I have listened to Jazmine Sullivan’s Tiny Desk Concert more times than I can count. If you haven’t watched it yet, do yourself a favor – it is below, you’re welcome!
I love it. The storytelling and honesty are unparalleled. I was introduced to her new album via her TinyDesk, and when I started digging into the entirety of HeauxTales, I was similarly blown away. She is sharing such vulnerable stories from women – rarely shared – and with so much empathy for the women. Usually I think when these stories are shared, they are accompanied by some level of shame (a number of people have written about this better than I have – this one from Pitchfork was my favorite) and she shared stories in a way that showed the full humanity of each person. So amazing.
I haven’t loved an album this much since SZA’s CTRL. When it came out in 2017, I think I played it every day for weeks – maybe even months?! The main difference that I saw between the two albums is that HeauxTales is a women-only album. There are no men on the tracks. I love the focus that gives to the listener. While CTRL doesn’t have any songs only by men, it does have a number of songs with prominent male rappers featured on them. I distinctly remember reading this one critique of CTRL that the men who were featured took too much control (hehe) over the lyrics and transformed some songs that were supposed to be liberating for women into something else entirely.
Ok, but back to the similarities. The songs that I hear talking to each other on both albums are Girl Like Me & Normal Girl. What I hear from both is this pressure to be who they think the person in their life wants them to be; instead of focusing on becoming their authentic selves. I take it out of the romantic context and see both songs talking about the pressure to conform. I can relate so strongly to this.
The specificity of both of their albums – each focuses on specific stories shared by women – also gives them a weightiness. I am a Revisionist History superfan right now and it reminds me of what Malcolm Gladwell shared in the episode The King of Tears. A reason why country music moves us so much is the specificity of the story told in the lyrics. This is completely different from traditional pop songs that are generalized to mean everything to everyone. He highlights how rap music actually mirrors country music in this way – it’s specific and thus more powerful. He didn’t dig into neo-soul in his podcast (which is the category I put Jazmine and SZA’s album into), but I think if he would have he would have seen a similar trend in neo-soul as he did for rap and country.
Both albums also come at a point of significant transition for me. During CTRL, I was just getting started at Precursor. HeauxTales comes at the tail end of a pandemic where a lot of transition. Very grateful to have this music to guide me during this time.
What album got you through a big transition in your life?
I am so excited to announce the I joined Colorwave’s Advisory Board! Colorwave is a two-part solution to accelerate equity and economic freedom in the tech and startup industry for Black, Latinx, and Native Americans. Our fellow program bridges the gap by giving early career professionals of color the training they need and connecting them with leadership opportunities at VC-backed private companies. We are also building partnerships with organizations that are looking to hire this talent into their leadership.
This is a full circle moment for me. In the summer of last year, I tweeted:
I realized through my responses that nobody else had solutions either. I’m so grateful that around this same time, these leaders came together to start building this.
Leandrew – who is an entrepreneur we backed at Precursor – asked me to join right around the same time as Jose Lopez in November of last year and we’ve hit the ground running. In only a few short months, I’ve been so overwhelmed by the fellows themselves. All 22 of the fellows who we are working with in this first cohort are brilliant and any startup would be lucky to have them.
I’ve also been so grateful by the outpouring of support by the ecosystem. From Mandela at Founder Gym who brought her wisdom to bear to build out the curriculum to VC partners like Lerer Hippeau who quickly signed as supporters to invest in this pipeline of black and brown talent to industry experts like Aston Motes who have offered their time and energy to talk with the fellows about what it’s like to be the first and only at a venture-backed startup. It’s been such an honor to work with this team!
If this year has taught us anything, it is our lives are inextricably intertwined. We are called to take actions to protect one other at a level I’ve never personally experienced. What a lesson to learn.
My hope is that this lesson has taught us that intersectionality is not only important when talking about how different women have different levels of access, privilege, etc, but that intersectionality applies to all things.
Real change happens at the intersection. How do we continue to build bridges so that we are walking towards that intersection instead of away from it?
