Jamila Parham is a public servant, black tech ecosystem builder, IT leader, speaker, and a champion for diversity and inclusion. Jamila is on a mission to uplift and provide opportunities to women and minorities by educating, breaking down barriers and providing access to resources through mentorship, motivational, personal & professional development workshops and events.
She advocates on behalf of under-represented communities in order to address the lack of diversity in STEM. She founded The Tech Unicorn™ as a platform to empower those who feel as if they are hidden figures and ‘unicorns’ in STEM.
The Tech Unicorn™ is an organization that strives to change the face of technology by addressing the lack of diversity in the technology industry.
We chatted with Jamila about the reach back factor, the melting pot of Chicago, and being a unicorn…
Where in Chicago did you grow up?
I grew up in Morgan Park, close to Beverly but also close to Roseland. That’s an interesting area because it’s really nice when you go west, but if you go east it’s a whole different picture. I didn’t really come from much, my dad was a blue collar worker and my mama was a stay at home mom. I grew up with a close knit family, and we grew up learning to respect our neighbors. That’s one of the things that paints the picture of our neighborhood. It seems like I was in a bubble, but I was still affected by some of the external factors of being in Chicago.
What has it been like growing up/ living in Chicago?
As a kid, I was into video games. I eventually wanted to do computer graphics and animation, but I didn’t see a lot of folks from my neighborhood pursuing that. I didn’t really think that it was possible, but eventually I stuck to it. I am a unicorn. I am a black woman in tech. I’m trying to advocate for our youth, get them opportunities, and make sure we have voices in the room. It’s important that we are considered in decision making so that technology is being made in ways that we have a voice. A big part of my journey is acknowledging where I came from, but I also want to give back to the community that gave so much to me.
What do you love about Chicago?
I’m a product of Chicago Public Schools. Sadly, there aren’t a lot of resources, so you have to venture out on your own. That shaped who I am through being very resourceful. A part of being a black woman and the African diaspora is that sometimes we lose a lot of that culture. The thing I love most about Chicago is that it’s a melting pot. So many folks have brought their culture and experience to Chicago.That’s shaped me by keeping me rooted and what’s important and where I came from, and how I can give back and how I can be a community to marketing.
What lead you to become a mentor / educator, and why is this work important?
We get so caught up and think: “What am I going to do? Who can I connect with?” And a lot of times folks are not considering the reach back factor. You have to reach back and find other young people who are looking to pursue tech and beyond. And what are some of the hurdles that they’re facing? What can I do today in this room, that’s going to make it better for them? I think of the younger version of myself, and reflect on what guidance I needed. Hard work does pay off when you have to be relentless. You have to be resilient, despite a lot of things that you encounter. So I think accessible, positive role models are important for our youth. Because Chicago gets such a bad rap in the news and beyond. I hear about the crime and violence but you don’t hear a lot about the positive things that are taking place. So I think that is important that we amplify the positive things and the folks that are doing work behind the scenes are getting their moment in the spotlight.
At the end of the day, what would you like to give back to the community?
A lot of the lessons that I learned through working in corporate and entrepreneurship have shaped me and taught me that giving back and remaining intact to my community is important. With the work that I do with The Tech Unicorn and getting a women and people of color in technology and beyond makes sure that they have the opportunities of equality. If we’re not in the room, folks will create products and technology that build us out of the room, so it is important that we have diverse voices. When technology continues to advance, it’s important that we have a say.