Black Churches Are Helping to Teach a New Generation of Kids to Code

The FAITHTECH lab at Calvary Hill Community Church (Photo: Jessica Guynn, USA TODAY)
The FAITHTECH lab at Calvary Hill Community Church
(Photo: Jessica Guynn, USA TODAY)

For years, parishioners at the Calvary Hill Community Church have learned to live by the code.

Now their children are learning a different kind: computer code.

The San Francisco church is one of the first to take part in an initiative from Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition to forge a new generation of computer programmers. Jackson is reaching out to African Americans in their spiritual homes with FAITHTECH Labs, an initiative that provides access to computers for all ages and coding classes for young people.

So far, Rainbow PUSH has opened tech labs at Calvary Hill in San Francisco, in its Chicago headquarters and in a church in Greenville, S.C., Jackson’s hometown. Two more are slated to open soon — inside Greater St. Paul Church in Oakland and Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church in Richmond, Calif. — with a third planned for a Chicago church.

Each tech lab is equipped with laptop and desktop computers, printers, servers and networking technology donated by HP. In many cases the new equipment is replacing slow, broken-down computers that frequently crash, frustrating church users, young and old.

“We have to get a whole new generation ‘code ready,’ to produce thousands of young people who can fill the pipeline to the technology industry,” Jackson told USA TODAY. “If not us, who will?”

FAITHTECH Labs is part of Rainbow PUSH’s 1,000 Churches Connected Program, which supplies technology to boost financial literacy and now technological proficiency.

Valerie Cooper, associate professor of black church studies at the Duke Divinity School, says Jackson recognizes “the power of black churches in black communities.”

For decades, churches have served as a cornerstone of the African-American community and an organizing base for the civil rights and social justice movements. Nearly eight in 10 African Americans say religion is very important in their lives, significantly more than the 59% of the U.S. adult population overall who agree, according to research conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2009. Churches not only play a central role in African-American life, they offer far more than Sunday services.

“Black churches have a powerful ability to assist in the educational mission of communities and to help communities flourish,” Cooper said. “I’m excited about the possibility that people will discover a love for technology, for coding and a love for computers. And there is a really strong possibility that if churches have the equipment that children might just explore and find something that they love.”

The success of the initiative will depend on faithful execution, she cautioned. “The danger is that this just eventually becomes a new computer for the church office,” Cooper said.

At Phillis Wheatley community center in Greenville, S.C., from morning until night, people from the surrounding community stream into the tech lab that opened in January to grab a seat and one of the three laptops and three desktop computers. Kids come to work on school projects, teens to hunt for summer jobs and adults to fill out applications for more permanent work, standing in line for their turn when necessary. The community center will debut a coding class for kids this summer.

The tech lab is a blessing “especially for churches likes ours that are located in the inner city,” said Darian Blue, pastor of Nicholtown Missionary Baptist Church and executive director of the Phillis Wheatley Association.

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Source: USA Today | Jessica Guynn