November 5, 2018 | Maurice Wilkins, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Manager, grew up in a neighborhood in Washington D.C. with a first-hand view of the barriers to opportunity for historically underrepresented minorities. Photograph by Andres Gonzalez.
Bring me all of your dreams, you dreamer, Bring me all your heart melodies That I may wrap them in a blue cloud-cloth Away from the too-rough fingers of the world.
– Langston Hughes
Growing up as a child in Washington DC at the end of the 80’s crack epidemic, I quickly realized that not many people surrounding me had their dreams wrapped in “blue cloud-cloths.” What I often saw in place of that kind of protection were their hands, riddled with deep cuts and wounds from desperately holding onto said dreams, shattered from the systematic subjugation of Black people. As the child of parents who have had frequent run-ins with law enforcement, I have a firsthand perspective of how drug use, criminal history, and lack of access to quality education can hinder a child from reaching their full potential.
I often have to operate within two worlds; the world of privilege that tech has provided me, and the world of poverty that many of the people close to me are still struggling in.
This is a reality familiar to the majority of people I’ve shared space with. Had it not been for my grandmother and aunts wrapping me and my dreams in their special, cloud-clothed love, I am certain I too, would not have been able to realize my full potential. I believe that having such an early exposure to that kind of support and teaching helped to perpetuate the notion that I was exceptional in the eyes of others, one that persists to this day. Whenever I reflect on my journey, I recall the moments when I was told that I was different from the rest of my peers, and that there was something truly special about me. Even though I do believe in my own specialness, I also hold the belief that those around me are just as special. The difference is that I had that specialness reflected back to me.
People often assume that if someone with similar experiences as mine achieves success, then they must no longer have to deal with the direct and indirect effects of “growing up in the hood.” As one of comparatively few Black men doing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) work within tech, I often have to operate within two worlds; the world of privilege that tech has provided me, and the world of poverty that many of the people close to me are still struggling in. I am lucky enough to have support from people who understand the importance of the blue cloud-cloth. But as we all know with luck, it isn’t something that is afforded to the masses.
Watching the video of Mark and Priscilla discussing their desire to help “take luck out of the equation” for those who possess equal talent but have unequal access to opportunities, was a major driving force for why I wanted to be a part of CZI. I see it as an opportunity to join forces with people who are committed to solving some of the most pressing issues of our time. In my current role I have the ability to leverage community building and mentorship to uplift and amplify the work of folks who come from marginalized backgrounds. While this is a huge responsibility, it’s reflective of what happens when you empower your people with the resources needed to help others.
My journey has taught me a powerful lesson in the importance of nurturing and preserving dreams.
Regardless of my previous success, I have also been forced to grapple with the role that luck has played in landing my role at CZI. On a pretty consistent basis, I’ve questioned (or been questioned) as to why they didn’t hire someone with a more high-profile resume. I did not come from a rich family, attend an Ivy, nor had I worked at any of the big tech companies. Everyday I realize that I owe my ability to work at a place like CZI to luck, hard work, connections and my family’s unwavering commitment to my success.
My journey has taught me a powerful lesson in the importance of nurturing and preserving dreams. The fact of the matter is, if my family did not decide to invest in me, this chapter of my story would likely have a different ending. It is my hope that I am able to provide “blue-cloud cloths” to others who need them.