A Microsoft engineer is organizing a conference in honor of Juneteenth to build community among Black people in tech

  • Michael Brown, senior software development engineer at Microsoft, organized JuneteenthConf, a virtual tech conference to build community among Black people in tech that will take place Friday and Saturday.
  • Brown came up with the idea earlier this month as a way to celebrate Juneteenth, which commemorates the day the news about the Emancipation Proclamation reached Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865.
  • During this conference, attendees can listen to talks from 31 Black developers and designers and attend a town hall to discuss ongoing current events.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

A Microsoft engineer is organizing a free virtual tech conference in honor of Juneteenth to celebrate and amplify Black people in tech

The conference, called JuneteenthConf, will take place on Friday, June 19 — Juneteenth — as well as Saturday, June 20. Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, the day that people in Galveston, Texas received the news that slaves were being freed, over two years after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

Michael Brown, a senior software development engineer at Microsoft who organized JuneteenthConf, hopes that the event will build community for Black people in tech. Event attendees can listen to talks from 31 developers and designers and attend a town hall to discuss current events related to racism.  

“I was looking at this environment we’re in right now,” Brown told Business Insider. “We’re raising our voices and marching together for change. I thought, we need to celebrate what we’re doing, not just on the ground but in our professional careers.”

Microsoft, where Brown works, did not give employees Juneteenth off from work, but designated it as “a day of listening, learning, and engagement” and is allowing employees to cancel meetings that day.

How Brown organized JuneteenthConf

Brown first came up with the idea on June 3 as a way for Black people in tech to learn from — and network with —each other. Throughout his tech career, he’s typically been one of the only Black employees on his team.

“I can go days without seeing another Black face in the company,” Brown said.

Read more: The tech industry has a terrible track record on diversity. Here’s how 17 companies that spoke out against racism this week say they plan to improve.

While Brown initially didn’t know if he could pull off organizing in time, since the date was coming up so soon, he  was able to put together a team of people to help with planning. They’ve mostly promoted the event through grassroots outreach and, so far, over 500 people have expressed interest in attending, Brown says. The conference received a large number of speaker submissions, too, with talks like  “Combatting Bias in Machine Learning” and “What They Don’t Teach You About Fundraising As A Black Founder.” 

“I said, ‘Wow this is really going to happen,'” Brown said. “It was just exciting to watch it all over the course of that time.”

Organizations like BlackCodeCollective, Excella, DC Tech Community Champions, and Thursday.Cloud are sponsoring the event. Brown says any sponsorship or money that comes in through the conference will go towards its larger mission: Promoting STEM education and careers to underserved Black students. 

Brown also hopes this turns into an annual event. 

“I wanted to make the celebration and make something long lasting,” Brown said. “There are not a lot of conferences that represent Black people in technology so I wanted to give it a chance to really shine and celebrate what you’re doing in the field.”

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Bob Thorton

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