Agent of Change
BA '17, Economics
It starts with your community. Jordan Leopold ('17), a Hayward native, has been active in the Black Lives Matter movement and most recently kicked off a rally in Hayward as its first speaker. Leopold, a changemaker in the tech space, was intrigued by the possibility of having a social impact through technology and innovation and wanted to be part of a tech-based organization that helped advance humanity in some way, shape, or form. Leopold encourages alumni to get involved to produce effective change. "Speak with those around you. Challenge racism. Use your voice. Use your network. Use your resources," said Leopold.
Q&A with Jordan
Why did you decide to attend Cal State East Bay?
I decided to attend Cal State East Bay because I was somewhat familiar with the school. I'm a Hayward native and all my education up to that point, preschool to high school, was in Hayward. I was familiar with East Bay and the story behind that was I initially didn't want to go to college. Just to satisfy my teachers and my mom, I applied to East Bay and got rejected, and for whatever reason, that started something in me. I guess I don't like to take no for an answer. During that point, my family was going through a rough period economically, financially. It was right after the ’08 financial crisis hit and I was like okay well I'm going to give it my all. I took the SAT three times to elevate my score and was accpepted to five schools. I was accepted into East Bay. And I was like; we're going to East Bay.
How has your education here at East Bay helped you with your activism and social justice efforts?
I would say less so of my education and more so the knowledge that I gained from the experience that I received at East Bay. I was fairly involved. I pledged Delta Sigma Phi first quarter freshman year. I was part of the ASI Street Team so I helped put on many of the events and concerts. Later, I co-founded Zeta Omega fraternity and became president of that. And then I was part of ASI Board of Directors for two years and California State Student Association, which is all the ASI from all the CSU’s. I was part of that for a year. I was also involved in other clubs on the side like Startup Weekend East Bay, which I think is now called Startup East Bay. That's how I got exposed to the tech world and kick-started my career, which is where I'm at right now. I was also on the East Bay Taekwondo team.
I think it was me pushing myself and getting uncomfortable and being a part of all of these different leadership based organizations. Seeing my friends set good examples for me, really inspired me to take the initiative and primarily stand up whenever there's something I know that I'm in disagreement with or something isn't fair, or isn’t right. I think that a lot of the energy, a lot of the strategy, a lot of the efforts I exercise within the activism sphere comes a lot from my time at East Bay and taking on those different leadership roles and being a part of a diverse array of organizations.
Did you face any challenges at Cal State East Bay? If so, how did you handle them?
I think the biggest challenge, which I think is a widespread challenge within our society, is we are told that going to school is the right thing to do. It's the thing to do if you want to get a good-paying job. Because my family was going through a rough period, financially, I made that decision to go to college. Like I mentioned before, I came in not knowing exactly what I wanted to do. I think that East Bay and universities in general, specifically CSU’s, don't make it easy for students to figure out how to navigate the educational system while they're in school. There are resources and different organizations to help you but you have to take the initiative to figure it out. It's not like you can be told, or be given examples of what your career opportunities are.
A lot of people didn't even know that ASI existed. And that's an opportunity for students to get some type of work experience as we're getting our education, which is a top priority when employers are hiring recent grads. They want to know what experience you have besides your degree. So I think that for me, it was difficult trying to navigate through that. I think I'm lucky enough that I just had this innate curiosity to ask questions and to look at the greater picture to where I figured out how to get through it. But I think that a lot of students have dropped out because they didn't. They didn't know what to do. They didn't know what direction to go. And it didn't feel like they were supported. So I think that that's one of the biggest challenges.
Do you consider yourself an activist? Why or why not?
It’s a very interesting term. I would consider myself an activist. I'm thinking about the word active, which for me, means to activate. It's the process of doing right and if you've looked at activists in the past, they had a perspective on the world that they saw to be wrong but they had knowledge on how to fix it. And essentially, what activists do is educate their community about this. They work to find ways to engage them in order to go on this journey of actually bringing about this change. I tend to go in and out of being an activist. In the past, 2014/2015, I was doing activist work within Oakland and San Francisco. At one point, I was sitting on a panel with other activists I was organizing with and the main speaker was Alicia Garza, the founder of Black Lives Matter. During that moment, it was all about educating people about how to get involved and how to use your social capital to continue the work by having conversations, having a dialogue.
