Amina Yamusah, CTO of Bloc Software
“While I love that the progressive movement is extremely data-driven, it does not focus on its most reliable coalition – voters of color and youth voters. We need to put pressure on the movement to come up with tangible benchmarks and protocols when it comes to POC outreach.”
Meet Amina Yamusah. Amina is the CTO of Bloc, which was created to address the obscenity that “Black collegians face both a 13% unemployment rate after graduation and the highest student loan burden of any racial group.” Even those working in technology. Prior to co-founding Bloc, Amina graduated from Princeton University with a BA in politics, studying the social movements of Black and Latina women. She was a data engineer for MoveOn’s Real Voter Voices Project, and is a former Camelback Ventures Fellow, a Social Entrepreneur Fellow at Echoing Green, and was a participant in Princeton eLab Accelerator Program. Amina enjoys her avocations – including knitting and guitar playing – with the admission that “I like trying things and I’m OK at being bad at them.” You can reach her via email or LinkedIn.
What Does She Do?
Amina is the CTO of Bloc Software, creating workforce development management software for workforce training centers here in NYC. Amina splits her week between the NYC Media Lab (Tuesdays and Thursday’s working out of their Data Science and Social Impact hub) and Civic Hall (Mondays, Wednesdays, and Friday’s focusing on relationship development). Bloc has 15 pilots secured for 2019 and is hoping to do 50 workforce projects throughout the City.
How Did She Get Into This Work?
Amina comes from an immigrant family. Her father, a physician, had impossibly high standards for his offspring, expecting that they earn both a J.D. and an M.D. In pursuing computer science, Amina took a different path, and in that sense, rebelled.
Some time ago her father was fired from his position in retaliation for acting as union lead for his hospital. He never explained this to his daughter until recently: “That’s why you got fired?” This is where I got [my passion for labor rights] from.”
Despite graduating from Princeton, Amina did not have a job waiting for her. She soon learned that among her friends and family this was not the exception. That, in fact, Black college graduates are twice as likely to be unemployed as their white college counterparts.
A few years ago, Amina was affected by an auto-immune condition causing her to stay close to home: “I used the time to teach myself how to code and make my own job. I started an organization to help black college students end up in a better place professionally and have been working at the intersection of workforce dev and tech ever since.”
Over time, Bloc has evolved to focus solely on soft skills training and partnering with those who concentrate on hard skills. Bloc recognizes that systemic racism is an obstacle to accessing opportunity. If you have a “Black-sounding” name you are 50% less likely to get a job callback. That there is even discrimination at the Boot Camp hiring level. To change the odds, Bloc has three benchmarks for success: resume quality; job placement; and placement into upskill training.
“There is evidence that algorithms are biased against women and minorities for higher-level jobs. We need to build software that serves, rather than displaces, workers. For better hiring outcomes, organizations can start by looking at their Applicant Tracking System’s (ATS).”
How Did She Come to Civic Hall?
Amina’s co-founder and CEO Riley Jones had previously worked out of Civic Hall. His experience in the community was her first introduction.
Amina came out to Civic Hall this past winter for a book panel for Anand Giridharadas’ Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World. “I had been trying to convince my friends for months to read the book — and failed. After the conversation, it was an easy choice to sign up.”
What Project Is She Working On?
“While I love that the progressive movement is extremely data-driven, it does not focus on its most reliable coalition – voters of color and youth voters. We need to put pressure on the movement to come up with tangible benchmarks and tangible protocols when it comes to POC outreach. There’s no unified alert system within the progressive movement to target the emails of 100,000’s of voters who are subject to voter suppression, including purging, in this community.”
To that end, Amina is working on an effort she calls “Insuppressible,” designed to push predominantly white progressive organizations to increase POC outreach and address voter suppression in their digital GOTV efforts.
What is She Reading?
Amina recommends a handful of books to the community: James Cone’s classic: Black Liberation Theology; Kevin Kruze’s One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America; and Edgar Villanueva’s Decolonizing Wealth. She also recommends the Rev. William Barber’s Third Reconstruction: “I haven’t read it yet, but I’ve listened to his Moral Monday speeches and he’s so insightful.”
What Is Her Ask and Offer of Civic Hall?
Amina asks that Civic Hall commit to Increased outreach to prospective POC members and is interested in participating in our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion efforts. Additionally, she asks that members who are interested in coops, labor rights and/or voting rights reach out and introduce themselves on Slack.
As Civic Hall continues to grow Amina encourages us to articulate clear and established boundaries for corporate partners. “Understanding what they are – and aren’t –getting, aligned with our values; so there isn’t an uneven power balance.”
Bloc has openings for 14 test access subscriptions to their platform. Email Amina directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and she can deploy a test portal for you.