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raceAhead: June 30, 2016

The late night comedy world lost an angel this week. Jessica Williams, the youngest ever correspondent for The Daily Show, and its first black woman, is leaving to write and produce her own show.

She leaves the industry, which she correctly characterized as, “There’s white dudes everywhere, like all the time,” just a little bit maler and a little bit paler, at least for now.

It’s also a tough day for her boss, Trevor Noah, who is losing one of his most recognizable faces.

Tonight is her last field report. #sadface

Williams was a standout from the start, and not just because she was only 22, black and female when Jon Stewart gave her the gig. It was because she was courageous. And that courage led to a really special brand of funny. In an interview with Glamour, Williams shared some advice that Stewart gave her when she first joined the show. “The first thing he said to me was, ‘you need to figure out yourself and your voice, and just let that happen.’”

When you think about it, it’s really the perfect thing for a leader to say.

Williams created funny and awkward segments that touched on issues that she cared about with an unusual mix of compassion, outrage and fresh-faced swagger.

One of my favorites is when she comforts an transgender woman who was arrested simply trying to check into a hotel – she was there for a funeral, ugh– then attempts (but fails) to help a panel of transgender people come up with badass retorts for the insults they regularly receive, then confronts a chaplain/anti-trans activist who wants to ban the “perverted” transgender people from bathrooms. “Do you think all priests are pedophiles?” she asks. No? “Well, can you apply that same logic to transgender people?” He couldn’t.

Williams has been a bit vague about her future plans, saying only that she is working on a half-hour scripted series for Comedy Central, something about a “woke feminist.” Her caginess is understandable, given that the public has been eager to weigh in on her career, much to her occasional annoyance. But she’s up to something, and it sounds pretty good.

For more on what’s next for Williams, click here.

On Point

Puerto Rico to get debt relief 

 An “imperfect” but acceptable bill cleared Congress yesterday; it aims to help Puerto Rico avoid defaulting on $2 billion in debt payments. The Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act, or PROMESA – won partial, and grudging, bipartisan support. A default by the U.S. territory would have been disastrous for the island’s economy.
Washington Post

The Academy Awards announces a more diverse membership
 The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science announced its most recent cohort yesterday. Thanks in large part to public pressure to diversify membership ranks, it was the largest and most diverse class to date – 41% are people of color. The LA Times got #OscarsSoWhite creator April Reign on the phone seconds later to walk through the list. Her take? “They Academy is righting a wrong here…. [but] I still have concerns.”
LA Times

Racial diversity defines the millennial generation
According to a new briefing from The Brookings Institute, young adults between the ages of 18-34, are the most racially diverse of any demographic group, and by far. Brooking’s analysis of U.S. Census data shows that millennials make up 27% of the total minority population, 38% of voting age minorities, and a whopping 43% of primary working age minorities. We’re really going to have to work on that “majority minority nation” phrase.

An open letter to white ad agency pros
Bethany Iverson, a digital ad agency strategy expert, wrote an  op-ed taking her fellow white advertising professionals to task for not doing enough to address “white supremacy” in the agency world. Her suggested five steps comprise an education program for white creative professionals in racial sensitivity. A good sixth step would be handing the mic to professionals of color.
Ad Age

Black Lives Matter activist gets a government job in Baltimore
Black Lives Matter activist and former Baltimore mayoral candidate DeRay Mckesson has been named interim chief human capital officer of the Baltimore City public schools. It seems like a good fit for the Baltimore native. He spent years working in education, first for Teach for America and then in a similar capacity in the Minneapolis public schools.
Baltimore Sun

Your network doing work
A new collaboration between the PBS documentary series POV and The New York Times should be a gift to everyone who cares about race.  Funded in part by the MacArthur Foundation, the goal is to use new media formats to explore race, ethnicity and create “the future of digital documentaries.”  The project is looking for a media maker with documentary skills to embed at the New York Times from August to December 2016 – information in the link, please share with your networks.


The Woke Leader

Inadequate charter schools leave all Detroit students behind
Kate Zernike digs deep into the promise, now uncertain, of the charter school movement in Detroit, Michigan, once a promising marketplace for school companies looking to set up shop and compete for business. The competition and chaos has lowered quality for everyone, Zernike believes. Detroit has the second biggest share of kids in charter schools (New Orleans is number one).
New York Times

49 celebrities honor 49 victims of the Orlando Shooting
Don’t let the star power put you off. This is one of the most moving and effective anti-violence campaigns in years. Forty nine stars, including Lady Gaga, Chris Pine, Chaz Bono and Cuba Gooding, Jr, read simple, short, and deeply personal profiles of each of the victims, a quick snapshot into the who they were and what they meant to others. It’s part of the Human Rights Campaign’s Stop the Hate project, and sends a clear message about anti-LGBT violence and gun control. Bring tissues.

A new case for diversity: happiness
Tim Lomas, a lecturer in applied positive psychology at the University of East London has an interesting idea. If language limits what we can understand – if you can’t know what you can’t name – then will learning new and nuanced ways of describing the world via other languages unlock new shades of emotions and meaning?  He’s found 216 untranslatable words that reveal emotional truths about the cultures that made them. It’s sure to make you feel waldeinsamkeit.
The Conversation


Waldeinsamkeit: That eerie, mysterious feeling that often descends when you’re alone in the woods.
—via Tim Lomas