Hidden Genius: Kalimah Priforce and Oakland’s First Hackathon for Black Male Achievement

Every summer my little cousin from Arizona, now 10 years old, stays with family in Oakland, California. He spends 99.9% of his time in front of the computer. Okay, that is an exaggeration. He spends 1% of that time at the movies. This summer I put him on a daily 3-hour computer time limit. My cousin explained that was not possible because he was coding or something. Pretending to understand what he was saying, I increased the time limit to 5-hours and walked away from the conversation completely confused.

Then I meet Kalimah Priforce, co-founder of Qeyno Labs. With the support of over 60 community partners, Qeyno Labs hosted Oakland’s first Startup Weekend and Black Male Achievement hackathon. To my surprise this was not the first hackathon to happen in Oakland. However it was Oakland’s first Startup Weekend and first hackathon for Black Male Achievement. With over 150 participants, applications and websites were developed surrounding education, health, restorative justice, gaming, and sustainability, all attempting to answer the event’s theme question; “Could An App Have Saved Trayvon Martin?” I learned that at top tech companies, only 2% of employees identify as Black, and 80% of jobs in the next decade will require technology and coding skills (Sullivan, Gail. “Google statistics show Silicon Valley has a diversity problem.” Washington Post 29 May 2014). With statistics like these, my hope is that in the next 5 years coding is added to the high school foreign language graduation requirement.

After talking to Kalimah my eyes were open to a world I never bothered to understand. However, once I met the creators of the website Connect the Dots, my mind was blown! Desmond Castillo and George Hofstetter, both rising freshmen (and extremely articulate, may I add) with little no coding experience, along with their team were able to develop a full working website in just 2 and a half days. I also talked with Rachel Walker, whom is the first African-American female software developer I have ever met. She joined the Connect the Dots team at Startup Weekend and continues to work with them as they continue to improve the website throughout the summer.

Everyday you learn something new. I learned something new everyday while producing this micro documentary. Every person I interviewed said something that made me tilt my head and look at the world we live in just a little differently. I’d like to thank everyone who made time to be a part of this project and everyone who played a role in making Oakland’s first Startup Weekend and Black Male Achievement hackathon a successful and memorable event for our community.

My cousin has already returned to Arizona, but halfway through making this film I called him, or rather we video chatted through FaceTime. With my new found knowledge I was able to talk to him about coding and software development with a little bit of confidence. I told him the daily computer time limit would be lifted next summer. However, a 2-hour outside policy would be in effect.