Finding Connection as the ‘Only’ by Rasheité Calhoun

As part of our celebration of Black History Month, OpenSesame is empowering black voices and featuring stories from our colleagues. Hear from Rasheité Calhoun, Manager of Strategic Partnerships and co-leader of OpenSesame’s Black Folx ERG, about her experience building her black community.  

The other day I was aimlessly scrolling LinkedIn and scrolled past a rare sighting. Actually who am I kidding? It wasn’t a rare sighting. It was something I’d actually never seen before, except for when I look at my own profile. I scrolled past a brown face with box braids wrapped up into a perfectly round top knot. I was less intrigued by her hair and more so by her headline–partnerships and alliances expert. There’s another Black person who works in partnerships. 

No way! 

Finding your way into the land of partnerships is already a mystery. No one wakes up wishing to work in the channel. Many of us just end up here and we love it so much that we stick around forever. But seeing someone whose skin and hair resembled mine who also had a similar role to me brought me some satisfaction I haven’t had in a while. I stared at her page for longer than I probably should have, but I was too nervous to hit the connect button. I didn’t want to seem like a weirdo. So I slowly backed away from her page and quietly wished her the best of luck in her channel career while praising her Black Girl Magic.

Just a few days later I came across ANOTHER face that stopped me in my tracks. I recently joined Partnership Leaders to connect with other channels and alliances leaders and as I was looking at their upcoming events I noticed one of the speakers was a Black man carrying the title of SVP, Global Strategic Alliances. Y’all, that makes three of us!

Now, don’t get me wrong, I never felt like I was the only Black person working in partnerships. I just haven’t had the opportunity to interact much with people in channel roles who look like me. I’ve never seen them. Seeing other faces that look like me, doing a role similar to mine, brought me so much pride but it also made me desire connection. I wanted to hear about their experiences. I wanted to learn about their journey. I wanted to share stories and laughs and eyerolls surrounding all the things. 

So this time I gathered my courage and I sent a LinkedIn message. I hated that I was crippled by fear a few days prior. I still felt very weird, and slightly stalkerish about reaching out to a total stranger on LinkedIn, but I did it anyway. I kept it super simple.

Me: Hi Todd. I saw you listed as a speaker for a Partnership Leaders event next week. I don’t know many Channel leaders that look like me, so I had to reach out to say hello.

I’m looking forward to your session on partnering with agencies.

Him: Thanks, Rasheité. And amen to that!

And I am proud to say my courage paid off. I’m now connected to another Black leader in Strategic Partnerships. That might seem pretty small to many folks, but it’s huge for me. Being the ‘“only” isn’t easy. It gets lonely and can be fairly isolating at times. That said, I think there’s plenty we can all take from my story of courage. 

I’ll leave you with two bits of encouragement. 

#1: if you’re in a position of leadership and you ever look up and there’s an “only” on your team, consider their experience and explore ways to make sure they feel supported and included. 

#2: If you’re an “only” on your team or in your company, don’t be afraid to seek out connections with folks outside of your company who share your same experience. It’s a good way to build community.

At OpenSesame we proudly promote Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion