Dean Laura Bloomberg: Pay It Forward in the New Year
“The time has arrived in America … to get out of the shadow of states' rights and to walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights.”
When Minneapolis Mayor Hubert Humphrey delivered these now iconic words at the 1948 Democratic National Convention, their impact was immediate. With one speech, a young leader from the Midwest changed the conversation and direction of an entire political party.
I have always appreciated Humphrey’s words, as well as his response to critics who charged that the moment wasn’t right for them: “People say I'm rushing this issue. I say we're 172 years [too] late.”
Truth is, Humphrey did not arrive at such thinking on his own. Two of the many individuals who inspired him were Nellie Stone Johnson, a prominent labor and civil rights activist, and Cecil E. Newman, founder of the Spokesman Recorder, a black-owned newspaper in Minneapolis.
Johnson met Humphrey in 1938. She became both a mentor and ally to Humphrey, and the two were part of the effort to combine the state’s Farmer-Labor Party with the Democratic Party in 1944. Newman served on the mayor’s Council on Human Relations. Both played a significant role in shaping Humphrey’s perspective and moving him to action on civil rights.
I share this for two reasons: first, because Johnson and Newman were foundational Minnesota leaders who should be long remembered; and second, to remind us all of the potential to concurrently inspire and be inspired. Each of us is shaped by those we encounter over the course of our lives; by people who inspire us to find the courage and strength necessary to be bold.
One person who inspired me was Chuck Denny, who passed away last year. Following his retirement as a successful corporate executive, Chuck served for many years on the Dean’s Advisory Council, and every moment with him was a master class in leadership. He had this remarkable ability to draw on his own past experiences to help inform future actions. He was direct, humble, and reflective.
Whenever he and I had a private conversation, Chuck always had a story that related to my situation and provided direction for my professional or personal journey. Most notable was his uncanny ability to make me feel like I was his most important priority. He was a man of incomparable generosity.
Chuck's stories revealed his compassion for individuals who struggled and made mistakes. He believed that the critical role of a leader was to support others in discovering their own potential and experiencing success in their work.
He told me once why he tutored incarcerated men – ostensibly to build their reading skills, but his real priority was to help the men rediscover pride in themselves. He set high standards for himself and for the organizations he led. But he always put people first. These are leadership qualities I strive to emulate every day.
Thinking about Denny, Johnson, and Newman, I am reminded that we never know who will cross our path and ultimately change our perspective and direction. With each new connection we make, two lives are changed.
As we begin this new year at the Humphrey School, we reflect on the legacies of professors Bob Kudrle, John Bryson, and Melissa Stone (pictured above) as they prepare to retire. These three scholars not only helped shape our School, but also the lives of countless students who went on to launch new nonprofits, advance innovative public policies, and improve public service systems.
I hope you will take a moment to reflect on those who have inspired you, as well as how you might inspire others. As Hubert Humphrey demonstrated on that convention stage in 1948, standing before a room that wasn’t ready to be rushed, we are most effective when we do both. His call for action on civil rights was inspired by influential people in his life. His speech inspired many to change our nation.