Teenagers are perplexing. There’s something about that combination of physicality, virility and utter lack of perspective can make them seem cold and unfeeling. Mean girls, bully boys and all permutations in between hide their former cuteness and potential behind a veneer clouded by social media and raging, swirling, gurgling hormones. But, alas I have two teenaged siblings. A brother and, yes, a sister.
Looking back on my formative years, I remember teenage girls existing. Objects of affection. Disinterested Classmates. Serial Whisperers. But I was not yet savvy enough to notice all the subtleties of their actions. The feints, the misdirections, the verbal inside out hesitation dribbles, the blatant trolling toward concerned family members.
A few friends who are now years removed from that base condition of adolescence warned me of the power that potential embarrassment holds over young ladies of a certain age, so I’ll leave my own sister out of this (mostly), but I needed help with, um, helping her. And allowing me to know her. So I turned to Black Girls CODE. If you aren’t hip, Black Girls CODE is an organization that is devoted to showing the world that black girls can code, preparing them to occupy some of the 1.4 million tech jobs in the market, and helping me find out what my kid sister won’t take her buds out of her ear. (Oh, wait that’s embarrassing isn’t it, I’ll stop)
BGC’s latest hackathon in NYC allowed me get a close up look at how black girl magic, rather black girl scientific method, empowers young girls who may feel ignored by their school system or alienated in their communities. Girls need mentors, communities need support and it's undoubtedly beneficial when youth can look to someone like them to bolster their inner resolve.
Tiana Kara, who handles strategic partnerships at BGC, gave me a little insight into how BGC is working to help girls of color triumph in the current social and professional landscape.
“It can empower her where she needs to be empowered. Girls that attend our workshop that go on to work with other boys don’t shy off. Statistically, girls in groups with boys become shy and don’t speak up. Girls who attend our camps become leaders. She’ll definitely learn to speak up for herself.”
Management of self image seems to be exponentially more important for teenagers. Flower crowns may be seemingly harmless but the proliferation of screen time has warped the value of self-esteem. Your “self” is your profile. Your image is you. A new school can’t recreate you. Better grades can’t change you. You is a record of events rather than a person. If I’m allowed to use my degree for a moment, one of the key components of Laura Mulvey’s Visual Pleasure and the Narrative Cinema is that identity is formed in relation to who you see on the screen. In films, women’s bodies are often chopped into sexualized sections while protagonists and their agency are usually coded male. While Mulvey was pointing out how this dynamic effects women on the big screen the 70s, real time personalized negative commentary via Facebook or Snapchat has been proven to be a more insidious mental worm than the influence of mass media.
Empowerment is increasingly important when self esteem is under assault and our government appears to be exercising their open hostility toward vulnerable communities. BGC arms our girls with technical skills that can demystify the bevy of apps that dominate their young lives, the networking support to present them with opportunities they may have never thought possible, and the community access that gives parents, volunteers, and overly concerned siblings an accessible outlet to turn their concern into action.
Millennials get a harsh rap for their (or our) employment status, but they (or we) came into being at an interesting moment in time. Just in time for the internet to become a truly ubiquitous thing, but not in time for us to be groomed on how to understand and create careers from it. BGC is preparing girls to work in the new world and preventing them for being source material for season two of 13 Reasons Why. Tiana blessed me with a critical gem during our convo,
“Coding doesn’t just help with tech, it also helps you learn how to build. Step outside of the computer and focus on how something works. How is this built?”