I have been so grateful for audio this summer. My ability to concentrate has been impacted severely by the global pandemic-induced onset of ADD. So I haven’t really been able to read books like I used to. Instead, I have turned to audiobooks and podcasts to help me digest the same content in a different way. I usually listened to audiobooks or podcasts on BART during my commute when I didn’t have the capacity to digest the words fully because I was also paying attention to the people around me, checking my e-mail, watching insta, etc. What a gift to be able to silence those distractions and actually listen to these words.
Because I haved loved it so much, I decided to use audio to get my thoughts out too. I am not going to edit it like a podcast or anything because that focus on form (editing, music, etc.) impacts my ability to create. It forces a really specific constraint on what I want to be a more free-flowing exchange of ideas. I also realized though, that my voice conveys so much meaning, and only reading my text can limit my own ability to get across what I truly am saying.
I have been talking a friend of mine in the art world and she is writing something on Robert Venturi – an architect. I started going down a rabbit hole of what he wrote and was instantly inspired. He observed everything and constantly analyzed how people used spaces and how the architecture of those spaces impacted how those people used those spaces. How often do we take on the role of architect of our own content? Architect of our own lives?
Here is my first attempt at architecting this new way of content creation. Would love to hear your feedback!
I grew up in the healthcare system. As long as I’ve lived, my dad has been a kidney doctor. I remember spending days I took off from school for being sick in his doctor’s office and following behind him as he would greet his patients one by one at a dialysis clinic. I remember watching him take tests to continue his board certification. I remember the lovely nurses who gave me all my shots and took extra good care of me because I was Dr. Thomas’ daughter. It was fun!
I also remember the day my dad came home and told me he didn’t want me to be a doctor. He said that his work was not like it used to be. It was harder and harder to make a living and really impossible to make a life (he was on call all the time).
Despite this lifelong education in healthcare, when I got into venture, it took me a while to start getting excited about healthcare investing because I felt like there was just so much to learn. Like you couldn’t invest in healthcare unless you had spent 10+ years working full-time in a healthcare system. It reminds me of a quote in Angela Davis’ book – Freedom is a Constant Struggle – where she talks about the challenge of getting people interested in building solidarity movements for the people of Palestine. She says: “too often people feel that they are not sufficiently informed to consider themselves an advocate of justice”. And it is so sad.
How much should you really need to know to be an advocate of justice? When a system deliberately obscures how it works so much so that getting involved in it feels “overwhelming” – who does that benefit? The advocate or the status quo?
All that being said, I did start reading about the healthcare system more generally. I was introduced to An American Sickness by a friend of mine and it was such a wild read. My final conclusion was that every single piece of healthcare is intricately linked to another piece in order to reinforce the underlying system. It is impressive and really terrible for citizens. I recommend it to anyone looking for window into the healthcare system.
This inspired me to focus on companies that were building radical healthcare solutions. It bears mentioning the definition of radical which is: of, relating to, or proceeding from a root. In order to fundamentally disrupt our current healthcare system -which is generating unheard-of profits to healthcare leaders while still inflicting economic uncertainty on the masses – we have to get to the root cause of it, which for me meant investing in companies that are challenging the current system with alternative systems.
A few weeks ago, two big things happened. Beyonce dropped Black Is King on Disney+ and an article came out that shared that Kamala Harris has been undermined by the VP Search community for being “too ambitious”.
The attacks on both Black women started immediately. From Beyonce’s art getting critiqued as celebrating imperialistic, capitalist societies to Kamala getting the feedback that she is just too conservative and also too ambitious to serve as a VP pick.
I got really angry by these critiques. Part of it is that, I identify with both of them as a Black woman who also has chosen to work within imperfect systems. (Frankly, if you are a Black woman who participates in the US in any way – buys food/clothes/shelter, you have chosen to work within an imperfect system, but I digress…)
Part of what I (and I assume Beyonce and Kamala) deal with when you choose to become leaders within these systems is the psychological trauma that often occurs as “the only”. We chose to stay within these structures in order to make them more perfect for the many who are kept outside of them.
This labor is painful, mostly invisible and, more often than not, unpaid.
