2015 NCWIT Summit – Plenary II, Collective Action by Benjamin Todd Jealous
JEFFREY FORBES: So collective impact refers to commitment of a group of important actors in different sectors to a common agenda for solving a specific social problem. And NCWIT is a great example of that. NCWIT is a national, collective-impact organization for girls, women in computing. With over 650 member organizations, we share a common agenda: create and engage, and mutually reinforcing activities like NCWIT's aspirations in computing and believe in measurement and evidence. To increase our impact, we must build constituency in our own organizations and in our local communities. We must also implement national change such as in K-12 computing education or reducing societal bias as to who does computing. Our next speaker Benjamin Jealous, will offer us insight form his wast experience as a political and civic leader. As president of the NAACP between 2008 and 2013, if you didn't know, and AACP of course is the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization. Mr. Jealous greatly increased the organization's capacity to work on issues related to the economy, and mobilizing voters. And earned accolades for reviving the organization. Ben is now a partner at Kapor Capital, where he invests in C-stage start-up companies that use technology to solve social problems. Mr. Jealous holds a B.A. in Political Science from Colombia University and a Master's degree in comparative social research at the University of Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. Please join me in welcoming Ben Jealous to the stage. [audience clapping] [upbeat music]
BENJAMIN JEALOUS: I’ll tell you, in like, 300 speeches in the last six years I don't think I've ever had that happen to me. [laughing] I feel a bit like Groucho Marx. Well, good morning!
AUDIENCE: Good morning!
BENJAMIN JEALOUS: It is great to be here with you, excited to be here, my nine-year old daughter is here with me, but, she'll be coming in a bit later, because we got here at /3 am/ in the morning, [laughing] and she wants to eat. Honestly, Dad does too, but.. The, look, I've been very much looking forward to being here, as a partner at Kapor Capital, we are very much involved both through our investment table, which 48% of the companies we've invested in are black, latino or women-founded, and quite frankly, we're eager to see that number increase, because our investment table is 80% black, latino and women. Or for through the key percent of our social impact where we fund a series of pipeline building programs across the country and actually operate some of our own, including the Level Playing Field Institute, which does both research on how to make the Silicon Valley more inclusive, and also operates in early-stage pipeline program, the summer math and science honors program, which is about 60% girls, 95% black and Latinos been successfully taking young people who are from schools that are 90% free or reduced lunch, kids we look for, B and C kids with promise, we figure somebody else is always coming for the A students with promise. We bend their trajectories up, into CAL, into Stanford, into MIT, even with CAL's notoriously low racial inclusion stats, we have more than 20 children on campus right now, who started off as B and C students in some of the poorest schools in California and have had their lives transformed through three summers with SMASH. That work that we're all doing together, that NCWIT is doing, the Kapor Center for Social Impact that Kapor Capital are doing, to make tech more inclusive is critical at this moment. We've taken on a big challenge, you know, one the one hand, if you look at the state of race in the Silicon Valley, inclusion, you have come up against the fact that not only is the Silicon Valley poised to play the role in this century that Detroit played in the last century in our country as the primary engine for growth, but from a racial perspective it is no more inclusive today than Detroit was 100 years ago. One to two percent, right, these great sort of, what do they call them, competitive advantages that they had to sue a federal court to protect, they could not release their diversity numbers because it was a matter of, you know, business edge, to come out and then finally released them and say 'Well, actually, we all have the same numbers, one to two percent black or latino employees.' And then you work from a gender perspective, and as a dad who's fiercely invested in his daughter's future, as a man who's a second generation, involved with the feminist movement in California, my father spent his entire career, you just have to kind of be gobsmacked by the fact that we are producing about half as many, women who are computer programmers, coming out of college, as we did 30 years ago. Things are supposed to get better, right? Indeed they have gotten much worse. And indeed, if we look across our country, these are times when it seems that history, in many ways, can go two ways at once. We're hearing South Carolina where just six weeks ago, Walter Scott, an unarmed black man was shot in the back by North Charleston cops for literally no reason at all. Where in South Carolina do you go to the state capital, somewhat quixotically, the first governor of color since reconstruction, Nikki Haley, insists on continuing to fly the confederate battle flag in front of the state capital. I once asked her 'What would Gandhi do?' She didn't really have a good answer. [laughing] We're here as members of the tech eco system, which is again, producing half as many women computer programmers as we did 30 years ago. This morning, I'm gonna talk less about the things that we all know and more about the thing that we all do. We're all investing in change in this world for the better, as quickly as possible as we can for our children in a context in which, quite frankly, not everything moves forward all the time. And I wanna talk about what it takes to bend the moral arc of the universe towards justice, what it takes to win faster than you think is possible, what it takes to lead others in transforming this world. And I've.. [smacking lips] I've practiced the art of social change, if you will, professionally, now for 25 years next year, started out in the mail room in NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the approach I'm gonna talk about, has been a joy, it is hard, but it's been a joy for my own life, in 2013 in Maryland, my team and NAACP just in one state, we decided to take on some issues in our own state of our headquarters in the midst of a massive assault on rights across the country, literally a year when we saw across the country, the far-right right wing attack from the action, voting rights, women's right to choose, LGBT equality, attack even our right to drink clean water, all at the same time. And that year we knitted together idealists and activists of single-issue kind of warriors from multiple coalitions in Maryland, in one year in Maryland we expanded voting rights, we passed sensible safety reform, passed the DREAM act, we passed marriage equality and we abolished the death penalty for the first time below the Mason-Dixon. But how does that start? It starts with people deciding what the one big thing that they're gonna focus on is. And then ultimately in that massive assault deciding that we were gonna bring all of our forces together and take on the model, the three musketeers, all for one, and one for all. But you only get there when you have dreamers who have taken great risk for a long time and built their movements. So let's talk about this phenomenon America today, where history's moving two ways at once, where we see sort of greater national concern about inclusion in tech and yet again, we're doing half as good at producing women computer programmers as we did when I was a child. I remember the first time I realized that history could move two ways at once on ya. I was in college. It was a friends 21st birthday and a round of toasts went up. The first was to my boy for turning 21. The next, this group of young black and Latino students, Ivy League University, in the midst of the early 1990s and the urban violence that typified that time and in too many places, continues to typify our times. Friend decided to raise a toast and it turned