This past March I had the opportunity to attend the Interactive Festival at SXSW and it was truly an incredible experience. I met inspiring leaders in tech and entrepreneurship, and demolished too many delicious tacos from local food trucks and ate at some of the best Austin staples around town. I was able to see amazing minority companies pitch their startups to top VCs, and in the evening enjoyed a cocktail (or two) with newfound entrepreneur friends.
Needless to say, SXSW and Austin did not disappoint.
Not. One. Bit.
However, as I reflect on my experience at SXSW, I can’t help but to think, “There should’ve been more Black people present.”
Every year, SXSW publishes demographic statistics for the conference. In this report, you’ll find data including factors such as gender, income level, industry, and region. However, one key item that is missing each year is data on race.
Maybe it’s because that information wouldn’t be flattering.
SXSW is arguably one of the most influential tech conferences in the nation. Jam-packed with motivational keynote speakers and panels, and insight into cutting-edge advancements and innovation, SXSW is the place to be for any current or aspiring entrepreneur, creator, or innovator.
While I did see several of my people at minority-organized events like HBCU @ SXSW19, the MVMT50 Pitch Black contest, the BGV Pitch contest, and the Official Black Tech Meet-Up hosted by the Avant-Garde Network, I saw less people that looked like me at the other events.
On the same note, I did notice that there was a decent amount of people of color on panels, even though we lacked in numbers in the audience.
In times where diversity numbers are shameful in tech, getting funded in business, and in the workplace, it’s critical that we take every opportunity possible to be in the room where others are gathering. It’s important that we show up, even in spaces where we are outnumbered, and take advantage of the opportunity to convene with people that in other times, we may have never met or been in the same room with.
I truly believe that there is an overflowing stream of talent and fresh ideas in the African American community. One of the most valuable ways we can groom our ideas, and entrepreneurial spirits is by consistently taking every opportunity present to further our development and network.
Too often, we speak of the idea of having a seat at the table, but I believe that one of the first steps in getting a seat at the table is by being in the room. SXSW is truly an inclusive experience where everyone, no matter your age, race, or employment status can benefit and be in the room.
Next year, I hope to see more African Americans in the room, pitching their startup ideas, leading panels, giving keynotes, or simply just being there, being present. There is alot that we can learn and take away from SXSW, and alot of influential people that we can meet and get inspiration from.