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Transcripts - Episode 07: Ricky Shabazz

Updated: May 27

Transcripts

Episode 07: Ricky Shabazz

Naomi Castro

Hi, I'm Naomi Castro, and this is the Castropod. This season I talk with college presidents and nonprofit leaders who are doing things. What things? Wonderful things! Fantastic things. Things you can take to the bank. I want to learn how they do it.

When I first met Ricky, his job was to recruit students for Compton College, which was a challenge because Compton had just lost their accreditation. Ricky set up recruitment tables at the local Home Depot. I thought to myself like wow, this guy is really smart. How did he think of that? Dr. Shabazz has, since those days, gone on a wild ride that eventually landed him as president of San Diego City College. And that's where we spoke in the Fall of 2019. Pull up a chair, relax and listen in on our conversation.

Naomi Castro [August 30, 2019]

It is the end of summer. It is right before Labor Day and I am in beautiful San Diego.

Ricky Shabazz

Beautiful.

Naomi Castro

With the president Ricky Shabazz president of San Diego City College, who I have known for many years.

Ricky Shabazz

Yes. Yes.

Naomi Castro

And I'm so excited to be here. And we reconnected a few weeks ago with a Guided Pathways retreat that ..

Ricky Shabazz

We were happy to have you, surprising.

Naomi Castro

Yeah. Right. I have to admit, I forgot that you were president.

Ricky Shabazz

I forget that I'm president a lot of days.

Naomi Castro

The organizers were your faculty who said, oh, our president's going to be here. We're really excited. I'm like, that's wonderful. And then you walk through the door and I went, oh, that's right. It's Ricky. Excellent.

Ricky Shabazz

We about had the same response because for some reason, I had in my mind that the person was coming from Fresno. And so when I walked in, it was almost like I was back at El Camino again.

Naomi Castro

Yeah, so we know each other from El Camino days. But that actually gets us to our very first question, which is, you weren't always a college president?

Ricky Shabazz

No.

Naomi Castro

Can you tell us a little bit about your journey and how you got here?

Ricky Shabazz

Yeah, and I'll do my best not to take up the whole interview because there's a book waiting to be written in terms of my career pathway. I like to begin by saying, I'm the son of a single parent who had me as a teenage mom, wound up doing very well in school good enough that I was admitted into UC Davis where I attended there for five years and they say you've been here long enough you need to graduate and go into the real world.

But while I was at UC Davis, I was very active as a student and had an opportunity to work in the admissions office they are and it just so happens that I was at a an award ceremony for student leaders and I had this chance encounter with the vice chancellor of the the college and she mentioned that there was a job. We were, you know, small talk, she said, you know, what are you doing when you go home, really, I hadn't figured it out. I just wanted to go fishing and need to figure out a way to earn money to go fishing and she said, you know, there's a there's a job in Southern California. I grew up in Pasadena, but I went to UC Davis in Northern California. She said there was a job in admissions in Southern California. And so, being very naive, I went after the job, and I didn't have a clue that the job was really not intended for a 22-year-old recent college graduate. But it wound up being the Assistant Director of Admissions.

Now mind you, there were four assistant directors and they were over regions in California. So this one would be over Southern California. Excuse me, they were over regions throughout California, and this one was going to be in Southern California. And so I went after the job. Long story short, after three or four interviews, I wound up in the last interview with the director who was seated across the table very similar to the one that we're in, sitting at right now. And he looked at me and said, I don't know how you made it this far, but you you're here, so let's begin the interview. And I took that energy. And I said that I'm here because I'm the best candidate. And so yes, let's go ahead and start the interview.

Long story short, I wound up being hired one of the youngest administrators in the University of California, and found myself in a situation with college presidents, vice presidents managers. And here I am an entry level manager with no master's degree. And I realized very quickly that everyone around me had master's degrees or doctorate. And so after about three or four years of doing that, I went back to school and got my master's in educational administration from Cal State, San Bernardino and it was a it was a very rewarding experience, but I have to say at the time, I didn't think a lot about my masters. I kind of flew through it. I finished a two-year master's program in a year because I didn't know any different and I was the first person in my family to go to college. So I didn't realize that you weren't supposed to take three or four classes at once.

And I took my very first class and it wound up, and you talk, I love this story because it's totally unorthodox. I took my very first class in the summer, and I can't even remember the year but I took my very first class in this summer. And I didn't know any different that it was actually the last class. So I took the research class first, and formed an amazing relationship with a professor by the name of Dr. Luke, who would go on to be on my dissertation committee, but long story short, finished a two-year master's degree in a year. While I was working at UC Davis and I worked there, on and off for about seven years, then went to a charter high school for a year, worked with high school students realize I love working with high school students, but not every day. I was fortunate enough to be recruited back to UC Davis to be the director of their Math, Engineering Science Achievement or better known as MESA program, which was the largest MESA program in the state. Around that time got got married, needed to move back to Southern California because at that point I was living in Davis or Sac State my office was at Sac State because it was a partnership. I'll try to speed up the story.

