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Good People, Cool Things
Good People, Cool Things

Episode 85 · 1 month ago

Building Empathy and Becoming a Change Agent with Michael Phillips

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

When Michael Phillips was 18 years old, he found himself standing in front of a judge after a run-in with the law. The judge gave him a choice: Spend 30 years in prison or go to college. Michael immediately shouted out, “college” and his education changed his life — and now he wants to transform education.

To do so, he’s trying to encourage people to look beyond children as statistics and to acknowledge challenges and trauma through a lens of equity and a heart of empathy. When that happens, we can make some pretty impressive changes. 

Michael is also the author of the upcoming book Wrong Lanes Have Right Turns. We’re chatting all about his background, his writing, and why focusing on marginalized kids is so important in building empathy and overcoming challenges.

Good people cool things as a podcastfuture and conversations with entrepreneurs, writers, musicians andother creatives get inspired by their stories to do your own cool thing andhere's your host Joey held hello and welcome to good people cool things.Today's guess is Michael Phillips, the senior pastor of Kingdom Life Church, anon denominational congregation in Baltimore Michael, has had himself quite the life.He stood in front of a judge when he was eighteen and the judge gave him achoice of thirty years in prison or college. U Quickly Shows College and he's usedthat to not only change the path of his own life, but of so many other people,and he called himself a change agent and look after listening to thispodcast you'll see why that rings. Incredibly, true he's also the authorof the upcoming book, wrong lanes have Right, turns just dropped. The lawcover and teaser earlier this month. So there's lots of goodies in there tocheck out highly recommend pre ordering the book, because it's a fantastic raid.If you like to get in touch with good people, cool things you can reach outvia facebook, twitter or Instagram at G, P C T podcast, you can also always sendan email joey at good people, cool things com and if you want to supportthe show head on over to apple podcast, stitch or Pod, chaser leave a five staro you. Let people know you're enjoying the show or just go up to someone onthe street, be like hey. You look like you like podcast. When you listen tothis good people, cool things show it's pretty fantastic and there's so muchknowledge being dropped, including from Michael. So, let's happen into theconversation for people who don't know who Michael Phillips is. Can you giveus your elevator pitch, but also tell us the kind of elevator we're writingon yeah? Oh, that's such a good question. You know, I think, we're riding on one of those old fashioned elevators,with the gate that you have to. You Know Crak yourfloor where you're trying to go, but yet it has a modern decadence thatmakes you want to get on and see. What's at the top, that's kind of beenmy life, it's been my journey as just a kid from you know, a typical urbanneighborhood that you would imagine in your mind with row, homes and alleywaves and things of that nature. Those are my humble beginnings and coming from a long family of in my family, you were either a preacher or a or the. It was one ofthose two things. Obviously there was a profession, some professionals in therenurses and things that nature. You know my grandmothers and aunts and all ofthem, but the men in my family, mostly where preachers are really theywork up and I have been both. I have...

...actually been both things, which is part of my story, and so Icome from those humble backgrounds and my story kind of takes off when myfather died at twelve years old because he was my bottel. He was my world. Hewas my mentor. He was an exceptional community leader and just a verygracious person and I lost them. A twelve died in of a heart attack and itrock my world. It really did and because my my mother, she had you knowas three of us me my brother and two sises so for ustogether, and so she has to raise all of us byourself and we didn't have the structure to help or the RAPO supportto help with that level of a traumatic incident, and so each and every one ofUS handle it differently. And for me it was the streets they were there.They were available. They were comforting because it waswhat I knew. You know. The Path you choose isusually the one you know best. So that's it's the world. I knew and understoodand then embraced me and they also got em into a lot of trouble and so part ofwho I am and as just as a person comes from that place, and it comes from thestruggle of trying to find out who you really are a in choosing the bestversion of yourself right choosing who you can be and the potential ofthat, despite the fact that you were once at a point in time in your life,something that you weren't too proud of- and that's me I M- I am a husband andthe father father, two wonderful children, my children, much older thanyou might think I am. But my son is, you know, graduated college. Mydaughter is in college and I've been married for twenty fiveyears. Nice Yeah just celebrated twenty five years last August, so we're goinginto twenty six. It's a miracle, don't know how we're here. What's the what's the the like present for twenty five, it's like gold is potberry, but, but I think you know forus. I think the present for twenty five is just peace. You know you make it totwenty five years and it's kind of like you're at peace with each other, andyou know all of the idiosyncrasies of each other and the little stuff doesn'tneed adder any more. It's like you know.

