Saturday, March 30, 2013

Pretty Brown Girl Movement: Changing Girls One Doll at a Time

She had blonde hair, fair skin and blue eyes. She looked nothing like little Aliya and Laila Crowley, who were affectionately called “pretty brown girls” since birth by their father Corey. Still, the then five-year-old and six-year-old sisters and their African American friends wanted her: the pretty white doll.

Shocked and disheartened by what should have been a fun birthday party at an American Girl Doll store, where even if little Aliya and Laila wanted to choose an African American doll, their only option would have been a freed slave. Sheri and Corey Crowley decided that they needed to do something to make their girls and girls around the country see that their brown was beautiful.

However, the incident in the doll store was only a small part of a larger issue the Crowleys were seeing in their daughters. After moving to a predominately white neighborhood outside of Detroit, Sheri began to notice that Laila was beginning to develop identity and self-esteem issues from being the only African American student in her class.

“She started asking me for products that she would see sold on TV, so if it was a Pantene commercial where she would see long blonde hair similar to her table mates,  she would ask me to buy it thinking that it would change her hair,” Sheri explained.

Combining the concern of their young daughter’s growing identity issues and the incident at the doll store, Sheri and her husband decided to create a doll.

The couple morphed their daughter’s faces together to create the first ever “Pretty Brown Girl Doll.” While waiting for the doll to be manufactured, the Crowley’s established a hugely successful t-shirt line adorned with the slogan “Pretty Brown Girl Movement.”  Over 500 girls attended a celebration to honor ‘Pretty Brown Girls’ and had real conversations about having self-love.

After receiving such high praise for the event and t-shirts, the Crowley’s quickly learned that their family was not the only ones dealing with issues of identity. People across the country began to call the Crowleys asking how they could contribute to the organization or how they could duplicate their mission in their hometowns.

Overnight, what started as a tool to remind their girls to love their own brown skin became a movement for every girl and woman across the country.

The outpouring of support made Sheri realize that the “Pretty Brown Girl Movement” was filling a big void.  She noted, “That’s when we could see the need… there really is no formal platform that exists that addresses skin tone and self-esteem, particularly to girls.”

She went on to explain further, “Even though this is such an elephant in the room, everybody that’s a person of color goes through something related to skin tone. There absolutely wasn’t anything in place to facilitate a conversation about what this means to be a pretty brown girl.”

Not surprisingly, the movement is supported by 60% women who are looking to help out the young women in their lives as well as themselves. Many of these women exclaim, “I needed to have this when I was growing up and I’m going to wear my shirt in corporate America, and I’m a pretty brown girl and I need to tell myself that now!”

The Pretty Brown Girl Foundation uses their dolls, t-shirts and community-based programs to establish a platform where girls and women can discuss the realities of being a brown girl and a brown woman in America.

In an ideal world, what does Sheri hope a little girl will gain from the “Pretty Brown Girl Movement”?:
“For girls everywhere to know that they were created perfectly in the image of God. And for them to celebrate and love the skin they’re in. …To really understand that she is special and that she doesn’t need to look like anyone but herself. When you’re comfortable in the skin you’re in and you can go throughout your day and feel that power. Power in knowing that and having that self-confidence and self-esteem when you look in the mirror and you see your face that you’re excited about your own reflection and every girl deserves to have that special feeling.”

On February 23, 2013, the foundation held the first ever “International Pretty Brown Girl Day”, sponsored by General Motors, which was established  to celebrate everything that Sheri mentioned above.

For more information about how you can purchase a doll or get involved in the organization, visit

Thursday, March 28, 2013


South by Southwest (SXSW) is a massive conference where collaboration is king, and big ideas emerge. It is the innovation and technology platform where Twitter and Foursquare were launched. Starting in early March, more than 3,000 reporters from around the globe will descend upon Austin, Texas, America’s fastest growing city and one of the nation’s major hubs of tech innovation. Many journalists are hoping to find and report on the next big idea. They won’t have long to wait.

More than 2,000 miles from Austin, something big is already happening in Portland, Oregon that will debut on a national stage at SXSWedu. It’s called “Inclusive Competitiveness.”

