Dear Culture

‘Dear Culture’: Back to their HBCU roots

Episode 20

Dear Culture is on location at Morehouse College during Spelhouse Homecoming to talk with alumni about their professional success. Panama Jackson is joined by 5 guests who share career tips and personal experiences in front of a live audience of students. 


[00:00:00] You are now listening to theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, Black Culture Amplified. 

Calvin Bell [00:00:09] Hello? Hello. Hello. My name is Calvin Bell III and I am a junior political science and philosophy double major from Pennsauken, New Jersey. And here at Morehouse, I serve in several different capacities as a student, of course. So I am the vice president of the Pre-Alumni Association, as well as a senator at large of the Student Government Association and other things. And so here I would like to welcome and thank you for being here for this welcome and wonderful homecoming event hosted by the Byron Allen Media Group’s major Black media entity known as theGrio. This momentous occasion is not only important because it takes place during a long awaited Spelhouse homecoming. I’ve been waiting so long for this, but it is also because it is hosted by a Morehouse man himself, Panama of Jackson. Mr. Jackson graduated from Morehouse in 2001 with his B.A. in Economics and his master’s in Public Policy analysis from UMD in 2003. Since then, he has had 18 plus years in the writing game as a co-founder of the Very Smart Brotha’s platform at The Root in 2008, before moving on to theGrio to become a columnist and the host of the Dear Culture podcast, which you will be experiencing today. And so, without further ado, I would like to to get excited and happy and welcome our wonderful hosts, Panama Jackson, who is about to facilitate a powerful, witty and authentic conversation, of all things Black culture. 

Panama Jackson [00:01:55] What’s going on, everybody? Thank you. People that I know. Look at this family and friends. Thank you all for being here, for this conversation, for this live podcast of Dear Culture podcast from theGrio Black Podcast Network. We’re going to have a conversation today about the importance of HBCUs, which are obviously near and dear to my heart and everybody in here. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for HBCUs. I wouldn’t be who I am if it wasn’t for HBCUs. In fact, I wouldn’t be the writer that I am without Mr. Calvin Miles Smith was sitting in the front row right here, because without him I never would have discovered blogs, in which case I never would have met my eventual business partner, Liz Burr, who introduced me to blogging and helped me create the Very Smart Brothas platform with my other co-partner Damon Young. So. The whole point of doing this conversation is to highlight the importance of Historically Black Colleges and University. Preaching to the choir, but we all like preaching and I love choirs. So that’s all right. And we’re going to do this in two parts. One is going to be done with a professional panel, one that’s going to be spoken to with both a Morehouse alum and a Spelman alum. We’re going to do a panel that’s going to talk about how being here helped, influenced and helped inspire and helped lead to success for two particular grads who are doing amazing things. 

Panama Jackson [00:03:25] The second panel that we’re going to do is one that’s a little more personal. I’m going to do it with the people that I came into Morehouse with, some of the people that were in the summer program with me that have helped me become the person that I am today, that never let me falter, to the never let me fail, that have allowed me as the person that I am, to be as successful as I like to view myself, but also ensure that if I do fall, I don’t fall too far. So we’re going to do it in two different parts, but we’re going to start. We’re going to start with the first panel. So, ladies and gentlemen, our first panelist. Khadijah Robinson was raised in Savannah, Georgia, and her life is a manifestation of the Issa Rae phrase. I’m rooting for everybody Black. Something that I’m sure everybody in this room is familiar with. She was raised in a household that centered Black culture and issues and never lost a love of community. She graduated from Spelman, the University College of London, and has a J.D. from Harvard Law School. She started The Nile List, a digital platform connecting consumers with Black owned brands online. The site focused on modernity, accessibility and informative context that make it easy and convenient to buy Black online. In June 2021 tho, The Nile was acquired by Sean Love Combs. Some of us call him Puff. Some of them call him Diddy. He’s got a bunch of names, Brother Love through Empower Global, a curated marketplace to discover and shop the world’s best Black owned brands. She now serves as the CEO of Empower Global, overseeing all operations and development and helping to lead the revolution of Black buying. And she’s, I’m talking muscle relaxers anyway. Put your hands together for Khadijah Robinson. 

Panama Jackson [00:05:11] Our next guest, Rashaun Williams, is an American financier, technology investor and adjunct professor with over 150 investments under his belt and over 40 exits, which sounds very important. I’m not one of them big investors. I don’t know a lot about that world, so. Well, it all reads like Greek to me. He’s currently a general partner in the MVP All Star Fund, a late stage tech fund, a private equity investor out of his family office, value investment group and adjunct professor at Morehouse College. With a passion for financial literacy and entrepreneurship, he founded the Kemet Institute in 2001, a nonprofit focused on providing free financial literacy, entrepreneurship and life skill’s classes to underserved communities and schools. And he was appointed to the Board of Trustees for Fisk University. Also, he was the first person that I ever rode in a Range Rover with. The first time I ever got a Range Rover was with Rashaun. Uh, Senior Week, Morehouse College. So put your hands together for Rashun Williams. 

Panama Jackson [00:06:17] It was a red Range Rover. He saw me walking down the street and he was like, Yo, you need a ride? I was like, I’d never been in a Range Rover before. So I was like, Sure. It was as Petey Pablo said, Got the button in the middle of the joint go, it was one of those times. 

Rashaun Williams [00:06:30] I got it because Jay-Z asked, what was the difference between a 4.0 and a 4.6? So I had to get the 4.6. Do you remember that? 

Panama Jackson [00:06:36] I vividly and I’m not going to repeat the line because this is a family show, but I vividly remember, vividly remember that line. So first off, thank you all for being here. Part of the reason I wanted to do this and bring you all on, particularly because you guys are very successful. You do things in business that a lot of people would benefit to learn about, but you also center your Blackness in the culture, in everything that you do. In the time I’ve known you since we were here in school. I’ve known you for a couple of years. But in the time of knowing you, I learned how much the Black community means to you. But before we get to that, how did you end up at Morehouse and Spelman? Give me the short version. It’s potentially a very long version because I imagine, you know, for some of us. But how did you end up here in the first place and why did you end up here in the first place? Rashaun, let’s start with you. 

Rashaun Williams [00:07:27] Man, I come from the south side of Chicago. Dad was a drug addict. Mom was on welfare. And in my neighborhood, it was a war zone. So Morehouse was the only school I applied to. And I think, you know, the story we talked about this before. But Morehouse was the only school whose mission statement was to create leaders in the Black community. And I knew what we needed in my community was leadership, and there was no other training ground for it. And I knew I didn’t want to go somewhere that would treat me differently because I was Black. I needed to be incubated. I needed to be built up because in the Chicago public schools, you just taught that you were nothing and you slaves and and you have to be different in who you are in order to be successful. So I drove my little 1982 Ford Mustang, 714 miles from Chicago to Atlanta, applied right over there across the street with Andre Pattillo, early admissions. And then when I got back, I applied for over 100 scholarships because I was broke and I wound up getting 17 of them, actually. Respect to you because one of them was from the Black Women’s Lawyers Association and it was for women only. They didn’t know I wasn’t a girl based on my name. So respect to Black women. I got the UNCF Scholarship, Jackie Robinson Scholarship, and a few others. So. So that’s how I got here. 

Panama Jackson [00:08:42] Khadijah? 

Khadijah Robinson [00:08:43] I. I had basically no choice but to go to HBCU. My parents both went to Alabama State. That’s where they met. And when I was growing up, they were like, “okay, so college, which HBCU are you go into?” That was the year that my cousin started at Spelman and I thought she was so cool and I wanted to be like her. So, I was like, I want to go to Spelman like her. So I decided at the tender age of eight, that’s where I was going and I applied early. I was like, No other school existed for me. I had to come to Spelman and I also had to get a scholarship. So, this was back in the days of faxing. I send fax messages to this Spelman like admissions office with like different accomplishments. I’d be like, Oh, I won an award. Let me fax it to Spelman and tell her, watch it and get the scholarship. And they gave it to me. I got a Dean’s scholarship. So, to Spelman I came. 

Panama Jackson [00:09:37] When you got here, did they say that’s the girl that keeps faxing us? We got to let her in so she stops. 

Khadijah Robinson [00:09:43] Listening. I quickly became intimately acquainted with the people in the financial aid office. They knew me very well and quickly. 

