Cultural cross-trainer


Lemon squares and powdered cookies were still circulating the room when Wallace Goode Jr. stood up to describe his “Chautauqua” life at Wednesday’s Divinity School lunchtime talk. A Woodlawn native whose career has taken him across the globe and into Chicago Mayor Richard Daley’s office, Goode last August became director of the University Community Service Center and associate dean of students. He recalled his early experiences with the University, first as a fifth-grader tutored by U of C students and later as a chagrined high-schooler trying to blend in on campus. After being stopped once, he said, by a University police officer who “very clearly said, ‘You don’t belong here,’” Goode began sneaking into the Ida Noyes coffee shop and trying to effect the erudite nonchalance of students there. University police always picked him out. Finally, he asked an officer what gave him away. The answer: Goode’s Converse All-Stars. “So I went and bought some penny loafers.”

After studying at the University of Vermont—where he “would look into a mirror just to see another person of color”—Goode served as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Central African Republic and the Solomon Islands. Then he helped politicians and business executives avoid international faux pas as a cross-cultural trainer. That job eventually landed him in Chicago’s City Hall, where he spent seven years, working in workforce development and most recently as executive director of the Empowerment Zone program, providing commercial tax breaks to stimulate investment and create jobs in local communities.

Goode was still in fifth grade when his father recognized he was “bilingual.” He could converse with his U of C tutors at school and come home and talk to “the brothers on my street. My father said, ‘That is a skill you need to continue to cultivate.’” These days, Goode told Wednesday’s audience, “I am multilingual,” able to speak with educators, University development officials, corporate heads, government types, his 8-year-old son, and his 30-year-old daughter—with whom “I speak a language I’m not sure of.” Having crossed the world as a lecturer, volunteer, and teacher, Goode has also become a cultural polyglot. He encouraged University students and employees to do the same, saying they could start on the South Side by venturing into neighborhoods like Woodlawn, Kenwood, and Grand Crossing. “Volunteer,” he said. “Roll up your sleeves and get on the boards of community groups.” Cultural learning goes both ways, as does community service. “And you don’t always need to feel the hurt to understand it.”


Photo: Wallace Goode Jr. at Swift Hall.

January 6, 2006