Building an Equitable World for the Next Generation

A recap of our virtual townhall with Ludcaris, Senator Cory Booker, Mayor London Breed, Brian Westbrook, Dr. Regina Benjamin, and Devo Harris

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Earlier this summer after George Floyd’s death sparked nationwide protests, I was inspired to see so many of my friends and colleagues — of all races — engaging in tough topics around race and how institutions perpetuate inequitable outcomes.

I was reminded of the power of social media when black squares swept across everyone’s feeds on Instagram on Blackout Tuesday in June. I posted a square as did many of my friends. As the summer went on, I wondered whether this visual representation of solidarity was enough, or whether it was performance that would be followed by inaction.

I felt that for progress to happen we needed more action, more dialogue. So when Jason McBride approached us about co-hosting a town hall, we were thrilled to continue pushing the conversation forward.

This week, we co-hosted our first virtual town hall with KidNation, bringing together leaders from government, entertainment, healthcare, sports, technology and the investment community to talk about how we can create a more equitable world for the next generation.

Our panel included Senator Cory Booker, Chris Bridges (better known to most as Ludacris), San Francisco Mayor London Breed, former US Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin, Philadelphia Eagles Hall of Famer Brian Westbrook, and Grammy Award winner Devo Harris.

Jason McBride, my fabulous co-moderator, is the senior director of operations for data analytics platform Envestnet Yodlee.

You can view the hour-long discussion here. And below is a recap of the event, including questions that were addressed and what was discussed. We wanted to share so we can continue a dialogue about how we can each affect change within our own spheres of influence.

Q: How can we inspire people to engage in activism?

A: Change starts with people.

Senator Booker, who was unable to attend in person, offered a recorded statement calling for reform of the criminal justice system, which has had a devastating impact on communities of color. But he warned that nothing will change without everyone taking an active role.

“There are many challenges, but the question is, what are we doing about it?” Booker said. “All of us have an obligation to be part of this fight. Not just to say ‘Black Lives Matter’ but to fight for the laws that will actually represent that…. I am hopeful that we all understand change doesn’t usually come from Washington, it comes to Washington, by people who demand it. To our state houses, by people who demand it. From civil rights, to voting rights, to fair housing, all of these causes came from the activism and engagement of people.”

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Q: How can we ensure social justice and equality for all citizens in our country?

A: Money and education matter.

Even in liberal bastions like San Francisco, Black people are far more likely to leave school, become homeless, or be victims of police brutality, noted Mayor Breed. That’s why her latest budget proposal redirects $120 million from law enforcement funding to directly serve the African American community, focusing on wellness, education, and economic opportunities.

“I grew up in poverty,” Breed said. “I grew up in public housing. I’ve lived the experience that I’m trying to change…. Economic stability is what’s going to change and save lives. I want to make sure that what happened to me and my family and my friends growing up in this city doesn’t continue to happen to the small African American population that we have left in this city.”

Nationally, people of color are also more likely to die from COVID-19, and more prone to high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases. This is a direct result of the poor social and economic conditions under which many POC live, said Dr. Benjamin.

“Your ZIP code is a better predictor of your health and longevity than your genetic code,” she said.

But there is a simple cure for most of this, Benjamin added.

“When people ask me if there’s one thing they could do to improve the health of their community… it is education. We know that having a high school diploma increases your life expectancy by 2.5 times. Basic education matters.”

Q: How can we help give young people of color a platform, and help them find their voice?

A: It takes visibility.

One of the big challenges to fostering minority entrepreneurs it that outside of athletics and entertainment, the success of Black professionals is not as visible to the rest of the world. That needs to change, said Westbrook, who started a foundation to help underprivileged youth through character and vocational training.

Devo Harris, who is also founder of Adventr, an interactive storytelling platform, revealed he initially struggled to get funding for his first startup because he didn’t look or sound like other entrepreneurs.

“At Adventr, one of our priorities is having very visible wins, and we look to champion and celebrate other people of color in their wins, so we can change that narrative,” he said. “That’s baked into our DNA.”

And it needs to start at an early age, noted Chris Bridges, whose KidNation site aims to educate kids about current events via culturally-relevant, high quality-production songs and content.

“I’m just trying to shape the new generation’s line of thinking, and to encourage everybody to lead with love,” he said.

Q: How are you taking steps in your respective fields to bring about change?

A: Reaching back, hiring and wiring.

Silicon Valley is often criticized for its lack of diversity, and rightly so. The workforce is still predominantly white and male. More than 95 percent of tech founders and their VC backers are white or Asian.

But bringing about lasting change requires more than just talk.

Along with Lightspeed founding partner Barry Eggers, I manage our Lightspeed Scouts program, which funds emerging investors so they can build their angel investing portfolios. This year we made a concerted effort to include under-represented minorities.

For 2020 we’ve selected 42 operators, entrepreneurs and investors from underrepresented groups. I’m proud to add that two members of our panel, Jason McBride and Brian Westbrook, are both investors for our Scout Fund.

Programs that put money into the hands of minorities can help lift entire communities, said Westbrook.

“We need to make sure we have the money in our own community to say ‘Listen, you guys go start something and help the community that you came from’.’’ he said. “It’s important that we don’t just take our money from our communities and move to the suburbs and forget about our people. We’ve got to continue to invest there and continue to pull people up. We have to enable these people to have a voice.”

This and so much more was discussed — check out the video for more. Please feel free to reach out if this recap has stirred anything in you and let us know what you’d like to see future town halls address.

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