Blog Posts Related to the African American Community

  • What the Affordable Care Act Means to Communities of Color

    Ed. note: This is crossposted from hhs.gov/healthcare. See the original post here.

    Recently, I traveled to Oakland, California, to participate in a town hall about how the Affordable Care Act is improving health and strengthening communities - especially communities of color that have long faced disparities in health and health care.

    As the event was coming to a close, a woman in the audience stood up and asked if she could read a letter from her daughter. Her daughter hadn't been able to attend the event, she told us, but wanted to share her story with everyone.

    She had started college a few years later than most, at the age of 22. During her freshman year, she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis - a devastating discovery. But there was one source of relief: thanks to the health care law's provision enabling young people to stay on their parents' health insurance until the age of 26, she was able to stay on her parents' health plan, access the treatment that she needed, and continue her studies. And even though she has since turned 26, the opening of the new Health Insurance Marketplace - and the law's ban on discrimination due to pre-existing conditions - will provide her with new opportunities to secure affordable coverage.

  • Creating a Technology Spark

    Deena Pierott

    Deena Pierott is being honored as a Champion of Change for her work to expand opportunities for young learners from communities historically underserved or underrepresented in tech fields.

    Deena Pierott challenges the status quo. She champions change and influences the course of events around her. During her decades-long career in the public and private sector, Deena consistently sought ways to be inclusive, remove exclusionary barriers, and insist upon full stakeholder engagement.  Deena is a doer. She takes action, living by Tagore’s philosophy: “You cannot cross the sea merely by staring at the water.” Recognition of her efforts by the White House as a Champion of Change is fitting and validates her creative efforts and dedication to meet the needs of her community while promoting equity, diversity and inclusion.

    Deena learned early that information is a powerful tool and that there are far too many that don’t have access - you don’t know what you don’t know – and in marginalized communities, what you don’t know can leave you behind.  Deena creates bridges between marginalized youth and information. She enables access to Information about the broader world and how those youth can fit into it and thrive.

    The promise of technology today and the dramatic impact it’s had on how we communicate and interact drives Deena to see opportunities for change and means for impacting the lives and careers of marginalized youth. However, young people of color and those who have been marginalized in various ways are not engaging with those thriving, specialized fields as career choices.  Most tech-related opportunities are reserved for students who have already demonstrated promise and interest. In 2011, Deena started iUrban Teen Tech as a tool to provide empowering and inspiring programming that would steer these youth – especially the ones who are left out, overlooked and disengaged - into the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Her intended demographic is African American and Latino males, who are at the highest risk of dropping out of school in the Portland Metro area where Deena has built her program.

    Since that time, more than 700 young people have experienced iUrban’s innovative programming known as iUrban Teen Tech. iUrban includes interactive workshops at tech summits that explore current technology trends and that expose students to leading speakers within various technologies. iUrban also sets up bi-monthly tours with local companies, allowing students to witness first-hand how technology is used and how it affects their daily lives.  Industry tours include producers of animated video games, athletic footwear, cyber security, energy and many more. IUrban’s teen-led think tank also designs tech-based solutions for local community concerns and issues.  These are then presented to public officials and business leaders.

    What makes iUrban Teen Tech extra special is its community. It takes a village to support a child, and the iUrban village relies on all those stakeholders who have an interest in the success of these youth.  Parents are at the center of that village, participating in summits, volunteering as chaperones on industry tours, and reinforcing the learning and exposure that students receive back in the household.  iUrban also has the support of an impressive collection of leading regional CIOs through its STEM Industry Advisory Council. And, finally, universities, where as partners hosting programs on their campuses, they are able to excite student aspirations of one day going to college. Of course, no successful program could happen without the support of sponsors and volunteers – they help make it all happen.

    “I am proud of the way that iUrban Teen Tech has established a welcoming community that also provides a strong support network, not only for racially marginalized children, but also those in foster care and youth with disabilities. At one summit, for example, we had participation from two tables of deaf students and we provided interpreters. We allow all youth that want to learn into our programs. Of course, not all of the participants who go through iUrban end up wanting to pursue STEM-related careers, but at least they’re having access to mentorship, being exposed to tech-related career possibilities, and most importantly, being motivated to graduate from high school and consider college as an option. Soon, iUrban Teen Tech will be expanding various parts of its programming into cities in Washington, California and other states.”

