Reflections During Black History Month
By: Julie Wenah, Associate General Counsel and Product Lead, Civil Rights, Meta
Hailing from Hollygrove, New Orleans, Eagle Street to be specific, Dwayne Carter, famously known as Lil Wayne, has transcended music, culture, and art. Recently honored by the Recording Academy’s Black Music Collective, Lil Wayne vulnerably shared the positive impact women leaders have had in his life. Although he is often known for his satirical tongue in cheek bars, Lil Wayne has also mastered the art of triple entendres – a phrase with three meanings.
The Carter IV, Lil Wayne’s ninth studio album, was released on August 29, 2011. During Lil Wayne’s MTV Unplugged performance in June of 2011, he decided to preview one, and only one, of the songs on the then-upcoming album prior to the release. The song – “Nightmares of the Bottom” – is an exploration of walking in your purpose and talents and being grateful for those who have prayed for you (more on that point at a later date). Before beginning to rap the lyrics, Lil Wayne instructs the live crowd to, “pay attention, ya’ll” – and really listen to the lyrics.
In the last verse, Lil Wayne declares, “And to my people in the game, keep the game fair, players play, coaches coach, and cheerleaders cheer.” This verse illustrates the key components of a successful team on and off the court. Coaches prepare the players through conditioning, technique, and strategy. Players move the pieces on the board and execute on the planned strategy. Cheerleaders organize and lead the vocal support of the players and coaches. Everyone has a role that is vital to the team’s ultimate success; no one role should be viewed as larger than the other as they are all interdependent.
Lil Wayne’s lyrics demonstrate two core takeaways:
1. Every ingredient is key to a successful dish
Have you ever tried to make a cake without oil or butter? It’s possible; however, the cake will not be as moist and be dense in texture. Similarly, you can launch a product without a UX Researchers’ analysis and recommendations; however, the product may not be as impactful as it may have been if the feedback was incorporated into the product launch.
2. Don’t sleep on cheerleaders, they may change the course of history
Did you know Dr. Martin Luther King delivered the famous excerpts of the “I Have A Dream” speech because Mahalia Jackson kept urging him to tell people about the dream he shared with her? Dr. King had another speech prepared. In the midst of Dr. King reading his prepared remarks, Mahalia Jackson, Dr. King’s favorite gospel singer who was standing near him on stage, instructed him to, “Tell them about the dream Martin! Tell them about the dream.” Dr. King immediately looks at Mahalia Jackson momentarily, then slides the prepared remarks to the left side of the lectern, looks out at the crowd. It was at the moment that Dr. King delivered an extemporaneous speech, a speech of equality that has been recited, repeated, and revered.
Mahalia Jackson was a player, in her own right, as a renowned gospel singer. Yet, in this monumental moment in history, she was a cheerleader who prompted one of the greatest speeches ever delivered in world history.
The Civil Rights Movement is experiencing a deep digital evolution – building inclusive products, policies and operations/processes that are equitable in society. Pioneering product work at the intersection of civil rights and technology over nearly the last decade, in both government and corporate spaces, for both manufactured goods and software technology, has been a magical ride. But, it has also been met with difficulty in attempting to navigate uncharted waters, primarily due to the absence of a regulatory framework. Navigating uncharted terrain with smart, dedicated, and talented players, coaches, and cheerleaders who have a similar penchant for building inclusive products is the best part of my job.
I want you to hear from two Black women I have the good fortune of working alongside. They are key players in driving work aimed at building inclusive products and share a bit about how their roles advance a more equitable world:
“Driving strategy and bridging the gap between technical and non-technical members of the team are key to my role as Technical Program Manager. This is critical for facilitating alignment and execution on any project. My role also presents opportunities to interface with colleagues across the business, at all levels of leadership, and at various stages of the product development process. With this access not afforded to many other roles in our industry, I believe it is my personal responsibility to speak up on behalf of those who are not in the room–advocating for product decisions that will create the most inclusive and equitable product experience possible. Building tech products responsibly isn’t easy, but it’s not an option–it’s a requirement.”
“Nothing is more important in product development than ensuring we build products for everyone. Building with privacy in mind or ‘Privacy by Design’ ensures we build protections for every user into our products. From those experiencing financial vulnerability to those weathering social or political challenges, every consumer deserves features that enable them to both share and preserve their data as they see fit. Diverse product teams ensure that the perspectives of underserved communities are part of the design process from start to finish. When fairness and inclusive privacy principles are integrated into the product development framework, policies and practices, we ‘raise the tide’ for all consumers.”
Although Black History (Black Future) Month may be coming to an end for the year, spending time reflecting on areas where you can be instrumental in advancing the creation of a more equitable society should stay top of mind — as we are part of a larger collective team doing this work across industry.
Your role may vary depending on the need at hand. In Mahalia’s case, she stepped out of her role as a “player” and became a “cheerleader” which led to the creation of one of the most profound speeches on racial justice. At that moment, Mahalia may not have truly understood the impact of her urging Dr. King to share his dream. Similarly, at this moment, we are sitting at an interesting inflection point. Analyzing where and how we can contribute to the collective may, in fact, become a profound moment in history.
About the author
Julie is an Associate General Counsel and Product Lead, Civil Rights at Meta.