#31 - Making an impact through conversations committed to learning from each other with Dexter Sullivan

September 19, 2023
Dexter Sullivan

Episode Summary

We have a powerful episode of The Aro Podcast this week with guest Dexter Sullivan - the founder of Dexter Sullivan Enterprises, chair of the Black Legacy Advancement Coalition, and Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Allyship at Lambert & Co. Joey and Dexter engage in a heartfelt conversation about Dexter's mission to make a meaningful impact on people's lives through connection, love, and community. As an advocate for various communities, Dexter has had countless conversations that have shaped his understanding of the world. He emphasizes the vital importance of unity and learning from others, even when engaging in conversations about topics where disagreement exists. This episode will empower you to make a positive difference in your own community, harnessing the transformative power of love, friendship, and empathy.

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Episode Transcript

Dexter Sullivan (00:00):

I think we have to keep the purity of love and friendship at the forefront so that we are not divided by politics and bias and racism and the things that we are inundated with. We see violence or terrible events, and it can do something to your soul, it can cause you to want to go inward or you start thinking doubtfully about things that you've experienced over time.

Joey Odom (00:31):

Welcome back to The Aro Podcast. Hey, it's Joey Odom, co-founder of Aro, and today we have a conversation about race. I interviewed Dexter Sullivan, who I've known for years. Dexter heads up an organization called the Black Legacy Advancement Coalition. And what's really interesting and cool about Dexter is the way he approaches this. He's very disarming in his discussions about race and it's an important topic. He walks through the history of where we are today and some things we can do now to affect change, to continue to advance, and it really is all around intention. Dexter is very, very intentional in how he approaches this, and you're going to like what he says, especially about putting down your phones and having those face-to-face conversations and the value in doing that. Really grateful for Dexter and his work. Please do check out what he's doing. That's all in the show notes. And for now, just sit back, relax, enjoy my conversation with Dexter Sullivan.

On February 23rd, 2020, a young African-American man named Ahad Arbery was killed near Brunswick, Georgia. Like many people, I was sad and angry, but I didn't know what to do. So I texted our guest and I asked him what I could do. He was already thinking a lot about the topic and has since been a thought leader nationally, locally to his community in Detroit and personally to a lot of people, and I'm excited to talk with them about all of this and more. Please welcome to the podcast my friend Dexter Sullivan. Dexter, welcome to The Aro Podcast, my friend.

Dexter Sullivan (02:02):

Bro, good to be with you man.

Joey Odom (02:05):

So good to see you. So good. We are catching up before it's been too long. I'm excited to to chat here, man. Dude,

Dexter Sullivan (02:12):

You've been up to some stuff since I've seen you last and even since we've caught up last, so we got a lot to talk

Joey Odom (02:18):

About. I'm just trying to keep up with you, man. Just trying to keep up with you. So let's start off. So the oral podcast, it's all heres to inspire you towards an intentional life, give you the tools to live it out. So I want to start there. So we all have a lot of great intentions. You do a lot of great stuff, but how would you summarize your top intention in your life's work, the thing you intend most in your life's work?

Dexter Sullivan (02:41):

Wow. Yeah,

Joey Odom (02:44):

It's a small question. Just a small question for you to summarize all your hopes and dreams,

Dexter Sullivan (02:50):

What's it all about? End of the day for me is impact, and I think that looks a lot of different ways. I have several idioms that I have attached to my life, things that I intend to do before I leave earth, and one of those is to reach people, to love them well and to build communities. So at my core, that's probably what I'm most passionate about and what I want to use as opportunities to make an impact and to leave impact that's lasting.

Joey Odom (03:29):

Yeah, well it's funny you've been doing impact for a long time. I remember we both went to Oral Roberts University in the college world, super regionals right now in baseball. So I had graduated and then I heard this student body president speak, which was you, and I thought, holy crap, this guy is sharp, he's got big stuff ahead. So you've been doing impact for a long time and I'm interested to talk about the Black Legacy Advancement Coalition, the organization, but even just the greater topic of race and race relations and you have a heart for that and your impact in eliminating racial disparity and things like that. So will you take me back to the original story of the Black Legacy Advancement Coalition? We can just call it black, B L A C, if you like, and just how did that come about? What was the story in its formation and anything that goes along with that?