into libations of memory for all of his friends and ultimately our friends who were killed or sent to prison before we ever made it to the ivory tower. And then trying to turn the mood around, friend threw up a toast that one more of us had survived to 21. A toast, one more person of any group, let alone his group, let alone my group had merely breathed past their 21st birthday in America, the world's wealthiest, most powerful democracy currently and ever in history. The motion cut me like a knife. The notion that somebody thought it an achievement for a member of any group, let alone their own group, breathe past the 21st birthday, let alone mine, cut me like a knife and I lost sleep for days. And I did what I'm still blessed to be able to do. I went to my grandmother's table. My grandmother's 98 years old, she'll be 99 in November. She's brilliant and fierce. She commuted from the tenements os West Baltimore and the University of Pennsylvania to get her Master's Degree before Brown versus Board of Education. And she carries with her 200 years of black history told firsthand. A hundred or so she heard from her grandparents who were born slaves. And a hundred or so she has witnessed. Almost a hundred she has witnessed. As I went to my grandma's table and I just put my burden down and I said, "Grandma, what happened? "What happened, Grandma, you said that we "were supposed to be the children of the dream. "That we were the kids who were born after "The Civil Rights Act, after the March on Washington, "after the sit-ins and the protests. "That we were simply meant to reap. "That we didn't have to sow. "That you all had done that. "You had sown the fields with your blood "and your sweat and your tears as you overcame "and ultimately killed Jim Crow just like "your grandparents and their forebearers "had overcome and killed slavery. "Jim Crow's daddy. "So explain to me, Grandma, what happened? "Cause my generation, these so-called children "of the dream, but we've come of age "just in time to find ourselves "the most murdered generation in the country. "Same town Winchester and Baltimore "we've been talking about so much. "And the most incarcerated on the planet." And my grandmother looked at me, and she paused, she started and she stopped and eventually she just looked at me and she said plainly, "Grandson, it's sad "but it's simple. "We got what we fought for, but we lost what we had." We got what we fought for but we lost what we had. We got the right to live in any neighborhood we want to in any city in this country and we lost land. A lot of people in America lost land, but 500 to 1,000 acres per day from the start of World War II until the end of The Cold War. And only started to go down in the 90s because there wasn't much land left to lose. We got the right to be a police officer, we lost the right to live in safe communities. Inner West Baltimore where my mom was raised, was a lot safer 50 years ago, 60 years ago, than it is right now. And I'm just talking about the relationship with the cops during segregation. Look at the same town, there's not a moral lesson, object lesson in the inadequacy of simple demographic diversity. It is that, we've got six officers. Rightfully being prosecuted for killing an unarmed black man by turning the back of a van into a mobile torture chamber. Three of them are black. At least one of them is female. We got the right to send our kids to any school in town. Mom to the segregated Western High School for Girls in 1955. But we lost the right to assume that they would be loved and cared for in any school they went to. The way that my grandma had been loved and cared for in that one room school house in Souther Virginia or my, mom, in the schools during segregation in Baltimore. Now my grandmother's indictment... Of the danger of not knowing what others have gained for you was pretty clear. It was enough to simply know what you're fighting for at any point in history. You can't just say today, oh we're fighting to increase inclusion of women in tech without understanding that you're starting halfway back from where people were starting from 30 years ago. It's not enough to know what you're fighting for, you also have to know what you have. And that was pretty clear. But in between the lines, within the gaps, in her eyes, you can see a much deeper concern, which is that she feared that my generation, now the rising generation in this country, adults between say 18 and 45 or even 50. People who have been running this country for the next 30 to 50 years, increasingly, well, did not understand either, in other words, had not chosen to fight for anything, weren't clear what they were fighting for, and yet didn't know the real price of anything that had been acquired for them. The rights, the privileges, the access, the opportunities that had been secured by previous generations. And therefore, has set themselves up to merely lose. To merely lose. Because if you don't know what you're fighting for, the chances that you are going to achieve it are nil. And if you don't know what others have gained for you, the chances you might lose it are pretty high. So there we were. And I had to get back to school and so I said goodbye to my grandmother. She was living in Cape May, New Jersey. An all black retirement community in West Cape May, a vacation community, retirement community with her generation. Got back on the bus, the New Jersey Transit Bus for the long ride back to New York City. And as I sat there on that bus, I decided that day, more than 20 years ago now, that if I did anything before I got off that bus, I would figure out what I was fighting for. I thought about my mom and my grandmother and my grandma's mom and her mother. And the women and the men in my family all the way back tot he end of slavery and before and what was clear was that every generation had been raised to fight. And every generation, things got better off. Sometimes powerfully, sometimes just merely, perceptively in the review mirror, but every generation moved the ball forward. And here I was a part of this bold experiment of oppressed people in this country who's children were told that they didn't have to fight. They could simply reap what others had sown. And well, it hadn't worked so well. [chuckling] And so maybe it was time to go back to the old formula. And so I pulled out a sheet of paper. You know, just a blank sheet of paper, a notebook, just started writing down everything that really ticked me off. Everything that concerned me about my community, about my city, about my country. And something that was more weighty, more significant, more real, if you will, went down on the sheet, I would cross out something before it. But you know, all that winnowing back and forth and inspiration and just anger on that page. I was stuck eventually with six things I couldn't figure out which one of them was more perfect. Which one of them was better than the others. And then I heard a voice from my grandfather. He told me a long time ago, when I was eight or nine years old and I was making a plan to raise money in some charity fundraising competition at my school. I told him I had the perfect plan and he says, "stop, can I wince?" And he said, I said, "what's wrong, gran?" He said, "please, don't bring me any perfect plans." He said, "grandson, you think you have a perfect plan?" By the way, this goes for pitch decks as well. "You think you have a perfect plan. "Well man, you'll be so in love with your plan, "you'll stop paying attention to this thing "called reality. "And you'll be so busy pursuing the perfect plan, "you'll miss reality and you'll fail." He said, "grandson, go back, bring me a less perfect plan. "Just make a good plan, a plan you think is really good. "The one that you are ready to admit, "may not be perfect." And well you'll have to stay in tune with reality, because you would be convinced your plan could be improved and it'll keep improving and you got a chance of succeeding. In other words, don't let the perfect get in the way of the good. And so I said, well I can't figure out which one of these is perfect. WE're approaching a tunnel in New York City and we're going to be at Port Authority in a minute, I'm just going to close my eyes and draw a circle and whatever's most in that circle, that will be the