It’s 2020, so I went looking around on the Internet. The more I read, the more upset I became. Amy and I then watched the first few episodes of The Watchman, and I suddenly had a desire to get a full picture of what happened.
I do this by reading a book. I’m not a history buff, so I don’t spend a lot of time going deep on a particular historical event. Most of the surface level history I know comes from high school in Dallas (where, of course, we began with Texas history), a lifetime of museums, occasional TV documentaries, Wikipedia, or conversations. And books.
When I’m interested in something, I read a book on it. Since I’m reading one book on racial injustice each weekend this summer (and, given the pile of books I’ve accumulated, I expect I’ll continue into the fall), I decided to make my Saturday book Tulsa 1921: Reporting a Massacre.
I chose it carefully after reading the backgrounds of a few other books. I was looking for a reporting of the event, which I expected would be challenging given both the time frame (99 years ago) along with what I expected to be a lot of historical bias. I chose this book because the author, Randy Krehbiel, has been a reporter for the Tulsa World (Tulsa’s daily newspaper since 1905) for over 40 years and a Tulsa native. I figured, if anyone, he’d be able to mine the history from a reporter’s perspective, while balancing the topophilia he had for Tulsa, against the backdrop of a horrific event in the city’s history. Finally, Karlos K Hill, the Department Chair, African and African American Studies at the University of Oklahoma, wrote the foreword and endorsed the book, giving it more credibility in my eyes.
I lost myself in Tulsa in 1921 yesterday afternoon and into the evening. The Tulsa race massacre was an injustice on multiple levels. It included the willful destruction of what at the time was one of the most successful Black communities in America. In addition to the 24-hour destruction of the Black community by a variety of White Tulsans in pogram-like fashion, the ensuing several years of efforts to relocate the community, rather than allow the Black property-owning residents to rebuild, was deeply disturbing. Alongside this was a continual denial of any sort of meaningful redress or compensation by the White leadership of Tulsa.
During this period, the KKK had a new resurgence, which reinforced many aspects of systemic racism, both related to this period in Tulsa, as well as across the entire United States. Black leaders, with a few White allies, fought for justice for the residents, victims, and families of Greenwood. They also fought against the corruption, blame-shifting, and systemic racism that existed at the time in Tulsa. The Black Tulsans of Greenwood eventually prevailed and rebuilt their community.
Krehbiel handled this story exceptionally well. There are many ambiguities and unknowns. Rather than rendering an opinion, he tried to acknowledge the biases, the potential perspectives, and citied whatever he could find in history. Rather than tell the reader what to think, he painted a full story, incorporating many voices from different frames of reference, and allowed the reader to form a view and decide when the record was ambiguous, what had happened.
While an emotionally challenging book to read, I ended my day Saturday with another layer of understanding of how systemic racism is and has worked, for many years, in the U.S.
I’ve become aware that my existing network creates and perpetuates systemic inequities. Rather than abandon my existing network, I’m investing time and energy in expanding my perspective and network through the various things I pay attention to and get involved in.
Today’s post covers two things I love to do: run and read. When I reflect on my running and fitness heroes, they are mostly men. If you asked me to name ten world-class marathoners, it would be mostly men. And when I think of people who I go running with, which is rare since I prefer to run alone, it’s men.
A year ago, I decided I needed to permanently change my diet and hired Katie Elliott as my nutritionist. She’s become a good friend and has been extraordinarily helpful with changing my diet and helping me permanently lose some weight. She’s also an outstanding athlete, so I’ve gotten bonus coaching from her.
Next week Katie is leading a day-long online symposium called Women.Thrive. Amy and I sponsored it, and I have ten free tickets, so if you want to attend, email me (the first ten get the tickets.) Or, if you wish to attend and don’t need a free ticket, please sign up as all proceeds go to Covid relief. I’ll be attending some of the sessions to learn and expand my perspective on women athletes and health. Plus – Martina Navratilova – one of my childhood tennis heroes – is speaking about motivation.
Next, I’ve been reading a bunch of stuff that is outside my normal reading zone. Each weekend I read at least one book from my now very large pile of books by Black authors about a wide variety of topics. Saturday night, I chose a memoir and read White People Really Love Salad by Nita Mosby Tyler, Ph.D.
