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March 26, 2021

Resilient and Real: Celebrating Blackness at Bitwise

bianca posing in front of the camera

The gathering of people outside Fresno City Hall is slowly growing on an overcast Saturday afternoon. A small stage with a podium and microphone has been set up, a group of students stand behind it, megaphones in hand. Police officers stand in the background with their hands clasped in front of them, eyes carefully watching the growing crowd of people. A young girl holds up a sign that reads Black Lives Matter. An older gentleman wears a shirt with the words Hands Up, Don’t Shoot. The crowd grows larger, a sea of raised fists. Someone in the crowd screams “Say their names!” Folks respond: “George Floyd! Ahmaud Arbery! Breonna Taylor!” After speeches, prayers, and instructions the crowd begins to march. Thousands of people, echoing the same statement over and over and over again: Black lives matter! Black lives matter! Black lives matter!

In every month, in every season, through every circumstance, Black lives matter. Bitwise’s core belief is inclusion—we believe “No one belongs here more than you,” whether that’s in our city, technology classes, or community in general. Our priority is to make sure what we do reflects that—now more than ever for our Black community.

“Blackness is a community; it’s a support system,” said Lydia Galbreath, General Counsel for Bitwise Industries. “I know that wherever I go, there’s always someone there who has my back. It’s like the ‘nod,’ when Black folks acknowledge each other in certain spaces. It’s just a way of saying I see you, and I know they see me.”

The Black community within Bitwise is full of strong, resilient individuals. Their stories, experiences, and understanding of the world reflect this—from their initial journey to embrace their racial identity, to envisioning hopes and dreams for their futures.

“I grew up on my mother’s Japanese side, so I wasn’t raised ‘Black’ or ‘Latin’,” shared Bianca Camara, Event Marketing Manager for Bitwise. “I experienced a lot of racial confusion when I was younger, like I didn’t belong anywhere. I forced myself to learn my family trees from both sides, traveled and met my father’s side in New York and Puerto Rico. After that experience is when I truly felt complete.”

Unraveling ancestry is one way to unpack and understand your racial identity, but for many Black individuals, microaggressions and harsh realities line the pages of their biographies. “My parents rebranded or outright hid a lot of racist events throughout my childhood,” Kaila Webb, Online Marketing Specialist for Bitwise Ventures, said. “I thought a rock sailed through my eight-year-old bedroom window because of vandalism. I finally learned just last year that it was actually a hate crime.”

Trevor Thomas-Uribe, Vice President of Investments at Bitwise, also went through a similar situation growing up. “I went to college in a rough area of Baltimore, and one night I was pulled over for having a light out,” said Trevor. “I was suddenly surrounded by what felt like five police officers fingering weapons. It was frightening; I distinctly felt easy to kill based on how I looked.”

But in between these troubling experiences also comes a distinct beauty, one that is only encompassed by the tight-knit strength of the Black community uplifting each other and passing down cultural traditions and knowledge.

“I grew up in a Carribean family from Trinidad,” reflected Kennan Scott, Vice President of Bitwise Industries Oakland.  “Early on, my mother performed and taught African dance so I was immersed in African cultures at an early age. At thirteen, I made my first and only trip to Africa and got to see what primarily Black countries and towns look like. It was the first time for me that I wasn’t a minority, and it was transformative.” For Tyresha Johnson in Human Resources, understanding her racial identity came hand-in-hand with growing up, surrounded by family and experiences beyond her years.

“I learned about cultural traditions, like Kwanzaa, from my great-aunt. We went to Georgia and learned about Martin Luther King Jr. I heard stories about their college experience as a segregated community. We went to family reunions which lasted for days, eating BBQ, soul food, all the desserts you could imagine—peach cobbler, yellow chocolate cake, the list goes on.”

– Tyresha Johnson

The Black experience in America is a dissonant one—walking the tightrope between celebrating and embracing cultural roots with the sinister history of our country’s treatment of Black and African-American individuals. While difficult to acknowledge, this history must be addressed head-on if we ever want to make true progress towards equality for all. 

Injustice and racism is literally embedded into our country’s DNA, and was once again in plain sight after the events of June 2020. The high-profile murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor thrust the Black Lives Matter movement back into the limelight, and with it brought difficult emotions and conversations to our own Black community.

Jasmin White, IT Specialist for Bitwise Industries, recalls the exhausting days throughout last summer. “I had a number of hard conversations with people that had never thought about how quickly you can lose your life at the hands of law enforcement just because you are a person of color,” reflected Jasmin. “It was eye opening to see how many people I knew lacked perspective, but it was also comforting to talk to friends who also demanded change in our country’s policing of Black and Brown communities.” 

