Episode 119 – Unstoppable DEIB Practitioner with Rhett Burden

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You read it right, DEIB, not just DEI. The “B” is for belonging. Rhett will tell us all about that during our time together in this episode.

Rhett was born with a condition known as craniosynostosis. This is a condition where the skull is malformed. Without treatment, the malformity can lead to Down’s Syndrome. He was one of the first children to benefit from surgery to correct this condition.

After a successful time at college obtaining a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree Rhett went into then years working in College Administration. While working toward his Master’s degree at Salisbury University he met his wife which he would tell you was the most important event in his life.

Eight years ago he relocated from Maryland, where he grew up, to San Francisco where he is now part of a nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating homelessness in San Francisco. Along the way, he also has authored two self-help books and five children’s picture books. Unstoppable by any definition. He will inspire you I am sure and he will give you some life lessons you will find useful.

About the Guest:

Rhett Burden is a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) practitioner, author, and speaker from San Francisco, California. Rhett partners with high schools, colleges, and universities to develop the personal and professional consciousness of their students, faculty, and staff. After spending nearly a decade working in college administration, and writing books to empower, and uplift students, Rhett has learned what it takes to be successful. It’s how well you connect with the people you’re trying to help and communicate your understanding back to them.

Rhett is a life member of the UMES National Alumni Association and a 2019 inductee into the UMES National Alumni Association Hall of Excellence. Additionally, Rhett is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc and a Prince Hall Mason.

Rhett holds a MA in conflict analysis and dispute resolution from Salisbury University (SU), BA in sociology from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES), and AA in real estate from City College San Francisco (CCSF). He has also authored seven (7) books; 2 professional development and 5 children’s picture books.

Rhett is a proud father, son, and husband who is on a mission to leave a legacy

Social Media & Website Link
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rhettburden/
Website: rhettburden.com

About the Host:
Michael Hingson is a New York Times best-selling author, international lecturer, and Chief Vision Officer for accessiBe. Michael, blind since birth, survived the 9/11 attacks with the help of his guide dog Roselle. This story is the subject of his best-selling book, Thunder Dog.

Michael gives over 100 presentations around the world each year speaking to influential groups such as Exxon Mobile, AT&T, Federal Express, Scripps College, Rutgers University, Children’s Hospital, and the American Red Cross just to name a few. He is Ambassador for the National Braille Literacy Campaign for the National Federation of the Blind and also serves as Ambassador for the American Humane Association’s 2012 Hero Dog Awards.


accessiBe Links
https://www.linkedin.com/company/accessibe/mycompany/ https://www.facebook.com/accessibe/

