Alpha Rho Chapter Alumni Association's Winter 2021 Digest
Brother Ge'Juan Kamal Cole (Fall 1998) Appointed A
Director Of The 40-Year-Old Texas Lyceum
On Thursday, January 28th, The Texas Lyceum held its Investiture ceremony in Austin and for the first time also livestreamed the annual ceremony. Judge Don Willett, United States Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit and Texas Lyceum Class of 2004, officiated the ceremony and swore in our new president, Castlen Kennedy (Houston, Class of 2015), and 16 new directors from across the state. Brother Ge'Juan K. Cole (Fall 1998), pictured above, bottom row, 2nd from the left, was sworn in as one of this year's class of new Directors.
Brother Ge'Juan K. Cole P.E., PMP currently serves as Director of Tactical Projects at Williams Companies and is based in the Houston, Texas marketplace. He is a 2002 Mathematics graduate of Morehouse College with a Mechanical Engineering dual-degree from The Georgia Institute of Technology, and is a 2016 MBA graduate of University of Houston's C.T. Bauer College of Business. Brother Cole has experience developing natural gas infrastructure growth opportunities in the U.S. and significant experience in project management, project development, facilities engineering, construction management, risk management and cost estimating for growth projects.
About The Texas Lyceum:
Forty years ago, a group of young Texans from the business, professional and academic communities came together at Bent Tree Country Club in Dallas to discuss an idea. The idea: that Texas was at a turning point in its history and had an opportunity—indeed, a responsibility—to become a great state. These leaders concluded there was a need to bring together the various segments of state in a nonpartisan, nonpolitical and non-adversarial setting to solve the problems facing Texas. The result: The Texas Lyceum.
“Lyceum” is a name proud in history and rich in promise. The Lyceum concept itself is more than 2,500 years old and dates back to ancient Greece, when Aristotle and the leadership of Athens would gather to discuss, debate, and define the critical issues of the day. In the United States, the idea of a “lyceum” has been alive since 1826 when Josiah Holbrook of Connecticut dreamed of “seeing established in every town and village a lyceum for the discussion of issues and the dissemination of knowledge.”
By 1834, his dream was realized with some 3,000 lyceums established. These early lyceum iterations were intended to be the focal point of a community’s educational base, providing not only forums for speeches and debates but also libraries. In 1839, a lyceum was established in Austin, the Republic of Texas, with Sam Houston as an honorary member. This forerunner to the present Texas Lyceum debated questions concerning annexation, slavery, temperance, and Indians—the philosophical and practical concerns of life on the frontier.
The 96-member Texas Lyceum board acts as a catalyst to bring together diverse opinions and expertise to focus on national and state issues and seeks to emphasize constructive private sector, public sector and individual responses. The Lyceum selects new directors to fill the seats of outgoing directors annually through a rigorous application process that ensures the 96 directors represent the breadth of the diversity in Texas. The selection process ensures Lyceum directors are active and involved in their communities, have demonstrated leadership abilities and are eager to contribute their talents and time to the betterment of Texas. The Lyceum seeks to:
Identify and develop the next generation of top leadership in the State of Texas
Educate its Directors by identifying and exploring the interrelationships of the major issues facing Texas
Help bring a better understanding of these issues to the state’s key decision-makers
Promote an appreciation of the responsibilities of stewardship of the values, traditions, and resources of Texas.
To accomplish these purposes, the Lyceum hosts conferences, conducts the nationally acclaimed Texas Lyceum Poll, convenes programs at which Directors explore, offers public administration graduate students an academically centered opportunity through the Texas Lyceum Fellowship, and discusses key economic and social issues of the state and nation. The Lyceum also cultivates the next generation of Texas leadership through its scholarship and fellowship programs.
Pictured above: Brother Cole and family outside of the United States Capitol building in Washington, DC.
