When you come from a family of innovators, educators and visionaries. When your triple great grandfather taught Booker T. Washington his ABC’s and touched all the Black people of Charleston, West Virginia as their principal and was buried in his Union Army uniform. When your grandmother creates 6 campuses in Detroit educating kids from first through twelfth grade. When your great aunt is the co-founder of Motown. When your parents raise you with self-respect and extraordinary regard for your race and your duty as a Black person and an American.
When you’re put in the lowest reading group in kindergarten because it’s assumed you’re a poor reader. When they test you and you become the chosen reader of the class, outperforming your peers. When you’re called a nigger in first grade and your mother has to explain to you what that means.
When you grow up Black in affluent Westport, Connecticut and are told you’re “not really Black” because you don’t speak, look or behave the way they expect.
When you write papers in middle school about Lincoln as the racist emancipator and your teacher is saddened by the facts she calls your views. When teachers give you grades less than A’s and change them when they can’t account for errors or how the work could be better.
When your mother is hired and fired twice as a Spanish teacher because the school administrations discover she is Black rather than Hispanic. When your parents teach you not to trust White people as friends based on their personal experience and historical fact. When you’re surprised that White boys like you because you’ve been taught that’s impossible. When you’re slapped in the face by one of your mother’s White students because he’s angry with her. When you go to the prom with a Black boy and people are surprised.
When you graduate in the top 10 percent of your high school class and choose to go to a historically Black university. When you say you’re going to Howard University and everyone thinks you mean Harvard University. When you’re in college and realize people think you’re pretty. When you’re in college and meet Black people just like you. When you start to learn the history of your people that’s been completely left out of your education. When you love the chosen segregation from White people. When you begin to feel free.
When you go to Temple Law School where Howard is known as being extremely difficult on grading. When people constantly ask what you are and pause for some further explanation when you say, “Black.” When White men don’t understand why you’re not interested in them. When White students repeat your statements in class as if first spoken by them. When you find other Black students to identify and commune with.
When your secretary at your first legal job at an all White law firm says she doesn’t want to work for “a Black female attorney.” When your first secretary stands in your office door and tells you face to face she doesn’t want to work for a Black woman. When your secretary gets fired for not performing satisfactorily.
When your Black boss on Wall Street tries to prevent you from moving forward. When a White man provides your first real opportunity on Wall Street. When you work for a Black Wall Street firm and can’t satisfy the trades of your larger clients. When you’re interviewed at another Wall Street firm, asked why you’re not already at a big firm and share that you haven’t had the opportunity.
When you’re the only woman and Black person on the institutional convertible bond desk. When a White man tells you a joke about being Black and lesbian on your first day. When you share that joke with your managing director. When your managing director fires that sales/trader the next day. When you excel on Wall Street and segue into other business opportunities.
When you watch United Airlines Flight 175 fly over your head and hit the World Trade Center. When you experience immediate and communal terror. When your body is covered in the ash of buildings, paper and burned bodies. When you realize you are a survivor. When you watch New York City rebuild on love. When you experience Oneness.
When you realize your calling is to change the world and help as many people as possible. When you’re meeting with people and talking about working in NYC, practicing law, running a non-profit for Reggie White and understanding outcomes through your experience in medical education. When you’re sharing the definition of social enterprise and the need for scalability and sustainability for long-term success and change.
When you’re talking about millennials, self-actualization, hope, violence, poverty, education, child abuse, and homelessness. When you’re talking about religion, practicing Ramadan, and the impact of spirituality on our lives. When you’re talking about empowering people and changing the world.
When you’re talking about your prominent white mentor who’s son was murdered. When you’re talking about mob murders of Black people by White people during the Red Summer of 1919, the rise and destruction of Black Wall Street, Mansa Musa, the richest human being to have ever lived and Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, the Black man who founded the city of Chicago.
When you’re asked if your work is focused entirely on Black people. When you respond that Black history is American history. When you respond that you are American, Black and a woman and speak from all that you are. When you respond that Jewish, Italian, Greek and all kinds of people speak from who they are, their experience and what they know. When you explain that your vocation, your life’s calling, is to help all people. When you explain that you are focused on humanity, on mitigating and eradicating what we can collectively agree we need to stop.
When people are educated on the power and strength of the Black experience and Black excellence. When people recognize that our collective voices must be understood, heard and represented. When people are invigorated and excited about the fact that we really can change the world together.
When all people are inspired and woke.