It is a pleasure and an honor to write this month about my good friend and prolific author and leader Dr. Artika R. Tyner. Her “Lead Line” is Integrate Faith into Action. Dr. Tyner and I share the belief that our faith drives our careers. It is woven into the tapestry of our lives—both professional and personal—and we can’t discuss one aspect without discussing the other. I met Dr. Tyner when she was working on her doctorate and forming her very successful TEDx talk. Dr. Tyner is a master brander. By knowing who she is and what her purpose is, she is able to create her life and career accordingly. These leadership skills are learned and honed continuously. Dr. Tyner tapped into her purpose early in her career and discovered that she is a “freedom fighter with an afro.” Her passion and integrity stand out in all she does, and since those early days of her tentative posture, she has blossomed into the amazingly self-confident and strong, yet passionate leader who is an inspiration to all.
Dr. Tyner’s Roots
Dr. Tyner is fourth generation out of the Minnesota, Twin-City area, and she grew up in the era of the war on drugs and violence. She says, “It was definitely a decade of turmoil for the African American community. If you looked at the intersection of race and poverty and the immigrant population, you would see turmoil. I had a community-based upbringing. It takes a village to raise a child.”
Dr. Tyner’s Library Card Was Her Passport to the World
One of her defining moments as a child was realizing that her library card was her passport to the world. She remarks, “I was real close friends with my doll, but that meant that I had a lot of time in isolation because I was so much younger than my siblings—they were teenagers, and I was a small child. I spent a lot of time studying and researching. For me, my library card was my highway to the world (i.e., I got to experience all of the places I could visit someday). Reading and writing was my tool for processing the world around me and offered me a great insight into the possibilities for my future.”
Dr. Tyner Learned That Her Purpose Is to Lead Others
Dr. Tyner’s grandmother, Nellie Lightfoot, gave her a sense of the importance of having a purpose in life and taught her to take a stand with the tools she possessed. She shares, “Her tools were cooking, warm hospitality, she had a heart of direct servitude.” Her grandmother had high goals for Dr. Tyner, and she became the first-generation college graduate and law school graduate in her family. She believes she was groomed by her grandmother early on to become the leader she is today.
Law School Paved the Way for Community Outreach
Law school was a way for Dr. Tyner to achieve the next step of living out her goal to provide service and commitment to her community. She says, “I knew that if I became a lawyer I would be more empowered to make the changes that were needed, whether it was access to a better education or understanding and navigating the criminal justice system. In college, it was just a question of which tools I would gain to help me achieve my goals in law school.”
Legacy, Excellence, Authenticity, and Determination
Dr. Tyner is already thinking of her legacy, and her goal is to have a “sense of knowing that I used the gifts and talents that I have in my own way.” Her mother, Jacklyn Milton, who, like her grandmother, is a very important influence in her life, admonished her, “Be the best original. Be yourself.” As a result of following her mother’s advice, Dr. Tyner serves as a voice for the voiceless. As a professor, she encourages her students to be “social engineers.” She pushes them to pull up their sleeves and say, “How can I get involved to make a difference?” Her living legacy now is seeing her students go out and impact the world.
On the Importance of Being an Integral Part of Your Community
Dr. Tyner loves being a part of her community. She loves to go into the grocery store and talk to people about the plights they are facing and to think strategically about how she can help make a difference in their lives. She recognizes her gift is her ability to see the larger issues and problem solve around them for better solutions. Dr. Tyner wrote her dissertation on “Lawyers as Leaders.” She was passionate about learning about lawyers who engage in the social change movement and identifying their leadership characteristics and the tools they use to build social change. She read The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois, and, although the book is more than 100 years old, it felt to her as if it had been written today. It was a divine connection, and she decided to get her doctoral decree so that she could help her community interact with the world in a new way. She wanted to use her legal training and her policy training to help bring forward social policy changes.
Defining Moment: Mississippi Center for Justice Experience
A real defining moment for Dr. Tyner was when she went to the Mississippi Center for Justice. At that time, she thought the Civil Rights movement was over. But her eyes were opened in Mississippi. She saw a lot of unfinished business in terms of the fact that “we had not advanced much since the Emancipation Proclamation.” She saw firsthand that there were a lot of young people unemployed and just hopeless. She says, “I feel like I have to play a key role in making sure that the future does not unfold in the way it has in the past.”
Lead Line: Integrate Faith into Action
I asked Dr. Tyner to explain what she meant by that and she said, “I think my faith influences how I look at the world. My faith is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ first and foremost. I grew up Pentecostal with some Baptist influences. My grandfather was Catholic. Therefore, I had a good mixture of backgrounds to draw from, and I took the pearls of wisdom from each tradition.”
Social Justice Advocacy
Dr. Tyner talks about her social justice advocacy. “It’s not an easy task to raise controversial or challenging issues, but still I think it has to be done. That’s why I say faith plays a role because, of course, I might get discouraged, become overwhelmed, and someday say I want to quit. But I think faith steps in to tell me that I have the grace to do it, that God is with me to do it, and that he will give me the words to say and instruct me in the process. That is why I say I couldn’t do it without faith. It is a process of renewal, and I think it’s also a process of instruction, because faith is one of the values that I believe in.”
How Faith Helps Her Know She Is Not Walking Alone
Another benefit of integrating your faith into your actions is the fact that you know that you “are not walking alone. There are also others in your faith community who can support you and walk with you.” Dr. Tyner asks her students, “What is in your hands? What is in your sphere of influence to make a difference in the world? Everybody has something, but I think the worst-case scenario in life is to do nothing at all and just stay on the sidelines.”
What We Do with Our Limitations
Dr. Tyner, like me, stuttered as a child. She said, “I think it was when I was nervous. I joked about it and said it was because my thoughts were coming out faster than my words. With speech therapy I learned a lot, but as an adult it is always in the back of my mind. In the beginning of my career, I tried to stay behind the scenes and thought I might just do transactional law. But as life unfolded, I was pushed out of my comfort zone. At first, I was truly nervous, like I think I was still stuttering back then, even when I first started practicing law. Then I just felt like God would be my voice. He would give me the words to speak and give me the confidence to do it. I think once I found and connected myself to the issues I was passionate about, the rest was history. I tell that story to my students. Wherever they are, whatever they are doing, they can overcome the odds if they are doing something and put their whole heart into it.” Dr. Tyner laughs when she remarks that most people would never believe how shy and quiet she was until she found her voice and purpose and pushed forward—they are thinking that she is never quiet now!
Don’t Be Afraid to Use Your Faith as Fuel to Navigate the Challenges You Face Every Day in Your Legal Career
Dr. Tyner is a perfect example of someone who started out thinking one way and then really tapped into her life purpose and used her faith as fuel to accomplish her goals. Think of how you are operating in your daily life. Are you guided by higher principles and beliefs, or are you treading water, just getting through each day? Are you meeting your clients’ needs and helping improve the community overall? How much is your life purpose shaping your goals and the direction you are taking? We can all learn a lot from Dr. Tyner’s wisdom. Please contact me with any feedback. I would love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.