MEASURE Austin Founder Meme Styles carries the spirit of the Black Panther Party in both her blood and her work dismantling racial inequities.
By Meme Styles, Photo by Olympia Roll
I imagine I inherited my drive for advocacy from my grandfather. His name was Charles Taliaferro, and he was a man ahead of his time. In the 1960s, he saw the need for Black families to have a voice in their community, and he took action. He organized community meetings to discuss the issues, inequities and injustices that were too common at that time. His work helped to build community power and bring people together. He served as the executive director of the Drug Abuse Project for the City of Pasadena.
On the other hand, my drive for activism was passed down from my dad, Chris Taliaferro. While his father worked toward peaceful and somewhat passive solutionism, my dad was a Black Panther. Following his older brother, Little Charles, they both believed in the values of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, initially founded in 1966 by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale. My dad was everything but passive. In high school, he launched the first Black Power newspaper and worked to get my mom, Lisa Taliaferro, elected as vice president of Fairfax High School.
As I reflect on my own story
I cannot help but point to the people that cultivated the environment I grew up in. Unfortunately, most of the issues they fought against are still present today. However, I think the future is genuinely Black female as I carry the torch passed down by these two powerful Black men.
My work is rooted in the fact that the powerful Black, Brown and Indigenous people most impacted by complex systems of oppression should be in control of resources, data, dollars and access to exercise their power.
In my bold opinion, this is the only way to create meaningful and lasting change. Unfortunately, the status quo benefits those who have advantages while marginalizing those who do not. My work in Austin has proven that those who experience injustice are the best positioned to lead the way toward a more just and equitable society. They have the knowledge, stories and historical lived-experience data essential for genuinely transformative change. My work is about creating opportunities for those voices to be heard and heeded. It is about giving people the data to create the change they want to see in the world.
I launched MEASURE in 2015
as a grassroots project after realizing that qualitative and quantitative data was sorely lacking in the social justice ecosystem. Today, our all-Black woman-led nonprofit has provided over 3000 hours of free data and evaluation support to powerful Black and Brown-led organizations in Austin. Over 45 nonprofits, grassroots organizations, colleges, universities, city departments and local businesses have used our antiracist evaluation tools. Through these tools, MEASURE is consciously redistributing the energy of research, technology innovation and data into the hands of our community.
Sociologist Ruha Benjamin said, “We cannot leave technology development and monitoring merely to those with the technical know-how. The experiences and insights of the marginalized matter.”
Today, MEASURE is launching a new antiracist technology platform to support the evaluation work we are quickly mastering. Our solution is called NEXUS, a free social platform where advocates and community leaders can share data, create racial equity-focused impact reporting metrics, champion one another’s progress on social media and get matched to other organizations with similar goals.
Last year, MIT selected me as a SOLVE Fellow for antiracist technology.
This fellowship allowed me and my team to turn the idea of NEXUS into an actual MVP. This year, I was named one of six fellows by the Social Science Research Council’s two-year Just Tech cohort. Through this program, I will focus my work on moving slowly to pilot and launch our solution with humanity in mind. The goal is not to recreate the harms that technology can perpetuate. By placing the idea, the innovation and the power of creation into the hands of Black women, the same code and algorithms associated with this technology will be intentional and purposeful. MEASURE and its tools—including the developing NEXUS—belong to our community and would not exist without the fantastic Black women and people contributing daily to its growth.
I identify as a believer, wife, mom, data activist and Afro-futurist. Each component of my humanity is carefully embraced and prioritized in a way that allows me space to create, breathe, sleep and love. There is no greater expression of my womanhood than to innovate and envision a fantastic future where we have each dream we came for.