Rivers of Thought
Life, Leadership, Business & Technology
Hallowed Ground…I could not shake that thought from my mind. Hallowed Ground. We were standing on hallowed ground. The thought brought back memories of my childhood growing up in the church…the old gospel hymn “Standing on Holy Ground,”…the many scriptures that spoke of removing your sandals to stand on holy ground…that day, we indeed were standing on hallowed ground…sacred…revered…not because it had been consecrated and declared as such, but because of what happened there…between strangers from different lives and different worlds.
I found myself once again heading to the Southside of Chicago. This time to attend the dedication of an Illinois State Historical Marker at the site at once was my great-great grandparent’s farm. As I neared the city, I decided to visit the Jan and Aagje Ton Memorial Garden in South Holland. I pulled into the parking lot on the church’s grounds, realizing this would be my first time visiting the garden alone.
After walking through the garden and looking at each flower and plant, knowing they had been purposely planted by my new friend Nadine Harris-Clark, her sister, and other volunteers, I sat quietly on the bench. Hallowed ground. It was a beautiful early autumn day. Not a cloud in the sky. A gentle and somewhat chilly breeze rustled the leaves of the trees above me. As my eyes took in the memorial, a sound came to my ears from off in the distance…the sound of a train whistle…I strained to listen. I could almost hear the clap-clap-clap of the steel wheels passing along the tracks…hallowed ground.
Soon the church bells tolling at noon broke me out of my trance. As the 12th toll echoed across the grounds, I headed to my car. It was time to drive the two miles to Chicago’s Finest Marina on the grounds of what was the Ton Farm over 100 years ago.
The Dedication – Ton Farm
I found myself feeling somewhat anxious, somewhat curious, and somewhat nervous. When we had last visited the farm site, the gates had been locked, and we could not explore the area along the river. Today would be different. Today the gates would be open.
After saying hello to Nadine, Tom, Larry, and Robin, I wandered off. I wanted to take it all in before the dedication ceremony. I wanted to walk the grounds alone. I wanted to stand along the river. I have always loved rivers. Something about watching the water change and dance in the light as it moves past me, never to be the same again. I wondered how many times Jan and Aagje stood here and watched the river. How often did my great-grandpa George fish in the river or play in its waters with his siblings? I could hear the peals of laughter and delight as George splashed one of his sisters in the cool waters.
As I walked through the grass to where the house would have been located, the emotions came alive. It was here freedom seekers would come, seeking safety, protection, food, warmth, and transportation for the next leg of their long journey. It was here Jan and Aagje would risk fines, jail time, or worse.
I could feel it. Hallowed Ground. Sacred ground. Revered ground.
Fear was the first thing I felt. The freedom seekers had been traveling for days or weeks. Every. Single. Moment. In fear of discovery and being returned to the very life of slavery they were trying to escape. Frightened. Traveling at night, hiding in the shadows. While they had been told this was a safe haven to rest, was it? Who were these white people anyway? They could turn them in for a handsome reward, probably more than they made on this small farm in a month or many months.
Fear. Jan and Aagje. Nervous to be discovered. Worried law enforcement from Chicago would discover their part in this flight for freedom. Anxious as they hid their precious cargo in their wagons and headed toward Indiana. Risk. Would they be deported back to Holland? Fear. Different, but just as palpable.
Fear gave way to trust. As the Tons bustled into their now familiar routine of hiding the freedom seekers in their barn, preparing food, providing water, and unfolding blankets. Hushed tones of conversation between them. From whence had they come? Missouri? Mississippi? Kentucky? Questions about the road ahead. Stories of the dunes they would cross on their way around the great lake. Trust that these kind folks would give them passage. Trust in a safe place to lay their heads and rest, if only for a few hours.
Fear gave way to trust. This group of frightened travelers was seeking freedom. The quiet knock on the door was not the authorities or someone trying to rob or harm them. As their story unfolded, fear eroded, and trust was built. Always wary and cautious but confident in their actions.
Hope. As they climbed into the wagon and hid beneath the hay. Hope – freedom lay ahead. Hope – a few more days of travel. A new life. They would make it safely. They could send for others. Hope. Building a life. Free. They would remember the past and in remembering, give thanks for the freedom that would now be theirs. A future free from the oppression of slavery.
