“Starting Over Is Not A Failure”

“Starting Over Is Not A Failure”

Note to readers: I decided to do this blog post as a self Q&A to look back at the last six month after my kidney transplant, self-examination, and the future.   

Q: It’s been six months now since your kidney transplant. You look good. How do you feel? 

A: “Thanks. I feel good. Not 100%, but better than I was when I was on dialysis. I was a walking zombie after dialysis on most days. I was crashing on the couch and sleeping it off.”

Q: Do you feel healthy with the new kidney?

A: “Yes and no. I’m probably the healthiest I’ve been since high school. I’m not out of the woods as it relates to my health. There will be constant monitoring of my kidneys, appointments with doctors, and taking anti-rejection medications for the rest of my life.”

Q: You haven’t talked much about the surgery. How did you learn that you were getting a new kidney? 

A: “My uncle was approved to be a donor at the end of February.  He was the only person, family or friend, who went through the evaluation process to determine if he was a match. The caveat was that the transplant had to take place before April 1st, or he would have to start the donor process and test all over again.

When I received the news that the transplant was scheduled, I hesitated. When I initially met with the transplant team in 2015, they wanted me to lose at least 20 pounds and lower my A1c below 8%. I was internally beating myself up because I fell short of meeting those expectations. I was close, but not close enough in my view.”

We have a hard time accepting and practicing this term.

Q: Were the surgeons upset with you when you admitted that you fell short of the goals?

A: “The surgeons were not upset. They were convinced that I would have a successful transplant. They determined that due to my diligence to do follow doctor’s orders, my mental state, responding positively to setbacks, and a strong support system from my family and a small circle of close friends.

I almost called off the surgery. I irrationally concluded that I didn’t deserve to be transplanted. I fell short of the goals that were set for me. My mother and the post-transplant coordinator had to talk me down from the ledge.  They assured me that I was ready for the procedure. I prepared myself for three years to get to this point. I am a perfectionist. I wanted the situation to be perfect for the transplant to happen.

I took a few breaths, calmed down, looked at both of them and calmly replied “I’m ready.””

Q: Do you remember the day of the surgery?

A: “Yes. I arrived at UIHC (University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics) early Thursday morning, March 29th, with my mom. Thirty minutes later, the nurse escorted me into a waiting room, to be prepped. My uncle was next door (I think?) getting prepped as well. He was heading to the operating room first, then I was to follow 30 minutes later. Around 9:00 a.m., one of the surgeons walked in and said it was time. I kissed my mom and they wheeled me towards the operating room.

At 9:30 a.m., the nurses did a final check before putting me under anesthesia. “Is there any last questions before we put the mask on you?” I responded “Nope, Let’s do this.” The nurses place the anesthesia mask on my face.

Late in the afternoon, I awoke in the surgery holding area, where patients who has had surgery are recuperating before being discharged or moved to a hospital room. The first thing I recall is my breathing and hearing nurses talk. I managed to move my head side to side gently to see what was going on. I could feel the staples on my lower right abdomen, where the new kidney was put in.

Around 6:15 p.m., I was transported to my hospital room in the transplant wing.”

Later that evening, the surgeons briefed me on the procedure.  Once one of the doctors used laparoscopic surgery to remove my uncle’s kidney, another doctor cut me open and attached the kidney.  As soon as the tubes and veins were attached, the new kidney started functioning right away.

Mr Tony logo
Yes, Mr. Tony has a podcast…at a restaurant. He owns the restaurant (along with Maury Povich).

Q: Wow, that is amazing. Were you in any pain?

A: “Hell no. I’ve been used to excruciating pain in the past. The transplant was, to me, the easiest thing I endured. I’m insane for saying that, but here’s why. I’ve had two fistulas, had needles inserted in my arm for dialysis three times a week, and five central venous catheters placed in my chest when my fistulas didn’t work properly. If I could endure that many procedures to keep me on this planet, I could handle a transplant.

Those battle scars on my chest and arms are a part of me now. I’m not ashamed of those scars.”

Q: After you were discharged, did you go home right away?

A: “Not right away. I couldn’t go back to my apartment. Being a single unattached person, I did not have a companion or significant other to care for me. That role was designated to my mother and sister. I spent 6 weeks at my sister’s house recovering.”

