You're a Chicago native. You went to school in Pennsylvania. Then you spent some time in the Bay area and now you live in New York. How have each of the places that you call home shaped you? And how does Harlem inspire you today?
Chicago is such a special place and what I’m talking about when I say “home.” The thing that stands out for me since I've moved away is the authenticity. There was always this understanding to be whoever you are. Philly was a lower-key version of Chicago, a perfect transitional city. It had a grunge to it that represents the East Coast, but I'm really grateful that Philly embraced me. The Bay Area was totally different from any place that I had ever lived. The thing that I remember about the Bay was the importance of friendship. That was the first place I had been where there weren't that many Black people. I really leaned on my friends and found that all these aspects of who I am: I'm an Alpha, I'm a Penn alum, I'm a Googler- they all merged together.
How does Harlem inspire you?
Coming to New York, I was able to explore the totality of who I am. If there's anything I'm interested in or want to do, I can and a community exists for it. There is an affirmation about being a black person, about being a gay man that came together for me here. I lived in Brooklyn for about 6 months when I first moved, but then moving to Harlem, I found the legacy and community amongst black people I was seeking. My building is definitely gentrified; however, just walking down the street I feel Black culture and New York flavor. But there’s also an expectation for you to contribute and that’s really powerful to me.
Every industry has its own set of buzzwords, but “diversity and inclusion” applies across the board. Diversity is a little bit easier to wrap one’s head around, but how do you define inclusion?
Inclusion for me not only means that the totality of who you are is accepted, but that it's also celebrated and not in a monolithic way. I am a black gay man, a particular intersection, and I don't just want my blackness to be embraced or just my gayness to be embraced, but all of it at the same time. Same goes for others and their sometimes three or four intersections. Inclusion is us all being able to be here, feel welcome and have a voice in the work to reach a common goal, no matter what industry. In tech, our products and our services will never be the best they can be if we don't channel diverse perspectives into the work.
How would you describe your role as Global Black Community Advisor?
I like to consider myself a translator. What I mean by that is there are things the black community is advocating for – an absence of bias from our managers or in our performance reviews, an inclusive culture at work, etc. In a unique to Google instance, there is a haircut trailer at the Mountain View campus, but we know everyone does not cut Black hair. It is my job to take in those needs and wants, effectively communicate them to the rest of Google and leadership, then create strategies, plans or programs for us to get them done. On the other side, leadership is letting me know the larger trends that they want to see and ways they would like the community to show up or lend opinions, and I'm translating that back to the community.
The global aspect of your role is fairly new for you. How has that impacted your day-to-day? What do you see as its impact on your career trajectory going forward?
I have to push myself to understand the experiences of our people in a variety of places. An example that’s small but was really eye opening for me is in the United States we call the group the Black Googler Network, but in Brazil, Black means something different, so they're called the Afro-Googler Network. That tells me I have to step outside of my own experience and explore. In May, I'm going to Europe to figure out what the issues are, the cultural nuances and how my team can create globally inclusive strategies. For my career, it's a great move because it's giving me exposure and expanding my brand outside of the US. It's also an opportunity to be a strategist by thinking about how to bring all these influences and experiences together while still satisfying the goals of the organization. Ultimately, what I want to do is have an empowerment center for Black men and boys and this role provides a broad but deep understanding of that.
There's a feel good and do right element to having diverse workspaces, but when we're talking about business, it always comes down to impact on the bottom line. What are some of the tangible results that can come from employing a more diverse work force, having a more inclusive culture and also elevating diverse talent?
If you only have white straight men creating and testing the products, perspective will be lacking. The number one leg I have to stand on is that we want anyone who interacts with our products to see themselves represented. A good example is Google Assistant because you want it to be as culturally sensitive and nuanced as possible.The other thing is since we have a platform, we want people of all backgrounds to have a stake in that. Many look to Google to take a stance on important issues like marriage equality. When we think of issues that are pertinent to the black community, we have to be there as well. If we aren’t, we will have entities to answer to.
What are some of the ways you've seen things shift in regards to diversity and inclusion, especially for black folks, during your time at Google? How have you been able to influence that and drive those initiatives?
The thing that stands out the most is endeavoring to get Googlers to understand intersectionality. My team actually got Kimberlé Crenshaw, the creator of intersectionality, into Google, which was a real privilege. The term itself was created for black women, so it was important as a diversity team for us to really understand that. It wasn't necessarily created for identity politics, but also for policy and that was another really good point Kimberlé brought to the conversation. I have seen us transition to using intersectionality in our corporate lexicon and thinking as we build plans and strategies. For my work within the black community, we look at what programs or organizations we want to partner with and are sure not to neglect those that focus on a particular intersections in favor of those more broad.
I've also seen us diversify and nuance our recruiting efforts while expanding our knowledge and our scope of community. We hired a Head of Black Community Engagement and Head of Latino engagement.
What are some of the most exciting partnerships that you've established in your work?
I'm really excited about how I've been able to bring together different employee resource groups at Google. Of course there’s BGN - the Black Googler Network, which is actually the oldest ERG at Google. I also advise the Greyglers, older Googlers. It's been really cool to bring those groups and the Gayglers, our LGBTQ group together. I recently hosted a screening of Bayard and Me. After the screening there was a panel with Walter Neagle, Baynard’s partner who also narrates the film, the director of the film and a BGNer, so it was an interracial, intergenerational story. In those moments it shows that the work I've done with each of these groups and the work that all of us are doing with our identity is building and defining our culture. And then that's the reason why I do this work.
What's on the horizon for you?
Creating safe spaces for Black folks. I haven't quite figured out what that looks like, but that's a goal of mine for the next couple of years to work towards. Something tangible is getting my certification to become a life and career coach. I definitely want to continue to get international experience as a professional level. I want to get to know all our regions and have expertise in the global Black experience.
How do you stay motivated as you strive to achieve your goals?
Understanding there is something bigger than me governing my life and knowing that I am intentionally and purposefully created to have all the experiences I’m having and to do the things I'm doing, is definitely what keeps me going. Sometimes I get caught up in my own issues, but when I zoom out I can look at all the ways that I'm blessed. If I'm not super certain about something, I know that God got me. Or if I'm super down, I know that it's not forever and will write down what I’m grateful for. My faith helps me keep things in perspective.