This Week in Dream Corps

As this is our first This Week in Dream Corps blog, let me explain how it is here. At our Dream Corps office in downtown Oakland, you could be talking about ending mass incarceration one minute, training disadvantaged youth to code the next, then getting dirty energy to invest in the communities they pollute. You have to think fast because there’s breaking news in each of our three arenas all week long. It’s kind of fun to try to keep up, and to see all the connections from our Oakland office to current events--for example:  

  • Oprah recently bought the movie rights to our own #cut50 Director of Strategy Shaka Senghor’s memoir.

  • Or there was the time last week that a police officer assaulted a non-violent student in South Carolina, and our #Cut50 Director of Policy Matt Haney quickly responded in the press because he happens to be VP of the San Francisco School Board and championed an innovative alternative to student discipline that avoids herding kids into the legal system.

  • Twitter, eBay, Yelp, Pinterest, Square and dozens of other tech leaders recently announced they are teaming with #YesWeCode to hire non-traditional candidates over the next 5 years in light of a million-worker shortage coming by 2020.

  • And when the EPA added the Clean Power Plan to the Federal Registry in late October and 26 states immediately sued to block it, our #GreenForAll Director Vien Truong took to the road to bust the myths and share the success stories of real Californians whose energy bills did not in fact go up as the naysayers predicted--like Maria Zavala, whose bill went from $200 a year to $1.50.    

 Maria Zavala & family, photo courtesy of The Greenlining Institute and UpLiftCA

This week brought the usual whirlwind of interesting developments, and as usual our Dream Corps team was traveling all over the place.

Wednesday #GreenForAll Director Vien Truong and Dream Corps President Van Jones were speaking to a Hollywood crowd hosted by Mark Ruffalo that included Normal Lear and Alicia Silverstone. The event was called Hollywood United for a Healthy California, and the point, says Vien Truong, was “to tell Governor Brown to leave oil in the ground.” She talked to the entertainment industry crowd about the lies being told about how the green movement hurts low-income people. Van Jones said, "Good people got together and said let's take dollars out of polluters pockets and use those dollars to green up poor communities. It went from being a fantasy that people like me wrote bestsellers about but didn't know how to make happen to a fact today in California. California has invested $1 billion dollars in a clean power economy for poor folks in the last two years."  

#GreenForAll's Vien Truong and Mark Ruffalo

Another cool conversation occurred in San Jose at the Verge sustainability conference between Van Jones and Tom Steyer, hedge fund manager and founder of Farallon Capital Management. Their keynote was called “The Business Opportunity Hiding in Plain Sight,” which was about getting the business crowd to engage all communities in the sustainability movement.

Van Jones, who is a CNN Political Commentator, appeared on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday as a panelist, and offered this meaty bone to chew on, “What’s so weird is that we’re in this moment where we have a white female who’s a front-runner for the Democrats. We don’t even notice that anymore. We now have an African-American man, front-runner for the Republicans. Ben Carson bewilders, I think most black Democrats. I mean, he certainly is professionally impressive. Personally, he can be somewhat impressive. Usually politically he’s probably the least impressive on that stage and yet, this morning, he was great.”

Finally, this week #YesWeCode got to pick the brains of the best in the business when they were selected out of 100 nonprofits to come to the Schwab Pro Bono Challenge in San Francisco and sit down the Charles Schwab’s CFO, two VPs, and a senior manager and discuss how to beginning thinking about the scholarships they will offer to 100,000 low-opportunity youth. The lightbulb moment for the #YesWeCode team was learning from the experts that when you go to a corporation to get money, fit yourself into their models--take advantage of H.R., because that’s where the money is, so instead of asking for donations, #YesWeCode should consider themselves a placement service thereby getting a fee for bringing in talent from an untraditional pipeline. It was a very practical conversation, which is exactly what the team was looking for.

Oh boy, next week we’ve got a lot more coming down the pike to tell you about...   


CNN: Getting Smart About Justice

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(CNN) Everyone knows that ambitious, bipartisan legislation is completely impossible to pass in today's divided and dysfunctional Washington right?

Wrong.

By year's end, President Barack Obama could sign into law major criminal justice reforms -- passed because of the leadership and full engagement of the congressional GOP.

