Thursday, September 11, 2008

Crossroads at the Bay

I’ve spent the better part of this week at the annual Adventist Risk Manage- ment Conference in San Francisco. It was my first time at such an event, and it was nothing like what I expected. Actually, I’m not sure what I expected. Perhaps more than anything, I thought I’d be sitting through long, boring-but-necessary seminars on insurance, economics, and other boring (to me)-but-necessary issues. And (I must be honest), that did happen part of the time. But the experiences I've already described plus yesterday's sessions redeemed the conference for me.

The last day of the Conference was devoted to issues of health and diversity. The sessions were outstanding. They started with Gwen Foster, former health and fitness czar for the city of Philadelphia and Charles Mills, editor of Vibrant Life magazine. Both were interesting, articulate, and challenging. I also attended a seminar on how to establish a wellness program “at your organization.” All three sessions provided food for thought and motivation to get out of my chair and move more.

It was the last session, though, the very last words of the conference, that I am having a hard time shaking. One of the leading motivational speakers in America, Samuel Betances is a diversity trainer and consultant who challenged us to use our diversity to create unity. “When people of different races have reason to work closely on projects where both are indispensible,” he said, “race will not be an issue. . . . When we unite together to pursue a common goal, prejudice disappears.”

He talked about the importance of words, and of reading widely. “Read to expand your horizon, to build your vocabulary, to increase your critical and abstract thinking abilities. Read to be universalized,” he said. He talked about reading the “literature of resiliency,” books about people who “had it tougher than you, people who experienced breakthroughs.” He said we “need words in order to grow” and that the words we read should be those that will change our lives.

He told the story of his own life; how he grew up poor, neglected, and abused; how he dropped out of high school; how he flunked out of military school; how his work supervisor at a hospital, a Christian woman, told him he needed words to get beyond his life situation and how Christian education would give him those words and teach him how to use them. “In academy,” he said, “they are always looking to see if you have gifts the Lord can use.” Certainly the Lord has used him as he graduated with high honors from Harvard, worked with Oprah, and has been a consultant to three US presidents.

Yes, there were moments that I wondered why I was clear across the country from my “real work,” but there were many more that I realized the importance of taking a step back and putting that “real work” into perspective. Exploring my spiritual roots, recognizing my need to be a healthier person physically so I can give with more energy and clarity and generosity and responsibility...that was definitely worth the trip.

Photos: The watercolor painting I won yesterday (!), Gwen Foster, Samuel Betances, details of the floral display in the hotel lobby.


Heidi said...

Betances was the graduation speaker at Southern this last May. Powerful presentation there, too, about being "citizens of the world." Lots of food for thought.

La Tea Dah said...

I think I would have enjoyed hearing Gwen Foster speak. And I appreciated the thoughts shared on diversity. And interesting subject, and a topic my community college son has been assigned many papers to write. The perspective is somewhat different than what his professors have been giving --- I like the fresh and positive approach you shared. Thank you.

La Tea Dah said...

Kitten has been helping me type --- a great distraction. I meant to say "An interesting subject. . ."

Patty said...

Sounds like it was a great seminar with lots of food for thought.