Memphis Tech Bubble Grows With The Help of a $700,000 Grant

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Now you know we never miss a chance to cheer on our internet nieces when they hit the stage for a little performance. But this week in Memphis, four teen dancers not only choreographed the show they put on, they coded the stage lights too, and that is certainly deserving of applause.

“I felt the need to combine my love for science and dance,” explained Kayla Jean-Baptiste, a 14-year-old dancer and coder from Brooklyn, told Fox 13 News.

The performance kicked off the 2022 CSforALL Summit, a yearly tech conference held in Graceland, Tennessee for both educators and enthusiasts. Thursday marked the beginning of the three day conference centered on making the field of computer science a more equitable and more accessible space.

“‘Computer Science for All’ is a national and even global movement to make sure that youth live in a digital world and can navigate that fluently,” said Leigh Ann DeLyser, executive director of the organization. “It’s not an accident that they take everything they know and build the next generation of technology.”

A local nonprofit, Code-Crew led a discussion around the importance of diversifying the industry. “When you only ask one person one question, you only get that,” said Audrey Willis, a co-founder of the nonprofit. “But when you open the floodgates and you bring in minorities, you bring in women, you bring in kids sometimes, it appears completely different.”

The teen dancers also worked together to program lights into their costumes, using technology they learned through STEM from Dance, an organization that helps members combine their love for the arts with their interest in engineering.

“When we have diversity, there’s fairness,” explained Yamilée Toussaint Beach, the founder of the organization. “There’s equity. There’s justice. We want to really unlock the potential to be the next generation of computer scientists and engineers.”

“If you put your mind to something and you really want to do it, you should just go for it – no matter your age, your race, your ethnicity,” dancer Alexandra Francois added.

There was also big news announced outside of the summit this week. The United States Economic Development Administration will be grainting more than $700,000 to the university’s Center for Workplace Diversity, the Black Business Association of Memphis and Community LIFT. The grant will be used to hire more people who will raise capital funds aimed at promoting equity. The money will also pay to hire a fund director and training coordinator.

“How do we help and be intentional about supporting Black businesses?” asked Ernest Strickland, the president of the BBA. “The core of that dream – utopia – is growing Black businesses. With our demographic, we can’t be a thriving community without a strong Black core.”

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