Black Joy & Baddies, By Onisha Etkins

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The Photos are called “Black Joy” & the drawings are Baddies. I first started with Baddies and a lot of my inspiration came from Afropunk, fashion, & Badass Black women. I liked choosing vibrant pastel colors that brought the magic in Black Girl Magic to my drawings. I treat the lines around the women sort of like an aura and you’ll notice the color schemes in the aura match the mood of the figures.

The ideas behind the drawings are what eventually inspired the photos. I love how raw Black & White film is, but I used that medium as an opportunity to reimagine color. Most of these photos were of my homies having a good time and I wanted the vibrant colors to represent that joy that was in the air at that time.

Living While Black in Chavin de Huantar, Peru

By: Nylah Byrd (’18), B.A. in Archaeology

Being black in Peru amongst a group of diverse races and backgrounds is very interesting to say the least. I want to start off by saying I was the only Black girl on the trip, simply for context. To be honest, for the most part I only thought about my apparent melanin upper hand when I didn’t rush to put on sunscreen like my lighter skinned peers. When race was the topic of conversation, I was stunned when I learned that my Latin American friends several shades lighter than me are called dark by some of their family members. Not necessarily in an insulting manner, but it was apparent that the observation wasn’t innocent since pointing out light skin simply doesn’t happen. I knew there was a stigma against dark skin in Latin American culture but I imagined dark as milk chocolate, not a latte. In that moment I realized that your family accepting your skin tone is not a given.

 

“Kids say the damndest things” is a saying for a reason. One night, I went outside to see a few of my friends were playing with some of the local children. The kids were showing them how to use their spinny tops that used a string and a good wrist flick to get them going. One of my friends who was outside is Ethipoian and he introduced himself to the children as being from Africa. I walk up to join the group and one of the small boys no older than 9 looked at me, looked back at my friend, then back at me and exclaims “You look like you’re from Africa!” in Spanish of course. My first instinct was to be defensive, but I realized that potentially the only other dark skinned person this boy has seen in his life is indeed from Africa. Then I couldn’t help but smile at his enthusiasm in his conclusion.

 

I simply told him “No, I’m from America” getting my Spanish practice in as well at taking the opportunity to educate a child.

 

“What is it like in Africa?” another small boy asked.

 

“I don’t know. I’m from America” I said.

 

“Do they kill lions in Africa?” the same small boy followed up.

 

I laughed a little and replied “I don’t know. I’ve never visited Africa”.

 

He finally dropped the topic and we began to talk about his school and he even practiced some English. I’m not sure if it’s because my words went in one ear and out the other or if he simply didn’t believe me when I said I was from America the first time. My best guess is a combination of both.

 

I went into this trip with very basic expectations. I knew I would be digging dirt, practicing my spanish, and making a few new friends. Little did I know those “few friends” would be everyone on the trip, from my peers to my superiors in the field. When it was time to say goodbye I was ready to stop digging but not ready to leave all the wonderful people I encountered. I knew I’d see some of them once school started up again but Stanford students get so busy so fast that I wasn’t actually sure how often I’d see them.

 

I also fully expected people to stare at me because of my melanin. But in reality, we all got stared at. Chavin is a small town with it’s own specific feel and it was very apparent that none of us were natives. Instead of standing out on my own I stood out with my friends, and that only brought us closer. Instead of “Black”, “White”, “Mexican”, “Chinese”, we were “American” and it felt good.

Being a Black Women in Tech

By: Lindsey Redd (’17)

On July 5th, 2016 a police officer murdered Alton Sterling. This was the Tuesday of the fourth week of my software engineering internship in San Francisco. This was the first company I had ever worked for, and I did not know how these things went. How do companies handle tragedy? Do they reach out to their employees? Do they reach out to their customer base?

I walked into the office the following Wednesday with sadness in my bones. I was tired. I was slow. All I wanted to do was sit down and do my work. There was the normal pleasant buzz around the office, but it seemed that no one knew the name Alton Sterling. No one knew that there was a murder hanging over Black America.

That night I learned about the murder of Philando Castile, another Black man murdered by the police. Two days, two murders, two more Black lives lost. My reaction was not shock or disbelief. Unfortunately, all of this was so familiar. Still, my heart sunk even further as I watched our collective grieving on social media. My timelines were flooded with posts from people in Stanford’s Black community, allies, activists, and scholars questioning how many more lives lost would it take for the American people to understand that our “safety” and “justice” systems were built to kill and incarcerate Black people. How do we grieve together, but continue to experience joy? How do we make systemic change? How do we take care of ourselves? How do we continue to dream of a beautiful future for Black people globally? How do we move forward?

The next day at my internship, I was met with radio silence. A few of my White colleagues asked me how I was doing like they would any other day. It was clear that either they had no idea that two Black men were murdered by police in the last two days, they had no idea of the inner turmoil that I was experiencing because of it, or they had an idea about both of those things, but had no idea how to address it with me. I told them I was fine, also having no idea how to casually tell a well-meaning White person with the brightest smile on their face that White supremacy was killing me and people like me.

