15 Distinguished Black Entertainers Who Attended an Ivy League School

Rashida Jones

Jones went to Harvard University, where she studied religion and philosophy. She graduated in 1997. The actress, who is also the daughter of music producer Quincy Jones, is most famous for her role on the NBC TV comedy Parks and Recreation.

John Legend

The Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter went to the University of Pennsylvania. He studied English with a concentration in African-American literature and culture and graduated in 1999. His albums include Get Lifted (2004), Once Again (2006), Evolver (2008) and Love in the Future (2013).

 Aisha Tyler

The comedian and actress went to Dartmouth College. She graduated in 1992 with a degree in government and environmental policy. She is most famous for lending her voice to FX‘s adult, animated show Archer and for serving as one of the co-hosts on CBS’s daytime show The Talk.

Tatyana Ali

The actress graduated from Harvard University with a degree in African-American studies and government in 2002. She is famous for TV role as Ashley Banks on NBC’s The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990-1996). 

David Alan Grier

Grier went to graduate school at Yale University, earning a master of fine arts degree in 1981. He has been in many films and TV shows; however, he is most notable for being featured on Fox’s sketch comedy series In Living Color (1990-1994).  The show was produced by actors, comedians and siblings Keenan Ivory and Damon Wayans.

 Tyra Banks

The supermodel, film star and TV personality went to multiple universities. In 2012, she graduated from Harvard Business School. Some of her notable TV shows include The CW’s The Tyra Banks Show (2005-2010) and America’s Next Top Model (2003-current).

 Alicia Keys

The Grammy Award-winning singer went to Columbia University in 1998, but she dropped out a month later. Her most recent album is Girl on Fire (2012).

Robert L. Johnson

Johnson, a businessman, attended Princeton University. He graduated in 1972 with a master’s degree in public/international affairs. Johnson founded the cable network Black Entertainment Television (BET) in 1980.

blerd angela

 Angela Bassett

The Oscar-nominated actress went to Yale University. She earned a bachelor’s degree in African-American studies in 1980 and a master of fine arts degree in 1983. She is known for her portrayal of legendary singer Tina Turner in the film What’s Love Got to Do With It (1993), for which she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress. She is currently working on FX‘s upcoming American Horror Story: Freak Show. Produced by Ryan Murphy, American Horror Story is a series that focuses on horror tropes such as witches and serial killers. Bassett is married to fellow Ivy Leaguer Courtney B. Vance.

Courtney B. Vance

Vance studied at Harvard University. He graduated in 1982 with a bachelor’s degree in history and went on to Yale to earn a master’s in drama in 1986. He is most famous for his role on NBC’s  Law and Order: Criminal Intent (2001-2011). He is married to fellow Ivy Leaguer Angela Bassett.

Hill Harper

The actor graduated with a bachelor’s degree in theater from Brown University in 1988. He went on to Harvard to earn a master’s degree in public administration in 1992. Harper has been in numerous films and TV shows. He is notable for roles on CBS’ CSI: New York and USA’s Covert Affairs. 

Ryan Leslie

Leslie went to Harvard University and earned a bachelor’s degree in government and economics in 1998. He is a music producer who produced recording artist Cassie’s hit single Me & U (2006). A recording artist himself, Leslie released a self-titled album in 2008. He earned a Grammy nomination in 2011.

Sanaa Lathan

The actress studied at Yale University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in drama in 1995. She is most notable for films such as The Best Man (1999), Love and Basketball (2000) and Brown Sugar (2002).

Joy Bryant

Bryant studied at Yale University on a full scholarship. She left school in the late 1990s to pursue a modeling and acting career. Her films include Antwone Fisher (2002) and Get Rich or Die Tryin (2005). She currently stars in the NBC TV show Parenthood.

Brian J. White

White studied at Dartmouth College. He graduated in 1997 with a bachelor’s in political science, psychology and theater arts. White went on to become an actor, starring in movies such as director Tyler Perry’s Good Deeds (2012) and The Cabin in the Woods (2012). 


Huge Career Mistakes Some Young, Smart African-Americans Make and How to Correct Them

As another graduation season comes to an end, scores of young, smart African-American graduates will become fresh recruits into the Foreign Service known as Corporate America, seeking fame, glory and the spoils that come along with it. Unfortunately, many of these recruits will not find fame nor glory, but only dissolution, disappointment and the slow, painful death of their dreams of executive titles and fancy corner offices.

