VIDEO: Alabama Newscenter: Estella’s Brilliant Bus elevating innovation among the young on the way to Alabama

Forty students left West Palm Beach, Fla., Thursday and are expected in Alabama on Sunday, June 28, as part of a historic, multistate road trip and “hackathon” with #YesWeCode. 

The 10-day, seven-city tour will visit Selma Sunday and arrive in Birmingham later that night, picking up students at stops along the tour. Eighty middle- and high-school students will end up on the trip.

#YesWeCode is a national initiative to help train 100,000 low-opportunity young people for careers in technology. The aim is to provide them with the resources and tools they need to become world-class computer programmers.

Sponsors of the “Road to #YesWeCode” trip are MSNBC, Ford Motor Company and Power Moves NOLA.

On the trip, students will learn skills such as tech entrepreneurship and mobile app development. They will visit cultural heritage landmarks, historic civil rights sites and historically black colleges and universities.

Van Jones, founder of #YesWeCode, speaks at the Power of Leadership program at Alabama Power.

“This is a life-changing opportunity for these young people,” Van Jones, founder of #YesWeCode, said in a news release. “Through the workshops, we aim to demystify the language of coding, and through the landmarks visits, we want to show them their heritage as well as the possibilities for their future.”

The Alabama Power Foundation is providing support for the bus tour.

“By exposing students to this career field, we are not only shaping the workforce of tomorrow, but tomorrow’s leaders,” said John Hudson, president of the Alabama Power Foundation.

#YesWeCode is collaborating for the second year with Estella’s Brilliant Bus, begun in 2009 by Estella Pyfrom. The retired veteran of 50 years at Florida’s Palm Beach County School District recognized the technology challenges for her students and chose to do something about it. Dipping into her pension fund, she created a nonprofit, state-of-the-art mobile technology and learning center.

The bus tour will visit Atlanta, Selma, Birmingham, Memphis, Jackson, Miss., and end in New Orleans on the July 4 holiday weekend. The top hackathon teams will pitch their app ideas on the main stage at the 2015 Essence Festival.

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Mississippi Business Journal: Innovation in Mississippi must be inclusive


In my last column I talked about the culture of giving in Mississippi, which we know cuts across race and religion. Our citizens are among the most charitable in the country.  Similarly, we need to work on embedding a culture of innovation in all citizens of Mississippi regardless of age, race, religion and economic status.  There is strong research-based evidence that 2.5 percent of individuals will be innovators in a given population, whom I consider to be “game-changers” in their respective areas of expertise.

If one was to oversimplify this scenario, we potentially have 74,182 individuals in Mississippi who are current and potential game changers as seen in the table below.  Furthermore, if you were to look at the racial breakdown of the state’s population, we would have almost 44,000 white and over 27,000 African American individuals who have the power transform our state.  I purposefully choose not to exclude any age groups in this analysis, because kids often approach problems in very unique ways and come up “answers” to problems, whereas adults are more worried about coming up the “correct answers” to the problems.We have to start imagining what is possible with an army of 74,000 game-changers who may be farmers, cooks, doctors, janitors, athletes, teachers, manual laborers, nurses, beauticians, students, scientists or engineers. 

If you think I am exaggerating, please think again! 

David Abney, the present CEO of United Parcel Service started his career with UPS in Greenwood loading trucks and now leads a company valued at more than $90 billion; Riley B. King, a son of sharecroppers in the Mississippi Delta used his innovative style and business acumen to become the most famous Blues musician in the world.  There are others like Edward Barq who invented root beer in 1898 and Dr. James Hardy, who performed the first human heart transplant in 1963.  More recently, Charley Hutchison became one of the youngest Americans to develop an app for Apple iOS when he was just a sixth grader at St. Andrew’s Middle School in Ridgeland.  Earlier this year, Sarah Thomas from Pascagoula became the NFL’s first full-time female official.  Sarah was also the first female to officiate a bowl game at the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in 2009 and has changed the game of football.Mississippi statsWhile our people are our greatest asset, not everyone has an opportunity to contribute to the economy at the same level.  National census data show that all 1.9 million black-owned businesses nationwide produce less than 1 percent of the nation’s GDP and zero percent job growth.  Combined with all Hispanic-owned businesses, the total contribution is still less than 4 percent with a mere 1 percent job growth annually.  By the middle of this century, black and Hispanic Americans will represent 42 percent of the nation’s population.  “America cannot reach her highest economic competitiveness goals with so much of her population producing so little,” says Johnathan Holifield, attorney, former NFL player and the architect of Inclusive Competitiveness, who will be one of the keynote speakers at the upcoming TECHJXN Innovation Summit and #YesWeCode Hackathon on June 30-July 1 in Jackson.  Other speakers include Gov. Phil Bryant and Mayor Tony Yarber.

