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5th Annual Benefit Celebrates the Success of All Star Code

By Dr. Nathasha Brooks-Harris


Over $900,000 was recently raised for All Star Code’s technical entrepreneurial program for young males of color. In excess of $300,000 of that amount was raised live at the 5thannual summer benefit in an auction and live appeal. The benefit honored Van Jones, CNN political commentator and president and founder of the nonprofit Dream Corps and Reshma Saujani, the founder and CEO of Girls Who Code. Held on the grounds of the Lewis Residence in East Hampton, New York, 350 attendees lauded the efforts of All Star Code, the nonprofit organization for young men of color that prepares them for a career, entrepreneurship or education in the technical fields. The All Star Code program has successfully developed 290 students over the past five years, 150 of them in the 2018 cohorts in New York City and Pittsburgh.

Cole Mattox, Christina Lewis

David Dinkins

Mistress of ceremonies and award-winning journalist Soledad O’Brien contended, “The 5thAnnual All Star Code Benefit was the biggest All Star Code ever!” O’Brien could barely contain her excitement about the very meaningful program as she explained to the attendees that 95% of All Star Code students go to college—with a third of that population enrolling in top colleges and universities. She further explained that 84% of All Star Code alums major in technology subjects. “By 2020, 1.4 million jobs will be in the tech fields, an industry that is the fastest-growing profession,” O’Brien underscored.

The highlight of the evening was the fireside chat with Van Jones, Reshma Saujani, and Soledad O’Brien where they discussed the significance of the All Star Code program and how it informs the rapidly growing technology fields. Saujani discussed how she ran Girls Who Code, a coding program for girls, and how she suggested the idea that boys should be introduced to coding as well. She broached that idea to Christina Lewis, the founder and CEO of All Star Code, not long after their introduction.

Van Jones shared an interesting and unexpected tidbit of information. He credited the late entertainer Prince for getting him started with coding. Jones reminisced about how Prince couldn’t understand how and why black kids wearing hoodies were seen as thugs, while white kids wearing hoodies were seen as Mark Zuckerberg. “When we called on behalf of Barack Obama, calls were returned in three to four minutes; but when we called on behalf of Prince, the calls were returned in three to four seconds,” Jones recounted. Witnessing the influence and platform that Prince had was enough to convince Jones to do his part in the coding arena. “People seen as the bad guys could be the best problem-solvers if given the means to do so,” Jones asserted.

Reshma Saujani, Soledad O’Brien, Van Jones

Saujani briefly shared her six-year journey of building Girls Who Code into 90,000 girls over 50 states. She gave kudos to President Obama because of his involvement in the program and beamed about his having written a personal note to the girls. “However, everything is different because President Trump changed the name of the initiative to Kids Who Code and we had a different conversation,” Saujani explained. “Kids from private schools and homeless shelters have equal chance to get a job at Facebook.”

Throughout the evening, the attendees had the opportunity to meet some of the students of the All Star Code program and experience their technological creations at interactive stations.  There were apps such as DASH, an app designed by Fuad Hossain that allows food shoppers to pre-scan their groceries for a faster checkout to a think tank where participants challenged themselves to test and troubleshoot ideas in real time. Designed by Leighton Watson and Kevin Prempeh, this was exciting to watch as their ideas unfolded right before us. There was also a game called Let’s Get Fysical in which the participants got physical and challenged their brains to dodge various cyber obstacles. Designed by Alexis Reyes and Javaun Salmon, this game was a true test of eye-hand and motor coordination. The demonstrations and observations of the students’ completed projects at the interactive stations pointed up their ability to professionally apply the skills they had learned in the All Star Code program.

Another high point of the evening was the alumni speech given by Cole Mattox, now the CEO and founder of North Tabor Capital and a student at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Undergraduate Business Program. Mattox spoke eloquently about his tenure in the All Star Code program and how it prepared him for entrepreneurship and college. He even described how he participated in the All Star Code’s Summer Intensive at Goldman-Sachs and couldn’t speak to do a presentation because he had a medical issue with his palate. Mattox found a way to communicate non-verbally and “celebrate failure.” He said that the room erupted in applause. That celebration of failure—what layman would consider making lemonade when given lemons—is a concept that was confirmation of what Loida Nicholas Lewis, a Benefit co-chair had stated earlier was one of All Star Code’s main philosophies. Lewis emphasized that students in the program don’t shy away from failure and things not working out the way they planned. Instead, they embrace them and turn any negatives into positives.

To date, 290 young men of color have participated in 15 cohorts over the past five years. There is an additional eight cohorts this summer. Over 2300 applications were received for the Summer Intensive Program. Currently, 150 students are enrolled in the highly competitive tech program in the 2018 cohorts in New York City and Pittsburgh. The purpose of the All Star Code is to educate young men of color in computer science and teach them technical entrepreneurship that will empower them with the skills they need to be successful in the technology field.

Catered by celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson and Red Rooster, this benefit was a rousing success due to brisk fundraising, and All Star Code is well on its way to graduating 450 students through its Summer Intensive by the end of 2018. Because of the funds raised and effective efforts made through the All Star Code program, young men of color will be included in entrepreneurial and educational opportunities in the technical field that they would have not have otherwise been exposed to without this incredible initiative.



About the Author

New York Trend is a weekly news publication that focuses on issues and lifestyles of the African & Caribbean American communities throughout the New York metropolitan area and Nassau and Suffolk Counties of Long Island. It is a respected and well recognized news publication that has been in existence since 1989. Owner, Publisher and Executive Director, Dr. Teresa Taylor Williams has been at the helm of this award-winning publication since its inception. New York Trend continues to be the only black woman-owned, metropolitan newspaper in New York and Long island. New York Trend is the largest black-owned newspaper throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties.

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