Tag Archives: Diversity and Inclusion

Project Witness shows life in prison from a child’s point of view

Editor's note: Today’s guest post comes from John Legend, artist, producer and activist; and Ty Stiklorius, veteran music manager, CEO of Friends at Work, Producer and Activist

At the age of 17, Jarrett Harper was sentenced to life in prison without parole. His crime was killing the man who had sexually abused him and his brother over a number of years. But he was not seen as a desperate child victim trying to stop the abuse he and his brother were enduring. Instead, he was sentenced as a child to die in prison. 

We were honored to meet Jarrett during a visit to Lancaster Prison in 2015. When we met, Jarrett was 33 years old and had already served 16 years behind bars. During that time, Jarrett devoted himself to learning and healing. He reached out to others who were incarcerated with him, to mentor and give counsel to them. This young man, who had suffered so much and been through so much trauma, was dedicated to transforming himself and to finding hope. 

Meeting Jarrett changed us. It reinvigorated our commitment to addressing how children are sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, the conditions of their confinement—and to Jarrett’s personal plea for freedom. We co-authored a letter to California Governor Jerry Brown petitioning for Jarrett’s sentence of life without parole to be reduced. In 2019, newly-elected Governor Gavin Newsom agreed with Governor Jerry Brown's decision. Jarrett was finally released after serving 20 years. 

Jarrett and John Legend

From left to right, Baylon Harper (Jarrett's brother), Jarrett Harper, John Legend

Jarrett’s compelling voice is now part of Project Witness—created by theCampaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, YouTube and Google—which uses virtual reality to immerse the viewer in the experience of prison from a child’s point of view. 

Project Witness launches today against the backdrop of the release of “Just Mercy,” a film that  tells the story of acclaimed human rights advocate Bryan Stevenson and his struggle to challenge a broken criminal justice system. In his writing and speaking, Bryan always makes an abiding plea that we bear witness to the “places where there is despair.” He says: “If you are willing to get closer to people who are suffering, you will find the power to change the world.”

That has been so true for us. We have chosen to be proximate, to position ourselves in the places where justice has been denied, so that we might fight for a better world. We hope that Project Witness's immersive experiences will extend the chance for many others to be proximate to the lived experiences of children behind bars. 

We urge you to bear witness to the stories of being a child behind bars. And we hope you will join us in fighting for justice—for everyone. 

One man’s mission to add civil rights history to Google Maps

“I think in another life, I would have been a private investigator,” says Paul Kang. The Nashville resident is a paralegal for an immigration law firm, but it’s his hobby as a Local Guide on Google Maps that’s brought out his inner detective, turning him into something of a historian.

Paul and his family moved to Tennessee in 2012, and it was out of necessity that he was first introduced to Google Maps and soon after Local Guides, the community of everyday people who are passionate about sharing their experiences on Google Maps with reviews, photos, videos and more. Their efforts end up making Maps better for everyone. “My wife wanted to know where the post office near her work was, so I looked it up and sent her the map listing,” he says. “And when she went there, she told me it was all closed up.” The post office wasn’t open for business anymore. This sort of thing happened a few more times, and after becoming slightly frustrated, Paul realized he could use Google Maps to edit information. “I started closing things down, replacing duplicate listings,” he says. Eventually, Paul was doing much more than correcting listings. In 2017, the 1955 murder of Emmett Till resurfaced in the news when an interview with the woman who’d accused Till of harassing her—which led her husband and an accomplice to murder Till—admitted it wasn’t true. The tragic, senseless killing of the 14-year-old boy had been a catalyst in the civil rights movement, and the confession reignited interest in the story for Americans everywhere. 

Paul first learned about what happened to Emmett Till when he was a young adult. “I think one of the things I still remember is that the jury acquitted Till’s murderers in 59 minutes, but that they would have [done it] faster if they hadn’t all gone together to get a bottle of pop before rendering the verdict.” 

When he used Google Maps to try and find the site where Till’s body was found, a listing appeared—but didn’t seem like it was in the right spot according to what Paul had read. After using historical resources to learn more about the location, he was able to find it himself on Google Maps—and he decided that everyone else should be able to as well, so he loaded up his wife and kids and started the two-hour road trip south. 

“I just thought, you know what, I’m going to do this, I’m doing to drive my whole family down there,” Paul says. When they got there, he says they discovered a museum dedicated to Emmett Till, but it was only open by appointment--information that hadn’t been listed in Google Maps. Fortunately, the museum was holding an event, and Paul’s family was able to go in. What Paul didn’t realize is how important the experience was for his wife, who was learning about Emmett Till for the first time. “We talked about it as she was going through it. It was shocking to her. It was a big download of information for her, and I know it’s stuck with her and informs her when she’s reading the news today, too.”

