005: Giving Voice to All through Art with Colin D. Lord, Part 1

Too often we see beautifully written diversity and inclusion statements on company websites, but they’re rarely practiced. Colin D. Lord joined Threewalls at a crucial time where we had to address anti-racism and explore how we could fully serve the ALAANA/BIPOC  artistic community from within. I bring Colin on to the show to reflect over what he’s learned at Threewalls over the past four years, while he is taking a hiatus from his board membership. 


Colin has a lot of experience across the country working in non-profit work and education, and it’s his mission to address issues around disparity of education. Tune in to our conversation as we discuss educational access, supporting black women in leadership, Colin’s “not on my watch” mantra, the power of humour – and going to the same high school as Rihanna.



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005: Giving Voice to All through Art with Colin D. Lord, Part 1

art, board member, board, Chicago, artists, diversity, conversation, college, education,
Jeffreen Hayes, Colin D. Lord

Jeffreen Hayes 00:30
Welcome to Inside the walls Podcast. I am your host Jeffreen Hayes. And today we have the pleasure of speaking with Colin D. Lord. Colin was a board member for about four years, and joined the organization at a really pivotal time, where we were really committing deeply to racial equity, particularly on the board level. And, Colin with his expertise in diversity, equity and inclusion, and just all around experience of life from Brooklyn, right? With Caribbean heritage, and also a little bit of connection across the pond, Colin was like the ideal board member and over the tenure of his time at the organization, really modeled what it means to be a board member who is committed from top to bottom, and not simply as a status symbol, but in service, deeply in service to the organization to our artists and to our community. So welcome, Colin.

Colin D. Lord 01:34
Thank you for having me, Dr. J.

Jeffreen Hayes 01:38
So, I gave a really brief overview of who you are. But can you share with our listeners, who you are?

Colin D. Lord 01:51
Who am I? Well, the first thing I'll say is sort of Thank you for having me on your podcast. I'm honored to be a part of this as I was been a board member at Threewalls. When you did the introduction, you mentioned about my connection to the UK, when you went across the pond, I'm still not so smart and a bit because as many would know, about a week ago, my beloved three lions make to the finals of the euro championship. And I thought it was going to be the year because I've not seen England win anything in my lifetime. And, and it wasn't so but I'm recovering. You know, I'm recovering. But to your point, yes, I was born in North London, England. Both of my parents are from Barbados. And I was thought it was kind of interesting that these two people from a small island had to go to another country to meet. But I'm the oldest of three kids. And I moved to Barbados when I was about eight years old. And there for eight years. And it was interesting. Notice as we're talking about what we're talking about, it was interesting to go from a place like London, to a place like Barbados, where everything in terms of race kind of got flipped, where the Prime Minister, the Governor General, and everyone else most part looked like me. I didn't realize at the time, but I do think that that was pretty informative. And it's also an accessible place to like most Caribbean islands. For example, I went to a school called Combermere Secondary School. And when I was the first former, the head boy, his name is David Thompson. He ended up he eventually became the Prime Minister of Barbados, you know, so as you know, in hindsight, it was kind of nice to you know, be mentioned by greatness, so to speak. Oh, and reanimates my high school too, so there's Oh,

Jeffreen Hayes 04:10
You have to give Bad Girl RiRi girl her mention in this podcast. We stan for Rihanna. Yes...

