Building a better future for the Black community: A conversation with Hack the Hood
March 10th, 2021
During Black History Month, the team at Asana reflected on the Black experience, focusing on themes of celebration and connection across Asana’s Diaspora. As part of our month-long celebration, Asana hosted an Instagram Live conversation with Tiffany Shumate, Executive Director at Hack the Hood.
Fred Mathieu, from Asana’s Talent Acquisitions team, hosted the discussion with Tiffany, who he met a few years ago while doing community work. Over the years, they’ve had long conversations about how tech was growing but East Oakland and its surrounding areas still weren’t experiencing the benefits of this influence and wealth. Now Fred and Tiffany are working at organizations doing important work to change this.
During their conversation, Fred and Tiffany discussed why Hack the Hood reframed Black History Month as Black Futures Month, the role community plays in success, and what we can all do to help create a better, more equitable future. Here’s an excerpt from their engaging and inspiring conversation.
Fred: To start off, can you give us an overview of Hack the Hood and what the organization does?
Tiffany: First and foremost, Hack the Hood is a racial justice organization. We center the voices and experiences of Black, Latinx, and indigenous communities.
Our mission is to ensure the economic mobility of those communities. We do that by providing tech foundations and education, as well as data literacy education.
Fred: That is really doing the work. What inspired you to become part of this work and what drew you to Hack the Hood?
Tiffany: I identify as an educator. I started my career as a special education teacher and my personal mission has always been to create learning spaces and opportunities for the most marginalized groups. Hack the Hood really embodies this. It’s why we have the curriculum that we do, it’s why we’re focused on tech education, and it’s why we’re talking about data literacy. Our mission is to make sure that our communities are prepared for the future of work, which is actually now and today.
Fred: This is great work with phenomenal impact, but I bet it gets crazy, right? There’s a lot going on–working with students, volunteers, educators, a board. How is Asana helping you work towards your mission?
Tiffany: There are a lot of moving pieces. As a racial justice organization, we attract people who are passionate about the issues we’re working to solve. The last year has been really difficult for everyone, but it’s been particularly difficult for organizations like ours because we are focusing on work that impacts us and who we are as people.
With Asana, it goes back to our first conversation with Sebastian Gibson, our Customer Success Manager. Sebastian not only knows the product, but understands what we’re trying to do and was able to help us visualize how to structure our work in Asana. He showed us the Pyramid of Clarity, and at the top of that pyramid is the mission. Especially when the environment is chaotic, especially when there’s a lot happening and a lot of moving pieces, knowing what’s at the top of your pyramid and how your work ladders up keeps you grounded.
I’m a new Executive Director, so for me, it’s really important to make sure that I have a clear vision for the organization, and that I communicate it to the team so they know what to focus on. But it’s also nice to know that when things get difficult, we come back to the top of that pyramid—to our mission. Then we ask ourselves, “How are we doing that with our projects, with our key results, with our strategy, and with our objectives?” Asana has really helped us with that connection.
I was not a fan of Asana initially. But to have a tool like Asana that enables the team to collaborate and stay aligned, especially right now while we’re working virtually and with what we’re going through as a community—has really been helpful for us as an organization. I’m now converted!
Fred: For Black History Month at Asana, we celebrated by creating spaces for learning and connection around our theme of “Community & Connection: Asana’s Diaspora past, present, and future.” How did you and your team honor Black History Month this year?
Tiffany: We reframed it as Black Futures Month. It’s important to take that history and make sure that we’re using it to build for the future. So that’s what we’re doing at Hack the Hood. We’re trying to figure out, “What’s coming and how do we prepare our community for it?” This led to our theme “#BlackDataMatters.” We’re focused on data literacy and data science foundations as part of our curricular innovation.
Historically, Hack the Hood has been an organization that has introduced young people of color to tech careers, through creativity, web design, and partnerships with local entrepreneurs. We’re deepening that mission and also taking our curricular innovation to the next step.
Something that’s really important for the future is having the basic data literacy foundations to say, “I can read this number, analyze it, and build my own story for it.” Right now our stories are being created for us. And I believe technology as a space and as a tool is really an opportunity for us to delve into being creative and develop our own stories.
Fred: For the next part of the conversation, we’d like to learn about your personal experience. How did you end up at Hack the Hood and what personal experiences drew you to advocate for Black, Latinx, and indigenous people?
Tiffany: I’m from Newark, New Jersey, and we didn’t have a lot when I was growing up. What I did have was schooling, but I also saw how school wasn’t always the best option for everyone. From that experience, and the experiences that my family had, I knew I wanted to focus on “How do we create an equal playing field? How do we make sure that everyone has opportunities?”
So I ended up in education like I mentioned. I started in special education and it brought me to Hack the Hood. This was a winding journey, but the theme has always been about creating equitable learning spaces so that everyone has opportunity.
When I got to the Bay Area and met you Fred, you were volunteering at the school in East Oakland and I was working there as a campus director. I got so upset because I noticed we didn’t even have copy paper in our classrooms but were surrounded by wealth.
That led me to tech, which led me to conversations and meetups about tech in the community. I remember attending AfroTech way back then, and wondering how I could bring this into my classroom and school. That led to a number of relationships that I’m proud to say have helped our students flourish from the mentorship opportunities it created.
So that’s why Hack the Hood has always been about racial equity. It has always been about connecting our young people, connecting communities, and connecting entrepreneurs of color to the tech resources that they need so they can thrive. It’s always been about economic mobility and identity affirming roles. For me, that alignment is key, and that’s why I’m here.
Fred: Your story is inspiring. It’s been a passion for you to do this work and Hack the Hood aligned with that. What impact do you want to have on the Black community and Hack the Hood in the future? What do you have lined up in the next five and 10 years?
Tiffany: Hack the Hood will have generational impact. It already has. I want people to look at our alumni and know that when they see Hack the Hood, those students, those learners, and those entrepreneurs are the ones who are best positioned for the work and to build the future.
It’s also important that our curriculum is culturally responsive so they’re not only learning the tech skills—like how to write Python—but making sure that our students and young people know how to thrive in these spaces.
I want people to know that Hack the Hood is building the next generation of computational thinkers. And within the next five years, we want to be able to impact over 5,000 young people and small businesses. That’s our pyramid of clarity.
Fred: So how can people support Hack the Hood?
Tiffany: First off, follow us on social media (Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook). The second is investing your time. Right now, we’re recruiting volunteers to be mentors. One of the most important things is that people are able to see themselves in the tech space. And a lot of that comes through mentorship. You’ve done this Fred.
The third piece is donations. If you are a company that wants to impact the next generation, that’s a way to do it. Every leader and talent organization should be invested in what’s coming and how we’re training talent.
Fred: You heard it here first, Hack The Hood is doing great and powerful work with a phenomenal Executive Director with a great story and even better vision. Any last words, Tiffany? What do you all have coming up in the next few months?
Tiffany: We are launching our mentorship program that I just alluded to in March. So definitely check us out if you’re interested in volunteering. The second most exciting thing that we’re working on right now is expanding beyond Oakland. We’re launching a pilot program in Philadelphia, starting March 28th with an organization out there. We’re going from the Bay Area to the world!
We’re inspired by customers like Hack the Hood who are using Asana to achieve their missions. See how teams around the world are working towards their missions with Asana.