really feel like I've (and my fellow Millennials) have had the
privilege of growing up during the most important generation in culture.
Maybe not in American history (yet) or anything like that, but in terms
of shaping culture. That's not a positive or negative statement, per
se, just something I feel. Consider the facts of my lifetime (since
1983): HIV/AIDs, the personal computer, Michael Jackson's Thriller (and
death), Princess Diana, Michael Jordan, Tom Cruise and Angelina Jolie
and modern Hollywood, steroids in baseball, the Internet and social
networking, Rodney King and the LA riots, hip-hop that spans from
Run-DMC to Biggie/Pac to Jay-Z and Kanye, "hook up" culture, MTV's Real
World, BET, CNN, ESPN, HBO, Steve Jobs, Whole Foods, Obama, Monica
Lewinsky, Columbine, 9/11, Katrina, sex tapes, e-commerce, studying
abroad, the NBA, Lance Armstrong, Kobe Bryant from the "rape" to the
rings, EDM, music festivals, ecstacy and MDNA, street style, X Games,
Pluto, Exxon Valdez, gay marriage...seriously, I could go on and on.
This is heavy shit. The American way of life is exciting and fun and
aspirational and hopeful and passion-filled and so full of energy and
freedom and choice. It's also full of envy and greed and pain and
suffering and addiction and grit and idiocy. I feel like, for me
personally as a Black man just 30 years of age from the low
socio-economic background I came from, Jay-Z is probably the single most
influential person of my "era" because he represents Millennials
(without actually being one) more than Obama or Oprah or Mark Zuckerberg
or Justin Timberlake or anyone else in pop-culture, but Kanye West is
the best representation of American pop culture and all it's promise,
ego, and social maneuverability. Unlike his "big brother" Jay-Z, Kanye's
story (and how much he's liked/appreciated) has pretty much been in
constant flux since he came onto the scene whereas Jay-Z has mostly been
the steady, positively-trending, force of good.
finished speaking to three 5th grade classes here in Aurora, CO and I am
exhausted! Everytime I speak at public schools - and I've done so
around 100 times over the last six years - my respect and admiration for
teachers goes up another notch. They wake up early, take on other
people's problems, teach curriculum that they have a declining say in,
and are asked to do all this with very little pay.
Meanwhile, I stroll in for a few hours and I'm held up as some model
citizen / role model / mentor because I've done well for myself. It's a
tough position to be in, but instead of rejecting the opportunity to
impact young people, I try my best to acknowledge the limitations of
anything I could possibly say while also sharing the lessons I learned,
the struggles I had growing up, and the opportunities that I've been
able to create for myself (and with the help of many others) over the
years. Real Role Models wasn't a bestselling book or critically
acclaimed, but it still may end up being the most important thing I ever
did when it's all said and done. More than famous athletes and
rappers/singers, what young people need from us non-teachers is people
to come into their schools or help them after school by sharing our
stories and trying to relate to them where they are. It's easier for me
to speak to college and even high school students, but it's the
elementary and middle school kids who I know I can impact the most. I'll
keep at it no matter how ineffectual a group of 50 5th graders can make
me feel. Thank God I'm not a teacher. And thank God we do have
(first posted on Facebook)
So I read about half of Sheryl Sandberg's book "Lean In" on my flight to Denver and my initial observations/thoughts are as follows: (not that I'm anything of an expert) 1) I am so thankful to have had wonderful female bosses throughout my career from Hannah Calvert Peters who I interned for at Public Strategies to Heather J. Brunner who I most recently worked for at Bazaarvoice and I can't even imagine how unique their careers have been compared to their male counterparts, 2) I've honestly found that women can relate to what it's like to be an ambitious Black male professional far more (like times 1,000) than white men, 3) Between Marisa Mayer and Sandberg, Google obviously did something right with hiring, 4) You better believe Localeur will be hiring women as the earliest opportunity, and 5) growing up with just a mom in the house helped me understand the sacrifices women make as mothers. I was 22 when I graduated from college; when my mom was 22 she was having me her third son, 6) I greatly admire and respect women who don't "take themselves out" of opportunities to pursue their ambitions even before they're actually married or with child.
