Mar 122014

This blog series is about medical matters isn’t it? So I can mention this new word that I made up without expecting too many “bless your hearts.”

The point is that, as you know, my blogs are typically prompted by current events, and, of course, my own personal perspectives. I publish them on an “as needed” p.r.n. basis.

I have talked about heroes in the past. My great privilege is to work with all of you. Embedded within our culture is an indefatigable adherence to the mission of the school, and I am incredibly encouraged by the faithful commitment that I see and experience every day. Thank you so much!

I just met a whole roomful of similar heroes this morning. Our Office of Health Access facilitated a conversation with all of the health department directors from “down east.” We asked them to come here because we wanted to know how we could best continue our many collaborations and informal interactions with them.

My clear recognition is that, spiritually, you heroes at Brody are not alone in this part of the state. These health directors appear to be the most committed and dedicated leaders you could ever meet – all personally working to benefit the citizens of our region.

One could become jealous, because you could say the health directors have co-opted our mission. I am not jealous even for a moment – this is the very best thing that could happen to us. We must invite more folks to co-opt our mission!

I have long recognized that the work of improving the health of all of the citizens in eastern North Carolina is one that cannot be accomplished through the hard work, even with the lifetime work, of us here at “the Brody.” We need partners, and the folks that I met today seem to understand the need to work together.

Over the four decades of our existence, we have developed intimate relationships with all of the various agencies, businesses and practices that serve the health of our citizens. It is our intention to continue this work together.

Yes, these folks I met today, like many of you, are representative of the “different type of heroes” that I have described before. These individuals have no issue with holding the fort and minding the store. Some days, we all are satisfied to just make things better.

By the way, all of the other health sciences deans attended the meeting as well – Dean Sylvia Brown, Dean Greg Chadwick and Dean Stephen Thomas. They are my heroes, too!

Keep up the good work.

Until next time,


Jan 282014

I have to start this conversation with an apology. You all know that I wasn’t born here in eastern North Carolina. I just came here as fast as I could.

This time of year reminds me of preparing the green, leafy and leathery-when-raw vegetable that is called “a collard.”

The few times that I have been to the grocery recently, it appears that every grocery cart is literally overflowing with the greenery.

Yes, I have come to acquire the taste. Nothing better than a “mess” of collards to accompany some good country cooking! It may even be good for our health. That is, if there was not so much fatback in the recipe.

This time of year, it also seems that collards are not the only thing that is being cooked. This last weekend’s newspaper headlines indicate that the City Council is looking toward Greenville’s future. I have not followed the council’s strategic planning process closely, but it does appear that this year’s work embraced some different thinking. Fountainwork, a consultant group, was hired to facilitate the planning retreat. Councilwoman Marion Blackburn was quoted as saying, “It was a chance to stop thinking of us as we are now and start thinking of what we can be.”

Greenville’s recent history was invoked for the sake of setting the foundation for the conversation, and “in the final stretch of the retreat’s session, (the) council brainstormed Greenville’s vision in the format of a 2034 magazine cover, complete with the headlines, images, quotes and sidebars.

“(The) council broke up into two teams and used pens, markers, paper, scissors, glue and other supplies to dream how Greenville would grace a magazine cover and spread 20 years into the future.”

This exercise that was engaged by our elected leaders sounded to me to have been valuable for them. The Daily Reflector article is worth reading, as it is clear that the group was working earnestly to come up with plausible scenarios that are likely to be of great benefit in our future. Health care and education were clear themes, and, understandably, these areas of endeavor are close to our own passions.

At “The Brody,” we have already embarked upon a somewhat similar activity. You may not yet be aware, as this strategic planning process is not in the format of “a retreat.” At the conclusion of this process, we will be re-imagining our future as well. We have called this process “real-time strategy.”

