My ALF Speech: “We Leave a Wake”

I was fortunate to be part of ALF Class XXVI (American Leadership Forum of Tacoma/Pierce County). We began the “year-long program” in June 2019 and celebrated our commencement on Sunday, August 22, 2021. Class XXVI spent 26 months as Fellows. Due to the COVID shutdown in March 2020, the class did not graduate in May 2020, and ALF extended our formal class year through December 2020 on Zoom.

I was honored to be selected as a speaker for our class, and after running out of time on my 7-minute talk at the beginning of our ALF journey, I decided to write this one out and make sure it fit within the timeframe. Here’s the speech.

Good Morning!

It’s so great to see everyone, to be in your presence again. I’ve missed us!

I want to thank those of you who voted for me to give this speech. Another seven minutes? What will I do with it? Maybe pick up where I left off last time, around 1972?

Random Memories

I’ve been so grateful for the opportunity to be part of ALF! Some random memories came to me as I prepared for this talk:

  • The first circle at the Marriott when Beth had us close our eyes and breathe
  • Being shocked that there were other people in the room when I finally opened my eyes
  • I was – and am – so impressed with everyone
  • I remembered he circle we sat in after our solos, the things we told each other, the tears
  • All the hands in the air to support classmates who were walking on the cable at Mountain Springs
  • Being caught by those hands when I fell off that cable
  • I remember excelling at Uno
  • The fun we had playing two truths and a lie
  • I loved hearing trash-talk while Genie, Scott, and others were playing spades
  • Hugs from Beth
  • I appreciated Cliff telling me, “don’t work yourself to death. I’ve seen too many black men do that.”
  • My walks with Katie trying to answer difficult questions
  • Conversations with Steph
  • The fearlessness of Senator Nobles
  • The genius of Rosie
  • Playing table tennis at Mountain Springs. Well, Tong was playing table tennis. I was evidently playing ping pong.
  • Profound conversations with Chris


I don’t know how it is for you, but I’ve traveled through life blissfully unaware. I do things. Have ideas. Interact. Live. Work. Love.

I imagine I’m a boat traveling through water. As I move about, I’m leaving a wake behind me. It gets longer and longer, stretching out wider and wider until it disappears. And I’m now miles ahead on my journey.

I leave a wake, and it touches those in its path. Sometimes positively, sometimes not.

But I’m miles ahead and have no idea. I don’t see the impact the wake is having, the impact I’m causing.

ALF has been a profound experience for me. You spend time with people. Get to know each other. You like them. You love them. You want to help them, to see them flourish. And build community.

New Best Friends! That’s what I was told would happen, and happened it has.

But there’s something else. We start to see ourselves differently. We begin to see possibilities we didn’t or couldn’t see before.

We start to see ourselves through each others’ eyes. The story we tell ourselves, it changes. At least it did for me.

The thing is, I don’t see myself the way you see me. When I learn how you see me and understand the impact I’m having, that’s pure gold. Learning the impact I’m having gives me a chance to adjust, and maybe to walk and talk, with a little more confidence and purpose.


When we arrived at Mountain Springs, we were asked to identify three objectives for our Leadership Action Plan. #1 for me was ** courage:**

“I act to create change by speaking my truth, even when doing so may cause discomfort or conflict.”

Looking through my notes and remembering conversations with my buddy Lee and others, courage was a recurring theme, repeated throughout the week. How can I speak my truth? Hell, what is the truth I wish to speak? Why have I been avoiding speaking my truth?

Then on our last morning, we were exchanging gifts. I selected this orange heart. Maybe it reached out to me? I picked it up, held it in my hand. As Cliff started to explain why he shared that gift, I turned the stone over and saw the word “Courage.” Okay, that was deep! Then Cliff told me, “Bill you have courage. This heart isn’t courage. This is just a reminder that you already have courage!”

I needed that reminder. Grappling with courage, but also hearing what Cliff said. Sometimes we need a mirror when a mirror just won’t do. We need help from someone, so we can see ourselves with new eyes.

Closing the loop, this last week I found myself unmuting myself on Zoom and speaking the truth as I saw it in front of 80 people, “politely (but unequivocally) disagreeing” with my boss. I did so without thinking about courage, without even thinking about myself. What happened next was kind of magical. The conversation changed. Other people start to speak up. They felt freer to speak their truths.

People need to hear our truths, but our example can help them have the courage to express themselves. Maybe that’s some progress?

