Meka Egwuekwe believes the prosperous cities of the future will have the greatest base of tech talent. The mission of CodeCrew, a Memphis nonprofit organization he is executive director of and helped found along with Audrey Jones-Willis and Petya Grady in 2015, strives to change the narrative for the Bluff City.
CodeCrew addresses the city’s digital skills gap by mentoring underrepresented kids to be tech innovators and leaders. CodeCrew provides in-depth computer science training to the community’s children; serves as a resource for parents, educators and others looking to address the skills gap; and raises awareness about diversity in tech and how computer science education can play a role in lifting the city’s prosperity.
“We looked at Memphis and said not only are we behind as a city in this regard but our largest demographic is the most underrepresented in this space,” Egwuekwe said. “How can we be a prosperous 21st century city if our largest demographic is woefully underrepresented in these careers? If we change that, it will be transformational for them as individuals, their families and our city as a whole.”
It’s a lofty mission, but one Egwuekwe strongly believes his team can accomplish. It all started in 2015 as part of a tech mentoring partnership with the Memphis Grizzlies Foundation. A pilot program included a one-day workshop, six-week digital code camp and a two-day hackathon. CodeCrew has grown to offer in-school classes in eight classrooms across six Memphis schools, as well as twelve after school programs now. An internship program also started in 2017 that places high school juniors in local tech companies where they receive pay and exposure to real-world problems.
The internship idea came from watching one YouTube-obsessed student who went through CodeCrew programs and developed an interest in writing apps. She needed a next step in her personal development and needed an opportunity to apply her knowledge and skills in professional way. While coding is a valuable skill, Egwuekwe believes it’s equally vital for today’s youth to understand how to apply the skill and produce usable technology, as well.
Future efforts include a six-month boot camp school for young adults that starts this summer. The focus is on under- and unemployed high school graduates ages 16 to 30. At the end of the six months, the participants will be ready for entry-level software engineering positions. It is based on a similar coding academy in Water Valley, Mississippi. The first class had 11 graduates, all of whom were offered jobs at various companies, including FedEx.
“When Workforce Investment Network shared that model with us I visited it myself and knew this was something we can use in Memphis,” Egwuekwe said. “I worked it out with them to take their model and bring it to Memphis. We can have success.”
There is much potential in the coming years. Egwuekwe points to a Seeding Success estimate that the Memphis area has 30,000 young people who are classified as Opportunity Youth, those who are between 16 and 24 and aren’t working or in school. It’s CodeCrew’s mission to convert some of those young people into tech professionals who stay in Memphis. Donations help further the organization’s work, and individuals, foundations and companies can make donations simply by visiting code-crew.org.
photos courtesy of FedEx
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