It's like we don't even argue to boys,like whatever I I'll see you in the morning, especially after this last year is Pat.You can make it through that, like you, you know- and that was the wonderful thing aboutthe for us in the pandemic, going through all of that, our kids had tocome back home and we were all together and it was like we like each other.This is all right. We we can make it because we like eachother nice now you mentioned, I don't know ifyou can hear my dogs going off in the background, but you mentioned how youyou know each other and you you know you know like what what sets each otheroff what you like to do- and I was just thinking like I know that if I am homealone, when I'm recording a podcast, my dogs, who will not bark at all duringthe day, will find a reason to do it while a yeah k. thank you, Oh, isappreciate right right, but let's hop back to when you wereeighteen and correct me if this is run is just based off my little researchbeforehand, but you were essentially in front of a judge and they gave you achoice of prison versus college yeah. What was your reaction when you heard a well, you know so I went to college originally on abasketball scholarship that I lost, because I was in a horrific caraccident may go me. I would never walk again or play again and, and so that'show I got to truly got into because basketball was going to be my passportto the world, not so much college it just you know. I didn't value educationlike that back then, but it was just my past. My passport tothe world sports was so now. I found myself in front of a federal judge with theseoptions and at first I thought they were kidding. Ithought this can't be real, particularlybecause the way things happen doesn't usuallyhappen within the criminal justice system, and so I just thought this w had to be a prank.Are you serious and I was really quite shocked that he was giving me thoseoptions and I didn't take long to think all this is happening within spotseconds, because I shout at College said: Do you want to go to jail? Do youwant to go to school? I say yeah, let's try school, that's a better option, and so it was.It was quite surreal, but I am thankful every day of my life that I had thatoption and because it changed not only the Yedee, my life, but it changed aprojector of my children's life like that immediate decision, if, like Idon't need to think about that yeah,...

...do you still do you still play, or are you still abig basketball fan? I'm a huge sports fan in general from basketball, thefootball to golf just about any sports I'll get into. I don't play any more. Idon't have the love to play. I think that's just age. My son is sixseven and he's a phenomenal athlete and we were playing ball one day and hewent past me so fast and my mind was telling my body to do something thatjust didn't do he went past me so and I'm still apretty great shape man- and he went past me so fast and was hanging on therim, but I just went in the House and said: Okay, it's the bat this over. I do and I said all right, and so Idon't have to love for it. Like I used to, I used to play all time every day,but now mostly if I, if I can go play golf I'd, be a happy ban yeah, it is wild to look back. I meanobviously bodies deteriorate over time andthey're, not you know we're not as energetic as we once were, but likelooking back at the amount of time, I spent playing basketball in high schooland college compared to now I was like what did I even get all that time right,it's wild, it's crazy and, and- and you could do it all day you could run. You know six, seven,eight, nine ten games and not better a leg. I don't know if I could getthrough a one right now I don't know I got in. I think it was. It might havebeen four, but it was like half court up to maybe eleven. A couple months agoa friend I was I was visiting, my sister in La and a friend was like yeah.We run you know casual pickup games Sunday like is this really casual or isthis like you say it's casual beating each other out and thankfully it was.It was a little more of the former, but I was just even after that. I'm, likemy feet, hurt for a week, I'm like blistering, everywhere right cause. You got to get used to yourmuscles value to you and all like good stuff, but I would play like. I woulddo that like casual pick up something like that, but you know have court yeah.I do that. I do that yeah. I think it's it's the way to go now. Yeah.Definitely now you have a lot of descriptors todescribe you. You know if you, if you go on yourwebsite, you'll see things like thought, leader, writer, author, but I also likechange agent on there because I think that's that's kind of a unique way toto describe oneself, but I think, looking at your background, it's prettyaccurate. So to you, what does it mean to be a change agent yeah? You knowit's a term that people throw around. But for me what I think about that term formyself is first of first and foremost...

