Black History Month is a great time, but certainly not the only time, to celebrate and further inform ourselves on the deep and intricate history and culture of Black Americans. Black history is just as much about the historical black figures, who paved paths and reached back, as it is about today’s black history-makers.
Throughout the month, we’re challenging ourselves to dive deeper into black history in tech specifically — to highlight those that open doors, blaze entirely new trails, expand collective knowledge and uplift others along their way. If you have more black tech leaders to talk about, share them with us!
See them all here:
Dr. Kortney Ryan Ziegler is a film maker, writer and serial social entrepreneur using his platforms to create and hold space for the LGBTQ+ and black communities in tech. After writing and directing an award-winning film: STILL BLACK: A Portrait of Black Transmen, Dr. Ziegler founded @transh4ck to leverage his growing interest in tech for transadvocacy. What began as a hackathon, but has since grown into a space of resources and support for trans people in the tech industry! “Trans*H4CK has set a new precedent and has started discussions in tech about trans representation” Dr. Ziegler has gone on to co-found a number of other social ventures including @appolition and ZamLabs Tech Incubator.
Meet Frank S. Greene Jr., a true tech trailblazer. Greene studied electrical engineering at Washington University in #StLouis (where he was among the first black students), Purdue University, and Santa Clara University. He later served as an Electronics Officer for the U.S. Air Force where he helped develop high-performance computers. In 1971, Greene founded Technology Development Corporation and later, Zero One Systems, Inc, but he didn’t stop there! In 1993, he rose as a Silicon Valley pioneer when he became the founding General partner of New Vista Capital, a venture capital firm focused funding businesses started by women and minorities.
Valerie Thomas was passionate about math and science from a young age, but was only able to explore that passion when she attended Morgan State University. During her time there, she was one of just two women to study physics. After graduating she accepted a position at NASA, where she managed the development of the image-processing systems for Landsat, the first satellite to send images to the Earth from space. In 1980, she received a patent for the illusion transmitter. The technology is still used by @nasa today and has since been adapted for use in surgery and 3D screens.
Dr. Mae Jemison was the first black woman to travel into space where she spent 190 hours…and that was her second career! Before becoming an astronaut, Jemison began studying chemical engineering and Afro-American studies at Stanford (at age 16!), then later practiced medicine and was a Peace Corps medical officer in Sierra Leone and Libera. After her career as an astronaut, she founded the Jemison Group to research, develop and market advanced technologies. “Never be limited by other people’s limited imaginations…If you adopt their attitudes, then the possibility won’t exist because you’ll have already shut it out … You can hear other people’s wisdom, but you’ve got to re-evaluate the world for yourself.”
In 2011, Kimberly Bryant founded @BlackGirlsCode, which introduces girls of color to computer science. Bryant realized this was a problem she wanted to be a part of solving when her daughter began finding interest and passion in coding. “I was trying to find ways to nurture that talent in her. I was looking for opportunities outside of school. What I saw mirrored what I saw in the industry: Lots of boys, very few girls and not very many people of color at all,” Bryant says. Black Girls Code has introduced more than 4,000 girls to computer science and is playing an instrumental part in raising our next generation of technologists!
Learn more about Kimberly Bryant and Black Girls Code here!
Before becoming the first African American to travel into space, Guion “Guy” Bluford, Jr. spent his life in the aerospace field. After earning a Master’s and PhD in aerospace engineering, he went on to become a decorated Air Force pilot. In 1979, he began his career as an astronaut and spent 688 total hours in space. Today, Guy is the president and founder of The Aerospace Technology Group which provides engineering support, business development, risk assessment, and engineering analysis within the aerospace industry and he occasionally leads public conversations, particularly relating to the contributions of marginalized scientists and thinkers toward today’s complex problems.