This blog was written by Microsoft Sr. Product Marketing Manager, Shy Averett, as part of the Amplifying Black Voices blog series. Read about Shy's career journey, purpose, and the importance of showing up.
Superheroes don’t always wear capes. They don’t necessarily fly, bend steel or shoot heat rays from their eye sockets. Want to know what a real superhero is? It’s an ordinary human who does extraordinary things. We all have our own special brand of super powers, those gifts and skills we’ve developed for use, not because we have to, but because they define so much of who we are.
At the early age of ten, my mom recognized that I didn’t have the same interests as most children. Instead of chasing after the latest popular toy, I found myself organizing events and creating fun programs for other kids in the community. I’m so grateful that mom recognized it wasn’t just a pastime for me, but a gift for greater use. I remember the day when she came to me and said, “You have a special talent.” But talents only become super powers when you use them to benefit someone else, not wanting anything in return.
A year later I joined the Detroit chapters of the NAACP and the Urban League. When mom asked why I wanted to join, I simply replied: “I want to be a superhero.” So by age thirteen, I was not only the Detroit chapter’s youth president, organizing all of its events, but the young adult president for the state of Michigan NAACP as well. All of a sudden, the neighborhood birthday parties and kids events I’d hosted didn’t matter anymore. I realized that my gift was missing something: pure purpose and passion.
So working with others to solve problems and achieve common goals was my talent. But my talent didn’t become a super power until I used it to create programs that increased voter registration, assisted workforce development and promoted civil rights for others, as I did through the NAACP for seventeen years. At Microsoft the same principle applies: Not only do each of us bring personal and professional skills to our positions, but each of us has the potential to develop these assets into forces that serve a greater good. However impressive our salaries or titles might be, our superhero potential is measured by the efforts we make to nurture success outside of our personal achievements.
Shirley Chisholm, who in 1968 became the first black woman elected to Congress, said, “Service is the rent you pay for room on this earth.” She was telling us the energy, resources and skills we’ve been given were never intended for us to use selfishly, hoarding valuable assets that should be distributed into the world around us. What if Shirley Chisholm, Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., or even Barack Obama had held back their courage, their intelligence, or their visions? I’m not pleased by a lot of what I see happening in society now – but I’m terrified to imagine a world that never gained from superpowers these women and men kept locked inside themselves. I’m terrified to think of what might have happened if they’d said to themselves, “I don’t have the time,” or “This is too hard.” Of course, not everyone’s calling in life is to run for office or to walk on the frontlines of justice. But we all have a calling, a purpose, a super power! When I started at the Detroit Microsoft Store, I organized community events and created programs; later I moved to corporate with a mission to manage the entire Community program. I was excited to take myself and my super power (they can’t be separated) to Redmond and make an impact. See, once you identify your super power, you realize that you can’t put it down, nor can you walk away from it. It’s so much a part of who you are that it becomes your life’s mission. You want to make sure that everything you do includes it. After about a month in Redmond, I realized that the structure of the program was not conducive to my super power. At that point I had a hard decision to make: Either find a way to bring my super power into the new role or accept that the role wasn’t for me. Our program was great, but I realized I rarely saw young girls or black and brown students in the youth classes. We didn’t have programming for Black History Month, Women’s History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month and other diverse observances. I remember going to my leaders Travis Walter and David Porter and not only sharing my concern, but expressing my passion. Their support was the difference-maker in what occurred next. Because all superheroes need allies, right?
Fast-forward three years: Thanks to the support of my fellow superhero and boss, Olga Lymberis, we have a black history program that impacted more than a half-million students in 2020. Our MANCODE initiative has introduced more than 250,000 black and brown boys to careers in AI, coding, and STEM. For the first time, we recently translated over twenty workshops into Spanish so as many people as possible can benefit from our program. Another major development was last year’s launch of the Legacy Project, Microsoft’s first fully virtual cultural museum celebrating black history, Hispanic heritage, women’s history and more. To date over 1.8 million individuals have had the opportunity to learn about the rich treasures hidden within these important cultures.
None of these offerings came about because I was asked or instructed to develop them; they happened because I know my purpose and I understand that part of it obligates me to share. Showing up for work every day involves more than sitting down and logging into the Microsoft network. Truly “showing up” means identifying our purposes and recognizing that we all have roles that go beyond whatever assignments cross our desks in the course of the day. It might not be as exciting or fulfilling for you to come up with diversity and inclusion strategies or community outreach ideas as it is for me; these contributions accompany my individual calling, unique gifts and personal passion. But can you find a youth to mentor, or volunteer as a tutor in an underserved neighborhood? Can you contact a homeless shelter or volunteer to teach? The answer to what you can contribute might even be something no one else has thought of, but identifying your purpose and sharing your passion can have heroic results. You’d be surprised by the number of positive responses you’d get just by asking, “How can I help?” Sharing what we have to offer is such a simple concept, but so powerful. It clarifies our lives and multiplies our strengths by transferring some of that strength into others. Think about a defining moment in your life and the person who most impacted you in that moment. Now imagine your life today if that person had decided he or she was too tired, too busy, or too preoccupied to play a role in your defining experience. One thing is certain: Someone’s waiting for you to show up, too.