A movement, not a moment.

A panel discussion on race on the streets and in the boardroom.

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A phone could have led to my death.

While I tested a new device’s camera on a sunny day, a police car with sirens blaring suddenly appeared. An officer jumped out and approached me with his hand at his waistband, ready to draw his gun. Passing motorists called in a “suspicious person,” the officer explained as he demanded to “see some identification.”

As I started to reach for my business card and explained that I review phones for a living, I thought of Amadou Diallo, shot 41 times by police officers as he reached for his wallet to prove his identity. One wrong move could have caused my life to end in a similar fashion.

A global protest movement has grown since I stood frozen with fear in that parking lot in 2011. Citizens and institutions increasingly recognize the scourge of systemic racism and ask what can be done to address the problem.

Verizon has pledged $10 million to organizations fighting for racial justice. Leaders have also committed to listening to Black V Teamers to learn more about their experiences and challenges when dealing with racism.

As part of Verizon’s effort to have open conversations about race and its influence, I hosted a special talk with:

  • Che Phillip, a leader on our Global Network and Technology team
  • David Hubbard, a leader on our Legal and Public Policy team
  • Kwame Trotman, a leader in Verizon Consumer Group

The Minefield of Blackness

Being Black is a minefield. I’ve distanced myself from white friends who didn’t understand why I can’t take the same chances as them. I learned the lesson early on that the rules are different for me, and no matter how talented, thoughtful, or kind I may be in their eyes, I’m still a large Black man and potential threat to those who don’t know me.

Whether it was Kwame Trotman choosing to carry his military ID to not be perceived as a threat or Che Phillip warning of being seen as “The angry Black man in corporate America,” there remains a potential minefield Black people must carefully navigate every day. We’re perpetually one step away from being made to feel unwelcome in our company or community.

Before joining Verizon, I actually trained myself to rarely offer my viewpoint or correct others in meetings or strategy sessions because former managers would later call me “Combative and not a team player” in performance reviews. I stopped driving through certain towns because I was tired of being pulled over and asked, “What are you doing here? How do you afford this car?”

Understanding the Black Experience

My experience is not universal but it is far from uncommon. Many black men have had “The Talk” about being mindful of how they are perceived. Many black women have had to contend with gender discrimination and racism so much that it’s hard to discern which is the culprit in any given transgression against them.

This is the reality for many V Teamers, but it doesn’t have to be. We have an opportunity to reimagine our reality. Racism, injustice and bias won’t be solved in one fell swoop or any single action; however, we can combat them with listening and action. We can advance systemic change. The alternative is unacceptable.

"If we let this go and the news cycle changes...we will have missed this movement and this opportunity,” David Hubbard says in our conversation.

“There's this desire to go back to the way things were. There's this desire to find normalcy [like] when we were able to walk outside easily, walk the streets, and eat in restaurants. But for Black people in America, a return to normalcy is not necessarily good. After this moment, we don't want normalcy. We want continued, sustained change.”

If you are looking to start a discussion on race with a colleague or friend, here’s a toolkit with resources to help get the conversation going.

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