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Entrepreneur Delane Parnell made history last year after his esports software company PlayVS raised $15 million for its Series-A funding round, making it the largest Series-A ever raised by a Black founder in consumer internet. In September of this year PlayVS, which provides a platform for competitive high school esports competitions, again made headlines when it announced that it raised an additional $81 million in funding from a group of notable investors that included Adidas, Samsung, Sean “Diddy” Combs, and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Over the course of 15 months, the company raised a combined total of $96 million in funding to expand the business and a 27-year-old Parnell, who serves as the company’s CEO, became one of the most talked-about Black founders in tech.
During a time when only 1 percent of venture capital funding is going to Black founders and only 0.2 percent of venture capital funding is going to Black women founders, Parnell’s recent success represents an anomaly in the tech startup world. Despite a major increase in press concerning the lack of access and opportunities that Black founders in tech receive and an incredible growth in minority-focused venture capital funds and resources, the PlayVS founder remains a part of a small but growing crop of Black millennial tech founders that have created innovative business solutions so desirable that even the predominantly white-male dominated tech world has been forced to recognize and support them.
Blavity Inc. Founder and CEO Morgan DeBaun is also a member of this burgeoning class of Black millennial startup founders making noise in the industry. Last year, Blavity Inc., which owns Black millennial media and event platforms Blavity, Shadow and Act, Travel Noire, 21 Ninety, AfroTech, and Summit 21, raised a $6.5 million Series-A funding round and grew the company from one office and 30 employees to two offices and over 80 employees. DeBaun, who founded media company Blavity Inc. in 2014 with her three co-founders Jonathan Jackson, Jeff Nelson and Aaron Samuels, is vocal about the struggles not only Black tech founders face but the ones Black tech employees experience working at large white tech companies. Last month, DeBaun once again had a platform to speak on these issues during Blavity’s fourth annual AfroTech Conference, a tech conference geared toward Black millennial founders.
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#AfroTech has information and knowledge for everyone. You can find advice from other founders, VCs to pitch your company to, or the tech talent you may need to get your idea going. Don't miss out on new connections that can help you succeed. #linkinbio #careeropportunities #careergoals #venturecapitalist #founders
AfroTech was created in 2016 as an event to highlight Black tech innovators and provide more opportunities and information for them to succeed. The first three years of the conference took place in San Francisco, Calif., the U.S. epicenter of technology startups. This year, the festival was moved to Oakland, Calif., a strategic move meant to honor a city with a rich Black history and patronize the small Black businesses, that despite aggressive gentrification, are still operating today. During the second weekend of November, Downtown Oakland hosted 10,000 Black tech innovators from around the U.S. looking to form meaningful connections, learn from one another, and celebrate the rising profile of Black people in tech.
One of AfroTech’s primary missions is to address the lack of information Black millennials have about the technology industry. The dozens of high-profile guest speakers, which included Parnell, The ShadeRoom founder Angelica Nwandu, lawyer and political commentator Angela Rye, and media personality Charlamagne Tha God, were carefully selected to provide Black founders, college students, and employees access to knowledge that would better equip them to lead successful tech careers. Across four different stages, speakers shared their experiences and advice on venture capital funding, coding, the cannabis industry, media, and blockchain.
“We don’t always have the vocabulary to frame our success so that we can have opportunities like getting venture capital,” DeBaun tells VIBE prior to taking the main stage at day one of AfroTech. “Part of AfroTech is creating information so that people know how to talk about what they are already doing. We don’t have to change much besides just the vocabulary and breaking down some of the biases we have been taught about ourself.”
Although knowledge plays a big part in enabling Black people in tech to receive greater opportunities, a supportive and well-connected network pipeline is another key factor necessary to fuel the group’s success. In tech, warm introductions and word of mouth rivals technical skills and ability during the job selection process. Ivy League and country club connections make it difficult for non-white people to penetrate the exclusive tech veil. A harsh reality that new diversity and inclusion departments and new executives are apparently working hard to change.