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Transcription Notes

Michael Hingson  00:00
Access Cast and accessiBe Initiative presents Unstoppable Mindset. The podcast where inclusion, diversity and the unexpected meet. Hi, I’m Michael Hingson, Chief Vision Officer for accessiBe and the author of the number one New York Times bestselling book, Thunder dog, the story of a blind man, his guide dog and the triumph of trust. Thanks for joining me on my podcast as we explore our own blinding fears of inclusion unacceptance and our resistance to change. We will discover the idea that no matter the situation, or the people we encounter, our own fears, and prejudices often are our strongest barriers to moving forward. The unstoppable mindset podcast is sponsored by accessiBe, that’s a c c e s s i  capital B e. Visit www.accessibe.com to learn how you can make your website accessible for persons with disabilities. And to help make the internet fully inclusive by the year 2025. Glad you dropped by we’re happy to meet you and to have you here with us.
Michael Hingson  01:16
Welcome once again to unstoppable mindset. Glad you’re with us. Hope you can stay around for the whole hour. We have Rhett Burden today, who is our guest and he is an author. He’s a diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging person. I’m really excited to hear about that. And I know he has some other stories to tell us so we’re gonna get right into it, Rhett Welcome to unstoppable mindset.
Rhett Burden  01:50
Michael, good afternoon. Thank you for welcoming me. I’m excited to chat with you about diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging and so much more.
Michael Hingson  02:00
Yeah. And we’ll have to definitely deal with so much more whatever it turns out to be right.
Rhett Burden  02:04
Michael Hingson  02:07
Well, let’s start. Like I love to do kind of more at the beginning. And tell us a little bit about you growing up and some of all the things that happened along the way there that probably helped kind of make you what you are today, or maybe not for all I know.
Rhett Burden  02:21
Absolutely. Well, to start at the beginning, I don’t think I can tell my story without mentioning to you in your audience that I was born with a rare birth defect known as cranial synostosis. craniosynostosis is a birth defect that causes the skull not to fuse properly. And the incision. So I guess if I were to give it its full name is I have sagittal, cranial synostosis, which means that I have an incision and running from the top of my head to about three quarters of the way back. That shaped who I am. Because as I grew older and learn more about craniosynostosis, it impacted the empathy that I had for others. It impacted the way I look and feel about myself. And it made me more interested in perennial synostosis craniosynostosis folks that are inflicted with it, and those that weren’t as fortunate as I was to have a successful surgery at GW Hospital in Washington, DC.
Michael Hingson  03:30
So you had surgery to deal with that? When did that happen? What year was that?
Rhett Burden  03:35
I would have had surgery early on. So this is early, mid 1980s, somewhere between 1987 and 1988. When I was a very, very young child,
Michael Hingson  03:47
is there still kind of visible evidence of the surgery and so on for you today?
Rhett Burden  03:54
There is I must say I’m a fairly tall guy. So for those that are taller than me, and that could look down and see the top of my head, then yes, you can visibly see it.
Michael Hingson  04:06
So did did it kind of affect you with other kids and so on growing up, or were they were they not too abusive and mean to you because you had something that looked a little different than most of them?
Rhett Burden  04:19
Well, in fairness, I would say most children are teased or picked on by their peers. I was no different. I was no exception to that rule for me. Growing up I remember folks being really interested in when they heard the story and wanting to touch the incision or touch the scar because I have what appears to be like a lump or a small indent. So once you know the teasing is over and you’re just having conversation with folks even from middle school in high school, they were very interested to touch into feel because I’ve always been very open about it. I had the surgery not been successful, I would have had Down syndrome, my life would have taken an entirely different path. So I’ve always been open in chatting about it.
Michael Hingson  05:13
Well, but you obviously survived growing up and you went to high school into college. Did you do any thing unusual in high school or college or anything like that? Were you in sports or any of those things? Or, or any? Or were you just sort of what most kids were?
Rhett Burden  05:31
I would say I had a great high school and college experience. I tried out for sports teams in high school. And fortunately, I didn’t make the sports team. But I was friends with the athletes. It was a different time back then. So a lot of time was spent outside building relationships, biking, running, exploring. Video games were popular, but not to the height of their popularity as they are now video games weren’t considered a sport. So there were no eSports in my day. And then in college, I had a great collegiate experience also.
Michael Hingson  06:07
Yeah, video games have now become quite a big thing. Most of them don’t talk. So I don’t get to do much in the way of video games, but I can appreciate the art form.
Rhett Burden  06:19
Absolutely. Absolutely.
Michael Hingson  06:21
So you went to college? What’d you major in?
Rhett Burden  06:25
Yeah, so went to the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore, historically black college and university on the eastern shore of Maryland. So near Ocean City, not too far from Delaware. And I studied sociology got a minor in public policy. And you and me yes. Is, has been will always be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. The friendships that I’ve made the relationships that were built the social experience that I had, at historically black colleges and universities, less like most schools, they are things like student government association. So I got my first job working as an RA a Resident Assistant. In the residential communities. I was fortunate enough to be voted as the face of the sophomore class, the junior class and even the face of the university. So it’s called Mr. Sophomore, and Mr. Jr. and Mr. University of Maryland, Eastern Shore, I went on to compete in the National Black College Hall of Fame contest, where I came in third. And oddly enough, my roommate at the time at that experience that happened, and in Missouri, he won, and he was from Tennessee State. So if you’ll meet us has given me so much. And I will forever be indebted to that institution and the experience that he gave me.
Michael Hingson  08:00
So tell me about the competition. What did you have to do? How did you all compete?
Rhett Burden  08:05
Yeah, so it’s an annual competition that takes place and particular HBCU around the country, and all of the faces of the HBCU. So all of the misters, whatever the name of the university is, they go and compete. And it’s something similar to a pageant where you have to showcase a talent, you do a monologue, there’s a opening number, you are voted on by a panel of judges. And it is all to see who will be crowned Mr. Historically Black College and University for that year. So I was very fortunate I competed in 2009. It again, didn’t win, but did come in third place and will again forever be grateful for that opportunity. I have made some lifelong friends from being a part of it, that contest.
Michael Hingson  08:56
That is really pretty cool. And obviously you did learn some speaking up speaking things along the way. You certainly seem to be pretty articulate in that regard as well. And you are a public speaker, aren’t you?
Rhett Burden  09:08
