April 27, 2020
Michael Gardner is the recipient of the 2020 Outstanding Alumnx Award (OAA) along with Dr. Riana Elyse Anderson. He was presented with the award virtually at IGR's 17th Annual Award Ceremony and Graduation Celebration.
Born and raised in Ypsilanti, MI, Michael graduated from the University of Michigan in 2012 where he studied Business and Spanish. After a summer internship with Google, he returned full-time and has spent the past 8 years on 8 sales teams helping businesses of all shapes and sizes to profitably grow. He now manages a Small Business Sales team. Michael has also made significant contributions to Google's diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. He has brought digital resources to hundreds of minority-owned businesses by managing various community partnerships, has worked to make Google Ann Arbor the most inclusive office in the world as co-lead of an Employee Resource Group, and is now coaching hundreds of Googlers of color through a development program he founded and scaled. He was even recognized in a Fortune magazine cover story for some of his efforts. Outside of work, Michael spends a lot of time in movie theaters, owns two chinchillas, and enjoys sharing his 2-year old son, Jack, with the world through Instagram (@gardenofmichael), one dad joke at a time.
Below are Michael's remarks to the class of 2020:
Thank you to The Program on Intergroup Relations for this award. I appreciate the recognition, but it does take a village to build a more equitable society, so I would also like to express gratitude to all of my partners in crime for building with me. I also must acknowledge that I would not be in the position I am in today without shoulders to stand on, so thank you to everyone who has invested in me over the years, especially my parents, who have played the greatest role in molding me from the inside out.
I grew up at the feet of servants - a father with an unwavering focus on character and a mother with an unapologetic commitment to justice. Their values ran deep and their gifts spread wide. My dad was a fixer. There was always someone’s broken computer in our basement and wood shavings in the garage as he would hop from project to project. As a kid, I became as familiar with Home Depot as I did Gamestop. My mom could work wonders in the kitchen. Her stews, her pot roasts, her greens...everything was a banger. But that apple pie, though? That crumb topping that makes you cock your head, stare at your fork, and sneak seconds? Pure magic. Somehow, her baked goods ended up at every school function, every holiday gathering, and in kitchens across Ypsilanti, MI.
Unfortunately, I didn’t inherit their gifts, as I am not particularly handy or versatile in the kitchen, but the values stuck. Coupled with a strong education, I had an obligation to lift others as I climbed, so I did.
After studying Business and Spanish at the University of Michigan, I started my career at Google, helping businesses of all shapes and sizes to profitably grow. People talk about how the tech industry is fast-paced and my journey confirms it. After 5 role changes in my first 2 years, 2 organizational restructures, and a recent transition into management, I have been on 8 teams in 8 years and I must say, that 10-year plan I mapped out senior year was a bit off.
While I have experienced twists and turns throughout my career, my commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion has remained steadfast. Initially, I focused on digital literacy, connecting hundreds of minority-owned businesses and nonprofits to digital tools they could use to grow their business online. I then shifted my focus to transforming Google Ann Arbor into the most inclusive office in the world, “connecting people across difference” through community-building initiatives, critical dialogue, and intersectional partnerships. I am now deeply invested in driving equitable outcomes, building, and scaling a development program for hundreds of Googlers of color. Not only has this work been a labor of love, but it has also made us a better company and amplifies our mission to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
I am proud of the impact I have had on others, but it is admittedly strange to celebrate at a time like this. It is strange to be recognized for connecting people when so many families and communities have been torn apart by a virus that forces us to minimize physical contact with others. My wife is a nurse and I manage a team that supports small businesses, so I am proximate to some of the most vulnerable populations impacted by this pandemic. While I am
confident we will get through this, I am deeply concerned about what the world will look like when the dust settles.
We will eventually begin the work of rebuilding this planet and when we do, there will be an opportunity for us to be intentional about integrating diversity, equity, and inclusion into the blueprint. After reflecting on this pandemic, I would like to offer a few insights I have gathered and choices we will face that may help us do just that.
1. The first insight is that shared problems unify. This is the first time in our lifetime that the entire human race is facing the same problem and the response has been remarkable. Healthcare workers are risking their lives for others, scientists around the world are collaborating to rapidly expand testing and treatment, governments are intervening at an unprecedented level, and every person who practices social distancing #flattensthecurve. I have been truly inspired by our ability to come together. That being said, we are grappling with significant loss, so when we reach the other side, we will have a choice - to blame others or to build together.
2. The second insight is that inequity compounds. While everyone is susceptible to this virus, there are many who have lived at the margins for years who are now making headlines. For example, the Black community, which has faced longstanding structural challenges related to health, income, housing, and more, is disproportionately impacted by this virus. These challenges have compounded to put this community at greater risk today and a longer road to recovery tomorrow. There are many others who share a similar story. When we reach the other side, we will have a choice - to only prioritize ourselves or to also prioritize others.
3. The third insight is that access matters. In light of social distancing, the Internet has become more important than ever. From video chats to virtual events to online classrooms, people are finding new ways to stay connected, entertained, and productive. My family and others are fortunate to be able to maintain a sense of normalcy online, but there millions of Americans and billions of people around the world without access to the Internet and technology, unable to participate in a digital economy. When we reach the other side, we will have a choice - to limit access or expand it.
The world will be different when we reach the other side. It is up to each of us to decide what that world looks like. I am convinced that a society that includes each of us benefits all of us, so I encourage everyone to build together, prioritize others, and fight to expand access. Our gifts and contributions may differ, but this new society will need all of them, even if it is just a magical slice of apple pie.