At Black & Brown Founders, a fed-up entrepreneur makes a call to action - Philly


Oct. 12, 2017 12:49 pm

At Black & Brown Founders, a fed-up entrepreneur makes a call to action

Things got tense at the Tuesday event after Tayyib Smith voiced his criticism of Philly Startup Leaders' Diversity Dinner.

A memorable panel.

(Photo by Darren Buckner)

Black & Brown Founders — the West Coast–born event series on entrepreneurs of color — gathered 135 tech community members at Quorum Tuesday.

A three-hour video recap of the event is being passed around the backchannels of Philly tech. What’s causing the virality? All signs point to the latter portion of the video: a seemingly innocuous panel called “How to plug into Philadelphia’s tech ecosystem” featuring Tayyib Smith, cofounder of Little Giant Creative and the Institute of Hip Hop Entrepreneurship, Webjunto’s Liz Brown and Philly Startup Leaders’ Yuval Yarden, moderated by Comcast exec Antonio Williams.

The debate got awkward. Here are three main takeaways, with cue’d up links so you can follow along.

An exhausted challenge to PSL

“When you gather a bunch of marginalized people to talk about diversity there’s something that is exhausting and a bit dehumanizing about that,” Smith said, in reference to Philly Startup Leaders’ Diversity Dinner, held last year for the first time and happening again on Oct. 25.

The entrepreneur pointed out a major flaw in the event’s setup. One that might just be stretched to Philly tech as a whole:

“My problem with the event last year is that we had 350, 400 people in a gymnasium stuck at tables,” Smith said. “The Mayor spoke, two councilpeople spoke, you had news cameras there and there was so many people talking about the positive things that are happening the Philadelphia community that we only had like 15 minutes to actually talk to the people at the dinner. I basically felt like I was on their menu. Most of the times at diversity dinners and discussions I feel like I’m on the menu.”

We went to Smith for clarification on what he meant by “on the menu.” Here’s what he told on Thursday:

“‘On the menu’ means I find it dehumanizing to continued to be invited by white led organizations to talk diversity when they do not have genuine commitment to making transformative change, so when I’m asked to attend a dinner, I feel like I am on the menu to be consumed for enjoyment.”


Smith, who’s has consistently been calling out systemic inequality in the business community and beyond, went on:

“My whole life has been about carrying this,” Smith said. “It’s not about people’s feelings. Black and Brown people have been marginalized out of so many industries within my lifetime and since the inception of this country. It’s not about how people feel, it’s not about discussion, it’s about transformation and change. We need a Marshall plan, we need a new New Deal.”

(Smith’s exhaustion reminds us of GreenLight Fund exec Omar Woodard, who said there was “no time” to wait for results in the fight against systemic inequality.) 

A leader in distress

Per the video, Yarden’s response to Smith’s challenge came from a place of emotion.

“Right now in this conversation I feel really uncomfortable, because this is really difficult,” said Yarden in tears. “It’s extremely difficult because with everything I do to be helpful, the response is that I don’t get it.”

Yarden, 26, told the room that making a community stronger would take time, and made an ask for the community to get involved with the nonprofit’s efforts by volunteering and voicing concerns.

Yarden could not immediately be reached for further comment on the discussion.

A roadmap from a POC technologist

Liz Brown is Webjunto’s co-CEO. Her startup was recently recognized as Philly’s most diverse startup at this year’s Timmy Awards.

“There are plenty people of color and women and LGBT community who are trying to break into the tech community but people won’t give them a damn opportunity,” the entrepreneur said. “The team is nothing without diversity.”

Brown said being diverse is not something that can be taught, and that despite people asking her for a grand plan to boost diversity, the solution starts by having the right disposition and taking action to that effect.

“We’re just a reflection of who we want to be,” she said.

Here’s the full vid, clocking in at close to three hours:

  • Ned Barrett

    Interesting article. Food for thought!

  • Marting King

    You’re a POS Smith – how about you try and enact change in the community instead of attacking those who are brave enough to work their butt off trying to initiate change. Cowards throw stones at the efforts of others without taking action themselves; it’s even more cowardly hiding behind a social issue to appear on a “moral high ground” as you criticize the efforts of others. Your slanderous comments are a cancer to the community – dare I say Donald Trump-esque? Do something original instead of attacking the efforts of others – don’t create problems where they don’t exist, offer up solutions.

