Diversity Week Speaker Provides Keys for College and Life Success

March 2018

As keynote speaker for Miami University's 2018 Diversity Week, Dr. Damon Williams returned to the place where he began his journey towards becoming an expert in strategic diversity leadership and organizational change.

“The Miami experience is one of diversity and inclusion,” Williams said. “It's from this place that so many things were possible for me, because it set the foundation for all that I've been able to accomplish in my life.”

His accomplishments since earning his bachelor and masters degrees in the mid-1990s are impressive. At the Boys and Girls Club of America, he worked with nearly 400 corporate and government partners. He has worked with hundreds of companies and organizations seeking to achieve inclusive excellence, and continues a national tour that he hopes will impact 5,000 institutions and empower a million current and future leaders.“One of the initiatives that we launched that I'm most proud of, was around this idea of 'How do we want to innovate learning and youth development at scale across the country? How do we want to create a more powerful way of impacting young people to prepare them for college? To prepare them for the workforce? To prepare them to be leaders in the 21st century?'” Williams stated. He noted that students not only need to have a self-directed path toward the knowledge and expertise they need to succeed, but they should also have a strong work ethic. “Individuals that really change the world, they don't work to the task. They work to their potential.”

Williams told the audience Wednesday that he learned the traits of innovators in his journey at Miami; how innovators ask questions, seek solutions across boundaries, engage other innovators, experiment with new ideas, and take ideas to scale. But as he put those lessons to use, Williams said he learned that something else was needed to innovate in diversity, equality, and inclusion. “Innovators have that space inside of them where they will move forward and commit to something different, and that takes courage,” he said, and reminded them that they need to find the questions that define their lives. “Your life is most fulfilled, your impact is most felt, will send ripple effects of change that shift the world, when you have a clear sense of your 'Why?,' when you have a clear sense of your purpose, when you have great clarity around your questions.” In the 21st century, Williams explained, leaders and innovators need to understand the connected economy; technology and social media, the resurgence of activism, the rise of so-called “centennials,” societal and educational inequities, the business case for diversity, and the legal and political threats that diversity efforts face.

Williams pointed out that future business leaders will have to learn and understand the complexity of diverse cultures, generations, histories, and backgrounds, and use that knowledge to create culturally-relevant decisions. Failure to do so can lead to “brand pain” and “brand bleed,” he said. He listed several concepts that students need to learn and accept if they want to succeed in a diverse business world, such as finding their passion and purpose, developing their voice and agency to create change, keeping a growth mindset, embracing a personal brand and character, and having the grit and resilience to work hard to achieve their goals.

When a student asked how to reconcile the fun moments of college life with the needs to succeed in college, Williams responded that when he was a student, he too had fun on the weekends, but also kept a strong faith, a belief in his own talents, and a strong work ethic. He said the key to balance is making choices, to do things rather than overthink them, and to always move forward.

Williams challenged Miami's faculty and staff to ask themselves what they are doing “to build up your cultural skills to teach this new generation, to prepare the students in your curriculum for the world they're going out into, to truly embrace … inclusion and excellence, not just in representation, but in leadership, pedagogy, and life.”