Last weekend I had the honor and pleasure of serving as a mentor for the #YesWeCode Hackathon in New Orleans during Essence Festival on July 3-6. #YesWeCode is a nonprofit initiative of Van Jones’ organization, Rebuild the Dream, which aims to train 100,000 coders who are high potential youth from low opportunity communities. The initiative was born of his observation that Mark Zuckerberg’s hoodie is a status symbol, but Trayvon Martin’s hoodie made him perceived as a thug.
This hackathon, hosted by Qeyno Labs, was a historical, transformative experience for a number of reasons. This was the first-ever hackathon held at Essence Festival, coinciding with the 20th anniversary of the festival. More fabulously, the hackathon had vocal public support from Prince, who headlined the festival commemorating the 30th anniversary ofPurple Rain. Youth from New Orleans and as far afield as New York and Florida arrived at the convention center to explore coding not only as a career opportunity but also a way to explore problem solving through building products and businesses in just under 4 days.
Who are some of the young female talented founders from this monumental event? Take a look at a few of the female-led teams and their disruptive ideas and learn about their post-hackathon plans.
YouMe: Najah Smith
YouMe is the mental health and healing resource app that supports teens and young adults by giving resources and inspiration to cope with trauma. Founder Najah Smith is a 17-year-old rising sophomore at Dillard University coping with the aftermath of two shootings in her family: Her brother who was shot in the head last year and survived and the death of her cousin in 2006.
Smith is not alone, as more than 20 percent of teenagers have witnessed a shooting, and many more know a friend or family member who has been shot. She plans to continue building “something that would strengthen, motivate, and help ones who have been hurt from trauma.” For updates, join the YouMe Facebook community.
Write My Essay: Empris Durden
Write My Essay is a comprehensive resource for college applicants, combining essay writing assistance and a database of college scholarships. Founder Empris Durden is a 19-year-old student at Washington University in St. Louis who has a full ride merit scholarship and stipend.
The app features the methodology that Durden developed to deviate from the trend in ballooning college student debt; the class of 2014 had the largest college debt in American history. She is hoping to find a “web app developer and a UI/UX designer” to continue developing the app.
Potluck: Alexandria Cooper
Winning the prize for best design, Potluck is an app that connects families and individuals in New Orleans with access, education and involvement with local community gardeners, farmers and other fresh food resources.
Founder Alexandria Cooper from Memphis highlighted the importance of the app for New Orleans: an estimated 100,000 people live in food deserts or urban areas without affordable or good-quality access to fresh food after Hurricane Katrina hit the city in 2005. By facilitating the connection between the supply of surplus produce and demand for healthy food, Potluck aims to solve this problem by creating an oasis in the midst of neighborhood food deserts. New Orleans is not the only city plagued by food deserts, with over 13 million Americans affected.
STOP: Victoria Pannell
Not one to be stopped by transportation obstacles, 15-year-old Victoria Pannell pitched STOP, or the Sex Trafficking Operations Prevention app, through a cell phone video from a car driving from New York to New Orleans.
STOP is a platform that empowers people to blow the whistle on the atrocities of child sex trafficking, connecting potential and current victims to support services such as the Polaris Project. Pannell first learned of child sex trafficking when she portrayed a victim for a public service announcement for change.org. She is moving full speed ahead with continuing development, stating that “if STOP rescues 1 girl being trafficked, puts a trafficker in prison or brings home a missing child, it was worth developing.”
Other female-led teams not photographed include ClothesMatch and Random Acts. ClothesMatch is an app for teenage girls in foster care that connects them to people donating clothing, building their self esteem, reducing the environmental impact of clothing waste and providing access to market research on fashion trends among teenage girls all in a single app. Random Acts is a social video app that uses competition and public voting to make fun wagers on acts of kindness and harmless pranks.
Tech may cause a bit of innovation fatigue, but #YesWeCode and Qeyno Labs have shown that they see these hackathons as more than just another tech event. The weekend’s activities culminated in a rite of passage ceremony with positive affirmations for all of the youth involved. More than a collection of apps and 100,000 coders, this initiative aims to defy stereotypes. Both youth and the rest of the technology ecosystem have a lot to learn about the power of untapped creativity and potential that exists within these communities.
Photo courtesy of YesWeCode.