    The development of iUrban Teen Tech has not been easy and does not rest on a strong financial foundation. Most of its sponsors, though generous, provide in-kind donations rather than the financial support the program needs. Its success and future continue to be in the hands of one very strong and dedicated woman and the support of a very few, yet consistent, volunteers.  As Deena blazes a new path for marginalized youth to follow, she recognizes the uniqueness of her programs, their exceptional inclusiveness, and the broad impact of their diversity.  The social impact of iUrban Teen Tech helping “Deena’s Kids” is enormous.

    iUrban Teen Tech is part of Deena’s umbrella vision with two other social ventures: Mosaic Blueprint, a recruiting source for companies searching for diverse candidates, and the Urban Entrepreneur Network.“Everything I do is related to and fosters equity, diversity and inclusion. That’s what it’s about for me - trying to open doors for others as I wish someone had done for me. That is my path. Serving my community is what fulfills and inspires me to be a Champion of Change.”

    Deena Pierott is the Founder and Executive Director of the iUrban Teen Program.

  • Changing the Face of Technology: Code Like A Girl

    Cheryl Swanier

    Cheryl Swanier is being honored as a Champion of Change for her work to expand opportunities for young learners from communities historically underserved or underrepresented in tech fields.

    As a computer scientist and an educator, I am not here just to teach but to be innovative, creative, and to make a difference in the lives of the students that I serve. I am honored to be invited to the White House with others from across the nation who are increasing public engagement, particularly in technology. At Fort Valley State University (FVSU), one of my goals is to recruit and retain minorities and girls in computing. My goal as an educator is not just to lecture, but also to inspire enthusiasm, get students to actively participate in their education, and facilitate their learning with proper educational scaffolding. I believe that with adequate support almost any student who really applies himself or herself can be successful.

    I have always wanted to make a difference in the world, particularly Computer Science. As a computer scientist, I help shape the future by stimulating the minds of the workforce of tomorrow and by collaborating with many programs focused on increasing the computing pipeline and getting students interested in STEM disciplines and future technology careers. For the past five years, I have tirelessly worked with outreach initiatives sponsored by the National Science Foundation to broaden participation in computing (BPC) and to improve computer science education at all levels. One of these initiatives is the ARTSI Alliance (Advancing Robotics, Technology for Societal Impact), which enabled me to establish the first robotics lab at Fort Valley State University. The robotics programming is implemented in Tekkotsu, a robotics application framework in conjunction with Dr. Dave Touretzky at Carnegie Mellon University. Another initiative is the STARS Alliance (Students & Technology in Academia, Research & Service), a regional partnership among academia, industry, K-12 and the community to strengthen local BPC programs by focusing on K-12 outreach, community service, student leadership and computing diversity research. Other BPC initiatives that I have collaborated with include African-American Researchers in Computing Science (AARCS), which aims to increase the number of African-Americans at the levels of tenure track faculty and research scientist in the computing sciences, and the Alliance for the Advancement of African-American Researchers in Computing (A4RC), an alliance to increase the number of African-American recipients of advanced degrees in computing, particularly, at the Ph.D. level.

    I am also actively affiliated with professional organizations such as the National Council of Women in Technology (NCWIT) Academic Alliance and the NCWIT Pacesetters. Consequently, I provide mentoring to undergraduate students and ascertain strategies that would increase the number of underrepresented minorities and women in computing. I facilitate presentations to provide undergraduates with opportunities to gain information on research experiences, internships and on exploring the graduate experience. As a result of my mentoring activities, I have students who are pursuing PhDs in computer science, working in Corporate America and governmental agencies.  In 2013, I was honored to receive the Undergraduate Research Mentoring Award from NCWIT for excellence in mentoring undergraduate women in computing science.

    I also advise the undergraduate chapter of the FVSU Association of Computing Machinery (ACM), and I actively encourage community service. Every semester, my students and I are tutoring local middle school students in mathematics and providing workshops to teach middle and high school students how to write code using a visual programming language, to develop websites as well as how to program robots.  In addition, the FVSU ACM hosts a Distinguished Lecture Series where computer scientists from both academia and industry are invited to FVSU to inspire our students by sharing their experiences and expertise. I also chair the annual Research Day Program at my institution, which showcases the research of faculty and students via poster sessions and oral presentations.

