From Statement to Strategy, with JUST Podcast’s Jes Averhart and Rob Shields

We’ve seen the statements. Black Lives Matter. What has happened in the past is not ok. Diversity is important to our work culture. That’s all great, but how do we move from statement to strategy? Jes Averhart and Rob Shields are leading that conversation forward through their work at Recity, the Reinvention Roadmap, and the JUST Podcast, which tackles race relations in our country and what we all can do to improve them.

Recity Coworking
Recity Connect
The Reinvention Roadmap
The Reinvention Roadtrip Podcast
JUST Podcast

Donald Thompson: Welcome to the Donald Thompson Podcast! I am very fortunate to have with me two icons in our community that are doing great things for their businesses. But more importantly, as much of an impact with our community in terms of how they share and try to grow people.

And I want to introduce Jess Everhart, and she is the creator of the Reinvention Roadmap. We’re going to dig in a little bit to that new venture. And then we also have Rob shields, the executive director of ReCity Network. Welcome guys.

So one of the things I wanted to kind of just jumpstart the conversation. Just in our style and format, I like for folks to just introduce themselves a little bit and give a little information about yourself that people wouldn’t find on LinkedIn, that they would know. And then everybody’s really talking to his friends, and then we’ll just kind of dig into some of the topics of the moment, Jess, why don’t you take us away?

Jes Averhart: OK, alright. I won’t give my life history, but I think people would be probably surprised to know that I was raised in a really small town of about 200 people in the Midwest. And why that’s important professionally is that sort of shapes the way I think about my relationships, it shapes the way I see and view women’s roles in the workplace, and so that’s one thing. And then also just a very family, community-minded spirit that I have, which you now see, I think. I think my son – only the peers around you, right, can really speak into your life on this, but I really feel like the community is the foundation of my work. And that comes from being from a small community and seeing the needs that were there.

I have a background in sports and entertainment. A lot of people know I did football, basketball, All-Star games, raising money for historically black colleges and universities and did that in partnership with the Bengals, the  Browns and the Cavs. And then moved here to North Carolina and was like, “Yo, I’m on Tobacco Road. What do you do here? Everybody’s into basketball.” I’m Ohio State fan, so I went straight into corporate America and found a different mindset of work that was not sports-related and ended up working with Capitol Broadcasting and directed their corporate partnerships, which you lead into work with Google for Startups and the diversity piece, the justice piece, the work that my friend Rob and I spend a lot of time on came, kind of full circle in Durham from that work, where I co-founded Black Wall Street and some other things. So, I am certainly not wanting for variety in my life. A lot of professional variety, but with an undercurrent of community, I think is the theme And I can say my ABC’s backwards, so there’s a fun fact.

Donald Thompson: There’s that! That’s awesome, that’s awesome. Rob, what about you my friend?

Rob Shields: Man, I was trying to find where to build a bridge to the different points that she named ’cause I’m learning new things about my cohost here, even on this call. I can’t relate to the last couple of things, here’s the bridge I’ll make. Jess has worked with the NFL, right, and sports teams.

I am 6′ 8″ , but don’t have an athletic bone, really, in my body, so what that means is everywhere I go, people, I have to constantly disappoint people when they asked me, “Where did I play?” And I have to say, you know what? I’m sorry. And I went to UNC-Chapel Hill, but they did not invite me to participate in athletics.

And then obviously that’s always followed by “Man, if I had your height.” You know, which is a really nice way to say you wasted your life, right? Like if I had your heigh, I wouldn’t have wasted it the way you did. I’m like, can I just please get my fast food order and just go on with my day?  But yeah, thank you, I love the way you phrase that question. Things that you don’t know about me off LinkedIn. I’m married with four kids. I’ve got a 7-year-old, a 5-year-old, a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old. So, quarantine has been all sorts of chaos for me the last couple of months, navigating this new normal. And yeah, just very much driven.

