Laura Weidman Powers was a graduate student studying youth development and the arts when someone suggested in 2009 that she apply for an internship at a tech company.
"I did it and fell in love with it," she said.
One of the things she discovered is that technology isn't one industry; it's an important facet of all industries.
She also discovered during the internship and subsequent jobs that there were few women and people of color studying or working in the field.
That's what led Powers to start CODE2040 in 2012, an organization that works in multiple ways to connect college students to high-demand tech jobs.
The company has grown from one person, herself in 2012, to 15 people today, and the number of fellows in a multifaceted career program has grown from five in 2012 to 15 this summer.
Powers, 32, of San Francisco, was one of several people who spoke to 1,700 metro Detroit students on Tuesday about the importance of considering technology in their future endeavors.
She shared a panel presentation with others including model, actress and app developer Lyndsey Scott, and Freada Kapor Klein who along with her husband, Mitch Kapor, founded the Kapor Center for Social Impact and Kapor Capital. The couple are this year's Ford Freedom Legacy Award winners, in recognition of their philanthropic efforts to support and encourage women, blacks and Latinos in tech fields.
Juanita Moore, president of the Wright museum, said it is important that this year's Ford Freedom Awards — the 17th annual — have a theme focused on technology. The year's theme is "Celebrating Technopreneurs: Builders of the Innovation Economy."
"We have to make sure that our kids know and understand all the possibilities," Moore said. "If you think about it, Dr. Wright was a scientist. He was an ob-gyn. It's important to bring people in to show young people role models of what they can accomplish."
Becoming an app developer helps her have greater control of her acting and modeling business, she said. For example, one app she created — iPort — gives her access to her modeling portfolio.
Scott, 30, who has modeled for Calvin Klein, Gucci, Victoria's Secret and others, credits her parents for instilling in her the importance of a solid education.
"When I was little, if someone said, 'You're so beautiful' or 'You're so pretty,' they'd always say, " 'Yeah, and she's very smart.' "
"I still act and model; but I like focusing on something I can control," said Scott, who has developed four mobile apps.
Several of the speakers at Tuesday's program encouraged students to explore what's available and not be afraid to fail.
"There are a lot of stereotypes about who's good at technology and who isn't," Freada Kapor Klein said. "Some are gender-based and some are race-based. But they all send a message about who fits and who doesn't. And that message needs to change.
"Technology is where all the good jobs are and where the future is, and we need technology to look like America."
Klein started a nonprofit organization called Level Playing Field that seeks to address disparities in several ways, including a summer camp that introduces low-income young people to tech experiences.
Kapor Capital also invests financially to help women and people of color develop their tech-related ideas.
For example, she said, they helped an African-American woman develop an app that allows a person to take a photo of herself with her phone and find a shade of makeup that matches her skin color. It resulted because the brown-skinned woman was having difficulty finding makeup that matched her color at local drugstores.
"You have to have that lived experience to invent an app that solves it," Klein said.
Powers started CODE2040 specifically to address the need for more women and people of color in technology.
She named it 2040 to mark the year that census data project people of color will be in the majority in America.
Currently, only 5% of the tech workforce is black and only 18% of the people studying computer science in American universities is black, Powers said.
Yet analysts project there will be 1.4 million new jobs in technology by 2020, she said. "One million of those jobs will go unfilled at the rate we're going," she said.
Not only will there be good jobs in technology; they will pay well, she says.
The average tech worker earns more than the median household income of a black family and Latino family combined, she said.
The answer is connecting people to opportunities and helping to assure they can be successful, which is what CODE2040 does, she said.
"Our fellows leave with the skills, experience, confidence and connections to succeed," she said.
Powers and others also said people should not fear technology or view it as something beyond them.
"Technology is in every industry," Powers said. "It's in sports, music, travel. Each of these industries relies on technology to function. They all have apps. Coding is really just a computer-related way to solve a problem."
Powers said she's honored to be recognized by Ford and the Wright museum, particularly when it also is recognizing the inventor Elijah J. McCoy as its Ford Freedom honoree.
"Elijah McCoy contributed a huge amount," she said of McCoy, the son of slaves, who has more than 60 patents to his name. "I'd like to think that one day I can have that same kind of impact."