As these dreams die, vibrancy is often replaced with lethargy, and optimism often becomes pessimism as the recruits take their place in the invisible brigade, becoming nameless, faceless members of the African-American professional class, whose sole purpose seems to be meat for the proverbial “corporate grinder.”

While there are real challenges that stand between African-Americans and the corner office that must be overcome, many challenges encountered today are self-manufactured and can be avoided altogether with a bit of forethought and external awareness.

Below are the five biggest mistakes young African-Americans make that often lead to the “grinder.”  Avoid these and while corporate success is never guaranteed, odds of achieving the corner office will exponentially increase.

• Mistake No. 1 – Assuming All Rules are Spoken (Believing Everything You Hear)

Mistake No. 1 made by most young, smart African-Americans is assuming just because they are told something by someone in authority, that means it’s true. Most rules in corporate life are unwritten. Why? The answer is simple and it’s the first unwritten rule of corporate life: Corporate life is a competition.

Which brings us to the second unwritten rule of corporate life: If you’re in a corporation, you’re a competitor.

Finally, the third and most important unwritten rule of corporate life: When in doubt about rule No. 2, see rule  No. 1.

So what does this have to do with a career mistake?  Young African-Americans have a tendency to take what they are told by superiors, non-African-American peers, and so-called mentors at face value. If you accept the unwritten rules of corporate life, then you also accept the fact that not everyone has your best interest at heart (because it’s a competition and if you’re there you are a competitor).

Thus as smart competitor, you should apply the simple wisdom found in a sign I once saw, “In God we trust, but all others we verify.”

• Mistake  No. 2 – Assuming Corporations are Logical, Rational Entities (Believing Work is Fair)

Mistake No. 2 made by young, smart African-Americans is assuming that organizations, with all of their policies, procedures, mission statements, organizational charts and the whatnot, are logical, rational entities that make decisions based upon observed verifiable facts.

Truth is organizations are: 1) Nothing more than a collection of people. 2) People are the furthest thing from logical and rational (don’t believe me, pay attention the next time you are in a grocery store).  3) People for the most part are governed by emotions, and emotions are typically the result of thoughts and personal experiences.

This is why two different people in a meeting can say the exact same thing, and 7 times out of 10 it will be received in completely different ways, as the recipients are usually responding from an emotional place versus anything logical, let along its older and wiser sibling known as rational.

So next time you wonder why your boss and/or peers seem to like your ideas when someone else says them, before you take it personally remember the Serenity Prayer, “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

• Mistake No. 3 – Assuming All People are Created Equal (Believing You Can Do What They Do)

Mistake No.3 made by young, smart African-Americans is assuming that just because they went to the same universities, got similar internships, went through the same interview process, and received the same offers as their non-African-American peers, they can do and say the same things on the job as their non-African-American colleagues.

If we recall what we learned in Mistake No. 2, then we will remember that organizations are full of people and people are primarily an emotional bunch. So it makes perfect sense why John is seen as inquisitive when he speaks up in a meeting, while Jerome is seen as aggressive and lacking communication ability. Or Susan is simply having a bad day when she doesn’t say “Good Morning,” while Shonda is seen as an angry person with poor social skills.

So assuming you’ve accepted the unwritten rules of corporate life and you’ve memorized the Serenity Prayer, be mindful of the real and perceived differences between you and those around you, because as Alonzo (aka Denzel Washington) said in the movie Training Day,  “This s**t is chess, it ain’t checkers.”

• Mistake No. 4 – Assuming Working Hard = Doing Hard Work (Not Understanding What Matters)

Mistake No. 4 made by young, smart African-Americans is unfortunately often a result of Mistake No. 1, which is then enabled by Mistake No. 2 and ultimately compounded by Mistake No. 3, and that is believing that working hard is the same as doing hard work.

What is “hard work” you ask? Hard work is anything that solves a problem, while “working hard” is anything that executes a solution, otherwise known as the result of hard work.

OK, let’s face facts. Most smart African-Americans are told almost from birth that they “have to work at least twice as hard to be seen as just as good” as their non-African American peers. While there is much truth to this, the even bigger truth of the matter is most corporations invest millions of dollars each year in technology to reduce the amount of “working hard” done by their employees so they can focus more on “hard work.”  Unfortunately most African-American families missed the memo about the dawn of the technological age.

So next time you’re faced with a choice between making the presentation more effective (aka doing “hard work”) and making the presentation more attractive (aka “working hard”), follow the lead of Booker T. Washington and you too might have building named after you. Washington said, “Nothing ever comes to one, that is worth having, except as a result of hard work.”