Dexter Sullivan (04:30):

I think it goes back to impact and it actually goes back beyond the founding of the organization. So in 2010, I was a student at O R U and coming from Detroit, I was returning home for the summer and I had to go home a little early because a good friend of mine was killed in a homicide domestic violence situation. And that situation impacted me greatly to the point that it moved me, it moved me to action and I was confused by it. I was troubled by it, I was angry and I wanted to do something. And so I began to ask questions and connect with those that I was close with. At that time I was interning for the late Senator Carl Levin and he allowed me to do research in juvenile delinquency and began to build programming around that for supports. I had to come back to O R U finish up senior year, Dr. Steve Green who's gone on. He was just a brilliant business professor and gave me the opportunity against his own better judgment. He wanted us to do something that was going to make money, but he was like, Dex wants to do this charity case so we'll let him see what that's all about. And it actually ended up making money. And so he was like, okay, we can rock with that.

Joey Odom (06:01):


Dexter Sullivan (06:02):

We started going into public schools doing assemblies and doing mentoring with juvenile detention facilities and failing high school institutions. And that was probably the most rewarding of community engagement that I've ever done because I was learning more from subjects than I was being brought in to teach because it was the life experiences. It's one thing to judge something at a distance and think you know why it's happening and it's another thing to be up close and you learn more from that experience than you bargain for. And so it set me on a course and a journey where 10 years later, fast forward 2020, you call, I'm already in conversations with numbers of people, I'm getting dozens of messages a day, people asking me questions about what's going on, and we just started to dream and host these kind of think conversations. And out of that, the Black Legacy Advancement Coalition was birthed two weeks after our incorporation, George Floyd is murdered and it kind of seals this journey of galvanization towards change work around unreconciled, racial bias, racism, and just all of these things that kind of erupted and came to the surface.

And the last three years have been tough, if I'm honest. It has been the best of times and the worst of times where allies have gotten closer and some friends that maybe didn't have a settled decision on where they stood on these issues have become estranged and enemies have gotten emboldened and all kinds of things have taken place. But I think it has been the biggest gift of bringing us closer to solutions and closer to the change that we need to see and taking that out of just jargon and word, but love is best expressed through deed and so we're in that space now and loving it.

Joey Odom (08:20):

This topic, this topic is a sensitive one. I'll just be just fully admit sometimes I don't even know the language to use. It's hard for me as a white man to you're what I am indeed. And I am just an ignorant, an ignorant one too. And so finding the right words to use or even knowing that, having the right amount of empathy. And so I would love for myself and for others, give me some education. Just talk to me a little bit about what disparities exist and then maybe you talked about the goals and sometimes it seems like, okay, well what is the goal? You talk about the African-American dream and some of your talks and what is that? Give us some education on what disparities are still there and then what are your hopes? What are you working towards, man?

Dexter Sullivan (09:17):

So there are several. We could talk about wealth, we could talk about health, we could talk about opportunity equity, creating those solutions where barriers are removed completely. But first of all, I just want to preface the statements by the fact that guilt does not in fact give the change that is need. And so we can't solely be motivated by guilt because at some point we're not guilty any longer. The motivation has to be right, what is right and how do we stand on the side of what is right, what is justice, what is due and what is just. And what is true is that Africans, before they came to this country, had a life. They had legacy, they had history, they had identity, they had culture. I have a book here behind me that I got from the Smithsonian when I was there a couple of years ago, dream world anew.

And it identifies black historians and their take on history, African-Americans that have changed the world. If you have not been to the Smithsonian and seen the African-American exhibit, you are doing yourself an injustice. It is not African history, it is not African-American history. It is world history and it's absolutely brilliant. But you have kings and queens, people like Amep and all of the greats that were ruled countries in Africa. We could get down to the delusion that has been sown into the world's construct and into the way that we see the world, even to the fact that maps that were designed in the early part of Colonialization, they made Africa look small, and those things were intentional to brainwash and to create an image that was incorrect. Black people have for centuries been intuitive. They have been full of ingenuity, they have been inventors and a lot of things that belong to African culture have been copied or stolen or replaced to make us think that they did not come from those places.

