Trying to Get Their Code On in the South Bronx

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Bronx hackathon

Photos by Roxanne L. Scott

(Left to right) Taylor, 15; Tracie, 17; and Ashanti, 16, work on a website for their school step team.

NEW YORK — On a freezing Saturday morning in a brick building in the South Bronx, young people with laptops filled a community center, trying to create tech solutions to issues such as homelessness, pollution and poverty in eight hours.

New York Bureau

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At the hackathon, dubbed #SocialGoodHacks, young technologists pressed for time frantically typed and stared at their screens. Event organizers had planned for five teams but so many people came they ended up with 11.

“People may not think about the Bronx in relation to technology but I know when I think about the Bronx I think about innovation,” said Danny Peralta, 36, director of arts and education at THE POINT, where the event was held. “I think of people coming up with functional ideas for things they may not have.”

Hackathons in the city usually conjure images of spaces in Manhattan or downtown Brooklyn. But Jerelyn Rodriguez, 26, organizer for the event, wanted to shake that perception. “I wanted to have a hackathon at a community-based organization in the South Bronx that exposed community members to this type of event,” she said.

Hackers worked from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Emily Jung, 16, traveled from Brooklyn to participate. “I never really coded before and wanted to learn,” she said. Jung’s team worked on a Metrocard sharing system to reduce the cost for people in poverty.

Bronx hackathon

Participants of the hackathon work on a video to create awareness about environmental justice.

The teams included young people of color but the room was overwhelmingly male.

Young women present explained why women entering the tech industry was important.  “To be honest I want more women to get into technology. I want it to be more females and males so it’s a balance,” Jung said.

Samantha Robinson, 17, of Westchester County, said that while she had a lot of friends interested in technology, they’re not always encouraged. “I’m not a big tech person but I would like to get more into it to have these skills to use in my life,” she said. Her group created a video that explained the effects of river pollution.

Guessan Effi of The Knowledge House, which helped stage the event, says her mechanical engineering classes at City College are overwhelmingly full of men. But, she says, the woman who do stick out studying science, technology, engineering and math will have the most resources. “They’re going to have that support to keep them and push them on,” said Effi, 19.

As the day progressed, teams worried that they wouldn’t finish their projects. Rodriguez said attendees shouldn’t stop working.

“We hope that the attendees take their ideas and keep developing them further so that people actually use them. And that they become solutions,” she said.