(Photo by Tony Sebia)
This is part of "Leaders of Color" month of the Generocity Editorial Calendar. Find the series here.
When Tayyib Smith walked into Twitter‘s headquarters during a recent trip to San Francisco, the entrepreneur was greeted with a blunt reminder of the tech world’s diversity problem.
“Are you here to deliver the Chinese?” asked the receptionist.
The 45-year-old Pipeline Philly partner is a soft-spoken intellect with a sharp wit, but this question left him speechless. The Northern Liberties native and Navy veteran not only runs marketing agency Little Giant Creative, he’s the founding publisher of two.one.five magazine and founder of the Knight Foundation-funded Institute of Hip Hop Entrepreneurship. And he runs it all from his 15-story perch at Pipeline, the Center City coworking space he and his business partners opened two years ago.
To that Silicon Valley receptionist, Smith seemed more fitting for “takeout” than he did “penthouse.” Looking around the corporate office in San Francisco, Smith only spotted three other Black men, reaffirming one of his biggest fears: inclusion in the 21st century economy.
"The 21st century is tech-driven. It is an exclusionary White space."
“The 21st century is tech-driven. It is an exclusionary White space,” said Smith. He’s as bullish on creating equality as he is skeptical of any government being able to do so.
“It’s not like I’m coming from a Wharton perspective. I’ve got a GED and we’re on the 15th floor overlooking City Hall,” said Smith. He points out the window. “No program initiated in that building got me here.”
Government legislation created urban poverty, said Smith, through exclusionary and divisive policies such as the G.I. Bill and the Highway Act. Those antiquated and institutionally racist policies have preserved White privilege, making contemporary urban poverty a “normality.”
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“It’s getting to a situation where, for people who have grown up in that world of privilege, equality feels like oppression,” said Smith. “That fear is manifesting itself in exclusionary policies in an attempt to maintain the status quo.”
Everything Smith has accomplished has been the result of self-education and smart partnerships formed through a network the entrepreneur cultivated. Institute of Hip Hop Entrepreneurship, Smith’s nascent education nonprofit, strives to help young people do the same. Actually, Smith didn’t even begin referring to himself as an entrepreneur until this year, and just 10 years ago, he said he didn’t even know what a nonprofit was.
Smith’s not embarrassed by it. He takes pride in it. It’s up to people like him, he said, to push resources toward people living in poverty.
“People need to see people succeed who look like them or share an experience with them,” said Smith, adding that his role is to “lead by example” and “speak power to truth.”
People of color need to lift each other up by sharing information, showing support for one another and having empathy for the psychological trauma enforced by historical inequality.
People of color, he said, need to lift each other up by sharing information, showing support for one another and having empathy for the psychological trauma enforced by historical inequality.
“I won’t engage in Mandingo fighting. That’s learned from slavery and white supremacy,” he said. “Look at Twitter or Instagram and see how we treat celebrities. It’s constant tearing down.”
What you will see Smith doing on Twitter, however, is sharing gems from his trove of cultural treasures. Somehow, between the hours he spends a day building out his buffet of businesses, he manages to find time every morning to keep up with an impressive book list (“Nobody” by Marc Lamont Hill and “The End of Men and the Rise of Women” by Hanna Rosin are recent reads) and curate even more impressive Spotify playlists.
Hip-hop heads might notice a heavy dose of conscious rap from the 90s — Common, Mos Def, The Roots. But, being a man who “likes to know what young people are thinking,” every now and then Smith will share a contemporary song that resonates with him, like A$AP Ferg‘s “New Level.”
“Provide jobs for my whole block,” recited Smith. It’s a familiar theme, and one that fits well with Smith’s big plan: Live a happy, healthy, effective life. And make change.
Maybe Twitter’s receptionist would have known that had she been paying attention to his timeline.-30-
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