Hack the Hood believes in highlighting the young people who have brought their skills and passions to our program to inspire others. We're profiling a different young leader each month to share their journey through Hack the Hood and beyond, with James being our May feature.
1. What made you decide to join Hack the Hood (HtH)? When did you start with HtH?
I'm a big fan of computer science, tech, and coding, and I've always wanted to find some sort of bootcamp for it. Towards the end of my junior year, I started to look for something I can do over the summer. I decided to go online and search for different bootcamps in the Bay Area, Oakland in particular. I found a couple, a lot of them are super expensive or too far or too inaccessible for me. So I stopped my research for a couple of weeks and then I got this email from our college advisor, informing us about a program called Hack the Hood. I remember when I saw that email, I lit up a little bit and I thought, “this is a really good opportunity. It's close to home and it's pretty much free. I feel like I could get a lot out of this.” I immediately forwarded that email to my dad and asked what he thought about it. He loved the idea. So I sent in my application. I didn't hear back for a couple of weeks, and decided to follow up because I was getting anxious. I really wanted this. Then I got a call from inviting me to interview, got accepted, and joined the Summer 2018 Bootcamp.
2. What did you learn that was unexpected? Was there anything that surprised you about the program?
Originally I joined the summer bootcamp because I was expecting full on coding. But when I got there, I realized that it was much more than that. The explanation I got as to why Hack the Hood doesn’t just teach coding is that it's a little bit selfish to just focus on one topic, but rather teaches all the things that we could do with coding, what we can do career-wise, show us different businesses in the Bay Area - like Quantcast, Oath, and Eventbrite. I was really surprised at the fact that we were given those opportunities, not just sitting at your computer and typing code. One of my favorite lessons was about networking. I was able to apply it to the business trips we went to. I knew how to converse with the employees, ask questions, and connect with them on LinkedIn. That is actually a skill I use to this day.
3. What has your journey post- Hack the Hood looked like?
After I left Hack the Hood, I was mainly focused on finishing my senior year. I took a step back from tech, but I did get into social justice and activism work. Hack the Hood actually inspired me because very base they’re centered around providing opportunities for under-resourced people of color, Oakland in particular. I liked the idea of giving back to the community, especially youth. So I joined the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center. We were coached on public speaking, read texts by Martin Luther King or other leaders, and had the opportunity to got to the Capitol and lobby for legislations. We had the chance to meet multiple senators, work closely with Barbara Lee and Dolores Huerta to make change within our communities and just America in general.
I saw it as a way to help my community by being on front lines and speaking out loud for people. I remember I got to visit the Coast Guard and give a speech on Black History Month and its importance to spread diversity. I also gave another speech at a black church. It's just the little things we do to make that change and inspire others to be more aware of different cultures and issues.
Aside from that, I’ve been focusing on school, work, and helping out with our yearbook. I’m excited to announce that I'll be joining Howard University’s class of 2023 this fall, majoring in computer science.
4. What do you do for fun?
Photography, that's my biggest thing; I love taking pictures. I'm still in my early stages and practicing. I recently received a camera from my aunt, so oftentimes, I just go take pictures of anything, from flowers to my dogs to random people on the street (with permission, of course). I would even go out at 1:00 AM, put my camera on the tripod, point it to the stars and experiment with the different setting. It's challenging, but it's also fun to see improvement with every picture. That's why I signed up for the yearbook so I can develop my photography. I also consider doing social justice and community work with the MLK Freedom Center as one of my hobbies as well.
5. What are your favorite foods?
Burritos are on the top of my list. Whenever I’m heading to work, I go to the burrito shop that's right around the corner. I always get the California burrito because I love it to death; it has avocados and french fries on it. It's very American but I enjoy it. If it tastes good, it tastes good. I also love chocolate. Chocolate's my life. I’ve been getting into matcha too.
6. What are three places you enjoy visiting in the Bay Area and beyond?
I personally like Lake Merritt because it’s so calming. Just walking around the lake can help you clear your head. Sometimes there's little events or people playing music. I enjoy seeing all the birds and people watching. It’s therapeutic.
Another favorite spot in the Bay Area is my grandma's house. She lives in a really nice little neighborhood, right by UC Berkeley. It's a very comfortable place to go to. I love it there.
Outside of the Bay Area, London was my favorite place to be. It's like the Bay Area, except everybody has a British accent. I was able to walk around and feel like home. London was also a lot more modern than I expected it to be. I always thought of it as a place filled with bricks and old architecture, but it looks kind of like SF or New York.
