AfroTech 2019 has come to an end, and this elderly millennial is exhausted but feeling revived and renewed. For the first time, I had a chance to brush shoulders and connect with 10,000 Black programmers, engineers, founders, and entrepreneurs from over 100 companies focused on scaling our collective power in the culture, innovation, and tech. It is the official homecoming for Black techies proving that diversity and inclusion in tech is not a pipeline problem.
Let me preface. For almost ten years, I have been fortunate to have a seat at the table where I can be curious about the future of AdTech, leading strategic partnerships to bring advertising and entertainment solutions to life. Despite all of the challenges, I am proud to be a part of an exciting and rewarding industry surrounded by talented people.
The AdTech industry has been a lonely place for me as a person of color. It is evident that we have made significant progress with diversity and inclusion in creative industries. However, people of color — specifically in AdTech — are still underrepresented and often the “only” in the workplace with limited access to mainstream networks, capital, and resources. As a result, I founded the AdTech Collective, an industry network, aimed at building a community that supports and mobilizes people of color in AdTech. Ok, now that you have some context, let’s get back to my first AfroTech experience.
As my Uber approached the Oakland Convention Center, I heard the vibrant sounds of Afro-beats. As we got closer to the main area, I saw a swarm of melanin people beaming with pride and joy sporting fly t-shirts with bold and culturally relevant statements such as “Black in Tech” or “I am my ancestors’ wildest dreams.” In my mind, I made it to “Wakanda.”
The experience was culturally relevant and empowering with so many gems and panels like “Started from the Bottom, Now You’re Here” named after a popular Drake song, “What Does AI Mean for Me” by Amazon, “Navigating a Career Path in Product and Engineering,” co-Hosted by Microsoft & LinkedIn and “How Blockchain Can Bring Wealth Equity.” We also had a chance to hear from heavy hitter Charlamagne Tha God — of the NY-based and syndicated radio show “The Breakfast Club” — who served as the keynote speaker for a discussion called “Building a Multifaceted Media Empire” with host, Devi Brown.
Additionally, we engaged in informative discussions led by JPMorgan on the concept of the “Black Tax and Tech,” giving historical context to the cost and impact of systemic oppression and our progress in tech. “Advancing Inclusive Research” in AI was another consistent theme along with the importance of ensuring it is fueled with unbiased data and is inclusive of all people. We also made a spiritual connection through “Swag Surfin'” the unofficial Black millennial anthem and a long tradition of Black people dancing publicly and proudly.
For the first time, I finally felt a sense of belonging, saw myself reflected in each person I encountered, and got a glimpse of my future in tech. AfroTech is designed with me in mind. The experience was more significant than me. At last, we were united in tech and culture with an appreciation for our past, present, and future.
AfroTech did not disappoint. The weekend was filled with so much history, so much context, and so many genius ideas! It was an uplifting experience that has re-energized me to do great work and uplift another brother and or sister to join me for the ride.
Thank you, Blavity, Inc., for creating a space for us to be great!