Good People, Cool Things
Good People, Cool Things

Episode 85 · 11 months ago

85: 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 podcast feature and conversations with entrepreneurs, writers, musicians and other creatives. Get inspired by their stories to do your own cool thing. And here's your host, Joey held. Hello and welcome to good people cool things. Today's guests Michael Phillips, the senior pastor of Kingdom Life Church, a nondenominational congregation in Baltimore. Michael has had himself quite the life. You stood in front of a judge when he was eighteen and the judge gave him a choice of thirty years in prison or college. We quickly shows college and he's used that to not only change the path of his own life but of so many other people, and he calls himself a change agent, and look after listening to this podcast, you'll see why that rings incredibly true. He's also the author of the upcoming book wrong lanes have right turns. Just dropped the law cover and teaser earlier this month, so there's lots of goodies in there to check out. Highly recommend pre ordering the book because it's a fantastic read. If you'd like to get in touch with good people cool things, you can reach out via facebook, twitter or Instagram at GPCT podcast. You can also always send an email joey at good people, cool thingscom and if you want to support the show, head on over to apple podcast, stitcher, podchaser leave a five star of you let people know you're enjoying the show, or just go up to someone on the street be like hey, you look like you like podcasts. When you listen to this good people, cool things show. It's pretty fantastic and there's so much knowledge being dropped, including from Michael. So let's hop on into the conversation. For people who don't know who Michael Phillips is, can you give us your elevator pitch, but also tell us the kind of elevator we're rinning on? 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, crank your floor where you're trying to go, but yet it has a modern decadence that makes you want to get on and see what's at the top. That's kind of been my life. It's been my journey as just a kid from, you know, a typical urban neighborhood that you would imagining your mind with roal homes and alleyways 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 was. It was one of those two things. Obviously there was a profession. was some professionals in there, nurses and things that nature. You know, my grandmother's an arts and all of them, but the men and my family mostly we're pretty ers, or...

...really they worked. And I have been both. I have actually been both things, which is part of my story. And so I come from those humble backgrounds and my story kind of takes off of my father died at twelve years old because he was my model, he was my world, he was my mentor, he was an exceptional community leader and just a very gracious person. And I also at twelve. He died in a heart attack and it rocked my world, it really did. And because my my mother, she had, you know, as three of us, me, my brother and two sisters, so for of us together, and so she has to raise all of us by our self and we didn't have the structure to help or the rapground support to help with that level of traumatic incident, and so each and every one of us handled it differently, and for me it was the streets. They were there, they were available, they were comforting because it was what I knew. You know, the path you choose is usually the one you know best. It's so that's it's it's the world I knew and understood and then embraced me, and they also got me into a lot of trouble. And so part of WHO I am and and as just as a person, comes from that place and it comes from the struggle or trying to find out who you really are are in choosing the best version of yourself right, choosing who you can be and the potential of that, 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 and the father father two wonderful children. My children much older than you might think I am, but my son is, you know, graduated college, my daughters in college and I've been married for twenty five years. Not Yeah, just celebrated twenty five years last August. So we're going into twenty six. It's a miracle. Don't know how what's the what's the like present four hundred and twenty five? It's like gold is and I should suppose to be sober anniversary, but but I think, you know, for us, I think the present four hundred and twenty five is just peace. You know, you make it to twenty five years and it's kind of like you're at peace with each other and you know all of the idiosyncrasies of each other and the little stuff doesn't need add anymore. It's like you know. So it's...

