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This episode was originally recorded as a DEI Community Call, and features a conversation with Lorraine Orr, Chief Operations Officer of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. Lorraine shares her professional and personal stories of identity and how her lived experience led her to where she is today. Discover the powerful moments of reckoning in the Boys and Girl Club’s history on the topic of DEI and where the Boys and Girls Club stands in its DEI evolution.
Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:
LORRAINE ORR: We made a national commitment a few years ago to say, "We will become a trauma informed organization." We are designing that right now. We have our youth development team, brilliant people We are on that journey and that will happen. We know that we need to ensure that young people are both life and work ready. So, launching a pretty significant workforce readiness program, our initiative at this point that with that will prepare young people if they move on to college, if they go into the world or work or into the United States military. So, preparing young people there. Diversity equity and inclusion, this racial equity thing. We recently just did a survey with about 4,000 young people. Two things on their mind, mental health and racial equity.
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The Will to Change is hosted by Jennifer Brown and Jennifer is an award-winning entrepreneur, dynamic speaker, bestselling author and leader expert on how organizations must evolve their cultures towards a new, more inclusive workplace reality. She's a passionate inclusion and equity advocate, committed to helping leaders foster healthier and therefore, more productive workplaces, ultimately driving innovation and business results. Informed by nearly two decades of consulting to Fortune 500 companies, she and her team advise top companies on building cultures of belonging in times of great upheaval and uncertainty. And now, onto the episode.
DOUG FORESTA: Hello and welcome back to The Will to Change. This is Doug Foresta. And I know that you've heard the ad for the DEI Foundation's course. And I want to let you know that the next cohort starts July 25th.
This episode was originally recorded as a DEI Community Call, and features a conversation between Jennifer and Lorraine Orr, Chief Operations Officer of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. As many of our guests do in The Will to Change, Lorraine shares her professional story as well as her personal story of identity and how her lived experience and relationship to identity led her to where she is today.
Lorraine also talks about her commitment to the mission of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and why she's chosen to stay there and grow in the organization. You'll also hear about powerful moments of reckoning in the Boys and Girls Clubs' history on the topic of DEI and how it has really been on the cutting edge of inclusivity in some ways, and struggled in others. And you'll also hear the important case for inclusivity in the Boys and Girls Club, given its purpose to serve young people and what's on young people's minds when it comes to diversity, equity, inclusion. All this and more, and now, onto the conversation.
JENNIFER BROWN: Without further ado, I'd like to welcome you, Lorraine. Thanks for joining our community today.
LORRAINE ORR: Thank you for inviting me. I'm happy to be here.
JENNIFER BROWN: So, everybody, you might remember H Walker on some of our other calls and podcasts. H is incredible and H works with Lorraine at the Boys and Girls Club. To give you some context that we are familiar with this organization and Lorraine and I have recently become acquainted and I feel have, gosh, known each other in some other way, for a long time. And her journey, you'll hear and you'll understand why it really resonates so much with me personally.
And I was in nonprofits for a long time and worked with youth before I went into DEI and became more of a corporate-focused person. So, Lorraine, also, this work that is so mission-driven is really close to my heart as well. And we've got parents on here. We've probably got parents on here that have kids in the club and so, we're all familiar with the club, but I think we're going to learn a lot today that we may not know. And we're going to consider the organizational lens on this, which is always such a neat peak, into such a well-recognized, respected, and necessary organization that's done so much good in the world, but one that has struggled, just like every other organization.
And Lorraine, you using your voice as you have to shed light on things, to help the organizational leaders navigate through these uncertain times. And you've had the benefit of being there for several decades as well, so really growing yourself as a leader and growing into your voice. So, I just want to let you greet the group and take us back to wherever you'd like to contextualize how you grew up, early influences. Anything you'd like to share about all that. And what coming into an organization like Boys and Girls Club early in your career really meant to you.
LORRAINE ORR: Yeah, so great question, and thank you. So, as I think about my journey, I was born in 1966 in the South. My parents were sharecroppers. I was the first person in my family to be born in an integrated hospital. I was born as a preemie and. And literally, the doctor told my mom to prepare myself, "Because that girl you delivered is not going to make it through the night." So, that's 2.5 pounds and well, I hit 100 pounds in the 4th grade and have not looked back since.
