As we wrap up the celebration of 2023’s Black History Month, it remains important to recognize and appreciate the contributions that Black people have made in various fields, including technology and the smartphone apps we use every day. From social media platforms to productivity tools, Black developers and other people of color have worked hard to create innovative, useful, and just plain fun apps.
Here, we’re focusing on five helpful apps developed by Black people that you should check out. These iPhone and Android apps range from ones that help you discover and support Black-owned businesses to ones that provide legal assistance in case of an emergency to ones that curate and highlight sources of news and entertainment by Black creators.
We Read Too is an app that provides a directory of books written by authors of color. The app was created by developer Kaya Thomas in response to the lack of diversity in children and young adult literature she experienced as a teenager. Debuting in 2014, the app came out with the goal of making it easier for young people to find books that reflect their experiences and identities.
“I was going to the library and bookstores and book fairs in school, and I would see a very specific set of books,” Thomas said in an interview with Apple. “By the time I got to high school, I started to get really frustrated wondering why there weren’t any books that I was being exposed to that had Black characters or were by Black authors. I started doing my own research and realized that those books existed — they just weren’t on bestseller lists, or displayed in the library or at the bookstore.”
Should you download We Read Too, you’ll find that it includes a wide range of books across genres and categories, from picture books to young adult novels. The app’s interface allows users to search for books by author, title, or category, and it includes descriptions and reviews for each book. There’s also support for Black-owned bookstores built-in, letting users find stores where they can purchase the book of choice.
Legal Equalizer is an app created by Mbye Njie in an attempt to fight racial discrimination by law enforcement. The app is built with the intention of enabling users to assert their rights during police encounters. Njie developed it in 2014 after being pulled over by the police for the third time in a month and being mistaken for another man with a warrant out for his arrest.
After that experience, he developed the app and an eponymous company to go with it. With the app, users gain access to vital information and tools to document any interactions with law enforcement, including recording audio and video, sending an SOS message to designated contacts, and accessing legal resources. The app can also provide users with access to a lawyer via a videoconference feature. Legal Equalizer can also help in encounters with immigration officers.
ReDawn is an app that’s a little more sobering in conception compared to most on this list. It was developed by Sopha Ongele, a student at Fordham University at the time, and it is targeted toward helping victims of sexual assault and harassment recover from it. It does this through a digital assistant, Dawn, that’s able to respond to questions regarding support or reporting without judgment. Dawn can also redirect people to hotlines for more immediate assistance if necessary, including crisis centers and 911.
ReDawn comes with a Map feature for quickly accessing health and crisis centers in your area, as well as a reporting feature that lets you log incidents for contemporaneous corroboration should you want to further follow up with the police.
Tired of McDonald’s and Popeye’s? There’s an app for that too, and it’s not Grubhub. EatOkra is a popular cross-platform app that helps people find Black-owned restaurants and food delivery businesses in their local areas. It was created by a couple from Brooklyn — Anthony and Janique Edwards — after they sought to find food they’d appreciate in their local area. Now, the app has gained a strong reputation as a way to not only support Black-owned businesses, but also to diversify the culinary experiences of its users.
EatOkra lets users search for Black-owned restaurants and food businesses either by location or type of cuisine. When opening the app, you have the option of selecting from a wide directory of businesses — as well as adding your own. As of the time of writing, EatOkra supports over 9,500 listings across the U.S. The app has also seen partnerships with Uber Eats, Apple, Pepsi, and more, according to the EatOkra website. If you’re hungry and looking for Black-owned eats, this is a pretty solid option.
Black – News + Culture is a news app that was developed by MIT graduate Adam Taylor in an attempt to create a space that was safe for Black people. It would focus on telling stories that weren’t the typical stories of crime or deprivation, but focused on uplifting news that would enhance mental wellness.
Black highlights sources including The Root, Atlanta Black Star, BET, Essence, HuffPost Black Voices, and many more. In addition to its selection of sources, the app uses AI and machine learning to curate stories that would be interesting to its audience.
“My company, Langston LLC, uses machine learning and language-processing technologies to track the emotional tone of articles and aggregate content that pertains to people who identify as Black,” Taylor said in an interview with Essence, a media company targeted toward Black women.
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