Egypt is in Africa and it was not always ruled by fair skin Africans at periods. It was ruled by people that much darker than I. And so there's a lot of false narrative that drives a lesser complex and just a view that is incorrect. And I encourage us to be committed to learning and be committed to friendships and be committed to travel, be those three things will change perspectives completely and eradicate ignorance. And so we have to come into knowledge and understanding. But as it pertains to African-Americans, a lot of times we ourselves don't know our history, the richness of it, and we don't understand the layers of time, what has happened over centuries. So you have forced entry into this country where we were brought here like cattle, where two thirds of individuals making the transatlantic slave trade move were killed or died of disease in route.

So you have millions and millions and millions and millions of people. If you look at the census records between 1,718 50, the population on the continent of Africa, it barely moves where you have other countries that are growing by millions and millions of people, Africa's is actually not moving because people are being taken. And so you don't have this reproductive orientation of natural means. So world history was affected by the transatlantic slave trade. I have a map here that I got in South Africa some years ago that actually has the routes and it shows how the countries were identified at that time and the routes that slave traders would take, but it literally was probably the most ghastly injustice perpetuated amongst human beings in our lifetime. I mean, not our lifetime, but in what we can document of human civilization, one of the darkest experiences that one could ever imagine.

But we fail to understand how much impact that has had on present day history. And that's kind of the battle that we're in now around the semantics of do we talk about things? Do we keep that history alive? And for me, it's just like the Jews never again. We absolutely tell the stories accurately because that is understanding that helps us not to repeat that and for us to be informed so that we can make better decisions about today the housing disparity where black home ownership is significantly less, black wealth is really at a 10th of what it should be comparatively against other cultures. Why is that? Well, if you oppress a people for centuries, take away their language, take away their culture and expect them to recover, when slaves were released and the emancipation was signed, that was honestly probably more devastating for than had it not been signed because they were released into a world that they had never been prepared to be free in.

And a lot of them were very ingenuity, created their own societies. But then you have presidential administrations later that took back a lot of the freedoms that came with the emancipation. And so you almost have in Jim Crow, I keep letters to the Jim Crow letters here in the house just to be reminded sometime of how ludicrous those things were. But the freedoms that are given are now put in such limits where you don't actually have the freedoms that you have. And so layers of that. And then we can talk about conflicts between races after freedom and race riots where there were entire civilizations were wiped out. You have the Tulsa race riots, some of the most in the country, and those happened all over America that we don't always hear about. Then you have the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, the most devastating act one that could ever be perpetuated where people that are free can be taken.

Can you imagine here in Detroit, people were jumping into the Detroit River, swimming to Canada to escape the Fugitive Slave Act where they had been free for generations and are now being told you'll be a slave again. So just incomprehensible odds and things that were faced, I'd like to bring those things to the surface so that people understand when we say that we still have a problem, it's because it is hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years of impact as to why even in health disparities, people's bodies still have that cellular trauma that can be passed down based on your great, great great great great grandparents. And so it's very layered, it's very nuanced, and if we don't have a broad perspective, we won't understand what we're looking at.

Joey Odom (16:52):

And it may be worth acknowledging, and I don't know exactly how to say this. Well, it may be worth acknowledging that there's, there's a certain population that when they hear this, it's become such a politicized topic. It's become less of a human topic and more of a political topic to where people immediately just turn off, which is sad. It's like you hear any kind of trigger phrase and then all of a sudden you're out when people just shut off, when people turn off, when they hear like, oh no, you're talking, you're trying to rehash stuff and I can't listen to that. So how do you get away from it feeling like a political issue and take it to a human issue? Does that question make sense?

Dexter Sullivan (17:33):

I think for me, what I have learned, especially in an elevated context over the last three years is that triggers decrease communication. And so I try my best when I perceive that my counterparts are not interested in what I represent, to not even go there first and find the common ground because everybody has common ground, whether it's the food we like to eat or the sports we like to watch or where our grandparents grew up, we can find common ground. And so I'm committed to that. I take religion seriously, and if I'm going to love my brother as myself, I should be committed to unity and finding that at some level, I still believe the things that I believe and I don't shy away from that, but just because I believe something doesn't mean I have to assert it and thrust it in your face every time we have a conversation.

