No. 267 – Let’s Trade Keys

Martin Luther King, Jr. and Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda in Atlanta, issuing a joint statement against U.S. investment in South Africa. Source: Wikimedia Commons

I couldn’t quite put the words together for a longer piece on this, but I think there’s significance to last Monday, March 25 being Memorial Day and Africa Day. 

Memorial Day

On May 1, 1865, formerly enslaved folks in Charleston, SC gave a proper burial to well over 200 Union soldiers who died as prisoners of the Confederate army. After the burial, thousands of formerly enslaved people held a parade honoring the soldiers and the role they played in helping bring an end to chattel slavery. 

The murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and too many more — on top of the other broken parts of this society amplified by COVID-19 — show black people in America are still on this journey of getting free. 

Lots of corporations have come out with statements denouncing police brutality and racism. Let’s see how many new CEO announcements for Fortune 500 companies we see over the next year with a black headshot at the top. Let’s see what happens to the stock price at CoreCivic and the GEO Group, the two largest private prisons in the country. They’re both trading higher as I write this. There’s a long road of hard, uncomfortable work that needs to take place in this country.

Africa Day

On March 25, 1963, African heads of state from across the continent inaugurated the Organization of African Unity (OAU). Their aim was to partner in taking the lead on shaping Africa’s future. Ethiopia’s emperor Haile Selassie said the following in becoming the first chair of the OAU:

We have come together to assert our role in the direction of world affairs and to discharge our duty to the great continent whose two hundred and fifty million people we lead. Africa is today at midcourse, in transition from the Africa of yesterday to the Africa of Tomorrow. Even as we stand here, we move from the past into the future. The task on which we have embarked, the making of Africa, will not wait. We must act, to shape and mould the future and leave our imprint on events as they slip past into history.

Africa is still on that journey. In August 1963, the OAU created the African Development Bank (AfDB) to spark economic development across the continent in efforts to reduce poverty. Last week, the United States, the largest shareholder in the African Development Bank, rejected the findings of an internal investigation into the leadership of the bank’s president Akinwumi Adesina. Treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin’s letter to the bank effectively sent the bank back to the drawing board in investigating Dr. Adesina. It’s frustrating to watch one of Africa’s top institutions be at the mercy of this White House administration.

The Connection

Blitz the Ambassador said something during Tastemakers Africa’s The Thread conference. He talked about how black folks across the diaspora are trying to get out of our respective prisons with the keys we have in our hands. So far, it’s not been working. He suggested that we consider asking to hold each other’s keys to give another set of keys a try at getting out of our prisons. 

What are those keys? Some keys are information on who black people were before the transatlantic slave trade began in the 15th century. Some keys are innovative business ideas. Other keys are grassroots political strategies. Malcolm X was onto this. In a speech launching the Organization for Afro American Unity he established to connect black people in the Western Hemisphere, he said this about his time in Africa:

Also, recently when I was blessed to make a religious pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca where I met many people from all over the world, plus spent many weeks in Africa trying to broaden my own scope and get more of an open mind to look at the problem as it actually is, one of the things that I realized, and I realized this even before going over there, was that our African brothers have gained their independence faster than you and I here in America have. They’ve also gained recognition and respect as human beings much faster than you and I.

Just ten years ago on the African continent, our people were colonized. They were suffering all forms of colonization, oppression, exploitation, degradation, humiliation, discrimination, and every other kind of -ation. And in a short time, they have gained more independence, more recognition, more respect as human beings than you and I have. And you and I live in a country which is supposed to be the citadel of education, freedom, justice, democracy, and all of those other pretty-sounding words.

So it was our intention to try and find out what it was our African brothers were doing to get results, so that you and I could study what they had done and perhaps gain from that study or benefit from their experiences. And my traveling over there was designed to help to find out how.

