At $1.3 trillion annually, the African American economy is larger than Russia’s gross domestic product. But sources of talent and economic resources within the African American community remain undeveloped because they aren’t taken seriously, according to economist and author Ida Byrd-Hill.
Byrd-Hill, whose book “Invisible Talent Market’’ identifies problems and potential solutions, will discuss them June 17 at, Detroit 67 – Power of the Black Economy Juneeth.
Junteenth is a nationwide celebration commemorating the end of slavery in America and the strength of the African American community. Byrd-Hill chose these topics because it is the 50th anniversary of the Detroit riots, and she says this a chance for the Black community to become free economically. Her presentation is scheduled for 1:45 pm during Detroit Book City Juneteenth Celebration at University of Detroit.
“We are 50 years away from the riots and a lot has changed.” Byrd-Hill says. “But many of these issues that were relevant (in 1967) are still relevant.”
A big issue is what Byrd-Hill calls the “brain drain,” a shortage of talent in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or so-called STEM fields. In the digital age black people are overlooked as a way to fix this. Some of Byrd-Hill’s data came from a survey of 998 black people at the Auto Show that showed a large number of Black parents wanted careers in STEM fields like engineering, but had trouble getting them. Their children had similar aspirations.
Most people think all the economic power comes into play in Midtown and Downtown, but Northwest Detroit adds a significant amount of money to the city’s economy.
Byrd-Hill finds this to be largely a failing in how schools operate, for example, how math is taught. Byrd-Hill advocates a more tactile form of learning. The example she gives involves fractions, which on paper are abstract ideas. When applied in the real world, it is usually though measurement, so that is what they use. She has found this to be very successful.
Her group, Uplift, Inc., is a Detroit-based non-profit Tech inclusion firm that provides programs that help do prep-work and class planning for schools. The group’s specialty is creating a more hands-on environment for learning. There are also ways to make progress after K-12 education ends.
She also sees a problem with the culture in tech companies, which prompted her to write the book. Byrd-Hill’s son graduated from the Detroit Public School System and attended Rochester Institute of Technology.
Fixing it (Rosa Parks Transit Center) would cost a fraction of the $627 million spent to build Little Caesar’s Stadium, but the transit center goes forgotten.
When he returned to Detroit for an internship he was asked to work for free for a week to make sure he fit in culturally. Byrd-Hill says this is a common practice, but one that soured her son on the possibility of returning to Detroit’s tech world.
The survey she conducted also revealed more than just economic goals. A look at what technical and digital tools they used found some interesting things.
Black people are more likely than the population as a whole to use transportation apps such as Uber. They also use Netflix and Hulu more but remain overlooked as a valuable market, she says.
Byrd-Hill says this type of information can be used to predict trends in majority black community across the country, and the population as a whole. She is confused why more companies don’t focus on the black consumer base for a variety of economic purposes.
The economist asserts there are more places black people are overlooked by the economy.
One place is in venture capitalism. The Michigan Venture Capital Association found that only 1-2 percent of venture capital went to women or minorities — and it was mostly divided among Asian men and Caucasian women.
She also questions how money is distributed within Detroit. Most people think all the economic power comes into play in Midtown and Downtown, but Northwest Detroit adds a significant amount of money to the city’s economy. Despite this potential, corporations are hesitant to open major businesses there, such as bug box stores.
There is also the question of how the city itself distributes the money. The Rosa Parks Transit Center is dirty and in need of repair, she says. Fixing it would cost a fraction of the $627 million spent to build Little Caesar’s Stadium, but the transit center goes forgotten.
Says Byrd-Hill: “Rosa Parks would be spinning in her grave if she saw this.”