...about me as an individual, mywillingness to change and then also my willingness to help. Others do the sameand then to scale that out to whether we're changing communities, whetherwe're changing hearts and mind whether we are changing a block or a school whatever it is. Iwant to be that agent that conduit that catalyst to help make that happen andto provide solutions to problems that are solvable, but it just requires usto be open to change instead of building up an immunity to it, and Ithink most of us you know, human nature is to be acreature of habit and what we do habitually always hasthe power to defeat what happens to US occasionally, but that's both positiveand negative. So being a change agent for me starts here and then expand outto everything that I want to impact or can impact so do you get? I don't. Idon't know if upset that might be too drastic, but you get you rotated. Whenyou see an article, that's like you have to have the same morning, routine.All the time I mean I don't get frustrated routines are good they'regreat disappointments good, but you can. You can be loyal, okay toan outdated method that it's not moving you forward, and so, if it's not movingyou forward, then you have to check those outcomes and say: okay, wow, wedon't what we're doing. Everyone is in the middle of that right now. Okay,companies are measuring that are we returning to work? Is that better? Wasit more productive for people to be at home, so forth and so on? And so change is coming, but what would reallybecome a string to us? It's not so much to change is the transition it's themoving from where we are to where we need to be, and that's where it getsreally difficult. I think you hit the nail on the head of the beginning. Isthe path we often choose is the one that we know. It's the the worstfamiliar there's comfort in the familiar so for people who I mean,we've all accepted change with the pandemic, but I think some maybe are alittle more hesitant than others. So for those people that are kind ofresistant to change, how can you sort of reshift their mindset so thatthey're more willing to take on something that'll be give for them?It's coming to the reality that things are going to move on without you, ifhistory has told us anything, is that the world will move all on without youax blockbuster video, okay, the World Obol. Without you and you don't youdon't want to look up and be on the...

...outside looking in and that that can go.That is relevant to so much of what's going on today from our global healthissues, to what we're going to have to facecoming on returning either to work or to school or to what we call quoteunquote normal. This is a transitory period for us coming out of the pandemic. If we areto come out of it and you're going to have to make some changes, you're goingto have to do some things different, because normal is really not an option.We're not going back to that. So what are you going to? Do? You got to change like that and across the nation,blockbuster former blockbuster employees just side right right? I was watching that that documentary onNetflix recently about the last blockbuster and it's I kind of want togo visit. I know it's in like a remote Oregon City and Bend Oregon, but just for the nostalgia Interestin alike Yeah Yeah be interesting, and would it be weird to rent a video?WOULD YOU BE? I mean it's like they still making video tapes as a o question I mean they've got to be right. I don'tknow how I'd watch it. I have to go up to my parents exactly Chicago. You haveadapted your whole life around new technology and it's like I don't evenhave the instrumentation anymore to it, something that I want to love, but nowoutdated. I I don't even know how to do. I remember as it someone's place and theydidn't even they were like. I don't even know how to watch a DVD like theydo have a DVD player or any like game system that could put it on, and I waslike. If that happens, Oh library is just capona right right. I still have a DVD player, I keep it isin the closet somewhere, but I do have it yeah. I remember when they first cameout and it was just. I think our family got a copy of Mars attacks with withthe one we bought just like randomly thrown in. I have no idea why that wasthe mob. It was like one of the first ones out on DVD and so they're likehere. Here's this movie and Wow. This is crazy. I was it as come on change. Yeah I meangoing from you know because, as the CDs we're old enough to know that- and it'sa weird thing and now I would think the it all and downloadable into your phoneand this like CD. What like you know, who who would ever thought? But here we are, and so that's what it really means to theagents of change, and so when you're, capable of being an agent and changeyou're thing capable of being a age on the purpose and helping people toreally discover who they really are and know why, before this turns into toomuch of like back in my day,...

...the people that don't know aboutskipping on CDs all right. Just I'm like be glad that that doesn't happenanymore right. It's the most frustrating yeah yeah brand. It wasalways on the good park. I know because you'd play it so often, but it was likeI can like. I can't check it anymore right. You also have a book coming out. Wronglanes have right turns, and I always love chatting with authors both aboutthe writing process, but I'm always I'm always interested about the cover aswell, because that is such a key part of the book that I think can be easy tooverlook. But it's often times of person's first introduction to the book,even if they're recommended by a friend if they go look it up and it's a coverthat isn't pleasing to them. They might be like. I don't care what my friendsaid like right. I'm got a bad von from this. So right, could you talk a littlebit about the cover design, process and kind of your thinking and putting ittogether? Yeah? Absolutely we wanted to cover to be something that was deeply personal and and relevant andauthentic to the story that we're telling and and so when I was givingtoo much away. The cover is really the backstory is apicture of me. I'M A I'M! Twelve year old kid I'm lost, I'm hurt. My fatherhad just passed away, I'm on the streets playing a game of dice and Ihad just one some money playing days and so I'm holding it and it's the picture.I'm posing. You know one of those like you know, hip hoptype. You know of postures and I'm holding this money,and you know that kid that twelve year old, scart confused kid who's been toldthat he would end up in jail that he would never amount to anythingconstantly and consistently is sitting there. Acting like he's on top of theworld where, when deep down on the inside he's terrified of what he'sdoing at the moment, because it was dangerous and what's up ahead, and so I'm out in front of this, thiscorner in this building. Taking this picture and seventeen years later, Iwould start my organization in that building and start creating change forso many different people. And so the cover is my beginning, and it tells the story all of itselfthat wrong ways actually do have right term. That's awesome and as far as thewriting process itself did you know that a book was always part of the plan,or was it kind of almost serendipitous,...

