Kwanzaa in the spring? Counter-intuitive but correct. The “conscious” alternative to runaway Christmas consumerism, Kwanzaa is a Kiswahili word whose literal meaning is the first fruits of the harvest. The ALL STAR CODE (ASC) organization had its “first fruits” on display at a swanky red carpet reception in the shadow of the Highline.
Their invaluable “harvest” consists of Brown and Black young men who are entering the worlds of business and technology. They learned the basics of computer coding through ASC, added their own untapped creativity, and free-styled various business and/or technology possibilities. As a result, they have developed new computer applications that will soon be available in an Initial Public Offering (IPO) near you.
Slightly more than a dozen of the all Stars, lap top computers in hand, gave explanations and demonstrations of the web “apps” they conceptualized and the web sites that display their work. Some were playful, some educational, but they all demonstrated the ability of neighborhood youth (AKA at risk, disconnected, underachieving, etc.) to literally and figuratively take care of business.
ASC’s agenda is based on research showing that less than 10% of tech industry staff members are Afro-American or Afro-Latino. And that less than 1% of venture capital-funded tech startup businesses have a Brown or Black founding team member.
This should be unacceptable to all segments of American society. In addition to its damage in the community, America cannot compete with other nations if every member of its “team” cannot get on the field.
As we observed at the recent Winter Olympics, where little Norway slammed America in the medal count, we can’t leave technology (or bobsled racing) to the Silicon Valley/country club types. ASC is expanding the talent search, taking a chance on populations that usually get ignored. The potential payoff is huge, both personally and geopolitically. For the student, new career pathways are created. For our country, we can become more competitive in the international economic and scientific worlds.
All Star code was the brainchild of Ms. Christina Lewis Halpern, the gazillionaiare daughter of the late Reginald F. Lewis. He was the long-time CEO of Beatrice International Foods, the wealthiest African American for much of the 1980’s, and first brother to head a Billion dollar enterprise. He co-wrote a well-received autobiography entitled “Why Should White Guys Have All the Fun: How Reginald Lewis Created a Billion Dollar Business Empire.”
Ms. Halpern was an accomplished writer before starting ASC. She was appointed to the board of her father’s self-named foundation when she was 12 years old, a few weeks before his transition to ancestor status. After a rough period, she has embraced her father’s legacy, her son Calvin Reginald Lewis Halpern, and her commitment to ASC.
Ms. Halpern points out that the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields of study and commerce will be the backbones of 21st-century economic growth. ASC is taking concrete steps to make sure that our young men can leap over any gaps in their basic education, access to digital technology, or exposure to the world of business.
The heart of ASC is its Summer Intensive, whose 2018 version runs from July 9 – August 17. The summer program places groups of students with some of the country’s leading tech firms. Last year’s participating corporate partners included Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan Chase, Major League Baseball (MLB), Cisco, and Facebook.
Why MLB one might ask. Because it’s about technology and business. The Yankees and the Mets are part of a multi-billion dollar technology business. People are making good (great, actually) livings by conceptualizing, programming, and maintaining those jumbo-tron screens – with the kiss cams, the blooper reels, the super slow-motion replays, etc. In high definition of course. Why shouldn’t our young men get the opportunity to revolutionize the sports media/tech game in the same way that earlier pioneers (Bill Russell, Julius Erving in basketball,) (Paul Robeson, Colin Kaepernick in football,) and (Jackie Robinson/Curt Flood in baseball) changed the games they played. (Editor’s note; just google them)
Over the course of the summer intensive, the All-Stars learn the basics of coding, programming, and Web site design/maintenance. In addition they acquire the non-tech skills that are necessary for success – things like teamwork, networking, developing a business mindset, and a business plan. Once these elements are understood and internalized, the sky is literally the limit.
The level of math instruction, understanding, and achievement are at all-time lows in New York City public schools. According to last year’s high stakes testing exercises, barely half of all 3rd-8th grade students are at acceptable levels of math achievement. And for the non-white majority of public school students, less than one in three can do the basics. An early grasp of math and science are the easiest pathways to the STEM-related fields. But the public schools are failing to provide the needed conceptual foundations for progress.
This crisis situation increases the importance of out-of-school efforts by ASC and others. By the time the complex political and social issues blocking quality education are resolved, it may be too late for the generations of children now in failing schools. Their futures can’t wait while the unions, the charter school profiteers, and the politicians fight over the multi-billion dollar education budget.
In this context, ASC is the right program at the right time. Their leaders seem to think that everyone should get a chance at a technology- or knowledge-based career. That even if you don’t excel at the reading comprehension and multiple choice skills stressed in the public school curriculum, you may have the capacity to excel in hands-on learning. That if you are interested, motivated, disciplined, and well-taught
most students can learn to design, implement, and administer a technology-based business.
What a revolutionary idea. It’s so simple that the public education bureaucrats are slow to figure it out. That’s why we can’t wait for them.
And what about the sisters? According to Ms. Halpern, there are other programs (www.blackgirlscode.com for example) that address their needs. She feels that working with young men is an important niche to fill.
ASC doesn’t use GPA’s or standardized test scores to screen out interested participants. Your commitment to your own future and willingness to work hard are the tickets to admission. Whether you are a “C” student or an “A” student, it will involve hard work, commitment, and patience. But for the non-techie student, this is a backdoor gateway into a rewarding field of study. These opportunities are too few, but needed.
For more information, and to get ready for next year’s application cycle, visit the site; http://www.allstarcode.org/