Book Excerpt: Seattle Tech’s Motown Changed Sherrell Dorsey’s Life – Now She’s Passing It On

Data journalist and entrepreneur Sherrell Dorsey grew up in Seattle and interned at Microsoft as a teenager after receiving training through the Technology Access Foundation.

Editor’s note: From Seattle Sherrell Dorsey is a data journalist, entrepreneur, and founder and CEO of The catch, a venture capital-backed news and information platform covering black startups and ecosystems. His new book is Benefit: The future of work for the rest of us. Excerpted with permission from the publisher, Wiley.

Just before I was about to start high school, Mom grabbed a flyer from a community board in one of my afterschool programs. A technology training program through a non-profit organization called Technology Access Foundation (TAF) was accepting students for its computer literacy and programming languages ​​program, and providing college readiness and mentorship support. The program was just four years old at the time, launched in 1996, and was quietly changing the trajectory of some of Seattle’s most vulnerable families. As the story goes, Trish Millines Dziko retired from Microsoft as a senior software engineer and made it her mission to help kids of color discover and enter the field of technology.

The program would provide training, paid internship opportunities, college readiness support, and a $1,000 scholarship for each year of program completion. Best of all, there was no cost for families. For a single parent who needed to keep a rambunctious teenage daughter busy and on the road to college (with some extra financial support, of course), my mom only needed a little coercion to add my name at the initiative of Millines Dziko. I was accepted and started intro to technology programs, taking apart and learning the various computer components, eventually spending time learning things like C# programming, some JavaScript, ASP.NET and my favorite course, network administration.

TAF ran the full duration of the school year, with summers spent on paid internships at local tech companies. Twice a week I would hop on the 48 bus from Franklin High School in Seattle’s Southside neighborhood and get off at Judkins and 23rd in front of the convenience store in Parnell in the Central District – the same community in which I had attended the Delaney Learning Center. a few years earlier. Classes were from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m., which meant long days of juggling class and homework and catching the bus back to the South End.

Both were predominantly black and brown neighborhoods of mixed-income economic situations and social paradoxes, home to histories of gang violence and community picnics, black, Hispanic and Asian-owned businesses contrasting with merchants of grass around the corner, poverty and wealth.

Beyond the courses offered, TAF also provided SAT test prep, interview skills, and resume writing, and even showed us around local colleges. It was kind of like the Motown of training centers – they taught us how to walk and talk and landed opportunities that were offered to very few teenagers in town. Between the fall of 1997 and the spring of 2008, TAF trained 500 Seattle-area high school students of color through its Teen Tech Internship Program.

Today, TAF Academy is a public learning campus for grades 6-12 and operates as one of the leading public STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) schools and consults with school districts across the country. . More than 75% of students are students of color, and many come from homes where English is not their first language. Over 95% of students graduate on time, and 100% of students are accepted into a two- or four-year college.

TAF also runs a scholarship program teaching a diverse set of current and future instructors best practices to deliver a STEM curriculum to children of color. Two of my cousins ​​attended and graduated from middle school and high school programs.

A 2021 study by consulting firm McKinsey found that almost half of black workers are concentrated in occupations such as health care, retail, customer service and food preparation industries – mostly jobs that offer some of the lowest salaries – and rarely in roles that are considered professional or managerial.

Brookings Institution reports also found that the highest proportions of low-wage workers are women (54% of low-wage workers, compared to 48% of the total workforce) and women of color. Hispanic and black workers are overrepresented in low-wage jobs that pay less for the same level of education. While the typical salary for American workers is $42,000 a year, 43% of black workers earn less than $30,000 a year, and 52% of American-born Hispanic workers earn the same. Those who emigrated to the United States earn a median income of $28,000.

As Amazon moved to Bellevue and eventually transitioned to South Lake Union in 2007, just a 12-minute bus ride from the Central District, the opportunity expanded again, skipping the Central District and all other local school system that had not previously been a factory. of talent in good neighborhoods with decent funding.

As the city built its reputation and prowess through the advancements of its big tech companies, with Amazon having one of the largest acreages occupied by a business in the downtown community, it also increased its taste. for concentrated poverty, pushing black and brown residents out. of the most desirable area’s proximity to jobs, and leaving many people uneducated, remote, and with no opportunity to create wealth or land the kinds of jobs into which residents could have been drawn if the opportunities for University and growth had been part of the city’s plan for workforce development and local investment.

We have made access to the technological space extremely complex. But it doesn’t have to.

While my public high school had touted only a handful of advanced placement programs to help students earn college credit before graduation, private schools in affluent communities where Bill Gates attended were already well equipped. into computers and technical programs and courses that served as the on-ramp to tech jobs.

We have made access to the technological space extremely complex. But it doesn’t have to. And although historically we have all too often been victims of exclusion, we can include ourselves in the rooms and tables that will lead us to opportunities that allow for higher salaries, strategies for navigating an education that will not leave us not in insurmountable situations debt and career prospects that allow us to be pillars within our families and our communities.

The growing problems we face in society today, such as threats to our online privacy, climate change, inaccessible banking tools and other intractable social challenges, will not be solved by white men in sweatshirts. hoodie alone.

Navigating the plethora of programs, research, statistics, and opportunities available can be overwhelming. The most important thing is to decide how to go about accessing these opportunities; determining the best strategies for what works takes time, knowledge, know-how and networks. The top is dedicated to facilitating this process and this path.

Excerpted with permission from the publisher, Wiley, from Sherrell Dorsey’s Upper Hand. Copyright © 2022 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.. All rights reserved. This book is available wherever books and e-books are sold.

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