Van Jones and Mattie Lawson discuss the benefits of the ‘Yes, We Code’ initiative. (Valerie Goodloe photo)
Van Jones and Mattie Lawson discuss the benefits of the 'Yes, We Code' initiative. (Valerie Goodloe photo)
Van Jones and Mattie Lawson discuss the benefits of the ‘Yes, We Code’ initiative. (Valerie Goodloe photo)

by Cora Jackson-Fossett
Special to the NNPA from the Los Angeles Sentinel

Practically every young person downloads applications or apps to their phones or tablets. Their actions make money for countless companies around the world.

CNN broadcaster Van Jones aims to reverse that trend through his ‘Yes, We Code’ initiative which teaches African American youth to write their own apps and make money for themselves.

Jones outlined the program’s goals to potential contributors during a salon held recently in Los Angeles.  Hosted by Mattie and Michael Lawson, the diverse gathering featured leading attorneys, ministers, entertainers, investors and entrepreneurs in the Black community.

“We’ve decided that we’re not going to accept that those African American boys and girls who are brilliant, who are amazing, who have so much creativity, are just going to be the people who download the apps.  That’s not acceptable,” insisted Jones.

“I said to a lot of young people, ‘When you’re moving your thumbs on your smartphone, you’re making someone else a lot of money, but you’re not making any money for yourself.

“We used to call that picking cotton.  You should be more than just digital cotton pickers.  You should be able to build the apps, make the apps, sell the apps!”

Lending her endorsement, Mrs. Lawson said, “In our community, so often we come to the table with the sense of entitlement, but people of color are not on anybody’s list.

“If we are going to make something happen, we have to rally ourselves.  We have enough people in our community to get that done.  I’m constantly reminded of this African proverb that states, ‘If enough spiders band to together and create a web, they can trap a lion.’

“When I think about what all of our parents and grandparents went through, I can’t say I’m tired. I really have to do my part. When I think about what’s going on with our African American males, I really want to weep.  We have to help them.  They belong to us. They are our children and this is a way for them to see out of this despair and lack of vision to do something that can impact the world globally.”

Striving to move ‘Yes, We Code’ forward, Jones has enlisted support from the Ford Foundation, Essence magazine, recording artist Prince, actor Chris Tucker, songstress Lauren Hill and Facebook.  Also, the initiative was unveiled to hundreds of thousands who attended the Essence Festival in New Orleans earlier this month.

The next step is establishing a ‘Yes, We Code’ Scholarship Fund to aid existing and future organizations in training young people to write code and computer apps, said Jones.

“There are tons of organizations already trying to teach code and they’re having success. Black Girls Code, Brothers Code, all across the country, in church basements, Boys & Girls Clubs, afterschool programs,” explained Jones.

“There are good folks before, during and after school telling our young people you can do it and some of these young people are amazing.  What’s their problem?  They’re too little, they are underfunded, no one knows about them, and they’re invisible, but they’re there,” he said.

“We believe that you have a moment right now where African Americans and those who care about African Americans are open to a real solution.  We need to build a $10 million scholarship fund so any child who wants to attend these programs can go, [so we need to] support our small coding academies.”

A major benefit of teaching children to write code and create their own applications is the potential earnings. Salaries for programmers begin at $70,000 and the more skillful applicant can command even more money.  However, noted Jones, more training opportunities are needed to prepare youth for these careers.

“There are already 192 boot camps for technology in America.  They take somebody who has basic math skills and in 12 weeks, they turn them into computer coders who can make $80,000 a year.

“We have been tricked into thinking that you have to be a genius white kid who was coding computers from three-years-old.  It turns out that it’s a complete mythology,” said Jones, who illustrated his point by sharing his experience at a ‘hack-a-thon’ in New York.

“A hack-a-thon gathering [is] where you get people together to solve problems using technology.  We had 70 African American boys, mostly high school age, and we brought in Google and asked what kind of apps can we make for you? These kids were brilliant, beautiful, and the stuff they came up with was blowing people’s minds!”

Reflecting the realities of inner-city life, Jones recalled that one youth developed a program to manage his misdemeanor court appearances.   Jones said the teen kept losing the paper notices that officials gave him because the younger generation is not a “paper or appointment book” group, but they are “app-savvy.”

“This is why we want the ‘Yes, We Code’ Scholarship Fund so we can help the people trying to help our children,” said Jones.  “We want to scale education and technology to reach low-opportunity children.”

To learn more about ‘Yes, We Code,’ visit

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