By Ellen McGirt
June 13, 2019

I first spoke with Brittany Packnett, educator, policy expert, activist, Ferguson organizer, and non-profit executive in 2017 for “The Black Ceiling,” the difficult truth-to-power story about what was keeping talented black women out of corporate executive ranks. Packnett had revived the #BlackWomenAtWork hashtag, after two prominent black women, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and journalist April Ryan, were publicly insulted on the same day last March, by then–Fox News host Bill O’Reilly and then–White House spokesman Sean Spicer, respectively. The hashtag became instantly populated with wrenching stories from women of color in the workplace, the microaggressions, the insults, the endless questions about their hair.

“I wasn’t surprised by the response, but I was reminded why black women are the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs,” Packnett told me. “We’re just tired of playing other people’s games. And I don’t want to have to contort myself to fit your expectations, because ultimately that will make me less successful.”

Since then, her work reaches audiences all over the world, as co-host of the award-winning podcast, Pod Save The People, among other platforms.

Packnett is the daughter of two preacher; her father, also a long-time organizer, had pastored at the Central Baptist Church in St. Louis, a church founded by enslaved people, and where Dred and Harriet Scott went to church, back when they were real people seeking salvation, community and dignity, and not a short answer on a history test. “Some of us activists chose this life because like me we were raised in protest, or we worship a God who loves justice and commands that we do the same here on earth,” she said last year in an extraordinary speech honoring the memory and legacy of Kalief Browder.

So I was particularly excited to view her new TED talk, recorded earlier this year at the official TED conference. She did not disappoint.

The subject is confidence, but her ultimate message, delivered like a philosopher-queen, is really about how confidence is the missing piece for underrepresented, the forgotten, and the ignored. “Confidence is the difference between being inspired and actually getting started, between trying and doing until it’s done. Confidence helps us keep going even when we failed,” she begins. But her equally poignant point: Finding confidence is not a solo sport, it requires permission, community, and curiosity, and it’s something we can and must spark in each other:

Confidence needs permission to exist and community is the safest place to try confidence on.

I traveled to Kenya this year to learn about women’s empowerment among Maasai women. There I met a group of young women called Team Lioness, among Kenya’s first all-female community ranger groups. These eight brave young women were making history in just their teenage years, and I asked Purity, the most verbose young ranger among them, “Do you ever get scared?” I swear to you, I want to tattoo her response all over my entire body. She said, “Of course I do, but I call on my sisters. They remind me that we will be better than these men and that we will not fail.” Purity’s confidence to chase down lions and catch poachers, it didn’t come from her athletic ability or even just her faith. Her confidence was propped up by sisterhood, by community. What she was basically saying was that if I am ever in doubt, I need you to be there to restore my hope and to rebuild my certainty.


Inspired by Brittany’s powerful words, I’ll leave you with one final piece of inspiration today. First, remember back to the first person who believed in you, and who gave you the permission to be confident. Now ask yourself: Who in your life needs you to believe in them now?


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