It could have been a Blogher meet up 2004, or an early Tech Crunch gathering circa 2008, but it was the first San Francisco/Bay area digitalundivided gathering, called START, and held in a borrowed room at Google’s Spear Street offices, that got everyone present so excited.
In some ways, Friday’s gathering–which featured a talk by digitalundivided founder Kathryn Finney, moderated by SF’s own Cheryl Contee, had the vibes of every tech/media event with an eager crowd: young start-up founders, a smattering of investors, writers (including Gawker’s Nitasha Tiku ), and its own hashtag (#didStart), but it was different in one notable way: 90% of the people in the room were people of color, women, queer, or some mix of the above. Bay area connectors including Wayne Sutton, Monique Woodward, Brian Dixon, Carla Mays, Impact HubOakland‘s Konda Mason and Ashara Ekundayo, Pitchmixer‘s Ayori Se, and Hack the Hood‘s Zakiya Harris joined a packed room so eager to talk and connect, Google security had to gently push everyone out at 8:30PM.
Finney, a Yale-educated scientist who created an enormously successful fashion blog called the Budget Fashionista (TBF), told the crowd that she got the idea for digitalundivided–and the related conference Focus 100– when she became interested in working in tech, investment in her company, and tech incubator culture and quickly learned that not only was she often the only black person in the room, she was dealing with investor and tech business people “who had no experience with black women except as people who took their check at the restaurant.” Friends with the crew at Blogher, Finney got support from Camahort, Stone and Des Jardins to run a small event in 2012; 2 years later, she says, her web site and program reach more than three million people a year online.
Finney, a witty and truth talking New Yorker, didn’t mince any words in her presentation, and moderator Contee matched her quip for quip. Among the one liners that delighted the audience (who tracked everything on Twitter):
- Being black, your automatically the coolest person on the room –@ch3ryl
- “You can’t have a b*tchy resting face. Appear approachable. – @KathrynFinney
- Being smart is only ½ the battle – people hire people they want to hang out with.
- We need to give our kids a new perception on college education. A degree won’t get you a job anymore.
- We are the ones that we have been waiting for. @ch3ryl
- Alot of our kids look at mark zuckerberg and they don’t want to be him. I’m keeping it straight 100. He is not hot.
- Our spirits are infinite but our bodies are finite. –@ch3ryl
- The general market is not 24 year old straight white guys…the business case doesn’t even make any sense.
- There is no diversity and diversity doesn’t just mean race. It’s not just gender; it’s class… It comes from everywhere.
- There are not enough Black people in tech for us to be competitive.
- You can’t be what you can’t see.
At the end of the night, Finney and crew praised the crowd, pitched the fall 2014 Focus 100 conference (which turns out to fall during the Jewish holy days of Yom Kippur), and invited everyone to join the online community. The brilliant turn-out, and the high level of interaction suggest that digitalundivided is right that the Bay’s tech entrepreneurs of color and their allies need more connection–the next step is for everyone here to keep connecting.