... 8:05 I am the exception, not because I'm more talented than Baakir or my mother worked any harder than Jobana, Sintia or Bertha, or cared any more than Theresa. Marginalized communities are full of smart, talented people, hustling and working and innovating, just like our most revered and most rewarded CEOs. They are full of people tapping into their resilience to get up every day, get the kids off to school and go to jobs that don't pay enough, or get educations that are putting them in debt. They are full of people applying their savvy intelligence to stretch a minimum wage paycheck, or balance a job and a side hustle to make ends meet. They are full of people doing for themselves and for others, whether it's picking up medication for an elderly neighbor, or letting a sibling borrow some money to pay the phone bill, or just watching out for the neighborhood kids from the front stoop.
9:04 I am the exception because of luck and privilege, not hard work. And I'm not being modest or self-deprecating -- I am amazing.
9:13 But most people work hard. Hard work is the common denominator in this equation, and I'm tired of the story we tell that hard work leads to success, because that allows --
9:32 ... because that story allows those of us who make it to believe we deserve it, and by implication, those who don't make it don't deserve it. We tell ourselves, in the back of our minds, and sometimes in the front of our mouths, "There must be something a little wrong with those poor people." We have a wide range of beliefs about what that something wrong is. Some people tell the story that poor folks are lazy freeloaders who would cheat and lie to get out of an honest day's work. Others prefer the story that poor people are helpless and probably had neglectful parents that didn't read to them enough, and if they were just told what to do and shown the right path, they could make it.
10:10 For every story I hear demonizing low-income single mothers or absentee fathers, which is how people might think of my parents, I've got 50 that tell a different story about the same people, showing up every day and doing their best. I'm not saying that some of the negative stories aren't true, but those stories allow us to not really see who people really are, because they don't paint a full picture. The quarter-truths and limited plot lines have us convinced that poor people are a problem that needs fixing. What if we recognized that what's working is the people and what's broken is our approach? What if we realized that the experts we are looking for, the experts we need to follow, are poor people themselves? What if, instead of imposing solutions, we just added fire to the already-burning flame that they have? Not directing -- not even empowering -- but just fueling their initiative.
11:21 Just north of here, we have an example of what this could look like: Silicon Valley. A whole venture capital industry has grown up around the belief that if people have good ideas and the desire to manifest them, we should give them lots and lots and lots of money.
11:41 Right? But where is our strategy for Theresa and Baakir? There are no incubators for them, no accelerators, no fellowships. How are Jobana, Sintia and Bertha really all that different from the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world? Baakir has experience and a track record. I'd put my money on him.
12:03 So, consider this an invitation to rethink a flawed strategy. Let's grasp this opportunity to let go of a tired, faulty narrative and listen and look for true stories, more beautifully complex stories, about who marginalized people and families and communities are.
14:06 Desmond Tutu talks about the concept of ubuntu, in the context of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation process that they embarked on after apartheid. He says it means, "My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours; we belong to a bundle of life." A bundle of life. The Truth and Reconciliation process started by elevating the voices of the unheard. If this country is going to live up to its promise of liberty and justice for all, then we need to elevate the voices of our unheard, of people like Jobana, Sintia and Bertha, Theresa and Baakir. We must leverage their solutions and their ideas. We must listen to their true stories, their more beautifully complex stories.