#YesWeCode Essence Fest 2014

Over the Fourth of July weekend, I had a front row seat to an amazing show in New Orleans.  There were fireworks involved, but they weren’t in the sky or on a stage (sorry Prince). The light display I saw was fueled by sparks of genius and innovation from the hundreds of boys and girls of color participating in a hackathon and computer science activities at the Essence Festival.

Sponsored, in part, by the Kapor Center for Social impact, the 72-hour #YesWeCode Hackathon brought together youth ages 8-18 from across the country to train and test their tech coding skills. Orchestrated by Qeyno Labs, the #YesWeCode hackathon resulted in 12 different app ideas executed by a combination of adult mentors and youth. In addition to the hackathon, the Kapor Center was proud to sponsor four Oakland-based youth coding organizations (Black Girls Code, Hack the Hood, Hidden Genius Project, and Level Playing Field Institute) to participate in #YesWeCode activities.

It was exciting to watch the teams ideate, brainstorm, and collaborate on innovative apps. The youngest coder and team leader I spotted was an 8-year old girl who’d participated in other hackathons already. The first place best overall winner, Gluco Reader, won $5,000 and all of the groups received $1,000 for their participation.

In conjunction with Rebuild the Dream’s #YesWeCode hackathon, there was a #YesWeCode Tech Village, featuring 16 coding and technology organizations from around the country, including those sponsored by the Kapor Center. Held on the main floor of the New Orleans Morial Convention Center, the Tech Village provided information to thousands of Essence Festival attendees about coding and tech programming available to minority youth.

The Kapor team was also involved in other events, including POWERMOVE NOLA’s Angel Liberty Bank Pitch Competition, where Kapor Capital Investment Associate Brian Dixon served as ajudge.   Brian also conducted a mentoring session on “How to raise VC funding” at the TechStars Rising Star program.

Events like these are are not only important for the boys and girls who created their own apps and computer code for the hackthons, but also for those who supported, stopped by, and witnessed the talent and passion of these youth that is often underreported in the media.

Our hope is that efforts like these that are focused on elevating minorities underrepresented in technology can become the highlight of events like the Essence Festval, taking the main stage as opposed to happening primarily behind the scenes.  We are very proud of the youth and the organizations that were represented in New Orleans as part of this tech movement, and we look forward to more events like these to come.


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