From organized noise to organized tech.

A grand hustle to emancipate and democratize tech & finance.

#CodeStart students working on a Java assignment with their instructors and mentors in residence at TechSquare Labs.

What a week! It was the first week of class for our #CodeStart students, who will be with us for the next 13 months for a pilot program in collaboration with Atlanta Workforce Development Agency, The Iron Yard and TechSquare Labs.

We will always remember the second and fifth days of this past week, when the Atlanta Police Department was called on two different students. On April 1st, another resident, a coding student in another local bootcamp, called the police because of “loud music.” Upon the arrival of the officer, our student explained that he wasn’t actually playing his music loudly, but that the radio sat on a radiator, which amplified the music into the apartment downstairs. Although I’m saddened, here again, by the vivid reality of how black men are viewed as criminals and thugs first — humans, students, techies, entrepreneurs and professionals second — this incident was resolved thanks to the wisdom of a veteran police officer and our resident director.

The first incident, however, deserves more magnification, as many of the systemic pain points that plague our society collided in an intersection of civil, human and economic inequity. Predatory financial “services” collided with racial profiling, police brutality, and mental and verbal abuse. Internalized institutional racism, classism and discrimination were all at play: the perpetuators involved a black clerk, black cops and a young black man.

Here’s the Storify I published, organizing my narrative around the events of the day.

Of course, there is always more to the story.

It was an example of what Atlantans, or ATLiens, and followers of Dirty South music call “organized noise.”

Organizations like Rainbow Push, Platform and Kingonomics have created organized noise about diversifying the tech industry and the capital markets. Movements like #blacklivesmatter have generated organized noise about the current civil inequities experienced by people of color and marginalized Americans via law enforcement agencies. Thanks to Operation Hope and Federal Reserve Board of Kansas City, there’s organized noise around the inequities that occur in the financial services industry — especially in check cashing outlets, the majority of which are unregulated and governed by a few states like Georgia.

Those are good things, a good start; but more is required, given the work we have ahead of us.

Now, these incidents occurred on the heels of a lot of amazing work facilitated by organizations and collaborative partnerships I’m proud to say I’m affiliated with.

HBCU Student Entrepreneurs at SXSW Interactive for #HBCUSXSW Initiative
  • The Whitehouse designated the City of Atlanta as a new TechHire city. We submitted our Techhire grant in collaboration with Atlanta Workforce Development, TechSquare Labs and The Iron Yard.
  • The nation’s first 13 month coding and entrepreneurship program began with its first cohort of 15 students
  • 50 student entrepreneurs from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) across America attended SXSW for the first HBCU@SXSW initiative launched in partnership with Opportunity Hub, MVMT50, SXSW and President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Initiative

Yet, last week’s incident should send the clear message that we all have to do more, together. Here is what has transpired since the incidents, including our immediate plans:

Coding. The young men are back in class and catching up on their homework. Our accelerated bootcamps are demanding and do not allow much room for the students to get behind. Instructors are working with the students (all distracted and upset by these incidents) to catch up on all homework by Monday morning.

Banking. All the students now have bank accounts. We’re going a step further. We’re partnering with Operation Hope and its Southern Regional President, Louis Negron, to teach our students how to build credit, save money, invest strategically and create wealth. Those classes will begin at the conclusion of the coding bootcamp. We’ll be encouraging each student to set up a Digit account as well.

Therapy. Every student will receive a mental assessment and therapy from Georgia Community Clinic, founded by John Kennebrew. This started on Friday.

Michael Sterling, Executive Director, Atlanta Workforce Development Agency; Major M. Scott Kreher, Zone 5 Commander, Atlanta Police Department and Rodney Sampson talk to #CodeStart Students about cash checking outlet incident.

Atlanta Police Department. Zone 5 Commander, Major M. Scott Kreher, met with the students, apologized on behalf of Atlanta Police Department and committed to opening an internal investigation into the incident. That is in progress now. Michael Sterling, the Executive Director of the Atlanta Workforce Development Agency, also attended the meeting to reiterate the importance of the program and the City of Atlanta’s commitment to our students’ education and empowerment. We discussed organizing a PoliceHack to address the pain points that plague law enforcement agencies nationwide. For us, the creation of startups to solve this industry’s systemic pain points, which disproportionately impact people of color and marginalized communities, would be an epic win.

Cash Checking Outlet. At the end of the coding bootcamp, the students that graduate will begin looking for jobs and prepping for the career readiness, financial literacy and entrepreneurship components of the program. The students will be assigned the following white paper on the check cashing outlet industry written by the Federal Reserve Board of Kansas City. Our hope is that the targeted student, along with his team, will work on hacking and disrupting this largely non-regulated industry by developing software and a high growth company. For us, that would be a real win! Asking for the clerk to get fired or for the store to close doesn’t do much in the bigger scheme of things as this does not insure economic opportunity for the students right now. We also don’t want the students distracted with lawsuits against industries that have the resources to drag this out for years. Let’s get them through the program, get them working in tech and keep them focused on starting a company, as well as learn from the total process.

Fundraising. The cost of this 13-month program is $750,000. Atlanta Workforce Development Agency has committed $250,000. A billionaire entrepreneur gave $100,000. At the request of Twitter allies who wanted to do more, we launched a GoFundMe to raise funds. Here’s a plan that you can take part in to help us reach our goal:

  • 3,500 people give $100 via GoFundMe
  • 350 funded startups give at least $1,000. @GetLuma, cofounded by @PaulJudge and @mvanbruinisse gave $2,500. @Appcelerator, cofounded by @jhaynie gave $1,000. We’ve even seen some anonymous donations of $1K.
  • 35 companies that hire entry-level engineers and entrepreneurially minded people or want to attach their brand to this work can give $10,000. We can share our executive summary and pitch docs. Contributions can be tax deductible via our non-profit fiscal agent.