So, being born in the South and, but had a family, mom, dad that loved their children. We didn't have a lot growing up, but we had family, we had faith. For me, a lot of first to your point. The first in the family to graduate from a four-year university. I was the first girl in my little small town that played baseball most of my life until I got into middle school and then, I switched over to softball. I'm a pretty good pitcher, I would say, as a kid.
And then moved through a career. I found Boys and Girls Clubs as a teenager, working summer camps in college. And the day, I finished my last exam, I went to the leader of the club and said, "I just finished my last exam and I want to work at this place." And I got a job as a part-time Athletic Director and I moved to a Program Director, Branch Director, the Director of Program Services for the entire organization. And on my 25th birthday, was named the CEO of the local organization in Greensboro. Stayed there in that role for five years.
And then I came to Boys and Girls Clubs of America. And here, I was a Director of Organizational Development with the Portfolio Clubs. I covered the State of North Carolina. And I will tell you, some rude awakenings there from board members when I showed up the first time, who said, "You're not what I expected from my phone call." And I did ask one guy in Eastern North Carolina, "What? Was I supposed to be blonde hair and blue eyed?" And he said, "Exactly."
But anyway, so, and I became the first person of color to run a region for Boys and Girls Clubs of America. And I've been promoted a few times since 2007 and now, serve as an Executive Vice-President and COO. The first woman to lead operations and the first person of color. And obviously, probably, the first gay woman to lead at this level in our organization. So, a lot of first.
But this organization, I've grown up in it. And I found my authentic self in it and then it was an organization that helped me do that. Now, and I'll tell you, you see my picture on the front, agonized about going natural. It I probably need to update my headshot, but in thinking about an organization then, obviously, our leadership from a board perspective at the local level, 80% of our board members are white. Mostly, white males. And for me, it was a struggle to really, as I thought about if I came out, if I wore my hair natural, if I didn't wear the Navy suit with this white shirt, would that impact my trajectory.
But for me, what I found, as long as you're honest, you have a strong work ethic and for me, integrity and for me, I define that as personal honor and humility. If I ever, ever, and I can't tell you how many people in my life and in my circle now that I've given permission to say, "If Lorraine Orr ever shows up like she's bigger than this organization, then tell her to quit," and I will. Because the mission has to be greater than any one person.
JENNIFER BROWN: You're getting a lot of appreciation in chat, Lorraine. You don't need to look at it. I'm just going to pass it along.
LORRAINE ORR: Okay.
JENNIFER BROWN: That thank you for the way you approach your humble leadership and your courage and boy, the resilience that you've had to have to be so many firsts. I just want to say there's a lot of people who attend these calls that are firsts in many ways in their organizations, but wow, what a story. I just want to honor where you've come and how important you've been to the organization as a change agent within it. But the way you've done it and the way you've approached it as I've come to get to know you is, I think, so spot on and so wise, and so practical, too. That you stay grounded in the past present and future.
And I see you as you talk about your role taking all those things together and meeting the organization where it's at. And you and I were talking earlier before we even got on here. We're in the foxhole together and not running so far ahead that you lose a complex organization with a lot of history and things to be navigated. Because the damage from that would last and be something that would take years to rebuild. So, it's this really delicate and nuanced role that you have. Right?
LORRAINE ORR: Yeah, absolutely. And listen, in anybody in operations or anybody that is in the customer business, I believe strategy and sequencing is really, really important. And you have to be able to and it's what I do every day is measure the relationship health between Boys and Girls Clubs of America and our local clubs. Because what I know is that we, as a national organization, as a national brand cannot be successful without our local affiliates because our real work is done on the ground, community by community. And if we fracture that, if we fracture that, then young people don't get what they need to be successful. And in my opinion, that's why we exist.
Now, I will say, as an organization, we have a history. We were founded 116 years ago as the Boys Club Federation. And believe it or not, we were founded by three women who wanted young boys to be off the street, so they would bring them in. And they were just arts and crafts women. And it grew into a federation, 53 organizations started the Boys Club Federation. And they created it because there was such interest in growing and serving young people that they wanted this national apparatus. So, we were actually created from the local clubs.
