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Speaking My Truth: An Evening in Boston

It’s been less than a year since I started sharing my journey and mission with live audiences, and I’ve never been more convinced of the need for voices like mine (and yours) to be amplified.

One of the reasons that I sit on “diversity” panels is because the audiences I’m in front of rarely hear words like “slavery, racism, and discrimination” used in this context. I’m not sure how else to have an honest conversation about the challenges facing business leaders today, so it’s an honor to hold that space.

I’ll also freely admit that I’ve had to temper my frustrations about this “diversity and inclusion” conversation with the fact that I hold a tremendous amount of privilege: I’ve had the luxury of stepping away from lucrative jobs and roles while building a life around work from which I can’t be fired.

Yes, we have corporate sponsors at Abernathy but nobody tells me what to write and publish. And yes, organizations book me to speak and facilitate workshops, but I’m not beholden to any company other than my own. I don’t take this freedom for granted.

Indeed, I’ve spent the past six years making a living in ways that allow me to speak and stand in my truth. I’ve left millions in revenue on the table because of how I’ve chosen to live my life, but what I’ve gained in the process more than makes up for it.

When I share my point of view with the world, I’m touting a perspective informed by a deep understanding of my own psychology, lessons learned from a wide array of successes and failures, and a first-hand look at the way in which ideas propagate among diverse networks and demographics.

The Main Event
My appearance on Lisa Nicole Bell’s podcast last year resulted in Reginauld reaching out about his work in Boston, and offering an introduction to Leora, founder of Boston’s Racial + Economic Activated Dialogue (BREAD). She invited me to be a part of the BREAD Startup Classroom series on January 18th in Boston, and I graciously accepted.

Being back in Boston was significant because when I lived there for nearly a year, I spent precisely no time involved cultural or community work. Life for me was mostly tech, overwhelm, and burnout. By contrast, within an hour of arriving last month, I had both been warmly welcomed and escorted to an African restaurant for Nigerian food with members and partners of the BREAD team. As far as I was concerned, everything else to come would be gravy. Or fufu, as it were.

SuyaJoint All African Cuisine in Roxbury, MA. Yes.

At the venue later that evening, I was interviewed by The Transformative Culture (formerly Press Pass TV) team before spending time with the attendees and watching months of planning come together. One of the touches I most appreciated was the curated selection of books on sale during the evening. Leonard Egerton of Frugal Bookstore had a table set up with an array of titles I recommended to Leora weeks prior to my arrival.

After a hilariously awkward literal breaking of bread to kick off my talk, I took my seat and shared my story. It was a wide-ranging conversation that covered very little in the way of business, startups, and tech. Instead it was the most in-depth and personal conversation I’ve had about trauma, healing, and my journey.

I devoted the precious time we had to offering as real and transparent a narrative as I could muster, and inviting others to own the parts of our stories that don’t make headlines: the depression, the doubt, the pain, and the discomfort. Because these experiences are universal in the demographic that I seek to empower, and it’s a conversation many shy away from.

What I’ve learned is that my truth—not the thing I think others think I should be saying—is what brings liberation, healing, and even success (whatever that might look like). I hope you too have an opportunity to experience love and support while standing firmly in your unvarnished truth. What a gift.

My delicate ego has never been more satisfied.
They were gracious, I was not supposed to be in this photo…
The BREAD community is a special bunch.
This brother was a character. My face tells no lies.
These folks shared their vision after my talk in what BREAD calls a “Dream Cypher.”
Shouts out to Leonard Egerton of Frugal Bookstore.
Winston didn’t wanna step outside of his tax bracket for this picture. That’s fine.

By Willie Jackson

Willie Jackson is an inclusion strategist who empowers thoughtful organizations and the leaders who run them. He currently serves as Director of Diversity & Inclusion at Equity Impact Group, Founder and Publisher of Abernathy, and is a frequent writer and speaker on the topics of workplace equity, global diversity, and multicultural millennial leadership.

wjackson@abernathymagazine.com | Subscribe to the Abernathy newsletter.