Using a 360-degree camera, Paul also took Street View photos of the site where Till’s body was found, and updated the Google Maps data so others can find it. He was even able to find the barn where Till was tortured and added that information to Maps.

Paul's gone on to add more historical information to Google Maps; he thinks he’s added some 50 historic landmarks, give or take. In 2018, for the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, various sites and memorials in Memphis were being constructed. “I waited to see if the city or some nonprofit maybe was going to add them to Google Maps, but I didn’t see anything,” he says. “So I just started adding them.” 

He also made a point to update information about other memorials to Dr. King, including “I Have Been to the Mountaintop,” a sculpture unveiled in 1976 that was moved to a more prominent part of downtown Memphis. I AM A MAN plaza, an open air installation that opened in 2018 and dedicated to the sanitation workers’ strike of 1968, also wasn’t on Google Maps; Paul made sure both of these sites would surface, complete with historic information. Once when he went to take photos for Street View with his 360-degree camera, a few police officers acting as security at a site asked what he was doing. “I was like, ‘I’m making sure this gets on Google Maps, so people can find it!’” 

News archives and web research power Paul’s exploration of the history of his new state and  he says there’s work to be done to make sure this information remains accessible for future generations. “A lot of the websites cataloging information about these kinds of places with descriptions and photos are volunteer-led,” he says. “What if they decide not to or forget to renew their domain? Those websites could go away.”

Fortunately, Paul’s work won’t be going anywhere. “Even if all these websites go away, Google Maps will still be here.”

Source: Google LatLong

Annie Jean-Baptiste keeps asking, “who else?”

As a child, Annie Jean-Baptiste wanted to be a pediatrician. But when her freshman year of college rolled around, her dream took a turn. “I started taking some of the classes and thinking ‘I don’t know if this is really what I should be doing…’” she laughs. Now, as Google’s Head of Product Inclusion, Annie helps teams make sure Google products are made for everyone. She’s not wearing scrubs, but she says she’s found another way to help people live fuller lives. 

“I feel most alive when I’m interacting with people and really connecting with them,” she says. Annie, who’s Haitian-American, knows what it’s like to be underrepresented in the world, and brings this perspective to her work. “I’ve discovered that when technology is done correctly, it has such potential to amplify peoples’ lives in a positive way.” 

In our latest installment of The She Word, we talked with Annie about diversity and intersectionality, her vision-boarding process and what she loves most about Haiti.

How do you explain your job at a dinner party?

I help teams that create Google products—so things like Pixel, Chrome, Assistant—bring an inclusive lens to the design process. Because we’re building for billions of users who may not look or act or think like the teams building them, we need to make sure we’re bringing different perspectives to the table at key points in the process. 

What's the hardest part of your job? 

We try to focus on multiple dimensions of diversity, and then also the intersections of those dimensions—and that can be challenging. I always say “I’m not Black on Monday, a woman on Tuesday, and left-handed on Wednesday.” All of those things are always within me and affect how I move through the world. When you apply that to billions of users, it can get complicated. 

What we don’t want to do is rank dimensions of diversity, or look at them individually; we really want to look at people in a complete way. We want to ask, “who else?” And it can be challenging to ask “who else?” and bring people into the fold at critical points while also balancing deadlines and needs of product teams. 

Thankfully, teams are super excited to do this work and they’ve been really awesome partners in taking the feedback, in asking “who else?,” in bringing other people in, in changing the way they’re doing their work—even changing products or features. 

What’s the most rewarding part of your job? 

Hands down, it’s hearing from people who say they felt seen or validated in a product. “The Pixel camera takes really beautiful pictures of my family, and we all feel seen,” or “I asked the Assistant to tell me something about Pride and it said something really beautiful to me and it made me cry”—those are the things that make the work worth it. It’s a testament to the incredible efforts of our product and design teams. 

You touched on it earlier, but how would you describe “intersectionality” to someone who’s never heard the term before?

Intersectionality looks at the intersections of dimensions of underrepresented people and acknowledges how those intersections can potentially result in negative experiences. 

The easiest way to describe it is that I'm a Black woman, right? Both of those things are always within me and both of those demographics—women and Black people—historically have experienced barriers. If a Black woman also has a disability, those barriers might be amplified further. You have to think about what that means in terms of what you’re building, especially if that isn’t the background you come from. 

What’s one habit that’s made you successful?

Relationships are the core of everything. When people trust you, they’re more likely to take risks with you and try new things with you. That’s really important to my work, including with users who share their experiences with us. When we get feedback from users and they tell us how they use a product  with their family, that’s really personal stuff. There needs to be a baseline of trust, mutual understanding and empathy. Working with Google teams, it’s similar: Relationships are important, so I make sure I take time to get to know product teams. 