The shifting demographics of the U.S. require metric tools and lexicon that offer insight and understanding into how well metropolitan regions perform economically across a diverse landscape of residents. Inclusive Competitiveness measures the economic performance of diverse populations in innovation ecosystems and clusters, emerging technology sectors and other areas critical to U.S. economic competitiveness.

Inclusive Competitiveness is the brainchild of Johnathan Holifield, a co-founder of The America21 Project (America21) and Vice President of Inclusive Competitiveness at Nortech, a tech-based economic development powerhouse covering 21 counties in Northeast Ohio. Holifield, who was recently highlighted in Forbes, will sit on a panel I organized for opening day at SXSWedu titled, “Saving America’s Black Boys.”

Grammy award-winning music producer, Jermaine Dupri, will join Holifield on the SXSWedu panel along with Chad Womack, Ph.D., National Director of STEM Education for the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), and Jim Staton, a successful North Carolina businessman whose parents were sharecroppers.

Saving America’s Black Boys Through Inclusive Competitiveness

The next day, on March 5 at the George Washington Carver Museum, in partnership with Tammara McDonald, founder and president of Game Changerz, Inc. and vice president Diatra James, along with Jim Staton Jr. of Top Flight LLC, I will launch a national campaign at the Saving America’s Black Boys (SABB) Solutions Summit.

The SABB Solutions Summit is a historic gathering of more than 100 national, regional and local leaders, celebrity influencers and pro athletes who seek to develop innovative solutions that bridge the education divide and bolster economic competitiveness in local regions across America through the framework of inclusion.

The SABB Solutions Summit is the launch pad for a national campaign and series of Solutions Summits across the nation designed to catalyze an unprecedented 21st century national economic movement built upon the principles of inclusive competitiveness. Holifield will keynote the Austin SABB Solutions Summit.

Black Innovation Group (BIG)

The proposed outcome of the Austin SABB Solutions Summit will be the initial phase of developing a permanent “Black Innovation Group” (BIG) comprised of local leaders representing various parts of Austin’s innovation ecosystem — from the pipeline of STEM education to the productivity of high-growth entrepreneurship and access to capital. These leaders will devise generational economic strategies, plans and programs based upon a framework I call, “Pipeline2Productivity,” targeting America’s Black boys — one of the most disconnected demographic sectors of our society. The BIG will ultimately build an opportunity pipeline that connects to the local innovation ecosystem and the five-year goals established by the region’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategies (CEDS) plan.

Pipeline2Productivity and Urban Innovation

The current test phase of this new Pipeline2Productivity framework is Portland, Oregon, where the nonprofit, Ideal Portland, is partnering with the Portland Development Commission, the city’s economic development agency, and the Office of Mayor Charlie Hales to conduct the work of research, collaboration and convening the nation’s first inclusive Urban Innovation Roundtable (UIR) to develop an inclusive entrepreneurship action plan for the region.

While the SABB Campaign is more narrowly focused on the work of investing in the education and entrepreneurial ingenuity of America’s Black boys, Portland is investing in a broader inclusive innovation landscape through development of the UIR.

I first introduced the idea for development of a UIR on Nov. 4, 2011 during a gathering of black leaders hosted by Sharon Jones, Dean of the Shiley Engineering Department at the University of Portland. The concept is based upon the core economic philosophy of Holifield’s inclusive competitiveness. Essentially, investing in cultivating and nurturing local talent across all racial groups will result in: an increase in qualified workers for an increasingly tech-based workforce and more tech startup entrepreneurs creating jobs and strengthening the economic competitiveness of the local innovation economy.

Investing in Black Innovators

The latter point is key: Nearly all net new jobs, since 1980, are the result of startups (according to the Kauffman Foundation). Yet, while Black entrepreneurs grew 60 percent from 2002-2007 to a historic high level of 1.9 million Black-owned businesses, 1.8 million were sole proprietors with zero employees. And total revenue from all Black-owned businesses amounted to less than 1 percent of GDP.

Then, the economy collapsed.

