, our lived experiences began before Alyssa Milano helped to make Tarana Burke’s original 2006 hashtag infamous. You can hear their shared discussion in a recent podcast here – (ACLU, October 2018).

The woman or man sitting across from you as you read this, or the person you had a conversation with after work, has a story that you may never know.

The leadership at your organization may have no idea about what happened to #YouToo and how that lived experience, shapes the context with which you view the many situations you face daily, and your enduring perspective.
There is a reason for that.

As you’re Looking at Leadership, consider the importance of creating and having spaces and opportunities to share your story, and for the stories of others around you, to be heard.

Become aware of what has happened before, what is already taking place, and what exists beyond the hashtag movement.

Jalin B. Johnson, Ed.D., is an associate professor in the School of Business and Professional Studies at Brandman University, focusing on business and organizational leadership. She is a regular contributor on issues of leadership and current events.


Literary lessons to keep your ‘mischief managed

By Dr. Jalin B. Johnson

Harry Potter 20th anniversary

The first time I heard the Sorting Hat in the 2001 film version of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” (known to U.S. audiences as “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone), I knew that I had to know which house I would be sorted into. The pomp and circumstance surrounding the sorting ceremony each “Hogwarts first year” student participated in, was enough for this Ravenclaw to be enthusiastic about.

As readers of the J.K. Rowling “Harry Potter” series or fans of the film versions can attest, when you meet a fellow Potter fan, you never know what will happen next in your conversation, but finding out which house they’ve been sorted into is an inevitable part of the discussion.

After first meeting kindred spirits Ellen Belluomini and Julianne Zvalo-Martyn, two of the finest Syltherins I know, I was welcomed with open arms, each of us remembering to “solemnly swear that we were up to no good.”

This summer, as we look at leadership, we join literary admirers of Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series, from around the globe. Scholastic, publishers of some of our favorite classroom magazines, books and educational materials, will also be celebrating the 20th anniversary of the publication of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” (“Philosopher’s Stone” in the UK), by releasing a “special set of commemorative book covers by Caldecott Medalist, Brian Selznick, as well as the beloved original interior decorations by Mary GrandPré” (Scholastic, 2018).

In honor of this iconic anniversary, we took a look at leadership lessons, gleaned from the stories of Gryffindor house favorites Harry Potter, Hermione Granger and Ronald Weasley, during their seven year journey through Hogwarts.

Leading in Difficult Times

by Ellen Belluomini, Ph.D.

Leadership isn’t just about forging the path ahead.

The best leaders work within diverse groups, where allowing for disagreement acts as a system of checks and balances. Irving Janus studied the impact of intensely stressful situations on group cohesion in military conflicts which ended poorly, developing the theory of group think. The Harry Potter series is a study in how leaders who welcome diversity and differences improve decision making and outcomes in their organizations.

Leaders Set the Tone: An Autocrat Returns

Voldemort, the villain in the “Harry Potter” series (who is in the process of achieving resurrection in the first four books), creates an army of followers set on the genocide of anyone not of “pure magical” bloodlines.

After his return, it is clear that descent within Voldemort’s ranks may mean annihilation. In reality, authoritarian leaders may not directly imprison or kill, but their isolated decision-making through group conformity leads to dire circumstances. Behaviors of group think are epitomized by ”hive-mind thinking,“ an illusion of invulnerability, and disloyalty in disagreement. Ultimately, in the Potter series, Voldemort’s return leads to the group’s demise.

Power is in the Discourse

The magical community begins to collaborate in the fourth book, “Goblet of Fire,” marking a turn in unity and in leadership. Here, the Hogwarts faculty, students, families and concerned magical citizens unite their diverse talents, and begin to take down Voldemort. Their success is highlighted through group problem-solving where each member is free to object and express doubt. We should note that the wizarding community obliterated a proliferation of hate with organized teamwork and sacrifice, proving that love really does win.

