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

Tell Me More #NPRBlacksinTech

NPR kicked off an effort to to recognize black innovators in technology on December 2, 2013.  NPR’s Tell Me More has been utilizing Twitter to engage the African-American community by asking entrepreneurs and techies to profile themselves during #NPRBlacksinTech “A Day in the Life” social media series.  Throughout the past few weeks, entrepreneurs and technologists have been answering questions from youth at the Howard University School of Mathematics and Science and will continue to live-tweet a day in their lives through December 20, 2013.  Participants will also provide feedback to the questions that Tell Me More has collected with #NPRBlacksinTech.  An archive of the series can be found on NPRs Storify.

Join the conversation.   Use the hashtag #NPRBlacksinTech and @TellMeMore to show your support of the effort.  As Sheryl Sandberg states in her book Lean In, ” We need to look out for one another, work together, and act more like a coalition. As individuals, we have relatively low levels of power.  Working together, we have real power.”  As obvious as this sounds, WE have not always worked together in the past.  Let’s change the game!  Look at all the talent and “Change Leaders” on this list.  There are more out there, but as a community, lets thank NPR for their efforts.






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 Youth Share Their Stories in “Their Voices”

The dialog about African American youth battling against the odds has been told time and time again. The pervasive story of successful youth in technology is generally not depicted as young faces of color. Look nearly anywhere and you’ll hear opinions from educators, parents, and community advocates about what needs to be done to save and support our children, and encourage them in STEM fields, but rarely do we hear from the voices that are most important, the voices of our youth. #BITTechTalk plans to change that by hosting the first ever LIVE podcast where youth from across the country will share their stories on how they became makers, coders, builders and what they plan to do in the future. Click Here to Listen to the Replay here.

This week launches CS Ed Week (Computer Science Education Week) where organizations and people across the world will organize events to host an hour of code. The goal is to teach young people to code, which is being dubbed the new literacy. At the same time musician Prince lends his name to promote and boost #YesWeCode, an initiative to teach 100,000 young people of color to code, while he headlines the 2014 Essence Music Festival. #YesWeCode will recruit hundreds of grassroots training programs and team up with major technology partners, celebrities and political leaders to promote the goal of training 100,000 low-opportunity youth to become high-level computer programmers. “You could imagine a situation, where out of this initiative, you get a 100,000 Mark Zuckerbergs, 250,000 Mark Zuckerbergs, a million Mark Zuckerbergs — but a whole lot of them look like Trayvon Martin.” remarks Van Jones whose organization Rebuild The Dream powers #YesWeCode through it’s innovation fund. Strategic initiatives like this make it clear that it’s time to stop “talking” about scaling programs to support people of color in coding and actually start scaling them. While we participate in this surge in support for such programs to scale, it’s critical that we remember who this work is all about, our youth.

In support of our youth, these initiatives, and the good work that has been done for years by organizations such as Black Girls Code, Hidden Genius Project, and the others who paves the way,  Blacks in Technology will be hosting a special LIVE #BITTechTalk Podcast with a panel of African American youth who will share their stories of how they became makers, coders, and builders.  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 Monday, December 9th at 7PM Pacific / 10 PM Eastern for this incredible discussion that we hope will bring you one step closer to raising (or being) the next great innovator who will outshine the shadow of Steve Jobs. Even President Obama has jumped on board to support youth learning to code. Don’t be a naysayer, or a negative nancy, get on board and be an early adopter or supporter, start by tuning in to our podcast Monday night!

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: Youth Edition – Their Voices
Listen to the Reply: 
#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 youth from across the country to share their stories of how they got started in tech, how we can get more youth engaged and what they plan to do in the future in: Their Voices. Join to listen to perspective of African American youth who could very well be greater than Steve Jobs.

Cracking the Code: Lies About Learning, Lies About Math, Lies About You

Foundational Math

When I thought about NPR covering the topic of diversity in technology from the perspective of African Americans I thought long and hard about what my contribution would be to the conversation. I thought about what misinformation has made me most angry in my journey through technology and what I could do to prevent others from being misguided by the wrathful deities that tell us “math is hard, go play Call of Duty”.

