History · Politics


I learned about Juneteenth for the first time in 3rd grade. Ms. Anderson, the student-teacher in my class at the time, read to us about how Major General Gordon Granger landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the slaves were now free. This was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. (signed in 1863)

“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer.” – General Order #3

I may have learned about it at an early age, but I didn’t understand the significance of Juneteenth until I moved to Washington DC in 2010 DOE (During Obama’s Era). Juneteenth was celebrated throughout Through my students and the community, I got to see what Juneteenth looks like up close. I got a chance to participate in parades, go to exhibits opened up specifically to celebrate the day, and enjoy cookouts. I may have participated but it didn’t click until a couple of weeks later.

This was also my first fourth of July in the nation’s capital. Of course, there was a ton of stuff to do. I got a chance to visit the monuments, went to a couple of cookouts, and watched fireworks. I also got to listen to President Obama’s 4th of July speech.

He mentioned something always normally mentioned in most 4th of July presidential addresses but it hit differently.

“Two hundred and thirty-four years later, the words are just as bold, just as revolutionary, as they were when they were first pronounced: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all 1 men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” (to read the whole speech click here.)

And at that point, I realized what Juneteenth meant. It was more than the celebration of the end of slavery. Juneteenth is the celebration of a promise fulfilled. Part of the quote in Obama’s speech is from the Declaration of Independence.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

All men… created equal… endowed by their creator… inalienable rights… This is what the founding fathers wrote to King George to justify their need to break away from Great Britain and form their own country. This is the foundation of what drove collective action in the revolutionary war. People fought against an oppressive regime for these inalienable rights.

Sounds familiar? It’s crazy a country that had just shed blood over these inalienable rights would then go and create a 10x more oppressive state for black people. That isn’t living up to its promise if this isn’t for everyone. That’s why June 19th, 1865 is so important. The end of slavery as a state-sanctioned institution in the United States brought us one giant step closer to a more perfect union.

As we can all see, we’ve still got a long way to go. That’s for damn sure. I see all the companies getting the day off and all the celebrations around the country and honestly, it’s great to see. But I wonder, do people get it? Do they understand why Juneteenth is so central to the history of the United States? Do they understand, its way more than a black holiday? This is our history. This is the history of us.

#MentalNote · History · Politics · startups · venture capital

It’s Time To Build Pt. 2

Marc Andreessen, one of the co-founders of Andreessen Horowitz, wrote a timely piece during the height of the US COVID-19 crisis. Titled It’s Time to Build. It’s essentially a call to arms for builders to focus on creating a better reality where we’re prepared for tomorrow’s challenges. It was a collective call to create a more conducive environment for builders and sounded like a call to get back to what made the United States great; making and creating. 

Fast track to George Floyd’s death and we’ve seen a significant outpouring of support and collective action around ending racism and destroying racist institutions. Now more than ever, there’s an awakening to the fact that black people are suffering from systems built to disenfranchise and systematically ensure they’re held down. We’re at a pivotal point globally. We’ve all seen the decentralized protests around the world demanding change and justice for George Floyd and others who have died at the hands of those sworn to protect them. People, now more than ever, want to tear down and rebuild these institutions. 

As we think of building and tearing down institutions we should make sure we’re focused on building a more inclusive type of institution. The only way we’ll really achieve the promise of a future where there’s equality for all is to ensure everyone is in the workshop as we’re building. We know this is currently not the reality. Black people lag behind on most indicators that would lead them to be in the rooms to be a part of this building process. In venture capital, for example, where the rubber meets the road when it comes to building, the stats are abysmal. For those who aren’t familiar with the venture capital space, here’s some data to provide some color:

  • 77.1 percent of founders were white—regardless of gender and education.
  • Just one percent of venture-backed founders were black.
  • Women-funded startups received only 9 percent of investments.
  • Latino founders made up 1.8 percent of those receiving funding, while Middle Easterners totaled 2.8 percent.
  • Asians were the second most-backed group, making up 17.7 percent of venture-backed founders.

From Ratemyinvestor.com 

We can’t build this new reality if there’s this much inequality in the venture capital industry. I don’t think individual actors are deliberately enforcing inequality – I believe the “system” of risk capital is flawed and perpetuates actors to not act in an equitable way. Venture capital is just one example. There are disparities in healthcare, education, job creation, urban development, and etc. Everywhere we look, there are systems that disproportionally affect black people, and most of the time, for the worst.

If we aren’t careful, we’ll build on the same bias and power structures and we’ll be back in the same spot 20 years from now wondering how we got to where we are. 

venture capital

The License To Suck

Chris Rock, one of my favorite comedians, said something some years ago that changed my perception of equality in venture capital. I’d recommend watching the whole thing. He’s dropping gems, especially at the end. Its just a 3-4 minute video.


While this goes against what most black people, especially in hyper-competitive white-majority spaces, have been taught, black founders seeking venture capital need this form of equality the most.

Let me explain…

Benedict Evans wrote an article in 2016 on failure and the economics of venture capital here. I’ll be cherry-picking some points so you don’t need to go and jump into reading it now. Essentially, Evans was able to get aggregate data from one of their limited partners on over 7000 investments made by the venture funds they deployed capital to from 1985 – 2014. All to say, they had a treasure trove of data to explore VC activity over a 29 year period.