Unfortunately, Malcolm X’s study was cut short. So was Martin Luther King’s. Here’s a snippet from his sermon at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church upon his return from witnessing Ghana’s first Independence Day:

Yes, there is a wilderness ahead, though it is my hope that even people from America will go to Africa as immigrants, right there to the Gold Coast and lend their technical assistance. For there is great need and rich, there are rich opportunities there. Right now is the time that American Negroes can lend their technical assistance to a growing new nation. I was very happy to see already, people who have moved in and making good. The son of the late president of Bennett College, Dr. Jones, is there, who started an insurance company and making good, going to the top.10 A doctor from Brooklyn, New York, had just come in that week and his wife is also a dentist, and they are living there now, going in there and working, and the people love them. There will be hundreds and thousands of people, I’m sure, going over to make for the growth of this new nation. And Nkrumah made it very clear to me that he would welcome any persons coming there as immigrants and to live there. Now don’t think that because they have five million people the nation can’t grow, that that’s a small nation to be overlooked. Never forget the fact that when America was born in 1776, when it received its independence from the British Empire, there were fewer, less than four million people in America, and today it’s more than a hundred and sixty million. So never underestimate a people because it’s small now. America was smaller than Ghana when it was born.

There is a great day ahead. The future is on its side. It’s going now through the wilderness. But the Promised Land is ahead.

And I want to take just a few more minutes as I close to say three or four things that this reminds us of and things that it says to us. Things that we must never forget as we ourselves find ourselves breaking aloose from an evil Egypt, trying to move through the wilderness toward the promised land of cultural integration: Ghana has something to say to us. It says to us first, that the oppressor never voluntarily gives freedom to the oppressed. You have to work for it. And if Nkrumah and the people of the Gold Coast had not stood up persistently, revolting against the system, it would still be a colony of the British Empire. Freedom is never given to anybody. For the oppressor has you in domination because he plans to keep you there, and he never voluntarily gives it up. And that is where the strong resistance comes. Privileged classes never give up their privileges without strong resistance.

Next Steps

Over the past couple weeks, I’ve been in multiple conversations where black folks have discussed the prospects of connecting globally, especially with our cousins on the continent. While we push for change in this country, I think it’s key we take Blitz’s counsel and seek to trade keys with folks in Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, South Africa and more. Tastemakers Africa will be holding another The Thread conference this month. I’ll do my part to make sure as many people as possible join those of who have been on this journey of reconnecting over the decades. Just because the DNA link isn’t perfectly synced up doesn’t mean our destinies aren’t tied closely together. Whew, I guess the words came to me after all. 

——-

The News

Twilio, Box, Spotify, and Other Tech CEOs Speak Out Against Racism and Police Brutality; Others Stay Silent – Sherrell Dorsey, founder of media business ThePlug, did incredible work over 24 hours building a database that is tracking how large companies are responding to the events of the past week, and more broadly to this country’s issues with racism and police brutality. Over the long term, this database is going to be real helpful in making sure actions match up with words.

U.S. Will Join G-7 AI Pact, Citing Threat From China – The U.S. is the last of the G-7 countries to join the Global Partnership for AI, an effort to develop standards for the ethical use of artificial intelligence. The U.S. is joining at the 11th hour citing concerns about China’s progress in driving the development of technology. For one, the U.S. and the G-7 countries don’t have a monopoly on the ethical use of artificial intelligence. We’ll see the power of artificial intelligence use in the U.S. in the coming weeks. There has been a lot of footage of protesters and police forces across the country will be using AI technology to help close their cases. Some of them will be using AI facial recognition technology developed by Amazon. Further, global north countries coming together to develop standards for AI technology, something that will increasingly bring various portions of our lives into its flywheel makes me very nervous.

Biotech R&D Software Startup Benchling, Started By MIT Undergrads, Scores $850 Million Valuation Amid Coronavirus Pandemic – Over the past several months, we’ve seen the importance of pharmaceutical companies being able to move quickly to develop a vaccine for COVID-19. While scientists are able to do incredible things with their research, there is blocking and tackling that slows down the process like effectively tracking data, communicating with you collaborators via email and more. Benchling is changing that and I look forward to seeing how the product develops. In particular, I’m curious how the product could help scientists identify bad patterns in genetic data that leave out underrepresented groups. 

No. 266 – The Welfare of the City

I’ve been struggling to write this month, particularly this week. Figured I’d share my scripture reflection from this morning.

