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Post #9 The Strongest of the Strong: My Conversation with Michael Boulware Moore

From 2008 to 2017, I had the pleasure of living on the campus of St. Mark’s School in Southborough, Massachusetts. And for roughly 7 of those years, I worked as the director of Marketing and Communications for the school. In that capacity, I was fortunate enough to meet several conscientious and committed alumni of the institution, with one of the most committed being Michael Boulware Moore. Michael was on the board of trustees of this elite boarding school. As such, he was often one of the people required to apply the intense scrutiny to my work, most notably when we rebranded the venerable institution. Needless to say, that element of my job was often contentious, emotional, and even bitter. Working with Michael as the board committee chair for the process proved to be the experience’s saving grace. Michael is smart, insightful, compassionate, engaged, and possessing a global perspective that allowed us to collaborate on creating something outstanding and enduring for the school.

More importantly, Michael showed genuine care and concern for every school community member, with particular attention to the small number of Black folks on campus. I would often witness him taking a moment between the all too hectic schedule of board meetings to stop and ask a random student or faculty member, “How is it going?” Among those who were lucky enough to engage with him in this way, it was clear that he was deeply concerned about the answer to the question. There is a way of listening that communicates one’s full attention and interest in the person responding, a stillness of the soul that focuses on understanding, not on responding. I have often witnessed that from Michael.


In this latest installment from the Big Black Man Project, Michael and I discuss his reason for being, his relationship with America, and the Black American superpower.


As always, thank you for sharing our stories.


C.L.Greene II

____________________________________________________


Interviewee: Michael Boulware Moore

Age: 58

Place of Birth: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Current Location: Mount Pleasant, South Carolina

Occupation: VP, Diversity & Inclusion Officer at Blackbaud

Interviewer: Charles L. Greene II

Executive Director, The Big Black Man Project.


CLGII: I wondered if you could tell me a story that would illustrate Michael Moore’s reason for being?

MM: There are all kinds of vignettes that can illustrate this. It may sound corny, but I'm here to raise my four sons, to be their dad. I remember when I was 11 or 12, I had an amazing relationship with my dad. We loved each other, of course, deeply. He was just an amazing role model. We played sports together. We did all kinds of things together. I learned so much from him.


And I remember having the tangible thought that I can't wait to have sons of my own someday to share that same kind of experience. And as luck, or fate, or the universe would have it, I had four.


CLGII: So, I'm curious what it has been like raising four men of color in the world? And this isn't necessarily a discourse on race, but I think it would probably be irresponsible if I didn't go ahead and ask the question (laughs).

MM: I think it’s complicated, as are most things, particularly for people of color, for African


Americans in this country. I think it has been the single greatest gift and blessing that I’ve ever had to be blessed with sons. It has also tested me, being a parent, in ways that I could not have imagined. It is challenging to guide them with an appropriate set of guardrails that they'll need to be able to maneuver through our world, our society successfully, but not tamp down their sense of self, their aspirations, their sense of self-esteem. Frankly, that’s a delicate balance because I think my experience has been that the world is a difficult place. It is even more complicated and difficult for young Black boys and Black men.


And you know, there's a significant challenge to empower them, help them understand the

Michael Moore and young sons visiting South Carolina
Michael Moore and young sons visiting South Carolina

world they are growing up in and how things work, and empower them with a sense of self that will sustain them throughout their lives.


CLGII: I described the people I was interviewing, and somebody asked me to represent you quickly. I was thinking of someone who's operated in the same space that I have in many respects. You are a brand person, a strategist, and a marketing professional. I think of you as a smart, educated man with a broad perspective on the world. And I also know, because we talked about it before, “This guy was a pretty good athlete as well.”


I'm wondering if as you were raising your sons, you were thinking about at least the two lenses that they need to move through, academic and athletic. (laughs)

MM: I have four student-athletes; three of them are playing college sports. And one of them’s an eighth-grader, and he may be the best of them all. So, it has turned out that I have four athletes, but I never really planned it that way - if a parent can really plan something like that... I’m an athlete. I was active, and played sports, and played with them, but I don’t think I ever carved out an expectation that “You will do this too.” I was much more concerned about character and developing an appropriate sense of self, connecting them to their past in appropriate ways but giving them the tools to imagine an even greater future.

Michael Moore and his 4 sons
Michael Moore and his 4 sons

One might say that those are pollyannaish things, but I think those are the ways that I thought. My mother has a Ph.D. in psychology. My father’s Ph.D. was in philosophy. So we had these amazingly rich conversations about everything and nothing, about all kinds of different things. And I think I brought a little bit of that, although I am not degreed in either of those topics. But I brought some of that kind of thinking and approach to help them understand the world and potentially their place in it.


CLGII: Do you have a vignette or an anecdote you would want to share about raising the boys?


MM: There are so many. Where do you start? The experience I had with my father set the bar so high I’ve been striving my whole life to live up to his expectations. Unfortunately, I got divorced, and my two oldest children lived with their mother. And at one period of time, I was living in Atlanta; they moved for a couple of years to Dallas, and it was at a critical time when my oldest, who was a football player, was starting his high school football career.