When I think about why Jess and I do this podcast, I’m just driven. I’ve always been drawn to community development work, believe in trying to pursue justice as a personal mission, and know that, right now, that’s at the forefront of a lot of people’s minds and I think there’s opportunity there to lean in,  and I’m looking forward to where the conversation leads us today.

Donald Thompson: Yeah, no, I appreciate that very much. And I think that, you know, we look at the macro economic environment, the social environment, there’s just a lot of unrest. But, there is also a lot of opportunity where people are open, more than ever before, of learning how they can be helpful.

And so, what I would like you guys to speak on, if you could, is both the Just Podcast, right, and that formation and that partnership between you guys, but then also segue into how can people make a difference in a positive way with all the things that they’re seeing, feeling, right, with things that have happened to African-Americans, things that are happening all across the spectrum, but those two things, right? The foundation of the Just Podcast, but then how can people be helpful? I’ll say this before I turn it over to you guys: in the work that I’m doing in diversity and inclusion with the Diversity Movement, I’m talking to a lot of CEOs, a lot of folks in the business standpoint, and I’ve never before seen people genuinely wanting to know what’s next and what to do.

Really used to having to convince people of why they should think about it, and I’m seeing that shift towards, “I need some action. I need to know what can be done.” And so I do want to take some time and space to give some people some real actionable tips. So, I’ll turn those two points over to you guys and keep the dialogue going.

Rob Shields:  So, I first met Jess when ReCity was first getting started, so about five years ago when she was working with American Underground doing her work with strategic partnerships.

And, I think when you care about the same things, you tend to cross paths at a lot of the same events. And so I watched over the years Jess’s ability and gifting and being a bridge, especially when you’re doing corporate gatherings. To be a bridge between the audience and a speaker and really help people process what they’re hearing, really maybe nuanced or difficult topics in a very relatable way and a meaningful way. And so, I think the origin for the JUST Podcast was I always left those experiences at events watching, kind of, Jess in her element wishing more people could have been in the room to share that experience.

Because, you know, there’s so many events, there’s so much good happening do you ever walk away from it thinking “Man, this one mattered, but there weren’t nearly as many people here that needed to be.” And so, as ReCity was ideating around ways that we could amplify marginalized voices, which is really a key value in the work that we do, and an opportunity for a podcast presented itself.

I remember going up to Jess at one of these events, and before I could even finish the first sentence – I think all I got out was “Podcasts. You. Me,” and she’s like, “I’m in.” I didn’t even say – well wait. I wanted her to do it, but almost, almost like went into trying to convince her not to.

I was like, “but here are the all the reasons maybe you should. She’s like, no, I’m good. Let’s do it.”

The JUST podcast, why we really wanted to lean in to use the medium of a podcast to talk about justice is that, I mean, justice is really what ReCity is all about.

You know, our vision is to pursue thriving communities rooted in justice, which implies there’s a lot of injustice that still exists in our communities. And we’ve got to talk about it. We’ve got to be honest about it. We have to have open conversation, and then we have to actively work to dismantle it.

You know, Jess and I talk about this 400-year-old tree of injustice that has been growing in our nation all the way back 1619, right? We’re seeing the effects of that play out on our screens these last several months in really painful ways. I think that the reason we thought that this podcast matters is, you know, when we first started it was we believe that we are trying to raise awareness for the fact that injustice still exists.

I think now we’re in a whole different place where a lot of people aware, but they’re looking for what to do. And so, it’s definitely been this evolution that we’ve gone on this journey over the last 12 months of starting with just, kind of, bare bones educating people about the word justice, what it means, both kind of on the punitive side of, “Hey, I did something wrong, I’m going to be punished.” And the restorative side, which often can mean marginalized people who are not being given their fair due, right? Which doesn’t have anything to do with the punitive side. And so, I think for us, that’s put us on a journey of wanting to center and amplify marginalized voices.

And so, that’s  the journey we’ve been on is getting to have conversations around a myriad of different topics because all of those truths, those roots of that tree now, I mean, they’re interconnected. But you really have to – you can’t just pull out one and talk about one and say, “We’re going to really treat this one root.”

