Is the Black TV Family a Dying Breed?

Back in the Day…

I’m proud to be a true 90s kid, a millennial by birth year (1985, to be exact).  I think all 90s kids will agree when I say that the 90s were amazing.  From good music to legendary TV shows, the 90s had it all.  Great Saturday morning cartoons, SNICK and TGIF…ah, the good old days.  I believe in my heart that the 1990s was the Golden Era of not only modern TV, but black television as a whole.  I think about how black people are mostly portrayed on TV nowadays and frankly, I’m disappointed.  Don’t get me wrong.  I enjoy shows like Empire and Black Ink Crew, but there are some shows that make me wonder if are we losing the image of intact and successful black families on TV that was prevalent in the 1990s.

Reality Can Shape Perception…

As a young, successful black man, I feel for this generation of black youth, especially my two little girls.  More times than not, black men and women are shown at their worse, particularly on reality TV.  Seriously, how often do you turn on the TV to see gorgeous black women throwing wine at each other and fighting over something that happened 2 years ago?  How about those same shows that make black men look like womanizers, chasing after countless women?  Even the reality shows that have successful black people on them, in my opinion, tend to show more negative situations than positive.  I guess the argument is that it makes for great TV, but I can picture white Americans who don’t interact with many black Americans for whatever reason, flipping through the TV and letting that imagery give them a false perception of all black people.

When Melanated Excellence Ruled the Airwaves

I grew up on shows like The Cosby Show, A Different World and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air just to name a few.  For many black people in my generation, these shows were the only time they saw a successful and intact black family.  For a good decade or more, you could tune into multiple major TV networks, from Fox to NBC, and see melanated excellence all over the place.  Sure, these shows had, and thanks to syndication, still maintain the entertainment factor with captivating storylines, famous lead characters and comedic elements.  More importantly though,  they showed America that black people can be portrayed as corporate professionals, lawyers, doctors, college professors and judges with families at home.  Although we are well into 2017, it is clear that a sizeable portion of Americans still view black people negatively and these reality shows don’t help.  It seems that the Golden Era of intact and successful black TV families has suffered a setback.  Furthermore, recent legal events have dealt a major blow to the legacy of the gold standard of black TV dads.

Syndicated Punishment, Not Fair and Impartial

From the mid 80s to the early 90s, Bill Cosby was “America’s Dad”.  Not just black America, but a considerable number of American viewers from all walks of life  tuned in weekly to watch The Huxtables.  Yet, The Cosby Show was pulled from TV syndication and streaming services at the height of sexual assault allegations against Bill Cosby, none of which he has been convicted, by the way.  Now let’s look at Stephen Collins who portrayed Rev. Eric Camden on 7th Heaven, a successful family-oriented show from the late 90s and early 2000s.  He confessed…wait…let me repeat, he confessed to molesting a young girl in 1972 and exposing himself to 2 other children, but 7th Heaven still has a hefty syndication presence across the country.  Fair?  I don’t think so.  Let me be clear… if Bill Cosby is guilty of those assaults, he absolutely deserves whatever the law throws at him.  However, the fact that Stephan Collins admitted to his bad behavior and his show continues to have a widespread syndication presence baffles me.  Here’s my point with these examples…bring back The Cosby Show in mass syndication so that black youth today, like my daughters, can see an intact and successful black family on TV.  The other option is to remove 7th Heaven from it’s heavily syndicated rotation, just like what was done to The Cosby Show.  Honestly, I’d rather not see this happen because, despite Stephen Collins’ disgusting transgressions,  I think 7th Heaven is a good show.

There’s Hope

The good news is that it’s not all bad.  Shows like ABC’s Blackish portrays an intact, successful and multi-generational black family navigating said success in a predominantly white suburb of Los Angeles.  Blackish hits on the comedic elements of its predecessors, with a modern twist, but also tackles serious issues that affect black America.  Other shows, like OWN’s For Peete’s Sake and TV One’s The Manns, show intact, famous black families in a reality TV format and how they handle life situations, some serious and some very funny.  Bottom line, there is some positivity, but it is often overshadowed by shows that insist on showing more negative images of black people.