June’s events forced Kennan to have difficult conversations with his two young sons, aged five and ten. “My mom had this same talk with me when I was thirteen,” Kennan said. “In twenty-eight years we are having the same conversations about the inherent dangers of growing up as a Black male in America. It was supremely sad to know that in my lifetime we haven’t moved the needle enough and things have hardly changed.”

“I lost faith in progression in our community, progression for respect, and belonging,” said Tyresha. “I felt alone; I felt like I didn’t belong somewhere I’ve only ever known.”

As difficult as those words are to read, it is even more difficult to live them—to which many Black individuals can attest. And it’s not reserved for high-profile events; everyday life at work can be just as difficult. The technology industry in particular has a long way to go in creating an equitable and inclusive field. The work we do at Bitwise is a small step in the right direction, but even we have blind spots and areas on which to work.

The troublesome relationship between the technology industry and diversity and inclusion is founded in issues regarding opportunity and equity, set against a background of implicit bias and racial profiling. And even when people of color, women, and other marginalized populations advance within technology companies, they are often utilized as scapegoats, spokespersons, and “check boxes” to showcase an organization’s “dedication” to diversity. Bitwise is not immune to these issues. This past year has forced us to place a magnifying glass upon our shortcomings and identify how we can work with our Black team members specifically to provide necessary support tailored to their needs.

After discussion and correlation with our Black community, the Bitwise Black Slack channel was established last year to provide a dedicated safe space for our Black community to connect. “It’s nice to have a space with peers who live through the same life experiences and offer guidance through the same lens,” shared Stacie McDonald, Bitwise Industries Executive Assistant.

And as our company continues to grow, so does a diverse representation of employees at every level of the organization. “It’s refreshing and also important to see people of color in the tech industry because representation is essential,” Jasmin said. “This is the first time in a long time that I’m not the only Black woman or even Black person at my job.” 

“I love that being Black at Bitwise means having access to a broad range of the African diaspora,” Kennan shared. “We have team members from the South, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Carribean, Northeastern U.S. and beyond.”

It is all of our responsibilities to continue working towards a more equitable and inclusive future— for everyone. Our Black communities do not bear the burden of providing a step-by-step plan to dismantling racism within our workplaces or cities. Instead, it’s vital that we take the initiative to educate and prepare ourselves to support them when necessary.

“Black history is a lot richer than there’s time for in February. I’m not trained on how to gently re-explain the history of modern race relations in America; go pick up a Black biography on someone born after 1950 and read it!”

– Kaila Webb

Although the context of Blackness in America is a somber one, Black communities and stories should be celebrated, every month of the year. “The Black experience in America is that of an underdog steadily overcoming the stiffest of odds.” said Trevor. For within each struggle lies a resilient individual, an unresolving trek towards what is right and true; a dedication to live into the life they deserve.

“I’m really proud of how much we’ve overcome and the major contributions that we’ve made to the culture of the United States,” said Jasmin. “Over the past year there has been a real drive for diversity, equality, and representation in places where decisions are made.” It is a narrative of self-empowerment and thriving despite all odds, purposefully creating spaces that will provide for the generations to come after them. “I love most our ability to persevere, and the grit that each one of us has shown in spite of our oppression,” Tyresha shared.

And for our Black community at Bitwise, that looks like a lot of different things, both personally and professionally. “I hope to make my younger self proud,” reflects Jasmin. “I want to keep learning and develop my skills in the tech industry,” Kennan, in his specific leadership role, echoes similar sentiments. “I hope to be a beacon of truth for Bitwise,” said Kennan. “Being the first Black Vice President of Bitwise gives me the opportunity to open so many doors here at so many levels.”

The Bitwise Black community embodies their resilience—the same resilience that powered their ancestors and community before them, that still carries them today. As we all continue the important work of dismantling injustices in our own communities and country as a whole, let us remember this resilience. This resilience has powered folks to the top of our organization, not only having a seat at the table but creating a new table for everyone to feel included and heard. This resilience should inspire us—to be better allies and outspoken advocates to those still facing injustice.

But overall, this resilience should stand not only as a reminder to the difficulties faced, but also a reminder of the good to come. A testament to overcoming adversity and oppression, stirring up good trouble, and working to make the world a better place for all.

Leah Sadoian is a writer for Bitwise Industries, digital content creator, and Central Valley native. She primarily writes marketing material, website content, and narratives for the Bitwise Stories series. In her free time, Leah enjoys a cold IPA, Law and Order SVU reruns, and spending time with her cat, Marge.