Equity and Inclusion


In response to the proposal from the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) that congregations focus on the dismantling of racism, the Adrian Dominican Sisters began by identifying resources that can assist us in raising our consciousness of white privilege and white supremacy, both personally and systematically.

Since January 2021, our Toward Communion: Undoing Racism and Embracing Diversity Committee and our Justice Promoters have collaborated on a project to provide information on prominent Black and Indigenous Catholics who have made significant contributions to the church and society, along with reflection questions and a prayer.

In May of 2022, Kevin D. Hofmann was named the founding Director of Racial Equity and Cultural Inclusion for the Congregation. With the goal of normalizing conversations about race and culture and discussing what it means to feel included and excluded, Kevin began contributing to this blog in June of 2022 and shares his unique experience of growing up Black in a white family in Detroit.

 

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Focus Photo of Super Mario, Luigi, and Yoshi Figurines

The Rules

By Kevin Hofmann 
Director of the Office of Racial Equity and Cultural Inclusion

When my sons were little, we would sit in front of the TV each holding a video game controller. It was a great father and son moment… or so I thought. Once they grabbed the controller, we were no longer related. We were competitors! It was their chance to dominate their father, and they relished the opportunity. I must admit their competitiveness was transferred to them via DNA. I grew up constantly competing with siblings, friends, strangers… anyone who would play any kind of game. 

Our playfields were different. I played football outside on our lawn and the lawns of the adjacent neighbors. I played basketball in the backyard where the hoop was installed on top of the garage. The rim was not adjustable, portable, and nowhere near the right height. My opponents were kids from the neighborhood or school. 

My sons’ field was a 55” HD TV screen in a dark room with a controller that looked like it could launch nuclear weapons. Their opponents were connected through the internet, using wireless headphones with a microphone. Their opponents came from all over the world.

After a short tutorial from my sons about which button does what and a very brief explanation of the rules, we hit start and the game began. We were playing a racing game called Mario Kart. In the game, the little characters drove small vehicles around a track. The goal was to be in first place after three laps. When my son was going over the buttons, he tried to point out the button for the car’s brake. I told him I didn’t need to know that button because I didn’t plan on using it – I would be full throttle the entire race. 

For the first lap my strategy was working: full speed ahead. I was in first place with room to spare. I was feeling good about myself. I thought I was a natural and made sure to let my son know how good I was by coating him in the most trash talk I could summon. 

The second lap was going well, and I began to anticipate the upcoming turns and negotiated them even better. First place was mine and my lead was growing. I dispensed another helping of trash talk as I began the third lap still in the first place.

My muscle memory was firing and again I anticipated the left turn coming up and negotiated it better than A.J. Foyt or Dale Earnhardt. The finish line was close, so I eased off the gas to prevent a mistake. My lead was big enough that I could be cautious. I was also trying to see how I could turn my car around and flash across the finish line going backward. A move that would cement in my young child’s mind that Dad was the champ. As I approached the last turn and could see the checkered finish line, a flying turtle shell entered the screen and came right for my vehicle. The shell pushed my car off the track. As I tried to recover, everyone in the race passed me and I limped across the finish line in last place.

My quiet son erupted in non-stop, no-mercy three minutes of trash talk. I very passionately asked where the turtle shell came from and he proudly said, “I shot you with it!” Again, very passionately, I asked why I wasn’t told about this aspect of the game. “I forgot Dad. Next time you will know.” He said with absolutely no remorse.

I learned a few valuable lessons that day. To play the game, you must know all the rules. My son purposely withheld information from me knowing it would give him an advantage. I also learned not to trust my son when we are competing against each other. But that doesn’t mean I can’t trust him in other areas. Trust is foundational for any productive relationship. These two lessons have helped me whenever I conduct a conversation involving race and racism. 

A Sister stopped by my office last week and we had a great conversation. At the end of the conversation, she asked me a question that had been bothering her. “How do we talk about race with people of color without offending them?”

The first rule is you can’t! Well, that’s how my son would explain the rule. The complete rule is, that you can’t have a very productive conversation on race with a person you are not in relationship with. If you are not in relationship, there is no desire to protect the relationship. If you don’t care to protect the relationship when the conversation gets difficult, the tongue has no incentive to be kind. This is why the conversations/arguments on social media with people you don’t know are futile. Debating with someone on the internet who doesn’t care about me on hot topics like race is tempting and dangerous. It is merely words without feelings on the internet, and feelings often get sacrificed when a stranger is telling you how wrong you are. Please do not have these deep conversations without first building a relationship with the person.

The second rule is to be generous with grace. The subject of race is often chaperoned by a lot of emotions. Some are very comfortable talking about race, some aren’t comfortable talking about it all, and the rest are somewhere in between. Give the person next to you the grace to say the wrong thing at the wrong time in the wrong way. 

The third rule is simply listen. Everyone needs to be heard and validated. We all experience this world in different ways, and we can learn so much from each other if we take the time to listen. Most of the issues that come up with the conversation of race can be traced to this one issue. Truly listen as people share their experiences. Resist the urge to formulate an argument against how a person experiences something simply because you do not experience it the same way.

The last rule is without trust, this doesn’t work. This is tough work at times. It requires us to be vulnerable in front of each other. It requires a safe place to do this. We must trust that forgiveness is possible, enlightenment is possible, and we can share space even if we don’t agree.

This is an amazing opportunity for us all and I hope you will join me in this challenging journey. It is hard work, but the results that can come from putting in the work will feel better than beating your child at a video game.



Clockwise from left: Kevin and his wife Shilease along with sons Zion (left) and Tai (right); Kevin and his siblings Lisa, Paul, Richard, and dog Trixie during Christmas 1968; Kevin and his adoptive parents, Pastor Richard and Judy Hofmann.

