Chip Conley and Wanda Whitaker join me on Everyday Conversations on Race for Everyday People to talk about the evolution of their friendship and bringing people together across race.
Chip grew up in an affluent white family in Southern California. He was the founder and CEO of Joie De Vivre Hospitalitythe first group of boutique hotels and is presently executive advisor to the CEO of Airbnb. Chip is also the founder of the Modern Elders Academy.
Wanda was raised in a middle-class African-American family in Washington DC. She is a healer, author and spiritual coach, and also on the Board of the Create Peace Project.
From very different racial and economic backgrounds, the two of them met 30 years ago in San Francisco, when Chip owned Miss Pearl’s Jam House a Jamaican restaurant where Wanda would hang out to listen to Reggae. They’re best friends and spiritual but not romantic soulmates.
I begin by asking each of them when they first became aware of race and racism.
Wanda:“I think, my first experience was when I was in junior high school. I was watching television and there was a commercial about an amusement park. And I said, mom, I really want to go, I want to go. She told me I couldn’t go because of the color of my skin and I was really sad. That was my first kind of experience with racism. And then I’d drive with my father to North Carolina and I couldn’t use the bathroom because it would say white people only.”
And of course in DC during the riots, I saw people taking to the streets. I also saw Martin Luther King speaking and watched on television civil rights marchers racism being attacked by dogs and police.
Chip: “I grew up in Long Beach, California. I was the oldest of three kids. Long Beach is actually considered to be the most diverse city in the US because of the racial mix. I was a white kid in a predominantly white neighborhood but the high school in my district was predominantly Black.
My parents could have sent me to a private school that would be all white but they said they wanted me to go to the public school. It was a huge high school of about 5,000 students So I went there, was one of the few white kids and was called curious white boy.
I was a culturally curious white boy, and a minority in the school
I wanted to know people who were different than me. I had the best time with my Black friends and Black girlfriends. Some of my white friends in the school were awkward around the Black kids, but I felt like I could really be myself. I also got to experience being the “other,” the person who was not from the dominant group in the school.
Knowing what does it feel like to be the other is a really important thing that everybody should experience. When you experience being the other, it makes it easier to understand and empathize with people who experience it on a daily basis.
Listen in to hear the rest of the conversation on race with Chip Conley and Wanda Whitaker.
Other topics we cover:
The need to sometimes be uncomfortable when talking about race, racism and other differences in order to later be comfortable.
Wanda goes to a deeper level about conversations on race with white people and how they have to move beyond shame and blame about slavery in order to move forward and take action to stop racism.
The Modern Elder Academy in Mexico, and issues of race and other differences.
How to get past defensiveness in the conversation on race, finding commonalities and making connections to prevent defensiveness and understand privilege and power.
Why diversity, belonging and being willing to make mistakes are essential in bringing people together to change
How to be curious, ask questions and be aware of personal bias.
Ways to talk about race and other differences even when you’re uncomfortable and the role we all play in eliminating racism and fear.
New York Times bestselling author Chip Conley is a rare entrepreneur who has disrupted his favorite industry…twice. At age 26, the founder of Joie de Vivre Hospitality (JDV) took an inner city motel and turned it into the 2nd largest boutique hotel brand in America. Inspired by the work of famed psychologists Maslow and Frankl, Chip’s books, “PEAK” and “Emotional Equations,” share his theories on transformation and meaning in business and life. His new book, “Wisdom at Work: The Making of a Modern Elder,” was inspired by his post-50-year-old experiences as both a mentor and unexpected intern at Airbnb.
Chip was CEO of his innovative company for 24 years and sold JDV in 2010. He accepted an invitation in 2013 from the young founders of Airbnb to help transform their promising home sharing start-up into what is today the world’s largest hospitality brand. In four years as Head of Global Hospitality & Strategy, Chip taught his award-winning methods to hosts in close to 200 countries. Today he serves as the company’s Strategic Advisor for Hospitality & Leadership. Chip also founded Fest300 to share his love of travel and festivals (now part of Everfest). And in January 2018, he founded Modern Elder Academy (MEA), the world’s first “midlife wisdom school,” where attendees learn how to repurpose a lifetime of experience for the modern workplace. MEA’s beachfront campus is located in Baja California Sur, Mexico.
Chip is a recipient of hospitality’s highest honor, the Pioneer Award, and was named the Most Innovative CEO in the San Francisco Bay Area by the San Francisco Business Times. He is the founder of the Celebrity Pool Toss that supports families in the Tenderloin neighborhood where he opened his first hotel, and San Francisco’s Hotel Hero Awards. Chip holds a BA and MBA from Stanford University, and an honorary doctorate in psychology from Saybrook University. He serves on the boards of the Burning Man Project and the Esalen Institute, home of the Conley Library.
Wanda K. Whitaker
Hypnotherapist, Visionary Artist and Spiritual Life Coach
(415) 760-7751 cell
Originally from Washington, DC, humanitarian, healer, artist and author/illustrator, Wanda K. Whitaker, believes that “the best relationship of all is the one you have with yourself.” A certified hypnotherapist, visionary artist and Spiritual Life Coach, she currently spends her time working with individuals and groups on changing beliefs and bad habits that are not serving them, conducting workshops on self-awareness, personal growth and development, creating art that educates and advocates and helping to guide others to lead a more holistic lifestyle with spiritual practices.
Her life spans years of community service beginning when she was in her early 20’s in Washington, DC when she co-founded, Inner City Inner Beauty Productions to build self-esteem amongst at-risk youth to serving and volunteering with various nonprofit organizations. She was President of Whitaker & Associates, an events marketing and cause-related consultancy business she started in 1991 and Vice-President of the Board of Directors of Global Exchange, an international human rights organization. Today, she serves on the board of directors of the Create Peace Project.
She believes her life purpose is to promote brotherhood and awaken people to their higher selves and greatest potential.