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CodeCrew students riding waves of achievement

by Najee El-Amin —

CodeCrew-Memphis, a nonprofit technology mentorship organization, is making waves within the youth tech world.

Three of the organization’s brightest students are being recognized on a nationwide level.

Johnathan Sherrill and Jayda Murray have been accepted into the TED-ED Students talks and Raising Good Gamers program. Being selected for this opportunity is monumental as only 30 high school students are chosen across the country.

Within the program, they will be putting their minds together to not only evaluate current video game culture but to also see how gaming can be used to tackle real-world issues such as social justice.

The TED-ED Program began in January and will conclude in July. Sherrill and Murray are both competing to be one of the five students selected to speak at the 2021 Games for Change Festival. The festival will be held virtually this year and is set to take place July 12-14.

The event will bring gamers across the globe together in an effort to inspire others and effect change in the world. Last year, nearly 7,000 people were a part of the games, coming from 51 different countries.

“The program isn’t really intense. It is kind of relaxing. Even if I don’t win, they’re still teaching me skills to help me in the future,” said Sherrill.

CodeCrew’s list of achievements doesn’t end there. The duo of Sherrill and Murray, and her sister, Anya, were the winners of the Tennessee Congressional App Challenge.

Middle and High schoolers from across the state took on the challenge, but the trio secured the grand prize with their app Walk In My Shoes: Raising Awareness and Change.

Their game allows users to see the realities of being a middle-class black man. From a first-person perspective, the player is shown some of the struggles of being Black in America including facing racism and microaggressions. The trio says that the idea for such a game came after the death of George Floyd.

“A lot of times when you’re playing video games you tend to put yourself inside the main character’s shoes and experience things in a more visceral way than you would just reading a book or seeing something.

“But if you’re ‘experiencing it yourself’ then you get to have a better perspective at why it that these things matter to us,” said Jayda.

Because of their success, their app now has the chance to be displayed in the United States Capitol building, along with being featured on the House of Representatives’ website.

Meka Egwuekwe

CodeCrew’s Executive Director and Co-Founder Meka Egwuekwe said he is extremely proud of not only the trio of outstanding students, but also the entire program.

“These young people like Jayda, Anaya and Johnathan, they are shining examples of what young people can accomplish if plugged into opportunities in this place (Memphis),” said Egwuekwe

Growing up in South Memphis, Egwuekwe didn’t have a lot of access to technology. With only a Texas Instrument home computer at his disposal, he learned how to code and knew that his future lied in software development.

After receiving funding from the Memphis Grizzlies Foundation, Egwuekwe, along with his two other co-founders, started CodeCrew’s inaugural year by teaching kids how to make mobile apps.

Since then, CodeCrew has helped mentor more than 2,000 kids in the Memphis area. With their innovative technology-focused curriculum, students are able to learn the vital skills needed for a career in computer science.

“When we founded CodeCrew it wasn’t just meant to be a single program at a community center. It was to change Memphis and to change our country for the better,” said Egwuekwe.

“I jokingly say ‘you ain’t seen nothing yet’ we’ve got bigger and even greater aspirations.”

CodeCrew serves more than 500 kids on a weekly basis with 91 percent being from Black and Latinx backgrounds. The nonprofit also is changing the narrative regarding women in the tech industry, with nearly half of the enrolled being female.

“I think that women bring a different perspective to tech,” said Anaya.

Jayda continued, “When you bring so many different kinds of people, not just females, but also males from other ethnicities, … you diversify the spectrum of people who are involved in tech and you get a different perspective of thought and are able to reach so much more of the world that you already have with technology.”

Anaya, Jayda, and Johnathan are on the path to success and they each hope it culminates in their own life ventures.

Johnathan looks forward to strengthening his software development skills and eventually wants to have his own tech company. He has an interest in stocks as well but is more focused on investing in his hometown.

“I plan on having stocks and investing in Bitcoin. Also investing in my community, helping out this community in Memphis,” said Sherrill.

Jayda wants to continue making an impact on the gaming world by infusing video games with mental health awareness and starting her own brand. Down the line, she also wants to reshape the way gamers interact with each other.

She feels that detoxifying the gaming community will drastically help the overall experience.

Anaya on the other hand, has a passion for both acting and coding. Fortunately, CodeCrew have instilled many things in her that will help with her success.

“I’d love to have my own business, my own company where I teach kids how to code and, of course, further down the line, I would love to partner with CodeCrew,” said Anaya. “I have big dreams. Broadway, my own business empire, the good stuff.”

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