Five Reflections on Being Data Advocates of the Year

“Sarah Nell-Rodriquez and Allen Hillery win the 2021 Data Literacy Advocates of the Year Award!”

I’m still letting that headline sink in. I’m humbled and proud for being acknowledged by friends, colleagues and peers for the work Sarah and I have been doing in the datashpere. We truly have been blazing our own trail when it comes to data literacy. Our compass has been our lived experiences and a desire to create a movement. At Be Data Lit we provide a platform for data literacy advocates to collaborate, get inspired and take action on helping their communities become more familiar with data. In addition to written content, we also host a podcast where we talk with people in the space who inspire us. 

Be Data Lit did not happen overnight. It came together over my rediscovery journey. Three years ago, I took a few steps back from a 20 year corporate career in analytics and reporting. I was at a crossroads taking full inventory of my life and accomplishments. I analyzed areas where I truly shined and where I knew I could make an impact. I decided to use fulfillment as my guide. I wanted to give back and be a cheerleader and compass for those coming up behind me; especially those who looked like me. 

Starting this new journey, I decided it was important for people to become more comfortable with data. As fate would have it, Sarah and I crossed paths in a data literacy Slack channel. As data professionals, we’ve seen the influx of data coming into organizations and how there were not enough people to meet the needs of businesses. We talked about creating spaces for data folks who have walked away frustrated from yet another project meeting that got lost in translation. We also wanted to encourage those suffering from imposter syndrome that you don’t have to be a data scientist to be data literate.

Working with Sarah has also ignited my desire to help communities outside of a professional realm. While I teach graduate students the importance of balancing stories with their analysis, I’m also championing to help individuals who don’t have the resources to reskill. Sarah’s passion for people in industries that are being left behind by our new data infused world is infectious and encourages me to keep workforce development projects top of mind.

When I reflect on 2021, I think about the impacts Sarah and I have had on many communities. The work we do stems from our collective lived experiences. We’ve been able to interweave our message on the importance of storytelling and the empowerment we can find leveraging data with narratives. There is a universal need to be heard and share stories. Some of the highlights that make me smile are:

  • We launched Be Data Lit earlier this year and are growing a thriving and passionate community.
  • The Be Data Lit Podcast launched this Fall and we are fortunate to have had amazing conversations with community leaders such as Jacob Martinez, Nicola Osinake and so many more we can’t wait to share with you.
  • Be Data Lit is making great collaborations with Data Stories. This is a project that has personally helped me to keep solving for data literacy in underserved communities.
  • I have the pleasure to watch audiences learn about W.E.B. Du Bois, social justice, data visualization and storytelling through the #DuBoisChallenge. I’m grateful to Anthony Starks and Sekou Tyler for collaborating with me. This project was also nominated for a data literacy award for Top Data Community Initiative.
  • As a Tableau Ambassador I get to engage a great community of people and call more and more of them friends. Working with the Tableau Foundation on the Racial Equity Data Hub has been rewarding.

As Sarah and I look ahead, we definitely see even more exciting things to share with the community. Look for more content, stories and great conversations from us. Follow our LinkedIn page as well as Twitter. We definitely appreciate the acknowledgement from our peers that we have been doing our part to advocate data literacy!

Allen Hillery is the co-founder of Be Data Lit, an educational resource for data literacy advocates. Allen is a data storyteller who’s passionate about building community and spotlighting notable figures who used data to make an impact on society. In addition to launching BDL, Allen is a teacher’s assistant who develops training programs and hosts workshops on data literacy and data storytelling. You can follow him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Sarah Nell-Rodriquez is co-founder of Be Data Lit. Sarah is passionate about education and the difference it can make in people’s lives. As one of the original pioneers of the Data Literacy movement, she frequently speaks on how to implement education programs and the need for Data Literacy skills today. You can follow her on LinkedIn and Twitter.


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