I am very, oddly enough, going back to my time a Umes. That’s when I really got interested in training and facilitation started off being a resident assistant. Oddly, I was the university’s first freshman alrea. When I started in 2005, I was there for a semester, and just networked and worked my way into getting the position which had not been done before you had to normally be a sophomore or a junior, so you could have some more collegiate experience so you could give back to the freshman class. And I just became enamored with personal and professional development, designing training, presentations, facilitating public speaking. And then because I was fortunate enough to be the face of these classes, sophomore junior class and then the face of the university. I was an ambassador for the university. Oh, always speaking on behalf whether it dealt with recruitment retention, the social experience and it was really a part of my journey that has shaped me to the man I am today.
Michael Hingson  10:11
When you speak or when you were doing speeches and are doing speeches, do you like to write everything out and read or do you tend to be more extemporaneous and, and modify according to the situation or whatever is happening,
Rhett Burden  10:29
I would say a little bit of both contingent upon the audience. If I am giving a keynote, that I like to have my thoughts flushed out, especially if the audience’s a C suite or group of professionals, when I’m working with colleges and universities, you can be a bit more free, a bit more fun, you can work in some audience engagement in a way that you just can’t do when you’re working with a group of professionals. So I would say a little bit of both based on the audience.
Michael Hingson  10:58
Well, how did you get into speaking, I would imagine and partly came from the Umes and the other experiences that you’ve talked about, but how did you get into doing that kind of as part of what you do?
Rhett Burden  11:12
Absolutely. Well, I was a member of the Student Government Association, my was a residential assistant. And there would often be opportunities to knowledge share, whether it was working with first year communities, or, you know, helping new staff learn processes and procedures. And I would always volunteer, I really felt comfortable being on stage, I’ve always felt comfortable being in front of people, I’ve never mind minded making a fool of myself if that’s what was required, but also standing firm and speaking boldly about issues that are important to me, and trying to bring people along. So that’s really where it started.
Michael Hingson  11:58
I find it interesting that so many people fear public speaking or fear being up on a stage, I guess they don’t want to think that they might look dumb, or it’s all about appearances, and so on. But being up on stage has never, for example, bothered me. I’ve just never been bothered by doing that. I’m used to it. And I guess it’s been that way my whole life.
Rhett Burden  12:25
That’s awesome. And I know that you do it. Well, considering your history. So yeah, I’ve always enjoyed it. It is a lot of fun, especially when you really connect with an audience. How do you know when you’ve really connected with an audience? You know, I’m really big on energy. And you can probably appreciate this as a speaker, you can feel when the energy shifts when you first get on stage. And again, contingent upon the audience, people are feeling you out. They want to know, Are you a subject matter expert? Are you excited to be there? What’s your level of enthusiasm to present to the audience. And for me, a lot of it was being able to open myself up to be vulnerable to share messages. And you can sense when the energy swings in your favor. And it’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.
Michael Hingson  13:20
Yeah, when you really establish that connection, you know it, the trick is you learn what the audience reacts to or doesn’t react to. And when you get those reactions, and you get what you expect to happen based on what you’re saying. And know you’re connected. It just enhances what you do. And it makes it all the better. And it grows on both
Rhett Burden  13:42
sides. Absolutely. Absolutely.
Michael Hingson  13:45
It is so much fun to have that kind of really good connection with an audience. Well, so when you got out of well, let me ask you this first craniosynostosis Yeah, is something that you had? Is it something that affects you yet today? Or is there any kind of issue with it? Or is it just kind of you have it, it’s in your past, but it isn’t something that you need to deal with on on a daily basis or any kind of basis today?
Rhett Burden  14:12
You know, that’s a great question. I would say that it is forever a part of me. I am not in any physical pain because of the procedure because of the the incision or the scar that’s been left. But it is interesting when I touch my head when I get like a hair cut, and you have to be very mindful. For me, if I’m telling a barber that you’ll notice that my head is not necessarily round or flat and, you know, just please be mindful of my incision. This is maybe a little odd, but sometimes I find myself knocking on the lump or bump that’s on my head where the incision starts, just because it makes a hollow sound. So But I’m very fortunate that I am not in any physical pain. But it’s definitely there. I notice it. But I’m also very proud of it. Because if the doctors were not successful again, I don’t know how my life would have turned out.
Michael Hingson  15:15
Well, have you ever said whenever the discussion has come up? Yeah, but you should see the other guy.
Rhett Burden  15:22
You know what I’ll have to incorporate that I have not thought to do that. I’ll have to incorporate that in there.
Michael Hingson  15:29
Yeah, you see the other guy. But oh, you know, it is so easy to get so frustrated just because in one way or another, some of us look different. But it is so important to have a sense of humor and not let it get in the way. So I’m really excited that you’re you’re dealing with something that clearly is a little bit of a difference for you. Absolutely. But you deal with it, and it is just part of your life, and you move forward.
Rhett Burden  15:59
Absolutely. Now, when I was younger, in school, I was othered a bit because of it. But I must say growing up during that timeframe in the 80s. In just knowing that even though things may have been a little hurtful, I don’t think the teasing was meant to be mean spirited. It was just the nature of the beast when you were in middle school or in high school. But you could always laugh about it afterwards. And if you were playing the dozens with someone, if you were laughing and joking, it didn’t escalate. Sometimes someone had a funnier joke than you. And then it sort of died down from there. So I’m very, very fortunate because it helps you develop thick skin. And to let you know that things really aren’t that serious. Most things in life. You are in control of how you respond, not necessarily what happened to you. And the way in which you respond dictates how people will treat you and interact with you afterwards. So I’ve been very, very fortunate to have enough self confidence and enough self love to know that sometimes jokes are funny. I don’t mind being the butt of say a joke, because I’ve never felt it was mean spirited with the intent to do real harm. It was just a part of the culture at that time.
Michael Hingson  17:22
You bring up a really good point, there are things that we don’t have control over. And I talk a lot about, of course, the World Trade Center. And I’ve learned along the way that we didn’t, of course have control over the World Trade Center. No matter what happens you we didn’t have control over that. And we don’t have control over how other people deal with what happened on September 11. And we don’t have control necessarily over what happened to us that day. But we have absolute control over how we choose to deal with it. It’s all a matter of choice.
Rhett Burden  17:58
You’re absolutely, absolutely I mean, you have such an incredible story. And knowing that you were part of something that involves a national tragedy, and that you have sort of flipped the script, or the story on its head, I think is a beautiful thing. And I’m sure it has served you extremely well as you’ve shared your story, and even coached others that may not feel the same way you do.
Michael Hingson  18:22
