My beautiful, precious 5 year old son was battling cancer, my house was in the foreclosure process, my marriage was teetering on a ledge, and my health was killing me. I thought to myself, "How could this get any worse?", but it did... We had to short sale the house and hope the IRS wouldn't have us pay taxes on the difference of what the original loan was and what we sold it for. Myles lost his battle with cancer and a huge piece of me died with him. I sank into depression and sought comfort in food when my marriage wasn't in a place to provide it. My house, my son, and my wife were fading away and I weighed 289 pounds. I wanted to give up. Everything I had planned was ruined. Growing up in the projects, I always wanted my own house. Growing up an only child, I always wanted a family. Growing up with self doubt, I always wanted to be physically confident. I was 36 and my life was in pieces.
That’s when coaching came into my life. My executive director at CADRE, mentor, and friend, Maisie Chin, had always used coaching in some fashion in how she supported my personal and leadership development. She understood that I couldn't be an effective organizer in the place where I was, so she started coaching me intensively. I had no idea about the techniques and pathways she was using. I do know my viewpoints shifted and I became open to self reflection in the interest of the people and community I was serving. If I truly cared about them and their development, I'd have to challenge and push myself. Maisie drew from her own previous experiences of coaching training, yet I needed to learn how to do this myself. I would have to be self reflective, present, be responsible for my role in every aspect of my life.
CADRE organizes parents to blend their personal experiences with schools, with data in order to skillfully advocate for policies and practices that improve the educational experiences of their children. Most of the folk that we organize in South Central Los Angeles, are low-income, Black and Latino parents and caregivers. Respecting their human dignity is critical in our work. Coaching has helped me be more reflective in order to be more curious, compassionate, and courageous in supporting their personal and leadership development. Having conversations was easy for me, but now I can have the types of conversations that draw on my past struggles in order to provide the space for development toward visions that transform people, organizational practices, and ultimately the collective power of the community. I've seen the shift in parents and staff as coaching has been more of a practice organizationally.
I'm better today than I was 7 years ago. I'm 100 pounds lighter and feeling wonderful. My marriage has never been better. My wife, Emilee, and I are both training to use coaching as a vehicle for other parents, couples, and people of color who have had similar life challenges. Hopefully we can not only be examples, but also be of service by co-creating encouraging and supportive opportunities to build deeper self awareness.
About the author:
Rob McGowan is the Associate Director of Organizing at Community Asset Development Redefining Education (CADRE). He is responsible for leading the implementation of CADRE’s Human Right to Education Campaign as well as the leadership development of CADRE’s South Central Los Angeles African American, Latino, and Chicano parent members. CADRE parents have led the grassroots movement to transform how school discipline practices shift away from putting children on the school-to-prison pipeline.
Rob began his organizing career with Families to Amend California’s Three Strikes (FACTS), an organization committed to eliminating the mandatory minimums that led to life sentences for misdemeanor offenses. Before coming to CADRE, Rob organized South Central community members around green jobs and electoral power building at Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Policy Education (SCOPE). Rob is a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Incorporated, and uses the fraternity as a vehicle to mentor and support young men of color. Rob has used his academic background in Africana Studies and History to provide a broader context to the systemic challenges that parents of color courageously confront daily.
Rob loves reading, martial arts, basketball, and spending time with friends and family. He and his wife, Emilee, have been married almost 19 years and have four children. Their oldest son is a junior studying animal science at Tuskegee University and their youngest son is a 6th grader who is being homeschooled.