thing that I will fight for. There's no limit on what you can get done on New Jersey Transit. And so I just closed my eyes and drew a circle and opened my eyes and, close you're eyes. I said, I don't know how to do that. Opened my eyes and what was in the circle was increase the justice in the justice system. I had no earthly idea how to do that. But realize that immediately worked in the negative. At least I would know what meetings I didn't have to go to, I didn't have to focus on. And so I tore out that little piece of paper and I put it in my pocket. I think I heard Oprah say once that you put your things, your goals up on the mirrors. I got some tape, put it up on the mirror in my room. God bless Oprah. [laughing] And yeah, I would look at it each day and again it would remind me, well don't worry about going to that coalition meeting or that class. I could feel less obligated to focus on that this week, I need to focus on this. A funny thing happened. A little light went off in side of me. No one else could see it at first, but you know, things that were tough decisions became easier to make. I woke up each morning feeling like I was living life on purpose and eventually I could, to glowed just enough I could see the next step in front of me. And the next step after that. And I kept following the steps and two years later I'd been kicked out of school and I was in Jackson, Mississippi, fighting a Governor who wanted to turn a college into a prison. It's a whole other story. Lights are dangerous in dark rooms sometimes. Sometimes you lead yourself right into a hornets nest. But something else happens. You keep that light turned on, you invest in it, you invest your faith in it. And that light starts to grow bigger and bigger and other people begin to attract towards you, you know. I learned something when I was a child. I used to love to fish and I was down, I grew up, parents marriage had been illegal as we left the east coast and the south and we moved out to California where blacks and whites who were married were more accepted. Not completely, but more. And you know, it's a funny thing that happens. You have a black mom and a white dad and you end up looking rather Sicilian. And so I was... [audience laughing] It's a long history of why that works out but and so I was down doing what I usually did as a child and I was fishing with a buddy and we lived in a place that was safe enough to do that in Monterrey. And an old Sicilian fisherman who always wanted to know who's grandchild I was. Right, cause he figured, you're down on the docks, you look Sicilian, you must be one of ours, who's your granddad? And I would say Jerome Todd and they'd be like. [audience laughing] And so, but still they were generous and wonderful sweet old guys who played bocce and knitted nets while their sons risked their lives to feed all of us. And one day one of them walked up to me and he said, "you know, Ben, I see you out here, "you work really hard to catch these rock fish." He said, "but what you need to do, "tell your dad to get a boat and a lantern. "And have him take you out at night. "Hang that lantern on the side of the boat "and just get your net ready. "Because squid are phototropic." I'll never forget that word, he said phototropic with his thick Italian accent. I said, "sir, what does that mean?" He says, "they are attracted to light." It turns out people are a bit like squid. We're attracted to light. And so you light that light inside of you and you invest your faith in it and your energy and you take risks and it grows bigger and bigger and other people start to follow you and they're willing to take risks with you. And that's why Governor Fordice, a good buddy of David Duke, the most openly racist Governor we've seen in our country in a very long time. But in the early 90s, when he said that he was going to shutdown two of Mississippi's three historically black colleges and turn one of them into a prison, we weren't only able to turn black public opinion against him, we succeeded in turning the white public opinion against him. That school is open. There is no prison at Mississippi Valley State University, Jerry Rice's alma mater and All Point State, which he intended to shutdown is open as well. [applause] And it's all made a testament to all the lights that we were able to pull together as young people turned on and focused on solving one big problem, right away. A couple of years later I was at the National Coalition to abolish the death penalty. I was their program director. I was 23 years old. And we had decided to take on abolishing the juvenile death penalty in this country. There was a list of countries in the world that still sentenced children to die. Somalia, Yemen, China, Saudi Arabia, and Nigeria I believe were all on the list at the time. The rest of the countries were similar, except for one, the world's greatest, wealthiest, democracy and self-professed beacon for human rights, America. And as somebody who descends from eight Revolutionary War soldiers and a family that really believes all that, even me, to my core, about us being a beacon for human rights, I was angry. How was this possible? And as an organizer I knew that we were going to need young people if we were going to convince legislators to have the courage of their convictions as well, because we were needed to remind them what, you know, what a 16-year old looks like and thinks like, and maybe why you should not hold them accountable in the most serious way, one human being can ever hold another accountable. And so we were looking for high school students who would join this crusade to abolish the juvenile death penalty. And this was a time when the death penalty in our country was considered to be something you just could not change. We went looking and looking and looking. We ended up right down here in South Carolina. Johnsonville, South Carolina. A little town, deeply segregated high school had a, they had a black prom and a white prom for instance. Had, the 90s. Had. [audience laughing] Know where you all are, all right. Know where you all are, that's all I gotta say, you know? Last time I was in Sea Isles, I said, you know, I said, "what's new?" They said, "oh, oh, oh, you know back on the mainland there was a clan rally last week." I was like, "really? "They still do that in public." They're like, "yeah." Know where you are. So, [chuckling], ended up in Johnsonville. This little segregated high school in this little town, this little state, with the largest, and by the way, hugely multi-racial anti-death penalty group in the country. And the woman who was in charge of it. The young lady that was in charge of it, Jotaka Eaddy, 16-years old, she was the head cheerleader, she was the founder of the student anti-death penalty group and she was the self-professed queen of the weekend drive-through aisle at McDonald's. [audience laughing] And she was a force of nature. She's now in Silicon Valley. She's SVP for government relations for PayNearMe and doing incredible work. And along the way became the head of voting rights for the NAACP. We've worked together as organizers now for more than 20 years. She hates it when I point that out. [laughing] But that time that we first met her, she was 16-years old and we said, "you know, "Jotaka, how did you do this? "How did you pull this off? "Here we are in South Carolina and you're "fascinating high school where you've got "a black prom and a white prom and you literally "got dozens of black and white kids "all working together to abolish the death penalty. "As far as we can tell, they are as "you know, kind of, likely to be black and white, "as they are to be Democrat and Republican. "How did you get this?" And she said, "well you know, it was "kinda easy." She said, "I was working at the drive-through lane..." [audience laughing] "and I was reading the paper. "Cause you know, that job isn't that hard." [audience laughing] There's a lot of people who do it, think it's hard but Jotaka's a genius, so there's a lot, you know. "So it isn't that hard." She says, "I can recognize people, "who they are by their voice and I remember "their order based on who they are and so, "you know, they'll just say, hello and I'll say, "oh, Mrs. Smith, is that you? "And she'll say, yeah girl." She says, "well come on up, I