Unless you’ve been under a rock, you know there’s been a diversity, equity and inclusion problem going on in tech for quite some time now, and not addressing it is not going to make it go away.

With the inaugural AfroTech Executive — held on Aug. 28, 2021 — AfroTech and Blavity CEO Morgan DeBaun did the opposite. Instead of ignoring the problem and failing to address it, for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic, AfroTech brought together some of tech’s biggest power players in one room to discuss how to move the needle.

From venture capitalists and angel investors to startup founders and tech moguls, and of course, corporate executives like EBONY and JET CEO Michele Ghee, AfroTech Executive made sure everyone was in the room to talk about how how to progress as a collective. Basically, in the words of Ghee, a diversity, equity and inclusion champion herself, we could preach to the “choir all day” long amongst ourselves, but we cannot accomplish anything alone.

“It’s important to have us, but it is also important to have others. We can preach to the choir all day and give each other information to elevate. But then, once we elevate, we still aren’t running companies. There’s only two or three percent of us that are in major board seats — that are running companies,” Ghee told AfroTech before taking the stage at Executive. “So, you have to have others here to look at the beauty and the brilliance and to understand that we’re at levels that we don’t oftentimes get credit for.”

She continued: “It’s great to see us, but I’m glad that Morgan has opened up the narrative to include others that don’t look like us because we need them too.”

Opening up the narrative was practically the theme for the day full of programming and networking. Ghee shared the stage with fellow industry vets like Detavio Samuels (REVOLT CEO), Rahsan-Rahsan Lindsay (MediaCo Holding, Inc. CEO), and TEN35 CEO Ahmad Islam to discuss a wide range of topics regarding Black media advertising.

AfroTech Executive
Photo Credit: Randy Shropshire (L-R) Ahmed Islam, Michelle Ghee, Detavio Samuels and Rahsan-Rahsan Lindsay

From there, the stage was ready for a conversation about how Black culture and the internet interact on Reddit. Of course, there was no one better than Co-founder and CEO of Reddit, Steve Huffman, and Founder and CEO of The Plug, Sherrell Dorsey, to take on the challenge.

Huffman and Dorsey had a stimulating one on one conversation with a full audience present and did not hold back. The two founders talked about everything, from adapting to the new normal that COVID-19 presented to Dorsey simply asking Huffman what goes down in the group chat (which you truly had to be there for).

Later, AfroTech’s Brand Manager and Black Tech Green Money podcast host Will Lucas hit the stage with SQUIRE Technologies President and Co-founder Dave Salvant and CEO and Co-Founder Songe LaRon.

The successful tech moguls or “Billionaire Boys” — what Lucas referred to them as during the SQUIRE Fireside Chat — founded the only full-scale barbershop management and POS system of its kind. The phrase “Billionaire Boys” was only fitting as AfroTech previously reported that Squire recently raised a $60 million Series D, bringing its total funds raised since launching to roughly $165 million, thus tripling Squire’s valuation to $750 million overall.

“When we were growing up, there was no publicly known successful Black entrepreneurs. The only Black entrepreneurs I had growing up were rappers like Jay-Z and Diddy — that was the pinnacle of success. Maybe, Magic Johnson as an athlete. It was like everybody was a former entertainer,” Songe LaRon told AfroTech. “Now, hopefully there’s going to be more examples of successful entrepreneurs who are successful — just from being intellects.”

He continued: “This will be an example to kids in high school when they’re thinking, ‘What do I want to do?’ [Now], not everybody’s going to say the cliche, ‘I want to be a rapper or athlete.’ It’s going to be, ‘I want to be a tech founder.’ Imagine how much more opportunity we could tap into, how much potential is out there that is not being realized because people don’t even know it exists.”

If you didn’t know these two founders existed before, AfroTech Executive made sure you knew of them before you left by honoring LaRon and Salvant with the very first “Startup Founder of the Year” award following their chat with Lucas. The pair shared with AfroTech that being honored with such an award was encouraging, but success and accolades do come with pressure.

AfroTech Executive
Photo Credit: Randy Shropshire (L-R) Charles Kuykendoll, Dave Salvant and Songe LaRon

“I think it’s important that we serve as a lighthouse, for folks who come after us, and for folks to understand what’s possible,” Dave Salvant told AfroTech. “We do feel that weight, but, it’s a good weight, it’s an encouraging weight. You’re helping the ecosystem with your success, and it is a validator of things to come.”

The award set the tone for the remainder of the inaugural AfroTech Executive as the scent of Black excellence and success were in the air. It was only right to wrap up a full day of programming with an Executive Brunch sponsored by Stripe along with a networking reception sponsored by Levi Strauss & Co.®

For more information on how to experience an AfroTech event or conference in the future, click here.