June 10, 2021 editor’s note
We’ve corrected the quote attributed to Benjamin Banneker. Thanks to readers for catching the error.
What began as a small group effort in 2015 has now turned into a global initiative here at GitHub to amplify Black voices and talent in the tech community. Blacktocats is the first official Employee Resource Group at GitHub, and today, we are over 60 members strong and hail from all over the US, Asia, Europe, and Australia. While geographically diverse, we also solve an incredibly diverse set of problems at GitHub. We are the software engineers creating your favorite GitHub features, product managers, designers, lawyers, sales leaders, marketers, and more. Through our work, we’re helping to shape the fabric of GitHub, but more importantly, the products and experiences you all have as our community.
There are many moments in this group’s history that I look back at with pride, but one in particular is the creation of the first Black Octocat, nine years after the creation of GitHub’s official Octocat, Mona. In traditional GitHub fashion, it started with a GitHub issue to explore the creation of an Octocat to commemorate Black History. With some back and forth on which figure to embody, in partnership with our fantastic creative team, we launched Benjamin Bannekat into the world on February 28, 2017, to honor the story of Benjamin Banneker.
Why did we choose Benjamin Banneker? He’s known for his published work in Almanacs on mathematics, astronomy, and farming. But his legacy shines with his discourse between the Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson, challenging the notion that the Black race is less than any other.
“Embrace every opportunity to eradicate that train of absurd and false ideas and opinion which so generally prevails with respect to us.”
~ B. Banneker, 1791, letter to Thomas Jefferson
In addition to representation, the Blacktocats provide platforms for Black employees to celebrate and connect with the rest of their fellow GitHub community and, most importantly, with each other.
FLOSS (Free/Libre Open Source Software) and Code is a scalable, reproducible hack day for underserved engineering communities all over the world. Our FLOSS and Code hack day in Atlanta is focused on empowering Black engineers to contribute to open source. During the event, we connected 75 HBCU students to open source maintainers from projects like Electron, Probot, and GitHub Desktop. The feedback on the day was by far the biggest win of the event, like this from Niara Patterson.
“Not only did I get exposed to the world of open source coding, I was also introduced to music programming! I also had the opportunity to download and work with developer tools that will help me accelerate my learning!”
~ Niara Patterson, HBCU student, now Software Intern at Apple
For Black History Month in 2019, Blacktocats co-founder, Leithia, proposed celebrating Black excellence by leveraging GitHub’s platform to amplify Black open source maintainers and influencers. The ReadME Project, which launched in August of 2020, has continued to build on this by publishing new profiles every month. Be sure to check out stories about developers doing really impactful work, like Monica Powell, Jerome Hardaway, and Segun Adbeyo.
GitHub is dedicated to building a community and team that reflects the world we live in and pushes the boundaries of software innovation. We can’t do it alone! We’re proud to now share the mission with six other communities of belonging at GitHub today. We are proud to continuously provide support and guidance, whether it’s in the form of hack days, championing the community, or even on stage. I personally want to thank my fellow Blacktocats, teammates, and GitHub for allowing the space for this important work to happen.
Want to learn more? Head over to our new landing page, which celebrates the accomplishments of Blacktocats and our community over the past five years. Stay up-to-date with what our group is working on, community events, and more by following us on Twitter.