So went from a UC to a charter school back to UC wound up at Harvey Mudd College, which was an interesting experience. I was there for six months. The woman who hired me who is now the Vice Chancellor of Enrollment Management at UCLA. She hired me and then left like the month after she hired me to go to Syracuse, and I wound up leaving because they had a new president and it just changed.

And so around that time, the great doctor, of course he wasn't doctor then, Keith Curry recruited me over to Compton, which I have to say that my mentors thought was the worst decision that I could ever make that I would be leaving a stable environment to go to a college that had just lost in this case, a community college that had just lost its accreditation. But I have to say that when I was working for UC Davis in the Admissions Office, I had a chance to visit all of the community colleges in Southern California. And I had an affinity to the community colleges because I would run into students who were very diverse, whose background mirrored mine in terms of first-generation college students, low income students, so on and so forth. And I felt like my skill set was better suited working with this population.

And so I took a risk and went to Compton and it wound up being one of the most rewarding professional experiences that I've ever had. We built a team, Keith and I and others, that grew the college from I say, 1,500 on paper, they say we had about 3,500 students. I saw a lot of empty classrooms with five or 10 students when I first arrived, and I'm happy to report that when I left in January of 2014, that prior spring of 2013, Compton College graduated the largest graduating class in the history of the school.

And it it is a monumental point in my career in life because I remember walking down the center line of march of those graduates and I was looking for the valedictorian who was missing in action. She wasn't there. Now, this is a first-generation LatinX, or in this case, Latina, mother, as as many of our students had children. And she she wasn't there like she she didn't show up. And as I'm walking down the centerline of march over 500 students start chanting my name. It wasn't something that I, I don't know how they started to do that. In the in the hairs on my neck just stood up and and I'll always remember that because the fact of the matter is that my team and I had recruited every one of those students to Compton.

Long story short, I call the valedictorian and I had been calling her trying to find out what. She finally answers, she says, you know, I'm not coming. I'm not coming because I don't have a babysitter. So I don't have anyone to watch my children. I'm not coming. And I said, you know, girl, if you don't get over here, we will figure out a way to watch your children. She showed up about 30 minutes later, like we literally ran her to the stage, and she delivered a graduation commencement speech that I will always remember. And so Compton will always have a special place in my heart.

I wound up leaving Compton in January of 2014 to be the Vice President of Students at San Bernardino Valley College, where I worked for about four years. And during that time, I had I had a very interesting experience with what we call leadership pain. My first year as a vice president, really was my worst professional year that I've had I went into San Bernardino, thinking that I was just going to implement all the same things I did at Compton because as you know, and others I was beloved in Compton and still have a lot of great colleagues and friends there. But San Bernardino didn't want to hear anything about Compton.

And so that was a leadership experience for me. Because I made a lot of mistakes, frankly, in my first year as a vice president, and I've since learned the value of listening and food and taking people out in an investing in them. But I went into San Bernardino guns blazing just think I was going to emulate everything that we did in Compton and then I ran into something called culture. And I never studied institutional or organizational culture up into, up to then, even though I had a doctorate, I really that wasn't really something I paid attention to my research expertise is case study, go figure. So I tried to emulate or replicate, in this case, the Compton at San Bernardino and they want to know part of that. It was my first experience with a negative culture.

But long story short, we went through two presidents. And they hired an amazing president Diana Rodriguez, that that totally changed the culture of the college overnight. During that time, I had gone through two leadership academies one through an organization called Lakin or Thomas Lakin Institute. It's a training program for aspiring black community college presidents is a national program and I also went through through the LA Presidents Academy, and this interesting thing happened because I had a compelling story, my own story and then Compton in it made for a great interview discussion when you're in interviews to talk about the work, you know, a lot of people talk about being change agents. But when you grow a college from 3,000, to over 15,000, in seven years that doesn't have an accreditation it makes for an interesting story in an interview.

And I found that people were willing to, they were interested in the story in my leadership that contributed to some of those successes that we experienced, both at Compton and San Bernardino. And so I didn't really want to be a college president, frankly, because once Diana arrived, it actually was fun to work at San Bernardino. Not that it wasn't fun before, I had to learn. And so I was paired with a mentor as part of the both programs the LA Presidents Academy and the Lankin Institute but my present my the my mentor at Lankin insisted that I was ready to be a president, and that I was going to apply to be a president.

And so it was due to Dr. Irving, who's the president in Minnesota, that I applied for this job here at San Diego City College. And really, I only wanted to just go on an interview for a president and told Diana that I was going to pull out after the first round, because I didn't want anyone at San Bernardino to think that I was going to leave. But somehow the word got out and so I went back to to Diane and say, you know, all bets are off. I'm gonna I'm gonna go through the process. And after five interviews, and believe me, this is the short version of the story, believe me. After five interviews, I was blessed to be offered the opportunity to come work with the most socially active and inclusive, diverse community colleges, I believe and I’m biased in the in the country. And I really needed this experience after I had had the experience at San Bernardino because these folks welcome me in a way that I didn't even know was possible to be welcomed.

And I look forward to work every day. Because people have a genuine affinity to helping low-income first-generation college students. And when I go when I walk across the campus, what I see is diversity in it’s true sense, in every sense possible. I mean, we have students from Brazil, students from Somalia, Ethiopia, I mean this, this is as close to the United Nations as I've experienced. And so that's the, the long but short version of my career pathway. I'm sure I missed some things but I think you get the general gist of kind of how I happened to wake up one day and be a college president.

