Directions to the Road to Redemption

Since admitting using a racial slur, celebrity chef Paula Deen has seen her brand go into free-fall. Her apologies and explanations haven't been convincing. It is time to look elsewhere for the road to redemption.Dear Ms. Deen,

As one of "those people" who wrote about you and told "lies," I wanted to take this opportunity to offer specific suggestions on how you can hop on the road to redemption.

What you have tried so far isn't working. You have lost sponsors, business partners and your cookbook publisher. Even Wal-Mart dumped you.

Your videos and appearance on the Today Show came across as whiny apologies. They weren't convincing. 

You describe yourself as a 66-year-old woman of the South. Now you need to be a woman of the modern South. It is time for you to move from victim to agent of change.

The road to redemption isn't lined with contorted parables about the sinless throwing the first stones at the sinners. Redemption requires a genuine, demonstrable change. It is all about you, not anyone else.

I listened over the weekend to "crisis experts" fumble over the question of what you should do. Those of us who throw stones also should be willing to build bridges. So here are my sincere suggestions of how you can find and travel the road to redemption:

Your status as celebrity chef is a perfect stage to show you have learned from this experience and really changed. 

  • Reach out to African-American chefs to collaborate on a cookbook that celebrates and showcases how black Americans have contributed — from their slave roots through today — to what we now think of as Southern cooking. This could lead to a cooking show where you demonstrate a respectful posture toward African-American culinary peers as together you and they unfold the history of recipes, cooking styles and use of indigenous Southern ingredients. As opposed to a solemn documentary, the show could be infused with your on-stage energy to make it fun, useful and enlightening. 

  • Endow a scholarship fund for talented, aspiring African-American chefs. Use your celebrity to help these young chefs find opportunities — from working in great restaurants to developing their own original concepts for restaurants. 

  • Address your diabetes and the importance of good eating habits for diabetics. In addition to putting anything you can think of into a deep fryer, develop ingenious, good-tasting recipes that are healthy, especially for people like you who suffer from a disease closely linked to obesity.

  • Write a memoir that traces your own journey of life, including your attitudes toward people of other races and different points of view. The memoir should be an honest portrayal of yourself, up to and including how you are dealing with your current brand-busting crisis. Speak from the heart about how you faced this disaster by looking deep inside yourself and deciding to go in new directions.

  • Learn to laugh at yourself. You are and are going to be the butt of a lot of jokes and negative comments. Whether fair or unfair, absorb the blows and even poke fun at yourself, as have the likes of Charlie Sheen and Alec Baldwin. Use humor as a way of making a serious point about your decision to change and why that change was important.

These suggestions will only work if you really do change life direction. Rightly or wrongly, most people believe you are a Southern-fried cracker. Maybe you are and maybe you're not. But the crash of your culinary empire serves as an occasion to prove that you aren't now — in actions, more than in just words and whimpers.

If you are really willing to change, the long road to redemption is open. You won't be traveling alone.