Cynt Marshall: My mother had a saying: “It’s not where you live, it’s how you live.” She instilled in us that we could do big things, and we could go to big places, and we had to keep the Lord first. And I know that’s where my grit and optimism comes from. I just rely on God. It’s as simple as that.
When God Is For Us, No One Can Stand Against Us: Cynt Marshall and Samuel Rodriguez – Episode #323
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. All of us have faced times in our lives that felt like a battle. Maybe you’ve had moments of disappointment and pain where you felt like no one understood you, or you had no support system. Perhaps someone hurt you with their words or planted a seed of doubt in your mind that you’d never get to where you want to be in life, and that trying to reach for more would be impossible. Here’s some comforting news: we’re not alone when we face battles in our lives. We’re not left to fight by ourselves. God is greater than whatever we’re facing and He has promised He will never leave us.
Our guests this week held on to the promise that they could stand strong in God’s power when people or circumstances might have crushed their spirits. Samuel Rodriguez experienced situations in his young life where discrimination threatened to divert him from the path he was meant to follow to become a pastor, author, movie producer, and advisor to three of the last four U.S. presidents. Cynt Marshall endured the abuse and abandonment of her father, but her faith in the Lord and the guidance of her mother led her to thrive despite her circumstances, ultimately becoming a highly successful business woman and the CEO of the Dallas Mavericks NBA franchise.
Let’s begin with Cynt’s story.
Cynt Marshall: I am Cynt Marshall. I am a wife of one and the mother of four. I am the CEO of the Dallas Mavericks. I am also the CEO of Marshalling Resources, my own consulting company, and a former executive at AT&T and a passionate community leader, primarily in the education and adoption space.
My parents left Birmingham, Alabama, when I was three months old. They made a decision to move out west and get out of the Jim Crow segregated South. So my parents moved to the San Francisco Bay area. We landed in the Easter Hill public housing projects. I have three sisters and two brothers, so the eight of us were in a four-bedroom kind of deluxe unit in the projects. And I actually think I had a good childhood. Some people hear about some of the things that I experienced with domestic violence. My mother was a victim of domestic violence. Many of her children, including myself, were as well at the hands of my father.
When I was fifteen, the summer after my mother had told him they were going to get a divorce, my father broke my nose. And I remember when we came back to our deluxe unit in the projects, he had taken just about everything.
My mother kept me very focused, and she kept my brother and sister very focused as well—because there were three of us still at home—and I went back to school with that brace on my nose. It was a pivotal point in my life because three teachers and a principal embraced me and embraced my mother, which is why I truly love educators to this day. They embraced me and got me involved in all kinds of activities, and the rest is history. I got all these scholarships to the college of my choice. I chose the University of California at Berkeley, and not because it’s the number-one public institution in the world, but because it was close to home.
I witnessed a lot of things growing up. I call it “the good, the bad, the great, and the ugly.” But fortunately for me, I had a mother who put two books in my hand: an early math book in one hand and a Bible in the other. And that told me if I kept my head in these two books, I would make it.
Dream, Focus, Pray, and Act
My mother and these people in my life taught me the meaning of four words, and taught me to focus on four words. And I still live by those: dream, focus, pray, and act.
I had some pretty big dreams. I remember my sixth grade teacher, Miss Patricia Rosen. I was a student of the month, and she would always take the student of the month on a trip on a Saturday. I have vivid memories of her taking me to San Francisco, which was across the Bay Bridge, and then to Zap Hamburgers. It was the first time I had a big, medium-rare hamburger. I didn’t even know you could make hamburgers like that. And she took me to see My Fair Lady, and it was the first time I had been in a big theater and all that. The trip to San Francisco across the bridge, being in that restaurant with her, going into that big theater with the big curtains, I can still see it. It was just a world that I had never been in.
And so I was like, “Okay, I’m going to be Miss Rosen.” She was just exposing me to all kinds of things, and what she told me when I told her I want to be like her was, “No, you’re going to be you.”