As a result, I’m deeply skeptical of outside critique on this labor. I have received too many disingenuous critiques to take them seriously. I will never forget the feedback I received when I decided to boycott UC Berkeley-Haas School of Business because they only admitted 5 Black kids into the MBA Class of 2020. My classmates and members of the Berkeley-Haas administration shared with me that boycotting isn’t nice or effective, completely dismissing the years I spent on campus working within the system of Haas to help it become more inclusive. It turns out that the boycotts were effective because they figured out how to admit significantly more Black students the following year. I believe that they were most effective because they were done by a previous student who had deeply studied the institution. I knew which media outlets to leak the story to, I knew which people on campus would be my allies, I knew how to navigate the politics among those on campus who would be my detractors.
This is one example of countless others I can point to over my career and I’m sure many fellow Black women have similar stories.
So, before I accept any inkling of negative feedback of Black women who are leaders within imperfect systems, I have come up with a list of questions first to qualify this feedback. Through the qualification process, I hope that it helps all of us understand more deeply how connected we truly are.
The main questions, I have are:
How do we ensure that we are holding every person within the system equally accountable?
Is your critique of this black woman a critique that you also have of every other person who has operated in this way within this system? If you don’t know the answer to that question, why have you chosen not to research others within this system? Do you have unreasonable expectations of the labor of black women compared to the labor of white men?
What about the critique that you have of this other person are you also perpetrating? How are you holding yourself accountable?
Another way of putting this is: What are you asking this person to do/expecting this person to do that you haven’t done? Why haven’t you done it?
There is an episode of The Good Place where they figure out that nobody has been admitted to heaven for the past 500 years. Essentially, they realized that even people who were trying to be so perfect weren’t able to earn enough points to get into heaven because of the negative externalities that their efforts created. I thought it was such a great illustration of how we are navigating a deeply complex world and have to make trade-offs every day.
When we rush to judge without the full context – of both the other person and also of ourselves (true self reflection is hard and too rare), it makes me queasy. I’m not saying that full context removes accountability, I’m saying that full context forces us to move from treating the other party as a symbol to an individual. It also forces us to explore and recognize our own agency.
A few things happened yesterday that got me thinking about this. The first is seeing this post by Jenna Wortham on Twitter. She is referencing the fact that many media companies are now realizing that they have created hostile work environments for black people.
the sad truth about this wave of media reckonings is that it feels way too late — so many talented Black journalists and media creators chose their sanity and moved on. grieving for all their careers / stories.— Jenna Wortham (@jennydeluxe) June 9, 2020
The second was an interesting conversation with my friend who mentioned that she didn’t understand why more white people did not see the importance of racial equality. I responded that this was probably a response born out of their own insecurity. For if there was racial equality and they didn’t have white privilege, where would they be? Would they be worse off than they are now? (answer is probably yes)
This got me reflecting on my own issues with imposter syndrome. And now I think I have a deeper clarity about what that means for me. So many black people have been excluded from racist institutions. As a result, so much greatness has been excluded from racist institutions. Because I have succeeded in spite of this, I am left with a less great competitive set. So my imposter syndrome comes not from the fact that I don’t belong with these other white people, it comes from the fact that maybe none of us belong. Maybe there is a completely different set of black, white, asian and latinX people who – if we had anti-racist systems – would be standing in our places.
So my imposter syndrome is actually not about me feeling less than great. I think I am pretty great actually. It’s about the sadness I have that I could be greater, could get better, could be more challenged if I was given the opportunity to compete with the best. And I believe that many, if not most, of the best are left out and/or pushed out because of racist policies and institutions.
None of us in any of our industries can write ourselves down as the best, the greatest or a member of the “midas list” until the industries themselves are anti-racist. To do the former before the latter is untruthful.
“You’re organizing people to be self-sufficient rather than to be dependent upon the charismatic leader…the most important thing was, and still is in my mind, is to develop people to the point that they don’t need the strong, savior-type leader.” – Ella Baker, 1968
“The good news is that racist and anti-racist are not fixed identities. We can be a racist one minute and be an anti-racist the next. What we say about race and what we do about race in each moment determines what, not who we are. I used to be racist most of the time. I am changing. I am no longer identifying with racists by claiming to be not racist. I am no longer speaking through the mask of racial neutrality. I am no longer manipulated by racist ideas to see racial groups as problems. I no longer believe a black person cannot be racist. I am no longer policing my every action around a white or black judge trying to convince white people of my equal humanity; trying to convince black people I am representing the race well.” – Dr. Ibram Kendi from How to Be Anti-Racist.
