My challenge to us today, on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. day, is for us to continue charting a new path to American prosperity in Baltimore and beyond.
Baltimore Tech Community,
My twin boys were just 6 months old when a young black boy named Trayvon Martin was targeted, stalked, shot, and killed by George Zimmerman, a Hispanic man who, at that moment, deputized himself to protect an all-white neighborhood in Florida. “There’s a lot there.” This quote was uttered by Isabel Wilkerson, the first African-American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for journalism, daughter of a Tuskegee Airman, author of “Caste: The Origins of our Discontents”, and the main character of Ava Duvernay’s new film, ‘Origin’.
My first two memories of experiencing, what I believed to be racism alone, were in the 4th grade, when a white woman, the teacher of my AG English class (AG stands for academically gifted) asked me if I was in the right room and 6th grade, when a fellow student, a young black boy like me, accused me of thinking that I was better than him because, in his words, “you’re in all [of] those white classes.” In each of these moments, I was forced to confront the fact that I was different from what or who I was expected to be, by these individuals and by society.
Racism is complicated because it is real and it is painful. It is also what I now know to be the United States of America’s version of a caste system. Caste is defined as a fixed social group into which we are born, reinforced by a system where we are expected to: marry exclusively within the same group (endogamy), live and work in places and occupations best suited for our particular group, adopt and uphold rituals associated with hierarchy, and interact with others based on cultural notions of exclusion, with certain groups considered to be either more pure or more polluted than others. In India, they refer to the latter as Dalits, who they once called the “untouchables”.
In 1959, 4 years before his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Dr. King visited India. Introduced as a fellow “untouchable” from the United States, he first shuttered at the idea of being described that way, until recognizing that he was indeed bonded to the Dalits of India and other oppressed people around the world, members of groups considered to be less human, not worthy of love, relegated to undesirable living conditions, unenviable professions and worse, the subjects of violence, generational trauma and institutionalized murder. Dr. King’s message to humanity that day in India, “Today, we no longer have a choice between violence and nonviolence; it is either nonviolence or nonexistence.”
In ‘Origin’, Duvernay masterfully draws on Wilkerson’s work, to connect the threads between American slavery and Jim Crow, Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, Caste in India, and other human tragedies and the systems that support them around the world. I don’t want to give too much of the film away, but I do want to encourage you to go see it, in a theater, with people you love, no matter what they look like or what groups they are supposed to belong to. It is an emotional journey into the heartbreak and beauty of the human experience and a call-to-action for us to continue challenging these systems that separate us. As Wilkinson prophesizes, “A world without caste would set everyone free.”
My challenge to us today, on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. day, is for us to continue charting a new path to American prosperity in Baltimore and beyond. His 1963 speech and the March on Washington was about Jobs and Freedom. Equitech is an extension of that active fight for economic opportunity and societal freedom.
“Born in Baltimore, Equitech is our aspiration to build a thriving tech economy anchored by diverse leadership, equitable systems and practices, and a culture of belonging in tech.”
Let’s continue to collaborate willingly, partner skillfully, and unite in our persistence that we can build an economy and a society that benefits everyone and leaves no one behind. If we do that, not only will we be untouchable, in the best sense of the word, we will be a model for the state, the nation and the world.
A special thank you to Nasir Qadree and his wife Chloe Dulce Louvouezo for hosting the private screening of ‘Origin’. I was so fortunate to be able to attend with my Mom and her friend, both of whom, like Isabel Wilkerson, are daughters of Tuskegee Airmen and thank you to our partner in this work, Mark Anthony Thomas of the GBC for attending as well.
Join us tomorrow, January 16, for Equitech Tuesday as we return to Guilford Hall Brewery, 6-8 pm. We will be joined by Squadra COO, Margaret Roth Falzon, Life Design Educator Chloe Terrell, and a group of college students from a JHU exploring “entrepreneurship on the east coast.” Let’s show them and each other what Baltimore has to offer.
See you there!
Don’t forget to 📸 a picture while you are there and #ThisIsEquitech when you post!