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Black History Month 2023: Q&A with Gary Flowers, CIO of Year Up

By Kim Bradberry February 6, 2023

During Black History Month, Salesforce is shining a light on some of our nonprofit customers who support and work with Black and African American people and communities in the United States. This blog post is the first in a series that will appear each week in February, focused on the themes of resilience, compassion, and social justice. First in the series is a Q&A with Gary Flowers, Chief Information Officer at Year Up, a nonprofit that ensures young adults gain the skills, experiences, and support that will empower them to reach their potential through careers and higher education.

Kim Bradberry: Please tell us about Year Up and the work that you and your team do throughout the year.

Gary Flowers: Year Up is a leading workforce development nonprofit that strives to close the Opportunity Divide—the gap between motivated, talented young people in need of an opportunity and companies in need of their skills. We provide youth aged 18–29 with access to tuition-free training and Fortune 1000 career opportunities, instilling a sense of belonging into our young adults. Opening doors for non-traditional talent at top companies benefits young adults and shows employers the value of hiring for skills, rather than for four-year degrees. This, in turn, influences and changes their recruitment practices more broadly. This collective impact helps to close the Opportunity Divide.

My team and I use technology and processes to even the playing field. We believe digital and business transformation can be key in ensuring equitable access to opportunities. We look to transform the way we deliver our programs at scale while focusing the delivery on operational efficiency.

KB: What is the significance of Black History Month, and why is it important to recognize it?

GF: Black History Month is significant because it is set aside to intentionally honor the advancement and achievements of African Americans in this country. Ronda Thompson, our Chief Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) Officer, says it best: 

“It’s important to recognize Black History Month because American history is often told through a lens that doesn’t acknowledge the contributions of Black folks. The celebration of Black History Month has helped to elevate the voice and contributions of Black and African American people —to provide a more accurate depiction of history.”

KB: Does Year Up do anything specific during Black History Month?

GF: The Black African American Pan African Staff Resource Group at Year Up has held annual celebrations for the past two years, and it’s been an opportunity to come together to celebrate Black joy. During last year’s celebration, centered around the role that Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have played in the education of Black Americans, we celebrated Year Up staff members who attended HBCUs. I think this was important for Year Up because we’ve traditionally been an organization that attracts talent from Ivy League schools. It’s been a real shift to see the increased representation of Black participants at our organization. Additionally, many of our Black staff members have been educated by HBCUs, including five out of 13 members of our executive team.

KB: Black History Month is a moment to pause and examine the ongoing work towards achieving civil rights and social justice through the lens of history. What lessons from that history does Year Up find most valuable in its ongoing work?

GF: Our very existence stems from the ongoing movement for civil rights and social justice. Year Up’s mission to close the Opportunity Divide is rooted in the belief that every young adult has potential and deserves opportunity and economic justice. Our program model connects untapped talent with unmet demand, and through our 20+ year history, we’ve placed more Black talent into the corporate sector than any other organization. By creating an expansive ecosystem of employers and workforce development programs, Year Up can more easily share best practices while addressing the systems that perpetuate the Opportunity Divide.

KB: What are some common misconceptions or inaccuracies about Black history that you often come across in your work?

GF: A common misconception about Black history is that most of the contributions have been in the sports and entertainment arena. Black history has literally impacted every aspect of American history, and the two are not mutually exclusive, but rather one and the same. As a tech leader, it’s been important for me to raise up the science and technological advances and continue to remind people that Black history is more than Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Jackie Robinson, and Denzel Washington; there are so many more iconic figures who have made significant contributions to the world.

KB: How can we support the work that you do throughout the year, not just during Black History Month?

GF: Salesforce is key to delivering our programs to young adults and capturing and using data to make intelligent, proactive business decisions. The partnership between Salesforce and Year Up is a model for year-round impact. It’s not one-sided or one-dimensional; we are technology partners, and we also supply interns to Salesforce.  Black History Month gives us an opportunity to highlight the achievements of Black Americans throughout history for a month, but partnerships like the one we have with Salesforce allow us to help produce future Black leaders who will continue to impact the world year-round. 

Thousands of nonprofits around the world rely on Salesforce technology to power their purpose. To find out more, visit our Nonprofit Hub