Panama Jackson [00:09:51] I did too. They actually revoked my scholarship every year that I was here, despite the fact my grades were always fine. But that was back when we used to carry all of our letters and everything like that in our pocket. So I used to go back there with my scholarship papers, say I have a scholarship. They just push a button and I was good. So that happened sophomore, junior and senior year. 

Rashaun Williams [00:10:12] I got no money from Morehouse at all. It was just too many people who needed money. So I had to go elsewhere and get money and I was happy with that. Also, I’m from Chicago and you know, the Chicago public schools, we just didn’t test well. So like, you know, we’re getting 19, 20, 20 ones on the ACT. Everybody at Morehouse had like a 31, so I had to go find money elsewhere. 

Panama Jackson [00:10:32] Right. All right. Funnily enough, I have four children and all of them are going to go to an HBCU. As far as I’m concerned. Now, by the time they’re ready to go to college, college might be two or $300,000 a year. So if they can’t afford to pay for it on their own, I don’t know how that’s going to happen. 

Khadijah Robinson [00:10:49] Do you put money in that little Gerber Trust? 

Panama Jackson [00:10:50] There ain’t enough money, that little $37 ain’t going to cover all the years we got to cover here. All right. So let me ask this. You’re both very successful business people, as far as I’m concerned. And just your track record shows that. You started The Nile. When did you start that? 

Khadijah Robinson [00:11:07] In 2019. 

Panama Jackson [00:11:08] All right. So why did you start that? 

Khadijah Robinson [00:11:11] Oh, because I was pissed off. Basically I was a lawyer. I did a masters after I graduated from Spelman. Then I went to Harvard Law School. I hated being in law school. And I knew already when I started practicing I didn’t like it, but I didn’t really see other options. You’re kind of funneled from these top law schools into these big law firms. And they come on campus, they interview you, get your job before you even graduate. I had my job at the beginning of my third year in law school. So, you’re just kind of shepherded through this process. Started at a law firm. I was like, “what the fuck is this?” It was crazy. The 15, 16 hour days for people I didn’t care about. It was, you know, X bank or Y pharmaceutical company. So I thought I’d go to actually practice, be in the courtroom. I wanted to go to a U.S. attorney’s office. So I applied for clerkships, a one year appointment with the federal court judge as like my pivot year. And I would spend that year working with the judge, be in the courtroom and then leave there, go to the U.S. attorney’s office. So I get into this position and it’s super competitive. I applied two years in advance for the position. So I got that job in 2016, but I didn’t start until 2018 and I was in court every day. I’m the only Black clerk my judge ever had, and I was one of like five Black clerks in the entire courthouse. This is the D.C. federal court system. 

Khadijah Robinson [00:12:48] And it was crazy. You’re like seeing a cycle of Black defendants every single day. There maybe was like two non-Black defendants the entire time that I was there. And it’s just I knew conceptually that our criminal justice system is all the way fucked up. But being in the courtroom every day, I was like, Wow, this is like, we don’t have a chance. This is designed to literally put us in prison for as long as possible. Like lock us up, throw away the key with or without a trial. Like I saw people whose trials were getting pushed out years because of calendars, because like, oh, the judge has a vacation and the prosecutor has a vacation the next month. So we’ll just schedule this eight months out and they’ll just stay in jail until then. So I was just so frustrated. I started as my like de-stressing hobby building a Google spreadsheet of Black businesses that I was going to shop with because I’m like, if I’m gonna do anything, at the very minimum, I can only spend money with Black people and be purposeful about that part of supporting my community, because they just trying to lock us up and kill us out here. And that Google spreadsheet grew and it grew. And then I decided to start my first business because people were asking me about it. They’re like, Oh, I want to buy Black owned bathing suits. Like, You got anybody on there on your list? And when I saw the interest, I decided to start it out, like built it into a website and then it literally just grew from there. So organically when I was doing it, I had absolutely no concept that I was starting a business and definitely wasn’t thinking about it like a startup. And even when I built the website, I’m like, Yeah, I’m just building a website so people can like find it and they don’t have to ask me. And then yeah, it just really like grew legs that I never saw at all. 

Panama Jackson [00:14:39] Which is interesting because I know like during the pandemic it was probably a moment where that really took off, especially because I know I bought more Black stuff during the pandemic than ever before. I have so many t-shirts I’ll never wear from companies that I just bought because it said melaninated or Black owned or something like that. 

Khadijah Robinson [00:14:56] It was all time. We use the platform March 1st, 2020. I had no idea what was about to happen, so it was literally all timing. 

Panama Jackson [00:15:06] So, Rashaun. It’s kind of a similar question. Like I know we were so we were in school together econ, but you always I always knew you were. I think you were headed to Wall Street in some way, shape or form. Right. But you decided to go the economics route instead of the business. So we had conversations about that. But now you’re in this space that feels like rare air to me. Like, I don’t know nothing about the venture capital space outside of the things I hear about. And you know, when I read about these people who have all this money, angel investor, I hear all this stuff, but like, how in the hell did you get there? Because it seems like you’re in rare air. I know, I see pictures of like all the Black VCs and everybody fits in one little frame. But it seems like a very powerful group of people like you all basically have tentacles all over the place. Like, how did you even get there? 

Rashaun Williams [00:15:54] It was crazy. Morehouse sends more Black men to venture capital than any other school. Really? And we’re a small school. Right. But I. When I got to Morehouse. I got an internship on Wall Street at Goldman Sachs. So I was an econ major because I needed to major in something business related. But I just couldn’t understand Onifaday or Nabanji in accounting. So I said, You know what? I’m not majoring in business and jeopardizing losing my scholarship, getting a, B or C in his class. So I majored in econ. I really like Dr. Handy and all the professors in econ. And then I would dabble in a business class that I thought helped me. But I anchored my major in econ because I was really a history major. I was taking all that afrocentric classes. 

Panama Jackson [00:16:35] I remember that. Yes. 

Rashaun Williams [00:16:37] I would dashikis on. I’ll never forget, Dr. Eagan told me I was a sellout for going to Wall Street and I was like, That is correct. 

Panama Jackson [00:16:43] Wait, who told you that? 

Rashaun Williams [00:16:44] Dr. Eagan. 

Panama Jackson [00:16:47] Okay. Because I remember you and Dr. Handy, you having a spirited back and forth about your life plans in the middle class.  

Rashaun Williams [00:16:54] At Morehouse, it’s very afro-centered, they want you to go get a Ph.D. like all your smart friends. And I said, Look, the way my bank account is set up, I need to make as much money as possible when these scholarship checks expire. What is the highest paying job I can get? Where I don’t have to worry about getting shot or going to jail. And it was like Wall Street. I said, okay, cool. What do I need to do? So I did an internship and then when I left, when I was at Goldman Sachs, there was a guy sitting next to me who was 23 years old, white, making $7 million a year. He was 23. 

Panama Jackson [00:17:22] Did you say 70 million? 

Rashaun Williams [00:17:22] $7 million a year. 

Panama Jackson [00:17:24] Either way, that’s a lot of money. 

Rashaun Williams [00:17:26] Now, look. Let’s say six years later, he was testifying before Congress because of the 2008, you know, CEOs and all. But that’s a different story. 

Panama Jackson [00:17:34] Right? 

Rashaun Williams [00:17:34] But he was making it, he had a good run. 

Panama Jackson [00:17:36] He made that 7 million he could afford to go up there and testify. 

Rashaun Williams [00:17:37] He could afford the lawyers. 

Panama Jackson [00:17:39] He could afford the lawyers. Right. 

