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The Intersection of Education and Coding: Building Future Tech Leaders

There is no denying that technology has been at the forefront of driving society, especially for the last two decades. With each passing year, public access to technological advancements are becoming more and more vast and nuanced, quickly. How do we equip our children, especially our BIPOC babies, with the tools to keep up with these advancements and expose them, as early as possible, to computer science, program development and deployment that drives so much of the world we all now live in? From Tik Tok to smart homes and everything in between, it is nearly impossible to think about an aspect of our lives that is not driven or influenced by technology in some way.

Because this is the world that the current and forthcoming generations are born into, it is necessary to create a meaningful reality around the power and good that technology can be used for. Creating that meaningful foundation begins with ALL children having access to learn and apply computer science concepts, regardless of demographics, race, and class.

By integrating this into children’s education at the elementary level so it becomes the norm, they have a foundation in place and can choose to further their interests once in middle and high school, through electives being offered as part of a STEAM
curriculum. I can recall several memories of my years in the classroom with BIPOC kids who were gamers and that wanted to know how to make their own video game. Retrospectively, I wonder to myself, what if those young people had the option to enroll in a beginner’s Java or C++ class, offered as part of the curriculum at the school to learn about game design and development?

An example to further underscore the critical need of access for BIPOC students, is in the bar graph below based on a study conducted by The Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), illustrating the percentage of high school students in the U.S. of various racial groups, who have access to the proper classes needed to build a pre-collegiate foundation to be more successful in pursuing a STEM degree post graduation:

Unfortunately, the interpretation of this data clearly shows the egregious disparities that exist.

A very critical piece to this solution, is continued nationwide advocacy in education reform, which has been problematic in the U.S. for decades, sadly. Additionally, educational funding to properly compensate educators at all levels and expand budgets to allow hiring of more STEAM educators, is necessary. Teachers who have the best interest of their students at heart should not be subjected to the tall order expected of them, while not earning the proper salary for their work and the meaningful impact they are having on kids’ lives, which drives so many teachers away on top of highly stressful conditions.

So, while I know there is not an overnight solution to this challenge, it is my hope that as the demand and advocacy particularly for BIPOC kids, to have access to learn about the many facets of technology and how they impact their world and the world of others, that there exists some child out there who will have their genius manifested to solve a major global problem through technology, because they were allowed the access and tools at an early age through their day to day educational experiences. The saying that “the children are the future” is an unshakable universal truth. It is up to the adults, to provide the necessary path, that will create the next generation of tech leaders to manifest the potential positive that it can have on society.

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Through the Eumelanated Lens: Starting Anew Into the World of Tech

If you desire to switch careers into tech, but aren’t sure where to begin, here’s the true story of how I started my career transition, just three short months ago.

Like so many people starting over in their career, I wasn’t completely sure where to start. I just knew, undoubtedly, that I could no longer put it off. My career and educational background leading up to the recent decision of starting a new career in tech, is an interesting soup; writer, visual artist, community engagement coordinator for a black arts organization, and educator of English (6-12), Art (K-12) and HS Journalism. Oh yeah, and my degree is in English with a philosophy minor. How in the hell does any of that fit into a new career in the tech field???

“…I realized my unorthodox “career soup” IS a super power in and of itself.”

Jeanece Lyles

Initially, I thought of my previous career experience and education as highly unorthodox for someone wanting to take the leap into the tech field to become a web developer. However, the more I became deliberate in identifying why I wanted to become a developer, I started making connections with the “super powers” I already possessed from my interesting career soup, that would serve as a bridge into the world of web development (I will elaborate later). Also, I realized my unorthodox “career soup” IS a super power in and of itself.

With the internet being hyper saturated these days with information and resources about starting a career in the tech industry, it can be confusing knowing where you should begin. I am grateful that I made a professional connection with an IT specialist from my last job in education. Because of it, I was pointed in a much better direction of where to begin my journey. However, if you have zero connections to others already in the field, there are painless ways to make the right connections.

