AWS Partner Experts Discuss the Significance of Black History Month 2022
By Nestor Gandara, Sr. Global Partner Solutions Architect – AWS
By Isaac Oben, Sr. IT Lead and AWS Ambassador – CDW
By Larry Gilreath, WW Sr. Director Partner Solutions Architect – AWS
Black History Month is an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing their central role in U.S. history.
Also known as African American History Month, the event grew out of “Negro History Week,” the brainchild of noted historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans. The first Black History Week occurred the second week of February in 1926.
Every U.S. president since 1976 has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month. Other countries around the world, including Canada and the United Kingdom, also devote a month to celebrating Black history.
The national Black History Month theme for 2022 is: Health and Wellness. This theme acknowledges the legacy of Black scholars and medical practitioners in Western medicine, as well as other ways of knowing (including birthworkers, doulas, midwives, naturopaths, herbalists, and more) throughout the African Diaspora.
The 2022 theme of Health and Wellness considers the activities, rituals, and initiatives that Black communities have done to be well. It’s particular timely considering the global pandemic—something that has widely affected minority communities with resource limitations.
Celebrating the AWS Partner Community
Amazon is committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and the company’s diverse perspectives come from many sources including gender, age, race, national origin, sexual orientation, culture, and education, as well as professional and life experiences.
Last year, Amazon launched a scholarship to support economic empowerment within the Black community, and it met a number of companywide commitments intended to increase representation at all levels across the organization.
Isaac Oben is an AWS Ambassador and Sr. IT Lead at CDW, an AWS Advanced Tier Services Partner and leading multi-brand solutions provider to business, government, education, and healthcare organizations. Isaac is an experienced and results-driven multi-cloud and hybrid infrastructure solutions architect. He has 15+ years of experience architecting, designing, and delivering IT solutions to customers across multiple industries.
Larry Gilreath is the worldwide leader for the Systems Integrators Partner Management Solutions Architecture team at Amazon Web Services (AWS). Over his nine years at AWS, Larry has worked with customers to build compelling cloud solutions that impact lives. Throughout his career, Larry has focused on security, risk, and compliance as his preferred technology domain.
Both Isaac and Larry recently spoke with Nestor Gandara, Sr. Global Partner Solutions Architect at AWS, about their careers in tech and the significance of Black History Month.
Q&A with Isaac Oben – AWS Ambassador Perspective
AWS: Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Isaac: Originally from Cameroon, West Africa, I immigrated to the United States to continue my education. I earned a degree in Computer Science at Southern Polytechnic State University (now Kennesaw State) in Marietta, Georgia, and am currently pursuing a Master of Science in Cybersecurity at Bellevue University in Bellevue, Nebraska. I joined the AWS Ambassador program in early 2021 and serve as a trusted technology adviser and AWS advocate to customers.
AWS: Why is Black History Month important to you?
Isaac: The significance of Black History Month to me is the celebration of the achievements and rich cultural heritage of African Americans. It is also the time to honor prominent African Americans who inspired and paved the way for us through their inspiration and leadership. Black History Month provides me an opportunity to appreciate my achievements and to reflect on the challenges ahead.
AWS: Are there any challenges from your youth that helped to build your resilience?
Isaac: One of my goals as a child was to attend university and get a college degree. This was a challenge because I had no one to look up to, as none of my older siblings and my parents have achieved that level of education. When I arrived for university studies in the U.S., the goal became even harder as I had to navigate the educational system as an African American. As a Black man in America, overcoming this challenge and graduating with a degree in Computer Science taught me the lesson of persistence and determination in subsequent life’s undertakings.
AWS: Can you share some of your contributions as an AWS Ambassador?
Isaac: Within the past year, my contributions have been in the area providing AWS Well-Architected Reviews to our customers at CDW, helping them improve their solutions by going through that mechanism. My non-published contributions to our CDW customers have been tremendous in acting as an AWS trusted professional in providing architectural, infrastructure, and security-related guidance as they navigate the complexity of cloud.
AWS: How has the AWS Ambassador program impacted your professional career?
