What no one at #IGF2014 is courageous enough to address about #childsafetyonline

Internet Global Forum was developed to discuss public policy issues related to key elements of Internet governance “in order to foster the sustainability, robustness, security, stability and development of the Internet” (among other key activities) through engaging with multiple stakeholders from internet users, NGOs, industry and government.

For more information on IGF please refer to the Fact Sheet: “What is IGF”

The key themes of the forum were Internet Access in developing nations such as Africa, maintaining an open & free internet, childhood safety, rights & protection, governance and implementing a multistakeholder process to continue to develop the internet in it’s growth and expansion to +7 Billion people in the world.
Well, my being a mother tunes my ears to areas related to human rights & equitable access and my passions were powerfully drawn to the topic of child safety online. When it came to child safety online the key messaging from panelists was quite boilerplate: Childhood safety is the parents responsibility. Sadly what key participants in IGF missed is the opportunity to rise the social responsibility of not just ISPs, but every corporation that benefits & monetizes off of the internet, especially those with engineering teams focused on technology that influences end users behaviors based on the highest bidder. This isn’t simply relegated to the Google’s and Facebook’s in the advertising industry, but any company where providing recommendations, or identifying the user is a key activity in maintaining their business’ competitive edge and profit share. Sadly panelists who did address this all seemed more concerned about taking a defensive angle for these companies than being honest and saying: We must ask for stronger collaboration & partnership with these organizations on this issue to make it a priority in innovation.


The perspectives and participants in the discussions on child safety were highly varied, from young people to parents to NGOs and industry. Unfortunately the conversation lacked vision, and dare I say, lacked ambition as well. We’re not talking about my internet, my internet was AOL & Compuserve and parental controls was that annoying tab that you didn’t really care if your parents ever discovered because there were 100 different ways to get around it from proxies to irc to peer to peer sharing or even email and my favorite, google translate. We’re talking about an internet where kids are connecting to unknown private servers hosted under the desk of some UNIX admin working inside a colo where he cannot be traced or detected. Let me make this clear, YOU cannot sanitize the internet!!!  You couldn’t do it when I was a kid and you most certainly can’t do it now. For the parents who REALLY want us to try I just want to reach out to hug you and whisper gently in their ear “you can’t control the internet…” Because. You. Just. Can’t. I’ve spoken to parents and youth in a variety of settings on this matter and my message hasn’t changed from day one. You can’t police the internet AND trust me, you don’t want some government doing it for you either.

One powerful topic raised by many of the young people participating is that children have rights as well and that they ought to have the right to go online and look up information on any topic. Now what a parent allows in their house goes without question, but the internet is far beyond the doors of your home and always will be. Unfortunately the discussions at IGF seemed stuck on trying to drill this one simple concept into the heads of parents and parental advocates and sadly it wasted a lot of time. Time would have been better spent on discussion around the opportunities for industry to innovate and prioritize the needs of youth in their engineering roadmaps. I don’t mean blocking and filters, I mean the power of recommendations.

Right now industries are putting a ton of research, man power and machine power into developing powerful recommendations and identification engines. The need to generate a single unified view of the household, customer or user is pervasive throughout every cloud company out there. It’s the holy grail of opportunity. While some consumers are hell bent on not being identified– let’s be honest, it’s a losing battle because more and more we are willfully (albeit unknowingly) giving up our private information, unifying accounts and data, and saying to corporations “Hey, hey! Lookie! Lookit here! Here I am and these are all the things you can target to sell me!” And by the way, you aren’t the only one giving that information away, your friends, or your children’s friends are giving that information away about your child to these companies when they send a text, a kik, a snapchat, a tweet or any other measure of information over the web. And companies are increasingly developing methods to monetize this data ala Facebook messenger.

Here’s a question… What would happen if parents, NGOs, and advocacy organizations demanded that children’s eyeballs not be sold to the highest bidder? OR! What if we demanded that when our kids are being sold as clicks, they are being sold responsibly? What if we demanded that a code of conduct be instituted among corporations around recommendations and other behaviors and actions when the user can be identified as under the age of consent?

We’ve barely scratched the surface on the need for corporate responsibility regarding child safety online. The incredible engineering power behind companies that have monetized the internet is an incredible partner to addressing this challenge. We need a mandated partnership & collaboration between the businesses that generate and host the content that attracts young people. In short, if they can figure out how to serve an ad to a users based on the highest bidder, they can also ensure they are recommending healthy resources & information when the audience is a a youth.

These are the kinds of questions I wanted to see addressed at Internet Global Forum. I was fortunate to be able to raise them as a remote participant but I hope we can have more variety on the theme at next year’s forum and the ongoing multistakeholder convenings of the Cross Collaboration Group at ICANN and subsequent activities with the Internet Society.  I want to see more representatives of youth, parents, NGO and industry stand up and demand a definition around social responsibility of corporations when it comes to technology usage as it related to young people.

If I missed something here or if you have opinions please let me know in the comments cause it’s important to get this right for the next generation inheriting the internet and this earth.


IGF2014 Session References:

International Day Against DRM – May 6th

On Tuesday, May 6th, 2014, the world comes together to say no to Digital Restrictions Management. See how you can get involved, check out participating organizations, and read publications about the Day.
International Day Against DRM dayagainstdrm.org

International Day Against DRM: WARNING: DRM IS TOXIC

As part of the International Day Against DRM several eBook publishers are offering significant discounts.

If this isn’t yet making sense the Electronic Frontier Foundation website explained it well:

What is DRM? It stands for Digital Rights Management, and it refers to any kind of technology that controls what you can and can’t do with the media and hardware you’ve purchased. It can restrict all kinds of lawful activities, such as being able to repair, modify, or re-sell the things that you own. The effect of DRM on your rights has grown thanks to the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which makes it a crime to try to bypass DRM or even spread the knowledge of how to do so. These laws, called anti-circumvention policies, are now being exported around the world international agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.

It’s time to fight back against these laws that strip users of our rights over the media and devices we’ve rightfully purchased.

International Day Against DRM dayagainstdrm.org

Digital Restriction Management is TOXIC to your freedom

Help Blacks in Tech Fund Startups: Get VUE with Brian Clark

People ask me all the time “Who are the African Americans in technology? What can we do to help them?” I want to highlight one today who is on the grind every day about his business and deserving of our support. As if it wasn’t enough to launch two startups within a year and win 4 hackathons, Brian Clark recently launched a crowdfund campaign to fund his latest startup, VUE. VUE is a mobile analytics tool that provides a new way for mobile-focused teams to effortlessly understand their users. Not only is Brian building something incredible, he’s also giving back by teaching highschoolers how to code at MissionBit, inspiring youth at Startup Weekend Black Male Achievement hackathon and writing awesome blogs about his startup journey.