Jan and Aagje felt hope. Hope for the future and the lives they were building in this country. Scarcely a decade has passed since they left the only life they had ever known in 1849. Jan a young man of 23, Aagje a girl of only 14. Married in 1853 and building a life together on a small farm. Their growing family. Hope for the future. Hope for a life free to practice their religion and worship their god, free from persecution.
Hallowed ground, not by consecration but by the deeds performed in this space.
Do this in remembrance of them
The unveiling ceremony dedicated this land. Dignitaries spoke. Beautiful songs were raised. On behalf of Jan and Aagje, I was honored to be a part of it. I never knew them, but my heart tells me they would have been “embarrassed for all the fuss.” They were just doing what they knew to be right in their hearts for other men, women, and children traveling this life.
The marker will serve as a reminder of what happened there. To those who visit, I encourage you to walk the grounds with a sense of remembrance. Feel the emotions. Connect with the people who made this ground hallowed…those seeking freedom…and those lending a helping hand toward that freedom.
Hallowed ground, indeed!
In researching the concept of hallowed ground for this post, I came across Standing on Hallowed Ground: Practicing the Morality of Remembrance by Dr. Maulana Karenga. His words describe hallowed grounds in a way that moved me. Please click through and read it!
According to the Harvard Business Review (HBR), the US is currently experiencing the phenomenon called the Great Resignation, which is a mass voluntary exit of individuals from organizations disrupting the demand and supply of employees. During April, May, and June 2021, 11.5 million workers quit their jobs. Other surveys went on to reveal that 48% of employees are actively looking for a career change, and nearly 1 out of 4 employees will do so in the next six months. As a result, experts predict that the US will see up to 10.1 million new job openings.
To help you overcome this critical period, here are some methods you can utilize to minimize the effect of the great resignation on your business:
Offer Flexible Work Arrangements
HBR suggests that to promote employee retention, you need to listen to and understand the changing needs of your employees that will encourage them to stay in your company. For example, business leaders need to accept that the current nature of work has changed and that more employees prefer flexible work arrangements.
A report by Ashton Jackson showed that 72% of workers in IT and engineering agencies prefer a flexible work model, and 67% of workers say they feel more empowered when provided with flexible working arrangements by their companies. Moreover, 84% of workers said that continuing to work from home would make them happier. This indicates the growing need for you and your employees to compromise work hours and location to ensure employee retention.
Encourage and Listen to Employee’s Perspectives
As a business leader, you can motivate your employees to stay in their jobs by making them feel valued. You can do this by spending time to understand their motivations and helping them see the positive impact they’re making in the organization. You can also ask for their assistance because sometimes leaders don’t have all the right answers.
We explained in our previous “Key Traits of Great Business Leaders” article that business leaders may not always notice their weaknesses and areas for improvement. Therefore, we suggest practicing self-awareness by encouraging team members to raise their ideas during team meetings. This expresses your willingness to listen to various perspectives from employees and increase their feelings of purpose and impact on the organization.
Employ Interim Talent Solutions
Aside from retaining the very best talent, you can solve recruitment issues by hiring quickly but strategically. In an article on the pressure to fill positions by LHH, data indicates that employers are now acting quickly to fill open roles. They discovered that 70% of recent job seekers got a job offer within 30 days. Roughly 18% of respondents waited 30 to 60 days, and only 12% waited for more than 60 days. However, there are risks associated with expedited hiring processes.
Furthermore, LHH highlights the benefits of having an interim employee to assist in current organization projects while the hiring process is ongoing. By doing this, you can be sure that they’re experienced and capable at the job since they’re vetted by a trusted partner. This also ensures that you won’t be paying a fixed cost for a full-time hire that may be a bad fit for the company.
Establish Employee Referral Programs
If you want to hire a reliable and permanent employee, creating an employee referral program can help you look for the perfect candidate. Referral programs are a management practice where workers are explicitly encouraged to refer their social contacts for jobs using bonuses. They are cost-effective measures to tap into a large pool of qualified candidates and can yield higher employee satisfaction and retention rates.
