On Monday, June 1st, I told Amy that I wanted to engage deeply in helping eliminate racism in the United States.
I’ve been involved in gender inequity issues since I joined the National Center for Women & Information Technology board in 2005 shortly after it was formed. 15 years later, I’ve learned an enormous amount about gender, especially in tech, and while I am nowhere near finished on that particular journey, I feel that I understand and can be helpful in my role as a male advocate (or “male ally”) in eliminating gender inequity in tech and entrepreneurship.
While Amy and I have been philanthropically supporting social justice issues for over 20 years through our foundation, I don’t feel like I’ve engaged in a meaningful way. I have an enormous amount to learn about racial inequality in our country and my network for and advocacy of Black entrepreneurs and investors is woefully inadequate.
In my discussion with Amy, we decided to personally fund and get involved in at least 10 initiatives right away, which I defined as “by the end of June.” I’ve spent several hours a day each day since last Monday reaching out to Black friends I know with one question.
“What are two initiatives you are involved in right now that I could put time and/or money into in support of you and your activities?”
In each case, I offered money along with a desire to actively engage in support of them and their activities. This is not “I’ll do a mentor call with you” or “Email me anytime you have a question” but an open-ended “tell me what I can do to help you execute a particular initiative.”
The conversations have been excellent and extremely enlightening. Given that almost all of them were with people I already knew, I don’t need to do any diligence on the organizations they are asking me to get involved in as their reference credibility is enough for me. In a few cases, I had inbound from people I didn’t know and I also chose several of them to engage with.
Right now, these are philanthropic contributions to non-profit organizations or sponsorships for people going through some kind of program (non-profit and for-profit). This is a completely separate initiative from investment activity with my partners at Foundry Group, which we’ll be talking about more soon once we’ve made clear decisions about what we are going to do over the next few years.
My first of these commitments is to the Zane Access Inaugural Pre-Capital Program Cohort. I got an email from Shila Nieves Burney asking if I would donate 20 copies of Venture Deals. I responded yes and asked if there was anything else I could do to help their first cohort. Shila responded that they’d love to do an AMA and asked if I would be willing to underwrite the tuition for one of the founders, as there were eight in the program who were accepted but would have to forgo the opportunity to join the program due to the financial investment obligation.
I told Shila that I’d do the AMA and underwrite all eight founders who were not in a position to make the investment. I wanted to ensure that no founder who reached the high barrier to be accepted into the program would have to turn it down due to financial concerns.
I’ll be doing the AMA early in the program, so my hope is that I’ll get to know some of the founders, can help them throughout the program, and then connect them into some of my networks proactively where appropriate.
In my previous post, I said that for a while I’ll include one powerful thing each day that I read about racial injustice and Black Lives Matter. Today’s is from Donna Harris, a long time friend who I met through our work on the Startup America Partnership. She’s the co-founder of 1776 and now runs Builders and Backers. When I read her post The Hurt is Everywhere I cried (a “Jerry Colonna induced type of cry.”)
The hurt is everywhere. In every community. If you don’t see it, it just means you’re not talking to the people who are experiencing it.
That’s where we must start. We cannot create a society where all men are truly equal and every community flourishes if we don’t understand how badly the deck is stacked against so many of us and listen to and acknowledge the deep anguish that causes. Then, all of us must commit to repairing the broken places. In our nation. But also in our families, in our schools, and on the streets of our own neighborhoods. To that end, the next time you see a black man walking down your street, stay on the same side of the road and say hello.
Please go read The Hurt is Everywhere.