Henry's Renford Reese earns international acclaim
By Johnny Jackson
October 10, 2008
Renford Reese lives by his words - profound words that have made their way around the world on the back of a coffee cup.
"Insensitivity makes arrogance ugly; empathy is what makes humility beautiful," he said. Those words were recently chosen and printed on thousands of Starbucks Coffee Company cups shipped around the world.
Taken from Reese's latest book, "American Bravado," which was published in 2007, the words allude to a character trait that is often lacking in leadership these days, namely humility.
"The quote means that if you take insensitivity out of the meaning of arrogance then it becomes confidence, which we all admire," said Reese, 41. "However, it is the dimension of insensitivity in the definition of arrogance, which makes it ugly. The ability to empathize is at the core of one's capacity to be humble."
Reese grew up in McDonough, and attended Henry County High School, where he lettered in football, basketball, baseball, and track and field.
While attending Henry County, he maintained an "A" average, played the alto saxophone in the band and eventually became the school's student body president, before he graduated in 1985.
Reese later earned a bachelors degree in political science and a masters degree in public policy at Vanderbilt University. His senior year at Vanderbilt, he participated in the 1989 Blue Gray All-star Football Game and the 1990 NFL Combine Camp, where he was ranked among the top 10 defensive backs in the country.
"The only thing that really bothered him in his life was when he thought he was going to get drafted into the NFL [and he did not]," said Reese's mother Artelia Reese. "Other than that, nothing really surprised me about his accomplishments. I always knew that he would be a go-getter. He was always one of those children who, when they set out to do something, were going to do it."
Following the disappointment of the NFL draft, Reese entered the University of Southern California's doctoral program in the School of Public Administration in 1992.
"I decided to pursue my Ph.D., when I was 'finding myself' in Seattle in the early 1990s," he said.
He conducted his dissertation research on ethnic conflict and inter-group relations at the United Nations Institute for Social Development in Geneva, Switzerland, and earned his doctorate a year later at 27 years old.
Reese's latest book is his latest venture in understanding the world and his place in it.
"I live a very Quaker-like life," he said. "I fundamentally believe in the synchronization of the mind, body, and spirit. I think all three entities have to be nourished in order for us to live a healthy and fruitful life."
Reese does not use tobacco, or drink alcohol, or coffee. He does not even own a cell phone. Instead, he drinks green tea and spends his spare time learning Mandarin Chinese. It is a more humble lifestyle compared, to many Westerners in the world, he says in his book.
"'American Bravado' was written primarily for those in the U.S. with little knowledge of why America is increasingly hated around the world, and for those around the world who want to learn about the impact American hegemony is having on their lives. A central point of this book is that America has displayed an unattractive bravado both at home and abroad."
In the book, Reese integrates survey data from interviews he conducted with young adults in sixteen different countries. "Although there is still an enthusiastic embrace of American popular culture, there is widespread disdain for American aggression," he said.
Reese, who has traveled to 51 countries in his lifetime, said he chose to live in Los Angeles to experience what he calls an "intensely rich lab for social science research on issues such as race relations."
He arrived to Los Angeles only a few months after the 1992 Los Angeles riots. "I have had the opportunity to do things in Los Angeles that I would not have gotten the opportunity to do anywhere else in the country," he said. "For instance, between 1997 and 2000, I mentored and counseled Rodney King."
Reese is single, still living in California. His immediate family - parents Artelia and Earnest Reese, and sister, Regina Reese Tate - still reside in McDonough.
He is entering his 13th year as a professor in the political science department at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. He is the faculty coordinator of the Ghana Study Abroad Program, taking university students to Ghana, West Africa during the summer months.
He has lectured to many inmates in the California corrections system over the past five years, and currently mentors parolees and hosts the Prison Race Interview series.
He is the author of "American Bravado," "Prison Race" (2006), "Leadership in the LAPD: Walking the Tightrope" (2005), and "American Paradox: Young Black Men" (2004).
"I try to live by the content of my Starbucks quote," Reese said. "Humility is one of the most important concepts in the English language. The world would be a better place, if people from the highest rungs of leadership on down, possessed more humility."