The Star-Studded Cast of Afrotech
I recognize the underrepresentation of black people in the technology industry and work in Philadelphia to help bridge the gap. Still, when organizations leading the charge here fail to do so successfully, I began to realize that the necessary people and resources can exist outside of the region. Venture for America has shown me the benefits of building a network outside of my home base, so when I was fortunately sponsored by Southwest Air and Hillman Accelerator to attend Afrotech, I knew it was an opportunity I could not miss.
I can’t speak to what the conference was like in its inaugural year, but it exceeded expectations the second time around. I view the event, in its most recent instance, as an advanced movie screening. With San Francisco as the scene, the attendees the cast, Afrotech was the sneak peek into the black tech renaissance. Here are a few of my favorite highlights:
1.On Day 1 Jason Mayden, designer and founder of SuperHeroic, graced the Engineering stage to give a tech talk on footwear. His sense of purpose to empower the the next generation of leaders was clear as soon as he began the presentation. I’ll leave you all with his key to great design -
2. This session could have actually been in a movie — Music icon Kehlani and venture capitalist Arlan Hamilton sat down for a fireside chat to close out the first day of programming. While discussing the high learning curve in entering tech, Kehlani made sure to include she is now an avid reader of TechCrunch. They continued, each move one of us makes is a step forward for us all. As Arlan said, it only takes a couple huge exits from black and brown founders to turn the revolution into the renaissance.
3. After all the panels and keynotes had concluded, Hillman and Southwest organized a happy hour that was the place to be for anyone looking to get some extra face time with the real ones. I had a brief moment to speak with Tech Editor Sequoia Blodgett and she dropped this gem about content creation and finding your voice:
“People wont care about what you know unless they know that you care. Meet them at their level”
I was ignited by all the talented people committed to solving similar issues around diversity and inclusion in tech. As I often feel about movies, the cast was the most integral part. From a high level, the problems in Philly are not that different from the problems in other American cities, so it only makes sense to pool our resources. We all do it for the culture. Hillman leads the charge in Cincinnati, but in Philadelphia and maybe in your city, there is not an organization comprised of key stakeholders leading the movement. We need to continue connecting the same pool of talented, diverse, folks in tech if we want to keep up the momentum from events like Afrotech. That said, without something like a public attendee list, I questioned:
Who leads the charge in Philadelphia? In your city?
If you’ve started or are involved in an organization which works to tackle these issues, please post it in the comments below.
Keep the ball rolling.