know what you want. "You know how much it costs, see ya "in a couple of minutes. [audience laughing] "And so, you know, I was just reading my paper "and taking orders and I saw this headline "and the headline said, state sentences "teen to die. "And I read it again and it still said "the same thing and I read the article "and I saw that boy is 16-years old. "And I'm 16-years old and I said, "that's outrageous. "It's gotta stop, I'm gonna, what can I do? "I wanna help make it stop." She said, "well you know, that was Saturday "and Sunday I went to church and I prayed on it "and I still wasn't quite sure what to do "about it but I knew I was gong to make it stop. "I was more clear looking at Jesus on the cross "and whatnot and imagining that 33 year old man "as a 16 year old boy, I was just like, "no, this has got to stop." She said, "and I woke up Monday morning "and it was clear to me what the first step was." The light was turning on in her. Asked her what the first step was, she said, "the first step, "I need to get my high school NAACP chapter, "which I belong but wasn't very active, "to join me in the crusade." She said, "well that took about 2 1/2 minutes." And then one of the students said, "okay, Jotaka, what do we do next?" And she said, "you know, I have no idea. "I thought this might take a little longer." [audience laughing] She said, "what do you all think we can do?" And somebody raised their hand and said, "well, you know, Jotaka, this being South Carolina, "we're gonna need some folks other than "ourselves to get this done. "I suggest we go to the Pro Life Group." He looked around the room and he tried to look cool, he wasn't even quite sure who was in the Pro Life Group. [audience laughing] Segregated high school. That's like the most right-winged group on campus. We're the most left-wing group on campus. We're the blackest group on campus. They're the whitest group on campus. How do we find each other? Well, the beautiful thing about young people is that not only are they smart they can figure things out, but it turns out their brains haven't quite finished developing yet. [audience laughing] It's part of our argument against the juvenile death penalty at the time, actually. And it turns out I'm convinced, the last part to develop is that part that we, as adults, utilize to justify our hypocrisy every day and twice on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, depending on your faith. And so, a beautiful thing was, the NAACP chapter, they just show up. The Pro Life Group says, :hey, what are you all doing here?" [laughing] "So we're here to ask you to join us." "Who are you again?" "We're the NAACP." "You guys Pro Life?" "Eh, not exactly." [audience laughing] "So how can we help you?" "We want to join us in our crusade "to abolish the juvenile death penalty." "Well why do you think we'd be interested?" "Well you can't be pro life and be "pro death penalty, can you?" [audience laughing] [applause] And the beautiful thing about young people is their brains aren't finished developing yet. They cannot justify their hypocrisies as easily as we can. So he just said, "we never thought of that before. [laughing] "Let us huddle. "Yeah, I guess you are right. "How can we help you?" And they formed their little multiracial single issue coalition that did not have a snowballs chance in, you know where, getting things done in South Carolina, but they inspired a country and we were able to point to them wherever we go. And we eventually said, well we need Jotaka on our team. And so we went to Jotaka and we said, Jotaka, look, do you have family and friends in DC? She said, yeah, we do. I said, why don't you come up and we'll train you how to organize and you know what, the next darn near decade, she trained us. She went on to be the first black woman to be Student Body President of the University of South Carolina, having established the brand new anti-death penalty group as the largest advocacy group on campus. And somewhat quixotically, if you know anything about the University of South Carolina, you don't usually become Student Body President being some left-wing nut, but she's a special kind of left-wing nut. And so, then she had my job. Which is what happens you all, when we find an ambitious young person, they eventually take your job. And she's leading the National Coalition to abolish the death penalty's national campaigns. I was on the board. And the Supreme Court winked at us the way they occasionally do. He said that they were ending the, abolishing the executions of people with low IQ's. Make it impossible to sentence somebody with a low IQ to death. For two reasons. The first was that the majority of states had outlawed the practice. See, in our country, turns out Harvard wasn't what it is today, say... 250 years ago. And we got these little words "or" and "and" confused. A thousand years of British common law. Punishments that are cruel or unusual, are not allowed. In our Constitution it has to be cruel and unusual. It turns out, America, torture, if it's popular, totally constitutional. [audience laughing] And so they said, it was unusual because the majority states had outlawed the practice and that was the litmus test. And it was cruel because it was like executing a child. Something we still did. And so there was our road map. There was our wink. And so we got to work and the world's wealthiest law firms jumped out right in front of us. ABA jumped out and they said, finally the Supreme Court's giving us the green light. We are going to go after the 27 states in this country that still sentence young people to die. We will focus on those 10 states where the issues been debated recently. Our side laws narrowly and there are children on the row and we will deliver victory with at least three of those states. The world's wealthiest law firms and lobbying shops. And they went oh for 10. A couple days after then, we jumped out with a press release and a press conference and literally, the media set was a day late and a dollar, like a million dollars short. They said, we're going to go after those states, among the 27, where there are no children on the row, but it is technically a possibility that one could be put there because the statute has no minimum age. And in these states that have actually never put any children on the row, we're going to ask them to encode their values. Eventually we had gone oh for seven. Jotaka was the leader/organizer, she was at a desk in Washington. We also recognized she was our best organizer, she was kind of like Michael Jordan, that short period where he coached basketball, you know, we're just like, it's a good coach, but a better player. So, ABA had gone oh for 10, we had gone oh for seven, there were three states left, and if you would, there was a reason why they were the last three states left. They were South Dakota, Wyoming, and New Hampshire. To say, if you sat in a room in Washington DC and said, what do you all know about those three states, some of you might say, there's good skiing in New Hampshire, thank you very much. And so, and so, the lawyers get on the phone, they say, "who ya'll sending to your last three states?" And they were half concerned and half giddy that we would meet their same fate and they wouldn't have to feel so ashamed. And we said, "Jotaka Eaddy." He said, "Jotaka, Jotaka, Jotaka Eaddy from South Carolina?" "Is there any other Jotaka Eaddy, you found one? "What's your point?" He said, "well, how can we put this?" Note to powerful executives in the room, when you find yourself saying how can I put this, stop. Back up, you may be about to get yourself in a lot of trouble. "How can we put this? "You send Jotaka Eaddy from South Carolina, "South Dakota, Wyoming, and New Hampshire, "well, they may just become convinced that people "who oppose the death penalty have landed from Mars. "And they may start executing children "just to spite us." Note to all the change makers in the room, all Ya'll, all the organizers and the people who are pushing through change at their companies and in their communities, when your lawyer is trying to scare the bajeezus out of you, and they aren't citing law, you have the right to ignore them. And so we did. And we sent Jotaka. And she called back her first day from South Dakota and said, "you know, "pretty