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A place to feed the need for change. 


Kristen F. Gradney

June 2, 2020

As a black professional in the world today, we are caught in a conundrum that is not new to any of us. We are the antithesis of stereotypical ideas of black people and as such we aim to navigate our professional worlds within the bounds that have been set before us by white America and those who survived segregation and the Civil Rights movement. We continue to support these guardrails that keep us from getting too “Black” or too radical in an effort to climb the ladder and develop allies who can open new doors and get seats at tables that we have never had before. While we are straddling two worlds and two generations, we have struggled to find our voice as angry black people in a country that does not value us outside of the suit we wear and the service we provide. When we are encountered in a shopping center, or prestigious neighborhood or in a luxury car dealership, we are still followed around and offered an uneasy amount of help in an effort to find out why this out of place face is here and what is our motive, because it can’t be the obvious. It is exhausting. Despite having the right income, the right education, the right motive, we are never viewed in a way that is non-threatening and aspirational.

We must take a step back and start to find our voices in this world to make an impact on systematic racism and rebuild infrastructure that will support black Americans and improve this public health crisis of black people being killed and being at greater risk for every reason to die. While we have focused on navigating the world safely and in a peaceful, non-threatening way, we have failed to introduce racism to the rooms we have now entered. I have failed, time and time again, but as I take a look at my son and my husband, I know it is no longer enough to do presentations around the country or have conversations with my co-workers and friends who are already feeling the pain.



DON'T LET IT RIDE. I recall being in a room of national level leaders of an organization I serve and having someone tell a funny story of how a “big, black man” had the same last name as herself. The laughs around the room made my skin crawl and left me motionless. Most who know me, know that I am outspoken, especially about topics I am passionate about, but I found myself saying nothing. We have to speak up and educate others about the factual reasons that this type of comment is not only inappropriate, but it lauds slavery and the trauma of African Americans. If anyone can do this in the most eloquent way, it is us the black professionals who have navigated every room and every uncomfortable situation with our intellect, brilliance, and composure that has been tried and tested time and time again.

Share your skills with black youth. We must offer our skills and presence to our children. I support many programs that serve communities of color and I often find that the leaders of these programs are white women. I shared with one of these leaders that I can and will recruit African American men to take on some of these roles. While she was very confused as to why, I had to explain to her that our kids need to see us. If they continuously see white people helping these “poor, black kids” it will continue to perpetuate the idea that they will never succeed and need white people to save them. The success they see is not relatable. It is the unspoken duty of these types of government or publicly funded programs to solicit support from those who look like the population they serve if we are going to have generational improvements. Continue to support youth and provide mentoring so that we can nurture more black judges, police officers, legislators, doctors, presidents, journalists, and more! Let’s keep opening the door and once it is open, prop it open until we start to see the change that only we can facilitate.

TAKE THE MASK OFF. Be confident in your authentic, true self. Whether that is having your hair wrapped in an African-print turban, listening to rap music, being the victim of racial profiling, we must not hide that this is who we are. White people have put black people into classes and as many of us know, we have been told at one time or another, that they were not talking about “us”, or that we “speak so well”. If the people I worked with or spoke to knew that I listen to UGK , wear a purple satin bonnet at home, and know people who have served time in jail, could that impact the view that these things indicate ignorance and a fear that is justified? I don’t know, but what I do know is that taking the mask off will ease our exhaustion. And we are so exhausted that we should no longer play a game in which only one side wins.

SHARE YOUR STORY. We all have stories about how we have been judged or treated wrongly simply because of our race. Telling those stories will force those around us to acknowledge that racism is not a figment of our imagination or thing of the past. It is not something that only happens between a “rogue cop” and a drug dealer on the street. It happens to the executive across the table from you. It happens to the “well-spoken” woman who leads your team. It is even more important to share the stories that have shaped us and brought us to where we are today. Yes, they have created who we are, but they have also created trauma for us, our families, and our society.

FEEL THE PAIN. The pain of fighting to prove your worth. The pain of being caught between a generation of segregation and a generation of inspired radicalism. The pain of raising black children in a world that tells them they are free, yet they can die on the sidewalk for being black and asking too many questions. The pain of losing the promotion to the less experienced person who has family ties and generations of CEOs. The pain of having to feel the agony of centuries of oppression that we see in the eyes of our parents and grandparents and now children. Feeling the pain will allow us to grieve what we thought we would not have to deal with once we reached a certain level in life. It will allow the pain to be transferred into productive energy that will drive every conversation, every decision, and every fight that we have to take on. It is our right to feel this pain, no matter what anyone says or thinks about it. It is ours.