Naomi Castro

Wow, how did you how did you get the minds, I'm really focusing in a lot on mindset and learning about that. How did you get the mindset that allowed you to look at your challenges at San Bernardino and say, oh, wow, okay, I get to learn from this?

Ricky Shabazz

You know, it just happened. You know I started as the Vice President of San Bernardino Valley College in January, and frankly, made a lot of mistakes in retrospect. And I went through a leadership training and I've always been very committed and serious about my own professional development and I make it a point to say that I'm the product of great teaching, and I'm the product of great mentoring. And I think really, those are one in the same in many instances.

And so I as I was struggling, I was conditioned and trained to believe that the answer to any problem is in a book, and in or some mentoring and so I went to go find a book and some mentoring. And what I happened upon is an organization called NASPA, which is the National Organization for Student Services Professionals. And they just so happened that they had a training for new vice presidents. So sometime in the spring of 2014, I happened upon NASPA in this organized in this training, and I applied and I was accepted to go with other vice presidents from across the country to a training and it, it, it was, it's a story in itself.

But as part of the training, they made us read this book that I have in front of me, which is one of the books I now give to all my new administrators, whether they're in Student Services or not. And I also provide these books I keep about 40 or 50 on hands because as I meet with aspiring administrators, I tend to give them this book and it's called Executive Transitions in Student Services. And it's a book that is actually authored by NASPA, some of the leaders in NASPA, NASPA was so I think Dr. Carry is one of the editors in Kruger. And so either chapter two or two or three of this book talks about the common mistakes that new vice presidents make. And even though the book is geared towards vice presidents, there are parallels with any new administrator. And so as I'm reading this chapter, like literally, I'm like, oh, man, I did that. I did this. I did that.

And so another thing that happened when I arrived at San Bernardino is that I had a coordinator slash director of our nursing program was very much into Gallop’s StrengthsQuest. I didn't know a thing about StrengthsQuest, but I knew that they were fanatics about it in a positive way. And as a new administrator, you're trying to figure out a way to support your team and so one of the ways that I supported the the great work going on in our, in our nursing, not department but our nursing center, our health center was to use student success funds to buy these strengths codes so others could take the assessment, right. And it just made sense that our health center was tackling mental health using strengths, right, their whole thing is like when we do a workshop on mental health, no one shows up. But if we do a workshop on strengths, the room is full. So I took this assessment and it actually had my top five right behind me and one number one is analytical.

Naomi Castro

It's it's in a frame, and there's like star stickers on the frame.

Ricky Shabazz

You know, so we did some assessments and professional development around strengths at San Bernardino. And you may be wondering, Well, what does that have to do with this training? Well, I wind up in Washington DC at the NASPA training for new vice presidents. We had to write read this book Executive Transitions and Student Services. And one of the sessions that we have. This is almost funny. Like I said, this could be a book. I wind up at Gallup, now at the time, I hadn't made a connection between Gallup and strengths. I just knew strengths. And so one of the sessions, one of the sessions was, in fact, a strengths demonstration by the two gentlemen who created strengths. And I kind of disengaged, because it really wasn't really, you know, I was doing this to support my team member. But the gentleman gave this speech and he made a V line directly toward me. And he said, I'm going to tell you your top five strengths. And he tells me my top five strengths, and I'm kind of weirded out like how you are right now. And he says, the reason why I know your top five is at the same top five that I have. And he says, I love to give these speeches, but when I'm done with the speech, boom, I'm out of here, right? Because I connect with people on a more global level, but the one on one is, is too intimate for me. And as the only child, I'm a very similar way. And don't get me wrong if we have similar interests is easier for me to connect with you. But I love to give speeches and to talk.

Anyway, so I had that experience. And I come back to San Bernardino after that experience, and I buy copies of this book for my entire team. In a meeting, I apologize to everyone. Look, I've read this book. This chapter captures all of the mistakes I've made. I humbly request your forgiveness. And this magical thing happened. Just about everyone forgave me, except for the two or three people that wasn't going to win back over anyways. And my career San Bernardino Valley started to flourish. And it and I have this book, and that experience with strengths to thank for that. And so I was humble enough. And the even the book says that in all of the leadership books about being a college president, because I've read, I don't know, six or seven books about being a college president. And all of them say, you know what, you have to be authentic and you have to be humble, because you're going to make, you're going to make mistakes.

And so the question becomes not if you make a mistake, but when you make a mistake, how are you going to respond to that mistake? And there are some other techniques that I've learned from the books that I've read, but I have this book, really to thank the Executive Transitions and Student Services saved my career. And in the chapter it actually says that some people don't ever recover from the mistakes and so I'm really blessed that I was able to recover because in retrospect, my team wanted me to is, they wanted me to do well, because I was a reflection of them. I was their leader. They just didn't like my approaches that I was doing. And so I learned a great deal. Hopefully that answers your your question.

Naomi Castro

Well this is wonderful, because it's so many of the of the leaders that I've been interviewing have said similar things, like when you make a mistake when you do a wrong call, own it, own it publicly and own it as quickly as you can.

