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Reflection: Echoing Green at AfroTech and Facing Race

Melissa Bradley (1863 Ventures), Fellows Felecia Hatcher '17 and Daquan Oliver '15, and Tiffany Thompson (Echoing Green) on stage at AfroTech 2022

When Echoing Green established the Black Male Achievement Fellowship in 2012, it was an exciting opportunity to leverage the practice and promise of social innovation into a larger movement being built and led by Black leaders, creatives, technologists, and organizers across sectors for decades.

In 2022, when Echoing Green launched the Invest in Black Leaders storytelling campaign, we intended to capture the impact and legacy of this Fellowship while elevating the joy, creativity, genius, resilience, and innovation that continues to take root in Black communities globally. As a form of counter-storytelling, this campaign elevates stories, experiences, narratives, and truths of Black social innovators with a focus on joy and community.

We were thrilled to represent Echoing Green on stage at the AfroTech and Facing Race in November 2022, where we shared stories from the campaign. At both conferences, we discussed narratives on race, power, and joy with transformational social change leaders filtering the world through social innovation.

AFROTECH

On November 15, 2022, Echoing Green screened Unwavering: The Power of Black Innovation at AfroTech – the largest multicultural tech gathering in the United States. The screening was followed by a panel discussion with Echoing Green Fellows Felecia Hatcher (Black Ambition) and Daquan Oliver (WeThrive), and Invest in Black Leaders advisory board member Melissa Bradley (1863 Ventures).

Collectively, they explored the deep roots and legacy of Black innovation; and imagined the possibilities for Black innovation through an abundance mindset.

As the CEO of Black Ambition, Felecia works to close opportunity and wealth gaps for Black and Latinx entrepreneurs by providing them with the resources and capital to “build uninterrupted.” As she reflected, “[Black people] are always building with limited resources, even at the highest levels. How do we get our people to build in abundance? We build, we are told to be twice as good, and we are twice as good, but how do we keep going with limited resources? If you are truly for us, I need you to lend us your credibility and your leverage to help us.”

Relatedly, through 1863 Ventures, founder and serial entrepreneur Melissa Bradley helps high-potential Black entrepreneurs grow their businesses through programming, coaching, mentoring, and access to capital. “We need to start an ecosystem that becomes a movement. This is not just a dream, it’s an opportunity,” she said. “We have to invest in each other and we need action to go alongside the conversations that we’re having.”

For Daquan, conversations about Black leadership are incomplete without considering the impact and contributions of Black youth. As he said, “We have to give seed funding to our youth. Our society says we can’t do anything meaningful until we’re 18. WeThrive is doing it differently. We’re showing high school youth that entrepreneurship is a pathway for them.” WeThrive is closing racial wealth gaps throughout the country by providing youth leaders with seed funding to launch real microenterprises that address problems in their local communities.

FACING RACE

Following AfroTech, Echoing Green joined the Facing Race conference in Phoenix, AZ to present an exclusive screening of Unwavering. Facing Race is the largest multiracial, inter-generational gathering for organizers, educators, creatives, and other leaders to engage in racial justice movement making.

In an interactive session following the screening, Fellows Reyna Montoya (Aliento) and Sirrita Darby (Detroit Heals Detroit) discussed the importance of joy, healing, and imagination in movements for social change and racial justice.

Joining the session after a critical achievement for the Aliento community, Reyna reflected on what abundance means to her: “When I think about abundance, I can’t help but think about the sense of worthiness that our young people sometimes lose. [Aliento] is about creating spaces where I’m not empowering young people because they have their own power. It’s about creating spaces where they see that.” The organizing of Aliento youth was crucial to the passage of Prop 308 in Arizona, providing in-state tuition for undocumented students.

Sirrita also connected the film’s themes to her work with Detroit Heals Detroit: “My students already had grit. What they needed was a system to not be racist, and to center healing,” she explains. “When we talk about abundance, we are an organization that de-centers whiteness—that’s one of the main sources of trauma. So If you’re talking about healing trauma and you’re not talking about racism, you’re not doing it right…. Black people have everything they need to solve their own problems. I gave [Black youth] the tools and they found a way because that’s what we always do.”

Reflecting on her second time watching the film, Reyna asked the audience to imagine a world where resilience was unnecessary. “What resonates for me is the loss and grief that our communities have to go through to exist. And that there’s so much that we’ve had to endure and that resilience tastes really sour,” she said. “My wildest dreams are that our communities don’t have to be resilient. What would that look like?”

Through the Invest in Black Leaders campaign, Echoing Green hopes to provide space for Black leaders to craft and define their own personal and professional narratives. From the virtual premiere of Unwavering to Afrotech, Facing Race, and the Black Voices, Black Spaces report, we are inspired and energized by the myriad of conversations we’ve had with visionary leaders. As we look forward to 2023, we are excited to continue creating space to advance conversations about our collective roles and responsibilities in supporting Black innovation. As Reyna Montoya asked the Unwavering audience at Facing Race, “As we all reflect on our own power, are we enabling or are we being actors of change? That’s the constant question. That’s the beautiful gift that a lot of the entrepreneurs in the film gave us.”

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