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by Robert Rack

Rack is the Co-Founder of Beyond Civility and the retired Chief Circuit Mediator at the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

Successful Cincinnati businessman, Phillip Cox, gave a commencement address to St Xavier High School’s graduating class of 2015.  His talk is inspiring in its call for determined self-improvement, both in career and personal character.

I think I hear weariness in his stories reflecting a lifetime of patience.  He notes being the only African American on most of the boards and business committees on which he now sits, and sounds a tired understanding at still being assumed to be a waiter in his tux at formal events.

When Mr. Cox asks these graduates to be advocates of diversity, and explains it requires being willing to put themselves in uncomfortable positions, he acknowledges to laughter that no one wakes up every morning asking what uncomfortable position they can put themselves in today.  He might have added, “…unless they have to.”

Fifty years ago, I was in Phil’s St. X graduating class.  He was one of two African American students in a school of 1200.  I thought of him as a quiet guy, kind of a loner.  But then he offered our graduating class a comment.  I recall that he thanked everyone for always being polite and friendly.  And without a hint of animosity or rancor he shared that his time there had been lonely, and that in four years he had never been invited to any of our homes.

I remember most of us squirming and making excuses, to ourselves and each other, but now I think it’s because no one wakes up in the morning and asks what uncomfortable position can I put myself in today.  What if more of us did?

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