Memphis' first Tech Equity Week targets the digital divide

“I want the rest of the country to know what we’re doing in Memphis, that we are on the front lines of addressing the importance of diversity and inclusion, and it’s important that we are part of the national conversation."

Since 2011, there has been a 200 percent increase in information technology jobs. According to Start Co. president Andre Fowlkes, Memphis has seen a 50 percent decline in tech jobs in that same period of time.

“We have done a lot of research. In the ‘80s, Memphis was on the map with all the AutoZones and FedExes,” Fowlkes said. “We sort of took a hiatus. We rode the wave of the big corporations rather than generate new innovators.”
This discrepancy in access to communications technology is increased by the fact that 30 percent of households in the Memphis urban core are without broadband Internet.

Meka Egwuekwe understands these numbers all too well, and for the past five years the software developer has been doing his part to change Memphians’ access to technology.

Most recently he launched Memphis’ first Tech Equity Week, a technology inclusion campaign that is part of a national movement to create more opportunities for underrepresented populations in tech careers.

Other local organizations working to reduce the digital divide include Cloud901, Black Girls Code, Tech901, This Kid Can Code and 100 Girls of Code.

“Memphis’ largest demographic is African-American females, followed by African-American males, then Caucasian females and our largest growing population is Latinos,” said Egwuekwe, who earned a master’s in computer science from Duke University.
CodeCrew was a convener of Memphis' first Tech Equity Week.




















“These populations are woefully underrepresented in computer science. Unlike Boston or Seattle where they can white or Asian male their way to prosperity - they can ignore any other group and still be prosperous - we can't. We must address diversity and inclusion if we want to be successful. We must solve this problem.”

The campaign debuted with a kickoff reception sponsored by Egwuekwe’s newest company, CodeCrew, a nonprofit which offers coding opportunities to youth through after-school programs, summer camps, classroom electives and internships.

The reception, held at the FedEx Institute of Technology on April 20, included a panel discussion on what Memphis can do to further diversity and inclusion in the technology career landscape.

Thursday’s event was followed by an open house for the Black Data Processing Association, which had become inactive in the last couple of years until recently when some University of Memphis students breathed new life into it. The event, held April 25 at the Crews Center for Entrepreneurship, provided network opportunities for computer science and computer engineering majors to meet black IT professionals in Memphis.

“It’s important that Memphis overcomes its inferiority complex. It is unwarranted. All we have to do is be willing to roll up our sleeves, do the work, and believe in ourselves.”

Start Co. originally planned to host one of their exciting pitch sessions for youth, but rain forced the event to move to the Brass Door, and the April 25th event turned into a mixer.

The week closed out with a screening of “Code Girls,” hosted by gender diversity in technology advocate Shiloh Barnett at Studio on the Square. Closing out the week was a coding workshop, hosted by Code Crew, and held April 29 at Tech901.

“We need more young people to see themselves as more than consumers of technology,” Egwuekwe said.

“There is a stereotype in young people’s mind of what a producer of technology is: White or Asian male. It’s something someone else should do. They are just as capable. They just need mentoring and models that will have a long-term positive effect, encouraging them to pursue college or career or entrepreneurship in technology. Then I can go work for them.”

TEQWEEK is a national campaign that started in Oakland last year and spread in 2017 to Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia and Providence, R.I. this year.

“I want the rest of the country to know what we’re doing in Memphis, that we are on the front lines of addressing the importance of diversity and inclusion, and it’s important that we are part of the national conversation,” Egwuekwe said.

“It’s important that Memphis overcomes its inferiority complex. It is unwarranted. All we have to do is be willing to roll up our sleeves, do the work, and believe in ourselves.”

 

Read more articles by Lesley Young.

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