Black Valley, a year in the making.
Sunday the 13th of June 2021 marks a year since Black Valley began as a thought in my mind and was shared with an audience on Instagram live.
How it started:
I remember, like most black folks, being distraught after watching the murder of George Floyd on social media. I was in shock and felt what psychologists would call learned helplessness. The term learned helplessness was theorised by the American psychologist Martin Seligman. Simply put, learned helplessness occurs when an individual experiences stressful situations repeatedly, and as a result, they believe they are unable to change or control the situation, so they do not even try, even if opportunities for change become available.
I remember vividly the global outcry that followed the death of George Floyd. I remember watching it, feeling anger, and changing my display pictures on social media to a black square. I remember fuming with anger inside when I read posts on Facebook of people who I considered friends arguing that all lives matter and fail to empathise with the pain myself and other black people were feeling at that moment.
I remember the personal frustration of feeling like I was not doing enough to create the change I wanted to see. I wasn’t sure what my Instagram black screen post actually achieved! I had endless discussions with friends about the issue who also shared my frustrations and I also felt they were tired. The year was 2020 and Black People still had to fight to just be. I heard the frustration of fighting in their voice - they were tired. I was tired too.
This feeling of lack of control or/and not being able to affect the situation, only added to my feeling of helplessness. I felt like we as black people had been here before, with global outrage, but no real progress. The hype would die a few months down the line, once the press stopped focusing on it, I thought.
COVID and the UK lockdown meant that I had a lot of thinking time on my hands. That’s what I did - ‘think’, and started with a question: what needed to change?
The answer became clearer with this new perspective and I found myself energised by this question.
I thought about the underlying issue as revolving around the perception of blackness as a whole. There are biases towards blackness and this reveals itself as the tip of the iceberg, such as a white cop thinking it is OK to stand on a black man’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds in the name of law & order. So to really create change, we need to somehow challenge people’s negative stereotypes over time.
Black Valley valley was birthed:
What if we can use technology to challenge people’s stereotypes? Even more importantly, what if we can ensure that technology products are not biased against black people. Create a situation in which we can somehow get ahead of the game, so we don’t end up in a black mirror-esque world where the computer says no because of the colour of your skin.
This is the idea behind Black Valley, a company created to achieve the goal of getting more black people entering tech careers & starting their own start-ups. So in the information age, Black People have a seat on the table and in some cases own the actual table, creating the real power to affect the change we need to happen.
I remember reading the book The Monk and the Riddle by Randy Komisar. In the book Randy supports Lenny, an entrepreneur, on his journey, helping him discover his why and giving him the direction to make his business successful through chats and what I call the “coffee shop experience”.
Black Valley was born.
This is what we want to create with Black Valley, the coffee shop experience where black talents come to us and have access to world-class mentors that are passionate about supporting them to thrive in their careers and start their own businesses.
How we are doing so far:
We had two mentors sign up 2 days following my Instagram live chat. Not too surprisingly the first mentors to sign up were friends of mine; Zander Whitehurst and Kojo Hinson. Zander, a product designer and the founder of Memorisley and the person I was on Instagram live with. Kojo is the VP of Engineering of Kodoo who I met whilst mentoring young people on the social integration programme, National Citizen Service. We've stayed friends since then and he was one of the first people I shared Black Valley as an idea with.
A year later, we’ve received over 200 mentor applications, with over 140 mentors onboarded to our global slack community, our own Randy Komisars.
We proudly boast of mentors at the top of their professions from top tech companies such as Microsoft, Uber, Amazon, Google, Facebook and SMEs across the UK.
We’ve delivered over 760 mentoring hours, with 84 graduates from our immersive mentoring programme.
We have formed a meaningful partnership with Organisations aligned with our missions to support the Black Community, such as our partnership with Founders Factory to support black founders that will be going through our programme.
Here are just some highlights of people on the programme, sharing the impact the programme had on them.
We are just getting started:
We’ve been successful in connecting people with individuals that can help them achieve their goals. The next step for Black Valley is to democratise mentoring, making it seamless for the black community to connect with our world-class mentors at the click of a button.
Imagine connecting to a partner at IBM about your business, picking the brain of the Head of Marketing at Amazon or speaking to the head of the social impact at Uber about your social enterprise?
We want to make this a reality at Black Valley for the black community, making sure we have the same access to the same global network our white counterparts have access to.
So a year on, the feeling is no longer of helplessness but of hope. I have seen first-hand what happens when you bring people together to solve an issue. I have seen our mentors, no matter what background they are from going above and beyond for their mentees. I’ve seen genuine connections being formed, no matter the backgrounds of our mentors. This is what makes Black Valley special: individuals from different backgrounds coming together to champion the Black Community.
I am excited to see what we can achieve as we grow and scale what we do at Black Valley.
Till next time,
Leke, Founder @Black Valley