A study by Guido Friebel and colleagues revealed that referral programs in a grocery chain reduce attrition by roughly 15% and decrease firm labor costs by up to almost 3%. This is because they found that referrals stay longer than non-referrals. With this, you can establish an employee referral program to effectively and conveniently find qualified candidates.
The Great Resignation is set to cause issues in many organizations across the U.S., but strong leadership can always guide teams through the most turbulent times.
The Flames Burn Brightly! What started out as a single blog post has blossomed into three! There were so many amazing moments one post could not contain them all. Hopefully, you’ve been keeping up. If not, check out the other two posts The Flames Burn Brightly: The eBook and The Audiobook.
As we wrapped up the recording for the audiobook version of The Flames Shall Not Consume You, my mom’s book about tragically being trapped and burned in a fire and her journey to survival, my thoughts turned to the launch of these second editions. My original idea was to release them on September 5th in honor of mom’s birthday. It had become clear the ebook and the audiobook would not be ready at the same time. My Plan B was to release the ebook in September and the audiobook on January 4th, the anniversary of the fire itself.
Given it was August, I had time to plan a launch event around the audiobook. I immediately began to think in terms of making the event a fundraiser for Eskenazi Health’s Burn Center. This was the evolution of the Burn Center that had saved mom’s life in 1980. Since Amy and I had decided to donate the proceeds of the audiobook royalties to the Burn Center, it was only fitting to expand on that through the launch.
A conversation adds a great twist
Having hosted successful launch parties for my previous books, I had a pretty good idea of the steps needed. I started to gather estimates for a venue, catering, marketing, music…all the things that go into a good book launch event. Enter Amy Brown, you remember Amy, right? The CEO-turned-narrator of the book?
Amy had shared the story of the creation of the audiobook with her pastor, the pastor of the church my mom and dad had attended, and the church where I had met Amy. What if the church were to hold a launch event? Now THAT was an idea I had not considered. Mom would have loved it! Let’s do it! Amy also suggested that Jay Geshay would be interested in helping to coordinate the event. Jay is a lay leader at the church. I have known him almost as long as I have known Amy. Let’s do it!
We began to make preliminary plans…first order of business…a date! On or about January 4th, the anniversary of the fire, perhaps we would need to slide it a few days because of the holiday. Plenty of time to plan. The recording was complete. As soon as I received the final audio files I could send them to Audible for production. “In 2020, every author was publishing a new book. It took them two months to produce my previous audiobook.” I warned Amy and Jay. “We won’t know the exact date for a while.”
Some things just take longer
Just like I dramatically underestimated the amount of time it would take to record the book, I dramatically underestimated the time it would take to produce the final audio files. September turned to October, October turned to November. At that point, I called Amy and Jay to say we needed to push the date, no way would it be ready by January 4th, not with the holidays.
I started receiving the files from Mitch, listening to every heart-wrenching second again. Some of the files had issues (hey, that’s why you review them!). Mitch turned those around quickly. However, it was now mid-December and the files were not yet in Audible’s hands. I sent Amy and Jay a note to suggest we meet the first week in January and see where we are in the process. On December 23rd, I submitted the files to Audible, now I could only wait.
On December 28th I received an email from Audible. The book was completed and was on sale! After all the amazing moments of the last year, I had blinked–I had doubted. The book would have been ready for a January 4th launch!
Oh, ye of little faith….
Instead, I decided to use January 4th to start the promotion of the audiobook on social media. Amy, Jay, and I agreed the event itself would be on February 3rd.
With the social media campaign announcing the release of the audiobook in full swing, the buzz around the book began to grow. Because Amy and I are both heavily involved in the tech community in Indiana, tech leaders from across the state began to comment on and share the posts. As people began to listen to the audiobook, they posted some incredible feedback.
—- quotes from LinkedIn and Facebook…
I had the opportunity to read this book in December and was deeply moved by it. Highly recommended.
Powerful and exceptionally moving true story. Thrilled that Jeff decided to revive and share it with the world.
35 minutes into the book and I’m #spellbound! You were right Jeff Ton (he/him), I did need to bring tissues. Picture a grown man shedding tears on a treadmill listening to Amy bring your mom’s voice and story to life. The story and narration are as good as advertised! You can bet I’ll be listening on the way to the office and back, too. Bravo!!
