Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Reflections of a Black Analyst in the Age of Obama

By Daryl Plummer

On the day that Martin’s birth is celebrated and the day before the swearing in of America’s first Black president, I am facing the dichotomies of two complimentary worlds.

One world is the world of a Black man working in an industry predominantly peopled by non-Black professionals. The other is the world of any man living in a society where change has opened doors that many thought would remain closed forever.

And the doors open to allow change at the highest levels to emerge. The doors open so that people like me can face beautiful new vistas of opportunity - vistas revealing goals that can be achieved by anyone with the strength of will, or the faith of ideals, to reach for them.

Now, everyone can rejoice in the hopes of today and the dreams of the future.
And yet, no one should forget the experiences of today and the memories of the past.

For though there are many subjective worlds, we all live in one real world. The real world is a place where opportunity must be matched by effort - and effort must be matched by desire. And in my world – the Information Technology (IT) world – the question must be asked if opportunity has given rise to true effort. For when I look around me, all I see is unfulfilled desire.

When I look around me I see Black Americans rising only so far in IT. Many hold the ranks of secretary or technician, but few lead as CIOs or senior VPs.

Think to yourself - how many Black Americans can you name in senior management, as industry analysts, as CEOs, or as billionaires, who lead the way in the IT industry. You may be surprised at how few you come up with. Beyond Chuck Phillips at Oracle, the list goes shallow in short order. How can this be in the age of a Black president?

In 2004 a study about Blacks in IT highlighted the efforts to make the profession more open to minorities - yet, here we remain. In 2006, a report including quotes from the venerable Black Data Processing Associates (BDPA) organization reiterated how much Black Americans found IT a fascinating career choice – and yet, here we remain. Now, a January, 2009, Computerworld blog addresses the issue of why there is HOPE for African Americans in IT. And yet, here .. we .. still .. remain. Blacks in IT only tend to rise so high before that glass ceiling taps them gently on the head.

And despite all the efforts of BDPA, despite the efforts of universities to cultivate more Black computer industry graduates, despite my own efforts to educate, to provide an example, to encourage, and to cajole – here we remain. I remain one of only 7 Black analysts I can name in the IT industry. For over 5 years, I was the only one. I remain one of the highest ranking Black associates who can have an impact beyond their own company. I remain frustrated but hopeful that Blacks in IT will become something more than just a continuing dream.

So forgive me, Mister Obama, while I cheer the greatness of your accomplishment and I mourn the mediocrity of my own.

I mourn for the Black child that cannot even recognize the opportunities she might grow into because she has no exposure to this world.

I mourn the HR practices in IT that seldom follow through on seeking out Black candidates for executive level positions.

I mourn the fact that when I look out from stage at an audience of over 5000 people, I can count the number of Black “IT-faces” in a matter of seconds.

But I stay true to hope. I stay true to the ideals embodied in a quote by Ronald Reagan. He said, “…there are no limits on the human capacity for intelligence, imagination and wonder.” I could add – no matter what color they may be. But before Reagan and since, there are those who echo cries of hope. Lincoln referred to “a new birth of freedom”, challenging the country to elevate all men to equality. And now, Barack Obama says “Yes we Can!”

Yes. We can.

And we can because he can. We can because the youth of today now see with their own eyes that Black and white people all have access to the American dream. We can because those same youth will see that the way to success is not only through sports greatness or entertainment fame. We can because now we have more help than ever before. Whether it is Black or white, Chinese or Hispanic, Indian, Muslim, Jewish or all the colors, sexes and creeds of the world – people are banding together to hold the doors of opportunity open.

But what we can do should never eliminate the memory of what we strive to overcome. So hold the memory. Hold the memory close to your heart and just behind your eyes.

Hold the memory of my great grandmother who lived in a time when Black people could be persecuted for wanting to rise up to a better life in Georgia.

Hold the memory of my grandmother who walked with her children 450 miles from Georgia to South Florida to begin a new life. She could go anywhere as long as it wasn’t labeled “no Blacks allowed”.

Hold the memory of my mother who raised eyebrows when she decided that a single Black mother of four could become a nurse by studying alone at night and working two jobs during the day.

Hold the memory of my brother who knocked down doors to become a treasurer and CFO for fortune 500 companies.

And hold my memory too. Because as I stand in a place where I have stood for over 20 years I see myself as a lightning rod of opportunity and seek to help those who would surpass my every achievement – imagined or real.

Thank you, Mister Obama. Thank you for the next step in the dream. Thank you for remembering what Martin said back in a time when few could see that you might ever become real. And thank you for “yes, we can”.

To the IT industry, I say that the opportunities are real and the desire must flow from those who wish to hire Black IT professionals to those who wish to be hired. We will continue to educate, and to seek out people who can be prepped to become the next generation of greatness.

So, yes, we can. But, in the world of IT, I beg you in faith to remember that so far – we have not.

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