“How do you measure the personal impact of an event?”
It’s a question I’d never asked myself, in years of event production. Yet being at the East Coast’s epicenter of Black excellence gave me multiple answers. BlackTech Week 2018 was, dare I say, life changing, and I’m reminded daily of the positive affect the 72-hour trek has made on my outlook.
When I initially made the case for Technical.ly to fund my travel for professional development in Miami, my expectations were clear. As the only junior-level employee of the four people who identify as Black in my 20-person company, I saw the trip as an opportunity, but also as a responsibility. It was a chance to prove myself professionally as much as it was to uncover a mystery I’d been mulling over. What is the secret sauce of high-quality, ethnically targeted programming?
The short answer: Empowerment.
The common thread of BlackTech Week 2018 was the feeling I had leaving every session. While the subject matter sounded similar to events I’d already experienced — with sessions like “How to get funding” and “Wellness for entrepreneurs” — the impact landed deeper.
All the feels started at the live podcast taping of Black Tech Unplugged. To my surprise, host Deena McKay was interviewing a hometown hero — Ebony Lee, the senior VP of strategic development at Comcast NBCUniversal. Ebony shared keys to performing while faced with the pressure of being the only person who looked like her in the room. She reminded us that diversity is absolutely necessary in executive roles — we (Black people) just have to keep striving to knock down the barriers to get there.
After the podcast taping attendees were transported to a VIP Dinner where we were warmly greeted by the Knight Foundation. While networking over hors d’oeuvres I overheard a gentleman whisper to his friend, “Lauren Legette is here and I need to speak to her.”
My head snapped in the direction from which I’d heard my very uncommon last name quicker than I could control. Who is Lauren?!?
After tracking her down, introducing myself and interrogating each other about our families in the South we determined that we were indeed related. The slight change in her name apparently happened as recently as her grandfather’s generation. Yes, y’all. I met a distant cousin at a tech conference marketed as “The Must Attend Fam Reunion” and I was (and remain) so excited about it. We even resemble each other!
I remember sitting in my Airbnb that night literally trying to figure out why I was so happy.
“I’m here to work,” I kept reminding myself, as if I’d never experienced smiles so hard in my typical event-attendee experience. Well, I hadn’t.
The next day I was on a mad search for the source of that magic.
After being introduced to Rudy Ellis, CEO of Switchboard Live, we shared our experiences as first-time attendees that both traveled from Philly. The only words I could muster up were, “I feel like I’m drowning.” He laughed, understandingly. That’s when it hit me: This was the first occurrence in which I felt overwhelmed sheerly by the mass of people that looked like me.
I’d gotten so comfortable with having to seek out and connect with the other Black attendees at tech events, that this felt like too much. I’d become accustomed to programming that promised solutions surrounding diversity and inclusion, yet delivered sob stories and excuses. My mind felt ready to explode.
Fast forward through in-person hangs with some pillars of the Black tech community in Philadelphia, a two-hour visit to Mid-Beach and me trying to avoid social media as Philadelphia celebrated its first-ever Super Bowl Championship. The full-circle moment that put everything into perspective for me was the Q&A with Bobby Seale, the storied founder of the original Black Panther Party. After a bit of self-doubt about my own ability to strive for success while empowering other Black people, his words assured me I was already on the right path.
Before BlackTech Week, my fear had been stymieing my growth. In a world where it feels like anything you do as a Black woman is judged twice as hard (if you get a chance to compete at all), you tend to pause before everything.
Experiencing such an abundance of Black excellence gave my insecurity all the proof it needed to STFU.
Speakers and fellow attendees showed me that I can do literally anything. And my sole mission since returning to Philadelphia is planting that idea in others.
If you want to catch the flame that lit in me in Miami, we’ve got some news to share!
Felecia Hatcher, the founder of Code Fever and BlackTech Week, will be speaking at Introduced by Technical.ly during the hotly anticipated “Company Responsibility: #MeToo, BLM & Polarization” panel. Introduced by Technical.ly is a part of Philly Tech Week 2018 presented by Comcast.
I’m super excited to announce more soon, but you’ll have to stay tuned.