Tech Cypher: Highlights from #Tech808 Oakland

952808D9-BABC-407D-B58F-DE00AB8D5FF7This past Saturday I attended Tech808, a one-day Hip Hop inspired tech conference for minority and millennial entrepreneurs hosted by The Phat Startup. For those less familiar, The Phat Startup is an integrated media company that produces premium content for all levels of entrepreneurs with a mission to bridge the gap between Hip Hop culture, tech, and entrepreneurship. Oakland was the second stop in the 3-city tour, with the last stop in NYC.

The idea for the #Tech808 Tour emerged after having hosted more than 100 live events with notable entrepreneurs and tech magnates like Ben Horowitz, Gary Vaynerchuk, and Ryan Leslie to name a few. But it also developed from the realization that many tech conferences lacked diversity among its participants.

As an information leader, cultural worker, and creative, I find great value being in spaces where information is shared and ideas converge. I had a great time learning more about startups, meeting other conference participants (entrepreneurs and “wantrepreneurs” like myself), and thinking more deeply about my role as a creative and information professional. The value tech provides is not just in the technology itself, but the idea as well as the people (designers and users). Tracy Sun, co-founder of Poshmark will tell you quite simply that part of her success came from understanding that “technology and algorithms can’t replace people.”

Here are some of the photos with tips and quotables that I took during the event.

Tech808 Oakland Conference Program

Tech808 Oakland Conference Program

Keynote Speaker Tracy Sun (Co-Founder and VP of Merchandising at Poshmark)

Keynote Speaker Tracy Sun (Co-Founder and VP of Merchandising at Poshmark)

“Don’t give up, give your idea some room to breathe” and “Get used to the fact that you’re going to be different.” Tracy Sun, Co-Founder Poshmark

Anthony Frasier (Co-Founder, The Phat Start Up)

Anthony Frasier (Co-Founder, The Phat Start Up)

For Phat Start Up co-founder Anthony Frasier, part of Side-Hustle 101 includes “testing and validating ideas early on.” If you’re promoting your business or a product across multiple platforms “figure out what works for each platform.”

Divine - The 4th Letter (Rapper, Entrepreneur, Motivational Speaker)

Divine – The 4th Letter (Rapper, Entrepreneur, Motivational Speaker)

Divine – The 4th Letter (@4thlettermusic) was an inspiration as he shared how he was able to transform his life after incarceration, how his friendship with tech mogul Ben Horowitz developed and changed his life, and how he’s using his music to make a social impact and help others elevate. For Divine, spirituality, knowledge, perseverance, and social impact go hand in hand. His advice: “Never let anybody tell you your value. Value is what value does. Never negotiate your value.”


I call this the “Divine Cypher”. After sharing his story, a small group emerged to listen to him drop more jewels and lessons about life, spirituality, and more.


Divine speaking with one of the Tech 808 participants after his talk.


Tech 808 Digital Content Panel (seated L-R): Benoni Tagoe, Julian Mitchell, Danielle Leslie, and Morgan DeBaun

The conference also included a panel, moderated by Morgan Debaun (Founder, Blavity) on “How to Use Content to Build a Thriving Online Community” with Benoni Tagoe (Content Strategist and Founder, The Bizz Plan), Julian Mitchell (Sr. Branded Writer, BuzzFeed), and Danielle Leslie (Director of Revenue Growth, Mayvenn).

Here’s what the panel had to say when asked what it takes to make ‘good’ content and on building community:

For Danielle Leslie (@danielleleslie), knowing the right language to use, location (or the appropriate platform to place your content), and knowing people’s pain point and how you can connect is key.

Julian Mitchell (@AllAboutMitch): “A compelling story trumps quality” as well as “having a point-of-view that’s unique” that “provokes conversations” or gets to the to “the why of content” are all important.  He later encourages content creators to “Create more opportunities than you ask for. Do what you’re already doing.”

Benoni Tagoe (@nonibizz): “Content is king and consistency is queen…Collaboration is an important balance between the two. You may not be able to put out the perfect product, but the world will reward you if you follow these principles.”

