BDPA 40th Anniversary Memories
December 27, 2015
Dr Jesse L. Bemley, Founder
Joint Educational Facilities
BDPA IT Showcase Manager
I have been so blessed that the BDPA Family has allowed me to be a small part of it’s 40 year history. I have only been around 32 of the 40 years. I started just before the 5th conference in Newark in 1983. I have attempted to have a positive impacted on a multitude of students (including my personal ones) and members. I have tried to build a culture that was tough but nurturing. That came from a past NBDPA President, Vivian Wilson (Cleveland). She was the sweetest person that you could ever meet but when the time came, she could be tough as nails.
This article covers mostly memories from 1983 to 2005 which covers the early IT Showcase years.
My First BDPA Conference Newark, NJ 1983
I had heard about an organization for Black computer professionals but no one was able to give me any information about it. I searched far and wide to no avail. In 1983, I happened to see a tiny article in ComputerWorld about the Black Data Processing Associates National Convention at the Hilton Gateway in Newark, NJ. I called the Hilton to see who booked the conference. They would not give that info so I left my name and number and asked if they would let the person know that I had inquired. An hour later I received a call from Newark, NJ. I told the person that I had been trying to find them for some time. He said that there was a chapter in DC and gave me the contact info for the chapter president, Shirley Ginwight. She was as delighted to hear from me as I was to chat with her. She invited me to the next chapter meeting and I joined. I was a BDPA member!
I talked my wife, Shiree, into attending the conference with me. While there, I hung out with the DC Chapter members. As I moved from session to session and met people from across the country I was in awe. I just kept saying to people that it was my first conference and I was sooooooo glad that I came. I knew that I had to participate (give a talk) in the next conference. After the conference, I arrived back in DC “pumped up”. I became active in the local chapter and was subsequently asked to run for president. Which I did and became even more entrenched. I served a term as BDPA DC Chapter President.
I met Margaret (Midge) Jennings, Valerie Hartridge, Mike Williams, etc
Second Conference Cleveland 1984
It was time to go to Cleveland, the home of Richard Mays, the founder of the DC and Cleveland Chapters. Shirley had a custom luxury van and it was decided that the DC contingent would share the expenses with her. The van rocked all the way from DC to Cleveland. The DC Chapter bonded during that ride. It was a National Elections year. It was a raucous time during the delegates meetings. The DC Chapter became known as the “Rabble Rousers” and we proudly wore the name. I was asked to run for president, which I promptly declined. I had been a member long enough to know that the organization needed me in the trenches to help build infrastructure. Gerard Anderson became BDPA National President. His sister Giovanni Anderson was a solid-state physicist at HP Labs in California. Gerard created a position, National Education Committee Chair and asked me if I would be interested. It meant that I would be expected to attend BoD meetings. I asked his expectations for the position. He said you will figure it out. I accepted even though I had no clear mandate.
I gave a talk on Expert Systems at the conference. This talk introduced Artificial intelligence (AI) to BDPA.
National Education Committee Chair 1985
I wore the title proudly even though I had no clear mandate. I was a member of ACM and DPMA which were organizations for majority computer professionals. Looking at the activities at their conferences, I had one major thought. I wanted the same types of activities and more at my conference. I wanted to educate BDPA members and bring to the BDPA conference to leading edge technology and topics that were absent. That has been and continues to be my goal even though I am no longer Education Committee Chair.
My first effort was to rearrange the conference. The conference was a two day affair (Friday and Saturday) which included a full day of workshops on Friday and the same ones on Saturday in reverse order for the benefit of members who could not attend Friday and vice versa. I submitted to the BoD that the members, for all intents and purposes, were only getting one day of workshops. I suggested that BDPA produce a proceedings which would document the activities of the conference. That meant that EVERY speaker would have to submit a paper for publication. I met with stiff opposition. And was told that executives were too busy to write papers. I pushed back with executives at majority conferences are busy also but submit papers anyway. I also responded with if you want to speak ay my conference you WILL write a paper. The BDPA leadership did not know what a proceedings was. I shuttled between Washington and Philadelphia for a year bringing copies of proceedings and fighting for BDPA proceedings. Allen Ware, a Philadelphia Chapter member, was very gracious in providing a place to stay during my trips back and forth. I said to Roy Barnes, President of the Philadelphia Chapter, that I wanted to introduce something new at each subsequent conference. The proceedings in Philadelphia, high school computer competition in Atlanta, etc. The BoD voted on proceedings for Philadelphia and high school computer competition pilot for Atlanta in 1986. The first BDPA proceedings were published for the 1985 Philadelphia Conference. If you could not make both days of the conference, the day you missed was documented.
