My confession: Why I do what I do stems from all that I wasn't
I just spent the last couple of weeks working day and night, neglecting my husband and son, my self-care routine, and even you our Tough Convos community, so that our team at Black Professionals in Tech Network (BPTN) could put on an experience like no other, BFUTR [Be Future] Tech Summit 2020.
Why, you ask?
Being a top student and not getting the opportunity to be mentored …
Being nominated for valedictorian but not being awarded…
Being a 25 year old principal running a private school and not being respected in public education…
Being a human rights educator and advocate in provincial schools and legislation, yet not being invited to the decision table…
As a young biracial woman growing up in a middle class neighbourhood in East Toronto sandwiched between the hood and an affluent neighbourhood, I had the luxury of being well versed in hood speak and white speak, in Patois and in American slang. Not to mention being fluent in two foreign languages and an A+ English lit student who represented her school in public speaking and political debates.
But you know what I wasn't?
I wasn't exposed to Black professionals, to Black entrepreneurs, to people that looked like me that were leaders in their fields, other than a few educators, athletes and artists. I never knew there were Black bankers until I married one. I never knew that I could be a business woman until I saw the younger generation do it first. It never even occurred to me that what I really should have been doing in university was building a network so I could get a good job or internship. Why wasn’t I told this? I mean I was in school for 5 years doing an honours degree, yet I never had a career counselling session, I never had a business mentor and I definitely never had the opportunity to meet professionals in the careers I had expressed interest in such as international law, politics or becoming an author.
I wasn’t in the club. You know, the club of privilege, where these nuances, this handed down secret info, the expected mentorship and sponsorship which are commonplace, and the norm. Now I’ve heard and seen that they do these things now, but damn, what a shame it took us till the 2000’s to get our shit together.
You know what I didn’t have?
I didn't have a road map, a blueprint, or any direction whatsoever. I had a ‘big sister’ who helped me tap into my spiritual strength and taught me to surround myself with quality people. I had coaches that were like dads who pushed me physically to achieve greatness. Yet, no aid at all from a career perspective. But there was one thing I was fairly certain of - I wasn’t a good fit for the 9-5 climb the corporate ladder gig. Maybe because I was unconventional, and I always envisioned myself as a leader, a change-maker, and an influencer of sorts. Or, maybe because I never saw anyone like me do it and I doubted my ability to thrive in that atmosphere. I didn't know how I was going to get to where I wanted to go, especially since I had no mentorship or formal training in business. But I knew where I had to be, and who I was already, minus the title of course.
So what was really missing, what were the key ingredients that would make my cake rise?
Representation: I didn’t see anyone like me in a variety of careers and was never plucked from the bunch to experience something other than my immediate reality.
Opportunity: I was an A++ student and I was never asked if I wanted an apprenticeship or a mentor or anything...where were these people, these programs?
Direction (a blueprint): Career counselling was nonexistent and universities have failed us so poorly that we didn't focus on transferable skill sets or networking for employability.
But I have to confess, I am a glass half full type of girl.
So you know what I did have?
Pride: In my own culture, in my own abilities, in my own goodness that I wanted to spread.
Support and love: I was blessed to have a single mom that sacrificed everything for me, loved me when I did right or wrong, and an extended family that always had my back.
Self confidence: A belief in myself that I could create anything, rise above anything, and willing to experience anything to achieve it.
Do what it takes mindset: As a leader I always did something about it, put in the work to serve, to help everyone be better and push forward.
Why I ride for my community
BFUTR represents all the things I didn’t have, and all the things I fought for: a voice, representation, opportunity, and a blueprint. Keys to the club so to speak. And while we’re in this environment, we’re building community, learning best practices, growing our network of opportunity, and feeding our growth mindset. But what is most beautiful of all to me is the variety of blackness we are now experiencing loud and proud. Not just Black excellence, but excellence, period.
I’ve learned from many wise folks over the past 20 years of work, one of whom is a leader at TD Bank. She shared with us this year that she’s exhausted, matter of fact she coined the term “Inspired exhaustion”. Because as a community we’re exhausted with having to show up and do our best work, yet also be the sounding board, the advisor, the know-it-all, when really we’re the ones who need the most reprieve.
In a live session at BFUTR, Colleen Ward said:
“It’s not just our community accountable for this. It’s humanity that is accountable for this. If the Black community could have solved this on their own, it would have been solved already.”
I immediately thought back to my experiences hosting my 'United Nations sleepovers' as a kid, spending time at the Native Indian reserve on Saturdays and my Jamaican best friends' place in Galloway community housing on Sundays. I regularly had my Estonian, Greek and Polish girlfriends come over to study, and went to practice math at my Indonesian friend’s place. We developed strength and understanding in all of our diversity.
As a Black business woman and educator who has spent the last 10 years focused on intercultural relations and communication challenges, it is crystal clear to me that your cultural intelligence is what matters most now, it supersedes your IQ and EQ. And though Covid has made it harder for some companies to fund learning and professional development for their employees, many companies are growing consciously and coming to terms with the fact that they won't have a company if they don't address these larger social and cultural issues within their teams. It’s no coincidence that the top in demand skills right now are adaptability and collaboration, both of which are impossible if we don't crush the biases behind why anti-black racism is still a thing.