Oakland – AfroTech 2019 is set to kick off Thursday, November 7th (which is today) at the Henry J. Kaiser Oakland Convention Center at 550 10th St, Downtown Oakland, California. This is the fourth year of the event, but the first time it is held in Oakland. Morgan DeBaun, the CEO of Blavity, and the fascinating founder of AfroTech, expects 10,000 of people to attend – a giant jump from the 4,000 for AfroTech San Francisco in 2018.
But the question is just what kind of black person is expected to attend AfroTech? A clue to the answer is in the stated focus of Blavity, which is a website that focuses on news, but its distinct interest explains why, if you’re not a millennial, like me, you didn’t get an email or out-reach effort.
This describes Blavity:
Blavity is an American Internet media company and website based in Los Angeles, created by and for black millennials. Their mission is to “economically and creatively support Black millennials across the African diaspora, so they can pursue the work they love, and change the world in the process.”
UPDATE: I received an email from a AfroTech representative, who wants everyone to know that AfroTech is open to all:
This year we have a FREE community stage open to all ages. We encourage families to come out to learn more about the tech community to empower themselves and hopefully, increase the pipeline of opportunity for people of color within the tech industry. Our primary goal is economic and professional empowerment for Black people.
If you’d like to mention those details in your post, please do.
Also, the community stage is open to the public: 456 8th Street Oakland, CA 94607 (on the corner of Washington and 8th)
So, come to AfroTech in Oakland.
As a person who was there for Vloggercon in 2006, I have to admit it’s fun to watch the YouTube videos expressing a sense of excitement over an event that does spell the emergence of a new generation. Take these Zennie62 YouTube vlogs that present Vloggercon in 2006 and TechCrunch Disrupt and then the vlogs I found for Blavity in years past:
Here’s Afro Tech….
Pretty cool stuff, all the way around. AfroTech is exciting and something much needed now: a place for blacks in tech to meet – sorta of. I’ll get to that. And where’s the AfroTech version of Robert Scoble? Well, the closest person to that would be me, but I wasn’t invited.
And since Afro Tech was launched just two years after Blavity’s first round of seed funding, which was 2014, it’s quite obviously an extension of the overall message: “If you’re not a black millennial, forget about coming to AfroTech.” Well, Ok. That pushes out a lot of us who have a tech-culture story to tell and have managed to live well into our, in my case, 50s.
And there was the time six years ago that I got after Jason Calacanis for ignoring the problem of racism in tech:
And there was the CES Las Vegas 2012 when I went to buy the Sony Bloggie Live and use it:
And there was the famous time when then Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz told TechCrunch Founder Michael Arrington to f-off, and I got the deal first, only to watch as the white media used my vlog without attribution to me:
The way AfroTech is structured is as a millennial effort: this vlogger didn’t get a notice about it, even though I’m African American, started Oakland’s first blog Oakland Focus in 2004 and Oakland’s first YouTube Partner Channel Zennie62 in 2008. Heck, I was at the launch party for Twitter at Mighty Nightclub SF in 2007.
The Difference Between Afro Tech And Past And Present Tech Conferences Is Important
In blogging about Afro Tech, it occurred to me that a major difference between it and past and present tech conferences is that Afro Tech is as much about unification as it is discovering the latest tech. From the perspective of a person who’s seen small change in SF Bay Area Tech since I first became aware of a Bay Area “tech culture” way back in the 1970s (because for me, the TV Show Star Trek was the funnel for all kinds of neat computer games that are fondly remembered by older folks today), there are simply more black folks in tech, because tech is mainstream, today. In the 1960s I was called “poindexter”, in the the 1970s, I was “Spock”, and in the 1980s, I finally ascended to being a nerd.
It could be that, dark skin, bald head, and all, I’m just too white for AfroTech, on top of being a middle aged black guy, which would open a new issue as we move into the middle of the 21st Century: the Spike Lee-recognized difference between “gigaboos and wannabees” that was depicted in the 1984 movie classic School Daze but turned on its head: rather than skin color as the focus, it’s two different ways of existing in a racist tech environment: one way says be your own company and try to conquer a place in a world perceived as white, and the other way represented by Blavity, is to create a place only for black millennials in tech.
Considering that Morgan DeBaun raised $10 million, it just might be that she has the better way to go. But I’m damn proud of what I’ve done. Look, she wasn’t written up in The Next Web’s “Failures In The Startup World”, and I was (for starting Sports Business Simulations in 2003). And for one? And it’s not like Morgan didn’t know I was in The Next Web; she did, but even with that, didn’t ask a question about my experience. But, hey, she’s raised $10 million, and she’s old enough to be my daughter. I get it. That’s cool.
I’ll raise $10 million, too. You want to call me names? Want to call me old. Want to call me “white” because I’m not afraid to go in mainstream tech circles? Go ahead. But I’ve got a rapid fast media content production network no one at AfroTech has. Or the rest of the World, for that matter.
But you know what? I’m here in Georgia for my 85-year-old Mom. She’s happy with me as her only child. And that’s all that matters.
I’ve done the best I knew and know how to do.
Zennie Abraham is the CEO of Zennie62Media