Clayton Banks in the Executive Director of Silicon Harlem, and not enough people know about the vital work that he and his team have been doing over the past five years. I’ve gotten to know Clayton over the past few months and I’m always impressed by his humility and influence in the Harlem community.

Over the past couple years, internet kiosks have popped up all over New York City, and there’s an interesting story behind why there are so many of these in Harlem. I sat down with Clayton this evening for the story. Below is an unedited transcript of our conversation.

“So LinkNYC is an initiative that’s being driven by a company called Intersection. And that company negotiated with the city and bid with the city to be able to deploy a gigabit speed outdoor network that is bringing internet to all communities throughout New York City. And in that contemplation, Silicon Harlem and myself and Bruce Lincoln my cofounder were able to testify at City Hall on behalf of LinkNYC. Because LinkNYC of course was in our opinion something needed in East Harlem, Central Harlem, and all throughout Upper Manhattan because many of our residents don’t have high speed. Some of them have zero speed because they don’t have broadband.

So we felt upper manhattan was an important area for these kiosks to be deployed. And typically with technology it’s deployed downtown first and then is slowly works its way up to uptown and the boroughs. By being at the table, by testifying, by getting to know them really well, we actually brought the prototypes of the LinkNYC into Harlem at MIST Harlem at one of our events so that they could get feedback from the community before they deployed. This was in 2015.

So we’ve been at this for a while. They took the time to come uptown to really understand and it was all because we were pushing for it. We really believed in it and when you go to one of these kiosks, it’s the fastest internet connection anywhere, meaning whether it’s your home or your office, your phone, the kiosk, within 200 feet, is the fastest you’ll ever get.

So you fast forward to where we are in 2017, and you look at the complete deployment of LinkNYC kiosks: Upper Manhattan—Harlem in particular—has more kiosks than any other part of New York City. There’s over 100 kiosks deployed in Harlem. Everywhere you walk, you can run into these kiosks—there’s four on Adam Clayton Powell and 125th street. So you’re looking at a real commitment by the city and by Intersection and certainly to some degree Silicon Harlem to ensure that these are available to our community.

Furthermore, they’re starting to use those kiosks to help build community. To help build the pride, build the ongoing culture that resides in Harlem, and what’s wonderful about that is we’ve been able to negotiate with them to put up a Black History Month pictorial of black inventors, famous legendary black leaders on those kiosks. And they’re putting up a new individual every single day. So this is a way to expose our history to millions and millions of people.

And oh by the way, over a million people have registered on those kiosks. When you go to log on to the wifi, you have to put in your email. So when they track that, over a million people have done it. That’s no small thing. So it’s a successful rollout.”

Clayton Banks
Executive Director, Silicon Harlem

Bodies and parts

02/02/2017

I’ve never been to a DMV that filled me with joy, nor have I enjoyed a subway ride that was invigorating or relaxing. This isn’t surprising because those outcomes aren’t the point.

On the other hand, I’ve never left Serengeti in Harlem or Neta in Greenwich Village without a deep sense of gratitude for the experience of life. This is also unsurprising because that is precisely the point.

The good news is that we can infuse our products, meetings and places of work and with more meaning, joy, and delight by optimizing them for our hearts and minds, rather than just our bodies.

My appearance on Lisa Nicole Bell’s podcast last year resulted in Reginauld reaching out about his work in Boston, and offering an introduction to Leora, founder of Boston’s Racial + Economic Activated Dialogue (BREAD). She invited me to be a part of the BREAD Startup Classroom series on January 18th in Boston, and I graciously accepted.

Being back in Boston was significant because when I lived there for nearly a year, I spent precisely no time involved cultural or community work. Life for me was mostly tech, overwhelm, and burnout. By contrast, within an hour of arriving last month, I had both been warmly welcomed and escorted to an African restaurant for Nigerian food with members and partners of the BREAD team. As far as I was concerned, everything else to come would be gravy. Or fufu, as it were.

At the venue later that evening, I was interviewed by The Transformative Culture (formerly Press Pass TV) team before spending time with the attendees and watching months of planning come together. One of the touches I most appreciated was the curated selection of books on sale during the evening. Leonard Egerton of Frugal Bookstore had a table set up with an array of titles I recommended to Leora weeks prior to my arrival.

After a hilariously awkward literal breaking of bread to kick off my talk, I took my seat and shared my story. It was a wide-ranging conversation that covered very little in the way of business, startups, and tech. Instead it was the most in-depth and personal conversation I’ve had about trauma, healing, and my journey.

I devoted the precious time we had to offering as real and transparent a narrative as I could muster, and inviting others to own the parts of our stories that don’t make headlines: the depression, the doubt, the pain, and the discomfort. Because these experiences are universal in the demographic that I seek to empower, and it’s a conversation many shy away from.

What I’ve learned is that my truth—not the thing I think others think I should be saying—is what brings liberation, healing, and even success (whatever that might look like). I hope you too have an opportunity to experience love and support while standing firmly in your unvarnished truth. What a gift.

Photos by Stephanie Ramones of Contigo Photography

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had an encyclopedic recall of facts pertaining to my obsessions: dinosaurs, product features, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony lyrics, you name it. If it’s moderately obscure, has my attention, and won’t in any way add value to my life, I’m on it.

I once earned the eternal respect of an elementary school teacher when I correctly identified the color periwinkle. It was in my crayon box at home, how could I not remember it for the rest of my life?

And the other day in the office, my colleagues were surprised—nay, shocked—when I explained that the pattern on my friend’s wallet was houndstooth, and not gingham.