...like we don't even argue, two boys like whatever. I think I'll see you to more, especially after this last year as especially. You can make it through that like your you know. And that was the wonderful thing about the for us in the pandemic, going through all of that, our kids had to come back home and we were all together and it was like we like each other, this is all right, we can make it good to be like each other nice. Now you mentioned, I don't know if you can hear my dogs going off in the background, but you mentioned how you you know each other and you you know, you know like what what sets each other off, what you like to do, and I was just thinking, like I know that if I am home alone when I'm recording a podcast, my dogs, who will not bark at all during the day, will find a reason to bark do it while we record. Yeah, like, thank you. Oh, that's appreciate it. Right right now, let's hop back to when you were eighteen, and correct me if this is wrong. It's just based off my little research beforehand, but you were essentially in front of a judge and they gave you a choice of prison versus college. Yeah, what was your reaction when you heard that? Well, you know, I saw I went to college originally on a basketball scholarship that I lost because I was in a her terrific car incident. Maybe me I would never walk again, or plague, and and and so that's how I got don't trouble. I got into you because basketball was going to be my passport to the world, not so much college. It just, you know, I didn't value education like that back then, but it was just my past, my passport to the world sports was. So now I found myself in front of a federal judge with these options and at first I thought they were kidding. I thought this can't be real, particularly because the way things happened doesn't usually happen within the criminal justice system, and so I just thought this would had to be a prank. Are you serious? And I was really quite shocked that he was giving me those options and I didn't take long to think all this is happening within splid seconds, because I shout at College. The said do you want to go to jail? Do you want to go to school? I said 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 that option and because it changed not only the trajective of my life, but it changed the trajective of my children's lives. And like that immediate decision, it's like I did didn't think about that. Yeah, do you still at all? Do you still play or are you...

...still a big basketball fan? I'm a huge sports fan in general, from basketball and football to golf, just about any sports I'll get into. I don't play anymore. I don't have the love to play. I think that's just age. My son is six seven and he's a phenomenal athlete and we were playing ball one day and he went past me so fast and my mom was telling my body to do something that this did do. He went past me so and I'm still a pretty great shape man and he went past me so fast and was hanging on the room that I just went in the house and said, okay, it's the rat. It's over done and I said all right. And so I don't have the love for it. Like I used to a play all time every day, but now mostly if I can, if I could go play golf, I'd be a happy by yeah, it is wild to look back. I mean, obviously buddies deteriorate over time and they're not, you know, we're not as energetic as we once were, but like looking back at the amount of time I spent playing basketball in high school, in college compared to now, I was like where did I even get all that time? Right'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 bad alish. I don't know if I could get through one right now. I don't know. I got in I think it was. It might have been for but it was like halfcourt up to maybe eleven. A couple months ago, a 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 is this, like you say, it's casual beating each other up? And thankfully it was. It was a little more of the former, but I was just even after that, I'm like my feet hurt for a week. I'm like blistering everywhere right roughly, because you gotta get used to your muscles. Value still here and all I good stuff, but I would play like I would do that, like casual pick up something like that, but, you know, half courte yeah, I do that. I'd. Yeah, I think it's it's the way to go now. Yeah, definitely. Now you have a lot of descriptors to describe you. You know, if you if you go on your website, you'll see things like thought, leader, writer, author, but I also like change agent on there because I think that's that's kind of a unique way to to describe oneself. But I think, looking at your background, it's pretty accurate. So do you what doesn't mean to be a change agent? Yeah, you know, it's a term that people throw around, but for me mean what I think about...

...that term for myself is first of first and foremost about me as an individual, my willingness to change, and then also my willingness to help others do the same and then to scale that out to whether we're changing communities, whether we're changing hearts and minds, whether we are changing a block or a school, whereever it is. I want to be that agent that can dooing, that catalyst to help make that happen and to provide solutions to problems that are solvable. But it just requires us to be open to change and instead of building up in the immunity to it. And I think most of us you know, human nature is to be a creature of habit and what we do habitually always has the power to defeat what happens to US occasionally, but that's both positive and negative. So being a change agent for me starts here and then expands out to everything that I want to impact or can impact. So what do you get? I don't I don't know, upset. That might be too drastic, but do you get irritated when you 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're great. I'm discipline is good, but you can you can be loyal, okay, to an outdated method that it's not moving you forward. And so if it's not moving you forward, then you have to check those outcomes and say, okay, wow, we don't know 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? Was it more productive for people to be at home? So forth and so on, and so change is coming. But what would really become lustrating to us? It's not so much to change is the transition. It's the moving from where we are to where we need to be, and that's where it gets really difficult. I think you hit the nail on the head. Of the beginning is the path we often choose. It's the one that we know, it's the rest familiar. There's comfort in the familiar. So for people who we've all accepted change with the pandemic, but I think some maybe are a little more hesitant than others. So for those people that are kind of resistant to change, how can you sort of reshift their mindset so that they're more willing to take on something that'll be good for them. It's coming to the reality that things are going to move on without you. If history is told us anything, is that the world will move on without acts, blockbuster video. Okay, the world will move all about you and you don't, you don't want to look up and be on...