That’s not how the tree comes up. You’ve got to address it in a holistic way. And so, I think that’s the approach that we’ve taken, and we gotta keep talking. We’ve got to keep talking about this because we’re nowhere near done.

Donald Thompson: That’s right.

Jes Averhart: I love Rob. Oh seriously. He, he and I are, in so many ways, like, sort of designed for this work because I have a few people in my world, my white brothers and sisters, that really do the work. I also have experienced many, colleagues, peers, tangental relationships that have reached out to me asking like, “What now? How? In which ways do I go? Point me in the right direction, I’ll do what I need to do.” I see it. I see it. And I look to Rob, and I know that when they ask those questions, I sort of look to Rob and say because it gets possible. Like a white man, a 6’3″ white man who has all the privilege in this country is leading in a justice podcast because he’s done the work.

And I think that’s the thing that is so compelling to me is that we all are capable of arriving to inflection points in our life. We are all capable of change. It’s possible. Minds can be changed. And there was a sea change, there’s no doubt, when George Floyd was murdered before our eyes, there was a swell, a sea change, happening in this country, whether we realized it or not.

And I was moved by what I was seeing. I was also in mourning, but I’m  mostly encouraged by what you said, Don, that people are not just like, “That is really rough,” or “that’s tough,” or “that’s a one-off” or all the excuses, but finally like, “Wow, this is a real problem. There is a tree that has many roots and how do we tackle it?”

So, I think people needed to take, I say this all the time very simply, people need to take a personal and spiritual accounting of this time. A personal and spiritual accounting. And that means, rather than examining the black community. If your listeners, my white brothers and sisters who are listening to this, yes, please, please understand that history, but you’re a part of that history. They’re not separate.

So like, white-ness comes out of that history, too. That neurosis that has been created over time that there is a difference in value. That’s real. And so while we’re spending so much time in the black community learning and growing, I’ve been asking lately, in the last week or so, for my white brothers and sisters to look within and think about their own power structures and think about how whiteness feels, if that was taken away from them. And start really looking internally. So, personal and spiritual accounting, and it really starts here. It’s easy to look outside and look at communities and look at people that don’t look like you. But what if you took a day to think about your own privilege and your own power structures and that mental space that has been created in our minds that you, you meaning a white brother and sister, are better than those who have more melanin in their skin. Like let’s really examined that.

Donald Thompson: I want to extend on that. Just a comment, right? ‘Cause you talked about looking inward and that personal reflection.


And I think it’s so easy for people to say, all right, I want to learn about this, this other problem. I want to make a judgment, whether I agree with this other problem or not, and you can have a lot of well-meaning conversations without doing the personal work of what your own responsibility is.

And so what you’re saying is really talking about that personal accountability for all of us, right? And that is really, really powerful and needed, right? And one of the threads that, you know, I watched a documentary on Netflix, The 13th, and it was very powerful, but one of the things that it talked about is how we in the black community believe the negative narrative about ourselves.

And so, it wasn’t just the systematic component of racism, that is true and atrocious. The history is true in atrocious, but for us to dig ourselves out of this hole, also takes a rebirth of how we think about self. As well as, as you say, our white brothers and sisters that need to help along the way.

So I really love that point about that personal accountability, right? And I think that resolves to all of us.

One of the things that, when we talk about race, when we talk about racism and all these different threads, we, a lot of times, look at the George Floyds of the world. We talk about the police and we talk about government, but there’s another thing in terms of health outcomes.

And so when you think about COVID, when you think about the virus, when you think about the way we’re looking at solving this pandemic, what are some of the ways that you would share with our audience, that race can apply to even a virus in our world that maybe people wouldn’t normally understand?

Jes Averhart: That’s a really great question and a really sad point that we’re about to make. Today in the Washington Post, I don’t know if you saw this Rob or Donald, but one third of every – so one out of three Black Americans can now say that they know someone who died of COVID. One out of three. I’m a Black American, and I know two, so it’s a, you’ve got to ask why that disproportionality exists ,and those questions have been asked, and I appreciate that there has been a lens focused on it. Rob and I were invited to sit in on, I forget what it’s called, but the White House Council on African American something or other health, something about it.

