In her 2014 Ted Talk, Mellody Hobson, president of one of the largest African-American-owned investment firms, offered up a pointed scenario to her audience:
Imagine if I walked you into a room, and it was of a major corporation like Exxon Mobil, and every single person around the boardroom were Black. You would think that was weird. But what if I walked you into a Fortune 500 company and everyone around the table was a white male? When will it be that we think that’s weird too?
Just a few months prior to when Hobson’s Ted Talk speech first aired, I started planning the My Brother’s Keeper Scholarship Endowment Fund at UNC Charlotte. Her one statement alone, as simple as it was, had a subtle yet profound impact on how I would later describe the scholarship program to others, especially non-Blacks.
With the state of race relations in America being what they are, and how polarizing the Black Lives Matter movement has been, I struggled to put into words how this program could be pro-Black male, without being anti-everyone else.
On the job, I've been the only Black person in my department for the entire eight years I've worked for my company. In the community, I'm the only Black person on one of three non-profit boards I sit on, and I'm the only Black male on one of the other two. None of this has been an issue. But at the same time, if I went to my church - which is predominantly-Black - and told them I was starting a scholarship for young Black males, no further explanation would be necessary. They would understand the need. They would understand the importance.
The issue I faced has been finding a way to have an intellectual, unemotional conversation about something I'm so passionate about, with people who don't share my background, and making sure they understand what I'm doing without feeling alienated or uncomfortable.
I'm not sure I've figured it out all the way yet. But Hobson’s words helped me get a little bit closer to finding my own words. I believe that having access is just as important as having ability. I don’t want Black men to replace every white man in every boardroom. But literally and proverbially, I want them to have a seat at the table.
The My Brother’s Keeper Scholarship at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte is an endowment fund targeted to Black males majoring in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields at UNCC. Learn more at www.unccmybrotherskeeper.org.