The impact of a global pandemic has been far reaching, and according to data reports, it’s clear that here in America communities of color are being hit disproportionately hard by COVID19. Analysis from The COVID Racial Data Tracker revealed that in many states, African-American deaths from COVID19 are nearly two to three times greater than would be expected based on their share of the population, while Hispanic/Latinos make up a greater share of confirmed cases in 42 states plus Washington D.C.. In our first episode of Onward On-Air, host Jake Soberal facilitates a conversation with Rich Dennis, CEO of Essence & Sundial, Congresswoman Barbara Lee, of California’s 13th District, and Freada Kapor Klein, Partner at Kapor Capital and Kapor Center, on how the pandemic has impacted communities of color and what we can do to respond.
OOA Episode 01
[00:00:00] Jake Soberal: [00:00:00] hi, welcome to onward on air. My name is Jake Sobral. I'm the co-founder and co CEO of Bitwise. In a non pandemic setting, we spend our days tackling issues of equity and workforce in and for the technology industry here, while sheltered in place with my three children and wife in our home, we felt as though there was an opportunity to spend some time on conversations around how COVID is impacting communities around the country, what things are being tried, what things are hurting, what things are working.
[00:00:45] We're going to convene conversations with journalists, with elected officials, with business leaders, and perhaps most importantly, with the individuals on the ground being impacted by decisions being made. We think that it's really, really important. We think that it's going to be really beneficial [00:01:00] conversation.
[00:01:01] Thank you for making the time to join us. Let's get started.
[00:01:11] Richelieu Dennis: [00:01:11] all right.
[00:01:12] Jake Soberal: [00:01:12] I am really, really excited to welcome to the show this morning. Uh, Resha Lou, Dennis and rich. I know that you'll remember this, uh, but a story that resonates deeply. For Irma and I, and Bitwise is, uh, not long ago when we had set out to raise our series a, uh, which is around a financing for Bitwise industries, two kids from the middle of nowhere.
[00:01:33] We're sort of trying to figure out this fundraising thing. And we sent a cold email to somebody who we found online, uh, with an amazing life story, but to whom we had absolutely no connection. And of course, that was you. And to our great fortune, you answered what we've learned since is that you have built a platform for empowering people like us and things like Bitwise.
[00:01:59] And, [00:02:00] uh, that's not common. I'd love to have us get started with, with you sharing, how and why you did that.
[00:02:06] Richelieu Dennis: [00:02:06] Yeah. Well, you know, the funny thing now is you look back on it and know how bad I am with email. It goes to show you how divine of an intervention that was right. That's mine. My email game is horrible, but, um, I have built a business and, and, and with my family for the past 30 years, we we've been building this business and it was based on some very fundamental principles around community and investing in community and more specifically.
[00:02:35] Um, you know, we modeled it and call it community commerce. And the whole idea there is that we should be investing back in the communities where we do our commerce, where we get our, where we get our dollars. We should be investing those dollars back in those communities because far too often, what we see, especially in the African American community are businesses that benefit economically from, [00:03:00] um, from our community, whether it's services to us, whether it's.
[00:03:03] Products to us, whether it's it's creating brands and products based on black culture. A whole host of ways, but the people that, that those, you know, that those cultural creations come from very rarely get the economic benefit of it, right? The people that are patronizing the convenience stores or the supermarkets, or are not the owners of those stores.
[00:03:25] And so, um, we built a model that said we were gonna, we're gonna invest back in these communities. Um, And that's our community commerce model. And so I also had the good fortune or the bad fortune of building a business in an environment that is, um, not very friendly to people that look like me. And we're seeing, we're seeing that play out today right now.
[00:03:51] What happens, uh, with small, um, black and Brown businesses and, and their access to capital and all of those things. So having gone through [00:04:00] all of those experiences and having had the, um, the two diligent of my mother and, and the convention of what we need to do in our communities, we've also, we've always sort of done that right.
[00:04:12] Community conference has always been a part of what we, what we've done. And over the years we built a platform that actually figured out. How to, uh, how to do this in a sustainable way, how to do it in an intentional way and how to do it in a way that actually yields. Returns so that we can create a flywheel so that we're generating returns that get reinvested back in the community.
[00:04:36] So, you know, it's a long, long winded answer, but it's a 30 years to get here. And I'm glad, I'm glad I saw that email,
[00:04:42] Jake Soberal: [00:04:42] uh, and, and us too. And I think that answer is a wonderful segue into an introduction of Freada Kapor Klein, who is joining us. Also this morning now to, uh, rich told, uh, a story that unfolded over over the course of 30 years and in the rear view mirror sitting here on it, it sure [00:05:00] feels like you spent about that period of time, sort of fighting a clearing for companies like Bitwise to exist and have been deeply steeped in that work over that long haul.
[00:05:12] I wonder if as you were in that work, did you see this coming and by this, I mean, the opportunity to build a portfolio like you all have at the Kapor center with those extraordinary companies, a world in which things like Bitwise and promise and genius Plaza are a bit more possible.
