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The inaugural Georgia Blacks in Tech Policy Conference took place earlier this month at Atlanta City Hall. The historical event was an unprecedented opportunity to advance the black tech ecosystem in Georgia through policy.
The first-of-its-kind event was a chance for tech leaders, professionals, and community advocates to present policy changes and recommendations to members of the Georgia General Assembly. Indeed, 27 state legislatures were in attendance, including members of the Georgia Black Caucus.
“I’m glad to be here as part of a public policy advancement in the history of blacks in tech, “ said Georgia State Rep. Mable Thomas District 56. “Really, when you think of tech, you think of the big firm names, but you really don’t think about how is it impacting the African American community. Are we in it, are we able to expand it, can we bring our young people here to it?”
“Even folks who are maybe grown, they still want to know because if they don’t get in this game of technology, unfortunately, it will pass us by. So, I’m glad to be here to get some baseline information, so that I, as a legislator, can be part of a process that advances opportunities for blacks in tech.”
Thomas joined other legislators as they listened and dialogued, before corroborating on the proposals, which included a statewide pitch contest, developing a Governor’s STEAM Advisory Council and funding for CodeStartGeorgia to train high school teachers software development skills that they can pass on to students.
Much of the proposals focused on funding opportunities to close the technology gap. For example, Errika Moore, Executive Director of TAG-Ed and Georgia Tech alumna spoke on allocating state funds to underserved individuals pursuing majors in Computer Science related fields and attending online CS training and boot camps.
Speaking on the importance of the allocation she said, “I think it’s huge. I think there’s an opportunity for both to be at play, the government, as well as, the private sector, but in terms of the government, I think, really they should take lead. There’s an opportunity for them to really take lead, particularly in terms of funding that could be in place in our communities.”
Moore added that from her observations STEM and STEAM coordinators don’t get adequately compensated for their efforts to give students exposure outside the classroom, and that’s simply because the funding is not there.
“For example, I know that currently STEM and STEAM coordinators only have money to go to about $50 dollars to a teacher who wants to take their students on an outing and give them exposure. $50 for their time, that’s nothing. So funds that really empower educators and educational leaders to bring in programs, to bring in the right resources, to provide continuing education to teachers, all of that is so critical for setting a student up for success and giving them access.”
Other speakers included Dr. Baratunde Cola, 2017 Waterman Award Recipient from the National Science Foundation and Georgia Tech alumnus and Regina Lewis-Ward of Stockbridge, among others. They joined co-chair Rodney Sampson on speaking on Early Exposure. Sampson separately contributed to Startup Ecosystems and Capital Formation.
The event’s presenting sponsor was TriNet. Other sponsors included Microsoft, Tony Byrd, Empwrd, TAG Diversity, The Cola Family, among others. GAState Representative Dar’shun Kendrick is the chair of the event and Rodney Sampson, Partner at Techsquare Labs
The day closed out with a bang with an award presentation to eight trailblazers making a significant impact in the Atlanta black ecosystem, including our very own chief executive Kunbi Tinuoye. You can view all the honorees recognized here. Quinetha Fraiser, president of Social Impact Advisors and co-founder of MyPledger, presented the awards.
And after the awards ceremony was over, some unannounced and unexpected awards were given out. Kendrick presented Sampson with a proclamation as an Honorary Citizen of Georgia, joining a small group of individuals with this distinction.
Councilman Andre Dickens presented double proclamations proclaiming November 8 as Georgia Blacks in Tech Policy Conference Day. Kendrick, Sampson, and board member Kiona Byrd were also recognized for efforts to pull the policy conference together.
Speaking to UrbanGeekz afterward, Sampson said much of the work of ecosystem builders goes unnoticed. He also went on to say, “What was exciting about today was that legislators showed up, they asked hard questions, they took notes. We went through some ideation and design thinking, just like we would with for any problem we are solving with engineering, technology in the startup, tech world. And I’m hopeful that the commitments that we got will be followed up on to actually turn some of this into initiative or actual policy.”
Both Sampson and Kendrick said the conference is only the beginning. Kendrick promises to make next year’s event bigger and better. This is just the start of a new era of opportunity in Georgia, she said.