“We have power to make change and we all must know that our fate and destiny, to a great extent, is in each others hands. We’re all in this together.”
Still disappointed about the recent report that Wisconsin leads the nation in 4th graders unable to read, Dextra Hadnot, pronounced: “Our children and adults who can’t read cannot control their destiny.”
Continuing, he said, “Reading is fundamental to education and livelihood “It’s more than a slogan or a commercial. The quickest road to nowhere is to to be unable to read, communicate or articulate one’s concerns and ideas in writing and in speech.”
As director of External Affairs for AT&T, Wisconsin’s major telecommunications company, Hadnot is no mere corporate suit. A home-grown community advocate who has not left for the bigger city or the greener pasture, he is currently thriving in AT&T’s corporate culture in Milwaukee and trying to find ways to give back and inspire others to do the same.
“Service to others is a foundation that my parents raised my siblings and me on,” Hadnot said. “My mother was always giving clothes, food, purses and collectibles away. My cousins came to my house for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner because they knew Mae Mae “Mary Hadnot” had the best ham, and chicken dressing around,” Hadnot chuckled while stating that his cousins usually came back the next day for seconds.
People in the neighborhood were also at Mary Hadnot’s door and she fed and helped them too. “It was hard not to notice a stranger eating at our table or saying thank you Mrs. Hadnot while leaving. I got it honest,” said Hadnot.
“My mother had a humble, quietly-commanding and charitable spirit,” he said in a low nostalgic voice.
Remembering his education, how he was raised and the influences in life, Hadnot spoke with great passion about the Milwaukee community he grew up in the mid ‘60s and ‘70s, and the future of our community that he hopes for.
“There was no question that you were going to get an education. People fought and died for equality and the right to be educated. My parents would not hear of it that you weren’t going to school,” he said
Laughing to himself, Hadnot stated that his brother got a perfect attendance award from Keefe Avenue School because he did not miss a day and he was in school during one of the worst snow storms in Wisconsin’s history. “The mailman did not come that day. But my brother was in school. That’s how serious my parents were,” he said. As the baby of the family, Dextra managed to miss school that day.
“We have to ignite parents with that level of importance. Education is now an urgent matter and pointing the finger at each other will not help,” Hadnot stated.
“AT&T has provided me with great opportunities to continue growing and helping the Milwaukee community,” said Hadnot. His responsibilities at AT&T entail working with local governments and municipalities to balance the company’s telecommunications policies and initiatives with the concerns of customers, community leaders, businesses and government officials.
Hadnot serves as a key contact in Milwaukee County on behalf of AT&T Wisconsin and its business units to encourage sales growth of products and services toward achieving the company’s financial goals.
Hadnot’s leadership strengths and ability to work at the corporate level were formed early in his career through his work at the City of Milwaukee from 1991 to 2001 when he honed himself with each position he moved from within city government. His decision to leave city government for AT&T came after an unsuccessful bid to become the 10th district alderman.
“Strangely, I think my understanding about corporate America came from my work at City Hall,” said Hadnot. “Although business and government are often like distant cousins, they are still supposed to function similarly to serve people.
“ To me, service is a leadership trait and key to resolve societal problems. All we have to do is serve each other. I made that my frame of mind – service to people. From my days as an intern in the Mayor Norquist administration through my time as a city lobbyist, I wanted to help people understand and take ownership of government,” said Hadnot.
As a lobbyist with the City of Milwaukee’s Department of Intergovernmental Relations before taking his present job, in 2001, Hadnot learned the political strategies that bring policies from concept to representative support and then to the legislative process and finally law.
These experiences have served him well as he now works between the governmental bodies and the corporate initiatives to create balance and partnerships that benefit residents, communities and customers.
“There is politics in everything we do. You find politics in relationships, business and unfortunately in education. People don’t win when politics serves itself. But you’ll find people aligned with excellent service, which is next to the bottom line of every company or organization that wins,” said Hadnot.
Hadnot’s work at the city and within AT&T’s corporate structure has enhanced his understanding of how both entities work to serve people. His penchant on retaining the company’s high consumer image and perception is uppermost and his insistence that the company understands diverse cultures, contributing factors, and the “voice” of the various communities is of equal importance. As External Affairs Director, Dextra covers 19 municipalities in Milwaukee County.
“Moving the corporate and government agenda is all about people,” Hadnot stated. “We all want a literate, educated, skilled and safe society. But what are willing to do to get that?” he questioned.
