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Prince wasn’t just a renowned artist. He was also an advocate for a more inclusive tech community.
It was this belief that inspired Prince’s friend Van Jones to start YesWeCode, a nonprofit in Oakland, which is at the forefront of a movement to get more young minorities involved in technology.
The YesWeCode initiative, which is part of Jones’ Rebuild the Dream charity, is on a mission to teach 100,000 low-income youths to write code.
The idea grew out of a conversation Jones had with Prince after the 2012 killing of black teen Trayvon Martin.
“Prince said … ‘A black kid wearing a hoodie might be seen as a thug. A white kid wearing a hoodie might be seen as a Silicon Valley genius,'” recalled political activist Jones in conversation with CNN’s Jake Tapper on Thursday.
“Let’s teach the black kids how to be like Mark Zuckerberg.”
YesWeCode is one of many organizations working to diversify tech. Their goal is to create economic opportunities for kids of color — and help build a generation of tech talent that companies can tap for years to come.
Silicon Valley’s lack of diversity is no secret. It’s apparent in the staff makeup of some big tech companies.
Take Facebook, for instance. Just 1% of its tech workers are black. It’s only slightly better — 3% — in non-technical roles. In 2014, 2.9% of Facebook’s new hires were black, according to its latest EEO filing. It’s a similar story at many other tech companies.
And the problem is also present in the funding pipeline, which helps determine which entrepreneurs get investments.
According to data culled by Richard Kerby at Venrock, 2% of partners at venture capital firms are black. That affects the kinds of entrepreneurs who get funding. “I don’t look like Zuck,” Matt Joseph, a black entrepreneur who spoke out about the issue, tweeted in March.
For black women, things are particularly bleak. A recent report found that black female founders made up just .2% of all venture capital deals from 2012 to 2014.
For all the grim statistics, there are also success stories.
Take Mamadou Diallo, a 17-year-old young man from Harlem who was recently offered a full ride to Stanford.
Diallo was introduced to coding at age 14 through a weekend coding course. He took it because it promised a free laptop — but it exposed him to a world he’d never seen before.
It’s kids like Diallo that Prince wanted to help. Prince used his widespread appeal to promote YesWeCode and other initiatives. He headlined the ESSENCE Festival in 2014, where YesWeCode was launched with a youth-focused hackathon.
But Jones said Prince didn’t boast about the work he did. He helped support Rebuild the Dream and donated to other organizations like Eau Claire Promise Zone in South Carolina, which helps prepare community kids for college.
“He really believed that young people could change the world,” said Jones, who is a CNN commentator.
Prince was a teen when his career got started, one of the reasons why he was so passionate about helping the younger generation find success.
“He believed in the Black Lives Matter kids so much — and he had a dream for them,” Jones said. “He said, ‘I hope that they become an economic force. I hope that they use their genius to start businesses.'”
On Monday, October 19th – Justin Trudeau won the first Liberal majority in 15 years.
His team ran a well-executed campaign which led to the Liberals winning 184 seats. This also marks the first time in Canadian history that a son/daughter of a former Prime Minister will occupy 24 Sussex Drive. Mr. Trudeau will officially become Canada’s 23rd Prime Minister on November 4th.
Now that the election is over, it is time for the Black community to consider what we should demand from the new Liberal majority government. Obviously the community will hope to see Celina Caesar-Chavannes, named to a Cabinet post. Her resume combined with winning in the riding of the late Finance Minister, Jim Flaherty should lead to her being rewarded with a Cabinet post. That being said, there are three areas we should focus on in relation to our new government.
1) Accessible Public Transit
The Liberal platform promised to increase funding for public transit by 4 times. While public transit is vital for all Canadians, it is probably even more important for the Black community. In a report titled, Towards a Vision for the Black Community , the data showed that 36.6% of the Black population depended on public transit vs. 11.5% of the general population. This obviously highlights the need for increased investment in public transit. However, public transit projects must be improved in areas where the Black community lives and works. For instance, the York University Subway Extension will benefit York university students however the bus routes within Jane & Finch and the surrounding areas are still impacted by poor service.