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

Jeremiah 29:7

It’s hard to sing the Lord’s song in this country. Yet, God gave instruction to the Israelites in exile to do everything to ensure Babylon did well.

That seek and pray in the verse is key. Action and prayer. I worry that we’ve put government on the pedestal as this out of reach “principalities and powers.” As a result, we’ve given up our responsibility to be involved in the components that go into making a city, a country do well.

The couple verses before verse seven talk about building resources to take care of ourselves and growing our families. What else goes into seeking a city’s welfare? A country’s welfare?

-Vote
-Be involved in shaping policy
-Run for elected office from the lowest to the highest level
-Support folks around you who you think could good officials
-Hold officials accountable
-Hold yourself accountable if you’re one of those officials
-Build businesses either as employees or founders
-Invent things that make life easier for folks

AND

-Pray

There’s a lot to do. We’ve got an uphill battle working through the bullshit in how this country works. But, we have a responsibility to slog through it and reshape it into something better.

We can’t throw up our hands under the guise that there is some spiritual force operating in high places, so we’re only going to pray. That’s not doing our job.

Yes, we have in our hopes that heaven is at the end of our time here on earth. While we’re here, let’s focus and tend to this place well.

It’s hard, I know. I’m feeling quite tired. But, I can’t let my daughter’s children live in a world that hasn’t felt my presence.

No. 265 – Nigeria’s Debt Situation Doesn’t Feel Good

Bond Investors Are Rushing to Nigeria – I wrote a bit about Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell’s 60 Minutes interview earlier this week. Another thing he mentioned in that conversation was that at some point, the US was going to have to deal with the rate at which its debt is growing relative to its growth. You can look at the chart above and see that it’s not sustainable. 

Policymakers in Nigeria have been trying to have that conversation for years now, but it’s like the country is in a vicious cycle of finding itself in situations where it needs to seek out more debt to finance its deficit. One hopefully long-term positive that has come out of this pandemic is that the government ended its practice of paying an oil subsidy in order to keep gas affordable. Those subsidies have been so expensive for the government. Imagine in 2011, the government spent $8B. The government’s budget for that year was over $11B. The country has a $27B budget this year, and the subsidy elimination saves the country at least $2B. The problem is that the government anticipates running nearly a $14B deficit.

As the country hopefully emerges from this COVID-19 situation sooner than later, how do the country’s leaders position it to foster really strong growth in order to chip away at the debt the country has taken on?

The Amazon-Berkshire-JPMorgan Health Venture Fails to Disrupt – A month or so ago, I was wondering what happened to the joint venture between JP Morgan, Berkshire Hathaway, and Amazon during this COVID-19 situation. The venture was supposed to change the game for what employer healthcare programs looked like. Well, apparently things weren’t going well. The CEO Atul Gawande resigned his post to focus on the pandemic. While he was at the helm, the company took more incremental steps towards figuring out how to develop a truly innovative employer healthcare program. That’s unfortunate, especially considering the number of people losing their jobs. A reimagined healthcare offering would have been real nice.


‘This Isn’t a Fad’: Three of Africa’s Biggest Stars on Making the Industry Come to Them – This is a great interview with Tiwa Savage, Mr. Eazi, and Davido, Nigerian artists have played important roles in elevating the profile of the music African artists put out. Real nice interview.

No. 264 – Building a World with a Broader Set of Defaults

Tristan Walker Wants Black Businessmen to Taste Financial Freedom – This is a great interview with Walker and Company Brands’ CEO. His statement about the power of defaults sat me down. 

In my house right now, there are no other products other than Bevel and Form Beauty, which is also one of our brands. I have a five-year-old son and a nine-month-old son, and I care very deeply about the power of defaults and precedents. Think about a world where my son is growing up exclusively with a beautiful brand that serves his needs.

Creating a world where black folks can exist without having to prove deserve to be served or present is what this work is all about.

An Update on JPMorgan Chase’s Response to COVID-19 – The last section of this letter Jamie Dimon put out caught my eye. He highlights how the pandemic has highlighted the inequalities that already existed in this country. He stresses how we need to “confront the structural obstacles that have inhibited inclusive economic growth for years” as we emerge from this pandemic. Confrontation is uncomfortable. It could get you fired. He says they’ll be putting out their ideas for how to move forward later. I guess my question would be, “What’s one thing you think you need to do that requires a confrontation of how JP Morgan has done business en route to its $278B market cap?