What's something most people don't know about you?

I’m definitely an introvert. Presenting to teams does not come naturally to me; it’s something I have to work at and psyche myself up for. I recharge by spending a lot of introspective time alone. I’ve also been trying to read more. When I was younger, my parents didn’t allow my brother and I to watch TV on weekdays until my senior spring of high school. Looking back, that was such an amazing thing because I was a voracious reader! Now, being able to watch TV as much as I want…there are times where I’m like, “why am I watching this?! I could be doing so many other things!” I’m trying to balance that decompression time with more focused activities. I read 10 pages a day last year and I ended up reading 15 books. I want to constantly be curious and for that to be part of my me time. 

I scanned your Twitter, and have to ask: What is your vision boarding process?

I love vision boarding! I’ve hosted vision boarding parties for the past five years. My approach is to first reflect on the past year: What went well, what didn’t go well, what am I proud of. Then, decide on what you want the themes of the year ahead to be. It’s helpful to have a baseline of what you want to accomplish in different areas of your life, whether it’s family, relationships, work or giving back. 

Annie Jean-Baptiste vision board

I tried vision boarding with a friend once without any direction, and she had a minor internal crisis! 

It can be emotional! I’m a Pisces, I get it! 

Your parents are from Haiti and moved here when they were young adults. What are some ways you keep Haiti with you? 

Haiti courses through my veins and I’m intentional about being proud of my heritage. I mentor people at and outside of Google, and I’ve been really surprised how many people tell me, “It’s so nice to see you being so proud of being Haitian and it’s inspired me to be proud of who I am and my heritage, too!” 

What was it like for you when the earthquake struck Haiti in 2010?

I had family there; it was terrifying. Haitian people have had so many things thrown at them. It was sort of like “how is there another devastating thing happening?” You’d think something like that could make people cynical about life or unhappy all the time, and that’s just not the case. They’re the warmest, most positive, brilliant people. Even looking at all the technology that came out following the earthquake to mitigate this disaster; it’s a testament to Haiti’s resilience.

What’s the first thing you do...

[Laughing] Eat. 

...when you go back to Haiti?

Definitely eat! Rice, beans, plantains. Obviously the food is delicious, but it also reminds me of my family. And then of course, going to the beach. Ideally if I could eat on the beach, that would be the first thing I’d do.

What is one of your favorite memories of Haiti?

When I was around 11, we went to my grandparents’ house for a month. Every afternoon, I would sit on the porch and eat sugar cane with my grandfather, and it was so simple and so nice to just be outside and spend this quality time with someone I love. It felt like the epitome of island life and I treasure those moments.

Reality TV star Tanya Sam on life as an entrepreneur

In 2018, women received only 2.2 percent of all venture capital funding. Women Techmakers, Google’s program to build visibility, community and resources for women in technology, is committed to changing this narrative. That’s why we’re launching Founded, a new web series that shares the stories of women founders who are using tech to solve some of the world’s most pressing challenges. To highlight the stories of four women of color tech entrepreneurs, for our first season we’re taking our viewers to Atlanta, home of one of the largest technology hubs in the U.S

In our first episode, we meet Tanya Sam, a reality TV star and tech startup investor. Through her work with Tech-Square Labs and the Ambition Fund, Tanya is strengthening the power of historically under-served entrepreneurs. 

We sat down with her to dig deeper into her vision for the tech industry. Here’s what she had to say about her past life working in healthcare, how she’s helping bring minority voices to the table and how she balances her career with filming a television show.

Today, you’re a tech entrepreneur, investor and reality TV show star—but you were a nurse for the bulk of your career. Tell me about your career transition to becoming a tech founder. 

When I first moved to Atlanta, I was still working full-time as a registered nurse, and my then-boyfriend/now fiancé Paul was launching a cybersecurity company. On our second date, he actually had to take a coffee meeting with his co-founder, and I sat in on the whole conversation. I was so impressed! I wanted to learn more about the entrepreneur world.   

My career in healthcare is actually what inspired Limitless Smart Shot: As a nurse, I worked busy 12-hour days, and we relied on coffee constantly. So I wanted to create a dietary supplement that would be healthier and could increase focus, attention, memory and support healthy brain function.  

You’re the co-founder of  Tech Square Labs, Atlanta’s lead seed stage venture fund. What was your vision for Tech Square Labs? What problems are you hoping to solve?

