The reason was not to hold us accountable for the vandalism, but rather to direct my advisor and principal on how to move forward. He shared the criticism he’d received from students and some parents for allowing Black History Week to exist. “They’re asking the question ‘Why do blacks need their own special week?’ What should I tell them?” he asked us.
As was my habit, I responded on behalf of all three of us. “Tell them to organize an Italian History Week and an Irish History Week,” I said. “They don’t know their own history, and that’s why they’re mad.”
THE LEADERSHIP SKILL THAT BUILDS TRUST
As a teenager, I was looking for ways to build a coalition, responding out of compassion rather than anger. I looked at things from their perspective and realized ignorance was the real culprit.
But my response was also a show of strength—not backing down from our right to celebrate our story and our culture, while offering a solution, an action to address the issue.
I certainly had powerful examples in this regard, including Father Tompson, who became a mentor and close family friend. In response to this racial “controversy,” Father Tompson did not lord his position over us but rather compassionately invited us in to discuss ways to confront the situation and move forward.
Father Tompson’s living example of strength and compassion made us feel welcome. It made all the difference in the world. We knew he was genuine and that he cared about our well-being. That’s what showing compassion can do—it gets people to buy into you as a human being and welcomes you inside their walls of doubt or suspicion.
As a leader, compassion moves your team to trust that you have their well-being in mind and that you are willing to see them as human beings—not just cogs in an organization’s machine.
FATHER TOMPSON’S LEGACY OF STRENGTH
Father Tompson also displayed strength. In those challenging years, he gave the black students room to express our ideas and concerns while dealing with the complaints of those who were much less comfortable with our presence at Jesuit.
But Father Tompson went a step further. Under his leadership, the school hired its first wave of black instructors. He also allowed us black students to actively recruit more black students, a move that effectively tripled the number of black students at Jesuit. And his strength through compassion didn’t stop there. Father Tompson later founded the Good Shepherd School, an academy that primarily served black students. Additionally, he opened a business, Café Reconcile, that gave formerly incarcerated individuals the opportunity for gainful employment. Both institutions he founded still operate and still keep Father Tompson’s legacy of strength through compassion alive decades after his passing.
That’s what leaders who pair strength with their compassion do—they act with strength and courage to make sure their people have the opportunity to experience positive, winning, and profitable personal and collective outcomes.