Interdependent, Values-driven, Grounded

October 14, 2013 · by Michele Berry · Filed Under Choices, Lives of Leaders, Previous · Leave a Comment

Austin Thompson1374036_10100333030191710_1852417845_n

b. 1986 Dayton, Ohio

The first Millennial Coordinator at
SEIU International is a positive force who
who leads with both humor and hope
based on deep roots and regular reflection.

 1.     What three words describe your leadership style?

 Interdependent, Values-driven, Grounded

2.     What are you best at?

 Building teams and coaching teams.

3.     What is the most important thing you do?

Reflect – on history, my day, and what is going on in the movement.

4.     What do you know to be true about leadership?

It is hard to find. There are many people with titles, this is not necessary the same as leadership.

5.     What is your earliest memory of injustice?

 This is hard to answer. It was probably the first time that I watched TV. A big one: I was in fourth grade. My teacher dumped my book bag out on the floor at the end of the school day and told me to clean it up because my “people” were so messy.

6.     What traits do you possess that are typical for your family?

We have persistence, are family oriented, and we are all spiritually rooted.

7.     What accomplishment are you most proud of?

 Helping to launch SEIU’s millennial program at SEIU’s 2012 convention and developing it since.

 8. What are you afraid of?

My biggest fear is that there is no ultimate truth. One of the reasons I got involved in organizing was that as a young person, I experienced all the ridiculousness of racism, xenophobia, abuse of workers, I could go on and on…  and these experiences can result in feeling like there is no real meaning or higher purpose to our lives as human beings. In short, Ayn Rand would be right (in promoting individualism and opposing collectivism). I choose not to believe that we should reject altruism. The pursuit of truth and a common purpose that we share as human beings informs my organizing activism.

 9. What is the last thing that made you really angry?

 In Louisiana there is a man named Herman Wallace, he was a prisoner in solitary confinement in Angola for over 40 years. This means he was in a 6 by 9 foot cell every day for forty years, except for one hour per day. Even though all the current evidence shows he did not receive a fair trial, though he has terminal cancer, it was determined that he would not be given a chance at a second trial despite that he did not have long to live. Learning this made me angrier and angrier. Then the news broke about a federal judge ordering Herman Wallace to be released. And now he is free, despite the prison administration trying to deny him safe passage in an ambulance as he was leaving. I saw images of young people in Louisiana cheering as the ambulance drove Herman to the hospital to live out his last days in care. So my anger has turned to hope.

 10. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

 I often try to put myself in the shoes of my Mom, my sisters, and my female colleagues. To be honest, I try to imagine even what it would be like to be a member of a household who is not respected. I don’t know what it is like to walk on the street and have my body slapped or to be demeaned sexually. At work, I pay attention to what it is like to not be respected for what you do or your performance, because of what you look like or don’t look like. I work on myself so I can be more sensitive and understanding in those moments so that I can be an ally.

 11. What do you do for fun?

 I go to the movies. I play music and hang out with my friends. I do things that normal 20-somethings do.

 12. What is the best advice you ever got?

 This is a tough question because it is my “M.O.” to ask for good advice. Growing-up my Dad told me to be well rounded. I think this is the best advice, and I never appreciated until later why he had me reading, in piano lessons, learning chess, playing basketball, even researching information through technology before Google came to be. He feels that to really rise you have to do many things, and do them twice as well as others. For people of color and for women this is a lesson many have been told before.

 13. What failure or success taught you the most?

 At the end of the day, it’s about values. You win some and lose some. Win or lose, if you lose yourself and what you believe at your core it is not even worth it. This lesson comes from a lot of experience… mostly of failure. (Writers’ note: he added this last part with a knowing chuckle.)

 14. How would you like to be remembered?

 This is a question for someone 60 years my senior, so I won’t answer it. (Writer’s note: this reply made us both chuckle.)


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