I encourage you to help a brotha out by doing 2 things RIGHT NOW:

1. Contribute to his crowdfund campaign. Give anything! The lowest VUE is asking is $3 bucks!

2. Share the crowdfund via twitter and facebook and email with the following “Help Blacks in Tech Fund Startups: Brian Clark – : Behavioral analytics for mobile users  @blksintechnology

If you do these two things you can take it as a badge of pride that you are taking a step in the right direction to help build more startups with people of color in leadership. It’s a way to join Brian on his startup journey as not just a supporter, but a contributor. I’ve posted the advice Brian provided in his blog to encourage folks to participate in hackathons as a way to jumpstart their own innovative products. Blacks in Technology encourages everyone to share this incredible campaign and get this funded in the last 10 days!!!

Help Blacks in Tech Fund Startups: VUE

Help Blacks in Tech Fund Startups: VUE

Funding Your Startup With Hackathon Winnings by Brian Clark

I participated in my first Hackathon about 8 months ago, and since then I have won almost $45,000 in Hackathons. Being that VUE was born from winning a hackathon I feel this is a great avenue to share some strategies I’ve used to win hackathons and fund my startup.

1) Know what the judges are looking for

Hackathons are built for hackers, but they’re built by people who are looking for something from those hackers. Whether it’s a unique way to test our new APIs or finding the next best developer to revolutionize an idea that the creators of the hackathon have, they’re always looking for something specific.

Go and talk to the judges (if they’re available).

My best experience with this was from the LAUNCH hackathon. I participated in their second Hackathon this past November, and while we only won a very small prize, it was very obvious what they were looking for once I had pitched to them.

Being fortunate enough to know this, I came to the third LAUNCH Hackathon earlier this year, much more prepared with what they wanted, and took home the grand prize for VUE which is just now moving into private beta.

2) Only “build” what you are going to demo, have a plan to execute, and take shortcuts

Hackathons aren’t about polished code, data validation on forms, or designing an amazing new interface.

Hackathons are about shipping a meaningful vision of your idea.

With VUE we did exactly that.  During the Hackathon we pitched an SDK that could track all user behavior on iOS with one line of code, a powerful dashboard where you can query your data, and a feedback system to ask your users what they were thinking.

So many people couldn’t believe two of us did this in a 48 hour hackathon. we actually did it in just 23 hours.

The key was there was a vision of what we wanted to build, so we spent the first hour hashing out exactly what we would build over the next 23 hours and here’s what we came up with:

  1. Write the mobile SDK for tracking, but don’t build the endpoints to save the data – Brian
  2. Write Python Script for simulating sessions so we’d have a lot of data to show – Brian
  3. Buy a Dashboard template for $10 so it looked pretty – Patrick
  4. Load the fake data into the template with Node/Mongo – Patrick
  5. Write a feedback system that just pings the server on every app load for a new question – Brian
  6. Simulate one possible query by using a for loop – Patrick

This is VERY manageable to build between two people at a hackathon. We built out this list, defined any endpoints where our code would interface, and got to work.

The key here is everything we built would be shown on screen with the demo. There was no user authentication, no form validation, and not even a fully working query engine. Use shortcuts, buy templates, and build exactly what you need to demo your idea and nothing more.

3) Tell a good story

Winning a Hackathon often all comes down to your pitch (and this does not mean a powerpoint).  You generally have 1 to 5 minutes to demo your 48 hours of straight work, make the best of it.

I participated in a Sears Hackathon where I built an app called Instagift. Need that last minute gift for your girlfriends anniversary or mother’s birthday? Scroll through our list of gifts and with one click get one shipped overnight, gift-wrapped, to your door.

With this competition we only had 2 minutes to pitch our idea.

Instead of spending 2 minutes pitching the tech specs of the app and how it was going to make money, I wove a story around how a man named John had completely forgotten to get his girlfriend a present and he had no time left to pick one up and get it gift wrapped, he knew he was in trouble.  I even asked the audience if they’d ever been in this situation and every guy raised their hand.

I would say this was certainly noticed by the judges as I took home $6,000 in prizes from that event.  Even better? I made the app in 4 hours — a scrolling page of gifts with the Sears API, a buy now button, and some pretty graphics.

The compelling, relatable story was what won the hackathon, and the hack was a simple demo of what the solution to the problem of the story could look like in an app.

4) Follow the rules, Build something you want, and have fun!

Every hackathon has different rules, some they’ll check that your API calls hit their servers, others are fine with photoshop templates on a website showing your idea, make sure you know the rules and follow them.

Also do nothing less than build something awesome with really cool people, make some new friends and have a ton of fun. Hackathons are some of the best events you’ll ever go to.

What are your secrets to winning hackathon? I haven’t won every one I’ve participated in but I’m certainly getting better!

Lastly we’re also looking for support on our crowdfunding campaign! Help VUE come to life faster


Screen Shot 2014-05-06 at 4.02.41 PM

The Future of Wearable Tech & Why You Need to Care

The term “Wearables” has got to be my favorite buzz word that is “blowing up” all over the place. Everyone is using the term and talking about “Wearable tech”, but like “Big Data” few people actually have a clue what wearable tech REALLY means for industries or our personal lives.  While ABI Research predicts that this year, about 90 million wearable devices will be sold this year mostly in the health & fitness, wearable tech goes far beyond Fitbits and Google Glass.

I took a trip down to Wearables DevCon earlier this month to connect deeper with this community and I’m so glad I did. I can tell you with confidence that throughout the year you’ll hear a lot about Smart Watches, Glass, and other tech jewelry but I encourage you to look beyond these early efforts of commercialization and deeper into the future. Dig as deep into the underbelly as you can and don’t stop at a laymen understanding of wearable tech. Get hands on wherever possible even if you don’t own the devices, find somebody who does and play with it and get out to a conference on the topic if you can! Please don’t underestimate the capabilities of Rasberry Pi’s & LilyPads (listen to the podcast if you don’t know about this) because it’s still early enough to create the next great innovation in your own living room. In getting up off your couch to get hands on with this stuff don’t neglect to research a bit of the back story as there are some very interesting stories about the pioneers of wearable tech like Thad Starner who was the “first member of the MIT Wearable Computing Project, where he was one of the first 6 cyborgs involved.”

The experience of being the Wearables DevCon had me hyped up and engaged in intense debate with members of the community for the last few weeks and confirmed my attendance at other related conferences throughout the year. Interestingly enough I’ve had to hold my tongue in some situations because of the sensitivities that arise (especially in San Francisco) in response to what is considered appropriate to do with wearables. The best part of the conference was the people I met, some of whom I’m exchanging regular emails with now. Read on for my summary and reflection on what I discovered at the conference and feel welcome to peruse my mind map on the sessions I attended.

