Mitchell comes from a black family with entrepreneurial spirit. When he was a teenager, he grew up in New Haven, Connecticut, and his mother and grandmother opened a bakery called Smith Family Bake Shop. Mitchell himself specializes in making red velvet cakes, and he still likes baking from time to time. But the store closed a few years later, partly because his family lacked business experience. He decided to go to school to learn some knowledge that his predecessors lacked, and eventually obtained a degree in human resources from Temple University, and later graduated from Harvard Business School.
Mitchell’s work in the human resources department brought him to Singapore, where he worked as a recruiter for Citigroup. It was there that he spent the early stages of the “Black People’s Fate” movement, observing from a distance how the conversation about race in the United States has changed. He also realized that his experience as a black man in Asia was very different from what he saw in his hometown. “Most people in Singapore just treat me like an American,” he said. “There are no second guesses or unconscious biases as part of the daily experience. It’s almost like walking around with a 200-pound vest.” When he returned to the United States, he knew that fighting racism would be his top priority. “It’s kind of like, I can’t no Make this work part of my work,” he said.
Soon after returning home, Mitchell found a human resources job at Netflix. The streaming giant has a notorious work culture that emphasizes autonomy and transparency at all costs. Some former employees described it as dysfunctional, full of disturbing public dismissals and performance reviews (any employee can criticize anyone else). But lifelong musician Mitchell likens Netflix’s corporate structure to a jazz band, where creativity and adaptability are fundamental. There is no hierarchy within the company, which allowed him to pursue what he called “jazz solo” when he started to study black banks.
The first person Michelle contacted after the April dinner was Bill Bynum, who was able to provide some wide-angle perspectives on the importance of black banks and CDFI. Mitchell also picked up Mehrsa Baradaran’s book The color of money. Reading page 384 carefully, he was surprised to discover how many laws and regulations had been enacted over the centuries to prevent attempts to build black wealth. He realized that these obstacles could be traced back to the original Friedman Bank, where black people eventually saw their deposits being searched by white managers for venture capital. “Before I read that book, I thought it was an easier problem to solve,” Mitchell said. “Unless you understand the complexity of the problem, you can’t really help.”
Balladaran’s book, and other recent works such as Richard Rothstein Color of law, Emphasize that discrimination is not merely an expression of prejudice held by individuals or organizations; it is closely integrated with laws and incentive mechanisms formulated by government agencies. The problem is systemic; the solution must be so. “My book wants to show that you don’t need to join racism in order to eliminate racism,” Baradaran said. “Our existing structure will generate racism unless you think very, very carefully how to remedy these things.”
Mitchell decided to contact the author. Baradaran has received consulting requests from many companies that want to whitewash their brand in the face of changing American sentiments about race issues. Despite this, she is still willing to answer Mitchell’s calls because she feels that Netflix has sincerely strived to operate in a diversified manner. The company’s proportion of black employees is higher than that of Facebook, Google or Microsoft, at 8%. The anchor also invested a lot of money to develop a series of works featuring black actors and directors, such as Ava DuVernay and Spike Lee, who praised the company. “Netflix creates stories,” Baradaran said. “That’s the Netflix market. In this market, they do a good job of representation and diversity. This is what I want to say to other companies-look at your market and see how you make it there. Change.”
Baladaran also felt that Mitchell was eager to help small black businesses like his bakery. So she volunteered to help him formulate his proposal. “She’s the kind of person who inspires us to think bigger,” Mitchell said. With Baradaran’s participation, Mitchell began drafting a two-and-a-half page memo outlining his vision for how Netflix can sustainably support black banks. From the beginning, he firmly believed that part of Netflix’s cash should be used for this work. “A fixed 2% means that as our company grows, our commitment to these communities will continue to grow,” Mitchell said.