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Reports revealed #Al's discriminatory instincts — including mislabeling Black people as gorillas — are only getting worse. What can we do to improve the future of artificial intelligence and remedy the tech industry's diversity problem? #Tech #Afrotech #Al #artificialintelligence
“Unfortunately we have been trained to have a mindset of deficit, that we can be one of only,” says DeBaun about the lack of representation in tech spaces. “The vision of AfroTech is that we show that it’s an abundance, it’s unlimited potential, unlimited power. So if you have access you should give it to someone else. That’s your duty and your responsibility because you wouldn’t have gotten here if someone hadn’t given you access most likely. AfroTech is actually designed to try to speed that up.”
AfroTech’s socialization component may be the most valuable part of the weekend. Dozens of high-profile tech companies from Google to Twitter, Lyft to YouTube, sent representatives to set up booths to recruit potential job candidates and share valuable information about its diversity efforts. Diversity-focused venture capital firms like Harlem Capital Partners and Precursor Ventures were also engaged with founders and swapped business cards during the conference’s designated networking periods. For Black people who did not attend an Ivy League school or grow up with a country club membership, these moments provided a valuable and direct pipeline to the world’s largest companies.
AfroTech’s opportunities for connection and knowledge distribution did not simply end once the conference did. The AfroTech app, website, and Slack channel have continued to provide helpful resources and opportunities for Black people in tech to communicate with one another. With platforms like AfroTech, Black Women Talk Tech, Black Girls Code and Black Founders, Black people in tech are provided with opportunities to not only empower themselves in this industry but support and empower other Black people in the process.
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"A lot of the opportunities I have is because I invited myself instead of waiting to be invited. I don’t often wait for people to validate whether or not I should be in the room. I make that decision myself. In this world, you can’t be afraid of “no” or “sorry, I can’t help you”. You let that be fuel to keep going no matter what. 👊🏾" - @carterlove⠀ ⠀ We found this story in our mentions and just had to reshare these inspirational vibes! We know many #BlacksInTech can wait forever to "be invited" to the table, so it's so important to be the change and invite ourselves! ✊🏾Or better yet, make our own 💁🏾.⠀ ⠀ What are some ways you invite yourself to opportunities? Let's talk about it!👇🏾
There's a serene feeling over the bodies standing in the iconic architecture at the Getty Center Museum. Jazzy horns, peaceful keys, and crisp guitar riffs gently interrupt the soothing silence as dancers dripped in marigold threads swayed to "Counting," a composition created by Solange. A series of odd numbers like "5", "7" and "9" are recited on a loop by half of her dancers while the others chant "6", "4" and "2." It's just a preview of her latest creation Bridge-s but felt like a dynamic meditation.
Bridge-s brings yet another magnetic piece into her series of interdisciplinary works that spawned after the release of her magnum opus, A Seat At The Table. The world was introduced to Solange's artistic side thanks to performance art pieces at the Guggenheim in New York and the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles.
Composed by Solange and choreographed by Gerard & Kelly, Bridge-s was created with the pillars, beams, and columns around the museum in mind. Dancers and the orchestra used the space to their advantage, with tuba players catching the peripheral of attendees from afar.
Four rollouts will take place November 16-17, curated with a selection of films that include Black to Techno by Jenn Nkiru, AFRONAUTS and Boneshaker by Nuotama Bodomo, The State of Things by singer-songwriter Kish Robinson (Kilo Kish) and more. In its entirety, Bridge-s was designed to explore "transitions through time."
This was felt throughout the performance piece as dancers move with the intent of love, internal struggle, and unity. In a stunning zine designed by Sablā Stays, Gerard & Kelly shared the emphasis behind their modernist and inclusive approach.
"Our work, like hers, is part of an interdisciplinary effort throughout the arts and humanities to redefine modernism by critically engaging its prevailing narratives. By accounting for differences of gender, sexuality, and race. By focusing on intimate and collective histories. By centering our work around the body, dance and movement," they said.
