April 1, 2016
There’s an appeal that comes along with being part of tech culture – you’re able to be at the forefront of change and creativity, helping to bring some of the world’s leading innovations to life. But when you’re a marginalized person – especially a person of color – that fight for inclusion can come at a price.
Earlier this week, Rodney Sampson, the head of diversity and inclusion for TechSquare, recalled a harrowing experience involving one of his CodeStart students via social media. Sampson recounts how one of his students, after attempting to deposit his monthly stipend provided by the program, was falsely accused by one of the check cashing store’s managers of trying to cash a “legitimate USPS money order”. With his ID and money order illegally held by the manager, the student was then told to call the police…only to be arrested himself. Sampson tells Tech.Co:
“At TechSquare Labs and Opportunity Hub, we look for real problems to solve everyday. On the day of the incident, the intersection of several systemic pain points in our society collided. It was the intersection of civil, human and economic inequity. Predatory financial “services” collided with racial profiling which collided with police brutality (in this case mental and verbal abuse).”
CodeStart is a 13-month program that provides disconnected youth and under-employed young adults from Atlanta to a program that mixes “coding, entrepreneurship, career readiness and financial readiness”. It’s brought together in a collaborative effort by the Atlanta Workforce Development Agency, TechSquare Labs and Opportunity Hub. The entire ordeal that occurred to the CodeStart student was told on Sampson’s Twitter page, which was later compiled on Storified.
The incident in question demonstrates not only the need for this program but also for the overhaul to current inclusion and diversity efforts. But, for me, the biggest issue stemmed from the lack of cohesion between these different departments. The fact is, almost all industries lack the nuance to allow for marginalized individuals to let different parts of their lives intersect in a way that it does naturally. Instead, we’re often forced to assimilate in multiple ways, creating disparate identities needed to juggle the requirements of succeeding in any space.
This ordeal reflects the work that still needs to be done in the tech space – where diversity initiatives are on the rise, but internal discrimination and rampant burnout are commonplace. People of color are still largely underrepresented across-the-board and struggle to receive access and resources that would allow for an easier integration. With these kinds of situations hitting organizations essential to the tech industry, how are we supposed to reach true inclusion?
Since the ordeal, TechSquare is taking action. According to Sampson, the organization is teaming up with other organizations to target these systemic issues, and is raising funds for CodeStart to help:
“We now have the opportunity, in collaboration with this and future cohorts of future software developers and entrepreneurs; the City of Atlanta; Atlanta Police Department; the financial services industry; and the technology community to focus on hacking these systemic pain points that plague millions of citizens in communities across America. We are organizing our collective narratives, the noise, and resources to ‘hack’ what I consider to be the Achilles’ heel of America.”
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