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Building Confidence in Yourself and Others: RaceAhead

June 13, 2019, 9:08 PM UTC

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?

On Point

Mellody Hobson to join Quibi, a Netflix-like platform focused on content for handheld devicesIn a Fortune exclusive, DreamWorks Animation chairwoman Mellody Hobson has been tapped for the board of Quibi, a short-form video startup, Andrew Nusca reports. Hobson, who is currently president of Ariel Investments, will join Roger Lynch, CEO of Condé Nast, to round out an executive board that includes Quibi founder Jeffrey Katzenberg, co-founder of DreamWorks, and Quibi CEO Meg Whitman, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard and eBay. The platform, which already has $1 billion in investments, is expected to launch in 2020.Fortune

Missouri, grappling with high maternal mortality rates, passes abortion law
Missouri will ban abortions past eight weeks of pregnancy come August, reports The Kansas City Star. The state, which has a maternal mortality rate of 32.6 deaths per 100,000 births, is already one of the most dangerous in the U.S. for pregnant women. (For those keeping track, Georgia is the most, with 46.2 deaths per 100,000 births.) There’s concern over how the abortion law will affect this, particularly in a state where a large number of women are uninsured. The negative impact, however, will undoubtedly be amplified for black women in the state. Black women are “four times” more likely to die in childbirth, said Democratic Rep. Cora Faith Walker when the bill was still under consideration by the state. “That is the reality of the situation.”
The Kansas City Star


On Background

The privilege of being the good mentally ill person
Sam Dylan Finch, a self-described transgender and mentally ill feminist, has written a wrenching essay describing the strange journey of the well-behaved mentally ill person. The “lucid” and “articulate” ones, the ones who don’t need all the restraints. And if you’re a medical professional, the ones who inspire you to give them the loving care they need. “When I was in the emergency room, I learned that if I was ones who don’t need all the restraints. And if you’re a medical professional, the ones who inspire you to give them the loving care they need. “When I was in the emergency room, I learned that if I was good, I got as many juice boxes as I wanted and Ativan — a benzodiazepine designed to help those with anxiety — every few hours. On the dot,” says Finch. Why? Because he was compliant, likable and relatable. It’s a phenomenon that prevents everyone from getting the care they need. “This is what happens when you’re a people-pleaser who believes your value rests in what everyone else thinks, and that belief collides with the stigma that says mentally ill people are inherently less valuable.” (There is some discussion of suicide and suicidal ideation.)
The Establishment

Hey: Sex and gender is a myth. Now teach that
Not only that, the education system perpetuates it with a flawed attachment to the idea of the gender binary. Quartz’s Jeremy Colangelo explains why the preferred narrative in basic high school sex education – women are XX and men are XY and that’s that – is both wrong and a missed opportunity. “Sex and gender are much more complex and nuanced than people have long believed,” he explains. It’s not a light switch, that goes on or off, it’s more like a dimmer switch, that exists on a spectrum. Yet the world prefers the binary explanation, largely because they’ve never been exposed to the abundant research on the matter. The fraught lives of LGBTQ people could be vastly improved if they were. “And schools can bring about a true cultural shift if they begin teaching that fact to our youngest generations,” he says.

Spas can be nightmares for transgender and non-conforming people
Arabelle Sicardi raises an issue that many of us may not have considered, that the luxurious relaxation of spas and spa culture around the world are emotional mazes for people who are unable or unwilling to choose a gender-identified robe, locker room or soaking pool. The unwritten rules: “If your gender identity is not what you were assigned at birth, if you have gone through all gender-confirming surgeries to align your gender and sex and it is visible, if your anatomy doesn’t align with expectations of gender norms — you’re essentially not allowed in, unless you optionally choose to misgender yourself.” The further away from femme, Sicardi moves, the more difficult the spa trips becomes. “[I]t’s also a reminder of the fact a place that was once a place of comfort is also (and has always been when I wasn’t thinking about it) a place of restrictions and sometimes violence.”

Tamara El-Waylly helps produce raceAhead and assisted in the preparation of today's summaries.


If I’m speaking to a crowd of 5000, or if I'm running an education workshop, or if I'm writing an op-ed, I’m always focused on how I am speaking the truth in a way that will inspire people, provoke people to greater action and works of understanding, and engage people to remain in the work that is always in front of us. And I mean all of us.
—Harvey Milk