A Super Proud Moment in My Life & for the state of Georgia
I have been elected to the Georgia House of Representatives since 2010. I have met diplomats, Presidents, and other high level officials, traveled to 8 different countries representing the state of Georgia and been a part of some great legislative changes to help the 9 million Georgians within this state. But I have NEVER had a prouder moment, outside of being elected by my constituents, than I had on Nov. 8th, 2017 at Atlanta City Hall. Over 150 attendees flooded Atlanta City Hall Old Chambers for a historic event in the state of Georgia: The 1st EVER Georgia Blacks in Tech Policy Conference, an intersection of technology and innovation and policy making and policy makers. Epic is an understatement. (Pictured above: Me and co-chair Rodney Sampson before event.)
The Vision Is Born
So how did I come up with this event?
Well, I had an opportunity to attend a blacks in tech networking event in Atlanta in May of this year. I expected there to be up to 100 blacks in tech at the event. But when I entered the room, there had to be almost 1,000 blacks involved in tech! Imagine my shock and excitement at the same time. The purpose of the event was to talk about the Atlanta black tech scene and how to move forward for creating better opportunities. After I heard presentation after presentation, while the suggestions were good, I realized there was something that was missing: policy. To be honest, for whatever reason, policy seems to almost ALWAYS be missing from the conversation whenever an industry in the black community wants to discuss change. Something had to be done to underscore the importance of involving policy makers in tech change. Luckily, I had to the ability to do something about this. And so I set to work.
I had NO money, NO volunteers, NO co-chair, NO venue and NO way of knowing how I was going to pull this off in May of this year when I came up with this event so let me take the time to say THANK YOU to not only the planning committee, but each one of the sponsors that took a leap of faith to put their trust in me for this 1st time event.
Policy Meets Technology
No matter if you vote or who you voted for, policy affects us all….every last person in the United States and Georgia. So either you get in the game or you will find yourself only being able to talk about change without actually doing it. As it is often quoted in politics, “If you are not at the table, you are on the menu.”
I was lucky to have been just featured in a Huffington Post article by Mr. Rodney Sampson, who is one of the most politically active technology personalities I know in Georgia. In this article, he listed 25 people best positioned to scale Atlanta’s growing inclusive technology ecosystem. I thought to myself that these individuals should form the Host committee for this historic event. No vetting necessary! I was off to a good start!
After some discussions with Rodney, he accepted my offer to become Co-Chair for this event. His participation was VITAL to it’s success. I can bring the policy makers to the table but if there is no tech credibility behind this venture in the black tech community, it’s dead on arrival. So what you ended up having for this event is a leader in state policy and a leader in tech joining forces for to advance the black tech ecosystem here in Georgia through policy. This conference was well on its way. So I booked Nov. 8th for use of the Georgia State Capitol House Chambers, appropriations room, South wing and 2 of its largest rooms. I was ready to go!
No pain, no gain
Here is the ugly truth, pure D.K. style: There are those that were scared and did not want a bunch of black people at the State Capitol. Period. End of story. Nothing can change my mind about that. And they had a reason to be scared; there is POWER in numbers and 30% of Georgia is black. And we were coming with specific, policy requests from influential technology leaders in the state. I was ruffling some feathers…as I tend to do at times.
Long story short, we ended up having to change the location from the Georgia State Capitol to Atlanta City Hall. To that end, I would like to personally thank Councilman Andre Dickens and his team, specifically Ali Carter, for whom I shall be eternally grateful for helping us through the location crisis. Kiona Byrd, Logistics Chair for the conference, helped tremendously being an employee of the City of Atlanta and working on the ground everyday. Their contributions to the success of this event cannot be overstated. (For those of you that are the Christian faith, Romans 8:28 comes to mind.)
Just when you thought an abrupt change in location would be the only catastrophe that happens when planning an event, there was more in store. ANY and EVERYTHING that could go WRONG with a conference, went wrong with this one. Ladies and gentlemen, I am NOT exaggerating. And although I have planned literally thousands of events, all with their own hiccups and problems, this conference has specifically prepared me to take on ANYTHING I may encounter for future events. And for that reason, I “count it all joy” each of the problems below.
- I had a large sponsor who tried to get out of sponsoring, i.e. paying the money, for the event at the last minute after almost 2 months of promoting and expenses incurred. Luckily, that was resolved rather quickly.
- I lost members of the planning committee. When I say “lost”, I mean they either decided that they could no longer participate or were removed from the committee. We went from 26 people who wanted to “help” to 10, the “Talented Ten”. My standards of execution, even if on a volunteer basis, are remarkably high. I don’t do mediocre.
- I had a caterer charge my credit card for an amount I didn’t authorize and having to wait days for it to credit back to my account. Ultimately, we went another more FABULOUS caterer.
- The program and policy proposals had to be updated several times due to unread emails and misunderstandings. This cost us time and money—neither of which we had much to spare as a planning committee. We eventually got it all worked out.
I have never had an event where I have experienced every type of emotion there is to experience: happiness, sadness, excitement, anxiety, frustration, anger, delight, and everything in between. It was quite a learning experience—-but keep reading! It was well worth it.
In the end, we did it!
However, after all of the above, we did it! (Pictured above with Ali Carter from Councilman Andre Dickens office, Planning committee member/Logistics Chair Kiona Byrd, myself, Rodney Sampson, conference Co-Chair and Councilman Andre Dickens present us with proclamations from the Atlanta City Council.)
• Over 305 registrants, 105 attendees
• 27 GA legislators
• Over 25 volunteers, including 12 full time volunteers on the planning committee
• 14 black tech vendors displaying products or services
• 13 sponsors, including TriNet and Microsoft
• 8 superstar honorees making a significant impact in the Atlanta black ecosystem
• Press: 1 interview on WABE-FM’s “Closer Look” with black tech entrepreneur Ben McFarlin, GA House Press Release and Article in On Common Ground News and UrbanGeekz article (more to come in the following weeks and will be posted on webpage)
• Comprehensive and direct policy proposals for consideration by members of the Georgia General Assembly made up of 180 House Representatives, of which I am one, and 56 Senators
Call to Action: We are not done!
What I told attendees at the conference is what I am telling you all reading this: We are not done! The conference was only the beginning—policy proposals are one thing; getting them introduced and passed are a whole DIFFERENT ballgame. We need your continued involvement to see positive change in the state.
I invite you to sign up for my enewsletter and to join the Facebook group to stay informed about what is going on from blacks in tech from a policy perspective. I will also upload future pictures from the event and video once available.
Additionally, I have developed a follow up “Day of Action” and on the same day a Communications & Tech Symposium, hosted by the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus. These are two (2) separate events so if you would like to attend BOTH, please separately register for BOTH.