Oct 26, 2023 14 min read

Moments of Growth - Part 2

Moments of Growth - Part 2
Images of guests Janeen Bryant, Chris Sparrow, and Paul McCormack.

Episode 57, 20 min listen

As part of this work of equity and inclusion, we are each on our own journey of growth. Sometimes, a moment of growth is structured and intentional, but sometimes, it catches us completely unaware. After it happens, we’re never the same.

In today’s episode, I asked three more of my previous guests to share about a moment they grew in their own journey of equity and inclusion. We hear from Paul McCormack, Director of the South Carolina State Parks System, Janeen Bryant, Executive Director of the Community Building Initiative, and Chris Sparrow, adaptive athlete, disability advocate, and Program Director with the Barbara Stone Foundation. Listening to their responses can inspire a moment of growth and learning for us all.

I really want you to be able to hear each guest as they speak from their heart. As a result, you'll hear me refer to this as "our unplugged series." Their responses are only lightly edited. You’ll hear more pauses and ums, and the sound may not be quite as polished. These episodes will be shorter as well to give you a little more room to sit with and reflect on each of the stories you hear.


Listen on Apple Podcasts or Listen on Spotify


Want to hear more from these guests and learn more about them and their work? Here are the links to their original episodes and related show notes.

Paul McCormack - Making State Parks More Inclusive in South Carolina

Janeen Bryant - Building Community in Charlotte, NC

Chris Sparrow - Adaptive Athlete and Disability Activist



Ame Sanders  00:08

Hi, this is Ame Sanders of State of Inclusion. Welcome to this episode of what I like to call our unplugged series. 

In my regular podcast interviews, I have the pleasure of speaking with people who are making a difference in community, working to make their community more inclusive and more equitable, and working to make it a place where everybody who calls it home can thrive. 

My guests represent nonprofits, corporations, city governments, coalitions, and even university partnerships. They are leaders, they’re change agents, elected officials, educators, poets, artists, and storytellers. They typically speak from a professional role and talk about the work they're doing on a professional level. But in this episode, I take a minute to ask my guests a more personal question. So, while the theme of this podcast is about community change, we know that, in the end, all change is personal. We also know that working for change at the community and societal levels involves being willing to examine our own behaviors and lives, and it means being willing to change ourselves. 

We also know that as part of this work of equity and inclusion, we each have our own journey to take. And, admittedly, some of us have a bit farther to travel than others. But for each of us, the practice of Self Work is distinctly personal and takes many different shapes. Sometimes, a step of personal change or growth is structured and intentional, but sometimes, it catches us completely unaware. But however it happens, we're not ever the same after. 

In today's episode, I asked three of my previous guests to share about a moment that they grew in their own journey of equity and inclusion. So, in today's unplugged episode, we're going to hear from Paul McCormack, Director of the South Carolina State Parks System. Janeen Bryant, Executive Director of the Community Building Initiative in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Chris Sparrow, adaptive athlete, disability advocate, and Program Director with the Barbara Stone Foundation.

In keeping with the unplugged theme, their responses are only lightly edited. You're going to hear more pauses, some longer pauses, maybe some more ums, and the sound may not be quite as polished. But I really want you to be able to hear each guest as they speak from their heart. These episodes will be shorter as well, and that's intentional, too. It gives you a little more room to sit with and reflect on each of the stories that you hear. 

-Paul McCormack - Recognizing My Own Privilege

Here's what Paul McCormack shared when I asked him about a moment he grew in his personal journey of equity and inclusion.

Paul McCormack  03:09

This is a podcast, but you can probably tell from my voice I'm a middle-aged white man. I grew up in Boston in a middle-class family and went to college, and got out of college with no debt. And found a found a job in parks doing what I love. And really felt with my upbringing that I was open. I understood. diversity issues. I understood the position that People of Color had been in in this country and faced. And part of it was probably growing up in New England, where I just felt like I was more open-minded. I use air quotes here open-minded. And I remember standing, of all places, at a campfire one night with a co-worker and a worker in the tourism field. And they were both African American. And this is, this is an embarrassing eye-opening story for me. But something had happened in the news, and this was early 2000s, I want to say. And they were talking about Emmett Till. And the way they were talking about Emmett Till, and how they had heard the stories as a child, and how it had influenced them in their lives. So nonchalantly, like it was common knowledge. And I had never heard the name Emmett Till. 

I remember standing there uncomfortably at that fire, embarrassed that this seemed like knowledge that everybody should have. And I had no idea what they were talking about. And I remember going back to my room and getting on the internet to look up the Emmett Till story and thinking to myself, well, why have I never heard this? Why is this, which seems such a part of their upbringing and their story as to how they were told to take care of themselves, not something that I'm aware of?  

So, it opened my eyes to how little I knew about what other people's life experiences were. I felt better in the world of disabilities. I have a disabled father. I had family members in the LGBTQ community. I felt really good about myself in those areas and had no idea how little I knew, I guess, is the best way to put in. So, for me, that was, that was a start of a journey of trying to put myself in other people's shoes and to learn the things that influenced others.  