Well, and in so many ways things come up being blind having happening to be blind my entire life. I didn’t have control over that happening. But again, I have control over how I deal with it. I have control over how I choose to learn or not. And I hope that I do choose to learn and to progress and move forward and not let that be a negative factor in my life just as as you’re talking about.
Rhett Burden  18:52
Absolutely. Absolutely.
Michael Hingson  18:56
So what did you do after college?
Rhett Burden  19:00
So after college, after graduating from University of Maryland, Eastern Shore, I was very fortunate that the university offered me my first professional role. I had been in pair of professional roles or, you know, odd jobs here and there through high school. It was a different time when you needed a workers permit and you can only work a certain amount of hours. I started off working in for the university and the Division of Student Affairs and I was working in residential communities. I was wanting a dorm. It was a great experience. And then I immediately started grad school in conflict analysis and dispute resolution at a neighboring institution, Saulsbury University.
Michael Hingson  19:47
And so what else did you do there?
Rhett Burden  19:50
So I one of the interesting things is we were a part of I believe the beta cohort. The institution had just got its accreditation to have the program the conflict analysis and dispute resolution program known as cater. And we were part of that second cohort. And it was, it was an amazing experience to be a part of that cohort model, where there were about 30 of us that started and I think 28 or 29 of us finished, to build community with folks to share in an experience where we were so new, and to be a part of a program that was new to the university that has since made amazing strides. And at one point, I thought that before I became a dei practitioner, I really had ambitions to be a sex and marriage therapist. That was odd. My sort of the genesis of that story is I used to watch the show Masters of Sex. I think it came on Showtime. And I was always intrigued with the history with a science behind it. And I’ve always been fascinated by relationship and relationship dynamics. My life obviously took a different turn. But Salisbury University was was a great academic experience. And it was one of the most important experiences of my life because I met my partner, my wife of umpteenth years, we met being a part of the same cohort at Salisbury University. So that place will always hold a special place in my heart for who would allow me to meet.
Michael Hingson  21:32
So how long have y’all been married? Now?
Rhett Burden  21:34
You know, what if my mental math serves me correctly, about eight years, we have been together for over a decade, but married for eight. So I would not have found my wife had I not been at Saulsbury. And had I not been part of that cater program. Any children? We do we have one beautiful, amazing, talented, special little girl, she will be to later this year. And having the privilege to be a father. To be a girl dad, and to share that responsibility with my best friend is is truly special, and something that I don’t take for granted.
Michael Hingson  22:27
Well, sounds like you’ll bring bring her up well, and of course, there’ll be all sorts of challenges along the way.
Rhett Burden  22:35
I’m sure.
Michael Hingson  22:39
But again, those are those are things that one has to deal with, and you can but again, it’s interesting what came to mind when you said that you met your wife? And at the at the job? Again, it’s all about choices, isn’t it?
Rhett Burden  22:56
Absolutely best choice I ever made going to Solsbury who would have thought that not only would I leave with a degree, but I would leave with my life partner. Amazing, amazing decision.
Michael Hingson  23:09
I love to think from time to time about what I’ve done in my life, what’s happened in my life and can trace everything back to choices. Absolutely. And it could have gone so many different ways at so many different times. Even after September 11. The next day, my wife said, you want to contact Guide Dogs for the Blind where you’ve gotten your dogs, and let them know that you were in the World Trade Center made it up because some people have visited you from there. And I never would have thought of that. But the result of that was that that’s just me. And I wouldn’t have necessarily thought of it. But she did. And the result was that they said gee, can we put a little article out about you? And that just broke the whole dam of getting all sorts of visibility in the media and all sorts of other things happened. But all the way in, in what we do, and in my life, all the choices that I made, I can trace what I’ve done back, are there things I could have done differently? Sure. That maybe I should have done differently, probably. But you know, you can’t go back after the fact and just beat yourself up over things. I love to say I used to say I’m my worst my I’m my worst critic, and I realized that’s the wrong thing to say. I’m my best teacher, because because I’m the one that has to teach me. And when I look at choices and evaluate and make a choice. Hopefully it’s the right one. But either way, I made the choice and I can’t be ashamed of that.
Rhett Burden  24:44
Absolutely. It’s amazing to hear you tell that story, not just for the revelation that you had but to think the catalyst for you and the success that you had started off with a conversation from your wife and this suggestion He absolutely beautiful. And I’m sure you are very grateful for that conversation with that suggestion.
Michael Hingson  25:08
Sure. Well, of course, it goes back further because we decided to move from California to New Jersey in the first place in 1996, and so many other choices along the way. And I think it’s great to be able to think back of all the things that I’ve done, and the choices that I made, because I then eventually get to the point of saying, Now, what do I do and what can I learn? And what have I learned that I can use going forward? And I think that all too often, we never take the time to be that introspective and something that we all should do, because it will help us and guide us to with what we should do next.
Rhett Burden  25:50
Absolutely. I’m in full agreement.
Michael Hingson  25:54
So here’s something that we really need to do more of. So anyway, from Solsbury, what did you do? So from Saulsbury,
Rhett Burden  26:01
I got to the master’s degree, met my partner. And we decided that we were both working for separate universities. And my wife got bit by the textbook very early on, and had an opportunity to work at Facebook. And it would cause it required us to leave Maryland and to come out to California. This happened shortly after we got married and came back from our honeymoon. And we’ve been in California for the past seven years, all because my wife decided to take a chance on herself. She believed in herself. And she invested in herself, which is why she got the role at Facebook. And for me wanting to follow her lead to support her to champion the things that she was doing and to say, You know what, it’s time for a different experience. We are taking on a new level in life. And I’d love for us to do that in California.
Michael Hingson  27:06
So how’s that going?
Rhett Burden  27:08
It’s going extremely well, you know, the initial sticker shock of San Francisco was a lot coming from Maryland to the bay. You know, everything from the cost of milk to gas was exponentially higher. And that was a little shocking at first when, you know, I had lived in the Maryland, DC Virginia area my whole life and things were expensive, but not that expensive. And having worked at a couple of universities while I’ve been in California to where I am now. It has it’s been such an amazing journey. And I’m so glad that we took that leap of faith to come this way to come westward.
Michael Hingson  27:52
So what universities in California, yeah,
Rhett Burden  27:55