And so I think if there's a place of earning trust and earning respect, that's fair. And I'm not opposed to having conversations with people that I know disagree with me on fundamentals of my belief system as it pertains to race relations and justice. However, I'm not the fixer. So if we don't agree, there's still something I can learn from you and there's something that I believe you can learn from me, and if we can agree to disagree, but be respectful and be committed to learning from one another and loving each other, there's nothing we can't do. People don't know this, but there are black Republicans in the world today. I used to be one

And the vice president of the Black Legacy Advancement Coalition, David Walker is a lot more conservative than I am, but it was important to me to have him close because he is committed and on the things that matter, we agree not to say that other things don't matter, but I'm not making a decision only wanting affirmation from people that are a hundred percent aligned with my beliefs because that doesn't give me any grounds for accountability. It doesn't allow me to learn anything if I'm an echo chamber and I only surround myself narcissistically with people that think just like I think that to me is insane. And I have neighbors in my neighborhood that I'll just say, I know who they're voting for and I make it a point on a walk to speak, to stop and hold conversation because that doesn't eliminate me learning from you. That doesn't eliminate us being good neighbors. And it doesn't even eliminate the fact that at some point, life is constantly evolving, parties are evolving, news channels are evolving, nothing stays the same, and so we ought not silo ourselves from what could be our answer.

Joey Odom (20:54):

What an amazing concept for someone to latch onto is to find that common ground. I really think that could change a bunch of stuff just by having those conversations. And you told me someone, and this is a few years ago when we were talking about this, you talked about the picture that you have of your great-grandfather. Will you tell that this to me is again, it's easy to generalize and just look at who you are without really understanding your personal history and your family background. Will you tell a little bit about that picture You have

Dexter Sullivan (21:26):

Papa Frank? Yes. My great grandfather on both sides, I learned actually probably, I don't know if I've ever shared this, but on both sides, my great, great, great grandfathers are white, one English, one Dutch. And so I was wondering why is my blood coming up 17% Caucasian? I'm like, that is really interesting.

Joey Odom (21:54):

So wait, so you did a blood test, you did a 23 and Me ancestry, and you saw 17% Caucasian? Yeah,

Dexter Sullivan (22:01):

Yeah. I wanted to understand it and I had heard stories but never traced it fully. So I get into the family history and find out Frank Walcott moved to America in the early 18 hundreds for cotton boom, was very involved in that and had a proper family. Ended up building another family with a black woman here in America. They had four children who he raised as his own and his other family eventually moved here. It did become a problem, but before slavery was abolished, he was building them a home and very involved in their journey and their formation and their life. There are people still today that are fair-skinned black people that come out of that family line directly and talk about what a great man he was, people that are in their nineties. And so that was a real relationship. On the other side, it was more of illicit a affair type of a situation.

Maybe not as much love in that situation. I don't know. I wasn't there, but there are many of us in this country, I dare say the majority, that your blood is not a hundred percent from overseas. You got some of that here. And for us to ever think that none of us are immigrants, we all are for the most part, unless you're Native American. But we come from different places and even when we don't want to be, and we think we're so unique, we're really, really similar to one another and very connected in ways that we don't even know.

Joey Odom (23:51):

I was emailing with an RO member the other day, Jacob in Seattle, Washington. I asked him, Hey, what brought you to ro? And his response was so simple, but I think it said so much. He said, my fiance and I are really looking forward to reclaiming some of our time back from endless doom scrolling and connecting with each other more. So what's interesting about that to me is that RO very often and generally is within family. So it's families with kids who have phones, maybe they don't have phones yet, but it's generally for families. Jacob and his fiance, they're starting a family. It's just the two of them. And it requires a lot of self-awareness to know you need a little bit of help putting your phone down. So putting your phone down is hard. And it's almost like joining a gym and we can go burn calories for free on our own, but we have gym memberships because we need help removing the friction of doing something difficult but valuable.