Government Buildings in Africa Are a Likely Vector for Chinese Spying – I don’t like articles that talk about African leaders as if they aren’t in the room listening. This feels like that.

The End of ‘Who Me? For V.P.?’ Politics – This is an interesting piece. The way Stacey Abrams has approached positioning herself for vice president has been both refreshing and weird. I wonder whether you can say too many times that you want the VP job as opposed to working the machine in the background. I hope she isn’t overplaying her cards. I’m a big fan.

What’s next for journalists? – My mind often goes back to Benjamin Franklin when I think about the journalism world and what it’s future could look like. In a lot of ways, Franklin was the original TMZ. He told everybody’s business while writing under a pseudonym. He used another pseudonym to write an incredibly popular almanac. Writing helped Franklin build a nice life for himself. Perhaps there’s a lesson in his approach for today’s media, save the tea spilling.

No. 263 – The Federal Reserve Hasn’t Emptied Its Clip

Fed Chair Jerome Powell’s 60 Minutes interview on economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic – Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell gave an interview on 60 Minutes this past Sunday and the conversation was quite interesting. Early in the conversation, when the question of unemployment came up, Chair Powell talked about how heartbreaking it was and then immediately pointed to how African American unemployment had been at its lowest point and how the US economy was benefiting from a tight labor market where there was lots of opportunity. I couldn’t help but notice that the report the Federal Reserve released on the economic health of U.S. households didn’t break out the data by race, though it did account for race in its sampling. I wonder what data the Federal Reserve has seen on the impact this pandemic is having on the black community. It can’t be good. 

The other interesting thing was his response to whether we’re entering a second Great Depression. He highlighted how the financial system is strong due to the 10 years of work that has gone into strengthening our financial system. Dodd-Frank and other regulations helped ensure that financial institutions were more sound. It’s refreshing to have a government official acknowledge that the strength of this country doesn’t happen in a vacuum but on a continuum.  

Chair Powell’s conversation on the path forward was fascinating as well. His statement on the scale of the tools the Federal Reserve has to keep the economy moving was kind of jaw dropping:

Well, there’s a lot more we can do. We’ve done what we can as we go. But I will say that we’re not out of ammunition by a long shot. No, there’s really no limit to what we can do with these lending programs that we have. So there’s a lot more we can do to support the economy, and we’re committed to doing everything we can as long as we need to.

Look at the line on Federal Reserve Treasury purchases in the chart above. It’s incredible to consider the Fed can do more.

The last thing that caught my eye was how he stressed the importance of building a more inclusive economy on the other side of this pandemic. Earlier, he said the economy was fine before this pandemic. The reality is that it wasn’t. While unemployment in the black community was decreasing, income inequality was surging. As we come out of this pandemic, we need as many people as possible maximizing their abilities, not just being employed. 

Softbank Group Earnings Results – Softbank, the holding company controlled by billionaire Masayoshi Son, reported earnings yesterday morning and they were tough. The company lost nearly $18B from losses in its Softbank Vision Fund 1. Over the past several years, the company invested $88 billion in tech companies like WeWork, Uber, and Doordash. WeWork and Uber, in particular, have not done well due in large part to the behavior of their founders. Son has this vision of building an altruistic future full of artificial intelligence. These losses are forcing him to pump the brakes on pushing towards that vision. The company had been working on raising a second fund, but he announced this morning that they had failed in that effort so will be making future investments off of Softbank’s balance sheet for the time being. Masayoshi Son has been going big since 1995 and this isn’t the first time he’s had blood in the mouth from taking a hit. Let’s see if he’s able to fight his way back from these losses. It would be a shame for Softbank Vision Fund 1 to be known as Softbank Vision Fund Only.