The vision of TechSquare Labs was to create opportunities to help tech entrepreneurs make something from nothing. Oftentimes, early entrepreneurs have an idea that they believe can become a large-scale, technology-based company, but they don’t have the resources to drive that idea. TechSquare Labs helps with everything from providing coworking space to helping teams with patent research and networking opportunities.

You also founded the Ambition Fund to invest in women and underrepresented entrepreneurs. Where do you see The Ambition Fund scaling with the next five years?

In the next five years, I plan to take the Ambition Fund Business Battles to over 50 cities across the globe, help fund over 500 companies and by that point to have also helped 1,000 women and minorities become angel investors. I want to help change the face of entrepreneurship by making it more female, more black and more diverse.

Just being on set with you for the shoot, I noticed that you have a great sense of humor. What really cracks you up?

I am truly a corny and goofy nerd at heart! I like dry, witty humor and laugh at my own dumb jokes. I try to live life to the fullest by working hard and enjoying what I do! I think that comes from my stint as an oncology nurse; it really teaches you an appreciation for life and health. 

What’s it like filming The Real Housewives of Atlanta? I’ve read you turned down the opportunity to film full-time—why?

When I was offered the chance to work on The Real Housewives of Atlanta, I thought it was a great chance to show the life of a black woman working in tech on mainstream television; representation matters! But filming takes a ton of time, and it wouldn’t be possible for me to work on the Ambition Fund and TechSquare Labs, and all my other projects, if I were on the show full-time!

You do a lot of these kinds of interviews; is there anything you’d like to share that you don’t usually get asked about?

I love to talk about my passion for a nonprofit organization that I am very involved in. Kate’s Club is an Atlanta nonprofit helping young people who are facing life after the death of a parent or sibling. Kate’s Club connects kids and young adults so they can share their experiences, and helps them process their grief in a comfortable, safe, uplifting setting. I’ve been a volunteer and working with children at Kate’s Club since 2016, and I’m currently on the Board of Directors and serving as the Gala Chair for our annual Mourning Glory Gala May 16, 2020.

There’s a personal reason why Kate’s Club holds such a special place in my heart. I also experienced loss at an early age; I lost my mother at the age of 12. When I was going through that, let me tell you, there was nothing like this around for my younger sister and I. No clubhouse, no programs, no summer camps or even exposure to other kids that had experienced loss.    

Are there any stories you’d like to share about using your influencer status in a positive way?

So recently, I actually helped bring someone onto the Kate’s Club board after meeting online. I use my Instagram Stories to talk about my work at Kate’s Club, and I had a woman reach out to me to share her grief story, and she ended up making a donation right there over Instagram. And now, just this week, she ended up joining the board! 

A sneak peek at our IWD summit series with Mira Leung

Every March, Google celebrates International Women’s Day (IWD) by hosting a series of summits across the globe. In 2020, there are 15 different summits taking place in 10 countries. The events will feature inspiring speakers from the tech industry, interactive workshops presented by Google’s Women Techmakers and community building among women in tech. 

Part of the goal of these events is to build community among local women in the tech industry. In every country hosting a summit, we have a list of inspiring speakers, including Swati Vauthrin, the VP of engineering at BuzzFeed, Dr. Wendy A. Okolo, an aerospace research engineer at NASA and Mira Leung, a software engineer at Google who will be speaking at our IWD summit in Seattle. I recently sat down with Mira to hear more about her story and her journey to tech and get a preview of what she’ll be talking about during her talk on March 7.  

Describe your journey to Google. Were there any challenges you faced along the way? 

Before my career in tech, I was a figure skater and competed at the 2006 Winter Olympic Games. After my athletic career, I wanted to pursue one of my other passions—computer science. While completing my degree at the University of British Columbia, I also worked as a teaching assistant for several courses, helped with a couple research projects, and interned on the Google Analytics team. The following year, I graduated (and gave a speech/rap at my graduation ceremony!) and converted to being a full-time engineer. I've worked on and led Daydream and ARCore projects, and I'm currently the tech lead of the Maps Software Development Kit (SDK) for Android.

What's the message you want to communicate to your audience at the IWD summit?

I hope to show how we can all achieve ambitious goals by overcoming hurdles through collective action. I will be talking about my work on Speakeasy, a new Google Maps translation feature for travelers. I’m going to share how this project got started, and the obstacles we had to overcome to get it to its public launch.

Mira Leung

What's one piece of advice you would share with young women entering tech? 

Don't be afraid to ask questions. Working in tech means that you will most likely be learning new things throughout your career, especially as you grow your skill set. Most people are eager to share their knowledge and help you out. Embrace the opportunity to learn and collaborate with your peers.

Why do you think it’s important to hold space for women in tech with things like the  International Women’s Day summits?

