Zach Wilcha, Executive Director of The Independence Business Alliance, joins the program to discuss his journey of becoming the first ever leader of the LGBT Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia. He reveals the formative experiences that led him to a career of service, and the power of listening as a crucial leadership skill. He also shares how reading fiction has helped him as a leader and the social impact of having diverse characters featured in works of fiction.
Speaker 1: Welcome to Hidden Human, the podcast where we explore the stories behind the business leader. Get ready to hear insights from business leaders speaking candidly about how they became who they are today and the lessons they learned along the way. Now, here’s your host, leadership coach and speaker. Kelly Meerbott.
Kelly Meerbott: Welcome to the space where we reveal our own personal humanity to reconnect with our shared humanity. Again, I am filled with excitement everybody. Let’s begin our conversation with Zach Wilcha, executive director of the Independence Business Alliance and powerful human being in this world. How are you, Zach?
Zach Wilcha: I am so well. How are you, Kelly?
Kelly Meerbott: Good. I am thrilled, thrilled to be talking to you. I mean, you know you’re one of my favorite people. To be able to have you on the podcast is not only a personal honor but a … it’s also a professional joy as well. Thank you.
Zach Wilcha: Likewise. I love the work you do, and I love being part of it. I’m very excited that we’re going to be able to share the kind of conversations that we have all the time with the public.
Kelly Meerbott: Yeah, absolutely. For those of us that are not in the Philadelphia area or are not familiar with the Independence Business Alliance or the IBA. What is it?
Zach Wilcha: Sure. We are a local chamber of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce. What we do is basically, we provide opportunities, access and resources to LGBT on businesses and our visible allies. What that really means though is that my job is going to connect people and to help them find the resources they need to be their best selves, and to make their businesses grow and thrive in the environment that we’re in.
Kelly Meerbott: Yeah. I mean, just knowing you the way I know you, it’s, for me, that’s not just a job title for you, it’s something that’s in your DNA. I feel like you have a deep pull and connection to the organization even before you started. What was it about this position that called to your soul?
Zach Wilcha: To be honest, it sort of checked a lot of boxes that I was looking for in a professional position. One thing I wanted to be … I was looking for leadership opportunities in the LGBT plus community, and those are very rare to find. It really did combine a lot of my professional background. It seems like it was tailor-made for me in that it called for somebody with a business background and I’m a corporate lawyer by trade. And-
Kelly Meerbott: Which always makes me laugh because I never would equate you with that. But, okay.
Zach Wilcha: No. I take that as a compliment. Thank you.
Kelly Meerbott: It is. It is. That’s absolutely a compliment.
Zach Wilcha: [crosstalk 00:02:51]. Then. after I practiced, I worked at Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia where I did development and building up a fund-raising department for them. The particular job that I’m in right now involves a lot of development and relationship building. But it also requires a little bit of business acumen and knowing who your audience is and stating a case that I learned from my legal career. All of that together and … the other thing that really appealed to me about it was that it was the first time that this organization was going to be hiring an executive director. The challenge of taking an organization and being able to be the first person who is implementing a new vision for it really terrified and appealed to me.
Kelly Meerbott: On the personal side, what was it that spoke to you about the position. Because we, on paper, obviously professionally and aligned with everything you had, all your goals that you had for yourself, but was there something … I mean, this had to be personally connected to you in some way.
Zach Wilcha: Yeah. Well, one of the things is that I saw a tremendous opportunity that we were going to be able to make this organization into one that would be able to advocate for the LGBT plus community in a way through the lens of business. I took this job before the 2016 election. I think that that election was a turning point for the organization in that we were able to really decide to double down on what our mission was, which was to harness the power of business to not leave anybody in our community behind.
Zach Wilcha: My entire life, I feel like I’ve been drawn to service to different kind of communities. And being a member of the LGBT community, it really meant a lot to me that I was going to be able to take a leadership position in it and be able to fight for those who are in it as well.
Kelly Meerbott: Yeah. When you say fight, I mean you’re just … I always see you on social media. You’re one of my favorite people to … You’re my go-to expert in the area because you know I know that you got this analytical mind that is also tempered with this incredible heart. It’s a beautiful combination to be able to go to somebody like that, that has the information and is really telling the truth, because there a lot of … Let’s be honest, there’s a lot of shit out there that isn’t true that people are putting on social media.
