The Long Conversation-Drones & Social Movements

Co-founder Eno Umoh teaching a soldering technique to youth at a Baltimore drone workshop

In a relay of two-person dialogues, “The Long Conversation” held at the Smithsonian in Washington DC on December 1st, featured more than 25 leaders from the arts and sciences including world renowned cellist Yo Yo ma and Gabby Rivera of Marvel Comics, the first Latina writer and creator of Marvels first lesbian Latina superhero. With diverse conversationalists, a charming venue and a packed audience, this dialogue that was not so much about the length of time but about the depth of the simple question: “What makes you optimistic about the future?”

Speaking first to Gabby Rivera and next to Pete Mara, Head, Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, one of our co-founders Eno Umoh joined in the discussion to dissect a topic so encompassing and ‘woke’ as he would say. What is one optimistic about for the future; given the current global stage, political climate, social issues and unsettled histories? What is Global Air Media (GAM) a small, Black-millennial-owned, Baltimore based drone startup optimistic about?

1. New technology

The Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UMV) or drone is commonly associated with military air raids, travel bloggers and spying; however, we have yet to fully explore the more practical uses of drone technology such as 2D and 3D mapping of disaster affected regions like the recent damage by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico ; or more relatable to a middle class American millennial, streaming footage from a 10k marathon, mapping a construction site and capturing aerial views for a real estate company. With any innovation as was the case with the Internet, there is fear of the unknown at first, negative perceptions seemingly overwhelm the positive uses of the new technology. However, there exists a potential of such technology and its tools to be a catalyst for change, growth and development.

2. Social Impact

Drones could be advocated as a new tool for social impact and active engagement in social movements. One component that was included in the GAM business plan was reciprocal contribution to the society which nurtured GAM, by exposing school children as well as underprivileged children to STEM subjects through drones. We created the hash tag #dronesforgood and initiated drone workshops and camps, where children not only learn to fly drones but are taught how to assemble the mechanical components of the craft: circuit boards, motors and LED lights. They are taught to trouble shoot and repair their drones, giving them life-long skills that are transferrable to other projects and fields of study.

Our very first workshop was held in the Baltimore neighborhood where the Freddy Gray riots took place, a critical event in the Black Lives Matter movement. We followed it by taking our initiative abroad to remote middle schools and a State University in Nigeria, West Africa to youth who would likely not have been exposed to a drone let alone actually make and own one. GAM believes that there is power in shifting the dynamics of who has access to technology and how it is being used to engage the community; more specifically, as young Black men who are often underrated by society, we believe that by placing our stake in those environments that are repeatedly left behind, we will help change the narrative. It is one thing to re-tweet, repost or join a Facebook group in support of a social movement but you become the change when you actively engage with the disadvantaged communities and children that would not have otherwise had opportunities and tools to overcome challenges, and transcend their current status.

3. Our collective future selves

Damion Thomas, Curator of Sports, National Museum of African American History and Culture and a speaker from an earlier segment of the Long Conversation, commented on the significance of Colin Kapernick and other athletes choosing to kneel before games as the national anthem was played, making the point that, “History is often used to make us think that the way things are was inevitable, that this is the only way, that these social processes couldn’t have been any other way.” What if we gave those who are marginalized the tools and technology to create another way, to create their own path? What if we allowed them the opportunity to be active participants in the progression of their life, their communities and the world at large? What if a small, Black-millennial-owned, Baltimore based drone startup allowed young children of color to narrate and speak their truths in ‘the long conversation?’

Written by Shalini Malaki for Global Air Media

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