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renewing Diversely

by | Feb 5, 2022 | Benny Goodman, DEI, renew

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Diverse paths to renewal

My real job for this season was to design a memory card for the Display System of the Space Shuttle. Our funding was to prototype what a newer computer and color display could do to help automate the very manual ways the Space Shuttle actually worked. If you have ever used an HP calculator, their Reverse Polish Notation approach to math was very similar to what the astronauts did to command the vehicle to fly. It was very labor-intensive, and our mission was to renew that technology from a mid 60’s torpedo computer into the 80’s…

… and I had just gotten married, and along with 10 other couples, all moved to Houston to start our careers and lives together. We would get together on the weekends to relax, renew, and while we all may have looked the same, the Diversity of backgrounds was just below the surface. An Italian kid from New Jersey who BARELY made it through college after a stint as an enlisted man in the Air Force. A young couple that married in college and were now both working together, one in my hardware group and the other in the much larger software portion. And now we were all becoming parents, a completely different type of renewal

renewing what is most important… 

One of Goodman’s closest friends was Columbia producer John Hammond, a legend in the music business, who influenced Goodman’s move from Victor to Columbia. Goodman married Hammond’s sister, Alice Frances Hammond Duckworth on March 20, 1942. They had two daughters and raised Alice’s three daughters from her first marriage to British politician Arthur Duckworth. Goodman’s daughter Rachel became a classical pianist and sometimes performed in concert with him, beginning when she was sixteen.

While a tyrant at work, there are an equal number of stories of his renewing graciousness behind the scenes. He was generous and funded several college educations, though always secretly. When a friend asked him why, he said, “Well, if they knew about it, everyone would come to me with their hand out.” It is notable, and somewhat unusual for a music celebrity of his stature, that Goodman lived a life free of scandal – without the slightest hint of personal difficulties due to drugs or alcohol, money trouble, infidelity or womanizing. I have trouble finding much about his faith stance, but being raised Jewish, he understood what anti-semitism and racism looked like up close.

Diversity blurs in renewing our views of the past…

The use of Henderson’s arrangements was one of the first places that you see Diversity controversy by those looking backward. At the time, his brother Horace Henderson recounted that Goodman made heavy demands on Henderson for fresh charts, while his band was engaged for the Let’s Dance show in 1934–1935, and that he himself helped his brother complete some of them. In 1939, Henderson disbanded his band and joined Goodman’s, first as pianist and arranger and then working full-time as staff arranger. The singer Helen Ward also stated that Henderson was delighted to hear the Goodman Orchestra realize his creations with such impeccable musicianship.

The mixing pot that was our first work experience was that we all came from all over the US along with spouses that were equally from all over to put our energy into the Space Shuttle and the space program in general. And all of us were a generation younger than most of the others that we worked with daily. It was also in the season that everyone was required to wear a suit to work… and that culturally, the hardware engineers immediately took off the jacket and hung it on the door. When you could go to mixed meetings, you could easily stereotype the “software” folks with the jackets and the hardware without. As I went to other facilities, this rang true almost everywhere…

With commitment, Diversity and renewal are long-lasting… 

What was more important than our Diversity was the common values and culture that held us together. While there would be challenges down the road, we all felt the commitment to 3 Basic Beliefs. Respect for the Individual, Excellent Customer Service, and Pursuit of Excellence in everything. We also had the constant reminder to THINK, along with the active commitment to Affirmative Action that we saw lived out around us. One flight engineer realized that to get Diverse engineers, you had to catch kids in Junior High. So he organized a program to have those in math and science at that point come quarterly to tour our lab and the Space Center… and seeing those Orange Shirts every few months reminded us to do our part to continually renew our own commitments to the next generation.

My own shift into being a parent was renewing in a different way. It was clear that to do this well was going to take some significant time and energy – and that had to come from somewhere. It also meant that I had to really live out my faith and get active in Church again – a common pattern of renewal you see in church systems. Both meant that I had way less time to invest in work, something that I begrudgingly started to do – and frankly still struggle with. It is simple to invest in work – they will take all you can give and more… and without some clear boundaries, the Diversity of time is lost into the all-consuming world of work.

… but not without knowing your real renewing foundation.

The platform that Benny has built put him on a trajectory that would look like a rocket ship… and, we are not even into his 30’s yet. Similarly, I had some interesting things developing professionally that could be really transformative if I could thread the needle of multiple agendas, egos, and objectives… and that was just in MY head. 😉 It would involve another paradox that will lead us next week – Right Vs. Effective… a phrase I would learn 10 years later, but it was coming to a head for me, and for Benny. As you are thinking about renewing your own focus on Diversity, don’t forget about your own needs for both Body and Soul.

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