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Black Girls CODE: teaching girls to be digital creators, not just consumers

Black Girls Code

Kimberly Bryant is a savvy technology innovator dedicated to increasing the engagement of women of color in the digital space. A graduate electrical engineer, Bryant spent over 20 years successfully working her way up the corporate ladder in the biotechnology field before she begun to look for a new challenge.

And inspiration, in fact, came from very close to home. Bryant’s daughter Kia had developed an interest in video gaming and had felt isolated at a technology summer camp.

“I was really looking for a program to support her interest and also teach her a little more than how to just play the games,” said Black Girls Code [BGC] founder and executive director Bryant. “I wanted to give her more specific training in computer development and design, as opposed to not really having any skills to be a creator.”

She founded Black Girls Code in 2011 after it became painfully obvious that something needed to be done to address the dismal numbers of minority women in the technology sector.

In just three short years since its inception, Black Girls Code is making waves. The organization, which is now headquartered in Oakland, California, has branched out to six U.S. cities and launched in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Bryant has devised a simple but highly effective model. Tech industry experts volunteer their time by designing and delivering workshops and programs for girls of color, ages 7-17, in all aspects of technology, from robotics to programming languages. The program is funded primarily by donations.

“We want them to have a full understanding of technology,” says Bryant. “That means we offer workshops in robotics. We offer workshops in mobile app development. We do web design. We do lots and lots of game development workshops.”

Her mission is to provide early access and exposure to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. The girls are introduced to new skills and role models, building their confidence to become tech innovators and entrepreneurs.

While classes are offered for a nominal fee, the majority of students are on scholarships. So far, Black Girls CODE has reached more than 3,000 girls of color.

Bryant says it is not just tech skills that are being acquired. The girls are empowered.

“We’ve girls that have been with the program for the past three years,” she says. “Their skillsets have increased tremendously, as part of the program, but also they feel confident in their abilities and future aspirations.”

Although the non-profit focuses on minority girls, Bryant says she is a supporter for all youth –boys and girls — learning to code. But she says her purpose is to focus on black, Latino and Native American girls, who are the “most underrepresented in the field of computer science.”

Understandably, Bryant is passionate about the skills needed to navigate the increasingly competitive 21st-century jobs market.

Oprah Winfrey (right) and Toyota Brand Ambassador Amy Purdy (left) with Kimberly Bryant (middle), founder of Black Girls Code, recipient of the Toyota “Standing O-Vation” Award on Saturday, November 15, 2014 at the SAP Center in San Jose, California. Photo Courtesy of Harpo Studios, Inc./George Burns.

Oprah Winfrey (right) and Toyota Brand Ambassador Amy Purdy (left) with Kimberly Bryant (middle), founder of Black Girls CODE, recipient of the Toyota “Standing O-Vation” Award on Saturday, November 15, 2014, at the SAP Center in San Jose, California. Photo Courtesy of Harpo Studios, Inc./George Burns.

“I feel strongly that some of the innovation that will happen over the next 10, 20 and 30 years, are things we can only imagine,” she says. “The industry is changing so quickly that if we don’t get this generation immune, and the generation that will follow trained, to create and use technology as a tool, they’re going be left behind.”

“It’s an economic and huge social issue for this day and time, that girls of color, that people of color, underrepresented communities, have the tools to compete. I really feel strongly that technology can be a tremendous driver for social change.”

Bryant wants Black Girls CODE to be the “girls scouts of technology”. She has an ambitious roadmap for the upcoming year, including more U.S. chapters and locations across Africa.

“In 2015, we’re expanding our program. We’re trying out a new model that’s in addition to our chapter-based model, which is a club program.”

“This is a coding club that’s actually in a school,” says Bryant. “We’ll be going into schools and working closely with communities and organizations in an after-school context.”

Meanwhile, the trailblazing tech advocate’s profile has skyrocketed as a result of her efforts.

In November, she received a ‘Toyota Standing O-vation’ for her tireless work at the ‘The Life You Want’ weekend tour presented by Oprah Winfrey. ‘O-vations’ are presented to ‘extraordinary people’ in communities around the United States.

In addition, Black Girls CODE is now synonymous with broader conversations about the lack of diversity in Silicon Valley and the technology sector.

“We’re really seeing our organization take a leadership role in this whole conversation around tech diversity and tech inclusion,” she says. “That’s a tremendous testimony to work that our volunteers and supporters have done over the last few years.”

Follow Kunbi Tinuoye on Twitter @Kunbiti




    Kunbi Tinuoye
    Kunbi Tinuoye
    Kunbi Tinuoye is the founder and CEO of UrbanGeekz. Previously, she worked as a News Correspondent for NBC’s theGrio. Prior, she was a senior broadcast journalist for the BBC in London. Tinuoye currently sits on the SXSW Pitch Advisory Board and CES Conference Advisory Board. She is a key player in the Atlanta tech startup ecosystem and serves as a mentor for Comcast NBCUniversal’s The Farm Accelerator. Tinuoye has received several awards and accolades, including being honored with a Resolution from the Georgia Legislative.