The cities of Brampton and Ajax have fast growing Black communities that will require building more transit that connects the 905 region to Toronto proper. Announcing billions in new transit is a good start. Ensuring that the routes proposed improve the daily commute where Black people live is the important next step. This is one of the criticisms of John Tory’s Smart Track Plan for Toronto. The Toronto Pearson Airport to Union Express (UP) has run into a problem of accessibly due to cost. Public transit that is not accessible due to price or location is of no use to us.
2) Equal and Fair Access to Government procurement
The Government of Canada purchases $15 to 20 billion worth of goods and services every year. The Liberal platform will add to this, as it proposes significant investments in Canada’s infrastructure. For social infrastructure, the Liberals will invest $20 billion over 10 years. This will focus on affordable housing and child care spaces. In addition, $6 billion will be spent on Green Energy Infrastructure over the next 4 years. Overall, the Liberal infrastructure platform is being hailed as historic.
With these high levels of infrastructure spending, the Black community must ensure that Black businesses are able to bid and win contracts with the Federal Government. Black businesses that are skilled in delivering goods and services that provide direct or indirect support for infrastructure must be given the opportunity to win contracts. This will require a diligent and intensive lobbying effort. In today’s economic climate, it is often very difficult for small businesses (much less Black businesses) to do business with the Federal Government. The firms who tend to win Federal Government Business are large firms with effective lobbies. To fix this issue, the Trudeau Government should set aside a portion of its investments for small businesses as well as businesses owned by visible minorities. This is already being done in the United States via the Minority Business Development Agency (MDBA).
During the campaign, Mr. Trudeau was clear about the fact that Canadians need good paying jobs. The Minority Business Development Agency has done that in the United States. “During the first three years of the Obama Administration, MBDA facilitated a total of over 16,300 new jobs — an increase of 20% over the prior 3-year period.”
Naysayers who stand against the concept for set asides for minority run businesses should also note that “Between 2009 and 2011, MBDA achieved a return on taxpayer Investment (ROI) between 102x and 130x.” This agency was created by Republican President Richard Nixon.
3) Practical Skills Development Training
To ensure that the Black Community has the skills to deliver value in areas such as infrastructure, technology, social, health etc. – the community must demand fair access to training. Not just post-secondary education, but also practical on the job training and apprenticeships. Thus, the Black community should demand that any new infrastructure project funded by the Government of Canada include on the job training for Black youth and those re-entering the workforce.
For instance, the York Subway project that extends into Vaughan should be providing practical training opportunities for Black youth who reside in the surrounding areas. All funding should have this condition attached. From the building of new affordable housing in Peel Region, to upgrading information technology infrastructure to increasing funding for social agencies – all Federal Government funding commitments must include training opportunities for Black people. Too often others reap the financial and training benefits of projects within the Black community, and not those who are actually living there. This is outrageous and must stop.
The first step towards change is the vote for it. The next steps are much more difficult. It involves various members of the Black community creating effective lobby groups. It is time to focus on how we can directly benefit from increased Government Investments. Prime Minister Designate Trudeau’s reference to former Prime Minister, Wilfred Laurier “Sunny Ways” indicates that he is open to new ideals from all Canadians. It is time for Black Canadians to be a vital part of that conservation.
Too often we say we want change yet we have not changed our tactics. Real Change starts within. Let it begin right now!
On Father’s Day, I posted a picture on my Facebook profile of my daughter and myself. At her daycare, they were having a small father’s day celebration where the toddlers designed a gift for Dad.
Well this led to my Facebook inbox blowing up. Not only due to the fact that my daughter is beautiful (yes I am very biased) – but due to the fact that I removed my locs. All of the sudden, I am getting offers to attend various churches. The assumption there is that I did this for religious reasons and that I am no longer an ‘evil’ rastaman.
On the other side, there are some who now believe that I am no longer interested in the forward progression of the Black community in Toronto because I cut of my locs. Or in other words, “I am conforming to White Supremacy”.
The purpose of this blog post is to hopefully eliminate these misunderstandings and to avoid having to respond to every inbox message individually!
The cutting of my locs represents letting go of the past, and moving forward.
The decision to grow my locs was made in 2002. I was progressing fairly rapidly in my career as an IT Sales Professional. At the same time, my political and social views were evolving. I became more aware of issues surrounding diversity and equality. This came mainly from volunteer sessions with young people across the Greater Toronto Area.
