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Recapping my tremendous 5-week journey with DEI Leadership Academy

Auto Remarketing | Deshaun Sheppard, Account Executive, PDP Group

DESHAUN SHEPPARD

PDP GROUP

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to complete the five-week curriculum of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) Leadership Academy for Financial Professionals offered by the African-American Credit Union Coalition (AACUC).

AACUC’s program focuses on unification, education, conversations and investments that are designed to move credit unions into a future where diversity, equity and inclusion can thrive.

The DEI Leadership Academy for Financial Professionals is designed to inspire and empower financial professionals to lead with a mindset of diversity, equity, and inclusion to better represent and serve the global communities for which we serve.

Here’s a recap of my exciting journey.


Week 1

I have more confidence to address issues, and I’m more willing and able to engage in conversations that may be uncomfortable.

I’m somewhat of an extrovert. I even once managed a bar in my “other professional life” as I like to call it, but that’s another story for another day. I’m what you may call a social butterfly. I really enjoy meeting new people and conversing about anything under the sun. I’m not a shy person. I rarely get nervous in front of other people. When others share that they’re nervous about being in front of other people, I say, “People are just people. What’s there to be nervous about?”

But there I was, logging into the first Zoom class, as nervous as can be.

“Do I say good morning everyone? Do I leave my camera off for now? Maybe I’ll wait until more people login. OK, everyone’s camera is on. Maybe I should turn mine on.”

I even considered what I should wear. The way I saw it, it was that I’d be in school all day, so I ultimately chose comfort.

As class started, everyone was immediately engaged. It felt as if we were all ready to embark on this journey together and it was time to learn what we need to do to get to our destination as a group.

Comfort was instantly encouraged and felt. As we began to introduce ourselves by simply talking about what superpower we’d have if we were Superheroes, I felt so much passion from my classmates. Everyone was here for a reason and very present.

A highlight for me during Week 1 was our small group sessions. These breakout sessions increased my level of comfort throughout the day. I shared stories in my career with my fellow group members that I’ve never shared with anyone outside of family and friends. My group also convinced me to share one of my stories with the rest of the class. It felt therapeutic. I felt comfortable.

We learned so much during Week 1. It was an all-day event, but it didn’t feel like it in the slightest. It was a very refreshing experience. Once class was over, I immediately started enthusiastically telling my wife all about the experience and everything I learned. Throughout the week, I would notice and point out things like micro-aggressions, active listening, and the different dimensions of diversity.


Deshaun Sheppard in the Zoom meeting during the opening week of the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) Leadership Academy for Financial Professionals offered by the African-American Credit Union Coalition (AACUC). Image courtesy of Deshaun Sheppard.

Week 2

After reflecting on my lack of privileges throughout my childhood, I felt it was essential to share my low score with the class and I felt comfortable doing that.

The class turned out to be an emotional one for me while we discussed privilege. The test we took made me reflect on my upbringing and how underprivileged I’ve been for most of my life. But even with that, I learned about the different privileges I have today and how important it is to use those privileges while being an ally.

After reflecting on my lack of privileges throughout my childhood, I felt it was essential to share my low score with the class and I felt comfortable doing that. I felt it emphasized the point of the exercise and I want people to look at someone like me and see the power of opportunity for the underprivileged. There are many within all our organizations just like me, who are passionate about growth and maximizing potential, but was never able to take advantage of some privileges that others may have had.

Filled with personal reflection, today’s class also made me think about my bi-racial background and the challenges that come with that. With my mom being Puerto Rican and my father being African American, I often felt like I had to pick a side even on something as simple as an application. Often, next to Black reads (non-Hispanic). How dare I say I’m not Hispanic?

I also shared a story about how in my birthplace of New York, the population is a melting pot of all kinds of different races and many Afro-Latinos like myself. It wasn’t until I moved to Baltimore City at a later age that I was all the sudden “the Spanish kid.” But this was only in classrooms that were predominantly Black. Outside of school, I was often viewed as Black, and you wouldn’t know much about my Spanish side unless you met my mom.

I love both cultures and I love that I’m a mix of both.


Week 3

One thing I always remind myself is, “What’s the worst that will happen? They say no? Well, that means I need to regroup, re-strategize, and try again.”

This week’s course landed on the first day of Black History Month and I feel courageous today. We have big plans for my company’s celebration of this month, and I’ve found that the inspiration I’m feeling from this course alleviates many of my efforts.

Coming into this course, I thought I already had the confidence I needed to exceed in my role, but I quickly learned I was wrong. It wasn’t until after the opening week course that I was more aware of how uncomfortable I still was, how afraid I still was to have certain conversations, how nervous I still was to take certain risks.

In this week’s assessment, I explained that I felt like I needed to be more courageous in my efforts. The response I received from an instructor was: “You are well on your way. As humans, we tend to think that something negative will occur during a difficult situation. One thing I always remind myself is, what’s the worst that will happen? They say no? Well, that means I need to regroup, re-strategize, and try again.”

Those words resonated with me all week as we headed into Black History Month.


Week 4

These efforts aren’t just about Black and White. Inclusion means ALL.

At this point, I’m as comfortable as possible. Just a few days ago, I met one of my instructors, one of my group project partners and other members of AACUC. The week heading into this course was full of amazing conversation and new relationships. I’m excited to have class with the rest of my cohort today. I’m excited to one day meet them all in person.

This week’s course was full of special guests discussing the many different areas of what it means to be inclusive. This is something I had to quickly learn when we first started DEI efforts in our organization. I walked into it with the mindset of being the voice of the underrepresented. To me, that meant being a voice of the people of my personal background.

As I started to network and learn more about DEI efforts across the industry, I realized that I wasn’t fully taking into consideration how many groups of people are underrepresented and not only need but deserve a voice just as much as anyone else. These efforts aren’t just about Black and White. Inclusion means ALL.


Deshaun Sheppard is pictured with Emma Hayes, Chief Culture Officer at North
Carolina State Employees Credit Union. Image courtesy of Deshaun Sheppard.

Week 5