much like the lawyers predicted, "I was just walking down the street, "I hadn't said a word to anybody outside "of the airport, I just parked my car, "I was carrying my bags, I was walking "to the motel, and this white lady walked "up to me and she said, you aren't from "around here, are you?" And Jotaka said, "you know, I hadn't said a word to anybody "outside of the airport, but I still, "I'm sorry, ma'am, was it my accent "that gave it away?" [laughing] And she said, "she just looked at me "and she said, no, there are no black women in this town. "And kept on walking." So, Jotaka went up into her motel room, she put the bags on the floor, she threw her backpack into the corner, she laid down on her bed and she said, what am I gonna do? And she pulled out that little playbook from Johnson, Millhouse. Step one, find the high school NAACP chapter. Newsflash, I'm in South Dakota. [laughing] Substitute that with the high school amnesty international chapters, there are a few. Step two, find the high school pro life groups. Former multi issue, in this case, mono-racial, but multi-issue coalition. A single issue coalition. That went pretty well. She got them all together and said, "what do we do now?" She said, "because honestly, we never "got beyond this step. "What do you all think we should do?" Somebody said, "well, what do the lobbyists "say we should do?" The lobbyists say "we shouldn't worry about "the people who are with us "and we don't need to worry about "folks who are against us. "We just need to focus about the people "who are on the fence and getting them "over to our side." They said, "well, how has that worked "for them so far?" "They've gone oh for 17." "Well then, why don't we forget what they say "and just go talk to everybody?" It turns out people are more complex than any lobbyist can put down on any chart or any strategist can summarize quickly. Young people show up to the folks who are with them, well, they feel like the cavalry's shown up, they are emboldened, they are, they are focused, they are ready to take risks, they are ready to call in favors and convince friends who they always knew knew the right thing to do, but was afraid to do it that they need to get their courage right now. They show up to the folks who are on the fence and they're just so in love with the fact that we got the most conservative kids in the state and the most liberal kids in the state and they all agree on something, that they want to be part of that. That's a much cooler party to be in. And then they get to the folks who are against them. Well, it turns out, there's no old politician who didn't start off as a young idealist. And honestly, if they could find anything to do, even like staying home and taking a nap on the day that they would otherwise have to be arguing with a bunch of young idealists from both sides of the American political spectrum who both think that they're dead wrong because all those kids happen to agree on what they should be doing, that they're unwilling to do. It's just not a debate that they want to have, so they were completely demotivated. And we won South Dakota. Jotaka shows up in Wyoming a few weeks later, we win Wyoming. Goes on to New Hampshire, we win New Hampshire. The governor vetoes it, but we won the state legislature. Now, all those lawyers were actually useful to explain to us that in the supreme court, they really just care about the will of the state legislatures being representative of the American people. One governor's vote at the end at the day, no matter how powerful that vote may be, is just one person talking. And so, we were good in a majority of states. We no longer abolish children, er, we no longer execute children in America today. Seth Waxman, a former Solicitor General to the US made the argument, he goes down with the win. There's no way that he could have pointed out the obvious to the supreme court, it was not just cruel, but it had also become unusual unless Jotaka Eaddy had flipped South Carolina, Wyoming, and New Hampshire with her army of young idealists. [applauding] Now, why am I here today talking to you all about this? Well, there's two reasons, er, three. The first is that what Jotaka would tell you if she was here today, what our lives has taught us is, we have worked together to abolish the death penalty in five states in five years, including the first state below the Mason Dixon line as we worked over the last 20 years to abolish it for juveniles, and to shrink prison systems, and to be focused allies, for instance, in battle for marriage equality, where in 2012, we helped pass marriage equality in four states, literally from coast to coast in one year, or, you know, defeating parenthood, what do they call them? Personhood referendum in states like Mississippi. Is that, when you decide what that one thing is, again, sometimes, when we come as an ally, somebody else has made the decision and we're just showing up to help. When we're leading, we've made the decision. When you decide what that one thing is that you're gonna change before you die. And when you are clear that you will in the end because you are willing to fight until the end, and frankly a few people in this country really are, you can wear them down pretty good. It's why South Carolina doesn't do lynching anymore. NAACP just made it clear, every time you do it, we're gonna embarrass you, talk to your state's companies, embarrass your politicians in the media, and we didn't ever get any laws passed federally, but we shamed states like South Carolina into actually having a justice system, at least nominally for all of us. So that's the way it works, you just say we're gonna win in the end because we will fight to the end. When you have that level of conviction, some miracles start to happen. You know, you win faster than you think is possible, and you get to do it again. So I'm here today to really say, take courage. If you are clear in what you're fighting for, if inclusion and tech is what you're on fire about, then take courage. Things will change faster for the better than you think is possible because you are on fire. Secondly, it's kind of obvious, If you don't know what you're on fire about, if you're unsure, I would offer, you can't even be an effective ally to others. And you have an obligation to yourself, to your children, to humanity, to this world to figure out the change you're gonna make before you die. And if it hasn't been an epiphany yet, if you haven't had the experience like Jotaka, you know, where you're just hanging out at McDonald's reading the newspaper, like bam, that's it. Then I would recommend a process I've used again and again. You just take a sheet of paper and you write down everything that really ticks you off, and you cross off the things that are just less significant as more significant things go down, and if you can't figure out what that one thing is, then you just recognize in your heart what, it's just common sense, which is, the only thing, knowing the one thing that you must change before you die is picking something that's pretty good and changing that. Because when you figure out what that oen thing is, you'll be ready, you would have succeeded a few times already. So, you just make the list, can't figure it out, close your eyes, draw a circle, and again, you can do it before the New Jersey transit gets made in New York City. But the other thing that I'm really asking everybody to do, and this stands outside of any particular belief in God, is to marvel at the power of faith in our lives. All of you, all of us have signed up to diversify the valley. This is an industry that to the world is seen as true meritocracy, and yet the average company recruits from seven schools, and typically it's the same seven schools, you know how there are 2000 colleges in America before we even get into race or gender. It's not really a meritocracy as much as it's a mirrortocracy. It's like recruiting from your dorm room to the 12th power. It just keeps looking the same. And we'll go up against powerful companies that at times have been willing to be so dishonest to say that protecting our diversity numbers from public view is a matter of competitive edge and we need the federal courts to aid and abet, and even federal courts that are willing to aid and abet. I mean, that's