When I was the first Black and female senior class president, that was because when I was in the ninth grade, my two older sisters graduated from high school when I was a freshman. And I remember sitting at that graduation, and there were two white gentlemen on the stage, the student body president and the senior class president. And so I asked my mom at the graduation, I said, “Can Black girls be up on the stage? Can Black girls be senior class president and student body president?”
She just looked and she said, “Yes.”
And I said, “I can do that.”
She said, “Of course, you can do whatever you want to do.”
I always saw myself as the person to help everybody and to provide resources and to be there for people. I remember a prayer I had as a teenager when I started college. I asked the Lord to bless me, to have a good job one day, and to have money so that I could help people and I could write checks to charities and I could help people do things.
“I always saw myself as the person to help everybody and to provide resources and to be there for people.” – Cynt Marshall
When It Comes to Leadership, Listen, Learn, and Love
My first big job was supervising operators, and I was twenty-one years old. Most of these operators in my particular group had thirty-plus years, mostly with the company. And so I walked in and I let them know the obvious. “I don’t know any of this, okay? I’ve never worked there before. I’m fresh out of college.” But my job was to serve them, and so I needed them to help me learn the job, and I would be their advocates and make sure they had a great work life. So that’s how I started out at twenty-one years old.
I was on a fast-track management program, but I wanted to assure them it wasn’t like “hit and run.” I wasn’t just there to check off this particular supervisory job—I was really all in with these people. I just fell in love with them, and they fell in love with me, and we ended up with the best results. The best results ever came out of our shop, because these ladies had figured out how to look out for each other, how to be treated with respect, how to really take teamwork to the next level. I learned from them, and I loved these ladies. I wanted them to be happy. And so it was all about the people. Everything I do now is based on what I learned from these people when I was twenty-one years old.
My leadership philosophy is around three Ls, and it’s listen to, learn from, and love the people. I have realized in my time as a leader—and I kind of realized it early on when I started with the company, with AT&T—there are different levels of listening. But if I listen at the level I’m truly trying to understand—not listening to respond, not listening to argue, not listening to form my counterpoints, but truly listen to people, not just hear them, listen to their needs, listen to what they want, listen to their desires—if I do that well, if I learn from the people who are doing the work, truly learn from them—when I had a big district manager job at AT&T, that was my first really big kind of director role, executive role in the company. And I ended up going to pole climbing school, and the union could not believe that. In fact, they were so excited about it, they came to my last day when I had to climb the pole and do the trek, pass the tests and all that. And they were clapping and all that. They couldn’t believe that I did that. And I did it because I really wanted to learn about what all these folks were doing. I wanted to experience it.
“My leadership philosophy is around three Ls, and it’s listen to, learn from, and love the people.” – Cynt Marshall
When God Closes a Door, He Opens a Window
When I joined the Mavericks, it was as a result of getting some text messages and a call from Mark Cuban, who I did not know at the time—please don’t judge me—but my husband had to tell me who Mark Cuban was. He knew that I had done some work at AT&T, was a leader there, and had worked in a lot of different jobs. And my name came to him highly recommended as someone who could probably help him address his culture and lead his organization on the business side. And he was very sincere and genuine about wanting to change the culture and address the issues, the issues that he knew of. But he knew that we needed to dig more into it. The NBA had an investigation underway. Of course, after I joined, we ended up doing our own investigation as well. But what I told Mark I would do is pray about it, because I didn’t know anything about the business of basketball.
This was about, I think, nine or ten months into me starting my consulting company and doing the work I was doing with Dow and getting ready to pick up some other big clients. And so my business was going extremely well and I was very, very happy. But the week before Mark had called me, my husband and I had decided we were going to move actually back to North Carolina, where I had worked for a few years. And the Lord just told us to call off the house move, and we didn’t know why. We truly didn’t know why. And so then when Mark started talking to him and I said I’d go home and pray about it, and then when I was leaving his office, these two women stopped me and started telling me their stories, just pleading with me to come and join this team and lead them. I just started thinking about the fact that we had called off the move. Maybe this was the reason.
