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Author Casey Gerald Ponders the Black Experience in an America Shaped by Hate: raceAhead

Casey Gerald keynote MBA across america founderCasey Gerald keynote MBA across america founder
Casey Gerald, co-founder and CEO of MBAs Across America, gives a keynote address for South by Southwest Interactive before an audience of creators, early adopters, and entrepreneurs.Erich Schlegel—Getty Images

In a troubled age, voices rise. Or sometimes, they escape.

Both are true in the case of Casey Gerald, an author, one-time nonprofit entrepreneur, and a man who in 2014 electrified his classmates at Harvard Business School with a graduation address delivered with the certain cadence of a Southern preacher. 

"In your hands as well as mine, lies the hope for a new generation of business leaders, in which each of us becomes a pioneer, in which each of us decides to travel unknown roads, in search of unsolved challenges, in which each of us commits our time and talent not just to the treasures of the day, but to the frontier of tomorrow… we take up the work, not just of making a living, but of making a life."

Further, that life should be measured, he said, not by what you gained, but what you gave. For the happy few in his audience, it meant building businesses that uplifted communities that supplemented "the four P’s, five forces, and six sigma," with a single animating principle: purpose.

Gerald caught the world’s attention after that, becoming a magazine cover subject for his co-founding of MBAs Across America, a road-trip turned nonprofit which helped bring HBS expertise to business students who took up his call to purpose, and the local entrepreneurs who needed their help. "The leadership deficit in America is possibly the biggest challenge we have," he told Fast Company. "You can’t say, 'Let’s go do this because it optimizes efficiency.' There’s got to be a larger vision of our future and ourselves. I tell the MBAs in our program, you can approach these assignments as a clinical exercise, but that detached approach won’t be as well received and accepted. It has to be a human experience. You have to grasp the essence."

Soon, he began to have doubts.

In a TED talk that would deservedly earn more than two million views, Gerald expanded on the stories he learned to tell on himself, like the one growing up poor, black, and Baptist into a surprised and wounded 12-year-old when Lord Jesus did not arrive on the dot of midnight on January 1, 2000, as his pastors had assured. It was the first in a series of promises not kept—as an intern at Lehman Brothers in 2008, as a D.C. staffer in a time of gridlock, and finally as a person who had tried to help entrepreneurs who needed more than what he could offer. He had shuttered his organization, he told the crowd, and had embraced the gospel of doubt, one in which we come to know that all the standard questions and answers are wrong. 

"No, I was disturbed because I had finally realized that I was the dialysis for a country that needed a kidney transplant. I realized that my story stood in for all those who were expected to pick themselves up by their bootstraps, even if they didn't have any boots; that my organization stood in for all the structural, systemic help that never went to Harlem or Appalachia or the Lower 9th Ward; that my voice stood in for all those voices that seemed too unlearned, too unwashed, too unaccommodated."

Blessed are they who evolve out loud.

So, I was particularly delighted to find that Gerald has written again, sharing what he is thinking now, the next epochal step in his evolutionary journey. His launching point is the 400th anniversary of the first official arrival of kidnapped Africans, who were ultimately "enslaved, upwards of 4 million, for generations. We know that they were worked like mules and tortured and sold, up to and after emancipation."

Gerald has once again grasped the essence. This time, it’s of his life and your work, a convenient frame for some inconvenient questions that describe his struggle to make the difference he so desperately believed in: How can we live in a land that’s made to kill us? Where do we go from here?

"A long time ago, the story went, befo’ yestidy was bo’n, an’ befo’ bygones was uster-bes, the Africans knew how to fly. Trapped in slave ships, taken across water wetter than tears, many forgot their flying powers. But there were those who remembered. One day, in the field, having had more than enough, one who remembered would speak in a strange tongue—Kum Baba Yali or Kum… Yali, kum buba tambe—or they’d gather in a circle and run and run, roun day go fastuhnfastuh, and black men and black women and black children would rise up off the ground. They’d stand solid in the air. They’d fly back to Africa for good, or off somewhere for a little while. Some would simply disappear, jis go right out uh sight. The mad white overseer, who could not understand their chant, would chase the flying slaves. Goodie bye, goodie bye, they waved.

We—if you are who I hope you are—still find ourselves, 400 years later, in a bind, or a country. Our country. We have learned and taught so many tactics to survive in it. To assimilate, best we can. To fight for our rights, even to the death. Yet here we are, shit in fan, wondering (at least, I wonder) what may be our next best move. I have come back to offer a way—one that saved me, just as it once saved our flying forebears: the black art of escape."