That day I sat at my desk, fighting back tears as I texted my friend group of Black engineers also interning in the Bay about feeling invisible at work and wanting to go numb. I texted some of my friends who were spread out all over the country and the world about how they were doing, and how their work places were responding to the tragedies. Most said not well to both. The silence continued throughout the day until my manager emailed her team acknowledging that America is in pain and that this might effect our productivity at work. She offered her time to talk if anyone needed it. The email was short and simple, but it almost made me cry. Finally, someone at work could see me, even if only a little. No work got done that day.

The next week was filled with conversations with my aforementioned group of friends about Black lives, tech, and how we positioned our own Blackness in tech. We would all sit in the living room of my tiny San Francisco apartment discussing how some tech companies were responding both publicly and internally. Some responses were okay, some were terrible (I could write extensively on what I thought of each response), but in the end each was underwhelming. However, disappointment was not my initial response. This was the first time that I had been aware of any tech companies making public statements condemning the attack on Black lives. At first this was really exciting. “They can see us,” I’d think to myself. We yelled loud enough. We fought hard enough. They finally realized how important we are to their success, so they are speaking up for us. This is a very low bar. After walking into my office, one that prided itself on its commitment to community and diversity, and seeing only myself and one other intern as the only Black women software engineers in the entire place (yes, you read that right), I began to understand what a low bar this was.

I saw that many of these companies’ public statements about Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were as hollow as their commitments to internal diversity and inclusion. What does it mean when a CEO’s public statement has to be written by its grieving Black employee resource group? What does it mean when Facebook displays a massive Black Lives Matter banner on its campus, but simultaneously releases a statement saying they can’t hire Black engineers because we simply aren’t there (a lie btw)? What does it mean when a tech company “commits” to “diversity,” but only has a small handful of Black and Latinx engineers? What does it mean when I walk into work after two tragic murders of Black men and feel completely invisible? To me this means that the highest priority for the tech company is public image, not tangible improvements for the lives of the people of color who use and make their product.

With all of that said, one of the biggest challenges of my summer as Black woman software engineer was reconciling that I am dedicated to and passionate about an industry that ultimately sees me as a prop for good publicity. That is a very painful realization.

However, my understanding of the tech industry’s wholesome disregard of Black life and death did not drive me out of tech industry. In fact, I am more motivated and inspired to stay than I ever was before. In the face of tragedy, fear, widespread silence, microagressions, macroagressions, and objectification, I watched as me, my friends, and truly incredible Black and Latinx engineers not only got our work done, but also shook up the tech industry with our resilience and power. I saw engineers of color demand recognition, empathy, and the right to be human at work. They inspired me to speak up at my own company, and I am seeing the positive impact that my voice, my Black woman engineering intern voice, is having on an entire company.

I have some parting words.

Tech industry, do better. Black people are not your props. We are not numbers. We are people. We are intelligent, hardworking, and capable. We not only deserve to be here, but we need to be here. You will fail miserably without us.

Fellow Black people in or entering tech, you are brave, beautiful, and inspiring. I absolutely would not have made it this far without you. Thank you for doing the unpaid work of educating your peers and your companies about what it means to be Black in America.

Black people, thank you for sustaining us Black folks in tech. So many of us are doing this work for you. We know that this industry as a whole does not see you, but we do.

Put Some Respek On Your Values | 8 life tips to help build your greatness

21 feels good. There’s something great about a birthday — that feeling of having a fresh start and the opportunity to grow. I’m blessed to have had tons of great experiences and introspective moments growing up, many of which I reflect on everyday. I believe that sharing the lessons we learn individually helps us collectively reach our best glo. So, I wanted to share a few of mine that have greatly shaped the person I am today.

1. Live in your truth. Be genuine and authentic.

Three years ago I was sitting in the lobby of McDonald’s headquarters. I had an interview for one of their scholarship programs in 10 minutes — a scholarship that could make attending college out-of-state a reality. It was a big deal, and I was nervous as hell. I’m talking about armpits sweating profusely, hands getting clammy, “At least I have my health if this doesn’t work out… right, God?” nervous.

The receptionist called my name and I walked into a meeting room where I sat across from a group of 4 play-no-games working adults. The first 5 minutes were cool. Then, they hit me with the question:

So, Benjamin, we know a lot about you already, but what do you know about us? Why do you think you’d fit here?

Wait, what?! What do I know about YOU? Wow…I goofed…I didn’t do my research, were my initial thoughts. Surprised and at a loss for words, I stalled and took the longest, most dramatic sip of water from my cup to buy time. (Think sloth scene from Zootopia).

And then I thought, I’ve already lost, so what point is there in lying? They’ll see right through it. I didn’t do my research like I should’ve…

So I took a deep breath and said:

“I honestly have no idea. I wish I had done more research, but I would really love to learn more about your program.”

They looked at each other and smiled. A few weeks later I received the scholarship. The panel expressed that I was one of the few candidates who honestly admitted to not knowing much about their program. Other candidates came in and tried to pull stuff out of their ass, and they knew it right away.