Rashaun Williams [00:17:40] His PR team handled that. So when you’re on Wall Street, you’re helping companies who need money, raise money in businesses or investors who have money, invest money. You’re the middleman. So you watch all of your clients who are billionaires and family offices and very wealthy people who inherited wealth from long generations ago get richer and richer, and it’s your job to get them richer. But you learn the playbook at the same time. So I’m like, Listen, the Black community I come from knows nothing about this. We want to live the American dream, but we have no idea what generational wealth is. We never heard of a family office. 100% of my rich white clients all had a family office. 100% of the rich Black people I knew never heard of it. So when I left Wall Street, I’m like, I’m going to do what the billionaires do. I started the family office. I became an angel investor. I launched a VC firm with Nas. We called the Queensbridge Venture Partners, and I wound up being an early investor in Coinbase and Robinhood and Ring and Casper and Pillpack. Not because I’m smart and I’m like, this genius is because I was just doing what they were doing. I said, What are the billionaires doing and how do I do it? And I knew my only way, ironically enough, to get access to those deals because I wasn’t a white billionaire was through our culture, hip hop, athletes, entertainers. So this whole time I’ve been educating our community on investing for free, which I still do, not realizing that that was my Trojan horse to get into the venture capital industry, because they want these athletes and entertainers to invest, but they don’t want me. So I use that to kind of get my money in there. And now I managed this billion dollar fund with Manhattan Venture Partners and again, it’s not a lot of us. 

Panama Jackson [00:19:18] Yeah, it definitely is. And I know I remember the first time I heard of, like, venture capitalists and all this. Like, I just didn’t quite get it. Because with VSB, I remember we were talking to one point like, well, we need to turn this into like a regular website, how do we do this? And somebody said, Go to let’s go talk to a venture capitalist. I’m like, so I googled venture capitalist. Like, I’m like, how do I call Peter Thiel? Like, how do I call it like it’s like, does he answer the phone if you call him? Like, I don’t know. I don’t know how to get this money. 

Rashaun Williams [00:19:46] No. 

Panama Jackson [00:19:46] I don’t know how. As I found out, he doesn’t because I did call, but I just got PayPal’s . 

Rashaun Williams [00:19:52] Customer service. 

Panama Jackson [00:19:53] Got customer service and it didn’t go and it didn’t go very far. Turns out if you say venture capital over and over again, they just hang up on you. 

Rashaun Williams [00:20:03] It’s not like Shazam, you know? 

Panama Jackson [00:20:05] Right. Which would be very helpful. 

Rashaun Williams [00:20:07] That would be helpful. 

Panama Jackson [00:20:08] So, you recently, your Nile List, your business was, make sure I get this right, was bought out, bought. 

Khadijah Robinson [00:20:16] It was acquired. 

Panama Jackson [00:20:18] There you go. That’s the right term for this. Acquired by does he go by Brother Love, now? Which one is it? Because I saw you put Love in the thing. But is it Brother Love?

Khadijah Robinson [00:20:26] Well, it depends on the context. Mr. Combs. 

Rashaun Williams [00:20:32] Okay. There you go, Mr. Combs. Mr. Combs, what was that process like? 

Khadijah Robinson [00:20:40] Uh, actually this is my favorite topic, because when I was in college, I was one of those, like, magnet school kids who had never failed at anything. There were this series of failures, really. And at the time, it was so painful. And I was, like, reeling, because I was like, wait a minute. I didn’t get this thing that I applied for, I don’t understand. But I too recently sat for much longer than that. But the two most recent things, so I went to Nigeria right after I launched the Nile, to go visit some of my cousins and de-stress just because I put all this energy into this product launch and I was wiped. And I’m like going for a week and a half to two weeks, and then COVID came through like a wrecking ball. They closed the borders, and I ended up staying in Nigeria for like seven months. So I was like, okay, well, I guess I’m here and living in a foreign country. Wow, this was not what I expected at all, but it ended up being a blessing in disguise because I was able to still work at my law firm full time, but work on my business significantly because we were  five to six hours ahead, depending on the time of the year in Nigeria. So I wake up early in Nigeria, I’m already an early riser, wake up at five or six and I just work on Nile stuff until it was time for me to be online with the law firm. And I was, you know, everybody was virtual. So, you know, it wasn’t too bad. I could use Zoom in Nigeria as I was on all these calls I’m pitching. I’m you know, I’m doing all these pitch competitions. I’m like, wow, this is really like a startup. I got treated like a startup. I’m putting all this stuff into it. 

Khadijah Robinson [00:22:25] And I applied for this pitch competition, that Goody Nation, which is based here in Atlanta, started by Justin Dawkins and Joey Womack. Goody Nation partners with Revolt TV to do a pitch competition every year for the Revolt Summit. So they were doing it virtually. I applied for it. I made it to like the top 15, but I did not make it into the final list of people who are actually pitching their business. But then Joey, one of the founders of Goody Nation and hits me up and he’s like, you know, the Combs Enterprises people are like really interested in what you’re building with the Nile List and would love to connect you with them. So I connected with somebody at Combs, just talked a bit about what I’d been building, what I was working on. So I’m like on their radar, really loosely in contact and nothing really happens from that conversation at that point. And I’m like, Well, damn, I get a little $10,000 from the competition. They ain’t even follow up like, okay, wow, whatever. Then separately, I applied for a Techstars accelerator that is also based here in Atlanta. And that year they were focusing on like social impact companies. And so I applied for that. I knew the managing director he and I met at a previous event and again made it to the final round and then didn’t get it. And it was like, I had so much wrapped up in like I’m going to get into this Techstars accelerator. Techstars is one of the more most famous and visible accelerators. And I was so crushed, I cried. I was so upset. That was like December of 2020. 

Khadijah Robinson [00:24:03] And then what I didn’t know was happening was that now I was on the Combs radar because of my business and the managing director of the Techstar’s accelerator that I did not get into after he saw me, you know, saw me just really open up to talk about my business and pitch and got to know me was like a huge fan. And so when the Combs team had been they’ve been working internally on the concept of this company, Empower Global and incubating it, starting to create partnerships to really build it up. And as I started thinking about like how to really bring it to life and bring it to market, they started talking to a different Black venture capitalist, one of whom was the managing director of this Techstar’s accelerator. He was like, Oh, y’all need to talk to Khadijah Robinson. She knows what she’s talking about, she already built this blah, blah. Like, y’all need to do that. He pushed them away and they were like, Oh yeah, we already know about her from this pitch competition, boom. So they hit me up and we started talking and those conversations just developed into that acquisition. And that was way better than $10,000. I was looking at the pitch competition and it was also better than going through this accelerator. I didn’t get. They take equity from your business. And this I was like, Oh, boom. Like I am now able to partner with one of the most visible figures in the world to build what I already wanted to build and what I didn’t even know. He also wanted to build, right? And now I have this, you know, these resources and the ability to really do it in a way that it has never been done. So many people have tried to do it, but now we’re able to do it at a level that really hopefully sticks and gives people, both the entrepreneurs on the platform and the customers the experience they really deserve. So it was those things that I was heard about that I thought were failures at the time that set me up for the the good thing I didn’t know it was coming. 

Rashaun Williams [00:26:04] She just dropped so many dimes for entrepreneurs, bro. Like. 

Panama Jackson [00:26:07] It’s funny that that’s exactly where I was about to go. 

Rashaun Williams [00:26:11] Three real strong things that I heard, which are the biggest problems that Black founders that you solved to get to where you are. The first thing was you, you built something that you were passionate about to solve a problem that you were having. Without a problem, nobody’s going to go and spend their money with you. Right. The second thing was you said, I need to get to know some investors. I may not know folks that can give me 10,000, but let me expose myself to these accelerators and these pitch competitions. So you put yourself out there. You broaden your network because investors only invest in people they know. This is the biggest thing that people don’t understand. So the reason why Peter Thiel did not hit you back, because he don’t know you. You got to get warm intros. 

Panama Jackson [00:26:52] Facts. 

Rashaun Williams [00:26:54] And then last but not least, on the exit side, what was great about you is you had already built these relationships and you kept going. So people knew who you were. Usually it takes 12 to 18 months for a person to meet you to actually want to do business with you. So you stuck in through that time. You built something that you like and you put yourself out there. Most startups don’t do that. They just go on Twitter and say, I need money. Who wants to invest? And that’s just not how it works. 

Khadijah Robinson [00:27:22] Or burn a bridge and be like, Fuck you. 

Rashaun Williams [00:27:25] Right? 

Khadijah Robinson [00:27:26] Ya’ll ain’t give me this $10,000. 

Panama Jackson [00:27:29] Yeah. I know some people who struggle with their Twitter fingers. They’ve never seen a bridge they weren’t willing to burn. Time for a quick break. We’ll be right back. 

[00:27:40] TheGrio Black Podcast Network is here. Everything you’ve been waiting for, Black culture, amplify. Find your voice on the Black Podcast Network. Listen today on theGrio Mobile app and tune in everywhere great podcasts are heard. 