I spent some time at Menlo College and Palo Alto. also spend time at Academy of Art University. I’ve done a lot of dei work with several different associations, sort of under the umbrella of this college of the university system. And now I work in a nonprofit. So you know, I’m forever grateful I was a higher ed practitioner, for almost 15 years loved my time there. There’s something energizing about being around college students about being in that environment. And now I work for a nonprofit, and I’m excited. I’m just so thrilled and excited with the opportunity I have for you to lead our dei be initiatives and to work collaboratively with our board and our CEO, to ensure that we have an equitable workplace, where we are diverse, we leverage our diversity so that we are inclusive, and that we create an environment where everyone belongs. So big job, but I’m definitely up for the challenge.
Michael Hingson  29:00
And what is your wife doing these days?
Rhett Burden  29:03
Well, my wife has one of the most important jobs and that is caretaker, Matt Yeah, my my wife helps to take care of our daughter. She also has a podcast. And she is an entrepreneur. So in supporting her entrepreneurial efforts, seeing her podcast thrive and of course, the most important job of mothering and being of our child and being the best partner that
Michael Hingson  29:30
she can be. So she has left Facebook. She has
Rhett Burden  29:34
she is no longer at Facebook or meta by that journey has ended. Yeah, but it’s it was a great opportunity and experience.
Michael Hingson  29:45
So what is her podcast about?
Rhett Burden  29:47
Yeah, so my wife’s podcast is entitled cultivating her space. She is the co host and co founder of the podcast with a clinician Her name is Dr. Donna And the podcast is all about uplifting women of color, to share experiences, to, to lift up voices and to tell stories that are not widely known or needs, or have never been told, and to provide community for women of color. So very proud of her and those efforts.
Michael Hingson  30:23
That’s pretty exciting. So I probably wouldn’t be a good volunteer to be on it. But I’m very excited about it. It’s, it’s great that she’s doing that and that she and the doctor are making a very successful podcast. That’s cool.
Rhett Burden  30:37
Absolutely. Thank you so much.
Michael Hingson  30:41
And we can hardly wait to hear about your daughter going on the podcast, you know, that should happen soon.
Rhett Burden  30:47
Yeah, you know, very early on. She was a guest that, you know, she was a she wasn’t internal guests. But my wife was recording during the pregnancy. And then there were a few episodes where she had to record and you can hear my daughter in the background, making sure that she got her five minutes of fame and stardom. So yeah, I can’t wait for her to be her own independent guests
Michael Hingson  31:13
have to have opinions. You know,
Rhett Burden  31:14
that’s true. Very, very true.
Michael Hingson  31:17
So what’s the nonprofit that you’re working at? Tell me about that, if you would,
Rhett Burden  31:21
yeah. So the name of the nonprofit is compass Family Services. It’s been in existence over 100 years in San Francisco. And the goal of the nonprofit is to end family homelessness and to help families achieve self sufficiency. I’ve been there for about seven months, it’s been a really great experience. I’ve really enjoyed having the opportunity to work at the nonprofit, there are amazing people there doing trauma informed work every day, and giving back to the community trying to help the unhoused population in San Francisco, which is all in the 1000s about 8000 folks and doing what we can along with another without, along with so many other amazing organizations trying to help in the homelessness crisis in our city.
Michael Hingson  32:11
So what do you do? How does all that work?
Rhett Burden  32:15
Yeah, well, you know, I, as the director of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging at the job, I always like to center the folks that I work with, I may have a fancy title, I may be considered a senior leader, but the organization is nothing and I am nothing without the people that are on the ground doing the hard work. We have case, workers, we have case managers, therapists, childcare professionals, they are truly the heroes at Compass. Working with folks that have experienced trauma that are experiencing homelessness, that have mental health challenges that have substance abuse challenges, and the work they do every single day to help find housing, to help get folks set up with jobs, to take care of children is is truly remarkable. And again, though I lead our D E IB efforts, for me, I am nothing without them. Because they are the heart of the organization.
Michael Hingson  33:19
So in the the things that you do, I kind of imagined the answer to this. But is there a faith component? Well,
Rhett Burden  33:30
I would say faith is sure, yes, I mean, there is the faith that the organization has put in me to lead our efforts to be the tip of the spear or they handed the ship. But everything needs to be collaborative. I’d like to bring ideas to the table and to co design them with the folks that I work with whether they’re in the C suite or their frontline personnel. Because I see myself as one cog in the wheel of compass that makes the organization go.
Michael Hingson  34:02
Well, and it should be a team effort by any definition. The fact is that anytime someone thinks they’re it, it’s so unfortunate that yeah, you you know what I’m saying? Absolutely not the way to do it. And so it should be collaborative. And it’s great to really discover the whole concept of teamwork, isn’t it?
Rhett Burden  34:26
Absolutely. Absolutely. I’d like to consider myself a culture add. Folks have been very kind again, I’m in my organizational infancy. But I’d like to think that we are having an impact. And again, I never want to miss an opportunity to uplift of the folks that have preceded me. The folks that have had a longer Jeopardy than I have and that are doing the work of serving our clients every day.
Michael Hingson  34:54
So dealing with dei B, especially the whole idea of diversity inclusion and so on, I would probably be a little remiss not to at least ask the concept of conceptual question about a lot of us who happen to have a disability, whether it be physical or not, tend to tend to feel that diversity has left disabilities completely out of the scheme of things. If you ask the average person, what does diversity mean? Or what’s a diverse environment, they’ll talk about race, they’ll talk about gender or sexual orientation, so on. And even the experts don’t tend to talk about disabilities as part of that. How do you deal with that? Or how do we learn? And as a more general question, how do we change that conversation? So that the 25% of all people who are left out because they have a disability get included in the conversation and truly have seats at the table?
Rhett Burden  35:57
Well, I think you’re absolutely right. So let me uplift what you said. And as a practitioner and speaking on behalf of the community of practitioners, you’re right, we all have to do a better job and centering, disability accessibility and ensuring that we are inclusive in all of our efforts. I think that far too often. When you are dealing with folks that have physical, visible disabilities, it is a little easier to ensure that they’re included. And it is drawn to your attention more. But a lot of that deals with the fact that we are not centering our practice around ensuring that all communities that have been marginalized, all communities that have no voice or a small voice at the table are centered. So I think it begins with educating ourselves a bit more on the disability community, the disabled community, making sure we understand the compliance component of accessibility, working with our HR teams or people in culture teams, and ensuring that we are hearing from those with lived experiences and that are the subject matter experts in this area, centering their voices asking what their needs are, and how we can acquiesce to build an inclusive environment where they are centering, they are helping us center and focus on policies and practices and procedures that make them feel included or make them feel like they belong. So I am with you 100%. As someone that it’s interesting when we think about disability, because this is something that even if you are an able bodied person now, you never know what could lead or what could happen that may lead you to having a disability. And as someone that was on the precipice of having Down syndrome, that at any point in time, they’re still being researched on all cranial synostosis. I’d like to be mindful of that in not just the way I interact in my practice at the nonprofit, but also in the concerted effort I do or have in my learning. For those listeners of yours that are familiar with San Francisco or I know you’re familiar. I am taking classes at City College of San Francisco and I recently completed a disability course that was taught by two amazing women, one of which that had a physical disability. That would, she was just so cute mane and her teaching and helping us understand to become not just better practitioners, but better humans. So I think it begins with education, that’s the educator in me, and ensuring that we are centering voices of said community.