Colin D. Lord 04:21
We are. Rihanna, if you're listening to this somewhere, we are very proud of you. Not just because of what she does, but the fact that she's also being grounded and connected to her roots. But, I moved to New York when I was 16 years old. I got to New York: October 3, 1985. I'll never forget that date. I tell people all the time: I got I got there the same time as crack cocaine but it was all coincidence; I didn't bring it with me. But that reality definitely informed my experience. You know, I don't try to romanticize, what it was like living in New York City at the time, but it was tough. It was it was, it was tough. And it was challenging. But ultimately, because of some great mentors and some luck, I did have the opportunity to go to college. I went to Binghampton University in upstate New York. It's interesting, I went to Binghamton with the plan of doing something around Computer Science, Computer Engineering and my freshman year in college, I took a course called "Racial Stratification in the United States" with Professor Maxwell. And in the course, one day, he was talking about the disparities and funding of public schools, urban versus suburban. And I was so clueless. I just assumed that every other student, who've been to university had the same experience that I had. And like, I always say to, you know, people get the messages thru burn in bushes and other things. I got the message through racial stratification. And it was at that point, I decided that I was going to be the person to address issues around disparities in education, especially given the fact that I have a sister is 10 years younger than me. So she was in public school in New York City while I was in that class. And so I pivoted away from the whole computer science idea, and I started doing research and, and getting involved issues around education, around equity, and access and so on. And that led me ultimately to enroll in University Wisconsin, Madison for grad school in the Educational Policy Studies program. And socially, it was pretty tough. And academically, it was incredibly disillusioning because the courses that I took, basically, we talked about what was wrong with urban education, but there wasn't much as any discussion about how we can fix it. So after I left University of Wisconsin, I ended up back at my alma mater, eventually working in the admissions office there. And that's where I kind of found my footing in terms in what I wanted to do and how I could serve the community: it was around issues around educational access. And so I you know, amongst other things, I, I started a nonprofit in Atlanta, called the IMA Foundation, where I worked with public school students around personal finance and stock market education. I also served as an Associate Director of Admissions at Hamilton College. And I also one of my most rewarding experiences as being the national director of programs for a better chance. For those who don't know better chances at this point a 60 plus year old organization is a national organization. And the organization identifies students of color, who have potential and assist those students and their families to the admissions process to some of the best independent schools in the country. And after that, I decided that I was going to get married and have kids and I absolutely loved New York City. But I've always said that I would not want to raise kids in New York City, just way too intense switch to educators now limited budgets. And so after getting married, my wife and I, Melisa, we moved to wanted Connecticut, where I took the position of the Associate Director of Admission at Choate Rosemary Hall, which is a boarding school.

Jeffreen Hayes 09:54
Might I add that Choate has made an appearance on "Power", you know? When I heard I thought of you immediately. I was like I know Choate through Colin. One thing to know...so, one thing to know about Threewalls, and especially amongst the board is that we love pop culture, as much as we love food. So talking about television and movies is very much how we bond.

Colin D. Lord 10:34
That is true, because now when I wear a Choate t-shirt, and people actually know what that is. But in addition to working in the admissions office, I was also the advisor to students of color at Choate. And I did that. As I mentioned before, I was at Choate for eight years before moving to Chicago. Was that seven years ago? And when I moved to Chicago, I moved here to be the director of enrollment management, and financial aid at an independent school here in Chicago. We'll just leave that unnamed at this point because they don't deserve the spotlight. And when I moved to a friend of mine from college, Devin Mathews, was... Don't, don't, don't, don't. Don't tell the story yet. Oh, I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I was doing Chicago pizza and enjoying the lakefront and doing all those things.

Jeffreen Hayes 11:50
So funny. We also laugh a lot at Threewalls. So the jokes, always they come, they write themselves a lot of the time.

Colin D. Lord 12:03
It was a cultural thing, too. I think that I think that people color especially black folks, we use humor, as a form of therapy. I know I have because there are situations where if we don't laugh, you're gonna cry. And so that's always been a means to kind of view stress at times. So laughing is good.

Jeffreen Hayes 12:27
Absolutely. Absolutely. So you have a lot of experience across the country in terms of nonprofit work, education at different levels, and you land in Chicago, which is a really interesting choice for a couple of reasons. One, you said about New York, you didn't want to raise your children there because of the education system on a, you know, educator salaries. And it's tough. It's rough, right? I hear the same thing about folks who grew up in Chicago, don't want to raise their kids here, for all of the same reasons, right. So it's interesting to think about Chicago and New York being really sister cities in terms of all of what is wrong, although Chicago is deeply segregated in a way that New York isn't. So that's, that's one thing. And that you have this perspective, from an educational standpoint, that is also very much in relationship to the arts and the visual arts. And you didn't necessarily know that coming to Threewalls. Right. So can you talk a little bit about how you came to learn about Threewalls?

Colin D. Lord 14:02
Well, I learned about Threewalls through one of my college friends, Devin Mathews, who I think you've had on your show before. He is a board member and I think a two time President at Threewalls, maybe. So Devin and I, when we were in college, he was a member of student government. I was wearing many hats. And we were often spending a lot of our time challenging the administration on things and so we worked really well together, you know: Senate protest to taking over buildings, doing the things that young people do. And when I moved here, he invited me, I think I was here for maybe a month or so, before he invited me to a Threewalls fundraiser. I think that might have been my first exposure to Threewalls. And so he was kind enough to share his perspectives about the organization. And when scheduled committed, I would make every attempt to attend programs at Threewalls was hosting. So that was kind of my entree into the organization.

