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Code Crew continues to address poverty with STEM skills

by Dr. Sybil C. Mitchell, Special to The New Tri-State Defender

In July 2018, Myiah Hill was a 27-year-old single mother of three, on public assistance and living in subsidized housing, making $5,000 a year and fresh out of options. Six months later, she is fielding job offers from Memphis companies as a fully trained and educated software engineer pulling an annual salary of $50,000.

Meka Egwuekwe

“I told Meka he is doing the work of the Lord,” said Hill. “People living in poverty are given an opportunity to get an education in computer science so they can take care of their families. God is in that. It’s God’s work and I am so grateful. Code Crew was transformative and life-changing for me.”

Hill is just one of many success stories coming out of Code Crew, a computer science education entity which offers field training for Shelby County Schools students and an intensive, concentrated boot camp for adults seeking a challenging, new career and a way out of poverty.

“We have been in the schools mentoring and teaching children computer science skills,” said Code Crew Executive Director Meka Egwuekwe. His father is Nigerian, but he grew up right here in South Memphis.

“The Code School for adults is only a year old,” Egwuekwe said. “Our initial target was opportunity youth, at-risk young people between the ages of 16 and 24. Back in 2015 when we started, there were 45,000 of these young people. Many are not in school or working. Job prospects are bleak and opportunities for them are scarce. For our size of market, Memphis had the highest percentage of opportunity youth in the nation.”   

For Egwuekwe, clearly, there was something to be done about that. Computer science careers seem to be the wave of the future, but too many underserved children and adults did not have access to a computer science education. They would have no opportunity to access the thousands of open software development positions in Memphis.

“The city’s biggest issue is poverty,” said Egwuekwe. “Many people feel that our big problem is crime, but Dr. King said poverty and ignorance breeds crime. I wanted to do something to make Memphis greater. I wanted to help.

“I was a 19-year software engineer when we received funding from the Memphis Grizzlies to teach middle-school kids how to create apps at the Lester Community Center in Binghampton,” said Egwuekwe. “That effort grew, and we saw it as a way of moving the needle for students who had no computer science education. But now, a law has just passed in Tennessee mandating that schools have to provide computer science education.”

The six-month Code School program accepts adults of any age with the drive and commitment to complete the course of study. A new career and middle-class salary awaits, but it’s not easy, said Egwuekwe.

“Anyone who is willing to put in the time, show up for class, do the homework, and complete the projects can successfully complete the program,” he said. “Nothing is just handed to anyone. It’s a lot of hard work, but it pays off in the end.”

Everyone who enrolls is individually assessed after eight or nine weeks. Those who show a real commitment are invited at that time to continue the program. For others, “the program is over for them at that point,” said Egwuekwe.

Code Crew is a nonprofit organization. In addition to operating the six-month Code School for adults, its outreach programs presently impact 300 students each week. Of those students, 90 percent are African American and Latino. Forty-one percent are female.

(Code Crew is supported by the Memphis Grizzlies Foundation and FedEx. For more information and registration, call 901-299-1720 or visit www.code-crew.org.)

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