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Titus O’Neil challenges Synapse: Follow through on diversity pledge

Margie Manning



Thad Bullard (aka Titus O'Neil) and WFLA's Rod Carter (front row) were joined by Brian Kornfeld and Lauren Prager of Synapse at Synapse Converge.

Synapse Florida has launched a diversity, equity and inclusion committee to ensure the Black community is included in Florida’s innovation economy.

The committee will “help guide us and hold us accountable to making positive changes, the right changes, lasting changes and impactful changes,” said Brian Kornfeld, Synapse co-founder and president, speaking Wednesday at Synapse Converge, a three-day virtual gathering.

Everyone at Synapse, a nonprofit that connects entrepreneurs, talent, investors and others, stands against systemic racism, prejudice and injustice and believes unequivocally that Black lives matter, Kornfeld said. The organization has worked to ensure diverse voices are heard, Kornfeld said.

“However, we have not done well enough and that is not OK. I’m here to say that this stops right here, right now,” Kornfeld said.

See Kornfeld’s full statement below.

Following through on those words will be key, said Thad Bullard, a professional wrestler who lives in Tampa and performs under the name Titus O’Neil.

“As I told the NHL when they put together their declaration of principles, you better live by them,” said Bullard, speaking at Synapse Converge immediately after Kornfeld’s announcement. “Because if you are saying this is what you want to do, hold these folks accountable.”

Rod Carter, an anchor at WFLA-TV who interviewed Bullard during Synapse Converge, asked if the intentional conversations occurring in the weeks following the killing of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police were different than previous discussions about race.

“The intent has always been there … The actual follow-through and actions behind them have not been there. It’s great to recruit and ask people to come speak at your conference. It’s great to ask people to be part of your company. But if you’re not including them in the progress, and specifically here at Synapse, if technology is the new wave of the world … why not have everybody at the table,” Bullard said.

Bullard, who has a partnership with Microsoft through the Bullard Family Foundation, said only 2.2 percent of Black males are involved in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).

“To have only 2.2  percent of Black males in STEM, that’s lack of intent,” Bullard said.

Carter asked Bullard what it would take to effect immediate change.

“We need action. We need money. We need investments in the Black and Brown community. No more buzzwords about diversity and inclusion when you’re not truly putting them to work. Are you funding some of these things? Is Synapse funding some of these small Black and Brown community events? Are you recruiting them to be involved in this platform? Are you recruiting not only the best and brightest at the moment but the future best and brightest?” Bullard said. “What we can do now on a local level is hold people accountable and demand action.”

Kornfeld said Synapse is committed to sustainable change. Here’s his full statement:

“The past two weeks have brought international attention to a very serious issue across our country of racial inequality. The killing of George Floyd has again brought to light that far too many people are treated worse based on the color of their skin.

“All of us at Synapse stand against systemic racism, prejudice and injustice. We believe unanimously and unequivocally that Black lives matter.

“For long before these last two weeks, the Black community has not been afforded equal access and opportunities, particularly in the innovation community.

“Synapse has worked hard over the last two years to ensure our programming features diverse leaders and subject matter experts from across the state. However, we have not done well enough and that is not OK. I’m here to say that this stops right here, right now.

“Synapse is making a firm commitment to ensuring our stages and programming feature a diverse set of subject matter experts, representatives of the true innovation ecosystem and our state’s diverse talent.

“Inclusive programming is not all Synapse will do about the issues of systemic racism and prejudice against the Black community. Synapse’s mission is to connect and organize innovation communities across the state of Florida and that absolutely includes the Black community. As an organization we know that systemic and sustainable change is needed. It won’t be easy, it may not be fast, but together we can do this.

“Today we are announcing the launch of the Synapse Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee to help guide us and hold us accountable to making positive changes, the right changes, lasting changes and impactful changes. We also pledge to take our actions and results forward with our sponsors, our board, our team and the overall innovation community.

“We may not have answers today, and this is the start of the conversation, but with the right community support, we together as one strong community can be a driving force for change. There is no force stronger in the universe than one strong community.

“We have an incredible and diverse talent set right here across Florida and everybody can, should and will be given the same opportunities within this community.

“If you have suggestions for the committee, please email us at We are here to listen with open ears, open minds and open hearts. “

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