Now, that creates tension, just like you can equate us to a franchise. It creates tension, but this organization has been so successful. When we've moved through our journey from obviously, being a segregated organization in the '60s where we still have some clubs to today, some communities today that have two boys and girls club organizations. One that used to serve children, white children and one that used to serve Black children. Now, obviously that is different today, but the history runs so deep that these two clubs still exist in the same community.
And now, we made a decision in the late '60s to become an integrated organization. Now, I will say some boys clubs at that time left. We changed our name to Boys and Girls Clubs of America in 1991. It's not that long ago, but at that time about 80% of our clubs were serving girls, but we've gone through this journey. And after the killing of George Floyd, we felt we had an obligation to speak out. Now, and I will say that that speaking out created some tension in our organization. Some tension that we're still dealing with today, because we are a microcosm of what our nation is today, but at the center for us is young people. And we've got to make sure that we never do anything that is going to negatively impact a child.
So, for example, we have a national convention every year. We have a group of gay CEOs of some of our local clubs that have come to us and said, "We can't host our conference in Florida because of the Don't Say Gay Act." And as a national organization, we had to make a decision that said, the mission calls for us to be in Florida. We may not agree with what the state is doing, but we have young people there that depend on boys and girls clubs, their boys and girls clubs, and they need access. They need a safe place to go where they can show up every day and know they can be their authentic selves and that there are staff there that believe in them regardless of how they identify.
So, we have tough decisions, just like everybody and hiring our first DEI officer in H, it created challenges for us and some people didn't like it. It's a waste of resources. Some people are saying, "We don't have a problem with race in our community. We don't have gay kids in our community." It is all over the board. But what I know is that this organization for 116 years has made a difference. And my job in leading operations is to make sure that we don't fracture that relationship at the local level, but we stand, we always, always stand for what's right.
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, my goodness, so much good stuff in there. Everybody, please, please add your questions and chat or comments or just things that are on your mind and we'll kick it around. But Lorraine, wow, so again, we struggle with the pulling leadership forward in the times when our young people, and I could equate this to perhaps younger employees in the workplaces we focus in, who are already there and then we have this. But the system is complex and leadership doesn't share the lived experience and identities of our young people and younger talent.
And also, there is the generational values and attitudes about what's maybe appropriate to even talk about. And so, I appreciate that you're centering all of this around the biggest priority, which is the young people. And what is going on for them? What are they struggling with? There is really nothing else. It's not about agreeing or disagreeing. It just is. They're in the soup.
LORRAINE ORR: That's correct.
JENNIFER BROWN: And we are here to support them, so it seems so clear, but I know that so much gets in the way of that. And so, you're constantly... this national organization, interestingly, as you just said, was created after the organic creation of all the clubs, which is interesting, and I didn't know that. And so, you must have this tension around directing, not dictating, that's a strong word. But encouraging and equipping your CEOs all over the country to step forward into what is really uncomfortable for a lot of people.
And you shared, I think on a prep call, that some folks had really even considered maybe, and I think they did maybe resign or step away. Things got really intense in 2020, in 2021, and people feeling like, "I can't lead this anymore. I'm being asked to do something that I don't understand, that I don't know if I can do effectively." And I know a lot of leaders, they're in that place like everywhere, actually, whether it's discomfort. It's not always strong disagreement. It's just this feeling of a relevance and being behind and not being able to catch up and not being able to be effective, too. So, I wondered how you would characterize all of that.
LORRAINE ORR: Yeah. So, as an organization, after George Floyd, we had tension and it was emotional. It was emotional for everybody, Black people, white people, everybody. It was just an emotional time. And then you stack on top of that this pandemic that was creating all of these unknowns and so much loss and uncertainty there. And it was just a really tough time. And I will tell you, we started out just by listening.
And even for me as a Black person, I went through this part where I had to be comfortable with my own Blackness and it was tough. But we did have some CEOs and I've talked to some of our white male CEOs and it was hard because I said, "God, I'm making decisions every day." One day, I am a hero because I've done this and the next day, everybody in the organization hates me. And I have to make decisions for what's right for this organization and ensure kids have access.
