Empowering Diversity in Tech—Code: BLACK's Mission at UMD

A student organization's quest to bridge the tech gap for people of color.
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In an industry where innovation and diversity are crucial to progress, the representation of Black minorities in technology remains disproportionately low. Despite the growing recognition of the need for inclusivity, the tech sector continues to grapple with diversity and equitable opportunity challenges. This disparity underscores the importance of initiatives addressing these challenges and fostering an environment where underrepresented groups can thrive.

Against this backdrop, at the University of Maryland's Department of Computer Science, a beacon of hope and action emerges in the form of a student organization known as Code: BLACK

Established in 2017, the club aims to bridge the gap between marginalized groups and the tech industry through engagement, support and candid discussions. With over 50 active members and a team of 13 board members, the organization aims to initiate genuine conversations that lead to tangible solutions for underrepresented minorities in tech. 

According to senior computer engineering major and Code: BLACK President Ameenat Afolabi, the organization is pursuing a goal that few others are addressing.   

Ameenat Afolabi“We aim to support students of color at the university because we recognize they are underrepresented in technology and tech jobs,” Afolabi said. “We want to create not just a community within UMD for minority students to come together but also to guide our community toward success. We're focused on ensuring our students can thrive in the workplace, secure opportunities in the tech space, and have a supportive network within the organization to help them excel.”

Drawing from personal experiences, Afolabi underscored the necessity of forging opportunities for students of color. Although she encountered isolation as the sole Black female in her first internship, she found strength in community support.

“I initially felt disconnected and out of place in the tech sector, but persevered with support from people who look like me,” Afolabi shared. “Being part of Code: BLACK is about showing students of color their value. This organization emphasizes that our diverse perspectives and technical skills are sought after in the industry. It's not that the field doesn't want us; it's about improving access and representation. My involvement in this club has boosted my confidence, reaffirming that I belong in these spaces.”

Code: BLACK's commitment to helping Black communities secure jobs, internships and further opportunities to advance their careers is a testament to its dedication to positive change. The club strives to equip its members with the tools and resources necessary for success by organizing workshops, networking events and mentorship programs. It has attracted the support of notable sponsors such as GEICO, Bloomberg and Codepath. 

If you ask sophomore computer science major Ayomiposi Ajayi, who serves as the club’s undergraduate outreach coordinator, Code: BLACK means everything.  

Ayomiposi Ajayi“Code: BLACK embodies a safe haven for individuals with similar backgrounds, highlighting the club's dedication to fostering diversity,” Ajayi said. “This space allows underrepresented groups to connect, share experiences and enhance their skills collectively. More than just focusing on technical growth, we organize weekly gatherings to create a sense of unity and mutual support among members who share common aspirations and challenges.”

The organization also focuses on the significance of identity and harnessing one’s uniqueness.

“Promoting our heritage and background is vital,” Ajayi shared. “For instance, during our general body meetings, we incorporate study sessions with music from our cultures, whether Afrobeats or hip-hop. It's a way to blend skill development in tech with cultural expression, reminding us of our shared experiences and tastes. This approach fosters community as we advance our careers and celebrate our common interests.”  

As Code: BLACK continues to grow and evolve, its efforts to bridge the gap between marginalized groups and tech are more crucial than ever. However, the organization's leaders are optimistic about the future.

“Looking ahead, we aim to expand our reach through social media and on campus to increase student awareness,” Afolabi said. “We're also planning to introduce a mentorship program for academic and professional guidance and consider hosting a hackathon to enhance networking and recruitment opportunities during the fall recruiting season. These efforts showcase our members' talents to potential employers and further our mission of supporting our students of color.”

As the tech industry seeks to embrace diversity and innovation, organizations like Code: BLACK play a pivotal role in transforming aspirations into reality for Black minorities. Through their unwavering dedication and targeted initiatives, they are not just reshaping the narrative around inclusivity but are also carving out a path for future generations to follow. 

—Story by Samuel Malede Zewdu, CS Communications 

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