Guest Blog: A Message on Juneteenth

On today’s blog, I am doing something different, by amplifying the voice of my colleague, Neal Sáles-Griffin, Managing Director, Techstars Chicago. Neal shares his perspective, personal experience and offers reflection and connection on this important holiday of Juneteenth. – David

Do you remember how it felt when you first learned about the lockdown restrictions last year?

I can recall many who felt trapped, restricted, and in fear for their lives. These feelings (and others more horrific) are what black people in the United States experience throughout life. And there has been no harsher time to exist as a black person than the early 1500’s to the year of 1865 in North America.

Juneteenth is the oldest celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. I’m grateful for this holiday because it’s not only a reminder of the tragic backstory of the foundation of our country but a conversation starter, too.

The issues facing black Americans historically through to today are voluminous. And the celebration of Juneteenth could never address the full scope of the socioeconomic disparities. But I believe one dimension of our challenges, economic freedom, is experiencing positive change through entrepreneurship. Investing in and supporting black founders is opening a path forward to generational wealth and social change. While less than 1% of Venture Capital has gone to black founders, there is an unprecedented uptick in efforts to change this sobering fact. 

There are many emerging initiatives to address black investor and founder success. And Techstars’ commitment to these issues gives me hope that we’re making progress. I’m excited to have direct involvement in addressing the challenges of funding and supporting black founders with my team there. I’ll have more to share about the work we’re doing in the coming months.

But I’m not posting this message on my friend and colleague David Cohen’s blog to give you a history lesson, or to convince you on how things will get better for us. I’d like to instead offer an opportunity to pause, reflect, and connect.

Successful comedian Wanda Sykes shared an apt quote during a recent comedy special:

“If you don’t have a black friend, you’re the problem.” 

While she said this partly in jest, there’s a lot of meaning behind it, in my view. We are all limited by our own lived experiences and perspectives. Most of us don’t experience the ramifications of slavery and racism in the United States of America. And many people I’ve befriended over the years never felt comfortable having an open and honest conversation about it until they met me.

As a black man hailing from the South Side of Chicago, I’ve got my fair share of stories to tell. So I’d like to offer some of my personal time to connect with you. If you feel distant from our history with slavery, our current reality with racism, and how the former still greatly influences the latter… I’d love to speak with you. In that spirit, I’m hosting a series of small group conversations (and some 1-1 time) in the coming weeks for anyone interested.

Rather than “preaching to the choir” as they say, I prefer to connect with people who might see things differently than I do. I can’t guarantee that I’ll become a black friend of yours, but I can guarantee a non-judgmental discussion about slavery and racism in America. 

If you’re down to connect, schedule a 1-on-1 here so we can start a conversation.

With gratitude,

Neal Sáles-Griffin

Managing Director, Techstars Chicago

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