I don’t know, but it was basically our top officials getting on a phone call to talk about that disproportionality, and I was fascinated by it. Part of the call, there was some intonations around people of color not being as vigilant around how they wash their hands and how they take care of their own health and bodies, which I disagree with, as if we’re not capable of doing those things to take care of ourselves. We don’t want to get sick , but I was fascinated by some of that like, lens shifting.

The truth is, there is an unconscious bias around people of color and it has disproportionally affected us for  years, hundreds of years, right? You ask our friends and peers when they go into, an the statistics are incredible – and I don’t have them in front of me about women childbirth mortality rates and heart attacks for women, right? We just die or aren’t cared for at rates that are obviously, race-related. Not just sort of like geographic or socioeconomic, Black women in higher incomes are still losing their children or dying of heart attacks at a different rate than white women of equal income in geography.

Why is that, right? And so, sure, when we have a pandemic, a virus that we can’t name or understand, and it’s confusing in our community, we’re also the same community that will find ourselves, at times, in, depending on where you live and your background, in food deserts. So, we’re eating foods that are, you know, less expensive because our incomes require that. We want to feed our families. Like, at the end of the day, we want to do everything that everyone else wants to do to give their families the best opportunity, but if I find myself in a food desert and my family’s hungry and I go to McDonald’s every single evening, right? And I find that my family is gaining weight or my blood pressure is higher, the cholesterol is high over time, and COVID hits my same community overnight, and grandma’s home and has been subjected to no fruits and vegetables and very little access, or you have to have so much money to be able to eat organic, healthy foods.

And then to get there? How are we getting there? Are we on a bus?  Yeah, so it’s disproportionately affecting our communities. And so when COVID hits, it’s raining havoc, it’s wreaking havoc on us and we have to look at that and say, “Is that just? And would any person who is not a Black American want to trade places?”

Rob Shields: We tackled this in an episode of, on our podcast, you know, can a virus be racist, right? And I think yes and no, right? Because early on, in COVID, we’re like, “Oh, you know what, it’s the equal opportunity offender, right? Like it doesn’t care what you look like.” Yeah, that might be true that the virus don’t care, but America cares. And when you have, if you think about a flood pouring into a valley is the floodwater don’t have to be racist to affect people differently, depending on how high your house is, right? If you’re living in a ditch, you’re going to get flooded sooner than when you’ve built it up.

And that, that speaks to the racial wealth gap in America. It speaks to income inequality. This virus is pouring into the fissures that already existed in our nation, in the cracks, right? And that are of our own making. And we’ve got to be the ones that are vigilant to be able to mend those, and then to undo those.

Otherwise, this is just going to keep happening. This is going to be a hamster wheel, and it’s going to be same song, different verse. And I I’m hopeful that, in this current moment, because of all of the – you can’t tune out on ESPN. You can’t go and distract yourself with a lot of typical distractions.

People are locked-in. Are people are going to move on when the new cycle inevitably does and are we just going to wait until we’re reacting to the next violent murder that we see on the news order to really move together to do what’s necessary.

Donald Thompson: Yeah. I mean, one of the things I would expand on is that’s whether that’s the health outcomes, that applies to education, right? Now that all our kids are at school.

If you’ve got good internet, laptops, technical savvy parents, it’s not as good as in person, but you can push through if you don’t have access to those things, you’re falling further and further behind, right? And so it’s like a bad situation for one, or an uncomfortable situation for one, is a education stoppage, right?

For others. And I think that, you know, that speaks to that systemic challenge that we have in our country, that with all of the money we spend on things – war, tax breaks, whatever, it’s not even political, it’s just our choices of how we spend money – determines what we care about. And that is just evident, right? And so it’s really interesting whether or not to you guys, this point. If we’re going to have a sea change, not just in the media schedule, but a sea change in how we leverage our resources as a country to actually affect change. That can be generational. As leaders in the community, you guys are getting asked to be on podcasts like this, your phone’s ringing off the hook.

