profound learning I took from him was that we don’t have to accept the world that we’re born into as something that is fixed and impermeable
In an era of tweets, she speaks in long, discursive paragraphs that weave together personal narrative, politics and her views on social change. She invokes Dante, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Ross Perot without irony. Her ideas are nuanced, and she doesn’t pretend to have easy solutions to complex problems.
It’s a diverse set of concerns, and reflects her belief that issues like poverty, education, personal health and environmental justice are all interconnected.
As someone attuned to society’s structural inequalities, Ms. Powell Jobs grasps the immensity of her privilege. She is a Silicon Valley billionaire, pushing back against the wealthy occupant of the White House. The very fact that such fortunes exist while others struggle to get by strikes her as unjust.
“It’s not right for individuals to accumulate a massive amount of wealth that’s equivalent to millions and millions of other people combined,” she said. “There’s nothing fair about that.”
And yet Ms. Powell Jobs is hardly apologetic. “I inherited my wealth from my husband, who didn’t care about the accumulation of wealth,” she said. “I am doing this in honor of his work, and I’ve dedicated my life to doing the very best I can to distribute it effectively, in ways that lift up individuals and communities in a sustainable way.
“I’m not interested in legacy wealth buildings, and my children know that,” she added. “Steve wasn’t interested in that. If I live long enough, it ends with me.”
One profound learning I took from him was that we don’t have to accept the world that we’re born into as something that is fixed and impermeable. When you zoom in, it’s just atoms just like us. And they move all the time. And through energy and force of will and intention and focus, we can actually change it. Move it.
People love to quote him saying, “Put a dent in the universe.” But that’s too flippant. It’s too cavalier. He was thinking of it as “We are able, each of us, to manipulate the circumstances.” I think about it as looking at the design of the structures and systems that govern our society, and changing those structures. Because those structures, when they’re elegantly designed, should be frictionless for people. They shouldn’t require you to make huge course corrections that impede your ability to live a productive and fulfilling life. It took me a while to understand that was truly possible. But that’s at the core of everything we do at Emerson Collective. We all believe that it’s truly possible.
Q: How did College Track, which was very narrowly focused on education, lead to Emerson Collective, which is working on a much broader set of issues?
A: I came in through the education door, looking at equity and access of quality education. And of course that was connected to immigration and health and well-being, and clean air, water and soil, and access to opportunity, and also other obstacles that are thrown in the way of impoverished communities, like lack of access to financial services and health services. All of that has to be addressed in a holistic way, and that’s why we started building a matrix organization. I wanted our organization to be just as connected as all the issues that we’re working on.
Our very first graduating class of seniors at College Track included students who were undocumented. They only found out when they were applying to college that they didn’t have a Social Security number. They had come when they were toddlers. And then we all realized that means that they had to apply as international students. They couldn’t access any state or federal funding for education, even though they had grown up here. I thought, this is an obvious glitch in our immigration system. It was obviously a federal law that needed to be changed.