Black doesn’t mean criminal. Conservatives should know that by now. – Imagine a world where the minority and majority leaders in the Senate and House are all black. That would be a healthy thing for this country. Last week there was debate within the black Republican community around Ahmaud Arbery and provocateur Candace Owen trying to smear him. You had Candace trying to paint him as a criminal, insinuating that he deserved death. Darrell Scott, Shermichael Singleton, and others went after her for doing that. 

Hopefully, that conversation within the black Republican community continues. This thread of black Republicans who see themselves as free-minded just for being Republican makes no sense, and I’m not really seeing their influence in the party. 

Across the political spectrum of where black folks are, we see how important it is for black folks to ensure the way we’re playing this political game is tight. Joe Biden wouldn’t be the Democratic nominee were it not for the black vote, yet black candidates for that job somehow don’t come up in too many conversations. More comfortable names come up like Klobuchar and Warren. Comfortable can’t happen.

COVID-19 and ‘Locust-19’ threaten perfect storm for Africa – African Development Bank president Akinwumi Adesina gave an interview to the Financial Times last week where he talked through the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic across Africa. The bank is estimating that GDP declines countries are seeing total anywhere between $150B-$212B. In order to work its way out of this, President Adesina estimated the continent will need $115B-$154B in financial assistance. The AfDB has a $10B facility to contribute to closing that gap. Further, he pointed out that if G20 countries cancelled debt owed by least developed countries that would free up $130B-$150B across Africa. 

He also talked about locust swarms across East Africa. It hasn’t gotten a lot of coverage in U.S. media, but the devastation is real bad. President Adesina worries that 30 million people could be pushed to hunger due to the invasions.

African leaders have their hands full in navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, and several have the added burden of locust swarms. More vim to them navigating this situation well.

China injects US$2.25b into local chip firm – My post on Sunday highlighted how there’s this race going on in the world of chip development. China is putting serious money into quickly ramping up its domestic chip development now that the U.S. is putting restrictions on Huawei’s ability to source from U.S. companies.  It’s going to be interesting to see what kind of chips come out of China after this investment and the extent to which they push artificial intelligence development and other technologies. 

No. 262 – Building the Future

Kunle Olukotun

Over the past several weeks, Robert Smith, the founder and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, has been making the media rounds. He’s been talking about his work ensuring that black small business owners get the funding they need in the next round of stimulus Congress passes. 

In the first wave of PPP loan funding that the SBA distributed, a black-owned banks were not integrated with the SBA’s systems, and weren’t able to make sure their customers were able to secure PPP funding. One of Robert’s portfolio companies, Finastra, has been working with black-owned banks to make sure they’re plugged in this time around. 

Also, in his media rounds, he’s been calling out the disparity in access black-owned banks and businesses have to the resources they need to survive. Making sure this reality doesn’t slip to the background in policymakers’ thinking. 

It’s been encouraging to see him work on this and I’m hopeful more black-owned small businesses benefit as a result. I actually was wondering the other day how he would look in that Treasury Secretary role. Perhaps, something to keep an eye on.

Robert Smith is an example of a black person making big moves that can benefit black folks at scale. Out in Silicon Valley, Kunle Olukotun is doing work that maybe doesn’t directly benefit black folks. Though, it is incredibly inspiring to watch someone push technology into the next generation. 

Kunle cofounded SambaNova Systems a few years ago. I’ve written about him before. They’ve raised $450M to develop an entirely new computing system designed for an artificial intelligence world. It’s not entirely clear what this computer system is going to look like, but a chip will be part of the system. 

This is important to know because there Is an arms race going on right now between the incumbent chip makers like Nvidia, AMD, Intel, and this new generation of startups that are building new chip technology including SambaNova. They are all pushing towards the new world of artificial intelligence we’re entering. 

Last week, Nvidia announced their new graphics processing unit (GPU) architecture called Ampere. I won’t go into details on the technology behind this technology because I’m still trying to make sure that I understand it well. Essentially, a GPU processes tons of calculations and data to power massive computing systems. What is important to know is that this GPU is extremely powerful and the chip it goes on, A100, is massive. This is one of the most powerful chips that has been created to date. 

The chip will be used in data centers and for artificial intelligence applications. The U.S. government has already installed some of these chips to use in conducting research on this COVID-10 pandemic to speed up the process of figuring out what’s happening and identifying potential solutions.

