I Found Equity in Me

It is July 31, 2015. Nothing about this day feels normal. I woke up at 4:30 a.m., anxious, excited and somewhat overwhelmed. As I look across my bedroom, I lock eyes on the navy blue pinstriped suit hanging on the back of my bathroom door and think to myself, “Is this really about to happen?” For the next five minutes, a flurry of thoughts and emotions flow. But, no matter where the thoughts begin, somehow, I find myself ending up at the same place, asking myself the same question over again, “Is this really about to happen?” In just a few hours, I would be walking into one of the most powerful places on earth, The White House. And not for a tour, but as a representative of Baltimore, a city that, only a few months earlier, was the center of attention after the in-police-custody death of Freddie Gray. A city of triumph and loss, of resilience, a city of inspiration and hope…my city.

When I finally stop pinching myself, the insecurities creep in. Why me? Why now? Am I the right person for this? What if they figure out where I’m from, where I’ve been?

I was 10 years old, standing in my backyard. It was slim and long, like the chipping blue-painted row house that stood behind me. The back half of the yard was covered with dirt and rocks, and the other half, where I stood, was covered by a gray cement slab where I played solo games of basketball. This day, the used and tossed needles floating around my makeshift basketball court reminded me of our next door neighbor or, more accurately, neighbors, as they tended to come and go frequently. That day was no different than any other: I heard them yelling in frustration…then fighting. Again. At the same time that kids just a few blocks down Park Heights Avenue in Baltimore heard other kids laughing, lawnmowers churning, and neighbors’ friendly chatting, I cringed at the sound of addicts arguing and empty heroin needles clinging against the crack house’s cement-paved backyard.
This was the place I called home — a neighborhood where waking up to gunshots and falling asleep to the sound of police sirens was normal. But, every morning, despite the soundtrack of the night, my sister, Nikki, and I took the mile-and-a-half long walk with our mom across the railroad tracks to Callaway Elementary School, our oasis. Callaway was in Ashburton, a neighborhood where Black elites, like the mayor, lived in beautiful Victorian homes. At Callaway, Mrs. Rone and other teachers cared about me and kept me interested and excited to learn. They challenged me to think bigger and deeper, go farther, try harder. Callaway was also where I was exposed to chess, participated in tumbling, gymnastics, and, one of my favorites, the Callaway Cadets — a JROTC-like program. Being part of the Callaway family shaped me in a real way and countered the odds that were stacked against me over in Park Heights.

This paradox of a flashback, in no small way, deeply informs who I am and where I am today.

A few hours later, and I’m in an uber, eagerly texting a White House advisor and, at the same time, trying to direct my driver to the South Gate entrance. I walk through the first security checkpoint, not realizing that there were three more to come. I get through all three, then place my bright-green, security clearance badge around my neck and walk in. I’m in the White House! For about five seconds, I bask in the awe of the moment. And, it hit me that, for the next couple of hours, I would be speaking on behalf of generations of people in Baltimore. Being here represents so much. Then, all at once, it makes sense to me why, at this moment, I am the right person. I’m here to carry a message, a story that is like the stories of so many others in my city — a story filled with both triumph and loss, and a story of opportunity that is way too rare. Indeed, I was here to share the very story that I’d spent all morning thinking of ways to conceal.

I meander through the halls of the White House, finally finding my colleagues. We chat for a few minutes then walk over to meet with the Special Assistant to President Obama for My Brother’s Keeper. I’m a little less nervous now. I walk into the office, he greets me with a smile, a firm handshake, and invites me to sit down. I jump right in, “This work is deeply personal to me. I lost a number of homeboys from my neighborhood. They died, and I was pursuing my doctorate. Crazy. I’d argue that the only difference between me and them was where I went to school. Without Callaway, there’s no Coppin, no Princeton, no Duke, no Director of Equity & Opportunity for me. That mile-and-a-half to Callaway created a difference of a lifetime.” In a couple short sentences, he manages to answer all the questions I’d been tossing around in my head since 4:30 a.m., “That’s the beauty of MBK, and this is the exact reason why you’re the right person for this position.” We keep talking…about the local MBK strategic plan, about leveraging public-private partnerships, making sure that the community’s voice was central to all of our future work, family…until I have to rush out to catch my train back to Baltimore.

Back in uber, heading to Union Station, and I feel inspired, hopeful, affirmed, yet anxious about the road ahead, but ready to embrace this journey toward equity. Now I’m telling myself,”This is the right time. I am the right person.” Other kids growing up in neighborhoods like Park Heights should someday confidently walk through the gates of the White House, the campus of a university, or just the doors of a classroom with a Mrs. Rone waiting to lovingly challenge them.

Fast forward to today. While I wouldn’t say that visit to the White House was the beginning of this journey, it was definitely a moment of confirmation. Since then, I’ve had many reminders that I am the right person, that this is the right time.

Almost a year ago, at Equity Summit 2015, I was sitting across from my boss and telling him that after Director of Equity & Opportunity, I wanted to be Chief Equity Officer. He replied, “Then my job is to help you get there.” And, in a way, he did. Figuring out that job — Director of Equity & Opportunity — wasn’t for me gave me time to build the one that is. Because, you know, without that role, there would be no Chief Equity Officer for me…not right now, anyway.

Glenn R. Love is Founder and Chief Equity Officer of Equivolve Consulting, LLC. Equivolve is a consulting firm dedicated to partnering with governmental agencies, philanthropies, and nonprofits to infuse equity into organizational culture, processes, and practices. For inquiries, Glenn can be reached at Glenn@equivolve.com.