Sean “Jay-Z” Carter has always been one of Hip-Hop’s most influential voices. From the early days of “Reasonable Doubt” to “4:44,” Carter’s lyrics have consistently told the stories of the culture — amplifying Black narratives, voices, and movements. And in 2017, his song “Legacy” paid homage to a conference that would expand in ways some didn’t see coming.
“We gon’ start a society within a society
That’s major, just like the Negro League
There was a time America wouldn’t let us ball
Those times are now back, just now called Afro-tech”
A year before HOV name-dropped what would become the biggest tech conference for Black professionals, AFROTECH Conference was all a dream. Two years after launching Blavity Inc., Co-founders Morgan DeBaun and Jeff Nelson had an epiphany inspired by Meta’s (formerly Facebook) and Google’s conferences.
The success of a small-scale event (Blavity EmpowerHer in New York, 2016) added exposure for the aforementioned tech giant’s convening. That was when DeBaun and Nelson had a thought, “We deserve that.”
So, with minimal funds and a burning passion, they launched AFROTECH Conference in San Francisco, CA, at Bespoke, which expanded beyond its expected attendance of 400 with over 650 tickets sold for the premier event.
Although San Francisco made sense as a techies’ paradise, what is a Black conference without a Black cultural experience?
In 2019, DeBaun and the team decided to move the annual gathering to Oakland, CA. Why? “Because it’s super Black.”
And with that rationale in mind, AFROTECH has fully embraced the “for us, by us” mantra, ensuring Black technologists, entrepreneurs, and professionals have dedicated space for learning, growing, and developing. While the inaugural year in Oakland hosted an estimated 10,000 people, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic put a hard stop to in-person gatherings.
AFROTECH Conference, however, did not let that stop the movement. In 2020 and 2021, AFROTECH World was launched — a virtual experience in the metaverse offering the same quality of sessions and stages as its in-person gatherings.
And as outside began to open up more, the 2021 conference hosted some in-person activations in select cities to coincide with the virtual experience.
Then came AFROTECH 2022 — the first entirely in-person conference in two years, bursting through with a bigger bang and a new location. From Nov. 13-17, 2022, over 25,000 ticket-holders took over Austin, TX — across five stages, a massive expo floor, and an outside park.
We can’t forget the turn-up. AFROTECH Conference 2022 embodied the “work hard, play hard” mantra as the crowd was “outside” for the first time in two years with several social activities such as AFROTECH Music, featuring Bia, Wale, and Dru Hill.
And just like that one cousin who pops up at every family function (you know exactly who that is!), AFROTECH Conference is back and bigger than ever — slated to take over Austin, TX, again, with noteworthy speakers, incredible conference sessions, monumental conference activations, and a music experience that only Rick Ross and Jadakiss could give.
The journey from hosting several hundred to crowds of over 25,000 is a glow-up many people don’t see in a lifetime. But history is being made in real time, and the AFROTECH experience gets bolder and more impactful.
Biggie once said, “It was all a dream,” but now the world is living out the manifestation of that dream in a tangible reality, and you should be in on it all.