BIT Tech Digest has been embarking on a journey to change the perception of Blacks in Technology since 2010, our first podcast was just over 3 years ago on November 23rd, 2010. Since then there are many who have joined us in this mission, Soledad O’Brien comes to mind with her production of “Blacks in America 4: The New Promised Land – Silicon Valley” where she leveraged her media outlets to drive visibility to African American tech founders participating in Angela Benton’s NewMe Accel program. To that effect we here at BIT are continuing our efforts to change the perception with the announcement of a project to crowdsource a database of Notable African Americans in Technology.
The purpose of this project is not just to make a list, there are already lots of lists on black inventors, but to take it one step forward. The Notable African Americans in Technology Project‘s mission is to ensure that people who look like us and understand our unique experiences as African Americans are represented accurately in the past, present and future by writing their and our stories into the rolls of the largest collaboratively edited reference projects in the world, Wikipedia. As a community it is our job to ensure that African Americans who are notable in Technology are noted in the greatest Encyclopedia in the world, Wikipedia. As the saying goes, “pics or it didn’t happen”.
The Inspiration Behind this Project:
When you were young you probably remember reading about African American inventors during black history month. You’ll remember Lewis Latimer who hacked Thomas Edison’s lightbulb and created the “Process of Manufacturing Carbons” to make lightbulbs… well… a usable commercial enterprise! You’ll remember Frederick McKinley Jones who hacked our food distribution channels by creating mobile refrigeration technology and delivering a practical, mechanical refrigeration system for trucks and railroad cars. Thanks to him we have California Strawberries being shipped to Australia and Cherry Garcia all over the world. I mean wow, these guys were innovation power houses. They literally changed the world we live in.
That being said let me be straight up for a minute. After 3-4 years of reading about these inventors (and many others) as a kid I grew tired. I wanted to hear something new and these stories just didn’t cut it among the modern day Bill Gates and Steve Jobs who were juggernauts in technology and business. Benjamin Banneker certainly didn’t compete very well against BET, rap music and East Coast/West Coast Beef (that’s in Wikipedia too)! Luckily, I didn’t have long to lament because at some point a chain email came across my hotmail (I’d bet it came across your desk too) about Mark Dean and his contributions to the ISA Bus and the gigahertz computer processor chip! Now we’re cooking with grease! Then I learned about Jerry Lawson, Marc Hannah, Shirley A. Jackson, and last but not least Lonnie Johnson (best known for his invention of the Super Soaker) who in more technical circles is known for his contributions in the energy space from the Johnson Thermo-Electrochemical Converter System (JTEC). Learning about these individuals gave me an anchor for African American technology advancement in the present, not just the past. Sadly though, my discovery of these amazing African Americans in tech was a fragmented experience over many, many years. The names of these people came to me through one-off random occurrences, a gchat message from Greg Greenlee with a link to an article on Paul Judge in August of this year, a conversation at a networking event with William Hammons in 2012 about Jerry Lawson, a random google-surf-bug over Thanksgiving weekend discovering Lonnie Johnson, a conversation at the Community College Computer Lab with Thaddeus Howze in 2002. You get the picture! With so much technology at our fingertips finding people in the present day who look like us to be inspired by ought not be so random but the truth is, it is stochastic.
Why is discovering present day African Americans in Technology so difficult? If you’ll please excuse me for a blatant generalization with the intent of making a point, African Americans tend to live in the past. It’s a cultural thing with our people and it dates back to Africa’s written and oral traditions of storytelling. Storytelling is engrained in our culture and it’s such a beautiful gift! Sadly this gift has been hardened and marred by our history as victims of crimes against humanity through brutal colonialism, human trafficking, and unspeakable abuses and atrocities since landing here on Plymouth Rock. The “all too realness” of our stories are perpetuated to this day through the legacy of Trayvon Martin, incidents of prejudice and hate crimes which feel like every day occurrences to a great many of us trying to escape the school to prison pipeline. ”We’re not even safe at Universities in the great Silicon Valley!” is what my insides scream. And among all these stories, the pain of disenfranchisement outshines our rising stars and opportunities for enfranchisement. The stories reflecting our worst nightmares overpower the stories reflecting our greatest dreams.
This year as I “celebrate” Thanksgiving I juggle our culture’s nostalgia for our great leaders (MLK, Malcolm, Garvey, Mandela, Ghandi, JFK etc) and inventors of the distant past, with the very real, very great opportunities of the future, and the very critical junction of opening access, opening education and opening possibilities which is at the present. I ponder the leaders who I believe are on the edge of greatness, Kimberly Bryant. I give thanks to God for blessing her and her mission. I wonder why isn’t there a wikipedia page for Kimberly Bryant? I wonder- if there was a page for her, would I be able to find trail that would also also lead me to Paul Judge’s page? Enough pondering! Let’s make it happen. Let’s make it real. Let’s ensure that when Miles (listen closely to his question at 8:22 http://www.npr.org/2013/
Call to Action: 3 ways you can help
1. Contribute to the Database: If there is a notable African American in Technology that you know of add them to this public google database called Notable African Americans in Technology (Wikipedia Project). Please share this link as widely as possible. *Looking at black twitter*
2. Create Wikipedia Articles from the Database: If there is a notable African American in the database that doesn’t have a wikipedia page create one for them. A screencast/video on how to create a wikipedia article is here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Starting_an_article
3. Update Existing Wikipedia Articles for Categorization: If there is a page for an African American in technology add it to the African Americans in Technology category by adding this tag to the article: [[Category:African-Americans in Technology]]