Zach Wilcha: Yeah. I think that you just sort of summed something up for me that I knew that I loved about my job but I’ve never articulated, and that’s that I get to use equal parts of my brain and heart in it. That’s pretty ideal for me.
Kelly Meerbott: Yeah. I mean you are a real heart-centered leader. I loved what you said earlier that you’ve been drawn to service. I would love to explore that a little bit more. How young were you, Zach, when you first realized you were … or first came into the realm of giving back and serving other communities? I’m looking between the ages of eight and 14.
Zach Wilcha: Sure. I think I was very young. I don’t remember a specific time that something clicked for me. But at the same time, I don’t remember a time when giving back wasn’t part of my life. I think that, from my childhood, it stems from two separate things. One is that I don’t really identify in any sort of religious community now, but I was brought up in a very progressive, small town, Methodist community that the church was always giving back to others, whether it was through fundraising or drives or helping other people in the community. Or at Christmas time, we would go sing carols in long-term care facilities.
Zach Wilcha: There was always something going on that was forward-facing out to the community. It was just always a big part of my life. I think the other thing is that my family, when we were growing up, we owned a funeral home and that’s still in the family. We still own it. Even though it was a service that was being paid for, it was almost as if everybody in my family who was running the funeral home was a professional empathizer. I think that that just … whether it came through as part of my DNA or whether it was learned behavior, I think that when you are around that kind of environment, it deeply informs who you are and how you treat others.
Kelly Meerbott: Oh my gosh. I can’t agree with you more. We grew up with a family of four daughters, my sister and I in South Florida that were in the funeral home business, their dad was the same. Like, he owned several. Of course, everybody jokes that Florida is God’s waiting room, so I didn’t realize the impact it had on the daughters as humans. We grew up with these women, until my own grandparents passed, and I saw the service they provided, and experienced the service they provided to our family. So yeah, professional empathizer is … that’s, yeah, that’s exactly it.
Kelly Meerbott: I think I already know the answer, but let’s just ask the question, what did mom and dad do?
Zach Wilcha: So my parents are both educators. My mom was a librarian for years and years until she retired. She was a librarian in both our town library when we were growing up. It’s a very small town in Northeast Pennsylvania called Pikeville. My dad was a teacher and then moved into administration. He worked in an administrative unit for a bunch of schools that weren’t large enough to have school administrators. He was sort of like a principal/ transportation expert for all these smaller parochial schools.
Zach Wilcha: So education was always a … I don’t know if I could say a focus, because that wouldn’t really encapsulate just how much my family focused on our getting a good education, but it was something that was vitally important to them, and it was the center of everything when it came to how they were raising us.
Kelly Meerbott: Well, yeah. I mean, I can see the threads of that. I mean even coming through with your … I mean, since we talked about social media, you have such educated and informed opinions, that’s why you’re one of my go-tos. It’s not something like, “I saw that other person say that on Facebook and I’m just going to believe it’s true.” It’s really a well thought out approach to it. I mean, it comes through in what you do with the IBA as well. Did you have any siblings, Zach?
Zach Wilcha: Yes. Well, first of all, thank you for that. That’s a very kind thing to say. I’ve got a brother and a sister who are both younger than I am. I’m the oldest of three.
Kelly Meerbott: Oh my gosh. So if we had your brother and sister in the room with us, and I ask them questions about Zach as a child, what would they have to say?
Zach Wilcha: I think that they would say that I was highly opinionated, for sure. I was and still am.
Kelly Meerbott: Shock.
Zach Wilcha: Yeah. They would say that I was outspoken but probably soft-spoken. I think that they would always say that I was very involved with a lot of different things, which I was. I was highly involved with music things. I was a cross-country runner. I was always trying to overachieve. I don’t think I was ever bored as a kid. There was always something that was happening. They’d probably call me stubborn, but I think that they would also say that I was always speaking up for what I believed.
Kelly Meerbott: Do you have a concrete example of the first time you spoke out for what you believed? I mean, I would love to hear a story about that. I’m imagining little Zach in my head. It’s moments like this when I wish I grew up near you, so I could at least experienced you then.
