How Steve Jobs helped empower black America

OPINION - By the time I went to work in Silicon Valley over a decade ago, before a single iPod had been made, his name was legend...

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“Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

By the time I went to work in Silicon Valley over a decade ago, before a single iPod had been made, his name was legend. I was young, just 31, and a vice president of technology at a global marketing agency. Jobs had only just returned to Apple.

The move sparked a resurrection. In a few short years, he took the fledgling hardware maker he’d founded and transformed it into a company whose influence would touch and change lives in profound ways.

In the years since, Jobs led a cultural transformation, changing the way we listened to music, watched movies and connected with each other. To capture what Jobs meant to world economies, to the American psyche, would be like trapping lightening in a bottle.

But Jobs did just that.

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Last Christmas, our family decided to round up all of the Apple products in the house and lay them end-to-end on the dining room table. Including the six MacBooks and iPhones we left back home, our family of eleven owned 20 pieces of Apple hardware. We had a treasure trove of digitized music, video and books stored in our iTunes libraries. Living and working in various cities around the country, there were 11 iPhones to keep in constant contact.

You have to wonder what the world would have been like without Steve Jobs. A college drop out, raised by adoptive parents, who got by on a public school education, Jobs went on to become a global icon as the much celebrated leader of Apple.

In 1976, Jobs and his partner Steve Wozniak started their company with a mere $1,300, turned it into the world’s most valuable company and altered the landscape of entire industries in the process. In his 56 years on this planet, he managed to change the way we live.

Demonized by some and lionized by others, his gift was an ability to see the future with a clarity others could not, or would not. Jobs sparked a movement that no one could stop. The message: empowerment.

It not only infected Apple products, but the people who used them — including black America. Walk down Lenox Avenue in New York, Wabash Street in Chicago or Kingshighway in St. Louis and you’ll find African-Americans talking on iPhones, humming to music streaming from iPods, checking e-mail in coffee shops. We crowd into Apple stores from 59th & Columbus in Manhattan to The Grove in Los Angeles waiting to see what’s next. With Jobs, there was always something next.

Until last night.

His death certainly doesn’t mean the end of Apple or its innovative spirit. Jobs had been away from day-to-day operations for some time as he battled pancreatic cancer. But losing him felt like losing an old, trusted friend — the one who knew what you needed before you did.

“Here’s to the crazy ones,” he said. “The misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things. They push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

And that you did, my friend. That you did.