what we're taking on, an industry that somehow has managed to become less diverse when it comes to gender inclusion over the last 30 years despite the increase in power of women in corporate ranks. To really recognize sort of, if you will, the significance that in the Abrahamic tradition, one of the biggest, but not, by far, the only one, the biggest religious traditions in the world, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, the definition of faith is repeated twice, once in the old testament, once in, the Christians refer to it as the New Testament, same exact words, faith is the essence of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen. If you take away anything today, take away this, figure out the thing that you're fighting for, don't give yourself much time to do it, and invest all of the faith you possibly have in winning. Because just imagine how much faster our industry, our nation, and our world would change for the better if all of us were willing to have the faith of a 16 year old McDonald's worker in Johnsonville, South Carolina. Thank you and God bless. [applauding] Thank you. Thank you. So, I'm being told that we have time for questions. I'm happy to talk about anything, and certainly we can dive into our shared passion of tech inclusion or we can talk about anything else. So, are there any, are there any questions?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: First of all, thank you. Thank you for the commitment you've had in your life to the social justice in this country. But I have a question for you. Linda Apsley with Time Inc. But I'm not a journalist, sir. [laughing] I react really strongly to this word, fight. And I react because I believe if we continue to do everything as a fight, it will continue to be a fight. And yet, as you talk, I hear a lot about balance, inclusion, and cooperation. How do you see us using the fight motif to accomplish beyond that to the balance of inclusion and cooperation?
BENJAMIN JEALOUS: Oh, you know, I totally hear where you're coming from. I'm a 2nd generation Bohemian from Northern California. [chuckling] And I was taught as a child to use less violent language. And then I watched, you know, one of the only five other black boys in my town get beat up by the cops for being black. It was a way, unfortunately, that life forces each of us, I think if we're honest to admit that there really is a fight between good and evil that we gotta deal with. And it can be depressing and at times it's absolutely right, you've gotta invest yourself and having the courage to not see whatever the opportunity is seen as a fight and as an opportunity for, you know, for cooperation. Newt Gingrich and I were both helping contributing, for instance, to a conference in Washington DC about the need for our state, this is my daughter, Morgan. [applauding] And, you know, for us, we fought on many things, but when it comes to ending mass incarceration for instance, it's time to fight. It really is about, I was having lunch with the general council, the Koch brothers, we were enjoying it, talking about what we agree on. So, as Colin Powell once said, the hard thing is not figuring out what you disagree with folks on, the hard thing is figuring out the one thing you do agree on and then having the courage to move that forward. It's absolutely true. But with that said, I would say that if you're fighting for inclusion in corporate America, you'd be wise to take the path of the samurai and imagine 1,000 ways to die before you get out of bed. So nothing can faze you that day. At the end of the day, there are still people who see everything as zero sum. If you're trying to make it possible for somebody else to fill their plate, well, then you're trying to break one of their boy's plates, right? That's kind of the way it is, we haven't gotten to the place where they're really worried about you breaking one of the girl's plates yet, so it's only the boy's plates. And you have to be able, in your heart, to find that place of empathy. I mean, the reality is, in our country right now, you sit at the front of a NAACP meeting or the back of a tea party meeting, and I've done both, the same ox runs through both meetings. Everybody in America is freaked out, if we're honest. So, anybody who's old enough to be a parent, that it just doesn't mean as much to be an American in this world at the beginning of this century than it did at the second half of the last century. We can no longer, and maybe for centuries before in many ways, we can no longer take for granted that our children will do better off than us. And that's real. I'll show you sort of how radical empathy can work. I was on a flight from Atlanta to Memphis. Jeremy Taub used to be an organizer in Mississippi, and I sit down in first class because, well, I'm six foot four, and I wrote it in my contract. [laughing] And there's a guy sitting next to me in a University of Mississippi football booster shirt. The University of Mississippi's really only ever had two mascots. One is Johnny Reb. A Colonel Sanders with a gun and a bad attitude, right? And the other is the confederate flag. And so, the one football game I went to, I had to watch like 3,000 people wave the confederate flag and scream all sorts of things. So he sits down next to me, and I'm like, may I have a scotch please? [laughing] It's like 11:00 AM, but I'm just sitting there sipping my scotch, he gets something to drink, and then he looks at me and he says, "so what do you do?" I take a sip of my drink and I say, "I'm the national president of the NAACP." He says, "well, tell me about affirmative action." [laughing] I was like, "didn't Richard Nixon do that "like 35 years ago? "But okay." I took another sip of my drink. I said, "well, sir, affirmative action is supposed the hammer to destroy nepotism "as the operating system of our nation." He said, "well, I can sign up for that." There's a lot of nepotism in the South. "Yeah, I can sign up for that." He said, "but what does that do for my family?" I said, "well, I'm sure your wife appreciates it." [laughing] He said, "yeah, but you know, honestly, "we're not too concerned about the girls and the women "in my family, they tend to do all right. "It's the boys we're worried about." He said, "if you don't mind me "being a bit candid, my family "came over here on the wrong end "of the Georgia penal colony, and well, "we've been in and out of prison ever since. "I'm a bit of an anomaly, "I was a football player, "I was a football star, and I got a scholarship "to Ole Miss, and they were good to me, "and they eventually got me a job "at a big company in Memphis, and that's why "I can ride in first class, but I'm just coming "from seeing my family. "We got more boys heading into "the state pen, and well, "what does that do for them?" And I said, "sir, you know, "if it's at a college campus, it may "do a fair amount, they have affirmative "action for people who are first time college, "people who come from low income families, "even people who come from various "regions of the state or the country, "like they would have for Appalachia "in West Virginia, be it at WVU "or at Harvard University." I said, "but in corporate America, "I'm not sure that it does much, sir." I said, "but I do agree with President Obama." It's always fun to work that in with an Ole Miss grad. [laughing] Of a certain generation. "That we should have a poverty lens "on affirmative action as well." My partner at Kapor Capital, Freada Kapor Klein refers to as a distance travel lens, but as a poverty lens. Just as we do in colleges, so should we in our own hiring. Yes, we should screen for gender and make sure we're being inclusive from a gender perspective. We should look at race and make sure we're being inclusive from a racial perspective. But we also have to recognize that we live in America, and we are in just as much denial about the permanence of class in our country as our cousins in England are in denial about the impact of race in their country. They're really cool if you want to talk about classism there, you can go all day in England. You talk about race, they get awkward and quiet really fast. In America, you want to talk about race, it's our original sin, let's talk about it. You want to talk about class, we're a classless society. Really? So, you know, look, I would say that as you lead, be open to the fact that anybody can be your ally on any issue, give everybody the chance to be your friend. Look for the one thing that you agree on, but be prepared to listen. Because when you sit down at the table of inclusion, chances are, there's nobody there representing the interests of white men raised on multi-generational poverty. And if you wonder if there's still any left, go to your prison. We have roughly a million black men in prison, we have roughly a million white men in prison. We don't just have mostly incarcerated black men on the planet, we also have the most incarcerated white men on the planet. But really, we have the most incarcerated low income population on the planet. Because, while half may be black and half might be white, Virtually all of them were too poor to afford their own lawyer. Next question, I'll try to be shorter in my reply. [laughing]