“We are well into the digital age and yet we face the task of getting people engaged in technology, which by all accounts impacts quality of life. If knowledge is power and it is accessible at the click of a mouse or by hitting the enter key on a keyboard, we need to embrace technology and begin to participate,” stated Hadnot.
An item that is high on the AT&T agenda is bridging the digital divide – expanding Internet access and tech-literacy particularly within underserved communities. Dextra continues to advocate for bridging the digital divide and encouraging high speed Internet access and computer literacy.
Leading as a corporate representative and encouraging broad participation in community-based organizations takes time and unwavering commitment. Hadnot visits schools and volunteers on many boards including the YMCA Black Achievers Steering Committee, The YMCA North Side Board of Managers, Menomonee Valley Partners Board, Milwaukee Downtown Business Improvement District #21; Wisconsin Lutheran College Pathways Advisory Committee and the Avenues West Association, among others.
The African American Chamber of Commerce, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Wauwatosa Chamber of Commerce all benefit from Hadnot’s involvement
Youth, however, are Dextra’s true passion. He comes from a family that stressed personal responsibility and striving to better self. His parents remain his models. Their resources were aligned with their generation but their strategies for advancement remain recipes for overcoming adversity.
Said Hadnot: “We have to educate, for in reality we have to fight for what’s right and when we do, that’s leadership. Winning the battles, against poverty, against racism, against poor schools or bad neighborhoods or drugs or low graduation rates or whatever holds one down takes leadership. And this leadership is what pushes politics.”
“That power is within every person who wants more…more quality schools, children who are computer literate and reading literate, and able to perform basic mathematical computations. We don’t have any excuses. If we want our children to succeed, we the parents, business leaders, city leaders and everyone else has to lead.
Our future is directly tied to our youth.”
As Hadnot speaks to youth during graduation ceremonies, career days and mentoring sessions, he reminds young people to think for themselves. “Too often, we look at others and their lives and as a result we lose personal creativity and responsibility,” he said.
“We must see ourselves as the special creation made to perform a purposeful, personal life for the benefit of our families and our communities. If we each thought that way, it’s possible that young men would not wear low pants below their butts with no belts.
“It’s also possible that we would we not have the shorts, so short that make young women unattractive rather than attractive.
“Negative images easily become reality when we lack the ability to think and understand the impact of those negative images. If our young people can’t think for themselves, or understand what being positive means, they will imitate and become negative images. I try to remind young people that it is easy to follow but it takes real leadership to think for yourself, be positive, and then have others follow you.”
Hadnot’s parents never dictated what the siblings should be, but they stressed good grades and exposures so each child was able to examine themselves, their interests and possible careers. “Our parents understood the power of education, that transformative power to become stewards of knowledge.”
Our ambassador of literacy reminded that computer literacy is the mode of operandi today. It is a priority. The jobs of the future are high tech and global in scope, all requiring increasingly demanding computer expertise.
Global competition will supercede current racial or economic disparities but we need not be left behind. We cannot be like a deer when the lights hit their eyes. We know what we must do. We know that the global economies are constantly changing.
Many youth are proficient on the computer today but we all must be, our seniors, our poor. Our libraries have computer-labs! I hope we can keep some of the libraries open for that reason. Young people can’t fail at reading. We cannot allow impoverish people to go unlearned. The middle-aged must re-educate.
“Teach everyone and lets make learning attractive again,” said Hadnot. “If we fail to catch up academically, educationally, and economically, we impede the great accomplishments of our legacy builders, our communities and our nation.
“ These recessionary years should be years for expanding our skills-base and improving education. Milwaukee has many institutions that can serve various levels of educational competency. But the challenges remain with us! We have to want it.”
Hadnot believes his greatest gifts have been: knowledge gained through experiences, role models and peers who encouraged and supported him. An education at Milwaukee Tech, an Associate of Arts Degree in General Education from MATC, followed by a Bachelors of Arts in Journalism from Marquette University, have been foundational for Hadnot.
Family has always been an important factor in his growth and his wife and children continue to inspire him today.
Spirituality was encouraged in his early years, and plays a role in decision-making and his involvement within his church, Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church, where he is an usher. The community rounds our ambassador’s life through his community, corporate and personal affiliations.
Dextra Hadnot leads! He forges partnerships and relationships! But he extols the need to do better and to be better. He is an ambassador for literacy and competency and he practices what he preaches. We commend him for his commitment to inspiring new leadership and changing the paradigm of lack!
For Dextra Hadnot, “Power is in the People.”