Isaac: The AWS Ambassador program is a unique opportunity to belong in an elite program geared towards professionalism and promoting active participation amongst the AWS Partner community. Being part of the Ambassador team has elevated my professional presence amongst my company and our AWS customers as a subject matter expert they can rely on. The AWS Ambassador program increased my visibility to both our AWS sellers and customers as one of the go-to persons for everything AWS.
Q&A with Larry Gilreath – AWS Leader Perspective
AWS: Are there any challenges from your youth that helped to build your resilience?
Larry: As a kid, I was often the only Black child in the classroom. My raised hand was often overlooked; my opinion felt like it did not matter until Black History Month. During Black History Month, all eyes were on me. The topics discussed in history class were my stories. I came prepared to lead conversations the first school day of February. Preparing for class taught me to question my assumptions and to read differing views.
At Amazon, leaders have strong judgment and good instincts. They seek diverse perspectives and work to disconfirm their beliefs. For me, Black History Month was the catalyst that created the desire to research many views.
AWS: How has technology helped communities to acknowledge Black History Month?
Larry: Technology has made it easier to expand our understanding and collaboration with our communities. As an example, it’s great that you can use Alexa to learn and educate yourselves a bit more about our Black history.
Technology helps to do that, where you can ask Alexa questions such as:
- “What is Black History Month?”
- “Tell me about Black History Month.”
Or learn more about historical figures:
- “Tell me about Queen Amina.”
- “Tell me about Dr. James McCune Smith.”
- “Tell me about Dr. Edith Irby Joner.”
- “Tell me about Dr. Jorcelyn Elders.”
You can even learn about Black history facts throughout the month by saying:
- “Alexa, open Black History Facts.”
AWS: Do you feel Black History Month is better known and understood now than a few years ago?
Larry: Yes. Juneteenth being recognized as a federal holiday is proof that Black History Month and Black history, furthermore, has become more mainstream knowledge.
AWS: What’s something you’ve learned about Black history or the Black experience you think everyone in tech should know?
Larry: “Necessity is the mother of invention,” meaning the driving force for most inventions is need. You can see signs of necessity driving invention throughout the Black community. Even our cuisine shares signs of invention based on necessity. Our customers represent almost all nationalities and, thusly, a wide range of necessity. Having a diverse team gives the advantage of being able to identify the customer necessity and drive meaningful innovation.
AWS: What was the most important advice a mentor provided you to grow your skills?
Larry: Never stop building. When you lack an assigned project, create your own. When building becomes difficult, research the newer tools. Take time to use your skills on a passion project.
AWS: What advice would you offer to people who strive to grow as leaders?
Larry: Make your voice heard, take risks, and never stop learning. When I left another tech company, I took a significant pay cut and got a lot of criticism from co-workers. It was not a bad place to work, but I had stopped learning which led to me not taking risks. Without taking risk, I lost my voice.
Every career risk I have taken has been a huge learning experience. From that learning I had a voice that was rooted in experience. That voice got me noticed and afforded me even greater career opportunities. You have to do the work, you have to be good, you have to properly calculate the risk, and when done correctly the results can be outstanding. The journey and the experience gained makes you a better leader.
More About Amazon’s Black History Month Celebration
At Amazon, we seek to inspire, educate, and enable our young communities to build an inclusive and diverse world. From top to bottom, effective leaders create a sense of “us” and shape group members’ conceptions of “who we are.” The impact and change come from a community, not from just one person.
We invite you to learn more about Amazon’s Black History Month celebration, as we honor Black entrepreneurship and innovation through the voices of our business partners and employees.
AWS Ambassador Partner Program
The AWS Ambassador Partner Program features a vibrant worldwide community of technical experts, known as AWS Ambassadors, from AWS Partner Network (APN) Services and Software Partners.
If you’re an employee of an AWS Partner, hold multiple AWS Certifications, and contribute to the AWS community through public presentations, open source projects, social media, and more, see if you qualify for the AWS Ambassador program. If you’re an AWS customer and want to contact an AWS Ambassador, we’ve listed each Ambassador on our website so you can connect with them through their employer.