By Margaret Yu
I have a love-hate relationship with Mike. No, not a person, but the lapel microphone I call my friend, Mike.
I love Mike because it helps me to have a voice. I have a soft voice and do not like to raise it. Mike allows me to speak in my own style without screaming. Specifically, I love Mike because it was made to give speakers the freedom to teach with hands free for other instructional purposes. (This was Ray Litke’s intent for the lapel mic when he invented it in 1957.) Since I love moving around as a speaker and speaking with my hands, I hate hand-held microphones. So, when Mike is working for me, I am able to bring God’s messages while being freely myself.
I hate Mike as well, as it was made (I believe) for men in mind or those who wear stiff collars or lapels or shirts, and pants to hold onto that transmitter box. Mike has altered the way I prepare for speaking engagements for God since I know for Mike to work, I must wear clothing that will allow Mike to be worn on me for effect. This means, as soon as I hear from God that I am to speak at a venue, I automatically think of what to wear. (Okay, a little bit of this could be vanity?) Since I want to speak freely and be heard as well, I have to find clothing that represents me and yet can be strong enough to hold my friend, Mike.
This is no small feat. The times where I have forgotten to wear ‘special speaking’ clothes, i.e. clothing with strong collar or lapels or pants or skirts with a thick waist that clips onto that box, I have had to improvise with creativity so that my voice will be heard.
On quite a few occasions, I have underestimated the ‘softness’ of my clothing and have had to pay a price. (Oh, they were pretty dresses or blouses but not strong enough to hold onto Mike.) In these scenarios, I am about to speak within minutes and Mike is not cooperating with my choice of clothing. Desperate and wanting to be heard while moving freely, I have had to go find men in the audience who could help me as I borrow their belts or other clothing just for the presentation.
Usually these men are very bewildered, but once they understand, they become very compassionate. Often afterwards, they become very sympathetic to women speakers. We can laugh at my creativity as they bond with me and have entered into my world. Sometimes, these men even get the most out of my messages or presentations as a result of me borrowing their belts.
Then, there are times when no clothing can be found that is appropriate for Mike. Last December at our church women’s brunch, I realized that only Mike’s cousin hand-held was around, so I had to make it work. I just spoke and held on to the cousin; but I felt a bit limited and not quite myself. I have learned that I will ONLY hold on to the cousin as the last resort; for it is still not my true speaking self.
Though I have a love-hate relationship with Mike, I have learned a lot from it. Mike is a symbol for me of what things are like when they are NOT intended for you in its invention. I am pretty sure that Ray Litke was not thinking of women who could wear other types of clothing besides stiff collars and pants.
Oftentimes in life, when something is not designed with diverse individuals in view, it will not be as helpful. In fact, Mike is a great reminder to me that many things are not meant for me. And yet, as a woman leader, I must figure out how to lead around it. Often times, many things are designed for men in mind and these tools or resources are more geared towards Western American values and realities that do not relate to my own community or minority context. With these tools, I must decipher or translate the good into my own setting. (How many of us have sat in classrooms, seminary auditoriums, leadership venues, or training centers where we have had to interpret the material for our own community, where we say to ourselves, This would never work where I live, but I can tweak this…?)
Yet, isn’t that what women or minority leaders do! We must be creative and learn to work around things like my friend Mike.
And finally, as a person who is involved in leadership development, I must continually ask myself the question, How am I creating venues and training with respect to diverse audiences? I must think about their context as I plan on creating tools or resources, being vigilant in creating materials and growth ideas that fit into each person’s context as much as possible. I must not assume that they will all wear stiff collared shirts or soft pastel dresses. I must contextualize. No one size fits all.
Once we intentionally design tools with that in mind, we will see the importance of creating space and place for their realities to be acknowledged and heard. Since no one size fits all, we serve in humility with respect for the dignity of another’s stories and realities. We allow ourselves to enter into their story and not demand them to just enter into ours or to insist on having them subconsciously or consciously defend their existence. Instead, we respect their stories. Thus, we learn to serve and love more like Christ who entered into our world and became flesh, Grace, and Truth for us and made sense of our realities with us.
So, if you are a minority leader, what symbols have reminded you that you are different than others? And how have you been able to creatively go around these barriers that may short-circuit your own voice or power?
And if you are a person who is involved in creating LD material, what helps you to design tools with diversity in mind? What has helped you to enter into other’s realities as you seek to empower leaders? Finally, how has Jesus been a guide to you as you contextualize God’s truths to diverse people?
(I would love to hear your comments. I want to learn from your story.)
Margaret Yu is the National Director of Leadership Development for Epic Movement, the Asian American Ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ. Her passion is to empower Asian American leaders to lead while using their God given design and heritage. In her spare time, she enjoys watching NBA basketball with her nephew Kevin, serving at the women’s ministry at her church, and being a student at Fuller’s MA Global Leadership Program.