Today, if the creative entrepreneurial spirit of Black boys is to be cultivated and nurtured for significant future contribution to the job creation arena, it will require deliberate long-term investment. The SABB Campaign seeks to inform leaders, influencers and stakeholders of the opportunities inherent in cultivating an entrepreneurial infrastructure and resource pipeline that invests in the creativity of America’s Black boys, and inculcates a culture of innovation in Black communities.

Portland: Center of Tech Inclusion Universe

Last year, Oregon Business magazine ran a cover story on me and The America21 Project, a nonprofit I co-founded with Holifield and Womack. The prescient cover read: “The Next Tech Revolution.” That revolution begins with STEM education, which is key to an inclusive economic transformation. SXSWedu is the introduction of Inclusive Competitiveness on a national stage. Portland is the petri dish where it is currently being developed.

Portland is also the focus of the Activate Local Communities Across America Initiative (ALC), born out of a series of Tech Inclusion Roundtables (TIR) with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), led by President Obama’s Chief Technology Officer Todd Park. A convening of the first TIR took place last summer, initiated by Mitch Kapor, founder of Lotus Development Corporation, Kapor Capital and co-founder of the Level Playing Field Institute (with his wife, Freada Kapor Klein).

Microsoft Research partnered with America21 during the TIR to establish a framework for deploying the ALC Initiative. Portland is one of three pilot cities whose mayors committed to the process (along with Chicago and Cambridge, Mass). Portland will activate its local communities by convening a TIR and catalyze the process of forming a permanent UIR through collaboration with America21 and Ideal Portland.

Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber recognizes the key to Oregon’s economic future is inclusion. At the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Conference in Portland last November, Kitzhaber held a private “ScaleUp” rally at the headquarters of famed marketers, Wieden + Kennedy, for national and local leaders to gather and start the discussion of breaking down walls of competitive silos and working together to provide needed resources on national, state and regional levels. These resources can be targeted to scale up local economies by making investments in inclusion processes, policies and people that serve to strengthen the economic competitiveness of the overall region.

Portland Development Commission

No inclusive innovation framework or economic transformation can be developed without strong support from local institutional powers. The Portland Development Commission (PDC) has supported the idea of establishing an inclusive economic ecosystem since the day I promoted the concept in a keynote address to 1,000 attendees at The Skanner MLK Breakfast Celebration more than a year ago.
PDC Executive Director Patrick Quinton is also supporting the SABB Solutions Summit in Austin as a sponsor and bringing a delegation of Black tech entrepreneurs from Portland, including Portland’s Chief Technology Officer Ben Berry, and Ideal Portland founder Dwayne Johnson, to offer insight into their experiences in Portland’s developing inclusive innovation ecosystem.
PDC will also promote the recently launched StartupPDX Challenge as an opportunity for entrepreneurs from underserved populations to access the city’s startup ecosystem. Challenge winners will receive free rent for a year, a $10,000 grant, and in-kind services from the region’s top professional firms and accelerators.

Inclusive Competitiveness: America’s Next BIG Idea

Starting March 4, the nation will turn its attention to SXSWedu which kicks off the series of conferences that comprise the total SXSW experience, where more than 65,000 attended last year. SXSWedu, with Bill Gates delivering the keynote address, targets the fastest growing innovation landscape, education.

There’s no doubt that shifting racial demographics across America have turned the nation’s attention to the challenge of closing education and economic gaps, and adequately preparing historically targeted and disconnected sectors of society to participate and be competitive in a 21st century knowledge-based, tech-driven global innovation economy. The ideas introduced at SXSWedu promise to be innovative, with many focused on strengthening the landscape of America’s global economic competitiveness through the prism of education.
The biggest idea set to launch at SXSWedu is one that already has traction from the White House to the Silicon Forest: Inclusive Competitiveness.

Monday, March 25, 2013

BLACK GIRLS CODE: Teaching a New Generation of Innovators

Until such time that schools provide essential skills to all students, certain individuals and organizations are stepping in to fill the void -- and possibly to make headway from the fringes to influence the infrastructure of the school systems. We met a few of these changemakers recently at the Big Ideas Fest in Half Moon Bay who are bringing these essential tools to students.

Moving from being consumers of media to creators is the goal of Black Girls Code, an organization devoted to teaching girls of color in-demand skills when they're thinking about what they want to be when they grow up, says founder Kimberly Bryant.