This event is designed to serve as a catalyst that kicks off a strategic planning phase toward development of a TECHJXN Innovation Corridor, in which essential elements are included to enable participation for underrepresented communities in the innovation economy.  Nearly twenty local and national organizations are partnering to host the TECHJXN summit where TECH stands for technology, entertainment, construction and healthcare.  Add in elements of education and policy and you have a significant foundation of the innovation value chain to build an innovation hub or district, which is an emerging concept in urban planning for stimulating economic growth in cities across the globe.  “The idea of inclusive competitiveness presents a unique opportunity to promote development in Jackson by aligning innovative strategies with the talent, ideas and diversity of the city’s residents,” said Rhea Williams-Bishop, executive director of the Jackson-based Center for Education Innovation and a lead partner for this event.TECHJXN-logo_rgbFollowing the half-day summit, we will be holding Mississippi’s largest ever youth hackathon, where 80 students from Mississippi, Florida, Georgia and Alabama will be designing and prototyping mobile applications designed to address challenging social and civic issues.  The students from other states will be arriving in Mississippi on Estella’s Brilliant Bus and will complete their journey in New Orleans by competing in the 2015 Essence Festival Hackathon.  One key step toward bridging the digital divide that exists in our country and state is to connect minorities to technology opportunities and technological skills through events like the TECHJXN #YesWeCode Hackathon. For tickets and volunteering information please visit

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MSNBC’s Touré Hopes to Connect Kids in Oakland to Jobs in Silicon Valley


MSNBC’s Touré took his afternoon show The Cycle to Oakland for a one-hour live special aimed at connecting young African-American men with the training they need to succeed in high-tech careers. “I love Oakland, it’s a great town,” Touré told TVNewser.

The effort, sponsored by Ford Motor Company, was launched last year and MSNBC hosted another special, Growing Hope Live from Detroit with Joy Reidin March. “It’s extremely important to help steer young people into technology where there’s lots of jobs and opportunity,” said Touré, noting that Oakland presents a unique challenge for young people who live there. “They live so close to Silicon Valley and yet are so far from it unless they get a helping hand. #YesWeCode is trying to make that important bridge.”

A Growing Hope Special: The Cycle Live from Oakland aired Friday, June 19 at 3 p.m. ET. The event served as the kick-off for #YesWeCode and the Hidden Genius Project’s Summer of Innovation Program.

Click to check out the event gallery here.

Watch the full broadcast below:

#YesWeCode hosts 'Growing Hope in Oakland' town hall

Oakland to build a technology-driven innovation ecosystem that can be a model for similar communities in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond.  


Detroit Free Press: Ford Freedom Awards Focus on Tech Innovation


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."

Among those role models was Scott, who received a degree in computer science and theater from Amherst College, before pursuing a career as an actress and model.

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.

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Usher's New Look: Detroit Participates in #YesWeCode Hackathon at Ford STEAM lab

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!

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The Next Web: Why the next Uber could be launched by a 10-year-old


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.

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5 Things for the Kids to Do at ESSENCE Fest 2015

teacher-holding-kid-smiling-mother_400x295_71.jpgAs July quickly approaches, we wanted to bring your attention to one of our most asked questions: Can you bring your kids to ESSENCE Fest?  Why yes, you can!

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.

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Triple Pundit: The STEM Jobs Gap and Minority Youth Engagement


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.”

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#YesWeCode Ford STEAM Lab Hackathon, Detroit

yeswecode detroit hackathon 

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.

joy reid yeswecode 

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.
  • 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.

Or click to see our photo gallery here.

And check out our first national commercial on msnbc: