“It’s one thing to open the door for someone, and another to keep the door open.” - Reigan Combs, Humu VP of Marketing
In early February, we kicked off Black History Month by gathering together to share and learn from each other’s stories. In a panel discussion, Humu team members Reigan, Bryant, Mark, Maya, and Ricardo opened up about their experiences, their families’ journeys, and what is often misunderstood about being Black in America.
These kinds of conversations require courage, vulnerability, and emotional labor. We’re grateful to each of the panelists for sharing, and hope you take away as much from their stories as we did.
Reigan: What does Black History Month mean to you?
Ricardo: To me, it’s about celebrating and recognizing the contributions of African Americans. It’s also an opportunity to think about the journey we're still on to ensure that everyone has equal access to life, liberty and freedom. Because it is a journey. We’re not there yet.
Maya: My grandma is from Mississippi and she would always say Black History Month is our chance to get an encore. We know that we're special all year round. Black History Month is extra time when we get to celebrate Black excellence.
Reigan: We've been celebrating Black icons this month at Humu. In the day-to-day, who do you draw inspiration from?
Bryant: I grew up in Mississippi knowing my great-grandfather, whose dad was still dealing with the ramifications of slavery. My family had land with oil on it that was stolen by their white neighbors. Now I own some of that land. I look up to the continual evolution of my family and I’ve tried to amass unique experiences that I can leverage for the generation after me.
Maya: Same thing, my family. My grandma was sobbing at my college graduation because we're only a skip generation, but she had a sixth grade reading level. My family are some of the strongest and smartest people I know, they just weren’t afforded as many opportunities as I was.
Mark: My mom is my hero. She went from homeless to homeowner. She broke the cycle of poverty in my family. And then she put all these bets on me to set me up to build generational wealth in our family. She could have gone to college, but instead she sacrificed to make sure I had tutoring and was able to go to a good high school. The resilience that my mom has shown is extraordinary. I often think, “We’re cut from the same cloth. If she can do it, I can do it.”
Ricardo: Similar to Mark, my parents and their sacrifices for me. They moved from Jamaica to the US because they knew I would have more opportunities here. I really think about paying them back and making sure their investment was worth it. Reigan, I’d love to hear your answer.
Reigan: One of the biggest influences in my life was my dad. He grew up poor and was the first in his family to go to college. For a long-time he was a commuter accountant. My family lived in Nashville, Tennessee and he lived and worked in Huntsville, Alabama. He would be there five days a week, and then drive back to spend weekends with us. That took a toll and eventually he quit. He came back to Nashville and bought a small cabinet company. He knew nothing about cabinets, but he had the courage to take a risk and bet on himself. That’s something that has always inspired me.
As a Black person, you often represent the first to do something. What's something that you struggled with in being the first?
Ricardo: It’s not just the pressure of, “I’m a high-achiever and I want to do well.” It’s, “If I don’t do well, will someone else get this opportunity?” You represent more than yourself and your family. You feel the pressure of representing everyone that happens to look like you.
Mark: From the moment I decided to be a data scientist, it took two years before I met another Black data scientist. That’s why I’m so vocal on LinkedIn, on podcasts, and in my content. It’s to highlight that there are people of color in such a technical field.
I was lucky to have a mentor since high school who taught me how to navigate corporate America, and I’ve always wanted to do the same for someone else. I recently got an email from my own mentee telling me, “I got a job as a data professional thanks to you!” She did the work, but for me it was definitely a moment of, “Wow. I paid it forward.”
Reigan: What do you think is often misunderstood, or just frankly not known, about being Black?
Mark: The amount of fear that I have throughout the day, especially when I leave my house. I've been scared to drive for the past six months because my registration sticker came off. Every time I get into my car I worry I’lI get pulled over by the police. And yeah, it could just mean a ticket, but it could also be a life-or-death situation.
Bryant: Yeah, you just have a general heightened sense of awareness. It wasn't until I moved out of the US that I realized there was a level below that constant fear. It was like taking a weight vest off. I remember when I was in the Netherlands, I walked by cops and thought, “They can't do anything.” It was something I had never experienced before. Being abroad really made me feel that if the US wanted to be different, it could be different.
Maya: I was shocked at how comfortable I was in Europe. I remember one of my friends in London invited me to happy hour, and it was all Black people. I was like, “It’s not Black History Month, is this a special happy hour?” And she said, “No, most of my coworkers are Black. This is a Black VC.” I was in awe. I had so many of those experiences abroad.
Here we have to go through constant emotional gymnastics. I was giving a presentation and someone commented on my hair. It’s little things like that, where you get so used to biting down your response that the emotional turmoil just becomes your everyday existence. When I traveled abroad, I had a moment where I realized I hadn’t had a weird or an uncomfortable situation in a few days. It felt like I could finally take a deep breath.
Reigan: My dad told me, “As a Black person, you have to be twice as good just to get half the opportunities that others will get.” That has shaped my work ethic, and how I show up. There is always this constant pressure and awareness that I am held to a different standard if I want to do well, because I am Black. I think about that every single day.
I want to talk about allyship as we draw to a close. What is something that you would recommend to people as they’re trying to learn more about the Black experience or be an ally?
Ricardo: In high school I watched the entire Eyes on the Prize series. That made historical events like the Selma to Montgomery marches much more visceral since they were all captured on video. Like with George Floyd and Rodney King, it’s one thing to know it’s happening, and another thing to actually see it. I also recommend the African American Inequality in the United States Harvard Business School case study. It gives you a really good sense of why we are the way we are as a society.
Bryant: I think it requires everyone to push the envelope. And to incentivize Black employees to truly be themselves.
Mark: It’s so important to set clear values and keep investing in your culture. At Humu, we just raised a Series C. I’m mindful of making sure we uphold our culture as we rapidly scale the company.