MEMPHIS, Tenn. — It’s no secret. The digital divide in Memphis is massive.
Many minority children and young girls don’t always have access to the internet, a computer or eventually high-tech jobs.
But grassroots groups are working to slowly close the divide and spark an interest with underrepresented children in high-tech jobs.
For decades, many children growing up in communities such as Binghampton have been surrounded by blight, crime, and poverty, and a perception of little hope.
But inside the Lester Community Center on Tillman Street, those perceptions are being deleted. It seems what’s on these computer screens could lead some children out of poverty.
13-year-old Chanille Williams is from the inner-city and proud to be young and geeky.
“You are on the computer, and you’re breaking code stuff. It’s fun, and I like being on the computer,” Williams said.
With the help of instructors, these children are learning to decipher coding.
Teens such as Amy Zhou want to develop Android apps.
“So we can learn from each other. All of these different minorities, we come together in that room, and it’s very diverse,” Zhou said.
This after school and summer camp program isn’t just serving poor black children but also underrepresented Latinos and Asian-American children in Memphis.
It’s called Code Crew.
“Code Crew is an organization where we do tech mentorships,” Audrey Jones is the co-founder of Code Crew.
“We have children who are underrepresented in the city, drastically underrepresented and they’re not getting exposure to computer science in schools for various reasons,” Jones said.
Jones grew up in poverty in South Memphis. She got into coding when MySpace was at its peak. She did it so well it caught the attention of her employer’s IT department, and she made it her career.
“Low and behold it was something special and I’ve been in it ever since,” Jones said.
But according to a recent census bureau, the number of minorities and women in the tech industry is small.
Laney Strange is the executive director of Code Crew.
“Imagine if they have jobs in a stem field or something related and they have the capacity to lift themselves out of poverty or to make more money than a generation ago, and they bring that to their neighborhoods,” Strange said.
Code Crew doesn’t just have people talking in Memphis, but also across the pond in the United Kingdom as others try to find out about the secret to its success.
last year the British Broadcasting Corporation came to Memphis to produce a story called Young, Geeky and Black in Memphis.
“(BBC reporter) The BBC, in a city like Memphis, people are racking their brains like how can we make this happen for more people,” BBC reporter asked in a radio interview.
In fact, the BBC featured two grassroots groups: Code Crew and Black Girls Code. Black Girls Code’s national organization was started in 2011 to encourage more minority women into Stem careers. Their girls learn how to code and build and program small robots.
“It’s changing their lives. It’s an amazing story to tell, and Memphis is right in the center of it,” Strange said.
The programs are sparking children to be interested in high-tech careers.
“It’s important for women to be involved in engineering like myself,” Zhou said.
“I am going to be on computers and tell people about it, like a class and like this,” Williams said.
It’s inner-city children deciphering the code out of poverty in Memphis.
“It’s fulfilling because I know we’re making a change here in Memphis,” Jones said.
The Code Crew program is sponsored by the Memphis Grizzlies. It has worked so well the NBA’s Utah Jazz contacted Code Crew about starting a similar program in Utah.