AFRICANGLOBE – Organizations nationwide made a surge during Computer Science Education week to ensure African American youth are prepared to engage in the emerging need for code literacy. Code literacy in the African American community is no longer a conversation about awareness, it is an active movement. It’s not a new movement either, it’s been gaining steam for 15 years referred to as the “stopping the digital divide” with many brave, talented and dedicated individuals working to solve the problem. It’s taken some time for this concept to gain the kind of mainstream traction that would change it from a conversation to a movement, but now that big names such as Mark Zuckerburg have stepped up to the plate (via code.org) to call code “the new literacy” people nationwide are taking notice and working to change policy, practices and perceptions around computer science education.
Serving as a powerful wind beneath those wings are organizations like Black Girls Code, Hidden Genius Project and now Yes We Code who are all working together to make the national dialog about code literacy a national dialog about equity, diversity & inclusion as well. Whether it’s parents discussing how to raise a coder, youth who code sharing in their voices or the leaders of our institutions of higher education speaking, the message is crystal clear. Technology and code is at the center of the next big movement to shift our nation and make an impact globally. Tech inclusion is so critical to the strategy of solving the great problems of our society that it ought to be compared our struggle for the right to vote. Now some may say that code literacy and the right to vote have no comparison but open your mind and follow this train of thought for a moment.
When President Obama announced the Open Gov and Open Data initiatives it was a powerful attempt to move our society to being more transparent about the information and decisions that affect us the most. Unfortunately open data today is the equivalent of the Library of yesterday, as our elders would say if you want to hide something from poor people just put it in a book. Similarly, if you want to hide something from poor people put it in a form that they cannot easily access. One of our eras most powerful assets, “data” is stored all over the place with no easy way to make heads or tails of it but it’s out there, it’s open, and you can access it.
The powerful part is if regular people can be educated and literate in technology, this data becomes incredibly valuable. Take Laquitta DeMerchant for example who saw our nations open salary data as an opportunity to create an app to help women achieve equal pay (a problem also faced by African Americans). Laquitta is making the difference by leveraging technology to take information that anyone has access to and put it into a format that makes it easy for people to access right from their smart phone which creates new possibilities for regular people to negotiate better pay for their labor and families. You might be saying to yourself, “well that is not revolutionary!” You’re right, using an app to help you negotiate an equitable salary is not revolutionary, it’s disruptive.
The Civil Rights Movement was about enabling African Americans to “participate” equally in the legal process that governs our world. African Americans right to participate in the political process disrupted the lives of many Americans, ultimately resulting in laws being passed to make hate crimes illegal, and raised the bar of the expectation for human rights in America. It is entirely clear that participation in the political process as we know it is crucial to developing a stable nation and economy, unfortunately we’ve still faced many hurdles in realizing that stability as highlighted with the tragedy of Trayvon Martin.
Code literacy opens possibilities to new economic ventures but also new social ventures that could change the way we manage crime, education, healthcare, our environment and even entertainment. If you ask me, this is exactly the type of movement we’ve been nostalgic for when we complain that “we haven’t made significant progress since the Civil Rights Movement”. Tech inclusion is about enabling African Americans to participate in the technical innovation process that solves the problems of the world. It impacts so many facets of our society similarly and in powerful ways just like the political process.
We are not only watching the tech inclusion movement unfold before our eyes, we are active participants in it. As I watched +200 young African American brothers gather in Oakland, California this past Saturday to learn about coding I was reminded by Kumi Rauf (founder of I Love Being Black) of Freedom Schools that were formed in the 60s to foster political participation among elementary and high school students, in addition to offering academic courses and discussions. I envision what was politics is now being disrupted by new platforms of communication such as social media (as leveraged during the last election), and we see action-prompting discourse taking place via twitter hashtags, triggering changes in government, policy and society in general. What was political is now entrepreneurial. What was political is now technological and the language of our new platform is written in code. Tell us, what do you think?