How are you inspired by Harlem?
One of my priorities when I moved to New York five years ago was to live in a place that felt like a neighborhood for me. I wanted to walk outside and see people who look like me. I wanted to spend my money with businesses owned by people who look like me as well. I wanted to be able to walk across the street with a hood on and not worry about being judged. I see my people each time I step out of my apartment, and that means the world to me.
For many, ESPN is considered the holy grail of sports media. How did you land a gig there so early in your career?
Sports have always been a core passion of mine. When I realized my jumper wasn’t nice enough as a kid, I knew I still wanted to pursue a career in the industry. In college, I discovered there was a world of opportunity for me even if my name wasn't going to be in the box score at the end of the game. ESPN, a property deemed as the worldwide leader in sports, was one that I prioritized. I was hell bent on getting to Connecticut at some point, so while I was in grad school, I applied for a graduate internship. There were more than 10,000 applicants and only a couple of hundred were selected. It’s said to be harder than getting into Harvard. While I was there, I grabbed coffees and lunches and had meetings with people who didn't work in the group that I interned in to scale as many relationships as possible, with the hope of getting a full-time offer. Thankfully, I was able to secure that.
When did you know that it was time to move on after accomplishing such a big goal?
My graduate degree is in New Media. While I was at ESPN, we were integrating Twitter into our programming heavily. I casually explored what it was and what opportunities there look like. I applied online haphazardly and received a callback within 48 hours. These days, it's rare for that to happen without knowing anyone, but that's how I know it was divine. As I started to interview, I realized that social media had become the preferred method of communication. With that hunch, I thought maybe I could bridge the gap between my passion for sports and my inquisitiveness about tech and new media. Here I am two years later working on all things sports at a social media tech company.
Can you expand on your thoughts about the relationship between Twitter and sports?
One of the reasons I was so curious about Twitter is because it does something special by being a microphone to the world. Folks who historically have not had an outlet to articulate views, thoughts, and opinions have been able to leverage Twitter to do so. Thinking about the range of conversations and movements that have started on our platform is pretty amazing. The cool thing about Twitter is its unfiltered nature. Athletes can connect directly to fans in a way that they haven't been able to in the past. I've seen an athlete respond to a fan’s tweet and that interaction completely changes their day. It’s special. And it's important to work with the teams and athletes to equip them with the tools to do dope and thoughtful things by way of our platform. When I wake up and go to work every day, I'm not thinking about how can I get as many people to tweet as possible. I'm thinking how can I assist in changing the world.
How do you manage working with the leagues, each being so unique?
Every league operates differently, so I can't have a one size fits all approach. That means being a nerd. I need to know what each of my partners' business objectives are and what keeps them up at night. I have to know it very intimately and be as fluent as possible, so when we have discussions I can be helpful and add value. That's my thing: how can I add value and amplify what they’re already doing?
What's the coolest part of your job?
I'm talking to you from Cleveland, Ohio right now and in a few hours I'll be at Game 3 of the NBA Finals for work. But it’s not all fun. I can actually have a positive impact on sports. To me, that's pretty damn cool! And that I’ve been able to meet so many great people as a result of this work makes me happy.
Sports are universal but ultimately, you're a Black man with influence at an influential global company. Do you feel a charge to elevate or create opportunities for people of color? If so, how do you do that?
I can't go to work and not be Black. It's especially interesting because Black Twitter represents such a special community on the platform. Black Twitter really does shape popular culture and no one can ignore that. I’m the lead for Blackbirds, our employee resource group that is focused on the recruitment and retention of employees of color and allies. Daily I’m having conversations about what it’s like to be Black on or working at Twitter and giving thought to how we can progress the narrative of people of color. When I'm out and about, it’s "Hey, I work at Twitter. What do you do? Okay, well let me know if you're interested in a particular opportunity. We're hiring." I genuinely love working here and this is an experience I want other people to have too. I look forward to the day where I walk through the hallways and there are more people who look like me.
What's your experience with Blackbirds in terms of non-Black employees attending events?
I think a lot about how do we make sure that we scale our efforts in a way that continues to assert the core values of Blackbirds but also allows us to build outside of our group. At some companies, ERGs can live in a silo and it’s just "Hey, here's a cute little work group and we had a happy hour today." That's cool, but that's not it for us. We try to think on a macro level. Again, it doesn't hurt that on our platform these conversations are occurring constantly. We aim to be as intersectional as possible and leverage our allies to drive as much impact as we can. We'll have certain events that may feel more tailored to a specific audience, but we encourage everyone to come kick it because good vibes don’t have a hue. Everybody's invited to the cookout.
What traits or characteristics of yours do you think have been most impactful on your ability to achieve success?
My upbringing was really important. I'm Nigerian, so I saw the hustle first hand. My mother worked 2 or 3 jobs and had to struggle with her accent, with assimilation as a whole, just to make sure that I would have a good life. That created this desire to take the baton and carry it to the next level. Every time I talk to my mother, it’s a reminder of all the work she put in that I can’t allow to be in vain. She raised me to be curious and create a circle of dope, like-minded people. As soon as I heard the history of Strivers' Row, I thought it was so powerful. Tack another win on the board for Harlem. It's deeper than just the name. Iron truly sharpens iron. Surround yourself with people who are striving to not just achieve, but to be better people. That has served me well in my career and in life.
What's on the horizon for you?
I'm about to put my foot on the gas, not just for me but for people who look like me too. I want to be constructive. I want to evolve both industries that I touch, sports and tech. There are some unique opportunities to do impactful work and I feel equipped to lead the charge on that and bring others along. That's one of the things that's always been heavy on my heart. I've sat at a lot of tables where I've been the only person of color How do I go about kicking those walls and barriers down?
How do you stay motivated as you strive to achieve your goals?
I rely on my support system: my family and the people I care about and who care about me. I'm one who is very big on feedback, so if I fuck up, I want people to hold me accountable. Also, I've overcome so much in my life already, and my family has, so why stop now? There's so much more to be done and progress to be made. That is enough encouragement to wake up and start another day everyday.