By NICK CHILES
It was a glorious sight to behold: a room full of black girls, ranging in age from 10 to 17, learning how to write the code to create their own mobile apps—and excited as hell about all the tech wizardry that was being crammed into their young brains.
That’s the magic of Black Girls Code, a brilliant nonprofit that was started last year by Kimberly Bryant, a black girl who codes in San Francisco and decided to do something about the serious dearth of other black girls who code. Through events, workshops, afterschool programs and other forums, Black Girls Code is already making its presence felt, reaching into young minds and planting seeds that will surely bear fruit soon as these young black girls realize there are exciting careers awaiting them in science and technology.
Both of my daughters, ages 13 and 10, and several of their friends, made their way to Georgia Tech in Atlanta on a recent Saturday morning, wide-eyed, unsure of what this “code” stuff was all about. When we went back to pick them up five hours later, they had not only gained valuable insight into this previously unknown world where people actually create the cool stuff that they play with on their phones, but some of them had actually made their own apps. We knew those hours at Georgia Tech had flipped a switch in our 10-year-old Lila when she woke up the next morning and asked to borrow one of our phones.
Why? I asked, more than a little nervous.
Oh, I want to make another app, she answered.
I thought about this fabulous program yesterday when I was reading this year’s Kids Count report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which painted a disturbing picture of how quickly black and Hispanic kids are falling behind because of their lack of educational attainment and because so many of them are unable to find work, meaning they make it to well into their 20s without the experience of that first job.
According to the report, only 60 percent of young adults age 20-24 have any job experience, while among those age 16-19, just one in four has had any employment experience—compared to 1 in 2 in 2000. And this is the number for ALL kids. You can be sure the numbers are scary for black and Latino kids. But there was one more number that jumped out at me: There are approximately 1.5 million great-paying jobs in the tech workforce that are unfilled because they can’t find American workers qualified to fill them.
This gets us right back to Kimberly Bryant and Black Girls Code. On the organization’s website, she says she launched the nonprofit “to provide young and pre-teen girls of color opportunities to learn in-demand skills to at a time when they are naturally thinking about what they want to be when they grow up.”
Key words there—in-demand skills. The demand is just sitting there, waiting impatiently for organizations like Black Girls Code to have an impact.
We saw the group’s work in action with my daughters and their friends, the recipients of the enthusiasm and brilliance of a bunch of inspiring young women at the sessions who were working with them, showing them futures that I’m sure many of them never envisioned. I know my girls never gave a thought to designing their own apps before that Saturday morning at Georgia Tech. But now another wall has been torn down for them, revealing a new world, a new possibility, a new career. That’s how these things work with kids—you throw enough juicy morsels out there and you never know which ones are going to take a nibble, or when, or how. But nibble, they will.
If you want to learn more about Black Girls Code, click here to go check them out.