I had written a blog and posted it that morning about impact, and it was because these teenagers were protesting in Parkland, Florida about gun violence because of what happened at their school. And then the Reverend Dr. Billy Graham had passed away that morning. And, of course, I’m looking at these teenagers and this ninety-nine-year-old, and I’m thinking about both of these, this group of teenagers and this preacher who had a great impact. And so here I found myself smack dab in the middle age wise, and thought, What impact am I going to have?
I came home. I prayed about it. I thought about the fact that the house move had been called off and it all came together to let me know, Yes, this is the next move. This is where the Lord wants me to have impact right now. I don’t know for how long, but this is what He wants me to do.
And so the next day, I came back to meet with Mark, and I was in the building for three hours before he even knew that I was in the building. Because when I walked in, people just grabbed me. They took me in a conference room, and they were just filing in one by one, two by two, just telling me a different story. I knew I had made the right decision.
And basically the way—I think there’s a recipe. I didn’t transform the Dallas Mavericks. I think our whole team did, because our recipe was we laid out a vision that said we would set the global standard for diversity and inclusion in the NBA. We changed out most of our leadership team, and so we went from no women or people of color in permanent leadership positions to 50% women and 50% people of color. So our workplace promises every voice matters and everybody belongs. And so that’s what we established. Every day we try to just get better and better. I mean, we are not by any means perfect, but at least we are not the organization that we were four years ago. And that is a credit to all the amazing people who work at the Dallas Mavericks and who decided they would be all in on this. So I’m very blessed to lead these people.
Facing Adversity and Trusting That God Has a Plan
We’re all equipped to face the adversity and the unexpected things that come into our lives.
There is a village, a community of people who are there to help get you up and to help you get through it. And with faith in God and with standing on His promises, you can truly thrive—not just get through it, but truly thrive through the unexpected. Because we have all been chosen to go through something.
“With faith in God and with standing on His promises, you can truly thrive—not just get through it, but truly thrive through the unexpected.” – Cynt Marshall
When people are in need, whether it’s physical, mental, emotional need, I ask them if it’s okay if I send them something. And Jesus Calling is the book that I send. I love this book. I have given this book to so many people. It is my go-to book, truly.
I was diagnosed with Stage III colon cancer, one lymph node before Stage IV, back in December 2010. Pretty bleak prognosis. I just had my fifty-first birthday, and now I’m told I have colon cancer. Once I got diagnosed, it was hard to hear. It truly was an out-of-body experience. And then I had to start laying out a plan, what I needed to do, all of that just to kind of get my mind right so I could tackle this.
Going through chemo was very hard for me. My mind was functioning well prior to chemo brain, but my body wasn’t. There are times in our lives where He will let us know He is truly in charge. And when He brings us through it, we can’t point to anybody else because there is no doubt that He brought us through it, because He had a plan. It was not easy to yield. At some point just because of physical weakness, you know, it’s easy to just kind of give up because you just have to pass out. But mentally, it’s hard not to be in control. And so I let Him be in control, and then I let Him guide my steps on what was the plan.
It was a horrendous battle for me, but thank God I made it. It was extremely hard not to be in charge because I’ve always had a plan. And so I learned a very valuable lesson about even with the skills that I have, what am I equipped to do, the talents that I have, the success that I’ve had, all of that, that it all came from Him and He is in control and still things do happen. And that’s one of the life lessons that I’ve learned is bad things do happen to good people. And so we have to accept adversity and never give up and let the Lord guide us through it.
“I’ve learned bad things do happen to good people. And so we have to accept adversity and never give up and let the Lord guide us through it.” – Cynt Marshall
It’s good that I can just know that one day, all the trouble will be worth it. One day I will see Him face to face. But even before then, I can just turn to Him right now, knowing that He is very present help in my trouble right now. It’s good to have that kind of reassurance: that I don’t have to fight my battles myself, that I don’t have to travel the tough terrain alone, that I have Him with me every step of the way.
Narrator: You can find Cynt Marshall’s book, You’ve Been Chosen, wherever books are sold. Stay with us for Samuel Rodriguez’s story, after this brief message.
