Over two years of tumult and tears, America has finally started reckoning with its racial history. But if we are going to embrace the challenge of this current century, we need to go a step further and start talking about securing Black futures.
So here is a small proposal: Let’s move Black History Month to June, and rename it Black Future Month.
This is not so wild-eyed an idea as you might think. Recently, I came across a campaign echoing this idea to move Black History Month to June. We can and should honor exceptional lives like Harriet Tubman, George Washington Carver, Ida B. Wells, Dr. Charles Drew, and Madam C.J. Walker. But we better be talking about how to make folks like that the norm, not the exception.
We have mountains of talent in our communities — yet, these beautiful minds are still being met with roadblocks of historical inequities and employment pipeline blockages and leaks. So while it is good to honor the sacrifices and triumphs of the past – I would set our North Star to the future.
Our future will be written in code. Our economy is already reliant on highly skilled, high-tech workers. Automation, AI, cloud computing, and other trends will only magnify the demand. Yet far too often, there are barriers preventing Black talent from making their mark.
Start with schools. During the pandemic, most schools shifted to online or hybrid learning. This move challenged all students, but Black and Brown households — which disproportionately lack the devices and broadband internet needed — were hurt the worst. Lack of investment in education means too many Black students are a step behind their peers.
Then, there are barriers to securing employment. Too often, potential Black employees have the skills [and many times education] but lack the formal experience or exact certifications to showcase their full value. These certifications can cost thousands to acquire, putting them out of reach for many who lack disposable income.
As the Change.org campaign points out, Fortune 500 companies and start-ups alike are trying. They celebrate Black history, declare that Black Lives Matter, and have made Juneteenth an internal company holiday. They often acknowledge that they have challenges with acquiring a diverse workforce, and have focused on training and recruiting the best Black talent.
But retention and leadership are still lacking. Too often, Black employees find themselves unwelcomed, unheard, or tokenized, instead of empowered, valued, and in charge. High-tech companies struggle to retain top Black talent, while Black entrepreneurs struggle to access the capital and networks needed to become truly successful long term.
The result is unsurprising, and all around us: from algorithmic discrimination to a wealth and income gap, we can see what happens when brilliant Black minds can’t find a way into the careers that dictate our daily lives and determine our vast approaching future.
So not only do we need to study our history, we need to secure our future. That is why my organization, Dream Corps TECH, is organizing Black Future Weekend this coming October 1-2, in the cultural epicenter of Atlanta. Black Future Weekend was sparked from the yearning of Dream Corps TECH’s founders, Prince and Van Jones, to provide the Black community with support, resources and inspiration to see and chart a brighter future that draws from the strength of the past.
The people who attend Black Future Weekend will encounter thought leaders and influencers, learn from subject matter experts, and be inspired by a growing community that supports Black tech excellence. Whether you want a deep dive on a specific tech sector or culture and lifestyle events, this is a chance to be part of a conversation that is shifting the landscape of tech. Participants will leave after three days having seen showcases of corporate social responsibility and a vision for a technologically heightened future full of Black leaders (and more than one dope musical performance).
At the end of the day, we need Black leaders in the C-suites and building the technology we interface with daily more than we need feel-good corporate social media posts with black squares.
Black History is essential, and moving it to June is a great start. But putting Black economic futures at the heart of that June celebration is what will put our community — and the whole country — on a path to future prosperity, for generations to come.
Michelle Ferguson is the National Community Initiatives Director for Dream Corps TECH, a national program cultivating future leaders and entrepreneurs from underrepresented backgrounds, creating a pipeline of diverse talent that will shift the culture of the tech sector.