Gregory Cunningham is vice president of global inclusion and diversity for U.S. Bank in Minneapolis. He is also active in his community, serving as co-chair of the United Negro College Fund’s Minnesota campaign. The Pittsburgh native has a bachelor’s degree in marketing from UNCF member school Clark Atlanta University and an MBA from Fordham University. He and his wife, Jacqueline, have two children, Myles and Whitney.
What legacy are you leaving for your children and the children in your community?
I want my kids to be uncompromising in their values and beliefs. I want them to value integrity, honesty and truth. As children, we start out dreaming and believing that all things are possible for us. Over time, people and our environment condition us to believe we can’t. … I want people to hear my story and know that I learned to block out the noise and change the story I told myself about myself, and all became possible.
I lost my dad when I was 5 years old, so becoming a dad in itself was so profound for me. I learned to be so much more self-aware and self-critical. It’s so important as fathers that we set a positive example for our children and others, so I found myself reflecting differently on decisions I made and spending far more time in the mirror asking really thoughtful questions of the person staring back at me.
What insightful advice would you add about building a network?
I’m in banking, so we talk a lot about return-on-investment or ROI. I’m a big proponent on ROR — return-on-relationships. Most of the opportunities that I’ve gotten in life have come from my ability to call upon a relationship that I’d been nurturing over time. Effective relationships are the direct result of your ability to make human connections, to work across difference and build trust. These are critical skills and invaluable attributes to have in your toolbox.
Name one life lesson that no one taught you but should have.
I wish when I was younger I would have had more truth about history. I’ll never forget the moment during my college graduation from Clark Atlanta University when the speaker reminded all the parents and grandparents to share their stories and make sure the graduates understood their struggle and sacrifices. My grandmother just looked at me — the first to graduate from college — with tears in her eyes, and I just lost it. In that moment, I could feel all the floors she scrubbed and houses she cleaned for people who likely saw her as no more than “the help,” and she did all of that to experience this moment.
Describe your fatherhood culture.
As a father, I think it’s critical that my kids see me as a strong, loving and supportive figure to them, their mother and my surrounding community. That means creating an environment where the relationships are healthy and the habits, behaviors and norms I exhibit are inherently positive. I try and ensure that they live in a culture where respect is tantamount and that they understand it is far more important to be brave than perfect.