Three days out of the week Amantina Sosa would wake up before the sun rose to prepare for an early morning shift at Starbucks. Following her barista shift Sosa—a Bronx native—would hop on the train and rush from the Midtown Starbucks location to Harlem to participate in a tech and entrepreneurship program designed for underserved adults. Prior to getting involved with the program, she says she would have never considered pursuing a career in tech, and now she’s on a path to creating her own app.
“I didn’t think that I could pursue tech as a career,” she said. “This program made me see that tech wasn’t something that was far in reach.” For Sosa, the early mornings and long days were worth it because she knew she was investing in her future.
Like Sosa, many underserved young adults in New York City, have struggled to forge their own paths due to the lack of access and exposure to career readiness resources. Disrupt Harlem Code Squad—a Harlem-based free 16-week program created by the Harlem Business Alliance designed to empower adults between the ages of 18 and 24 to step into entrepreneurship and expose them to career pathways in tech—is aiming to change that narrative. Participants learn how to code, experience what it’s like to work at tech companies first-hand through field trips, and receive ongoing mentorship from tech leaders and entrepreneurs. Students are placed on teams and work on creating their own digital projects which are presented before a panel of judges on Demo Day.
The program has proven to be nothing short of impactful. A lot of the participants in the 2018 cohort say that being a part of Disrupt Harlem has given them a strong sense of purpose and inspired them to further their entrepreneurial endeavors. For many of the students representation was key; seeing themselves reflected in their instructors and mentors had a positive influence.
“It really showed me that technology is a driving force in everything,” said participant Aniya Carter. Carter, a recent college grad, has always had a passion for entrepreneurship and says that Disrupt Harlem Code Squad provided her with the foundation to build her own business. For her Demo Day project, she created a platform called Jigsaw which helps connect job seekers and employers. “It was a great experience. It was encouraging to see that everyone looked like me. It was run by Black people and the students were Black which was motivating.”
Like Carter, program participant Mark Farrel hopes to be at the helm of his own business within the next few years. Farrel—who worked at Bloomingdale’s while participating in Disrupt Harlem Code Squad—has always been passionate about pursuing a career in fashion. The Harlemite says the program has shown him how he can merge fashion and technology. “It became my safe haven. Prior to this, I didn’t have a support system,” Farrel told NewsOne. “It caters to individuals who aren’t taking the traditional educational route. It showed me how I can disrupt the fashion industry through technology.” Farrel and his team created an app called CopIt which gives you details about a piece of clothing by taking a photo. He says he wants to continue to learn more about front-end and back-end development and hopes to become an app developer in the future.
There is a need for culturally sensitive entrepreneurship and tech education programs for young adults in inner-city communities. Ones that are understanding of the daily struggles that they face and can provide guidance and show them how to overcome them. “DHCS provides a holistic approach to educating young adults. We don’t just teach the tech skills needed to enter the industry, but also what’s traditionally considered soft skills. Things like emotional intelligence and networking are key in developing a successful career,” said Program Director Philomena Boateng. “Over the course of the program, our students have grown as not only entrepreneurs and tech professionals. We often say our network is our net worth and they’ve truly taken steps to meet new people and jumpstart their careers.”
DHCS is gearing up for its next cohort and plans on continuing to make an impact in the lives of young adults of color in New York City.