VIBE: How did #BlackGirlsHack come into existence?
Kat Calvin: Black Girls Hack began because I was looking for a Chief Technology Officer for my startup and I knew that a lot of other Black founders were as well. So I had an idea for a hackathon in Atlanta. I called Amanda, who was equally looking for a CTO, and asked if she wanted to plan the event with me. She said yes. So four weeks later, we put on a hackathon in that time span. We thought it would just be a one-off event, but it was so successful, and we saw a serious need for support and engagement in the Black tech community.
We decided to create a social enterprise that could address those needs. We spent the winter talking to everyone we could think of and planning a new business, which we relaunched as Blerdology. We also wanted to change the name for two reasons: one, we believe strongly that Black men and women have to work together and that we need to support and educate both Black girls and Black boys. If our community doesn't stick together we won't get anywhere. The name #BlackGirlsHack gave off the impression that we were only an organization for women—which we certainly are not. Two, we wanted to expand beyond hackathons to provide a wide variety of the type of engagement and support that the Black tech community needs to become bigger, stronger and, hopefully, happier.
The latest Pew Study had a few takeaways. Black Americans are heavily using Twitter and Facebook to communicate between themselves and the world. How can that influence be translated into motivating them to adapt new skills such as learning how to code?
Amanda Spann: I believe the key to moving African Americans from the role of consumers to producers is by showing them the direct link to the limitless possibilities that coding could open up for them and then supplementing these opportunities by making programs accessible to them.
We incorporate those themes at our hackathons that lie within many major interest groups. We hope that by tapping into the things that motivate and inspire our people that we can create a bridge to technology that intersection.
K: I think the motivation to learn-to-code comes from the fact that most jobs are going to require at least some measure of coding in the future. The Black community is incredibly smart and incredibly resourceful. We have survived and thrived in spite of every possible barrier. Right now, coding is en vogue and it's fantastic because the problem isn't necessarily that people do not want to learn-to-code, it's a problem of knowledge and access.
Now that people know that coding, and technical knowledge in general, is the key to their futures, they're clamoring for good opportunities to learn. And now the job of the Black tech community, local governments, corporations and all stakeholders involved is to help provide access to that education.
Steve Stoute's highly touted "Tanning of America" theory has proven itself valuable in the entertainment industry. Can the same theory apply to Blacks in the tech and digital landscape?
K: Tanning of America was written years after the hip-hop culture had taken over the music industry and advertising, so it was not only not unusual to see a Black rapper or singer in a commercial or receiving awards for their craft. The hope is that one day the same will be true for Black tech and that it will be so normal for people to see Black coders, Black scientists, Black startup founders and Black everything else that nobody even thinks twice. My niece is 3-years-old. For her, 2017 is going to be a very strange year because it will be the first time she's ever seen a White family in the White House.
She's never heard of a White president before and for the rest of her life when she thinks of a president, she is going to think of a Black man. That's normal now. That's what we hope for the Black tech community; that every Black child can name five Black founders as ubiquitous as Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and Richard Branson.
A: Absolutely. Technology is and continues to be one of the biggest examples of culture crush. The power of digital surpasses color and taps more into mindsets. Look at Rap Genius — people typically associate Hip-Hop with African Americans, but the founders of the website are not. Regardless to how you feel about that, the fact of the matter is that rap music transcends race. Technology is so much bigger than color lines. They had a dope idea and ran with it, I personally think its wonderful.
What's cool about the Tanning of America is that the "urban lifestyle" is one of the most celebrated, imitated and sought after cultures in the world. African Americans present a unique set of perspectives and problems that the larger tech world could never completely and accurately tackle without us. Now, we hack to ask how can we get more African Americans to realize the power and influence they possess right at their fingertips?