And it's the same thing with our phones. Jacob and his fiance want to spend more quality time together, but they know they end up doo scrolling on the couch and they need a little bit of help. So if that sounds a little bit like you recognizing this is hard and you have the self-awareness to know there are some things that are important to you that are not quite getting the attention they need, we'd love for you to check out ro. Just go to goro.com or you can follow us on Instagram at goro now go ro.com or at goro now to learn a little bit more, you sign up for our email list to get our weekly email and just to find out more about r o and see if it could be a good fit for you.

Well, I love that story, you talking about that, seeing that picture of Papa Frank and you recognizing that that's, Hey, this is, I'm on both sides of this. I understand both sides of this. And so that stuck with me a lot because it does show that, hey, this is not somebody who is anti one thing. You're pro people, you're here for reconciliation, and I'd like to hear about what is the change you're looking for through your life's work through Black? What is your hope in your lifetime that you'll see, or even in the immediate future of what you're really aiming towards, because sometimes it can feel like such a big thing, it can feel so abstract. What is that change you'd like to see,

Dexter Sullivan (26:09):

Joey? If I was going to see the change, it would be closing the Gap. There's a concept, I wish I could show this picture right now of what does equity look like. So we all know that if we own a home, we put in on a mortgage over time, we build equity in that property that is supposed to be permanent value or exchangeable value. In today's society, the equity of life is not equal. And so we want to see playing fields leveled. We want to see generations given the same due opportunity and chance that every generation deserves. And so the work that we do, really the pillars are going to be economic justice and social mobility. So how can we mobilize teams to spread this message, spread this word, and to get the word out? And then how do we bring justice primarily through economics, because your zip code determines a lot.

What do you have access to? The food resources, the property taxes, the clean water, all of those resources are impacted oftentimes by where we live. And there are too few people that look like me that own their homes or have what it takes to live well and retire well. So we're trying to close those gaps in the Dexter Linwood neighborhood and LaSalle Gardas neighborhood here in Detroit. We have launched the Ground up project and purchased and renovated a property where we're renting subsidized to young men here in the city that are a part of our leadership development program. But we also have a number of other people in that program that we work with on a regular basis, making sure that their skills are in a place where they're tool to go into the world and make a difference. Beginning next year, we're launching the Real Estate Development Commission, which is a specific group that focuses on real estate opportunities in these neighborhoods as well.

So we've got lenders, investors, developers, residents, people that are contractors and laborers coming together on a regular basis to say, what can we do to make sure that this neighborhood is built out and that it's becoming more equitable? So for instance, the property that we're in 10 years ago, it was valued at $67,000. It was completely a mess. Now it would probably retail on the market for around 300,000. The house across the street from us just sold for four 10. The values are going up in the neighborhood, which is amazing. Are we putting people of color who have lived in these neighborhoods for decades in a position where they are a part of that? Gentrification is sweeping the country and people that lived in neighborhoods can't afford to pay the taxes. So those become conversations that are nuanced and challenging, but they need to be had. And so we try to make sure that we're on the front end of elevating the quality of life, preserving ownership, bringing people into a realization of what some would call the American dream, and we just call justice.

Joey Odom (29:39):

Oh, that's interesting. Some call the American Dream. We just call it justice. So it's such a big issue and progress can be very slow sometimes. How do you celebrate that progress, even if it's slow or do you celebrate it or does it just feel like it's never enough or just a drop in the ocean?

Dexter Sullivan (29:57):

Oh, that's so good. We are always celebrating. I was going back and forth with a designer today on a flyer for a block party we're doing next month, and I'm like, Hey, put celebrate in there. This is an anniversary. We've been in this house for a year. We haven't missed a payment. It's going good. We want to celebrate all of the small wins because celebration keeps you connected to the story. It's like a holiday. Holidays come every year for a reason because we want to keep it a big deal. And so we celebrate those small wins. We celebrate every life change that we're seeing with young people because it does matter. And if you don't celebrate the small wins and you're only looking at the big stuff, you'll miss a lot of progress and a lot of important things. And it's people for me, you never know who somebody's going to become. And I've seen enough in my life to know that you never underestimate where a person can go and what investing in one life could do it can make a huge difference. And I'm so excited about the young people that we're getting to impact and invest in today. Absolutely thrilled about it.

