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Apple announces new commitments to its racial equity initiative

Following last summer’s protests, Apple pledged $100 million toward education initiatives, economic empowerment, and criminal justice reform.

Apple announces new commitments to its racial equity initiative
[Illustration: FC]
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Last June, in response to scores of protests against police brutality, Apple CEO Tim Cook announced that the company was launching a Racial Equity and Justice Initiative, pledging $100 million toward education, economic empowerment, and criminal justice reform. Today the company announced multiple investments that fall within the initiative, which has been spearheaded by Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of environment, policy, and social initiatives.

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“Tim [Cook] called on us to do more, and to use our voice, resources, and programming to really address racial equity and justice,” Jackson says. “We decided to focus on the areas where we thought Apple really had something to add to the conversation.”

Apple is building on its work with Historically Black Colleges and Universities as a founding partner and $25 million financial backer of the new Propel Center in Atlanta, which will include both a physical campus and virtual platform for HBCU students and faculty. The curriculum will be developed by Apple and cover topics like machine learning, social justice, entrepreneurship, and app development. Students will have access to potential internship and mentorship opportunities, both through the Propel Center and two new grants that will invest in HBCU engineering programs.

The Propel Center campus (rendering above) — equipped with state-of-the-art lecture halls, learning labs, and on-site living for a scholars-in-residence program — will be located in the historic Atlanta University Center district. [Photo: courtesy of Apple]
In Detroit, Apple will be launching an Apple Developer Academy in collaboration with Michigan State University, which will include both a 30-day introductory program for the uninitiated and a months-long intensive boot camp for would-be developers. Both programs will be accessible to all residents of Detroit, even those who have no background in coding.

In keeping with its mission to expand economic opportunity, Apple is giving $10 million to New York-based venture capital firm Harlem Capital, which is aiming to invest in 1,000 underrepresented founders over the next 20 years. Amid the pandemic—which has had a disproportionate impact on small businesses, particularly those run by people of color—Apple is also making a $25 million investment in the Clear Vision Impact Fund, which was launched by investment bank Siebert Williams Shank last year to fund minority-owned small and midsize businesses, with a focus on underserved markets. Apple has also contributed to organizations like Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative and the King Center to help support criminal justice reform. (Apple declined to share specific figures.)

The Propel Center campus (rendering above) — equipped with state-of-the-art lecture halls, learning labs, and on-site living for a scholars-in-residence program — will be located in the historic Atlanta University Center district. [Photo: courtesy of Apple]
When Cook announced the Racial Equity and Justice Initiative, he also emphasized that Apple would double down on its internal equity and inclusion efforts, where Apple—much like its peers in the tech industry—has struggled to make substantial progress over the years. Though its retail workforce is more diverse, Black and Latinx representation in tech roles and leadership positions remains in the single digits. (Retail chief and head of people Deirdre O’Brien oversees those initiatives, and Apple recently brought on Barbara Whye, Intel’s former DEI chief, to replace its outgoing head of diversity and inclusion, who left in the midst of the Black Lives Matter protests.) While those internal efforts don’t fall within her purview, Jackson says Apple’s new initiative could also be a source of fresh talent for the company.

Lisa Jackson and former Attorney General Eric Holder discuss race in America during the 2020 Apple Worldwide Developers Conference. [Photo: courtesy of Apple]
“I think it bodes well for our internal efforts as well,” Jackson says. “We see an opportunity in the Propel Center, if nothing else, to meet and hopefully recruit some of these amazing students. We see an opportunity for more and more engagement with folks who could easily one day be our colleagues—or if not our colleagues, could be in the tech industry. And that’s what we all want to see.”

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This story has been updated to clarify the hiring of Barbara Whye.

About the author

Pavithra Mohan is a staff writer for Fast Company.

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