Zach Wilcha: Let’s see. A story from when I first spoke up. I don’t know that I have a story for when I first did, but I can tell you almost certainly what my behavior was modeled on. My grandfather, the one who ran the funeral home, was just an institution in our hometown. He was a guy who dropped out of high school and got his GED eventually, and went right into the Navy and fought in World War II in Korea.
Zach Wilcha: I just saw the way that he was treated in our hometown, that when people … when he would enter a room, that people would stop talking, and they would be just moved by his presence when he came in. He was somebody whose opinions everybody took seriously, because he was a professional empathizer and had dealt with people in such an intimate level. People really loved and enjoyed being around him after that.
Zach Wilcha: That was always … I think that it clicked with me at one point that like whenever I went anywhere with him, the way that he was treated was like that’s the way that I want to be respected and treated some day. I think that what he did so well is he couched his opinions in a tone where people would listen to him and engage with what he was saying, and wouldn’t be necessarily speaking at people, but with people. Then, he was always such a good listener as well.
Zach Wilcha: I can’t think of a time when I … when it first clicked with me, and that could be just because I was raised to always believe that what I was saying had value. My parents are incredible about that. My parents divorced when I was very young, but they both had a very equal hand in raising me. I was joked that … There’s a Tina Fey quote where she says that her parents raised her with self-confidence that was disproportionate to her looks and abilities, and that’s perfect because that’s what all parents should be doing. That’s what my parents did, so I was always just very outspoken, because I believe that what I was saying had value thanks to what they taught me.
Kelly Meerbott: That’s amazing. I mean it’s just … You’re like this unflappable person when you believe in something and it’s speaking about your grandfather walking into the room and everybody paying attention. I mean, if you’re in a room and Zach enters, you can feel his presence because he’s a force, and you know things are going to change for the better when he’s around. It’s just one of those things that you can’t put your finger on and not everybody has it, but it’s very special and unique to him. So I mean, I really love that. Is your grandfather still alive, Zach?
Zach Wilcha: He is not. I do not have any more grandparents.
Kelly Meerbott: I don’t either.
Zach Wilcha: He was the last one that we lost. That was in 2015, and it was a difficult loss, but he had also lived 93 years. We shared a special connection, because we have the same birthday, so that was always … I was given one of those horoscope birthday books for Christmas when I was very young and they tell you your personality based on the day that you were born. So it always just sort of made sense to me that this is somebody whose personality that I probably had a big part of because we shared that same day. It all might be nonsense, but it was a meaningful connection for me.
Kelly Meerbott: I don’t believe it’s nonsense. I think that that’s just a sweet connection. When you can find those connections, that’s what makes life worth living, you know? I remember when your grandfather passed because mine passed shortly after, I think.
Zach Wilcha: Right.
Kelly Meerbott: You and I both had a rough year in 2015.
Zach Wilcha: Yes.
Kelly Meerbott: Do you think your grandfather is proud of what you’ve created in your life and in your business world?
Zach Wilcha: I think so, yeah. I mean, I was able to get well into my late 30s with a grandfather there. He saw what I was doing and was always very proud of the fact that I had graduated from law school and had been doing pretty well and all of that. He was still aware when he knew that I left the legal profession and wanted to set out and try to do something a little bit more meaningful to me and always supported that as well, and know from what my mom tells me that he was talking about the things that my siblings, cousins and I did constantly, so I think that we were a major source of pride in his life.
Kelly Meerbott: Yeah, I mean I think he’s probably whatever you subscribe to. I think he’s probably looking down and smiling that you’re continuing his work as part professional empathizer, part outspoken advocate. I mean, there’s no better combination than that in my opinion, but …
Zach Wilcha: Thank you. Yes, I hope he is.
Kelly Meerbott: Yeah. Yeah. When you’re working with different business leaders, Zach, what do you think are like the best qualities and behaviors of a really impactful leader?
Zach Wilcha: I think one thing that I’ve learned specifically from this job is that listening is leading. When I’m speaking to people, I’m always, especially since I’ve gotten this job, I’m always attuned to what they are doing when I’m speaking, if they’re listening to me or if they’re trying to figure out what the next thing that they’re going to say is. I try to direct conversations in such a way that they’re actual conversations, and not just sound bites that are spit at each other.