Without further ado, below is my personal guide to breaking into tech.

Step 1: Identify your super powers from previous jobs that are foundational to the new tech career you desire (web developer in my case).

As mentioned earlier, once I became clear on why I wanted to become a developer, it also became clear that the “career soup” I’d created, was not as unorthodox as I thought. I highly recommend mapping out every hard and soft skill you have accumulated throughout your career that are connected to becoming successful in your new tech journey. You can do this mapping process a few different ways; a word processing program like Word or Google Docs, using a productivity app like Evernote, old school pen and paper, draw it out, use a venn diagram, etc. I personally used the old school pen and paper method, combined with drawing (it’s the writer and visual artist in me lol). However, here is a much nicer presentation of my mapping process below:

Previous ExperiencePrevious skills, relevant in web dev
English major/ writerGrasping syntax, rules/conventions of language; acquisition of new vocabulary and applying meaning; researching unknow information and cross referencing for accuracy, comprehension and knowledge acquisition
Educator K-12 (English, Art, Journalism)Identifying the break down in learning and finding resources to assist with learning curve breakdown; chunking and organizing related concepts into a logical order; establishing learning goals into bite size objective statements  
Community Engagement CoordinatorProject management acumen; solution-oriented
Visual artistGood eye for visual harmony and layout; applying principles of art and design integral in visualizing web design elements, which informs how CSS code is rendered
Table 1.1 – Career skills comparison chart, Jeanece Lyles

Step 2: Connect and build your professional network with others already in tech

Virtual Tech Summits

As with any career change, it is important to connect with others in your new career field that have been where you are and even others like you who are starting over in the same field. If you have zero connections in the tech field, it couldn’t be easier to gain those necessary connections in the age of professional virtual events. Why? First, only individuals interested or already in tech are going to be the people who register for these events, which allows you to get straight to the chase. Second, people at all levels, whether seniors or newbies, are willing to drop those social media handles in real time to encourage connecting beyond the event.

Having the shared experience of attending a professional event with others in the industry is a great icebreaker and it will allow you to build those connections more quickly. How do I know? In August, I attended Afrotech’s “Tech Is Still Hiring”, virtual summit (which gave me all the feels by the way). I more than doubled my LinkedIn connections in one day in a meaningful way with others in tech killing it, who also looked like me. Representation is so important!

Join Online Tech Communities

If you aren’t nuts about doing virtual summits or virtual hiring fairs, then joining established online tech communities is an excellent way to go also, to start building those tech industry connections. Be sure to do your vetting to ensure the online community you choose aligns with your professional moral compass as well. I am grateful that I discovered Blacks In Technology (BIT), We Build Black and most recently Sista Circle: Black Women in Tech, to belong to.

One of the upsides of virtual networking, is the pressure of interacting directly with new people that is removed…if you’re an introvert like me. If you’re an introvert reading this, know that we can be out here networking, building and winning too! Damn straight.

Step 3: Learn the core foundational languages needed and COMMIT

For a web developer, it is imperative to learn the coding trinity; HTML, CSS and Javascript. You simply cannot build a presentable web page without using both HTML and CSS. Add Javascript in the mix and you open up another world of interactive awesomeness. Additionally, Javascript is one of the most popular languages being used to build websites because of its frontend dynamism, while having the capability to communicate with databases on the backend.

With anything new, the upfront learning curve can be a real motha shut yo’ mouth. However, the more you do, the more it will stick like glue. One more time for the folks in the back: the more you do, the more it will stick like glue. Being in education for six years allowed me to become a natural at reinforcing this with students. Now that I am the student, I have to remind myself of this when faced with grasping a challenging concept on this new tech journey.

