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Tech campaign focuses on African Americans

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“Smash it!”

Three hundred Howard University students and members of the community shouted those words inside the university’s Cramton Auditorium during a recent Black History Month event sponsored by AT&T.

SMASH IT is an acronym that African American technology guru Mario Armstrong unleashed while exhorting the audience to incorporate technology into the pursuit of their dreams: Show Movement And Start History-Making Integrating Technology.

“You can do all of this, but if you don’t integrate technology in this, you’re going to be behind,” Armstrong said after navigating through a slide show of prominent African Americans, including Madam C.J. Walker, the country’s first self-made female millionaire, and Thomas Jennings, the first African American to receive a patent.

Armstrong, a digital expert, was one of the speakers at AT&T’s fourth annual 28 Days campaign, which aims to spur African Americans in seven cities into achieving life goals.

The events are hosted by hip-hop artist Common and feature African American notables including author Kevin Powell, actress Holly Robinson Peete, businesswoman Desiree Rogers, scholar Michael Eric Dyson and social activist Jeff Johnson.

“We wanted to take our recognition of Black History Month to another level,” AT&T executive Jennifer Jones said. “To go beyond just reflecting on … the numerous contributions of [blacks] to this great country and enable dialogs around how the past can be leveraged to rethink what is possible …”

Armstrong showed a slide projecting the negative balance on his bank statement when he and his wife first decided to start their own business.

“We took this leap of faith … to bring some change in the world,” he said, as he chronicled the growth of his business.

He encouraged the audience to use crowd-sourcing Web sites, such as kickstarter.com, and applications, such as EverNote, which helps with note taking and archiving. After seeing a young woman in the audience taking notes with a pen and paper, Armstrong surprised her with a new laptop.

“If you look at the population of the D.C., Maryland and Virginia area, 26 percent of the population [in this region] is African American, so it’s great for [the tour] to stop here,” said Twanda Washington, recently appointed the region’s director of retail sales.

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