Read more here:

Footage from "Black Girls Code" Directed by Buffy Almendares, Angelisa Candler, Jacob Hirsohn, Owen Smith-Clark, and Takai Ginwright. This video was produced by Bay Area Video Coalition's The Factory, an after school media arts program.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Insider: Cedric Brown, CEO of the Mitchell Kapor Foundation

Our latest Insider is Cedric Brown, CEO of the Mitchell Kapor Foundation, an Oakland, CA based family foundation, which supports organizations that provoke social change in communities of color en route to equality.  The foundation was founded by entrepreneur and philanthropist Mitchell Kapor in 1997 to support programs and activities that address the urgent needs and issues in our society.

Cedric has over 20 years of career experience as an educator and funder, working with the San Francisco Foundation, San Francisco Education Fund, Switzer Foundation and Level Playing Field Institute among others.   He has served as a board/committee member of Northern California Grantmakers, Funders Committee for Civic Participation and Council on Foundation's Family Philanthropy Committee; and was immediate past board chair of Bay Area Blacks in Philanthropy (BABIP).

In 2010, Cedric received the Association for Black Foundation Executives (ABFE) Emerging Leader in Philanthropy Award and was profiled as a 2011 Changemaker in the San Francisco Chronicle. Cedric is from Winston-Salem, North Carolina and holds degrees from the University of North Carolina and Stanford University, and an executive certificate from Georgetown University.

Cedric was one of the first African Americans in philanthropy that I met in the San Francisco Bay Area, when I covered the BABIP State of the Race Conference in 2010.  Recently I had an opportunity to talk with Cedric about his career and one of his foundation’s most visible initiatives, the College Bound Brotherhood.

How did you get your start in philanthropy and why did you choose it as a career?

I feel like I stumbled into the philanthropic sector.  I was trained as an educator and worked in a middle school before landing a program associate job at the San Francisco Education Fund.  This provided my first introduction to grantmaking and the notion of philanthropy.  It was there that I assisted with, and eventually ran, their signature grants for teachers program.  I immediately liked being able to galvanize and direct resources in a responsive way, and have remained in the field since then.

What advice would you give to young professionals that wish to pursue a career in philanthropy and grantmaking?

Definitely develop a deep familiarity with a particular field (because most grantmakers have skills and backgrounds rooted in the issue-driven work that they eventually support as program officers). Folks should also understand that there many doors into the funding sector, not just through program officer positions and grantmaking.  Communications, donor relations, and corporate relations are also great ways to work in pursuit of a foundation’s mission and greater community impact.

I also want to make a distinction between “philanthropy” and “funders.” My above advice is connected to funding institutions like foundations.  Many people have the potential to be a philanthropist at some level; both of the Obama presidential campaigns and the growing presence of giving circles across the nation give credence to the impact of collected “small” dollars.

Please share a favorite success story from one of the Mitchell Kapor Foundation’s initiatives.

I want to first point out the fantastic impact that our grant partners have had in their respective communities.  Out of all of the critical work we’ve helped to support, I’m probably proudest of the organizations that have worked really hard to ensure our fair and participatory democracy in the U.S. I’m proud that we were one of the earliest supporters of Voto Latino, which has now grown into a multi-million dollar organization with tremendous reach in engaging mostly young Latino/a voters.  I also deeply respect the Advancement Project, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the NAACP, and Color of  Individually and collectively, those organizations fought back the rampant voter suppression efforts in the 2012 elections and opened the doors for people to vote – even if they had to stand in line for hours to do it.  We don’t often see the tremendous work that goes into basic protection of our rights, but rest assured that these good folks are always fighting the good fight.

One of your foundation's programs is the College Bound Brotherhood. Why did your foundation start this program and why is this work important?

The College Bound Brotherhood grew out of an office kitchen conversation between me and Freada Kapor Klein, our board chair.  We saw the lack of black male applicants to our education programs – both at the high school and college levels – and wanted to create an institutional response.  Why is this work important?  Because even in today’s economy, a college degree is a proxy for greater economic mobility.  African American boys are less likely to have enrolled in college prep courses (including AP classes), less likely to graduate from high school, less likely to enroll in college, and less likely to complete a college degree than any of their counterparts – including black women.  We know that male students at HBCUs are highly likely to be outnumbered by their female peers; sometimes there are twice as many women!  These imbalances point to the grave importance of ensuring the success of young black men in their college pursuits – our families and communities need their brainpower, income, and leadership!  There are so many more reasons to underscore, but I’ll stop there.

As a successful African American man, why do you feel it is important for African American men to play an active role in ensuring the success of African American boys and young men?

While I understand and respect most of the old adages about the importance of black men “mentoring” (broadly speaking) black boys and youth, I’m personally committed to the cause because young black men need to understand the broad range of positive black male expression.  Our archetypes aren’t just limited to athletes, entertainers, buppies, and blue collars.  Sometimes in our quests to be Black and manly, we don’t allow ourselves enough space to just be human.  Additionally, I don’t think this guidance should be the sole responsibility of black men – everyone can (and must) contribute and play a role in shaping and supporting our youth.

What events or projects are upcoming for the College Bound Brotherhood initiative and how can people get involved?

I’m so excited that the Brotherhood has now grown into a fantastic partnership with the College Access Foundation of California, which allows us to double the size and scope of the Brotherhood’s work, both with young black men and the programs that support them en route to a college degree. We’re going to have a launch event in April (check our website for information as it unfolds). Perhaps one of the best things that interested folks can do is volunteer time at one of the Brotherhood member organizations, which are listed in our online database,

What is your greatest career lesson?

I think it’s hugely important to carve out what you do and don’t want to do, job-responsibility-wise, and don’t be afraid to ask for what you want.  Then “pray like it all depends on God; work like it all depends on you.” And always maintain your integrity.

Visit the website at and College Bound Brotherhood at

About Tokiwa Smith:
A native of Miami, FL and an alumnus of Florida A & M University, Ms. Tokiwa T. Smith is a social entrepreneur and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) educator with over 10 years’ experience working in education and philanthropy. She is the Founder and Executive Director of Science, Engineering and Mathematics Link Inc. and CEO of Kemet Educational Services, a STEM education consulting firm.  Tokiwa was recently named as one of 10 Black Tech Twitter Tweeps to Watch by


Monday, March 18, 2013

Social Enterprise #BlackGirlsHack Announces Name Change

Premier African American hackathon series changes name to reflect expanding reach

Washington, DC  February 15, 2012 – #BlackGirlsHack (#BGH), is pleased to announce its new name: Blerdology. This change is a part of a larger rebranding effort to emphasize its on going outreach to a wider audience of emerging innovators, entrepreneurs and tech professionals as well as the diversification of its programming and events.

What is Blerdology? Well, it’s the Science of Black Nerds. The social enterprise is focused on the enhancement and celebration of the back tech community and will act as black tech’s portal to all things blerdy. Blerdology seeks to promote initiatives that fuel ambitions, facilitate collaboration and make blerd life just a little bit more awesome.

“As a proud blerd I am thrilled to expand our mission and explore the multiple ways that Blerdology can build and grow the blerd movement,” says Blerdology CEO Kat Calvin. “From hackathons to educational webisodes, t-shirts declaring our blerdness and even the occasional Uhura love fest, Blerdology is going to rock the tech community and take the blerd movement to another level.”

Blerdology/BlackGirlsHack is widely known as the pioneer in the cultivation of minority focused hackathons. Their first event, #BlackHack at the Hype, brought together hundreds of the top minority tech professionals in Atlanta, GA to show off their coding skills in a friendly competition. As a catalyst for growth and support in local tech communities, the #BlackHack series is an interactive outlet for personal and professional development for tech enthusiasts. Attendees are exposed to a wealth of industry insights and business consulting and have the opportunity to get their resumes in the hands of top tech corporations. Building projects on site for little to no costs, #BlackHacks are a novel way for budding entrepreneurs to get their projects off the ground and an interactive outlet for Blerdology to benefit progressive neighborhood charities.

The #BGH rebrand  is accompanied by new website,, which features an assortment of blerd news, features, events and merchandise as well as the next installment of #BlackHacks. Blerdology will be hacking film and music projects with sponsors Blacks in Technology and Electronic Arts March 9-10 in Austin, TX during SXSWi followed by #BlackHack Newark April 6-7 in partnership with Rutgers University Business School.