Panama Jackson [00:27:56] She mentioned resources like everything, as you mentioned, resources like needing the resources and being in a position now where you have more resources to achieve the goal that you’re trying to do with what is your passion. You’re somebody who provides those resources and stuff like that. So what do you look for in companies that you’re trying to, so you said, the fund with Nas, does that still exist? 

Rashaun Williams [00:28:19] No, we already invested that, we’re out. Manhattan Venture Partners now. 

Panama Jackson [00:28:22] Because I be seeing Nas talk about “man I just made all this money” on all this stuff, I’m like how the hell? So I’m just going to give you our credit. But anyway, so how did you look for businesses? And like I’m imagining that it’s Black entrepreneurs probably like you have an affinity for looking for those things. I don’t know if they’re fixing the problems or whatever, but I’m just curious like how do you even decide on those things?

Rashaun Williams [00:28:49] Yeah. So what VC’s do is very similar to what NBA scouts do. We play offense, we go after the best companies growing the fastest in industries that we care about. We don’t wait for them to send us a message to our customer service department, right? So like, if I’m the scout for the Bulls, I know who the best players in AAU are in Atlanta. Who are the top point guards and power forwards are at the top 20 basketball programs. I’m not even recruiting from Morehouse. So these are important little distinctions because what’s happening is you’ll have someone who is from Morehouse, who is a good basketball player, but he’s not on the radar for the Chicago Bulls. Just like you have someone who has a great startup. But she’s not on the radar for Andreessen Horowitz. Right. Just because of ecosystems and networks. So the job of VC is to find the best, literally the top 2% of companies in their industry. And there are ways we can find that out. We can go to the App Store and see how quick people are downloading your app or how the volume versus others. We can see the traffic you’re getting to your website. Mike We hear the buzz and I’m out here looking for a marketplace for Black entrepreneurs and I Google it and your name pops up at the first one and I start to research you and I reach out to you. It’s very rare that you reach out to me. 

Rashaun Williams [00:30:04] Or you get introduced to me by someone that I invest in. And so that’s what I do in general. And 99.9% of those companies are white male. And the reason is actually very simple. Before you raise money for VCs, and I’m sure you heard this, every VC in the world is going to tell you it’s too early. It’s too early, it’s too early. And it’s because when I invested 150 times in startups with Queensbridge, those startups all had three things in common. Four. Number one, they were white men, but number two, they all put their money in first and they built something. Then they raised money from family, friends and fools. People who loved them, people who knew them, or people who just didn’t know any better. And then they built even more. Then they went to angel investors, people like me who left Wall Street, people like you, angel investors. Now they’ve raised 500,000, 750,000. They got a customer base, they got a product, they got a team. Then they go to VCs and say, Look what I did with this amount. I’m looking for growth capital, not startup capital. VCs don’t invest in ideas and invest in fast growing businesses. So in the Black community, we typically, because of the wealth gap, we typically don’t have 50,000 to put in our own startup. We don’t have any family, friends or fools with 50,000 and what’s an angel investor? What is that? Right. So we go to that same VC and we say, Hey, invest in my startup. You just put 10 million in this and at a $30 million valuation invest in mine and VC writes a check over here and tells you you’re too early. 

Khadijah Robinson [00:31:33] Yeah. 

Rashaun Williams [00:31:34] The white founder says thank you very much and goes on crunchbase. And a Black founder says racism. They’re partially right because of the wealth gap, but we just don’t know the rules and the stages that you need to go through. So I think it is the responsibility of Black VCs to give the answers to the tests to Black founders. Look, first round here, second round, third round here, here are the market terms. Here’s what you need to do. Then they’ll find you or you reach out to them through a warm intro. So I spent a lot of time, as you know, on social media just trying to explain that because everyone is excited about VC, but no one’s getting the playbook on how to how to put a pitch deck together, what to say to a VC, how to do diligence on VC, how to set up a data room. So that’s why I spent a lot of my time and that has a multiplier effect. And I do invest in some Black startups. Like one of my best investments is Noble, a guy named Mark Wilson. Black dude is like the athletic apparel company. We went from 2 million in revenue to 300 million revenue in five years. So like that dude’s on a rocket ship, but he was just over qualified regardless of his race. So it’s my job to make a return and help my community. And when those two overlap, I feel great about it. But I am responsible for making them overlap instead of just a bystander and waiting. 

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Panama Jackson [00:33:07] That stuff all fascinates me. Like I say, you all operate successfully in worlds that I’ve read about. But for the last question I want to ask you for this part of the panel. I want to bring it back home. Right. So how did Spelman influence the work that you do, the way that you move? Just where do you place Spelman in terms of the success that you have and how you’re managing to do it? 

Khadijah Robinson [00:33:36] Spelman Is everything. I’m so happy to be here. Spelman Is everything. We were talking way back there. I was saying, you know, me in my country ways. I grew up in Savannah, Georgia. I was born in Montgomery, Alabama. I never heard of venture capital until I came here, like the words venture capital were words I knew, knew them both separately because I was an English major. I could speak English, but I had no concept of what that meant. I hadn’t I hadn’t even met anybody from Canada when I got to college, like I was country. And Spelman opened the world for me. I studied abroad. They really pushed people to study abroad. It was my first time going anywhere. It wasn’t the Bahamas. And I went to Portugal for a semester. You know, they opened you up to so many opportunities. The alumni reach back and touch you in a way to pull you forward. I did an internship. I thought I was going to be a journalist when I first got to school. So I did an internship at Vibe magazine my first summer in college. And that summer I met all these Spelman alumni in New York, and they were just so, like, so glamorous to me. They were doing all kinds of stuff, people working at MTV, people who were working and working finance lawyers, all these things. People who I had never met before in my life. And they were always like, How can we help? What can we do? Spelman pushed me to be this networker that I am. So I go to these events and talk to people when I don’t know, a single soul and I show up and I’m like, “Hi, I’m Khadijah how is it going?”, which is exactly how I met the managing director of this Techstars, you know, accelerator. 

Khadijah Robinson [00:35:28] But Spelman really instilled that in me. It’s still an instilled quest for knowledge, a desire to really explore the world. I came here literally, having never traveled except to the Bahamas, that I have now been to like 65 countries. So travel is my jam. And Spelman did that for me. I have literally no no shame, no fear of embarrassment. I will go talk to anybody about anything. And I have met so many people who have been so instrumental to bringing me where I am because of that. And it also just gave me that assuredness to be like, I don’t know what these other people are doing and I don’t know what preconceptions or notions you have before, but I know I’m to share, you know, imposter syndrome over here, like, baby, check my resumé. I just didn’t find out that I went to Harvard Law School. I deserve to be here. I’m smarter than all of them. Don’t play with me. So it’s such a different attitude to come into that, especially like this startup realm, because this thing will grind you down as a founder. You get so many no’s and things blow up all the time, and if you don’t have that backbone and that self-assuredness, who if you get really, really, really ugly. So it would, it just has made me the person that I am and given me the wherewithal to go for it, then kind of conquer. You keep saying how successful I’m like and I really I don’t know but we about to see. 

Panama Jackson [00:36:59] Rashaun? 

Rashaun Williams [00:37:00] Man. I think Morehouse was my first investor. That’s just a quick way to sum it up. Like Morehouse is like an accelerator for Black boys who want to become Black men and leaders. And some of us needed a whole lot more than others like Frank, he didn’t need anything when he came here. But I didn’t have a father in the house. I didn’t know how to eat at a dinner table in the proper way. I had no positive role models. My schools were the worst schools in Chicago. We had computer teachers who didn’t understand how to work, computers like stuff like that. And you were made fun of where I’m from. If you were a good student, you had to be a thug or an athlete. So I get to Morehouse and it’s 800 other freshmen who are all good students and athletes and have personalities. And my professors are African-American. And they’re not teaching me a curriculum that says we’re inferior to everyone else for these ten reasons, and they’re building up that pride. I was a very insecure and angry kid coming from the environment I came from. Morehouse built me. It made me very proud and made me feel more responsible for my community. And I also wasn’t that angry anymore because I got exposed to the exact things that I needed to live up to my potential. I got opportunities to do internships, you know, travel all around the world and meet guys like you. And I would have never gotten that at another school. And one of the things that I think people don’t talk about at Morehouse enough is what I wasn’t exposed to. By going to Morehouse, I did not have dudes with tiki torches marching around or people spray painting on my door. I mean, you know, we said it ourselves, we don’t need nobody spray painting. I’m in an environment that was safe for me at the stage I was, because you got an angry kid from the South Side. Like, if somebody pull up and say something racist, they going to get got. So, like, I wouldn’t even be here if I probably went to another school because I didn’t have the restraint in order to respond to those things, because Southside of Chicago is 99.9% Black. And I never even saw a white person until I was 12 and it was a police officer. So I’ve actually never been in a class with non-Black people in my entire life. So, you know, I love Morehouse for that. And that’s why I work so hard to pay it forward and give it back. 

