A woman records a video as panelists discuss ways to break into Web 3.0 technologies at the TEC Leimert conference. (Richard H. Grant for AfroLA)

A “fresh” take on Blackness in tech at Leimert Park conference

Leimert Park Village buzzed with tech enthusiasts Saturday for the return of the annual TEC Leimert technology conference. This year’s event, themed Black to the Future, centered on the convergence of technology, entertainment and the historically underserved Black community in the tech industry.

In 2018, Black people made up around 8% of tech workers, according to data from the Brookings Institution. Nationally, Black people are about 13% of the population. Events like TEC Leimert aim to close the gap for Black people trying to break into tech. With the Great Resignation, there’s been an uptick in entrepreneurship, especially among tech workers.

Renewed calls for racial justice following the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 have boosted investment in Black-led businesses. Nearly $1.8 billion was provided to Black entrepreneurs in funding, four times more than was given in the same span in 2020, according to a report from Crunchbase News. That’s more in funding for Black entrepreneurs in six months than was seen total in either 2019 or 2020. But, Black businesses are only getting a comparatively small fraction in funding to their counterparts. Black startup entrepreneurs received just 1.2% of the $147 billion in venture capital invested in U.S.-based startups through the first half of 2021.

Mysi Fleming-Hooks, a frequent visitor to the Leimert Park neighborhood, admitted to not being very knowledgeable in tech and attending TEC Leimert to learn more in a space geared toward BIPOC. “I felt like there was something [at the conference] that would resonate with me,” said Fleming-Hooks while waiting for a panel on Web 3.0 tech to start. Fleming-Hooks hopes that she’ll learn relevant skills that will help her in future work for the Black community.

A conference attendee navigates a virtual subway station with a hip hop concert experience during the TEC Leimert conference. (Richard H. Grant for AfroLA)

A crowd of around 80 attendees gathered in the sun to listen to the “Unlocking Your Potential in Web 3.0” panel that brought together internet entrepreneurs Shantal Anderson, Cheyan Satchell and Courtney Olujobi. The trio gave advice on breaking into cryptocurrencies, Non-Fungible Tokens, and blockchain technologies that support everything. “If you like fashion or if you like finances, you just want to make money… there is a way to get into it in the metaverse,” said Satchell, CEO of public relations agency BTS California. Panelists spoke at length about how these technologies can provide business opportunities, but they also cautioned audience members about scams rampant in the sector.

Between panels, attendees could engage in a virtual reality experience curated by Black-led Collimation TV. Participants were transported into a virtual subway station filled with artwork by Young Guru and where they could watch a hip hop performance in the metaverse.

“It was fresh,” said Michael Cage after peeling the VR headset off. “It felt like you were in the New York subway.” The virtual reality authentically mimicked a real NYC subway, complete with virtual rats running around the stage. Cage said that this VR concert felt like something he “would do on a Friday night” because it captured his full attention. “It felt like there wasn’t a crowded room,” he said.

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