Black Churches Are Introducing Coding Classes to Their Communities and Beyond

Youth minister Kian Alavi teaches coding to 9-year-old Kimberly Ceras (center) at Calvary Hill Community Church. Photo: Amy Osborne, Special To The Chronicle
Youth minister Kian Alavi teaches coding to 9-year-old Kimberly Ceras (center) at Calvary Hill Community Church. Photo: Amy Osborne, Special To The Chronicle

The smartwatch on the little girl’s wrist is off by about four hours. She’s not sure how to fix it, but that’s OK. She only uses it to count her steps.

In the three-bedroom home she shares with six people in Daly City, there is no computer. There used to be one, the 9-year-old said, but her parents sold it.

Just a few years ago, Kimberly Ceras learned English at school. Now, she’s learning coding at church.

The soon-to-be fourth-grader was the first in her class to finish building her own website — a simple riff on Facebook’s original wall format, complete with a profile picture and messages she and others can post — in Calvary Hill Community Church’s summer coding camp.

The Bayview neighborhood, one of the first in the country to host free coding classes for members of the congregation and surrounding community, is being used as a model for a national initiative to bring technology training to historically black churches.

The project — dubbed FaithTech2020 by Jesse Jackson, whose Rainbow Push Coalition is leading the effort — begins this month with five churches. One is in Chicago; one is in Jackson’s hometown of Greenville, S.C.; and three are in the Bay Area: Calvary Hill in San Francisco, Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church in Richmond and Greater St. Paul Church in Oakland’s Uptown neighborhood.

The idea is that by setting up classes and computer labs in community churches, black and Latino congregants are more likely to participate in classes and learn skills like coding. That, Jackson has said, will promote economic mobility and change the lives of those who otherwise may not have the resources to learn computer skills.

Jackson and others involved hope this solves two big problems facing the tech industry: diversifying its largely white and male workforce, and filling a growing demand for software engineers and developers.

“Technology is an important industry, and an important place where wealth is being made,” said Shawn Drost, co-founder of Hack Reactor, a San Francisco programming school that provides volunteer coding instructors to FaithTech churches. “There’s opportunities and it’s a growth sector, and that’s of enormous value to people, particularly in the Bay Area. … There’s about a half million open jobs right now for software engineers and the hope is, with some training, the people living in these communities can learn computer programming and help fill those jobs.”

Pressure on tech companies to disclose the ethnic and racial makeup of their workforces and boost their diversity has grown over the past several years, as companies have revealed that a disproportionate number of their engineers and executives are white or Asian men. A lack of differing perspectives, critics fear, could limit the products that companies create.

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Source: San Francisco Chronicle | Marissa Lang