[00:05:31] Freada Kapor Klein: [00:05:31] Well, I was not exactly that good of a fortune teller, uh, but all the decades I spent starting as an activist, uh, working on issues of bias and harassment and discrimination, focusing very much on what does it mean to create fair and welcoming work cultures?
[00:05:52] All of that was prelude to saying it's too hard to turn around. Big [00:06:00] entrenched companies. It's much better to bake diversity and inclusion into startups from the beginning. And so, as long as Kapor capital has been a hundred percent impact focus, which is going on 10 years now, uh, we have. Looked at businesses, tech businesses that close gaps of access or opportunity or outcome for low income communities and or communities of color.
[00:06:31] And so that disproportionately means that we have entrepreneurs of color. Because they're using their lived experience to identify a need, to identify as rich talked about a way of doing business, not just the product or services that is vital, and that is a new model.
[00:06:53] Jake Soberal: [00:06:53] And I think that idea of building these businesses from the ground up is, is so important [00:07:00] in this.
[00:07:00] If you've been in this work at all, you realize the necessity of it. One thing that weighs heavily for us here at Bitwise, and I know for each of you is in this moment, there are so many hard fought gains that we are concerned about. And in particular, when we think about freedom, women and people of color in entrepreneurship, amidst a pandemic.
[00:07:22] What are the things that we can be doing to ensure that, that this moment does not wind up a step backwards or communities that, that have had hard fought battles to get
[00:07:31] Richelieu Dennis: [00:07:31] here? I think
[00:07:33] Freada Kapor Klein: [00:07:33] there is a silver lining and I tend to be an optimist too. Who else would be doing this work for so many decades? Uh, I do see as a silver lining the way in which.
[00:07:44] This pandemic has exposed the structural racism, the inequities that have existed for a very long time. And what we now see are people recognizing [00:08:00] the underlying inequities that led us to these different outcomes, these wildly devastatingly different outcomes of the pandemic. So that means we have an opportunity to.
[00:08:14] Uh, but it also means that there are more threats as financial markets shut down as resources, dry up. Those who are historically have been hit hardest and hit first are already marginalized, low income people of color. And we have to fight very deliberately and very hard. To make sure that doesn't happen this time.
[00:08:39] Jake Soberal: [00:08:39] It's so important. And I think that, you know, one of those institutions rich, of course, is the national press. And also a key piece of your work is, is what you all do at essence magazine, which is of course a deeply important voice, particularly for women in particularly for, for women of color. And from that [00:09:00] vantage point, I'm, I'm curious whether.
[00:09:02] You think that the national press is doing enough to cover the disproportionate impact of this pandemic on communities of color in this really, really trying time.
[00:09:14] Richelieu Dennis: [00:09:14] Yeah. You know, I think that, um, so the answer to your question is no, the short answer, because I think what we hear in the national press is sort of the end result.
[00:09:28] Right. This many companies didn't get PPP. This many companies got PPP, right. What we don't. And you have to realize that people are being exposed to this for the first time. Right. But they're being exposed to it through the lenses of COVID. And so the understanding is that COVID is causing these issues.
[00:09:51] Right? But the reality is COVID did not cause these issues, these issues did not start with COBIT. These issues are centuries old and they will not go [00:10:00] away with PPP funding and they won't go away postcode it. Right. There are real structural issues that we have to be addressing. And unfortunately the press.
[00:10:10] Is not talking about those structural issues. They're not exposing. Um, they're not exposing to the general public, why these structural issues exist and they're not, and there's no, except for forms like these, the national press is not creating a dialogue that talks about these issues beyond COBIT that is now focused on.
[00:10:33] What are the structural changes that have to happen that are not, it's not holding our government accountable is not holding our policies accountable. It's not holding our institutions accountable. It's not holding our partners at large accountable. Right. Um, and so I think, so the answer to your question is no, what I do think is that the national press coverage has created an opening for people to now.
[00:11:00] [00:10:59] Understand to be aware to some extent. And, um, it's going to be up to, up to brands like essence and, and, and the national press, really with groove essence to, um, to start to deliver a more thoughtful and then more solutions oriented. Conversation.
[00:11:20] Jake Soberal: [00:11:20] Yeah. And all of that feels right, which is part of the motivation behind convening these conversations, because we are both seeing the negative impacts, uh, and also some really extraordinary, uh, positive responses that are uniquely tailored to communities of poverty, communities of color, uh, small towns, um, uh, rich, what is Essence's response to this?
[00:11:43] How have you changed coverage? Where are you going deeper than you were before?
[00:11:48] Richelieu Dennis: [00:11:48] So the interesting thing about this is that we've been talking about these issues for 50 years, right? So these are issues that are very well known and established [00:12:00] in the black community, established in the audiences that we speak to on a day in day out basis, where we're going deeper now is around the solutions.
[00:12:09] Right? So, um, there's a speaking of national press coverage. There's a, um, an article, I believe it was in the New York times, a few days ago, uh, that is talking about how new Orleans and the impact that COVID has had on new Orleans is worse on the black community today than Katrina was. And you can imagine what that actually means.
