"Wouldn't you know, We been hurt, been down before.
When our pride was low. Lookin' at the world like, "Where do we go?"
And we hate po-po. Wanna kill us dead in the street for sure
I'm at the preacher's door. My knees gettin' weak and my gun might blow
- Kendrick Lamar, Alright
The newest phase of the life-long civil rights movement imploded in 2020, during the middle of a global pandemic.
New activists have joined the movement. More hashtags are trending, and the boldness and audacity of millennials and Gen Z are palpable. Sadly, Black lives haven't mattered as they should. The families of Ahmaud Aubrey, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Tony McDade, and so many others now carry a heavy burden.
Unfortunately, the perils of systemic racism isn't a new experience for CommunityX founder and CEO, Chloë Cheyenne. Chloë Cheyenne is a social impact tech entrepreneur who is passionate about uniting change-makers around shared causes and movements. She identifies as a multi-racial young woman; her dad is bi-racial— African American and Caucasian—while her mom is an immigrant from the Philippines.
In an honest, raw, and unadulterated interview with Mogul Millennial, she shares her story of activism, trauma, leadership, and how to change the trenches of Silicon Valley.
Can you walk us through your journey of being an activist?
My life's journey with activism started with my father's experience with police extremism.
Chicago PD bombarded my grandmother's home and shot my father multiple times in a mistaken identity case. Instead of trying to assist him, they let him lay there while they proceeded to plant evidence of drugs in his room while hoping he would die. An officer placed a gun to his forehead while he was lying on the floor and said, "I should blow your motherf*****g brains out, n***a."
My family was unsure if he would even survive. He underwent 10 life-saving surgeries, all while being handcuffed to his hospital bed. He was still presumed to be guilty of something. While I was being born, my dad was learning to walk. He spent the next eight years in trial with the City of Chicago to fight for his innocence.
My commitment to activism continued, even during college at Howard University. I worked extremely hard, and my family celebrated my wins of graduating and accepting a full-time offer with Google. I thought I was going to be able to enact change.
You left Google to start CommunityX, what was the defining moment?
In 2014, I was working at Google, and Mike Brown was gunned down by an officer with the Ferguson Police Department. I knew that action was needed, and there was a gap for impact and community building within activism. I knew tech could create that space.
At a global conference with Google, I asked a specific question to Larry Page and Sergey Brin with the full support of BGN, the Black Google Engineers group. My question was simple:
"The Black community just lost a young man to the hands of police brutality in Ferguson, MO. Are [we] going to leverage our platforms to support the voices that want to do something about this?”
Larry and Sergey sat in silence, followed by uncomfortable laughter. They never responded, and someone else took the reigns of the conversation without addressing my question. Their silence was the answer.
The next day, my question and I became a meme that circulated throughout the company. The meme made fun of my question and solidified that anti-racism work and my life as an employee was not valued. I left shortly afterward to build my vision for CommunityX.
"My accomplishments were really important to my family and me, but what does that mean when my community is being murdered?"
Being an activist is emotionally and psychologically exhausting. As the leader of a tech activism platform, what are you doing to combat the fatigue that you experience?
Having this platform means I have to tell my family's story over and over again. My family and I watch my dad live in pain every day, with a bullet fragment still in his body. I knew when I started this platform this was going to be heavy on my family.
In a moment of transparency, I haven't slept in two weeks. I've been continuously going. It's during times like this that I know my work is necessary. It's hard to think of yourself when your community is facing death.
However, when my body tells me I need to take a break or slow down, I listen. Spending time with my daughter and being with my family is one of the ways that I practice self-care. I'm also an advocate of mental health, and I have no problem calling my therapist when I need to talk.
How do you promote this type of care to your team and the users of the CommunityX app?
When I recruit or hire people to work for CommunityX, I hire people authentically connected to the mission. There is no need to micro-manage them. We don't have any formal clock-in or clock-out times. I trust and believe in their work. If they need to take a break or need to regroup, I trust them to listen to their bodies and minds.