You’re doing the work you were doing before, and now it’s all heightened. How are you guys processing this change, right? ‘Cause these are, what I’m finding in just my small world and I’ll share with you guys, these conversations around diversity and inclusion and white guilt with our white counterparts, with people that are dealing with race in the workplace, but they have now an opening to talk about it, these are emotional discussions. These are intense dialogues. How are you guys doing? How are you guys pushing through and staying energetic with the cause in front of you?

Rob Shields: Jess and I, we’re processing our own feelings and thoughts on this as we record our own podcast, right? And so we, the last episode we just did was us just reflecting personally. We didn’t have a guest. We – it’s just us sharing our hearts of how are we doing and really kind of modeling important, hopefully, conversations for our listeners that we need to be having conversations like that and holding space to process this lean in to different perspectives and hear what it’s like. As white people, we need to be hearing the pain from our brother and sisters of color and how they’re processing it differently so that we can learn from that, right? And we’ve got to find ways to navigate that tension together. I do, I mean to your point, I do see a rush of response, right? And I think that, I’m a little cautiously optimistic because I think that we’ve gotta be careful to make sure are we really doing an assessment to count the cost here?

Because this problem wasn’t created quickly, and it won’t be fixed quickly. And so, I want to make sure we don’t take a sprinter’s approach to a marathon. And there’s a lot of sprints, right? Everybody’s got their statement that their marketing team did this high and tight, right? It looks real nice. It says a lot of the right things. Talk is cheap, and talk is easy. I think it’s in the doing, and it’s really in this mentality of, are we gearing up for the marathon and are we willing to count the cost of what it will cost us personally and professionally to meaningfully move the needle forward.

Jes Averhart: I’m tired. That’s the answer. I mean, I’m just like, you know, I’m but I am getting refreshing. So if you asked me two weeks ago, Rob can tell you, there were moments where we were invited to do different things, including the podcast that we did together, and I almost couldn’t get through it because it’s just, it’s very, it’s so personal, right? And for your listeners, I have a 17-year-old son who’s 6’5″ now? 6’5″. I transfer him into these moments and it is really hard to talk about the murders and the shootings in the street while jogging, right? Or, being misidentified and not think about my own child.

And at the same time, have to educate my white counterparts on that emotional reaction and response to the point that they have an emotional reaction. ‘Cause you’re trying to evoke emotion in them for empathy. And yet, like it’s real for me. It’s not like I’m dramatizing it on Broadway. I’m I’m literally trying to get you to feel what I feel.

And it is a toll. So thank you for asking, because this is a whole lot, and I know it is for you and we share  mutual friends who are being pulled into these spaces. You know, it’s obvious to me that cracks became caverns, right? Like where you may not, you know, you knew you didn’t have, you maybe knew you didn’t do the work before.

Maybe you don’t have a lot of friends and safe spaces to have those conversations, but then an event like the George Floyd happens, and now that little crack in your life where you really weren’t connected to issues became a huge cavern. And you’re trying to fill the cavern with people like me and you and others to provide insights at a cost to us, and it’s tiring.

And, I think, my peer group has done a really good job of being there for one another and I’m grateful for that, but it has been a heavy lift. There’s no doubt about it.  Like, including yesterday when I read a corporate statement to make sure it didn’t offend anyone of color as if I represent all people of color.

So reviewing corporate statements that a company that I don’t work for. So, lots of that stuff and hoping that I’m doing my best. You know, I’m imperfect, too.

Donald Thompson: Yeah. I mean, what I would say and encourage you guys and things have, have helped me and a lot of people have asked sincerely about me as well.