Philadelphia Conference 1985
The 1985 conference was Roger Dunn’s first. It took me several years of asking, pleading, cajoling, etc him to come to a conference. He finally decided he would. He, too, was in awe. He kept telling himself that he should have listened to me all those years that he resisted my requests. Not only did he join and become active but he met his soon to be wife, Rosita.
I needed to get to work on the high school computer competition for the Atlanta Conference in 1986.
Hartford Chapter 1986
My first invited talk to a local Chapter was Hartford. A letter dated March 3, 1986 to me by Clement Williams, President Hartford chapter, stated “Dear Jesse, Thank you for accepting our invitation to speak at the Hartford Chapter- Black Data Processing Associates April 17 program meeting….Everyone is delighted that you have agreed to come up and talk to our Hartford constituency on Artificial Intelligence”. The meeting was held at the Holiday Inn and there was an admission fee. I was treated royally and really felt important.
Atlanta Conference 1986
The BDPA HSCC started as The JEF City-wide Computer Competition in Washington, DC in 1984. I seized the opportunity to move the students to the national level. I proposed to the BoD that this was a chance to bring a pre-college presence to the conference. It was a go and I got to work working with Atlanta to develop a team. In September 1986, at Southside High School the First BDPA National High School Computer Competition (HSCC)was held. Southside was a Magnet School for Computer Science. It was subsequently renamed Maynard Jackson High School in the summer of 2008 to commemorate the city’s first Black Mayor.
The competition served as a pilot. The Winners were announced at the awards banquet at the conference hotel.
New Orleans 1987
This was the year that the HSCC was moved to the conference hotel. Gerard Anderson, a IBM employee garnered IBM support for the HSCC. I arrived at the hotel on Tuesday morning and did not leave the hotel until Sunday afternoon departing New Orleans. During the conference Norman Keith and I introduced the AI Model of a Black Teenager written in the AI language Prolog. High school students (male and female) participated in the development. The male students were unable to travel to New Orleans. So the young ladies presented the model. This was the first high school presentation at a BDPA National Conference. Since they were a component of my workshop they were not listed in the program. I was determined that if the HS students could make presentations in my workshop they should be able to have a separate workshop and be listed in the conference program.
I did my first TV interview at a BDPA Conference.
BoD made the decision to make HSCC a national initiative which meant more resources.
There were 8 teams in HSCC. Seven were listed in the Competition Booklet but one registered after the booklet went to print. The competition was growing and had its first all white HSCC team from Memphis brought by Michael McCrimmon, President.
Roger Dunn coached the winning team from NY. Roger was a tough coach and team members did not like his toughness.
Los Angeles 1989
Roger Dunn’sNY HSCC team won again in Los Angeles. This time the hefty boys of the team lifted Roger into the air they were so happy. They finally saw the benefit of the hard work that Roger put them through. They were also experts at developing real life situations using Warnier diagrams which Roger taught them.
Washington DC 1990
Perry Carter was the Chapter President. He used all his military acumen to get military colors at the opening session and Col Charles Bolden Astronaut as a speaker.
There was a revolt at the HSCC Coordinator meeting. The coordinators were upset because I would not tell them where I found the “History of Blacks in Computing” questions. I tried to explain that the questions came from various sources and they needed to do some research. They marched en masse to the National President’s suite and said this man has to go.
New York 1992
Joe Brooks, IT Professor at the University of South Carolina at Spartanburg introduced Artificial Neural Networks, a branch of applied AI, to BDPA.