    • Dimka Mati Braswell

      That’s just it, Smith and others has done what he could within the limits of being marginalized out of the tech industry in Philly. Talking diversity without little to action within the industry has been ongoing for decades in Philly. Folks are tired of being marginalized and treated as such.

      • Marting King

        Has anyone considered that he might be marginalized due to the way he acts? This video shows him bullying someone who is obviously trying to do her best to grow the Philly tech scene with absolutely no intentions of marginalizing anyone. He’s an a-hole hiding behind the veil of racial injustice. By the way, he himself is “talking diversity without little to action” – do something other than criticize others and the situation. And speaking of marginalized, are women in tech not also a marginalized demographic? He’s bullying a woman, discrediting her efforts and being applauded for doing so – do you not see the irony there? I think it’s time people realize he’s a POS, NOT a leader

      • timlister82

        Smith lives in Rittenhouse Square. All this talk of his “marginalization” is ridiculous.

    • Tran Hoang An

      Can you claim to know all what Smith does? How do you know that his words here are empty, without any action behind them?

  • TM Greene

    So many things wrong with this…
    1. Rude behavior by Tayyib towards a woman trying her best to help, however ridiculous her efforts may be
    2. Inviting a Yuval to speak on panel about black and brown inclusion in the first place
    3. Expecting to hear some life altering wisdom from a panel consisting of people with limited life experience, and from what I can tell, next to no real accomplishments
    4. A moderator who did nothing to steer the conversation away from spiraling out of control

    • I agree on all points besides #3. What is really unfortunate is that each of us could have contributed a lot of value to the original topic of discussion. The actual panel topic wasn’t about providing “life altering wisdom” (no offense meant by the quotes); It was about how to get involved in Philly’s tech scene. Yes there are several other really kickass, accomplished people of color in the Philly tech scene, but I’m also not sure what type of accomplishments or experience level you were hoping for in a panel at a smaller scale and early-stage event. I’d also like to point out that Comcast actually organized this particular panel. I really feel for the founder and organizers of the Black and Brown Founders Project, who did an amazing job with the event overall and then had to deal with issues in the one part of the event that they did not organize. It’s unfortunate that are actually a lot of facts and a backstory missing here (in this article and in the videos) and so there’s a lot of room for people to make quick assumptions about what went wrong with this panel..

      • Marting King

        As a leader within the Philadelphia founders scene, is there anything you plan on doing to curb the dogmatic dialogue displayed by your fellow panelist? Is there any statement you’d like to make regarding his behavior as opposed to simply saying “I agree” with someone else’s thoughts and opinions?

        • Hey Marting, of course I have my own thoughts. I had made a couple of statements, but they are not represented in this article. Just as I had mentioned during the panel I do agree with many of Tayyib’s concerns, and I had just weeks before expressed similar concerns directly to PSL. I do not however agree with how both Tayyib and Yuval went about the panel discussion. Clearly the body language that Tayyib presented was disrespectful, they both spoke over each other at times, and clearly Tony could have done some more research before choosing to invite Yuval to speak on behalf of the tech scene to an audience of black and brown founders. The video really speaks for itself in this regard, so I don’t feel very inclined to say much else. I’m very much in processing mode, but very open to further discussion on the issues represented in the article and in these comments. Aside from that, I’m personally going to continue doing everything that I can to support the tech community and to foster diversity. If you, or anyone else, have any advice, ideas, or recommendations on things that I myself or my company, Webjunto, can do to better support transformative change, please feel free to be in touch with me.

          • Marting King

            Are women in technology, and women leaders for businesses in general, not also a marginalized demographic?

          • Of course we are!

          • Marting King

            So it’s an attack from one marginalized group to another – how is he in any way justified in his reasoning for doing that; his thoughts are spreading like cancer with each and every article his black/brown friends write, which are ultimately to the detriment of another marginalized group. Is there a reason you’re not standing up for one cause just as strongly as the other? If you were in Yuval’s position, would you hope that someone helped stand up for you instead of essentially saying “both were at fault”?

