Truth Telling With Jesse Williams On Social Justice, Inclusion And Equality In Sports And Tech

The Kapor Center recently hosted its 2nd Annual Fairness Matters: Impact Awards in Oakland, California to honor individuals who are making strides in their communities to promote and encourage diversity in tech. The event was held as a fundraiser to benefit Kapor’s signature education program, Smash. This program is a culmination of education, mentorship, social justice and workforce opportunities designed to encourage students to nurture their knowledge of STEM, while providing them with the skills necessary to pursue careers in technology.

One of the honorees was Jesse Williams, best known for his starring role in Grey’s Anatomy. However, in the streets, Williams is respected for his tireless efforts in using his platform to advocate for social causes that affect those disproportionately represented in society. Most notably, Williams catapulted himself into the spotlight as a leader for social consciousness with his powerful and timely acceptance speech at the 2016 BET Awards.

Williams’ efforts have led him to a spot in both the tech space and the sports world. He’s launched three successful apps; Ebroji, Scholly and BLeBRiTY, a charades-inspired mobile game that shot to #1 in the Apple Store. Williams also co-hosts the Open Run Podcast on LeBron James’ digital network, UNINTERRUPTED, with Stefan Marolachakis. Their prognostication on sports, art and life coincide with conversations with special guests like Ray Allen, Draymond Green and Gilbert Arenas.

Some of Williams’ friends include athletes such as Colin Kaepernick and Matt Barnes, who have also made news by being a voice to those who have been disenfranchised through the justice system. They say you are the company you keep, Williams seems to be in the company of the revolution and humanity.

“I think sometimes we make too much of labels and job titles to try to create some kind of bridge between,” Williams told TSFJ prior to the ceremony. “We’re people. In this case, these are black people that are working for equity and dignity in life and towards social change, towards progress. I’m a leader in that field. These are my peers in many ways and sometimes they’re mentors or mentees, and I’m all for trying to do what we can to lift each other up and get us as literate and active as possible so we can make the next step.”

Jesse and The King. (Photo by Jerritt Clark/Klutch Sports Group)

Williams acknowledges that sports has had a history of intersecting with politics and societal issues.

“Sports has always found a way to create social justice leaders and champions for equality,” Williams added. “Arthur Ashe didn’t ask to be in the position he was in but you become a face for something, and I don’t believe that we carry with us an extra burden just because you can dunk or just because you can sing or you can perform. You don’t have to be more of a citizen, more decent than a plumber or a teacher.”

“We’re all folks, so I’m always glad to see people try to find their voice and try to find some purpose and think about something beyond themselves and their immediate family,” professed Williams, clad in all-black and seemingly ready to ride for another cause. “When you’re out there in the world, as my parents taught me, you’re representing black people; like it or not. Nobody said it was going to be fair. You need to make sure that when you go to bed at night that you did your best for us.”

Upon receiving his award, Williams spoke to a packed room of change makers on the importance of inclusiveness in tech and beyond.

“Anyone who bothers to understand this nation’s history,” said Williams, a former history teacher keen to interject his past profession into any dialogue. “For anyone who understands that among our other characteristics, we are a nation of handouts and hostility, and boot straps don’t really work if you’ve got no boots.”

Williams’ willingness to call out the nation includes stating that the national anthem controversy that started because of Kaepernick’s silent protest for social justice was really a focus to gin up enrollment in the military.

“Really, its absence is exclusion. When we’re talking about diversity and it as this kind of burden, this extra thing that you hire officers for to figure out how to fill some kind of BS quota,” Williams exclaimed, likening issues in tech diversity to that of the NFL’s Rooney Rule. “But really, it’s not that we need a new action in my view. You’re already doing the action. That action is excluding us. Stop excluding us for starters.”

In some respects, progress has been made in the NFL among the coaching ranks. Tech’s issues with inclusion are so shocking that when Rep. Maxine Waters visited Silicon Valley, she was “floored” to learn that high profile tech companies employ just 1-2% of black employees.

Kapor’s 2018 Impact Awards Honorees: Actor Jesse Williams, Idalin Bobe of TechActivist, Monica Arrambide of myMaven, Claire Shorall of Oakland Unified School District and Neo, Justin Steele of Google. (Kapor Center)

“I am and always will be more impressed by those who’ve had to fight and think just to eventually get a shot up to bat. I’ll be a little more impressed with them and their accomplishments than those who were born on the base. I’m grateful to have partners on this journey to expand the opportunity and access for all of us. I’m honored to be honored by those who carry themselves in this manner.”

Williams’ message is plain and clear. Be more human, be more inclusive, and equality matters. It’s a message that matters in sports and tech, but even more so in our daily walk. It’s that walk that is the challenge from Williams and the company he keeps.

A big thanks goes to Kim Bardakian and the Kapor Center for their support in making this feature happen. For more information, go to kaporcenter.org.

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