Author Archive: bjaybrooks

The Governor and Me

My meeting Governor Rod Blagojevich.

The Jazz Man

Having been raised in Southern Illinois, I have not had the opportunity to meet with an abundance of famous people.  My colleague, Garrett, and I were enjoying diner at Jumers Hotel in central Illinois, one evening, in preparation for a work conference that we had driven to, that began the next morning.  I observed a dignified and older gentleman pass our, ornate and virtually enclosed booth and I noticed that he had a, grand head of white hair…and the voice of the well known actors, Hal Holbrook.  I asked Gary if he could look through the, small window that was in the back of his side of the booth, in order to ascertain if our neighbor was, indeed, Mr. Holbrook.  He peered through the window and said that it looked like him…but that he could not be sure…  On our way out of the restaurant the hostess told us that…

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Dedication

The value of dedicated people!

The Jazz Man

Unless you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth…you will work for the best years of your life.  When I say the best years I am referring to your, young and middle age years…or your years of optimum health.  The alarm clock rings…and you arise for another day of toil and labor, and your mission to place food on the table, and shoes on the babies feet, and a roof over your head, and petrol for the automobile.  Hopefully within the framework of your supreme efforts there is a little funds left over for a periodic vacation and some weekend enjoyment.  Have you ever worked, sick?  What about working when there are domestic issues that captivate your emotions and cloud your mind?  What about working after you have cared for your aged parents…or perhaps your parents of parent…live in your home and instead of having young children to…

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The Spark

Sooner or later, each of us needs a boost…to get up and do what a man or woman has got to do.  MJ and I were talking with our friends, Joan and Jim, Saturday night over dinner at the Flame Restaurant.  At some point during the animated discussion, the subject came up of someone getting a vitamin B-12 shot.  When MJ asked what the B-12 shot was good for, our friends did not know…other than the person receiving the shot…felt better for it.  This caused me to remember that my mother and her sisters often spoke of people who were feeling low, or let down, or tired and in the mulligrubs, resorting to going  to their doctor and asking for a vitamin B-12 shot.  They usually returned from the experience…bright eyed and bushy tailed!

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Years later, when I had struck out on my own, I became quite ill with the flu and became somewhat depleted, and rather had the appearance of ghost.  My friends advised me to go and see Dr. Fulk and told me that he would fix me up with a ‘shot that would restore me to my former vigor!’  When I met the good doctor her greeted me by refereeing to me as, ‘Little Fellow.’ He inquired what he could do for me.  I explained that I had been suffering with a bad case of the flu and wondered if I needed a B-12 shot.  He immediately administered the injection and asked if there was anything else that I needed.  My arm were the needle pierced the skin, hurt a little…and I was still tired.

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Usually, the spark needed to ignite our internal engine of inspiration…does not come from pharmaceuticals or a dose of vitamins.  I marvel at the marketing success of alcohol ads on television.  In the commercials we see happy people enjoying adult beverages…while laughing and looking as if they just stepped out of a modeling catolouge.  Or a son is inspired to assist an elderly woman with her yard work and then enjoy a drink with his mom.  Or what about the advertisements for all inclusive vacations in Jamaica or other islands in the Caribbean?  One of the spots proudly announced that you can, ‘drink to your hearts content!’  The reality photos…are somewhat different from the air-brushed!

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We do need and require inspiration.  We each have unique triggers to the activation of our adrenaline, and the positive firing of our synapse’s!  I am often inspired by the simplest of occurrences.  I have noticed, for sometime that I sing our hymns, out of our hymnal, on Sunday morning, very low.  I have discovered, recently, that my pew-mates…are doing the same.  If I get lost in the text…it is difficult to pick up the place by listening to my fellow congregants.  Yesterday, a sweet and lovely child sang beautifully and clearly and for all to hear. I was inspired!

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Jonathon, along with several deacons and elders, was installed as an elder yesterday.  I am so very proud of both Aaron and Jonathon and the fine men that they have become.  Their mother did a wonderful job!

During my over 50 years of being a christian…I have been a member of churches that almost totally focused on preparing the congregation, for the world to come…and First Presbyterian church…which works to make a difference in the world that we live in.