Kelly Meerbott: Yeah.
Zach Wilcha: I think another thing is I really appreciate curiosity in leaders. I think when leaders are curious about a number of things, whether it’s how their businesses can be better, how they can be better, how the world can be better, I think when they’re answering those questions for themselves, they’re answering like what it means to be a leader in their profession.
Kelly Meerbott: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah.
Zach Wilcha: There’s all the things like truth, integrity, honesty, expertise. I think that those words are important if maybe overused a little bit, but I think that leaders who listen and can make real connections are the ones who are the most impactful.
Kelly Meerbott: I agree with you. I mean, if you’ve ever … I forget who wrote the book but it’s called Listening is an Act of Love. It really is true, because we don’t listen to each other anymore. I mean, and look at the average adult’s attention span. I think it’s like down to three seconds. So having a meaningful conversation is a rare thing these days. When you can, it’s like you got to hold on to it, I mean, which is the whole reason why I have this podcast.
Zach Wilcha: Right, which I love. Yes.
Kelly Meerbott: Yeah.
Zach Wilcha: I mean it’s so necessary. I think that … and you know this because you do so much networking and you speak to so many business leaders and you are in … you’re always in the room where it’s happening, but conversations in those rooms can be repetitive and turn into clichés, and it takes concentration to make sure that the conversations that you’re having are real and authentic and not just something that you’re fumbling your way through and going with the motions.
Zach Wilcha: I do all the time. I’m not just preaching here and telling other people what they need to do. Like, it’s a struggle every time I go to a networking event to remember that you have to be present for each of those conversations, because it’s very difficult to do.
Kelly Meerbott: It is. It is. I mean, for me, one of the advice I give my clients when I’m working with them about networking, especially the ones that are introverts, is that don’t go in thinking you need to meet a hundred people. Go in and have three to five really good connected conversations, because that’s really what’s going to move the needle forward for both of you. When I was interviewing Tiffany Tavarez for this podcast, we were talking about how much we hate the question that everybody asks at networking events, and it’s, “What do you do?”
Zach Wilcha: What do you do? Right.
Kelly Meerbott: I’ve actually flipped that and I’ll ask people what their favorite hobby is, because I think it’s a lot more informative of who they are as a human. So let me flip that question on you, what’s your favorite hobby, Zach?
Zach Wilcha: Gosh. My favorite hobby is, if we’re being honest, is probably reading. Like I mentioned before, my mom is a librarian, and that was just always something that … I was raised in libraries. I was always given a book, and always my instinct was to pick up a book if I were bored. Now, I read fiction. I try to read what averages out to a book a week. For the past couple of years, I read somewhere between 50 and 60 books a year that are fiction, that are outside of any sort of professional education, because I really do like the world of fiction. I love that.
Zach Wilcha: And this all comes back to empathizing as well. I think that people who read fiction can empathize in ways that those who do not read fiction can. You learn about people’s experiences, [crosstalk 00:20:27], everything.
Kelly Meerbott: I’m a total nerd, too. I was an English lit major, so I read all the time. I read probably about 50 or 60 business books a year. I don’t read as much fiction as I would like to, but I think about my favorite book, To Kill a Mockingbird, and I can dive into that. I don’t care how many times I’ve read it, and just get lost and really loving the character development and the storyline. What’s your favorite book, Zach?
Zach Wilcha: That’s one of them. I really do like To Kill a Mockingbird. What I love about To Kill a Mockingbird, too, is that there’s so many new readings of that book now where you can have this conversation about the honesty and integrity and the values of Atticus Finch, while at the same time really examining whether he is just a white savior that’s placed into literature to save the people around him, and how fair that is. Those are my favorite kind of books where you can have people disagreeing about it, and having really civilized discourse on what literature that was written means for right now. I love that.
Zach Wilcha: My favorite book ever is probably East of Eden by John Steinbeck. It’s a doorstop, but it’s a modern retelling … well, modern for the time … modern retelling of Genesis that’s at once is like a big family drama. I love family sagas that go on for generations, and this has basically everything in it. I love it.
