Black Girls CODE: Empowering The Next Tech Leaders

Posted by Viola Olayinka on 02/06/2015

Kimberly Bryant is the Founder and Director of Black Girls CODE–a non-profit organization that focuses on providing technology education to African-American girls ages 7–17 years old. spoke with her about the challenges facing young women of color and what motivates her to get girls involved in tech.

Kimberly Bryant interviews with What is Black Girls CODE? Why is there a need to focus on young girls of color in STEM?

Black Girls CODE is a non profit organization founded with the mission to empower young women of color between the ages of 7-17 years old to embrace the current tech marketplace. We encourage girls to become builders and creators by introducing them to skills in computer programming and technology. Black Girls CODE works to eliminate this digital divide by introducing young women of color into the technical field through workshops and programs which are held after school and during the summer.

The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that by the year 2020, there will be more than 1.4 million computing related jobs in America alone. When we look at computing and IT technology as a career path, it’s currently the fastest growing and most lucrative career in our economy. Yet the U.S. can only fill 30% of those jobs with the current graduates from undergraduate programs.  When I was in school in the late 80’s and graduated with a degree in electrical engineering there were about 30-36% of women receiving computer science degrees. Since that time, that number for women of all colors has plummeted–it’s currently 18% of all women.

When we look at the context of this within women of color, the situation is even bleaker. Women and girls of color are vastly underrepresented in the technology industry and are left behind as participants in the innovation economy. Black women only represent 3% of those receiving undergraduate bachelor’s degrees in computer science and if you look at Latinas and Native Americans, that number is less than 1%.

bgcode1 What do you see as the major challenges and social issues facing young women of color and women at-large from succeeding in the tech industry?

The first factor is the socio-economic disparity that limits the amount of resources and role models within the community. Many young girls of color live in urban communities and may have access to a cell phone but not a laptop to actually code and practice programming. Another challenge is the lack of internet access in their homes and schools. I remember once visiting a school in Oakland and their computer lab had really old, bubble Macintosh computers. I was amazed because I could not remember the last time I saw these devices and couldn’t believe that this was what the school was working with. Which leads me into the next challenge I believe young girls of color face: not having the money or investment for technology. The school I visited was a prime example of not having the proper resources to invest in the latest, most up-to-date computing devices.


Black Girls CODE Founder Kimberly Bryant pictured with participants at Love is Respect Hackathon in Oakland, CA, June 2014. What are your goals for the future of Black Girls CODE? How do you hope the tech community will help achieve these goals?

Our goal overall is to teach 1 million girls to code by 2040 and become a staple organization for girls in technology. Within the learn-to-code movement, we’re one of the only organizations that specializes in solely teaching young girls of color technical skills to become creators. Since 2011, we’ve grown to several chapters across the nation and even one international chapter in Johannesburg, South Africa. To date, we’ve reached almost 2,000 girls!

The tech community has a huge role in this from the standpoint of tapping into organizations such as Black Girls CODE as mentors, corporate sponsors, supporters, and beyond that. We to make sure that girls who pursue degrees in computer science are welcomed by the tech community and have opportunities in the work force. It’ll be a shame if we do all of this work to feed the pipeline, have girls reach the point where they’re beginning their careers, and find that the work environment is hostile or not inviting or that cultural implicit biases still run rampant throughout the tech community. Recent studies have shown that over 56% of women in technical careers leave their positions mid-career. So there’s work to be done. I think the industry will change when there’s greater representation of women in tech. Right now, companies can work to change their culture so they welcome diverse employees.

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Black Girls CODE Founder, Kimberly Bryant pictured with participants at Love is Respect Hackathon in Brooklyn, NY, June 2014. If there was a young woman of color interested in STEM and reading this blog, what would you want to say to her?

There are many opportunities within the tech field, not just as a coder, but a coder is definitely one entry point. Also take advantage of every opportunity to see what’s out there, in terms of getting involved with programs such as Black Girls CODE and other programs like Code Now or Technovation Challenge. There’s just a huge influx of programs specifically focused on youth and technology education today. So take a step out, take a chance and take a class — even one just to see if it’s something you’re interested in — and definitely follow that up with finding a good mentor that can really help nurture your interests through your journey. Mentors are some of the key individuals in terms of making an impact and providing support during the rough points on the journey.

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 6.00.41 PM What excites you about the work you do? What’s something people wouldn’t expect about the work you do?

Seeing how we’re able to start making an impact on the field with the students who have come through our program over the last few years and seeing how we’re changing the discussion around technology and tech inclusion. I can definitely say that Black Girls CODE has had an impact in terms of really driving this discussion and making people aware that there is an issue in terms of women of color in the technology field. Also, just from a totally geek standpoint and being an engineer myself, what excites me are all of the possibilities because I think that we are really at the beginning of the next industrial revolution in terms of technology. We don’t even know where it’s going from here and where it will be in the next 5 to 10 years. So, being able to create this new generation of technologists that are going to be able to tap in and make some of these changes that I’ll probably see when I’m an old woman…that’s something that makes me really happy for the work that we’re doing and also I’m really excited about it .