Jeffreen Hayes 15:28
Which is how a lot of board members enter the organization: they've been invited to a program by another board member, and not always with the intent to recruit you to board membership, but to say, "Hey, this is a really important organization, that is also part of my life." And so thank you, Devin, because we know you're listening for that. And so talk about when you.. so how did we meet? Let's talk about that. I remember specifically.

Colin D. Lord 16:06
Oooh, you do?

Jeffreen Hayes 16:09
I do.

Colin D. Lord 16:10
I don't know if it was the first time we met. But I know. I do remember one of our first conversations. Well, I obviously met you one of the events Was it the was it that fundraising event that was in like that warehouse, somewhere?

Jeffreen Hayes 16:28
So, it wasn't a fundraiser. So the summer of 2016, we hosted a Fellowship Solidarity gathering. And that was the summer where we had Sandra Bland, Philando Castillo, Alton Sterling, it seemed one right after the other. And the organization considering that I am a black woman was feeling it very deeply. We were also beginning the conversations around being racially inclusive. And so we hosted this gathering at Mana Contemporary, which is on the west side, which is refurbished warehouse of artists studios. And Colin came with Devin. And that's how we first met. I remember you saying that you thought the event was really great to do. And I think we talked a little bit about, you know, what was going on. Y'all didn't stay very long, because I think you went to dinner after that. Or you were going to drinks or something like that. But that was the first time that we met. And then as I continued to push the board to think about who, anyone who was non-White, who could be part of the organization and really commit to not just an arts organization, but the values. Devin mentioned you. And it, of course, would be Devin to have to be the person with the one Black friend, right. I know Devin has many Black friends. But it was of course, Devin. And and I think that's important to state in this moment. Because what Devin did not share in our conversation on the during the podcast was that he was someone who deeply believed in the organization's shifts, and the importance of being a racially inclusive arts organization from top to bottom, and really supported that financially as a board member. And so, in comes Colin and I don't remember our first conversation, like formal conversation during the recruitment process.

Colin D. Lord 19:09
I definitely remember the conversation.

Jeffreen Hayes 19:11
You do?

Colin D. Lord 19:12
Oh, abosultely. Oh, absolutely, I do. Because Devin reached out to me and said that you wanted to have the conversation me about being on the board. And before I go any further, I just want to say that I'm very proud of Devin. And what he's been able to do in terms of seeing the vision and so on. I like to think that all those conversations we had back in 1993-1992 was a primer, and he was listening. But yes, he's definitely a very forward thinking person, and very progressive in his thinking and I'm very proud of what he's been able to accomplish. And the fact that he's been consistent and committed to that. But I remember thinking myself: Why would I be a board member for an art nonprofit? As I mentioned before, I'm an educator. So, you know, cash is does not rule everything around me. And I, you know, as I think I mentioned to you in our first conversation, besides being a former B-Boy, you know, that's kind of like where my artistic ability is going to begin to then. And it was in that conversation that you know, the first time you kind of like, laid out your vision about where you wanted the organization to go, what are you trying to do. And, one of the things that struck me, that really struck a chord was the idea that unlike a lot of organizations, you didn't just want to have a really great diversity statement. Or, you know, the optics, all of this stuff. You wanted diversity and inclusion, and equity to be the fabric of the organization. And in order for you to do that, you need people who understood it, identified, could identify it. And when you said that, you know, based on my background, I said, Oh, okay, yeah, I could do that. Because now I've been doing the work, you know, since, you know, my time in college. So you definitely eased a lot of my angst at that point, cuz I, cuz I felt like I was a fish out of water. And, the other piece too, to be honest, I think I mentioned this to you before, one of the things that was attractive about the quid pro quo, I was, most certainly provide my, my insight, my, you know, my experience, and so on, and so forth. But I have two kids. And I wanted them to not be like me, and not feel uncomfortable when you talking about fine art and stuff like that. And I felt like Threewalls was a way to have them be exposed, not just a fine art, but so they can see that people are look like us can also produce that level of art. And I think one of the most, you know, one of the most significant moments to me was I forget what which artists it was, but there was an exhibit. And I met you, with my son CJ, and one of his friends, sage.