There are macro community efforts, such as protesting that our team members engage. However, there is also micro-community work. We hold check-ins, and we support each other. If someone needs a ride home, we are there for one another. Whatever it may be.
For our platform users, we are hosting virtual vigils, safe places for them to grieve and have a dialogue. We aren't just posting a black box on social media or using a hashtag. We are setting an actual, intentional example of how tech communities can be allies and use their platforms.
How do you feel about tech companies' responses in light of current events and Black Lives Matter?
Sadly, I'm not surprised at all. When I worked at Google, I saw the type of environments that they created by not having specific anti-racism or anti-discriminatory frameworks in their diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) plans.
We watched as Mark Zuckerburg met with Trump and defended his decision to allow the “when the looting starts the shooting starts” to continue to stay open to the public on Facebook.
The black boxes and hashtags that they are using are surface-level work. It takes more than 250 characters to be an ally. These actions are just enough to avoid being silent. Some are still silent and tone deaf and will continue to be until we do something about it.
What do you think needs to happen to change Silicon Valley?
There needs to be more than 2 percent of Black techs in Silicon Valley, especially at headquarters.
Even though tech companies like Google, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn have a large Black community user base, those that are profiting are college-educated white men.
We need to stop hoping that they will understand. [They] are not going to experience what it's like to have a loved one suffocated in the street, on camera, over $20.
We need to realize that we are more powerful than those who profit are. We need to use our voices and our talents to demand change in Silicon Valley.
How do you think COVID-19 has impacted activism and the Black Lives Matter movement?
The really beautiful and powerful thing I see happening is that our Black community is selfless. The selflessness of our community is on full display for the world to see. We are protesting, grieving, and risking our safety for people we don't know.
We are facing the threat of death from all sides; COVID-19 was disproportionately ravishing our community. Now, we are actively protesting, placing our health at risk to fight the pandemic of racism.
Our community has always been accepting and forgiving, but that's no longer an option. We are demanding justice, not surface-level actions.
How has COVID-19 impacted CommunityX?
Our team is unable to meet and organize in person as most organizations are. Unfortunately, we are unable to host our annual social impact summit. However, we've used the time to thoroughly plan to launch our newest campaign, Unalienable Rights.
The campaign will be launching soon and focuses on police and prison reform. We will be working directly with families and advocating for specific people. There are people dying in prison who should be granted compassionate release. This is just an example, but we want to highlight the stories of these families and advocate for them.
What was your biggest challenge with building the CommunityX app?
Funding. CommunityX was the first Black team to win funding from Forbes. It was a proud moment for our team. There were people who were behind the scenes advocating [for] CommunityX.
I sat in front of so many VCs and shared my father's story and why we wanted to promote this platform. They would tell me that they were so sorry to hear about my story, but they didn't think that the program was passable to scale to invest.
They also didn't think that there was a space for impact and community building. I've been sitting back, laughing. The same VCs are creating opportunity funds for the very area they didn't think was needed. They shouldn't have to open an opportunity fund; these platforms should be open to their regular funds.
However, it's worked out for CommunityX. Our significant investors are through Black Angels and a Pakistani woman. As CommunityX and other platforms begin to grow and potentially turn into an IPO, it's going to be the Black investors and people of color that will profit.
What advice do you have for future tech activists who are trying to get started?
Many of us are or will be the first in our families to graduate. We will also be the first to land positions in major tech companies. Our families will surely celebrate our successes. But there will come a time when you begin to realize that your voice is not valued in these tech spaces.
Be honest with yourself and have the hard conversations. What is this going to be worth when our community is facing death?
This conversation with Chloe was honest and emotional. We discussed the work of activism and the importance that it has in both of our lives. Kendrick Lamar posed a question in our lyrical lesson, "When our pride was low. Lookin' at the world like, "Where do we go?"
The more I spoke with Chloe, and the more I reflected on myself, I realized that we are going in the right direction. This movement feels different. We aren't letting up. Neither Chloe nor I know where we are going, but we both agreed that we won't ever go back to where we were.
We gon' be alright.