I read A LOT of books. Most of them are good. Some great. Few make me put them down every few pages just to feel everything I’ve read and really take it in. (Oh…and cry in the middle of a Chipotle’s while reading. No shame in my game.) There are such an incredible series of steps here to bring all of this to life in the 21st century for us. Grateful for the Holy Spirit bringing your mom through everything to gift us with this book. And grateful to you for bringing it to life again.
🙏🏼🙌🏼🙏🏼🙌🏼 so excited to listen to the story be told after reading it! Congrats Jeff Ton (he/him) what a beautiful way to honor your mom and her story.
I finished this book in two days (on Audible) – INCREDIBLE story of facing unimaginable pain physically and emotionally and finding your way through with grace, dignity, grit, and faith. The book is inspiring and instructional in so many ways. I find myself thinking about the book and the author Mary Ellen Ton nearly every day. The book has helped me appreciate all that I have and the personal connection to Jeff Ton (he/him) and the narrator Amy Brown is just icing on the cake!
The plan comes together
In addition to the promotion on typical social media sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, I leveraged my blog Rivers of Thought, and its mailing list (if you’d like to be on the mailing list, send me an email). I also sent personal invitations through email to dozens and dozens of colleagues and connections.
While all this was going on Jay, Amy, and I met several times to discuss the event itself, both from a logistical perspective and from the program perspective. Amy’s parents, John and Carol Brown
graciously agreed to arrange for catering and to cover the costs. Steven Potts, the Minister of Music of the church and pianist extraordinaire agreed to provide the music for the event. Jay would serve as the master of ceremonies. I would share some thoughts on the process of bringing the second edition to life. And, Amy would read some excerpts from the book.
As plans were coming together, I was able to connect with Bill Farkas, the VP of Major Gifts for the Eskenazi Health Foundation. Even though I warned him the proceeds probably would not amount to a “major gift” Bill was excited to attend and share some words about the Burn Center at the hospital.
We were all set…except…except for mother nature.
Mother Nature threatens
A major winter storm was forecasted to hit Indianapolis on February 2nd and 3rd. It was all over the news for days as January neared its close.
Do we cancel?
What about all of the invitations?
They could be wrong, they’ve forecasted huge amounts of snow before and we only received a dusting.
What if they were right?
No one would attend.
But, what if they were wrong?
But, what if they were right?
So, on February 1st with the temperature over 60 degrees, I made the decision to postpone. We decided to push it out two weeks to February 15th. Before I went on a walk in my shirt sleeves, I started posting about the change of date, sending countless personal re-invitations with the new date, and calling those I could call.
They were right. The ice started on February 2nd and the snow moved in on the morning of the 3rd. The snow gauge in our backyard registered 11 inches by the time the snow stopped. Planning was complete. The only thing to do now was to wait…oh and to shovel snow…lots of snow!
I wish I had the words – a funny thing for an author to say. The event was perfect. I lost track of the number of people who attended…old friends…new friends…business colleagues (who are also friends)…church members (many of them knew my mom)…family.
Steven’s music was the perfect backdrop to the conversations. We ran the program format three times over the two hours. Jay welcomed everyone, shared a personal reflection about mom or the book itself, and introduced Bill. Bill said a few words about Eskenazi. Jay then introduced me. I told a story or two about creating the second edition (most of which ended up in this blog series). I introduced Amy and she read a selection from the book. Jay would then lead a short Q&A session. Steven played during the breaks.
Each time Amy read, I was transported back to the recording studio, I was transported back forty years, I heard my breath catch, I felt my eyes swell. I don’t know how she did it. How did she read in front of all those people and not lose it? I do not think I could have done it.
The Flames Burn Brightly
What a journey it had been…from Rebeca’s Facebook message in January of 2021 to the evening of February 15, 2022…a journey I will never forget. I know mom would have been thrilled to know her book hit number one on Amazon. She would have loved Amy’s reading of her words. She would be humbled by the number of attendees at the launch.
Mom, your flames burn brightly in all our lives.
Insights is the weekly, thought-provoking newsletter from Jeffrey S. Ton.
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