5 Black Leaders Pioneering Data and Technology in the Last 20 Years

  • February 06, 2023
a group of women discussing science and technology

A brief look at the origins of Black History Month and what 5 Black leaders have accomplished in the last 20 years of data and technology.

Since 1928, the ASALH has provided a theme for Black History Month after ASALH co-founder, Carter G. Woodson, recognized the importance of having one for the public to focus on. The theme for Black History Month in 2023 is “Black Resistance.”

What are the origins of Black History Month?

Black History Month dates back to a single week in February 1926 — more specifically, the second week in February. The weeklong event was sponsored by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). The ASALH was co-founded in 1915 by Carter G. Woodson, a Harvard-trained historian, and Jesse E. Moorland, a prominent minister.

The ASALH chose the second week in February because it coincides with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the US, and Frederick Douglass, an escaped slave who became an abolitionist, social reformer, orato, and writer. In the mid-1800s, each of these men made a significant and critical impact on the push to end slavery in the United States.

Black History Month began as a week dedicated to the research and promotion of achievements of Black Americans and peoples of African descent. It also served as a time for local communities to come together for celebrations and education. However, Black History Month wasn’t officially recognized until 1976 by U.S. President Gerald Ford.

In 1976, the same year that marked the bicentennial of the United States’ independence from England, President Gerald Ford made the announcement that Black History Month would be officially recognized. In a statement marking this occasion, Ford encouraged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

Since then, Black History Month is celebrated during the month of February with the purpose of raising awareness and educating the public on meritorious developments by Black leaders, historical issues, and social movements.

Black scientists in science and technology

“The cost of liberty is less than the price of repression.”

— W.E.B. Du Bois

Do you recognize the name W.E.B. Du Bois? What about Katherine Johnson or Skip (Clarence A.) Ellis? Can you name any of their accomplishments or the field they worked in?

These are the names of just a few Black scientists that have made significant contributions to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). W.E.B. Du Bois created data visualizations, Katherine Johnson worked on the math behind NASA operations, and Skip Ellis became the first Black American to earn a Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of Illinois.

The work these scientists did in the early- to mid-20th century has paved the way for continuing advances in science and technology, and these fields are continuing to emerge and evolve in the 21st century. These five Black scientists made significant contributions to advancements in data and technology in the last 20 years. Their achievements are creating new pathways—not just for the future of the industry, but for future Black scientists to have the opportunity to make their mark.

2000: Kunle Olukotun founds Afara Websystems

2007: Angela Benton co-founds Black Web 2.0

2009: Greg Greenlee founds Blacks in Technology

  • About Blacks in Technology — the largest community and media organization that focuses on increasing the representation of Black people in the tech industry
  • Education: AS in Computer Network Engineering from Cincinnati State
  • Today: Principal DevOps Engineer at Insight
  • Did you know? Greg was inspired to start BIT after attending a Linux tech conference where he noticed a lack of Black attendees or speakers
  • Learn more: blacksintechnology.net

2011: Kimberly Bryant founds Black Girls CODE

  • About Black Girls CODE — an educational nonprofit founded on the principles of taking action to close the opportunity gap for young Black women by providing them with opportunities to grow their skills in computer programming and tech
  • Education: BE in Electrical Engineering with a Math and CS minor from Vanderbilt
  • Today: Founder and CEO at Black Girls CODE
  • Black Girls CODE has 15 chapters in cities across the US, and its 16th will open this year. They have provided enrichment opportunities for over 30,000 Black girls — or as they call them, future tech bosses!
  • Learn more: blackgirlscode.com

2017: Hannah Scates Kettler co-founds the Community Standards for 3D Data Preservation (CS3DP)


As someone who works in the tech industry, I feel that it’s important to look back on the past two decades of data and technology to recognize and celebrate the advancements made by Black individuals— something we should be doing not just during the 28 days of Black History Month, but 365 days a year.

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