Every individual has the power to create change and in honor of Black History Month. BAOLers, a new employee resource group for black employees at AOL, hosted an event in New York Wednesday to recognize four black trailblazers who have made this their full-time mission.
The event, which was held at the AOL/The Huffington Post office in New York City, was titled “Black Trailblazers on Building Power, Legacy and Community.” (AOL is the parent company for HuffPost.) It included a discussion led by HuffPost’s new editor-in-chief Lydia Polgreen, former Global Director at The New York Times, and highlighted four individuals who work across the areas of business, media, activism and tech who discussed how they are empowering communities of color through their work.
The panelists were: Tani Brown, head of partnerships at Jopwell, a company that connects the best and brightest minority candidates with top employment opportunities; Jonathan Jackson, co-founder and head of corporate brand at Blavity, a successful digital platform that caters to black millennials; Janel Martinez, co-founder of 2020Shift, a career development and skills-based learning startup focused on diversifying tech; and Ifeoma Ike, a strategist and co-founder of Black and Brown People Vote, a nonpartisan civic engagement project that prioritizes underrepresented voices in the current political climate.
Each panelist spoke about how their respective platforms are amplifying the black experience and helping people of color land opportunities in areas where they have been largely overlooked. The event was also livestreamed on HuffPost Black Voices’ Facebook page.
Brown said one way Jopwell is by sustaining the important mission the founders of the business had when they launched it in the summer of 2014. The company was launched by two black men, Porter Braswell and Ryan Williams, who wanted to empower underrepresented ethnic minority professionals and students to successfully navigate their careers.
“You can create the environment that you want and actually tell the stories that matter to you." Jonathan Jackson
”We serve over 50,000 members in our community,” said Brown, who oversees Jopwell’s exclusive partner relationships with over 50 leading companies. “My job is to run the client services team and to make sure that we are doing right by our partner companies and understanding their recruiting process so we can help them diversity their talent pools.”
Jackson’s responsibility at Blavity is slightly different but just as important. As one of the co-founders of the brand, Jackson said he understands the need to provide a digital platform that caters specifically to black millennials and builds a strong sense of community. Since the site’s launch in 2015, Blavity, which publishes content that covers a wide-range of topics, has seen tremendous success in the digital space.
“You can create the environment that you want and actually tell the stories that matter to you,” Jackson said, adding that it feels meaningful to him to “own a platform where you have the freedom and authority to manage the platform in ways [you] think best without having to answer to or be handcuffed by anyone.”
Martinez shares this same sense of freedom in her role at 2020Shift. As one of the co-founders, Martinez works to help diversify the tech industry by providing people of color with the lessons and skills they need to thrive. Martinez, who is afro-latina, has always been committed to the tech space. She wants to broaden people’s knowledge of how vast the industry is and help people of color land and keep positions within it.
“We focus primarily on teaching our demographic the skills needed [so that] once they get in the door, they can actually do the work,” she said.
As for Ike, her main focus as a strategist and activist is centered around uplifting the black community by getting them better engaged with the political process both through and beyond voting. This is why she helped to launch Black and Brown People Vote, a nonpartisan civic engagement project that prioritizes underrepresented voices in the current political climate. Ike is also a founding #SheWoke Committee member, Lehman College professor and co-laborer of two Congressional Caucuses: My Brother’s Keeper Caucus and the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls.
Ike, who has worked relentlessly to educate, empower and uplift black communities, says advocacy work like this is so important, especially now in the age of Donald Trump as President. However, she says she’s looking forward to what lies ahead because she has witnessed new levels of activism and intersectionality and encourages Americans to keep it up.
“I’m really excited,”she said, “because I’m seeing the most creative forms of activism and collaboration and conversations between the intersection of so many different communities than we’ve ever seen before.”