This is what Kunle’s SambaNova is up against. I love a good David and Goliath story and this is one. In its fiscal year 2020, Nvidia spent $2.8 billion dollars on research and development. That’s an enormous amount of money. I mentioned earlier that Samba Nova has raised $450M in total. SambaNova has an uphill battle in getting its technology out into the world. If they’re successful, the future looks slightly different for all of us – hopefully, for the better. 

So, while I root for Robert Smith as he advocates for black small businesses to get the resources they need to survive through this pandemic, I’m also going to be doing some cheering for Kunle as he shows the world an incredible example of black folks building the future. 

No. 261 – 40% of People Earning Below $40K Lost Jobs

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell Remarks on Current Economic Issues – The Federal Reserve chair spoke at an event hosted by the Peterson Institute for International Affairs. Before I get into Jerome Powell’s remarks, it’s worth dwelling a bit on the Peterson Institute. The place is named after Pete G. Petersen, an investor who became a billionaire after The Blackstone Group, the private equity firm he founded with Steve Schwarzman, went public. While a massive windfall, that was not his first taste of professional success. He had been CEO of Lehman, Secretary of Commerce, CEO of other companies, and more long before launching Blackstone. Before he passed away, I remember watching interviews he did and the man was all about fiscal responsibility. Apparently, he was known for that over the course of his career. I wonder what he’d have to say about the money being spent to deal with this pandemic.

Pandemic — the impact COVID-19 is having is hard to wrap my mind around. In his prepared remarks, Jerome Powell said that about 40% of people earning below $40,000 have lost their jobs in the past two months. Sit with that. According to the Brookings Institution, whose building sits across the street from the Peterson Institute, reported that median income for Black households had risen to $41,511 as of 2018. Tomorrow, the Federal Reserve is releasing the rest of the survey results from which they got this data. If they have job losses broken about by race, I venture a guess it will be heartbreaking.

Later in his remarks, Chairman Powell describes how the Federal Reserve has essentially thrown everything tool it has available to address the pandemic. Yet, the Federal Reserve may need to do more. Digest that while processing that a whole lot of vulnerable people still lost their jobs. Like I said, it’s hard to wrap my mind around the impact of this pandemic. When we’re finally able to after this pandemic has passed, we’ve got real work to do to ensure vulnerable folks aren’t this vulnerable anymore.

The African Legal Support Facility holds 11th Governing Council meeting – It’s good to see the African Development Bank continues its effort to support countries in negotiating large, complex transactions. Countries really need the agreements they enter to be rock solid considering the economic situation we’re in and how hard it is to come by money these days.

This Is How Hard It Is to Invest in Black Neighborhoods – This is an excellent excerpt from Andre Perry’s book “Know Your Price: Valuing Black Lives and Property in America’s Black Cities.” It’s worth every word to understand how it’s going to take more than buying the block to change the trajectory of black wealth creation in this country. In my view, unless more black folks are in position to reshape how we determine what is valuable and what’s not, we’re only pushing incremental measures that won’t really work.

Loon signs deal to expand commercial internet service to Mozambique – While this is a welcome move, I hope local players push to figure out ways to build out their own internet networks.

China Seen Joining Debt Relief Effort for Poorest Nations – Right now, no one really knows how much countries owe China. If the country follows through on joining other lenders in pausing payments, there could be a good bit more clarity on the scale at which China has lent around the world. Getting clarity on those numbers and term could be scary.

No. 260 – Entering a New World We Have No Idea About

Source: Guggenheim Partners

We Are All Government-Sponsored Enterprises Now – This is interesting analysis by Guggenheim’s Chief Investment Officer Scott Minerd where he basically says that we’re potentially heading to a situation where the government will be beholden to ensuring companies and markets have access to credit because of how it’s navigating this pandemic situation. A lot of companies are able to access credit because the Federal Reserve and Treasury have offered to back investment grade companies.

If Minerd’s analysis is right then I imagine we have to have a different kind of conversation around the nature of our private sector. The incentives to build must feel different when the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve are guaranteeing they won’t let you hit the floor. My daughter struggles to ride her back to this day because she knows I won’t let her fall.