Human enhancement:
We know that the most critical element of technology adoption is getting users to change their habits. Wearable technology presents an interesting opportunity where the objective is to offer some drastic enhancement in life experience for the user with minimal behavioral change requirements. For example if I want to improve my squats when exercising (as everyone ought to desire to do) I have a few options before me; (1) I could do the squat in a mirror, observe my form and make corrections if I can identify what I’m doing wrong. (2) Alternatively I could ask a trainer to assist me, they could watch me do it and provide me with real time feedback which I can respond to. (3) Right now if I wanted technology to help me improve my squats I’d go to youtube and watch some videos of squats. Each option offers it’s own unique advantages, however the opportunity for wearable tech has the distinct capability of being able to merge all three of these options into a single solution. An example might be a computerized body suit to recognize my body’s alignment and muscular contractions, the computer could calculate with detailed accuracy my squat form accuracy to trigger warnings or rewards. Using that data an audible system or ear piece can coach me in real time and a visual aid (some type of visual display) can be projected into my field of vision to provide me with visual support as I adjust in real time to the coaching. The suit itself could also send pulses to support physical corrections.

In few words, my opinion of wearable technology is that it provides an opportunity for holistic improvements in life through leveraging technology. Let me explain. I’ve wanted to clone myself since I was 6 years old so I could send my clone to the grocery store to help my mother carry groceries while I stayed at home and played Super Mario. It’s a silly (although very real) example but wearable tech tells a story that asks ‘how can I get more done and live a better, more satisfied lifestyle?’ whether that means playing more Mario or doing a better job at work so I can spend more time with my kids. Much like Google calendar has changed my life (thank God for it really!), wearable technology has been changing peoples lives for many decades, some people you may know and simply haven’t realize it. You don’t believe me? Do you know anyone who works in security or is hearing impaired or who wears a prosthetic (limb for example)? I know several and these are real world examples of people who depend on their wearables in ways that few of us can even imagine. In that way the introduction of a wearable market where people can buy enhancing devices the same way that they buy mobile phones or fashion accessories changes the paradigm for personal computing and living experiences in some exciting ways.

Personal Computing != Privacy: Wearable technology provides the capabilities of a far more personal experience but please don’t confuse personal with private. PC stands for “Personal Computer” but most of us with PCs share them with other members of our family (even if just temporarily), while obviously very few of us share our hosiery, socks and underwear with others. Truly we have a non-personal experience with computers and that has been the trigger for more than a few people drama and divorce. For example a quick search on Whisper this morning resulted in several hits for wives who’d discovered their husbands searching for hookers online by snooping their email and laptops. Obviously things aren’t as private as many people would like. Take a moment and imagine a PC experience that is truly “personal”. Wearable technology is the most “personal” a technology device can be as the devices (or software) have the capability of learning about you explicitly, enabling them to become smarter about predicting your needs or behaviors thus providing an overall better, more tailored and truly personal experience. It comes with real concerns as well. The more personal we are with our devices the more data we are capturing about ourselves and the more we expect privacy. I am of the school of thought that says everything in technology can be decoded and therefore privacy is more simply an abstraction of agreements made between people and organizations or systems. Don’t hate me.

Privacy was a hot topic during the Fire Side chat at Wearable Dev Con. I’d caution anyone interested in this field to expect people to be highly passionate about the topic of privacy. There are two very adamant sides of the argument, those who believe that more transparency would benefit society and those who have concerns that lack of privacy equates to a lack of safety. Just get used to it. I have my own opinions on it, if you are interested in mine just hit me up as I always enjoy having discussions on these topics.

 The Opportunity for Enterprise: I get excited when I think about the growth opportunity that is ahead of us for wearable tech in the enterprise. One of my favorite books from last year was Al Gore’s The Future which explored Internet of Things (IoT) and advances in AI leading to a redefining of life on the planet among it’s five core themes. The themes include concern arising around our capacity to create new, artificial life as well as bring back that which has become extinct and has far reaching impact across all our industries from health & safety to finance and beyond. At Wearable Dev conf I met Jeris JC Miller who shared examples of how Hospitals are already engaged in the effort to adopt wearables with the University of Washington being a fine example where nurses are using Google Glass and “talking about what information might be useful in the form of instant notifications, how communication between patients and staff might be improved, and how hands-free information access might improve care and save money.” Take a look at some of their other use cases if the Medical world interests you. Everyone will be interested to know that the Wearable Medical Devices Market is Expected to Reach USD 5.8 Billion Globally in 2019. Truth be told it’s hard to put a finger on granular use cases and the opportunity in the medical market is so huge it has already required a need to be categorized into segments as provided below:

Wearable Medical Devices Market, by Product Types

  • Wearable Therapeutic Medical Devices
  • Wearable Diagnostic Medical Devices

Wearable Diagnostic Medical Devices Market, by Product Types    

  • Vital Signs Monitors
  • Fetal & Obstetric Devices
  • Neuromonitoring Devices

Wearable Therapeutic Medical Devices Market, by Product Types       

  • Pain Management
  • Glucose/Insulin Monitoring
  • Respiratory Therapy Devices

Wearable Therapeutic Medical Devices Market, by Application        

  • Sports and Fitness
  • Remote Patient Monitoring
  • Home Healthcare

Recently I have had several discussions with people working with wearable technology for law enforcement and other safety personnel. I even had a chance to chat with a fire chief on the way their fire dept has adopted wearables related to health monitoring and oxygen delivery. Another interesting use case was explained to me by an engineer at Boeing who managed the intelligence behind highly complex aviation machinery & their maintenance. In aviation locating specific components in engines and other machinery is highly complicated yet critical to the safety of all civilians riding on the aircraft. The industry benefits not only from having connected devices but also providing increased interaction capabilities between field technicians and the machines themselves such as locating problematic components and running real time diagnostics while still inside the machinery.

This is really the tip of the ice burg but getting people to go into detail about what their working on is not easy since so much of it is still experimental. Wearable tech and IoT is an investment area for competitive differentiation. Organizations who are leading the effort today such as Boeing & University of Washington hope to benefit from the investment by getting a jump on their competition across a variety of industries through patents and creating opportunities for commercialization.

Writing this on the heels of attending the Wearable Dev Con means that I don’t have much”downtime” before my brain starts to naturally shift to concepts leading to transhumanistic exploration. That being said you’ll have to excuse the excited and tangential form of this blog. If I did it right you will join the conversation. Please leave a comment on your ideas or questions!