But yeah, we had some turnover from just the fatigue of it all. Both locally and nationally. And some of our professionals who got the values, don't the line, so I'm finding something else. And I think everybody is seeing some of that in places. But at the end of the day for me, what we are rooted in is a mission and a vision that says that every child that comes through our doors will graduate from high school on time with a plan for their future. And that's what we've got to work for, and that's what we work for.
I tell my teams every day that there are not many people in America that get to wake up every day and say that they have the opportunity to change the trajectory of a nation. We have that opportunity. And I ask them right after I say that, "It is an opportunity, so what are we going to do with it?" And there are going to be obstacles. Listen, the last couple years was just damn hard. No doubt about it, it was hard.
But the people that suffered, suffering is suffering, but young people suffered. And the mental health crisis in this nation today, even in our system, we have seen more suicide, suicide ideation in the last two years than we have in the last, probably, two decades. And when you have 11, 12, 13 year olds that the only way out is to take their own life, something is not right with the system.
JENNIFER BROWN: Right, right. Lorraine, we have a couple questions, but before we get to those-
LORRAINE ORR: Okay.
JENNIFER BROWN: I see those everybody. You said, "Coming to terms with your Blackness," I wanted to hear more about that. That, I'm sure that will resonate with a lot of folks here to come to the front about our identities and lead around an identity that has been a struggle. And also, I'm curious, have you had to go through the same process about being LGBTQ Plus and coming to the fore and reckoning with that. or becoming more public about it. And what has that felt like? What has that been like for you? What has it changed in you?
LORRAINE ORR: Yeah, so, yes, both of them were difficult. I didn't come out at work until probably 10 years ago, 12 years ago, and I was already in a senior leadership role at that time. And my now wife, she's the one. She's from Long Beach, California and she said, "Hey, listen. Here's why I am. Here's how I'm going to live my life. And you're either with me or you're not."
JENNIFER BROWN: That works.
LORRAINE ORR: Yeah. And it's so interesting because my wife is a white woman and I'll come back to that because of some the struggles around my Blackness, my own Blackness. But she also was born and raised Mormon and her parents, they're active in the Mormon church. But when she made the decision that I was it or that we were it and we were going to start a family, we call it the manifesto. But literally she went out to our back studio and she wrote a seven-page letter to her parents, and recalled every step in her life. And the last sentence was, "Mom, Dad, I know your religion and what you believe in. Know I will always love you. And if this is our last communication, I'm good with it."
And it's such a powerful thing. And for me, I'm sure everybody speculated and at that moment, because my dad's gone, but I know how close I was to my parents. And I don't know if I could have ever made that decision for myself, but it did say to me that, "All right, if we're going to make it, and particularly, if we bring children into this world, there can't be any secrets."
And we have 4-1/2-year-old twins. Long story there. They were born via a surrogate. And although, the sperm donor was mixed, my children present as white. And so, I have all of these blonde people running around with curly hair. But our journey was such a powerful one and she gave me the strength to do that. And now, it's just, it is what it is. It's who I am and I think it has supported a lot of people in our organization to be their authentic selves at work. And frankly it made me better because I didn't have to worry about the hiding and all of the stuff and avoiding every conversation about what you did over the weekend.
JENNIFER BROWN: Right, with this, yes.
LORRAINE ORR: And it would not have been fair to my children. And given the work that I'm in, I'm not going to live a lie in front of them. So, that journey was, it was a tough one. It was a tough one, but I am comfortable in my own skin and everybody knows who I am, who my family is. And as it should be because nobody should have to hide any part of who they are.
So, as I think about my Blackness, I was, I told you, born and raised in the South, but in a really small town. And the only other Black people in our little small town at that time were, we were all related. It was the Orrs and the Moors. And we knew each other and we just weren't in our pod. But when I started school, there was the busing and we were busing young people from the inner city into these little small, for us, it was a little country school. And it was the first real interaction for me with other Black people outside of my family.
And I played a lot of sports and my teammates for the most part, until I got into high school and on into college where I played, there were more Black people there. But I never really lived outside of this pod being my family. So, I made the choice. And it was a hard one to go to a college that I'm now a trustee on the board. It was a predominantly white college. And for me, it was all about trying to understand how it all worked. Because the only idea I had is what I saw on television. And I just needed to understand that. It's so much easier having natural hair. I can't tell you the difference.
