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Handshake student stories

Young, Black, and changing their industries for the better

Black Handshake users who’ve broken into underrepresented fields share their stories.

February is Black History Month, a time when we all should celebrate, honor, and educate ourselves about Black history. But Black history isn’t limited to a specific month or confined to some bygone era; every day, Black changemakers make their mark by overcoming the odds of a society that, in many ways, is designed to hold them back. We’ve been lucky enough to speak with young, Black Handshake users who’ve broken into professions where they’re woefully underrepresented and are excited to share their experiences.

Adding representation in elementary education


Joshua Redd (they/them) is a recent graduate from Bates College who has their B.A. in Africana Studies. They found Handshake during their first year at university and eventually used the platform to secure a Summer Teaching Fellowship at Uncommon Schools. Education has always been a huge interest of theirs, and they aspire to one day become a principal at a school where they could make a difference. Intentionality in their career is something Joshua values highly.

“Really think about the intentions of what you want your career to be. I’m from an area where we need more Black teachers, we need more teachers of color. And so for me I knew that I wanted to be in an area where I could see students that look like me and also students could have a teacher that looks like them–especially at a younger age. I wanted to be really intentional about teaching in a community that is in dire need of teachers who look like them as well.”

Joshua Redd, Bates College

As a person highly aware of the influence a young K-4 educator holds, Joshua thoroughly enjoys the part they play in each of their student’s stories. “I wanted to work with children who are awesome and smart and charismatic and funny,” Josh mentions, relishing in the privilege of teaching young people “who have whole boisterous personalities and be a part of their story as they traverse and navigate this world.”

Even as they consider different possible paths forward as an educator, Joshua sees themself ascending to a leadership position. Joshua looks towards their future: “I want to be somebody who is able to nourish and curate the type of school I want for my scholars. I want them to feel safe and I want them to feel affirmed. I want them to feel loved when they come to school. So [in the future] I want to be in a space where I’m actually able to put them there.” As a future leader and educator, there’s no doubt that Joshua is capable of bringing inspiration and joy wherever their path takes them.

Breaking into the world of venture capital


The lack of Black representation in education isn’t the only example of institutional inequity being challenged by young job-seekers. Angel Sledge (she/her), a graduate from North Carolina A&T, majored in political science in undergrad. After earning her diploma, Angel leapt outside her comfort zone and accepted a role as a venture capital intern—in an industry where Black individuals make up only a fraction of the population. “I saw an advertisement for BVCC (Black Venture Capital Consortium) and that they have also gone through Handshake as well," she says. "[BVCC] is trying to put Black people into venture capital because we are only 1-2% of that job force.” After learning about the lack of representation in VC, Angel used Handshake to discover new roles that might not have caught her eye previously.

“Without Handshake I wouldn't have even known about this industry, because no one had ever talked to me about it before. [Handshake] has a really good algorithm because, while I would never have thought about going to venture capital, now that I'm in it it's opened me up to a lot of other financial jobs."

Angel Sledge, NCA&T

After breaking into finance as a Black woman who’d originally considered law school, Angel has grown her knowledge and now plans to continue down a career path she never expected to pursue. She states, “I’m definitely going to stay in finance because I didn’t know how much research actually went into it. It’s not just numbers 24/7 or office life 24/7. It’s actually really interesting! Movies don’t do it justice, I’ll just say that.”

Angel offers her advice that will resonate with anyone trying to break into a new field: “The best advice I could give [other interns] would be to be honest about how much you know. A lot of people at my internship want to know what you do and what you don’t know, so they see what they can help you with.”

How to find your own role

Despite facing a unique set of challenges, including the impact of COVID on their college experience and job search, both Joshua and Angel have found promising career paths that excite them. Through their own volition and the fact that they were willing to take chances on the jobs they found on Handshake, Joshua and Angel will bring their perspectives and unique life experiences to industries where they are sorely needed. For the Black job-seekers of tomorrow, here are ways you can connect with employers who value what you bring to the table:

“A recruiter can specifically go to a college's profile and see the students from that college. So they can say, 'Oh, we want strong, intelligent Black women, so we're going to go to the Spelman College Handshake profile to specifically see those women.'"

Brittanie Rice, Spelman College

Interested in learning more about Joshua, Angel, or other Handshake alumni? Check out their previous posts on our social media. And if you’re looking for more educational resources and information about Black History Month, check out the official website.

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

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