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All Star Code’s 10 Reasons To Be Thankful

This Thanksgiving season, the All Star Code Team feels truly thankful for what we’ve been able to accomplish – for ourselves as an organization, and for our high school boys of color – since the program began in March 2013. So much has happened – to us, to our students, to our ecosystem and the tech space in general – over the last year. Below, I give my top ten reasons that we at All Star Code are giving thanks this year.

1. For All Star Code’s Organizational Growth. Despite a federal backlog in 501(c)(3) approvals, All Star Code acquired its “nonprofit” status in less than a year. A truly record achievement. Moreover, the organization has grown from a lone visionary founder, Christina Lewis Halpern, to a core team of 8 people – 5 full-time and 3 part-time members. Christina. Michael. Robert. David. Amanda. Linda. Vilasinee. And, finally, our second Christina: Licata. We’re more like family than fellow staff. And we’re thankful for that.

2.For Our Innovative Workshops and Summer Intensive. As a mission-driven family, our team will have conducted five introductory workshops for 110 students (Design a Startup in a Day and The World of Coding) by the end of 2014. Whereas 50 students applied to attend last year’s Design a Startup in a Day workshops, over 140 have applied this year. The demand is growing.

Our inaugural Summer Intensive Program was a phenomenal success – based on voluminous feedback received from students, parents, speakers, mentors, partnering tech companies, and foundation supporters. Every member of our ecosystem who witnessed our initial cohort of 20 All Stars as they learned to code, white board, and pitch business ideas at our AlleyNYC location issued the same refrains:

“Where did you find such bright, talented and driven young men?”

”Why can’t they be college graduates already?”

And my favorite:

“ I wish this program had existed for me when I was a teenager in high school.”

Truth be told, I have often remarked this to myself. So, for the opportunity to create a genuine pathway to career success for a new generation of techies of color, we are grateful. This represents progress.

3. For Our Trailblazing Students. And what of those initial 20 students, our first group of alumni, who Team All Star Code selected with so much care, hope and faith? What have they been up to since completing the Summer Intensive? To be honest, a few have already surpassed our expectations. For example:

  • Several alumni, led by Mamodou Diallo and Austin Carvey, have created a coding club called “Young Hackers.” This entrepreneurial group has organized 2 successful Hackathons (a 3rd is scheduled for Dec 6th) for nearly 200 high school participants. The Young Hackers acquired their own event sponsorships from tech companies like Google, Twilio, AlleyNYC, Mainstreet, Major League Hacking, Whisk, and DigitalOcean. They show no signs of slowing down. And they are mostly high school juniors.
  • ASC alumnus Anthony Box immediately for a yearlong education exchange program in China. He took his cello and an All Star Code laptop – to continue coding. Anthony has since been featured by CNN as an American teen who is helping bridge the cultural gap between US-China relations.
  • ASC alumnus Devon Howell, and his team, won 1st prize at DigitalUndivided’s prestigious Focus100 Hackathon this past October.
  • Several alumni have obtained internship at tech startups in NYC. But all of our boys have served as “All Star Code Champions” at their home schools.

To say that we are proud, that we choose wisely, is an understatement. Boys in the recent Summer Intensive cohort felt they, as well, had chosen wisely in attending the program. They all expressed sentiments similar to those captured by Luis Dominguez, now a senior at Philips Exeter Academy.

Thank you so much for this summer. I know that there was some debate on my coming here, due to my experience. But I feel like I got a lot out of the program. Even though I’ve done things like AP Comp Sci, I feel like I had never done as much with technology. In an analogous way, it was like I was seeing the world in black and white before. I needed All Star Code to provide the color that I was missing

ASC really does expand your world-view. I often stayed after the program to talk with the co-facilitators and it just fueled my passion to learn more. It just gave me that much more motivation. I feel like I would have been much more reluctant to do something in tech in the future if I hadn’t done All Star Code.

ASC really brightens your opportunities…just overall. The entire way it’s structured. I’m really grateful for this program.

In short, we are thankful for choosing students who acknowledge the support we’ve given them, even as they forge ahead.

4. For Living the Mission. Student gratitude, expressed by both our alumni’s words and their post-program actions, tells All Star Code that we are on to something. It tells us, very clearly, that we are inspiring young men of color to become active creators, innovators and leaders within the tech ecosystem. We are showing them how to build communities and supportive peer groups, how to network, and how to participate in the tech space. We have given them license, and a roadmap, to be creative. And we are teaching them, conversely, to forego remaining passive consumers of tech products and services. Our extensive program evaluation, conducted by WestEd’s STEM Group (San Francisco) bears out this reality. WestEd’s high-level findings revealed that, by program’s end:

  • 100% of our boys self-identified as “hackers.”
  • 95% of them were strongly considering a career in computer science.
  • 85% of our boys ranked computer science as their likely major in college.
  • The skill our All Star Coders ranked as most desirable: algorithmic thinking.
  • 100% of our alumni were confident that they could solve problems – economic, social, political, or technical – using a computer.

These data points, among other findings in the report, are very heartening. It shows that “living the mission” for just one summer produced significant changes in student mindset toward coding, computer science and career options. We are thankful for WestEd’s meticulous and discerning evaluation of our program and its outcomes. It shows us that we’re on the right path.

5. For Silicon Valley’s Courageous Admission. This past summer, Silicon Valley’s most prominent tech firms released figures on the racial and ethnic makeup of their companies. Google was the first, revealing that out of its 46,000 employees, just 2 percent – and 1 percent of its technology workforce – are black. Next was Yahoo’s admission: of 12,300 employees, 1 percent of its tech workforce is black. Of Facebook’s workforce: 1 percent. Apple’s workforce is 7 percent black, given the number of black “geniuses” working at their 425 retail locations. Finally, only 1 percent of Twitter’s tech workforce, and 2 percent of its overall workforce, is African-American. These were courageous admissions by the leaders of the tech industry. We applaud them for their bravery, and for their subsequent commitment to bring issues of workforce diversity and inclusion front-and-center.

