In Wilmington, Delaware, Jacqueline Means stands before a classroom of young people with a beaker in one hand and a pipette in the other. The young stem scientist known professionally as “The STEM Queen” is conducting a session for young students on the wonderful world of science, technology, engineering and math. For the newly crowned Miss Black USA Talented Teen, STEM isn’t simply a passion, but also an opportunity to help young women from her community of Southbridge see beyond their surroundings. Through the Wilmington Urban STEM Initiative, which she founded, Means has shared her love of science with thousands of youth, spreading light in a community often cited for its crime.
The 18-year-old is just one of several Black entrepreneurs named an AT&T Black Future Maker. The 2021 cohorts received $10,000 from the telecom conglomerate to expound upon their goal of helping their community. Others include Mykeia Thomas, who is using the money to help St. Louis residents lose weight and maintain better health. Kyla Bates, who desires to open a visual and performing arts conservatory in her hometown of Zachary, Louisiana. Patrick Rhodes is going to feed frontline workers in Tampa, FL through his free lunch campaign. Over in Lawrenceville, GA, Naikie Reeves is using his funding to open a storefront for his Blaamazon concept. The brick and mortar will highlight Black-owned brands with the goal of empowering the community to embrace entrepreneurship.
AT&T started the Black Future Makers Contest as part of a Black History Month celebration. A spokesperson for the company told EBONY that the grants are a reflection of the brand’s commitment to championing equality past the month of February. Five entrepreneurs have already been awarded this year. An additional entrepreneur will be added to the 2021 class of changemakers each month through December.
“We know that Black and other underserved communities face long-standing social inequities. And we also know that there are many people with great ideas for improving communities but need a little financial help to do so,” says Angela Burgin, AT&T Director of Marketing for the company's Marketing and Growth Organization. “These grants give local leaders and activists a measure of economic empowerment to make a difference in their communities.”
Beyond the Black Future Makers program, AT&T has also committed an additional $10 million, earmarked for economic empowerment programs with a goal of cultivating upward mobility in communities. They include expanding their support for educational and skills-building programs in areas that have been negatively impacted by high unemployment rates and violence.
“Our work with entrepreneurs continues to evolve,” says Berger. AT&T has been a supporter of HBCUs and organizations like Nex Cubed, Girls WhoCode and Year Up. “Through these programs, we’re able to help eliminate racial bias found in today’s technologies, increase education, skills building and career readiness opportunities,” she adds.