Among its alumni, the Lyceum counts those who have served our state and our nation at its highest echelons, including President George W. Bush, Senators Ted Cruz and Kay Bailey Hutchison, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, multiple U.S. congressmen, Governors Rick Perry and Greg Abbott, and U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Don Willett.
A Billionaire Paid Off His Student Loans.
Now This N.J. Native Is Paying It Forward
(Ernest D.V. Holmes -- Spring 2018)
Pictured above: CodeHouse co-founders Tavis Thompson (left) and Ernest Holmes (right) pose with a student at the organization's 2019 Tech Exposure Day event in Atlanta. Brother Thompson is also a member of Alpha Rho, Spring 2019.
By Tennyson Donyéa | NJ Advance Media for www.NJ.com, December 13, 2020
In the spring of 2019, when Ernest Holmes graduated from Morehouse College in Atlanta, he got a huge surprise — billionaire Robert Smith was paying off all of his student loans.
Smith, a tech investor who was the school’s commencement speaker that year, paid off the student loans for Holmes’ entire graduating class. Smith’s directive for the debt-free grads was simple: pay it forward.
Holmes, a Sayreville native, took those words to heart and he’s currently making good at it; he and a classmate, Tavis Thompson, founded CodeHouse, a non-profit company building bridges nationwide, cultivating a pipeline between students of color and industry-leading technology companies.
The goal is to introduce Black and brown students to technology-related skills and opportunities early in life — critical work, Holmes said. Black youth are the least likely racial group to enter into the often lucrative technology fields, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Pictured above: Brother Holmes at his 2019 graduation ceremony at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia.
“We’re trying to inspire and encourage students of color...we’re literally preparing the next generation to start thinking forward and start thinking ahead to what career pathway they want to go down,” Holmes told NJ Advance Media Tuesday.
Originally created for youth in the Atlanta area, CodeHouse began partnering with major tech companies like Google, Microsoft and Pixar to host “Tech Exposure Days,” where local high school students attended an expo and heard from keynote speakers about career paths and higher education, and competed in technology-based competitions where they could sharpen their skills.
That was before the coronavirus spread rapidly throughout the U.S.
While much of the nation shut down due to the pandemic, CodeHouse was just getting started. It forced Holmes and company to go virtual, and to start thinking about expanding nationally.
Pictured above: CodeHouse 2019
Last month, the organization hosted its second event, which organizers labeled a “virtual field trip,” open to students around the country, including 593 kids from 24 schools in New Jersey. “I had my hometown from Sayreville tuned in,” Holmes said. “It was definitely cool to be able to connect back with some of my roots and to have them attend the event that I created.”
CodeHouse’s mission is in line with the work computer science advocates in the Garden State have been doing in communities of color over the last decade, said Daryl Detrick, Advocacy Chair for the Computer Science Teachers Association of New Jersey and a member of the state’s Computer Science Advisory Board. Detrick is also a science teacher at Warren Hills High School.
Pictured above: CodeHouse 2019
“(My students) found it inspirational,” Detrick told NJ Advance Media. “They like hearing from people who are in college and people who are in the field, and getting a better feel for opportunities that are available to them.”
“I just think making students feel a part of a community, making students feel that they fit into that community is a big (takeaway from CodeHouse’s virtual field trip). And having role models that you know that they can relate to is important,” Detrick said.
Black and Hispanic students make up 44% of New Jersey’s school system, yet only around 16% of students who take the AP Computer Science exam are Black and Hispanic, according to Detrick. The good news is enrollment for the course rose 1,272% among Black students and 1,608% among Hispanic students between 2010 and 2019, Detrick said, elaborating that there is more work to be done to improve equity in this area.
“There are currently over 10,000 open computer science jobs in New Jersey and 500,000 open computer science jobs in America that we do not have enough people to fill. And the average computer science job in New Jersey makes about $108,000,” Detrick said. “So if we can teach these kids who come from disadvantaged backgrounds computer science education and cybersecurity, we can take them in a short period of time from low income to middle income.”
