“The greatest investment she gave me was her time.”


Tareq Humphrey was born into a big southern family in a small Louisiana town. He didn't expect the most important influencer of his life to be his cousin—one of the first female black engineers at her company.


 

He didn’t understand how it worked. Standing in his parent’s tiny laundry room, eight-year-old Tareq Humphrey stared at the rectangular door of the dryer, fascinated by the little mechanism that triggers the dryer to stop the cycle when the door is opened. Using a flashlight, he poked around the little notch, trying to make sense of it, but it was buried inside the machine. He knew that he shouldn’t, but the urge to uncover the mystery outweighed the inevitability of his dad’s displeasure with his experimentation. Tareq grasped the rusted red screwdriver and fit it into the first screw. He got the door totally off when suddenly his mom jovially announced from another room, “Natalie’s here!” Tareq’s cousin Natalie Hurks is the “dopest” of the cousins, the oldest, and his favorite. He dropped the screwdriver and bolted to join his little brother and their parents at the window; his daddy’s strong arms held the curtain open. Their jaws dropped as Natalie pulled into the driveway driving a brand new, shiny, black, convertible Mazda Miata. “Whoa,” Tareq heard his little brother whisper behind him as he raced down the front steps two by two to greet his 23-year-old cousin. Natalie stepped out of the car, and Tareq asked in his blunt way, “What guy are you dating?” Natalie laughed and pulled him in for a hug. “No one. This is my own car.” “How’d you get a car like that?” he pressed, doubtfully. “I’m an engineer.” His eyes got wide—engineer? What was that? He was just about to ask when they both heard Tareq’s dad yell from upstairs, wondering what had happened to the dryer.

*****

Fast forward 30 years: It’s 8:00 AM on a Saturday. Tareq holds a white to-go cup of coffee, bleary eyed from a late night out with all his cousins—including Natalie, who now lives in Cincinnati. Tareq lives in Seattle, but everyone’s made the trip home to Alexandria, Louisiana, for Thanksgiving. Natalie has joined him at his childhood home. “Look at you, so fabulous and polished,” he dotes. “You look like a little politician, Natalie 2020.” “No, not at all,” she waves his compliment away. Even now, decades after he first saw Natalie with her new car, Tareq looks up to her. He’s followed in her footsteps on purpose, finding inspiration and support from her at each difficult or unknown place. He wants her and the world to know how influential she was to him. Not just because he also became an engineer, but also because she is his cousin and family means everything to him.

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