Being a Leader is Everyone's Possibility to RISE

Being a Leader is Everyone's Possibility to RISE

Dwayne Crenshaw believes wholeheartedly in leadership. It's a necessary trait for just about anything. Whether it is running a company, completing a project, problem-solving an issue or just handling a menial task, leadership is visible.

It’s attainable and can be multiplied to create a pathway for future generations to follow.

"I believe everyone can be a leader, everyone has the potential to be a leader," said the chief executive officer and co-founder of RISE San Diego. "It's not about the position or title or influence you have, it's about your ability to have others follow you."

Speaking Feb. 22 to University of San Diego students, faculty and staff during Black History Month, Crenshaw stressed the importance of leadership. He provided the "five E's of leadership" — Empathy, Elevate, Engage, Excellence and Eco (not Ego) — and talked about RISE San Diego's Urban Leadership Fellows Program.

The program, led faculty-wise by Zachary Green, an assistant professor of practice and associate director of the Leadership Institute in USD's School of Leadership and Education Sciences, enhances leaders’ capabilities beyond an introductory skill set level. It's a deeper approach, a deeper engagement level.

"We're much more concerned with who you are as a leader, who you are as a leader through personal reflection, introspection, self-reflection, who you are as a leader in concert with other leaders and who you are as a leader working with other leaders in the community to bring about systemic community change," Crenshaw said. "That's the goal."

Leadership Foundation

The five E's of leadership provide a foundation toward the goal. 

  • Being vulnerable to show empathy. "There's a saying that nobody cares what you know until they know that you care," Crenshaw recited. "That's so true in leadership."
  • A willingness to elevate others. "Most of us want to be out front, in the march, on the walk, at the meeting and at the dais; but can you elevate others? Are you willing to elevate others and not need the spotlight?"
  • Having a commitment and courage to engage. "Oftentimes, we just want to get along, have a consensus, but sometimes you have to engage. This is one of those moments. It doesn't mean you have to be nasty, mean or harmful. Take the martial arts. The engagement is beautiful. How do you engage? You have the combat, but not necessarily that you're angry or hateful; it's this respectful form. If you're willing to engage, you have to be able to say 'No.' It's the hardest thing for people, usually leaders, to do."
  • A commitment to excellence is a key attribute in leadership. Crenshaw uses this phrase in reference to athletics, specifically, as the longtime mantra of the Oakland Raiders football team, but also individual actions by athletes such as Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan and the late Tony Gwynn. "They've been excellent at what they do, but they practice more than anyone else, too. They made mistakes more than anyone else, but they constantly work on it. Do your best at whatever you're doing and stay committed to being better and better every time."
  • The final "E," eco, places one's focus on ecology, the ecosystem around them — other people, the environment, issues and challenges. "It's not how I move myself up in the system, but how I work in that ecosystem to bring systemic community change," Crenshaw said. 

"Witness" to American History 

Crenshaw also provided an updated version of Dr. Martin Luther King's "I've Been to the Mountaintop," speech, which was King's final speech before his death in 1968. When King gave his speech, it was to an audience of sanitation workers who sought justice and equity. Meanwhile, Crenshaw’s thoughts centered on his desire to witness milestone social justice, intersectionality and movements in American history.

Imagining a conversation with God, Crenshaw started in the 1860s when President Abraham Lincoln concluded he needed to sign the Emancipation Proclamation and the signing of the 13th amendment to free slaves. Then it was to 1920 to witness the adoption of the 19th amendment that gave women the right to vote. He spoke about the civil rights movement in the 1950s, the Brown vs. Board of Education case, Civil Rights Act, man landing on the moon in 1969, the legalization of interracial marriage, Filipino and Latino workers winning labor disputes, farm worker protections and the right to organize. He spoke of seeing a Black U.S. President elected, to have openly gay men allowed to serve in the military and for women able to be on the frontlines, marriage equality and, in 2016, the first woman to receive the presidential nomination of a major political party.

"But I wouldn't stop there," Crenshaw repeated after each new revelation. "Perhaps, surprisingly, I'd turn to my Almighty and say, if you allow me to live just a few more years, say toward the second half of this century, I would be happy."

Building, Rising Leaders Up

Crenshaw's example fit with his feelings today. Donald Trump is President of the United States and Crenshaw sees a great need to build leaders who not only understand the five leadership E's, but also are willing to act on it.

"Something is happening. We the people are rising together. We've met and are rising at the intersection of racial justice, inclusion and equity," he said. "Another reason I'm happy to live in this period is we've been forced to a point where we must grapple with the problems that humans have been trying to grapple with throughout history. The demands, though, didn't quite force us to do it completely, to go all the way, to finish the job. But now, in this very moment, survival demands that we rise together and grapple with them. For years now, we've talked about racism in a post-racial society, but now we can no longer just talk about it. It's racial justice or non-existence. It's social justice or non-existence. It's equity or non-existence. That's where we are today," Crenshaw said.

— Ryan T. Blystone  

Dwayne Crenshaw, CEO of RISE San Diego, spoke to a group of USD students, staff and faculty about leadership and more during a Black History Month event on Feb. 22.Dwayne Crenshaw, CEO of RISE San Diego, spoke to a group of USD students, staff and faculty about leadership and more during a Black History Month event on Feb. 22.

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