Pictured above: CodeHouse co-founders Brothers Holmes and Thompson at the Alpha Rho Chapter Memorial Obelisk on the campus of Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia.
Nearly 5,000 students from 20 other states and Washington D.C., attended the virtual experience, where one student who plans to attend a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) and major in computer science was awarded a $10,000 scholarship. CodeHouse also gave out $30,000 in other prizes: new Xbox consoles, laptops and other gadgets.
“I think it’s super important. You don’t need to be like a rapper or basketball player or a sports player in general, or any kind of like, you know, stereotypical stuff for people of color, to make it and be successful,” Holmes said.
Meet The 2021 National Restaurant News Power List: 50 People Who Represent The Best In Restaurant Leadership
(featuring Brother Jason R. Crain -- Spring 2007)
By National Restaurant News Staff -- www.nrn.com | Jan 20, 2021
Nation’s Restaurant News publisher Sarah Lockyer calls for widening the restaurant leadership pipeline as NRN releases its 2021 Power List of innovative and inclusive leaders. Slutty Vegan Chief revenue officer Jason Crain on celebrating employee wins during the pandemic. Meet the innovative, inclusive and industry changing leaders of the 2021 NRN Power List.
Jason Crain, chief revenue officer of Slutty Vegan ATL, was chosen for the Power List by founder and CEO Pinky Cole because of how he “embodies our mission and values and has helped the company grow over the past year.” Here’s what else Cole had to say:
Jason Crain is the chief revenue officer at Slutty Vegan ATL. He embodies our mission and values and has helped the company grow over the past year. He has positively impacted the company by creating opportunities for us in retail sales and has been instrumental in the company expanding and we are grateful for all that he does at Slutty Vegan. Jason is an excellent leader, he is the type to roll up his sleeves and always get the job done. He is reliable and innovative and always thinks outside of the box. Jason is a Power Player at Slutty Vegan and I know with him we will continue to excel.
Nation’s Restaurant News talked with Jason Crain about how Slutty Vegan makes a positive impact on its communities. Here’s what he had to say: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned during this chaotic year?
I’ve learned alot about the industry and about our business. COVID has taught us a number of things that we’ve been able to implement for better efficiencies and increased profit margins: 1. Maximize square space for selling more products and providing more engaging experiences. Given the lifestyle brand that we are maturing to be, we had a unique opportunity to replace planned seating with merch stores; that has turned out to be lucrative. 2. Putting technology at the forefront in the restaurant industry is how we will scale and make consistency the priority of our growing business. We’ve invested in a number of systems and softwares that have helped provide transparency, garner insights and communicate with our employees and customers. 3. Our employees are the heartbeat of this business, when they feel, we all feel, when they hurt, we all hurt, when they are sick, we all (can get) sick. We have to lead with a level of empathy that makes it easy for our employees to know that we are all in this together. We have all felt the toll of 2020. But at Slutty Vegan they are not in this alone, our crew is our family and I can’t forget that.
What are you most proud of in terms of company leadership and community impact as you look back at the challenges of 2020?
We are growing aggressively in an industry that is ripe for disruption, during a time when businesses are shutting their doors. We are building a brand that looks like none other and it’s only possible because of the community that Pinky has built. She leads with transparency and our customers are grateful for that view into her journey. We continue to look for ways to engage our community, and speak to them in a way that they can relate. Our marketing has been unparalleled. Our community has supported us through this challenging time and we are grateful for the loyal Sluts that frequent our restaurants, and we’ll always look for more ways to give back to the community that continues to pour into us.
How are you or your company fostering diverse and inclusive future leaders of foodservice?
We are a Black business based on ownership, but we provide food for the soul, no matter what color, creed, or perspective that soul belongs to. We hire diverse talent, we promote women and minorities at equal rates and we encourage each other to pursue more. Our career paths are clear and supported with training to accomodate a self paced learning environment. We celebrate employee wins and we hold each other accountable, all in the name of the Slutty family.
