As a young person coming of age in the 1960s, I learned a smattering of black history in school. We studied, however briefly, black icons like Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Harriet Tubman, and George Washington Carver. Though clearly important, these people often seemed frozen in amber, because my contemporaries and I were witnessing new history being made in the black struggle every year. The tumultuous 1960s inspired us to believe that we could make history, not merely study it. This year we find ourselves celebrating some heretofore unknown history makers: the women whose story is told in the movie Hidden Figures. We examine anew the themes of the 20th century black liberation struggle expressed by James Baldwin and retold in the movie I am Not your Negro. These stories inspire us, but they also challenge us to add our own chapters to the black history narrative.
When I sat down to begin writing my book, Proving Ground: A Memoir, in 2001, I had one simple aim: to let people know what happened. You see, I had never known the inside story of a tech startup as told directly by the founder. I wanted my kids to know what happened, and I wanted young people and entrepreneurs everywhere to know and understand what my co-founders and I experienced. The fact that we, three young black men, started the company in the basement of my home, in the aftermath of the American civil rights movement, makes the story even more compelling and unique. When I finished the book eleven years later, I felt satisfied that I had done my part – that I had told an important, heretofore untold story.
Proving Ground is a powerful example of how a mastery of STEM – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – can enable ambitious young people of many backgrounds to achieve unprecedented success. Proving Ground is also a history lesson that illustrates how the changes borne of the civil rights struggle unlocked tremendous economic opportunity for me and my co-founders, and more importantly, for millions of men and women of many races and backgrounds. Furthermore, Proving Ground is a revealing business case that details how my co-founders and I built a multi-million dollar international company from scratch, without angel investors, venture capital, or government grants.
This year, I am rededicating myself to getting the Proving Ground story out to as many people as possible, both by having people read the book and by speaking to groups large and small. I feel that this is an especially important time to let people know what has been achieved, and also what is possible. Proving Ground is an enlightening and inspiring story to tell during Black History Month, and makes an excellent graduation gift as well. Please visit www.ProvingGroundBook.com to purchase your own special, autographed copy. Together, we have a lot more history to make.