What follows next is a call to freedom, this time, of your spirit. 

On Point

Lil Nas X is living his best life and isn’t finished yet There a few fun new details in this joyous profile of the rapper as a young mogul, a man who has utterly owned the modern age with a beat he bought online for $30. (See? I didn’t know that.) But while Old Town Road may not be groundbreaking content, its existence is breaking new ground all over the damn place, including the gated community that is country music. He also manages to promote without bolstering, a tribute to his light spirit and deft social antennae. “It’s crazy how any baby born after march has not lived in a world where old town road wasn’t number 1,” he tweeted. Then my personal favorite: “Last year i was sleeping on my sisters floor, had no money, struggling to get plays on my music, suffering from daily headaches, now i’m gay.” Enjoy. Time

Israel bars U.S. Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib from visiting Israel’s deputy foreign minister said in a radio interview today that Israel has decided that “Israel has decided not to allow” Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota to visit as planned because of their support of the international boycott movement. Her remarks came after President Trump tweeted that “it would show great weakness” if Israel let them in. “They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds. Minnesota and Michigan will have a hard time putting them back in office. They are a disgrace!,” read the tweet. Fortune

New lawsuit alleges YouTube discriminates against LGBTQ community The lawsuit was filed late Tuesday by several LGBTQ social media stars, and claims LGBTQ users are being subjected to “unlawful content regulation, distribution, and monetization practices that stigmatize, restrict, block, demonetize, and financially harm the LGBTQ+ Plaintiffs and the greater LGBTQ+ Community.” At issue are some policies that prevent LGBTQ from earning ad revenue, like restricting their content to people 18 or older. The suit also claims that YouTube prevented’s “GNews!”, an LGBTQ news show, from growing their audience by placing an ad promoting a Christmas video. CNN

Everyone loves gay penguins! Same-sex penguins have adopted an abandoned egg at the Berlin Zoo—and they’re not the first. Gay penguin couples have been adopting eggs in London, Australia, and New York City zoos, reports the Washington Post. Skipper and Ping, Berlin’s 10-year-old King penguins, both male, showed a desire to have a family soon after coupling up. So the zookeepers offered them the chance to have one. Click through to read more about the love story that has delighted many, and an inclusive spirit to inspire us all. Washington Post

On Background

Maya Angelou used to write, y’all This public conversation between Maya Angelou and George Plimpton is fascinating for many reasons, not the least of which is the clear love of craft which is embedded in the questions. But this is for anyone who labors to write anything they care about, the pain of revision, and the editors who bear the brunt of your wrath in the middle of the process. “I know [it’s what I want] when it’s the best I can do. It may not be the best there is. Another writer may do it much better. But I know when it’s the best I can do. I know that one of the great arts that the writer develops is the art of saying, ‘No. No, I’m finished. Bye. And leaving it alone,'” she says. Also, evidently, sherry is involved. Who knew? The Paris Review

‘Unlearning racism’ won’t happen unless ‘structural racism’ is addressed Implicit bias doesn’t occur in a vacuum. It’s within a “larger context of racial segregation, exclusion, and systemic inequities.” Picture the brain as an iceberg, write Kathleen Osta and Hugh Vasquez. The conscious part is that small bit above the water line. And the larger, hidden part, is the unconscious—and it absorbs a lot. Through structural racism everyone experiences a form of priming, within that larger context of structural racism, from which assumptions and associations evolve. That’s why true progress “require[s] us to both mitigate our own biases and change structures.” National Equity Project via Medium

A North Korean defector draws the horror of life under Kim Jong Un In 2014, the United Nations’ Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea published a report that described the gross human rights violations that have been perpetrated by North Korea and Kim Jong Un. The panel’s chairman called them “strikingly similar” to the crimes committed by the Nazi regime in World War II. One of the people who testified was a 48-year-old man named Kim Kwang-Il, who had been imprisoned for smuggling pine nuts over the border. After he escaped, he wrote and illustrated a book about the atrocities he experienced. It was one of the rare glimpses into the widespread system of prisons, concentration camps, and torture facilities where hundreds of thousands of North Koreans are said to languish. Click through for links to full archives of Kim’s photos and his two hour public testimony. The Atlantic

Tamara El-Waylly helps write and produce raceAhead.


“What if we went back through all the family trees and just pulled those people out that were products of rape and incest? Would there be any population of the world left if we did that? Considering all the wars and all the rape and pillage that has taken place? And whatever happened to culture after society, I know that I can’t certify that that I am not a part of the product of that.”

Rep. Steve King, speaking in defense of an anti-abortion bill during a speech in Urbandale, Iowa