• Mistake No. 5 – Assuming There is a Yellow Brick Road ( Not Having a Career Plan)

The last and greatest mistake made by young, smart African-Americans is believing that like school, there is a defined curriculum, course outline, degree plan, or as I like to call it a “yellow brick road” that spells out exactly what one has to do to go from “here” to the fabled corner office.

If you are one of those people (see Mistake No. 2 for definition of which people), let me be the first to tell you, no such path exists.

There are thousands of articles and books that claim to hold the formula for success in corporate America, but if you’ve been paying attention then you already know that you can’t believe everything you hear or read, as not everyone has your best interest at heart — especially an author who wants to sell books (Lesson No. 1).

As corporations are full of irrational and illogical people (Lesson No. 2), and since everyone is not the same, what worked for someone else — in this case the author– won’t necessarily work for you (Lesson No.3).  You already know anything worth having requires hard work (Lesson No. 4), so I leave you, young recruit, with one final thought from the greatest guide to corporate life ever assembled, The Art of War by Sun Tzu: “Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.”

Before you start the next battle in your tour of duty, take some time to really plan how you are going to win, that is, reach those career goals. And remember the words of the good Archbishop of Canterbury Geoffrey Fisher, “Good plans shape good decisions. That’s why good planning helps to make elusive dreams come true.”

 Tre Green is a 25yr veteran of the IT industry who specializes in solving “mission impossible” for Fortune 500 organizations. When not adding to his frequent flier miles and preferred guest status Tre can be often be found at home relaxing with his motely crew of pets.

‘Cosmos’ and ‘Wormhole’: Black Men Taking Over Pop Culture Science

We are reminded repeatedly that to inspire children to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics, they need to see people who look like them in those fields. Every kid needs a role model and until very recently, there weren’t many images of famous Black Americans in STEM. How many teenagers these days know who Geordi LaForge is, much less Mae Jemison? But they need those images if they’ll ever believe that they can become great scientists too.

Enter: Pop Culture.

Fox network and the Science Channel have done what no one else has: they’ve put Black men at the forefront of America’s new scientific curiosity. With the documentary series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey and Through the Wormhole,  television is doing for science what Reading Rainbow did for reading: it’s showing children (and adults) that scientific exploration is not just a white man’s game.

Who are these Black men, you ask? Well, you probably didn’t ask because they’re everywhere. But just in case you don’t own a television, a radio, aren’t on Twitter, have never heard of the Internet and don’t listen to podcasts- the host of Cosmos is satirist Jon Stewart’s favorite astrophysicist- Neil deGrasse Tyson. And the host of Wormhole? Academy-Award winning actor Morgan Freeman. Because the story of the universe should pretty much only be narrated by Morgan Freeman.

If you’ve never seen these shows (they’re on Hulu and Netflix so there’s really no excuse), Cosmos is a revival of the popular 1980s show hosted by Carl Sagan. Now hosted by Tyson, Cosmos explores the workings of the universe and the people who discovered exactly what’s going on in this world of ours. Cosmos is beautifully produced, engaging, and the fact that Tyson is so very in love with science encourages the viewer to fall in love with it too. Nominated for 12 Emmys, Cosmos’ global warming episode tied The Bachelorette in ratings. A show about science tying a reality show? Incredible.

Also Emmy nominated, Through the Wormhole covers everything from whether zombies really exist (spoiler alert: yes), to whether or not time travel is possible (non-spoiler alert: I really, really, really hope so). Freeman is completely engaging in this show, not just because of who he is – Morgan Freeman –  but because of what he’s not, a scientist.

Like our children, he’s just a guy who thinks the world is awesome and wants to find out more about it. Now in its fifth season, Through the Wormhole answers the questions we’ve always wondered about and confirms some things we were pretty sure about – see zombie comment above.

It’s an extraordinary thing to have two Black men hosting the two most popular science TV shows of our time, and even more extraordinary that one is a scientist, and the other is one of the most famous actors of the century. Such different men prove that no matter what our children become, or where they come from, nothing is more important than an education.

As Tyson said in Mother Jones earlier this year, “Science is trending in our culture, and if science is trending, that can only be good for the health, the wealth, and the security of our species, of our civilization.” And if a more diverse cast of characters are leading the trend? That can only be good for the hearts and minds of our children.