Michael Hingson  38:44
He said something that’s really interesting, unfortunately, all too often goes the other way, when you said that it’s a lot easier when it’s a physical disability. And usually that’s true because you you can see it too slow to include. The problem is that’s not usually what happens because the fear immediately comes out. Oh my gosh, as you pointed out, that could happen to me. And so we ignore it. And we tend to leave out disabilities because we don’t recognize that disability doesn’t mean a lack of ability. Absolutely. I don’t know that there. I don’t have a better term than disability. But if we can change the definition of diversity like we have, then we also want to be able to change the definition of disability. It’s a characteristic and as I love to point out to people in that I’ve said it many times on this podcast The reality is we all have disabilities, your disability leaving cranio synostosis or the the the things that other people with eyesight have your biggest disability is that you can see and the reason that’s a disability is because as soon as there’s a power failure if you don’t have your phone or a flashlight or a candle around, you don’t know what to do in the dark. Light dependency is not a problem for me. Yeah, we all have disabilities except that technology is covered it up. Yeah, we haven’t grown to recognize that in reality, it shouldn’t matter. Because disability is not a lack of ability, disability is a characteristic. And we all ought to figure out ways to start to deal with that. And recognize that there’s nothing wrong with doing something, using alternatives to what other people use.
Rhett Burden  40:34
Absolutely. And you hit the nail on the head, we all have varying levels of ability. And I think that’s where you get this big movement now with folks being more cognizant of neuro divergence, and making sure that they are delineating folks that may be neurotypical or neurodivergent. And again, just centering on the fact that just because we do things differently, just because our abilities vary, does that mean that there is not value that can be added does not mean that folks should be treated differently, but that each of us are capable of making meaningful contributions to any workforce, to any relationship and to society at large. So I am an entrepreneur in agreement with you,
Michael Hingson  41:15
we really need to learn to understand what equality means. And that’s part of the issue that equality doesn’t mean that just because you provide everybody the exact same thing that it’s equal, because providing me with a computer monitor, or a pen and paper, or a calculator that doesn’t talk isn’t equal. And at the same time, it should be appropriate to say, if you don’t know, what do we need to do to give you access to the computer system? Or what do we need to do to give you a calculator, or a lot of companies have coffee machines, they have these fancy machines where you go up and you touch the screen, and you can get anything from espresso to hot tea, or hot chocolate, but they’re totally inaccessible to some of us. And the problem in part is that not enough technology is being made that makes sure that there are buttons to do those things as well. So it gets to be a real challenge. But we tend to not be inclusive, in ways that we should. And I recognize that it’s not about people hating, in this case, at least hating people. But there is a lot of fear. And it’s a lack of education, as you said, but we do need to change that conversation.
Rhett Burden  42:37
I agree. We need both equity and equality, you need both to make sure that everyone has equal opportunities and the chance that they deserve to succeed. So I am in 100% agree with you. And I think it’s important that we just like we demystify other terms that disability is not a dirty word, it is not a bad thing is something that we have to unlearn some of the harmful stances and practices that we have been taught whether it’s been to our family or the media, and be more accepting, more tolerant, more loving, but most importantly, more informed about what we can do to make the world a better place where all of us have access and opportunities to make the kind of difference that I know that we can make
Michael Hingson  43:25
sure it’s a characteristic. Absolutely, and totally and only it’s a characteristic. Absolutely. And the reality is, although it’s hard to get people to accept it, it’s a characteristic that we all have in one way or another. Oh, great. So you know, it is one of those things that one has to deal with, but, but we’ll get there. And I expect your daughter to lead the way.
Rhett Burden  43:50
I appreciate that. I will do my best.
Michael Hingson  43:53
Yeah. Tell her it’s her job. Yes. So you are also an author? Yeah, yeah. To learn more about that.
Rhett Burden  44:04
Absolutely. So early, early on. In my career, I had an opportunity to go to latonia, Georgia, to the Allen entrepreneurial Institute, which is owned by Lester, Bill Allen, an extremely wealthy and successful black man in Georgia. And being at that entrepreneurial Institute was really insightful and life changing for me. Because far too often what we are taught about money or wealth, is that you need to accumulate it and it’s you know, things are better when you have more money, but not just but not as much about the impact you can have not just on your life or that or your family but of your community and the the entrepreneurial Institute into it was his way of giving back to the community to show folks What you can do, and how you can weaponize money and wealth for good. And being at that institute having had the opportunity to sit through several different leadership seminars and meeting community leaders in that area. It got me inspired because one gentleman spoke about telling your story and the power of storytelling in using books to do that. And talking through whether you are self published or you are published through one of the major publishing distribution systems like Penguin or scholastic or Simon and Schuster, that you have a story to tell, and you should do so. So early on, I believe I was 22 or 23, I wrote my first book entitled Brother please, a life book to life and relationships. And that was my introduction into finding my voice and telling my story that led to me co authoring a book with the co author that I’ve paid for the other five books, entitled mistakes, my life. My pencils don’t come with erasers just life lessons. Um, so I was in the professional development world, the self help space. Then when my co author had his son or my nephew, we got into writing children’s picture books. So written five children’s picture books. One is a trilogy series called when I grow up, so it’s called the Super Series when I grow up, I want to be super healthy, super smart, super rich. I that led to the last two children’s books, I’ve written one called My melanated munchkin. And lastly, Dentist Debbie. So I’ve been very fortunate to tell some stories in the self help sphere, and to do some children’s picture books.
Michael Hingson  46:49
So what is Dennis Debbie all about? So dentist, to say,
Rhett Burden  46:54
is about a little black girl named Debbie who is infatuated with dentistry. I think it’s amazing that we have so many creative stories, there are witches and dragons and princesses and monsters in so many amazing, different works. But I wanted to send her something that dealt with occupations, things that you can be proud of things that our society and people need. And hence was the birth of dentist Debbie.
Michael Hingson  47:25