Ricky Shabazz

Yes, absolutely.

Naomi Castro

And that's, that's, that's great, because it takes away a little bit of this fear of like, you know, making a big mistake, because because we all make mistakes.

Ricky Shabazz

We're human.

Naomi Castro

Sometimes those are big. And if you're in a leadership position, the the the tangible effects of our mistakes, you know, they affect other people's lives.

Ricky Shabazz

Absolutely.

Naomi Castro

Their work, their you know, all kinds of things, students, directions are going in. Yeah, so that's, that is just so gratifying here. And here again, and again and again, through these interviews. I have to say that it's not just one book that you you have a pile of three other books. Can you take us through them because one of the questions is what are you reading?

Ricky Shabazz

Yes. And you know, it's interesting. I was, at one point in my life, my brother in law lived with me. And I really don't publicly display the amount of books that I've read, have them in my home in this cabinet. And they were kind of closed off. And he and I were chatting about a book. And so let me go find this book. And I opened this cabinet. And I'm pulling out all these books to find the one book I'm looking for. And he turned to me and say, you haven't read those all of those books. And I said, the heck if I if I haven't. And I say that because frankly, I don't like to read. I'm more of a math person. I like numbers and spreadsheets. And I've had to condition myself to read and I'll and I love to tell this story, because it's surreal.

There was a point in about the fifth or sixth grade where I was so behind in reading that my teachers were concerned. And my grandmother who would who was not an educated woman in the sense of this system of education, thought enough of her male grandchild and wanting him to be able to read that she went and did something that actually changed the course of my life. I love to fish. If I could fish all day, every day, that's what I would. That's what I would do. And so she realized I had an affinity to fishing. And she somehow found this encyclopedia set of encyclopedias on fishing. And when I received those encyclopedia, encyclopedias, and one would come up every month for a year and it wound up being a 12 set or something like that. I read the words off of the pages, I read those books, and I can pinpoint my learning how to love to read and in the acquisition of information from those encyclopedias.

And I love this college that I work at because the English faculty here openly say that they are implementing techniques to trick students into love to read or into loving to write, whether it be via blogs, or whatever. And it's, it complements and essentially matches with my experience of reading. And so yes, I have these books and they all have a story.

The one that I am reading right now, though, that I don't have with me is called The Third Option by Miles McPherson. And Miles is a former NFL football player. I can't remember what team he played for. And his book is about the political landscape that exists in our country right now, how you have outliers on either end of the political parties that are dug in. And it's either, you know, it's it's either this option or this option. And the thought process behind his book is that there's always a third option, and in some cases, a fourth or a fifth or a sixth. And so is it's a great book for leadership. It's a great book for team building. It's a great book for problem solving. Because as a college president, I'm tasked with solving problems at the highest level possible when problems make their way to my office at that point, people have usually tried various options and so it's a great book to read.

The other book that I provided my team that really captures my educational experience. My upbringing, my training is a book calledSmarter, Faster, Better: The Transformative Power of Real Productivity. And this book is about highly functional organizations and how they get that way. It's changed my understanding of the word best practices. And I think I'll start there. And the book really challenges the use of that term, best practices, to say that most of our organizations are more complex then having a single variable, right? That best practices, the term or the practice of the technique of best practices only work in environments where you have a single variable that all of our environments are multi-faceted, such that you have a number of variables at work. And so in you, if you were to look at different quadrants in terms of is our work environment, our educational organizations, institutions, are they simple? Are they complex? Or at best, you would be lucky to just have a complex most of them are even more complex than a double or triple variable, organization.

And so this looks at how to build teams and as a former athlete, and I don't know that you ever stopped being an athlete, but even if you weren't an athlete, this is about the people this is about bringing people together. This is about a common goal. This is about agreeing to disagree. This is about understanding that not, no today may mean yes tomorrow, given take and all of all of those things. But it talks about organizational behaviors and highly functional organizations and how they build teams of diverse thinkers. You know, a lot of times we think of diversity in terms of ethnicity, race, gender, culture, but in an organization, such as a college or any any business or organization, diversity, really is it more about thought, based on an individual's experiences and how you compliment, draw upon that diverse thought to solve problems. So that’s Smarter, Faster, Better.

One other book that I'd like to talk about that changed my scope of understanding about community colleges from a very narrow California view to a more national view of community colleges. From what organizational standpoint is Community College Leadership. I was required to read this book as I was going to the Lankin Institute. And this book talks about the organizational structure of community colleges throughout the nation. And I learned a great deal about places like Texas and Florida, Louisiana, the difference between California where we have elected board members, whereas places like Florida have appointed board members, union states, non-union states. It's very fascinating as someone who now loves to learn to learn about community colleges from a national framework and and I've even had a chance as recent as November to visit community colleges in Australia and that was an amazing experience. So I highly recommend this book when I have folks come to me who want to who want to go into leadership as well as that they need to understand the organizational structure of communications on a national level.