Panama Jackson [00:39:18] If can we put our hands together for Khadijah Robinson and Rashaun Williams. Thank you all for sharing with us. This is amazing. You all said everything I wanted to hear. Let’s take a break. Stay with us. 

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Panama Jackson [00:39:51] This next panel is very special for me. So it ain’t often, see my boys are up here laughing, they laughing at me already. This is quite embarrassing, but it ain’t often that you get an opportunity to come back home and bring your best friends in life, the people that the school gave you as friends and brothers, the family you get to choose and you get to bring them up to have a conversation with them about why you’re even, where you are, how you got here, do you belong there, that kind of thing. And I’m fortunate enough that we’re still as close today as we were back when we were younger ups and downs because we’re family and those things happen. But, we were in each other’s weddings. They are all godparents to my children, along with other people, too. My kids have a lot of godparents. They’re my brothers. They’re family. And it’s one of those things that’s really interesting. Like you, when you have really close friends that are doing great things, sometimes you forget how successful they are. Like, you can forget how important the things that they do are. Because when you hanging out, you. You drink and you sitting around, you playing spades. You know, you kind of forget that people that you’re hanging with might actually win a Nobel Prize one day or, like, you know, might be able to, as Frank used to want to do, take the cultural bias out of standardized testing. Right. That was an actual goal. You know what I’m saying? Like, Adrian, listen, my man is running a consulting firm right now, but we were all convinced he was going to be the greatest music producer of all time. He got more beats than anybody in one of the most gifted musical prodigies. And I genuinely mean it from the heart. 

Panama Jackson [00:41:26] So I’m going to do two things. I want to introduce you to my brothers on stage. We’re going to start with Frank. Frank Williams, class of 2001. Southeast Washington, D.C. finest. My brother has a B.A. in math and has a master’s in secondary math education. Right. And I’m doing this off the top of my head, by the way. I’m not going to use any notes. A second master’s degree in psychology and a Ph.D. in psychometrics and quantitative psychology from Fordham University. Right. If I told you some of the things we say when we’re just hanging out, then you’d be like, how does how does a super educated brother do all of that? Because it’s light blue. We got inside jokes for days. Next to him, Adrian Wilson, also class of 2001. So, B.A., no B.S. in econ and math. Did you get the best? Did they give you the B.S. and econ? 

Adrian Wilson [00:42:23] They gave me a B.A. in Econ,. 

Panama Jackson [00:42:24] They give you the B.A Econ. But he has a B.S. in math Right? We went to Maryland together. He has a master’s degree in economics and he’s now the CEO and President of his consulting firm, Adria Consulting. And my man gets contracts. He gets money. Doing numbers. He gets money. Right. Right. Last but not least, is my brother Manu Platt, who I just learned has a Wikipedia page today.  I Googled him trying to find out. He was trying to find out something about you. And I found I was trying to find a bio because his LinkedIn page is trash. But you have a B.A., no B.S. excuse me, a B.S. in biology. 

Manu Platt [00:43:10] That’s right. 

Panama Jackson [00:43:11] From Morehouse. Has a joint biology, a Ph.D. in biology and biomedical engineering from Georgia Tech. 

Manu Platt [00:43:18] And Emory University. 

Panama Jackson [00:43:20] And Emory University, Did a post-doc at M.I.T. and you’re now a professor at Georgia Tech. I’m assuming teaching English. 

Manu Platt [00:43:31] The kids better bring that English right on those papers. Let me just say that. 

Panama Jackson [00:43:34] Right. We all met in the summer program, called Center of Excellence, Science, Math and Engineering. The summer before our freshman year, we were all STEM majors. I started out as an engineering major. I gave that up because I realized very early I was disinterested in being an engineer at some point. Though, oddly, I got my I don’t even use my degrees for what I do in life. I write for a living and I don’t use any of my degrees for that. But I did spend 14 years on Capitol Hill becoming completely cynical about the political process. These are some of my best friends in life. And Morehouse brought us together and gave us one another and gave us people who would make sure that we never fall, never, never failed. Right. So before we jump in, I’m going to read something, Adrian, a couple of years ago wrote, another one of my friends from Spelman, I’m going to read a portion of it. Adrian took on a mentorship role. If you know if you know somebody, you need a mentor. This brother right here takes on all it takes on everybody. 

Panama Jackson [00:44:33] This is this brother ain’t never met no one who wasn’t willing to help out in life. So trust me if you need a mentor, Adrian is your guide. But he wrote a letter to a student of one of our friends at Spelman offering, like his mentorship, but also some advice about why he should look at Morehouse. So this is going to be a short excerpt of what he wrote. “Morehouse is a school that surrounds you with other movers, shakers and dreamers like yourself. I tell people all the time that the reason I’m doing well in life is that I was surrounded by other people who wanted more for themselves. That’s what you get at Morehouse. You’ll find that if you ask to run it, you will find it. If I ask you to run a mile, you’re always going to run faster if someone like you is running beside you, you will always run slower when you’re running alone. Historically Black Colleges and Universities are an essential part of Black America’s progression throughout American society. They’ve given us a place to grow and nurture our young thinkers and doers. Morehouse, in particular, has excelled at this because they constantly remind you of those who came before you, those whose legacy you’re carrying on, and they constantly remind you of those around you, those who will push you as well as you push them towards greatness.” Such inspirational words. So I have to quote that. Got real loud, real quick. So let me just go ahead and ask. I’m gonna start with you, Frank, as my family, my brothers, people who have been a part of every major success story that I have to my name at this point. We’re we just lucky? Or is it Morehouse? It may be a trick question? 

Frank Williams [00:46:03] It is a trick question. And I think it’s a little combination of the two in a sense that, you know, we think about different decisions we may have made and gone to different places. And I don’t know if I’m pretty certain I would have met other good people. I’m not quite sure if I would admit as good of people all in one place, you know? So to think about, you know, we’re talking about more of the professional things that we did. But even if we just think about those four years in terms of, you know, getting through classes with each other, trying to take as many classes as we did with each other and doing really, really well, not just, you know, the bare minimum to get through and still partying every single weekend, you know. So like I don’t know if I would have had that and I think if I had gone anywhere else, it’s just hard to believe that my time during those four years would have been anything similar to what it was here. 

Panama Jackson [00:47:07] Yeah. He’s not wrong about the taking classes with the home. I was not a math major. I took math classes just to hang with them, which is probably the stupidest thing you can do. I was sitting in the vector analysis and differentials. I took all these classes just to hang with the homies and I would never advise anybody to do that. I passed them all and I actually probably got B’s and A’s in all of them, but very dumb. I tapped out on Abstract Algebra, a song that Adrian wrote, a song about why he was about to fail an abstract algebra test. I won’t make him sing that now, but I’ll. 

Adrian Wilson [00:47:36] Ya’ll making me look lame as I don’t know what. 

Panama Jackson [00:47:39] No,  it was a wonderful song. People walked in while we were singing a song about failing an abstract algebra test. People walked in and started adding their own verses. It was a movement. 

Adrian Wilson [00:47:48] The spirit called me that day. 

Panama Jackson [00:47:50] It was a movement. This brother was sitting. He was like, Yo, I’m about to fail this test and Eddie Kendrick My Friends was playing in the background and just started singing about my abstract algebra. And next thing you know, we’re all singing. So my good, my good vocalist over here, like you wrote this letter and it’s something that stuck with me. I, I actually published it on Very Smart Brothas a couple of years ago because I thought it was so moving and talked about what we gain from being here, why it was so important that we chose this space to being like, do you still feel the same way about everything that you wrote in that letter about? And would you tell anybody, come on the same thing? 