    I partner with organizations such as Girls Inc., Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Dr. Betty Shabazz Delta Academy and Dr. Jeanne L. Noble Delta GEMS, and Links, Inc. in a concerted effort to broaden participation in computing for underrepresented minorities and girls.  In 2012, I was honored to receive the Special Recognition Award for the STEM outreach activities that I provide for Girls Inc., an organization that inspires all girls to be Strong, Smart, and Bold. These workshops include teaching girls from K-12 how to learn visual programming languages, develop websites, and program robots.

    As a college professor, I have been given the means and opportunity to reach many young adults, by teaching and nurturing their talent. I am a living affirmation that your dreams and goals are attainable. In addition to teaching, I believe that mentoring is very valuable for a student’s success. In computer science and engineering programs, there are proportionately fewer women and minorities in these areas, and I will continue to contribute to ongoing efforts of building support networks to recruit and improve the success rate of these students. During all of my computer science studies, I can only remember one woman that I had as an instructor, which at times was discouraging. So I invite you to sit with me as I continue my endeavors in broadening participation in computing.

    Cheryl Swanier is the Associate Professor in For Valley State University’s Department of Mathematics and Computer Science.

  • digitalundivided: Creating Successful Urban Tech Entrepreneurs

    Kathryn Finney

    Kathryn Finney is being honored as a Champion of Change for her work to expand opportunities for young learners from communities historically underserved or underrepresented in tech fields.

    Technology has the power to transform lives. I know this to be true, because it transformed my life and the life of my family. My dad, who was a high school dropout, worked his way from brewery worker in inner city Milwaukee to software engineer at Microsoft in a span of 20 years. This is a feat that could only be accomplished in the world of technology, where skill can often triumph pedigree.

    In my life, technology has always been a path to economic and social security. It wasn’t until I joined one of the first tech accelerators in 2006 and encountered “the pattern”, a term used within the startup/new tech world to describe why it’s easier for some groups (i.e. young white guys from Stanford) to get funding and support than others (i.e. black women from Howard), that I fully understood the barriers faced by women and people of color in the startup world.

    At digitalundivided (www.digitalundivided.com ) we dismantle “the pattern”.  A significant portion of the new wealth that is being created in the United States, is being created within the tech startup eco-system. The lack of diversity in the tech space, means that communities of color aren’t benefiting from this “new economy”.  At digitalundivided, we focus on making sure urban communities are prepared to actively participate in the new economy through our evidence- based digitalundivided (DID) tech model.

    The DID (START, GROW, FOCUS, INVEST) is a tech model we developed after numerous interviews and group meetings with urban entrepreneurs around the country, that represents an entrepreneurial path organic to urban communities.  Entrepreneurs START with an idea, then GROW that idea into a company, with FOCUS the idea become a business ready for funding and partnerships, the success of the business allows us to then INVEST in other communities or START again with a new idea.

    All of our projects use the eco-system as guidance. START is the name of our local workshop series, held in six cities, focused on teaching urban entrepreneurs how to cultivate their ideas. Our first workshop was held in Atlanta in partnership with Spelman College.  GROW is our network of small groups and meetups that allow entrepreneurs to network and support each other through the development of their companies.

    FOCUS is the name of our signature program that mentors, develops, and advises tech companies with African American women as co-founders. A major part of this program is the annual FOCUS100 Startup Bootcamp and Symposium.  At the inaugural event, held October 2012, there were African American women tech founders and co-founders from nearly 50 companies.  Since FOCUS100 2013, over 30% of the companies in attendance received next step meetings with top angel and venture capital, raising over $20 million dollars in angel and seed funding from major investors like Andreesen Horowitz and Dreamit Ventures, won praises from publications like TechCrunch and the Wall Street Journal, and are working in markets as diverse as agricultural exchanges, Plus Size Fashion, and Software as a Service (SaaS). Over 80% of our speakers are women or people of color, leading #FOCUS100 to be one of the most diverse tech events on the planet.

    INVEST is focused on creating and supporting a network of black Angel and Venture Capital Investors.