I introduced Alasani Sampson, a JEF student to BDPA. He had a 1.5 GPA at his school but had gone through the management course at the Marriott Hotels and had developed a Bulletin Board on a Novell network in the basement of his home. He also had a business building high performance PCs for his friends and their acquaintances.
After presenting the HSCC awards, I introduced him at the Awards banquet. I characterized him as a disposable kid which is what society does and told the audience that he had presented in his workshop on Novell Networks earlier that day. He was leaving the conference that night to travel to Miami to begin college. A number of the people in the audience gasped when he stood. He received a standing ovation. He had told his workshop participants that he was going to school but they thought he was going to work on his MBA.
Institute for Certification of Computer Professionals (ICCP)
I was a member of the ICCP with the Certified Systems Professional (CSP) certification. I saw an opportunity for BDPA to become involved. The major majority organizations for computer professionals, i.e., ACM, DPMA, Association of Women in Computing, ADAAPSO, IEEE Computer Society, etc. were constituent societies of the ICCP. So Why not BDPA.
The start of the process was a letter dated September 7, 1988 sent to me by George Eggert, Executive Director of the ICCP, which stated “Dear Dr Bemley, Just received your letter of August 29, 1988, yesterday and was impressed with your program. The second workshop session [at the BDPA National Convention] on Saturday, September 17, 1988 will be conducted by Mr. Mike Fitzpatrick, Secretary of the ICCP, and myself. We will share the program spot if it meets your approval.
The workshop went well and the BDPA BoD gave me permission to pursue constituent society status. The process ended with a letter dated September 30 1992 to Ms. Margaret Johnson, Executive Director NBDPA, dated which stated “Dear Ms. Johnson, At the September 26, 1992 ICCP Board meeting the NBDPA was unanimously accepted as a Constituent Society in the ICCP. Ms. Beverly Houston did an excellent job in informing our Board of what your goals and objectives were in reference to our certification programs.
Detroit Conference 1992
A new HSCC coordinator, Toney Williams of Kansas City, was named. Toney and I conferred over the years but I must say that he was a great coordinator and did not need me.
The Jesse Bemley Scholarship was announced. When I was called to the front it scared me to death because in my mind scholarships were named after deceased people and I was still living.
My students were still making presentations during my workshop. My role as National Education Committee Chair came to an end.
Bryan Bemley’s First BDPA Presentation in Atlanta 1996
Bryan Bemley a 9year old fifth grade student at St. Francis Xavier School in Washington, DC gave a presentation “Software for Elementary Students” at the Mini-conference. He attended a session conducted by Larry Morrow of A-Plus Technologies. At the end of the session Morrow asked a question of the students (all high school except Bryan). The question “What is HTML? “ was answered by Bryan. He was the only student who knew the answer. It was only several years later (2005) that larry and I discovered that we were from the same hometown, Memphis, TN. Bryan has since gone on to participate in numerous BDPA conferences. This is a quote by Vivian Wilson in BDPA Journal 4th Qtr 1996 about Bryan, 9 year old Mini-Conference speaker, “And A Child Shall lead Them”.
Kansas City 1993
Jubil Austin, a Calvin Coolidge High School Computer Science teacher in Washington, DC, and I drove to Kansas City to in a van with 4 HS students and one middle school student. It was the year of the 100 year floods on the Mississippi River. We departed DC at 4am. Memorable moments were the detour as a result of I 70 flooded 20 miles before Terre Haute, IN. We crossed the Mississippi on bridge on a state road and arrived in St. Louis where we spent the night at my undergraduate classmate’s home. He provided dinner and breakfast the next morning. At 8:00am we departed for KC. Midway between KC and St. Louis we crossed the Missouri River. AS we rolled down the incline on the KC side of the river, we discovered that both sides of the Interstate was lined with sandbags with flood water on both sides. THAT WAS SCARY! We arrived safely at the conference and students were outstanding. Mr. Austin and I decided that since school started on Monday for the students we would leave after the banquet.
Philadelphia Conference 2003
I was estranged from BDPA but was still monitoring the email traffic when President Elect Wayne Hicks asked me to tackle the IT Showcase. It was the brainchild of Dwight Huggens (Detroit Chapter). Since it was dealing with students I was sold on the idea. I immediately got to work. The BDPA IT Showcase is based on the award winning JEF Program model. The first IT Showcase was a success.