[00:12:38] Right. And if you can imagine. That it didn't have to be that when you think about all of the funding that went into new Orleans, that was supposed to be helping that community around Katrina to be sitting here, uh, was it been 12 years later? Probably more than that, but all these [00:13:00] years later, and we're worse off today.
[00:13:06] And we're as a society are having the same reaction that we had to Katrina. Let's go in and solve it with money. Right. But where that money goes, who that money goes to, are they building infrastructure to support these people? Are we supporting the organizations that are on the ground day in day out working with these communities so that they can build infrastructure so that they can build scale?
[00:13:30] So that we're not constantly repeating this every time something happens. So that's where we're going deeper. Right. Um, and it's not just saying, well, it's, it's all across, it's all across the country. Let's put programs together that actually will sustain these communities. Let's invest. In the people that live in these communities, not the, you know, large multinational aid organizations or support organizations that will come in, do the [00:14:00] work and then leave.
[00:14:01] When they come in, they bring their capacity, they bring their expertise. And when they leave, they take their. Capacity and they take their expertise. And most times the infrastructures that are set up a temporary. So people aren't really getting the services that they need on an, on an ongoing basis by the assists that they need on an ongoing basis.
[00:14:21] So where we're focused now is we're going to go out and raise capital. That we're going to invest back into the institutions that have historically been in those, in those communities, do capacity building, do infrastructure building and not leave a year from now. And this is all over, but remain there and remain in these communities and continue to build.
[00:14:46] And as you know, Jake, we do this for us, our flywheel and light light, like freedom. Our flywheel is business, right? It's entrepreneurship. It's investing in entrepreneurship in these communities where people can start to have [00:15:00] their own, make their own economic decisions where they can, where they can invest in their own institutions and their own structures of, uh, of local government and their own.
[00:15:09] Community way of existing to build those up. So, so that's, that's where we're, that's where we're focused.
[00:15:16] Jake Soberal: [00:15:16] Yeah. And with that, we're going to take a quick break. We'll be right back. All right. We are delighted to be joined this morning by Congresswoman Barbara Lee. Who's joining us from Washington, D C but represents, uh, the East Bay here in California and Congresswoman Lee.
[00:15:32] Uh, one of the things that occurs to me this morning is that you, as a member of Congress, Are doing the work that you do, but have to be acutely aware that you're doing it at the center of an historic moment. I'd love to just hear as a human being, what that feels like.
[00:15:50] Congresswoman Barbara Lee: [00:15:50] Well, you know, you're right. This is an historic rumor, but it's also a very dangerous moment, both from a health point of view and from an economic point of view.
[00:15:59] And [00:16:00] so we're elected to lead even in times of crises, even at times of pandemics. And so we have to do both and we have to just kind of make sure we're hearing to all of the health requirements and to make sure that we're fighting for our constituents for the country or the planet. So that we can not only get through this, but so that we can get on the other side of it.
[00:16:23] And I won't even say go back to normal, but what I figured about NAS, making sure people survived, but then we come out of this in a way where there are many populations of people who don't meet to nor do want, want to go back to normal because life has been so hard for them for so many years.
[00:16:40] Jake Soberal: [00:16:40] I think that's right.
[00:16:41] And one of the things that I've been looking forward to talking with you about specifically is that you bring to this conversation a unique perspective in that you've been in Congress now for nine 11 for the great recession, uh, and for this moment, and that same refrain that you just [00:17:00] echoed has been your work that entire time.
[00:17:03] I'm curious how those moments and this moment feel the same and, or different.
[00:17:07] Congresswoman Barbara Lee: [00:17:07] Well, you're a nine 11, since that was the only one to vote against that horrible blank check that has led to the use of force is 41 countries. I was the only one. And so it was a much, um, More isolating feeling. And the attacks were so horrific and the anger and the hate mail and the death threats until I had to tear myself and deal with all of that in a different way.
[00:17:36] Now we're in this together. And so what I learned in the. The, uh, hopefully wisdom and the wherewithal that I learned through nine 11 and how to survive liberally those skills and that understanding now, I hope it's helping other people through my work to figure out how to survive. Through this very terrible moment [00:18:00] and not get depressed or overwhelmed or cynical, and we can't allow that to happen.
[00:18:06] So you have to deal with the reality which I had to at night during nine 11. And what was taking place. But also now that you have to keep hope alive and you have to keep encouraging people to do what's necessary to get through this so that we can get on the other side of it together. So it's more of a weekend together moment now where it was like defending myself by myself.
[00:18:30] Jake Soberal: [00:18:30] Yeah. And I think that thread of hope is. So very important and Frieda, I, you won't recall this, but it is a deeply important moment to us. Uh, some number of years ago, Irma, who is the co founder of Bitwise. And I heard you speak at an event hosted by Comcast and in that event, It felt as though this wonderful human being is, she's talking about us.
