I don't know that I ever wrote about a particular day that I can still remember clearly. It was the day that I went to the Harvard Business School orientation seminar at the Airport Hilton some time back around 1985. I had become something of a star at Cal State, making Dean's list, holding 18 units, having gotten my third internship at Xerox, being the chapter secretary for my frat, national officer for NSBE and the Engineering School's rep to the Student Finance Committee. And my girlfriend was bangin' too. I saw the future with perfect clarity, and I knew my path.
Now this HBS seminar happened to be given by one of the black Harvard organizations, and it was led by a young woman who was in the Public Health specialty. And I learned some very important lessons that day. The first was that there was a (light skinned) black woman who felt her duty to tell all of us perspective masters candidates that racism was alive and well in Boston and at Harvard. She told the tale of unendurable pain of being questioned all of time about whether or not she was an actual Harvard student. 'They take one look at me and assume that I'm from Northeastern'.
I was sitting in the front row and I turned around to see the reactions of the others in the room. I caught two reactions and that was all I cared about. My own impression, as you might guess, was to do all I could to suppress a verbal slap. Here she was at Harvard and she had the nerve to complain. WTF!
The first reaction was something I didn't expect at all, but man was I happy about it. There was a super cute girl who was from Spain in the room. If you can imagine Rosie Perez with firey red hair done up 80s style, that would be close. She was like an Almodovar bombshell and she was giving me the eye. Holy smokes. We exchanged big grins. Man was I going to enjoy Harvard.
The second reaction was from a black man who looked to be soemwhere between 28 and 32. He was wearing a suit, although I seem to remember him in a vest and tie with his jacket over the back of his chair. Or maybe he was wearing braces, like many MBA types did in the mid 80s. Either way, he was shaking his head slightly. At the end of the seminar I spoke to him. He intimated to me that he was running something on the order of a $400 million budget at Ford Aerospace. I was tremendously impressed, and although he had other reasonable things to say I heard all I needed to hear.
I knew that at my school, there were seven year students who were officers in the Black Survival Union who had no compunction in telling anyone who would listen how corrupt the system was. I just never expected to hear the same kind of noise out of Harvard. It reinforced something I realized. Sometimes people are their own worst enemies, and Joni Mitchell never lied.
Sometime later, I fell off my own fast track and never made it to Harvard. It wasn't until six or seven years that I got a chance to actually live in Boston, and I spent some time poking around Cambridge. By that time I had the twin experiences of having someone with an MBA report to me, and having had Microsoft recruit me, both being rather dual-edged. Watching 'The Social Network' last week reminded me of running through the streets of Cambridge and making social connections from a different perspective. Remind me to tell you some Boston stories...
To that dude and that babe. Thank you. You reminded me that I always have me.