More Osmosis

The pandemic, George Floyd, and the election have impacted our lives and our ALF year. This difficult time has also given us an opportunity to put into practice many of the tools and lessons we have learned.

As a result of the pandemic, I’ve had the opportunity to reconnect with folks from college all those years ago. We’ve shared our experiences and, as a result, I learned things I didn’t know before. While I completed all my coursework, much of my learning came via osmosis. We black students were scattered across the college, but we created a community for each other that helped us survive that experience and become doctors, lawyers, leaders, poets. I didn’t even realize we were helping each other, not like I realize it now. I didn’t know the positive impact I had on others way back then.

My ALF experience has been more osmosis, and this has been the first time since college that I’ve been a part of this kind of community, where we get to know each other so well, so deeply. I’m so grateful!

We Leave a Wake

Classmates, we all leave a wake. The cool thing, though, is we help each other see ourselves. We’re reflected in each others’ eyes. We learn the impact we have had. We learn the impact we can have. And we prove that we can join together to have even greater impact.

I love our class! I love all y’all. Thanks for letting me be part of your journey. Thanks to our families for giving us the support we need (and for listening to all our ALF stories)! Finally, thanks to those who organized and guided us through the process, including Beth, Steph, Jahmad, Moe, Bill, Cliff, Brian, Jeanese, and others I might have missed!

And, oh yeah, Trust the Process!

Thanks everybody!

Hugh Masekela introduced me to jazz. Their November 2015 concert at the Triple Door was the last time I got to see him and Larry Willis. #tears…

I really miss this truck and the great vittles found therein!

I became a food truck guy in the Bay Area, but not so much here in the Great Pacific Northwest.

I had a chance to play some music last Saturday at Jazz Night School’s Jazz About Town.” First time in a loooong time, hopefully with more to come!

”Science doesn’t really care about your beliefs. And no amount of belief makes something a fact.“ 🧠
– Prof. Richard Feynman

More Science:

If you don’t make mistakes, you’re doing it wrong.

If you don’t correct those mistakes, you’re doing it really wrong.

If you can’t accept that you’re mistaken, you’re not doing it at all.
– Prof. Richard Feynman

Let Us Go to the House of the Lord

What do you do if you grew up in the black church, attended Sunday School every Sunday until you were almost through high school, and then something happened? I can’t put my finger on it exactly. It was a loooooong time ago.

A few things happened. I didn’t care for Martin Luther King, Jr. because he wasn’t militant enough for me. But then he was assassinated. I don’t know. Maybe I had already started pulling away. Five years earlier, my church didn’t participate in the 1963 March on Washington. I didn’t understand anything at that age, especially why.

As I became old enough to think for myself, I moved away from the church. Years later, there was a time when we were thinking about going back. We attended services at a few black churches in the Palo Alto area, but none really appealed to me.

We attended one service featuring a visiting pastor from New York. His name was Preston Washington. I first met Preston as a student at Williams College, and I revered him! Curtis Manns, a former Assistant Dean at the college, let me know he would be visiting. It was great seeing Preston again after so many years, and his sermon was awe-inspiring. I would have loved going to his church. Alas, that was not to be. There was the distance and then time. Preston was taken away from us way too soon.

When I visited a local church from my childhood denomination, the Church of God in Christ, it just didn’t feel the same. When I went to a local baptist church, the service felt too sterile.

That’s the thing. Style of worship is very particular and important. I was looking for what I had, what I walked away from, and couldn’t find it, probably because it didn’t exist any longer. Maybe it exists only in my head?

There’s one thing from church that is still with me, though: It’s the music, especially songs like “Let Us Go to the House of the Lord” (this recording was how I began the first episode of #JazzChurch last year - replay here). Listening again just now, I hear that I was emotional then too. Good emotions!


What to the Slave is the Fourth of July? - 2020 Version

Amidst the national conversation on racial justice and police reform, this collective of Black artists created this powerful performance based on Frederick Douglass’ “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”

She’ll be coming round The Mountain when she comes!

Great quotes on writing from James Baldwin.

“Write a Sentence as Clean as a Bone” and Other Advice From James Baldwin


The story of what can happen to an American Negro writer in Europe simply illustrates, in some relief, what can happen to any American writer there. It is not meant, of course, to imply that it happens to them all, for Europe can be very crippling, too; and, anyway, a writer, when he has made his first breakthrough, has simply won a crucial skirmish in a dangerous, unending and unpredictable battle. Still, the breakthrough is important, and the point is that an American writer, in order to achieve it, very often has to leave this country.

