Former McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson and Cleveland Avenue Foundation’s Liz Thompson: Breaking Barriers
Don and Liz Thompson are leaders in their respective industries. Don had a long career rising through the ranks of McDonald’s, eventually becoming the company’s first Black CEO. Meanwhile his wife Liz Thompson was a rising executive in education and nonprofits – like City Year Chicago, where she was the founding executive director.
Throughout their careers, the Thompsons kept their community in mind. In 2014, they started the Cleveland Avenue Foundation for Education (The CAFE), an organization focused on college access and career attainment for the Black community.
They talk to host Porter Braswell about being intentional with their work, in order to build economic equity in the Black community whenever they had the opportunity. They also discuss breaking racial barriers while climbing to the top of corporate America.
HBR Presents is a network of podcasts curated by HBR editors, bringing you the best business ideas from the leading minds in management. The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Harvard Business Review or its affiliates.
DON THOMPSON: What I found is in many of the countries that I visited, no matter where it was, there’s this look. It’s an incredulous look, and I would just reach my hand out and go, how are you? It’s nice to meet you, because I never want to be bound or held back as people sometimes think. I am strengthened by who I am and by the grace that God has given me. So why would I not want to get on with some confidence? I’m the CEO of McDonald’s.
LIZ THOMPSON: Don and I have been giving in various ways for a really long time, but when he became CEO of McDonald’s, we decided we wanted to do it in a more formal, structured way. And we wanted to do that in order to be visible and be a role model for others.
The Black community has been very philanthropic for centuries, actually
PORTER BRASWELL: From HBR Presents. This is Race at Work. The show that explores how race impacts our careers and lives. I’m Porter Braswell. I left a wall street career to start a company called Jopwell because I wanted to help corporate America build a more diverse workforce. Each week, we talk to a different leader about their experience with race and how it impacts our daily lives.
Don and Liz Thompson are the definition of a power couple. They’ve been leading side-by-side in different industries throughout their careers. Don was the first Black CEO of McDonald’s throughout his 25 year rise to the top of the world’s largest restaurant chain, his wife, Liz was leading alongside him. Liz has held leadership roles in the academic and nonprofit world.
She was the founding executive director of City Year Chicago, a national service organization that was the template for the AmeriCorps program. She’s now president of an organization they both co-founded called the Cleveland Avenue Foundation for Education, an organization focused on college access and success and career readiness and attainment.
In this episode, Don discusses how he was able to thrive in the CEO role by bringing his whole self to work. And the importance of having mentors that look out for you. Liz also talks about how intentional they both were throughout their careers, helping to build economic equity for Black communities together.
We started our conversation asking Liz about how it all started.
What we hear time and time again, especially when it comes to successful people of color who come from humble beginnings is that they made it out, if the person doesn’t come from a suburban background. Liz, I know you talk a lot about the environment you grew up in being an asset and not a burden.
Can you talk about your upbringing and how that led to all of your future success and made you the person that you are today?
LIZ THOMPSON: Absolutely Porter you’re right. I always say that we are successful because of where we came from and not in spite of it. And so Don and I both grew up in Chicago, oddly enough, on the same street called Cleveland Avenue.
Tell you a little bit about that in a second, but I’m the youngest of six and in a family full of love as Don always says — we had a whole lot of things, not a whole lot of money, but a whole lot of love. And that was the same case in my family as well. I went to high school, a technical high school because I love math and science and realized that I would be an engineer in one form or the other.
So I started to do chemical engineering and that’s where me and Don’s paths crossed. And when I think about it, when I reflect on what it took in order for us to grow up in the area that we did — understanding how to make a dollar out of 59 cents as we call it and make the most of the resources we had — those are the skills Porter, that we’re using now.
I mean, they are the same skills, strategic management skills, budget management skills, learning how to navigate social networks and social capital. We put fancy names on that now, but the reality is everything we needed to know, we learned growing up on Cleveland Avenue. And so that’s why I’m always careful to say that because of where we grew up, we’ve been able to be successful and not in spite of it.
And I majored in electrical engineering, even though I started in chemical engineering and came out as a practicing engineer with Ameritech corporation. What I realized that I love more than anything Porter, was engineering people and relationships. And so I decided to take a little detour and go to work with people on social issues.
Primarily education-based issues because of my intense desire to solve problems. And so engineering came in handy for that reason, but would propel me to do so much more than just engineering things.
PORTER BRASWELL: Yeah. Did you have mentors along the way? I would imagine being one of the only women, one of the only people of color to go through that path throughout college and into your professional career, what role did mentorship play in that for you?
LIZ THOMPSON: A tremendous role and you’re right, Porter. I remember I was in a class, an advanced math class at Purdue where I was the only African-American and for sure, the only woman and and it’s it’s really interesting that you point that out because at Purdue, I found myself being one of a few women. And when I went into the professional world, I was looking for guidance in any way that I could, again, being one of the few women in engineering field.
And I found a woman named Francine Soliunas who is still my mentor to this day and Francine — and I’ll never forget, I’ll tell the story quickly. I was standing at the bank of an elevator and this woman got off the elevator and she had three men around her. She was a corporate attorney for Ameritech, and she literally had these three men, these three white men, and she was a Black woman round, ground, and low to the ground, as she describes herself. She had these men literally dripping off of her every word. And I saw this happening and I said, I don’t know what she has, but I want some of it. And I tracked her down and I told her who I was and what I wanted. And she said, well, then I guess we’re going to be attached. And we have been attached and that was, whoo — that many years ago when I was 25, is when I met her. So mentorship has meant everything to me and that relationship that you know what Porter, it means even more to me now, that I can serve in that capacity to so many young people coming along.
PORTER BRASWELL: Well that talks about your upbringing, go get what you want and what you need. And don’t be intimidated, approach that person, have that dialogue, and it seems like that changed the trajectory of your career. And without that type of upbringing, maybe you freeze, maybe you pause, but that was what you grew up in. And that was natural to approach that. So I I appreciate that story.
So Don, let’s talk about your journey as a leader. A large part of your career was spent at McDonald’s. What initially drew you to that organization?
DON THOMPSON: It’s interesting Porter, probably the first thing. So I was with Northrop Defense Systems as an electrical engineer, basically the defense industry. We had just gone through a period of downsizing and I was one of the folks who ended up needing to downsize part of my team.
I had done this probably for several weeks. And at that time it was the late eighties. And as a government contractor, this became very, very, it was a, it was an impactful piece when you look at that side of things, when you have to you know, let someone go. And so I got a call, a very interesting call and that call was basically whether or not I’d be interested in another career opportunity.
Obviously at that point, I said, wow, this could be interesting because what I’m doing now is, it’s challenging. To be honest, I thought it was McDonnell Douglas calling and it was actually McDonald’s hamburgers. And so once I found that out, I said, no. Someone called me the next day, asked me if I was interested in a career opportunity and change again and they’d love me to come to see McDonald’s and he had been at Bell Laboratory. And so I said, absolutely, I’ll come. And it changed my life. It’s one of the things I tell a lot of people today — don’t turn down opportunity. You never know where opportunities will come from. And so you have to be open to them, but that trajectory changed my life and I had a 25 year stint with McDonald’s, which was unbelievable. I enjoyed it.
PORTER BRASWELL: Well, I think what’s so incredible about that — especially given where you came from and your first career moving over to McDonald’s — is that transferable skills matter. And if you can recruit people from different industries in different walks of life, they can obviously succeed if given the opportunity, despite their background may not being an exact fit for what you think the role requires.
If you can hire qualified, capable people and give them the chance, that’s how you diversify the top of the funnel and that’s how you ultimately find success.
So when did you know in your career that being the CEO was going to be a possibility. And when being groomed to step into that seat, did anyone ever bring up the responsibility or the burden that would come with being a Black CEO of a fortune 500 company?
DON THOMPSON: Wow. That’s a really great question. So the first part, I really didn’t. I was in engineering and McDonald’s, if you weren’t in operations, then you were probably not going to be considered for management at an upper senior level management, because most of our senior level leaders, except for certain functional areas had been in some form of their career, in operations.
And so at McDonald’s that was something you needed to do. So what happened with my case was a gentleman came up to me and he happened to be one of the two senior African-Americans at McDonald’s. And he said, you know what? I hear that the people in engineering really enjoy what you’re doing. And they think you’re very strategic. They’d like you to go into this accelerated development program for the company. And I’d like to be your sponsor. He said, but before all of that, basically, there’s another job that you should look at taking because I was about to leave and McDonald’s, I didn’t think McDonald’s was ready for an African-American to continue to progress.
I was a director in the company and I got passed up for a couple of awards and honors, and I just said, man, it’s about that time. But the guy who is still a mentor and a friend basically plucked me and said, look, I’m going to tuck you under my wing and I am going to help you get to the next level. And I didn’t know what that meant.
All I knew was I was going to go work for one of the two senior ranking African-Americans as director of strategy. He created a position for me that was the beginning of other things and I began to see the breadth of the business. And ultimately I went into operations and took off the suit and tie and went to work in the restaurant.
And I had to learn the restaurant as everyone else does in McDonald’s. You learn it from the restaurant up when you’re in the operations side of the business. Wow.
PORTER BRASWELL: So, and this question is for either one of you, how did your relationship evolve through that process of two incredibly successful people? A lot of pressure, a lot of opportunity.
How does your relationship kind of you know go through something like that and how do you build together?
DON THOMPSON: You know, I’ll start out and let Liz clean this whole thing up, but I would offer to you that Liz really made the greatest sacrifice. And so when I went into the accelerated development program at McDonald’s, that meant we were going to have to move quite a bit.
So we were moving from Chicago to Denver. It was going to San Diego. What Liz did was basically say I’m going to double down and focus on our family. My son had been born. Our daughter, Maya was born when we were in Denver throughout all of those times in those early days. And Liz was still holding down a job as an executive director at Montessori schools.
Having found that city of Chicago in Chicago, and it wasn’t a step back. It was a step to the side in her career. And she focused on our family and that allowed me to be able to put in you know the additional time, the additional hours, the additional travel and focus on my career at McDonald’s.
LIZ THOMPSON: You know, Porter, my husband and I do a lot of these interviews. So let me just give you kudos those for asking that question, because it’s such an important question because you know, when you have a relationship like ours, you don’t do anything alone. Everything we have done has been together. And so when I saw what the trajectory of my husband’s career was about to do, it was clear to me that I wanted to be in a role that would support all four of us.
Not just him, not just the kids, but us as a family unit and as you said, I decided to focus on our family and it turned out it was a difficult decision to make. I’m not gonna you know, I’m not gonna lie and I’m not going to be anything less than transparent. It was a very difficult decision and yet, I would make it all over again, because if you just met our two kids, you would know that it was the right decision.
My mom looked at me as I was working and Don was working and every day I would get to my daughter, like at six o’four, instead of six o’clock in the childcare provider would be looking at me like, you know, I’m not gonna do this anymore. And I said to my mom — mom, it’s so hard, this is really hard having two careers and she looked me in the eyes and she said, your kids didn’t ask to be born.
You all decided that. And so you probably need to think about what you’re going to do. And so that was all I needed. I knew how much I loved him. I knew how much I loved them. And I thought that was the right thing for us to do. It actually made our relationship stronger. I wouldn’t say that’s going to be the right decision for every couple in our situation.
I didn’t even think about things like live-in childcare or anything like that. That’s just wasn’t part of my you know, my landscape at the time, but a lot of women have different choices that they can make now as do men have different choices that they can make now. For us, it was the right choice and it brought us together as a family even stronger.
PORTER BRASWELL: That’s great. I appreciate you both sharing that. Did you have conversations about Don if ultimately you did end up as the CEO of McDonald’s — what that would mean and how your family would deal with that platform. And specifically, again, being a Black CEO, what do you do with that? Did you all discuss those types of dynamics at play?
DON THOMPSON: We never really did discuss those because it happened in such a natural way. The progression did. So we moved from Denver. We moved back to San Diego and the positions progressed. And ultimately I was in a position of being the president of McDonald’s US. And I was very outspoken. If you ask that question, she’ll give you an answer.
There’s not going to be any biting of the tongue. And so I was of the impression that you know, what I’ve got to do is what my grandmother had taught me. Be the best that I can be. Be authentic. I’m quite unapologetic about being Black and who I am. And so throughout this whole career and throughout the progressions, that was just me.
So when I got to be president in US, and then I got a call from the then COO, who was becoming the CEO and he said, I’d like to interview you and talk to you about the chief operating officer position of McDonald’s globally. I’ll be honest with you, man. I paused. I was like, whoa, I didn’t expect this. Not me. Cause I mean, I’m Mr. I, you know, I’m, I’m Don, authentically Don. And so when, when Jim Skinner did that, it said something to me, it said, you know what? I thought my whole career being me was the right thing to do. And he just validated it even more. And so I ended up being the chief operating officer and Jim then also supported me in becoming the CEO.
He basically gave me the range even while he was still there. And, uh, allowed me to do what, what I could do. And so I never really thought about that progression, but when it hit, you know, because I hadn’t thought about it, I thought I was ready. I always thought I was ready. And the reason I thought I was ready is because I don’t know the job, but I work just as hard I’ll study even longer, I’ll ask even more questions, you know, I’ll travel the world and talk to all of the people that I need to talk to and learn this business in a different way than I have already and that was what I set out to do. Liz and I always felt like whatever we did, we needed to do it, not just for us, but for those who look like us and came up like us.
So the notion of what pressures and stress did it bring, I would offer to you that when I became president of the US business for McDonald’s, that was probably interestingly enough, a more focal point, than even CEO. And that one we had to, you know, we, we just, I think we were just ready for it because it it just was who we were.
We were involved with our community.
LIZ THOMPSON: I would tell you maybe this is a whole other podcast that we’d do together about what it means to be partners when one of them is running essentially the world’s largest restaurant. And so there’s so many layers to it, right? So just being a couple, being a Black couple, being a couple moving around the country, being a couple with two young kids, I mean being a couple who feels like they are obligated to give back, so many different layers, Porter.
And looking back now, It sounds like it was easy. I can tell you when we were in the thick of it, it was anything but easy. And he was right in the middle of it, right? Porter So he was doing the job — I’ll never forget, he called home one time. He had been CEO for maybe a year or so and he said, you know, I I think I’m going to bring a few folks home for dinner tonight.
I said, okay, well, how many are we talking? Hmm, I don’t know, somewhere between 70 and 80. Yeah. Okay. No problem. Got it. And so things like that, you know, where in the moment you’re like, oh my goodness. And you look back now and we can laugh at it. But, uh, yeah, it was it was, it was real, Porter. I will tell you that the layers of being Black, they had their interesting issues associated with it too, but it was quite the journey and more importantly, it was us being able to do this and look behind to make sure that others didn’t.
DON THOMPSON: Yeah, it’s interesting because to Liz’s point — having gone through this, there’s so many things you just don’t think about. I’m sitting here and I’m listening to what she’s saying and listening to what you’re saying. And what’s very interesting is — and I say this to a lot of people today.
When you walk into a room, you walk into that room and unbeknownst to the folks walking in or to you as you’re walking in, you’ve not met each other. You don’t know each other. So there’s two ways to walk in. One way is to walk into that room thinking, okay, they’re all going to be looking at me. Uh, oh, man. I mean, this is going to be tough, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
The other way to walk into that room is to walk into that room thinking, okay, here I come. Get ready because this is about to be a wonderful explosion up in here. And you about to meet Don. And what I found is in many of the countries that I’ve visited — and I had several dignitaries from other countries we’d be with and no matter where it was around the world — and they say, you know, our folks would introduce me to, you know, this is our CEO, Don Thompson, and the folks would look and they had already done diligence.
So they knew who I look like, but it was like, you’re the CEO of McDonald’s globally, no matter where it was, there’s this look. It’s an incredulous look, and I would just reach my hand out and go, how are you? It’s nice to meet you. A little smile, a sit down and let’s get on to business because I never want to be bound or held back as people sometimes think by something that someone else is thinking about me.
I am strengthened by who I am, and by the grace that God has given me, so why would I not walk in with some confidence? I’m the CEO of McDonald’s. And so that I think is, is a powerful point. And Liz brings it up because we walked in a lot of places together and, you know, we were Liz and Don Thompson. That’s who we are.
PORTER BRASWELL: I love that. So you’re hitting on being the only is a superpower. It can be a superpower. If that spotlight is on you, two things can happen. You can freeze or to your point, you can step in it. And if you feel comfortable to step into it, you’re going to expose people to a different perspective, a different way of thinking.
You’re going to break down barriers. You’re going to be such a compelling person that people are going to want to be around you and learn from you. And I think it’s the responsibility of a corporation to create an environment, especially for junior people to feel like they can step in that spotlight and be their full self and be Don and share their experiences because that’s the value of diversity.
And if you can’t feel comfortable enough to do that, then what’s the point of diversity? And going back to your upbringings and talking about how that’s been a blessing to get to where you all are — it’s so obvious that that upbringing, that fundamental background has led to incredible things. And you know — my wife and I, we’ve been married, coming up on our third year anniversary, we have a 14 month old daughter — and I look at the two of you and you’re such an inspiration because nothing happens family-wise, professional-wise, without building together. I have a lot that I want to cover in this conversation, but just already, I thank you for sharing these stories because it’s inspiring for me as somebody beginning my journey, to hear it from the two of you.
LIZ THOMPSON: Yeah, we’ve been together. We just celebrated 40 years together. Porter, in March.
PORTER BRASWELL: Wow. Congratulations. Wow. Wow.
LIZ THOMPSON: Yeah. Yup. It’s been a wonderful, wonderful journey together. So keep keep at it. It gets better.
PORTER BRASWELL: That’s awesome. So let’s shift gears a bit. Liz, you’re the president of the Cleveland Avenue Foundation for Education also known as CAFÉ or Cleveland Avenue.
Now I can assume where the name come from, cause we touched on where you grew up, but can you tell us a little bit about that organization and what you’re looking to accomplish?
LIZ THOMPSON: Absolutely. Porter. So the Cleveland Avenue Foundation for Education, we call it the CAFÉ for short, is our family foundation. You know, Don and I have been giving in various ways for a really long time, but when he became CEO of McDonald’s, we decided we wanted to do it in a more formal structured way.
And we wanted to do that in order to be visible and be a role model for others. We we had been very quiet about it which is our natural way, but someone said to us once, you know, people can’t see it, they can’t be it. And so that really stuck with me in terms of philanthropy, because, you know, the Black community has been very philanthropic for centuries, actually.
So we decided we would focus on education Porter because after all, that’s how Don and I met, as I said, the Black community has been philanthropic for centuries. We wanted more people to join us in education giving. And so we decided as a foundation, we would focus on that. And that’s where our latest initiative came from the 1954 Project named after the Brown vs Board of Education decision in 1954, which ended state sanctioned segregation.
Now, what people don’t realize about that decision was when we started integrating schools, that integration was largely one direction. So a lot of our young Black children were integrated into white schools, but very few, young white children were integrated the other way. And what happened as a result of that Porter was that we lost over 44,000 Black educators as a result of that decision.
And most people don’t know that. And so the 1954 Project sets out to not only increase the numbers of Black educators in front of our children, Black leaders in front of our school districts, but also to increase the numbers of Black leaders doing two other things, one coming up with creative and innovative ways to teach in our schools, and then the other thing is that economic mobility, that career attainment, the people that are working on that as an issue. The 1954 Project is looking to recognize these Black leaders doing this work with transformational size gifts. $1 million gifts. We’ve partnered with the Walton Family Foundation. They are phenomenal partners in this work and Porter, the other thing we want to be able to do is build this vibrant donor community of folks that believe in this work so that they can not only learn about these leaders, but also learn about education writ large and the joy of philanthropy.
PORTER BRASWELL: That’s incredible, and I love the size of the grants. It’s not scraps.
You’re giving them enough resources that they can be creative and take risks and push the envelope. And that’s so important to give it a chance to give these ideas and concepts a chance to actually flourish. How do you think about success? How do you know along this journey of the 1954 Project that it’s working?
LIZ THOMPSON: Phenomenal question. Uh, Success for us looks a couple of different ways. Number one, it looks like our leaders, long-term starting to get more of these transformational size gifts. It looks like them being recognized by many, many others for the incredible work that they are doing, because remember they are closest to the work.
They understand the students and they have the solutions that we need. One thing I didn’t say was when you have Black educators in front of children, all children perform at higher levels, all children when Black children in particular do significantly better with Black educators in some of the classrooms.
So when we see more of them and when they are recognized at higher levels, we know we have been successful, but then when our donor community is engaged, When more people are experiencing the joys of giving, when more people are understanding education, at whatever level they choose to engage, that will be success, Porter.
And last but not least when those little pumpkins grow up and decide that they are going to be educators themselves or venture capitalists or our hairstylist or whatever it is that they grow up with the belief that they can do it, no matter what it is. That is success.
PORTER BRASWELL: That’s incredible. I am pumped. I am so excited for the two of you and for this organization and for this project, I love the energy that you all are bringing to it.
I love the experience and the knowledge and the resources that you all can bring to it as well. I love that it’s focused and you’re very clear on who it’s for and what you need to achieve. And that’s like any good thing in life. If you can name it, call it out and define what success looks like, then it’s just execution.
And clearly the two of you can execute. So I’m incredibly excited for the both of you for that project. So curious, you know, in the time that we live in, and with the experiences that you both have had being incredibly successful individuals, how do you advise people to talk about race? Whether it’s in the context of work, in philanthropy, in friendships, how should one enter into the dialogue of race and Liz, let’s start with you.
LIZ THOMPSON: Another question I love, let’s start with, how about just talk about race. So even before you focus on how to talk about race, just make a decision to talk about race. You know, in this country, we just often don’t even enter into those conversations now, you know, in the last 18 months or so it’s a different story but prior to that, and we wouldn’t even enter into the conversation. Now there’s a little more permission to have those conversations with still a lot of reluctance to have it. And so my thing is start first with people that you know, people that you feel like you could be transparent with.
Unfortunately, Porter, a lot of people don’t have friends that are of other backgrounds, other ethnicities, and so they say, wait, well, that’s not going to work. So now what? What I would of course encourage them to do is get involved in organizations who share your passion. Because that’s where avenues can be open to have difficult conversations that otherwise you wouldn’t have.
So if it’s education, for example, get involved with organizations like the CAFÉ. Where we can put you in direct service with people who you will get to understand, because after all race is an artificial construct, right? It is people after all, before I’m Black, I’m a person. Before you’re white, you’re a person.
And so when we narrow it down to that, then it really becomes much easier to talk to Porter as opposed to talking to the Black man, that Porter is. So that’s my thing. Plug into the things that humanize people and then you will find the conversation can be that much easier.
PORTER BRASWELL: Yeah. I love that you’re talking about, it’s a muscle. You have to train it. You have to work on it. You have to talk about it. You have to engage in it. And then ultimately, it’s not a bad thing. Like racism is a bad thing, but talking about race, we’re just, you know, we need to have a dialogue about it. And so I appreciate that perspective.
Don, how about you?
DON THOMPSON: You know what, I think Liz said the first thing, which is obviously you have to begin by beginning to talk and and right now, and even before the incidents of last summer, even before what happened to George Floyd and Breonna and Arbery — even before then, people will walk on eggshells around conversations on race. Since then it’s become even more so. And so one of the things that we have to do is we have to be able to get to the table to begin the dialogue and do that with each other. So that’s number one.
Number two, it has to be a comprehensive conversation. This can not be an issue based conversation. So something happened last night on the news. Let’s talk about that. That is not race. That is the outcome of a racist act. And to your point Porter, we have to talk about the divide that we’ve had in our country for so long, which was grounded in some economic challenges, constraints, and issues, which became these racist behaviors to keep one people down, to make sure that they weren’t entrepreneurs to make sure they weren’t business leaders to make sure they didn’t own plantations and farms, so that they could be a viable workforce for others to maintain their life style. If we don’t talk comprehensively about what race is and how it has impacted our evolution, then we’ll never really get to some of the critical and key points because we’ll never get to a point. You know, I’ve talked to a lot of people and you know, it’s amazing how many people on either side don’t understand the history and the impact that that had.
