This year, Shamika Goddard is celebrating Juneteenth as well as her grandmother’s 71st birthday by officially starting her new business.
Goddard’s Tech Chaplaincy Institute melds strong forces in her life: the desire to serve others and her passion and affinity for technology. She said the institute, which opens for business Friday, has a goal of helping faith-based and other organizations that focus on social justice and progressive issues.
“We center the human being in the technological crisis and help usher them through that moment with dignity and grace,” Goddard said. “Our goal is really to help replace fear and anxiety around technology with empowerment.”
How does one become a tech chaplain?
“This was something I made up in my first year in seminary,” said Goddard, who has a master’s degree in divinity.
In a similar way, much of Goddard’s tech skills was self-taught. She attended math and engineering camps as a kid and became her family’s go-to tech adviser after people realized she liked computers. She attended online coding boot camps.
At Stanford University, Goddard took math classes and thought she would become an engineer, but ended up on a different path. After a stint with AmeriCorps, she wanted to keep serving others and enrolled in Union Theological Seminary in New York City.
It was there that two paths converged for Goddard: the impulse to minister to others and her talent for technology. The seminary’s information technology department hired her to do what she had been doing informally, offer tech counseling to students and faculty members.
Goddard, who is pursuing an information sciences doctorate at the University of Colorado-Boulder, has channeled her interests into the Tech Chaplaincy Institute. Patrick Rwamasirabo and Javon Bracy are her co-chaplains.
Goddard, who is black, deliberately chose Juneteenth to formally launch her business. The celebration marks June 19, 1865, the day Union soldiers landed at Galveston, Texas, and spread the word that slavery was ended, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.
“Juneteenth is a day of celebration, of freedom and emancipation,” Goddard said.
It’s also her grandmother’s birthday. “She’s going to be turning 71 and she was born on Juneteenth, one of triplets.”
Explaining why she sees herself as a tech chaplain, Goddard said she got the idea after talking to one of the pastors at the seminary about helping people with their computer problems.
“And he said you know it sounds like what you’re doing is chaplaincy. You’re helping people find dignity in a crisis and that’s what a chaplain does,” Goddard said. “And as soon as he said those words, it clicked for me. Being a tech chaplain meant someone who had expertise in technology, who could help people but also approach that moment of help and support like a chaplain would approach someone in a hospital or a prison or even a corporation.”
People have often told Goddard about feeling silly “or even stupid” when they’ve sought help from other people. “Or people just fix the problem and don’t explain it,” she said.
Being able to navigate the internet is important in today’s world, Goddard said.
“Tech is so pervasive that sometimes it’s like it’s invisible until it’s broken,” she said. “For most of us, our work comes through working with some kind of device.”
When people don’t have a good handle on technology or feel anxious about it, work becomes challenging and even painful, Goddard said.
And many faith-based organizations don’t have an IT department or staff and don’t have updated websites or a social media presence, she said.
“As tech chaplains, our goal is to work with those faith organizations who are lifting up humanity and embracing everyone and working to help as many people as possible,” Goddard said.
The institute has set a goal of creating or updating 100 websites for faith-based communities by 2025.
Another goal, Goddard said, is to provide an example for other black women.
“There was a time when people like me would try to start businesses and they were not received well,” she said. “I’m wanting to start this organization to serve people, to help people through their technology. And to be a bright spot, be a beacon and an inspiration.”
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