In hip-hop artist Talib Kweli’s best song (don’t argue, that’s scientific), he says:

“The TV got us reaching for stars

Not the ones between Venus and Mars

The ones that be reading for parts.”

After all of these years, “the TV” is showing us a wide universe of possibility. Are your children watching?

Kat Calvin is a social entrepreneur, writer and advocate for the empowerment of women, entrepreneurs and the black community. She is the founder of Michelle in Training, a mentoring and educational organization. You can follow her at @KatCalvinDC.

Does Casual Friday Mean Time for Self-Expression?

Meany Organization has designated Friday as the day professionals can dress in business casual attire. This means employees may wear polo shirts, nice jeans, casual slacks, capri pants. Choosing the appropriate Casual Friday attire is part of good business etiquette. The objective is to present a professional image that embodies the organization image because you are representing yourself and the organization you are employed with.

The Introduction of Casual Friday

In the 1990s, Levi-Strauss, manufacturer of blue jeans and other casual wear, joined with the United Cerebral Palsy Association (UCPA) to launch a nationwide fundraising event. “Casual Day,” as it was called, would allow employees to buy the privilege of dressing more informally for the day by making a charitable contribution to UCPA. Many businesses joined in the project, and it was very successful, leading not only to more fundraising casual days, but also too many businesses establishing a regular casual day, usually on Fridays. Casual Fridays steadily increased in popularity. By 1996, a Levi-Strauss study found that 90 percent of American office workers were allowed to dress casually on Fridays, as opposed to 47 percent in 1993. Many business owners and managers found that allowing their employees one day of informality did increase their productivity and gave the office a more welcoming, relaxed atmosphere. Some noted that fewer workers were absent on Fridays than before the introduction of the casual day. Many banks expanded the policy, introducing casual summers. Some clothing manufacturers introduced new lines of clothing just for casual work dress (Fashionencyclopedia.com).

What has Casual Friday become?

Casual Friday has become the day of self-expression. Within the business environment, too often individuals wear jeans with holes, flip-flops, favorite sports team shirts and the T-shirt with that funny commentary on life. It has also become the time to show off that tattoo. They say you never get another chance to make a first impression, so when Casual Friday comes around what impression are you leaving with your employer?

I love my old pair of jeans and my T-shirt promoting golf, but the work environment is not the place for it. On Casual Friday, I have my pressed jeans, a polo shirt, a jacket and dress shoes. And if I do not wear that, I have dress pants with a colored shirt. I have been asked why I dress with jeans and a jacket on Friday when it is dress-down day. My response is I dress for the position I have and want to have. I do not want my employer to view me in a different manner but professional. They see me in suits all week, but I must keep up that professional appearance on Friday because I am representing the organization and myself. Management must view me as someone who can operate in any environment/setting and still be professional. People perceptions are their reality, and when it comes time for promotion, what light does your employer view you in? Is it the professional person they hire or on Friday do you morph into the stereotypical person they see on television?

According to talentinnovation.org, “Performance, hard work, and sponsors get top talent recognized and promoted. But ‘leadership potential’ isn’t enough to lever men and women into the executive suite. Leadership roles are given to those who also look and act the part. Center for Talent Innovation research reveals that the top jobs often elude women and professionals of color because they lack ‘executive presence’ (EP), or underestimate its importance.”

“While only 5 percent of leaders consider appearance to be a key factor in EP, all of them recognize its potential for curtailing or derailing talented up-and-comers. Notable appearance blunders, not surprisingly, are unkempt attire (83 percent say it detracts from a woman’s executive presence, 76 percent say it detracts from a man’s) and, for women, too-tight or provocative clothing (73 percent say it detracts from a woman’s executive presence)”


Therefore, the next time Casual Friday comes around, ask yourself when you are about to leave the house: Do I have executive presence? Am I dressing for the position I want? What statement is my outfit saying? Is it saying I am here making a statement? Am I representing the organization culture and their definition of professional leader?

Afrofuturism: Black Presence in Sci-Fi Worlds of Technology, Magic, Fantasy

The term “futurism” typically calls to mind a forward-looking aesthetic or theme that envisions the prospective future of humanity. If popular speculative/sci-fi media, art, literature, and film are any indication, the images that people typically draw to mind when envisioning the future involve post-apocalyptic aesthetics and landscapes, highly advanced technology, and interplanetary or outerspace travel.

