Note: This conversation that this recap is based on contains sensitive language around racism and sexual assault. Viewer discretion is advised. The recap contains a brief mention of the racism experienced by the speaker.
At the 2022 Conscious Capitalism CEO Summit, CCI board member JeVon McCormick, CEO of Scribe Media, was interviewed by Jon Berghoff about his story of overcoming the odds and achieving the American dream.
JeVon was willing to be incredibly vulnerable with the audience, sharing personal struggles he faced as a child and how those challenges led him to become the person and leader he is today.
From JeVon’s interview we distilled three lessons that he shared from his own personal experience.
Confidence is free
JeVon began the interview by noting that his father was black, a pimp, and a drug dealer, while his mother was white and a prostitute. He grew up in poverty and was discriminated against by both white and black people. White people didn’t like him because he was “too black” while black people didn’t like him because he was “too white.”
At home, meanwhile, JeVon was one of 23 children his dad had fathered. He described a time that he was staying with his father and was left alone for multiple days with three of the younger children, aged four, three, and two. After three days went by, they were out of food; JeVon realized that it could be a long time before anyone came back. At only twelve years old he was left with no choice but to have his four-year-old sister watch the younger two so that he could go to the store to steal food.
Upon returning home, he encountered the youngest brother walking around naked. They were out of diapers. Diapers would be too big to steal, so JeVon had to potty train his brother. In the end they were left alone for three weeks. JeVon described this as the most difficult time in his life because he didn’t know if they’d disconnect the water or electricity or if anyone would even come back to them. Still a child himself, he was forced to step into the role of sole provider for his three young siblings.
In the face of racism, poverty, and neglect, JeVon maintained his confidence. He knew that the deck was stacked against him and being meek wouldn’t change anything. JeVon views confidence as a choice that can be made every day. “There were days I may not have had food, I may not have had electricity, but I had confidence and it was free and it was a choice,” he explained. That confidence, paired with endless curiosity, allowed him to go from stealing as a child to feed his family to sitting in the CEO chair of a successful publishing company as an adult.
Always be curious
JeVon shared an anecdote about a grade-school teacher who had told him that there were no stupid questions. “I’ve been asking questions ever since,” he joked, and went on to say he’s been a lifelong learner. Despite their differences in profession, he learned a lot of business lessons from his father. JeVon feels that being willing to learn from an unlikely source is valuable, so long as you also learn from the person’s mistakes.
Another instance of JeVon’s curiosity came when he was working as a mail clerk at an insurance agency. He pushed the mail cart past a room that had a sign which read “FREE LUNCH AND LEARN: 401k.” The “free lunch” portion caught his eye, so he asked a nearby woman for directions to room 401k. She chuckled, explained that 401k was the subject of the session, and pointed JeVon in the right direction. In that lunch and learn JeVon discovered a love of compound interest. He remembered thinking “You can turn $100 into $200 and no one comes looking for you?” He took those lessons and taught himself to trade stocks and bonds with whatever money he had left over, but he wanted more. He began applying for jobs by the dozen before coming face-to-face with an unfortunate reality.
Don’t censor yourself
After dozens of applications without hearing back, JeVon got a call. The man asked him how he’d gotten a black first name, JeVon, and an Irish last name, McCormick. It was then that JeVon realized that hiring managers’ implicit biases had been responsible for him not hearing back. They saw “JeVon” at the top of his resume and didn’t even get to the rest of it. He began to go by JT instead, at which point the calls came rolling in. It was bittersweet, because although he was getting more interviews and could advance his career, it came at the cost of his true self.
After George Floyd was murdered JeVon looked inward. He felt that there was so much performative activism and wanted to find a way to make a true impact. He realized that in going by JT and playing implicit biases to his advantage, he was part of the problem. “Whatever you’re not changing, you’re choosing,” he opined. So he reclaimed his real name, JeVon. It made no difference to him, since he’d already become successful. “I did it for every kid in America named Rayvonte, Martavis, Laquanda, Rosalia, Juan, [or] Jesús. Because my goal, one day, when you’re in the business world, maybe one day you can work next to a JeVon and not just a JT.”
Registration is open for the 2023 CEO Summit
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