In honor of Black History Month, we asked our students, apprentices, and staff about Black figures who have impacted their lives and about their thoughts and hopes when they think about Black people and technology.
Here are some of the things they had to say.
Tell us about a Black figure who has impacted your life
The Black figure that has probably impacted my life the most would be my mom. She retired as a Major in the Air Force after 20-plus years of being a nurse. In a time where being black and in charge was not popular, and being a woman telling people what to do wasn’t as respected. She did all of that while raising five kids and still has a meek spirit and calm demeanor. Despite all the conflicts and hurdles she had to overcome.Candace
My grandma was one of the first Black female pharmacists at Jefferson hospital. She continues to inspire me, because she excelled in the STEM field like I am trying to do as well.Danielle
My uncle-in-law, Jamil, was a big part of my life growing up. Him and his mother both took care of my siblings and I while our parents worked overtime — and they never complained. Jamil and Sandra treated us like their own children and I’ll forever respect them for that!Brylan
I love MLK, and his legacy and life inspired me and made me feel gratitude for his legacy. He fought the good fight.Adriana
Laverne Cox – she inspires me to live authentically.Amy
John and Eunice Johnson – the founders of Ebony and Jet magazine. These magazines were the first to showcase the success, glamour, and brilliance of Black people. They told Black stories and uplifted Black history in a way that other mainstream publications did not, or would not. As a kid growing up in a predominantly white community, these magazines were instrumental to making me feel seen and beautiful, like I had a place in this country.Daisy
Two people who come to mind are James Baldwin and Rev. James Lawson. Baldwin’s writing feels so contemporary – If Beale Street Could Talk and Giovanni’s Room are two of my favorites. Baldwin wrote black queer stories long before the LGBTQ rights movement, and reading his stories in late high school / early college helped me come to terms with my own queer identity.
I have always admired James Lawson and feel particularly interested in him because he lived in Nashville and Memphis (two cities I’ve called home!) and was influential in the civil rights movement in those cities. I got to hear him speak in 2018 while I was writing my senior thesis on the Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike.Reid
Barack Obama has impacted my life immensely by providing temporary legal status to over one million immigrants, including me! This has changed my life in many ways!Dee
I have so many Black figures that have impacted my life and shaped me. Like my middle school principal that was a great role model and leader that I could look up to. My best friend in grade school that made me feel included and loved when I couldn’t make other friends. And another one of my best friends that is doing great things and working with her dream companies like Disney. She is a strong, independent, Black woman and I am so proud of everything she has accomplished. I am so lucky to have met them.Irene
Oni Gaines is the Senior Technology Director of a Durham Charter School. She is passionate about technology, her family, students and community. Ms. Gaines has led and continues to lead so many important projects at her school. Her passion, curiosity and hunger for learning are contagious. Ms. Gaines is also the school basketball girls team coach, and has built partnerships with local technology organizations like Kramden Institute that has introduced students to technology, and has taught them how to build their computer from scratch. She is overall amazing! I was so lucky to work with her during the remote learning era and after. She has made a huge impact in my life, and seeing her do what she loves definitely was one of the reasons I decided to look into the technology industry. You are the OG Ms. Gaines 🙂Samantha
My principal from 7th-12th grade, Dr. Hodgins. My Marketing professor, Mr. Andrews. Also, my finance and business professor, Dr. Carr. In my 17 years in the education system, the only three black people whom I had the pleasure of learning from and looking up to. Each had a large impact in my educational development as they were in the select few that I felt actually cared and took steps to foster and help me throughout my educational upbringing.Brian
I can’t pick one. I’ve been more deeply touched by the neighbor’s kindness, the fellow passenger’s compassion, the co-worker’s friendliness and impressive work ethic, the teacher’s care and insights, and the student’s passion for learning than any notable historical figure. It’s all of these day-to-day kindnesses and demonstrations of strength of character that impact me regularly. You don’t have to be known to have a positive impact on someone.Mary Alice
My best friend in first and second grade, Keith. He was the first friend I ever made at school, and we were inseparable.Dan
Katherine G. Johnson, who was a Physicist and Mathematician most notable for calculating trajectories for the Apollo Missions.Eric
So many!! Langston Hughes is my favorite poet. I love how he writes about the hard things and the joyous parts of life in such lyrical ways. He confronts the reality of oppression while lifting up the strength and beauty of Black people and the human spirit.
Bayard Rustin is another Black figure who inspires me. He is a lesser known hero of the civil rights movement, who influenced Martin Luther King Jr’s views on pacifism and who was the lead organizer of the 1963 March on Washington. He was openly gay, and was sidelined in the movement for his sexuality, and he was also Quaker, which directly influenced his believe in nonviolence.