...the outside looking in. And that I can go. That is relevant to so much what's going on today, from our global health issues to what we're going to have to face coming overturning either to work or to school or to what we call, quote unquote, normal. This is a transitory period for us coming out of the pandemic, if we are to come out of it, and you're going to have to make some changes, you're going to 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 gotta change like that. And across the nation blockbuster, former blockbuster employees just side right. I was watching that, that documentary on Netflix recently about the last blockbuster and it's it's I kind of want to go visit. I know it's in like a remote Oregon City and Bend Oregon, but just for the nostalgic. Be Interesting of back. 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. I sets question. They've got to be right. I don't know how I'd watched it. I have to go up to my parents exactly. So you have adapted your whole life around new technology. It's like I don't even have the instrumentation anymore to something that I once loved but now outdated. I mean, I don't even know how to do remember. Is it someone's place and they didn't even they were like I don't even know how to watch a DVD, like they have a DVD player or any like game system that could put it on, and I was like if that happens, Oh wow, library is just kaputina. Right, right, I still have a DVD player. I keep it is in the closet somewhere, but I do have yeah, I remember when they first came out and it was just but I think our family got a copy of Mars attacks with with the one we bought, just like randomly thrown in. I have no idea why that was the me. It was like one of the first ones out on DVD, and so they're like here, here's this movie and Wow, this is Christy. It was rated as a come on change. Yeah, I mean going from you know, because says the CDs. We're old enough to know that and it's a weird thing. And now, I would think, digital and downloadable into your phone in 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 be agents of change. And so when you're capable of being an agent of change or thing, capable of being agent the purpose and helping people to really discover who they really are, and a lot before this turns into too much of like a back in...

...my day, the people that don't know about skipping on CDs are just I'm like, be glad that that doesn't happen anymore, because right always the most frustracting. Yeah, right, and it was always on the good part. I know it's because you'd play it so often. Finally was like, I like, I can't check out anymore. Right. You also have a book coming out. Wrong lanes have right turns, and I always love chatting with authors, both about the writing process but I'm always I'm always interested about the cover as well, because that is such a key part of the book that I think can be easy to overlook, but it's often times a 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 cover that isn't pleasing to them, they might be like, I don't care what my friend said, like right, I'm Gett a bad vibe from this. So can you talk a little bit about the cover design process and kind of your thinking and putting it together? Yeah, absolutely. We wanted to cover to be something that was deeply personal and and relevant and not entic to the story that world tell and and so, without giving too much away, the cover is really the back story. Is a picture of me. I'm a twelve year old kid, I'm lost, I'm hurt, my father had just passed away. I'm on the streets plan a game of dice and I had just want some money playing dice, and so I'm holding it and it's the picture and I'm posing, you know, one of those like you know hiphop type, you know of postures, and I'm holding this money and you know that kid that twelve year old, scared, confused kid who's been told that he would end up in jail, that he would never about to anything. Constantly and consistently is sitting there acting like he's on top of the world, where when deep down on the inside he's terrified of what he's doing at the moment because it was dangerous and what's up ahead. And so I'm out in front of this this corner and this building taking this picture and seventeen years later I would start my organization in that building and start career and change for so many different people. And so the cover is my beginning and it tells the story all of itself. That wrong length actually do have right turn. That's awesome. And as far as the writing 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...

