As we all know, February is Black History Month. It’s a month where we honor those who have made an impact on American culture for equal rights, those who have invented, those who have a helped others and those who have inspired everyone to be the best they can be, not only as a person of color but as a human. Last year for Black History Month, I started an online series called 28 Days Diversity where I would feature someone new everyday during the month of February for just being awesome in their own right. Even though it’s black history month, the goal for 28 Days of Diversity is to feature not just African-Americans but other minorities in the web/tech space. Also note that 28 Days of Diversity is not a popularity contest or an influencer list but a list of thought leaders in the social web sector, including entrepreneurs, bloggers, conference organizers, IT professionals and friends not ranked in any particular order who I have either met in person or followed online. Each post will include a picture, bio, two links from the selected person and this paragraph.
For 2011 I wanted to not just feature individuals but also address a topic that affects everyone. For 28 Days of Diversity 2011 each post/person will answer the question “How can we use technology to close the digital divide?” So for the next 28 days, come back to visit SocialWayne.com/tag/28daysofdiversity and 28daysofdiversity.com to see who’s on the list. For day 25, I would like to introduce to some and present to others:
Kalimah Priforce discovered his calling to “transform children’s lives” after his 18 year old younger brother was shot and killed right behind their old elementary school in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, New York. Since then, his life work has been dedicated to the advancement & self-betterment of kids and young adults through innovation in and outside the classroom. At 22, he founded the Thurgood Marshall Club of America, a youth-led venture between the Gallup Organization, the CUNY Institute for Virtual Enterprise, and the Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund that focused primarily on student capacity-building through leadership incubator programs at 45 predominantly Black institutions of higher learning with an overall student population of more than 200,000.
Kalimah considers himself a “Hackademic” by seeking to build breakthrough applications that use technology and education to close the achievement, opportunity, and aspiration gap that exists among youth in under-served communities. His latest venture, Careersters, is a web-based Career Matchmaker for Kids launching in 2011. Careersters gives 12-21 year olds a running start in discovering their personal mission and actualizing their dreams using the web beginning with the inspirational stories of professionals sharing “how-to” video walkthroughs of their success. From there, users can create digital portfolios of their work, collect points and merit badges for “checking-in” to unique locations related to their career path, follow a mini-feed on their homepage that provides relevant news tailored to their purpose-filled journey, and explore opportunities to join groups and interact with other users with shared interests. Careersters recently joined the 33needs crowd-funding platform for social enterprises and is currently recruiting new talent to join the Careersters advisory board and management team. Kalimah Priforce was recently selected as a 2011 Echoing Green semi-finalist for his work on bridging the online and offline worlds of young people and connecting them with digital role models providing resources, mentorship, and advice through Careersters.
Kalimah’s adventures as a young minority tech entrepreneur are chronicled in his blog, “Hackademia,” and he remains a lifelong advocate of diversity and opportunities that allow historically marginalized populations to demonstrate their gifts to the world. He recently moved from Brooklyn, New York to Oakland, California to be closer to the technology ecosystem in Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area.
How can we use technology to close the digital divide?
It takes a digital village to raise the 21st century child. Closing the technology gap begins with our most promising upstarts – today’s at-risk youth. I tell kids all the time that “poverty” can be a gift, not a curse, and that it all depends on how they perceive what their role in this big universe of ours is. I believe “at-risk” kids can become “positive risk-takers”, but their creative minds require training and platforms that allow them to demonstrate their untapped potential to others. My work involves using technology to engage the imagination of young people by exposing them to terrific industry insiders showing them the ropes. We close the digital divide by dismantling the mental blocks of what minority youth believe to be impossible.
The problem is that there are critics who believe that everything that can be done for marginalized populations – has been done. They use terms like “hand-outs” to label any pipeline that provides resources to them. I grew up in a group home in Brooklyn, so I’ve seen just about every well-funded bad idea to “save youth” you can imagine. The best ideas that I’ve seen that “worked” were the ones that involved a lot of self-guidance, strong mentorship, exposure to new learning environments, and opportunities for them to present and demonstrate their work through a competition or fair. Initiatives like these are being consistently cut from school funding.
Closing the digital divide starts with youth and culminates in the development of leaders within the technology sector. Andrew Carnegie backed Booker T. Washington in the formation of the Tuskegee Institute, just as Eleanor Roosevelt supported the wonderful work of Mary McLeod Bethune. We need more cross-sector partnership and angel investors willing to push innovators from backgrounds that are under-represented in the technology sector. When you build up the RIGHT leaders, they’ll take care of the rest. I think in America we’ve become as anti-leadership as we’ve become anti-intellectual. If we are going to compete with emerging economies and economic superpowers we need to be much more inclusive than we’ve been in the last two decades, and that means empowering those with limited access and knowledge to technology tools.
My recommendations are that there we (1) establish minority-led startup incubators, (2) encourage major tech companies to build recruiting networks at universities that predominately serve women and minorities, (3) support social clubs like the National Society of Black Engineers and business skills-building initiatives that target urban youth like BUILD or Citizen Schools, (4) develop early-intervention internship programs for middle school youth that exposes them to under-represented fields in sciences and technology, and (5) continue to support STEM programs and to honor and recognize investors and philanthropists with an interest in supporting diversity in tech.
You can follow the status of 28 Days of Diversity 2011 on http://28daysofdiversity.com, http://socialwayne.com/category/28-days-of-diversity/ and syndicated on BlackWeb 2.0.