“I dream of you in colors that don’t exist.” | CEO Reflections from 2024 Community Retreat

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Early this month, I spent time at this year’s Social Innovation Summit in my hometown, Chicago. On the eve of the event, there was a reception at Carnivale — a restaurant so named because it treats every meal like a celebration. Right when you walk into the bar, they have a sign — lit up in neon — that reads: “I dream of you in colors that don’t exist.”

Carnivale, Chicago

And as I was thinking about what I wanted to say to 150 entrepreneurs from around the country at last week’s 2024 REDF Community Retreat — something that could evoke to this beloved community of leaders what we at REDF hope for them, not just in our precious time together, but in the work overall — well, this sentence got pretty damn close.

“I dream of you in colors that don’t exist.”

This group of leaders from Miami to Minneapolis, from Kansas to Vermont, in industries that span manufacturing, technology, and construction – they are all so bright, so fly, so filled with a sense of possibility and driven by a determinism that knows no end. And to us, they evoke the beauty of a sunrise with vibrant colors we can’t always name but that stun us all the same.

And so we began our retreat in the fair city of Los Angeles, a city with an incredibly vibrant employment social enterprise ecosystem — and a city with grit, soul, and style for days. And though it’s known for its Hollywood sense of celebrity, it should be known for another type of celebrity, as well.

One such celebrity is Biddy Mason.

Biddy’s story is transcendent. Born into slavery, she was taken from her mom as a baby by a Mormon family. After decades as a slave, she was forced to travel with her enslavers to Utah and then again to California — where she walked over 1,700 miles in rain, mud, flood, and ice with her three kids in tow.

Once in California, this shero took her enslavers to court and secured her freedom. She then used her skills as a healer and midwife to care for her community and ultimately build her career. She went from enslaved person to entrepreneur and philanthropist — eventually founding LA’s first Black church and owning enough land to make today’s equivalent of $10 million.

That wealth and power she amassed? She didn’t hold it tight. She shared it to ignite a movement in Los Angeles, by caring for her community, supporting people in prison, and providing housing for the poor. She opened her hand to give in abundance to so many people around her.

She was a legit OG social entrepreneur, helping others build wealth and ‘economic power.’

And at REDF’s Community Retreat, when we sat in the hallowed walls of the Omni Hotel in downtown LA, we were sitting where she once stood and served. 

Yet so few people know her name.

So as we traversed three days in community with each other — dishing on things like how to balance margin and mission, and how to manifest economic power (which we collectively defined as ‘economic mobility with a boost that creates joy’) for populations that have been historically overlooked — we held Biddy’s hand all throughout. She was and remains the angel we hold close to ensure we stay rooted in our collective aspiration: to lead into and live into an economy that works. For everyone.

At the end of our three days, I was, as predicted, both exhausted and entirely blissed out. Exhausted because when you pour yourself into a community that pours itself into you, it will tucker you out a bit. And blissed out, because the other thing that happens is that you realize you’re not alone. When life gets slippery, you have the spirits of leaders past to propel you, and the hearts of leaders present to hold you.

Group photo of ESE leaders and REDF staff at the 2024 REDF Community Retreat

And when all these leaders get together to figure out how our ecosystem — now over 300+ enterprises strong, generating over $2.5 billion in earned revenue, and employing over 133,000 people overcoming tough barriers to employment — can get to scale, you leave with your head full of possibility and your heart blooming in colors that don’t (yet) exist.

Maria Kim