How will a sad and lonely world receive a ‘spark’ or an understanding or a revelation…regarding the love of Christ…will it be through doctrine and rules and ritualistic process, that demonstrates Pharisaical adherence to the jot and tittle of the scriptures…or will it be through a kind smile and some quarters that enables one of God’s children…to wash and dry their laundry?

God’s Work — The Jazz Man

I was reflecting, this morning in church, what I liked so much about First Presbyterian. As I was listening to the, lovely, granddaughter of one of my fellow congregants…sing out so boldly and courageously, during a hymn, I considered what out church believes its mission is. Jane and Bill’s granddaughter is full of the active […]

via God’s Work — The Jazz Man

New Rugs

So, we were enjoying a tasty burger at S and B’s  Burger Joint when MJ said that she had seen some nice looking rugs on sale at our Macy’s department store…which is undergoing a liquidation sale and is going out of business.  Since Macy’s was next door to the restaurant…we walked over to have a look.

I vividly recall visiting Tunis, Tunisia during the ‘Arab spring.’  It was in 2011 and our tour guide was very complimentary of Americans and the United States.  We stopped at the ruins of Carthage.  We visited the World War II, American Cemetery.  Our guide spoke of the sacrifice that Americans had given, to aid Tunisia.  Tunisia experiencing Cruise Tours…was new.  It was a direct result of the uprisings and overthrow of totalitarian governments occurring across the Arab world.  We were on a Holland America ship and they had just begun stopping at Tunis.  As our bus snaked its way down the crowded and winding streets of Tunis, many of the residents waved at us and smiled broadly.  However, I did see one angry gentleman who gave us the middle finger as we passed.  One of the highlights of the tour was a visit to a hand-weaving of Tunisian rugs.  When we entered the facility where the rugs were both weaved and displayed, or guide introduced me to his boss.  He smiled and greeted me warmly.

We were ushered into a long room with benches on both sides of it. Several women entered the room and began to distribute tea to each of us as well as sweet cakes.  Then, the hand-crafted rug show began.  I have never seen such beautiful and intricately woven rugs in my life!  The many assistants brought each rug before each of we cruisers and we could feel them and admire they’re craftsmanship.  They were simply exquisite.  The prices were exorbitant.  But, as I observed the negotiations with each prospective buyer, I noticed that the ending cost…was much less than the beginning.  Rugs that sold for $5k…were haggled down to $800.  So, as I, quizzically, observed that although many in our group quickly caught on to the fact of sliding prices…some did not.  To my amazement, the non-negotiators took the first price given and purchased the marvelous handcrafted rugs…on the spot, while others watched the dynamics of the process and held back.

The gentleman that was helping MJ and I at Macy’s, was from Philadelphia and had the singular purpose of selling rugs at the Macy’s liquidation event.  The two rugs that we purchased were 70% off their retail price.  I inquired of the Philadelphian if the, full, retail price was actually what Macy’s sold them for.  He responded that probably not but that they they were, definitely, considerably more expensive, prior to the liquidation.

The closing of our Macy’s store is sad.  MJ and I recall when our Macy’s store was, first, a Famous-Barr store.  Famous was a wonderful department store.  I purchased so many items at our local Famous, that the attendants all knew me by name and each spoke to me every time that I entered the establishment.  In the 1990s we attended the grand opening of Famous-Barr.  There was complimentary wine and horderves and our spirits were at their zenith, as Carbondale and the Southern Illinois region came out to celebrate the grand opening of such a quality department store!  I recall seeing my friends, Don and Shirley Beggs, and pondering what a tremendous addition a Famous-Barr store was going to make in our city.

Our identity with Famous-Barr went back many years before the store came to our town.  We traveled to their headquarters and primary store, in St. Louis, for many Christmases.  The establishment had seven floors of sumptuous consumerism.  On the 7th floor, during the holiday season, there were the animatronic bears.  Virtually the entire floor was the Christmas Bears in their Christmas Village.  As Aaron and Jonathon watched them, with wide eyed wonder, we knew that our Christmas was complete!

