When former President Barack Obama was born in 1961, he entered into one of the most diverse family environments one could ever have. His mother was white and from Kansas. Her immediate and past relatives were mostly of English descent with ancestry from German, Irish, Scottish, Swiss and Welsh. His father was black and from Kenya. He was part of the Luo ethnic group with roots that extended through Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, South Sudan and Ethiopia.
"My father looked nothing like the people around me," Obama said, noting his parents met in a Russian-language class. "My father was black as pitch, my mother white as milk." (It bears mentioning this African and American couple met in a Russian-language class in Hawaii.)
Later, Obama's mother married Lolo Soetoro Mangunharjo and Obama spent a portion of his childhood years growing up in Indonesia, the most populous Muslim majority country in the world. As for Obama's faith, he is a Christian, but his world growing up included a family that ran the gamut from Christianity to Islam to atheism. It is not surprising the former president refers to his childhood experience as "a mini-little United Nations."
With a personal life that deeply imbued him with a diverse and inclusive mindset, it is not surprising Obama's public life reflected it.
"For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness," he said during his inaugural address on Jan. 21, 2009. "We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth."
Setting the country's tone of inclusion
It is commonly known in organizational theory that it is the leader who sets the "tone and culture" of a group. The top individual tends to be personified in an organization. And so it was with Obama. Just 31 months after he told the nation "our patchwork heritage is a strength," the former president issued one of the most important diversity and inclusion measures in the history of the U.S.
On Aug. 18, 2011, during an unusually hot period in the District of Columbia, Obama signed an executive order that was not really considered major news. In many ways, given the president's race and background, many said "it was expected." Today, however, although relatively few know of its existence, Executive Order 13583 has impacted the public and private sectors and caused tremors that reverberate to this day. Even with a new...