Black Girls CODE focuses on young girls of color between the ages of 7-17 years old: What’s the most surprising encounter you’ve experienced so far in your work with Black Girls CODE?

I can’t really think of many things that have been surprising but being able to go back to my college alma mater and talk to the students there about computer science and coding and seeing still how new the industry is, especially in the startup field. There are still many opportunities to introduce a new generation to using technology to create and work on really important problems. Tapping into that rich resource for all students – not just women and not just people of color – is a great opportunity for to better our world.


Making the Case for Early Childhood Education

Posted by Lucas Waldron on 02/05/2015


Hiro Yoshikawa studies the effects of public policies and programs related to immigration, early childhood, and poverty reduction on children’s development. spoke with him about the critical state of early childhood education in the United States before he took the stage as a panelist at the New York City Chapter’s #ThinkFWD discussion – Incubating Opportunity: The Promise of Early Childhood Education.

Hiro_Title_Blog How do early childhood education programs in the U.S. compare to those abroad? What programs exist elsewhere in the world that the U.S. could learn from?

On some levels, I think the U.S. is quite behind other countries. Not just wealthier countries, but it’s also behind poorer countries. For example, Mexico has universal preschool access for four-year-olds. Nearly 100% of four-year-olds in Mexico are enrolled in pre-primary education. The U.S. is really quite far behind many of its Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OACD) peers. Other countries in the OACD have higher rates of literacy, high school graduation, and college completion. So, in the areas where the U.S. had been a leader in the last 100 years, it now lags. Quality early childhood education and increased quality in primary education are key to fixing this education picture, where the U.S. students fall behind.

I think there’s a lot we can learn from other countries that have invested in early childhood education who really see it as the first phase in public education and in addressing disparities. World wide, the wealthiest families have already chosen to place their children in preschool education and it’s pretty much universally the poorest families that have lower access to good quality early education.

Public-Ed-Quote_Blog Since you are part of the group advising the U.N. Secretary General on early childhood education and development, what do you see as the fundamental needs of young kids around the world? What can we do to ensure that children grow up to be successful adolescents and adults?

Right now I’m part of a group that is working on the post-2015 Global Development Goals, which are called the “Sustainable Development Goals.” They are going to succeed the Millenium Development Goals, which were in place from 2000 to this year. One way the Sustainable Development Goals will be different is that they are being drafted so that they are relevant to all countries in the world – not just low and middle income countries, but also rich countries like the U.S. One very positive sign is that early childhood is now part of the draft, so there is some recognition that children are really the foundation for sustainable development.

But if you look at the situation of young kids around the world, we have reason to be very concerned. The data suggests that over 200 million children under the age of 5 are at severe risk due to absolute poverty or stunting – that means families with children that are living on less than $1.50 per day per person. That’s very severe, poverty is still a big problem. Far too many millions of children don’t have access to health and nutrition. We also have millions of children growing up in conflict and disaster settings. So, I think providing a full-range of early childhood development services is important to [these communities].

In 1990, the rates of access to preschool education in Sub-Saharan Africa were about 10 or 11%. Now they are not much higher – between 15 and 20%. There is a tremendous need to provide basic health, nutrition, and learning opportunities for young kids around the world. What issues do children of immigrant families face that other children might not? How do those problems impact their development and educational achievement later in life?

It’s important to recognize that we have millions of children growing up in families with at least one unauthorized person in that family. For one million children and youth under 18, these kids are unauthorized themselves. Over four million additional children and youth are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents but are growing up with at least one unauthorized parent. My research showed that having a parent who is unauthorized can harm these kids’ learning and later achievement and this risk for young children’s learning can be apparent as young as ages three, four and five.

Unauthorized parents are often reluctant to enroll their kids in the programs for which they are eligible. So even though these are citizen children who are eligible for things like childcare subsidies for high quality center-based care, the parents are afraid to enroll their children because it would mean showing evidence of how low their earning are, potentially identifying their employers, and potentially risking deportation that might rip their families apart. So these parents are caught in a pretty terrible bind.


President Obama’s recent executive order addresses this issue fairly directly. So, now there has been some recognition that undocumented parents with citizen children are a very large group in the United States and a group that we can’t afford to leave behind. Our population would be shrinking if it weren’t for immigration in the U.S. We really need to make sure there are solid investments in children’s learning. How can we continue to make the conversation around early childhood programs more relevant?

We generally argue that without successful human development, there is no societal development. Societal sustainability and the future of the planet are really urgent issues right now and we can’t have the next generation contributing to global sustainability without beginning with investment prior to birth. I think the business sector, including technology, can make a huge difference here. The financing of efforts globally to create progress toward the next set of sustainable development goals – whether they are in health or education or biodiversity or climate change – that is going to require integrated investment in human capital and education. You cannot invest in education without starting during the period when brain development is at its most rapid and when children are most sensitive to environmental influences.