“Designing Your Life” by Burnett and Evans.

Q: What did you do for those six weeks? Watch television? Download podcasts? 

A: “I read several books. Currently I’m reading “Deep Work” by Cal Newport and “Leadership BS” by Jeffrey Pfeffer. A book that stood out to me was “Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life” by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, professors in the design program at Stanford University. The book lays out the concept of “life design”, or designing your life and career by using a design thinking approach being done by design engineers.

As far as podcasts, I usually listen to shows like Tony Kornheiser , “This Is Why You’re Single”and “Introvert, Dear”.  I like smart, sometimes comical, sarcastic, amusing, and interesting podcasts.”

Q: What have you learned about yourself in the three years that you were battling kidney failure, from the start of dialysis to the transplant? 

A: “I discovered that I am a survivor. I don’t consider myself brave or courageous. I didn’t save someone’s life or did something that changed the world. I survived by being mentally strong. I have had a good deal of life events (parents’ divorce, health issues, unemployment) that would make many of us crumble and lash out at others for our failures and issues.

Lashing out doesn’t work for me, nor is getting emotional about my circumstances. I’m wired differently. I have to process information and analyze it before I make a decision, say something, or act.

I tackle setbacks with the mindset of “Okay, this happened. What do I need to do to resolve this?” Responding to adversity has become an ally. A month ago, I was hospitalized for a viral infection. I didn’t whine and feel sorry for myself.  I had to re-frame what I was thinking. “I have an infection. Let’s see what it causing it and how to get rid of it.”

Q: Do you have any regrets after what you have gone through? 

A: “I would say no, but that’s a lie. A big lie. There are regrets that I’m working on letting go. I left behind what I would call “unfinished business” in Des Moines that will never be completed. As I look back, it’s alright for it to never be finished.”

Q:  You go back to those things you left behind and restart them, if you wanted to, right? 

A: “The more time that passes, the less I want to go back and settle that stuff. I would have been miserable again. It was a culture of being stuck in neutral.

I was living a life that revolved around status and popularity. The culture of personality, branding, getting noticed for doing big things wasn’t my spiel. However, in order to stay relevant in Des Moines, I had to “act” the part of being extroverted and being “out there” to be noticed. Follow the crowd, or you get judged and discarded.

DSM skyline
Skyline of Des Moines, Iowa.

I couldn’t be my true self: an introvert who is interested about stories and finding a career and life that would bring value and enjoyment. In some respects, I think that introverts are viewed negatively by society. We’re not loud and brash, talkative and attention-seeking.”  Therefore, introverts are not noticed for their accomplishments. Being under the spotlight is overwhelming and exhausting.”

Q: Describe this “unfinished business” that you left behind?

A: “It was self-confidence. I couldn’t find my self-confidence in an environment where I should have succeeded in. I didn’t have much confidence in myself. I was always “flawed” in my own mind.

That mindset cause me to unconsciously seek affirmation and confirmation from individuals who did not have an interest in me. If I reached out to someone for advice or encouragement, my requests were ignored. Ironically, these were people in the business community that most had suggested that I should connect with.

Self-confidence is a slow, frustrating, and weary effort to build. I am confident when I can do a task, drive a car, volunteer, clean or cook. Those are stuff that I can do without hesitation. It’s what I know.  My hang-up was the personal issues: speaking up for myself at work, seeking relationships, and asking for help. It was a “keep your head down and don’t talk” philosophy. It suited me since I am a stutterer. But as time passed, I had difficulty evolving from a personal standpoint.

The lack of self-confidence cost me better opportunities, possible relationships, and a lot more living in Des Moines.  That was a painful lesson to accept after I left Des Moines.”

Man walking alone
Starting over in life is scary, but in life, it’s necessary to reset our compass.

Q: How do you plan on starting over?

A: “I’ slowly started over once I moved to the Quad Cities to begin dialysis. I have a great family, a supportive mental health counselor to help me sort out the personal “baggage” that accumulated for years. I joined an organ transplant support group and a stuttering support group. I spent a year receiving speech therapy to develop new tools to use when I struggle vocally.