Glaringly absent from these visions of the future, however, are diverse cultures and complicated, intersectional identities. Although creators of speculative fiction have been able to successfully conceive of novel technologies, map out the future of humanity, and envision new worlds in science fictional narratives, traditional sci-fi has, on the whole, failed to transcend the social hierarchy, supremacy, and privilege that plague our present-day realities.

In a traditional speculative world, these narratives replay over and over, where the marginalized are virtually non-existent or play exceptionally minor roles, seemingly due to inferior genetics and an inability to adapt to changing social and environmental conditions.

This is where afrofuturism as a genre, lens, community, and practice becomes important, not as a response or reaction to the lack of representation, but as testament to the fact that not only have Black folk (along with other marginalized groups) already made it into the future, we are, in fact responsible for shaping it.

The term afrofuturism, coined in the 1993 essay “Black to the Future” by cultural critic Mark Dery, is today generally understood to be one of the umbrella terms for the substantial Black presence in the worlds of sci-fi, technology, magic, and fantasy.

Distinctive from other notions of genre-based futurism, afrofuturistic concepts of sci-fi, fantasy, myth, and speculation bind both the past and future, delivering them to a “now” in visual, literary, musical terms, and any other mode of expression that one sees fit to attach the lens to.

Afrofuturism is visionary and retrospective and current all at once, recognizing time as cyclical, spiral, revolving, and usually anything but linear, much like the space-time traditions of our ancestors from the motherland. In this way, afrofuturism creates a perpetually accessible bridge between ourselves, our ancestors, and our descendants, between our futures and our pasts, reminding us that we are a part of the future that our foremothers and fathers shaped because their experiences remain embedded in our experiences and give context to our choices.

Under this interpretation of afrofuturism, I find it to be a potent– even if at times imperfect — platform upon which I can launch my own science fiction/science possibility stories and practices. The community, imagery, theory, and language that I came across in afrofuturism and Black sci-fi inspired the creation of my own organization, The AfroFuturist Affair.

Founded in Philadelphia in 2011, The AfroFuturist Affair was formed to celebrate, strengthen, and promote afrofuturistic and Black sci-fi culture through creative events, community workshops, blogging, and creative writing. We use proceeds from events to fund the Futurist Fund Community Grant, which serves underserved members of the community in need of emergency assistance funds.

Afrofuturism has also helped me to find very natural connections between the work I do as a legal services attorney providing free legal assistance to poor Philadelphians, my own experiences growing up as a young Black nerd, and the speculative fiction phenomenon.

Over the next six months, my pocket of space-time on Blerd-Out will explore the intersections of technology, speculative fiction, Black/African-American culture, and their roots and ties to ancient African traditions of technology, science, and cosmology.

R. Phillips is a Philadelphia public interest attorney, speculative fiction writer, the creator of The AfroFuturist Affair, and a founding member of Metropolarity.net. She recently independently published her first speculative fiction collection, “Recurrence Plot (and Other Time Travel Tales).”

13 Top STEM Fields Every Black Student Should Consider And Why

Science and technology hold the key to development and poverty reduction within Black communities worldwide. The U.S. workforce could employ as many as 140,000 additional African-American and Latino college graduates in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields annually, if the gap in college completion in these fields by Blacks and Latinos closed to roughly match that of the white and Asian-American graduation rates, according to a new report released by the Washington-based Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies think tank.

Black parents who work tirelessly to expose and encourage their offspring into STEM fields increase the likelihood that those children will escape generational suffering caused by joblessness and poverty.

“STEM education gives people the wherewithal for employment in jobs that pay well,” concludes the report. In that regard, here are 13 of the top STEM fields that Black students should consider.

Drilling Engineer/Petroleum Engineer

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Median Annual Salary: $130,280

Projected Job Growth by 2022: 26%

STEM discipline: Engineering

Drilling engineers design and implement procedures to drill oil wells as safely and economically as possible. They are often educated  as petroleum engineers, although they may come from other technical disciplines (e.g., mechanical engineering or geology) and subsequently trained by an oil and gas company.

Employment of petroleum engineers is projected to grow 26 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. Oil prices will be a major determinant of employment growth, as higher prices lead to increasing complexity of oil companies’ operations, which requires more engineers for each drilling operation.


U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Median Annual Salary: $101,360

Projected Job Growth by 2022: 23%

STEM discipline: Math

Math is experiencing something of a renaissance period, sparking careers that are diverse and rewarding. Analytics is a driving force, with mathematical analyses of trends now used to gauge many activities, ranging from Internet-user tendencies to airport traffic control.

