Black Folk + Mathematics + Computer Science = the Young People’s Project

“Not only do we [black people] need to function in the mathematical space, we need to also, in parallel, function in the Computer Science space, because our existence in the 21st century counts on it. ” -Cliff

Cliff Freeman
Feb 4, 2019 · 4 min read

In the book Radical Equations, Bob Moses and Charlie Cobb described, eloquently, the age-old problem revolving mathematics. They wrote about the transition of the 20th century and how the first programmable computer, Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC) was developed one year before the first cotton-picking machine was used in Mississippi. These two technological innovations totally shifted the tides of how work was and will be done in this country. Bob and Charlie wrote “And just as automation and the mechanical cotton picker were changing southern agriculture, so, inexorably, would the computer push us from the assembly line by shifting work away from industrial based technology to computer-based technology… the 20th century was being uprooted.” (RADICAL EQUATIONS, PAGE 7–8)

I was born in 1993, and by the time I graduated high school in 2012, machine learning software and machine automation, in general, had replaced many jobs in my neighborhood where families barely made ends meet. By the time of high school graduation, I had been working at the Young People’s Project for 2 years, leveraging that experience to garner an acceptance letter to the Computer Networking program apart of the College of Engineering and Technology at Wentworth Institute of Technology. Knowing that this journey was going to be fully immersed in a kind of STEM education virtually all families in my neighborhood did not participate in, I did not know how I would get through. But I knew one thing, I promised myself that If I did make it to the other side, I would dedicate part of my time expanding who it is that participates in this kind of STEM learning because I knew that it would be one of the only saviors for the people in my community.

“The love hate relationship Black people have with technology as well as poor schools concentrated in poor Black communities compound the (STEM Learning) problem.” (RADICAL EQUATIONS, PAGE 10)

Today is January 30th, 2019, 7:07 pm in Boston Massachusetts and I stand here as living proof that the 21st century Bob wrote about in Radical Equations is true. The kind of work that ensures you a meaningful place in this country as a Constitutional Person who has full participation in this country’s democracy points to Knowledge Work, and robust STEM education is at the heart of it — which people from my neighborhood are simply not part of.

In an effort to truly broaden participation in STEM learning and STEM education that (and it already has) enables STEM careers for young people in my neighborhood, I’ve been leading Computational Thinking Labs for the Young People’s Project in Boston Public Schools (BPS) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where college students teach high school students grounding computer science instruction. An additional big return on investment is when the high school students design, revise, and execute local computer programming boot camps to teach in middle schools in their neighborhoods [during the school day].

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E7PxbzUo7Jk

The Computational Thinking Lab (CTL) is a bottom-up approach comprised of experiential, project-based, service learning academic activities that serve as a blueprint for communities, schools, and institutions to offer quality computer science instruction for all students. The vision for the CTL is to become a consortium of in-school, after school, and out of school experiences that trains instructors and develops students in computer science and computational thinking principles. CTL aims to broaden participation in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and expose, inspire or catalyze academic and professional endeavors in computer science and or other STEM disciplines for purposes of 21st-century citizenship. This lab leverage the skills, experience, and location of current enrolled and local University Students to facilitate quality and relevant CTL instruction in public high schools, after schools, and summer camps. In the near future will also certify university students who are instructors in CTLs, on track to work for the most successful tech companies in the world, to share their talents within public schools as computer science teachers, establishing a nucleus of educators that truly broaden participation in STEM education for young people who have been virtually shut out from it.

“Human field workers were displaced by machines and moved north, and their children were displaced by newer high-tech machinery.” (RADICAL EQUATIONS, PAGE 10)

As the 21st century moves on and technological advances displace more human beings, my intention is that the skills with which we equip our students, enable them to get in front of the curve and become the engineers and thought leaders of machine learning systems that have an agenda, implicit or explicit, to displace them.

Cliff Freeman, cliff@typp.org

the Young Peoples Project

Masters of Science in Technology Management

Cliff Freeman

Written by

I think about how Black People should relate to Mathematics and Computer Science. Because… who else will?

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