SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- We continue our Our America: Women Forward series with a look at an area where women are still closing the gap: taking on careers in STEM (science, engineering, math and technology). Black Girls CODE, founded in San Francisco, is among the organizations in the Bay Area working to change that.
Founder and executive director of Black Girls CODE Kimberly Bryant is making a difference in the lives of thousands of girls all across the country by creating the space for learning, community, and empowerment.
"It's the closest thing you're going to get to magic, and a fairy tale, because it really shows you that the world isn't so big and scary and crazy, that anything you want to do is possible," said 13-year-old Sumayyah Green.
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Green, from Berkeley, has been a member of the organization since she was 7 years old.
Through the organization, she's learned hands-on skills in coding and app development and has traveled the country to major tech conferences such as SXSW.
The mission statement of the nonprofit is to introduce girls from underrepresented communities to the field of technology and give them the skill sets to become the innovators of tomorrow.
"We like to call our girls future tech bosses," said Kimberly Bryant. "It's problematic that women in the tech industry are less than 3%, especially in technical roles. But I think we are part of the solution in terms of where the industry needs to go and grow. For the girls that are coming into our program, it is vitally important that they have this exposure early on."
Bryant, formerly an engineering manager for both pharmaceutical and biotech companies, launched Black Girls CODE in 2011 in order to bridge the digital divide for girls of color.
She recalls feeling culturally isolated as she entered the tech industry nearly three decades ago with few classmates and coworkers who looked like her.
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Now, young girls who look like her look up to her.
"I've always struggled with what I want to be when I grow up, but this really helped me. I believe I want to be a coder now," said 10-year-old Ife Joseph.
Since its founding a decade ago, Black Girls CODE has expanded to a number of cities across the country, including New York, where Joseph joined four years ago.
"At school, I've been having problems," said Joseph. "At Black Girls CODE, they see my real potential, unlike some of my teachers."
Since joining the program and learning coding languages like Python, Joseph has started developing an app connecting mental health and issues of social justice for youth.
For that work, she was selected as one of the top 50 kids nominated for the Time Magazine and Nickelodeon's first ever "Kid of the Year" award out of thousands of submissions.
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"It's transformational, if you will, because it really taps into a change of mindset. And what is possible for me and my future as a Black woman," said Bryant.
Bryant has received numerous awards for her efforts that have reached thousands of young women ages 7 to 17 across the country.
Joseph said both the technical skills she learned at workshops and the fellowship with other Black girls interested in careers in tech have both been critical in her personal growth.
"We really created this label for them as future tech bosses, to really also ingrain in them and for the world that this is what the future looks like," said Bryant.
"It's so cool and kind of exciting too because, for all I know, I'm sitting in the room learning and networking with like the next Kamala Harris or Kimberly Bryant or Katherine Johnson. So it's exciting to think about. We're all in this together," said Green.
Despite the pandemic, Black Girls CODE has continued to maintain virtual workshops with its thousands of participants across the U.S.
As the economy continues to reopen, the organization hopes to bring back its in-person meetings that have been transformational for the #FutureTechBosses of tomorrow.
Learn more about Black Girls CODE here.
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