Yeah, that’s cool.
Rhett Burden  47:27
Yeah, thank you.
Michael Hingson  47:28
And so when she grows up, she’ll probably want to be a dentist.
Rhett Burden  47:32
You have it right.
Michael Hingson  47:36
So, will there be sequels?
Rhett Burden  47:39
Well, you know what I am thinking about writing another one. I must say, I have a few ideas. swirling through my brain. I want to write something I want to tell a specific story about my daughter, my wife and I. And I’m still flushing that out. But yes, there is some more coming. I just haven’t got that far yet still flushing the story out.
Michael Hingson  48:03
Well, you got to continue Debbie.
Rhett Burden  48:05
Yeah. Well, if not, Debbie, I’m not sure if I’m gonna do a sequel to dentists Debbie or my melanated munchkin. But I am definitely not done writing children’s picture books.
Michael Hingson  48:17
Tell me about the melanated munchkin.
Rhett Burden  48:20
So oddly enough, I was on the BART headed to Oakland. And I don’t really remember what for. And this was a late night. And the BART wasn’t packed with people which is a rarity. And I saw a mother and daughter sitting on the train in the same car as me. We were spread apart but I just saw the mother pouring in to her daughter. They were reading they were laughing they were having a good time. And this was before I had children. And my melanated Munchkin just popped in my head. So I literally wrote 80 to 90% of the book in my phone on the train ride because I was inspired by what I saw. So what’s the book about? So my melanated Munchkin is all about a little girl named Kira. And it is telling the history of why she should be proud of her diverse skin of her complexion of who she sees in the mirror. And it relates back to leaders and and women that have had great success and a great impact in history. And it is told from the viewpoint of me being a parent because this is my melanated Munchkin and I am telling her a story that is articulated through her eyes but is in my voice.
Michael Hingson  49:56
Sounds really a lot of fun.
Rhett Burden  50:00
Thank you, I really appreciate that.
Michael Hingson  50:02
Well, I think we’re going to have to hunt them down. I’ll have to get somebody to read them out loud and describe the pictures, but we’ll get there. Absolutely. Well, like other authors, of course, I have to ask this kind of a question. Do you have any kind of a favorite character or story or anything that helps shape you in the author world and just your life in general?
Rhett Burden  50:25
Wow. Well, I would say yes, I would say early on before I had a child, my inspiration was my nephew. This was the first little person that I had a chance to interact with on a regular basis, because he was my co author, son. And now because I have my daughter, she is my source of inspiration. She is my why. And I can’t wait to tell more stories that involve her.
Michael Hingson  50:52
You have a favorite author?
Rhett Burden  50:55
Wow, you know, that’s a great question. Do I have a favorite author? You know, what if I had to pick an author? That was my favorite, I would probably say it’s Dale Carnegie. Because prior to getting into the children, pictures, book space, I was doing personal professional development books, How to Win Friends and Influence People really did change my life. It changed my outlook. And I am a student of Dale Carnegie. So I would say it has to be Dale Carnegie.
Michael Hingson  51:26
I am also a student No, Dale Carnegie. And I think that, although a lot of people say all but it’s old, the language is all stilted, and so on. The concepts aren’t folks. Yeah, the concepts are absolutely as relevant today as they ever were. And I don’t care that the language is a little bit different than what we’re used to. That’s not the part to pay attention to.
Rhett Burden  51:48
Agreed. I agree with you. If for your listeners, if you’ve never read How to Win Friends and Influence People pick it up. It’s an amazing read. And it is truly transformational. If you take heed to the lessons that he imparts,
Michael Hingson  52:08
the very fact that a guy can advertise to the world come to a meeting and we will show you how to, as you put it win friends and influence people and he fills up a major New York hotel ballroom, just on the basis of that a 1937. And of course it went from there. Yeah. And his his lessons are absolutely as relevant today as they ever were. And I wish more people would recognize the value of reaching out and being open to friendship. I’ve had a lot of conversations with people about dogs, for example, and people talk about how dogs love unconditionally. And I absolutely think that’s true. But dogs don’t trust unconditionally. Dogs, however, unlike humans are more open to trust. And unless there is something that comes along that absolutely causes a dog not to have a trusting environment, like they’re extremely abused or whatever, they will be open to developing a trusting relationship because it’s what they want. And even the most distressful dogs can learn to trust again, we’re not as open to trust and we could take lessons from dogs to do that. And certainly, it’s the same concepts as to what Dale Carnegie talks about.
Rhett Burden  53:29
Absolutely, I am. Even though I have puppies. For your listeners, my Zoom background is full of puppies because I like puppies. I like dogs who kind of hard not to like them. I haven’t necessarily had a lot of dogs in my life. So you know, Michael, I have to ask, Do you have a favorite breed of dog? Is there an adult that you just you feel connected with?
Michael Hingson  53:50
Well, I have had a guide dogs. The first three were golden retrievers. The next four were yellow labs. And now the guide dog I have today Alamo is a black lab. It’s the first black lab. Nice I like large, larger dogs. But I really think that all dogs are open develop to develop relationships. So fun. I’m not to prejudice. I like a lot of different breeds of dogs. I appreciate that. But I love labs and I love Golden’s especially of course,
Rhett Burden  54:25
absolutely. I have a colleague or a former colleague that has a golden retriever and they just love Golden Retrievers that is the bee’s knees to them. Golden Retrievers,
Michael Hingson  54:37
and we have a Kimble well I have a cat it’s only I know my wife passed away in November so I keep saying we so she’s still here somewhere. But we have a cat and I’m not sure that well maybe stitches is trusting as a dog. It’s a different kind of a personality though.
Rhett Burden  54:54
Well, I again I want to share my condolences and we talked about this off camera about to your wife passing, and you don’t want to leave your cat out, you don’t want to the field,
Michael Hingson  55:06
she loves to be carried around. So whenever I carry her I say, Alright, it’s time to activate toda Tabby service. And we, we have a lot of fun with it. She really loves to get carried around and and doesn’t seem to complain about that very much. Thank you very much. Oh. So do you have a favorite quote or mantra that you live by? Or think about?
Rhett Burden  55:30
Well, you know, I would say a favorite is is tough. But I do have I am a New Year’s resolution asked type of person not sure if you are. And for the listening audience, even if you’re not, I know some people think they may be a bit cliche. I’d like to create a yearly mission statements or yearly mantras. And I am guided by this mantra and one question. So I’d love to share that with you in the audience, the question that tends to guide my 2023 is, as of 1220, as of 1231 2023, I want to have accomplished what, and the mantra that goes along with that is, I am going to be focused on solutions, not problems. So that’s what it is, for me, especially for 2023, I am going to be singularly focused on solutions and not problems. And I want to hold myself to the standard when I am manifesting what I want for my life, what I want for my family, and in all areas of wellness, as of December 31 2023, what do I want to have accomplished?
Michael Hingson  56:44
What was your 2022 New Year’s resolution?
Rhett Burden  56:47