No lesson today, I honestly just wanted to write a post entitled Periwinke and houndstooth.

Doing things my way

01/31/2017

It’s been less than a year since I started sharing my journey and mission with live audiences, and I’ve never been more convinced of the need for voices like mine (and yours) to be amplified.

One of the reasons that I sit on “diversity” panels is because the audiences I’m in front of rarely hear words like slavery, racism, and discrimination used in this context. I’m not sure how else to have an honest conversation about the challenges facing business leaders today, so it’s an honor to hold that space.

I’ll also freely admit that I’ve had to temper my frustrations about this “diversity and inclusion” conversation with the fact that I hold a tremendous amount of privilege: I’ve had the luxury of stepping away from lucrative jobs and roles while building a life around work from which I can’t be fired.

Yes, we have corporate sponsors at Abernathy but nobody tells me what to write and publish. And yes, organizations book me to speak and facilitate workshops, but I’m not beholden to any company other than my own. I don’t take this freedom for granted.

Indeed, I’ve spent the past six years making a living in ways that allow me to speak and stand in my truth. I’ve left millions in revenue on the table because of how I choose to live my life, but what I’ve gained in the process has more than made up for it.

When I share my point of view with the world, I’m touting a perspective informed by a deep understanding of my own psychology, lessons learned from a wide array of successes and failures, and a first-hand look at the way in which ideas propagate among diverse networks and demographics.

The essential truth governing human behavior and motivation is often hiding behind the words people say. If we listen carefully and invite people to stand in their truth, we might also hear what they’re actually saying.

On your mark

01/29/2017

When I produced my first big event last November, the most disconcerting realization I experienced was that I was running the show. I’m not being figurative or egotistical, I’m being literal. The event featured the largest panel this side of the Mississippi, and it took a fair amount of wrangling to bring the lively discussion to a peaceful conclusion.

As the panel came to a close and fifteen of the last three audience questions were queued, it struck me that no one was going to come around the corner and give the “we’re out of time” signal. That was my job. Quite the experience to absorb live, and this realization was my chief takeaway from the evening.

If I don’t publish my daily post here, no one is going to come after me. I can get away with not publishing my weekly Abernathy newsletter as well. But opportunity lies in the things we don’t need anyone to tell us to do—the things we do without permission or obligation.

We’re all looking to each other for leadership and social cues, so stepping into roles with grace and confidence and consistency is sometimes the only qualification for leveling up in the world.

Did you know that the Unites States formally apologized for Slavery and Jim Crow in 2008?

“The fact is, slavery and Jim Crow are stains upon what is the greatest nation on the face of the earth and the greatest government ever conceived by man. But when we conceived this government and said all men were created equal we didn’t in fact make all men equal, nor did we make women equal. We have worked to form a more perfect union, and part of forming a more perfect union is laws, and part of it is such as resolutions like we have before us today where we face up to our mistakes and we apologize, as anyone should apologize for things that were done in the past that were wrong. And we begin a dialogue that will hopefully lead us to a better understanding of where we are in America today and why certain conditions exist.”

—Rep. Steve Cohen

What a shame this isn’t more widely discussed.

Long before I spent time abroad, I identified much more as a global citizen than purely as an American. We have a lot to be proud of in the United States—this American experiment has succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of the Constitution’s framers—but we don’t have a monopoly on good ideas. Indeed, many of our most “American” ideals and cultural staples have been imported, to put it politely.

When I lived in Buenos Aires, I got my first real taste of what life is like outside the (North) American context. Experiences captured in books and films pale in comparison to cultural immersion, and these experiences can open you up to a new way of seeing the world. The humans who escape the gravity of their home country tend to see the world differently, and it’s hard not to detect the fleeting outlines of a utopian pluralism with enough Malbec on hand.

I didn’t return to the United States with a grand theory on world peace, but I certainly gained some invaluable perspective.

“You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it.

From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch.”

—Edgar Mitchell, NASA astronaut

Time on, time off

01/26/2017

When I worked as an IT consultant, I logged a lot of hours: on the road, at the office, and sitting in front of my laptop. Work culture in that environment was heavily influenced by the optics: the client wanted to, quite literally, see where their money was going. The result, predictably, was a whole lot of pretending to look busy.

When I left the world of full-time employment my productive output, also predictably, rivaled that of a toddler. I was motivated and had plenty of freelance web development projects, but I had never cultivated a strong work ethic. On the contrary, I had been rewarded my entire life for my smarts and charm rather than hard work.

Lamenting to more productive folks, I consistently received the counterintuitive advice to spend less time working. This was confusing to me, not to mention a vast departure from the work culture to which I had grown accustomed, and it could easily have been used as an excuse to avoid work altogether. But that wasn’t the point.

The point was that the eight hour work day, just like the forty hour week, is a relic of the industrial age. It served the economy at the time and the needs of a different generation, but it hasn’t translated well to this information age. It’s simply a myth that we need to toil the day away to make a living.

The other point was to understand how to utilize a work day. We all have important projects and high-leverage tasks that comprise them, but many of us also have repetitive administrative tasks that need to get done. If for whatever reason our Important Project muscles need the afternoon off, it makes little sense to power through unproductively when the work isn’t bearing fruit.

The peaks and valleys of our productive output are perfectly acceptable so long as we keep showing up. We needn’t make a career out of learning Richard Branson’s productivity best practices, what’s far more important is learning what works for us over the long haul of our careers.