I think that sharing our experiences and learning from each other is key to personal and career growth. Seeing beyond our own perspective can help ensure we don't miss the forest for the trees, and I find this often helps guide our road maps and development at work.

Who is a  female role model who’s influenced you?

My mom. Growing up, my mom made sure that I was happy and loved. She made sacrifices for me, encouraged and supported me, and invested her time and attention in me with her. Knowing that she is always there for me no matter what inspires me to give 110 percent to everything I do. I definitely wouldn't be who and where I am today if not for my amazing mom.

Mira will be speaking at this year’s Seattle’s International Women’s Day summit. To learn more about the event and to apply to attend a summit near you, check out goo.gle/iwd-20.

Little Doodle, big impact: Honoring the Greensboro sit-in

As a little girl, my biggest wish was for a dollhouse. But as the daughter of a single mom, we just couldn’t afford things like that. Forty-something years later, that wish came true. I bought my first dollhouse. What I didn’t know at the time was that a childhood dream would soon become my passion for telling stories through dioramas.

My love for miniatures gained a new meaning upon the devastating incarceration of my son. It was in the midst of that pain and anguish that I came up with the African American Miniature Museum. This mobile exhibit tells stories of Black history through a collection of dioramas placed in shadow boxes, created by myself and my husband Eddie Lewis. For me, the museum was a way to turn the negativity into something positive and share the stories of our ancestors’ strength and perseverance through hardship. I want young people to learn about those that came before them who sacrificed to help make the lives they live today possible. Most importantly, I want them to see that we each have the power to make it through difficult times to thrive and hopefully make things better for those who come after us. 

One such difficult yet inspiring time was the United States Civil Rights Movement. In fact, today marks the 60th anniversary of one of the events that helped spark it—the Greensboro sit-in. Organized by four Black college freshmen, the protest against segregation served as a catalyst for similar demonstrations throughout the nation. Today’s Doodle diorama not only pays homage to the sit-in, but also to everything that came as a result: changes in our country to make it more possible for ALL Americans—no matter their race, color, or creed—to live to their full potential.
P1080695 - Karen.jpg

Karen Collins with her Doodle diorama. Photo credit: Rebecca Veit

I hope that when people see this Doodle, at the start of Black History Month, they are inspired to learn more about the sit-in, the movement, and all the stories of Black resilience that helped shape the world we live in today. For folks in the Black community, I hope they feel gratitude and pride and that they remember that we have the strength to build a better future for ourselves and generations to come.

From Boggle to Google: Meg Mitchell’s mission to make AI for everyone

Long before Meg Mitchell founded the Ethical AI team at Google in 2017, she loved Boggle, the classic game where players come up with words from random letters in three minutes or less. Looking back at her childhood Boggle-playing days, Meg sees the game as her early inspiration to pursue studying computational linguistics. “I always loved identifying patterns, solving puzzles, language games, and creating new things,”  Meg says. “And Boggle had it all. It was a puzzle, and it was creative.”

The creative puzzles she tackles today as a Senior Research Scientist at Google are developing tools and techniques to help artificial intelligence (AI) evolve ethically over time, reflecting Google’s AI Principles. We caught up with Meg to talk about what took her from playing Boggle to working at Google. 

How do you describe your job at a dinner party to people who don’t work in tech?

When I used to work in language generation, my partner would say, “she makes robots talk.” Now that I work on AI Ethics as well, he says “she makes robots talk and helps them avoid inheriting human biases.” Everyone gets it when he says that! But I say “I work in AI Ethics.” I’ve found that gets people curious, and they generally want to know what that means. I say: ”When people create an AI system, it might not work well for everyone, meaning, it might limit what they can do in the world. What I do is develop frameworks for how well an AI system is doing in terms of offering equitable experiences for different people, so that the AI doesn’t affect different people disproportionately. This helps us avoid creating products that consistently don’t work well for some people and better for others.”

What’s an example that illustrates your work?

My team has developed what we call Model Cards, a way to help anyone, even non-technical people like journalists or designers, as well as everyday people, understand how specific machine learning, or ML, models work. The technical definition of an ML model: An ML model is the mathematical model  that makes predictions by using algorithms that learn statistical relationships among examples. And the technical definition of a Model Card is a framework for documenting a model’s performance and intended usage.

Here’s a less technical explanation of Model Cards: You know the nutritional labels on food packaging that talk about calories, vitamin content, serving size, and ingredients? Model Cards are like these, but for ML models. They show, in a structured and easy-to-read way, what the ML model does, how well it works, its limitations, and more.

Recently, two cross-industry organizations, Partnership on AI and OpenAI,  decided to apply our work on Model Cards to their frameworks and systems, respectively. 

You started out studying linguistics. How did you know this field was for you?