Solange also opened up about the importance the museum and the Elbphilharmonie Hamburg played in the performance piece. "Both Elbphilharmonie Hamburg and the Getty Museum have sure strong distinctive voices spatially, and so the intention is that all of the work, the movement, the language, the songs all align with those principles," she said. "Working with Gerard and Kelly, who share many of the same philosophies on their approach to interpreting time and space through performance has really built the foundation [for] the spirit of this collaboration."
Like the rest of us, the artist watched closely the dancers glide across the floor, while bandmembers release enchanting sonnets with vocalists dropping a few high notes in between. Guests like Thundercat (and his Pikachu backpack), Kilo Kish, Dev Hynes of Blood Orange and Tyler, The Creator were also left speechless after the performance.
“I just want to thank you guys for allowing me the space to evolve, experiment and express new frontiers,” Solange said to the crowd after the assembly provided endless cheers.
Learn more about Bridge-s and get free tickets here.
A$AP Rocky is late. At any other rap show, this would annoy people who waited hours standing in cramped spaces to see their favorite artist perform. At Citi Field in Queens – the home of the first edition of Rolling Loud in New York, a two-day hip-hop festival held this past weekend (Oct. 12-13) – it becomes a game time decision on how you want to end your night. As flocks of attendees made their way to the Fashion Nova Stage, you can already hear Lil Uzi Vert performing at the nearby Dryp Stage. Rocky fans who secured a spot at the guard rails next to me kept looking back, maybe contemplating giving up their position to rage with Lil Uzi. Wisely, they stay.
About 10 minutes have gone by since Rocky’s scheduled 9:00 p.m. performance, and it's starting to feel like this is all on purpose, to build a dramatic opening for the Babushka Boi, who finally returns home after a highly-publicized stint in a Swedish jail for allegedly attacking two men outside of a hamburger restaurant in central Stockholm over the summer.
Suddenly, without warning, someone screams “yeahhhh!” in the mic. That same person wearing a red puffy coat runs through center stage, screaming “yeahhhh!” again before returning to the main stage. Backed by a sizeable group wearing white Testing-esque ski masks, the wait is over. Get ready to mosh because Rocky is here.
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Thank you for a great close to night two Flacko! @asaprocky 🎥 @evanhammerman
For New Yorkers, A$AP Rocky has created plenty of hometown moments in his rap career. Depending on your age, you were probably there when he and the A$AP Mob invaded Santos Party House in 2011 to do a defiant performance of “Pesos.” Or in 2012 when he brought his Long. Live. A$AP Tour to Roseland Ballroom with some help from his good friends ScHoolboy Q and Danny Brown. The inaugural Yams Day, initially held at Terminal 5 in 2016, has become an institution for the Harlem crew, promising a lifetime of homages to the late A$AP Yams by holding one every year, to increasingly bigger crowds and venues.
Rocky at Rolling Loud wasn’t just another Rocky show. It had more significance. Technically, Rocky already had his big U.S. comeback when he hit the stage at Real Street Festival in Anaheim, California on Aug. 11, telling the crowd, “I just want to say what I experienced was so crazy. I'm so happy to be here right now. That was a scary, humbling experience but I'm here right now. God is good.” He was later found guilty by a Swedish court but avoided further jail time.
No, this was different because Rocky came back to where it all began. The imagery of Testing, his latest album released in May of last year, was in full effect – the crash test dummies aesthetic, the smiley faces, the vehicles hanging on the rafters like ceiling fans. After sending his squad to stage dive, Rocky took off the fall appropriate outerwear, dressed in a Rick Owens long sleeve and all-white mid Uptowns, to keep the party going. “Praise the Lord,” “Telephone Calls,” and “Babushka Boi” already had this crowd wanting more turn up.