You don't have to be in the streets protesting, you don’t have to send an email to your local representative, but there are many different ways in which you can leverage your social capital, your network, in order to try to bring about change. I'm hyper-focused on assisting Hayward and doing precisely that when it comes to addressing police brutality and addressing racism. Even for me being a Hayward native, there's experiences that I'm not familiar with. I learned recently that in May there was a young brown man who was killed by police brutality. It's experiences like that that make me realize that police brutality is not just a Minneapolis thing, not just a Ferguson thing, it's not an everywhere else. It's actually a Hayward thing and we have to work to address that and I think that's why we need to prioritize justice for the families who have lost loved ones to police. They need justice. They need closure. If there's an officer, that’s still out and about that killed a young man and they're still working, then there's no justice. You really have a killer on the streets. For me, it's learning about these stories, learning about how the system works and teaching people how to engage with that system in order to bring about the change.
What are some ways alumni can be allies in the Black Lives Matter movement?
I think the most impactful thing is giving back to the students, first and foremost. Especially alumni that have activism, advocacy, political, or business operational experience to come back and share their experiences with students to educate them. Support them through the knowledge through financial means if necessary for the students to have a voice and to make the impact. The last protests that took place at Hayward were initiated and created by East Bay students. And that goes to show the power of students.
If you ever look back at past movements, Occupy Wall Street or Vietnam or free Nelson Mandela, those are all student-led movements, even the Black Panthers. They were students when they created the organization. I think that giving back and investing in students through time, knowledge, and resources is important. I'm actively working to combat racist behaviors and racist tendencies because systemic racism isn't just through policies but through behavior. If you are at work and you see bad behavior and don't do anything to correct it or address it, then you are an accomplice to the injustice that's there. You can make a change by stepping up and confronting that. And again, support your students. Have a much-needed dialogue with those within your network whether it be on social media, friends, or family, and actively work against racism within your workplace. And of course, very easy to just donate to our organization that you believe is putting in the work, preferably a local organization.
What are ways that alumni can take effective action for change in their community?
I think if you're looking for an effective change you have to get involved. But be mindful of your capacity to get involved. If it's one hour a week or one hour every two weeks, take some time to give back to your community and push the needle forward in terms of helping local organizations, local leaders, and local community members address these issues. Not everybody has to be like me and go on marches and get on the megaphone and give a speech. You can do the research behind the scenes. If you can contribute by coming in during the meetings and taking notes, that’s something. If you can help pass out food to the community, that's something. It's very easy to get involved.
Does your activism inspire your workplace culture?
I contribute whatever I can. I work at a company called Crunchbase; they are a tech company. The best way to look at them is kind of like LinkedIn, but they focus more on company profiles. We have a lot of influence within the startup tech space because we tend to track where money flows within several industries. We follow a company's journey from the very start to the point that they're on the stock market. Because we have an enormous amount of data on that, we are in a very special position where we can actually start to attach attributes to these companies that are based on diversity. Now that we're adding these new attributes on top of seeing where money flows, we can see how money is flowing towards companies that have those diversity attributes and really see the disparity taking place there.
That's something the company has developed within the past two weeks, these diversity attributes, so we can actually start to see how much money is going to Black, brown and underrepresented founders and companies. I've been helping to confirm the language around that and to confirm the effectiveness of that. So that's kind of how I've been doing it. Also, my team has what we call Coffee Talks. We just talk about anything like a hobby or information that we find to be really interesting that we want to educate our team about. I had the opportunity to talk about the different ways in which you can get involved in a movement or for a cause. We just had a creative space for my teammates to have dialogue around what issues matter to them and how they have currently gone about addressing them. It's really awesome that I was able to do that because, in a traditional job, you really can't do that. You don't have the chance to do that because it's not a normal standard.
If you could share one piece of advice with Pioneer students, what would that be?
As early as possible, think as far out as possible about your life. Explore the different routes, different possibilities, different opportunities that are available to you. Think about the general direction that you want to go towards and then work backward to determine what steps you need to take to get there. I think that's the biggest thing is just be very thorough and decide what you want to do. What do you want to be. That's the biggest advice.
Other advice would be to establish a support system, to establish a feedback loop to refine further who you are as a person, especially when it comes to academics. Towards the end of my educational journey, I started to ask for more feedback from my professors. I gained a lot out of that because it made me incorporate the insight from experts. So be able to find those feedback loops within your professors, within your peers, and those that you're working with. Especially if there's somebody that's in a position or in a place that you aspire to be in. Try to connect with them and try to pick their brain for you to figure out what is the best route for you to get there or even determine if that's something that you want to do or not.