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Alumna Fallon Wilson's Tech Vision for Nashville Blacks

November 2018

fallon wilsonFallon Wilson’s first name derives from an Irish word that means leader, and the quirky, take-charge spirit is proving to live up to her namesake.

Wilson, 35, along with partners Jurnell Cockhren and Jarrett Strickland, are co-founders of Black in Tech Nashville, an organization focused on educating citizens to thrive in the tech industry’s burgeoning space. It is currently a private Facebook group with over 450 members that will launch its web platform in January 2019.

Spelman College serves as Wilson’s business muse. Citing her alma mater’s celebration of Black “race women” inspired her to co-found BTN. It’s an “homage to Spelman’s investment in me,” she said.

The Houston native earned her bachelor’s degree in political science and government from Spelman in 2005, and both her master’s in political science and a doctorate in social service administration from the University of Chicago in 2007 and 2015, respectively.

Wilson calls herself a public interest technologist, someone who navigates the tech world without a tech degree.

“We need [more] people who [can] operate at the intersection of tech, data research and community engagement,” said Wilson, who serves as BTN’s CEO. “My goal is to curate and connect people, institutions, policy, and funding to support the development of a local Black tech ecosystem.”

In addition to BTN, Wilson is research director for Chicago-based Black Tech Mecca, a data-driven think tank focused on the collective power of the Black tech community. Led by CEO and cofounder Fabian Elliott, the nonprofit organization assesses cities’ commitments and investments in developing and scaling thriving Black tech ecosystems.

“Fabian saw my work in Nashville and asked if I could help do similar work nationally with other cities, and I said yes,” she said. “Black Tech Mecca is dedicated to creating equity in the realms of K-12, higher education, diversity and inclusion in tech companies and companies with growing IT workforces, and in supporting the growth of Black tech startups.”

In August 2017, BTN and Wilson hosted Nashville’s first Tech Inclusion Nashville, a daylong conference highlighting diversity inequities in the tech industry. The 200+ stakeholders included nonprofits and universities, Google Fiber Nashville, BNY Mellon, Social Ventures at Vanderbilt University and the Nashville Technology Council. “I am blessed to be able to do both local and national Black tech ecosystem building,” said Wilson, who admits in a cover story in the Nashville Post techie magazine these efforts are just not enough to make significant change.

However, she is persistent. Wilson has also launched Nashville’s first citywide assessment survey of Black technologists and public interest technologists’ perceptions of diversity and inclusion in local tech spaces.

BTN likewise leverages member links to Nashville tech related firms. Since BTN’s founding, its members have joined the boards of the Nashville Technology Council, Metro Nashville Public Schools STEAM Advisory Board, and other tech groups.

One supporter, The Kapor Center for Social Impact, funds Wilson’s research into understanding “how social service-based tech careers, civic tech, and government tech careers are a path into tech for students who look like me.”

Another backer, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, has created metrics and methodologies to support the development of Black tech founders.

After prodding, Wilson gives BTN a “B” for its second year’s efforts. She said BTN is establishing a foundation to build equity for Nashville’s marginalized neighborhoods and will develop a Digital Inclusion oversight organization, she said.

Along with partnering with Black Tech Mecca’s city assessment tool, BTN will host Black focused tech meet-ups to build equity to benchmark growth in Black communities.

Prior to BTN’s founding, Nashville’s mayor had tapped Wilson to co-chair the Connected Nashville Smart City report. In concert with the American Baptist College, a local HBCU, and Wilson’s former employer, BTN set up a program to honor Metro Nashville Public Schools’ graduating seniors. At the event, Jaime Caspar, Google’s Chief Education Evangelist, advised graduates to pursue technology careers.

Wilson has also researched and co-chaired Nashville’s first Smart City report. It clarified the need to organize the Black community — for example, founding BTN to exploit the strategies and opportunities written in the Smart City report.

In 2017, Wilson received the Digital Equity Network Award from the International Society of Technology in Education. As a self-proclaimed public interest technologist, she spends her time discussing issues of race, gender, faith and digital equity.

She was also selected as a 2017 Nashville Women to Watch and as a Nashville Cable 2018 Power of Inclusion awardee.

Follow Fallon Wilson on Twitter @SistahWilson, and BTN on Facebook:

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