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This Entrepreneur Quit Law School To Create An App Revolutionizing Black Travel

Qui Hedrick left law to be about that tech life as the co-founder of the translator app, Instaspeakers.

BOSS UP

Technology and travel are becoming the driving force behind so much of what the world is evolving into. For example, Americans make up about 85% of all flight travel in the world. In the U.S. alone, Black millennial travel comes in at nearly 5 million, roughly 43% of the entire American Black population. And with popular social media groups such as Nomadness and Travel Noire leading the pack, the newly coined "black travel" has saturated a $63 billion chunk in the space.

That's billion, with a b. #BlackTravelDollarsMatter.

But with all this traveling we're doing, I couldn't help but wonder what methods most people use to manage communication with locals on a fundamental and conversational level. I recall traveling to Kenya where I was met with "Jambo mrembo" and other Swahili phrases and conversations at every turn. Although largely a bilingual country, I remember times where there were major language barriers.

In comes Quiante Hedrick (call her Qui), co-founder of the most game-changing translator app in the world, Instaspeakers.

Jasmine Oliver of J Lauryn Photography

Instaspeakers is a live, on-demand translating app that allows you to video chat with a translator anywhere in the world. With the app, you can have a seamless conversation with individuals that do not speak the same language as you at any time, on any level.

I took the time to meet with Qui to learn more about how she plans to revolutionize travel. She joins me for smoothies at Fruve' Xpress Juicery in Chicago's South Loop for our interview. As she arrives, she has a captivating, mini-powerhouse scent that fills the room. We greet each other with smiles and pleasantries as she shifts into business-mode to discuss how Instaspeakers came into fruition.

"One of the major issues that prevent people from traveling, or truly experiencing different countries is the language barrier," she begins as we review the app's capabilities. "You can go anywhere in the world, but can you have a seamless conversation with someone while you are there? The answer is no. That's why we created Instaspeakers."

Her excitement shows beyond her huge smile, natural aura illumination, and fly outfit. She explains, "[For example], Google Translate doesn't know how to connect what we've just talked about two sentences ago, with what I'm saying now. It's literally just meant to spit out the best version of what you say, in the language that you choose. That's it. And we wanted to change that narrative. We noticed this problem and wanted to provide a solution."

As a former law student, Qui ultimately made the decision to forego her education in an industry she had studied in, to shift to an entirely unfamiliar concentration in the tech space. And although she comes from a family that has operated multiple successful businesses, she knew that she was in over her head. "In addition to Instaspeakers, I am also a wife and mother. I didn't have the flexible schedule to adequately continue law school and develop a company at the same time. I knew I had to adjust my focus to the brand 1000%," she explains.

And from there, Instapeakers was fully born.

It goes without saying that there is a large disparity between black women in STEM (only 2.9% of STEM bachelor degrees belong to black women) versus an industry such as beauty and cosmetics. But over time, STEM has become a highly encouraged industry by other high-profile giants such as Lebron James, Verizon, and Drew Brees.

Yet, due to many melanin-related problems that are relevant in all industries across Corporate America, STEM has routinely had a difficult time retaining those who enter the field. Researchers suggest that the best way to keep black women in STEM is to give those women someone that looks like them to look up to and that's where Qui comes in.

"[Because I hadn't] had previous experience as a student in tech, I had to learn a lot on my own and become comfortable with being uncomfortable. As much as we want to have all of our ducks in a row before we embark on a new journey, it doesn't always happen that way. It was best to just start."

In my head, I take note of this same recurring theme from all the entrepreneurs I've featured in the past. She continued, "Now we're on track to reaching one of our largest goals in a year. So, in many ways, Instaspeakers is vital to the culture. It's one step closer to breaking barriers, providing opportunities for our people, [and] allowing us to participate in this new tech boom."

She takes a quick call as I continue to play around with functionalities. I'm pleased to see the user experience is straightforward and minimally invasive. The most interesting element to the app is it allows you to have a personal translator on standby, at all times. Think of their business model as being identical to Uber, but instead of calling a ride, you're calling for language assistance.

Jasmine Oliver of J Lauryn Photography

When Qui returns, she notices that I'm having a little too much fun playing around and we both laugh. I tell her about my Kenya trip and how the app would have been so beneficial.

"You know what, in Kevin Hart's Irresponsible stand-up he explained how he forgot to schedule a translator for his visit to Japan, and by the time he realized that he needed a translator it was too late. He pivoted this moment into a hilarious joke about being at a theme park while in Japan, and not knowing the language. This literally could have been an Instaspeakers ad," she laughs.

We switch gears and begin to touch on her family, home life, and her best self-care practices. Her contagious smile appears again as her acai bowl arrives. We briefly chat about her husband and son, who she credits with as the aspects of her life that keep her going. I then ask how she balances being both a wife and mom, with being an entrepreneur.

"Well, I've changed my mind about the number of hours that are within a day," she says as she laughs. "I remember waking up at 7 am and thinking that was early! Ha! Now my mornings begin at 4:30."

A true struggle all business owners can relate to.

Qui shared, "Plus I have successful people in my life that won't let me give up and continue to push me. As long as there is a problem that needs to be solved, I [am] motivated."

We close out with me asking what's next for her and Instaspeakers.

"Simply put, we want to be the reason that people can travel anywhere in the world, and never worry about language again. So, this is what we'll remain focused on."
She sits back and takes a sip of her smoothie as if to humbly celebrate what's coming her way.

And with full pride and satisfaction, we toast our smoothies and cheers to all the women who unapologetically do the same.

For more on Instaspeakers, visit their website at www.instaspeakers.com. It is available for download in all app stores.

Featured image by Jasmine Oliver of J Lauryn Photography.

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

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