Roy Clay Sr. Web Development and Entrepreneurship

A couple months ago, I saw a couple of my friends tweet about the graduation of the first cohort of the Roy Clay Sr. Web Development and Entrepreneurship workshop.  The workshop is a 6 week class focused on learning about web development, social media, and entrepreneurship, plus the negative social and political implications of technology.  The class is geared towards helping the Ferguson community build technical infrastructure for businesses that serve the community as well as address issues of economic equality.  The idea started when people realized that they couldn’t do a Google search of their own community in Ferguson because many of the businesses did not have a web presence.  The program is aimed towards teaching young people how to code so that they can go out into the community to build up websites and networks for black-owned businesses and organizations.  It’s brilliant.

The events of the past year in Ferguson have been eye opening for me because I never like to think poorly of my hometown of St. Louis.  I have been trying to figure out how I personally can help, and this workshop seemed perfect because it played to my strengths.  I was ridiculously excited to become a mentor for the program, and I’m nervous excited to teach a few of the sessions as well.

The first workshop started in February of this year, and you can read about it here.  Both workshops were crowdfunded, and the Roy Clay Sr. Workshop is part of the Hands Up United organization.  You can follow them on Twitter: @handsupunited_.  If you’re in St. Louis, please please please come and volunteer!  You don’t have to be super technical — I honestly think that being there and supportive is just as helpful as knowing a ton about CSS or HTML or whatever.

The first class of the workshop was a little over a week ago.  It was in the super cool T-Rex building. They invited the student’s family and friends for a launch party.  There was a tech panel with five awesome people who told their life stories and how they overcame obstacles to be where they are.  I loved it because it gave everyone this feeling that they didn’t need to be born into money or a certain kind of family to be successful and give back to their community.  Abby Bobé (far left on the panel below) talked about her life, how she made mistakes, and how she overcame everything to be the awesome person she is today.  I honestly got chills hearing her talk about how she felt out of place in college and how people could be demotivational without even realizing it (ex. “You don’t know [skill]?  Everyone knows that!”).

After the panel, the students went to the front of the room, and everyone else in the room gave affirmations to them.  Abby started it off by telling everyone that she believed in them.  A variety of people assured the students that they would make mistakes, that the workshop was a safe place, and that you can always could bounce back from anything.  I thought that was particularly nice because it’s easy to get into this headspace where you think that any one mistake means that you should quit entirely.  Another person stated the importance of managing up and asking for help and telling people how they can help you.  That was another thing that was super important — I don’t always know how to help but I definitely try my best when someone asks for something directly.  Someone else stressed the importance of creation over consumption, and how you can change the world by creating the change yourself instead of waiting for someone else to do it.  Everyone applauded as the students walked out of the area to the classroom to get started for the day.

Thoughtworks donated Macbooks for the students to use.  Every Macbook came preinstalled with all of the software needed for the class.  The first class was awesome because everyone started from almost scratch and got a working website up on heroku.  They learned a lot of HTML basics as well as version control with GitHub. I love that all of the students got to feel the excitement of getting their first website up and running.  Ayanga Okpokowuruk was a phenomenal instructor because he made all of the students feel free to ask any kind of question that they could imagine.  The class was run in a different (but better!) way than I expected in that there were a couple topics that they wanted to cover on the first day, but that’s about it in terms of rigid scheduling.  I think it gave students the opportunity to go on tangents and ask questions and explore the technical space that they were diving into.  There was a good pace, and there wasn’t this brain bending rush of too much material to learn.

In the second Saturday class, the students got to Airplay their websites to the front screen so that the rest of their classmates could see it.  I thought this was awesome for two reasons.  1. Students got to be proud of their progress and share it with others.  2. Students got to inspire others and build off of each others ideas.  I loved it when one student showed off how they changed their background to an image, and all of the students rushed to do the same.  This wasn’t a part of the curriculum, but I can’t imagine fighting against the excitement buzzing in the air of getting the perfect background photo.  Another student was a musician and figured out how to embed their songs into the website.  Students got to build off that idea and try to embed YouTube videos or whatever they wanted.  It was awesome.

I’m excited but nervous to teach my sections.  I’m doing one session this Tuesday night on project management, using Trello, and agile.  A couple weeks from now, I’m doing an 8 hour session on a Saturday about SquareSpace and integration with Paypal.  After that, I have another evening session on elevator pitches.  If anyone has any advice — I’m all ears!

I’m going to leave you with my favorite thing that I overheard during the first session.  Every time I read it, I just get chills thinking about how awesome these students are.

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