To learn more about Blerdology please visit

RSVP to attend #BlackHack Hollywood at

Join the Blerdology Movement on:




For media inquiries or sponsorship requests contact: Amanda Spann, Chief Marketing Officer of Blerdology at (904)476-8003 or at

Monday, March 11, 2013

Physics Wiz Graduates From College at 18

Polite Stewart Jr.
Making a mark in physics research
Age: 19
School: Southern University
Hometown: Baton Rouge, La.
Gender: Male
Category: Science and Technology
Polite was 3 years old when his parents pulled him out of day care and his father began teaching him at home. He loved learning science -- and he clearly had an aptitude for it. At the young age of 14, he enrolled full time as a student at Southern University, majoring in physics. At Southern, Polite spent a summer looking for ways to mark specific proteins in cancer cells using fluorescent dye. The objective was to more easily find the cells so they could be destroyed. During a summer spent at North Carolina State University, he was part of a research team that worked to create self-cleaning, anti-glare glass that would repel vast amounts of water and oil through the use of a concept called hydrophobicity.

Polite graduated in December 2012 at 18 and is believed to be the youngest to do so in the history of Southern University. His plan is pursue a career in which he can apply the science he loves to the real world. "I just love learning," Polite said. "It doesn't matter what. That's why I like science so much. There is always something new to be discovered."

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Beating the Odds: Two African-American Men Launch Thriving School for Coding

Due to the surge of gang violence in Chicago’s urban communities, when most people hear the phrase “African-American men in Chicago,” they instantly associate the conversation to violence, but two African-American men in Chicago are changing that perception slowly but surely.

Mark McGee and Neal Sales-Griffin co-founded Starter League, a thriving coding school that teaches people how to build websites and apps. According to McGee, the school acquired more than $1M-$2M in revenue last year. In the past two years, more than 500 people from 30 states and 15 countries have traveled to Chicago to take classes at a school started by McGee and Sales-Griffin.  McGee and Sales-Griffin are part of the fewer than 1 percent of tech start-ups founded by African-Americans.

When McGee was asked whether he realizes the significance of an African-American playing a key role in the tech start-up world, he said: “Honestly, no, because I’m just too busy focusing on going forward. We really feel that if you give someone the opportunity and inspire them and show that there are people who look like them that are doing this, then they can do this too.” McGee and Sales-Griffin’s services have expanded beyond their building and will be offered in 16 Chicago Public Schools (CPS). Next summer, Starter League will teach coding to 16 teachers in CPS, who will then offer classes to their students. Coding classes at the Starter League school cost $8,000 for a three-month course.

For the last year, McGee and Sales-Griffin have been monitoring students at Chicago Tech Academy, a charter school that teaches students about coding and other technology. “They’re not making music videos, they’re not playing sports,” said Matt Hancock, executive director of Chicago Tech Academy. “We’ve got many African-American role models in those fields. But to see it happen in technology is really important for our young people, who I hope will follow in their foot steps.”


Saturday, March 2, 2013

Because Of Them We Can

As a motivational speaker and a photographer, I recently realized that my lens can also be my microphone.  For Black History Month, I wanted to create a campaign that would empower and excite young people about their history and their future in a creative and yet relatable way.  I thought about my two sons and how they were both born during President Barack Obama's election and re-election. How awesome is that?! From there, I began to think about all of the individuals, past and current, who have and/or continue to blaze new trails and pave the way for the future.  Because of Them, We Can.

With each new day that a photograph has been released, I realize more and more that 28 days just isn't enough time. There are so many people to pay homage to and so many young and impressionable minds to postively

This site was created as a way to keep you updated about the campaign and as a way to win your support.  After the request of many, I have made posters and calendars available for sale. Your support will enable me to continue this endeavor beyond Black History Month. And, while it began right outside of Washington DC, I am planning to expand to other cities throughout the country in order to engage and empower youth from all over.


Please stay tuned in here and via my Facebook Fan Page.

Thanks so much for your support and encouragement!

Eunique Jones Gibson