Learning about Joy Buolamwini’s work has been really impactful. I always knew that racial bias exists in current and emerging tech, but hearing about the specific ways it manifests, like how facial recognition software doesn’t recognize Black people in the same way it does white people, makes me even more committed to ensuring that tech is produced by and for people of color- Black folks in particular. (Joy Buolamwini is a poet of code who uses art and research to illuminate the social implications of artificial intelligence. She founded the Algorithmic Justice League to create a world with more equitable and accountable technology.)Lori
Pelé’s love for the sport of futbol (soccer). He exuded a kind spirit on and off the field. I admire his talent and how he inspired others; he inspired me to live a fulfilling, joyful life no matter the arena.Asaia
My mother suggested I do my 8th-grade history report on Shirley Chisholm. I had no idea who Shirley Chisholm was. The more I learned about her life, the more I was inspired by her persistence to change the status quo in the face of racism and sexism. She empowered me as a young woman of color to feel like I, too, could make a difference despite it all.Nicole
When thinking about Black people and technology, what do you see or hope for the future?
I hope to see more Black people in tech and I hope the mindset changes so that it does not seem so out of reach. As a Black female in tech I feel very proud to know that there are other people who look like me in the tech field. I hope there is more access to tech education and an overall attitude that it is possible to achieve.Danielle
That we get in there and have say and major influence in how tech grows so that these systems of oppression aren’t carried into the future. Especially regarding AI and data.Dahlak
I see tech being a vital industry for black people amongst all people of color.
Mainly for the same reasons it benefits anyone: the attainable entry level, the quality of life remote work can bring and the sense of purpose that comes with loving your job and being good at it.
What may be the unique factor for pretty much all POC, is that the future of technology now involves the facilitation of our input and experiences in a way that wouldn’t be possible if we didn’t have a seat at the table.Alton
I hope to see more black people in leadership roles. I feel like most tech teams are still ran by white men, and further diversity in senior/lead engineer roles would be a huge improvementBrylan
My hope is that African Americans will get credit for their work and no longer get overlooked for their talents and creations.Candace
I see Black people creating amazing technologies as they have always done. Inspiring the rest of us with their brilliant ideas. I hope for the future that Black people get to fully enjoy the fruits from their creations.Samantha
We know that technology has powerful potential for good – the Internet has helped amplify Black voices in the 21st century and create world-wide networks for positive change. But tech can also reflect systemic biases and create division. I’m hopeful that as more Black people take on leadership roles in tech, we can bend tech’s direction towards a more just and equitable future.Reid
I hope to see more diversity throughout the space! Would love to see people of color in decision making positions disrupting the space and making waves!Brian
It seems like a lot of work was being done in the DEI space that created more opportunities for Black people in technology. However, there is still a lot of work to be done especially as companies abandon initiatives in the name of cost savings. My hope is that we continue to work towards a more equitable future in technology, from getting internet and computers in communities that are less likely to have access to creating pathways to jobs in tech through networking, mentorship, and skills training.Nicole
I think civil right movements break walls and open the doors for communities of color like mine.Adriana
I hope to see more Black people working in technology. Not only would it drive innovation in the tech industry, it would create new generational wealth for many.Amy
I’d like to see as many Black people in tech as in the general population. Every industry should have similar ratios so the public they serve are properly understood and represented within the industry.Mary Alice
That Black people run technology to the same extent that Beyoncé runs the Grammys? Which is probably still not what is deserved, but it would be a start! 🙂 More seriously, I’d say simply inclusion at all levels – ownership, input and innovation and use.Dan
I hope that the CTD’s efforts to make tech industry more accessible for Black people will end up in equality.Ignat
I would like to see more diversity in tech but I would really like to see all people raised in an environment that allows them to pursue that path if they choose.Chuck
Equal access/opportunities to learning.Inara
I love the idea of thinking about Black Futures, not just Black History. Technology is just a tool, like anything else, and I want this tool to be harnessed for the benefit of Black communities so that we can work towards justice for all our communities.Lori
I hope for easy and free access of medicine and education. But I’m afraid that technology is taking the basic necessity far away and common people find it hard to afford.Uma
I hope people in the future will treat each other based not on physical appearance and financial being, but what is inside.Elena
I believe in people. No matter their race or skin color. I hope there will be more opportunities for Black people, minorities and underrepresented groups.Ming
I’m dreaming of a time where Black people are given the same assumptions about working in tech as any other race, and are fully represented in the tech space.Eric
I hope kids can be exposed to and explore at an early age making things with technology. It’s an adventure, and we should all be a part of it.Asaia