Diversity & Inclusion

Spotlighting Inclusive Fashion, Entrepreneurship and Community at AfroTech 2019

By: eBay News Team & Members of eBay’s Black Employees at eBay (BEE) Community of Inclusion

For AfroTech 2019, eBay partnered with Louisiana-based, Retail Revival artist Kristen Downing of KAWD to create custom sneakers for an exclusive sweepstakes in support of an Oakland-based nonprofit.

Music credit to Marcus "MarcNFinit" Williams(CO2) ASCAP

What makes our global marketplace so vibrant is the mosaic of voices, representing many walks of life and communities, who buy and sell on our platform, join our workforce and bring their best selves to our workplace. Diversity and Inclusion are core to who we are at eBay. 

Every year, we’re proud to support the AfroTech conference in the Bay Area, which convenes black technologists, creatives and entrepreneurs from across the globe. In 2019, AfroTech attracted more than 10,000 participants to network, explore employment opportunities and learn from industry thought leaders spanning a myriad of topics. eBay has supported AfroTech since it began in 2016 as its first corporate sponsor and remains committed to the organization’s vision. 

Our engagement featured artist and eBay Retail Revival seller Kristen Downing who customized six pairs of sneakers, which were the prizes of an exclusive sweepstakes for AfroTech attendees. Proceeds raised from the sweepstakes were bolstered by the eBay Foundation and donated to The Hidden Genius Project (HGP), an Oakland-based nonprofit, which provides young black men with mentorship and training to excel in the tech industry. 

“The most powerful aspect of the partnership was the incorporation of a theme — sneakers and style — that resonates so deeply with the young people we serve,” said HGP’s Executive Director Brandon Nicholson. “We have Hidden Geniuses who have built technology projects centered on a love for sneakers, so for eBay to connect the dots between tech, fashion and artistic creativity — all woven throughout black identity — marked a powerful moment.” 

In addition to proceeds from the sweepstakes, eBay also donated more than $20,000 to support HGP’s mission and efforts. 

“eBay's financial support resources us to connect our young people with even more moments wherein they can identify pathways, niches, and opportunities that can help them marry their interests with meaningful skills, and ultimately thrive,” Brandon added.

We caught up with several employees and Kristen about their AfroTech experience, and here’s what they had to say.

Creating the Sneakers: Paying Homage to Black History

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Several of the hand-painted shoes on display at eBay’s AfroTech booth.

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Louisiana-based artist Kristen Downing said the customized sneakers pay homage to Oakland-based creatives and are inspired by key figures in black history. One pair of shoes feature a quote by African American writer and playwright James Baldwin: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

Each pair of shoes were meticulously hand-painted by Kristen over the course of several days ahead of AfroTech. For Kristen, the conference was an opportunity to showcase her art and journey to a wider audience beyond her local southern community. 

“I love how eBay gives small businesses a chance to shine on their platform,” Kristen said. “I think it’s really cool how eBay supports entrepreneurs and gives them an opportunity to bring customers to their company.” 

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Artist Kristen Downing alongside the shoes she customized at the eBay booth at AfroTech.

Kristen’s art gallery, KAWD, is based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. This past fall, Kristen also joined eBay’s Retail Revival program, which aims to help local retailers thrive in the global market while deepening their neighborhood connections. 

Thoughts from Our Family on AfroTech

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Our employees at our AfroTech booth, along with artist and eBay seller, Kristen Downing of KAWD.

On Empowerment and Career Development

AfroTech was a moment to connect with external candidates and share career development opportunities at eBay, said Bernard Williams, Jr., director of AML training and governance. “But it was also a moment to feel a sense of empowerment and ownership in the tech space,” he continued.

“What resonated with me the most [in being at AfroTech] was the number of opportunities for us as members of the black community to carve our own paths in the tech sector,” Bernard said. “I haven’t seen this much possibility for true ownership ever in my career as a professional. For the first time in a really long time, I felt like we had a chance to really be a part of the game and have a seat at our own table.”

On eBay’s Purpose and Passion

For Aja Brown, a senior program manager of the project management office, AfroTech was a chance to further highlight eBay’s purpose in expanding economic opportunity for all. Of her conference experience, she said, “My heart was full the whole time.”

“Having a sense of purpose where we were providing a platform, such as AfroTech, to one of our beloved sellers and giving Kristen that experience and exposure — in addition to our charity component with The Hidden Genius Project — gave me personally, and I believe others as well, a soulful vibe that just vibrated high,” she said. “Attendees could feel that soul.”

She said the conversations she had with booth visitors were “genuine, authentic and organic” and were around learning more about opportunities at eBay, whether as a potential seller, buyer or future colleague. 

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eBay employees interacting with other AfroTech attendees at our booth.

On Community, Connection and Job Opportunities

Business and Technical Sourcer Selvish Capers said he had an overall wonderful experience at AfroTech and spoke to the importance of representation in the tech industry. 

“It was awesome to watch and interact with so many people of color that work within the tech and entrepreneurial space,” he said. “Cultural representation is prime, and having an opportunity to engage with so many others of the same ethnicity was very fulfilling.”

He added that he enjoyed spending time with colleagues at AfroTech and felt a sense of community — a sentiment that booth visitors noticed as well among his coworkers.

“One gentleman stated, ‘Man, I see all of my people here at your booth and on top of that, y’all are definitely representing with the official show game. Can you tell me about the career opportunities that are available at eBay?’ It was inspiring to me to hear that positive response impact from the community,” Selvish said.

On Resilience and Representation

What resonated the most with David Jones, a business operations project manager, was the sense of resilience from those he spoke with at AfroTech this year. He said he heard many stories of those who faced difficult obstacles but that they “never wavered” in overcoming them, knowing that their “goals were more important than their circumstances and situations.” 

“It was impactful to not only hear these things, but seeing them in rare form, with the way the rooms were so vibrant with people of color joining in unity for a common cause and goal,” he said.

Supporting sellers and entrepreneurs like Kristen; nonprofits like The Hidden Genius Project; and educational and networking opportunities like AfroTech are core to how eBay continues to partner with local communities in advancing diversity and inclusion within the tech industry. Learn more about diversity and inclusion initiatives at eBay.

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