[00:18:54] And I think since that moment, we've been not only enthralled with your work, but privileged to work [00:19:00] alongside you, but we've looked to your leadership. And so I'm curious, whose leadership are you looking to in this moment and, and moving forward.
[00:19:10] Freada Kapor Klein: [00:19:10] Well, I think as the Congresswoman said, it takes all of us.
[00:19:14] Uh, and as rich said earlier, we want to be looking to those who are the trusted members of communities, of formerly marginalized communities, communities of color, low income communities, who are those trusted leaders. That we need to lift up to find the solutions. I also, Jake have to say, I look to people like you and Irma as entrepreneurs in the Kapor capital portfolio.
[00:19:44] I look to our smash scholars, uh, which is our nonprofit, the program that is in itself. 18 year for underrepresented high school students of color, uh, exposing them to STEM we're on [00:20:00] 10 campuses in the U S I look to those young people as the generation of leaders to be those who will follow in Congresswoman Lee's footsteps.
[00:20:11] Jake Soberal: [00:20:11] Yeah. And I think that that is a really important note. I've watched Kapor capital Kapor center, uh, Mitch, and you as individuals. Meet this moment and really lean in not to new things. We already knew what the work was, uh, but to the same communities that you've been serving all along in impactful ways.
[00:20:31] And, and rich, I I've seen the same from you and particularly the way that you've used the essence platform. You talk a little bit about what this moment has inspired for you and your team.
[00:20:41] Richelieu Dennis: [00:20:41] Yeah. I
[00:20:42] Freada Kapor Klein: [00:20:42] think what this,
[00:20:43] Richelieu Dennis: [00:20:43] what this moment is inspired and that's, that's a wonderful question and I hope that. That question will get asked more.
[00:20:51] And the reason that I say that is because there are, there are people and that have been doing this work, like the folks that you [00:21:00] have on this panel. Um, and then this conversation for a very long time when it wasn't sexy, when it wasn't pretty, when it wasn't the thing to do. Right. And I think what it's done is this moment has made it sexy.
[00:21:15] It's made it pretty. And it's made it so that other people want to come into it, that other people want to come and do this work. I think those of us that have been doing it need to embrace that, but to also hold accountable, those that are coming in to say, Hey, this is not a temporal thing. This is not because it's in the moment.
[00:21:34] This is a longterm commitment, and we're going to partner alongside you, but hold you accountable to this longterm. To the longterm goals and these longterm objectives. And I think
[00:21:48] Congresswoman Barbara Lee: [00:21:48] through
[00:21:48] Richelieu Dennis: [00:21:48] that, I think we will start to, because I think one of the things that I'm sure you know is always our free does mine and on the Congresswoman is mine.
[00:21:57] And certainly on my mind [00:22:00] is we can't get to where we want to buy ourselves. It's going to take a village, a huge village, right. Because the hole that we're digging out of is so deep. That it's going to take every single organization, group, person idea to pull us out of it. And so, so for me, that's what it's inspiring and me is finding the people that now want to come in and figuring out how to partner with them, but to do it in a way that it becomes sustainable.
[00:22:32] Because as I said earlier, What we're not trying to do is to create another new Orleans situation post Katrina.
[00:22:39] Jake Soberal: [00:22:39] And I think with that, Congresswoman Lee, this will be a no news to you, but you're sitting in a place that's not exactly known for its collaboration. But nonetheless Congress has in response to COVID moves quickly on a couple of things and, and, and gotten aid out to the American people.
[00:22:58] I, and I think we, we know a [00:23:00] bit about that. I wonder if there might be a story of collaboration across the aisle, or with folks that you don't ordinarily work amidst all of this that you could share.
[00:23:10] Congresswoman Barbara Lee: [00:23:10] Sure. There have been many stories. In fact, these stories don't meet the press they're not covered necessarily.
[00:23:19] And I think that during this moment, we can just look at the most recent bill in terms of the heroes that and what happened and how that was put together with no collaboration. Try to, but. Again, I hate to be partisan, but the Republicans just would not come to the table. So that's one example of how we have to do the work together.
[00:23:44] And our democratic caucus is very diverse in terms of ideology, geographically, racially different. Ethnic backgrounds. So we came together to put forward a bill that would continue to [00:24:00] help the American people recover from this pandemic. We hopefully now that December Senate we'll see some bipartisan shifts.
[00:24:09] But when Mitch McConnell put forward the bill a couple of weeks ago, he wanted to make sure that, um, what we call them that only the 250 billion wouldn't go to health, which we need to do small businesses and minority owned businesses because these businesses were left out of the first go round. Well, we had to say, okay, fine.
[00:24:33] We want to work with you, but we also want to include. More resources for testing. We want to include more resources for unbanked businesses, which don't have access to the banking system. So we have to work together to make sure that that one bill that started out as, as a bill following one segment of our population became broader.
[00:24:55] It's covered those who were unemployed, those who have no health [00:25:00] here, those needed testing and, and you know, the whole nine yards. So we did see some examples there of working together and we got that bill passed and signed into law. Personally, I've had as many, many experiences in the past and now actually working with Republicans.