What does leadership and impact mean to you?
Leadership for me is knowing when to lead from behind like a shepherd, knowing how to balance patience and grit, understanding when empathy will be more productive than a strong tongue. Leading is dynamic and solution oriented. If these are top of mind, impact and positive impact is inevitable.
As you look to the future of foodservice, what excites you? What’s something you’re looking forward to in your job or in the restaurant industry in 2021?
I’m excited to scale this business. We have a brand and product that people want. The goal is to provide our experience to people near and far and do it in a way that blazes a path for new vegan cuisine, Black businesses and small businesses to learn from. Reimagining plant based food is the foundation of our business, but we will continue to scale an experience that people can be proud of and yearn for over and over again.
Pictured above: Pinky Cole started Slutty Vegan last fall selling burgers made with Impossible Meat patties through an app. Next came a food truck and, in January 2019, she opened her burger stand in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood in Atlanta. Credit ... Raymond McCrea Jones for The New York Times.
St. Louis County Bar Association Announces The Recipients Of The Dudley C. Dunlop Distinguished Service Award And The Roy F. Essen Memorial Award For Outstanding Work As A Young Lawyer (Brother Brandon Lamar Jackson -- Spring 2006)
The St. Louis County Bar Association has selected attorney Sarah Shelledy Pleban as the recipient of the 2021 Dudley C. Dunlop Distinguished Service Award and attorney Brandon Lamar Jackson as the recipient of the 2021 Roy F. Essen Memorial Award for Outstanding Work as a Young Lawyer.
Ms. Pleban has concentrated in the family law arena, primarily as a guardian ad litem, since entering into private practice. She has been a sole practitioner in St. Louis County since 1989. Sarah’s first job as a lawyer was at the St. Louis County Public Defender’s Office where she eventually was the Chief Trial Attorney. She graduated from Quincy University and St. Louis University School of Law. Ms. Pleban has been on the annual Missouri & Kansas Super Lawyers list since 2012. She is AV Peer Review Rated by Martindale-Hubbell. She has spoken at many continuing legal education seminars put on by the Missouri Bar, the St. Louis County Bar Association, the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis, The Bench and Bar Conference, and the annual Missouri Bar Conference. In 2014, she received The Missouri Lawyer’s Association Women’s Justice Award for Public Service Practitioner.
Ms. Pleban has been on the Board of Trustees for Quincy University, Board of Directors for Affton School District, St. Michael the Archangel School Board, and on several boards including The Epilepsy Foundation, Heritage House, Lawyers for Kids and St. Franciscan Charities of the Sacred Heart Province. She was a volunteer tutor at Loyola Academy in the City of St. Louis from 2012 – 2019. Since 2017, she has spent many hours volunteering for St. Francis Community Services, The Migrant & Immigrant Community Action Project (The M.I.C.A. Project) and the Inter-Faith Committee on Latin America in their Power of Attorney Workshops, Pro-Se Asylum Workshops and Legal Clinic nights. She has also volunteered her services for Catholic Legal Assistance Ministry and the M.I.C.A. Project both as Guardian Ad Litem and attorney for parents seeking paternity judgments in cases involving immigrants. She is a member of The Shrewsbury Anti-Racism Collective. Brandon Lamar Jackson is an Associate at Brown & Crouppen Law Firm where his practice is devoted solely to protecting the rights of injured victims. He received his undergraduate education at Morehouse College where he was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate, and his law degree from the University of Illinois at Champaign Urbana, where he was awarded the pro bono notation, participated in the community development law clinic, and won Best Orator at the Frederick Douglass Moot Court competition.
