Tues., 12/14
Sallomé Hralima
It Ain’t So Bad to Join a Team of Losers

Sallomé Hralima is the author of It Is, It Ain’t, It Be, and It Works and co-founder of PlanIt Brooklyn, the sole creative consulting company in New York City that focuses on fashioning ground-breaking ways to grow start-ups, emerging leaders, and small institutions. In 2007, Hralima co-created Fastgirls – a national program that coaches women in rapid personal and professional expansion. As a prolific cultivator of human capital, this pioneer is leading a movement to include life coaches in America’s public schools. Follow her on twitter @sallome or read her thoughts on http://dreammgmt.org or http://sallomazing.com.

TRANSCRIPT: Thank you Jamilah. Thank everyone who is on this call for stopping whatever you were doing to join me. As I listened to Jamilah in her eloquent and generous introduction, that I wrote, I thought to myself, “Wow, she sounds amazing.“ It’s always good to have your closest friend read the bio you wrote for yourself with such passion. If you saw the image I used to promote this talk, you might be on the call to find out how I have the audacity to call Kanye West and Dr. King Losers. So I’m going to tell you a little bit more about that.

When I was 10 years old, I went to Foothill Elementary School. And being the avid reader that I was, I did pretty well on vocabulary tests and spelling bees. And though I wasn’t trying to be Akeelah, I managed to find my way to a preliminary California State Spelling Competition. My mom, unfortunately, had planned a trip with her sisters to Hawaii and was going to be gone the week leading up to the spelling bee and the competition itself. So I stayed with my friend Gina and her family. I think I looked at that 3-page list of over 200 words a total of 20-minutes before the day of the event, because of course, my mother wasn’t there.

So there I am, the day of the competition, in my puff painted sweatshirt and spelling bee nametag hanging around my neck with my heart beating so hard, like it is right now. I remember praying, like I was in some movie or something, that my mom would show in the audience waving, on some: “Surprise!” But that didn’t happen. I got more and more nervous. I had goosebumps, and uncontrollable leg shaking, and alternating biting my lip and biting my nails. I was freaking out. And the girl sitting next to me was called up to spell DIAMOND. Okay, so I’m thinking: “Okay, I’m good, at least for the first round if she got DIAMOND.”

So I get to the mic, and the female judge says, “ALTRUISTICALLY.” Okay? I was like: “Uh, can you please repeat the word? “ALTRUISTICALLY,” she said a little bit slower. I didn’t even ask for the definition. I just started spelling: “A-L-T-R-E-W-I-S,” and right about then I thought, what’s the word again?! So I just ended it with L-Y, “altruistically.” I had never heard the word before. And didn’t again until I was reading a book about Martin Luther King and Gandhi. And I felt like such a loser when I got back to Gina’s house and I looked at that list and saw that altruistically was on the second page, the very first word.

Altruism, for those of you who like me circa 1990 – who don’t know what that means – it’s a selfless concern for the welfare of others. Selfless concern for the welfare of others. And it makes sense that I hadn’t heard the word used before because, you know, though I played my share of Where in the World is Carmen San Diego? and read my share of Scholastic books, I wasn’t surrounded by much in the area of selfless concern for others. You know – talk about losers – during that time, the US had just started the Gulf War. And we know that was an L, because American soldiers are still there right now. And at that time, you know, Ice Cube had just left NWA, you know. So I was singing Straight Outta Compton. So there wasn’t too much going on in the area of being selfless. And there was a lot of losers.

And honestly, Nike probably would have endorsed Dr. King if he were alive at that time, with a lifetime supply of cross-trainers. Because you know, poor and colored people in this country, and specifically Mexican people right now, would have him feeling a deep and heavy failure.

Like Martin Luther King, Kanye West, Michael Jordan, Jane McGonigal, Lee Clow, Ji Lee – all of those are people that I put in that graphic that I used to describe this speech – and myself, and so many other people are also failures. And I mean exactly that – failures. Most of us know these folks, or at least some of them, and myself, as winners or success stories, but we’ve had more missed shots, un-played video games, unseen ads, unknown projects, unheard songs, and, of course, misspelled spelling bee words than most other people.

And I want to let you in on a little secret about the success. And there’s this quote of Jordan’s, it’s pretty well known, and he says: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

So, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say this: “Stop dreaming.” Might sound strange coming from me. But I really mean it. Stop dreaming. And I don’t mean it with the same intent as naysayers. Really, it’s an encouragement, to whoever is listening tonight or should stumble upon this recording in the future, to take one dream and make it happen. How many people have shared a dream of theirs with you in the last year, count yourself if you need to, but taken zero steps towards fulfilling on it? If you can count more than 5 people, it’s time, I’m charging you with being the change you wish to see. It’s time for us to be the example.

