February 6, 2024

Community Partner Profile: How Black Tech Street is Building the Blueprint for Empowering Communities in AI

As Artificial intelligence (AI) is shaping up to impact nearly every industry, Black Tech Street founder and Executive Director, Tyrance Billingsley II, is committed to ensuring there is a strong base of Black talent prepared to support a world where disruptive technology is the norm. We connected with Tyrance to learn more about his take on AI and the future of work, his recent trip to Capitol Hill to advocate for Tulsa and his vision for Black Wall Street in 2024 and beyond.

Black Tech Street was founded as an answer to the question, “What could Black Wall Street have been had it been supported and not destroyed?” With community organizations and leaders across Tulsa working diligently to help revitalize the area, what is your vision for Black Wall Street in 2024 and beyond?

Black Tech Street’s vision for Black Wall Street in 2024 is to see continued flourishing and growth in its tech and innovation focus. By supporting the incredible work of partners like Build in Tulsa, ACT House, Techstars, Black Wall Street Chamber and others, I feel that Black Wall Street’s 2024 will be filled with success. On our end, we are drilling down on our goal to establish Greenwood as an AI and cyber center of excellence. We will host the Hack the Future Greenwood event on February 22-23 to pilot what educating and “baptizing” a marginalized community at scale in AI would be like in a replicable way.

We will have 150-200 people in attendance who will demonstrate the power of AI via positive use case challenges in the areas of entrepreneurship, creative expression, education and learning, religion and spirituality, social and criminal justice, and economic and community development. This event will serve as the catalyst for a host of AI ecosystem-building activities to establish historic Greenwood as the blueprint for empowering communities in AI. We will also be activating our grassroots campaign with the TCC Cyber Skills Center and universities to help us reach our goal of 1,000 black cyber professionals in Tulsa by the year 2030.

Recently, Tulsa has received a “Tech Hub” designation from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, an initiative that was led by the Tulsa Hub for Equitable and Trustworthy Autonomy (THETA), which is co-led by Black Tech Street. Can you tell us more about your work with THETA and its goal to add 66,000 women and 39,000 black, Latinx and Native American individuals to the region’s workforce in autonomous systems-related occupations?

Black Tech Street is a member of the THETA steering committee and the lead on one of the seven Tech Hubs projects that are competing for $40-$75 million in EDA funding. Our project is centered around establishing an AI center of excellence in and focused on historic Greenwood. The project aims to build a holistic AI ecosystem for Historic Greenwood that can power the creation and attraction of black AI talent, innovation and ventures. AI and cyber make up two of the three main legs of autonomous systems (the third being advanced manufacturing) and building a strong base of black talent in these areas will serve as a vehicle for mass employment for Greenwood. Our goal is to keep Greenwood globally competitive in the 21st Century and we see this work as a key part of how we do that.

By the year 2030, there will be as many as 4.3 million vacant, high-paying tech jobs due to a tech talent shortage. How is Black Tech Street working to fill that gap both in Tulsa and nationally?

Black Tech Street’s work with Microsoft on the cyber side of the house is a great example of this. Microsoft is providing a host of programmatic support, such as scholarships, to CSC students, co-building an employment partner consortium to hire black talent and more to raise the capacity of our ecosystem to create 1,000 black cyber professionals in Tulsa by 2030. Black Tech Street is also working with Tulsa Innovation Labs to host the Black Tech Street Cyber Summit in the fall. This event will convene cyber professionals and thought partners from the government and corporate sectors to pioneer a new narrative for why black Americans should embrace cybersecurity in the emerging global economy.

You’ve recently visited DC to participate in a Democratic Caucus meeting on AI and civil rights and testify before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions at the “AI and the Future of Work” hearing. Can you tell us more about your work to ensure Black Tech Street has a seat at the policy table nationally?

Part of Black Tech Street’s strategy is to establish strong federal connections and support for the AI and cyber work we are anchoring in Tulsa, and in 2023 we really put that into motion by attending the signing of the AI executive order by President Biden and testifying before Congress. Black Tech Street is building a new economic paradigm for black Americans.

Our world is on the cusp of a fourth industrial revolution that will create more wealth (and military power among nation states) than ever before. Black Tech Street is establishing a national narrative that is rooted in black Americans over indexing in AI and cyber security for the following reasons:

  • The amount of wealth and inequality that stand to be created by AI could fundamentally alter the socioeconomic status of black Americans. This could be in the form of massive wealth generated for black people because the infrastructure that mobilized black Americans into AI-enabled us to harness the wave or because we were left out and the economic inequities have been exacerbated to near irreparable levels. We intend to ensure the former.
  • AI will be the most impactful technology that humans have ever created and has the potential to remake society. Black Americans being present on the ground floor of the development and administration of this technology presents the opportunity to build better systems using AI that is developed and deployed responsibly. It also serves as a safeguard against the development and use of AI in ways that are harmful to black Americans (to the degree that this can be contained).
  • African Americans have always lacked economic and other forms of protection in America and cybersecurity is the new currency of protection in the digital world. African Americans are one of the most vulnerable and devastated communities as it relates to cyber crimes and being targeted. By over-indexing cybersecurity and making it a staple of black-focused policies, black Americans can secure their economic future with high-earning careers, lucrative startup exits and digital protection against cyber crimes.
  • The socioeconomic vulnerability of African Americans being left out of AI and cyber presents an imminent threat to national security and the global hegemony of the United States of America.

China is already establishing itself as a global competitor in AI and reports show us that nation-state actors often target black Americans for misinformation campaigns aimed at exploiting the complex history of black people in America to sow social division. If America is going to remain an economic and military superpower in the 21st century, black people must be mobilized to bolster the American talent pool in AI and cyber, which, alongside quantum computing, will be the new determinants of geopolitical power in the coming decades.

Working alongside the community, PartnerTulsa and the City of Tulsa are engaged in the historic work of revitalizing 56 acres of publicly-owned property in the Kirkpatrick Heights and Greenwood areas of North Tulsa. What does the proposed Kirkpatrick Heights Greenwood Master Plan mean for both the area’s residents and Tulsa as a whole?

The Kirkpatrick Heights Greenwood Master Plan presents an incredible opportunity to revitalize some of the most deeply significant land for black people that there is in Tulsa. Doing this with the community provides hope that the city of Tulsa can work alongside black Tulsans to bring economic prosperity to a place that has historically felt rejected. This project will be a game changer for our city and the residents of Greenwood!