But I struggled with that because I didn't know what the rest of the world would think. And then, I struggled because I said, "Why do I care what the rest of the world thinks?" And it was just this internal struggle. And then as my partner, life partner, the person that I fell in love with, this happened to be a white woman. That also was somewhat of a struggle. It's just, "Hmm." And I knew it wasn't going to change, but I struggled with, again, what other people may think. Yeah, and then again, it came back to, "Why do you really care what people think?"
But it was all this personal struggle, Jennifer, particularly as we both watched how the reckoning that our nation saw after George Floyd, but something that I knew. But I will tell you, it brought us closer together because we were able to sit down and talk about how this impacted both of us and the differences there, and then the similarities. So it was, I would say, a beautiful time in our relationship because it helped us understand each other just a little bit better. And frankly it allowed me to open up and say things about my own Blackness that I probably never had before with her. And I didn't know why because we share everything, but it was a powerful moment for me.
And again, I think it made me better. It did make me better as a person, as a partner, as a mom, and frankly, as a professional in how I show up for the 200 plus people that are in my part of the organization at Boys and Girls Clubs of America. So, life is always, it's a journey and it is one that I've had my struggles just like most, but it comes down to personal truth, and being really, really comfortable with who you are.
Now, I'd love to tell you that I got there by myself. Didn't. I don't have my therapist on speed dial right now, but when I need to, they're on speed dial. And I will give applaud for that because a lot of people of color, particularly men of color, it's a stigma in our community, but the world is hard. And so, I would say find one and one that connects with you and have those conversations when you need it.
JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you for sharing that, because that's you're role modeling transparency about the needs you have and destigmatizing the help you're getting and talking about it, because I know we cannot do this alone. We need our team. And I have a similar story about encouraging. My partner, Michelle, who's Filipina-American first generation, hadn't come out to her parents. And yep, in about 10 years in or so I was like, "Okay, no more of this roommate, sleeping on the couch thing. You got to do it."
And how beautiful that this ally-ship can exist in our relationships. You don't expect that. That's not how we often talk about it, but you're right, it does take the nudge, the kick in the butt, you know what, the accountability to do the hard thing. And then the hard thing is not usually as hard as you think it's going to be, which is on the other side of all of this, which is I know seeing you now and all the work that went into you today, and me today and my partner, Michelle, today that looking back, it's like, "Gosh, I guess, I was afraid." And these fears run really, really deep. And, and we never really forget what that felt like.
But how beautiful that you could do that together. And then how beautiful that such a painful episode in our country and world in 2020 that summer could lead to deeper authenticity in our families, more learning, more disclosure, even amongst those intimate relationships and I think that's very true. I don't think just because you're related or in a family unit with somebody means you understand their experience and their path, you see it all the time. So, look at our parents with trans kids, coming together and having the talk about doing the hard things and coming out the other side so much stronger for it, so much deeper for it.
So, I just appreciate you sharing that wonderful positive aspect of, I think, what was a really difficult time for all of us. And so, all right, so I have a couple questions for you in the chat.
LORRAINE ORR: Okay.
JENNIFER BROWN: There's a lot coming in here. There's a lot of gratitude for your openness and appreciation. You mentioned majority white male boards early in your time there, not having the personal experience relevant to the youth they serve. So, because this is common, how does the organization encourage support, equip, educate those kinds who do lack the lived experience? And how does that gap get closed most effectively? Maybe if you can think of somebody who's done that really effectively, because I'm sure you know so many people who have really leaned into that difference and made every effort in the right way to close the gap. And I love hearing stories about leaders that aren't from a community, but are just truly deep in their connection.
LORRAINE ORR: Yeah. So, here, I mean the one common thing that connects us all, our boards, our staff is mission. And people, what I found in my almost 35 years in this work is that the people that join our boards want better for their communities. They want young people to have access to services, regardless of their political affiliations. We'll set that aside. Where it is most successful is where you can have open and authentic relationships with your board and be able to share with them the realities of young people and to be able to show that.
And also, not being afraid to speak up. And I will tell you as a young executive of an organization, my board at that time when I took it over, there was one Black person, one Black man that was on that board. And I can remember being in a board room and there were some inappropriate jokes being told. And it was the hardest thing that I had to do, but I had to call my board president afterwards and I said, "I have to share with you something. Here's what was said and here's what it meant to people that don't look like you." And for him, "Oh, my God, Lorraine. I had no idea, no idea."