…But Perception is Not Always Reality

Here is my advice to America, regardless of race, regarding this TV issue.  Watch whatever you want to watch, but do not let the subset of reality shows that profit from showing black people in a bad light shape your opinion of all black people.  For every fight shown on reality TV, there is a black lawyer somewhere that just made partner in her law firm or a young black businessman that just closed a lucrative deal for his company.  Even if the images of successful and intact black TV families are dwindling, real successful black people do exist and are increasing in numbers.  Still, I think it would help for it to be portrayed on the TV screen more, especially for those young black kids that are not always exposed to the possibilities of the excellence they can achieve.

3 Misconceptions That Can Tank Your Military Transition

Let’s face it…we did what most Americans won’t do.  We made the decision, for whatever reason, to serve in the military.  We did great things, endured hard times and some of us may have possibly shed blood for this great country of ours.  During a time of extended conflict, we chose to join and/or stay in the military and for that, we should be commended.  However, if we think that just because we served in the military that we are entitled to, well, anything after our service has ended, we need to seriously revaluate that way of thinking.

Difference Between Deserving and Entitlement

            Webster defines the word deserve as doing something or have or show qualities worthy of.  Webster defines entitlement as the belief that one is inherently supposed to have privileges or special treatment.  It can be very easy to confuse the two words, but as you can see, they are different in meaning.  Let me translate this to your eventual or past transition from military life:  You absolutely deserve to find a good job, make good money, have awesome benefits and live in a nice home.  I am of the opinion that mostly everyone deserves these things.

               With that being said, you are entitled to absolutely none of it.  Period.   

No one will roll out the red carpet at interviews and no one will give you a job simply because you served.  Be proud of your service and know that people, generally, do appreciate it, but understand that just because you served does not mean you are supposed to have a guarantee of success after the uniform.  In order to navigate around this issue, we have to examine some of the misconceptions (and solutions to those misconceptions) of the entitlement mindset that can sneak upon us during the process (and it is a process) of leaving the military.

Misconception #1:  I’m Unique

            As I stated before, we did what most of our fellow Americans decided not to do.  In that setting, we are unique to around 99% of the country.  In the military, some of us decide to undertake some of the more “clandestine” or secretive jobs and missions.  This makes us elite among the already unique.  So, it is very easy to carry over this attitude as we prepare to leave the military, but let me bring you back to a sobering reality:

                           In the civilian world, you are just another face in the crowd. 

When it comes to looking for, applying to and interviewing for jobs, we are not elite or unique.  There are a multitude of people that apply for the same jobs.  Competition is fierce and believing that our service will get us in the door is not a good way of thinking.  Including everyone else that is leaving the military at any given time, there are recent college graduates and experienced professionals competing against us.  Additionally, employers, although grateful for your service, are not going to be amused by your service alone.  When it comes down to it, they will want to know how your experience will help their bottom line and help the organization achieve success.

Solution:  Instead of attempting to use the fact that we served as the launching pad into a great civilian life, we need to highlight what we did in service.  Getting a degree and certifications in your desired field can go a long way toward finding your success after the uniform and the good news about this is you can do this before leaving the military. 

 Misconception #2:  The Civilian World Needs to Adjust to Veterans

            I think we can all agree that military life is vastly different from that of civilian life.  Everything from mentality to lingo could be worlds apart.  One mistake that we, as Veterans, tend to make is that we believe that the civilian world, specifically civilian workplaces, need to “adjust to us”.  Hard truth…they have to do no such thing.  Let me be clear: I’m not talking about making special accommodations for a wheelchair bound combat Veteran.  I mean mentality and way of thinking.  Let’s keep it real…some of the things we do and say to get the job done in service do not go over well in the civilian workplace.  To my fellow NCOs across the Armed Forces, you cannot give the knife hand to a subordinate and talk to them using “colorful” language to put out instructions.  You cannot motivate a co-worker by insulting them.  Unlike the military, civilians have the option to quit before they will take what they may consider “harsh treatment” from anyone.  In other words, it may be our demeanor that needs to adjust, not the civilian workplace.