Here are a few links to websites that I have used and would recommend to others starting out:

  1. freeCodeCamp
  2. Code Academy
  3. Udemy

So, if you’ve been contemplating making the dive but have been talking yourself out of it, I hope reading about my journey lit enough fire under your butt to boss up and go for it. You’ve got this! For real.

Peace & momentum, until next time ✊🏽🖤

Empowering Women of Color: A Q&A with Fhanta Williams

Fhanta Williams | Personal Trainer | Vice President & Founding Member of JAENP| Naturopathic Nutritionist | On the importance of representation for black women in health and fitness, overcoming herself as her biggest obstacle and what it means to empower women.

1. Describe the journey into your career as a fitness trainer.

Looking back at the combination of experiences and events that led to me planting my feet in this spot as a Cross Training Personal Trainer & Naturopath, I can say that I’m at home here and it feels like I am in alignment with my calling.  

A really good friend of mine saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. They saw certain qualities within me that both needed to be strengthened and ones that could be very helpful and transformative for others.  My good friend encouraged me to set out on this particular path in fitness, that would help me evolve and create meaning in my life.  

Being a black woman in fitness is an opportunity for me.  It allows me the opportunity to express herbal and bio botanical traditions from my culture and to bring the attention back to nature.

Fhanta Williams

I began to plan my exit from my stable “9-5” working at a hospital. It took me two years before life lined up and allowed me to take the leap of faith as an entrepreneur.  I became certified as a Personal Fitness Trainer through AFAA and started working at a cross training gym, because it embodied a training style that I believe in. This training style evolved from disciplines and principles that I learned from my father; a Master Martial Artist in the 80’s.  I watched him practice at his discipline, teach within the community, fight in and win so many Kumites, [and] lose some of his matches. I gained a powerful love for athleticism and the power of the mind body connection. That is my foundation. Today, I train people [to] use their energy efficiently while training, to respect and take care of their bodies and to use nature to both help them train and maintain a healthy body. I strongly advocate prevention. As a naturopath, I teach people to allow the body to do what it naturally does on its own: heal. 

2. Why do you think the representation of black women in health and fitness careers is important?

I think it’s so important that we have those examples of women who were there before us or who are here with us now, who encourage us to persevere.  Looking out here in the world and seeing a face that looks like yours is necessary and is a driving factor in the collective development of black women as a whole.  Being a black woman in fitness is an opportunity for me.  It allows me the opportunity to express herbal and bio botanical traditions from my culture and to bring the attention back to nature. It also allows me to show people that they have more strength and power than they show. I believe that you can be in great shape, have vitality and health using the natural herbs and whole foods from [the] Earth.  I represent natural health and healing within the physical fitness arena. I feel my duty is to be a part of the tribe of people, helping to raise collective consciousness of health, on both the physical and metaphysical level.  I hope to be able to contribute to the continuation of herbal medicine and to help shape the current perspective that people have, showing them how to fuel and take care of their physical vessels.  

3. What are some of the obstacles you’ve faced as a woman of color in the health and fitness industry? How did you overcome them? 

Let me say that as a woman of color I have ALWAYS felt empowered. Because of my belief in my personal power, it has afforded me a sense of positivity that protects me from accepting any reality that doesn’t fit the one that I am trying to create. I carry a light or a torch for other women of color who aren’t afraid to reach for their personal ideas of happiness, who feel no different than any other, who march forward with heart. I can not “see” where I have faced obstacles being a woman of color. That doesn’t mean that there weren’t any.  There’s a level of self responsibility also that keeps me focused.  

Empowering women means that you are being you in a way that is impactful and gives permission or helps another woman or person come into alignment with their own higher expression, as if it is their cosmic right. 

Fhanta Williams

Many of the obstacles that I have faced have been personal and developmental: growth oriented.  I personally am not shy, however I am not very expressive.  I’m observant and confident.  My biggest obstacle, to date, has been learning to express myself, as I am, in my own black voice and presence, with my personal level of developing intellect, bringing the gifts that God gave me at birth, in a manner that is helpful and impactful.  THAT has been my biggest challenge. ME! 

