Cointelegraph By Rachel Wolfson
Despite there still being work to be done to further diversify the crypto space, many believe the blockchain sector is generally more diverse than other tech industries. This could be because cryptocurrency boasts financial inclusion and the democratization of global economics, attracting a wide variety of people from various nationalities, ethnicities, genders, etc., from around the world.
Among this diverse group of participants, Black American founders and thought leaders, in particular, have helped advance the blockchain and crypto sector. While a number of these individuals have founded blockchain companies or venture capital funds, many have also placed a large emphasis on an important, yet often overlooked, element: education.
Educating the public on blockchain and crypto
Isaiah Jackson, author of Bitcoin & Black America and host of The Gentlemen of Crypto podcast, told Cointelegraph that education and awareness are bringing more Black Americans into the crypto and blockchain space:
“We have a number of amazing Black people working in the Bitcoin and crypto industry, but many people remain unaware,” he said, adding further: “These individuals are doing their part to provide books, resources, and guides to the Black American community.”
Specifically, Jackson explained that he wrote Bitcoin & Black America as a source for those in his community wanting to better understand how Bitcoin (BTC) could be used as a tool for financial freedom:
“Years of exclusion and discrimination in the current financial system have affected the black community, so I wanted to share information about a new financial system that was built for everyone. You can burn down Black Wall Street, but you can’t burn down Bitcoin. Black people have an opportunity to help build a new digital monetary system that can help change our outlook for generations.”
Jackson also mentioned that the popular social media app Clubhouse has served as a great outlet for educating others. Jackson helped form the “Black Bitcoin Billionaires” group, which currently has over 24,000 members.
Lamar Wilson, a software developer and entrepreneur, also helped found Black Bitcoin Billionaires. Wilson told Cointelegraph that they are using Clubhouse specifically to educate others in African American communities about cryptocurrency:
“After all the years of being involved in cryptocurrency as an African American, I still haven’t seen many African Americans at events or conferences. Clubhouse has allowed us to create a club to directly influence and educate these people about cryptocurrency.”
In turn, both Wilson and Jackson are using the group to educate those who may not have access to other resources about Bitcoin, crypto and blockchain. “To bring more Black Americans into the space we have to continue to educate. The only challenge we need to overcome is education. Bitcoin is not something to be believed, but rather it’s something to be understood,” Wilson remarked.
Tavonia Evans, founder and CEO of Guapcoin (GUAP) — a cryptocurrency that addresses financial and economic concerns for members of the African diaspora — told Cointelegraph that she also uses platforms like Clubhouse to help educate people with limited access:
“It’s important that we educate those with little access because a lack of education denies them the tools to make empowered decisions that could be beneficial in the long run.”
In addition, Evans regularly speaks at schools and conducts webinars for those who are new and interested in learning about cryptocurrency. According to Evans, more Black Americans will become involved in the crypto and blockchain space as a result of Black voices being amplified.
Black American celebrities educating the community
Fortunately, to Evans’ point, a number of Black American celebrities have begun using their influence to educate the public on the potential of blockchain and cryptocurrency.
For example, American singer and entrepreneur Akon publicly announced plans to build a blockchain-focused city in the West African nation of Senegal. Known as “Akon City,” this development is expected to be completed by the year 2030 and will offer tools for residents to utilize crypto in everyday life, while promoting adoption. Akon also created the Akoin (AKN) cryptocurrency, which is now ready for full deployment in the Mwale Medical and Technology City complex in Kenya.
Shawn Mims, also known as “Mims,” is an American rapper, songwriter and record executive who is innovating in the blockchain space as well. Mims told Cointelegraph that he was first introduced to blockchain after winning a TechCrunch Disrupt competition in 2017 for a music technology app called Cre8tor. It was during this time that Mims understood the potential of leveraging blockchain to provide artists with better transparency for royalties, copywriting and more.
Mims shared that he is now focused on building awareness of blockchain within the music community. In order to do so, he is building a utility token powered by Ethereum that would allow for royalty transparency while providing fans with rewards for sharing content. “The name of my token is ‘Tune.’ My business partners Erik Mendelson and Winston ‘Blackout’ Thomas and I are working on integrating the technology within the Cre8tor app,” he said.