Solution:  From the day of your phone screen to the first day on the job, convey that you are a team player.  Let them know, verbally and through action, that you are now one of them and want to achieve success for the team and, ultimately, the organization as a whole.  Get to know the people working around you to understand how you can effectively communicate with them, regardless of whether they are subordinates or co-workers. 

Misconception #3:  I Don’t Have to Start from the Bottom

            Honestly, I struggled with this one.  I told myself that I won’t have to take an entry-level position anywhere because I have a Master’s Degree in IT Management, a couple of IT certifications and 6 years of experience.  I felt I was entitled to a mid-management IT position.  I applied for countless management-level jobs and guess what?

                                        I hardly received callbacks, let alone interviews. 

However, once I came down from my high horse and stopped thinking so foolishly, the job search started yielding more phone screens and interviews and led to a great job at the headquarters for a Fortune 500 company.  It was essentially a paid internship, but it was still an awesome opportunity that I was grateful for and that eventually led to a higher paying opportunity later on.

Let me pose a few questions to you that may change your thinking when it comes to this particular misconception:  When initially enlisting in the military, can you come in as a Master Chief, Sergeant Major or Chief Master Sergeant?  How about new officers coming in as the commander of a unit from day one?  Would you respect a “leader” without an ounce of military experience?  For some of us, our only work experience is the military so why on Earth would we believe that we won’t have to start from the bottom in a civilian job?  Although not impossible, it is unlikely that you will start above entry-level at your new civilian job.  Also, if you are making $45,000 a year as an E-4, don’t expect to get paid $70,000 a year on your first job after leaving the military.  There may be rare cases where this is true, but don’t count on it.  Truthfully, you are not ready to handle the responsibility of that $70,000 annual salary.  We have to be realistic.

Solution: Accept early in your transition process that you will likely have to start in an entry-level position, but understand that you don’t have to stay in an entry-level position very long.  Take the time and do the work required to show that you do deserve (but are not entitled to) a more senior level position and more compensation to go with it.

Be Competitive, but Humble

            These 3 misconceptions can derail your transition like nothing else.  Having an entitled mindset is not the way to logically approach this huge change in your life.  Once again, know that you are competing against hundreds, if not thousands, of other job applicants.  So, I advise you to be highly competitive.  Set the foundation of success after the uniform while you are still in uniform.  Learn as much as you possibly can and get the education and/or certifications that can set you apart from the crowd, but know that there is a fine line between being competitive and entitled.  Always be humble and gracious for whatever opportunity comes your way and know that your first job after the military can be a stepping stone to a great civilian career.

     

Dress for Success and Beyond

After landing your post-military job, one of the many things that you will need to tackle is your company’s dress code.  Some of you have been wearing this nation’s uniform for 20 or more years.  Your only concern in that time has been whether you are within regulations.  Now, you have the opportunity to show your personality by dressing for success.

What Do I Wear?

Most companies nowadays have a strict dress code.  You have to make sure to understand what this means.  Easiest way to do this?  Ask your boss.  They’ll be more than understanding of the fact that this may be a new concept to you after leaving the military.  Some companies may send you a welcome packet that outlines, in great detail, what is expected.  If you have landed a job where the dress code is very relaxed (Google, anyone?), then this will probably be less of a concern.  However, even in a relaxed environment it couldn’t hurt to ask what your left and right limits are.  For example, I can wear jeans on my current job, but they cannot have holes or tears.

Dress for the Job You Want…Not the One You Have 

Let me make a very generalized statement:  Most companies have a “Business Casual” dress code.  In most cases, this is nice slacks/dress and buttoned up shirt/blouse.  Even polo shirts can be included in this guideline.  Some places may or may not require males to wear a tie.  Consider this, though:  You can dress above the established dress code.  What do I mean?  Let me explain:

As previously stated, I am allowed to wear jeans on my current job.  Some of my co-workers do this, but I only wear jeans on Fridays.  Why?  Because I dress for the job I want, not the one I have.  In my role, I interface with some fairly high-ranking people and I can assure you, they are not wearing jeans.  Even though I am allowed to wear jeans any day of the week, my mindset is that eventually, I want to be one of those high-ranking people.  The other reason is that I wore the same uniform every day for nearly 7 years.  Now that I have the opportunity, I want to dress in accordance with my personality.  So, most days, I wear dress slacks, nice shirt (sometimes, polo), and loafers.  This concept is completely optional, but I suggest that you consider it.  It could make you stand out in a positive way to the right people in your company.

