By Madeline Marcelia Garvin
Being Black History Month and also Heart Month, it was altogether apropos for the University of Saint Francis’s Keith Busse School of Business and Entrepreneurial Leadership to sponsor the presentation of the renowned author Clifton Taulbert to share his insights and strategies regarding “Building Community: A Transforming Process” based on his acclaimed book: Eight Habits of the Heart.
Though the recipient of numerous accolades a such as: the Richard Wright Literary Award, the Jewish Humanitarian Award of the Year, and the NAACP Award for Contributions to African-American Literature, Taulbert’s business acumen and savviness speak for themselves. As he meanders around the room, not only greeting his audience prior to speaking and thus generating a feeling of warmth, genuineness and camaraderie, he also extends gracious personal welcomes to all who ventured out on such a cold, blistery morn.
The morning program which was conducted on Tuesday, Feb. 11, at the Fort Wayne Scottish Rite, now the home of the University of Saint Francis META Center, commenced first with networking and a light repast of assorted muffins and rolls, fruits, juice, coffee and tea. Afterwards, greetings were extended by Dr. Matthew Smith, Vice-President of Institutional Advancement, who proceeded to introduce Taulbert as one who attended Mississippi schools during the era of legal segregation and could have failed if it had not been for the community in which he lived and grew up as a child. Smith continued by indicating that Taulbert captured the attention of many because of his Pulitzer Prize Nominated works: Once Upon a Time When I Was Colored, The Last Train North, and Eight Habits of the Heart, which garnered the attention of Supreme Court Justice Saundra Day O’Connor and Nelson Mandela.
Not one to be concerned with the accouterments of wealth and the superficial side of life, Taulbert took his audience on a journey of his life from childhood to adulthood while sharing photos of his childhood, his family and those who mentored him in the Mississippi Delta that he often referenced as “porch people” throughout his presentation. In addition to incorporating the adages of numerous writers and dignitaries and punctuating each strategic habit of the heart for building community with examples from his travails, Taulbert would also engage his audience posing thought provoking questions; one such was posed to him by a Ford manager: “Wonder what Ford would look like if our people experienced multiple dosages of unselfishness?”
From there, Taulbert reminded those in attendance that he was born to a single mom teenager, born Black, lived in different homes, and grew up during a time when there was legal segregation. “They would not have wanted Little Cliff at the University of Saint Francis.”
“My family,” said Taulbert, “were field workers; they had no stocks or bonds to give me; instead they built community on my behalf, and community changed everything. But, once I got out of that world, I went back to that which made a difference and in 1977, I distilled the unselfish actions of the “porch people” into these eight habits of their hearts, and I found out that these habits of the heart are timeless and universal transforming where we live, work and play.”
Taulbert then posited, “Does this mean you get this book and just put it on your desk? No, community requires something of you. As Pope Francis said, ‘I cannot live my life without people. I need to live my life with others.’”
With this, Taulbert reiterated, “I cannot live my life in isolation; I need to live my life with others, and while working with Navy Admirals, I tell these people that people matter.”
Within the next 45 minutes, Taulbert shared the following habits of the heart:
• Nurturing Attitude
• High Expectations
• Courage and
All of the aforementioned habits were learned by Taulbert growing up in his hometown of Glen Allen, Mississippi. Finally, Taulbert emphasized numerous times that he learned these habits from his grandfather, great-grandfather, great-aunt and his Uncle Cleve, and in spite of legal segregation, because of his family and his community, he was able to survive. And, as he reminded everyone, “A good leader has vision for his or her employers. Community is in the process, and the power is in the community process.”
In closing Taulbert announced his forthcoming book, “The Invitation: What Happened to the Children of the Help,” which is due out next week. Taulbert stated that although he doesn’t normally promote his forthcoming works, he stated that this is probably the best work he has ever written; but, he is encouraging everyone to purchase it.
Manning questions, Taulbert responded to statements made by: Sister Anita Holzimer and James W. Williams, who both connected with Taulbert from a spiritual perspective; with Sister Holzimer indicating that any person of faith recognizes your premises are the epitome of that which is espoused by Jesus, and Williams actually questioned Taulbert’s spirituality. To which Taulbert responded, after speaking in Australia, an Australian spoke up and said: “Bloke, I don’t know you; but there’s something spiritual about you – you’ve changed my life.”
Curious as to what Taulbert would do to persevere in situations when persons have insulted him, I asked him how did he react when individuals directed negative commentary towards him or exploited him and/or utilized his ideas claiming it for theirs. With that he shared that he incorporated premises similar to those outlined in Stanford University Professor Carol Dweck’s book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.” Having a growth mindset emphasized Taulbert doesn’t allow you to be stuck within a box due to insults. And, at the same time, I have to walk out of that box, continued Taulbert, into the growth mindset.
Interacting with some of the attendees: MLK Celebration Chair Mr. Benny Edwards, shared that Taulbert’s story is his story; for he was raised by his great-grandmother in rural Mississippi, and she always told him that it was important to do the right thing because it was the right thing to do, and this still rings true today as indicative in Lou Holtz’s book “How to be Successful.”
For community leader Larry Lee, it was an emotional experience, and regardless of backgrounds Taulbert’s message is profound. “I,” said Lee, “was moved to tears because of the poignancy of his upbringing and his ability to share his story with his audience. As a strong advocate of Civil Rights, I often get depressed, but my batteries get recharged after hearing him.”
Consulting towards the very end of the event with Robert Lee, Dean of the Keith Busse School of Business and Entrepreneurial Leadership, I wanted to know what motivated them to bring Mr. Taulbert. Dean Lee indicated that he learned of Taulbert from the Kaufman Foundation that promotes entrepreneurial education and the Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative which was developed and published out of Ohio. The actual course material used in a class at the University of Saint Francis was based on the book “Who Owns the Ice House: Eight Life Lessons from an Unlikely Entrepreneur” by Clifton Taulbert and Gary Schoeniger. Aside from this, Lee informed me that he had some Eli Lily Grant funds remaining from a co-op program called EPIC, and with that speaker money they decided to pursue bringing Mr. Clifton Taulbert, and I am certain those in attendance are pleased he pursued this venture.
A warm thank you is extended to Liz Unger and all of those who assisted with this endeavor; the presenter was magnanimous.