At this point much has been written about the lack of representation of minorities as employees, venture capitalists and venture capital funded start-up founders within the tech sector. In all fairness, we could take the same statement and replace “tech sector” with “finance” or a host of other sectors, and the truth of the words would still be paramount. Thankfully in large part to the coverage and work of so many across this country, there is a real movement to increase minority representation within tech.
I, along with my JOURNi cofounders Quiessence Phillips and Richard Grundy, have been fortunate to work on local and national initiatives that have introduced computer coding, design and other tech related opportunities to young people who normally wouldn’t have had the opportunity. Through such work over the last few years, along with juggling our daily jobs as either tech founders or in their case software and security engineers, we’ve realized that increasing access to real tech opportunities requires long-term involvement within the communities with the least amount of access. In short, we realized that we had to repair to where the greatest challenges lie, iterate what we learn works and scale nationally from there.
Being that two of the three of us happen to come from the place that has the highest percentage of minorities (African Americans 84%) of any major city in the country, we decided that it made the most sense to launch in our native home, Detroit. However, we did not choose Detroit merely because of it’s a minority-majority populated city or merely because the majority of us were familiar with the inner workings of the city. We chose Detroit for a much more complex reason.
For at least fifty years, Detroit has been a place where African Americans could see themselves in all aspects of opportunity. Whether it was political aspirations or owning a business, you never got the sense that you couldn’t be whatever you wanted to be. One has to look no further than Black Enterprise magazine’s annual list of top performing businesses to find many highly ranked black-owned businesses across all industries coming out of the Motor City. Yet, in a city that has always provided infinite opportunity for its residents, it has struggled with some of the nation’s highest violent crime rates and even recently found itself housing the country’s poorest census tract. Our decision to launch in Detroit wasn’t merely about hometown pride or the “Detroit vs. Everybody” mantra. It was more about our unwavering belief that the elements of becoming a great hacker or start-up founders can be found amongst Detroiters.
The city itself is in the midst of a rebirth. That much has been written and reported about. You can go downtown or to midtown any day of the week and see how vibrant the city has become. There is definitely much to be excited about. Political and private sector leaders alike have made a concerted effort to make Detroit’s rebirth include a more tech centered, start-up economic ecosystem; yet for any start-up ecosystem to be truly sustainable, it must produce or attract a steady crop of capable hackers/engineers, designers and innovators willing to create often against sound reason and judgment.
And it is to fulfill that need why we chose Detroit, and launched JOURNi. At JOURNi we are teaching youth, young adults and career changers alike more than how to code. We’re focused on ensuring that our students learn what role software development plays in their everyday lives and how they can utilize what they learn to impact the world in which they live. At JOURNi there will be no shortcuts. No coding lite classes. Each student must develop her or his skills to the ever-evolving standard required to compete in the global tech environment. Anything less would merely be setting students up for failure. But if we’re only half right, we’ll make lifelong learners out of those we encounter. At JOURNI our mission is to help shape a generation of technologists who produce apps, websites and software that solve some of the biggest problems our society faces.
Whatever our impact ultimately is, you have our word that we will always be dedicated to making tech look more like those who depend on it every day.
Brian McKinney Sr.