Bill Noakes Speaks


Posted on 19 Jan 2018, 15:52 - Category: Leadership

Who Gives Voice to the Voiceless


April 4, 1967

It was on this day that Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. broke his silence on the Vietnam War in a speech delivered at New York’s Riverside Church. The speech entitled, “Beyond Vietnam” was viewed, primarily, as a speech against the war. In retrospect, it was much less against the war and much more for the people being victimized by war. As Dr. King so eloquently spoke truth to power, he declared:

I am convinced that if we are to get on to the right side of the world revolution,we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly beginthe shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism,and militarism are incapable of being conquered.


He was telling the U.S. – he was telling the President – he was telling the world that people matter. And how could he say and do anything other than that? After all, as a minister and prophet in the Christian tradition, he was steeped in the words of Luke 4: 18-19, wherein Jesus declares:


The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners andrecovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.


Fifty years on, we still find it necessary to hear the words of Dr. King. We still must ask: Who will give voice to the voiceless?

We are embarked upon a campaign for Attorney General of the State of Michigan. It takes place against the backdrop of the question: Who will give voice to the voiceless? As I have begun my quest to be this State's next Attorney General, I am well aware of those for whom I must speak. While I would speak for the State as a whole – in all its constituent parts – I must pay particular attention to those who have not had a voice. For unless and until they have a voice in this State's  affairs, we cannot be the great State we profess to be.

When I entered the race, many of my long-time friends and business associates said I was foolish to make such a run. What they fail to see is that I stand for those whose voices have not been heard. Our present Attorney General has stood with the privileged. He has stood with those who oppose the union movement. He has stood with those who have dismantled public education  in urban areas. He has stood with a system of emergency management that led to the Flint Water crisis and the Detroit bankruptcy, an event that led to reduced pensions for so many Detroit retirees. I stand with the voiceless. Why do I say that? Because Bill Schuette has never been voiceless! Until you’ve been ignored, overlooked, and undervalued, you don’t know what it is to speak for those among us who have been.

Although I have several academic degrees; have held “important” jobs, and have what some deem impressive accomplishments, I know what it means to be voiceless. I know what it means to be ignored, overlooked and undervalued. I know what it is to be poor – indeed, so poor as I’ve joked that my family couldn’t afford the “O and the R.” So, we were just po. I know what it is to have a high school counselor think I wasn’t smart enough to go to college – much less to the University of Notre Dame and the University of Chicago. I know what it is to be denied a promotion only to have it go to someone less qualified – perhaps, because of my skin color.

It’s time we changed the narrative. It’s time we changed how the story ends. It’s time we gave voice to those whose voices have gone unheard. I hope to be the candidate that can do that. I hope to be the next Attorney General of the State of Michigan. I may not be the best-financed candidate. I may not have the highest name recognition. I may not draw the biggest crowds. Yet, I have something greater.  I have a commitment to listening to and speaking for those whose voices must be heard – if ever this State is to be more than a shell of its former self.


Posted on 20 Nov 2017, 11:44 - Category: The Past is Prologue

Servant Leader: Are You Listening?

Some years ago, I wrote this post on Servant Leadership. The question I posed was: Are You Listening? All too often, those who would put themselves forward as leaders spend more time talking than listening. In the present campaign, we have one candidate talking incessantly - indeed, practically screaming about the Neighborhoods -- while the other is seen talking at one photo-op after another. Neither one appears to be listening. What they do not appear to realize is that it's in the listening that a Servant Leader begins to understand and, only with understanding, can that person lead effectively.

Listen and learn. How many times have we heard that expression? Odd, isn’t it that no one ever said talk and learn. Why not? The reason is obvious: We learn when we listen – when we actively listen. When we really hear what’s being said, in all of its context. The tone. The tenor. The texture. The actual words. Then, and only then, can we understand.

A true servant leader listens to those around him. He listens to colleagues. He listens to subordinates. He listens to himself – the inner voice that calls him. Listening affirms those who are speaking. It enhances their self-esteem and helps to build the trust that is critical to leading an organization.

In his epistle, James tells us: “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath…. (James:1:19)” If we are quick to hear what others have to say, we are being respectful of them and their points of view. Through such active listening one can truly understand others. Through understanding, one gains trust. Given that trust, it becomes easier to hear the truth – no matter how unpleasant it may be. No one can lead well if he is unaware of what’s going on around him.

In today’s New York Times, there is an article in which the giant retailer, Wal-Mart, is alleged to have covered up extensive use of bribes in Mexico to build stores there. It is alleged that the then-CEO of Wal-Mart’s Mexican subsidiary not only knew of the bribes but may well have authorized them. The Times report indicates that when the allegations were reported to Wal-Mart’s CEO, he not only kept quiet but went so far as to rebuke the investigators – saying their investigation was overly aggressive.

The true servant leader would have listened, respected those to whom he was listening, and reflected upon what he heard. Then he would have acted to right the situation.

If you aren’t listening, you can not lay claim to being a servant leader. If you aren’t listening, your people will stop talking. When they do, the course is set for your organization’s undoing.

So, servant leader: Are you listening?

Posted on 18 May 2017, 8:21 - Category: Leadership

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