“(Howard University’s) legacy is not wrapped up in the money that you will make but the challenges that you choose to confront. As you commence to your paths, press on with pride and press on with purpose.” — Chadwick Boseman
When Chadwick Boseman, cinema’s Black Panther, delivered these words at his alma mater’s 150th commencement in 2018, the public was unaware of the actor’s cancer battle, which claimed his life just weeks ago. The HBCU alumnus may have inspired millions with his historic portrayal of a Black superhero, yet it was the heroism he displayed off-screen that will prove to be his ultimate legacy.
“Chadwick Boseman encouraged young people to proceed with pride and purpose, as he did in life, despite his personal struggles,” says Earl Barnes, a senior executive at American Airlines, which is partnering with BLACK ENTERPRISE for its 6th annual BE SMART Hackathon, a tech-based competition and mentor opportunity for HBCU students nationwide.
“It was Boseman’s life and movie image,” Barnes continues, “that gave us the inspiration for the theme of this year’s Hackathon: Tech Superheroes UNITE!”
Hosted by American Airlines, the 2020 BE SMART Hackathon will livestream from the airline’s headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas, October 9-10. It will be the first BE SMART Hackathon to go entirely virtual, a move necessitated by the COVID pandemic, but very much in keeping with the event’s focus on technical prowess and innovation, according to BLACK ENTERPRISE President and CEO, Earl “Butch” Graves Jr.
“The Hackathon was conceived to both showcase and uplift the best and brightest tech talent that our African American institutes of learning have to offer,” Graves says. “The past six years of competition have demonstrated the capacity of these young people to adapt, to problem solve, to meet adversity with visionary ideas. We’re confident that this virtual Hackathon will be the most exciting to date.”
The Hackathon is open to all students currently enrolled at an accredited HBCU who will form teams and prepare to compete for prizes provided by American Airlines and BE’s tech industry partners. Prep work for competing hackers has already begun, with participation in a series of virtual workshops conducted by Microsoft, IBM, HP, and others to bring them up to speed on the latest technologies, including A.I., data analytics, and image recognition.
“American Airlines’ technical staff will be mentoring each team throughout the 24-hour competition,” says Barnes. “We aim to offer advice, nothing more. The caliber of the competition rests entirely on these young people, their ideas, and their skill-sets. We expect to be impressed and, like all good mentors, stay out of the way!”
For Graves, both the BE SMART Hackathon and its Tech Superheroes UNITE! theme speak to a unique moment in the culture, the future of HBCUs, and the history of the country.
“African Americans have never faced more formidable challenges, from COVID to systemic racism in our courts to economic inequality,” he says. “Tomorrow’s tech superheroes have a critical role to play in addressing these issues and moving the nation forward. Chadwick Boseman fought cancer and lived a life of impact that changed the world. The BE SMART Hackathon celebrates the potential of our tech-talented HBCU students to move mountains in their respective fields. As Boseman said, ‘It’s about ‘pride and purpose.’”