Fantastic key takeaway from @SoniaKoesterer three key words device, context, activity. #wearabledevcon pic.twitter.com/T5DGSzUmCP

— BlacksInTechnology (@blkintechnology) March 7, 2014

Devices redefine our social norms, design to enhance social experience @SoniaKoesterer #wearabledevcon pic.twitter.com/ZRhgnmiQsE

— BlacksInTechnology (@blkintechnology) March 6, 2014

Great session on WearScript by @brandynwhite all about rapid prototyping with @googleglass #wearabledevcon pic.twitter.com/yQbomYRJCY

— BlacksInTechnology (@blkintechnology) March 6, 2014

RT “@dakini_3: @iayori and I at #WearDevCon! This woman is one very talented developer! So glad I met her! pic.twitter.com/lJ6bJktuxB

— BlacksInTechnology (@blkintechnology) March 7, 2014

What is a Hackathon Anyway? Behind the Scenes, Organizing Startup Weekend Oakland – Black Male Achievement

I love Oakland. I always have. There is a specialness in the people of this area we like to call the “town”. There is a special history of this region as well which makes the conversation of technology and innovation in the region all the more interesting. The deepening chasm between the rich and the poor grabs the headlines as Occupy Oakland demands our attention for the 99% and the big question was, what are they doing to solve problems? Actually, that is the question most people ask whenever someone complains about a condition or problem, “what are you going to do about it?” And it’s a fair question that Oakland has risen to the occasion to answer with Startup Weekend Oakland – Black Male Achievement also known as #SWOBMA.

What is #SWOBMA anyway? In technical terms it’s a hackathon. Unfortunately most people in the world have no idea what a hackathon is, especially people of color. So let me tell you. Hackathons are events that challenge people to commit to solving a problem with a team (often a team of strangers) in a short time period, such as 24 hours, 48 hours or in the case of Startup Weekend Oakland, 54 hours. Hackathons provide a venue for self-expression and creativity through technology. People with technical and non-technical backgrounds come together, form teams around a problem or idea, and collaboratively build, code, experiment, prototype and/or design a unique solution from scratch — these generally take shape in the form of websites, mobile apps, robots or games. Each team has the opportunity to pitch their creation to a panel of judges whose expertise reflect the types of problems participants try to solve. So #SWOBMA is a hackathon, but it’s not just any hackathon. It’s special. Why?

If you have ever attended a hackathon as a woman, ethnic minority, or non-minority you will probably have noticed there are few women and people of color. Have you ever wondered why? I have. I have wondered a lot. I wondered so much I decided it was time to do something about it, that is why I joined the #SWOBMA team because Kalimah Priforce came to me one day and said, “I want to do something about this, I want a hackathon for black male achievement.” I didn’t have to think about it for 5 minutes before I knew it was one of the most innovative social project I’d heard about all year and it was just what Oakland needed, just what the world needed.


With all the complaining coming from members of the community about Google buses, gentrification, rising costs of living etc, it was high time that the innovation economy started to embrace it’s marginalized neighbors. I realized if we didn’t do it, no one would. So we did it. We designed the program, pitched it to Startup Weekend, got it approved, got sponsors to back it, and started going to work on it. The team oddly enough contains a majority of women despite being themed Black Male Achievement. The mentors from from all walks of life, creed and color, private sector to public sector with experiences at the top tech companies in the world including Google, salesforce.com, ThoughtWorks and other great places. Daily I am contacted by various people of all races who feel compelled to hack at #SWOBMA and solve problems alongside our young Trailblazers who mostly consist of young black males between the ages of 13-20. The support is awesome and far exceeding what I’d hoped for. I also get the fine treat of waking up in the morning to new inquiries everyday from very established men of color looking for ways to give back at the event. The project has an overwhelming tone of empathy, love, respect & inclusiveness. It’s absolutely everything a customer discovery evangelist would hope for because it’s a platform swelling with untamed challenges that beg for solution discovery with customers eager to respond to empathy. This is why everyday I see new registrations and my jaw drops some more.

I’d wanted to use this post to explain the experience of being at a hackathon to help people feel less afraid to participate but then I realized that people aren’t afraid to participate anymore. They are jumping at the opportunity. Which is AWESOME! That being said, #BITTechTalk is still hosting a podcast entirely dedicated to the topic of Hackathons to introduce our international audience to the concept. I hope you’ll join us on Wednesday Jan 22nd at 6pm Pacific time on Spreaker as we’ll be joined by Brian Clark, Founder of AnnoTree and Rauhmel Fox, CEO of WHOmentors.com, Inc.. Both gentlemen are frequent hackathon participants and I can almost guarantee that listening to them will make you get off your behind and attend one of these events if not organize one yourself.

Event Title: #BITTechTalk: What are Hackathon & Why Should I Care?
Where: #BITTechTalk Channel on Spreaker or RSVP on Facebook
Wednesday, Jan 22nd, 6-7pm Pacific time
Description: Join us for our Panel & Podcast where we are joined by founders and hackers in Silicon Valley to break it down and tell you everything you need to know about hackathons, what they are, why you need to care, and where to find them.
Special Guests:

  • Brian Clark, founder of AnnoTree

African Americans Choose Tech & Code as Next Movement

Organizations nationwide made a surge during Computer Science Education week to ensure African American youth are prepared to engage in the emerging need for code literacy. Code literacy in the African American community is no longer a conversation about awareness, it is an active movement. It’s not a new movement either, it’s been gaining steam for 15 years referred to as the “stopping the digital divide” with many brave, talented and dedicated individuals working to solve the problem. It’s taken some time for this concept to gain the kind of mainstream traction that would change it from a conversation to a movement, but now that big names such as Mark Zuckerburg have stepped up to the plate (via code.org) to call code “the new literacy” people nationwide are taking notice and working to change policy, practices and perceptions around computer science education.

Serving as a powerful wind beneath those wings are organizations like Black Girls Code, Hidden Genius Project and now Yes We Code who are all working together to make the national dialog about code literacy a national dialog about equity, diversity & inclusion as well. Whether it’s parents discussing how to raise a coder, youth who code sharing in their voices or the leaders of our institutions of higher education speaking, the message is crystal clear. Technology and code is at the center of the next big movement to shift our nation and make an impact globally. Tech inclusion is so critical to the strategy of solving the great problems of our society that it ought to be compared our struggle for the right to vote. Now some may say that code literacy and the right to vote have no comparison but open your mind and follow this train of thought for a moment.

When President Obama announced the Open Gov and Open Data initiatives it was a powerful attempt to move our society to being more transparent about the information and decisions that affect us the most. Unfortunately open data today is the equivalent of the Library of yesterday, as our elders would say if you want to hide something from poor people just put it in a book. Similarly, if you want to hide something from poor people put it in a form that they cannot easily access. One of our eras most powerful assets, “data” is stored all over the place with no easy way to make heads or tails of it but it’s out there, it’s open, and you can access it. The powerful part is if regular people can be educated and literate in technology, this data becomes incredibly valuable. Take Laquitta DeMerchant for example who saw our nations open salary data as an opportunity to create an app to help women achieve equal pay (a problem also faced by African Americans and Latinos). Laquitta is making the difference by leveraging technology to take information that anyone has access to and put it into a format that makes it easy for people to access right from their smart phone which creates new possibilities for regular people to negotiate better pay for their labor and families. You might be saying to yourself, “well that is not revolutionary!” You’re right, using an app to help you negotiate an equitable salary is not revolutionary, it’s disruptive.

