Speaking at South by Southwest, the veteran activist said that opening the doors to the tech industry for people of color is the first step.
Fresh off the 50th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” march over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., the Rev. Jesse Jackson brought his message of going “beyond the bridge” to the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas.
Jackson said that while the 1965 march was a major moment in the struggle to get blacks the right to vote, the new challenge will be opening up access to technology and Silicon Valley.
“Voting has its place, but the fastest-growing industry, I believe, is high tech, so we need to get in there,” he said. “We must make access to technology and this new machinery a crusade for everybody, not just a campaign for the few.”
Jackson has been instrumental in convincing major technology companies to release their diversity figures, which have shown that on average, just 2 percent of their workforce is black.
When #YesWeCode founder Van Jones, who moderated the conversation with Jackson, asked how many in the SXSW audience knew that the veteran activist has been pivotal in making this happen, very few people raised their hands.
How Jackson went about getting companies to cooperate illustrated a new way of taking protest from the pavement to the boardroom, he explained.
“The magic is going from a protester to a shareholder,” said Jackson, whose organization the Rainbow PUSH Coalition bought shares in tech companies to push for change from the inside.
“Ours was a social-justice agenda to change the conditions,” he said. “The argument that we made was not so much of a negative one but of a value-added argument.”
And Jackson hasn’t just been giving speeches; he’s getting action, Jones said. Just last week, Apple became the third tech company this year to announce a donation of funds to help increase the number of women and people of color in the tech industry. Apple is committing $50 million to the cause.
In January, Intel announced a gift of $300 million, and in February Google donated $775,000 to Code2040, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping women and minorities find tech jobs.
Jackson pointed out that blacks can be just innovative as whites and have been demonstrating this since the beginning of time.
“We can turn garbage into energy,” Jackson said. “Everyone has a place if you make room for them.”
He also wants to start an “underground railroad,” from Oakland to San Francisco, with the idea being to provide more inner-city black youths access to Silicon Valley.
Jackson said, however, that members of the black community have to do their part in forging their destiny in the tech world. “I don’t think we are doing as [well] right now as we should because people tend to be what they see,” Jackson said. “They don’t see it; they don’t want to be it.”
Technology must be taught in school, talked about at home and popularized through music, Jackson declared.
“It’s not just about being locked out; it’s about charging to open the door,” Jackson said, adding that it’s about not only opening the door but also being able to go through when it does open. 1 million-worker shortfall (pdf) in the tech industry. (Some, however, dispute that number.)
“If you start telling African-American and Latino and Native American grandmamas alone that their grandkids can make $70,000 a year if they work hard and study well for just six months, you’re not going to have a problem in terms of people wanting to be part of this,” Jones said.
He and Jackson are also pushing for big tech companies to start recruiting from HBCUs, not just from the usual feeder schools like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford.
Students from historically black colleges are just as qualified and should not be overlooked, Jackson said, adding, “Whenever the playing field is equal, we can make it.”
Julie Walker is a New York-based freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter.
Ford STEAM Lab and #YesWeCode bring Silicon Valley to Detroit, empowering students to “hack” education reform
- Ford STEAM Lab, a Ford Motor Company Fund program, to host a hackathon for 100 middle school students to learn software coding skills, develop solutions to education reform
- Ford is collaborating with California-based #YesWeCode and Level Playing Field Institute, and two Detroit organizations, Sisters Code and Grand Circus, a tech training company
- Event features a high profile panel of judges including Stephen Henderson/Detroit Free Press; Van Jones/#YesWeCode; and Skype appearance by Detroit native and rapper Big Sean
- The hackathon will be held March 27-28 at the Ford Resource and Engagement Center in Detroit. MSNBC will broadcast live from the hackathon on Friday, March 27
DETROIT, March 11, 2015 –Ford STEAM Lab, an educational program from the Ford Motor Company Fund, is bringing the power of Silicon Valley to Detroit with an innovative two-day hackathon to help middle school students improve their education while exploring high-tech careers.
The 100 students from five Detroit-area middle schools will learn the basics of software coding as they create and “hack” an application that will help them learn better. Their projects will be judged by a high profile panel of judges as they compete for bragging rights and more than $30,000 in scholarships and awards.
“Student voice and authentic inclusion is important to students succeeding in education," said Shawn Wilson, manager, Multicultural Community Engagement, Ford Motor Company Fund.
“Ford's goal is to not only empower students to take control of their educational future, but also discover a potential career pathway in Michigan’s growing technology sector.”
Ford STEAM Lab is collaborating with:
- #YesWeCode, an Oakland, Calif.-based organization that targets low-opportunity youth and provides them with the necessary resources and tools to become world-class computer programmers.
- Level Playing Field Institute, an educational organization based in Oakland, Calif., committed to eliminating the barriers faced by underrepresented people of color in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
- Sisters Code, a Detroit organization dedicated to helping women succeed in STEM-related fields.
- Grand Circus, a company based in Detroit that provides training and other skills necessary to work in technology companies.
- National Dropout Prevention Center/Network, a national organization that works on strategies to increase the graduation rate in America's schools.
"In the new century, technology is central to middle class jobs and income. We are proud to work with partners like Ford and the Level Playing Field Institute, to support 21st Century opportunities to students in Detroit,” said Van Jones, #YesWeCode founder.
