In 2018, I had the opportunity to participate in a prestigious leadership program called Leadership San Antonio (Class 43, the best class ever). During orientation, we were asked, “What one word best describes your participation in the program?” I immediately scrambled to find a non-triggering word; it was the first day, and I didn’t want to ruffle any feathers.
Words such as grateful, thankful, and opportunity came to mind. Although I genuinely felt those things, as I looked around the room, what truly stood out to me was how few people looked like me. So instead, I was compelled to submit the word “seat.” When the facilitator revealed the submitted terms in a word cloud, the most-used words – grateful, thankful, and opportunity – stood out, but it was the smallest word that prompted further discussion.
“What,” asked the facilitator, “does the word ‘seat’ mean?”
I nervously explained how I felt it was important for people who look like me – a Black man – to have an opportunity to participate in programs such as Leadership San Antonio, programs that carry influence and prestige. At that moment, I heard my Grandmother Mary’s Southern drawl: “Baby, when you get a seat at that table, you better speak up. Represent. Uplift those that don’t have that same privilege.” Her words gave me the courage to speak loud and proud and to take my seat.
Grandma Mary’s words ring just as true today.
Too often, we hear there are little to no opportunities for Black folks at decision-making tables. There’s not enough presence in circles of influence, in board rooms, or in the halls of government. Sadly, the conversations about the absence of Black voices in these spaces are not new. Like the recent disparities we suddenly “discovered” due to the coronavirus, which is a column on its own, we’ve known about these challenges for decades. And yet here we are just talking about racial disparities and equal opportunity as if it’s some new realization. So now that a new opportunity has come, I want to speak up, represent, and uplift and bring along those voices that don’t currently have the same privilege.
I’m not a journalist or a writer by training, but Grandma Mary’s words and a few trusted friends gave me the courage to accept an offer to write a column for the Rivard Report. I am grateful for the opportunity to share my experiences as an entrepreneur, a soldier, a veteran, a husband, a father, and a Black man – with a capital B – and hope to prompt thoughtful discussion about the issues that shape this city and the underrepresented people in it. As I write this, I suppose there will be critics who say my new role is an attempt to pander to the Black community or that I’m not the “right” voice to be given this platform. And to be honest, I worry those critics might be correct.
But I worry even more that, by not taking my seat at the table, I would leave too much unsaid and too many other voices unheard. So I will own this moment. I offer this space as a place to build meaningful connections with you and hope to demonstrate compassion, inclusivity, and thoughtfulness in my opinions. I aim to uplift other Black and Brown voices who have their own incredible stories and ideas to share. And if I stumble or fail to accomplish what I’ve set out to do, I ask you to help me grow with grace. I want to share the Black and Brown community’s collective accomplishments and failures, our joys and our pains, our ugly truths and our beautiful ones. After all, it is our experiences and the people we surround ourselves with who shape how we view and respond to the world. This column doesn’t conclude that the problems are solved; however, it is a start.
I applaud those who have recognized that all lives matter when Black ones do and who are proactively investing in opportunities to invite more diverse voices to sit at their table. I’m cautiously optimistic that we will begin to see significant paradigm shifts with diversity and inclusion efforts across the board. We must continue to administer daily personal and professional assessments on our prejudices and biases and how we can be more inclusive socially and economically in our respective spaces. I encourage the Rivard Report, the City of San Antonio, and others to continue taking actionable steps toward implementing equitable measures that account for their lapses in racial equity, gender pay gaps, equal representation in employment, and advisory boards, to name a few. The idea of being community-driven means that all voices are at the decision-making table – not just the elites.
Lastly, I share the words of one of my favorite authors, James Baldwin: “You have to decide who you are and force the world to deal with you, not with its idea of you.” I couldn’t agree more. If we sincerely are a compassionate city, let’s be unapologetic about it.