My answer is, to that same question that I posed to you guys, is similar, but the part that gives me hope which creates energy are the conversations where I’m talking to somebody at a level that matters and starts to get it. And I see them take an action that matters and I’ll give a very specific example, and Gary doesn’t even know how much he helped me in this moment, but I was talking with Gary Salamido at the Chamber of Commerce, North Carolina Chamber of Commerce president. And we were having this conversation. He was asking the questions and different things, and then at the end of the conversation, he said, “Don, you tell me what I need to do, but here’s what I want. I’m going to attend the training that you guys are doing to certify as a diversity executive. I’m going to send this out to all of the business leaders that I know. I’m going to put this coursework into all my executive leaders.” And we started walking down an action list. And because I know that he’s a man of his word, if he said he’s going to do it, he’ll do it. And then I started to get. I started to get energy, right?

Because of all the conversations that I didn’t know were empty or not, I had hit one, and then another, that weren’t empty because a man that is public said, “I will do this.” And that started to create some, some energy.

And so.

Jes Averhart: I just want to say what that is to me, I have a good friend at the Raleigh Chamber who said this, he’s working on this work, Danya Perry. I loved what he said, I was on a call with him yesterday. He goes, “It’s time to go from statement to strategy. The statements were great and important because they provide sort of the thesis on what it is and how you feel, but now what’s the strategy to back it up?” And I love that. So that’s like, the next phase. I don’t knock any statement that’s been made. I appreciate the efforts out there with corporate America shifting their lens. Hallelujah, praise the Lord. But now, let’s move to strategy. And that is where the rubber meets the road and that’s what I’m excited about, Don, to your point.

Donald Thompson: Yeah. That’s that’s good stuff. That’s good stuff. Rob, anything you wanted to add? I didn’t want to –

Rob Shields: Yeah, I think that we have to be careful too, as we shift from statement and strategy, you both mentioned examples of when people move quickly in this space, they tend to do collateral damage, by, basically, I believe that if you’re white and you’re grappling with these things and you’re in a position of power, I think that you’re very nervous to make a mistake in this space, and so what you ended up doing is the safe play, which is you invite in the person of color to say, “Teach us.” And you put that burden completely on their shoulders.

And I think while it’s really important that white people work to decenter themselves in this, for sure. And amplify and center voices that have been marginalized, not so much that you don’t speak at all and you don’t do your own work and you don’t have the hard conversations with other white people that you need to have that aren’t going to be traumatizing for you, right? I think that’s where you can, I think, be a part of the change as a white person is don’t go so far to decenter yourself that you put all of the work and I’m going to go find that, you know, black friend or black coworker, and just basically be like, “All right, man. Tell me, tell me what to do. You teach me.” And I think we’ve got to take that ownership on ourselves to educate ourselves, as white people on what – how we can shift from statement to strategy, but also how we look to recognize and do that audit of the power and the privilege we have and look to transfer and give that power up so others can experience the same privileges that we’ve had access to. The conversation has to go there.

Donald Thompson: That’s right.

Rob Shields: Because honestly, diversity is good for business until it’s not. And everybody’s like, “Oh yeah, diversity is great for business. It’s actually great to have a nice officer on my team,” but how far are we willing to go with that?

Are we willing to go have the power conversation? Because if you don’t actually start to diversify the decision making tables, and you start to transfer power, that’s where you lose most white people, I think .They’re like, yeah, “Diversity, I love the relationships, but let’s not talk about how we close the racial wealth gap.” That’s that’s not good for business.

Donald Thompson: Yeah. Yeah.

Rob Shields: By definition.

Donald Thompson: You couldn’t be more right. So I don’t have any, I don’t think anything to, to add that. The only thing that I do is, I come from a sales background and different things, is I don’t quite say it like that, right?

Rob Shields: I run a nonprofit, I think I can be a little more honest, maybe I got a little bit more.

Donald Thompson: I talk about let’s grow the pie together, you know what I mean?  Let’s create the multi-process for decision making, but at the end of the day, the decision making that relenting of power, is at the crux of the problem in the United States of America, right?

Like that actually is the issue, right? Like –

Rob Shields: That’s, back to that tree analogy, that is the root.

Donald Thompson: If you think about, and I’ll let you comment, right? There’s a lot of people that are for, against Trump, they’re for, against this in politics and all of that stuff. And I get it and I’m, I understand. But the 200th judge that he recommended with a conservative leaning was confirmed by Senate.

