‘When you learn, you lead’

INNOVATOR: Felecia Hatcher and her husband, Derick Pearson, are the founders of Black Tech Week.
INNOVATOR: Felecia Hatcher and her husband, Derick Pearson, are the founders of Black Tech Week. Black Enterprise

When I moved to South Florida six months ago, several people told me that it’s a difficult environment for young black professionals in which to thrive. Racism and prejudice abound.

However, great achievers have taught me that success requires committed bridging of obstructions and radical focus on goals.

Felecia Hatcher and Derick Pearson — married; both 31; South Floridians; owners of Feverish Pops, a flourishing popsicle company; masterminds behind Code Fever, a pop-up technology and entrepreneurship education program for underserved minority students — have woven this idea into their newest project, Black Tech Week, to be held Feb. 23-28 at Miami Dade College.

According to Hatcher, Black Tech Week is a weeklong series of events that aims to refocus the Black History Month narrative. Rather than mulling over the black community’s struggles, participants will share ideas and foster growth through panel discussions, pitch sessions and community meet-ups.

“It’s different from what usually takes place during Black History Month, which doesn’t typically reflect Generation X,” Hatcher says. “Things have changed, and we want to keep Black History Month relevant. Essentially, these are the things that are happening and going right, and these are people that are making them happen.”

Diversity issues and opportunities within the African diaspora will also be addressed. Dr. Pandwe Gibson, a Black Tech Week speaker and the 30-year-old executive director of Eco-Tech Visions, an eco-manufacturing incubator located in Miami, says that there are considerable challenges for black professionals in South Florida. But the adds that she and her peers do not focus on the obstacles. “Even when we meet, we talk less about those issues. We focus on what’s in our control and what we can do.”

Norman Redmond, a 20-year-old Miami Dade College student who has been mentored by Hatcher and Pearson for more than three years, reiterates the sentiment. “As a black man, it is hard. People are suspicious of you. But with prayer and determination, I can achieve my goals. Failure is not an option.”

Redmond met his mentors while in the Empowered Youth program as an incarcerated teen. He has since gone on to learn coding through Code Fever, and now assists at Code Fever events. He acknowledges Hatcher and Pearson for opening his mind to a new way of thinking.

Pearson says that Code Fever and Black Tech Week are designed to pave the way for others. “We are trying to make it easier for those behind us to get ahead, by giving them the tools they need. When you learn, you lead,” he says.

Brian Brackeen, 36 and CEO of Kairos, a Miami-based company that develops facial-recognition software applications, says that South Florida is favorable terrain for young black entrepreneurs.

The advantages are both economic and social, he says. “In some ways, minorities are the majority here, and that means you have a lot of support from different groups, which you wouldn’t have in other places.”

“As an entrepreneur, you have to have a crazed belief in your vision. If you want to succeed, you can’t allow negativity to come into play,” Brackeen explains, when asked if he thinks his entrepreneurial path has been hampered as a black male.

Black Tech Week speaker Ingrid Riley, who operates getCONNECTID Digital Agency and ConnectiMass, both in Jamaica, notes that black entrepreneurs in the United States have far greater governmental, legislative and philanthropic support than their Caribbean equivalents, and are cushioned by a highly developed startup eco-system.

Riley, 46, is adamant that Jamaica will transcend its structural pitfalls and has formed ConnectiMass as a social enterprise to address deficiencies in tech resources, skills and dialogue in Jamaica.

Gibson, of Eco-Tech Visions, connects her drive to achieve to the colossal strides made by those before her. “We are standing on the shoulders of giants,” she said. “They are the reason we are able to be here. I can’t help but to work harder when I remember that.”

When I moved here, I asked Hatcher, among others, about the negatives and positives of being a young black professional here. Her response: “You can be a talker, or a doer. We are doers.”

Yes, there are challenges, she continued, but opportunities abound.

Kinisha Correia is a blogger and writer based in Broward County.