What I've Learned

Life Lessons from Diversity Consultant Michele Redwine

"I tell my children all the time, ‘You take one step back, but you go two steps forward.’ There’s always a solution and there’s always a reason to get engaged and to learn new things and experience life.”

By Susan Burns February 28, 2018 Published in the March 2018 issue of Sarasota Magazine

Michele Redwine

Image: Barbara Banks

Michele Des Verney Redwine, 75, began her career in the arts and educational administration before becoming an innovator in diversity consulting, eventually starting her own firm, Diversity in Education. Now retired, Redwine worked with colleges and municipalities around the country as a go-to person in diversity and was recruited for board leadership by heavy hitters like New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, Atlanta Mayor Maynard H. Jackson and Connecticut Gov. Lowell Weicker Jr. With a degree in fine arts from Boston University (and a degree in equal employment opportunity studies from Cornell University), she is also an accomplished sculptor. After moving to Sarasota in 2004, Redwine jumped into the arts, sitting on committees and boards including The Ringling, Hermitage Artist Retreat, Realize Bradenton, Gloria Musicae and Florida Studio Theatre. This year, Redwine co-founded SRQBAC, Suncoast Black Art Collaborative, to showcase the art of African-Americans. 

“My biggest influences were family and school. I grew up in Harlem. My father was a businessman and my mom was an educator, and there was an emphasis on education. It was true of all black, middle-class families in those days. I had the opportunity to attend Dalton School [an elite prep school in Manhattan], found my love for art in the eighth grade and went to high school for music and art.”

“I majored in art education at Boston University even though the dean wanted me to major in painting. In those days your choices as an African-American in terms of careers for guaranteed employment were limited, so you went into education, social work, medicine or law. Most women I know went into education or social work.”

“I wrote and developed the first brochure in preventing sexual harassment when I was affirmative action officer for Greenwich, Connecticut. I don’t understand why, all of a sudden, towns and states are saying we need to [train people about sexual harassment]. I trained every employee in the town of Greenwich from 1990-1997. We have laws that say what you’re supposed to do. It was very clear.”

“I’m not certain you can change one’s ideas [about diversity], but you can alter behavior. There are expectations and standards and they should be adhered to. Attitudes go back to infancy and they stay with you for a long time, or it takes something that happens to you personally to change them. But an attitude doesn’t have to get in the way of a behavior. A behavior can be controlled in the workplace. “Unfortunately, [the conversations around] diversity haven’t really changed. We’re still dealing with the same issues.”

“I don’t give up. I get angry, but I look for a way to keep going. I tell my children all the time, ‘You take one step back, but you go two steps forward.’ There’s always a solution and there’s always a reason to get engaged and to learn new things and experience life.” 

“Before 2004, I was working in Houston, but I would stop in Sarasota for a couple of days before going back to Washington, D.C., where I was living. My cousin lived in Sarasota along with other friends I had grown up with. I felt like I almost knew all the African-Americans who had moved here. I thought, ‘I don’t like the weather in D.C., I’m on a plane 48 weeks out of 52.’ At the end of 2004 I said, ‘It’s time.’ I sold my house and rented in Sarasota for a year before I bought a place. I immediately started searching out the arts, just trying to make connections.”

“Sarasota is an easy community to adjust to, and if you love the arts, it’s easy to find a place of enjoyment. It’s also a place to explore your talents. You can take classes, join the opera guild, participate in programs that support education. Schools are always looking for mentors.”

“When I got off The Ringling board there was an effort I had tried to push forth for years that didn’t really go anywhere. That effort was to help the museum look at art by African-Americans, and to have more exhibitions from diverse cultures. I wanted to make this happen, so I formed an organization—SRQBAC, the Suncoast Black Art Collaborative. We have a very simple mission statement: to advocate for greater exposure for African-American artists throughout the Suncoast arts community and to provide educational forums and symposia to expose students and arts patrons to the work of African-American artists.” 

“I’m about community. In my own community [of African-Americans], we’re working with major issues and I keep saying to everyone, ‘It’s not about what you do, it’s about what we do for the whole community and how the community becomes engaged.’”

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