Headshot of Rodney Clark
Rodney Clark Corporate Vice President, Channel Sales and Channel Chief

Reflecting on Black and African American opportunity during Juneteenth

Man at white board

The day started out as a normal Saturday June morning – sunny, warm and I remember it was my first free weekend after the school year had ended. As usual, I was the first of my three siblings to rise. Being the youngest, I never wanted to miss anything. The first sign of a not-so typical day was when my sister—who was usually the last to rise on a Saturday—started getting dressed like she was going somewhere important. My oldest brother was not too far behind her, fluffing his afro to perfection and grabbing one last piece of late morning toast before heading out the door. I asked, “Hey, where are you guys going?” My sister replied, “None of your business,” as they kept walking. Just then I hear, “Take your little brother with you,” which was followed by my siblings’ gasps of “Awe ma, do we have to?” Mom came to the rescue again.  

I got myself together as quickly as I could as we scuffled off. We approached Bell Street Park, a place where we would often go. But on this day, there were more people there than I had ever seen at the park. Cars lined University Avenue, music was spilling out of the park, there was food, music, fun, and downright energy – there was definitely a celebration happening. I asked my sister, “What’s going on?” She said, “It’s the Juneteenth festival!”

Every year from that point on, I would look forward to the celebration in our small, predominantly African American town – even playing an active role a few years later by prepping for the festivities with my youth baseball organization.

Juneteenth – Freedom Day. The day that news of the Emancipation Proclamation—signed over two years earlier—finally reached the furthest corners of the Confederacy. It was not until I got into high school that I realized and started to appreciate the significance of the celebration. The depth of the meaning set in that day, and I remembered the joy and peace that it brought to our community. I was able to recall powerful speeches that talked not only of our past, but the hope and opportunity ahead.

While the celebration is marked, and while we celebrate freedom, our journey as communities of color remains in the same racial quagmire that caused word of emancipation to take two years to spread. Today, we continue to witness widespread social unrest. However, Juneteenth, like so many of those themed speeches I heard back in the late seventies, give us an opportunity to reflect on how we can build better and stronger communities, and support both their economic and potential growth.

I am so grateful that Microsoft has strengthened my personal platform of supporting and celebrating the growth of our Black communities. Our CEO Satya Nadella and our entire leadership team is committed to addressing racial injustice and cultivating and nurturing Black-owned tech businesses to break through racial wealth gaps.

Throughout the tech industry, Black and African American innovators and entrepreneurs​ remain severely underrepresented and​ underfunded. In fact, only one percent of venture capital funding was granted to Black-founded tech companies in 2019. And just this past year, Black business ownership dropped 41 percent. This is a global concern. That’s why Microsoft has committed to building a foundation of strategies and support to increase economic access, equity, and opportunity for the Black community and minority communities worldwide.

In a similar effort, I have had the privilege of managing our Black and African American Partner Growth Initiative (BAAPGI). The Black and African American Partner Growth Initiative is setting the framework for delivering programmatic elements that can be replicated globally for minority communities. In the first year, we have focused on the necessary steps to recruit Black and African American partners and deliver technical training and support to the Black tech community.  

There are also countless examples of our partners doing incredible work, influencing, and creating economic impact, and trailblazing in their own way. A few that come to mind include:

  • Black Channel Partner Alliance (BCPA): Founded last year and focused on the next generation of high-performance channel partners. Its three-year goals include building a movement of 100 partners, adding $100 million dollars in revenue to their businesses, adding 800 tech jobs and performing 1000 digital transformations for community-based orgs.

A global community

The efforts above are important, not only for our communities, but they are simply good for business. Today, customers expect businesses to make a positive impact on communities; not just a goodwill effort but demonstrate authentic values and provide financial opportunity. Our aim is to guide the partner ecosystem towards building for impact and joining in collective action as we reimagine a better world.

I’m looking forward to re-connecting with many of you at next month’s Microsoft Inspire and learning more about what lies ahead for our worldwide network of partners. 

Looking ahead

True freedom comes from breaking through the systemic barriers that have plagued Black and African American communities in the US and around the globe for centuries. Let us celebrate today, the memory and the progress, and make a commitment to keep at it – there is still much work to be done.

Let us also take this moment to share powerful stories of our partners who have been on this journey with us. Watch the first video in this two-part series.

Be sure to also join our two sponsored events, panel discussion, and a community hour dedicated to honoring and amplifying our partners and technology within the Black and African American community. Additional information can be found here.