Jeffreen Hayes 22:58
Oh yeah, that was the so I had curated a show at Glass Curtain Gallery at Columbia College. And that show was "Silos" that traveled from DC to Chicago. And yeah, I took a Saturday afternoon and walked y'all through the show. And that was really exciting and wonderful. And what is, to your point, Colin, around kids being exposed to different kinds of art forms, and I think specifically around a visual art, was that the kids always get it. Because their mind is expansive, and they're open to receiving. And they don't have these kind of preconceived notions. And it was wonderful to watch CJ and his friend, like, just totally get this really complicated work. And so that is also the beauty of art is that it should be able to connect with all ages, of all backgrounds. And so the artists who were in that show, really did, they fulfilled their job as artists.

Colin D. Lord 24:17
I mean, just talking about it, I still get chills, cuz I was so I still am so thankful for you taking the time to do that because like CJ was hanging on every word. And every time you asked the question, and he was coming right back with a response, and it was, it was pretty amazing. Yeah, so...so yeah, that was that's how I got on board, more I got on board for Threewalls.

Jeffreen Hayes 24:45
Yeah, I do remember, what I remember from that conversation is me telling you I needed your help, and being real frank about it. And because you showed up fully as who you are, it allowed me to just be like, okay, real talk, I need someone else on this board who understands because I can't do it by myself. I can't do it just with Devin, I can't just do it with, you know, certain board members. And you were like, bet like that was it. And we've continued to have really great conversations. And your time on the board really was like a solace, especially during, you know, really pivotal moments of growth. And there have been many times where I've been able to call you and be like, yo, like, take the ED hat off, the Dr. J hat off and just be Jeffreen and be able to share. And that's rare, I think, at least that's been rare in my professional career, where I've been able to just also fully show up as myself, and not be judged by board members. So I appreciate that from you. And, you know, so you joined the board, and within a couple of years, I don't even think it was a couple years, I feel like it was like a year. I came to you wanting you to actually be president of the board. And talk about that, because I don't think that you were expecting that, especially because I think you were still a little hesitant, because you didn't have the art background. Or like even the art connections. And so can you talk a little bit about that?

Colin D. Lord 26:55
I mean, so it's interesting. I don't know if it's because as you get quiet, I do think as you get older, I won't say you lose confidence. But I do think that people get more careful about what they don't know, and how they manage how to navigate discomfort. And the reason why I say that is when I started working in college admissions, I started January of one year to January 97. And I remember that summer, I was I wasn't on the job for a year yet. I went to this conference called the National Association, the National Association of College Admissions conference had a summer session called Counselors of Color. And I went to the conference. And in the conference, there was this program where they would people submit different ideas, and two people get selected, and they have to do research and they present on it. And I remember, I was six months into the profession and I was listening to my two colleagues do their presentations. And I was like, Well, I can do better than that. Right. And so, like the next year, I most definitely submitted a proposal. And the mentors kind of reached out to me and said, “okay, this is great. But you've been in the profession for like a year now, so, why don’t you, pull back, fall back. And, you know, we'll see you next year.” You know, like, so there was a time…I think over time, people just tend to be less comfortable doing stuff like that, and put themselves out there. And so, even though I'd been a board member for about a year or so, I still wasn't, I still didn't feel ready to lead the charge. And the other part of it, too, Dr. J is, you know, like, anything that I commit to I take seriously. And, you know, I didn't want to be the person leading the organization to fumble, because the work that Threewalls does is too important. You know, and so, you know, like when I was working at a Better Chance, I worked there for three years. And the first couple of years, especially when incredibly brutal, it was post-9/11, the funding dried up. And my whole mantra the entire time I was there was not on my watch. There's no way I'm going to let this organization that's so important to so many people in our community fail. And so in order to avoid that, there was like a seven days a week. You know, I'm tired, you know, 14, 15, 16 hour days were normal. And when I got to the after three years, I said to myself, I need to step away before I get burnt out. Because I can't afford to be burnt out, sitting at this desk, you know, and I think a lot of that was the same, same attitude that I took when you asked about me being President. I wanted to be sure, I'm sure that I was gonna do right by the organization. And I do think that, as I mentioned before, there's something about fine art that makes people like me. You like on the outside looking in.



Threewalls is always finding new ways to share our artist’s unique voices through exhibits, talks, and gatherings. We would like you to be the first to know about these opportunities.