by JR Valrey, the People’s Minister of Information and editor in chief of the SF Bay View
Technology in our lives has sped up a lot of things for our convenience and made things easier and in some ways more interesting for humanity over the last two decades; things like direct-deposit, Blockchain technology, digital currencies, online gaming, virtual reality, virtual reality rides at amusement parks and more.
I met Damien McDuffie while he was creating augmented reality demonstrations for Black Panther Party commemoration events like Lil’ Bobby Hutton Day a few years back. Since then, I have seen him all over the place – from creating augmented reality demos at the Life is Living Festival, to working on augmented reality at the Black Panther compound of the O’Neals in Arusha, Tanzania, to recently coming back from doing augmented reality work in Cuba.
The future is something that the Black community needs to embrace and teach our children that they need to grasp it and use it to benefit the masses in the grassroots Black communities around the world. Damien McDuffie is a trailblazer in digitizing, preserving and presenting Black archival history in an innovative and technically savvy way. What Damien McDuffie is doing is “the truth” and Black Terminus is “the future.”
JR Valrey: What is augmented reality, and why do you see it being a big part of the future?
Damien McDuffie: Augmented reality is the blending of the digital in the physical world to create a whole new experience; and this allows us to take digital assets and overlay them into the real world. Imagine instead of simply taking a photo of a piece of art, your camera could embed a video of the artists explaining the meaning behind the piece.
JR Valrey: How did you get into augmented reality? Where, when and how did you learn how to do it?
Damien McDuffie: I got into the augmented reality route through being a historic archivist. I worked a lot in the Black Panther Party archives, as well as the Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation archive and was responsible for digitizing all of these rare assets. But most of my inspiration came from digitizing my family archives all over the country from Ocilla, Ga., to Birmingham, Ala., to Yakima, Wash. Seeing my family in a different light through imagery gave me so much joy.
I was frustrated with not being able to share archives because of how rare they often are and because of copyright. That’s when a trip to Tokyo, Japan, and Chiang Mai, Thailand, changed everything.
I visited two of the premiere AR museums in the world and was blown away with the technology. I knew instantly this tech was not just silly face filters and flower crowns, that this technology would be great to teach Black history and share archives.
A few months later, at the onset of the pandemic, I sat down at my computer, opened up a YouTube tutorial, and a month later I had created my first AR activation. A year later, I launched my app, Black Terminus AR.
Everything I’ve learned has been self taught through YouTube and an insatiable desire to know. My Cole Elementary Kindergarten teacher, Ms. Grate, told me my greatest asset was my ability to learn.
JR Valrey: How did you start getting educated on the Black Panther Party Movement? What made you want to add an augmented reality component to Black Panther history?
Damien McDuffie: I have a MFA from Columbia University and while there I was working on a nonfiction book called “Black Terminus,” my name for West Oakland. One of the characters focused on the early years of Huey leading up to the founding of the Panthers. I always knew the Panthers were from the same place as me but felt I didn’t know enough so I focused on them for my thesis.
When I discovered Augmented Reality, I kept coming back to an essay by Dr. Newton called the “Technology Question,” in which he lays out the need for “community control of technology” and decided if I was going to bring the Panthers in AR, it would be on a Black-owned platform created by me.
JR Valrey: What does the name Black Terminus mean? What does your company do?
Damien McDuffie: Black Terminus is my name for the swath of land that is West Oakland. Terminus is a final point or end of a journey. As the only place Black folks lived for the first 100 years of the city’s existence, it was literally the end of the earth, the furthest place Black folks could get from the oppression they had hoped to leave in the South. Oakland has always been a place that Black folks traveled to in search of freedom at the end of the earth and as the last stop of the transcontinental railroad that connected coasts.
JR Valrey: Why is it important for the Black community to be involved in technology and innovation?
Damien McDuffie: It’s important for Black people to be involved in technology and innovation because a very small group of people usually gets to set the policy of these things, and generally it’s Black people who are going to be on the short end of the stick. If we want technology to perform in a way that is equitable, that is beneficial to the Black community, then we need to make sure that the policies that come out of the early stages of these technologies are in part influenced and created by Black people.
JR Valrey: Why is it important for Black techies to bring their skills back to inspire and teach young people in our communities?
Damien McDuffie: It really is of no benefit to Black people if we learn new skills and we don’t spread the knowledge. The only way that I am going to be able to build the next generation of Black creative technologies is by sharing the knowledge.
JR Valrey: Can you talk about some of your recent travels to Tanzania and Jamaica? What kind of work were you doing out there?
Damien McDuffie: My goal is to have the technology of Black Terminus to be used in every single Black neighborhood in the entire world. So with that, it has really been essential to go where Black people are outside of my own neighborhood of West Oakland.
So at the same time as creating workshops and doing Augmented Reality experiences for folks in Oakland, I’ve traveled to many countries, especially more recently to Tanzania, Japan, Cuba and Jamaica, and I seek out artists. I seek out muralists. I seek out metalworkers. I seek out fine artists and I show them on Waze that this technology can enhance their art.
Many of my friends in Oakland are muralists and I have some fine artists out of Nashville. I can see them feeling the pressure of being a part of this new digital landscape. It’s important that Black Terminus artist is a simple, easy-to-use tool because it allows anybody to get involved, and it allows Black people who are artisans another platform to participate in this.
JR Valrey: Where are you from? And if you’re not from the Bay, how did you get here?
Damien McDuffie: I grew up in West Oakland in the Acorn projects. Every single thing that I do around technology, around history, around the Black Panthers, is really influenced by my life and the way that I grew up there. Since I was young, four years old, I’ve been taught that it is my responsibility to use my knowledge, to use my skill, to use my talents to help, not only my family, but the Black community in general. My family has always seen something great in me, and they’ve always pushed me to utilize my skills for the greater good. And this is where I’m at. Oakland is behind everything that I do. It has influenced so many decisions.
JR Valrey: How could people stay in touch with you online and stay updated?
Damien McDuffie: Follow me on Instagram at @blackterminusar and on Linkedin under Damien Lamar McDuffie.
JR Valrey, journalist, author, filmmaker and founder of Black New World Media, heads the SF Bay View’s Oakland Bureau and is founder of his latest project, the Ministry of Information Podcast. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Instagram.