The New Black History: Opportunity and Inspiration in Computer Science

The New Black History: Opportunity and Inspiration in Computer Science

(this post originally appears on the CSForAll medium

The new black history that I’d like to see in the world is one where young people of color are inspired by technology and given the opportunity to pursue that curiosity in depth.

My earliest memories of technology in the sciences started out on Saturday mornings. My parents sent me to a Saturday morning program called the Gifted child society. I sat in awe as I learned about the performance elements of magic, and built paper airplanes. I spent hours building model rockets and working with robotics and breadboards, learning outside of the typical classroom setting, inspiring an interest in technology and science that would sustain. These moments felt like how learning should: effortless, self directed, and lead by a curiosity to understand whats happening right before me better.

At the same time, my parents were able to save up to put me into a better school that had a focus on science and technology. It was there that I was able to study computer science in depth in high school, and have teachers show me more of what computer science had to offer. While studying in college at Carnegie Mellon, I built the foundation of technical knowledge that has allowed me to build my own technology business from scratch.

I cherished that opportunity, as I knew it was rare. I was usually the only black male in any educational setting I have been in and I had to rely on my own visions of excellence as a guide for where I wanted to take my skills and interest. When I went back to teach weekend robotics courses at my high school, I saw that things were changing and more students of color were able to be inspired by technology and had the affordance of opportunities to explore their interests. It gave me hope that the opportunities I had were being given to more and more students of color.

To make experiences like mine commonplace instead of rare, more work has to be done to bring these experiences to more students of color around the country. It is encouraging to see the work for CSForAll which helps to encourage and facilitate the spread of Computer Science literacy in K-12 education. Schools like the Academy for Software Engineering make Computer Science a central component of learning, across all subjects. As these programs expands and touches more students, the opportunities for students of color to be exposed to the world of technology grows.

As I study my own history, the combination of inspiration and opportunity were crucial to me developing a passion for technology. Our world evolves constantly, and young people of color are seeing influences in sports, arts, media, and politics that show truly what “black excellence” (the celebration of extraordinary accomplishments by black people) can mean. People like Serena Williams, Ava Duvernay, Barack Obama and movies like Black Panther help to bring a new narrative to that inspiration that sparks curiosity in the minds of young black Americans. They give shape to new definitions of what capabilities are expected or assumed from black Americans and gives models of excellence to strive for.

These initiatives will help young students of color to learn the breadth of where technology can take them, and help them build the skills necessary for the next century. It not only gives them technical skills, but also gives them a view of computer science as a method of thinking and a process for empathy and understanding throughout their lives. They’ll understand how to break large problems down into smaller ones. To think about all the possible inputs and points of view to any situation. And when they run into a nasty problem, they’ll remember how to go step by step to find the true root cause of an issue.

The new black history that I’d like to see in the world is one where computer science education is recognized as a new form of literacy that every student of color gets exposed to. That those students are inundated with powerful influences to give them inspiration to pursue Computer Science education and more structured opportunities for them to learn the hard skills that will prepare them for the future.