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VOL. 128 | NO. 3 | Friday, January 04, 2013

Black Girls Code Coming to Memphis

By Andy Meek

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At one point when Kimberly Bryant, a native Memphian who got a degree in electrical engineering from Vanderbilt University, was still in school, Apple’s Macintosh was still new on the scene.

Computer programming rookies were learning languages like Fortran and Pascal.

Bryant loved it, soaked it all up. At the same time, one thing was hard to not notice – there weren’t many classmates who looked like her.

Bryant is an African-American entrepreneur who founded a program to introduce programming, coding and technology to young girls of color. That program, Black Girls Code, has been expanding around the country over the past year.

And Bryant is bringing it to her hometown in a matter of weeks.

The Memphis chapter of Black Girls Code will hold its first workshop Feb. 16 in the Paul Barret Jr. Library at Rhodes College.

“Our goal is to have chapters in as many places as we can over the next 10 to 15 years,” Bryant said. “For 2013, our goal is to build strong, independent chapters in seven cities, Memphis being one of them. We actually have more cities that have asked us to come start a chapter than we have the resources to do, because we’re still small.”

“The lack of women in the technology space and the lack of people of color was something that was really glaring to me over and over again.”

–Kimberly Bryant
Founder, Black Girls Code

Still small but focused on a basic goal in earnest. The group was founded a little more than a year ago and takes a broad approach to the technology it conveys to girls. That means including everything from robotics to Web development to computer coding languages.

“We really try to give them a broad perspective of what the technology field is about and give them the skills to be able to tap into it,” Bryant said.

Black Girls Code offers programs like weekend workshops on topics like game development, HTML/CSS basics, robotics and other basic programming concepts. There are also summer camps offered as five full-day sessions to give girls the opportunity to learn deeper programming concepts.

And there are field trips to area tech companies to meet industry professionals.

Bryant has been in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) field for more than 20 years. After growing up in Memphis and then attending college in Nashville, she moved to the San Francisco Bay area to work at a biotech firm.

Her ultimate goal, though, was to jump into the startup pool.

“The lack of women in the technology space and the lack of people of color was something that was really glaring to me over and over again,” she said.

Memphis, initially, wasn’t on Bryant’s radar as a place to bring Black Girls Code. She wasn’t aware of the extent to which a technology and entrepreneurial ecosystem has sprouted up and is being nourished in the city.

Someone brought that to her attention by reaching out to her through social media.

“And then I started to get pings from different folks connected to the tech scene in Memphis,” she said.

Her first taste of that scene came a few months ago, when she came to speak at the 2012 Indie Memphis Film Festival’s new series of tech events.

“I have been very happy, being a native Memphian, to have the opportunity to bring the program back to my hometown,” Bryant said.

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