This past week was devastating. With the killings of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Avery, George Floyd and the countless others who we will never know, it seems like white america has finally decided that black people are important to listen to.
Black people have been and will continue to be important to listen to. I worry though, that in an effort to offload the work of critical thinking, white (and black) people will gravitate to a Black Messiah. Someone who tells them exactly what to think so that they don’t have to think for themselves at all and also helps them offload some of the guilt of participating in a racist society for so long which prevented them from listening to and believing in black people in the past. The work that needs to be done cannot be offloaded onto a black messiah. The work is deep, personal and painful reflection on how your behaviors have contributed to (& if you’re white), and benefited from) white supremacist institutions.
Since COVID-19 took hold, I’ve been given the privilege of working from home. Now that I have a little more time (no more commute, no more travel between SOMA and Embarcadero and Union Square for meetings, no more “get ready for work” time), I’ve been able to reflect on what I’ve enjoyed in this moment.
That focus on enjoyment has helped curb my anxiety during a time when everything is changing even more rapidly than usual.
I decided to share a list of my favorites here with hopes that it helps some of you as well!
The inspiration behind this list is the amazing Mari Andrew who is able to capture life’s agonies, joys and reflective moments in a way that is viscerally relatable.
#1 Dancing all night to jams that remind me of childhood alongside Janet Jackson and Oprah
#2 Catching up with another person in VC who has decided that this is the time to invest in companies focused on doing good
#3 Scheduling calls with my best friends in Beirut, Los Angeles and NYC to really check-in on each other
#4 Checking my neighborhood facebook group and learning that my neighbor is offering to pick up and deliver groceries for the most vulnerable in our community
#5 Learning that my cat hates slack notifications just as much as I do
#6 Seeing the flood of announcements on Twitter that people are donating money to charities
#7 Being able to join my dance class with my favorite dance teacher from the comfort of my living room + not feel guilty for ducking out early!
#8 Taking an extra moment between e-mails to really understand the feelings behind my reactions instead of just reacting
Given that my inspiration is Mari Andrew, I felt like I had to end with one of my favorites by her from her book, “Am I There Yet?“
Ah‚ you’re part of something way bigger
Bigger than you‚ bigger than we
Bigger than the picture they framed us to see
But now we see it
And it ain’t no secret‚ no
— Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, “BIGGER”, The Gift Album
I recently realized that when I enter conversations with other VCs, I have a pretty complex background song playing. It’s not always Bigger by Beyoncé, but it usually has a similar tune. 🎶
To help people understand how to work with me and get the beat down of the song playing in my head, I decided to create a user guide. A “user guide” (or manifesto or first principles) is a list of your own values.
I decided to create a User Guide when I realized that I’m pretty complicated & putting my values down where everyone could reference them could be a useful resource to decrease stress & anxiety of interactions
Here is my first stab. I hope you’ll treat it as a living document that reflects the living, evolving person I am.
Let’s begin with a quick summation of my life story:
I grew up in San Diego, CA
I spent summers in West Virginia with my mom’s side of the family — that includes, but is not limited to 11 uncles, 1 aunt and 20+ cousins
I graduated from Duke University with a major in public policy, just 4 years after the lacrosse scandal
I drafted legislation for the City of New York + lobbied the federal government to pass it
I conducted tax preparation services for low-income New Yorkers, supported a multi-city roll-out of a city program & raised money from private sector organizations like Nike to invest in New York City’s public schools
Then my background starts to get boring…
I went to business school at Berkeley-Haas
Then it gets exciting again!
After business school, I helped Charles Hudson manage and operate Precursor VC
Cool cool cool, if you have read this far, thanks for getting up to speed – we are now the same page.
So let’s get into the question I really came here to answer: “what is my relationship to venture capital”.
Short answer: It’s complicated 🤷🏾♀️
1. Venture Capital has a transformational ability to support and finance companies that are building scalable solutions for people and places that have been systematically under-invested in. That excites me more than anything which is why I’m here. 🎉
c. There has been little action taken to decrease this inequality and instead, immense work has been done to reinforce a brand of meritocracy. As a result, the word “meritocracy” and the assumption that folks with power deserve it or earned it hurts me.