I researched online to find a writer’s group to participate in. I found a local group that meets twice a month. Most of the members write fictional novels. I don’t write fiction and I don’t have the focus to write a book. Nevertheless, I attend the meetings to learn more about the process of writing in different styles, structure, and formats.

Now that it’s fall and I’m marking six months post-transplant, it’s time to search for local professional and business groups to network with, seeking opportunities, and compiling a list of realistic goals that I wasn’t audacious enough to pursue.

I want it to be on my terms: what I do want to explore, prototype, and try out? What are the steps to work for an industry or company that I’m interested in? How to effectively network (don’t ask for a job…ask the person about how they landed at their career or story)? Get over my fear of dating, go on vacation alone, and be financially sufficient for the first time in my life.”

Q: That is a lot to tackle, starting from scratch. Has anyone reached out to you? 

A: No. I haven’t reached out to ask for guidance. Before I left Des Moines, I asked one person if they had a connection in the Quad Cities I could meet.  I didn’t hear back at all. That’s fine. I’ll ask someone else, until I have a list of possible business connections.

I am used to “no”, but I still struggle mentally with it. It will always feel like a failure, but as Burnett and Evans wrote in their book, you develop “failure immunity”. You failed. You learn. You try it again or explore something new. Don’t be anchored to a problem where you think there’s only one solution to fix it.

Downtown Davenport.jpg
The Quad Cities (Davenport, Iowa pictured)

I want to start over here in the Quad Cities. I will consider going someplace else, but I want to see my nieces grow up. Living in the same city they live in offers me that chance.

I’m unsure what the next six months will look like. The plans and goals we sketch out doesn’t always pan out. We have to adapt and find other ways to get to where we want to be.

Starting over is not a failure. It’s a way to reset our compass and learn from the experiences that worked or didn’t work.

I’m comfortable and at peace with that.”



All It Took Was A Smile

All It Took Was A Smile

All it took was a friendly smile.

I had nothing else to do on a spring Saturday in May roughly about 7 years ago. I decided to walk and visit the shops and places in Des Moines’ East Village neighborhood. The State Historical Building and the Olympic Flame restaurant were the only two places I knew and went to. When I interned at the Iowa drug czar’s office in college, I was introduced to The Olympic Flame. That was my only remembrance of East Village until I moved to Des Moines a year later in 1998.

After a few stops, I was in front of a store that was on the corner of E. Grand and E. 5th.  The store looked small. It was filled with lotions, soaps, and other items that I was ashamed to admit that it smelled so good. The store was laced with the scent of lavender, citrus, parfum, different types of exotic oils, perfume and cologne.

Rather than keep walking, I was curious enough to foolishly walk in. After about three minutes of standing in front of a table of fragrant soap, the owner notices me and asked if there was anything she could help me with. Being a mild stutterer, I was caught off guard and I stammered out “No thank you. I was looking.” I quickly left and went about my way.

Not long after that, the store moved to its current place on East 6th. The place was a little bigger and brighter. White and light tones dominated the inside of the store. The signage outside was hard not to ignore.


Simplistic and yet it had a charm and an identity that would have a hand in the evolution of East Village.

I walked inside, once again curious as hell as I meandered past the tables and shelves of shampoo, soap, candles, and children books. The owner, as she did the last time, asked if I needed any help. I didn’t quite remember her, only because I kept my head down in embarrassment. I don’t recall what I said, but it had something to do with soap or shaving cream.

What I remember about that exchange was that she smiled.

Jennifer Hansen had a smile that made you feel welcomed, whether you were going to buy something or wandering around like I did.

After that, I became a fan and a supporter of eden. I learned how she was inspired to open eden: her grandmother visited Paris and told stories about Paris. Years later, Jennifer would visit Paris. Paris was the inspiration for her to open her own store. Holiday parties, special events, and First Friday were “must-go” for friends and acquaintances to stop by. First Fridays in the summer was on my calendar, not to shop, but to sit in the back with the men, as her husband John grilled hot dogs or steaks. In the front of the store, the shop girls and Jen would provide homemade cocktails.

eden 2
Courtesy: Historic East Village of Des Moines (eastvillagedesmoines.com)

A large poster of Audrey Hepburn and a red scooter (Vespa, I think?) were the first things to greet customers when they walked through the doors of eden.