She said that she hopes that young people feel empowered and know that technology is possible for everyone; not a select few.
Wright Ring of Genealogy inductees:
Five people will be inducted into the Wright Ring of Genealogy, the terrazzo tile creation in the center of the Wright museum with gold nameplates. The five to be inducted are: Former Michigan Secretary of State Richard Austin, the first African American elected to statewide office; Robert Hayden, America's first black poet laureate; Erma Henderson, the first African-American woman to serve on the Detroit City Council; the Rev. Charles Hill, founding pastor of Hartford Memorial Baptist Church and fair housing and labor rights activist; and radio legend Martha Jean (The Queen) Steinberg.
Last Friday and Saturday, Usher’s New Look Detroit participated in a hackathon at the Ford Resource and Engagement Center in partnership with #YesWeCode. New Look Mogul in Training, Ciarah Lee, and Leadership Academy Senior, Dante Hollis, participated by helping lead activities for middle school youth including ‘Expressions’, a New Look tradition where students step out of their comfort zone and share their talents.
In the Ford STEAM lab, 100 Detroit middle school students from five middle schools in the Detroit metropolitan area got the chance to become software designers. Youth invented a range of mobile applications to make learning easier, from catching up on missed assignments, to studying math and music through gaming – all the while earning $42,500 in awards and scholarships.
The two-day event challenged students to learn the basics of software coding, and then produce, or “hack”, an application to help them in school. Thank you FORD and #YesWeCode for continuing to invest in the future of the Detroit community, our youth!
At a hackathon in Philadelphia last November, one of the best ideas came not from a professional designer, but from a nine-year-old. The boy pitched an app that combines carpooling with Uber-like capabilities, allowing a private network of families to share driving.
The idea came from the boy simply identifying a problem in his life – not being able to attend after-school clubs because, like many kids, he has two working parents – but came backed up with a solid business plan.
“It was voted best business model of the entire hackathon,” says Kwame Anku, director of strategic development at #YesWeCode, a US organisation that uses tech to target disadvantaged young people and transform their lives.
One of the judges told me: “I just invested in a company similar to what this kid is proposing, but his idea is better, and if I had had both in front of me, I would have invested in his.”
This isn’t just a fluke: apps like this are cropping up across the world, little sparks of genius dreamed up by kids who are still in school. I’ve come across virtual piggy banks, safe street-navigation tools, an app that supports LGBTQ teens and a game called Tampon Run – there’s no way a 30-year-old male developer could have come up with that.
Kids can code
A growing number of organisations are dedicated to teaching children to code and develop tech, so what we’re now seeing is children actually developing innovative, useful apps and then taking them to market. Kids under 16 are uniquely placed to launch what could be tech’s next big thing.
Their ingenuity and natural affinity with digital tech means they’re essentially sowing the seeds for the sector’s next generation of disruptive startups. And this is catching the attention of some pretty serious investors.
“Technology companies need to look at [young people coding] very seriously, not just as ‘oh we’re doing good for the community, or we’re helping people of color or disadvantaged youth to feel like they’re part of the innovation economy, but then we’ll go back to the office and do the real work’,” says Anku. “No, this is the real work. There are extraordinary business opportunities for tech companies.”
#YesWeCode held a youth hackathon in Detroit last month. “The theme was education: if you were in a position to solve a problem with the education system, what would you do?” says Anku. “You’re talking about real problems that millions of kids are facing.
We want the entire family to have the time of their lives! ESSENCE Fest is a multi-age experience and we want every single person, from 8 to 80, to leave fulfilled.
Still, here are 5 things you and your kids can do at ESSENCE Fest 2015.
1. ESSENCE Fest's Family Day of Service
On July 2nd, we will kick off the Festival with a family day of service. To commemorate the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, we are putting everyone who volunteers to work by rebuilding the community of the beloved city of New Orleans. Plus, this is a great way for you and your kids to bond while giving back.
2. ESSENCE Empower Youth's #YesWeCode
In partnership with Nola For Life, ESSENCE Fest is bringing back our phenomenal event, #YESWeCode Hackathon 2015. In an effort to inspire our youth to think outside of the box while planning their careers, we and our partners are teaching teens how to code in the digital space. If you would like to bring your child who is interested in Science, Tech, Engineering and Math, we'd love to help build their expertise with our expert teachers.