When We’re Looking for Hope, Jesus Listens
Sometimes life can be really stressful, whether it’s personal difficulties or world issues that make us feel overwhelmed. When we’re looking for hope and connection amid struggle, God is still there, ready for us to turn to him in prayer.
That’s why Sarah Young wrote Jesus Listens: to deliver a message of peace, love and hope to her readers every day. Jesus Listens is a 365-day prayer devotional with short, heartfelt prayers based on scripture, written to deepen your relationship with God.
Narrator: Samuel Rodriguez wears many hats: pastor, author, movie producer, and advisor to three of the last four U.S. presidents. He shares about the struggles he faced as a young high school student when discrimination reared its ugly head against him, and how he drew strength from his family’s resolve to not be defined by what others thought they could do or be—instead, relying on the truth of God’s promise that “everything is possible for those who believe.”
Samuel Rodriguez: I’m Samuel Rodriguez: lead pastor of New Season Church in Sacramento, California, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, movie producer, author, evangelical, Trekkie, and diehard Yankee fan.
I was raised in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. I’m a native of Pennsylvania in the Lehigh Valley, the old Rust Belt. And I was born in a very working class neighborhood, which impacted my Calvinistic work ethic. My dad was a MAC truck worker, a UAW guy. My mom was a homemaker. I was raised in a very religious, faith-based, saturated community with a strong work ethic, a commitment to both faith and science.
High school sophomore year, I had a meeting with my guidance counselor who looked at me and, in spite of the fact that I was enrolled in a number of honors courses, in spite of the fact that I demonstrated throughout my educational journey in elementary, middle school, and my early years of high school, a commitment to both mathematics and science—I was in advanced calculus and so forth—my guidance counselor explicitly stated, “Sam, your kind of people proceed for the eleventh and twelfth grade vocational training, which means you’re going to have to choose one of the following careers: auto mechanic or carpentry. Those are the two primary career paths for your kind of people.”
I went back home and explained it to my mom, who of course pushed back and repudiated and rebuked every single descriptor, nomenclature assigned to me for my guidance counselor. And we proceeded in a college preparatory journey, and it enabled us to accomplish what we’re currently accomplishing or achieving for the grace of God, by the grace of God, and for His namesake.
I did experience racism, discriminatory practices, but we did not permit these issues to define us. We had an option whether or not we would be perpetual victims, or whether or not we would utilize that negative energy for the purpose of flipping the script and achieving things that we had not achieved before in our family legacy life. And by the grace of God alone, we’ve been able to do the latter. We’ve been able to occupy spaces that in our family, we have not occupied before, and we know that it’s just the beginning that our children, our children’s children, will do greater things. Love expels fear. Mercy triumphs over judgment. All things are possible.
“Love expels fear. Mercy triumphs over judgment. All things are possible.” – Samuel Rodrigez
The National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference
The National Hispanic Christian Ownership Conference is the Hispanic Evangelical Association, started in 1992 in its first incarnation as the Alliance of Evangelical Churches for the Latino Community. We are this wonderful network committed to life, religious liberty, and biblical justice. We aim to reconcile Billy Graham’s message of salvation with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s thirst for justice. We had this crazy dream that the church can be both Billy Graham and Dr. King, and that it can be both righteousness and justice, truth and love, sanctification and service, conviction and compassion, orthodoxy and orthopraxy, the ethos and pathos.
“We had this crazy dream that the church can be both Billy Graham and Dr. King, and that it can be both righteousness and justice, truth and love, sanctification and service, conviction and compassion.” – Samuel Rodriguez
We believe the cross is both vertical and horizontal when, for too long, Christians in America and in the Western world have created a dichotomy that does not exist, which means that the majority of Christians are either vertical or horizontal, but very few have reconciled the vertical with the horizontal.