Now, here’s what we are doing long-term.

We’ve got organized noise and an organized narrative. Now, it’s time for organized tech. That is the ultimate grand hustle.

Startup cofounders mapping out their business model canvas at TechSquare Labs in Atlanta, GA.

At TechSquare Labs and Opportunity Hub, we work on solving real problems across many industries and ecosystems. We teach, train, advise, invest, incubate, build, scale and repeat. Truth be told, we work incredibly hard to be the most authentic, intentionally diverse and inclusive innovation, entrepreneurship, and investment ecosystem on the planet. With all humility and responsibility, we believe we are best positioned at this moment in time to organize this initiative.

To solve these systemic issues that plague our society, it’s going to require a carefully executed plan — I’ll call it the F.I.L.A plan. Of course to a Gen X native Atlantan, it means “Forever I Love Atlanta”, but I’m talking about something else.

Here goes:

Funding. It’s going to take lots of money to disrupt these inequities. Right now, large tech companies are writing cute, small checks and saying that they want to solve the problem. Thank you, but transparently, it’s not enough. More than funding meet-ups, popups, turn-ups and pitch events, I’m encouraging you to do more with the organizations that are making the sacrifices to create a diverse innovation economy for all. It’s time to fund the actual talent development, which includes the immersive exposure opportunities, part-time and full-time training bootcamps, paid internships and the job creation necessary to fill the 1 million computing jobs that will be open by 2020. Code.org framed it as a five hundred billion dollar opportunity. ($500,000,000,000.00) What family office, foundation, large corporation or tech company is going to make the first billion-dollar commitment with us to advance this cause? We will soon be announcing a national coding scholarship fund with The Iron Yard that will allow you to show your financial support in a major way.

Interest. Millions have interest in organized noise. Hundreds of thousands in organized narratives as demonstrated by our 130,000 and growing views on Storify. Can we get thousands of you to take an interest in organized tech? Will you mentor a person of color or marginalized citizen interested in software engineering, startups or investing? Will you sponsor someone that is currently working in your company or will be hired because of efforts to diversify the space? Will you invest in a startup by a person of color — not as a function of altruism but as apart of an evolved, data-supported investment thesis that shows diverse cofounding teams perform better than homogenous, white male lead ones? Will you start a venture fund in partnership with us, focused on cofounders of color? Will you write a check — large or small — to advance these causes?

Lifestyle. At SXSW, my wife and I spent time at the WeDC House talking to some of the Howard University members of our #HBCUSXSW delegation about the recently published Bloomberg article, Why Doesn’t Silicon Valley Hire Black Coders? Feeling betrayed by the narrative written by Vauhini Vara, the students did agree that tech, startups and investing must be apart of our early childhood development. Parents, foster parents, teachers, counselors, school systems, pastors, community leaders, politicians, corporate professionals, business leaders, ball players, artists and entertainers must take part in shaping the emotional intelligence of our youth, pointing them toward high growth careers, and instilling the necessity of disrupting poverty via simple tools for sustained wealth creation. It’s hard to compete against peers in a global society who were read to since conception, coding since they were in middle school, speaking publicly and debating since high school, working at tech startups during the summer, starting and selling companies as undergraduates, and investing in new businesses while working their first jobs.

We’ve got to close the lifestyle gap. And I’m not talking about the lifestyle of ego-based super consumerism in the face of continued poverty and economic decay. I’m talking about a lifestyle of creating, producing and investing in what you consume. Who’s rapping or talking about the latest tech company they invested or acquired — like Jay-Z, Nas, Ryan Leslie? Where you at Rico Wade, Outkast, Janelle Monae, Goodie Mob, Lil’ Jon, Killa Mike, T.I., 2 Chainz, Rich Homie Quan and Young Thug? #RIPTroup

Lead engineers and executives from Uber’s SanFrancisco headquarters visit TechSquare Labs to talk careers at Uber.

As serendipity would have it, we hosted lead engineers, recruiters and executives from Uber on Thursday of last week. All the coding students were in attendance. Some of the students were able to meet @JasonJeter of Grand Hustle. Just this week, Michael Sterling discussed the conversation he had with Jason and his network about investing in some of the students that go on to create companies during and after #CodeStart. That was further confirmation that we are doing the right things.

Megan Smith, United States Chief Technology Officer and Steve Case, Founder of AOL and Revolution Fund attend Opportunity Hub’s annual Innovators and Influencers Dinner at SXSW. This year’s theme was #DiversityAllies.

Allies. Throughout history, allies have been required for equity, parity and opportunity to occur for Black people in America. In the 1800s, it was the abolitionists and legal community. In the 1900s, it was the politicians, government agencies and large corporations. In the 21st century, it’s got to be a mixture of our wealthy entrepreneurs like Steve Case and Oprah Winfrey, pop culture icons like T.I. and Lebron James and research driven institutions like Georgia Tech and Morehouse College of Medicine. It’s the organized intersection of innovation, culture and capital that will position America to take advantage of the opportunity it has to fulfill the promises made at the inception of this country, and ensure that all its citizens can participate in what we call the new opportunity economy.

Again, F.I.L.A.

We now have the opportunity, in collaboration with authentic stakeholders across the globe to “hack” the systemic pain points that I consider to be the Achilles’ heel of America — hate and ignorance.

Let’s disrupt our nation’s poverty and wealth gap with new job creation. Who knows, we might just create the next billionaire tech investor who will want to change Atlanta, our nation and world. Let’s do more together than we can apart.

I have to tip my hat to Organized Noise, Grand Hustle, Lil’ John and Scrappy for influencing the cultural context of this article. ATL shawty, what’s up!