The Civil Rights Movement was about enabling African Americans to “participate” equally in the legal process that governs our world. African Americans right to participate in the political process disrupted the lives of many Americans, ultimately resulting in laws being passed to make interracial marriage legal, hate crimes illegal, and raised the bar of the expectation for human rights in America. It is entirely clear that participation in the political process as we know it is crucial to developing a stable nation and economy, unfortunately we’ve still faced many hurdles in realizing that stability as highlighted with the tragedy of Trayvon Martin and Sandyhook Elementary. Code literacy opens possibilities to new economic ventures but also new social ventures that could change the way we manage crime, education, healthcare, our environment and even entertainment. If you ask me, this is exactly the type of movement we’ve been nostalgic for when we complain that “we haven’t made significant progress since the Civil Rights Movement”. Tech inclusion is about enabling African Americans to participate in the technical innovation process that solves the problems of the world. It impacts so many facets of our society similarly and in powerful ways just like the political process.

We are not only watching the tech inclusion movement unfold before our eyes, we are active participants in it. As I watched +200 young African American brothers gather in Oakland, California this past Saturday (12/14) to learn about coding I was reminded by Kumi Rauf (founder of I Love Being Black) of Freedom Schools that were formed in the 60s to foster political participation among elementary and high school students, in addition to offering academic courses and discussions. I envision what was politics is now being disrupted by new platforms of communication such as social media (as leveraged during the last election), and we see action-prompting discourse taking place via twitter hashtags, triggering changes in government, policy and society in general. What was political is now entrepreneurial. What was political is now technological and the language of our new platform is written in code. Tell us, what do you think?


Check out some of the tweets and media that are continuing to inspire below:

The Road to 50: Podcast: African Americans on the role of Higher Education in Innovation

How many times in your life have you heard someone say “go to college so you can get a good job”? Sadly I’ve heard this statement so many times I can’t even count it. I’ve heard it said by educators, the media, even bums at the liquor store, nearly every message and reason I’ve ever heard someone offer for going to College or University was “to get a good job”. This messaging has been consistent for at least the last 20 years however the college graduation rates for African Americans (especially in STEM fields) have only increased marginally which begs the question, are we sending the right message to African Americans about higher education? Is the proper role of college and universities to help graduates attain work or is it something greater? Have we missed the mark on sending the right message about the value of a higher education all along? Is there a “higher” calling to higher education that could better hook, commit, and aid African American graduation rates? To begin answering these questions #BITTechTalk will engage experts across the nation in a critical dialog around Higher Education, African Americans and STEM during CSEdWeek (Computer Science Education Week).  Click to Listen to the Replay.

As CS Ed Week (Computer Science Education Week) comes to a close the nation has made it a point to engage the youth on the topic of Computer Science education and teaching kids everywhere some basics about coding and developing computer programs, but where to next? Are we teaching our youth to code so that they can simply find jobs? Is learning python, ruby, java and html enough to drive an innovative economy in our nation? I doubt it. As the power of the internet moves the national dialog to answer the trendy question of “how do we create more computer programmers?” a better question arises, “why, how and who did the research to create these programming languages”? Many of the technologies we use today were developed inside universities such as MIT and UC Berkeley as a part of research experiments. Google for example began as a research project at Stanford by Larry Page, i.e. PageRank. Suffice to say an hour of code will not create the next Larry Page, so what will? To add further fuel we also know that the often ignored brains behind Apple, Steve Wozniak spent merely a single year at the University of California at Berkeley before dropping out to build the first Apple computer. He has since been decorated with a bunch of honorary degrees and doctorates for his contributions to research and technological innovation. What did Larry Page and Steve Wozniak have in common? In my opinion what they have in common is the deep commitment to research, understanding, experimentation and problems solving.

In seeking to understand the dynamics and importance of research- not degrees, problem solving- not adoption, BIT has assembled an all star panel of educators to discuss the “Role of Higher Education in Innovation” during a special LIVE #BITTechTalk Podcast. During the Live talk we’ll be taking questions from the audience via Twitter. Please use with the hashtag #BITTechTalk when submitting your questions. RSVP for the event on Facebook and tune in live on Friday, December 13th at 5PM Pacific / 8 PM Eastern for this incredible discussion that we hope will move the needle on African American success in higher education.

The Road to 50: Blacks in Technology celebrates it’s 4 year Anniversary throughout the month of December and in conjunction with our anniversary we are on the path to record our 50th #BITTechTalk Podcast! We’re so excited about the journey and we want to you to join in the celebration by learning something new, sharing information with your community, and straight up make a loud display with us of “Stomping the Digital Divide”!

We started on our Road to 50 series countdown when we hosted Maurice Cherry the founder of Revision Path (the largest online database of African American designers) and the next installment on the road to 50 will be the Live broadcast of How to Raise a Coder.

Event Title: #BITTechTalk: University Edition – African Americans on the role of Higher Education in Innovation
Listen to the Replay: #BITTechTalk Channel on Spreaker
Listen to the replay of the LIVE Webcast Panel & Podcast where we are joined by educators and speakers from across the country to talk about the role Higher Education plays in STEM education, and the value that research has on our economy, entrepreneurship and disruptive and emerging technology.

Guests include:

  • Dr. Maya Beasley (sociology professor at UConn)
  • Omoju Miller (PhD Student UC Berkeley. Software Technologist. Start-up Advisor. Educator)
  • Kai Dupé (Computer scientist, consultant, trainer, speaker)
  • Mike Green (Award winning journalist – CoFounder of The America 21 Project)
  • Reginald C. Farrow, Research Professor in Physics at NJIT (New Jersey Institute of Technology)

The Road to 50: African American Parents Share Tips, “How to Raise a Coder”

Many parents support their children in team sports and some hope their child might be the next Michael Jordan, LeBron James, or Kobe Bryant, but the truth is few will make it to the million dollar ranks in sports, and even those who do often face dire consequences. Sadly, too few parents (especially African Americans) realize that careers in technology are among the top paying careers in the world (are the fastest growing careers) and that programmers (software developers, coders and hackers) can make million dollar salaries for writing software code, often in the comfort of their own home working remotely. #BITTechTalk plans to change that by hosting the first ever LIVE podcast where parents will share their tips on how to raise a coder. Listen to the replay on Spreaker

Last month Black Girls Code hosted a Tech Careers panel for an audience of parents and the consensus from parents was that they needed more support to understand what their kids are doing with technology, how to best support their children in being makers, builders and coders of technology rather than consumers, and even how to protect their kids from new tech trends that have a dark side. Despite the concerns around technology the parents who attended the panel all knew one thing for sure, that code is the new literacy and that is why they were investing in their child by enrolling them into the Black Girls Code Build an App in a Day Workshop.