When leaders have feelings

by Julianne Zvalo-Martyn

Harry, Hermione and Ron may be magical, but they suffer and feel pain all the same.  As sensitive, passionate young people, they are sometimes overwhelmed with hurt feelings, despair and fear. Ron is overcome with jealousy when Hermione goes to the ball with Cedric.  Ron and Hermione stop speaking when it seems her cat eats Ron’s rat. Harry feels despair when locked up at his Muggle (non-magic) relatives’ house. They are all afraid when fighting trolls or otherwise confronting their enemies.

Walking through

Harry and friends suffer, but they persist through their suffering. When hurt, they may lash out. When fearful, they may try to escape, like Ron did after a fight with Harry during a long and arduous journey. But like all strong leaders, Ron eventually faces his fear, returning to save his friend. Ron, Hermione and Harry must constantly work through powerful, sometimes painful feelings, to return to their mission.

Sensitivity as strength

For the characters in Harry Potter, sensitivity cannot be squashed, but rather serves as a foundational strength. Their bravery comes straight out of tremendous love for others. Harry’s mother fought off Voldemort and died protecting him. Harry and Ron did not hesitate to rescue Ginny from the “Chamber of Secrets,” though facing most certain death. Hermione stayed by Harry’s side during his darkest moments, even though she suffered from painful abandonment herself.

Harry’s battles with Voldemort are frightening and unrelenting. Preceding the final battle, Harry initially cowers in fear and feels the demon of inadequacy, as many leaders do. In the end, his tender feelings of love for his friendsfills him with the willingness to give his own life so that they may live.  In the end, leaders persist.  Because in the end, feelings save the day.

Knowing when to do the right thing

by Jalin B. Johnson, EdD

In reading Belluomini and Zvalo-Martyn’s Potter reflections, I’m reminded that recognizing when to “do the right thing,” takes great strength.

Do you remember the time when Neville Longbottom, Gryffyndor first year, earned 10 points for his house, standing up to Harry, Hermione and Ron, when he knew they were up to no good? Doing so, when it may have cost him friendships.

I find parallels as I watch heads of state turn away when the shameful actions of some of their fellow leaders are on display. When the voiceless are in need of advocacy, when the poor and destitute need a champion, but are left with cowardice; I realize that the world needs more Nevilles.

While you manage your own mischief this summer, consider reading Rowling’s iconic “Harry Potter” series, or catch up on the films. We’d love to hear what house or character lessons inspire you, as you’re looking at leadership.

Dr. Jalin B. Johnson Ellen Belluomini, LCSW Julianne Zvalo-Martyn


‘A place where all people feel welcomed’

Looking at Leadership: ‘A place where all people feel welcomed’

By Dr. Jalin B. Johnson

Outgoing Starbucks Executive Chairman Howard Schultz at the 2018 Shareholders meeting. Photo courtesy of Starbucks.

“I remember when a nickel would get you a cup of coffee and a good conversation.”

These are familiar words and yet they represent a reality that has long since passed us by. Today, a $4 cup of coffee is readily available at your local drive-thru cafe and may, in part, go towards much needed health insurance for a part-time barista.

Shortly before 7 a.m. on Tuesday May 29, 2018, I received “an open letter from Howard Schultz, ”who through the end of June is the executive chairman at Starbucks, a place I have frequented for several years.

In this letter, Schultz shared with millions of Starbucks’ external stakeholders, his inspiration and vision for the coffee house we now know today to be an internationally regarded fan favorite and one that is competitive in major markets around the globe.

He also discussed his ‘disappointment’ in a recent incident at a Starbucks Philadelphia location.

On April 12, 2018, Holly Hylton, manager of the Rittenhouse Square Starbucks, called the police on two 23-year-old entrepreneurs, Donte Robinson and Rashon Nelson, as they waited at a table before the start of a business meeting. Robinson and Nelson were soon arrested while waiting for their business associate. The incident was caught on camera by patrons at the location. Hylton was fired shortly thereafter.