Mathematicians rank among the more well-compensated in the Careercast.com’s 2014 Jobs Rated report. The field also has a positive outlook for continued future growth.


U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Median Annual Salary: $93,680

Projected Job Growth by 2022: 26%

STEM discipline: Math

A job-seeker skilled in mathematics and statistical analysis can find a rewarding opportunity as an actuary. Actuaries use mathematics, statistics, and financial theory to assess the risk that an event will occur, and they help businesses and clients develop policies that minimize the cost of that risk. Their work is essential to the insurance industry. The career is challenging, and becoming an actuary requires passing a series of exams.

The expansion of health care coverage to more Americans leads the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to project a very favorable hiring market for actuaries in the years to come.

Software Engineer

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Median Annual Salary: $93,350

Projected Job Growth by 2022: 22%

STEM discipline: Computer Science, Engineering

Computer technology is always changing and becoming more sophisticated, and software engineers are the creative minds behind programs that drive the technology. Some software engineers develop the applications that allow people to perform specific tasks on a computer or mobile device. The latest wave in the field is cloud computing, and companies need software engineers able to meet this and other adaptations in the most fundamental facet of 21st century business.

Computer Systems Analyst/Technology Analyst

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Median Annual Salary: $79,680

Projected Job Growth by 2022: 25%

STEM discipline: Computer Science, Engineering

A computer systems analyst examines an organization’s current computer systems and procedures and designs information systems solutions to help the company operate more efficiently and effectively.

The analyst is a critical component of business practice, and growth in cloud computing, cyber-security, mobile networks, and conversion of hard copy files into digital formats will increase the importance of this specialty in the future.


U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Median Annual Salary: $75,560

Projected Job Growth by 2022: 27%

STEM discipline: Math

Statisticians use statistical methods to collect and analyze data to help solve real-world problems in business, engineering, the sciences, or other fields. Statistical analysis is of growing importance to a wide spectrum of industries, thus professional statisticians are in high demand.

Mining Engineer/Geological Engineers

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Median Annual Salary: $84,320

Projected Job Growth by 2022: 12%

STEM discipline: Engineering

Mining and geological engineers design mines for the safe and efficient removal of minerals, such as coal and metals for manufacturing and utilities. Geological engineers use their knowledge of  the earth’s physical structure to search for mineral deposits and evaluate possible sites.

Employment of mining and geological engineers is projected to grow 12 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all American occupations.

Networking and Socializing for African-Americans in Corporate America

While lots of definitions exist, networking is best described as “the act of making contact and exchanging information with other people, groups and institutions to develop mutually beneficial relationships.”  Socializing is best defined as “to talk to and do things with other people in a friendly way.”

If you are paying attention, you will notice that you socialize while networking, but you don’t network while socializing.

The reason you don’t network while socializing is: 1) just because you are being friendly doesn’t mean you are exchanging information; and 2) interactions during socializing are rarely mutually beneficial.

Unfortunately, professional African-Americans, young and old, regularly get these two concepts confused and think just because they have socialized with their boss, boss’s boss or someone from another organization, they’ve actually established a beneficial relationship. If you’re one of these people brace yourself: Here comes the cold water.

Eight times out of 10 when leadership attends a happy hour or a company-sponsored “networking event,” they are not there to network. It’s more of a campaign stop. They are there to make the “little people” –anyone who isn’t a director level or higher– believe the company actually cares.

The odds for networking go from bad to worse when someone “experienced” (i.e., been around a long time but doesn’t have a director or higher title) attends one of these events, as 9 out of 10 times those folks are usually looking to exploit naiveté and make themselves feel more influential than they really are.

Now I know what you’re thinking, “What’s this guy talking about? Everybody knows nowadays it’s not what you know, it’s who you know! So what does it matter if it’s socializing or networking? All that matters is getting to know the right people.”

Well, as one of my NYC clients used to say, “Good luck with that.”

The reality is when it comes to networking, it’s more important for people to know you versus you knowing people.  Heavy D. told us this back in ’89, “Don’t clock anybody, let’ em all clock you…Don’t be down with anybody, let ’em all be down with you.”

Why, you ask?

The answer is simple but it requires an acknowledgement of the fundamental motivational differences between networking and socializing. This is why your typical Caucasian professional can get professional benefits through socializing, while the typical African-American cannot, reinforcing that when it comes to corporate life, all people are not created equally.

