Black Boys Code works to inspire a generation of young Black men to take control of their future by providing them with important training, skills, and tools to help them build a foundation for an educational path towards a career in the technology field. In this interview, Bryan Johnson, Founder and CEO at Black Boys Code, shares what sparked the idea behind his organization and the inclusive educational programming they have put in place to support this initiative.
When was Black Boys Code founded?
Black Boys Code was founded in 2015 at the Starbucks on 14th and Main Street in Vancouver. We now have chapters across Canada, spanning from Vancouver, to Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa, Toronto, Brampton, Hamilton, Windsor, Montreal and Halifax.
What inspired you to start Black Boys Code?
I started Black Boys Code because, throughout my career, I have worked in and around the technology sector. I always found I was the only Black person in the room. I have always thought of giving back or contributing to my community, but at that time I was not sure what shape that contribution would take.
After I left my last position and travelled for three months, I started looking for my next assignment. It was then that I thought of starting the organization. I had originally thought of this initiative as a three-month assignment before going into consulting. Here I am, 5 years later, with an organization with chapters in 10 cities across Canada and one in Atlanta GA.
Tell us more about the unique barriers Black boys face in their education and career development.
With Black people making up a mere 3% of employees in the technology field, Black boys have few role models in the sector to identify with. Paired with a significant barrier of systemic racism in the education system, and implicit bias in the workplace, the current climate makes it challenging for Black boys to gain a foothold in the modern economy.
We contribute to closing the diversity gap in the technology sector by equipping young Black men with the digital literacy skills needed to choose subjects and electives in their high school years that will put them on a path to careers in technology. Too many young Black boys do not believe that a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) career is an option for them — we work to show them they can succeed and thrive.
What programs does your organization offer?
Black Boys Code offers exposure workshops, hackathons, after-school programs, and Summer technology camps. All our workshops are led by Black male professionals who work in the technology sector, and who serve as mentors, role models, and inspiration for our boys. We empower young Black boys to take control of their futures by providing them with technology, digital literacy, and computer science training, as well as helping to strengthen their critical and creative thinking skills to help them thrive in a digital world. Our workshops and programs are inclusive educational spaces that inspire our boys to be tomorrow’s leaders and innovators.
How has your business been impacted since the start of COVID-19?
In the last eight months, we pivoted to offer our workshops online in response to the pandemic, and have successfully engaged over 1500 Black boys across the country in digital learning experiences. Additionally, we opened a new chapter in Windsor, Ontario to reach even more boys, and expand our programming to other parts of Canada.
In September, we celebrated our 5th anniversary with a fantastic virtual event featuring prominent Black speakers from the Canadian tech industry, a panel discussion on diversity in STEM, and several awards for boys who have participated in Black Boys Code programs.
How has Vancity supported you in running your own business?
“Our organization relies on generous personal and corporate donations. Vancity has helped us streamline this process so that we’re able to easily collect and access the necessary funds to facilitate our programs”.
The support from the team at the Main Street branch has been invaluable. From the time we created our business account and obtained our Vancity business credit card, to providing advice when we opened our first chapter in the United States, Vancity has been a supporter of Black Boys Code since the very beginning. Having a local financial institution be so supportive of the organization and our mission made it that much easier to get the project off the ground, and has helped allow us to grow over the past five years.
What is some advice for others thinking about starting their own business?
1. Find a reliable partner to work with you who shares your vision. The volume of work is overwhelming, and it’s good to have someone to share ideas with..
2. Take your time in hiring—fit is important.
3. You will make mistakes… many mistakes. Learn from your mistakes, not your successes.
4. Stay laser focused.
What are your plans for 2021?
- Launch a program for Black girls in Canada
- Establish more Black Boys Code chapters in the US
Where can people get in touch and learn more about your organization?
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