Schultz’s early morning letter conveyed the steps that he and the other members of Starbucks’ leadership had taken after this incident and those that they continue to take in an effort to ensure that their locations are known as “a place where all people feel welcomed.”

On the afternoon of May 29, 2018, Starbucks chose to close its doors to begin “racial bias training,” with a desire to “set the foundation for a longer-term Starbucks anti-bias, diversity, equity, and inclusion effort,” according to a Starbucks press release.

It is important to note that Starbucks is not the first organization to institute similar training (proactively or reactively). This also comes amidst criticism from some who say that in firing the Rittenhouse Square manager, leadership acted hastily. It is however evident that examples of character and collective wisdom guided executives and stakeholders at Starbucks to go beyond simply disseminating a “vaguely worded” apology.

Proponents of Starbucks’ efforts have pointed out that their swift action separated them from FacebookUber and United Airlines, who recently suffered through PR nightmares due to their own actions, or inaction, while in the midst of a crisis.

Starbucks’ efforts to go “beyond the apology” began with a call to action and a request for guidance.

As leaders of people, organizations and communities, we have a responsibility to acknowledge when we don’t have all of the answers. Lying when we lack knowledge or “flying off the cuff” are not admirable behaviors, they are ignorant. We can learn from those who have walked the roads before us and seek input from those who are advocates for the voiceless.

Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson began by apologizing to Robinson and Nelson. He then offered condemnation of the incident and chose to take ownership of what took place in Philadelphia. Top down-leadership sets an example, and for better or worse, subordinates will, more often than not, follow your lead.

Johnson soon asked for dialogue with Robinson and Nelson, requesting their insight. He did so, choosing not to offer excuses. He determined it meaningful to learn and grow and to not repeat a failure.

Members of the Starbucks leadership team, including Schultz, Johnson and Rosalind Brewer, chief operating officer and group president for Starbucks, sought guidance, forming an advisory committee for the Racial-Bias Training.  Brewer shared with CNBC, ahead of the May training, “let us be the example of what diversity looks like…we have the ability to start a national conversation.”

Members of the Advisory Committee (Starbucks newsroom, 2018)  included:

While the effects of the May 2018 training may take time to materialize, the impact that the actions of those in leadership positions at Starbucks will have, should tell a story within the organization and infuse a larger narrative for years to come.

Starbucks’ leadership hopes to be an example in a climate where other companies are being challenged to be aware and to do more to develop this narrative of awareness and sensitivity within their organizational culture.

In recent months, companies including AirbnbWaffle HouseNordstrom RackPennsylvania’s Grandview Golf Club and LA Fitness have faced similar internal dialogue.

Academic institutions including YaleColorado State University and the University of Florida are re-examining the way belonging and otherness are addressed on their campuses.

Powerhouses DisneyABC and Pixar have had to reconcile with how to model leadership astuteness, after canceling Rosanne and evaluating the employment of John Lasseter.

Each of these organizations are faced with a leadership choice; ignore when implicit bias, discrimination or questionable behavior has taken root and led to scandal or accept failures and try to be better moving forward.

Consider how your preferred coffee shop or other local businesses that you frequent fair at making people feel welcomed. The next time you’re sharing a cup of coffee and a good conversation, continue the discussion as you’re “Looking at Leadership.”

Jalin B. Johnson, Ed.D., is an associate professor in the School of Business and Professional Studies at Brandman University, focusing on business and organizational leadership. She is a regular contributor on issues of leadership and current events.


Lessons from an impatient Padawan

Looking at leadership: Lessons from an impatient Padawan

By Dr. Jalin B. Johnson

Eight and three.

Those were the ages of me and my brother when we earned our first lightsabers. They were toys, but as far as we were concerned, they were the tools of a true Jedi apprentice.

