Amid protests, Baltimore companies stand against racism, make space for dialogue - Technical.ly Baltimore

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Jun. 1, 2020 7:17 pm

Amid protests, Baltimore companies stand against racism, make space for dialogue

From creating space for dialogue to offering Black-led funding, here's how Baltimore tech companies are responding to systemic inequities.
Fearless’ team gathered at its office in Spark Baltimore.

Fearless' team gathered at its office in Spark Baltimore.

(Courtesy photo)

It’s not a time to stay silent.

This spring’s deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery are bringing a nationwide confrontation with systemic racism, and Baltimore is among the cities where peaceful actions are taking place, joining many around the country over the weekend.

On Monday, many went back to work (from home), but the frustration and pain didn’t end, and the need to address inequality was no less.

In Baltimore’s community of growing businesses and entrepreneurial ventures, companies and organizations around the city are responding with statements to the world about where they stand, and internal acknowledgements and space for dialogue.

Here’s a look at what they did today, and how they’re planning for an ongoing response:

They’re standing against racism.

It’s a time to stand up and announce whether you are anti-racist or not. Downtown workforce data science company Catalyte has built technology that is designed to extend opportunity in software engineering careers to all people, regardless of race and gender. It’s work that is implicitly happening every day. On Monday, the company released a statement that will be used in internal discussions and communications.

“The unjust and inhumane events we have witnessed unfold over the past week are a result of a deeply rooted culture of systemic racism,” it states. “They are proof of the unequal access for Black people and other people of color to social, political and economic opportunity in this country. They will not resolve themselves without purposeful and dedicated actions.”

Here at Technical.ly, we, too, are making it plain where we stand:

They’re creating space for open dialogue.

It’s OK to not be OK. That can mean it’s important to bring people together.

At downtown digital services firm Fearless, CEO Delali Dzirasa is putting time to do that on the schedule this week. It’s a time to return to the company’s values, as well.

“Protests have erupted in over 30 cities in America this weekend and emotions and tensions are high all over the country. We are not immune here at Fearless and many people in our Fearless family are not OK,” he said. “We’re calling a family meeting this Tuesday to give a space for us to have this dialogue. The time is billable, optional, and it will not be recorded. People will have the option to share anonymously what they are feeling if they would like. [COO] John Foster and I will be moderating the conversation. We say we ‘Create Belonging’ and push for ‘Open Dialogue.’ This is one way we can demonstrate that.”

At EcoMap Technologies, CEO Pava LaPere said the organization would be addressing the events both on Monday and in an all-hands meeting on Wednesday. It’s a time to turn back to core values: At the company using AI to spread tech resources, two of those are acknowledgement and action.

The events hit home for Black team members, she said. And beyond that, “to stay silent as an organization — and as the leader of an organization — is to be complicit with the persistent structural and discrete racism that has led us here. While I generally disagree with binary opinions, it’s clear that with this fight, you are either actively speaking against racism or you are condoning it,” LaPere said.

For Jonathan Moore, each day of Rowdy Orb.it’s work to extend tech skills and access through efforts like setting up Wi-Fi in Sandtown-Winchester and putting the members of communities in Baltimore’s Black Butterfly at the center of efforts to improve communities starts with a question: “How is everyone feeling about the recent event(s)?”

Moore said the org is making space and encouraging check-ins.

“Our goal is to basically allow people to vent and share in safe space without judgement or retribution. We encourage and educate everyone about solutions, along with the historical documentation of Black and Brown wealth, that defied the stereotypical systems of exclusion,” Moore said. Leadership also provides examples of Black and Brown excellence: They seek to “speak light” to team members and show “how they’re a societal gem … instead of being an asset to the negative deficit,” he said.

They’re attending protests.

To start the day at Canton creative agency Kapowza, the beginning of the daily 10 a.m. standup became a chance to talk through what everyone was feeling about the weekend’s events.

Director of Accounts Sean Sutherland said Monday morning that he also planned to go to the youth-led demonstration planned in downtown Baltimore that afternoon, and to mention it to colleagues — “encouraging them to join me but being respectful if they aren’t able to.”

“I would say this, there are many ways to support these efforts — protests, donations, etc — but silence is not an option,” he said.

They’re putting funding toward Black changemakers.

CLLCTIVLY started to connect and lift voices of Black-led organizations in Baltimore.

“We stand in solidarity with communities across the United States that are protesting the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery,” said Jamye Wooten. The nonprofit is providing 100 microgrants of $500. An on August 7, it will host the second day of giving to support and amplify Black-led organizations serving in our community.

It can also be internal in focus. LaPere said EcoMap Technologies is also providing funds $250 to donate to charities or initiatives of their choice.

“It’s small, but I hope it demonstrates that any company has the capacity to step up, support their Black team members, and make it clear where they stand: The current conditions of racism and inequity cannot be tolerated any longer, especially in tech,” she said.

They’re working to build more diverse tech teams.

Asked about response work for the future, LaPere said hiring is a big focus.

“While I’m proud that our team is 30% black, 30% Asian and South Asian, and 30% white, I know it takes a conscious effort to both maintain and improve that ratio as we grow,” she said. “We will continue our equitable hiring practices that devalue formal educational and professional attainment, and rather focus on how the individual has achieved given their circumstances and background. As we grow, we will do so with a keen focus on equal compensation for equal work, to avoid contributing to the racial wage and salary gap that sadly persists.”

It brings to mind a message we’ve been seeing circulating about how to support Black people in tech: “Make the hire. Send the wire.”

At Catalyte, going forward, the company “remains committed to providing economic opportunities for anyone, regardless of who they are, and removing barriers to a better future for all. We will continue to work here in Baltimore, and in all our communities, to create a more diverse and inclusive tech industry,” read a statement to Techical.ly.

At Technical.ly, we’ll be continuing to gather responses. Send us an email at baltimore@technical.ly to tell us about how your company is addressing the protests and calls to end racism.

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