- About Us
- My Profile
Don't be invisible
Submitted by skastrul on 2012-08-29T21:32:42
Recently, I took a wonderful trip to Denver to talk about expansion. I met with some local technology leaders, some folks in IT staffing, and some people in the government sector. The topic was i.c.stars Denver. Our hosts were Zia Consulting and Harvey Nash.
Denver is a remarkably beautiful city. It took me awhile to get used to the elevation and dryness so I had to drink lots of water. But, there’s something about the elevation that allowed me to see things in a different way. This blog is about what I saw.
As you may know, we are working with Denver and Detroit as our first potential cities for expansion. Everybody knows about Detroit’s distress and its great need for economic development. Some of us also know about the great passion going into building or rebuilding Detroit. However, honestly, when thinking about Denver, my initial reaction was, “Is there really a need for i.c.stars in Denver?”
Well, the truth is there’s 3% unemployment in the IT sector in Denver. They are building new homes in Denver, and there is a tremendous market demand for IT workers in Denver. There are also a lot of great technology companies in power in Denver. But my question was related to the community side. Could we find resilient inner city young people in Denver who truly want to make change in their communities? Whenever I saw pictures of Denver, I never saw people of color. So my bias was, “Is this a city where we can inspire community leadership?” This attitude was wrong, and I was schooled.
The first person I met in Denver was my awesome cab driver Yasin, who is from Kenya. One of the first things he said to me was, “You must be from some place really special because most of the people who get in my cab either just talk to me or don’t talk to me at all. And you were the first person who has talked with me.”
Maybe it was because I asked him how he was doing, how long has he’s been driving a cab, where he is from, and how does he like the city. Then we started to talk about why I was there and about i.c.stars. He became so excited he said, “I want to be the first person for the i.c.stars in Denver!” He proceeded to give me a tour around Denver and showed me all of the communities where people of color lived.
Interestingly enough, before he moved to Denver, Yasin lived in Chicago so he was very familiar with our landscape. He talked about how segregated Chicago was. Denver was not as segregated. However, according to Yasin, the minority communities were constantly moving around and were dislocated due to gentrification. We had a wonderful time together, and he insisted that he drive me back to the airport when my meetings were over. He wanted to talk about our meetings and about i.c.stars, which really capped off this exciting adventure.
In between my journey with Yasin, I had meetings with community leaders who want to bring i.c.stars to Denver. Over and over I would hear, “You know, we don’t have much diversity in Denver. There aren’t that many people of color”; or “There are no black people in Denver.” I specifically remember sitting in a restaurant where someone said to me, “There are no black people in Denver.” When I looked up, I could count four black people. They had service jobs to make us comfortable just like Yasin had. Whether that meant delivering our food, busing our tables, driving our cabs, or cleaning for us, this life of service had become such a staple of the community, that we, as people of color, had become invisible.
This was interesting for me to experience because it takes me back to the early years of i.c.stars. Leslie and I founded this organization together. Leslie was the external face of i.c.stars, and my role was to build the internal curriculum and processes, and to work the inside of the business. I tell stories to every group of interns about becoming visible and that the defining moment for me was when I met an extraordinary woman at a networking event. I was at an event with the interns, and she asked me how I liked the program because she thought I was an intern.
I just chuckled and said, “Thank you for the compliment but I’m the co-founder of i.c.stars.” She said, “How dare you be invisible. All of this time I never knew that a woman of color co-founded i.c.stars. How dare you be invisible for all of the interns and people that you serve. How dare they not know that you are the co-founder.” And I said, “But they do.” And she said, “No, they don’t. If you are not visible in the community, in all aspects of the community, as well as business, the communities of the Southside, Westside, whatever, you are rendering yourself invisible and allowing someone else to be the face of i.c.stars. It’s a fundamentally different thing when we are what we’ve been waiting for as opposed to when someone else is our savior.” And I have thought about her words for a long time.
Now here I am in Denver feeling like, “Am I the only person who sees black people?” Certainly that can’t be the truth. I thought about Yasin showing me all of these different communities. I thought about how he wanted to have an opportunity to be a thought leader, to be visible, and not to be disposable. There is something powerful about service, right? As consultants, it’s what we do. We serve our customers, and we serve our clients. We help businesses to do better. But, we’re never visible. Do we strive to be invisible so that the company shines?
How do we take that tool kit and apply it in a workforce development context that supports knowledge work, and more importantly, supports the visibility of our communities? How do we make the invisible visible? It took me a long time as a business leader to stand up for my visibility. Whether that meant walking in places that I didn’t feel comfortable, giving presentations in different languages, or embracing people, ideas, technologies from the outside and finding others to support what’s inside, becoming visible is one of the most powerful steps we take on our leadership path.
And so, my dear alums, be visible in all you do, at work, at home, in your community and what it is that you stand for. Stand tall. Don’t be afraid to wear bright colors. See stars and let others see you.