[EXCLUSIVE] Blavity Co-Founder Aaron Samuels Demonstrates Balance with Talks of Self-Care and Building Eco-Systems at Afrotech
AfroTech is the largest Tech conference catered to Black millennials who as pire to break into the tech industry through conduits of leadership, entrepreneurship and engineering with panels, discussions, events and educational tracks. AfroTech is an ecosystem of venture capitalists, engineers, start-up founders, employers and more. Get funded, get hired, get sponsored, get plugged in and receive the support you need to propel you forward in career trajectory only at AfroTech. AfroTech news is a subsidiary of Blavity, Inc.
Blavity is a community of the most exceptional multi-cultural creators and influencers in the world. They partner with diverse content creators and influencers to help them reach a wider audience, amplify their message, and fund their hustles. Believing that the world shifts according to the way people see it— and if you change the way people view the world, you can transform it.
Aaron Samuels is the Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of Blavity Inc., a digital community for Black Millennials that reaches over 30 million people per month across five digital properties including Blavity News, Travel Noire, AfroTech, Shadow And Act, and 21Ninety. After working at Bain & Co. as a strategy consultant, Aaron left his corporate life to pursue his passion as a writer and builder of community. He has since written a book of poetry, toured the country, performed on television, and landed himself on Forbes' coveted 30 under 30 list as a rising star in the tech and media space. Aaron received his undergraduate degree from Washington University in St. Louis, and his MBA from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. When he is not at Blavity, Aaron is a nationally touring poet and speaker. His debut collection of poetry, Yarmulkes & Fitted Caps was released on Write Bloody Publishing. Aaron Samuels is Black and Jewish.
Tamisha: What inspired the relocation of Afrotech from San Francisco to Oakland?
Aaron: We wanted to acknowledge the Black people that are still in San Francisco and Silicon Valley. Which we did within our first few years. Beyond that, we said let’s look to where our community is at in a larger context in the Bay and the reality is the Black population in Oakland is one of the most amazing communities in the country. We wanted to make sure we were building something for our people here in Oakland.
Tamisha: Where would you like to see AfroTech in five years?
Aaron: When we think about tech and what is incredible about technology it has the power to change the way the world is experienced and in order to do that you need to find out where the most innovative ideas come from. So, when you ask the question where do the new ideas come from that are solving the world’s hardest problems and most pressing issues, we know-what we’ve always known to be true is that these ideas are generated by communities of color. That’s where the innovation starts because when you’re forced to hustle you hustle, when you’re forced to innovate, you innovate. When you live in the context that you’re asked to imagine, you imagine and that’s what technology is. Our dream is that we’re able to shine a light on the innovation and imagination, that is already so prevalent in the black community. We want the entire world to see it and we want Black people all over the world to be recognized for what we’ve already been doing.
Tamisha: Did you see Blavity growing into what it has grown to today?
Aaron: One of my co-founders Jeff said it best, “We saw it becoming like this but we thought it would take at least ten to twenty years”. It’s been really amazing to watch it happen over the last four to five years. It’s grown a lot faster than we’d thought, the reason for that is simply because of the love from the community. We would not have grown as quickly without the support from so many people who want to see us win and really believe in what we’re building.
Tamisha: What does it look like to continue building rapport with the community beyond AfroTech?
Aaron: We have done several things this year that we’re really excited about: partnering directly with the City of Oakland, multiple people on our team building our community stage that allows us to create free programming for Oakland residents and really for anybody that wants to come but really designed for residents in Oakland. We want to continue to encourage not just the Blavity team to do that work but to create access points for all of the corporate sponsors and other organizations that come to Afrotech for this partnership. We want to create pipelines for all of these organizations to be able to invest directly into the community.
Tamisha: As the Chief Operating Officer and Co-Founder of Blavity, you’re very busy how do you stay balanced? What’s your spiritual work life balance that keeps you zen, so that you can get it all done?
Aaron: Hmmm, that’s a great question. One I’m not usually asks I appreciate that.
Tamisha: Self-care is important.
Aaron: Self-care is important. I have a regular mindfulness practice. The whole Blavity team was here at 6:30 this morning. We all did a 30 minute meditation together.
Tamisha: That so profound, it sets the tone for the entire conference.
Aaron: Yes, it’s something that I’ve been leading here for the last four years. I have my own breathing work that I do. Also, just as much as it is important to get centered. It is just as important to get free. I do that for with for dance. I’m a salsa dancer. I love to do that, nothing makes me feel more free that being on the dance floor. That’s my happy place on the dance floor, salsa dancing. My days start with mindful meditation in the mornings and end with salsa dancing. In between if I do something good for my people that just adds that peace.
Tamisha: There are various divisions of Blavity: politics, news, media and the acquisition of Travel Noire. Which industry can we see you all in next?
Aaron: That’s a great question. I don’t know the answer. What I can say is that the way that we make our decisions by looking to our community and looking to see what our community is interested in. One of the reasons that we created AfroTech is that we were getting a lot of feedback that there needed to be more opportunities created for the Black tech community, we created 21Ninety our women’s brand. We created that because we were getting feedback to do more for women of color. For Black Women.
Tamisha: We have 21Ninety for Black Women what do we have for Black Men?
Aaron: I’m not sure that’s something we will ask our community.
Tamisha: Well let’s talk because for Black Men the number one cause of death is suicide and depression. So, it’s important for you all to have their own sacred safe spaces. I’ve noticed as a Black Woman, you often don’t have your own spaces. As a Master Reiki Practitioner, I service Black Men but there’s only so much relatability I can offer as a woman. You all are able to relate better to other men. That’s something I’ve been looking around for-like well where is it.
Aaron: I think it’s mental health is important. As a Black Man, but specifically as a Black Man that grew up in a household with clinical psychologists for parents, I think a lot about emotional wellness and how that intersects with my own identity. I agree it’s super important for our community to be mindful and cognizant of that.
Tamisha: What’s your goal for Afrotech 2019?
Aaron: My goal is for this conference to be an ecosystem. With that means is the conference itself becomes regenerative, so that everyone here can help feed each other. The people who are coming here to recruit. I want them to be able to successfully recruit people. People that are coming here to get hired. I want them to get hired by those recruiters. Similarly, there are people who show up who want to fund businesses and there are people showing up who want to get their businesses funded.So, I think we are at our best when we serve as an ecosystem where all those things can happen.