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Find a Way to Say “Yes”

BJ Gallagher Posted by BJ Gallagher.

BJ Gallagher is a workshop leader, keynote speaker, and author. Her topics include: leadership skills for women, male/female communication styles, how to manage your boss, thriving on change, and tapping into the creativity of diversity.

Find a Way to Say “Yes”

ITS Web Services, Creative Commons

His presence lit up the classroom the minute he walked in. And his voice-a deep, rich, resonant voice-rumbled out like thunder from somewhere deep in his body, captivating his audience. As he spoke, his face radiated joy and passion for his work, for the people he serves, and for the God he loves. I was spellbound. I had to learn more about this small, golden-brown man with such huge presence. Who is he and what is he up to?

His name is Rev. Cecil Murray-Rev. Chip to his friends and fans. He came to the First African Methodist Episcopal (FAME) Church in south-central Los Angeles in 1977, when there were 188 parishioners. Today, they number over 17,000! His secret to success is no secret at all-he will willingly share it with anyone who asks. So I asked.

“My key strategy has never changed-our mission is to take the church beyond the walls,” he told me. “Our church is not just someplace that people come on Sunday to worship. We take the message of hope, healing, and love beyond the walls into the community. We work within the system.”

“Tell me more about that,” I ask. “Working within the system. Other religious leaders rail against the system-calling for overthrow of the system, or overhauling the system. That’s not what you’re saying.”

“We work within systems that already exist-federal, state, county and city systems,” he said. “We partner with groups of all kinds to create solutions for difficult social problems. Things don’t happen if you come up against another group and make them wrong. I believe that change comes about by mutual agreement-not by dissent, not by conflict, not by criticizing and judging others.

“I always tell my staff, -Find a way to say YES.’You can’t discover that from a negative place. Be positive. That is what enables us to work within systems-to create change from the inside out.”

“Can you give me an example?” I asked.

“One of our newest programs is aimed at eliminating gang violence. We have partnered with the LAPD, the SCLC, the ACLU, and other churches to do outreach to gang members and find new alternatives. We don’t just sit in our church and pray for an end to the killing. We are out there building bridges between black and brown young people.

“We also have an economic development department where we teach community members how to write business plans, how to apply for loans. We even have an in-house incubator, in which new businesses can get the support they need for up to two years, until they are viable.

“We have an environmental protection office in which we take on problems unique to our community. At one time we were even in the low-flush toilet business, buying toilets and installing them in people’s homes. That program, started twelve years ago, turned into a business for two former gang-bangers. We’ve replaced 20,000 toilets, making a significant impact on the local environment.

“We have over sixty programs, all of which exemplify -finding a way to say YES.’ It’s a simple concept that anyone can use in any community or organization. Instead of saying, -No, we can’t do that’ or -No, that’s against our policy,’ you can simply look for a way to say -Yes’ instead,” Rev. Chip summarized as he smiled at me. “Anything else you’d like to know?”

I paused for a second, then asked my final question, “Yes, where can I sign up to join you?”


Ask yourself these key questions:

  • What one thing are you willing to do differently to find a way to say Yes?
  • Can you think of one organizational policy that gets in the way of people working more effectively? What can you do to help change that policy?
  • What ways can you think of to take your organization’s mission beyond the bounds of “business as usual”-to make a difference to your customers, clients, or other stakeholders?

BJ Gallagher is a consultant, speaker, and author, specializing in diversity, personal accountability, values and ethics, and gender issues in the workplace. Her work has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Chicago Tribune, Human Resource Executive, and O, the Oprah Magazine. She is co-author of three Berrett-Koehler books: A Peacock in the Land of Penguins (Third edition, 2001),What Would Buddha Do at Work? (2001), and Customer at the Crossroads (2000). To learn more, go to www.peacockproductions.com.