Cambridge Chronicles, Letter 3: On Quitting My Corporate Gig
Yes I’m at Cambridge now (well London today, but I’ve spent a couple of days on campus and heading back now). Of course my first priority is looking for melanin. Strikingly most Black folk on campus did not do the head nod, the acknowledgement, the smile that celebrates the fact that they see another Black person in a sea of unmelinated faces. Maybe a couple have acknowledged my presence and I’m super excited for those folk because that means maybe I’ll find a community of a few people here who are actually excited about their heritage.
But we’ll come back to that. What I want to talk about today is the summer I quit my first corporate gig in NY. It was quite a dramatic summer and I was talking to a good friend about it last night, and another friend a couple nights ago, which reminded me how many lessons were available from that summer.
So I had been working this gig as a Network Engineer, which was exciting at first because it meant I got to manage the servers and routers of Hedge Fund managers all over the East Coast. My favorite part was driving two hours to Upstate New York where I could enjoy a quiet, green escape from the city. I also looooved Greenwich. Some days were intense where some CEO’s wife would be having internet issues at their Upper West Side penthouse and I’d have to go there and reboot her router and then head to a Times Square office to unpack a new server and configure it on the existing network then head to Greenwich or Jersey or Katonah to configure or reset enterprise routers.
Many days I would get off the train at Crown Heights Utica at 1 am. Where others saw danger, I felt at home. There would still be tons of people on the street. Dollar vans running down Utica into Flatbush or Canarsie. I would breathe a sigh of relief getting off the train that I seemingly couldn’t breathe during the day. I would start my day with a few currant rolls from the Jamaican vegan store on Utica, and end it with some fresh fruit from the fruitstand on Eastern Parkway. During the day I was surrounded by rich white folks who I knew found me peculiar with my curly hair and military jacket, the big Che book that I carried around for weeks. The most peculiar thing was probably my disinterest in their approval. Though I busted my ass to excel at my job, I could not care less what they thought of me, my persona, my style, my radical books, my vegetarian diet.
But after a while I was miserable. I mean getting out of bed to go to this job was a torturous feat. I would stall until the time where my tardiness would be bad but not a fireable offense. I would ignore incoming service requests until I was reminded and reminded and reminded again about them. I didn’t feel like my company cared about me as a human. I was only dollar signs for them. My clients were spoiled, apathetic rich kids. Everyone around me only cared about the bottom line. Whereas I was reading about revolutionary leaders who had put their lives on the line for the liberation of their people, and people who looked like them halfway across the world.
I found such honor, such nobility in that, that these insanely wealthy, out of touch clients became particularly grating on my nerves after a while. Their Adirondack water and their steak lunches and, again, their prospecting around the price of food, just made me feel so isolated and so disgusted. Whereas, my reading group, Perrier and Poetry, would meet once a month in my brownstone to discuss new books we had read on Blackness in the Bible, the South African revolution, Blacks in the Americas before slavery… It was there I found community. Other enlightened folks who were more focused on ending poverty than on decorating themselves with corporate promotions and bonuses.
By the time my maternal grandmother died, I was already over the job. I was only staying on because of the prayers–and admonishment–of my parents. When I came back from the bereavement time and no one at my office seemed to really care about my loss, it took everything in my power to keep from quitting. I lasted less than a week after that. There was a day when I talked myself into staying on the job until I was ready to start something else. I told myself I would start a graphic design company, I would buy an iMac and a camera and other things to help me get started and only then would I quit. By the end of that day, I found myself sending an email to my bosses, like “yeah I can’t do this anymore”. And it wasn’t two weeks’ notice. It was, “hey, today’s going to be my last day.” It was probably 4:45pm or something. I danced when I got home. I felt like such a weight had been lifted. I sang a song that went “no more shackles on my feet and I’m free, and I’m free and I’m free and I’m…no more shackles on my feet, and I’m free…”
I told my Perrier and Poetry friends, but not my family. Most were shocked, most asked me what I was going to do next, a few expressed pride. But no one had any real and tangible advice for me on how to survive New York without a job. Or how to start a graphic design company. Or how to build an archive on African artifacts, which I called myself doing with Nyabinghi literally the day after I quit my job. I was exposed to a whole new New York world after that day, a world I didn’t previously know existed. A world of full time spiritualists and activists and artists and hustlers. It was an absolute adventure for me, and I’ll tell you more about it in a future post.