So let’s get something clear upfront before we go any further, the primary source of motivation driving the average person to network or socialize is usually self-serving. So since the source is generally the same, what separates networking and socializing is in the desired result or objective.

When someone is talking to someone at a “networking event,” they are really thinking, “What can you do for me?”  But at a “socializing event,” they think, “I want you to like me, so you can do things for me.”

It’s this nuanced difference that makes all the difference for African-Americans, which is why the most skilled networkers in the Black community are often individuals who are the most adept at their given craft, for example, media mogul Oprah Winfrey, music industry and business titan Russell Simmons, comedian Dick Gregory, and businessman Robert Johnson of BET network fame.

What these individuals all have in common is that they rarely asked anyone to do anything for them professionally via socializing, but instead they demonstrated their value to prospective contacts through tangible action or results.

For example, Simmons established the first endorsement deal of a mainstream product (Adidas) by a hip- hop group- Run-D.M.C. He accomplished it not by pandering or asking the Adidas leadership to like them. No, Russell invited one of the Adidas senior leaders to a concert at Madison Square Garden and during a performance of My Adidas, Run-D.M.C  asked everyone in the crowd hold up their Adidas.

Simmons (one of us) demonstrated to Adidas (a bunch of them) what influence he held over a considerable market segment — young hip-hop fans with money to buy expensive sneakers–  through a single song; granted it was a hit song, but you get the point.

With one action,  Simmons forced the Adidas executive to “clock him,” and in the process established the first network connection — i.e. mutually beneficial relationship — between mainstream corporate America and the hip-hop community.

So the next time you find yourself invited to a networking event, ask yourself two key questions: 1) Do you have anything of tangible value to offer to someone? 2) Do you know the fair market value of your tangible assets?

If your answer to either of these questions is no, then take heed to the words of Heavy D: “Stay self-managed, self-kept, self-taught…Be your own [person], don’t be borrowed, don’t be bought.”

My advice would be to skip the event and focus that time and energy on refining your skills or craft, and defining your value so the next time a networking opportunity comes around, “You can start with a pow and end it with a bang,”  because you must never forget, “You got your own thang.”

Tre Green is a 25yr veteran of the IT industry who specializes in solving “mission impossible” for Fortune 500 organizations. When not adding to his frequent flier miles and preferred guest status, Tre can be often be found at home relaxing with his motley crew of pets.

STEM: How to Get Started, Provide for Your Family and Save the Black Community

There are a lot of buzzwords flying around these days: blerds, STEM, startup, economic empowerment, the “new economy.” They’re even still throwing around “diversity” like that wasn’t played out in the ’90s. It seems everybody has an opinion about who, what, when, why and how Black Americans should spend our time and money. There’s lots of talk, but little explanation and, all too often, no action. So consider this a little primer:


Blerd — Black nerd. (Note: White nerds are simply known as “nerds.”)

STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Want a job? Learn one or more of these.

Startup — A small business, generally in technology. Hollywood, CNN and Congress love them, but they’re really a very small percentage of small businesses in the country. However, every small business uses technology these days, so in that sense, they’re all startups.

Economic Empowerment — The thing we need to do to fix our community.

New Economy — Want a job in 2014? It needs to be in tech or services. America doesn’t build things anymore.

Diversity — If you’re reading this, you probably qualify. Don’t worry about it.

Why You Need to Care

I don’t have to tell you that ever since Apple co-founder Steve Jobs presented the world with the first little baby iPhone, everything changed, for everyone. Ninety-two percent of Black adults have mobile phones, putting us on par with white adults. More interestingly, 98 percent of Black Americans between the ages of 18-29 have either broadband or a smartphone — 98 percent!

On top of that, STEM jobs are projected to grow 13 percent from 2012 to 2022 That’s more than any other sector. And the median incomes are not too shabby, much higher than the median incomes in the Black community, that’s for sure. What will the most popular job be? Software developers (that’s coders, another buzzword). That’s incredibly lucky for us, you’ll see why.

Fifty-six percent of Black children live with a single mother and 34 percent of Black children are living in poverty. That’s over half of our children living without a father, and over one-third of our children living in poverty. Take a second and think about that.

Lastly, access to education is a challenge for members of our community, and access to good education is a rare thing indeed. In fact, only 20 percent of Black adults have college degrees, compared to 33 percent of white adults, and 52 percent of Asian adults. And if you do graduate? If the tuition doesn’t kill you, the student loans will. Student loan debt in the United States just topped $1 trillion — and it’s only getting worse.