Growing up, I was equally good at math and reading and writing, but I generally thought of myself as being good with language. Of course, this was a gender norm at the time. But I also taught myself to code and started programming for fun when I was 13. When I was  a junior in high school, I liked doing creative things, and I really wanted to take a ceramics class in my free period. At the same time, I was in a calculus class, and my teacher literally got on her knee to encourage me to take advanced math instead. By the time I got to college, I was balancing both language and math, and my senior thesis at Reed College was on computational linguistics, and more specifically, on the generation of referring expressions. In non-technical terms, it’s simply about making appropriate references to people, places or things. My Ph.D. is in language generation, too—specifically vision-to-language generation, which is about translating visual things, like photos, into language, like captions or stories. 

Eventually, I had an “aha moment” when I knew I wanted to pursue this field, and it’s thanks to my dog, Wendell. Wendell was a Great Dane. When I walked Wendell, tons of people would stop and say, “That’s not a dog, that’s a horse!”  Once in a while, they’d say, “You should put a saddle on him!” They said the exact same phrases. After six years of hearing people say the same thing when they saw Wendell, I thought the consistency was so fascinating from a psycholinguistics point of view. I literally saw every day that people have stored prototypes in their minds. I realized through Wendell that although language is creative, and expressive, we say predictable things—and there are clear patterns. And sometimes, these predictable things we say are inaccurate and perpetuate stereotypes.


Looking back,  I see I was very naturally interested in ethics in AI, in terms of fairness and inclusion, before it was “a thing.”

What’s your favorite part of your job?

Programming! I’m happiest when I’m coding. It’s how I de-stress. My colleagues ask me “how long has it been since you coded?” the way some people ask each other “how long has it been since you’ve had coffee?” or “how long has it been since you had a vacation?” If I haven’t coded in more than two weeks, I’m not my happiest self.

What’s the most challenging part of your job? 

When we’re thinking of the end-to-end development of an AI system, there are challenges to making them more ethical, even if it seems like that’s obviously the right thing to do. Unintended bias creeps in. Unintentional outcomes occur. One way to avoid these are to represent many points of view and experiences, to catch gaps in terms of where and when an AI system isn’t performing as well for some people than for others. Who is at the table making decisions influences how a system is designed. This is why issues of diversity, equity and inclusion are a core part of my AI research, and why I encourage hiring AI talent that represents many dimensions of diversity.

What’s one habit that makes you and your team successful?

I message with the people I work with often. Everyone is remote, but it doesn’t feel like it. We share a lot of crazy, celebratory GIFs and happy emoji. Which makes sense, given my appreciation for fairness and language: GIFs and emoji are something that everyone can understand quickly and easily!

Supporting future history makers with NAACP

When I was in the 11th grade, I had the opportunity to write my first screenplay through NAACP’s Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics (ACT-SO) program. The program provides a platform for Black high school students—more than 300,000 to date—to bring their ideas to life and kickstart their journeys to becoming leaders in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), humanities, business, and the arts. 

ACT-SO gave me the confidence to pursue my dream of working in the entertainment and tech industry. After competing in NAACP’s local and national competitions, I wrote and directed my first short film, which I used in my portfolio to attend New York University. That eventually led me to my job as a Google Account Manager handling sales in the Media and Entertainment industry. 

Looking back, the greatest gift was that the program instilled values of community, excellence, and discipline in the participants. I’ve carried those values throughout my academic and professional career. I’ve found ways to build community and culture at Google, such as serving as the 2017-2018 Co-Lead of our Black Googler Network Bay Area chapter. 

This weekend, Google.org announced a $3 million grant and opportunities for Googlers to volunteer to help scale the ACT-SO program over the next three years. I sat down with National ACT-SO Director Larry Brown, Jr. to learn about how NAACP plans to expand the program to more students.

Can you give us an overview of ACT-SO, for people who aren’t familiar?

ACT-SO is an achievement program designed to recruit, stimulate, and encourage high academic and cultural achievement among African-American high school students. Students work throughout the year to develop a compelling project in one of 32 categories. After qualifying at their local ACT-SO contest, winners present their ideas at our national ACT-SO competition and compete for top scholarship prizes. The ACT-SO experience is unique and I dare say irreplaceable—it helps students build a support system for a lifetime of success. 

I understand that supporting the ACT-SO program is very personal to you. How did you first get involved with the program and what does your role include today?

As a high school student in Detroit, I competed in ACT-SO's Oratory competition. Although I never won, I was able to build a foundation of transferable skills that had a lasting impact. Now, as the leader of ACT-SO, I'm able to use what I learned as a contestant—active listening, critical thinking, and persuasion, to name a few skills—to create a memorable and impactful program that further enhances students' experiences, while in ACT-SO and beyond. I’ve also been able to create rewarding volunteer opportunities for my fellow ACT-SO alumni to give back to the program that benefited them. 

