News of the Google / Howard ‘partnership’ got me thinking…

Google is breaking black communities with it’s “Howard West” Initiative

When I saw this “Google opens Howard University West to train black coders” headline on my timeline, I shook my head.

I knew there was no way that suddenly Howard opened an actual remote campus on the west coast, so immediately I suspected this was SIlicon Valley ‘press release glamour’ posing as a real contribution to diversity.

Let me explain. The Google / Howard partnership to train more black coders is a great idea, and certainly not bad news — yet minorities have seen this before. Big companies looking for ‘diversity’ publicity making a token donation to the cause, so that people can praise them for their commitment and consider them proponents of inclusion.

Yet, while these companies are offering what could really be considered micro bridges to major gaps, they are fully aware that incremental progress is not enough. Major players like Google / Alphabet (a principal funder of Singularity University) know that exponential growth is necessary to effectuate change, and ‘Howard West’ does not appear to have been designed around the those tenants.

Different program, same story

For more than a decade, Silicon Valley has been “working” on facilitating diversity by offering lots of panel discussions, under funded programs, and other negligible gestures. Meanwhile cities like Miami, Raleigh, Atlanta, Austin, Chicago, Detroit, as well as the Baltimore / Washington Metro area have leapfrogged the valley in delivering sustainable solutions. For example, in Miami, we are graduating more ethnically diverse engineers and starting more minority owned companies than any city in the US. This kind of movement is significant and is taking real time, money and organization on the part of the Universities as well as the local ecosystem.

It’s beginning to look a lot like the Valley is letting the rest of the country do the diversity work, while they get the final credit.

“Specifically, this initiative is looting the area of talent. Taking the most talented STEM students from Howard and moving them to Mountain View, precludes them from the ability to teach a community based youth coding class, mentor their own friends / neighbors, or participate in internships with local businesses.”
Seems legit.

What’s the problem?

So with that prizm, my expectations were low going in. However, more than being a half hearted publicity stunt, this press push by Google could have real consequences for actual diversity efforts in Washington DC. Specifically, this initiative is looting the area of talent. Taking the most talented STEM students from Howard and moving them to Mountain View, precludes them from the ability to teach a community based youth coding class, mentor their own friends / neighbors, or participate in internships with local businesses. The entire program is reminiscent of 1960’s ‘bussing’ — when clearly a Google sponsored 25 student program in the DC area would have done far more to cultivate the local ecosystem, as a whole.

There are a few ways this could be mutually beneficial, and less disrespectful…

  1. Exclusively working with Howard University is limited. As an extension of this effort, why not give some of your engineers a short sabbatical to teach the best concepts at any HBCU in the country? Even remote learning instruction? So many more students could be reached this way.
  2. Drop the name “Howard West”. Come on. It implies that there is an actual remote campus when the program hosts only 25 students. That’s a classroom, not a campus. Its sensational and misleading. Aside from the fact that it translates to “Google presents Howard University West” — like it’s a corporately sponsored sporting event. Gross.
  3. Put more money into the program. Teaching 25 people how to code, in one location, which happens to be your ‘main campus’, is definitely the discount route to inclusion. If you’re only going to offer this opportunity to 25 students, spread some money around and make the program truly stellar. Give qualified participants full scholarships and automatic paid internships at any Google campus in the world. By keeping the number of participants low, you should be offering nothing less than a life changing opportunity.

What real change looks like

At Kairos, we support Girls Who Code, Black Girls Code, Talent Development Network, students at Miami Dade Public Schools, Broward County Public Schools, Miami Dade College, and more than 20 youth groups locally. We touch over 5,000 lives in this community every year. If we are able to support our community in such a way, with the resources available to us, imagine what Google could really be doing — all over the country — with the resources available to them.

Dear Google: Be better. Do better. Move beyond the publicity motivated programs, and take ACTION. We need you.


Brian Brackeen is the CEO of Kairos.com, a facial recognition firm based in Miami Florida that has seen average growth over 100% month over month for 24 months. He also happens to be black, and writes about diversity from time to time.