The Time for Systemic Change is Now
Photo Credit: David Ryder/Getty Images
My Story = Every Black American Man’s Story
I vividly remember my first encounter with racism. I was in elementary school. My mother pulled up to our house and there was a swastika painted on our front door. She quickly told me that we were getting pizza for dinner (we never went out for dinner, she cooked almost every night of my life) and sped away. That was the first of many incidents that included being intentionally excluded from my public schools advanced learning programs (which my father fought vehemently) and being heckled endlessly as I played soccer with long dreadlocks in southwestern Connecticut. I would hear the hecklers, as they called me Bob Marley, who happens to be my favorite artist, so it was actually, and very oddly, an incredibly racist compliment that I just never understood.
However, it wasn’t until I turned 16 that I had my first police encounter. I was driving home from Milford to Stratford and was pulled over at gunpoint. Most people do not know the fear one feels from having a gun pointed at their head. However, to an entire generation of black men, every time you step in your car, that is a reality you face. As a black man living in New York during the 2000’s, we lived in a police state. The horror of stop-and-frisk haunts every black man walking the streets of New York. What many people fail to realize is the extreme brutality, hostility, and anger of officers who rush you, throw you to the ground, rough you up, and walk away like wolves licking blood from their lips after a kill. To be clear, whether you walk the streets of a city or drive a car in the suburbs, the fear of any encounter with a police officer is often the scariest moment of a black man’s life… Every. Single. Day. As an adult, to try and cope with the weight that puts on one’s soul is nearly impossible. The lasting effects of these traumatic racist experiences are like wounds that never heal.
One certainly cannot understand what it is like for a generation of kids growing up in these circumstances. To this day, I have to stop in the streets to try and advise black teenage boys on how to conduct themselves during a stop and frisk, cuffed, on the curb, in fear that they go to Rikers Island. I want to try and save them from their own reality. That is the moment when I am most angry. I have seen this on my block too many times — I have been enraged to the point of crying tears alone in my bed — helpless. This is the reality for me — a black man who has successfully built and sold companies, raised institutional venture capital, and “made it” in the eyes of peers, colleagues, and associates. What you do not know is the pain that I, and many of my colleagues hold in our hearts.
America is Beginning to Realize that Racism is Endemic
In order to understand the reaction to the current events plaguing our nation, one must understand the extreme circumstances we face today. Millions unemployed. Millions more underemployed. Millions more with no hope of returning to work any time soon. A strained healthcare system that has crumbled under the pressure of Covid-19. A generation of black people who are sheltering in place, under curfew, under threat from an administration that actively destroys the foundation required of a functional democracy. This combination of desperation and hopelessness for our future, combined with the anger and frustration of continuously living in a police state, is the very foundation for the ongoing protests we are experiencing today. Black people are tired of watching cops kill innocent black people, while white police officers walk away with no charges, remain employed, and suffer no consequences. The horrifically graphic video of George Floyd’s death unleashed these captive emotions for black people in America and the sustained protests in our streets are evidence of just how long these emotions have been lying dormant, bottled up, ready to explode.
Courtside: Committed to Black Founders and Companies
Prior to joining Courtside, I was leading Comcast Ventures Catalyst Fund, a $20M fund focused on investing in black and brown founders. During that time, I invested in multiple companies with the Courtside Ventures team. As a serial entrepreneur, I understand how difficult it is to raise money as a black founder. Therefore, Catalyst Fund represented a special place for me to share the knowledge, lessons, and challenges I faced with up and coming black founders. I felt a duty and obligation to give back my knowledge, capital, and support to fellow black founders. As a venture capitalist, I have been, and continue to be, dedicated to the mission of investing in underrepresented founders. After working with Courtside Ventures as a founder and VC, I knew there was a different mentality with which they viewed our world. The authenticity and passion to be true to themselves and founders was unique in a way that no other fund can come close to. Therefore, I was proud of my team when they supported my efforts to start an honest dialog of societal issues, those plaguing our industry, and what we are doing to support sustained institutional change.
The first part of this was to take a look ourselves. We have decided to report on our investment portfolio and how we benchmark across the ecosystem. Overall, 37% of our companies are run by underrepresented founders. This breaks down to 10% black, 10% female, and 17% people of color (defined as Latinx, Indian, Native American, and Asian). While we are proud of our numbers relative to the rest of the industry, we know that there is still room for improvement. Our long term commitment to diversity and inclusion is part of the fabric of our fund and we will continue to focus on how we expand our pipeline, support diverse entrepreneurs, and fund underrepresented founders in this and all funds moving forward. That being said, there is work to be done in the near term, so we wanted to outline our strategy for both immediate and long term efforts on multiple fronts.
Courtside: Committed to Funding Lasting Change for Black Americans and Communities
Courtside Ventures is actively fighting institutional racism in America and working with organizations who are actively making progress on social policy reform and closing the wealth gap in our country. There are countless organizations doing great work to improve the lives of black people in America. However, given our careers as founders and investors along with our passion to support police reform, we have decided to support the following organizations:
1 — Criminal Justice Policy Reform: From pretrial to bail reform, from oversight to accountability, we need real change in policing in this country. After many conversations, we have decided to make a contribution to Buried Alive. Buried Alive is working to advance change in the nation’s criminal justice system through transformative litigation and legislation.
2 — Education and Economic Empowerment: We believe in supporting the next generation of black founders. The 3 partners at Courtside Ventures were founders of early stage tech companies before starting careers in venture capital. We fundamentally believe that STEM education, a technical background, and entrepreneurship, represent the best path forward for economic independence and wealth creation in this country. To that end, Courtside Ventures is making a donation to Black Girls Code.
3 — Venture Capital and Wealth Creation: As Partners of a Venture Capital Fund, we are uniquely positioned to directly impact who we hire and where capital is allocated. In Q4 2019, we committed to hiring a black intern for Summer 2020. During my time at Catalyst Fund, I brought in 4 black interns and believe that mentorship and coaching are the key to advancement in the venture capital ecosystem. We are committing to a multi-year internship program with BVCC (Black Venture Capital Consortium) where we will continue supporting the best and brightest minds of this generation. In addition to the monetary donations to organizations we believe in, we will continue to put in the time, supporting job creation, pipeline development, and mentorship in the venture ecosystem. Separately, Courtside Ventures will be donating to BLCKVC. This organization has been at the forefront of career development and vocal about changing the industry. We applaud their efforts and are excited to continue supporting their mission.
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Kai Bond is a Partner at Courtside Ventures.
This piece originally appeared here.