3. Send your teens to see their favorite artists at the Hot Right Now Superlounge presented by Ford!
You may not have heard of Nico & Vinz, Adrian Marcel, Mali Music, Sevyn Streeter, SZA, Lianne La Havas and more, but your teens definitely have. Explore the hottest music of today and see what your kids are listening to. You may find a new favorite artist for your iPod.
4. Discover new crafts, jewelry and more at the ESSENCE Arts & Culture Marketplace.
Other than uber talented musicians and food so good that you forget about your diet, the city of New Orleans is home to a unique group of craftsman and artists. Support their work by bringing your family to see the culture of The Big Easy through the eyes of its' most noteworthy artists.
5. Engage your kids in new activities and initiatives at ESSENCE's Community Corner.
Sign up to be a part of the greatest arts, science and technology groups in and around New Orleans at the ESSENCE Community Corner. Your child will be exposed to new ways enhance their knowledge about the various types of fun activities and adventures they can embark on while meeting people who enjoy the same hobbies they do.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as many as 1.4 million new computer science jobs could soon be available in the United States, but only 400,000 students will be enrolled in such programs at the nation’s universities. This disparity is often referred to as the STEM gap. Only 1 out of 10 high schools in the U.S. offer computer science programs. And, in a sign that the national education system is far from modernized to meet the demands of the 21st century economy, 25 states still do not even allow computer science classes to count toward high school graduation.
Computer science-related jobs are growing at twice the national average, but there is a huge gap between STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) related jobs and the number of young people who are studying to qualify for them. And this gap is hitting urban and minority students much harder than other populations. Expanding STEM education opportunities in minority communities is one key to helping young people rise out of poverty and filling the job gap.
To that end, #YesWeCode, a joint partnership of Dream Corps Unlimited and Thrive Networks, advocates for STEM inclusion and wider access to computer science education across the country. Co-founded by Van Jones, Amy Henderson and Cheryl Contee, the nonprofit ties technology and social justice together, and emphasizes the expansion of computer science education for urban and at-risk youth.
Established last summer, #YesWeCode already has a bevy of corporate partners, including Facebook, Ford Motor Co., Google and Comcast. Its overall mission is to act as a “catalyzer and connector,” and lead in raising awareness about computer science education among students. Part of the organization’s agenda involves a robust schedule of hack-a-thons. The most recent event, which took place in Detroit, aimed to reach students with latent skills but who otherwise would not consider a career in computer programing.
“Detroit has a reputation as a ‘bankrupt’ city, but its renaissance is driving a growth in technology,” says Michael Nobleza, deputy director of #YesWeCode. “I was inspired by the resilience that the city is showing.”
Nobleza was also inspired by watching students work together with Google engineers and developers “during this weekend of pure science.” He added, “[I] hope that these kids can achieve their dreams and capitalize on future opportunities.”
How do we rev up the technology engine -- so that the Motor City, Detroit, and others like it, can make a strong economic comeback? How can youth leverage technology to solve some of the biggest issues confronting them?
On March 27-28, nearly 100 middle-school students from the greater Detroit area converged at the Ford Research and Engagement Center for a two-day hackathon that explored these questions.
Students came up with innovative tech solutions to educational issues including:
A virtual report card that can be accessed by students and parents, so they can have a real-time read on student performance
An online resource for students who miss class
A literacy app that pops up the definition and background of an unknown word a student is reading
An app that connects music to mathematics.
The hackathon was co-hosted by #YesWeCode and the Ford STEAM Lab and powered by the Level Playing Field Institute. Thanks to the Ford Motor Co. Fund, each participating school walked away with an award -- with the winning school taking home a $15,000 cash prize!
Our Detroit hackathon highlights what #YesWeCode does best:
Communicate: The hackathon saw extensive national coverage, with MSNBC doing a special “Growing Hope in Detroit” documentary. MSNBC commentator, Joy Reid, was on site at the hackathon, to train kids on delivering compelling pitch presentations and to cover the event.
- Hip-hop artist and Detroit native, Big Sean, gave a personal message to the students via Skype while on his concert tour in Japan. He shared his thoughts on how technology has impacted the music industry.