Mr. Jackson is a member of several community organizations including the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis where he serves as chair-elect of the Minorities in the Legal Profession (MILP) Committee, the Mound City Bar Association where he serves as chair of Young Lawyers Division and a board member of Arch City Defenders, a holistic legal advocacy organization that combats the criminalization of poverty and state violence, especially in communities of color. He was named an Up & Coming Lawyer in 2019 by Missouri Lawyers Weekly. The Dudley C. Dunlop Distinguished Service Award is an honor conferred on an attorney who has provided distinguished and unselfish service to the organized bar and the community. The recipient must also show constant devotion to the highest principles and practices of the legal profession and symbolize the highest standards of integrity, honor and unselfish service.
The Roy F. Essen Memorial Award for Outstanding Work as a Young Lawyer is an honor conferred on an attorney in recognition of excellence and distinguished work as a lawyer, distinguished service to the organized bar, and outstanding service to the community. The recipient must be under the age of 40 years. The St. Louis County Bar Association, founded in 1931, is a 600 plus member, non-profit professional organization for attorneys and judges. It provides professional development, education and service programs for the legal community and supports the St. Louis County judiciary and its staff. The current president is Matthew A. Radefeld of Frank, Juengel & Radefeld. The president-elect is Lisa G. Moore of Paule, Camazine & Blumenthal, P.C. Ms. Moore will present these two awards at a reception that will be scheduled later this year. The awards were to have been presented at a dinner reception on February 6, 2021 which was cancelled due to Covid-19.
Owner of Brooklyn, New York's Dean CrossFit
Brother Maillard Howell (Spring 2000) Discusses
The Elephant In CrossFit's Living Room
As written by Maillard Howell at www.medium.com December 31, 2020
I’ve had an issue with the lack of BIPOC in CrossFit stewing in my head for a while. Not a few days or months, but quite literally a few years. One of those things that silently affects you but you pretend it doesn’t exist to your own detriment, like high blood pressure. This past summer, the proverbial aneurysm occurred.
CrossFit leadership’s elephant in the room was finally caught at the junction of the Black Lives Movement, the most profound social and racial justice issue of the decade, and fumbled publicly. They not only chose to ignore the social climate but went further making light of the death of George Floyd, which proved all too much for the now “fired” CEO and his archaic, racist, and sexist train of thought. It seemed as if CrossFit would be part of the larger change in sports like Nascar or the NFL.
Here we are the final days of 2020 with a changed guard at the CrossFit HQ, and I still field the same questions I did back in 2011 when I first started calling myself a “CrossFitter” and later when in 2014, I became one of the few Black CrossFit Box Owners. Questions which I believe most shareholders and stakeholders are struggling to grasp.
“Why does CrossFit lack diversity?”
“Why so few Minorities/Black athletes at The CrossFit Games?”
To answer the question we have to look into the meaning of the word diversity to truly grasp the answer to the first question. Oxford Languages defines diversity as “The practice or quality of including or involving people from a range of different social and ethnic backgrounds and of different genders, sexual orientations.”
The action words that jump out at us from the definition are “including or involving”. Without Inclusion, there is no diversity. One is a product of the other. So, the question we should be asking is not how to make CrossFit more diverse, which is the goal many corporations set, but rather, how does one create an “inclusive” brand or company?
It begins from the top with an equitable hiring process of Directors, Board Members, and Senior Managers. These upper-tier shareholders I refer to as gatekeepers. If these shareholders are of a substantial or fully representative range of ethnicities, backgrounds, genders et al, then it should naturally flow that junior staff, the day-to-day processes, products, and services offered by the company will be naturally inclusive and diverse. It will be effortless and natural.
What tends to happen though is that the gatekeepers tend to be overwhelmingly white and male and they consciously or unconsciously hire more of the same. It’s easy, it’s comfortable, it’s been the norm and it perpetuates exclusion. This leads to tone-deaf decision making caused by the herd effect of common experiences, backgrounds, genders shared by the singular majority holding the decision making powers. An unsustainable model for conducting business with a diverse clientele. Moving from the top down to the consumer or customer-facing side of the brand.
How does one create an “inclusive” brick and mortar facility?