Enjoy Your New Dress Code

You may look at your company’s dress code as a way for someone to tell you what to wear.  Make no mistake…it is exactly that.  My advice is to enjoy this opportunity.  You deserve it!  If your company requires a suit and tie for males, go to your nearest men’s clothing store and get a tailor to measure you.  If females are required to wear a blouse, go to the closest women’s clothing store and pick out blouses in different colors.  Again, someone is telling you what to wear, but you have flexibility.  Use those guidelines and apply them to your personality.  Have fun with it!

How to Fight New-Job Jitters     (Featured in the April 2017 Issue of G.I. JOBS Magazine and GIJobs.com)

Warning:  The following is a personal account from August 2015 as I left active duty.  You may or may not experience the same when leaving the military…

So, there I was.  I landed a job with a great company, cleared CIF and received my discharge papers.  I even submitted my VA disability claim early!  Now, it was time focus on my new job.  For me, I went from wearing the uniform on a Friday to wearing a collared shirt and tie on the following Monday.  I was very gracious it played out like this because getting paid from DFAS and my new job was awesome!  However, something hit me that weekend before I started my new job…

I was a nervous wreck!

I found myself Saturday saying “Dude, you have been in the Army for the last 6 years of your life.  You haven’t worked in the civilian workplace since before Obama moved into the White House…What are you going to do?!”

Here’s the strange part. I wasn’t nervous about the job itself.  At the time, I had been working in IT for 6 years, obtained a Master of Science in IT Management and had the capability to learn new concepts in technology.  Sure, there would be a learning curve because of the nature of my company’s business but otherwise, I knew I could do the job.  What was causing this feeling?  Honestly, I couldn’t put it into words.  I could not tell my wife why my stomach was in knots on that Monday morning as I put on my tie.

Corporate culture? No.  Co-workers that don’t “get me”? Not really.  My boss being upset that I will have to take time to go to those pesky VA appointments as I navigate the compensation for disability process? Not that either.  I just couldn’t explain it.

While driving to work for my first day, I realized what was going on.  My time over the year prior to leaving active duty was so consumed with finding a job that I forgot about the first day jitters that were going to accompany that new job…and jitters is putting it lightly.

Once I arrived to my new job for New Hire Orientation, those jitters seemed to float away.  Seriously, they disappeared faster than steaks on “steak day” in the DFAC downrange.

So here is my advice as it relates to that crucial first day:

First, the jitters will probably hit you, too!  You’re excited about your new beginnings but you will be nervous.  It doesn’t matter whether you were an E-4 that separated after your initial enlistment or an E-9 that served over 20 years, those jitters will hit you smack-dab in the face!  Ride it out…most likely you won’t be able to explain it either, but they will disappear almost immediately after arriving at your new work digs.

Secondly, try to fit in.  This isn’t the military, so don’t use the knife-hand when talking to employees if you are in a supervisory role and please don’t use acronyms when speaking to co-workers.  Learn the culture and embrace it because this is your life now.

Lastly, do your best.  I shouldn’t have to say this because as Veterans, we (most of us) inherently do this.  When I say do your best I mean ask questions and be willing to learn.  You aren’t expected to be an expert the first day, but do your best at becoming a good employee.

By the way, congratulations! This is indeed an exciting time in your life!  

Military Non-commissioned Officers: The Qualified and Underrated?

Corporate America is heeding the call to hire Veterans.  Increasingly, companies are establishing programs to ramp up hiring of our nation’s heroes.  Many organizations have programs geared toward hiring junior military officers, or JMOs.  JMOs are a vital part of the military, simply by virtue of the things they do in uniform and the positions they hold.  They have skills and experiences that can transfer to the corporate world in a major way.