Growing my locs had little to do with a conversion to Rastafarianism. I am influenced by certain philosophies that are core to Rastafarianism such as the respect for Africa, knowing one’s self and understanding the spirit that connects us all Locs were also worn by Ancient Egyptians. In 2002, during a trip to Egypt with Kemet Nu Productions, I saw this first hand when I saw this Pharaoh with locs in the Cairo Museum.
Instead, I grew my locs in hopes of enabling personal growth. My locs were a test for me. A test of my resolve, my strength and my ability to overcome challenges. I also noticed that my locs became a source of inspiration for many people, in particular young black men who never saw any Black Male in a Professional position, much less a Black Male with locs.
The other large test was going to be aimed at Corporate Canada. With all of the talk surrounding diversity and equality, my locs would help determine if all of this talk was hype or reality. How would Senior Leaders in Corporate Canada deal with a professional black male with locs? Overall, I found that most Senior Executives had no problem with my locs at all. They were focused on the value that I would deliver for their organization.
It was middle managers and peers who seemed to have a larger problem with my locs. As I was told once by a middle manager, “…. you scare a lot of middle managers because when you are in front of an Executive you deliver your message much more effectively than most of us… which means you are a threat.”
Turns out they were right about my ability to deliver a message. With my locs, I was interviewed on Canada’s Business News Network-BNN, TVO – The Agenda, CBC NewsWorld, 1010 CFRB and ran a political blog with the Toronto Star for the 2011 Provincial Election.
Overseas, I had wonderful professional experiences with clients based out of Malaysia, Thailand, China, Mongolia, Indonesia, Botswana, South Africa and Nigeria.
Unfortunately, my most disappointing professional experiences were with leaders in Jamaica or within Caribbean populations here in Canada. Too many Senior leaders in Jamaica had the negative stereotype of locs cemented in their minds. Turns out that in retrospect, that many Jamaicans out of Jamaica have this problem, locs or not. But that is another topic for another time.
There came a point 2 years ago where the thought of removing my locs starting to enter my mind. I recalled a conversation with the first stylist, Ruth years before this point. We were talking about why R&B artist India Arie cut her locs off. While the patrons at Ruth’s style studio – Strictly Roots, were clearly upset, Ruth stated the following:
“You need to understand why someone cuts off their locs. The removal of your locs is a serious matter. The decision normally surrounds a life changing event(s) and/or a deeply personal spiritual matter. It is a matter of personal, spiritual and mental resurrection. So don’t judge why someone grows or cuts off their locs. “
Here was the premier natural hair stylist in Toronto standing up for India Arie in this case. Where most stylist would have ranted like we did, Ruth did not. My future stylist, Glen would repeat Ruth’s thoughts many times. I would like to thank them both for their friendship and for playing key roles in my growth!
While facing some very serious challenges and life changing events, I seriously considered cutting my locs off. However, more challenges of an urgent variety continued to mount. There was actually no opportunity to prepare myself mentally to go ahead and remove years of history that were represented in my locs.
However, after overcoming these challenges with the help of family, friends and other good hearted people – I finally found the spiritual/mental space. I made the decision to remove my locs on June 6, 2015. The number 6 and 13 have played significant roles in my life. Thus the date of June 6th seemed appropriate.
So no, I am not looking to change my faith nor am I now a tool for White Supremacy.
The cutting of my locs represents letting go of the past, and moving forward. It represents a fresh new start, and an appreciation for the ups and downs of life. Life will have more tests and challenges and I am ready for them.
On to the next chapter of this journey called life.
Excuse me, as I am sure there are a million blog posts about this topic. But I figured I would add my two cents.
When TMZ.com released the Donald Sterling audio this past weekend, many were shocked to hear such blatant racism come from an accomplished business/sports personality. Perhaps even more shocking to many, was the fact that he displayed racism towards the very same group (Blacks/African Americans) who just happen to represent the majority of his team, and league.
However for many of us who are Black, this is neither shocking or surprising. Instead, what Sterling has done is underline what many of us feel – That no matter our skill & education level, many in power view us Blacks as inferior being who shouldn’t think, talk or action unless we have permission from our ‘masters’.