Kelly Meerbott: Yeah, well and John Steinbeck, I mean he’s famous for the Christlike figure in his fiction, which is amazing. I mean, I could read The Pearl and The Grapes of Wrath I mean over and over and over again. It’s so funny. I’m so naïve. I’m like maybe this time he’ll get the pearl, and everything will be okay, and it never is.
Zach Wilcha: One of the things that I like to do is read young adult LGBT literature, because it did not exist when I was a young adult so I love going back and reading the books that would’ve meant a lot to me if they were present when I was in high school or middle school. I think that it’s a really cool way to sort of engage with the LGBT side of everything that I do.
Kelly Meerbott: Yeah. I actually wanted to ask you about that, too, because I was having a discussion with Ryan Lewis, who’s one of my favorite SoulCycle instructors, this morning, and we were talking about I Love Simon, and how he’s like this is a coming-out story that’s the main part of the story. It’s not a side story. It’s a big budget film. We were talking about how both of us are really committed to going to see that movie and spending our dollars there because both of you … we all know that our dollars cast a vote regardless, so …
Zach Wilcha: It does, yeah.
Kelly Meerbott: But how it’s-
Zach Wilcha: My boyfriend and I were able to see a sneak preview of it, and we’ll probably go see it again because we want to go out and make sure that we are giving dollars to this, because we want more stories like that to be centered. And we want the next stories about that to be exploring more lives in the LGBT spectrum about people of color, about different gender expressions, that there’s endless possibilities into the stories that people can tell about the LGBTQ community.
Zach Wilcha: Simon is just scratching the surface, and it’s wonderful. You should definitely go see it. It is revolutionary in its simplicity in just making sure that the LGBT coming-out/falling in love story is the one that is centered, and that is being marketed, and that is the one that people will leave remembering.
Zach Wilcha: It’s basically like a John Hughes movie except the lead is gay, pretty powerful. It’s strange that it’s 2018 and that’s the first time that it’s in a mass-market release, but I’m grateful that it’s happening. I imagine what this movie would’ve meant to me as a 16-year-old.
Kelly Meerbott: What would it have meant to you as a 16-year-old?
Zach Wilcha: I think that everybody loves to see their stories being told. As much as I love to read fiction and to explore the lives of others, and to explore places that I’ve never been and places that I want to go, there’s something very powerful about seeing you, your feelings, your values represented in fiction, whether it’s in literature or movies or television. And representation is important. It provides you with value. You know that you are valued when you are represented somewhere.
Zach Wilcha: I think if more LGBT media were available to 16-year-old me, I might’ve come out at an earlier time, or I might’ve been more able to process the feelings that I had and assign words to them. It was just something that I think that I was not able to do until I was able to do it.
Kelly Meerbott: Yeah. No. I mean, it’s so funny, because I constantly talk to people about the limited vocabulary we have around situations like this. I mean, even … because it is so experiential and it’s so individual, so how do you put verbiage behind that? You can’t. So to have something that is … I don’t know … the vehicle to really bridge the gap between that is fantastic. You’re right, at 2018. I mean, as soon as you said that, I thought about Lady Gaga’s song Come to Mama where she was like we’re talking the same old shit after all these years. It’s like, Jesus Christ, when are we going to catch up, you know?
Zach Wilcha: Yeah, it’s a trope, but I mean the fact that we’re able to point to so many examples now is a good thing. I think that shifting political landscapes, which we could have an entire podcast series about you and I speaking about, we … I think that in times when there are these shifting political landscapes, some art of people who … [inaudible 00:26:37] artistically in ways to rise above the clatter that’s happening. This is one small example of that.
Zach Wilcha: My hope is that everybody who goes and sees something like Love, Simon would do a really deep dig on more experiences through literature or through movies or through TV in the LGBT spectrum, and they’ll find those stories that … You know, Simon is a white, cisgendered male, and that may lead somebody to learning more about the trans experience down the line, or how barriers exist for LGBTQ, people of color that don’t for white people necessarily. So, like I said, my hope is that this is the snowball that starts to avalanche.