Purpose

“The company has decided to close the Toledo office. You have the option to take the severance package and separate from the company or move to Columbus.” This was how the phone call started. A phone call I was told I should be a part of while I was enjoying summer vacation with my wife and two sons. After 10 years of working for Nationwide Insurance company as a casualty adjuster, my job was gone in two sentences. We had recently purchased a new house and just got our boys settled into a new community so moving to Columbus was not an option.

In September of 2009 I began a new journey. I had started writing my memoir in between handling auto claims that involved injuries. Over the prior two years I would write when the claims were slow or on nights and weekends. Now, without asking, I had a lot of free time to write. A lot of free time!

So, I sat and I wrote. Writing helped chase away the fear and uncertainty of being unemployed. I wrote about the unusual way I was raised. I wrote about being born a biracial child, the result of an affair between a white woman and black man. At the insistence of my white mother’s white husband, I was put up for adoption immediately. I wrote about the white family who adopted me at three months old. I wrote about being born in Detroit two weeks after the 1967 riots. I wrote about the smell of burning property still in the air when I took my first breath. I wrote about dreams deferred for a city that was so defined by race. I wrote about what it was like to grow up in a home where I was a minority, in a city where I was part of the majority. I wrote about what it was like to grow up a child of color in a country founded on building wealth on the backs of Americans whose skin matched mine.

When I set out to write the book, my audience was women like my adoptive mother. I was writing to white woman who had adopted children of color… at least that is what I thought. As I wrote more and more, the desire to simply share from my experience as a person of color became greater. The call to speak to a larger audience only got louder and louder. The focus of the book evolved, and I began speaking to white Americans sharing how I translated the world around me as a Black child, teenager, and man.

My biggest issue with race and racism in this country was that often my experience, my perspective as a person of color, was denied, dismissed, or disrespected. My writing was a way to share and simply be heard and understood. But to truly be heard and understood it would mean finding a way to be passionate but not bitter, impactful but not devastating. It meant paying close attention to how I worded things and how I set up stories to share my experience. If written in a specific way, I understood that the book could help bridge the gap between the races that pump through my veins. The challenge was to talk about race in an honest and disarming way.

Six months after the phone call dissolving my job, the book was completed, edited, and published. In March of 2010 my memoir, Growing Up Black in White, took its first breath and I exhaled. My hope was to share about my experience in a way that drew people in instead of pushing them away. My hope was to talk about race and racism in a way that made people want to lean into it instead of run from it. The challenge was to talk about race in an honest yet disarming way. For the most part, it did just that. Through the power of storytelling, a gift I inherited from my adoptive father, the Lutheran minister, I found sharing from a personal and vulnerable place created a unique opportunity to connect, find common ground, and see each other.

Then the coursework began. I began creating, speaking, and learning. I studied things like America’s racial history, the system of racism, engagement, inclusion, belonging, racial identity development, and I looked for personal experiences to drive home the lessons. I went back to insurance after the book was published. I took the position of homeowner adjuster with a smaller mutual company founded by Mennonites in Pennsylvania with an office near Toledo. In between hail losses and water backup claims, I studied online taking Diversity and Inclusion courses through accredited universities including Cornell University and Case Western Reserve. I partnered with my best friend whom I have known for 45 years, and we created a business to train school administrators and staff (K-12 and universities) and organizations in the area of Diversity and Belonging. The racial tension in the country was on the rise again and business was picking up. We worked for two years together working with communities creating space for many who felt unheard then my phone rang again. It was my business partner and best friend. He shared with me that he had been offered a job as CEO of International Samaritans out of Ann Arbor. The job was a perfect fit for him working with communities in Africa and Jamaica who live in extreme poverty. I was excited for him because I understood when your purpose calls you must answer. I went back to doing my life’s work solo and continued to create change. 

Then my phone rang again. I’m surprised I was still answering my phone at this point. This time it was the CEO of the insurance company where I worked. He had been made aware of my side job and thought it was important that we talk. I assumed I was going to be told to let the second job go or be fired. Instead, he wanted to know if I would work with the insurance company in the area of Diversity and Inclusion. The George Floyd murder forced the CEO to see a lot of what he was blind to in the past. He now felt called to address racism and inequality and wanted me to lead the charge. I accepted and my role with the company shifted. Now I handled claims in between my special assignment. The plan was that eventually I would move to doing the diversity work full-time and transition out of handling claims. That was the plan, until I saw the post for a position with Adrian Dominican Sisters. I applied and began researching who the Adrian Dominican Sisters (ADS) were and I was floored. There were so many personal connections to ADS and Adrian. One of my brothers graduated from Adrian College. I was recruited by Siena Heights University in high school to run track for them. I worked with Siena Heights University a few years ago with their First Year Experience Program. My father’s first church was in Blissfield where my sister was born. My mother is an Associate with The Sisters of Saint Francis in Tiffin, Ohio. I had worked with the sisters in Tiffin during the pandemic. I created an 8-hour training course for them that we did on Zoom over two days. I greatly enjoyed working with the sisters and was so impressed by their knowledge and desire to learn. I went to a Catholic high school in Detroit, Benedictine. My principal, Sister Jackie, was a Dominican sister. She was one of the biggest influences in my life at that time. This job was a perfect fit and when purpose calls… you answer.

I’m so happy to be here and ready to join so many of you in doing this amazing work. Thank you to all who had a hand in creating this position and bringing me here. I’m so excited to see the work we can do together. 

By Kevin Hofmann
Director, Office of Racial Equity and Cultural Inclusion


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