Delivering random sentences in the speech pattern of Master Yoda was not uncommon in our household. And, for whatever reason, any of us could quickly spot an Ewok through the dense forests on Endor or a Tauntaun through a fog of snow on Hoth (which if you know anything about Tauntaun biology isn’t really that difficult).

It was decades later when I realized that my own “Star Wars” fan-girl experiences were actually a conduit to a number of life lessons originally instilled by our parents. Following Joseph Campbell’s (1949) concept of a “Heroes Journey,” “Star Wars” creator George Lucas follows the trials and tribulations of an impatient Padawan (Luke Skywalker), during his quest as an apprentice to become a Jedi knight. This story, as its ongoing iterations continue to display, had a lot to tell us about mentorship, principles and integrity.

As we approach this year’s “Star Wars” Day (May 4th), and think of creative ways to work may the fourth be with you,”into a conversation, let’s take a moment and look at some of the lessons learned through the eyes of a Padawan on his journey to become a Jedi knight:

  1. Mind your elders.When Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru Lars warned Luke to think of his future, they had no idea of how perilous his endeavors might be. It was however, solid advice.
  2. Collect mentors. Never forget Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi – need we say more?
  3. Good friends are built to last. (Pun intended). C-3PO and R2-D2 became two of the most treasured supporters of Luke during his quest.
  4. Don’t judge a book by its cover.Surviving on whit and overcoming a life of crime (after being orphaned as a young boy), the Corellia-born Han Solo made his way to becoming one of the best pilots in the galaxy. After a brief encounter in the Mos Eisley cantina on Tatooine, what began as a quick (17k credits worth) journey to Alderaan, turned out to be a force for change. Han Solo and Chewbacca became two unlikely, yet important figures during Luke’s formidable Padawan years.
  5. Just as wisdom is a gift, patience is acquired. Master Yoda had this in droves and Luke’s short time with him was invaluable. The Jedi master’s sage advice at the conclusion of Luke’s training in the swamps of Dagobah, is not easily forgotten – “Do. Or do not. There is no try” (“The Empire Strikes Back)
  6. Be mindful of the company that you keep.While it is safe to say that Luke and Grand Moff Tarkinspent little time together during the Padawan’s journey, he was a forbidding adversary and deserves a mention. Appointed to take the lead in the creation of the Death Star, Tarkin was feared and revered by members of both the Empire and the Resistance. In proving his might, (spoiler) he used the Death star to destroy Alderaan, later dying along with his command, when the Death Star was destroyed.
  7. Stay on target.” Although Gold Leader Five is infamous for uttering these words, we learn from Luke (Red Five) that it is okay to stay the course and lead from behind. (I suppose that it doesn’t hurt to have the voice of your mentor in your ear during the mission).
  8. If at first you don’t succeed… (Spoiler) Some may say that it takes Luke until “Return of the Jedi (episode VI)” to achieve Jedi status (and successfully face his father, Lord Vader). However, his trials are an example of perseverance.

Join the discussion this May 4thand test your “Star Wars” knowledge. Share the lessons you learned from Luke’s journey while you were looking at leadership.




What the Oscars have taught us about a hashtag movement, industry ‘firsts’

Looking at leadership: Oscars edition

By Dr. Jalin B. Johnson

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It may not surprise you that in 2018, we are still recognizing a litany of entertainment industry“firsts.” MCU fans are still over the moon because of Black Panther (2018), passing the 1.25 billion mark in ticket sales, preparing to be “the biggest grossing movie ever to A) not (be) released on that pre-Christmas weekend and B) make all its money in a single calendar year” (Forbes, 2018). The magnitude and global attention to such firsts has Hollywood under more of a spotlight than some other career fields. Amidst ongoing scrutiny, the entertainment industry celebrates its own, (whether we follow them or not), via live telecasts, radio broadcasts and dedicated media outlets. The Oscar ceremony is no exception.