7. Who are your top music artists?
When I think of my favorite artists, I always think of Kendrick Lamar. He's one of my all-time favorite rappers mainly because he touches on his experiences in Compton and black life in America and its issues in his songs. He does it in a very artistic way. There’ll be underlying messages in songs. You can listen to one song over and over and over, and you get something completely different out of it each time. Of course, another favorite is Beyonce. I recently watched her Homecoming documentary, and she’s amazing. You see the stress that she went through and you just don't think about that grind she puts into her work. You just think it's all just money and singing, but she shows it's way more than that. The messages she sends out are really powerful. I have no words.
8. Who do you follow on insta?
Since the day I joined Instagram, until now, I had just been following my friends from school and just people that I knew very well. Lately, I’ve been expanding my network, including hundreds of Howard students because I want to be able to build connections with them as early as now. I also follow miscellaneous art, food, and photography accounts. I follow Black Twitter too. There is something unique about seeing posts from my people, about my people. Feel free to follow me on insta.
9. Where’d you grow up? What do you like about the Bay Area?
I was born in Missouri and then I came to Oakland when I was two weeks old - so I was practically born and raised here. I grew up in the Diamond District of Fruitvale. I love Oakland because it's one big community with its own personality. My friends and I have this little joke that when we are very excited or angry, the Oakland in us will start coming out. Oakland has this culture that I feel very comfortable with. It’s so diverse. It's always changing, for better or worse. Each part of Oakland's different too. There's East Oakland, West Oakland, Downtown Oakland, the hills, and whatnot, and just having all that there creates this community. Yes, there’s crime in Oakland. It’s been known to be pretty dangerous, but it doesn't stop me from loving it. I still feel like it's home regardless of the downsides.
10. What’s something you’d like to see change in Oakland? What do you want your contribution to that change to be?
For starters, we've got to fix those potholes ASAP because when I'm driving and I hit a pothole unexpectedly, I feel like a month has been taken away from my car’s lifespan. I would also love to see the parks in Oakland get cleaned up a little. They can be littered with trash pretty often. All it would take is some people in the communities to take time out of their days to pick up some trash - or just stop littering altogether..
My way of giving back to Oakland and making changes would be to communicate with different people, getting to know them, and inspire others to make changes on their own as well. The MLK Freedom Center is a perfect place for me to do that because it gives me the chance to get involved with the communities, like giving speeches. I feel the best way to inspire others to make change is to be a role model, especially to youth. Since I'm young, I want to show my peers that they can do their civic duty, even as a teenager.
Our predecessors worked their butts off for us to be here and it would be a shame for us not to take advantage of that and keep the momentum going. Let's teach the next generation what are our ancestors left for us, how we plan to improve it, and how we’d want them to improve it as well.
11. What do you appreciate about today’s technology?
I appreciate the accessibility and the number of things you can do with it. The world’s at your fingertips with the internet. I was born in a time when “Google” was already a verb and everyone has access to a computer at home. Compared to my parents’ time, people actually had to go to the library for research or they had to ask around for directions. Now, you can just pull out your phone and Google anything you want, or ask Siri questions. I love that convenience and how things are easier to accomplish.
The downside is that it’s making people lazy. People my age want to have information as quickly and accessible as possible. When we open an article, the most a lot of us will read nowadays are bullet points - some will only go as far as the headline. Tech has given us the ability to get information quickly and easily, but it's also taken away our motivation to dig deeper into things. That’s something I worry about a little bit. I'm guilty of it myself, but I try to make a conscious effort to take the time to read the full story.
12. What type of technology do you wish you had, but hasn’t been invented yet?
That's a hard one. The fact that we have so much technology right now, doesn’t give me room to desire for more. We already have virtual reality - which was still only a dream when I was much young. Now, you can go buy it at a store. All the tech that I can think of at this point that I'd want seems far out, almost sci-fi like.
I’m a major Marvel fan, and I heard someone’s built an Iron Man type suit, where you can almost fly. That makes me really hopeful. I'm very satisfied with the tech we have now because I don't want to go too far with it. I would just feel like I'm going to end up being detached from everything.
Oh. I actually have had an idea inspired by a Marvel show called Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. They have this device called an I.C.E.R. which puts people to sleep. There's a lot of issues with gun violence, especially with law enforcement. So why haven't we thought of an alternative weapon that doesn’t kill people right away? Watching the show makes me question, “why haven't we progressed with that kind of technology? We have built some incredible things, but can we have someone start working on stuff like that so we're not losing so many lives?” There's really no good reason to shoot or take a life.
13. What would be your dream job? What do you want to be when you grow up?
My main goal is to be a web designer, but I am expecting something to change when I get to college. I’ve never had a set answer for that question because people had always instilled in me that there are so many things you can do out there and you're going to change your mind multiple times.
In the event I follow through with web design, I would love to create a business to help small businesses with their websites, similarly to what Hack the Hood does. I don't know if it would be in Oakland or not, but it would be my way to give back to the community and inspire young people to build websites. For now, I wouldn’t want to make a set decision for my career until I’m further into my computer science degree.
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