The Origin of a Blog and the Death of an Imposter

Original Post: 1/25/18

Disclaimer: The same way people hate to hear the sound of their voice in a voicemail I’ve hated sharing my writing with others.  But I love building tools that solve problems.  For over 2 years I’ve researched the intersection of big data, Education, and racial equity.  In my research I’ve found that the lack of data literacy in the education communities is a roadblock, this deficit limits the strategies available to education advocates.  This blog is meant primarily to be a tool to increase data literacy among all people, but particularly education leaders, families and education advocates.

Being a tool, this means it is iterative and will change and, in theory, get better!

Below is the story of how after experiencing something extraordinary I decided to do something so singular.  Write a blog.  If you’re looking for my resume/Bio or are interesting in my quant research please click the link to my Github.

All Other artifacts of my work can be found on the Portfolio Page.

On the weekend of January 12th I road a 7 am bus from Port Authority NYC to MIT in Boston to join over 700 people at the Second Inaugural  Data for Black Lives Conference. I encourage anyone with a passion for racial equity, artificial intelligence, and the future to check out the Youtube uploads of the keynote! For those with less time, in short, the D4BL II conference brought together over 500 data scientists, mathematicians, advocates and students doing work to address, or who are simply interested in the ways that data and technology intersect with racial justice and social good.  As a Black data Scientists focused on addressing issues of education equity and mass incarceration this conference felt tailor made for me; and if that wasn’t enough of a motivator I was going as  a speaker!

If you go to the Agenda website you won’t find my session, it was part of pre-conference session for education advocates, never the less I was humbled to have this opportunity (I will post a video on my presentation below). 

As I mentioned before, my primary intersections are issues of race, education, and mass incarceration.   Currently I’m partnering with the NYU Metro Center for Research on Equity.  For the past year we’ve investigated the impact of Big data in education on black children and how it can be used for education equity.  We have had the support to the founders of Data for Black Lives and were invited to speak at a pre-conference session to present our research. 

Perplexing to some but familiar to most, my sense of pride quickly turned to dread and uncertainty. Realistically, I knew this research like I knew the stove in my kitchen, having committed over 100 hours to this work officially, 150 if you include pillow hours. Yet hovering around me was this thought, that I didn’t belong.  Admittedly that feeling did not stop me from booking a ticket, getting up at 5 am to take a bus from New York to Boston, which had an average temperature high of 12 degrees, but it certainly had fried my confidence.   

I won’t speak for all first generation college students, but I got through a number of situations (presentations, alumni networking events, buying beer with a fake ID) by simply pretending. Pretending I had read the book, pretending I knew the team fight song, pretending I was from Wilmington, IL.  So instinctually I resolved to fake it.

Somewhere between watching the episode 4 of the latest season of Voltron and practicing my lines I recognized the unsatisfying reality I had been avoiding. That this conference and the people who made the commitment to attend deserve better than your best impression, they deserve your best; if for no other reason than out of respect for the spirit of why you’re going and the opportunity to just be in an environment that felt designed for you.

Knowing that truth I took to exercise these feelings.

So like any millennial, 1st gen. college grad experiencing imposter syndrome I and reached out to my community via our black alumni group-chats and text threads, explaining to them this out of body experience. I told them of my fear and my fear was met with love and validation.

I spoke (see video below) and only through the strength of prayer, practice and affirmation from friends and family did I do my part so we could achieve our goals; sharing our research and knowledge, and garnering insight from a community of activist. 

I’m sure if you watch the video of my presentation you see again something ordinary.  When I watch it I see the most ordinary thing in the world, me.  But that’s the point; what’s actually extraordinary about that video is what you don’t see.  You don’t see in imposter, you see an ordinary guy with extraordinary goals choosing to operate from a place of authenticity over fear. 

The weekend itself was far more spectacular than this story (I warned you). I plan to write several post articulating the lessons learned throughout the weekend.   Including one addressing the 3 most inspiring things I saw.

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