Black History Month Feature Interview Part 2: Warren B. Ritter II
As we near the end of Black History Month, hopefully all of us have given ourselves the opportunity to explore and experience Black history, culture, contributions, and successes.
The Association for the Study of African American Life and History, Inc. writes, “Carter G. Woodson and his co-workers were many, ranging from college presidents and government officials, to celebrated poets and philosophers, to everyday folks in rural hamlets, who worked to change African American History from being treated as a negligible factor in U.S. and world history. Today, it is clear that Blacks have significantly impacted the development of the social, political, and economic structures of the United States and the world. Thus, let us think of Black History Month the way our nation honors its greatest moments and greatest people.” [ref: https://asalh.org/about-us/our-history/]
While interviewing Warren B. Ritter II for our special news feature on Black History Month, I couldn’t help but wonder, that the focus of Black history and contributions to our locale, and the issues to address are viewed not as questions of why, rather of how, as Joseph McClendon III suggests. How can we attract and support Black-owned businesses so they thrive and contribute equally; how can we ensure there are stores to supply the everyday needs of Black people, such as skin and hair salons, groceries, designers of clothing, fabrics, and art; how can we have a Black History Museum in our town; how can we ensure there are health care providers who specialize in Black health and well-being; how can we make it safe for Black people here?
My list goes on. How about yours?
Ritter II, though not by self-admission, is a true business leader and supporter of the SB community, in all its colors and cultures. He is executive director of the Common Table Foundation, and served prior as a financial advisor of Wealth Management Strategies SB and Small Business Relationship Manager at Wells Fargo SB. His most current work in the nonprofit sector includes board member for the Endowment for Youth Committee; Board of Directors president, SB Young Black Professionals; county commissioner for SBC on human service policies; board member, New Beginnings Counseling Center SB for the homeless and low-income; and board member SB Education Foundation.
He holds a B.A. in Psychology with a concentration in Neuroscience from Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C. Ritter is a classically trained pianist since age 3, preferring jazz and blues, slow tempo – “Anything that you can really feel. My family is full of musicians, so it really is a family thing.”
His day starts with a morning meditation, intention setting, 10 minutes of gratitude for being awake, visualizing what he wants to get accomplished, and how he wants his energy to feel, then coffee. He stays fit with basketball and gym workouts, and hiking.
Ritter reads books to challenge his current perceptions and takes on diversity, equity, and inclusion (IDEA = inclusion, diversity, equity and access).
Here is our interview:
Q. In your words, why is it important to celebrate Black History Month?
A. It is important to celebrate BHM because without knowing where you’ve been, it’s extremely difficult to get to where you want to be. So many people, groups, and institutions have devoted their resources for my generation to be where we find ourselves. It is important to celebrate our history (that includes the time that predates slavery), because we live in a society that does not always accept or even acknowledge all the richness that comes with being Black.
Please comment on “We need White leaders to understand the experience of being a Black leader in an organization.”
The idea I want them to embrace is being different is ok. Being different is not going to throw off your bottom dollar, if anything, it’s going to add so much more to your business.
It’s ok for people to be different, it’s OK if you don’t understand. If you can embrace other people different from you, that’s a good thing.
I do not feel we need White leaders to understand the experience of being a Black leader within an organization at all. If we are being honest, there is no amount of “understanding” that can make up for a learned versus lived experience.
To me, the more important piece to focus on is that White leaders should realize that the metrics that historically mark success within organizations were not designed with Black people in mind, and that with different lived experiences than our White counterparts, methodologies and strategies will differ. In my opinion, when our White leaders begin to understand that part, it makes for a more harmonious existence among us all.
There is no amount of teaching, master’s or Ph.D. education work that you can do that can teach what the Black experience is, if you are not a Black person, and to explain the pure, unfiltered amount of times the microaggressions happen that Black people experience. Examples happen daily in our town of unconscious things that people are not aware of. White leaders come from this point of view: I know everything there is to know, I’ve studied this, I’ve been in this position for a number of years, I know what this is about.
Black leaders come from a whole different set of religious views, moral views, and cultural views, and we come to the work environment with those views. A lot of the time, Black employees are held to standards created by people who did not have Black people in mind. So, how is that truly an equal way of doing/viewing things?