My brother Kahron is probably more capable of keeping me grounded than anyone on the planet. Whenever I start to feel myself too much, I know I can count on him to bring me down a notch. Not because he’s the most accomplished person in the world and makes me feel insignificant as some big brothers are prone to do (although he’s surely made more money, heard more music, bought more sneakers and traveled to more countries than me), but because a) he’s my big brother (literally and physically, he’s 6’3”, 250lbs), b) he’s lived in Kuwait for much of the last 9 years (carrying much more of our family’s financial burden than myself), and c) he’s the most even-keeled person I know and doesn’t get over-excited about shit.
Well, I share all this to say that K has probably said two of the most important things to me in my life in the last year; one in which he supported my decision to get married to Star so quickly (understanding that I wasn’t seeking his approval or advice) and the other in which – just the other day – he said something that I’d consider maybe the best compliment I’ve ever received in my entire life. We were in the car driving back from Lake Austin and having the kind of quality time that I cherish even more today than I did as a teenager (although I wasn’t sure that was possible), and we were talking about life and career decisions. He said that the thing that sets me apart and the reason why he and so many of my friends have supported me and continue to do so (as investors and friends) over the years dating back to my time in high school and Sneak Attack and on forward wasn’t about the ideas or business plans. He said the trust and confidence people have placed in me is because – even when things don’t work out – it’s clear that I’m willing to stand on an island, despite its heavy risk of failure and chagrin, if I truly believe in something which is something not many people are willing to do and that I can face failure head on and accept risk directly. This speaks directly to the Abe Lincoln quote on resillency that I love about the person being successful only if they’re willing to fail multiple times without losing their enthusiasm to try again (or something like that). My brother said he’s confident that Localeur is the entrepreneurial spaceship I’ve been working towards all these years, and his confidence in me is paramount to me feeling like a success already (to some extent).
In the moment that he said these words, I realized that no one could have said something to me that would have hit me harder and more deeply as an entrepreneur. This island I’ve been standing on for some time now has gotten to be very lonely, full of doubt and uncertainty and worry and concern that I myself have battled through to take whatever lessons God (and these situations) had in store for me. I fought past the lack of a father, poorly-rated schools, being ostracized by other black kids as “acting white” because of my good grades, paying my own way through college, and going through life without the kind of fatherly advice and financial safety net that most of the people I know have had at some point in their 20s and all the while knowing that even as I age my path would never be a clear and easy path to the kind of success I’ve sought for myself even if others perceive me as someone whose “made it” because my own measure of success is so closely aligned with the opportunities I hope to bring to others which is both a burden and responsibility that makes me constantly question whether or not I’m ever making the right decisions knowing how many other people each and every one of them may impact if I don’t reach my potential and make the most of my gifts.
All this is to say that when I hear people say things about me or write things online about me that aren’t particularly friendly – for example, someone recently implied in a comment on a blog that Localeur is going to fail, primarily because I’m at the helm – it just reinforces to me how important it is to 1) keep good people around me even if they’re not of blood relation and 2) keep trusting myself. It doesn’t mean everyone has to agree with me, think I’m a genius or anything like that, God knows even my wife doesn’t (and I love her to death even as she gets more experienced with hitting my weak spots and calling me out on my shit ☺). I just need people who see me out here on an island most of the time (that’s what it feels like) and give me a hand to hold, an arm to pull on, a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear, a stern talking to…and all because they care, know I have a good heart and mind (but make mistakes like everyone) and, most importantly, know that I’m desperately trying to build the kind of life that no one in my family has ever had, trying to build a company that no one else has ever thought of, and trying to find a purpose that God gave to me and no one else. And I’m thankful that these people know they can count on me too.
Next week, I’ll fly to Aurora, Colorado (yes, that Aurora), to speak in an elementary school’s 5th grade class before they head off to middle school. Originally the teacher, a friend, asked me to Skype in the talk, but I suggested I travel to the class because when I think back to my sources of inspiration they were people I could reach and touch like my mom and my high school track coach and such. It’s not to say that I’m not inspired by history and idols like MLK and Jay-Z, but to say I realize more and more that people like my brother and close friends inspire me by being the type of caring, patient, understanding people they are. They inspire me to become the person God intended me to be and fulfill every single iota of potential I have so that I can turn this island into a continent of excellence and overwhelming joy and satisfaction not only for myself but for everyone around me. Maybe some of these Aurora kids don’t have big brothers like mine, so I’ll try to share something with them that speaks to my experience and connects with what they may be thinking or what they may someday experience or what they would like to hear someone say about them and to them in hopes that it will have a similarly positive impact.