I know that parents face challenges preparing and supporting their children in mathregardless of race, which is why there are many resources targeted toward parents. The challenges in learning math impact student readiness and excitement for learning other concepts directly related to science and engineering technology. I knew in my heart that education was the right topic for me to tackle along with my fellow peers in the #NPRBlacksinTech series, and that I needed to tackle it in a way normal people would understand.


Monologic forms are the hallmark of individual competence and accountability, and are one of the primary measures of expertise in learning assessment

Lies About Learning:
Let me begin by saying that I was fortunate to be born to a mother who made math a high priority in our home. I can clearly recall the sadness of missing the first few games in the NBA final of Jordan’s Chicago Bulls vs Clyde Drexler’s Portland Trail Blazers because I failed a math test AND said “I hate math!” to my mother. She didn’t punish me so much for failing the test as much as for saying I hated math. If only then I knew that I just learned things differently I never would have felt, or said those words. A few years later I was fortunate to have the opportunity to shift from the general didactic way of learning (teacher lecturing the student) to a monological (self-guided and exploratory) way of learning by the time I was high school age. Let me explain. I was homeschooled, this came with benefits as well as unique challenges but for me the benefits (of homeschooling) far outweighed the challenges. Let me tell you why. At the most critical phase of developing my own personal learning process I was allowed the freedom to discover how and why I most loved learning. Through my love of learning cool new things I realized that math was really powerful and had incredible applications such as 3D modeling which I learned (via online tutorials of 3D Studio Max) when I was 16. Loving learning has been my secret weapon ever since.

Fostering a love of learning is key to engaging the self-motivation to overcome challenges one faces when a subject is difficult to learn. When people are enabled to learn in the best way for them they begin to love learning. The frictionless experience of learning something you love to learn becomes addictive. Joyfully addictive. Unfortunately most students in traditional education rarely experience this feeling because standard form factored curricula can trigger the feeling of being a square peg forced into a round hole, students feel the pain of having to learn a specific style of learning that they may never fully embrace AND whatever concept the learning is supposed to transfer. It is the epitome of painful learning through “Weapons of Mass Instruction”. No wonder people say math is hard or that they hate learning new (hard) things!

Some experts believe that we falls into one or more category of learning styles which can range from visual (learning from pictures or illustrated concepts), to auditory (hearing information), to tactile (interacting with physical projects) to abstract conceptualization vs concrete experience and/or active experimentation vs reflective observation and any combination in between. Many people know their learning style instinctively, you’ll find yourself saying things like “show me” if you are concrete example or visual learner for example. The challenge is when institutions (whether it is work, or school or church) refuse to support someone in their learning style and instead buy into the didactic method of instruction that requires that we sit in tiny chairs for hours on end and listen to someone lecture us (and I’m going to make a terrible reference so you can see the power in this) as if we were children! No one, least of all children ought to be subjected to this as the basis of their existence unless it happens to be the best way that they learn (didactic learner).

I find that the friends I tend to collect are all people who love learning, we don’t all learn the same way, but we all are passionate about discovering new stuff, testing it out, and doing something with what we learn. They’ve all overcome the institutions which attempted to force them into some specific grid and came out on the other side as empowered individuals with a clear sense of self and creativity. Yes, mathematicians and engineers are just as creative as artists and musicians. I would even challenge to say that math, science and engineering IS art. They are tools as powerful as paper, pen and paintbrush. Actually they are tools to craft and create other tools (works of art) to craft more art, whether it be a bridge, a tablet, global network to transfer data or the roof over your head. My friends and family helped me to see that I wasn’t weird, rather I was passionate and talented in something that was somewhat unordinary. Unordinary people become quite ordinary when they are are surrounded by other unordinary people. So people who geek out on math and science are totally normal! They’ve just discovered their own unique way rather than letting tradition misguide them.

Lies About Math:
So really, I get mad when I hear people say “math is hard”. I now understand thoroughly why my mom whooped my… I mean, punished me for saying I hated math. Because WE ARE MATH. Every electron that fires through our nervous system from our brain to make our legs walk is made of math. The Xbox that you play Call of Duty on is made of math. The x-rays, sonograms, breathing systems, and heart monitors used in hospitals are all math. Everything you are grateful for right now is mathematical in some shape or form. You just didn’t realize it. And now that you do you are responsible for spreading the word far and wide.