Three visits stood out to me as memorable. The first was when I was looking for a birthday gift for my youngest niece. I walked out of there with a stuffed brown dog with ears that flapped all over the place. The next purchase was a gift basket for my mother for Christmas. Jen helped me put together the basket. The third one, and this is important to me, was when I got up the courage to ask Jen and a friend who also had a shop in East Village, if it was possible for my non-profit to have our walk through East Village.

That ask came before I was diagnosed with advanced stage retinopathy. I struggled to see anything in focus. On the day of the walk, I didn’t get the chance to see the walkers walk through and experience East Village for the first time.

I wasn’t allowed to drive or bike. I had to call a cab if I needed to go somewhere. After the walk was over, I walked the nearly 7 blocks through downtown, across the bridge over the Des Moines River, to thank Jen and Alyssa for their help. The walk event wasn’t a huge success, but the confidence to ask for support and ideas were pretty special.

Jen was a Sherman Hill apologist through and through. John and her also loved camping. In fact, she gave their camper a name. The camper was part of her family along with the cats who lived in their Sherman Hill home.

Before I met her, there was one unwelcome guest that never seemed to leave: cancer. Yeah, that guest. When I learned I had retinopathy and later kidney failure, I privately thought of Jen and how she kept a smile on her face despite chemotherapy, days of physical drain, and when she had to rest at home, while the shop girls ran the store.

In essence, showing kindness through adversity. Adversity is a box that contains stuff that we do not want, but rather than sit and stew about it, we find ways to understand, accept, and eventually part ways with that box.

The last visit I made to eden was a year ago, in October 2016. I was in town for an event, and it was First Friday. I stopped by, quietly, as Jen, the shop girls, and the customers were mingling.

Why ruin something that is, well, just perfect? Everyone was in good spirits. There was no time to talk about illnesses.

Until Monday morning. The unwelcome visitor, cancer, left for good.

And took Jennifer along.

Cancer sucks, but no one here on this planet is going to put their boxing gloves down for anything. Cancer, kidney failure, Alzheimer’s, and other unwelcome guests.

As I remember Jennifer Hansen, the large poster of Audrey Hepburn and the scooter in the window front doesn’t make me mourn. I can see in my own mind Jen riding on that red scooter…with Audrey hanging on as they ride down Locust Street in East Village.

With a smile on their faces.

A Missing “Core”

A Missing “Core”

Two stories in the Des Moines Register recently caught my eye, and it tied into a piece 2014 piece I wrote.

The Brookings Institute published a report on metro areas that has seen economic recovery after the recession. Des Moines was one of the cities that enjoy “inclusive” economic growth that benefited a diverse range of the region’s population, however, Brookings also indicated that also the greater Des Moines economy is leaving some workers behind, namely poor workers.

The second story was a release of a study from The Directors Council, a local non-profit group, on the widening racial disparities in Polk County and Des Moines.

In October 2014, I wrote on how Des Moines is so progressive in many areas and yet ignoring the African-American community within the urban core. Surprisingly, some groups are finally getting around to addressing these issues. The urban core is poor and most of the citizens of this core are African-Americans.

There are a two questions that I have…

  1. I have never heard of this The Directors Council or the affiliations underneath TDC. I had lived in the Des Moines area for 13 years and not one person of color, or anyone else, has mentioned this group to me. For the record, I am African-American. I have been seeking organizations like these as a way to connect to possible mentors or to establish new networks.
  2. What was this group doing when Ako Abdul-Samad told the National Journal in 2014 about his frustration on how Des Moines has viewed and treated its predominantly black urban core?

There is a lack of African-Americans in (political) leadership, in arts and nonprofits, and in the Des Moines business community. The only time I hear of a prominent African-American in Des Moines, that person is in the business world.

I hear of their names, but I never see them in person.

They must be hard to track down. It’s better to not be seen than to have people recognize you, that is my guess. And no, attending the Greater Des Moines Partnership’s diversity receptions do not count as an official appearance.

When I look back at my experience living and working in Des Moines. I continue to question the willingness of Des Moines to address actual problems regarding the socioeconomic disparities within its city borders, without slapping paint on it and say “everything’s fine”.

