While others debate the upside of learning to code or whether Silicon Valley's gatekeepers are as meritocratic as they claim, Kimberly Bryant has been quietly disrupting the status quo through Black Girls Code, a non-profit with the kind of scale investors covet. After launching in San Francisco in 2011, it now has chapters in eight cities, including New York, Detroit, Memphis, and Miami.
In a year of top-down feminist movements and ersatz grassroots initiatives, Bryant is successfully leading a selfless campaign that addresses both the gender and race gap in tech. Bryant, a biotech engineer, argues that the paucity of African-American women in science, technology, engineering and math professions "cannot be explained by, say, a lack of interest in these fields. Lack of access and lack of exposure to STEM topics are the likelier culprits."
To rectify that, Black Girls Code recently held an app-building workshop at Googleplex East in Chelsea and continues to host workshops around the country in mobile app development, computer game design, and building Web pages. Looking at footage and photographs from their events is the most uplifting hack to The New Yorker's observation that "the hottest tech start-ups are solving all the problems of being twenty years old, with cash on hand, because that's who thinks them up."
The group's ambitions are grand:
And though we at BlackGirlsCode cannot overstate our happiness with the results of our classes, this is just the first step in seeking to bridge the digital divide. The digital divide, or the gap between those with regular, effective access to digital technology and those without, is becoming an increasingly critical problem in society. As more and more information becomes electronic, the inability to get online can leave entire communities at an extremely dangerous disadvantage.
Sadly, San Francisco's digital divide falls along the same racial and social fault lines that characterize so many of society's issues. White households are twice as likely to have home Internet access as African American houses. Bayview Hunters Point, Crocker Amazon, Chinatown, Visitacion Valley, and the Tenderloin have significantly lower rates of home technology use than the rest of the city. Sixty-six percent of Latinos report having a home computer, as opposed to 88 percent of Caucasians.
I can't wait to see what kind of products and services these young women will build, the kind of innovation they will foster, and the fault lines they will cross because Bryant and her supporters have nurtured their talents. There's something in it for capitalists, venture or otherwise, as well. After all, entire demographics of early adopters have gone ignored.
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