So we have these unresolved sentiments and perceptions of each other. So Liz’s point, those perceptions then become realities that are not grounded in facts, and so if we never can go back to truth, to history and if we can never come forward into here’s what I actually believe. This is who I am. This is the way I feel when X happens, both being a Black man, and also whoever I’m talking to, if there’s a white one, a white dude, whoever that might be, if we can never get to a point where we can both put that on the table, because, you know what — there’s a lot of white people right now that are walking around going, okay. I don’t really know why, I know I’m supposed to do something, I feel like if I don’t do it, I’m gonna be called a racist, but I don’t know why. That is not going to be a sustainable solution. I need you to at least understand why I’m saying what I’m saying and why we feel the way we do. So I think it has to be talked about comprehensively. The last thing I say and Liz, and I try to do this, we do this at Cleveland Avenue, we do it at the CAFÉ. We’re intentional. You know, Some people want to have these conversations happenstance. We happen to be out tonight. We’re having a nice bottle of wine. Let’s talk about race. No, let’s not. Let’s sit down and have a real conversation that is going to be focused on very viable areas, where we see race playing a major role, and then we can get somewhere.
But I don’t want to talk about this when you get ready to talk about it. Something happened to me today and I just want to get your perception. That’s okay. But we got to take it further than me being, you know, your dial 1-800 guy. That’s not the deal, so I do believe that race requires comprehensive conversations, intentionality.
It requires just doing it and really getting to a point where you’re willing to learn from each other.
PORTER BRASWELL: Yeah, finding common ground. What can we agree upon and how can we grow from there? Where can we build off of and how can we accept and acknowledge the experiences if I’m telling you something, accept it for fact, and go out and do your own research to understand why we got to where we are and then we can build from there.
So I totally get that. Absolutely. Well, I am so proud of the two of you. I’m so inspired by the two of you. Thank you for your leadership, your devotion to each other, and setting an example for what can happen when you come together as a couple and you do things the right way and you’re kind. And what can happen as a result of that.
So I really appreciate the two of you taking the time to be on this episode and to share your stories with us and congratulations on everything that you’re doing and will continue to do. And I know all of our listeners would love to be a part of all the projects that you’re working on. Just really appreciate your time.
LIZ THOMPSON: Porter, it has been an absolute delight talking to you. I know your listeners don’t know, but I can actually see you as I’m having this conversation. And it means so much to see your smile, to see your energy and to be able to join you in this conversation. It has been absolutely wonderful. Thank you so much.
DON THOMPSON: I look forward to seeing you the next time. Maybe we’ll get you to come into Chicago and you’ll get a chance to see what’s happening with 1954 Project and our CAST US fund and execution that is focused on the south and west sides of the city of Chicago, where we’re basically creating a fund to support Black and Brown entrepreneurs and women, very intentionally south and west sides of the city of Chicago.
I think that the notion of how your voice can help so many to realize that you know what, the dreams are not way late, your dreams don’t have to be put to the side. You can realize the dreams and Liz and I are realizing ours by being able, whether it’s through 1954 or CAST US or Cleveland Avenue or our CAFÉ group, to be able to try to advance people’s mindsets and thoughts toward — you can achieve, we can achieve as Black, we can achieve. As Brown people, you can achieve. As women, you can achieve. But what we have to do is we have to be very intentional and so we will continue to be intentional and we look forward to seeing you in the windy city at some point.
PORTER BRASWELL: Awesome. Thank you for that.
That’s Don and Liz Thompson. Don is now the CEO of CAFÉ, and Liz is the president and office director. You can check out the 1954 Project at the 1954project.org. It offers grants to support Black leaders in education.
This episode was produced by Liz Sanchez. Special thanks to Anne Sani and Nick Hendra,
Please subscribe and download our show on Apple podcast, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts, we really appreciate it. And as always, please share with your friends.