Thursday, March 7, 2013

Beating the Odds: Two African-American Men Launch Thriving School for Coding

Due to the surge of gang violence in Chicago’s urban communities, when most people hear the phrase “African-American men in Chicago,” they instantly associate the conversation to violence, but two African-American men in Chicago are changing that perception slowly but surely.

Mark McGee and Neal Sales-Griffin co-founded Starter League, a thriving coding school that teaches people how to build websites and apps. According to McGee, the school acquired more than $1M-$2M in revenue last year. In the past two years, more than 500 people from 30 states and 15 countries have traveled to Chicago to take classes at a school started by McGee and Sales-Griffin.  McGee and Sales-Griffin are part of the fewer than 1 percent of tech start-ups founded by African-Americans.

When McGee was asked whether he realizes the significance of an African-American playing a key role in the tech start-up world, he said: “Honestly, no, because I’m just too busy focusing on going forward. We really feel that if you give someone the opportunity and inspire them and show that there are people who look like them that are doing this, then they can do this too.” McGee and Sales-Griffin’s services have expanded beyond their building and will be offered in 16 Chicago Public Schools (CPS). Next summer, Starter League will teach coding to 16 teachers in CPS, who will then offer classes to their students. Coding classes at the Starter League school cost $8,000 for a three-month course.

For the last year, McGee and Sales-Griffin have been monitoring students at Chicago Tech Academy, a charter school that teaches students about coding and other technology. “They’re not making music videos, they’re not playing sports,” said Matt Hancock, executive director of Chicago Tech Academy. “We’ve got many African-American role models in those fields. But to see it happen in technology is really important for our young people, who I hope will follow in their foot steps.”


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