RecognizeGood took its 2020 Ethics in Business Awards program virtual, and got to interview this year’s award finalists in-depth via Zoom over the month of April. While our video edit requires brevity, hearing from these inspiring ethical business leaders moved us to post the full interview transcription for others to learn from. Relive the entire awards show anytime, or keep reading to learn what ethical business leadership looks like to 2020 honoree Emlyn Lee of BRAVE Communities.
RecognizeGood: Hey Emlyn! Thanks for chatting with us. BRAVE Communities seems like such a rewarding thing to be a part of…what’s the thing that you’ve learned since you launched the organization that you didn’t know you were going to receive out of it when you started?
Emlyn Lee, BRAVE Communities: Sure. BRAVE Communities is such a passion project – I think the thing that is most rewarding is when we have and bring people together from different backgrounds. Let’s say it’s a panel discussion – to be able to hear the positive experience that both the audience and the subject matter experts have together, having that affirmation from both parties has been really rewarding.
RG: Well, obviously logistics have changed for hosting these conversations. How so? Has anything stayed constant once you move discussions from in-person to online?
EL: If not for COVID, we would have hosted our third annual BRAVE Fest, which we started three years ago on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. In January, for his birthday, we do a community celebration. Three years ago I was talking to some friends and I said, we need to do something to remind people that MLK was killed because he one of the most hated people for his stance on racial and economic equality – three months later, we’re hosting a festival on a Sunday afternoon at Spider House Ballroom. It was really well-received and so fun that people wanted us to do it again the next year.
So, there have been a lot of last minute changes. To go back full circle to your question about changes, COVID and how to respond to emergencies and crisis – we’re kind of used to making changes at the last minute and just doing things because we feel like it’s needed. We just kind of have to be adaptable.
RG: This program you’re taking part in this year is really about continuous improvement. Is there something that’s changed since we all started sheltering in place in terms of how we treat each other that you’ve noticed as kind of an expert in the in that space?
EL: Well, thank you for calling me an expert. I’m not sure if I deserve it, but thank you. Crisis or emergencies happen. The lifting part is when communities comes together. It’s beautiful to see how people are rising individually and collectively to work together to see how we can help, how we can respond, and how we can serve others.
The unfortunate part is to see how inequitable things are, the disparities and the disproportionality. Whether you’re talking about education or socioeconomics or food distribution and things like that. It’s a positive and a negative, right?
That’s the way that life is thrown at us. But it’s wonderful to see the community come together. It could be organizations collaborating, doing and giving as much as they can – whether it’s time, talent or treasure – working with other people that have that same compassion.
“It’s beautiful to see how people are rising individually and collectively to work together to see how we can help, how we can respond, and how we can serve others.”
RG: That’s where we’re hoping now more than ever, it’ll help inspire if we share some uplifting examples of people doing the right thing in their businesses when it’s not the easiest thing! It’s not about what we necessarily do for our livings, it’s how we treat our professions and how we treat others through them. Is there a value or a system of values that help you propel BRAVE Communities forward?
EL: Sure, great question. The core value for me is my faith. When we are able to walk on and lean on the golden rule of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you – I actually have a big poster of that in my room / office. That’s something that is very core to me, because I want to serve others as I would like to be treated myself. To look at things with a racial equity lens on and to be able to recognize the privileges that I have.
I used to be in the tourism industry, so I’ve traveled extensively in the past. I understand and appreciate and I’m very grateful for “American privileges” for us as far as resources and opportunities. I also know how it feels to be an Asian woman born and raised in America. There’s others like my brothers and sisters who are darker skin-toned than me and are experiencing more discrimination and prejudices. So, as far as values go, I just always try to put myself in the shoes of others. How do I serve others? And I find that answer in my personal faith of Christianity. For me, that’s where I feel my values are.
RG: What does it mean to be called out and held up specifically for your ethics and the way that you treat people?
EL: It’s very humbling. I appreciate the recognition, but I do feel very uncomfortable about it. I’m also very grateful, I feel very blessed. At the same time, I just feel like it’s something that we’re here on earth to do, to love and serve others. So I feel awkward to get nominated, but I do feel like loving and serving others is just something that’s part of my DNA.
RG: Do you think it’s hard or easy to know what the right thing to do is and then go do it?
EL: Oh, I think both. I think there’s always this knocking in the heart and blood and spirit. Everything feels like something needs to happen. And I am an ‘actions’ person. I tend to just go at it with gut feel versus instructions.
But to answer your question, it’s more like I have an internal feel of – like, I gotta do something, you know? And then, how can I help and contribute for the best of the cause? How can I get others on board? I am a big believer of the giving of time, treasure and talent because I feel like there’s so much out there. There’s only so much we can do in a day or a week or a lifetime. It’s trying to balance my strengths, then asking how I can collaborate with others to be able to best work on the issues.