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Revealing our gifts

“I have other gifts.”

That’s what I used to say on exam day at Booth, where I went to business school more than a decade ago.

I made the choice to get my MBA in the second chapter of my career, because I had gotten a little comfortable. I was in a space where even if I didn’t know the answer, I thought I could likely “hunch” my way through it. And while that can be a lovely feeling at times, it was a dangerous feeling to me.

Then and now, I want to be a person who is always learning, always discovering, always filling in blanks on things I don’t know as opposed to asserting space on things I think I already know. Put simply, I wanted to unlock different parts of my brain.

Careful what you wish for, right?

Every exam day, as those fated blue books (exam booklets) would cross the transom to my desk – with all their skinny lines and all their blank pages staring at me, I would stare right back at them and say:

“I have other gifts.”

The truth is for those who know me well, I am most definitely more poet than quant. And I would have to study harder, longer, differently to get some of the concepts that were more intuitive to many of my colleagues.

That was alright by me because I am no stranger to hustle.

And in fact the larger movement REDF is a part of today is also rooted in the hustle. Only in this context, it’s the hustle faced by 10 million Americans who are boxed out of today’s economy and not able to access quality employment, because either the odds have been stacked against them, they’ve endured a poverty that took the esteem out of them, or they made a mistake that shut some doors on them.

At REDF, we are on a campaign to disrupt this wicked pattern we have in our country and to reframe the way we see talent. To compel employers, legislators, philanthropies to recognize that there is a deep well of talent out there, waiting to be tapped.

A whole cadre of people whose talent, motivation, and drive could run circles around us all, and who want as we all do – to earn a living, to provide for themselves and their families, to do homework with their kids on the kitchen table and to pull their hair out trying to understand “new math”.

To look at themselves in the mirror in the morning as they get ready for a new day and say:

“I. Have. Gifts.”

This campaign is getting traction – among an ever-expanding cadre of funding partners and visionary donors who support REDF’s work; among legislators and government officials who champion the employment social enterprise (ESE) model, among an increasing number of employers who recognize the vast talent pool coming out of ESEs and hire them; and even in the lofty halls of venerable academic institutions, like the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, who, to my great surprise, recently gave me an award for distinguished public service.

I cannot tell you how much it meant to accept this award. It was an incredible “atta girl” from myself today to my younger self dreading those darn blue books all those years ago.

And I accepted the award in honor of my community – including social entrepreneurs who are fighting to make their communities stronger and more vibrant every day, and my mom – the first person who taught me what it means to care for others as a mother, a leader, and a career nurse who helped others to both heal, and to find ways to laugh and smile at the world, every step of the way.

Together we’re building a new day as a country – every last one of us inside the beautiful REDF community.

And in that new day, may we each do our part to recognize and reveal the talents deep within our communities and build an economy that works. For everyone.

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