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JJ Judd, Mayor of Moorhead, MN on Building a Diverse and Inclusive Workplace

Picture of Mayor JJ Judd

At both Vitamin T and Aquent, we’ve committed to striving for equality and celebrating diversity. 

Earlier this summer, we shared some concrete examples of what we’re doing to stop racial injustice and make our company, recruiting and staffing practices, and workplace more inclusive and equitable. Over the past few months, our Diversity and Inclusion Task Force has initiated company-wide employee open forums, launched book clubs to read The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, and hosted training on mitigating bias and recruiting a diverse workforce. One of the ideas that was born out of these discussions was the Candid Conversations series. Each quarter we invite an outside speaker to share their experience with our entire company on how to create a more diverse and inclusive community. 

We couldn’t have had a better first guest: Johnathan Judd, the Mayor of Moorhead, Minnesota. JJ, as he’s known, is the city’s first Black mayor, as well as the Director of Equity and Inclusion at Minnesota State Community and Technical College, and a practicing attorney. He’s energetic, genuine, and full of ideas on how to engage in more open conversations, not only as a society but as neighbors, friends, and family. 

Though the conversation was meant for our teams to channel his knowledge and energy and put it into action under our own virtual roof, we are more than excited to share what we learned with you.

Create Safe Spaces

We asked how JJ is building an inclusive workplace. “You’ve gotta meet people where they’re at,” he says. As someone who became mayor by building relationships, JJ believes you need a space that both parties can trust, where they can be vulnerable. “People are going to make mistakes that aren’t intentional. I’m not perfect. I think we can all say that. Being able to share that is when you start having meaningful conversations.”

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Listen With Empathy, Not Judgment

Sometimes the most important topics are the hardest to talk about. Right now, many workplaces are having conversations never broached before. Edible Arrangements COO Cheikh Mboup puts it this way: “You can’t not talk about it. The fear of what could go wrong is minuscule in comparison to the fear of what may happen if people hold it within themselves.”

And when we do talk, listening is key. “Not listening to refute,” JJ explains, “but to understand and to ask questions.” So many of us right now are starting or becoming part of conversations that might be uncomfortable. “Don’t see that word as a negative,” he says. “It allows for growth.”  

So how does JJ start? “I like to get to know the person, what makes them tick, what they’re passionate about. I analyze what they might be going through. You’re not going to solve the world’s problems in the first conversation. But in six months, maybe when COVID calms down, you invite them for a meal in your house. We have to listen, folks. And listen again with empathy. Not with judgment.” 

Find Your Balance

As a father of three kids, with a demanding career, JJ and his wife of more than 20 years are busy. Like many parents, they’re also dealing with homeschooling. For families worldwide, it’s been rough on everyone. How is JJ coping? Lots of hiking, biking, walking, and even meditating (something he’d never thought he’d do!). “Instead of sitting around and worrying, I get out there and move. Get it in when you can fit it in!” he says. 

The balance isn’t just between work and home, either. It’s also on the job, balancing one side versus another. As Mayor, for example, he has to try to understand both Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter. “You have to represent both groups,” he explains. “But I have to just trust my instinct and act. I speak from what I know, and that helps my credibility.”

Music Is the Soundtrack to Our Lives

JJ is a big believer in music for the mind and for the soul. The other day he blared Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, and the album resonated with him in other ways too. “It’s crazy that this was in the ’60s, but it’s completely what’s going on today as well. You can check out with music and find yourself.”

He’s also a huge fan of hip-hop from around the world, specifically British, European and Australian hip-hop, and tells us that the lyrics make him think other countries are facing some of the same societal woes as the United States. Per JJ, check out Remi from Down Under, and Gims, currently the star of a documentary on Netflix.

Believe That Things Are Going to Be Okay

With the pandemic raging and racial unrest ongoing, it can be hard to stay positive. JJ acknowledges that. “We live in a society where these disparities we already knew existed are even more visible, and we have to deal with it.” Yet he refuses to spiral into the negative. 

“I have to live my life like things are going to be okay. There is light at the end of the tunnel,” he says. “We have to exemplify that hope for our children. I want them to see there is truly good in our society.”

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We’re honored JJ took the time out of his busy schedule to drop so much knowledge on us. We hope you find his words as inspiring as we did. And we can’t wait to share more of our Candid Conversations with you every month.

If you have someone you think we should invite to speak at Candid Conversations, please let us know by writing to questions@vitamintalent.com. (Just be sure to put Candid Conversations in the subject line.) And thanks in advance for the suggestion!

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