Spectacle of Inspiration

A celebration of diversity by MGM that looks squarely at stereotypes—then blows them sky high.

By Dirk Olin

The 2013 COMMIT!Forum opened with a bang. Andre Barry, vice president of diversity and inclusion for the MGM Resorts International, served as emcee for an opening act that brought the house down.

The musical performance, called Inspiring Our World, was a recreation of the same one used by the company for its 62,000 employees worldwide. It was genuinely thrilling and tear-jerking.

“We truly believe if we are going to successful as an organization then everyone needs to be on the same page when it comes to our companies mission, vision, and values,” said Barry. Invoking the South African greeting of “Sawa Bona,” he explained that its rough translation is, “I see you.”

The implications, he added, were plain: “We invoke each other’s potential by our willingness to see the essence in the person. It is about the worth of a soul. Every single person matters.”

Barry, who is black, finished his introduction by paraphrasing Martin Luther King. “Judge me by the content of mycharacter, not the color of my skin,” said. “Judge me for my talent, my innovation, my commitment, my drive, my passion. But don’t judge me for the outside stuff.”

That’s when things really took off, as a parade of performer- employees stepped forward to describe, and then dramatically debunk, stereotypical traits that a careless or bigoted observer might easily make.

A gentleman with gray hair stepped forward.

“I see you, and I hear what you say about me,” he said. “ ‘Old white guy. . . . Must be prejudiced. Easy life, college graduate, now getting ready to retire. Prejudice? Ask my bi- racial kids who have been through so much and of whom I am very, very proud. Easy life? More than 20 years serving my country in the United States military, during one of the most controversial times in our country’s history. College graduate? I set a goal, one class at a time, and finally achieved a bachelor’s degree in communication studies cum laude after 19 years of trying. . . . Retire? The calendar says 64, I don’t care. There’s a fire in me that can’t be put out. See me? I’m just getting started. I have a dream.”

Later, an avowedly overweight woman came on. “I see you, and I hear what you say about me. But I’m so much more than who you think I am. How do you think it made me feel when I was standing in line at the airport gate, and you pulled me out of line and said I was too big to fly? I could see you over there, saying I don’t want to sit next to her. She’s too fat, she’ll take up my seat and her seat. And over there, you’re probably just thinking I’m lazy and unmotivated.

“Then how do you think it made me feel when they had to announce on the airplane that they needed volunteers to move seats so I could have my two seats together? And as I was walking down the aisle tears streaming down my face, I saw pity, not concern. And you’re probably just thinking, ‘It’s her fault that she’s this way. She just brought this on herself.’

“It sucks. But it happened to me. It’s my story. And I’m so much more than who you think I am. Do you know, that in less than a year, I’ve lost 79 pounds? Do you know that just a few months ago I finished my first half marathon? I am so lucky to have friends and family that love and support me. I have a dream. See me.”

An androgynous-appearing Asian-American was next. “I see you. And I hear what you say about me. You’re all probably thinking, hey – who’s that boy over there? But really I am just a girl named Roxanne. Now, how would you feel, if you came up to one of your best friends, and told him, ‘Hey, I just might come out to my family and friends.’ And the reply back, ‘Really Roxanne? Do you really think that, if you told your family and friends who you really were that they would accept you and love you for who you are? Because I’m just ashamed of what you told me.’ But in 2006, I finally told my family and friends who I really was. And I’m so glad that I did, because they accepted me, and love me even more for who I was.”

Tears were streaming down her face—and she was joined by more than one audience member.

A slender African-American woman came forward. “I see you, and I hear what you say about me. You see a black woman from Mississippi, and you say, ‘She’s probably uneducated. Probably dropped out of high school. Didn’t even take an opportunity to advance her career.’ You see the color of my skin, and say, ‘She’s probably angry. Doesn’t take care of her family. Doesn’t like to work.’ You see me at the grocery store with my two kids and you say, ‘She’s probably dependent on the government to help her take care of her children.’

“But that’s not who I am at all. I graduated college at the top of my class with a degree in electrical technology. . . . I have two wonderful sons, Ricky and Ronald, both honor roll students. And I teach them each and every day the value of independence and to never depend on anybody or anything, including the government, to help take care of them. Besides working for MGM Resorts International, I’m also the director and founder of Inner City Drama Club, where I provide a free service to youths in my community to allow them to come in and unleash whatever God given gift they have.

“As far as not taking care of my family, it’s the foundation for who I am. Because as a child my mom was diagnosed with cerebral degeneration, so the part of her brain that controlled her muscles started to deteriorate and die. People laughed, they pointed, they stared. They didn’t understand the condition. All they knew was that she didn’t look like us; she wasn’t able to function like us.

“So while my friends’ moms were combing their hair, and getting them dressed, and preparing them for the day, I was having to do those things for my mom. And in 2009 hospice came in and said, ‘You need to spend as much time with your mom as possible.’ So I quit my job, and I was there beside her until she took her very last breath. But I don’t regret one single sacrifice I made, because I stand before you today as a proud black woman with my mother running through my veins. And I too have a dream. See me.”

All of which resulted in only one thing: a long, thunderous standing ovation.

Posted December 13, 2013 in 25115