Inaugural Conference @ MIT

Data for Black Lives Conference
November 17-19, 2017
MIT Media Lab
75 Amherst St, Cambridge, MA 02139

The inaugural Data for Black Lives Conference took place November 17-19, 2017 at the MIT Media Lab. We convened over four hundred activists, organizers, scientists, researchers, parents, students, and policy makers to chart out a new future for data science. Thousands more streamed the conference online. Click here for video recordings of all panels and keynotes. Click here to see one attendee’s beautiful handwritten notes.

Friday, November 17, 3:00-5:00pm // Pre-Conference

3:30 - 5:00 PM

Flagway Game (Location: Morss Hall, Walker Memorial Building, 142 Memorial Dr. Cambridge, MA)

Friday, November 17, 5:00 - 8:30 PM // Conference Day 1

5:00 PM

Conference Registration Opens (Winter Garden)

5:00 - 7:00 PM

Dinner Reception (Winter Garden)

7:15 - 8:30 PM

Welcome & Keynote (Multipurpose Room)

Conference Welcome: Yeshimabeit Milner, D4BL co-founder

MIT Welcome & Introduction of Keynote Speaker: Rafael Reif, MIT President

Keynote Adrress: Ruha Benjamin

9:00 - 11:00 PM

Social hosted by D4BL co-founders (Location: Google Headquarters, 355 Main St, Cambridge, MA)

Saturday, November 18, 8:00 AM - 10:00 PM // Conference Day 2

8:00 AM

Conference Registration Opens (Winter Garden)

8:00 - 9:00 AM

Continental Breakfast (Winter Garden)

9:00 - 9:15 AM

A Video Message from US Senator Kamala Harris (Multipurpose Room)

9:15 - 10:30 AM

Opening Panel (Multipurpose Room)

PANEL TITLE: Data For Black Lives

PANEL DESCRIPTION: Since the advent of computing, big data and algorithms have penetrated virtually every aspect of our social and economic lives very aspect of our social and economic lives. New data systems have tremendous potential to empower communities of color. Tools like statistical modeling, data visualization, and crowd-sourcing, in the right hands, are powerful instruments for fighting bias, building progressive movements, and promoting civic engagement. But history tells a different story -- one in which data is too often wielded as an instrument of oppression, reinforcing inequality and perpetuating injustice. Redlining was a data-driven enterprise that resulted in the systematic exclusion of Black communities from key financial services. More recent trends like predictive policing, risk-based sentencing, and predatory lending are troubling variations on the same theme. Today, discrimination is a high-tech enterprise. In this opening panel, we discuss the role that data and technology can and should play in Black communities.

MODERATOR: Yeshimabeit Milner

PANELISTS: Cathy O’Neil, Atyia Martin, Malika Saada Saar, Purvi Shah

10:45 - 12:15 AM

Breakout Session 1

BREAKOUT TITLE: Where are the Black scientists?

LOCATION: Lecture Hall, 6th Floor MIT Media Lab

Breakout Description: Black and brown people are vastly underrepresented in science, tech, and engineering. Although Black people report desiring to major in STEM at the same rate as their white counterparts, they are less than half as likely to end up in STEM-related jobs (US Census Bureau). And in a world that is increasingly high-tech and automated, this representation gap is a serious cause for concern. There are many factors that contribute to this problem, from the School-to-Prison Pipeline and the defunding of public education to corporate culture and depictions of Black people in the media. How do we bring together educators, universities, policy-makers, and employers to unleash the potential of Black people in the sciences? What can we learn from local efforts to close the representation gap?

MODERATOR Turahn Dorsey

PARTICIPANTS Bob Moses, Piper Harron, Amon Millner, Zakiyah Ansari

BREAKOUT TITLE: Code Black: Closing the Health Equity Gap

LOCATION: Multipurpose Room

Breakout Description: The distribution of health and disease is not random. Health disparities between Blacks and whites run deep, no matter the age or ailment. Here are the facts: Blacks have a higher mortality rate than any other racial or ethnic group for eight of the top 10 causes of death. African-American adults are nearly 50% more likely to be obese than their white counterparts. And Blacks are six times more likely than whites to be victims of intentional violence. This breakout session will explore the representation, access, and care delivery gaps in our health system. It will also examine the role that racism, poverty, and the lack of opportunity play in perpetuating disparities.

