Immersion Is Priceless

Morehouse College Valedictorian Is the Epitome of Cultural Immersion

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Doug Melville Doug Melville
This past week in Atlanta, Morehouse College welcomed its 22-year-old valedictorian, Joshua Packwood, to give a speech to his fellow graduates. The president of the University called him a "Renaissance Man."

Joshua focused on African-American studies at Morehouse seeking to be a part of the tradition of Morehouse Men, and follow the higher educational path of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., one of the university's most symbolic alum. A Rhodes Scholar finalist, Joshua turned down an Ivy League scholarship to Columbia University because he felt if he was going to study African-American Culture, he should attend a Historically Black College/University (HBCU). "If I really want to learn it, if I really want to understand it -- maybe it's best if I immerse myself in the culture," he said.

The thing that makes this story compelling is that Joshua Packwood is white. He is the first white valedictorian of any HBCU in the United States. While that may be little more than a "strange news" headline to some, the real story comes when you scratch below the surface. From his perspective, instead of "checking off the boxes" of ways he could learn more about African-American studies, or just sitting in a classroom reviewing PowerPoint presentations he chose to do the most logical and ambitious thing, attend an HBCU and immerse himself in the culture. As he put it, "I gained this interest in African-American studies and I thought that Morehouse would probably be the best experience." His ambition and efforts are something that many in corporate America could learn from, the value of immersion.

I tell this story to emphasize the value of cultural immersion in order to get the best results and outcome. Immersion is the best use of time, the best use of resources and the best experience of new cultures and ideas.

Over the last month I have had the opportunity to host a cultural immersion tour for my company and participate in a corporate immersion day that was hosted by another company.

Immersion days involve key executives actually leaving their desks to experience new sights, sounds and environments that encourage and reward an open mind and unique perspective not easily grasped otherwise. The internet has been a great tool for learning about Latino neighborhoods, or trends in African-American based cities, so what then is the value of immersion? The value comes actually getting on a bus and driving to new areas of town, with a preset schedule of cultural personalities, places and destinations, all mapped out for easy digesting. As I see it, immersion days are the Louis Vuitton of learning.

I have broken down three key corporate misconceptions pertaining to immersion, followed by my learned realities from experiencing and embracing the value.

Corporate Misconception: People will learn the value of multicultural over time. They read about and purchase research to study the lifestyle.

The Reality: Most people have typical routines and don't have time on weekends or after work to experience new things. Immersion may improve their professional work experience or give them new insights on culture trends and nuances.

Corporate Misconception: Immersion days are a logistical nightmare, and not the best use of work time.

The Reality: Take the time and plan 'Learning Days' where culture, language and destination are seen as helpful and productive tools, instead of an Achilles heel. The reality is that your partners, your ad agencies, select employees and/or local city boards can assist you in setting up what you need.

Corporate Misconception: Focusing on multicultural marketing and sales isn't really profitable; we can improve other areas first.

Reality: Ideas are currency, and multicultural ideas, if looked at through the lens of profitability, will change a corporate perspective on the category. Instead of looking at multicultural as a novelty, or a hassle, a company's new perspective can transform multicultural into a competitive advantage.

I encourage everyone to be the Joshua Packwood of your organization, and become the expert in their field. If you accept, understand and embrace the three aforementioned misconceptions and their realities -- you will realize the value of immersion, and in turn, the value of multicultural marketing.

Just think, if sales, performance, ideas or inspiration come out of it, your company may just see you as the its Valedictorian.
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