Deepest condolences to the LaPere family, the EcoMap family and the entire Baltimore ecosystem. Baltimore has truly lost one of its brightest lights, one of its loudest advocates.
I’ve been overwhelmed by the love and support that the city has shown to me, my family and our team over the past few days. But I want to extend special thanks to my friends and family, Nick [Culbertson], Jamie [McDonald], Kory [Bailey], the EcoMap team and the LaPeres.
Your love, support and grace have helped me to get out of bed in the morning. The ecosystem that Pava built has wrapped their arms around me and our team to somehow, someway try to press on.
Lots of people have reached out and said there are no words. And there really aren’t. This is an unspeakable tragedy.
But one of the things about Pava is that she was never at a loss for words. Those that know her know that she was loud, that she talked a mile a minute. And those that don’t know her have probably, at some point, heard her. She was just that loud. Always had something to say.
And so right now, I’m going to do my best to channel my inner Pava to find the words here tonight. I can still hear her asking me if I used ChatGPT to write this. She’d be disappointed that I didn’t. But I can hear her whispering to me, Sherrod, you gotta press on.
I feel ill-equipped and underqualified to be on this stage but Pava never missed an opportunity to show the world how bright her light was. Whether sending her to Rio in Brazil or down the street to the UpSurge offices, she had a way of convincing you that you had to hear what she had to say. And you did.
And so I’d be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to honor my cofounder, my partner and my dear friend, Pava LaPere.
People often talk about standing on the shoulders of giants to get to where they are. I have had the privilege of standing on the shoulders of a young, 5’2” giant for the last three years. She really was larger than life.
Pava and I were reconnected a few years ago. I was working as Nick’s chief of staff, coming up on the end of a two-year “tour of duty,” as he calls it, and I told Nick that I was hoping to join the leadership team of a burgeoning startup. Nick had been a mentor for Pava and recognized that there could be a fit.
She was the brilliant — and I mean brilliant — product visionary and I was the dumb — and I mean dumb — business guy. Together we made a phenomenal team. It was yin and yang. Salt and pepper. It was just complimentary. It was perfect.
Pava would tell people how grateful she was to have found me, that the business would have failed without me. That she needed me to make this whole thing work. She had a way of making you feel really, really special. But the reality is that I needed her.
One of our team members mentioned this yesterday, but Pava was like a superhero. She had the uncanny ability to see things that no one else could — starting with this amorphous thing called an “ecosystem.” She told me that ecosystems are all around us, but they’re invisible, and that they are any combination of organizations, resources, people, the activity and the interaction between them.
Her mission became our mission, and that was to ensure every ecosystem everywhere was accessible to everyone. And so she built this company, EcoMap, around this concept. She saw something in this space that no one, at the time, could see.
And this was more than just a company to her. This was everything — her life’s work. And so the people that worked at this company were far more than just employees. They were her family.
And so, as the vision became clearer, she started building a team of amazing technologists, ecosystem builders and business folk to help her accomplish this mission. Still leveraging that superpower to see things that the world couldn’t. And so, when the world saw a librarian, she saw an AI and algorithmic engineer; she took an international affairs major from Hopkins, who was traveling the country on a train, and turned him into a head of [business development]; when the world saw a music teacher, she saw a head of customer success; she took a chief of staff who’d just finished hiking the Appachalian trail and turned her into a head of peoples; and when the world just saw a Black kid from Northeast Baltimore, she saw her cofounder and her COO. She saw things that other people didn’t.
She saw this city. I’m from Baltimore and the running joke was that everyone thought I was from out of town and she was the OG Baltimore one. She loved this city so much. To her, there was no other choice but to build EcoMap here, in Baltimore. To her, there was no other choice other than to be successful here, in Baltimore. To her, we needed to build a scalable tech company that helped people, here, in Baltimore with people that looked like us, that believed as strongly as she did that building equitable and accessible ecosystems was the best way to make the world better.
In order to do that, she knew that she would have to see things that no one else saw, to find opportunities that no one else recognized.
She was scrappy, a little bull-headed and hard-charging. And when the world told her no for this reason or that reason, she refused to accept it. When she got her hooks in you, set her sights on you, you were done for: Eventually, you were going to bend to her will. It’s how she built a tech company with a family of 32, full of diversity — half of them being minorities and half of them being women. And she said, despite the odds that are stacked against, we will raise venture capital. And when the world told her no, and we got a lot of nos, she said, “I’ll show you.” She wouldn’t and she didn’t accept it. It motivated her more. And so whenever we got a no, over and over again, she said yes. She didn’t stop. She endured. She pressed on.
And so now, there are more naysayers saying no to EcoMap and saying no to Baltimore. And they are loud. But I can assure you, I can promise you that Pava LaPere was louder. And for many of us that were close to Pava, especially on the EcoMap team, it probably feels like we can’t do this without her. But I can hear her telling me, you gotta press on.
And so the world is looking at us and saying, ‘Nope, this is what happens in Baltimore.’ But I’m telling you, she saw things that no one else saw. And she saw something in Baltimore. And as the seeds of division are sewn, we stand more united than ever as a city, as community, as a team, as an ecosystem because we know: Pava has got our back. And when Pava’s got your back, boy, do I like your chances.
She saw a world where every ecosystem everywhere was accessible to everyone. She saw a new Baltimore, not one that was riddled with crime and destitution but one that was a symbol for prosperity and innovation. One that took people from every community and connected them to what they need, when they need it.
And so when I look out into this crowd, and I turn to Pava’s family, and her friends, and her loved ones, and her team, I can still see her light — and oooh, it’s shining brighter than ever.
And I can still hear her making noise because you couldn’t shut her up no matter what. And let me tell you, she’s louder than she ever was.
And just because she’s gone, she’s imparted a piece of herself everywhere she went and left it with everyone she touched.
And so I stand with all of you today hurting and in pain because we’ve lost our dear friend Pava. But we must press on. She’d want us to. We must never let her noise go quiet. And we must never let her light go dim.
Pava, I love you, and may your spirit be with us as we try our best to make your noise, to shine your light, to somehow, find a way to press on.
Knowledge is power!
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