This past weekend, I worked at the event Why Computer Science Matters in Communities of Color at Teachers College, Columbia University. The event was hosted by NYC Men Teach and CS4ALLNYC. It was an incredible opportunity for educators to think about how to bring computer science to their schools and to explore how we can support communities of color. The conversation around how we can make computer science accessible to students of color and challenge implicit biases in the tech sector were a highlight of mine at this event. Christy Crawford, director of partnerships and engagement for CS4ALL, introduced how this time together was going to be about "legacies"--legacies that have been come before us and legacies awaiting to be made.
Speaking of legacies, the children of two well known computer science pioneers were present, one of Katherine Johnson's daughters and the children of Jerry Lawson. Katherine Johnson is well known for calculating orbital trajectories for NASA and was portrayed in the movie Hidden Figures.Jerry Lawson is considered one of the founding fathers of the video gaming industry, creating the first video game cartridge.
It was an honor hearing from all of them speak on the panel. I particularly loved the story that Katherine Johnson's daughter, Joylette Hylick, shared about a time when her mother was in elementary school. Katherine Johnson asked the teacher a question about math. When the teacher responded, "But, Katherine, you already know the answer to that question." The young Katherine answered, "Yes, but they [my classmates] do not know the answer."Joylette emphasized that that was how her mother always was--kind, compassionate, and always looking to help others.
The Lawson family also had many stories to share. They talked about how their father always had the original iterations of many technology devices and that many of his favorite devices were kept in their family's garage. It wasn't until his children reflected in retrospect that their father taught them many things by simply explaining and engaging them in conversation at a very young age.
After participants broke out into workshops to learn about various coding and/or robotics programs to bring back to their classroom, they were brought back to hear an artificial intelligence (AI) expert speak, Joy Buolamwini.
Joy has been doing outstanding work in breaking down biases in facial analysis technology. Her work involves uncovering that the algorithms some of the leading companies in facial analysis are using, Facebook, Microsoft, etc., would only pick up light, male faces. She spoke about how her face could not be detected and that there is an "algorithmic bias" by those who control the power and technology to write those algorithms. Questioning who creates technology and how we must include a broad spectrum of faces and give a voice to those who are marginalized, even in artificial intelligence, is one of her focuses. Additionally, she created the Algorithmic Justice League (AJL) as a way for individuals and companies to come together in solidarity to fight "coded biases" and pledge to be inclusive.
What an incredible event! Bravo to NYC Men Teach and CS4ALLNYC for hosting a thought-provoking and inspirational experience for all those who came!
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