I Built It. And Now I’m Moving On

“There’s nothing more powerful than a woman who owns who she is. Nothing”

I’m leaving the nonprofit space. I’m leaving digitalundivided (although there’s a running joke that no one ever really leaves digitalundivided — we’re truly a family).

Creating and building digitalundivided is one of the greatest honors of my life. I got to spend eight incredibly amazing (and incredibly hard) years working alongside an exceptional group of people — mostly women and women of color — who dedicated their time and talent to do the impossible, the unprecedented, and the necessary work that fundamentally changed the tech scene. We changed the world. I leave knowing that digitalundivided (DID) will continue to be a force in this space. For that, I am forever grateful.

Why am I leaving?

Simply put, the nonprofit world wasn’t made for someone like me.

I like to build things. I really like to build things — bookcases, a family, irrigation systems, businesses.

Especially businesses.

In fourth grade, I built a lucrative friendship bracelet business. As a young adult, I channeled my inner Weezie Jefferson and built a five-store dry cleaning franchise. Then I built, and later sold, one of the first online lifestyle brands, The Budget Fashionista. Soon after, I built something the world had never seen before — an organization that empowers women of color to be innovative and economically independent. A concept so radical it would go on to disrupt an entire ecosystem. I called it digitalundivided.

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I like to innovate. I think fast, very fast. And like most fast thinkers, I get frustrated when I am forced to slow down for others, who need time to catch up to my thinking. Oftentimes, they never do.

The nonprofit world wasn’t made for someone like me. A builder. An innovator. To be a black woman builder and innovator — to be me — in the nonprofit world is to be constantly undervalued.

The irony is that black women are among the most valuable resources in this world — a fact that has been proven daily over the past few months, as the world grapples with the coronavirus pandemic. From the doctors, nurses, and hospital staff taking care of sick patients to the cashiers at Walgreen’s and Whole Foods, to the Amazon workers, parcel couriers, and mail carriers making sure you get your packages. Black women are the frontlines of this COVID-19 fight.

We are the most essential of workers

This is why I started The Doonie Fund in April. I didn’t ask anyone’s permission to start it and funded it with my own money. In the midst of this global crisis, I (with support from visionary partners) figured out how to get micro investment to over 1,000 black women entrepreneurs in less than 6 weeks.

I learned two things in the process:

1. Black women are amazing money managers.

2. People don’t trust black women with money.

People were shocked that we didn’t put any extensive requirements on Doonie Fund investments. Several were shocked that I trusted Black women. One person even asked me: “What if they use the investment to get their nails done?”.

If, in the middle of a global shutdown you can: a. find a place to get your nails done and b. getting said nails done is what you need to feel empowered to run your business, then do you.

I never, EVER heard any investor question “tech bros” spending $5,000 on a pool table or $10,000 on a beer pong tournament (true story) to help them deal with the stress of being privileged. But a black woman spending $100 on the personal care necessary for her to have the confidence to stay in the game is … unsettling?

Ummm. Okay.

The people who fund things — whether it’s a venture capitalist or a philanthropist — are often those who have benefited directly from the inequities in our society. This is why they have money in the first place. As Anand Giridharadas explains in his book “Winners Take All”, these are people who want “to change the world while also profiting from the status quo”.

And the status quo is women, especially black women, remaining essential workers, but not essential owners.

There’s a visceral reaction that happens when you’re a black woman and you declare your worth. I’ve had people recoil when I asserted my value in a negotiation. As in, “How dare you?” When a Black woman is clear on her worth or chooses herself, it’s viewed as offensive . Because, as a black woman, you should sacrifice your economic stability, your health, and your sanity for everyone else. You don’t even get to own your sanity.

But as my grandmother Kathryn “Doonie” Hale would say: “Not today, Satan”. We’re living in a COVID-19 world and I’m essential.

What’s next for me?

After eight years, several pairs of crazy glasses, thousands of women supported and millions of dollars raised, I’m taking a breath to do what I do best — build. My next project? I’m the first black woman to have a business book published by Penguin’s business imprint, Portfolio.

What is my book about? … how to build.

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