Black History Month

Entrepreneur Ayoola John-Muyiwa, third from left, was the keynote speaker at ExxonMobil’s annual Black History Month celebration. Also pictured are, left, Master of Ceremonies Teni Sulaiman; Susan John, John-Muyiwa’s mother; and Arinze Onyenezi.   

Ayoola John-Muyiwa said to bring about real change, it takes changing of minds, defiance and even some doubt. 

“You have to challenge everything you have accepted to be true. You have to change your mind. You have big dreams and aspirations, and I know some of you are figuring out how to make a difference, but ask yourself what does success look like for me?” John-Muyiwa said. 

John-Muyiwa was the guest speaker at ExxonMobil’s 27th Annual Black History Month celebration. The Nigerian-American entrepreneur, designer and digital creator used an analogy of how an iPhone takes a picture to demonstrate how it is for an African American in the corporate world. 

“Has anyone ever taken a photo on a phone?” John-Muyiwa asked the audience. “What if I told you never actually took a photo on an iPhone? The instant you open your camera app, as you scan around, it takes hundreds of pictures without telling you. The moment you open your shutter button, your iPhone looks at hundreds of pictures it has already taken and presents it to you as if you took it.”

John-Muyiwa asked if this surprises anyone.

“I want you to think about everything else you believe to be true,” he said. “If every time you took a photo on an iPhone, it wasn’t really yours, then what else do you feel strongly about that is not true?”

John-Muyiwa used the example of  Nicolaus Copernicus, who wrote a book in the 16th Century saying the Earth revolved around the sun. This went against the belief of the day that the universe revolved around the Earth. 

“He changed his mind,” John-Muyiwa said. “People were upset about this at that time. Today, we’ve come to accept these ideas we’ve to accept as truth.”

John-Muyiwa also spoke about the 13th, 15th and 19th amendments, which ended slavery and gave blacks and women the right to vote. 

“It’s been 150 years since the amendments granted blacks the right to vote,” he said. “Do they seem recent? Because they are. I look around and see beautiful black kings and queens destined for greatness. I could never understand how we were considered ‘less than.’ In years following the Emancipation Proclamation declaring all slaves free, all slaves remained far from free. One lady was in control of her own density and worked where allowed to and commuted to work. No matter how long she worked, if she wanted to get on the bus, she had to move if a white person wanted that seat. Every single day, she got up if a white man wanted that seat. It was not just Rosa Parks, but everyone did the same every single day. You might have heard the story before.”

John-Muyiwa said Parks’ one great act of defiance changed people’s minds. 

“That one act started the Montgomery bus boycott and launched a nationwide effort to end racial segregation of public facilities,” he said. “She changed her mind.”

John-Muyiwa said aside from being defiant in the face of oppression, and changing your mind, there is also doubt. 

“There is self-doubt, like when you feel like you are not good enough, your ideas are not valuable, and you feel down, “ he said. “But there is another kind of doubt – I call it idea doubt.”

John-Muyiwa recounted how 11 minutes into Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous 1963 speech did he utter the words – “I have a dream.” 

“These are words so powerful they changed the course of history,” he said. “What we knew back then, I just discovered, is that to have any chance to advance in the world, you must first challenge your own thoughts, criticize your own ideas, challenge your own convictions. Over and over again.”

John-Muyiwa said in corporate America, blacks make up less than 2% of the workforce.

“Often, you do not see people of color in positions of leadership,” he said. “Even though I was a black man thriving in corporate America, I was simply one of the pictures that the iPhone presented when I clicked the shuttered lenses. So, I made a choice. I changed my mind.”

John-Muyiwa went on to found Blademy, an online learning community that prepares black millennials for in-demand careers in technology, design, finance and entrepreneurship. 

Kate Lightfoot, Baytown chemical plant manager, spoke about being the sponsor for the local Black Employees Success Team. “It has helped me grow in my appreciation for what BEST does, and the community it serves, and also for the example it sets for all of us when it comes to appreciating our culture, appreciation of our heritage, and also to be very forward-looking,” Lightfoot said. 

Jason Duncan, the Baytown Olefins plant manager, said he was equally impressed with BEST. “It allows us to learn about cultures and how to value each other,” Duncan said. 

During the festivities, three high school students were honored for their achievements in the community. They are Rashud Futch, a Robert E. Lee senior; Alyssa Arceanuax, a Goose Creek Memorial senior; and Yasmeen Washington, a Ross S. Sterling senior. 

Three ExxonMobil employees were also honored. Seldon Bryant-Rolle, a polypropylene financial analyst that has worked with the company since 1979, received a Lifetime Achievement Award. Halisha Balla, a maintenance supervisor, won the Business Achievement Award while Ibukunoluwa Eweje, an electrical contact engineer, won the Community Achievement Award. 

 

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