Others can see me. For a long time I couldn’t see myself.  I’m learning to be comfortable in my own skin and learn to practice and be patient while putting myself through the beginning clumsy stages of true self expression.  I break through different levels with myself each time I put myself out there.  I become more comfortable and more refined in my work the more I express through sharing. I overcome through experience, putting myself through what seems to be uncomfortable in order to become comfortable. 

4. Who are some of your favorite black female fitness trainers and influencers that you draw strength or inspiration from?

Oh my! The black females of track and field baby. I’m inspired just thinking of them. There are many black females that inspire me. I’m inspired by Olympians and by the everyday athlete. Also, women in boxing, tennis, public speakers, and women who get off the couch and start their own fitness journeys. 

One [of my] favorite fitness trainers as of today is a woman that I’ve seen develop since before her days as a fitness trainer. I draw inspiration from Massy Arias of Mankofit – MAWarriors. I’m inspired by Allyson Felix, Shelly – Ann Fraser-Pryce, and Laila Ali to name a few. I love and draw inspiration from them all for different reasons. 

5. What does the phrase “empowering women” mean to you? How have you used your career as a conduit to empower women of color? 

Empowering women means that you are being you in a way that is impactful and gives permission or helps another woman or person come into alignment with their own higher expression, as if it is their cosmic right.  I think that empowerment is [an] unspoken duty amongst us beings. 

I use this in my work, firstly by taking care of myself and trying to be the best example for others.  

I naturally see the potential in others. I don’t notice very much outside of their personal potential.  I am keen on honing in on the good in people and I try to amplify the volume of their potential by expanding their awareness, holding space for them to be themselves, to be great, and get what’s there for them. 

Empowering Women of Color: A Q&A with Adonnica Toler

Adonnica Toler | Museum Administrator (Ritz Theatre and Museum) | Historian | Artist Advocate | On the importance of representation for black women in the art community, obstacles that have been faced and overcome as a WOC in the arts and what it means to empower women.

1. Describe the journey to your career as a Museum Administrator.

My journey  began at 10 years old at my grandmother’s house.  I was on the living room floor playing with a toy and watching television.  Bill Cosby was on talking about black history, black art and museums., I stopped to listen.  I remember thinking that I didn’t know black people did art and went to museums. He talked with such pride that it caught my attention and I remember saying, “I want to do that.  I want to work in a museum.” I had no idea what a museum was or where to find one.  I went back to playing with my toy. 

Fast forward to 20 years later, I was the Museum Assistant at the Ritz Theatre and Museum and the head docent (tour guide) . A tour group was scheduled to visit the Ritz Museum and I was doing a quick walk through before they arrived.  As I completed the check list, a voice said, “You’re working in a museum.” Immediately I had a flashback to the living room floor and a flashback that during my elementary school years I would stare interestingly at the run-down Ritz Theatre every day when my school bus drove by it on the way home.   That was the first time those memories came back. I did not have an outlined plan to end up working in a museum. I had earned my B. A. in History from Florida State University, interned at the Eartha M.M. White Historical Museum at the Clara White Mission and work a wide variety [of] history and art projects around Northeast Florida. 

Representation of black women in the arts is important because only black women can give voice to their power, intelligence, beauty, vulnerability, strengths and weaknesses.

Adonnica toler

I was known for my historical research and was asked by my dear friend, Dr. Carolyn Williams, to join the History Committee, a sub-committee formed to re-open the Ritz Theatre and Museum. I was a volunteer, but I showed up at the Ritz almost every day to help get the Ritz ready to open.  One day, Carol Alexander came in and saw me at work and hired me on the spot! No formal interview. I was told to fill out the application and get back to work.  I assisted Lydia P. Stewart, the Museum Administrator for 14 years.  I have been at the Ritz Theatre and Museum for 20 years.  