Kelly Meerbott: Yeah. I agree with you. I think Black Panther’s doing the same thing, which is another spectacular movie, and it’s creating dialogue around things that we need to be talking about. Well, so you’ve shared a lot of powerful stories and experiences today, Zach. To sum it all up, how do you leverage the collective experience you’ve had up onto this point in the work that you do today?
Zach Wilcha: That’s a great question. I guess the … like my collective experience is, like I said, growing up in a small hometown where things were very service-oriented, having the family that I did, being privileged to grow up in a place where my education was valued and centered. And I didn’t mention this before, but I went to college at a Jesuit school in Philadelphia, St. Joe’s.
Kelly Meerbott: I didn’t know that.
Zach Wilcha: Yeah. One of the things that I loved about St. Joe’s is that the Jesuits have a motto that you should be a man or woman for others. There’s quibbles that I have with how college went and what I could’ve done better but the one thing that I graduated with was the imprint on me that you have to be a man and a woman for others.
Zach Wilcha: My job actually provides the perfect opportunity to do that. We can lead by fighting for business equality, which leads to other kinds of equality for the LGBT community. I really like that I get to be an example that people look to. I inherited a wonderful organization that had been around for nine years, but really hadn’t made any steps towards meaningful diversity. So I was able to come in here and make plans to expand our women in business department, and create a series of programs called intersections where we center and celebrate people from different ethnic and racial backgrounds who are in the LGBT community in business, and starting a young professionals program, and then also doing something called TransWork, where we’re going to be trying to find jobs that match what our trans community needs, which is so much right now. We need to have more businesses that are trans-competent and trans-friendly that are going to hire and maintain a trans workforce.
Zach Wilcha: So just being able to inherit a community that was ready to do the work and then being able to steer that ship as we do it, I could’ve never dreamed in high school or college that this is something that could happen. There’s no aptitude test that you take in college where the job that I have comes up with as a result that’s a possibility.
Kelly Meerbott: I know, mine either.
Zach Wilcha: I’m just so excited and honored every day that I get to do it, that this kind of job even exists. It’s its own small miracle. Then the fact that it exists, and that it found its way to me, and that I was able to snag it and then make it my own, it’s a dream come true.
Kelly Meerbott: It is. You know what, it’s one of those moments in life that I feel grateful that I actually get to stand back and watch you create. A couple weeks ago, I was doing an ecourse for a certification that I’m working on. I had to do five minutes on service. So being the nerd that I am, I researched the etymology of the word service. It means to save. I think about the work that you and I do, and maybe this is arrogant to say but I’m just going to say it, I think that the work that you and I do saves the world in a small way.
Kelly Meerbott: I think that there are opportunities out there where you can create something, like what you and I are doing, and it can really make a positive impact on the world. I’m just grateful to be in your orbit and to watch what you’re doing. I mean I think what you’re doing is amazing. You’ve got an incredible board, of course, and an incredible organization that supports you, but to be part of it and to be … bear witness to your life’s work is a true honor, Zach.
Zach Wilcha: Likewise. I love the work that you do. I’m so happy that you’ve been a supporter of mine ever since I started this job. Just going back to what you said about feeling a little arrogant for saying that, I think one of the things that I learned from this job is that in addition to needing constant recharging because you’re always on and you’re always talking to people, I’m allowed maybe once a week, maybe every month or so to give myself permission to believe that the work I’m doing is good and valuable, and that I need to be doing it.
Zach Wilcha: You’re allowed to be arrogant for a little bit and sort of pat yourself on the back for the job that you’re doing, because if you’re proud of what you’re doing, you should be able to express that in some way, even if it’s to yourself, even if it’s that moment that sort of recharges you and says, “What I’m doing is valuable and worthy, and I need to keep doing it.”
Kelly Meerbott: Hey, Zach?
Zach Wilcha: Yes.
Kelly Meerbott: What you’re doing is valuable and worthy, and you need to keep doing it.
Zach Wilcha: And same to you. Same to you.
Kelly Meerbott: Okay. I usually like to end the interviews, before we go to your contact information, with like a couple rapid fire questions.
Zach Wilcha: Great.
Kelly Meerbott: Are you ready?
Zach Wilcha: I am.
Kelly Meerbott: What’s your favorite comfort food?
