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THE WEEKLY GLEANER | FEBRUARY 14 - MARCH 16, 2022 | | ADVERTISEMENT 14 Sophia Findlay/Gleaner Writer VANCOUVER BUSINESSMAN Bryan Johnson aims to inspire black youth to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). After all, he has first-hand knowledge of being the only black person in the room, after working in Canada’s tech sector for 20 years at several global companies, and wants to fix that. In fact, he is doing just that. In 2015, the founder and CEO of Black Boys Code launched the free coding programme for male students to align with his vision of creating a pipeline to their future. “My experience is not just anecdotal,” says Johnson.“There’s a wide diversity gap in tech, with only about four per cent of technology professionals being black.” It was discouraging to see so few black men and women in positions that shape and lead technology initiatives, especially as the tech talent imbalance does not match the demographics of the general population, he says. “We’re working to close the diversity gap in tech by providing black youth with the tools, skill sets and mentorships to become future leaders in tech,” he adds. Black Boys Code is now the largest organisation in Canada that focuses solely on educating and mentoring black youth in STEM studies. It has expanded to 11 chapters across the country and is currently launching new chapters in the US. The organisation has reached more than 4,000 black youth and in November 2021, launched its first programme for girls: Black Kids Code (Girls). Says Johnson: “We’re introducing kids, ages eight to 17, to the world of tech via coding workshops, hackathons, and other events and initiatives. “We’re also providing young adults, ages 18 to 29, with the life-changing opportunity to receive a full scholarship to attend a 12-week web development boot camp, which gives them the technical skills and training to launch new careers as professional web developers.” Although there is no data available as yet to analyse the trajectory of the youth who participated in the programme since its inception, given that it is still in its early stages, Johnson says they’vemade positive progress. “Most kids who start with us are elementary or middle-school age, so we haven’t yet seen the potential ripple effects our programming will have on post-secondary and job rates. However, we do have data collected from participants that show an increased interest in pursuing computer science/tech. “We’ve also received testimonials from parents who have been delighted with their child’s progress, and who report that because of joining Black Boys Code, their child has decided to pursue post-secondary education in computer science, so that they can have a career in tech,” he explains. Confident that he is helping to debunk the view that organisations can’t find employees from the black community for those roles, Black Boys Code worked with TD Bank Group for funding and support. “So, there are no excuses or indication that there are not enough black engineers, data analysts or computer developers in the pipeline,” he says. “Black youth need to see that it’s a very real possibility to have a future career with well-established organisations like TD, and that such organisations have a vested interest in their future success.” His organisation, he says, has been supported by the TD Ready Commitment, the bank’s global corporate citizenship platform, which has made it possible to offer summer camps and after-school programmes. Black Boys Code provides monthly exposure workshops, hackathons, after-school programmes, and summer technology camps. “We’ve also been able to connect with volunteers from the immense pool of talent at TD, who are actively working with us to increase digital literacy among the kids in our programmes,” says Johnson. “We’re grateful for our relationship with TD and commend the team there for actively participating in closing the tech diversity gap by investing in black youth and, just as importantly, hiring black technology professionals as they enter the workforce.” For over a decade, TD has proudly supported organisations, programmes and events during Black History Month, and beyond, that amplify black voices and stories. The assistance also reinforces its dedication to driving positive, sustainable change for black customers, communities, and colleagues. For more information about the bank’s efforts visit walkthewalk. Bryan Johnson builds with Black Boys Code Bryan Johnson CONTRIBUTED