I love memoirs. I separate this category from “autobiography” because I’m not that interested in autobiographies (I prefer biographies). Memoirs are more than just a person’s history. They interweave one’s history and experiences with personal philosophy, advice, reflection (both the author’s and mine), and inspiration.
Nita wrote about her experience growing up in Atlanta as a Black girl. Each chapter ended with her reflections about race, diversity, equity, and equality that related directly to the story she had just told. I read it from beginning to end, realizing that almost every experience was new to me.
Last night, I read Piloting Your Life by Terri Hanson Mead. Terri wrote about her experience shifting into, exploring, and getting used to midlife as a White, professional, happily married woman with a husband and two kids in the bay area. Oh, and she’s a helicopter pilot (so cool) so she uses a lot of flying metaphors to structure the book (hence the title). She includes stories and interviews with many other women going through the transition from “pre-midlife” to “midlife,” along with endless, direct, and compelling examples of the struggles relative to men going through a similar age transition.
I’m in my mid-50s (wow – when did that happen?) Many of my transitions are completely different from Terri’s. As I read the book, in addition to getting to know Terri better, I also ended up with a bunch of insights, from a woman’s perspective, about midlife.
Every time I finish a book like one of these I think “I should read more books like this.”
When people, who are roughly the same age as me (or at least the same generation) write about completely different life experiences and from an entirely different perspective, they give me a lot to think about and help me ponder my strengths, weaknesses, limitations, and biases. And, in this case, these books were different but beautiful complements to read one after the other.
I appreciate the energy that Nita and Terri have put into these books. Now that I’ve written a bunch of books, including one very personal one with Amy (Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur), I understand how much work it is to write a book like this.
And, most of all, I appreciate their willingness to put their story out into the world, which helps me expand my perspective.
Shortly after George Floyd was murdered, I started calling Black VC and entrepreneur friends asking them “what are two things you are involved in that I can immediately support with time and money.”
Arlan Hamilton was my first call. In addition to asking me to spend more time with Backstage Capital portfolio companies and founders, she told me about a non-profit called Cover that she created in 2016 with Bryan Landers and Dianne Cherrez.
Arlan decided to give away copies of startup and investing books to help more people gain access to content that could change their career path.
Venture Deals was one of the books that Arlan gave away and she has occasionally talked about how impactful the book was to her own journey to learn about and become a VC.
I love to read. Arlan loves to read. And Arlan appreciates the power of books to help people learn. And, it’s even fun to see how people get Arlan’s attention using Backstage Capital and Venture Deals together.
Cover 1.0 was giving away books. Cover 2.0 started with the following tweet and shifted to gifting $500 to recipients to help them reach their goals.
With this new approach, Cover allowed access to knowledge (books, courses…), networks (introductions, memberships…), and opportunities (events, job applications…) to those who are working hard to achieve great things.
For Cover 3.0, Arlan is including the Covid crisis in the mix to include Covid-related help. For example, PPE–especially for high-risk, low-resourced places like prisons and other non-profits, higher education and experiences for Black women, and resources for displaced Black students.
In addition to financially supporting Cover 3.0 at a level to support 100 gifts, I’m going to donate 100 copies of Venture Deals to Cover 3.0 to give away to each recipient.
If you want to support Cover 3.0, please Donate any amount. I’m confident that Arlan and team will put it to good use.
Arlan – you inspire me and so many others. Thank you.
I started with the Wikipedia page for Wallace Thurman.
Langston Hughes described Thurman as “…a strangely brilliant black boy, who had read everything and whose critical mind could find something wrong with everything he read.” Thurman’s dark skin color attracted comment, including negative reactions from both black and white Americans. He used such colorism in his writings, attacking the black community’s preference for its lighter-skinned members
I didn’t know the phrase colorism nor had I ever thought about bias around it. Over the weekend, Lucy Sanders pointed me at an NCWIT article on Colorism Bias in the Tech Industry. I then went down a rabbit hole on colorism, which caused me to realize how oblivious and ignorant I was to this type of discrimination.
Emma Lou Morgan, the protagonist of The Blacker The Berry, geographically follows Thurman’s life, from Boise, the USC, to Harlem. The book is beautifully written and deeply engrossing as Emma’s story unfolds. Some of it is a coming of age story, but also a continual struggle, from a Black woman’s perspective, on dealing with discrimination from all sides, since she is darkly colored and subject to endless colorism.
