For 13 years, I have worked as an executive coach, helping Black women, Black people, and people who work in allyship with Black people. The role found me, healed me, and made me. I started every client session with the same questions, “How are you?”
In the Spring of 2020 — at the height of the pandemic and amidst a national reckoning on racism in this country — my clients were left speechless. They’d cry. Their tears held stories of exhaustion, disappointment, fear, and frustration. All of the systems were failing them. The rules weren’t working, and everything was foggy.
But times of challenge often offer a chance for opportunity. For me, the pandemic is neither good nor bad — but rather a space that has yet to be defined.
After the senseless murder of George Floyd by police violence, like many Black Americans, I was forever changed. George Floyd’s murder was a reminder that the world was not built for me as a Black woman, for us as Black people, for Black children, and definitely not for our ancestors.
Systemic racism is alive and well. My brain, my body, and my soul burned with centuries of emotions. Sometimes, I felt myself sitting with pain and shock. And other times, I just kept going through the motions. There were days I was hopeless. There were days I found peace. And, then I found a breakthrough.
One morning, I thought, What if Black people were viewed as the heartbeat of our society?
I got obsessed with Black brilliance, searching for it everywhere — and it was everywhere. It was like a veil had been lifted from my eyes. I began researching to collect stories of Black people who were creators, inventors, activists, entrepreneurs, poets, musicians, and so much more. As I talked with people about what I was learning, they shared their stories and added names, too.
I joined a Zoom call with three of my friends one evening. They asked how I was doing, but I couldn’t find the words to express the flood of mixed emotions coursing through my body. So, I simply said, “Black brilliance is everywhere, y’all.”
I began reading my handwritten list of names and by the end, I looked up with tears in my eyes. They nodded as if they knew exactly what I was trying to say without saying it. One of them finally broke the silence and said, “Girl, these names have to be shared, amplified, celebrated.” And so, I started talking with everyone about my list of names.
Every person I spoke to affirmed that stories of Black people are most often told through pain, pity, or struggle. This storytelling has led society to harm us, fear us, and reject us. When our stories are told, they often lack depth and are restricted to “the first” and “the only.”
For example, Black men in media are presented with bias and distorted portrayals — and are much less likely to be seen in positions the audience relates strongly to (i.e., in close-ups, addressing the audience directly or being the first or the last to appear on screen) — it’s these seemingly subtle distortions that lead others to see us as one dimensional, making it easy to dismiss our lives and our brilliance.
Our society is conditioned to see us in stereotypes (if we’re even seen at all). As an antidote to the endless sea of anti-racist commitments, newly formed “DEI committees,” and well-meaning but tone-deaf texts from friends who seemed to just realize racism was real, I knew we needed to expand everyone’s knowledge of Black creators and their innovations.
So, I started with a Google search. I searched and searched and searched for hours. I tried 197 different search questions and keywords. Sadly, the same ten names popped up. I was angry. If I couldn’t find the countless Black creators and geniuses I knew existed, I knew kids, caregivers, and systems leaders would fall short, too.
As an act of resistance, I created my own list of Black and brilliant individuals every day. This exercise became an act of self-care and healing during a time of severe stress. As the list of Black brilliance grew, so did I.
In my healing journey, I founded B is for Black Brilliance — where we design and share engaging, well-written and beautifully-illustrated materials of real-life examples of Blackness as genius for caregivers, educators, and beyond. All of our materials are created by Black people as a movement to ensure that Black brilliance is acknowledged, amplified, and celebrated today and always.
What started with a list of names on oversized Post-it notes turned into a book, B is for Black Brilliance, putting a whole new spin on the alphabet as it displays the brilliance of our ancestors and those who have come after them, to give every child the determination and courage to change the future as we know it.
But today, this is more than just about a book. It’s time for a new narrative on Blackness, one that centers Black love, joy, courage, and hope. Though this book is being released during Black History Month, the truth is, we deserve more than a month and our brilliance should be celebrated all year long.
My hope is that this movement awakens a deeper knowledge of Black creators and ultimately propels us to the center of conversations on who should be trusted with knowledge and considered as leaders, innovators and curators for generations to come.