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October 13, 2020 | Bob Coppedge

Mrs. Coppedge’s Neighborhood

Like my mom did in the 70s, it’s time for all of us leaders in the IT “”neighborhood”” to step up for people underrepresented in our industry and welcome them.

This article is part of Stronger Together, an in-depth look at diversity, equity, and inclusion in IT from the October issue of our magazine.


My mom … was a mom. A stay-at-home-and-not-because-of-a-pandemic mom. It was a different world back then, both good and bad.

I was born in 1958, the second of four kids in a middle-class family living in an all-white suburb of Cleveland. Went to church every Sunday. The church was very integrated, and I had no clue that was unusual. Mom volunteered for everything. She was a force. Not to be reckoned with, but to be depended on.

I had clues to her strength and determination on some issues. I remember her being involved at the church when Cleveland was dealing with the Hough riots in ’66. I don’t remember specific content, just a determined mom.

I do remember her reaction when my dad told her that Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated. At the time, she was running a Cub Scout den meeting with a dozen of us 10-year-old boys. I could tell she was upset. It took me a few years to realize how much.

I got my first real clue in 1972.

The first African-American family moved into our neighborhood. We had them over for dinner (we did that for everybody who moved onto the street) before they were actually settled in. There was nothing unusual about the dinner.

Then came the fire-bombing.

As fire-bombing goes (and I’m not an expert), it wasn’t much. Some road flares tucked into their couch and set off. Not a huge amount of damage, but the message was clear.

You’re not wanted.

I can’t recall before (or since) seeing my mother that angry. The local city magazine decided to do a cover story on the incident and interviewed each household.

They came over to our house (dad wasn’t home). My older sister (I was 14, she was 17) and I were told to stay upstairs and keep our younger brother and sister up there. We were ordered to stay quiet.

This was not our mother. She had never ordered us in that way before.

We sat at the top of the stairs listening to our mother. She was on fire. Talking to the reporter. One moment full of anger. Then sadness. My sister and I were mesmerized. Proud. And, to be honest, a bit scared.

Mom knew she was a bit player on the stage. She wasn’t the one the message was for.

But she wasn’t lying down for it.

The magazine article had quotes from the neighbors, about half of which were thinly-veiled (some not-so-thin) racist statements. And then there was the quote from my mom.

“”We had them over for dinner. They seemed nice.””

Those words are forever burned into my memory. 

My mom started taking food over to the new neighbors, and visiting them frequently with us kids in tow. Timing it so that it would be in full view of the neighborhood.

My dad fully supported her, although she didn’t need it.

My mom (once my older sister and I were out of the house) went back to school and got her master’s degree, becoming a counselor for in-need youth. She became a very quiet force, and found many ways to show it. 

Over the years, my older sister and I got separately more involved with diversity causes. She helped create a Women’s Health Center at her college in the early 70s and counseled a lot of needy kids before her untimely passing in ’96.

And me? I can list a bunch of things I’ve done, and if I were honest, they’d all be tagged with the ending words, “”but it isn’t enough.””

Time to change that.

Time, in fact, for all of us leaders in the IT “”neighborhood”” to step up for people underrepresented in our industry and welcome them.

And maybe take ’em some dinner.

BOB COPPEDGE is the owner and CEO of Simplex-IT and author of three books, including A CEO’s Survival Guide to Information Technology and The MSP’s Survival Guide to Co-Managed IT Services.

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