Celebrating Black History Month: Q&A with Leke Sholuade, Founder of Black Valley

Celebrating Black History Month: Q&A with Leke Sholuade, Founder of Black Valley

In celebration of Black History Month, Vortexa met with Leke Sholuade, Founder of Black Valley, to learn more about the challenges faced by black communities in today’s society.

22 October, 2021
Jessica Irvin
Jessica Irvin, Head of Operations & People

Leke Sholuade was a welcomed special guest at Vortexa during Black History Month (BHM). The death of George Floyd in 2020 acted as a catalyst for Leke, who felt the tragedy amplified the struggle and challenges Black people face. As the global outcry reverberated around the world, Leke found himself wondering how are we still here in 2020? Is this a world we want to raise kids in?

Following his work at a Social Integration Charity, Leke founded ‘Black Valley’; an immersive person-centric mentoring programme, improving access to tech industries for Black people. 

It has now transformed into a global community dedicated to increasing equality in tech by fostering an environment where talents from a Black ethnic background can thrive. Over 200+ mentors from the likes of Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Uber, and of course, Vortexa, are part of the Black Valley family, and the company continues to go from strength to strength. 

Vortexa invited Leke to speak to the company to broaden our understanding of the BLM movement and deepen our knowledge of the biases Black people still face within the technological world of today.

Where does Black History Month originate from?

Black History Month was inspired by Ghanaian analyst, journalist and pan-African activist called Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, who, after a conversation with his colleague, discovered her son had asked her “Why can’t I be white?”

As a previous lecturer in the US, teaching students about African history and its contribution to society, Akyaaba had witnessed first-hand, the impact this knowledge had on his students and how this led to a newfound faith in themselves as Africans.

He felt this needed to be done in Britain to avoid historical confusion and a lack of self-identity developing. Black History Month was first celebrated in London in 1987.

Addai-Sebo-623x438 (1)Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, founder of Black History Month

What is the significance of celebrating Black History Month in October?

October is a significant month within the African Calendar, with key observances including the Harvest period and Yam festival. It also represents a period of tolerance and reconciliation in Africa when chiefs and leaders gathered to settle differences. October further marks the beginning of the new academic school year in the UK, which is an optimal time for children to take in new information.

Why is Black History Month such an important celebration?

Black Britons still face biases in wider society, with 60% of black professionals experiencing racism in the workplace. According to the Black British In Business and Proud report 2021, 84% of black entrepreneurs saw racism as a potential barrier to their entrepreneurship. 

Statistics like these demonstrate how prevalent the challenges are for Black people in the UK today. Black History Month aims to tackle this by shining a light on these issues whilst celebrating the contributions of Black people in British society and around the world.

What impact has the George Floyd travesty had on wider society?

George Floyd’s murder highlights the police brutality experienced by black people and has shone a light on institutional racism, not just in the USA, but across an international scale. This has triggered businesses and individuals to examine whether they are being complicit in institutional racism.

What does Black Valley do and what inspired you to start the company?

Black Valley seeks to address the negative stereotypes around blackness, and I believe tech can play a major role in helping to troubleshoot these stereotypical issues. 

I wanted to move the conversation around race forward, by creating a space that allows Black talents to thrive in tech, through working together with other experts within the tech industry who are also passionate about diversity and wanted to help address these issues.

Black Valley works by pairing up mentees with mentors who have had similar experiences of where that particular mentee aspires to be. The mentor will work with their mentee on a one-to-one basis via weekly calls tackling the topics and areas where the mentee requires support. The mentoring programme also includes small group training and skills sessions and access to its wider online community for more advice and specialist areas of expertise.

EF66B173-9B26-4420-9FE9-E3F367DB8B48 3 Black Valley 

What are some examples of artificial intelligent biases against Black people?

Black people are facing biases in facial recognition, with women and minority groups most frequently falling victim to false identification. Facial recognition studies have revealed that white males are correctly identified 99% of the time, which drops to just 35% for dark-skinned women. Technology can help by creating inclusive products that are not biased against Black people, which is something Black Valley is striving for. 

What optimistic positive turning points have you seen in society?

Individuals are increasingly checking their own privilege and actively supporting and creating access for the Black community through different initiatives, such as mentoring. In today’s society, there are also more open conversations about race happening, which is a step in the right direction.

What actions can businesses and individuals take to help drive societal changes and support the black community?

Individuals can engage with conversations around race, challenge their own biases, and be proactive – it is not enough to be anti-racist!

Organisations need to go beyond talking points and grand statements. Recruitment strategies need to be examined and retention figures for Black individuals need to be reviewed. Businesses should be striving to create a culture that allows Black people to thrive and feel comfortable in their workplace. 

IMG_6272Some of the Black Valley team

Building a future of equality 

As a company we are always striving to build on the inclusive culture we have built to date and strengthen our understanding of societal changes, whilst remaining mindful of the challenges faced by Black and minority ethnic communities. 

We are always keen to learn more and to shine the spotlight on the crucial issues within society that deserve our attention. Leke shared invaluable insights and proactive takeaways that we as a company will take on board to better ourselves as a business and as individuals; striving for an inclusive society that aims for equity of treatment for all.

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Jessica Irvin
Head of Operations & People
Jessica Irvin
Jessica is Head of People & Operations at Vortexa and is responsible for hiring, learning & development, culture, engagement, performance management and leading expansion plans.