I went to a talk this month, and I was so impressed by the topic they focused on: what the Black community will look like in 2050. There were speakers from all walks of life and arenas; university presidents, architects, non-profit organizers, investors, and various other professionals.
I received a very impromptu invitation to come out to the event, and had no idea what it would be like or what would be discussed. It was held at a center I was familiar with, however, I had not heard about it before I went out.
The speakers commented on their hopes and visions for Black professionals in future years, particularly on the need for spaces to collaborate as a community, for individuals choosing to identify with their Black identities, and so on. I got to speak to some amazing people, but couldn’t help but notice the low attendance. I started to wonder why I didn’t know about this event earlier, and how such an important topic could have earned so little interest. And while some claimed it was due to the timing and traffic, I thought, “No, it’s engagement.”
One speaker brought up an interesting explanation as to why the Black community is so divided. They said everyone wants to be the driver of their own canoe. Very few are willing to build a Titanic or hop on board with others to gain momentum and strength. Instead, we are all paddling on through the current in our own chipped and waterlogged canoes, making some progress but not as much as we could be—orshould be.
As a result, we have various people doing the same things in the Black community, but not together and so with less impact.
When I reflected on this metaphor, I thought of my own mindset over the years that it was a waste of time to work for someone else if I could do it by myself. If we continue to look at things that way, however, we are saying that the greatest fulfillment is ownership rather than progress. We are telling ourselves, our children, and our communities that individual pride is worth more than uplifting the community.
This mindset is warped. Gratification should not be the ability to say “I run this” or “I own this”; true gratification should come from the ability to say “This is the impact we have made”.
I think building relationships is a great first step to curing our self-centric perceptions of success. I know that, from personal experience, I have gone further, longer, and stronger with people than I have by myself. The real question is how do we commit to this attitude or perspective, and what does it look like?
There are a lot of challenges within the Black community centered around trust, competition, and power dynamics. Just like everything, however, these issues can be overcome.
I encourage everyone to set a goal this month to reach out to another business in your community that you share an audience or target with, and to meet up with those other business professionals to chat and find ways to collaborate. The only way we can upgrade from our little canoes is to combine resources, reroute our maps, and take turns paddling so that everyone gets a chance at the head of the ship. The only way to get where we’re going is to work together; and starting the conversation could be the start of a beautiful and beneficial partnership.