Here are some major takeaways:

  • Around half of all investments returned less than the original investment.
  • 6% of deals produced at least a 10x return, and those made up 60% of total returns
  • A fund gets better returns by having more really big hits, not by having fewer failures

The way venture works, most investments have a high probability of failure, and few companies produce significant returns. Speaking with black founders, there seems like there’s an extraordinary case needed to justify investment in their startup to early-stage investors. Most of the time, they feel like they need to have everything figured out… exceptional team, major traction, product, and massive market. There’s a return the fund hurdle that’s put on each opportunity. Where in other situations, white founders have been given what I like to call “figure it out money”. You may have one exceptional part of the puzzle going for you but go figure it out. This return the fund hurdle isn’t applied equally.

Most companies who get “figure it out money” don’t. Some do. But the opportunity to figure it out or not is at the core of equality. Entrepreneurship is a muscle, the more you flex it, the stronger you get. I agree, black founders need to return the fund, just like every other founder should try to if they accept venture capital but VC funds have to be okay with the reality that black founders will most likely return less than they invested, just like their white counterparts.

“It’s not that I want to be bad, but I want the license to be bad and come back and learn.”

– Chris Rock

A couple of extraneous thoughts I couldn’t fit into the essay

  • My main goal was to build on a quote from a conversation on Twitter yesterday. “The key here is that Black people need the same room for failure and repeated failure that our white peers enjoy. And can turn their failure into the narrative, in which they’ve emerged on the other side more enlightened.” (from The Myth of Blackness in Venture ) I wanted to add more color to the mechanics behind why failure is essential.
  • I’d often get into arguments in meetings with my white counterparts about the market opportunity, especially around black founded companies. To be honest, I’ve never really trusted market opportunity slides or rationale. If you’re investing early, the math will most likely change.
  • That goes to say, its 2020. There’s more than enough data for VCs to learn and understand black focused market opportunities. There’s untapped value to be created if you’re willing to explore.
  • I’m torn on the conversation that black founders need to find larger markets than black people. I think its a simplistic and outdated statement. Most people build for who they know and what they know. Most of the time, companies who brand themselves as going specifically after black customers most likely have adjacent markets that could add to scale. What I’m trying to say is I somewhat hear the market opportunity argument but it’s up to the investment team and the founders to really think about the bigger opportunity. Extend the same imagination about how an opportunity can work to black founders too.
History · Learning

This Question Came Up Today

A good friend of mine, who is a well-known agitator, asked a question about Africans role in facilitating the transatlantic slave trade. I guess some people weren’t too clear on what happened. So based on the history classes I’ve taken and books I’ve read, I tried to answer as best I could. Of course, it turned into a book.

Ugh… I wish it was easy to deconstruct but I’ll try.

Most European countries were not able to build solid enough networks to acquire slaves without the help of a network of African leaders and traders who had struck commerce agreement with each other. It started off as raw materials exchange but slavery became one of the main requests after a while. You’ve probably heard that most slaves were captured as a result of wars.

What people don’t understand is how this scaled. At the time, there was no collective identity and Africa as it is now with countries and nationalities. It was mostly tribal (for some exemptions like certain empires that did exist) and fragmented. As Europeans started to see how profitable the slave trade was, they started to encourage conflict among tribes. They signed military agreements with opposing tribes, armed others and leveraged conflicts to accelerate the number of slaves that would be taken as a result of wars.

People also fail to understand that many groups we’re not going. There were certain villages that build fortifications, came up with tactics to make it not worth their while to take slaves from that area. For example, collective hunger strikes, actually going to war with traders, Killing them, “special ops” teams that would sell slaves to see where they went and would set them free after. Europeans, over time, saw these groups as “not profitable” to engage and stayed away.

There are so much context and fragmented narratives here… but from this, you can take away three things.

1. Yes, there were people who collaborated with the European traders to facilitate commerce in which slavery became a big driver. There are Africans who benefited from this.

2. The only way chattel slavery scaled is by European intervention. By supplying guns and protection to specific groups, the Europeans increased their supply of slavery and manipulated political and economic realities in West Africa.

3. A lot more folks in Africa were not going than people give credit.


I decided to give a long answer because the relationship between Africa and the African diaspora has been on my mind for the last couple of days. I’ll probably follow this up with a longer post on what I’m thinking.

History · Self-Revelation · Why?

Is Protesting Effective?

So for those asking the question, “Are riots/protests really effective?” There’s some research from Omar Wasow, an associate professor at Princeton, that takes a look at Black protests in the 1960s and its ability to move elites, shape public opinion, and voting. If you don’t feel like reading the whole thing, here are some quick takeaways:

1. Violent tactics by the state or protesters operate as a double-edged sword. State repression subjugates activists but focuses media attention on the concerns of nonviolent protesters. While violent tactics by protestors are framed as a breach of law and order.

2. Black activists overcame structural biases, framed news, directed elite discourse, swayed public opinion & won at the ballot box. An “eye for an eye” in response to violent repression may be moral & just but this research suggests it may not be strategic, but it achieved its goal.

This time around, three main changes will enhance or detract from its effectiveness.

1. Fragmented media – People have more media channels that are skewed to their already existing notions of reality. (Facebook groups/ TL, twitter followers, more skewed tv media)

2. Decentralized first-hand reporting – Everyone with a camera provides a unique perspective which leads to a diversity of data points that can reinforce or detract from a multitude of narratives.

3. Rapid mobilization of protestors. Now more than ever, it’s easier to scale protests beyond a particular city, which can lead to a larger dichotomy between local, regional and national narratives.