Lack of exposure to education, training and competitive job opportunities are main factors behind the low numbers of African-Americans in the technology industry. InnoPower, Rooted School, The Indianapolis Recorder and Eleven Fifty Academy aim to widen the door for more diversity in tech. Mentorship and role models are provided throughout the program, which is geared for youth in the 46218 zip code area of Indianapolis.
Emil Ekiyor is the CEO and Founder of InnoPower. He spoke with WFYI’s Terri Dee about the objectives of the partnership and the work ahead to help more African American youth to pursue careers in technology:
WFYI Reporter Terri Dee: How did this program evolve from an idea to completion?
CEO and Founder of InnoPower Emil Ekiyor: There was a recent study done about the wealth gap as far as African-Americans compared to Caucasians and Latinos. If we were going to make any dent on that wealth gap, it was important that we look to the future and say, how do we close that gap by leveraging technology and embracing technology as a pathway to upward mobility. So as we look at access to technology and black communities, and how young black kids have been exposed to technology, and been exposed to career opportunities in technology, we saw that something had to change....the status quo was not going to do the job. We had to start thinking through how do we do this, almost like they do at sports where kids are exposed to sports at a young age and they love playing, they keep working hard and developing and maybe one day they get a chance to go to the NBA to the NFL. Similar in industries like technology, we start at a young age and increase the pool of students that are learning at a young age, then the chances of having more professionals move into the professional settings and tech increase. So we just had to increase the pool of students that were being exposed to technology, and being well versed in the opportunities in technology.
TD: What do you see as the biggest challenges which influence exposure to technology and career opportunities for African-Americans?
Ekiyor: The biggest challenge is the myth that this opportunity doesn't exist for African- Americans. I think history has shown that it's an opportunity and inclusive. If we direct the message into the African-American community, we engage young people, and we show them the opportunities for success on the back end, then the chances are people will go into that industry and will succeed in that industry. So the biggest challenge that we face is the messaging about the opportunity to exist in the tech industry for African-Americans. If we don't do a better job of making sure people understand that this opportunity exists for them, if we don't do a better job of engaging and communicating with the community as a whole, then we'll miss the opportunity to get more people into technology for people to buy into the opportunity for upward mobility and also wealth.
TD: Please explain the connection between the partnership of The Indianapolis Recorder, InnoPower, Rooted School and the Eleven Fifty Academy.
Ekiyor: We engage Rooted. Rooted is a new high school in Indianapolis that they're going through their first semester right now. Rooted was created with a tech focus to expose young people to tech opportunities. Eleven Fifty is definitely an opportunity for young people to graduate from high school, go into an academy like Eleven Fifty, go to an 18 week boot camp, and then immediately go into the workforce in a high wage job. So we wanted to connect those dots. But we also needed a way to communicate opportunity to our community as a whole. The Indianapolis Recorder is a trusted voice in our community and has been around for 125 years. So by connecting The Indianapolis Recorder, Rooted High School, Eleven Fifty, we felt like we connected the dots, as far as we have an arm to communicate opportunities that Rooted and Eleven Fifty create in to our community, we can celebrate the excitement, we can celebrate the wins. We had The Indianapolis Recorder and then Rooted can also communicate to their students and families what's next with a Eleven Fifty and then Eleven Fifty has a direct access to the Academy.
TD: Thank you, Mr. Ekiyor for taking the time to speak with me today.
Ekiyor: Thank you