2. Why do you think the representation of black women in the arts is important?

Representation of black women in the arts is important because only black women can give voice to their power, intelligence, beauty, vulnerability, strengths and weaknesses.  Over and over again, who we are and what we have contributed are left out of the story in every field: art, civil rights movement, education, science, etc.  If we are mentioned at all, our role is footnoted or marginalized when in truth we are the backbone.

Remember how shocked everyone was to learn that Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, Mary Jackson and a staff of black women were the force behind NASA’s Space Race in the 1960s?  It was 55 years before they received recognition for the landmark work [of] their contribution to the field of science. Another example,  I recently read an article how black women in mythology and history have been whitewashed or totally erased in art, i.e. Perseus Liberating Andromeda by Piero di Cosimo and Edward Poynter’s 1890 painting, the Visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon.  It is vital for black women to take their place in the arts to ensure that we are properly recognized for our contributions and achievements.  One [of] the rewarding aspects of my job is when a black child or a girl holds their head up high after a museum tour with me or one of my amazing docents. They see themselves in the exhibits and get excited to find out that they do come from greatness.   I can see the transformation from lack luster interest to telling me they are going to do better in school and read more books.

Through visual art, spoken word, literature, dance, and music, black women address racism, sexism, classism and economic and health disparities. They will tell you what is wrong and how they are going to change it. They also celebrate the beauty of being black.  There is nothing like the feeling I get when a black woman compliments the work I do and encourages me to keep going.  

3. What are some of the obstacles you’ve faced as a woman of color in the arts? How did you overcome them? 

I don’t know what the obstacles are.  I don’t meditate on them.  Don’t get me wrong, I know they are there, but I don’t factor them into the equation.  Sometimes, my authority is challenged and people have actually expressed surprise that a woman, a black woman is in charge.  But that doesn’t bother me anymore because I know my purpose and I know I am good at what I do.  I have curated over 50 history and art exhibits, two of which have received a Historic Preservation Awards from the City of Jacksonville.  I have national and international recognition for my work and presently have an exhibit on display at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum in South Africa.  All of that was accomplished with obstacles.  I address the challenges that need to be handled and keep moving forward. That’s how I handle the obstacles.

4. Who are some of your favorite black female artists, influencers and/or icons that you draw strength or inspiration from?

Some of my favorites black female artists and influencers are right here in Jacksonville, Florida. First I have to honor Lydia P. Stewart, the founder of the Through Our Eyes (TOE) art series. Lydia founded the series in 1993 to give local black artists the opportunity to show their artwork in a professional setting.  Black artists in Jacksonville did not have the support or opportunities to exhibit their work in local art galleries like they do now.  Through Our Eyes is the longest art series in the area, 27 years.  It is a major game changer for black artists.  I know from experience a number respected black artists who received their first opportunity through Lydia. The beautiful thing is Lydia did not require the artists to be accomplished or have a flowery resume.  If you wanted to take the step, she was there to mentor you as you grew as an artist.  I loved that! Many, many of those artists are now household names in Jacksonville and some are now international artists.  Lydia and I calculated that there have been over 100 black artists, nearly 2,000 new art pieces create in the art series.  Through Our Eyes is now an international exhibit on display now in South Africa.  When Lydia retired, she passed the TOE torch to me.  I hope to establish her legacy into the next century.

The phrase “empowering women” means “get out the way and let us be who we are.”

Adonnica toler

I don’t know if I should name the black women artists who inspire me. There are so many and I don’t want to offend. But just to name a few Traci Mims, Marsha Hatcher, Princess Rashid, MK Hollowell, Rhonda Bristol, Glendia Cooper, Erin Kendrick, Tatiana Phoenix, Suzanne Pickett, Danisha Edwards, Dania Frink, Richlin Ryan, Melody Jackson, Etta Haygood. In my opinion, these women are among the best in the field.  I know I left someone out! Trust me, there are more. Each one of them has inspired me along the way and I am honored to know them.

