I See You

Today as I worked from home, I watched the homegoing service of Congressman John Lewis.  As I listened to the stories of the important work he and his team accomplished, I learned about the work environment he created and how each of them regarded one another as family. His congressional aide, Jamilla Thompson, described their working relationship, the culture of their office on the Hill, and how he created a warm space and community with his staff and how they all became more like a family than coworkers. 

I know what it means to be a part of a community within a workplace and to be welcomed into “the network” of elders. Early in my career, I remember talking to my mother (RJ) about this odd experience I was having at my job. I couldn’t call it by name, but I tried to describe it to her. When I started the job, I was greeted with a warm welcome and it was like I had hundreds of aunts, uncles, and cousins too, in the housekeeping department. They helped me to learn the entire building of event space, event set ups, things that COULDN’T be done in the space (even though the sales dept. sold it to the client that way), and what was possible.  They took me under their wing, taught me, cared for me (and my son) and helped me to be excellent at my job.  She nodded her head and told me, “Yes. That’s the network. It’s a tradition in our culture to welcome and help those that come behind us into the (workplace) village.”  Wow. The network.

As Jamilla spoke today, it reminded of the big sister I gained at my very first job out of college. She was a representative of the network too and walked me though many lessons, technical and non-technical. She taught me everything from how to do a mail merge to how to buy quality, staple, classic wardrobe separates and “work them” into an entire wardrobe.  More importantly, she taught me to be intentional about how I showed up and that as one of the only people of color in that organization it would matter - ALOT. 

She, echoed conversations with my mother and helped me realize I would have to decide how I could bring my whole self to work. See, there were (and still are) unwritten rules that how we show up, how ethnic we are, how “colorful” I would be, would be included among other factors to determine (aside from my ACTUAL work - although unjust), my performance assessments and more importantly my professional trajectory with that company.

I cherish that network, workplace uncles, aunts, sisters, and cousins that have been a gentle hand during my career and created a home away from home for the long days and nights we spent working on events. I’ve paid it forward during my career and have accepted my role (now) as an elder in workplace communities and the network.

To this day, I try and strike a balance in bringing my whole self (talents, trainings, degrees, certifications, skills, experience, headwraps, BIG CHUNKY NECKLACES, and CULTURE) with me into workplaces. Even in a virtual environment, it still matters.  Now add to that, masks.

Thank you to Congressman Lewis for your life’s work, for reminding me of the value of “good trouble” and of the value of the village network.

Thank you to the Ms. Spriggs’ and the Marcella’s, who helped me define and refine how I show up in the professional world.  I designed these with all the wisdom you shared with me and a sprinkle (sparkle) of my own. To those who are still working to strike a balance of brining your whole self and culture to work, I hear you and I see you.