Howard Marks on Uncertainty – Howard Marks wrote a really interesting piece on how an investor works through uncertainty. He starts off talking about the importance of forecasting and how investors ideally gain an edge and create profits by being able to forecast what others aren’t yet seeing. In the current pandemic, there’s so many unknowns that it’s nearly impossible to predict the future – like you really can.

Marks spends a good bit of time on the role bias plays in forecasting and how it’s important to be aware of your blind spots. He says he knows his but doesn’t know the word for it. In my mind one of the best things you can do to address your bias is to surround yourself with people and points of views that oppose one another. It’s hard for me to believe no one will put a name to your BS in that kind of environment.

I also appreciate his treatment of intellectual humility and its importance for investors—knowing what you don’t now. In the midst of being clear on what you don’t know, I think this highlights the importance of firming up on your first principles and being clear on what your True North is. I hinted at mine yesterday–finding a way for black people globally to connect with one another socially, politically, and economically.

Here’s to us being able to operate in the uncertain, getting clear on what we don’t know, and pushing for greater intellectual humility.

Also, I imagine people like Marks can’t be too thrilled with Minerd’s forecasts about the Federal Reserve and Treasury. He’s raising $15B to find distressed companies whose debt he can buy. The federal government providing support for investment-grade companies makes things more difficult for him to find attractive opportunities.

19 Industry Associations Pen Letter to Congress Asking for Liability Protections – A group of industry associations representing a range of industries from travel to retail to entertainment wrote a letter to Congress asking for liability protection as they implement federal guidelines for maintaining workplaces that keep employees and customers safe. It’s definitely important that companies don’t face unwarranted litigation, but I can’t help but notice in the letter that they work with all sorts of stakeholders excluding their employees and customers. I’m pretty sure that would have gone a long way in building good will to ensure that everyone’s on the same page in reopening the economy while protecting the interests of stakeholders.

Silicon Valley self-driving car unicorn could be reaching the end of the road – A couple years ago, I was excited to see a black woman take on the CEO role at Zoox, a self-driving car start up The company faces a tough situation because of its high cost structure. Their cars are built from the ground up rather than the retrofits their competitors use. It looks like Zoox is looking in parallel for either a buyer or investors from whom they can raise more money. Hopefully the company finds a reasonable deal that keeps CEO Aicha Evans at the helm. I keep thinking about Julia Collins who left robotic pizza maker Zume not too long after the company raised $375M from Softbank Group.

Facebook is quietly helping to set up a new pro-tech advocacy group to battle Washington – Last year, Mark Zuckerberg called for stronger regulation of the technology sector. I’m curious to see how this new group Facebook is helping to set up will be engaging that conversation. My hope is that the company approaches this new world of tech regulation in good faith. The company’s establishment of an oversight board to address its privacy issues the company has been dealing with the past several years was encouraging. It’d be a shame to see the company engaged in other activity that detracts from that progress.

No. 259 – On Grief and Connection

Malcolm X and Kwame Nkrumah

My Grandmama passed on Saturday. I thought I got all my tears out Saturday, but I’ll be grieving and celebrating her until my spirit feels it’s enough. While showering last night, I saw her smiling face and heard her say, “I’m proud of you, son. It’s going to be alright.” There were some extra water droplets in that shower. The weekend felt strange. Grandmama was on my mind and I was sad. Ahmaud Arbery was on my mind and I was numb. I still tried to make progress on my projects. Outside of cleaning and cooking some acceptable jollof rice, I felt like I was on a treadmill the rest of the weekend. So, I went to bed early last night.

This morning, I woke up thinking about black folks, how we’ve been in a low-grade state of mourning for hundreds of years, and the impact that has had on our productivity. Hundreds of thousands endured nearly 250 years of slavery. Folks lived through failure Reconstruction. Massacres in cities across the country. Jim Crow. Redlining. Prison industrial complex. Impunity for the killing of our people. It’s remarkable that black folks have created so much magic in the midst of this mourning.

What’s the salve?