When I think of White leaders in the business world that I am in, a lot of times they have trepidation – “I don’t want to step on their feet” – and when work is not done to their expectations, they really fall back on – “It’s a Black man” –which is so detrimental.
I think it happens because all the ideas of what success is, is all White-centric.
To find a solution goes deeper than a bullet point policy and operating procedure of the workplace. Defining what is the culture of the workplace, the culture of acceptance, the culture of being able to shift your perception, the culture of admitting that, “OK, this is not good for everyone,” are those human things that we can do to make things better before we go to the spreadsheet changes.
Why is diversification in a wealth management portfolio or nonprofit development strategy considered beneficial in both short- and long-term success, yet diversity of people in a business model is still an issue?
For the long-term diversification of your assets, you have to trust that it’s going to happen. You have to trust that your portfolio is going to pay out in the long run when you invest in it. In the current business scenario, I don’t think White leaders are trusting of Black leaders, because they don’t understand, because they’ve never experienced it, so they can trust the asset Black leaders bring.
How did the list of Black-owned businesses come about?
The listings that you find on the SB Tourism website and other websites, especially during Black History Month, I actually assisted in creating with the help of some other like-minded persons of color. We researched businesses from Guadalupe to Thousand Oaks over the course of a year to create the list.
What that experience highlighted for me was that the culture, specifically of Santa Barbara, is not designed to be accepting of Black businesses, there is no infrastructure to truly support the people that make up the 2 percent.
I helped co-found SB Young Black Professionals. One of the biggest issues that we ran into was that, yes, a place might open their doors for us to do an event, but it was not very welcoming. It was difficult. Why can’t we just be considered regular patrons?
When people come into town and they’re looking for Black businesses, yes, they can get in touch with myself and other Black leaders for direction, but the City of Santa Barbara has historically not been very supportive unless there is something for them. The infrastructure of SB is not designed to support Black people and their daily needs and businesses.
Black businesses here need the allyship of the movers and shakers like the Towbes Foundation, the Hutton-Parker Foundation, the Santa Barbara Foundation, and similar foundations, who have the dollars and community support to give Black businesses what they need to thrive in SB, along with these businesses receiving support in business and news publications.
What keeps you on track in the face of constant daily microaggressions?
It’s got to be internal, because the world will beat you down. You have to be solid within yourself first and foremost. I start my day with my intentions and get my energy right within myself. You’ve got to be good with yourself, and then nothing can shake your peace with that. Gratitude goes a long way; you have to respect the people that came before you.
Your top goals for 2023 in your current position and/or on the boards you presently serve?
Top goals: visibility and collaboration.
What is the motivation of your leadership?
I just want to be fully present and be an example to others to challenge what they look at as what “success” means. I want to be an example of what it looks like to challenge what this idea society feeds us as “happiness.” My ultimate motivation is that I strive to show up authentically in every situation I am in and be a person who makes meaningful changes within my community.
While I do view myself as a leader, I also understand that a leader doesn’t necessarily need to lead from the front. I pride myself on having people around me who may have talents, thoughts, connections, and perceptions that I do not. Sometimes one of those individuals needs to be the person in front, and I play a supporting role. Sometimes I need to be the person bringing up the rear. I believe in putting the mission first and whatever it takes to get that done, I am all for it.
The hardest decision you’ve had to make?
Hardest decision I have made is actively choosing to set boundaries on how much I can put on my plate. I naturally want to assist folks, so it’s difficult for me to say no to people. I had to prevent burnout, but it’s still very hard.
Resources you tap for inspiration and support?
Colleagues. I ask for their advice, reading materials, etc. I also listen to my friends to make sure I am nurturing all parts of my life, not just the professional career. When you have people around you who will tell you the honest truth and that hold you accountable for your actions, it helps to keep me grounded.
Advice you have for students to decide their own paths?
There is not just one path to get to where you want to go. But in order to get to where you want to be, you have to know where you want to go. People don’t plan to fail but they often fail to plan. The journey and path will be filled with pit stops, detours, and brick walls, but if you have a plan, you can always pivot and ultimately always move closer toward the end goal.
In supporting local businesses, MJ thanks Jason Shotts, Manager of Paradise Springs Winery Funk Zone, for the location of this interview. www.ParadiseSpringsWintery.com