Adrian Wilson [00:48:31] Absolutely. You know I can’t say that. You know, just like Frank will say, I can’t say that people wouldn’t get a good college experience somewhere else. But when I came to Morehouse, you know, there were certain things that were just very pivotal to me early on. You know, I had some sense of identity about myself. But, you know, the people here kind of push you to look at yourself a little bit more and not just, you know, your professors and instructors, but also your friends that you’re around. And so I think for us, one of the important things was we really went through a lot of experiences together that kind of defined us from discovery through some trials and tribulations and, you know, just some struggles as well. And so I think that combined with the environment, you know, just made for a unique experience. 

Panama Jackson [00:49:27] Yeah, I definitely think that who I came in as and who I left as are completely different things. I was way more confident, like reservation, like in college you mentioned like I walk, I know there’s no room. I walk into that I don’t believe I belong in right. Like there’s never been a space since leaving here that I’m like, Yeah, I don’t belong here. Like there’s no imposter syndrome. I’ve always struggled with what that even means because maybe I’m a little bit overly confident. But, you know.  

Adrian Wilson [00:49:53] Oh, yeah, you you. You know. No, no, no. You’re not just a different person because of coffee. It is Panama. He came in and he’s a guy from Huntsville, Alabama. His uniform was like 100% Tommy Hilfiger. 

Panama Jackson [00:50:12] Some of it was real. 

Adrian Wilson [00:50:13] I know. I’d never seen anything like it. He came in like the entire outfit, shirt, shorts, watch, Black socks, shoes. He was a walking Tommy Hilfiger billboard. By the time he left Morehouse, he was straight off the streets of New York. He was Timberland stomping out here, you know, so, you know, hey, you know, transformation happens for us all. 

Panama Jackson [00:50:41] College is nothing if not a time for discovery and trying to figure out who you are. There was a couple of weeks in there I was from D.C. you know, there was a bunch of that. So, Manu as a person who runs a program that works with students, that’s preparing them for college. Right. And especially in STEM I imagine you try to steer people this direction or to Spelman. I imagine that’s what you do. Right. So how does your experience here help inform the way that you try to impart that, I guess it’s collusion, to get people to Morehouse. But, you know, we’ll just call it what it is, recruitment. How do you help recruit more? 

Manu Platt [00:51:22] Sadly, sadly, of the 130 kids that come to our program, only two have come to Morehouse. We’ve had about eight come to Spelman. So I had to stop talking about Morehouse because I was talking about it a lot and what it could do. And I guess they don’t want to be like me. That’s cool. We’ll take that right? Because they come from Atlanta. So you come from Atlanta. Do you want to stay in Atlanta? That’s something you got to figure out for yourself. Right. But the ones that have come are actually the ones that then go back and tell the others about how great the experience was. But no, I’ve not been successful. But you came and talked to them, Adrian came and talked to me, and I’m waiting for Frank White to come through because maybe if I get my cooler friends to talk to the young folks, we can get more. I’m coming through Morehouse. 

Panama Jackson [00:52:00]  So let me ask you, though, so only ten of the hundred and 30 have. 

Manu Platt [00:52:05] Two. 

Panama Jackson [00:52:05] No. Two from Morehouse. You said eight Spelman. 

Manu Platt [00:52:07] Yeah. 

Panama Jackson [00:52:07] Ten. 

Manu Platt [00:52:07] Yeah. 

Panama Jackson [00:52:08] I can math things. I’m mathing. And what do you think that is like? Why do you think that is? Just curious. 

Manu Platt [00:52:16] I think people want to get away from home. Right. And I think one of the parts of that for us, none of us are from Atlanta. I mean, you may be from Atlanta and other parts of your experience. But for me, as you know, I have five brothers, right? I had four brothers at the time that I came to Morehouse, well, I wasn’t looking necessarily to be just around. I needed brotherhood, but I did want to get away from home. I was, you know, went to high school in Dover, Delaware. And so when I came down, as I think you all know the story, as my last school I applied to, my dad encouraged me to apply to Morehouse and the last school I applied to and last school I heard from and coming on campus, seeing the brothers, everybody was saying hello, speaking, being nice. And I was like, yo. But I think it’s important as well, we all came up in the nineties, right? And so what the images of Black men was in the nineties was like, not this. And so I think when we got to Morehouse, it was like, brothers do this, brothers like this, brothers do that. That’s what sold it for me. 

Panama Jackson [00:53:11] So one of the reasons I wanted to bring you all up was because we’ve been friends for 25 years now. 

Manu Platt [00:53:19] Yeah, nine, seven. 

Panama Jackson [00:53:22] Yeah, we’re all 43. So more than more than half of our lives at this point. Right? Significantly more than half of our lives at this point. We’ve been a part of one part of each other’s lives. And obviously, I think we all attribute that to Morehouse. How do you think that? And I because I feel like I’m asking just the bonding question, but it’s just, you know, like. Do you think who we are today and because you are the people that most intimately know who we are, just as humans, do you think we would have been the same people without Morehouse? 

Frank Williams [00:53:58] Having my dude go straight into his program that was, for me to say I wasn’t influenced by that would be completely crazy. You know, like seeing Manu do his thing. Go up to M.I.T. and do his  things like, yeah, I could do that too, you know? And just seeing some of the other moves that you all have made, too, I mean, those things are not lost on me. It’s not like, Oh, you know, that’s really cool. I was like, No, I could do that too. And we can talk about some things. We can talk about business that you can, you know, hash some ideas out. So I would say I don’t know if I would be in the exact same place that I am here, you know, that I’m in right now because of y’all. So, that’s a no. 

Manu Platt [00:54:36] Adrian went on, he was the first one to do the internship to make all the money when he went to Texaco and started making it and when he came back with how much money he made that summer. 

Adrian Wilson [00:54:45] Snitching. 

Manu Platt [00:54:46] Me and Frank, we were NASA scholars on that government dime, and ours was a lot less. 

Frank Williams [00:54:52] Yeah, yeah, yeah. 

Manu Platt [00:54:53] But it started to be like, Wait, we can use these internships to, like, go places. And so it was all of that feedback. I think that we kind of pop for each other. I thought that was dope. 

Adrian Wilson [00:55:03] Yeah. I mean, and I was talking to Rashaun and Calvin earlier about just kind of seeing certain things around us. You know, like I grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, so, you know, it was a heavy Black population and things like that. So blue collar, working town. And so, you know, I saw people who were successful. They worked hard, made money and things like that. But once I came to Morehouse, I saw people kind of doing things that I had never seen. And so, you know, in our class, we you know, I could tell you a couple of names. We had a guy, Chris Kraft and Chris Kraft, you know, while he’s in undergrad, he’s like owning a record label. And I was like, people own record labels in undergrad? You know, and so, like, I was like, damn, okay, that, that’s some new stuff. And then, you know, we had Kevin Johnson, Kevin Johnson, owns Johnson Media. So he has a media marketing company. Think he started in undergrad. 

Manu Platt [00:56:01] Both of those gentlemen are Graves Hall representatives. All right, third floor, third floor. 

Adrian Wilson [00:56:09] You know, you know, it was junior year, Panama, myself, Rashaun all econ majors and you know, I saw Rashaun and he was working at Goldman Sachs and I was like he was working at Goldman Sachs as a junior in college, you know. So all of those types of things, like kind of started putting, putting things into a different context for me. And I had just a lot of people around me that showed me possibilities that I never thought existed before. 

Manu Platt [00:56:38] I mean, I can even do it even simpler. As I don’t want to throw away that me and Frank were NASA scholars and working at NASA and that was dope. But my first summer in Huntsville, Alabama, was not my first choice. I was thinking I was gonna go to DC, which is closer home. But in Huntsville, your family took me in for that summer, so I had never been to Huntsville, Alabama. You know, I’m not going to clown it anymore because I was living in Southwest Huntsville, as you remember. It was the Kool-Aid Stain, we call it Kool-Aid.  

Panama Jackson [00:57:02] We thought there was a blood stain on the floor of his apartment when he first walked in there. I’m still not sure it wasn’t. 

