This month in the United Kingdom – like every October – we celebrate Black History Month.
We salute those who have gone before us, fighting against oppression, campaigning for equality and being at the forefront of the most positive change movement the world has ever seen.
As a black woman, I’ve seen that change first-hand. We owe so much to those who have paved the way for the world we live in today. But I also know that because of their struggles, we have a duty to continue the fight for equality because unfortunately and sadly, we’re not there yet. Especially in my world of tech, business and leadership.
Eager readers of my content will know that just 5% of board members of UK tech companies were from ethnic minority backgrounds just a few years ago.
Representation is key. We know that people are inspired by people who look like them. So, this month, I’m shining a light on a few of my black tech predecessors who were truly innovators in their field in the hope that they can inspire the next generation to follow in their footsteps.
For any of you who are avid gamers, you may want to thank Jerry Lawson for the games consoles you play today. Back in the 1970s, he was credited as being the driving force behind the world’s first cartridge-based video game console – the Fairchild Channel F.
His invention laid the foundations for all future gaming systems – from the Atari 2600 to the PlayStation 5. He also invented the first in-game pause functionality, so the next time you’re wanting to take a break from your Xbox, you can thank Jerry for his contribution.
Sticking with computers, but this time the personal kind, National Inventors Hall of Famer Mark Dean was the first African American to become an IBM Fellow following his trailblazing work to develop home PCs.
Mark holds three of IBM’s nine PC patents from the company’s personal computer released in the early 1980s. His work was key to allowing computers to connect to devices like modems, printers and keyboards – another thing we take for granted today.
Everybody has heard of Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell, right? Where would we be without the lightbulb and the phone?
But did you know Lewis Latimer was instrumental in both of those inventions? He drafted the drawings to bring Bell’s telephone idea to fruition before being hired by Edison to make improvements on his light bulb, making practical adjustments to make his product work more efficiently.
He was such an influential figure alongside Edison that he wrote the first book on electrical lighting. Imagine working for two of the greatest inventors of all time.
But not content with inventing one thing, our last inventor spotlighted is credited with coming up with the ideas for three things we use today.
Serial inventor and entrepreneur Garrett Morgan grew up repairing sewing machines in the late nineteenth century, sparking an interest in how things worked and how they could be fixed. A couple of decades after fixing things for others, he turned inventor to create the world’s first hair straightening tools – long before the GHDs of today.
A prototype of the very early gas mask followed before he was a witness to a horrendous road traffic accident, which led him to create the modern three-way traffic light we know so well.
What will you do to change the world?