If I’ve gotten through to you you might now be thinking “you’re right, I do love math, but it’s still hard as hell!”. If that is what you’re thinking it’s okay, I’ve got an answer for that too. Read on!

Like in Angry Birds, a weak foundation is easy to break down, math is just like that. Math is not hard, it's layered.

Education instruction isn’t all broken, but there is one specific area that makes me particularly angry. It’s loosely related to no child left behind and the forced graduation and promotion of students through the conveyor belt of institutionalized education. Math, like reading is a subject that people frequently say becomes increasingly difficult overtime. I disagree with that assertion. Math doesn’t get more difficult overtime. Math simply builds on top of previous concepts and if you are forced to move on prior to having a solid foundation, the learning becomes increasingly painful. It’s just like playing angry birds, if the foundation is weak, the game is easy. If the foundation is very strong you’ll be trying to figure out how to get pass the level for an hour or more.

Math generally begins with recognizing the concepts of letters, numbers, shapes and colors. Then we begin basic arithmetic, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and a variant of division called fractions. If you don’t understand addition, subtraction gets harder. If you don’t understand addition, multiplication gets harder. If you don’t understand subtraction, division gets harder and so on and so forth. The point is, if students weren’t forced along before they are comfortable and fully grasping a concept, they would never think math was hard! I call this manufactured complication. Our culture of contest and competition has put our youth at a severe disadvantage because students are afraid to be left behind by their peers, yet if the students progress they will continue to struggle more and more in the future and their confidence is heavily affected. Arithmetic is really where the problems begin and students are forced to move along this conveyor belt before they are ready.

More affluent communities have discovered a lucrative method of counteracting the result of the ever moving conveyor belt, tutoring businesses have popped up at least since the 90s and make a killing in cash to supplement student education. Many of these businesses leverage either more ideal learning styles or drilling to nail the concepts deeper into the students. Sadly many in underserved communities do not have this luxury of further study. As a result students in the affluent communities move onto advanced subjects like trigonometry, calculus, computer programming, robotics and even game design enabling them to create and invent new products, while students in underserved communities are relegated to being consumers and shopping at walmart. This is all to say that if you are struggling in math you are not broken! The institutions are broken. Education is not broken, the process of schooling is broken.

Math in the Real World:
Inspiring and motivating students to pursue STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) is difficult when STEM is presented as an abstract concept. Not everyone wants to be a scientist yet you’d be hard fought to find a teenager who doesn’t want to make a design or build a house, a video game, a mobile app or earn a six figure salary. Can we put out some fresh carrots for these students please? Learning math concepts opens doors to doing incredible things and working in very lucrative (benjamins baby!) careers. And you don’t have to go as far as trig and calculus to do it even!

Someone is going to get mad at me for saying this but most programing uses basic algebra and statistics (see Combinatorics). Certainly the more math you learn the better off you are, but if a counselor ever tells you or your child that software programming is really hard and requires a lot of math they are selling you a load of crap. Programming involves some math, but trust me, most of it isn’t mindblowing. The majority of programmers are able to do their work and make six figure incomes without very complex math but how would a college counselor know this?

Simple Diagram Illustrating the Foundational Pieces of Math with Professional Career Application

Lies About You:
If you have been forced along the conveyor belt of education and you feel perhaps you need reinforcement on some basic arithmetic, don’t be embarrassed. Fill in the gaps by watching tutorials on youtube, or kahn academy, or coursera, or take a community college class. Do whatever you need to fill the gap. If you have children, learn it with them! Do not be discouraged, your commitment to learn math will inspire others to do so as well. Can you imagine what it would feel like to not only increase your own ability and end up in a better paying career but to also know that you were the role model for someone else to do the same? It could affect entire families! Really, this is big stuff. Just do the math ;-). You can have an exponential impact and inspire others just by committing yourself to learning in the best way that you learn.