To sum up:

We’re all mobile or online, using some sort of tech almost all of the time.

STEM jobs are big and getting bigger.

The Black community is (always) in crisis.

It is more difficult and more expensive for Blacks to get and pay for education in America than almost any other ethnic group.

Thanks for the Depressing News Flash, Kat. I’m Off to Spend my College Fund on BOGO Margaritas!

Slow your roll. Before you decide that everything is hopeless, think about this: You can learn STEM, specifically the T for “tech” part, at home, on your own, for free and still get a job.

I know, this sounds like an infomercial, right? But I’m not wearing a blazer with glow-in-the-dark question marks and I don’t own a ShamWow. I’m serious.

The beauty of technology is that it really is the great equalizer, and there is no community that can benefit from learning technology, and learning to code more than us. The entire world is built and run on computers, and learning to code is learning how to draw the map, design the infrastructure and build the world yourself.

You can learn to be a proficient coder in six to 12 weeks for free, or from one of the many courses and boot camps, and afterward you can get a job. There are far more software development jobs than developers; college degrees do not matter as much as ability, and there are a lot of resources to help you find a gig once you’ve learned.

OK, I’m Fired Up and Ready to Go! Where Do I Start?

Below are a few links for free and cheap places where you can learn STEM fundamentals and computer basics, coding in a variety of languages and the resources to help you find a job.

Back to Basics:

Coursera, Udacity EdX — Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are taught by professors from top universities around the world. They are free classes taken by thousands and sometimes hundreds of thousands of students all over the globe. You can even earn certificates! Try: Intro to Data Science, Programming for Everyone from my alma mater, Developing Scalable Apps, or, for the engineers, Circuits and Electronics.

General Assembly — This community-centered org teaches tech and entrepreneurship both in person in their many hubs, as well as online. Check them out for classes on legal skills for entrepreneurs, graphic design and even longer coding courses.

Learn to Code:

There are so many websites where you can learn to code for free or very little. Here are just a few: Dash Codecademy, One Month, Code.org.

Go back to school with programs around the country where you can take classes for six to 12 weeks or more and not only gain skills but a community that will help place you in jobs when you’re done. Try Starter League, Dev Bootcamp, and here’s a pretty exhaustive list.

When we were enslaved, we weren’t allowed to read. That damaged us so much that even when we were free we were behind. We didn’t know the language the nation was built on so we couldn’t contribute. The nation is built on code now, and again we are not being taught the necessary skills to contribute to the world’s economy. Let’s not make that mistake again.

Kat Calvin is a social entrepreneur, writer and advocate for the empowerment of women, entrepreneurs and the black community. She is the founder of Michelle in Training, a mentoring and educational organization. You can follow her at @KatCalvinDC.

Why African-Americans Are Choosing Entrepreneurship Over Corporate America

African-Americans have been working hard for many years to shape the landscape of our country, yet we are still far from reaching full representation in many of the nation’s leading industries. Several years removed from the civil rights movement, our level of representation in many fields, including consulting, falls short.

Although there is a challenge for equal representation, especially among the leadership ranks, there are many firms that are taking the diversity initiative very seriously. Their efforts can lead to a turnaround for underrepresented minorities, especially African-Americans. But to improve recruitment numbers and more importantly, retention numbers, first we need to understand the crux of the matter to adequately address it.

The African-American community is rooted in family and often the sacrifices necessary to excel and achieve are not readily received and supported by the family. This can be a difficult challenge to overcome by many of those in pursuit of leadership positions within their industries.

In addition,to excel in consulting, as with other industries, it is all about networking and mentorship. African-Americans do not have the ready-made network and inroads that surround the majority population. This puts the starting point for African-Americans at a deficit when it comes to breaking through in these fields, which makes it much more challenging to succeed.

So, are African Americans doomed to lack of success?

Far from it. African-American entrepreneurship has long had a profound effect on our nation’s culture. Consider the number of Black Americans who have traded the pursuit of the executive suite for entrepreneurship, and it will give you a sense of the disdain that may exist over the lack of representation in these ranks.

It sends a clear message that more African-Americans are saying, ” I don’t want to wait years for a promotion or someone else to validate my career. Let me create my own success and build my enterprise and do things my way.”

 Understanding the Absence of African Americans in Consulting. A brief overview by Daryl Watkins, a 19 year professional with a background in consulting and corporate ranks.