Building Community: The Kick Off to Coalition of Black Excellence Week

Straight off of my flight from Wakanda, inspired by #blackexcellence, I knew I had to try to make it to every Coalition of Black Excellence Week (CBEWeek) event that I could. On Tuesday I found myself rushing out of the office at 5 to catch the 5:38 train down to Cupertino for the #CBEKickOff event hosted by Talent Karma and Our Collective.

Having CBEWeek events throughout the Bay Area was intentional. I remembered what it was like to live and work on the peninsula and feel like everything cool happening in the Bay Area was either in San Francisco or Oakland; so when Lakeisha Poole of Talent Karma volunteered to organize an event in the South Bay for that same reason, I immediately loved the idea. In what would turn out to be the CBEWeek way – she took it and ran with it.

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I walked up to the doors of the Aloft Cupertino, where the KickOff was held, out of breath and having no idea what to expect. What would the turnout be? Will people get what we are trying to do? It didn’t take long for my mood to turn from anxious to elated. The room started to fill. I walked around introducing myself to people only to realize that they were CBEWeek planning partners from Our Collective and partner companies. We were on calls and emails for weeks…months, and this was our first time meeting in person. The room suddenly felt like home, like magic, like we are all a part of the beginning of something great.

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People mingled, exchanged ideas, and bonded over shared admiration of Terrell Jones’ Culture Cookies that tasted amazing. We soon migrated from the networking area to the panelist room.  I took my seat looking back and forth between the panelist and the room that was filling up behind me, excited to see how it would take off.

And take off it did. Almost immediately I realized how much I didn’t know about the wide range of experiences people have had with employee resource groups (ERG’s). I had the benefit of joining Uber when Uber Hue, the black employee resource group, was already formed and moving.  I could tap into a network of fellow employees who looked like me and shared some of the same interests I did. But as I listened to panelists and audience questions, I realized that not everyone had the same experience.

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Many attendees were ERG trailblazers.  Dominique Hollins started Black Employees at eBay (BEE) to promote a more visible global presence for eBay’s black community, while also serving as a global lead for eBay’s LGBT community, United in Pride. And she was just getting started. She went on to co-found Our Collective, a community resource group for Silicon Valley professionals of all backgrounds, with co-panelist Andrea Long from Lyft, who also leads Lyft’s black employee resource group, UpLyft Forward.

Panelist Terrell Jones became Visa’s first African American Employee Resource Group (VIBE) co-chair AND started Culture Cookies, a company focused on making a positive impact on social behavior. Googler Kourtni Marshall served on the global leadership team for the Black Googler Network (BGN) and Googler Drea Alphonso spearheaded Black Tech Women, the premier organization to support and enhance the lives of black women in tech. And this was all outside of their day jobs!

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There was no shortage of greatness in the room. These panelists opened up about the challenges of starting organizations from nothing and the importance more established ERGs played in helping them establish their structure. They answered questions about how to have an impact in environments where people feel like they are alone. We talked about how ERGs are not just for meeting and having a good time, but are actually impacting business decisions and are making sure that their perspectives are heard when products launch and partnerships are formed. We challenged each other to push our ERGs to become business partners and to be okay with sharing each of our stories. And most importantly, we challenged each other to connect and building community.

I felt inspired, encouraged, and supported. And I knew I wasn’t alone. This was the magic of our CBEWeek. And it was just the beginning...

February 28, 2018

By Angela Johnson, CBEWeek Chair & Litigation Counsel, Uber