Rocky was in the zone. He took to the skies, standing on the hood of one of his suspended cars to rap “Gunz N Butter” and “OG Beeper.” As it lowered to the ground, he followed with a freestyle filled with that Pretty Flacko talk: “Look at me, get what you see, envision me/Brazen chains, is he Pusha-T or Mr. T?”
“We in fucking New York City right now,” he said after. “This is the home of the A$AP Mob, are you shitting me?”
Our first special guest: A$AP Ferg.
The pair have one of the best chemistries in hip-hop, shown in their buddy-buddy attitude and how seamlessly they work off one another. No matter how many times you’ve heard “Plain Jane” and “Work,” the songs still go off. When these come on, New York definitely doesn’t know how to be quiet.
“Ferg, you crazy if you think I’ma let you leave. You’re crazy,” Rocky said.
“Welcome home, Flacko!” Ferg replied, continuing with “Floor Seats.”
Ferg gave a special shout to day-one fans who have been with the Mob since their early singles, listing “Peso,” “Purple Swag,” “Get High,” and “Shabba.” Later, after Rocky brought out AWGE affiliates Smooky Margielaa and G4 Boyz, he playfully nodded to having no type after showing off his collection of bras he got from women who threw theirs on stage earlier. It was a tongue-in-cheek lead-in to the second major guest, Swae Lee, who performed “No Type” to the surprise of many. Rocky, who continued to hold his bras with delicate care, likened tonight’s show as a hip-hop Woodstock and he, the rock star.
“I don’t know about y’all, but when it comes to this New York City shit, this shit shaped and changed my whole fucking life,” he said, explaining how much he respects the OGs that came before him.
Born and raised in Harlem, Rocky started off with The Diplomats’ “Dipset Anthem,” with Juelz Santana’s verse causing a ruckus. Rocky wanted to move on to play more legendary New York classics, but his DJ, Lou Banga, threw off the vibe by accidentally playing songs by Bobby Shmurda and Pop Smoke. Modern classics, sure, but Rocky emphasized “legendary New York shit” from Queens.
Our third and final special guest: 50 Cent.
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First year in New York was legendary. @asaprocky @50cent
Fif came out to “What Up Gangsta” with Rocky as his hypeman, rapping lines from the song like he was a youth again. It was two generations from two different boroughs reuniting in Queens, where 50 is actually from. Despite hiccups by the NYPD with preemptive cancellations of performances by Pop Smoke, Casanova, 22Gz, Sheff G and Don Q, this was a positive moment for the city and showed two rap eras can coexist. No rap beefs, no violence. Just good energy to help put the city on the map.
Fif stuck around to run through more hits such as “I Get Money” and “Big Rich Town,” but not after asking the audience if they watched Power. Clever promotion from hip-hop’s savvy businessman.
While the show was supposed to end at 10 p.m., Rocky was down to get lit until past curfew. He called on the A$AP Mob for a brief moment of silence for Yams before getting into “Yamborghini High.” Ferg, A$AP Illz, A$AP Twelvyy, and A$AP Nast all appeared to show love to Eastside Stevie.
“My n***a was a New York vet and at the end of the day, his whole vibe was just making sure everybody ate,” Rocky said. “Yams was a good-hearted n***a, trying to put n***as on…He was a good one. We lost a real one.”
The tribute only made the Mob’s performance of “Yamborghini High” that much more meaningful. Rocky and his crew could’ve left Rolling Loud fans with that. But they had one more thing in store, even after the fireworks went off and lights in the parking lot went on.
Tariq Cherif, one of the co-founders of Rolling Loud, presented Rocky with a Rolling Loud chain. After Sunday’s lineup featuring stars like A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, Lil Tecca, and Young Thug, to give Rocky a chaining day in New York is how you end on a high note. His last song, “Lord Pretty Flacko Jodye 2,” and it's opening lyrics couldn’t have been more perfect.
“Who the jiggy nigga with the gold links?”