The hackathon will be held March 27-28 at the Ford Resource and Engagement Center at 2826 Bagley St., Detroit, 48216.
MSNBC will broadcast live from the hackathon on Friday, March 27. More details on the program will be announced at a later date.
After learning coding skills on the first day, students will present their app ideas to a panel of judges on the second day. The panel will include Stephen Henderson, Pulitzer Prize-winning Editorial Page Editor of the Detroit Free Press and co-host of Detroit Today on WDET; and Van Jones, #YesWeCode founder, and environmental and civil rights advocate.
At the conclusion of the event, students will hear via Skype about two very different success stories. Detroit native and singer/songwriter Big Sean will speak to the importance of technology in music and how it changed the music industry.
Ford STEAM Lab was launched in October 2014 to spark high potential, low opportunity student passion for technology entrepreneurship and careers in traditional STEM fields, as well as automotive design and vehicle technology. STEAM Lab adds an arts component to help students learn how to use creativity and innovation in problem solving and collaboration.
Ford Motor Company Fund invests more than $8 million a year in scholarships and other education initiatives. In addition to the Ford STEAM Lab, Ford Fund educational programs include Ford Blue Oval Scholars, Ford Next Generation Learning, Ford College Community Challenge and Ford Driving Dreams Tour.
We are thrilled to announce our partnership with Dev Bootcamp to launch the Dev Bootcamp and #YesWeCode Diversity Scholarship.
In an effort to encourage more underrepresented racial and gender minorities to enter careers in the tech sector, Dev Bootcamp has pledged to offer $425,000 in tuition scholarships over the next year to reduce the cost of tuition from $13,000 to $1,000.
This scholarship initiative supports both our missions to provide more people the skills they need to access high-paying jobs as well as to help companies benefit from a more diverse talent pool.
Check out the FAQ below:
How do the scholarship programs work?
Dev Bootcamp runs on a rolling cohort schedule, where new students begin our program every 3-weeks. Through this scholarship program, we will offer one student a spot in our New York City program and one student a spot in our Chicago program in each of the next 17 cohorts.
The application deadline for this scholarship is April 15.
Who Can Qualify?
- You must be 18 or over, and:
- You must identify as a woman (or other gender minority)
- And/or you must identify as Black, Chicano/Latino, Pacific Islander or Native American
How do I apply?
- Go to apply.devbootcamp.com to start your application and select "I qualify for the Dev Bootcamp + YesWeCode Scholarship Fund"
- Once your Dev Bootcamp application is submitted, you’ll be directed to complete the "Dev Bootcamp + YesWeCode Scholarship Application"
- Complete the interview prep instructions and schedule your Dev Bootcamp interview! (note: Applicants will be notified of their admissions status within 24 hours of completing their interview. You must be accepted into the program to qualify for the scholarship)
- Scholarship recipients will be notified on May 1st
To learn more about our efforts to promote greater diversity within our organization and the tech community at large, please visit our Diversity page.
On March 27th and 28th, hope will turn into action in Detroit, Michigan, as msnbc, #YesWeCode, and Ford host a special Growing Hope event at the Ford STEAM Lab. Here, 100 students from five Detroit-area middle will participate in a two-day “hackathon”. They’ll have a chance to learn computer programming skills that help pave the way towards high-tech education and careers.
The tech products the students create at the hackathon will be judged by a high-profile panel, and over $30,000 in scholarships will be awarded. The panel will include Stephen Henderson, Pulitzer Prize-winning Editorial Page Editor of the Detroit Free Press and co-host of Detroit Today on WDET, and Van Jones, #YesWeCode founder and environmental and civil rights advocate.
msnbc will present a special live broadcast from the event, hosted by Joy Reid, on March 27th at 2pm ET. Join us as we explore the remarkable work of young people who represent the hope and ingenuity that is essential to the continued revival of Detroit.
It’s been a historic week for #YesWeCode!
On Monday, The White House officially announced its TechHire Initiative, which includes:
#YesWeCode’s commitment to raising and delivering $10 million in scholarships for 2,000 underserved minorities across the nation, to attend coding bootcamps over the next ten years.
#YesWeCode's plan to launch a national job-training pilot in Oakland, California in 2015. Through this pilot, we will design a 9-month, industry-driven model to successfully prepare students from low-opportunity backgrounds for careers as software engineers.
#YesWeCode’s partnership with celebrities, athletes, tech and political leaders, and other influencers, to support the mission of #YesWeCode to find, finance, and encourage 100,000 non-traditional students to become top-level coders.
TechHire is a bold multi-sector initiative of the White House. It aims to empower Americans with the skills they need through universities, community colleges, high-quality online courses — as well as nontraditional approaches like “coding boot camps”, to secure well-paying jobs. Read the full White House Fact Sheet here.
Click below to watch an excerpt from President Obama’s TechHire announcement:
"At a time when we all lead digital lives, anybody who has the drive and the will to get into this field should have a way to do so, a pathway to do so." - President Obama
Spread the good news! Please share this tweet:
- For @WhiteHouseOSTP #TechHire initiative, #YesWeCode will target diverse communities for careers in tech! http://bit.ly/1GCrdj3