Ryan Johnson is a man who used his experience and passion to launch an organization that would begin to demand inclusion for underrepresented communities of color.
In 2019, Ryan founded Cxmmunity, an organization with a mission to increase the participation of minorities within the Esports and video game industry. They aim to do this by exposing K-12 and HBCU students to internships, scholarships, part-time and full-time job opportunities in the video game industry so that there is an equal opportunity as new jobs and professions are being created.
Born in Columbia, South Carolina, and raised between Baltimore and Columbia, Maryland, Ryan went on to graduate from Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama with a degree in Physical Therapy. Once he graduated college he got a job in an outside sales role that would give him the experience he needed in information technology, sales and business. During a merge and acquisition within his company, he was transferred to Atlanta where he would gain the bulk of his experience. He ended up transitioning to a new company within a few months of moving to Atlanta and began his career in IT Consulting. He had the opportunity to start interacting with some of the fortune 1000 businesses, large nonprofits and state department government agencies helping them with their technology projects all while going back to school to attain his master's degree in sports management. He always had it in his mind that he would be an entrepreneur that focused on building equitable sports programs that bring together the community.
After leaving Corporate America in 2018, he was granted the opportunity to work with a venture investment fund that focused on early-stage investment for startup companies in sports, entertainment, music and television. Through that, he was introduced to the world of Esports and gaming. Most people don't realize that the video game industry brings in roughly $155 billion dollars per year. Often times we look at the competitive part of the industry but don't look behind the scene at graphic design, storytelling, computer science, human resources, and more.
Currently, there are between 10-15 states that recognize Esports as an actual collegiate or varsity sport, including Georgia that allow their students to compete for state championships and receive scholarships to play in college and even go professional. Roughly 80% of Black teens play video games on a weekly bases but roughly 2% are employed on the professional side of gaming.
"The gaming industry has raised millions of dollars to create partnerships with popular figures in our community but we don't have any real representation behind the scenes. They'll leverage the culture to build their brand but won't be inclusive when it comes to their workforce. That is why we at CXMMUNITY exist" says Ryan.
When talking about the research process Ryan states:
The thing about esports and gaming is it's a pay to play system, not like basketball or football where you go an open field and just play. You have to buy an expensive computer that has requirements for you to complete at the highest level. Since a lot of esports are PC based versus console-based it excludes communities of color because we don't have the opportunity to buy a $2,000 gaming computer. Our research was centered around the fact that Cobb, North Dekalb, and Gwinett counties have teams that compete and Atlanta Public Schools doesn't. There are only 2 schools that do have the financial resources, and their demographics are a lot different than the inner city. While working with APS and their athletic directors, I actually lived the research we needed. Over time COVID-19 and when the protests kicked off the teams and publishers were now listening. The industry was getting called out and being told you aren't representing or putting out the appropriate messages to respond. During this time Activision created a Black Lives Matter loading screen which is cool, but what are you really doing to show that you support Black lives? We get to have those conversations with the publishers and create these pipelines from K-12 to HBCU to then getting a job with the publisher through some of the inclusion initiatives.
When it comes to personal and professional development during Quarantine 2020, Ryan had this to say:
I'm an only child so the isolation wasn't much different to me just because that was my day today for my entire life. Sheltering in place wasn't the challenge but it allowed me to slow down and think more strategically. As for business it honestly springboarded us about two years ahead of where we should have been. Esports right now are the only sport growing and could be played and monetized. It created opportunities for us to do virtual programs. We started a campaign called Tech for COVID that was designed to raise money for students who needed access to laptops and wifi to participate in distanced learning. Raising over $100,000 in the first week from such influencers and investors as JP Morgan, Michael Strahan, United Way, NFL Alumni, Desi Banks, and more, it gave the group the opportunity to be recognized on a larger scale thus bringing more business and opportunity. People started contacting us to create virtual programs, eventually catching the eye of Twitch leading to a partnership that would create the first HBCU Esports league. This would provide scholarships and curriculum content to ensure that communities of color have the same equitable opportunities to participate.
When you created CXMMUNITY, did you ever think it would have the impact that it did?
Non-Arrogantly, Yes! I didn't think it would be this fast. Because of the circumstances of the world sped up our timeline. It created more of the things we were planning to do at a faster pace. If these weren't the circumstances we would still be having the conversations but they wouldn't have been as impactful because people are actually listening more in tune than ever before.
The goal has always been to create experiences for people that look like me and be that bridge for them to create legacies one degree at a time.
If you have read this article, like me you are very grateful to people like Ryan who saw a void and aimed to fill it. CXMMUNITY is truly doing great things.
Click here to learn more about CXMMUNITY.