In response to the concerns raised by parents, Blacks in Technology will be hosting a special LIVE #BITTechTalk Podcast with a panel of parents of African American youth who will share their tips on “How to raise a coder”. During the Live talk we’ll be taking questions from you via Twitter with the hashtag #BITTechTalk so RSVP for the event on Facebook and tune in live on Monday, December 2nd at 7PM Pacific / 10 PM Eastern for this incredible discussion that we hope will bring you one step closer to raising the next great innovator who will outshine the shadow of Steve Jobs.



The Road to 50: Blacks in Technology celebrates it’s 4 year Anniversary throughout the month of December and in conjunction with our anniversary we are on the path to record our 50th #BITTechTalk Podcast! We’re so excited about the journey and we want to you to join in the celebration by learning something new, sharing information with your community, and straight up make a loud display with us of “Stomping the Digital Divide”!

We started on our Road to 50 series countdown when we hosted Maurice Cherry the founder of Revision Path (the largest online database of African American designers) and the next installment on the road to 50 will be the Live broadcast of How to Raise a Coder.

Event Title: #BITTechTalk: Parents Edition – How to Raise a Coder
Listen to the Replay: #BITTechTalk Channel on Spreaker
You are invited to this join in for this LIVE Webcast Panel & Podcast where we are joined by 4 African American parents to answer the tough question: How to raise a coder? Join to listen to perspective of African American parents who believe their children could very well be greater than Steve Jobs.

Click Link to LISTEN LIVE at 7PM Pacific / 10PM Eastern: http://www.spreaker.com/show/bittechtalk-by-blacks-in-technology

We’ll be taking questions from Twitter LIVE from the hashtag #BITTechTalk.

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: Blacks in Technology was founded 3 years ago to Stomp the Digital Divide and on this live broadcast we’ll have a special announcement especially for parents so join in live because you won’t want to miss this!

Silicon Valley: Growing the Network

The conversation around diversity is so broken right now it often doesn’t even sound like it’s about people. It comes off like a conversation for policy, regulation, and it sounds like a pill. Diversity isn’t just race and gender and it certainly isn’t a pill. Diversity is about cultural exchange and cultural exchange is about being open to sharing experiences. Just like your mother taught you, sharing is caring. The bottom line is are you willing to reach outside your circle and bring in someone new whose unique differences will add new flavor to your network?

Discussions about science and technology often benefit from abstract terminology and references, diversity however does not because people are not objects, infrastructure or research projects, they are living beings who are a product of their life experiences and beliefs. When you use abstractions for people most often what you get are stereotypes and far reaching assumptions. This is why the concept of diversity has become a broken record. The black and white dialog in America continues to hold historical fears, violations of human rights, defensive positions and to put it bluntly, pain. We felt it all over again with the Trayvon Martin case. Yet Trayvon Martin wasn’t about diversity, it was about being human and how people can make assumptions, judgements when they don’t know and respect each other like human beings.

We need to take the conversation down from macro level abstractions to a face to face, equal, level playing field engagement between real people. That is the only place where exchange can actually occur. This is why I wrote this piece to share the 5 things we need to understand to create more and better innovation and some people you need to get to know as well.

  1. Diversity is not a pill

Change is uncomfortable. New neighborhoods, new jobs, new mother in-law, it’s not always easy. Culture has a strange way of being both resistant to change and highly adaptive. Traditions like presents during Christmas hold fast while every few years a new dance craze finds it’s way into wedding parties by people of all races and cultures, remember the electric slide, the marcarena, the cupid shuffle etc. The experiences that make their way past the gates of tradition are pretty much never forced. There is no nurse Hatchet standing over you to monitor as you swallow the pill that will make you bob your head to the new Kanye West track (when you generally favor good dub). Rather you’re in the grocery store searching for your favorite jar of olives or pickled okra and halfway through the Kanye West track you realize it doesn’t sound so bad. As a matter of fact, it’s pretty damn good. But if someone asked you to sit down and listen to (and swore you would love it!) you would probably shake your head no way thinking frankly, “ain’t nobody got time for that!”

Human beings are social creatures, even the anti-social ones are social and we all generally want one thing; to be valued which connotes being understood and others appreciating your value. If everyone has a mission in life then we’ve all got an agenda. It should be no surprise that the way we fulfill our mission is with the help of other people. That race to find the person or people who will help you fulfill the mission can blind you. You don’t often know what you’re looking for until you find it, but it doesn’t stop you from making guesses and assumptions about the type of people you need to connect with. When you need to meet new people, like most challenges, we tend to go the path of least resistance, we stick with what is comfortable to us. If we believe that elite investors are generally white male grads from Harvard then we’re likely going to overlook Ken Coleman because he just doesn’t fit the image in our heads. If you realized you were making this mistake you would think that is was unacceptable.

Over the last year every tech conference I’ve attended has held a conversation about diversity, most focused on gender due to the recent “Lean In” trend started by Sheryl Sandberg and likewise at every one of these conferences I’ve heard someone complain about the diversity topic. The general dialog starts with “I’m not prejudice or anything, so why do I have to listen to this? I came here for <insert technical topic here>!” While I appreciate the message being sent I often notice the same people engaging in the diversity conversation over and over. In other words, we’ve been preaching to the choir, being overly obvious about our agenda for diversity and kinda coming off like the borg (you will be assimilated), or at least that’s how the agenda is being painted all too frequently. The conversation we need to be presenting during tech conferences is on the value of urban communities, how they impact world culture and technologies and how we must harness the power of urban influence to transform urban communities into innovative epicenters, create global networks, nurture and essentially authenticate and professionalize the skills and cultural proclivities of at risk communities. That’s a real solution, not a pill.

  1. Leadership & Mentoring go hand in hand

Silicon Valley alone won’t get us to the Jetson’s. The communities in the Valley over the past 30 years have done a lot to lead the world in advancement but it hasn’t been enough to deliver the kind of global innovation that we need. If anyone says we’ve done enough they just aren’t thinking big enough. We haven’t solved enough big problems yet and we won’t unless we get even more creative and learn to cultivate more diverse teams who see differently, spot different problems and solve problems differently. Leadership and growth requires cultural perspicacity that can leverage culture, one’s self reflection, vision for innovation, the ability to identify skills sets and align them with current trends and eliminate as many of the risks that present themselves in any and every solution to a big problem.

The good thing is the tools and experiences of Silicon Valley are being shared. Steve Job’s mentor and one of the guys who started Intel, Andy Grove encouraged America to be “vigilant as a nation to have tolerance for difference, a tolerance for new people.” In response to that advice it’s not uncommon for leading names in Silicon Valley to leave twitter imprints across the globe from Amman to Tel Aviv to South Africa mentoring, sharing, and supporting the development of innovation centers all around the globe. Additionally, emerging leaders from regions all over the world come to Silicon Valley to great benefit, they spend their time deepening their network and developing their influence capabilities because to be honest, strong connections are the best constant in an industry that moves as fast as tech. Not to underestimate the benefit of weak ties, but you don’t just invite anybody to the White House, or even your own house for that matter.

