Black girls in NY learn to code, overcome bias

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NEW YORK (AP) — About 60 girls were taught the basics of computer programming in Manhattan Saturday at a Black Girls Code event while parents discussed how to overcome racial and gender barriers in the profession.

The click clack on keyboards by enthusiastic girls from age 7 to 17 occurred as adults confronted the grim hiring realities in a rapidly expanding profession dominated by White and Asian men.

The program — which used Google Inc.’s New York offices for the day — was meant to boost interest in programming among a segment of the population now poorly represented in the high technology workforce.

The National Center for Women & Information Technology says Black women comprised only 3 percent of the computer workforce and Latinas 1 percent in 2011, the same year Kimberly Bryant started Black Girls Code in San Francisco to encourage young and pre-teen girls of color to take an interest in technology and computer programming.

On her organization’s website, she recalls feeling “culturally isolated” because few classmates looked like her in electrical engineering classes. She said she suspected black girls lacked access and exposure to science, technology, engineering and math.

Her movement has generated enthusiasm in Manhattan, where Valerie Butler, of Hackensack, N.J., asked how to keep momentum going.

“Where do we go from here, a group of parents out here on a snowy Saturday? Does it die here?” she asked, drawing suggestions that the parents get their children together to share their new interest.

Christopher Harvell, a father of five girls from South Orange, N.J., including a 12-year-old daughter attending the “Build a Mobile App in a Day” event, marveled at the wisdom and strength of his daughters and their grade school peers.

“My daughter’s generation is better,” he told the group of several dozen parents as he explained how their perceptions of race are not haunted so much by history. “They don’t see it as institutional racism.”

Allyson Gill, a Brooklyn Technical High School graduate studying web development at a college in Queens,  helped lead the discussion and said she didn’t notice racism when she was a Black child at a mostly White school.

“I notice now how racist the little children were,” she said, recalling how White girls would taunt her because her name and manner of speaking didn’t fit their stereotypes of Blacks. She said they would tell her they were “blacker than you are.”

Still, she said young people must be tough and put aside fears of failure because most of the success stories she hears happen after a series of failures.

Simone Billingslea, 17, smiled as she worked on a computer in rows of youngsters Saturday. She said the experience encouraged by her mother was unlikely to change her aspirations.

“I still want to be a doctor,” she said.

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