Seeking more diversity in technology

Moderated by Rick Badie

Today, an entrepreneur/software architect addresses the race and gender disparity in the tech world; a recent Atlanta conference focused on the under-representation of minorities in the innovation economy. The other column highlights an “empowerment conference” for black youth that addressed police interaction and domestic violence, among other topics.

Few minorities in tech industry

By Hank Williams

Recently, Morehouse College and Georgia Tech hosted Platform Summit 2014 to explore diversity in technology. The conference followed revelations by many top-technology companies that the percentage of underrepresented minorities in their ranks is in the single digits. Conference speakers the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Janelle Monae, Van Jones, Ralph de la Vega and others drove dialogue and solutions around this issue.

The summit was unique for emotionally connecting with its audience. Organizers felt that to move the needle, the summit must resonate with attendees’ humanity and speak to their life perspectives. As a result, the level of enthusiasm was momentous. Participants shared speakers’ insights at a staggering clip, with nearly 3 million references to “#platform2014” across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Jones said, “At Platform, there was a feeling that we reached a critical mass around the issue of diversity in tech. Everyone was so moved by speakers’ stories, revelations and insights that we were crying, laughing and, most importantly, excitedly planning to transform the current industry.”

A few highlights:

• Rev. Jackson put diversity in tech in context by tying it to the history of the civil rights movement.

• Topper Carew, a filmmaker, urban designer and director, introduced the concept of cultural audacity. He explained that as technology becomes more accessible and black culture is increasingly perceived as cool, there will be an explosion in creativity driven by the black community.• Mike Blake, former associate director of public engagement at the White House, told the story of a young black boy who asked President Barack Obama if he could touch his hair — poignantly illustrating that kids need to see people who are like them in positions of power.

• Monae discussed “Afrofuturism,” the importance of including minorities in fictional depictions of the future because art dramatically impacts reality.

Platform Summit 2014 created a new ecosystem of community. Attendees had the rare opportunity to engage with diverse and influential entrepreneurs, technologists and business people in one place for the first time.

“Throughout Platform, I ran into important business colleagues that I hadn’t seen in years and inspiring industry leaders,” said Lucinda Martinez, senior vice president of multicultural marketing for HBO. “The relationships I developed with some of the smartest, most forward-thinking people on the planet will spark collaborations for years to come.”

Atlanta was this year’s summit location because it’s an ideal place to grow a diverse ecosystem. Not only is there a significant minority presence in the city, there are a slew of venerable institutions. From historically black colleges like Morehouse, Spellman and Clark, to universities like Emory and Georgia Tech, there’s no place like Atlanta for educating minority students.

Morehouse College President John Wilson was a key driver in moving this year’s conference to Atlanta.

“When I spoke at Platform Summit 2013 at MIT, I was so excited by the organization’s mission and its alignment with my goal of turning Morehouse into a STEM powerhouse, that I suggested bringing the event to Atlanta and Morehouse College,” he said. “Atlanta is truly an unmatched center of African-American education and is fueling a pipeline of brilliant, highly educated, technologically focused minorities in the workforce.”

Platform Summit 2014 was clearly a tremendous success. But it is only the beginning. Inspired speakers and attendees are spreading the word about this critical issue and forming alliances to make real change and create opportunities.

From Silicon Valley in California to Silicon Alley in New York and beyond, solutions are in the works that will make the tech industry more inclusive and relevant to diverse tech users and producers around the globe.

Hank Williams is the founder of Platform, a nonprofit created to increase the interest and participation of those underrepresented in the innovation economy.

Love, protect each other

By Mawuli Mel Davis

After George Zimmerman was acquitted of killing Florida teen Travyon Martin, we organized a march of more than 5,000 people from the Atlanta University Center to CNN Center. After the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., young activists organized a march of another 5,000 from CNN Center to the Center for Civil and Human Rights.

On Oct. 22, those organizers formed a human chain across I-75/85 to block traffic and bring attention to police brutality and the mass incarceration of people of color. In September, I traveled with a group of Atlanta attorneys to serve as legal observers during the Ferguson protests. The overarching sentiment was the police and city placed little to no value in residents’ lives. The common theme was, “Black lives matter.”

However, after the marches end, the protesters go home. Chants fade. Those of us who care deeply about protecting and affirming the lives of our children are left with a question: “What’s next?”The question has a much deeper connotation than simply what is the next “activity” to address police brutality. The real question that I am often asked, sometimes in a whisper, by African-American parents regardless of their economic status, is, “How can we protect our kids from police brutality?” We know through our own life experiences, our sons and daughters can experience violence at the hands of police.

According to a report by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, Operation Ghetto Storm, “police, and to a lesser extent security guards and vigilantes, kill a black person every 28 hours.” Our young men are often viewed as “dangerous” and “suspect.” As a father of teenage boys, I know the dual dangers of my sons not only being crime victims, but also victims of a police officer treating them like criminals without knowing they are “good kids” on the honor roll.

On Oct. 24 and 25, nearly 500 people and activists from more than 40 organizations attended a conference at the Interdenominational Theological Center entitled: “Empowering Ourselves Now Conference: Asserting Our Rights and Educating Beyond Ferguson.”

The intergenerational and interfaith gathering brought together youth organizers with seasoned activists. Detroit poet/activist Jessica Care Moore served as honorary co-chair, and Taurean Russell, co-founder of Hands Up United, provided updates on the Ferguson protests. Local presenters were individuals who have developed programs to encourage social justice engagement.

Other workshops included discussions on legislation to require police body cameras with state Sen. Vincent Fort, state Rep. Dee Dawkins-Haigler and Atlanta Councilwoman Keisha Lance-Bottoms; the utilization of hip hop to engage youth; “Organizing 101,” the power of parenting; spiritual healing; serving as legal observers; the importance of judicial elections; developing strong young men; strategies to stop violence against women, and asserting your legal rights safely when encountering the police.

Conference Co-chair Aurielle Lucier captured the spirit of the event: “What’s next? Our work together! We must love and protect each other.”

Mawuli Mel Davis is a partner at the Davis Bozeman Law Firm, where he practices civil rights, personal injury and criminal defense law. President of the DeKalb Lawyers Association, Davis co-chaired the conference and is co-founder of Let us Make Man.

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