The book was written in 1929. It was Thurman’s first novel. Per Wikipedia:
The novel is now recognized as a groundbreaking work of fiction because of its focus on intra-racial prejudice and colorism within the black community, where lighter skin has historically been favored.
Thurman died in 1934 at age 32 of tuberculosis. He only wrote two other books: Infants of the Spring and The Interne. I just purchased Infants of the Spring but couldn’t find The Interne.
Claudia Reuter, now the Techstars GM Americas East (and previously the Techstars MD for the Stanley+Techstars Additive Manufacturing Accelerator), has a new book coming out called Yes, You Can Do This! How Women Start Up, Scale Up, and Build The Life They Want.
I read the final page proofs while I was in Mexico and it is an excellent book. It’s a combination of a memoir, startup guidebook–especially aimed at women, exploration of gender dynamics in the workplace, and inspiration for women who are considering starting a company. It covers topics such as how to:
- develop and share your vision
- deal with stereotypes and unconscious bias
- leverage perceived weaknesses and turn them into strengths
- balance life at high speeds and avoid burnout
- cultivate the confidence to move from idea to creating a company with the culture and rules you want
Claudia includes a story of a half-dozen fictional people that unfolds throughout the book, bringing many of her points to life with tangible examples of how the conversations and dynamics unfold in the real world.
As I read through the book, there were multiple points where I thought, “Every man in any startup or fast-growing business should read this.” As a man in technology, I took away a number of new ideas, along with examples that were explained in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to do prior to reading Claudia’s book.
This is the fourth book in the Techstars Press series, following Do More Faster: Techstars Lessons to Accelerate Your Startup, 2e (Cohen/Feld), Sell More Faster: The Ultimate Sales Playbook for Startups (Schwartzfarb), and No Vision All Drive: What I Learned from My First Company (Brown). Look for more from (and about) Techstars Press coming soon!
Claudia – congrats on shipping the book!
Erling Kagge’s book Walking: One Step at a Time was delightful.
On Friday night I had dinner with John Underkoffler. John and I lived together at college and have been friends for over 35 years, working together for the past 13 or so. Our conversation rambled on a variety of topics, as is usually the case when we spend 1:1 time together.
After getting after-dinner gelato at Gelato Boy (amazing gelato, terrible name) we wandered down the Pearl Street Mall and then circled back to The Boulderado where John was staying. After dropping him off, I headed back to my car with a short stop in the Boulder Book Store, where browsing and buying a few books is one of my guilty pleasures.
Kagge’s book jumped off the shelf into my hands, along with C.S. Lewis’s The Reading Life: The Joy of Seeing New Worlds Through Others’ Eyes. Two of my favorite things to do are reading and walking (or running), so I devoured Walking on Saturday and savored Reading on Sunday.
One section in Walking really stuck with me. Kagge, Arne Næss and a few others, including a professor of archeology, took a trip to Nan Madol. While observing one of the structures, the professor of archeology said, “It is impossible, impossible, impossible.”
Arne Næss responded:
“It is completely possible but, when considered with our conventional calcuations, extremely unlikely. Philosophically, there is a chasm between the imposssible and the fantastically unlikely.”
Now, the legend of how Nan Madol was constructed, according to Wikipedia, is:
According to Pohnpeian legend, Nan Madol was constructed by twin sorcerers Olisihpa and Olosohpa from the mythical Western Katau, or Kanamwayso. The brothers arrived in a large canoe seeking a place to build an altar so that they could worship Nahnisohn Sahpw, the god of agriculture. After several false starts, the two brothers successfully built an altar off Temwen Island, where they performed their rituals. In legend, these brothers levitated the huge stones with the aid of a flying dragon.
Fantastically unlikely, but not impossible. This concept reflected nicely throughout much of The Reading Life, which contains Lewis’s essays on things like “Why Children’s Stories Are Not Just for Children”, “Literature as Time Travel”, and “On the Dangers of Confusing Saga with History.”
In the future, whenever someone tells me, “That’s impossible!” I’m going to respond with “It’s fantastically unlikely but not impossible.”