#AfroTech: Silicon Valley's Negro League
When I was thinking about college, I didn't know what an HBCU was. That language was unfamiliar to me because in the Igbo, Nigerian household I grew up in, that language was never used. The first time I heard the term was at Texas A&M University, the school I would end up going to, which is everything but an HBCU.
I was deeply involved in one department at the school, called the Department of Multicultural Services (DMS, for short), which essentially became Minority Central on campus, where just about every black person came to kick it. With the black population on campus being less than 3%, it wasn't too hard to meet almost every black person on campus at one point or another. I met some of my best friends in college there, and even found a mentor in that department. For that reason, it will always carry a special place in my heart. It was definitely a thing.
I say all that to say, I was not prepared for the sensory overload—and incredible privilege—that it was to shoot the largest black tech conference in Silicon Valley—and the world, really. On November 10-11, 2017, Blavity hosted its second annual convention, Afrotech. It was here where I realized what it must have felt like to attend schools like Howard University, Hampton, FAMU, PVU or any other HBCU, for that matter.
In just about every context I'd been in after high school, the black population was in the single digits, or very close to it. It wasn't as if I didn't see black people, but they were always fewer and farther in between than everyone else I was seeing, such that when we did see each other, I made sure, as much as possible, to give the proverbial head nod, so they knew that I knew that they knew I saw 'em.
So there was something immeasurably satisfying about seeing so many people like me in one place, accomplishing things in places and spaces that I almost never traditionally see them. It left an imprint on my soul, and I left with a number of relationships that I hope last for decades to come. With Silicon Valley's challenge to embrace diversity in a meaningful way, this conference set a clear tone to dispel the myth that black tech talent is low or non-existent. It not only exists, its thriving, founding some of the most remarkable companies, some acquired by large corporations like Amazon, and others highly admired by creative communities all over the web.
And to think, the reason I found this conference was because of these lines in Jay-Z's song, "Legacy," off his latest 4:44 album:
TIDAL, the champagne, D'USSÉ, I'd like to see
A nice peace-fund ideas from people who look like we
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
Call it "predestined."
Needless to say, I had the time of my life, and getting to contribute my photo-steez to Blavity, to help capture this moment, was an experience I won't soon forget. The staff was incredible.
So thank you, Blavity, for hosting a remarkable event. Here's to the next one!