We’ve seen a wave of unrest across the US this year. It’s been challenging to process and I realized that I needed the support of my own community and turned to two of my Microsoft colleagues, Bernard Smith and Aaron Gilbert. As Black Americans, the three of us wanted to do something to help combat the continued disparity on display. We decided to start by engaging our team.
The conversation was heavy but productive. Our peers thanked us for starting the dialogue, and these talks even gave us an idea of how we could turn our motivation into a movement. With our team supporting us, we decided to try donating equipment to underfunded, minority-heavy schools around our own local community of Dallas, Texas.
The Next Step Initiative would supply schools with the hardware needed for e-learning (now the standard because of COVID-19). Our manager put us in contact with Microsoft Philanthropies to help us raise funds for the equipment.
What happened next changed the game: Philanthropies awarded the Next Step Initiative a $110,000 grant.
With that funding, we could expand our scope beyond hardware donations. We learned we could team up with Microsoft Stores to offer virtual workshops to schools as well. With courses in computer science, financial literacy, coding, and plenty of other relevant subjects, we could begin equipping students with the skills they needed to compete in today’s job market.
The US Employee Giving Campaign allows us to support the community on another level as well. Microsoft matched the funds we donated to Youth Revive, a local nonprofit that works to close the civic empowerment gap for underfunded schools in the Dallas area.
Our pilot program, launching in January of 2021, includes all of this. If things go well, we hope to take the Next Step Initiative across the country—possibly adding scholarships and supporting children in juvenile detention as we grow.
It’s hard to believe such a broad initiative grew out of a few conversations over the summer, but that’s how big ideas come to life—the more you share them, the more traction they gain. And when our Microsoft community works together to support our local communities, we can make a real, lasting impact. In such divisive times, being able to support those around me is more rewarding than I can express.
There’s still a long road ahead of us—and the country—but I think we’re heading in the right direction. Those dialogues we started with our teams back in the summer continue to this day. I see coworkers sharing resources and broadening their perspectives. We’re changing more than one community here—and thanks to Microsoft’s support, we can help them take those essential next steps.