Activist Inspires Teens to Learn Coding With Hip-Hop Hackathon

The NYC event Hip-Hop Hacktivist wants minority and underrepresented youths to become producers instead of consumers.

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Jun 21 2017, 4:45pm

Photo via Getty Images.

This is an opinion piece by Bryan Bethea, founder of Hip Hop Hacktivist, a free social programming event, that will take place on June 24 in New York, that uses the influence of hip hop culture to introduce tech industry opportunities to minority and underrepresented youths.

When I came up with the idea of Hip Hop Hacktivist, my vision was to simply use what kids are familiar with to show them to something new. It's important that we speak to our young people in the language that they understand and delve into topics that resonate with them. The term "Hacktivist"--a combination of the words "Hacker" and "Activist"-- is meant to signify an activist who uses programming to impact social change.

Our event creates an educational ecosystem that has three layers of impact:

  1. It provides an opportunity for experienced tech professionals to give back through mentorship
  2. It allows tech professionals who are new to the industry to pair program with experienced developers
  3. It introduces programming to students who have no experience

I want to use Hip Hop Hacktivist as a platform to change the negative perception and stigma of being a programmer that may exist to young people involved in hip hop culture. In low income communities, most young residents don't even think about becoming a programmer. Many, however, aspire to be rappers. Imagine the number of kids from the projects and streets of Brooklyn that you would have programming if they heard Jay-Z discuss the great entrepreneurial opportunity it offers. We will partner with members of the hip hop community to strengthen our efforts in advocating programming to youth.

We want kids to become producers instead of consumers. Most are unaware that opportunities in tech can change their circumstances tremendously.

In the future, my team and I hope to build a braintrust for Hip Hop Hacktivist that comprises key individuals who we feel understand our mission -- people who can help guide us and give us access to grow in a way that further bridges the gap between hip hop culture and technology. A few people in the music industry that we have already identified are Nas and his Queensbridge Ventures Partners firm, Will.i.am with his work over at Intel, and even Chamillionaire with all of the activity he has had in the tech space. My team and I think that they have vision and understand the opportunities that exist in tech. If we were able to connect with them, they would identify with Hip Hop Hacktivist's mission and help take it further.

Right now, Hip Hop Hacktivist revolves around introducing kids to programming and supplying them with resources for self learning. We hope it will become that resource as we expand and develop a hands-on curriculum to teach programming to youths. This is something that is already in the works.

We'd also like to develop a weekly Hip Hop Hacktivist show (something similar to what Desus and Mero do with their VICELAND show, but centered around tech and hip hop) to allow kids to see representations of themselves in positions in tech. It would also allow us to change the negative perception that some in our target demographic may have about working in tech.

We look forward to what the future has in store for Hip Hop Hacktivist. Anyone interested in the Hip Hop Hacktivist vision can contact the organization or register to attend.

Though Hip Hop Hacktivist is my vision, there are a few people who played very vital roles in making this happen. If it weren't for Kenny Durkin and Mary Cannon at Tumblr, Hip Hop Hacktivist would still just be a thought. Fortunately they were able to resonate with what I aim to accomplish and immediately jumped on board. Another key person is Akasha Archer, the Operations Manager. She's responsible for our visual identity along with website and promotional design. She also assisted me in managing day-to-day tasks and helped to keep things from becoming overwhelming. Then there's the wonderful group of mentors and organizers who generously agreed to donate their time and expertise to help the students. This chain of events and people involved are reflections of how special the NYC tech scene is.