Speaking the Unspeakable: Our Commitment to Anti-Racism

by Daniel Jacobs

This morning my daughter, Luna, awoke with tears in her eyes. It was just after 4am and she was inconsolable. So I picked her up and rocked her. It didn’t work. So I took her out of bed and took her on a walk in the moonlight. 

Eventually the sun began to rise, and she fell asleep on my shoulder with sniffles and gasps. And I wondered why she’d opened her eyes to so much pain. Could she feel my own pain? Or maybe the pain of our broken world right now? 

As I walked with Luna, I considered her innocence. She is two years old. She doesn’t know about systemic racism and inequality. She doesn’t know about George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others. She doesn’t know why 8 minutes and 46 seconds matters. 

… and for a few moments, I wished I could keep it all away. I wished to simply keep her bundled in that cocoon of innocence forever. 

In the words of poet Adrienne Rich, “what is unnamed… will become not merely unspoken, but unspeakable.” 

But as I turned with her toward our house - immensely aware of the luxury and privilege I’ve lived with never having to worry about the consequences of stepping outside my home - I realized that it is my duty as a parent to help her leave that cocoon. 

Because, in the words of poet Adrienne Rich, “what is unnamed… will become not merely unspoken, but unspeakable.” 

If Luna does not open her eyes, open her heart, raise her voice to this misshapen world, then the persistent, fixable pain Black people live with will remain unaddressed. 

I walked inside my home, laid Luna back in her bed, and realized that I must make it as easy as possible for my daughter to hear evil, see evil, and speak against evil. Which means I must show her what that looks like.  

It’s hard. 

I feel ashamed for taking more time than I’d like as a leader to write these words - at a time when I know my silence speaks volumes. I’ve felt afraid to write the wrong thing; to inadvertently injure with words when my desire is to help heal. 

I must make it as easy as possible for my daughter to hear evil, see evil, and speak against evil. Which means I must show her what that looks like.  

Shame of our ignorance and inaction in the face of racism has kept many of us silent for so long.

But I know silence isn’t an option: 

I co-founded my company Avanoo with our President and CTO, Prosper Nwankpa. He is Black. I am White. 

I remember the day Prosper agreed to work with me. It was one of the happiest days of my life. I’d asked him, begged him, to co-found Avanoo with me over and over again; about once a week for almost two years. Then one day he said yes. 

I’d wanted so much to work with Prosper because I knew him. We’d been close friends for over a decade. He and I were passionate about the same two things: building thriving businesses and helping improve people’s lives. 

He’d founded and sold two organizations. They grew from nothing to serving hundreds of millions of people. Along the way he’d helped many, many people. Working with Prosper was, for me, a dream come true. 

One summer afternoon, a few years into our partnership, Avanoo was helping lots of people and was already worth tens of millions of dollars. We decided to meet at a nice restaurant in San Francisco to celebrate a recent win we’d shared. 

Prosper arrived at the restaurant on-time for our reservation, but I’d gotten lost and then stuck in traffic. Twenty-five minutes later, I walked inside, and Prosper was still standing in the waiting area. We hugged, and a few seconds later, we were seated. 

After ordering some wine, I asked why he hadn’t decided to sit down while waiting for me. He laughed. “Nobody wanted to seat me,” he said. “They just assumed I was in the wrong place.”

I walked inside, and Prosper was still standing in the waiting area. “Nobody wanted to seat me,” he said.

I felt confused. His words didn’t make sense. Nobody wanted to seat him? But they’d seated us within seconds of me entering? Huh? What? How? 

Oh…

I was bursting with rage. I needed to do something… to right this situation… now. 

I stood up from our table, seething, and Prosper grabbed my arm. “Daniel, just let it go.”

“But why?” 

“It happens all the time. It’s not worth it.”

“But I have to do… something.” 

“Let’s… just… build an organization worth building. That’s how we can help change things.” 

I went home that night and thought a lot about racism and inequality. 

I wondered about a world in which people still don’t think to seat Black men when they walk into nice restaurants. A world in which one Black man recognizes that one of his loudest forms of protest is simply to build an organization worth building. 

That felt really fucked up to me. 

I wondered how I could help change that world in a way that went beyond the work we do. I didn’t have good answers beyond seeking to build an organization worth building… and trying to be a person worth being

I went home that night and thought a lot about racism and inequality. 

But as the sun comes up and shines brightly today in Colorado, I  notice that our country has been in ruin for Black people for too long. They aren’t just having a hard time being seated here… many are still hoping they and their children won’t be murdered. 

Our broken social and political systems are still broken. Many white people in positions of power like me have at best remained silent and apathetic to it. At worst we have held onto it, afraid to change what benefits us most.  

And my own pain is driving me to again ask an old impossible question that demands answers: How can I be explicitly anti-racist? How can Avanoo also explicitly be anti-racist? And again, how can I help… right now?

We’re exploring these questions with our team, and we’ve provided some links to resources below with practical steps we can all take to help. But I don’t know the best answers. I do know that now is a time to listen and learn — from the Black experience in America, about the racist system in which we live and that I benefit from while others suffer.

I am committed to doing the work to finding the right words, taking risks in my anti-racism and being accountable when I inevitably mess up.

It’s also a time to speak —  even as I fear not having the right words. I am committed to doing the work to finding the right words, taking risks in my anti-racism and being accountable when I inevitably mess up. 

Because, again, “what is unnamed… will become not merely unspoken, but unspeakable.”

And unspeakable is not a legacy I wish to pass onto my daughter. I want her to know that her tears, our tears, humanity’s tears will never be in vain. They will move me, her, us to action. They will drive us to together create a more kind, just, and livable world.

 

—Daniel Jacobs, Avanoo CEO & Co-founder

 

P.S. Here are some resources we are exploring on our Avanoo Team: 

 

About Daniel

Daniel Jacobs is a husband, father, inventor, and storyteller. His work has been featured on Fortune, Inc. Magazine, Business Insider, Apple News, HuffPost, and most major news publications in the United States. He is CEO and co-founder of Avanoo, which uses the power of stories to drive connection, belonging, and performance in the workplace.

About Avanoo

Avanoo brings together the world’s oldest artform – storytelling – and the world’s newest technologies – AI, machine learning – to support teams in experiencing more connection, belonging, and performance. Our app makes it easy for employees to share and listen to each other’s stories wherever they are, and our insights dashboard makes it easy for leaders to understand where and how stories create lasting impact on their teams. Learn more: Avanoo.com
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