At Google, we often talk about moonshots—“anything is possible,” 10x ideas. What is ACT-SO’s moonshot, and how can a grant from Google.org and volunteer support from Googlers bring it to life? 

Over the years, we’ve heard from many alumni who, like you, point back to the ACT-SO competition as a pivotal moment in being recognized for their brilliance and potential. NAACP believes that every student, particularly students from underrepresented backgrounds, should be encouraged to pursue their academic excellence. That’s why, over time, we want to expand the ACT-SO program and make sure every student of African descent has access to a local ACT-SO competition. 

Google.org’s grant is a first step in moving closer to that goal. We were on a trajectory to engage 30,000 students over the next three years, but with Google’s support, we’re planning to expand to new chapters and engage almost 70,000 students. We’ll be hiring new staff, offering more travel stipends to students, and keeping alumni engaged. We’re also thrilled that members of the Black Googler Network and [email protected] have committed to volunteer as mentors and judges at the local and national level. Having Googlers involved will give our students the opportunity to meet new role models and begin building relationships in the tech industry. 

NAACP’s vision is a society where all individuals have equal rights without discrimination based on race. What role can computer science play in moving closer to that outcome? 

NAACP wants to put students on a path to high-wage careers that will make an impact on their lives, families, and communities, which is why we’re investing additional funds in our program’s science and technology tracks. The data shows that more than half of all jobs require technical skills, but a majority of students still aren’t learning these skills in school. Across the country, millions of technical jobs are projected to go unfilled, yet women and minorities are drastically underrepresented in technical fields. We believe that computer science education opportunities can be transformative in the lives of young people, and in particular, young people who do not have equal access and regularly face barriers to learning computer science. 

I don’t want to forget the role that artists have in computer science. I believe that artists and scientists have a lot in common. Technologists, scientists and artists share an inquisitiveness and drive to better understand the world through their work. Plus, computer scientists need great designers. 

What’s one way that we, as a society, can better support Black and Latino students on their educational journeys?

If we believe that all students deserve the chance to make history, it’s critical that we lift up diverse representations of excellence and achievement. For example, we know that Black and Latino students have equal interest in CS education, but they face social barriers such as a lack of role models and learning materials that reflect their lived experiences. Only one in four underrepresented students report “often” seeing people “doing CS” in television shows or movies, and only about one in six among them report “often” seeing people like them. Everyone can help challenge these barriers by lifting up stories of achievement that are not traditionally represented. 

ACT-SO has several famous alumni. Can you share one of your favorite ACT-SO testimonies? 

There are many alumni that come to mind, one is Anthony Burrell—a creative director who's choreographed for artists like Beyonce, Mariah Carey, Rihanna and Katy Perry. His work has been featured on some of the largest stages in the world. But he's also used his platform to give back to young people and create a community of dancers. At his Anthony Burrell Center for Dance in Atlanta, dancers learn the fundamentals of various dance forms. He ensures students have access to dance education and training by providing scholarships for students who need assistance.

For the past five years, Anthony has worked with ACT-SO as the choreographer of the annual ACT-SO Awards Ceremony. He elevates our students and provides opportunities for them to connect as professionals—some of them have even been hired to perform with notable talent after their ACT-SO experience. In addition to his own career in dance, Anthony's participation in ACT-SO has given other students the opportunity to create a pathway to their personal success.

The Most Searched: A celebration of Black history makers

Search trends can help us understand what people are interested in and what has endured—the people and events that have captivated our attention over time. 

Last year, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day approached, our team had a hunch that his monumental “I Have A Dream Speech” might be the most searched speech in the United States in Google Trends history. It prompted us to analyze 15 years’ worth of U.S. search trends data to find out.

Sure enough, it was.

This revelation was an electrifying moment for our team. It pushed us to explore more aggregate Search trends data to identify other Black icons, events and movements that were the most searched within a specific category or field in the U.S. 

Here’s what we found: Dozens of Black Americans and the historical movements they led were searched more than any other person or event in a category. These range from historical milestones like the Montgomery bus boycott to iconic figures like Maya Angelou to the most searched Pulitzer Prize winner—Kendrick Lamar, for his album DAMN.

That’s why, in celebration of Black History Month, we’re releasing a film tribute to these iconic moments, online and as an ad during the 2020 Grammy Awards. 

“Most Searched” tells a powerful story about how the Black community has helped shape and influence American culture. It also shows the tremendous collective interest in our history.