-from “The Discovery of What It Means To Be an American”

Don’t be too ironic.

You are speaking to an old rat. I find much of so‐called avant‐garde writing utterly trivial. If there is no moral question, there is no reason to write. I’m an old‐fashioned writer and, despite the odds, I want to change the world. What I hope to convey? Well, joy, love, the passion to feel how our choices affect the world … that’s all.

-from a 1979 interview published in The New York Times

Remember why you write.

The bottom line is this: You write in order to change the world, knowing perfectly well that you probably can’t, but also knowing that literature is indispensable to the world. In some way, your aspirations and concern for a single man in fact do begin to change the world. The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way a person looks or people look at reality, then you can change it.

-from a 1979 interview published in The New York Times

Yes, I know. I shouldn’t be reading this. Dilly-dallying. Lollygagging. I should be writing!

Nervously I Speak…

I came across this article with great public speaking advice – Why Introverts Can Be the Best Public Speakers:

“It turns out that a public speaker’s most important asset isn’t their theatricality, their story, or how extroverted and boisterous they are.

“It’s their capacity to help their audience to believe that change is possible.”

Not that I’m an expert or anything, but I believe better public speaking comes down to thinking about the audience and what they need. That’s hard to do if I’m nervously thinking about myself, what I need to get from this presentation, or even how I’m doing right now delivering this talk.

How do I stop worrying about myself and how I’m doing? Take a deep breath, ahhhh, and think about the audience!

Nice article!

Today’s vaccination event was right across the street from Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley, one of my favorite music venues, and a place I haven’t visited in over a year! I’m looking forward to COVID-19’s demise and being able to experience live music once again.

RIP Chick Corea

I first encountered Chick Corea in 1975. I had moved to Albany, NY, for a job in the State Assembly. I’m not sure how I first heard it, but “Vulcan Worlds” from the “Where Have I Known You Before” album by Return To Forever featuring Chick Corea became my song. Written by the band’s bassist, Stanley Clarke, it makes sense I would love it!

My wife and I went to see RTF at Russell Sage College in Troy. We arrived a bit early and walked to a store to get some soda (obviously Coke in my case). The concert started just as we were walking toward the auditorium through fog and mist. I loved hearing the first notes of Vulcan Worlds as we approached and settled into our seats! It was magic, and the concert did not disappoint!

We went to see Chick Corea perform duets with Herbie Hancock at Saratoga Performing Arts Center (or SPAC). Herbie introduced a song by saying they were going to make their pianos talk to each other. It was thrilling. We couldn’t hear the precise words, but it was a conversation in every way.

The next morning, I took a flight to NYC, and guess who was on the plane? Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea!! I got to tell them how much I enjoyed the concert the night before, especially the conversation between the pianos. I’ll always carry the smile on Chick’s face with me!

There was also a duet concert at SPAC featuring Chick and Gary Burton. When they came back out after a standing ovation following the set, Chick said something like, “Encore? What should we play?” My friend Reggie and I, without prompting or coordination, both stood up in our second-row seats, cupped our hands over our mouths, and shouted, SPAIN at the top of our lungs! Maybe we weren’t the only ones (we were first!!), and perhaps that was the obvious choice, but our very loud wishes came true.

We saw different RTF incarnations when we lived in NYC and saw Chick in San Francisco and twice here in Seattle. I subscribed to his online instruction channel for awhile.

Even though I saw Chick Corea perform live on many occasions, it’s his recorded music that reverberates through my being after years of incessant listening. I loved and will continue to love his many recordings, including new music I’m just discovering.

It has been wonderful to read all the thoughtful reflections on his life as a musician, friend, and person. There are a lot of lessons there. He lived a great life, one that can inspire all of us to live our lives to the fullest and to help others along the way. I love that idea.

Thanks for the music and your life of inspiration, Armando Anthony “Chick” Corea. RIP as you return to forever.

Note: #JazzChurch 42 episode (2/14/2021) featured some of Chick Corea’s music and performances that have resonated with me over the years.

some thoughts on accountability

(a work in progress)

i hate the phrase “hold people accountable”

because it almost always means

hold other people accountable

when we should focus on
being accountable ourselves.


when employees ask/talk about accountability
they’re mostly reflecting on the

poor managers
poor supervisors
poor individual contributors


poor “leaders”

who stay in place

doing a poor job



who clearly aren’t being held

when we don’t hold
people accountable,
we’re not being

and if we’re not accountable

we give others permission

we invite them

we encourage them

to not be accountable.

saying accountability starts with us

is actually wrong.

accountability starts with the person
in the mirror.

accountability starts with me.

if i have to hold people accountable,

that means

i don’t have accountable people

and should.

develop accountable people

starting with the person




etc., etc., etc., yadda yadda yadda, blah. blah. blah.

