June 2021: Message from the President - On Voice and Identity

June 04, 2021 6:00 AM | Scott Krawitz
  • Dear ICF Members, Visitors and Friends,

    As we launch into summer, there is much we have to be grateful for. One thing that astounds me is the miracle that we have vaccines available to us within one year of the pandemic.

    A topic that has been on my mind is identity, voice and agency based on something that happened June 1, 2020. I was in a group coaching community and our facilitator Kathryn checked in with us on what client cases we wanted to discuss and if there was anything around business development we wanted to process.

    I had something else on my mind. After watching protests following the death of George Floyd on May 25, much of the country was aghast about watching the slow death of a human being at the hands of law enforcement, despite pleas by bystanders for the officer to remove his knee from his neck. The response was visceral as Americans, in all 50 states flooded the streets to protest police brutality, discrimination and racial injustice. In the middle of a pandemic, millions of people came out to share their voices. I was impressed by their courage and worried for their safety as perhaps many others were. Perhaps it stems from humans being hardwired for community and empathy.

    I’ve always admired the act of protest and this was no exception. “The most important thing I believe we can talk about is the voice and the awakening we are having in this country.” Kathryn agreed and shared a caveat. “Let us remember that we are all looking at this through the lens of being privileged white women.” I was momentarily dumbstruck. She held the silence. My heart was pounding in my chest and I noticed my breath getting shallow. They were not aware of my identity. I took a few breaths and broke the silence.

    “Hey guys, I have something to share. I’m not white. I’m a first generation American and my parents were immigrants to this country. I know discrimination. And….my name is not even Sherry. My real name is Shahrzad. Perhaps that’s why you may not be aware of my ethnicity.”

    She gave space, which is a blessing and an art in coaching. Silence, silence, silence.

    “I changed my name in fourth grade, not because of the bullies who would chant, ‘Iranian, Iranian’ to shame me for my cultural background, but because of my teacher. One day, she decided that she wanted to find out what each students’ ethnicity was. Dreading my turn and wanting to prevent any more bullying, I said I was French. I then went to the restroom. When I returned, my friend Tatiana whispered to me, “When you were gone, she told the whole class, ‘yea right she’s French, she’s not French.”

    I recall feeling flushed, hot and angry. On my walk home, I deconstructed the situation and decided to make a plan. Upon entering the house while mom made me a snack, I shared that I had something to tell her. “Mom, from now on, I don’t want to go by Shahrzad, I don’t want to go by Sha Sha (a rather fun nickname), I would like to go by Sherry.” Although she had always encouraged pride in our ethnicity and having voice, she got it. “OK, got it Sherry,” and gave me a hug.

    That executive decision by my 10-year-old self may have prevented less discrimination along the road but at the same time, on June 1, I realized that it hid my identity and voice.

    How can I promote diversity, equity and inclusion if who I am is hidden? One June 1, 2020, I made a declaration, “I’m Shahrzad and I’m going to incorporate my true name and identity into my life.”

    Sharing this story was not easy for me and yet I feel it is important to share because it was a result of excellent coaching.

    The questions I ask you all are:

  • How do we create space for transformation in individual and group coaching?
  • Where might you have an identity to claim or reclaim and a voice to share?
  • Where might you be holding back on something that can help you be more fully self-expressed?
  • How can we all use our identity and voices for the greater good?

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