Listen as we talk to Drew Bailey, Marketing Manager at FedEx, Adjunct Professor at the University of Memphis, and board member of Love Works, the parent 501c3 that is hosting the Race for Reconciliation in Memphis on January 18, 2021. The Love Works organization pivoted recently to focus on education and dealing with the systemic problems of racism, two facets that Race for Reconciliation promotes in their efforts to end racism.

Drew talks about his grandmother’s influence on his life. She made a lot of sacrifices to ensure that Drew and his siblings were afforded opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t have been able to have. We can draw lessons from the importance his Grandmother placed on education and extracurricular activities like Scouts, and how affording these same opportunities to today’s black children can make a difference in each life, and in our communities across the nation.

In this episode you’ll discover: 

  • What are the levers that will break the cycle of poverty and build wealth.
  • How education opens the doors of opportunity.
  • What it’s really like growing up black in America.

Read the full transcript of the podcast below.


Karin (00:00): Welcome to R4R, Conversations That Educate And Elevate. I’m Karin Conlee and if you are joining us via video, you can see and if not, you will shortly hear from our guest today Drew Bailey. Drew welcome to the episode today. I’m so glad that you’re here with me today.

Drew (00:29): Thank you so much for having me Karin.

Karin (00:31): Yeah. So I want to introduce you to all of our viewers and podcast listeners today. You are an incredible man who is just making a huge difference in the city of Memphis. You are a marketing manager at FedEx. You have been there for eons. I think you might’ve started it with that with Fred Smith, right?

Drew (00:53): Not that old.

Karin (00:53): Not that old, yeah, I know you’re not that old. That’s true. But in addition to his career at FedEx Dew is also an adjunct professor at the University of Memphis. He is engaged and has three young adult children and is incredibly involved in many nonprofits and boards throughout the city of Memphis. Most specifically, and most dearest to my heart, is that you have served as a member of the board of Love Works, which is the parent 501c3 that is hosting Race for Reconciliation.

(01:31): So I’m thrilled to talk to you for many reasons, but one of them is just for, everybody as they are learning about who we are and what we do and our heart to be a voice of healing from the past, honor in the present, and hope for the future. That they get to know some of the hearts behind this, and you are certainly one of those. As Love Works really has pivoted to focus on really moving into that education sphere and dealing with the systemic problems of racism. You’ve been a real important part of that. So thank you for coming.

(02:12): Let me just give a quick snippet. I knew I wanted to have you on this podcast from the very beginning, but the direction that it took really stemmed from a conversation that we had at a recent board meeting. These are all people that we are in close relationship, respect each other, love each other. Everybody is incredibly successful professionally that’s involved in this. But you made a comment about a recent board meeting or executive level meeting, I guess, that you were in and mentioned that you were the only black person in that board meeting or boardroom, I should say, and that you were making a presentation and you made the comment that you really felt….and don’t let me put words in your mouth. But what I recollected of that conversation was that you felt pressure that not only for your own career, but that your performance and your ability to present to those high level executives would also reflect on other black men and women throughout the organization.

Drew (03:23): That’s correct.

Karin (03:26): I don’t think I was surprised by that only because I have been on this journey for the last several years of trying to understand and ask questions and learn from black men and women in my life to understand the journey that they’ve been on. But I was surprised by some of the reactions of the other people who really were kind of taken back by that comment, like really Drew. I mean, you’re the most articulate, educated you know, great on your feet kind of guy. No one would imagine as a white person, I don’t walk into a room and think, well how well I do reflects on anybody besides me.

(04:10): So that really led to this conversation. What I hope to do in the minutes that we have together, I’d love you to maybe, just give us a little bit of your background. I’ve learned enough to say , you know, not every white person’s had the same experience and not every black person’s had the same experience. We can’t group people in that way. So tell us a little bit of your journey. Then I want to get your perspective as a black man looking back over your teenage years, your college years, and your career years how this topic of racism and how your journey as a black man might have been different than your white counterparts. How we can learn from that so we can become a part of the solution. So tell us a little bit about just kind of your background.

Drew (05:02): Okay. So a little bit about myself. I am one of four, so I am actually a fraternal twin. I have a twin brother by the name of Andre and actually they got us mixed up. He should be Andrew and I should be Andre, but yeah, it is what it is. I like the name Andrew now, it’s been with me for a few years. I have an older sister and a younger sister, and we were all raised by my grandmother. One of the things I really appreciate about my grandmother is that she made a lot of sacrifices to ensure that we are afforded opportunities that otherwise we wouldn’t be able to have.

