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Black Folks & Technology – BIT Summit Kicks Off in Atlanta GA

By R. Wayne Hicks, National BDPA President-Elect

[Atlanta GA] BDPA is the premier organization for African Americans in Information Technology.  As such it was only natural for BDPA to become a national partner to the Blacks In Technology (BIT) Summit called by Tavis Smiley.   The BIT Summit began in Atlanta GA on March 28-30, 2003.  It was truly an amazing event where African Americans and technology converge.  The purposes of the BIT Summit is to bring our nation’s leading technology companies in direct contact with increasing number of African American entrepreneurs, professionals and consumers.  The interactive expo, which included a well-staffed BDPA booth, was extremely lively and inviting for families.  The workshops were relevant and resourceful.  I was honored to be a workshop presenter.  Tyrone Taborn (CEO, Career Communications Group) and I spent 90-minutes interacting with a crowd of 100+ folks regarding ‘Careers in Technology’.  The Q&A session was a non-stop sharing of information for us.   We had fun!

The first day of the BIT Summit was dedicated to our youth.  There were close to 2,000 students in attendance.  The young people attended mini-workshops and a Youth Expo that allowed them to explore video, digital media, imaging products, hidden cameras, gadgets, 3D animation, wireless devices, and other high performance demonstrations.  The teachers attended a workshop on connecting technology to their lesson plans and curriculum standards.  Some of the highlights for the children included the XBOX competition, hands-on workstations loaded with over 300 edutainment programs and the ability to create their own business cards.

There were a couple of personal highlights for me during this event.  First, it is always great to see BDPA members whenever I travel around the country.  It warmed my heart to see Cedrick Moore, president of our BDPA Greater Birmingham chapter in attendance.  He drove from Alabama to Atlanta GA to volunteer on Youth Day and to help staff the BDPA booth on the following day.  The same was true of J.C. Walker, vice-president of our BDPA Orlando chapter, who came up from Florida to assist us.  I understand that Mildred Allen, president of our BDPA Greater Columbia chapter was also at the Summit.  Mildred, Cedrick and J.C. worked shoulder-to-shoulder with members of the BDPA Atlanta team…led by their new president, Perry Chase.  Perry was beaming about his new career opportunities with Unisource.  He was also happy to note that he had recently filled out his leadership team in Atlanta.  A number of those leaders including Marcus Cuttino, Linda Davis, Steve Dorsey, Rick Giraudy, Linley Rahming and Cheryl Sams were in attendance as volunteers at the BDPA booth.  Hundreds of people visited the booth and learned about BDPA.  It was a tremendous marketing opportunity for us.

A second highlight for me was a long discussion held with Winston Smith, Microsoft’s Director of Supplier Diversity.  Mr. Smith shared that only 5% of African American small businesses have a plan for e-commerce compared with 35% for other small businesses.  Mr. Smith was part of a contingent of over 25 Microsoft associates that staffed a massive Small Business Pavilion on the expo floor of the BIT Summit.  Mr. Smith helped me to understand the unique and creative ways in which Microsoft looks to support African American small businesses as well as businesses owned by women and other people of color.  I am hopeful that we will be able to create a forum at our national conference for Mr. Smith to share his vision with our national membership.  It should be noted that Microsoft was the title sponsor of the BIT Summit.  The opening ceremony contained a video welcome from Bill Gates.   One of the 25+ Microsoft associates in attendance was Martin Taylor.  He is the Director of Business Strategy at the company and reports directly to CEO Steve Balmer on a variety of strategic projects and planning.  I had a chance to discuss with Mr. Taylor our desire within BDPA to strengthen our corporate alliance over the coming months and years…and to broaden that relationship beyond just our mutual interest with diversity recruitment.  He agreed, noting that his involvement with BDPA began years earlier while he lived & worked in the New York area. 

Another highlight was seeing the Atlanta mayor, Shirley Franklin, at two separate occasions during the weekend.  She is the first African American woman to be the mayor of a major southern city in the history of our country.  She pointed out that more African Americans have moved to the city of Atlanta in the past few years than have moved to any other city in the country.  I imagine that it is time for us to schedule a NBOD meeting in Atlanta (hint, hint!).

I was pleased to meet with each of the other vendors & corporations that supported the BIT Expo.  I am hopeful that many of the companies that are supporting the Blacks In Technology Summit will eventually find synergy with BDPA on local and national level as well.  Time will tell but the weekend was very encouraging.

Finally, I recall smiling when Omar Waslow, CEO of BlackPlanet.com was walking with me to a press conference and he noted that BDPA were the OG’s of technology.  Not “Original Gangstas” but “Original Geeks”.  I accepted his comment with a smile.  It feels good to be an OG!  We need to get all of the OG’s of technology to return to BDPA. That will be the end result of our efforts to deliver on our mission in the coming months.

The BIT Summit will continue in the coming months.  The next stop on the tour is in Los Angeles on June 13-15.  The final stop for 2003 on this tour will be in Houston TX on July 12-13.   The focus of those tours will broaden to include Hispanics and other people of color.  They will be known as “Multi-Cultural” Summits. 

In conclusion, I can envision a growing relationship between BDPA and Tavis Smiley Presents over the coming months and years.  After all, Blacks In Technology is just another way of saying BDPA!

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