    We would love to hear from other organizations, foundations, and social enterprises looking to fundamentally change the digital space.

    Kathryn Finney is the Founder and Managing Director of digitalundivided (DID).

  • Strengthening the Middle Class for African Americans Through Housing

    It wasn’t that long ago that our housing market was in a free-fall – in fact, most of us know somebody in our family or circle of friends who was in danger of losing a home, were foreclosed on, or who had to do a short sale on their property. 

    In the African American community, those impacts were extremely painful. From 2005 to 2009, inflation-adjusted median wealth fell by 53% among black households.  African American families also took on more unsecured debt during the economic downturn, with the median level rising by 27%; and, the percentage of homeownership decreased between 2005 and 2011 from 46% to 43%.

    Today, the housing market is recovering, and we have come a long way thanks the leadership of President Obama. Shortly after taking office, the President took immediate action to stabilize our housing market and protect the middle class. Thanks to programs like the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) (and the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), we have been able to work with millions of middle class families to help them stay in their homes, save money on their mortgages, and turn their communities around. HUD has also invested $7 billion through the Neighborhood Stabilization Program to increase affordable housing and stabilize neighborhoods hardest hit by foreclosures, many of which are neighborhoods of color.

    Since the President took office in 2009, more than 353,000 African American households have purchased a home using a Federal Housing Administration (FHA) guaranteed mortgage, and over 205,000 thousand have refinanced, in many cases dramatically reducing their monthly payment or getting out of a risky adjustable rate loan.

    To build on this progress, yesterday, the President Obama laid out his ideas to help more responsible homeowners refinance, to cut red tape, to help the hardest hit communities rebuild, and to ensure those who rent have decent and affordable options.

    The President made clear that going back to the same bubble-and-bust housing system that caused the financial crisis is not acceptable. We need a rock-solid foundation for financing homeownership with a bigger role for the private sector, where taxpayers aren’t on the hook for the irresponsible behavior or bad decisions of financial institutions.  He also declared that it is time we finally put an end to the era where Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac could expect a bailout for risky behavior in pursuit of profits. Finally, he announced an initiative through FHA , which would give well-qualified Americans who lost their jobs during the crisis a fair chance to get a loan if they’ve worked hard to repair their credit and meet all the requirements for a loan insured by FHA.

    Though we’ve made progress there is still a lot more work to do. Several months ago, President Obama nominated Congressman Mel Watt, who has served as the House Financial Services and Judiciary Committee for over twenty years. A distinguished member of Congress and the Congressional Black Caucus, Congressman Watt has a proven track record of fighting against predatory mortgage lending and protecting consumers from financially abusive practices. His confirmation would provide certainty and strong leadership at FHFA while it plays a critical role in winding down Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and bringing back private capital toward a safer housing finance system. As we continue to provide a better bargain for the Middle Class, we must also move forward a leader like Mel Watt, who has bipartisan support, and dedicated his life to creating ladders of opportunity for families from all communities.  

    The President understands that homeownership is an important ladder of opportunity into the middle class, and the equity in a home is often the way that many families put their children through college, retire, or even open a small business.  The President’s proposals announced today, along with the work being done at HUD, will help build on the progress we’ve made over the last four years.  Together, we can make owning a home a symbol of responsibility and a source of security for generations to come.

  • Securing the Vote for All Americans

    Yesterday, President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, and Secretary of Labor Tom Perez met with civil rights leaders, and state and local elected officials at the White House to discuss how to safeguard every eligible American’s right to vote in light of the recent Supreme Court decision on Shelby County vs. Holder.

    President Barack Obama meets with Civil Rights leaders in the Roosevelt Room of the White House

    President Barack Obama meets with Civil Rights Leaders in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, July 29, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

    The Supreme Court’s decision invalidating one of the Voting Rights Act’s core provisions, upsets decades of well-established practices that help make sure voting is fair, especially in places where voting discrimination has been historically prevalent.

    President Obama acknowledged that for nearly 50 years, the Voting Rights Act has helped secure the right to vote for millions of Americans, and expressed deep disappointment about the recent decision.  He asked the leaders in the room for their ideas on how to strengthen voting rights, and also encouraged them to continue educating their communities on the Voting Rights Act, and how to exercise voting rights.