[00:25:17] One is on HIV and AIDS. If you go back to when Bush was in, I actually wrote the, what we call the emergency pet does emergency response to HIV and AIDS, which has saved like 20, 30 million lives. I have to work then with Republicans in Congress and president George Bush. Because we get that bill passed and signed into law.
[00:25:40] And so there are many examples in the past of how I've worked. People don't even know they think George Bush did this while he was president and he signed it. It was my work and my organizing in my writing that bill and negotiating, you know, all the time. Uh, but of course the press [00:26:00] generally picks up, uh what's you know, the divisions and the rank or, and, you know, that makes for an interesting kind of massive show drop, but really there's a lot of work going on behind the scenes to some good stuff.
[00:26:16] If we only knew what that was.
[00:26:19] Jake Soberal: [00:26:19] And I think with that perspective, we're going to go to a quick break. So as we come back here, I want to go a bit deep on an issue for you that I know is very close to your heart. And that is what is the role of big technology and the companies that comprise that category, uh, amidst COVID-19.
[00:26:38] What is, what is the importance of tech accountability in this, in this time?
[00:26:43] Freada Kapor Klein: [00:26:43] Well, I certainly think the Congresswoman can talk about her efforts at the congressional black caucus tech 2020 initiative. We've been working with them for several years. I think tech accountability is more important than
[00:26:58] Congresswoman Barbara Lee: [00:26:58] ever
[00:26:59] Freada Kapor Klein: [00:26:59] because what [00:27:00] we see during this pandemic, Is the ability to leverage technology, to keep people working, to do what onward U s.org and onwards ca.org have done, which is to in a smart way and an immediate way, connect people to the emergency relief that they need, whether it's food or childcare, connect them to the kinds of upskilling and reskilling.
[00:27:27] People need to find new careers. If their old careers have just been decimated. And the third that onward is doing is to connect people, to open jobs, using their skills in their geography. That couldn't happen without the technology that we have. Now, this conversation couldn't be happening a few years ago.
[00:27:50] Because it relies on current technology. So we want to look at the ways in which technology is essential to bringing people together [00:28:00] and linking people with resources. And because of that, that requires a higher level of accountability about privacy, about security and about access. I mentioned our smash scholars earlier around the country.
[00:28:16] We recently surveyed them. 41% of our low income black and Brown girls and boys have had zero education since their schools shut down, they will never get this time back. Part of Tech's accountability is to make sure everybody has broadband access. Everybody has a laptop. Everybody has culturally relevant curricula.
[00:28:47] Everybody has access to role models who look like them who have succeeded in the tech industry. Tech can help us achieve all of that. But tech has to share the [00:29:00] resources. Tech has to collaborate. Tech can't parachute in and say we're white billionaires and we know better, and we can fix everything. Tech has to back up and give back to the communities that have made them
[00:29:14] Richelieu Dennis: [00:29:14] billionaires.
[00:29:15] Jake Soberal: [00:29:15] Yeah. And a huge issue in what you've just said that I, I don't feel like is getting enough oxygen, particularly speaking to you all from, uh, the San Joaquin Valley in California, is that issue of broadband access. And it's not a unique issue to rural California, but it's certainly acute here and Congresswoman Lee, I wonder from your perspective, so representing a mostly urban district, but nonetheless being deeply aware of this issue is this a moment in which we can take a swing at, at universal broadband?
[00:29:46] Is this a problem that whether now we're in the not so distant future, we can solve.
[00:29:50] Congresswoman Barbara Lee: [00:29:50] We should be able to. And at first, let me just find Frida niche for really the first two individuals that I really know personally, who [00:30:00] have captured this space. To help others and to make sure there's equal access broadband into technology.
[00:30:07] Because this has been saying, I lived in Alameda County right next to Silicon Valley. And for years since the nineties tried to just break into the tech sector, On behalf of my constituents and never have been able to do this. So just paving the way for the restaurant black caucus several years ago, we wanted to do just what we're talking about today.
[00:30:32] And that is on different levels to me, racial equity, that included making sure that not only there was a quality of opportunity. With jobs, but also with the contracts, with the content in the C suites and with the board of the tech companies, we made just a little bit of progress, but not enough. And so now let's see, [00:31:00] is this huge issue now, as it relates to access.
[00:31:04] Where we have, as Rita said, and I've seen and met many of these wonderful young, black and Brown boys in the smash program. And to see the things that their education has been interrupted based on what they have learned already. And now they're stopping. I mean, these are young people who are going to be, um, who aren't leaders in many ways and who can soar.
[00:31:25] If in fact they have access to what they have been privileged to have access to through their training and through access. The development of their skills. And so in my own, this week in Alameda County, recently someone donated funds so that our young, low income students could have just computers basically.
[00:31:49] And during this time, It's extremely important to stay connected, but for those who don't have access to their education, look at what it's going to do to set them [00:32:00] behind. And so I think equity right now across the board is what we have to fight for and what we have to ensure because of not where this period is going to leave more people behind.