Spike Lee probably said it best, or rather Laurence Fishburne in School Daze when he said: “Wake UP!” Successful people act on far more dreams than the average person. As a result, they suffer many more losses. Let’s look at this, who wants to measure the rate of success of the average 6 month old trying to walk? Okay? That statistic would be sad. But do we tell them, “Ahhh, just give up. You ain’t gon’ make it! You have other responsibilities to focus on, you know you’ve got to start on solid foods and potty training.” We don’t do that to them. We encourage them.

Let’s look at Dr. Martin Luther King, – the Dreamer’s Dreamer. Though his “I Have a Dream Speech” is the most famous of his oratorical legacy, the last speech of his life is equally, if not more, important – in my opinion. Spoken on the eve of his assassination, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” is a plan of action that he shared with the sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee five years after the March on Washington. And I don’t know if you all are familiar with that “I Am A Man” photograph with all of those men holding up those placards that say “I Am A Man.” That’s from the sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee at that time. His speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop, “ is a clearly outlined and bulleted plan, where he mixes in examples of how direct action made dreams come true in his fight for civil rights. And if you have not read it or heard it, do yourself the favor of finding it online or reading it. The content itself, and the repeated phrases that he uses… He said the words “go” and “going” 88 times to drive home what he was talking about.

He said: “We’re going to have to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history. We’re going to march again, sometimes going hungry, going through dark and dreary nights. We’re going into court tomorrow; we aren’t going to let any injunction turn us around. We are going on.

He did not go to Tennessee to talk about dreams, okay? The time for dreaming was five years before. An assassination attempt had been made on his life, and we all know he wound up dying the next day. And even while feeling sick and under the weather, he went to go share about struggles he’d been a part of, the actions that he’d witnessed brave men, women and children take in an effort to experience a certain level of freedom.

And here’s the million dollar question: if the opposite of freedom is enslavement, what are you willing to brave to “go” get free? Dr. King was very clear, he said: take the first step and don’t give yourself permission to give up. Take the first step and don’t give yourself permission to give up.

He told people he was going to be marching with in Memphis, Tennessee: “…we’ve got to give ourselves over to this struggle until the end. Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point…We’ve got to see it through.” I know from my own experience that no dream comes to fruition without a serious level of attention, intention, sweat, planning, prayer, commitment…money. But how free can you really be if that freedom is spent while those that you love are still trapped in a prison of their own decision not to act. Dr. King said: “Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness.” I’m telling you guys, you have to study this man’s speech. He says: “Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness.” He’s telling us that taking action on our dreams is an unselfishness that’s dangerous to whatever it is we are battling against, to whatever it is that would have us not fulfill on our dreams. It’s a dangerous unselfishness to fulfill on that dream.

I asked 14 yr-old Siwe Monsanto, I don’t know if she’s on this call, I hope she is. But, she’s a regular blogger on my site – Dream MGMT. And Jamilah, I purchased dreammgmt.org today. So you all can go to DreamMGMT.org and read what Siwe has to say about some of these questions I’m asking her. She’s Dionne’s daughter, who is also a Fastgirl on this call. But I asked Siwe, I said: “what can parents do to inspire their children to fulfill on their dreams?” And this extraordinarily brilliant 14 year-old said: “Well, for one, it would help to know that [their] dreams came true. No matter what [they] say to help us, it will sound empty because how are we supposed to make it with our dreams if [they] couldn’t? Out of the mouths of babes, right?!

We demand that athletes and entertainers and politicians practice a certain way of life because our children are watching. Don’t let your team be down some points and act like they’re giving up when you have money on the game. Or, don’t let you have tickets to see Janet Jackson, Prince, Andre 3000 and Aretha Franklin in a concert and they are feeling a bit under the weather – you’re talking ‘bout: “they better hum or something,” for that concert ticket that you paid for, right? But Siwe said it – she said they are watching you. You are famous in the eyes of our children. You are famous in the eyes of your neighbors. And you’re famous at your family reunions, and you’re famous in office meetings. And you have to get that there’s a selfishness associated with stalling on your dreams because other people are depending on you to fulfill on them, for the belief that they can for themselves. It’s time for you and I, and all of us on this call to develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness as Dr. King puts it – a willingness to lose a few battles along the way for the ultimate prize. It’s a kind of reckless abandon for Joy – as Dionne would encourage us, or for creation as Syreeta would say or for gratitude as Ashley suggested in her first power-up call. For liberation as Akua alludes to. We must develop this dangerous unselfishness to see to an experience of wholeness and beauty as Desire illustrated in her article about Shakti, or for a just existence as Sala coached Almitra with, or for food justice for infants and toddlers as Almitra has so righteously stood for through the challenge. Let us develop a reckless abandon for Purpose as Jullien has been an example of, I’m so sorry y’all I’m about to cry. I am just so moved by the people in my life. For a pride that Tyrice and Kareem want to see others have as they strut through their lives to show their own swag. A reckless abandon, a dangerous unselfishness for a balanced telling of history as Bob Law and Nelson George are providing us with, for healthy black relationships & families, as Kazi is putting his life on the line for, for young girls world wide who deserve our love and attention as Raquel has demonstrated through Dream the Planet. Where is our dangerous unselfishness when we say we want children to have an opportunity to choose a life, exciting and unimaginable when they live in a project building in the Bronx with rats and have to watch their 5 younger siblings, rinsing dirty diapers in the toilet because there isn’t money to get any more – like my dear friend Jamilah did, which is why she stands in front of a classroom everyday in Bed-Stuy. We have to Rise up y’all. We have to exhibit a dangerous unselfishness because it’s needed now. A willingness to look back and have a few loses, to have a few small-minded people talk about you didn’t win at, what you weren’t good at while they’re stalled in life. We need a Forrest-Gump-like commitment to some other reality; a borderline retardation for the fulfillment of our dreams.