What my 2022 New Year’s resolution was pretty simple. It was to sit back, relax, and enjoy. 2021 was a little tumultuous for my family, dealing with some personal issues and some family issues. And I felt that I was always on edge. And that I was not taking time to sit back. Because I felt I had to be in constant motion to relax because I found it very difficult to relax almost as if it pained me to do so. Because maybe my energy should be put somewhere else. And to enjoy and enjoy the smaller things in life and to practice self care and to bring to invest in things that brought me joy.
Michael Hingson  57:37
And that’s, that’s cool. You’ve obviously each year, given a lot of thought to what you want for your mission statement and your goal for the next year. Apps in the difference between what you’re saying and what a lot of new year’s resolutions tend to be all about is that you are providing yourself a general goal, you’re not providing you something that you can’t keep, and that you can’t make happen. Absolutely, absolutely. And the other part about that is you also understand about making choices. So when you adopt that it’s great, because then you can look every day even and say, well, am I working toward my goal or my mission this year?
Rhett Burden  58:22
You’re ever 100%? Correct? i That’s the way I feel. And that’s sort of why it’s structured in that way.
Michael Hingson  58:28
Yeah. If you wouldn’t be able to go back and talk to your 18 year old self or somewhere around that age, what what would you teach them that maybe you didn’t know, then that you have learned? That’s a lot of answers?
Rhett Burden  58:44
I know that’s a that’s a great question. I would say if I could impart any wisdom to my 18 year old self, I would say take chances take risk. That high risk, high reward. And that ultimately, I want to make sure that as you are going through these formative years that you are not just experiencing what life has to offer, but you’re living it. You are living and breathing, the kind of lifestyle that you want to manifest. So take risks. Go places that you wouldn’t normally go experience things that you’re not sure if you’re interested in, read books that you wouldn’t normally pick up, develop friendships and relationships with folks that are not necessarily in your friend group to take chances to be bold to take risk.
Michael Hingson  59:41
You think you weren’t as much of a risk taker when you were 18 because you certainly over the years have stepped out a lot of times,
Rhett Burden  59:48
definitely was not this way at 18 a bit more conservative and growing up in a single parent household wanting to do everything I could to be the best Son, to my mom, and to make her proud. So in doing that, you find yourself being a bit more conservative and walking the straight and narrow more than you would if you’re in a two parent household if the financial circumstance of your home is set, and wonderful, if you’re not dealing with, you know, food insecurity or being on house. So yeah, I was very fortunate to have an amazing upbringing with a truly Godsend of a mother. But I would tell myself to go back and take more risks. And these risks don’t have to be, you know, as lavish as, hey, you should jump out of an airplane. But it could be, hey, you should expand your friends circle read different books. So things like that.
Michael Hingson  1:00:52
Do you think your mom would approve? Very much? So? Yeah. It’s, it’s not a bad thing, to be willing to be adventurous and to step out. And you’re right, it isn’t all about jumping out of an airplane. That’s not the risk taking thing. But it is important to not limit yourself just because you’re afraid of doing something even though you know, it’s something that you’re capable of doing. But I don’t want to do that.
Rhett Burden  1:01:21
Yeah, absolutely.
Michael Hingson  1:01:24
So what do you think is the most important lesson you’ve learned in life? Because you, you, you wax philosophical. So I figured that something worth asking
Rhett Burden  1:01:34
what the most important lesson that I think I’ve learned, is, probably to love myself and to love myself completely. To understand that I am an ever evolving being, that what is important to me, who is important to me, is going to change. And that I need to trust my instincts and trust myself. So to love myself in a way that makes me lovable from others. But to provide myself everything that I want to give to someone else. So I would say to love myself, and to love myself radically and boldly would be that would be there would be that, that that very thing.
Michael Hingson  1:02:28
And that’s not being a conceited kind of thing. We should learn to love who we are and what we are and, and if we don’t like what we do, then we choose to make a difference and fix that. But if we like and believe that we’re making good choices, then we should love
Rhett Burden  1:02:46
that too. Yeah, absolutely.
Michael Hingson  1:02:48
I agree. We really need to have better respect for ourselves, and kind of go on from there. Well, right. This has been really wonderful. And I’m glad that we got to spend all this time. But I would like to end by asking you if people want to reach out and maybe contact you learn more about you learn about compass and so on. How do they do that?
Rhett Burden  1:03:14
Yeah, well, for your listeners, if you want to stay connected to me, you can go to LinkedIn if you have a LinkedIn profile and just type in my name Rhett Burden, please. Absolutely. That’s R H E T T. And then my last name is Burden, B U R D as in David E N. please connect with me on LinkedIn. I would love to learn more about you. I’d love to learn more about your story and find ways for us to collaborate. You can also visit Rhett Burden. That’s my first and last name, R H E T T B U R D E N. Rhettburden.com. If you’re interested in purchasing your copy of my children’s book,
Michael Hingson  1:04:00
that was gonna be my next question. Because I think that people will want to learn more about that. And I’m going to start a campaign to advocate for finding out what happens to Debbie but that’s another story. Well, Rhett, we really appreciate you being here and I appreciate you listening to us today. I hope you enjoyed it. And that you will give us a five star review especially if you go to iTunes or whatever, but we’d love a five star rating so please do that. If you’d like to suggest podcast guests and rent you as well. Please feel free. You can reach me at Michaelhi M I C H A E L H I at accessibe A C C E S S I B E.com. You can also find the podcasts at Michael hingson.com/podcasts and hingson is h i n g s o n so Michael hinkson.com/podcast. And as we’ve talked about it I talked a lot about on podcast. I I am a keynote speaker and do a lot of traveling to speak. So if anybody knows of any speaking opportunities, reach out, I’d love to hear from you for Rhett one more time. Thank you very much for being here. And we’d love to have you come back on again in the future.
Rhett Burden  1:05:14
Absolutely. It’d be my honor. Thank you, Michael.
Michael Hingson  1:05:21
You have been listening to the Unstoppable Mindset podcast. Thanks for dropping by. I hope that you’ll join us again next week, and in future weeks for upcoming episodes. To subscribe to our podcast and to learn about upcoming episodes, please visit www dot Michael hingson.com slash podcast. Michael Hingson is spelled m i c h a e l h i n g s o n. While you’re on the site., please use the form there to recommend people who we ought to interview in upcoming editions of the show. And also, we ask you and urge you to invite your friends to join us in the future. If you know of any one or any organization needing a speaker for an event, please email me at speaker at Michael hingson.com. I appreciate it very much. To learn more about the concept of blinded by fear, please visit www dot Michael hingson.com forward slash blinded by fear and while you’re there, feel free to pick up a copy of my free eBook entitled blinded by fear. The unstoppable mindset podcast is provided by access cast an initiative of accessiBe and is sponsored by accessiBe. Please visit www.accessibe.com. accessiBe is spelled a c c e s s i b e. There you can learn all about how you can make your website inclusive for all persons with disabilities and how you can help make the internet fully inclusive by 2025. Thanks again for listening. Please come back and visit us again next week.

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