(05:33): One of those areas was education. She was really insistent that we had good education. So for my sisters, she, her perspective, my grandmother, was that black women would have it a little bit harder than black men. So she wanted to make sure that their education was as sound as possible. They both were put into private school, my older sister, all the way through 12th grade, my younger sister through middle school, and she attended a public school. But even in the public school options with me and my brother my grandmother wanted to make sure we were in the best public school. So she did her research. Then me and my brother, we actually had a lot of input in middle and high school.

(06:15): She’s also the mother of two daughters. So she really didn’t know much about raising boys. So in her decision in finding some avenues or some other opportunities for me and my brother to participate in, boy Scouts was one that caught her interests. We actually brought home a flyer and she thought it was a good idea that this would be a great way for us to interact with other young men, but have some strong male leadership in our lives. So both me and my brother are Eagle Scouts. So I’m proud to say that. It really was an opportunity afforded to us and the exposure just changed a lot for us.

(06:53): So for my grandmother, you know, again, those opportunities that sometimes we wouldn’t be afforded, an average black boy or average black girls, she just wanted to make sure that she could give a lot of that to us. I’m very, very appreciative of her for that.

Karin (07:08): Wow. You know, one of the things that you said to me a few minutes ago was something about the need to break the cycle of poverty in your family. That is something that I’ve never wrestled with or felt the pressure, or just had that out there. Talk to us a little bit about how that particular need was a part of your journey, and your story. How does having that as something, of breaking that cycle, impact you as a young boy or even in high school?

Drew (07:50): Well, when you look at just black people in general here in America, it’s like, well what are the levers to really break the cycle of poverty or to even build wealth? So you don’t have a lot of generational wealth that’s been passed down so you can’t really count that. You don’t have really, a lot of other external opportunities, so you can’t count that. For my grandmother who had an eighth grade education, she felt like education was the way to be able to break that cycle. She encouraged all of us to, if you weren’t going to college, what trade would you be interested in? If you weren’t going to do a trade, then is there a military option, particularly for you?

(08:31): So in me and my brother’s case, my brother actually chose the military option. After high school, he went to the army. For me, I went to college, but in just kind of doing my own research, I learned that that through education, you truly can potentially break the cycle of poverty. Now, when you look at getting a bachelor’s degree, a lot of people say a bachelor’s degree is the equivalent to a high school degree at this point. But for a lot of African Americans, just even getting to that level of education helps open up additional doors. As you’re able to open up additional doors, you need to get those opportunities to be able to make more money. As you’re able to make more money, you’re either doing one of two things. You build wealth for yourself, or you build wealth then share it with your family.

(09:17): Now, I’m not saying I’m just passing out free money to family members, but you almost become the symbol or this representation that if I can do it, if we could do it under these circumstances, then you can do it. And what I mean for that is for my children, for my nieces, for my nephews, for my daughter, Alexis, she’s the oldest of the three. She now has a college education and she understands what it means to help be able to break that cycle of poverty.

(09:43): Research has shown once that cycle is broken in one generation, it’s typically broken for the subsequent generations that come behind it. So that’s why I’m a huge proponent of boards and organizations that do a lot around both race reconciliation and education reconciliation. I’m very intentional about giving my time to those organizations that create those types of opportunities.

Karin (10:08): Well, and I love that. Here at race reconciliation, one of the things that we are trying to do and have identified of, okay, where are the systemic problems that exist still within our country that we can make a difference. So for us literacy is one of those. So how do we help third graders to be on reading level at third grade, knowing that not all schools are created equal and not all schools have the same support and not every child has the same opportunity or is in the same quality school.

(10:48): So to your point, that that’s one of the three areas, as well as vocational training and leadership development that we feel like, how do we not just educate people, but how do we actually make a difference in the communities that we come to? So I wish that I had had a chance to meet your grandmother. She sounds like the most amazing woman. She has got to be so proud of all of you and the way that you’ve been good stewards of the opportunities she worked so hard to provide for you.

Drew (11:22): She is, she is. You know, we can set that up once we get past COVID.

