BlackGirlsCode hacks away at the geeky white guy stereotype.

Bridging the Digital Divide


Kimberly Bryant

Courtesy BlackGirlsCode

Kimberly Bryant of San Francisco is hoping to shape the next Mark Zuckerberg or Sergey Brin, but in her mind, this new tech superstar looks a lot like her daughter.

As the founder of BlackGirlsCode, a nonprofit group that creates public workshops to teach girls of color computer coding and promote STEM education, Bryant has spent the last two years traveling the nation trying to break the “geeky white guy” stereotype of the tech industry. Through workshops and summer courses, Bryant and her team of volunteers teach minority girls ages 9 to 14 how to create websites and develop mobile apps.

Based out of Impact Hub Oakland, BlackGirlsCode started in 2011 when Bryant (who has a degree in electrical engineering) was looking for coding summer courses for her videogame-obsessed daughter, then a student at Julia Morgan School for Girls. (She now attends Bishop O’Dowd.) The class was extremely expensive, and there were barely any young girls of color enrolled.

Bryant saw a golden opportunity to change that experience for young girls like her daughter and minimize the digital divide. In October 2011 BGC held its first web design class in the Bayview District in San Francisco. Within days of the event, Bryant knew she was on the right track as word spread.

“The great benefit of teaching girls is that girls like to pass things along to other girls,” says Bryant, who was flooded with calls after the first event from parents whose daughters had heard about the event and were looking to find out how they could participate. “We saw we could expand our reach beyond the Bay Area.”

BGC has gown to nearly a dozen domestic chapters and one in Johannesburg, South Africa. Requests for chapter memberships are coming in every day, says Brant, whose mission is to teach a million girls by 2040.

This summer BGC held events and established mentoring programs in New York, Atlanta, and Chicago. There also was a weeklong mobile app workshop held at La Escuelita Elementary School in Oakland, were 24 young girls from all over the Bay Area worked in teams to design and launch their own Android app. They held a similar event at DeVry University in City Center in October.

“We want to change the whole conver-sation of coding not just with girls and not just with people of color,” Bryant says, adding that partnerships with local businesses Zendesk and RackSpace have helped open up the conversation about the digital divide.

“Seventy-five of our students or more don’t have access to their own computer at home,” says Bryant, adding that many BGC students take what they learned to their school labs.

In May, BCG partnered with Latino Startup Alliance, a San Francisco organization that promotes tech entrepreneurship in the Latino community, and hosted a Spanish one-day web design workshop in the Mission District that targeted both kids and their parents.

“Parents are a key motivating factor to keep those girls engaged,” Bryant explains. “A lot of parents that brought students didn’t have a tech background but wanted to provide something for their children.”

Bryant believes empowering parents and girls with digital literacy helps bridge families and communities. “We need to push for more digital inclusion.”

Her hard work to create digital inclusion has not gone unnoticed, earning her the Champion of Change for Tech Inclusion honor from the White House and the Digital Vanguard Award from Women Interactive.

While BGC is growing, Bryant is still committed to assisting young girls of color in the Bay Area.

“Girls and the youth of Oakland have so much potential,” says Bryant, who hopes that BCG’s work in Oakland will also draw attention to the need for upgraded computers and software. “I really love Oakland and have made a commitment to Hub Oakland.”

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