This past weekend Impact Hub Oakland opened its new doors to Oakland’s first ever Startup Weekend as well as the first ever Startup Weekend focused on Black Male Achievement, a national agenda that the College Bound Brotherhood is actively part of. Known throughout the twitterverse at #SWOBMA, Startup Weekend Black Male Achievement brought developers, educators, parents, youth, and anyone else who gives two cents about the success of young black males together for three days of innovative history.
Under the leadership of Kalimah Priforce, Founder of Qeyno Labs and Echoing Green Black Male Achievement fellow, #SWOBMA demonstrated what happens when innovation is applied to addressing complex social issues, capital is not being measured by equity but rather by equitable outcomes, and people aren’t concerned over a company’s IPO but just simply concerned.
With tremendous support from community members, local businesses, corporate and non profit sponsors, and leadership from the College Bound Brotherhood, the #SWOBMA participants dedicated their weekend to building apps that covered such topics as education, health, restorative justice, gaming, and sustainability. Many of the participants, which included youth as young as 12 years old, chose to tackle issues that were directly affecting their communities. The winning app, Help Circle, serves as a messaging and locating tool for individuals who feel their life is in danger. At the tap of a button users can send a message to their emergency contacts letting them know that they feel unsafe as well as their coordinates.
While youth hackathons are by no means a new phenomenon, the emphasis and intentionality of black males being the central focus is. Social and racial justice activist Van Jones, who has organizing roots (Color of Change, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, and Green for All) in Oakland, is currently leading an effort to address the absence of black males in tech through both his #YesWeCode and Rebuild the Dream initiatives.
Following a well informed presentation on the leaky tech pipeline for Blacks and Latinos at Saturday’s #YesWeCode reception by the Kapor Center for Social Impact’s co-Chair, Mitch Kapor, Van Jones spoke passionately about the problem of Blacks being consumers and not producers of technology. Jones encouraged the audience to recognize the genius and wealth rooted in the Black community and focus on curating it. His message can be largely supported by evidence of the disproportionate numbers of Blacks and Latinos working at tech companies compared to those using the tools being produced.
#SWOBMA will be an unforgettable experience for me and hopefully for many others. Throughout the weekend we stayed true to Oakland and to ourselves. I hope that as other hackathons and techies follow our innovation, that we don’t dance to their beat but rather look to dance to ours.