Black History Month is a significant time to elevate the stories, voices, and experiences of the Black community. This month is an opportunity to pause from our routines and really see and value the contributions of Black Americans. Out & Equal is committed to elevating the profile of members of our community who have diverse intersectional identities.
Chris Mossiah (they/them pronouns) is a digital product manager for a digital design system within the Consumer & Community Banking Department.
Tell me about yourself, where you grew up, and how your journey led you to where you are now in your career and life.
How much time do you have? I feel like I’ve had five lives. And when I talk about the things that I’ve been though, people think I’ve had five lives. My name is Chris Mossiah. I am originally from Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey. At the time, my family was one of two families that were Black in the town.
When I turned 17 and graduated, I joined the Navy. At a young age I always knew I was queer, but it was something I had to come to grips with because I grew up in a very religious family. It was easier to deny that part of myself and the military made that easy to do because you have to be like everyone else. You don’t have to have an identity. And at the time, that felt comfortable.
As time went by, I didn’t like not being an individual, so I left the military. I had a son at 22 and here I was, a young person raising a young child with a disability trying to figure out who I really was. Not just as an individual, but who I was as a queer person, because I was allowing myself to finally accept my queerness. Also, learning who I was as a Black individual. And because I live in America, there is a Black history in America that I needed to learn.
I had some tough experiences early in my career because of my Blackness and queerness that forced me to start to advocate more in the workplace. The more negative things that happened to me, the more that I didn’t want it to happen to someone else. I really started to take that initiative to speak out, step up, and lead in a certain way that I thought others may need me to do.
What does Black History Month mean to you?
Black History Month to me is also Black pride. We’re in a new era where we are raising our children to see their skin as beautiful and their hair as beautiful and their features as beautiful, but it wasn’t always like that. We are teaching our children that Black pride should be 24/7, 365 days a year. Black history should be the same.
Black History Month is important because the history of Black people is not taught it in schools, work, or anywhere else. Black people have taken it upon themselves to teach this history to the younger Black generation. But this should also be the time that non-Black people learn this history. It’s simple: Black people have been here, and we have achieved important things that deserve to be taught and learned about too. This is the month where everybody else should do what Black people do all year, which is learn, understand, and honor the history of Black people.
Why is inclusion in the workplace important for the Black community? Why is intersectionality so imperative in our conversations around workplace inclusion?
When I walk into a room what precedes me is my Blackness. It’s the first thing that you see. I have locs that go way past my waist. And I’m proud of it because it’s a part of my culture and my heritage. But sometimes that is all people see and they make assumptions before I even open my mouth. You don’t know how many times I’ve heard, “You speak so well.” I understand what they really mean by that.
Because my Blackness is the first thing that you see, people don’t know that I am a parent. Unless they have a conversation with me, they don’t know that I’m living with an invisible disability or that I have a child who is living with a visible disability. Or that I’ve served this country and was in two wars. They don’t know that I come from a household of immigrants. You don’t know these things unless you have a conversation. And intersectionality is a way to find a commonality between people. Maybe you don’t know what it means to be Black, but you understand my queerness. Maybe you don’t understand my queerness, but you understand what it’s like to be a veteran. Intersectionality bridges gaps and connects the dots between people.
What would you share with young Black people who are on a similar professional trajectory as you? What do you wish someone had told you early in your career?
I wish somebody would’ve told me that the things that I was most insecure about were the things that were going to make me the most powerful. It would’ve saved me so much trouble looking in the mirror and going, “What am I doing here?” For the young people that are like myself coming in and saying: ‘Am I too queer? Am I too Black? What do they look at when they see me?’ Everything that you question in the mirror about yourself is going to be the thing that becomes your superpower.
Everybody should have mentors, but Black professionals, specifically, should have a Black mentor. We all are different. We look different, have different identities, different experiences, therefore, having a mentor that has been on a similar path as me can tell me how to maneuver the obstacles that will be on the path.
What does belonging mean to you both personally and professionally?
I’m going to go a bit scientific here and maybe spiritual. As beings on this planet, we are forms of energy and energy can only brighten around other energies, therefore, it’s important to feel like you belong and go places where your energy gets brighter. When your energy is brighter, the world benefits from that in whatever you are doing. If I feel like I truly belong in my workplace, my work is better. It’s that simple.
As a leader, I have a responsibility to make sure people not only feel like they belong, but that they actually belong. I have a responsibility for the people now, for my ancestors, and for the people who will come after me. I want to end on a quote that I hold with me in my work – “I am my ancestor’s wildest dreams.”
Chris, based in New York City, is a digital product manager for a digital design system within the Consumer & Community Banking Department. They are also the Co-Chair of the GGIEC (Global Gender Identity and Expression Council) as well as co-lead for the Transgender, Gender Nonconforming, and Non-binary subcommittee of PRIDE Tri-State BRG. Chris has worked for JP Morgan for 4 years while being a member of the Pride leadership team for over 3 years. Chris also serves on the TGNC & Non-binary committee of Open Finance (a forum that unites LGBTQ leaders of major financial services organizations across the NY metro area).
Prior to coming to JP Morgan, Chris was enlisted in the US Navy as an electronic technician and has been in the technology field for over 20 years. Chris holds both a bachelor’s and a master’s in Computer Science from The City College of New York and Syracuse University, respectively. They reside in New York City with their 18 year old son and new pup.