Dallas Conference 2004
Jackie Ockleberry, Conference Director, took me to breakfast at Cracker Barrel the day before the conference a first for me.
New York asked me to be Black History month speaker and to come back to honor Roger Dunn.
Janice Lee, Youth Coordinator, called me in early January 19?? To get the requirements for the IT Showcase. After discussing the requirements, I asked about the Cin’cy student activities. They were doing HSCC, web design, computer building, and NAACP ACT-SO. I suggested that she put together a local IT Showcase before the national conference. She immediately rejected the idea with “we already have enough on our plate”. Undaunted, I replied, I am not suggesting that you add another program. Just add a paper requirement to the programs that you already have. After about a week of pondering the idea and the fact that Cincinnati would be a historic first, she agreed to do it. She identified 8 young men (7 high school and 1 middle school). I interacted with them via phone and email. We agreed upon 8 research topics. They were to get back to me in a week with a status. One week, two weeks, three weeks went by and I didn’t get feedback. Janice was frustrated and I was disappointed.
I asked her to get her Board to fund a trip for me to come to Cincinnati for one day. I arrived in Cinc’y on Friday afternoon. Met with Janice and the Board at dinner Friday night. At 8:00an Saturday morning in a computer lab on the campus of Xavier University, I met in person for the first time the 8 young men and their mothers. I gave a short talk on why we were there. We were to develop a minimum 10 page paper in their research area and if possible two.
I was met with moans and groans. Two of the parents were teachers. They were of the opinion that the students could not meet the requirement by 4:00pm. That they could not do one paper let alone two. My response was The requirement was my mission and I always accomplish my mission. I invited the parents to stay and observe but they were not allowed to comment as I felt that they had already made enough negative comments. At 4:30pm, the students had each developed 10 page papers and one high school student had two. WE celebrated with the fact that they had accomplished something that they and their parents thought impossible. I explained that they were the prisoners of their own minds and it took someone who believed that they could get the job done and to keep them focused. I was extremely proud of them as were their parents who were in disbelief.
I left Cincinnati on Sunday a happy man with a sense of mission accomplished. On to the next challenge.
The National Science Foundation’s Teragrid is an open scientific discovery infrastructure combining leadership class resources at eleven partner supercomputer Centers to create an integrated, persistent computational resource. The Teragrid Education, Outreach and Training (EOT) programs are striving to address this need by engaging and preparing current and future generations, as well as, significantly larger and more diverse generations of scientiists, technologists, , engineers and mathematicians,
In June 2009, the NY HSCC team competed in the Regional HSCC at the BDPA-DC Regional Technology Conference at Bowie State University. During the conference. I tried to recruit teams to stay over an extra day to compete in the Teragrid Student Competition. New York was the only team that could accept my offer. Only three members of the NY team were able to extend their stay. Students had other obligations that prevented them from participating. I managed to get free registrations for the NY team. Bryan Bemley gave a crash course in Linux to the team overnight. Kudos to the NY Chapter team for having the having the courage to step up to the plate at the last minute and represent the chapter well. As a rookie team they did well. The JEF team was a veteran team which represented BDPA-DC. One member of the NY team was selected for an internship at the Pittsburgh Supercomputer Center. (Get photo from brochure.)
I met Fred Smith at the BEYA conference where he was giving a talk on SIX SIGMA. I challenged him to prepare and bring some students to the IT Showcase. He accepted. He invited me to Delaware to give a talk to high school students (5 minutes). It went well and resulted in Delaware dominating the IT Showcase for several years. Their students were knowledgeable and well polished. Kudos to the Northern Delaware Chapter. Also the Chapter added to the body of IT Showcase knowledge by developing an alternate model for regional IT Showcases.
I am proud to say that BDPA has evolved from an insignificant organization to the world class international organization it is today.
I have accepted the fact that BDPA is BDPA and not what I had initially envisioned it should be. But I am still as passionate a supporter/worker that I was when I first joined.
I extend to all the BDPA family the “BDPA HUG”.