Macy’s subsumed Famous-Barr, which was the flagship store of the May Company of St. Louis, in 2006.  Sadly, the quality fell, immediately…and continued to deteriorate for the 14 years of Macy’s occupation of the space.  I remember being so shocked to see that Macy’s, which I had only know from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, was delivering lesser quality than Famous had been.  Yet…there is a profound sadness to see an anchor store in our, once great mall, closing.

However, perhaps a renaissance is afoot?  A new theatre is going to occupy the space that AMC vacated a couple of years back.  Also a new store is moving into a vacant space in our mall.  Let us hope that everything does not gravitate to on-line purchasing….There is a beauty to the tactile efficiency of hands on…store shopping.

 

My First Mentor Was, African American

My mentor and friend.

The Jazz Man

When I began working at Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale on October 10, 1978, I knew no one and no one knew me.  I could not believe my good fortune in obtaining a civil service position at the University.  The position of Building Service Worker I in the housekeeping department, Building Services, had over 700 people on the test register.  I truly believed that there must have been a mistake and that, in short order, I would be notified that my services were no longer required.  As I traveled to my assignment of cleaning the Accounting building, Thalman Hall, my supervisor asked me if I had met the foreman, yet?  I responded that I had not, and he assured me that, Jim, would be over sometime during the evening.  As I became engrossed in my work…I suddenly heard a loud voice calling out, ‘Brooks’, and I stopped to see the…

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Survey Your Reality

I just completed a survey that our church is conducting prior to our search for a permanent pastor.  As I proceeded to respond to the over 100 questions, I noticed that when asked, specifically, my feelings or opinions…that I was somewhat surprised as to my answers.

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For instance if you were being surveyed as to your employment satisfaction, should you be asked if you are satisfied with your job…you might check that you are very satisfied.  However if the next question was, do you believe that your supervisor cares about your success, you may check the box of …tend to disagree.  It seems that we are prone to paint, the blanket-opinion of our environment with a broad brush, when the nuances of what makes up that opinion are complex.

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At the conclusion of the survey, there was a paragraph in the explanation section of the instrument.  It was a response to the inquiry, ‘why would there be a need to ask each member of the congregation of the church when there is elected leadership that are tasked with representing the will of the people?’   The answer was that church leaders tend to identify with a small group of the congregation and are not good barometers of the thoughts of the congregation, as a whole.  I have found this to be true for the entirety of my adult life, both in churches that I have been a member of and throughout my career at SIUC.

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Loud voices tend to be heard, more clearly.  I had a supervisor, once, who decided that my department was comprised of a certain type of person, that was representative of the few members of the staff that he knew because of complaints or concerns that they had expressed to him.  From the time of his ‘blanket-decision’ forward…his comments to me, on a weekly basis, would be that he did not know how I succeed with the staff that I had.  I continually had to fight the biased opinion that he had developed regarding a group of the hard working, and intelligent, and well educated, colleagues,  that he had, mentally, pigeonholed into a corner of limited potential and possibilities.

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Church congregations tend to have strong voices among the group.  Often these voices speak for the people that they work with in mission or ministry…while many of the silent majority of the congregation are assumed to be in agreement with leaders…if for no other reason than their silence signifying assent.  In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.  Many christians live and die believing that their opinion is neither sought by leadership or if it is…it will be discounted if it is in disagreement with leadership.

Families leave churches due to their understanding that no one really cared what they thought…or how they felt.  Many members of congregations are searching for someone to give voice to the voiceless.

The comprehensive survey, that I concluded today,  was a beautiful tool to examine my nuanced thoughts and feelings regarding a church that I love and have been a member of for over 20 years.  The revelations of my answers caused me to think of how healthy it is to survey other areas of  life.  It is important to understand why you are engaged in the activities that you are in the midst of…and what you may want to change about facets of those activities and dedications.

Let me tell you a little secret…no one will ever care more about your opinion and feelings…than you do.  No one will be a more powerful advocate for you ideas…than you are.

It is incumbent on church leadership, as well as supervisor and managers and administrators in the work-place, to hear the voice of the silent majority.  It is imperative to be a voice for the voiceless.

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Wallace Remembered

Wallace Immortalized!

The Jazz Man

I was looking, as all good husbands do, for the ideal Valentines Day gift for MJ.  I had been watching a holiday decorative pillow, at Macy’s, since before we went to Florida, last month.  The needle point image on the pillow is of a French Bulldog with a holiday toboggan on his head and a red coat and scarf.  Although the image is of a Frenchy…he looks just like our, dearly departed Boston Terrier, Wallace.