On Thursday, key leaders took a major step toward that outcome as Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wisconsin, and Bobby Scott, D-Virginia, introduced the Safe, Accountable, Fair, and Effective (SAFE) Justice Act of 2015, a comprehensive criminal justice reform bill that will start chipping away at our unjust, unaffordable system of mass incarceration.

Over the past 40 years, the United States has fought the drug war in the worst way possible -- by jailing those who simply needed help with their addiction or mental illness. Meanwhile, we have targeted and disproportionately sentenced black and brown Americans, as well as those from poorer neighborhoods. And we have created a system that costs too much, imprisons too many, and does too little to truly keep us safe.

Now, nearly 25% of the entire world's prison population is behind bars right here in the land of the free. The federal prison population in particular has skyrocketed, soaring more than 800% since 1980.

With all this in mind, there are three reasons we should all be excited about the SAFE Justice Act.

First, the act will safely and smartly reduce our prison population over time. It will refocus our prison system on those who are an immediate threat to others, not people caught in a police sweep with a small amount of marijuana. The act will also reform mandatory minimums to help snag big traffickers -- but without condemning nonviolent offenders to long prison sentences. Instead, it will expand the use of alternative sentencing like probation, drug courts, and medical treatment for addiction or mental illness. And finally, it will help people get their lives back on track when they get home.

It does all this in smart, sensible ways that have already been piloted and proven at the state level. Both red and blue states have shown that you can lower prison populations, reduce costs, and cut crime by instituting evidence-based alternatives to sentencing, giving judges more discretion, and allowing targeted releases of those who are unlikely to offend again.

In short, the SAFE Justice Act will bring those who pose no danger back to their families by taking the best of state policy and implementing it at the federal level. That is how our system should work.

Second, the act offers a chance at comprehensive justice reform legislation.

The reality is that our system of mass incarceration is simply too interconnected and complex to fix piecemeal. It makes little sense, for example, to send people home from prison without changing the way the "felon" label marks them for life -- preventing them from voting, getting jobs, or even having roofs over their heads. Reforming re-entry into the community without revising mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug crimes leaves too many in jail for far too long -- far longer than other advanced nations. Reinvent prisons without transforming policing and sentencing, and you simply replace one generation of the needlessly jailed with another.

There are a number of good bills that have been introduced in the Senate that do in fact accomplish pieces of what the SAFE Justice Act does. But to reform an interlocking and tightly woven system, we need comprehensive fixes like this one.

Finally, the SAFE Justice Act presents a chance for bipartisan justice reform.

Both parties created this mess. Both parties must fix it. Richard Nixon may have declared the war on drugs, and Ronald Reagan may have turned it into a war on the impoverished, but Bill Clinton also helped create today's mass incarceration nightmare.

Republicans control both houses of Congress, meaning nothing will move without bipartisan support. Indeed, in the real world, there is no functional difference between holding out for justice reform with no Republicans involved and opposing reform altogether. It is time to come together, because suffering families do not have the luxury of waiting for ideological purity.

In states across the nation, leaders have taken a deep breath, stepped across the aisle, implemented serious reforms -- and it has worked. In fact, a range of existing justice reform legislation in the U.S. Senate has bipartisan co-sponsors. Criminal justice is one of the few issues where right and left agree, most recently demonstrated by a huge Bipartisan Summit on Criminal Justice Reform in Washington.

That potential is coming together in a big way. Can such promise be fulfilled? I believe there is nobody more trusted to fix the prison system than Bobby Scott. And there is nobody more committed to cheaper, more effective government than Jim Sensenbrenner. If these two men can work together, then so can everyone else.

The next year will be full of partisan bickering and political grudge matches. But, just maybe, it will also see real bipartisan reform, sparked by two leaders who dared to think big.

Read full article at CNN 


How Big Tech Will Save Big Money

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“Diversity in tech is not about guilt, morality, or the word ‘should,’” said Van Jones, president and co-founder of #YesWeCode. Diverse companies are showing strong evidence of outperforming non-diverse companies, Jones explained. Diversity in tech is about the bottom line.

