Last year, Black women across America beamed with pride as the movie Hidden Figures told the true stories of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson—NASA employees who exuded the brilliance and resilience of Black women and helped send John Glenn into orbit.
This award-winning film resonated with millions of African-American women because it affirmed a truth that we all know too well: No matter how smart or qualified you are, neglect and hostility can be expected.
Yet, despite these obstacles, Black women not only accomplish the goals set before them, but they also exceed expectations. Harlem Renaissance novelist Zora Neale Hurston once said, “Sometimes I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.”
My mother taught me how to have this same confidence in the face of discrimination. My generation labeled this inner pride Black Power. Today we call this uncanny ability to excel and thrive Black Girl Magic.
As we look toward the future of our communities, it is important that we spread Black Girl Magic far and wide across industries and disciplines. During this back-to-school season, my hope is that every Black woman and girl has the ability to expand her core, expertise, style and spirit into technology.
“It is not enough to pay lip service to the ideal of inclusion.”
If African-American women are to succeed in a twenty-first century economy, we must be empowered with the tools to join the tech industry and given the support for career development.
This is why I introduced the Computer Science for All Act to expand access to computer science education for all children in pre-K to 12-grade, with a particular focus on girls and students of color. In my district, programs like Black Girls Code provide young women an opportunity that they otherwise might not have because our public schools are not adequately funded to make sure all students can learn to code.
In an effort to decrease the reliance on extracurricular programs to equip children with skills necessary for their future, I introduced a bill that would grant public institutions $250 million to invest in teachers and curricula so that computer science can be offered as a class. Educators shouldn’t have to choose between teaching English and computer science to their students. However, ensuring that Black girls can flourish in tech takes more than just adequately funding schools.
Today thousands of Black women who already hold tech-related degrees are absent from Silicon Valley, which has a workforce that is approximately 2.2 percent Black. This lack of diversity is simply unacceptable. So as the co-chair of the Congressional Black Caucus’ TECH 2020 Task Force and a member of the Congressional Caucus on Black Women & Girls, along with my colleagues I am working to ensure that top tech executives implement robust diversity and inclusion programs throughout all departments.
Since 2015, TECH 2020 has joined with various firms, urging them to commit to bringing the percentage of Blacks up to parity in the sector. Through meetings with Silicon Valley leaders, we have been clear that it is not enough to pay lip service to the ideal of inclusion. Businesses must make tangible changes to their recruitment, hiring and retention policies so that African-Americans are represented at every level of the industry—including the board and the C-suite. I am also proud that we have been able to champion internship and apprenticeship programs with HBCUs, predominantly Black institutions and other minority-serving institutions.
My 12-year-old granddaughter, Simone, recently coded a tool that helps manage your grocery list. I am pleased with her confidence and competence. Even though she may not choose to become the next tech mogul, I am glad she will have competency skills necessary for jobs of the future. This school year, along with my sisters in the Congressional Black Caucus, I will continue using my Black Girl Magic on Capitol Hill because I want all young Black girls and women to have the same opportunities as Simone. I might just take a coding class with my granddaughter too. How will you sprinkle your magic around this year?
This feature originally appeared in the September 2017 Issue of ESSENCE Magazine.