And just to give you a sense of how I thought about my responsibility as a dad and what I would do to execute that, I remember there was one game where I think it was probably a Friday night or something like that. For some crazy reason, the flights were crazy and wouldn’t work out. I also had to be back at a particular time. I just couldn’t arrange it.


Impulsively perhaps, I got in the car and took off and drove 15 hours. I watched the game for two hours, stuck around for another hour after that, and then turned around and drove15 hours back and didn’t think anything of it.


But, you know, I gladly would have done that. There are just so many examples. It’s going to sound like I’m contradicting what I said about sports. Still, there are so many examples of me being on the sideline watching them, whether it’s football, or lacrosse, swimming, or basketball, and just being proud as a dad. Sometimes they were the best, sometimes not, but I was there and watching them the same way my dad watched me. Maybe I completed that circle. I do not doubt that when they are parents, that’ll be the next generation. They’ll be in the stands, watching their children do their thing as well.


CLGII: I wonder if we could switch gears a bit and talk about your relationship with America. How would you describe it?


MM: You know, complicated. On the one hand, it’s the only country I know. I was born here, lived here. I’ve had a chance to travel, and I’ve been blessed with experiences outside of America. It’s our home. And I’m also blessed to understand history enough to know about the contributions of people who look just like me in building this nation. We built this nation. I’m in a city now, Charleston, South Carolina, that was the wealthiest city in America for over 100 years because of the ingenuity of the people from Sierra Leone and West Africa. They had the know-how to create and manage a rice industry. That created the foundation of American wealth in colonial times.



Michael Moore Speaking on Robert Smalls -- His Great Great Grandfather.
Michael Moore Speaking on Robert Smalls -- His Great Great Grandfather.

So, on the one hand, I am proud of the contributions that my ancestors made. Probably as much or more than most, I understand the details of what that means and what that history is because of the project I was leading for the last five years in building an African-American history museum.


I read something over the last couple of days talking about Black folks and their vote, saying that, once again, Black America has come to support a country and support democracy in a country that hasn’t loved them back. It’s complicated.


I was a staunch supporter of Colin Kaepernick to create awareness around police violence by taking a knee. I was not shocked that America spun that into a communist, anti-veteran, anti-America kind of thing. The work I have done, particularly for the last four or five years in building the museum, and now as the head of diversity for a public company, has focused on extending the rights that most Americans enjoy to other people who have been excluded from them.


It’s a battle. It is an exhausting battle. It’s exhausting to have to fight for your humanity among a group of people, within institutions, and in a country that doesn’t always recognize it. But it is what it is.


I was a part of a peer-to-peer weekend event that brought together professionals from all kinds of professions, walks of life. And there were all of these world experts coming in to talk about different things. I sat in on one session around mental health. And it was fascinating hearing about how experiences of trauma are based in part on a person’s background, among other things.


I heard about how these rich, wealthy folks, mostly white, were made to be depressed about what seemed to be such superficial things. Maybe their Porsche had a scratch on it? These things were relatively superficial compared to what African Americans experience. I’ve been to Haiti. I was in Haiti after the earthquake. I’ve been to Africa. I’ve seen people who had close to nothing but have a sense about them, a happiness, and a perspective on life that was just so much healthier than some well-to-do people.


I think there is some perspective, some thick skin that in certain times can be of service. I think that that’s a byproduct of our experiences. I would not wish for us to have the experience that African Americans have in this country to have that thick skin. I think we all should be in a world where everyone has equal access to opportunity and the like. But yeah, I mean, think aside from kind of the consequence of our experience. I’m extraordinarily biased, but I’m just really proud of who we are as a people.


There are plenty of people who talk about Black folks, who critique what we’re not doing, or that talk about Black-on-Black crime or talk about all manner of things that seek to subordinate our standing or our place in this world. I see things the exact opposite. Understanding history in Africa, people who were sent to the Americas to be enslaved, they didn’t all come from the coast. Many came from inland. Those people were captured and were marched sometimes hundreds of miles to the coast. That was a difficult journey, and many people died. Many people didn’t make it. But those that did make it got put on these slave ships and got sent to the Americas.


Of course, it’s much more. The awareness around the brutality of those slave ships is increasingly more out there, just how horrible the situations were, people packed in. It was just horrific. Some historians say that about a third of the people who were put on the ships never made it. They died and were thrown off into the Atlantic.


So many people were thrown in the ocean that sharks’ migratory patterns in the Atlantic changed to follow slave ships from Africa to the Americas. But those who survived made it to America, and they made it. But the institution of slavery in and of itself was brutal. It was a whole system designed to ring out as much value as possible from enslaved people. And then, particularly in South America, the enslaved people were on a conveyor belt. The life expectancy on some sugar plantations, for example, was two years. People would literally be worked to death, and then they’d just bring in new ones. And it was similar in the United States.


When I think about African Americans in this country today, those are the people who survived all of this. They survived the walk from inland to the coast. They survived the Middle Passage. They survived the institution of slavery. And all of those things were designed...maybe not to kill them, but a byproduct, a feature of that system was that it killed them.


For those who are alive today, it means that they are descended from the strongest of the strong. They are descended from those people who survived all of it. I feel like that’s our superpower.


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