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GREENWOOD DIST., Okla. — Students from Historic Greenwood District and across the city of Tulsa came together to create their own robotics projects during Black Futures Hackathon on Monday, as local organizations seek to build the next generation of coders, programmers and tech leaders.
Urban Coders Guild, a Black-owned nonprofit that develops tech talent, teamed up with software engineering school Holberton Tulsa to launch the “Black Futures Hackathon” in honor of Black History Month.
From 6th graders to high school seniors, a diverse group of nearly 50 students spent 12 hours learning how to create and control a robotic car. Three teams took home first, second and third place prizes.
“It has been tremendous,” Urban Coders Guild founder and Executive Director Mikeal Vaughn told The Black Wall Street Times as students took a lunch break on Monday.
“We’re exposing kids to STEM, exposing them to tech and computer science. But I need them to internalize a certain sense of confidence and a certain sense of community,” he added.
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For Vaughn, it’s about more than simply teaching kids a new skill. It’s about teaching them life skills that they can take to any profession even if tech isn’t what they end up choosing.
Don’t get it twisted, though. Vaughn sees an opportunity to shift a new generation of Black and other marginalized youth into one of the fastest-growing and most lucrative industries in the world.
Tulsa’s Black Wall Street community is quickly morphing into Black Tech Street, as leaders like Greenwood descendant Tyrance Billingsley III reimagine the future of the Historic Greenwood District.
“Black Wall Street was about two key things. It was about collaboration and wealth building,” Billingsley said at a panel during Black Wall Street Legacy Fest last year. Recently featured in Forbes, Billingsley launched Black Tech Street, an initiative that aids Black entrepreneurs in the community.
The community also seeks to create a tech ecosystem to support these self-starters as more tech companies move to Tulsa, hoping to establish a new Silicon Valley in the Midwest.
For Mikeal Vaughn of Urban Coders Guild, it’s a dream with concrete steps toward becoming a reality. The median annual wage for computer and technology occupations was $97,430 in 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“And one of the things that we discovered thinking about the largest tech ecosystem in Tulsa, is that if we are able to move 2,197 Black Tulsans, who are currently making $30,000, the median income, into a role that pays above $60,000, then we would effectively close the median income gap in the city,” Vaughn previously told The Black Wall Street Times.
Black Futures Hackathon prepares next generation
Throughout the Black Futures Hackathon, students broke up into groups as they went from learning the basics of computer processing to constructing robotic hardware.
For Urban Coders Guild participant and sixth grader T’Kai Dobbins, the event was challenging but rewarding.
“I feel that it’s gonna be a little bit complicated because he said that the pieces are small, and I also think it’s gonna be fun because I’ve never built a robot before,” Dobbins told The Black Wall Street Times ahead of the robotics competition.
High school sophomore Adolfo Gonzalez was also excited to participate in the event after learning it involved coding. While students in his group were nervous at first, once they got to know each other, their creative coding abilities shot off like a rocket.
“I think in the beginning it was kind of anxious,” Gonzalez told The Black Wall Street Times. “But you actually got better over time because you got to know each other,” he said about his group.
Moving forward, he wants a career in coding. “I’m interested in that right now. I think I’m going to go to Tulsa Tech for it,” he said.
“Tilling the soil”
Organizers of the event were intentional in their ambitions to create the next generation of Black and BIPOC enterpreneurs and inventors.
Mai Cazenave is a high school recruiter for Holberton School who attended Black Futures Hackathon.
“I believe that Holberton is actually really doing their part to open doors to actually create opportunities for children of Color to be able to come in and say hey, you know what, I can see myself there,” Cazenave told The Black Wall Street Times on Monday.
“Whoever thought that you know, the person who invented the gas mask, Garret Morgan” would still be relevant today, she said. For organizers of the Black Futures Hackathon, it’s all about envisioning the next generation of Black excellence.
“We’re definitely tilling the soil to have them be the next innovator,” Cazenave said.