          • Unfortunately the audio on the video versus is not clear and doesn’t provide the same context to someone having sat in the front row of the discussion. Again, I support some of the points Tayyib was making, but not how he presented them, and I support the efforts that Yuval had been making to receive my concerns and feedback in regards to the diversity dinner. Choosing sides beyond that is not something that I’m interested in. Perspective is everything.. and I’m a multiracial woman caught in the conversation of black and brown vs white and female.

          • Marting King

            So Yuval gets fired as a result of Tayyib’s attack and your/others lack of spine, logic and reasoning; I hope the divisive dogma you and others within your community support takes a back seat to the underlying racial injustice that actually needs to be addressed here. In the meantime, I find your lack of leadership shocking – you’re a sheep to the black Donald trump that is Tayyib Smith

          • Try not to make so many assumptions so quickly without having all of the facts. If you or anyone else would like to know more about what I am doing to support diversity and inclusion in the startup and tech communities, I highly encourage you to follow me on social media. I’m not here to argue with anyone. I wish nothing but the best for Yuval – she is an awesome person who has given a lot to the startup community and will likely continue to do so. In fact, I wish nothing but the best for everyone.

          • Marting King

            You go ahead and use this opportunity to self promote – this is the closest to any limelight you’ll get by just being a follower

          • timlister82

            Simple question: Do you think Yuval deserved to lose her job over this incident? Yes or no?

          • Hey timlister82. Your use of the word “deserved” makes this a loaded question. I’m a person who heavily relies on developing view points based on facts, not opinions. FACTS: (1) there are many factors that come into play when an organization decides to let someone go. (2) Many people who support Yuval’s position at PSL are confused and upset with the lack of detail provided to the PSL community. VIEW POINT: For anyone that wants to know more details they should ask the decision makers directly. I’m not at all trying to be a jerk with this response, I just don’t know enough to respond without going off of opinions alone.

          • timlister82

            That’s OK, I think I received the transmission clearly enough.

        • Anthony Tidd

          Martin, though you have no picture (which means you may not even be a real person), I’m going to respond to you.

          I’ve read through your comments, and I think I understand the crux of your argument, but in my opinion you are dead wrong. The very premise of your argument is flawed.

          Let me explain. Like you, too often do people confuse people of color merely telling the truth about their predicament, with aggression. It’s like we are constantly being told, “suffer in silence, and absolutely do not ever have the audacity to complain. You are lucky to be in the position that you are in now. And, under absolutely no circumstances should you ever show aggression”, as if we are the ones with the long history of doing so…….

          When we do complain, people such as yourself expect us to do it with a grace far beyond that of our oppressor?

          People of color are not just upset, or annoyed. They are angry, and they have every right to be.

          We are not simply talking about not being able to get a job. We are not simply talking about not having equal opportunities. We are not discussing not receiving longer sentences for the same crime as a white person. We are not discussing the right to not be shot by our own law enforcement officers. We were not simply discussing not being able to eat at the same restaurants, pee in the same toilettes, live in the same parts of town, ride at the front of the bus, have our votes count the same as our white counterparts, or even being considered as full human beings. We are discussing the very concept of whiteness vs blackness, that arose out of 400 plus years of slavery and all that went with it. Without the need for white-supremacy, what is the purpose of white and black?

          This is a massive subject, which most white people never want brought up, and are generally woefully ill equipped to discuss. They have been taught to avoid this subject at all costs. They have taught that it is impolite. But, this subject is the elephant in the living room whenever the subject of diversity is raised.

          We are encouraged to discuss the issues that effect our community in silos without ever discussing what the root causes of these issues are. This entire discussion of diversity is one of those silos.

          Next, you imply that Tayyib is some sort of bully, and even go so far as to call him the Black Donald Trump. I’m not going to go into the myriad of reasons that your claim is completely preposterous, but I will just point to a few.

          Donald Trump rarely ever tells the truth. When he does he uses half truths in order to dominate his opponents. Donald Trump is a member of the most privileged group on earth (Old rich white men), and everything he does is about retaining and expanding the privilege of this group.

          None of the above is true of Tayyib. The only thing he did is tell the truth (perhaps in a less polite manner that you would prefer, when considering your own assessment of his predicament).

          Lastly, it is a false narrative that there is some sort of equivalence between oppressed groups. You used such a false narrative when you attempted to equate the plight of oppressed people of color with the plight of oppressed women.