- Hashtags #growinghope and #yeswecode were tweeted hundreds of times over the weekend, reaching millions of users.
- Convene: #YesWeCode worked with Ford STEAM Lab and the Level Playing Field Institute to pull together a diverse cross-section of stakeholders committed to connecting youth to opportunities in technology. This includes the Mayor and Chief Technology Officer of Detroit, leaders from the Detroit Public Schools, technology companies, and partner coding education groups.
- Catalyze: The hackathon gave participating youth an immersive experience designed to expose and excite them about technology. More than developing new technology, our hackathons aim to inspire students with confidence and a new outlook on what’s possible for their lives
Thank you to the students, adult mentors, technologists, sponsors, and #YesWeCode supporters who all made this hackathon a success! For more information, check out our Facebook page or check out our Hackathon Storify.
And check out our first national commercial on msnbc:
Marlin Page, founder of Sisters Code, speaks with Joy Reid about efforts to close the gender gap in coding and emerging technologies. Plus: Sisters Code graduate Sherri Crowe, #YesWeCode founder Van Jones and the Detroit Free Press' Stephen Henderson join the discussion.
A problem that has been secretly weighing on Silicon Valley for years, rose to the surface last June, when companies like Google and other tech giants revealed their diversity reports. Data from Google, in particular, showed that among their employees worldwide — only 2% were African American, and only 3% were Latino.
While many have demanded solutions to the tech industry’s diversity problem, people like Van Jones, founder of #YesWeCode, are working to ensure that the next generation of tech revolutionaries and innovators are diverse and given equal opportunities.
#YesWeCode is an initiative working to become the United Negro College Fund (UNFC) equivalent in the computer coding education space.
“The UNCFC does a great job of getting scholarships to African Americans who want to go to black schools, but unfortunately nobody is doing that yet for African Americans, Latinos, and Native American students who want to get a specialized education in computer coding,” Jones said.
#YesWeCode wants to find and finance the next Mark Zuckerbergs and Sheryl Sandbergs in communities where no one would be looking for the next big tech luminary.
For Jones, whose background includes working for grassroots organizations, the White House, and for championing various social causes, the idea for #YesWeCode first came about when Jones and Prince, the legendary musician, were discussing racial issues that followed the murder of 19 year-old Trayvon Martin.
“Prince pointed out that every time you see a black kid in a hoodie he’s a thug, but if you see white kids in the same hoodie, they think he’s Mark Zuckerberg,” Jones explained.
“He said, it could be that we haven’t created enough black Mark Zuckerbergs, and maybe we need to be focusing on that, so that the next time you see a black kid in a hoodie, you think he’s on the way to a million dollar startup.”
The #YesWeCode initiative is striving to reach 100,000 underserved youths. They hope to train a future generation of high-level computer programmers.
#YesWeCode is ultimately set on showing those who are disadvantaged that opportunities exist in industries they may have never considered for themselves before.
“We probably have a million black kids playing basketball this weekend, imagining themselves going to the NBA, but the NBA only hires 15 kids a year. There’s only 450 playing basketball in the NBA pros. Mathematically, that doesn’t make sense, meanwhile the technology sector says that they’re going to be 1,000,000 workers short in 8 years,” Jones said.
The program is taking steps toward reaching their goal of 100,000 youths by creating hackathons, where programmers and developers come together to code and create new products.
Their first hackathon, in partnership with Qeyno Labs, was held last year in Oakland, California.
“The ideas and the products that the kids were coming up with were so original and extraordinary. They were coming up with apps to help kids in foster care, help kids with the criminal justice system, and even helping prevent kids from being professionally trafficked. It was a very different set of problems than just another photo sharing app,” said Jones.
#YesWeCode is currently using hackathons and bootcamps — fast and intensive programs that train individuals to be developers — to catalyze their movement. But they still face their biggest challenge of scaling their efforts.
“Trying to figure out a way to help the bootcamps scale and include more people from our community has been our biggest challenge, but that’s where we’re also going to meet our biggest success,” Jones said.
Right now the program is preparing to host more hackathons, launch a scholarship fund, and they will launch loan fund this fall, which is intended to help those between the ages of 18 and 25 attend a bootcamp.