These global exchanges are sometimes facilitated by special programs such as TechWomen, a professional mentorship and exchange program (of which I am a professional mentor) developed in response to President Obama’s efforts to strengthen relations between the United States, the Middle East and North Africa (thanks Hillary!). The activities setup within these programs align with the belief that networks and connections are vital to facilitate real growth opportunities.  These leaders go on to not only build companies, but communities as well.

I similarly set out to fill a network gap when I started Pitch Mixer Entrepreneur Forum to support the growing innovation center in Oakland. Silicon Valley is key in influencing the type of qualities these communities will develop. The world looks to us as a model. As the Valley mentors the development of new innovation centers around the globe, we need to be cognizant and share what we don’t do well (e.g. diversity) and why that harms our future innovation opportunities, and what we’re planning to do to change it. It’s even more critical that developing nations learn this from us now because while the consequences of being different can be dangerous and uncomfortable in the US, it’s frequently deadly in other nations. We have a global responsibility to lead the way to a better future.

Until the options and alternatives that at exist at Palo Alto High exist at the high schools in Bay View, Hunters Point (San Francisco’s District 10), West Oakland, Detroit, Chicago or Addis Ababa we are not responsible leaders. The options should be standard to study Java and Robotics (among other skillsets that enable problem solving in a real world context) at every high school because when you open options you open possibilities. When you provide context for education that is linked directly to solving real problems the motivation to learn Science, Technology, Engineering and Math become clear as well.

One of my favorite examples of how Silicon Valley’s network is growing with the increase in option is with NewMe Accelerator. I peeked in on their most recent Demo Day at Google last week and saw a variety of innovations from developer collaboration tools (AnnoTree co-founded by Brian Clark) to disease diagnostics (BioNanovations founded by Charleson S. Bell) to mentoring apps (MentorMe co-founded by Brit Fitzpatrick).

What’s more than the technology these individual innovators have built, they also give back to the community in a very real way by being visible and accessible (even if NewME itself is no longer “open” since it has recently become invite only). I bumped into Brit Fitzpatrick while she spoke on a panel on tech entrepreneurship targeted for parents of young girls in the Black Girls Code Build an App in a Day Workshop in Oakland. The message she left with parents was this: your daughters are going to be sitting sitting up here one day talking about how they first broke into tech. Likewise when I bumped into Brian Clark at TechCrunch Disrupt I learned that he spends a few hours a week in the Mission (underserved area of San Francisco) teaching high school kids in an after school program in the how to code.

Am I the only one who gets chills from these stories? These young entrepreneurs are leading by example and taking the mentorship they received from programs like NewME to new heights by duplicating themselves in youth who might normally be overlooked. Then there is Tristan Walker who was an early employee at FourSquare who went on to start Code2040 to bring college students of diverse backgrounds into internships at hot startups so they will leave with experiences that will help them thrive as executives and leaders in the startups community in the future. This perspective of paying it forward is the best breed of entrepreneurs, they are multipliers in ways that defy the norm in a very powerful and impactful way.

  1. Innovation is born within special communities ripe for change

The concept of leaders and leadership is overrated and communities are underrated in conversation. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Paul Graham and a host of other cool dudes were all great at what they did, but they would all be nowhere without the communities in which they lived and thrived. A great deal of Paul Graham’s numerous essays describe how community is important.  He is a big advocate of going where the environment is best suited for your task (in most cases he is talking about start-ups environments).  About environments he states, “You might think that if you had enough strength of mind to do great things, you’d be able to transcend your environment. Where you live should make at most a couple percent difference. But if you look at the historical evidence, it seems to matter more than that. Most people who did great things were clumped together in a few places where that sort of thing was done at the time.” 

While everyday new tools advance our social capabilities online, the real advancement still happens face to face, the result of bumping into an acquaintance on the street after a trip to the Barber shop (how Pitch Mixer was born when I ran into Kalimah Priforce). Not just any conversation though, I’m talking about escalating conversations. The kind that start with an idea, and end up as a full blown vision. These conversations die too quickly in overly traditional communities. The key phrases to master are “and?”, “why?” and “tell me more?” There is something special about curiosity, interest, and patience, it helps others explore their ideas, it helps others grow. As people flock to silicon valley from other regions they don’t always pick up on this principle and that is unfortunate because it means they are missing out on the real special bits. The good news is that you can incubate this quality in any community and it starts with something you’d never believe. Friendship.

  1. Great Communities thrive on Friendship & Sharing

The increasing amplified voice of cyber bullying is poison. It’s the result of insecurity and a lack of intimate, trusting, open, and supportive friendships in anti-social people who are closed off to new ideas. Bullies don’t share, they hoard and they scare people away with their “survival of the fittest” attitude. This is not to say there is no room for strong or even blunt personalities. You can be direct and constructive without being a socially inept bully. Strong and bold personalities have a place in the best communities and they know how to engage difficult subjects without making it personal. This is why they can be beneficial, but when any persona switches to talking for the sake of it’s own ego rather than listening, what we see is a breakdown in communication, community and an imbalance in the dynamics of power. That imbalance kills innovation, it kills ideas and I hate to be so bleak but it even kills people. That is why we have to get serious here.

Think about this for a moment… Have you ever noticed that some of the most powerful and influential people are very open and supportive? Yet they can be so hard to get to and access because at times it can feel as if swarming around the powerful and influential people open to new ideas is an ocean full of selfish and overly competitive bullies who want to be the gate keeper to the cool people. If only more diverse people and ideas could reach the people who are open to hearing them? The cool people are looking for people who think different. They are frustrated with being served with what others think they want to see, rather than what is just freakin awesome.

In general people in Silicon Valley want you to succeed, they are friendly, open and interested in knowing you, not just your idea. This is really important to understand because we don’t work with single ideas for 5-10 years, we work with people, and the ideas pivot frequently. If these people are part of our trusted network (e.g. friends), working with them through the ups and downs becomes a bit easier. Sharing our challenges and goals with them become easier too. Whether your ties are weak or strong, there is a way of being and caring for people that builds real lasting relationships. I’m not saying be everyone’s BFF but having a vested interest encourages a natural sharing of resources which allows innovative ideas to continue to thrive while the gaps between achieving fruition and solid execution slowly close.

  1. Make opportunities for non-technical participants

Innovation is not purely technical. Research and discovery is an art frequently inspired by other art or creative pursuits. From music, to photography, to food and travels. When I say non-technical I’m not talking about business people. I’m talking about regular people. The bus driver, the woman who runs the ice cream parlor on the corner, the guy in the train station who plays saxophone for tips during your morning commute, your neighbor down the hall who is the single mother of 3 kids and comes to you to learn how to spy on her kids activities online. These people are also a part of your community and they are also diverse. Not only are they a part of the community, if you are an entrepreneur they might be your first customers. It’s important that they are welcome as full participants in your community just as much as the uber developer woman. Keep in mind that they might also be raising the next generation of engineers and entrepreneurs, they have a stake in this too.

