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#PDF14 Preview: Featuring Kimberly Ellis, aka Dr. Goddess

BY Sonia Roubini | Tuesday, May 6 2014

This week’s #PDF14 speaker preview features Kimberly Ellis, also known by “Dr. Goddess” (@DrGoddess). Kimberly is a Scholar of American and Africana Studies, an Artist, Activist, Entrepreneur, and social media maven. She’s been listed as one of the "Top Ten People to Follow on Twitter," as one of the "Top Creative Women in Social Media," and as one of the "Most Influential Black Women on Twitter." Kimberly will be speaking on the main stage of PDF, giving a talk on her the subject of her upcoming book titled, "The Bombastic Brilliance of Black Twitter” and also participating in a panel discussion on hashtag activism

1. How did you come to be interested in tech and its impact on society?

I've been a techie all of my life. My Mother worked at a place called "Computer Tech," I was coding when I was ten and eleven years old and I learned how to type (very fast) when I was in the eighth grade. So, it was probably something basic like creating my first flyer for my first social protest (which started when I was very young but that's what institutional racism will do for you as well as the precursor to the school-to-prison pipeline---detention---and it was never as great as what we witnessed in "The Breakfast Club."

So, for the purposes of this talk, I saw the power and potential of social impact on Twitter when the G-20 came to my hometown, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 2009. I was reading on Twitter that there was some commotion in a neighborhood called Oakland and that's where many of the students reside and it's close to my own neighborhood, so I decided to drive over and witness the action for myself. Well, I began live-tweeting the mini-uprising, witnessed the police throwing tear gas into crowds and was able to capture great images and flee the scene in my vehicle. I also discovered that my brethren, Jasiri X, Paradise Gray and Davey D were just a block or so away from me---all from the tweets. I witnessed our collective tweets informing the nation (indeed, the world), what was happening during the G-20 (of course, using the hashtag #G20) and saw how our tweets were serving as the main and sometimes only source of information. I was an individual providing information within a collective of people building community and sharing information via a hashtag, we were faster than the mainstream media and our perspectives were unique, reliable and important in the public landscape. I needed no more convincing, if I ever did, that Twitter could be used as a super powerful medium for social change. I believed it then and I believe it now.

2. What's the most satisfying part of your work?

Easily, it's building community, meeting new people, some of whom become allies, comrades and friends and the ability to express my creativity and be accepted for it. I was an Artist before I became an Academic but I was always an Independent Scholar and a Critical Thinker. I appreciate the fact that Twitter and its resultant community allows me to express my multifaceted self and doesn't keep me in a digital ivory tower nor does it require me to compromise my voice or my art. I love the community I live in on Twitter in general and, certainly, I love what has come to be known as "Black Twitter."

3. Your main hall talk is going to be roughly based on your upcoming book, "The Bombastic Brilliance of Black Twitter" - what is the driving idea behind this talk? Is there one particularly important take away?

One important takeaway, especially for the PDF audience, is that this entity which has come to be known as "Black Twitter" is a powerful, multifaceted collective of micro-communities that can and has moved mountains and changed the world. It is far more than the hilarious hashtag (which is appreciated for its value in and of itself) and stretches far beyond "social tv," which is also a valuable form of digital engagement.

5. What are the key issues tech and politics/society to pay attention to at the moment?

Well, I think Net Neutrality is a big issue. A part of how we are all connected and why we are here is due to the openness of the Internet. We need to keep it neutral and I don't want my information hyper-filtered by Comcast or Verizon. In addition, I'm a strong advocate for online to offline engagement, particularly around women's empowerment and the protection of our girls. We have some serious issues around religion, misogyny and sexual assault that we should not pretend only exist in places like the Middle East or India. We have to clean up our own house and it's past time we took it far more seriously than we have. In general, I am always concerned about the role of popular culture and the role of culture, period. As an Artist and a Culture Keeper, it's my job to ensure we carry on certain cultural traditions and be more protective around images and impact upon our communities. At the same time, we are not so fragile that we can't handle a "Real Housewives" franchise. Somewhere between our pop and our politics, we'll get it together. Or we'll all end up on "Scandal," one way or another. How's that for Personal Democracy?