“At this moment, we have reached a breakthrough level of Bay Area employers committing to the idea of apprenticeships sourcing talent from nontraditional pipelines,” said Jones at the Diversity in Tech Summit at the Oakland Museum October 19. #YesWeCode announced a new Employers’ Council of 30 leading tech companies who have committed to 300 paid positions for non-traditional candidates over the next 5 years.

The Oakland summit brought together leaders from Twitter, Yelp, Lyft, Pinterest, eBay, Square, SolarCity, Pivotal Labs, thoughtbot, NationBuilder, and Good Eggs to address head-on how to get more diversity in the tech economy.

"The reason diversity is a priority for companies and the reason the government is getting involved is there will be a million-worker shortage by 2020,” said Dave Hoover, co-founder of Dev Bootcamp, which transforms beginners into full-stack Web developers in 19 weeks. “Finding non-traditional talent sources is a very cost-efficient alternative to outsourcing.”

“Silicon Valley was built on a particular monocrop of genius,” said Jones. “Oakland is the most diverse city in the country. Every kind of human ever born lives in Oakland. 37 languages are spoken in our public schools. There’s an extraordinary amount of genius in this town 38 minutes — without traffic — from an industry built on scaling genius. How do we connect the brilliance of Oakland to these opportunities?”

#YesWeCode facilitates access for companies to nontraditional pipelines such as community college, an online degree, military schooling, or boot camp.

“We aren’t going to use PC terms. We are talking about young poor kids,” Jones told the crowd that included representatives from three mayors’ offices and US Rep. Barbara Lee. ”When we held our national Hackathon, there were engineers from top companies literally with jaws hanging open at how incredibly smart these kids are, trying to solve problems the engineers had never heard of. Like the kid who had an idea for an app for court date reminders. Now when I went to Yale, 80% of my peers were unpoliced drug users. But these kids are from a different world and end up in the system, and that’s a whole untapped world. There is opportunity here.”

“There was a young woman in foster care who said her clothes were all hand me downs from charity,” Jones continued. “‘People laugh at us,’ she said. ‘We do things you wouldn’t want your daughters to do so people don’t laugh at us.’” But she had a great idea: what if we had a way to pick our own clothes from uploaded photographs? Now, the secondhand trade is worth a billion dollars, so here you’ve got a foster kid with a billion-dollar idea in her head.”

“Motivated young people may have circumstances that prevent them from attending 4-year colleges,” said Johnnie Williams, #YesWeCode’s Apprenticeship Director. “The talent is there. It’s all about providing resources.”

Hoover, who ran Groupon’s apprenticeship program, explained how apprenticeship is ideal at this moment because of the way hiring has changed, “There’s a lot of great potential out there, and there’s a new industry saying, ‘potential over credential.’ The great thing about software development is that when bringing someone new on board, you can ask them to code something and look at the product.”

Marcy Tavano, Director of People at Pivotal Labs, echoed that analogy: “When hiring we think of ourselves as the basketball coach considering a new player. Let’s get you on the court so you can show me how you play.”

“Software is a team sport,” said Dan Croak, chief marketing officer of thoughtbot, “The internship that tech companies use has evolved into a more structured mentorship. You come on board as a second pair of hands on a client’s project. But your primary purpose is to learn, so you are encouraged to pause client work and go deep into a topic when you need to. We hire two-thirds of apprentices, and recently there’s been a 10% lift of people of color in the program.”

It’s no longer enough to hire exactly the right narrow candidate, because that role might last, say, 8 months. Companies have learned that when hiring, it’s more cost-effective to think like a skill producer than a skill consumer. “Your business is your talent,” said Hoover. In an age of non-templatized jobs, the ability to transition roles is key, and apprenticeship is the perfect platform for cultivating the full-deck, evolving developer.

Tamika Ross, chief of staff for Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf, said, “The word we like to use now is ‘tequity.’ We have a new talent pipeline. The growth can be shared. New cities can connect to a regional economy. And we can set young people up for success.”

“We think a lot more is possible,” said Jones. “It’s like Prince said — the older people in the crowd know who Prince is — you can have more Mark Zuckerbergs and Marissa Mayers if you have different expectations of people.”

