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The Power of One

“My objective in life is not to have a spiritual life that is separate from the rest of my life.” — Ed McCracken, CEO, Silicon Graphics “My business is my ministry,” proclaims Judy Wicks, founder and maitre d’ of Philadelphia’s renowned White Dog Café and Black Cat store. “I don’t go to church. I don’t pray. I went as a child, saw no signs, and just never thought about God until a few years ago.

“My objective in life is not to have a spiritual life that is separate from the rest of my life.” — Ed McCracken, CEO, Silicon Graphics

“My business is my ministry,” proclaims Judy Wicks, founder and maitre d’ of Philadelphia’s renowned White Dog Café and Black Cat store. “I don’t go to church. I don’t pray. I went as a child, saw no signs, and just never thought about God until a few years ago.

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“One night, I was on the street outside my restaurant, surrounded by people, putting on one of our annual events, dancing to a good Motown song. I looked around me, saw the faces of my customers, a real racially diverse group of urbanites out there around midnight dancing in the street. I looked into those faces and found this profound sense of pure joy.

“It is through my business that I express my love for other people and my sense of interconnectedness with the world. I use my business as a way of building my own capacity to care, and building the capacity of my customers and my staff to care. That is what I mean when I call it my ministry.”

“It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.” — Roy Disney

Judy Wicks’ philosophy of business and life jelled years ago when she listened to an audiotape about the life of Mahatma Gandhi. People wondered why a spiritual leader became involved so deeply in politics and economics. Gandhi felt the answer was simple. He didn’t believe in separating spirituality (family), economics (business), and politics (social activism). Neither does mother, businesswoman, and social activist Judy Wicks.

“Everyone is always trying to find out, ‘How can my business be different from everyone else’s? How can my business stand out?’ Well, don’t look too far, because the unique qualities of your business are a reflection of you.. Everybody is different, and if your business reflects all you are as an individual, it will be different. My business, quite simply, is who I am.”

Who, then, is Judy Wicks? Judy is a global citizen dedicated to “peace through parties.” Judy admits, “My business is largely guided by my passions. I love food and parties ? and the concept of interconnectedness. I enjoy using good food to lure innocent customers into social activism.”

She exemplifies this integration, and has fun doing it. Her life revolves around a calling — a set of values — that uniquely integrates work, family, community, and spirituality. As said best by Judy herself, that calling is to serve up a “table for six billion, please.”

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“A man is only as good as what he loves.” — Saul Bellow

Judy is a walking monument to the pleasures of sharing. She wants every one of our planet’s six billion people to have a seat at the table of life — a gathering of dignity, respect, and hope. No one is denied a place. And she has developed a $4.5 million-a-year business that nets well above the industry average to exemplify the value and joy of that table.

“People come to the White Dog because they’re hungry,” asserts Judy. “But they’re hungry not just for food. People in our society hunger for other things. They hunger to share their values, for a sense of community, and to be part of something that is larger than themselves.”

“My humanity is bound up in yours for we can only be human together.” — Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Patronage is boosted as well by the White Dog’s ongoing community service activities. (A list would take up over two single-spaced pages!) For example:

  • The “sister” restaurant program brings customers to minority-owned establishments in the inner city (and back to the White Dog the next time out)
  • The “Eating with the Enemy” program flies customers to sister restaurants in Nicaragua, Cuba, and Vietnam for “food with thought” that suggests our differences are far fewer than our similarities
  • Community-building talk programs, where locals and world leaders (like whom? Any examples?) (e.g,, Marian Wright Edelman, Oliver Stone, Eldridge Cleaver) share their life stories at a “Table Talk,” fill the White Dog on traditionally slow nights.

Judy wants to expand the White Dog, but only in keeping with who she is and what she wants. It wouldn’t be a geographical expansion, but an expansion of her community programs anchored by one profitable “good, great eating place.”

“Snowflakes are one of nature’s most fragile things, but just look at what they can do when they stick together.” — Vesta Kelly

“I’m a ‘small is beautiful’ kind of a person,” Judy acknowledges. “Rather than grow larger, I prefer to go deeper with what I have. I prefer to ask, ‘How can I have deeper, more profound relationships with those around me — my staff, my customers, my local community, the farmers who grow our food, the farmers who grow our coffee in Mexico?’ That’s what interests me.

“If the powerful institution of business is directed toward involving everyone in the game, maybe there will someday be a world where everyone has a place at the table. What a great party that would be!”

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(Judy’s parties are truly distinguished: Each Fourth of July, she dresses up as a pregnant colonial woman with a sign on her back reading, “George Washington Slept Here!” When she gives “birth” to twins on the street, in front of hundreds of revelers, a midwife delivers black and white girls named Liberty and Justice, who jump up and tap dance to the music of “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” The crowd lights sparklers and sings “God Bless America.”)

Brand Lifeline: Build Your Brand on One, Integrated You

“Everybody can be great . . . because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Initially, Judy integrated her passions into her business because of need. She didn’t have the time to do community activities and a business, so she put them together. She didn’t have time to raise her children, Grace and Lawrence, so they got involved in the White Dog as youngsters. What she ended up with was a powerful way to express herself and differentiate the White Dog through food, fun, and social activism. “The great promise of business is to provide opportunity for everyone,” Judy proclaims. “It is to link the energy and power of business with the energy and power of love and compassion for other people.”

So, don’t leave your values andyour passions at the doorstep of your business. You may be leaving your very best behind. And in any case, bringing all of you to work makes the journey that much more fun.

“My life is an indivisible whole, and all my activities run into one another; and they have their rise in my insatiable love of mankind.” — Mahatma Gandhi

To read more on Judy Wicks, see ML2 E-Newsletter #45 and Ways to Give Back. Read July Wicks’ life story in Chapter 3 of my New York Times bestseller, Making a Life, Making a Living.

Copyright © 2000 Dr. Mark S. Albion. All rights reserved.

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