I’m OK being the first black anything. I’m an innovator, by my nature I like going into things others likely haven’t done. So when it comes to race…I’ve actually never needed to “see black people” in the role to feel like it was possible for me. (However in my years as a hockey goalie, Grant Fuhr and Pokey Reddick were 2 of my heroes.)
I spoke at Searchlove last week and as we got closer to the conference I asked if I could get 2 tickets for a few folks whom were underrepresented in our industry and they instantly said sure.
Cursing at work
I’ve been saying that for 15+ years of speaking, my motivation was always: “I’mma be me and I’m going to put the pressure on myself to add enough value that I’ll be invited back in spite of some people being put off.”
I can’t present nearly as well, if my internal dialogue is constantly being filtered to be professional. That is also me being inauthentic to myself and I’m not good at that.
So it was a shock to me when a young black man (whom I invited to come) came up to me and had some feedback about my presentation. But first…
The curse of being a young black man who “can make it”
Here’s a little thing about being black and “articulate / smart / etc” when you are young… A lot of well meaning people will tell you “you’ve got a shot, keep being like XYZ, and you can really make it.”
Heck, my mother used to say “Be more Grant Hill and less Allen Iverson.”
So this week when I was on stage letting it rip, as I do, one of the young men from Hopeworks was in the crowd. Hopeworks is an organization that Seer peeps have poured a lot of time (and money) into over the years to help young folks get exposure to careers in digital.
“I’ve never seen anything like you did Wil”
There it was.
One of the young men said that to me. He had been told his whole life as a smart, articulate black man who grew up in Camden NJ (at one point the most dangerous city in the US), that saying “swear words” and other “urban slang” would keep him from getting opportunities in the professional world much less opportunities to present his passions on stages.
Being authentic to myself was inspirational to him
I don’t like to think of myself as inspirational to anyone because it is presumptuous. Saying “I inspire people” is just not how I get down.
As I left the conference, I reminded him 2x to hit me up and set up a time for me to walk him through the presentations and answer any questions he may have had from the various presenters (he has set that meeting up!) and in exchange he’ll teach me more about tik tok — as he’s gone viral 10+ times and knows a ton more than I do :) (He reminded me that I had met him 2 years earlier at a mentoring session). Here’s his message!
Re: Diversity I’m not the “make a statement CEO”
When I say I am comfortable with Seer’s slow progress on diversity, what I mean is that I’m in the field doing real shit with young black and brown people, I make mentorship / volunteering a priority and I allow all Seer people to do this work at any time of the day they want. Fuck a statement, I gotta look at myself in the mirror and ask…am I doing all I can.
Whether I’m running through neighborhoods impacted by gun violence like Frankford “yelling miles up guns down, don’t shoot protect the youth” with other people or using my heft as a speaker to get a few people invited to a conference to expose them to digital. I’m putting my time in — in a TON of places right now and I’m proud of the work I’m putting in.
This young man’s experience was only possible due to a lot of other people and they should also get their flowers.
Lauren “buck nasty” Boyd
Thank you for putting in the work with Hopeworks day in and day out — when I reached out looking for impressive underrepresented young people, there you were you knew exactly who to reach out to and yeah he’s impressive AF, you’ve been at this for YEARS and thank you for mentoring with Hopeworks young people for years, you put in extra work before, during, and after work to help so many of their youth impress people in interviews.
Lyns, it’s impossible to find a photo of us together because you are always in the background making things run. When I had a request of you to help me get more young underrepresented folks in the room, you were all about it. You inspired me to start thinking…how can I use my heft as a speaker to try to leverage that heft to get more opportunities to get young people coming up into rooms like these, lets see what I come up with. Come back to Philly next year and lets do something BIGGER together.
Rand Fishkin & Will Critchlow & Shawn Collins
You all in your own ways ran organizations that allowed me to “be me” when I presented. That gave me confidence to bring my authentic self to the stage year after year after year. You put me in a position for this to happen, just maybe if I had gotten enough “You should tone it downs” over the years this wouldn’t have happened.
I wouldn’t have even known who Hopeworks was if it wasn’t for you. Thank you for always finding ways to put good into the world. If ya’ll want a copy of the book I got a few to give out (kindle only).