So that means lifetime appointments for 200 people that may not believe anything like we’re describing. And so we’re talking about his last lie, we’re talking about a wall, we’re talking about all this other shiny object stuff and missing the power structure elements of how decisions are made about how we live and to your point, how justice is meted it out.

That makes it a multigenerational problem to solve because now, all of a sudden, people in power that you  can’t see everyday, it’s not on TV, are making decisions every day about how justice is delivered to our society. And so, I think part of our work is educating people on the power structure that we have to really win against.

And it’s not always the power structure we’re seeing on the evening news, or on cable, or on Facebook and all of those arguments of no effect.

Rob Shields: And to make that personal, too, like we – ’cause it’s easy to blame the government. It’s easy to say, “Hey policy.” And those are things that need to change, but also can be a shield, right?

It can, it can be a distraction from the personal audit I need to do. I mean, Jes, you talked about it earlier, this, this assessment, right? This personal assessment of what power and privilege do I have that I could work to transfer that might be able to move a lot faster than the government red tape?

You know, I don’t have to wait on the next president to do that. I don’t have to wait on the next election to analyze my social mobility story, right? David Dodson, and local MDC of Durham talks about that. If you’re really assessing, how did I get to where I am so that I can assess “Oh yeah that is, I need to know how my story intersects with the story of injustice in our country and our communities, right?” And white people, that’s the trade we’ve given up. In gripping for power and in creating race, we have traded, right, to grab power, we kind of lost our own identity and dehumanized ourselves as we dehumanize others because we’re not tapped into who we are and where we come from.

Donald Thompson: We could talk for hours and hours on this. I want to, I want to switch gears a little bit. And Jess, I want to give some space to talk about your new project. ‘Cause you’ve, you’ve made some transitions, some career changes and that’s just big within itself, right? Independent of all the big things that are happening in the world as an individual to leave a corporate job, doing phenomenal, leader, CEO, and now you’ve launched and have created the reinvention roadmap, the reinvention project.

Talk a little bit about this new journey that you’re on.

Jes Averhart: Thank you. I would love to, yeah. I mean, it’s really smart to start a new company in a pandemic. So, I turned in my notice as many of your listeners will know and some won’t, I was the former executive director of Leadership Triangle for many years.

Love personal leadership development a great deal. And so, I learned a lot in that process and through some great mentors like Col. Joe LeBoeuf, and Mark  Molitor, and many others, Colin Rustin. And as I was learning from these, sort of, stages in leadership, so much was coming forward about my own life, my own personal life, my journey.

And I mentioned I’m from a small town in Ohio. My mom, what we don’t want your listeners don’t know is I’m biracial. So my mom is white, my dad is black. And so that brings lots of interesting complexity that we will not get into on this podcast that’s for another day. But the idea of inventing who you are to survive, and to make it, and to be the best that you can be, and then reinventing as you learn more about yourself. It has been the story of my life since I was about seven years old. And so, having that leadership, mentorship over the last several years has allowed me to do some self examination and get really self aware about the choices that I made along the way. The lies that I told myself along the way. The lessons that I learned, or didn’t learn, along the way and create this opportunity for other women to take that journey as well. If they’re going through similar experiences, want to change, their circumstances, want to dive into something new professionally or personally, want to move to Spain and open a bookstore, whatever they want to do, there is a hurdle, and that’s a lot it’s usually internalized.

And so, the reinvention roadmap helps – I take the journey with you to uncover some of those things and allow you the space and freedom and hold sacred some space for you to reimagine who you are and the possibilities that exist for you. And then, those around you will benefit. Not just you, but those around you – your kids, family, your community – benefits from the best version of you.

And so the Reinvention Roadmap is a course, there’s a podcast called the Reinvention Road Trip where we interview women from across the country who have inspiring reinvention stories. There’s newsletter and all the things, but people can check that out at and we can, you know, explore it together, but I’m really excited to showcase women and their stories along the way.

