4 Black Twilions You Should Know

February 24, 2022
Written by
Twilion

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In observance of Black History Month, the Black Twilions Employee Resource Group organized programs to commemorate important events and celebrate people of color in American history. This year’s Black History Month theme -Black Health and Wellness- encouraged members and allies of Twilio's Black community to be mindful about physical and mental health at home and work.

While there were plenty of company-wide programming opportunities and initiatives, some highlights include:

  • Coolin with Tha Cousins - Twilion-led yoga sessions
  • Building A New Black History: Growth Healing And Hope - a conversation between Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson and CEO and Founder of MindRight Health Ashley Edwards
  • A performance by Blessing Offor, a blind musician whose inspiring story took him from Nigeria to NYC to Nashville.

Perhaps one of the most valuable opportunities that Black History Month provides is a reminder to both recognize the challenges and uplift the contributions of the Black community. At Twilio, this month-long celebration allows us to collectively pause our busy schedules to learn more about the backstories of a handful of our colleagues. These are Twilions who took a moment to reflect on their experiences as part of an underrepresented group with careers in tech — typically a white-dominated industry — and more specifically, at Twilio.

Affirmations and Advice from 4 Black Twilions

Kaelyn Chresfield
 
Shawn Oates
Satang Jow
Aliyah Edwards

Kaelyn Chresfield, Developer Evangelist 

Shawn Oates, Staff, Technical Program Manager, M&A Integrations

Satang Jow, Principal, Program ManagerAliyah Edwards, Principal Program Manager, Leadership Development

Based in New Orleans, Louisana, USA

Based in New York, New York, USABased in Newark, California, USA Based in New York, New York, USA

Prepped with just three questions, we asked four of our colleagues to share their journeys and consider how their identity as a Black person shapes their work. Here's what they had to say.

Q 1:

Last year, the Harvard Business Review published LeRon L. Barton's eye-opening article on what it's like to be a Black man in tech.

In that vein, please finish this sentence: “To be Black in tech is to be ______________.”

Kaelyn:

To be black in tech is to be at the forefront of opportunity. So often, black people from black communities don't have access to innovation because of a myriad of historical disadvantages. I get to be here, be present, and share more of my world in spaces where people like me have been historically underrepresented.

Shawn:

To be Black in tech is to be vigilant because although you may have grown accustomed to the environment, you understand that your teammates or customers might not have yet grown accustomed to being around people that look like you. So you tread softly when engaging in this environment, careful not to offend by your mere presence. Even still, to be Black in tech is to be celebrated. It can sometimes be a lonely journey, but it's a journey worth the travel as we pave the way for others to follow.

Aliyah:

To be Black in tech sometimes means being the first...or the only. I am blessed to have the opportunity to influence the culture and how we work within the Twilio organization. The experience can be challenging but also amazingly rewarding when you see increases in inclusion and diversity within your space.

Satang:

To be Black in tech is to constantly be vigilant and aware of your environment. As the only Black person on the team, I have to code-switch a lot due to fear of being judged. I'm also on alert to be ready to explain the reason for my new hair or a colorful outfit.

Q 2:

This month, a new book appeared titled "Black Joy: Stories of Resistance, Resilience, and Restoration." It's a collection of personal, uplifting, and powerful essays that celebrate the redemptive strength of Black Joy.

As Black Joy is an integral part of mental health, tell us, what has been the most joyful moment in your career?

Kaelyn:

I joined a coding bootcamp in New Orleans designed to help black, brown, and other underrepresented minority groups in tech enter the field. I felt like I was able to help them gain access to a world of information that would have otherwise been unavailable. Seeing their "ah-ha" moments and watching them become phenomenal developers in this field always brought me joy.

Shawn:

I don't know if the most joyful moment in my career can be whittled down to just one. It's a compilation of moments. I've been fortunate to have had managers that have supported and recognized my efforts. I've been able to seek after and walk into once-in-a-generation opportunities that have kept smiles on the faces of my family members. Along the way, I've been able to celebrate the career accomplishments of Black friends. This has not only brought joy into my life, it's brought hope.

Aliyah:

One of my most joyful career moments was being awarded a 2020 Superb Owl award for my work as the global Employee Resource Group (ERG) leader for the Black Twilions. Superb Owls are the most prestigious recognition within Twilio regarding organizational impact. 2020 was a pivotal year for everyone, and in the midst of so much pain, we built an ERG foundation on connection and belonging across the diaspora. I was blessed to collaborate with truly beautiful human beings and, in the process, solidified lifelong bonds.

Satang:

After graduating with my Masters, my goal was to be an HR Business Partner. A learning and development role fell into my lap, and I haven't looked back since. With the right training, we're empowering our engineers, product managers, and designers to accelerate their time to productivity after onboarding, and that makes me excited to go to work daily.

Q 3:

The online resource, Blacks In Technology, is dedicated to increasing the representation and participation of Black people in tech. It's a great place for community, stories, and career advice.

On a personal level, what advice can you share with other People of Color who are already in tech or want to break into the industry?

Kaelyn:

We are living in a time where showing up as our whole selves is something that is rewarded and not criticized. Embrace that. Even the quirkiest things about you! No one can be a better you than you, and that is your most valuable asset.

Shawn:

Take a seat at the table without needing to be invited. If there is no chair, bring one. If there is no space, create one. Don't be afraid of a locked door, and also, don't be afraid when you start receiving the invite.

Aliyah:

Let all mistakes not be defeat but learning; what is for you is for you and will not pass you.

Satang:

If I can do it, anyone can.

Being part of the change

While there are similarities in the careers of these Black Twilions, their approaches to the way they face and overcoming adversity in their journey are unique. Theirs are stories that many members of underrepresented communities can relate to — the feeling of being invisible, misunderstood, or needing to work twice as hard just to be heard — hurdles that seriously impact a sense of belonging and ability to grow, personally and professionally.

There is remarkable innovation happening in tech. And, as we can see from the affirmations above, the Black community is an ever-increasing part of that change. Thanks to Kaelyn, Shawn, Aliyah, and Satang for sharing their stories with us!

Is there a place for you at Twilio? Check out our open roles and apply today.