While testing microphone and music levels for Sunday’s edition of #JazzChurch, I found myself sauntering down memory lane…

Jaco Pastorius Quintet – Live in Toulouse

I spent part of my Saturday morning listening to this full-length live Pastorius concert (audio-only). I still miss Jaco, and know I’m not alone.


  1. Mr P.C.
  2. Poly Wanna Rhythm
  3. Dolphin Dance
  4. Passion Dance
  5. Naima
  6. So What
  7. If You Could See Me Now
  8. Amerika / Purple Haze / La Marseillaise
  9. Hard Night Blues
  10. Fannie Mae


Jaco Pastorius - electric bass
Azar Lawrence - tenor sax
Paul Mousavizadeh - guitar
Jon Davis - piano
Brian Melvin - drums

Enjoy! I certainly did!!

Happy Birthday, Langston Hughes (born in Joplin, Missouri on February 1, 1902)

I love this bit about humor:

“Humor is laughing at what you haven’t got when you ought to have it… what you wish in your secret heart were not funny, but it is, and you must laugh. Humor is your own unconscious therapy. Like a welcome summer rain, humor may suddenly cleanse and cool the earth, the air, and you.”.
Langston Hughes

Also see 10 Poems By Langston Hughes You Should Know - Kentake Page

One thing I learned last year is people love hearing music at the beginning and end of Zoom calls. I usually play some jazz, and sometimes hear the commenter say they wish we could delay the start of the meeting until the song ends.

Today my team got together to start unpacking the latest Employee Satisfaction Survey, and a colleague suggested this song. Quite a different take on satisfaction!

News For the Hard of Hearing

Now we could use a way to communicate with the _hard of understanding_…

What's the Meaning of Soul?

I’ve watched Soul two times all the way through and have skipped through another three or four times looking for clues. I’m always seeing something I didn’t see before and also coming away with questions. I think it’s a deep, deep movie!

I’m still struggling with the difference between purpose and spark. What did that seed mean? What IS soul??? And… And also… And?

Rewatching Soul is like analyzing a poem. Last night this bit registered for the first time:

Joe: By the way, why do you sound like a middle-aged white lady?
22: I don’t. This is all an illusion.
Joe: Huh?
22: This whole place is a hypothetical._

A hypothetical??? That’s deep! Is Joe (or his soul) really zipping around the universe, or is he just having a conversation with himself?

Wait ‘til Next Year! (1/18/2015)

Here’s a six-years-ago-today post I shared on Facebook.

I’m a Niner fan living in Seahawks country. And actually, I started out as a Jet fan. I root for the Seahawks to beat everyone except those two teams. And for the last few years, I’ve been rooting for the Hawks to play (and lose to) the Niners in the NFC championship game. Well, not this year, to be sure.

I’ve been thinking of the NFC Championship as the real Superbowl and saw a sign to that effect in Century Link today.

This is the first place I’ve lived where there’s only one NFL team, and it’s really cool to see how everyone, well, almost EVERYONE here, is behind this one team. The 12th Man is no joke!!

Today’s game was simply amazing. With the Niners, I’m already in wait til next year territory. And it was looking like my Seahawk-loving friends might join me. But what an unfrakkinbelievable ending to that game. I can’t think of a game that comes close, not even Superbowl III!

One reason I like this team so much is Pete Carroll’s leadership. His use of team psychology to get the players playing not for themselves but the team. I think those ideas have great relevance at work, but most of the time, they’re just ideas. So it’s really cool to see true team success, in NFL football. Seahawks football!

So that’s it. GoHawks!

Notes: I love the insight about teams, both on the field and at work. Of course, the Seahawks went on to lose the Super Bowl to the dreaded New England Patriots. Moral of the story? Build a great team and run the damn ball! (aka, “execute like crazy”)!

Semi-Random Journal Entry

It’s 2:30 AM on May 26, 2020. I can’t sleep. Despite having been in bed for less than four hours, I’m wide awake—mind racing. I get up and grab my journal. Maybe capturing my thoughts will help me get back to sleep. Ten pages later I’m worried about Marshall Law and Civil War…

So now I’m afraid and see it so clearly
Donald creates distraction
The governors keep things shut down
so DJT foments the crowds
Break all the f-ing rules
& now governors have no choice
more chaos

So, where does it end?
With DJT, it doesn’t end.