And it was really… And this is, it's so unpopular for people to say, and it's stuff, it sets off so many alarms, and I wish it didn’t. To really start to recognize my own privilege. Just because of my upbringing, because of my skin color, because of all those things. And I don't say that to belittle any of my accomplishments and minimize them. But I also…but it taught me to recognize that I didn't have the barriers that other people have and to try and start to recognize those barriers. And that because of my position, I might be able to help remove some of those barriers for people, or lessen some of those barriers for people, or at least acknowledge those barriers. 

So, it really started the journey for me of starting to try and look at other people's perspectives and other people's influences and how it had kind of conditioned them in their life. So that was an eye-opener. Again, I remember it clearly to this day. And it led me to read more stuff, read more articles, read more books, get more engaged, and to take down some of the defenses of trying to go, “Whoa, that wasn't me. I had nothing to do with that.” But to understand their perspective and how it really influenced and impacted their abilities to move through this world. So. So yeah, that was an eye-opening moment for me. Especially as it came to People of Color. And I've had several with like I've mentioned to you previously, I have two kids that are gay, and all of a sudden being thrown into a position of defending your family in a setting. Kind of changes your perspective on people's lives and people's journey and, I hope, makes you a better person and makes you more accepting and willing to look at somebody and go, “Oh, you know, I don't I don't understand everything they're going through, but I can be supportive of them regardless.” 

So. So that's, that's kind of my journey and how I got into how I've grown to be more passionate through the years of trying to get knowledge for myself, of what other people's life's experiences have been.

 Ame Sanders  07:52

Paul, thank you for sharing that story. I think we all are impacted. When we have one of those aha moments. Most of us can 20 years. 30 years later, remember that very moment. So, thank you for sharing that with us. 

Paul McCormack  08:10

My pleasure. 

 -Janeen Bryant - I Wasn't Prepared

Ame Sanders  08:12

Here's what Janeen Bryant shared when I asked her about a moment of growth and her personal journey of equity and inclusion.


Janeen Bryant  08:15

So, I am a Carolina girl through and through. I heard somebody say I probably got red clay in my veins. And so, in growing up in the Carolinas, I was raised with certain concepts of what it meant to be in community with each other. And this is the…you slow your car down at every intersection so you can look into other cars and wave if you know somebody. This is the stopping and chatting in the grocery store for at least 25 minutes to catch up, even though you're probably gonna see them on Sunday or at school. This is the making sure that you bring a covered dish if something happens and they're sick, or somebody in their family passes. And so those constructs of an interconnected and, you know, needing to communicate community, needing to see each other needing to wave you down. It's deep in my soul. And it's how I was raised. It's how our family reunions were conducted. It's how when I went to school, it's how when I became a teacher, it is how I transitioned into the classroom. And what I didn't understand is that not everybody held those same kinds of an understanding of what it meant to be together. And I understand this a privilege, right?  

My public education in South Carolina, where I was raised in Greenville. I was afforded the opportunity to be with different kinds of people, different kinds of languages, and different kinds of concepts, but no one thought I was less than or at least didn't articulate that to me as a part of my educational experience. But what they did tell me was that there were always possibilities and that I was always capable, and that I should be ready. I had to be ready because I was going to be on the verge of something great. And I think this often happens to the young students who are considered, you know, a part of in South Carolina, they called them the Challenge Kids, not because we were challenging, but because we challenged the systems and spaces that we were in and our expectations we’d keep doing that. 


But when I went to college, I came to North Carolina to go to college. And when I got there was the first time that I saw. I come, I came from a predominantly Black, small neighborhood. I went to public schools that had diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds and, like I said, multiple languages. I was an International Baccalaureate Graduate, and I went to college and suddenly was in a private white elite space. And was cast as a low caste, low class, poverty-stricken, public school, under-educated child. Without, again, go back to the idea of like, what's the power of the one story? And so without any conversation, even literally, by looking at me. And how could that be? The population at that school was predominantly private-school-educated students. And it was predominantly upper class. And by upper class, I mean socio-economic echelons. And it was the first time that I had to grapple with my identity, and, and my social, my social status, my economic status in a way that constantly cast me as different. And it forced me to understand that social justice wasn't like a civil rights concept I was reading about in history books. In the year 2000, I was living it. I was living in spaces where people would tell me you're not qualified to be in. Literally, tell me you're not qualified to be here. You're not prepared to be in this space. And in fact, they were true, I was not prepared to be in that space. Because although I was qualified academically, I wasn't prepared socially to be in that space. And so it did prompt me to begin to learn to question and unlearn. And to always be curious about which kinds of spaces I was putting myself into because I did recognize I wasn't prepared to be in that space. And, then I also had to get prepared to get some skills. And that's one of the first places where I started to really examine my own social location, my own civic understanding. And that was also the, I mention this sometimes, but that was also the first place where I got arrested and had to navigate a system that was fundamentally against who I was as a young Black woman. And it fundamentally shaped my interest in social justice and my understanding of how civic spaces can reinforce power dynamics in ways that can harm or that can help. 