Source: Medium


The New York Times: Silicon Valley, Seeking Diversity, Focuses on Blacks

From left, Mohammed Abdulla, Isaiah Martin, Matthew Jones and Zebreon Wallace take part in the Hidden Genius Project in Oakland, Calif., a program that teaches technological development and entrepreneurial skills to African-American students.CreditPeter Earl McCollough for The New York Times

Having grown up in a single-parent home with an absent father who was frequently incarcerated, Mr. Young, 33, can identify with other young black men he now calls “hidden geniuses” — the promising male teenagers who grow up in challenging circumstances mere miles away, but light-years apart, from Silicon Valley’s tech money machine.

That experience led Mr. Young to found the Hidden Genius Project two years ago. The program immerses high school men of color in coding, web and app design, team building and other skills intended to give them a leg up in the tech economy. Mr. Young says he focused on young men because similar groups existed for young women, and because young males face particular challenges in school and their communities.

His project is one of a multitude of grass-roots efforts that have sprung up recently to address one of Silicon Valley’s most acute diversity problems: the scarcity of African-Americans in the tech industry.

“We are helping these young men to understand who they are and what they’re capable of,” said Mr. Young, who runs his education technology start-up, MindBlown Labs, in the same Oakland building as Hidden Genius Project. “We’re giving them a pathway and putting them on it.”

Silicon Valley has been engulfed in a diversity debate for more than a year, in part because data released by giant tech companies like Google, Facebook and others showed how overwhelmingly tilted the population of tech workers is to white males. The data highlighted that the low number of African-American tech workers is particularly acute, worse than even the dearth of women and Hispanics in the industry.

Google revealed that its tech work force was 1 percent black, compared with 60 percent white. Yahoo disclosed in July that African-Americans made up 1 percent of its tech workers while Hispanics were 3 percent. In areport last month, Apple said it had made progress increasing diversity in hiring in the last year, though African-Americans remained the smallest fraction of its tech work force at 7 percent, compared with 53 percent white, 25 percent Asian and 8 percent Hispanic; the rest were undeclared, multiple or other.

According to the United States Census Bureau, African-Americans and Hispanics have been consistently underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) occupations. In 2011, blacks represented 11 percent of the total work force but only 6 percent of STEM workers. Hispanics were 15 percent of the total work force and 7 percent of STEM workers.

The figures released by the tech companies have led to a flurry of initiatives to address the issue. Spurred by advocates like the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr., who runs the nonprofit Rainbow PUSH Coalition, there are now “black tech” summit meetings and efforts by historically black colleges and universities to produce more science, technology, math and engineering graduates. These have been joined by a growing number of professional networks, including a new Black Tech Employees Resource Group, and nonprofit groups like Black Girls Code and Code2040, which are bushwhacking the professional trail.

“A lot of African-Americans want to grow up to be LeBron James, Jay Z or Barack Obama,” said Van Jones, the CNN political commentator and founder of #YesWeCode, a year-old program that has raised $3 million to connect young adults in Oakland to apprenticeships in tech companies. “They don’t hear about David Drummond at Google, who is at the center of one of the biggest companies in the world.” (Mr. Drummond is a senior vice president and Google’s chief legal officer.)

The idea with all of the new efforts, Mr. Jones said, is to create a generation of black entrepreneurial “uploaders” — those who create profit-making apps instead of simply downloading them.

How effective some of these initiatives will be remains unclear. “No one new idea will drive systemic change,” said Rosalind L. Hudnell, the chief diversity officer at Intel, which has pledged $425 million over the last few years to diversity efforts. “There is no quick fix.”

At the heart of the issue, underrepresented minorities “are up against a series of barriers and obstacles that their Caucasian and Asian counterparts don’t have,” said Freada Kapor Klein, founder of the Level Playing Field Institute in Oakland, which sponsors programs to increase diversity in technology. “The farther outside the tech ecosystem they are, the harder it is.”

And entry into the tech firmament remains challenging, even for African-Americans with engineering degrees. Consider Erin Teague, 33, director of product management at Yahoo, who grew up in a predominantly black suburb of Detroit and later became the only black woman among 1,200 students at the University of Michigan’s engineering department.