Donald Thompson: No, that is powerful. Rob, I want to give you some space as our time winds down to just talk about some things that are going on at ReCity, some resources and how people can get in touch because you guys are both doing so much. There’s no way to unpack it all in 45 minutes or an hour. And I don’t even think we need to, right? It’s more important that people are like, “Wait a minute, I want to get to know Jes better. I want to get to know Rob better.”

And we turn this into new listeners for what you guys are doing also. So Rob, take it away for a few minutes.

Rob Shields: Yeah. As Jes was explaining, I just put two and two together. I should’ve done this earlier. I mean, we both have companies that start with the letter R-E, right? And I think the shared value there is that  we’re both in the business of helping people rewrite stories, that’s literally ReCity’s tagline is “rewriting the story of our city together.” And so – which is just crazy. It takes us going on another podcast just to figure some of this stuff out. I don’t know.

Thanks for  the assist,Don. But yeah ReCity, I mean, for those of you don’t know, I probably should have said this from the beginning, but we’ve got a diverse relational network of people who are pursuing justice together here in Durham. We’ve got 50 organizations, the majority of them are led by a person of color.

And I think that, you know, centering marginalized, voices and leaders in pursuit of justice is what ReCity is all about. And so for us, and one aspect of that, or primarily up until the last five years, has been coworking. Well, not in probably the best time to be in, in shared space business right now, in quarantine.

But I think for us, it’s been a chance to reinvent ourselves, to Jes as well. I mean, yeah, I probably should sign up for the course, right? Because for us, it’s really leaning into the fact that ReCity is not a place. ReCity is about people and our vehicle is really bridge-building. And so we’re, we’re really leaning into what it looks like to digitally connect people right now.

I think probably the most practical thing for our listeners would be we launched a digital smart matching tool that basically is the eharmony for volunteer matching in ReCity connects. So, a lot of volunteer hours are quarantined right now. People don’t feel safe leaving their home and serving their community the same way they did before.

We’ve got 50 organizations who are on the front lines, pursuing justice that need your advice. And so if you’re a business person, you have anything to give in time and talent, we encourage you to hop on ReCity’s website, You can learn more about ReCity Connects, and you can volunteer to be a virtual mentor, and you can serve your community, while you practice social distancing from home and be able to, you know, our local nonprofits need your support now more than ever.

And so we’d would encourage you to check that out.

Donald Thompson: No, that is great. And I learned something new in terms of a way that I can participate and also help promote. And so, what’ll be launching next week is I’ll be a contributor for WRAL Tech and have a weekly column.

And one of the goals is to talk about how technology is integrating into social good, right? I love the way that you’ve integrated technology, the virtual handshake so to speak, so that people can still give in this moment, right? And the other thing is I just love people who have an action orientation, right? Because that’s what we need quite frankly. Like, there’s a lot of folks that talk good. It sounds good. But like, to your point, we’ve got to get in there and use what we all have at this moment to do what we can. And both of you exemplify that, and it’s powerful that you guys are doing it together so you can keep motivating and pushing each other. And please, if I can be of benefit, anything you see that I can do or touch, just please ask. And a lot of times that we don’t reach out is because we don’t know what the need of the other is, but I want to share sincerely that if I can be of help or benefit.

Like, please let me know.

Jes Averhart: Thank you, Donald.

Donald Thompson: Thanks so much for being on the show. I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve learned from you guys. I know you guys are pushing and tired, so I know this hour is a big gift, but I’m very appreciative and thank you guys so much.

Jes Averhart: Right on. Thank you, friend.

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Jes Averhart Rob Shields Donald Thompson Podcast

The Donald Thompson Podcast is hosted by Walk West CEO, mentor, investor, and Diversity and Inclusion Consultant Donald Thompson.

Music for this episode provided by Jensen Reed from his song, “You Can’t Stop Me”.

The Donald Thompson Podcast is edited and produced by Earfluence. For more on how to engage your community or build your personal brand through podcasting, visit

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