Diversity Panel Addresses Need for Black Youth in Tech



It is no secret that the tech industry is growing. However, the dismal numbers of African Americans in the industry continues to be a problem that politicians with the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) are seeking to address.


It is estimated that there will be 1.4 million jobs in the technology sector by 2020. Local and national programs have grown – such as Black Girls Code, #YesWeCode, and the Level Playing Field Institute, to name a few – teaching young people coding and other technology skills, and preparing these students to become the tech innovators of the future.


Yet, building an eligible workforce of today’s youth is only one part of the problem.


The CBC Tech 2020 has been advancing its agenda to address the lack of African Americans in the tech sector through educational training. Also, through commitments from tech companies to transparency, corporate responsibility to diversify the workforce, and the hiring and retention of African Americans, according to Congresswoman Barbara Lee who hosted a Tech Talk panel last week at the CBC Annual Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C.


One in four people have the necessary skills to become a computer engineer, according to Van Jones, president and co-founder of Dream Corps in Oakland, which manages the #YesWeCode campaign.


Jones was part of the panel of tech experts, business leaders and students at the CBC Annual Legislative Conference on Sept. 17. The panel explored ways to expose Black youth to tech and diversify the industry.


Right now, there is a shortage of 1 million workers in the field of computer engineering, said Jones, with entry-level jobs starting at $7,000 a month. It only takes six months for one to learn enough skill to qualify for such a position, he said.


Jones emphasized that it is imperative to expose young Black boys and girls to STEM and engage them in training so they are ready to fill these jobs.


Also on the panel was Harrison Harvey, a student at Head Royce High School in Oakland; Olivia Zama, a student at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Maryland; Jamal Simmons, co-founder of CRVIII.com; Angel Rich, founder of Wealth Factor; and Andrea Hoffman, founder and CEO of Culture Shift Labs.


Before Harvey started attending the Summer Math and Science Honors (SMASH) Academy, hosted by the Level Playing Field Institute, he said he didn’t often come across mentors of color in the STEM field. Now, he says the academy has connected him with Black male mentors that “have the same goals, dreams and aspirations as I do.”


Harvey said being able to talk to mentors of color has been valuable for his experience in STEM. He’s interested in studying mechanical engineering after high school.


Having motivating figures has also proved helpful for Olivia Zama, the self-proclaimed “math girl,” who was first introduced to a tech program by her teacher.


She said, “I like creating things. I wish there was more funding for more (tech) projects.”


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