Real recognizes real, people. From then on, I never doubted the benefits of practicing authenticity.

I encourage you to ask yourself: are you living as authentically as you want to? If not, let’s figure out why. What are your values? Can you say them aloud right now?

A friend of mine that I greatly respect told me to write down my values to help me stick to them, and so far, it’s worked. When you know your values by heart, you can easily make decisions that align with or go against them. So, if a decision goes against any of your core values…don’t do it. It’s that simple.

When you don’t know your values, there will be times you’ll stand for things that kinda feel right. But kinda you isn’t 100% you. So know what you stand for, and live and hold yourself accountable to those values*

*Of course, we’re humans and life happens, so you don’t have to be awkward and robotic with this, OK? There’s levels to this. More complex situations prompt more complex analysis. Let your values serve as a starting point into living an authentic life; this list of 7–8 words doesn’t have to be your life’s bible. And keep in mind there are values you probably forgot to list.

2.Take a break.

A few months ago I was working through some code during the wee hours of the morning and things were simply not working for me. I had tried EVERYTHING I knew, and for some reason a new widget I was creating was not showing up on this website. My girlfriend was asleep at the time, knocked out with a literal smile on her face, hands clasped together in prayer form. Pause, and just think about how that must feel: You’ve been stressed as hell, banging your head against the wall, trying to work through the exact same thing for 4 hours, and your partner is in bed like:

I felt helpless, and I decided to give up and sleep.

When I woke up I opened my computer and realized: I didn’t include the downloaded software library in my project. WHAT!! Of course it wouldn’t work! I took all the steps necessary for this thing to work, except actually including the software in my project. My code had nothing to run off of, essentially. It’s like driving up to a gas station, putting $20 on your tank, opening up your lid, and then sitting in the driver’s seat expecting gas to magically get into your tank. With my rested set of eyes, this mistake was clear as day. Sometimes taking a break is the most productive thing you can do.

EXTENDING THIS: Working hard as hell shouldn’t be your sole goal. If so, that’s a pretty boring life. Hard work is definitely a vehicle to help you achieve your dreams, but don’t conflate hard work with success. Again, if you know what you value, you’ll know if what you’re doing is working towards your vision. Taking a breather shouldn’t distract from the vision.

3. You know that thing you’ve been thinking about doing? Yeah…that THING? You know what it is…do it. It’ll probably be great. If it isn’t? Well you tried, and that’s better than not trying.

I had an app idea my junior year of high school that I thought could (sort of) change the world. Yet, I never pursued it because I didn’t know where to begin, and I wasn’t confident enough to explore the unknown. I was too fearful. Now, four students at the University of Michigan are doing that exact idea I had 5 years ago. I couldn’t be happier for them, but sometimes you have to listen to your gut. I’m working on a side project right now, and, oh boy, I’m not letting this one get away.

Don’t let someone live YOUR dream. At first, your great idea is going to be doubted because we live in a doubtful society. But, push through and believe in yourself. Again, real recognizes real.

4. Getting feedback usually means someone cares about you.

Hey, tough love is still love. Of course, gauge others’ advice using your moral template, but feedback/constructive criticism usually means someone is taking time to help you be a better version of yourself. Even if it’s bad advice hear them out and appreciate them for trying. If there are people intentionally trying to steer you in the wrong direction, though, you know what to do…

5. Peer pressure is goofy. Follow your gut.

If you respect yourself, you won’t succumb to peer pressure most of the time. And those pressuring you will respect you (and maybe even themselves) more. However, peer pressure is really hard to overcome sometimes. So don’t beat yourself up if you can’t overcome it your first go-round.

6. Not everyone has to be your friend. That’s OK.

Not everybody has to like you. Even when you’ve done nothing wrong people will dislike you. And, on the flip side, in moments where you actually mess up you come to realize some people were waiting for that exactmoment all along. These are hard realizations to have.

I always thought I was a pretty likable guy, but, damn…wait. Who’d you say was talking…? Not them. Really? You sure?

It’s hard. Identify the frenemies. Be OK knowing that not everyone will appreciate you living in your truth, but if it’s your truth, then what do they matter? As long as you’re not hurting others by your actions, it’s better to live how you want to than surround yourself with people that make you act unlike yourself.

7. Sankofa.

8. You’re responsible for your life. No excuses.

It’s easy to explain away why something isn’t, or why you haven’t yet, or why you’ll never. But it’s probably just an excuse. Another human may listen, but that’s out of respect for you. An excuse is your way of shifting responsibility and blame, and living in the comfort that comes from staying the same — that’s goofy. Take ownership, because you own your life. Really and truly. Own your failures — that’s GREAT. Failures are moments of learning.


Photo by Quinnton Harris

Benjamin Williams is a junior at Stanford University majoring in Computer Science with a minor in African and African-American studies.

For more information, check out his LinkedIn profile, follow him on Twitter: @beninyohouse and Instagram: @ben_willyums, or visit his website,www.benjaminww.com