So, a part of this, now there's real hatred in this country, let's be clear about that, but there is good in people. And some people just don't know, and we have to be strong enough and comfortable enough to be able to share with people when things are offensive and here's why. Because, again, some people simply do not know. Now, again, we know that there are just pure hate in this country. I get that and I recognize that. But for me, where I've seen CEOs and other leaders be the most successful when dealing with differences is authentic, honest conversations and creating a space where people feel comfortable. And is not a push-pull or people are poking at chests out at each other, it is a conversation as humans, because we all are human.
And I tend to, I like to believe that there's good in everybody. And that I know in some people probably not. But in our organization, if you really are, if you're joining, you're giving your money, your time, your intellect, you're opening up your networks to support this organization, there's something there. There's something there. You may have to help uncover it and you may have to help people unlearn what they've learned.
And I'll tell you the most powerful conversation that I had during the whole George Floyd was a woman that worked for me, white woman about my age, a little older, 57 or so. She called me up one night crying and she said, "Lorraine, I don't know what to do, because I feel like my full life was a lie. What people taught me, what I lived through, none of it was true." And her as a white woman was grappling with, "How do I unlearn some of this?" And forget all the battles around critical race theory, but there's something about just telling people the truth of what happened. It's not about us lingering in it, but there's some real pain there for many people in this nation.
And our young people should know and the people that work for us, you got to really understand if I'm going to make the right decisions as an EVP in this organization, I got to have all the information. Now, obviously, sometimes, you can't wait for it all. You got to get us enough and you pull the trigger, but you got to have the information to be able to make the decision.
JENNIFER BROWN: Right, right. The truth hurts and-
LORRAINE ORR: It does.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, but you're right. I love how you have this mission you can come back to, and there's a DNA in the people that would work for the Boys and Girls Club that you can come back to and know that that's strong and that's nice. And I would imagine that really helps some of the folks that attends these calls are in corporations where I think it's much harder to be able to count on that mission orientation, because the nature of it is just different. You can rally people around a lot of things. And maybe you certainly pride in the brand and the products or whatever it is, but yours is really strong and I'm glad that you have that to come back to. But then there's probably really then strong feelings about the direction of the organization, too and that all the levels of input and managing multiple stakeholders.
And I wanted to ask about if the great resignation has impacted your staff and also, about maybe burnout on the part of your staff and those two things may be related. But have you held strong in terms of your levels of staff and people in roles or have you had to really given the mission and how hard the work is, because it really matters and the stake are high. So, I wonder if burnout is actually higher or lower because it holds people into the organization and in their mission.
LORRAINE ORR: No, it has indeed impacted us and not so much at the national organization. We predicted around 5% turnover. Most of ours was around coming back to the office and requiring that our staff come. If there were office space that they will come back to the office. And we had people leave because obviously, there are many, many places where you can work remotely 100% of the time and we are three days a week in the office.
At the local level though, real challenges, not so much the burnout, but we are an organization, we have a lot of part-time workers. A lot of our frontline staff are part-time. So, we have some organizations that have as much as a third of their workforce that is vacant at this point. But what that creates for us is a long waiting list for young people to get access to our clubs. So, we've been doing a lot over the last several months in trying to speed that, but obviously with the background checks and all of those things. And in some states, literally, it has taken months because of the state itself being so short staffed to get background checks back, which means, yeah, that person cannot work in a club until, background is clear.
There's obviously just a snowball effect that is challenging us as an organization. But our hope is that this too shall pass and we need it to, because we do need to make sure that our clubs can serve kids safely. But the burnout is a real thing. Listening myself as a Black person in our organization, the last two years, it was hard. You carried a lot and sometimes, you felt like you were carrying it for the entire organization, because before H joined, it was me and one other man that were the Black people on our senior team. And it was hard. It was hard, but we knew we both had a responsibility to the organization, to our colleagues, but also to our movement to make sure that we stood as tall as we could, but we also took time for ourselves.