This year, advertisers joined the celebration to the tune of $2.6 million. That was the asking price, on average, for “a 30-second (ad) spot … a jump from $1.91 million in 2017…(when) ABC generated $128 million (from that year’s) telecast” (Reuters, 2018).

Advertisers paid more for a 30-second spot this year (to reach a reported 26.5 million viewing households), than they did for the same air time during last year’s telecast, which reached close to 40 million homes.

It has not gone unnoticed that during a steady decline in the telecast’s viewership, industry leaders have faced an uphill battle regarding their emphasis on equity, diversity and inclusion, enhanced in recent years by the power of social media and a 24-hour news cycle.

Controversies are nothing new to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Those currently in key leadership roles are being scrutinized by members of their community to see how they handle each new crisis. The academy was founded in 1927 by former MGM studio chief Louis B. Mayer and close friends. Actor Douglas Fairbanks was their first elected president, (feel free to take a moment to add the 1920s versions of Robin Hood and the Three Musketeers to your Netflix queue). In those early years, however, some of the biggest Oscar hoop-la may have surrounded the introduction of the sealed envelope in 1940. Previously, winners were published in the LA Times before the gala.

Fast-forward eight decades and a new generation of industry leadership has been tested, having faced “#OscarsSoWhite,” the “Harvey Weinstein scandal,” and “#MeToo.” Most recently, AMPAS President John Bailey faced allegations of sexual misconduct, stemming from a complaint deriving from an incident on a movie set 10 years ago. Hollywood has been the base camp for many a rallying cry for social and humanitarian change, along with their fair share of protests. One journalist wrote, “Oscars…Conservatives, liberals, filmmakers. Who isn’t boycotting?   (Gomez, 2017).”

While each of these turning points have shifted culture and consciousness, it is not lost on avid moviegoers and casual fans alike, that the outcry for diversity and inclusion may continue to grow as long as there are firsts to be recognized. With much talk and little action, there are new calls for results yielding equity and representation.

Viewership of the Oscar ceremony may be down, but consumer interest via varying forms of media, are much more targeted with the use of streaming services, mobile apps and the like. Consumers are speaking through their pocketbooks, tablets and TV remotes. Their viewing habits are letting Hollywood know that they wish to see themselves on screen and to hear their stories told via representation in front of and behind the camera.

This was evident the morning after the 2018 Oscars ceremony when Merriam-Webster (dictionary) reported that “inclusion” was their top search of the night, followed by cinematography (see the list of 2018’s Oscar’s “firsts” below and see if you have found a pattern). This search for inclusion came shortly after Frances McDormand’s Oscar acceptance speech (for best actress) where she referenced the term “inclusion rider.” The term, which she herself admitted was new to her, derived from the work of USC’s Stacy L. Smith and the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative (2017). In short, their research found what many in the moviegoing public have been saying to entertainment industry leaders: “Tell our story.”

Between now and the next Oscars telecast, you have plenty of time to decide what the entertainment industry has to offer you. You can thoughtfully determine what humanitarian movements you wish to champion and which awards shows you choose to ignore. In the meantime, consider engaging in the discussion. You may find something else that deserves the spotlight, as you’re looking at leadership.

Below are some of 2018’s Oscars “firsts” that will hopefully one day, seem as insignificant as (apparently) this year’s telecast proved to be (by the millions):

  • Greta Gerwig was the first female director to land a best director nomination for her directorial debut with “Lady Bird.” (Kathryn Bigelow became the only woman to win the statue at all, for “The Hurt Locker” in 2010).
  • Rachel Morrison became the first and only woman to ever be nominated for best cinematography for her work on “Mudbound.
  • James Ivory, who wrote the adapted screenplay for “Call Me by Your Name” at age 89, became the oldest person to ever win an Oscar.
  • Mary J. Blige became the first woman to be nominated for best supporting actress and best original song in the same year.
  • Get Out” director Jordan Peele became the first African-American to win for best original screenplay.
  • Ziad Doueri’s “The Insult” became the first Lebanese film to be nominated in the foreign-language film category.
  • Yance Ford became the first openly transgender filmmaker to have a film nominated.
  • Christopher Plummer, at age 88, became the oldest actor nominee in the history of the Oscars.
  • (For all of my fellow superhero fans), “Logan” scored a nomination for best adapted screenplay, becoming the first live-action superhero film to do so (Eonline, 2018).