...of stumbled into it? You know, I always wanted to write, but I was too busy building and working and trying to create that change and I had my head down building stuff that by the time I looked up I went oh, wow, we've actually done some things, and so I thought it was the right time to tell the story. So I didn't know that it would be this and I didn't know that it would become something that a publisher will really want to put out there. I had no idea of it and I also had no idea about the process. It was, as such, a learning process to me as the first time author. It's a lot of hard work and a lot of night looking at what you wrote, going that makes no sense, ripped it up. It's start back over again. But I knew I had a story to tell and I knew I had something to say that was going to help somebody, and that's that's what I was really after and it really came together well. I know not editing while you're writing as a common piece of writing advice, because people like get, you know, get caught up on what the writing and I totally agree. I think if I can somehow not self at it while I'm writing, I get a lot more wrist so hard. But sometimes I'll go back and look and I'm just like what, yeah, isn't it doesn't mean anything. What was I say? Doesn't make sense. Right, right. Well, also for me, because of the the stories that are in it, it was somewhat therapeutic but it was also triggering at the same time and I had to put the pin down and just sit with my feelings and my emotions about what I went through and what I had to deal with, because some of them will try quite traumatic, 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't write anymore and I just had to sit there with it and and feel those emotions, and they were real, and come back to it with some clarity, and that's what made the power, that's what made the punch of the book and The Passion that you you'll get when you reading it's it's amazing. I think that's when writing is it's most impactful, as if it's affecting you while you're writing it, it's very likely to affect someone else reading it to yeah, absolutely, absolutely. You mentioned you learned a lot about the process of putting a book together, and there's certainly a lot that goes into it. I think you know the writing part is what ten percent of it, and then there's there's all the other elements. Yeah, to it what was the most surprising part for it most, probably in part from me, was found it out I could write though. I had that tool, and that was the most...

...surprising part for me. I actually could write, I could really get my punch down on paper and it just flowed out, just I mean just loosed out of me and I did not know that that was there. I really did. And so, you know, I'm a storyteller and everything that I do and and so I was able to convey that, you know, within my writing. But the process then, after that, of having someone edit your work, go back and fix and trim and take out and challenge and push and all those things, which is a good process, that's really hard to because you're like, no, it's finished, this is lawless. This first terms is great. You're so excited about big finish. It's just when the process begins and and so you just have to embrace it and enjoy it, every aspect of it and be open to some of the necessary changes that's required to make. Did you learn from the editing process? Did you have like a writing cork or like a word or phrase that you would use a lot that the editor called out? I did. I use we our in us a lot without talking about who we our us was, because I love humanity and so when I say we, I'm like they know I'm talking about them, like joy know I'm talking about him. But they had to challenge me because I did it everywhere, you know, and they had to challenge me to say, okay, you have to describe who we our or US is. But that's how I was talking. I was talking like these are our problems, these are our issues and we can solve them together, and his what happens when we do and all that other stuff. And so they had to give me some some details and some some tweaking and some tutelage around talking that way. I thought it was a good thing they did too, but they just helped me to be able to move it out. Yeah, I think like editors are. I mean I commend them. I don't think I could ever be a full time editor, just editing like articles. Sometimes I'm like this is like I don't I don't like this. Yeah, as much, but but it's so it's so critical, especially for a book, just for 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 right sure that they're they're comprehending. Everything is awesome. So, editors, we silly. I absolutely would you. Thank you. 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 you wish you were asked more frequently and for yours it's when trauma goes on acknowledged, tragedy follows. How does that statement affect our youth in their 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 of details, it just requires a mirror. And so the the the lack of acknowledgement of what a child goes through because of the assumption that everybody has what they need, everybody's getting what they need at home, and the judgment that follows because you see what a kid does but don't know why they do it. Okay, continue to allow us to see traumatic things happen. So when when trauma is an acknowledge, tragedy goes uninterrupted. This really happens a lot in our schooling systems. Case in point. The first time I went into a school to tour it and to see what they were doing and how they were helping kids or not helping kids, I ran into a young man who was standing in the corner of his classroom. That I thought was odd because, you know, back in my day USTOOD in the corner of the classroom with your back to the class you were in trouble. But I know that we don't discipline kids like that today. So I asked the teacher was the child troubles and no, he always does that. I said, can I go over and talk to him? She said sure, so I walk over not to have him on the shoulder and this young man turns it around with the biggest smile on her face, which threw me off really right, and he says I said to him, Hey, man, how you dominates Michaeli turned around said Hey, my name's Calvin and we had this wonderful conversation about his class when he was learning, and I'm going, what is the deal? And so I said Hey, Calvin, man, why are you standing in the corner? And just without hesitation, he looked at his chair and said man, because my chairs broke. I said what you say? Yeah, my chess broke. When I said in my chair, I fell. I get in trouble. Everybody laughs. I get to trouble, and so I rather just stand up in the corner to do my work. And I thought to myself, has no one ever asked the sky, why are you standing in the port? And they never did so. So again, his is trauma, right, as small...

