If you're familiar with Dr. Nashlie Sephus, then you know she has been preaching the STEM and tech gospel for a while. She has created apps that were purchased by major companies like Amazon, she has hosted her own TED Talks. She has even been awarded Innovator of the Year by Young, Gifted, & Powered.
In an industry where Black women account for less than one percent of the engineering industry, Dr. Sephus knew she wanted to enter the field at a young age. And now, she's bringing the industry to one of the most unlikely of places: her hometown of Jackson, Mississippi.
The powerhouse recently purchased 14 acres and eight buildings to build her own tech space in an effort to bring others along the journey.
She tells BNC News:
"This is very unique because Jackson, MS is a majority black city, with very little black ownership especially on such a large scale in the downtown area. A lot of people who own property are probably not even from the state, or are not as invested in the community. As a top AI expert, I know first-hand what it means to be a hub for technology, especially for people in our community."
Dr. Sephus first started a nonprofit back in 2018 called The Bean Path, which offers free tech help to those in the community. She lived in New York City, the Midwest, Atlanta, and even on the West coast, and noticed that tech hubs were growing up all around her. In being in the space, when going home to Jackson, she realized that was such an advancement of the city that they were missing out on.
"I wanted to be a part of the solution, not the problem. And because I have the expertise, sometimes, especially for the black community, it's no secret that there aren't a lot of people of color in the tech field, and there aren't a lot of women. Sometimes on my teams, I am the only one born in the United States. It gets frustrating at times because you want to see people who look like you."
Dr. Sephus immediately took action and decided to show up for her people in every way possible.
She began to do more to help people expand: she helped people set up their websites, their social media. Even helped people start their own tech companies. And her ultimate goal was to scale it all, with real estate. Oh, and to bring more people who look like her, with her.
"There's so much opportunity. I often say, even though I have a Ph. D from Georgia Tech, and undergrad, Mississippi State, I am not the best person to solve the problems that you all deal with everyday. You are. But we can use technology to help you do that. And if we get more people who are not just thinking the status quo, who are not the typical Silicon Valley people, then we can really build innovation, and we can really reach those that are under-served. That's why this project is so important to me."
"Tech is one of the only industries where you can learn, from scratch, through free resources online and begin making six-figures. This is where you add that generational wealth--where you remove all the boundaries and limitations that have kept us out of Silicon Valley. We're bringing that to our own communities."
It's the audacity of never limiting herself, for me. Congratulations, Dr. Sephus!
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Featured image by Dr. Nashlie Sephus/Instagram