This book also probes into the various leadership programs for aspiring college presidents across the country, Aspen, the League of Innovation, organizations that I am almost embarrassed to say that being in California I knew nothing about because I was so California specific. And so reading this book will give folks a broader understanding of the national organizations that bring Community College practitioners together to study models of practice, which is a term I'm, I'm using now a set of best practice and that may seem like semantics, but there's a whole body of literature behind models of practice versus best practices.

And then lastly, our goal and theme for this year at City College is being student ready. And so I'm reading Becoming a Student Ready College, which flips the narrative from saying that students should be ready for us to saying that the colleges should be ready for the students that we serve.

Naomi Castro

I think that the author who's the author of that one,

Ricky Shabazz

I, I …

Naomi Castro

Oh, of course, as we'll edit …

Ricky Shabazz

There’s several McNair, Albertine, Cooper, McDonald, Major, I'm horrible with names/

Naomi Castro

I believe one of the author’s is the keynote speaker at the CSSO organization conference, this Spring.

Ricky Shabazz

Nice.

Naomi Castro

Spring, which is open to everybody. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. But I'll do you know, and Angelica Garcia?

Ricky Shabazz

Yeah, absolutely. She just became a president was a close colleague of vice president down the street at Southwestern College, before she headed over to Orange County.

Naomi Castro

So she's incoming president for that organization. And Cynthia Olivo, from Pasadena who is the current president and so I saw them yesterday and they were talking about that and I'm like, I know that book.

Ricky Shabazz

So we have a New Hire Institute here that actually includes both faculty and classify professionals. And they're reading this book as part of their year-long onboarding for all of our new hires.

Naomi Castro

That's fantastic. Well, I mean, just the fact that you're doing long term onboarding, you have a learning community of professionals. That's this this all wonderful and and I hope that will be the new norm in our colleges. But as we know, for many years, it was like, oh, you have a new job at a community college. Here's your phone number, your email address, all right, bye. See you later.

Ricky Shabazz

Yeah, you know, I jokingly say to our dean's and we have great dean's and leaders here at San Diego city college that I remember becoming a vice president and literally being given some keys and saying your offices down there. Good luck.

Naomi Castro

There you go.

Ricky Shabazz

So I strive to invest in our professionals. I do some teaching of human resource courses at various places. colleges and universities and lectures. And onboarding is so important. You know, the way you bring someone on is what you're going to get out of them. And so we we are very fortunate to have hired a great professional development coordinator who, who has been here exactly a year. As a matter of fact, it was, it was fascinating. She was designing the New Hire Institute as she was going through it, but she's in her second year. So we're so happy to have Paula here at City College.

Naomi Castro

That's great. That's great. Well, I do have we we've touched so many of the the themes and the questions. I have two other areas I'd really like to drill down on and then I've got some rapid-fire questions.

Ricky Shabazz

Yes

Naomi Castro

So one of the reasons I decided to start reaching out to different leaders, is this idea, like a very tangible kind of idea for me, is when you have an organization, a nonprofit or a community college, you have a unified mission, a vision, you, you possibly have a unified approach. And the people we hire are very mission driven. And often that means that they operate best with a high level of autonomy. And sometimes those two things can conflict with each other. So how do you like what what is the Goldilocks zone of, you know, everything is working right where you you have a private industry would call it a brand, but you have your, your unified approach, you have your unified mission, and you also empower your your folks to be autonomous. How do you do that? Just you know.

Ricky Shabazz

So I'm gonna give you my third, my answer from a president new president that entering into his third year right and so that is a fancy way to say I don't that I've figured that out.

It's the number one question I receive when I go into meetings is what is Ricky's vision for the college? And I have to say in all of the books I've read, in all the trainings I've been to, none of them prepared me for that question. But my answer is, frankly, very simple. I'm not sure people like the answer. And that is, this is not my college. This is our college. And this college was amazing, long before I stepped foot on it. So I make it a point to say I'm on your team. Because most of the people raising the question have been here longer than than I have. And so it is important that I communicate that this is a shared vision because it's a shared responsibility.

And most people are okay with that answer. We surveyed our deans and the number one response back is they wanted to know what the president's vision was. And as someone who does a lot of public speaking, I just took for granted that people knew the vision in my communication methods. But I was meeting with the vice presidents and they said, no, you gotta write this down. And so we came up with Vision 2020. And I presented this at convocation, and it was received very well, because it wasn't a surprise.

Like these six areas student ready, leader in social justice and academic excellence, a sense of belonging, talent, acquisition and professional development, community engagement in partnerships, and entrepreneurship. Those are all things that that were not new to people, but I get that they needed to see it in writing. So gave it to them in writing so that it could be a reminder of us and it could be captured in a communication method that people could see.

And so it is about building relationships, we, we are in the business of serving people. And so I do that in a couple of different ways. One going to our different constituency groups and making myself available for questions. We take a lot of people out to eat. That's the other thing I learned from Executive Transitions and Student Services. The book said, you know, you got to take people out to lead, get eat, get them off of campus, invest in them, get to know them. And so these six areas that we're focusing in on are directly influenced developed by those conversations that I have with people when I'm meeting with them, when I'm, when I'm listening. I strive to be a good listener. I'm still working on that but it is something that I'm intentional about.

