Last month Cogo Labs hosted "Blackness In America" a virtual event to share experiences, as well as the work of anti-racist ally-ship. We hosted an incredible panel of six speakers moderated by Cogo Labs Analyst, Victoria Plummer.
As we reflect on the conversations that took place that day, we want to share some of the perspectives, ideas, and statements made by both our panelist and our moderator.
Kendall Spencer is a recent graduate of Georgetown Law, and continues to explore the interplay between technology, law and policy. Based in D.C. the last few years have been dedicated to exploring election security issues and more importantly, voting machine vulnerabilities ahead of this year's election. Kendall has gone before the House homeland Security Committee to demonstrate some of these flaws and his most recent discussion highlights the need to address civil rights through technology.
Kendall is also an accomplished athlete, and advocate for student and professional athlete voice and recognition. As a current Olympic hopeful awaiting the arrival of the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games, Kendall seeks to challenge rules that silence athletes from using their platforms to address issues in their communities, this includes the International Olympic Committee's Rule 50 which bars athletes from protesting at the Olympic Games.
Kendall addressed how action can move forward and what's blocking America from progress currently.
"Action hasn’t moved forward because a lot of conversations don’t happen because of a fear of being intrusive. Know there will be times where you get it wrong, and it’s okay, we’re all going to get it wrong."
He continued by saying that "all of theses conversations are going to be difficult, but once you move past that, really look at and evaluate your institutions. Ask yourself, where do we have representation, where is their voice? And ask, where are minority views represented?"
Kendall told a personal story to elevate his point that code switching is so common for Black people throughout their lives.
"Someone shot out the windows of my car and I couldn’t just go to the police officer after working out, I had to go home, change my clothes, and then leave to contact a police officer because I didn’t want to come off a certain way." - Kendall Spencer
Cheyenne Cochrane is a creator, influencer, and story-teller with a passion for solving complex problems and genuinely connecting with people. Cheyenne is a strategic communications and business development professional with experience in both non-profit and for-profit sectors. Cheyenne graduated from the Howard University School of Business, and it was during her time on Howard’s campus that her appreciation for African American culture and history truly began to evolve and flourish. After graduating from Howard, she began her career in the non-profit sector, working with community-based grassroots organizations driving neighborhood revitalization and violence prevention initiatives. She also led fundraising campaigns and managed philanthropic development and events for several education non-profits focused on increasing academic opportunities for low-income and minority students.
In addition to her professional experience, Cheyenne started to become noticed as a social media influencer in 2014. She often shared her experiences trying natural hair and skin care products and regimens. She served a brand ambassador for several up and coming textured hair care lines as the market for textured hair care products began to surge. She used her social media platform and reach to spark discussion with other women of color about their experiences with textured hairstyles both personally and professionally.
Cheyenne shared similar sentiments about an emphasis on allyship and elevating Black voices to make progress together.
"If you’re thinking about companies making sure there are opportunities for the voices of Black people and people of color, for their voices to be heard and not just only if they are an executive or C-suite level. The majority of folks who are self-identified as Black or African American identity are sitting at that middle management layer [of the organization]. I think it can be very difficult to find the right way to give those folks a voice but it’s very important.
Elevate Black voices if you’re an ally or close friend or a family member, find opportunities to help them elevate their voices as well. It can be a simple phone call, a text, or outreach to see how they’re doing.
Look to see what people in your network are perpetuating these injustices, or what people in your network are not ready to hear these stories and join in this fight." -Cheyenne Cochrane
Cheyenne also referenced the need for additional funding of Black and underprivileged communities. She said, "we need to increase the amount of funding for Black communities, Black business, and public schools that are servicing students in primarily minority neighborhoods. The wealth gap in America is alarming and instead of investing in new technology, invest in Black communities."
“Fund Black communities in the same way that you would fund the latest technology.”
Ty Pinkins is a veteran of the U.S. Army and a dedicated public servant. Upon retiring from the military, he co-founded The Pyramid Project, a nonprofit organization that serves youth from low-income communities and provides career and academic related resources and mentorship opportunities. Ty was recently awarded the prestigious Equal Justice Works fellowship, which will provide him with additional resources to serve as a legal advocate for residents in some of Mississippi’s most underserved communities. Mr. Pinkins is the author of the new book 23 Miles & Running: My American Journey from Chopping Cotton in the Mississippi Delta to Sleeping in the White House. He is also a former Public Interest Fellow and graduate of the Georgetown University Law Center.
Ty echoed similar statements to other panelists that Black employees need both a seat at the table and a pathway to get there.
"One question organizations and institutions have to ask themselves is “do Black lives matter enough for the organization to hire Black people in leadership positions? People are afraid of getting it wrong and that’s a self inflicted fear. It’s not a secret that Black women have it harder than anyone to elevate to these positions of leadership yet they’re the voices that can lead in these difficult conversations.” - Ty Pinkins
He said that "people, companies, and allies alike can talk about the things that are going wrong, look at their biases and look how they can contribute to youth organizations to empower young people of color."
In addition to our panelist's closing statements, Cogo Labs Analyst, Victoria Plummer got vulnerable and shared her personal experience;
"There’s push for members of the Black and Brown community to get into the tech community but there’s such a disparity still. Investing in other lower income communities. I grew up in a household making 17k a year and one of the reasons I’m here is because people believed in me a lot. Having conversations like this is so important and uncomfortable but that’s okay. We are moving forward and I think everyone should reach out and figure out what they can do." -Victoria Plummer
Cogo Labs is grateful to not only hold spaces for these conversations, but to amplify the voices in the Black community and for Black Allies. We're excited to hold a space and open up the conversation for a variety of topics in the future!