[00:32:12] And also just when it comes to our elderly and our senior citizens that need to have access now to technology, I'm working on a project with someone in my district now for young people to begin to teach senior citizens how to use technology that's so they can stay connected to their families or shop or do what they need to do.
[00:32:33] So young people opportunities and the skills can use these maps to really help others. Survive and make it through this very horrible tax.
[00:32:43] Jake Soberal: [00:32:43] Yes. And, and, and rich. One of the things that I have always admired about you is you do in certain rooms, describe the work that you're doing as a revolution. And I, I think that, uh, it is, it shouldn't be, but it is.
[00:32:55] But you are also widely respected among your peers, [00:33:00] uh, running, um, uh, some of America's largest corporations having walked that balance. And now being in this moment, what is your view on the responsibility of big business and it's accountability? Um, it's the pandemic and coming out of it,
[00:33:15] Richelieu Dennis: [00:33:15] you know, I think big business has responded in a way that.
[00:33:20] Is unprecedented, but is also responding in the same ways that they've always responded. And what we've seen is that those responses have not, certainly not in our communities, driven, systemic, sustainable change and, um, uh, and economic independence nor economic inclusion. Right? What, what it has done. As mandated a lot of the situations.
[00:33:47] And so the conversations that I'm having and the things that I'm working on and the partnerships that are partnerships that I'm looking for to them and forging a with those leaders is now around. Let's take [00:34:00] this. These massive investments and let's make them sustainable. Let's put them into models that that will actually drive inclusion in these communities, economic inclusion.
[00:34:12] You know, we, we've spent a lot at the time in this country fighting for civil rights and thank God we did, and we need to keep fighting even harder today than we ever have because you see what just happened in Minneapolis yesterday. So we need to continue to fight there. But we now have to have a second and equally strong battle or fight and strategy.
[00:34:33] And that's around economic inclusion around our economic rights because it's, it's, it's the abuse of our economic rights that make us so long. Honorable is why we can't afford the health services that we need is why we can't. Afford the basic data hyped into our homes, right? It's why we can't afford the iPads and computer systems and I, you know, and sick and to think about all of the [00:35:00] kids that come from these communities that will, that will have lost a year of school based on not having access, which should be a right, you know, um, not having access.
[00:35:14] Too. So their curriculum not having access to their teachers because they can't afford the data. Um, or they can't, they can't afford the tools that allow them to connect. So those are the conversations that, that want to be having. And that I am having in that I will continue to drive. It's not enough. To write a check and say, okay, this is going to solve that or doing things that propel the business as it supports these communities, right.
[00:35:41] What we need to be doing are the hard things that will sustain these communities and those, and those things are now tied to economic rights. And that's, that's the other battle that we must not open up in earnest and that we must become committed to and have as much conviction to. As we do around, [00:36:00] around our civil rights, because the two go hand in hand.
[00:36:04] And because on the civil rights, we're not where we need to be. And on the economic rights, we're really just at the very beginning of it. And so you start to now see the true impact that this imbalance has and that one fight does not solve for the other. They have to be in unison and they have to be strategic.
[00:36:24] And so those are the conversations that I, that I'm now having. And that, that will be, we'll be building support around.
[00:36:31] Jake Soberal: [00:36:31] Yeah. And one of those fights that all three of you have. I've been in for decades now, a is for women and a specific character that I think you have unique empathy for Congresswoman Lee is, is the single mother in this moment.
[00:36:45] I know your story is of being a single mother while going through school. And, and then of course your story traces all the way to this moment. How does that. Empathy, uh, sort of, uh, give you perspective in this [00:37:00] moment and even really practically, how do we support a single mother over the course of the next 12 months, uniquely difficult situation to think about getting back to work and getting back to where they were in the economy and hopefully beyond
[00:37:14] Congresswoman Barbara Lee: [00:37:14] what's your, you know, as it was.
[00:37:17] With myself, childcare is such a huge issue as to whether it's the private sector or the public sector. We have to ensure that there's quality affordable, accessible childcare for women, especially for single women. I know when I was raising my two children, boy, I was a student in mills college and UC Berkeley.
[00:37:36] I was on public assistance, the whole nine yards. I couldn't afford childcare. Look me through classes like statistics, they know stats better than I do cause they slapped and I made it
[00:37:53] out here or here that I can afford. So they went to school and so. Fast [00:38:00] forward to now we're in the same situation. So many women, especially low income women of color. I didn't have the resources to pay for childcare. So we have to figure out ways to make sure, especially during this period that they have access to what they need in terms of the childcare.
[00:38:18] Secondly, when you look at essential workers, workers on the front lines, per workers who are required now to go back to work, at least States that are opening up, whether it's healthy or not, whether they have the personal protective equipment. These are women in large part. I'm just over 50%. I think I read somewhere was 60, 70% are women primarily low wage workers, primarily black and Brown women.
