Jackson Winsett held the top of his laptop peering down at his work; the metal casing of the laptop in one hand and a screwdriver in the other. He chatted with a friend across the small table they were working at but continued to patiently attend to the task at hand.
“We’re just trying to get these working so the other kids can use them when they do another class or something,” Winsett said.
Winsett and his friend were working on the bottom floor of WeCodeKC, a nonprofit that serves youths in the urban core of Kansas City by exposing them to computer programming, cyber security, and coding. On the floor above, a class of 6 to 10-year-olds were learning to code in a hands-on workshop led by volunteers.
Winsett, an African-American teenager who says he and his family have moved around the East Side, may have finally found a home. He enjoys working on the computers and he’s looking forward to the day when he’ll be able to mentor other students.
The interest he’s developed in technology is exactly what Tammy Buckner, CEO, and co-founder of WeCode hopes for.
Buckner developed We Code to provide youth in the urban core of Kansas City an opportunity to learn technical skills that can be used to build confidence, problem-solving skills, and creativity. The program hosts boot camps, after-school programs, and summer events that teach basic, intermediate, and advanced coding and programming skills. Students learn a programming language and are encouraged to build their own miniature computers.
Buckner started WeCode KC in 2017 after being asked to lead a technology class during a summer camp. From there, the idea for WeCode slowly grew as Buckner, who has an extensive background as a software developer and systems analyst, said she realized there was a need for more diversity in technology.
“I realized how rare it was to see minorities in technology,” Buckner said. “Technology is White male-dominated industry and I rarely saw people that looked like me. So I started getting out in the community, and wanting to make a difference.”
Diversity in tech and IT-related fields is steadily improving but minorities in the tech sphere are still underrepresented. According to a report by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, minority groups make up only 16% of the industry in the United States with African-Americans representing 7% of the workers in the tech field, with less than 2% of those jobs being at the top executive level.
After partnering with Dr. Philip Hickman, a former superintendent of public schools in Houston, author, and entrepreneur, WeCodeKC became a certified 501(c) nonprofit. Soon after, space was donated through the help of Community Builders of Kansas City and Kansas City G.I.F.T and the organization has now blossomed to include three employees, a robust volunteer program, and mentoring and internship programs where students tutor other students.
“I’m thankful we have an amazing board that helped us go ahead and get funding,” Buckner said. “It has been a lot of hard work but we’ve had some amazing contributions along the way to help.”
Everywhere and Everyone
While many students might dream of becoming Technology billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs, Buckner knows that might not be the reality, but she says technology still touches nearly every business sector in the workforce so it is a valuable skill to learn.
“I don’t care if you are a caterer, in the restaurant business, if you’re in healthcare, if you’re in the beauty industry, technology touches every industry to some capacity,” Buckner said.
With the diverse uses of technology comes a need for a diverse technology workforce. That’s why WeCode caters to all of the diverse residents of the city’s urban core.
“It [WeCode] is diverse because that’s what technology should look like — diversity,” Buckner said.
According to Buckner, who is a woman of color, it’s not just black or minorities she’s hoping she reaches. Every student can benefit from learning technology literacy.
“I want people to come in here Black, White, Yellow, it doesn’t matter,” Buckner said. “I want everyone to be included, because everyone, regardless of your zip code needs to learn how to code.”
WeCodeKC has plans to expand to a second location on the Eastside that will serve as a makerspace for students to build computers, collaborate on projects, and socialize. Currently, the program caters to elementary through high school-aged students however the plan is to expand the program at the new location to serve 18-26 who want to prepare for IT careers by earning earn their certifications in various programming languages.
With most students on summer break, WeCodeKC is hosting events throughout the week and every first and third Saturday of each month. They plan to culminate their summer programming on August 6 with a large community event, with food trucks, kids’ activities, and more.