Spotlight on Deba Harper for International Women’s Day
On this International Women’s Day, we honor Deba Harper’s remarkable work at CHAMP Nation. As an advocate for underprivileged people of color, Deba has dedicated her career to teaching tech skills that open doors to better job opportunities. Her contribution to launching the DVD industry, alongside 5D Spectrum’s founder De Ivett, is a testament to her brilliant mind and innovative spirit. Deba founded CHAMP Nation to advance the quality of life for all Detroiters. Her commitment to equity, access, and progress inspires us all to work toward a better future for women and communities of color.
5D Spectrum had the opportunity to interview her about her perspective.
What was your greatest accomplishment as a woman in tech?
My greatest accomplishment is working on a small tech of innovators to create the DVD Industry for Warner Brother’s Home Entertainment. This was when I met De Ivett, the DVD Director for one of the design firms in charge of the DVD menu design. Before this time, Graphic Design and Computer Science were like oil and water, they just did not mix. In high school and early college, I was on a pathway to becoming a mechanical engineer. It wasn’t until I interned working with engineers on the space shuttle Discovery, did I realize I needed something more creative to stimulate me. I had in my mind that one day computer science, 2D Art, Radio, TV, and Film were going to come together under multi-media. At the time there was no Multimedia department at my college, so I took a dual major in Graphic Design and Radio, Television, and Film at California State University Northridge (CSUN). Today, CSUN has a state-of-the-art Multimedia department. My mother had an issue with me changing my major, but I had the vision that computer science was the gate to visual design innovation, and I was right! The rest is Women in Tech History.
The project that truly materialized my vision of multimedia was the Matrix DVD. De was the Director of the project and I was the Quality Assurance Manager. The Matrix was an Award Winning DVD that pioneered innovative web-enabled content with the White Rabbit feature. She and I went on to produce many Warner Brother cutting-edge DVDs like X-Men, Superman, Any Given Sunday, Space Jam, and much more. Since those days, I admire De for always pushing the envelope of technological innovation for many clients she serves at 5D Spectrum. She and I have partnered on many business ventures of mine from Detroit Dream Investment Solutions and our community micro-investment platform the Lotus Bud Collective. We have co-sponsored the 2nd Season of Fly Brother with Ernest White II, a PBS travel series in which I was featured as a guest showing the beauty of Detroit Architecture. It all began 10 years ago when she created the brand for CHAMP Nation that we still use today. De and Deba are always pioneering and blazing trails toward the future.
What struggles did you face as a woman both in tech and working with CHAMP Nation?
As a Black Woman in Tech, most people underestimate the value I bring to the company and the project. I have to prove that I am worthy of my seat at the table. I have to earn my respect at that seat. Whereas others are given that respect freely and inequitable pay. These are conditions that contribute to my struggles when starting a business being under-capitalized. Over the years, I have started businesses with great ideas for serving the community in Arts and Entertainment, Housig solutions, and Workforce Development. Without access to start-up capital, I have to use my income and savings to launch these wonderful ideas until my resources are depleted and these great business models are left not fully developed into revenue-generating enterprises. Black Women are more likely to start a business than white men or women, yet because we are undercapitalized, our businesses are less likely to mature and have a higher rate of failure.
“In the United States, an astounding 17% of Black Women are in the process of starting or running new businesses. That’s compared to just 10% of white women, and 15% of white men. Yet despite this early lead, only 3% of Black Women are running mature businesses.”1
However, I have always pioneered business models that are years before their time. De has been my greatest supporter and ally through all of my pioneering ideations. She has shown up and delivered even when my resources have been low because she believes in me, my visions, and my business acumen, that one day my grit and determination will win and we both will prosper. I love her and respect her for her commitment to me as a professional. She is a reflection of a Friend, a Sister in the struggle, and an Ally.
Today, all of my business strategies, plans, and prototypes are now necessary in the current industry and society that needs innovation to move into the new world of technology. I believe as the public is exposed to what we are doing at CHAMP Nation, we will get supported. We partner with non-profits to bring access to tech training skilled talent in underrepresented communities as a pathway toward economic mobility. Companies are pivoting to tech-driven business process automation to reduce costs and demands on resources for efficiency. People must be prepared to pivot with ready-to-work tech skills out of high school, and for the seasoned professional, reskill layering tech over transferable skills. Jobs at Mcdonald’s are going to require tech skills to maintain the AI burger-making system, retail clerks need to know how to monitor the automated self-serve corner market. CHAMP Nation needs the support to outreach and engages underrepresented communities with the opportunity to become tech professionals to access high-paying careers requiring certified tech skills. College alone is not enough.
In partnership with Teen Tech Titans (501c3), we are conducting an outreach and engagement campaign and we need support from community donors and corporate sponsors. We have launched the Fund 5ive Tech CHAMP+ions campaign to raise capital in order to reach our target audience about the opportunity to be trained and certified as a tech professional to access in-demand tech careers. In partnership with Fearless Mindz (501c3), we are receiving Tech CHAMP+ion Progam funding from the Department of Education to train our high school students and the Department of Labor to train our adults to reskill or transition into new skills after being laid off in Michigan. These funds are for the program only. We must bring awareness to the people with the opportunity to apply to the program. We expect to serve 55 participants in our inaugural cohort this summer.
How can you help?
Invest in the future of underrepresented communities in Detroit by supporting CHAMP Nation’s Your Future in Tech Bootcamp, which aims to raise $150,000. Donate now at https://secure.givelively.org/donate/teen-tech-titans-inc/fund-5-tech-champ-ions to help close the digital divide and provide career advancement opportunities in tech to those who have experienced a history of racial exclusion, economic divestment, and unfair treatment within the criminal justice system.