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Wallace came to live with us after a celebratory luncheon at a Fairview Heights restaurant called, Lottawata Creek, and our indulgence in the drink special, Long Island Iced Tea.  We were celebrating MJ’s good news regarding a medical situation with her eyes, that had, had us worried.  Admist the humongous platter of french fries and the delicious Reuben Sandwiches, Jonathon noticed that the Long Island Iced Teas…were on special.  As we enjoyed one….and then another…we…

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‘Beautiful Brokenness’

This morning in church Pastor Kerry referred to, beautiful brokenness.  I though, what a great title for a blog!  On many occasions I have considered volunteering for one thing or another or attempting to perform a task that I believed needed doing…only to be sidelined by my belief that someone else was more up to the job or skilled for the mission.  The Pastor went on to illuminate the positive productivity of mistakes.  As Jonathon and I sat trough training for church elders and deacons, we learned of the significance of making mistakes as we learn how to serve God’s church.  Servant leadership has been a hallmark of my definition and vision of an effective leader.  When I was a manager at Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale, I was often counseled and advised and extolled as to my deficits in the understanding  and effective performance of my leadership responsibilities.  Once a member of the campus community recited her many grievances with the lack of my managerial expertise and how she could make it better for upwards of one hour.  Finally, she concluded by informing me that, ‘Mr. Brooks…you could be better.’  Seeing my opportunity I replied that I could not argue with her assertion and that I was going to hang up the phone and get busy on becoming better.

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Humility is a rare virtue.  I am captivated by a humble leader.  Someone who understands that they do not have all of the answers…and does not know all of the questions.  I have never been associated with a success that was not a group effort.

‘Great leaders take responsibility when things don’t work and share success when things go well.  No matter why the team failed, he or she is the one to blame.  This is how they create the conditions that allow the team to make mistakes, speak honestly and find fulfillment.’

‘In other words, they use ‘We’ instead of ‘I’ and – ALWAYS – put the interest of the organization ahead of their own self-interest.’

‘Great leaders create more leaders by empowering others and allowing them to make mistakes.  Everyone has permission to fail, as long as they fail fast and passionately!’    Lifehack

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Moses was a reluctant leader.

‘Then Moses said to the Lord, ‘O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither before nor since You have spoken to Your servant, but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.’

‘So the Lord said to him, ‘Who made man’s mouth?  Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind?  Have not I, the Lord?  Now therefore, go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say.’    Exodus 4: 10-11.   KJV

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Another timely subject, Kerry discussed today with we trainees. was an openness in regarding committees that elders should be members of.

It is easy to be pigeonholed into areas that you have worked in.  I had this discussion with SIUC chancellors and presidents, on many occasions, during my university career.  I advised university leadership that they had a vast untapped reservoir of talent contained within the civil service community… that if they would just think outside the box, they would find eager and educated staff that would donate their time to help.  I am convinced that if university chancellors and vice chancellors would seek the advice of the longest serving group of employees at the campus…they could go a long way in ameliorating the recruitment and retention problems that beset the organization.  So often we see a carpenter…because she or he work as a carpenter…there is much more to the person than their vocation.  The carpenter…could be an intellectual.

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 All to  often when a person is working in the physical services…we see someone who would be talented to work with the churches physical plant.  Or a person who works in marketing…church membership.  When in fact there is no way to distinguish a church leader’s strengths without reading their mind.  Saul of Tarsus persecuted the churches…until the road to Damascus.

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‘Isn’t this the carpenter?  Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon?  Aren’t his sisters here with us?’    Mark 6:3

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Conflict Or Compromise…Cooperation

Success is incremental.  I often marveled at the television commercials for Publishers Clearing House, where a representative of the company knocked on the front door of some, extremely lucky, person and presented them a giant check that effectively wiped away their financial concerns for the rest of their life.