And what can I say about Shawana Brooks!  I met Shawana through my childhood friend Roosevelt Watson III at Through Our Eyes Exhibit openings at the Ritz Theatre and Museum.  She was the supportive wife with the eclectic fashion sense.  I always loved the way she expressed herself in her fashion and make-up.  Over a period of time she became an advocate for artists.  She brought art to the Main Library downtown with the Jax Makerspace and during the Covid-19 pandemic, she and Roosevelt started the 6 Ft. Away Gallery at their home to continue their art advocacy.  Most recently they started Color Jax Blue, a campaign to create more public art projects and to encourage people to vote.  Shawana is always searching for ways to make art a part of our everyday life.  I am so inspired by her.

5. What does the phrase “empowering women” mean to you? How have you used your career as a conduit to empower women of color? 

I am fortunate to be in a career that helps empower women of color because I use my position to promote women artists by referring them for exhibits at other museums and organizations and where I work.  I believe I am a good cheerleader for anyone going after their dreams. Once I find out an artist is nervous about taking that leap of faith into the art world, I make a point to keep up with them and encourage them to jump. When they do, I attend exhibit openings, pop-up shows, or any place they will be on exhibit to show my support.

I hope I promote women of color in the arts by just doing my job with excellence.  I am encouraged when a little girl or a teenage girl tells me she wants to work in a museum or that she is going to be featured in a museum one day.  I have had several deep heart to heart conversations with children on a tour.  They needed  someone [to] show and tell them that black is beautiful.     

The phrase “empowering women” means “get out the way and let us be who we are.” Get to know us on our terms and not by your misconceived ideas, images and theories. We are capable human beings. We can be the support you need, but we need your support too.  Get rid of your limited, prejudiced, sexist, and racist perception of black women. We all are not “angry black women” just because we speak up for what is right and let you know when you have been disrespectful. We should not have to defend ourselves because we are smart, assertive, wise, and beautiful.  We are your greatest weapon in battle or your best resource for building a future.

I am proud of who I am. I don’t want to be like anyone else or look like anyone else.  I am looking forward to what God has planned for me and I hope to be ready for the journey.

Empowering Women of Color: A Q&A with Professor Tru Leverette

Tru Leverette | Associate Professor of English | Director of African Diaspora Studies (UNF) | Yoga practitioner | On the importance of representation for black women in higher education and beyond, obstacles that have been faced and overcome as a WOC in education and what it means to empower women.

1. Describe the journey into your career as an English professor of African American literature and Director of African Diaspora studies.  

As a graduate student, I studied race, race mixture, gender, and identity in literature and culture, highly personalized focuses. I was drawn to memoir and auto-ethnography, to black and mixed-race American women’s writing because it reflected some of my own experiences. My teaching in large part maintained this focus on black American writers, although my overarching focus in teaching has been on social justice and questions of how best to live in community with others.   

The bottom line is that representation is important because everyone needs to see what is true and possible.

Tru Leverette

I love teaching about the Black Arts Movement (BAM) and black nationalism in the mid-twentieth century, a time when the experiences of black people globally were part of the intellectual, artistic, and political conversations here in the U.S. Teaching about BAM for the first time broadened my focus, as did needing to develop my own classes on the African diaspora when I began directing the minor in African-American/African Diaspora Studies. Last semester, I taught a graduate comparative literature class that centralized black radical thought throughout the diaspora. This is a rich, valuable, and relevant tradition for students to study–especially in our current social and political climate. Now, it’s especially important to consider the shared experiences of black people throughout the diaspora, to study global responses to oppression, and to understand that it shouldn’t be considered “radical” to value black people’s lives, to recognize their fundamental rights as human beings.   

