Two Different Worlds, One Week

06/23/2015 01:17 pm ET | Updated Jun 23, 2016

Last week, we launched the GlobalMindED movement with four hundred leaders from business, education, non-profit organizations, and foundations who came from seven countries around the world. Promptly following the conference, Clifton Taulbert, a community leader, entrepreneur, activist, and one of GlobalMindED's speakers, shared with me his reflections comparing his experience at the GlobalMindED Conference with the recent South Carolina atrocity. I've asked his permission to share his thoughts here.


Last week in Denver (June 17-19), great minds gathered from around the country -- from academia, industry and the world of entrepreneurs exploring the ramifications of being guided by a global perspective at Denver's GlobalMindED Conference. I had been invited as a panelist and a panel leader. Innovation and entrepreneurial thinking was top of mind as incredible speakers -- from Google, Microsoft, the George Lucas Foundation and scores of others -- took us on a journey into a future being framed by advancing technology and globalization. In the midst of these assembled leaders were cohorts of young adults, college students whom I call our generation of promise. Watching these curious and adventuresome millennials take hold of demanding assignments designed to utilize their grasp of innovation to think and respond to a global community, I had a keen sense that this generation is equipped to master the innovation of their times as have been done by each generation before them. They will go where no woman or man has gone before and we will stand amazed.

However in the midst of this gathering of millennials who seemed destined to take innovation to the next level, another millennial would appear to also shape my week. I was rocked by the heart-wrenching solo actions of a twenty-one-year-old young man from South Carolina robed in the minds of those from another era. He should have been in Denver challenging himself to become global minded -- focusing on his role as a citizen of the world. Instead, he had embraced the philosophy from our nation's slavery and segregated past -- one that would lead to horrendous acts of violence that would leave families, a community, and a nation devastated. Two worlds would define my week -- one filled with the promise of the future, a continued flow of innovation and the other filled with unimaginable acts from a young man who was not looking to the future, but had become trapped in America's dark past.

The tragedy in Charleston reminded me that innovation alone was not enough to move our society forward, or to take full advantage of a global outlook. Innovation might definitely be one of the answers to our economic challenges, but our nation needs more if our communities are to rise above the haunting shadows of race and place. Innovation needs cultural transformation as a partner. And we need adults and young people alike to rise together to be the culture transformers our nation needs. If we are to harness the best of technology and to take full advantage of embracing a global outlook, then we must start at home committed to building a culture that recognizes the gifts and potential in all of us -- and not seeing some as non-essential because of their ethnicity, the color of their skin or the languages they speak. These are the times for young minds to explore and imagine the possibilities of what is possible and, yes, to create a culture where the embrace of our common humanity is the defining mantra.

In Denver at the GlobalMinded Conference, I was energized by the diversity of young college students who seemed to have fully understood the incredible world before them and the opportunities that could be theirs, but my mind could not forget the horror of Charleston. Young Roof was a millennial. He looked so young -- too young to be so misguided and so determined. Had we as Americans failed this young man? Had we not built the community he so desperately needed to have seen and felt? Was our baggage from yesterday held on too long? Did we leave our baggage of race and place within his reach? If so, how do we -- the young and the old -- heed the clarion call from the Charleston tragedy to accelerate with all speed our will to continue the on-going process of building the community that respects, affirms and includes all?

At Friday noon in South Carolina, young Dylann Roof would appear before the court, and in Denver, I would address the conference. I briefly spoke to the conference and the young people in particular -- reading from The Invitation -- the recent story of my encounter with a nearly ninety-year-old Allendale, South Carolina plantation owner whom I had met at the turn of the century. Our paths crossed for five years and during those years, I witnessed the possibilities of what can happen when the lingering lessons of race and place come face-to-face with the promising possibilities of the future. I wanted the audience of bright minds and even brighter futures to know that the tragedy in Charleston was our shared tragedy -- not a news item soon to be replaced by another breaking story. I challenged the young people and the adults who listened in to embrace the idea that we have the capacity to both innovate and transform our culture. Beyond the conference venue, there was indeed another world -- a world that needs not only the best of our minds, but the habits of our hearts in daily action. I know this is possible! I had witnessed transformation at work in Allendale's Roselawn Plantation when Miss Camille Cunningham Sharp intentionally built in my presence the community that had eluded my childhood.

I closed my brief talk with these words from the heart of Kent Nerburn:

"Remember to be gentle with yourself and others. We are all children of chance, and none can say why some fields will blossom while others lay brown beneath the August sun. Care for those around you. Look beyond our differences. Their dreams are no less than yours, their choices in life no more easily made...."

This is what I wished for those I encountered in Denver -- The Generation of Promise.

This is what I wished the young man in Charleston, South Carolina had known.