Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Pokémon GO, Wizards Unite Maker Niantic Labs to Donate $5 Million to Black Lives Matter

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Mary Anne Butler
Mary Anne Butler (Mab) has been part of the fast-paced world of journalism since she was 15, getting her start in album reviews and live concert coverage for a nationally published (print) music magazine. She eventually transitioned to online media, writing for such sites as UGO/IGN, ComicsOnline, Geek Magazine, Ace of Geeks, Aggressive Comix (where she is still Editor-in-Chief), Bleeding Cool (where she was News Editor), and now NerdBot as News Editor. Over the past 10 years, she’s built a reputation at conventions across the globe as a cosplayer (occasionally), photographer (constantly), panelist and moderator (mostly), and reporter (always). Interviews, reviews, observations, breaking news, and objective reporting are the name of the game for the founder of Harkonnen Knife Fight, a Dune-themed band with an international presence. Though she be but little, she is fierce.

We are pleased to report that Niantic Labs, the company behind such popular games as Pokémon GO (which yes, we are still playing thankyouverymuch) and “Harry Potter” themed Wizards Unite is pledging to donate at least $5 million dollars to Black Lives Matter.

In a company-issued statement published this morning from the San Francisco headquarters, Niantic Labs CEO John Hanke put forth a pledge to donate the proceeds from Pokémon GO Fest 2020 ticket sales, committing a minimum of $5 million. The company will also be donating $100,000 to the Marsha P. Johnson Institute, as well as an employee match of up to $50,000. 


The heart of Niantic is our community of players. It is imperative that we stand up to support our Black Trainers, Agents, and Wizards. We aim to be a force of change committed to the long road ahead of rebuilding a more just and fair system where historical racial divides are overcome and where all are welcomed, valued, and have a fair chance at success. The first step is overcoming the racism and injustice that prevents members of our community from safely enjoying the freedom and pleasure of a simple walk or run outdoors. Black Lives Matter.


You can read the entire statement from Niantic Labs on their website here, or scroll down further.

From John to Niantics

Niantics,

We are witnessing an unprecedented movement that opposes the systemic racism that limits opportunity and oppresses billions of people around the world. Like many of you, I have struggled with finding the right words, emotions, and actions to deal with the unease and unrest we’re seeing as a result of the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Nina Pop, and countless other Black people. As I said on Friday, the occasion demands that we rise up as an organization and marshall the power and resources that we have to be part of the solution. As a society, we can do better than we have in the past. As the past few days have made clear, we must do better.

The leadership team and I are aligned to do what we can to make the company a force for good in the world. At the same time, we want Niantic to be a source of stability and support in these troubled times. We face this heightened challenge on top of the physical and mental strain of our battle against COVID-19. We know that for many of you this has made an already stressful situation significantly worse. We want you to know that Niantic is here for you. So please reach out—to a colleague, HR manager, the leadership team—if you need support. If you’re in a position where you feel like you can’t stay in your place of residence, talk to your HRBP so we can help. The work in front of us to overcome these challenges is vast. The road is long. We want to help you take care of yourself so that you can be a force for good in the world.

So what can Niantic do? How can we use our platform to effect sustainable, long-term change? We already strive to make the world better by encouraging our players to explore the world around them and connect with their local community through physical interaction, to build a strong body and mind through exercise, and to build positive connections with fellow human beings through real-world social interaction. We think the next area where we can make a powerful, scalable impact is through the culture, ideas, and role models we help to create. To achieve that, we are going to fund projects from Black creators and will bring the best of those creations to a mass audience where they can shine a light on characters, story, and points of view that validate the lives and experiences of the Black community.

  • We’ll be donating Niantic proceeds from Pokémon GO Fest 2020 ticket sales, committing a minimum of $5 million. Half of the proceeds donated will be used to fund new projects from Black gaming and AR creators that can live on the Niantic platform, with the ultimate goal of increasing content that represents a more diverse view on the world. The other half will go to US nonprofit organizations that are helping local communities rebuild.
  • We’ll be donating $100,000 to the Marsha P. Johnson Institute and doing an employee match of up to $50,000. Black trans people continue to be killed at higher rates than Black cis people and non-Black LGBTQ+ people. In honor of the Black Lives Matter movement and of Pride Month, the Diversity and Inclusion team and the executive leadership team believe this donation is the right thing to do to support those who are most vulnerable to police brutality and other systems of oppression.

We’re also asking ourselves how we can take responsibility to better support our current and future Black and underrepresented minority employees as well as galvanize our non-Black employees to do their part in combating systemic racism and social injustice in both our industry and the community at large.

  • We’re developing new Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) training with a specific focus on allyship training. I cannot stress this point enough: it is not the responsibility of the Black community or our Black employees now to carry the burden of education. It is up to non-Black allies to educate ourselves and each other. We hope this diversity and inclusion training can help provide the tools and resources to make us all better allies. More details to come.
  • We’re upping our commitment to Treehouse, an organization dedicated to diversifying tech by making education more accessible. We are now committed to bringing on five UX/Designers and five QA analysts for apprenticeships, and hire 80-100% after apprenticeships.
  • We’re expanding our partnership with Gameheads a nonprofit that teaches kids how to develop games from beginning to end. This year, they are going fully virtual and taking the program global. We’ll be providing $25,000 in scholarships, sponsoring their annual showcase with $15,000, and donating $20,000 to create a new “Developing for AR 101” program where students can earn college accreditation in partnership with Cal State.
  • We know many Niantics are eager to get involved in rebuilding their community. Today we give employees four days per year to attend Niantic game events. We’re turning this benefit into Flex Days and adding a day, so you’ll have five Flex Days a year to attend a Niantic event or volunteer.
  • We will actively work to ensure accountability to all these commitments. We are formalizing our D&I council, and will use this group along with dedicated involvement from senior leadership to ensure accountability.
  • Lastly, we will take a public stance in support of the Black community and reject white supremacy, racism, and police brutality.

We also know that many of our employees are eager to be involved in helping, but aren’t sure where to start. With the help of the newly formed Diversity and Inclusion council, I’d like to share some resources that you can use as a starting point.

  • Educate yourself on the Black Lives Matter movement. We must educate ourselves and each other in order to support the movement as best we can.
  • Apply to be a Gameheads mentor. We need Niantics to volunteer and mentor the next generation of technology leaders.
  • Volunteer and join your fellow Niantics in organizing and contributing to the movement internally by filling out our form. The Diversity and Inclusion council will share opportunities for how you can get involved.

We are committed to this cause. These initiatives don’t end with an announcement. The work to follow through will require years of effort to yield the impact we seek. Along the way, we’ll be looking for even more opportunities to deepen these initiatives.

The heart of Niantic is our community of players. It is imperative that we stand up to support our Black Trainers, Agents, and Wizards. We aim to be a force of change committed to the long road ahead of rebuilding a more just and fair system where historical racial divides are overcome and where all are welcomed, valued, and have a fair chance at success. The first step is overcoming the racism and injustice that prevents members of our community from safely enjoying the freedom and pleasure of a simple walk or run outdoors. Black Lives Matter.

-John Hanke

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