2. Why do you think the representation of black women in higher education is necessary?  

The bottom line is that representation is important because everyone needs to see what is true and possible. By possible, I mean younger black women and girls need to see people who look like them in diverse settings, careers, extracurricular activities, etc. That’s true for all underrepresented people. Youth need to know that they can find a place wherever their passions and talents lead them. Those of us who are in higher education can serve as mentors, and I find mentoring to be incredibly important. We are here to guide and witness to those who want to chart similar paths.   

Also, we’re witnessing to everyone what is true about all cultural groups of people: we are capable, smart, and valuable members of the communities in which we exist. We are here. We belong. Years ago, I read Joyce Maynard’s memoir At Home in the World. More than anything else about the book, I loved its title. Sometimes the words pop in my head like a mantra, especially when I’m in a potentially uncomfortable environment. The words resonate with me because they reflect something I’ve long felt. I recognize that too many people aren’t allowed to feel at home in the world, but I was raised with a sense that I am important and that my existence matters. (I don’t mean that arrogantly, because I was raised to know I’m no more or less important than everyone else.) But I recognize my right to exist, to be here, to be. That extends to how I see others as well and how I want them to see their own lives.        

3. What are some of the obstacles you’ve faced as a woman of color in higher education? How did you overcome them?   

I think a widespread challenge for many women of color is impostor syndrome, the sense that one is professionally inadequate or intellectually deficient, despite external evidence to the contrary, despite professional success. Simply put, this is based on internalizations of negative stereotypes about one’s identity groups–in my case, women of color, with all of the attendant intersectionalities that category involves. There have been times, more so when I was a younger academic, when I felt uncertain of my capabilities and deficient in my contributions.   

How complex people are, you know, Jeanece? And how undermining the systems of oppression. One question ago, I was speaking about my deep-rooted sense of self-worth, yet I am still impacted by a society that has denied and continues to deny the value of people who look like I do. I have to fight against demeaning myself. (Again, this is why representation matters.) And this leads me to another obstacle: the extra labor it entails.   

It’s draining–intellectually, emotionally, temporally–to second-guess oneself and/or to feel the need to go above and beyond what’s typical to prove oneself. And all of this labor can take a physical toll as well, leading to the stress- and trauma-related illnesses faced disproportionately by women of color. Personally, I’ve always taken to heart the idea of the body as a temple, so my health and wellness have long been essential investments to me. My body is the vehicle that moves me through the world, and it’s the only one I have. So, I like to eat healthfully. I like to garden and work with herbs. I like to breathe and move my body in nature. As a yoga teacher, I have a dedicated practice of asana and meditation.   

But I also feel the drain of the extra service expected of me as a person of color. It’s well documented that academics of color find ourselves with sometimes excessive service demands–we are asked to serve, and we often want to serve because the work is so important. Here is where numbers matter, because if we have greater representation, then the service load can be shared by more people. Also crucial is the reworking of our tenure and promotion system, which places a higher value on research than it does on teaching and service. Those whose teaching and service demands are higher have less time to invest in research, and this can result in people of color not being promoted. We need to institute reforms that value teaching and service rightly, that recognize those are the areas that center students. Isn’t the centrality of students what UNF prides itself upon: “No one like you. No place like this.”?      

Empowering women to me means first and foremost acknowledging their rights to their own lives. It means not interfering with their ability to live lives of their own choosing and their own design, autonomously and with all the resources and opportunities that should be available to everyone.

Tru Leverette

4. Who are a few of your favorite black female writers/amplifiers, that you draw strength or inspiration from?  

​Zora Neale Hurston, Nikki Giovanni, Audre Lorde, Claudia Rankine, Safiya Sinclair, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, bell hooks, Sylvia Wynter, Katie Cannon, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Ruth King…  

5. What does the phrase “empowering women” mean to you? How have you used your career as a conduit to empower women of color?   

