During his Philly Tech Week town hall last month, Mayor Jim Kenney pitched his idea for tackling diversity through a proposed event called the North Star Conference. There aren’t many details available yet, but Kenney wants the focus to be on technologists of color.
There’s certainly a lot of potential and reason for optimism about the North Star Conference, which Kenney says is a reference to Frederick Douglass and his anti-slavery newspaper, but if the mayor wants to be successful in bringing this vision to fruition and diversifying the Philly tech community, we must start getting real about the mechanics of creating diversity.
Transforming the makeup of the tech scene means meeting future technologists before they enter their first coding class. And when reaching out to minority youth, we must meet the kids on their turf.
In the Black community in particular, that means churches, basketball courts and even hair salons and barbershops. However, in meeting youth in these spaces, there should be an acute understanding that a lot of them can’t see the direct or revolutionary connections between technology and their lives. Their dreams may center on being the next Jay Z, helping the 76erstop more than just Twitter rankings, or simply owning their own hair salon. And for Jumoke Dada, founder of Tech Women Network, the latter is very much a tangible part of reality.
When speaking at a NExT Philadelphia event, Dada noted that many of the girls she worked with through her nonprofit aspire to run their own salons. While Dada supports their entrepreneurial spirit, she still pushes her girls further. “Can you build an app that the hair dressers can use to book their system, to get me out faster?” Dada suggested during the panel.
It’s not enough to identify and rally around the young rising stars in our communities, we must also “want to handhold [them].”
That’s what technologist Jumoke Dada said at Leading into the NExT Century, a leadership conference hosted by NExT Philadelphia, the Urban League’s network of young professionals.
By “handhold,” Dada and her fellow panelists — women from the finance and healthcare industries — emphasized the importance of taking a personal touch with young people. It’s a sentiment that resonated deeply with attendee Zarifa Roberson, who believes in the importance of supplying young people with the opportunity to “see life outside of Philadelphia because so many don’t get [that] chance.”
Hosted last Saturday, Leading into the NExT Century focused on equipping young Philadelphian professionals with vital leadership skills for their careers and highlighting industry growth in several key sectors in the city. To better understand the future of business trades for young African Americans in the area, NExT hosted an industry specific panel that featured Dada, cofounder of Project ALOE and founder of Tech Women Network; Dixieanne James, VP of strategic planning and business development for Albert Einstein Healthcare Network and Jasmine Richards, lead international equity analyst at FIS Group.