Howard Hosts 5th Annual Black Blockchain Technology Summit: The Hilltop

Black Blockchain attendees chatting at the Black Blockchain Summit at Howard University’s Interdisciplinary Research Building on Georgia Avenue. Photo of Sariah Adams.

Howard University hosted its fifth annual Black Blockchain Summit. The Black Blockchain Summit is a conference that brings people together to learn and connect with other Black people about Blockchain technology and cryptocurrency spaces. The student organization DAO labs (Decentralized Autonomous Organization) also started its first hackathon and pitching competition at the summit.

On September 22-24, the 5th Annual Black Blockchain Summit kicked off at Howard University’s Interdisciplinary Research Building, located on Georgia Avenue, with hundreds of people in attendance. The summit included a variety of fireside chats, panel discussions, and presenters from diverse backgrounds who discussed topics on blockchain technology, investing, software development, research, policy, education, and the ways that Black people and people of color the African diaspora can use them to their benefit in social, economic and environmental settings.

According to Harvard Business Review, “…blockchain is an open, distributed ledger that can record transactions between two parties efficiently and verifiably and permanently. The ledger can also be programmed to trigger transactions automatically.” Blockchain technology is notable for its role with cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. Blockchain is known for keeping transaction records secure and decentralized.

The Black Blockchain Summit began in 2018 and was hosted by Sinclair Skinner, an entrepreneur, mechanical engineer, and Howard alumnus. This year’s summit also included a memorial service to honor founder, STEM advocate and Howard alumnus Dr. Gary L. Harris for his contributions to creating a space for Black innovators and students in these spaces.

Many of the panelists included companies such as Gemini, Galaxy, Citi, Bithub.Africa, the Blockchain Association, the Black Woman Blockchain Council, and numerous Black-owned startups.

Skinner emphasized the importance of exposing and educating the black community on these issues for the purpose of freedom and ownership.

“There are 1.5 billion black people on the planet. That’s a good number of people, if we can free that, we can probably help free everyone else,” Skinner said.

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“We literally think it’s important to use all the tools that we have available for this release and one of those tools we think is the blockchain,” he said. “This particular technology is super scalable and it gives us an opportunity to take advantage of that and free up as many of our people as possible.”

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A panel session at the Black Blockchain Summit. [from left to right] Cleave Mesidor, Aaron Klein, Shay Hawkins, and Chris Brummer. Photo by Sariah Adams.

Speaking on a panel, Blockchain Foundation Executive Director Cleave Mesidor said, “We have black people coming from all over the country, from Ohio… El Paso, everywhere, but we also have, you know, a delegation that comes from the continent of Africa” He has focused on working with cryptocurrencies for six years and spoke about the importance of black and brown people being included in the Blockchain and cryptocurrency industries.

“Black and Latino people are using Blockchain technology to solve problems, to address inequalities. For us, it has always been about ownership and empowerment. It is about creating opportunities and that is what this conference is about.”

In addition to the summit, HU DAO Labs, a Howard student organization, hosted its first Yardhack and Pitch competition from 7 pm on September 23 to 2 pm on September 24. The goal of the competition was to incorporate a system called, an open source peer-to-peer blockchain protocol, by whatever means they chose.

Team 3 Yardhack Winners. Junior Micheal Scholis on the left. Junior Olivia Washington in the middle. Junior Annia Matthews at right. Photo by Sariah Adams.

Team 3, the winners of the first HU DAO Labs YardHack, presented their product called NAC (Notarized Art Co-op) made up of Junior Micheal Scholis, Junior Annia Matthews and Junior Olivia Washington.

When asked about the inspiration and how the team developed the concept within the limited time period, one team member, Michael Scholis, a 21-year-old interdisciplinary studies student from Monterey, California, explained how the idea was already in process.

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“If I’m honest, I’ve been thinking about this since last spring at our event called Future Proof. So it’s been in the works all summer,” Scholis said.

“So this is a platform for us, a platform for us to talk in a space that is comfortable and open to listen to us and that is receptive to our ideas. We had some interest in continuing this idea with consulting and further investment,” he said.

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Team members Olivia Washington and Annia Matthews agreed, saying this experience would be something they would take with them as they continue their journey with HU DAO labs.

“Personally, for me it was like ‘I don’t have anything to do with this, I don’t belong in this space’… it just opened my eyes to the possibilities of the DAO,” said Olivia Washington, a junior marketing student. “You don’t have to know anything about Web3, you could have learned it yesterday and you still have the opportunity in the space, it’s been very encouraging and I feel great.

Araj Shah, a 19-year-old computer science freshman from Nepal, said. The team he was a part of, Team 2, came second in the competition.

“The response was pretty good. I mean, we worked pretty hard and we were hoping for first place, but it’s okay,” Shah said. “I feel that what we have done is really good and I am very proud of our team. And what we have done and hope to continue working on it”.

Another Team 2 member, Rahual Rai, a 20-year-old computer science freshman from Nepal, agreed with Shah about the positive experience they had.

“At the end of the day, it was the friendship that we made along the way,” Shah said.

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HU DAO Labs is working to ensure engagement with members and that everyone is aware of opportunities to attend events similar to this year’s Black Blockchain Summit. The summit has been held many times on the Howard campus in the past and will be held again next year at Howard University, the date of which is not specified.

Yardhack Team 2 Runners-up. Araj Shah in the middle in a cream t-shirt. Subrabhat Rijal on the right in a red hoodie. Rahual Rai on the left with a green shirt. Photo of Sariah Adams.
Team 3 third place in YardHack. Photo courtesy of Sariah Adams.

Copy edited by Chanice McClover-Lee

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