American Underground EIR Pledge: Get Local HBCU Students to SXSW in 2017

Monumental HBCU involvement at South by Southwest inspires local leader to get North Carolina colleges involved.

This article is part two of a three-part series on Black Wall Street’s journey to South by Southwest. Read part one.

At 1:15 pm on March 13, 2016 something monumental happened in Austin, Texas. For the first time in the history of SXSW Interactive, a black-owned company, Opportunity HUB had a presence on the SXSW trade show floor. As many of my readers already know, I ‘do it big’ in every situation. In that fashion, not only did we make history with Opportunity Hub’s presence on the SXSW floor as an official exhibitor, but this was the first year that a delegation of HBCUs represented at SXSW.

To give a bit more context on how this happened we have to first shed light on Rodney Sampson. Rodney, chief of diversity + inclusion initiatives for Tech Square Labs, chairman of Opportunity Hub and an investor based in Atlanta came up with the idea to splash the SXSW Interactive with more color this year.

The SXSW effort is designed to support President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative, which was launched in 2014 to address persistent opportunity gaps facing boys and young men of color and to ensure that all young people can reach their full potential. Note — the lyrics at the beginning of the post — “Its easy to reach a mil, all you need is a skill, then its grind time” ~ Nas.

Through partnerships with MVMT50, #ChooseATL House, WeDC House, Black Wall Street, Kingonomics, TechCrunch, Tech Cocktail, Tech Square Labs, AWDA and The Iron Yard, HBCU students and alumni representing Morehouse, Spellman, Howard, Johnson C. Smith, Huston-Tillotson and Hampton universities participated in the first ever HBCU@SXSW cohort. Throughout the weekend, students attended panels, workshops, the career fair, pitch competitions, hackathons and meetups, including a panel discussion on the Interactive Tradeshow floor. The general tone of the panel was all about exposing these students to tech-related careers and educational paths.

As a panelist, I sat on stage watching the reactions of the HBCU students as we shared our stories and offered advice on navigating the tech space and becoming entrepreneurs. The reactions and intense interest from the students energized me to want to ‘do- more’. In that vein, I am putting out a charge to the three HBCUs that have assisted in my career matriculation — North Carolina A&T, North Carolina Central University and Hampton University. I pledge to work with each university to bring five students per school to SXSW Interactive in 2017. Let’s do this! Email —

American Underground EIR Talib Graves-Manns, center in red pants, sits on a panel with (left to right) Megan Rose Dickey of TechCrunch, Michael Sterling of Atlanta Workforce Development Agency, a Howard University student, Nena Ugwuoma of Student Dream and Rodney Sampson of Opportunity HUB and Tech Square Labs

In addition to the magic that happened on the Trade Show floor, a major announcement was made. Megan Smith, the U.S. Chief Technology Officer and Rodney Sampson announced Atlanta’s designation as a White House TechHire city! (Raleigh is one too!) This is a significant moment for technical education and business development for the city.

Steve Case, whom I had the pleasure of working with during the Durham stop on Rise of the Rest Tour stopped into the private and inclusive Opportunity Hub Influencers and Innovators Dinner and shared a bit on his vision for inclusive business, “We need diversity not just because it is morally right but because it is smart!”

Steve Case stopped by the Opportunity HUB at SXSW in Atlanta. Credit: Wes S.

The TechHire Initiative was launched by President Obama in March 2015. It is a multi-sector initiative and call to action to empower Americans with the skills they need, both through universities and community colleges but also nontraditional approaches like coding boot camps and high-quality online courses that can rapidly train workers for a well-paying job, often in just a few months.

“In partnership with community leaders and business partners, we will provide residents with the accelerated, technical training needed to obtain better jobs and achieve brighter futures,” said Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. “The Atlanta TechHire Initiative will be essential to ensuring that our residents have the skills needed to be competitive in the global economy.”

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed speaks about the White House TechHire initiative at SXSW. Credit: Wes S.

Through the Atlanta TechHire Initiative, the Atlanta Workforce Development Agency, The Iron Yard and TechSquare labs will train at least 100 individuals in 2016 and 400 by 2020 in software development and other high-growth IT occupations.

I am excited to witness Atlanta leading the charge regarding TechHire, and excited about the possibilities for the other cities I spend significant time in — Durham, Greensboro, and Hampton. Let’s make history.

My favorite quote is “Everything you see is just a thought manifested”. Let’s manifest!

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