[00:38:41] Who are going to work, taking care of, making sure that the health and economic impacts are mitigated because of their service and their jobs. You're they are now back at work in many ways, an unhealthy situation. So we have to make sure that whether it's private [00:39:00] sector, public sector, that we protect them, they deserve.
[00:39:05] I mean, these women are out clear doing these jobs under very dire circumstances. So why in the world aren't we honoring them as consensual workers by making sure they have Haven's required. The personal protective equipment is required for them to do their job. If in fact we're done to insist that they go to work under these circumstances and then women, of course.
[00:39:29] Yeah, I still are not making compared to men equitable wages. Now, when you look at Latinas, when you look at African American limited 60 to 70% fence on the dollar, there's still a huge, which means in many respect, when, when these women become senior citizens, their social security is much lower. And so you're messing with them in their golden years.
[00:39:53] Not paying them what they deserve in their younger years while they're working. And so this whole [00:40:00] system is out of balance as it relates to gender equality. And we're seeing this now this pandemic, when women are just having a very difficult time and living on the edge. And more women are going to fall into the ranks of the poor because those support systems have not been there for them prior to the pandemic.
[00:40:19] And now certainly are very narrow and dwindling during this very dangerous moment.
[00:40:25] Jake Soberal: [00:40:25] Yeah. And freedom. I am heartened to know that the individuals on this call, whether in New York or DC, or here in California, Have broad influence as we think about what comes next. Uh, and you heard from the congresswoman's remarks there, uh, this idea of, of, uh, how do we rebuild more equitably and in, in accomplishing that, what feels most important to you or what small set of things feel most important to you in rebuilding for a way that doesn't leave people out just the same as we have for decades.
[00:40:56] Congresswoman Barbara Lee: [00:40:56] We have
[00:40:57] Freada Kapor Klein: [00:40:57] to really this time, get it [00:41:00] right. And that means everybody needs a seat at the table. Um, if we're going to rebuild our communities, if we're going to rebuild the economy, if we're going to rebuild the healthcare system, then it has to work for
[00:41:13] Congresswoman Barbara Lee: [00:41:13] everyone.
[00:41:14] Freada Kapor Klein: [00:41:14] And we were talking about the gender initiative.
[00:41:17] What do you hear? And I think it's very important as the Congresswoman said, we have to look. When we talk about gender, we have to take an intersectional
[00:41:26] Congresswoman Barbara Lee: [00:41:26] view
[00:41:27] Freada Kapor Klein: [00:41:27] that black women, Latinex women, native American women,
[00:41:32] Congresswoman Barbara Lee: [00:41:32] all
[00:41:33] Freada Kapor Klein: [00:41:33] earn less than white and Asian women. Relative to the earnings of white men. So when we're talking about gender issues, it's not monolithic.
[00:41:43] And we have to talk about the ways in which as a white woman, I have to check my racism. I have to make sure that I am not inadvertently excluding women of color. And that the solutions that I come up with are [00:42:00] inclusive. Of all women, uh, of all girls. And so, as an example, we've been looking at those issues in our smash program because bias IFCs of all kinds start young.
[00:42:12] So our high school girls were not having the same level of confidence about their futures in STEM careers as the black and Brown boys. Who are their brothers, who are their contemporaries? So we started experimenting and we looked at if you have computer science and math classes, where the girls and the boys, and these are all low income kids of color, where the girls and the boys are separated.
[00:42:40] You all of a sudden. Erase those differences. And then you can bring them back in the same classroom for other subjects, uh, for social justice curriculum. So we have to look at within each grouping, how are women faring? And then within the rubric of gender, [00:43:00] what are the relative privileges that some women have.
[00:43:03] Over others,
[00:43:05] Jake Soberal: [00:43:05] so important and, and rich there's, there's a lot to be concerned about in this moment, but you just so happen to be connected to a wide and growing community of people doing extraordinary things. What are you seeing in front of you? Uh, specifically that gives you hope that gets you inspired, uh, each day.
[00:43:27] Richelieu Dennis: [00:43:27] Yeah. You know, I think one of the things that Jake and probably the most inspiring thing that I'm seeing. Is, um, we've invested in quite a number of women owned businesses and operated businesses in particular women of color to be specific. And we've also done the same with men, right. Um, and men of color.
[00:43:50] There's two groups, if you will, that have historically had very, very limited access to not just capital, but equity capital [00:44:00] in, in particular and not just a debt, but debt that goes alongside with equity and the things that you can lever each of those things to do to grow a business and to sustain a business.
[00:44:12] What is inspiring me is to see how all of these companies that we have, uh, brought our pace model to, which is, which is purpose, access, capital and expertise. Um, so it's not the issue. Isn't just capital. Like I said, these issues didn't start with coven and they won't end with Kogan, right. They go back and there's a whole, whole, whole, whole host of things that are a result of all of these years of abuse and neglect.
[00:44:38] And so. What I'm proud of is how those companies have all fair through COVID how prepared they were. Not that they knew that Colgate was coming and that, that they were prepared for COVID, but how well they run their businesses so that in a shop like this, they can sustain. Right. And that they're [00:45:00] in a position to sustain.