At left, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr., president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, and Van Jones, a civil rights advocate, addressed the Push Tech 2020 gathering.CreditPeter Earl McCollough for The New York Times

“Everyone around me believed in me and saw me as smart,” she said. “But there was an exposure and access gap. I didn’t know what to dream for.” Eventually she received an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School and became one of the first 500 employees at Twitter.

With only 1 percent of venture-capital-backed start-ups led by African-Americans, access to capital is also being viewed as a civil rights issue.

“If you’re a 20-something in Atlanta or Oakland, you might not have the familial wealth or the network you need to raise seed-stage funding from angel investors, who are mostly white men of a certain age,” said Monique N. Woodard, the founder and executive director of Black Founders, a group dedicated to increasing the number of black tech entrepreneurs.

Now new networking groups, both formal and informal, are trying to shift that equation. At a “blacks in tech” gathering in Oakland in May, nearly 100 African-American entrepreneurs and diversity advocates brainstormed about Oakland as “the soul city of tech.” A new Bay Area Blacks in Tech organization also met in July at the San Francisco offices of Pinterest, the online scrapbooking start-up.

“Seeing almost 200 black engineers gathered together isn’t a common sight,” said Makinde Adeagbo, 29, a Pinterest engineer and one of the organizers. “We heard about what awesome things black engineers were working on at all these different companies. Events like these remind you that you aren’t alone.”

Ken Coleman, who is African-American and chairman of the data analytics firm Saama Technologies, started a “More Diverse Silicon Valley” event in 2013 at the exclusive Sharon Heights Golf and Country Club on Sand Hill Road in Menlo Park, Calif. — the Main Street of venture capital — with the goal of enhancing upward mobility and access to capital for blacks and others.

“The most important ingredient for a tech company is talent,” Mr. Coleman said. “It’s shortsighted to overlook talent anywhere.”

Promoting entrepreneurship and increasing the numbers of math, science and engineering graduates has also become an imperative for historically black colleges and universities. About 28 percent of all math and tech-related degrees awarded to African-Americans are from those institutions.

Two years ago, the United Negro College Fund collaborated with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and others to hold an “innovation summit” at Stanford University, which was attended by provosts, deans and faculty members of some of these colleges and universities and intended to forge closer relationships with tech companies.

“It was a very powerful event,” said Chad Womack, a director at the United Negro College Fund, who added that the group visited Facebook and was greeted by Sheryl Sandberg, the social network’s chief operating officer.

Still, the hope that a consortium of tech companies would get together after the event to collectively invest in pipeline issues has yet to materialize. “If you look at the scale and speed with which the Valley moves, if they wanted to solve this problem, they could,” Dr. Womack said.

At the still-fledgling Hidden Genius Project, progress has been incremental, but there is traction. In total, 33 young men have completed the program or are in it, including 19 who just started. Mr. Young said the project had improved the academic performance of young people like Matthew Jones, 18, a student from East Oakland who described himself as a onetime “knucklehead.”

Because of Hidden Genius Project, Mr. Jones said he went from being a C student to graduating from high school with a 4.0 grade point average. He starts college at California State University, East Bay this month, with plans to major in computer science and the goal of becoming a software engineer.

“It’s taught me critical thinking skills and made me a better person,” Mr. Jones said. “I want to keep going.”

Source: The New York Times


#YesWeCode: Growing Hope—and Tech Careers—in the Bronx

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It is clear that the careers of tomorrow will be filled by a budding generation of technology entrepreneurs. The challenge: How do we equip youth across America with the tools they need to pursue these careers and become tomorrow’s leaders?

On September 10th, MSNBC and #YesWeCode will host a special broadcast event in the Bronx, focused on growing a new generation of tech leaders. Here, aspiring young people will engage in a dialogue with local community leaders and successful entrepreneurs on how to pave the way towards becoming the new faces of tech. This unique, multigenerational discussion will explore opportunities to develop and scale initiatives to create a more inclusive tech economy, and how technology professionals have the power to drive positive change in local communities across America.

Join MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts and Frances Rivera for live event coverage and inspiring conversation with a diverse set of leaders of today and tomorrow. Don’t miss Growing Hope Live from the Bronx, sponsored by Ford. September 10th at 2pm on MSNBC.

Click below to watch the video. 

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