My high school graduating class was 90% Black and I went to college in Atlanta at the height of Freaknic. If I would have been given this photo before I landed in Beaverton with the naive view that I would get into Nike Design I would have quit then and there.
The post above is from one of the best people - Drake Ramberg - I ever met in Nike. The foundation of Nike Football kits is basically his portfolio.
I can’t begin to tell you how many of the people in this photo — including the poster — gave me opportunity and education throughout my Nike time. For every person that didn’t respond to an email because I didn’t fit their description of what a Nike designer might be there were TWO creatives that forced me to take the education they had to offer.
But real talk I was always at work when I was with this group. There was a wall. And that wall was built on both sides.
Black Lunch Table
By the time I got into Nike Design there were no more Design camps. I remember hearing about these gatherings and thinking how lucky I was to not have to participate in a 4-day off-site with 100 white people. At work I’d be one Black guy in a room of 12 white people and I could cope. Then I’d play ball at lunch where the ratio was more 50/50 and then go home. Those offsites — some of which were at a literal camp — would have been ALL day and I am shuddering now at the thought.
The expression ‘who all gone be there’ is rooted in anxiety and the photo above makes me shudder. The empathy I feel for anyone who walks into a room and can’t find their table at the cafeteria is in this photo. I learned so much about the world by joining that table but sometimes you just want to be. Without explaining yourself. Without judgement — real or imaginary.
My team and I discuss the layers of this for different groups. The vibe of being Asian or Latinx or Native or Disabled or LGBTQ and looking for a table was different because the vibe of Nike by the mid 90’s was Black culture. Folks in Beaverton would say it wasn’t but then spend a week and $20 grand on a focus group in Harlem. And just like the NCAA there were folks that would argue for those ACG and tennis focus groups but those scholarships hit different.
There’s no lunch room table for me in that photo.
The Me that showed up in those spaces was never the real Me. I watched other folks that looked like me get mocked in ways that were suppose to be congenial but I wasn’t Interested. I just wanted to make shoes. I wasn’t trying to make friends with folks I worked with.
But I was.
My mother likes to shop for houses even though she has no plans to buy one. We were driving through a neighborhood in Ohio that had a history of being mostly white, but it’s now 25% Black.
“Keep driving,” my mother told me. “You had some nice neighbors where you lived but there were more people people in your neighborhood.”
The “people people” she was talking about were the Black, Indian, Korean, Brazilian and Taiwanese families in our Beaverton neighborhoods. We learned so much from those families and they learned a lot from ours. They never assumed we knew anything about them or their culture or their music or their food and they wanted to share. And they wanted to learn.
What was interesting about that neighborhood was that it was cookie cutter suburbia and not necessarily upwardly mobile. None of my neighbors were VPs or Directors of anything. But many of them were immigrants looking for a good school. They weren’t movers. They weren’t t shakers.
Those kind of folks moved to the hills or the gentrifying neighborhoods. Those places had fewer “people people” and you could see it in the schools. You could taste it in the restaurants. You could hear it in the music.
Those places looked like the photo above.
My mother would not have wanted to attend Design Camp. She worried about me in that camp. She worried about me when I was in neighborhoods, parties, parks, etc that she rightfully thought were dangerous. But her worry was different when she pictured me at Camp.
Work, Not Play
One of the many ways to advance within a company is to attend the meeting after the meeting. The business networking masked as social gatherings were a lot when you had nothing in common. There were a few folks that mingled in those crowds with some success. There were even folks that enjoyed those gatherings. I’m not terribly social so I chalked up my lack of participation to simple introversion.
Yet, we found ourselves with constant seats at Nike Basketball fixtures — from NBA to grassroots.
And we never discussed basketball.
Take a guess as to the demographics of Nike Basketball Marketing.
This added to the undercurrent that I was more focused on the hype of the job when I was in Nike Basketball. My skills needed more development in my craft but I was spending more time at games and All-America Camp. I was in NYC at West 4th when the product team was at a tournament in eastern Washington.
In the world of expatriates there’s a line item called ‘hardship pay’ and I fully understood why.
Not Everybody Understands
Again — because I feel the need to stress to those who were/are supportive — there are people in this photo and those that came later that were mentors and sponsors. They pushed for me because they saw something more. But there comes a point where you want the people who are fighting for you to actually know you. You want them to understand what’s really compelling.
When you propose to work with HBCU teams you want them to understand the opportunity for all that it is — not just because they believe in you. You want them to ‘get it’ without a thirty page deck. You want it to be obvious.
You want them to get you because they get your culture.
Especially when they want your culture to support them.
That picture above is overwhelmingly Ally and I can’t say thank you enough to individuals in that picture.
But the anxiety I have about that picture makes me glad I never saw that photo before Dale Allen sent my resume to Ken Jackson in 1996.
For those that are tired of reading about my Black experience Nike, imagine how sick I am of telling it.
For those of you that are anxious about going to Camp (you know who you are), GO!
But don’t stay too long. Get your degree and bounce.
And the reason I say this out loud is so the people who think that the photo isn’t intimidating (you know who you are) will understand that your effort to create diversity and inclusion will lack retention until those photos look hella different. It’s a chicken/egg scenario and I think folks are catching on. I hear real work is being done, real progress is being made. And that progress takes time.
Just don’t take too long.
PS - Before I shared this with the world, I checked in with Drake. This was his response. Good people.