By Kayla Zhu

A group of students work on controlling their orb-shaped robot through an obstacle course. (Courtesy of Black Boys Code)

Black Boys Code, a not-for-profit organization that introduces young black boys to coding, is making major strides towards closing the racial divide in the computer science field.

The organization hosts computer science and STEM-related events for boys between the ages of eight and 17, including one-day and two-day workshops, hackathons, after-school and summer programs.

The organization was founded in 2015 by Bryan Johnson, who says he noticed a lack of black representation in his various sales and technology work positions.

“Regardless of the industry, role or location, I’ve often found myself to be the only person of colour in the room,” said Johnson. “I knew I wanted to do something to help increase those numbers as well as give back to my community.”

The Black Boys Code team reached out to Ryerson about half a year ago with plans to host a hackathon in one of the school’s computer labs.

“One of the tenets of Black Boys Code is to conduct our exposure workshops on university campuses across Canada,” said Johnson. “By having the boys on university campuses at an early age, we demystify the university building so that the boys feel comfortable, with the expectation that they will go on to post-secondary education.”

The Chang School joined hands with Black Boys Code to host a one-day hackathon event in March.

The event was held under Ryerson University’s Spanning the Gaps outreach initiative, which seeks to “create accessible pathways to post-secondary education for adults and young people” through inclusive and equitable programming.

Jason Matthews, the head of Black Boys Codes’ GTA chapter, emphasized that the primary goal of the hackathon event was to show young boys of colour that coding, science and building technology can be fun and accessible to them.

“We want them to experience how it can be fun and the results it can lead to, through mentors that look like them,” said Matthews.

Throughout the day, students worked in small teams under the guidance of the program mentors to program small robots to navigate through different obstacle courses.

“Throughout the day we saw moments of light, such as when a student felt accomplished when the device moved in the right direction,” said Matthews. “It was great to see kids who were disengaged at first relate to a mentor and play with an iPad to solve a problem in a collaborative way.”

Black Boys Code currently has chapters in Vancouver, Calgary, Hamilton and Toronto and is looking to expand into more Canadian cities.

Regarding the future of the computer science field, Johnson said he is hopeful that their organization can help promote diversity and help introduce new talent into the industry.

“The Canadian job market is going through incredible structural changes and Black Boys Code would like to prepare black boys in Canada to play their part in that future,” said Johnson.

This is a joint byline. Ryersonian staff are responsible for the news website edited and produced by final-year undergraduate and graduate journalism students at Ryerson University. It features all the content from the weekly campus newspaper, The Ryersonian, and distributes news and online multimedia, including video newscasts from RyersonianTV. Ryersonian.ca also provides videos, images, and other interactive material in partnership with the School of Journalism.

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