by Janel Martinez - BlackEnterprise.com
Seeking to mobilize technophiles in hacks that further Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s values, Black Techies joined forces with Tumblr to organize the MLK Dream Code Hackathon. Beginning the morning of January 18, the 30-plus-hour coding event attracted a mixed crowd of approximately 30 programming newbies and seasoned developers, graphic and interface designers, and engineers, among others to Tumblr headquarters in the Flatiron District in New York City’s Silicon Alley. In true collaborative spirit, organizations such as All Star Code, Blacks in Tech and Silicon Harlem showed their support for Black Techies’ first overnight event.
MLK Dream Code organizer Kyle Wanamaker addresses hackers at Tumblr headquarters(Image: Kevin Steck)
The brainchild of Tumblr engineer Kyle Wanamaker, Black Techies was birthed in 2011 in response to the lack of tech startup founders and techies of color at meetups. In an effort to diversify the space, specifically engineering, Wanamaker founded Black Techies to create a comfortable landscape where programmers could build and learn from one another.
“If you’re in an environment where you’re the only Black programmer, it’s really tough to say, ‘Hold up! I don’t understand this,’ because you don’t want to be seen as incompetent,” said Wanamaker to BlackEnterprise.com. “I wanted there to be a safe place for people to learn, for people to admit sort of what they don’t know, and to build a community of learning and mentorship and entrepreneurship so that hopefully in the next 10-15 years, we can create wealth through startups and have an intellectual vision that’s going to come through technology.”
Wanamaker’s vision was evident during the weekend event, where seven teams hacked it out in the name of social good.
Web developer Georgianna Pinto and team members created Our Black Box, a site that would visualize statistics like graduation rates, the wealth gap, and other data involving the African-American demographic via an interactive map. The sextet envisioned an online portal that housed this data so that solutions can be made. As Pinto phrased it, the platform would highlight the small marches in your community that you can participate in.
“Dr. King went around from church to church spreading his message, trying to bring people together to act on one thing. I think this is a new age way to do that in that it’s creating that same awareness,” said Pinto on Our Black Box’s ability to mobilize change. Her team won first place in the social justice category.
Another group, Hiro Sitzin, worked on a volunteer voting app that would provide “easy-to-follow, nonpartisan registration guidelines for employees and volunteers of nonprofits,” according to the team description. Down the line, the team of three would like to build in training within the app that would ensure each user is approved to act as a volunteer.
The hackathon win went to Sponsibil, a Yelp-meets-Kickstarter platform for social good. The team of five designed a site that would allow visitors to pinpoint community issues (think: subway system issues, streetlight problems, etc.), and, ultimately, gain the attention of government officials. The grand prize winners each took home a Roku 3 and Wanamaker will donate $500 to the charity of their choice, which will be matched by Yahoo!, totaling $1000.
Local Greens, which aims to combat food deserts and find affordable, fresh produce based on one’s zipcode, won the “Best Use of Tumblr” category.
With all the innovation developed during the weekend event, Wanamaker is pleased at the turnout and looking forward to the work that will stem from the connections made.
“To me, I see this as a connector of talent…as they say, you are the strength of your network.”
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