Don't Call It a Comeback // I've Been Here For Years


A while back I had the opportunity to have coffee with Dr. Michael Lomax, the CEO of the United Negro College Fund. I was excited. As a 30-something Black man still charting my path, I was eager to pick up some nuggets of wisdom. I was also intent on getting Dr. Lomax excited about our work at Camelback.

On this crisp fall morning in New York City, I learned that we both had been a passion for diversifying the social entrepreneurship ecosystem. As we put our visions on the table, I remarked that I wanted to instill a sense of entrepreneurship and innovation in communities of color. I told him that I had been too many conferences, incubators and co-working spaces around the country where communities of color were not present.

Dr. Lomax stopped me. Without chastisement, he reminded me that while the public narrative may lead one to believe social innovation and entrepreneurship is something new to communities of color, it is not. 

He was right. Entrepreneurs of color have innovated to improve their communities’ way before the words “social innovation” was a catch phrase. For instance, history depicts Harriet Tubman—the “conductor” of the Underground Railroad—as the courageous woman who led hundreds of slaves to freedom. She was much more than a conductor; she was one of our nation’s earliest social innovators within the transportation industry.

Upon escaping to her own freedom, she worked to save money to finance her “venture.” She knew her business; she operated during winter's long nights because that was when slave-owners stayed inside longer. Like a great entrepreneur, she found partners and built a transportation system that allowed her to save the lives over 300 slaves. 

Entrepreneurship is not “new” within communities of color. Harriet Tubman is one of hundreds of examples. Even with limited access to resources, people from communities of color have created social innovations for centuries.

As we celebrate Black History Month, I am reminded of this nugget of wisdom from Dr. Lomax. We know that there are modern Harriet Tubmans with the ambition, courage and fortitude to create social enterprises that will make our nation a better place. Here at Camelback, it is our job to ensure these social entrepreneurs are successful.