To Pras Michél, success is more than playing professional sports or rapping to sellout crowds; it can be achieved by earning an engineering degree, writing software code or becoming a filmmaker.
Through Blacture, a newly created platform that includes technology, health care, financial services, job creation and urban development, he wants to accelerate African-American culture and give a voice to an underserved population.
On May 2 — officially declared Blacture Day by Pittsburgh City Council — Michél debuted the movement at the University of Pittsburgh. The announcement was made three months after a cryptic teaser commercial aired during the Super Bowl. Directed by Antoine Fuqua, the ad began with Michél walking onto a stage, blindfolded and with tape on his mouth. As he removed the obstructions and stared into the camera, the words “Be Celebrated. Not Tolerated.” appeared on the screen.
One of the most anticipated features of the wide-ranging platform is the Blacture Motif, a mobile phone that uses blockchain technology with a monetary incentive program. The phone, expected to be available for sale beginning this fall, is linked to a debit card that enables people to transfer money to friends and family domestically and abroad. And each time customers use the phone to, for instance, buy something online, they earn points that can be converted into actual dollars.
Within the next six months to a year, Blacture will introduce the other tiers of its program that focus on black education, entertainment and health.
An editorial component, which rolls out this summer, will provide curated news stories from a unique black perspective. In the fall, a streaming service focused on black films will be unveiled. And an on-demand mobile health care app will give African-Americans access to affordable, in-home check-ups that can help them stem off more serious medical issues.
Why announce the project in Pittsburgh?
In collaboration with San Francisco entrepreneur Erik Hicks and Pittsburgh native James N. Williams III, Michél chose Pittsburgh as Blacture’s host city due to its technological and educational ties, and its vibrant and substantial black community.
“As the rust belt faced decline, Pittsburgh actively invested in education and technology as a way to re-invent itself,” the organizers said in announcing the project. “However, although the city is 26 percent black, it is slowly losing its black population. Blacture and the University of Pittsburgh will work together to retain the city’s best and brightest and help black tech flourish.”
Although no official partnerships have been announced, “during our time in Pittsburgh, we’ve made connections with a variety of organizations who do great work to empower Black residents of Pittsburgh and the community in general,” says spokeswoman Josie Zohny. “The City Council and Mayor Peduto have also been wonderful allies.”
No Pittsburgh hiring plans have been announced either, but Zohny says “we are working on a lasting legacy piece that will involve the community. Details will be announced later this year.”
At Blacture’s debut at Pitt, Chancellor Patrick Gallagher echoed the commitment to making sure Pittsburgh’s progress benefits all of the city’s residents.
“Pittsburgh’s technology field renaissance is about more than new companies and new products,” he said. “It’s about creating those things for a purpose. The role of knowledge isn’t just to make us smart, but to put that knowledge to work to make the world a better place.”
Michél, who rose to fame with his band the Fugees, compared Blacture’s mission to that of Black Entertainment Television, or BET, which debuted in 1980 to shine a spotlight on African-American artists, many of whom were being dismissed by MTV during that channel’s early years.
Blacture’s president Terrell Canton, a former business development executive who spearheaded diversity programs in the National Football League, says he is anxious to work with companies — both local and national — that know that diversity isn’t just a buzzword, but instead leads to 35 percent better business.