Morgan DeBaun (@blavity) emphasized the importance of recycling content as your community grows as a way to introduce new readers to previous content they may not yet be familiar with.

Joah Spearman (Founder, Localeur)

Joah Spearman (Founder, Localeur)

Joah Spearman (@joahspearman, @localeur) on “How to Raise the First Million for Your Startup”

Tip #1: When raising capital start with friends and family first then explore angel network investors in your city.

Tip #2: “Raise 40% more than you think you need.”

Tip #3: Kickstarter, in his opinion, works best for tangible products

Tip #4: “Share your thoughts” and “Get used to talking about things that don’t exist yet.”


Sheen Allen (Founder, Sheena Allen Apps)

Sheena Allen (@whoisSheena) gave an insightful presentation “Build a Rockstar Mobile App Company as a Non-Techie.” With no tech background, Sheena Allen has managed to create a portfolio of popular apps with over 2.4 million downloads including PicSlit and Dubblen Split Pic, Orange Snap. Here are some of her tips for non-techies:

  • Get your idea out of your head and onto paper.
  • Find a technical co-founder or a freelancer. (though she advises to be careful when selecting freelancers)
  • Test your own app.
  • Find mentors.
  • Be optimistic, be persistent, and be creative.
  • Be strategic. Don’t do all the bells and whistles at first.

564A9EB7-DD7E-43E7-9BD9-904BBCFF25C3** Not pictured Mike Seibel (Partner, Y Combinator @mwseibel), provided his thoughts and expertise starting a tech company and how to get into YC accelerators reminding the audience that “A lot of people try, but not a lot of people make it” and “Raising money is the result of doing good work.” If you can build something in 2 weeks or less, you’re in a better position to get something into user’s hands and be able to start learning and growing.

Here is a link to the slideshow on his website that was included in his presentation.

**Also not pictured is Tiffani Bell, Co-Founder of The Detroit Water Project, which is launching as part of Y Combinator’s Winter 2015 class. As a non-profit, funds are directly paid to municipal water departments. The Detroit Water Project has received donations of more than $180,000 for water bills that have helped over 900 families in Detroit. The project has since expanded to Baltimore with plans to expand to third city, which will be announced in coming weeks. Through the Detroit and Baltimore Water Projects, Bell has been able to use utility data and her background in computer science for social good. Her advice:

  • Plan nothing. Simply put, release expectations and be flexible to change as there are likely to be several changes throughout your cycles of development.
  • Let it be ugly. The example she provided here was the original bootstrap site for the project vs. the active site).
  • Iterate. As part of the cycles of development, a startup must put out their best basic product to better gain an understanding or what works or what doesn’t work.
  • Tell a story. Every great product or company has a story. Tell a unique one.
  • Know metrics. No metrics. Basically, in order to iterate, you need to know the metrics or analytics behind your project. Know what people are gravitating towards, and what is or isn’t working.
  • Be cheap as hell! (Don’t spend a dime if you don’t have to)

Archive Matters: Piecing Together J Dilla’s ‘The Diary’ — NewBlackMan (in Exile)

‘The late hip-hop producer J Dilla (James Yancey) left behind troves of unfinished music. How do you dig into the vault of an artist like Dilla and assemble an album that remains true to their creative vision?’ — +NPR Music

via Archive Matters: Piecing Together J Dilla’s ‘The Diary’ — NewBlackMan (in Exile)

Digital Blackness: Googling Black History Just Got Better

Take me into the museum and show me myself, show me my people, show me soul America. – June Jordan, 1969

African American couple ca. 1950 (Photo courtesy of George Eastman Museum / Google Cultural Institute)

African American couple ca. 1950 (Photo courtesy of George Eastman Museum / Google Cultural Institute)

It’s that time again. You know, February, the month when Black churches, libraries, museums and other cultural institutions across the country host a variety of events and public programs to commemorate Black History Month. Well this year, Google has joined in the celebration with the launch of its expansive digitized collection displaying more than 5,000 works related to Black history, art, and culture via its online Cultural Institute and it’s worth EVERY click and I’m here for them all!

