An interview with Shane Goldsmith, President and CEO of the Liberty Hill Foundation
Who are your heroes? Who inspires you — and why?
I am inspired by the youth leaders we work with at Liberty Hill. These are young people of color living in low-income communities with the odds stacked so much against them. And yet they take that personal experience of tragedy and injustice and turn it into power to change their lives.
What shores you up? Where do you get your strength?
I get a lot of strength from work. I was raised poor with a little brother by a single dad, and he taught us how to work hard. It’s even better that I get to do work that I think makes the world a better place. Especially at a time like this when there is so much uncertainty and when so much of what we have fought for is at risk, this job is a source of real strength for me.
What gets you down and discouraged? And how do you get past it?
My personal wellness is contingent on taking action. And so sometimes I get discouraged when it’s hard to figure out what to do. When the threats are so large, finding the right response can be daunting. But I am lucky. I get to work with so many inspiring people who are doing great things on the front lines in their communities. They remind me we can use this moment to build power for moving forward.
What are you reading?
I serve as a commissioner with the Police Commission in Los Angeles, and we’re working on an effort to get all 10,000 people in the department to go through implicit bias training. As part of this work, I read the book, Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People. It’s a great book, and it really gets to the core of the deeply ingrained biases in all of us, and how we can interrupt the relationships between bias and behavior.
A guilty pleasure?
Chubby Hubby ice cream. Definitely.
What is your greatest achievement?
The one thing I am proud of recently is being part of the Brothers, Sons, Selves coalition in Los Angeles. This is a group of community-based organizations made up of young people of color. We supported leadership and media training for coalition members to go and talk to school boards about the problem that young men of color were getting suspended from school for totally preventable and subjective reasons. This, in turn, contributes to the school-to-prison pipeline that puts so many of these young men on a really tough trajectory through life.
Now, thanks to the advocacy of these groups, we have a School Climate Bill of Rights that has reduced suspensions by 50 percent. It’s amazing to be part of something where young people said this is a problem and here is the solution and we will fight for it. And to see them win is icing on the cake.
Any failures or regrets you want to talk about?
In a moment like this, the one thing closest to failure that I feel is a feeling of inadequacy. As hard as I work, at the end of every day I know it is not enough for the people who are like I was when I was growing up — people who are not sure how they will survive and who are afraid and hungry and who look ahead to lives where they won’t have the choices and opportunities they deserve. So in some ways it feels like I fail every day, but that doesn’t stop me from getting back up the next day and keeping at it.
What does “wellness” mean to you?
I think wellness is about power. We cannot take care of ourselves and each other if we don’t have personal and collective power. That’s why it’s so important to build power for people who are most impacted by injustice and inequality. We need to change those systems that leave so many people powerless and unwell.
What can people do in their daily lives to help find solutions on the issues you work on?
Go to the heart of the issue. If you care about schools, then go to the young people who are directly impacted by the injustices in that system and listen to their perspectives. If you care about kids experiencing homelessness, then go to those kids and figure out who they are and what they need. Realize the incredible potential of the people impacted by these issues, and support them to build power and lead.
How do you defend your own wellness and stay healthy?
I have been consumed by the urgency of my work, and I work as hard as I possibly can. But now I have two young children and they are at an age where they are starting to notice that I am not around so much. I am seeing through them the need to find some balance and take better care of myself.
To stay healthy, I have become obsessed with exercise in the last few years. I do CrossFit, I run, and I also do Spartan races. They’re crazy obstacle course races from five to fourteen miles in the wilderness where you do everything from climbing up high walls to carrying around barrels of rocks. I do this with a team of friends, and it’s really become a metaphor for my life. Progress is about powering through every obstacle so you can take the next one on.