That's the other theme for this year. I really, if I could say that's my word for 2019-2020 is I want to be intentional about every effort that I support. And so I think that's the way I've done it is building relationships. And that includes also meeting with people, that others may shy away from. Someone who's vocal or someone who doesn't support you. I try to meet with a cross section of individuals who I can learn from and better understand their affinity to our work, our college, our students, our community. And frankly, I'm just blessed to work at a college where people really love working here.

And I say that with a lot of respect and appreciation because frankly, I've worked at a place that didn't exhibit that love for the organization. And so I have a much better appreciation for it for institute institutional organizational culture. It's It's everything. And I work in the most positive organizational culture, forgiving culture, that I ever even knew. I didn't know City College existed to the degree that it does. I mean, this, this is a cool place to work. And I'm not just saying that because we're in San Diego, we're downtown and we have this amazing view.

Naomi Castro

There’s a beautiful view.

Ricky Shabazz

Like none of this would mean, like, none of this would mean anything. If it weren't for the people who I work with who are so committed to the students we serve. And a lot of people say that but when we have visitors who come here, they walk away change like we, we have something special here and it was it was special long before Ricky Shabazz showed up on the scene.

Naomi Castro

Yeah, I can testify. Absolutely. Everybody here is fantastic. Everyone's so welcoming. So kind. Yeah, it's, yeah, you walk through the halls, you feel it? Yeah.

The other the other question that I've found really interesting to dig into, and it's something that there's, there's a standard answer that people give and I'm begging you not to give the standard answer. I don't think you will. And that is what you know, we can talk about hard decisions, right? And usually, the standard answer is like, well, you combine them together or you find a middle ground or you, you know, which is great and ideal, but sometimes, especially when we're dealing with budgets or compliance issues, or you know, just different kinds of elements like that, that are external that we haven't created, but we have to operate within, we might not be able to do that.

We might have to choose between two very different things in, you know, accepting them as a whole. And they're both really great. And we want to do them both, but we we are not able to, or we might be forced to choose between two things that are both not good. Like we don't like either one of them, but we gotta do one of them. So how do you when it's like a really tough choice between two great things, and you can't combine them and you have to pick one or between two like really awful things? Like how do you how do you tackle that?

Ricky Shabazz

Communication. And maybe goes without saying? In my trainings in readings, there are certain messages that must be delivered by the president. I'm still navigating which ones those are because certainly I've made some mistakes. But rest assure when I determined that my colleagues prefer to hear from me, I'm making it a point to respond accordingly. It is all about relationships and trying to deliver a message that says, no today doesn't mean no tomorrow. And trying to educate our educators as to, frankly, the business side of the college and I say that very loosely because as educators, none of us got into this line of work, because it's a business.

But you begin to realize that there are financial implications to every decision we make. And when you charge $46 a unit, there's not a lot of resources coming in to support all the needs, very real needs, that we have. And so what I strive to do is acknowledge the need and determine the impact. And I do something, frankly, that much of the literature says you shouldn't do. I brainstorm aloud.

That has implications. It will either really, really work for you or it will be to your to your detriment. Fortunately, because I'm in in a safe, brave environment, I can brainstorm aloud and get receive feedback to arrive at a decision. And so ultimately, as I even think through this aloud, I never arrive at a decision in isolation. Right? I think that's what or a president or a leader gets themselves into trouble when you just make a decision. It's okay to say, you know what I'm taking this under advisement.

And, you know, we live in this instant world where if somebody shoots you an email, you feel obligated to respond immediately. Sometimes you need a little bit of time to process and to discuss potential outcomes with others, and find that you ultimately could arrive at a collective decision even if it's one that people frown upon, upon.

And I can give an example one of the first things that I encountered that really could have gone a different way had to do with dismantling a biology program. We had a biotech program and the program was needed. It was definitely successful. But it wasn't serving a lot of students. And frankly, the success rate of the students in the program in terms of their matriculation was very, very low. Now, if you survived, and made it through the program, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow was certainly worth it.

And so we had a discussion with everyone the union, the Academic Senate President, the faculty involved, and here's what I've learned. It’s never a good thing for people to get dug in, no matter what side of the decision you're on. When you're dug in, in a highly functional organization. People tend to not like that people do. Rational individuals tend to like to come to a mutually agreed upon decision, even if not everyone benefits from it. People realize who the individuals in our organization who are who are stuck, frankly. Those traditionalists who just refuse to change, are. And I'm fortunate that I work at a college with some of the most progressive professionals I've ever met.

And so we as a as a group, as a culture, don't necessarily take well our favor people who are stuck. Because we come to work every day, working, striving to help our students become unstuck, to change. And so, ultimately, communication is the driver. Relationships are the driver. And people needing to hear from they're leaders that were conflicted with said decision as well. And that I guess that's the empathy that people talk about.

And I've been fortunate that I haven't had other than the biology decision, I haven't had to make the type of decisions that I've had to make in other places, i.e. Compton or San Bernardino. Because this is such a well-run organization, from the chancellor to the board, to the union. We have, we have fantastic model relationships with our union. And it's, frankly, it's refreshing to have those kind of relationships, because it doesn't exist everywhere, where our union holds people accountable on both sides as well. And so, this is a model organization that then you know, breads the culture that exists here. But if I was to give, you know a general answer, it is about communication. It is about relationships. And it is about conveying empathy when you have to make a decision that's not favorable to the individuals. And trying not to be adversarial is also important and easier to do in an environment where you're not adversarial.

Naomi Castro

Yeah, yeah. Wow, that there is no easy answer.

Ricky Shabazz

If I can say one other thing that the thing that I, you know, I'm blessed to be able to teach. And the thing that I teach my students in the graduate programs that I that I teach or lecturer in, is that leadership is overrated, right? You can't get caught on these titles and these degrees I mean, we are in the people business and we have to realize we're human first. So there needs to be a human connection.

The other pieces that I'm in a heck of a situation, and I know that the easiest person to be let go on this campus is me. So I have to be very strategic in the decisions, in the communication. And I have to be very intentional in those things as as well. But here, here's the piece that keeps me up at night. And that is we we work in a organization or a system rather, where people could want things and even need things where they don't realize the long term impact of said need or want, right? When you have a fixed and I'll just give you an example.

We had a desire of some of our leaders who work with our team tutors to give the tutors a higher salary? Well, that's a fixed dollar amount. So whether you give them $30 an hour or $12 an hour, when the pot is gone, it is gone. So sometimes there are unintended consequences that we have to educate folks on and say, hey, sure, I'd love to pay all the tutors $30 an hour. But when I come back to you and have to tell you, I can pay $30 an hour but you only gonna hire three tutors, right? What are the implications? And so you, you know, you try and strive to educate people of the unintended consequences of our decisions, hoping, and in some cases praying, that they will do will really side with what the data informs them to decide with. But that doesn't, that doesn't always happen. And that is the nature of the community colleges right now where you have three quarters of the community colleges are on the brink of financial disaster because we don't receive enough funding from the state in comparison to our colleagues at the UC or Cal State. But we have these lucrative contracts where salaries and benefits are outpacing revenues that we're receiving from the state and something has to be done. Now, to me that something is the state needs to fund us adequately so we can afford and supply our team members with the things that they need. But the fact of the matter is that we're not there yet. And so the the biggest challenge I have is educating folks about the unintended consequences of the decisions that we make.

Naomi Castro

Absolutely. Well that was heavy. That was heavy that was that's gonna take me a while to digest that all but, absolutely. And, and maybe even when they well, I was at a student services Think Tank the other day. And one of our colleagues talked about showing people the data, or or the constraints or the, you know, the things that they just don't know about. And and then enlisting them in that decision making.

Ricky Shabazz

I don't have all the answers. I don't I'm the first one to say like, I don't have all the answers. And it has to be a collective process where people give input and know that their input is in fact valued, because I don't have all the answers.

Naomi Castro

Yeah, yeah. We hired them because they're smart.

Ricky Shabazz

Well, we are around a bunch of educators.

Naomi Castro

We are, we are. So rapid-fire. Don't think too much coffee or tea?

Ricky Shabazz

Jamba Juice.

Naomi Castro

Uh oh. What flavor?

Ricky Shabazz

Strawberries wild, thick. I'm not a coffee or a tea drinker. I'll drink tea a couple times a year. If the temperature drops in that 20 to 30 range.

Naomi Castro

Gottcha, gottcha. Beatles or Rolling Stones?

Ricky Shabazz

I'm going to have to say neither on that also. I'm more of a hip-hop head. So I'm going to throw out Outkast if we're talking groups.

Naomi Castro

Yeah, yeah. Snap snap. It's so funny. So many of my, the folks I'm interviewing well, like, nope, neither one of those. But this is like one of those classic interview rapid-fire questions. So that's that's great. Yeah, and it does not conform to age it does not conform to ethnicity.

Ricky Shabazz

Everyone knows who the Beatles and Rolling Stones are.

Naomi Castro

No, what I mean is the people who reject it. The people who are like, nope, neither one.

Naomi Castro

Favorite flavor of ice cream?

Ricky Shabazz

Vanilla. I don't do flavors, but I love to make strawberry with vanilla. I don't, I but I don't like strawberry ice cream. It's the craziest thing ever.

Naomi Castro

Do you want fresh strawberries?

Ricky Shabazz

Yes. Yeah.

Naomi Castro

All right on. Best $100 you ever spent?

Ricky Shabazz

It's gotta be on a on a fishing rod. All of my expendable income goes to fishing.

Naomi Castro

Well, that's great. The next question I'm gonna guess is it guilty pleasure? Is it fishing?

Ricky Shabazz

Hmm. You know, it probably is fishing. But lately I have been bingeing on Netflix.

Naomi Castro

What are you watching?

Ricky Shabazz

So I have been watching Last Chance University and you, this is interesting. So I'm watching it. And by the fourth episode, the featured character, because it's a documentary is a coach, football coach in Kansas. And I'm looking at this coach, as I'm just overwhelmed, because I'm like, I know him, but I don't know anybody in Kansas. But how do I know this coach?

Well, Jason, worked at Compton. And he started his college coaching career at Compton. So he worked for us when when I was at Compton, and so he he winds up in Kansas on this Netflix documentary. But it is very moving to me actually, it compelled me to write a post, I think on Monday, sometime last week, or was it this week now, most of them this week. I wrote this post because what I see are predominantly, predominantly Black male football players, athletes, who are what they call division one bounce backs. These are folks who usually received a scholarship to a division one school, arrived, and has some kind of problem there that caused them to be kicked out, or to leave or whatever the case may be. And I binge watch the whole I think it's four seasons. So it actually started in, in Mississippi, but by the time I started watching it, they were in Kansas with Jason.

And so after I realized after the fourth episode that I knew Jason I was even more connected to it but but it starts to get depressing, frankly, to see that in, I'm going to say my community in the Black community, we value athletics so much that we don't teach these young men, that the likelihood of them being successful in athletics compared to engineering and I use STEM, in my in my Facebook posts. That it troubled me about the fifth episode episode to see these young men caught in this cycle that they don't value this education from the standpoint that our ancestors, my ancestors sacrificed, so that one could go to said college. And they're, their sole focus is so much on athletics, that they're not taking their education seriously. And and I was compelled to write a post, seeking the help of my community of educators and mentors, to say we need to teach these young men at a very young age, that there's value in education and other careers.

And what is the outcome or the output as a researcher of someone who even makes it? Like how many NFL players three years, five years after making it for those who do make it or broke? Right? Let's talk to them about this thing called life. And it troubles me as someone who is an athlete myself that we value athletics so much that it causes us to devalue education. And I'll stop there because it'll go in a whole ‘nother direction, but I've been binge watching binge watching my guilty pleasures. I've been binge watching Netflix, which means I get absolutely no rest on the weekend.

Naomi Castro

Oh no sleep is important.

Ricky Shabazz

It is. I think it's overrated though.

Naomi Castro

That you know what I am going to sneak in one more?

Ricky Shabazz

Yes, please.

Naomi Castro

Um, I've been listening a lot to the Tim Ferriss podcast, I'll send you a recommend. He's he, he interviews, folks who are at, like the height of their field, whether it's neuroscience or professional athletes or navy seals, or, you know, like everybody, right and to find out, like, what do you do to perform at this level? And one of the things he and then he, you know, writes books that kind of compile some of these best lessons, and I think he said something like 80% of the folks that he interviews have do some kind of mindfulness in the morning or during the day, they do some kind of meditation. But I'm wondering, beyond mindfulness in particular, do you have any routines either in the beginning of the day or the end of the day that kind of sets you up for that, that you know, ability to just focus on your work and be connected and not get burnt out and all that great stuff?

Ricky Shabazz

Yes. And that is a known attribute of a leader that you have to have some form of an outlet for me. It ranges. My number one is fishing when I'm out on the water is highly spiritual. I'm not thinking of work are the problems of the world or politics. And so that is my way of addressing my mental health. But in terms of day to day because I can't go fishing every day. I I have started to run and I hate running, but I love the way I feel after I run. I'm an early morning person. So I believe in waking up before the sun comes up to make sure that the sun comes up. And I do a number of things, from planning out my day, to looking at my calendar, to reading various news outlets to see what's going on in the world. But it definitely is waking up early and not meditating in the true sense of the term but more so reflecting on how blessed I am. Being grateful for my ancestors and my mentors and the people in my life who really facilitated me being able to be a college president, which is still something I don't believe.

But just waking up in the morning and doing self-reflection and then planning out my day and week is something that I do every single day and it's it's a habit right? There's this belief that if you do something for 28 to 30 days straight, it becomes a habit. And so that's, that's what I do. In addition to, not necessarily daily, but sometimes weekly. I love to get a massage. There's some great massage places here in San Diego for a little bit of resources you can get. If I had it my way I always get a one and a half to two-hour massage. And I get some of the best sleep ever when I'm getting a massage.

But that self-help is very important, particularly because leadership will take a toll on you, particularly if you're someone like me that is very analytical. So my brain is always going I need to rest my brain and I do so by either running or going fishing or getting a massage. So so that I can turn my brain off for a little while allow it to allow it to rest.

Naomi Castro

That is great justification for me. Next time I split for a massage, I'm just gonna say President Shabazz has suggested this.

Ricky Shabazz

Highly recommend.

Naomi Castro

That's fantastic. That's fantastic. Ricky, thank you so much. Thank you inside for your time today.

Ricky Shabazz

Appreciate it.

Naomi Castro

There are so many other things I want to talk about. So I think we're gonna have to have a season two.

Ricky Shabazz

I would I would welcome it. Yeah, you know, I always appreciate the opportunity to reflect on the people who helped me achieve this opportunity of being a president. So anything I can do to share with people that it is a process, that it does take hard work, dedication, but also takes treating people right and investing in them and so anything I could do, by all means, please let me know.

Naomi Castro

Thank you so much.

Ricky Shabazz

Yeah.

Naomi Castro

Own your mistakes. Find mentors and read books. That's what Ricky does. Oh, and be generous with knowledge. Ricky not only reads a lot of books, but he gives them away I left his office with like a stack. The many books Ricky recommended and the organizations he mentions are all in the show notes. And you can check out the transcripts at Castropod.com

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