Zach Wilcha: My favorite comfort food, I’m going to say mac and cheese. I think I get mac and cheese whenever it’s available at a restaurant. I love to try to test them everywhere. I love that it’s this dish that like everybody, every home has its own spin on, and you can even experiment with it in your own life and just sort of like add what you want to it however you’re feeling. I don’t know. It always makes me feel good. It’s also something that I grew up with, so it’s nice to revisit the feelings that you grew up with.
Kelly Meerbott: Yeah. It’s like an internal lull, like just hug, I feel like. Okay. What books are on your nightstand?
Zach Wilcha: Oh gosh. Let’s see. The book that I’m reading right now is actually this Australian murder mystery called Force of Nature that’s pretty fun. I know that coming up for me is going to be two books that have LGBT characters, one is going to be The Sparsholt Affair by Alan Hollinghurst, who’s a famous gay, British author. Another one is by a Nigerian author who went to Harvard who wrote Beasts of No Nation. It’s called Speak No Evil, and it’s another LGBT story. Like I said, I love to dive into LGBT stories in fiction. I’m going to look on Goodreads right now. I have a to-be-read pile that’s like hundreds of books long. It will also depend on what becomes available at the Philadelphia free library, which I encourage all Philadelphians to use if they can. It’s a tremendous resource.
Kelly Meerbott: I mean, the free library … and I was going to say this before … is I’m surprised they don’t throw me out because I love going in there and smelling the books. I think you know what I’m talking about, like that smell. This one librarian kind of caught me and like looked over her glasses at me and I was like, “Okay. I’m going to slowly put the book down and back away. Trust me, I’m okay.” So what songs are on your playlist right now?
Zach Wilcha: Right now, I am getting back into running, as it’s getting a little bit springier. So my playlists are a little bit higher tempo, but what I will do is I’ll confess something really nerdy that I’ve been doing lately is that in college and high school, I was very involved with different choruses that I was in. I’ve been looking up the old songs that we did on YouTube and on Spotify and seeing if I remember the parts that I sang in them. So I guess the answer to that is very nerdy research on the best songs, the choruses in high school and colleges do.
Kelly Meerbott: Okay. Give me an example of one of them, one of those-
Zach Wilcha: Oh gosh. One that I was just listening to was Make Our Garden Grow. It’s a Leonard Bernstein song from Candide. It’s really beautiful and you should find it and listen to it. It’s good.
Kelly Meerbott: I will. Or maybe you could send me your favorite version and I’ll listen to it.
Zach Wilcha: I will do that.
Kelly Meerbott: Okay. Last question, what are you most grateful for in this moment right now?
Zach Wilcha: That’s a very good question. I mean, I have an abundance of things to be thankful for, and I think that, and I hope this isn’t a cop out in saying it, I think just the capacity to understand that I’m at a point where I’m able to feel grateful for so many things, and for the perspective that I probably would not have understood years before this. I’m grateful that I understand why I can be grateful.
Kelly Meerbott: I mean that’s the perfect answer, because it just is. It is. It is. I mean, there’s no reason to judge it. It’s exactly how you’re feeling right now. So for anybody who’s interested in getting involved or maybe coming to an IBA event, what’s the best way to find out information about the IBA?
Zach Wilcha: Sure. Well, Kelly, as you know, we love to have new people come to our events. We have different faces all the time, as well as a core of regular folks like you and a bunch of our friends, but I would encourage people to go to www.thinkiba.com. That’s think, as in T-H-I-N-K I-B-A, B as in boy, and find the list of our events that we have going on.
Zach Wilcha: We have so much going on now through the summer, and with the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, their big conference coming to town in August, we are going to be busier than ever and we’re going to have more and more kick off events that are going to celebrate the fact that they’re coming here. We’re thrilled.
Kelly Meerbott: I am so excited for that. I mean, I just bought my ticket. It’s going to be NGLCC is coming into Philly and taking over. I love it.
Zach Wilcha: Absolutely.
Kelly Meerbott: Zach, thank you so much for having an authentic conversation with me. And for our listeners, it’s our intention that this conversation inspires you to go out and get real and to deepen the connections in your life through authentic conversation and listening. Thanks so much. Make it a great day.
Zach Wilcha: Thank you, Kelly. Talk soon.
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