Columns » Thank Me Later

Tap into the world you feel the need to save

The value of the 'unsophisticated' community

by

comment

The South is a new world for me. I prefer trains over cars, bodegas to chain supermarkets, and street food in unmarked, unfriendly carts to food trucks, but I'm making my peace with sweet tea and neighborhoods.

Over the years, I've called more than one community home; recognizing in each an ongoing erasure in communities where black and brown presence is equated to underdevelopment and underemployment.

Raised in inner-city Seattle, the adopted daughter of a single mother with multiple storylines, my connection to progress stemmed from the visibility of packs of black women teaming together to shuffle kids off to school when someone had to work earlier than planned. They worked together, sharing resources to afford school clothes and vetting positive male influences.

In spite of its challenges, I had privilege. My mother had an important government job, social capital and the frequent flier miles I needed to make my dreams attainable.

My village back then reminds me of the supportive village I've come to know in Charlotte. The precious staples here grow out of overlooked community assets like churches, masjid's, beauty salons and dance studios.

Today, I get to travel the world to talk and write about technology, the future of work, impactful businesses and other jargony language like "disruption." Yet it tugs at my heartstrings to know the vast majority of those living at the margins will be defeated by bad policy and artificial intelligence.

Some of Charlotte's most high-crime, high-poverty, segregated neighborhoods suffer the worst from youth unemployment. Add being brown in America to limited social capital and few jobs and "innovation" in the way most publications write about it just isn't applicable.

But the truth is, the scale of our problems outweighs the scale of our solutions. This is precisely where tapping the unsophisticated community mentioned above presents itself as a brilliant opportunity for those ready to push against the status quo groupthink that runs rampant in our venture capital communities.

While we chase fancy incubators and accelerator programs built for the credentialed and degreed, remaining ignorant of the value of communities laced with citizens birthed from church houses, soul food kitchens and grandmothers will be to our own peril.

Think deeper about what we deem acceptable as forward movement for a community and let us reduce our need to serve as saviors to folks capable of saving themselves. Let's consider unpacking the theory of advantage, applying Malcolm Gladwell's David and Goliath under the lens of disrupting the inevitable, forced life choices of those we fretfully steer away from.

How impressive would it be if we traded in words for resources that developed co-working spaces on the forefront of unstable streets, awarding resources to Family Dollar cashiers in the form of a $50,000 stipend, access to mentors and a free workspace to start their own businesses — in similar fashion to what we do for those that have the privilege to think about their futures? We know the dollars are there, but they're dedicated to discriminatory policies and likability politics.

What if the case study to solve on a whiteboard interview was to identify a disruptive solution to connect my cousin Chris in South Central L.A. — who's littered with gang tattoos and throws up gang signs on Instagram — with an incubator that could potentially save his life?

If our language changes, so can our thinking around who has the ability to scale solutions for communities we find lacking in social sophistication. Our desire to connect with people in the exact communities that we sully with language like "disadvantaged," "low-income," and "underserved" is often rooted in messianic desire as opposed to a desire to put people on equal footing with equal ability.

What if those hair salons, dance studios and other community staples received the investment they needed to expand apprenticeship programs, scale their businesses and create jobs for local economic stimulation?

The unsophisticated community has an informal economy that we're looking past. It carries a tremendous value that we can hack if we deem it worthy to join the ranks of what disruption looks like today. I come from such a place. And I'm here now because of it.

Sherrell Dorsey is a social impact storyteller who writes on the intersection of technology, sustainability, and digital inclusion for multiple national outlets and founder of ThePLUG — the definitive daily source for black tech news.

Add a comment