During Jill Scott and Erykah Badu’s session Saturday, Ms. Scott described her mom as a healer. We’ve been applying salves to our wounds for a long time – healing ourselves. That session between Ms. Scott and Ms. Badu was a prime example.

I don’t think there’s a salve that we haven’t already been applying to ourselves. I do though believe there is more healing waiting for us in black folks in the Diaspora connecting with our cousins in Africa. We’re not alone in our grief. Black folks across Africa have been in a state of low-grade grief as well. Folks are navigating the vestiges of colonialism, including inconsistent leadership, resource extraction, muted voices on the global stage, and more.

It’s exhausting, yet folks across Africa have been applying their own salves for centuries as well. I’m pretty sure they’re similar to the ones we’ve been applying here in the US. We’ve been apart for so long, and have made attempts to connect over the centuries, though they’ve never quite stuck. It’s essential that we figure out how to make the connection stick.

So we saw that the first thing to do was to unite our people, not only unite us internally, but we have to be united with our brothers and sisters abroad. It was for that purpose that I spent five months in the Middle East and Africa during the summer. The trip was very enlightening, inspiring, and fruitful. I didn’t go into any African country, or any country in the Middle East for that matter, and run into any closed door, closed mind, or closed heart. I found a warm reception and an amazingly deep interest and sympathy for the Black man in this country in regards to our struggle for human rights.

Malcolm X

Hopefully, this resonates with some and eventually with a lot. If we can connect with our folks in Africa, I believe we’ll find the healing we need to no longer push for the structural changes needed in the US, Latin America, Europe, and wherever else black people are. We’ll restructure them.

No. 258 – Psalms 137 and Bitcoin

What constantly comes to mind when I think about Ahmaud Arbery is Psalms 137:4. It’s how I feel right now.

By the waters of Babylon,
there we sat down and wept,
when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
we hung up our lyres.
For there our captors
required of us songs,
and our tormentors, mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How shall we sing the Lord’s song
in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand forget its skill!
Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth,
if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
above my highest joy!
Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites
the day of Jerusalem,
how they said, “Lay it bare, lay it bare,
down to its foundations!”
O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed,
blessed shall he be who repays you
with what you have done to us!
Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones
and dashes them against the rock!

The grief. The brutality. It’s all there. Ahmaud must get his justice. More than that, we’re going to build a world where black folks aren’t living like this.

What’s Up Next For South LA – Austin Clements, a VC out in Los Angeles, penned this nice piece announcing that he’d be leading early-stage accelerator Grid110‘s expansion to South LA. I love the vision for supporting entrepreneurs in that part of the city as they push to build the future. What’s extra dope is that the operation will be based out of Vector90, the coworking space an incubator Nipsey Hussle and David Gross built. More vim to Austin and the rest of the folks in that ecosystem as they push through the odds to build the future in South LA.

Coupa acquires ConnXus, adding a wealth of supplier diversity capabilities – A couple years ago CultureBanx covered the platform Rod Robinson was building for large companies that needed help identifying a diverse pool of suppliers. Kudos to him for getting to an exit. I hope it puts his family in a nice position.

Twitch Pitch Powered by Lightship Capital – Candice Matthews Brackeen and Brian Brackeen are building something special at Lightship Capital. I’ve been following Brian for years and have always been fascinated by the moves he makes. He moves different. From building a facial recognition startup out of Miami, to listing one of the first initial coin offerings I had seen a black person do, to going his latest move – hosting a startup pitch on Twitch’s platform. His past moves have been cool to watch. This will be also.

Bitcoin: Resilience in Crisis – I have kept the whole cryptocurrency wave in the periphery for the most part. I did find myself setting up on Ethereum after finishing Bitcoin Billionaires – a fascinating read. Jalak makes a good point that the volatility the traditional markets are seeing is making folks more apt to take their shot at cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin.

Square Q1 Shareholder Letter – Here’s another case for crypto being something to pay more attention to. For the first time, Square’s Cash App quarterly revenue from Bitcoin totaled $306M surpassed its traditional money revenue of $222M. While that’s definitely a signal to pay attention, there’s still some ways to go before we’re talking about cryptocurrencies surpassing traditional money. PayPal put up $4.62B in revenue in Q1 for some calibration.