JENNIFER BROWN: That's so huge, Lorraine. I just can't imagine. I hope the allies who surround you or folks who are on that journey have lifted your below-the-weight a bit and have carried it. That's the vision I always have of a successful partnership, so that we're not lifting the boulder ourselves is that somebody is ready to grab the baton from us. And really knows what to say and when to say it and how to have a conversation or how to push or what to push on. And whether we have the identity or not, we could still create the space and create the conversation.
And then, you and H and others can sit back and say, "Okay, so there's a tipping point of understanding here where all of a sudden we feel that many hands are making lighter work." And that's my wish for you. I'm sure it's not as fast as you would hope it would be. But I hope you've discovered some incredible allies in the organization and they know what to do, when to do, how to carry the water for where the organization is going and you're not one of the only voices.
LORRAINE ORR: Yeah. And listen, I do and we have. But I will tell you, it did not organically happen. We made the decision to hire a consultant that worked with us as a leadership team, the senior leadership team at Boys and Girls Clubs of America. And that they were on a journey with us as we learned and grew together for a little north of a year. An our CEO at my request hired a consultant that works with him, now still because he, as a white man, needed to be really comfortable with using Black or African American stuff you can't stumble over.
And Jim and I, we are colleagues, we are friends and we took this. We went on this journey together. Still, obviously, some misunderstandings because of where we both are, our backgrounds, but we know how to work through those.
JENNIFER BROWN: These partnerships, Lorraine, we have this inside thing we noticed at JBC where it's like these pairs are so incredible to encounter. And maybe you and Jim and what you just described that you've become, against many odds, close and aligned. And each doing work and each learning from each other and supporting each other from your respective backgrounds and identities. And it really is not a solo endeavor. This is all an endeavor I think we take and we undertake together. And it is so beautiful to witness cross-identity partnerships that are successful and inspiring in role modeling and what does that look like.
And we can't do this alone. And we really shouldn't because the opportunity for someone else to step in and grow and lead and find their voice is so critical because he looks like so many in your organization. And you're going to be heard differently than he is heard. And I think a lot about the messenger and not just the message and some of you that have been on these, hear me come back to this, which is the reason why on our team, we have lots of different messengers and lots of different identities. Because meeting organization systems where they're at means that perhaps, they need to hear it in different ways from different people in their own context to really either believe it or to buy into it or to support it.
But the two of you are unstoppable and I can feel that, but I know that a lot of work has gone into that on your part, but also on his part. And...
LORRAINE ORR: Absolutely.
JENNIFER BROWN: ... acknowledging, he probably has gotten a lot of flack. I know, probably, people are like, "Well, I don't even recognize him," or, "Why is he saying this now? And is that really real?" And, so he's probably dealing with all of the emails that maybe you don't see, maybe you do, I don't know. But we got to shore up our allies in training, those folks that are moving along that direction.
LORRAINE ORR: Yeah. You're absolutely right, absolutely right. And we have built the strong partnership and as I think about it even in our organization and any system. We have over a thousand independent 501(c)(3)s, which means a thousand CEOs. We operate 4,900 locations across this nation. We are the largest service provider in Indian country, so we knew what is important there in terms of sovereignty and language, culture, history, the respect for all elders. We didn't know all of that, so I have a native services team that works primarily with all of our clubs in the Indian country.
We are the largest service provider in military-connected kids. We have affiliated youth centers on virtually every military base around the globe and dealing with young people whose parents, think about it, we have had this series of wars. And young people, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 years old, all they've known is war and what they've seen is the constant deployment of their parents, eight, nine times. We don't know what that impact is going to be on military-connected young people at this juncture. I know the Department of Defense and others are studying on that as we speak, but there's so much.
And all speaks to these adverse childhood experiences that we call trauma. And as an organization, it's not just trauma for young people, it's trauma for adults, too. And we have to figure out how... well, not figure out, we have to deal with that, in any environment, nonprofit or for profit. Trauma is a real thing and it has an effect on people. And if it's not dealt with as a child, it manifests itself in adults, particularly, historic trauma. And it's something that we don't talk about in this nation, but we know it exists. And the health impacts that have had on certain populations.
So, there's so much to unpack there, Jennifer. But to your point having allies and being able to build these authentic relationships and partnerships in your organizations and then your per personal lives, I would say, is paramount given where we are as a nation today, that is somewhat a nation divided.
