A little over 5 years ago, I transitioned my from a career in secondary education to marketing. I cashed in the little teachers retirement I had accumulated in 3 years, packed what belongings I could in my car, and drove 27 hours across the desert from Dallas, TX to Los Angeles, CA.
Some consider me a risk-taker, but I was just doing what I felt was right. Fast forward a couple of years. After interning at a notable record label and then at a high powered Hollywood entertainment PR agency, I landed a solid role at one of the most sought after marketing/public relations agencies in the country.
I gleaned so much from the professionals I worked with at that agency. I really learned the science behind marketing. Moreover I learned what drives humans to make everyday decisions, and how to strategically position my clients within the step-by-step funnel of the consumer purchasing process.
While working at the agency, I was tasked with coordinating targeted influencers to a blogger event for one of my clients in New York City. The project took 3 months to organize and I had to stay in New York for about a week leading up to the actual event. To say the least, I was ecstatic about how well my career was progressing. Keep in mind that I’m a country boy, living in Los Angeles, and organizing a consumer marketing event for one of the largest companies in the nation, in New York City. My energy was on 10, and I wanted to make sure everything was on point (and it was).
One evening after finishing up some work, I met up with some friends who were in town working. My event was taking place during fashion week so the city was lit and I was taking-in every moment. My hotel was in midtown and we went to East Village to do some bar hopping. At around 1am after having a few drinks, I bid my friends farewell and began walking outside.
As I go to the curb to hail a taxi, still in my business work attire, I began to get confused because no taxi would stop for me. Keep in mind I’m a country boy. I was totally oblivious to New York City culture and norms. As I was standing there on the curb tirelessly trying to hail a taxi, I noticed two black guys walking past obviously laughing at me while shaking their heads. I was slightly agitated at this point so I didn’t pay them much attention and kept trying to get my taxi.
About 15 mins later, a white lady probably in her mid 30’s, approached me and said “Hey you, where are you headed?” I told her that I was trying to get a taxi back to my hotel in Midtown, but I thought that an event or something was going on because all the taxis kept passing by. She chuckled to herself, stepped one foot off the curb, and threw her hand into the air. Within seconds, a taxi were there. In a very direct and firm New York kinda way, the white lady told me to get in the cab and instructed the driver to take me to my hotel in Midtown. She smiled at me and told me to enjoy the rest of my trip.
Staring out the window on the way to the hotel, the previous 30 minutes of life flashed through my mind and everything started to piece itself together. The taxi’s were intentionally passing me by because I was a black man, the local black guys walking by on the sidewalk were laughing because they knew damn well I wasn’t going to get a taxi, and there’s no telling how long the white lady saw me desperately trying to get a cab before she decided to step in and help the situation.
This, in a nutshell, this is why all lives matter. Not in its traditional sense as a counter-position to #BlackLivesMatter. All lives matter because, white people MUST play a critical role in the social change of African Americans in this country. Much like my taxi situation, it starts with acknowledgment. White people cannot remain silent as tragedy and injustice plagues the Black Community. The white lady identified a problem and actively engaged with me to solve it. She lent her privilege and bridged the gap.
I hear white people say “I didn’t do it, I am not racist, and I don’t know why your’re upset with me.” They may be right, but guess what… I didn’t pick cotton either- but I still couldn’t get a taxi. We must work together to fix the institutional legacy in this country. A legacy that has passed down rights, privileges, wealth, (or the lack of) to various inheriting groups. This legacy touches perceptions that bleed into every aspect of our social engagements, all the way down to me hailing for a taxi, or the visceral response of a police officer when a black man gets pulled over.
The very next time someone says, #AllLivesMatter, don’t argue with them. Agree with them and tell them why. Make sure you get a commitment of action from them in the process.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.