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A Conversation with Senator Cherie Buckner-Webb and Phillip Thompson

Cherie Buckner Webb

Cherie Buckner-Webb is a former Idaho State Senator and is founder and principal of Sojourner Coaching. Her extensive international business background includes positions in program management, diversity consultation, sales and marketing, business and organizational development, operations, and e-commerce.  Her expertise includes cross-cultural collaboration, facilitation and coaching for system wide change. In addition to her ongoing work in the corporate environment, Cherie works with institutions of higher education in the development of diversity curriculum and training.

Philip Thompson

Phillip Thompson’s family came to Idaho in 1905 and established Idaho’s first Black Church, which currently houses the Idaho Black History Museum, where he now serves as Executive Director and Board President. He has worked for more than twenty years in information technology, and has served on a variety of boards, including the Islamic Center of Boise, CATCH Boise, Boise Black Professionals, the Boise Police Chief’s Community Advisory Panel, and Future Public School. Phillip is Cherie’s son.

Defining Success in Advocacy

Senator Buckner-Webb and Phillip Thompson respond to a Boise State student question about how they define success in advocacy.

You recently paid a visit to Professor Sara Fry’s class, which is part of our Human Rights certificate in the School of Public Service. What does it mean to you to talk about human rights as opposed to, say, civil rights? Is that a meaningful distinction to you?

Senator Buckner-Webb: Human Rights are the inalienable rights of all members of the human family, the rights of every person. Human rights include the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, and many more. Everyone is entitled to these rights, without discrimination.

Civil Rights refer to legal provisions that stem from notions of equality.  They include the right to vote, to a fair trial, to a public education, to the use of public facilities.  Civil rights attempt to guarantee full and equal citizenship for those who have traditionally been discriminated against. By definition, civil rights laws are a component of democracy, a method designed to address instances in which individuals have been denied opportunities for full participation in society.

Thompson: We could also say that a civil right has a legal framework behind it as an attempt to ensure it is granted to the individual. One is entitled to a human right by way of being a member of the human race, but this does not ensure the same protections afforded a right that has been determined to be supported judicially.

We hear a lot about how deeply divided and partisan our country is now, and a lot of our students are feeling that, too. On top of that, young people are experiencing disproportionate mental health impacts and financial challenges because of the pandemic. What do you tell young people who are anxious and struggling with the current moment?

Thompson: To be human is to experience efforts to divide us, as an attempt to control. Don’t allow the narrowness of our perceptions to lead us astray. It’s easy to believe that we are in the midst of a never-before-seen state of disharmony and social unrest and on the precipice of our untimely demise, but remember that there are greater resources and remedies available now than at any other time in human history. Especially living here, in Boise! I do not dismiss the pain people are going through, although comparing it to other instances in human history can allow us to see that we will get through it.

Senator Buckner-Webb: First, I listen. I honor that their experience is real, important, and having serious impact on their lives. I don’t rush in to sharing my life, what I would do, my experience or throwing out the “three steps to a better life.”  I do ask questions, not with the intent of “fixing,” but rather to understand the individual.  It takes courage to deal with all of this.  I acknowledge that anxiousness and confusion; a whole gamut of emotional responses is appropriate to this time of uncertainty.

Then I would encourage them to take time—to slow down and connect to those places, people and activities where they have found strength in the past. I help them to identify sources of strength, support and resilience that they have utilized before. There are myriad opportunities to do this, but here are a few suggestions.  Start with one:​

  • Generosity: give of your time, talent, and kindness, demonstrating generosity not only to others but to YOURSELF. ​​
  • Spirituality:  feed and lift your spirit through thankfulness, cultural, spiritual or religious traditions and practice. Be still and listen….
  • Professional care: physical, mental, social and emotional pain are often intertwined. Get professional help.
  • Family support: seek out family by birth or family by choice, those who love, nurture and care for you.
  • Medical Care: Physical and social/emotional pain are often integrated, and it’s important to take care of our bodies, hearts and minds, and to get help when needed.
  • Mental Health: get support as needed. Our mental health is critical in times of great upheaval.
  • Positive friends: Surround yourself with positive people
  • A Mentor: Find someone who knows your strengths and can help, guide, and support you.
  • Healthy Activities: Enjoy fresh air, exercise, laughter, reading, writing, painting, building, fishing… whether they are physical, social, or emotional, these activities can help you unwind, lift your mood, and gain clarity.
  • Lose the booze. Relying on substances right now can make things harder in the long run.
  • Rest, revive and renew. We have to rest and replenish to continue to do the important work that carries us all forward.

You both are considered leaders in the community writ large—Senator Buckner-Webb, for your many years of public service as an elected official, and Philip, for your work as Director of the Black History Museum (among many other things, for both of you). You’re important figures in the African-American community here as well. So you both have a lot of perspective on what’s going on with race, racism, and politics in Idaho right now. What are you most concerned about when you think about civil rights here in the state?

Senator Buckner-Webb: I am most concerned about the polarization of government when party power supersedes public voice, votes, and desires. I am most concerned about the movement of government toward disempowerment of the people, reducing access of the people, and silencing the voice of the people. I am most concerned about how the calls for equity for the LGBTQ community are summarily dismissed, about the disdain shown for our most vulnerable and underserved populations, and when the needs of our children are relegated to what’s cheap. I am concerned that anyone outside mainstream dominant culture (those who are not white) is continually viewed with suspicion or as “less than.”  I am concerned about the degree of lip service vs. real service.

Thompson: I’m most concerned about the unwillingness I see among my fellow Idahoans and decision-makers to honestly examine an issue, instead vilifying all that do not unilaterally agree. This is a dereliction of duty. Repeatedly pushing a narrative that isn’t germane and doesn’t pertain to the uniqueness of a given situation fails all parties involved.

Alternatively, are there bright spots? Who inspires you? Who is active in making the state a better place?

Thompson: Locally, the Boise Police Department, as an organization, has taken an approach of “continuous improvement,” working to better their craft and never assume “we are without error, thus infallible.” They acknowledge that “to err is human” and at the same time aim to greatly diminish the occurrence and impact of their mistakes.

Senator Buckner-Webb: I am thrilled to see the strides made by women in the workplace, government, and business. They inspire me because, no matter the position or organization, that road they are on is not easy.  I’m also thankful we have not been seduced by the cries of those who have not done their homework to cut or eliminate police presence across the board (without study and input from all parties).

I am inspired by those who take risks, on the daily, to make Idaho a better place for all who choose to live here.  I give props to families!  I am especially inspired by families who send their children of color to live in an environment that is anathema to their own culture. I am inspired by those who move their families to Idaho for opportunity and in doing so contribute to the richness that is Idaho.

What are you most excited to do once the pandemic eases?

Senator Buckner-Webb: To take my entire family on a much-needed holiday.  To connect and hold them all close. And to reunite my band and play some great music!

Thompson: Meh. I’ve enjoyed the extra time with family! My daughter Jr. learned how to ride a horse and the art of archery.