I’m not just another black guy.
I’m no stranger to discrimination. I’m Black/Ghanaian, Eastern European, Jewish, and an immigrant in the US – I won the discrimination jackpot. I even wrote about scrubbing my Ghanaian accent to avoid racism.
But this is a story I never thought I’d share publicly. Because I’m afraid that I’d be blackballed in some circles if names got out. But despite this fear I feel it’s important to share. So here goes.
Ever since I was a kid I’d wanted to be an entrepreneur. My dad is an entrepreneur, the people I admire most are entrepreneurs. And as cliche as it sounds – I always believed it was my destiny to be an entrepreneur that would change lives for the better.
And a few years ago I was finally in a position to start a company. But I needed guidance and went to find a mentor to help guide me in my journey.
And one day, I thought I found the perfect mentor. A man really respected in the business world. If you’ve never heard of him, you’ve certainly heard of the company he built. He is an older white man. Liberal and open-minded by most standards.
So here I was, a young black founder on his entrepreneurs journey in America pursuing my childhood dream, and being mentored by a hero. And then something happened.
My Mentor said he was going to introduce me to his investor network. This was July 2018. August, September, October, November rolls around. Still no intros. I kept working hard, and doing what I was asked. Finally after about 6 months. I just asked plainly, was I not good enough?
Mentor finally says to me…”No, it’s because the other black guys I took to the investors aren’t doing so well, so you have to wait before I bring you to them”.
…the other black guys? For the first time I saw clearly who I was to this guy.
I was shocked, then furious, then sad. I remember stammering. “Buttt, I’m not just another black guy, I thought you believed in me as a person and for my ideas. “
Then I got an email the next day saying that I am arrogant, and don’t know how things work. So he’d not be mentoring me anymore.
And for months I was conflicted. I felt I made a mistake for standing up for myself. I believed I should’ve kept quiet and kept the “A+ mentor”. I thought I failed before I began.
And one wise person (you know who you are) helped me get out of my funk.
He said, “You’re not just another black guy. You came to the US, couldn’t afford college, yet you worked your way to be a founding team member at a successful startup that got acquired.” How many people can say they did that?
And then he said, “Remember to believe that you will succeed. But never forget the road there is extremely difficult. And these experiences will be the stories that make you stronger.”
And you know what?
That experience did make me stronger. I’ve worked harder since then. I co-founded Meaningful Gigs, a place companies can hire the world’s best black designers. We’ve given jobs to 40+ people and we’re on pace to do a million in revenue in our second year.
He was right. I’m not just another black guy. I’m Ronnie Kwesi Coleman. An individual, with my own experiences. And no one can take that from me.
So, as we all navigate the current Black Lives Matter climate, let’s remember every black person you meet has their own stories. Please see them as individuals.
And for those struggling. Remember, these experiences are the stories that will make you stronger.
If any of this resonates- regardless of race, I’d love to hear your thoughts. So reach out.
Keep fighting for justice.
Ronnie Kwesi (Black Lives Matter) Coleman
Cofounder/CEO – Meaningful Gigs