Christina Lewis Halpern recognized this as a central economic issue of our time. She founded All Star Code because of it. Our team built All Star Code to address this at the high school level. So, we are thankful for Silicon Valley’s recognition of the very real need for programs like All Star Code.

6. For The Current Champions of Tech Education & Inclusion. Team All Star Code gains strength and mission clarity from its partners in the tech inclusion ecosystem. We appreciate the work they do in creating energy and space for our movement. There are “champions of inclusion: at pioneering organizations: Code2040’s Laura Weidman Powers, Digital Undivided’s Kathryn Finney, Black Girls Code’s Kimberly Bryant, and Van Jones’ YesWeCode. And the movement has grown into a flourishing ecosystem here in New York City. To name just a few of our allies: GirlsWhoCode, ScriptEd, MOUSE, CampInteractive, The Flatiron School, Code Now, Blacks in Tech, ELiTE Education, Platform.org, Silicon Harlem, Bronx Startup Box, Open Society’s Black Male Achievement Project, and Teals. We are thankful for this thriving ecosystem of social impact organizations.

7. For the Tech Industry’s Recent Trend Towards Inclusion. Recognizing the need for more concrete action, Marc Andreesen donated $500,000 to three non-profits working on the front lines to bring more diversity to the high-tech industry. In October 2014, Andreesen and his wife apportioned half a million dollars to Code2040, GirlsWhoCode, and Hack the Hood. The grants send a strong signal about the growing momentum in Silicon Valley to close the gender and racial gap in the high-tech industry. And as Andreesen noted in a recent spate of articles, “Tech is not yet inclusive enough. There is no question that there is a huge opportunity to make it more inclusive and open it up to traditionally underrepresented groups, such as women and underrepresented minorities.”

In a recent article in New York magazine, Andreesen further defines the obstacles as “education”, “access” and “networking.” Around the same time, Google donated $190,000 to Black Girls Code to address the issues of underrepresentation. These gifts represent a growing trend among the heavyweights of the tech industry to invest in diversifying their future talent pools by embracing nonprofits like ours that focus on tech education, workforce development and inclusion. All Star Code is thankful for this trend.

8. For Fast Company’s Spotlight on Diversity Pioneers. Fast Company has shone a spotlight on the pioneering leaders of organizations like All Star Code, Black Girls Code, Code2040 and GirlsWhoCode. But the magazine’s recent piece on Tristan Walker raised the profile of diversity issues in the technology space. The piece detailed the “Silicon Valley success story” that is Tristan Walker. It serves him up as a genuine role model for other aspiring tech entrepreneurs of color, while exploring the many challenges still faced by successful black techies, like Tristan, in an industry currently dominated by White and Asian males. Tristan’s rather complex story confirms the importance of All Star Code’s work in building student’s education in computer science, professional networks and system know-how.

A companion article in the same edition of Fast Company, on a “roundtable discussion of other African-American tech leaders,” revealed the importance of a strong and supportive professional peer group. This network of friends and colleagues provide our All Star Coders with examples of how to work and play together professionally – while keeping your focus on increasing our representation among leaders in the tech world. We are thankful for this group’s roadmaps to pioneering entrepreneurship and peer network building. We see what needs to be done, and how all Star Code can help these opportunities grow.

9. For the Sobering Lessons of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown and (Many, Many) Others. These tragedies remind us that the killings of our young black males – by other black males, and by police officers with greater frequency – is a social epidemic that calls for collective, concerted and sustained intervention. President Obama’s major initiative, My Brother’s Keeper, attempts to address the overall plight of young black males in this country. And within this initiative, organizations like All Star Code have been able to gain greater exposure and traction. We find ourselves in a greater position to work with organizations and institutions, at every political level, to shape the public policy surrounding education and workforce development for our young men of color. It takes a community to raise a black male child. And All Star Code has quickly become a recognized member of that community. And second, the wrongful deaths of these young boys has increased the desire of each team member to build and expand All Star Code’s programs nationally. We want to expose as many boys of color as possible to All Star Code’s programming and continued support throughout the high school years. We want to build the kind of “ecosystem of education and access” that will produce young men of color who become household names being tech pioneer and leaders instead.

10. For You (Yes, You!). Last, but not least, we are thankful for your unwavering support. Be you an individual, organization or tech company. You have been an important part of our ecosystem thus far. Some of you have given advice, guidance, and resources to get All Star Code off the ground two years ago. Others have since become board members, formal advisors, mentors, and general program ambassadors. Still others have donated funds to support our continued work and growth. And many of you have given us access to your network of colleagues who are equally committed to social impact work like ours. As importantly, many organizations have given All Star Code financial resources, event space, tech staff support, pro bono services and other types of support. We chose to name none of you specifically in order, ironically, to thank all of you equally.

Because of your unwavering support, we have completed a successful “proof of concept” year and move forward to greater success. We leave behind a year that leaves us thankful for many things. Most especially…our organizational growth…our innovative workshops and summer intensive…our trailblazing students…our living the mission…Silicon Valley’s courageous admissions…the current champions of tech education & inclusion…the tech industry’s recent trend towards inclusion…Fast Company’s spotlight on diversity pioneers…the galvanizing lessons of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown and many others…and You.

Happy Thanksgiving, All Star Code Tribe!

Robert Bonner

Robert