3. This informs my own imposter syndrome as a black woman in VC — I know that 1M+ black or brown people could be great at this job and yet somehow because of my own luck, I have ended up here. So I take great care to try and call in those left outside of the room & make their voices heard.
a. My imposter syndrome has nothing to do with a lack of pride and confidence in my own work. I work very hard. I produce high-quality work. I am really proud of it. I am very quick to anger when I am around people who don’t have high integrity around their own work product.
b. You can read more thoughts on my ideas of imposter syndrome here.
4. I struggle with the evangelization of technology and startups. Startups/tech/entrepreneurship is hard, but it is not the hardest job. Having family across the country with many different socioeconomic status’ keeps me grounded. A harder job to me is trying to making ends meet while working for less than minimum wage in the only job available to me in the small town where I live. I’m not in venture capital because it’s the hardest work available, I’m doing it because it has the widest impact.
5. We are all complicit in an economic system that has caused significant trauma on people, communities and countries across the world.
6. In order to be a productive member of society, being a thoughtful investor is not enough. The work starts with you. The arc of the universe does not bend towards justice if nobody does the work to make it so. How are you building a pattern of reflection and growth? How are you living your values? Do you wonder how what you say/do impacts others? What are you hoping to accomplish in this lifetime? How are you actively working to raise your own consciousness so you don’t become a reactive pawn in a greater system created by other people? These are questions I struggle with daily. One of the ways I work towards addressing them is by building a full life outside of my day job. I am an active supporter of Beyond Emancipation, the North Carolina Bail Fund, Esq Apprentice and am getting more and more involved in my own community of Longfellow, Oakland.
a. One of the best places to start is with your own language. How are you talking about people who are different than you? I was just introduced to this quote by Toni Morrison that says: “Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence.” It is so true.
7. I think that listening to people different from you, and changing your opinion accordingly, is the biggest act of courage you can take. This is based on my love for humility. It is my favorite trait (right above gratitude) and one I try to practice often. Humility isn’t a widely appreciated trait in VC because it is at odds with industry standards of conviction, assertiveness and self-righteousness which makes this work hard sometimes.
a. One of my other favorite traits is kindness. I just don’t know why people chose to be mean. I just don’t have it in me and it makes me sad when people chose meanness over kindness and compassion.
b. My third favorite trait is thoughtfulness. I am not one to make decisions in the moment. I need time to think and reflect before making decisions.
8. The hustle culture of entrepreneurship and tech is problematic. It is particularly problematic for communities of color where the old adage that “you must work twice as hard to get half as much” rings true. That isn’t a life I wish to cultivate or to exhault. It leads to burnout and breeds exhaustion which can create even more anger amongst underrepresented communities. I recognize the privilege in this lifestyle choice and also believe that my ancestors wouldn’t want me to live in a way that hurts me if I don’t have to. I approach my life and my work within VC with this lense and work hard to build boundaries so that I can have a full work and home life. Please don’t try to e-mail me on weekends and please please please don’t follow me on instagram 🙃
a. That being said, one of the values that I hold deeply is that in order to be successful, you must be proactive. If you are reaching out to me cold and would like to speak with me, I expect that you have your questions prepared. If I have invested in your company, I expect that you will treat me as a valuable resource who can help guide you. One of the most frustrating experiences I have had, and would like to prevent, is feeling like the person I’m talking to isn’t taking full advantage of my time and and/or isn’t taking responsibility to make their situation better. One of the quotes I try to live by is: we all have agency over our own lives and I have continually developed a practice of proactiveness. In order to work together effectively, I need to see you model proactiveness as well. I try really hard and work best with people who are also trying really hard.
10. Being a black woman doesn’t mean I have all the answers to inequality within this industry or outside of it. Please read a book (or an article) before asking me any questions pertaining to inequality, white supremacy, racism, etc.
Long Story, Short: I love venture capital and technology, but my relationship to it is complicated. This industry was not created in 1976 with the invention of Apple. Books are important, history is important and without those two things you can become an actor in a greater narrative that you didn’t know existed — I try my hardest not to be that actor, but mess up sometimes. When I could do better, I expect you to call me out and I promise to listen. To earn my respect, I expect you to try hard too. I also expect you to mess up sometimes — at which point, I will call you out on it and expect for you to listen. We’re all human.