My dissertation is about how Black women create in the face of death. Both historically and in the contemporary moment, so at any given moment during the day or night my mind wanders towards a Black woman artist, the choices that she makes, whether or not she can sustain herself, many of the women who have died early.
I think this is also the reason why I am drawn to the lives of Black women athletes. While they may not die early per se, there is a way in which their lives, their work, their toiling often for long hours outside of the limelight only to appear like an “overnight” success is a process that I find myself identifying with.
Which brings me to two weeks ago. I was in a cab, on the way home and I saw a tweet citing one of my tweets saying McLean Greaves, RIP citing the essay that I wrote about him as a fitting tribute.
I was like “there is no way on God’s green earth that I am learning about his death in this fashion.” I was.
The cab driver heard by gasp and said “do you still want to go home”, I hesitated but I had work to do, so I continued home. But the life and death of Greaves has been on my mind for the last three weeks.
You see, Greaves was a Black man working on a start-up in Bed-Stuy nearly 20 years ago focused on Urban Black and Brown communities in Brooklyn. So looking at his life, and his work we can see how the current story about the intersection of venture capital, Black coding schools, coding schools for women, the leaky pipeline in Silicon Valley, and the lack of POC ownership of social media platforms is telling.
Here is an excerpt of what I wrote about him:
Reading this Greaves essay shows me that even prior to the rise of the Blogosphere, young urban Black and Brown people were trying to OWN their own platforms. Not only where they trying to own their own platforms but that had a sense of building community while they did so. They were trying to own their own platforms while living in the ‘hood. After I read this, I was really curious as to why Greaves’ narrative is absent from the “we need to teach folks to code” discourse. Of course I am being rhetorical and marking power here because it is important.
If you start with Greaves you get a different story.
The story that you get is that urban Black and Latino, and Afro Latino people have a long history of using the internet to find one another and they have ALWAYS been interested in ownership. Access to capital, and a team? Well, that is another question.
See Black Planet. See the history of Cafe Los Negros. See Peep.com.
Now, if you read the post, you will see that I learned about Greaves while writing my own book three years ago, which makes me wonder how many more folks are in the archives who have done similar work; folks we are unaware of.
He was young. I can’t help but think of how many young, creative Black men and women die early, when so much of their lives are bound up in giving life.
There is a part of me that is coming to the conclusion that even when we ARE from the future we will be rendered invisible. I am so happy that I was able to find him, his work and that he read this before he transitioned a few weeks back.
1. Have you ever thought about the irony of escaping the hood only to die young or early as a creative?
2. Is being creative overrated, in a culture where much of the social media noise is focused on consuming celebrity low points/grief?
3. Would the conversation around coding schools change if we started with Greaves, and his desire to create a start-up nearly twenty years ago? What if the focus were ownership schools rather than coding schools? We’d be talking about a lot more money? No?