And if you didn’t recognize the names of other losers I mentioned when I started: Michael Jordan is one of the greatest athletes in history. Can you imagine the number of shots that he did not make since the first time he picked up a basketball? Jane McGonigal has put women on the map in a male-dominated videogame industry. Can you imagine how many people laughed when she told them she wanted to make video games? Lee Clow is why we can hear the Energizer Bunny in our heads and know how to say “I want Taco Bell” in Spanish. Can you imagine how many ad campaigns he was up late nights designing that were tossed to the side or tanked? Kanye West shared his dream from journey to fruition, rhyming through his wired-shut jaw as the ultimate expression of determination in hip-hop. He has whole songs talking about how even the biggest names in hip hop discredited him before his album dropped. And Dr. Martin Luther King led hundreds of thousands of people in direct action through the power of declaration and integrity. And Mexican children who have live nearly all of their lives still can’t go to college in this country. And I… well, I’m enjoying the sweet taste of countless failures as I attempt to provide America’s children with an outlet for their dreaming and a coach to help them bring those dreams to fruition. And I’m asking you in this call to come join my team of “losers” man!

The only thing is… you can’t sit on the bench.

I want to share this story with you all before I close out on being a part of a losing team. MLK shared this with the men and women in Memphis, when he shared “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” He was in NYC, of course at a book signing for his first book. And a woman walked up and simply said: “Are you MLK?” And without looking up, he was signing books, he said: “Yes.” The next thing he knew, he had been stabbed. He was rushed to Harlem Hospital and the x-rays showed that the tip of the blade had broken off and was at the edge of his heart, at his aorta. If it had gone any farther he would have drowned in his own blood and died. It came out in the New York Times the next morning, that if he had sneezed, he would have died. He got tons of mail in those few days that he was in the hospital. From the President and Vice-President, the governor of New York and so many other people. But he had forgotten, while he was sharing the speech, all but one. It was from a young girl who was a student at the White Plains High School. And it said simply, “Dear Dr. King: I am a ninth-grade student at the White Plains High School. While it should not matter, I would like to mention that I am a white girl. I read in the paper of your misfortune, and of your suffering. And I read that if you had sneezed, you would have died. And I’m simply writing you to say that I’m so happy that you didn’t sneeze.” He shared that on the night before he died.

And I want you all to get something. He remembered that one letter. A handwritten letter y’all – from a stranger, thanking him – was one of the last things that he shared with the world. That, and a call to action. I too am SOOO happy that Dr. King didn’t sneeze. Because he had to have his legacy go beyond a sound bite for McDonald’s, go beyond a dream. He had to have the chance to tell us how to make those dreams happen.

And the Fastgirls who are on this call, we are a team of losers. Okay? We started with 30 women and we’re ending with somewhere around thirteen, maybe less. But we know from that child from White Plains High School felt… Michelle shared with us on a call. She wrote a letter as part of this challenge, a letter of gratitude to Nikki Giovanni. And Nikki Giovanni wrote her back. And we all got to share in that victory. We know what Siwe is talking about when she says your parents have to fulfill on their dreams because her mother, Dionne, is in this challenge, fulfilling on her dream of coaching other people so that they can fulfill on theirs. And I’ve been at The Stoop for years, with Jamilah, watching adults completely lit up by children that they’re supposed to be inspiring. We started this challenge with 30 women charged to write a letter to someone. And I pray that though we’re not all going to see the mountaintop together, that Be the Expert can serve as a blueprint of sorts, a plan of action, encouraging you to fail, as many times as you need to, to see your dreams fulfilled.

Attempting to be a contribution – playing, on the court – is always a better look than to watch from the stands. And that’s it.

Download the transcript HERE.