Joey Odom (31:10):

I'd love, do you have any stories about some of those little success stories you've heard from some of the young people you're investing in? Maybe the change you've seen even a short amount of time or a sustained amount of time? Some of those stories are really moving, I'm sure.

Dexter Sullivan (31:24):

Oh my gosh, so many. I'm thinking of a young man, I won't mention his name, but he came to us underemployed and we got him set in housing his first time living on his own and got him a good job with the water department. And he's thriving in that role, has transitioned from the housing and has got his own place now doing well. I think about this weekend we did an event for our current leader cohort and we did Journey of Self where they're sharing their stories and where they are today. And I was almost in tears hearing individuals that some formerly incarcerated and on a very dangerous path and now looking at opening their own business and raising their family's will, listening to young people that have been a part of the foster care system and tossed to and fro different places, finding home with us and for the first time hearing how much of a home we are providing not just a house, but a home. And so I could go on and on with the stories of individual impact. I think back to our early work, working in the schools and having some of the young people, their first in the family of nine siblings to ever graduate high school. And even having parents discouraging them from doing so, but they did it. Wow. And those are the kind of things that just you realize it really is important. This is not a social cause that's a bullet or a statistic point. This is real and this is impacting real people's lives,

Joey Odom (33:12):

Man. It's got to back to the celebration and the individual stories. I'm sure you have to celebrate them individually or it'll feel overwhelming. The need will feel so big. So you have to come to the celebration, you have to tell these stories, you have to let other people know about other people's stories who have made it through. And you also talk about this need for solidarity among all races together to fight against racial limitation and bias. Tell me a little bit about that. It can't just be even when you and I started talking several years ago, you mentioned how important it is to get everybody involved. It can't just be African-Americans banding together. It has to be all races coming together. Why is that so important?

Dexter Sullivan (33:50):

Because our privilege looks different. People talk a lot about white privilege. They don't talk about black privilege. It's a privilege to be black. It's a privilege to show up in a space that is primarily black led, and all you got to do is nod and the guy knows what you're talking about. So social spaces, and even in economy, you got Robert Smith and Oprah. You got black billionaires today, you got Tyler Perry, you got multiple black billionaires. So I think it's important for all of us to connect and unite because I need what you have and you need what I have. And it's just a matter of time before those needs surface. And if you don't have the equity of relationship where it's real, some of my best friends don't have the same skin tone as me and until I was a certain age, I didn't even think about that.

I think we have to keep the purity of love and friendship at the forefront so that we are not divided by politics and bias, racism and the things that we are inundated with. We see violence or terrible events, and it can do something to your soul. It can cause you to want to go inward or you start thinking doubtfully about things that you've experienced over time. And so I think it's important that we keep relationships, relationships, fresh and vibrant and honest. When we're having struggles that we talk about 'em, don't shy away from 'em. And if we hear something that we don't like that we don't get afraid and run. Sometimes in a marriage you'll have things with your spouse that you don't always agree on, but it doesn't mean you divorce. It means you find a way to have a conversation or maybe for a moment or for a certain period of time, we let that rest until we can come back and we're not charged and we can have a dialogue and really get to the bottom of some stuff. So yeah, I think it's just important to remain friends. I can't stress how important friendship has been for me in my formation and just all along the journey. It's everything,

Joey Odom (36:14):

Everything. Well, it goes to something you referenced earlier is and it as I think about this issue and on the political side of things, I find that when things are at a 50,000 foot level when we are generalizing and I think we over generalize the issue of race, and so everybody's able to kind of take a step back and they're able to just kind of poke holes at the other people's argument. And obviously at ro we're here to help people put down their phones and engage in real life. Will you talk about the importance of that, of getting away from the generalizing, putting down your phones and having that face-to-face conversation. I'd love to hear about even that role of technology, how it's a lot easier to throw some darts on Twitter at someone on the other side. And it's much different when you put your phone in and actually engage in face-to-face conversation. I'd love to hear your take on that.