...where you really like you kind ofstumbled into it. You know I always wanted to write, but I was too busy building and workingand trying to create that change, and I had my head down building stuff that bythe time I looked up, I went. Oh Wow, we've actually done some things, and soI thought it was the right time to tell the story. So I didn't know that it would be thisand I didn't know that it would become something that a publisher would reallywant to put out there. I had no idea man and I also had no idea about theprocess. It was I s such a learning process. To me as the first time author,it's a lot of hard work and a lot of a night looking at what you wrote going.That makes no sis a ripping it up. It start back overagain, but I knew I had a story to tell and I knew I had something to say thatwas going to help somebody and that's that's what I was really after and itreally came together. Well, I know not editing while you're. Writing is acommon piece of writing advice because people like get you know, get caught upon what the writing and I totally agree. I think if I can somehow not self editwhile I'm writing, I get a lot more writ, but sometimes I'll go back andlook and I'm just like what yeah I mean an a as I say. I makesense right right well also for me because of the stories that are in it.It was somewhat therapeutic, but it was also triggering at the same time and Ihad to put the pin down and just sit with my feelings and my emotions aboutwhat I went through and what I had to deal with, because some of them were trite, quitetraumatic, and so I had to sit there for a while and I got through it, but there's one chapter in particular.It took me it actually set me back a couple of weeks because I just couldn'twrite any more and I just had to sit there with it and feel those emotionsand they were real and come back to it. What's simpler, ty and that's what made the power that's? Whatmade the punch of the book and The Passion that you you'll get when youread it? It's it's amazing. I think that's when writing is it's mostimpactful, as if it's affecting you, while you're writing it, it's verylikely to affect someone else, reading it to yeah. Absolutely absolutely youmentioned you learned a lot about the process of putting a book together and there'scertainly a lot that goes into it. I think you know. The writing part iswhat ten percent of it and there's there's all the other elements yeah toit. What was the most surprising part for you most surprisin part from me,was found in out. I could write.

I know I had that too, and that was the most surprising partto me. I actually could write. I could really get my thoughts down on paperand it just flowed out just I mean just loosed out of me and I did not knowthat that was there. I really did, and so you know, I'm a story, teller, yeah andeverything that I do and and so I was able to convey that you know within mywriting, but the process then, after that ofhaving someone edit your work, go back and fix and trim and take outand challenge and push and all those things which is a good process, that'sreally hard to because you're like no it's finished. This is a as this first term is cora you're, so excited about big fetish itjust when the process begins and- and so you just have to embrace it andenjoy every aspect of it and be open to some of the necessary changes. That's required to make book. Did you learn from the editing process?Did you have like a writing quirk or like a word or phrase that you woulduse a lot that the editor called it? I did. I use we our and US a lot without talking about who we our us wasbecause I love humanity, and so when I say we I'm like they know, I'm talkingabout them like going now. I'm talking about him. They had to challenge me because I didit everywhere, you know, and they had to challenge me to say. Okay, you haveto describe who we our or US is, but that's how I was talking. I was talkinglike these are our problems. These are our issues and we can solve themtogether and his what happens when we do it and all that out of the stuff,and so they had to give me some some details and some some tweeting insome tutelage around talking that way. I thought it was a good thing. They didtoo, but they just helped me to be able to move it out. Yeah, I think likeeditors are I mean I commend them. I don't think I could ever be a full timeeditor. I just editing like articles. Sometimes I'm like this is like I don't. I don't like thatyeah as much, but but it's so it's so critical, especially for a book justfor for things like that where it's like hey. This is a great sentiment,but how can we make it so that everyone is getting the message and making rightsure that they're they're comprehending everything rigs awesome, so editors we slut absolutely to thankyou another question. I always like to...