Karin (11:26): Yes. Okay. Well we need to do that. Well, let me ask you a question. Again, this has been you know, we’re in 2020 recording this. It has been a year of just so much pain and turmoil in the whole area of racism in our country. One of the things that I wanted to ask you to help us understand. As we start R4R we want to bring black and whites together and to create the unity that is designed to be that way. That we are all created equal. But there’s an education process that I would say a lot of my white friends and myself included, still need to go on. So if you don’t mind answering and helping in that education process, take us back to maybe your teenage years.

(12:32): You described being in boy Scouts, I’m assuming that was a majority white group of boys and young men. In your school, how did your race affect your experience? What encounters did you have with racism? Give us a picture of what it was like for you to be a teenage boy when you were walking through that season of life.

Drew (12:58): Sure. So a little bit, just from elementary school. I went to a majority white elementary school. I won’t necessarily call it a complex, but I guess it’s somewhat of a complex. I think for a lot of black people and I’ll speak for myself, it’s this sense of, am I good enough to be here? Should I be here and do I belong here? So I remember my sixth grade teacher, Ms. Fuller, she taught computer class, and I just had this natural kind of like take to just really wanting to understand what it means to work a computer, how it works on the inside, outside programming, et cetera, et cetera. She’s like, well Drew, this seems like a really…well Andrew because I didn’t start going by Drew until college. Andrew, this is a really good opportunity for you to potentially just, you know, honing your skills. So keep this interest I know you’re just in the sixth grade, but keep this as a potential opportunity for you to be able to just be successful.

(13:58): Then when I went to middle school, middle school I went to [inaudible 14:01] Freidman. So it was a very diverse school. I was able to really be around both white and black students. What I learned from [inaudible 14:10] Friedman is I was around affluent black families. My peers, their parents were lawyers, doctors, these professions where they understood the value of education. They wanted to make sure that they had their students in that. [inaudible 14:25] Friedman when I went was considering all optional schools. In our city, the city of Memphis, you have to do this transfer process. So you kind of have to jump through a few hoops to ‘qualify’ to be able to go to that school.

(14:40): So I’m thankful that I had the grades, thankfully my grandmother pursued the optional school process. But even in that process, it’s like, you have to go down to a building and you have to wait in a line and you have to fill out this paperwork. When we think about education, all parents can’t do that. My grandmother made that sacrifice to get me into that school, but should it be that hard? It’s kind of one of those things where like, okay, if other students maybe white, black, whatever, why can’t we all be afforded an education where you get that same level of intentionality?

(15:19): So middle school was great, really learn a lot. Then that actually helped influence my decision to go to Central High School, another diverse school, but Central had a program that was focused in computer science, computer engineering.

(15:35): So I’m on that trajectory, right? Again, we think about a lot of other students. They’re not even afforded the opportunity to connect the dots from elementary, to middle, to high school. I’m thankful for that. Then with the Boy Scouts, it’s like, yeah, it was majority white. When me and my brother were there our teen years we were probably one of three, one of four black staff members out of 90, 80. So a very small percentage, but I would say this about Boy Scouts, we were always felt welcomed. We never felt judged by the color of our skin, but inside. Cause I remember having this conversation with my brother and another young man, his name was Sean. It’s like, do we belong here, you know, how do other young boys look at us? We were always excited to see those Cubs Scouts and those younger Scouts who were black. And they were like, Hey, I want to be like him when I’m a little bit older and work here.

(16:32): So we took the responsibility very seriously. But that’s where that weight, that weight that you kind talked about being in the executive boardroom. That weight is just part of just who we are as far as…I know, my brother felt that way, sean felt that way, that we not only are representing ourselves, but we were these examples that other young boys are looking at and we gotta make sure that we don’t mess up. Because if we mess up when is the next time they may be able to see someone like us.

Karin (17:03): Wow. Drew as you reflect as you transitioned from high school to college what were the things that may be, you know, you had a great education coming up but what were the things that you maybe experienced as a college student? I’m not sure how diverse the university of Memphis was when you were a student then, but what was your experience as an African American on the University of Memphis campus? Did race play an impact and just how you viewed that experience? Were there obstacles that you had to overcome?

Drew (17:47): There were a lot of obstacles. Ironically enough, I was student body president in the year of 1999-2000 and I was afforded a lot of stats. One of the stats that really caught my attention as I was kind of setting it up for my presidency was at that time the University of Memphis was 7% African American, 7%. Now, today it’s very much diverse. I want to say it’s close to 45%-50%. So huge strides over the last 20 years in building a very diverse university and campus, but 20 years ago that was not the case. Even an African American men, that ratio, it was for every black female college student…it was an 8:1 ratio. So from a dating perspective, great, but it just showed like, wow, there’s work for us to do.

