Dominion of New York


November 18, 2011

How to Build A Black Silicon Valley?

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Written by: Kelly Virella
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When Obama dined with technology business leaders in February, all of them were white. Photo by Pete Souza

Obama dined with technology business leaders in February. All of them were white. Photo by Pete Souza

Because the Gathering of Angels conference aims to be the launchpad for a movement, organizers urge attendees to return to their communities and begin mobilizing them. For instance, they ask people to create an asset map of their communities — particularly the names of local angel investors of any race — and send them to America21. But for some attendees, such admonitions are too vague, raising concerns that the initiative will flounder. Jarvis Sulcer — the Director of Education Programs at the Level Playing Field Institute, a San Francisco based non-profit that promotes innovative approaches to fairness in education and the workplace — stands up during the last 30 minutes of the session to say he’s frustrated there isn’t a more concrete plan. “Everybody needs to leave here with one thing, one specific thing they can do,” he says. “I’m tired of going to places and talking about these problems and not seeing any follow-up or action.”

Fraser predicts that given how uncoordinated black business people are right now, the process of learning to work together will take 100 years. “It took us 250 years to get out of slavery, 100 years to end Jim Crow, and I think it will take another 100 years for us to close the wealth gap with white people,” he says. “I say that because it seems to take at least a century for us to do anything.”

An omen of the struggle ahead is the disagreement that erupts between himself and Ahmad-Llewellyn over whether the goal of the movement should be wealth creation or economic development. She prefers the former. He prefers the latter. “We’re saying the same things just two different ways,” he repeats, while she insists otherwise.

Another omen of the struggle ahead comes from a panelist who — during the last 30 minutes of the conference — announces that blacks don’t make good customers or good vendors, throwing the room into an uproar. When several attendees insist that he avoid judging all black vendors and customers on the basis of his limited experience, he persists. His example: a black web developer that he once hired disappeared for 8-months during the project, without giving any explanation. “I’ve been burned by black people too many times,” he says.

An organizer restores calm to the room by asking everyone to re-focus on the mission and the attendees finish creating their list of action-items.


About the Author

Kelly Virella
Kelly Virella lives in an East Harlem walk-up with her husband, her bicycle and her books. She's worked as a journalist for 11 years and started this website during the summer of 2011. She fell in love with New York City during her first visit here as a 16-year-old and finally made good on her promise to move here in April 2010.


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