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raceAhead: A New Black Super PAC, Princeton’s Diversity Experiment, Working While Disabled

October 24, 2017, 7:38 PM UTC

A new political action group was announced today, formalizing a longstanding network created by powerful black business leaders. It’s dedicated to, among other things, supporting candidates that meet their specific agenda.

According to the New York Times, the organizers include Charles Phillips, chief executive of the software company Infor; Tony Coles, head of the biotech firm Yumanity Therapeutics; Marva Smalls, global head of inclusion strategy for Viacom; and William M. Lewis Jr., co-chairman of investment banking at Lazard. While they’d been operating as an informal network dedicated to social justice and race-based issues for years, this move brings this group of power brokers, and the causes they care about, into public view.

From the story:

They are focused on areas like access to education and employment, as well as voter participation. But they are still trying to find consensus. Many don’t want to narrowly define the mandate around race, since initiatives like improving school quality and job training are as much about geography and income level.

The 10 or so core organizers, who meet every other Sunday in Manhattan, have hired a lawyer to get the paperwork ready but haven’t started to raise money. They plan to create three structures: a “super PAC” to run political ads or host events; a federal PAC to support candidates; and a 501(c)(4) group, or social welfare nonprofit, that will do a mix of the two.

“What we’ve been doing is just writing checks for years, and we don’t know what happened” once the money was received, Mr. Phillips said. “We’ve got to learn from the Koch brothers, do what they do, have them sign pledges.”

Fortune readers first learned of the existence of this network early last year in Leading While Black, a feature which explored the underrepresentation of black men in corporate ranks.

The informal networks many of the men described in the piece were key to finding jobs, information, and other allies. It’s a clear survival strategy for all underrepresented groups in traditional leadership structures. But Phillips described his to Fortune as having a unique twist — a supper club with a big checkbook. It was clear that they’d developed into a finely tuned decision-making team, debating issues, agreeing on strategies and yes, writing checks.

The group had already established a non-profit and have been working together to support ideas that come their way.

“Everyone cares about education, which speaks to the pipeline. So we tend to focus on that,” Phillips told me last year. “But we talk a lot about the big issues.” And they have a bias toward fast action. Two years ago, a New Year’s Eve chat about the Ava Duvernay film Selma, led a small group of black executive friends to coordinate showings for 300,000 kids of color around the country. In the summer of 2016, the group raised $1 million for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, after president Sherrilyn Ifill attended an informal dinner and shared ideas for a policing reform campaign. Phillips had been affected by the killing of Walter Scott, who had been shot multiple times in the back while running away from a police officer in South Carolina. “She had a good plan,” he says.

While it will be interesting to see what happens next, one message is crystal clear. If Charles Phillips or any member of the new black Super PAC invites you to one of their dinners, you should probably go.

On Point

An update on Princeton’s experiment in welcoming students from lower-income familiesIt took the full resolve of Princeton leadership to decide to tap endowment funds for scholarships and begin recruiting from a different set of high schools. But in the past twelve years, the university has tripled the number of students who qualify for Pell Grants, which assist families with financial needs. They now account for 22% of the Ivy's student population. “If we’re going to be excellent, we’re going to need to bring in talent from all backgrounds,” says Princeton’s president. But feeling like you fit in can still be tough. “There are constant reminders that I have to forge a place for myself within a world that has been constructed for someone else,” says one sophomore, a Haitian American immigrant.Washington Post

Workers with disabilities still face challenges
The unemployment rate has dropped for everyone but people with disabilities, who are more likely to be un- or underemployed, a new study finds. The Center for Talent Innovation (CTI) recently released a global study that focused on people with disabilities in the workforce. It comes after a new definition of disability, approved by the 2016 Justice Department, recognized people with “invisible” disabilities, like mental illness and dyslexia. Under these new guidelines, 30% of white collar workers have a recognized disability, the study finds. Most of them are younger workers. The diagnosis and recognition of “mood disorders like depression, learning disabilities like dyslexia, developmental differences like autism, and other forms of neurodiversity — also contribute to a higher proportion of disability in the Millennial white-collar workforce."
Refinery 29