(18:48): My college years was an experience. I mean, I’m sure a lot of people would say that, but let me give you a quick background. So for the first two years, heavily involved in a lot of different student organizations, you know, that’s just kind of leapfrog from just being Eagle Scout and just being involved at Central High school, but even some of my own personal choices, the young lady I was dating at the time she got pregnant with Alexis. Then the year that Alexis was born, Alexis was born August of 95. Then my father passed away in December of 95. Now me and my father never really had a close relationship, but I also felt like just even from my upbringing in the church that you honor and respect. So me and my brother, we financially took care of all the things that needed to be done to give this man a proper burial.

(19:40): Well that financial strain, I had to sit out of school for roughly a year to bounce back from just doing that. When I came back to school, well, let me explain this the incident that happened before I left. So I was running for SGA vice president. So this is to my vice president and I was part of a ticket. I get a phone call maybe two weeks before I hear about my dad, because the election cycle happens in the spring, but you start putting your ticket together in the fall because this is going to be for the next year. The young man that I was running with, he made a decision to consolidate with another set of students, which locked me out of the whole process.

(20:25): So he was like, well, we don’t want you to necessarily be vice president anymore. What about Senator from Fogelman college of business, which is where I got my undergrad degree from. I was like, no, thank you. Because honestly it just felt like that was really the big punch of just kind of like feeling racism, you know, like, Hey, you want the black at first because it made your ticket look good. Now that you’re feeling like you may not win you’re going to go with this other ticket. So I was like, I’m good. Honestly, I just made the decision when I went back to school that I’m not going to be involved in much of anything. I’m gonna take care of my daughter, go to class, graduate, try and get a job. 

Then Kate Rose, she was running to be SGA president and she approached me. I’m not sure how she found out about me or anything like that. She’s like, I really would love for you to run on my ticket. She said I’m looking for a diverse ticket. I heard about what happened, that one happened. I told Kate no. I was like no, not interested, got my priorities and want to move on. Then she came back, she was very persistent and she’s like, well Drew, did you know that it comes with a full scholarship and a monthly stipend. I say, okay Kate, you got me now.

Karin (21:39): I’m a smart guy.

Drew (21:42): And so we ran together and we won and we had a very successful administration. Then Kate was like Drew, I think you should run for president. I was like, Kate, you know what environment we’re in. The average SGA president kind of like the stereotype was either you were a Greek female, white Greek, female, or white Greek male. Kate was in Pi Beta Phi, very popular sorority on campus. So she really had the backing, we had a strong ticket. But all you got with me, I wasn’t in a fraternity. Wasn’t really associated with a lot of student organization at the time, had done a lot beforehand. Kate was like, I got you. I got a ticket.

(22:23): So Lindsey Shelton, she’s married. Well, that’s her married name? I can’t think of her maiden name now, but she’s a member of high point, her and her husband and we put a ticket together and we won, but here’s the irony of it all. This is kind of where, when you think about it from your faith walk. I won by seven votes, seven votes. So for me, that number seven, just, you know, kinda, you know, in Bible religious circles as kind of like a representation of God’s divine number. But I took it that way. I was like, Hey, this was meant for me, I’m excited about this opportunity. But I had signs that were destroyed. I had people making comments. There was a couple of meetings that had to take place with administration because of different threats that came from either students or outside of the community. I was like, we’re gonna push through, we’re going to push through. In the end I joined a fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, ironically enough, my number is 7 of the 19.

(23:25): So I knew that there was this, you know, as long as I’m kinda on this faith walk even with some of the decisions I made, having a child out of wedlock, having to bury my father, having taken out student loans to get back in school is like, these are things that are just gonna make me better, but part of me, or just even being a black man, should it be this hard. Should it be this hard? When I always tell my white peers is like you guys sometimes, we’re starting, even before you get to first base, you guys are starting on third and sometimes at fourth base scoring a point. So these opportunities, when they’re afforded to us, it comes with a lot of difficulties, even when you’re in those positions it’s even more of a challenge to just be successful in that.

