Speak Up During COVID-19
An interview with Kathy Khang on the importance of raising your voice.
Posted May 03, 2020
How often do we stay silent when there is something important to say? There is so much to discuss, debate, and call to attention that often goes unacknowledged. Considering all that is going on with COVID-19, now more than ever there is an opportunity to speak up about things like health disparities and racial discrimination. It takes each one of us to bring to the table diverse voices to make a way forward.
Kathy Khang is a writer, speaker, and yoga teacher. She is the author of Raise Your Voice: Why We Stay Silent & How to Speak Up (IVP, 2018), contributing editor for Sojourners magazine, and co-author of More Than Serving Tea (IVP, 2006). Khang was a newspaper reporter in Green Bay and Milwaukee, Wisconsin before spending more than two decades in vocational ministry where she focused on leadership development and training leaders in diversity and justice. She holds a BS in journalism from Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois. She is based in the north suburbs of Chicago and is honored to be a mom to three incredible young adults.
JA: Why did you set out to write your book?
KK: Raising your voice and learning to stand up for what you believe in are leadership skills, life skills. I was tired of reading about leadership from primarily white authors who came from dominant culture experiences telling a more diverse generation of leaders how to make an impact in the world.
I had been teaching the material and told the stories I eventually included in the book to diverse audiences of college students to executive-level leaders with great feedback and had never thought of myself as an expert. I wrongly believed experts write the books. I saw myself as a practitioner and coach, and it took me more than a decade to believe that what I had been learning and practicing and then coaching and teaching others to do would be a valuable resource.
In the end, I wrote the book to get over imposter syndrome, which is what keeps so many of us from raising our voice.
JA: What is the primary takeaway you hope readers will learn from reading your book?
KK: Everyone has a voice even if they don’t have positional power. We can affect change at an individual and personal level as well as at the societal and systemic level when we learn how to find, exercise, and use our voice in whatever sphere of influence we have.
JA: What are some lessons from your book that can help people live more resiliently?
KK: You will make mistakes. Some of your mistakes will be small and some of them will be huge. Your failure may hurt your own ego as well as harm others. Owning up to failure and mistakes, learning to apologize, and learning how to listen will help anyone in any relationship.
How you learn, what you learn, and how you apply those lessons from failure are as important as the “win.” Many readers appreciated how I wrote about my own failure to raise my voice and what I learned from watching someone enter into the same situation and affect change. Learning to raise your voice is a skill, and no one masters any skill without failure.
You are also in good company when it comes to imposter syndrome. All of us at one time or another have stopped ourselves from taking a risk. We have bought into the cultural lies that told us we couldn’t do “x” and shouldn’t be in the room without ever giving ourselves the opportunity to fail. Yes, failure is an opportunity to learn, and hopefully, we are never too old, too anything to learn.
JA: What are some insights from your book that help readers support a friend or loved one?
KK: It goes back to the fear of making a mistake. Sometimes when we want to support a friend or loved one, we choose not to say or do anything for fear of saying or doing the wrong thing. Unfortunately, our silence and inaction may communicate the exact opposite of what we are hoping.
If you don’t know what would be helpful, ask. Ask with humility and do the work of learning what would be helpful. And don’t ask if you aren’t going to follow through. Once you know what would be helpful, maybe it’s simply your presence or a tangible act of service like a hot meal or cup of coffee to talk, do it. And in the age of technology, a hand-written note still has great value.
If you see a friend raising their voice, let her know you see what she is doing. Encourage her, ask sincere questions about the issue or topic your friend is passionate about, and consider if there are any actions you can take to support the issue.
JA: What are you currently working on these days?
KK: I’m in a career transition. I worked in vocational ministry for more than two decades, and in the past year, I’ve shifted to teaching yoga and finding my yoga teacher voice while taking on writing projects and speaking engagements. I still love speaking to college students, church groups, and leaders around the topics of faith, gender, ethnicity, race, and justice.
Khang, K. (2018). Raise Your Voice: Why We Stay Silent and How to Speak Up. IVP Press.