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Yeshimabeit Milner: Committed Data Activist

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Yeshimabeit “Yeshi” Milner is the American technologist and activist who co-founded Data for Black Lives. Her aim? Use data science to create concrete and measurable change in the lives of Black people by fighting bias, building progressive movements, and promoting civic engagement.

Milner grew up in Miami, Florida. At 17, she became politically active and interested in data, working with the Power U Center for Social Change as a high school senior. She then attended Brown University, graduating in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in Africana Studies. On returning to Miami after college, Milner went back to the Power U Center for Social Change. Set on understanding why local Black infant mortality rates were so disproportionately high, her team retrieved data from 300 moms, helping change policy at the county’s largest hospital.

Driven by Data and Determination

Committed to movement building as a vehicle for social change, in 2017, she co-founded Data for Black Lives (D4BL) with Lucas Mason-Brown. With the slogan “Abolish Big Data!” they wanted to redesign big data to “put data into the hands of those who need it most.” Using concrete data from areas like statistical modeling and data visualization, D4BL exposes issues of systemic racism and advocates for Black people by addressing the historic and current ways data has been used to discriminate. In its first two years, D4BL raised over $2 million and hosted two sold out conferences at the MIT Media Lab — helping to change the conversation around big data globally.

“Growing up, I was always curious and constantly looking for ways we can look at problems absolutely differently. That’s what brought me to data – getting to change things happening in my community and see the results.”

In 2020, the group compiled state-level data about the impact of COVID-19 on Black people and is currently working on compiling a nationwide database of technologies used by police departments.

Milner also serves on the board of the Highlander Research and Education Center in Tennessee, which fights for justice, equality and sustainability in Appalachia and the South.