(24:15): That’s where you hear. I know a lot of…I feel that my white peers have heard this from black people. That we have to work 10 times harder than our white peers, either in school or in the work. That’s what part of that is, you have to work hard to get the opportunity. Then once you get the opportunity, you have the work to prove yourself. It’s one thing to say, I’m student body president, it’s another thing to say I’m successful and this administration has actually done something that’s left a lasting impact at the university. That’s what we mean, that we have to work 10 times harder.

Karin (24:50): Well, and Drew something that maybe is a part of your story that just kind of rolls off the tongue as a part of your journey that I think really gives me pause is, you know, you obviously, as you described your father and honoring him, and even though that relationship might not have been traditional growing up in his home, the honor that you showed hi., But the other side of that coin is in the majority…I will never forget. I was sitting under pastor Floyd’s teaching one day and…who’s a pastor in the city of Memphis. The audience that day had a little bit more white people than I think were traditionally in that service. He turns, and said there was a, I think an organization that had volunteered to give some life insurance policies to anybody who qualified in the life of their church. It would be a $50,000 term life insurance policy.

(25:57): I mean I really didn’t think a whole lot about it until he turned and he said, you need to understand in the white community when someone passes away, there’s usually a transfer of wealth. In the black community when someone passes away, that can be their livelihood, they can lose their house. It’s usually somebody contributing to the welfare and just the ability for that family to carry on daily business. So for you to have to pay for your father’s burial and it to put your education at risk are things that honestly, most people that have had the benefit of generations of wealth, even if you’re not a wealthy family, you just have enough that it’s probably not going to cause your education to be disrupted. Or, you know, those kinds of things that I think are things that as a majority culture we can take for granted and not really understand what we have been afforded and and how we take things for granted.

Drew (27:07): I was going to say it’s ironic that you say that because that was…when my dad passed away that December, I remember I’m 20 years old with a three month year old and I got life insurance a few months later because the lesson was, I am not going to do the same to my child at that time. Now having been married, divorced and having three children that is something that [inaudible 27:35] indignant about is like, I will always have life insurance. I even sat down with all three and explained the value, what my intentions are. I have a will actually, ironically enough, I’m reviewing it now in light of getting remarried.

(27:54): So I’ll sit down with the kids now that they’re older. I say, well, you know, this will was done 10 years ago. Now you guys are a little bit older and I have a granddaughter, I’m making some changes. The lesson is like, I’m learning like, Hey, we gotta have these stories in the black community with our young people. Because if, you know, with my dad, it was a lesson of not what to do. Now with my children this is a lesson of what to do. Then you can begin to build that generational wealth. It’s not just about the wealth piece, but even just the knowledge because you’re right Karin, you know, the [inaudible 28:32] it’s like devastated to the point where it brings you to ruin, you’re never able to crawl out of that hole.

(28:40): That’s the other crazy part, because I’m so thankful and blessed for friends who were insistent on me going back to school. I was working as a cookie manager in the Mall of Memphis that was here at the time, and they were like, you are too smart. There’s too much that you have to give for you to be doing this for a lifetime. So I hear you. And I’m just so thankful for even the hard lessons of life, helping me be able to pass along some good lessons to my own children.

Karin (29:14): Well we’re gonna end on that, but I want to say this. You are an incredible father. I have watched you as a dad for many years. One of the things that you and I are going to have another conversation offline and record is talking about how do we talk to our children, both as white parents and as black parents about the topic of racism. So that’s something that’ll be available. If you’re listening to this podcast or watching us on YouTube, check out our website and our social media for ways that you can have access to that resource. But it’s something that we feel like is important to have those conversations in our families now and want to just give some guidance in that.

(30:02): So Drew, thank you for who you are. Thank you for the role model you are to all of us. The way that you have, you know, all of us face adversity. And I think as a black man…we have on our website The $100 Race video. You talked about that a lot of times a white person starts at second, third, or even fourth base. If people aren’t familiar with that video I want to encourage them to go check that out, because it is an absolute visual picture of the discrepancies and the different places that people have to start from and that we as a white culture often overlook the things that we take for granted as our starting place.

(30:51): So I just respect you so much for the way that you have just proven faithfulness and seeing that blessed in your kids and in the family that you have created and the difference that you’re making throughout the community. So thanks for joining me for this conversation.

Drew (31:12): Thank you.

Karin (31:12): Alright, you guys check us out next time for our next episode of R4R, Conversations That Educate and Elevate, and we’ll see you next time.