...ask- and I say this, every episode,it's less work for me, I'm putting the onus of asking the question on you, so I love it, but it's a question youwish you were asked more frequently and for yours, it's when trauma goes onacknowledged. Tragedy follows: How does that statement affect our youth intheir education wow? What a great question it really is. You know I think it's very important to understand that empathy doesn't require a lot ofdetails. It just requires a mirror, and so the lack of acknowledgment of what a childgoes through because of the assumption thateverybody has what they need: everybody's getting, what they need athome and the judgment that follows becauseyou see what a kid does, but don't know why they do it. Okay, continue to allow us to see traumaticthings happen. So when when trauma is an acknowledgedtragedy goes on interrupted, this really happens a lot in ourschooling systems case. In Point, the first time I wentinto a school to tour it and to see what they were doing and how theywere helping, kids or not, helping kids. I ran into a young man who was standingin the corner of his classroom that I thought was odd because you know backin my day you stood in the corner of the classroom, which you're back to theclass. You were in trouble, but I know that we don't discipline is like thattoday. So I asked the teacher was to Chot trouble said No. He always doesthat. I said: Can I go over and talk to him? She says show so I walk over and Itap him on the shoulder. Tis young man turns it around biggest, smiling a facewhich threw me off really right and he says I said to him: Hey man, how youdoing my names, Michael Turn Graph, say: Hey my my name's Calvin, and we hadthis wonderful conversation about his class and when he was learning and I'mgoing. What is the deal? And so I said: Hey Calvin man. Why are you standing inthe corner and just without hesitation, he looked athis chair and said man because my chairs broke. I said what he said: Yeah my chairsbroke. When I said in my chair of fore, I get into trouble with everybody.Laugh I get into trouble, and so I rather just stand up in a corner and domy work and I thought to myself: Has No oneever ask this guy? Why are you standing in the court andthey never did so again his his trauma...

...right as small as that might be, butvery traumatic to a third grader? Okay, that I'm not I'm not acknowledge. Idon't matter enough. No one cares that this is my issue and now I'm gettingdetention or suspended or reprimanded for an issue that I have nothing to dowith that. I'm just trying to land, I'm just trying to do some science, man and- and so I fixed this chair that dayit was just stuck. The leg was just stuck and I got it pulled out andadjusted it and it was stable and you would have thought that you know purecancer or something or did something. You know profound for this young man,because he chased me down the hall and leaped into my arms and thanked me forfixing his chair and then asked me to help fix is school when we begin to acknowledge otherpeople's trauma, what they're going t dealing with what their face and whatthe harder empathy and a lens of equity great things can happen, because wewill start of judging what they do and well know why, and then we can get down to the root ofwhat they're dealing with it and support them and help them, and thenyou'll see things change, that's a great story and I'm it even going tosay I think, cone's ahead of the curve here, because now we're preaching thevalue of walking meetings like I love a walking like a stand up meting we'resitting too much as it is, I'm on his side absolutely moving around and alllearning happens everywhere. I'M I to bad. I would. I would much rather standup and walk around in school and learn some things and sitting down. As atthis you know, static desk hundred percent. Absolutely all right! Well, Michael you're, almostoff the hook here, but we always like to wrap up with the top three and I'mjust going to call these your top three peas of priority people in peace. YeahMan Priority Priority People, whatever whatever we prior to. We do, and it always takes people to get uswhere we want to go or to see the change that we want to take take place, and that always brings us to a place ofhome is a place piece and I'm trying to try our times the things that we need to changespecially as it relates to some of our institutions, namely education andprison reform, just a name of you, but it's going to take priority andit's going to take people. Well, Michael, this was fantastic. Thank you.It was amazed so much for hopping eyes. If people want to learn more about, youwant to preorder a copy of the book right, it's not out yet yeah. If theywant to to want to be the first ones to read it. Where can they find you theycan find it everywhere, books are sold?...

You can go to my website MichaelPhillips, got INFO and signed up to pre order. Soon, they'll be a link out onmy social media at Mike Phillips, official and Instagram and facebookit's going to be everywhere. Man, I'm really excited about it, and thank youso much for having me on this was absolutely phenomena yeah, it's a greattime and looking forward to reading and spread in the word, because it's agreat great message within the book and really with everything you're doing soappreciate you, you taking the charge. Thank you. Thank you so much awesomeand we got to end with a Corny joke. As always, I have on my phone. I I sourcejokes from instagram the other day wow I see you know singing in the shower isfun until you get soap in your mouth, then it's a soap opera, good after its nap. I I'm going to give my friend Sheilashout out for that. I don't want to take credit for good people. Cool things is produced inAustin Texas. If you were a fan of this episode, go ahead and hit that followbutton that helps more people here, the Shell, you can send me a message: Joey,a good people, cool things, com, thank you to all of the guests who have beenon good people, cool things and check on all the old episodes, the a goodpeople cool thing com, as always thank you for listening and have a wonderfulday, a.

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