The new wave of “gentrification” in the downtown area, unemployment rates for African-Americans, safety for those who live in poorer neighborhoods, and food scarcity with regards to affordability to buy fresh food over cheap junk food are vital topics for the urban core, beyond the common topics of race, unemployment, and economics.

I don’t have an answer to how all of this can be fixed. I’m no policy wonk. I do know that in order for Des Moines (not just city leaders, but business leaders especially) to be actively “inclusive”, they need to do a better job of addressing what it means to be “inclusive” and effectively supporting groups and individuals who are disadvantaged from a socioeconmic standpoint.

Closing the Book on “Mad Men”

Closing the Book on “Mad Men”
Sterling Headshot
“Remember, when God closes a door, he opens a dress.” God bless you, Roger Sterling. (PopSugar)

Tonight, it ends.

The story of a guy named Don Draper and the life surrounding an advertising agency in New York’s 1960’s. But, this story doesn’t begin with a script written by Matthew Weiner. It actually began, innocently enough, with a group performing in Des Moines one night. Critically acclaimed group “RJD2” performed at Vaudeville Mews. Popular for the tune “1976” and “Ghostwriter”, little did anyone, or even the group, would know that that another tune “A Beautiful Mine” would be selected by Weiner to be the opening theme to “Mad Men.”

Yes, Des Moines, you had a small part of television history, besides being the home of January Jones (Betty Draper Francis).

We tend to easily toss the banter of “greatest show ever” at anything we just watched (“The Sopranos” and “MAS*H” for examples), but there is something about television series that pulls us in like a black hole. But, there is validity to what The Sopranos and Mad Men mean to today’s television. It was unique, it had interesting characters that resembled the people we’re around these days.  I dare you to tell me you didn’t run across an Uncle Junior, Paulie Walnuts, or a Roger Sterling in your daily lives? Or wait, we wished we would run across people like that…

Remember when Peggy Olson in Season 1?  My how time have changed for Peggy. (Frank Ockenfels / AMC)
Remember when Peggy Olson in Season 1? My how time have changed for Peggy. (Frank Ockenfels / AMC)

Anyway, I have always been fascinated in how we watch television: how we view it, how we expect it to end and the reaction to it when it ends in the way that we did not anticipated it.

Do Colonel Henry Blake and Rosalind Shays come to mind?

As I wrote back in 2010 about the ending of The Sopranos, the idea that we want a perfect ending to a show is only wishful thinking. Shows should challenge our thinking and attitudes on what we think our perceptions are and to get us to view it a different way.

Larry Gelbart nailed it when how he described on MAS*H killing off Henry Blake. The viewers were upset that the writers would create such a killjoy in adding in Blake’s death, but the writers’ had another angle for viewers to understand: MASH wasn’t just a sitcom…it was a sitcom/drama about the reality of war.

So, as AMC closes the book on “Mad Men” this evening, don’t be surprised if the ending you expect isn’t the one you want.

Mind you, Weiner did work on The Sopranos. Anything can happen…just don’t expect it to live up to your own unrealistic expectations.

You Don’t Need To Win An Award To Be A “Hall-of-Famer”

You Don’t Need To Win An Award To Be A “Hall-of-Famer”

Dan Marino and Charles Barkley are considered the best athletes in their respective sports, football and basketball. Both of them are hall-of-famers despite the fact that they didn’t win a NBA title or a Super Bowl.

There are critics who feel that Marino, Barkley, and others should not be in the hall of fame, because they didn’t win the “big one.” According to conventional wisdom, winning a championship validates your legacy and punches your ticket into the hall of fame.

As the case, many great athletes have been inducted into their hall of fames without ever winning a championship.

The greatest athletes are enshrined into a hall of fame.  Does this apply to regular people and regular life?
The greatest athletes are enshrined into a hall of fame.
Does this apply to regular people and regular life?

There is a sense in local young professional circles that if you haven’t receive an award for making a difference in your community, then your accomplishments have no value.

Last October, at a YP event, a facilitator gave a group an assignment to write their dreams and what goals they wanted to achieve individually. On a majority of “dream” lists, YPs listed a plethora of dreams, but the majority theme on their lists is being named to “important lists” such as the Business Record’s Forty Under 40 and Juice’s YP of the Year Award.

