Fast Company’s podcast Creative Conversation is doing a special three-part series covering specific issues within the ongoing protests for racial equality. Every Thursday this month, we’ll be spotlighting the creatives and professionals using their backgrounds, skills, and platforms to push for lasting change.
Social media has been a natural component in organizing and disseminating information during these recurring protests against racial inequality.
However, there’s understandable concern in how these platforms may be censoring and suppressing posts, or remaining complicit in fueling misinformation and divisive rhetoric. As valuable as it can be to leverage massive platforms like Facebook, TikTok, and Twitter, there is an argument to have a less policed space or, at the very least, one that has activists’ best interests in mind.
That’s exactly what Chloë Cheyenne Rogers set out to build with CommunityX.
Launched in 2019, CommunityX is a platform that allows people to connect locally and globally around common causes and movements.
“Governments and institutions depend on us not being able to sustain momentum in moments like this,” Rogers says in the latest episode of Fast Company’s podcast Creative Conversation. “And so we wanted to create a platform that would allow people to do the extremely important work that needs to happen on the ground, but then additionally sustain that energy and that momentum past those moments.”
As for many people of color, making sure there’s momentum beyond a moment is a personal matter for Rogers.
In 1989, Rogers’s father was left paralyzed after Chicago police opened fire on him in his mother’s home. As it turned out, they had the wrong address.
“When I was born [a year later], my dad was still learning how to walk again,” Rogers says. “Up until I was eight, we were taking him back and forth to trial where he was fighting for his innocence to stay out of prison because the [Chicago Police Department] maintained that he had done something wrong.”
After graduating from Howard University in 2013, Rogers began working at Google in business development. Her family’s trauma was a burden in its own right, but not one that she immediately thought to turn into action—that is until 2014 when Michael Brown Jr. was murdered by a Ferguson police officer.
“It was devastating and affected me in a way that I still struggle to describe,” Rogers says. “My first instinct was that I wanted to be able to connect with other people who shared my passion for justice and justice reform and figure out if there was a way that, collectively, we could do something that was meaningful and impactful in some sort of way.”
In this episode, Rogers explains the initial pushback at Google around her idea, why she feels conflicted about the big companies finally saying Black Lives Matter, and her hopes for CommunityX supplanting platforms like Facebook.
“Google isn’t a justice company”
“I initially tried to do something at Google [after Mike Brown’s death], and it didn’t work out because leadership didn’t support it. When I proposed an idea to [Google founders] Larry and Sergey, they essentially just refused to respond to me. I became a laughingstock at the company, because no one felt like it was appropriate for me to raise that sort of issue with leadership because Google isn’t a justice company. That’s when I decided that, ‘Okay, this needs to be bigger than this. I need to put more energy into this. I need to figure out something I can do where no one can tell me no.'”
Black lives (finally) mattering
“I wasn’t just told no at Google, I was harassed by fellow employees at Google. They were creating memes about me and sharing them on listservs internally. It was so bad that the chief culture officer had to send out a companywide email addressing it. All I did was stand up and say that the state-sanctioned murder of Black people cannot go on and it was a huge issue. So yes, when I look at the responses that are rolling in from brands across the spectrum now, I do get frustrated. But there was this moment when I paused, and I was like, ‘Well, if I’m frustrated, how frustrated is my dad?’ And I realized in that moment that this wasn’t about me or my frustration. This is about our collective community and us achieving a very specific goal, which is to be able to live freely in this country.”
A better type of Facebook
“We, as a people, have had to use whatever tools and resources have been available to us for centuries. Whether that was using underground infrastructure to be able to escape plantations and migrate up North or whether that means having to use Mark Zuckerberg’s platform to raise awareness around a march. I hold no resentment against people for using what’s available. The way I look at it, if CommunityX was scaled by January of this year and we had enough people on the platform using it and engaging, then would we have had to wait until May to find out that Ahmaud Arbery was murdered? We’ve had to use what’s available to us, but this is the moment where we build a tool for ourselves that actually does exactly what we need it to do and not just accepting the bare minimum anymore.”