Like most overnight sensations, my third act has been years in the making. I’m very blessed and grateful that my third act is also my encore career. Having integrated my dual passions — arts and leadership — I now enjoy life as an inspirational speaker, author, poet, and entrepreneur.
But it wasn’t always that way.
When I graduated with my doctorate in performance studies, I had stars in my eyes. It was show time! Not as in Broadway. I was actually living in Los Angeles — the place for aspiring actors and directors. As much as I loved being part of the vibrant world of theater, I also wanted to push the boundaries of what theater could be. I was intrigued with theater not as entertainment, but as a catalyst for social transformation.
Born for This
I was born in rural Mississippi. As a young girl, I thought I lived in an all-black town. Although I was too young to know the meaning of the word segregation, I certainly felt its impact. Throughout my life, I have experienced the crush of racial hatred and prejudice. I have also experienced the redemptive power of the arts.
My family didn’t have much money. Even so, we enjoyed great wealth born of rich relationships with family and friends. Like many poor families during the Jim Crow era, my family was very resourceful. My sisters and I created our own games and made toys from clothespins, scraps of cloth, buttons, paper sacks, and whatever else we could find around the house. And we loved to sing. After we sang all the songs we knew from church and school, we composed our own. Most of all, we loved creating skits. For birthdays, holidays, and anniversaries. If there wasn’t a special occasion, we’d create one. Within the loving embrace of encouraging parents, we flourished.
Little did I know that during my playtime, the scaffold for my future was already under construction.
Say It with Music
These days, I play to audiences in boardrooms and ballrooms all over the world. What does the playbill include? Leadership and innovation for people in business, medicine, education, human services, government, finance, and beyond. I play the role of Evocateur. I especially enjoy embracing this role for Music for Transformation™ — an innovative learning experience I co-created with my husband Maestro John Burgess. After 40 years together, we’re pretty good at making each other’s heart sing. We’re now learning the swing and sway of making beautiful music together as we build this part of our business.
In this new venture, John conducts an orchestra with audience members interspersed among the musicians. As Evocateur, I provide insightful commentary to engage our clients and to educe learning about leadership, collaboration, creativity, diversity, innovation, business building, peacemaking, inclusion, community, ecological sustainability, and so much more.
One of our favorite collaborations was with the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra. Imagine an expansive ballroom with 500 leaders seated inside the heart of this amazing 75-piece symphonic ensemble. Next to the cellos a CEO. Her VP sits a bow’s length from the violins.
As we await the downbeat, I look out across the audience. Leaders from 140 different nations. Curious. Enthralled. Expectant. In this electric atmosphere, images from my corporate life flash into my awareness. Twenty-three years. Much of it consumed with doubt and wondering, years of wondering if I was in the right place. When I reached the echelons of the high-tech world, I was the only one. The only African-American female executive in Information Technology. And still … I wondered.
In the charged hush, John lifts his baton. The music and the learning begins. A CFO closes his eyes, reveling in the majestic fanfare from the French horns. And I realize beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am in the right place. For I now know that during all those years in corporate America, I was being equipped for such a time as this.
I am so fortunate. Sometimes I have to pinch myself. I wake up every morning absolutely in love with my life and work because I get to pass on what I’ve learned about the arts and leadership — not only to this generation, but also to the next. How? Working with underrepresented urban youth through The Lift Every Voice Foundation, a nonprofit organization I launched when I left high tech. My purpose is singular: to help these young people understand that their past doesn’t have to dictate their future. I help them create a bridge from what was … to what is … to what can be, inspiring and equipping them with the transformational power of the arts and leadership.
In these uncertain times, no one knows what the future holds. I have faith that it will bring more creative collaborations with friends we have yet to meet here in the Pacific Northwest and throughout the world. What a privilege and joy it is to bring people together for meaningful engagement — to make music, theater, poetry, and other arts relevant in a world that is desperate for imaginative leadership and transformation.
Dr. Gloria Burgess is an inspirational speaker, author, poet, and performing artist. Her books include Legacy Living, Flawless Leadership, and Dare to Wear Your Soul on the Outside. Her life is about celebrating the triumphant power of the human spirit. Learn more about Music for Transformation at www.johneburgess.com and Gloria at www.gloriaburgess.com.