After graduation, Adrian Michael Green (Bus’09) spent 10 years teaching students of all levels from Teach for America to the Leeds School of Business. Now, through his books and speaking engagements, he hopes to “help more people become better at having difficult conversations across difference,” which to him means finding “ways to listen to one another across race, class, gender, religion, age, sexual orientation, ability, and all the other cultural identifiers.”
What was the most impactful thing you learned from your experience working with Teach for America?
The most impactful thing I learned during my time as a second grade teacher in Oklahoma was the importance of connecting to the community. It was important for my students and their parents and guardians to visibly see me not just in the school but in the neighborhood. The value of my students knowing that I truly cared about them, their story, their worth, and their education mattered to me. Teaching is the hardest thing anyone could ever do because you are responsible for so much. I learned early on to respect and honor that.
You have 178,000 followers on Instagram. What does this platform mean to you and how do you hope to use it?
Everyone has a voice, whether you have one person listening to you or thousands. It is what you do with that voice that matters. A lot is happening in the world and with any chance I have, I want to shed light on issues that are close to me and issues that I need to water more. We all have blindspots, and I want to use my platform to acknowledge that I am not perfect, nor do I have all of the answers. But I am willing to engage, listen, unlearn and put in the work to leave this place better than I found it. I hope to inspire people to be better not just for those who are currently here but for those who come after us.
What led you to pursue helping people “become better at having difficult conversations across difference.”
Pursuing being better at having difficult conversations across difference is a must. It is crucial, especially with where we are as a nation. No one wants to hear one another, to take the time to truly get to the root of our humanity. This is why we are so divided. People feel like they have to walk on eggshells without offending someone, when it is so important to be able to be raggedy, to be messy and to ask questions. I'm trying to leave this place better than I found it. If I lean into these critical and courageous conversations, it may inspire others to do the same.
How do you hope that your books and speaking engagements empower people?
Everyone already has power within themselves. I hope my words just remind them of that. I hope my words find people where they are in their journey and inspire them to do something. Whether that means they speak up, listen, unlearn, or push back, I hope they do that. We are all dealing with something, and we are all healing from something. I hope my words remind them to give grace to themselves and to others.
What are some of your goals in your new endeavor to inspire others?
A goal of mine is to inspire 100,000 people to have a difficult conversation that will eventually ripple out to over 1 million people. Another goal is to simply make meaningful connections and create things that are useful and purposeful for the betterring of us, as humans.
What do you think is the biggest obstacle society has to overcome regarding communication?
Chimamanda Adichie has a beautiful quote that says, “the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue. It is that they are incomplete.” That if we have a single story about someone, some people or some idea, then that becomes the only story. That is the biggest obstacle our society has to overcome regarding communication: we have to let go of the single story. We must lift the veil cast on people different from ourselves, and sometimes the same as ourselves, and give permission for them to belong outside the confines of the narratives someone else created.
What is your favorite memory from your time at CU?
It is hard to identify just one favorite memory. There were hard times as a student and hard times as a professional on campus, yet there was a spirit of family and community that made me feel like I belonged in every space I entered. Once, I saw another one of my mentors, Lisa Nguyen (Fin‘06) deliver one of the most transformative speeches I’ve ever heard. I vividly remember being in the audience thinking that I wanted to do that — light fires in others like the one Lisa lit that evening. Three years later I was given the opportunity to share the stage as a keynote speaker at the awards banquet hosted by the Multicultural Business Students Association in partnership with the Office of Diversity Affairs in the business school.
You said that you found your purpose in training educators and teaching communicative skills. What advice would you give to CU students who are searching for their own purpose?
Wonder why. Do that always and often in the classes you take, the circles you create, the relationships you seek. Look for the reason you are making choices. Let college be a time to intentionally probe your values and redefine what success means to you. Don’t take on definitions that aren’t of your own choosing. Reflect on how you impact and view others. Find relevance in everything you do, and if ever there are moments you get tired, bored, uneasy, uncertain or anything in-between, look for the lesson. It’s okay if your purpose changes. It will always change and modify as you live your life.
Photo courtesy Adrian Michael Green