the punch line

One Saturday a couple years ago, I was waiting for a table outside of one of my favorite brunch spots in Cambridge, Massachusetts. A server came outside with an order someone had placed and said “black bean burrito?”

I raised my hand and said, “sir, it’s African-American bean burrito.” That one went over pretty well.

I really enjoyed my time in Boston (Cambridge). I know a lot of black folks who despise Boston for its racism, but I suppose I was fortunate in that my time there was wonderful.

My quality of life was excellent, there were plenty of things to do within walking distance of my condo, and I was able to work closely for nearly a year with one of the smartest and most capable technical executives I’ve ever met.

All was not well, though.

Professionally, I was a web performance optimization engineer. I was supporting and delivering professional services around a popular piece of software that has nearly a million active users from all over the world.

I was over-extended, I didn’t have the resources (e.g., a team to assist with the administrative overhead and fulfillment of orders) to successfully manage my projects, and net effect of these factors was predictable: I burned out.

I crash-landed in my hometown of Jacksonville, Florida for a reset, making one last heroic effort to get on top of my responsibilities. I hired an assistant, documented many of the processes required to do my job, and started getting up at 3am to get a head start on tasks before the deluge of emails from our American customers started rolling in.

It wasn’t enough though, and the situation had become untenable at this point, so I resigned.

Around this same time, news of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson shocked the nation.

I remember it vividly. I was active on Twitter at the time, so the news reached me quickly. In the ensuing days and weeks, I monitored the developments day and night, glued to my screen.

Character assassination. Vandalism. Misinformation. Tear gas. Arrests. Provocation. Anger. Rage. Pain. Confusion. Lies.

Those events changed me.

I enjoyed a comfortable middle-class upbringing in the suburbs, and many of the issues affecting communities like Ferguson, Missouri were utterly foreign to me. I’ve never experienced the hopelessness, oppression, and bleak outlook that many of my black countrymen experience. That wasn’t my story.

And for the first time, I understood. Not just intellectually, but in a way that I could feel. In a way that I could see. Those were dark days.

And from that place, Abernathy was born. I wanted to create a space where black folks could remind ourselves and each other of the things that mattered. The things that were important to us. The things we needed to discuss. A place where we took control of our own narrative.

And so it’s fair to say that no one has benefited more from this project than I have. Your stories, your support, and your solidarity have touched and changed many people. People like me.

Abernathy is the leading online magazine for professional black men, and this is an excerpt from a recent newsletter. Subscribe for full and early access.

Willie Jackson is a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Consultant & Facilitator with ReadySet, a boutique consulting firm based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is a frequent writer and speaker on the topics of workplace equity, global diversity, and inclusive leadership. Connect on LinkedIn or get in touch.

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