The collection features 80 curated digital exhibits, some of which are interactive and include video and audio clips while other images speak for themselves. Users can explore people and subjects from Frederick Douglass to Harlem Renaissance artists to even lesser known histories that we rarely hear about such as the Free Southern Theater which emerged from a Southern Black Arts Movement.

Women performers from the Free Southern Theater production "Where is the Blood of Your Fathers?" ca. 1971-1978 (Screenshot from Google Cultural Institute / physical rights of this image are retained by the Amistad Research Center).

Women performers from the Free Southern Theater production “Where is the Blood of Your Fathers?” ca. 1971-1978 (Screenshot from Google Cultural Institute / physical rights of this image are retained by the Amistad Research Center).

The collections are wide-ranging in subject matter and scope–at once a prayer and praise-song for our Blackness and a visual testament affirming our humanity– as it so vividly displays our cultural heroes as well as the everyday black person and our interpretations and explorations of Blackness through mediums such as art, literature, dance, music, even emerging technologies (see radiodee jaying, and Radio Raheem’s Boombox that is a part of the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s collection.)

Screenshot 2016-02-01 20.19.19

Katherine Dunham alongside her dance company members and actor Rex Ingram (as devil) in the Broadway production of Cabin in the Sky, which debuted in New York in 1939. (Screenshot from Google Cultural Institute. Photo by Dmitri Kessel | LIFE Photo Collection)

So what makes this project so noteworthy? TechnologyCollaboration. Digitizing collections is no small feat. As Lucy Schwartz, one of Google’s curators shared in her interview with Observer, it took them nearly a year to compile the collection. Thus, a curated project of this magnitude, expertise and detail could not have been accomplished without Google’s collaboration with over 50 institutions throughout the United States including the Smithsonian and Bancroft Library at U.C. Berkeley as well as other key repositories dedicated to collecting, preserving, and sharing African American history and culture like the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Amistad Research Center, Du Sable Museum, Museum of African American Art, and the Black Archives of Mid-America.

Screenshot 2016-02-01 19.53.32Going digital is an inevitable, yet time consuming and expensive endeavor, but one that many libraries, archives and historical and cultural institutions are very much interested in doing to not only increase visibility of their institution and collections, but to also create greater access to and use of their collections and to meet the information needs of their communities, both physical and online.

Features. Google Cultural Institute users not only have access to a database of images from trusted resources, users are also encouraged to become their “own curator” by creating personal collections of “art, landmarks, and historical events” and even “learn from experts” through art talks and more. Enough already, go check it out for yourself and let me know what you think!




Animating the Archive: John Coltrane On Giant Steps and Being A Force For Good

I think music is an instrument. It can create the initial thought pattern that can create a change, you see, in the thinking of the people. – John Coltrane

John Coltrane (animated gif) Source: Blank on Blank

John Coltrane (animated gif) Source: Blank on Blank

I don’t know what rock I’ve been under, but this morning I was introduced to what the present and future looks like for transmedia storytelling, digital historiography and digital archives–at least through the medium of animation while watching the PBS digital series Blank on Blank for the first time.

I’m a jazz (and Coltrane) fan and one of their recent episodes features selections from Frank Kofsky’s November 1966 interview with jazz legend John Coltrane from the Pacifica Radio Archives. In this episode Coltrane discusses his art aesthetic, the meaning of music in the human experience, Malcolm X, and his spiritual approach. One of my favorite moments was listening to Coltrane reflect on why he decided to start playing the soprano saxophone instead of the tenor. In the interview he tells Kofsky:

I didn’t want admit this damn thing because I said well the tenor’s my horn, this is my baby but the soprano, there’s still something there, just the voice of it that I can’t… It’s just really beautiful. I really like it.”

Coltrane popularized the use of the soprano saxophone in jazz, but I think this episode does well in capturing, without overemphasis, one of Coltrane’s most definitive moments–his revelation of love through pure hearing and feeling in sound. This rare interview took place less than a year before his death.