AUDIENCE MEMBER: That's great, thank you very much. So, could you say a couple words about the Level Playing Field Institute and how your perspective is reflected in the Level Playing Field Institute's work?
BENJAMIN JEALOUS: Absolutely, absolutely. And, for a second, I thought that was God talking, because these lights are so bright I couldn't see. [laughing] I was like, I always knew God was a woman. The, talk theology about that at some point if you all want to, why, why, why do we have two men a ghost? Anyway. [laughing] Questions you ask in Sunday school. We focus on children from underrepresented groups. And we're focused on urban geographies. We have actually begun, and my colleague Moneese De Lara is here, who's the, bye, Mo, is the, you know, when you're a child, you can be honest about your attention span. [laughing] Who is the chief development officer of the Level Playing Field Institute. But we focus on urban geographies, we focus on underrepresented groups, and so you, on urban geographies in California, when you get underrepresented groups, you basically are looking at blacks, Latinos, Native-Americans, and underrepresented Asian groups. The reality is that, yes, there are a lot of Asian-Americans in Silicon Valley, they tend to be Chinese, Korean, some of them are Japanese, where you don't have so much are among Filipino and other groups, and we are inclusive to those groups. We are now looking at creating a scholarship program, essentially, where, say, like with the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, we would not just have kids from right around where the school is, but you can send kids in from other areas. And we're clear that that includes kids of any race from multi-generational impoverished communities. In West Virginia, that would be Appalachian, California, that would be Eastern California. People came, fled, you know, sort of, the stereotype is, fled the Oklahoma dust bowl and the car broke down and they never really got beyond. But honestly, you've had families there who came out for the gold rush and it didn't really break their way. And yeah, so, that's, that's how we've, we continue to strive to become more inclusive. Yes, ma'am.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: I saw that you were at the Tech Diversity Summit yesterday with the CVC, and I think you mentioned, you know, we really haven't made much progress with diversity in tech over the many years, yet there have been billion of dollars spent over the last several years. I just wonder, have you seen anybody doing it right, does anybody have the formula, is anybody measuring this and accountable to the result?
BENJAMIN JEALOUS: No, yes. [laughing] There are a lot, you know, look, a lot of things have been figured out. I'm not aware of anybody who's put them all into play all at once. A lot of things have been figured out. You have to be worried about the size of your back door, not just your front door. People come in and they leave. You gotta be focused on what accelerates them towards leaving. My partner at the Kapor Center, you know, Mitch and Freada, Freada Kapor Klein has worked in tech diversity since founding of, shortly after the founding of lotus in the early 80's, did a book, it has some tech companies, but it's a little broader, called Giving Notice, about why people of color and women, blacks, Latinos, especially, and women tend to leave corporate America, tech and non-tech. And a lot comes down to culture and mentorship, and again, what creates a meritocracy, the fact that a lot of people, we really struggle to see somebody who doesn't look like us from a race or a gender perspective as inspiring that thing in us that says that person is like I was when I was young, and I'm gonna help them. Right? The, you know, things like the so-called Rooney rule comes up a lot. Just saying, look, our search isn't complete unless we've interviewed at least two women, at least two blacks, at least two Latinos, for instance. What gives me hope is that I don't really see the billions being spent, certainly not in the Silicon Valley of late. I do see people starting to spend millions, and saying, okay, first thing we can do is, we can recruit from the Seven Sisters School. Only been around for like 200 something years, you know? Oh, and we can get to the AHPCUs, like 150 years. Okay, great, great, what else can we do, you know? Oh, maybe we can go to, like, say, any of the 2000 other schools in the country we haven't been going to. Great, let's hear it for, you know, like, Nebraska State. Yes, come on. You know, what else can you do? And so, folks are doing that. Google is sending folks to not just recruit let's say Morgan State University in Baltimore, but to actually work with students there and have embedded professionals as faculty at Morehouse and at Spelman and so forth. And folks are really beginning to focus on the entire pipeline and how we make sure that it connects. We at the Level Playing Field Institute, led by Freada Kapor Klein, who's the founder of the institute will be rolling out an analysis of the entire pipeline, where the links are, where the leaks are, where the links are, and how to make sure it moves from beginning to end at the volume that we need, and we'll be doing that at the end of the Summer. You know, the biggest foundations in the country are getting excited. And quite frankly, and I say this with all sincerity, it's a good sign when Jesse Jackson shows up. Somebody came to me trying to split Reverend Jackson and I, you know, they just really didn't want that week to have to really give him much credence after a shareholder meeting, so they called me as a VC who used to be the head of the NAACP and said, you know, "why is he here?" As if they don't know their own inclusion numbers, right? Why is he here? I said, "well, you know, Reverend Jackson "is a little bit like smoke." They said, "what do you mean?" I said, "well, he only shows up where there's fire." What's the origin of the fire? And then a person who's been fighting for inclusion in the Valley said to me, "how come "he didn't come sooner? "I mean, this ain't nothing new. "Been getting worse for a while." And I said, "well, you know, Reverend Jackson, "a little bit like we say about God "in the black church, he may not come when you want him. [laughing] "But he's always right on time." [applauding] The reality is this, is that Reverend Jackson, I mean, when you look at where he's invested his time, he tends to come just before tipping points, inflection points. In other words, he's made the, there are a lot of battles you can fight for inclusion in this country, but he's decided that he believes, now he's in his mid 70's, and he's been through battles, whether it's voting rights, or breaking the glass ceiling at the white house, that this is the time when progress can be made. And no matter what you may have disagreed with Reverend Jackson on in the past, perhaps, again, that's easy, the hard part is to figure out what you agree on, and we can all agree right now that now is the time in the Valley and in tech to have hope that we can stop making, going two inches forward in the case of gender inclusion, six inches back and start taking leaps and bounds together. [applauding] Yes, sir?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yes, I'm at a historically black college, Florida A&M University.