We're proud to celebrate the people and events in this film, and also hope that it inspires future history makers. In an effort to help build the next generation of Black leaders, scholars, artists and technologists, we’re awarding a $3 million Google.org grant to support the NAACP's Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics (ACT-SO) program. As part of this, we're connecting Googlers to ACT-SO volunteering opportunities. ACT-SO provides a platform for Black high school students—more than 300,000 to date—to bring their ideas to life and kickstart their journeys to becoming leaders in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), humanities, business, and the arts. This initiative joins previous commitments to support organizations and programs that help Black and Latino students develop the technical skills they need to succeed in career and life.

To learn more about these individuals and our celebration of Black History Month, visit g.co/blackhistorymonth.

Campus London calling: apply for Women Founders residency

Only nine percent of C-level positions—and six percent of CEOs—at European startups are women. Of all the funds raised by European venture capital-backed companies in 2018, a staggering 93 percent went to all-male founding teams. In order to combat this, last year Google for Startups introduced the first Women Founders Residency at our Campus in London—one of seven Campuses around the world—to back women-led startups using technology to tackle key social issues. Founders receive access to Google products, resources, and mentoring to level the playing field for startup success. The program proved so successful that we are now currently accepting applications for the second Women Founders cohort

To learn more about the Google for Startups Residency, we chatted with Elina Naydenova: biomedical engineer, data scientist and founder ofFeebris, a healthcare startup that graduated from Campus Residency in 2019. Not based in the UK? Explore other Google for Startups places and programs for founders of all backgrounds at startup.google.com. 

What inspired you to start found Feebris? What problem are you trying to solve? 

Healthcare should be a human right; yet, millions of people can’t get the care they need, when they need it. It’s unacceptable that in 2019, we can do our communications, our banking, our navigation, our shopping at a touch of a button, but still nearly one million children die of pneumonia because it gets diagnosed too late. 

When I realized these deaths can be avoided through early diagnosis, I became obsessed with solving the problem. We set up Feebris so that the most vulnerable patients—children and the elderly—can diagnose pneumonia early. The Feebris AI platform lets anyone capture and interpret important health information in order to identify disease early and monitor conditions in the community. Feebris algorithms paired with sensors, such as digital stethoscopes, can be used by anyone, such as a teacher or a parent, in any remote area to detect issues early, avoid complications and prevent hospitalization. 

How did Google for Startups Residency help you achieve your goals? 

The most valuable training we received from Residency was how to implement an Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) framework for our startup. When we started Residency, we were going through due diligence with investors, so we worked with a senior Googler to set clear goals. This gave our investors confidence in our ability to map out our journey and identify appropriate milestones, and we went on to close our seed round of £1.1 million. Striking a balance between structure and agility is tremendously important in tech, and even more so for a startup. Residency gave us the right tools to forge a framework that we continue to follow and adapt as we evolve.  

Second, the pool of expertise and deep knowledge that Google offers to the Residency startups is second to none. We’ve been connected with the leading experts in technology, like TensorFlowor ChromeOS, to help us develop core product functionality and our technical infrastructure.

Third, as a health technology startup, credibility is hugely important as we grow our footprint with healthcare providers. Residency provided us with a public platform to share our story and build awareness for the work we are doing, from public speaking opportunities to media articles. 

What does Residency offer that is different than a traditional accelerator or other program you've attended? 

Support at Campus is personalized to your needs and led by people who have successfully launched and scaled startups. Unlike the one-size-fits-all classroom programs, Residency is focused on unlocking opportunities and removing barriers for each business individually. 

Over time, build relationships with people you like and admire because they might become your future dream team.

What does Google 1:1 mentorship offer you specifically? What were the most helpful takeaways?

Our Google mentor, Vitor Rodriguez, was generous with his time and advice. He has  built a career at Google and also worked in a startup, so he understood the challenges we faced. Vitor spent hours with us, thinking through software architecture options and nurturing our ability to make scalable decisions. Vitor was our conduit into the immense pool of Google knowledge. He helped us analyze the problems that we faced and connected us with domain experts who hold essential insights to reach a solution. Vitor also taught us how to conduct highly technical interviews and cut through the wall of jargon that candidates build to reach a true evaluation of their abilities. 

Mentorship also helped us recruit some of our key hires. We went in as a team of two, and by the end had grown to six. The Googlers we worked with during Residency helped us structure evaluation criteria and even conducted technical interviews with us, proving fundamental to the recruitment process.

What advice would you want to share with other founders?

Prioritize hiring, even when you are not hiring. As a founder, finding the right people is one of the most important jobs you have. But it can take a long time and you don’t want to feel rushed and get it wrong. Over time, build relationships with people you like and admire because they might become your future dream team.