World Trust

Engaging the Tech Sector in Racial Equity & Diversity Training

Posted by Lisa Abbott on January 20, 2015

We’ve written before about how Google and others in the tech sector have begun to HAckathon_Youthsee the value of racial equity education, and we are pleased to have an opportunity to directly support this evolution. Kalimah Priforce, CEO of Qeyno Labs in Oakland, California has asked World Trust to host a racial equity training session early next month for technologists from companies, such as Google, and Pandora, who will mentor youths through his Hackathon program.

The Importance of Diversity Activities in the Technology Sector

Priforce explains that techies live in a digital universe, not really taking the time to venture outside their exclusive community, which Priforce wryly likens to a bunch of young white boys hanging out in their garage. "It's hard to tell them that they need to let girls and folks of color in," he says. At the same time, he explains, "the technology sector has a legal and moral obligation to the global market. There is growing pressure to diversify."

There is also a need for greater understanding of systemic racism. In many cases, the technologists have had little interaction with people of color and need to develop a more empathetic approach to working with the youths they will mentor.

Racial justice educator Shakti Butler, President of World Trust adds: "Technologists aren't really unique in that way.  Most of us study, live, work and worship in fairly homogeneous environments of like-minded people. That can leave media and culture to shape our narrative about those who are different from us. Stereotypes we imbibe from our culture -- often unconsciously -- impact interpersonal relationships. Our goal is to inspire an expanded narrative, one that will support more productive, authentic mentoring relationships with the youth who enter the Hackathon program."

Butler and her team of facilitators will use the World Trust film Cracking the Codes as a catalyst for dialogue, learning -- and curiosity. Says Butler, "We want to inspire new questions. 'What keeps me from seeing a youth of color as tech's next genius?'"

Shakti Butler also believes that the training will effect how the participants view and interact with people of color in their workplace.

What is a Qeyno Labs Hackathon, Anyhow?

After the death of Trayvon Martin, Priforce found himself wondering if an app could somehow have saved the young man's life. This idea is the inspiration behind the Hackathons. Qenyo Labs gives young people with great ideas for apps that can solve social problems the chance to develop their idea with the help of experienced technologists.  Youth know about the problems they face, and at a Hackathon they are given the opportunity and tools to solve them. The goal, Priforce says, is "to make sure that kids who have dreams are connected to opportunities that support them."

Qeyno Labs has between 50-60 youths working on projects with 125-150 mentors. Last year, they produced three apps; they are slated to release 10 more in 2015.

Hackathon Trailblazers

The youths that Priforce's team of technologists mentor are called "trailblazers." Just one of these trailblazers is 15-year-old Victoria Pannell, who drove for 24 hours with her mother to attend the Qeyno Labs hackathon held at the 2014 Essence Festival in New Orleans.

Unable to afford the flight from Harlem to New Orleans and unable to present her anti-human trafficking app idea in time, Pannell made a video of her pitch on route to the festival and was greeted by a group of people already wanting to develop the app with her.

Kalimah Priforce's Motivation to Help Low Opportunity Youth

Just talking with Kalimah Priforce is inspiring. After growing up in a Brooklyn group home, he started his first computer tech company at the age of 16. Priforce explains that the death of his younger brother, shot behind their neighborhood elementary school in 2000, really motivated him to focus his energy on helping low opportunity youths to succeed in life.

"I always wanted to be an astronaut," Priforce said. "I thought my brother would just copy me and say he wanted to be an astronaut, too -- you know how little brothers are. But he told me he wanted to be a computer scientist. The reason he gave is, 'While you're up there in space, I can be down here taking care of you.'"

Ever since, Priforce has been committed to finding ways to use computer technology is as means of achieving social change. Through aggressive outreach and community building, he is creating a "tech-inclusion ecosystem" that links youths from disadvantaged backgrounds, their families, and their local communities to the technology sector. "Guiding high potential youth in low opportunity settings into STEM career pathways" is the mission behind Qeyno Labs.

Interested in Attending this World Trust Workshop?

This diversity training session for Qeyno Labs has openings for people in the San Francisco Bay Area who would like to get a better sense of how World Trust approaches racial equity and diversity training.

You can register for the free event, and get address & directions on this Eventbrite page. The session is Thursday, February 5, from 6:30 to 9:00 pm at Pandora Headquarters in downtown Oakland.

World Trust is a catalyst for change. By using the powerful combination of framing, film and dialogue in our diversity workshops, we get people thinking in new ways about systemic racism so that, collectively, we move toward racial equity. Contact us about a workshop at your institution:
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Topics: Diversity Workshop, Tech