Jalin B. Johnson, Ed.D., is an associate professor in the School of Business and Professional Studies at Brandman University, focusing on business and organizational leadership. She is a regular contributor on issues of leadership and current events.


Looking at leadership: Wakanda edition

From the crossroads of character, diversity and ethics Dr. Jalin B. Johnson

I once read a story about a great leader. His realm and its people were known for technological advancement, resource wealth, innovation and for having a great sense of pride. After a series of tragic losses, his newfound leadership was put to the test. With a diverse group of elders, dynamic women and crime-fighting colleagues, by his side, he overcame obstacles and became legend. His exhibition of strategy and international diplomacy are characteristics that would be wisely modeled after by today’s career politicians and novices alike.

As a scientist and one who is known for ethical principal and sharing his unique skill sets with his associates and peers (like minds, striving to make the world a better place than it was when they entered it), he is a coveted friend and ally.

First debuting in July of 1966 (Marvel Comics: Fantastic Four #52– Jack Kirby and Stan Lee), this example of ethically driven leadership, T’Challa, now makes his big screen debut (as the lead) in “Black Panther” (Disney-Marvel, 2018).

While release of the film coincides with Black History Month in the U.S., the film rightly celebrates excellence of character, diversity and ethical standards, each of which transcend color, ethnic background, gender and the like.

It should not be lost however, that this predominantly cast of color, tells the story of T’Challa (Black Panther), whose entire royal guard is fierce and unapologetically all female. After the release of “Wonder Woman” (DC and Warner Bros, 2017), the world embraced woman as purveyor of justice, allowing the box office ($412 million gross domestically) to do the talking.

The “Black Panther,” as of two weeks prior to this years’ Feb. 16 opening, already spoke via the box office, breaking all-time records for pre-release ticket sales. According to Variety, “Fandango is reporting that presales for ‘Black Panther’ are now outpacing advance sales for all other first-quarter releases in (Disney-Marvel’s) 18-year history.” Starring Chadwick Boseman, “Black Panther” is also on pace to be Fandango’s top pre-seller among all superhero titles. “It’s not just a superhero movie, it’s a ground-breaking cultural event,” Fandango managing editor Erik Davis told Variety.

The cast, also offers diversity in ethnic background from acting and directing (Ryan Coogler) to production of the soundtrack and musical score.  Thus reminding Hollywood that multiplicity and collaboration do indeed create blockbusters and transcend boundaries at the ticket window.

Celebrating diversity (currently spotlighted in the entertainment industry) is a theme that often requires more than subjective interpretation. Personal awareness, surrounding ourselves with and listening to others whose ideas differ from our own, applying ethical and moral standards in our execution of said ideas, having and modeling principled character, are all part of what make these leadership traits so important. These qualities are not only to be seen on the big screen, as movie goers will do when watching “Black Panther,” but also in our daily lives.

Celebration of women and people of color goes beyond what may be highlighted during one month or day of the year, but at any time while amongst our friends, neighbors and colleagues; allowing for reciprocation and appreciation for one another, regardless of background, socioeconomic boundaries, gender or held stereotypes and implicit biases.

Consider being a part of the discussion this February, share an example of someone who exemplified principled character, embraced diversity and lead with ethical principles at the forefront. You may find commonalties among you as you’re looking at leadership.

Jalin B. Johnson, Ed.D., is an associate professor in the School of Business and Professional Studies at Brandman University, focusing on business and organizational leadership. She is a regular contributor on issues of leadership and current events.