...as that might be, but very traumatic to a third grader. Okay, that I'm not I'm not acknowledge, I don't matter enough, no one cares that this is my issue and now I'm getting detention or suspended or reprimanded for an issue that I have nothing to deal with, that I'm just trying to man, I'm just trying to do some science, man, and and so I fixed this chair that day. It was just stuck, the leg was just stuck and I got it pulled out and adjusted it and it was stable. And you would have thought that I, you know, cure cancer or something. Will did something, you know, profound for this young man, because he chased me down the hall and leaped into my arms and thanked me for fixing his chair and then ask me to help fix the school. When we begin to acknowledge other people's trauma and what they're going dealing with, what they're face with, the harder empathy and a lens of equity, great things can happen because we would start judging what they do and we'll know why, and then we can get down to the root of what they're dealing with it and support them and help them and then you'll see things change. That's a great story and I might even gonna say I think cons ahead of the curve here, because now we're preaching the value of walking meetings like I love a walking like a stand that meeting right. We're sitting too much as it is. I'm on his side. I like it moving around and all learning happens everywhere. I'm going inside. Too Bad, I would I would much rather stand up and walk around in school and learn some things. been sitting down as at this you know, static desk, hundred percent. Absolutely all right. Well, Michael, you're almost off the hook here, but we always like to wrap up with a top three, and I'm just going to call these your top three piece of priority. People in peace. Yeah, man, priority, priority people. Whatever. Whatever we prior to, we do and it always takes people to get us where we want to go or to see the change that we want to take take place, and that always brings us to a place of wholeness, a place piece and I'm trying to try our times the things that we need to change, decide to lead as it relates to some of our institutions, namely education and prison reform, just to name a few. But it's going to take priority and it'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 you, want to pre order a copy of the book right? It's not out yet. Yeah, if they want to, if they want to be the first ones to read it, where can they find you? They can find it everywhere books is sold. You can go to my website, Michael...

Phillips Dot Info, and sign up to pre order. Soon they'll be links out on my social media at Mike Phillips official and Instagram and facebook. It's going to be everywhere, man. I'm really excited about it. Thank you so much for having me on. This was absolutely phenomenal. Yeah, it's great time and looking forward to reading and spread in the work because it's a great, great message within the book and really with everything you're doing. So appreciate you. You taken the charge. Thank you, thank you so much. Awesome. And we got to end with a Corny joke. As always. I have it on my phone II source jokes from instagram. The other day, wow, like, let's see. You know, singing in the shower is fun until you get soap in your mouth. Then it's a soap opera. Good after it today people. I'M gonna give my friend Sheila shout out for that because I don't want to take credit for good people cool things is produced in Austin, Texas. If you were a fan of this episode, go ahead and hit that follow button. That helps more people here with the show. You can send me a message Joey at good people cool thingscom. Thank you to all of the guests who have been on good people cool things and check out all the old episodes. Be a good people cool thingscom as always, thank you for listening and have a wonderful day.

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