As Jones looks forward to this fall, he explained that his ultimate goal for #YesWeCode is not just to change the culture of Silicon Valley. Rather, he also wants to change the culture in the hood.
“Nobody is telling our kids that it’s fine for you to be able to download an app, but you’ll really impress me when you can upload one. I tell young people all the time, don’t show me your rap, show me your app,” he said.
“The future is being written in code. We need to have a big movement for inclusion in Silicon Valley. If our young people have the tools to not only get jobs, but to solve problems, then the future could be very bright.”
A few weeks ago, I was talking with the team behind Growth Strats, a Detroit-based consultancy that aims to create a nationwide model for incubating new ventures from urban entrepreneurs. All of the Growth Strats co-founders happen to be men of color.
I asked the Growth Strats partners about access to capital and resources, and why women and minorities often feel like they’re excluded from many of the tech opportunities taking root in Detroit.
Terrence J.L. Reeves, a corporate lawyer with Growth Strats, put it like this: “I went to a fundraising program last year. A prominent investor on the panel said, ‘If you don’t get introduced to me by someone I know, I won’t respond.’ In an area like Detroit, venture capital firms are mostly run by Caucasian or Jewish people, so what that means to women and people of color is, ‘I won’t respond to you.’ In Detroit, where we have a city that is 80 percent minority, that pro
cess is still the case—I understand people are busy, but I think that criteria is totally misplaced.”
It’s a conversation happening in every tech hub from Silicon Valley to Boston: How can the community help kids in urban centers like Detroit capitalize on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) career opportunities? What are the best ways to help young people who are interested in coding, software development, and entrepreneurship breach barriers, real or perceived, and access the resources needed to launch a tech startup?
Those questions are central to a two-day hackathon for Detroit middle-schoolers being held this Friday and Saturday at the Ford Resource and Engagement Center at 2826 Bagley Street. Called the Ford STEAM Lab—that’s STEM plus an “A” for arts—the educational program is being sponsored by the automaker, the Oakland, CA-based #YesWeCode and Level Playing Field Institute, and local tech-training organizations Sisters Code and Grand Circus.
One hundred tweens will gather to learn coding skills and then present their ideas for apps to a panel of celebrity judges that includes Van Jones, the author, environmental activist, and founder of #YesWeCode; Detroit-born rapper Big Sean; and Detroit Free Press opinion editor Stephen Henderson. The students are competing for more than $30,000 in prizes and scholarships, and MSNBC will be on hand to broadcast part of Friday’s activities live.
Michael Nobleza, deputy director of #YesWeCode, said his organization was born out of a conversation Jones had with the rock star Prince. The pair were chatting at a holiday party in 2013, not long after Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman in Sanford, FL.
“Prince asked why a white kid in a hoodie is seen as a techie, but a black kid in a hoodie is seen as a thug,” Nobleza explained. “He said we need to produce more black Mark Zuckerbergs and Sheryl Sandbergs.” And with that (plus a celebratory Prince concert), #YesWeCode was launched with the goal of training 100,000 minority youth in high-level computer programming.
Nobleza said by 2020, there will be approximately 1.2 million tech jobs open in the United States, and #YesWeCode wants to make sure that urban communities are helping to fill the pipeline of prospective employees.
“There’s untapped genius in communities of color, and we want to lay the groundwork and infrastructure for growth,” Nobleza said. “We get stakeholders together and connect them to create a pathway for middle- and high-school students to succeed.”
The Dream Corps team attended its first-ever SXSW Interactive in Austin!
It was five days of non-stop learning, inspiration and meaningful discussions about diversity in tech and criminal justice reform, thanks to engaging panels featuring our own Van Jones and Shaka Senghor.
- Shaka joined a panel of ex-prisoners and advocates for a powerful conversation on the need for criminal justice reform.
- Van and Maxine Williams, Facebook's Global Director of Diversity, took the stage to talk about #YesWeCode's mission and what Facebook is doing to increase diversity in its workplace.
- Van also shared the main stage with civil rights hero, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr., to discuss pathways for inclusion in tech -- including what the Rainbow PUSH Coalition and #YesWeCode are doing to make change in Silicon Valley.
Check out our storify of SXSW below: