Three Dog Night, through their lyrics penned years ago, told us that, “one is the loneliest number.” However, programmers will tell you that isn’t true
at all. In fact, the number one is actually plural. It is often used to symbolize a value more than zero. It is used to represent many. “How can one
represent many?” is the obvious response. Originally, it was my response as well.
Since early 2016, when I was initially extended an offer from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation (ZSR) to serve as a member of the second cohort of their Community Leadership Council (CLC),
I have been trying to make sense of the offer, fully understand what would be expected of me and what I should expect of the opportunity. To be informed
that the Foundation’s process had selected me as one of only twenty persons from across the state of North Carolina to serve as a part of the CLC’s
three-year commitment, felt like an honor. In complete honesty, it felt like more of an honor because others I shared the invite with told me it was.
I will talk more about this later. For now, I sat at my office desk listening to Wharton Business Radio on XM and pondered the significance of turning
this offer down.
With a daughter in college in Florida destined to do great things as a marine scientist, another daughter a high school junior readying our family for
the college selection process for the second time and an eleven year old sixth grade son who was entering that stage I am very much familiar with,
having mentored youth and adolescents of the past twenty plus years. He will soon require an absorbent amount of my focused energies. The juxtaposition
of my fatherly duties and my efforts working with minority entrepreneurs through the iNvictus brand, my service on multiple for-profit and non-profit
boards, my own entrepreneurial interests that also require a decent amount of traveling and although I’m pointing it out last, it is very much the
point of departure in my life; that being the constant work it takes attempting to be ever present, thoughtful, loving and a very active husband in
a now two-decade young marriage to my best friend. In essence, I already led a fairly busy life. Anything I chose to infuse into my life’s itinerary
had to be well worth it and by well worth it, I meant it had to be an opportunity I simply could not in good conscious say no to.
I shared the extended invitation with two people. One, a friend and mentor of mine of more than twenty years and the other, a peer I am proud to have considered
a friend over the same period of time. My friend said, “Ed, the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation is HUGE! Especially within the confines of the state of
North Carolina. I know you have a lot going on, but I would definitely say, if you can do it, you should.” My mentor, within our respective conversation,
basically said these words, “…you really can’t say no to this opportunity. Congratulations! And keep me posted.” There it was. After a call with
the Foundation regarding what would be expected of me, I agreed to serve.
Months later, my orientation had passed. I had the opportunity to meet the nineteen other CLC members in my cohort, ZSR staff and a few past CLC cohort
members. I was excited to have the opportunity to serve with such an intelligent, driven and service oriented group. I could now better gauge the expectations
of me. However, I still had not become fully aware of how my role in this position could be of service to others, more specifically the underserved
populations. I learned long ago that we all should have select people whose opinion really mattered to us. And we should be able to forge an appropriate
trajectory of service and success for our lives with the help of their directives. Now, I am far from a blind follower of anyone. However, it has been
said that the essence of true leadership is found in how one serves others. I would contend that in addition to the service of others, the calibration
of leadership is found in one’s ability to follow.
I spent time allowing my purpose to manifest itself to me. And it did. I found it in the actual press release from Z. Smith Reynolds announcing the 2016-19 CLC.
“…The appointment of this exceptional group of leaders could not have come at a better time,” said Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation’s Executive Director
Maurice “Mo” Green. “…The Community Leadership Council, in so far as it represents a microcosm of North Carolina, is the ideal group to assist us…”
As opposed to simply being a representation of those that would benefit from the Foundation’s efforts, I decided my purpose was to become a liaison,
a catalyst even. In the true essence of the history of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, I will use my position and relationship with the Foundation
to ensure the needs of the people of North Carolina are heard. Individually and in my role as Chief Strategy Officer of iNvictus Group Holdings, LLC and Board Chair of iNvictus Forward Outreach,
I have worked diligently for years to adequately address the inequities that adversely affect minority communities and populations through entrepreneurship
and education. As director of the EMERGE (Entrepreneurship, Mentoring, Economic Development, Research, Growth in Business(es) and Education) program,
my focus is largely in addressing the generational wealth gap that exists between minorities and the majority dominant culture with a laser-like
focus on making impactful, systemic economic and educational changes. Along with our dearth of years of research, collaborations and networks,
I want my position with the CLC to be a dually collaborative one. I want to work with and listen to others in need to ensure we continue to initiate
adequate methods to address those needs. I also intend to collaborate with as many current, past and future CLC members across North Carolina to
bring collaboration and innovation in our efforts to being a part of the solution(s.)
Understandably, this is work. But, it’s part of my life’s work and although sometimes it’s labor intensive, I don’t want it to sound laboring. I’m
excited, to say the least. It’s through this collaborative effort that one again is proven to be plural; it represents many and math makes more