This mindset is often found online when the topic surrounds race or ethnicity right here in Canada. When Blacks speak up on an array of issues, many will speak to us as if we have no right to have an opinion. The common line of “Freedom of Speech” in invoked, however it is only freedom of speech when THEY have an opinion, not us.
The problem becomes larger however if those behind the keyboards are also the same individuals sitting in the Executive Offices of various places of employment. As we posted in a previous blog – a job is how many of us regardless or race/gender, provide for our families. If the people who control your employment have the same attitude of a Donald Sterling or many of these “keyboard haters”, then we start to see racism transform from not only a social issue but an economic one.
At least we know where Sterling stands on this issue as it relates to Blacks. The deeper concerns are as follows:
Why did the NBA wait for this event to happen when Sterling has a history of demonstrating this behaviour? Why has the NBA protected him for so long?
For every Sterling, how many more people in power have this view towards Blacks?
How many qualified Blacks are overlooked for promotions, new opportunities and business ventures due to racism?
If multimillionaire NBA players who bring in millions for the league and sponsours can be looked upon in this manner, how are everyday, hard working blacks viewed?
From Sterling’s comments, to the racist backlash against President Obama – an increasing amount of blacks at all socioeconomic levels are seeing their worst fears confirmed. The fear is that even if we are contributing to society; are we still viewed as modern day slaves?
There are millions of people who adore the NBA and its players. Basketball is a beautiful sport and has helped transform many lives. Many of those millions are Blacks who work hard and contribute to our society. Are they getting a fair shake at work? Are their kids getting fair shake at school?
I would rather deal with someone who is honest about not liking me than with someone who poses with pictures of Elton Brand yet makes disgusting comments like this to this girlfriend about Blacks. I just wonder, how many Donald Sterling’s are out there and how many lives of good hard working Black People are they destroying?
In various social media banter, I have noticed a discussion surrounding the ways in which employers are ‘terminating” employees. Whether a terminated employee is walked out in front of their peers, being called into “meetings” unsuspectingly or being terminated without an opportunity to respond – the process has become too cold and too harsh.
Terminations or downsizing are a part of reality in today’s business world. Every organization has the legal right to end employment. However, every organization should be ending employment in a respectful manner. For most of us, a job is the life line that enables us feed, clothe and provide shelter for our family.
“Work is one of the most fundamental aspects in a person’s life, providing the individual with a means of financial support and, as importantly, a contributory role in society. A person’s employment is an essential component of his or her sense of identity, self‑worth and emotional well‑being.”
Organizations must do a better job of realizing what a job is really worth. It is not only about salary, benefits and perks, it is also about one’s emotional worth. When an organization makes the decision to end one’s employment it should be done within the confines of the law and with compassion.
Yesterday’s news regarding the stabbing of four employees at an office in the 401/Yonge Street area has made many in Social Media circles revisit the issue surrounding the emotional/mental strain of job loss.
We certainly hope that the victims of this crime will have a full recovery. And we hope that justice will be carried out swiftly to the perpetrator of this violent crime. In one of my former roles, I worked with Ceridian Canada thus the news of this horrific act was more than a news story to me – it was personal.
While we do not know the complete circumstances of this case, the fact that the perpetrator of this crime was a former employee is troubling. The investigation will provide us with further details into the mindset of the accused. However, if we look at the larger picture – the discussion about the emotional impact of job loss must be discussed in greater detail across all sectors.
The question we have to ask ourselves in Canada is, are we afraid of emerging, non traditional markets? One of the guest on The Agenda seems to imply that Canadian businesses should only invest in nations where Canada has agreements with. There is some validity in this opinion. Every organization has to protect its interest and try its best to reduce risk.
However, we do need more Canadian firms to take on emerging markets, even in places that we wouldn’t consider. Canada has an array of expertise in natural resources, construction, logistics/shipping, agriculture, finance/banking, information technology and mining that could be used to expand revenue growth.
In turn, the knowledge transfer that Canadian firms can bring to an array of markets could great help bridge the digital divide and assist with many Social Responsibility issues.
It is time for many Canadian firms to look at M.I.N.T, BRICS and others as growth markets. Of course, we will need our investors and banks to also open up to the reality that the best opportunities out there, may not be in your traditional comfort zone!