Blog Posts Related to the African American Community

  • 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 ( ) 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.

  • The Game of Change Comes to the White House

    Today, President Obama met with members of the 1963 Loyola University Chicago Ramblers championship team, and celebrated the 50th anniversary of their Division I basketball title.

    President Barack Obama greets members of the 1963 Loyola University Chicago Ramblers.

    President Barack Obama greets members of the 1963 Loyola University Chicago Ramblers NCAA Championship men's basketball team in the Oval Office, July 11, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    On March 15, 1963, the Ramblers played Mississippi State in a regional semifinal game known as the Game of Change.

    The year: 1963, right in the midst of the Civil Rights movement. The team: The Loyola Ramblers, coached by George Ireland. The controversy: The Ramblers started four African-American players on the “Iron Five” lineup, even though the unwritten rules of college basketball allowed only two African-American players to start, and an unwritten law in Mississippi wouldn’t allow play against integrated teams.

    Earlier in the year, the Ramblers had won 20 consecutive games and earned a tournament berth. The Game of Change took place in East Lansing, Michigan. The all-white Mississippi State team snuck into Michigan in defiance of an injunction issued by the Governor of Mississippi that was intended to prohibit the game.  

    Judy Van Dyck, the daughter of the Head Coach, George Ireland, accompanied the team today. She told me that she remembered her father saying, with tears in his eyes, that the time had come for change, that these were his kids, and he wanted to make a difference so that no other kids would have to go through what they went through.

    And that’s just what happened.

    The Ramblers won 61-51. Before tip-off, photographers captured one of the great moments in college sports history when Loyola captain Jerry Harkness, and Mississippi State captain Joe Dan Gold shook hands at center court. The team gave President Obama a framed copy of that famous photo today.

  • Honoring Our Civil Rights Heroes

    Fifty years ago, America was in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement. Countless men and women demonstrated, protested, sacrificed, and bled for their right to be treated equally. In the last two weeks, we remembered a few of these heroes at the White House.

    Visit with Myrlie Evers-Williams, widow of Medgar Evers

    President Barack Obama embraces Myrlie Evers-Williams during her visit in the Oval Office, June 4, 2013.

    President Barack Obama embraces Myrlie Evers-Williams during her visit in the Oval Office, June 4, 2013. The President met with the Evers family to commemorate the approaching 50th anniversary of Medgar Evers' death. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    Today, President Obama visited with Myrlie Evers-Williams, a civil rights heroine and widow of Medgar Evers, and other members of the Evers family, to commemorate Medgar Evers’ life and contribution to the Civil Rights Movement. President Obama said during the visit that Medgar Evers was a warrior for justice, and the tragedy of his death turned into a rallying cry for a movement.

    Fifty years ago, on June 12, 1963, Medgar Evers was shot and killed in front of his home in Jackson, Mississippi.

    After serving in World War II, Evers returned to Mississippi and dedicated his life to the pursuit of civil rights and equality in the South. He became the NAACP’s first Field Secretary for Mississippi, where he organized boycotts of businesses that denied basic services to African Americans, and he fought for school integration. The murder of Medgar Evers, and resulting trial, inspired civil rights protests across the nation. Evers is buried in Arlington National Cemetery and, after more than 30 years, his killer was finally brought to justice in 1994.