After the event, several of us YPs read what was written on each list. A few of us found it troubling to read that the “end all be all” dream of many is “winning an award”. The question we asked was whether an award, being named to a board, or being recognized as an “up and comer” should validate a young professional’s status in the Des Moines business community.

Juice and YPC will announce the 2014 winner of the YP of the Year award in early February.
Juice and YPC will announce the 2014 winner of the YP of the Year award in early February.

As someone who have won two awards for community service, there is an harsh truth about winning awards: it doesn’t always validate your status and presence in the eyes of the community.

It doesn’t raise your profile as much as you think it should. For some, it does, which is why many YPs feel that Forty Under 40, the Business Record’s yearly honor list of 40 individuals under 40 who are making great strides in Central Iowa, is such a big deal.

None of those distinctions have landed me a permanent (or better) job and a higher profile. I’ve gotten a pat on the head for being a great volunteer, but nothing else. In 2011, there wasn’t much fanfare

The “checkbox “ that YPs are using to measure each other in the area of life and career is disturbing. If we’re not obsessively networking, gathering up as mentors, and taking leadership classes, then we must be failing and not living up to the standards of “being successful”.

Have Gen Xers and Millennials fallen into the "checkbox mentality" of trying to be noticed and admired?
Have Gen Xers and Millennials fallen into the “checkbox mentality” of trying to be noticed and admired?

It’s the Gen X/Millennial version of the “rat race.”

Last July, Juice’s Josh Hafner asked “do YPs do more than network, find mentors, and learning about leadership?” It was a great question because he was seeing a trend that I didn’t notice. When I look back at my experience as a YP over the past decade, I have struggled more than I have achieved. I didn’t get that big promotion, lofty job title, or the things that everyone I know already has: family, house/condo, significant other, et cetera.

Hafner’s column resonated to me. Being a young professional should be more than networking for your career, being mentored by great leaders, and learning how to succeed as a leader.

You are starting to learn how to live life: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Not many YPs are going to have mentors. Either we can’t find the right mentor for the right fit, or a mentor may have no interest in mentoring you.

Many of us may be unable to sign up for leadership classes, if time permits us. There are leadership classes that will not be the best fit. Would it be better for me to take a Leadership Iowa class than GDMLI, because I’m interested in how leadership is done on a statewide basis, plus my interest level goes beyond what goes on here in Des Moines.

Despite those challenges, the list of finalists for the 2014 YP of the Year do not just sit on a bunch of boards, have a Rolodex of networks, have great jobs, and have mentors. Their interests include building houses for low-income families, encouraging women to run for elected office, raising money for children with serious illnesses, among other activities.

YPs understand that we have lives outside of the professional world and cultivating our individual lives is paramount for our sanity.

Gen X and Millennials are now experiencing their own “rat race” to success.

I have accepted that I will never be named to the Forty Under 40 list. I’ve never had the career or job that I could advance up the ladder in and have it linked to the activities I have done or doing in the community.

There are too many factors going against me for this honor. I’m at peace with never getting it. That’s one less thing I have to worry about.

I never sought out to win the YPC Ashley Okland Community Service award or receive the Iowa Governor’s Volunteer award. It was never a goal. Individuals nominated me because they felt that a person who is dedicated to what they love and believed in should be honored.

I never bring those awards up to brag or remind people about. Nobody cares.

It’s 2015, not 2011.

It’s nice to have them, but how many people remember that I received them?

I volunteer and network because I enjoy staying busy and giving back in a small way. Personally, it takes my mind off of feeling lonely and dealing with my own personal battles (health, lack of work). If volunteering and connecting people make a difference in one person’s life, I consider that a victory.

