GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) — Between the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to hear cases on affirmative action in college admissions and President Biden’s promise to nominate a Black woman to the highest court in the land, there’s been a lot of talk about affirmative action. Specifically, the belief that some people are where they are because they benefited from their minority status.

“I have had people infer that I was only present because of race or gender or both,” Mona Edwards said. “However, I choose not to let that enter my psyche…or deter me from what I’m there to do.”

Edwards is Black. She says throughout her career that includes leadership roles in the public and private sector in Greensboro and now her own company, in most cases she’s been the first woman, the first African-American or both.

“However, I’m so used to it. That’s just the way I was raised,” Edwards said. “My parents, my family raised us with a mindset of you’re going to have to work twice as hard because there are perceptions in this country that African-Americans are less than. So in order to overcome that, you’re going to have to work twice as hard to prove yourself.”

“I think we all live in our own bubbles,” Mark Hale said. “Mine was certainly shaped by growing up in Eugene, Oregon…in a very white community. We thought that diversity was going to a Chinese restaurant and eating with chopsticks. That was about as diverse as we got.”

Mark Hale is a long-time educator. We asked if he recalled a time when he or any of his white friends thought someone else got something because of the color of their skin.

“I have heard that from my white friends, yes. But I really think it’s a matter of growing the pie, not excluding folks. It’s really about making the opportunities bigger and seeing how that benefits everyone,” he said.

Edwards and Hale come from totally different backgrounds, but they have common ground. They both now run their own leadership coaching and consulting companies. And they’re both on the board for NCCJ, an organization that works to build communities free of bias, bigotry and racism. Part of their work is helping others learn how to talk about tough issues related to race. They say the conversation is not easy, but it gets easier.

“I think the first thing to do is to be curious and not try to advance your own agenda but to really understand the other person’s perspective,” Hale said.

“As a coach, I also listen to what may be the fear that’s behind that statement or behind that question. Because oftentimes I believe that’s at the root. It’s a fear of loss: a loss of power, a loss of access, a loss of something,” Edwards added.

She says one thing we all have in common is the desire for a chance to have a full and meaningful life.

“I think oftentimes we position things as a win-lose,” Edwards said. “If I get accepted, then you don’t. I think rather than a win-lose proposition, if we could focus on where we’re all starting from…we all want a good quality of life. We all want access to opportunity. Can we start there and talk about what are some ways to provide that entree and that access to everyone? Not just some people but all people.”

“I just find that when you’re empathetic and listening and allow people to open up, sometimes they hear themselves,” Hale said. “They go ‘wow I don’t know if I really believe what I’m saying or not.'”

There are several ways you can get involved in these conversations. If you don’t know where to start, NCCJ has several opportunities for you to find out how.