Name: Whitney Griffith
Hometown: Trinidad and Tobago
Where do you live? Oakland, CA
What does it mean to have a voice? Understanding that your voice starts from within and is defined by your values, ethics and curiosity. Once you speak, whether it’s well received, ignored or eloquently addressed, you at least know you said what you meant to say, and if you were curious you did what you could to express your desire to learn more. Everything else is out of your control.
How did you find your voice? I found my voice by learning from my experiences as a child of divorce. I understood the systems around me and used that knowledge to finesse them for myself.
What event or series of events led to you finding your voice?
I was born and raised in Trinidad and Tobago. I was neither rich nor poor. I had what I needed for survival, and if I wanted more, like a Blackberry phone, I knew what I had to do to get it. I could have asked for it as a birthday or Christmas gift and patiently waited until then, or I could have bargained with my parents for it in exchange for good grades or doing chores. Or I could have found a way to make money for the phone, like selling cookies in school.
I am a Trini, and our unofficial motto is “Work hard. Play hard”. Our official motto is “Together We Aspire, Together We Achieve”. With these two mottos embedded throughout our daily Trinbagonian lives, it is very rare you will find someone having extreme doubts about their ability to be a doctor, a lawyer or so on. It was more a question of what are you aspiring to be and what are you doing to make your aspirations come through. It was also common knowledge even as a kid, that it was only when you work hard could you guiltlessly play hard — and trust me, we do like to play. My parents, the education system, the government, and society always emphasized that with the right mindset, individual execution, and over-arching support system, I could accomplish anything, once I, myself, decided to just do it. This shaped my voice of self-responsibility and the way I live today.
This mindset was emphasized independent of race in Trinidad and Tobago, which is a very racially diverse country. The little black boy’s dream was just as valid as the Indian’s or the White’s and for this I am super grateful as it enabled me to transition into America’s often racially-divided society without a negative impact on my sense of self and voice.
Tell me about when you finally found your voice.
I began expressing my voice as a teenager in high school after my parents’ divorce. There was a continuous blame game happening in my family that followed the pattern of “Child only did this because you did this as a parent”. I was a part of a divorced system full of custody battles, and petty childishness that I did not want to be a part of. I still loved my parents as separate individuals, and they each had their own rules I needed to abide by.
At this point, I found myself wanting to completely separate my identity and the choices I made thereafter from my parents so as not to contribute further to the mess of their relationship. But I wanted this to hopefully allow me to be seen as just me, whoever I was at the time. So I did literally everything I could to become independent in my daily actions as a high schooler. To effectively accomplish this, I needed to talk to myself to figure out what exactly I wanted and wanted to pursue. I took control of my reality, to stay sane and as healthy as possible, and I did that by understanding what I had control over versus what my parents’ had irrefutable control of and created my mode of existing within their system until I was an adult. Thus, my little form of rebellion actually enabled me to express and push the needle forward on my vision of what my future should be like with or without anyone else’s approval. Thankfully, my country and my family’s emphasis on education inspired me to dream big, globally.
How valuable is walking in other people’s shoes, or empathy?
The minute I switched into computer science, it was never my intention to just learn to code. I started off wanting to create, and now I want to be able to create from the ground up lasting solutions that dictate our new normal, the baseline of what my community owns, have access to, and can do.
I believe in equality, or at least equal access to the same quality education, healthcare and so on. I have seen this implemented in Trinidad and Tobago, where we have free education to the Masters level, free healthcare for all, but even then the ability to access them isn’t the same across the board. I want to build solutions that are inherently ethical and equal for all, and thus I need to stay woke, aware of all that is going on with others’ lives to know what real problems to solve for.
To do this effectively, I have to never forget where I come from. I must always revisit the paths I took, and walk in the shoes of those who are taking those paths now, and be empathetic to those who are dealing with different systemic issues, such as the appeal of gangs that I was fortunate enough to not have experienced because I always had food on my table and family/friends who travelled the world and shared their stories which broadened my perspective.
How has your voice influenced others?
I am always surprised when someone reaches out to me on social media or in person to express how I inspire them. I’m told that the things I do and the places I go to do it (such as visiting 8 new countries in one year for tech-development) enable them to see a whole new world they didn’t know existed. I am surprised because I truly haven’t fully figured myself out, or stayed on top of blogging and effectively sharing my story and activities, yet all these people are able to see it somehow and be encouraged into taking similar actions in their life. Wow, maybe I am doing something right.
Where will your voice lead next?
Today I will be impeccable with my word, I will not take anything personally, I will not make any assumptions, and I am going to do my best. Every day, I repeat this and try to live by it. I truly believe that I am what I am in this universe of miraculous order. As I get stronger, calmer and be at peace. I will be great.
I believe that my strong focus on self, self-awareness and self-sustenance, will lead to mm being able to transcend and actualize my full potential of who I am and what I am able to accomplish. And what I do is always grounded in fostering impact, impact on my community (the Caribbean, the Global African Diaspora, the underprivileged) and my family (current and generations to come) by raising the bar of what is possible for someone that looks like me and developing solutions that eradicate the inefficient systems that exist in our lives.
I have and will continue to dedicate a lot of time to learn, asking questions, researching and building for the joy of it. Outside of learning, I will continue to take any idea and lead a strong team to execute turning that idea into a highly scalable, inherently ethical, production ready product that addresses a problem faced by my community.
Avid Learner. Tech Enthusiast. Social Entrepreneur. Blockchain Developer. Angel Investor.
Whitney was born and raised in Trinidad and Tobago and graduated from Howard University with a degree in Computer Science. She is also a proud graduate of Founder Gym, a Venture Capital Fellow at HBCUvc, a Developer Evangelist at Major League Hacking and Software and Blockchain Developer at Microsoft. Since her exposure to Silicon Valley and entrepreneurship, she deduces that technology and blockchain represents tools that can be used to bring about positive change and equal opportunity for all in the developing world and beyond. As such, she has embarked on a journey that will help her grow and execute across technology and entrepreneurship.
Whitney has immersed herself fully in various startup ecosystems around the world such as San Francisco, Tel Aviv, Washington DC and Trinidad and Tobago, where she advises several startups. She partakes in a lot of events relating to startups, such as Startup Bus, and multiple hackathons across the blockchain development space. Through her fellowship with HBCUvc, she strives to bridge the gap between diverse founders, resources, and funding opportunities they need to have the best shot at success. In addition, she evangelizes the power of technology to communities who have never even heard of computer science and software development. She helps them see the possibility of themselves achieving great results, and mentoring them along the way. She advises computer science undergraduates across the US, as well as tech bootcamp students in the Caribbean and Nigeria.