As part of MoFo’s celebration of Black History Month, San Francisco partner Eric Tate moderated a fireside chat with Bruce Jackson, Associate General Counsel at Microsoft and author of Never Far from Home.
Bruce has spent his career empowering minorities within the corporate world. From growing up in the housing projects of Manhattan to a career in tax and entertainment law, to climbing the ranks in the largest software company in the world, he has defied the odds of inequality in America.
Born in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, Bruce moved to Manhattan’s Amsterdam housing projects with his family when he was nine years old. That was when he began to see the reality of inequality in America. “When I was in Brooklyn, I didn’t realize I was poor, because everyone was poor,” Bruce said. “However, when we moved to Manhattan, things were different. I was able to look out my window to see wealth.” Bruce recalled walking through wealthy communities to get to school or to go play in Central Park with other children. That’s when he began to notice that the people who lived in those wealthy communities did not look like him or anyone else from his community.
Early on in his career, while still living in the projects, Bruce had just closed a more-than-100-million‑dollar deal for Microsoft. After celebrating with coworkers in the office, Bruce wanted to go home to celebrate with friends. While driving, he was pulled over by a police officer; he found out much later on that it was because his brother had failed to pay a parking ticket. Bruce was arrested, taken to Central Booking, and processed overnight. “Ordinarily what they do in that situation is give you a court appearance ticket, but I wasn’t privileged; I’m a Black man in America,” Bruce said.
He often reminds his colleagues that, because of their privilege and despite his accomplishments, their lives are very different than his. During the fireside chat, he explained that the system will never change unless people join the fight against inequality. “The whole idea of me writing this book is so we can give proximity to those who are privileged. Once we get proximity, hopefully, they want to help the cause and help change things.”
Bruce credits his decision to write Never Far from Home to some of his former entertainment clients. They argued that his type of success story is one that is not often noticed by young people. “Not a lot of doctors and lawyers come back to the community, so what they see are entertainers and athletes as a way out. And the percentage of athletes and entertainers who make it is very small,” Bruce explained. “The book is really meant to inspire everyone and try to remove barriers.”
Bruce acknowledged that writing his book was a vulnerable experience, but also that he balanced his fear of judgement with his desire to inspire younger generations. He explained how important it is for marginalized people to share their own stores. “It’s the most incredible tool we have.”
Learn more about Bruce and his memoir.