Blank on Blank is a signature series by Quoted Studios, in collaboration with PBS Digital Studios, that curates and transforms rare or unheard vintage interviews with cultural icons into animated video shorts. Together, they have delivered innovative digital content through archival interviews from American icons like Buckminster Fuller, Carol Burnett, Janis Joplin and others, including notable African Americans icons: Tupac Shakur, Michael Jackson, Maya Angelou, and Barry White to name a few.

Check out the full episode with John Coltrane below. For the full animated transcript click here.

Quoted Studios is a nonprofit dedicated to preserving and sharing stories by American journalists and “finding creative ways to transform historical oral histories with cultural icons into modern digital content.”

CFP: #DigitalBlackness Conference at Rutgers University–April 22-23, 2016

Digital Blackness aims to: bring together scholars, students, activists, and artists from a range of fields and disciplines to interrogate the many new modes, customs, and arrangements of racial identity as they are mediated through digital technologies.


Originally posted by Mark Anthony Neal on New Black Man .
CFP: #DigitalBlackness Conference
Rutgers University | New Brunswick, New Jersey
Friday & Saturday: April 22 – 23, 2016
The 21st century has been marked by the proliferation of access to digital platforms and social media sites that have completely refigured the terms and terrain of racial representation, politics, cultural expression and scholarly research.
Whether we are speaking of the explosion of web-based series that are distributed through YouTube, the formation of a the broad social media community known as Black Twitter, the #BlackLivesMatter movement, or the on-line Queering Slavery Working Group, profoundly new questions have emerged concerning how the digital has reshaped the meaning, understanding, performance, representation, and reception of Blackness.

What we might call the digital turn also has significant implications for how we study Blackness within and across fields and disciplines. What does Digital Black Studies mean? What are its methodological proclivities and its analytic investments? What are the possibilities of Digital Blackness? What are its limits? This two-day conference Digital Blackness will bring together scholars, students, activists, and artists from a range of fields and disciplines to interrogate the many new modes, customs, and arrangements of racial identity as they are mediated through digital technologies.

We invite proposals for individual papers, and complete panel proposals that addresses a broad range of areas. Suggestions include but are not limited to:

1. Digital Blackness and Social Media
2. Digital Blackness on Film
3. Black Television in the Digital Age
4. Digital Black Histories
5. Digital Archives
6. Digital Black Studies
7. Digital Black Feminisms
8. Digital Diasporas
9. Digital Black Politics and Social Movements
10. Digital Blackness and Musical Cultures
11. Digital Blackness and Visual Culture
12. Blackness in the Digital Humanities
13. Black Code Studies


Proposals can take one of two forms: (A) an individual or (B) a complete panel.A proposal for an individual paper should consist of a title and summary of the topic; if accepted, this paper and others related to it will be combined into a complete session. An individual-paper proposal should be single-spaced and no more than two pages long. Please include institutional affiliation and email address for an individual paper.

A proposal for a complete panel provides a prospectus for a coherent collection of 3-4 papers, including a title for the session, a title and summary of each paper, and a chair, if possible. A complete panel proposal should be single-spaced and no more than three pages long. Please include institutional affiliations and email addresses for all participants.


Please submit proposals to:

Proposals are due by Sunday, November 15, 2015.

Josephine Superstar: Phylicia Rashad Before Clair Huxtable

Phylicia (Ayers-Allen) Rashad, best known for her role as THE Clair Hanks Huxtable on the hit sitcom The Cosby Show (1984-1992), has had a successful performance career acting and singing for film, television as well Broadway. However, NOTHING says “check my resume boo!” like happening upon a vinyl cover of Rashad donning an artificial banana skirt like the great Josephine Baker while perusing the records section at a local bookstore in downtown Berkeley.

In June 1978, Rashad released the album Josephine Superstar, recorded under Casablanca Records, which was a disco/funk concept album that tells the life story of Josephine Baker. I always knew Phylicia Rashad could sing, but I’m thankful for this colorful reminder.

Hi Phylicia!

Check out this YouTube video of Ms. Rashad singing Josephine Baker’s famous “J’ai Deux Amours” [I Have Two Loves].

Here is a video of Baker singing “J’ai Deux Amours” in 1937 (“J’ai deux amours” was first recorded by Baker in 1930).