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, somewhat. Understatement.
LORRAINE ORR: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: When you think about what's next for the organization, this is my last question, but what do you anticipate you'll be wrestling with? I know there's so much being thrown at you in the external world that has been rolling down to the kids and the staff and the trauma is continuing. And the messaging is tricky to manage. The implications on the organization are so massive, and so I know. What's on the docket to figure out or decide, or create some process or approach around?
LORRAINE ORR: So, a few things, mental health and trauma informed practice. We made a national commitment a few years ago to say, "We will become a trauma informed organization." We are designing that right now. We have our youth development team, brilliant people that we are on that journey and that will happen. We know that we need to ensure that young people are both life- and work-ready, so launching a pretty significant workforce readiness program or initiative at this point that will prepare young people for if they move on to college, if they go into the world or work or into the United States military. So, preparing young people there.
Diversity, equity and inclusion, this racial equity thing. We recently just did a survey with about 4000 young people. Two things on their mind, mental health and racial equity. And we have this population of young people right now that they're going to be involved. We know that. They are going to be involved and social change is really important to them. And I look at the younger generation, those folks in their mid-20s now.
Literally, I have people and friends that I know are talking to their children where their children are making decisions, right now today, not to have their own children, because they don't want to bring them into this society that we have or global warming, all of those things. And these things are things that we got to prepare young people for today to say that they have to have an active art in the democracy of this nation. So, those would be the three big things programmatically.
And then the final thing is talent. We've got to build people because we are in a hundred plus year old organization and people like Lorraine, I mean I'm on the backside of the mountain, so my runway is short. Well, I have four year olds, maybe not as short as I would hope. But making sure that we are building the next pipeline of leaders, so that this organization can continue to be what I like to call a part of the fabric of this nation. And I believe that we can make real change happen.
Obviously, some societal issues. Understatement again, but some real challenges in front of all of us. But if we don't clear the path for young people, we will not make it. And they're not going to set idly by and that's the great news about all of this. They will not sit idly by.
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, I rest on that and I take so much comfort in that. And we have to support them to continue to show up and demand what they are demanding.
LORRAINE ORR: That's right.
JENNIFER BROWN: And they're demanding fair treatment, demanding racial equity, demanding respect for themselves and all their identities in a way...
LORRAINE ORR: That's right.
JENNIFER BROWN: ... that I think Lorraine, you and I, and our generation, we couldn't have even imagined. And so, wow. How much learning our generation can do from them. And how much inspiration for our fatigue perhaps to fill the cup with that, with that hopefulness, with that really strategic impact, too. The way they're going around using their voice is also totally inspiring and very direct and strong.
And I think workplaces, which is my focus, really need to listen in and notice and respond and take into account. And be guided by some of these learnings and wisdom and not falling into the trap of thinking we know because we've been at it for a long time because the circumstances in the landscape is so different.
So, what you're doing matters. Thank you so much, Lorraine. I just adore you and way to hang in there and make the difference you've made. And your runway might be... you said it was short right now, but right now, I think your impact is the biggest it's ever been. And I think you have a lot to be proud of.
LORRAINE ORR: Well, thank you for that, Jennifer. And listen, corporate America has such a big role to play in social issues in our nation today, and I recognize that. So, I appreciate what your companies do to drive real change, because it matters.
JENNIFER BROWN: And we're preparing that work for workplace for the workforce of the future. So, you and I are connected in that. Raising that pipeline up and making sure that we don't lose a single person in all of their beauty and potential.
Hi, this is Jennifer. Did you know that we offer a full transcript of every podcast episode on my website over at jenniferbrownspeaks.com. You can also subscribe, so that you get notified every time a new episode goes live. Head over there now to read my latest thoughts on diversity, inclusion and the future of work. And discover how we can all be champions of change by bringing our collective voices together and standing up for ourselves and each other.
You've been listening to The Will to Change, uncovering true stories of diversity and inclusion with Jennifer Brown. If you've enjoyed the episode, please subscribe to the podcast at iTunes. To learn more about Jennifer Brown, visit jenniferbrownspeaks.com. Thank you for listening and we'll be back next time with a new episode.
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