YP of the Year Award finalists (from left) Josh Dryer, Andrea Woodard, LaVerne Greenfield, Megan Ruble, Brianne Sanchez, Emilee Richardson, and Tyler DeHaan, Thursday, Jan. 8, 2015, at the YPC 2015 Kick Off event at Jasper Winery in Des Moines. (Juice)
YP of the Year Award finalists (from left) Josh Dryer, Andrea Woodard, LaVerne Greenfield, Megan Ruble, Brianne Sanchez, Emilee Richardson, and Tyler DeHaan, Thursday, Jan. 8, 2015, at the YPC 2015 Kick Off event at Jasper Winery in Des Moines. (Juice)

In her blog “BS in the Midwest”, Brianne Sanchez wrote about being fortunate in living in a city that let’s her do her job, pursue her passions and hobbies, spend time with her family, friends, and colleagues. Also, she never feel stressed out to hit those “self-made benchmarks” that most of us YP’s have unconsciously set for ourselves.

“Whether or not I “win” the YP award in February, the fact the I get to go to work in a job I love and live in a community that lets me pursue and explore so many ideas (and embraces me when all I want is to hang out in my sweatpants), is a huge reward in itself.”

Is an athlete a Hall-of-Famer, if they never won a championship?  The answer is yes.

Is someone a “Hall-of-Famer” if they don’t receive an honor or award, based on their accomplishments?

That answer should always be “yes.”

“March Madness” Finally Comes to Des Moines

“March Madness” Finally Comes to Des Moines
The 2013 NCAA Wrestling Championships at Wells Fargo Arena . Hosting this proved that Des Moines was ready to host any major sporting event.
The 2013 NCAA Wrestling Championships at Wells Fargo Arena . Hosting this proved that Des Moines was ready to host any major sporting event.

Remember when Wells Fargo Arena and the Iowa Events Center opened in 2005?

Remember when people complained about paying $6 for a beer at Wells Fargo?

Remember when the Polk County Board of Supervisors had that ridiculous iron-clad contract to put an AHL team inside Wells Fargo?

Remember when people expected Wells Fargo and Des Moines to land a NCAA men’s tournament game right away?

Funny how we forget those moments. People stop complaining about the price of beer. It’s cheaper than venues like Solider Field and Yankee Stadium.

After the first fiasco of having an AHL team, the Board of Supervisors finally got it right by having the right owners and an affiliate that was in the region (Minnesota Wild).

And all that talk about never getting to host March Madness?  That debate ended today.


This morning, the NCAA has announced that Des Moines was selected as one of eight cities to host the first and second round games for the 2016 Division I men’s basketball tournament…aka March Madness.

Yes…our city. How about that?

See what patience and proving doubters wrong can do?

Des Moines was ready for this moment to come. It took a few “no’s”, but here it is.

This is why the IAHSAA and the IGHSAU moved their tournament dates up a few weeks early, much to their displeasure.

This is why Des Moines was willing to host the NCAA Track and Field Championships, the women’s basketball early and regional rounds, Iowa State hosting the volleyball regionals, and the coup d’etat, the NCAA wrestling championships in 2013.

And not to mention, Des Moines has hosted the AAU Junior Olympics the last few years as well.

This is why after listening to what they needed to do to improve their chances at hosting the men’s tournament, Des Moines, quietly and patiently, worked diligently to put as many of the pieces together. A new hotel will be built next to the Events Center complex in the next two years.

So that excuse of not having a hotel on site can no longer be used as an excuse by the NCAA or anyone else.

This news even surprised WHO-TV’s Andy Fales, who thought Des Moines was going to miss out, yet again:

…after the announcement:

The more you doubt a person or something, the more they can prove you wrong.

The credit goes to the Greater Des Moines Convention and Visitors Bureau and others like Iowa State, Drake, and sports fans. We earned this. We proved that anything can happen…patience is a virtue.

Is hosting a major national sports event still a “useless folly”, Mike Draper?  I didn’t think so. The CVB just got scoreboard.

That also goes for those who will continue to find ways to player-hate on Des Moines. You can quietly exit stage left.

The haters are not going to ruin this day for sports fans. We’ve waited for a long time for this to happen. When 2016 arrives, it’ll be 44 years since March Madness was held in an Iowa venue (Hilton Coliseum hosted the 1972 Midwest regionals).

There are a few other things I want to add about the news (for one, it’s long overdue for the NCAA to find new cities to host tournaments), but for today, it’s a good day to see that the work towards getting March Madness paid off.

A “Hip” and Progressive City Like Des Moines Should Be More Inclusive

Des Moines skyline.
Des Moines skyline.