And I, from that point on, dedicated my life to helping.

Ame Sanders  13:04

Thank you for sharing that, Janeen. 

 -Chris Sparrow - A Look I'd Never Seen Before

Here's what Chris Sparrow shared when I asked him about a moment he grew in his personal journey of equity and inclusion.

Chris Sparrow  13:16

I think for me, the big, I guess you could call it the aha moment when I was hit across the head with a two-by-four. And it really changed how I viewed the world. It happened while I was still in the hospital, pretty soon after my spinal cord injury had happened. 

You know, once I started getting in the wheelchair, you'd have to start to build up your strength and your endurance to be able to push around in a wheelchair. And we had been going around the rehab floor, which was the top floor of Bon Secours, St. Francis. And I've been there for about two weeks and had kind of gotten used to things, and nothing had really, in my mind. I mean, things have changed drastically. But still, from my point of view, right? In my eyes, it was just kind of like, okay, life is life. And one day, I was working with my physical therapist, and she said, you know, let's, you know, let's push a little bit further. Let's get off the rehab floor. Let's go down and explore the rest of the hospital. And so I agreed, and so we went down to the main floor, and we're cruising around, checking some things out, and we got to this area where they had a little coffee shop. And so my physical therapist said, you know, I want to go around and get some coffee. Do you mind waiting? So I said, Okay, no problem. And so I sat there, and I'm kind of just people watching, and it's kind of looking around, and I caught eyes with this lady. And she had this expression, this look on her face, just like pity. And just, I don't know, it was a look I had never seen in my entire life. Like no one had ever looked at me like that before. And, you know, I mean, obviously, she could tell that the wheelchair I was in was not, you know, one of those typical hospital wheelchairs that, you know, porters used for transporting people around. This was something more significant. And it just felt like, wow, like, I could see her mind rolling, and it made me feel like, this is what it means to have a disability. It's not like, I mean, yes, it's the spinal cord injury, or it's the, you know, the ADD, or whatever the diagnosis is, yes, it's those things, but like, the barriers, kind of the challenges and life associated with disability come from the outside world. It comes from the, you know, just the architectural barriers, or in that case, what I was realizing was the, the stereotypes or the kind of attitudinal barriers that people were thinking. Like, they were, I was realizing then and there, like, people who I meet for the first time, will never look at me, you know, the same as they would have before when I was not paralyzed. And even the people who I’ve known, you know, for a very long time in my life are now looking at me differently. And so, like, it sounds bad, but like, I had been in this white male, cis world, and all the privileges that surround that. And when you're in that world, it's really hard to understand that you're in that world, right? You can't see the forest through the trees. And so, like, it really like opened my mind, like, this is kind of what it means, like. Like, not to say that I have any idea of what, you know, somebody who is Black has gone through in their life, but like, I understood the effects that everything has on them, like, there are real challenges and barriers that they endure, and, you know, not just, you know, women or anybody of color, or, you know, anybody of a gender that doesn't fit in, you know, the, the cis box, I think, has to go through a lot of these challenges that, you know, I'd never realized. You kind of say, yes, they're going through this challenge, you see it from the outside, but like, until you feel yourself having to go through those challenges, you don't really quite understand it.  

And so I think that's kind of really, put myself in a place of trying to be more understanding, and empathetic, and you know, just open to people's experiences and their, the lives that they've had to live and the barriers that they've had to face. Because I remember, like, you know, during the pandemic, when everything with George Floyd happened, there was so many people I’d see online that were like, Oh, I don't believe that, you know, Black people are having to face all these obstacles. And I just, I was so shocked by it. Like, how can you not believe that like, how can you doubt what they are saying. I didn't understand that, at that point, I kind of flipped over to a point where it's like, that's all I knew was like that, like, yes, people have to endure these things and face these things. And I think just Yeah. having a disability has been good for me in a lot of different ways. I mean, I'd like to think of myself as somebody who was pretty tolerant and unprejudiced prior to my injury, but becoming injurred becoming injured, definitely opened up a new, a whole new spectrum of looking at things that I'd never experienced before. So it that was that was my aha moment. And I feel a lot better off for it. Or I feel that I'm better off for it.

Ame Sanders  19:56

Thank you, Chris. 


So, as we wrap up this episode, I'll simply end this episode with a question for you. 

In what ways are you intentionally challenging yourself or placing yourself in situations to continue your personal growth toward equity and inclusion?


Guests: Paul McCormack, Janeen Bryant, Chris Sparrow

Host: Ame Sanders

Social Media and Marketing Coordinator: Kayla Nelson

Podcast Coordinator: Emma Winiski

Ame Sanders
Founder of State of Inclusion. A seasoned leader & change-maker, she is focused on positive change within communities.
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