Manu Platt [00:57:07] None of us were snitching. We were never to testify about it. But I mean, the fact that I could go to Huntsville, be safe doing NASA, and then your family could take me, and you were working and your friends can come hang out. That would have been a whole different summer for me, and I might have had a whole different experience about summer internships and being away from home. You know, if my boy wasn’t there in time, ready to look out. So it’s those small things that we had just known each other for years when you were like, come through. 

Frank Williams [00:57:28] Talking about our bond here. But if we talk about how we were connected to each other’s families, like siblings and parents and things like that, like going to somebody’s house and not even thinking twice about it and like see a family and kissing on them and loving them because, you know, they not your blood, but they are your blood. And so like this bond here, the love here is bigger than just us. Like it’s our families, children and wives now and all those kinds of things. Like it just keeps on extending itself. 

Panama Jackson [00:57:58] Let’s take a break. Stay with us. 

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Panama Jackson [00:58:16] You said something that was interesting. So I like to tell this story because it’s tragic. A couple of years ago, I went to Yale University, had a conference call, the Black Solidarity Conference. I never heard of it before, but I was invited to go speak up there. And one of my news friends, Lola, was speaking on a panel. So I went to the panel just, you know, to be supportive, whatever. I didn’t really have any idea what the panel was about, but I was there early and it’s a bunch of Black scientists. Speaking about being Black in science on the panel. And there was this young girl who raised her hand and she’s crying. And I’m like, you know, like nothing they said was that sad or really bad? Like, you know, I didn’t understand. But she had never seen a Black scientist before. Like she’d never seen one. And she’s in STEM, like this is what she wanted to do with her life. And, you know, I’m sitting here thinking like, that is the craziest thing I’ve ever heard, because I know a bunch of Black scientists, like I know tons of people in there, all various ranges of good to terrible human beings. But I know a bunch of them. Like I have friends who are doctors. I got friends who I don’t know what they do. I remember one day Manu sent me like an abstract of something that he wrote for something, and I didn’t know what any of the words meant. I knew like the “dos” and “thes” and stuff like that, but like the individual words all together. I really couldn’t put it together in a way that made any sense. 

Panama Jackson [00:59:42] But I’m like, Yo, whatever you do must be important because I don’t get it. And maybe that’s not my calling, but it kind of brought it full circle to me, this idea that I think my view of Blackness has been like re-normalized, right? I know Rashaun, you know what I’m saying? Like I, I see my man in the private jets and stuff because he puts it on Instagram and I’m like, I want to get on a private jet one day. That’s a request. But, you know, like I know there’s two Ph’Ds on the stage, right? Like it’s funny because that’s not impressive to me anymore, despite the fact that it’s very impressive, right? Like I’m so used to it. You know, Calvin is a doctor, right? Like my man Calvin right there. And, you know, Calvin is one of the best roasters I’ve ever met in my life. You know, like, this man will joke all day with you if you want. And this man, they’re right. Legendary, right. And right behind him is my friend Aziza, who also has a Ph.D. Right. So it’s like I know all these people that are so accomplished in spaces that we view as successful that it reframed the way I view us. Right. In general. And I think that’s probably the most significant thing that I’ve gotten from being at Morehouse and Spelman, HBCUs in general. Like the way that I view Black excellence is completely different. It’s Black excellence is one of the norms for what we are. What’s the most significant thing that you have gotten from your experiences there and the lives that we’ve led since? Deep question, I know. 

Manu Platt [01:01:21] I mean, I say this again, I mentioned being from the 90s, what I learned coming to Morehouse, honestly being smart. You know, being called the white boy back in school like, oh, you’re trying to act white because you do well in school. So I was nervous coming here thinking I’m going to get that. And coming here really showed me Black men are all different types of people and things and all different personalities, all different types of loves and arts. And you could come here and find out all of the other parts of yourself that you want to be besides being this Black man that the rest of the world puts on you, which I think lets us just be who we are and grow into that. And I think I wasn’t expecting that part to happen here. And I think that was a gift to me. 

Adrian Wilson [01:01:59] I agree with you on that. I think, you know, it’s funny, as you were mentioning earlier, that I do the mentoring with students from Morehouse and Spelman. And so, you know, my mentees have actually graduated now. But I remember one of my mentees freshman year. I took both he and his roommate out to eat and we went to the vortex. And, you know, they are kind of trying to feel me out. I’m feeling them out. And in the conversation, like we ended up talking about Watchmen, the Watchmen comic books. And one of the mentees was like, Mr. Wilson, you read comic books? And I was like, Yeah, you know, he was just in awe that like a Black man read comic books, because people have kind of trivialized it like it’s something Black people don’t do. I mean, And so when you come to Morehouse, like you kind of figure out, like Black men do everything, everything, everything. There’s nothing we don’t do, you know? And whatever you’re into, whatever you do, whatever you’re interested in, whatever your strengths are, you know, interest, there’s somebody here that does it as well and it makes it okay, you know, to see it. 

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Frank Williams [01:03:30] I’d probably say maybe the most important thing is similar to the idea of there just being greater success in our community. And a trivial example of that was freshman year and I don’t think Rashaun had the rover at that point just yet. But it was like you could see people had real money. And so I’m from D.C., I’m from Southeast and so I know there’s money in the area and I know there’s Black people in the area, but from southeast, I don’t know people really in it, you know what I mean? And so I get here and I’m just like, people really got it. People really doing like, well, not just work and to, you know, get a fifth room at the end of the week but really flourishing. And, you know, the idea, which I mentioned earlier about, you know, generational wealth building, those kinds of things, like people are doing it and doing it big. And so I think being exposed to that forces you to seeing more forces you to want more. 

Manu Platt [01:04:41] I mean, people even had Hilfiger socks. That was like crazy. 

Panama Jackson [01:04:47] They were real socks. They were real Hilfiger I believe. It’s funny you mention that because I, I, I jokingly say this, it’s not accurate. So my sister here, I don’t mean this in the way it’s going to sound, but I didn’t realize I was broke til I got to Morehouse. And I’m seeing people driving Hummers on campus. There were dudes with Hummers. When we got here, I’m like, well, those are students like in Hummers that were in rap videos, right? That’s where they were. That’s where they belonged. I remember there was one dude who had both the Lincoln Navigator and Lincoln Towncar and only wore Coogi sweaters. And I remember thinking I was like, man, I didn’t realize there was that much money, that Black people had that kind of money. And, you know, I’ve come from a middle class background, you know what I mean? But I just didn’t I didn’t know, you know what I’m saying? And I remember. I remember. And I can’t say that it influenced me in the way that it let me understand that, there really are all types of Black people like it really is a lot of that. It didn’t really push me towards getting that money, but it definitely pushed me into the idea that, well, you really can’t be whoever you want to be here like you can. You know, I’d prefer to be somebody with a lot of money, but that wasn’t my lot in life at that moment. 

Adrian Wilson [01:06:04] Well, but let me let me add one thing, because I know we kind of throw out a lot of money stuff and people do well and are successful and things like that. But another thing as well is just kind of the level of thinking that Morehouse and Spelman both forced you to do. And, you know, up until college, you know, like part of success was memorizing and, you know, being able to, you know, navigate how grades are awarded and things like that. You get to Morehouse and I was telling somebody earlier,  my first history class, the textbook in the history class is How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. You know, that was the textbook for the history class. And so we’re sitting in the class and I mean, the discussion of it, like, oh, I didn’t know any of this. You know, you know, the level of thinking and analysis there forces you to do it. I’m in an English class and I still remember my freshman year English professor, Dr. Capers. 

Panama Jackson [01:07:07] I had Dr. Capers, too. 

Adrian Wilson [01:07:08] I thought I was pretty good in English until I got to Dr. Capers. And like the first paper we turned in I was like, Man, I knocked this out the park. He turned this paperback, I have a big C on it. I was like, What in the? And it took me an entire semester to get an A on his paper, and that was the most valuable grade I ever got. He sat with me after every paper and talked to me about how I thought about it, how I wrote it, all of these things. And I don’t necessarily know if I would have gotten that level of attention, that level of focus anywhere else. So, you know, as experiences like that that I think were pivotal to my experience at Morehouse. 

