Powering the Digital Revolution: National Urban League Devotes its Annual Conference to Tech

TNJ Senior Editor Sergie Willoughby with panelists Calvin Cooper, Brian Dixon, Shauntel Garvey and David Hall

In a recent interview with Ray Miller, publisher of the Columbus & Dayton African American News Journal, National Urban League President Marc Morial addressed the digital revolution taking place in the world, and the imperative of Black participation. “It is changing every aspect of our lives. How we handle money; how we communicate; and how we procure health. It’s changing transportation. Every element of our life is disrupted and changing. It is providing economic opportunities and jobs, and Black people have to be a part of that,” he said. “No one is going to stop the digital revolution. We have to make sure the digital revolution is more inclusive going forward than it has been in the past.”



Morial acted on those words in a big way by dedicating this year’s annual National Urban League Conference to technology. Titled “Save Our Cities: Powering the Digital Revolution” and hosted by Columbus Urban League, Aug. 1 – 4, the conference was an amalgam of panels, plenary sessions, forums, hackathons, award galas, fireside chats, and a career and networking fair featuring recruiters from the nation’s top companies across a variety of sectors. The Network Journal was among the estimated 20,000 attendees for the three days of “community, culture, connection and change” programming to improve the state of Black America. Below we highlight three of the featured panels.



Ctrl, Alt, Delete: Shutting Down Tech’s Racial Gap. Moderated by Randal Pinkett, Ph.D., chairman and CEO of BCT Partners, this panel took no prisoners. Panelists spoke bluntly about tech companies bearing a fiduciary responsibility to stockholders to invest in diversity; large companies failing to make significant changes until mistakes happen (as in the case of ads by Dove and Pepsi), provoking negative backlash and loss of market share; brands missing revenue projections because they don’t speak to diverse audiences; and an overhaul of hiring practices at tech companies.



VC 101: Attracting Venture Capital for Your Startup. Moderated by TNJ Senior Editor Sergie Willoughby, the VC 101 panel explained the ways of that esoteric, in-demand group of individuals we call venture capitalists. VCs are funding some of today’s most successful startups, including those that are Black-founded. VCs are an elusive group. If you’re ready to pitch and know how to pitch (half-stepping will get you sidelined), and if you have a hot, venture-backable business try to get a referral to meet one of them, or sharpen your networking skills and make friends with investors.


VC 101: Attracting Venture Capital for Your Startup


Black Ownership: Taking Our Power Back. Moderated by Laysha Ward, executive vice president and chief external engagement officer at Target, this discussion was a jam-packed showstopper for the sole reason that Richelieu Dennis and Essence Communications President Michelle Ebanks spoke about the rebirth of Essence magazine as a Black-owned company once again, thanks to an investment by Dennis’ Essence Ventures LLC. “Since BET was sold, why have we not been able to get another one? Where are the Black-owned businesses of scale? That’s our own fault,” Dennis said. “A concern for Black entrepreneurs is their fear of being reliant upon Black people. We have to take back our ownership.” With razor-edge honesty, Dennis enthralled women and men alike with his practical business sense and advice, and his plans to keep Essence competitive.