Empowering women to me means first and foremost acknowledging their rights to their own lives. It means not interfering with their ability to live lives of their own choosing and their own design, autonomously and with all the resources and opportunities that should be available to everyone. I think that is the bottom line for me in thinking about empowerment: Can one live? Can one live freely, expecting basic human rights? Can one make their own choices? Can one access the same benefits and life chances that are granted to others? I mean these questions to reflect all levels of life–from the personal realm to the professional and the public (Are they heard and respected in committee meetings? Do they earn the same amount for the same work? Can they walk down the street free from attack? Can they decide what will happen to their own bodies?). If we can answer those questions affirmatively, then we can live empowered lives. (Note that nothing I’m saying here diminishes anyone else’s power over their own individual life. Too often, though, people think empowering others means relinquishing their own power when really what needs to be relinquished is the idea that those who hold power can have power over other people’s lives. My thinking always tends toward abundance rather than lack, leading me to a “loaves and fishes” mentality from the Christian gospel: there is enough for everyone.) 

To answer your second question: I hope so! That’s why mentoring young women of color is important to me. And I hope to empower all of my students, academically and personally. For me, teaching is fundamentally about helping people work through, very consciously, what they believe, what they value, how to enact those values, and how they will choose to live in the world with others. I value mindfulness meditation in the classroom because I think working through these issues is a holistic exercise; it involves not only our intellects but our emotions and even our physical selves. I want to empower everyone to live as their best and brightest selves, to empower them in shaping the world as a just and equitable place where everyone can be “at home.”   

Black Youth Become “Developer for a Day” with 100 Black Men of Jacksonville, Inc.

The local Jacksonville chapter of 100 Black Men of America, Inc. is in full swing of hosting its 2nd Annual “Coding in Color” summer series. The initiative is focused on introducing black middle and high school students to the world of coding. This year’s theme is “Developer for a Day.”

Earlier this week, I had the honor of speaking with Charles L. Griggs, the southern district representative of the national organization 100 Black Men of America, Inc., covering states Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Alabama. He credits the current president of the local Jacksonville chapter, Ronnie King , for conceptualizing and writing the curriculum for the organization’s “Coding in Color” summer series. King is also the owner of Scratchwerk, LLC, a company that specializes in providing Java / Guidewire development and Scrum Master services to agile companies.

The “Coding in Color” summer series began the summer of 2019. Last year, the program was offered as a face-to-face bootcamp. However, this year, the bootcamp is virtual due to COVID -19. Griggs stated, “Last year, camp was offered face to face for six weeks. Each week there was a different group of kids and we hosted [them] at the downtown library. Students eventually ended up at the UNF campus to interface with college students and professors in the IT space on campus.”

“It improves their critical thinking skills and shows that once they master the basics, they are confident to go beyond the surface of what they see. It opens up a world of innovation and opportunity for our students.”

charles l. griggs

He went on to explain that when March 2020 approached, the time when the organization hosts its sensational spring college tour for high school students, is the same time when COVID-19 cases started ramping up in the U.S. As cases continued to spread exponentially, the organization immediately moved on planning how to transform the “Coding in Color” bootcamp into an online format this year. Griggs stated, “With the timing of everything around the start of the pandemic here in the states, overlapping with the college tour and cases continually rising, it was a natural shift to offer the coding bootcamp to youth virtually this year.”

This year, the program is offered as a one-day introduction to software programming skills. Students receive an interactive foundation in Black Tech History, Coding Fundamentals, Data Management, User Interfaces and more.

When asked why he believes it is important to expose young black youth to opportunities like the “Coding in Color” bootcamp, Griggs responded, “It improves their critical thinking skills and shows that once they master the basics, they are confident to go beyond the surface of what they see. It opens up a world of innovation and opportunity for our students.”

According to Griggs, 100 Black Men of Jacksonville, Inc. has plans to continue offering the one-day coding bootcamp as an online after school and mentoring program for students when school resumes in August.

For more information about “Coding in Color” or to register a student, click HERE.