An acquaintance of mine posted a link on Facebook recently, celebrating a friend of hers on a story he is doing on Des Moines for the National Journal. The National Journal is doing a series called “The Next America”, specifically focusing on the reality of 21st Century Iowa (as if the rest of the world thinks we’ve just climbed out of the 19th Century, but Scott Siepker would beg to differ).

It’s no surprise that Des Moines, the city I live in, is receiving recognition from publications for being a great place to live, work, to create startups, and other things. It is a city that is recognized, along with the state of Iowa, for legalizing gay marriages, the influx of young professionals, and exuding “Iowa nice”.

The current topic in Des Moines and Iowa is encouraging women to take on a larger leadership role in business and politics. Iowa, along with Mississippi, are the two lone states that have not elected a woman to Congress. All of that could change next month. Maybe it won’t, but it’s a big deal.

What many here in Iowa do not realize, or have ignored, is that Iowa haven’t elected a minority to Congress either. And another topic that’s not being discussed, despite the all of the progress taking place in Des Moines, is that the African-American community is a non-factor.

It is an invisible community. We see it everyday in Des Moines, and yet we prefer to tout how same-sex friendly we are and our pursuit to elect a woman to Congress.  There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s nice to pat ourselves on the back for being #1 on every list from Forbes to The Today Show, but we still have work to do to make it better.

A lot of work.

Iowa State Representative Ako Abdul-Samad. (AP/Charlie Neibergall)
Iowa State Representative Ako Abdul-Samad. (AP/Charlie Neibergall)

State representative Ako Abdul-Samad spoke to reporter Matt Vasilogambros about how the urban core of Des Moines have been forgotten as the other cores of the city and suburbs like Beaverdale, Waukee, Downtown, and Gateway West has become desirable places for residents and businesses. While this is not surprising to me, what is disconcerting is that Abdul-Samad expressed his discouragement to a national publication…and not to the local media.

Did he tell the National Journal his sentiments because he felt that the local media, city/regional leaders, and the business community would continue to ignore the urban core? Is there a reason he chose to speak with a national publication about the plight of Des Moines’ urban core and the lack of progress from a business and quality of life standpoint?

For Abdul-Samad to tell a national publication and not address it locally puzzles me. He may have his reasons. The main point of this entry is that if Des Moines is going to brag about its “great” diversity when it comes to life and work, the African-American community should get the same attention and support that the growing Latino, Asian, and LGBT communities receive.

Des Moines and Polk County hasn’t had a minority on the city council or board of supervisors for nearly a decade. There has been little traction to encourage and engage African-Americans in the growing business sector, downtown projects, and overall when it comes to daily life. There are a few African-Americans in the Des Moines business community that people know of, but if you asked me, I hear of their names, but I never see their faces.

It’s discouraging for me as an African-American young professional to continue to have the sense of “I’m the only black in this meeting, event, or workplace.” I attended a local Young Non-Profit Network meetup recently. I surveyed the room before the meeting.

Yep, that feeling crept in. I don’t mind it because I can roll with it, but there has to be African-Americans in this city who are interested in non-profits, arts, and other stuff.

If there is an area of improvement that Des Moines has to work on, with genuine seriousness and not some make-shift short-term Band Aid solution to cover it up, is to re-engage themselves into the black community and encourage African-Americans YPs like myself to be active in the community, whether its volunteering at church, food pantries like Move the Food, or reading programs.

The Business Record, a local business publication, hosts forums and events to raise awareness of women in business. Why not do a similar one for minority groups?

I have to keep in mind that it is a choice. You can’t force people to “get involved” and “be engaged”. What is important is to make these opportunities available. If someone takes advantage of it, we need to embrace their opinions and perspective, for it helps us understand and improve our quality of life.

The Rose Garden at the Des Moines Art Center.
The Rose Garden at the Des Moines Art Center.

Des Moines is a good place to live and work, however, in order to reach its full potential, Des Moines need to address the lack of African-American involvement in the progression of this city. Awards are cute and nice, but everyone should be able to share in the accolades.

That means all citizens. No one should be forgotten or ignored as this city continues to progress towards newer and better things.