I know it’s 2015 and all but even in this day and age, it’s still impressive to see a girl that can really game. I recall when actress and host of The Talk Aisha Tyler was invited to be the host of E3, the Electronic Entertainment Expo, a few years back. Some hardcore gamers were pretty upset about her invitation and doubted that she had any knowledge about gaming. Much to their surprise, she is a beast of a gamer. In a pretty epic Facebook post that would make most female gamers proud, she responded to the mostly misogynistic critics and not only backed up her credentials (“I was a Gears of War superfan panellist at ComicCon”) but she also fired off a round of shots of her own. (“I’ll still be playing when your mom’s kicked you out of her basement”). She knows her stuff.
So while it’s not as uncommon as some would think for girls to game, what is definitely not common is finding girls who can code; girls that can actually go from being an expert player of these games to being the creator of such games. This was of great concern to Memphis-born biotech engineer Kimberly Bryant. While discovering her 12-year-old daughter’s affinity for video games, she asked herself why couldn’t she and other girls go from being gaming experts to creators? Instead of discovering cheat codes, why not be the ones building the programs and leading the technological revolution? This is what led to Bryant to launch Black Girls Code in 2011.
Black Girls Code is a revolutionary non-profit program that introduces girls of colour between the ages of 7-17 to Computer Science and teaches workshops on how to code. Some of these workshops include web design, how to create video games, and app development. Within its first two years, this San Francisco startup exposed over 2000 young girls to tech skills that otherwise they quite possibly would not have had access. Notably, many of these workshops have been taught by women, allowing these girls to have role models in these fields. This is something that Kimberly Bryant was unable to experience herself as one of few women she knew in her field coming out of college.
Kimberly Bryant went from being a mom concerned about the opportunities available for her young daughter to founding a movement that is revolutionizing the career paths of young girls everywhere. Her work with BGC has been widely recognized and has earned her numerous awards such as the White House Champions of Change for Tech Inclusion Award and the Social Progress Award by Smithsonian Magazine. She has also been recognized as one of today’s top cultural influencers speaking at TedX and SXSW. In recent years, she has been named to The Root 100 list and the Ebony Power 100 list. Black Girls Code has also expanded from humble beginnings. Starting with only 12 students in San Francisco to currently having chapters in New York, Memphis, Detroit, and even Johannesburg. It has also expanded into bilingual classes to give opportunities for girls to learn code in Latin communities.
The importance of a program like Black Girls Code is not just due to its focus on girls of colour in underprivileged communities. It is important because it produces a much needed rippling effect to include a woman’s perspective in the future of technology. Kimberly Bryant is noted as saying, “If all software’s created by men then we miss out on the perspective of 50% of the population. Computing jobs are some of the fastest growing sectors in the country.”
She strongly believes that girls are natural change agents in their families, communities and the world. Therefore, BGC not only trains girls but it trains them to train others as well. Teaching girls to embrace technology beyond just being consumers gives them empowerment to make groundbreaking technological discoveries beyond what they could have ever dreamed. Discoveries that could very well lead them to be the next Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, or maybe, just maybe, the next Kimberly Bryant.