In addition to influential individuals like Akon and Mims, the American venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz helped create the a16z Cultural Leadership Fund to advance Black Americans in technology. The fund was raised by Chris Lyons, a managing partner of Andreessen Horowitz, and consists of cultural leaders including Sean “Diddy” Combs, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, Quincy Jones and others. Most recently, a16z hosted a Clubhouse conversation around cryptocurrency and blockchain to educate the public.
Is the blockchain space diverse enough?
Although the blockchain space is diversifying, it’s important to distinguish between diversification from a cryptocurrency perspective and from a technology standpoint. For instance, Mims pointed out that the blockchain space consists of many different sectors. As such, he believes that many Black Americans have taken an interest in crypto investments.
However, Mims noted that he would like to see more Black Americans involved with building out the technology needed to support digital assets. “More chief technology officers, coders and chief executive officers in technology” are what is needed moving forward, according to him.
Marcus Wardlow, blockchain and product strategy manager at JPMorgan Chase, told Cointelegraph that while he has seen several Black voices emerge in the space, the technology sector itself is still very much white and male. As such, Wardlow hopes the blockchain technology space, in particular, continues to evolve with a diverse set of founders, thought leaders and technologists.
In order to ensure this, Wardlow mentioned that Black technologists should be inclusive to those who are of different ethnic and racial backgrounds and include women who are often underrepresented in the tech space.
This is still apparent today, as recent statistics show that women make up about 19% of entry-level and mid-level positions in the tech industry. Only about 16% of senior-level roles are held by women, while that figure is just 10% for executive positions.
Fortunately, a number of Black American women in the blockchain sector aim to encourage more females to become involved. For example, Alexis Johnson, founder and president of Light Node Media — a public relations and events company — told Cointelegraph that she has always felt like a unicorn as a Black woman in blockchain. “But this will all soon change as people start to become more educated and less intimidated,” said Johnson.
In order to promote education, Johnson founded the Johns Hopkins Blockchain and Fintech Network in 2019. She noted that this initiative was created for pioneers, purveyors and innovators in the blockchain and fintech industries looking to learn from others via information sharing, job forums and additional resources.
Carrier Eldridge, founder and CEO of ATO Gallery — a fine art gallery that leverages blockchain for transparency — is also ensuring that Black women have a seat at the table. Eldridge told Cointelegraph that she has not faced discrimination as a Black woman in the blockchain space.
In fact, Eldridge noted that her experience has been the contrary, noting that she has always been welcomed with open arms at various blockchain events around the world. However, Eldridge did mention that she has faced significant hurdles in terms of raising additional funding rounds:
“As a Black woman, I feel that I don’t have the same access to funding. The challenges I have faced boil down to the same that all Black entrepreneurs in technology face. It’s an alarming fact that through 2021 only 1 percent of VC funding went to Black people, with 0.2 percent going to Black women.”
According to Eldridge, she started ATO Gallery to create inclusion for all artists to have access to a broader spectrum of collectors, museums and patrons. Yet, over time, she has learned that in order to grow the company, she must overcome a similar problem that many Black Americans continue to face.
Community remains positive despite challenges
Challenges aside, many Black Americans involved in the blockchain and cryptocurrency sector remain hopeful when it comes to inclusion.
For instance, Sherrard Harrington, co-founder and president of EonXI — a venture fund and startup studio — told Cointelegraph that the space is generally open to inclusion because the primary goal is democratization, which is a core pillar of diversity and inclusion. “This carves out a path for industry leaders in blockchain to solve unique problems that impact people from all walks of life — not just the majority,” he remarked.
Wilson further noted that the Bitcoin space is diverse because the cryptocurrency helps people everywhere in the world. In terms of inclusion, Wilson explained that this shouldn’t matter. “Bitcoin doesn’t care about race. This is the reason why we are focused on making sure those that have been excluded are now included,” he said.