Lastly the greatest lesson in learning is to think. Think for yourself. Test it out. If you think you learn better in some specific way, double down on that method and see what happens. Become your own advocate and when you see things working advocate for others as well. Confidence is critically important to enabling us to chase our dreams and take risks. So be on your own cheerleading squad and join someone else’s cheering section as well, preferably a child and help them overcome the odds and build a strong foundation in math. And remember, it’s not hard because you love to learn.

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!

Notable African Americans in Technology, the Wikipedia Project

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 LawsonMarc 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/2013/11/27/247168494/-nprblacksintech) makes his way to wikipedia for his Black History Month research project we’ve laid a trail that will inspire him. Let us all be empowered to own our past, present and future by participating in the crowdsourced curation of information about us. Read on for what you can do today to help.


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]]

The Law of Reciprocity 2.0: Better Sharing

People ask me about technology all the time but more and more I find myself reiterating the idea that behind every piece of technology there is a person, a human, a user, or as we call them in business a customer. We use technology to improve the relationship we have with that person, user or customer. We use the technology to show them that we know them better than others, that we can serve and support them better. That we will help them grow. We help others and by doing so we engage in that age old law of reciprocity where that person or customer will do something for us in return. Perhaps they will provide us with an endorsement, or cash payment for services rendered. As entrepreneurs we come up with creative ways to keep the law of reciprocity going strong and benefitting us to help us achieve our goals. We generally call that our “business model”. Something about me though never quite fit that mold. I simply am not aroused by the money or the fame. What can I say, “fast cars and bitches just don’t excite me”. What gives me chills however is seeing others turn “on”. Watching the lightbulb alight over the mind of a would be inventor. Watching someone initiate a journey leading to their passion. It’s the greatest high I can afford, and best of all, it’s free! It’s so wonderful in fact I spend a fair amount of time thinking about how I can get more of it. How does one get more of what money can’t buy?

I’ve always liked helping people, even since I was a kid. To add nuance to that I deplore the sinking feeling of letting others down, or potentially harming someone (even if just their feelings). I realize now that it was an early sign of my innate desire to engage people’s passions in a positive way. I’m not a techie (well I am, but I am not), I’m an enabler. Always have been. Got a problem? I want to help you solve it. I want to enable YOU to solve it. I want you to feel the empowerment and excitement of moving forward. I love growth and progress. It excites me. It’s the process of self actualization being activated that entices me. This experience is part of what makes facebook, twitter and pinterest so fun. The instant gratification you get from knowing you contributed to someone’s enjoyment as indicated by their “like”, “favorite” or “re-pin” etc. You engaged someone’s passion albeit in a small way, you engaged it for a moment and it made them feel… something. It made them feel something powerful enough to take action (even if just to click like).

I’ll share a secret with you. I feel uncomfortable when people thank me. I am starting to understand why. I see others thanking me as them buying into some idea that they owe me something. To that effect I am probably the least entitled person with a sense of entitlement you’ll ever meet. If I did something for you it was not with the intent of getting anything in return, I am not waiting for the thank you. I am waiting to see you succeed. I am waiting to see what you will do as a result of my investment in you. That is my reward! Did I enable you or not? What did I enable you to do? How did it contribute to your success? You are my reward. My reward is your success. But I am starting to realize that I ought to desire more than that… I ought to desire some reciprocity. But what kind?

Reciprocity Took

For the last year I’ve been very focused on the element of community building, culture transformation and engaging people to do powerful things. My experiences with mentoring have given me great satisfaction, excitement, and I am anticipating in those I’ve mentored not only their success, but also the success that they will foster in others. That is when I began to realize that my “thank you” truly lies in the “Law of Reciprocity 2.0″. It’s not just give and take for me, it’s giving the gift that keeps giving. It’s the creation of the domino effect. If I help you and you pay it forward (and it helps someone else as a result) it is greater than any “thank you”. This article got me thinking today about not only ‘why you shouldn’t say “you’re welcome”‘, but also why I don’t want to hear “thank you”. It wasn’t me who helped you, if “I” helped you it was really the hundreds of hands who helped shape me who helped you. You should thank them. The only way you can thank them is by following “The Law of Reciprocity 2.0″ to pay it forward. Help someone else. That’s what family, community and humanity is all about. It’s the best way to say “thank you”.

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.