The worst thing we can do as a community is talk down to the non-technical part of our community or exclude them. We need not be like the borg. Their questions, no matter how simple will be some of the greatest questions ever posed to you. They will pull you out of your jargon and make you step back to another perspective. They bring with them a critical eye and a creativity that is worth it’s weight in gold. The other day as I sat with the parents at the Black Girls Code workshop I realized how much we exclude and alienate these parents with our boxed jargon and thinking. If you engage with non-technical people frequently enough and with the proper level of respect you will drop your ego down a few notches, I guarantee. You will see the beauty in them as inspiration and your vision will expand as you get out of the weeds (and out of your cubicles) more often.

By the way, to take this a step further I’m advocating for better resources for adults who want to migrate to STEM fields and parents who want to support their kids in STEM. I’m talking about eliminating income and social bias, welcoming those with minimal exposure to technology and support the prompting of futurist vision. I’m talking about robots and laser reading projection and all that kind of crazy…. stuff. :-)

People you need to know in Silicon Valley

I was recently asked to come on NPR radio’s Tell Me More to share stories of African Americans in or around Silicon Valley who are making a difference in and through tech I looked no further than my friends. Where 3 years ago I only knew a handful of African Americans in tech fields, today I can go on and on. I also know many more women and men of other ethnicities and cultures. My network has grown exponentially simply through a pure desire to know incredible people. The more I focused on cultural exchanges and getting to know people the more fun I had, the more doors opened and the more I wanted to stay in tech forever because my network was well, growing. I recently had a chat with salesforce.com co-founder Parker Harris and he emphasized the importance of prioritizing great people over ideas. To that effect I want to share my own personal list of incredible African American people who are making a difference in Silicon Valley so you can get to know them as well.

  • Kalimah Priforce Founder of Qeyno Labs was selected as an Echoing Green BMA (Black Male Achievement) Fellow, for 2013 Qeyno turns career discovery into a game, Kalimah’s theory of change is focused on mentorship. Online his theory manifests through gaming in Qeyno, offline the theory manifest through the Startup Weekend BMA hackathon which will be the first weekend in February, mark your calendars! The BMA hackathon has a special spin than other Startup Weekend Hackathons as 25% ($25) of every ticket goes toward sponsoring a young black male to participate and each team will have a sponsored attendee. This will also be the first Startup Weekend in Oakland and it’s the first hackathon focused on Black Male Achievement. The theme of the hackathon is “Could an app have saved Trayvon Martin and can we build a Silicon Valley that lives up to Dr. King’s dream?”. Kalimah also co-founded Pitch Mixer with me and he knows a gazillion people.

  • Jason Young – Co-founded Mindblown Labs and launched the most successful educational game startup via Kickstarter raising over $77k, he continues to build Mindblown Labs to teach financial literacy using gamification and also used his platform to start Hidden Genius Project which teaches high school age black boys to code and then some. The mission for both these organizations is “empowering the next generation with the skills they need for the 21st century economy”.

  • Kilimanjaro Robbs – Kili works along side several incredible people to run Hidden Genius Project and still his dedication stands out. The effects of his mentoring and leadership has been powerful to say the least. He is multiplying by passing his background in computer science to the younger generation and teaching them more than just code, he’s teaching them to stick with problems longer and showing them that STEM is fun.

  • Kimberly BryantBlackGirlsCODE. The impact she is making with these girls across the nation gives me chills. I was able to join the group on their visit to facebook when Sheryl Sandberg came to meet her girls during a hackathon. Kimberly’s mission gives me chills because of the impact she is making and the greater potential. I even trusted BGC with my very own daughter and that is a huge stamp of approval.

  • Ashara Ekundayo one of the founders of Impact HUB Oakland is certainly making a difference with their pop-up hood, by being in Oakland and inviting organizations to make a home for their businesses in their innovation space and is making a huge difference in being a force to change the makeup of Downtown Oakland. If you are looking for something to blow your mind in Oakland, look no further that Impact Hub Oakland. They recently hosted a YouthInTech summit there which invited youth and those working around developing a pipeline of youth to collaborate and exchange on solutions and problem solving.

  • Brian Clark – Co-founder of AnnoTree. Hailing from Detroit and coming to SF to participate in NewME Accelerator, Brian is one of my #1 candidates for building the community that could actually disrupt Silicon Valley and make Detroit the leading innovation center of the world. To circumvent this I’m still trying to convince him to stay in the bay area but honestly he’s a rising star no matter where he goes. His innovative application and platform to support collaborative mobile app feedback and development is slick. Go join the public beta! Tell him Ayori sent you.

  • Osandi Sekou Robinson – Founder of Vnylst.com with a vision to teach the youth that hip hop and hacking is synonymous. His branding is beautiful, his passion is boundless and when I have a board, I’m adding him to mine. In the near term I’m tapping him for UX and Design work.

  • Krys Freeman is one of today’s rising entrepreneurs, technologist and visionaries – and a firm believer in technology as a vehicle for radical change. To that end, Krys seeks out projects that stretch our imagination in order to tackle complex enterprise and civic challenges. She is the brainchild behind HeLLa Rides a carpool mobile app for neighbors and she’s going to help me find a replacement for my money scarf. And she codes.

  • Chris Bennett – Co-founder of Soldsie which is the best option for Selling on Facebook that drives engagement and sales. He also co-founded Black Founders along with Hadiyah Mujhid (who’s building something exciting right now), Nnena Ukuku (CEO of Black Founders), and Monique Woodard (Innovation Fellows, City of San Francisco).

  • Jeannice Fairrer Samani – CEO of Fairrer Samani Strategic Management   firm-working with entrepreneurs and existing businesses to grow Global business development, leadership training whose focus is NGO’s and Women in Middle Management and Philanthropy. Jeannice is Founder of Black Women Entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley est. 1998 and a Mentor for the TechWomen program.

  • Jewell Sparks – President/CEO at Strategic Diversity Group INC and Founder at BiTHouse and Strategic Partnerships and Alliances at Blacks in Technology. This woman seems to make her way into everything tech from BiTHouse SXSW, TechCrunch Disrupt, Launch, SHRM to blacksintechnology.net. While she is generally behind the scenes she handles the work of diversity in tech from the business development, STEM and inclusion space.

In closing my recommendation is that we stop talking about this abstract concept of diversity and we start talking about getting to know the people who make up our communities presently, and invite new, different people into our lives to learn about them, share about ourselves, make new friends and build better more creative communities where ideas thrive, and execution seals the deal. Stop looking for the right connection (the pattern) and start making real connections, especially with people who present opportunities for cultural exchange. If you only know a handful of people who are different from yourself you need to be really worried about what you are missing out on.