How the Murder of a Black Man and the NRA caused me to Lose my Job and Led me to my Dream Job — pt.1

“The unhealthy gap between what we preach in America and what we often practice creates a moral dry rot that eats at the very foundation of our democratic ideals and values.” — Whitney M. Young, Jr.

It was July 6th, and I was at my desk almost in tears unable to move or focus. I sat there at my desk in a rage-filled mindset when I was supposed to be working on a website for a client. I was a senior full-stack developer working at a marketing firm with several projects on my plate and I had looming deadlines. On a day I needed to be writing code a mile a minute I was just stuck. I literally could not focus enough to do any work that entire day after watching the Philando Castile murder. A whole day after I watched Alton Sterling‘s murder.

Two Black men murdered at the hands of Police officers.

The sea of emotions I felt after two days of being reminded.

Reminded how law enforcement in my country view the Black body

The ease in which they can view a Black body as a threat.

The freedom they have to remove a Black body from this earth.

A Black body,

All Black bodies,

My Black body.

I just stared at the computer screen mad and scared with a sense of hopelessness. On July 6th, 2016 I could do no work. I just sat there until it was time for me to go home and try to disappear from the world.

For those who don’t know or don’t remember, Philando Castile was pulled over by a Minnesota police officer for a broken tail light. As the officer asked him to hand over his license and registration, Philando let the officer know that he had a gun on him. A gun he was licensed to legally own and carry. At that moment the officer saw a Black body with a gun and got nervous, no the officer became scared. Next, as Philando went to grab his wallet as instructed and after doing the right thing in telling the officer he had a gun on him, he was murdered.

As a licensed gun holder killed in a routine traffic stop I just knew there would be outrage from the part of our nation who advocate for the second amendment. Then came the deafening silence from the one organization that should have been leading the charge to defend Philando’s right to carry that gun and feel safe, The National Rifle Association (NRA). Why were they so quiet? Because they saw a Black body that didn’t deserve the same rights and defense as others. This has been an issue for the NRA historically and here was yet another example. Crazy thing, as all this is going on the sales team at the company I worked for was actively working on landing a contract with that same NRA.

On July 22 that firm signed a contract with the NRA. On July 22 I handed my employer a letter of resignation due to them signing a contract with the NRA. I told them that as a Black man I could not in good conscience be a part of a company that worked with an organization that historically treated Black people very differently from their other constituencies. Now please understand that I did this having given some thought about quitting if my company landed the contract. It was something I had been contemplating since the first time I had heard about the potential deal before the Philando Castile murder. Still, it’s hard to quit a decent job with good pay and stability. That’s why I didn’t have a plan for quitting and I didn’t think the company would actually get the contract, which originally they didn’t. The firm the NRA originally picked to do the work decided that it did not want to be connected with such an organization in light of its most recent controversy. That meant my job won the contract by default. And by default, I resigned

At that time, I did not plan what I would do or what my next job might be. All I knew were two things. One, I have a valuable skill set which should make finding a new job not impossible. Two, my Black body was worth more. My Black community was worth more. I could not and would not at that moment choose “commerce over conscious”.

I kept thinking that one day I’m going to tell my son or my daughter about having morals and standing up for what’s right. I’ll explain to them the hardships that the Black bodies of their ancestors endured and of the things they themselves will endure. I will then encourage them to be of high moral standing, do what’s right, and speak out against injustices. I will tell them that there will come times that they have to make very hard decisions as there will be consequences for not compromising their morals. Then when that moment comes and they ask me what I mean and I will tell them this story. I will tell them stories of the many strong Black people throughout history and in our family who had to make hard decisions. I will explain to them how not in every instance did these strong Black people choose to stay true to their morals but instead choose to be compromised for their family and loved one. Sacrificing their Black bodies to cover and protect others around them. Yet in this story, I will tell them that I would not sacrifice and just did what I felt was right.

As I finished out my last two weeks with my current employer I began to start thinking about what I would do next. I had no clue what kind of job I wanted or if I wanted to stay in Baltimore. It was on July 26, 2016 I got an email with the subject line “ Join #teamTEDCO, we are hiring!”. The beginning of the email read like this.

“TEDCO has a staff opening for its Program Manager — Technology Commercialization Fund (TCF), which is a critical role in the organization’s operations and support activities. TCF is TEDCO’s flagship funding program for early-stage, technology-based companies. The investments made through TCF are critical for the growth of these companies so they can get to a point where they are better positioned to secure larger, follow-on investments from more traditional sources like angel and venture capital investors.”

When I saw this email my first thought was “There is no way I could get a job as an investor but man would it be cool”. With that in mind, I decided to call a mentor of mine who happened to work at TEDCO to ask him if he thought I might be a good fit for the position. He told me that TEDCO was making a lot of changes and that he thought I might be a good fit. With that, I said a prayer and started editing my resume.

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McKeever "Mac" Conwell

Managing Partner of RareBreed Ventures and supporter of underrepresented founders | Hacker turned Hustler | Recovering Entrepreneur - 2 startups with 1 exit