BENJAMIN JEALOUS: FAM U.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yes. And as you are aware, that there are a lot of movements now to undermine and marginalize minority-serving institutions, yet most of the data shows that about 80% of all the advanced degrees are produced by these institutions. So there are many of us on the faculty at these institutions that want to work to fight these types of efforts to destroy what we do, yet we also have to feed our families and eat. So, what suggestions would you have for those of us who aren't endowed professors who don't have to worry about getting fired? What suggestions do you have for those of us who would like to be activists in this area?
BENJAMIN JEALOUS: To recognize that you are activists. That you are at universities that were created by activists, that have always been on the edge, that have always been vitally needed, and that have historically flourished, the case of public AHPCUs in particular. My grandmother I talked about, her grandfather was born a slave, died a state senator, co-founded Virginia State University. And when our family, which it was one of the wealthiest black families in the regions of Southern Virginia through shenanigans, some in the family, some in the Jim Crow courts, found themselves impoverished. It was the same school that the grandfather had founded, both public K-12 and Virginia State University that helped his grandchildren, his great grandchildren find their way back out of poverty. And so, these schools are vitally needed, and as the guy who led the Hair Club used to say, I'm not just the President and founder of the Hair Club, I'm also a member. [laughing] And the challenge at any point in history has been to make the case for why they're necessary and urgently so. FAM U in particular has a great legacy around STEM, and indeed, the chief lobbyist for Microsoft is the son of one of your presidents and as is one of the top lobbyists, I believe, for Chevron. And so you guys have friends in high places, and that's just the family, right? I would encourage you to be as on fire as the founders were, as President Humphries was in the 80's and 90's as you possibly can be right now about the need for FAm U and particularly as it relates to STEM. When you look at getting young black kids in particular into STEM careers, the role of HBCUs, and I would say in many ways disproportionately, with exceptions, disproportionately public HBCUs is tremendous. It is critical, but if you don't blow your own horn and if you don't trumpet the cause, others won't do it for you. And I understand how hard that can be. Florida is a notoriously racially divided state, it is a state that is both a sort of vacation paradise and quite the opposite for folks who live there in many cases. And public HBCUs live or die by the state government. And it used to be that the old dixiecrats and sort of out of, quite frankly, because this the case, they say Strom Thurmond, it's where his daughter was going to school. [laughing] The old dixiecrats would protect them as a form of sort of, if you will, plantation patronage, if we're just honest about where those instincts come from. Today, in the kind of rawer world of conservative politics, we actually have more enemies in the republican party than we do friends. The old dixiecrats became the new republicans, and they were pretty cool through the 80's and the 90's, but have become more hostile. And frankly, many of our allies in the democratic party have a hard time explaining why we need to continue to have historically black colleges. But the stats speak for themselves. I'll give you a stat from the late 90's that I'm sure still holds largely today. In Los Angeles county, there are more black doctors from Mississippi than there are black doctors than there were 15 years ago, 16 years ago in all of Mississippi, and virtually all of them were graduates of historically black colleges and universities. So, get out there, you know. Every time I show up to a tech inclusion event in the Silicon Valley, John Wilson from Morehouse is there and he lets it be known that he's there. So should the president of FAM U, so should the president of Spelman, so should the president of all the HBCUs. Right now is the time to, whether it's tech, whether it's, uh, biotech, whether it's so many other STEM fields, whether it's building or tearing down coal fired power plants to make the argument that the industries are not diverse enough and that the public HBCUs have been part of the solution for many other industries and can for these. And I'll give you an example of how that works. In the Silicon Valley right now, they say, we can't find black computer programmers, that's why we have so few. We have about 3,500 according to the U.S. census, computer professionals, that's the highest level in the census job categories for people in IT. 3,500 black ones in the Silicon Valley. There are 35 to 40,000 in the Dallas to BWI corridor in the sort of defense government tech corridor. Where did they come from? Increasingly, some have come from University of Maryland Baltimore County in Freeman Lebowski's program. Great program, but historically and presently, most of them come from Bowie State, Virginia State, and the public HBCUs, Morgan State of the region. And so, the thing is, I don't think anybody in DC even really knows that except for intuitively. So, go back to the founding of the schools, recognize the risk that your founders took, understand the hostile environment that they knew the school would ever be in, embrace all of that, fight like hell and I think you'll still be here 150 years from now and still flourishing. [applauding] Thank you very much.
JEFFREY FORBES: So, thank you so much, Ben for an incredible talk. And on behalf of NCWIT, I want to provide you with a--
BENJAMIN JEALOUS: Very cool.
JEFFREY FORBES: Very cool deck of cards. [laughing]
BENJAMIN JEALOUS: I’ll be playing these on the beach with my daughter in a couple hours. Thank you. [applauding]