The Asia Pacific Peace Studies Institute’s (APPSI) Spring 2017 Speaker Series kicked off with a screening of the short film Code Oakland, which shows how two local organizations, Qeyno Labs and Black Girls Code, are working to provide increased access to coding skills and technology for diverse audiences in the East Bay and elsewhere. The screening was followed by a panel discussion—moderated by Chiho Sawada, PhD, executive director of APPSI and associate professor of history and peace studies at HNU—with Kelly Amis, director of the film and founder and president of Loudspeaker Films; Isaiah Martin student, coder, and one of the stars of the film; and Kelley Nayo, chief operating officer of Qeyno Labs.
Code Oakland focuses on both Kalimah Priforce, headmaster CEO of Qeyno Labs, and Kimberly Bryant, founder and CEO of Black Girls Code. In the film, Priforce and Bryant explain their motivations and speak about why they believe it’s paramount to expose young children from diverse audiences to coding techniques and technology. As Priforce explains at the start of the film, Silicon Valley has expanded its footprint into Oakland and throughout the Bay Area, and it’s essential that everyone who lives in Oakland and the East Bay be able to pursue the opportunities afforded by that expansion.
During the panel discussion, all three participants took questions from the audience and spoke about issues related to tech and diversity.
As Nayo pointed out, there hasn’t been much change in the last few years—the majority of Silicon Valley employees are white. She spoke about how Qeyno Labs and other organizations are pushing for change. “We hold hackathons to combine people who have ideas with people who can code,” she said. “Just this past weekend, a little girl made an app for bullying, where she can quickly reach her parents when she feels emotionally pressured, and someone else made an app for community service projects.” She explained that Silicon Valley’s encroachment on Oakland has alienated the community to some extent, because companies are not necessarily looking to the community to fill open positions. “But some organizations and co-working spaces are trying to create opportunities for people here. And they’re applying pressure in two ways: inviting the community to gain more knowledge and asking companies to involve the community to a greater extent.”
Amis said that the genesis of Code Oakland came from the time she spent as a teacher. She said that she saw how the potential of so many children—especially African-American children—was being disregarded. “I want to see how I can be of service,” she said. “I want to put the voices of students like Isaiah [Martin] on the loudspeaker. So, after doing some policy work with Senator Feinstein, I decided to combine my love of film and art and my policy sense and form Loudspeaker Films in order to tell the stories that I want to tell.” Through Loudspeaker Films, Amis’s signature project is TEACHED, a series of short documentaries that examines the causes and consequences of race-based achievement and opportunity gaps in America. Amis also recently finished working on a project for Oakland Promise, an initiative (of which HNU is a partner) that aims at tripling the number of college graduates from Oakland in the next decade.
When asked about his experiences with coding, Martin explained that the film gave an accurate representation. “Code Oakland shows that anyone can code. When I first started, I didn’t know anything about coding, but I was willing to give it a shot,” he said. “After the first few weeks, I learned that I was passionate about it. At first it’s challenging, but it teaches you to think outside the box, and once you get into it, you can learn a lot of the [programming] languages, since they’re interconnected and they all rely on critical thinking.” Martin also spoke about how he thinks parents and others can encourage children to learn how to code. “You know Snapchat and Instagram? Everyone has those on their phones now. You just have to remind people that those things exist because of tech, and anyone could build those things too if they get involved.”
The event was presented by APPSI and co-sponsored by the HNU Education Department and HNU Core Program in Integrative Studies Across Cultures. Learn about other upcoming APPSI events on the calendar page.