Dexter Sullivan (37:05):

Oh, so my career has allowed me to work in the PR space, public relations, marketing, integrated media advertising. I've also worked in the political realm. And what you learn is that what you see is not always the truth. And what you see is oftentimes charged truth. So someone has an angle, someone has an advantage that they want to make on you with information or something that's being presented. It's not always as it appears. And oftentimes after someone's made a charged comment, they come down and they're actually talking to their opponent trying to be diplomatic and reach some kind of a goal. They got to close the deal. And so I'm just not willing to be brought into a war that doesn't exist. I'm not going to let you distract me and draw me into something for an agenda that I haven't actually had the opportunity to engage.

And a lot of times it's just not even relevant. It's not going to be relevant tomorrow. It's not going to be relevant in a week. Why lose sleep over something like that and think coming away from it what Arrow is doing and having a space where you are unplugged, man, you get to some of the substratum of thought and really why? Why behind what? And it can really help you to clarify that worldview and just kind of work through thoughts and work through all kinds of things. So I love what this platform is doing. I love what the product is doing. It is needed. It is something that I think looking forward, it can be something that could really change the culture for good for a very long time.

Joey Odom (38:55):

To that point, I mean I'm sure you've seen instances of that where you probably have somebody on the other side until you sit down, you talk about your neighbors, you have an actual conversation with them, and you try to find that common ground. And that can only exist in face-to-face discussion, right?

Dexter Sullivan (39:09):

That's right. And we've got to never lose the human touch. I loved earlier this year, I was doing a training for a company and I presented intentionally a case study that I knew would lend to what some would say would be my enemy, somebody that doesn't see the world like me, but I use that case study to show them I'm not willing to be called on the carpet and allow people that may be in the line of work that I'm in to be called on the carpet just because they're pushing for equality, justice and all of these things, it does not mean that we don't see things for what they are and that we too can't be held accountable. I noticed immediately the buy-in because it played to the will of the other person in the positive, and it affirmed them indirectly. And what that did is it opened up the conversation in a way that it wouldn't have been had we stayed, even though I would not have intended it to be political in a politically correct manner. Sometimes you got to step out of that box and break the box.

Joey Odom (40:28):

Yeah, I totally agree with that. I'd love to hear just a couple more questions, but one, what can people do today? People listening, what can they do to be part of the solution today? I mean, even whether it's a small step today, whether it's getting involved a little bit more proactively, but big or small, what can people who are listening today, what can they do to be part of the solution?

Dexter Sullivan (40:50):

Learn to listen.

Joey Odom (40:52):

What'd you say? What was that?

Dexter Sullivan (40:54):

Learn to listen.

Joey Odom (40:56):

I was kidding when I said, what was it? Sorry. These dad jokes, they just come too naturally Dexter. They're just too natural for me. I'm sorry.

Dexter Sullivan (41:04):

Oh, get Kristen here. The Lord,

Joey Odom (41:08):

Learn to listen. Yeah,

Dexter Sullivan (41:09):

I think that if we could learn to hear better, and I'm working on this right now in my relationship, is that I don't want to listen for what I want to hear. I want to listen for what you're saying. And if we can choose to slow this thing down and really learn to listen, man, I think that we would be in a lot better place. I think being committed to learning and reading and engaging information that is hopefully unbiased, that puts us in a really good spot and reading things that we wouldn't typically read sometimes from a different perspective. It can just be very helpful in building a worldview that is broader than what we had when we originally started. And then finding a place to invest where it makes a change in you. It can be for some easy to write a check and feel that the conference, the what is that conscience has been elevated in some way, but actually showing up and picking up a shovel and getting in the mud and the dirt, sometimes that's not something we want to do because that takes time

Joey Odom (42:34):


Dexter Sullivan (42:35):

Effort, and we're hosting a block party in a month intentionally. It's a working event because I want people to be able to touch the soil, get into the work that we're doing every week and feel this thing. It's another thing once you get in the mix and you're in the thrust of what's actually happening and you meet the people, whether that's mentoring or service projects, do something where you're invested. And if it's a place where you're sending your money, keep sending your money, that's great, but show up.

