Monday, January 19 marked the day of freedom referred to as Juneteenth for enslaved Black people in Galveston, TX – two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.
On this year’s Juneteenth, GHTech’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Lecture series tour concluded with an event in Oakland. The traveling series visited 10 HBCU’s including Howard University, Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College and Spelman College.
GHTech was founded by local tech leader George Hofstetter in 2017 when he was 16 years old. Hofstetter, now 23 years-old, has become a leader in teaching “Hacktivism.”
Hofstetter explained to Oakland Voices prior to the event the influence of the community. It was important to him that local programs were present for the event because they are his “village.” “To have the folks in this space support this and that means the world [to us],” he said. “We can’t save the world on our own. We can’t liberate people by ourselves. We’ve got to have a collective effort to design towards our liberation as a people.”
Community members gathered at Oakstop to celebrate GHTech’s work in breaking down traditional models of tech education.
“‘Hacktivists’ are technologists that use their skills with computer programming to create a positive social impact and transform traditional inequities that they see in the world,” Hofstetter added.
Hosted by Dezmond Frazier, CEO of Grow Love Collective, the room was filled with friends and classmates of both Frazier and Hofstetter, and community members. This was an opportunity for anyone to see themselves in the world of tech and find ways to solve the disparities of their communities. “On this very day, we actually have the honor of being able to celebrate our ancestors, to continue to build upon their legacies and the sacrifices of the freedom fighters that led us here today,” Frazier said.
The Oakstop location held significance for Hofstetter, who said his introduction into the tech world was in that location for Qeyno Labs Hackathon hosted by author, entrepreneur, and current Emeryville councilmember Kalimah Priforce. It was the first time he got to see himself through other Black men and youth at an event that celebrated using technology to have a positive impact on communities.
It was at these hackathons Hofstetter said he learned that “we’ve been hacking our whole lives to meet the material needs of our families.” Priforce noted that “hacking doesn’t always involve a computer.” Those changes in perspective helped Hofstetter think about solving problems within the community and was the starting point for GHTech.
The session began by welcoming attendees with a meal from Cocobreeze Caribbean Restaurant, followed by opening remarks by Hofstetter and Cambridge University Think Lab’s Tyler Shores. Shores’ research with Cambridge focuses on social media and how it shapes human thinking. In his opening remarks, Shores asked that people make an “unexpected friend” because human connection was valuable and important to the learning experience that “might lead to something amazing while we’re here.”
Interlooped throughout the program were videos of the tour documenting the journey to some of the HBCUs and giving context for what’s needed to build the movement within “hacktivism.” Following the first video, Tongo Eisen-Martin, San Francisco’s Poet Laureate, performed his brand of revolutionary poems.
Discussions on the tour series have ranged from racism in technology industries, food injustice, and the theme of Oakland’s closing event: Black mentorship in tech. The afternoon “trailblazer” discussion included panelists Akintunde Ahmad, artist and founder of Ade Dehye, and Ahmed Muhammad, founder of Kits Cubed, a nonprofit igniting the joy of science. The Black men from Oakland both attended Oakland Tech.
Ahmad and Muhammad explained during the panel that narratives around success are often linear and don’t account for real world living. Muhammad said that while the news was celebrated about him being the first Black male valedictorian from his high school, Oakland Tech, there was little discussion about why he was the first.
“They focus on success stories or the tropes, almost like tokenism, instead of all of the other people just like us who have been failed,” Muhammad said at the event.
Both changemakers imparted that money was not the definition of success but rather, being able to influence the community was.
Volunteers from the People’s Programs, an Oakland-based New Afrikan organization, were present in solidarity and collected volunteer signups. Others present included Game Ova, a sports analytics company which offers personalized data analysis to student athletes. “The visualizations and the one-on-one relationship that we build really shows folks that we care about them in their data,” said 22 year old founder Jason Brown, a former classmate of Hofstetter. “To see him grow his company as I’m growing my company, it’s always good to just come back around.”
“In order to be successful, you have to uplift others,” Ahmad told Oakland Voices. “You have to uplift the conditions of the community. We need to take our success and actually go back into the community and create a creative system – create a place – where our stories are no longer successful.”
The event closed by giving honors to two community members. The recipient of the inaugural “Transforming Education Award” was given to Olatunde Sobomehin, CEO and co-founder of StreetCode Academy, a nonprofit organization closing the gap of the digital divide for the Black community. Guy “Heston” Parrish was a recipient of the Hacktivist Award for his work as an alum with Hidden Genius Project, a program that trains Black youth in tech and science.