Midwest tech startup CEO: Get serious about diversity
Can Silicon Prairie lead the way? R.J. Talyor is the Chief Executive Officer of Quantifi, an Indiana-based firm that helps companies optimize their digital marketing efforts. But he’s also making diversity a priority as the firm grows, particularly as he scans the horizon for millennial techies. “To recruit top talent, startups can affect the changes necessary to advance diversity and inclusion initiatives, and can do so with limited budgets,” he says. He’s published eight ideas that even small firms can put into practice right away, which includes rooting out unconscious bias with consistent training and insisting that employees regularly network with people unlike themselves. The trickle down is real, y'all: Talyor is clearly a Salesforce customer, and has been influenced by their equality efforts. (Shout out to James Loduca.)
Inside Indiana Business

The artist tapped to paint Michelle Obama’s portrait is sort of ready for her close-up
Unlike the more famous Kehinde Wiley who was chosen for the former president’s portrait, Amy Sherald was a relatively unknown artist, an up-and-comer who is now suddenly thrust into the bright light of art world attention. “I’m just going to pretend it’s not a big deal,” she tells the New York Times. The portraits will be paid for by private donations and will take several meetings and sittings. Sherald uses photos for the basis of her pieces, shooting her subjects outside in natural light, in outfits she’s chosen for them. She only paints African American subjects, depicting them in grayscale, but in colorful clothes on a flat, pigmented plane. “There is something that’s so alive in these characters; they’re very calm — but they’re still very confrontational,” one gallerist says.
New York Times

The Woke Leader

A Japanese town that is filled with life-sized dolls
The scarecrow looked so much like her father who had recently passed, that neighbors spoke to it with reverence. It was then that Japanese artist Tsukimi Ayano began to see an opportunity to replace the dwindling population of her rural village with life-sized human tributes of friends and neighbors. Now, the village of Nagoro has more dolls than human inhabitants, working in fields, waiting for the bus, teaching in a now abandoned school. “When I make dolls of dead people I think about them when they were alive and healthy. The dolls are like my children.” The effect is both haunting and beautiful, as this six-minute documentary shows. Enjoy.
National Geographic

An Indian village where girls rule
In the small Indian village of Thennamadevi, a big problem has taken hold of the male heads-of-households: Alcoholism. Most of the men are addicted to a dangerous home-brew, and drink to excess daily, endangering their own health and the livelihood of their families. As a result, a “young girls club” of mostly teen girls have begun taking over management of the village, fixing street lights, writing petitions to improve local transportation options, arranging for health visits and helping to raise themselves out of poverty.  They’re also working with aid agencies to help save the kids who run away from Thennamadevi in droves, who often fall prey to traffickers. (The Guardian’s global development website, on which this story appears,  is supported in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.)
The Guardian

How the president and his administration speaks to black women and why it matters
Heather Timmons works hard to explain how the president, who appears to be an equal opportunity offender — Li’l Marco, Lying Hillary, Crazy Mika — is particularly dangerous when he attacks black women with impunity. “Trump using his perch as president and the resources of the White House to target black women is particularly chilling because the consequences include a barrage of threats and abuse from Trump’s far-right supporters,” she says. “Wacky” Rep. Frederica Wilson, is being inundated by threats, including reports of an Illinois man who was looking to put together a lynch mob. “Many white men who have criticized Trump don’t get the same backlash,” she says.


Why is it acceptable for women to be secretaries, librarians, and teachers, but totally unacceptable for them to be managers, administrators, doctors, lawyers, and Members of Congress? The unspoken assumption is that women are different. They do not have executive ability, orderly minds, stability, leadership skills, and they are too emotional. It has been observed before, that society for a long time, discriminated against another minority, the blacks, on the same basis — that they were different and inferior. The happy little homemaker and the contented "old darkey" on the plantation were both produced by prejudice.  As a black person, I am no stranger to race prejudice. But the truth is that in the political world I have been far oftener discriminated against because I am a woman than because I am black.
—Shirley Chisholm