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Executive Action Has Huge Impact on Texas

Posted by Lucas Waldron on 02/04/2015

“Immigrants like my parents allow Texas farmers to have a reliable workforce that they wouldn’t be able to find in the native-born population,” explains Lorena Veldanez, a DACA-recipient in Elgin, TX. After over a decade in the United States, Veldanez’s parents and older sister will soon be able to apply for work permits.

Executive action on immigration expands the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and allows parents of U.S. citizens and permanent residents to apply for deferred action and work permits through Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA). As the state with second largest immigrant population, Texas communities have a lot to gain from these new programs – 743,000 Texans will qualify for deportation relief.


Executive action helps thousands of Texas families, but it will also have a huge economic impact on the state. Increasing the legal workforce and bringing undocumented workers out of the shadows will increase Texas’s GDP $8.2 billion to $19.2 billion over 10 years. To put that in perspective, $8.2 billion would pay for public education for over 853,000 students based on Texas’s education budget for this year.


“Texas is one of the states with the highest DACA enrollees,” explains DACA-recipient Javier Gamboa, Communications Manager of the Texas Democratic Party. “Now, my family members will have the same opportunities [as DACA recipients]. They are going to be able to work and contribute to this great country we all love.”

After President Obama announced the DACA program, the city of Dallas received over 31,000 applications – making it the city with the third highest number of applications in the country.

If you think you are DACA or DAPA eligible, please see USCIS for requirements. 

DREAMers: DHS Bill Hurts Our Families

Posted by Lucas Waldron on 02/03/2015 caught up with supporters and founders of UndocuMedia Justino Mora and Ivan Ceja. Both DACA-recipients, Mora and Ceja formed UndocuMedia to provide resources for the immigrant community and educate their peers about the laws and policies affecting their daily lives. You guys both have received Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). How has DACA affected your life?

Mora: Before DACA, I lived in constant fear of deportation and separation from my family. After receiving DACA in 2012, most of that fear went away. It’s a feeling that I would like to share with other family and community members who are not eligible for DACA. Many new doors opened as a result of having work authorization and a driver’s license. For instance, immediately after my approval in 2012, I was able to obtain a better job and apply my skills as a consultant – that’s something that I would not have been able to do without DACA. Not only that, but I was really relieved when I received my driver’s license because it gave the peace of mind to travel by land and air without the fear of detention and deportation.


Ceja: DACA is the key to opening doors that had been closed to my community for far too long. I have helped organize campaigns to stop the deportation of friends, but have always wondered what I would do if I was ever the one facing a deportation order and the possibility of being deported has always been a frightening thought. Fortunately, DACA allows me to live with more ease because of the sense of protection that comes with it. Prior to DACA, I could not put my name down on job applications. Thanks to DACA, I have a social security number, a driver’s license and, most importantly, I can serve as a greater asset to this country I call home. Last month, House Republicans introduced a bill to defund the Department of Homeland Security and block all of President Obama’s executive actions on immigration, which would effectively restart the deportation of DREAMers. What does the bill mean for you and your communities?

Ceja: This bill is a direct attack on the American Dream of millions of immigrants who call this country home and want nothing more than to be recognized as an integral part of our nation. It is an attack on the hope that Obama’s executive order and executive actions have instilled within our undocumented community.

Mora: [The House Republicans’] decision to approve the measure, despite it having zero chances of becoming law, reveals their lack of leadership and true stance on immigration. It means that they care more about playing politics than to pass an immigration reform bill that would allow our nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants to come out of the shadows and no longer be relegated to second-class status. What types of misinformation do you see in your community about executive action? How can people get more involved in the political process to make sure immigrant voices are represented?

Mora: Unfortunately, many people are not informed about the complexities of our government’s structure and how bills become law. Thus, it is very easy for misinformation to spread and create unnecessary fear. For instance, there are several rumors going around the immigrant community that House Republicans are going to end DACA and mass deport immigrant families. This is a problem because it discourages people from applying for DACA or to seek help when they have a difficult immigration case. It’s so important to emphasize that the House Republicans’ bill has zero chances of becoming law.

Ceja: People first need to become informed about the process for bills becoming laws. Once they understand that, they will be more readily prepared to go the extra mile and get involved with community groups that push for the passage of beneficial bills, or take a stand against bills that could jeopardize our security. One simple step involves ensuring that the members of our household and surrounding neighborhoods that are eligible to vote exercise this right. My two younger brothers are U.S. citizens. Whenever there is an election, I sit down with my two younger brothers and we research the candidates and propositions to ensure they make informed decisions at the polls.

In addition to co-founding UndocuMedia, Justino Mora co-founded Push4Reform, an app that connects you to your Congressional Representative and reflects their position on critical immigration policies.