I see threats and intimidation coming from his base as we move forward

The masked vs. the unmasked
Worse inequality as essential workers stay black, brown, and poor
Anti-democratic (small “d”)
Roving bands discourage “voter fraud “to help DJT win
Insurrection/chaos so DJT can impose martial law

The courts can’t save us
The Republican judges won’t save us
The Repubs stay silently complicit

It’ll be more chaos, a lot more.

Donald wins reelection, and it continues
Donald loses reelection, challenges it
He’s out and he challenges

His base, his movement continues to support him, making him the biggest celebrity apprentice of all time

To what end?

Destroy his “enemies“ Make it impossible for Biden to govern

Civil War
Military coup
Race riots

My God, where does it end?

It ends when the 65 percent say no to the 35 percent, i.e.
Trump base
White supremacists
Anti-vaxers (I didn’t know anything about QAnon at that point)

Plus, COVID-19 ain’t going away - Science is overwhelmed - The rich get richer - Middle-class shrinks

Unemployment stays staggeringly high - Economy in deep recession (42% of lost jobs not coming back)

So DJ T needs all the distraction he can get _ AND that’s his modus operandi anyway!

DJT needs enemies

Black people
Evil people
There’s always a new one

Paranoid? –> Maybe!
Flights of fancy? Not implausible

This threat is existential! - To COVID-19 victims - Medical profession (we get DJ T doctors versus deep state doctors) - Yamiche and the tribe of reporters - Twitter enemies - Brown people at the border

Totalitarianism – not just run amok!
*Run over our f-ing heads!

And I was just gonna play my bass!

Think of birtherism as a form of cursing
“I don’t have to really believe Obama was born in Kenya”

Just saying it is incendiary, bomb-throwing
shouting “fire” in a crowded theater

  • And it distracts –> us
  • and gathers allies
  • “dog-whistle” out loud for all to hear

Meanwhile, Chuck Todd and the media stay safely in the middle

If it’s war
Just Voting (& counting on institutions we don’t trust)
is unilateral dis/un/armament

Q. How will the Civil War happen?
I’m not the first person to think like this!


I hadn’t heard of QAnon at the time. I also didn’t know about the murder of George Floyd the previous night.

Jammin' Over the Internet!?

A year ago, at the beginning of 2020, this would-be musician finally started playing music with other people for the first time since moving to Tacoma eight years earlier. It felt joyous!

Then along came COVID-19! Work migrated home for many of us, restaurants and clubs shut down, and musicians’ venues disappeared for understandable reasons. We had to stop playing together before we could do our live performances.

In September, an email arrived from the inventive folks at Jazz Night School asking if we’d like to try remote rehearsing and recording via Jamulus. Lot’s of questions! “What the heck is Jamulus? What equipment would I need? What will it sound like?”

We arranged a quick test of the software and my setup. Erik could hear my bass over Jamulus. He played piano, and I could hear him just fine. I started playing along, and we could hear each other. The moment I started playing together with Erik, live, over the internet while merely testing equipment was emotional. There was a spark of hope!

Jared Hall’s combo started meeting, working on tunes, learning more (about music and technology). Here’s some documentary evidence of how we progressed! Not perfect, but it’s something precisely because we’re still working on it!!!

Here are three songs our combo recorded, featuring Kevin Doren (p), Geoff Fitch (g), Matt Shevrin (french horn), Paul Blaney (d), and yours truly, Bill Berry (b).

Jackie in the Rain

Very Early

49th Parallel

I consider myself fortunate to have made music with these gents, remotely, during the pandemic! The experience was better than I had imagined, and the sound quality’s not bad. And we’ve just started working on some new tunes!

Handling the Insurrection at Work

This morning I told my team that I hadn’t gotten a lot of sleep last night. It turns out that I wasn’t nearly alone. We all suffered some trauma yesterday.

So I canceled our three-hour quarterly OKR planning session this morning. We’ll meet briefly to check-in with each other and will do OKRs next week. If I hadn’t shared my thoughts, they might never have said anything, but that’s what our team needed.

Here’s my advice to you: check-in with your team, share your feelings, find out how they’re doing, and then adjust your plans accordingly. Please do it now!

Nine years ago today…

1/4/2012: On our first exploration of the Greater Tacoma housing market, we encountered this apparently-haunted house, still under construction. Well, you gotta start somewhere, right?

Moral of the story: ThingsWorkedOut!