MODERATOR: Max Clermont

PARTICIPANTS: Selwyn Rogers, Cheryl Dorsey, Paulah Wheeler, Susannah Fox

12:30 - 1:30 PM

Lunch (Multipurpose Room)

1:45 -- 3:15 PM

Breakout Session 2

BREAKOUT TITLE: Building Black Political Power in the Age of Big Data

LOCATION: Lecture Hall

Breakout Description: In 2012, for the first time in American history, Black people had the highest rate of voter turnout of any racial or ethnic group. And advances in data and technology have created new opportunities to expand the political power of Black people and hold institutions accountable. SMS technology has demonstrated tremendous potential to turnout Black voters, and automatic voter registration is gaining momentum across the country. Meanwhile, groups of mathematicians and lawyers are developing innovative new metrics for gerrymandering to hold legislators accountable. And yet 2.2 million Black voters are missing from the political process. These are men and women who have been denied the right to vote because of past criminal convictions. This number does not include the millions of Black people nationwide who never make it to the polls. A complex web of laws, tactics, and practices -- from voter ID laws and gerrymandering to “crosscheck” and voter intimidation -- have eroded the most fundamental right of citizenship in Black communities across the country. This panel will explore areas where scientists and organizers can work together to protect this fundamental right.

MODERATOR: Rahsaan Hall

PARTICIPANTS: Marc Elias, Leah Aden, Moon Duchin, Ejike Obineme

BREAKOUT TITLE: Automating (In)justice: Policing and Sentencing in the Algorithm Age

LOCATION: Multipurpose Room

Breakout Description: The U.S. incarcerates more people than any country in the world, and Black communities are disproportionately impacted by this mass incarceration. The disparities are staggering: although the majority of illegal drug users and dealers are white, three quarters of those imprisoned for these crimes have been Black or Latino (the New Jim Crow).Across the country, big data, algorithms, and predictive analytics play an increasingly prominent role in policing and sentencing. In theory, tools like predictive policing and risk-based sentencing reduce bias by replacing subjective judgments with hard data. In practice, these tools often perpetuate cycles of racism. In this session, we address the questions: How can we use data to fight racism in policing and in the courtroom? In a world where discrimination is automated, how do we hold algorithms accountable?


PARTICIPANTS: Samuel Sinyangwe, Julia Angwin, Charmaine Arthur, Kim Foxx

3:30 - 8:30 PM

Hackathon (Location: Winter Garden)

8:30 - 10:00 PM

IMAGO: The Future of Blackness featuring Amir Sulaiman (Berklee David Friend Recital Hall, 921 Boylston St, Boston, MA)

CONCERT DESCRIPTION: In biology, the imago is the last stage attained during metamorphosis, a process of growth and development. It also is called the imaginal stage, the stage in which the being attains maturity. This concert will explore the transition to the next stage beyond surviving and towards thriving for the African Diaspora, including the growing pains and social challenges that it will face to reach its full potential. Featuring acclaimed HBO Def Poet Amir Sulaiman and Berklee Students, and produced by Dom Jones.

Sunday, November 19, 8:00 AM - 1:00 PM // Conference Day 3

8:00 - 9:30 AM

Continental Breakfast and Gallery Walk (Winter Garden)

9:45 - 11:15 AM

Breakout Session 3

BREAKOUT TITLE: The Revolution Will be Digitized: Music, Technology, and Black Cultural Production

LOCATION: Lecture Hall

Breakout Description: Black artists have shaped the history of American music and continue to do so every day. Virtually every form of popular music around the world has roots in the powerful African-American musical traditions of Jazz, Blues, R&B, Rock and Roll and Hip Hop. But these same artists have historically been denied their share of profits from their artistry. New advances in technology have created opportunities to shift power and profits back to the artists. Innovative new streaming platforms have created new precedents for artist ownership and compensation, while distributed ledgers, digital footprints, and smart contracts have the potential to revolutionize the way musicians interact with marketplaces and manage their intellectual property. How do we leverage new technologies to ensure that artists reap the benefits of their cultural production?

MODERATOR: Roger Brown

PARTICIPANTS: Panos Panay, Chaucer Barnes, Tef Poe, Avriel Epps

BREAKOUT TITLE: Black Work, Black Wealth, Black Futures

LOCATION: Multipurpose Room

Breakout Description: New innovations in technology are radically changing our economy. Self-driving cars are poised to transform the trucking industry, putting over eight million people at risk of losing their jobs. Exciting advances in 3D printing and digital fabrication will create new possibilities for manufacturing and construction, but also threaten to destabilize bedrock American industries.The backdrop for all of this is staggering racial inequality: it will take the average Black family 228 years to build the wealth of a white family today. While technology can exacerbate inequality, it also has the power to reverse historical trends. How do we reclaim technological innovation to empower Black communities, build wealth, and reverse inequality through ownership?


PARTICIPANTS: Terri Williams Cohee, Blair Evans, Geeta Pradhan, Omoju Miller

11:30 - 12:15 PM

Closing Keynote and Farewell (Multipurpose Room)

KEYNOTE ADDRESS: Ronald Sullivan

FAREWELL: Yeshimabeit Milner, Lucas Mason-Brown, and Max Clermont