But what about the leaders that helped shape these JMOs as they entered the operational force of their particular services?  What about non-commissioned leaders that helped these JMOs develop into true leaders? Where are the NCO programs for the enlisted leader who has just as much leadership experience, if not more in some cases?

From an Army perspective, non-commissioned officers, or NCOs, have two basic responsibilities: accomplish the mission by taking the Commander’s intent and making it reality and looking out for the welfare of junior Soldiers, professionally and personally.  Additionally, many of these enlisted leaders are also doing the same duties as junior officers. In fact, it is safe to say that most JMOs probably learned how to correctly accomplish these duties from an NCO.  This is apparent by the structure of most military organizations: an officer commands and a senior enlisted leader is the advisor to that commander.  This structure exists from the lower levels of command up to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.  So, if these Non-commissioned officers are the ones getting the job done and indeed training these junior officers, who may become “Leaders of Industry” in the civilian world, why do not more non-commissioned officer programs exist in the corporate world?

Part of the problem is that non-commissioned officers are just that…non-commissioned.  They either do not have the college degree required to receive a commission in the military or they do have the degree, but choose not to be officers. The issue with this is that many civilian leadership positions require a Bachelors Degree or higher.  If the concern is that these enlisted leaders are not well-rounded or “formally educated” enough, then this speaks even more to the need for NCO development programs to help address those concerns and fine tune these proven leaders’ potential in a corporate setting.

There are a few companies that constantly looks at this untapped pool of highly qualified candidates. Safeway, a grocery chain in the Western U.S. and Canada, has supported employment of veterans through its JMO/NCO Program.  Safeway has made multiple commitments over the past few years to hire Veterans, for leadership positions in the company’s retail stores.

“We saw an opportunity to recruit new kinds of leaders who will become an important and critical part of our future,” said Larree Renda, Safeway’s Executive Vice President. “Our JMO and NCO recruiting program officially launched in 2010.  We accept applicants who have been officers or non-commissioned officers in the military and place them in an accelerated leadership program.” Graduates qualify for store manager and assistant manager jobs and a range of other manager-level positions in the distribution and backstage departments at Safeway.  Additionally, Safeway’s salaries for these positions are not shabby. According to Glassdoor.com, the average total compensation for an assistant manager is $57,214, while store managers’ total pay averages $88,632.

So, what are the solutions? Yes, “civilianizing” accomplishments and potential on the resume will help separating/retiring enlisted leaders, but only if employers are willing to start recognizing that practical and proven leadership experience should be looked upon in a positive light, just like the college degree. Secondly, enlisted leaders should seek out higher education while serving. The money is there, and best of all, it is free in most cases. Thirdly, companies should continue to hire Veterans into talent acquisition or recruiting positions. Veterans that recruit for a company have an outlook that those who have never served could not understand and know what enlisted leaders can offer a company. Also, establish programs that hone in on those enlisted leaders who can and have led in high-stress situations, but may not have sought out college education.

Hopefully, more companies learn that JMOs are not the only capable leaders leaving the military, nor are they the only educated.  For example, I am a Non-commissioned officer in the Texas Army National Guard with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and a Master of Science in Information Technology Management.  Is it fair to say that I have the capacity to handle a management level position in corporate America?

In the Army, Soldiers are often heard saying “NCOs Lead the Way”.  Let’s see if more of corporate America starts to feel the same.

Why, James? Why?

I launched this site because I am passionate about helping fellow Veterans find “Success after the uniform”.  There is so much to consider when leaving the military and sometimes information that we should know is not presented to us, or maybe we forget information that was presented because we got a little lost in the transition.  That’s where I hope to fill those gaps.

We all have to take off the uniform at some point, whether we serve 4 years on 24 years, we all have to leave the military.  Between this site and my #SuccessAfterTheUniform platform on Facebook, I hope to reach as many current and past servicemembers as possible.  If I can help just one person be successful after serving in the BEST MILITARY IN THE WORLD, then I’ve done what I set out to do.  If I can help more than one person, even better.