Joey Odom (43:13):

That's really, really good. I'd be curious, you just referenced it, but I'd be curious, what, you're getting married here in a few months. What are you learning right now? What in your relationship, you said learn to listen. That's a good one. So you can't use that one a second time. What else are you learning in your own relationship right now?

Dexter Sullivan (43:31):

Man? How much? I don't know. It's nothing like getting close to a person that you're in love with and the humility that it takes to love them well, because you're continually learning how to relate to them and loving it. I'm loving all of that, but it is challenging. And then I would say compromise. I'm learning what matters, what doesn't matter, how to relent on things that I'm used to fighting for and then trust, learning how to trust at another level that this person is for me, this person loves me. And that if their track record consistently shows that even if there's something that we may not see exactly eye to eye on, I trust their love for me and the intention is good.

Joey Odom (44:30):

Yeah, that's super good. Okay. Before you, I want to hear where people can find you and where they can get involved, but you mentioned reading. What are a couple of things that someone like me should be reading right now and in the spirit of learning to listen,

Dexter Sullivan (44:45):

Crucial Conversations. I think that is a great book. It's kind of more of a corporate read. It's got a couple authors on it. Their names are not ringing a bell at the moment, but I use that book a lot in reference for conversation. Disruptive Thinking by Bishop TD Jakes a really great book that's really helping to unlock how do you change the narrative? So disruptive thinking. And then a book that I'm enjoying right now, the Sword and the Shield by Pail Joseph. It's a take on the lives of Dr. King and Malcolm X and how their journeys kind of ran alongside each other in different ways, and one was a little more safe in perception and one was a little more edgy in perception, but it kind of brings some comparative to them where you can see they both carried this two-edged sword in a gentle and then edgy

Joey Odom (45:51):


Dexter Sullivan (45:52):

So yeah, I'm enjoying that one.

Joey Odom (45:54):

I like crucial conversations, disruptive thinking and the sword and the shield Dexter people will want to get involved on whether it's through giving or even just through education. Tell us a few places they can go. Is it@theblack.co? Is at T H E B L A c.co. Go to dexter sullivan.org. Then on Instagram at Dexter Sullivan. What have I left out, man?

Dexter Sullivan (46:20):

If you can't find me there, I don't know where you're going to find me. That's where I've met. Yeah, we've always got something going on here in Detroit and in other places where we've got board members and teams. So definitely check us out. We would love to be in touch with you and even if you just want to get the mailing, we send out newsletters periodically. You can sign up, no charge for that, but we'll make sure that you're communicated to on a regular basis.

Joey Odom (46:48):

Man, thank you for your work. Thank you for the work you're doing, just for the education and then for getting your hands dirty and getting in there and having difficult conversations and educating people. And then on the Ground up project too, it's inspiring to see not just an overall theoretical abstract conversation, but actually very, very tangible progress that you're doing and change you're making. So I'm grateful for you, man. Thank you for your work.

Dexter Sullivan (47:13):

More grateful for you. The board is not the same without you at the helm. We are missing you terribly. We talk about it all the time, but we're hanging in there.

Joey Odom (47:25):

Oh gosh. Just barely surviv, I'm sure without me. Yeah, of course. True. No, whatever. Well, my friend, thank you so much. Dexter Sullivan, everybody go check out the black.co. Check out Dexter at Dexter Sullivan and dexter sullivan.org. I was a little taken off guard by Dexter's advice on what we can all do today, and his advice was learn to listen. So what great advice, not just on this topic, but in all of our relationships, just learn to listen and hear somebody else's perspective. I know I'm not always great at that, and that's something that I can do today thanks to Dexter, especially on this topic. So please do go check out the black.co. Check out dexter sullivan.org at Dexter Sullivan on Instagram. Very grateful for Dexter, his work, everything he's doing across the country and to Detroit. And thank you for being part of this week's conversation. We can't wait to be with you next week on The Aro Podcast. The Aro Podcast is produced and edited by the team at Palm Tree Pod Co. Special thanks to Emily Miles for video and digital support and to our executive producer Aro's own, Katelyn Farley.