“I really want to make people think about young Black and Latino males,” Eric says. “No one is putting any real effort into them. Literally when people think of young Black and Latino males they think of programs to keep us out of jail.” Eric, Seth — and their other two co-founders Andre Bearfield and Todd Bennings — are determined to change that narrative with HERE Seattle.
“The truth is that we can do more than just play sports,” Eric says. “If you go to a community center in [the Black neighborhoods] all the pamphlets are for warehouse jobs, customer service, and every low level career. How about pamphlets displaying tech roles and jobs of the future? What if we did affordable camps in those areas instead of all the tech camps being extremely expensive for the wealthy in the wealthiest neighborhoods? I really think that Latino and Black males are being forgotten in this diversity and inclusion talk overall.”
Eric knows that this lack of diversity and inclusion is a reality that weighs heavily on the mind of every young Black person as they grow up and begin to enter the workforce. Like all his co-founders, Eric works a full time job and runs HERE Seattle on a purely volunteer basis because he knows how badly people of color need to feel like they have a community where they belong.
“The lack of diversity in Seattle affects me all the time,” he says. “It’s a general feeling of being unsure if people are accepting of you — especially when you are first starting with a company. In my experience, I am usually the only Black male, or one of two, who work at the company. It usually takes time to understand the culture of the office and how to work with everyone. I am usually very cautious for a while until I find who my advocates are.”
Which is why HERE Seattle considers itself just as much a social organization as it does a professional networking group. Eric and his team know that Black and Brown people in Seattle need to have a community where they leave gatherings feeling motivated and inspired to do great things not just in tech, but in life.
And Eric says there are other organizations in Seattle with similar missions who are working to create a more diverse and inclusive tech ecosystem. “I love Apprenti. It is the first true apprenticeship program. I love this program because it pays for classes and gives people a working wage while they learn.” In other words, when you get accepted into the program, you’re already hired. And your training sets you up for a good job when you finish.
The Tech Access Foundation (TAF) is another great organization in Seattle doing its part to create a more diverse and inclusive tech ecosystem. A public school in Seattle serving grades six through twelve, TAF “aims to equip students of color for success in college and life through the power of interdisciplinary STEM education and supportive relationships.”
Schools like TAF are a great start, but Eric knows that more is needed from corporations to make a real difference. “We need more buy in from Executive leadership teams that can tie diversity to salary as a part of performance. This will allow more opportunities to get into the industry. Overall we need to create more opportunities for black and latino kids to get exposure to the tech industry young. We need to do a lot more outreach all over the country.”
When the Tech Inclusion Conference comes to Seattle this June, Eric and HERE Seattle will be there learning what other organizations are doing to be more inclusive so that he can incorporate new ideas into HERE Seattle events. “I’m looking forward to networking and hearing some great stories,” Eric says. It’s very likely that he’ll be able to do a lot of both.