At The Brody, we are tending to peoples’ lives and educating our students and ourselves 24/7. Therefore, it is nigh impossible to have all 2,000 of us to simultaneously come together for even an afternoon, much less an hour. So, in consultation with others, we have orchestrated the opportunity to create an almost continuous strategic-planning process. It will need relatively small stretches of dedicated time while concentrating with maximal focus and intensity. The engagement should finally feel personal and palpable to everyone who dares to care about our mission sufficiently to be full partners in this endeavor. This is how we will secure our future evolution. This process has already started with a small group and will expand to include many others over the next several weeks and months.

We look to imagine our future and dream a little. In this way, we will continue to cherish and support our values while looking forward. In my way of thinking, we need to all consciously recognize that there are many opportunities for us to grasp. In real terms, however, this future can be achieved only with our own personal passion, commitment and work.

“Strategic planning” is often an event, but it is continuous adaptation and innovation that’s demanded. It’s an opportunity to set priorities and begin to work on them.

Rather than a retreat, it’s an advance — a constant challenge of changing our methods to respond to our context. It is our values that remain constant.

To tell the truth, I have become really passionate about collards. My foundation recipe that I have learned from native eastern North Carolinians has involved cleaning the leaves of sand and dirt, de-ribbing, boiling them “to death” seasoned with fatback and chopping the resulting product.

I have not been able to leave well alone!

Here is my latest modified approach. The cleaning and de-ribbing of the leaves remains essential. This is where the recipe begins to deviate. Roll the leaves as if one is making a cigar. Then slice across the rolled leaves, at half inch intervals.

(Question: We all know how to roll cigars, right? My grandfather taught me in Jamaica. But that’s for another time.)

The next few steps will clearly plunge me into the “Bless Your Heart” column!
Put the collards into a pressure cooker with “store-bought” Italian dressing and a little water. Season with some ground allspice, then pressure cook for 20 minutes. Sprinkle black pepper to taste and serve hot!

Oh-my-gosh, folks are saying! My momma would have died!

Values are like collards – their application and context can grow. Collards were once just on the back porch, but now we find them in fine restaurants.

I call this “re-imagining the future.” This is where good and engaged strategic planning becomes important.

Please try it; you may like it!


P.S. Do you know what your blood pressure is?

Jan 022014

Happy New Year colleagues! I had an intention to write a note during the holidays. It just wasn’t happening! These last few weeks have been like a bobsled run – just steering, no brakes!

Between football and advertisements on television, it is inevitable to come across the “deals” that make television advertising so compelling.

I remain fascinated by my own gullibility. But even for me, it is unimaginable that such valuable appliances and cures can be made available for so many for so little. The best deals are doubled – just pay shipping and handling.

It’s almost impossible not to “call now,” but I have discovered a nagging feeling that wants me to think about why these deals can’t be as valuable as touted. I have tried to imagine all of the possible underlying motives of the pitch person. Can it be that they love us, their customers, so much that they are extending their heartfelt generosity? Do they donate all of their excess profits to charitable organizations that support our community?

I have become somewhat skeptical about deals.

The word “deal” has taken on a new and perhaps more sinister slant. It seems that every week or so, a deal is brokered across the world. Historically, the very best deals turned out to elevate the lives humans across whole countries. Our country engaged in a deal with Europe after the last world war that sought to rebuild the damaging effect of war and has had lasting positive effects.

Many of these positive deals are preceded by the most thoughtful and magnanimous actions as can be imagined. These are the real deals – the ones that are created out of the purest of motives.

So, now we are discovering that there are other types of deals. These deals are embedded with an underlying catch. There may be subtle but intentional signs that of what appear to be intentional manipulative leverage. If the deal is driven by motives such as power and control, the outcome is likely to be dysfunctional.

“Real deals” seem to take place within a context of caring and compassion. Can one imagine making a deal with your children? Even when discipline and tough love are involved, due to the intention, the outcome is likely to be positive and rewarding.

As we face the New Year, I have resolved to work toward that very best of real deals that can be created in my personal and professional life. It is my intention to work against deals that are defined by a win-lose dynamic, no matter how compelling they may appear. I refuse to pay shipping and handling for two of the same gadget!

My new word to test my own intention is the word “optimal.”

That one word will suffice as my New Year’s resolution. How about yours?