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Minneapolis Black Business Week highlights lack of diversity in tech industry

An audience member asks a question during a panel discussion on the tech industry moderated by U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar on Sunday, July 21 2019. Minneapolis Black Business Week goes through July 27. Photo: Cynthia Simba/Mshale

U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar (left) moderates a panel discussion on the tech industry on Sunday, July 21 2019 during Minneapolis Black Business Week that goes through July 27. Photo: Cynthia Simba/Mshale

U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar gets a hug from an audience member on Sunday, July 21 2019 during Black Business Week at a tech industry panel that the congresswoman moderated. Black Business Week goes through July 27. Photo: Cynthia Simba/Mshale

(L to R) Techquity’s Antoinette Smith, 26 Letters’ Caroline Karanja, and consultant Sam Nabile during a tech sector panel discussion moderated by U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar on Sunday, July 21, 2019 in Minneapolis during that city’s Black Business Week that goes on through July 27. Photo: Cynthia Simba/Mshale

Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey introduces a panel discussion on the tech industry moderated by U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar on Sunday, July 21 2019 during Black Business Week that goes through July 27. Photo: Cynthia Simba/Mshale

Rep. Omar Introduces Congressional App Challenge

As part of the opening weekend for the city of Minneapolis’ first Black Business Week, U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar led a two-hour panel discussion on Sunday in the Gold Room Restaurant and Lounge. The discussion featured three young black leaders that are acting as agents of change in the tech industry. Software engineer and co-founder of Techquity Antoinette Smith, local entrepreneur and CEO of 26 Letters Caroline Karanja, and consultant Sam Nabile shared their knowledge and experiences working in the tech field.

The discussion was introduced by Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey. “This particular day is about tech and specifically the contribution black businesses are making in tech,” said Frey. The topics of the panel ranged from discussing issues facing the tech community in lack of diversity and discussing solutions to help bridge the hiring and wage gap that exists between persons of color and their white counterparts.

As it stands a large majority of positions in tech companies are overwhelmingly Caucasian and male dominated. The case for diversity is urgent to ensure that there is equity in the hiring process and that tech creators resemble tech consumers as well. “We need to be in a space where we are not only the consumers but the creators of technology,” said Karanja.

Antoinette Smith highlighted the need for people of color in the involvement of technology by pointing out the errors that facial recognition technology had when identifying persons of color.

The panel discussed the importance of the tech community in individuals’ lives and the opportunity it can provide for people of color. “Tech is the way we can uplift a lot of lower income people,” said Smith.

Rep. Omar also took the opportunity to announce the launch of the Congressional App Challenge, a nationwide coding competition amongst congressional districts aimed at encouraging young children to learn how to code.

Minneapolis’ first annual Black Business Week is an event that is set to highlight the success of black business around the Twin-Cities. Another goal for the week is to raise awareness for the resources that are available to black business owners and entrepreneurs for them to better scale and grow their businesses. The event has an online directory of black owned business in the Twin-Cities, and will host a job fair and a business expo.

“Economic inclusion is unmaking the legacy of exclusion,” said Frey. The mayor was referring to the United States’ history of racial segregation and economic policies that have worked to exclude members of the black community.

In Minnesota, running a business “has unique challenges for people of color,” said Charlotte Davis, a small business owner from Saint Paul. But despite the obstacles, the Twin-Cities has seen an increase in black owned businesses in recent years from African Americans as well members of the African diaspora.

Minneapolis Black Business Week runs through July 27 and you can lean more here. [1]

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About Cynthia Simba, Mshale Reporter [2]

Cynthia is a graduate of the University of Minnesota School of Journalism. She has interned at Mshale and Voice of America and previously worked at the Minnesota Daily. She recently returned from Seoul, South Korea where she was an English educator.