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Many years ago during some challenging times that my department, Building Services was experiencing,  I decided that more people needed to understand the value that the civil service community brought to Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale.  I had been a member of the Civil Service Council, which is the elected group who, at that time, represented over 2,000 colleagues. Having been a member of the group for 10 years, I had been pleased to never be an officer for the organization.  I had enjoyed a wonderful career where my supervisors recognized my efforts and had been fortunate to attain every promotion available to me.  But, it was clear to me that someone needed to attempt to communicate with  the university’s chancellor regarding his most valuable and loyal staff.  I, actually, did not want the job and felt certain that I would not be elected, by my Council colleagues, for the position.  That realization comforted me as I did not desire a leadership role and had but a few years until my retirement.  To my dismay, I was elected to represent the largest group of employees on the Carbondale campus.  I felt a little sick to my stomach and doubted that I could be effective…but I knew that I had to try.

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I have never enjoyed conflict.  All gains and progress that I have made has been attributable to talking together with the powerful and the powerless.  So, I began to meet, on a monthly basis with Chancellor Wendler.  I found the Chancellor to be a brilliant man and easy to communicate with.  He was a man from a diverse background and had, at one time, worked as a carpenter.  Our discussions were wide ranging and colorful.  Dr. Wendler had a heart for the poor and needy.  During my, years of meeting with the Chancellor…I was admonished by some of my colleagues to demand our rights!  I would not waiver from my bedrock philosophy of, praising a person from the mountaintop and constructively criticizing another…only in private.

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Chancellor Wendler understood the sacrifice of our veterans and listened carefully to the Councils pleas for a recognized holiday to honor our heroes.  Our campus owes him a debt of gratitude for his passion in ensuring the reality of our request.

Another vital issue that Chancellor Wendler spearhead was to give many members of the AceS union, parity raises, where data  illustrated the they were being paid below the norm for their, primarily, clerical positions.

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Chancellor Wendler asked me to chair a committee that he commissioned to review; pay increases for meritorious work performance, and a re-writing of civil service staff’s evaluations.  In partnership with Human Resources, SIUC administration, the Director of the State Universities Civil Services System, and

representation from the Administrative and Professional ranks…we were not only able to perform the tasks that we had been charged with…but many civil service staff have benefited from the out of season pay raises that are based on merit.

In view of the extreme stresses that civil service staff were undergoing when they were diagnosed with critical diseases, such as cancer, the Chancellor enhanced extended sick leave to help ameliorate the suffering of his colleagues.

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The Chancellor and I had many serious and private conversations.  One was where the leadership of University Housing had gathered a University wide committee that was prepared to issue an RFP, a request for proposal, seeking privatization of Food Service services.  This would have affected many civil service staff.  I was told, privately, by a member of the committee that the Chancellor and the Vice Chancellor were looking toward privatization of Food Service for Housing.  I was also given the same information by my good friend, Jim S., who asked me if there was anything that I could do.  I was quite sure that  little man like me could do nothing…as it appeared that the decision had already been made.  However, I telephoned my friend, Jake B., who was the chair of the Administrative and Professional Staff Council and he agreed to accompany me to visit the Chancellor, in the evening.  The Chancellor was a bit out of sorts.  He was somewhat perturbed by my explanation for my and Jake’s visit.  He went on to explain to me that he was only doing his job and that, perhaps, he should examine Building Services for privatization.  I responded that I was fearful to be before him, our leader, as I was but a janitor.  I continued by attesting that I had neither the wisdom nor the understanding to convince him to change his mind regarding privatization…but I had to try.  I spoke about SIUC being the economic engine that propels the economy in Southern Illinois.  I touted the dedication of the Housing Food Service Staff and their love to our students.  I spoke of the dismal fact that when you lost a job at the University…you would not find another in Southern Illinois.  I quoted the scripture:  ‘But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs.  And, she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from the master’s table.’    Mark 7: 26-28    KJV

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The Chancellor turn his head from Jake and I and stared for several minutes…and then asked if we had anything else.  I meekly responded, no.

The next morning, my contact, that was a member of the Privatization committee, told me that the Chancellor had called the Vice Chancellor into his office at 7:00 A:M: and told him to disband the committee and that there would be no more discussion of privatization of Food Service staff.

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About a week later my Executive Director told me to pass the word that the Chancellor wanted civil service staff to understand that there would be no discussion of privatization while he was Chancellor.