Ferguson Reimagined: Hands Up United Launches the 2nd Cohort for the Roy Clay Sr. Tech Workshop

On Saturday, July 11th Hands Up United held a Community Kickoff Day to welcome our new cohort of 12 students, or Tech Impact Web Developer Apprentices, as the organization refers to them.

Selected participants are local St. Louis natives, age 16 - 30, who have felt left out of the technology industry. They're passionate about creating systemic change in their communities, curious about learning technology and excited to help others. 


Back in October 2014, Ferguson youth wanted to organize a boycott of large corporations and use their dollars to invest in local small businesses. But when you do a Google search, we couldn’t find local black-owned businesses. The businesses are out there, there just aren’t websites, no advertisements and there’s no media for these black-owned businesses. So we decided to build a program that would teach young people how to code so that they can go out into the community to build up websites and networks for black-owned businesses and organizations. We believe that technological literacy is key to redesigning 21st century systems, and this initiative is a first step to harnessing technology to enhance the movement.


Abby Bobé, an IT Consultant from ThoughtWorks, warmed the crowd up with great story about the power of technology. Abby spearheaded Hands Up United's Tech Impact initiative and collaborated with local technologists and community members to design the curriculum and foundation for the program. A North Philly native from the "BadLands" neighborhood Bobé knows too well the lack of opportunities available to youth of color from low-income communities. Her mission lies in the intersection of technology and social justice and has been reflected in her work at ThoughtWorks, Black Girls Code, Qeyno Labs and #YesWeCode.

The kickoff took place at the co-working lobby of TREX, a St. Louis startup incubator. The space was sponsored by TREX, a champion partner of Hands Up United and was completely filled with only standing room left for guest.

Tara Thompson, Director of the Tech Impact Initiative, moderated a technology panel during the community kickoff. Panelists included, Crystal Martin from Launchcode, Travis Sheridan from Venture Cafe, Abby Bobé from ThoughtWorks, Matt Menietti from Global Hack and Ned Alexander, a graduate of the first Roy Clay Sr. cohort. The panel discussed the importance of technology and the role that technology plays in achieving social justice. The audience also talked about how the digital divide affected their communities: topics like wage gaps, lack of technology education programs in schools and gentrification were discussed. Community members also discussed how they would like to hold Silicon Valley giants like Facebook and Twitter accountable to creating a diversified technology pipeline for people of color.

After the panel, newly accepted students in the Roy Clay Sr. 6-week workshop went to the front of the stage area and the welcoming ceremony began.  Community members went around the room encouraging the new cohort with affirming words and advice as they kickstart their 6-week journey. The whole room stood to applaud the students as they exited the TREX's main lobby to go their workshop area.


Saturday, July 11th marked day one of the program that paired students one on one with tech experts from the St. Louis area. Ayanga Okpokowuruk, a ThoughtWorks Developer, led a great workshop, commanding the students attention from start to finish. Once seated in front of their first laptops, donated by ThoughtWorks, students dug into the skeleton fundamentals of HTML and building a web page, how to upload and share code on Github and make a live web page on Heroku. 

By the end of the six week workshop, students will share their new tech skills by building the technical infrastructure for mission oriented organizations and businesses that serve the community. In return for completing the program, they’ll be given a $500 stipend and personal laptop to continue building websites for local small businesses and nonprofit organizations.




Hands Up United's programs are community crowd-funded. The organization is still seeking to raise $25,000 for their second Roy Clay Sr. Tech Impact cohort.  Funds will cover cost for laptops, stipends, food and materials. Your support means we can empower more local youth to use technology to help build local businesses and launch their tech careers. Each participants receives 6-week training, a $500 stipend and can be considered for a personal laptop (valued at $600) to freelance their skills.

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There's a digital divide in our community because access to resources is scarce. Roy Clay Sr. Mentors are the bridge to opportunity! As a mentor, you will work along the side of students to help build their confidence in the skills learned throughout the workshop series. 




The goal of the Roy Clay Sr. Workshop is to help build awareness for local black-owned businesses, small firms that invest back into the community, nonprofits, and social movements in the Ferguson / Greater St. Louis Area. 

It’s not everyday you see a crack in the system, but St. Louis youth found one. Now, with Hands Up United’s Tech Impact tools and a self-determined mandate to improve their communities, they are poised to take their revolution from the St. Louis streets to the cloud and back to replace what’s broken.