Manu Platt [01:07:48] And I think that of the four of us I got to talk about actually is at Morehouse, we got to talk about the one class we all took together. It was like one class Men in Society. But Dr. White, you mentioned Coogi sweaters earlier. Dr. White repped the Coogi sweater but that class of course was really titled Black men in society. And I think what we weren’t ready for, that discussion was about a lot of stuff with Atlanta with a child prostitution ring and pimp mentality and poor and just what was driving it that was such a deep because he was a sociologist. It was such a deeper discussion than just what was in the newspapers. I was like, This is why you come to a school like this, to have these conversations that people aren’t discussing and the fact that it was a class that fit a requirement, but that all four of us would take it was just mind blowing. 

Panama Jackson [01:08:39] And that was the first time I heard the phrase the triple oppression of the Black women. Like that has that stuck with me? He put that on the board. It was like racism, classism, sexism. And I was like, Damn. 

Manu Platt [01:08:53] Yeah. 

Panama Jackson [01:08:53] I had never seen those words together in one place, and I never thought about that. And despite the fact that he spent an immaculate amount of time talking about all the research he did in the strip clubs, he was still very accurately able to kind of, Dr. Clark White was able to explain this in a way that, like, I’ve never lost that. 

Manu Platt [01:09:13] And checked the brothers that started talking about it inappropriately, despite him talking about the strip clubs, the child sex workers and was like wait. Right. And just to check people’s minds. That’s great. Great. 

Frank Williams [01:09:23] And I’d say we probably need to take that same kind of interaction with each other. So we talking about, you know, dealing with these complex issues and think about things differently. We’re not together 10 minutes before we’re going to start debating whether it’s serious and that we go have a debate. Iron sharpens iron and we going to fuss and we going to fight about it and we going to walk away like you dumb, but let’s have a, I don’t know, a chicken wing. Lemon pepper wet. 

Adrian Wilson [01:09:46] Well, Frank didn’t want you to know that that happened this morning. 

Frank Williams [01:09:50] Literally, literally. 

Panama Jackson [01:09:53] I mean, it is true, like one of the greatest joys in life, I think, is the ability to have completely irrelevant conversations in a very deep way with your friends. Like, you know, you can actively argue and fight with your boys about things that do not matter in the grand scheme of things. 

Manu Platt [01:10:09] Rap lyrics. 

Panama Jackson [01:10:13] Break time. Stay tuned for more. 

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Panama Jackson [01:10:34] All right. So as we wrap this portion up, let me just throw like a grand question towards you all that I don’t have to answer, but since I’m the moderator I won’t have to answer. These podcasts that we’re taping, they’re going to be viewed by lots of people. And part of the reason I did this and want to do this here is because I want people who watch this podcast, these episodes, to understand both my love and affinity for Morehouse and Spelman, but also why I think they’re so important. So if you had to tell somebody like an elevator pitch, why HBCUs or Morehouse or Spelman, either way, whatever are so important. Like, how would you do that? What would be your elevator pitch to somebody? 

Manu Platt [01:11:18] I walked into freshman chemistry and Dr. Payne, who earned his name legit, but that was a good thing, called all of us Doctor for the whole class. So he walked down to the class, 18 down, Dr. Platt. Dr. Smith. Dr. Byrd. And I was like, It’s cool to be called doctor. And I know he had to fight to earn his Ph.D. and that set the seed. So to go to a place where someone believes from start, right, you don’t have to prove anything. They believe you can do these big things. That has stuck with me. And I’m Dr. Platt. 

Panama Jackson [01:11:53] That’s a great story. Like, genuinely, it’s a seriously great story. Follow that up, Adrian. 

Adrian Wilson [01:12:02] Ditto. I mean, you know, one of the things and I think most people who come to Morehouse will tell you that as soon as you step in, they always tell you like we’re making leaders. And I think they tell you it’s so much that you start believing it, you know? So it’s just within everything you do, you’re like, why can’t I do that? Why can’t I do this? You know? And when you start thinking in those terms and, you know, like a lot of places kind of mold you and shape you to conform to this particular path of life. But when you think like I’m the leader, you know, or I am the leading authority or the leading opinion on something, changes your whole perspective or the way you approach stuff. So I think, you know, Morehouse is that place where people are constantly telling you and pushing you to be that leader and whatever you want to be. 

Panama Jackson [01:13:01] Good follow up. 

Frank Williams [01:13:02] Yeah, I know what I could do with that, but I would say in the last five years or so, people have thrown out the word Black excellence. And I think, you know, for some people, they think of Jay-Z and maybe even Beyoncé, and especially in Jay’s regard, he’s kind of seen as, you know, one in a million in terms of where he came from and where he is now. But I would argue that, you know, we didn’t know at the time because we took it for granted because, you know, we were just dumb kids in school, but we were living and breathing Black excellence. And you just can’t take that for granted. Like you can’t get that anywhere else for the ages of 18 to 22. You just can’t. And it does something to you. There’s something to the way you think, even the way you feel. It really does touch your soul. And so that would be my pitch about why HBCUs are important. 

Panama Jackson [01:14:00] That’s good. Yeah. One of the, I thought I wasn’t gonna answer this, I mentioned Dr. McLaurin. Was he a doctor? I think he was a doctor. Ben McLaurin. Right. And I took a class with him and we’ve been having these conversations up here, which is largely about perspective, right? What you got by being here and how it changed the way that you look at both yourself or the world or your own personal circumstances and all that. And I remember being in the class with him and he said something that reframed the way I looked at everything. So, you know, he was talking about people’s like, you know, when he was doing some kind of interview thing and somebody went up there, like, you know, what’s your GPA? He was like, Man, I got 2.0. He said, No, I have a 2.0. Like, you walk in there like, that’s the greatest two pointer you’ve ever seen in life. Like, you don’t give somebody else the opportunity to tell you that you’re less than you basically walk in there like nobody else could do that. 2.0 the way that you did. That 2.0 is a valuable 2.0. And if you got a 3.0, you better walk in there be like, Listen, you need me more than I need you. 

Panama Jackson [01:15:00] And I remember, I vividly remember that because I thought that was so funny. But I’m like, Yeah, that’s actually true. Like the way that you frame a conversation is largely built on who you’re around and the people that teach you how to frame it, right? Like if I don’t walk in somewhere thinking about being called doctor from the beginning, am I going to do that myself? Probably not. But if you put that out in the world, all of a sudden that’s all I’m thinking. It’s going to change the way that I view myself, the way that I view, how I interact with the world and the way that I view myself interacting with the people around me. Because if I speak more to me, then I expect more from you, right? Because I have high expectations of myself. Then I can’t be around people that I don’t believe can do amazing things. So if anybody’s faltering, it’s my job to help us get back on track. And because I believe in you, right? Like I believe in my people enough to make sure that wherever I go, they go. Wherever they go, I go like I got a Ph’D too, dammit. As far as I’m concerned, that’s our Ph’Ds, you know, that our Ph’D. 

Panama Jackson [01:15:58] That’s going to wrap up this portion of the panel. If you could please give a hand. Put your hands together. I appreciate y’all. I love y’all. Genuinely from the heart. I want to thank you all and Khadijah for being here, for sharing your stories, for sharing your lessons, for sharing yourselves with us. Here, back at home, a place where there’s a lot of being started for us here. Right? Like, you know, I jokingly say that life for me started, like when my daughter was born. It’s like a change, like there’s the day before my kid was here, then it’s the day after. Life is completely different once a kid is around, like it’s different. But, who I was before I got to Morehouse, I would not be today. Like, that’s not who I am today. And I got that from all the people I met, the people that are in here that I can see through the lights and stuff, the people that I know from Calvin, who I swear to God, I just cannot thank you enough for what you literally gave me. You gave me my career, even if you will never take credit for it. And, you know, so thank you all. Thank you Manu, Adrian, Frank, Rashaun. Thank you all for coming out for this live taping of Dear Culture. Thank you to Morehouse College, my man Rashaun, over here for making this whole thing happen. 

Panama Jackson [01:17:12] There’s nothing like being at home. I’ve had an opportunity to speak all over the country, in all kinds of places, but there’s something special about being able to come do it at the place that you actually consider making you who you are. So thank you all for coming out to this live podcast taping of Dear Culture, one of the podcasts on theGrio Black Podcast Network. Make sure you check us out on theGrio’s app and wherever you get your podcasts. Thank you all. I’m Panama Jackson. Dear Culture. TheGrio. Thanks for coming.