I listened to an episode of Molonza Hayes III youtube station this past weekend. A Black CrossFitter who I respect to the highest degree in and out of the gym. He voiced his experience on starting at a CrossFit gym a few years ago and it mirrored mine. He posed an interesting question: “What is CrossFit going to do to make the brand more comfortable for Minorities?” An interesting question but I believe it should be posed in the inverse. The tone of the question conveys that minorities want or need “handouts”. This tone only serves to continue to reinforce implicit biases and negative racial stereotypes. I ask instead: “What is CrossFit going to do to make the brand less uncomfortable for Minorities?”
Doing this work would mean:
More inclusive HQ staff
More inclusive marketing
More communication and touchpoints on socially responsible causes
A brand code of ethics with an explicit zero tolerance for all the isms, sexism, racism, homophobia etc.
What does this look like at the most basic consumer level, the neighborhood Box?
Boxes creating a safe space for all
Boxes taking part in community programs and local social causes
Boxes shutting down toxic incidents amongst it’s client base with clear and open communication and directives gleaned from the Brand code of ethics.
This does work! I have done it for the past 6 years. Dean CrossFit is the current iteration of my business. The prior brand CrossFit Prospect Heights existed for 6 years. Over those years staff, owners, and members took part collectively in initiatives seeded by my leadership. Brooklyn Pride Weekend Parade participation, canned food drives for hurricane-damaged communities in the Caribbean, speaking at local High Schools just to name a few.
The second most asked question I have received over the years: “Why are there so few Black athletes at the CrossFit Games?” I cringe when I hear the most popular answer to this question. “CrossFit is too expensive for Minorities." This is almost as insulting a lie as the statement made by Wells Fargo CEO, Charlie Scharf who blamed his corporation’s lack of diversity on the falsehood, lack of Black talent.
The answer is a blend of issues that I will dissect from major to minor.
There is no money in CrossFit. Unless you are that sole Champion at the top, Crossfit does not offer the financial/economic reward and freedom for minority talent that traditional sports like Football, Basketball, or Track and Field offer. This is the greatest reason we don’t see a significant number of racial and ethnic minorities at The CrossFit Games. The socio-economic history of the United States as it pertains to race and the resulting disparity in generational wealth and education makes the decision a no brainer for the everyday top tier black High School Athlete. Why should he or she explore their talents in the direction of CrossFit? A sport that offers no College scholarships, no big league contracts after College, no Olympic Team dreams and it’s ensuing monetary potential gain. We can’t afford to roll the dice on that one a few generations shy of outright slavery and Jim Crow era “stressors”. So till then, CrossFit will simply be a training vehicle for the hundreds of naturally gifted black athletes coming out of the nation’s High Schools and not their dedicated sport. This is the major reason why there lacks Black talent at the CrossFit Games.
The second reason build’s on my discussion on “diversity” and which Molonza Hayes touched on in his Youtube episode. The basic atomic unit of the brand is the community CrossFit Box. Until these places are made less uncomfortable for minorities, until the marketing face of the brand is more inclusive, until the people in charge are reflective of a more diverse demographic, then the CrossFit box, for the most part, will not be conducive to the grooming of those few Black and Brown athletes that choose to really give the sport a fair shot. Minorities experience every form of subtle racism and passive-aggressive insults daily at work and school, why should we now turn around and pay to be a part of a community that isn’t welcoming. That treats us differently. I have experienced it many times in my years here in NYC prior to opening my own facility. I have experienced it visiting boxes in certain parts of the US. I even experienced it at the CrossFit Games as a Country Coach for Trinidad and Tobago. It was the same palpable vibe I felt at national sales conferences when I worked in the Pharmaceutical industry, walking into a ballroom with hundreds of executives and being one of only three black or brown faces present. People read the room. It takes a special type of person to work through that consistently day after day. It is emotionally laborious and taxing work for Black and Brown people to exist in white spaces that give us spoken and unspoken discomfort.