[00:45:01] And that air they're making. The choices and the decisions that are consistent with their purpose. And so you're seeing them not just take care of their own businesses, but in the case of like, what, what you and Arma doing or in the case of what the Shawn over at Maven is doing. And I can go on and go on and on.
[00:45:20] And, uh, the team at natural clubs are doing raising funds, creating products. Launching platforms, you know, you guys, jobs platform, fabulous, Sean. And even with the stylist, with the stylist platform funding, all these stylists that have been out of work, they're using his business to do that, using his relationships to do that.
[00:45:41] I mean, that's how you build sustainability into a community, right? Is by putting the people in that community in a position. That they can take care of the community and that they can take care of themselves and take care of their communities and out and have a conviction to that. So, so, um, I'm hugely [00:46:00] inspired by that and that inspiration comes over and above whatever economic return any fund could get is to see a quarter of people hyper focused on solving issues in their communities and having the resources.
[00:46:15] To go do that for me. That's the Holy grail right now.
[00:46:20] Jake Soberal: [00:46:20] Yeah. And we're going to wrap here on this last question, Congresswoman Lee. One of the things that I appreciate about this conversation in particular is that we've, we've sort of zoomed in on a character and that is a woman of color and let's even imagine.
[00:46:35] Uh, her as is not hard to do in your district, in the East Bay, in Oakland, uh, here in California. And we've, we've talked a lot at the macro about how we serve her. I am interested in hearing from you. What do you want that individual to hear in this moment from, from you? Uh, somebody who's been her advocate for decades.
[00:46:57] Congresswoman Barbara Lee: [00:46:57] we got your back. [00:47:00] And just knows that so many of us see you and who hear you. And so by the grace of God, I'm here doing what I'm doing. And so just know. That for me personally, because of my history and who I am as an African American woman. Who's who almost, because my mother was not allowed to go into the hospital.
[00:47:27] They have a C section. She almost died in childbirth delivering me at the last minute. They find, let her in and deliver me using porcelain that my history and who I am is about you. And it's about fighting for justice. And it's about fighting for equity. It's about fighting for making sure that women who have not again by the grace of God have been able to break through.
[00:47:52] I have to make sure they do break through. And that's what my life is all about.
[00:47:56] Jake Soberal: [00:47:56] Deeply thankful to each of our guests for making time in their busy [00:48:00] schedules to join us here today. Thank you for joining us. It's an
[00:48:04] Freada Kapor Klein: [00:48:04] honor and a privilege to be in the company of rich and Barbara, Congresswoman Barbara Lee.
[00:48:09] This has been
[00:48:10] Richelieu Dennis: [00:48:10] amazing. Um, I can't thank you enough for putting such a dynamic group together. I've learned so much from both Congresswoman and, and from thredUP and the conviction that I now leave here with is going to carry me through the next few weeks as we tackle some really. Really really difficult issues together.
[00:48:29] Congresswoman Barbara Lee: [00:48:29] Well, first of all, as to freedom and to rich, thank you all for such an inspiring morning for me here in DC, before I get up to Capitol Hill to the battles of the day, all of you just know that once again, we're using technology to stay together, to learn together, to be inspired together. And I hope. To be able to be with you once again and just thank you all so much.
[00:48:57] Thank you, Frieda. Thank you. Rich. What'd you [00:49:00] all do each and every day could really make this world a better place for all. Thank you.
[00:49:04] Jake Soberal: [00:49:04] As we close today, I am acutely aware that you all know that I am the co founder of a growing startup, which begs the question of what I'm doing, spending my time pretending to be Walter Cronkite.
[00:49:17] The truth is that as we sit here in Fresno, California, We are acutely aware that there are challenging, there are important, there are good things going on in communities around the country. And we think those things deserve oxygen in the national conversation. And that's why we're doing onward on air. I want to thank the crew, the team here at Bitwise, the team in studio to be for making this production possible.
[00:49:38] I want to thank you for joining us. We'll see you next
[00:49:41] Richelieu Dennis: [00:49:41] time.
[00:49:56] Congresswoman Barbara Lee: [00:49:56] onward on
[00:49:56] Freada Kapor Klein: [00:49:56] air with Jake's overall. Was
[00:49:58] Jake Soberal: [00:49:58] produced by
[00:49:59] Richelieu Dennis: [00:49:59] Bitwise [00:50:00] industries in association with
[00:50:01] Jake Soberal: [00:50:01] studio to beat
[00:50:02] Freada Kapor Klein: [00:50:02] this episode was directed by Gordon
[00:50:04] Congresswoman Barbara Lee: [00:50:04] Howell and produced by Randy Guera.
[00:50:07] Richelieu Dennis: [00:50:07] The associate producer was Rigo Aguilar. The executive producer is walking Alvarado. This podcast is edited by Chloe
[00:50:15] Congresswoman Barbara Lee: [00:50:15] bands. [00:51:00]