          I’ll explain. It is true that women have been oppressed simply for who they are for at least the last 2,000 years. The same is true of black and brown peoples. The same is true of the poor. This does not mean that all oppression is equivalent. It is not.

          For instance you could be oppressed as a women, a black person and be poor. The oppression in this example is cumulative, meaning the more oppressed groups you belong to, the more oppressed you are likely to be.

          Case and point; In the South in the 1800s, who was better off, the wife of the slave master, or a black man who was one of the slaves they owned? Both were oppressed. Their oppression was not equivalent.

  • lindsaytabas

    This is purely anecdotal because it’s just my story: For 2.5 months, I looked around Philadelphia for help with my business. I posted on Temple’s site, I shared with PSL, and I sent direct links to about 30 people I know. I specifically sent my message to a prominent black/brown member of the community who had expressed frustration (to me) about the lack of opportunities for minorities. I asked him specifically for help, for contacts, for interested parties, etc. I received no response. I figured it was because he was busy and gets way too many emails. >> I will keep asking people to “dance” because I believe this is really important, but know that it takes two to tango. >> While I’m here, I love making valuable introductions. If you feel the same way, and believe you could have helped me in this example situation, please reach out. I’d love to know you.

    • Hey Lindsay, feel free to shoot me a message. Happy to offer advice and help make some connections.

  • Shawn Doyle

    That was hard for me to watch, and reading the commentary here, I think there’s a degree of unfairness in the way that people are talking about both Smith and Yardin. I see both as on the same side, both want substantial change, but they are very far apart on experience and an understanding of the issues. I don’t know Smith, but from what I have read, he’s got a resume that shows he’s been working hard to put solutions in place to provide more opportunities. I’m sure that’s come with more frustrations than most would push past. I’m wouldn’t be considered a minority on almost any spectrum, so I can’t speak from direct experience. However, I’ve heard two complaints that minorities who speak up in this arena unfairly face. First, instead of hearing their message, we acknowledge it off hand but then spend time complaining about the vehicle for delivery. Second, we hear them talk about problems and complain that they never offer solutions. Both undermine the speaker and in the latter case, it’s more often than not that solutions have been presented but we are overreacting to the way the message was delivered and not hearing them. I understand that using ‘we’ here is overgeneralizing, but I have seen enough people in power who genuinely want to help act this way without realizing it, so anyone who want’s to help has to ask themselves if they belong in that we. In short, if I were in Smith’s shoes and had to go through my life facing that, I’m betting I’d be a great deal ruder.

    In terms of the defense of Yardin, I can understand it, but it is a bit misguided. Many people with good intentions do their best to help in similar situations, but ultimately do more harm than good. I thought about what I would do in her position because I could see myself wanting to be a change agent enough to accept an invitation to a panel like this even though as a white person of privilege, I’m in more of a position to benefit as a listener than a speaker. I think I’d probably have fallen into the same traps she did. Like Smith, she is passionate about wanting to create more opportunities, but when she felt her efforts were attacked, she tried falling back on her enthusiasm and desire to effect change, which have served her well in her career so far. Here, she got into a lumberjacking contest and only brought a hammer. Instead of taking a step back and realizing she did not have the tools, she kept pounding away at the tree with hammer. Her ambition is admirable, and I hope she doesn’t let this experience make her any less determined to be a positive force for change. However, I do hope think that she and others who are in this position in the future know that sometimes the best course of action is to stop and assess the tools they have at their disposal.

  • joe

    Tayyib ( i know you are reading this thread ) – are you happy with your performance? Are you standing by your words in retrospect? Do you think your anger is promoting positive change?

    The best way for people to promote equality & understanding is through personal experience. Some of the most racist people i know are people who never had positive experiences with black or brown people – relatives of mine, in fact. I on the other friend have been fortunate in the fact that some of my greatest friends, loved ones and mentors have been black and brown (and female)… that really makes me want to fight for equality… promote marginalized communities.

    Tayyib, your behavior makes me sad, your radical viewpoint is undoing progress. You are hurting the very cause your are fighting for. Please stop.

  • Small Biz Philly

    Do you think it’s possible Yuval’s comments were misunderstood?

  • EDW2000

    Total disrespect shown to the poor woman. Blatant bullying and misogyny. Shameful.


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