Correction: An earlier version of this commentary referred, incorrectly, to "314 active tech hubs in 93 countries across Africa." The sentence should have read "In fact, today there are 314 active tech hubs in 93 cities across Africa."
Editor’s Note: Van Jones is the host of the #VanJonesShow and a CNN political commentator. He is the co-founder of #YesWeCode, a Dream Corps initiative to help 100,000 young women and men from underrepresented backgrounds find success in the tech sector. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
Every once in a while, a movie arrives right on time.
Earlier this year President Trump insulted people of African heritage when he referred to Haiti and African nations as “shithole countries.” His words were an affront to countless Americans and people across the world; they flew in the face of American values of respect for diversity and opening doors of opportunity to all.
But while the White House is putting down people of African descent, Hollywood is lifting us up – most spectacularly through the release of Disney-Marvel’s new movie, “Black Panther.”
“Black Panther” is a long-awaited film. It brings to life a technologically advanced, culturally rich mecca of black excellence. It takes place in Wakanda – a fictional, fully autonomous African nation, rich in resources and innovation.
The nation is home to a brilliant ecosystem of black technologists. It is a sight to behold. A cinematic vision of black genius, accomplishment and prosperity that is rarely portrayed. And one I am so excited to witness.
I had the privilege of watching the film while seated in front of Denzel Washington, beside Whoopi Goldberg and in the company of almost every major black actor and celebrity on the east coast: Chris Rock, Gayle King, Tyra Banks, Robin Roberts and more. Denzel was moved to tears by the movie, said he felt like a proud father, and predicted it would make a billion dollars.
This film is a godsend that will lift the self-esteem of black children in the US and around the world for a long time. It shifts the understanding of where the power of African-descended people can come from. It underscores the fact that such power, in the new century, will come from access to technology more than any other source, and will inspire young people of color to pursue technology as a possible career path.
The film also manages to be radically pro-woman without being in the least bit anti-male. And will therefore give young women and men a reason to believe in themselves and their own capacity.
There’s good reason for them to think this. Indeed, President Trump might be shocked to learn that parts of real-life Africa, like the fictional Wakanda, are rapidly becoming centers of high-tech innovation.
Some of the biggest tech companies, including Google and Facebook, have expanded their offices to Africa. African companies and entrepreneurs (from Kenya, Nigeria and elsewhere) are global leaders in facilitating e-commerce and internet access. In fact, today there are 314 active tech hubs in 93 cities across Africa.
And in the US, African immigrants employ large numbers of American workers in startups and projects in local tech hubs from coast to coast. In fact, Nigerian immigrants are better educated than white Americans – by far.
According to the US Census Bureau, 43% of African immigrants have college degrees, compared with 23% of the general US population. And nearly two-thirds of Nigerian immigrants in particular have earned college degrees.
They are part of the rising generation of both African and African-American technologists in the United States.
There are so many extraordinary groups right here working to open up opportunities for the people that look like those represented in Wakanda. These groups include AI4All (Artificial Intelligence for All), the Hidden Genius Project, Code 2040 and Black Girls Code – and that’s just a piece of it.
Personally, I had the privilege of founding #YesWeCode with Prince in 2014. The initiative came straight out of Prince’s imagination: What if kids from the hood could upload apps instead of just downloading them? So, we got to work.
#YesWeCode has since partnered with the Opportunity Hub in Atlanta to put together a $6 million scholarship for underrepresented youth to pursue coding and other tech skills at We Can Code IT, Code Fellows, Thinkful, and Treehouse. And in 2017, we were able to support 100 young people to realize their dreams of becoming software developers.
We Americans find ourselves at a pivotal moment. On one hand we have our Commander-in-Chief denigrating the value of African countries and immigrants. On the other hand, a new cadre of forward-thinking creatives in Hollywood have produced a magnum opus of black excellence.
We are in the midst of a battle between Donald Trump’s negative vision of Africa (and African-Americans) and Wakanda’s inspiring one. In this contest, those who are on the side of opportunity and inclusivity, of black technologists and innovation, are winning.
A better future beckons, and it’s closer than you think.