So if you look at the cross as two pieces of wood, one vertical and horizontal, the strongest part of the cross is the nexus. The point of convergence where they intersect. This is the place where we marry the optics of redemption with the metrics of reconciliation. This is the place where the fishes meet the bread, and that’s where covenant and community come together, where we lift up our hands in worship to Jesus and we stretch our hands across both to the left and to the right in compassion to our fellow man. That’s the mission and the vision of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.
“If you look at the cross as two pieces of wood, one vertical and horizontal, the strongest part of the cross is the nexus. The point of convergence where they intersect. This is the place where we marry the optics of redemption with the metrics of reconciliation.” – Samuel Rodriguez
We’ve had the opportunity to serve three presidents: George W. Bush, President Obama, and President Trump, and serving them on a plethora of issues. So with integrity, we proceed in kind. We walk into the White House, to the West Wing. We have conversations regarding subjects that have great implications regarding stability, regarding life, regarding religious liberty, regarding biblical justice, be it immigration reform, educational justice, justice reform issues, and so forth. Alleviating poverty around the world. We’ve participated in all the aforementioned conversations and areas that required spiritual, faith-based engagement. We walk into the White House and afterwards we get a Starbucks and remember that it’s a conversation, that you’re there by the grace of God, that you do things with humility, and pray that every word that comes out of your mouth is a productive word that unifies and brings people together.
The Spirit of God Says All Things Are Possible
Daily prayers and devotions are an integral part, if not the most critical part, of who I am and what I do. It is a beautiful exercise I engage in every single day. And in full disclosure, without that exercise, without prayer, without devotions, I can’t continue. And so every single day, pray. The Word of God, listen for His voice, which more often than not comes to you in a very still small voice, a whisper.
I’m praying for three things. It’s 1 Peter 1:16: “God, make us holy.” John 17:21: “God, make us one,” which is a unity. I’m asking for a prescription of reconciliation, unity in the church, and unity in society bringing people together. And the last one is Matthew 5:14–16: “God, make us light.”
So make us holy, make us one, make us light. And I do believe that’s the chronological order.
And by holiness, I mean, just living out the fullness of the finished work of Christ through His Spirit. It’s not what we do for God. It’s what God already did for us.
And God, make us holy, make us one, bring us together. We do great things when we come together. And make us light. I don’t want us to in perpetuity whine about darkness or about the dark days we’re living in.
Luke 1:37 is the passage that guides me every single day. “There is nothing impossible for God.” Another version reads, “The Word of God never fails.” Another version reads, “There is nothing that God cannot do.” And because my trust is exclusively in Him, we have been able to see that these assignments and these appointments in mobilizing the Hispanic Church in America, over 42,000 churches in our network, with thirty chapters in and by the grace of God, serving in an advisory capacity to three U.S. presidents and producing multiple films with major studios in Hollywood, we understand it is all by the grace of God. And if we walk with humility and integrity, if we open doors for those that follow us to do greater things, if we don’t drink our own Kool-Aid and understand that these are opportunities to expand the Kingdom of Heaven here on Earth to amplify a message of hope and mercy and love and truth and grace to a very broken world, if our commitment is to be light in the midst of darkness and not just whine about the darkness, these doors will continue to open. And here I am today by the grace of God with that corresponding assignment.
“If our commitment is to be light in the midst of darkness and not just whine about the darkness, doors will continue to open.” – Samuel Rodriguez
Narrator: To learn more about Samuel Rodriguez and his work, please visit https://pastorsam.com/.
If you’d like to hear more stories about advocacy, check out our interview with Dedee & Greg Lhamon.
Next Week: Chris Nikic
Narrator: Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, we’ll hear from Chris Nikic, the first person with Down syndrome to ever complete an IRONMAN triathlon, and his father Nik, who took on the role of Chris’ coach.
Nik Nikic: I view it as our responsibility, as our gift from God, to be responsible and accountable, to help our children become the best they can be, to teach them the things we can teach them, to encourage them, to inspire them. And that’s really been my role the last few years with Chris. I’ve had to find a way to help him develop a plan that he could follow, and then I’ve had to find a way to teach him how to get motivated and inspired and stay inspired so he can pursue his dreams.