As I reflect on my past achievements in 2018 and 2017, I am overwhelmed with gratitude.
From achieving a 3.9/4.0 (98%) GPA this past academic year at Harvard and winning an essay competition in my Psychology class taught by the renowned Amy Cuddy (consequently winning a trip on a private jet), to designing and launching a social impact venture in San Francisco for students from underrepresented backgrounds who have a passion for the tech industry (www.redefiningboundaries.org) – from learning how to surf in the Dominican Republic with some friends from Yale over spring break, to taking up Improv as a new hobby – from winning three UK wide awards this summer held at the Palace of Westminster, Arsenal Football Stadium, and 10 Downing Street, to fulfilling my dream to work in Silicon Valley at one of the most exciting tech companies in the world (Airbnb) – from going on a low-cost adventure to Kauai, Hawaii with some classmates during winter break, to mentoring students on Saturday mornings as part of the W.E.B. Du Bois Scholars program – from being named a Forbes 30 Under 30 Scholar, being featured in articles across the Guardian, Daily Telegraph, and the Daily Mail, to surpassing the 0.5% acceptance rate to join a fellowship with a VC fund in San Francisco (http://fellows.kleinerperkins.com) – it would be fair to say that with The AB support, I have been fortunate enough to surpass my own expectations. Thank you so much for seeing potential in me and being willing to invest your time and advice in helping me get to the next level.
These successes were only possible because from the onset, the Amos Bursary was in a position to support my vision. Although I come from a low-income, lone parent family, and grew up in one of the most deprived parts of London, I have always strived to dream bigger dreams and redefine boundaries. I am learning that in theory, it is easier to do things that can keep me in my comfort zone – for example, it would have made perfect sense for me to give up on my dream of going to Harvard as soon as I discovered that my scholarship had fallen through. However, in practice the feeling of doing something that seems impossible overrides doubt. One reason why I think I have had such amazing, empowering, enriching, overwhelming and worthwhile experiences over the past few years is because I embrace the importance of ‘showing up’. If you don’t show up, you don’t have the chance to sit at the table. The biggest obstacle can often be building the internal motivation and strength to show up. But, once you do, that is often half the battle.
I have had a range of challenges as we all do. The two most impactful challenges over the past year have included the death of two close friends by suicide and a 7-month international project that had received approval and assurance of funding falling through at the last minute without any explanation. I know that many people face these kinds of challenges all the time; however, what I am realising is that everyone responds differently. I had to take some time to understand the best way for me to cope. I felt helpless, confused, and shocked, but one of my friends from the Amos Bursary encouraged me to write a Gratitude List of everything I can be grateful for over the past year. Going through the writing process was very cathartic and helped me visualise that even when I feel stressed or disappointed at something, I have so many other things to be grateful for that could have easily fallen through this year. I also took a moment to look in the mirror and record a selfie video where I said: ‘Isaiah, when you pursue novel, unconventional paths, you can expect novel, unconventional, and abnormal problems’. This again helps me to put things into perspective.
Social impact venture
Earlier this year, I launched Redefining Boundaries to create a fellowship and incubator for incredible black talent in the tech space across the UK and US. Recent news has highlighted the abysmal lack of black/African-American talent in the tech industry and I had the vision to show that we, in fact, do exist. The fellows formed 15 of the most talented techies I have met. I raised $15,000 from a few companies (including Airbnb, Facebook, Google, Boxgroup) to fund our inaugural fellowship and we had support from the CEO of Y Combinator and Partners at Google Ventures among many others.
Over the summer, I surpassed the 21,000 applicants to be selected as one of 30 design interns at Airbnb’s HQ and I joined Kleiner Perkins (formerly KPCB) as a Design Fellow. At Airbnb, I interned in the Anti-Discrimination product team alongside engineers, lawyers, researchers, product managers, and designers and our goal was to remove opportunities for racial discrimination on the platform. It was fascinating